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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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4428. LANGUAGE (Anglo-Saxon), Study of.—
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4428. LANGUAGE (Anglo-Saxon), Study of.—

I learn from you with great pleasure
that a taste is reviving in England for the
recovery of the Anglo-Saxon dialect of our language;
for a mere dialect it is, as much as those
of Piers Plowman, Gower, Douglas, Chaucer,
Spenser, Shakspeare, Milton, for even much of
Milton is already antiquated. The Anglo-Saxon
is only the earliest we possess of the many
shades of mutation by which the language has
tapered down to its modern form. Vocabularies
we need for each of these stages from Somner
to Bailey, but not grammars for each or any of
them. The grammar has changed so little, in
the descent from the earliest to the present
form, that a little observation suffices to understand
its variations. We are greatly indebted
to the worthies who have preserved the Anglo-Saxon
form, from Dr. Hickes down to Mr. Bosworth.
Had they not given to the public what
we possess through the press, that dialect would
by this time have been irrecoverably lost. I
think it, however, a misfortune that they have
endeavored to give it too much of a learned
form, to mount it on all the scaffolding of the
Greek and Latin, to load it with their genders,
numbers, cases, declensions, conjugations, &c.
Strip it of these embarrassments, vest it in the
Roman type which we have adopted instead of
our English black letter, reform its uncouth
orthography, and assimilate its pronunciation,
as much as may be, to the present English,
just as we do in reading Piers Plowman or
Chaucer, and with the contemporary vocabulary
for the few lost words, we understand it as
we do them. For example, the Anglo-Saxon
text of the Lord's Prayer, as given to us 6th
Matthew, ix., is spelt and written thus, in
the equivalent Roman type: Faeder ure thec
the eart in heafenum, si thin nama ychalgod.
To becume thin rice. Gerrurthe thin willa on
eartham, swa swa on heafenum. Ume doeghw
amti can hlaf syle us to dœg. And forgyfus
ure gyltas, swa swa we forgifath urum gyltendum.
And ne ge-lœdde thu us on costmunge,
ae alys us of yfele.” I should spell and pronounce
thus: “Father our, thou tha art in
heavenum, si thine name y-hallowed. Come
thin ric-y-wurth thine will on eartham, so so
on heavenum: ourn daynhamlican loaf sell us
to-day, and forgive us our guilts so so we forgiveth
ourum guiltendum. And no y-lead thou
us on costnunge, ac a-lease us of evil”. And
here, it is to observed by-the-bye, that there
is but the single word “temptation” in our
present version of this prayer that is not Anglo-
Saxon; for the word “trespasses” taken from
the French (οφειληματα in the original),
might as well have been translated by the Anglo-Saxon

The learned apparatus in which Dr. Hickes
and his successors have muffled our Anglo-Saxon,
is what has frightened us from encountering
it. The simplification I propose
may, on the contrary, make it a regular part of
our common English education. So little reading
and writing was there among our Anglo-Saxon
ancestors of that day, that they had no
fixed orthography. To produce a given sound,
every one jumbled the letters together, according
to his unlettered notion of their power, and
all jumbled them differently, just as would be
done at this day, were a dozen peasants, who
have learnt the alphabet, but have never read,
desired to write the Lord's Prayer. Hence the
varied modes of spelling by which the Anglo-Saxons
meant to express the same sound. The
word many, for example, was spelt in twenty
different ways; yet we cannot suppose they
were twenty different words, or that they
had twenty different ways of pronouncing the
same word. The Anglo-Saxon orthography,
then, is not an exact representation of the
sounds meant to be conveyed. We must drop
in pronunciation the superfluous consonants,
and give to the remaining letters their present
English sound; because, not knowing the true
one, the present enunciation is as likely to be
right as any other, and indeed more so, and
facilitates the acquisition of the language. [284]
To J. Evelyn Denison. Washington ed. vii, 415.
(M. 1825)


Jefferson, first of all in America, suggested that
the study of Anglo-Saxon be made a part of college