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Blitons—Their Oriental Origin—Caesar's Invasion, B.C. 60–Traces of the Celtic Speech in English-Analysis of English–Saxon Tongue—Disuse of Saxon Inflections—The English Th—The English W-Pronunciation— Latin Element—Origin of English Language-Norman Conquest—William —Monasteries—Twelfth Century—Saxon Chronicle—Norman French— Layamon–Thirteenth Century-Robert of Gloucester—Neologism—Fourteenth Century–Mannyng—Wickliffe and Chaucer—Gower–Hermit of Hampole-Pleadings in English–Trevisa, Translation of Higden–Mandeville—Fifteenth Century-Lydgate—Statutes in English–Sixteenth Cen
tury --Reformation — Cheke — Skelton — Surrey and Wyatt— Berners— Ascham—Spenser—Chaucerism–Euphuism—Seventeenth Century—Protectorate—Gallicism -- Restoration – Eighteenth Century—Proportion of Saxon in English.
- Af • . THE most ancient inhabitants of the British islands were the Celts, Cymry, or Britong, as they are variously styled. That these rude and savage tribes were offshoots from the mighty race whose roots nave struck so deep into the soil of most countries of Western and Southern Europe, there can be no doubt. Antiquaries may be undecided as to the origin of this venerable family of mankind, or as to the period at which it first migrated into Europe; but it is impossible not to believe that it formed one of the primary divisions of the human race; and there is very strong probability, from many noteworthy circumstances, that it originally came from the eastern regions of the globe. In their mysterious and venerable system of theistic philosophy there are to be found so many points of resemblance with various recondite doctrines which we know to have been current from the remotest ages in the interior of India, that it is very difficult to be. lieve such resemblances to be entirely accidental; particularly when X. - . (25)
we reflect that many of these dogmas—the transmigration of the soul, for instance—were parts of a creed not at all likely to have arisen spontaneously among so rude and Savage a people as we know the Celts to have been. The extraordinary reverence paid by the Druids to the oak; their adoption of the mistletoe as an emblem of the immortality of the soul; the peculiar virtues which they attached to the number three ; the magic powers which they imagined to reside in certain rhythmical and musical combinations; their addiction to the study of astronomy; and the singular peculiarity of a religious caste among them—these, among many other coincidences, would seem to claim for the Celts an evident, though perhaps remote, Oriental origin: an opinion further strengthened by the analogies which exist between some of the most ancient Indian dialects and the language of the Britons. It was with this singular people that the Romans came in contact; and seldom had Caesar's iron veterans encountered a more desperate and obstinate foe. With the history of that long contest we have nothing to do at present; it is sufficient for our purpose to sketch, as briefly and rapidly as possible, the results of the struggle. Such of the Britons as were spared by the Roman sword, by the not less fatal influence of Latin corruption, and the fierce intestine convulsions which decimated their ranks, were gradually driven back from the southern and central parts of Britain to take refuge in the inaccessible fastnesses of their mountains. A glance at the map will suffice to explain this; for we shall see the descendants of the ancient British race still occupying those parts of the country to which their ancestors had retired. In all districts of England and Scotland distinguished by any considerable tract of mountains, the Celtic blood has remained more or less pure, the Celtic language unchanged, and strong traces of the Celtic manners, language, and superstitions still prevail. It is, however, singular to remark how invariably the Celtic race has continued to diminish wherever it has been exposed to contact with the Teutonic tribes: thus the once purely Celtic population of Cornwall has gradually lost its individual character, and has almost ceased to exist; in Wales and in the Highlands of Scotland, two districts in which, and particularly in the former, the British blood has been least exposed to foreign admixture, the ancient race is yet slowly losing its marked peculiarities; and the day will probably come when the wild mountain fastnesses, which formed an insuperable barrier to the Roman sword and to the Saxon battle-axe, will have ceased to resist the silent spread of Teutonic commerce and Teutonic civilization. The fate of the Celtic race in Britain has somewhat resembled that of the aboriginal tribes of the American continents: slowly but surely have they retired and contracted before the invading nations; and possibly in future ages the harp of the Bard and the claymore of the Sennachie will be picturesque but unsubstantial recollections, such as exist of she feathered tunic of the Mexitlam or the chivalric scalpingtuft of the Sioux. - - - - Words are the pictures or reflections of things; and the genius, character, and capabilities of a nation can in no way be so well studied as in its language. From the earliest periods of our history the Celtic race has existed over the whole or a notable portion of the British islands; the British language, and, in some cases, no other, is spoken over a considerable extent of these countries—in Wales, in the Highlands of Scotland, in Ireland, and in the Isle of Man; some among these tribes possess large collections of very ancient and curious poems written in the respective dialects of the great Celtic speech; and yet, notwithstanding all this, the number of Celtic words which have taken root in the English language is so incrediby small that it can hardly be said to have exerted any influence whatever on the composite speech now used in the country. A large proportion, too, even of these scanty transplantations has taken place at a comparalively recent period, and the words so adopted have generally been transferred by poets and writers of fiction—Scott, for example—who found the Celtic expression either more picturesque and forcible than the equivalent which already existed in English (of Norman or Saxon Origin), or else a lively and characteristic image for some object or idea peculiarly Celtic. Of the former kind we may adduce the words “cairn,” “cromlech,” and of the latter the word “clan.” “Clan,” it is evident, expresses an idea so exclusively Celtic that it forms a o and untranslatable sign of that idea; while “cairn,” though y no means peculiar to the Celts, and defining a mode of honourable burial universal in former ages (as testified by the zago; of the Greek heroic age, by the tumulus of the Etruscan peoples, and by the barrows of the Teutons), was nevertheless adopted as being a more local and exact image of the same hero-burial among the Celts. * With regard to the paucity of Celtic words which have retained a place in modern English, a Russian would remark something analogous in the history of his own language. The Tartars, in spite of two centuries and a half of complete and universal domination in Russia, have left hardly any traces of their language in the present Slavonic dialect of Russia; and the few words of Tartar origin that might be cited generally express articles of dress, equipment, food, &c., for which the Russians had no proper equivalent. In this case too we may note the difference of circumstances which tended to pre went any fusion between the conquered and conquerors: the abhor rence with which the Russian people—always extremely bigoted— regarded rapacious and haughty oppressors of a different religion, and of utterly barbarous habits. It is to be remarked, too, that the Tartar tanguage is destitute of any literature at all comparable, in point of richness or antiquity, to the Celtic poems—a barrenness which the Russial, muju have contrasted with his own majestic, slexible, and