Curiosities of Literature, Vol. 3 (of 3)
by Isaac D'Israeli
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16     Next Part
Home - Random Browse



A New Edition,


































































Nothing is more idle, and, what is less to be forgiven in a writer, more tedious, than minute and lengthened descriptions of localities; where it is very doubtful whether the writers themselves had formed any tolerable notion of the place they describe,—it is certain their readers never can! These descriptive passages, in which writers of imagination so frequently indulge, are usually a glittering confusion of unconnected things; circumstances recollected from others, or observed by themselves at different times; the finest are thrust in together. If a scene from nature, it is possible that all the seasons of the year may be jumbled together; or if a castle or an apartment, its magnitude or its minuteness may equally bewilder. Yet we find, even in works of celebrity, whole pages of these general or these particular descriptive sketches, which leave nothing behind but noun substantives propped up by random epithets. The old writers were quite delighted to fill up their voluminous pages with what was a great saving of sense and thinking. In the Alaric of Scudery sixteen pages, containing nearly five hundred verses, describe a palace, commencing at the facade, and at length finishing with the garden; but his description, we may say, was much better described by Boileau, whose good taste felt the absurdity of this "abondance sterile," in overloading a work with useless details,

Un auteur, quelquefois, trop plein de son objet, Jamais sans l'epuiser n'abandonne un sujet. S'il rencontre un palais il m'en depeint la face, Il me promene apres de terrasae en terrasse. Ici s'offre un perron, la regne un corridor; La ce balcon s'enferme en un balustre d'or; Il compte les plafonds, les ronds, et les ovales— Je saute vingt feuillets pour en trouver la fin; Et je me sauve a peine au travers du jardin!

And then he adds so excellent a canon of criticism, that we must not neglect it:—

Tout ce qu'on dit de trop est fade et rebutant; L'esprit rassasie le rejette a l'instant, Qui ne sait se borner, ne sut jamais ecrire.

We have a memorable instance of the inefficiency of local descriptions in a very remarkable one by a writer of fine genius, composing with an extreme fondness of his subject, and curiously anxious to send down to posterity the most elaborate display of his own villa—this was the Laurentinum of Pliny. We cannot read his letter to Gallus, which the English reader may in Melmoth's elegant version,[1] without somewhat participating in the delight of the writer in many of its details; but we cannot with the writer form the slightest conception of his villa, while he is leading us over from apartment to apartment, and pointing to us the opposite wing, with a "beyond this," and a "not far from thence," and "to this apartment another of the same sort," &c. Yet, still, as we were in great want of a correct knowledge of a Roman villa, and as this must be the most so possible, architects have frequently studied, and the learned translated with extraordinary care, Pliny's Description of his Laurentinum. It became so favourite an object, that eminent architects have attempted to raise up this edifice once more, by giving its plan and elevation; and this extraordinary fact is the result—that not one of them but has given a representation different from the other! Montfaucon, a more faithful antiquary, in his close translation of the description of this villa, in comparing it with Felibien's plan of the villa itself, observes, "that the architect accommodated his edifice to his translation, but that their notions are not the same; unquestionably," he adds, "if ten skilful translators were to perform their task separately, there would not be one who agreed with another!"

If, then, on this subject of local descriptions, we find that it is impossible to convey exact notions of a real existing scene, what must we think of those which, in truth, describe scenes which have no other existence than the confused makings-up of an author's invention; where the more he details the more he confuses; and where the more particular he wishes to be, the more indistinct the whole appears?

Local descriptions, after a few striking circumstances have been selected, admit of no further detail. It is not their length, but their happiness, which enters into our comprehension; the imagination can only take in and keep together a very few parts of a picture. The pen must not intrude on the province of the pencil, any more than the pencil must attempt to perform what cannot in any shape be submitted to the eye, though fully to the mind.

The great art, perhaps, of local description, is rather a general than a particular view; the details must be left to the imagination; it is suggestion rather than description. There is an old Italian sonnet of this kind which I have often read with delight; and though I may not communicate the same pleasure to the reader, yet the story of the writer is most interesting, and the lady (for such she was) has the highest claim to be ranked, like the lady of Evelyn, among literary wives.

Francesca Turina Bufalini di Citta di Castello, of noble extraction, and devoted to literature, had a collection of her poems published in 1628. She frequently interspersed little domestic incidents of her female friend, her husband, her son, her grandchildren; and in one of these sonnets she has delineated her palace of San Giustino, whose localities she appears to have enjoyed with intense delight in the company of "her lord," whom she tenderly associates with the scene. There is a freshness and simplicity in the description, which will perhaps convey a clearer notion of the spot than even Pliny could do in the voluminous description of his villa. She tells us what she found when brought to the house of her husband:—

Ampie salle, ampie loggie, ampio cortile E stanze ornate con gentil pitture, Trovai giungendo, e nobili sculture Di marmo fatte, da scalpel non vile. Nobil giardin con un perpetuo Aprile Di varij fior, di frutti, e di verdure, Ombre soavi, acque a temprar l'arsure E strade di belta non dissimile; E non men forte estel, che per fortezza Ha il ponte, e i fianchi, e lo circonda intorno Fosso profundo e di real larghezza. Qui fei col mio Signore dolce soggiorno Con santo amor, con somma contentezza Onde ne benedico il mese e il giorno!

Wide halls, wide galleries, and an ample court, Chambers adorn'd by pictures' soothing charm, I found together blended; noble sculpture In marble, polish'd by no chisel vile; A noble garden, where a lasting April All-various flowers and fruits and verdure showers; Soft shades, and waters tempering the hot air; And undulating paths in equal beauty! Nor less the castled glory stands in force, And bridged and flanked. And round its circuit winds The deepened moat, showing a regal size. Here with my lord I cast my sweet sojourn, With holy love, and with supreme content; And hence I bless the month, and bless the day!


[1] Book ii. lett. 17.


It sometimes happens, in the history of national amusements, that a name survives while the thing itself is forgotten. This has been remarkably the case with our court Masques, respecting which our most eminent writers long ventured on so many false opinions, with a perfect ignorance of the nature of these compositions, which combined all that was exquisite in the imitative arts of poetry, painting, music, song, dancing, and machinery, at a period when our public theatre was in its rude infancy. Convinced of the miserable state of our represented drama, and not then possessing that more curious knowledge of their domestic history which we delight to explore, they were led into erroneous notions of one of the most gorgeous, the most fascinating, and the most poetical of dramatic amusements. Our present theatrical exhibitions are, indeed, on a scale to which the twopenny audiences of the barn playhouses of Shakspeare could never have strained their sight; and our picturesque and learned costume, with the brilliant changes of our scenery, would have maddened the "property-men" and the "tire-women" of the Globe or the Red Bull.[2] Shakspeare himself never beheld the true magical illusions of his own dramas, with "Enter the Red Coat," and "Exit Hat and Cloak," helped out with "painted cloths;" or, as a bard of Charles the Second's time chants—

Look back and see The strange vicissitudes of poetrie; Your aged fathers came to plays for wit, And sat knee-deep in nut-shells in the pit.

But while the public theatre continued long in this contracted state, without scenes, without dresses, without an orchestra, the court displayed scenical and dramatic exhibitions with such costly magnificence, such inventive fancy, and such miraculous art, that we may doubt if the combined genius of Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones, and Lawes, or Ferobosco, at an era most favourable to the arts of imagination, has been equalled by the modern spectacle of the Opera.

