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The Complete Poetical Works of James Russell Lowell by James Lowell

Part 19 out of 21

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Who sure intended him to stretch a rope.


If I were the rose at your window,
Happiest rose of its crew,
Every blossom I bore would bend inward,
_They'd_ know where the sunshine grew.


Full oft the pathway to her door
I've measured by the selfsame track,
Yet doubt the distance more and more,
'Tis so much longer coming back!


We wagered, she for sunshine, I for rain,
And I should hint sharp practice if I dared;
For was not she beforehand sure to gain
Who made the sunshine we together shared?


As life runs on, the road grows strange
With faces new, and near the end
The milestones into headstones change,
'Neath every one a friend.


In vain we call old notions fudge,
And bend our conscience to our dealing;
The Ten Commandments will not budge,
And stealing will continue stealing.



What know we of the world immense
Beyond the narrow ring of sense?
What should we know, who lounge about
The house we dwell in, nor find out,
Masked by a wall, the secret cell
Where the soul's priests in hiding dwell?
The winding stair that steals aloof
To chapel-mysteries 'neath the roof?

It lies about us, yet as far
From sense sequestered as a star 10
New launched its wake of fire to trace
In secrecies of unprobed space,
Whose beacon's lightning-pinioned spears
Might earthward haste a thousand years
Nor reach it. So remote seems this
World undiscovered, yet it is
A neighbor near and dumb as death,
So near, we seem to feel the breath
Of its hushed habitants as they
Pass us unchallenged, night and day. 20

Never could mortal ear nor eye
By sound or sign suspect them nigh,
Yet why may not some subtler sense
Than those poor two give evidence?
Transfuse the ferment of their being
Into our own, past hearing, seeing,
As men, if once attempered so,
Far off each other's thought can know?
As horses with an instant thrill
Measure their rider's strength of will? 30
Comes not to all some glimpse that brings
Strange sense of sense-escaping things?
Wraiths some transfigured nerve divines?
Approaches, premonitions, signs,
Voices of Ariel that die out
In the dim No Man's Land of Doubt?

Are these Night's dusky birds? Are these
Phantasmas of the silences
Outer or inner?--rude heirlooms
From grovellers in the cavern-glooms, 40
Who in unhuman Nature saw
Misshapen foes with tusk and claw,
And with those night-fears brute and blind
Peopled the chaos of their mind,
Which, in ungovernable hours,
Still make their bestial lair in ours?

Were they, or were they not? Yes; no;
Uncalled they come, unbid they go,
And leave us fumbling in a doubt
Whether within us or without 50
The spell of this illusion be
That witches us to hear and see
As in a twi-life what it will,
And hath such wonder-working skill
That what we deemed most solid-wrought
Turns a mere figment of our thought,
Which when we grasp at in despair
Our fingers find vain semblance there,
For Psyche seeks a corner-stone
Firmer than aught to matter known. 60

Is it illusion? Dream-stuff? Show
Made of the wish to have it so?
'Twere something, even though this were all:
So the poor prisoner, on his wall
Long gazing, from the chance designs
Of crack, mould, weather-stain, refines
New and new pictures without cease,
Landscape, or saint, or altar-piece:
But these are Fancy's common brood
Hatched in the nest of solitude; 70
This is Dame Wish's hourly trade,
By our rude sires a goddess made.
Could longing, though its heart broke, give
Trances in which we chiefly live?
Moments that darken all beside,
Tearfully radiant as a bride?
Beckonings of bright escape, of wings
Purchased with loss of baser things?
Blithe truancies from all control
Of Hyle, outings of the soul? 80

The worm, by trustful instinct led,
Draws from its womb a slender thread,
And drops, confiding that the breeze
Will waft it to unpastured trees:
So the brain spins itself, and so
Swings boldly off in hope to blow
Across some tree of knowledge, fair
With fruitage new, none else shall share:
Sated with wavering in the Void,
It backward climbs, so best employed, 90
And, where no proof is nor can be,
Seeks refuge with Analogy;
Truth's soft half-sister, she may tell
Where lurks, seld-sought, the other's well,
With metaphysic midges sore,
My Thought seeks comfort at her door,
And, at her feet a suppliant cast,
Evokes a spectre of the past.
Not such as shook the knees of Saul,
But winsome, golden-gay withal,-- 100
Two fishes in a globe of glass,
That pass, and waver, and re-pass,
And lighten that way, and then this,
Silent as meditation is.
With a half-humorous smile I see
In this their aimless industry,
These errands nowhere and returns
Grave as a pair of funeral urns,
This ever-seek and never-find,
A mocking image of my mind. 110
But not for this I bade you climb
Up from the darkening deeps of time:
Help me to tame these wild day-mares
That sudden on me unawares.
Fish, do your duty, as did they
Of the Black Island far away
In life's safe places,--far as you
From all that now I see or do.
You come, embodied flames, as when
I knew you first, nor yet knew men; 120
Your gold renews my golden days,
Your splendor all my loss repays.
'Tis more than sixty years ago
Since first I watched your to-and-fro;
Two generations come and gone
From silence to oblivion,
With all their noisy strife and stress
Lulled in the grave's forgivingness,
While you unquenchably survive
Immortal, almost more alive. 130
I watched you then a curious boy,
Who in your beauty found full joy,
And, by no problem-debts distrest,
Sate at life's board a welcome guest.
You were my sister's pets, not mine;
But Property's dividing line
No hint of dispossession drew
On any map my simplesse knew;
O golden age, not yet dethroned!
What made me happy, that I owned; 140
You were my wonders, you my Lars,
In darkling days my sun and stars,
And over you entranced I hung,
Too young to know that I was young.
Gazing with still unsated bliss,
My fancies took some shape like this:
'I have my world, and so have you,
A tiny universe for two,
A bubble by the artist blown,
Scarcely more fragile than our own, 150
Where you have all a whale could wish,
Happy as Eden's primal fish.
Manna is dropt you thrice a day
From some kind heaven not far away,
And still you snatch its softening crumbs,
Nor, more than we, think whence it comes.
No toil seems yours but to explore
Your cloistered realm from shore to shore;
Sometimes you trace its limits round,
Sometimes its limpid depths you sound, 160
Or hover motionless midway,
Like gold-red clouds at set of day;
Erelong you whirl with sudden whim
Off to your globe's most distant rim,
Where, greatened by the watery lens,
Methinks no dragon of the fens
Flashed huger scales against the sky,
Roused by Sir Bevis or Sir Guy,
And the one eye that meets my view,
Lidless and strangely largening, too, 170
Like that of conscience in the dark,
Seems to make me its single mark.
What a benignant lot is yours
That have an own All-out-of-doors,
No words to spell, no sums to do,
No Nepos and no parlyvoo!
How happy you without a thought
Of such cross things as Must and Ought,--
I too the happiest of boys
To see and share your golden joys!' 180

So thought the child, in simpler words,
Of you his finny flocks and herds;
Now, an old man, I bid you rise
To the fine sight behind the eyes,
And, lo, you float and flash again
In the dark cistern of my brain.
But o'er your visioned flames I brood
With other mien, in other mood;
You are no longer there to please,
But to stir argument, and tease 190
My thought with all the ghostly shapes
From which no moody man escapes.
Diminished creature, I no more
Find Fairyland beside my door,
But for each moment's pleasure pay
With the _quart d'heure_ of Rabelais!

I watch you in your crystal sphere,
And wonder if you see and hear
Those shapes and sounds that stir the wide
Conjecture of the world outside; 200
In your pent lives, as we in ours,
Have you surmises dim of powers,
Of presences obscurely shown,
Of lives a riddle to your own,
Just on the senses' outer verge,
Where sense-nerves into soul-nerves merge,
Where we conspire our own deceit
Confederate in deft Fancy's feat,
And the fooled brain befools the eyes
With pageants woven of its own lies? 210
But _are_ they lies? Why more than those
Phantoms that startle your repose,
Half seen, half heard, then flit away,
And leave you your prose-bounded day?

The things ye see as shadows I
Know to be substance; tell me why
My visions, like those haunting you,
May not be as substantial too.
Alas, who ever answer heard
From fish, and dream-fish too? Absurd! 220
Your consciousness I half divine,
But you are wholly deaf to mine.
Go, I dismiss you; ye have done
All that ye could; our silk is spun:
Dive back into the deep of dreams,
Where what is real is what, seems!
Yet I shall fancy till my grave
Your lives to mine a lesson gave;
If lesson none, an image, then,
Impeaching self-conceit in men 230
Who put their confidence alone
In what they call the Seen and Known.
How seen? How known? As through your glass
Our wavering apparitions pass
Perplexingly, then subtly wrought
To some quite other thing by thought.
Here shall my resolution be:
The shadow of the mystery
Is haply wholesomer for eyes
That cheat us to be overwise, 240
And I am happy in my right
To love God's darkness as His light.



Thou wast the fairest of all man-made things;
The breath of heaven bore up thy cloudy wings,
And, patient in their triple rank,
The thunders crouched about thy flank,
Their black lips silent with the doom of kings.

The storm-wind loved to rock him in thy pines,
And swell thy vans with breath of great designs;
Long-wildered pilgrims of the main
By thee relaid their course again,
Whose prow was guided by celestial signs.

How didst thou trample on tumultuous seas,
Or, like some basking sea-beast stretched at ease,
Let the bull-fronted surges glide
Caressingly along thy side,
Like glad hounds leaping by the huntsman's knees!

Heroic feet, with fire of genius shod,
In battle's ecstasy thy deck have trod,
While from their touch a fulgor ran
Through plank and spar, from man to man,
Welding thee to a thunderbolt of God.

Now a black demon, belching fire and steam,
Drags thee away, a pale, dismantled dream,
And all thy desecrated bulk
Must landlocked lie, a helpless hulk,
To gather weeds in the regardless stream.

Woe's me, from Ocean's sky-horizoned air
To this! Better, the flame-cross still aflare,
Shot-shattered to have met thy doom
Where thy last lightnings cheered the gloom,
Than here be safe in dangerless despair.

Thy drooping symbol to the flag-staff clings,
Thy rudder soothes the tide to lazy rings,
Thy thunders now but birthdays greet,
Thy planks forget the martyrs' feet,
Thy masts what challenges the sea-wind brings.

Thou a mere hospital, where human wrecks,
Like winter-flies, crawl, those renowned decks,
Ne'er trodden save by captive foes,
And wonted sternly to impose
God's will and thine on bowed imperial necks!

Shall nevermore, engendered of thy fame,
A new sea-eagle heir thy conqueror name.
And with commissioned talons wrench
From thy supplanter's grimy clench
His sheath of steel, his wings of smoke and flame?

This shall the pleased eyes of our children see;
For this the stars of God long even as we;
Earth listens for his wings; the Fates
Expectant lean; Faith cross-propt waits,
And the tired waves of Thought's insurgent sea.


Stood the tall Archangel weighing
All man's dreaming, doing, saying,
All the failure and the pain,
All the triumph and the gain,
In the unimagined years,
Full of hopes, more full of tears,
Since old Adam's hopeless eyes
Backward searched for Paradise,
And, instead, the flame-blade saw
Of inexorable Law.

Waking, I beheld him there,
With his fire-gold, flickering hair,
In his blinding armor stand,
And the scales were in his hand:
Mighty were they, and full well
They could poise both heaven and hell.
'Angel,' asked I humbly then,
'Weighest thou the souls of men?
That thine office is, I know.'
'Nay,' he answered me, 'not so;
But I weigh the hope of Man
Since the power of choice began,
In the world, of good or ill.'
Then I waited and was still.

In one scale I saw him place
All the glories of our race,
Cups that lit Belsbazzar's feast,
Gems, the lightning of the East,
Kublai's sceptre, Caesar's sword,
Many a poet's golden word,
Many a skill of science, vain
To make men as gods again.

