Page images

vion by compiling a Dictionary of its peculiar words and idioms. Antecedently to the time when the union of the two crowns was effected, works of this nature were in little esteem; and produced neither the profit nor the reputation that is necessary to compensate the irksome and multifarious labour which their just execution demands. The consequences of the union, though in the highest degree favourable to the wealth and internal prosperity of Scotland, have been altogether unpropitious to the vernacular dialect and national literature of that country. The removal of the court to the English metropolis necessarily brought into discredit the northern idioms and peculiar forms of expression both in speaking and writing. It naturally became an object to shun what was now accounted vulgar and barbarous; and thus a language, which could boast of many authors of classical celebrity, gradually sunk into obscurity and disrepute ; and its ancient writers became unintelligible, and therefore utterly neglected, even on their native -soil.

Various circumstances have tended, in the present day,to revive a taste, for what was, at one time, undeservedly despised. There has arisen among us a very laudable spirit of research into the ancient history and local antiquities of almost every district of our country. If this, on many occasions, has produced a multiplicity of details which are rather trifling than instructive, it has sometimes served essentially to illustrate what is obscure in our national annals: to bring into notice many ancient local usages, which throw light upon the history of the human race, and fill up chasms in the account of its gradual progression from rudeness to refinement; and it has rescued from oblivion many valuable remains of ancient literature, which otherwise would have mouldered away with the dust of our ancestors. In Scotland, particularly, this taste for national antiquities has not only given rise to a diligent collection of every fragment of ancient poetry or miscellaneous literature that could be discovered; but it has produced a number of modern imitations of the productions of the aboriginal muse, some of which possess a very uncommon degree of merit, and have obtained a high popularity with the public.

While such is the taste that generally prevails in the nation, an Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language' will doubtless be considered as an acceptable present; and though we do not concur with Dr. Jamieson in his surprise that no one has ever attempted such a work before, we admit that the want of it must at present be extensively felt, not only for illustrating the beauties of Scottish authors, but in many instances even for rendering them intelligible.

Such a work is necessary for preserving, from being totally lost, many ancient and emphatic terms, which now occur only in the conversation of the sage of the hamlet, or are occasionally mentioned by him as those which he has heard his fathers use. It may also serve to mark the difference between words which may be called classical, and others merely colloquial; and between both of these, as far as they are proper, and such ás belong to a still lower class, being mere corruptions, cant terms, or puerilities.

[ocr errors]

Many ancient customs, otherwise unknown or involved in obscurity, come also to be explained or illustrated, from the use of those words which necessarily refer to them. The importance of any thing pertaining to the manners of a nation, as constituting one of the principal branches of its history, needs not to be mentioned: and, as the knowledge of ancient manners removes the obscurity of language; by a reciprocal operation, ancient language often affords the best elucidation of manners.

Such a Dictionary, if properly conducted, should not only throw light on the ancient customs of Scotland, but point out their analogy to those of other Northern nations. So striking indeed is the coincidence of manners, even in a variety of more minute instances, between our ancestors and the inhabitants of Scandinavia, as marked by the great similarity or absoJute sameness of terms, that it must necessarily suggest to every impartial inquirer, that the connection between them has been much closer than is generally supposed.' *

It would be perhaps unreasonably fastidious to except against Dr. Jamieson's title, which however can only be admitted in the popular sense. Properly, the Scottish language is that of the ancient Scotti, who were Irish, and whose language is the Gaelic or Erse. The kingdom of Scotland took its name from them, just as that of England did from the Angles, because it was by their accession to the Pictish kingdom that it was rendered complete in that part of our island, in the same manner as the union of the Angles rendered the Saxon kingdom complete in the South. According to Dr. Jamieson's own hypothesis, with which substantially we agree, his work is a dictionary of the Caledonian tongue, or what we have called, on a former occasion, the Southern Pictish,


[ocr errors]

Dr. Jamieson offers his work to the public as the result of nearly twenty years labour, not however uninterrupted, but often constituting a relaxation from professional duties or studies of greater importance. The chief personal advantages which he has enjoyed, are--the kindness of certain literary friends, whose names, however, he has not thought fit to specify; a ready access to the literary treasures, both printed and manu

* We apprehend that this coincidence of manners applies to the ancient Scandinavians, or Northern Goths, only as they resembled the Germans, or Southern Goths, from whom the Caledonians appear to have had their immediate origin. Rev.

script, of the library of the faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh; and a residence of many years, previously to his removal to the Scotish metropolis, in the county of Angus, where the old Scotish is spoken with as great purity as any where in North Britain, and where he collected a vast number of words unknown in the Southern and Western dialects of Scotland. With respect to the provincial terms of the other districts of Scotland, it does not appear that his means of information were equally ample or satisfactory; and in these, it is to be expected that his work will betray a material deficiency. To form any thing approaching to a complete provincial dictionary, it would be necessary that the compiler should take up his abode for several years successively in all the provinces or counties that were known to have any remarkable peculi. arity in the vernacular dialect; or at least that he should have an associate in his labours stationed in every one of these districts, and professedly employed in collecting whatever was peculiar in its idiom. The assistance that is derived from voluuteer friends, in a work of this kind, is very precarious and ineffectual. It is trifling in amount, and often more than dubious in quality. Dr. Jamieson admits, that words, to which he was a stranger, have often been explained to him in a variety of ways, and some of these ways directly opposed to each other while many words, which are in common use, have been interpreted very differently, according to the peculiar ideas até tached to them from the humour or fancy of individuals, and in consequence of that indefinite character which marks all terms that are merely or principally oral (Pref. p. vii.)

