Зображення сторінки

A piteous or joyous contempt for others, the result of rustic ignorance, has been turned to telling account upon the stage by actors who have, off the stage, been close students of manners and of men. Lord Shaftesbury propounds a case of European laughing at Ethiopian, and Ethiopian at European, under conditions which allow him to add, “'T is easy to see which of the two would be ridiculous. For he who laughs, and is himself ridiculous, bears a double share of ridicule.” Gibbon's story is suggestive, of that gigantic Arab, of servile birth, Dames, who was so much provoked by the ignorance of his Greek captives. “God's curse upon these dogs !” exclaimed the illiterate Arab, “what a strange barbarous language they speak.” Mr. Wallace, in one of the islands of the Malay archipelago, was regarded with the more distrust as professing to come from a country with so absurd a name as N-Glung. “My country,” said his leading examiner (and cross-examiner in one), “is Wanumbai : anybody can say Wanumbai, but N-Glung, who ever heard of such a name?” A very reverend remembrancer of Scottish life and character tells us of two old ladies in Stranraer, during the long French war, of whom the one said to the other, as together they wended their way to the kirk, “Was it no a wonderfu' thing that the Breetish were aye victorious over the French in battle?” “Not a bit,” said the other; “ dinna ye ken the Breetish aye say their prayers before ga'in into battle?" The other replied, “But canna the French say their prayers as weel?” “Hoot ! jabbering bodies, wha could understan' them?”] It would not occur to this sort of

Long past the middle term of last century, the French regarded the English as barbarians, and the English cherished a supreme contempt of the French. Lord Carlisle, in 1769, says, the French “think us very little altered since the landing of Julius Cæsar; that we leave our clothes at Calais, having no further occasion for them," etc. Dr. Johnson's friends have allowed, as Macaulay shows, that he carried to a ridiculous extreme his unjust contempt for foreigners, pronouncing the French to be a very silly people, much behind us, stupid, ignorant creatures ; and this judgment, it seems, he formed after having been at Paris about a month, during which he would not talk French, for fear of giving an advantage over him in conversation.

Quite Grandisonian in the style of her magnanimity is the Hon. Miss

old lady, that if, in apostolic language, she knew not the meaning of the voice, she might and should be a barbarian unto him that speaketh, though of course he that speaketh would be a barbarian to her. So with the story of the English gentleman, who, after visiting the lord provost of Edinburgh, accompanied him to Aberdeen, and by him was introduced to the provost there, who invited them to “a great dinner," at which, after grace had been said, the host bade the company, in homely Aberdeen dialect, “ Fah tee, gentlemen, fah tee.” The Englishman whispered an inquiry of his Edinburgh friend as to the meaning of “fah tee, fah tee”; to which his lordship replied, “Hout, the bodie canna speak: he means “fau too, fau too.'” So again, at Inverary, the wife of the chief W. S. there, seeking to secure her guest from the taint of inferior society, gave him to understand, in confidence, that Mrs. W. (the rival writer's wife) was quite a vulgar body, so much so as to ask any one leaving the room to “snib the door," instead of bidding them, as she triumphantly observed, sneck the door.” 1

Byron's epistolary avowal : “Were any [foreign] lady to laugh at me for not speaking well her native tongue, I would not return the smile, were she to be less perfect in mine than I am in hers."

The Miss Gunns, in Silas Marner, are complacently compassionate over Miss Nancy's bringing up in “utter ignorance and vulgarity.” She actually said “ mate” for “meat,” "'appen” for “ perhaps," and “ oss" for "horse," which, to young ladies living in good Lytherly society, who habitually said 'orse, even in domestic privacy, and only said 'appen on the right occasions, was necessarily shocking.

Hear again the same author's Mr. Casson in Adam Bede. “I'm not this countryman, you may tell by my tongue, sir. They're cur'ous talkers i' this country, sir ; the gentry 's hard work to hunderstand 'em. I was brought hup among the gentry, sir, and got the turn o'their tongue when I was a bye. Why, what do you think the folks here say for 'hevn't you?' Well, the people about here says "hanna yey.' It 's what they call the dileck as is spoke hereabout, sir.” Later in the story Mr. Casson airs his complacency before another auditor, telling how he addressed a good morning to a certain stranger, the turn of whose tongue he wanted to hear, just to know whether he was a this-country man : “So I says, ' Good morning, sir : it 'll 'old hup for the barley this morning, I think : there 'll be a bit got hin if we've good luck.' And he says, “Eh, ye may be raight, there's noo tallin', he says; and I knowed by that-here Mr. Casson gave a wink, -as he didn't come from a hundred mile off. I daresay he'd think me a hodd talker, as you Loamshire folks allays does hany one as talks the right

Ben Jonson's preposterous addlepate, Master Mathew, clown every cubic inch of him, demands of Knowell, “ Sir, did your eyes ever taste the like clown of him where we were today, Mr. Welbred's half brother? I think the whole earth cannot show his parallel, by this daylight.” True is Truewit's assertion in Epicene, that it“ falls out often, that he that thinks himself the master wit is the master fool.” Scott's Zetland wiseacre, Niel Ronaldson, proses over “how few real judicious men are left in this land. ..Maister Mertoun's wit is sprung in the bowsprit, I doubt-his son is a daft gowk; and I ken few of consequence hereabouts-excepting always myself, and maybe you, Swertha—but what may, in some sense or other, be called fules.” And it is just this type of intellect that affects, if it does not veritably feel, a marked impatience of fools, as folly is by its private interpretation defined and designated. Frequently it has little or none of Touchstone's genial recognition of the inferiority; and so far from it being to these stolid censors and exacting Boeotians, “meat and drink to see a clown,” the sight of him is poison to them. So far from suffering fools gladly, seeing they are themselves wise, they cannot suffer them at all, so distressingly high pitched is the standard of their own wisdom.