In the other scale he threw
Things regardless, outcast, few,
Martyr-ash, arena sand,
Of St Francis' cord a strand,
Beechen cups of men whose need
Fasted that the poor might feed,
Disillusions and despairs
Of young saints with, grief-grayed hairs,
Broken hearts that brake for Man.

Marvel through my pulses ran
Seeing then the beam divine
Swiftly on this hand decline,
While Earth's splendor and renown
Mounted light as thistle-down.


Let others wonder what fair face
Upon their path shall shine,
And, fancying half, half hoping, trace
Some maiden shape of tenderest grace
To be their Valentine.

Let other hearts with tremor sweet
One secret wish enshrine
That Fate may lead their happy feet
Fair Julia in the lane to meet
To be their Valentine.

But I, far happier, am secure;
I know the eyes benign,
The face more beautiful and pure
Than fancy's fairest portraiture
That mark my Valentine.

More than when first I singled, thee,
This only prayer is mine,--
That, in the years I yet shall see.
As, darling, in the past, thou'll be
My happy Valentine.


On this wild waste, where never blossom came,
Save the white wind-flower to the billow's cap,
Or those pale disks of momentary flame,
Loose petals dropped from Dian's careless lap,
What far fetched influence all my fancy fills,
With singing birds and dancing daffodils?

Why, 'tis her day whom jocund April brought,
And who brings April with her in her eyes;
It is her vision lights my lonely thought,
Even as a rose that opes its hushed surprise
In sick men's chambers, with its glowing breath
Plants Summer at the glacier edge of Death.

Gray sky, sea gray as mossy stones on graves;--
Anon comes April in her jollity;
And dancing down the bleak vales 'tween the waves,
Makes them green glades for all her flowers and me.
The gulls turn thrushes, charmed are sea and sky
By magic of my thought, and know not why.

Ah, but I know, for never April's shine,
Nor passion gust of rain, nor all her flowers
Scattered in haste, were seen so sudden fine
As she in various mood, on whom the powers
Of happiest stars in fair conjunction smiled
To bless the birth, of April's darling child.


What hath Love with Thought to do?
Still at variance are the two.
Love is sudden, Love is rash,
Love is like the levin flash,
Comes as swift, as swiftly goes,
And his mark as surely knows.

Thought is lumpish, Thought is slow,
Weighing long 'tween yes and no;
When dear Love is dead and gone,
Thought comes creeping in anon,
And, in his deserted nest,
Sits to hold the crowner's quest.

Since we love, what need to think?
Happiness stands on a brink
Whence too easy 'tis to fall
Whither's no return at all;
Have a care, half-hearted lover,
Thought would only push her over!


If he be a nobler lover, take him!
You in you I seek, and not myself;
Love with men's what women choose to make him,
Seraph strong to soar, or fawn-eyed elf:
All I am or can, your beauty gave it,
Lifting me a moment nigh to you,
And my bit of heaven, I fain would save it--
Mine I thought it was, I never knew.

What you take of me is yours to serve you,
All I give, you gave to me before;
Let him win you! If I but deserve you,
I keep all you grant to him and more:
You shall make me dare what others dare not,
You shall keep my nature pure as snow,
And a light from you that others share not
Shall transfigure me where'er I go.

Let me be your thrall! However lowly
Be the bondsman's service I can do,
Loyalty shall make it high and holy;
Naught can be unworthy, done for you.
Men shall say, 'A lover of this fashion
Such an icy mistress well beseems.'
Women say, 'Could we deserve such passion,
We might be the marvel that he dreams.'


Unseen Musician, thou art sure to please,
For those same notes in happier days I heard
Poured by dear hands that long have never stirred
Yet now again for me delight the keys:
Ah me, to strong illusions such as these
What are Life's solid things? The walls that gird
Our senses, lo, a casual scent or word
Levels, and it is the soul that hears and sees!
Play on, dear girl, and many be the years
Ere some grayhaired survivor sit like me
And, for thy largess pay a meed of tears
Unto another who, beyond the sea
Of Time and Change, perhaps not sadly hears
A music in this verse undreamed by thee!



In good old times, which means, you know,
The time men wasted long ago,
And we must blame our brains or mood
If that we squander seems less good,
In those blest days when wish was act
And fancy dreamed itself to fact,
Godfathers used to fill with guineas
The cups they gave their pickaninnies,
Performing functions at the chrism
Not mentioned in the Catechism.
No millioner, poor I fill up
With wishes my more modest cup,
Though had I Amalthea's horn
It should be hers the newly born.
Nay, shudder not! I should bestow it
So brimming full she couldn't blow it.
Wishes aren't horses: true, but still
There are worse roadsters than goodwill.
And so I wish my darling health,
And just to round my couplet, wealth,
With faith enough to bridge the chasm
'Twixt Genesis and Protoplasm,
And bear her o'er life's current vext
From this world to a better next,
Where the full glow of God puts out
Poor reason's farthing candle, Doubt.
I've wished her healthy, wealthy, wise,
What more can godfather devise?
But since there's room for countless wishes
In these old-fashioned posset dishes,
I'll wish her from my plenteous store
Of those commodities two more,
Her father's wit, veined through and through
With tenderness that Watts (but whew!
Celia's aflame, I mean no stricture
On his Sir Josh-surpassing picture)--
I wish her next, and 'tis the soul
Of all I've dropt into the bowl,
Her mother's beauty--nay, but two
So fair at once would never do.
Then let her but the half possess,
Troy was besieged ten years for less.
Now if there's any truth in Darwin,
And we from what was, all we are win,
I simply wish the child to be
A sample of Heredity,
Enjoying to the full extent
Life's best, the Unearned Increment
Which Fate her Godfather to flout
Gave _him_ in legacies of gout.
Thus, then, the cup is duly filled;
Walk steady, dear, lest all be spilled.


Strong, simple, silent are the [steadfast] laws
That sway this universe, of none withstood,
Unconscious of man's outcries or applause,
Or what man deems his evil or his good;
And when the Fates ally them with a cause
That wallows in the sea-trough and seems lost,
Drifting in danger of the reefs and sands
Of shallow counsels, this way, that way, tost,
Strength, silence, simpleness, of these three strands
They twist the cable shall the world hold fast
To where its anchors clutch the bed-rock of the Past.

Strong, simple, silent, therefore such was he
Who helped us in our need; the eternal law
That who can saddle Opportunity
Is God's elect, though many a mortal flaw
May minish him in eyes that closely see,
Was verified in him: what need we say
Of one who made success where others failed,
Who, with no light save that of common day,
Struck hard, and still struck on till Fortune quailed,
But that (so sift the Norns) a desperate van
Ne'er fell at last to one who was not wholly man.

A face all prose where Time's [benignant] haze
Softens no raw edge yet, nor makes all fair
With the beguiling light of vanished days;
This is relentless granite, bleak and bare,
Roughhewn, and scornful of aesthetic phrase;
Nothing is here for fancy, naught for dreams,
The Present's hard uncompromising light
Accents all vulgar outlines, flaws, and seams,
Yet vindicates some pristine natural right
O'ertopping that hereditary grace
Which marks the gain or loss of some time-fondled race.

So Marius looked, methinks, and Cromwell so,
Not in the purple born, to those they led
Nearer for that and costlier to the foe,
New moulders of old forms, by nature bred
The exhaustless life of manhood's seeds to show,
Let but the ploughshare of portentous times
Strike deep enough to reach them where they lie;
Despair and danger are their fostering climes,
And their best sun bursts from a stormy sky:
He was our man of men, nor would abate
The utmost due manhood could claim of fate.

Nothing Ideal, a plain-people's man
At the first glance, a more deliberate ken
Finds type primeval, theirs in whose veins ran
Such blood as quelled the dragon In his den,
Made harmless fields, and better worlds began:
He came grim-silent, saw and did the deed
That was to do; in his master-grip
Our sword flashed joy; no skill of words could breed
Such sure conviction as that close-clamped lip;
He slew our dragon, nor, so seemed it, knew
He had done more than any simplest man might do.
Yet did this man, war-tempered, stern as steel
Where steel opposed, prove soft in civil sway;
The hand hilt-hardened had lost tact to feel
The world's base coin, and glozing knaves made prey
Of him and of the entrusted Commonweal;
So Truth insists and will not be denied.
We turn our eyes away, and so will Fame,
As if in his last battle he had died
Victor for us and spotless of all blame,
Doer of hopeless tasks which praters shirk,
One of those still plain men that do the world's rough work.



[Lowell took occasion, when collecting in a book the several numbers of
the second series of 'Biglow Papers,' which had appeared In the
'Atlantic Monthly,' to prefix an essay which not only gave a personal
narrative of the origin of the whole scheme, but particularly dwelt upon
the use in literature of the homely dialect in which the poems were
couched. In this Cabinet Edition it has seemed expedient to print the
Introduction here rather than in immediate connection with the poems

Though prefaces seem of late to have fallen under some reproach, they
have at least this advantage, that they set us again on the feet of our
personal consciousness and rescue us from the gregarious mock-modesty or
cowardice of that _we_ which shrills feebly throughout modern literature
like the shrieking of mice in the walls of a house that has passed its
prime. Having a few words to say to the many friends whom the 'Biglow
Papers' have won me, I shall accordingly take the freedom of the first
person singular of the personal pronoun. Let each of the good-natured
unknown who have cheered me by the written communication of their
sympathy look upon this Introduction as a private letter to himself.

When, more than twenty years ago, I wrote the first of the series, I had
no definite plan and no intention of ever writing another. Thinking the
Mexican war, as I think it still, a national crime committed in behoof
of Slavery, our common sin, and wishing to put the feeling of those who
thought as I did in a way that would tell, I imagined to myself such an
up-country man as I had often seen at antislavery gatherings capable of
district-school English, but always instinctively falling back into the
natural stronghold of his homely dialect when heated to the point of
self-forgetfulness. When I began to carry out my conception and to write
in my assumed character, I found myself in a strait between two perils.
On the one hand, I was in danger of being carried beyond the limit of my
own opinions, or at least of that temper with which every man should
speak his mind in print, and on the other I feared the risk of seeming
to vulgarize a deep and sacred conviction. I needed on occasion to rise
above the level of mere _patois_, and for this purpose conceived the
Rev. Mr. Wilbur, who should express the more cautious element of the New
England character and its pedantry, as Mr. Biglow should serve for its
homely common-sense vivified and heated by conscience. The parson was to
be the complement rather than the antithesis of his parishioner, and I
felt or fancied a certain humorous element in the real identity of the
two under a seeming incongruity. Mr. Wilbur's fondness for scraps of
Latin, though drawn from the life, I adopted deliberately to heighten
the contrast. Finding soon after that I needed some one as a mouth-piece
of the mere drollery, for I conceive that true humor is never divorced
from moral conviction, I invented Mr. Sawin for the clown of my little
puppet-show. I meant to embody in him that half-conscious _un_morality
which I had noticed as the recoil in gross natures from a puritanism
that still strove to keep in its creed the intense savor which had long
gone out of its faith and life. In the three I thought I should find
room enough to express, as it was my plan to do, the popular feeling and
opinion of the time. For the names of two of my characters, since I have
received some remonstrances from very worthy persons who happen to bear
them, I would say that they were purely fortuitous, probably mere
unconscious memories of sign-boards or directories. Mr. Sawin's sprang
from the accident of a rhyme at the end of his first epistle, and I
purposely christened him by the impossible surname of Birdofredum not
more to stigmatize him as the incarnation of 'Manifest Destiny,' in
other words, of national recklessness as to right and wrong, than to
avoid the chance of wounding any private sensitiveness.

