« ForrigeFortsett »
number strewed here and there in the comedies and other fantastic writings of that age.
The Honourable Colonel James Graham, my old friend and companion, did likewise, towards the end of the same reign, invent a set of words and phrases, which continued almoit to the time of his death. But, as these terins of art were adapted only to courts and politicians, and extended little farther than among his particular acquaintance, (of whom I had the honour to be one), they are now almost forgotten.
Nor did the late D. of R and E. of E fucceed much better, altho' they proceeded no farther than single words; whereof, except bite, bamboozle, and one or two more, the whole vocabulary is antiquated.
The same fate hath already attended those other town wits, who furnith us with a great variety of new terms, which are annaally changed, and those of the last feason sunk in oblivion. Of these I was once favoured with a complete list, by the Right Honourable the Lord and Lady H-_., with which I made a considerable figure one summer in the country; but returning up to town in winter, and venturing to produce them again, I was partly hooted, and partly not understood.
The only invention of late years, which hath any way contributed towards politeness in discourse, is that of abbreviating or reducing words of many fyllables into one, by lopping off the rest. This refinement having begun about the time of the revolution I had some share in the honour of promoting it; and I observe, to my great satisfa&tion, that it makes daily advancements, and I hope in time will raise our language to the utmost perfection ; altho' I must confess, to avoid obscurity, I have been very sparing of this ornament in the following dialogues.
But as for phrases invented to cultivate conversation, I defy all the clubs of coffee houses in this town to invent a new one, equal in wit, humour, smartness, or politeness, to the very worst of my fet ; which clearly Thews, either that we are much degenerated, or that the whole stock of materials hath been already employed. I would willingly hope, as I do confidently believe, the latter; because, having myself for several months racked my invention to enrich this treasure (if possible) with some additions of my own, (which, however, should have been printed in a different character, that I might not bé charged with imposing upon the public), and having fhewn them to some judicious friends, they dealt very sincerely with me, all unanimously agreeing that mine were infinitely below the true old helps to discourse, drawn up in my present collection, and confirmed their opinion with reasons by which I was perfectly convinced, as well as ashamed of my great presumption.
But I lately met a much stronger argument to confirm me in the fame sentiments. For, as the great Bishop Burnet of Salisbury informs us, in the preface to his admirable History of his own times, that he intended to employ himself in polishing it every day of his life, (and indeed, in its kind, it is almost equally polished with this work of mine); so it hath been my constant business, for some years past, to examine with the utmost strictness, whether I could possibly find the smallest lapse in style or propriety, through my whole collection, that, in emu. lation with the Bishop, I might send it abroad as the most finished piece of the age.
It happened on a day, as I was dining in good company of both sexes, and watching, according to my custom, for new materials wherewith to fill my pocket-book, I succeeded well enough, till after dinner, when the ladies retired to their tea, and left us over a bottle of wine. But I found we were not able to furnish any more materials that were worth the pains of transcribing : for the discourse of the company was all degenerated into smart fayings of their own invention, and not of the true old standard ; so that, in absolute despair, I withdrew, and went to attend the ladies at their tea: from whence I did then conclude, and still continue to believe, either that wine doth not inspire politeness, or
that our sex is not able to support it without the company of women, who never fail to lead us into the right way, and there to keep us.
It much increaseth the value of these apophthegms, that unto them we owe the continuance of our language for at least an hundred years. Neither is this to be wonVol. VII,
dered at ; because indeed, besides the smartness of the wit, and fineness of the raillery, such is the propriety and energy of expression in them all, that they never can be changed, but to disadvantage, except in the circumstance of using abbreviations: which, however, I do not despair in due time to see introduced, having already met them at some of the choice companies in town.
