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“ Never laugh when the laugh can be turned against you,” should be the maxim of those who find their chief pleasure in making others ridiculous. This principle, if applied to our subject, would lead, however, to a very extensive and troublesome system of mutual forbearance; troublesome in proportion to the good or ill humour of the parties concerned, extensive in proportion to their knowledge and acquirements. A man of cultivated parts will foresee the possibility of the retort courteous, where an ignorant man will enjoy the fearless bliss of ignorance. For example, an illiterate person may enjoy a hearty laugh at the common story of an old Irish beggar-man, who, pretending to be dumb, was thrown off his guard by the question, “How many years have you been dumb ?” and answered, “ Five years last St. John's Eve, please your honour.”
But our triumph over the Irishman abates when we recollect in the history of England, and in Shakspeare, the case of Saunder Simcox, who pretended to be miraculously and instantaneously cured of blindness at St. Alban's shrine.
Since we have bestowed so much criticism on the blunder of a beggar-man, a word or two must be permitted on the blunder of a thief. It is natural for ignorant people to laugh at the Hibernian who said that he had stolen a pound of chocolate to make tea of. But philosophers are disposed to abstain from the laugh of superiority when they recollect that the Irishman could probably make as good tea from chocolate as the chymist could make butter, sugar, and cream from antimony, sulphur, and tartar. The absurdities in the ancient chymical nomenclature could not be surpassed by any in the Hibernian catalogue. If the reader should think this a rash and unwarrantable assertion, we refer him to an essay,* in which the flagrant abuses of speech in the old language of chymistry are admirably exposed and ridiculed. Could án Irishman confer a more appropriate appellation upon a white powder than that of beautiful black ?
It is really provoking to perceive, that as our knowledge of science or literature extends, we are in more danger of finding, in our own and foreign languages, parallels and precedents for Irish blunders; so that a very
* Essay on Chymical Nomenclature, by S. Dickson, M.D.; in which are comprised observations on the same subject, by R. Kirwan, Pres. R.I.A. Vide pages 21, 22, 23, &c.
well-informed man can scarcely with any grace or conscience smile where a booby squire might enjoy a long and loud horse-laugh of contempt.
What crowds were collected to see the Irish bottle conjurer* get in a quart bottle; but Dr. Desaguliers had prepared the English to think such a condensation of ani. mal particles not impossible. He says, vol. i. p. 5, of his Lectures on Natural Philosophy, " that the nature of things should last, and their natural course continue the same; all the changes made in bodies must arise only from the various separations, new conjunctions, and motions of these original particles. These must be imagined of an unconceivable smallness, but by the union of them there are made bigger lumps,” &c.
Indeed, things are now come to such a lamentable pass, that without either literary or scientific acquirements, mere local knowledge, such as can be obtained from a finger-post, may sometimes prevent us from the full enjoyment of the Baotian absurdity of our neighbours. What can, at first view, appear a grosser blunder than that of the Irishman who begged a friend to look over his library, to find for him the
history of the world before the creation? Yet this anachronism of ideas is not unparalleled; it is matched, though on a more contracted scale, by an inscription on a British finger-post
“Had you seen these roads before they were made,
There is, however, a rabbi, mentioned by Bayle, who far exceeds both the Irishman and the finger-post. He asserts, that Providence questioned Adam concerning the creation before he was born; and that Adam knew more of the matter than the angels who had laughed at him.
Those who see things in a philosophical light must have observed more frequently than others, that there is in this world a continual recurrence or rotation of ideas, events, and blunders. With his utmost ingenuity, or his utmost absurdity, a man in modern days cannot contrive to produce a system for which there is no prototype in antiquity, or to commit a blunder for which there is no precedent. Forexample, during the late rebellion in Ireland, at the military execution of some wretched rebel, the cord broke, and the criminal, who had been only half-hanged, fell to the ground. The major who was superintending the execution exclaimed, “ You rascal, if you do that again, I'll kill you as sure as you breathe."
* This conjurer, whose name was Broadstreet, was a native of the county of Longsord, in Ireland : be by this hit pocketed 2001., and proved himself to be more knave than fool.
Now this is by no means an original idea. In an old French book, called “ La Charlatanerie des Savans,” is the following note :"D'autres ont proposé et résolu en même tems des questions ridicules; par exemple celle-ci: Devroit-on faire souffrir une seconde fois le même genre de mort à un criminel, qui après avoir eu la tête coupée viendroit à résusciter ?”—Finkelth, Præf. ad Observationes Pract. num. 12.
The passionate major, instead of being a mere Irish blunderer, was, without knowing it, a learned casuist; for he was capable of deciding, in one word, a question which, it seems, had puzzled the understandings of the ablest lawyers of France, or which had appalled their conscientious sensibility.
