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better notion of this than can be conveyed by any definition.
An Irish boy (a 'cute lad) saw a train of his companions leading their cars, loaded with kishes of turf, coming towards his father's cabin; his father had no turf, and the question was how some should be obtained. To beg he was ashamed ; to dig he was unwilling- but his head went to work directly. He took up a turf which had fallen from one of the cars the preceding day, and stuck it on the top of a pole near the cabin. When the cars were passing, he appeared throwing turf at the mark. Boys !” cried he, “ which of ye will hit ? ” Each leader of the car, as he passed, could not forbear to fling a turf at the mark; the turf fell at the foot of the pole, and when all the cars had passed, there was a heap left sufficient to reward the ingenuity of our little Spartan.
The same 'cuteness which appears in youth continues and improves in old age. When general V was quartered in a small town in Ireland, he and his lady were regularly besieged, whenever they got into their carriage, by an old beggar-woman, who kept her post at the door, assailing them daily with fresh importunities and fresh tales of distress. At last the lady's charity, and the general's patience, were nearly exhausted, but their petitioner's wit was still in its pristine vigour. One morning, at
the accustomed hour, when the lady was getting into her carriage, the old woman began—"Agh! my lady; success to your ladyship, and success to your honour's honour, this morning, of all days in the year ; for sure didn't I dream last night that her ladyship gave me a pound of tea, and that your honour gave me a pound of tobacco ?
“But, my good woman," said the general, “ do not you know that dreams always go by the rule of contrary?"
“Do they so, plase your honour?” rejoined the old woman.
“ Then it must be your honour that will give me the tea, and her ladyship that will give me the tobacco ?
The general being of Sterne's opinion, that a bon-mot is always worth more than a pinch of snuff, gave the ingenious dreamer the value of her dream.
Innumerable instances might be quoted of the Hibernian genius, not merely for repartee, but for what the Italians call pasquinade. We shall cite only one, which is already so well known in Ireland, that we cannot be found guilty of publishing a libel. Over the ostentatious front of a nobleman's house in Dublin, the owner had this motto cut in stone :
“ Otium cum dignitate...Leisure with dignity.”
In process of time his lordship changed his residence ; or, since we must descend to plebeian lan
guage, was committed to Newgate, and immediately there appeared over the front of his apartment his chosen motto, as large as the life, in white chalk,
Otium cum dignitate.
Mixed with keen satire, the Irish often show a sort of cool good sense and dry humour, which gives not only effect, but value to their impromptus. Of this class is the observation made by the Irish hackney coachman, upon seeing a man of the ton driving four-in-hand down Bond-street.
“ That fellow,” said our observer, “ looks like a coachman, but drives like a gentleman."
As an instance of humour mixed with sophistry, we beg the reader to recollect the popular story of the Irishman who was run over by a troop of horse, and miraculously escaped unhurt.
“ Down upon your knees and thank God, you reprobate,” said one of the spectators.
“ Thank God! for what? Is it for letting a troop of horse run over me?”
In this speech there is the same sort of humour and sophistry that appears in the Irishman's celebrated question : “ What has posterity done for me, that I should do so much for posterity?”
The Irish nation, from the highest to the lowest, in daily conversation about the ordinary affairs of life, employ a superfluity of wit and metaphor which would be astonishing and unintelligible to a majority of the respectable body of English yeomen. Even the cutters of turf and drawers of whiskey are orators; even the cottiers and gossoons speak in trope and figure. Ask an Irish gossoon to go early in the morning, on an errand, and he answers,
“ I'll be off at the flight of night.”
If an Irish cottager would express to his landlord that he wishes for a long lease of his land, he says,
“ I would be proud to live on your honour's land as long as grass grows or water runs.”
One of our English poets has nearly the same idea :
“ As long as streams in silver mazes run,
Or Spring with annual green renews the grove."
Without the advantages of a classical education, the lower Irish sometimes make similes that bear a near resemblance to those of the admired poets of antiquity. A loyalist, during the late rebellion, was describing to us the number of the rebels who had gathered on one spot, and were dispersed by the king's army; rallied, and were again put to flight.
They were,” said he, “ like swarms of flies on a summer's day, that you
with and still they will be returning.”
There is a simile of Homer's which, literally translated, runs thus: “ As the numerous troops of flies about a shepherd's cottage in the Spring, when the milk moistens the pails, such numbers of Greeks stood in the field against the Trojans.” Lord Kames observes, that it is false taste to condemn such com
parisons for the lowness of the images introduced. In fact, great objects cannot be degraded by comparison with small ones in these similes, because the only point of resemblance is number; the mind instantly perceives this, and therefore requires no other species of similitude.
When we attempt to judge of the genius of the lower classes of the people, we must take care that we are not under the influence of any prejudice of an aristocratic or literary nature. But this is no easy effort of liberality.
Agh! Dublin, sweet Jasus be wid you !” exclaimed a poor Irishman, as he stood on the deck of a vessel, which was carrying him out of the bay of Dublin. The pathos of this poor fellow will not probably affect delicate sensibility, because he sayswid instead of with, and Jasus instead of Jesus. Adam Smith is certainly right in his theory, that the sufferings of those in exalted stations have generally most power to command our sympathy. The very same sentiment of sorrow at leaving his country, which was expresed so awkwardly by the poor Irishman, appears, to every reader of taste, exquisitely pathetic from the lips of Mary queen of Scots.
“ Farewell, France ! Farewell, beloved country ! which I shall never more behold !”*
In anger as well as in sorrow the Irishman is eloquent. A gentleman who was lately riding through the county of in Ireland, to canvass, called to
* Vide Robertson's History of Scotland.