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He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn ;
Coleridge, Ancient Mariner.
hand.-Ben Jonson. 295. In Early English, when a noun is qualified by the article
a, and an adjective follows the noun, it is customary to repeat the article; as,
A monk there was, a fayre.
Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, Prologue. Therefore he was a prickasoure a right.-Ibid. that is, “a good hard rider;' where, however, the more recent editions have 'aright.'
When several adjectives follow the noun, the article is repeated with each : as, A Frere there was, a wanton, and a mery.
1.-Ibid. In later English, it is not uncommon to find the usual order-article, adjective, noun, and then another adjective with the article repeated : as,
Falstaff: And yet there is a virtuous man, whom I
have often noted in thy company, but I know not his Prince Henry: What manner of man, an it like your
majesty ? Falstaff : A good portly man, i' faith, and a corpulent.
1st Hen. IV., ii. 4. A very good piece of work, I assure you, and a merry.
Midsummer Night's Dream, i. 2.
296. When the indefinite article is used in connection with an adjective and a noun, where the adjective qualifies the noun, varieties of position are observable.
In Early English, we sometimes find the same order as in our modern language-article, adjective, noun : for example,
to hare feire burge,
to hare ægene burh,
Layamon, Brut, 3610, vol. i. p. 153. At other times, we have the article placed between the adjective and the noun : as,
he heo wolde habben.
Ibid. 3132, vol. i. p. 133. that is, 'for a noble queen.'
And we may remark that similar variations occur in the position of pronouns :
his drichliche lond.
noble his maiden. that is, his noble maiden.'
297. Now, although the former construction has become the general rule in modern composition, we still have vestiges of the latter; for with the words many, such, and what joined with
accompanied by the article, we find the article in the middle place : as,
When the merry bells ring round,
What a piece of work is man !-Hamlet, ii. 2.
King John, iii. 4. Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with
mine own hand.-Galatians, vi. 11. 298. Curiously enough, in some passages of Early English we find instances of the other construction; as, A such will brought this lond to gronde.
Robert of Gloucester. A so grete beast.-Chaucer. Hence the phrase "many a youth' is quite in accordance with the older forms of the language; 'many' is here a true adjective, while the article stands between the adjective and the noun.
299. Archbishop Trench (English Past and Present, pp. 160-162, ed. 1859) explains many a youth' as arising from confusion of thought, and forgetfulness of original form.
In the phrase 'many a youth,' he observes that the following points are perplexing to the student :
1. The place of the indefinite article between the adjective
and the substantive. 2. That it is not lawful to change the order, and to bring
back the article to its ordinary position. We cannot
say, a many youth,' or 'a many maid.' 3. That the junction of many,' an adjective of number,
with 'youth' and 'maid' in the singular, seems inconsistent; for withdraw that “a,' and it is not lawful to
say many youth,' or 'miany maid.' 300. Now the first and second objections are met by comparing the older forms of the language, where we observe a variation in the order of words : the article takes sometimes the first place, and sometimes the middle place.
In reply to the third objection, we admit that the form many youth' is not customary, but it would be warranted by the analogy of plurimus puer, in Latin. And so Virgil :
Aeneid, ii. 369. where Heyne paraphrases plurima mortis imago, h. e. ubique cædes facta cernitur ; passim cæsorum cadavera projecta. So Ovid : Plurima lecta rosa est; sunt et sine nomine flores ; Ipsa crocos tenues liliaque alba legit.
Fast. iv. 441. 301. The explanation offered by Archbishop Trench is this—that many
was originally a substantive, the Old French 'mesgnée,''mesnie,' and signified a 'household,' which
meaning it constantly has in Wycliffe, and which it retained down to the time of Spenser : Then forth he fared with all his
Shepherd's Calendar. We still recognise its character as a substantive in the phrases ' a good many,'' a great many,' and, in Old English or Scottish, even a few many.'
There can be no doubt that many' is often used as a substantive; though it may be derived from the Anglo-Saxon mænigeo, 'a multitude,' rather than from the Norman-French mesnie, meinie,''a household,'' a retinue.'
302. Then Archbishop Trench argues, truly enough, that a is sometimes a corrupted form of the preposition on or of: in this instance he considers it to stand for of, quoting Wycliffe, I encloside manye of seintis [multos sanctorum] in prisoun.
Acts, xxvi. 10. He concludes, there can be no reasonable doubt that such a phrase as many a youth' was once 'many of youths,' or 'a many of youths.' By much use of' was worn away into 'a'; this was then assumed to be the indefinite article, that which was really such being dropped ; and youths changed into 'youth' to match : one mistake, as is so often the case, being propped up and made plausible by a second, and thus we arrive at our present strange and perplexing idiom.
This explanation, however ingenious, is wholly unnecessary; because, as we have seen, 'many' can be explained, in this construction, as an adjective. 303. But in the phrases 'a many men,'
a many ships,''a great many years,' we cannot explain many as an adjective; for if so, it qualifies a noun in the plural, and yet it is joined with 'a' (an one'), which is singular.
We have seen above, that in Anglo-Saxon mænigeo is a noun signifying multitude,' crowd;' and even in modern English the many' bears this interpretation :
rend the skies with loud applause;
Dryden, Alexander's Feast. In these phrases a many men,' &c., I consider many' a noun, and the words men,' ships,' &c., as genitives by juxtaposition. According to this view, 'a many men' may
be rendered in Latin multitudo hominum, whereas many a youth' would be plurimus puer.
I would apply the same principle to the phrases 'a thousand men,' a dozen bottles ; ' but I must admit that it does not apply to a few horses; ' for few (Anglo-Saxon feawa) is properly an adjective; and I can find no authority, beyond this phrase or similar phrases, for the substantive use of that word.
304. We must not lose sight of the fact indicated by Archbishop Trench, that a is, in some instances, a contraction of the Anglo-Saxon preposition an or æt.
For example, we find the particle a before nouns which are used distributively; as, And passing rich with forty pounds a year.
Goldsmith, Deserted Village. where ' a year' means ' for each year,' or 'in each year.' So, too, in common conversation we say 'sixpence a pound,' 'four shillings a bushel.
It is a nice question whether, in these phrases, a is an indefinite article or a preposition. It may possibly be the relic of an old preposition; and the tendency in modern times to introduce the Latin per, «sixpence per pound,' appears to show the want of a preposition.
But, on reference to the Anglo-Saxon, we find that, in phrases of this kind, the noun was used in the dative or some other case, without a preposition, and that the word ælc, ‘ilk,
each' was frequently introduced ; as ælce gear, 'ilk year,' * each year; 'ælce dæy, 'ilk day,'' each day.'
On the whole, I am inclined to think that, in these phrases, a is the indefinite article, meaning one ; and that ‘forty pounds a year' means “forty pounds for one year,' i. e. ' for each and every year.'
305. There is more difficulty with those phrases where the particle a is joined with numerals; as,
And it came to pass about an eight days after these
sayings.—Luke, ix. 28.
For him was lever han at his beedes hed