The success of my experiment soon began not only to astonish me, but to
make me feel the responsibility of knowing that I held in my hand a
weapon instead of the mere fencing-stick I had supposed. Very far from
being a popular author under my own name, so far, indeed, as to be
almost unread, I found the verses of my pseudonym copied everywhere; saw
them pinned up in workshops; I heard them quoted and their authorship
debated; I once even, when rumor had at length caught up my name in one
of its eddies, had the satisfaction of overhearing it demonstrated, in
the pauses of a concert, that _I_ was utterly incompetent to have
written anything of the kind. I had read too much not to know the utter
worthlessness of contemporary reputation, especially as regards satire,
but I knew also that by giving a certain amount of influence it also had
its worth, if that influence were used on the right side. I had learned,
too, that the first requisite of good writing is to have an earnest and
definite purpose, whether aesthetic or moral, and that even good
writing, to please long, must have more than an average amount either of
imagination or common-sense. The first of these falls to the lot of
scarcely one in several generations; the last is within the reach of
many in every one that passes; and of this an author may fairly hope to
become in part the mouthpiece. If I put on the cap and bells and made
myself one of the court-fools of King Demos, it was less to make his
majesty laugh than to win a passage to his royal ears for certain
serious things which I had deeply at heart. I say this because there is
no imputation that could be more galling to any man's self-respect than
that of being a mere jester. I endeavored, by generalising my satire, to
give it what value _I_ could beyond the passing moment and the immediate
application. How far I have succeeded I cannot tell, but I have had
better luck than I ever looked for in seeing my verses survive to pass
beyond their nonage.

In choosing the Yankee dialect, I did not act without forethought. It
had long seemed to me that the great vice of American writing and
speaking was a studied want of simplicity, that we were in danger of
coming to look on our mother-tongue as a dead language, to be sought in
the grammar and dictionary rather than in the heart, and that our only
chance of escape was by seeking it at its living sources among those who
were, as Scottowe says of Major-General Gibbons, 'divinely illiterate.'
President Lincoln, the only really great public man whom these latter
days have seen, was great also in this, that he was master--witness his
speech at Gettysburg--of a truly masculine English, classic, because it
was of no special period, and level at once to the highest and lowest of
his countrymen. I learn from the highest authority that his favorite
reading was in Shakespeare and Milton, to which, of course, the Bible
should be added. But whoever should read the debates in Congress might
fancy himself present at a meeting of the city council of some city of
Southern Gaul in the decline of the Empire, where barbarians with a
Latin varnish emulated each other in being more than Ciceronian. Whether
it be want of culture, for the highest outcome of that is simplicity, or
for whatever reason, it is certain that very few American writers or
speakers wield their native language with the directness, precision, and
force that are common as the day in the mother country. We use it like
Scotsmen, not as if it belonged to us, but as if we wished to prove that
we belonged to it, by showing our intimacy with its written rather than
with its spoken dialect. And yet all the while our popular idiom is racy
with life and vigor and originality, bucksome (as Milton used the word)
to our new occasions, and proves itself no mere graft by sending up new
suckers from the old root in spite of us. It is only from its roots in
the living generations of men that a language can be reinforced with
fresh vigor for its needs; what may be called a literate dialect grows
ever more and more pedantic and foreign, till it becomes at last as
unfitting a vehicle for living thought as monkish Latin. That we should
all be made to talk like books is the danger with which we are
threatened by the Universal Schoolmaster, who does his best to enslave
the minds and memories of his victims to what he esteems the best models
of English composition, that is to say, to the writers whose style is
faultily correct and has no blood-warmth in it. No language after it has
faded into _diction_, none that cannot suck up the feeding juices
secreted for it in the rich mother-earth of common folk, can bring forth
a sound and lusty book. True vigor and heartiness of phrase do not pass
from page to page, but from man to man, where the brain is kindled and
the lips suppled by downright living interests and by passion in its
very throe. Language is the soil of thought, and our own especially is a
rich leaf-mould, the slow deposit of ages, the shed foliage of feeling,
fancy, and imagination, which has suffered an earth-change, that the
vocal forest, as Howell called it, may clothe itself anew with living
green. There is death in the dictionary; and, where language is too
strictly limited by convention, the ground for expression to grow in is
limited also; and we get a _potted_ literature, Chinese dwarfs
instead of healthy trees.

But while the schoolmaster has been busy starching our language and
smoothing it flat with the mangle of a supposed classical authority, the
newspaper reporter has been doing even more harm by stretching and
swelling it to suit his occasions. A dozen years ago I began a list,
which I have added to from time to time, of some of the changes which
may be fairly laid at his door. I give a few of them as showing their
tendency, all the more dangerous that their effect, like that of some
poisons, is insensibly cumulative, and that they are sure at last of
effect among a people whose chief reading is the daily paper. I give in
two columns the old style and its modern equivalent.

_Old Style._ _New Style._

Was hanged. Was launched into

When the halter When the fatal
was put round noose was adjusted
his neck. about the
neck of the unfortunate
of his own unbridled

A great crowd A vast concourse
came to see. was assembled to

Great fire. Disastrous conflagration.

The fire spread. The conflagration
extended its devastating

House burned. Edifice consumed.

The fire was got The progress of
under. the devouring
element was arrested.

Man fell. Individual was

A horse and wagon A valuable horse
ran against. attached to a vehicle driven by
J.S., in the employment of J.B.,
collided with.

The frightened The infuriated animal.

Sent for the doctor. Called into requisition
the services of the family

The mayor of the The chief magistrate
city in a short of the metropolis, in well-
speech welcomed. chosen and eloquent
language, frequently
interrupted by the
plaudits of the
surging multitude,
officially tendered the

I shall say a few I shall, with your
words. permission, beg
leave to offer
some brief observations.

Began his answer. Commenced his rejoinder.

Asked him to dine. Tendered him a banquet.

A bystander advised. One of those omnipresent
characters who, as if
in pursuance of some
previous arrangement,
are certain to be
encountered in the
vicinity when an accident
occurs, ventured
the suggestion.

He died. He deceased, he passed
out of existence, his
spirit quitted its
earthly habitation,
winged its way to
eternity, shook off
its burden, etc.

In one sense this is nothing new. The school of Pope in verse ended by
wire-drawing its phrase to such thinness that it could bear no weight of
meaning whatever. Nor is fine writing by any means confined to America.
All writers without imagination fall into it of necessity whenever they
attempt the figurative. I take two examples from Mr. Merivale's 'History
of the Romans under the Empire,' which, indeed, is full of such. 'The
last years of the age familiarly styled the Augustan were singularly
barren of the literary glories from which its celebrity was chiefly
derived. One by one the stars in its firmament had been lost to the
world; Virgil and Horace, etc., had long since died; the charm which the
imagination of Livy had thrown over the earlier annals of Rome had
ceased to shine on the details of almost contemporary history; and if
the flood of his eloquence still continued flowing, we can hardly
suppose that the stream was as rapid, as fresh, and as clear as ever.' I
will not waste time in criticising the bad English or the mixture of
metaphor in these sentences, but will simply cite another from the same
author which is even worse. 'The shadowy phantom of the Republic
continued to flit before the eyes of the Caesar. There was still, he
apprehended, a germ of sentiment existing, on which a scion of his own
house, or even a stranger, might boldly throw himself and raise the
standard of patrician independence.' Now a ghost may haunt a murderer,
but hardly, I should think, to scare him with the threat of taking a new
lease of its old tenement. And fancy the _scion_ of a _house_ in the act
of _throwing itself_ upon a _germ of sentiment_ to _raise a standard!_ I
am glad, since we have so much in the same kind to answer for, that this
bit of horticultural rhetoric is from beyond sea. I would not be
supposed to condemn truly imaginative prose. There is a simplicity of
splendor, no less than of plainness, and prose would be poor indeed if
it could not find a tongue for that meaning of the mind which is behind
the meaning of the words. It has sometimes seemed to me that in England
there was a growing tendency to curtail language into a mere
convenience, and to defecate it of all emotion as thoroughly as
algebraic signs. This has arisen, no doubt, in part from that healthy
national contempt of humbug which is characteristic of Englishmen, in
part from that sensitiveness to the ludicrous which makes them so shy of
expressing feeling, but in part also, it is to be feared, from a growing
distrust, one might almost say hatred, of whatever is super-material.
There is something sad in the scorn with which their journalists treat
the notion of there being such a thing as a national ideal, seeming
utterly to have forgotten that even in the affairs of this world the
imagination is as much matter-of-fact as the understanding. If we were
to trust the impression made on us by some of the cleverest and most
characteristic of their periodical literature, we should think England
hopelessly stranded on the good-humored cynicism of well-to-do
middle-age, and should fancy it an enchanted nation, doomed to sit
forever with its feet under the mahogany in that after-dinner mood which
follows conscientious repletion, and which it is ill-manners to disturb
with any topics more exciting than the quality of the wines. But there
are already symptoms that a large class of Englishmen are getting weary
of the dominion of consols and divine common-sense, and to believe that
eternal three per cent. is not the chief end of man, nor the highest and
only kind of interest to which the powers and opportunities of England
are entitled.

The quality of exaggeration has often been remarked on as typical of
American character, and especially oL American humor. In Dr. Petri's
_Gedraengtes Handbuch der Fremdwoerter_, we are told that the word
_humbug_ is commonly used for the exaggerations of the North-Americans.
To be sure, one would be tempted to think the dream of Columbus half
fulfilled, and that Europe had found in the West a nearer way to
Orientalism, at least in diction. But it seems tome that a great deal of
what is set down as mere extravagance is more fitly to be called
intensity and picturesqueness, symptoms ol the imaginative faculty in
full health and strength, though producing, as yet, only the raw and
formless material in which poetry is to work. By and by, perhaps, the
world will see it fashioned into poem and picture, and Europe, which
will be hard pushed for originality erelong, may have to thank us for a
new sensation. The French continue to find Shakespeare exaggerated
because he treated English just as our country-folk do when they speak
of a 'steep price,' or say that they 'freeze to' a thing. The first
postulate of an original literature is that a people should use their
language instinctively and unconsciously, as if it were a lively part of
their growth and personality, not as the mere torpid boon of education
or inheritance. Even Burns contrived to write very poor verse and prose
in English. Vulgarisms are often only poetry in the egg. The late Mr.
Horace Mann, in one of his public addresses, commented at some length on
the beauty and moral significance ol the French phrase _s'orienter_ and
called on his young friends to practise upon it in life. There was not a
Yankee in his audience whose problem had not always been to find out
what was _about east_, and to shape his course accordingly. This charm
which a familiar expression gains by being commented, as it were, and.
set in a new light by a foreign language, is curious and instructive. I
cannot help thinking that Mr. Matthew Arnold forgets this a little too
much sometimes when he writes of the beauties of French style. It would
not be hard to find in the works of French Academicians phrases as
coarse as those he cites from Burke, only they are veiled by the
unfamiliarity of the language. But, however this may be, it is certain
that poets and peasants please us in the same way by translating words
back again to their primal freshness, and infusing them with a
delightful strangeness which is anything but alienation. What, for
example, is Milton's '_edge_ of battle' but a doing into English of the
Latin _acies? Was die Gans gedacht das der Schwan vollbracht_, what the
goose but thought, that the swan full brought (or, to de-Saxonize it a
little, what the goose conceived, that the swan achieved), and it may
well be that the life, invention, and vigor shown by our popular speech,
and the freedom with which it is shaped to the instant want of those who
use it, are of the best omen for our having a swan at last. The part I
have taken on myself is that of the humbler bird.

