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ON THE YORKSHIRE DIALECT.
“ Wretch !” exclaimed the Earl of Glenallan to Elspeth, in spite of his determination to preserve silence,—“ Wretched woman! what cause of hate could have arisen from a being so innocent and gentle ?"
“ I hated what my mistress hated, as was the use with the liege vassals of the house of Glenallan ; for though, my lord, I married under my degree, yet an ancestor of yours never went to the field of battle, but an ancestor of the frail, demented, auld, useless wretch wha now speaks with you, carried his shield before him. But that was not a',” continued the beldam, her earthly and evil passions rekindling as she became heated in her narration : “ that was not a'-I hated Miss Eveline Neville for her ain sake I brought her frae England, and, during our whole journey she gecked and scorned at my northern speech, as her southland leddies and kimmers had done at the boardingschool as they ca'd it,” (and strange as it may seem, she spoke of an affront offered by a heedless school-girl without intention, with a degree of inveteracy, which at such a distance of time, a mortal offence would neither have authorised nor excited in any well-constituted mind). “Yes, she scorned and jested at me-but let them that scorn the tartan fear the dirk."
This passage, extracted from the well-known Tale of the ANTIQUARY,-a work which always appeared to me to contain the highest compositions and the most imaginative conceptions of the entire series, proudly original as it is, to which it belongs, -this passage is very true to nature, and receives no little support from experience. Men will better endure any inquisition than into their minor peculiarities, and suffer any sarcasm rather than at the expense of them. A nervous acuteness, a
morbid irritability, is often betrayed when these accidental and superficial qualities are exposed and touched, unknown to the real character and strikingly in variance with it. The reason of the little guard we place upon our temper, when these trifling eccentricities are sportively unveiled or critically discussed, is simply this, that we are conscious of their insignificance and of our inability to defend them. But the exercise of wit where any feeling, however unreasonably capricious, is interested, is the cruel handling of a dangerous weapon. The delicacy of its use is no justification, and is not seldom more fatal than its ruder flourish.-Communities have, if not their weak, their tender parts, their corporate prejudices and petulancies, as well as the individual: and if aggression be carried against them, not more monstrous is the revenge than egregious the impolicy. The idle laugh, the flippant censure, sink deeper than was supposed or intended,—and will often be repaid with a force and bitterness of resentment, so unmeasured to justice that it indeed cancels the wrong, but still leaving those arrears which wounded vanity and mortified pride never can deem discharged. Sterne's Eugenius shows forth the fate of those who, in the exuberance of cheerfulness rather than of spleen, trifle with others,—who when they speak do not think,—who having spoken, do not remember. And having proposed to myself a theme (though certainly not altogether without the solicitations of others,) which must involve local sympathies and prepossessions, I commenced with this abrupt quotation to warn myself against any feeling,—even the most momentary, the most casual, the most possibly subject to misconstruction,-of disrespect to this portion of our country. I never saw that one which I should prefer. Here I have gathered a kindred and found a home. Far other is my purpose; and though a playful expression will now and then occur, as some uncouth sound may arise and some strange combination may be presented,—like a merry cognizance on the rusty shield of Antiquity, or a green sucker around the dry roots of Philology, -such expression shall be uttered with neither satire nor discourtesy. So far from a fear of offending, I am persuaded
that none will enter into the subject more candidly, nor go along with it more good-naturedly, than those who are native here and to the manner born." It is not “ Michin Mallecho,"—nor “poison in jest,” nor “any offence in the world.”
It cannot be denied that strange things are reported in some quarters about this great province. A profound respect for one's self, a strict regard to one's personal interests,-a liberal view of honesty, a generous construction upon obligation, a rigid sense of advantage, a meek-spirited concession to gain, a quick apprehension of another's ignorance, an all-prevailing desire to be right by being on the right side,—these things have been ascribed to its inhabitants. It was rather a waggish trick in the Warwickshire deer-stealer to put so selfish a speech into the mouth of the last member of the house of York,—“Richard loves Richard, that is I am 1.” I can bear witness to a far more moderate avowal, from the full heart of a man, who reserving some little, but only on the just precautionary ground of selfdefence, could not in the warmth of his feelings make a statement without breathing a prayer: “Grant that I may never cheat nor be cheated, but chance it should be so, I had as lief give a bite as take it.”
