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OF ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION IN THE ELIZABETHAN ERA.
THE following observations are made not without an appreciation of the difficult nature of their subject. Nor has the writer the intention or desire that they should be regarded as more than a casual and unelaborated contribution to a subordinate department in the history of our language, which, as far as his knowledge extends, has been almost entirely neglected.* They make no pretence to a thorough or even a systematic examination of our ancient pronunciation, and are little more than transcripts of memorandums hastily pencilled upon the fly leaves of old books, with sufficient comment to connect them together and show their supposed significance. Having formed no part of the original plan of this work, they are elicited chiefly by the comments which have been made upon the incidental remarks upon pronunciation, which, with no linguistic purpose, are scattered through the Notes and Essays in the precedingvolumes. -But incomplete and unsystematic as they are, and shifting and variable as are the data with which they have to deal, they still present facts which are worthy of consideration, and apparent incongruities the reconciliation of which —• left, perhaps, uneffected by the Avriter — would be at least instructive, if not interesting.
Speech and writing have a mutual influence upon each other; that of the former being in excess in the earlier and uncritical stages of a language, and the latter gaining the advantage by the labors of rhetoricians, grammarians, and lexicographers, until finally the question becomes, not how a certain sound shall
* But see the instructive chapter on orthoepical changes in Mr. George P. Marsh's learned and philosophical " Lectures on the English Language," which, however, were not published until after the appearance of Vols. II. to VIII. of this work, and after the preparation of these memorandums.
be expressed by letters, but bow a certain combination of letters shall be pronounced. The English language has perhaps arrived as nearly at the latter stage as is possible for a living, spoken tongue; but at the time to which these memorandums refer, "the process which is now proximately completed had been advancing by slow and uncertain steps for only about half a century. The spelling of the Elizabethan period, especially in its latter part, has no etymological and little prosodic value. It is simply irregular with the irregularity which is the necessary concomitant of an absence of rule. Pronunciation, too, was variable, as well as spelling. Let us, however, remember that, although words may have been used by some men to conceal ideas, there was never man wrho used a letter to conceal a sound. The sound which he had in mind may not have been the one proper to his word, or he may have used an improper letter to express a proper, or even an improper sound; but in any case his purpose was expression, not concealment. We must remember, too, that one reason of the variability in our old spelling was, that it was not orthographic, but phonographic. It follows that if we know the force which letters had to the authors of books or manuscripts two hundred and fifty years old, we can infer the pronunciation of those authors from their spelling with a much greater approach to exactness than in the case of more modern writers. But this knowledge cannot always be certainly arrived at. Indeed, so rudely inadequate are letters to express the delicately various vocal inflections, that in the case of some letters and combinations of letters it is extremely difficult — almost impossible — to decide writh confidence as to the sound which an unknown and remote writer associated with them. Those cases, however, are very few in which rhythm, rhyme, the observation and comparison of various spelling, and the testimony of grammarians and rhetoricians, all fail to settle the pronunciation to a reasonable degree of certainty. The following memorandums relate almost exclusively to those letters and syllables the pronunciation of which has been elsewhere incidentally noticed in this work. They might have been sustained, or at least illustrated, by reference to the traces of pronunciation at periods earlier than that to which they refer; but for a more elaborate treatment of this merely accessory subject the writer has not time, even if the reader had inclination.
This vowel seems to have had all the sounds which it now has; but those most commonly indicated are the first or name sound, as in ale, make, tame, and the broad and peculiarly English sound, as in awe, saw, fall. The Italian sound, as in ah, and the short, close sound, as in an, are rarely indicated by the old spelling.
A final had almost always the name sound; and specially in proper names. (See the Note on "What news from Genoa?" Vol. IV. p. 249.) This is shown by such rhymes and spelling as these: "say" with "Seneca," Drayton's Elegies, 1627, p. 197; "Remora" with "delay," Pastor Fido, 1647, p. 215; "statua" with "day," Aleyn's Crescy, 1633, p. 50; "Gellia" with "say," Erotomania, 1640, p. 289; "from height of Idey," [Ida,] Seneca's Ten Tragedies, 1581, fol. 115; "sea" and "Ithaca," Drayton's Elegies, 1627, p. 185; "sea" and "Virginia," lb. p. 186. See the note on EA, below.
An in 'angel,' « stranger,' « clanger,' 'manger,' where the vowel now has the name sound, was pronounced either as in can, or with the broad English sound. This is shown by the coexistence of the spellings stranger and straunger, grant and graunt, tenant and tenaunt, repentance and repentaunce, command and commaund, servant and servaunt, examples of which are so common in all books printed before 1625 as to make citation superfluous. A corresponding pronunciation of am and al prevailed. See the Note on "such rackers of orthography," Vol. III. p. 468.