But it is affirmed that there is something innately vulgar in the Yankee
dialect. M. Sainte-Beuve says, with his usual neatness: '_Je definis un
patois une ancienne langue qui a eu des malheurs, ou encore une langue
toute jeune st qui n'a pas fait fortune._' The first part of his
definition applies to a dialect like the Provencal, the last to the
Tuscan before Dante had lifted it into a classic, and neither, it seems
to me, will quite fit a _patois/_, which is not properly a dialect, but
rather certain archaisms, proverbial phrases, and modes of
pronunciation, which maintain themselves among the uneducated side by
side with the finished and universally accepted language. Norman French,
for example, or Scotch down to the time of James VI., could hardly be
called _patois_, while I should be half inclined to name the Yankee a
_lingo_ rather than a dialect. It has retained a few words now fallen
into disuse in the mother country, like to _tarry_, to _progress_,
_fleshy_, _fall_, and some others; it has changed the meaning of some,
as in _freshet_; and it has clung to what I suspect to have been the
broad Norman pronunciation of _e_ (which Moliere puts into the mouth of
his rustics) in such words as _sarvant_, _parfect_, _vartoo_, and the
like. It maintains something of the French sound of _a_ also in words
like _ch[)a]mber_, _d[)a]nger_ (though the latter had certainly begun to
take its present sound so early as 1636, when I find it sometimes spelt
_dainger_). But in general it may be said that nothing can be found in
it which does not still survive in some one or other of the English
provincial dialects. There is, perhaps, a single exception in the verb
to _sleeve_. To _sleeve_ silk means to divide or ravel out a thread of
silk with the point of a needle till it becomes _floss_. (A.S. _slefan_,
to _cleave_=divide.) This, I think, explains the '_sleeveless_ errand'
in 'Troilus and Cressida' so inadequately, sometimes so ludicrously
darkened by the commentators. Is not a 'sleeveless errand' one that
cannot be unravelled, incomprehensible, and therefore bootless?

I am not speaking now of Americanisms properly so called, that is, of
words or phrases which have grown into use here either through
necessity, invention, or accident, such as a _carry_, a _one-horse
affair_, a _prairie_, to _vamose_. Even these are fewer than is
sometimes taken for granted. But I think some fair defence may be made
against the charge of vulgarity. Properly speaking, vulgarity is in the
thought, and not in the word or the way of pronouncing it. Modern
French, the most polite of languages, is barbarously vulgar if compared
with the Latin out of which it has been corrupted, or even with Italian.
There is a wider gap, and one implying greater boorishness, between
_ministerium_ and _metier_, or _sapiens_ and _sachant_, than between
_druv_ and _drove_ or _agin_ and _against_, which last is plainly an
arrant superlative. Our rustic _coverlid_ is nearer its French original
than the diminutive cover_let_, into which it has been ignorantly
corrupted in politer speech. I obtained from three cultivated Englishmen
at different times three diverse pronunciations of a single
word,--_cowcumber_, _coocumber_, and _cucumber_. Of these the first,
which is Yankee also, comes nearest to the nasality of _concombre_. Lord
Ossory assures us that Voltaire saw the best society in England, and
Voltaire tells his countrymen that _handkerchief_ was pronounced
_hankercher_. I find it so spelt in Hakluyt and elsewhere. This enormity
the Yankee still persists in, and as there is always a reason for such
deviations from the sound as represented by the spelling, may we not
suspect two sources of derivation, and find an ancestor for _kercher_
in _couverture_ rather than in _couvrechef_? And what greater phonetic
vagary (which Dryden, by the way, called _fegary_) in our _lingua
rustica_ than this _ker_ for _couvre_? I copy from the fly-leaves of my
books, where I have noted them from time to time, a few examples of
pronunciation and phrase which will show that the Yankee often has
antiquity and very respectable literary authority on his side. My list
might be largely increased by referring to glossaries, but to them eyery
one can go for himself, and I have gathered enough for my purpose.

I will take first those cases in which something like the French sound
has been preserved in certain single letters and diphthongs. And this
opens a curious question as to how long this Gallicism maintained itself
in England. Sometimes a divergence in pronunciation has given as two
words with different meanings, as in _genteel_ and _jaunty_, which I
find coming in toward the close of the seventeenth century, and wavering
between _genteel_ and _jantee_. It is usual in America to drop the _u_
in words ending in _our_--a very proper change recommended by Howell two
centuries ago, and carried out by him so far as his printers would
allow. This and the corresponding changes in _musique_, _musick_, and
the like, which he also advocated, show that in his time the French
accent indicated by the superfluous letters (for French had once nearly
as strong an accent as Italian) had gone out of use. There is plenty of
French accent down to the end of Elizabeth's reign. In Daniel we have
_riches'_ and _counsel'_, in Bishop Hall _comet'_, _chapelain_, in Donne
_pictures'_, _virtue'_, _presence'_, _mortal'_, _merit'_, _hainous'_,
_giant'_, with many more, and Marston's satires are full of them. The
two latter, however, are not to be relied on, as they may be suspected
of Chaucerizing. Herrick writes _baptime_. The tendency to throw the
accent backward began early. But the incongruities are perplexing, and
perhaps mark the period of transition. In Warner's 'Albion's England' we
have _creator'_ and _creature'_ side by side with the modern _creator_
and _creature_. _E'nvy_ and _e'nvying_ occur in Campion (1602), and yet
_envy'_ survived Milton. In some cases we have gone back again nearer to
the French, as in _rev'enue_ for _reven'ue_, I had been so used to
hearing _imbecile_ pronounced with the accent on the first syllable,
which is in accordance with the general tendency in such matters, that I
was surprised to find _imbec'ile_ in a verse of Wordsworth. The
dictionaries all give it so. I asked a highly cultivated Englishman, and
he declared for _imbeceel'_. In general it may be assumed that accent
will finally settle on the syllable dictated by greater ease and
therefore quickness of utterance. _Blas'-phemous_, for example, is more
rapidly pronounced than _blasphem'ous_, to which our Yankee clings,
following in this the usage of many of the older poets. _Amer'ican_ is
easier than _Ameri'can_, and therefore the false quantity has carried
the day, though the true one may be found in George Herbert, and even so
late as Cowley.

To come back to the matter in hand. Our 'uplandish man' retains the soft
or thin sound of the _u_ in some words, such as _rule_, _truth_
(sometimes also pronounced _tr[)u]th_, not _trooth_), while he says
_noo_ for _new_, and gives to _view_ and _few_ so indescribable a
mixture of the two sounds with a slight nasal tincture that it may be
called the Yankee shibboleth. Voltaire says that the English pronounce
_true_ as if it rhymed with _view_, and this is the sound our rustics
give to it. Spenser writes _deow_ (_dew_) which can only be pronounced
with the Yankee nasality. In _rule_ the least sound of _a_ precedes the
_u_. I find _reule_ in Pecock's 'Repressor.' He probably pronounced it
_rayoole_, as the old French word from which it is derived was very
likely to be sounded at first, with a reminiscence of its original
_regula_. Tindal has _reuler_, and the Coventry Plays have _preudent_.
In the 'Parlyament of Byrdes' I find _reule_. As for _noo_, may it not
claim some sanction in its derivation, whether from _nouveau_ or _neuf_,
the ancient sound of which may very well have been _noof_, as nearer
_novus_? _Beef_ would seem more like to have come from _buffe_ than from
_boeuf_, unless the two were mere varieties of spelling. The Saxon _few_
may have caught enough from its French cousin _peu_ to claim the benefit
of the same doubt as to sound; and our slang phrase _a few_ (as 'I
licked him a few') may well appeal to _un peu_ for sense and authority.
Nay, might not _lick_ itself turn out to be the good old word _lam_ in
an English disguise, it the latter should claim descent as, perhaps, he
fairly might, from the Latin _lambere_? The New England _ferce_ for
_fierce_, and _perce_ for _pierce_ (sometimes heard as _fairce_ and
_pairce_), are also Norman. For its antiquity I cite the rhyme of _verse
and pierce_ in Chapman and Donne, and in some commendatory verses by a
Mr. Berkenhead before the poems of Francis Beaumont. Our _pairlous_ for
_perilous_ is of the same kind, and is nearer Shakespeare's _parlous_
than the modern pronunciation. One other Gallicism survives in our
pronunciation. Perhaps I should rather call it a semi-Gallicism, for it
is the result of a futile effort to reproduce a French sound with
English lips. Thus for _joint_, _employ_, _royal_, we have _jynt_,
_emply_, _r[)y]le_, the last differing only from _rile_ (_roil_) in a
prolongation of the _y_ sound. I find _royal_ so pronounced in the
'Mirror for Magistrates.' In Walter de Biblesworth I find _solives_
Englished by _gistes_. This, it is true, may have been pronounced
_jeests_, but the pronunciation _jystes_ must have preceded the present
spelling, which was no doubt adopted after the radical meaning was
forgotten, as analogical with other words in _oi_. In the same way after
Norman-French influence had softened the _l_ out of _would_ (we already
find _woud_ for _veut_ in N.F. poems), _should_ followed the example,
and then an _l_ was foisted into _could_, where it does not belong, to
satisfy the logic of the eye, which has affected the pronunciation and
even the spelling of English more than is commonly supposed. I meet with
_eyster_ for _oyster_ as early as the fourteenth century. I find _viage_
in Bishop Hall and Middleton the dramatist, _bile_ for _boil_ in Donne
and Chrononhotonthologos, _line_ for _loin_ in Hall, _ryall_ and _chyse_
(for choice) _dystrye_ for _destroy_, in the Coventry Plays. In
Chapman's 'All Fools' is the misprint of _employ_ for _imply_, fairly
inferring an identity of sound in the last syllable. Indeed, this
pronunciation was habitual till after Pope, and Rogers tells us that the
elegant Gray said _naise_ for _noise_ just as our rustics still do. Our
_cornish_ (which I find also in Herrick) remembers the French better
than _cornice_ does. While clinging more closely to the Anglo-Saxon in
dropping the _g_ from the end of the present participle, the Yankee now
and then pleases himself with an experiment in French nasality in words
ending in _n_. It is not, so far as my experience goes, very common,
though it may formerly have been more so. _Capting_, for instance, I
never heard save in jest, the habitual form being _kepp'n_. But at any
rate it is no invention of ours. In that delightful old volume, 'Ane
Compendious Buke of Godly and Spirituall Songs,' in which I know not
whether the piety itself or the simplicity of its expression be more
charming, I find _burding_, _garding_, and _cousing_, and in the State
Trials _uncerting_ used by a gentleman. I confess that I like the _n_
better than _ng_.

Of Yankee preterites I find _risse_ and _rize_ for _rose_ in Beaumont
and Fletcher, Middleton and Dryden, _clim_ in Spenser, _chees_ (_chose_)
in Sir John Mandevil, _give_ (_gave_) in the Coventry Plays, _shet_
(_shut_) in Golding's Ovid, _het_ in Chapman and in Weever's Epitaphs,
_thriv_ and _smit_ in Drayton, _quit_ in Ben Jonson and Henry More, and
_pled_ in the Paston Letters, nay, even in the fastidious Landor. _Rid_
for _rode_ was anciently common. So likewise was _see_ for _saw_, but I
find it in no writer of authority (except Golding), unless Chaucer's
_seie_ and Gower's _sigh_ were, as I am inclined to think, so sounded.
_Shew_ is used by Hector Boece, Giles Fletcher, Drummond of Hawthornden,
and in the Paston Letters. Similar strong preterites, like _snew_,
_thew_, and even _mew_, are not without example. I find _sew_ for
_sewed_ in 'Piers Ploughman.' Indeed, the anomalies in English
preterites are perplexing. We have probably transferred _flew_ from
_flow_ (as the preterite of which I have heard it) to _fly_ because we
had another preterite in _fled_. Of weak preterites the Yankee retains
_growed_, _blowed_, for which he has good authority, and less often
_knowed_. His _sot_ is merely a broad sounding of _sat_, no more
inelegant than the common _got_ for _gat_, which he further degrades
into _gut_. When he says _darst_, he uses a form as old as Chaucer.

