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a valuable patrimony, large libraries were founded at Weremouth, in Northumberland, at Hexham, at York, and other places; and the writings of Venerable Bede, of Alcuinus, and many other scholars who issued from these seminaries, excited universal and merited admiration.
But the scholars of the eighth century, communicating only with each other, and taking little interest in the concerns of such of their fellowcreatures as were unable to express their happiness or misery in Greek or Latin, do not seem to have produced very extensive benefits to mankind. So much of life was wasted in acquiring erudition, that little remained for the application of it ; and, as nature seldom produces a long succession of prodigies, learning expired with its first professors. Alfred is said to have lamented that, in his youth, rery few priests south of the Humber understood the ordinary service of the church; and that he knew none south of the Thames who were capable of turning a piece of Latin into Saxon.
It may, perhaps, have been matter of regret to this great monarch that he was unable to naturalize among his subjects the languages of Greece and Rome, which he considered as the depositaries of much useful information; but, by translating into
Saxon the most valuable works of antiquity that could then be procured, he accomplished his purpose more effectually. He at the same time enriched and polished his native language; which, being already the organ of the laws, and becoming, during his reign, the vehicle of religion, of science, and of the arts, acquired a copiousness and elegance, superior to that of any of the Teutonic or Romance dialects then spoken in Europe.
This era of pure Saxon literature was, however, of short duration. The incessant invasions, and ultimate subjugation of the country by the Danes, a nation of kindred origin, but far inferior to the Saxons in civilization, not only checked the pro• gress of improvement, but nearly replunged our language into its pristine barbarism. Its subsequent recovery was prevented, first by the conduct of Edward the Confessor and his courtiers, who took a miserable pride in adopting a foreign idiom, instead of attempting to restore the energy of their own, and, soon afterwards, by the Norman conquest.
The establishment of our present mixed language, and indeed every link in the chain of its history, may, perhaps, be traced to this important event, as to its remote cause and origin. But the mode of its operation has not been, I think,
satisfactorily explained ; too much having been attributed to the supposed prejudices, and imaginary designs of The Conqueror, while the general circumstances in which he was placed, and the obvious tendency of his general policy, have been too much overlooked,
In the first place il secms evident, that if the Normans, after completing their conquest, had readily mingled with the native inhabitants of the country, they could have effected only a very slight and temporary alteration in the Saxon language. Their numbers were too small. For this reason, the ancestors of these very Normans who established themselves in Neustria, produced no sensible change in the Romance dialect of that province. If some few corruptions had been introduced by the first admixture, they probably would have disappeared after one or two generations; and the purity of the written language would have been preserved, by means of the almost innumerable models of composition which then existed, and of which considerable remains are still preserved.
But the general disaffection and spirit of revolt, excited among the English by the evident partiality of the Conqueror to the partners of his victory, compelled him to adopt a system of defence for
his newly acquired dominions, which had a necessary tendency to produce the changes that afterwards took place in the language of his subjects.
It has been observed by all our historians, that the Saxons, though a brave and warlike people, had made little progress in the art of fortification, and that to this circumstance the Danes were indebted for the almost constant success of their piratical incursions. The Normans, on the contrary, surpassed all the nations of Europe in this branch of tactics; and William, availing himself of this superiority, erected numerous citadels, which, being filled with Norman garrisons, secured and over-awed all the towns in the kingdom, and afforded him the means of assembling his army with safety and expedition.
It is evident that each of these garrisons bore a much higher proportion to the number of inhabitants in the neighbouring cities, at whose expense they were from the first supported, than that of the whole body of Normans to the aggregate population of the kingdom. It was necessary, therefore, that some mercantile jargon should be adopted as a medium of communication between the foreigners and the natives; and although such a jargon, being only employed for occasional purposes by each, could not immediately displace and become a
substitute for the established language of either : though the Normans were, during a very considerable length of time, completely separated from their English neighbours by the strongest opposition of passions and prejudices : though even their commercial intercourse was very limited : it may be doubted whether these circumstances had not the eifect, of ultimately rendering more complete that alteration of language, which they certainly contributed, in the first instance, to retard,
In fact, the most striking peculiarity in the establishment of our vulgar English is, that it appears to have very suddenly superseded the pure and legitimate Saxon, from which its elements were principally derived, instead of becoming its successor, as generally has been supposed, by a slow and imperceptible process. The Saxon, certainly, never ceased to be cultivated during more than a century after the Conquest, because the conclusion of the Saxon Chronicle, which relates. the death of Stephen, cannot have been written before the following reign; and the translation of Wace by Layamon is not likely to have been composed much before the year 1180. From this period, I believe, the language began to decline, but it did not cease till much later; for we have a Saxon charter dated in the 43d year