"Old Mr. Parvenu gave a great ball, And of all his smart guests he knew no one at all; Old Mr. Parvenu went up to bed, And his guests said good-night to the butler instead."
Twenty years ago we were in the crisis of the great Jingo fever, and Lord Beaconsfield's antics in the East were frightening all sober citizens out of their senses. It was at that period that the music-halls rang with the "Great MacDermott's" Tyrtaean strain—
"We don't want to fight; but, by Jingo, if we do, We've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money too;"
and the word "Jingo" took its place in the language as the recognized symbol of a warlike policy. At Easter 1878 it was announced that the Government were bringing black troops from India to Malta, to aid our English forces in whatever enterprises lay before them. The refrain of the music-hall was instantly adapted with great effect, even the grave Spectator giving currency to the parody—
"We don't want to fight; but, by Jingo, if we do, We won't go to the front ourselves, but we'll send the mild Hindoo."
Two years passed. Lord Beaconsfield was deposed. The tide of popular feeling turned in favour of Liberalism, and "Jingo" became a term of reproach. Mr. Tennyson, as he then was, endeavoured to revive the patriotic spirit of his countrymen by publishing Hands all Round—a poem which had the supreme honour of being quoted in the House of Commons by Sir Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett. Forthwith an irreverent parodist—some say Mr. Andrew Lang—appeared with the following counterblast:—
DRINKS ALL ROUND.
(Being an attempt to arrange Mr. Tennyson's noble words for truly patriotic, Protectionist, and Anti-aboriginal circles.)
"A health to Jingo first, and then A health to shell, a health to shot! The man who hates not other men I deem no perfect patriot." To all who hold all England mad We drink; to all who'd tax her food! We pledge the man who hates the Rad, We drink to Bartle Frere and Froude!
Drinks all round! Here's to Jingo, king and crowned! To the great cause of Jingo drink, my boys, And the great name of Jingo, round and round.
To all the companies that long To rob, as folk robbed years ago; To all that wield the double thong, From Queensland round to Borneo! To all that, under Indian skies, Call Aryan man a "blasted nigger;" To all rapacious enterprise; To rigour everywhere, and vigour!
Drinks all round! Here's to Jingo, king and crowned! To the great name of Jingo drink, my boys, And every filibuster, round and round!
To all our Statesmen, while they see An outlet new for British trade, Where British fabrics still may be With British size all overweighed; Wherever gin and guns are sold We've scooped the artless nigger in; Where men give ivory and gold, We give them measles, tracts, and gin.
Drinks all round! Here's to Jingo, king and crowned! To the great name of Jingo drink, my boys. And to Adulteration round and round.
The Jingo fever having abated, another malady appeared in the body politic. Trouble broke out in Ireland, and in January 1881 Parliament was summoned to pass Mr. Forster's Coercion Act. My diary for that date supplies me with the following excellent imitation of a veteran Poet of Freedom rushing with ardent sympathy into the Irish struggle.
PAR VICTOR HUGO.
O Irlande, grand pays du shillelagh et du bog, Ou les patriots vont toujours ce qu'on appelle le whole hog. Aujourd'hui je prends la plume, moi qui suis vieux, Pour dire au grand patriot Parnell, "How d'ye do?" Erin, aux armes! le whisky vous donne la force De se battre l'un pour l'autre comme les fameux Freres Corses. Votre Land League et vos Home Rulers sont des liberateurs. Payez la valuation de Griffith et n'ayez pas peur.
De la tenure la fixite c'est l'astre de vos reves, Que Rory des Collines vit et que les landgrabbers crevent Moi, je suis vieux, mais dans l'ombre je vois clair, Bientot serez-vous maitres de vos bonnes pommes de terre. C'est le brave Biggar, le T.P. O'Connor et les autres Qui sont vos sauveurs, comme Gambetta etait le notre; Suivez-les, et la victoire sera toujours a vous, Si a Milbank ce cher Forster ne vous envoie pas. Hooroo!
By the time that these lines were written the late Mr. J.K. Stephen—affectionately known by his friends as "Jem Stephen"—was beginning to be recognized as an extraordinarily good writer of humorous verse. His performances in this line were not collected till ten years later (Lapsus Calami, 1891), and his brilliant career was cut short, by the results of an accident, in 1892. I reproduce the following sonnet, not only because I think it an excellent criticism aptly expressed, but because I desire to pay my tribute of admiration to one of whom all men spoke golden words:—
"Two voices are there: one is of the deep— It learns the storm-cloud's thunderous melody, Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea, Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep; And one is of an old, half-witted sheep Which bleats articulate monotony, And indicates that two and one are three, That glass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep; And, Wordsworth, both are thine."
I hope that there are few among my readers who have not in their time known and loved the dear old ditty which tells us how
"There was a youth, and a well-beloved youth, And he was a squire's son, And he loved the Bailiff's daughter dear Who dwelt at Islington."
Well, to all who have followed that touching story of love and grief I commend the following version of it. French, after all, is the true language of sentiment:—
"Il y avait un garcon, Fort amiable et fort bon, Qui etait le fils du Lord Mayor; Et il aimait la fille D'un sergent de ville Qui demeurait a Leycesster Sqvare.
"Mais elle etait un peu prude, Et n'avait pas l'habitude De coqueter, comme les autres demoiselles; Jusqu'a ce que le Lord Mayor (Homme brutal, comme tous les peres) L'eloigna de sa tourterelle.
"Apres quelques ans d'absence, Au rencontre elle s'elance; Elle se fait une toilette de tres bon gout— Des pantoufles sur les pieds, Des lunettes sur le nez, Et un collier sur le cou—c'etait tout.
"Mais bientot elle s'assit Dans la rue Piccadilli, Car il faisait extremement chaud; Et la elle vit s'avancer L'unique objet de ses pensees, Sur le plus magnifique de chevaux!
"Je suis pauvre et sans ressource! Prete, prete-moi ta bourse, Ou ta montre, pour me montrer confiance.' 'Jeune femme, je ne vous connais, Ainsi il faut me donner Une adresse et quelques references'
"'Mon adresse—c'est Leycesster Sqvare, Et pour reference j'espere Que la statue de Shakespeare vous suffira,' 'Ah! connais-tu ma mie, La fille du sergent?' 'Si; Mais elle est morte comme un rat!'
"'Si defunte est ma belle, Prenez, s'il vous plait, ma selle, Et ma bride, et mon cheval incomparable; Car il ne faut rien dire, Mais vite, vite m'ensevelir Dans un desert sec et desagreable.'
"'Ah! mon brave, arrete-toi. Je suis ton unique choix; La fille du sergent sans peur! Pour mon trousseau, c'est modeste, Vous le voyez! Pour le reste, Je t'epouse dans une demi-heure!'
"Mais le jeune homme epouvante Sur son cheval vite remontait, La liberte lui etait trop chere! Et la pauvre fille degoutee N'avait qu'a reprendre sa route, et Son adresse est encore Leycesster Sqvare."
The chiefs of the Permanent Civil Service are not usually, as Swift said, "blasted with poetic fire," but this delightful ditty is from the pen of Mr. Henry Graham, the Clerk of the Parliaments.
Of the metrical parodists of the present hour two are extremely good. Mr. Owen Seaman is, beyond and before all his rivals, "up to date," and pokes his lyrical fun at such songsters as Mr. Alfred Austin, Mr. William Watson, Mr. Rudyard Kipling, and Mr. Richard Le Gallienne. But "Q." is content to try his hand on poets of more ancient standing; and he is not only of the school but of the lineage of "C.S.C." I have said before that I forbear, as a rule, to quote from books as easily accessible as Green Bays; but is there a branch of the famous "Omar Khayyam Club" in Manchester? If there be, to it I offer this delicious morsel, only apologizing to the uninitiated reader for the pregnant allusiveness, which none but a sworn Khayyamite can perfectly apprehend:—
MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
Wake! for the closed Pavilion doors have kept Their silence while the white-eyed Kaffir slept, And wailed the Nightingale with "Jug, jug, jug!" Whereat, for empty cup, the White Rose wept.
Enter with me where yonder door hangs out Its Red Triangle to a world of drought, Inviting to the Palace of the Djinn, Where death, Aladdin, waits as Chuckerout.
Methought, last night, that one in suit of woe Stood by the Tavern-door and whispered, "Lo! The Pledge departed, what avails the Cup? Then take the Pledge and let the Wine-cup go."
But I: "For every thirsty soul that drains This Anodyne of Thought its rim contains— Freewill the can, Necessity the must; Pour off the must, and see, the can remains.
"Then, pot or glass, why label it 'With care?' Or why your Sheepskin with my Gourd compare? Lo! here the Bar and I the only Judge:— O Dog that bit me, I exact an hair!"
No versifier of the present day lends himself so readily to parody as Mr. Kipling. His "Story of Ung" is an excellent satire on certain methods of contemporary literature:—
"Once on a glittering icefield, ages and ages ago, Ung, a maker of pictures, fashioned an image of snow. Fashioned the form of a tribesman; gaily he whistled and sung, Working the snow with his fingers, 'Read ye the story of Ung!'
* * * * *
And the father of Ung gave answer, that was old and wise in the craft, Maker of pictures aforetime, he leaned on his lance and laughed: 'If they could see as thou seest they would do as thou hast done, And each man would make him a picture, and—what would become of my son?'"
