Brander Matthews.

Pen and ink; papers on subjects of more or less importance online

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have heard his young mistress singing and playing
selections from Meyerbeer's music ; and it may be
that Work, in turn, overheard some negro's ram-


bling recollection of the ' Rataplan.' This is idle
conjecture, however ; the tune of ' Marching
through Georgia ' is fresh and spirited ; and it bids
fair with 'John Brown's Body' to be the chief
legacy of the war. Work was also the author
and composer of two other songs which had their
day, ' Drafted into the Army ' and ' Brave Boys are
They.' The latter has had the honor of being
sung of late by Mr. Cable, who heard first at a
Southern camp-fire from the lips of a comrade the
chorus of Northern origin, equally apt in its appli
cation in those troublous times to the homes on
either side of Mason and Dixon's line :

Brave boys are they,

Gone at their country's call ;
And yet and yet we cannot forget

That many brave boys must fall.

It was in the dark days of 1862, just after Lin
coln had issued the proclamation asking for three
hundred thousand volunteers to fill up the stricken
ranks of the army and to carry out the cry which
urged it ' On to Richmond,' that Mr. John S. Gib
bons wrote

We are coming, Father Abraham,
Three hundred thousand more,

a lyric which contributed not a little to the bring-


ing about of the uprising it declared. The author
of this ringing call to arms was a member of the
Society of Friends, in other words, a Hicksite
Quaker, " with a reasonable leaning, however,
toward wrath in cases of emergency," as his son-
in-law, Mr. James H. Morse, neatly put it, in a
recent letter to me. He joined the abolition
movement in 1830, when he was barely twenty
years old. Three years later he married a daugh
ter of Isaac T. Hopper, the Quaker philanthropist.
For a short time he was one of the editors of the
Anti-Slavery Standard, and like many of the
Quakers of his school, he was always ardent in
the cause of negro freedom. At the outbreak of
the war, Mrs. Gibbons and her eldest daughter
went to the front, and they served in the hospitals
until the end. While they were away the riots
of '63 occurred, and their house in New- York was
sacked, Mr. Gibbons and the two younger daugh
ters taking refuge with relatives in the house next
door but one, and thence over the roofs to Eighth
Avenue, where Mr. Joseph H. Choate had a car
riage in waiting for them. The house was sin
gled out for this attention because it had been
illuminated when the Emancipation Proclamation
was issued, on which occasion it had been
daubed and defiled with coal tar.


At the request of Mr. Morse, Mr. Gibbons has
put on paper an account of the circumstances
under which he wrote ' We are coming, Father
Abraham/ and from this I am privileged to
quote. It must be premised that Mr. Gibbons,
although he had written verse, as who has
not? was best known as a writer on economic
topics : he has published two books about bank
ing and he was for a while the financial editor of
the Evening Post. In 1862, after Lincoln had
issued his call for volunteers, Mr. Gibbons used to
take long walks alone, often talking to himself.
" I began to con over a song," he writes. " The
words seemed to fall into ranks and files, and to
come with a measured step. Directly would
come along a company of soldiers with fife and
drum, and that helped the matter amazingly. I
began to keep step myself three hun-dred thou
sand more. It was very natural to answer the
President's call we are coming and to prefix
the term father. Then the line would follow.

We are coming, Father Abraham,

and nothing was more natural than the number
of soldiers wanted.

Three hundred thousand more.

We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand



" Where from? Shore is the rhyme wanted."
Just then Mr. Gibbons met "a western regi
ment from Minnesota, it was and the line
came at once in full,

From Mississippi's winding stream, and from New Eng
land's shore.

" Two lines in full . . . Then followed how
naturally !

We leave our ploughs and workshops, our wives and children

With hearts too full for utterance, with but a silent tear.

" And so it went on, word by word, line by
line, until the whole song was made." When it
was written, only one slight verbal alteration was
made, and then it was printed in the Evening Post
of July 1 6, 1862. It is interesting to note that it
was in the Evening Post of May 29, 1819, nearly
half a century before, that another famous patriotic
poem had first been published Drake's ' Ameri
can Flag.' Mr. Gibbons's song appeared anony
mously and its authorship was ascribed at once to
Bryant, who was then the editor of the Evening
Post. At a large meeting in Boston, held the
evening after it had appeared, it was read byjosiah
Quincy as " the latest poem written by Mr. Wm.
C. Bryant."


