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solemnity of these festivals; and as the French minstrels had, long since, pre-occupied the fabulous era of every known history, their English successors were reduced to the necessity of translating. In executing this task, under the constraint of finding a constant succession of rhymes, in a : language which was hitherto rude and untractable, they might often be led to borrow the words and phrases of the original. At least it was their interest to adopt and give a currency to every new term, which had acquired the authority of colloquial usage: so that the compositions of our early writers are become nearly unintelligible to those, who are not familiarly acquainted with the Norman vocabulary
It is very possible that our language may not have received much real improvement from this indiscriminate adoption of foreign idioms; but perhaps it was in some measure indebted to them for its reception at court, where it supplanted the Norman-French, which had exclusively prevailed there, from the time of the conquest. This alter.. ation, which insured to our national literature all the advantages that patronage can bestow, seems to have taken place in the reign of Edward III, whose policy led him, to excite a hatred of France among his subjects, and who proscribed
the exclusive use of French in our laws, and in the elements of education. Gower, as we have seen, commenced his literary career by aspiring to the character of a French poet, and only began his English work in his old age, during the reign and by the command of Richard II. The fashionable dialect, therefore, had probably changed during the interval, and it may be presumed, that this change also procured us the advantage of Chaucer's talents, which, from the circumstances of his birth and education, would naturally have been employed, had he written a few years sooner, in cultivating a foreign rather than his native language.
During the whole of this period, the Scotish dialect seems to have been nearly identical with that of England; but its history is, unfortunately, still more obscure than our own. We do not possess a single specimen of the original language spoken in Scotland during the eleventh century; and the only compositions in the Anglo-Norman dialect, anterior to the life of Bruce, are, the song written about 1285, on the death of Alexander III. which is to be seen in the first volume of this work, and a romance attributed to Thomas of Erceldoun, which, I believe, was first discovered by Mr. Ritson in the Advocate's Library at Edinburgh.
This very curious poem, is apparently coeval with Adam Davie's romance of Alisaundre,* which it resembles in some degree, by the shortness and abruptness of its diction. It is written in a very singular and difficult stanza of eleven lines, which proves the author to have possessed a degree of metrical skill, very unusual at that early period; and has, besides, a plausible claim to the still more unusual merit of originality; as it seems to be quoted in a French metrical fragment of " Tristram,” which represents the narrative of Thomas as of high authority. But it is evident, that, however interesting in itself, or honourable to Scotish poetry, it can give us no assistance in tracing the progress of language in Scotland, from any original form, into the mixed state in which it is here exhibited.
In this dearth of materials it became necessary to have recourse to conjecture; and two hypotheses have been offered, both of which are recommended by much acute reasoning, and supported by a number of respectable authorities,
* I am happy in being able to add, that our stock of ancient English literature, is likely to be soon enriched by accurate editions of both these very interesting works. The former will be published under the direction of Mr. Walter Scott, and thc latter by Mr. Park.
Mr. Pinkerton, in a very ingenious and learned essay, prefixed to his extracts from the Maitland MSS. contends that the original language of Scotland was, like the Saxon and Danish, a dialect of the Gothic: that it was introduced by the Picts, a Scandinavian tribe who preceded the Scots, a Celtic colony from Ireland : and that the French part of the subsequent mixed language, was produced by the frequent intermarriages of the Scotish kings and nobles, during the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, with ladies of Anglo-Norman blood, and by the long residence of these princes in the counties of Northumberland and Cumberland, which they held, as feudatories, of the crown of England.
Mr. Ritson, on the contrary, in a no less elaborate essay, prefixed to his selection of Scotish songs, attempts to prove by a long chain of authorities, that the Picts were, no less than the Scots, a Celtic nation: that the Gaelic language was formerly universal in Scotland; but that having never been employed in works of literature, it was gradually superseded by the English, in consequence of those relations with this country, which resulted from the policy of Malcolm III. and his successors.
It is evidently impossible to reconcile antagonists who have no one opinion in common, and who interpret differently the same authorities, and draw opposite conclusions from the few facts on which they are agreed. I shall therefore content myself with stating, as correctly as I can, the present amount of our information on the subject, and leave the result to the determination of the reader.
It seems to be satisfactorily proved by Mr. Macpherson, in his “Geographical Illustrations of “ Scotish History," that the kingdom of Northumberland, founded by the Angles in the sixth century, extended from the Humber as far as the southern bank of the Firth of Forth; and, following that shore to the westward, as far as the GraemisDyke, included the provinces of Lothian and Galloway; a country, in superficial extent, not far short of one-fourth, and in wealth and population equal, perhaps, to about a third, of what we now call Scotland. These provinces, though claimed by the kings of England after the union of the Heptarchy, were definitively ceded by Edgar to Kenneth king of the Scots and Picts, on condition that “ he should do homage for this part of his “ dominions to the crown of England, and preo serve to the inhabitants their ancient customs