But this circumstance had entirely escaped the knowledge of our critics. The critic of a Masque must not only have read it, but he must also have heard and have viewed it. The only witnesses in this case are those letter-writers of the day, who were then accustomed to communicate such domestic intelligence to their absent friends: from such ample correspondence I have often drawn some curious and sometimes important information. It is amusing to notice the opinions of some great critics, how from an original mis-statement they have drawn an illegitimate opinion, and how one inherits from the other the error which he propagates. Warburton said on Masques, that "Shakspeare was an enemy to these fooleries, as appears by his writing none." This opinion was among the many which that singular critic threw out as they arose at the moment; for Warburton forgot that Shakspeare characteristically introduces one in the Tempest's most fanciful scene.[3] Granger, who had not much time to study the manners of the age whose personages he was so well acquainted with, in a note on Milton's Masque, said that "these compositions were trifling and perplexed allegories, the persons of which are fantastical to the last degree. Ben Jonson, in his 'Masque of Christmas,' has introduced 'Minced Pie,' and 'Baby Cake,' who act their parts in the drama.[4] But the most wretched performances of this kind could please by the help of music, machinery, and dancing." Granger blunders, describing by two farcical characters a species of composition of which farce was not the characteristic. Such personages as he notices would enter into the Anti-masque, which was a humorous parody of the more solemn Masque, and sometimes relieved it. Malone, whose fancy was not vivid, condemns Masques and the age of Masques, in which, he says, echoing Granger's epithet, "the wretched taste of the times found amusement." And lastly comes Mr. Todd, whom the splendid fragment of the "Arcades," and the entire Masque, which we have by heart, could not warm; while his neutralising criticism fixes him at the freezing point of the thermometer. "This dramatic entertainment, performed not without prodigious expense in machinery and decoration, to which humour we certainly owe the entertainment of 'Arcades,' and the inimitable Mask of 'Comus.'" Comus, however, is only a fine dramatic poem, retaining scarcely any features of the Masque. The only modern critic who had written with some research on this departed elegance of the English drama was Warton, whose fancy responded to the fascination of the fairy-like magnificence and lyrical spirit of the Masque. Warton had the taste to give a specimen from "The Inner Temple Mask by William Browne," the pastoral poet, whose Address to Sleep, he observed, "reminds us of some favourite touches in Milton's Comus, to which it perhaps gave birth." Yet even Warton was deficient in that sort of research which only can discover the true nature of these singular dramas.

Such was the state in which, some years ago, I found all our knowledge of this once favourite amusement of our court, our nobility, and our learned bodies of the four inns of court. Some extensive researches, pursued among contemporary manuscripts, cast a new light over this obscure child of fancy and magnificence. I could not think lightly of what Ben Jonson has called "The Eloquence of Masques;" entertainments on which from three to five thousand pounds were expended, and on more public occasions ten and twenty thousand. To the aid of the poetry, composed by the finest poets, came the most skilful musicians and the most elaborate machinists; Ben Jonson, and Inigo Jones,[5] and Lawes blended into one piece their respective genius; and Lord Bacon, and Whitelocke, and Selden, who sat in committees for the last grand Masque presented to Charles the First, invented the devices; composed the procession of the Masquers and the Anti-Masquers; while one took the care of the dancing or the brawlers, and Whitelocke the music—the sage Whitelocke! who has chronicled his self-complacency on this occasion, by claiming the invention of a Coranto, which for thirty years afterwards was the delight of the nation, and was blessed by the name of "Whitelocke's Coranto," and which was always called for, two or three times over, whenever that great statesman "came to see a play!"[6] So much personal honour was considered to be involved in the conduct of a Masque, that even this committee of illustrious men was on the point of being broken up by too serious a discussion concerning precedence; and the Masque had nearly not taken place, till they hit on the expedient of throwing dice to decide on their rank in the procession! On this jealousy of honour in the composition of a Masque, I discovered, what hitherto had escaped the knowledge, although not the curiosity, of literary inquirers—the occasion of the memorable enmity between Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones, who had hitherto acted together with brotherly affection; "a circumstance," says Gifford, to whom I communicated it, "not a little important in the history of our calumniated poet." The trivial cause, but not so in its consequences, was the poet prefixing his own name before that of the architect on the title-page of a Masque, which hitherto had only been annexed;[7] so jealous was the great architect of his part of the Masque, and so predominant his power and name at court, that he considered his rights invaded by the inferior claims of the poet! Jonson has poured out the whole bitterness of his soul in two short satires: still more unfortunately for the subject of these satires, they provoked Inigo to sharpen his pen on rhyme; but it is edgeless, and the blunt composition still lies in its manuscript state.

While these researches had engaged my attention, appeared Gifford's Memoirs of Ben Jonson. The characteristics of Masques are there, for the first time, elaborately opened with the clear and penetrating spirit of that ablest of our dramatic critics. I feel it like presumption to add to what has received the finishing hand of a master; but his jewel is locked up in a chest, which I fear is too rarely opened, and he will allow me to borrow something from its splendour. "The Masque, as it attained its highest degree of excellence, admitted of dialogue, singing, and dancing; these were not independent of one another, but combined, by the introduction of some ingenious fable, into an harmonious whole. When the plan was formed, the aid of the sister-arts was called in; for the essence of the Masque was pomp and glory. Moveable scenery of the most costly and splendid kind was lavished on the Masque; the most celebrated masters were employed on the songs and dances; and all that the kingdom afforded of vocal and instrumental excellence was employed to embellish the exhibition.[8] Thus magnificently constructed, the Masque was not committed to ordinary performers. It was composed, as Lord Bacon says, for princes, and by princes it was played.[9] Of these Masques, the skill with which their ornaments were designed, and the inexpressible grace with which they were executed, appear to have left a vivid impression on the mind of Jonson. His genius awakes at once, and all his faculties attune to sprightliness and pleasure. He makes his appearance, like his own Delight, 'accompanied with Grace, Love, Harmony, Revel, Sport, and Laughter.'

"In curious knot and mazes so The Spring at first was taught to go; And Zephyr, when he came to woo His Flora, had his motions[10] too; And thus did Venus learn to lead The Idalian brawls, and so to tread, As if the wind, not she, did walk, Nor press'd a flower, nor bow'd a stalk.

"But in what," says Gifford, "was the taste of the times wretched? In poetry, painting, architecture, they have not since been equalled; and it ill becomes us to arraign the taste of a period which possessed a cluster of writers of whom the meanest would now be esteemed a prodigy." Malone did not live to read this denouncement of his objection to these Masques, as "bungling shows;" and which Warburton treats as "fooleries;" Granger as "wretched performances;" while Mr. Todd regards them merely as "the humour of the times!"

Masques were often the private theatricals of the families of our nobility, performed by the ladies and gentlemen at their seats; and were splendidly got up on certain occasions: such as the celebration of a nuptial, or in compliment to some great visitor. The Masque of Comus was composed by Milton to celebrate the creation of Charles the First as Prince of Wales; a scene in this Masque presented both the castle and the town of Ludlow, which proves, that although our small public theatres had not yet displayed any of the scenical illusions which long afterwards Davenant introduced, these scenical effects existed in great perfection in the Masques. The minute descriptions introduced by Thomas Campion, in his "Memorable Masque," as it is called, will convince us that the scenery must have been exquisite and fanciful, and that the poet was always a watchful and anxious partner with the machinist, with whom sometimes, however, he had a quarrel.

The subject of this very rare Masque was "The Night and the Hours." It would be tedious to describe the first scene with the fondness with which the poet has dwelt on it. It was a double valley; one side, with dark clouds hanging before it; on the other, a green vale, with trees, and nine golden ones of fifteen feet high; from which grove, towards "the State," or the seat of the king, was a broad descent to the dancing-place: the bower of Flora was on the right, the house of Night on the left; between them a hill, hanging like a cliff over the grove. The bower of Flora was spacious, garnished with flowers and flowery branches, with lights among them; the house of Night ample and stately, with black columns studded with golden stars; within, nothing but clouds and twinkling stars; while about it were placed, on wire, artificial bats and owls, continually moving. As soon as the king entered the great hall, the hautboys, out of the wood on the top of the hill, entertained the time, till Flora and Zephyr were seen busily gathering flowers from the bower, throwing them into baskets which two silvans held, attired in changeable taffeta. The song is light as their fingers, but the burden is charming:—

Now hath Flora robb'd her bowers To befriend this place with flowers; Strow about! strow about! Divers, divers flowers affect For some private dear respect; Strow about! strow about! But he's none of Flora's friend That will not the rose commend; Strow about! strow about!

I cannot quit this Masque, of which, collectors know the rarity, without preserving one of those Doric delicacies, of which, perhaps, we have outlived the taste! It is a playful dialogue between a Silvan and an Hour, while Night appears in her house, with her long black hair spangled with gold, amidst her Hours; their faces black, and each bearing a lighted black torch.

SILVAN. Tell me, gentle Hour of Night, Wherein dost thou most delight?

HOUR. Not in sleep!

SILVAN. Wherein then?

HOUR. In the frolic view of men!

SILVAN. Lov'st thou music?

HOUR. Oh! 'tis sweet!

SILVAN. What's dancing?

HOUR. E'en the mirth of feet.

SILVAN. Joy you in fairies and in elves?

HOUR. We are of that sort ourselves! But, Silvan! say, why do you love Only to frequent the grove?

SILVAN. Life is fullest of content When delight is innocent.

HOUR. Pleasure must vary, not be long! Come then, let's close, and end the song!