The Yankee has retained something of the long sound of the _a_ in such
words as _axe_, _wax_, pronouncing them _exe_, _wex_ (shortened from
_aix_, _waix_). He also says _hev_ and _hed_ (_h[=a]ve_, _h[=a]d_ for
_have_ and _had_). In most cases he follows an Anglo-Saxon usage. In
_aix_ for _axle_ he certainly does. I find _wex_ and _aisches_ (_ashes_)
in Pecock, and _exe_ in the Paston Letters. Golding rhymes _wax_ with
_wexe_ and spells _challenge_ _chelenge_. Chaucer wrote _hendy_. Dryden
rhymes _can_ with _men_, as Mr. Biglow would. Alexander Gill, Milton's
teacher, in his 'Logonomia' cites _hez_ for _hath_ as peculiar to
Lincolnshire. I find _hayth_ in Collier's 'Bibliographical Account of
Early English Literature' under the date 1584, and Lord Cromwell so
wrote it. Sir Christopher Wren wrote _belcony_. Our _fect_ is only the
O.F. _faict_. _Thaim_ for _them_ was common in the sixteenth century. We
have an example of the same thing in the double form of the verb
_thrash_, _thresh_. While the New Englander cannot be brought to say
_instead_ for _instid_ (commonly _'stid_ where not the last word in a
sentence), he changes the _i_ into _e_ in _red_ for _rid_, _tell_ for
_till_, _hender_ for _hinder_, _rense_ for _rinse_. I find _red_ in the
old interlude of 'Thersytes,' _tell_ in a letter of Daborne to
Henslowe, and also, I shudder to mention it, in a letter of the great
Duchess of Marlborough, Atossa herself! It occurs twice in a single
verse of the Chester Plays,

'_Tell_ the day of dome, _tell_ the beames blow.'

From the word _blow_ (in another sense) is formed _blowth_, which I
heard again this summer after a long interval. Mr. Wright[24] explains it
as meaning 'a blossom.' With us a single blossom is a _blow_, while
_blowth_ means the blossoming in general. A farmer would say that there
was a good blowth on his fruit-trees. The word retreats farther inland
and away from the railways, year by year. Wither rhymes _hinder_ with
_slender_, and Shakespeare and Lovelace have _renched_ for _rinsed_. In
'Gammer Gurton' and 'Mirror for Magistrates' is _sence_ for _since_;
Marlborough's Duchess so writes it, and Donne rhymes _since_ with
_Amiens_ and _patience_, Bishop Hall and Otway with _pretence_, Chapman
with _citizens_, Dryden with _providence_. Indeed, why should not
_sithence_ take that form? Dryden's wife (an earl's daughter) has _tell_
for _till_, Margaret, mother of Henry VII., writes _seche_ for _such_,
and our _ef_ finds authority in the old form _yeffe_.

_E_ sometimes takes the place of _u_, as _jedge, tredge, bresh_. I find
_tredge_ in the interlude of 'Jack Jugler,' _bresh_ in a citation by
Collier from 'London Cries' of the middle of the seventeenth century,
and _resche_ for _rush_ (fifteenth century) in the very valuable 'Volume
of Vocabularies' edited by Mr. Wright. _Resce_ is one of the Anglo-Saxon
forms of the word in Bosworth's A.-S. Dictionary. Golding has _shet_.
The Yankee always shortens the _u_ in the ending _ture_, making _ventur,
natur, pictur_, and so on. This was common, also, among the educated of
the last generation. I am inclined to think it may have been once
universal, and I certainly think it more elegant than the vile _vencher,
naycher, pickcher_, that have taken its place, sounding like the
invention of a lexicographer to mitigate a sneeze. Nash in his 'Pierce
Penniless' has _ventur_, and so spells it, and I meet it also in
Spenser, Drayton, Ben Jonson, Herrick, and Prior. Spenser has
_tort'rest_, which can be contracted only from _tortur_ and not from
_torcher_. Quarles rhymes _nature_ with _creator_, and Dryden with
_satire_, which he doubtless pronounced according to its older form of
_satyr_. Quarles has also _torture_ and _mortar_. Mary Boleyn writes
_kreatur_. I find _pikter_ in Izaak Walton's autograph will.

I shall now give some examples which cannot so easily be ranked under
any special head. Gill charges the Eastern counties with _kiver_ for
_cover_, and _ta_, for _to_. The Yankee pronounces both _too_ and _to_
like _ta_ (like the _tou_ in _touch_) where they are not emphatic. When
they are, both become _tu_. In old spelling, _to_ is the common (and
indeed correct) form of _too_, which is only _to_ with the sense of _in
addition_. I suspect that the sound of our _too_ has caught something
from the French _tout_, and it is possible that the old _too too_ is not
a reduplication, but a reminiscence of the feminine form of the same
word (_toute_) as anciently pronounced, with the _e_ not yet silenced.
Gill gives a Northern origin to _geaun_ for _gown_ and _waund_ for
_wound_ (_vulnus_). Lovelace has _waund_, but

there is something too dreadful in suspecting Spenser (who _borealised_
in his pastorals) of having ever been guilty of _geaun!_ And yet some
delicate mouths even now are careful to observe the Hibernicism of
_ge-ard_ for _guard_, and _ge-url_ for _girl_. Sir Philip Sidney
(_credite posteri!_) wrote _furr_ for _far_. I would hardly have
believed it had I not seen it in _facsimile_. As some consolation, I
find _furder_ in Lord Bacon and Donne, and Wittier rhymes _far_ with
_cur_. The Yankee, who omits the final _d_ in many words, as do the
Scotch, makes up for it by adding one in _geound_. The purist does not
feel the loss of the _d_ sensibly in _lawn_ and _yon_, from the former
of which it has dropped again after a wrongful adoption (retained in
_laundry_), while it properly belongs to the latter. But what shall we
make of _git, yit_, and _yis_? I find _yis_ and _git_ in Warner's
'Albion's England,' _yet_ rhyming with _wit, admit_, and _fit_ in Donne,
with _wit_ in the 'Revenger's Tragedy,' Beaumont, and Suckling, with
_writ_ in Dryden, and latest of all with _wit_ in Sir Hanbury Williams.
Prior rhymes _fitting_ and _begetting_. Worse is to come. Among others,
Donne rhymes _again_ with _sin_, and Quarles repeatedly with _in_. _Ben_
for _been_, of which our dear Whittier is so fond, has the authority of
Sackville, 'Gammer Gurton' (the work of a bishop), Chapman, Dryden, and
many more, though _bin_ seems to have been the common form. Whittier's
accenting the first syllable of _rom'ance_ finds an accomplice in
Drayton among others, and, though manifestly wrong, is analogous with
_Rom'ans_. Of other Yankeeisms, whether of form or pronunciation, which
I have met with I add a few at random. Pecock writes _sowdiers (sogers,
soudoyers)_, and Chapman and Gill _sodder_. This absorption of the _l_
is common in various dialects, especially in the Scottish. Pecock writes
also _biyende_, and the authors of 'Jack Jugler' and 'Gammer Gurton'
_yender_. The Yankee includes '_yon_' in the same catagory, and says
'hither an' yen,' for 'to and fro.' (Cf. German _jenseits_.) Pecock and
plenty more have _wrastle_. Tindal has _agynste, gretter, shett, ondone,
debyte_, and _scace_. 'Jack Jugler' has _scacely_ (which I have often
heard, though _skurce_ is the common form), and Donne and Dryden make
_great_ rhyme with _set_. In the inscription on Caxton's tomb I find
_ynd_ for _end_, which the Yankee more often makes _eend_, still using
familiarly the old phrase 'right anend' for 'continuously.' His 'stret
(straight) along' in the same sense, which I thought peculiar to him, I
find in Pecock. Tindal's _debyte_ for _deputy_ is so perfectly Yankee
that I could almost fancy the brave martyr to have been deacon of the
First Parish at Jaalam Centre. 'Jack Jugler' further gives us _playsent_
and _sartayne_. Dryden rhymes _certain_ with _parting_, and Chapman and
Ben Jonson use _certain_, as the Yankee always does, for _certainly_.
The 'Coventry Mysteries' have _occapied, massage, nateralle, materal
(material),_ and _meracles_,--all excellent Yankeeisms. In the 'Quatre
fils, Aymon' (1504),[25] is _vertus_ for _virtuous_. Thomas Fuller called
_volume vollum_, I suspect, for he spells it _volumne_. However, _per
contra_, Yankees habitually say _colume_ for _column_. Indeed, to
prove that our ancestors brought their pronunciation with them from the
Old Country, and have not wantonly debased their mother tongue, I need
only to cite the words _scriptur_, _Israll_, _athists_, and
_cherfulness_ from Governor Bradford's 'History.' So the good man wrote
them, and so the good descendants of his fellow-exiles still pronounce
them. Brampton Gurdon writes _shet_ in a letter to Winthrop. _Purtend_
(_pretend_) has crept like a serpent into the 'Paradise Of Dainty
Devices;' _purvide_, which is not so bad, is in Chaucer. These, of
course, are universal vulgarisms, and not peculiar to the Yankee. Butler
has a Yankee phrase, and pronunciation too, in 'To which these
_carr'ings-on_ did tend.' Langham or Laneham, who wrote an account of
the festivities at Kenilworth in honor of Queen Bess, and who evidently
tried to spell phonetically, makes _sorrows_ into _sororz_. Herrick
writes _hollow_ for _halloo_, and perhaps pronounced it (_horresco
suggerens_!) _hollo_, as Yankees do. Why not, when it comes from _hola_?
I find _ffelaschyppe_ (fellowship) in the Coventry Plays. Spenser and
his queen neither of them scrupled to write _afore_, and the former
feels no inelegance even in _chaw_ and _idee_. _'Fore_ was common till
after Herrick. Dryden has _do's_ for _does_, and his wife spells _worse_
_wosce_. _Afeared_ was once universal. Warner has _ery_ for _ever a_;
nay, he also has illy, with which we were once ignorantly reproached by
persons more familiar with Murray's Grammar than with English
literature. And why not _illy_? Mr. Bartlett says it is 'a word used by
writers of an inferior class, who do not seem to perceive that _ill_ is
itself an adverb, without the termination _ly_,' and quotes Dr. Mosser,
President of Brown University, as asking triumphantly, 'Why don't you
say '_welly_?' I should like to have had Dr. Messer answer his own
question. It would be truer to say that it was used by people who still
remembered that _ill_ was an adjective, the shortened form of _evil_,
out of which Shakespeare and the translators of the Bible ventured to
make _evilly_. This slurred _evil_ is 'the dram of _eale_' in 'Hamlet.'
I find, _illy_ in Warner. The objection to _illy_ is not an etymological
one, but simply that it is contrary to good usage,--a very sufficient
reason. _Ill_ as an adverb was at first a vulgarism, precisely like the
rustic's when he says, 'I was treated _bad_.' May not the reason of this
exceptional form be looked for in that tendency to dodge what is hard to
pronounce, to which I have already alluded? If the letters were
distinctly uttered, as they should be, it would take too much time to
say _ill-ly_, _well-ly_, and it is to be observed that we have avoided
_smally_[26] and _tally_ in the same way, though we add _ish_ to them
without hesitation in _smallish_ and _tallish_. We have, to be sure,
_dully_ and _fully_, but for the one we prefer _stupidly_, and the other
(though this may have come from eliding the _y_ before _a_s) is giving
way to _full_. The uneducated, whose utterance is slower, still make
adverbs when they will by adding _like_ to all manner of adjectives. We
have had _big_ charged upon us, because we use it where an Englishman
would now use _great_. I fully admit that it were better to distinguish
between them, allowing to _big_ a certain contemptuous quality; but as
for authority, I want none better than that of Jeremy Taylor, who, in
his noble sermon 'On the Return of Prayer,' speaks of 'Jesus, whose
spirit was meek and gentle up to the greatness of the _biggest_
example.' As for our double negative, I shall waste no time in quoting
instances of it, because it was once as universal in English as it still
is in the neo-Latin languages, where it does not strike us as vulgar. I
am not sure that the loss of it is not to be regretted. But surely I
shall admit the vulgarity of slurring or altogether eliding certain
terminal consonants? I admit that a clear and sharp-cut enunciation is
one of the crowning charms and elegances of speech. Words so uttered are
like coins fresh from the mint, compared with the worn and dingy drudges
of long service,--I do not mean American coins, for those look less
badly the more they lose of their original ugliness. No one is more
painfully conscious than I of the contrast between the rifle-crack of an
Englishman's _yes_ and _no_, and the wet-fuse drawl of the same
monosyllables in the mouths of my countrymen. But I do not find the
dropping of final consonants disagreeable in Allan Ramsay or Burns, nor
do I believe that our literary ancestors were sensible of that
inelegance in the fusing them together of which we are conscious. How
many educated men pronounce the _t_ in _chestnut_? how many say
_pentise_ for _penthouse_, as they should. When a Yankee skipper says
that he is "boun' for Gloster" (not Gloucester, with the leave of the
Universal Schoolmaster),[27] he but speaks like Chaucer or an old
ballad-singer, though they would have pronounced it _boon_. This is one
of the cases where the _d_ is surreptitious, and has been added in
compliment to the verb _bind_, with which it has nothing to do. If we
consider the root of the word (though of course I grant that every race
has a right to do what it will with what is so peculiarly its own as its
speech), the _d_ has no more right there than at the end of _gone_,
where it is often put by children, who are our best guides to the
sources of linguistic corruption, and the best teachers of its
processes. Cromwell, minister of Henry VIII., writes _worle_ for world.
Chapman has _wan_ for _wand_, and _lawn_ has rightfully displaced
_laund_, though with no thought, I suspect, of etymology. Rogers tells
us that Lady Bathurst sent him some letters written to William III. by
Queen Mary, in which she addresses him as '_Dear Husban_.' The old form
_expoun'_, which our farmers use, is more correct than the form with a
barbarous _d_ tacked on which has taken its place. Of the kind opposite
to this, like our _gownd_ for _gown_, and the London cockney's _wind_
for _wine_, I find _drownd_ for _drown_ in the 'Misfortunes of Arthur'
(1584) and in Swift. And, by the way, whence came the long sound of wind
which our poets still retain, and which survives in 'winding' a horn, a
totally different word from 'winding' a kite-string? We say _beh[=i]nd_
and _h[=i]nder_ (comparative) and yet to _h[)i]nder_. Shakespeare
pronounced _kind_ _k[)i]nd_, or what becomes of his play on that word
and _kin_ in 'Hamlet'? Nay, did he not even (shall I dare to hint it?)
drop the final _d_ as the Yankee still does? John Lilly plays in the
same way on _kindred_ and _kindness_.

