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famous specialist. “There is only one man who can treat you properly," was the specialist's conclusion after a minute examination, “and that is Dr. Darwin of Derby.” “But I am Dr. Darwin of Derby,” replied the patient.
We look before and after,
And pine for what is not ;
With some pain is fraught.
SHELLEY: The Skylark. Misery loves company, a common proverb, which seems to have found its first literary expression in Maxim 995 of Publius Syrus (B.C. 42): “It is a consolation to the wretched to have companions in misery.” Syrus himself puts the same thought in another way in Maxim 144: “Society in shipwreck is a comfort to all." The phrase is also sometimes used to express the idea that “misfortunes never come singly.”
Misfortunes never come singly, a popular proverb in all languages. “It never rains but it pours" is another proverb of the same sort, though of a wider application, as it may allude to joys as well as sorrows, to good luck as well as bad. Young has put the thought into verse, as follows:
Woes cluster, rare are solitary woes;
Night Thoughts, iii., l. 63. Young's lines are an evident reminiscence of Shakespeare :
One woe doth tread upon another's heel,
Hamlet, Act iv., Sc. 7. Pope in his “Iliad" has said, “And woe succeeds to woe" (Book xvi., 1. 130), and Herrick in his “Sorrows Succeed,"
When one is past, another care we have:
Thus woe succeeds a woe, as wave a wave. Young's lines, like the proverb, have a general application, the others refer only to individual instances.
Misfortunes of others. La Rochefoucauld, one of the kindest and most unselfish of men, was the author of the saying, “In the adversity of our best friends we always find something that does not displease us” (“Dans l'adver. sité de nos meilleurs amis nous trouvons toujours quelque chose qui ne nous déplaît pas"). Swift quotes this maxim at the head of his “Verses on his Own Death,” and thus comments upon it :
This maxim more than all the rest
Points out some circumstance to please us." And he goes on to defend the truth of the maxim by pointing out that as the value we set on our powers, gifts, good luck of all kinds, is a rela. tive value, dependent in a great measure upon comparison with the blessings which are possessed by others, it follows that the value of our own powers and gifts is enhanced in our own estimation by every misfortune that happens to another. Chesterfield, in his one hundred and twenty-ninth letter, goes further : "They who know the deception and wickedness of the human heart will not be either romantic or blind enough to deny what Rochefoucauld and Swist have affirmed as a general truth.” Burke borrowed the idea in this form : "I am convinced that we have a degree of delight, and that no small
one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others.” La Rochefoucauld himself gave the same idea less brutally in another maxim : “We have all strength enough to bear the misfortunes of others.” Swift has appropriated this without acknowledgment : “I never knew a man who could not bear the misfor. tunes of another like a Christian" (Thoughts on Various Subjects). Years afterwards, Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Alexander Smith, November, 1789, repeated the same idea : “Every man has patience enough to bear calmly and coolly the injuries done to other people.” But long before any of these Shakespeare had said,
One fire burns out another's burning.
Romeo and Juliet, Act i., Sc. 2; and in “Much Ado About Nothing" he makes Leonato say,–
Act v., Sc. I; and Montaigne, “ In the midst of compassion we feel within us I know not what bitter-sweet point of pleasure in seeing others suffer; children feel it.
Suave mari magno, turbantibus æquora ventis,
Essays : Of Profit and Honesty. The lines quoted by Montaigne will be recognized as the famous “Suave mari magno" of Lucretius (De Rerum Natura, ii. 1):
How sweet to stand, when tempests tear the main,
Contending hosts, and hear the clash of war! The passage has been imitated by Dryden, Beattie, and Akenside ; but the figure is perhaps nowhere better preserved than in the following lines from an old song quoted by Ben Jonson in “Every Man Out of his Humor :"
I wander not to seek for more :
To get what must be lost again. Lucretius himself is indebted for the idea to Isidorus, who says, "Nothing is more pleasant than to sit at ease in the harbor and behold the shipwreck of others."
Miss. A miss is as good as a mile, a proverb which in its present form is nonsense, and is therefore conjectured to have been originally “ An inch of a miss is as good as a mile," corresponding to the German “Almost never killed a fly" ("Beinahe bringt keine Mücke um”), the Danish “All-but saved many a man" ("Nær hielper mangen Mand”) and “Almost kills no man" ("Nærved slaaer ingen Mand ihiel"), and, indeed, to the old English "Almost was never hanged." But it is not impossible that the proverb originally stood " Amis is as good as Amile," these being the names of two legendary soldiers of Charlemagne, titular heroes of a famous chanson de geste, who were as like each other as the two Dromios of Shakespeare, who took up each other's quarrels, and who after being adopted into the traditions of the Church as martyrs might be invoked indifferently.
