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FEB 8 1954
We certify that only 250 copies of this work have been printed, of which one is on thick paper.
CERTAINLY few subjects more interesting or important can be proposed to the Archæological Society of a county than its dialect. For if Archæology be, as I presume it is, the science of unwritten history, having for its main object the interpretation of the past—and that not so much through doubtful and often legendary documents, but rather by means of material records—having for its object in that way the interpretation of the past-it must necessarily find in language some of the richest materials for its purpose. This is now pretty generally understood, and Philology is beginning to assume its true position as the indispensable handmaid of History. Within a comparatively recent period we have seen one of its greatest triumphs,—the early history of a great and famous people wholly re-written through its instrumentality. The early history of Rome, as you well know, was actually discovered, recon
structed, and rewritten by Niebuhr, through the study of its antiquities, and mainly the archaic element of the language. The written records of the historians who had undertaken to preserve and transmit the early annals of their country had to be thrown aside as little better than legends, and their place supplied by the eloquent, the more authentic, minute, and complete, though unconscious, testimony of the language itself. And what is thus true of the language of a country in general, -the national tongue,-is pre-eminently true of its provincial dialects, in which the archaic element of speech is best preserved. This archaic element, moreover, is of special value in our own country, from the piecemeal way in which it was originally peopled, or rather occupied,- by successive incursions from the opposite coast, of various tribes, each belonging, indeed, to the same stock, but representing for the most part a different family, with marked peculiarities of its own. These peculiarities were naturally impressed on the spot in which the invaders settled, and in many cases traces of them are to be found there still. The natural boundaries between these settlements were often slight enough a low range of hills, a narrow valley, or an insignificant stream; but, slight though they were, these marks were sufficient to determine an original difference of occupation recognizable by a peculiarity of dialect even at the present time. It will be seen at once, then, how rich in the materials of history these provincial dialects must be; and it is, therefore, most important that some of the care, labour, and atten
THE SOMERSETSHIRE DIALECT.
tion, we bestow on the material and mechanical remains of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors should be extended to the vital, the living traces of their presence yet to be found amongst us in the habits and language of the common people. We willingly spend time, and money too, in visiting the ruined architecture of a religious house, even though it may not date beyond the Decorated or Early English period; if there are genuine Norman remains, our curiosity is increased in proportion; and if a genuine Saxon ruin existed in the county, I believe every member of the society would wish to see it, and find out all he could about its history. There is thus little want of zeal in this direction. In respect to the more interesting remains of ecclesiastical architecture, indeed, we are not content with a mere visit; we take their measurements, describe them accurately, and sketch or photograph the ruined door-way, before time destroys the lizard's tail, the lion's head, or griffin's claws, still visible in rude but graphic sculpture on the mouldering stone; but the rustic in the adjoining field who stops his plough in mid-furrow, and gazes on the antiquarian and artist at their work, says to his fellow, "Thic 'ool make a purty pictur' drafted out -thic 'ool;" or looking over your shoulder, expresses his wonder and admiration after his own fashion, "Daizy me! that beäts all; if that beänt the vurry pleeäce issull-look at the zun an' zsheeäde dro' the door-waye, and the kexes and pixy-stools in the grass, and the evet on the white stane, I zim I zees un hirn." Of him we take no account; but in many respects he is really a far
more curious archæological specimen than the ruin at his side. If we could only photograph that man's mind, his way of thinking and feeling, his notions of things, his accent, pronunciation, and vocabulary, we should get at some very striking facts, and possess ourselves of rich archæological materials. For rude and ignorant clown as we know him to be, he is nevertheless an authentic document of older times, a living epistle from our Anglo Saxon forefathers, a volume of ancient history, bound, sometimes perhaps in cloth, more commonly in leather, most commonly of all in duck and corduroy; one, however, that it is important we should read without delay. It is thus urgent because it is clear that we shall not be able to keep the volume long. I am most anxious that every sentence, if possible every syllable, of that living epistle should be deciphered at once, because we cannot help seeing that we shall soon lose it altogether. The whole tendency of modern life, of modern improvements and modern progress, is to obliterate these archaic remains of other men and older manners-these picturesque provincial peculiarities. Railways and telegraphs, machinery and steam, the schoolmaster and the press, will soon sweep the last living trace of the Saxon and the Dane out of the land. The time-honoured agricultural labourer will by-and-by become almost as great a myth as Thor, or Odin, or Wayland Smith. From present appearances and tendencies, indeed, it is not improbable that he may be resolved into a rural stoker. We plough by machinery, we sow by machinery, we reap by machinery, we