Page images

abandoned the idle disputations of the schools, with the metaphysic subtleties of the schoolmen, for the more delightful and profitable study of the Grecian and Roman classics.

One of the great objects of their literary labours was the introduction of a more rational method of pronouncing Greek; or rather, to restore what they conceived to be the original pronunciation of that language. It may not be unacceptable to the philological student to be informed, what the changes were which they proposed to introduce, as stated in his Life by Strype.

At this period, the Greek language had only begun to be studied even in our universities; and its pronunciation had been vitiated by the corrupt channels through which it had been conveyed to us. In particular, the received method of sounding the vowels and diphthongs, and also some of the consonants, was such that it was frequently impossible to distinguish different words by difference of sound. Thus was pronounced as ɛ, o and ɛ as, and and v, were both sounded as ιωτα or j. Some of the consonants were differently pronounced, according as they were differently


situated in a word. Thus after v was sounded as a soft and r after μ was pronounced as our d. The letter и was pronounced as our ch, and ẞ as our consonant. With a very little reflection on the subject, it was not difficult to conclude, that such a method of pronunciation was totally destructive of all that beauty of the Greek language, which arises from variety of sound, and that such therefore could not have been the pronunciation of the Greeks.

These scruples formed the subjects of frequent conversations between Cheke and Smith (who was also public reader of Greek in his own college), and they determined upon an innovation. They seem to have been led to the improvement in question, by their feeling, while lecturing in their respective colleges, the necessity of varying the sound as the vowels varied, in order to render the language intelligible, as well as harmonious to the ear. At the commencement of their doubts, they had not seen the book of Erasmus on the subject; but having procured it, together with Terentianus de Literis et Syllabis, they began their work of reformation; at the same time consulting those Grecian writers (particularly Aristopha

nes) from whom they were likely to derive aid. At length they arrived at the no difficult conclusion, that each vowel ought to possess its appropriate and distinct sound; and that every diphthong, as composed of two vowels, should have the sound of two.

They were obliged, however, to proceed with caution. They felt, that having reason on their side, was not enough to ensure support. In the first instance, they communicated the proposed change only to a few of their most intimate friends; and obtaining their approbation, resolved to make it public; still with circumspection and prudence. It was agreed that Smith'should begin. At this time, he read Aristotle de Republicâ to his hearers; and the artifice by which he contrived to smuggle in a few contraband words is calculated to excite a smile in a modern reader, while it exhibits a strong proof of the ignorance and prejudice of the age. To hide the novelty of his pronunciation, he occasionally let fall a word as if by inadvertence, pronounced in the new mode. At first, this excited no attention from his auditors; but as the number of these new-fangled words gradually increased, their curiosity was awakened, and

attention was sometimes so alert, as to induce him to correct himself, as if he had made a mistake. Frequently too, what appeared to them the oddity of the sounds excited laughter. His audience soon began to suspect, that these frequent mistakes could not be the effect of accident; and on some of his friends communicating their suspicions to the lecturer, he frankly acknowledged that he had really some change in contemplation; though it was not yet sufficiently matured for the public. They were eager for an explicit communication, which he promised; only requesting them to suspend their final decision, till their ears had become accustomed in some degree to the new sounds. He now proceeded to lecture in his own college upon Homer's Odyssey; using the new pronunciation without restraint. Cheke did the same in his college; and in a short time, the proposed improvement appeared so reasonable to the more learned and judicious part of the university, that it was eagerly adopted; and the study of the Greek became daily an object of greater attention and of more ardent pursuit.

The catholics, however, who always hated the very name of innovation, were greatly

[blocks in formation]

disturbed about this new way, of pronouncing Greek, and opposed its introduction with obstinate perverseness. But unable to prevail, they complained to Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, and chancellor of the university, who, in the true spirit of popery, issued an edict, dated 14th May 1542, prohibiting all persons. to use the new method, under the following penalties: If the offender were a regent, he was to be expelled the senate; if he stood for a degree, he was not to be admitted to it; if a scholar, he was to lose his scholarship; and the younger students were to be privately


On the appearance of this edict, Cheke. wrote a letter to this haughty and overbearing prelate, in which he contended, that the true sounds of the letters had been changed in the last barbarous ages, and that it was therefore better to mend that barbarity than to follow it. For authority, he appealed to Erasmus, (who had written a book on the true pronunciation of the Latin and Greek) and also to other learned men. To this representation, the bishop replied, that the sound of letters was more likely to be changed by the learned than the unlearned;" the learned being wont to have

« PreviousContinue »