From Tales & Novels, Vol. IX
A bore is a biped, but not always unplumed. There be of both kinds;--the female frequently plumed, the male-military plumed, helmed, or crested, and whisker-faced, hairy, Dandy bore, ditto, ditto, ditto.--There are bores unplumed, capped, or hatted, curled or uncurled, bearded and beardless.
The bore is not a ruminating animal,--carnivorous, not sagacious-- prosing--long-winded--tenacious of life, though not vivacious. The bore is good for promoting sleep; but though he causeth sleep in others, it is uncertain whether he ever sleeps himself; as few can keep awake in his company long enough to see. It is supposed that when he sleeps it is with his mouth open.
The bore is usually considered a harmless creature, or of that class of irrational bipeds who hurt only themselves. To such, however, I would not advise trusting too much. The bore is harmless, no doubt, as long as you listen to him; but disregarded, or stopped in mid-career, he will turn upon you. It is a fatal, if not a vulgar error, to presume that the bore belongs to that class of animals that have no gall; of which Pliny gives a list (much disputed by Sir Thomas Browne and others). That bores have gall, many have proved to their cost, as some now living, peradventure, can attest. The milk of human kindness is said to abound naturally in certain of the gentler bore kind; but it is apt to grow sour if the animal be crossed--not in love, but in talk. Though I cannot admit to a certainty that all bores have not gall, yet assuredly they have no tact, and they are one and all deficient in sympathy.
A bore is a heavy animal, and his weight has this peculiarity, that it increases every moment he stays near you. The French describe this property in one word, which, though French, I may be permitted to quote, because untranslatable, il s'appesantit--Touch and go, it is not in the nature of a bore to do--whatever he touches turns to lead.
Much learning might be displayed, and much time wasted, on an inquiry into the derivation, descent, and etymology of the animal under consideration. Suffice it to say, that for my own part, diligence hath not been wanting in the research. Johnson's Dictionary and old Bailey, have been ransacked; but neither the learned Johnson, nor the recondite Bailey, throw much light upon this matter. The Slang Dictionary, to which I should in the first place have directed my attention, was unfortunately not within my reach. The result of all my inquiries amounts to this--that bore, boor, and boar, are all three spelt indifferently, and consequently are derived from one common stock,--what stock, remains to be determined. I could give a string of far-fetched derivations, each of them less to the purpose than the other; but I prefer, according to the practice of our great lexicographer, taking refuge at once in the Coptic.
Of one point there can be little doubt--that bores existed in ancient as well as in modern times, though the deluge has unluckily swept away all traces of the antediluvian bore--a creature which analogy leads us to believe must have been of formidable power.
We find them for certain in the days of Horace. That plague, worse, as he describes, than asthma or rheumatism, that prating, praising thing which caught him in the street, stuck to him wherever he went--of which, stopping or running, civil or rude, shirking or cutting, he could never rid himself --what was he but a bore?
In Pope I find the first description in English poetry of the animal-- whether imitated from Horace, or a drawing from life, may be questioned. But what could that creature be but a bore, from whom he says no walls could guard him, and no shades could hide; who pierced his thickets; glided into his grotto; stopped his chariot; boarded his barge; from whom no place was sacred--not the church free; and against whom John was ordered to tie up the knocker?
Through the indexes to Milton and Shakspeare I have not neglected to hunt; but unfortunately, I have found nothing to my purpose in Milton, and in all Shakspeare no trace of a bore; except it be that thing, that popinjay, who so pestered Hotspur, that day when he, faint with toil and dry with rage, was leaning on his sword after the battle--all that bald, disjointed talk, to which Hotspur, past his patience, answered neglectingly, he knew not what, and that sticking to him with questions even when his wounds were cold. It must have been a bore of foreign breed, not the good downright English bore.
All the classes, orders, genera, and species of the animal, I pretend not to enumerate. Heaven forefend!--but some of those most commonly met with in England, I may mention, and a few of the most curious, describe.
In the first place, there is the mortal great bore, confined to the higher classes of society. A celebrated wit, who, from his long and extensive acquaintance with the fashionable and political world, has had every means of forming his opinion on this subject, lays it down as an axiom, that none but a rich man, or a great man, can be a great bore; others are not endured long enough in society, to come to the perfection of tiresomeness.
