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an earnest expression of it, our vocabulary is exhausted; our armory is despoiled by our own extravagance; we have been shooting our arrows in the air, and when we truly need them, our quiver is empty.*
Let us now look at some of the characteristics of the English language as an instrument of expression for those who recognise the duty of the thoughtful use of it. He will the better understand and use it who keeps in mind that it belongs to the family of the Northern languages. Our English speech is to be traced beyond England into the forests of Germany and to the shores of the Northern Ocean; the dialect, that was in time to grow into our English language, was carried fourteen hundred years ago to the island from the Teutonic region of the continent. Our speech holds not its genealogy from the cultivated languages of the South; they had done their appointed work—the languages of Greece and Rome—and the English language, for the fulfilment of its destiny, had another birth, and was long kept aloof from them. It was to have a fresher and purer spring than in the languages
There is an opposite fault, which we have caught from England, but which an English writer, mindful of the language, has condemned "as that stupid modern vulgarism, by which we use the word 'nice' to denote almost every mode of approbation for almost every variety of quality, . . . from sheer poverty of thought," or fear of "saying any thing definite." Julius Charles Hare, Philological Museum. H. R.
It was a slow and various transmission which carried the language which was to grow into modern English over from the continent to the island; for there are reckoned six several migrations of different divisions of the Saxon race, extending through almost exactly a century, bearing with them their various dialects for future formation into one great language. H. R.
which were identified with the degeneracy of the nations that spoke them. It was to become the voice of another form of national character, and of a different and deeper spirituality, than that which belonged to the sunny regions of the south. The contrast between what has been called the "classical mind" and the "romantic mind," is traceable in the respective languages, and has been beautifully illustrated by the names of "good omen," which the Greeks delighted in, and the names of "dark mystery," which were congenial to those who dwelt in the gloom of the North.
The sunny wisdom of the Greeks
All o'er the earth is strewed:
They would not have an evil word
They would not darken mountain side
With names of some disastrous past;
The unwise witnesses.
Unlike the children of romance,
From out whose spirit deep
The touch of gloom hath passed on glen,
On Devil's Bridge and Raven's Tower
Who sought in cavern, wood, and dell,
The path of ill, and localized
Terrific legends there;
Leaving a hoarse and pondrous name
Not so the radiant-hearted Greeks,
Who hesitated still
To offend the blessed Presences
All places, where their presence was
By kindly law were clasped within
O bless them for it, traveller!
The fair-tongued ancients bless!
All footmarks of distress;
Illuminating earth with their
Own inward cheerfulness.*
In other ways it might also be shown that the genius of the Northern character gave utterance to itself differently from the races of the South. The beginning of a just knowledge of the English language is an accurate sense of its Northern origin. The date of that origin cannot be fixed; but certainly the language is a growth out of the Anglo-Saxon speech, however important may be the additions it has received elsewhere. Of the 38,000 words, of which it is reckoned the English language consists, 23,000 are of Saxon origin-near five-eighths of it;
*Faber's Styrian Lake and Other Poems, p. 318.
a proportion which must needs control, to a great extent, the grammatical laws of the language; that is, along with the multitude of Northern words, there must be much of Northern method, and in that method, baffling, as it often does, the technical systems of grammar, we are to look for the idioms. It is a remark of one of the most nervous authors of our day, Walter Savage Landor: "Every good writer has much idiom; it is the life and spirit of language; and none ever entertained a fear or apprehension that strength and sublimity were to be lowered and weakened by it. . . . Nations in a state of decay lose their idiom, which loss is always precursory to that of freedom."* And Coleridge exclaimed, "If men would only say what they have to say in plain terms, how much more eloquent would they be!" But it is the simple Saxon-English words, and the Saxon way of putting them together, that people will not be content with. There is forever a pushing away from the purest English, and from the genuine idioms; and, what is noticeable, it is the half-educated who are always most ambitious of long words and highsounding combinations of them. There is not pomp enough for them in our short, often one-syllable Saxon speech. Observe what a propensity there is to substitute the word "individual," (and unfitly too) for such a clear, simple, short word as "man." It seems to be employed as a sort of midway expression between "man" and "gentleman," between "woman" and "lady," as if there was not quite courtesy enough in the words "man" and woman," and a little more than was wanted in the other
* Imaginary Conversations, First Series. Conversation xiv., vol. i. p. 244.
words. It is in this way that there may be a false refinement, a mistaken delicacy, that is fatal to the primitive simplicity and nervousness of language. From being too dainty in our choice of words, we come at last to forfeit the use of some of the best of them. Again, I do verily believe, that the good word "begin," is in danger of becoming obsolete, so that, after a while, it will sound quaint and antiquated; and yet it is both as old as the language, and as fresh as to-day's talk, known in all the eras of the language, sanctioned by all possible authority, grave and formal as well as familiar and homely, and expressive of all that is needed. Really some people seem to shun it as much as if it were indelicate, or, at the least, a vulgarism. Listen almost where you will, and now-adays nobody hardly is heard of as "beginning," for everything is "commenced." But what a shock would our instinct of language and some of our best associations receive, if this change could creep on to the pages of our English version of the Bible, instead of reading "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth"-"the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"-"In the beginning was the Word." Truly did Coleridge say, that "Intense study of the Bible will keep any writer from being vulgar in point of style."* And an eloquent living divine has asked, "Who can estimate the grandeur, the depth, the expansive power, which our language and the German have derived from the national liturgical offices, as well as from the national translation of the Scriptures ?" Let those who crave a statelier word than "begin," learn that even Milton, with all his
*Table Talk, vol. i. p. 177.