Page images




§ 1. The most ancient inhabitants of the British Isles. § 2. The Roman occupation. § 3. Traces of the Celtic and Latin periods in the English language. § 4. Teutonic settlements in Britain. § 5. Anglo-Saxon language and literature. § 6. Effects of the Norman conquest upon the English population and language. § 7. Romance Literature, Norman Trouvères and Provençal Troubadours. §8. Change of Anglo-Saxon into English. $9. Principal epochs of the English language.

§ 1. WITHIN the limited territory comprised by a portion of the British Isles has grown up a language which has become the speech of the most free, the most energetic, and the most powerful portion of the human race; and which seems destined to be, at no distant period, the universal medium of communication throughout the globe. It is a language, the literature of which, inferior to none in variety or extent, is superior to all others in manliness of spirit, and in universality of scope; and it has exerted a great and a continually increasing influence upon the progress of human thought, and the improvement of human happiness. To trace the rise and formation of such a language cannot be otherwise than interesting and instructive.

The most ancient inhabitants of the British Islands, concerning whom history has handed down to us any certain information, were a branch of that Celtic race which appears to have once occupied a large portion of Western Europe. Though the causes and period of their immigration into Europe are lost in the clouds of pre-historical tradition, this people, under the various appellations of Celts, Gael (Gaul) or Cymry (Cimbrians), seems to have covered a very large extent of territory, and to have retained strong traces, in its Druidical worship, its astronomical science, and many other features, of a remote Oriental descent. It is far from probable, however, that this race ever attained more than the lowest degree of civilization: the earliest records of it which we possess, at the time when it came in contact with the Roman arms, show it to have been then in a condition very little superior to barbarism — a fact sufficiently indicated by its nomad and predatory mode of existence, by the absence of agriculture, and above all by the

« PreviousContinue »