One of the Hutchinson family set it to music,
and they sang it with great effect. A common
friend told Jesse Hutchinson that the song was
not by Bryant but by Mr. Gibbons. "What our
old friend Gibbons ? " he asked in reply. It is re
ported that when he was assured that his old
friend Gibbons was the real author of the song,
Jesse Hutchinson hesitated thoughtfully for a mo
ment and then said, "Well, we'll keep the name
of Bryant, as we've got it. He's better known
than Gibbons." The stirring song was set to
music by several other composers, most of whom
probably supposed that it was Bryant's. I find in
a stray newspaper cutting an account of Lincoln's
coming down to the Red Room of the White
House one morning in the summer of 1864, to
listen with bowed head and patient, pensive eyes
while one of a party of visitors sang

We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand

A rattling good war song which has kept its
hold on the ears of the people is ' When Johnny
comes Marching Home,' published in 1863 by
"Louis Lambert." Behind this pseudonym was
hidden Mr. P. S. Gilmore, the projector of the
Boston "Peace Jubilee," and the composer after-



ward of a more ambitious national hymn, which
has hitherto failed to attain the popularity of its
unpretending predecessor with the rousing refrain.
It is related that after the performance of ' Glory to
God on High,' from Mozart's Twelfth Mass, on
the first day of the Jubilee, an old soldier of the
Webster regiment took occasion to shake hands
with Mr. Gilmore and to proffer his congratula
tions on the success of the undertaking, adding
that for his part what he had liked best was the
piece called the ' Twelfth Massachusetts/

At the Boston Peace Jubilee, and again at the
Centennial Exhibition, there was opportunity for
the adequate and serious treatment of the war
tunes which have survived the welter and turmoil
of the actual struggle ; but the occasion was not im
proved. Little more has been done than a chance
arrangement of airs in the clap-trap manner of
Jull'en's ' British Army Quadrilles/ The ' Cen
tennial March ' which Richard Wagner wrote for
us was the work of a master, no doubt, but it was
perfunctory, and hopelessly inferior to his resplen
dent 'Kaiser March/ The German composer had
not touch of the American people, and as he did not
know what was in our hearts, we had no right to
hope that he should give it expression. The time
is now ripe for the musician who shall richly and


amply develop with sustained and sonorous dig
nity the few simple airs which represent and
recall to the people of these United States the
emotions, the doubts, the dangers, the joys, the
sorrows, the harassing anxieties, and the final
triumph of the four long years of bitter strife. The
composer who will take 'John Brown's Body'
and ' Marching through Georgia,' and such other
of our war tunes as may be found worthy, and
who shall do unto them as the still living Hunga
rian and Scandinavian composers have done to
the folk-songs of their native land, need not hesi
tate from poverty of material or from fear of the
lack of a responsive audience. The first American
composer who shall turn these war tunes into
mighty music to commemorate the events which
called them forth, will of a certainty have his re





HAVE always thought it a great pity
that Thackeray did not leave us a
Roundabout Paper ' On the French
spoken by those who do not speak
French/ No one is so competent and
so capable of doing justice to the topic as Thack
eray. It is a subject which seems most suitable
for the author of the ' Book of Snobs ' ; for, above
all things, is there snobbishness in the affectation
of being on speaking terms with the French lan
guage, when in very truth it barely returns your
bow. The title of the proposed paper is perhaps
a little long ; but there is wealth enough of ma
terial to warrant an article as ample as the name
may promise. Indeed, the title is almost too com
prehensive, for it includes the blunders of those
who know they cannot speak French, but never
theless try to make themselves understood, and
the errors of those who insist in thinking that they



can speak French in spite of oral testimony which
convinces every one else. And it would also in
clude certain extraordinary phrases which pass for
French in ordinary English speech.

