Collections and Recollections
George William Erskine Russell
Part 5 out of 7
The Atomists, too, let us honour--Epicurus, Lucretius, and all.
Let us damn with faint praise Bishop Butler, in whom many atoms
To form that remarkable structure which it pleased him to call his
Next praise we the noble body to which, for the time, we belong
(Ere yet the swift course of the Atom hath hurried us breathless
The BRITISH ASSOCIATION--like Leviathan worshipped by Hobbes,
The incarnation of wisdom built up of our witless nobs;
Which will carry on endless discussion till I, and probably you,
Have _melted in infinite azure_--and, in short, till all is
Surely this translation of the Professor's misplaced dithyrambics into
the homeliest of colloquialisms is both good parody and just criticism.
In 1876 there appeared a clever little book (attributed to Sir Frederick
Pollock) which was styled _Leading Cases done into English, by an
Apprentice of Lincoln's Inn_. It appealed only to a limited public, for
it is actually a collection of sixteen important law-cases set forth,
with explanatory notes, in excellent verse imitated from poets great and
small. Chaucer, Browning, Tennyson, Swinburne, Clough, Rossetti, and
James Rhoades supply the models, and I have been credibly informed that
the law is as good as the versification. Mr. Swinburne was in those days
the favourite butt of young parodists, and the gem of the book is the
dedication to "J.S." or "John Stiles," a mythical person, nearly related
to John Doe and Richard Roe, with whom all budding jurists had in old
days to make acquaintance. The disappearance of the venerated initials
from modern law-books inspired the following:--
"When waters are rent with commotion
Of storms, or with sunlight made whole,
The river still pours to the ocean
The stream of its effluent soul;
You, too, from all lips of all living,
Of worship disthroned and discrowned,
Shall know by these gifts of my giving
That faith is yet found;
"By the sight of my song-flight of cases
That bears, on wings woven of rhyme,
Names set for a sign in high places
By sentence of men of old time;
From all counties they meet and they mingle,
Dead suitors whom Westminster saw;
They are many, but your name is singles
Pure flower of pure law.
* * * * *
"So I pour you this drink of my verses,
Of learning made lovely with lays,
Song bitter and sweet that reheares
The deeds of your eminent days;
Yea, in these evil days from their reading
Some profit a student shall draw,
Though some points are of obsolete pleading,
And some are not law.
"Though the Courts, that were manifold, dwindle
To divers Divisions of One,
And no fire from your face may rekindle
The light of old learning undone,
We have suitors and briefs for our payment,
While, so long as a Court shall hold pleas,
We talk moonshine with wigs for our raiment,
Not sinking the fees."
Some five-and-twenty years ago there appeared the first number of a
magazine called _The Dark Blue_. It was published in London, but was
understood to represent in some occult way the thought and life of Young
Oxford, and its contributors were mainly Oxford men. The first number
contained an amazing ditty called "The Sun of my Songs." It was dark,
and mystic, and transcendental, and unintelligible. It dealt extensively
in strange words and cryptic phrases. One verse I must transcribe:--
"Yet all your song
Summer is dead,
Spring is dead--
O my heart, and O my head
Go a-singing a silly song
For all is dead.
And I am dead!
I quote thus fully because Cambridge, never backward in poking fun at
her more romantic sister, shortly afterwards produced an excellent
little magazine named sarcastically _The Light Green_, and devoted to
the ridicule of its cerulean rival. The poem from which I have just
quoted was thus burlesqued, if, indeed, burlesque of such a composition
"Ding dong, ding dong,
There goes the gong;
Dick, come along,
It is time for dinner
Wash your face,
Take your place.
Where's your grace,
You little sinner?
Wipe his eye.
Give him food.
Go to bed.
Smack his head!"
_The Light Green_, which had only an ephemeral life, was, I have always
heard, entirely, or almost entirely, the work of one undergraduate, who
died young--Arthur Clement Hilton, of, St. John's. He certainly had
the knack of catching and reproducing style. In the "May Exam.," a
really good imitation of the "May Queen," the departing undergraduate
thus addresses his "gyp":--
"When the men come up again, Filcher, and the Term is at its height,
You'll never see me more in these long gay rooms at night;
When the "old dry wines" are circling, and the claret-cup flows cool,
And the loo is fast and furious, with a fiver in the pool."
In 1872 "Lewis Carroll" brought out _Through the Looking-glass_, and
every one who has ever read that pretty work of poetic fancy will
remember the ballad of the Walrus and the Carpenter. It was parodied in
_The Light Green_ under the title of "The Vulture and the Husbandman."
This poem described the agonies of a _viva-voce_ examination, and it
derived its title from two facts of evil omen--that the Vulture plucks
its victim, and that the Husbandman makes his living by ploughing:--
"Two undergraduates came up,
And slowly took a seat,
They knit their brows, and bit their thumbs,
As if they found them sweet;
And this was odd, because, you know,
Thumbs are not good to eat.
"'The time has come,' the Vulture said,
'To talk of many things--
Of Accidence and Adjectives,
And names of Jewish Kings;
How many notes a Sackbut has,
And whether Shawms have strings.'
"'Please sir,' the Undergraduates said,
Turning a little blue,
'We did not know that was the sort
Of thing we had to do.'
'We thank you much,' the Vulture said;
'Send up another two.'"
The base expedients to which an examination reduces its victims are hit
off with much dexterity in "The Heathen Pass-ee," a parody of an
American poem which is too familiar to justify quotation:--
"Tom Crib was his name,
And I shall not deny,
In regard to the same,
What that name might imply;
But his face it was trustful and childlike,
And he had the most innocent eye.
* * * * *
"On the cuffs of his shirt
He had managed to get
What we hoped had been dirt,
But which proved, I regret,
To be notes on the Rise of the Drama
A question invariably set.
"In the crown of his cap
Were the Furies and Fates,
And a delicate map
Of the Dorian States;
And we found in his palms, which were hollow,
What are frequent in palms--that is, dates."
Deservedly dear to the heart of English youth are the Nonsense Rhymes
of Edward Lear. It will be recollected that the form of the verse as
originally constructed reproduced the final word of the first line at
the end of the fifth, thus:--
"There was an old person of Basing
Whose presence of mind was amazing;
He purchased a steed
Which he rode at full speed,
And escaped from the people of Basing."
But in the process of development it became usual to find a new word for
the end of the fifth line, thus at once securing a threefold rhyme and
introducing the element of unexpectedness, instead of inevitableness,
into the conclusion. Thus _The Light Green_ sang of the Colleges in
which it circulated--
"There was an old Fellow of Trinity,
A Doctor well versed in divinity;
But he took to free-thinking,
And then to deep drinking,
And so had to leave the vicinity."
"There was a young genius of Queen's
Who was fond of explosive machines;
He blew open a door,
But he'll do so no more--
For it chanced that that door was the Dean's."
"There was a young gourmand of John's
Who'd a notion of dining off swans;
To the "Backs" he took big nets
To capture the cygnets,
But was told they were kept for the Dons."
So far _The Light Green_.
Not at all dissimilar in feeling to these ebullitions of youthful fancy
were the parodies of nursery rhymes which the lamented Corney Grain
invented for one of his most popular entertainments, and used to
accompany on the piano in his own inimitable style. I well remember the
opening verse of one, in which an incident in the social career of a
Liberal millionaire was understood to be immortalized:--
"Old Mr. Parvenu gave a great ball,
And of all his smart guests he knew no one at all;
Old Mr. Parvenu went up to bed,
And his guests said good-night to the butler instead."
Twenty years ago we were in the crisis of the great Jingo fever, and
Lord Beaconsfield's antics in the East were frightening all sober
citizens out of their senses. It was at that period that the music-halls
rang with the "Great MacDermott's" Tyrtaean strain--
"We don't want to fight; but, by Jingo, if we do,
We've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money too;"
and the word "Jingo" took its place in the language as the recognized
symbol of a warlike policy. At Easter 1878 it was announced that the
Government were bringing black troops from India to Malta, to aid our
English forces in whatever enterprises lay before them. The refrain of
the music-hall was instantly adapted with great effect, even the grave
_Spectator_ giving currency to the parody--
"We don't want to fight; but, by Jingo, if we do,
We won't go to the front ourselves, but we'll send the mild Hindoo."
Two years passed. Lord Beaconsfield was deposed. The tide of popular
feeling turned in favour of Liberalism, and "Jingo" became a term of
reproach. Mr. Tennyson, as he then was, endeavoured to revive the
patriotic spirit of his countrymen by publishing _Hands all Round_--a
poem which had the supreme honour of being quoted in the House of
Commons by Sir Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett. Forthwith an irreverent
parodist--some say Mr. Andrew Lang--appeared with the following
DRINKS ALL ROUND.
(Being an attempt to arrange Mr. Tennyson's noble words for truly
patriotic, Protectionist, and Anti-aboriginal circles.)
"A health to Jingo first, and then
A health to shell, a health to shot!
The man who hates not other men
I deem no perfect patriot."
To all who hold all England mad
We drink; to all who'd tax her food!
We pledge the man who hates the Rad,
We drink to Bartle Frere and Froude!
Drinks all round!
Here's to Jingo, king and crowned!
To the great cause of Jingo drink, my boys,
And the great name of Jingo, round and round.
To all the companies that long
To rob, as folk robbed years ago;
To all that wield the double thong,
From Queensland round to Borneo!
To all that, under Indian skies,
Call Aryan man a "blasted nigger;"
To all rapacious enterprise;
To rigour everywhere, and vigour!
Drinks all round!
Here's to Jingo, king and crowned!
To the great name of Jingo drink, my boys,
And every filibuster, round and round!
To all our Statesmen, while they see
An outlet new for British trade,
Where British fabrics still may be
With British size all overweighed;
Wherever gin and guns are sold
We've scooped the artless nigger in;
Where men give ivory and gold,
We give them measles, tracts, and gin.
Drinks all round!
Here's to Jingo, king and crowned!
To the great name of Jingo drink, my boys.
And to Adulteration round and round.
The Jingo fever having abated, another malady appeared in the body
politic. Trouble broke out in Ireland, and in January 1881 Parliament
was summoned to pass Mr. Forster's Coercion Act. My diary for that date
supplies me with the following excellent imitation of a veteran Poet of
Freedom rushing with ardent sympathy into the Irish struggle.
PAR VICTOR HUGO.
O Irlande, grand pays du shillelagh et du bog,
Ou les patriots vont toujours ce qu'on appelle le whole hog.
Aujourd'hui je prends la plume, moi qui suis vieux,
Pour dire au grand patriot Parnell, "How d'ye do?"
Erin, aux armes! le whisky vous donne la force
De se battre l'un pour l'autre comme les fameux Freres Corses.
Votre Land League et vos Home Rulers sont des liberateurs.
Payez la valuation de Griffith et n'ayez pas peur.
De la tenure la fixite c'est l'astre de vos reves,
Que Rory des Collines vit et que les landgrabbers crevent
Moi, je suis vieux, mais dans l'ombre je vois clair,
Bientot serez-vous maitres de vos bonnes pommes de terre.
C'est le brave Biggar, le T.P. O'Connor et les autres
Qui sont vos sauveurs, comme Gambetta etait le notre;
Suivez-les, et la victoire sera toujours a vous,
Si a Milbank ce cher Forster ne vous envoie pas. Hooroo!
By the time that these lines were written the late Mr. J.K.
