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dantic and foreign, till it becomes at last as unfitting a vehicle for living thought as monkish Latin. That we should all be made to talk like books is the danger with which we are threatened by the Universal Schoolmaster, who does his best to enslave the minds and memories of his victims to what he esteems the best models of English composition, that is to say, to the writers whose style is faultily correct and has no blood-warmth in it. No language after it has faded into diction, none that cannot suck up the feeding juices secreted for it in the rich motherearth of common folk, can bring forth a sound and lusty book. True vigor and heartiness of phrase do not pass from page to page, but from man to man, where the brain is kindled and the lips suppled by downright living interests and by passion in its very throe. Language is the soil of thought, and our own especially is a rich leafmould, the slow deposit of ages, the shed foliage of feeling, fancy, and imagination, which has suffered an earth
change, that the vocal forest, as Howell called it, may clothe itself anew with living green. There is death in the dictionary; and, where language is too strictly limited by convention, the ground for expression to grow in is limited also; and we get a potted literature, Chinese dwarfs instead of healthy trees.
But while the schoolmaster has been busystarching our language and smooth ing it flat with the mangle of a supposed classical authority, the newspaper reporter has been doing even more harm by stretching and swelling it to suit his occasions. A dozen years ago I began a list, which I have added to from time to time, of some of the changes which may be fairly laid at his door.
I give a few of them as showing their tendency, all the more dangerous that their effect, like that of some poisons, is insensibly cumulative, and that they are sure at last of effect among a people whose chief reading is the daily paper. I give in two columns the old style and its modern equivalent.
Old Style. Was hanged. When the halter was put round his neck.
A great crowd came to see.
New Style. Was launched into eternity. When the fatal noose was adjusted about the
neck of the unfortunate victim of his own
unbridled passions. A vast concourse was assembled to witness. Disastrous conflagration. The conflagration extended its devastating
career. Edifice consumed. The progress of the devouring element was
arrested. Individual was precipitated. A valuable horse attached to a vehicle driven
by J. S., in the employment of J. B., col
lided with. The infuriated aniinal. Called into requisition the services of the
family physician. The chief inagistrate of the metropolis, in
well-chosen and eloquent language, frequently interrupted by the plaudits of the surging multitude, officially tendered the
hospitalities. I shall, with your permission, beg leave to
offer some brief observations. Commenced his rejoinder. One of those omnipresent characters who,
as if in pursuance of some previous arrangement, are certain to be encountered in the vicinity when an accident occurs, ventured the suggestion.
The frightened horse. Sent for the doctor.
The mayor of the city in a short speech
I shall say a few words.
He deceased, he passed but of existence,
his spirit quitted its earthly habitation, winged its way to eternity, shook off its burden, &c.
In one sense this is nothing new. The school of Pope in verse ended by wire-drawing its phrase to such thinness that it could bear no weight of meaning whatever. Nor is fine writing by any means confined to America. All writers without imagination fall into it of necessity whenever they attempt the figurative. I take two examples from Mr. Merivale's “ History of the Romans under the Empire, which, indeed, is full of such. " The last years of the age familiarly styled the Augustan were singularly barren of the literary glories from which its celebrity was chiefly derived. One by one the stars in its firmament had been lost to the world ; Virgil and Horace, &c., had long since died; the charm which the imagination of Livy had thrown over the earlier annals of Rome had ceased to shine on the details of almost contemporary history; and if the flood of his eloquence still continued fiowing, we can hardly suppose that the stream was as rapid, as fresh, and as clear as ever. I will not waste time in criticising the bad English or the mixture of metaphor in these sentences, but will simply cite another from the same author which is even worse. “The shadowy phantom of the Republic continued to flit before the eyes of the Cæsar. There was still, he apprehended, a germ of sentiment existing, on which a scion of his own house, or even a stranger, might boldly throw himself and raise the standard of patrician independence." Now a ghost may haunt a murderer, but bardly, I should think, to scare him with the threat of taking a new lease of its old tenement. And fancy the scion of a house in the act of throwing itself upon a germ of sentiment to raise a standard ! I am glad, since we have so much in the same kind to answer for, that this bit of horticultural rhetoric is from beyond sea. I would not be
supposed to condemn truly imaginative prose.
There is a simplicity of splendor, no less than of plamness, and prose would be poor indeed if it could not find a tongue for that meaning of the mind which is behind the meaning of the words. It has sometimes seemed to me that in England there was a growing tendency to curtail language into a mere convenience, and to dete. cate it of all emotion as thoroughly as algebraic signs. This has arisen, no doubt, in part from that healthy national contempt of humbug which is characteristic of Englishmen, in part from that sensitiveness to the ludicrous which makes them so shy of expressing feeling, but in part also, it is to be feared, from a growing distrust, one might al most say hatred, of whatever is supermaterial. There is something sad in the scorn with which their journalists treat the notion of there being such a thing as a national ideal, seeming ulterly to have forgotten that even in the affairs of this world the imagination is as much matter-of-fact as the understanding. If we were to trust the impression made on us by some of the cleverest and most characteristic of their periodical literature, we should think England hopelessly stranded on the good-humored cynicism of well-to, do middle-age, and should fancy it an enchanted nation, doomed to sit forever with its feet under the mahogany in that after-dinner mood which follows conscientious repletion, and which it is illmanners to disturb with any topics more exciting than the quality of the wines. But there are already symptoms that a large class of Englishmen are getting weary of the dominion of consols and divine common sense, and to believe that eternal three por cert is not the chief end of man, nor the high. est and only kind of interest to which the powers and opportunities of Eng land are entitled.
