Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

sensible of the wrong done by detaching them from the context, especially in observing how the completeness of poetic effect is often impaired by such rude severance. The precise references which accompany the quotations will render it easy to restore them to their connection, as may sometimes be found desirable. It may, however, on the other hand, be found that, so far as the excellence of style is concerned—the fitness and beauty and combination of the words—the fineness of the rhythm and the composition of the sentence, we are made to appreciate these things as well, when we take a passage that is characterized by them and consider it by itself. Look, for example, at the exquisitely simple beauty of the words that follow, and let the music that is made by them be audibly heard or silently felt—the words, each one of them, being no more than our common colloquial words, and yet made expressive of a rich flow of imagery by the admirable choice and apposition.

0, hear me breathe my life
Before this ancient sir, who, it should seem,
Hath sometime loved : I take thy hand ; this hand
As soft as dove's down, and as white as it;
Or Ethiopian's tooth, or the fanned snow
That's bolted by the northern blasts twice o'er.

Winter's Tale, iv. 3. Here are words written more than two hundred years ago and yet now as fresh as if first uttered yesterday; and so it is well-nigh always with Shakspere's language, for when a true Poet writes in a matured language, it is in the unchanging and imperishable part of it that his imagination finds its abiding-place.

It is not meant that during the last two centuries the English language has been stationary. No living speech can be unprogressive, for the simple reason that new ideas must be expressed and new thoughts and feelings must have utterance. The text of Shakspere accordingly does not furnish examples for all the words in this volume, and sometimes it gives authority only for a different acceptation. The word extravagant, for example, is not to be found in Shakspere, in that which is at the present day the most usual sense of the word, which then had not travelled so much away from its origin. When in Hamlet, it is said, that

Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine

6

the passage does not exemplify the modern sense of the word, but it throws light upon it by recalling the primitive and etymological meaning.

In this respect the text of Milton may serve an excellent use for instruction in the language. If his diction is sparing in purely English idioms, and his choice and combination of words greatly influenced by his learning and his deep love of antiquity, those very qualities will serve, especially in connection with classical instruction, to call the student's thoughts to the derivative signification of words from Greek and Latin sources, and what may be generally called the Norman as distinguished from the Saxon side of the English tongue. Let the word “recollecting,' for instance, be observed in these lines:

but he, his wonted pride
Soon recollecting, with high words, that bore
Semblance of worth, not substance, gently raised
Their fainting courage, and dispelled their fears.

Parad. Lost, i. 528. or, again, the somewhat curious use of the word • diverť in these lines :

Alas, how simple, to these cates compared
Was that crude apple that diverted Eve!

Parad. Regained, ii. 349. These cases may suggest how this work can be employed in the etymological study of the language-a process which brings with it more good than mere acquisition. The use of etymology in disciplining the youthful mind to thoughtful habits has been specially commended by Coleridge, in the 'Aids to Reflection, and it is his remark that

“In a language like ours, where so many words are derived from other languages, there are few modes of instruction more useful or more amusing than that of accustoming young people to seek for the etymology, or primary meaning of the words they use. There are cases, in which more knowledge of more value may be conveyed by the history of a word, than by the history of a campaign.”

The value of the historical consideration of words may be exemplified by one of the titles in the list, in this volume, · Bravery-Courage. The word • bravery' has its early and its later use, and it is in the former that it is met with in Shakspere and Milton. The quotation from • Julius Cæsar:'

and come down With fearful bravery, thinking by this face

To fasten in our thoughts that they have courage. must not be mistaken for an illustration of what is now the usual sense of the word 'bravery.'

The study of this work may be made to illustrate another important fact in our language-the admirable copiousness that results from the combination of its Saxon and Norman elements. The correspondent words from these two great sources are not mere duplicates—to be used indifferently and at random, but each is often delegated to a distinct duty; each does its own appropriate and peculiar service and shows some shade of meaning, some special variation of the sense. The words apt and“ fit, for example, coming into the language from different sources, might be thought to be closely and strictly synonymous, and yet a delicate distinction of use is made beautifully apparent by the quotations from Shakspere, Milton and Nordsworth.

There is to be observed another and different process by which the lan

6

6

[ocr errors]

guage is in some degree impoverished, when one of two corresponding or equivalent words thrusts the other out of use, and when this happens, the Norman is usually the conqueror. We may be said to have given up the good English compound to underbear,for the Latin-English word • to support;' we have well-nigh lost the word, though Shakspere shows its good use from the lips of Constance:

leave those woes alone, which I alone Am bound to underbear,

The verb to better' is preserved along with 'to meliorate, but the counterpart word ' to worsen' has been almost given away, perhaps for the sake of the three additional syllables that come in with its synonymá to deteriorate.'

Another change in the progress of the language is illustrated under the title “ to learnto teach. The first of these words formerly expressed not only its present sense, but was also synonymous with to teach,' for which use good authority may be cited from early writers and from Shakspore, while modern practice stamps it as somewhat of a vulgarism. The word has dropped one of its meanings, and being limited to the other, there is a gain in point of precision. Not to use Sacred Writ irreverently for this purpose, an historical illustration of this case has occurred to me in two of the English versions of the Bible. In that which is commonly called Cranmer's Bible, and belongs to about the middle of the 16th century, a passage in the 119th Psalm is given in these words:

“O learn me true understanding and knowledge ; for I have believed thy commandments.