Of these there is the travelled and the untravelled kind. The travelled, formerly rare, is now dreadfully common in these countries. The old travelling bore was, as I find him aptly described--"A pretender to antiquities, roving, majestic-headed, and sometimes little better than crazed; and being exceedingly credulous, he would stuff his many letters with fooleries and misinformations"--vide a life published by Hearne-- Thomas Hearne--him to whom Time said, "Whatever I forget, you learn."
The modern travelled bore is a garrulous creature. His talk, chiefly of himself, of all that he has seen that is incredible; and all that he remembers which is not worth remembering. His tongue is neither English, French, Italian, or German, but a leash, and more than a leash, of languages at once. Besides his having his quantum of the ills that flesh is subject to, he has some peculiar to himself, and rather extraordinary. He is subject, for instance, to an indigestion of houses and churches, pictures and statues. Moreover, he is troubled with fits of what may be called the cold enthusiasm; he babbles of Mont Blanc and the picturesque; and when the fit is on, he raves of Raphael and Correggio, Rome, Athens, Paestum, and Jerusalem. He despises England, and has no home; or at least loves none.
But I have been already guilty of an error of arrangement; I should have given precedence to the old original English bore; which should perhaps be more properly spelt boor; indeed it was so, as late as the time of Mrs. Cowley, who, in the Belle's Stratagem, talks of man's being boored.
The boor is now rare in England, though there are specimens of him still to be seen in remote parts of the country. He is untravelled always, not apt to be found straying, or stirring from home. His covering is home-spun, his drink home-brewed, his meat home-fed, and himself home-bred. In general, he is a wonderfully silent animal. But there are talking ones; and their talk is of bullocks. Talking or silent, the indigenous English bore is somewhat sulky, surly, seemingly morose; yet really good-natured, inoffensive, if kindly used and rightly taken; convivial, yet not social. It is curious, that though addicted to home, he is not properly domestic-- bibulous--said to be despotic with the female.
The parliamentary bore comes next in order. Fond of high places; but not always found in them. His civil life is but short, never extending above seven years at the utmost; seldom so long. His dissolution often occurs, we are told, prematurely; but he revives another and the same.--Mode of life: --during five or six months of the year these bores inhabit London--are to be seen every where, always looking as if they were out of their element. About June or July they migrate to the country--to watering places--or to their own places; where they shoot partridges, pheasants, and wild ducks; hunt hares and foxes, cause men to be imprisoned or transported who do the same without licence; and frank letters--some illegibly.
The parliamentary bore is not considered a sagacious animal, except in one particular. It is said that he always knows which way the wind blows, quick as any of the four-footed swinish multitude. Report says also that he has the instinct of a rat in quitting a falling house. An incredible power was once attributed to him, by one from Ireland, of being able at pleasure to turn his back upon himself. But this may well be classed among vulgar errors.
Of the common parliamentary bore there be two orders; the silent, and the speechifying. The silent is not absolutely deprived of utterance; he can say "Yes" or "No"--but regularly in the wrong place, unless well tutored and well paid. The talking parliamentary bore can outwatch the Bear. He reiterates eternally with the art peculiar to the rational creature of using many words and saying nothing. The following are some of the cries by which this class is distinguished.
"Hear! Hear! Hear!--Hear him! Hear him! Hear him!--Speaker! Speaker! Speaker! Speaker!--Order! Order! Order!--Hear the honourable member!"
He has besides certain set phrases, which, if repeated with variations, might give the substance of what are called his speeches; some of these are common to both sides of the house, others sacred to the ministerial, or popular on the opposition benches.
To the ministerial belong--"The dignity of this house"--"The honour of this country"--"The contentment of our allies"--"Strengthening the hands of government"--"Expediency"--"Inexpediency"--"Imperious necessity"--"Bound in duty"--with a good store
of evasives, as "Cannot at present bring forward such a measure"--"Too late"--"Too early in the session"--"His majesty's ministers cannot be responsible for"--"Cannot take it upon me to say"--"But the impression left upon my mind is"--"Cannot undertake to answer exactly that question"--"Cannot yet make up my mind" (an expression borrowed from the laundress).
On the opposition side the phrases chiefly in use amongst the bores are, "The constitution of this country"--"Reform in Parliament"--"The good of the people"--"Inquiry should be set on foot"--"Ministers should be answerable with their heads"--"Gentlemen should draw together"-- "Independence"--and "Consistency."
Approved beginnings of speeches as follows--for a raw bore:
"Unused as I am to public speaking, Mr. Speaker, I feel myself on the present occasion called upon not to give a silent vote."