The first of these classes is the French of Strat-
ford-at-Bow, the French of the Hoosier or the
Cockney, the French of those who affectionately
refer to the capital of France as "Parry" as
though it were an Arctic explorer ; there are even
those, I am told, who descend so low as " Parree,"
because, mayhap, like Mrs. General Gil/lory,
they " have been so long abroad." At this type
the French themselves never tire of poking fun. In
caricature, pictorial or dramatic, it is an endless
source of amusement; and the seeker for illustra
tive anecdote has an abundance to choose from.
One of the most amusing is a dialogue between a
Cockney passenger, who has full belief in the purity
of his French, and the conductor of a diligence.
The Cockney begins by calling the coachman a
pig and, indeed, cocher is not so very unlike
cochon. Then he addresses himself to the con
ductor :

" Etes-vous le diligence ? "

" Non, m'sieur, je suis le conducteur."

" C'est tout le meme chose. Donnez-moa doux
places dans votre interieur."


Unable to get inside seats, he tries to mount to
the roof. Unfortunately, he slips and falls heavily
to the ground. The conductor runs to his assist

" A,vez-vous de mal, m'sieur?"

"No, moa pas de malle, moa only a portman

Here the blunderer was English ; but in another
narrative it seems to me that the fault lies rather
with the Frenchman. An Anglo-Saxon was trav
elling in the south of France, and once, as the train
into the station drew, he asked an attendant :

" Est-ce que c'est ici Hyeres ? "

Unfortunately, he pronounced the name of
the town as though it were written Her ; and so
he received the puzzled answer :

" Mais non, m'sieur, c'est ici aujourd'hui."

Of honest blundering in the use of the foreign
tongue, and of frank ignorance, there is no lack of
anecdotes. The young lady brought up in an
establishment where "French is the language of
the school " is not always above asking "qu'elle
est la matiere ? " and telling you that " il n'y a pas
de depeche," when she means to inquire what
may be the matter, and to inform you that there is
no hurry. I believe that Americans pick up French
more quickly than do the English; but when


one seeks for typical blunders of beginners and of
pretenders, honors are easy. It was a young Amer
ican who asked for "cafe au lait without any
milk," and who alluded to " gendre pictures," and
who described a dress as " trimmed all down the
front with bouillon fringe." But internal evidence
compels me to assign to an Englishman the part
of the protagonist in two merry jests of this sort.
In one he says, " Je veux un poitrine de canons,"
and it is discovered that he had dug out from the
dictionary this translation of " chest of drawers. '
In the other the scene is laid on a channel steamer,
and as this thrusts its nose into the chopping sea,
an English bagman calls frantically for the steward,
adding, "Jesens mauvais. Quest ma naissance?"
I have been told that he supposed he was saying
the French equivalent for " I feel bad. Where is
my berth ? "

An American again, and a rigid Republican, is
the hero of another anecdote. He met the Ger
man king who has won fame in the study of
Dante, and he told his majesty that he was pleased
to meet him. He parted from the royal scholar
with the remark, "Je vous honore pas comme roi
mais comme ecolier ! " It is a strange sight to see
two Anglo-Saxon strangers meet and "terrify each
other into mutual unintelligibility with that lingua



franca of the English-speaking traveller, which is
supposed to bear some remote affinity to the French
language, of which both parties are as ignorant as
an American ambassador " as Mr. Lowell wrote
in his 'Fireside Travels,' not foreseeing the time
when the scholar in politics should be minister at
Madrid and London.

When Dr. Holmes acted as a medium and mate
rialized the sturdy spectre of Dr. Johnson, the ear
lier autocrat declared to the later that ' ' to trifle
with the vocabulary, which is the vehicle of social
intercourse, is to tamper with the currency of
human intelligence " ; and the orotund presence
added the characteristic sentiment that in his
opinion " he who would violate the sanctities of
his mother-tongue would invade the recesses of
the paternal till without remorse, and repeat the
banquet of Saturn without indigestion." From
the context we learn that just then the spirit of the
great lexicographer had been perturbed by certain
trifling puns or verbal witticisms with which the
breakfast-table had been amused ; but his ponder
ous criticism has always seemed to me to be quite
as applicable to the ill-advised speakers and writers
who find the English language inadequate to the
full expression of their teeming thoughts, and who
are therefore forced to filch phrases from foreign


