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One may buy an accomplishment too dearly. It is possible to pay too much even for a Parisian pronunciation! Not only have I never found a linguist a man of eminence, but I have never seen a linguist who talked well. Fluent they are, of course. Like the Stecknadel gun of the Prussians, they can fire without cessation, but, like the same weapon, they are comparatively aimless. It is a feu roulant, with plenty of noise and some smoke, but very "few casualties" announce the success. The greatest linguist of modern Europe, Mezzofanti, was a most inferior man. Of the countries whose dialect he spoke to perfection, he knew nothing. An old dictionary would have been to the full as companionable. I find it very hard not to be personal just now, and give a list-it would be a long one-of all the tiresome people I know, who talk four, five, some of them six modern languages perfectly. It is only with an effort I abstain from mentioning the names of some well-known men who are the charming people at Rome and Vienna every winter, and each summer are the delight of Ems, of Berlin, and of Ischl. What tyrants these fellows are, too, over the men who have not got their gift of tongues! how they out-talk them and overbear them! with what an insolent confidence they fall back upon the petty superiority of their fluency, and lord it over those who are immeasurably their masters! Just as Blondin might run along the rigging of a three-decker, and pretend that his agility entitled him to command a squadron !
Nothing, besides, is more imposing than the mock eloquence of good French. The language in itself is so adaptive, it is so felicitous, it abounds in such innumerable pleasant little analogies, such nice conceits and suggestive drolleries, that he who acquires these has at will a whole armoury of attack and defence. It actually requires years of habit to accustom us to a display that we come at last to discover
implies no brilliancy whatever in him who exhibits, though it argues immense resources in the treasury from which he derives this wealth.
I have known scores of delightful talkers-Frenchmen-who had no other charm than what their language lent them. They were neither profound, nor cultivated, nor witty -some were not even shrewd or acute; but all were pleasant-pleasant in the use of a conversational medium, of which the world has not the equal-a language that has its set form of expression for every social eventuality, and that hits to a nicety every contingency of the salon;" for it is no more the language of natural people than the essence of the perfumer's shop is the odour of a field flower. It is pre-eminently the medium of people who talk with tall glasses before them, and an incense of truffles around them, and well-dressed women - clever and witty, and not over-scrupulous in their opinionsfor their company. Then, French is unapproachable; English would be totally unsuited to the occasion, and German even more so. There is a flavour of sauer kraut about that unhappy tongue that would vulgarise a Queen if she talked it.
To attain, therefore, the turns and tricks of this language-for it is a Chinese puzzle in its involvements - what a life must a man have led! What "terms" he must have "put in" at cafés and restaurants ! What seasons at small theatres—tripots and worse! What nights at bals-masqués, Chateaux des Fleurs, and Cadrans rouges et bleus! What doubtful company he must have often kept! What company a little more than doubtful occasionally! What iniquities of French romance must he have read, with all the cardinal virtues arrayed as the evil destinies of humanity, and every wickedness paraded as that natural expansion of the heart which alone raises man above the condition of the brute! I ask, if proficiency must imply profligacy, would you not rather find a man
break down in his verbs than his virtue? Would you not prefer a little inaccuracy in his declensions to a total forgetfulness of the decalogue? And, lastly of all, what man of real eminence could have masqueraded-for it is masquerading-for years in this motley, and come out, after all, with even a rag of his identity?
Many people would scruple to play at cards with a stranger whose mode of dealing and general manipulation of the pack bespoke daily familiarity with the play-table. They would infer that he was a regular and professional gambler. In the very same way, and for the selfsame reason, would I carefully avoid any close intimacy with the Englishman of fluent French, well knowing he could not have graduated in that perfection save at a certain price. But it is not at the moral aspect of the question I desire particularly to look. I assert —and I repeat my assertion-that these talkers of many tongues are poor creatures. There is no initiative in them they suggest nothing-they are vendors of secondhand wares, and are not always even good selectors of what they sell. It is only in narrative that they are at all endurable. They can raconter, certainly; and so long as they go from salon to salon repeating in set phrase some little misadventure or accident of the day, they are amusing; but this is not conversation, and they do not converse.
"Every time a man acquires a new language, is he a new man?" is supposed to have been a saying of Charles V.—a sentiment that, if he uttered it, means more of sarcasm than of praise; for it is the very putting off a man's identity that establishes his weakness. All real force of character excludes
dualism. Every eminent, every able man has a certain integrity in his nature that rejects this plasticity.
It is a very common habit, particularly with newspaper writers, to ascribe skill in languages, and occasionally in games, to distinguished people. It was but the other day we were told that Garibaldi spoke ten languages fluently. Now Garibaldi is not really master of two. He speaks French tolerably; and his native language is not Italian, but a patois-Genoese. Cavour was called a linguist with almost as little truth; but people repeat the story, just as they repeat that Napoleon I. was a great chess-player. If his statecraft and his strategy had been on a par with his chess, we should never have heard of Tilsit or Wagram.