For old stagers:
"In the whole course of my parliamentary career, never did I rise with such diffidence."
In reply, the bore begins with:
"It would be presumption in me, Mr. Speaker, after the able, luminous, learned, and eloquent speech you have just heard, to attempt to throw any new light; but, &c. &c."
For a premeditated harangue of four hours or upwards he regularly commences with
"At this late hour of the night, I shall trouble the house
with only a few words, Mr. Speaker."
The Speaker of the English House of Commons is a man destined to be bored. Doomed to sit in a chair all night long--night after night--month after month--year after year--being bored. No relief for him but crossing and uncrossing his legs from time to time. No respite. If he sleep, it must be with his eyes open, fixed in the direction of the haranguing bore. He is not, however, bound, bonâ fide to hear all that is said. This, happily, was settled in the last century. "Mr. Speaker, it is your duty to hear me, --it is the undoubted privilege, Sir, of every member of this house to be heard," said a bore of the last century to the then Speaker of the House of Commons. "Sir," replied the Speaker, "I know that it is the undoubted right of every member of this house to speak, but I was not aware that it was his privilege to be always heard."
The courtier-bore has sometimes crept into the English parliament.--But is common on the continent: infinite varieties, as le courtisan propre, courtisan homme d'état, and le courtisan philosophe--a curious but not a rare kind in France, of which M. de Voltaire was one of the finest specimens.
Attempts had been made to naturalize some of the varieties of the philanthropic and sentimental French and German bores in England, but without success. Some ladies had them for favourites or pets; but they were found mischievous and dangerous. Their morality was easy,--but difficult to understand; compounded of three-fourths sentiment--nine-tenths selfishness, twelve-ninths instinct, self-devotion, metaphysics, and cant. 'Twas hard to come at a common denominator. John Bull, with his four rules of vulgar arithmetic, could never make it out; altogether he never could abide these foreign bores. Thought 'em confounded dull too--Civilly told them so, and half asleep bid them "prythee begone"--They not taking the hint, but lingering with the women, at last John wakening out-right, fell to in earnest, and routed them out of the island.
They still flourish abroad, often seen at the tables of the great. The demi-philosophe-moderne-politico-legislativo-metaphysico-non-logico-grand philanthrope still scribbles, by the ream, pièces justificatives, projets de loi, and volumes of metaphysical sentiment, to be seen at the fair of Leipzig, or on ladies' tables. The greater bore, the courtisan propre, is still admired at little serene courts, where, well-dressed and well-drilled--his back much bent with Germanic bows; not a dangerous creature--would only bore you to death.
We come next to our own blue bores--the most dreaded of the species,--the most abused--sometimes with reason, sometimes without. This species was formerly rare in Britain--indeed all over the world.--Little known from the days of Aspasia and Corinna to those of Madame Dacier and Mrs. Montague. Mr. Jerningham's blue worsted stockings, as all the world knows, appearing at Mrs. Montague's conversaziones, had the honour or the dishonour of giving the name of blue stockings to all the race; and never did race increase more rapidly than they have done from that time to this. There might be fear that all the daughters of the land should turn blue.--But as yet John Bull--thank Heaven! retains his good old privilege of "choose a wife and have a wife."
The common female blue is indeed intolerable as a wife--opinionative and opinionated; and her opinion always is that her husband is wrong. John certainly has a rooted aversion to this whole class. There is the deep blue and the light; the light blues not esteemed--not admitted at Almacks. The deep-dyed in the nine times dyed blue--is that with which no man dares contend. The blue chatterer is seen and heard every where; it no man will attempt to silence by throwing the handkerchief.
The next species--the mock blue--is scarcely worth noticing; gone to ladies' maids, dress-makers, milliners, &c., found of late behind counters, and in the oddest places. The blue mocking bird (it must be noted, though nearly allied to the last sort) is found in high as well as in low company; it is a provoking creature. The only way to silence it, and to prevent it from plaguing all neighbours and passengers, is never to mind it, or to look as if you minded it; when it stares at you, stare and pass on.
