Part II

Book I

Chapter 1

 

This work, y'cleped Modern Chivalry, having fallen into the hands of a maker up of vestments for the human body, alias, one by trade a tailor; in the Latin language denominated sartor, vestiarius, sarcinator; for it would seem they had tailors among the Romans; one of these, I say, had come across this book, and reading a little of it occasionally on his shop-board, seems to have felt some irritation at the obscurity of certain terms not well understood, being in the Latin, or Greek language; or derived from thence; so that not being able to get at the root, he could not comprehend the stem of the tree; nor enjoy the adumbration of the branches and foliage. I had received from him the following letter, in which he cites scripture against me; so that I could not well avoid answering him, having made the matter so serious. I do not give the date of his letter to me, nor of mine to him, as not being material as to the predicaments of the ubi or the quando; that is, the when or the where, of Aristotle; nor is it material that I give the name or sir-name; or as the Romans would have said, the nomen, pronomen, or cognomen of the artist in this case. It is sufficient that I give his ideas as they came from under his goose, hot from the press, as they might be said to be. After some introductory compliments, which I omit, he comes to the point, or, in other words, takes up his parable, and says--


"When your book came my way, I read all of it that I could understand, and gave it to my apprentices to read, and I hope it has been useful to them: but no doubt it would have been more so, had it been all written in the English tongue; but unfortunately, some if it is written in a kind of foreign jargon, which neither they nor I have any knowledge of; having only learnt English, or American; but I do not mean to include in what I do not understand, that which is put into the mouth of Teague, as the Irish brogue; nor any thing that Duncan is made to say, or actually did say; for the dialect of Duncan, which is called braid-scots, or what is the same thing, the Scots-irish, was my mother tongue. That I might not be mistaken, I asked a school-master in our town, what language he took it to be with which you so copiously interlard your book. He told me, he took it to be Latin, a language spoken some ten or fifteen hundred year age, by a race of Pagans, who inhabited a part of Italy, and was still used by the Priests of the Romish church in the performance of the more solemn parts of their worship, but was not the vernacular tongue of any people on earth at this day; nor was it likely that it ever would be; though there were words borrowed from it in many of the European languages; which however were now perfectly naturalized, and impatriated. I asked him if he could conjecture what could move you to write Latin; or, at least make Latin quotations to a people very few of whom understood any thing but English, and Dutch, and some Irish. He told me it had long been considered the infallible criterion of a learned man to understand Latin and Greek; that it was very common with writers to throw in sentences here and there, in their productions, in order to let their readers know that they were learned; or, at least, to make them think so. I presume the school-master was correct. But surely there was no necessity to break the thread of your discourse for this vain purpose. I anticipate your repeating those obsolete antiquated arguments that have been so often urged, and so often refuted, to induce people to waste the precious season of youth in learning languages which never can be of any avail to them until the resurrection; and not then, unless they should be placed in a colony of ancient Romans, or Greeks. Nor am I certain that the Latin and Greek which are now learned out of the few remaining books written in ancient times, would be understood by the mass of the people who then lived in those countries. This I know, that, if we could talk no other kind of English than that used by our best poets, and prose writers, we could not transact much of the business of common life. A shop-keeper, for instance, could not do the business of one day in his shop; nor could we find words sufficient to buy and sell a horse. But, you will say we must know the roots of words. What signifies whence the root came from, or where it lies, if we know the word. To understand English, must a person learn all the languages from which it is derived? If so, he must spend a life in learning languages; and indeed a long life would not suffice. But the thing is absurd. We know that those who never learned Greek, or Latin, understand the meaning of the words, sermon, oration, audience, amorous subpoena, scire facias, and an endless number of other words, as well as the best Latin, or Greek critics. They understand nothing about their roots, but they understand the ideas they are used to convey, just as well as those who have dug four or five years to reach the root. If half the time of young people were employed in acquiring a knowledge of the English tongue, that is wasted in teaching them dead languages, they would be much better English scholars. Solomon says, "a living dog is better than a dead lion." But I have no objection that those who can afford it may learn as many languages as they please; provided that men of sense would not indulge the vanity of mixing their writings with unknown phrases. This induces people to buy their books; to whose great disappointment, and mortification, when they peruse them, they find the sense every now and then, broken and interrupted, by foreign jargon, without any explanation or interpretation, which would be quite as well, were it left blank. Now there is no justification, nor even apology, for the trick: for those who understand the English and Latin, would understand it as well were it all English. But thousands who could understand it were it English, cannot make sense of the Latin; and often without understanding the Latin, the sense of a good deal of what goes before, and follows after, is lost. If a man will write Latin, let him write his whole book in Latin, and in that case mere English scholars will not be imposed on. Nothing in the world frets, or vexes me more than to be stopped in a subject in which I feel myself deeply engaged, by a gap filled up with the rubbish of an unknown tongue. Permit me to call your attention to the 14th chapter of Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. St. Paul understood as many languages, both by inspiration and by education, as all the lawyers, doctors, and divines in America; yet he had not the vanity of making a display of his learning where it could answer no good purpose; and severely censures those who did so. He seems to have been fully sensible of his great gifts and acquirements in this matter; yet he despised exercising those gifts merely to shew his skill, and to puzzle those whom he addressed. I am inclined to think that those tongues which Paul understood so well, were living tongues, not languages, which were dead and buried some thousand years before his time. It is probable he understood the Hebrew, and whether or no this was the language spoken by the Jews in Paul's time, I am not antiquarian enough to know; but rather think from their being so long mixed with other nations, it was not the ancient Hebrew. If so, I am persuaded he would not bother them with it, either in his speeches or writings. If I were in the habit of betting, I would venture something that his epistle to the Hebrews is neither written in the ancient Hebrew tongue, nor is it crammed every where with quotations from this tongue. St. Paul was an humble modest man, and neither vain of his attainments nor of his gifts; I mean those which he had by inspiration, or by education."