Our dramatists and novel writers think themselves most fortunate if they can introduce among their characters a Yorkshire boor. Their conception of such a character is that nothing is wanting to its perfect truth, its beau ideal, but gross vulgarism and low cunning. Their Dans and Tykes,-their Matthew Sharpsets, and John Moodys,—are, in their esteem, most felicitous in their wit and most faithful to their original. But these are hit off at random and with caricature: without any knowledge of the vernacular speech, or any consultation of the true model. What is set down for them would equally befit a clown of any place, and then would require that clown to be a buffoon in order to utter it.
Two or three circumstances tended to impress my mind with the peculiarities of your dialect. But as you have a right to know who and whence the critic is, that ventures to speak so frankly to you, I have to confess it with no little humility
(though as the child of Erin would say, small blame to me for it) that my nativity was allotted where the language is more distorted and barbarous than in any hamlet or nook of our isle. In the Twelfth Night of Shakspeare the jester says—“I fear this great lubber the world will prove a cockney.” The secret is confessed. I drew my first breath in Lud's Town, and had it been some centuries
I should have been a Luddite. When a child I was deported to Sussex, the most coarse in its vulgar tongue of counties, as London is of cities. But I cannot deny that when I passed this frontier, “ I heard a language which I understood not.” It might be better and purer than any form of speech I had hitherto noticed, but it was widely different. It was characteristic, and unique. Emphasis, collocation, and phrases were all extraordinary. I had to think in new terms, and to think out new associations. Mine ear had to discipline itself to sounds which first jarred upon it, not from any inherent dissonance but solely from their unwonted use; then it was required to catch them, to rate their worth and disentangle their complexity. Adventures were not withheld from me, nor some encounters. A week had scarcely elapsed since my arrival, before I determined on an excursion to the Moravian settlement at Fulneck. Ignorant of the way, I accosted a lad who was breaking stones by the side of the road in a very common but unmeaning manner,—“Where does this road go to ?” With a proud contempt on his face at what he perceived to be a southern tone and an equally foolish question, he, half with the air of the churl and half that of the rogue, exclaimed: “Go! no where: I have knawn it for mar than ton years, and it never sturred yet." A little out of countenance, if none out of temper, I still urged my desire of information. “Whither shall I get if I drive along this road?” “ To Pudsey, súre, fellee thy nese, and aw's plan as a Pekestaff.”—Thinks I to myself,—if such be the cub, what must they be who have whelped him? if such be the eaglet, little more than callow and new.ejected from the eyrie, what is the region of his sires ? A precipitate retreat seemed alike prudent and inevitable from scenes with which I had so small an affinity; and those sharp spirits which peopled it, for which I was so poor
a match. A more quiet proof, though rather more inexplicable, awaited me.
I was invited to a humble cottage in a neighbouring village, whose inmates were most respectable, for they were the pious poor. The evening meal was spread,—the utensils and provisions neat as they were unpretending. But how taken by surprise was I when the worthy dame addressed me in a style, more suitable to a heat on a race-ground than the particular religious act she begged me to perform: “We are all ready, will ye start us?” To “ loose,” is to return thanks. I then received the difficult direction to “make myself agreeable.” But this is too much an affair of taste to be one of option. Quickly I became acquainted with those watch-words of hospitality, which I have often subsequently heard,—and having done all that urgency could do, or reiteration express, the hostess implored me “ to rāāch to, and to bide no viting.” Again, methought, it is a hopeless case ! How are such unintelligible parties to reciprocate their views and feelings! Where shall the interpreter be found ! In what manner shall the translation be accomplished ! But I soon ascertained that whatever might be the peculiarities of idiom, there was a vein and layer of sober masculine English: and it then occurred to me that the peculiarities themselves might be any thing rather than corrupted and unauthorised ! I knew what the metropolis was ;-—the seat of palaces, senates, and tribunals! Though I had no great habit of its language, I had some little of its articulation. And I recollected those pure expressions of the city madam and of the bourgeois multitude, - Ant it. Disciver. Quite promiscuous, for quite undetermined. All that sort of thing. For afraid of, for the fear of. Argufy for signify. Those happy interludes in a story, so says I, says he. I have got a great mind, often said by those who have none at all. I fetch a walk, and if as far out of town as possible,like the poor criminal, sentenced to a public flogging, unprepared for the remaining part of the award, “and back again,”-he having fetched his walk, will require himself to be fetched, then of course he will throw himself into a Chay. He should not look as sour as warges (verjuice being so distilled from his lips) because of his own mistake : while it