The habit of dropping into French, for example,
is as enfeebling as the habit of punning ; and the
one is quite as fairly to be considered a violation
of the sanctities of the mother-tongue as the other.
Either habit indicates a certain flabbiness of fibre,
intellectual as well as ethical. It is difficult to be
lieve either in the moral rectitude or in the mental
strength of a man or of a woman addicted to the
quoting of odd scraps of odd French. When we
take up the latest work of a young-lady-novelist,
and when we find scattered through her pages
soiibriquet, and double-entendre, and nom de plume,
and a I'outrance, and other words and phrases
which no Frenchman knows, we need not read
further to be sure that the mantle of Jane Austen
and George Eliot has not fallen on the shoulders
of the fair author. Even Mrs. Oliphant, a novelist
who is old enough to know better, and who has
delighted us all with her charming tales of truly
English life, is wont to sprinkle French freely
through her many volumes, not in her novels
only, but even in her unnecessary memoir of Sher
idan, whom she credits with gaite du cceur. In
his ' Letter to Young Contributors/ Colonel Hig-
ginson gave sound advice to the literary tyro when
suggesting that he should "avoid French as some
of the fashionable novelists avoid English."



Has any one ever noted that there is a far greater
fondness in England for French words and phrases
than there is in America ? Whether I am the dis
coverer or not, the fact seems to me to be beyond
question. In the new Grand Hotel in London,
which is supposed to be managed on the Ameri
can plan, more or less, but which has a name bor
rowed from Paris, the very gorgeous dining-room
is labeled Satte a Manger. In another English
hotel I saw a sign on what we call the " elevator,"
and the English, with greater simplicity, term a
"lift," declaring it to be an ascenseur. The port
able fire-extinguisher familiar to all Americans as a
" Babcock," is in England called an extinfleur. On
the programmes of the itinerant opera company
managed by Mr. Mapleson, and called, comically
enough, Her Majesty's Opera, the wig-maker and
costumer appear as the perruquier and the cos
tumier. In the window of a shop in Regent
Street, toward the end of the season, I saw exposed
for sale a handsome china tea-service in a hand
some silk-lined box, bearing in its cover two little
placards, that to the right declaring that it was
suitable for A Wedding Present, while that on the
left suggested its fitness as Un Present De Noces.
In another English shop I have seen a heap of nap
kins surmounted by a placard setting forth the


price of these serviettes, and not far off was a pile
of oddly named serviette-rings. But perhaps this
is not more painful than a sign still to be seen in
New Bond Street, declaring that the house to which
it is affixed is occupied by " Blank et Cie., Artistes
in Corsets." This, in the language of the wild
Western humorist after he had been to Paris, frappe
tout chose parfaitement froid !

Of course it cannot be denied that certain French
words (and not those only which came over with
the Conqueror) have fairly won a right of domicile
in England. Ennui, for example, and pique these
have no exact English equivalents, and their re
moval from common speech would leave an aching
void. (To denouement I shall recur later.) But
why should we speak of an employe when the
regularly formed "employee" is at our service?
And what evil spirit possesses Mrs. Tompkins, the
London milliner, and Miss Simkins, the London
dressmaker, to emblazon their golden signs with
the mystic "Mdme. Tompkins, Modes," and
" Mdlle. Simkins, Robes"? And here occasion
serves to protest, with whatever strength may in
me lie, against the superfluous d which British cus
tom has injected into the French contractions for
Madame and Mademoiselle. We say British, for
this error is confined to Great Britain and her co-



lonial dependencies, the inhabitants of the United
States of America having happily escaped it. In
America, as in France, Madame and Mademoiselle
are contracted to Mme. and Mile., and it is only
the Briton who writes Mdme. and Mdtte., in the
fond belief that he has caught the exact Parisian
touch. I venture to hint also that even after a
French word has been admitted into the English
language, the Englishman is inclined to recall its
foreign origin in pronouncing it, while the Ameri
can treats it frankly as an English word. Thus
charade has nearly the same sound in the mouth
of an educated Englishman that it has in the mouth
of a Frenchman, whereas it falls from the lips of
an American as a perfect rhyme for " made." And
in like manner trait retains its French pronuncia
tion in Great Britain, while in the United States it
is spoken as it is spelt to rhyme with " strait."
The pun in the title of Dr. Doran's ' Table Traits,
with something on them,' wholly evades an
American unfamiliar with the British usage. But
the American who girds at this English peculiarity
must remember that he has heard his fellow-citi
zens call a menu a " maynew," and a debut a
" debyou " ; and that some of them are in doubt
whether depot ought to rhyme happily with
"Aleppo," or haply with "teapot," and there-


fore compromise illogically by rhyming it with
"sweep oh ! "

