The Northern Way

Commentary To the Germanic Laws and Medieval Documents


Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature
At Harvard University

Harvard University Press
London: Humphrey Milford
Oxford University Press 1915

President of Harvard University
Who Has Encouraged Me In
My Labor Of Research
This Volume Is Gratefully


Several years ago the study of the private and public documents of the Middle Ages, which I consulted for the etymology of difficult words, revealed to me a strange fact: the vast majority of words treated by the Germanic, Romance, and Slavic philologists had been studied with an utter disregard of documentary evidence. At every turn the facts belied the scientific deductions. Neither chronology nor phonetics were approximately correct in any given case. The starred forms never corresponded to the real variants in the earliest recorded documents. The semantic history of the words was not even attempted, or, if it was, it rarely hit upon the attested evolution of the meaning.

Puzzled by this obvious discrepancy, I passed more than five years in analyzing and excerpting all the accessible documents, to the number of 250,000 or more, from the earliest times of the Roman Empire to the year 1300. When I finally arranged my material, and, in the light of the facts thus discovered studied the Germanic laws and everything that had been written on the subject, I was shocked to find that hardly a historical fact, hardly a law, had been ascertained in connection with the morphological and semantic development of intrinsic words. If the historian had to deal with a difficult word, he consulted the etymological dictionaries, and if the etymologist needed a historic fact in order to explain the meaning of a word, he consulted a historian. Thus there was created a vicious circle which produced Germanic, Romance, and Slavic philology.

It was clear that the whole science of modern philology needed revision. I published a few of my discoveries in the Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie, but I held back an enormous number of far more important results, because I was at every turn non-plussed by the fact that words which from the study of the documents could not possibly have existed before the sixth or seventh century, invariably turned up in the Gothic vocabulary. I was chagrined, because the facts were obviously contradictory. It never occurred to me that the Gibraltar of Germanic philology, the Gothic language, stood on a foundation of sand.

After writing and rewriting some of my articles half a dozen times, in order to harmonise the contradictions, I finally turned in despair to a microscopic study of the Gothic language. To my great surprise I found that there was not a single fact which could be construed as a proof that the Gothic documents, as we possess them, were written in the fourth century by Ulfilas. It soon turned out that the palaeographic proof was flimsy and that the subject matter of the Skeireins could not have been composed before the ninth century. What had been assumed to be an Arian tract was nothing more than an anti-Adoptionist pamphlet, identical in every particular, in some cases even with the very phrasing, of Alcuin's writings.

With this difficulty removed, my studies assumed an entirely new aspect. Every evidence, every document, every law had to be subjected to a new investigation. In the present volume I give but a very small part of my material. The second volume will discuss the more than two hundred words of Arabic origin in the Gothic Bible and in all the Germanic languages. I will also show that the Naples and Arezzo Gothic documents are late eighth century forgeries, that Jordanes has come down to us in manuscripts interpolated about the same time, that Germanic mythology is of a literary Gothic origin, based on Arabic sources, and that no literary documents in Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Old High German exist which do not show the influence of the Arabicised Gothic language.

Before closing, I must publicly give my thanks to all those in the Harvard Library who have for years patiently aided me in getting and collating books, a task which was particularly irksome on account of the dispersion of the books in various buildings. The work which I have done would have been an utter impossibility in any other library in the world. The enormous mass of books consulted, sometimes in one day, could not have been brought together elsewhere in years. It would have taken the lifetime of more than one man merely to discover the books which the access to the marvelously arranged shelves in the Harvard Library has disclosed to me day after day. My deepest thanks are due to my colleague, Professor A. C. Coolidge, who as director of the Library has assisted my labors in a most substantial manner. I needed only to complain of the absence of a certain category of books, and they were procured through his more than official interest. Complete sets of Statuti, Fueros, Coutumiers, the Codex Diplomaticus Hungariae, and other extremely rare and expensive works were supplied to me as if by magic. My thanks are also due to Dr. F. W. C. Lieder, who has patiently read the proof, and to Mr. Phillips Barry, who has worked out the Index to this volume.

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