To Sir WATKIN PHILLIPS Bart. of Jesus college, Oxon.
In my last I treated you with a high flavoured dish, in the character of the Scotch lieutenant, and I must present him once more for your entertainment. It was our fortune to feed upon him the best part of three days; and I do not doubt that he will start again in our way before we shall have finished our northern excursion. The day after our meeting with him at Durham proved so tempestuous that we did not choose to proceed on our journey; and my uncle persuaded him to stay till the weather should clear up, giving him, at the same time, a general invitation to our mess. The man has certainly gathered a whole budget of shrewd observations, but he brings them forth in such an ungracious manner as would be extremely disgusting, if it was not marked by that characteristic oddity which never fails to attract the attention—He and Mr Bramble discoursed, and even disputed, on different subjects in war, policy, the belles lettres, law, and metaphysics; and sometimes they were warmed into such altercation as seemed to threaten an abrupt dissolution of their society; but Mr Bramble set a guard over his own irascibility, the more vigilantly as the officer was his guest; and when, in spite of all his efforts, he began to wax warm, the other prudently cooled in the same proportion.
Mrs Tabitha chancing to accost her brother by the familiar diminutive of Matt, ‘Pray, sir (said the lieutenant), ’is your name Matthias?’ You must know it is one of our uncle’s foibles to be ashamed of his name Matthew, because it is puritanical; and this question chagrined him so much, that he answered, ‘No, by G-d!’ in a very abrupt tone of displeasure.—The Scot took umbrage at the manner of his reply, and bristling up, ‘If I had known (said he) that you did not care to tell your name, I should not have asked the question—The leddy called you Matt, and I naturally thought it was Matthias:—perhaps, it may be Methuselah, or Metrodorus, or Metellus, or Mathurinus, or Malthinnus, or Matamorus, or—’ ‘No (cried my uncle laughing), it is neither of those, captain: my name is Matthew Bramble, at, your service.—The truth is, have a foolish pique at the name of Matthew, because it favours of those canting hypocrites, who, in Cromwell’s time, christened all their children by names taken from the scripture.’ ‘A foolish pique indeed. (cried Mrs Tabby), and even sinful, to fall out with your name because it is taken from holy writ.—I would have you to know, you was called after great-uncle Matthew ap Madoc ap Meredith, esquire, of Llanwysthin, in Montgomeryshire, justice of the quorum, and crusty ruttleorum, a gentleman of great worth and property, descended in a strait line, by the female side, from Llewellyn, prince of Wales.’
This genealogical anecdote seemed to make some impression upon the North-Briton, who bowed very low to the descendant of Llewellyn, and observed that he himself had the honour of a scriptural nomination. The lady expressing a desire of knowing his address, he said, he designed himself Lieutenant Obadiah Lismahago; and in order to assist her memory, he presented her with a slip of paper inscribed with these three words, which she repeated with great emphasis, declaring, it was one of the most noble and sonorous names she had ever heard. He observed that Obadiah was an adventitious appellation, derived from his great-grandfather, who had been one of the original covenanters; but Lismahago was the family surname, taken from a place in Scotland so called. Helikewise dropped some hints about the antiquity of his pedigree, adding, with a smile of self-denial, Sed genus et proavos, et quoe non fecimus ipsi, vix ea nostra voco, which quotation he explained in deference to the ladies; and Mrs Tabitha did not fail to compliment him on his modesty in waving the merit of his ancestry, adding, that it was the less necessary to him, as he had such a considerable fund of his own. She now began to glew herself to his favour with the grossest adulation.—She expatiated upon the antiquity and virtues of the Scottish nation, upon their valour, probity, learning, and politeness. She even descended to encomiums on his own personal address, his gallantry, good sense, and erudition.—She appealed to her brother, whether the captain was not the very image of our cousin governor Griffith. She discovered a surprising eagerness to know the particulars of his life, and asked a thousand questions concerning his atchievements in war; all which Mr Lismahago answered with a sort of jesuitical reserve, affecting a reluctance to satisfy her curiosity on a subject that concerned his own exploits.
