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more famous line, —

And the loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind.

The Deserted Village, 1. 121.

Here he means a mind at ease and free from care, which finds its natural
expression in hearty laughter.

The 'keenest pangs the wretched find

Are rapture to the dreary void.
The leafless desert of the inind.

The waste of feelings unemployed.

Byron : The Giaour, 1. 957.


Vae victis ! (L., " Woe to the vanquished !") When the Gauls under
Brennus invaded Italy and reduced the Roman citizens, who had fled to the
Capitol, to the direst extremities, the Senate agreed to buy them off with one
thousand pounds' weight of gold. Brennus produced false weights. The
tribune objected. But Brennus threw his sword into the scale, exclaiming,
in "a voice unbearable to Romans" {intoleranda Romanis vox), "Vae victis!"
(LiVY, v. 48.)

Vanitas vanitatum, et omnia vanitas, the Vulgate rendering of the
words in Ecclesiastes i. 2 : " Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Farther down
in the same chapter are the verses, —

I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under
heaven ; this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. I have
seen all the works that are done under the sun ; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of
spirit" (13, 14).

A very good paraphrase was independently hit upon by two great minds. " I
was in the habit of saying to my friends," writes Leibnitz to Nicaise, Sep-
tember 29, 1693, " Sanifas sanitattim, et omnia sanitas, without knowing that
M. Menage also used the phrase, as I learn from his ' Menagiana.' " The
" Menagiana," it may be added, a collection of Menage's table-talk, was
published posthumously in 1692.

Was it Leibnitz or Menage of whom Disraeli was thinking when, in a speech
at the meeting of an agricultural society at Aylesbury in 1864, he quoted as
the opinion of " a very great scholar" that the text " Vanity of vanities, all is
vanity," was a mistake of the copyist, who wrote " Vanitas vanitatum, omnia
vanitas," when he should have written " Sanitas sanitatum, omnia sanitas" }
This caused a Lilieral to characterize the views of the opposition as " a policy
of sewage."

Vice. A famous couplet in Pope's " Essay on Man," Epistle ii., 1. 227,
runs as follows :

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As toTje hated needs but to be seen.

Pope borrowed the structure of these lines from Dryden :

For truth has such a face and such a mien
As to be loved needs only to be seen.

The Hind and the Panther, Part I., 1, 3.

For the idea he seems to have gone to Archbishop Leighton : " Were the
true visage of sin seen at full light, undressed and unpainted, it were impossi-
ble while it so appeared that any one soul could be in love with it, but would
rather flee from it as hideous and abominable."

Victory — Defeat. "I remember," says Emerson, in his essay "Quota-
tion and Originality," "to have heard Mr. Samuel Rogers in London relate,
among other anecdotes of the Duke of Wellington, that a lady having ex-
pressed in his presence a passionate wish to witness a great victory, he re-
plied, ' Madam, there is nothing so dreadful as a great victory — except a great
defeat.' " It is possible that Wellington used the phrase more than once ; or
was Rogers misquoting and miscrediting the famous words in the despatch
which the duke sent in 1815, — "Nothing except a battle lost can be half so
melancholy as a battle won" .? Emerson goes on to say that " this speech is
D'Argenson's, and is reported by Grimm. Napoleon also said, 'The sight
of a battle-field, after the fight, is enough to inspire princes with a love of
peace and a horror of war.' "

Violet. According to the scientists, who are a dull sort of folk, however,
and who love to hide their ignorance behind long names of learned sound,
the violet is a genus of exogenous herbs of the order Violacece, and is a native


of the north temperate zone. But the poets know a great deal more than
the scientists, for they were born before them, and will survive them, and the
poets tell us all about the creation of this fragrant flower. When Jupiter was
in love with lo and changed her into a heifer, deeming that common grass
and flowers were no fit diet for a sweetheart of the king of gods, he created
the violet that she might feed upon its dainty petals. And, it is added, when
lo died violets sprang from her body. (See next entry.)

The Greek name for violet was ion, and, possibly because that suggested
Ionia, whence the Athenians were fabled to have sprung, the flower was a
great favorite with the Athenians, who adopted it as their badge and loved to
weave it into the chaplets which they wore at banquets, thinking, indeed, that
it was a safeguard against drunkenness.

Alcibiades went to Agathos crowned with ivy and violets. The only lines
that have survived from Alcffius's ode to Sappho begin by addressing her as
" Violet-crowned, pure, sweetly-smiling Sappho." The Athenian orators,
when striving to win the favor and attention of the people, were wont to
address them as " Athenians, crowned with violets !"

Among the Romans also the violet was highly esteemed. Ovid, in speak-
ing of the ancient sacrifices, and contrasting their noble simplicity with the
garish display of more degenerate times, says that " if there was any one who
could add violets to the chaplets wrought from the flowers of the meadow he
was a rich man." And Virgil, to emphasize the desolation of Nature mourn-
ing the death of Daphnis, speaks of the violet as replaced by the thistle.

In the East the violet had a great reputation among those races whose
religions were rather emotional than mystical. The Arabian poets, like their
brother bards of other climes, bade the wealthy and haughty learn humility
from this lowly wayside preacher. It was a favorite flower with Mohammed,
and hence has acquired a peculiar sanctity in Moslem countries. " As my
religion is above others," quoth the Prophet, "so is the excellence of the
odor of violets above other odors. It is as warmth in winter and coolness in

It is likely that it was from some long foreground of popular homage that
the violet became the badge of the mediaeval minstrels, as in the poetical
contests of Toulouse, where the prize was a golden violet. Clemence Isaure
places the violet among the flowers with which victors in the^a; science were

The superstition still survives in widely-scattered countries that to dream
of the violet is good luck. In Brandenburg and Silesia it is held a specific
against the ague. In Thuringia it is a charm against the black art. In many
parts of rural Germany the custom is still observed of decking the bridal bed
and the cradles of young girls with this flower, a custom known to have been
in use among the Kelts as well as among the Greeks.

No one, indeed, names the flower but to praise it ; no one uses it but for
some pretty, useful, or poetical purpose. Its popularity is highly creditable to
human nature. Except that in some regions of the East it has been used to
flavor sherbets, and that in Scotland it has been mistakenly used as a cos-
metic, it has been universally cherished only for its modesty, its beauty, and
its delicate fragrance.

In modern France the flower has been adopted as the emblem of the Bona-
parte family. " Caporal la Violette" or " Papa la Violette" was the title
bestowed by his partisans upon the first Napoleon after his banishment to
Elba, — significative of their confidence that he would return again in the

Early in January, 1815, a number of colored engravings made their appear-
ance in Paris, representing a violet in full bloom, with the leaves so ar-


ranged as to form the profile of Napoleon. Underneath was this significant
motto: " II ret'iendra avec le prititemps." The phrase became an Imperial
toast, and the flower and color were worn as a party distinction. And, in fact,
the sentiment was realized. When March 20, 1815, saw Napoleon re-enter
the Tuileries after his escape from Elba, he found the grand staircase filled
with ladies, who nearly smothered him with violets.

On the death of the King of Rome very pretty devices in violets were
made, showing on the edge of the petals profiles of the members of the Bona-
parte family, each profile forming the outer edge of the petal looking at the
flower and leaving the face white.

On the death of Napoleon III., also, the visitors to Chiselhurst wore or
carried thither bunches of violets.

A pretty story, but apocryphal, is told as to the adoption of the flower
by the Imperialist party. Three days before his departure for Elba, Na-
poleon, it is said, was walking in the gardens of Fontainebleau with the
Due de Bassano and General Bertrand. He was contemplating retirement
into exile, his courtiers were counselling resistance. They had almost won
the day, when the Emperor saw beside him the three-year-old son of his
gardener plucking a hunch of violets.

" My dear," he said, " will you give me your nosegay ?"

The little one handed him the flowers.

"Gentlemen," said Napoleon, after a few minutes of silent thought, "I
shall take this as an omen. Henceforth the violet shall be the emblem of my
desires." And, without heeding his courtiers' remonstrances, he withdrew to
his rooms.

Next day he was seen in his garden picking the stray violets, which were
then very scarce. A grenadier on sentry duty approached, and said, —

"Next year. Sire, you will have less difficulty, for the violets will then be

Napoleon looked up in astonishment.

" What !" said he, " do you suppose I shall be here again in a year's time ?"

" Perhaps sooner," was the reply.

" But do you know that the day after to-morrow I leave for the island of
Elba .?"

" Your majesty will suffer the storm to pass."

" Are your comrades of the same opinion .'"

" Almost all."

" Let them think so, then, but not say so. When your sentry duty is over,
go and find Bertrand. He will give you twenty napoleons ; but keep the

When the grenadier returned to the guard-room he remarked to his com-
rades how for the last two or three days the Emperor had been walking about
with a bunch of violets.

" For the future," he added, " when we are talking between ourselves, let
us call him Papa la Violette."

And, in fact, from that day the troops in the barrack and at their mess
always spoke of Napoleon as Papa la Violette. The secret gradually
reached the public, and the violet became recognized as the badge of the

Violet of his native land. Tennyson, in " In Memoriam," xviii., has
the following stanza :

'Tis well ; 'tis something; we may stand
Where he in English earth is laid.
And from his ashes may be made
The violet of his native land.


Is there a reminiscence here of Shakespeare's h'nes ?
Lay her i' the earth ;
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring I

Hamlet, Act v., Sc. i.
In Greek mythology there is a legend that when lo died violets sprang
from her body. But it does not follow that Shakespeare intends any allusion
to this legend. The fact that flowers spring from soil fertilized by the bodies
of the dead is one of current observation. Five centuries before Shakespeare,
Omar Khayyam had said, —

I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled ;

That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in her Lap from some once lovely Head.

Rubaiyat, Stanza 19.
Again, at Cagliari, in Sardinia, there is a sepulchre in honor of a wife's
devotion which was erected in pagan times. The inscriptions on the side
are in Latin and in Greek. In one of these the husband begs that her bones
may turn to flowers, and mentions quite a nosegay that he would like to see.

Virtue of necessity, To make a, an ancient proverbial expression,
meaning to take credit upon one's self for that which is really forced upon one
by circumstances, to assume commendation for doing under duress that which
would be commendable only as the outcome of free will. The nicer aptness
of the phrase is blurred at present through its constant use in the affiliated,
but none the less corrupted, sense of to make the best of things, to put a
good face on the matter. Quintilian, in his " Institutes," I., viii., 14, says,
" Laudem virtutis necessitaii damus" (" We give to necessity the praise of
virtue"). Chaucer twice uses the words, "To maken vertu of necessitee," —
viz., "Knightes Tale," 1. 3044, and "Troilus and Creseide," 1. 1587. Shake-
speare, in "Two Gentlemen of Verona," Act iv., Sc. 2, uses the exact modern
locution ; and that the saying was also current in continental Europe in
rnediaeval times is evidenced by the fact that Hadrianus Julius, in his ad-
ditions to the " Adagia" of Erasmus, quotes it as "a very familiar proverb"
among his countrymen. His Latinized form runs as follows : " Necessitatem
in virtutem commutare."

Vox populi, vox Dei (L., "The voice of the people is the voice of
God"), a proverb of uncertain origin. It was used by Walter Reynolds as
the text of the sermon at the coronation of Edward III., and is spoken of
as a proverb by William of Malmesbury, " Recogitans illud proverbium : Vox
populi vox Dei" {De Gestis Pontificum, fol. 1 14:, ed. Savili). Still farther back,
Alcuin, in the eighth century, protested against it : " We should not listen
to those who are wont to say Vox populi, vox Dei, for the noise of the mob
is very near to madness" (Capiiiilare Admonitionis ad Carohim). Sir William
Hamilton in his edition of Reid traces it dubiously to the " Works and Days"
of Hesiod : " In man speaks God."

The people's voice is odd.
It is and it is not the voice of God.

Pope : Imitation 0/ Horace.


W, the twenty-third letter of the English alphabet, used both as consonant
and as vowel. It was made some time in the eleventh century, by simply
doublmg the U or V sign. (See U.)


"Wake, in its original sense, the popular English equivalent for the ecclesi-
astical term " vigil." In mediaeval England the dedication wake or " revel"
of a country parish celebrated the anniversary of the church's dedication.
The population gave themselves up to wholesale revelry, attracting a legion
of hawkers and merchants, until the wakes degenerated into common fairs,
without any religious elements. To remedy some of the more glaring evils,
Edward I. passed a statute forbidding them to be held in church-yards.
F'urther attempts to regulate them were made by Henry VI. in 1448 and
by Henry VIII. in 1536. Since the Restoration the custom has gradually
declined, though it still holds good in some rural parishes.