But to come to some other ancient instances. Warner rhymes _bounds_ with
_crowns_, _grounds_ with _towns_, _text_ with _sex_, _worst_ with
_crust_, _interrupts_ with _cups_; Drayton, _defects_ with _sex_;
Chapman, _amends_ with _cleanse_; Webster, _defects_ with _checks_; Ben
Jonson, _minds_ with _combines_; Marston, _trust_ and _obsequious_,
_clothes_ and _shows_; Dryden gives the same sound to _clothes_, and has
also _minds_ with _designs_. Of course, I do not affirm that their ears
may not have told them that these were imperfect rhymes (though I am by
no means sure even of that), but they surely would never have tolerated
any such had they suspected the least vulgarity in them. Prior has the
rhyme _first_ and _trust_, but puts it into the mouth of a landlady.
Swift has _stunted_ and _burnt_ it, an intentionally imperfect rhyme, no
doubt, but which I cite as giving precisely the Yankee pronunciation of
_burned_. Donne couples in unhallowed wedlock _after_ and _matter_, thus
seeming to give to both the true Yankee sound; and it is not uncommon to
find _after_ and _daughter_. Worse than all, in one of Dodsley's Old
Plays we have _onions_ rhyming with _minions_,--I have tears in my eyes
while I record it. And yet what is viler than the universal _Misses_
(_Mrs._) for _Mistress_? This was once a vulgarism, and in 'The Miseries
of Inforced Marriage' the rhyme (printed as prose in Dodsley's Old Plays
by Collier),

'To make my young _mistress_
Delighting in _kisses_,'

is put into the mouth of the clown. Our people say _Injun_ for _Indian_.
The tendency to make this change where _i_ follows _d_ is common. The
Italian _giorno_ and French _jour_ from _diurnus_ are familiar examples.
And yet _Injun_ is one of those depravations which the taste challenges
peremptorily, though it have the authority of Charles Cotton--who rhymes
'_Indies_' with '_cringes_'--and four English lexicographers, beginning
with Dr. Sheridan, bid us say _invidgeous_. Yet after all it is no worse
than the debasement which all our terminations in _tion_ and _tience_
have undergone, which yet we hear with _resignashun_ and _payshunce_,
though it might have aroused both _impat-i-ence_ and _in-dig-na-ti-on_
in Shakespeare's time. When George Herbert tells us that if the sermon
be dull,

'God takes a text and preacheth patience,'

the prolongation of the word seems to convey some hint at the
longanimity of the virtue. Consider what a poor curtal we have made of
Ocean. There was something of his heave and expanse in _o-ce-an_, and
Fletcher knew how to use it when he wrote so fine a verse as the second
of these, the best deep-sea verse I know,--

'In desperate storms stem with a little rudder
The tumbling ruins of the oceaen.'

Oceanus was not then wholly shorn of his divine proportions, and our
modern _oshun_ sounds like the gush of small-beer in comparison. Some
other contractions of ours have a vulgar air about them. _More 'n_ for
_more than_, as one of the worst, may stand for a type of such. Yet our
old dramatists are full of such obscurations (elisions they can hardly
be called) of the _th_, making _whe'r_ of _whether_, _where_ of
_whither_, _here_ of _hither_, _bro'r_ of _brother_, _smo'r_ of
_smother_, _mo'r_ of _mother_, and so on. And dear Brer Rabbit, can I
forget him? Indeed, it is this that explains the word _rare_ (which has
Dryden's support), and which we say of meat where an Englishman would
use _underdone_. I do not believe, with the dictionaries, that it had
ever anything to do with the Icelandic _hrar_ (_raw_), as it plainly has
not in _rareripe_, which means earlier ripe,--President Lincoln said of
a precocious boy that 'he was a _rareripe_.' And I do not believe it,
for this reason, that the earliest form of the word with us was, and the
commoner now in the inland parts still is, so far as I can discover,
_raredone_. Golding has 'egs reere-rosted,' which, whatever else it
mean, cannot mean _raw_-roasted, I find _rather_ as a monosyllable in
Donne, and still better, as giving the sound, rhyming with _fair_ in
Warner. There is an epigram of Sir Thomas Browne in which the words
_rather than_ make a monosyllable;--

'What furie is't to take Death's part
And rather than by Nature, die by Art!'

The contraction _more'n_ I find in the old play 'Fuimus Troes,' in a
verse where the measure is so strongly accented as to leave it beyond

'A golden crown whose heirs
More than half the world subdue.'

It may be, however, that the contraction is in 'th'orld.' It is
unmistakable in the 'Second Maiden's Tragedy:'--

'It were but folly,
Dear soul, to boast of _more than_ I can perform.'

Is our _gin_ for _given_ more violent than _mar'l_ for _marvel_, which
was once common, and which I find as late as Herrick? Nay, Herrick has
_gin_ (spelling it _gen_), too, as do the Scotch, who agree with us
likewise in preferring _chimly_ to _chimney_.

I will now leave pronunciation and turn to words or phrases which have
been supposed peculiar to us, only pausing to pick up a single dropped
stitch, in the pronunciation of the word _supreme_, which I had thought
native till I found it in the well-languaged Daniel. I will begin with a
word of which I have never met with any example in any English writer of
authority. We express the first stage of withering in a green plant
suddenly cut down by the verb _to wilt_. It is, of course, own cousin of
the German _welken_, but I have never come upon it in literary use, and
my own books of reference give me faint help. Graff gives _welhen_,
_marcescere_, and refers to _weih_ (_weak_), and conjecturally to A.-S,
_hvelan_. The A.-S. _wealwian_ (_to wither_) is nearer, but not so near
as two words in the Icelandic, which perhaps put us on the track of its
ancestry,--_velgi_, _tepefacere_, (and _velki_, with the derivative)
meaning _contaminare_. _Wilt_, at any rate, is a good word, filling, as
it does, a sensible gap between drooping and withering, and the
imaginative phrase 'he wilted right down,' like 'he caved right in,' is
a true Americanism. _Wilt_ occurs in English provincial glossaries, but
is explained by _wither_, which with us it does not mean. We have a few
words such as _cache_, _cohog_, _carry_ (_portage_), _shoot_ (_chute_),
_timber_ (_forest_), _bushwhack_ (to pull a boat along by the bushes on
the edge of a stream), _buckeye_ (a picturesque word for the
horse-chestnut); but how many can we be said to have fairly brought into
the language, as Alexander Gill, who first mentions Americanisms, meant
it when he said, '_Sed et ab Americanis nonnulla mutuamur ut_ MAIZ _et_
CANOA'? Very few, I suspect, and those mostly by borrowing from the
French, German, Spanish, or Indian.[28] 'The Dipper,' for the 'Great
Bear,' strikes me as having a native air. _Bogus_, in the sense of
_worthless_, is undoubtedly ours, but is, I more than suspect, a
corruption of the French _bagasse_ (from low Latin _bagasea_), which
travelled up the Mississippi from New Orleans, where it was used for the
refuse of the sugar-cane. It is true, we have modified the meaning of
some words. We use _freshet_ in the sense of _flood_, for which I have
not chanced upon any authority. Our New England cross between Ancient
Pistol and Dugald Dalgetty, Captain Underhill, uses the word (1638) to
mean a _current_, and I do not recollect it elsewhere in that sense. I
therefore leave it with a? for future explorers. _Crick_ for _creek_ I
find in Captain John Smith and in the dedication of Fuller's 'Holy
Warre,' and _run_, meaning a _small stream_, in Waymouth's 'Voyage'
(1605). _Humans_ for _men_, which Mr. Bartlett includes in his
'Dictionary of Americanisms,' is Chapman's habitual phrase in his
translation of Homer. I find it also in the old play of 'The Hog hath
lost his Pearl.' _Dogs_ for _andirons_ is still current in New England,
and in Walter de Biblesworth I find _chiens_ glossed in the margin by
_andirons_. _Gunning_ for _shooting_ is in Drayton. We once got credit
for the poetical word _fall_ for _autumn_, but Mr. Bartlett and the last
edition of Webster's Dictionary refer us to Dryden. It is even older,
for I find it in Drayton, and Bishop Hall has _autumn fall_. Middleton
plays upon the word: 'May'st thou have a reasonable good _spring_, for
thou art like to have many dangerous foul _falls_.' Daniel does the
same, and Coleridge uses it as we do. Gray uses the archaism _picked_
for _peaked_, and the word _smudge_ (as our backwoodsmen do) for a
smothered fire. Lord Herbert of Cherbury (more properly perhaps than
even Sidney, the last _preux chevalier_) has 'the Emperor's folks' just
as a Yankee would say it. _Loan_ for _lend_, with which we have hitherto
been blackened, I must retort upon the mother island, for it appears so
long ago as in 'Albion's England.' _Fleshy_, in the sense of _stout_,
may claim Ben Jonson's warrant, and I find it also so lately as in
Francklin's 'Lucian.' _Chore_ is also Jonson's word, and I am inclined
to prefer it to _chare_ and _char_, because I think that I see a more
natural origin for it in the French _jour_--whence it might come to mean
a day's work, and thence a job--than anywhere else.[29] _At onst_ for _at
once_ I thought a corruption of our own, till I found it in the Chester
Plays. I am now inclined to suspect it no corruption at all, but only an
erratic and obsolete superlative _at onest_. _To progress_ was flung in
our teeth till Mr. Pickering retorted with Shakespeare's 'doth progress
down thy cheeks.' I confess that I was never satisfied with this answer,
because the accent was different, and because the word might here be
reckoned a substantive quite as well as a verb. Mr. Bartlett (in his
dictionary above cited) adds a surrebutter in a verse from Ford's
'Broken Heart.' Here the word is clearly a verb, but with the accent
unhappily still on the first syllable. Mr. Bartlett says that he
'cannot say whether the word was used in Bacon's time or not.' It
certainly was, and with the accent we give to it. Ben Jonson, in the
'Alchemist,' had this verse,

'Progress so from extreme unto extreme,'

and Sir Philip Sidney,

'Progressing then from fair Turias' golden place.'