By dint of her interrogations, however, we learned, that he and ensign Murphy had made their escape from the French hospital at Montreal, and taken to the woods, in hope of reaching some English settlement; but mistaking their route, they fell in with a party of Miamis, who carried them away in captivity. The intention of these Indians was to give one of them as an adopted son to a venerable sachem, who had lost his own in the course of the war, and to sacrifice the other according to the custom of the country. Murphy, as being the younger and handsomer of the two, was designed to fill the place of the deceased, not only as the son of the sachem, but as the spouse of a beautiful squaw, to whom his predecessor had been betrothed; but in passing through the different whigwhams or villages of the Miamis, poor Murphy was so mangled by the women and children, who have the privilege of torturing all prisoners in their passage, that, by the time they arrived at the place of the sachem’s residence, he was rendered altogether unfit for the purposes of marriage: it was determined therefore, in the assembly of the warriors, that ensign Murphy should be brought to the stake, and that the lady should be given to lieutenant Lismahago, who had likewise received his share of torments, though they had not produced emasculation.—A joint of one finger had been cut, or rather sawed off with a rusty knife; one of his great toes was crushed into a mash betwixt two stones; some of his teeth were drawn, or dug out with a crooked nail; splintered reeds had been thrust up his nostrils and other tender parts; and the calves of his legs had been blown up with mines of gunpowder dug in the flesh with the sharp point of the tomahawk.
The Indians themselves allowed that Murphy died with great heroism, singing, as his death song, the Drimmendoo, in concert with Mr Lismahago, who was present at the solemnity. After the warriors and the matrons had made a hearty meal upon the muscular flesh which they pared from the victim, and had applied a great variety of tortures, which he bore without flinching, an old lady, with a sharp knife, scooped out one of his eyes, and put a burning coal in the socket. The pain of this operation was so exquisite that he could not help bellowing, upon which the audience raised a shout of exultation, and one of the warriors stealing behind him, gave him the coup de grace with a hatchet.
Lismahago’s bride, the squaw Squinkinacoosta, distinguished herself on this occasion.—She shewed a great superiority of genius in the tortures which she contrived and executed with her own hands.—She vied with the stoutest warrior in eating the flesh of the sacrifice; and after all the other females were fuddled with dram-drinking, she was not so intoxicated but that she was able to play the game of the platter with the conjuring sachem, and afterwards go through the ceremony of her own wedding, which was consummated that same evening. The captain had lived very happily with this accomplished squaw for two years, during which she bore him a son, who is now the representative of his mother’s tribe; but, at length, to his unspeakable grief, she had died of a fever, occasioned by eating too much raw bear, which they had killed in a hunting excursion.
By this time, Mr Lismahago was elected sachem, acknowledged first warrior of the Badger tribe, and dignified with the name or epithet of Occacanastaogarora, which signifies nimble as a weasel; but all these advantages and honours he was obliged to resign, in consequence of being exchanged for the orator of the community, who had been taken prisoner by the Indians that were in alliance with the English. At the peace, he had sold out upon half pay, and was returned to Britain, with a view to pass the rest of his life in his own country, where he hoped to find some retreat where his slender finances would afford him a decent subsistence. Such are the outlines of Mr Lismahago’s history, to which Tabitha did seriously incline her ear;—indeed, she seemed to be taken with the same charms that captivated the heart of Desdemona, who loved the Moor for the dangers he had past.
The description of poor Murphy’s sufferings, which threw my sister Liddy into a swoon, extracted some sighs from the breast of Mrs Tabby: when she understood he had been rendered unfit for marriage, she began to spit, and ejaculated, ‘Jesus, what cruel barbarians!’ and she made wry faces at the lady’s nuptial repast; but she was eagerly curious to know the particulars of her marriage-dress; whether she wore high-breasted stays or bodice, a robe of silk or velvet, and laces of Mechlin or minionette—she supposed, as they were connected with the French, she used rouge, and had her hair dressed in the Parisian fashion. The captain would have declined giving a catagorical explanation of all these particulars, observing, in general, that the Indians were too tenacious of their own customs to adopt the modes of any nation whatsoever; he said, moreover, that neither the simplicity of their manners nor the commerce of their country, would admit of those articles of luxury which are deemed magnificence in Europe; and that they were too virtuous and sensible to encourage the introduction of any fashion which might help to render them corrupt and effeminate.
