Caxton's Blanchardyn and Eglantine, c. 1489 : from Lord Spencer's unique imperfect copy, completed by the original French and the second English version of 1595
edited by Leon Kellner
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§ 25. The Infinitive. Active and Passive.

While, as mentioned above, the Infinitive in Old English—as well as in the other Teutonic languages—was indifferent with regard to voice, the later periods of Middle English develope the passive on the same principle as Latin, and are probably modelled on that. Whenever there is an action without a subject to do it, we find the passive construction in Latin—infinitivus passivi and participium passivi (or rather gerundium), e. g. militem occidi iussit; credendum est. So far as I am aware both these constructions are translated in Old English, as well as in Middle English of the first centuries, by the simple infinitive. Instances abound:—

Þa hi þæt ne geþafodan, þa het he hi beheafdian,—Sweet, Oldest English Texts, p. 177 (Martyrology); þa heht se casere gesponnan fiower wildo hors to scride, ibid.; Eac is to geðencanne, Cura pastoralis, 53; denum eallum wæs . . . to geþolianne . . . oncyð, Beowulf, 1418; ne bið swylc cwénlic pew, idese to efnanne . . . þætte freoðu—webbe, ibid. 1941; we nu gehyrað þis halige godspel beforan us rædan, Blickling Hom. 15/28. Cf. 55/25, 107/26; hit is lang to areccene, Wulfstan, 7/12; seo menniscness is wundorlic ymbe to smeagenne, ibid. 15/14, 25/6, 27/1, 158/16, etc., etc.

Middle English:—

Nu ne þerf na mon his sunne mid wite abuggen but toward crist ane mid scrifte swa him his preost lered al swa his festen, þe swiðe oner Rimet þes flesces wlongnesse and chuc (chirc?) ȝong and god to donne þeruore monie and feole oðre godere werke þe nu were long eou to telle,—O. E. Hom. I. 9; heo wes wurse to þolien þenne efreni of alle þa oþre pine, ibid. I. 43; hwet is us to donne?—ibid. I. 91; þan alden his to warniene wið uuele iþohtas, ibid. I. 109; II. 117, 139; þatt (sc. flocc) tœleþþ þatt to lofenn iss, Ormulum, 77; þeos (þinges) beoð alle ine freo wille to donne or to leten, Ancren Riwle, 8; leteð writen on one scrowe hwat se ȝe ne kunneð nout, ibid. 42.

  • 'Ghe knew it for hire owen sune;
    And quane it sulde sundred ben,
    Ghe bar it teremuth for to sen.'

    Story of Genesis and Exodus, 2628;

  • 'ðe bi-leuen brennen he bead.'

    ibid. 3154.

  • 'O spuse-brek womman
    þat þe Iuus dempt to stan.'

    Cursor Mundi, 186;

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  • 'worþie for to neuen.'

    ibid. 4056, 4420, 5634, 5678, 6364, 6718.

  • 'And syn he best to love is and most meke.'

    Chancer, V. 77;

  • 'ſoul artow to embrace.'

    ibid. III. 93.

  • 'But ay thay wondren what sche mighte be,
    That in so pover array was for to se.'

    ibid. II. 310.

  • 'His brest was hole withouten for to sene.'

    ibid. III. 13;
    'it (sc. þe oost) is to dispyse (orig. spernendum est).'

    Boethius, p. 12.

Þis emperour is to undirstand our Lord ihesu crist, Gesta Romanorum, p. 22 (= by this emperour is understood, etc.); I wolle haue this childe, that thi wife has brought forthe this nyght, to norisshe in my palys, ibid. p. 208; sone the emperoure made letters to send to the empresse, ibid. p. 213; thenne she brought him out of þe prison, and gerte bathe him, ibid. p. 312.

The passive construction is rarely to be met with in the earliest Middle English texts. There are, however, numerous instances in the 14th century:—

Cursor Mundi (Cotton, Göttingen, and Trinity MSS.), 4856:

'þair siluer he tok and gaue þam corn
And to þair inne did it be born.'

Cf. 5004, 5080, 9098; worthy to be . . . i-preysed (= praeconiis attollendi), Trevisa, Polychronicon, I. 3; suche serueþ and is good to be knowe of Cristen men, ibid. I. 17; that made hem gentil men y-callid be,—Chaucer, I. 240.

'And suffrith us . . .
ful ofte to be bete in sondry wise.'

ibid. II. 314.(Petrarch's Original, p. 170: et saepe nos multis ac gravibus flagellis exerceri sinit.)

In Caxton the old use is still very frequent, if it is not the prevailing one; and, to conclude ſrom several instances, the passive construction was not quite familiar to him. The proportion between the instances of active and passive construction is in Blanchardyn 11 to 8.