So far this respectable mechanic, to whom, as civility demanded, I drew up, and directed an answer; and having given that from him to me, a place here, it will be but justice to myself to insert that to him from me, in this book also. It was as follows:
"In that very epistle which you cite, we have the authority of St. Paul in favour of acquiring languages. In verse5, of chapter 14, he says, "I would that ye all spake with tongues." In our day, when inspiration has ceased, it is only by human means, that a knowledge of tongues can be acquired; nevertheless the advantage must remain the same; and the Apostle must be considered as still disposed to say, "I would that ye all spake with tongues." To say the least of it, it can do no harm even now, to be able to converse in more languages than one, though there may not be the same necessity as at an early period, where the gospel was to be preached to every creature. Whether the time is wholly thrown away, that is spent at the academies, in acquiring a knowledge of the boos that are written in those tongues, is a dispute into which I shall not enter; because the chief thing that I am anxious to defend myself against, is, the impropriety of introducing the knowledge that one has of these, in an improper place; that is, to those who do not understand them; which may be considered, supposing the acquisition valuable, as "throwing pearls before swine." As to the imposing upon a purchaser, it is out of the question, since the bookseller will permit one to look at the book before he purchases. And if he sees any thing like Latin, or Greek, he can refuse to purchase. He is under no necessity of purchasing a pig in a poke, in this case; and as to fretting and vexing the reader, it must be refered to his won evil passions to be so disquieted when he has purchased with his eyes open. You seem to speak in this case, or at least to write, as if all books were to be made for you, and to your particular taste; not considering that there are some who value a work the more for having a sprinkling of Greek, and Latin, or other language, dead or living. When you make a coat for your customers, do you not find some who will chuse a cape of velvet to a cloth coat; and, perhaps, the cape of a different colour from the coat? If you were to make up coats not bespoke, would you not look to the possible taste of what might be thought fashionable, and adjust your own judgment to that of the public's, and put, perhaps, buttons on the henches where there is no use for them; and not even holes along-side, to accomplish the fashioning of part to part? For you could not be sure that those alone of the Friends, or Quaker society, would be your customers. The costume of military men is blue and buff, or red and white facings, in some instances, and it will behove you to accommodate to this, though your own choice would be a coat of one colour throughout. We find from the scripture, that "Israel made his son Joseph, a coat of many colours." This, doubtless, because according to his notions of things, it was the more splendid. Whether it was woven with stripes of many colours, or of mixed dies in the warp and woof, like the plaid of the Caledonians, the text does not say. It might be made up of small pieces of different colours, put together as thrifty housewives make what is called patch-work. I have seen what is called a rag carpet, made up by industrious women; and variegated from the materials of which it was composed. Hogarth, in his analysis of beauty, lays down variety to be a principle of this, as well as utility. To reduce, therefore, every thing to what is absolutely of one appearance, would interfere with the embellishments of dress, and, in may other cases, with what pleases the eye. Why does nature give us red, purple and all the colours of the rain-bow, in trees, plants, and flowers, but because these please the sense of man? But the eye, you will say, can comprehend these, but the unlettered mind cannot comprehend Latin, much less Greek, or Hebrew, or Samaritan. But is there not a sublimity in the obscure? At least the great Burke, in his treatise on the sublime, so lays it down. In the natural world there is something in darkness, which impresses the mind with awe! A lowering cloud brings an impression of dignity, and grandeur. In the moral world, is there not more mystery, than in what is self-evident? Why, otherwise, do we value preachers in the pulpit, in proportion to their dwelling on what is unintelligible? Mere mortality, and nothing more, says the hearer; I want something that I cannot understand. What sort of doctrine is that which is little more than human knowledge; and being so, cannot be orthodox? Give me the divine, says one, that will speak through his nose, whack the pulpit, and mouth, and stamp with his foot. It is of no moment whether I understand his words or not; or rather, I would not wish to understand him, for if I did, I would take it for granted that it was not so deep as it ought to be.