Missouri Compromise. At the time when Missouri was seeking admission into the Union (1818–21) the country was in the first throes of the antislavery agitation, when abolition was not yet looked forward to as a possibility by any save a few so-called fanatics. All the energy of the Northern or Free States was directed merely to hindering the further extension of the slave territory, as that of the Southern to promoting it. In Missouri the pro-slavery party was the stronger, and, after a long and bitter struggle, the conflicting parties effected a compromise. An act of Congress was passed February 28, 1821, admitting Missouri as a slave-holding State, but laying down the prin: ciple in prospective that slavery should thenceforth be prohibited in any State lying north of 36° 30', the northern boundary of Missouri. This parallel, as the boundary-line between the Free and the Slave States, in the ensuing conflict over slavery came to be popularly called Mason and Dixon's line (q. v.),-a name which really belongs to another line of division.
Mistake. And no mistake! a common colloquialism to express certainty, lugged in at the end of any statement or assertion. It is usually classed as an Americanism, but there is reason to believe that it originated in England from the Duke of Wellington's phrase in a letter to Mr. Huskisson, “There is no mistake, there has been no mistake, and there shall be no mistake.”—FRASER: Words on Wellington, p. 122.
An undoubted American equivalent is “And don't you forget it!" a meaningless vulgarism that is luckily dying out, as well as its congeners “Sure!” and “Why, certainly !"
Mistakes of Authors. Dear young-lady reader, have you ever wept over the end of “The Mill on the Floss," over the sad fate of Maggie Tulliver, drowned with her brother in the angry waters of the Floss? If you have you may dry your eyes. Maggie Tulliver is probably not dead. Certainly she did not die in the manner recorded by her historian. You will remember that her frail boat is said to have been overwhelmed by a huge floating mass of débris which is supposed to be drifting at a quicker rate than the lighter craft. Now, this is a scientific impossibility. You have made yourself mis. erable for nothing. The débris never caught up with the boat. Maggie and her brother reached shore unharmed, and may have lived happily ever after.
Doubtless you have shuddered over the death of that loathsome wretch in “ Bleak House" who suddenly turned into an animated bonfire and expired in the agonies of spontaneous combustion. Your shudders were uncalled for. Dickens made a hard fight to prove a precedent in real life for his horrible conception. But the doctors and the scientists were all against him. The same authorities also are pretty well agreed that that favorite complaint of the anæmic heroine, known to novelists and novel-readers as a broken heart, is never the direct occasion of death. Grief weakens the system and leaves it open to attack from disease-germs; or it hastens the development of some latent bodily affection. Your broken-hearted heroine may have died of dysentery.
Wilkie Collins employed a consulting physician whenever his characters fell sick. The doctor felt the patient's pulse and examined his tongue, metaphorically speaking, in the proof-sheets, and decided not only what medicines he should take, but what symptoms he should be allowed to exhibit. If a
case of typhoid fever proved refractory and behaved as though it were smallpox, the proof-sheets were altered, the patient was admonished of his error, and he was made to understand that he must not run counter to nature and to medical experience. Yet even Wilkie Collins was not always correct in diagnosing his patient's case.
But of all things novelists and dramatists, like other univstructed people, should beware of handling poisons without proper medical advice. The way that poisons act on the stage and in romance would bewilder the trained toxí. cologist. A few examples must suffice. Nat Lee, in the tragedy of "Alexander,” makes one of his characters administer a poison to the conqueror, of which it is said that
Mixed with his wine, a single drop gives death,
And sends him howling to the shades below. So far, so good. There is no exception to be taken to this statement. But when the poison is actually administered, then the trouble begins. After swallowing the awful mixture, Alexander goes through the latter part of the fourth and most of the fifth act, kills a man, makes a windy speech, raves and blusters, recovers his senses, and, after a fine dying address, at last yields up the ghost. There is not a poison in the world which could produce such an effect. Philip Massinger, too, in “The Duke of Milan," betrays his ignorance. One of the characters scatters a poisonous powder over a flower. This is given to a lady, some of the powder falls on her hand, her lover salutes the tip of her fingers, and straightway dies. No poison known to science, not even pure aconitine itself, could produce this result.
