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Title: A Cursory History of Swearing
Author: Sharman, Julian
Language: English
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A CURSORY HISTORY OF SWEARING.



  A CURSORY HISTORY OF SWEARING.


  BY JULIAN SHARMAN.


  "Ha! this fellow is worse than me; what, does he
  swear with pen and ink?"--_The Tatler_, No. 13.


  LONDON:
  J. C. NIMMO AND BAIN,
  14, KING WILLIAM STREET, STRAND, W.C.
  1884.



CONTENTS.


                                                                      PAGE

CHAPTER I.

  At the Scufflers' Club--A stranger at the gates--A somnolent
  post-office--The best men in London--A sing-song--"Damn their
  eyes!"--"Qui s'excuse s'accuse"--The philosophy of swearing--A
  retrospect--"When that I was and a little tiny boy"                    1


CHAPTER II.

  The son of discord--Origin of swearing--Decline of lying as an
  art--Growth of swearing as a science--The military oath--
  Religious oath--John the Marshall--Fustian oaths--Legislation
  begins--"Moralité des Blasphémateurs"--George Fox and Margaret
  Fell--Oath of the King-Maker--Oath of the Bear-garden                 22


CHAPTER III.

  "Odd's bodikins"--In Socrates' thinking-shop--The British
  shibboleth--Don Juan--Beaumarchais--Parny--Joan of Arc a
  satirist of swearing--La Hire--Corbleu et Cie.--"Jarnicoton"--
  "[Greek: Ma ton]"--'Jurons de Cadillac'--Little King Goddam--
  Sir John Harrington--'Amends for Ladies'--"Don't care a damn"         38


CHAPTER IV.

  Why has a dog a bad name?--Canine swearing--"Jarnichien!"--The
  cast of the die--Dog oath of Socrates--A nation of swearers--
  Aristophanes--The Rhodian cabbage--"Mehercule"--'Ship of
  Fools'--Amenities of Roman swearing                                   60


CHAPTER V.

  Mediæval swearing--The monastic teaching--Cleric and lay--
  Robert Crowley--Mystery of the five wounds--"God's bread!"--In
  a Tuscan studio--Stephen Hawes--Thomas Becon--'Miroir du
  Monde'--'Handlyng Sinne'--Chaucer's oaths--Plantagenet
  swearing--"Ventre Saint Gris"--A royal scapegrace--"Bismillah!"       77


CHAPTER VI.

  The genius of antiquity--A study in dust and cobwebs--The why
  and the wherefore of swearing--A swearing _corps d'élite_--
  "Swear me, Kate, like a lady"--The freemasonry of swearing--
  Lord Thurlow--Sir Thomas Maitland--"By jingo!"                        99


CHAPTER VII.

  A bank of swearing--Legislation at work--"The sweirer's and
  the Devill"--Aberdeen town records--Across the border--Before
  the footlights--'Magnetic Lady'--The wits--Colman the
  younger--A swearing bureau--Quarter Sessions--Statute of
  William and Mary--Convictions--A carnival of swearing                115


CHAPTER VIII.

  A saviour of society--Joseph Addison--A tradesman of the last
  century--A clerical apologist--Swearing in earnest and at
  play--An explanation offered--Blue laws of Connecticut--
  Bobadil--'The Rivals'--'Covent Garden weeded'--Brantôme's
  oaths--Eccentricities of swearing--"Old Harry"--"The
  dickens"--"The deuce"--"Le diable de Biterne"                        139


CHAPTER IX.

  Utilitarian view of swearing--One touch of nature--The
  Shandean method--Code of Ernulphus--"Sacré froc d'Habacuc"--
  Mr. William Barley--Philosophy of imprecation--"Bloody"--In
  the Low Countries--'The Man of Mode'--Swift without his
  waistcoat--Sanglant--Retrospect and ending                           171


APPENDIX                                                               193



A CURSORY HISTORY OF SWEARING.



CHAPTER I.

AT THE SCUFFLERS' CLUB.

