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FIRST LETTER TO THE ROYAL LITERARY SOCIETY.
“Our court shall be a little academy."-SHAKSPEARE.
“Doctor, I want you to mend my cacology."-Heir at Law. Candour requires, Mr. Secretary, that I should commence my letter by confessing the doubts I once entertained as to the necessity of any such establishment as that which I have now the honour to address; for at a time when our booksellers evince such unprecedented munificence, that no author of the least merit is left unrewarded, while all those of superior talent acquire wealth as well as fame, it did appear to me that our writers needed no chartered patrons or royal remunerators. At the first public meeting, however, of the Society, the president having most logically urged the propriety of such an institution, because this country had become “pre-eminently distinguished by its works of history, poetry, and philology," without the assistance of any corporate academy; while they had long possessed one in France, (where literature has been notoriously stationary or retrograde from the period of its establishment), I could not resist the force of this double argument, and am now not only convinced that it is necessary to give to our literature "a corporate character and representation," but prepared, as far as my humble abilities extend, to forward the objects of the Society, by hastening to accept its invitation for public contributions. Aware that the model of the French academy should always be kept in view, and remembering the anecdote recorded by M. Grimm, of one of its members, who died in the greatest grammatical dilemma as to whether he should say—“Je m'en vais," or, "je m'en va, dans l'autre monde," I shall limit my attention to considerations of real importance, particularly to such as may conduce " to the improvement of our language, and the correction of capricious deviations from its native purity," such being one of the main objects proposed in the president's address. Not having time, in this my first letter, to methodize all my suggestions, I shall loosely throw upon paper such observations as have occurred to me in a hasty and superficial view of the subject.
Nothing forms so violent a deviation from philological purity as a catachresis. We sneer at the slip-slop of uneducated life, and laugh at Mrs. Malaprop upon the stage, yet what so common in colloquial language as to hear people talk of wooden tombstones, iron milestones, glass inkhorns, brass shoeing-horns, iron coppers, and copper hand-irons ?–We want a substitute for the phrase going on board an iron steam-boat, and a new verb for expressing its motion, which is neither sailing nor rowing : these are desiderata which the Society cannot too speedily supply, considering the prodigious extension of that mode of conveyance.—Many expressions are only catachrestical in sound, yet require emendation as involving an apparently ludicrous contradiction ; such, for instance, as the farmer's speech to a nobleman at Newmarket, whose horse had lost the first race, and won the second :--"Your horse, my lord, was very backward in coming forward, he was behind before, but he's first at last."-I myself lately encountered a mounted friend in Piccadilly, who told he was going to carry his horse to Tattersall's, whereas the horse was carrying him thither, an absurdity which could not occur in France, where (owing, doubtless, to the Academy) they have the three words porter, mener, and amener, which prevent all confusion of that nature, unless when spoken by the English, who uniformly misapply them.--All blackberries being of a wan, or rosy hue in their unripe state, we may with perfect truth affirm, that every blackberry is either white or red when it is green, which sounds like a violent catachresis, and on that account demands some new verbal modification. Nothing is so likely to corrupt the taste of the frugivorous generation as any looseness of idea connected with this popular berry.---By the structure of our language, many repetitions of the same word occasionally occur, for which some remedy should be provided by the Society. "I affirm," said one writing-master, disputing with another about the word “that," written by their respective pupils,—" I affirm that that. That,' that that boy has written, is better than the other." Here the same word occurs five times in succession, and many similar examples might be addnced; but enough has been urged to prove the necessity of prompt interference on the part of the Society.
In our common oaths, exclamations, and interjections, there is much room for Academical supervision. For the vulgar phrase, “ All my eye and Betty Martin," we might resume the Latin of the monkish hymn which it was meant to burlesque—“O mihi, beate Martine !" It may be doubted whether we could with propriety compel all conjurers to adopt the original “hoc est corpus,” pronounced in one of the cere. monies of the Romish church, which they have irreverently corrupted into hocus-pocus; but we may indisputably restore the hilariterceleriter, which has been metamorphosed into the term helter-skelter. It would be highly desirable to give a more classical turn to this department of our language. The Italian “ Corpo di Bacco !" might be beneficially imported; and in fact there is no good reason why the Ædepol! Hercle ! Proh pudor! Proh nefas! Proh deûm atque hominum fides ! and other interjections of the ancients, might not be brought to supersede those Billingsgate oaths, which are not only very cacophonous, revolting, and profane, but liable to what their utterers may think a more serious objection—a fine of one shilling each.
