L O I T E R E R.
"Speak of us as we are."
PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR,
And sold by C. S. RANN, OXFORD;
Messr. EGERTONS, Whitehall, LONDON; Messrs. PEARSON
And ROLLASON, BIRMINGHAM; Mr. W. MEYLER, Grove,
BATH; AND Messrs. COWSLADE and SMART, READING.
L O I T E R E R.
SATURDAY, June 6, 1789.
Speciosa vocabula rerum
AMONGST the many difficulties which foreigners experience in attaining any tolerable proficiency in the English language, nothing causes them so much trouble and embarrassment as the diversity of senses in which the very same words are variously used, according to the sex or age, the rank of situation of the speaker. — They complain that the fertility of our invention, and the severity of their labour are never at an end, that we not only continually coin new words, but affix so different a meaning to many of our old ones, that they are for ever led into the grossest errors respecting the person or things we are describing.
Nor will this accusation be found altogether groundless. For as we have more originality of genius, and lie less under the restraint of forms and fashions, than our neighbours on the continent; and as freedom of speech, as well as freedom of action, are the birth-right of an Englishman, no wonder if we sometimes claim the right of selecting our own words, as well as regulating our own conduct, and think ourselves entitled to speak not only what but how we please. — Certain it is, that the various orders into which this kingdom is divided, seem to possess a very different vocabulary, and that many of those words which are most current in ordinary conversation, undergo a wonderful change, and are to be understood in a manner totally different, as they are used by the grave or the gay, the pursuers of pleasure, or the amassers of wealth, — To exemplify — The words good and great, are understood by many as epithets applicable to those only, who have rendered themselves eminent for their virtue or their learning. Yet a citizen of London, who has long been taught to look on the art of acquiring riches as the only proof of parts, and their possession the only reward of excellence, naturally confers his respect and esteem on his acquaintance in exact proportion to the idea he has entertained of their circumstances. He therefore tells you that his neighbour Peter Pinch, the Pawn Broker, is a good man, because he knows him to be worth ten thousand pounds more than himself; but he reserves the epithet great for his friend Simon Soapsuds, whose word would go upon change for three score thousand pounds any day in the week, And let not the gay world pride themselves on their supposed superiority in this respect, for I have known several men of wit, who have been more indebted for their reputation to the risibility of their muscles, than the brilliancy of their imagination, and have been told there are many young men of spirit to be found, at the other end of the town, who have never performed one single action which could entitle them to that character, except making a riot at the play-house, and throwing a few modest women into fits. — Nor are our fair friends in the least behind us in this art of perverting our language; they are on the contrary (probably from a greater habit of talking) rather better proficients then ourselves. — Should a beautiful and accomplished girl, in the bloom of eighteen, make over her person for life, to a battered rake of family and fortune, with no good quality on earth to recommend him, and old enough to be her father; her female friends would not hesitate to pronounce her well-married. And should the same young woman think proper to refuse such an advantageous offer, and afterwards throw herself into the arms of some deserving young fellow of small fortune, to whom she had been long attached; the same impartial judges would instantly pronounce her ruined. — Thus too, if the most amiable of her sex should be once betrayed, by the unguarded openness of her disposition, and the villainy of her seducer; the epithets of abandoned and vicious, are liberally bestowed on her by those of her own sex, who from want of feeling, or want of beauty, have escaped the same fate; while the most termagant pupil of Xantippe’s school, may ruin her husband by her extravagance, or break his heart by her ill temper, and yet enjoy the title of a virtuous woman. Ingenious, however, as these misnomers may appear, I am not certain that the merit of their inventors is not greatly outdone by many young men in this university, to whose unremitted industry and fertile genius the English language owes much of its present copiousness and force; and I would recommend it to the consideration of the learned, whether it would not be highly expedient to draw up a vocabulary, which might comprehend all such words and sentences, as have been invented within these last ten years, and are now current at this place; giving, at the same time, their true etymology and most received signification. Such a work might make no improper appendix to the Oxford guide, and would be extremely useful, not only to all freshmen, at their first entrance, but to such of their relations, friends, and acquaintance, who occasionally favour them with their company during their residence here; and who for want of such information, sometimes find it very difficult to understand each other. To recapitulate all the various modes of expressing our actions or passions, which our own ingenuity first introduced, and which custom has reconciled us to, would be entering into a field much too large for the Loiterer; I cannot however avoid mentioning one, and which I have been led to take notice of, from a conversation, which passed not many weeks ago, between an acquaintance of mine, a country neighbour of his (who was come to see the university) and myself. — The country gentleman, amongst a variety of other impertinent questions, made many foolish enquiries after a near relation of his, who was not then in Oxford; such as — how he spent his time? what progress he made in his studies? and what was his character in the college? — with other trifling particulars of the same sort; most of which, my friend, very properly, thought undeserving any reply; and, therefore, only said in general, that he need be under no concern about him, for that he trained on famously well, and would soon be a very dashing man. An expression which, though to me it was perfectly familiar, I saw plainly conveyed no sort of idea to the person to whom it was addressed. He made no effort, however, to obtain an explanation (possibly afraid to expose his ignorance) and coolly said, “He was happy to hear so good an account, as it would give great pleasure to his Family and Friends, who had formed very sanguine expectations of his doing well. How far these their expectations are likely to be answered, it is not my business to enquire, and I shall only observe, that all his relations and friends will soon be enabled to form a very complete idea of a