Lord Castlereagh, the Duke of Wellington, and George Canning, each of whom administered our foreign policy with no small share of success, were not linguists; and as to Charles Fox, he has left a French sentence on record that will last even as long as his own great name. I do not want to decry the study of languages; I simply desire to affirm that linguists-and through all I have said I mean colloquial linguists -are for the most part poor creatures, not otherwise distinguished than by the gift of tongues; and I want to protest against the undue pre-eminence accorded to the possessors of a small accomplishment, and the readiness with which the world, especially the world of society, awards homage to an acquirement in which a boarding-school miss can surpass Lord Brougham. I mean to say a word or two about those who have skill in games; but as they are of a higher order of inteltelligence, I'll wait till I have got "fresh wind" ere I treat of them.
THE OLD CONJURORS AND THE NEW.
As there are few better tests of the general health of an individual than in the things he imagines to
be injurious to him, so there is no surer evidence of the delicate condition of a State than in the char
acter of those who are assumed to be dangerous to it. Now, after all that has been said of Rome and the corruptions of Roman government, I do not know anything so decidedly damnatory as the fact, to which allusion was lately made in Parliament, that the Papal Government had ordered Mr Home, the spiritualist, to quit the city and the States of his Holiness, and not to return to them.
In what condition, I would ask, must a country be when such a man is regarded as dangerous? and in what aspect of his character does the danger consist?
Do we want ghosts or spirits to reveal to us any more of the iniquities of that State than we already know? Is there a detail of its corrupt administration that the press of Europe has not sowed broadcast over the world? What could Mr Home and all his spirits tell us of peculation, theft, subornation, bigotry, and oppression, that the least observant traveller has not brought home with him?
And then, as to the man himself, how puerile it is to give him this importance! The solitary bit of cleverness about him is his statement that he has no control whatever over the spirits that attend him. Asking him not to summon them, is pretty like asking Mr Windham not to send for his creditors. They come pretty much as they like, and probably their visits are about equally profitable.
In this respect Home belongs to a very low order of his art. When Bosco promises to make a bouquet out of a mouse-trap, or Houdin engages to concoct a batter-pudding in your hat, each keeps his word. There is no subterfuge about the temper the spirits may happen to be in, or of their willingness or unwillingness to present themselves. The thing is done, and we see it-or we think we see it, which comes much to the same.
With this provision of escape he secured himself against all failure. Should, for instance, the audience
prove to be of a more discriminating and observant character than he liked or anticipated, and the exhibition in consequence be rendered critical, all he had to do was, to aver that the spirits would not come ; it was no breakdown on his part. Homer was sulky, or Dante was hipped, or Lord Bacon was indisposed to meet company, and there was the end of it. You were invited to meet celebrities, but it was theirs to say if they would present themselves.
On the other hand, when the proper element of credulity offeredwhen the séance was comprised of the select few, emotional, sensitive, and hysterical as they ought to bewhen the nervous lady sat beside the timid gentleman, and neuralgia confronted confirmed dyspepsiathe artist could afford to be daring, and might venture on flights that astounded even himself. What limit is there, besides, to contagional sympathy? Look at the crowded theatre, with its many-minded spectators, and see how one impulse, communicated occasionally by a hireling, will set the whole mass in a ferment of enthusiastic delight. Mark, too, how the smile, that plays like an eddy on a lake, deepens into a laugh, and is caught up by another and another, till the whole storm breaks out in a hearty roar of merriment. These, if you like, are spirits; but the great masters of them are not men like Mr Homethey have ever been, and still are, of a very different order. Shakespeare and Molière and Cervantes knew something of the mode to summon these imps, and could make them come at their bidding besides.
Was it to come back to what I started with-was it in any spirit of rivalry that the Papal Government drove Mr Home out of Rome ? Was it that, assuming to have a monopoly in the wares he dealt in, they would not stand a contraband trade? If so, their ground is at least defensible; for what chance of attraction would there be for the
winking Virgin in competition with him who could "make a young lady ascend to the ceiling, and come slowly down like a parachute!". a spiritual fact I have heard from witnesses who really, so far as character went, might challenge any incredulity.
If the cardinals were jealous of the conjuror, the thing is intelligible enough, and one must feel a certain degree of sympathy with the oldestablished firm that had spent such enormous sums, and made such stupendous preparations, when a pretender like this could come into competition with them, without any other properties than could be carried conveniently about him. But let us be practical. The Pope's Government demanded of Mr Home that he should have no dealings with the Evil One during his stay at Rome. Now, I ask, what should we say of the efficacy of our police system if we were to hear that the Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard lived in nightly terror of the pickpockets who frequented that quarter, and came to Parliament with a petition to accord him some greater security against their depredations? Would not the natural reply be an exclamation of astonishment that he who could summon, to his aid every alphabetical blue-coat that ever handled a truncheon, should deem any increased security necessary to his peace? And so, would I ask, of what avail these crowds of cardinals-these regiments of monsignori-these battalions of bishops, arch and simple ?-of what use all the incense and these chanted litanies-and these eternal processions— and these saintly shin-bones borne in costly array-if one poor mortal, supposed to live on visiting terms with the Evil One, can strike such terror into the whole army led on by Infallibility?