This book is written for individuals of all attainments, and of all grades of intellects. What hinders me, therefore, to season the work with what may please the Latin and Greek scholar? I refer you to your own Paul, who says in the same epistle, chapter 9th, verse 22d, "To the weak, I became as weak, that I might gain the weak." Now supposing me to consider this pye-balding of a work, by the interspersion of different languages, to be but little more than pedantry; and to savour of an affectation of learning; yet, may I not be looking at some great examples over the water, or perhaps on this side, who have seasoned their compositions with the same salt and pepper, which, to the natural taste, might not perhaps be so well suited. You appear to be a good religious man, by your quoting St. Paul; and no doubt have read some, or perhaps most of the religious books that have been published in England and Scotland, subsequent to the era of the reformation, or about that time; and will you not find these abundantly replete with quotations from the Greek and Latin fathers; and it cannot be supposed that the tradesmen of that day were better acquainted with what are called the dead languages than what you allege yourself to be. And yet I doubt whether, on a new edition of these writings, you would suffer those sentiments, though in an unintelligible tongue, to be struck out of those books; and yet you complain because in this unsanctified work I make a little free; or cabbage a sentence, now and then, from a Pagan poet, or prose writer, because fraught with good sense and sound morality. Why not translate these quotations, you will say; because I am afraid of affronting learned men, who would resent it as being thought necessary to them. What? they would say; did this block-head take it for granted that we were all piddlers and bog-trotters in this country, and did not understand the Greek, or Latin tongue? If that is the case, let it be left to Snip, or Crispin, or Traddle to read it. As for us, we have no need of a translation of sentences that are in every one's mouth, that can pretend to be scholars."

Such was my answer to this respectable mechanic. For though I have used the words, Snip, Crispin, or Traddle, it will not be supposed, or at least ought not to be supposed that I mean to undervalue handicraft persons; but simply as designating occupation; for I must consider myself as related to all of these; not because of the family of Adam; for we are all related in that way; but as being of a race that, for what I know, had more of these in its heraldry, than feudal chieftains, or lettered men.
But what could be expected from an unlettered man writing to me, but a misconception of the advantages to be derived from classical learning, and a repugnance to all that did not flatter the vanity of such readers; but must put them in mind of the deficiency of their education. With such, what can we expect but levelling sentiments in church and state. It is the nature of man, that if he cannot raise himself to the attainments of the learned, he will be disposed to bring down academic studies to his own opportunities. There have been even men of academic education, on our day, that to escape the imputation of pedantry, will avoid even at the bar, the uttering of a Latin maxim, though they may have these derived from the civil law, at their finger ends. Not so, Mansfield, or Kenyon, or M'Donald, or Ellenborough; at least not so Coke, or Bacon or Campden, or other great masters of the law. Profound research is not inconsistent with such squeamishness of shunning quotations in the learned languages, but a richness of quotation of pithy sentences in the Latin tongue, is some evidence of reading such reports as those of Dyer, Plowden, and Hobart.


We cannot entertain a doubt, consistent with revelation, but that at the first propagation of the gospel, the gift of tongues was communicated to simple men b inspiration; but, in what proportion we do not find. For, that there was less or more in the communication, is evident from what Paul says; "I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all." But if speaking with tongues was considered a blessing, from inspiration, is the acquiring these by ordinary means, to be undervalued. A knowledge of languages, can be acquired only in the academies, or by travelling, unless the individual has had the advantages of several cradle languages, or vernacular tongues taught in his infancy; which was the case with Paul, having had the advantage of being born of Hebrew parents; and of being bred at Tarsus, where the boys in the street spoke Greek, Latin, Syriac, and perhaps many other tongues. This being a city alternately under the dominion of the Greeks, the Romans, the kings of Syria, and others. St. Paul had this advantage over other Apostles, setting aside what he might have had by inspiration. Doubtless he reproves the making a parade of these or any other endowments of the body or mind, or the speaking to people in a language, who understood it not. But what has this to do with the making a book, when it cannot be told who will take it up to read it. It may be one who can understand nothing but the Latin part of it; and is it not reasonable that he should have something for his money; the author in the mean time putting off his manufacture by what some readers may consider an ornament, and not a blemish. It is thus that we set down upon a table meats to suit all palates. There would appear to me to be an error of thinking in the epistle of the manufacturer, to me which is inconsistent with that acuteness of mind which is evinced by his observations. You can discover not so much a want of judgment, as a force of self-love that precludes the looking at both sides of the subject. I can easily see that he has not a mind as he affects to have; as small as a hole made by his bodkin, not to allow people to set off their wares in their own way.