Description

This "An apology for the study of northern antiquities" was written by Elizabeth Elstob in English language.

Page 1

An apology for the
study of northern
antiquities
By
Elizabeth Elstob

Page 2

The Project Gutenberg EBook of An Apology For The Study of Northern
Antiquities, by Elizabeth Elstob
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org
Title: An Apology For The Study of Northern Antiquities
Author: Elizabeth Elstob
Commentator: Charles Peake
Release Date: March 11, 2005 [EBook #15329]
Posting Date: July 19, 2009
Language: English
Character set encoding: UTF-8
*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK NORTHERN ANTIQUITIES ***
Produced by David Starner, Louise Hope and the Online Distributed
This text
uses UTF-8 (Unicode) file encoding. If the apostrophes and
quotation marks in this paragraph appear as garbage, you may have an
incompatible browser or unavailable fonts. First, make sure that your
browser’s “character set” or “file encoding” is set to Unicode (UTF-8). You
may also need to change the default font.
The primary text includes a number of brief citations from languages other
than English, and in scripts other than Roman. Text printed in blackletter
type—German, Middle English, Old French—is shown
like this
(boldface,
sans-serif). All passages in non-Roman scripts include
mouse-hover
transliterations
. Note that font support for Gothic and Saxon is limited, so
your browser may not be able to display these texts as printed.
Changes or corrections to the text are shown with
mouse-hover popups
.
Introduction
An Apology...
Footnotes
Augustan Reprints

Page 3

THE
A
UGUSTAN
R
EPRINT
SOCIETY


ELIZABETH ELSTOB
An Apology for the Study of
Northern Antiquities
(1715)

Introduction by
Charles Peake


Publication Number 61


Los Angeles
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
University of California
1956
GENERAL EDITORS
RICHARD
C. B
OYS
,
University of Michigan
RALPH
C
OHEN
,
University of California, Los Angeles
VINTON
A. D
EARING
,
University of California, Los Angeles
LAWRENCE
C
LARK
P
OWELL
,
Clark Memorial Library
ASSISTANT EDITOR
W. E
ARL
B
RITTON
,
University of Michigan
ADVISORY EDITORS
EMMETT
L. A
VERY
,
State College of Washington
BENJAMIN
B
OYCE
,
Duke University
LOUIS
B
REDVOLD
,
University of Michigan
JOHN
B
UTT
,
King’s College, University of Durham
JAMES
L. C
LIFFORD
,
Columbia University
ARTHUR
F
RIEDMAN
,
University of Chicago

