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But Thompson himself was not original. He had borrowed his idea from a little squaw who used to sell her baskets at the Harbor, following close at the heels of a rival-a larger squaw with a sonorous voice and a fund of descriptive eloquence and echoing every one of that rival's glowing eulogies with a shrill "I too." Even this, however, is an unconscious plagiarism of the famous sentiment of Mr. Cruger, elected with Edmund Burke to represent Bristol in 1774, who when he followed that illustrious orator in giving thanks to his constituents was content to say, "Gentlemen, I say ditto to Mr. Burke."
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa (L., “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault"), the closing sentence of the Roman Catholic Confiteor, or Confession.
We somehow greedily gobble down all stories in which the characters of our friends are chopped up, and believe wrong of them without inquiry. In a late serial work written by this hand, I remember making some pathetic remarks about our propensity to believe ill of our neighbors, and I remember the remarks, not because they were valuable, or novel, or ingenious, but because, within three days after they had appeared in print, the moralist who wrote them, walking home with a friend, heard a story about another friend, which story he straightway believed, and which story was scarcely more true than that sausage fable which is here set down. O mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! But though the preacher trips, shall not the doctrine be good? Yea, brethren! Here be the rods. Look you, here are the Scourges. Choose me a nice long, swishing, buddy one, light and well poised in the handle, thick and bushy at the tail. Pick me out a whip-cord thong with some dainty knots in it,and now we all deserve it-whish, whish, whish! Let us cut into each other all round.THACKERAY: Roundabout Papers.
Meddling and Muddling, a happy bit of alliterative jingle by which Lord Derby characterized the action of the opposition in 1865. In 1873, in a letter to Lord Grey de Wilton, Disraeli brought an accusation against Gladstone's government of "blundering and plundering," which may have been a reminiscence of Lord Derby's phrase, though it is not impossible that Disraeli found it ready made. Coleridge, in his "Essays on his Own Times," talks of an old naval captain who said, in reference to some unmentioned government, "Call it blunderment, or plunderment, or what you will, only not a government." Disraeli was skilful enough in his appropriations, and brilliant enough in his original capacity, to be capable either of inventing or of adopting such a formula. In 1874, Gladstone parodied Disraeli's phrase, when he repelled the ex-Premier's charge that the Liberal government was neglecting British interests in the Straits of Malacca, by saying that the neglect was chargeable to the outgoing administration, ending thus: "I will leave the leader of the opposition, for the present, floundering and foundering in the Straits of Malacca."
Meiosis (Gr. μɛiwows, from μɛiów, to “lessen”), a figure of speech whose use is widely extended among all classes, even among those who would be startled at finding what it was they had been up to. Some grammarians have confused it with litotes, another rather formidable name, which comes from the Greek and means simplicity. But this shows an ear unapt for nice distinctions. Simplicity in language is not always meiosis. For instance, nothing could be simpler than the common form of litotes which occurs in ordinary profane exclamations; but, all the same, this is not meiosis. Rather would the indignant "Bless you!" uttered by the old gentleman upon whose corns you have unwittingly trodden come under this heading. For meiosis is the exact opposite of hyperbole: that exaggerates, this represents a thing as less than it is.
It is a favorite trick in American humor. The English jester emphasizes, italicizes, and underscores his jokes; he distrusts his audience; the American drops his good things carelessly-under his breath, as it were—and hurries on almost before his hearers are "on to him." An excellent and widely
known example of this rhetorical figure occurs in Bret Harte's description of the scientific gentleman who, being hit in the abdomen by a chunk of old red sandstone,
Curled up on the floor,
And the subsequent proceedings interested him no more.
Charles Dudley Warner offers an equally excellent prose example in his "Back-Log Studies :"
I should like to know what heroism a boy in an old New England farm-house-roughnursed by nature, and fed on the traditions of the old wars-did not aspire to. "John," says the mother, "you'll burn your head to a crisp in that heat.", But John does not hear: he is storming the Plains of Abraham just now. "Johnny, dear, bring in a stick of wood." How can Johnny bring in wood when he is in that defile with Braddock and the Indians are popping at him from behind every tree? There is something about a boy that I like, after all.
