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Metcalfe, in his translation of Vilmar's "German Literature," incidentally mentions "Though lost to sight, to memory dear," as the title of a German volkslied of the fourteenth or fifteenth century.
Memory and imagination. Sometimes, but not often, we have given us the opportunity of seeing how a famous phrase has grown and blossomed in the writer's own mind. Sheridan, whose impromptus all smelt of the lamp, had set down in a note-book for future use the words, "He employs his fancy in his narrative and keeps his recollections for his wit," which is clever, but has not that final and clinching wit that catches hold of the popular mind. Nor was it much better in the second form: "When he makes his jokes you applaud the accuracy of his memory, and it is only when he states his facts that you admire the flights of his imagination." When finally the opportunity Dccurred, in speaking of Mr. Dundas in the House of Commons, he gave it this brilliant turn: "He generally resorts to his memory for his jokes and to his imagination for his facts."
But Mr. Dundas might easily have retorted upon Sheridan half at least of the description. If Sheridan was not indebted for his facts to his imagination, at least Dundas might have accused him of being indebted to his memory for his jests. Nay, this very jest had been anticipated. Who can forget Laura's description to Gil Blas of that original with the knot in his dyed dark hair and the feuille morte feathers in his hat, the famous Seigneur Carlos Alonzo de la Ventoleria, under which title Le Sage, satirizing the famous actor Baron, says of him, "On peut dire que son esprit brille aux dépens de sa mémoire"? ("It may be said that his wit shines at the expense of his memory.") (Gil Blas, Book iii., ch. xi.)
Men. All men are born free and equal. This phrase, which is continually quoted as from the Declaration of Independence, really occurs in the Constitution of Massachusetts. The Declaration merely says, "All men are created equal." John Lowell, the grandfather of the poet, was a member of the convention which framed the Constitution of Massachusetts in 1780, and one of the committee appointed to draught that instrument. A bitter opponent of slavery, he inserted in the Bill of Rights the clause declaring that "all men are born free and equal," for the purpose of abolishing slavery in Massachusetts, and, after the adoption of the Constitution, he offered through the newspapers to prosecute the case of any negro who wished to establish his right to freedom under the clause.
It is not pleasant to rebuke so self-complacent a philosopher as Professor Thomas Henry Huxley for a sin like that which he commits in an article on "The Natural Inequality of Man," published in the January number of the Nineteenth Century.
The title of Professor Huxley's article indicates its argument. In the course of a discussion of what he calls Rousseauism, Professor Huxley pretends to quote from the American Declaration of Independence:
"What is the meaning [he asks] of the famous phrase that all men are born free and equal,' which gallicized Americans, who were as much philosophes as their inherited common sense and their practical acquaintance with men and with affairs would let them be, put forth as the foundation of the Declaration of Independence?"
The passage in the Declaration which Professor Huxley had vaguely in mind is another and a very different thing. . . . Here is what the Declaration says:
"When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's GOD entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
In any attempt at close reasoning and exact writing, even mere verbal misquotation is a capital offence. Professor Huxley's sin is still worse. His line of argument indicates that he has wholly misapprehended the spirit and intention of the carefully measured words
which form the introduction to the very concrete specifications of tyranny, injury, and usurpation brought against the King of Great Britain by the authors and signers of the Declaration.-New York Sun.
Mending his fences, in American political slang, a euphemism for secret wire-pulling. The origin of the phrase is said to be as follows. Immediately prior to the meeting of the Republican National Convention in 1880, John Sherman, known to be an aspirant for Presidential honors, withdrew from the Senate-house to the seclusion of his farm at Mansfield, Ohio. It was generally believed that in this retirement he was maturing plans and secretly organizing movements to bring about his nomination. One day, while in a field with his brother-in-law, Colonel Moulton, engaged in replacing some rails in a fence, a reporter found him, and sought some political news by inquiring what Sherman was doing. Colonel Moulton avoided the necessity of a direct answer to so pointed a question by exclaiming, "Why, you can see for yourself; he's mending his fences."
Mercy. "I have often wondered," says Cowper, "that the same poet who wrote the 'Dunciad' should have written these lines:
Alas for Pope, if the mercy he showed to others was the measure of the mercy he received!" Yet the sentiment is a favorite one with Pope. It is found in at least three other places in his works, in two instances, however, in his translations from Homer, who may have suggested the idea in the first place.
