Page images
PDF
EPUB

whether Aposiopesis, Anacolouthon, Hyperbaton, Metonymy produced the poet, or the poet them? Has no one ever thought of these figures as at least influencing the writer, surrounding him with their various enticements, and winning a place in his heart? Has one always regarded them as natural and spontaneous forms of speech that at a later period were to be classified and labelled by the Priscians and Quintilians ? For the words logic, syllogism, premiss, &c. some such processes might be applied to them as has been suggested above for subject and predicate.

(viii.) The words of Rosabelle might now be considered with reference to their derivation and origin. With the assistance of a fair dictionary (Chambers's Etymological English Dictionary will serve well enough), the pupil might classify these words, or a certain portion of them, according to their etymology. He would soon find that our language consists of many various elements,—that in a most catholic spirit it has enriched its vocabulary from all accessible sources ; but he would also find that there is amongst these elements one that far surpasses all the others in its influence on our vocabulary-so far that it might well be inferred to be the basis of this composite languageto be, in fact, the original language itself. Its numerical superiority would suggest and illustrate this great fundamental fact; other considerations, as the character, not only the number, of the words forming a great part of our language, and the study of English Grammar, would support and establish what that numerical superiority suggests. The pupil would see that, in whatever respects it may have changed, the language he reads and talks is really that which King Alfred read and talked, really that which some four centuries before Alfred's time was brought over from Northern Germany into this island, then called Britannia, to become its one permanent language, and from it to be spread to all the ends of the earth. This one great fact cannot be too much insisted upon, because it is so common to speak of English as a fusion of several languages. Nothing could be less true. A man does not cease to be master of his house because he entertains many guests. The Anglian invader did not drive the old Keltic tenant out of the house when he entered himself upon possession, but permitted him to live, in a lower capacity no doubt, where he had lived before; whether he would or not, he has received within his precincts many a stout foreigner who for a time perhaps had seemed to unseat and suppress him ; Danes and Norman-Frenchmen have rudely occupied the daïs of his hall, and he has been fain to eat at the lower table ; but yet the house has remained his through all these turbulent visitations : the tyranny has soon overpast, and the rightful master been seen sitting as of old at the head of his board. All this strange eventful history may be well illustrated from Rosabelle. It may be seen what English is, and to what influences it has with greater or less effect been exposed.

What other words have we in English cognate with tell ? What is the meaning of the termination of lovely ? Compare the German lieblich. In what relation does English stand to German ? What European language is yet nearer akin than German is ? What is the meaning of to-day ? Compare

“Time to think on it then ; for thou'll be twenty to weeäk,in Tennyson's Northern Farmer, New Style. Compare also tomorrow. What is the meaning of fore in forebode ? Mention other words in which fore has the same meaning. Has it the same in forego ? in therefore ? in before? What German prefix answers to it? What is the derivation of lonely? What of moonbeam ? Compare Lucretius' “tela diei,&c.

The Norman-French influence is, it may be noticed, strongly repre. sented in this poem. The heroine's very name is Norman-French. “Haughty," “ gay,” “ feat,” “arms,” “note," “ deign,” “sire," " chief,” &c. are all highly significant Norman-French words. What is meant by gentle lady? What is the etymon of pinnet ? of battlement ? What had battlements to do with churches ? What is the derivation of chapelle ? How is it that the c in candle is not softened in like manner ?

Ladies gay.—It is worth noticing that “ladies" is a native English word ; “dame," though it yet lives in the second “m” of “ma'am,” did not finally supersede it. “ Gay” was given us by the NormanFrench. How much of deep interest do these two words suggest ! They might be treated in a history of the English language as a happily representative phrase.

Feat is etymologically the same word with fact. It might be useful to collect instances of similar pairs, as royal, regal, &c.—the one preserving almost intact the original Latin form, the other presenting that form all modified and corrupted.

Then there are ecclesiastical Latin words of interest : dirge (as we still speak of the Te Deum, the Magnificat, &c.); sacristy (observe the change in the first part, as it appears in sexton); altar.

Inch takes us back to the pre-English period. It is a Keltic word for island, or ilanit, as we ought to write (isle is quite a distinct word). The Atlas will show it attached to certain islands in the estuary of the Forth. Off the western coast of Ireland it appears in the dialectic form, Inis.

Firth, again, gives us a trace of the Northmen who broke in such fierce storms upon our sea-borders in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries. It is radically the same word as ford in Deptford and other names found on our coasts and up our rivers ; a different word from the ford in such inland names as Oxford, Bedford, &c. It is, in fact, fiord, perhaps a congener of the Latin fretum, &c.

And let us not forget that proper names, too, have, or have had, their meaning. To us they often seem mere symbols ; their voices are altogether meaningless ; but it was not always sc. Every proper noun was once a common noun. Thus Ravensheugh denoted the raven's crag or steep. Compare laughs in Wordsworth's Yarrow Unvisited:

“There's Galla Water, Leader Haughs,

Both lying right before us ;”

and the old ballad Willy drowned in Yarrow :

"O Leader haughs are wide and braid,

And Yarrow haughs are bonny."