So far Mr. Kipling. A parodist writing in Truth applies the same "criticism of life" to commercial production:—
THE STORY OF BUNG.
Once, ere the glittering icefields paid us a tribute of gold, Bung, the son of a brewer, heir to a fortune untold— Vast was his knowledge of brewing—gaily began his career. Whispered the voice of ambition, "Perhaps they will make thee a peer."
People who sampled his liquor wunk an incredulous wink, Smelt it, then drank it, and grunted, "Verily this is a drink!" Even the Clubman admitted, wetting the tip of his tongue, "Lo! it is excellent beer! Glory and honour to Bung!"
Straightway the doubters assembled, a prying, unsatisfied horde: "It is said the materials used are approved by the Revenue Board; It is claimed that no adjuncts are used, the advertisements say it is pure; True, the beer is good—and it may be—but can the consumer be sure?"
Wroth was that brewer of liquor, knowing the doubters were right, User of chemical adjuncts, and methods that bear not the light; Little he recked of disclosures, much of the profits he cleared, So in the ear of his father whispered the thing that he feared.
And the father of Bung gave answer, that was old and wise in the craft, "If they cast suspicion upon thee, it is nought but a random shaft; If others could know what thou knowest, they would do what thou hast done, And men would drink of their brewing, and—what would become of my son?
"So long as thy beer is best, so long shall thy brewing win The praise no money can buy, and the money that praise brings in. And if the majority's pleased, the majority does not mind The how, and the what, and the whence. Rejoice that the public is blind."
And Bung took his father's counsel, and fell to his brewing of beer, And he gave the Government cheques, and the Government made him a peer, And the doubters ceased from their doubting, loudly his praises they sung, Cursing their previous blindness. Heed ye the story of Bung!
But no effort of intentional parody can, I think, surpass this serious adaptation of the "March of the Men of Harlech" to the ecclesiastical crisis of 1898-9:—
A PROTESTANT BATTLE-SONG;
PASTORAL ADDRESS TO CHRISTIAN BRETHREN.
Sons of Freedom, rouse the Nation! Or Britain's glorious Reformation Soon will reach dire consummation! God defend the right! Shall false traitor-bishops lead us, Chained to Rome, and madly speed us, From the Word of God which freed us, Unto Papal night? False example setting, Treachery begetting, Temple, Halifax, Maclagan, Now with Rome coquetting. Mighty House of Convocation Thou art not the British Nation! Every warrior to your station; Freedom calls for fight!
Cuba, Spain, and Madagascar, Where the Jesuits are master, Shout our shame in their disaster,— What shall Britain say? Rome, thy smile is cold as Zero. Drop the mask, thou crafty Nero! Britons! rouse ye! Play the Hero! Right shall win the day! False example setting, Treachery begetting, Temple, Halifax, Maclagan, Now with Rome coquetting. Trust in God! His truth protecting, Prayer and duty ne'er neglecting, Fearless, victory expecting, Prepare you for the fray!
 Born 1851; ordained 1874; died 1877.
"Se non e vero," said a very great Lord Mayor, "e ben traviata." His lordship's linguistic slip served him right. Latin is fair play, though some of us are in the condition of the auctioneer in The Mill on the Floss, who had brought away with him from the Great Mudport Free School "a sense of understanding Latin generally, though his comprehension of any particular Latin was not ready." But to quote from any other language is to commit an outrage on your guests. The late Sir Robert Fowler was, I believe, the only Lord Mayor who ever ventured to quote Greek, but I have heard him do it, and have seen the turtle-fed company smile with alien lips in the painful attempt to look as if they understood it, and in abject terror lest their neighbour should ask them to translate. Mr. James Payn used to tell a pleasing tale of a learned clergyman who quoted Greek at dinner. The lady who was sitting by Mr. Payn inquired in a whisper what one of these quotations meant. He gave her to understand, with a well-assumed blush, that it was scarcely fit for a lady's ear. "Good heavens!" she exclaimed; "you don't mean to say——" "Please don't ask any more," said Payn pleadingly; "I really could not tell you." Which was true to the ear, if not to the sense.
Municipal eloquence has been time out of mind a storehouse of delight. It was, according to tradition, a provincial mayor who, blessed with a numerous progeny, publicly expressed the pious hope that his sons might grow up to be better citizens than their father, and his daughters more virtuous women than their mother. There was a worthy alderman at Oxford in my time who was entertained at a public dinner on his retirement from civic office. In replying to the toast of his health, he said it had always been his anxious endeavour to administer justice without swerving to "partiality on the one hand or impartiality on the other." Surely he must have been near akin to the moralist who always tried to tread "the narrow path which lay between right and wrong;" or, perchance, to the newly-elected mayor who, in returning thanks for his elevation, said that during his year of office he should lay aside all his political prepossessions and be, "like Caesar's wife, all things to all men." A well-known dignitary, rebuking his housemaid for using his bath during his absence from the Deanery, said, "I am grieved to think that you should do behind my back what you wouldn't do before my face;" and it was related of my old friend Dean Burgon that once, in a sermon on the transcendent merits of the Anglican school of theology, he exclaimed, with a fervour which was all his own, "May I live the life of a Taylor, and die the death of a Bull!" The late Lord Coleridge, eulogizing Oxford, said in his most dulcet tone, "I speak not of this college or of that, but of the University as a whole; and, gentlemen, what a whole Oxford is!"
The admirable Mr. Brooke, when he purposed to contest the Borough of Middlemarch, found Will Ladislaw extremely useful, because he "remembered what the right quotations are—Omne tulit punctum, and that sort of thing." And certainly an apt quotation is one of the most effective decorations of a public speech; but the dangers of inappositeness are correspondingly formidable. I have always heard that the most infelicitous quotation on record was made by the fourth Lord Fitzwilliam at a county meeting held at York to raise a fund for the repair of the Minster after the fire which so nearly destroyed it in 1829. Previous speakers had, naturally, appealed to the pious munificence of Churchmen. Lord Fitzwilliam, as the leading Whig of the county, thought that it would be an excellent move to enlist the sympathies of the rich Nonconformists, and that he was the man to do it. So he perorated somewhat after the following fashion:—"And, if the liberality of Yorkshire Churchmen proves insufficient to restore the chief glory of our native county, then, with all confidence, I turn to our excellent Dissenting brethren, and I exclaim, with the Latin poet,
'Flectere si nequeo superos Acheronta movebo.'"
Mr. Anstey Guthrie has some pleasant instances of texts misapplied. He was staying once in a Scotch country-house where, over his bed, hung an illuminated scroll with the inscription, "Occupy till I come," which, as Mr. Guthrie justly observes, is an unusually extended invitation, even for Scottish notions of hospitality. According to the same authority, the leading citizen of a seaside town erected some iron benches on the sea front, and, with the view of at once commemorating his own munificence and giving a profitable turn to the thoughts of the sitters, inscribed on the backs—
THESE SEATS WERE PRESENTED TO THIS TOWN OF SHINGLETON BY JOSEPH BUGGINS, ESQ., J.P. FOR THE BOROUGH. "THE SEA IS HIS, AND HE MADE IT."
Nothing is more deeply rooted in the mind of the average man than that certain well-known aphorisms of piety are to be found in the Bible—possibly in that lost book the Second Epistle to the Ephesians, which Dickens must have had in his mind when he wrote in Dombey and Son of the First Epistle to that Church. "In the midst of life we are in death" is a favourite quotation from this imaginary Scripture. "His end was peace" holds its place on many a tomb in virtue of a similar belief. "He tempers the wind to the shorn lamb" is, I believe, commonly attributed to Solomon; and a charming song which was popular in my youth declared that, though the loss of friends was sad, it would have been much sadder,
"Had we ne'er heard that Scripture word, 'Not lost, but gone before.'"
Mrs. Gamp, with some hazy recollections of the New Testament floating in her mind, invented the admirable aphorism that "Rich folks may ride on camels, but it ain't so easy for 'em to see out of a needle's eye." And a lady of my acquaintance, soliloquizing on the afflictions of life and the serenity of her own temper, exclaimed, "How true it is what Solomon says, 'A contented spirit is like a perpetual dropping on a rainy day'!"
A Dissenting minister, winding up a week's mission, is reported to have said, "And if any spark of grace has been kindled by these exercises, oh, we pray Thee, water that spark." A watered spark is good, but what of a harnessed volcano? When that eminent Civil servant, Sir Hugh Owen, retired from the Local Government Board, a gentleman wrote to the Daily Chronicle in favour of "harnessing this by no means extinct volcano to the great task" of codifying the Poor Law. An old peasant-woman in Buckinghamshire, extolling the merits of her favourite curate, said to the rector, "I do say that Mr. Woods is quite an angel in sheep's clothing;" and Dr. Liddon told me of a Presbyterian minister who was called on at short notice to officiate at the parish church of Crathie in the presence of the Queen, and, transported by this tremendous experience, burst forth in rhetorical supplication—"Grant that as she grows to be an old woman she may be made a new man; and that in all righteous causes she may go forth before her people like a he-goat on the mountains."
Undergraduates, whose wretched existence for a week before each examination is spent in the hasty acquisition of much ill-assorted and indigestible knowledge, are not seldom the victims of similar confusions. At Oxford—and, for all I know, at Cambridge too—a hideous custom prevails of placing before the examinee a list of isolated texts, and requiring him to supply the name of the speaker, the occasion, and the context.
