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hood of the court that a deviation from that standard can be exactly ascertained, or a departure from it be easily made the object of ridicule. Where there is no court, it becomes of little importance what dress the people wear, what hours they observe, what language they express themselves in, or what is their general deportment. Men living at a distance from the court become also unacquainted with the rules of fashion which it establishes, and are unable to mark or point them out. But the great subject for wit and ludicrous representation arises from men's have ing a thorough knowledge of what is the fashionable standard of manners, and being able to seize upon, and hold out a departure from it, in an humorous point of view. In Scotland, therefore, which, since the removal of the court, has become, in a certain degree, a provincial country, there being no fixed standard of manners within the country itself, one great source of ridicule is cut off, and an author is not led to attempt humorous composition ; or, if he does, has little chance of succeeding.
There is another particular which may have had a very considerable effect upon the genius of the Scots writers, and that is, the nature of the language in which they write. The old Scottish dialect is now banished from our books, and the English is substi. tuted in its place. But though our books be written in English, our conversation is in Scotch. Of our language it may be said, as we are told of the wit of Sir Hudibrus, that we have a suit for holidays and another for working days. The Scottish dialect is our ordinary suit ; the English is used only on som lemn occasions. When a Scotsman therefore writes, he does it generally in trammels. His own native original language, which he hears spoken around him, he does not make use of ; but he expresses himself in a language in some respects foreign to him,
and which he has acquired by study and observation. When a celebrated Scottish writer, after the publica. tion of his History of Scotland, was first introduced to Lord Chesterfield, his Lordship, with that happy talent of compliment for which he was so remarkable, addressed him, at parting, in these words : 'I am happy, Sir, to have met with you,- happy to have passed a day with you,--and extremely happy to 6 find that you speak Scotch.--It would be too much, 6 were you to speak, as well as write our language, • better than we do ourselves.'
This circumstance of a Scottish author not writing his own natural dialect, must have a considerable influence upon the nature of his literary productions, When he is employed in any grave dignified composition, when he writes history, politics, or poetry, the pains he must take to write, in a manner different from that in which he speaks, will not much affect his productions; the language of such compositions is, in every case, raised above that of common life ; and, therefore, the deviation which a Scottish author is obliged to make from the common language of the country, can be of little prejudice to him. But if a writer is to descend to common and ludicrous pictures of life; if, in short, he is to deal in humorous composition, his language must be, as nearly as possible, that of common life, that of the bulk of the people ; but a Scotsman who wishes to write English cannot easily do this. He neither speaks the English dia. lect, nor is it spoken by those around him: any knowledge he has acquired of the language is got from books, not from conversation. Hence Scottish authors may have been prevented from attempting to write books of humour; and, when they have tried it, we may be able, in some measure, to ac, count for their failure.
In confirmation of these remarks, it may be ub.
served, that almost the only works of humour which we have in this country, are in the Scottish dialect, and most of them were written before the union of the kingdoms, when the Scotch was the written, as : well as the spoken, language of the country. The Gentle Shepherd, which is full of natural and ludicrous representations of low life, is written in broad Scotch.. Many of our ancient Scottish ballads are full of humour. If there have been lately any publications of humour in this country, written in good English, they have been mostly of the graver sort, called irony. In this species of writing, where the author himself never appears to laugh, a more dignified . composition is admissible ; and, in that case, the disadvantage of writing in a language different from that in which the author speaks, or those around him converse, is not so sensibly felt.
No 84. SATURDAY, FEB. 26, 1989
To dispute the right of Fashion to enlarge, to vary, or to change the ideas, both of man and woman kind, were a want of good breeding, of which the author of a periodical paper, who throws himself, as it were, from day to day, on the protection of the polite world, cannot be supposed capable. I pay, therefore, very little regard to the observations of
some antiquated Correspondents, who pretend to set up what they call the invariable notions of things, against the opinions and practice of people of condition. At the same time, I must observe, that, as there is a College in Physic, and a Faculty (as it is called in Scotland) in Law; so, in Fashion, there is a select body, who enjoy many privileges and im, munities, to which pretenders, or inferior practi.. tioners in the art, are by no means entitled. There is a certain grace in the rudeness, and wit in the folly of a person of fashion, to which one of a lower rank has no manner of pretension.
I am afraid that our city (talking like a man who has travelled) is but a sort of mimic metropolis, and cannot fairly pretend to the same licence of making a fool of itself, as London or Paris. The circle, therefore, taking them in the gros, of our fashion, able people here, have seldom ventured on the same beautiful irregularity in dress, in behaviour, or in manners, that is frequently practised by the leaders of the ton in the capitals of France or England.
With individuals, the same rule of subordination is to be observed, which, however, persons of extra. ordinary parts, of genius above their condition, are sometimes apt to overlook. I perceive, in the pit of the play-house, some young men, who have got fuddled in punch, as noisy and as witty as the gentlemen in the boxes, who have been drinking Bur. gundy : and others, who have com; sober from the counter, or the writing-desk, give almost as little attention to the play as the men of £.3000 a-year.
My old school-acquaintance, Jack Wou'dbe, t'other morning, had a neckcloth as dirty as a Lord's, and picked his teeth after dinner, for a quarter of an hour, by the assistance of the little mirror in the lid of his toothpick case, I take the first op
portunity of giving him a friendly hint, that this practice is elegant only in a man who has made the .. tour of Europe.
Nature and Fashion are two opposite powers, that have long been at variance with one another. The first is allowed to preside over the bulk of the people known by the denomination of the vulgar; the last is peculiar to the higher orders of the state, and by her honours they have a title to be distinguished. Attention to interesting scenes, civility to those we ought to oblige, and propriety in public behaviour, belong to Nature, and are therefore the property of the people. It is a direct infringement on the rights of Fashion, if the inferior members of the communi. ty shall laugh where they should cry, be noisy where they should be silent, 'rude where they should be civil, or dirty where they should be cleanly. These are the badges of greatness, and, like certain coats armorial, are only to be borne by illustrious person. ages.
These are matters in which, I think, I may vená ture to interpose my advice or animadversion. But, as to some more delicate subjects, I am very doubt. ful whether they come within the limits of my jurisa diction, or how far it would be prudent in me to ex. ercise it, if they did. I mean this as a general apology for not inserting a variety of letters from unknown Correspondents, giving me information of certain irregularities in the manners and deportment of the fashionable world, which they desire may be taken immediate notice of in the MIRROR. Onc; ; who writes under the signature of Rusticus, tells me, that painting is now become so common a practice among our fine ladies, that he has oftener than once been introduced to a lady in the morning, from whom, till he informed himself of her name, he was surprised to receive a curtsy at the play or the coni