    "'Our armies swore terribly in Flanders,' said my uncle Toby, 'but
    nothing to this.'"--_Tristram Shandy._


It lay in the heart of Bohemia. It was approached through a labyrinth of
streets that grew denser and darker as one neared the precincts of the
club. Could any of the brother Scufflers have seen the neighbourhood by
day, it would have presented an appearance dismal and sordid enough.
Dealers in faded wardrobes,--merchants in tinsel and _rouge de
théâtre_,--retailers of wigs and fleshings and all manner of stage
wares, seemed one with another to have made the locality their home. One
missed certainly the bone-sellers and refuse-sifters of the adjacent
Clare Market, and one was spared the cheap cosmetic shops and smug
undertakers of the neighbouring Soho. But you were recompensed, here in
the heart of mid-Bohemia, by the all-pervading odour of potations and
provisions,--of banquets long past, and of banquets that were yet to
come.

What wonderful odours are those that emanate from this quarter of the
town! The dank vapours of Covent Garden are sweet in the nostrils of
many a cockney reveller. There is no orange-peel so perfumed as the
Drury orange-peel that has been concentrating its fragrance round the
boards of Thespis since the days when Mohun and Hart, and Shatterel and
Betterton strutted on the bare planks of the Cockpit. No scent of
printer's ink is more refreshing than that which adheres to the yards of
flimsy playbill still hawked about by itinerant vendors. But the whole
place has through the day-time a blear-eyed, a drunk-over-night
appearance. It is like a man who is never at his best until he has
supped or dined. From morn till twilight it wears this sullen and
uncared-for look. Wait until nightfall, and it will positively glisten
with lamps and gleam with merriment. No wonder, therefore, that it has
been the birthplace of so many of those midnight carousing dens, into
one of which we are tremulously seeking to enter.

It was what is called a literary and theatrical club, the Scufflers. It
was literary in so far that the majority of its members lay down at
night with unrealised dreams of authorship. It was theatrical to the
extent that many a one was the possessor of an unacted drama coiled up
in his breast coat-pocket, and was to be seen surging about managers'
doors, only waiting the glance of favour to fall upon author and
manuscript. Nor was this literary impulsion entirely without
fruit-bearing. Scufflers had been known to rush breathlessly into the
club-room at the approach of midnight, and in an excited and panting
condition have been heard to sing out for pens and paper, as the morning
press would wait for no man. Personally the accomplishments of the
members were many and varied. The great _primus_ and leader of the club
was a man who was alleged to dash off a leading article, take a hand at
whist, and tackle a dish of kidneys at one and the same time.

We must now be supposed to have reached the entrance of the hostelry,
for indeed it was a Covent Garden tavern and nothing more.

We commence to grope our way along the mouldering, unlit passage that
gives access to the one apartment tenanted by the club, in which their
cheerful deliberations are now proceeding. Time cannot efface the
memory of that green-baize door at the end of this passage, where we
were very properly brought to a stand on that first evening of our
initiation. Never shall we forget how momentous seemed the issues that
were depending in that inner chamber, as the announcement that there was
a "stranger at the gates" was evidently being briskly canvassed there.
To have the unquestioned privilege of passing and repassing that mystic
portal, the barrier as it seemed between all the rhapsody and the syntax
of this weary world, promised to be one of those pleasures that would
well-nigh be imperishable.

The apartment entered, it was easy to discern the manner of men who had
placed their mark upon its walls and wainscots. There was no lack of
artist force in many of the daubs that were let into the panelling, to
remain rugged monuments of the skill of the frequenters of that chamber.
A piano there was that had seen better days, and was yet to see
considerably worse ones, if in our recollection of the ultimate
dispersal of the property of the club we are not mistaken. Then there
were the pipe-racks. Anything more eloquent can scarcely be imagined
than the story unfolded by these mute implements of smoking. Every pipe
possessed its decided characteristic and was distinctly different from
its neighbour. Some showed themselves as conceited pipes; some were
light and sparkish, others ponderous and clumsy. Leave yourself alone
with these sticks of briar or cherry-wood and you could readily have
brought to mind their absent owners,--the man who sang a good song, the
youngster given to practical jokes, the patriarch, strong in argument,
invincible in debate,--in fact you could easily have helped yourself to
an inventory of the members of the club. The rest of the furniture of
the room consisted of a large oblong table, surrounded by chairs of
various patterns, the former of which on the night we first beheld it
literally groaned with the weight of "rabbits" and foaming tankards.
Stay; food for the mind was not neglected, as how should it be? in that
assembly-room. By virtue of the care of a pile of fly-blown magazines,
and as far as we can remember of a few odd volumes of 'Ruff's Guide' and
a 'White's Farriery,' we became in course of time the elected librarian
of the Scufflers' Club.