Page 4

EDWARD
N
ILES
H
OOKER
,
University of California, Los Angeles
LOUIS
A. L
ANDA
,
Princeton University
SAMUEL
H. M
ONK
,
University of Minnesota
ERNEST
C. M
OSSNER
,
University of Texas
JAMES
S
UTHERLAND
,
University College, London
H. T. S
WEDENBERG
, J
R.,
University of California, Los Angeles
CORRESPONDING SECRETARY
EDNA
C. D
AVIS
,
Clark Memorial Library
INTRODUCTION
The answerers who rushed into print in 1712 against Swift’s
Proposal for Correcting, Improving
and Ascertaining the English Tongue
were so obviously moved by the spirit of faction that, apart
from a few debating points and minor corrections, it is difficult to disentangle their legitimate
criticisms from their political prejudices. As Professor Landa has written in his introduction to
Oldmiron’s
Reflections on Dr. Swift’s Letter to Harley
and Mainwaring’s
The British Academy
(Augustan
Reprint Society, 1948): “It is not as literature that these two answers to Swift are to be
judged. They are minor, though interesting, documents in political warfare which cut athwart a
significant cultural controversy.”
Elizabeth Elstob’s
Apology for the Study of Northern Antiquities
prefixed to her
Rudiments of
Grammar for the English-Saxon Tongue
is an answer of a very different kind. It did not appear
until 1715; it exhibits no political bias; it agrees with Swift’s denunciation of certain current
linguistic habits; and it does not reject the very idea of regulating the language as repugnant to
the sturdy independence of the Briton. Elizabeth Elstob speaks not for a party but for the group of
antiquarian scholars, led by Dr. Hickes, who were developing and popularizing the study of the
Anglo-Saxon origins of the English language--a study which had really started in the seventeenth
century.
What irritated Miss Elstob in the
Proposal
was not Swift’s eulogy or Harley and the Tory ministry,
but his scornful reference to antiquarians as “laborious
men of low genius,” his failure to recognize
that his manifest ignorance of the origins of the language was any bar to his pronouncing on it or
legislating for it, and his repetition of some of the traditional criticisms of the Teutonic elements in
the language, in particular the monosyllables and consonants. Her sense of injury was personal
as well as academic. Her brother William and her revered master Dr. Hickes were among the
antiquarians whom Swift had casually insulted, and she herself had published an elaborate
edition of
An English-Saxon Homily on the Birthday of St. Gregory
(1709) and was at work on an
Anglo-Saxon homilarium. Moreover she had a particular affection for her field of study, because it
had enabled her to surmount the obstacles to learning which had been put in her path as a girl,
and which had prevented her, then, from acquiring a classical education. Her
Rudiments
, the first
Anglo-Saxon grammar written in English, was specifically designed to encourage ladies suffering
from similar educational disabilities to find an intellectual pursuit. Her personal indignation is
shown in her sharp answer to Swift’s insulting phrase, and in her retaliatory classification of the
Dean among the “light and fluttering wits.”
As a linguistic historian she has no difficulty in exposing Swift’s ignorance, and in establishing her
claim that if there is any refining or ascertaining of the English language to be done, the
antiquarian scholars must be consulted. But it is when she writes as a literary critic, defending the
English language, with its monosyllables and consonants, as a literary medium, that she is most
interesting.
There was nothing new in what Swift had said of the character of the English language; he was
merely echoing criticisms which had been expressed frequently since the early sixteenth century.
The number of English monosyllables was sometimes complained of, because to ears trained on
the classical languages they sounded harsh, barking, unfitted for eloquence; sometimes because
they were believed to impede the metrical flow in poetry; sometimes because, being particularly
characteristic of colloquial speech, they were considered low; and often because they were
associated with the languages of the Teutonic tribes which had escaped the full refining influence
of Roman civilization. Swift followed writers like Nash and Dekker in emphasizing the first and last
of these objections.
There were, of course, stock answers to these stock objections. Such criticism of one’s mother
tongue was said to be unpatriotic or positively disloyal. If it was difficult to maintain that English
i
ii
iii