The conversazione blue, or bureau d'esprit blue. It is remarkable that in order to designate this order we are obliged to borrow from two foreign languages.--a proof that it is not natural to England; but numbers of this order have been seen of late years, chiefly in London and Bath, during the season. The bureau d'esprit, or conversazione blue, is a most hard- working creature--the servant of the servants of the public.--If a dinner- giving blue (and none others succeed well or long), Champagne and ice and the best of fish are indispensable. She may then be at home once a week in the evening, with a chance of having her house fuller than it can hold, of all the would-be wits and three or four of the leaders of London. Very thankful she must be for the honour of their company. She had need to have all the superlatives, in and out of the English language, at her tongue's end; and when she has exhausted these, then she must invent new. She must have tones of admiration, and looks of ecstasy, for every occasion. At reading parties,--especially at her own house, she must cry--"charming!"-- "delightful!" "quite original!" in the right places even in her sleep.-- Awake or asleep she must read every thing that comes out that has a name, or she must talk as if she had--at her peril--to the authors themselves,-- the irritable race!--She must know more especially every article in the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews; and at her peril too, must talk of these so as not to commit herself, so as to please the reviewer abusing, and the author abused; she must keep the peace between rival wits;--she must swallow her own vanity--many fail in this last attempt--choke publicly, and give it up.
I am sorry that so much has been said about the blues; sorry I mean that such a hue and cry has been raised against them all, good, bad, and indifferent. John Bull would have settled it best in his quiet way by just letting them alone, leaving the disagreeable ones to die off in single blessedness. But people got about John, and made him set up one of his "No popery" cries; and when becomes to that pitch be loses his senses and his common sense completely. "No blues!" "Down with the blues!"--now what good has all that done? only made the matter ten times worse. In consequence of this universal hubbub a new order of things has arisen.
The blue bore disguised, or the renegade blue. These may be detected by their extraordinary fear of being taken for blues. Hold up the picture, or even the sign of a blue bore before them, and they immediately write under it, "'Tis none of me." They spend their lives hiding their talent under a bushel; all the time in a desperate fright lest you should see it. A poor simple man does not know what to do about it, or what to say or think in their company, so as to behave himself rightly, and not to affront them. Solomon himself would be put to it, to make some of these authoresses unknown, avow or give up their own progeny. Their affectation is beyond the affectation of woman, and it makes all men sick.
Others without affectation are only arrant cowards. They are afraid to stand exposed on their painful pre-eminence. Some from pure good-nature make themselves ridiculous; imagining that they are nine feet high at the least, shrink and distort themselves continually in condescension to our inferiority; or lest we should be blasted with excess of light, come into company shading their farthing candle--burning blue, pale, and faint.
It should be noticed that the bore condescending is peculiarly obnoxious to the proud man.
Besides the bore condescending, who, whether good-natured or ill-natured, is a most provoking animal--there is the bore facetious, an insufferable creature, always laughing, but with whom you can never laugh. And there is another exotic variety--the vive la bagatelle bore of the ape kind--who imitate men of genius. Having early been taught that there is nothing more delightful than the unbending of a great mind, they set about continually to unbend the bow in company.
Of the spring and fall, the ebb and tide of genius, we have heard much from Milton, Dryden, and others. At ebb time--a time which must come to all, pretty or rich, treasures are discovered upon some shores; or golden sands are seen when the waters run low. In others bare rocks, slime, or reptiles. May I never be at low tide with a bore! Despising the Bagatelle, there is the serious regular conversation bore, who listens to himself, talks from notes, and is witty by rule. All rules for conversation were no doubt invented by bores, and if followed would make all men and women bores, either in straining to be witty, or striving to be easy. There is no more certain method, even for him who may possess the talent in the highest degree, to lose the power of conversing, than by talking to support his character. One eye to your reputation, one on the company, would never do, were it with the best of eyes. Few people are of Descartes' mind, that squinting is pretty. It has been said, that pleasure never comes, if you send her a formal card of invitation; to a conversazione certainly never; whatever she might to a dinner-party. Ease cannot stay, wit flies away, and humour grows dull, if people try for them.
Well-bred persons, abhorring the pedantry of the blues, are usually anti- blues, or ultra-antis. But though there exists in a certain circle a natural honest aversion to every thing like wit or learning, is it absolutely certain that if taking thought won't do it, taking none will do? They are determined, they declare, to have easy conversation, or none.
