Harrison’s English Language -- By: Daniel R. Goodwin

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 008:32 (Oct 1851)
Article: Harrison’s English Language
Author: Daniel R. Goodwin


Harrison’s English Language1

Daniel R. Goodwin

Mr. Harrison seems to have been in the habit of noting down the grammatical errors he encountered in his English reading until he had accumulated such a store, that, arranging them, with desultory remarks, under the several Parts of Speech, and prefixing some “historical” and “philological” dissertations, he ventured to publish a book, with the imposing title of “The Rise, Progress, and Present Structure of the English Language.” Such a genesis does not augur all the depth, breadth, thoroughness, and systematic completeness which we might desire and might otherwise have expected under such a title. We must confess that, in our apprehension, the work is in its substance too light, and in its style too “flippant,” for the gravity of the subject; besides being guilty of committing many gross errors in the very act of assuming to correct the alleged errors of others. Had it not been thought worthy of special notice on the other side of the water, and of republication on this, we should not have thought it worth while to disturb its distant repose with any criticisms of ours. But as we have now ventured a charge, we must be allowed to produce at least a few of our witnesses. Not having seen the English

original, we shall refer in our citations to the American reprint, although the latter may exhibit errors for which the author is not responsible.

In the first place, let us look at some of Mr. Harrison’s historical and philological facts and theories.

“We have the extraordinary fact,” says he, “that whilst not a single fragment of Anglo Saxon Literature existed or even had been called into existence, a Scandinavian Literature had existed for ages in Iceland—the remotest habitation of man.”2

Now according to Bosworth’s express statement, — and to his authority Mr. Harrison himself refers in his preface, — Iceland was not so much as known to the Norsemen till A. D. 861, and not settled at all till some years after. But, not to speak of Beowulf or the Saxon Chroniclers, Alfred’s works must have been written or compiled about the year 880; and, whatever may have been the precise age of the Poet Caedmon, Alfred’s fragmentary versions show that he must have lived many years before, probably some 200; and the laws of Ethelbert cannot be placed much later than the year 600.3

After eulogizing in the strongest terms the ancient Greek for its

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