That the moveable scenery of these Masques formed as perfect a scenical illusion as any that our own age, with all its perfection of decoration, has attained to, will not be denied by those who have read the few Masques which have been printed. They usually contrived a double division of the scene; one part was for some time concealed from the spectator, which produced surprise and variety. Thus in the Lord's Masque, at the marriage of the Palatine, the scene was divided into two parts, from the roof to the floor; the lower part being first discovered, there appeared a wood in perspective, the innermost part being of "releeve or whole round," the rest painted. On the left a cave, and on the right a thicket, from which issued Orpheus. At the back part of the scene, at the sudden fall of a curtain, the upper part broke on the spectators, a heaven of clouds of all hues; the stars suddenly vanished, the clouds dispersed; an element of artificial fire played about the house of Prometheus—a bright and transparent cloud, reaching from the heavens to the earth, whence the eight masquers descending with the music of a full song; and at the end of their descent the cloud broke in twain, and one part of it, as with a wind, was blown athwart the scene. While this cloud was vanishing, the wood, being the under part of the scene, was insensibly changing; a perspective view opened, with porticoes on each side, and female statues of silver, accompanied with ornaments of architecture, filling the end of the house of Prometheus, and seemed all of goldsmiths' work. The women of Prometheus descended from their niches, till the anger of Jupiter turned them again into statues. It is evident, too, that the size of the proscenium, or stage, accorded with the magnificence of the scene; for I find choruses described, "and changeable conveyances of the song," in manner of an echo, performed by more than forty different voices and instruments in various parts of the scene. The architectural decorations were the pride of Inigo Jones; such could not be trivial.

"I suppose," says the writer of this Masque, "few have ever seen more neat artifice than Master Inigo Jones showed in contriving their motion; who, as all the rest of the workmanship which belonged to the whole invention, showed extraordinary industry and skill, which if it be not as lively expressed in writing as it appeared in view, rob not him of his due, but lay the blame on my want of right apprehending his instructions, for the adoring of his art." Whether this strong expression should be only adorning does not appear in any errata; but the feeling of admiration was fervent among the spectators of that day, who were at least as much astonished as they were delighted. Ben Jonson's prose descriptions of scenes in his own exquisite Masques, as Gifford observes, "are singularly bold and beautiful." In a letter which I discovered, the writer of which had been present at one of these Masques, and which Gifford has preserved,[11] the reader may see the great poet anxiously united with Inigo Jones in working the machinery. Jonson, before "a sacrifice could be performed, turned the globe of the earth, standing behind the altar." In this globe "the sea was expressed heightened with silver waves, which stood, or rather hung (for no axle was seen to support it), and turning softly, discovered the first Masque,"[12] &c. This "turning softly" producing a very magical effect, the great poet would trust to no other hand but his own!

It seems, however, that as no Masque-writer equalled Jonson, so no machinist rivalled Inigo Jones. I have sometimes caught a groan from some unfortunate poet, whose beautiful fancies were spoilt by the bungling machinist. One says, "The order of this scene was carefully and ingeniously disposed, and as happily put in act (for the motions) by the king's master carpenter;" but he adds, "the painters, I must needs say (not to belie them), lent small colour to any, to attribute much of the spirit of these things to their pencil." Campion, in one of his Masques, describing where the trees were gently to sink, &c., by an engine placed under the stage, and in sinking were to open, and the masquers appear out at their tops, &c., adds this vindictive marginal note: "Either by the simplicity, negligence, or conspiracy of the painter, the passing away of the trees was somewhat hazarded, though the same day they had been shown with much admiration, and were left together to the same night;" that is, they were worked right at the rehearsal, and failed in the representation, which must have perplexed the nine masquers on the tops of these nine trees. But such accidents were only vexations crossing the fancies of the poet: they did not essentially injure the magnificence, the pomp, and the fairy world opened to the spectators. So little was the character of these Masques known, that all our critics seemed to have fallen into repeated blunders, and used the Masques as Campion suspected his painters to have done, "either by simplicity, negligence, or conspiracy." Hurd, a cold systematic critic, thought he might safely prefer the Masque in the Tempest, as "putting to shame all the Masques of Jonson, not only in its construction, but in the splendour of its show;"—"which," adds Gifford, "was danced and sung by the ordinary performers to a couple of fiddles, perhaps in the balcony of the stage." Such is the fate of criticism without knowledge! And now, to close our Masques, let me apply the forcible style of Ben Jonson himself: "The glory of all these solemnities had perished like a blaze, and gone out in the beholder's eyes; so short-lived are the bodies of all things in comparison of their souls!"[13]


[2] Sir Philip Sidney, in his "Defence of Poesy," 1595, alludes to the custom of writing the supposed locality of each scene over the stage, and asks, "What child is there that coming to a play, and seeing Thebes written in great letters on an old door, doth believe that it is Thebes." As late as the production of Davenant's Siege of Rhodes (circa 1656), this custom was continued, and is thus described in the printed edition of the play:—"In the middle of the frieze was a compartment wherein was written Rhodes." In many instances the spectator was left to infer the locality of the scene from the dialogue.—"Now," says Sidney, "you shall have three ladies walke to gather flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden. By and by we heare newes of shipwracke in the same place; then we are to blame if we accept it not for a rock." In Middleton's Chaste Maid, 1630, when the scene changes to a bed-room, "a bed is thrust out upon the stage, Alwit's wife in it;" which simple process was effected by pushing it through the curtains that hung across the entrance to the stage, which at that time projected into the pit.

[3] The play of Pyramus and Thisbe, performed by the clowns in Shakspeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, is certainly constructed in burlesque of characters in court Masques, which sometimes were as difficult to be made comprehensible to an audience as "the clowns of Athens" found Wall and Moonshine to be.

[4] It is due to a great poet like Ben Jonson, that, without troubling the reader to turn to his works, we should give his own description of these characters, to show that they were not the "perplexed allegories" they are asserted to be by Granger; nor inappropriate to the Masque of Christmas, for which they were designed. MINCED-PIE was habited "like a fine cook's wife, drest neat, her man carrying a pie, dish, and spoon." BABY-CAKE was "drest like a boy, in a fine long coat, biggin-bib, muckender (or handkerchief), and a little dagger; his usher bearing a great cake, with a bean and a pease;" the latter being indicative of those generally inserted in a Christmas cake, which, when cut into slices and distributed, indicated by the presence of the bean the person who should be king; the slice with the pea doing the same for the queen. Neither of these characters speak, but make part of the show to be described by Father Christmas. Jonson's inventive talent was never more conspicuous than in the concoction of court Masques.

[5] The first employment of these two great men was upon The Masque of Blackness, performed at Whitehall on Twelfth-Night, 1603; and which cost nearly 10,000l., of our present money.

[6] The music of Whitelocke's Coranto is preserved in Hawkins's "History of Music." Might it be restored for the ladies as a waltz?

[7] This was Chloridia, a Masque performed by the queen and her ladies at court, on Shrovetide, 1630; upon the title-page of which is printed "the inventors—Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones." Jonson was, by reason of the influence of Inigo, deprived of employ at court ever after, supplanted by other poets named by the architect, and among them Heywood, Shirley, and Davenant.

[8] George Chapman's Memorable Maske, performed at Whitehall, 1630, by the gentlemen of the Middle Temple and Lincoln's Inn, cost the latter society nearly 2000l. for their share of the expenses.

[9] Ben Jonson records the names of the noble ladies and gentlemen who enacted his inventions at court.

[10] The figures and actions of dancers in Masques were called motions.

[11] Memoirs of Jonson, p. 88.

[12] See Gifford's Jonson, vol. vii. p. 78. This performance was in the Masque of Hymen, enacted at court in 1605, on the occasion of the marriage of the Earl of Essex to the daughter of the Earl of Suffolk.

[13] Splendour ultimately ruined these works; they ended in gaudy dresses and expensive machinery, but poetry was not associated with them. The youthful days of Louis XIV. raised them to a height of costly luxuriance to sink them ever after in oblivion.


Des Maizeaux was an active literary man of his day, whose connexions with Bayle, St. Evremond, Locke, and Toland, and his name being set off by an F.R.S., have occasioned the dictionary-biographers to place him prominently among their "hommes illustres." Of his private history nothing seems known. Having something important to communicate respecting one of his friends, a far greater character, with whose fate he stands connected, even Des Maizeaux becomes an object of our inquiry.