“Before I was troubled, I went wrong; but now have I kept thy word. Thou art good and gracious ; 0 teach me thy statutes."

[ocr errors]

Here it is seen both words are used, and learn' employed in the sense of teach;' but in the standard version, which belongs to the beginning of the 17th century, much as the style is controlled by adherence to the earlier versions, this passage is changed by the substitution of the word “teach for

learn :'

6

[ocr errors]

“Teach me good judgment and knowledge; for I have believed thy commandments.

“Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept thy word. Thou art good and doest good ; teach me thy statutes."

The use of this volume as a text-book may be extended much beyond the method of instruction prescribed in the Practical Exercises,' and in connection with it various considerations of the character and structure of the language will suggest themselves. The synonyms of intensity,' or of "active and passive words, may induce a more extended examination of words, which, while kindred in meaning, express many different degrees and variations of the meaning. The title “see-look” is given and ex.

6

plained, but let it be observed that these are but two of a large family of words connected with the function of sight, which the student might supply and discriminate the several shades of signification. In this way a just sense of the copiousness of the language will be acquired, and the habit by degrees gained, of accurately using and distinctly apprehending words that otherwise would bring only a confused meaning. In studying the nature of that copiousness it will be seen why often there are many names for the same object, or for the same general thought or feeling, as in Arabic, there are, it is said, no less than four hundred names for the lion.* The copiousness of the English tongue may be further illustrated by its etymology, and a word becomes a theme by the study of its origin and history. Let an examination, for example, be made of such words as ' trivial,' 'pagan,' rustic,'civil,'urbane,'courteous,' &c., &c.

The teacher, who succeeds in animating the student with an interest in the processes of instruction contained in this volume, need be at no loss to find manifold opportunities for the study of the language to which this textbook may serve as an introduction and a help. Let judicious selections be made, and studied with special reference to the choice and the combination of the words. Single sentences or passages from Shakspere, may show that wonderful mastery of the language which is proved by the impossibility of substituting another for any given word. Take that most familiar passage—Portia's appeal to Shylock, and contemplate not so much the tranquil sublimity of the sentiment as the expression of it, and there will be seen the purity and simplicity and beauty of English speech in its highest perfection :

[ocr errors]

6

6

The quality of mercy is not strained ;
It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath : it is twice blessed ;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes;
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest ; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptered sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself ;

* “Les Arabes ont, dit-on, quatre cents mots pour exprimer le lion, tandis que nous i'en avons qu'un, parce que cet animal, étranger à nos climats, ne peut être pour nous qu'un objet de curiosité; au lieu qu'il est pour l'homme des déserts un ennemi redoutable, un sujet continuel d'aventures et de récits, et que, tenant beaucoup de place dans sa vie, il a dû en prendre davantage dans sa langue. Ainsi, les Arabes, le considérant sous le rapport de sa taille, de sa force, de sa couleur, de son port, de ses appétits, de ses inclinations, etc., l'ont nommé d'autant de noms qu'ils ont observé, ou qu'ils lui ont supposé de qualités physiques ou instinctives. C'est pour la même raison que la langue allemande a un grand nombre de mots pour désigner un cheval.”

DE BONALD. 'Recherches Philosophiques,' tomo lor.

And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,-
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation : we do pray for mercy ;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

There can of course be no difficulty in choosing passages in the text of Shakspere, illustrative in every way of the language and furnishing subject of verbal study, but I will not forbear pointing out that less familiar though very remarkable passage—the speech of Ulysses, beginning,

"Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,' in the third scene of the third act of Troilus and Cressida. It is not necessary here to show by actual quotation how passages from the text of Milton may also be used, though this should be only when accompanied with a distinct knowledge of the nature of his English. The text of Wordsworth may be used to show what is the English of our own day in admirable purity, and the student of the language will feel it by examining minutely and critically the words in almost any selection from his poems. For example, let the fitness and expressiveness of the words in these stanzas be

considered :

Lives there a man whose sole delights
Are trivial pomp and city noise
Hardening a heart that loathes or slights
What every natural heart enjoys ?
Who never caught a noon-tide dream
From murmur of a running stream ;
Could strip, for aught the prospect yields
To him, their verdure from the fields ;
And take the radiance from the clouds
In which the sun his setting shrouds.

A soul so pitiably forlorn,
If such do on this earth abide,
May season apathy with scorn,
May turn indifference to pride ;
And still be not unblest-compared
With him who grovels, self-debarred
From all that lies within the scope
Of holy faith and Christian hope ;
Or shipwrecked, kindles on the coast
False fires, that others may be lost.

On the Founding of Rydal Chapel.' The study of the English language should be cultivated by means of quotations from the prose literature also, with the especial care that no author be resorted to, no matter how brilliant his reputation, unless he be distinguished for the purity of his language and some of the varied excellencies of English style.

Instruction may be gained from the gorgeous

« ZurückWeiter »