Imágenes de páginas

nion, by all gentlemen and ladies, when they are going to visit, or dine, or drink tea; or where they happen to pass the evening without cards, as I have sometimes known it to be the case upon disappointments or accidents unforeseen; desiring they would read their several parts in their chairs or coaches, to prepare themselves for


kind of conversation that can possibly happen.

Although I have, in justice to my country, allowed the genius of our people to excel that of any other nation upon earth, and have confirmed this truth by an argument not to be controlled, I mean, by producing so great a number of witty sentences in the ensuing dialogues, all of undoubted authority, as well as of our own production, yet I must confess at the same time, that we are wholly indebted for them to our ancestors; for, as long as my memory reaches, I do not recollect one new phrase of importance to have been added; which defect in us moderns I take to have been occasioned by the introduction of cant words in the reign of king Charles the Second. And those have so often varied, that hardly one of them, of above a year's standing, is now intelligible; nor any where to be found, excepting a small number strewed here and there in the comedies, and other fantastic writings of that age.

The Honourable Colonel James Graham, my old friend and companion, did likewise, toward the end of the same reign, invent a set of words and phrases, which continued almost to the time of his death. But, as these terms of art were adapted only to courts and politicians, and extended little further than among his particular acquaintance, (of whom I had the honour to be one) they are now almost forgotten.

Nor did the late D. of R- and E. of E

succeed much better, although they proceeded no further than single words; whereof, except bite, bamboozle, and one or two more, the whole vocabulary is antiquated.

The same fate has already attended those other town wits, who furnish us with a great variety of new terms, which are annually changed, and those of the late season sunk in oblivion. Of these I was once favoured with a complete list by the Right Honourable the Lord and Lady Hwith which I made a considerable figure one summer in the country; but, returning up to town in winter, and venturing to produce them again, I was partly hooted, and partly not understood.

The only invention of late years, which has any way contributed toward politeness in discourse, is that of abbreviating or reducing words of many syllables into one, by lopping off the rest. This refinement having begun about the time of the Revolution, I had some share in the honour of promoting it; and I observe, to my great satisfaction, that it makes daily advancements, and I hope in time will raise our language to the utmost perfection; although I must confess, to avoid obscurity, I have been very sparing of this' ornament in the following dialogues.

But, as for phrases invented to cultivate conversation, I defy all the clubs of coffeehouses in this town to invent a new one, equal in wit, humour, smartness, or politeness, to the very worst of my set, which clearly shows, either that we are much degenerated, or that the whole stock of materials has been already employed. I would willingly hope, as I do confidently believe, the latter; because, having myself for several months racked my invention to enrich this treasure (if possible) with some additions of my own (which,

however should have been printed in a different character, that I might not be charged with imposing upon the public,) and having shown them to some judicious friends, they dealt very sincerely with me, all unanimously agreeing that mine were infinitely below the true old helps to discourse drawn up in my present collection, and confirmed their opinion with reasons, by which I was perfectly convinced, as well as ashamed of my great presumption.

But I lately met a much stronger argument to confirm me in the same sentiments; for, as the great Bishop Burnet of Salisbury informs us, in the preface to his admirable History of his own Times, that he intended to employ himself in polishing it every day of his life, * (and indeed in its kind it is almost equally polished with this work of mine) so it has been my constant business, for some years past, to examine, with the utmost strictness, whether I could possibly find the smallest lapse in style or propriety through my whole collection, that, in emulation with the bishop, I might send it abroad as the most finished piece of the age.

It happened one day, as I was dining in good company of both sexes, and watching, according to my custom, for new materials wherewith to fill my pocket-book, I succeeded well enough till af


* The passage hardly justifies this sarcasm. It thus : I look on the perfecting of this work, and the carrying it on through the remaining part of my life, as the greatest service I can do to God, and to the world, and therefore I set about it with great care and caution.” The proposed revision, therefore, does not apply to the style, as maliciously insinuated by Swift, but to the accuracy of the facts, and continuation of the history. VOL. XI.


ter dinner, when the ladies retired to their tea, and left us over a bottle of wine. But I found we were not able to furnish any more materials that were worth the pains of transcribing; for the discourse of the company was all degenerated into smart sayings of their own invention, and not of the true old standard; so that, in absolute despair, I withdrew, and went to attend the ladies at their tea; whence I did then conclude, and still continue to believe, either that wine does not inspire politeness, or that our sex is not able to support it without the company of women, who never fail to lead us into the right way, and there to keep us.

It much increases the value of these apophthegms, that unto them we owe the continuance of our language for at least a hundred years ; neither is this to be wondered at, because indeed, beside the smartness of the wit, and fineness of the raillery, such is the propriety and energy of expression in them all, that they never can be changed, but to disadvantage, except in the circumstance of using abbreviations; which, however, I do not despair in due time to see introduced, having already met them at some of the choice companies in town. Although this work be calculated for all

persons of quality and fortune of both sexes, yet the reader may perceive, that my particular view was to the officers of the army, the gentlemen of the inns of court, and of both the universities; to all courtiers, male and female; but principally to the maids of honour; of whom I have been personally acquainted with two-and-twenty sets, all excelling in this noble endowment, till, for some years past, I know not how, they came to degeneratę into selling of bargains * and free-thinking; not that I am against either of these entertainments, at proper seasons, in compliance with company who may want a taste for more exalted discourse, whose memories may be short, who are too young to be perfect in their lessons, or (although it be hard to conceive) who have no inclination to read and learn my instructions. And besides, there is a strong temptation for court ladies to fall into the two amusements above-mentioned, that they may avoid the censure of affecting singularity against the general current and fashion of all about them : but, however, no man will pretend to affirm that either bargains or blasphemy, which are the principal ornaments of free-thinking, are so good a fund of polite discourse, as what is to be met with in my collection. For, as to bargains, few of them seem to be excellent in their kind, and have not much variety, because they all terminate in one single point; and to multiply them would require more invention than people have to spare. And as to blasphemy or free-thinking, I have known some scrupulous persons of both sexes, who, by a prejudiced education, are afraid of sprights. I must, however, except the maids of honour, who have been fully convinced by a famous court chaplain, that there is no such place as hell. +

* This ingenious piece of wit consisted in leading the purchaser of the bargain to ask some question, to which the answer given was the popular name of the most sedentary part of the seller's body.

+ Though this reverend gentleman seems to have gone a step farther than Pope's dean,

• Who never mentions hell to ears polite," seems probable that the same original was intended.

« AnteriorContinuar »