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Beside the preface, which is somewhat desultory, the only introductory matter prefixed to these large volumes,is,' an Ac count of the editions of most of the books quoted in this work', a list of subscribers, and a Dissertation on the origin of the Scotish language.' This we cannot help thinking rather a scanty measure of prolegomena to the first professedly Scotish dictionary that has ever been published. The dissertation is confined to the matter of fact question, of who were the various tribes that respectively contributed to the formation of the Caledonian dialect.' It does not inquire into the character istic peculiarities of the dialect itself, or attempt to trace the successive stages of its progress, or the vicissitudes it underwent, previously to its idioms being in some measure fixed by the recorded practice of classical writers. This, we think, would have been a curious and instructive investigation and it might in some measure have assisted us to decide on the propriety of denominating the Caledonian tongue a language, as Dr. Jamieson insists, rather than a dialect. Until the peculiarities of that tongue are systematically analysed and con


trasted with those of the old and provincial English, it will not be easy to pronounce, with certainty, whether the vernacular phraseology of the Lowlands of Scotland be merely a corrupt derivation from that of England, or deserve the more honourable title of an independent language. On this account, we think Dr. Jamieson would have done well to imitate the example of the great English lexicographer, in attempting a grammar of the language, of which he had undertaken the arduous task of composing a dictionary. The two kinds of labour are entirely analogous, and mutually reflect light upon each other. The dictionary affords the materials, or elements, out of which the grammar must be compiled; and the grammar directs the arrangement, insertion, or exclusion, of the specific materials of the dictionary.

We should-likewise have been pleased, if Dr. Jamieson had given a short historical sketch of ancient Scotish literature, with a view of ascertaining what is classical in ancient Scotish style, and what is merely of vulgar authority. The very lax usage, which prevails among the moderns who write in the Scotish dialect, renders an undertaking of this nature in the highest degree expedient. In the most recent of these performances, such as those of Ferguson and Burns, we have a mixed kind of dialect, partly Scotch, partly English; but offending in most instances against the established usages of both languages. This is tolerated, only because the standard of the genuine Scotish has been allowed to sink into oblivion; on which account, any thing is permitted to pass for Scotish, that has a reasonable sprinkling of the vernacular phraseology of that country. But if the Caledonians are sincerely solicitous to preserve their ancient dialect from decay, and if they in earnest aspire to the honour of having it considered as an independent language; let them seriously set about determining what words and phrases have a legitimate right to be enrolled among its permanent materials: and let those who write in it, confine themselves to the use of these words and phrases only; and deny themselves the indolent indulgence of deviating, at will, into the idioms of a different, though closely related tongue.

The professed object of the dissertation on the origin of the Scotish language, is to controvert the prevalent opinion, that the language, spoken in the Lowlands of Scotland, is merely a corrupt dialect of the English, or at least of the Anglo-Saxon. Our author admits, that he had long yielded his assent to that hypothesis, without any particular investigation; and should probably never have thought of calling it in question, had he not heard it positively asserted, by a learned foreigner, that the Scotch had not received their language from the English; that

there were many words in the mouths of the vulgar in Scotland, which had never passed through the channel of the Anglo-Saxon, or been spoken in England, although still used in the languages of the North of Europe; that the Scotish was not to be viewed as a daughter of the Anglo-Saxon, but as, in common with the latter, derived from the ancient Gothic; and that, while we had to regret the want of authentic records, an accurate and extensive investigation of the language of the country might throw considerable light on her ancient history, particularly as to the origin of her first inhabitants.

This suggestion excited our author to enter upon an investigation of the hypothesis, that the Scotish language is not a derivative of the English, but was independently formed by the operation of a series of causes similar to those which gave birth to the sister tongue and is the work of a succession of tribes, nearly, if not entirely, of the same family, with those by whom the English dialect, as it now stands, has been gradually


This subject is closely connected with the dispute concerning the origin of the tribes that first peopled Scotland; a subject, on which we have already embraced several opportunities of delivering our sentiments. (See references, vol. iv. p. 616.) Dr. J. engages in a laborious examination and confutation of Mr. Chalmers's doctrine, maintained in his Caledonia,' that the ancient Picts, or Aborigines of the Lowlands of Scotland, were a 'Celtic' (i. e. Iberian) tribe, as well as the ancient Scots or Aborigines of the Highlands. On this point we have explained our opinions, at some length, in our review of Mr. Chalmers's work (vol. iii. p. 941); and we decidedly concur with Dr. Jamieson in thinking Mr. C.'s system untenable. It is, in the first place, directly inconsistent with historical evidence; being contradicted by the positive testimony of the venerable Bede, of Nennius, and the Saxon Chronicle; as well as of the Roman authors Cæsar, Tacitus, Claudian, and Ammianus Marcellinus. By these authorities it appears, that the first considerable tribe that occupied the Scotish lowlands was not of what has usually been called Celtic, (properly Iberian) original, but of Gothic, and must have proceeded either from Germany or Scandinavia. On this subject, we could almost have supposed that Dr. J. had benefited by our remarks on Mr. Chalmers's doctrine, from the strong occasional resemblance between the language of his Dissertation and that of our Review, but that we presume he would have made the due reference, had his acquaintance with the contemporary literature of this country enabled him to avail himself of our labours. Had this been the case, too, we should hope he would

« PreviousContinue »