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soit qui mal y pense," a motto which still
remains upon our coat of arms, and which,
like Dieu et mon droit, is a daily memento
that the ruling race formerly spoke in the
French language. But we hear a different
speech in the mouths of the commons under
Wat Tyler and John Ball, with their popular

   When Adam dalf and Eva span,
   Where was then the gentleman?

or as the Germans still have it in almost the
same words:—

   Als Adam grub und Eva spann,
   Wo war da der Edelmann?

The best and most agreeable way of learning
the state of the English language, as it
existed during the latter part of the
fourteenth century, is to read John Wycliffe's
version of the New Testament, and Geoffrey
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. In these
works the two streams combine, though
perhaps not in equal proportions; for the
writings of Wycliffe, being designed for the
people, contain a larger proportion of Saxon
words; and those of Chaucer, composed for
readers who were not unacquainted with the
French metrical romances, include a number
of terms used in romance and chivalry; and,
as we have seen, most of these terms were
Norman. It is to be regretted that more
attention is not paid by English readers to
Wycliffe and Chaucer.

It unfortunately happens that Chaucer's
English is just old enough to require the aid
of a glossary, and yet not difficult enough to
confer upon those who master it, credit as
linguists. Many a person would not refuse
to spend several hours upon a hundred lines
of Ariosto or Tasso, who would grudge equal
labour to a tale of Chaucer's; for, after all,
Chaucer is only an Englishman, and we feel
that we have a birth-right to consider
ourselves English scholars. As reader of
Italian, one can make some pretence of the
accomplishments. But if any one caring to
work at English, should desire to render his
course of study easy, he would find it worth
while to study with care Wycliffe's version of
St. John's Gospel; he would then be
prepared, in some measure, to go on with
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales; and, after reading
two or three thousand lines, he would be
surprised to find himself almost as much at home
with the father of English poetry, as he can
be with Shakespeare or with Milton. At the
same time he may find it good suggestive
work to compare the original of the Knight's
Tale, or the Wife of Bath's Tale, with
modernised versions of the same by Dryden
and Pope.

In examining the words of Wycliffe and
Chaucer, we find that most of them are
either Saxon or French, and that a few are
derived directly from Latin. Sometimes
Wycliffe employs a Latin word, as Resurrection,
at other times he translates it, the
Agenrysynge (or again-rising); so also the word
Except appears as Out-taken, thus, Out-taken
women and children, for Except women and

From the fourteenth century until the
Reformation, the language received constant
accessions of Latin words, particularly in
works which treated of art or science, law or
religion. For as the authors had all studied
in Latin, they were apt to introduce school
phrases whenever they attempted to convey
their thoughts in English. And when, after
the fall of Constantinople, and the consequent
dispersion of the Greeks, old Greek literature
released from the ban first set on it, began to
attract notice in Western Europe, it became
the fashion to imitate the languages of
classical antiquity, and to regard Teutonic literature
as barbarous. This influence was very
strongly felt between the reigns of Queen
Elizabeth and Charles the First.

The Reformation worked both, ways: on
the one hand it aroused a desire of translating
the Bible into English, and the
translators had a direct object in using words
which the common people could understand;
but, on the other hand, the religious disputes
which ensued, caused many theological and
scholastic terms, such as justification,
sanctification, transubstantiation, consubstantiation,
and others, to become part of our
ordinary language.

Hence it is, that we find Latimer, Bishop
Hall, and Bunyan, addressing themselves to
the plain intelligence of the people; while
Hooker and Jeremy Taylor, adopting a
much more ambitious style, wrote for the
educated classes in society.

Roger Ascham has, however, well observed,
that a good writer must speak as the common
people do, and think as wise men do; for so
shall every man understand him, and the
judgment of wise men approve him.


I VOWED I never would keep another dog
again, if I lived a thousand years; but I broke
my word. I was sitting tête-à-tête with Mrs.
Jones one day after dinner, when, in the
midst of that kind of conversation which
policemen and housemaids call promiscuous,
she observed that a perfect love had been
offered her by our friend Mr. Bowlaway; but,
knowing my feelings, she had thrown cold
water on his proposition; "though," she
added, and in the same breath, "I must say
he is a dear little creature." For a moment
I fancied my wife's admiration for Mr.
Bowlaway (who is not near so tall a man as myself)
had led her a little too far; but, before the
cloud had time to gather on my brow, she set
me right by saying that he had a black tip to
his tail. I laughed. That mirthful ebullition
was fatal. Mrs. Jones at once took advantage
of it to dilate on the admirable qualities of

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