Page 5

was as smooth and euphonious as Italian, it could be maintained that its monosyllables and
consonants gave it a characteristic and masculine brevity and force. Monosyllables were also
very convenient for the formation of compound words, and, it was argued, should, when properly
managed, be an asset rather than a handicap to the English rhymester. By the time Swift and
Miss Elstob were writing, an increasing number of antiquarian Germanophils (and also pro-
Hanoverians) were prepared to claim Teutonic descent with pride.
Most of these arguments had been bandied backwards and forwards rather inconclusively since
the sixteenth century, and Addison in
The Spectator
No. 135 expresses a typically moderate
opinion on the matter: the English language, he says, abounds in monosyllables,
which gives us an opportunity of delivering our thoughts in few sounds. This indeed
takes off from the elegance of our tongue, but at the same time expresses our ideas in
the readiest manner, and consequently answers the first design of speech better than
the multitude of syllables, which make the words of other languages more tunable and
sonorous.
It is likely that neither Swift nor Miss Elstob would have found much to disagree with in that
sentence. Swift certainly never proposed any reduction in the number of English monosyllables,
and the simplicity of style which he described as “one of the greatest perfections in any
language,” which seemed to him best exemplified in the English Bible, and which he himself
practised so
brilliantly, has in English a very marked monosyllabic character.
But in his enthusiasm to stamp out the practice of abbreviating, beheading and curtailing
polysyllables--a practice which seemed to him a threat to both the elegance and permanence of
the language--he described it as part of a tendency of the English to relapse into their Northern
barbarity by multiplying monosyllables and eliding vowels between the rough and frequent
consonants of their language. His ignorance of the historical origins of the language and his
rather hackneyed remarks on its character do not invalidate the general scheme of his
Proposal
or his particular criticisms of current linguistic habits, but they did lay him open to the very
penetrating and decisive attack of Elizabeth Elstob.
In her reply to Swift she repeats all the stock defenses of the English monosyllables and
consonants, but, by presenting them in combination, and in a manner at once scholarly and
forceful, she makes the most convincing case against Swift. Unlike most of her predecessors,
Miss Elstob is not on the defensive. She is always ready to give a sharp personal turn to her
scholarly refutations--as, for instance, when she demonstrates the usefulness of monosyllables in
poetry by illustrations from a series of poets beginning with Homer and ending with Swift. There
can be little doubt that Swift is decisively worsted in this argument.
It is not known whether Swift ever read Miss Elstob’s
Rudiments
, though it is interesting to notice
a marked change of emphasis in his references to the Anglo-Saxon language. In the
Proposal
he
had declared with a pretense of knowledge, that Anglo-Saxon was “excepting some few
variations in the orthography... the same in most original words with our present English, as well
as with German and other northern dialects.” But in
An Abstract of the History of England
(probably revised in 1719) he says that the English which came in with the Saxons was
“extremely different from what it is now.” The two statements are not incompatible,
but the
emphasis is remarkably changed. It is possible that some friend had pointed out to Swift that his
earlier statement was too gross a simplification, or alternatively that someone had drawn his
attention to Elizabeth Elstob’s
Rudiments
.
All writers owe much to the labors of scholarship and are generally ill-advised to scorn or reject
them, however uninspired and uninspiring they may seem. Moreover when authors do enter into
dispute with “laborious men of low genius” they frequently meet with more than their match. Miss
Elstob’s bold and aggressive defense of Northern antiquities was remembered and cited by a later
scholar, George Ballard, as a warning to those who underestimated the importance of a sound
knowledge of the language. Indeed, he wrote, “I thought that the bad success Dean Swift had
met with in this affair from the incomparably learned and ingenious Mrs. Elstob would have
deterred all others from once venturing in this affair.” (John Nichols,
Illustrations of the Literary
History of the Eighteenth Century
, 1822, IV, 212.)
Charles Peake
University College, London
iv
v

Page 6


THE
RUDIMENTS
OF
GRAMMAR
FOR THE
English-Saxon Tongue,
First given in
ENGLISH
:
WITH AN
APOLOGY
For the Study of
NORTHERN ANTIQUITIES.
Being very useful towards the understanding our
ancient
English
POETS
, and other
WRITERS
.
By
ELIZABETH
E
LSTOB
.
Our Earthly Possessions are truly enough called a
PATRIMONY
,
as derived to us by the Industry of our
FATHERS
; but the
Language that we speak is our
MOTHER
-T
ONGUE
; And who
so proper to play the Criticks in this as the
FEMALES
.
In a Letter from a Right Reverend Prelate to the Author.
LONDON.
Printed by
W. Bowyer:
And Sold by
J. B
OWYER
at the
Rose
in
Ludgate-street
, and
C. K
ING
in
Westminster-hall
, 1715.
iB