The quality of exaggeration has often been remarked on as typical of American character, and especially of American humor. In Dr. Petri's Gedrängtes Handbuch der Fremdwörter, we are toid that the word humbug is commonly used for the exaggerations of the North-Americans. To be sure, one would be tempted to think the dream of Columbus half fulfilled, and that Europe had found in the West a nearer way to Orientalism, at least in diction. But it seems to me that a great deal of what is set down as mere extravagance is more fitly to be called intensity and picturesqueness, symptoms of the imaginative faculty in full health and strength, though producing, as yet, only the raw and formless material in whích poetry is to work. By and by, perhaps, the world will see it fashioned into poem and picture, and Europe, which will be hard pushed for originality erelong, may have to thank us for a new sensation. The French continue to find Shakespeare exaggerated because he treated English just as our coun folk do when they speak of a
steep price," or say that they “freeze to" a thing. The first postulate of an original literature is that a people should use their language instinctively and unconsciously, as if it were a lively part of their growth and personality, not as the mere torpid boon of education or inheritance. Even Burns contrived to write very poor verse and prose in English. Vulgarisms are often only poetry in the egg. The late Mr. Horace Mann, in one of his public addresses, commented at some length on the beauty and moral significance of the French phrase s'orienter, and called on his young friends to practise upon it in life. There was not a Yankee in his audience whose problem had not always been to find out what was about east, and to shape his course accordingly. This charm which a familiar expression gains by being commented, as it were, and set in a new light by a foreign language, is curious and instructive. I cannot help thinking that Mr. Matthew Arnold forgets this
a little too much sometimes when he writes of the beauties of French style. It would not be hard to find in the works of French Academicians phrases as coarse as those he cites from Burke, only they are veiled by the unfamiliarity of the language. But, however this may be, it is certain that poets and peasants please us in the same way by translating words back again to their primal freshness, and infusing them with a delightful strangeness which is anything but alienation. What, for example, is Milton's "edge of battle” but a doing into English of the Latin acies? Was die Gans gedacht das der Schwan vollbracht, what the goose but thought, that the swan full brought (or, to de-Saxonize it a little, what the goose conceived, that the swan achieved), and it may well be that the life, invention, and vigor shown by our popular speech, and the freedom with which it is shaped to the instant want of those who use it, are of the best omen for our having a swan at last. The part I have taken on myself is that of the humbler bird.
But it is affirmed that there is something innately vulgar in the Yankee dialect. M. Sainte-Beuve says, with his usual neatness : “Je définis un patois une ancienne langue qui a eu des malheurs, ou encore une langue toute, jeune et qui n'a pas fait fortune." The first part of his definition applies to a dialect like the Provençal, the last to the Tuscan before Dante had lifted it into a classic, and neither, it seems to me, will quite fit a patois, which is not properly a dialect, but rather certain archaisms, proverbial phrases, and modes of pronunciation, which maintain themselves among the uneducated side by side with the finished and universally accepted language. Norman French, for example, or Scotch down to the time of James VI., could hardly be called patois, while I should be half inclined to name the Yankee a lingo rather than a dialect.
It has retained a few words now fallen into dis-. use in the mother country, like to tarry, to progress, fleshy, fall, and some others; it has changed the meaning of
some, as in freshet; and it has clung to what I suspect to have been the broad Norman pronunciation ofe (which Molière puts into the mouth of his rustics) in such words as sarvant, parfect, vartoo, and the like. It maintains something of the French sound of a also in words like chămber, dắnger (though the latter had certainly begun to take its present sound so early as 1636, when I find it sometimes spelt dninger). But in general it may be said that nothing can be found in it which does not still survive in some one or other of the English provincial dialects. I am not speaking now of Americanisms properly so called, that is, of words or phrases which have grown into use here either through necessity, invention, or accident, such as a carry, a one-horse affair, a prairie, to vamose. Even these are fewer than is sometimes taken for granted. But I think some fair defence may be made against the charge of vulgarity. Properly speaking, vulgarity is in the thought, and not in the word or the way of
pronouncing it. Modern French, the most polite of languages, is barbarously vulgar if compared with the Latin out of which it has been corrupted, or even with Italian. There is a wider gap, and one implying greater boorishness, between ministerium and métier, or sapiens and sachant, than between druv and drove, or agin and against, which last is plainly an arrant superlative. Our rustic coverlid is nearer its French original than the diminutive coverlet, into which it has been ignorantly corrupted in politer speech. I obtained from three cultivated Englishmen at different times three diverse pronunciations of a single word, cowcumber, coocumber, and cucumber. Of these the first, which is Yankee also, comes nearest to the nasality of concombre.