But let the ease be high-bred and silent as possible--let it be the repose of the Transcendental--the death-like silence of the Exclusive in the perfumed atmosphere of the Exquisite; then begins the danger of going to sleep--desperate danger. In these high circles are to be found, apparently, the most sleepy of all animated beings. Apparently, I say, because, on close observation, it will usually be found that, like the spider, who, from fear, counterfeits death, these, from pride, counterfeit sleep. They will sometimes pretend to be asleep for hours together, when any person or persons are near whom they do not choose to notice. They lie stretched on sofas, rolled up in shawls most part of the day, quite empty. At certain hours of the night, found congregated, sitting up dressed, on beds of roses, back to back, with eyes scarce open. They are observed to give sign of animation only on the approach of a blue--their antipathy. They then look at each other, and shrink. That the sham-sleeping bore is a delicate creature, I shall not dispute, but they are intolerably tiresome. For my own part, I would rather give up the honour and the elegance, and go to the antipodes at once, and live with their antagonists, the lion-hunters--yea, the lion-loving bores.
Their antipodes, did I say? that was going too far: even the most exaggerated ultra-anti-blues, upon occasion, forget themselves strangely, and have been seen to join the common herd in running after lions. But they differ from the blue-lion-loving-bore proper, by never treating the lion as if he were one of themselves. They follow and feed and fall down and worship the lion of the season; still, unless he be a nobleman, which but rarely occurs, he is never treated as a gentleman quite; there is always a difference made, better understood than described. I have heard lions of my acquaintance complain of showing themselves off to these ultra-antis, and have asked why they let themselves be made lions, if they disliked it so much, as no lion can well be led about, I should have conceived, quite against his will? I never could obtain any answer, but that indeed they could not help it; they were very sorry, but indeed they could not help being lions. And the polite lion-loving bore always echoed this, and addressed them with some such speech as the following:--"My dearest, sir, madam, or miss (as the case may be), I know, that of all things you detest being made a lion, and that you can't bear to be worshipped; yet, my dear sir, madam, or miss, you must let me kneel down and worship you, and then you must stand on your hind legs a little for me, only for one minute, my dear sir, and I really would not ask you to do it, only you are such a lion."
But I have not yet regularly described the genus and species of which I am treating. The great lion-hunting bore, and the little lion-loving bore, male and female of both kinds; the male as eager as the female to fasten on the lion, and as expert in making the most of him, alive or dead, as seen in the finest example extant, Bozzy and Piozzi, fairly pitted; but the male beat the female hollow.
The common lion-hunting bore is too well known to need particular description; but some notice of their habitudes may not be useless for avoidance. The whole class male subsists by fetching and carrying bays, grasping at notes and scraps, if any great name be to them; run wild after verses in MS.; fond of autographs. The females carry albums; some learn bon mots by rote, and repeat them like parrots; others do not know a good thing when they meet with it, unless they are told the name of the cook. Some relish them really, but eat till they burst; others, after cramming to stupidity, would cram you from their pouch, as the monkey served Gulliver on the house-top. The whole tribe are foul feeders, at best love trash and fatten upon scraps; the worst absolutely rake the kennels, and prey on garbage. They stick with amazing tenacity, almost resembling canine fidelity and gratitude, to the remains of the dead lion. But in fact, their love is like that of the ghowl; worse than ghowls, they sell all which they do not destroy; every scrap of the dead lion may turn to account. It is wonderful what curious saleable articles they make of the parings of his claws, and hairs of his mane. The bear has been said to live at need by sucking his own paws. The bore lives by sucking the paws of the lion, on which he thrives apace, and, in some instances, has grown to an amazing size. The dead paws are as good for his purpose as the living, and better-- there being no fear of the claws. How he escapes those claws when the lion is alive, is the wonder. The winged lion, however, is above touching these creatures; and the real gentleman lion of the true blood, in whose nature there is nothing of the bear, will never let his paws be touched by a bore. His hair stands on end at the approach or distant sight of any of the kind, lesser or greater; but very difficult he often finds it to avoid them. Any other may, more easily than a lion, shirk a bore. It is often attempted, but seldom or never successfully. He hides in his den, but not at home will not always do. The lion is too civil to shut the door in the bore's very face, though he mightily wishes to do so. It is pleasant sport to see a great bore and lion opposed to each other; how he stands or sits upon his guard; how cunningly the bore tries to fasten upon him, and how the lion tries to shake him off!--if the bore persists beyond endurance, the lion roars, and he flies; or the lion springs, and he dies.