Page 7

THE
PREFACE
TO THE
Reverend Dr.
Hickes
.
 SIR
,
OON after the Publication of the Homily on St. Gregory, I
was engaged by the Importunity of my Friends, to make a
Visit to
Canterbury
, as well to enjoy the Conversations of my
Friends and Relations there, as for that Benefit which I
hoped to receive from Change of Air, and freer Breathing,
which is the usual Expectation of those, who are used to a
sedentary Life and Confinement in the great City, and which
renders such an Excursion
now and then excusable. In this
Recess, among the many Compliments and kind Expressions, which their
favourable Acceptance of my first Attempt in
Saxon
, had obtained for me from
the Ladies, I was more particularly gratified, with the new Friendship and
Conversation, of a young Lady, whose Ingenuity and Love of Learning, is well
known and esteem’d, not only in that Place, but by your self: and which so far
indear’d itself to me, by her promise that she wou’d learn the
Saxon Tongue
,
and do me the Honour to be my
Scholar
, as to make me think of composing an
English Grammar
of that Language for her use. That Ladies Fortune hath so
disposed of her since that time, and hath placed her at so great distance, as
that we have had no Opportunity, of treating farther on this Matter, either by
Discourse or Correspondence. However though a Work of a larger Extent, and
which hath amply experienced your Encouragement, did for some time make
me lay aside this Design, yet I did not wholly reject it. For having re-assumed
this Task, and accomplish’d it in such manner at I was able, I now send it to
you, for your Correction, and that Stamp of Authority, it must needs receive
from a Person of such perfect and exact Judgement in these Matters, in order
to make it current, and worthy of Reception from the Publick. Indeed I might
well have spared my self the labour of such an Attempt, after the elaborate
Work of your rich and learned
Thesaurus
, and the ingenious Compendium of it
by Mr.
Thwaites
; but considering the Pleasure I my self had reaped from the
Knowledge I have gained from this Original of our Mother Tongue, and that
others of my own Sex, might be capable of the same Satisfaction: I resolv’d to
give them the Rudiments of that Language in an English Dress. However not
’till I
had communicated to you my Design for your Advice, and had receiv’d
your repeated Exhortation, and Encouragement to the Undertaking.
The Method I have used, is neither entirely new, out of a Fondness and
Affectation of Novelty: nor exactly the same with what has been in use, in
ii
iii
B2

Page 8

teaching the learned Languages. I have retain’d the old Division of the Parts of
Speech, nor have I rejected the other common Terms of
Grammar
; I have only
endeavour’d to explain them in such a manner, as to hope they may be
competently understood, by those whose Education, hath not allow’d them an
Acquaintance with the Grammars of other Languages. There is one Addition to
what your self and Mr.
Thwaites
have done on this Subject, for which you will, I
imagine, readily pardon me: I have given most, if not all the
Grammatical
Terms in true old
Saxon
, from
Ælfrick
’s Translation of
Priscian
, to shew the
polite
Men of our Age, that the Language of their Forefathers is neither so
barren nor barbarous as they affirm, with equal Ignorance and Boldness. Since
this is such an Instance of its Copiousness, as is not to be found in any of the
polite modern Languages; and the
Latin
itself is beholden to the
Greek
, not
only for the Terms, but even the Names of Arts and Sciences, as is easily
discerned in the Words,
Philosophy
,
Grammar
,
Logick
,
Rhetorick
,
Geometry
,
Arithmetick
, &c. These Gentlemens ill Treatment of our Mother Tongue has led
me into a Stile not so agreeable to the Mildness of our Sex, or the usual
manner of my Behaviour, to Persons of your Character; but the Love and
Honour of one’s Countrey, hath in all Ages been acknowledged such a Virtue,
as hath admitted of a Zeal even somewhat extravagant.
Pro Patria mori
, used
to be one of the great Boasts of
Antiquity; and even the so celebrated
Magnanimity of
Cato
, and such others as have been called Patriots, had
wanted their Praise, and their Admiration, had they wanted this Plea. The
Justness and Propriety of the Language of any Nation, hath been always
rightly esteem’d a great Ornament and Test of the good Sense of such a
Nation; and consequently to arraign the good Sense or Language of any
Nation, is to cast upon it a great Reproach. Even private Men are most jealous,
of any Wound, that can be given them in their intellectual Accomplishments,
which they are less able to endure, than Poverty itself or any other kind of
Disgrace. This hath often occasion’d my Admiration, that those Persons, who
talk so much, of the Honour of our Countrey,
of the correcting, improving and
ascertaining
of our Language, shou’d dress it up in a Character so very strange
and ridiculous: or to think of improving it to any degree of Honour and
Advantage, by divesting it of the Ornaments of Antiquity, or separating it from
the
Saxon
Root, whose Branches were so copious and numerous. But it is very
remarkable how Ignorance will make Men bold, and presume to declare that
unnecessary, which they will not be at the pains to render useful. Such kind of
Teachers are no new thing, the Spirit of Truth itself hath set a mark upon them;
Desiring to be Teachers of the Law, understanding neither what they say, nor
whereof they affirm, 1
Tim.
1. 7.
It had been well if those wise
Grammarians
had understood this Character, who have taken upon them to teach our Ladies
and young Gentlemen,
The whole System of an English Education
; they had
not incurr’d those Self-contradictions of which they are guilty; they had not
mention’d your self, and your incomparable Treasury of
Northern Literature
in
so cold
and negligent a manner, as betrays too much of an invidious Pedantry:
But in those Terms of Veneration and Applause which are your just Tribute, not
only from the Learned of your own Countrey, but of most of the other Northern
Nations, whether more or less Polite: Who would any of them have glory’d in
having you their Native, who have done so much Honour to the Original of
almost all the Languages in Europe.
But it seems you are not of so much Credit with these
Gentlemen
, who
question your Authority, and have given a very visible Proof of their Ingenuity in
an Instance which plainly discovers, that they cannot believe their own Eyes.
iv
v