He was one of those French refugees whom political madness or despair of intolerance had driven to our shores. The proscription of Louis XIV., which supplied us with our skilful workers in silk, also produced a race of the unemployed, who proved not to be as exquisite in the handicraft of book-making; such were Motteux, La Coste, Ozell, Durand, and others. Our author had come over in that tender state of youth, just in time to become half an Englishman: and he was so ambidextrous in the languages of the two great literary nations of Europe, that whenever he took up his pen, it is evident by his manuscripts, which I have examined, that it was mere accident which determined him to write in French or in English. Composing without genius, or even taste, without vivacity or force, the simplicity and fluency of his style were sufficient for the purposes of a ready dealer in all the minutiae literariae; literary anecdotes, curious quotations, notices of obscure books, and all that supellex which must enter into the history of literature, without forming a history. These little things, which did so well of themselves, without any connexion with anything else, became trivial when they assumed the form of voluminous minuteness; and Des Maizeaux at length imagined that nothing but anecdotes were necessary to compose the lives of men of genius! With this sort of talent he produced a copious life of Bayle, in which he told everything he possibly could; and nothing can be more tedious, and more curious: for though it be a grievous fault to omit nothing, and marks the writer to be deficient in the development of character, and that sympathy which throws inspiration over the vivifying page of biography, yet, to admit everything, has this merit—that we are sure to find what we want! Warburton poignantly describes our Des Maizeaux, in one of those letters to Dr. Birch which he wrote in the fervid age of study, and with the impatient vivacity of his genius, "Almost all the life-writers we have had before Toland and Des Maizeaux are indeed strange, insipid creatures; and yet I had rather read the worst of them, than be obliged to go through with this of Milton's, or the other's life of Boileau; where there is such a dull, heavy succession of long quotations of uninteresting passages, that it makes their method quite nauseous. But the verbose, tasteless Frenchman seems to lay it down as a principle, that every life must be a book,—and, what is worse, it seems a book without a life; for what do we know of Boileau after all his tedious stuff?"

Des Maizeaux was much in the employ of the Dutch booksellers, then the great monopolisers in the literary mart of Europe. He supplied their "nouvelles litteraires" from England; but the work-sheet price was very mean in those days. I have seen annual accounts of Des Maizeaux settled to a line for four or five pounds; and yet he sent the "Novelties" as fresh as the post could carry them! He held a confidential correspondence with these great Dutch booksellers, who consulted him in their distresses; and he seems rather to have relieved them than himself. But if he got only a few florins at Rotterdam, the same "nouvelles litteraires" sometimes secured him valuable friends at London; for in those days, which perhaps are returning on us, an English author would often appeal to a foreign journal for the commendation he might fail in obtaining at home; and I have discovered, in more cases than one, that, like other smuggled commodities, the foreign article was often of home manufactory!

I give one of these curious bibliopolical distresses. Sauzet, a bookseller at Rotterdam, who judged too critically for the repose of his authors, seems to have been always fond of projecting a new "Journal;" tormented by the ideal excellence which he had conceived of such a work, it vexed him that he could never find the workmen! Once disappointed of the assistance he expected from a writer of talents, he was fain to put up with one he was ashamed of; but warily stipulated on very singular terms. He confided this precious literary secret to Des Maizeaux. I translate from his manuscript letter.

"I send you, my dear Sir, four sheets of the continuation of my journal, and I hope this second part will turn out better than the former. The author thinks himself a very able person; but I must tell you frankly, that he is a man without erudition, and without any critical discrimination; he writes pretty well, and turns passably what he says; but that is all! Monsieur Van Effen having failed in his promises to realise my hopes on this occasion, necessity compelled me to have recourse to him; but for six months only, and on condition that he should not, on any account whatever, allow any one to know that he is the author of the journal; for his name alone would be sufficient to make even a passable book discreditable. As you are among my friends, I will confide to you in secrecy the name of this author; it is Mons. De Limiers.[14] You see how much my interest is concerned that the author should not be known!" This anecdote is gratuitously presented to the editors of certain reviews, as a serviceable hint to enter into the same engagement with some of their own writers: for it is usually the De Limiers who expend their last puff in blowing their own name about the town.

In England, Des Maizeaux, as a literary man, made himself very useful to other men of letters, and particularly to persons of rank: and he found patronage and a pension,—like his talents, very moderate! A friend to literary men, he lived amongst them, from "Orator" Henley, up to Addison, Lord Halifax, and Anthony Collins. I find a curious character of our Des Maizeaux in the handwriting of Edward, Earl of Oxford, to whose father (Pope's Earl of Oxford) and himself the nation owes the Harleian treasures. His lordship is a critic with high Tory principles, and high-church notions. "This Des Maizeaux is a great man with those who are pleased to be called Freethinkers, particularly with Mr. Anthony Collins, collects passages out of books for their writings. His Life of Chillingworth is wrote to please that set of men." The secret history I am to unfold relates to Anthony Collins and Des Maizeaux. Some curious book-lovers will be interested in the personal history of an author they are well acquainted with, yet which has hitherto remained unknown. He tells his own story in a sort of epistolary petition he addressed to a noble friend, characteristic of an author, who cannot be deemed unpatronised, yet whose name, after all his painful labours, might be inserted in my "Calamities of Authors."

In this letter he announces his intention of publishing a Dictionary like Bayle; having written the life of Bayle, the next step was to become himself a Bayle; so short is the passage of literary delusion! He had published, as a specimen, the lives of Hales and Chillingworth. He complains that his circumstances have not allowed him to forward that work, nor digest the materials he had collected.

A work of that nature requires a steady application, free from the cares and avocations incident to all persons obliged to seek for their maintenance. I have had the misfortune to be in the case of those persons, and am now reduced to a pension on the Irish establishment, which, deducting the tax of four shillings in the pound, and other charges, brings me in about 40l. a year of our English money.[15] This pension was granted to me in 1710, and I owe it chiefly to the friendship of Mr. Addison, who was then secretary to the Earl of Wharton, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1711, 12, and 14, I was appointed one of the Commissioners of the Lottery by the interest of Lord Halifax.

And this is all I ever received from the Government, though I had some claim to the royal favour; for in 1710, when the enemies to our constitution were contriving its ruin, I wrote a pamphlet entitled "Lethe," which was published in Holland, and afterwards translated into English, and twice printed in London; and being reprinted in Dublin, proved so offensive to the ministry in Ireland, that it was burnt by the hands of the hangman. But so it is, that after having showed on all occasions my zeal for the royal family, and endeavoured to make myself serviceable to the public by several books published; after forty years' stay in England, and in an advanced age, I find myself and family destitute of a sufficient livelihood, and suffering from complaints in the head and impaired sight by constant application to my studies.

I am confident, my lord, he adds, that if the queen, to whom I was made known on occasion of Thuanus's French translation, were acquainted with my present distress, she would be pleased to afford me some relief.[16]

Among the confidential literary friends of Des Maizeaux, he had the honour of ranking Anthony Collins, a great lover of literature, and a man of fine genius, and who, in a continued correspondence with our Des Maizeaux, treated him as his friend, and employed him as his agent in his literary concerns. These, in the formation of an extensive library, were in a state of perpetual activity, and Collins was such a true lover of his books, that he drew up the catalogue with his own pen.[17] Anthony Collins wrote several well-known works without prefixing his name; but having pushed too far his curious inquiries on some obscure and polemical points, he incurred the odium of a freethinker,—a term which then began to be in vogue, and which the French adopted by translating it, in their way, a strong thinker, or esprit fort. Whatever tendency to "liberalise" the mind from dogmas and creeds prevails in these works, the talents and learning of Collins were of the first class. His morals were immaculate, and his personal character independent; but the odium theologicum of those days contrived every means to stab in the dark, till the taste became hereditary with some. I shall mention a fact of this cruel bigotry, which occurred within my own observation, on one of the most polished men of the age. The late Mr. Cumberland, in the romance entitled his "Life," gave this extraordinary fact, that Dr. Bentley, who so ably replied by his "Remarks," under the name of Phileleutherus Lipsiensis, to Collins's "Discourse on Free-thinking," when, many years after, he discovered him fallen into great distress, conceiving that by having ruined Collins's character as a writer for ever, he had been the occasion of his personal misery, he liberally contributed to his maintenance. In vain I mentioned to that elegant writer, who was not curious about facts, that this person could never have been Anthony Collins, who had always a plentiful fortune; and when it was suggested to him that this "A. Collins," as he printed it, must have been Arthur Collins, the historical compiler, who was often in pecuniary difficulties, still he persisted in sending the lie down to posterity, totidem verbis, without alteration in his second edition, observing to a friend of mine, that "the story, while it told well, might serve as a striking instance of his great relative's generosity; and that it should stand, because it could do no harm to any but to Anthony Collins, whom he considered as little short of an atheist." So much for this pious fraud! but be it recollected that this Anthony Collins was the confidential friend of Locke, of whom Locke said, on his dying bed, that "Collins was a man whom he valued in the first rank of those that he left behind him." And the last words of Collins on his own death-bed were, that "he was persuaded he was going to that place which God had designed for them that love him." The cause of true religion will never be assisted by using such leaky vessels as Cumberland's wilful calumnies, which in the end must run out, and be found, like the present, mere empty fictions!