Accept these grateful tears! for thee they flow,—
Iliad, Book xix., l. 319.
So perish all whose breast ne'er learn'd to glow
To the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady, l. 45.
For the verbal structure of the lines he may have been slightly indebted to Spenser :
Who will not mercy unto others show,
How can he mercy ever hope to have?
And is not this a transposition of the Biblical phrase "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy"? (Matthew v. 7.) Pope in his turn was imitated by Goldsmith:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
SHAKESPEARE: The Merchant of Venice, Act iv., Sc. 1.
No ceremony that to great ones 'longs,
Not the king's crown, nor the deputed sword,
The marshal's truncheon, nor the judge's robe,
Measure for Measure, Act ii., Sc. 2.
Metaphors, Mixed. There was a time when men naturally and familiarly talked in metaphors. Indeed, all language is built upon metaphor, though each particular word, to use Dr. Holmes's term, may have been depolarized and no longer calls up the old associations. Primeval man expresses his meaning in some figure of speech; by and by a new set of meanings crystallize around the figure, and the locution at last hardens into a more specific, a different or even an antagonistic meaning. Many of the commonplaces of daily life would sound like the most side-splitting bulls if the words were considered etymologically and resolved back to their pristine meaning.
In the earlier days, when language was in its infancy and when men still ved face to face with Nature, the metaphorical meanings of words held sway over the imagination and involuntarily summoned up a mental picture of the phenomena upon which they were based. Hence primeval man rarely erred in his use of metaphors. The Bible, the old Sagas, Homer, the Vedas, all afford excellent examples of sustained and consistent metaphors. Nay, even the modern savage rarely errs when he is speaking in his own language or in his own manner. It is only when the savage or the ignorant or the imperfectly-educated man is brought in contact with a higher civilization, whose metaphorical phrases have never had for him the metaphorical meaning which is obsolescent though not yet obsolete in the minds of the dominant race or of the learned,—it is only then that he entirely loses his bearings and drifts hopelessly upon a sea of verbal troubles. The negro affords an excellent instance. African preachers are credited with such phrases as "Brethren, the muddy pool of politics was the rock on which I split," or, "We thank Thee for this spark of grace; water it, good Lord," or, "Give us grace that we may gird up the loins of our mind so that we shall receive the latter rain."
Perhaps it is because English is a language forced by circumstances upon the Irish that the species of mixed metaphor called a bull is so prevalent on Irish soil; or perhaps they murder the queen's English by way of revenge upon the English queen. This topic has been treated at some length under the head of bulls. But not all mixed metaphors, nor even the majority of them, can be grouped under that class. The following peroration, attributed to an Irish barrister, is not one of the distinctly bovine type: "Gentlemen of the jury," he is reported to have said, "it will be for you to say whether this defendant shall be allowed to come into court with unblushing footsteps, with the cloak of hypocrisy in his mouth, and draw three bullocks out of my client's pocket with impunity." Mr. Henry W. Lucy, from whose paper on
"Misfortunes in Metaphor" (Belgravia, April, 1881), we shall draw other illustrative instances, tells some good stories from his own parliamentary experience. One concerns Mr. O'Conor Power. He had caught Sir Staf ford Northcote, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, tripping in the matter of his resolutions in respect to the business of the house. In his ingenuous manner the right honorable baronet had too plainly disclosed the notorious fact that the resolutions, whilst professing to deal with the general conduct of business, were aimed directly at obstruction. Whereupon up jumped Mr. O'Conor Power, and with triumphant manner exclaimed, "Mr. Speaker, sir, since the government has let the cat out of the bag, there is nothing to be done but to take the bull by the horns;" which he forthwith did, debating the matter as especially dealing with obstructionists.
Another of his stories runs as follows. Mr. Shaw, member for the County Cork, and at that time leader of the Home Rule party, was addressing a meeting held one Sunday at Cork, with the object of discussing the land question. Mr. Shaw is a sober-minded man, who, on ordinary occasions, finds plain speech serve his purpose. At this time, however, the spirit of metaphor came upon him, and this is what it made him say: "They tell us that we violate the Sabbath by being here to-day. Yet, if the ass or the ox fall into the pit, we can take him out on the Sabbath. Our brother is in the pit to-day, the farmer and the landlord are both in it, and we are come here to try if we can lift them out." This similitude of the Irish landlord to an animal predestined to slaughter was bold, but timely. The other half of the analogy seemed calculated to get Mr. Shaw into trouble with his constituency.