Although not a flourishing community in the matter of finances, there
were instances in plenty of great kindness and liberality displayed by
Scuffler unto Scuffler. There were times when they brought out their
myrrh and cassia, their spikenard and oil of price. When, one bitter
winter morning, an unhappy Scuffler came shivering out of the debtors'
side of the City Prison, they did not beat about the bush and hesitate
at receiving him. Neither did they stand on any dignity or whisper any
threat of expulsion. They did nothing of this kind, they simply made him
drunk. It is, we hope, quite clear that these gentlemen were not
professors of any sort of austerity.

It may have already dawned upon the reader that there can hardly have
existed a fraternity boasting any such name as the one we have allotted
to it. In this much the reader is perfectly right. The club had a title
strikingly similar to that which we have adopted, and the thin disguise
has only been suggested from a circumstance that we may at once frankly
disclose. Suspended over the club chimney-piece was the usual
notice-board, a perfect encyclopædia in its way, and covered with a
trellis-work of crimson tape for the purpose of retaining the various
_affiches_. In this way were displayed, from day to day, the cards and
letters intended for the members of the club. For so long a time did
they frequently remain exhibited, and so complete a disregard did the
owners manifest for their property, that the appearance of each packet
often grew quite familiar to the frequenters of the place. The
individuality of the writer might be often guessed from the evidence of
the various superscriptions, and when all other sources of amusement
failed the contents of this stationary post-office formed a fair staple
of banter and merry comment. There were to be seen perfumed and
coronetted envelopes addressed to quasi-fashionable members. These were
gentlemen who never seemed to call and claim their belongings. Then
there were letters reputed to emanate from the great publishing houses,
and there were missives surmounted with well-known theatrical monograms
that were alleged to forward brilliant offers of engagements. In fact it
was by the aid of such simple nest-eggs as these that the men managed to
establish reputations. But there was one class of correspondence that
obviously was not intended for much publicity. These were the letters
couched in feminine handwriting, none of the neatest, whose tremulous
writers, in addressing their envelopes, rarely succeeded in hitting off
the proper style and title of the club. The early looker-in might have
made a useful study of these shaky epistles,--scrawls painfully executed
by milliners and toy-women. It was on the cover of one of such
effusions, even worse written and worse spelt than they usually were,
that we first saw the inscription, the "Scufflers' Club."

Although some years have passed since first we were made free of that
circle, distinctly do we remember the manner of our greeting--"This,"
said our introducer, "is a room rendered famous by the celebrated
Addison." He emphasised the "celebrated" owing to an evident misgiving
that we might not perhaps be intimate with the name of that personage.
"Kitty Clive, the actress," he continued, "lodged in the upper
floors,"--which was true--"and Dr. Johnson is said to have worn away the
wainscot with his wig in the further corner,"--which was not. We were
already lingering over the notice-board and letter-rack, reminded
probably by the associations of a similar contrivance at Will's Coffee
House, when Parson Swift came in the mornings to seek for letters from
Stella, when the voice of our cicerone again summoned us. "Drop into a
seat," it whispered, "and I'll show you the best men in London."

The best men in London were engaged for the most part in imbibing
various amber-coloured fluids, and shouting out at intervals the burden
of a well-known chorus. An entertainment known as a "sing-song" was
vociferously going on. Vocalisation of a very fair order was being
given, whenever any one of the hearty Scufflers had sufficiently wetted
his throat to "oblige." We were in time to hear the 'Friar of Orders
Gray' performed very creditably, and 'When Joan's ale was new' brought
out a ringing chorus. We must have stayed some hours in listening to
this minstrelsy. Hospital songs, ditties well-known at Bartholomew's and
Guy's; poaching songs that bore the flavour of the honest shire of
Somerset; pieces from the comic operas; all were given with the utmost
good-humour and vivacity. But what seemed most to invigorate the spirits
of the Scufflers was a song that had been demanded more than once during
the evening and was at length only given after extreme pressure upon the
part of the audience. We do not know the name of the song; we are not
certain we should recollect the tune; but we are positive of the words,
such of them at least as formed the refrain of the melody. In every
stanza there was held up to reprobation some unpopular type. The severer
virtues were no less mercilessly handled, while all authority of the
more invidious kind, from that of the beak to that of the exciseman, was
subjected to the same unceremonious treatment. Every versicle--well do
we remember it--concluded with the exordium, "Damn their eyes!" Never
can we forget the rapturous reception that was accorded to this piece of
harmony. The men literally shrieked with delight. "Damn their
eyes!"--they grasped convulsively at tumblers and decanters and banged
them on the table. "Damn their eyes!"--they hurrahed, they shouted, they
raved, they swore. "Damn their eyes!"--they bestrode chairs and benches,
as they might have bestridden hobby-horses, and tournamented about the
room. Was this then the pæan or war-song of the Scufflers' Club?

