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or Fielding on the window-seat. Where are they gone, those rooms ? Where are the pretty demure damsels gone-our aunts or our aunts’ aunts—who sat and flirted in them?
“Well, you know," quoth John Silchester, gravely, “ English has no alphabet. English has a rude a b c, I admit, just as Etruscan had a rude l m n, whence the word element. But here am I with a girl and a boy to educateand I am told that the proper way to begin is to teach them a heteroëpic abracadabra.”
"I wish you could manage without such long words, dear,” said Joan.
“I am very sorry, my darling, but indignation drives me to use strong language.”
“My dear Jack,” says Mrs. Silchester, “it isn't your strong language I don't like, it's your long language.”
The Squire laughed.
“ Never mind, my pet,” he said. “I'll try to behave better. You want these two little rascals to learn the alphabet because you and
I learnt it, and it has not done us much injury. But aren't most people better without it? You teach a scoundrel to sign his name, and he forges a cheque. You teach a fool the art of writing, and he produces an epic poem, or a new way of squaring the circle. No: I have made up my mind about the education of my son and daughter. Two things will I never teach them : two things they must learn of their own free will when capable of teaching themselves : one is the alphabet, and the other the multiplication table.”
“Well,” said Joan, “I suppose I must submit, as I vowed to obey, and I don't much admire the multiplication table, because I always thought that seven times nine was ninety-one; but I should like to know why you are angry about the alphabet.”
“ Alphabet! My dear child, we haven't got an alphabet. Our vowels and consonants are a set of maniacs fit for Colney Hatch. Look at other nations. We have twenty-six charac
ters, several of which are double letters, several of which have several sounds. In Syriac there are more than two hundred characters. In Sanscrit there are more than three hundred. We don't want so many, but we want moreand less—than we have. A has half a dozen sounds. X is ks. I is a e, the former vowel being broad and soft, as in the word half.”
“Well,” said Joan Silchester, “that reminds me that I am your better-half. If that's the case, I shall be mistress now, and shut you up about alphabets, which is very dull talk, and make you come out into the garden.”
And into the garden they went. It was very nice. The Squire, with all his scholastic caprices, could enjoy his sweet-lipped fairbosomed wife, with her freaks and fancies and flowers.
“Tous les grands hommes ont leurs antipathies : Jacques II. ne pouvait supporter l'éclat d'une épée, Roger Bacon tombait en defaillance à la vue d'une pomme ; moi, le papier blanc m'inspire une mélancolie profonde.”
W ITH this grand homme Français I would
agree. A sheet of white paper, even though I have only to place on it a note to a good friend or a generous publisher, makes me melancholy at first sight. Othat writing had never been invented! Imagine my mélancolie profonde when the sheet of unstained paper before me is the first of about a thousand that I shall have to spoil in presenting you, dear reader, with a three volume novel.
Am I digressing? Very likely, in the eyes
of the critics. Have I a right to digress ? Those purblind critics answer, No. Now your ordinary critic always refers to high literary authorities—though it generally turns out he has never read them. I make three statements here, which I mean to prove by authority and logic:
I. I have a right to digress.
There was once published in this city of London a work of enormous genius, dedicated “ To His Royal Highness Prince Posterity.” H.R.H. is here, but I regret to say that he prefers a great deal of effeminate and feminine trash to the work of England's first prosewriter. The seventh section of that famous story A Tale of a Tub is entitled A Digression in Praise of Digressions, and thus doth Swift end it : “ The necessity of this digression will easily excuse the length ; and I have chosen for it as proper a place as I could readily find. If the