Mr. Lucy, to do him justice, does not confine himself to Irish instances. He shows that the less educated Englishman, or even the educated Englishman in his hasty and unguarded moments, may be tripped up when he is essaying to take a metaphorical flight. He tells of an honorable gentleman who opposed a certain measure on the ground "that it was opening the door for the insertion of the thin edge of the wedge," a preliminary process which should at least tend to make the work of the wedge easy, and who paid a compliment to the Chambers of Commerce as the intelligent pioneers who feel the pulse of the commercial community;" whereas pioneers are usually far away from the commercial centres. Another advised his constituents, "When you have laid an egg put it by for a rainy day," on which Mr. Lucy rightly comments, "Why electors of Blackburn should be expected to lay eggs is a question that disappears before the greater importance of the query why they should save them for a rainy day."
During a debate on the foreign policy of Lord Beaconsfield's government Mr. Alderman Cotton solemnly declared that "at one stage of the negotiations a great European struggle was so imminent that it only required a spark to let slip the dogs of war." It was on the same night, and during the same debate, that Mr. Forster observed, "I will, Mr. Speaker, sit down by saying," etc. Mr. Forster has always been an adroit politician, but what new sort of manœuvre this is that enables a man to "sit down by saying" remains unexplained.
The English bar as well as the English legislative halls affords instances of this delightful sort of blundering. Not the least amusing is contained in the peroration to the following speech, addressed by Lord Kenyon to a dishonest butler who had been convicted of stealing large quantities of wine from his master's cellar: “Prisoner at the bar, you stand convicted on the most conclusive evidence of a crime of inexpressible atrocity, a crime that defiles the sacred springs of domestic confidence, and is calculated to strike alarm into the breast of every Englishman who invests largely in the choicer vintages
of Southern Europe. Like the serpent of old, you have stung the hand of your protector. Fortunate in having a generous employer, you might without dishonesty have continued to supply your wretched wife and children with the comforts of sufficient prosperity, and even with some of the luxuries of affluence; but, dead to every claim of natural affection and blind to your own real interest, you burst through all the restraints of religion and morality, and have for many years been feathering your nest with your master's bottles."
Let us go abroad for a moment. When the delegates of Paris workmen returned from the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876, they sent Victor Hugo an invitation, which he refused, being busy with his "Appeal on behalf of Servia." Nevertheless, in his enthusiasm for liberty and the cause of insubordination everywhere, he telegraphed his sympathy to them in an epigrammatic confusion of epithets,—saying he sent them "a grasp of the hand from the bottom
of his heart."
The Irishman who said, "We will burn all our ships, and, with every sail unfurled, steer boldly out into the ocean of freedom," was more than matched by Justice Minister Hye, who, addressing the Vienna students in the troublous times of 1848, declared that "the chariot of the revolution is rolling along, and gnashing its teeth as it rolls." In Germany there still exists a vivid and grateful recollection of the address made by the mayor of a Rhineland corporation to the Emperor William I. shortly after his coronation in Versailles, which contains the following among other gems of thought: "No Austria! no Prussia! one only Germany! Such were the words the mouth of your imperial majesty has always had in its eye."
But why should we expect laymen to be always accurate, when literary men, whose especial business it is to preserve the integrity of language, go so often astray? Does not Shakespeare himself err, as in the famous instance where Hamlet questions
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
Milton, too, has his figurative confusions. The following passage occurs in his description of the lazar-house in "Paradise Lost:"
Sight so deform what heart of rock could long
This curious bit of blundering has not even the merit of originality. It is stolen direct from Tibullus :
Flebis; non tua sunt duro præcordia ferro
Eleg., i. 63.
Dr. Johnson, in his ponderous yet very effective fashion, has made much fun of a couplet by Addison :
I bridle in my struggling Muse with pain,
"To bridle a goddess," Johnson points out, "is no very delicate idea; but why must she be bridled? because she longs to launch, an act which was never hindered by a bridle; and whither will she launch? into a nobler strain. She is, in the first line, a horse; in the second, a boat; and the care of the poet is to keep his horse or his boat from singing."
Johnson also points out that Pope, in borrowing a passage from Addison's Čampaign,” has ruined it by confusing the metaphor. Addison said,—
Marlborough's exploits appear divinely bright,
Raised of themselves, their genuine charms they boast,