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THAT IT IS EASY TO PEKCEIVE HE IS NO
GENTLEMAN.

A SPEECH from the poorest sort of people,
which always indicates that the party vitu-
perated is a gentleman. The very fact which



224 ir:hc ^a.^t ^,$',oa\|,^ of (glia.



they deny is that which galls and exasperates
them to use this langua,):je. The forbearance
with Avhich it is usually received is a proof
what interpretation the bystander sets upon
it. Of a kin to this, and still less politic^
are the phrases Avitli which, in tlieir street
rhetoric, they ply one another more grossly :
— He is a poor creature. — lie has not a ray
to cover , etc. ; though this last, we con-
fess, is more frequently applied by females
to females. They do not perceive that the
satire glances upon themselves. A poor
man, of all things in the~ world, should not
upbraid an antagonist with poverty. Are
there no other topics — as, to tell him his

father was hanged, — his sister, etc. ,

without exposing a secret, which should be
kept snug between them ; and doing an
affi'ont to the order to Avhich they have the
honor equally to belong"? All this while
they do not see how the wealthier man
stands by and laughs in his sleeve at both.



V.
THAT THE POOR COPY THE VICES OF THE ETCH.

A SMOOTH text to the letter ; and, preached
from the pulpit, is sure of a docile audience
from the pews lined with satin. It is twice
sitting upon velvet to a foolish squire to be-



^\xt ^ai&t (i^mp of (gUa. 225



told, that he — and not 2')ervierse nature^ as
the homilies would make us imagine, is the-
true cause of all the irregularities in his
parish. This is striking at the root of free-
will indeed, and denying the originality of
sin in any sense.

But men are not such implicit sheep as
this comes to. If the abstinence from evil
on the part of the upper classes is to derive
itself from no higher principle than the ap-
prehension of setting ill patterns to the lower,
we beg leave to discharge them from all
squeamishness on that score ; they may even
take their fill of pleasures where they caa
find them. The Genius of Poverty, ham-
pered and straitened as it is, is not so bar-
ren of invention, but it can trade upon the
staple of its own vice, without drawing upon
their capital. The poor are not quite such
servile imitators as they take them for.
Some of them are very clever artists in their-
way. Here and there we find an original..
Who taught the poor to steal, to pilfer ?
They did not go to the great for school-
masters in these faculties surely. It is well
if in some vices they allow us to be — no copy-
ists. In no other sense is it true that the
poor copy them, than as servants may be
said to Ud^e after their masters and mis-
tresses, when they succeed to their rever-
sionary cold meats. If the master, from
indisposition or some other cause, neglect
Ms food, the servant dines notwithstanding^
15



22G (Hihf f a^'t (^0$n\p of (^lia.



" O, but (some will say) the force of ex-
ample is great." We knew a lady who was
so scrupulous on this head, that she would
put up with the calls of the most imperti-
nent visitor, rather than let her servant say
she was not at home, for fear of teachin*^
her maid to tell an untruth ; and this in the
very face of the fact, which she knew well
enough, that the wench was one of the
greatest liars upon the earth without teach-
ing ; so much so, that her mistress possibly
never heard two words of consecutive trutJi
from her in her life. But nature must go
for nothing : example must be everything.
This liar in grain, who never opened her
mouth without a lie, must be guarded
against a remote inference, which she
(pretty casuist !) might possibly draw from
a form of words — literally false, but essen-
tially deceiving no one — that under some
circumstances a fib might not be so exceed-
ingly sinful — a fiction, too, not at all in her
own way, or one that she could be suspected
of adopting, for few servant- wenches care
to be denied to visitors.

This word examjyle reminds us of another
fine Avord which is in use upon these oc-
casions — encouragement. "People in our
sphere must not be thought to give encour-
agement to such proceedings." To such a
frantic height is this principle capable of
being carried, that we have known individ-
uals who have thought it within the scope



®hc i:a!St (!::^5aM,$ of mm, 227



of their influence to sanction despair, and
give eclat to — suicide. A domestic in the
family of a county member lately deceased,
from love, or some unknown cause, cut his
throat, but not successfully. The poor
fellow was otherwise much loved and re-
spected ; and great interest was used in his
behalf, upon his recovery, that he might
be permitted to retain his place ; his w^ord
being first pledged, not without some sub-
stantial sjionsors to promise for him, that
the like sliould never happen again. His
master was inclinable to keep him, but his
mistress thought otherwise ; and Jolui in
the end was dismissed, her ladyship declar-
ing that she " could not think of encourag-
ing any such doings in the county."



