Page images
PDF
EPUB

some seconds before the tongue is delivered of it.

If it be good, fresh, and racy-begotten of the occasion; if he that utters it never thought it before, he is naturally the first to be tickled with it; and any suppression of such complacence we hold to be churlish and insulting What does it seem to imply, but that your company is weak or foolish enough to be moved by an image or a fancy that shall stir you not all, or but faintly? This is exactly the humour of the fine gentleman in Mandeville, who, while he dazzles his guests with the display of some costly toy, affects himself to “ see nothing considerable in it."

[merged small][ocr errors]

THAT SUCH A ONE SHOWS HIS BREEDING.–THAT IT IS

EASY TO PERCEIVE HE IS NO GENTLEMAN.

A SPEECH from the poorest sort of people, which always indicates that the party vituperated is a gentleman. The very fact which they deny, is that which galls and exasperates them to use this language. The forbearance with which it is usually received, is a proof what interpretation the bystander sets upon it. Of a kin to this, and still less politic, are the phrases with which, in their street rhetoric, they ply one another more grossly ;--He is a poor creature. He has not a rag to cover- , &c.; though this last, we confess, is more frequently applied by females to females. They do not perceive that the satire glances upon themselves. A poor man, of all things in the world, should not upbraid an antagonist with poverty. Are there no other topics—as, to tell him his father was hanged—his sister, &c. without exposing a secret which should be kept snug between them, and doing an affront to the order to which they have the honour equally to belong? All this while they do not see how the wealthier man stands by and laughs in his sleeve at both.

V.

THAT THE POOR COPY THE VICES OF THE RICH.

[ocr errors]

a

A SMOOTH text to the letter ; and, preached from the pulpit, is sure of a docile audience from the pews lined with satin. It is twice sitting upon velvet to a foolish squire to be told, that he, and not perverse nature, as the homilies would make -us imagine, is the true cause of all the irregularities in his parish. This is striking at the root of free-will indeed, and denying the originality of sin in any sense. But men are not quite such implicit sheep as this comes to. If the abstinence from evil on the part of the upper classes is to derive itself from no higher principle than the apprehension of setting ill patterns to the lower, we beg leave to discharge them from all squeam ishness on that score; they may even take their fill of pleasures, where they can find them. · The genius of poverty, hampered and straitened as it is, is not so barren of invention but it can trade upon the staple of its own vice, without drawing upon their capital. The poor are not quite such servile imitators as they take them for. Some of them are very clever artists in their way. Here and there we find an original. Who taught the poor to steal, to pilfer? They did not go to the great for schoolmasters in these faculties surely. It is well if in some vices they allow us to be--no copyists. In no other sense is it true that the poor copy them, than as servants may be said to take after their masters and mistresses, when they succeed to their reversionary cold meats. If the master, from indisposition or some other cause, neglect his food, the servant dines notwithstanding.

“Oh, but (some will say) the force of example is great.” We knew a lady who was so scrupulous on this head, that she would put up with the calls of the most impertinent visiter, rather than let her servant say she was not at home, for fear of teaching her maid to tell an untruth; and this in the

very face of the fact, which she knew well enough, that the wenck was one of the greatest liars upon the earth without teaching so much so, that her mistress possibly never heard two words of consecutive truth from her in her life. But nature must go for nothing: example must be everything. This liar in grain, who never opened her mouth without a lie, must be guarded against a remote inference, which she (pretty casuist!) might possibly draw from a form of words---literally false, but essentially deceiving no one—that under some circumstances a fib might not be so exceedingly sinful—a fiction, too, not at all in her own way, or one that she could be suspected of adopting, for few servant-wenches care to be denied to visiters.

This word example reminds us of another fine word which is in use upon these occasions-encouragement. People in our sphere must not be thought to give encouragement to such proceedings.” To such a frantic height is this principle capable of being carried, that we have known individuals who have thought it within the scope of their influence to sanction despair, and give eclat to-suicide. A domestic in the family of a county member lately deceased, for love, or some unknown cause, cut his throat, but not successfully. The poor fellow was otherwise much loved and respected; and great interest was used in his behalf, upon his recovery, that he might be permitted to retain his place ; his word being first pledged, not without some substantial sponsors to promise for him, that the like should never happen again. His master was inclinable to keep him, but his mistress thought otherwise ; and John in the end was dismissed, her ladyship declaring that she “could not think of encouraging any such doings in the county."