Stephen--affectionately known by his friends as "Jem Stephen"--was
beginning to be recognized as an extraordinarily good writer of humorous
verse. His performances in this line were not collected till ten years
later (_Lapsus Calami_, 1891), and his brilliant career was cut short,
by the results of an accident, in 1892. I reproduce the following
sonnet, not only because I think it an excellent criticism aptly
expressed, but because I desire to pay my tribute of admiration to one
of whom all men spoke golden words:--
"Two voices are there: one is of the deep--
It learns the storm-cloud's thunderous melody,
Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea,
Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep;
And one is of an old, half-witted sheep
Which bleats articulate monotony,
And indicates that two and one are three,
That glass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep;
And, Wordsworth, both are thine."
I hope that there are few among my readers who have not in their time
known and loved the dear old ditty which tells us how
"There was a youth, and a well-beloved youth,
And he was a squire's son,
And he loved the Bailiff's daughter dear
Who dwelt at Islington."
Well, to all who have followed that touching story of love and grief I
commend the following version of it. French, after all, is the true
language of sentiment:--
"Il y avait un garcon,
Fort amiable et fort bon,
Qui etait le fils du Lord Mayor;
Et il aimait la fille
D'un sergent de ville
Qui demeurait a Leycesster Sqvare.
"Mais elle etait un peu prude,
Et n'avait pas l'habitude
De coqueter, comme les autres demoiselles;
Jusqu'a ce que le Lord Mayor
(Homme brutal, comme tous les peres)
L'eloigna de sa tourterelle.
"Apres quelques ans d'absence,
Au rencontre elle s'elance;
Elle se fait une toilette de tres bon gout--
Des pantoufles sur les pieds,
Des lunettes sur le nez,
Et un collier sur le cou--c'etait tout.
"Mais bientot elle s'assit
Dans la rue Piccadilli,
Car il faisait extremement chaud;
Et la elle vit s'avancer
L'unique objet de ses pensees,
Sur le plus magnifique de chevaux!
"Je suis pauvre et sans ressource!
Prete, prete-moi ta bourse,
Ou ta montre, pour me montrer confiance.'
'Jeune femme, je ne vous connais,
Ainsi il faut me donner
Une adresse et quelques references'
"'Mon adresse--c'est Leycesster Sqvare,
Et pour reference j'espere
Que la statue de Shakespeare vous suffira,'
'Ah! connais-tu ma mie,
La fille du sergent?' 'Si;
Mais elle est morte comme un rat!'
"'Si defunte est ma belle,
Prenez, s'il vous plait, ma selle,
Et ma bride, et mon cheval incomparable;
Car il ne faut rien dire,
Mais vite, vite m'ensevelir
Dans un desert sec et desagreable.'
"'Ah! mon brave, arrete-toi.
Je suis ton unique choix;
La fille du sergent sans peur!
Pour mon trousseau, c'est modeste,
Vous le voyez! Pour le reste,
Je t'epouse dans une demi-heure!'
"Mais le jeune homme epouvante
Sur son cheval vite remontait,
La liberte lui etait trop chere!
Et la pauvre fille degoutee
N'avait qu'a reprendre sa route, et
Son adresse est encore Leycesster Sqvare."
The chiefs of the Permanent Civil Service are not usually, as Swift
said, "blasted with poetic fire," but this delightful ditty is from the
pen of Mr. Henry Graham, the Clerk of the Parliaments.
Of the metrical parodists of the present hour two are extremely good.
Mr. Owen Seaman is, beyond and before all his rivals, "up to date," and
pokes his lyrical fun at such songsters as Mr. Alfred Austin, Mr.
William Watson, Mr. Rudyard Kipling, and Mr. Richard Le Gallienne. But
"Q." is content to try his hand on poets of more ancient standing; and
he is not only of the school but of the lineage of "C.S.C." I have said
before that I forbear, as a rule, to quote from books as easily
accessible as _Green Bays;_ but is there a branch of the famous "Omar
Khayyam Club" in Manchester? If there be, to it I offer this delicious
morsel, only apologizing to the uninitiated reader for the pregnant
allusiveness, which none but a sworn Khayyamite can perfectly
MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
Wake! for the closed Pavilion doors have kept
Their silence while the white-eyed Kaffir slept,
And wailed the Nightingale with "Jug, jug, jug!"
Whereat, for empty cup, the White Rose wept.
Enter with me where yonder door hangs out
Its Red Triangle to a world of drought,
Inviting to the Palace of the Djinn,
Where death, Aladdin, waits as Chuckerout.
Methought, last night, that one in suit of woe
Stood by the Tavern-door and whispered, "Lo!
The Pledge departed, what avails the Cup?
Then take the Pledge and let the Wine-cup go."
But I: "For every thirsty soul that drains
This Anodyne of Thought its rim contains--
Freewill the _can_, Necessity the _must;_
Pour off the _must_, and see, the _can_ remains.
"Then, pot or glass, why label it '_With care?'_
Or why your Sheepskin with my Gourd compare?
Lo! here the Bar and I the only Judge:--
O Dog that bit me, I exact an hair!"
No versifier of the present day lends himself so readily to parody as
Mr. Kipling. His "Story of Ung" is an excellent satire on certain
methods of contemporary literature:--
"Once on a glittering icefield, ages and ages ago,
Ung, a maker of pictures, fashioned an image of snow.
Fashioned the form of a tribesman; gaily he whistled and sung,
Working the snow with his fingers, '_Read ye the story of Ung!_'
* * * * *
And the father of Ung gave answer, that was old and wise in the craft,
Maker of pictures aforetime, he leaned on his lance and laughed:
'If they could see as thou seest they would do as thou hast done,
And each man would make him a picture, and--what would become
of my son?'"
So far Mr. Kipling. A parodist writing in _Truth_ applies the same
"criticism of life" to commercial production:--
THE STORY OF BUNG.
Once, ere the glittering icefields paid us a tribute of gold,
Bung, the son of a brewer, heir to a fortune untold--
Vast was his knowledge of brewing--gaily began his career.
Whispered the voice of ambition, "Perhaps they will make thee a peer."
People who sampled his liquor wunk an incredulous wink,
Smelt it, then drank it, and grunted, "Verily _this_ is a drink!"
Even the Clubman admitted, wetting the tip of his tongue,
"Lo! it is excellent beer! Glory and honour to Bung!"
Straightway the doubters assembled, a prying, unsatisfied horde:
"It is _said_ the materials used are approved by the Revenue Board;
It is claimed that no adjuncts are used, the advertisements say it is
True, the beer is good--and it may be--but can the consumer be sure?"
Wroth was that brewer of liquor, knowing the doubters were right,
User of chemical adjuncts, and methods that bear not the light;
Little he recked of disclosures, much of the profits he cleared,
So in the ear of his father whispered the thing that he feared.
And the father of Bung gave answer, that was old and wise in the craft,
"If they cast suspicion upon thee, it is nought but a random shaft;
If others could know what thou knowest, they would do what thou hast done,
And men would drink of their brewing, and--what would become of my son?
"So long as thy beer is best, so long shall thy brewing win
The praise no money can buy, and the money that praise brings in.
And if the majority's pleased, the majority does not mind
The _how_, and the _what_, and the _whence_. Rejoice that the public
And Bung took his father's counsel, and fell to his brewing of beer,
And he gave the Government cheques, and the Government made him a peer,
And the doubters ceased from their doubting, loudly his praises they sung,
Cursing their previous blindness. _Heed ye the story of Bung!_
But no effort of intentional parody can, I think, surpass this serious
adaptation of the "March of the Men of Harlech" to the ecclesiastical
crisis of 1898-9:--
A PROTESTANT BATTLE-SONG;
PASTORAL ADDRESS TO CHRISTIAN BRETHREN.
Sons of Freedom, rouse the Nation!
Or Britain's glorious Reformation
Soon will reach dire consummation!
God defend the right!
Shall false traitor-bishops lead us,
Chained to Rome, and madly speed us,
From the Word of God which freed us,
Unto Papal night?
False example setting,
Temple, Halifax, Maclagan,
Now with Rome coquetting.
Mighty House of Convocation
Thou art not the British Nation!
Every warrior to your station;
Freedom calls for fight!
Cuba, Spain, and Madagascar,
Where the Jesuits are master,
Shout our shame in their disaster,--
What shall Britain say?
Rome, thy smile is cold as Zero.
Drop the mask, thou crafty Nero!
Britons! rouse ye! Play the Hero!
Right shall win the day!
False example setting,
Temple, Halifax, Maclagan,
Now with Rome coquetting.
Trust in God! His truth protecting,
Prayer and duty ne'er neglecting,
Fearless, victory expecting,
Prepare you for the fray!
 Born 1851; ordained 1874; died 1877.
"_Se non e vero_," said a very great Lord Mayor, "_e ben traviata_." His
lordship's linguistic slip served him right. Latin is fair play, though
some of us are in the condition of the auctioneer in _The Mill on the
Floss_, who had brought away with him from the Great Mudport Free School
"a sense of understanding Latin generally, though his comprehension of
any particular Latin was not ready." But to quote from any other
language is to commit an outrage on your guests. The late Sir Robert
Fowler was, I believe, the only Lord Mayor who ever ventured to quote
Greek, but I have heard him do it, and have seen the turtle-fed company
smile with alien lips in the painful attempt to look as if they
understood it, and in abject terror lest their neighbour should ask them
to translate. Mr. James Payn used to tell a pleasing tale of a learned
clergyman who quoted Greek at dinner. The lady who was sitting by Mr.
Payn inquired in a whisper what one of these quotations meant. He gave
her to understand, with a well-assumed blush, that it was scarcely fit
for a lady's ear. "Good heavens!" she exclaimed; "you don't mean to
say----" "Please don't ask any more," said Payn pleadingly; "I really
could not tell you." Which was true to the ear, if not to the sense.
Municipal eloquence has been time out of mind a storehouse of delight.
It was, according to tradition, a provincial mayor who, blessed with a
numerous progeny, publicly expressed the pious hope that his sons might
grow up to be better citizens than their father, and his daughters more
virtuous women than their mother. There was a worthy alderman at Oxford
in my time who was entertained at a public dinner on his retirement from
civic office. In replying to the toast of his health, he said it had
always been his anxious endeavour to administer justice without swerving
to "partiality on the one hand or impartiality on the other." Surely he
must have been near akin to the moralist who always tried to tread "the
narrow path which lay between right and wrong;" or, perchance, to the
newly-elected mayor who, in returning thanks for his elevation, said
that during his year of office he should lay aside all his political
prepossessions and be, "like Caesar's wife, all things to all men." A
well-known dignitary, rebuking his housemaid for using his bath during
his absence from the Deanery, said, "I am grieved to think that you
should do behind my back what you wouldn't do before my face;" and it
was related of my old friend Dean Burgon that once, in a sermon on the
transcendent merits of the Anglican school of theology, he exclaimed,
with a fervour which was all his own, "May I live the life of a Taylor,
and die the death of a Bull!" The late Lord Coleridge, eulogizing
Oxford, said in his most dulcet tone, "I speak not of this college or of
that, but of the University as a whole; and, gentlemen, what a _whole_
The admirable Mr. Brooke, when he purposed to contest the Borough of
Middlemarch, found Will Ladislaw extremely useful, because he
"remembered what the right quotations are--_Omne tulit punctum_, and
that sort of thing." And certainly an apt quotation is one of the most
effective decorations of a public speech; but the dangers of
inappositeness are correspondingly formidable. I have always heard that
the most infelicitous quotation on record was made by the fourth Lord
Fitzwilliam at a county meeting held at York to raise a fund for the
repair of the Minster after the fire which so nearly destroyed it in
1829. Previous speakers had, naturally, appealed to the pious
munificence of Churchmen. Lord Fitzwilliam, as the leading Whig of the
county, thought that it would be an excellent move to enlist the
sympathies of the rich Nonconformists, and that he was the man to do it.