An extraordinary circumstance occurred on the death of Anthony Collins. He left behind him a considerable number of his own manuscripts, there was one collection formed into eight octavo volumes; and that they might be secured from the common fate of manuscripts, he bequeathed them all, and confided them to the care of our Des Maizeaux. The choice of Collins reflects honour on the character of Des Maizeaux, yet he proved unworthy of it! He suffered himself to betray his trust, practised on by the earnest desire of the widow, and perhaps by the arts of a Mr. Tomlinson, who appears to have been introduced into the family by the recommendation of Dean Sykes, whom at length he supplanted, and whom the widow, to save her reputation, was afterwards obliged to discard.[18] In an unguarded moment he relinquished this precious legacy of the manuscripts, and accepted fifty guineas as a present. But if Des Maizeaux lost his honour in this transaction, he was at heart an honest man, who had swerved for a single moment; his conscience was soon awakened, and he experienced the most violent compunctions. It was in a paroxysm of this nature that he addressed the following letter to a mutual friend of the late Anthony Collins and himself.

SIR, January 6, 1730.

I am very glad to hear you are come to town, and as you are my best friend, now I have lost Mr. Collins, give me leave to open my heart to you, and to beg your assistance in an affair which highly concerns both Mr. Collins's (your friend) and my own honour and reputation. The case, in few words, stands thus:—Mr. Collins by his last will and testament left me his manuscripts. Mr. Tomlinson, who first acquainted me with it, told me that Mrs. Collins should be glad to have them, and I made them over to her; whereupon she was pleased to present me with fifty guineas. I desired her at the same time to take care they should be kept safe and unhurt, which she promised to do. This was done the 25th of last month. Mr. Tomlinson, who managed all this affair, was present.

Now, having further considered that matter, I find that I have done a most wicked thing. I am persuaded that I have betrayed the trust of a person who, for twenty-six years, had given me continual instances of his friendship and confidence. I am convinced that I have acted contrary to the will and intention of my dear deceased friend; showed a disregard to the particular mark of esteem he gave me on that occasion; in short, that I have forfeited what is dearer to me than my own life—honour and reputation.

These melancholy thoughts have made so great an impression upon me, that I protest to you I can enjoy no rest; they haunt me everywhere, day and night. I earnestly beseech you, sir, to represent my unhappy case to Mrs. Collins. I acted with all the simplicity and uprightness of my heart; I considered that the MSS. would be as safe in Mrs. Collins's hands as in mine; that she was no less obliged to preserve them than myself; and that, as the library was left to her, they might naturally go along with it. Besides, I thought I could not too much comply with the desire of a lady to whom I have so many obligations. But I see now clearly that this is not fulfilling Mr. Collins's will, and that the duties of our conscience are superior to all other regards. But it is in her power to forgive and mend what I have done imprudently, but with a good intention. Her high sense of virtue and generosity will not, I am sure, let her take any advantage of my weakness; and the tender regard she has for the memory of the best of men, and the tenderest of husbands, will not suffer that his intentions should be frustrated, and that she should be the instrument of violating what is most sacred. If our late friend had designed that his MSS. should remain in her hands, he would certainly have left them to her by his last will and testament; his acting otherwise is an evident proof that it was not his intention.

All this I proposed to represent to her in the most respectful manner; but you will do it infinitely better than I can in this present distraction of mind; and I flatter myself that the mutual esteem and friendship which has continued so many years between Mr. Collins and you, will make you readily embrace whatever tends to honour his memory.

I send you the fifty guineas I received, which I do now look upon as the wages of iniquity; and I desire you to return them to Mrs. Collins, who, as I hope it of her justice, equity, and regard to Mr. Collins's intentions, will be pleased to cancel my paper.

I am, &c.,


The manuscripts were never returned to Des Maizeaux; for seven years afterwards Mrs. Collins, who appears to have been a very spirited lady, addressed to him the following letter on the subject of a report, that she had permitted transcripts of these very manuscripts to get abroad. This occasioned an animated correspondence from both sides.

SIR, March 10, 1736-37.

I have thus long waited in expectation that you would ere this have called on Dean Sykes, as Sir B. Lucy said you intended, that I might have had some satisfaction in relation to a very unjust reproach—viz., that I, or somebody that I had trusted, had betrayed some of the transcripts, or MSS., of Mr. Collins into the Bishop of London's hands. I cannot, therefore, since you have not been with the dean as was desired, but call on you in this manner, to know what authority you had for such a reflection; or on what grounds you went for saying that these transcripts are in the Bishop of London's hands. I am determined to trace out the grounds of such a report; and you can be no friend of mine, no friend of Mr. Collins, no friend to common justice, if you refuse to acquaint me, what foundation you had for such a charge. I desire a very speedy answer to this, who am, Sir,

Your servant,


To Mr. Des Maizeaux, at his lodgings next door to the Quakers' burying-ground, Hanover-street, out of Long-Acre.


March 14, 1737.

I had the honour of your letter of the 10th inst., and as I find that something has been misapprehended, I beg leave to set this matter right.

Being lately with some honourable persons, I told them it had been reported that some of Mr. C.'s MSS. were fallen into the hands of strangers, and that I should be glad to receive from you such information as might enable me to disprove that report. What occasioned this surmise, or what particular MSS. were meant, I was not able to discover; so I was left to my own conjectures, which, upon a serious consideration, induced me to believe that it might relate to the MSS. in eight volumes in 8vo, of which there is a transcript. But as the original and the transcript are in your possession, if you please, madam, to compare them together, you may easily see whether they be both entire and perfect, or whether there be anything wanting in either of them. By this means you will assure yourself, and satisfy your friends, that several important pieces are safe in your hands, and that the report is false and groundless. All this I take the liberty to offer out of the singular respect I always professed for you, and for the memory of Mr. Collins, to whom I have endeavoured to do justice on all occasions, and particularly in the memoirs that have been made use of in the General Dictionary; and I hope my tender concern for his reputation will further appear when I publish his life.

SIR, April 6, 1737.

My ill state of health has hindered me from acknowledging sooner the receipt of yours, from which I hoped for some satisfaction in relation to your charge, in which I cannot but think myself very deeply concerned. You tell me now, that you was left to your own conjectures what particular MSS. were reported to have fallen into the hands of strangers, and that upon a serious consideration you was induced to believe that it might relate to the MSS. in eight vols. 8vo, of which there was a transcript.

I must beg of you to satisfy me very explicitly who were the persons that reported this to you, and from whom did you receive this information? You know that Mr. Collins left several MSS. behind him; what grounds had you for your conjecture that it related to the MSS. in eight vols., rather than to any other MSS. of which there was a transcript? I beg that you will be very plain, and tell me what strangers were named to you; and why you said the Bishop of London, if your informer said stranger to you. I am so much concerned in this, that I must repeat it, if you have the singular respect for Mr. Collins which you profess, that you would help me to trace out this reproach, which is so abusive to, Sir,

Your servant,



I flattered myself that my last letter would have satisfied you, but I have the mortification to see that my hopes were vain. Therefore I beg leave once more to set this matter right. When I told you what had been reported, I acted, as I thought, the part of a true friend, by acquainting you that some of your MSS. had been purloined, in order that you might examine a fact which to me appeared of the last consequence; and I verily believe that everybody in my case would have expected thanks for such a friendly information. But instead of that I find myself represented as an enemy, and challenged to produce proofs and witnesses of a thing dropt in conversation, a hearsay, as if in those cases people kept a register of what they hear, and entered the names of the persons who spoke, the time, place, &c., and had with them persons ready to witness the whole, &c. I did own I never thought of such a thing, and whenever I happened to hear that some of my friends had some loss, I thought it my duty to acquaint them with such report, that they might inquire into the matter, and see whether there was any ground for it. But I never troubled myself with the names of the persons who spoke, as being a thing entirely needless and unprofitable.

Give me leave further to observe, that you are in no ways concerned in the matter, as you seem to be apprehensive you are. Suppose some MSS. have been taken out of your library, who will say you ought to bear the guilt of it? What man in his senses, who has the honour to know you, will say you gave your consent to such thing—that you was privy to it? How can you then take upon yourself an action to which you was neither privy and consenting? Do not such things happen every day, and do the losers think themselves injured or abused when they are talked of? Is it impossible to be betrayed by a person we confided in?