Surely we may now sleep in peace, and our English cousins will forgive
us, since we have cleared ourselves from any suspicion of originality in
the matter! Even after I had convinced myself that the chances were
desperately against our having invented any of the _Americanisms_ with
which we are _faulted_ and which we are in the habit of _voicing_, there
were one or two which had so prevailingly indigenous an accent as to
stagger me a little. One of these was 'the biggest _thing out_.' Alas,
even this slender comfort is denied me. Old Gower has

'So harde an herte was none _oute_,'


'That such merveile was none _oute_.'

He also, by the way, says 'a _sighte_ of flowres' as naturally as our
up-country folk would say it. _Poor_ for _lean_, _thirds_ for _dower_,
and _dry_ for _thirsty_ I find in Middleton's plays. _Dry_ is also in
Skelton and in the 'World' (1754). In a note on Middleton, Mr. Dyce
thinks it needful to explain the phrase _I can't tell_ (universal in
America) by the gloss _I could not say_. Middleton also uses _sneeked_,
which I had believed an Americanism till I saw it there. It is, of
course, only another form of _snatch_, analogous to _theek_ and _thatch_
(cf. the proper names Dekker and Thacher), _break_ (_brack_) and
_breach_, _make_ (still common with us) and _match_. _'Long on_ for
_occasioned by_ ('who is this 'long on?') occurs constantly in Gower and
likewise in Middleton. _'Cause why_ is in Chaucer. _Raising_ (an English
version of the French _leaven_) for _yeast_ is employed by Gayton in his
'Festivous Notes on Don Quixote.' I have never seen an instance of our
New England word _emptins_ in the same sense, nor can I divine its
original. Gayton has _limekill_; also _shuts_ for _shutters_, and the
latter is used by Mrs. Hutchinson in her 'Life of Colonel Hutchinson.'
Bishop Hall, and Purchas in his 'Pilgrims,' have _chist_ for _chest_,
and it is certainly nearer _cista_, as well as to its form in the
Teutonic languages, whence probably we got it. We retain the old sound
from _cist_, but _chest_ is as old as Chaucer. Lovelace says _wropt_ for
_wrapt_. 'Musicianer' I had always associated with the militia-musters
of my boyhood, and too hastily concluded it an abomination of our own,
but Mr. Wright calls it a Norfolk word, and I find it to be as old as
1642 by an extract in Collier. 'Not worth the time of day,' had passed
with me for native till I saw it in Shakespeare's 'Pericles.' For
_slick_ (which is only a shorter sound of _sleek_, like _crick_ and the
now universal _britches_ for _breeches_) I will only call Chapman and
Jonson. 'That's a sure card!' and 'That's a stinger!' both sound like
modern slang, but you will find the one in the old interlude of
'Thersytes' (1537), and the other in Middleton. 'Right here,' a favorite
phrase with our orators and with a certain class of our editors, turns
up _passim_ in the Chester and Coventry plays. Mr. Dickens found
something very ludicrous in what he considered our neologism _right
away_. But I find a phrase very like it, and which I would gladly
suspect to be a misprint for it, in 'Gammer Gurton:'--

'Lyght it and bring it _tite away_.'

But _tite_ is the true word in this case. After all, what is it but
another form of _straightway_? _Cussedness_, meaning _wickedness,
malignity_, and _cuss_, a sneaking, ill-natured fellow, in such phrases
as 'He done it out o' pure cussedness,' and 'He is a nateral cuss,' have
been commonly thought Yankeeisms. To vent certain contemptuously
indignant moods they are admirable in their rough-and-ready way. But
neither is our own. _Cursydnesse_, in the same sense of malignant
wickedness, occurs in the Coventry Plays, and _cuss_ may perhaps claim
to have come in with the Conqueror. At least the term is also French.
Saint Simon uses it and confesses its usefulness. Speaking of the Abbe
Dubois, he says, 'Qui etoit en plein ce qu'un mauvais francois appelle
un _sacre_, mais qui ne se peut guere exprimer autrement.' 'Not worth a
cuss,' though supported by 'not worth a damn,' may be a mere corruption,
since 'not worth a _cress_' is in 'Piers Ploughman.' 'I don't see it,'
was the popular slang a year or two ago, and seemed to spring from the
soil; but no, it is in Cibber's 'Careless Husband.' _Green sauce_ for
_vegetables_ I meet in Beaumont and Fletcher, Gayton, and elsewhere. Our
rustic pronunciation _sahce_ (for either the diphthong _au_ was
anciently pronounced _ah_, or else we have followed abundant analogy in
changing it to the latter sound, as we have in _chance, dance_, and so
many more) may be the older one, and at least gives some hint at its
ancestor _salsa_. _Warn_, in the sense of _notify_, is, I believe, now
peculiar to us, but Pecock so employs it. I find _primmer_ (_primer_, as
we pronounce it) in Beaumont and Fletcher, and a 'square eater' too
(compare our '_square_ meal'), _heft_ for _weight_, and 'muchness' in
the 'Mirror for Magistrates,' _bankbill_ in Swift and Fielding, and _as_
for _that_ I might say _passim_. _To cotton to_ is, I rather think, an
Americanism. The nearest approach to it I have found is _cotton
together_, in Congreve's 'Love for Love.' To _cotton_ or _cotten_, in
another sense, is old and common. Our word means to _cling_, and its
origin, possibly, is to be sought in another direction, perhaps in A.S.
_cvead_, which means _mud, clay_ (both proverbially clinging), or better
yet, in the Icelandic _qvoda_ (otherwise _kod_), meaning _resin_ and
_glue_, which are [Greek: kat' exochaen], sticky substances. To _spit
cotton_ is, I think, American, and also, perhaps, to _flax_ for to
_beat_. _To the halves_ still survives among us, though apparently
obsolete in England. It means either to let or to hire a piece of land,
receiving half the profit in money or in kind (_partibus locare_). I
mention it because in a note by some English editor, to which I have
lost my reference, I have seen it wrongly explained. The editors of
Nares cite Burton. _To put_, in the sense of _to go_, as _Put!_ for
_Begone!_ would seem our own, and yet it is strictly analogous to the
French _se mettre a la voie_, and the Italian _mettersi in via_. Indeed,
Dante has a verse,

'_Io sarei_ [for _mi sarei_] _gia messo per lo sentiero_,'

which, but for the indignity, might be translated,

'I should, ere this, have _put_ along the way,'

I deprecate in advance any share in General Banks's notions of
international law, but we may all take a just pride in his exuberant
eloquence as something distinctively American. When he spoke a few years
ago of 'letting the Union slide,' even those who, for political
purposes, reproached him with the sentiment, admired the indigenous
virtue of his phrase. Yet I find 'let the world slide' in Heywood's
Edward IV.;' and in Beaumont and Fletcher's 'Wit without Money,'
Valentine says,

'Will you go drink,
And let the world slide?'

So also in Sidney's 'Arcadia,'

'Let his dominion slide.'

In the one case it is put into the mouth of a clown, in the other, of a
gentleman, and was evidently proverbial. It has even higher sanction,
for Chaucer writes,

'Well nigh all other cures _let he slide_.'

Mr. Bartlett gives 'above one's bend' as an Americanism; but compare
Hamlet's 'to the top of my bent.' _In his tracks_ for _immediately_ has
acquired an American accent, and passes where he can for a native, but
is an importation nevertheless; for what is he but the Latin _e
vestigio_, or at best the Norman French _eneslespas_, both which have
the same meaning? _Hotfoot_ (provincial also in England), I find in the
old romance of 'Tristan,'

'_Si s'en parti_ CHAUT PAS'

_Like_ for _as_ is never used in New England, but is universal in the
South and West. It has on its side the authority of two kings (_ego sum
rex Romanorum et supra grammaticam_), Henry VIII. and Charles I. This
were ample, without throwing into the scale the scholar and poet Daniel.
_Them_ was used as a nominative by the majesty of Edward VI., by Sir P.
Hoby, and by Lord Paget (in Froude's 'History'). I have never seen any
passage adduced where _guess_ was used as the Yankee uses it. The word
was familiar in the mouths of our ancestors, but with a different shade
of meaning from that we have given it, which is something like _rather
think_, though the Yankee implies a confident certainty by it when he
says, 'I guess I _du!_' There are two examples in Otway, one of which
('So in the struggle, I guess the note was lost') perhaps might serve
our purpose, and Coleridge's

'I guess 'twas fearful there to see'

certainly comes very near. But I have a higher authority than either in
Selden, who, in one of his notes to the 'Polyolbion,' writes, 'The first
inventor of them (I _guess_ you dislike not the addition) was one
Berthold Swartz.' Here he must mean by it, 'I take it for granted.'
Robert Greene, in his 'Quip for an Upstart Courtier,' makes
Cloth-breeches say, 'but I _gesse_ your maistership never tried what
true honor meant.' In this case the word seems to be used with a meaning
precisely like that which we give it. Another peculiarity almost as
prominent is the beginning sentences, especially in answer to questions,
with 'well.' Put before such a phrase as 'How d'e do?' it is commonly
short, and has the sound of it _wul_, but in reply it is deliberative,
and the various shades of meaning which can be conveyed by difference of
intonation, and by prolonging or abbreviating, I should vainly attempt
to describe. I have heard _ooa-ahl_, _wahl_, _ahl_, _wal_ and something
nearly approaching the sound of
the _le_ in _able_. Sometimes before 'I' it dwindles to a mere _l_, as
''l _I_ dunno.' A friend of mine (why should I not please myself, though
I displease him, by brightening my page with the initials of the most
exquisite of humorists, J.H.?) told me that he once heard five 'wells,'
like pioneers, precede the answer to an inquiry about the price of land.
The first was the ordinary _wul_, in deference to custom; the second,
the long, perpending _ooahl_, with a falling inflection of the voice;
the third, the same, but with the voice rising, as if in despair of a
conclusion, into a plaintively nasal whine; the fourth, _wulh_, ending
in the aspirate of a sigh; and then, fifth, came a short, sharp _wal_,
showing that a conclusion had been reached. I have used this latter form
in the 'Biglow Papers,' because, if enough nasality be added, it
represents most nearly the average sound of what I may call the

A locution prevails in the Southern and Middle States which is so
curious that, though never heard in New England, I will give a few lines
to its discussion, the more readily because it is extinct elsewhere. I
mean the use of _allow_ in the sense of _affirm_, as 'I allow that's a
good horse.' I find the word so used in 1558 by Anthony Jenkinson in
Hakluyt: 'Corne they sowe not, neither doe eate any bread, mocking the
Christians for the same, and disabling our strengthe, saying we live by
eating the toppe of a weede, and drinke a drinke made of the same,
_allowing_ theyr great devouring of flesh and drinking of milke to be
the increase of theyr strength.' That is, they undervalued our strength,
and affirmed their own to be the result of a certain diet. In another
passage of the same narrative the word has its more common meaning of
approving or praising: 'The said king, much allowing this declaration,
said.' Ducange quotes Bracton _sub voce_ ADLOCARE for the meaning 'to
admit as proved,' and the transition from this to 'affirm,' is by no
means violent. Izaak Walton has 'Lebault _allows_ waterfrogs to be good
meat,' and here the word is equivalent to _affirms_. At the same time,
when we consider some of the meanings of _allow_ in old English, and of
_allouer_ in old French, and also remember that the verbs _prize_ and
_praise_ are from one root, I think we must admit _allaudare_ to a share
in the paternity of _allow_. The sentence from Hakluyt would read
equally well, 'contemning our strengthe, ... and praising (or valuing)
their great eating of flesh as the cause of their increase in strength.'
After all, if we confine ourselves to _allocare_, it may turn out that
the word was somewhere and somewhen used for _to bet_, analogously to
_put up, put down, post_ (cf. Spanish _apostar_), and the like. I hear
boys in the street continually saying, 'I bet that's a good horse,' or
what not, meaning by no means to risk anything beyond their opinion in
the matter.