A more extraordinary circumstance than any I have yet noted, respecting the natural history of lions and bores, remains to be told; that the lion himself, the greater kind as well as the lesser of him, are apt, sooner or later, to turn into bores; but the metamorphosis, though the same in the result, takes place in different circumstances, and from quite different causes: with the lesser lion and lioness often from being shown, or showing themselves too frequently; with the greater, from very fear of being like the animal he detests.
I once knew a gentleman, not a bore quite, but a very clever man, one of great sensibility and excessive sensitiveness, who could never sit still a quarter of an hour together, never converse
with you comfortably, or finish a good story, but evermore broke off in the middle with "I am boring you"--"I must run away or I shall be a bore." It ended in his becoming that which he most feared to be.
There are a few rare exceptions to all that has been said of the caprices or weaknesses of lions. The greatest of lions known or unknown, the most agreeable as well as the noblest of creatures, is quite free from these infirmities. He neither affects to show himself, nor lies sullen in his den. I have somewhere seen his picture sketched; I should guess by himself at some moment I when the lion turned painter.
"I pique myself upon being one of the best conditioned animals that ever was shown, since the time of him who was in vain I defied by the knight of the woful figure; for I get up at the first touch of the pole, rouse myself, shake my mane, lick my chops, turn round, lie down, and go to sleep again." It was bad policy in me to let the words "go to sleep" sound upon the reader's ear, for I have not yet quite done; I have one more class, and though last not least; were I to adopt that enigmatical style which made the fortune of the oracle of Apollo, I might add--and though least, greatest. But this, the oracular sublime, has now gone to the gipsies and the conjurors, and I must write plain English, if I can.
I am come to the crass of the infant bore--the infant reciting bore; seemingly insignificant, but exceedingly tiresome, also exceedingly dangerous, as I shall show. The old of this class we meet wherever we go-- in the forum, the temple, the senate, the theatre, the drawing-room, the boudoir, the closet. The young infest our homes, pursue us to our very hearths; our household deities are in league with them; they destroy all our domestic comfort; they become public nuisances, widely destructive to our literature. Their mode of training will explain the nature of the danger. The infant reciting bore is trained much after the manner of a learned pig. Before the quadruped are placed, on certain bits of dirty greasy cards, the letters of the alphabet, or short nonsensical phrases interrogatory with their answers, such as "Who is the greatest rogue in company?" "Which lady or gentleman in company will be married first?" By the alternate use of blows and bribes of such food as pleases the pig, the animal is brought to obey certain signs from his master, and at his bidding to select any letter or phrase required from amongst those set before him, goes to his lessons, seems to read attentively, and to understand; then by a motion of his snout, or a well-timed grunt, designates the right phrase, and answers the expectations of his master and the company. The infant reciter is in similar manner trained by alternate blows and bribes, almonds and raisins, and bumpers of sweet wine. But mark the difference between him and the pig. Instead of greasy letters and old cards, which are used for the learned pig, before the little human animal are cast the finest morsels from our first authors, selections from our poets, didactic, pathetic, and sublime--every creature's best, sacrificed.
These are to be slowly but surely deprived of spirit, sense, and life, by the deadly deadening power of iteration. Not only are they deprived of life, but mangled by the infant bore--not only mangled, but polluted--left in such a state that no creature of any delicacy, taste, or feeling, can bear them afterwards. And are immortal works, or works which fond man thought and called immortal, thus to perish? Thus are they doomed to destruction, by a Lilliputian race of Vandals.
The curse of Minerva be on the heads of those who train, who incite them to such sacrilegious mischief! The mischief spreads every day wide and more wide. Till of late years, there had appeared bounds to its progress. Nature seemed to have provided against the devastations of the infant reciter. Formerly it seemed, that only those whom she had blessed or cursed with a wonderful memory, could be worth the trouble of training, or by the successful performance of the feats desired, to pay the labour of instruction. But there has arisen in the land, men who set at nought the decrees of nature, who undertake to make artificial memories, not only equal but superior to the best natural memory, and who, at the shortest notice, engage to supply the brainless with brains. By certain technical helps, long passages, whole poems, may now be learnt by heart, as they call it, without any aid, effort, or cognizance of the understanding; and retained and recited, under the same circumstances, by any irrational, as well and better, than by any rational being, if, to recite well, mean to repeat without missing a syllable. How far our literature may in future suffer from these blighting swarms, will best be conceived by a glance at what they have already withered and blasted of the favourite productions of our most popular poets, Gray, Goldsmith, Thomson, Pope, Dryden, Milton, Shakspeare.