VI.
THAT EXOUGH IS AS GOOD AS A FEAST.

KoT a man, woman, or child, in ten miles
round Guildhall, who really believes this
saying. The inventor of it did not believe
it himself. It was made in revenge by some-
body, who was disappointed of a regale. It
is a vile cold-scrag-of-mutton sophism; a lie
palmed upon the palate, which knows better
things. If nothing else could be. said for a
feast, this is sufficient, that from the super-



228 ^]xt i:a.$t (&m\p of mix.

flux there is usually something left for the
next day. Morally interpreted, it belongs to
a class of proverbs which have a tendency
to make us undervalue monei/. Of this cast
are those notable observations, that money
is not health : riches cannot purchase every-
thing : the metaphor which makes gold to be
mere muck, with the morality which traces
fine clothing to the sheep's back, and de-
nounces pearl as the unhandsome excretion
of an oyster. Ilence, too, the phrase which
imputes dirt to acres — a sophistry so bare-
faced, that even the literal sense of it is true
only in a wet season. This, and abundance
of similar sage saws assuming to inculcate
content, we verily believe to have been the
invention of some cunning borrower, who
had designs upon the purse of his wealthier
neighbor, which he could only hope to carry
by force of these verbal jugglings. Trans-
late any one of these sayings out of the art-
ful metonymy which envelops it, and the
trick is apparent. Goodly legs and shoul-
ders of mutton, exhilarating cordials, books,
pictures, the opportunities of seeing foreign
countries, independence, hearfs ease, a
man's own time to himself, are not inuck — ■
however we may be pleased to scandalize
with that appellation the fateful metal that
provides them for us.



®b« fa^t i^&m^ of (BlVA, 229



VII.



OF TWO DISPUTANTS THE WARMEST IS GEN-
ERALLY IN THE WRONG.

OcR experience would lead us to quite an
opposite conclusion. Temper, indeed, is no
test of truth ; but warmth and earnestness
are a proof at least of a man's own con-
viction of the rectitude of that which he
niaintahis. Coolness is as often the result
of an unprincipled indifference to truth or
falsehood, as of a sober confidence in a
man's own side in a dispute. Nothing- is
more insulting sometimes than the appear-
ance of this philosophic temper. There is
little Titubus, the stammering- law-stationer
in Lincoln's Inn, — \ve have seldom known
this shrewd little fellow engaged in an argu-
ment where we were not convinced he had
the best of it, if his tongue would but fairly
have seconded him. When he has been
spluttering excellent broken sense for an
hour together, writliing- and laboring to be
delivered of the point of dispute, — the very
gist of the controversy knocking at his
teeth, which like some obstinate iron-grat-
ing still obstructed its deliverance, — his
puny frame convulsed, and face reddening
aU over at an unfairness in the logic which



230 (The a:a,&t i^^^np of (gUa,

he wanted articulation to expose, it has
moved our gall to see a smooth, portly fellow
of an adversary, that cared not a button for
the merits of the question, by merely laying
his hand upon the head of the stationer, and
desiring him to be calm (your tall dispu-
tants have always the advantage), with a
provoking sneer carry the argument clean
from him in the opinion of all the by-
standers, who have gone away clearly con-
vinced that Titubus must have been in the
wrong, because he was in a passion ; and

that ]Mr. , meaning his ojiponent, is one

of the fairest and at tlie same time one of
the most dispassionate arguers breathing.



vin.

THAT VERBAL ALLUSIONS ARE :N"0T WIT, BE-
CAUSE THEY WILL XOT BEAR A TRANSLATION.

The same might be said of the wittiest
local allusions. A custom is sometimes as
difficult to explain to a foreigner as a pun.
What Avould become of a great part of the
wit of the last age if it were tried by this
test? How would certain topics, as alder-
manity, cuckoldry, have sounded to a Ter-
entian auditory, though Terence himself
had been alive to translate them ? /Senator
urhanus with Curnica to boot for a syno-
nym, would but faintly have done the busi-



mc f a.$'t (^^m^ ot (gUa. 231

ness. "Words, involving notions, are hard
enough to render ; it is too much to expect
us to translate a sound, and give an elegant
version to a jingle. The Yirgilian harmony
is not translatable, but by substituting har-
monious sounds in another language for it.
To Latinize a pun, we must seek a pun in
Latin that will answer to it ; as, to give an
idea of the double endings in Hudibras, we
must have recourse to a similar practice
in the old monkish doggerel. Dennis, the
fiercest oppugner of puns in ancient or mod-
ern times, professes himself highly tickled
with the " a stick," chiming to " ecclesias-
tic." Yet what is this but a species of pun»
a verbal consonance?



