Слике страница
PDF
ePub

bread-earner for a shoeblack's knife may not equal these in elegance, it perhaps surpasses them in ingenuity.

I gives il him up to Lamprey in the bread-basket.*

Homer is happy in his description of wounds, but this surpasses

him in the characteristic choice of circumstance. Up to Lamprey, gives us at once a complete idea of the length, breadth, and thickness of the wound, without the assistance of the coroner. It reminds us of a passage in Virgil

[ocr errors]

“ Cervice orantis capulo tenus abdidit ensem.

Up to the hilt his shining falchion sheathed.”

Let us now compare the Irish shoeblack’s metaphorical language with the sober slang of an English blackguard, who fortunately for the fairness of the comparison, was placed somewhat in similar circumstances.

Lord Mansfield, examining a man who was a witness in the court of King's Bench, asked him what he knew of the defendant.

Oh, my lord, I knew him. I was up to him.

Up to him !” says his lordship ; " what do you mean by being up to him? “ Mean, my lord ! why, I was down upon him.Up to him, and down

his lordship, turning to counsellor Dunning, « what does the fellow mean?”

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

upon
him!”

says

66

* The stomach.

“ Why, I mean, my lord, as deep as he thought himself, I stagged him.

“ I cannot conceive, friend,” says his lordship, “ what you mean by this sort of language ; I do not understand it.”

“ Not understand it !” rejoined the fellow, with surprise : « Lord, what a flat you must be !

Though he undervalued lord Mansfield, this man does not seem to have been a very bright genius. In his cant words, up to him, down upon him, stagged him,there are no metaphors; and we confess ourselves to be as great flats as his lordship, for we do not understand this sort of language.

" True, no meaning puzzles more than wit,”

as we may see in another English example. Proverbs have been called the wisdom of nations; therefore it is fair to have recourse to them in estimating national abilities. Now there is an old English proverb, “ Tenterten steeple is the cause of Goodwin sands.”

“ This proverb,” says Mr. Ray, “is used when an absurd and ridiculous reason is given of any thing in question ; an account of the original whereof I find in one of bishop Latimer's sermons in these words

Mr. Moore was once sent with commission into Kent to try out, if it might be, what was the cause of Goodwin's sands, and the shelf which stopped up Sandwich haven. Thither cometh Mr. Moore, and calleth all the country before him, such as were thought to be men of experience, and men that could,

[ocr errors]

of all likelihood, best satisfy him of the matter concerning the stopping of Sandwich haven. Among the rest came in before him an old man with a white head, and one that was thought to be little less than a hundred years old. When Mr. Moore saw this aged man, he thought it expedient to hear him say his mind in this matter (for being so old a man, it was likely that he knew the most in that presence or company) ; so Mr. Moore called this old aged man unto him and said, Father,' said he, tell me, if you can, what is the cause of the great arising of the sands and shelves here about this haven, which stop it up so that no ships can arrive here. You are the oldest man I can espy

in all the

company, so that if any man can tell any cause of it, you, of all likelihood, can say most to it, or, at leastwise, more than any man here assembled.'

Yea, forsooth, good Mr. Moore,' quoth this old man, ' for I am well nigh a hundred years old, and no man here in this company any thing near my age.'

“ "Well, then, quoth Mr. Moore, how say you to this matter? What think you to be the cause of these shelves and sands which stop up Sandwich haven?'

« • Forsooth, sir,' quoth he, 'I am an old man I think that Tenterten steeple is the cause of Goodwin's sands. For I am an old man, sir,' quoth he, ' I may remember the building of Tenterten steeple, and I may remember when there was no steeple at all there ; and before that Tenterten or Totterden steeple was in building, there was no manner of talking of any

;

Aats or stands that stopped up the haven, and therefore I think that Tenterten steeple is the cause of the decay and destroying of Sandwich haven.'"* Thus far the bishop.

The prolix pertinacity with which this old aged man adheres to the opinion that he had formed, without any intelligible reason, is characteristic of an English peasant; but however absurd his mode of judging may be, and however confused and incongruous his ideas, his species of absurdity surely bears no resemblance to an Hibernian blunder. We cannot even suspect it to be possible that a man of this slow, circumspect character could be in any danger of making an Irish bull; and we congratulate the English peasantry and populace, as a body, upon their possessing that temper which

“ Wisely rests content with sober sense,
Nor makes to dangerous wit a vain pretence,”

Even the slang of English pickpockets and coiners is, as we may see in Colquhoun's View of the Metropolis, free from all seducing mixture of wit and humour. What Englishman would ever have thought of calling persons in the pillory the babes in the wood This is a common cant phrase amongst Dublin repro

* This ancient old man, we fear, was more knave than fool. History informs us, that the bishop of Rochester had directed the revenue, appropriated for keeping Goodwin harbour in repair, to the purpose of building a steeple.- Vide Fuller's Worthies of England, page 65.

[ocr errors]

are

bates. Undoubtedly such phrases tend to lessen the power of shame and the effect of punishment, and a witty rogue will lead numbers to the gallows. English morality is not in so much danger as Irish manners must be from these humorous talents in their knights of industry. If, nevertheless, there be frequent executions for capital crimes in England, we must account for this in the words of the old lord chief justice Fortescue—“ More men,” says his lordship, hanged in Englonde in one year than in Fraunce in seven, because the English have better hartes ; the Scotchmenne likewise never dare rob, but only commit larcenies." At all events, the phlegmatic temper of Englonde secures her from making bulls. The propensity to this species of blunder exists in minds of a totally different cast ; in those who are quick and enthusiastic, who are confounded by the rapidity and force with which undisciplined multitudes of ideas crowd for utterance. Persons of such intellectual characters are apt to make elisions in speaking, which they trust the capacities of their audience will supply: passing rapidly over a long chain of thought, they sometimes forget the intermediate links, and no one but those of equally rapid habits can follow them successfully

We hope that the evidence of the Dublin shoeblack has, in some degree, tended to prove our minor, that the Irish are disposed to use figurative language: we shall not, however, rest our cause on a single evidence, however respectable; but before we summon our other witnesses, we beg to relieve the

« ПретходнаНастави »