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the result of any capricious feeling, acknowledging no general principle of action; but a revolution effected upon certain and determinate laws, which, however undefined in their origin, are sufficiently evident in their consequences. The general result has been, a language whose grammatical rules have been long ascertained, at least in every particular bearing upon the present subject; and we are thus supplied with two unvarying standards of appeal at the extremes of the inquiry. Now, in such a state of the question, it will be obvious that every word which has retained to our own times the orthography bestowed upon it by the Anglo-Saxons, must during the intervening periods have preserved in the enunciation a general similarity of sound; and that however differently it may be written, or whatever additional letters or variations of them may have been conferred upon it by transcribers, there could have been only one legitimate form of its orthography. The changes introduced could only have been caused by an attempt to reconcile the orthography with the sounds emitted in delivery; and ought not to be considered as in any degree indicative of a fluctuation in the mode of pronouncing them. In another numerous class of words, it is equally clear that a change of orthography from the Anglo-Saxon forms has arisen solely , from the abolition of the accentual marks which distinguished the long and short syllables. As a substitute for the former, the Norman scribes, or at least the disciples of the Norman school of writing, had recourse to the analogy which governed the French language; and to avoid the confusion which would have sprung from observing the same form in writing a certain number of letters differently enounced and bearing a different meaning, they elongated the word, or attached as it were an accent instead of superscribing it. From hence has emanated an extensive list of terms, having final e's and duplicate consonants; and which were no more the representa
tives of additional syllables, than the acute or grave accent in the Greek language is a mark of metrical quantity 18. Of those variations which arose from elision, a change in the enunciation, or from the adoption of a new combination of letters for the same sound, it is impossible to speak briefly ; and a diligent comparison of our early texts, and a clear understanding of the analogies which have prevailed in the constitution of words, can alone enable us to speak decisively. But with this knowledge before us of the real state of the question, it is high time to relieve ourselves of the arbitrary restrictions imposed by a critic wholly ignorant of the first principles by which language is regulated; whose acquaintance with the fountain head of “ English undefiled” induced him to call it "a meagre and barren jargon which was incapable
a of discharging its functions,” (though possessing all the natural copiousness and plastic power of the Greek); and whose love for the lore itself seems rather to have arisen from a blind admiration of those barbaric innovations which make it repulsive to the scholar and the man of taste, than from any feeling of the excellencies that adorn it. The trammels of the Ritsonian school can only perpetuate error, by justifying the preconceived notions of “confusion and anomalies," from the very documents that ought to contain a refutation of such opinions; and we can never hope to obtain a legitimate series of specimens, duly illustrating the rise and progress of the language, till we recur to the same principles in establishing
190 The converse of this can only be deceived and impose'd upon ; the pleamaintained, under an assumption that sure they receive is derive'd from the idea the Anglo-Saxon words of one syllable of antiquity, which in fact is perfect multiplied their numbers after the con- illusion ! There is no parrying an obquest, and in some succeeding century jection of this kind, which, forcible as subsided into their primitive simplicity. it may be, is not quite original. It is
181 Mr. Ritson has thus spoken of the language of that worthy gentleman Dr. Percy's corrections of the Reliques M. la Rancune in the Roman Comiof English Poetry: “ The purchaseërs que, troisieme partie, c. 9. and peruseërs such a collection are
our texts that have been observed by every editor of a Greek or Roman classic. With such a system for our guide, we may expect to see the natural order which prevailed in the enunciation of the language, restored to the pages recording it; and an effectual check imposed upon the “multiplying spawn” of reprints, which, in addition to all the errors preserved in the first impression from the manuscripts uniformly present us with the further mistakes of the typographer. Whether such a principle was felt by Warton, in the substitution he has made of more recent forms in his text, for the unsettled orthography of his manuscripts, must now be a fruitless inquiry; but we shall have no difficulty in convincing ourselves, that his specimens would have been more intelligible to the age in which they were written, if enounced by a modern, than the transcripts of Mr. Ritson with all their scrupulous fidelity.
