« PreviousContinue »
The formation of English Character.
THE REV. JAMES BARDSLEY, M.A.,
RECTOR OF ST. ANN'S, MANCHESTER.
THE FORMATION OF ENGLISH CHARACTER.
The subject to which I have to call your attention is The Formation of English Character. It is a subject, at first sight, which appears to possess nothing very attractive or very promising in itself; but I cannot help thinking that when it is broken up and beaten out, there may be found something in it both of interest and of instruction. When we speak of the formation of character, it instantly suggests, as you will perceive, that character cannot be made; it has to grow. As it is with a tree-air, light, moisture, and soil are all essential to growth-so also in the formation of either personal, provincial, or national character, there are certain influences at work which are silent and secret in their operation, but which at the same time give a potent and permanent impress to character. Now, my friends, it is to some of these influences I shall call your attention this evening. I have not time to discuss fully a large and comprehensive subject like this, and therefore my only object will be to suggest materials for thoughts, and to point out a few of what I consider to be the most potent influences that have contributed to the formation of English character. The first, then, that I would name is the amalgamation of
The aboriginal inhabitants of our island were, as you all know, Celts, and that they were large in their numbers, and overspread the whole island. I infer from this little incident, amongst many others, that the names of all the streams, and bills, and mountains of England, and of Great Britain, are Celtic, and not Saxon. After the departure of the Romans from this country, in the beginning of the fifth century, our Celtic forefathers were harassed, as you know, by the incursions of the Picts and Scots, and therefore they invited the Saxons over to help to repel their invaders. Invited as allies, these Saxons became enemies, and took possession of the land which they came to protect; so that great numbers of our Celtic forefathers took refuge in the mountains of Wales and the fastnesses of Cornwall; and therefore the inhabitants of these localities of this day very much resemble the inhabitants of Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland. Yet there can be no doubt that vast numbers at the same time remained in our own country, and became permanently intermingled with the conquerors. The Saxons came to this country in such vast hordes that there is no mistake at all in saying that the Saxon element forms the basis of English character. Not only am I sustained in this by a reference to history, but I will just name as a proof this little incident, that sixty or seventy words out of the hundred in our language are purely Saxon, so that our language is substantially the same as that which was spoken by our Saxon forefathers before they crossed the German Ocean and entered the island of Britain. After the Saxons came the Danes, not in such large numbers
, perhaps, but still they must have been very considerable and powerful, inasmuch as they subjugated our country and established a dynasty. If any individual will travel from Hull to Lincoln, and from Lincoln to Leicester, or, if they have not the opportunity of doing that, if they will consult
Bradshaw,” they will see that a large number of places in
those districts end in "by," which is simply the old Danish word for homestead, hamlet, or village ; thus indicating that it was the south-eastern parts of our island which the Danes first subdued, and where they first pitched their habitation. After the Danes came the Normans; not in such large numbers, but still the army of William contained the very flower of Norman chivalry, and by one blow he overthrew the Saxon monarchy, and established the Norman dynasty. Our language contains traces of this great event, and many
of our words reveal the social and political condition of our forefathers and their conquerors at that period. Dean Trench and Dean Hoare, in their admirable little works on Words, show that almost all words that express pre-eminence, distinction, office, or dominion, are Norman, showing that the Normans were the conquerors, while the Saxon inhabitants were the conquered.
So also the names of foods. The word ox is Saxon, but beef is Norman; sheep is Saxon, but mutton is Norman ; calf is Saxon, but veal is Norman ; indicating—that while these animals were alive they were called by their Saxon names, but after they were slaughtered and placed upon the table of the baron, they became Norman ; in other words, that our Saxon forefathers were employed to feed the cattle, but were not permitted to feed on them : thus teaching us that as fossil remains contain the history of matter, the words in a language often contain the history of mind.
These two races, for 150 years, lived in the same country, and yet they were not countrymen. They intermingled locally, but were morally and politically separated, the one party regarding the other with lofty scorn, and the other with sullen abhorrence. But just as a mountain torrent, when it dashes down the hill, rushes into the lake, and by its own impetuosity forms for some distance a separate stream, but after a time is mingled with the surrounding