Some remedy should be provided for the inconveniences arising from the omission or misapplication of the aspirate H, to which some of our cockney tribe are so incurably addicted. It is upon record, that a Lord Mayor, in addressing King William, called him a Nero, meaning to say a hero ; and no longer ago than last season Miss Augusta Tibbs, daughter of a respectable slopseller in Great St. Helen's, entering Margate by a lane that skirted the cliff, and calling repeatedly to the postboy to drive nearer the edge (meaning the hedge on the opposite side of the road,) was so incautiously obeyed, that the vehicle was precipitated into the sea, and the poor young lady declared, by a coroner's inquest, to have died of Inaspiration. Surely so melancholy an occurrence will interest the humanity of the Society in making some provision against similar calamities.
Under the head of Topographical Literature, I would earnestly request the attention of the Institution to various anomalous and contradictory designations of locality, which would long ago have been corrected, if, like the French, we had possessed a special Academy of Inseriptions. Thus we apply the name of Whitehall to a black chapel ;
Cheapside is dear on both sides; the Serpentine River is a straight canal, and the New River an old canal; Knightsbridge has no bridge; Moorfields exhibit no more fields; the Green Park was all last autumn completely brown, Green-street was in no better plight, and both, according to Goldsmith's recommendation, should be removed to Hammersmith, because that is the way to Turnham-green. Endeavours should be made to assimilate the names of our streets to the predominant character of their inhabitants, a conformity to which those lovers of good cheer, the citizens, have not been altogether inattentive, inasmuch as they have the Poultry, Fish-street hill, Pudding-lane and Pie-corner, Beer-lane, Bread-street, Milk-street, Wine-court, Portsoken ward, and many others.--If the mountain cannot be brought to Mahomet, we know there is still an alternative for making them both meet; so, if there be too great an inconvenience in transposing the streets, we may remove the householders to more appropriate residences. Upon this principle, all poets should be compelled to purchase their Hippocrene from the Meuxes of Liquorpond-street; those authors who began with being flaming patriots, and are now court-sycophants or treasury hirelings, should be billeted, according to the degrees of their offence, upon the Little and Great Turn-stile. Some of our furious political scribes should be removed to Billingsgate or Old Bedlam; those of a more insipid character, to Milk and Water Lanes; and every immoral or objectionable writer should illustrate the fate of his productions by ending his days in Privy-gardens. Physicians and surgeons might be quartered in the neighbourhood of Slaughter's coffee-house ; the spinsters of the metropolis might congregate in Threadneedle-street, and all the old cats in the Mews; the lame-ducks of the Stock Exchange should take refuge in the Poultry or Cripplegate ; watchmakers might ply their art in Seven-Dials"; thieves should be tethered in the Steel-yard : all the Jews should be restored to the Old Jewry, and the Quakers should assemble in Hatton-garden.
Chancery-lane, which would of course be appropriated to the suitors of that court, should by no means terminate in Fleet-street, but be extended to Labour-in-vain-hill in one direction, and to Long-lane in the other. Members of Parliament, according to their politics, might settle themselves either
upon Constitution-hill or in Rotten-row. I am aware that if we wish to establish a perfect conformity between localities and tenants, we must considerably diminish Goodman's-fields, and
and proportionably enlarge Knave's-acre ; but the difficulty of completing a measure is no argument against its partial adoption.
In what may be denominated our external or shopkeepers' literature, the Society will find innumerable errors to rectify. Where he who runs may read, correctness and propriety are peculiarly necessary, and we all know how much good was effected by the French Academy of Inscriptions. Having, in my late perambulations through London, noted down what appeared to me particularly reprehensible, and thrown the various addresses of the parties into an appendix, in order that your secretary may write to them with such emendatory orders as the case may require, I proceed to notice, first, the fantastical practice of writing the number over the door, and the names on either side
VOL. VIII. NO, XXXV.
whence we have such ridiculous inscriptions as " Bovile and—187-Boys,” which would lead us to suppose that the aforesaid Mr. Bovill's tailor's bill must be of alarming longitude, though perhaps less terrific than that of his opposite neighbour, who writes upą“ THACKRAH and -219_Sons."