But the term is now chiefly confined to the Irish caoinan, the wake or vigil
(more literally, the "wailing") held over a dead body by the friends of the
deceased. Miss Edgeworth epigrammatically styles it "a midnight meeting,
held professedly for the indulgence of holy sorrow, but usually converted
into orgies of unholy joy." The custom was known throughout Great Britain
as well as in the north of Europe. In Anglo-Saxon it was called a lyke-wake,
liche-wake, or lake-wake (from lie, a " corpse," and waecce, or waccian, to " keep
watch or vigil"), and the word is used in this sense by early English writers.
Thus, Chaucer, in his " Knightes Tale :"

Shall net be told by me . . .
Ne how Arcite is brent to asshen cold,
Ne how that there the liche-wake was yhold
All thilke nyght.

The custom itself may be traced back to a remote antiquity. Allusions to
similar funeral feasts may be found in many ancient writings, and even in the
Bible. In the Book of Tobit is the passage, " Pour out thy bread on the
burial of the just;" in Ecclesiasticus, " Delicates poured upon a mouth shut
up are as messes of meat set upon a grave ;" and a prophecy of Jeremiah,
foretelling the calamities that shall befall the* Jews, announces that "They
shall not be buried, . . . neither shall men give them the cup of consolation
to drink for their father or for their mother."

The Albanians, the Arabs, and the Egyptians all practised similar funeral
ceremonies, degenerating into similar orgies, and traces of the same custom
may still be found among the Abyssinians, the Welsh, and the Swedes.

They had a weird sort of a dance at Sierra City on Washington's birthday, says a California
exchange. Previous to that holiday the following printed notices, bordered in black, were
posted all around town: "Funeral Notice.— Died, at Sierra City, California, February 22,
1888, Small-Pox. As the deceased has no friends in town, his enemies are invited to assemble
at Spencer & Moore's Hall, at 8 o'clock, to dance on his coffin. The funeral exercises will
be under the auspices of the Butte's Band, which will pipe its level best for the occasion.
Tickets, $1. P.S.— The wake will continue ad libitum at the close of the dance." That
evening the people turned out en masse, and had a rip-roaring break-down in celebration of
their at last being out of quarantine. The dances indulged in during the evening were the
small-pox polka, the virus jig, vaccination reel, and quarantine quadrille. Thirty-five
recently-recovered small-pox patients participated in the festivities. — Philadelphia Ledger,

Walker, or Hookey "Walker! (the latter being the earlier expression),
in English — and especially London — slang, an ironical ejaculation of surprise,
used when a person is telling an improbable story. Its American equivalent
is " Rats !" The origin is uncertain. One story asserts that John Walker,
familiarly known as " Hookey Walker" from the size and shape of his nose,
was in 1830, or thereabouts, employed by the firm of Longman, Clementi &
Co., Cheapside, London, as a spy on his fellow-clerks, that his more or less
exaggerated reports, met by well-feigned surprise and denial, led to his final
dismissal in disgrace, and that the phrase "That's Hookey Walker !" became
proverbial in the city for any dubious statement. Another story, fathered by
the Saturday Review znd implying a less esoteric circle of originators, makes


Walker an aquiline-nosed Jew who in the first quarter of the century exhibited
an orrery in London, called by the erudite name of Eidouranion. He was
also a popular lecturer on astronomy, and often invited his pupils, telescope
in hand, to " take a sight" at the moon and stars. Tiie lecturer's phrase
struck his school-boy audience, who frequently " took a sight" with that
gesture of outstretched arms and adjustment to nose and eye which was the
first garnish of the popular saying. The next step was to assume phrase and
gesture as the outward and visible signs of knowingness in general. And
then when Walker had become the humorous personification of knowingness,
the final evolution of the epithet " Walker !" or " Hookey Walker !" as a
sign of incredulity resulted as a matter of course. Here is a good etymon
of the phrase "to take a sight" as applied to a gesture of unknown antiquity.