The composition of Rosabelle is obvious. Roslin is Keltic in both its parts : Ros is the Gaelic ros, a headland; it occurs in the names Ross in Herefordshire, in Montrose, Roscommon, Rossneath, and in Rossberg, Monte Rosa, Rosenlaui, in Switzerland. Lin is perhaps the Keltic linn; compare King's Lynn, Lincoln, Dublin, Linlithgow. (See Taylor's Words and Places.) The den in Dryden and in Hairthornden is the same as that in Tenterden, and perhaps in Ardennes and as the dean in Hazeldean. It is the oldest English (what is commonly called Anglo-Saxon) dena or den, a valley ;” we still use the word in a special sense--for a wild beast's lair. Saint Clair is the older form of the surname Sinclair; so Saint Mawr of Seymour : compare the pronunciation of St. John. How could a family claim saintship for itself,

at least in its name? Perhaps in much the same way as in still older ages men called themselves after Woden, and Thor, and other primitive godheads.

The words must be looked at not only with reference to their origin, but more particularly in respect of their meanings and of the meaning each one bears in the passage immediately studied. Of course, in deciding what the meaning is, the etymology will often be of paramount-it will generally be of some importance; but a word sometimes wanders far away from the sense to which it was born, and forms for itself quite new connections. The bare derivation of such words as villain, pagan, tawdry, assassin, bayonet, &c. would not be enough to explain the words to us. To connect a word's present sense or senses with its origin will frequently require no little ingenuity : sometimes no little knowledge also. There are, perhaps, no conspicuous specimens of this class of difficulties in Rosabelle; but it must not be forgotten. Certainly, whether it is advisable to search after derivations or not, definitions must be perpetually asked for. The furnishing them will often tax the pupil's powers of intelligent expression to the utmost. There can be no better exercise for him than to put into a lucid and complete shape the idea which is hovering about his mind indistinct and formless. Rosabelle is easy in this respect; but let the pupil say—and let him express himself in fullformed sentences, not by mere chips and fragments, by stammering out some nounless verb or verbless noun—what is the exact force of feat, of panoply, of sable, of sable shroud (a phrase borrowed from Milton's Lycidas, l. 22), of buttress, of pale, of gifted, &c. A pupil's knowledge is probably not of much value if he cannot reproduce it. It may be truly said of him in one sense,

“Scire tuum nihil est nisi te scire hoc sciat alter.” What is meant by a metaphor, by a simile, by a personification ? These are very important terms, because they represent ways of speaking that are common in all languages, and not only common, but universal. Nearly all words are, or were originally, metaphorical ; though in a vast number the metaphorical colour has entirely faded away. We talk poetry as unconsciously as Molière's immortal parvenu talked prose. The word metaphor, which is Greek, corresponds as nearly as possible to the Latin word translation, meta = trans,

phor = lation. In what sense is a metaphor a translation ? Now what metaphors occur in Rosabelle ? Mr. Abbott, in his Shakespearian Grammar, makes an excellent suggestion as to the treatment of metaphors, to this effect, that they should be “expanded.” Thus such a phrase as “ the ships plough the sea,” in its expanded form becomes As the plough turns up the land, so the ship acts on the sea.” Then what is the difference between a metaphor and a simile? Are there any personifications in Rosabelle, &c. ?

VI.

(ix.) The subject matter of the poem and the language of it having been carefully studied, some attempt at a criticism of it might be encouraged, at least with more advanced students. “They mistake the nature of criticism,” says Dryden, in the Preface to his State of Innocence, “who think its business is to find fault.” All the word means is a judgment-a verdict; judgments and verdicts are not always of condemnation. Now what are the merits of this imitation ballad ? Perhaps its supreme virtue is the simple vigour with which its pictures are drawn. There is no personal intrusion ; there are no vain cries and groans; there is no commenting and explaining. The pictures tell their own story, and tell it so vividly and thrillingly that nothing more is needed. The intensity of the piece would be destroyed by any words of commiseration. The deepest feelings are not the most garrulous. When the frightful news reached Macduff that his castle was surprised, his “ wife and babes savagely slaughtered," he pulled his hat over his brows, and gave sorrow no words : a shallower grief would have" played the woman with its eyes and braggart with its tongue.” This is the true secret of what power the old ballad poetry possesses. The writers conceive their situations so forcibly that they cannot indulge in any idle moanings ; they cannot play with their agony ; their sympathy is too profound for melodious sighs ; their hands are so paralyzed with woe that they cannot tear their hair and beat their breasts. There is something awful in this plainness. You see the face of Necessity herself; you are spell-bound by her

* See Quintilian's Inst. Orat. VIII. vi. 4: "Incipiamus igitur ab eo (tropo], qui cum frequentissimus est tum longe pulcherrimus, translatione dico, quæ uetapopá Græce vocatur.” See also Cic. de Orat. iii. 38.

« PreviousContinue »