Altho' this work be calculated for all persons of quality and fortune of both sexes : yet the reader may perceive, that my particular view was to the officers of the
army, the gentlemen of the inns of coart, and of both the universities : to all courtiers, male and female, but principally to the maids of honour, of whom I have been personally acquainted with two and twenty fets, all excelling in this noble endowment ; till, for some years past, I know not how, they came to degenerate into selling of bargains and Freethinkers: not that I am against either of these entertainments at proper seasons, in ccmpliance with company, who may want a taste for more exalted discourse, whose memories may be short, who are too young to be perfect in their lessons, or (altho' it be hard to conceive) who have no inclination to read and learn my instructions. And besides, there is a strong temptation for court-ladies to fall into the two amusements above mentioned, that they may avoid the cenfure of affecting fingularity, against the general current and fashion of all about them. But however, no man will pretend to affirm, that either bargains or blafphemy, which are the principal ornaments of Freethinking, are so good a fund of polite discourse, as what is to be met with in my collection. For as to bargains, few of them seem to bé excellent in their kind, and have not much variety, because they all terminate in one single point; and to multiply them, would require more invention than people have to spare. And as to blasphemy or Freethinking, I have known fome scrapulous persons of both sexes, who, by a prejudiced education, are afraid of sprights. I must however except the maids of honour, who have been fully convinced by a famous court-chaplain, that there is no such place as hell. I cannot indeed controvert the lawfulness of Free
thinking, because it hath been universally allowed, that thought is free. But, however, altho' it may afford a large field of matter, yet, in my poor opinion, it seems to contain very little of wit or humour ; because it hath not been ancient enough among us to furnish established authentic expresions, I mean such as muit receive a sanction from the polite world, before their authority can be allowed. Neither was the art of blasphemy or Freethinking invented by the court, or by persons of great quality, who, properly speaking, were patrons, rather than inventors of it; but first brought in by the Fanatic faction towards the end of their power, and after the restoration carried to Whitehall by the converted ,
rumpers ; with very good reason ; because they knew that King Charles II. from a wrong education, occafioned by the troubles of his father, had time enough to observe, that Fanatic enthusiasm direaly led to Atheism, which agreed with the diffolute inclinations of his youth ; and perhaps these principles were farther cultivated in him by the French Hugonots, who have been often charged with spreading them among us.
However, I cannot fee where the necessity lies of introducing new and foreign topics for conversation, while we have fo plentiful a stock of our own growth.
I have likewise, for some reasons of equal weight, been very sparing in double entendres; because they often put ladies upon affected constraints, and affected ignorance. In short, they break, or very much intangle the thread of discourle. Neither am I master of any rules to settle the disconcerted countenances of the females in such a conjuncture; I can therefore only allow
I innuendoes of this kind to be delivered in whispers, and only to young ladies under twenty, who being in honour obliged to blush, it may produce a new subject for discourse.
Perhaps the critics may accuse me of a defect in my following system of Polite Conversation ; that there is one great ornament of discourse, whereof I have not produced a single example; which indeed I purposely omitted, for some reasons that I Mall immediately offer : and if those reasons will not satisfy the male part of
my gentle readers, the defect may be supplied in fome manner by an appendix to the second edition ; pendix thall be printed by itself, and fold for fixpence, stitched, and with a marble cover, that my readers may have no occafion to complain of being defrauded.
The defect I mean is, my not having inserted into the body of my book, all the oaths now moft in fashion for imbellishing discourse ; especially since it could give no offence to the clergy, who are seldom or never admitted to these polite assemblies. And it must be allowed, that oaths well chofen, are not only very useful expletives to matter, but great ornaments of style. What I fall here offer in my own defence upon
this important article, will, I hope, be some extenuation of
First, I reasoned with myself, that a just collection of oaths, repeated as often as the fashion requires, muft have enlarged this volume, at least, to double the bulk; whereby it would not only double the charge, but likewise make the volume less commodious for pocketcarriage.
Secondly, I have been assured by some judicious friends, that themselves have known certain ladies to take of fence (whether seriously or no) at too great a profusion of curling and swearing, even when that kind of ornament was not improperly introduced ; which, I confess, did startle me not a little, having never observed the like in the compass of my own female acquaintance, at least, for twenty years pait. However, I was forced to fubmit to wiser judgments than my own.
Thirdly, As this most useful treatise is calculated for all future times, I considered in this maturity of my age, how great a variety of oaths I have heard since I began to study the world, and to know men and manners. And here I found it to be true, what I have read in an ancient puet,
For now-a-days men change their oaths,
As often as they change their cloaths. In short, oaths are the children of fashion ; they are in some sense almoft annuals, like what I observed be