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Known, loved, applauded, pray'd for far and wide,
As sad as silence, when a song is spent. In bringing our observations to a conclusion, we must again briefly refer to that portion of our subject when alliteration stood out, stamped as a system or school of poetry in itself. I feel that it is impossible to enlist the minds of literati of the present day in admiration of the beauties or attractions that it must have offered to our forefathers in the fifteenth century. It is difficult, nay, impossible, for us to take
that strange book, The Vision of Piers Plowman, so largely quoted, and now to form a correct estimate of the effect it may have produced upon the minds of our rude ancestors. Centuries have passed over, and circumstances changed to such an extent, that it is impossible to enter into the spirit of our own language as then uttered.
There is however a view of philology which, although it strikes a knell fatal to much of the erudition and sentiment that invests the subject of written language, yet may help to elucidate our difficulties and influence the present estimate of the branch we have been considering to a far greater extent than we are aware. I allude to the inherent tendency to decay and become
extinct, which is now admitted by our best authorities to constitute an essential characteristic of all language.
It is difficult for the ardent admirer of the literature of Rome to accept this view of language. It is a hard task for the accomplished scholar, familiar with the spirit-stirring verse of Homer, from his earliest boyhood, whose beau-ideal of perfection in expression, force, and rhythm, is the language of Greece as perpetuated in his majestic verse, to say, “ 'Tis Greece, but living Greece no more.” But we can reconcile him by asking him to imagine what the language would have sounded had it been uttered by Plato, Demosthenes, and Thucydides. Or, if he wish to test the matter on a small scale in a modern language, let him read a passage from Dante, and afterwards listen to pure living Etruscan as it ravishes the ear, in its rolling gush of liquid cadences. Life may
be defined as the aggregate of those powers that resist death-resist you will observe, not prevent death. Spoken language is the utterance or enunciation of life, and partakes of the characters of life itself; but the attributes of life are development, decay, and eventually extinction or death. Language, as the utterance of life, is, consequently, a property of life, or a living property. Its successive mutations, then, are as certain as are those of life itself. We are too much in the habit of looking upon litera scripta as language. Language is better defined as human speech, and so partakes in its characteristics of the elements essential to life, that it requires, if we may use the phrases, circulation, nutrition, and reproduction, and that by living, speaking, and breathing beings, to prevent its stagnation, decay, and death.
In fact this view, so far from detracting from, exalts, and elevates language. By establishing its claim to be considered a vital phenomenon, we place it on a par with God's greatest gift ; we will accept for it nothing less, and we demand for it nothing more.