It so happens that in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem of Beowulf, one of the most remarkable and precious of our early poems, there is a splendid and graphic description of a lonely mere, such as would have delighted the heart of Edgar Allan Poe, the author of Ulalume. In Professor Earle’s prose translation of this passage, given in his Deeds of Beowulf, at p. 44, is a description of two mysterious monsters, of whom it is said that “they inhabit unvisited land, wolf-crags, windy bluffs, the dread fen-track, where the mountain waterfall amid precipitous gloom vanisheth beneath—flood under earth. Not far hence it is, reckoning by miles, that the Mere standeth, and over it hang rimy groves; a wood with clenched roots overshrouds the water.” The word to be noted here is the word rimy, i.e. covered with rime or hoar-frost. The original Anglo-Saxon text has the form hrinde, the meaning of which was long doubtful. Grein, the great German scholar, writing in 1864, acknowledged that he did not know what was intended, and it was not till 1880 that light was first thrown upon the passage. In that year Dr Morris edited, for the first time, some Anglo-Saxon homilies (commonly known as the Blickling Homilies, because the MS. is in the library of Blickling Hall, Norfolk); and he called attention to a passage (at p. 209) where the homilist was obviously referring to the lonely mere of the old poem, in which its overhanging groves were described as being hrimige, which is nothing but the true old spelling of rimy. He naturally concluded that the word hrinde (in the MS. of Beowulf) was miswritten, and that the scribe had inadvertently put down hrinde instead of hrimge, which is a legitimate contraction of hrimige. Many scholars accepted this solution; but a further light was yet to come, viz. in 1904. In that year, Dr Joseph Wright printed the fifth volume of the English Dialect Dictionary, showing that in the dialects of Scotland, Northumberland, Durham, and Yorkshire, the word for “hoarfrost” is not rime, but rind, with a derived adjective rindy, which has the same sense as rimy. At the same time, he called attention yet once more to the passage in Beowulf. It is established, accordingly, that the suspected mistake in the MS. is no mistake at all; that the form hrinde is correct, being a contraction of hrindge or hrindige, plural of the adjective hrindig, which is preserved in our dialects, in the form rindy, to this very day. In direct contradiction of a common popular error that regards our dialectal forms as being, for the most part, “corrupt,” it will be found by experience that they are remarkably conservative and antique.
DIALECTS IN EARLY TIMES