"Walking Stewart. This extraordinary person had been an employee
of the East India Company ; but, feeling a mission above the " making out of
invoices for a company of grocers," he threw up his employment, and com-
menced a journey on foot from Calcutta through Central Asia and Syria till
he reached Marseilles. He next traversed Sjiaiii, Germany, and the United
States of America. It does not appear that Stewart had any special purpose
in these incessant peregrinations, further than to gratify the love of seeing in
all parts of the habitable globe. He made no notes of his tours, left no
reflections ; the only conclusion of a general import which he seems to have
arrived at was that the time would come when ladies would cease to bear
children, leaving travail entirely to poor people. There was, subsequently
to Stewart, a Captain Cochrane, not less eminent in pedestrian feats, — never
tired, never hungry, and impregnable to all skyey influences. The captain
expired in harness, in an effort to traverse Siberia and reach Kamtschatka on
foot across the Uralian mountains.

"Walls have ears, the modern form of the proverb which is found in this
shape in Heywood :

Fieldes have eies and woodes have eares.

Proverbs, Part II., ch. v.

"War. To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual
meeins of preserving the peace, a phrase which occurs in the address
delivered in person by Washington before Congress at the opening of its
second session, January 8, 1790.

War a failure. The, a condensation of the resolution adopted at the
Democratic National Convention, August 29, 1864, towards the close of the
civil war, at a time when the rebellion seemed outwardly stronger than ever
and to have almost succeeded. General McClellan was nominated for the
Presidency at this Convention. The phrase was turned as a stigma upon the
Northern Democrats by the Republicans, and for a long time was associated
with the popular estimate of McClellan. The text of the resolution is in sub-
stance that it is "the sense of the American people that, after four years of
failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, . . . immediate efforts
be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view to an ultimate convention
of the States, ... to the end that . . . peace may be restored on the basis
of the Federal union of the States."

War, Before the, a phrase often used in a humorous way to imply that
an event which is brought up as a topic of conversation is a "chestnut" or
extremely "ancient history." As the civil war in America marks two dis-
tinct epochs in the history of the country, reference to it is frequently made
by writers or speakers, in the phrases " before the war" and " after the war,"


to designate the period at which some event happened or during which some
special state of things existed.

"Wards of the nation. In conversation with E. M. Stanton, Secretary
of War, President Lincoln used the phrase, "The freedmen are the wards of
the nation." " Yes," answered Stanton, " wards in chancery."

War-horse, An old, a political Americanism applied as a nickname
to any energetic political worker of long standing in a party. It may be used
either in a commendatory way by his political friends or derisively by his

"Watches — Judgment. Pope's famous lines,

'Tis with our judgments as our watches, — none
Go just alike, yet each believes his own,

Essay on Criticism, Part I., 1. 9,

are doubtless a reminiscence of Suckling :

But as when an authentic watch is shown,
Each man winds up and rectifies his own.
So in our very judgments.

Aglaura : Epilogtu.

Yet, in spite of the verbal agreement, the sense is diametrically opposite,
as will be apparent at a glance.

Water. Here lies one whose name was writ in water. This is
the epitaph which the poet Keats, according to Lord Houghton {.Life, Letters,
and Literary Remains of John Keats, vol. ii. p. 91), insisted should be placed
upon his tomb. He doubtless had in mind the various passages in ancient
and modern literature which declare that the best a man does is written in
water, while the worst survives in marble. (See under Evil that Men do.)

Water-mark. The first water-mark on record was the coat of arms of a
town. The early paper-makers were not slow to adopt this idea in impressing
upon their sheets the device of the place where their mill was situated. For
instance, the coat of arms of the village of Rives, a dolphin, is a common
mark on old papers. This mark is still in use to-day. The first use of the
water-mark, then, was as a signature or emblem to point out the place of man-
ufacture, and to recommend the material. For all that, certain of these
emblems were used by different makers, and even in different countries, with
slight variations. — brisures, as they are called in heraldry, — which were evidently
not accidental, but intentional. The letter P, used by numberless makers,
is a good water-mark to take as an example, since we find that not only is
there an endless variety of forms of the letter in the product of different
mills, but that the same maker modified the brisures of the letter on different
qualities of his paper. Another use of the water-mark is more evident still.
The names of the principal sizes of papier vergS have been handed down to
us, and the whole of these have suggested water-marks. Rising from the
smallest sheet to the largest, they are as follows : bell, pot, ecu (a three-franc

Online LibraryWilliam Shepard WalshHandy-book of literary curiosities → online text (page 157 of 161)