So he perorated somewhat after the following fashion:--"And, if the
liberality of Yorkshire Churchmen proves insufficient to restore the
chief glory of our native county, then, with all confidence, I turn to
our excellent Dissenting brethren, and I exclaim, with the Latin poet,
'Flectere si nequeo superos Acheronta movebo.'"
Mr. Anstey Guthrie has some pleasant instances of texts misapplied. He
was staying once in a Scotch country-house where, over his bed, hung an
illuminated scroll with the inscription, "Occupy till I come," which, as
Mr. Guthrie justly observes, is an unusually extended invitation, even
for Scottish notions of hospitality. According to the same authority,
the leading citizen of a seaside town erected some iron benches on the
sea front, and, with the view of at once commemorating his own
munificence and giving a profitable turn to the thoughts of the sitters,
inscribed on the backs--
WERE PRESENTED TO THIS TOWN OF SHINGLETON
JOSEPH BUGGINS, ESQ.,
J.P. FOR THE BOROUGH.
"THE SEA IS HIS, AND HE MADE IT."
Nothing is more deeply rooted in the mind of the average man than that
certain well-known aphorisms of piety are to be found in the
Bible--possibly in that lost book the Second Epistle to the Ephesians,
which Dickens must have had in his mind when he wrote in _Dombey and
Son_ of the First Epistle to that Church. "In the midst of life we are
in death" is a favourite quotation from this imaginary Scripture. "His
end was peace" holds its place on many a tomb in virtue of a similar
belief. "He tempers the wind to the shorn lamb" is, I believe, commonly
attributed to Solomon; and a charming song which was popular in my youth
declared that, though the loss of friends was sad, it would have been
"Had we ne'er heard that Scripture word,
'Not lost, but gone before.'"
Mrs. Gamp, with some hazy recollections of the New Testament floating in
her mind, invented the admirable aphorism that "Rich folks may ride on
camels, but it ain't so easy for 'em to see out of a needle's eye." And
a lady of my acquaintance, soliloquizing on the afflictions of life and
the serenity of her own temper, exclaimed, "How true it is what Solomon
says, 'A contented spirit is like a perpetual dropping on a rainy day'!"
A Dissenting minister, winding up a week's mission, is reported to have
said, "And if any spark of grace has been kindled by these exercises,
oh, we pray Thee, water that spark." A watered spark is good, but what
of a harnessed volcano? When that eminent Civil servant, Sir Hugh Owen,
retired from the Local Government Board, a gentleman wrote to the _Daily
Chronicle_ in favour of "harnessing this by no means extinct volcano to
the great task" of codifying the Poor Law. An old peasant-woman in
Buckinghamshire, extolling the merits of her favourite curate, said to
the rector, "I do say that Mr. Woods is quite an angel in sheep's
clothing;" and Dr. Liddon told me of a Presbyterian minister who was
called on at short notice to officiate at the parish church of Crathie
in the presence of the Queen, and, transported by this tremendous
experience, burst forth in rhetorical supplication--"Grant that as she
grows to be an old woman she may be made a new man; and that in all
righteous causes she may go forth before her people like a he-goat on
Undergraduates, whose wretched existence for a week before each
examination is spent in the hasty acquisition of much ill-assorted and
indigestible knowledge, are not seldom the victims of similar
confusions. At Oxford--and, for all I know, at Cambridge too--a hideous
custom prevails of placing before the examinee a list of isolated texts,
and requiring him to supply the name of the speaker, the occasion, and
_Question_.--"'My punishment is greater than I can bear.' Who said this?
Under what circumstances?"
_Answer_.--"Agag, when he was hewn in pieces."
One wonders at what stage of the process he began to think it was going
a little too far.
"What is faith?" inquired an examiner in "Pass-Divinity." "Faith is the
faculty by which we are enabled to believe that which we know is not
true," replied the undergraduate, who had learned his definition by
heart, but imperfectly, from a popular cram-book. A superficial
knowledge of literature may sometimes be a snare. "Can you give me any
particulars of Oliver Cromwell's death?" asked an Examiner in History in
1874. "Oh yes, sir," eagerly replied the victim: "he exclaimed, 'Had I
but served my God as I have served my King, He would not in mine age
have left me naked to mine enemies.'"
"Things one would rather have expressed differently" are, I believe, a
discovery of Mr. Punch's. Of course he did not create them. They must be
as old as human nature itself. The history of their discovery is not
unlike that of another epoch-making achievement of the same great
genius, as set forth in the preface to the _Book of Snobs_. First, the
world was made; then, as a matter of course, snobs; they existed for
years and years, and were no more known than America. But
presently--_ingens patebat tellus_--people became darkly aware that
there was such a race. Then in time a name arose to designate that race.
That name has spread over England like railroads. Snobs are known and
recognised throughout an Empire on which the sun never sets. _Punch_
appeared at the ripe season to chronicle their history, and the
individual came forth to write that history in _Punch_. We may apply
this historical method to the origin and discovery of "Things one would
rather have expressed differently." They must have existed as long as
language; they must have flourished wherever men and women encountered
one another in social intercourse. But the glory of having discovered
them, recognized them, classified them, and established them among the
permanent sources of human enjoyment belongs to Mr. Punch alone.
"He was the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea."
Let us humbly follow in his wake.
We shall see later on that no department of human speech is altogether
free from "Things one would rather have expressed differently;" but,
naturally, the great bulk of them belong to social conversation; and,
just as the essential quality of a "bull" is that it expresses
substantial sense in the guise of verbal nonsense, so the social "Thing
one would rather have expressed differently" must, to be really
precious, show a polite intention struggling with verbal infelicity. Mr.
Corney Grain, narrating his early experiences as a social entertainer,
used to describe an evening party given by the Dowager Duchess of S----
at which he was engaged to play and sing. Late in the evening the young
Duke of S---- came in, and Mr. Grain heard his mother prompting him in
an anxious undertone: "Pray go and say something civil to Mr. Grain. You
know he's quite a gentleman--not a common professional person." Thus
instructed, the young Duke strolled up to the piano and said,
"Good-evening, Mr. Grain. I'm sorry I am so late, and have missed your
performance. But I was at Lady ----'s. _We had a dancing-dog there._"
The married daughter of one of the most brilliant men of Queen
Victoria's reign has an only child. An amiable matron of her
acquaintance, anxious to be thoroughly kind, said, "O Mrs. W----, I hear
that you have such a clever little boy." Mrs. W., beaming with a
mother's pride, replied, "Well, yes, I think Roger is rather a sharp
little fellow." "Yes," replied her friend. "How often one sees
that--the talent skipping a generation!" A stately old rector in
Buckinghamshire--a younger son of a great family--whom I knew well in my
youth, had, and was justly proud of, a remarkably pretty and
well-appointed rectory. To him an acquaintance, coming for the first
time to call, genially exclaimed, "What a delightful rectory! Really a
stranger arriving in the village, and not knowing who lived here, would
take it for a gentleman's house." One of our best-known novelists, the
most sensitively courteous of men, arriving very late at a dinner-party,
was overcome with confusion--"I am truly sorry to be so shockingly
late." The genial hostess, only meaning to assure him that he was not
the last, emphatically replied "O, Mr. ----, you can't come too late." A
member of the present Cabinet was engaged with his wife and daughter
to dine at a friend's house in the height of the season. The daughter
fell ill at the last moment, and her parents first telegraphed her
excuses for dislocating the party, and then repeated them earnestly on
arriving. The hostess, receiving them with the most cordial sympathy,
exclaimed, "Oh, it doesn't matter in the least to us; we are only so
sorry for your daughter." An eminent authoress, who lives not a hundred
miles from Richmond Hill, was asked, in my hearing, if she had been to
"write her name" at White Lodge, in Richmond Park (then occupied by the
Duchess of Took), on the occasion of an important event in the Duchess's
family. She replied that she had not, because she did not know the
Duchess, and saw no use in adding another stranger's signature to the
enormous list. "Oh, that's a pity," was the rejoinder; "the Royal Family
think more of the quantity of names than the quality."
In all these cases the courtesy of the intention was manifest; but
sometimes it is less easy to discover. Not long ago Sir Henry Trying
most kindly went down to one of our great Public Schools to give some
Shakespearean recitations. Talking over the arrangements with the Head
Master, who was not a man of felicities and facilities, he said, "Each
piece will take about an hour; and there must be fifteen minutes'
interval between the two." "Oh! certainly," replied the Head Master;
"you couldn't expect the boys to stand two hours of it without a break."
The newly appointed rector of one of the chief parishes in London was
entertained at dinner by a prominent member of the congregation.
Conversation turned on the use of stimulants as an aid to intellectual
and physical effort, and Mr. Gladstone's historic egg-flip was cited.
"Well, for my own part," said the divine, "I am quite independent of
that kind of help. The only occasion in my life when I used anything of
the sort was when I was in for my tripos at Cambridge, and then, by the
doctor's order, I took a strong dose of strychnine, in order to clear
the brain." The hostess, in a tone of the deepest interest, inquired,
"How soon did the effect pass off?" and the rector, a man of academical
distinction, who had done his level best in his inaugural sermons on the
previous Sunday, didn't half like the question.
Not long ago I was dining with one of the City Companies. On my right
was another guest--a member of the Worshipful Company of Butchers. We
had a long and genial conversation on topics relevant to Smithfield,
when, in the midst of it, I was suddenly called on to return thanks for
the visitors. The chairman, in proposing the toast, was good enough to
speak of my belongings and myself in flattering terms, to which I hope
that I suitably responded. When I resumed my seat my butcher friend
exclaimed, with the most obvious sincerity, "I declare, sir, I'm quite
ashamed of myself. To think that I have been sitting alongside of a
gentleman all the evening, and never found it out!"
The doorkeepers and attendants at the House of Commons are all old
servants, who generally have lived in great families, and have obtained
their places through influential recommendations. One of these fine old
men encountered, on the opening day of a new Parliament, a young sprig
of a great family who had just been for the first time elected to the
House of Commons, and thus accosted him, with tears in his eyes: "I am
glad indeed, sir, to see you here; and when I think that I helped to put
your noble grandfather and grandmother both into their coffins, it makes
me feel quite at home with you." Never, surely, was a political career
more impressively auspicated.
These Verbal Infelicities are by no means confined to social
intercourse. Lord Cross, when the House laughed at his memorable speech
in favour of Spiritual Peers, exclaimed in solemn remonstrance, "I hear
a smile." When the Bishop of Southwell, preaching in the London Mission
of 1885, began his sermon by saying, "I feel a feeling which I feel you
all feel," it is only fair to assume that he said something which he
would rather have expressed differently. Quite lately I heard an Irish
rhetorician exclaim, "If the Liberal Party is to maintain its position,
it must move forward." A clerical orator, fresh from a signal triumph at
a Diocesan Conference, informed me, together with some hundreds of
other hearers, that when his resolution was put "quite a shower of hands
went up;" and at a missionary meeting I once heard that impressive
personage, "the Deputation from the Parent Society," involve himself
very delightfully in extemporaneous imagery. He had been explaining that
here in England we hear so much of the rival systems and operations of
the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Church Missionary
Society that we are often led to regard them as hostile institutions;
whereas if, as he himself had done, his hearers would go out to the
mission-field and observe the working of the societies at close
quarters, they would find them to be in essential unison. "Even so," he
exclaimed; "as I walked in the beautiful park which adjoins your town
to-day, I noticed what appeared at a distance to be one gigantic tree.
