“The constitution which we assign to this etherial medium, however, like the constitution we assign to solid substance, is necessarily an abstract of the impressions received from tangible bodies. The opposition to pressure which a tangible body offers to us is not shown in one direction only, but in all directions; and so likewise is its tenacity. Suppose countless lines radiating from its centre on every side, and it resists along each of these lines and coheres along each of these lines. Hence the constitution of those ultimate units through the instrumentality of which phenomena are interpreted. Be they atoms of ponderable matter or molecules of ether, the properties we conceive them to possess are nothing else than these perceptible properties idealised.”
In this case, out of 122 words we find no less than 46 are of foreign origin. Though this large proportion sufficiently shows the amount of our indebtedness to the classical languages for our abstract or specialised scientific terms, the absolutely indisputable nature of the English substratum remains clearly evident. The tongue which we use to-day is enriched by valuable loan words from many separate sources; but it is still as it has always been, English and nothing else. It is the self-same speech with the tongue of the Sleswick pirates and the West Saxon over-lords.
Perhaps nothing tends more to repel the modern English student from the early history of his country than the very unfamiliar appearance of the personal names which he meets before the Norman Conquest. There can be no doubt that such a shrinking from the first stages of our national annals does really exist; and it seems to be largely due to this very superficial and somewhat unphilosophical cause. Before the Norman invasion, the modern Englishman finds himself apparently among complete foreigners, in the AEthelwulfs, the Eadgyths, the Oswius, and the Seaxburhs of the Chronicle; while he hails the Norman invaders, the Johns, Henrys, Williams, and Roberts, of the period immediately succeeding the conquest, as familiar English friends. The contrast can scarcely be better given than in the story told about AEthelred’s Norman wife. Her name was Ymma, or Emma; but the English of that time murmured against such an outlandish sound, and so the Lady received a new English name as AElfgifu. At the present day our nomenclature has changed so utterly that Emma sounds like ordinary English, while AElfgifu sounds like a wholly foreign word. The incidental light thrown upon our history by the careful study of personal names is indeed so valuable that a few remarks upon the subject seem necessary in order to complete our hasty survey of Anglo-Saxon Britain.