To the ignorant and affected misuse of French
or quasi-French, there is another kind of snob
bishness closely akin and deserving castigation as
severe. It is the use of the native name of a place,
or worse yet, of the French name, instead of the
English. What sort of figure would be cut by a
returned traveller who described his journeys and
his sojournings in Italia and Deutschland? Is it
not as bad to speak of Mainz? and worse still, of
Mayence ? when there is an honest English name,
Mentz, inscribed in a hundred lusty chronicles of
illustrious wars? And how often do we hear
ladies talk of Malines lace, meaning the while the
lace made at Mechlin, for the town is Dutch,
although the French have chosen to give it a name
of their own fashioning, as they have also to Mentz
and many another city.

It may be as well to note that the French phrase
is a entrance, that there is no u in sobriquet, and
that the French know no such expression as nom de
plume or double-entendre, the nearest approach to
the one being nom de guerre and to the other dou
ble entente, a double meaning, which is, however,
wholly devoid of the ulterior significance attached
to double-entendre. Perhaps the word most sinned


against is artiste. There is really no excuse what
ever for the use of this word in English speech.
It is the exact translation and complete equivalent
of the English word artist, and it does not mean
a female artist any more than pianixte means a
female pianist. I can now recall with a shudder
a programme thrust into my hand at a watering-
place two or three years ago, in which a certain
charming artist was announced as "the greatest
living lady pianiste in the world." Encore, although
used in English in a sense wholly different from
that which it has in French, has now taken out its
naturalization papers ; and so has a hybrid word
parquette used in America to indicate what the
English call the stalls or orchestra chairs.

But on the stage, or rather in writings for and
of and about the stage, there is an enormous con
sumption of French phrases, or of phrases fondly
supposed to be French. The dramatic critic is wont
to refer to the rentree of an old favorite when he
means his or her reappearance ; and he comments
on the skilful way in which M. Sardou brings
about his denoument, and for this there is per
haps some excuse, as there is no English word
which is the exact technical equivalent of denou
ment. But he will record the attempting of a new
role by the ingeniie, and he will congratulate that


clever comedienne on the enlarging of her repertoire.
To him the "juvenile lead " is zjeune premier and
the tragic actress is a tragedienne educated at the
conservatoire. In his eyes a ballet-dancer is a
danseuse, and in his ears the comic singer sings a
chansonnette. There is really no reason for this
frequent French ; and although the vocabulary of
the dramatic critic is overworked, with a little care
he may avoid tautology by less violent means.

Over the door of a free-and-easy or cheap con
cert-saloon near Union Square I have seen a
transparency announcing that the place was a
"Resorte Musicale." And in a theatrical weekly
paper I discovered once an advertisement even
more remarkable. I give it here as it stood, chang
ing only the proper names :


The popular favorite and Leading Lady of Theatre

Comique, will be at liberty after June to engage for the season
of '81-82, as Leading Lady with first-class comb. Also




Please read this carefully, and note the delight
fully inappropriate use of nee, and the purely pro
fessional cutting short into " comb." of the word


"combination," technically applied to strolling
companies. Above all, pray remark the fact that
the gray mare is the better horse, and that the man
has given up his own name for his wife's.

It would not be fair thus to rebuke our fellow-
countrymen without noting the fact that the French
are nowadays quite as prone to quote English as
the English are to quote French, and also that there
is very little to choose between the results. An
article on sport in a French paper is almost as curi
ous and macaronic a medley as an article on the
fashions in an English paper. Just as the techni
cal phrases which hint at the mighty mysteries
of ladies' apparel are all French, so the technical
phrases of masculine outdoor amusement are nearly
all English. The report of a horse-race as it ap
pears in a Parisian newspaper is quite as comic as
the description of a bride's gown as it appears in
a London organ of society. The French dandy,

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Online LibraryBrander MatthewsPen and ink; papers on subjects of more or less importance → online text (page 10 of 14)