You call what I told you was a report, a surmise; you call it, I say, an information, and speak of informers as if there was a plot laid wherein I received the information: I thought I had the honour to be better known to you. Mr. Collins loved me and esteemed me for my integrity and sincerity, of which he had several proofs; how I have been drawn in to injure him, to forfeit the good opinion he had of me, and which, were he now alive, would deservedly expose me to his utmost contempt, is a grief which I shall carry to the grave. It would be a sort of comfort to me, if those who have consented I should be drawn in were in some measure sensible of the guilt towards so good, kind, and generous a man.

Thus we find that, seven years after Des Maizeaux had inconsiderately betrayed his sacred trust, his remorse was still awake; and the sincerity of his grief is attested by the affecting style which describes it: the spirit of his departed friend seemed to be hovering about him, and, in his imagination, would haunt him to the grave.

The nature of these manuscripts; the cause of the earnest desire of retaining them by the widow; the evident unfriendliness of her conduct to Des Maizeaux; and whether these manuscripts, consisting of eight octavo volumes with their transcripts, were destroyed, or are still existing, are all circumstances which my researches have hitherto not ascertained.


[14] Van Effen was a Dutch writer of some merit, and one of a literary knot of ingenious men, consisting of Sallengre, St. Hyacinthe, Prosper Marchand, &c., who carried on a smart review for those days, published at the Hague under the title of "Journal Litteraire." They all composed in French; and Van Effen gave the first translations of our "Guardian," "Robinson Crusoe," and the "Tale of a Tub," &c. He did something more, but not better; he attempted to imitate the "Spectator," in his "Le Misanthrope," 1726, which exhibits a picture of the uninteresting manners of a nation whom he could not make very lively.

De Limiers has had his name slipped into our biographical dictionaries. An author cannot escape the fatality of the alphabet; his numerous misdeeds are registered. It is said, that if he had not been so hungry, he would have given proofs of possessing some talent.

[15] I find that the nominal pension was 3s. 6d. per diem on the Irish civil list, which amounts to above 63l. per annum. If a pension be granted for reward, it seems a mockery that the income should be so grievously reduced, which cruel custom still prevails.

[16] This letter, or petition, was written in 1732. In 1743 he procured his pension to be placed on his wife's life, and he died in 1745.

He was sworn in as gentleman of his majesty's privy chamber in 1722—Sloane MSS. 4289.

[17] There is a printed catalogue of his library.

[18] This information is from a note found among Des Maizeaux's papers; but its truth I have no means to ascertain.


Neology, or the novelty of words and phrases, is an innovation, which, with the opulence of our present language, the English philologer is most jealous to allow; but we have puritans or precisians of English, superstitiously nice! The fantastic coinage of affectation or caprice will cease to circulate from its own alloy; but shall we reject the ore of fine workmanship and solid weight? There is no government mint of words, and it is no statutable offence to invent a felicitous or daring expression unauthorised by Mr. Todd! When a man of genius, in the heat of his pursuits or his feelings, has thrown out a peculiar word, it probably conveyed more precision or energy than any other established word, otherwise he is but an ignorant pretender!

Julius Caesar, who, unlike other great captains, is authority on words as well as about blows, wrote a large treatise on "Analogy," in which that fine genius counselled to "avoid every unusual word as a rock!"[19] The cautious Quintilian, as might be expected, opposes all innovation in language. "If the new word is well received, small is the glory; if rejected, it raises laughter."[20] This only marks the penury of his feelings in this species of adventure. The great legislator of words, who lived when his own language was at its acme, seems undecided, yet pleaded for this liberty. "Shall that which the Romans allowed to Caecilius and to Plautus be refused to Virgil and Varius?" The answer to the question might not be favourable to the inquirer. While a language is forming, writers are applauded for extending its limits; when established, for restricting themselves to them. But this is to imagine that a perfect language can exist! The good sense and observation of Horace perceived that there may be occasions where necessity must become the mother of invented words:—

——Si forte necesse est Indiciis monstrare recentibus abdita rerum.

If you write of things abstruse or new, Some of your own inventing may be used, So it be seldom and discreetly done.


But Horace's canon for deciding on the legality of the new invention, or the standard by which it is to be tried, will not serve to assist the inventor of words:—

——licuit, semperque licebit, Signatum praesente nota procudere nummum.[21]

This praesens nota, or public stamp, can never be affixed to any new coinage of words: for many received at a season have perished with it.[22] The privilege of stamping words is reserved for their greatest enemy—Time itself! and the inventor of a new word must never flatter himself that he has secured the public adoption, for he must lie in his grave before he can enter the dictionary.

In Willes' address to the reader, prefixed to the collection of Voyages published in 1577, he finds fault with Eden's translation from Peter Martyr, for using words that "smelt too much of the Latine." We should scarcely have expected to find among them ponderouse, portentouse, despicable, obsequious, homicide, imbibed, destructive, prodigious. The only words he quotes, not thoroughly naturalised, are dominators, ditionaries, (subjects), solicitute (careful).

The Tatler, No. 230, introduces several polysyllables introduced by military narrations, "which (he says), if they attack us too frequently, we shall certainly put them to flight, and cut off the rear;" every one of them still keep their ground.

Half the French words used affectedly by Melantha, in Dryden's Marriage a-la-Mode, as innovations in our language, are now in common use, naivete, foible, chagrin, grimace, embarras, double entendre, equivoque, eclaircissement, ridicule, all these words, which she learns by heart to use occasionally, are now in common use. A Dr. Russel called Psalm-singers Ballad-singers, having found the Song of Solomon in an old translation, the Ballad of Ballads, for which he is reproached by his antagonist for not knowing that the signification of words alters with time; should I call him knave, he ought not to be concerned at it, for the Apostle Paul is also called a knave of Jesus Christ.[23]

Unquestionably, NEOLOGY opens a wide door to innovation; scarcely has a century passed since our language was patched up with Gallic idioms, as in the preceding century it was piebald with Spanish, and with Italian, and even with Dutch. The political intercourse of islanders with their neighbours has ever influenced their language. In Elizabeth's reign Italian phrases[24] and Netherland words were imported; in James and Charles the Spanish framed the style of courtesy; in Charles the Second the nation and the language were equally Frenchified. Yet such are the sources from whence we have often derived some of the wealth of our language!

There are three foul corruptors of a language: caprice, affectation, and ignorance! Such fashionable cant terms as "theatricals," and "musicals," invented by the flippant Topham, still survive among his confraternity of frivolity. A lady eminent for the elegance of her taste, and of whom one of the best judges, the celebrated Miss Edgeworth, observed to me, that she spoke the purest and most idiomatic English she had ever heard, threw out an observation which might be extended to a great deal of our present fashionable vocabulary. She is now old enough, she said, to have lived to hear the vulgarisms of her youth adopted in drawing-room circles.[25] To lunch, now so familiar from the fairest lips, in her youth was only known in the servants' hall. An expression very rife of late among our young ladies, a nice man, whatever it may mean, whether that the man resemble a pudding or something more nice, conveys the offensive notion that they are ready to eat him up! When I was a boy, it was an age of bon ton; this good tone mysteriously conveyed a sublime idea of fashion; the term, imported late in the eighteenth century, closed with it. Twaddle for a while succeeded bore; but bore has recovered the supremacy. We want another Swift to give a new edition of his "Polite Conversation." A dictionary of barbarisms too might be collected from some wretched neologists, whose pens are now at work! Lord Chesterfield, in his exhortations to conform to Johnson's Dictionary, was desirous, however, that the great lexicographer should add as an appendix, "A neological dictionary, containing those polite, though perhaps not strictly grammatical, words and phrases commonly used, and sometimes understood by the beau-monde."[26] This last phrase was doubtless a contribution! Such a dictionary had already appeared in the French language, drawn up by two caustic critics, who in the Dictionnaire neologique a l'usage des beaux Esprits du Siecle collected together the numerous unlucky inventions of affectation, with their modern authorities! A collection of the fine words and phrases, culled from some very modern poetry, might show the real amount of the favours bestowed on us.

The attempts of neologists are, however, not necessarily to be condemned; and we may join with the commentators of Aulus Gellius, who have lamented the loss of a chapter of which the title only has descended to us. That chapter would have demonstrated what happens to all languages, that some neologisms, which at first are considered forced or inelegant, become sanctioned by use, and in time are quoted as authority in the very language which, in their early stage, they were imagined to have debased.

The true history of men's minds is found in their actions; their wants are indicated by their contrivances; and certain it is that in highly cultivated ages we discover the most refined intellects attempting NEOLOGISMS.[27] It would be a subject of great curiosity to trace the origin of many happy expressions, when, and by whom created. Plato substituted the term Providence for fate; and a new system of human affairs arose from a single word. Cicero invented several; to this philosopher we owe the term of moral philosophy, which before his time was called the philosophy of manners. But on this subject we are perhaps more interested by the modern than by the ancient languages. Richardson, the painter of the human heart, has coined some expressions to indicate its little secret movements, which are admirable: that great genius merited a higher education and more literary leisure than the life of a printer could afford. Montaigne created some bold expressions, many of which have not survived him; his incuriosite, so opposite to curiosity, well describes that state of negligence where we will not learn that of which we are ignorant. With us the word incurious was described by Heylin, 1656, as an unusual word; it has been appropriately adopted by our best writers, although we still want incuriosity. Charron invented etrangete unsuccessfully, but which, says a French critic, would be the true substantive of the word etrange; our Locke is the solitary instance produced for "foreignness" for "remoteness or want of relation to something." Malherbe borrowed from the Latin, insidieux, securite, which have been received; but a bolder word, devouloir, by which he proposed to express cesser de vouloir, has not. A term, however, expressive and precise. Corneille happily introduced invaincu in a verse in the Cid,

Vous etes invaincu, mais non pas invincible.

Yet this created word by their great poet has not sanctioned this fine distinction among the French, for we are told that it is almost a solitary instance. Balzac was a great inventor of neologisms. Urbanite and feliciter were struck in his mint. "Si le mot feliciter n'est pas francaise, il le sera l'annee qui vient;" so confidently proud was the neologist, and it prospered as well as urbanite, of which he says, "Quand l'usage aura muri parmi nous un mot de si mauvais gout, et corrige l'amertume de la nouveaute qui s'y peut trouver, nous nous y accoutumerons comme aux autres que nous avons emprunte de la meme langue." Balzac was, however, too sanguine in some other words; for his delecter, his seriosite, &c. still retain their "bitterness of novelty."

Menage invented a term of which an equivalent is wanting in our language; "J'ai fait prosateur a l'imitation de l'italien prosatore, pour dire un homme qui ecrit en prose." To distinguish a prose from a verse writer, we once had "a proser." Drayton uses it; but this useful distinction has unluckily degenerated, and the current sense is so daily urgent, that the purer sense is irrecoverable.

When D'Albancourt was translating Lucian, he invented in French the words indolence and indolent, to describe a momentary languor, rather than that habitual indolence in which sense they are now accepted; and in translating Tacitus, he created the word turbulemment; but it did not prosper any more than that of temporisement. Segrais invented the word impardonnable, which, after having been rejected, was revived, and is equivalent to our expressive unpardonable. Moliere ridiculed some neologisms of the Precieuses of his day; but we are too apt to ridicule that which is new, and which we often adopt when it becomes old. Moliere laughed at the term s'encanailler, to describe one who assumed the manners of a blackguard; the expressive word has remained in the language. The meaning is disputed as well as the origin is lost of some novel terms. This has happened to a word in daily use—Fudge! It is a cant term not in Grose, and only traced by Todd not higher than to Goldsmith. It is, however, no invention of his. In a pamphlet, entitled "Remarks upon the Navy," 1700, the term is declared to have been the name of a certain nautical personage who had lived in the lifetime of the writer. "There was, sir, in our time, one Captain Fudge, commander of a merchantman, who upon his return from a voyage, how ill-fraught soever his ship was, always brought home his owners a good cargo of lies; so much that now, aboard ship, the sailors, when they hear a great lie told, cry out, 'You fudge it!'" It is singular that such an obscure byword among sailors should have become one of the most popular in our familiar style; and not less, that recently at the bar, in a court of law, its precise meaning perplexed plaintiff and defendant and their counsel. I think it does not signify mere lies, but bouncing lies, or rhodomontades.

There are two remarkable French words created by the Abbe de Saint Pierre, who passed his meritorious life in the contemplation of political morality and universal benevolence—bienfaisance and gloriole. He invented gloriole as a contemptuous diminutive of glorie; to describe that vanity of some egotists, so proud of the small talents which they may have received from nature or from accident. Bienfaisance first appeared in this sentence: "L'Esprit de la vraie religion et le principal but de l'evangile c'est la bienfaisance, c'est-a-dire la pratique de la charite envers le prochain." This word was so new, that in the moment of its creation this good man explained its necessity and origin. Complaining that "the word 'charity' is abused by all sorts of Christians in the persecution of their enemies, and even heretics affirm that they are practising Christian charity in persecuting other heretics, I have sought for a term which might convey to us a precise idea of doing good to our neighbours, and I can form none more proper to make myself understood than the term of bienfaisance, good-doing. Let those who like, use it; I would only be understood, and it is not equivocal." The happy word was at first criticised, but at length every kind heart found it responded to its own feeling. Some verses from Voltaire, alluding to the political reveries of the good abbe, notice the critical opposition; yet the new word answered to the great rule of Horace.

Certain legislateur, dont la plume feconde Fit tant de vains projets pour le bien du monde, Et qui depuis trente ans ecrit pour des ingrats, Vient de creer un mot qui manque a Vaugelas: Ce mot est BIENFAISANCE; il me plait, il rassemble Si le coeur en est cru, bien des vertus ensemble. Petits grammairiens, grands precepteurs de sots, Qui pesez la parole et mesurez les mots, Pareille expression vous semble hazardee, Mais l'univers entier doit en cherir l'idee!

The French revolutionists, in their rage for innovation, almost barbarised the pure French of the Augustan age of their literature, as they did many things which never before occurred; and sometimes experienced feelings as transitory as they were strange. Their nomenclature was copious; but the revolutionary jargon often shows the danger and the necessity of neologisms. They form an appendix to the Academy Dictionary. Our plain English has served to enrich this odd mixture of philology and politics: Club, clubiste, comite, jure, juge de paix, blend with their terrorisme, lanterner, a verb active, levee en masse, noyades, and the other verb active, septembriser, &c. The barbarous term demoralisation is said to have been the invention of the horrid capuchin Chabot; and the remarkable expression of arriere pensee belonged exclusively in its birth to the jesuitic astuteness of the Abbe Sieyes, that political actor, who, in changing sides, never required prompting in his new part!

A new word, the result of much consideration with its author, or a term which, though unknown to the language, conveys a collective assemblage of ideas by a fortunate designation, is a precious contribution of genius; new words should convey new ideas. Swift, living amidst a civil war of pamphlets, when certain writers were regularly employed by one party to draw up replies to the other, created a term not to be found in our dictionaries, but which, by a single stroke, characterises these hirelings; he called them answer-jobbers. We have not dropped the fortunate expression from any want of its use, but of perception in our lexicographers. The celebrated Marquis of Lansdowne introduced a useful word, which has of late been warmly adopted in France as well as in England—to liberalise; the noun has been drawn out of the verb—for in the marquis's time that was only an abstract conception which is now a sect; and to liberalise was theoretically introduced before the liberals arose.[28] It is curious to observe that as an adjective it had formerly in our language a very opposite meaning to its recent one. It was synonymous with "libertine or licentious;" we have "a liberal villain" and "a most profane and liberal counsellor;" we find one declaring "I have spoken too liberally." This is unlucky for the liberals, who will not—

Give allowance to our liberal jests Upon their persons—


Dr. Priestley employed a forcible, but not an elegant term, to mark the general information which had begun in his day; this he frequently calls "the spread of knowledge." Burke attempted to brand with a new name that set of pert, petulant, sophistical sciolists, whose philosophy the French, since their revolutionary period, have distinguished as philosophism, and the philosophers themselves as philosophistes. He would have designated them as literators, but few exotic words will circulate; new words must be the coinage of our own language to blend with the vernacular idiom. Many new words are still wanted. We have no word by which we could translate the otium of the Latins, the dillettante of the Italians, the alembique of the French, as an epithet to describe that sublimated ingenuity which exhausts the mind, till, like the fusion of the diamond, the intellect itself disappears. A philosopher, in an extensive view of a subject in all its bearings, may convey to us the result of his last considerations by the coinage of a novel and significant expression, as this of Professor Dugald Stewart—political religionism. Let me claim the honour of one pure neologism. I ventured to introduce the term of FATHER-LAND to describe our natale solum; I have lived to see it adopted by Lord Byron and by Mr. Southey, and the word is now common. A lady has even composed both the words and the air of a song on "Father-land." This energetic expression may therefore be considered as authenticated; and patriotism may stamp it with its glory and its affection. FATHER-LAND is congenial with the language in which we find that other fine expression MOTHER-TONGUE. The patriotic neologism originated with me in Holland, when, in early life, it was my daily pursuit to turn over the glorious history of its independence under the title of Vaderlandsche Historie—the history of FATHER-LAND!