The word _improve_, in the sense of to 'occupy, make use of, employ,' as
Dr. Pickering defines it, he long ago proved to be no neologism. He
would have done better, I think, had he substituted _profit by_ for
_employ_. He cites Dr. Franklin as saying that the word had never, so
far as he knew, been used in New England before he left it in 1723,
except in Dr. Mather's 'Bemarkable Providences,' which he oddly calls a
'very old book.' Franklin, as Dr. Pickering goes on to show, was

Mr. Bartlett in his 'Dictionary' merely abridges Pickering. Both of them
should have confined the application of the word to material things, its
extension to which is all that is peculiar in the supposed American use
of it. For surely 'Complete Letter-Writers' have been '_improving_ this
opportunity' time out of mind. I will illustrate the word a little
further, because Pickering cites no English authorities. Skelton has a
passage in his 'Phyllyp Sparowe,' which I quote the rather as it
contains also the word _allowed_ and as it distinguishes _improve_ from

'His [Chaucer's] Englysh well alowed,
So as it is _emprowed_
For as it is employd,
There is no English voyd.'

Here the meaning is to _profit by_. In Fuller's 'Holy Warre' (1647), we
have 'The Egyptians standing on the firm ground, were thereby enabled to
_improve_ and enforce their darts to the utmost.' Here the word might
certainly mean _to make use of_. Mrs. Hutchison (Life of Colonel H.)
uses the word in the same way: 'And therefore did not _emproove_ his
interest to engage the country in the quarrel.' Swift in one of his
letters says: 'There is not an acre of land in Ireland turned to half
its advantage; yet it is better _improved_ than the people.' I find it
also in 'Strength out of Weakness' (1652), and Plutarch's
'Morals'(1714), but I know of only one example of its use in the purely
American sense, and that is 'a very good _improvement_ for a mill' in
the 'State Trials' (Speech of the Attorney. General in the Lady Ivy's
case, 1864). In the sense of _employ_, I could cite a dozen old English

In running over the fly-leaves of those delightful folios for this
reference, I find a note which reminds me of another word, for our abuse
of which we have been deservedly ridiculed. I mean _lady,_ It is true I
might cite the example of the Italian _donna_[30] (_domina_), which has
been treated in the same way by a whole nation, and not, as _lady_ among
us, by the uncultivated only. It perhaps grew into use in the
half-democratic republics of Italy in the same way and for the same
reasons as with us. But I admit that our abuse of the word is
villainous. I know of an orator who once said in a public meeting where
bonnets preponderated, that 'the ladies were last at the cross and first
at the tomb'! But similar sins were committed before our day and in the
mother country. In the 'Harleian Miscellany' (vol. v. p. 455) I find
'this _lady_ is my servant; the hedger's daughter Ioan.' in the 'State
Trials' I learn of 'a _gentlewoman_ that lives cook with' such a one,
and I hear the Lord High Steward speaking of the wife of a waiter at a
bagnio as a _gentlewoman_! From the same authority, by the way, I can
state that our vile habit of chewing tobacco had the somewhat unsavory
example of Titus Oates, and I know by tradition from an eye-witness that
the elegant General Burgoyne partook of the same vice. Howell, in one of
his letters (dated 26 August, 1623), speaks thus of another
'institution' which many have thought American: 'They speak much of that
boisterous Bishop of Halverstadt (for so they term him here), that,
having taken a place where ther were two Monasteries of Nuns and Friers,
he caus'd divers feather-beds to be rip'd, and all the feathers to be
thrown in a great Hall, whither the Nuns and Friers were thrust naked
with their bodies oil'd and pitch'd, and to tumble among the feathers.'
Howell speaks as if the thing were new to him, and I know not if the
'boisterous' Bishop was the inventor of it, but I find it practised in
England before our Revolution.

Before leaving the subject, I will add a few comments made from time to
time on the margin of Mr. Bartlett's excellent 'Dictionary,' to which I
am glad thus publicly to acknowledge my many obligations. 'Avails' is
good old English, and the _vails_ of Sir Joshua Reynolds's porter are
famous. Averse _from_, averse _to_, and in connection with them the
English vulgarism 'different _to_;' the corrupt use of _to_ in these
cases, as well as in the Yankee 'he lives to Salem,' 'to home,' and
others, must be a very old one, for in the one case it plainly arose
from confounding the two French prepositions _a_, (from Latin _ad_ and
_ab_), and in the other from translating the first of them. I once
thought 'different to' a modern vulgarism, and Mr. Thackeray, on my
pointing it out to him in 'Henry Esmond,' confessed it to be an
anachronism. Mr. Bartlett refers to 'the old writers quoted in
Richardson's Dictionary' for 'different to,' though in my edition of
that work all the examples are with _from_. But I find _to_ used
invariably by Sir R. Hawkins in Hakluyt. _Banjo_ is a negro corruption
of O.E. _bandore_. _Bind-weed_ can hardly be modern, for _wood-bind_ is
old and radically right, intertwining itself through _bindan_ and
_windan_ with classic stems. _Bobolink_: is this a contraction for Bob
o' Lincoln? I find _bobolynes_, in one of the poems attributed to
Skelton, where it may be rendered _giddy-pate_, a term very fit for the
bird in his ecstasies. _Cruel_ for _great_ is in Hakluyt.
_Bowling-alley_ is in Nash's 'Pierce Pennilesse.' _Curious_, meaning
_nice_, occurs continually in old writers, and is as old as Pecock's
'Repressor.' _Droger_ is O.E. _drugger_. _Educational_ is in Burke.
_Feeze_ is only a form of _fizz_. _To fix_, in the American sense, I
find used by the Commissioners of the United Colonies so early as 1675,
'their arms well _fixed_ and fit for service.' _To take the foot in the
hand_ is German; so is to _go under_. _Gundalow_ is old; I find
_gundelo_ in Hakluyt, and _gundello_ in Booth's reprint of the folio
Shakespeare of 1623. _Gonoff_ is O.E. _gnoffe_. _Heap_ is in 'Piers
Ploughman' ('and other names _an heep_'), and in Hakluyt ('seeing such a
_heap_ of their enemies ready to devour them'). _To liquor_ is in the
'Puritan' ('call 'em in, and liquor 'em a little'). _To loaf_: this, I
think, is unquestionably German. _Laufen_ is pronounced _lofen_ in some
parts of Germany, and I once heard one German student say to another,
_Ich lauf_ (lofe) _hier bis du wiederkehrest_, and he began accordingly
to saunter up and down, in short, to _loaf_. _To mull_, Mr. Bartlett
says, means 'to soften, to dispirit,' and quotes from
'Margaret,'--'There has been a pretty considerable _mullin_ going on
among the doctors,'--where it surely cannot mean what he says it does.
We have always heard _mulling_ used for _stirring, bustling_, sometimes
in an underhand way. It is a metaphor derived probably from _mulling_
wine, and the word itself must be a corruption of _mell_, from O.F.
_mesler_. _Pair_ of stairs is in Hakluyt. _To pull up stakes_ is in
Curwen's Journal, and therefore pre-Revolutionary. I think I have met
with it earlier. _Raise_: under this word Mr. Bartlett omits 'to raise a
house,' that is, the frame of a wooden one, and also the substantive
formed from it, a _raisin'_. _Retire_ for _go to bed_ is in Fielding's
'Amelia.' _Setting-poles_ cannot be new, for I find 'some _set_ [the
boats] with long _poles_' in Hakluyt. _Shoulder-hitters_: I find that
_shoulder-striker_ is old, though I have lost the reference to my
authority. _Snag_ is no new word, though perhaps the Western application
of it is so; but I find in Gill the proverb, 'A bird in the bag is worth
two on the snag.' Dryden has _swop_ and _to rights_. _Trail_: Hakluyt
has 'many wayes _traled_ by the wilde beastes.'

I subjoin a few phrases not in Mr. Bartlett's book which I have heard.
_Bald-headed_: 'to go it bald-beaded;' in great haste, as where one
rushes out without his hat. _Bogue_: 'I don't git much done 'thout I
_bogue_ right in along 'th my men.' _Carry_: a _portage_. _Cat-nap_: a
short doze. _Cat-stick_: a small stick. _Chowder-head_: a muddle-brain.
_Cling-john_: a soft cake of rye. _Cocoanut_; the head. _Cohees_:
applied to the people of certain settlements in Western Pennsylvania,
from their use of the archaic form _Quo' he_. _Dunnow'z I know_: the
nearest your true Yankee ever comes to acknowledging ignorance.
_Essence-pedler_: a skunk. _First-rate and a half_. _Fish flakes_, for
drying fish: O.E. _fleck_ (_cratis_). _Gander-party_: a social gathering
of men only. _Gawnicus_: a dolt. _Hawkin's whetstone_: rum; in derision
of one Hawkins, a well-known temperance-lecturer. _Hyper_: to bustle: 'I
mus' _hyper_ about an' git tea.' _Keeler-tub_: one in which dishes are
washed. ('And Greasy Joan doth _keel_ the pot.') _Lap-tea_: where the
guests are too many to sit at table. _Last of pea-time_: to be hard-up.
_Lose-laid_ (_loose-laid_): a weaver's term, and probably English;
weak-willed. _Malahack_: to cut up hastily or awkwardly. _Moonglade_: a
beautiful word: for the track of moonlight on the water. _Off-ox_: an
unmanageable, cross-grained fellow. _Old Driver, Old Splitfoot_: the
Devil. _On-hitch_: to pull trigger (cf. Spanish _disparar_). _Popular_:
conceited, _Rote_: sound of surf before a storm. _Rot-gut_: cheap
whiskey; the word occurs in Heywood's 'English Traveller' and Addison's
'Drummer,' for a poor kind of drink. _Seem_: it is habitual with the
New-Englander to put this verb to strange uses, as 'I can't _seem_ to be
suited,' 'I couldn't _seem_ to know him.' _Sidehill_, for _hillside_.
_State-house_: this seems an Americanism, whether invented or derived
from the Dutch _Stad-huys_, I know not. _Strike_ and _string_; from the
game of ninepins; to make a _strike_ is to knock down all the pins with
one ball, hence it has come to mean fortunate, successful. _Swampers_:
men who break out roads for lumberers. _Tormented_: euphemism for
damned, as, 'not a tormented cent.' _Virginia fence, to make a_: to walk
like a drunken man.

It is always worth while to note down the erratic words or phrases which
one meets with in any dialect. They may throw light on the meaning of
other words, on the relationship of languages, or even on history

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