Not less objectionable is the absurd practice of writing the name over the door, and the trade on either side, whence we have such incongruous combinations as —
“ Hat-Child -maker,"_" CheeseHOARE--monger;" and a variety of others, of which the preceding will afford a sufficient sample.
Among those inscriptions where the profession follows the name without any transposition, there are several that are perfectly appropriate, if not synonymous, such as, "Blight & Son, Blind-makers :" “Mangling done here,” occasionally written under the address of a country surgeon:-“Brewer, Druggist,"_"Wrench, Tooth-drawer," _"SLOMAN, Wine-merchant,”—“WATERS, Milkman," &c. &c.—But on the contrary, there are many that involve a startling catachresis, such as, “Whetman, Drysalter,"_“ English, China-man,"_" Pain, Rectifier of Spirits," "STEDFAST, Turner,”—“GOWING, Staymaker;" while among the colours there is the most lamentable confusion, as we have “White, Blacksmith,"_" Black, Whitesmith,"_“ Brown & SCARLET, Green-grocers," and “GREY-Hairdresser,” which would erroneously lead the passenger to suppose, that none but grizzled heads were admitted into the shop. While remedying these inconsistencies, the Society are entreated not to forget, that the Pavement now extends a full mile beyond what is still termed “ The Stones' End” in the Borough; and that the inscription at Lower Edmonton, “ When the water is above this board, please to take the upper road,” can be of very little use, unless when the wash is perfectly pellucid, which it
On a shop-window in the Borough there still remains written, “New-laid eggs every day, by Mary Dobson,” which the Society should order to be expunged as an imposition upon the public, unless they can clearly ascertain the veracity of the assertion.
One of the declared objects of the Institution being the promotion of—" loyalty in its genuine sense, not only of personal devotion to the sovereign, but of attachment to the laws and institutions of our country," I would point out to its indignant notice, the following inscription in High Holborn—"KING--Dyer,” which is not only contrary to the received legal maxim that the King never dies, but altogether of a most dangerous and disloyal tendency.-" Parliament sold here," written up in large letters in the City-road, is also an obvious allusion to the imputed corruption of that body; and the gingerbread kings and queens at the same shop being all over gilt, suggest a most traitorous and offensive Paronomasia. I suspect the fellow who deals in these commodities to be a radical. Of the same nature is the indecorous inscriptions (which should have been noticed among those who place their names over the door), running thus, “ Ironmongery_PARSONSTools of all sorts ;' while in London-wall we see written up, “Deacon & Priest, Hackneymen.” A Society, which among the twentyseven published names of its council and officers, contains one Bishop, two Archdeacons, and five Reverends, cannot, out of self-respect, sufferthese indecent allusions to be any longer stuck up in the metropolis,
The French Academy having decided, that proper names should never have any plural, I would implore the Royal Literary Society to relieve the embarrassment of our footmen, by deciding whether they are authorized in announcing at our routs “Mr. & Mrs. Foot and the Miss Feet;" whether Mr. Peacock's family are to be severally designated as Mrs. PEAHEN and the Miss PEACHICKS; and also what would be the best substitution for Mr. & Mrs. Man and the Miss Men, which has a very awkward sound.
Concluding, for the present, with the request that the other gold medal of fifty-guineas may not be appropriated until after the receipt of my second letter, I have the honour to be, &c. &c. &c. H.
UNREAD, and poor, and hasely born,
Why do I suffer your caress?
To touch the hand you're pleased to press !
I know your wishes climb above
Are poor, but honest,-- like my love.
As I, and my poor sisters be?
Are all I'ever had ;--and you
Pollute, and blight, the other two?
I would not wrong you for your name !
To be allied to me and share.
Deserves the praises I disown,
Nor like me-save in love alone.
The next thing for us is—to part :
Not I-I have, or had, a heart.
Or well for one,-before you share
Or Bell the guilt that brightens there.
Whispers enough of thee, and thine :
None need I to keep thee in mine.