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means wanderer: des eaux vagabondes is a phrase far from inelegant. But independently of this consideration, no well-bred gentleman would put a foreigner out of countenance by openly laughing at such a mistake : he would imitate the politeness of the Frenchman, who, when Dr. Moore said, “ I am afraid the expression I have just used is not French,” replied, “ Non, monsieur—mais il mérite bien de l'être.” It would, indeed, be a great stretch of politeness to extend this to our Irish neighbours : for no Irishism can ever deserve to be Anglicised, though so many Gallicisms have of late not only been naturalised in England, but even adopted by the most fashionable speakers and writers. The mistaking a feminine for a masculine noun, or a inasculine for a feminine, must, in all probability, have happened to every Englishman that ever opened his lips in Paris; yet without losing his reputation for common sense.
But when a poor
Irish haymaker, who had but just learned a few phrases of the English language by rote, mistook a feminine for a masculine noun, and began his speech in a court of justice with these words : “My lord, I am a poor widow," instead of “ My lord, I am a poor widower ;” it was sufficient to throw a grave judge and jury into convulsions of laughter. It was formerly, in law, no murder to kill a merus Hibernicus ; and it is to this day no offence against good manners to laugh at any of this species. It is of a thousand times more consequence to have the laugh than the argument on our side, as all those know full well who have any experience in the management of the great or little vulgar. By the common custom and courtesy of England we have the laugh on our side: let us keep it by all means. All means are justifiable to obtain a great end, as all great men maintain in practice, if not in theory. We need not, in imitating them, have any scruples of conscience; we need not apprehend, that to ridicule our Hibernian neighbours unmercifully is unfriendly or ungenerous. : Nations, it has been well observed, are never generous in their conduct towards each other. We must follow the common custom of nations where we have no law to guide our proceedings. We must therefore carefully continue the laudable practice of ridiculing the blunders, whether real or imaginary, of Irishmen. In conversation, Englishmen are permitted sometimes to blunder, but without ever being called blunderers. It would, indeed, be an intolerable restraint upon social intercourse, if every man were subject to be taxed for each inaccuracy of language-if he were compelled to talk, upon all occasions, as if he were amenable to a star-chamber of criticism, and surrounded by informers.
Much must be allowed in England for the licence of conversation ; but by no means must this conversation-licence be extended to the Irish.
If, for instance, at the convivial hour of dinner, when men are not usually intent upon grammatical or mathematical niceties, an Irish gentleman desires him “ who rules his roast," to cut the sirloin of beef horizontally downwards, let the mistake immediately
be set down in our note-books, and conned over, and got by heart; and let it be repeated to all eternity as a bull. But if an English lady observe, when the candles have long stood unsnuffed, that “ those odious long wicks will soon grow up to the ceiling,” she can be accused only of an error of vision. We conjure our readers to attend to these distinctions in their intercourse with their Hibernian neighbours : it must be done habitually and technically; and we must not listen to what is called reason; we must not enter into any argument, pro or con, but silence every Irish opponent, if we can, with a laugh.
The abbé Girard, in his accurate work, “ Synonymes François,” makes a plausible distinction between une âne et un ignorant; he says, “ On est âne par disposition : on est ignorant par defaut d'instruction." An ignorant person may certainly, even in the very circumstances which betray his ignorance, evince considerable ability. For instance, the native Indian, who for the first time saw a bottle of porter uncorked, and who expressed great astonishment at the quantity of froth which he saw burst from the bottle, and much curiosity to know whether it could all be put in again, showed even in his ignorance a degree of capacity, which in different situations might have saved his life, or have made his fortune. In the situation of the
fisherman, and the great giant of smoke, who issued from the small vessel, well known to all versed in the Arabian Tales, such acuteness would have saved his life ; and a similar spirit of inquiry, applied to chemistry,
might, in modern times, have made his fortune. Even where no positive abilities are displayed at the time by those who manifest ignorance, we should not (except the culprits be natives of Ireland) hastily give them up. Ignorance of the most common objects is not only incident to certain situations, but absolutely unavoidable ; and the individuals placed in those situations are no more blameable than they would be for becoming blind in the snows of Lapland, or for haviug goitres amongst the Cretins of le Vallais. Would you blame the ignorant nuns, who, insensible of the danger of an eruption of Mount Vesuvius,* warmed themselves at the burning lava which flowed up to the windows of their cells? or would
think the French canoness an idiot, who, at the
age of fifty, was, on account of her health, to go out of her convent, and asked, when she met a cow for the first time, what strange animal that was ? or would
children deserved to be stigmatised as fools, who, after being confined for a couple of years in an English workhouse, actually at eight years old had forgotten the names of a pig and a calf :t their ignorance was surely more deplorable than ridiculous. When the London young lady kept a collection of chicken-bones on her plate at dinner, as a bonne-bouche for her brother's
* Vide Sir W. Hamilton's account of an eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
* This fact, we believe, is mentioned in a letter of Mrs. Cappe's on parish schools.
horse, * Dr. Johnson would not suffer her to be called an idiot, but very judiciously defended her, by maintaining, that her action merely demonstrated her ignorant of points of natural history, on which a London miss had no immediate opportunity of obtaining information. Had the world always judged upon such subjects with similar candour, the reproachful cant term of cockney would never have been disgracefully naturalised in the English language. This word, as we are informed by a learned philologist, originated from the mistake of a learned citizen's son, who having been bred up entirely in the metropolis, was so gloriously ignorant of country life and country animals, that the first time he heard a cock crow, he called it neighing. If such a mistake had been made by an Irishman, is would surely have been called a bull : it has, at least, as good pretensions to the title as many mistakes made by ignorant Hibernians; for instance, the well-known blunder relative to the sphinx :-An uninformed Irishman, hearing the sphinx alluded to in company, whispered to a friend, “ The sphinx ! who is that
“ A monster, man.”
“Oh, a Munster-man: I thought he was from Connaught,” replied our Irishman, determined not to seem totally unacquainted with the family. Gross and ridiculous as this blunder appears, we are compelled by candour to allow, that the affectation
• Vide Mrs. Piozzi's English Synonymy.