Page 9

“The
Saxons
, say they, if we may credit Dr.
Hickes
, had various
Terminations to their Words, at least two in every Substantive
singular: whereas we have no Word now in use, except the personal
Names that has so. Thus Dr.
Hickes
has made six several
Declensions
of the
Saxon
Names: He gives them three
Numbers
; a
Singular, Dual, and Plural: We have no Dual Number, except perhaps
in
Both
: To make this plainer, we shall transcribe the six Declensions
from that Antiquary’s Grammar.”
I would ask these Gentlemen, and why not credit Dr.
Hickes
? Is he not as
much to be believ’d as those Gentlemen, who have transcribed so plain an
Evidence of the six Declensions to shew the positive Unreasonableness and
unwarrantable Contradiction of their Disbelief? Did he make those six
Declensions? or rather, did he not find them in the Language, and take so
much pains to teach others to distinguish them, who have Modesty enough to
be taught? They are pleased to say we have no Word now in use that admits
of Cases or Terminations. But let us ask them, what
they think of these Words,
God’s Word
,
Man’s Wisdom
, the
Smith’s Forge
, and innumerable Instances
more. For in
God’s Word
, &c. is not the Termination
s a plain Indication of a
Genitive Case, wherein the Saxon
e is omitted? For example,
Go?e? ?o??
,
Manne? ?i??om
,
?miðe? Heo?ð
. Some will say, that were better supplied by
his
, or
hers
, as Man
his
Thought, the Smith
his
Forge; but this Mistake is justly
exploded. Yet if these Gentlemen will not credit Dr.
Hickes
, the
Saxon
Writings
might give them full Satisfaction. The
Gospels
, the
Psalms
, and a great part of
the
Bible
are in
Saxon
, so are the
Laws
and
Ecclesiastical Canons
, and
Charters
of most of our
Saxon Kings
; these one wou’d think might deserve their
Credit. But they have not had Learning or Industry enough to fit them for such
Acquaintance, and are forc’d therefore to take up their Refuge with those
Triflers, whose only Pretence to Wit, is to despise their Betters. This Censure
will not, I imagine, be thought harsh, by any candid Reader, since their own
Discovery has sufficiently declared their Ignorance: and their Boldness, to
determine things whereof they are so ignorant, has so justly fix’d upon them
the Charge of Impudence. For otherwise they must needs have been ashamed
to proceed in manner following.
“We might give you various Instances more of the essential difference
between the old
Saxon
and modern
English
Tongue, but these must
satisfy any reasonable Man, that it is so great, that the
Saxon
can be
no Rule to us; and that to understand ours, there is no need of
knowing the
Saxon
: And tho’ Dr.
Hickes
must be allow’d to have been
a very curious Enquirer into those obsolete Tongues, now out of use,
and containing nothing valuable, yet it does by no means follow (as is
plain from what has been said)
that we are obliged to derive the
Sense, Construction, or Nature of our present Language from his
Discoveries.”
I would beseech my Readers to observe, the Candour and Ingenuity of these
Gentlemen: They tell us,
We might give you various Instances more of the
essential difference between the old
Saxon
and modern
English
Tongue
; and
yet have plainly made it appear, that they know little or nothing of the old
Saxon
. So that it will be hard to say how they come to know of any such
essential difference, as
MUST
satisfy any reasonable Man
; and much more
that this
essential difference
is so
great, that the
Saxon
can be no Rule to us,
and that to understand ours, there is no need of knowing the
Saxon
. What they
say,
that it cannot be a Rule to them
, is true; for nothing can be a Rule of
vi
vii