It was only when I got close to it and sat down under its branches that
I perceived that what I had thought was one tree was really two
trees--as completely distinct in origin, growth, and nature as if they
had stood a hundred miles apart." No one in the audience (besides
myself) noticed the infelicity of the illustration; nor do I think that
the worthy "Deputation," if he had perceived it, would have had the
presence of mind to act as a famous preacher did in like circumstances,
and, throwing up his hands, exclaim, "Oh, blessed contrast!"
But it does not always require verbal infelicity to produce a "Thing one
would rather have expressed differently." The mere misplacement of a
comma will do it. A distinguished graduate of Oxford determined to enter
the Nonconformist ministry, and, quite unnecessarily, published a
manifesto setting forth his reasons and his intentions. In his
enumeration of the various methods by which he was going to mark his
aloofness from the sacerdotalism of the Established Church, he wrote; "I
shall wear no clothes, to distinguish me from my fellow-Christians."
Need I say that all the picture-shops of the University promptly
displayed a fancy portrait of the newly fledged minister clad in what
Artemus Ward called "the scandalous style of the Greek slave," and
bearing the unkind inscription--"The Rev. X.Y.Z. distinguishing himself
from his fellow-Christians"? If a comma too much brought ruin into Mr.
Z.'s allocution, a comma too little was the undoing of a well-remembered
advertisement. "A PIANO for sale by a lady about to leave England in an
oak case with carved legs."
An imperfect sympathy with the prepossessions of one's environment may
often lead the unwary talker to give a totally erroneous impression of
his meaning. Thus the Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford once brought an
Indian army chaplain to dine at the high table of Oriel, and in the
common room after dinner the Fellows courteously turned the conversation
to the subject of life and work in India, on which the chaplain held
forth with fluency and zest. When he had made an end of speaking, the
Professor of Anglo-Saxon, who was not only a very learned scholar but
also a very devout clergyman, leaned forward and said, "I am a little
hard of hearing, sir, but from what I could gather I rejoice to infer
that you consider the position of an army chaplain in India a hopeful
field." "Hopeful field indeed," replied the chaplain; "I should rather
think so! You begin at L400 a year."
A too transparent honesty which reveals each transient emotion through
the medium of suddenly chosen words is not without its perils. None that
heard it could ever forget Norman Macleod's story of the Presbyterian
minister who, when he noticed champagne-glasses on the dinner-table,
began his grace, "Bountiful Jehovah!" but, when he saw only
claret-glasses, subsided into, "We are not worthy of the least of Thy
mercies." I deny the right of Bishop Wilberforce in narrating this story
in his diary to stigmatize this good man as "gluttonous." He was simply
honest, and his honesty led him into one of those "Things one would
rather have expressed differently." But, however expressed, the meaning
would have been the same, and equally sound.
Absence of mind, of course, conversationally slays its thousands, though
perhaps more by the way of "Things one would rather have left unsaid"
than by "Things one would rather have expressed differently." The late
Archbishop Trench, a man of singularly vague and dreamy habits, resigned
the See of Dublin on account of advancing years, and settled in London.
He once went back to pay a visit to his successor, Lord Plunket. Finding
himself back again in his old palace, sitting at his old dinner-table,
and gazing across it at his old wife, he lapsed in memory to the days
when he was master of the house, and gently remarked to Mrs. Trench, "I
am afraid, my love, that we must put this cook down among our failures."
Delight of Lord and Lady Plunket!
Medical men are sometimes led by carelessness of phrase into giving
their patients shocks. The country doctor who, combining in his
morning's round a visit to the Squire and another to the Vicar, said
that he was trying to kill two birds with one stone, would probably have
expressed himself differently if he had premeditated his remark; and a
London physician who found his patient busy composing a book of
Recollections, and asked, "Why have you put it off so long?" uttered a
"Thing one would rather have left unsaid." The "donniest" of Oxford dons
in an unexampled fit of good nature once undertook to discharge the
duties of the chaplain of Oxford Jail during the Long Vacation.
Unluckily it so fell out that he had to perform the terrible office of
preparing a criminal for execution, and it was felt that he said a
"Thing one would rather have expressed differently," when, at the close
of his final interview, he left the condemned cell, observing, "Well, at
eight o'clock to-morrow morning, then."
The path of those who inhabit Courts is thickly beset with pitfalls.
There are so many things that must be left unsaid, and so many more that
must be expressed differently. Who does not know the "Copper Horse" at
Windsor--that equestrian statue at the end of the Long Walk to which
(and back again) the local flyman always offers to drive the tourist?
Queen Victoria was entertaining a great man, who, in the afternoon,
walked from the Castle to Cumberland Lodge. At dinner her Majesty, full,
as always, of gracious solicitude for the comfort of her guests, said,
"I hope you were not tired by your long walk?" "Oh, not at all, thank
you, ma'am. I got a lift back as far as the Copper Horse." "As far as
what?" inquired her Majesty, in palpable astonishment. "Oh, the Copper
Horse, at the end of the Long Walk!" "That's not a copper horse. That's
A little learning is proverbially dangerous, and often lures vague
people into unsuspected perils. One of the most charming ladies of my
acquaintance, remonstrating with her mother for letting the fire go out
on a rather chilly day, exclaimed, "O dear mamma, how could you be so
careless? If you had been a Vestal Virgin you would have been bricked
up." When the London County Council first came into existence, it used
to assemble in the Guildhall, and the following dialogue took place
between a highly cultured councillor and one of his commercial
_Cultured Councillor_. "The acoustics of this place seem very bad."
_Commercial Councillor (sniffing)_. "Indeed, sir? I haven't perceived
A well-known lady had lived for some years in a house in Harley Street
which contained some fine ornamentation by Angelica Kauffmann, and, on
moving to another quarter of the town, she loudly lamented the loss of
her former drawing-room, "for it was so beautifully painted by Fra
Mistakes of idiom are the prolific parents of error, or, as Mrs.
Lirriper said, with an admirable confusion of metaphors, breed fruitful
hot water for all parties concerned. "The wines of this hotel leave one
nothing to hope for," was the alluring advertisement of a Swiss
innkeeper who thought that his vintages left nothing to be desired. Lady
Dufferin, in her Reminiscences of Viceregal Life, has some excellent
instances of the same sort. "Your Enormity" is a delightful variant on
"Your Excellency;" and there is something really pathetic in the Baboo's
benediction, "You have been very good to us, and may Almighty God give
you tit for tat." But to deride these errors of idiom scarcely lies in
the mouth of an Englishman. A friend of mine, wishing to express his
opinion that a Frenchman was an idiot, told him that he was a
"cretonne." Lord R----, preaching at the French Exhibition, implored his
hearers to come and drink of the "eau de vie;" and a good-natured
Cockney, complaining of the incivility of French drivers, said, "It is
so uncalled for, because I always try to make things pleasant by
beginning with 'Bon jour, Cochon.'" Even in our own tongue Englishmen
sometimes come to grief over an idiomatic proverb. In a debate in
Convocation at Oxford, Dr. Liddon, referring to a concession made by the
opposite side, said, "It is proverbially ungracious to look a gift horse
_in the face._" And, though the undergraduates in the gallery roared
"Mouth, sir; mouth!" till they were hoarse, the Angelic Doctor never
perceived the unmeaningness of his proverb.
Some years ago a complaint of inefficiency was preferred against a
workhouse-chaplain, and, when the Board of Guardians came to consider
the case, one of the Guardians, defending the chaplain, observed that
"Mr. P---- was only fifty-two, and had a mother running about."
Commenting on this line of defence, a newspaper, which took the view
hostile to the chaplain, caustically remarked:--"On this principle, the
more athletic or restless were a clergyman's relatives, the more
valuable an acquisition would he himself be to the Church. Supposing
that some Embertide a bishop were fortunate enough to secure among his
candidates for ordination a man who, in addition to 'a mother running
about,' had a brother who gained prizes at Lillie Bridge, and a cousin
who pulled in the 'Varsity Eight, and a nephew who was in the School
Eleven, to say nothing of a grandmother who had St. Vitus's Dance, and
an aunt in the country whose mind wandered, then surely Dr. Liddon
himself would have to look out for his laurels."
The "Things one would rather have expressed differently" for which
reporters are responsible are of course legion. I forbear to enlarge on
such familiar instances as "the shattered libertine of debate," applied
to Mr. Bernal Osborne, and "the roaring loom of the _Times_" when Mr.
Lowell had spoken of the "roaring loom of time." I content myself with
two which occurred in my own immediate circle. A clerical uncle of mine
took the Pledge in his old age, and at a public meeting stated that his
reason for so doing was that for thirty years he had been trying to cure
drunkards by making them drink in moderation, but had never once
succeeded. He was thus reported:--"The rev. gentleman stated that his
reason for taking the Pledge was that for thirty years he had been
trying to drink in moderation, but had never once succeeded." Another
near relation of mine, protesting on a public platform against some
misrepresentation by opponents, said:--"The worst enemy that any cause
can have to fight is a double lie in the shape of half a truth." The
newspaper which reported the proceedings gave the sentiment thus:--"The
worst enemy that any cause can have to fight is a double eye in the
shape of half a tooth." And, when an indignant remonstrance was
addressed to the editor, he blandly said that he certainly had not
understood the phrase, but imagined it must be "a quotation from an old
But if journalistic reporting, on which some care and thought are
bestowed, sometimes proves misleading, common rumour is far more
prolific of things which would have been better expressed differently.
It is now (thank goodness!) a good many years since "spelling-bees" were
a favourite amusement in London drawing-rooms. The late Lady Combermere,
an octogenarian dame who retained a sempiternal taste for _les petits
jeux innocents_ kindly invited a young curate whom she had been asked to
befriend to take part in a "spelling-bee." He got on splendidly for a
while, and then broke down among the repeated "n's" in "drunkenness."
Returning crestfallen to his suburban parish, he was soon gratified by
hearing the rumour that he had been turned out of a lady's house at the
West End for drunkenness.
Shy people are constantly getting into conversational scrapes, their
tongues carrying them whither they know not, like the shy young man who
was arguing with a charming and intellectual young lady.
_Charming Young Lady._ "The worst of me is that I am so apt to be run
away with by an inference."
_Shy Young Man._ "Oh, how I wish I was an inference!"
When the late Dr. Woodford became Bishop of Ely, a rumour went before
him in the diocese that he was a misogynist. He was staying, on his
first round of Confirmations, at a country house, attended by an
astonishingly mild young chaplain, very like the hero of _The Private
Secretary_. In the evening the lady of the house said archly to this
youthful Levite, "I hope you can contradict the story which we have
heard about our new bishop, that he hates ladies." The chaplain, in much
confusion, hastily replied, "Oh, that is quite an exaggeration; but I do
think his Lordship feels safer with the married ladies."
Let me conclude with a personal reminiscence of a "Thing one would
rather have left unsaid." A remarkably pompous clergyman who was an
Inspector of Schools showed me a theme on a Scriptural subject, written
by a girl who was trying to pass from being a pupil-teacher to a
schoolmistress. The theme was full of absurd mistakes, over which the
inspector snorted stertorously. "Well, what do you think of that?" he
inquired, when I handed back the paper. "Oh," said I, in perfectly good
faith, "the mistakes are bad enough, but the writing is far worse. It
really is a disgrace." "Oh, _my_ writing!" said the inspector; "I copied
the theme out." Even after the lapse of twenty years I turn hot all over
when I recall the sensations of that moment.
THE ART OF PUTTING THINGS.
It was "A.K.H.B.," if I recollect aright, who wrote a popular essay on
"The Art of Putting Things." As I know nothing of the essay beyond its
title, and am not quite certain about that, I shall not be guilty of
intentional plagiarism if I attempt to discuss the same subject. It is
not identical with the theme which I have just handled, for "Things one
would rather have expressed differently" are essentially things which
one might have expressed better. If one is not conscious of this at the
moment, a good-natured friend is always at hand to point it out, and the
poignancy of one's regret creates the zest of the situation. For
example, when a German financier, contesting an English borough, drove
over an old woman on the polling-day, and affectionately pressed five
shillings into her hand, saying, "Never mind, my tear, here's something
to get drunk with," his agent instantly pointed out that she wore the
Blue Ribbon, and that her husband was an influential class-leader among
But "The Art of Putting Things" includes also the things which one might
have expressed worse, and covers the cases where a dexterous choice of
words seems, at any rate to the speaker, to have extricated him from a
conversational quandary. As an instance of this perilous art carried to
high perfection, may be cited Abraham Lincoln's judgment on an
unreadably sentimental book--"People who like this sort of thing will
find this the sort of thing they like"--humbly imitated by two eminent
men on this side of the Atlantic, one of whom is in the habit of writing
to struggling authors--"Thank you for sending me your book, which I
shall lose no time in reading;" while the other prefers the less
truthful but perhaps more flattering formula--"I have read your blank
verse, _and much like it_"
The late Mr. Walter Pater was once invited to admire a hideous
wedding-present, compact of ormolu and malachite. Closing his eyes, the
founder of modern aesthetics leaned back in his chair, and waving away
the offending object, murmured in his softest tone, "Oh, very rich, very
handsome, very expensive, I am sure. But they mustn't make any more of
Dexterities of phrase sometimes recoil with dire effect upon their
author. A very popular clergyman of my acquaintance prides himself on
never forgetting an inhabitant of his parish. He was stopped one day in
the street by an aggrieved parishioner whom, to use a homely phrase, he
did not know from Adam. Ready in resource, he produced his pocket-book,
and, hastily jotting down a memorandum of the parishioner's grievance,
he said, with an insinuating smile, "It is so stupid of me, but I always
forget how to spell your name." "J--O--N--E--S," was the gruff response;
and the shepherd and the sheep went their several ways in mutual
disgust. Perhaps the worst recorded attempt at an escape from a
conversational difficulty was made by an East-end curate who specially
cultivated the friendship of the artisans. One day a carpenter arrived
in his room, and, producing a photograph, said, "I've brought you my
boy's likeness, as you said you'd like to have it."
_Curate_ (rapturously). "How awfully good of you to remember! What a
capital likeness! Where is he?"
_Carpenter_. "Why, sir, don't you remember? He's dead."
_Curate._ "Oh yes, of course, I know that. I mean, where's the man that
took the photograph?"
The art of disguising an unpleasant truth with a graceful phrase was
well illustrated in the case of a friend of mine, not remarkable for
physical courage, of whom a tactful phrenologist pronounced that he was
"full of precaution against real or imaginary danger." It is not every
one who can tell a man he is an arrant coward without offending him. The
same art, as applied by a man to his own shortcomings, is exemplified in
the story of the ecclesiastical dignitary who gloried in his Presence of
Mind. According to Dean Stanley, who knew him well, he used to narrate
the incident in the following terms:--
"A friend invited me to go out with him on the water. The sky was
threatening, and I declined. At length he succeeded in persuading me,
and we embarked. A squall came on, the boat lurched, and my friend fell
overboard. Twice he sank; and twice he rose to the surface. He placed
his hands on the prow and endeavoured to climb in. There was great
apprehension lest he should upset the boat. Providentially, I had
brought my umbrella with me, I had the _presence of mind_ to strike him
two or three hard blows over the knuckles. He let go his hold and sank.
The boat righted itself, and we were saved."
The art of avoiding conversational unpleasantness by a graceful way of
putting things belongs, I suppose, in its highest perfection, to the
East. When Lord Dufferin was Viceroy of India, he had a "shikarry," or
sporting servant, whose special duty was to attend the visitors at the
Viceregal Court on their shooting excursions. Returning one day from one
of these expeditions, the shikarry encountered the Viceroy, who, full of
courteous solicitude for his guests' enjoyment, asked: "Well, what sort
of sport has Lord----had?" "Oh," replied the scrupulously polite Indian,
"the young Sahib shot divinely, but God was very merciful to the
birds." Compare this honeyed speech with the terms in which an English
gamekeeper would convey his opinion of a bad shot, and we are forced to
admit the social superiority of Lord Salisbury's "black man."
If we turn from the Orient to the Occident, and from our dependencies to
the United Kingdom, the Art of Putting Things is found to flourish
better on Irish than on Scotch or English soil. We all remember that
Archbishop Whately is said to have thanked God on his deathbed that he
had never given a penny in indiscriminate charity. Perhaps one might
find more suitable subjects of moribund self-congratulation; and I have
always rejoiced in the mental picture of the Archbishop, in all the
frigid pomp of Political Economy, waving off the Dublin beggar with "Go
away, go away; I never give to any one in the street," and receiving the
instantaneous rejoinder, "Then where would your reverence have me wait
on you?" A lady of my acquaintance, who is a proprietress in County
Galway, is in the habit of receiving her own rents. One day, when a
tenant-farmer had pleaded long and unsuccessfully for an abatement, he
exclaimed as he handed over his money, "Well, my lady, all I can say is
that if I had my time over again it's not a tenant-farmer I'd be. I'd
follow one of the learn'd professions." The proprietress gently replied
that even in the learned professions there were losses as well as gains,
and perhaps he would have found professional life as precarious as
farming. "Ah, my lady, how can that be then?" replied the son of St.
Patrick. "If you're a lawyer--win or lose, you're paid. If you're a
doctor--kill or cure, you're paid. If you're a priest--heaven or hell,
you're paid." Who can imagine an English farmer pleading the case for an
abatement with this happy mixture of fun and satire?
"Urbane" is a word which etymologically bears witness that the ancient
world believed the arts of courtesy to be the products of the town
rather than of the country. Something of the same distinction may
occasionally be traced even in the civilization of modern England. The
house-surgeon of a London hospital was attending to the injuries of a
poor woman whose arm had been severely bitten. As he was dressing the
wound he said, "I cannot make out what sort of animal bit you. This is
too small for a horse's bite, and too large for a dog's." "O sir,"
replied the patient, "it wasn't an animal; it was _another lydy._"
Surely the force of Urbanity could no further go. On the other hand, it
was a country clergyman who, in view of the approaching Confirmation,
announced that on the morning of the ceremony the young _ladies_ would
assemble at the Vicarage and the young _women_ at the National School.
"Let us distinguish," said the philosopher, and certainly the arbitrary
use of the term "lady" and "gentleman" suggests some curious studies in
the Art of Putting Things. A good woman who let furnished apartments in
a country town, describing a lodger who had apparently "known better
days," said, "I am positive she was a real born lady, for she hadn't the
least idea how to do hanything for herself; it took her hours to peel
her potatoes." Carlyle has illustrated from the annals of our criminal
jurisprudence the truly British conception of "a very respectable man"
as one who keeps a gig; and similarly, I recollect that in the famous
trial of Kurr and Benson, the turf-swindlers, twenty years ago, a
witness testified, with reference to one of the prisoners, that he had
always considered him a "perfect gentleman;" and, being pressed by
counsel to give his reasons for this view, said, "He had rooms at the
Langham Hotel, and dined with the Lord Mayor."
On the other hand, it would seem that in certain circles and
contingencies the "grand old name of Gentleman" is regarded as a term of
opprobrium. The late Lord Wriothesley Russell, who was for many years a
Canon of Windsor, used to conduct a mission service for the Household
troops quartered there; and one of his converts, a stalwart trooper of
the Blues, expressing his gratitude for these voluntary ministrations,
and contrasting them with the officer-like and disciplinary methods of
the army chaplains, genially exclaimed, "But I always say there's not a
bit of the gentleman about you, my lord." When Dr. Harold Browne became
Bishop of Ely, he asked the head verger some questions as to where his
predecessor had been accustomed to sit in the Cathedral, what part he
had taken in the services, and so on. The verger proved quite unable to
supply the required information, and said in self-excuse, "Well, you
see, my lord, his late lordship wasn't at all a church-going gentleman;"
which, being interpreted, meant that, on account of age and infirmities,
Bishop Turton had long confined his ministrations to his private chapel.
Just after a change of Government not many years ago, an officer of the
Royal Household was chatting with one of the Queen's old coachmen (whose
name and location I, for obvious reasons, forbear to indicate). "Well,
Whipcord, have you seen your new Master of the Horse yet?" "Yes, sir, I
have; and I should say that his lordship is more of an indoors man." The
phrase has a touch of genial contempt for a long-descended but effete
aristocracy which tickles the democratic palate. It was not old
Whipcord, but a brother in the craft, who, when asked, during the
Jubilee of 1887, if he was driving any of the Imperial and Royal guests
then quartered at Buckingham Palace, replied, with calm self-respect,
"No, sir; I am the Queen's Coachman. I don't drive the riff-raff." I
take this to be a sublime instance of the Art of Putting Things.
Lingering for a moment on these back stairs of History, let me tell the
tragic tale of Mr. and Mrs. M----. Mr. M---- was one of the merchant
princes of London, and Mrs. M---- had occasion to engage a new
housekeeper for their palace in Park Lane. The outgoing official wrote
to her incoming successor a detailed account of the house and its
inmates. The butler was a very pleasant man. The _chef_ was inclined to
tipple. The lady's-maid gave herself airs; and the head housemaid was a
very well principled young woman--and so on and so forth. After the
signature, huddled away in a casual postscript, came the damning
sentence, "As for Mr. and Mrs. M----, they behave as well as they know
how." Was it by inadvertence, or from a desire to let people know their
proper place, that the recipient of this letter allowed its contents to
find their way to the children of the family?
As incidentally indicated above, a free recourse to alcoholic stimulus
used to be, in less temperate days, closely associated with the culinary
art; and one of the best cooks I ever knew was urged by her mistress to
attend a great meeting for the propagation of the Blue Ribbon, to be
held not a hundred miles from Southampton, and addressed by a famous
preacher of total abstinence. The meeting was enthusiastic, and the Blue
Ribbon was freely distributed. Next morning the lady anxiously asked her
cook what effect the oratory had produced on her, and she replied, with
the evident sense of narrow escape from imminent danger, "Well, my lady,
if Mr. ---- had gone on for five minutes more, I believe I should have
taken the Ribbon too; but, thank goodness! he stopped in time."
So far, I find, I have chiefly dealt with the Art of Putting Things as
practised by the "urbane" or town-bred classes. Let me give a few
instances of "pagan" or countrified use. A village blacksmith was
describing to me with unaffected pathos the sudden death of his very
aged father; "and," he added, "the worst part of it was that I had to go
and break it to my poor old mother." Genuinely entering into my friend's
grief, I said, "Yes; that must have been terrible. How did you break
it?" "Well, I went into her cottage and I said. 'Dad's dead.' She said,
'What?' and I said, 'Dad's dead, and you may as well know it first as
last.'" Breaking it! Truly a curious instance of the rural Art of
A labourer in Buckinghamshire, being asked how the rector of the village
was, replied, "Well, he's getting wonderful old; but they do tell me
that his understanding's no worse than it always was"--a pagan synonym
for the hackneyed phrase that one is in full possession of one's
faculties. This entire avoidance of flattering circumlocutions, though
it sometimes produces these rather startling effects, gives a peculiar
raciness to rustic oratory. Not long ago a member for a rural
constituency, who had always professed the most democratic sentiments,
suddenly astonished his constituents by taking a peerage. During the
election caused by his transmigration, one of his former supporters said
at a public meeting, "Mr. ---- says as how he's going to the House of
Lords to leaven it. I tell you, you can't no more leaven the House of
Lords by putting Mr. ---- into it than you can sweeten a cart-load of
muck with a pot of marmalade." During the General Election of 1892 I
heard an old labourer on a village green denouncing the evils of an
Established Church. "I'll tell you how it is with one of these 'ere
State parsons. If you take away his book, he can't preach; and if you
take away his gownd, he mustn't preach; and if you take away his screw,
he'll be d----d if he'll preach." The humour which underlies the
roughness of countrified speech is often not only genuine but subtle. I
have heard a story of a young labourer who, on his way to his day's
work, called at the registrar's office to register his father's death.
When the official asked the date of the event, the son replied, "He
ain't dead yet, but he'll be dead before night, so I thought it would
save me another journey if you would put it down now." "Oh, that won't
do at all," said the registrar, "perhaps your father will live till
to-morrow." "Well, I don't know, sir; the doctor says as he won't, and
he knows what he has given him."
The accomplished authoress of _Country Conversations_ has put on record
some delightful specimens of rural dialogue, culled chiefly from the
labouring classes of Cheshire. And, rising in the social scale from the
labourer to the farmer, what could be more lifelike than this tale of an
ill-starred wooing? "My son Tom has met with a disappointment about
getting married. You know he's got that nice farm at H----; so he met a
young lady at a dance, and he was very much took up, and she seemed
quite agreeable. So, as he heard she had Five Hundred, he wrote next day
to pursue the acquaintance, and her father wrote and asked Tom to come
over to S----. Eh, dear! Poor fellow! He went off in such sperrits, and
he looked so spruce in his best clothes, with a new tie and all. So next
day, when I heard him come to the gate, I ran out as pleased as could
be; but I see in a moment he was sadly cast down. 'Why, Tom, my lad,'
says I, 'what is it?' 'Why, mother,' says he, 'she'd understood mine was
a harable; _and she will not marry to a dairy_.'"
From Cheshire to East Anglia is a far cry, but let me give one more
lesson in the Art of Putting Things, derived from that delightful writer
Dr. Jessopp. In one of his studies of rural life the Doctor tells, in
his own inimitable style, a story of which the moral is the necessity of
using plain words when you are preaching to the poor. The story runs
that in the parish where he served his first curacy there was an old
farmer on whom had fallen all the troubles of Job--loss of stock, loss
of capital, eviction from his holding, the death of his wife, and the
failure of his own health. The well-meaning young curate, though full of
compassion, could find no more novel topic of consolation than to say
that all these trials were the dispensations of Providence. On this the
poor old victim brightened up and said with a cheerful smile, "Ah yes,
sir; I know that right enough. That old Providence has been against me
all along; but I reckon _there's One above_ that will put a stopper on
him if he goes too far." Evidently, as Dr. Jessopp observes,
"Providence" was to the good old man a learned synonym for the devil.
The humours of childhood include in rich abundance both Things which
would have been better left unsaid, and Things which might have been
expressed differently. But just now they lack their sacred bard. There
is no one to observe and chronicle them. It is a pity, for the "heart
that watches and receives" will often find in the pleasantries of
childhood a good deal that deserves perpetuation.
The children of fiction are a mixed company, some lifelike and some
eminently the reverse. In _Joan_ Miss Rhoda Broughton drew with
unequalled skill a family of odious children. Henry Kingsley look a more
genial view of his subject, and sketched some pleasant children in
_Austin Elliot_, and some delightful ones in the last chapter of
_Ravenshoe_. The "Last of the Neros" in _Barchester Towers_ is admirably
drawn, and all elderly bachelors must have sympathized with good Mr.
Thorne when, by way of making himself agreeable to the mother, Signora
Vesey-Neroni, he took the child upon his knee, jumped her up and down,
saying, "Diddle, diddle, diddle," and was rewarded with, "I don't want
to be diddle-diddle-diddled. Let me go, you naughty old man." Dickens's
children are by common consent intolerable, but a quarter of a century
ago we were all thrilled by Miss Montgomery's _Misunderstood_. It is
credibly reported that an earlier and more susceptible generation was
moved to tears by the sinfulness of Topsy and the saintliness of Eva;
and the adventures of the _Fairchild Family_ enjoy a deserved popularity
among all lovers of unintentional humour. But the "sacred bard" of
child-life was John Leech, whose twofold skill immortalized it with pen
and with pencil. The childish incidents and sayings which Leech
illustrated were, I believe, always taken from real life. His sisters
"kept an establishment," as Mr. Dombey said--the very duplicate of that
to which little Paul was sent. "'It is not a Preparatory School by any
means. Should I express my meaning,' said Miss Tox with peculiar
sweetness, 'if I designated it an infantine boarding-house of a very
"'On an exceedingly limited and particular scale,' suggested Mrs. Chick,
with a glance at her brother."
"'Oh! exclusion itself,' said Miss Tox."
The analogy may be even more closely pressed, for, as at Mrs. Pipchin's
so at Miss Leech's, "juvenile nobility itself was no stranger to the
establishment." Miss Tox told Mr. Dombey that "the humble individual who
now addressed him was once under Mrs. Pipchin's charge;" and, similarly,
the obscure writer of these papers was once under Miss Leech's. Her
school supplied the originals of all the little boys, whether greedy or
gracious, grave or gay, on foot or on pony-back, in knickerbockers or in
nightshirts, who figure so frequently in _Punch_ between 1850 and 1864;
and one of the pleasantest recollections of those distant days is the
kindness with which the great artist used to receive us when, as the
supreme reward of exceptionally good conduct, we were taken to see him
in his studio at Kensington. It is my rule not to quote at length from
what is readily accessible, and therefore I cull only one delightful
episode from Leech's _Sketches of Life and Character_. Two little chaps
are discussing the age of a third; and the one reflectively remarks,
"Well, I don't 'zactly know how old Charlie is; but he must be very
old, for he blows his own nose." Happy and far distant days, when such
an accomplishment seemed to be characteristic of a remotely future age!
"Mamma," inquired an infant aristocrat of a superlatively refined
mother, "when shall I be old enough to eat bread and cheese with a
knife, and put the knife in my mouth?" But the answer is not recorded.
The vagueness of the young with respect to the age of their elders is
pleasingly illustrated by the early history of a nobleman who recently
represented a division of Manchester in Parliament. His mother had a
maid, who seemed to childish eyes extremely old. The children of the
family longed to know her age, but were much too well-bred to ask a
question which they felt would be painful; so they sought to attain the
desired end by a system of ingenious traps. The future Member for
Manchester chanced in a lucky hour to find in his "Book of Useful
Knowledge" the tradition that the aloe flowers only once in a hundred
years. He instantly saw his opportunity, and accosting the maid with
winning air and wheedling accent, asked insinuatingly, "Dunn, have you
often seen the aloe flower?"
The _Enfant Terrible_, though his name is imported from France, is an
indigenous growth of English soil. A young husband and wife of my
acquaintance were conversing in the comfortable belief that "Tommy
didn't understand," when Tommy looked up from his toys, and said
reprovingly, "Mamma, oughtn't you to have said that in French?"
The late Lord ----, who had a deformed foot, was going to visit Queen
Victoria at Osborne, and before his arrival the Queen and Prince Albert
debated whether it would be better to warn the Prince of Wales and the
Princess Royal of his physical peculiarity, so as to avoid embarrassing
remarks, or to leave it to their own good feeling. The latter course was
adopted. Lord ---- duly arrived. The foot elicited no remarks from the
Royal children, and the visit passed off anxiously but with success.
Next day the Princess Royal asked the Queen, "Where is Lord----?" "He
has gone back to London, dear." "Oh! what a pity! He had promised to
show Bertie and me his foot!" They had caught him in the corridor and
made their own terms with their captive.
In more recent years the little daughter of one of the Queen's most
confidential advisers had the unexampled honour of being invited to
luncheon with her Majesty. During the meal, an Illustrious Lady,
negotiating a pigeon after the German fashion, took up one of its bones
with her finger and thumb. The little visitor, whose sense of British
propriety was stronger than her awe of Courts, regarded the proceeding
with wonder-dilated eyes, and then burst out, "Oh, Piggy-wiggy,
Piggy-wiggy! You _are_ Piggy-wiggy." Probably she is now languishing in
the dungeon keep of Windsor Castle.
If the essence of the _Enfant Terrible_ is that he or she causes
profound embarrassment to the surrounding adults, the palm of
pre-eminence must be assigned to the children of a famous diplomatist,
who, some twenty years ago, organized a charade and performed it without
assistance from their elders. The scene displayed a Crusader knight
returning from the wars to his ancestral castle. At the castle gate he
was welcomed by his beautiful and rejoicing wife, to whom, after tender
salutations, he recounted his triumphs on the tented field and the
number of paynim whom he had slain. "And I too, my lord," replied his
wife, pointing with conscious pride to a long roll of dolls of various
sizes--"and I too, my lord, have not been idle." _Tableau_ indeed!
The argumentative child is scarcely less trying than the _Enfant
Terrible_. Miss Sellon, the foundress of English sisterhoods, adopted
and brought up in her convent at Devonport a little Irish waif who had
been made an orphan by the outbreak of cholera in 1849. The infant's
customs and manners, especially at table, were a perpetual trial to a
community of refined old maids. "Chew your food, Aileen," said Miss
Sellon. "If you please, mother, the whale didn't chew Jonah," was the
prompt reply of the little Romanist, who had been taught that the
examples of Holy Writ were for our imitation. Answers made in
examinations I forbear, as a rule, to quote, but one I must give,
because it so beautifully illustrates the value of ecclesiastical
observances in our elementary schools:--
_Vicar_. "Now, my dear, do you know what happened on Ascension Day?"
_Child_. "Yes, sir, please. We had buns and a swing."
Natural childhood should know nothing of social forms, and the
coachman's son who described his father's master as "the man that rides
in dad's carriage," showed a finely democratic instinct. But the
boastful child is a very unpleasant product of nature or of art. "We've
got a private master comes to teach us at home, but we ain't proud,
because Ma says it's sinful," quoth Morleena Kenwigs, under her mother's
instructions, when Nicholas Nickleby gave her French lessons. The infant
daughter of a country clergyman, drinking tea in the nursery of the
episcopal Palace, boasted that at the Vicarage they had a hen which laid
an egg every day. "Oh, that's nothing," retorted the bishop's daughter;
"Papa lays a foundation-stone every week."