Alas, there is nothing new under the sun!
" Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."
THOUGHTS THAT BREATHE, AND WORDS THAT BURN." We lamented, in our last chapter, that there is nothing new under the sun; yet, perhaps, the thoughts and phraseology of the following story may not be familiar to the English.
“Plase your honour," says a man, whose head is bound up with a garter in token and commemoration of his having been at a fair the preceding night—“ Plase your honour, it's what I am striving since six o'clock and before, this morning, becààse I'd sooner trouble your honour's honour than any man in all Ireland, on account of your character, and having lived under your family, me and mine, twinty years, ay, say forty again to the back o' that, in the old gentleman's time, as I well remember before I was born; that same time I heard tell of your own honour's riding a litllo horse in green with your gun before you a grousing over our townlands, which was the mill and abbey of Ballynagobogg, though 'tis now set away from me (owing to them that belied my father) to Christy Salmon, becààse he's an Orange. man-or his wife-though he was once (let him deny it who can), to my certain knowledge, behind the haystack in Tullygore, sworn in a United man by Captain Alick, who was hanged-Pace to the dead anyhow!-Well, not to be talking too much of that now, only for this Christy Salmon I should be still living under your honour.”
“ Very likely; but what has all this to do with the present business? If you have any complaint to make against Christy Salmon, make it-if not, let me go to dinner.”
“ Oh, it would be too bad to be keeping your honour from your dinner, but I'll make your honour sinsible immadiately. It is not of Christy Salmon at all at all I'm talking. May be your honour is not sinsible yet who I am-1 am Paddy M.Doole of the Curragh, and I've been a flax-dresser and dealer since I parted your honour's land, and was last night at the fair of Clonaghkilty, where I went just in a quiet way thinking of nothing at all, as any man might, and had my little yarn along with me, my wife's and the girl's year's spinning, and all just hoping to bring them back a few honest shillings as they desarved-none better!-Well, plase your honour, my beast lost a shoe, which brought me late to the fair, but not so late but what it was as throng as ever; you could have walked over the heads of the nien, women, and childer, a foot and a horseback, all buying and selling; so I, to be sure, thought no harm of doing the like; so I makes the best bargain I could of the little hanks for my wife and the girl, and the man I sold them to was just weighing them at the crane, and I standing forenent him -Success to myself!' said I, looking at the shillings I was putting into my waistcoat pocket for my poor family, when up comes the inspector, whom I did not know, I'll take my oath, from Adam, nor couldn't know, becààse he was the deputy inspector, and had been just made, of which I was ignorant, by this book and all the books that ever were shut and opened--but no matter for that; he seizes my hanks out of the scales that I had just sold, saying they were unlawful and forfeit, becààse by his watch it was past four o'clock, which I denied to be pos. sible, plase your honour, becààse not one, nor two, nor three, but all the town and country were selling the same as myself in broad day, only when the deputy came up they stopped, which I could not, by rason I did not know him.- Sir,' says I (very civil), if I had known you, it would have been another case, but anyhow I hope no jantleman will be making it a crime to a poor man to sell his little matter of yarn for his wife and childer after four o'clock, when he did not know it was contrary to law at all at all.'
“I gave you notice that it was contrary to law at the fair of Edgerstown,' said he.—1 ax your pardon, sir,' said I, it was my brother, for I was by.' With that he calls me a liar, and what not, and takes a grip" of me, and I a grip of my flax, and he had a shilalat and I had none; so he gave it me over the head, I crying
Murder! murder ! and clinging to the scales to save me, and they set a swinging and I with them, plase your honour, till the bame comes down a-top o' the back o'ny head, and kilt me, as your honour sees."
“I see that you are alive still, I think.”
“It's not his fault if I am, plase your honour, for he left me for dead, and I am as good as dead still : if it be plasing to your honour to examine my head, you'll be sinsible l'm telling nothing but the truth. Your honour never seen a man kilt as I was and am-all which I'm ready (when convanient) to swear before your honour.”Í
The reiterated assurances which this hero gives us of his being killed, and the composure with which he offers to swear to his own assassination and decease, appear rather surprising and ludicrous to those who are not aware that kilt is here used in a metaphorical sense, and that it has not the full force of our word killed. But we have been informed by a lady of unquestionable veracity, that she very lately received a petition worded in this manner :“ To the Right Hon. Lady E-P
“Humbly showeth; “ That your poor petitioner is now lying dead in a ditch,”
• A gripe, or fast hold.
An oak stick, supposed to be cut from the famous wood of Shilals