Question.—"'My punishment is greater than I can bear.' Who said this? Under what circumstances?"
Answer.—"Agag, when he was hewn in pieces."
One wonders at what stage of the process he began to think it was going a little too far.
"What is faith?" inquired an examiner in "Pass-Divinity." "Faith is the faculty by which we are enabled to believe that which we know is not true," replied the undergraduate, who had learned his definition by heart, but imperfectly, from a popular cram-book. A superficial knowledge of literature may sometimes be a snare. "Can you give me any particulars of Oliver Cromwell's death?" asked an Examiner in History in 1874. "Oh yes, sir," eagerly replied the victim: "he exclaimed, 'Had I but served my God as I have served my King, He would not in mine age have left me naked to mine enemies.'"
"Things one would rather have expressed differently" are, I believe, a discovery of Mr. Punch's. Of course he did not create them. They must be as old as human nature itself. The history of their discovery is not unlike that of another epoch-making achievement of the same great genius, as set forth in the preface to the Book of Snobs. First, the world was made; then, as a matter of course, snobs; they existed for years and years, and were no more known than America. But presently—ingens patebat tellus—people became darkly aware that there was such a race. Then in time a name arose to designate that race. That name has spread over England like railroads. Snobs are known and recognised throughout an Empire on which the sun never sets. Punch appeared at the ripe season to chronicle their history, and the individual came forth to write that history in Punch. We may apply this historical method to the origin and discovery of "Things one would rather have expressed differently." They must have existed as long as language; they must have flourished wherever men and women encountered one another in social intercourse. But the glory of having discovered them, recognized them, classified them, and established them among the permanent sources of human enjoyment belongs to Mr. Punch alone.
"He was the first that ever burst Into that silent sea."
Let us humbly follow in his wake.
We shall see later on that no department of human speech is altogether free from "Things one would rather have expressed differently;" but, naturally, the great bulk of them belong to social conversation; and, just as the essential quality of a "bull" is that it expresses substantial sense in the guise of verbal nonsense, so the social "Thing one would rather have expressed differently" must, to be really precious, show a polite intention struggling with verbal infelicity. Mr. Corney Grain, narrating his early experiences as a social entertainer, used to describe an evening party given by the Dowager Duchess of S—— at which he was engaged to play and sing. Late in the evening the young Duke of S—— came in, and Mr. Grain heard his mother prompting him in an anxious undertone: "Pray go and say something civil to Mr. Grain. You know he's quite a gentleman—not a common professional person." Thus instructed, the young Duke strolled up to the piano and said, "Good-evening, Mr. Grain. I'm sorry I am so late, and have missed your performance. But I was at Lady ——'s. We had a dancing-dog there."
The married daughter of one of the most brilliant men of Queen Victoria's reign has an only child. An amiable matron of her acquaintance, anxious to be thoroughly kind, said, "O Mrs. W——, I hear that you have such a clever little boy." Mrs. W., beaming with a mother's pride, replied, "Well, yes, I think Roger is rather a sharp little fellow." "Yes," replied her friend. "How often one sees that—the talent skipping a generation!" A stately old rector in Buckinghamshire—a younger son of a great family—whom I knew well in my youth, had, and was justly proud of, a remarkably pretty and well-appointed rectory. To him an acquaintance, coming for the first time to call, genially exclaimed, "What a delightful rectory! Really a stranger arriving in the village, and not knowing who lived here, would take it for a gentleman's house." One of our best-known novelists, the most sensitively courteous of men, arriving very late at a dinner-party, was overcome with confusion—"I am truly sorry to be so shockingly late." The genial hostess, only meaning to assure him that he was not the last, emphatically replied "O, Mr. ——, you can't come too late." A member of the present Cabinet was engaged with his wife and daughter to dine at a friend's house in the height of the season. The daughter fell ill at the last moment, and her parents first telegraphed her excuses for dislocating the party, and then repeated them earnestly on arriving. The hostess, receiving them with the most cordial sympathy, exclaimed, "Oh, it doesn't matter in the least to us; we are only so sorry for your daughter." An eminent authoress, who lives not a hundred miles from Richmond Hill, was asked, in my hearing, if she had been to "write her name" at White Lodge, in Richmond Park (then occupied by the Duchess of Took), on the occasion of an important event in the Duchess's family. She replied that she had not, because she did not know the Duchess, and saw no use in adding another stranger's signature to the enormous list. "Oh, that's a pity," was the rejoinder; "the Royal Family think more of the quantity of names than the quality."
In all these cases the courtesy of the intention was manifest; but sometimes it is less easy to discover. Not long ago Sir Henry Trying most kindly went down to one of our great Public Schools to give some Shakespearean recitations. Talking over the arrangements with the Head Master, who was not a man of felicities and facilities, he said, "Each piece will take about an hour; and there must be fifteen minutes' interval between the two." "Oh! certainly," replied the Head Master; "you couldn't expect the boys to stand two hours of it without a break." The newly appointed rector of one of the chief parishes in London was entertained at dinner by a prominent member of the congregation. Conversation turned on the use of stimulants as an aid to intellectual and physical effort, and Mr. Gladstone's historic egg-flip was cited. "Well, for my own part," said the divine, "I am quite independent of that kind of help. The only occasion in my life when I used anything of the sort was when I was in for my tripos at Cambridge, and then, by the doctor's order, I took a strong dose of strychnine, in order to clear the brain." The hostess, in a tone of the deepest interest, inquired, "How soon did the effect pass off?" and the rector, a man of academical distinction, who had done his level best in his inaugural sermons on the previous Sunday, didn't half like the question.
Not long ago I was dining with one of the City Companies. On my right was another guest—a member of the Worshipful Company of Butchers. We had a long and genial conversation on topics relevant to Smithfield, when, in the midst of it, I was suddenly called on to return thanks for the visitors. The chairman, in proposing the toast, was good enough to speak of my belongings and myself in flattering terms, to which I hope that I suitably responded. When I resumed my seat my butcher friend exclaimed, with the most obvious sincerity, "I declare, sir, I'm quite ashamed of myself. To think that I have been sitting alongside of a gentleman all the evening, and never found it out!"
The doorkeepers and attendants at the House of Commons are all old servants, who generally have lived in great families, and have obtained their places through influential recommendations. One of these fine old men encountered, on the opening day of a new Parliament, a young sprig of a great family who had just been for the first time elected to the House of Commons, and thus accosted him, with tears in his eyes: "I am glad indeed, sir, to see you here; and when I think that I helped to put your noble grandfather and grandmother both into their coffins, it makes me feel quite at home with you." Never, surely, was a political career more impressively auspicated.
These Verbal Infelicities are by no means confined to social intercourse. Lord Cross, when the House laughed at his memorable speech in favour of Spiritual Peers, exclaimed in solemn remonstrance, "I hear a smile." When the Bishop of Southwell, preaching in the London Mission of 1885, began his sermon by saying, "I feel a feeling which I feel you all feel," it is only fair to assume that he said something which he would rather have expressed differently. Quite lately I heard an Irish rhetorician exclaim, "If the Liberal Party is to maintain its position, it must move forward." A clerical orator, fresh from a signal triumph at a Diocesan Conference, informed me, together with some hundreds of other hearers, that when his resolution was put "quite a shower of hands went up;" and at a missionary meeting I once heard that impressive personage, "the Deputation from the Parent Society," involve himself very delightfully in extemporaneous imagery. He had been explaining that here in England we hear so much of the rival systems and operations of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Church Missionary Society that we are often led to regard them as hostile institutions; whereas if, as he himself had done, his hearers would go out to the mission-field and observe the working of the societies at close quarters, they would find them to be in essential unison. "Even so," he exclaimed; "as I walked in the beautiful park which adjoins your town to-day, I noticed what appeared at a distance to be one gigantic tree. It was only when I got close to it and sat down under its branches that I perceived that what I had thought was one tree was really two trees—as completely distinct in origin, growth, and nature as if they had stood a hundred miles apart." No one in the audience (besides myself) noticed the infelicity of the illustration; nor do I think that the worthy "Deputation," if he had perceived it, would have had the presence of mind to act as a famous preacher did in like circumstances, and, throwing up his hands, exclaim, "Oh, blessed contrast!"
But it does not always require verbal infelicity to produce a "Thing one would rather have expressed differently." The mere misplacement of a comma will do it. A distinguished graduate of Oxford determined to enter the Nonconformist ministry, and, quite unnecessarily, published a manifesto setting forth his reasons and his intentions. In his enumeration of the various methods by which he was going to mark his aloofness from the sacerdotalism of the Established Church, he wrote; "I shall wear no clothes, to distinguish me from my fellow-Christians." Need I say that all the picture-shops of the University promptly displayed a fancy portrait of the newly fledged minister clad in what Artemus Ward called "the scandalous style of the Greek slave," and bearing the unkind inscription—"The Rev. X.Y.Z. distinguishing himself from his fellow-Christians"? If a comma too much brought ruin into Mr. Z.'s allocution, a comma too little was the undoing of a well-remembered advertisement. "A PIANO for sale by a lady about to leave England in an oak case with carved legs."
An imperfect sympathy with the prepossessions of one's environment may often lead the unwary talker to give a totally erroneous impression of his meaning. Thus the Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford once brought an Indian army chaplain to dine at the high table of Oriel, and in the common room after dinner the Fellows courteously turned the conversation to the subject of life and work in India, on which the chaplain held forth with fluency and zest. When he had made an end of speaking, the Professor of Anglo-Saxon, who was not only a very learned scholar but also a very devout clergyman, leaned forward and said, "I am a little hard of hearing, sir, but from what I could gather I rejoice to infer that you consider the position of an army chaplain in India a hopeful field." "Hopeful field indeed," replied the chaplain; "I should rather think so! You begin at L400 a year."
A too transparent honesty which reveals each transient emotion through the medium of suddenly chosen words is not without its perils. None that heard it could ever forget Norman Macleod's story of the Presbyterian minister who, when he noticed champagne-glasses on the dinner-table, began his grace, "Bountiful Jehovah!" but, when he saw only claret-glasses, subsided into, "We are not worthy of the least of Thy mercies." I deny the right of Bishop Wilberforce in narrating this story in his diary to stigmatize this good man as "gluttonous." He was simply honest, and his honesty led him into one of those "Things one would rather have expressed differently." But, however expressed, the meaning would have been the same, and equally sound.
Absence of mind, of course, conversationally slays its thousands, though perhaps more by the way of "Things one would rather have left unsaid" than by "Things one would rather have expressed differently." The late Archbishop Trench, a man of singularly vague and dreamy habits, resigned the See of Dublin on account of advancing years, and settled in London. He once went back to pay a visit to his successor, Lord Plunket. Finding himself back again in his old palace, sitting at his old dinner-table, and gazing across it at his old wife, he lapsed in memory to the days when he was master of the house, and gently remarked to Mrs. Trench, "I am afraid, my love, that we must put this cook down among our failures." Delight of Lord and Lady Plunket!
Medical men are sometimes led by carelessness of phrase into giving their patients shocks. The country doctor who, combining in his morning's round a visit to the Squire and another to the Vicar, said that he was trying to kill two birds with one stone, would probably have expressed himself differently if he had premeditated his remark; and a London physician who found his patient busy composing a book of Recollections, and asked, "Why have you put it off so long?" uttered a "Thing one would rather have left unsaid." The "donniest" of Oxford dons in an unexampled fit of good nature once undertook to discharge the duties of the chaplain of Oxford Jail during the Long Vacation. Unluckily it so fell out that he had to perform the terrible office of preparing a criminal for execution, and it was felt that he said a "Thing one would rather have expressed differently," when, at the close of his final interview, he left the condemned cell, observing, "Well, at eight o'clock to-morrow morning, then."
The path of those who inhabit Courts is thickly beset with pitfalls. There are so many things that must be left unsaid, and so many more that must be expressed differently. Who does not know the "Copper Horse" at Windsor—that equestrian statue at the end of the Long Walk to which (and back again) the local flyman always offers to drive the tourist? Queen Victoria was entertaining a great man, who, in the afternoon, walked from the Castle to Cumberland Lodge. At dinner her Majesty, full, as always, of gracious solicitude for the comfort of her guests, said, "I hope you were not tired by your long walk?" "Oh, not at all, thank you, ma'am. I got a lift back as far as the Copper Horse." "As far as what?" inquired her Majesty, in palpable astonishment. "Oh, the Copper Horse, at the end of the Long Walk!" "That's not a copper horse. That's my grandfather!"
A little learning is proverbially dangerous, and often lures vague people into unsuspected perils. One of the most charming ladies of my acquaintance, remonstrating with her mother for letting the fire go out on a rather chilly day, exclaimed, "O dear mamma, how could you be so careless? If you had been a Vestal Virgin you would have been bricked up." When the London County Council first came into existence, it used to assemble in the Guildhall, and the following dialogue took place between a highly cultured councillor and one of his commercial colleagues.
Cultured Councillor. "The acoustics of this place seem very bad."
Commercial Councillor (sniffing). "Indeed, sir? I haven't perceived anything unpleasant."
A well-known lady had lived for some years in a house in Harley Street which contained some fine ornamentation by Angelica Kauffmann, and, on moving to another quarter of the town, she loudly lamented the loss of her former drawing-room, "for it was so beautifully painted by Fra Angelico."
Mistakes of idiom are the prolific parents of error, or, as Mrs. Lirriper said, with an admirable confusion of metaphors, breed fruitful hot water for all parties concerned. "The wines of this hotel leave one nothing to hope for," was the alluring advertisement of a Swiss innkeeper who thought that his vintages left nothing to be desired. Lady Dufferin, in her Reminiscences of Viceregal Life, has some excellent instances of the same sort. "Your Enormity" is a delightful variant on "Your Excellency;" and there is something really pathetic in the Baboo's benediction, "You have been very good to us, and may Almighty God give you tit for tat." But to deride these errors of idiom scarcely lies in the mouth of an Englishman. A friend of mine, wishing to express his opinion that a Frenchman was an idiot, told him that he was a "cretonne." Lord R——, preaching at the French Exhibition, implored his hearers to come and drink of the "eau de vie;" and a good-natured Cockney, complaining of the incivility of French drivers, said, "It is so uncalled for, because I always try to make things pleasant by beginning with 'Bon jour, Cochon.'" Even in our own tongue Englishmen sometimes come to grief over an idiomatic proverb. In a debate in Convocation at Oxford, Dr. Liddon, referring to a concession made by the opposite side, said, "It is proverbially ungracious to look a gift horse in the face." And, though the undergraduates in the gallery roared "Mouth, sir; mouth!" till they were hoarse, the Angelic Doctor never perceived the unmeaningness of his proverb.
Some years ago a complaint of inefficiency was preferred against a workhouse-chaplain, and, when the Board of Guardians came to consider the case, one of the Guardians, defending the chaplain, observed that "Mr. P—— was only fifty-two, and had a mother running about." Commenting on this line of defence, a newspaper, which took the view hostile to the chaplain, caustically remarked:—"On this principle, the more athletic or restless were a clergyman's relatives, the more valuable an acquisition would he himself be to the Church. Supposing that some Embertide a bishop were fortunate enough to secure among his candidates for ordination a man who, in addition to 'a mother running about,' had a brother who gained prizes at Lillie Bridge, and a cousin who pulled in the 'Varsity Eight, and a nephew who was in the School Eleven, to say nothing of a grandmother who had St. Vitus's Dance, and an aunt in the country whose mind wandered, then surely Dr. Liddon himself would have to look out for his laurels."
The "Things one would rather have expressed differently" for which reporters are responsible are of course legion. I forbear to enlarge on such familiar instances as "the shattered libertine of debate," applied to Mr. Bernal Osborne, and "the roaring loom of the Times" when Mr. Lowell had spoken of the "roaring loom of time." I content myself with two which occurred in my own immediate circle. A clerical uncle of mine took the Pledge in his old age, and at a public meeting stated that his reason for so doing was that for thirty years he had been trying to cure drunkards by making them drink in moderation, but had never once succeeded. He was thus reported:—"The rev. gentleman stated that his reason for taking the Pledge was that for thirty years he had been trying to drink in moderation, but had never once succeeded." Another near relation of mine, protesting on a public platform against some misrepresentation by opponents, said:—"The worst enemy that any cause can have to fight is a double lie in the shape of half a truth." The newspaper which reported the proceedings gave the sentiment thus:—"The worst enemy that any cause can have to fight is a double eye in the shape of half a tooth." And, when an indignant remonstrance was addressed to the editor, he blandly said that he certainly had not understood the phrase, but imagined it must be "a quotation from an old writer."
But if journalistic reporting, on which some care and thought are bestowed, sometimes proves misleading, common rumour is far more prolific of things which would have been better expressed differently. It is now (thank goodness!) a good many years since "spelling-bees" were a favourite amusement in London drawing-rooms. The late Lady Combermere, an octogenarian dame who retained a sempiternal taste for les petits jeux innocents kindly invited a young curate whom she had been asked to befriend to take part in a "spelling-bee." He got on splendidly for a while, and then broke down among the repeated "n's" in "drunkenness." Returning crestfallen to his suburban parish, he was soon gratified by hearing the rumour that he had been turned out of a lady's house at the West End for drunkenness.
Shy people are constantly getting into conversational scrapes, their tongues carrying them whither they know not, like the shy young man who was arguing with a charming and intellectual young lady.
Charming Young Lady. "The worst of me is that I am so apt to be run away with by an inference."
Shy Young Man. "Oh, how I wish I was an inference!"
When the late Dr. Woodford became Bishop of Ely, a rumour went before him in the diocese that he was a misogynist. He was staying, on his first round of Confirmations, at a country house, attended by an astonishingly mild young chaplain, very like the hero of The Private Secretary. In the evening the lady of the house said archly to this youthful Levite, "I hope you can contradict the story which we have heard about our new bishop, that he hates ladies." The chaplain, in much confusion, hastily replied, "Oh, that is quite an exaggeration; but I do think his Lordship feels safer with the married ladies."
Let me conclude with a personal reminiscence of a "Thing one would rather have left unsaid." A remarkably pompous clergyman who was an Inspector of Schools showed me a theme on a Scriptural subject, written by a girl who was trying to pass from being a pupil-teacher to a schoolmistress. The theme was full of absurd mistakes, over which the inspector snorted stertorously. "Well, what do you think of that?" he inquired, when I handed back the paper. "Oh," said I, in perfectly good faith, "the mistakes are bad enough, but the writing is far worse. It really is a disgrace." "Oh, my writing!" said the inspector; "I copied the theme out." Even after the lapse of twenty years I turn hot all over when I recall the sensations of that moment.