(a) Governed by adjectives and answering to the Latin Supine.

  • Active. The sore of loue is ryght anguyssous and heuy forto bere,—Blanchardyn, 68/23; lete vs not departe from hens for this is a goode place for to deffende, Aymon, 108/10; but the foure sones of Aymon were good to knowe by thother for they had on grete mauntelles of scarlet furred with ermynes, ibid. 224/8.

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  • Passive. (Subyon) tolde them . . . that he wold wedde the proude pucelle in amours, for many causes and raysons that were to long to be reherced,—Blanchardyn, 179/18; here shall you here of the hande hewyng, and of a thynge heny to be recounted,—Aymon, 53/12; Reynawde and his bredern are suche knyghtes that they ben not for to be lightly ouerthrowen, ibid. 104/2; ye are gretly to be blamed, ibid. 234/6.

(b) Governed by verbs, especially by do and make, answering to the Latin Infinitivus Passivi. Caxton very often uses a redundant do, so that we find such awkward expressions as, 'he did do make.'

  • Active. I shal doo folow hym (original: Ie le feray sieuir), Blanchardyn, 44/10; he made to drawe vp ancres, ibid. 111/13; they made to take vp the ancres and to hale vp their saylles, ibid. 127/2; he made the toun sawte ofte tymes, ibid. 152/4; Subyon domaged theym ryght sore, and their place, wyth their bombardes and other engynes of warre, that he had do brynge there, ibid. 200/31; but what so euer goode sporte and pleysure that blanchardyn sawe ther make for his sake nothyng coude playse hym, ibid. 110/11; very striking is ibid. 12/22: Blanchardyn was taken in to the handes of a right noble lady of the lande for to norysshe and bryngen vp (original: pour le nourir et esleuer). Cf. Gesta Romanorum, p. 208 (quoted above, p. lxii).

    There is also both the active and passive construction governed by the same verb:—

    Kyng Alymodes commaunded expressely to the mareshall of his ooste, that he shold doo make and to be sette vp a galhouse, Blanchardyn, 187/23; Aymon, 70/5, 73/30, 74/22, 78/14, 90/24, 96/21, 96/28, 129/4, 145/23, 147/21, etc.

  • Passive. for he made to be brought vnto hym by his folke al suche armures and harneys as to hym behoued to haue, Blanchardyn, 47/19; (Blanchardyn) made hym to be armed,—ibid, 47/22; he made his trompetto to be sowned, ibid. 119/23; Aymon, 65/8, 66/14, 69/34, 73/23, 73/26, 74/13, 80/1, 80/21, 84/31, 87/1, 96/24, 101/22, 167/32, etc.; Morte Darthur, 37/1, 367/38, etc.

(c) Governed by the verb 'to be,' answering to the Latin Gerundium or Futurum Passivi:—

  • Active. And where vpon is to by-leue that blanchardyn was neuere in hys lyff half so glad, Blanchardyn, 80/11; syr Emperour, this paynymPage  lxiv nameth hym self fyerabras, whiche is moche to redoubte and hath done moche harme to crysten men, Charles the Grete, 42/26; and yf thou mayst come vnto the hye secrets whyche ben strongly for to doubte and drede in the doubtous courteynes of the most hye prynces. Thenne shalt thou be most messhaunt, The Curial, 5/12; ye be to blame (still kept), Aymon, 83/7, 99/13.

  • Passive. He began to ryde faste by the forest wythout aduenture to fynde that doeth to be recounted (original: qui a raconter face), Blanchardyn, 31/19; wythout fyndyng of eny aduenture that is to be recounted, ibid. 127/7; yf Blanchardyn was ryght glad of this adventure, it is not to be axed, 42/1, 12; it is not to be told but Blanchardyn mayntened hymself, 50/29.

Instead of the infinitive there occur two instances of the past participle:—

Thise ben the folke of themperour Charlemayn, that goeth to Ardeyn for to besege a castell that the foure sones of Aymon haue do made there, Aymon, 70/29; how the kyng Charlemayn wold have doon hanged Mawgys incontynent after that oliver had deliverde hym to hym, ibid. 365/5. Cf. Alle the werk . . . which I haue do maad,—Bury Wills, p. 39.

There are striking instances of group (b) in Berners's Huon:—

(Huon) toke the horne of Iuorey from his necke and toke it to his host to kepe, sayenge, 'host, I take you this to kepe,' 85/15. Cf. ibid. 233/16 (kepe, however, may be the substantive; Middle English, kep. See Stratmann s. v.); thyder his doughter was brought to hym to se, ibid. 313/31; how the duches Esclaramond deliueryd her doughter Clariet to Barnarde to bere to the abbot of Cluny, ibid. 401/26.

For the Tense of the Infinitive, see above, p. lvii.

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