Page 10

Direction to any Man, the use whereof he does not understand; but if to
understand the Original and Etymology of the Words of any Language, be
needful towards knowing the Propriety of any Language, a thing which I have
never heard hath yet been denied; then do these Gentlemen stand self-
condemned, there being no less than four Words, in the Scheme of
Declensions they have borrowed from Dr.
Hickes
, now in use, which are of
pure
Saxon
Original, and consequently
essential to the modern English
. I need
not tell any English Reader at this Day the meaning of
Smith
,
Word
,
Son
, and
Good
; but if I tell them that these are Saxon Words, I believe they will hardly
deny them to be
essential to the modern English
, or that they will conclude that
the difference between the old
English
and the modern is so great, or the
distance of Relation between them so remote, as that the former deserves not
to be remember’d: except by such Upstarts who having no Title to
a laudable
Pedigree, are backward in all due Respect and Veneration towards a noble
Ancestry.
Their great Condescension to Dr.
Hickes
in allowing him to have been a very
curious Inquirer into those
obsolete Tongues, now out of use, and containing
nothing valuable in them
, is a Compliment for which I believe you, Sir, will give
me leave to assure them, that he is not at all obliged; since if it signifies any
thing, it imports, no less than that he has employ’d a great deal of Time, and a
great deal of Pains, to little purpose. But we must at least borrow so much
Assurance from them, as to tell them, that your Friends, who consist of the
most learned sort of your own Countrey-men, and of Foreigners, do not think
those Tongues so obsolete and out of use, whose Significancy is so apparent
in Etymology; nor do they think those Men competent Judges to declare,
whether there be any thing contained in them valuable or not, who have made
it clear, that they know not what is
contain’d
in them. They would rather assure
them, that our greatest
A
Divines, and
B
Lawyers, and
C
Historians are of
another Opinion, they wou’d advise them to consult our Libraries, those of the
two Universities, the
Cottonian
, and my Lord Treasurers; to study your whole
Thesaurus
, particularly your
Dissertatio Epistolaris
, to
look into Mr.
Wanleys
large and accurate Catalogue of
Saxon
Manuscripts, and so with Modesty gain
a Title to the Applause of having confest their former Ignorance, and reforming
their Judgment. I believe I may farther take leave to assure them, that the
Doctor is as little concerned for their
Inference
, which they think
so plain from
what has been said, that they are not obliged to derive the Sense,
Construction, or Nature of our present Language from his Discoveries
. He
desires them not to
derive
the
Sense
and
Construction
of which they speak, in
any other manner, than that in which the Nature of the things themselves
makes them appear; and so far as they are his
Discoveries
only, intrudes them
on no Man. He is very willing they should be let alone by those, who have not
Skill to use them to their own Advantage, and with Gratitude.
But to leave these Pedagogues to huff and swagger in the heighth of all their
Arrogance. I cannot but think it great Pity, that in our Considerations, for
Refinement of the
English
Tongue, so little Regard is had to Antiquity, and the
Original of our present Language, which is the
Saxon
. This indeed is allow’d by
an ingenious Person, who hath lately made some Proposals for the
Refinement of the
English
Tongue,
That the old
Saxon
, except in some few
Variations in the Orthography, is the same in most original Words with our
present
English
, as well as with the
German
and other
Northern
Dialects
; which
makes it a little surprizing to me, to find the same Gentleman not long after to
say,
The other Languages of
Europe
I know nothing of, neither is there any
viii
ix
C

show more

Comments