Pope's Man of Ross was doomed to suffer first.
"Rise, honest Muse, and sing the Man of Ross!"
Oh, dreaded words! who is there that does not wish the honest muse should rise no more? Goldsmith came next, and shared the same fate. His country curate, the most amiable of men, we heard of till he grew past endurance.
As to learning any longer from the bee to build, or of the little nautilus to sail, we gave it up long ago. "To be or not to be"--is a question we can no longer bear.
Then Alexander's Feast--the little harpies have been at that too, and it is defiled. Poor Collins' Ode to the Passions, on and off the stage, is torn to very tatters.
The Seven Ages of Man, and "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women in it"--gone to destruction.
The quality of mercy is strained, and is no longer twice blest.
We turn with disgust from "angels and ministers of grace." Adam's morning hymn has lost the freshness of its charm. The bores have got into Paradise --scaled Heaven itself! and defied all the powers of Milton's hell. Such Belials and Molochs as we have heard!
It is absolutely shocking to perceive how immortal genius is in the power of mortal stupidity! Johnson, a champion
of no mean force, stood forward in his day, and did what his single arm could do, to drive the little bores from the country church-yard.
"Could not the pretty dears repeat together?" had, however, but a momentary effect. Though he knocked down the pair that had attempted to stand before him, they got up again, or one down, another came on. To this hour they are at it.
What can be done against a race of beings not capable of being touched even by ridicule? What can we hope when the infant bore and his trainers have stood against the incomparable humour of "Thinks I to myself?"
In time--and as certainly as the grub turns in due season into the winged plague who buzzes and fly-blows--the little reciting bore turns into the dramatic or theatric acting, reading, singing, recitative--and finally into the everlasting-quotation-loving bore--Greek, Latin, and English.
The everlasting quotation-lover doats on the husks of learning. He is the infant reciting bore in second childishness. We wish in vain that it were in mere oblivion. From the ladies' tea-tables the Greek and Latin quoting bores were driven away long ago by the Guardian and the Spectator, and seldom now translate for the country gentlewomen. But the mere English quotation-dealer, a mortal tiresome creature! still prevails, and figures still in certain circles of old blues, who are civil enough still to admire that wonderful memory of his which has a quotation ready for every thing you can say--He usually prefaces or ends his quotations with--"As the poet happily says," or, "as Nature's sweetest woodlark justly remarks;" or, "as the immortal Milton has it."
To prevent the confusion and disgrace consequent upon such mistakes, and for the general advantage of literature, in reclaiming, if possible, what has gone to the bores, it might be a service to point out publicly such quotations as are now too common to be admitted within the pale of good taste.
In the last age, Lord Chesterfield set the mark of the beast, as he called it, on certain vulgarisms in pronunciation, which he succeeded in banishing from good company. I wish we could set the mark of the bore upon all which has been contaminated by his touch,--all those tainted beauties, which no person of taste would prize. They must be hung up viewless, for half a century at least, to bleach out their stains.
I invite every true friend of literature and of good conversation, blues and antis, to contribute their assistance in furnishing out a list of quotations to be proscribed. Could I but accomplish this object, I should feel I had not written in vain. To make a good beginning, I will give half a dozen of the most notorious.
"The light fantastic toe," has figured so long in the newspapers, that an editor of taste would hardly admit it now into his columns.
"Pity is akin to love,"--sunk to utter contempt; along with--"Grace is in all her steps;" and "Man never is, but always to be blest;"--"Youth at the prow, and pleasure at the helm;"--no longer safe on a boating party.
The bourgeois gentilhomme has talked prose too long without knowing it.
"No man is a hero to his valet de chambre,"--gone to the valets themselves.
"Le secret d'ennyer est celui de tout dire,"--in great danger of the same fate,--it is so tempting!--but, so much the worse,--wit is often its own worst enemy.
Some anatomists, it is said, have, during the operation of dissection, caught from the subject the disease. I feel myself in danger at this moment,--a secret horror thrills through my veins. Often have I remarked that persons who undergo certain transformations are unconscious of the commencement and progress in themselves, though quicksighted, when their enemies, friends, or neighbours, are beginning to turn into bores. Husband and wife,--no creatures sooner!--perceive each other's metamorphoses,--not Baucis and Philemon more surely, seldom like them before the transformation be complete. Are we in time to say the last adieu!
I feel that I am--I fear that I have long been, THE END.
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