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see by their phizz's—Will Hazard has got the hipps, having lost to the tune of five hundr'd pound, tho he understands play very well, no body better. He has promis't me upon rep, to leave off play; but you know 't is a weakness he's too apt to give in to, tho he has as much wit as any man, no body more. He has lain incog ever since—The mob's very quiet with us now-I believe you thot I banter'd you in my last, like a country put-I shan't leave town this month, &c.'
“ This letter is in every point an admirable pattern of the present polite way of writing; nor is it of less authority for being an epistle. You may gather every flower in it, with a thousand more of equal sweetness, from the books, pamphlets, and single papers offered us every day in the coffee-houses: and these are the beauties introduced to supply the want of wit, sense, humour, and learning, which formerly were looked upon as qualifications for a writer. If a man of wit, who died forty years ago, were to rise from the grave on purpose, how would he be able to read this letter? and after he had got through that difficulty, how would he be able to understand it? The first thing that strikes your eye, is the breaks at the end of almost every sentence; of which I know not the use, only that it is a refinement, and very frequently practised. Then you will observe the abbreviations and elisions, by which consonants of most obdurate sound are joined together, without one softening vowel to intervene; and all this only to make one syllable of two, directly contrary to the example of the Greek and Romans, altogether of the Gothic strain, and a natural tendency towards relapsing into barbarity, which delights in monosyllables, and uniting of mute consonants, as it is observable in all the northern languages. And this is still more visible in the next refinement, which consists in pronouncing the first syllable in a word that has many, and dismissing the
rest, such as phizz, hipps, mob, pozz, rep, and many more, when we are already overloaded with monosyllables, which are the disgrace of our language. Thus we cram one syllable, and cut off the rest, as the owl fattened her mice after she had bit off their legs to prevent them from running away; and if ours be the same reason for maiming our words, it will certainly answer the end; for I am sure no other nation will desire to borrow them. Some words are hitherto but fairly split, and therefore only in their way to perfection, as incog and plenipo: but in a short time it is to be hoped they will be further docked to inc and plen. This reflection has made me of late years very impatient for a peace, which I believe would save the lives of many brave words, as well as men. The war has introduced abundance of polysyllables?, which will never be able to live many more campaigns: speculations, operations, preliminaries, ambassadors, pallisadoes, communication, circumvallation, battalions: as numerous as they are, if they attack us too frequently in our coffeehouses, we shall certainly put them to flight, and cut off the rear.
“ The third refinement observable in the letter I send you consists in the choice of certain words, invented by some pretty fellows, such as banter, bamboozle, country put, and kidney, as it is there applied; some of which are now struggling for the vogue, and others are in possession of it. I have done my utmost for some years past to stop the progress of mob and banter, but have been plainly borne down by numbers, and betrayed by those who promised to assist me.
“In the last place, you are to take notice of certain
1 Several of those cited by Swift are used by Shakespeare, Milton, and Dryden.
2 Banter, bamboozle, and put are of uncertain origin. Kidney is used in the same sense by Shakespeare, Merry Wives of Windsor, act iii. sc. 5. (M 249)
choice phrases scattered through the letter, some of them tolerable enough, until they were worn to rags by servile imitators. You might easily find them though they were not in a different print, and therefore I need not disturb them.
“These are the false refinements in our style which you ought to correct: first, by argument and fair means; but if these fail, I think you are to make use of your authority as Censor, and by an annual Index Expurgatorius expunge all words and phrases that are offensive to good sense, and condemn those barbarous mutilations of vowels and syllables. In this last point the usual pretence is, that they spell as they speak. A noble standard for language! to depend upon the caprice of every coxcomb who, because words are the clothing of our thoughts, cuts them out and shapes them as he pleases, and changes them oftener than his dress. I believe all reasonable people would be content that such refiners were more sparing in their words, and liberal in their syllables: and upon this head I should be glad you would bestow some advice upon several young readers in our churches, who, coming up from the university full fraught with admiration of our town politeness, will needs correct the style of their prayerbooks. In reading the Absolution, they are very careful to say pardons and absolves: and in the prayer for the royal family, it must be endue’um, enrich'um, prosper'um, and bring’um. Then in their sermons they use all the modern terms of art, sham, banter, mob, bubble, bully, cutting, shuffling, and palming; all which, and many more of the like stamp, as I have heard them often in the pulpit from such young sophisters, so I have read them in some of those sermons that have made most noise of late. The design, it seems, is to avoid the dreadful imputation of pedantry; to show us that they know the
1 Any one defrauded. So used after the time of the South Sea Bubble.
town, understand men and manners, and have not been poring upon old unfashionable books in the university.
