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Dr. Johnson, indeed, made it the distinguishing merit of the French, that they "have a book upon every subject." But Dr. Johnson was not only capricious as regards temper and variable humors, but as regards the inequality of his knowledge. Incoherent and unsystematic was Dr. Johnson's information in most cases. Hence his extravagant misappraisement of Knolles, the Turkish historian, which is exposed so severely by Spittler, the German, who, again, is himself miserably superficial in his analysis of English history. Hence the feeble credulity which Dr. Johnson showed with respect to the forgery of De Foe (under the masque of Captain Carleton) upon the Catalonian campaign of Lord Peterborough. But it is singular that a literature, so unrivalled as ours in its compass and variety, should not have produced any, even the shallowest, manual of itself. And thus it happens, for example, that writers so laborious and serviceable as Birch are in any popular sense scarcely known. I showed to Lord Massey, among others of his works, that which relates to Lord Worcester's (that is, Lord Glamorgan's) negotiations with the Papal nuncio in Ireland, about the year 1644, &c. these negotiations were many names amongst Lord Massey's own ancestors; so that here he suddenly alighted upon a fund of archæologic memorabilia, connecting what interested him as an Irishman in general with what most interested him as the head of a particular family. It is remarkable, also, as an indication of the general nobility and elevation which had accompanied the revolution in his life, that concurrently with the constitutional torpor previously
besetting him, had melted away the intellectual torpor under which he had found books until recently of little practical value. Lady Carbery had herself told me that the two revolutions went on simultaneously. He began to take an interest in literature when life itself unfolded a new interest, under the companionship of his youthful wife. And here, by the way, as subsequently in scores of other instances, I saw broad evidences of the credulity with which we have adopted into our grave political faith the rash and malicious sketches of our novelists. With Fielding commenced the practice of systematically traducing our order of country gentlemen. His picture of Squire Western is not only a malicious, but also an incongruous libel. The squire's ordinary language is impossible, being alternately bookish and absurdly rustic. In reality, the conventional dialect ascribed to the rustic order in general-to peasants even more than to gentlemen-in our English plays and novels, is a childish and fantastic babble, belonging to no form of real breathing life; nowhere intelligible; not in any province; whilst, at the same time, all provinces-Somersetshire, Devonshire, Hampshire-are confounded with our midland counties; and positively the diction of Parricombe and Charricombe from Exmoor Forest is mixed up with the pure Icelandic forms of the English lakes, of North Yorkshire, and of Northumberland. In Scotland, it needs but a slight intercourse with the peasantry to distinguish various dialectsthe Aberdonian and Fifeshire, for instance, how easily distinguished, even by an English alien, from the western dialects of Ayrshire, &c.! And I have
heard it said, by Scottish purists in this matter, that even Sir Walter Scott is chargeable with considerable licentiousness in the management of his colloquial Scotch. Yet, generally speaking, it bears the strongest impress of truthfulness. But, on the other hand, how false and powerless does this same Sir Walter become, when the necessities of his tale oblige him at any time to come amongst the English peasantry! His magic wand is instantaneously broken; and he moves along by a babble of impossible forms, as fantastic as any that our London theatres have traditionally ascribed to English rustics, to English sailors, and to Irishmen universally. Fielding is open to the same stern criticism, as a deliberate falsehood-monger; and from the same cause want of energy to face the difficulty of mastering a real living idiom. This defect in language, however, I cite only as one feature in the complex falsehood which disfigures Fielding's portrait of the English country gentleman. Meantime the question arises, Did he mean his Squire Western for a representative portrait? Possibly not. He might design it expressly as a sketch of an individual, and by no means of a class. And the fault may be, after all, not in him, the falsely interpreting readers. and figure to ourselves as we of a hundred to a hundred and fifty years back (though manifestly at utter war, in the portraitures of our novelists, with the realities handed down to us by our Parliamentary annals), on that arena we are dealing with objects of pure speculative curiosity. Far different is the same question, when practically
writer, but in us, the But, be that as it may, may the rustic squire
treated for purposes of present legislation or philosophic inference. One hundred years ago, such was the difficulty of social intercourse, simply from the difficulty of locomotion (though even then this difficulty was much lowered to the English, as beyond comparison the most equestrian of nations), that it is possible to imagine a shade of difference as still distinguishing the town-bred man from the rustic; though, considering the multiplied distribution of our assize towns, our cathedral towns, our sea-ports, and our universities, all so many recurring centres of civility, it is not very easy to imagine such a thing in an island no larger than ours. But can any human indulgence be extended to the credulity which assumes the same possibility as existing for us in the very middle of the nineteenth century? At a time when every week sees the town banker drawn from our rural gentry; railway directors in every quarter transferring themselves indifferently from town to country, from country to town; lawyers, clergymen, medical men, magistrates, local judges, &c., all shifting in and out between town and country; rural families all intermarrying on terms of the widest freedom with town families; all again, in the persons of their children, meeting for study at the same schools, colleges, military academies, &c.; by what furious forgetfulness of the realities belonging to the case, has it been possible for writers in public journals to persist in arguing national questions upon the assumption of a bisection in our population — a double current, on the one side steeped to the lips in town prejudices, on the other side traditionally sold to rustic views and doctrines?
Such double currents, like the Rhone flowing through the Lake of Geneva, and yet refusing to intermingle, probably did exist, and had an important significance in the Low Countries of the fifteenth century, or between the privileged cities and the unprivileged country of Germany down to the Thirty Years' War; but, for us, they are in the last degree fabulous distinctions, pure fairy tales; and the social economist or the historian who builds on such phantoms as that of a rustic aristocracy still retaining any substantial grounds of distinction from the town aristocracies, proclaims the hollowness of any and all his doctrines that depend upon such assumptions. Lord Carbery was a thorough fox-hunter. The foxhunting of the adjacent county of Leicestershire was not then what it is now. The state of the land was radically different for the foot of the horse, the nature and distribution of the fences was different; so that a class of horses thoroughly different was then required. But then, as now, it offered the finest exhibition of the fox-chase that is known in Europe; and then, as now, this is the best adapted among all known varieties of hunting to the exhibition of adventurous and skilful riding, and generally, perhaps, to the development of manly and athletic qualities. Lord Carbery, during the season, might be immoderately addicted to this mode of sporting, having naturally a pleasurable feeling connected with his own reputation as a skilful and fearless horseman. But, though the chases were in those days longer than they are at present, small was the amount of time really abstracted from that which he had disposable for general purposes; amongst which purposes