Dashing Man, the moment they inspect his next quarter’s bills. During the above conversation, I was indeed once half inclined to have given the gentleman some little insight into the character of the person alluded to, and was checked in the attempt only by recollecting the difficulty of succeeding. To do justice indeed to all the various qualifications and acquirements which go to the forming this distinguished appellation, and which (to use the language of arithmeticians) may be not improperly called the aliquot parts of a Dashing Man, I well know must be a work of ingenuity, labour, and time. Nor was I certain that all three would not be thrown away on one, whose ideas were so exceedingly vulgar and low, that it would have been possible to have put any genteel or liberal notions into his head. I therefore left him in the same barbarous state of ignorance in which I found him, and returned to my rooms, with that pleasing self-complacency, which always arises in the minds, even of the most diffident, from the contemplation of their own superiority over those, whom they have been conversing with. I could not, however, on reflection, be quite satisfied, that I had done my duty, either as an essayist or a man, in having neglected an opportunity of increasing the knowledge, and enlightening the understanding of an honest man, whose greatest fault after all, was, perhaps, not having been so well brought up as myself. I therefore determined to introduce this subject in my paper; in order to give those gentlemen (who have not enjoyed the advantages of a learned education) some idea of what they are to understand, when they hear that their sons, nephews, and cousins at Oxford, are very Dashing Men. And I am the more inclined to offer them my assistance, as I know not any other quarter from whence they can obtain a satisfactory illustration of this subject. Dr. Johnson, indeed, with his usual accuracy, gives three different meanings to the verb Dash. He tells us that it signifies, first, to fly off the surface. — Secondly to fly in flashes with a loud noise. — Thirdly, to rush through water, so as to make it fly. — Not one of these significations however, though partially applicable, are by any means, comprehensive enough to take in the various actions, which that verb is at present used to express. — It is true indeed, that Dashing Men do sometimes fly off the surface, and rush through water so as to make it fly; particularly when they are overturned in phaetons, or their horses tumble into ditches instead of clearing them. Yet it is equally true, that there are many other requisites, without which they will in vain pretend to that character: for a Dashing Man must not only buy horses which he cannot ride, but also contract debts which he cannot pay. — He must be riotous without mirth boisterous without courage, and noisy without wit, — He must in short, do not one thing, which, by the rules of the University he ought to do; and (allowances being made for human infirmities) as nearly as possible every thing which he ought not.
The severity therefore of the labour, by which this character can alone be acquired, will sufficiently account for the very limited number of candidates whose endeavours are crowned with complete success, and I should trust, would induce the candid and humane to be less severe in passing judgment on those unfortunate young men, who, notwithstanding their earnest and unremitting endeavours, have never been able to attain the object of their wishes. — When I consider indeed the extreme difficulty with which this character is acquired, when I recollect the numerous list of those, who from want of constitution, or of money, or some such perverse accident, have been suddenly stopped in the midst of their career of glory, 1 have been sometimes inclined to doubt, whether the object when attained is really and fairly worth the money, time and trouble, with which it is pursued; and whether some other means might not be struck out, of acquiring fame, less hazardous in the pursuit, and more certain in the possession. Every one I hope, who has done us the honour of taking in our work, will do us the justice to own, that the Loiterer is a very well-bred and polite paper, and that we have never yet set them to sleep by any grave lessons of morality and virtue, or indeed have ever made mention of either, but with the contempt they deserve: a reputation which we should very unwillingly forfeit; and therefore desire our readers to remember, that if we now seem in some measure to sanction such old-fashioned doctrines, by recommending the practice of them to the world, it is not from any idea of their intrinsic merit, but merely as the instruments by which they may be enabled to rise into notice; it being an established maxim among the best casuists, that a good end may sometimes be obtained by bad means. We well know indeed that obedience to superiors is cowardly — respect to decency, quizzical — that tutors are not to be minded, or tradesmen paid — that attention is flat — virtue a bore , and learning the devil . Yet we still think they may be tolerated, is used for so laudable a purpose as rendering ourselves famous : and we hereby recommend such of our readers, as are desirous of making themselves eminent, to try the experiment; and can assure them they will find some advantages, from such a plan, which they are not perhaps aware of. — In the first place, it will have the charm of novelty , confessedly one of the greatest recommendations which any modem system can possibly offer. In the second place, they will by this means be enabled to signalise their courage in the most distinguished manner, for the man who can persevere in a course of virtue, unhurt by the contagion of example, and unshaken by the laughter of folly, need scarcely fear having his spirit or resolution ever afterwards called in question. — But the chief merit which I shall insist on to recommend my proposal, is that it will render them extremely singular, a circumstance highly in its favour, and in which it has greatly the advantage over that at present pursued, as a minute’s reflection will convince us. For let a man take ever so much pains to ruin his fortune or his health, it is ten to one, but his friend Jack — or Tom — get through both theirs before him, and if not obtain the victory, at least divide the prize. Whereas, in the pursuance of the scheme which I propose, they will be liable to few such accidents; they may be singular without imitators, and great without rivals. — Taking therefore all these circumstances into consideration, I must give it as my opinion, that as honesty is the best policy, so regularity is the best courage; and would with those of my friends, who are eager to shew their spirit, and desirous of being called Dashing Men, to remember, that in an age like this, contempt of false shame is the noblest proof of spirit, and that those have the most dash who dare to be virtuous.
< < Previous List of Issues Next > >
Sophia's Home page