Another good American example lies in the familiar chestnut, the story of the travelling Yankee's reply to a European who wished to know if he had just crossed the Alps:
"Wal, now you call my attention to the fact, I guess I did pass risin' ground."
Mark Twain affords some admirable examples, as in the following "answer to an inquiry," published in the Galaxy:
"YOUNG AUTHOR."-Yes, Agassiz does recommend authors to eat fish, because the phosphorus in it makes brains. So far you are correct. But I cannot help you to a decision about the amount you need to eat,—at least, not with certainty. If the specimen composition you send is about your fair usual average, I should judge that perhaps a couple of whales would be all you would want for the present. Not the largest kind, but simply good, middling-sized whales.
So does Bill Nye :
When I was young and used to roam around over the country, gathering watermelons in the light of the moon, I used to think I could milk anybody's cow, but I do not think so now. I do not milk a cow now unless the sign is right, and it hasn't been right for a good many years. The last cow I tried to milk was a common cow, born in obscurity; kind of a selfmade cow. I remember her brow was low, but she wore her tail high, and she was haughty, oh, so haughty.
I made a commonplace remark to her, one that is used in the very best of society, one that need not have given offence anywhere. I said "So," and she "soed." Then I told her to "hist," and she histed. But I thought she overdid it. She put too much expression in it.
Just then I heard something crash through the window of the barn and fall with a dull, sickening thud on the outside. The neighbors came to see what it was that caused the noise. They found that I had done it in getting through the window.
I asked the neighbors if the barn was still standing. They said it was. Then I asked if the cow was injured much. They said she seemed to be quite robust. Then I requested them to go in and calm the cow a little, and see if they could get my plug hat off her horns.
I am buying all my milk now of a milkman. I select a gentle milkman who will not kick, and feel as though I could trust him. Then, if he feels as though he could trust me, it is all right.
Though this noble figure is far less regarded in English than in American literature, it cannot be said to be entirely unknown there. W. S. Gilbert is very fond of it, as in his Bab Ballads :"
I've studied human nature, and I know a thing or two;
In this gay trifling with a gruesome subject Gilbert may have taken the cue from De Quincey's famous essay on "Murder as a Fine Art." Here is a sample paragraph:
If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. Once begin upon this downward path, you never know where you are to stop. Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps he thought little of at the time.
Meiosis, divested of its humorous possibilities, is a favorite figure with the serious Englishman, whose one great aim as he goes through life is to mask his emotions, to avoid gush and mere conventional enthusiasm. "Not bad," "Not half bad," "Not a bad sort,"-these are all Anglican compliments of the meiosistic order. "I don't mind if I do," says the thirsty cabby whom you charitably ask to take a drink, and you know he is delighted. Praise a yokel's cattle, and he assents, saying, "They are a niceish lot." If a British bookmaker has had a "pretty tidy day," you may be sure that all the favorites
have been beaten.
What is called "breaking the news" frequently takes the form of meiosis. Sheridan, the sorely dunned, tells the story of how his faithful old servant gave him information of the visit a bailiff had paid him in his absence. Sheriffs' officers were known far and wide in London in those days by their scarlet waistcoats, the color being a sort of signal of distress, as in an auctioneer's flag. When the graceless but gifted Sheridan got home the old woman broke it gently to him in this fashion: "Please, sir, there was a gentleman called while you were away, as was rather in a red waistcoat than otherwise, sir." The thrifty Scot, who deals economically with words and emotions, as with more material things, is fond of meiosis of a ponderous sort.
Mrs. Siddons once described to Campbell the scene of her probation on the Edinburgh boards. The grave attention of the Scotchmen and their canny reservation of praise till they were sure it was deserved, she said, had well-nigh worn out her patience. She had been used to speak to animated clay, but she now felt as if she had been speaking to stone. Successive flashes of her eloquence, that had always been sure to electrify the South, fell in vain on those Northern flints. At last, she said, she had worked up her powers to the utmost emphatic possible utterance of one passage, having previously vowed in her heart that if this did not touch the Scotch she would never again cross the Tweed. When it was finished she paused, and looked at the audience. The deep silence was broken only by a single voice exclaiming, "That's no bad."
Melrose. A famous couplet opens the second canto of Scott's "Lay of the Last Minstrel :"
If thou wouldst view fair Melrose aright,
Go visit it by the pale moonlight.