In novels a handkerchief steeped in an anæsthetic and thrown over the head of the interesting hero or the virtuous heroine immediately sends him or her into a trance. But in real life chemists assert that the thing is an impossibility, and that no such compound has ever been discovered. Chloroform and the other recognized anæsthetics require at least three distinct inhalations to produce the loss of sensation. Perhaps some camorra among the criminal classes of fiction is in possession of a trade secret as yet unknown to science, or shall we rather incline to the supposition that the immediate loss of consciousness is due to something comparable to mesmeric action? The villain of fiction is always an extraordinary hypnotist.
If medicine be a stumbling-block in the way of the careless novelist, how much more so the law! Law, too, has such manifold attractions for the unwary, it is entwined with so much of the mystery, crime, romance, and tragedy of the world! That women novelists should err when they step on this dangerous ground is only inevitable. Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth furnishes a delightful instance in “ The Missing Bride." There is a trial scene in that masterly work, where the jury are drawn by "idle curiosity," and not by the sheriff, but “arrive unprejudiced," while the judge reveals a shameful partiality from the bench. But women are not the only offenders. In the famous court-scenes in “Griffith Gaunt,” in “ Very Hard Cash," and in “Orley Farm,” Charles Reade and Anthony Trollope have shown all a layman's unfamiliarity with the laws of evidence. And both Reade and Trollope had the less excuse for their lapses in the fact that both had studied law, and both had been called to the bar. To be sure, they had allowed their legal knowledge to rust by disuse. No such excuse can be urged for Samuel Warren. He was one of the most distinguished barristers of his time, a Q.C., a man eminent for his legal attainments. Yet in "Ten Thousand a Year” he makes a remarkable slip. At the very crisis of the plot, at the trial-scene which decides the fate of Tittlebat Titmouse and all the leading characters aside by the judge. And why? Merely because it was discovered that an
d forever n
ed of Titmouse
erasure had been made by the clerk at the time when the deed was engrossed. It is true that Blackstone lays it down as a rule that an erasure vitiates a deed unless duly acknowledged at the time of signing. But Coke, before Blackstone, and an innumerable array of authorities since, have decided that evidence should be taken as to whether the erasure had been made before or after signing, and that if it was proved to be after, the deed would stand.
We have heard a great deal about the science of George Eliot ; praises loud and long have been chanted over the extraordinary mental grasp which realized the boast of Bacon and “took all knowledge for its province.” But in truth George Eliot's learning was rather wide than deep. We have already pointed out a notable error in "The Mill on the Floss." But outside of actual error her use of scientific terminology is pedantic and affected, and in a less gifted author would be severely criticised. When she refers to “ cervical vertebræ" instead of heads, to the "systole and diastole in all human inquiry," and again to “the systole and diastole of blissful companionship,” she becomes ridiculous ; and when she talks of a rent-collector who was
differentiated by the force of circumstances into an organist,” she comes very near to talking nonsense.
Mr. Richard A. Proctor once took it on himself to expose the pretentious “science" which Charles Reade introduced, for the greater glorification of his hero, in “ Foul Play.” After pointing out the error of his method of computing longitude, and remarking that it would have been equally to the purpose to have calculated how many cows' tails would reach to the moon, he bewails the tendency of novelists to attempt to sketch scientific methods with which they are not familiar. No discredit, he thinks, can attach to any person, not an astronomer, who does not understand the astronomical processes for determining latitude and longitude, any more than to one who, not being a lawyer, is unfamiliar with the rules of conveyancing. But when an attempt is made by a writer of fiction to give an exact description of any technical matter, it is as well to secure correctness by submitting the description to some friend acquainted with the principles of the subject. For, singularly enough, people pay much more attention to these descriptions when met with in novels than when given in text-books of science. They thus come to remember thoroughly well precisely what they ought to forget.
Among the characteristics of the moon should be noted its tendency to lead authors astray. Rider Haggard, in “King Solomon's Mines,” makes an eclipse of the moon take place at the new moon instead of the full,-an astronomic impossibility. Even the familiar verses in the “Burial of Sir John Moore" are all at fault:
We buried him darkly at dead of night,
The sod with our bayonets turning.
And our lanterns dimly burning. The Irish Astronomer Royal, Sir Robert Ball, is responsible for destroying our faith in Wolfe's vivid picture. Having nothing better to do, apparently, he made a calculation which resulted in the discovery that the moon could not possibly have been shining, either strongly or in glimmerin: fashion, at the time of the famous burial. The moon had then been long below the horizon. But it takes no great knowledge of science, no deep calculation, to notice the extraordinary blunder in Coleridge's “ Ancient Mariner.” At the moment of the terrific apparition of the phantom-ship, we read how
The western wave was all aflame,
The day was well-nigh done;
Rested the broad bright sun,