Ivanhoe (Chapter 1, page 2 of 7)


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Chapter 1

A circumstance which greatly tended to enhance the tyranny of the
nobility, and the sufferings of the inferior classes, arose from
the consequences of the Conquest by Duke William of Normandy. Four
generations had not sufficed to blend the hostile blood of the Normans
and Anglo-Saxons, or to unite, by common language and mutual interests,
two hostile races, one of which still felt the elation of triumph, while
the other groaned under all the consequences of defeat. The power had
been completely placed in the hands of the Norman nobility, by the event
of the battle of Hastings, and it had been used, as our histories assure
us, with no moderate hand.

The whole race of Saxon princes and nobles
had been extirpated or disinherited, with few or no exceptions; nor were
the numbers great who possessed land in the country of their fathers,
even as proprietors of the second, or of yet inferior classes. The royal
policy had long been to weaken, by every means, legal or illegal, the
strength of a part of the population which was justly considered as
nourishing the most inveterate antipathy to their victor.

All the monarchs of the Norman race had shown the most marked predilection for
their Norman subjects; the laws of the chase, and many others equally
unknown to the milder and more free spirit of the Saxon constitution,
had been fixed upon the necks of the subjugated inhabitants, to add
weight, as it were, to the feudal chains with which they were loaded. At
court, and in the castles of the great nobles, where the pomp and state
of a court was emulated, Norman-French was the only language employed;
in courts of law, the pleadings and judgments were delivered in the same
tongue.

In short, French was the language of honour, of chivalry, and
even of justice, while the far more manly and expressive Anglo-Saxon
was abandoned to the use of rustics and hinds, who knew no other. Still,
however, the necessary intercourse between the lords of the soil,
and those oppressed inferior beings by whom that soil was cultivated,
occasioned the gradual formation of a dialect, compounded betwixt
the French and the Anglo-Saxon, in which they could render themselves
mutually intelligible to each other; and from this necessity arose by
degrees the structure of our present English language, in which the
speech of the victors and the vanquished have been so happily blended
together; and which has since been so richly improved by importations
from the classical languages, and from those spoken by the southern
nations of Europe.

This state of things I have thought it necessary to premise for the
information of the general reader, who might be apt to forget, that,
although no great historical events, such as war or insurrection, mark
the existence of the Anglo-Saxons as a separate people subsequent to the
reign of William the Second; yet the great national distinctions betwixt
them and their conquerors, the recollection of what they had formerly
been, and to what they were now reduced, continued down to the reign
of Edward the Third, to keep open the wounds which the Conquest had
inflicted, and to maintain a line of separation betwixt the descendants
of the victor Normans and the vanquished Saxons.

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