IX.

THAT THE WORST PUXS AEE THE BEST.

If by Avorst be only meant the most far-
fetched and startling, we agree to it. A pun
is not bound by the laws which limit nicer
wit. It is a pistol let off at the ear; not a
feather to tickle the intellect. It is an antic
which does not stand upon manners, but
comes bounding into the presence, and does
not show the less comic for being dragged
in sometimes by the head and shoulders.
What though it limp a littl(\ or prove de-
fective in one leg? — all the better. A pun



232 mu faist (^^mp of mim,

may easily be too curious and artificial.
Who has not at one time or other been at a
party of professors (liimself perhaps an old
offender in that line), where after ringing a
round of the most ingenious conceits, every
man contributing his shot, and some there
the most expert shooters of the day ; after
making a poor toord run the gauntlet till it
is ready to drop ; after hunting and winding
it through all the possible ambages of sim-
ilar sounds, after squeezing, and hauling,
and tugging at it till the very milk of it
will not yield a drop further, — suddenly
some obscure, unthougiit-of fellow in a cor-
jier who was never 'prentice to the trade,
whom the company for very pity x^assed
over, as we do by a known poor man when
a money-subscription is going round, no
one calling upon him for his quota, — has all
at once come out with something so wdiim-
sical, yet so pertinent; so brazen in its pre-
tensions, yet so impossible to be denied ; so
-exquisitely good, and so deplorably bad, at
the same time, — that it has proved a Robin
Hood's shot; anything ulterior to that is
despaired of; and the party breaks up,
unanimously voting it to be the very w^orst
(that is, best) pun of the evening. This
species of wit is the better for not being
perfect in all its parts. What it gains in
completeness, it loses in naturalness. The
more exactly it satisfies the critical, the less
liold it has upon some other faculties. The



©he piSt (B^^^A^p ot mm. 233



puns which are most entertamiiig are those
which will least bear an analysis. Of this
kind is the following, recorded with a sort
of stigma, in one of Swift's Miscellanies.

An Oxford scholar, meeting a porter who
was carrying a hare throngh the streets, ac-
costs him with this extraordinary question :
" Prithee, friend, is that thy own hare, or a
wig ! "

There is no excusing this, and no resist-
ing it. A man might blur ten sides of paper
in attempting a defense of it against a critic
who should be- laughter-proof. The quib-
ble in itself is not considersble. It is only
a new turn given by a little false jjronun-
ciation to a very common, though not very
courteous inquiry. Put by one gentleman
to another at a dinner-party, it would have
been vapid ; to the mistress of the house, it
would have shown much less wit than rude-
ness. We must take in the totality of time,
place, and person ; the pert look of the in-
quiring scholar, the desponding looks of the
puzzled porter ; the one stopping at leisure,
the other hurrying on with his burden ; the
innocent though rather abrupt tendency of
the first memijer of the question, with the
ntter and inextricable irrelevancy of the
second ; the place — a public street not favor-
able to frivolous investigations ; the atfront-
ive quality of the primitive inquiry (the
common question) invidiously transferred
to the derivative (the new turn given to it)



234 ZU p,st (^^mp Of mn.



in the implied satire ; namely, that few of
that tribe are expected to eat of the good
things which they carry, they being in most
countries considered rather as the tempo-
rary trustees than owners of such dainties,
— which the fellow was beginning to under-
stand ; but then the ^c/// again comes in, and
he can make noLhing of it ; all put together
constitute a picture : Hogarth could have
made it intelligible on canvas.

Yet nine out of ten critics will pronounce
this a very bad pun, because of the defect-
iveness in the concluding member, whicli
is its very beauty, and constitutes the sur-
prise. The same i)erson shall cry up for
admirable the cold quibble from Yirgil about
the broken Cremona ; * because it is made
out in all its parts, and leaves nothing to
the imagination. We venture to call it
cold ; because, of thousands Avho have ad-
mired it, it would be difficult to find one
who has heartily chuckled at it. As ap-
pealing to the judgment merely (setting
the risible faculty aside), we must pronounce
it a monument of curious felicity. But as
some stories are said to be too good to be
true, it may with equal truth be asserted of
this biverbal allusion, that it is too good to
be ■ natural. One cannot help suspecting
that the incident was invented to fit the line.
It would have been better had it been less

* Swift.



©he !£a.sit (


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Online LibraryCharles LambThe last essays of Elia → online text (page 13 of 15)