'Master,' 'plaster,' and 'father,' were very generally pronounced with the name sound of a, which they still have in some parts of England. This appears from the coexistent spellings master, maister, and measter, father, fayther, and faether, all of which are sometimes found in one book. In the Pastor Fido, v. 6, p. 202, Eel. 1647, "father" is made to rhyme with "either." (See the mem. below on EI.) 'Plaster' was spelled plaister by a large proportion of educated people until the beginning of the present century.
That 'have' was pronounced with the name sound of a, to rhyme with 'rave,' 'zuave,' 'knave,' the numberless instances in which it is used to rhyme with those and like words, and the prevalence of that pronunciation till within a comparatively short period, are sufficient evidence. (See the Note on "such rackers of orthography," Vol. III. p. 469.) I only refer to it for the sake of the following passages in Leigh Hunt's Autobiography, "He [West] also pronounced some of his words, in reading, with a puritanical barbarism, such as halve for have." p. 85, Ed. 1860. "My mother, who both read and spoke remarkably well, would say halve and shaul (for shall) when she sang her hymns." Idem, Ibidem. Had Hunt known more of the history of our language, he would not have called the painter's analogical pronunciation a puritanical barbarism; and he would have seen that his mother's pronunciation of 'have' and ' shall,' when she sang her hymns, corresponded to the clergyman's pronunciation, at this very day, of 'venison,' ven-l-son, « gathered,' gath-er-ed, * iron,' i-ron, 'often,' of-ten, when he reads the Bible, although in conversation, or when reading any other book, he says ve?i'so7i, gather*d, i-urn, of'n. Solemnity is always regarded as the occasion of extreme exactitude and propriety.
The Note in Vol. III. p. 469, which relates in part to the pronunciation of this combination, has been misapprehended by some readers, who have supposed it to assert that in Shakespeare's time the b in 'debt' and 'doubt* was generally pronounced. But in that Note it is said that the passage on which it is written shows "that consonants now silent were heard on the lips of purists;" and unless I have myself misapprehended the meaning of the word «purist,' in supposing that it imputes marked affectation to the person to whom it is applied, it would seem that the very terms of the Note were at variance with the meaning attributed to it. Holofemes is a pedant, but neither a fool nor (according to the general knowledge of Shakespeare's day) an ignoramus. He is a man who, believing in the false etymology of 'abominable,' — ab and homo,— very commonly received at that period, would insist on the preservation of the h, just as some people now-a-days insist upon spelling 'honor' honour, and 'favor' favour, and so forth, because they came to us through the French, although they let ' emperor,' 'error,' and 'horror,' which reached us through the same channel, and which used to be spelled emperour, errour, and horrour, pass unchallenged, setting down the spelling honor and favor as an Americanism, in ignorance or forgetfulness of the fact that during the Elizabethan period, and after as well as before it, that spelling was as common as it is now. Upon an affectation similar to that of Holofemes, Mr. Guest (English Rhythms, Vol. I. p. 182) has these remarks: "The old English eyr, a son, answering to the Dutch oir, offspring, was first spelled with an h during the sixteenth century, the pedantry of the age, of course, seeing nothing but a Latin original, hares" As to the existence of the pronunciation in question —5 in the combination bt—> I shall only call Dr. Latham to my support, in a passage which I had not read when I wrote the Note above referred to. "In 'debtor,' &c, [' subtle' « doubt'] the b was undoubtedly at one time pronounced, since it belonged to a different syllable; debitor, subtilis, dubito, being the original forms." English Language, Vol. II. p. 66, Ed. 1855. But there can be no doubt that in Shakespeare's time the general pronunciation was that of the present day. Aside from other reasons, such rhymes as the following are too common for the case to have been otherwise: —
"I thanke the man both for his love and letter.
Daniel's Cleopatra, 1599, Sig. G, 4.
This combination seems to have had much more commonly than at present the sound of h or c hard. See the Note on " Hermione is chaste," Vol. V. p. 394; "Sick of a calm," Vol. VI. p. 542; "And eke out," Vol. VII. p. 129, and "Chattels and whatsoever," Vol. VIII. p. 445. Thus 'beseech' was written both with ch and withk: "I beseke your grace of audience," Robert the Devyll, p. 3. "Juliet you beseekes," Romens and Juliet, Ed. Collier, p. 21. For earlier instances of the use of both ch and h the reader need only consult Richardson's Dictionary in v. So with 'belch:' "That boyled in his belking breast," Golding's Ovid, Ed. 1612, fol. 25, —in Ed. 1587 of the same work, "belching breast;" "He breathing belketh out such sulphure aires," Optic Glass of Humors, 1639, p. 73; so 'stink' is constantly spelled both with ch and h: see, for instances, Golding's Ovid, 1587, fol, 97 b, and Rhomeo and Julietta, Ed. Collier, p. 120. See, too, "roches [rocks] bye," Seneca's Ten Tragedies, 1581, fol. 133 b. The c or ch wTith which 'rhetoric' was generally spelled was very often replaced by ch; for two instances of which see the last