These observations served only to inflame her desire of knowing the particulars about which she had enquired; and, with all his evasion, he could not help discovering the following circumstances—that his princess had neither shoes, stockings, shift, nor any kind of linen—that her bridal dress consisted of a petticoat of red bays, and a fringed blanket, fastened about her shoulders with a copper skewer; but of ornaments she had great plenty.—Her hair was curiously plaited, and interwoven with bobbins of human bone—one eye-lid was painted green, and the other yellow; the cheeks were blue, the lips white, the teeth red, and there was a black list drawn down the middle of the forehead as far as the tip of the nose—a couple of gaudy parrot’s feathers were stuck through the division of the nostrils—there was a blue stone set in the chin, her ear-rings consisted of two pieces of hickery, of the size and shape of drum-sticks—her arms and legs were adorned with bracelets of wampum—her breast glittered with numerous strings of glass beads—she wore a curious pouch, or pocket of woven grass, elegantly painted with various colours—about her neck was hung the fresh scalp of a Mohawk warrior, whom her deceased lover had lately slain in battle—and, finally, she was anointed from head to foot with bear’s grease, which sent forth a most agreeable odour.
One would imagine that these paraphernalia would not have been much admired by a modern fine lady; but Mrs Tabitha was resolved to approve of all the captains connexions.—She wished, indeed, the squaw had been better provided with linen; but she owned there was much taste and fancy in her ornaments; she made no doubt, therefore, that madam Squinkinacoosta was a young lady of good sense and rare accomplishments, and a good christian at bottom. Then she asked whether his consort had been high church or low-church, presbyterian or anabaptist, or had been favoured with any glimmering of the new light of the gospel? When he confessed that she and her whole nation were utter strangers to the christian faith, she gazed at him with signs of astonishment, and Humphry Clinker, who chanced to be in the room, uttered a hollow groan.
After some pause, ‘In the name of God, captain Lismahago (cried she), what religion do they profess?’ ‘As to religion, madam (answered the lieutenant), it is among those Indians a matter of great simplicity—they never heard of any Alliance between Church and State.—They, in general, worship two contending principles; one the Fountain of all Good, the other the source of all evil. The common people there, as in other countries, run into the absurdities of superstition; but sensible men pay adoration to a Supreme Being, who created and sustains the universe.’ ‘O! what pity (exclaimed the pious Tabby), that some holy man has not been inspired to go and convert these poor heathens!’
The lieutenant told her, that while he resided among them, two French missionaries arrived, in order to convert them to the catholic religion; but when they talked of mysteries and revelations, which they could neither explain nor authenticate, and called in the evidence of miracles which they believed upon hearsay; when they taught that the Supreme Creator of Heaven and Earth had allowed his only Son, his own equal in power and glory, to enter the bowels of a woman, to be born as a human creature, to be insulted, flagellated, and even executed as a malefactor; when they pretended to create God himself, to swallow, digest, revive, and multiply him ad infinitum, by the help of a little flour and water, the Indians were shocked at the impiety of their presumption.—They were examined by the assembly of the sachems who desired them to prove the divinity of their mission by some miracle.—They answered, that it was not in their power.—’If you were really sent by Heaven for our conversion (said one of the sachems), you would certainly have some supernatural endowments, at least you would have the gift of tongues, in order to explain your doctrine to the different nations among which you are employed; but you are so ignorant of our language, that you cannot express yourselves even on the most trifling subjects.’ In a word, the assembly were convinced of their being cheats, and even suspected them of being spies: they ordered them a bag of Indian corn apiece, and appointed a guide to conduct them to the frontiers; but the missionaries having more zeal than discretion, refused to quit the vineyard.—They persisted in saying mass, in preaching, baptizing, and squabbling with the conjurers, or priests of the country, till they had thrown the whole community into confusion.—Then the assembly proceeded to try them as impious impostors, who represented the Almighty as a trifling, weak, capricious being, and pretended to make, unmake, and reproduce him at pleasure; they were, therefore, convicted of blasphemy and sedition, and condemned to the stale, where they died singing Salve regina, in a rapture of joy, for the crown of martyrdom which they had thus obtained.
In the course of this conversation, lieutenant Lismahago dropt some hints by which it appeared he himself was a free-thinker. Our aunt seemed to be startled at certain sarcasms he threw out against the creed of saint Athanasius—He dwelt much upon the words, reason, philosophy, and contradiction in terms—he bid defiance to the eternity of hell-fire; and even threw such squibs at the immortality of the soul, as singed a little the whiskers of Mrs Tabitha’s faith; for, by this time she began to look upon Lismahago as a prodigy of learning and sagacity.—In short, he could be no longer insensible to the advances she made towards his affection; and although there was something repulsive in his nature, he overcame it so far as to make some return to her civilities.—Perhaps, he thought it would be no bad scheme, in a superannuated lieutenant on half-pay, to effect a conjunction with an old maid, who, in all probability, had fortune enough to keep him easy and comfortable in the fag-end of his days—An ogling correspondence forthwith commenced between this amiable pair of originals—He began to sweeten the natural acidity of his discourse with the treacle of compliment and commendation—He from time to time offered her snuff, of which he himself took great quantities, and even made her a present of a purse of silk grass, woven by the hands of the amiable Squinkinacoosta, who had used it as a shot-pouch in her hunting expeditions.