THE ART OF PUTTING THINGS.
It was "A.K.H.B.," if I recollect aright, who wrote a popular essay on "The Art of Putting Things." As I know nothing of the essay beyond its title, and am not quite certain about that, I shall not be guilty of intentional plagiarism if I attempt to discuss the same subject. It is not identical with the theme which I have just handled, for "Things one would rather have expressed differently" are essentially things which one might have expressed better. If one is not conscious of this at the moment, a good-natured friend is always at hand to point it out, and the poignancy of one's regret creates the zest of the situation. For example, when a German financier, contesting an English borough, drove over an old woman on the polling-day, and affectionately pressed five shillings into her hand, saying, "Never mind, my tear, here's something to get drunk with," his agent instantly pointed out that she wore the Blue Ribbon, and that her husband was an influential class-leader among the Wesleyans.
But "The Art of Putting Things" includes also the things which one might have expressed worse, and covers the cases where a dexterous choice of words seems, at any rate to the speaker, to have extricated him from a conversational quandary. As an instance of this perilous art carried to high perfection, may be cited Abraham Lincoln's judgment on an unreadably sentimental book—"People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like"—humbly imitated by two eminent men on this side of the Atlantic, one of whom is in the habit of writing to struggling authors—"Thank you for sending me your book, which I shall lose no time in reading;" while the other prefers the less truthful but perhaps more flattering formula—"I have read your blank verse, and much like it"
The late Mr. Walter Pater was once invited to admire a hideous wedding-present, compact of ormolu and malachite. Closing his eyes, the founder of modern aesthetics leaned back in his chair, and waving away the offending object, murmured in his softest tone, "Oh, very rich, very handsome, very expensive, I am sure. But they mustn't make any more of them."
Dexterities of phrase sometimes recoil with dire effect upon their author. A very popular clergyman of my acquaintance prides himself on never forgetting an inhabitant of his parish. He was stopped one day in the street by an aggrieved parishioner whom, to use a homely phrase, he did not know from Adam. Ready in resource, he produced his pocket-book, and, hastily jotting down a memorandum of the parishioner's grievance, he said, with an insinuating smile, "It is so stupid of me, but I always forget how to spell your name." "J—O—N—E—S," was the gruff response; and the shepherd and the sheep went their several ways in mutual disgust. Perhaps the worst recorded attempt at an escape from a conversational difficulty was made by an East-end curate who specially cultivated the friendship of the artisans. One day a carpenter arrived in his room, and, producing a photograph, said, "I've brought you my boy's likeness, as you said you'd like to have it."
Curate (rapturously). "How awfully good of you to remember! What a capital likeness! Where is he?"
Carpenter. "Why, sir, don't you remember? He's dead."
Curate. "Oh yes, of course, I know that. I mean, where's the man that took the photograph?"
The art of disguising an unpleasant truth with a graceful phrase was well illustrated in the case of a friend of mine, not remarkable for physical courage, of whom a tactful phrenologist pronounced that he was "full of precaution against real or imaginary danger." It is not every one who can tell a man he is an arrant coward without offending him. The same art, as applied by a man to his own shortcomings, is exemplified in the story of the ecclesiastical dignitary who gloried in his Presence of Mind. According to Dean Stanley, who knew him well, he used to narrate the incident in the following terms:—
"A friend invited me to go out with him on the water. The sky was threatening, and I declined. At length he succeeded in persuading me, and we embarked. A squall came on, the boat lurched, and my friend fell overboard. Twice he sank; and twice he rose to the surface. He placed his hands on the prow and endeavoured to climb in. There was great apprehension lest he should upset the boat. Providentially, I had brought my umbrella with me, I had the presence of mind to strike him two or three hard blows over the knuckles. He let go his hold and sank. The boat righted itself, and we were saved."
The art of avoiding conversational unpleasantness by a graceful way of putting things belongs, I suppose, in its highest perfection, to the East. When Lord Dufferin was Viceroy of India, he had a "shikarry," or sporting servant, whose special duty was to attend the visitors at the Viceregal Court on their shooting excursions. Returning one day from one of these expeditions, the shikarry encountered the Viceroy, who, full of courteous solicitude for his guests' enjoyment, asked: "Well, what sort of sport has Lord——had?" "Oh," replied the scrupulously polite Indian, "the young Sahib shot divinely, but God was very merciful to the birds." Compare this honeyed speech with the terms in which an English gamekeeper would convey his opinion of a bad shot, and we are forced to admit the social superiority of Lord Salisbury's "black man."
If we turn from the Orient to the Occident, and from our dependencies to the United Kingdom, the Art of Putting Things is found to flourish better on Irish than on Scotch or English soil. We all remember that Archbishop Whately is said to have thanked God on his deathbed that he had never given a penny in indiscriminate charity. Perhaps one might find more suitable subjects of moribund self-congratulation; and I have always rejoiced in the mental picture of the Archbishop, in all the frigid pomp of Political Economy, waving off the Dublin beggar with "Go away, go away; I never give to any one in the street," and receiving the instantaneous rejoinder, "Then where would your reverence have me wait on you?" A lady of my acquaintance, who is a proprietress in County Galway, is in the habit of receiving her own rents. One day, when a tenant-farmer had pleaded long and unsuccessfully for an abatement, he exclaimed as he handed over his money, "Well, my lady, all I can say is that if I had my time over again it's not a tenant-farmer I'd be. I'd follow one of the learn'd professions." The proprietress gently replied that even in the learned professions there were losses as well as gains, and perhaps he would have found professional life as precarious as farming. "Ah, my lady, how can that be then?" replied the son of St. Patrick. "If you're a lawyer—win or lose, you're paid. If you're a doctor—kill or cure, you're paid. If you're a priest—heaven or hell, you're paid." Who can imagine an English farmer pleading the case for an abatement with this happy mixture of fun and satire?
"Urbane" is a word which etymologically bears witness that the ancient world believed the arts of courtesy to be the products of the town rather than of the country. Something of the same distinction may occasionally be traced even in the civilization of modern England. The house-surgeon of a London hospital was attending to the injuries of a poor woman whose arm had been severely bitten. As he was dressing the wound he said, "I cannot make out what sort of animal bit you. This is too small for a horse's bite, and too large for a dog's." "O sir," replied the patient, "it wasn't an animal; it was another lydy." Surely the force of Urbanity could no further go. On the other hand, it was a country clergyman who, in view of the approaching Confirmation, announced that on the morning of the ceremony the young ladies would assemble at the Vicarage and the young women at the National School.
"Let us distinguish," said the philosopher, and certainly the arbitrary use of the term "lady" and "gentleman" suggests some curious studies in the Art of Putting Things. A good woman who let furnished apartments in a country town, describing a lodger who had apparently "known better days," said, "I am positive she was a real born lady, for she hadn't the least idea how to do hanything for herself; it took her hours to peel her potatoes." Carlyle has illustrated from the annals of our criminal jurisprudence the truly British conception of "a very respectable man" as one who keeps a gig; and similarly, I recollect that in the famous trial of Kurr and Benson, the turf-swindlers, twenty years ago, a witness testified, with reference to one of the prisoners, that he had always considered him a "perfect gentleman;" and, being pressed by counsel to give his reasons for this view, said, "He had rooms at the Langham Hotel, and dined with the Lord Mayor."
On the other hand, it would seem that in certain circles and contingencies the "grand old name of Gentleman" is regarded as a term of opprobrium. The late Lord Wriothesley Russell, who was for many years a Canon of Windsor, used to conduct a mission service for the Household troops quartered there; and one of his converts, a stalwart trooper of the Blues, expressing his gratitude for these voluntary ministrations, and contrasting them with the officer-like and disciplinary methods of the army chaplains, genially exclaimed, "But I always say there's not a bit of the gentleman about you, my lord." When Dr. Harold Browne became Bishop of Ely, he asked the head verger some questions as to where his predecessor had been accustomed to sit in the Cathedral, what part he had taken in the services, and so on. The verger proved quite unable to supply the required information, and said in self-excuse, "Well, you see, my lord, his late lordship wasn't at all a church-going gentleman;" which, being interpreted, meant that, on account of age and infirmities, Bishop Turton had long confined his ministrations to his private chapel.
Just after a change of Government not many years ago, an officer of the Royal Household was chatting with one of the Queen's old coachmen (whose name and location I, for obvious reasons, forbear to indicate). "Well, Whipcord, have you seen your new Master of the Horse yet?" "Yes, sir, I have; and I should say that his lordship is more of an indoors man." The phrase has a touch of genial contempt for a long-descended but effete aristocracy which tickles the democratic palate. It was not old Whipcord, but a brother in the craft, who, when asked, during the Jubilee of 1887, if he was driving any of the Imperial and Royal guests then quartered at Buckingham Palace, replied, with calm self-respect, "No, sir; I am the Queen's Coachman. I don't drive the riff-raff." I take this to be a sublime instance of the Art of Putting Things. Lingering for a moment on these back stairs of History, let me tell the tragic tale of Mr. and Mrs. M——. Mr. M—— was one of the merchant princes of London, and Mrs. M—— had occasion to engage a new housekeeper for their palace in Park Lane. The outgoing official wrote to her incoming successor a detailed account of the house and its inmates. The butler was a very pleasant man. The chef was inclined to tipple. The lady's-maid gave herself airs; and the head housemaid was a very well principled young woman—and so on and so forth. After the signature, huddled away in a casual postscript, came the damning sentence, "As for Mr. and Mrs. M——, they behave as well as they know how." Was it by inadvertence, or from a desire to let people know their proper place, that the recipient of this letter allowed its contents to find their way to the children of the family?
As incidentally indicated above, a free recourse to alcoholic stimulus used to be, in less temperate days, closely associated with the culinary art; and one of the best cooks I ever knew was urged by her mistress to attend a great meeting for the propagation of the Blue Ribbon, to be held not a hundred miles from Southampton, and addressed by a famous preacher of total abstinence. The meeting was enthusiastic, and the Blue Ribbon was freely distributed. Next morning the lady anxiously asked her cook what effect the oratory had produced on her, and she replied, with the evident sense of narrow escape from imminent danger, "Well, my lady, if Mr. —— had gone on for five minutes more, I believe I should have taken the Ribbon too; but, thank goodness! he stopped in time."
So far, I find, I have chiefly dealt with the Art of Putting Things as practised by the "urbane" or town-bred classes. Let me give a few instances of "pagan" or countrified use. A village blacksmith was describing to me with unaffected pathos the sudden death of his very aged father; "and," he added, "the worst part of it was that I had to go and break it to my poor old mother." Genuinely entering into my friend's grief, I said, "Yes; that must have been terrible. How did you break it?" "Well, I went into her cottage and I said. 'Dad's dead.' She said, 'What?' and I said, 'Dad's dead, and you may as well know it first as last.'" Breaking it! Truly a curious instance of the rural Art of Putting Things.
A labourer in Buckinghamshire, being asked how the rector of the village was, replied, "Well, he's getting wonderful old; but they do tell me that his understanding's no worse than it always was"—a pagan synonym for the hackneyed phrase that one is in full possession of one's faculties. This entire avoidance of flattering circumlocutions, though it sometimes produces these rather startling effects, gives a peculiar raciness to rustic oratory. Not long ago a member for a rural constituency, who had always professed the most democratic sentiments, suddenly astonished his constituents by taking a peerage. During the election caused by his transmigration, one of his former supporters said at a public meeting, "Mr. —— says as how he's going to the House of Lords to leaven it. I tell you, you can't no more leaven the House of Lords by putting Mr. —— into it than you can sweeten a cart-load of muck with a pot of marmalade." During the General Election of 1892 I heard an old labourer on a village green denouncing the evils of an Established Church. "I'll tell you how it is with one of these 'ere State parsons. If you take away his book, he can't preach; and if you take away his gownd, he mustn't preach; and if you take away his screw, he'll be d——d if he'll preach." The humour which underlies the roughness of countrified speech is often not only genuine but subtle. I have heard a story of a young labourer who, on his way to his day's work, called at the registrar's office to register his father's death. When the official asked the date of the event, the son replied, "He ain't dead yet, but he'll be dead before night, so I thought it would save me another journey if you would put it down now." "Oh, that won't do at all," said the registrar, "perhaps your father will live till to-morrow." "Well, I don't know, sir; the doctor says as he won't, and he knows what he has given him."
The accomplished authoress of Country Conversations has put on record some delightful specimens of rural dialogue, culled chiefly from the labouring classes of Cheshire. And, rising in the social scale from the labourer to the farmer, what could be more lifelike than this tale of an ill-starred wooing? "My son Tom has met with a disappointment about getting married. You know he's got that nice farm at H——; so he met a young lady at a dance, and he was very much took up, and she seemed quite agreeable. So, as he heard she had Five Hundred, he wrote next day to pursue the acquaintance, and her father wrote and asked Tom to come over to S——. Eh, dear! Poor fellow! He went off in such sperrits, and he looked so spruce in his best clothes, with a new tie and all. So next day, when I heard him come to the gate, I ran out as pleased as could be; but I see in a moment he was sadly cast down. 'Why, Tom, my lad,' says I, 'what is it?' 'Why, mother,' says he, 'she'd understood mine was a harable; and she will not marry to a dairy.'"
From Cheshire to East Anglia is a far cry, but let me give one more lesson in the Art of Putting Things, derived from that delightful writer Dr. Jessopp. In one of his studies of rural life the Doctor tells, in his own inimitable style, a story of which the moral is the necessity of using plain words when you are preaching to the poor. The story runs that in the parish where he served his first curacy there was an old farmer on whom had fallen all the troubles of Job—loss of stock, loss of capital, eviction from his holding, the death of his wife, and the failure of his own health. The well-meaning young curate, though full of compassion, could find no more novel topic of consolation than to say that all these trials were the dispensations of Providence. On this the poor old victim brightened up and said with a cheerful smile, "Ah yes, sir; I know that right enough. That old Providence has been against me all along; but I reckon there's One above that will put a stopper on him if he goes too far." Evidently, as Dr. Jessopp observes, "Providence" was to the good old man a learned synonym for the devil.
The humours of childhood include in rich abundance both Things which would have been better left unsaid, and Things which might have been expressed differently. But just now they lack their sacred bard. There is no one to observe and chronicle them. It is a pity, for the "heart that watches and receives" will often find in the pleasantries of childhood a good deal that deserves perpetuation.
The children of fiction are a mixed company, some lifelike and some eminently the reverse. In Joan Miss Rhoda Broughton drew with unequalled skill a family of odious children. Henry Kingsley look a more genial view of his subject, and sketched some pleasant children in Austin Elliot, and some delightful ones in the last chapter of Ravenshoe. The "Last of the Neros" in Barchester Towers is admirably drawn, and all elderly bachelors must have sympathized with good Mr. Thorne when, by way of making himself agreeable to the mother, Signora Vesey-Neroni, he took the child upon his knee, jumped her up and down, saying, "Diddle, diddle, diddle," and was rewarded with, "I don't want to be diddle-diddle-diddled. Let me go, you naughty old man." Dickens's children are by common consent intolerable, but a quarter of a century ago we were all thrilled by Miss Montgomery's Misunderstood. It is credibly reported that an earlier and more susceptible generation was moved to tears by the sinfulness of Topsy and the saintliness of Eva; and the adventures of the Fairchild Family enjoy a deserved popularity among all lovers of unintentional humour. But the "sacred bard" of child-life was John Leech, whose twofold skill immortalized it with pen and with pencil. The childish incidents and sayings which Leech illustrated were, I believe, always taken from real life. His sisters "kept an establishment," as Mr. Dombey said—the very duplicate of that to which little Paul was sent. "'It is not a Preparatory School by any means. Should I express my meaning,' said Miss Tox with peculiar sweetness, 'if I designated it an infantine boarding-house of a very select description?'"
"'On an exceedingly limited and particular scale,' suggested Mrs. Chick, with a glance at her brother."
"'Oh! exclusion itself,' said Miss Tox."
The analogy may be even more closely pressed, for, as at Mrs. Pipchin's so at Miss Leech's, "juvenile nobility itself was no stranger to the establishment." Miss Tox told Mr. Dombey that "the humble individual who now addressed him was once under Mrs. Pipchin's charge;" and, similarly, the obscure writer of these papers was once under Miss Leech's. Her school supplied the originals of all the little boys, whether greedy or gracious, grave or gay, on foot or on pony-back, in knickerbockers or in nightshirts, who figure so frequently in Punch between 1850 and 1864; and one of the pleasantest recollections of those distant days is the kindness with which the great artist used to receive us when, as the supreme reward of exceptionally good conduct, we were taken to see him in his studio at Kensington. It is my rule not to quote at length from what is readily accessible, and therefore I cull only one delightful episode from Leech's Sketches of Life and Character. Two little chaps are discussing the age of a third; and the one reflectively remarks, "Well, I don't 'zactly know how old Charlie is; but he must be very old, for he blows his own nose." Happy and far distant days, when such an accomplishment seemed to be characteristic of a remotely future age! "Mamma," inquired an infant aristocrat of a superlatively refined mother, "when shall I be old enough to eat bread and cheese with a knife, and put the knife in my mouth?" But the answer is not recorded.
The vagueness of the young with respect to the age of their elders is pleasingly illustrated by the early history of a nobleman who recently represented a division of Manchester in Parliament. His mother had a maid, who seemed to childish eyes extremely old. The children of the family longed to know her age, but were much too well-bred to ask a question which they felt would be painful; so they sought to attain the desired end by a system of ingenious traps. The future Member for Manchester chanced in a lucky hour to find in his "Book of Useful Knowledge" the tradition that the aloe flowers only once in a hundred years. He instantly saw his opportunity, and accosting the maid with winning air and wheedling accent, asked insinuatingly, "Dunn, have you often seen the aloe flower?"
The Enfant Terrible, though his name is imported from France, is an indigenous growth of English soil. A young husband and wife of my acquaintance were conversing in the comfortable belief that "Tommy didn't understand," when Tommy looked up from his toys, and said reprovingly, "Mamma, oughtn't you to have said that in French?"
The late Lord ——, who had a deformed foot, was going to visit Queen Victoria at Osborne, and before his arrival the Queen and Prince Albert debated whether it would be better to warn the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal of his physical peculiarity, so as to avoid embarrassing remarks, or to leave it to their own good feeling. The latter course was adopted. Lord —— duly arrived. The foot elicited no remarks from the Royal children, and the visit passed off anxiously but with success. Next day the Princess Royal asked the Queen, "Where is Lord——?" "He has gone back to London, dear." "Oh! what a pity! He had promised to show Bertie and me his foot!" They had caught him in the corridor and made their own terms with their captive.
In more recent years the little daughter of one of the Queen's most confidential advisers had the unexampled honour of being invited to luncheon with her Majesty. During the meal, an Illustrious Lady, negotiating a pigeon after the German fashion, took up one of its bones with her finger and thumb. The little visitor, whose sense of British propriety was stronger than her awe of Courts, regarded the proceeding with wonder-dilated eyes, and then burst out, "Oh, Piggy-wiggy, Piggy-wiggy! You are Piggy-wiggy." Probably she is now languishing in the dungeon keep of Windsor Castle.
If the essence of the Enfant Terrible is that he or she causes profound embarrassment to the surrounding adults, the palm of pre-eminence must be assigned to the children of a famous diplomatist, who, some twenty years ago, organized a charade and performed it without assistance from their elders. The scene displayed a Crusader knight returning from the wars to his ancestral castle. At the castle gate he was welcomed by his beautiful and rejoicing wife, to whom, after tender salutations, he recounted his triumphs on the tented field and the number of paynim whom he had slain. "And I too, my lord," replied his wife, pointing with conscious pride to a long roll of dolls of various sizes—"and I too, my lord, have not been idle." Tableau indeed!
The argumentative child is scarcely less trying than the Enfant Terrible. Miss Sellon, the foundress of English sisterhoods, adopted and brought up in her convent at Devonport a little Irish waif who had been made an orphan by the outbreak of cholera in 1849. The infant's customs and manners, especially at table, were a perpetual trial to a community of refined old maids. "Chew your food, Aileen," said Miss Sellon. "If you please, mother, the whale didn't chew Jonah," was the prompt reply of the little Romanist, who had been taught that the examples of Holy Writ were for our imitation. Answers made in examinations I forbear, as a rule, to quote, but one I must give, because it so beautifully illustrates the value of ecclesiastical observances in our elementary schools:—
Vicar. "Now, my dear, do you know what happened on Ascension Day?"
Child. "Yes, sir, please. We had buns and a swing."
Natural childhood should know nothing of social forms, and the coachman's son who described his father's master as "the man that rides in dad's carriage," showed a finely democratic instinct. But the boastful child is a very unpleasant product of nature or of art. "We've got a private master comes to teach us at home, but we ain't proud, because Ma says it's sinful," quoth Morleena Kenwigs, under her mother's instructions, when Nicholas Nickleby gave her French lessons. The infant daughter of a country clergyman, drinking tea in the nursery of the episcopal Palace, boasted that at the Vicarage they had a hen which laid an egg every day. "Oh, that's nothing," retorted the bishop's daughter; "Papa lays a foundation-stone every week."
The precocious child, even when thoroughly well-meaning, is a source of terror by virtue of its intense earnestness. In the days when Maurice first discredited the doctrine of Eternal Punishment, some learned and theological people were discussing, in a country house near Oxford, the abstract credibility of endless pain. Suddenly the child of the house (now its owner), who was playing on the hearth-rug, looked up and said, "But how am I to know that it isn't hell already, and that I am not in it?"—a question which threw a lurid light on his educational and disciplinary experiences. Some of my readers will probably recollect the "Japanese Village" at Knightsbridge—a pretty show of Oriental wares which was burnt down, just at the height of its popularity, a few years ago. On the day of its destruction I was at the house of a famous financier, whose children had been to see the show only two days before. One of them, an urchin of eight, immensely interested by the news of the fire, asked, not if the pretty things were burnt or the people hurt, but this one question, "Mamma, was it insured?" Verily, bon chat chasse de race. The children of an excellent but unfortunate judge are said to have rushed one day into their mother's drawing-room exclaiming, "Dear Mamma, may we have jam for tea? One of Papa's judgments has been upheld in the Court of Appeal." An admirable story of commercial precocity reaches me from one of the many correspondents who have been good enough to write to me in connection with this book. It may be commended to the promoters of that class of company which is specially affected by the widow, the orphan, and the curate. Two small boys, walking down Tottenham Court Road, passed a tobacconist's shop. The bigger remarked, "I say, Bill, I've got a ha'penny, and, if you've got one too, we'll have a penny smoke between us." Bill produced his copper, and Tommy diving into the shop, promptly reappeared with a penny cigar in his mouth. The boys walked side by side for a few minutes, when the smaller mildly said, "I say, Tom, when am I to have a puff? The weed's half mine." "Oh, you shut up," was the business-like reply. "I'm the Chairman of this Company, and you are only a shareholder. You can spit."
Mr. H.J. Barker, who is, I believe, what Mr. Squeers called "A Educator of Youth," has lately given us some pleasant echoes from the Board School. A young moralist recorded his judgment, that it is not cruel to kill a turkey, "if only you take it into the backyard and use a sharp knife, and the turkey is yours!" Another dogmatized thus: "Don't teese cats, for firstly, it is wrong so to do; and 2nd, cats have clawses which is longer than people think." The following theory of the Bank Holiday would scarcely commend itself to that sound economist Sir John Lubbock:—"The Banks shut up shop, so as people can't put their money in, but has to spend it." So far the rude male: it required the genius of feminine delicacy to define a Civil War as "one in which the military are unnecessarily and punctiliously civil or polite, often raising their helmets to each other before engaging in deadly combat."
The joys of childhood are a theme on which a good deal of verse has been expended. I am far from denying that they are real, but I contend that they commonly take a form which is quite inconsistent with poetry, and that the poet (like heaven) "lies about us in our infancy." "I wish every day in the year was a pot of jam," was the obviously sincere exclamation of a fat little boy whom I knew, and whom Leech would have delighted to draw. Two little London girls who had been sent by the kindness of the vicar's wife to have "a happy day in the country," narrating their experiences on their return, said, "Oh yes, mum, we did 'ave a 'appy day. We saw two pigs killed and a gentleman buried." And the little boy who was asked if he thought he should like a hymn-book for his birthday present replied that "he thought he should like a hymn-book, but he knew he should like a squirt." A small cousin of mine, hearing his big brothers describe their experiences at a Public School, observed with unction, "If ever I have a fag of my own, I will stick pins into him." But now we are leaving childhood behind, and attaining to the riper joys of full-blooded boyhood.
"O running stream of sparkling joy To be a soaring human boy!"
exclaimed Mr. Chadband in a moment of inspiration. "In the strictest sense a boy," was Mr. Gladstone's expressive phrase in his controversy with Colonel Dopping. For my own part, I confess to a frank dislike of boys. I dislike them equally whether they are priggish boys, like Kenelm Chillingly, who asked his mother if she was never overpowered by a sense of her own identity; or sentimental boys, like Dibbins in Basil the Schoolboy, who, discussing with a friend how to spend a whole holiday, said, "Let us go to Dingley Dell and talk about Byron;" or manly boys like Tom Tulliver, of whom it is excellently said that he was the kind of boy who is commonly spoken of as being very fond of animals—that is, very fond of throwing stones at them.
Whatever its type,
"I've seemed of late To shrink from happy boyhood—boys Have grown so noisy, and I hate A noise. They fright me when the beech is green, By swarming up its stem for eggs; They drive their horrid hoops between My legs. It's idle to repine, I know; I'll tell you what I'll do instead: I'll drink my arrowroot, and go To bed."
But before I do so let me tell one boy-story, connected with the Eton and Harrow match, which has always struck me as rather pleasing. In the year 1866, when F.C. Cobden, who was afterwards so famous for his bowling in the Cambridge Eleven, was playing for Harrow, an affable father, by way of making conversation for a little Harrow boy at Lord's, asked, "Is your Cobden any relation to the great Cobden?" "Why, he is the great Cobden," was the simple and swift reply. This is the true spirit of hero-worship.
"Odd men write odd letters." This rather platitudinous sentence, from an otherwise excellent essay of the late Bishop Thorold's, is abundantly illustrated alike by my Collections and by my Recollections. I plunge at random into my subject, and immediately encounter the following letter from a Protestant clergyman in the north of Ireland, written in response to a suggestion that he might with advantage study Mr. Gladstone's magnificent speech on the Second Reading of the Affirmation Bill in 1883:—
"My dear Sir,—I have received your recommendation to read carefully the speech of Mr. Gladstone in favour of admitting the infidel Bradlaugh into Parliament, I did so when it was delivered, and I must say that the strength of argument rests with the opposition. I fully expect in the event of a dissolution the Government will lose between fifty and sixty seats. Any conclusion can be arrived at, according to the premises laid down. Mr. G. avoided the Scriptural lines and followed his own. All parties knew the feeling of the country on the subject, and, notwithstanding the bullying and majority of Gladstone, he was defeated. Before the Irish Church was robbed, I was nominated to the Deanery of Tuam, but Mr. Disraeli resigning, I was defrauded of my just right by Mr. Gladstone, and my wife, Lady——, the only surviving child of an Earl, was sadly disappointed; but there is a just Judge above. The letter of nomination is still in my possession. I am, dear sir, yours faithfully,——."
It is highly characteristic of Mr. Gladstone that, when this letter was shown to him by its recipient as a specimen of epistolary oddity, he read it, not with a smile, but with a portentous frown, and, handing it back, sternly asked, "What does the fellow mean by quoting an engagement entered into by my predecessor as binding on me?"
It is not only clergy "defrauded" of expected dignities that write odd letters. Young curates in search of benefices often seek to gratify their innocent ambitions by the most ingenious appeals. Here is a letter received not many years ago by the Prime Minister of the day:—
"I have no doubt but that your time is fully occupied. I will therefore compress as much as possible what I wish to say, and frame my request in a few words. Some time ago my mother wrote to her brother, Lord ——, asking him to try and do something for me in the way of obtaining a living. The reply from Lady —— was that my uncle could do nothing to help me. I naturally thought that a Premier possessed of such a plenitude of power as yourself would find it a matter of less difficulty to transform a curate into a rector or vicar than to create a peer. My name is in the Chancellor's List—a proceeding, as far as results, somewhat suggestive, I fear, of the Greek Kalends.... My future father-in-law is a member of the City Liberal Club, in which a large bust of yourself was unveiled last year. I am 31 years of age; a High Churchman; musical, &c.; graduate of——. If I had a living I could marry.... I am very anxious to marry, but I am very poor, and a living would help me very much. Being a Southerner, fond of music and of books, I naturally would like to be somewhere near town. I hope you will be able to help me in this respect, and thus afford much happiness to more than one." There is great force in that appeal to the "large bust."
Here is a request which Bishop Thorold received from an admirer, who unfortunately omitted to give his address:—
"Rev. and learned Sir,—Coming into your presence through the medium of a letter, I do so in the spirit of respect due to you as a gentleman and a scholar. I unfortunately am a scholar, but a blackguard. I heard you preach a few times, and thought you might pity the position I have brought myself to. I should be grateful to you for an old coat or an old pair of boots."
And while the seekers after emolument write odd letters, odd letters are also written by their admirers on their behalf. A few years ago one of the principal benefices in West London was vacated, and, the presentation lapsing to the Crown, the Prime Minister received the following appeal:—
"Sir,—Doubtless you do not often get a letter from a working man on the subject of clerical appointments, but as I here you have got to find a minister for to fill Mr. Boyd Carpenter's place, allow me to ask you to just go some Sunday afternoon and here our little curate, Mr. ——, at St. Matthew's Church—he is a good, Earnest little man, and a genuine little Fellow; got no humbug about him, but a sound Churchman, is an Extempor Preacher, and deserves promotion. Nobody knows I am writing to you, and it is not a matter of kiss and go by favour, but simply asking you to take a run over and here him, and then put him a stept higher—he deserves it. I know Mr. Sullivan will give him a good character, and so will Mr. Alcroft, the Patron. Now do go over and here him before you make a choice. We working men will be sorry to loose him, but we think he ought not to be missed promotion, as he is a good fellow.—Your obediently servant."
Ladies, as might naturally be expected, are even more enthusiastic in advocating the claims of their favourite divines. Writing lately on the Agreeableness of Clergymen, I described some of the Canons of St. Paul's and Westminster, and casually referred to the handsome presence of Dr. Duckworth. I immediately received the following effusion, which, wishing to oblige the writer, and having no access to the Church Family Newspaper, I now make public:—
"A member of the Rev. Canon Duckworth's congregation for more than 25 years has been much pained by the scant and curious manner in which he is mentioned by you, and begs to say that his Gospel teaching, his scholarly and yet simple and charitable discourses (and teaching), his courteous and sympathetic and prompt answers to his people's requests and inquiries, his energetic and constant work in his parish, are beyond praise. Added to all is his clear and sonorous voice in his rendering of the prayer and praise amongst us. A grateful parishioner hopes and asks for some further recognition of his position in the Church of Christ, in the Church Family Newspaper, June 12." So far the Church. I now turn to the world.
In the second volume of Lord Beaconsfield's Endymion will be found a description, by a hand which was never excelled at such business, of that grotesque revival of medievalism, the Tournament at Eglinton Castle in 1839. But the writer, conceding something to the requirements of art, ignores the fact that the splendid pageant was spoilt by rain. Two years' preparation and enormous expense were thrown away. A grand cavalcade, in which Prince Louis Napoleon rode as one of the knights, left Eglinton Castle on the 28th of August at two in the afternoon, with heralds, banners, pursuivants, the knight-marshal, the jester, the King of the Tournament, the Queen of Beauty, and a glowing assemblage of knights and ladies, seneschals, chamberlains, esquires, pages, and men-at-arms, and took their way in procession to the lists, which were overlooked by galleries in which nearly two thousand spectators were accommodated; but all the while the rain came down in bucketfuls, never ceased while the tourney proceeded, and brought the proceedings to a premature and ignominious close. I only mention the occurrence here because the Queen of Beauty, elected to that high honour by unanimous acclamation, was Jane Sheridan, Lady Seymour; and there is all the charm of vivid contrast in turning from the reckless expenditure and fantastic brilliancy of 1839 to the following correspondence, which was published in the newspapers in the early part of 1840.
Anne, Lady Shuckburgh, was the wife of Sir Francis Shuckburgh, a Northamptonshire Baronet, and to her the Queen of Beauty, forsaking the triumphs of chivalry for the duties of domestic economy, addressed the following letter:—
"Lady Seymour presents her compliments to Lady Shuckburgh, and would be obliged to her for the character of Mary Stedman, who states that she lived twelve months, and still is, in Lady Shuckburgh's establishment. Can Mary Stedman cook plain dishes well? make bread? and is she honest, good-tempered, sober, willing, and cleanly? Lady Seymour would also like to know the reason why she leaves Lady Shuckburgh's service. Direct, under cover to Lord Seymour, Maiden Bradley."
To this polite and business-like inquiry, Lady Shuckburgh replied as follows:—
"Lady Shuckburgh presents her compliments to Lady Seymour. Her ladyship's note, dated October 28, only reached her yesterday, November 3. Lady Shuckburgh was unacquainted with the name of the kitchen-maid until mentioned by Lady Seymour, as it is her custom neither to apply for or to give characters to any of the under servants, this being always done by the housekeeper, Mrs. Couch—and this was well known to the young woman; therefore Lady Shuckburgh is surprised at her referring any lady to her for a character. Lady Shuckburgh having a professed cook, as well as a housekeeper, in her establishment, it is not very likely she herself should know anything of the abilities or merits of the under servants; therefore she is unable to answer Lady Seymour's note. Lady Shuckburgh cannot imagine Mary Stedman to be capable of cooking for any except the servants'-hall table.
"November 4, Pavilion, Hans Place."
But Sheridan's granddaughter was quite the wrong subject for these experiments in fine-ladyism, and she lost no time in replying as follows:—
"Lady Seymour presents her compliments to Lady Shuckburgh, and begs she will order her housekeeper, Mrs. Pouch, to send the girl's character without delay; otherwise another young woman will be sought for elsewhere, as Lady Seymour's children cannot remain without their dinners because Lady Shuckburgh, keeping a 'professed cook and a housekeeper,' thinks a knowledge of the details of her establishment beneath her notice. Lady Seymour understands from Stedman that, in addition to her other talents, she was actually capable of dressing food fit for the little Shuckburghs to partake of when hungry."
To this note was appended a pen-and-ink vignette by Lady Seymour representing the three "little Shuckburghs," with large heads and cauliflower wigs, sitting at a round table and voraciously scrambling for mutton chops dressed by Mary Stedman, who was seen looking on with supreme satisfaction, while Lady Shuckburgh appeared in the distance in evident dismay. A crushing rejoinder closed this correspondence:—
"Madam,—Lady Shuckburgh has directed me to acquaint you that she declines answering your note, the vulgarity of which is beneath contempt; and although it may be the characteristic of the Sheridans to be vulgar, coarse, and witty, it is not that of a 'lady,' unless she happens to have been born in a garret and bred in a kitchen. Mary Stedman informs me that your ladyship does not keep either a cook or a housekeeper, and that you only require a girl who can cook a mutton chop. If so, I apprehend that Mary Stedman or any other scullion will be found fully equal to cook for or manage the establishment of the Queen of Beauty.—I am, your Ladyship's, &c.,
"ELIZABETH COUCH (not Pouch)."
"Odd men," quoth Bishop Thorold, "write odd letters," and so do odd women. The original of the following epistle to Mr. Gladstone lies before me. It is dated Cannes, March 15, 1893:—
"Far away from my native Land, my bitter indignation as a Welshwoman prompts me to reproach you, you bad, wicked, false, treacherous Old Man! for your iniquitous scheme to rob and overthrow the dearly-beloved Old Church of my Country. You have no conscience, but I pray that God may even yet give you one that will sorely smart and trouble you before you die. You pretend to be religious, you old hypocrite! that you may more successfully pander to the evil passions of the lowest and most ignorant of the Welsh people. But you neither care for nor respect the principles of Religion, or you would not distress the minds of all true Christian people by instigating a mob to Commit the awful sin of Sacrilege. You think you will shine in History, but it will be a notoriety similar to that of Nero. I see some one pays you the unintentional compliment of comparing you to Pontius Pilate, and I am sorry, for Pilate, though a political time-server, was, with all his faults, a very respectable man in comparison with you. And he did not, like you, profess the Christian Religion You are certainly clever. So also is your lord and master the Devil. And I cannot regard it as sinful to hate and despise you, any more than it is sinful to abhor him. So, with full measure of contempt and detestation, accept these compliments from