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in the British tongue, than in the old Saxon, which, excepting some few variations in the orthography, is the same in most original words with our present English, as well as with the German and other Northern dialects.
Edward the Confessor having lived long in France, appears to be the first who introduced. any mixture of the French tongue with the Saxon; the court affecting what the prince was fond of, and others taking it up for a fashion, as it is now with us.William the Conqueror proceeded much farther; bringing over with him vast numbers of that nation, scattering them in every monastery, giving them great quantities of land, directing all pleadings to be in that language, and endeavouring to make it universal in the kingdom. This at least is the opinion generally received: but your lordship has fully convinced me, that the French tongue made, yet a greater progress here under Harry the Second, who had large territories on that continent both from his father and his wife, made fréquent journeys and expeditions thither, and was always attended with a number of his countrymen, retainers at his, court.
For some centuries after, there was a constant intercourse between France and England, by the dominions we possessed there, and the conquests we made; so that our language, between two and three hundred years ago, seems to have had a greater mixture with French, than at present; many words having been afterward rejected, and some since the time of Spencer; although we have still retained not a few, which have been long antiquated in France. I could produce several in
stances of both kinds, if it were of any use or entertainment.
To examine into the several circumstances by which the language of a country may be altered, would force me to enter into a wide field. I shall only observe, that the Latin, the French, and the English, seem to have undergone the same fortune, The first, from the days of Romulus to those of Julius Cæsar, suffered perpetual changes: and by what we meet in those authors who occasionally speak on that subject, as well as from certain fragments of old laws, it is manifest that the Latin, three hundred years before Tully, was as unintelligible in his time, as the English and French of the same period are now; and these two have changed as much since William the Conqueror, (which is but little less than seven hundred years) as the Latin appears to have done in the like term. Whether our language, or the French, will decline as fast as the Roman did, is a question, that would perhaps admit more debate than it is worth. There were many reasons for the corruptions of the last: as, the change of their government to a tyranny, which ruined the study of eloquence, there being no farther use or encouragement for popular orators: their giving not only the freedom of the city, but capacity for employments, to several towns in Gaul, Spain, and Germany, and other distant parts, as far as Asia; which brought a great number of foreign pretenders into Rome: the slavish disposition of the senate and people, by which the wit and eloquence of the age were wholly turned into panegyrick, the most barren of all subjects: the great corruption
corruption of manners, and introduction of foreign luxury, with foreign terms to express it, with several others that might be assigned; not to mention those invasions from the Goths and Vandals, which are too obvious to insist on *.
The Roman language arrived at great perfection, before it began to decay: and the French, for these last fifty years, has been polishing as much as it will bear, and appears to be declining by the natural inconstancy of that people, and the affectation of some late authors to introduce and multiply cant words, which is the most ruinous corruption in any language. La Bruyere, a late celebrated writer among them, makes use of many new terms, which are not to be found in any of the common dictionaries before his time. But the English tongue is not arrived to such a degree of perfection, as to make us apprehend any thoughts of its decay; and if it were once refined to a certain standard, perhaps there might be ways found out to fix it for ever, or at least till we are invaded and made a conquest† by some other state; and even then our best writings might probably be preserved with care, and grow into esteem, and the authors have a chance for immortality.
But without such great revolutions as these (to which we are, I think, less subject than kingdoms upon the continent) I see no absolute necessity why any language should be perpetually changing; for we find many examples to the contrary.
*This is ungrammatical; it should be- which are too obvious to be insisted on.' S.
+ It should be made a conquest of,' &c. S.
From Homer to Plutarch are above a thousand years; so long at least the purity of the Greek tongue may be allowed to last, and we know not how far before. The Grecians spread their colonies round all the coasts of Asia Minor, even to the northern parts lying toward the Euxine, in every island of the Egean sea, and several others in the Mediterranean; where the language was preserved entire for many ages, after they themselves became colonies to Rome, and till they were overrun by the barbarous nations upon the fall of that empire. The Chinese have books in their language above two thousand years old, neither have the frequent conquests of the Tartars been able to alter it. The German, Spanish, and Italian, have admitted few or no changes for some ages past. The other languages of Europe I know nothing of; neither is there any occasion to consider them.
Having taken this compass, I return to those considerations upon our own language, which I would humbly offer your lordship. The period, wherein the English tongue received most improvement, I take to commence with the beginning of queen Elizabeth's reign, and to conclude with the great rebellion in forty-two. Tis true, there was a very ill taste both of style and wit, which prevailed under king James the first; but that seems to have been corrected in the first years of his successor, who, among many other qualifications of an excellent prince, was a great patron of learning. From the civil war to this present time, I am apt to doubt, whether the corruptions in our language have not at least equalled
the refinements of it; and these corruptions very few of the best authors in our age have wholly escaped. During the usurpation, such an infusion of enthusiastick jargon prevailed in every writing, as was not shaken off in many years after. To this succeeded that licentiousness which entered with the restoration, and from infecting our religion and morals, fell to corrupt our language; which last was not likely to be much improved by those, who at the time made up the court of king Charles the second; either such who had followed him in his banishment, or who had been altogether conversant in the dialect of those fanatic times; or young men, who had been educated in the same country so that the court, which used to be the standard of propriety and correctness of speech, was then, and, I think, has ever since continued, the worst school in England for that accomplishment; and so will remain, till better care be taken in the education of our young nobility, that they may set out into the world with some foundation of literature, in order to qualify them for patterns of politeness, The consequence of this defect, upon our language, may appear from the plays, and other compositions written for entertainment within fifty years past; filled with a succession of affected phrases, and new conceited words, either borrowed from the current style of the court, or from those, who, under the character of men of wit and pleasure, pretended to give the law, Many of these refinements have already been long antiquated, and are now hardly intelligible;