The precocious child, even when thoroughly well-meaning, is a source of
terror by virtue of its intense earnestness. In the days when Maurice
first discredited the doctrine of Eternal Punishment, some learned and
theological people were discussing, in a country house near Oxford, the
abstract credibility of endless pain. Suddenly the child of the house
(now its owner), who was playing on the hearth-rug, looked up and said,
"But how am I to know that it isn't hell already, and that I am not in
it?"--a question which threw a lurid light on his educational and
disciplinary experiences. Some of my readers will probably recollect the
"Japanese Village" at Knightsbridge--a pretty show of Oriental wares
which was burnt down, just at the height of its popularity, a few years
ago. On the day of its destruction I was at the house of a famous
financier, whose children had been to see the show only two days before.
One of them, an urchin of eight, immensely interested by the news of the
fire, asked, not if the pretty things were burnt or the people hurt, but
this one question, "Mamma, was it insured?" Verily, _bon chat chasse de
race_. The children of an excellent but unfortunate judge are said to
have rushed one day into their mother's drawing-room exclaiming, "Dear
Mamma, may we have jam for tea? One of Papa's judgments has been upheld
in the Court of Appeal." An admirable story of commercial precocity
reaches me from one of the many correspondents who have been good enough
to write to me in connection with this book. It may be commended to the
promoters of that class of company which is specially affected by the
widow, the orphan, and the curate. Two small boys, walking down
Tottenham Court Road, passed a tobacconist's shop. The bigger remarked,
"I say, Bill, I've got a ha'penny, and, if you've got one too, we'll
have a penny smoke between us." Bill produced his copper, and Tommy
diving into the shop, promptly reappeared with a penny cigar in his
mouth. The boys walked side by side for a few minutes, when the smaller
mildly said, "I say, Tom, when am I to have a puff? The weed's half
mine." "Oh, you shut up," was the business-like reply. "I'm the Chairman
of this Company, and you are only a shareholder. _You can spit._"
Mr. H.J. Barker, who is, I believe, what Mr. Squeers called "A Educator
of Youth," has lately given us some pleasant echoes from the Board
School. A young moralist recorded his judgment, that it is not cruel to
kill a turkey, "if only you take it into the backyard and use a sharp
knife, _and the turkey is yours!_" Another dogmatized thus: "Don't
teese cats, for firstly, it is wrong so to do; and 2nd, cats have
clawses which is longer than people think." The following theory of the
Bank Holiday would scarcely commend itself to that sound economist Sir
John Lubbock:--"The Banks shut up shop, so as people can't put their
money in, but has to spend it." So far the rude male: it required the
genius of feminine delicacy to define a Civil War as "one in which the
military are unnecessarily and punctiliously civil or polite, often
raising their helmets to each other before engaging in deadly combat."
The joys of childhood are a theme on which a good deal of verse has been
expended. I am far from denying that they are real, but I contend that
they commonly take a form which is quite inconsistent with poetry, and
that the poet (like heaven) "lies about us in our infancy." "I wish
every day in the year was a pot of jam," was the obviously sincere
exclamation of a fat little boy whom I knew, and whom Leech would have
delighted to draw. Two little London girls who had been sent by the
kindness of the vicar's wife to have "a happy day in the country,"
narrating their experiences on their return, said, "Oh yes, mum, we
_did_ 'ave a 'appy day. We saw two pigs killed and a gentleman buried."
And the little boy who was asked if he thought he should like a
hymn-book for his birthday present replied that "he _thought_ he should
like a hymn-book, but he _knew_ he should like a squirt." A small cousin
of mine, hearing his big brothers describe their experiences at a Public
School, observed with unction, "If ever I have a fag of my own, I will
stick pins into him." But now we are leaving childhood behind, and
attaining to the riper joys of full-blooded boyhood.
"O running stream of sparkling joy
To be a soaring human boy!"
exclaimed Mr. Chadband in a moment of inspiration. "In the strictest
sense a boy," was Mr. Gladstone's expressive phrase in his controversy
with Colonel Dopping. For my own part, I confess to a frank dislike of
boys. I dislike them equally whether they are priggish boys, like Kenelm
Chillingly, who asked his mother if she was never overpowered by a sense
of her own identity; or sentimental boys, like Dibbins in _Basil the
Schoolboy_, who, discussing with a friend how to spend a whole holiday,
said, "Let us go to Dingley Dell and talk about Byron;" or manly boys
like Tom Tulliver, of whom it is excellently said that he was the kind
of boy who is commonly spoken of as being very fond of animals--that is,
very fond of throwing stones at them.
Whatever its type,
"I've seemed of late
To shrink from happy boyhood--boys
Have grown so noisy, and I hate
They fright me when the beech is green,
By swarming up its stem for eggs;
They drive their horrid hoops between
It's idle to repine, I know;
I'll tell you what I'll do instead:
I'll drink my arrowroot, and go
But before I do so let me tell one boy-story, connected with the Eton
and Harrow match, which has always struck me as rather pleasing. In the
year 1866, when F.C. Cobden, who was afterwards so famous for his
bowling in the Cambridge Eleven, was playing for Harrow, an affable
father, by way of making conversation for a little Harrow boy at Lord's,
asked, "Is your Cobden any relation to the great Cobden?" "Why, he _is_
the great Cobden," was the simple and swift reply. This is the true
spirit of hero-worship.
"Odd men write odd letters." This rather platitudinous sentence, from an
otherwise excellent essay of the late Bishop Thorold's, is abundantly
illustrated alike by my Collections and by my Recollections. I plunge at
random into my subject, and immediately encounter the following letter
from a Protestant clergyman in the north of Ireland, written in response
to a suggestion that he might with advantage study Mr. Gladstone's
magnificent speech on the Second Reading of the Affirmation Bill in
"My dear Sir,--I have received your recommendation to read carefully the
speech of Mr. Gladstone in favour of admitting the infidel Bradlaugh
into Parliament, I did so when it was delivered, and I must say that the
strength of argument rests with the opposition. I fully expect in the
event of a dissolution the Government will lose between fifty and sixty
seats. Any conclusion can be arrived at, according to the premises laid
down. Mr. G. avoided the Scriptural lines and followed his own. All
parties knew the feeling of the country on the subject, and,
notwithstanding the bullying and majority of Gladstone, he was defeated.
Before the Irish Church was robbed, I was nominated to the Deanery of
Tuam, but Mr. Disraeli resigning, I was defrauded of my just right by
Mr. Gladstone, and my wife, Lady----, the only surviving child of an
Earl, was sadly disappointed; but there is a just Judge above. The
letter of nomination is still in my possession. I am, dear sir, yours
It is highly characteristic of Mr. Gladstone that, when this letter was
shown to him by its recipient as a specimen of epistolary oddity, he
read it, not with a smile, but with a portentous frown, and, handing it
back, sternly asked, "What does the fellow mean by quoting an engagement
entered into by my predecessor as binding on me?"
It is not only clergy "defrauded" of expected dignities that write odd
letters. Young curates in search of benefices often seek to gratify
their innocent ambitions by the most ingenious appeals. Here is a letter
received not many years ago by the Prime Minister of the day:--
"I have no doubt but that your time is fully occupied. I will therefore
compress as much as possible what I wish to say, and frame my request in
a few words. Some time ago my mother wrote to her brother, Lord ----,
asking him to try and do something for me in the way of obtaining a
living. The reply from Lady ---- was that my uncle could do nothing to
help me. I naturally thought that a Premier possessed of such a
plenitude of power as yourself would find it a matter of less difficulty
to transform a curate into a rector or vicar than to create a peer. My
name is in the Chancellor's List--a proceeding, as far as results,
somewhat suggestive, I fear, of the Greek Kalends.... My future
father-in-law is a member of the City Liberal Club, in which a _large
bust_ of yourself was unveiled last year. I am 31 years of age; a High
Churchman; musical, &c.; graduate of----. If I had a living I could
marry.... I am very anxious to marry, but I am very poor, and a living
would help me very much. Being a Southerner, fond of music and of books,
I naturally would like to be somewhere near town. I hope you will be
able to help me in this respect, and thus afford much happiness to more
than one." There is great force in that appeal to the "large bust."
Here is a request which Bishop Thorold received from an admirer, who
unfortunately omitted to give his address:--
"Rev. and learned Sir,--Coming into your presence through the medium of
a letter, I do so in the spirit of respect due to you as a gentleman and
a scholar. I unfortunately am a scholar, but a blackguard. I heard you
preach a few times, and thought you might pity the position I have
brought myself to. I should be grateful to you for an old coat or an old
pair of boots."
And while the seekers after emolument write odd letters, odd letters are
also written by their admirers on their behalf. A few years ago one of
the principal benefices in West London was vacated, and, the
presentation lapsing to the Crown, the Prime Minister received the
"Sir,--Doubtless you do not often get a letter from a working man on the
subject of clerical appointments, but as I here you have got to find a
minister for to fill Mr. Boyd Carpenter's place, allow me to ask you to
just go some Sunday afternoon and here our little curate, Mr. ----, at
St. Matthew's Church--he is a good, Earnest little man, and a genuine
little Fellow; got no humbug about him, but a sound Churchman, is an
Extempor Preacher, and deserves promotion. Nobody knows I am writing to
you, and it is not a matter of kiss and go by favour, but simply asking
you to take a run over and here him, and then put him a stept higher--he
deserves it. I know Mr. Sullivan will give him a good character, and so
will Mr. Alcroft, the Patron. Now do go over and here him before you
make a choice. We working men will be sorry to loose him, but we think
he ought not to be missed promotion, as he is a good fellow.--Your
Ladies, as might naturally be expected, are even more enthusiastic in
advocating the claims of their favourite divines. Writing lately on the
Agreeableness of Clergymen, I described some of the Canons of St. Paul's
and Westminster, and casually referred to the handsome presence of Dr.
Duckworth. I immediately received the following effusion, which, wishing
to oblige the writer, and having no access to the _Church Family
Newspaper_, I now make public:--
"A member of the Rev. Canon Duckworth's congregation for _more than 25
years_ has been much pained by the scant and curious manner in which he
is mentioned by you, and begs to say that his Gospel teaching, his
scholarly and yet simple and charitable discourses (and teaching), his
courteous and sympathetic and prompt answers to his people's requests
and inquiries, his energetic and constant work in his parish, are beyond
praise. Added to all is his clear and sonorous voice in his rendering of
the prayer and praise amongst us. A grateful parishioner hopes and
_asks_ for some further recognition of his position in the Church of
Christ, in the _Church Family Newspaper_, June 12." So far the Church. I
now turn to the world.
In the second volume of Lord Beaconsfield's _Endymion_ will be found a
description, by a hand which was never excelled at such business, of
that grotesque revival of medievalism, the Tournament at Eglinton Castle
in 1839. But the writer, conceding something to the requirements of art,
ignores the fact that the splendid pageant was spoilt by rain. Two
years' preparation and enormous expense were thrown away. A grand
cavalcade, in which Prince Louis Napoleon rode as one of the knights,
left Eglinton Castle on the 28th of August at two in the afternoon, with
heralds, banners, pursuivants, the knight-marshal, the jester, the King
of the Tournament, the Queen of Beauty, and a glowing assemblage of
knights and ladies, seneschals, chamberlains, esquires, pages, and
men-at-arms, and took their way in procession to the lists, which were
overlooked by galleries in which nearly two thousand spectators were
accommodated; but all the while the rain came down in bucketfuls, never
ceased while the tourney proceeded, and brought the proceedings to a
premature and ignominious close. I only mention the occurrence here
because the Queen of Beauty, elected to that high honour by unanimous
acclamation, was Jane Sheridan, Lady Seymour; and there is all the charm
of vivid contrast in turning from the reckless expenditure and fantastic
brilliancy of 1839 to the following correspondence, which was published
in the newspapers in the early part of 1840.