If I had been possessed of any peculiar dread of coming unexpectedly on the Devil-as the old ladies of New York used to feel long ago about suddenly meeting with the
British army-I should certainly have comforted myself by the thought that I could always go and sit down on the steps of the Vatican. It would immediately have occurred to me, that as Holyrood offers its sanctuary against the sheriff, the Quirinal would be the sure retreat against Old Nick; and I have even pictured to myself the rage of his disappointed malice as he saw me sheltering safely beneath a protection he dared not invade. And now I am told to relinquish all the blessed enjoyment of this immunity; that the Pope and the cardinals and Antonelli himself are not a whit better off than the rest of us; that if Mr Home gets into Rome, there is nothing to prevent his having the Devil at his tea-parties. What an ignoble confession is this! Who will step forward any longer and contend that this costly system is to be maintained, and all these saintly intercessors to be kept on the most expensive of all pension-lists, if a poor creature like Home can overthrow it all?
Can any one conceive such a spectacle as these gorgeous men of scarlet and purple cringing before this poor pretender, and openly avowing before Europe that there is no peace for them till he consents to cross the Tiber?
Why-I speak, of course, in the ignorance of a laic-but, I ask, why not fumigate him and cleanse him? When I saw him last, the process would not have been so supererogatory. Why not exorcise and defy him? Why not say, Come, and bring your friend, if you dare ; you shall see how we will treat you. Only try it. It is what we have been asking for nigh two thousand years. Let the great culprit step forward and plead to his indictment.
I can fancy the Pope saying this -I can picture to myself the proud attitude of the Pontiff declaring,
I have had enough of these small devilries. Like Louis Napoleon and Victor Emmanuel, I am sick
of Mazzini and his petty followers. Let us deal with the chief of the gang at once; if we cannot convict him, he will be at least open to a compromise." This, I say, I can comprehend; but it is clear and clean beyond me that he should
shirk the interview, and own he was afraid of him. It would not surprise me to-morrow to hear that Lord Derby dreaded the Radicals, and actually feared the debating powers of "Mr Potter of the Strikes."
GAMBLING FOR THE MILLION.
Nothing shows what a practical people we are more than our establishment of insurances against railroad accidents. The spirit of commercial enterprise, by which a man charters himself for a railroad voyage with an insured cargo of his bones, ligaments, cartilage, and adipose tissue, abundantly proves that we are nature's own traders and shopkeepers.
Any ordinary people less imbued with Liverpool and Manchester notions would have bestirred themselves how to prevent, or at least lessen, the number of those casualties. They would have set to work to see what provisions could be adopted to give greater security to travel. We, on the contrary, are too business-like to waste time on this inquiry. We are convinced that, let us build ships ever so strong, there will still be shipwrecks. So we feel assured that a certain number of railway accidents, as they are called, will continue to occur-be as broad gauge as you will! We accept the situation, therefore, as the French say, and insure; that is to say, we book a bet at very long odds-say, three to a thousand-that we shall be rolled up, cut in two, flattened into a thin sheeting, and ground into an impalpable powder, between Croydon and Brighton. If we arrive safe, the assurance office pockets a few shillings; if we win our wager, our executor receives a thousand pounds.
It is about the grimmest kind of gambling ever man heard of; and yet we see folk of the most unquestionable propriety-dignitaries of the Church, judges, civil and un
civil servants of the Crown, and scores of others, whom nothing would tempt into the Cursaal at Ems or Baden, as coolly as possible playing this terrific game, and backing themselves heavily for a dorsal paralysis, a depressed fracture of the cranium, or at least a compound dislocation of the hip-joint.
Now, if the Protestant Church entertained what the Romanists call cases of conscience, I should like greatly to ask, Is this right? Is it justifiable to make a contingent profit out of your cerebral vertebræ or your popliteal space?
We have long been derided and scoffed at for making connubialism marketable, and putting a price on a wife's infidelity, but it strikes me this is something worse; for what, after all, is a rib—a false rib, too compared with the whole bony skeleton ?
“Allah is Allah," said the Turkish admiral to Lady Hester Stanhope, "but I have got two anchors astern," showing that, with all his fatalism, he did not despise what are technically called human means. So the reverend Archdeacon, going down for his sea-baths, might say,
I'm not quite sure they'll carry me safely, but it shall not be all misfortune-I'll take out some of it in money."
The system, however, has its difficulties; for though it is a round game, the stakes are apportioned with reference to the rank and condition of the winner-as, for instance, the Solicitor-General's collar-bone is worth a shoemaker's whole body, and a Judge's patella is of more value than a dealer in marine stores and his rising family. This is a