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Mr. President and Members of the Society: The very pleasant task has been assigned me of welcoming you to Cincinnati. What I say shall have the merit of brevity, for I know the importance and interest of the paper to which you are yet to listen. We are heartily glad to see you here because we have felt that the session of the Association would be education to us and to the community. We can do but little to rival the hospitality of the eastern cities in which you have usually held your meetings, but we hope that from your educational standpoint it will not prove unwise to have accepted an invitation west of the Allegheny mountains. Our interest in your work will be stimulated and the public appreciation of its value will be strengthened by thus bringing it and its ripening fruits to the attention of the people in the newer as well as the older parts of the country. For your work's sake, then, if not for your own, we hope that your visit may seem profitable.
Gentlemen of the Association:—As vessels of various lines and nationalities dip their colors in graceful recognition when they pass each other on the high seas, so those who represent any single department of human knowledge may well accept every occasion for the manifestation of friendly courtesies toward such as are the acknowledged representatives of learning in other spheres, however remote or foreign in outward appearance. For, as it is one and the same ocean which washes the shores of islands and continents far distant from each other, and binds them into a physical unity otherwise unattainable, so this vaster ocean of human knowledge, with its cosmic commerce of thought and attainment, makes friends of all who traverse its magnificent ranges, whatever cargo they may carry, and whatever be the port toward which they are hastening.
In the undergraduate classes in modern languages, there is a certain line of work to be pursued by every teacher, whatever be the further details to which his taste, the direction of his own private studies, or his conception of the demands of his chair may lead him to give most emphasis. This line of work, briefly stated, consists in teaching such matters, lexical and grammatical, as are needed for the purpose of simple translation, from the English or into the English.
The xxivth, xxvth and xxvith books of the ‘Paradiso’ consist chiefly of what has always been something of a puzzle to me, the examination of Dante by Peter, James and John, on Faith, Hope and Love. The allegory of the ‘Divina Commedia,’ clear enough in its main outlines, becomes matter for endless discussion as soon as we descend into details, but nowhere else, so far as I have observed, is there any difficulty in interpreting the general significance of so large a body of verse as these three books, if we take the literal sense, or in adapting it to some one theory, if we take the allegorical sense. The fact that I do not find any discussion of this puzzling examination in the Dante literature accessible to me has made me somewhat fearful of committing an offense very common in the study of all masterpieces in all literatures; but I console myself by the reflection, that in the vast number of Dante students who have found difficulties where none existed, I should feel myself in good company.
The progress of English prose is a subject of great interest, and one that has not as yet been thoroughly treated from the historical point of view. Here, as elsewhere in literary, as well as scientific subjects, the inductive method must be employed, and by selection and comparison the advance made from century to century may be indicated. Any treatment of the subject making the smallest pretension to fullness should begin at least as early as the second half of the fourteenth century, with the prose of Wyclif and his contemporaries, after the native and foreign elements of the language had become so blended into one that what was once foreign was no longer felt to be so. The progress should be traced through the fifteenth century, marked by the names of Mandeville—whose so-called ‘Travels’ has at last found its true historical position,—Pecock, Malory and Caxton, to the first half of the sixteenth century, when prose-writers become more numerous, and the language becomes more flexible and better suited to the purposes of prose, as seen in the writings of Sir Thomas More and his controversial opponent, William Tyndale, Sir Thomas Elyot, whose “Boke called the Governour” is a real land-mark of English prose, Bishop Hugh Latimer, the most forcible and witty preacher of his time, and Roger Ascham, who connects the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth, and who deliberately uses English for his works, although it would have been “more easier” for him to write in Latin.
The ‘Geste’ of Auberi le Bourgoing, or Bourgignon (it is variously written) is contained in three MSS. all of which are in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. The first and most important of these is No. 860, Fonds français, containing besides our poem a series of other ‘Gestes’ of leading importance. The ‘Auberi’ of this MS. is the most lengthy of the three, it numbers some 27,264 lines and is in excellent condition except that two or three of the last folios are wanting. The MS. is of about 1250 and is divided into two principal branches: that of Auberi and that of Lambert d'orridon; Auberi, however, being the most prominent character in both. The beginning of the second, which might escape attention unless one were reading the whole, is on the sixty-ninth folio of the poem which itself commences on page one hundred and thirty-four of the entire codex. A second MS. is No. 859, Fonds français, also of about 1250. It is shorter than the first, containing a little over 23,000 verses. The MS. is an interesting one. It was damaged in some way but has been very deftly repaired. The fly-leaves consist of portions of a Code of Justinian and of a book of devotions, both in Latin; its second branch, that of Lambert d'Orridon, commences on folio ninety-nine. The third MS. is No. 24,368, Fonds français, and contains 22,648 verses, ending, instead of the usual explicit, with the note: “ce fut fet l'an de grace MCC IIII XX XVIII le prochain mardy devant la nativité.” The second branch of this commences on folio fifty-two. There have been other MSS. of this ‘Geste’ but they are lost. C. Fauchet, the sixteenth-century philologist and critic, in a note he makes on the margin of folio one hundred and thirty-six of MSS. 860, speaks of another which has disappeared. Immanual Bekker in 1829, speaks of “eine dem Herrn Professor von der Hagan gehörige Pergamenthandschrift” of ‘Auberi,’ but where this may now be I was not able to discover (vide the preface to Bekker's ‘Roman von Fierabras,’ Berlin 1829). A search which I made in the manuscript catalogues of the Arsenal and Mazarin libraries and in those of the Department libraries which I. could find in the Bibliothèque Nationale, did not reveal anything further upon the subject.
I purpose in the present paper to direct attention to certain influences by whose action the character of our English prose style is being more or less affected. It will be apparent at a glance that I do not design an elaborate exposition of any one phase of our modern literary life, but simply a concise discussion of some of its aspects that have been impressed upon me during a varied and changeful career as teacher of English literature.
Niemand kann sich verhehlen, dass noch manche Jahre vergehen werden, ehe man über die alte Streitfrage das letzte Wort sprechen kann, d. h. ehe man genau weiss, was wir an den von Macpherson hinterlassenen selbstgeschriebenen gaelischen Texten eigentlich haben. In Deutschland ist seit vielen Jahren das Interesse an diesen Fragen ein sehr geringes, man tröstet sich mit dem Buche des Talvj, ‘Die Unechtheit der Lieder Ossians,’ ohne es mit kritischen Augen zu prüfen; in England dagegen lebt dank diesem Streitobjecte der alte Zwist zwischen Kelten und Sachsen noch fort.