Lord Ossory assures us that Voltaire saw the best society in England, and Voltaire tells his countrymen that handkerchief was pronounced hankercher.
I find it so spelt in Hakluyt and elsewhere. This
enormity the Yankee still persists in, and as there is always a reason for such deviations from the sound as represented by the spelling, may we not suspect two sources of derivation, and find an ancestor for kercher in couverture rather than in couvrechef? And what greater phonetic vagary (which Dryden, by the way, called fegary) in our lingua rustica than this ker for couvrei. I copy from the fly-leaves of my books where I have noted them from time to time a few examples of pronunciation and phrase which will show that the Yankee often has antiquity, and very respectable literary authority on his side. My list might be largely ivcreased by referring to glossaries, but to them every one can go for himself, and I have gathered enough for my purpose.
I will take first those cases in which something like the French sound has been preserved in certain single letters and diphthongs.
And this opens a curious question as to how long this Gallicism maintained itself in England. Sometimes a divergence in pronunciation has given us two words with different meanings, as in genteel and jaunty, which I find coming in toward the close of the seventeenth century, and wavering between genteel and jan. tee. It is usual in America to drop the u in words ending in our- a very proper change recommended by Howell two centuries ago, and carried out by him so far as his printers would allow, This and the corresponding changes ivi musique, musick, and the like, which he also advocated, show that in his time the French accent indicated by the superfluous letters (for French had once nearly as strong an accent as Italian) had gone out of use. There is plenty of French accent down to the end of Elizabeth's reign. In Daniel ve have riches' and counsel', in Bishop Hall comet', chapëlain, in Donne pictures', virtue', presence', morta'', merit', hainous', giant', with many more, and Marston's satires are full of them. The two latter, however, are not to be relied on, as they may be suspected of Chaucerizing. Herrick writes baptime. The tendency to throw the accent backward began early. But the incongruities are perplexing, and perhaps mark the period of transition. In Warner's “ Albion's England” we have creator and creaturel side by side with the modern creator and creature. Envy and e' nvying occur in Campion (1602), and yet envy' survived Milton. In some cases we have gone back again nearer to the French, as in rev'enne for reven'ue. I had been so used to hearing imbecile pronounced with the accent on the first syllable, which is in accordance with the general tendency in such matters, that I was surprised to find imbec'ile in a verse of Wordsworth. The dictionaries all give it so. I asked a highly cultivated Englishman, and he declared for imbeceell. In general it may be assumed that accent will finally settle on the syllable dictated by greater ease and therefore quickness of utterance. Blas' phemous, for example, is more rapidly pronounced than blasphem'ous, to which our Yankee clings, following in this the usage of many of the older poets. A meriican is easier than Ameri'can, and therefore the false quantity has carried the day, though the true one may be found in George Herbert, and even so late as Cowley.
To come back to the matter in hand. Our “uplandish man" retains the soft or thin sound of the u in some words, such as rule, truth (sometimes also pronounced trìth, not trooth), while he says noo for new, and gives to view and few
so indescribable a mixture of the two sounds with a slight nasal tincture that it may be called the Yankee shibboleth. In rule the least sound of precedes the u. I find reule in Pecock's “Repressor.” He probably pronounced it rayoolė, as the old French word from which it is derived was very likely to be sounded at first, with a reminiscence of its original regula. Tindal has rueler, and the Coventry Plays have prendent. As for noo, may it not claim some sanction in its derivation, whether from nouveau
or neuf, the ancient sound of which may very well have been noof, as nearer novus ? Beef would seem more like to have come from buffe than from bæuf, unless the two were mere varieties of spelling. The Saxon few may have caught enough from its French cousin peu to claim the benefit of the same doubt as to sound; and our slang phrase a few (as “I licked him a few”) may well appeal to un peu for sense and authority. Nay, might not lick itself turn out to be the good old word lam in an English disguise, if the latter should claim descent as, perhaps, he fairly might, from the Latin lambere? The New England ferce for fierce, and perce for pierce (sometimes heard as fairce and pairce), are also Norman. For its antiquity I cite the rhyme of verse and pierce in Chapman and Donne, and in some commendatory verses by a Mr. Berkenhead before the poems of Francis Beaumont. Our
pairlous for perilous is of the same kind, and is nearer Shakespeare's parlous than the modern pronunciation. One other Gallicism survives in our pronunciation.
Perhaps I should rather call it a semi-Gallicism, för it is the result of a futile effort to reproduce a French Sound with English lips. Thus for joint, employ, royal we have jynt, emply, rýle, the last differing only from rile (roil) in a prolongation of the y sound.
In Walter de Biblesworth I find solives Englished by gistes. This, it is true, may have been pronounced jeests, but the pronunciation jystes must have preceded the present spelling, which was no doubt adopted after the radical meaning was forgotten, as analogical with other words in oi. In the same way after Norman-French influence had softened the l out of would (we already find woud for veut in N. F. poems), should followed the example, and then an l was put into could, where it does not belong, to satisfy the logic of the eye, which has affected the
pronunciation and even the spelling of English more than is commonly supposed. I meet with eyster for oyster as early as the fourteenth century.
I find dystrye