If we acknowledge that the creation of some neologisms may sometimes produce the beautiful, the revival of the dead is the more authentic miracle; for a new word must long remain doubtful, but an ancient word happily recovered rests on a basis of permanent strength; it has both novelty and authority. A collection of picturesque words, found among our ancient writers, would constitute a precious supplement to the history of our language. Far more expressive than our term of executioner is their solemn one of the deathsman; than our vagabond, their scatterling; than our idiot or lunatic, their moonling,—a word which, Mr. Gifford observes, should not have been suffered to grow obsolete. Herrick finely describes by the term pittering the peculiar shrill and short cry of the grasshopper: the cry of the grasshopper is pit! pit! pit! quickly repeated. Envy "dusking the lustre" of genius is a verb lost for us, but which gives a more precise expression to the feeling than any other words which we could use.

The late Dr. Boucher, in the prospectus of his proposed Dictionary, did me the honour, then a young writer, to quote an opinion I had formed early in life of the purest source of neology, which is in the revival of old words.

Words that wise Bacon or brave Rawleigh spake!

We have lost many exquisite and picturesque expressions through the dulness of our lexicographers, or by the deficiency in that profounder study of our writers which their labours require far more than they themselves know. The natural graces of our language have been impoverished. The genius that throws its prophetic eye over the language, and the taste that must come from Heaven, no lexicographer imagines are required to accompany him amidst a library of old books!


[19] Aulus Gellius, lib. i. c. 10.

[20] Instit. lib. i. c. 5.

[21] This verse was corrected by Bentley procudere nummum, instead of producere nomen, which the critics agree is one of his happy conjectures.

[22] Henry Cockeram's curious little "English Dictionarie, or an Interpretation of hard English words", 12mo, 1631, professes to give in its first book "the choicest words themselves now in use, wherewith our language is inriched and become so copious." Many have not survived, such as the following:—

Acyrologicall An improper speech. Adacted Driven in by force. Blandiloquy Flattering speech. Compaginate To set together that which is broken. Concessation Loytering. Delitigate To scold, or chide vehemently. Depalmate To give one a box on the ear. Esuriate To hunger. Strenuitie Activity.

Curiously enough, this author notes some words as those "now out of use, and onely used of some ancient writers," but which we now commonly use. Such are the following:—

Abandon To forsake or cast off. Abate To make lesse, diminish, or take from.

[23] A most striking instance of the change of meaning in a word is in the old law-term let—"without let or hindrance;" meaning void of all opposition. Hence, "I will let you," meant "I will hinder you;" and not as we should now think, "I will give you free leave."

[24] Shakspeare makes "Ancient Pistol" use a new-coined Italian word, when he speaks of being "better accommodated;" to the great delight of Justice Shallow, who exclaims, "It comes from accommodo—a good phrase!" And Ben Jonson, in his "Tale of a Tub," ridicules Inigo Jones's love of two words he often used:—

——If it conduce To the design, whate'er is feasible, I can express.

[25] The term pluck, once only known to the prize-ring, has now got into use in general conversation, and also into literature, as a term indicative of ready courage.

[26] Such terms as "patent to the public"—"normal condition"—"crass behaviour," are the inventions of the last few years.

[27] Shakspeare has a powerfully-composed line in the speech of the Duke of Burgundy, (Henry V. Act v. Sc. 2), when, describing the fields overgrown with weeds, he exclaims—

——The coulter rusts, That should deracinate such savagery.

[28] The "Quarterly Review" recently marked the word liberalise in italics as a strange word, undoubtedly not aware of its origin. It has been lately used by Mr. Dugald Stewart, "to liberalise the views."—Dissert. 2nd part, p. 138.


In antique furniture we sometimes discover a convenience which long disuse had made us unacquainted with, and are surprised by the aptness which we did not suspect was concealed in its solid forms. We have found the labour of the workmen to have been as admirable as the material itself, which is still resisting the mouldering touch of time among those modern inventions, elegant and unsubstantial, which, often put together with unseasoned wood, are apt to warp and fly into pieces when brought into use. We have found how strength consists in the selection of materials, and that, whenever the substitute is not better than the original, we are losing something in that test of experience, which all things derive from duration.

Be this as it may! I shall not unreasonably await for the artists of our novelties to retrograde into massive greatness, although I cannot avoid reminding them how often they revive the forgotten things of past times! It is well known that many of our novelties were in use by our ancestors! In the history of the human mind there is, indeed, a sort of antique furniture which I collect, not merely for their antiquity, but for the sound condition in which I still find them, and the compactness which they still show. Centuries have not worm-eaten their solidity! and the utility and delightfulness which they still afford make them look as fresh and as ingenious as any of our patent inventions.

By the title of the present article the reader has anticipated the nature of the old furniture to which I allude. I propose to give what, in the style of our times, may be called the Philosophy of Proverbs—a topic which seems virgin. The art of reading proverbs has not, indeed, always been acquired even by some of their admirers; but my observations, like their subject, must be versatile and unconnected; and I must bespeak indulgence for an attempt to illustrate a very curious branch of literature, rather not understood than quite forgotten.

Proverbs have long been in disuse. "A man of fashion," observes Lord Chesterfield, "never has recourse to proverbs and vulgar aphorisms;" and, since the time his lordship so solemnly interdicted their use, they appear to have withered away under the ban of his anathema. His lordship was little conversant with the history of proverbs, and would unquestionably have smiled on those "men of fashion" of another stamp, who, in the days of Elizabeth, James, and Charles, were great collectors of them; would appeal to them in their conversations, and enforce them in their learned or their statesmanlike correspondence. Few, perhaps, even now, suspect that these neglected fragments of wisdom, which exist among all nations, still offer many interesting objects for the studies of the philosopher and the historian; and for men of the world still open an extensive school of human life and manners.

The home-spun adages, and the rusty "sayed-saws," which remain in the mouths of the people, are adapted to their capacities and their humours. Easily remembered, and readily applied, these are the philosophy of the vulgar, and often more sound than that of their masters! whoever would learn what the people think, and how they feel, must not reject even these as insignificant. The proverbs of the street and of the market, true to nature, and lasting only because they are true, are records that the populace at Athens and at Rome were the same people as at Paris and at London, and as they had before been in the city of Jerusalem!

Proverbs existed before books. The Spaniards date the origin of their refranes que dicen las viejas tras el fuego, "sayings of old wives by their firesides," before the existence of any writings in their language, from the circumstance that these are in the old romance or rudest vulgar idiom. The most ancient poem in the Edda, "the sublime speech of Odin," abounds with ancient proverbs, strikingly descriptive of the ancient Scandinavians. Undoubtedly proverbs in the earliest ages long served as the unwritten language of morality, and even of the useful arts; like the oral traditions of the Jews, they floated down from age to age on the lips of successive generations. The name of the first sage who sanctioned the saying would in time be forgotten, while the opinion, the metaphor, or the expression, remained, consecrated into a proverb! Such was the origin of those memorable sentences by which men learnt to think and to speak appositely; they were precepts which no man could contradict, at a time when authority was valued more than opinion, and experience preferred to novelty. The proverbs of a father became the inheritance of a son; the mistress of a family perpetuated hers through her household; the workman condensed some traditional secret of his craft into a proverbial expression. When countries are not yet populous, and property has not yet produced great inequalities in its ranks, every day will show them how "the drunkard and the glutton come to poverty, and drowsiness clothes a man with rags." At such a period he who gave counsel gave wealth.

It might therefore have been decided, a priori, that the most homely proverbs would abound in the most ancient writers—and such we find in Hesiod; a poet whose learning was not drawn from books. It could only have been in the agricultural state that this venerable bard could have indicated a state of repose by this rustic proverb:—

[Greek: Pedalion men uper kapnou katadeio] Hang your plough-beam o'er the hearth!

The envy of rival workmen is as justly described by a reference to the humble manufacturers of earthenware as by the elevated jealousies of the literati and the artists of a more polished age. The famous proverbial verse in Hesiod's Works and Days—

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16     Next Part
Home - Random Browse