This seems to be a reminiscence of a proverbial phrase which Hazlitt records in his "English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases," p. 196:
Hoghton Tower is not far from Blackburn. It is worth noting that Scott told Moore he had never seen Melrose by moonlight.
Memoria Technica. That the artificial adjuncts of rhyme and rhythm aid the memory is a long-established fact. Many a proverb has drifted about in verbal uncertainty until it crystallized itself in some rude metrical form, to remain fast in the memory forever. Few people to-day could recall the number of days in any month by a direct effort of memory; they have to call in the help of those ancient mnemonic verses which have come down to us from the uncertain past:
Thirty days hath September,
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting leap-year, that's the time
This is the form in which they appear in the "Return from Parnassus" (London, 1606). This is the form in which they are still repeated in most English and American households. How old are they? We cannot tell for certain. This is their first appearance in their integrity. With the lack of the closing couplet, they may be found in an earlier publication, Richard Grafton's "Chronicles of England" (1590):
Thirty dayes hath Nouember,
Here our researches stop. Grafton, like his successor, is quoting. Who the author of the rhyme may be we shall never know. Nor shall we know whether he was indebted for his idea to the Latin verses on the same subject that appear in the "Description of Britain" prefixed to Holinshed's "Chronicle" (1577):
Junius, Aprilis, Septemq; Nouemq; tricenos,
At si bissextus fuerit superadditur vnus.
The nice New England ear seems to have objected to the rhyming of "time" and "nine," rhymes which satisfied our rude Old English fathers. So in the Eastern States the verses usually run as follows:
Thirty days hath September,
Which hath but twenty-eight, in fine,
Till leap-year gives it twenty-nine.
This emendation loses in reason what it gains in rhyme. The Pennsylvania Quakers, too, have their variant, accommodated to the numerical nomenclature which they apply to the months:
Fourth, eleventh, ninth, and sixth,
Thirty days to each affix;
Every other thirty-one,
Except the second month alone.
Mnemonic aids of this sort have been especially popular with religious people. Here is an ancient epitome of the faith as it is in Scotland:
God made a garden and put Adam in;
The angel told the Deil to punish Adam's sin;
The Deil made Hell and put Adam in.
God begat Christ, Christ went to Hell;
He heuked Adam out, and a' was well.
Several attempts have been made to put the Decalogue in rhyme. A few
Have thou no Gods but me: nor graven type adore :
No murder do, nor thou adulterer prove:
From theft be pure thy hand: no witness false, thy word:
Worship to God-but not God graven-pay;
From theft thy hand-thy tongue from lying-keep;
Thou no God shalt have but me;
Take heed that thou no murder do;
Nor steal, though thou art poor and mean:
Nor make a wilful lie, nor love it;
What is thy neighbor's, do not covet.
There is no harm in any of the above. But the efforts to put the Lord's Prayer into rhyme are distinctly blameworthy. The prayer is a masterpiece as it stands. In our English translation it has a magnificent natural rhythm. How utterly the poetry can be ruined by attempting to give it the poetical accidents may be seen in the following instances:
Our Father which in heaven art,
All hallowed be thy name;
Thy kingdom come,
On earth thy will be done,
Even as the same in heaven is.
Give us, O Lord, our daily bread this day:
As we forgive our debtors,
So forgive our debts, we pray.
Into temptation lead us not,
From evil make us free:
The kingdom, power, and glory thine,
Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name;
Thy kingdom come; thy will be done the same
Forgive our sins as others we forgive.
Into temptation let us not be led;
Deliver us from evil while we live.
For kingdom, power, and glory must remain
Forever and forever thine: Amen.
Far more legitimate are the efforts made to embed in the memory by arti. ficial means the successive books of the Bible, as, for example,
THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.
The great Jehovah speaks to us
In Genesis and Exodus ;
Leviticus and Numbers see
Followed by Deuteronomy.
Joshua and Judges sway the land,
Ruth gleans a sheaf with trembling hand;
Samuel and numerous Kings appear
Whose Chronicles we wondering hear.
Ezra and Nehemiah, now,
Esther the beauteous mourner show.
Ecclesiastes then comes on,
And the sweet Song of Solomon.
With Lamentations takes his pen.
Next Jonah, Micah, Nahum come,