Anne, Lady Shuckburgh, was the wife of Sir Francis Shuckburgh, a
Northamptonshire Baronet, and to her the Queen of Beauty, forsaking the
triumphs of chivalry for the duties of domestic economy, addressed the
"Lady Seymour presents her compliments to Lady Shuckburgh, and would be
obliged to her for the character of Mary Stedman, who states that she
lived twelve months, and still is, in Lady Shuckburgh's establishment.
Can Mary Stedman cook plain dishes well? make bread? and is she honest,
good-tempered, sober, willing, and cleanly? Lady Seymour would also like
to know the reason why she leaves Lady Shuckburgh's service. Direct,
under cover to Lord Seymour, Maiden Bradley."
To this polite and business-like inquiry, Lady Shuckburgh replied as
"Lady Shuckburgh presents her compliments to Lady Seymour. Her
ladyship's note, dated October 28, only reached her yesterday, November
3. Lady Shuckburgh was unacquainted with the name of the kitchen-maid
until mentioned by Lady Seymour, as it is her custom neither to apply
for or to give characters to any of the under servants, this being
always done by the housekeeper, Mrs. Couch--and this was well known to
the young woman; therefore Lady Shuckburgh is surprised at her referring
any lady to her for a character. Lady Shuckburgh having a professed
cook, as well as a housekeeper, in her establishment, it is not very
likely she herself should know anything of the abilities or merits of
the under servants; therefore she is unable to answer Lady Seymour's
note. Lady Shuckburgh cannot imagine Mary Stedman to be capable of
cooking for any except the servants'-hall table.
"November 4, Pavilion, Hans Place."
But Sheridan's granddaughter was quite the wrong subject for these
experiments in fine-ladyism, and she lost no time in replying as
"Lady Seymour presents her compliments to Lady Shuckburgh, and begs she
will order her housekeeper, Mrs. Pouch, to send the girl's character
without delay; otherwise another young woman will be sought for
elsewhere, as Lady Seymour's children cannot remain without their
dinners because Lady Shuckburgh, keeping a 'professed cook and a
housekeeper,' thinks a knowledge of the details of her establishment
beneath her notice. Lady Seymour understands from Stedman that, in
addition to her other talents, she was actually capable of dressing food
fit for the little Shuckburghs to partake of when hungry."
To this note was appended a pen-and-ink vignette by Lady Seymour
representing the three "little Shuckburghs," with large heads and
cauliflower wigs, sitting at a round table and voraciously scrambling
for mutton chops dressed by Mary Stedman, who was seen looking on with
supreme satisfaction, while Lady Shuckburgh appeared in the distance in
evident dismay. A crushing rejoinder closed this correspondence:--
"Madam,--Lady Shuckburgh has directed me to acquaint you that she
declines answering your note, the vulgarity of which is beneath
contempt; and although it may be the characteristic of the Sheridans to
be vulgar, coarse, and witty, it is not that of a 'lady,' unless she
happens to have been born in a garret and bred in a kitchen. Mary
Stedman informs me that your ladyship does not keep either a cook or a
housekeeper, and that you only require a girl who can cook a mutton
chop. If so, I apprehend that Mary Stedman or any other scullion will be
found fully equal to cook for or manage the establishment of the Queen
of Beauty.--I am, your Ladyship's, &c.,
"ELIZABETH COUCH (not Pouch)."
"Odd men," quoth Bishop Thorold, "write odd letters," and so do odd
women. The original of the following epistle to Mr. Gladstone lies
before me. It is dated Cannes, March 15, 1893:--
"Far away from my native Land, my bitter indignation as a _Welshwoman_
prompts me to reproach you, you _bad, wicked, false_, treacherous Old
Man! for your iniquitous scheme to _rob_ and overthrow the
dearly-beloved Old Church of my Country. You have no conscience, but I
pray that God may even yet give you one that will sorely _smart_ and
trouble you before you die. You pretend to be religious, you old
hypocrite! that you may more successfully pander to the evil passions of
the lowest and most ignorant of the Welsh people. But you neither care
for nor respect the principles of Religion, or you would not distress
the minds of all true Christian people by instigating a mob to Commit
the awful sin of Sacrilege. You think you will shine in History, but it
will be a notoriety similar to that of _Nero._ I see some one pays you
the unintentional compliment of comparing you to Pontius Pilate, and I
am sorry, for Pilate, though a political time-server, was, with all his
faults, a very respectable man in comparison with you. And he did not,
like you, profess the Christian Religion You are certainly _clever_. So
also is your lord and master the Devil. And I cannot regard it as sinful
to hate and despise you, any more than it is sinful to abhor him. So,
with full measure of contempt and detestation, accept these compliments
"A DAUGHTER OF OLD WALES."
It is a triumph of female perseverance and ingenuity that the whole of
the foregoing is compressed into a single postcard.
Some letters, like the foregoing, are odd from their extraordinary
rudeness. Others--not usually, it must be admitted, Englishmen's
letters--are odd from their excess of civility. An Italian priest
working in London wrote to a Roman Catholic M.P., asking for an order of
admission to the House of Commons, and, on receiving it, acknowledged it
"_To the Hon. Mr. ----, M.P._
"Hon. Sir, Son in Jesu Christ, I beg most respectfully you, Hon. Sir, to
accept the very deep gratitude for the ticket which you, Hon. Sir, with
noble kindness, favoured me by post to-day. May the Blessing of God
Almighty come upon you, Hon. Sir, and may He preserve you, Hon. Sir, for
ever and ever, Amen! With all due respect, I have the honour to be, Hon.
Sir, your most
"humble and obedient servant,
Surely the British Constituent might take a lesson from this extremely
polite letter-writer when his long-suffering Member has squeezed him
into the Strangers' Gallery.
Some letters, again, are odd from their excess of candour. A gentleman,
unknown to me, soliciting pecuniary assistance, informed me that, having
"sought relief from trouble in dissipation," he "committed an act which
sent him into Penal Servitude," and shortly after his release, "wrote a
book containing many suggestions for the reform of prison discipline," A
lady, widely known for the benevolent use which she makes of great
wealth, received a letter from an absolute stranger, setting forth that
he had been so unfortunate as to overdraw his account at his bankers,
and adding, "As I know that it will only cost you a scratch of the pen
to set this right, I make no apology for asking you to do so."
Among "odd men" might certainly be reckoned the late Archdeacon Denison,
and he displayed his oddness very characteristically when, having
quarrelled with the Committee of Council on Education, he refused to
have his parish schools inspected, and thus intimated his resolve to the
"My dear Bellairs,--I love you very much; but if you ever come here
again to inspect, I lock the door of the school, and tell the boys to
put you in the pond."
I am not sure whether the great Duke of Wellington can properly be
described as an "odd man," but beyond question he wrote odd letters. I
have already quoted from his reply to Mrs. Norton when she asked leave
to dedicate a song to him: "I have made it a rule to have nothing
dedicated to me, and have kept it in every instance, though I have been
Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and in other situations _much
exposed to authors_." The Duke replied to every letter that he received,
but his replies were not always acceptable to their recipients. When a
philanthropist begged him to present some petitions to the House of
Lords on behalf of the wretched chimney sweeps, the Duke wrote back:
"Mr. Stevens has _thought fit_ to leave some petitions at Apsley House.
They will be found with the porter." The Duke's correspondence with
"Miss J.," which was published by Mr. Fisher Unwin some ten years ago,
and is much less known than it deserves to be, contains some gems of
composition. Miss J. consulted the Duke about her duty when a
fellow-passenger in the stage-coach swore, and he wrote: "I don't
consider with you that it is necessary to enter into a disputation with
every wandering Blasphemer. Much must depend upon the circumstances."
And when the good lady mixed flirtation with piety, and irritability
with both, he wrote: "The Duke of Wellington presents His Compliments to
Miss J. She is quite mistaken. He has no Lock of Hair of Hers. He never
had one." The Letter of Condolence is a branch of the art of
letter-writing which requires very delicate handling. This was evidently
felt by the Oxford Don who, writing to condole with a father on the
death of his undergraduate son, concluded his tribute of sympathy by
saying: "At the same time, I feel it my duty to tell you that your son
would not in any case have been allowed to return next term, as he had
failed to pass Responsions."
Curtness in letter-writing does not necessarily indicate oddity. It
often is the most judicious method of avoiding interminable
correspondence. When one of Bishop Thorold's clergy wrote to beg leave
of absence from his duties in order that he might make a long tour in
the East, he received for all reply: "Dear--,--Go to Jericho.--Yours,
A.W.R." At a moment when scarlet fever was ravaging Haileybury, and
suggestions for treatment were pouring in by every post, the Head Master
had a lithographed answer prepared, which ran: "Dear Sir,--I am obliged
by your opinions, and retain my own." An admirable answer was made by
another Head Master to a pompous matron, who wrote that, before she sent
her boy to his school, she must ask if he was very particular about the
social antecedents of his pupils: "Dear Madam, as long as your son
behaves himself and his fees are paid, no questions will be asked about
his social antecedents."
Sydney Smith's reply, when Lord Houghton, then young "Dicky Milnes,"
wrote him an angry letter about some supposed unfriendliness, was a
model of mature and genial wisdom: "Dear Milnes,--Never lose your good
temper, which is one of your best qualities." When the then Dean of
Hereford wrote a solemn letter to Lord John Russell, announcing that he
and his colleagues would refuse to elect Dr. Hampden to the See, Lord
John replied: "Sir,--I have had the honour to receive your letter of the
22nd inst., in which you intimate to me your intention of violating the
law." Some years ago Lady----, who is well known as an ardent worker in
the interests of the Roman Church, wrote to the Duke of----, a sturdy
Protestant, that she was greatly interested in a Roman Catholic Charity,
and, knowing the Duke's wide benevolence, had ventured to put down his
name for L100. The Duke wrote back: "Dear Lady----,--It is a curious
coincidence that, just before I got your letter, I had put down your
name for a like sum to the English Mission for converting Irish
Catholics; so no money need pass between us." But perhaps the supreme
honours of curt correspondence belong to Mr. Bright. Let one instance
suffice. Having been calumniated by a Tory orator at Barrow, Mr. Bright
wrote as follows about his traducer: "He may not know that he is
ignorant, but he cannot be ignorant that he lies. And after such a
speech the meeting thanked him--I presume because they enjoyed what he
had given them. I think the speaker was named Smith. He is a discredit
to _the numerous family of that name._"
 Sir Herbert Maxwell, in his _Life of Wellington_, vouches for the
genuineness of the Duke's letters to "Miss J." She was Miss A.M.
The announcements relating to the first Cabinet of the winter set me
thinking whether my readers might be interested in seeing what I have
"collected" as to the daily life and labours of her Majesty's Ministers.
I decided that I would try the experiment, and, acting on the principle
which I have professed before--that when once one has deliberately
chosen certain words to express one's meaning one cannot, as a rule,
alter them with advantage--I shall borrow from some former writings of
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