VI.

THAT ENOUGH IS AS GOOD AS A FEAST.

Not a man, woman, or child in ten miles round Guildhall, who really believes this saying. The inventor of it did not believe it himself. It was made in revenge by somebody who was disappointed of a regale. It is a vile cold-scrag-ofmutton sophism; a lie palmed upon the palate, which knows better things. If nothing else could be said for a feast, this is sufficient, that from the superflux there is usually something left for the next day. Morally interpreted, it belongs to a class of proverbs which have a tendency to make us under

Of this cast are those notable observations, that money is not health ; riches cannot purchase everything; the metaphor which makes gold to be mere muck, with the

value money

[ocr errors]

morality which traces fine clothing to the sheep's back, and denounces pearl as the unhandsome excretion of an oyster. Hence, too, the phrase which imputes dirt to acres—a sophistry so barefaced, that even the literal sense of it is true only in a wet season. This, and abundance of similar sage saws assuming to inculcate content, we verily believe to have been the invention of some cunning borrower, who had designs upon the purse of his wealthier neighbour, which he could only hope to carry by force of these verbal jugglings. Translate any one of these sayings out of the artsul metonyme which envelops it, and the trick is apparent. Goodly legs and shoulders of mutton, exhilarating cordials, books, pictures, the opportunities of seeing foreign countries, independence, heart's ease, a man's own time to himself, are not muck -however we may be pleased to scandalize with that appellation the faithful metal that provides them for us.

VII.

OF TWO DISPUTANTS, THE WARMEST IS GENERALLY IN

THE WRONG.

Our experience would lead us to quite an opposite conclusion. Temper, indeed, is no test of truth ; but warmth and earnestness are a proof at least of a man's own conviction of the rectitude of that which he maintains. Coolness is as often the result of an unprincipled indifference to truth or falsehood, as of a sober confidence in a man's own side in a dispute. Nothing is more insulting sometimes than the appearance of this philosophič temper. There is little 'Titubus, the stammering law-stationer in Lincoln's Inn—we have seldom known this shrewd little fellow engaged in an argument where we were not convinced he had the best of it, if his tongue would but fairly have seconded him. When he has been spluttering excellent broken sense for an hour together, writhing and labouring to be delivered of the point of dispute —the very gist of the controversy knocking at his teeth, which, like some obstinate iron-grating, still obstructed its deliverance-his puny frame convulsed, and face reddening all over at an unfairness in the logic which he wanted articulation to expose, it has moved our gall to see a smooth, portly fellow nf an adversary, that cared not a button for the merits of the question, by merely laying his hand upon the head of the stationer, and desiring him to be calm, (your tall disputants have always the advantage,) with a provoking sneer carry the argument clean from him in the opinion of all the by-standers, who have gone away clearly convinced that Titubus must have been in the wrong, because he was in a passion; and that Mr. - meaning his opponent, is one of the fairest, and at the same time one of the most dispassionate arguers breathing.

VIII.

THAT VERBAL ALLUSIONS ARE NOT WIT, BECAUSE THEY

WILL NOT BEAR A TRANSLATION.

The same might be said of the wittiest local allusions. A custom is sometimes as difficult to explain to a foreigner as a pun.

What wouid become of a great part of the wit of the last age, if it were tried by this test? How would certain topics, as aldermanity, cuckoldry, have sounded to a Terentian auditory, though Terence himself had been alive to translate them? Senator urbanus, with Curruca to boot for a synonyme, would but faintly have done the business. Words, involving notions, are hard enough to render; it is too much to expect us to translate a sound, and give an elegant version to a jingle. "The Virgilian harmony is not translatable, but by substituting harmonious sounds in another language for it. To Latinize a pun, we must seek a pun in Latin that will answer to it; as, to give an idea of the double endings in Hudibras, we must have recourse to a similar practice in the old monkish doggerel. Dennis, the fiercest oppugner of puns in ancient or modern times, professes himself highly tickled with the “a stick” chiming to “ecclesiastic." Yet what is this but a species of pun, a verbal consonance ?

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »