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succeeded, like the French cooks, because it has most consulted the general taste.
The same spirit which has led nations to imitate the French in their furniture, distribution of apartments, gardens, dances, and all that is graceful, has also led them to speak their language. The great art of French writers is precisely that of the French women, who set themselves off to greater advantage than the other women of Europe, and who, without being more beautiful, appear so by the art of their dress, and by the noble and simple attractions which they so naturally display.
It is to politeness that this language owes the disappearance of all the traces of its ancient barbarity. All would witness this barbarity who chose to examine it closely. We might see that the number 'vingt' comes from 'viginti,' and that we formerly pronounced the g and t with a harshness common to all southern nations. From the month of August we have made the month of 'Août.'
It is not long since a German prince, believing that in France we never pronounced the word Augustus or August otherwise, called king Augustus of Poland, king Août.
From 'pavo' we made 'paon;' we pronounced it as phaon,' and at present we say 'pan.'
From lupus we have made loup,' and we sounded the p with an insupportable hardness. All the letters which we have since retrenched in pronunciation, but preserved in writing, belong to our ancient savage
When manners are softened, language is softened also; it was clownish, like ourselves, before Francis I. called the women to court. We might as well speak the ancient Celtic as French of the time of Charles VIII. and Louis XII. German was not more harsh. All imperfect words had a frightful sound; every syllable was pronounced in amaient,'' fesaient,' 'crayaient;' we said 'ils croy-oi-ent.' It was the croaking of a raven, as the emperor Julian said of the Celtic language, rather than the language of men,
Ages are required to scour off this rust. The imperfections which remain would be still intolerable, without the care which we continually take to avoid them, as an able horseman avoids the stones on his road.
Good writers are attentive in combatting vicious expressions, which the ignorance of the people first brought into fashion, and which, adopted by bad authors, still appear in gazettes and public writings. Thus, of the Italian word 'celata,' which signifies helmet,' casque,' the French soldiers in Italy made the word 'salade;' so that when they said, "Il a pris sa salade," it was not known whether the person spoken of had taken his helmet, or his lettuce. Gazetteers have translated the word 'ridotto' by 'redoute,' which signifies a species of fortification; but a man who knows his language will always preserve the word' assembly.' 'Boeuf roti' signifies in English roast beef; and our maîtres d'hotel at present talk to us of 'roast beef de mouton.' 'Riding-coat' means a dress for horseback; we have made 'redingote' of it, and the people believe that it is an ancient word of the language. It is as well however to adopt this expression with the people, because it signifies a thing in use.
The lowest people, in terms of trades, arts, and necessary things, over-rule the court (if we may venture the comparison) as in things of religion. Those who most despise the vulgar, are obliged to speak and to appear to think with them.
It is not wrong to call things by the names which the vulgar have given them; but we recognise a people naturally more ingenious than another by the proper names which they give to things.
It is merely for want of imagination that a people adapt the same expression to a hundred different ideas. It is a ridiculous barrenness, not to know how to express differently an arm of the sea, an arm of a balance, an arm of a chair; it is poorness of mind, equally to say the head of a mail and the head of an army. The word 'cul' is found everywhere; a street without a passage in nothing resembles a cul de sac:' a polished man would have called these sorts of streets impassable;
the populace has named them culs,' and queens have been obliged to call them so too. The root of an artichoke, the point which terminates the bottom of a lamp, no more resemble a cul than a street without a passage; however, we always say cul d'artichaut,' cul de lampe,' because the people who first composed the language were coarse. The Italians, who would have been more in the right than ourselves in making use of this word, have guarded against it. The people of Italy, born more ingenious than their neighbours, have formed a language much more copious than ours.
The cry of each animal must have some term to distinguish it. It is an insupportable scarcity, to want an expression to distinguish the cry of a bird from that of an infant, and to call things so different by the same name. The word 'vagissement,' derived from the Latin vagitus,' would very well express the cry of children in the cradle.
Ignorance has introduced another custom in all modern languages; a thousand terms no longer signify what they ought. Ideot formerly denoted hermit; at present it means a fool. Epiphany signified superficies; it is now the feast of the three kings. To baptise is to plunge ourselves in water; we say, to baptise in the name of John or of James.