From Doncaster northwards, all the windows of all the inns are scrawled with doggeral rhimes, in abuse of the Scotch nation; and what surprised me very much, I did not perceive one line written in the way of recrimination—Curious to hear what Lismahago would say on this subject, I pointed out to him a very scurrilous epigram against his countrymen, which was engraved on one of the windows of the parlour where we sat.—He read it with the most starched composure; and when I asked his opinion of the poetry, ‘It is vara terse and vara poignant (said he); but with the help of a wat dish-clout, it might be rendered more clear and parspicuous.—I marvel much that some modern wit has not published a collection of these essays under the title of the Glaziers Triumph over Sawney the Scot—I’m persuaded it would be a vara agreeable offering to the patriots of London and Westminster.’ When I expressed some surprize that the natives of Scotland, who travel this way, had not broke all the windows upon the road, ‘With submission (replied the lieutenant), that were but shallow policy—it would only serve to make the satire more cutting and severe; and I think it is much better to let it stand in the window, than have it presented in the reckoning.’
My uncle’s jaws began to quiver with indignation.—He said, the scribblers of such infamous stuff deserved to be scourged at the cart’s tail for disgracing their country with such monuments of malice and stupidity.—‘These vermin (said he) do not consider, that they are affording their fellow subjects, whom they abuse, continual matter of self-gratulation, as well as the means of executing the most manly vengeance that can be taken for such low, illiberal attacks. For my part, I admire the philosophic forbearance of the Scots, as much as I despise the insolence of those wretched libellers, which is akin to the arrogance of the village cock, who never crows but upon his own dunghill.’ The captain, with an affectation of candour, observed, that men of illiberal minds were produced in every soil; that in supposing those were the sentiments of the English in general, he should pay too great a compliment to is own country, which was not of consequence enough to attract the envy of such a flourishing and powerful people.
Mrs Tabby broke forth again in praise of his moderation, and declared that Scotland was the soil which produced every virtue under heaven. When Lismahago took his leave for the night, she asked her brother if the captain was not the prettiest gentleman he had ever seen; and whether there was not something wonderfully engaging in his aspect?—Mr Bramble having eyed her sometime in silence, ‘Sister (said he), the lieutenant is, for aught I know, an honest man and a good officer—he has a considerable share of understanding, and a title to more encouragement than he seems to have met with in life; but I cannot, with a safe conscience, affirm, that he is the prettiest gentleman I ever saw; neither can I descern any engaging charm in his countenance, which, I vow to God, is, on the contrary, very hard-favoured and forbidding.’
I have endeavoured to ingratiate myself with this North-Briton, who is really a curiosity; but he has been very shy of my conversation ever since I laughed at his asserting that the English tongue was spoke with more propriety at Edinburgh than at London. Looking at me with a double squeeze of souring in his aspect, ‘If the old definition be true (said he), that risibility is the distinguishing characteristic of a rational creature, the English are the most distinguished for rationality of any people I ever knew.’ I owned, that the English were easily struck with any thing that appeared ludicrous, and apt to laugh accordingly; but it did not follow, that, because they were more given to laughter, they had more rationality than their neighbours: I said, such an inference would be an injury to the Scots, who were by no means defective in rationality, though generally supposed little subject to the impressions of humour.
The captain answered, that this supposition must have been deduced either from their conversation or their compositions, of which the English could not possibly judge with precision, as they did not understand the dialect used by the Scots in common discourse, as well as in their works of humour. When I desired to know what those works of humour were, he mentioned a considerable number of pieces, which he insisted were equal in point of humour to any thing extant in any language dead or living—He, in particular, recommended a collection of detached poems, in two small volumes, intituled, The Ever-Green, and the works of Allan Ramsay, which I intend to provide myself with at Edinburgh.—He observed, that a North-Briton is seen to a disadvantage in an English company, because he speaks in a dialect that they can’t relish, and in a phraseology which they don’t understand.—He therefore finds himself under a restraint, which is a great enemy to wit and humour.—These are faculties which never appear in full lustre, but when the mind is perfectly at ease, and, as an excellent writer says, enjoys her elbow-room.
