« VorigeDoorgaan »
be decided until we have something like an academy, that by the best authorities and rules drawn from the analogy of languages shall settle all controversies between grammar and idiom.
I have only considered our language as it shews the genius and natural temper of the English, which is modest, thoughtful and sincere, and which, perhaps, may recommend the people, though it has spoiled the tongue. We might, perhaps, carry the same thought into other languages, and deduce a great part of what is peculiar to them from the genius of the people who speak them. It is certain, the light talkative humour of the French has not a little infected their tongue, which might be shewn by many instances; as the genius of the Italians, which is so much addicted to music and ceremony, has moulded all their words and phrases to those particular uses. The stateliness and gravity of the Spaniards shews itself to perfection in the solemnity of their language; and the blunt honest humour of the Germans sounds better in the roughness of the High-Dutch, than it would in a politer tongue. C.
MONDAY, AUGUST 6, 1711.
HOR. 2 Ep. i. 112.
A greater liar Parthia never bred.
ACCORDING to the request of this strange fellow, I shall print the following letter.
'I SHALL without any manner of preface or apology acquaint you, that I am, and ever have been from my youth upward, one of the greatest liars this island has produced. I have read all the moralists upon the subject, but could never find any effect their discourses had upon me, but to add to my misfortune by new thoughts and ideas, and making me more ready in my language, and capable of sometimes mixing seeming truths with my improbabilities. With this strong passion towards falsehood in this kind, there does not live an honester man, or a sincerer friend; but my imagination runs away with me, and whatever is started, I have such a scene of adventures appears in an instant before me, that I cannot help uttering them, though to my immediate confusion, I cannot but know I am liable to be detected by the first man I meet.
Upon occasion of the mention of the battle of Pultowa,* I could not forbear giving an account of a kinsman of mine, a young merchant who was bred at Moscow, that had too much mettle to attend books of entries and accounts, when there was so active a scene in the country where he resided, and followed the Czar as a volunteer. This warm youth (born at the instant the thing was spoke of) was the man who unhorsed the Swedish general, he was the occasion that the Muscovites kept their fire in so soldier-like a manner, and brought up those troops which were covered from the enemy at the beginning of the
* Fought July 8, 1709, between Charles XII. of Sweden and Peter I. Emperor of Russia: wherein Charles was entirely defeated.
day; besides this, he had at last the good fortune to be the man who took Count Piper.* With all this fire I knew my cousin to be the civilest creature in the world. He never made any impertinent show of his valour, and then he had an excellent genius for the world in every other kind. I had letters from him (here I felt in my pockets) that exactly spoke the Czar's character, which Í knew perfectly well; and I could not forbear concluding that I lay with his imperial majesty twice or thrice a week all the while he lodged at Deptford. What is worse than all this, it is impossible to speak to me, but you give me some occasion of coming out with one lie or other, that has neither wit, humour, prospect of interest, or any other motive that I can think of in nature. The other day, when one was commending an eminent and learned divine, what occasion in the world had I to say, 'Methinks he would look more venerable if he were not so fair a man?' I remember the company smiled. I have seen the gentleman since, and he is coalblack. I have intimations every day in my life that nobody believes me, yet I am never the better. I was saying something the other day to an old friend at Will's coffee-house, and he made me no manner of answer; but told me that an acquaintance of Tully the orator having two or three times together said to him, without receiving any answer, "that upon his honour he was but that very month forty years of age," Tully answered, "Surely you think me the most incredulous man in the world, if I do not believe what you have told me every day these ten years." The mischief of it is, I find myself wonderfully inclined to have been present
* Prime Minister of Charles XII.
at every occurrence that is spoken of before me; this had led me into many inconveniences, but indeed they have been the fewer, because I am no ill-natured man, and never speak things to any man's disadvantage. I never directly defame, but I do what is as bad in the consequence, for I have often made a man say such and such a lively expression, who was born a mere elder brother. When one has said in my hearing, “such a one is no wiser than he should be," I immediately have replied, “Now 'faith, I cannot see that, he said a very good thing to my lord such-a-one, upon such an occasion, and the like." Such an honest dolt as this has been watched in every expression he uttered, upon my recommendation of him, and consequently been subject to the more ridicule. I once endeavoured to cure myself of this impertinent quality, and resolved to hold my tongue for seven days together; I did so, but then I had so many winks and unnecessary distortions of my face upon what any body else said, that I found I only forebore the expression, and that I still lied in my heart to every man I met with. You are to know one thing (which I believe you will say is a pity, considering the use I should have made of it) I never travelled in my life; but I do not know whether I could have spoken of any foreign country with more familiarity than I do at present, in company who are strangers to me. I have cursed the inns in Germany; commended the brothels at Venice; the freedom of conversation in France; and though I never was out of this dear town, and fifty miles about it, have been three nights together dogged by bravoes, for an intrigue with a cardinal's mistress at Rome.
'It were endless to give you particulars of this kind; but I can assure you, Mr. Spectator, there
are about twenty or thirty of us in this town; I mean by this town the cities of London and Westminster; I say there are in town a sufficient number of us to make a society among ourselves; and since we cannot be believed any longer, I beg of you to print this my letter, that we may meet together, and be under such regulation as there may be no occasion for belief or confidence among us. If you think fit, we might be called "the historians," for liar is become a very harsh word. And that a member of the society may not hereafter be ill received by the rest of the world, I desire you would explain a little this sort of men, and not let us historians be ranked, as we are in the imaginations of ordinary people, among common liars, make-bates, impostors, and incendiaries. For your instruction herein, you are to know that an historian in conversation is only a person of so pregnant a fancy, that he cannot be contented with ordinary occurrences. I know a man of quality of our order, who is of the wrong side of fortythree, and has been of that age, according to Tully's jest, for some years since, whose vein is upon the romantic. Give him the least occasion, and he will tell you something so very particular that happened in such a year, and in such company, where by the by was present such a one, who was afterwards made such a thing-Out of all these circumstances, in the best language in the world, he will join together with such probable incidents an account that shews a person of the deepest penetration, the honestest mind, and withal something so humble when he speaks of himself, that you would admire. Dear sir, why should this be lying! there is nothing so instructive. He has withal the gravest aspect; something so very venerable and great! Another of