To these faults almost all languages join barbarous irregularities. Garçon,' courtisan,' coureur,' are honest words; 'garce,' 'courtisane,' coureuse,' are offensive. Venus is a charming name; venereal is abominable.
Another effect of the irregularity of these languages, composed by chance in coarse times, is the number of compound words, of which the simple no longer exist. They are children who have lost their father. We have architraves, and no traves; architects, and no tects; there are things ineffable, and not effable. We are intrepid, we are not trepid. We are impudent and insolent, but neither pudent nor solent: nonchalant' signifies 'idle;' and 'chalant' one who purchases.
All languages have more or less of these faults; they are all diversified lands, from which the hand
of an able agriculturist knows how to derive an advantage.
Faults in the languages of others, which show the character of a nation, are always overlooked. In France, fashions are introduced in expressions as in caps. An invalid or a physician will say, that he has had a suspicion of fever, to signify that he has had a slight touch of one; soon after, all the nation has suspicions of colics, suspicions of hatred, love, and ridicule. Preachers tell you from the pulpit, that you should have at least a suspicion of the love of God.
That which does most harm to the nobleness of language is not these slight anomalies, which soon pass away, nor the solecisms of good company, into which good authors seldom fall; it is the affectation so much displayed by mediocre authors, of speaking of serious things in the style of conversation. You will read in our new books of philosophy, that we must not throw away the expense of thought; that eclipses have the privilege of frightening people; that Epictetus had an exterior in unison with his soul; and a thousand similar expressions worthy the lacqueys of Les Précieuses Ridicules.*
The style of the king's ordinances, and the sentences pronounced in the tribunals, only serve to show from what barbarity we have parted. All conspire to corrupt a language a little extended: authors who spoil by affectation; persons who write in foreign country, and who almost always mingle foreign expressions with their natural tongue; merchants who introduce into conversation the terms of their counting-house, and who tell you that England arms a fleet, but that, per contra, France equips a squadron; beaux esprits of foreign countries, who, not knowing our customs, tell you that a young prince has been very well éduqué, instead of saying that he has received a good education.
All language being imperfect, it follows not that we should therefore change our own. We should ex
*What a glorious harvest of similar affectations might be gathered from the more recent literary productions of Great Britain!-T.
pressly follow the manner in which good authors have written it; for when there is a sufficient number of approved authors, the language is fixed. Thus we can no longer introduce Italian, Spanish, English, into French, without corrupting it. The reason is clear; without any such assistance we can rapidly render into the latter every book which adds either to the pleasure or instruction of the world at large.
THAT laughter is the sign of joy, as tears are of grief, is doubted by no one that ever laughed. They who seek for metaphysical causes of laughter are not mirthful, while they who are aware that laughter draws the zigomatical muscle backwards towards the ears, are doubtless very learned. Other animals have this muscle as well as ourselves, yet never laugh any more than they shed tears. The stag, to be sure, drops moisture from its eyes when in the extremity of distress, as does a dog when dissected alive; but they weep not for their mistresses or friends, as we do. They break not out like us into fits of laughter at the sight of anything droll. Man is the only animal which laughs and weeps.
* This article is retained, although much of it is interesting exclusively to the French reader, because it exhibits the principle upon which the refinement of the French language has chiefly proceeded. However ably advocated by Voltaire, the practical value of a rule may be doubted, the tendency of which is gradually to correct and generalise a language out of its more special character and properties into a species of philosophical mean. It is possibly preferable, that every language should hold fast to its most distinguishing idioms, and retain its" pure wells" of speech" undefiled." It is however of the nature of French minds to think otherwise in respect to all great particulars-polity, modes, morals, and manners, as well as language; they seek and would constitute a standard for all of them. Napoleon in this respect was as much a Frenchman as Voltaire. The results are sometimes good, if occasionally doubtful; as the Code Napoleon is likely to prove to very distant posterity. The acknowledgment and development of grand general principles cannot be too uniform; the underwood of thought, opinion, and expression, is often better left alone to its native aspect and luxuriance.-T.