He proceeded to explain his assertion that the English language was spoken with greater propriety at Edinburgh than in London. He said, what we generally called the Scottish dialect was, in fact, true, genuine old English, with a mixture of some French terms and idioms, adopted in a long intercourse betwixt the French and Scotch nations; that the modern English, from affectation and false refinement, had weakened, and even corrupted their language, by throwing out the guttural sounds, altering the pronunciation and the quantity, and disusing many words and terms of great significance. In consequence of these innovations, the works of our best poets, such as Chaucer, Spenser, and even Shakespeare, were become, in many parts, unintelligible to the natives of South Britain, whereas the Scots, who retain the antient language, understand them without the help of a glossary. ‘For instance (said he), how have your commentators been puzzled by the following expression in the Tempest—He’s gentle and not fearful: as if it was a paralogism to say, that being gentle, he must of course be courageous: but the truth is, one of the original meanings, if not the sole meaning, of that word was, noble, high-minded; and to this day, a Scotch woman, in the situation of the young lady in the Tempest, would express herself nearly in the same terms—Don’t provoke him; for being gentle, that is, high-spirited, he won’t tamely bear an insult. Spenser, in the very first stanza of his Fairy Queen, says,
A gentle knight was pricking on the plain;
Which knight, far from being tame and fearful, was so stout that
Nothing did he dread, but ever was ydrad.
To prove that we had impaired the energy of our language by false refinement, he mentioned the following words, which, though widely different in signification, are pronounced exactly in the same manner wright, write, right, rite; but among the Scots, these words are as different in pronunciation, as they are in meaning and orthography; and this is the case with many others which he mentioned by way of illustration.—He, moreover, took notice, that we had (for what reason he could never learn) altered the sound of our vowels from that which is retained by all the nations in Europe; an alteration which rendered the language extremely difficult to foreigners, and made it almost impracticable to lay down general rules for orthography and pronunciation. Besides, the vowels were no longer simple sounds in the mouth of an Englishman, who pronounced both i and u as dipthongs. Finally, he affirmed, that we mumbled our speech with our lips and teeth, and ran the words together without pause or distinction, in such a manner, that a foreigner, though he understood English tolerably well, was often obliged to have recourse to a Scotchman to explain what a native of England had said in his own language.
The truth of this remark was confirmed by Mr Bramble from his own experience; but he accounted for it on another principle. He said, the same observation would hold in all languages; that a Swiss talking French was more easily understood than a Parisian, by a foreigner who had not made himself master of the language; because every language had its peculiar recitative, and it would always require more pains, attention, and practice, to acquire both the words and the music, than to learn the words only; and yet no body would deny, that the one was imperfect without the other: he therefore apprehended, that the Scotchman and the Swiss were better understood by learners, because they spoke the words only, without the music, which they could not rehearse. One would imagine this check might have damped the North Briton; but it served only to agitate his humour for disputation.—He said, if every nation had its own recitative or music, the Scots had theirs, and the Scotchman who had not yet acquired the cadence of the English, would naturally use his own in speaking their language; therefore, if he was better understood than the native, his recitative must be more intelligible than that of the English; of consequence, the dialect of the Scots had an advantage over that of their fellow-subjects, and this was another strong presumption that the modern English had corrupted their language in the article of pronunciation.
The lieutenant was, by this time, become so polemical, that every time he opened his mouth out flew a paradox, which he maintained with all the enthusiasm of altercation; but all his paradoxes favoured strong of a partiality for his own country. He undertook to prove that poverty was a blessing to a nation; that oatmeal was preferable to wheat-flour; and that the worship of Cloacina, in temples which admitted both sexes, and every rank of votaries promiscuously, was a filthy species of idolatry that outraged every idea of delicacy and decorum. I did not so much wonder at his broaching these doctrines, as at the arguments, equally whimsical and ingenious, which he adduced in support of them.
In fine, lieutenant Lismahago is a curiosity which I have not yet sufficiently perused; and therefore I shall be sorry when we lose his company, though, God knows, there is nothing very amiable in his manner or disposition.—As he goes directly to the south-west division of Scotland, and we proceed in the road to Berwick, we shall part tomorrow at a place called Feltonbridge; and, I dare say, this separation will be very grievous to our aunt Mrs Tabitha, unless she has received some flattering assurance of his meeting her again. If I fail in my purpose of entertaining you with these unimportant occurrences, they will at least serve as exercises of patience, for which you are indebted to
Yours always, J. MELFORD MORPETH, July 13.