What Dr. Channing singled out for admiration in Sir Walter Scott, as a man, was his patience with dull people—a proof, too,that his nerves were in good order. “To a man of genius, whose thoughts move at lightning pace, a creeping proser must be a terrible annoyance.” With an avowed aversion to both knaves and fools, Lord Bolingbroke tells Pope that, in the ordinary course of life, he thinks he can bear the sensible knave better than the fool. In salient contrast with this is

language.” The right language! Bartle Massey tells Mr. Casson he's about as near the right language as a pig's squeaking is like a tune played on a key-bugle. Mr. Casson retorts, with an angry smile, that, well, he don't know; he should think a man as has lived among the gentry from a bye is likely to know the right language pretty nigh as well as a schoolmaster. The schoolmaster's rejoinder is: “Ay, ay, man; you talk the right language for you. When Mike Holdsworth's goat says ba-a-a, it's all right —it 'ud be unnatural for it to make any other noise."

what we read of Schleiermacher, that the lovingness and sociableness of his nature were so great, that although intellectually exciting conversation was his delight, yet he found great pleasure in intercourse with the even mentally insignificant, the heart and the disposition alone being always sufficient to attract him. The narrator of Lord Lytton's Strange Story expresses amazement at seeing how quietly a man whose mind was stored by life and by books as that of Julius Faber-a man who had loved the clash of conflicting intellects, and acquired the rewards of fame-could accommodate himself to the cabined range of his kinsfolks half civilized existence, and take interest in their trivial talk.2 Coleridge relates of Sir Alexander Ball that he would listen, even to weak men, with a patience which,“ in so severe an economist of time, always demanded my admiration, and not seldom excited my wonder." And in another place the same admirer makes emphatic mention of the “sweet gentleness, the tender patience,” with which Sir Alexander was wont to tolerate the tediousness of well meaning men. It has been called the mark of a real high

1 And yet one meets, not unfrequently either, in his correspondence, with such passages as the following: “This evening I have something very tiresome in prospect. I am to spend it in the society of a number of men, not one of whom is good enough for me. . . . Why are they such miserable wights ? ” Schleiermacher's avowed practice on such occasions was either to give utterance to the bitterest sarcasms, or to turn everything into a joke, or to remain perfectly silent, or else to adapt himself entirely to their views, bantering them the while so slyly, that to the last he left them in doubt as to his real meaning.

2“I could not help saying as much to him once. My friend,' replied the old man, believe me that the happiest art of intellect, however lofty, is that which enables it to be cheerfully at home in the real” (chap. lxxiii.).

In another popular fiction, a rector's wife gives emphasis of utterance to her revolt against the bores with whom she has been spending a long evening : “how stupid, and petty, and egotistical they are, all of them ! What silly good-for-nothing lives they lead! What wretched little gabble they talk ļ” etc., etc. Dr. Alwyn fairly laughs at his wife's energy of vituperation ; but anon he gently talks her into a more tolerant mood. To him too the society of these people " was often wearisome-almost always inane ; but he made out something to interest him, discovered something of an individuality, in the flattest and dullest of them all. Like Sydney Smith, he never knew what it was to meet a bore.”—The Waterdale Neighbours, chap. xi.

over by me angry withfangled i

mindedness to be able to tolerate intellectual commonplace when it is accompanied by such minor virtues as betoken graciousness of moral disposition : while a man of ordinary thinness of nature, coated over by means of a more or less learned training, is simply revolted and angry with people who cannot argue, and will not enter into all the newfangled ideas of the hour. “No amount of any other qualities will reconcile him to this mental defect. But the salt of character, with those of richer nature or wiser culture, is not thought to dwell only in intellectual power or intellectual attainments." All misplaced contempt is said to be traceable to the same cause—partial ignorance. Clever men, intent on their one hobby, are seen to be as little ready to consider attentively what lies outside their pale of interest, as the most circumscribed intellect. All have some vein of Touchstone in them, on the showing of an essayist on Contempt : when they survey something not in their way, in another world than theirs, they are ready to plume themselves on their want of sympathy as a sort of distinction, and to find it “meat and drink to see a clown.”

to the one that lies ot. A

[blocks in formation]


PSALM lv. 21. N O common foe had the psalmist to fear in one who put IV forth his hands against his allies, and broke the treaty to which he had pledged his faith ; the words of whose mouth were smoother than butter, while war was in his heart : “his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords,”—or as the Prayer-Book version has it, “his words were smoother than oil, and yet be they very swords.” The conjunctive mention of oil and steel may remind us of a sentence of Dr. South's, in reference to the besotted lovers of smooth things, whom, if you strike them under the fifth rib, provided you at the same time kiss them too, as Joab served Abner, you may both destroy and gratify with the same blow; and whose craving

« НазадПродовжити »