previous next


Self (se = swa [so]; -lf. = Germ. leib, "body:" Wedgewood, however, suggests the reciprocal pronoun, Lat. se, Germ. sich, and he quotes, "Et il ses cors ira," i.e. "and he him self will go," Old French, and still retained in Creole patois) was still used in its old adjectival meaning "same," especially in "one self," i.e. "one and the same," and "that self." Compare the German "selbe."

“That self chain.

“That self mould.

“One self king.

Compare 3 Hen. VI. iii. 1. 11; A. and C. v. 1. 21; M. of V. i. 1. 148.

Hence we can trace the use of himself, &c. The early English did not always use "self," except for emphasis; their use was often the same as our modern poetic use: “They sat them down upon the yellow sand.” TENNYSON.

In order to define the him, and to identify it with the previous he, the word self (meaning "the same," "the aforesaid") was added: "He bends himself." Thyself and myself are for thee-self, me-self. "One self king" may be illustrated by "one same house."--MONTAIGNE, 228. We also find the adjectival use of "self" retained in “The territories of Attica selfe.” N. P. 175. “The city selfe of Athens.” N. P. 183. "Itself" is generally, if not always, written in the Folio "it selfe."

There is a difficulty, however, in such a phrase as "I myself saw it." Why do we not find "I-self," "he-self," in such cases? Why, even in A.-S., do we find the rule that, when self agrees with the subject of the sentence, the pronoun has to be repeated in the dative before self: "he (him) self did it," but when the noun is in an oblique case self is declined like any other adjective, and agrees with its noun: "he hine seolfne band," i.e. "he bound himself?" The fact is, that in the second case "self" is an ordinary adjective used as an adjective: "he bound the same or aforesaid him." But in the former case "himself" is often an abridgment of a prepositional expression used as an adverb: "he did it by himself," "of himself," "for himself," and, being a quasi-adverb, does not receive the adjectival inflection.1 It follows that "my," "thy," in "myself" and "thyself," are not pronominal adjectives, but represent inflected cases of the pronouns. Thus "ourself" for "ourselves" is strictly in accordance with the A.-S. usage in

“We will ourself in person to this war,

though of course Shakespeare only uses it for "myself" in the mouth of a dignified personage. Similarly in Piers Plowman (B. viii. 62) we have "myn one" (= "of me one," i.e. "of me alone" [see One]) used for "by myself," and "him one" (William of Palerne, 17) for "by himself;" and here "myn" is the genitive of "I," and "him" the dative of "he," and "one" is an adjective. This is also illustrated by the Scottish "my lane," i.e. "my, or by me, alone." Hence, instead of "ourselves" we have in Wickliffe, 2 Cor. x. 2, "but we mesuren us in us silf and comparisownen us silf to us," and, a line above, "hem silf" for "themselves."

Very early, however, the notion became prevalent that the inflected pronoun was a pronominal adjective, and that "self" was a noun. Hence we find in Chaucer, "myself hath been the whip," "and to prove their selfes" in Berners' Froissart; and in Shakespeare, Temp. i. 2. 132, "thy crying self." Hence the modern "ourselves," "yourselves."

The use of "self" as a noun is common in Shakespeare: "Tarquin's self," Coriol. ii. 2. 98; "my woeful self," L. C. 143. Hence the reading of the Folio may be correct in the first of the following lines:

“Even so myself bewails good Gloucester's case,
With sad unhelpful tears and with dimm'd eyes
Look after him.

But the change to the first person is more in accordance with Shakespeare's-usage, as:

“This love of theirs myself have often seen.

So T. G. iii. 1. 147; ib. iv. 2. 110.

So "himself" is used as a pronoun, without "he," in

“Direct not him whose way himself will choose.

"Self-born arms" (Rich. II. ii. 3. 80) seems to mean "divided against themselves," "civil war."

1 Myself seems used for our "by myself" in

“I had as lief been myself alone.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: