The French Language
MR. Valois has given the following critical history of the French Language, which may gratify the philiologist.
The French language, as now in use, derives its origin from the Latin, or the Roman language corrupted; as do also the Italian and the Spanish: it is mixed with German, and even Gaulish words. Anciently, they called Rustic Roman (as may be seen by the Acts of the Council of Tours, of the year 813) that language which the Gauls, in that time comprehended under the name of Romans, employed, as well as the greater part of the French, Normans, and chiefly the people of Aquitaine and Languedoc. The earliest example which we have of this language called Rustic Roman, is in Nitard, book III, who gives the oath of Louis, King of Germany, and the treaty which he made with King Charles. We read in Fauchet, that the poets only began to make use of this language about the year 1150. We do not find, or at least rarely, Patent Letters of the Kings of France, Edicts, or Declarations in this language, till about 1220. The laws which William the Conqueror gave to the English nation, and which yet exist, are in the Rustic language, from whence the French is derived.
Abbé Longuerue observes on his language, that the progress it made from 1630 to 1670 was astonishing. Pelisson, in his Panegyric on Louis XIV. says that it was at its perfection:—he was a prophet. Augustus, who had seen the Latin language at its acmé, saw the disappointment of its decline: this happened to Louis XIV. While Racine lived, he did all he possibly could to bring back the Academy to the style of D’Ablancourt and Patry, in declaring that they were our masters; but his trouble was lost. A corrupt taste has prevailed since his death, more than before.
An Englishman who admires the brilliancy and the vivacity of French prose, who is delighted with the lively sallies of Voltaire, enchanted with the picturesque diction of Rousseau< and who is familiar with all the graces, and all the delicacies, of that elegant crowd of fine writers of which the French have just reason to exult, cannot but attribute such complaints to that fastidiousness of criticism, which will always exist to chastise and mortify the great writers of the age. The French critics, however, say, that the celebrated authors about the time of Louis XIV. displayed and respected more the true taste of the ancients; but that the moderns have sacrificed every thing to the bel esprit; a term difficult to render into English.