“I should be glad to see you the instrument of introducing into our style that simplicity which is the best and truest ornament of most things in life, which the politer age always aimed at in their building and dress, simplex munditiis, as well as in their productions of wit. It is manifest that all new affected modes of speech, whether borrowed from the court, the town, or the theatre, are the first perishing parts in any language; and, as I could prove by many hundred instances, have been so in ours. The writings of Hooker?, who was a country clergyman, and of Parsons ? the Jesuit, both in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, are in a style that, with very few allowances, would not offend any present reader, and are much more clear and intelligible than those of Sir Harry Wotton 3, Sir Robert Naunton, Osborn 5, Daniel the historian, and several others who writ later; but being men of the court, and affecting the phrases then in fashion, they are often either not to be understood, or appear perfectly ridiculous.
“What remedies are to be applied to these evils I have not room to consider, having, I fear, already taken up
1 1553-1600. For some years rector of Boscombe, Salisbury. Cf. Hallam's verdict:"So little is there of vulgarity in his racy idiom, of pedantry in his learned phrase, that I know not whether any later writer has more admirably displayed the capacities of our language".
2 Robert Parsons (1546–1610), a famous Jesuit agitator in the reign of Elizabeth.
3 Sir Henry Wotton (1568–1639). The Reliquiae Wottonianae were edited by Izaak Walton, 1651.
- Sir R. Naunton (1563–1635) was author of Fragmenta Regalia, an account of certain Elizabethan celebrities.
• Francis Osborn (1589-1658) was author of Advice to a Son, concerning which Johnson said, that “were a man to write so now, the boys would throw stones at him".
0 Sam. Daniel (1562–1619), a poet and historian. Swift's criticism is unjust, for Daniel's style has always been praised for its perspicuity.
most of your paper. Besides, I think it is our office only to represent abuses, and yours to redress them. I am, with great respect, Sir,
XXIII. THE VINDICATION OF ISAAC BICKER
R. PARTRIDGE) has been lately pleased to treat
me after a very rough manner, in that which is called his Almanac for the present year:
indecent from one gentleman to another, and does not at all contribute to the discovery of truth, which ought to be the great end in all disputes of the learned. To call a man a fool and villain, an impudent fellow, only for differing from him in a point merely speculative, is, in my humble opinion, a very improper style for a person of his education. I appeal to the learned world, whether, in last year's predictions, I gave him the least provocation for such unworthy treatment. Philosophers have differed in all ages; but the discreetest among them have always differed as became philosophers. Scurrility and passion, in a controversy among scholars, is just so much of nothing to the purpose, and at best a tacit confession
1 The history of the famous joke is briefly this. In 1708, Swift, in ridicule of the pretensions of almanac makers, published under the name of Bickerstaff his sham “Predictions for the year 1708", one of the predictions being the death of John Partridge on March 29th, 1708. Partridge was a well-known prophet of the time, whose book was called “Merlinus Liberatus, by John Partridge, Student in Physick and Astrology, at the Blue Bell in Salisbury Street, in the Strand, London ". In April Swift published an account of Partridge's death, and many wits followed this up with numerous epitaphs. Later appeared “Bickerstaff Detected, by J. Partridge", an attempt to turn the joke against Swift, which has been variously attributed to Congreve, Rowe, and Dr. Yalden. Then, in 1709, Swift vindicated himself in this ironical paper. Partridge really lived till 1715, and there is an epitaph to him in Mortlake Churchyard, but he issued no almanac after 1709, for his fame did not survive his metaphorical death at the hands of Swift.