The glossarial notes of Warton form so small a portion of his labours, that they would not have required a distinct enumeration, had they not been made the subject of Mr. Ritson's animadversion. That they constituted no essential part of his undertaking, that his general views of our early poetry, and his opinions' upon the respective merits of our poets, would have been as accurate and perspicuous without subjoining a single glossarial illustration, or failing to thrice the extent in which he has committed himself, will be felt by any liberal critic who will take the trouble of examining how few of Warton's positions are affected by these deficiencies. The amount of obsolete terms in any early writer, bears so small a proportion to the general mass of his matter, that his genius might be appretiated, and his excellencies pourtrayed, by a person unable to refer to a single gloss on the text. The assistance thus acquired may develop particular beauties, or give a firmer comprehension of their effect; but the poetry which depends for its merit upon the felicity of single phrases,
whose import is only to be gathered from isolated terms, can scarcely suffer by our want of ability to detect its disjointed meaning. For every purpose of an historian, Warton's skill in glossography was certainly sufficient; and, if not co-extensive with the vaunted acquirements of his opponent, it will
162 hardly rank him lower in the scale of such attainments than the place allotted his adversary. There are few men at the present day who have given their attention to this subject, that will think otherwise than lightly of the “utmost care observed in the glossary” to the Metrical Romances; and no one who has advanced to any proficiency in the study, who will not readily acknowledge the easy nature of such labours, how little of success is to be considered as the result of mental energy, the effort of genius rather than passive industry.
It now only remains to give an account of the plan upon which the present edition has been conducted. The text of Warton has been scrupulously preserved with the exception of a few unimportant corrections, of which notice is given by the interpolations being printed within brackets. The specimens of early poetry have been either collated with MSS. in the British Museum, or copied from editions of acknow
183, ledged fidelity 184 ; and the glossarial notes corrected wherever
18 Whenever Mr. Ritson felt dis- knight no compliment in the question posed to read a lecture on glossography, he asks: " Is he aught,” says he, “but Mr. Ellis was usually summoned be a wretch (or begerly rascal?) What fore the magisterial chair. The fol- does anyone care for him?" Now simple lowing amusing specimen may be cited as this passage may be, Mr. Ritson has by way of example:
contrived to "misconceive" it in two Than seyde the boy, Nys he but a
places: first by affixing a note of inwrecche ?
terrogation to wrecche; and secondly What thar any man of hym recche ?
by overlooking the verb “thar” (need).
This obsolete term occurs frequently Mister. Ellis hath strangely miscon- in Mr. Ritson's volumes, but finds no ceive'd this simple passage ; supposeing place in his glossary. awreche as it is there printed (i. e. 183 Mr. Park's collations of the Oxin Ways Fabliaux) to be one word and ford MSS. will be found at the end of the meaning “ He is not without his the respective volumes containing Warrevenge (i. e. compensation) whatever ton's transcripts. any man may think of him.”
The boy 184 The section on the Rowleian conhowever manifestly intends our seedy troversy forms an exception. It was
the editor's ability was equal to the task. But less attention has been directed to this latter subject than would otherwise have been bestowed upon it, from an intention long entertained of giving a general glossary to the whole work, which should embrace Warton's numerous omissions. The additional notes are such as appeared necessary, either for illustration or emendation of the subjects noticed: but the editor was early taught that the former would comprise a small part of his duties, since, however lavish Warton may appear in the communication of his matter, it will be obvious to any one who will trace him through his authorities, that he has been parsimonious rather than prodigal in the use of his resources. With such a hint, it was therefore considered incumbent to give no additional illustration which could by possibility have been within his knowledge. To the First Dissertation such notes have been added as could be conveniently introduced without interfering with Warton's theory; the second is so complete in itself, that the editor has been unable to detect in the more recent labours of Eichhorn, Heeren, Turner and Berrington, any omission which may not be considered as intentional. The third relates to a subject of which Warton has rather uncovered the surface than explored the depths, and which, notwithstanding the subsequent and important labours of Mr. Douce, still awaits a further investigation. In this edition, however, it has been made to follow those originally prefixed by Warton to his first volume, from a conviction that it will be found equally useful in preparing the reader's mind for the topics discussed in the succeeding pages.
But though thus compelled to speak of his own labours as
originally intended to throw this chapter they were gathered at the time from into an appendix; but a new division periodical publications), that the reader of the volumes brought it to the close of interested in the subject might form an the second. It has been faithfully re- estimate of the state of the question printed from Warton's text with all the her Warton pronounced his deciinaccuracies of the first transcripts (assion.