As with the morning light we came to reflect upon the midnight orgie, we
felt we had opened a chapter in a strange history, and that history a
history of swearing.

We can hardly bring our pen to write the very title of this book without
being reminded of an incident that has amused while it has displeased
us. It is now very many years ago that a kind relative brought the
present writer, then a child at a dame's school, a handsome copy of the
'Vicar of Wakefield,' and thenceforward for a time that bitter
schoolhouse bade fair to be made bright and joyous with the doings of
the simple men and women whose story the gentle Goldsmith has recorded.
What possible objection could be uttered against so innocent a tale?
None the less however did our worthy preceptress take occasion to
remonstrate. "Does not that book concern females?" asked she. Our friend
could have had no reply prepared that was fitted to so insidious a
reproach. "Ah! well," was the quiet rejoinder, "but poor Goldsmith did
not mean badly."

If such, then, be the measure dealt out to the more disciplined
champions in the strife with human error, what sort of accord will be
given to the present unharnessed and ill-caparisoned writer, who
attempts, let it be hoped not ill-naturedly, to cope with one of the
more rosy-faced forms of sinfulness. That he will be assailed from the
higher latitudes of prudery he has a right to expect. That the very
novelty of the venture will pass as an affront to some portion of his
readers there is only reason to anticipate. That even the more indulgent
will cast looks of suspicion upon his pirate ensign is a circumstance he
can conceal as little as he can regret it.

As the matter stands, a poor devil of an author is proposing an
expedition into regions that, despite many hundred years of literary
enterprise, are still remote and untravelled. It were not surprising
therefore at the outset that his readers should inquire if he is sincere
and reliable, or whether on the contrary he is counterfeiting honesty
with a sanctimonious face. It were perhaps right they should be assured
that the trip is really intended for their welfare, and that the skipper
is not given to risk the safety of his craft for a mere capful of wind.
But conceding that it is natural to raise these doubts at the threshold
of the journey, the author has it in his power to give little or no
assurance of the sincerity of his undertaking. Whatever notion he may
entertain of his own, or of other people's morality, he has no opinion
whatever of their professions of it. He refrains therefore from giving
any warranty of the soundness of his wares.

Save but for this. He has often been vexed, and puzzled as well as
vexed, at one great discord that has been sent upon the world. Yielding
and kindly as it may have been to them, men have not scrupled to cast
defiance and calumny upon this forbearing earth and to hurl hissing
curses at its abundance and its pervading spirit of forgiveness. Not
since the labour of men's hands began have they ceased to furrow it with
menace and sow it with imprecation, cursing while their very corn ripens
under midsummer skies, cursing as they gather in their store of wine and
victual. What does it mean? What _can_ it mean? Whence has it arisen,
and whither does it tend? These are among the questions that have
influenced the mind of the writer in considering the purview of his
book.

The misfortune that is often experienced in handling any subject lying
wide of the beaten track does not necessarily arise from the inherent
viciousness of the subject itself, but from the fact that a large number
of people have previously arrived at painful impressions concerning it.
It is therefore an obligation cast upon a writer to treat these
preconceived notions with the utmost tenderness and respect. Personally
one may hold the art of swearing in perfect indifference, being neither
among the number of swearers oneself nor having any very strong feeling
of reprobation towards its more active adherents. But despite a certain
inclination that we feel to apologise for what we hold to be the
silliest of vices, we are forced to recollect that to many the offence
will always appear in anything but a trivial light. It is therefore
obligatory upon us to abstain as far as possible from referring to
expressions that are calculated to alarm. At the close of the last
century there existed a religious sect who were in favour of abandoning
the use of clothing. Blake, the poet, was one of these enthusiasts, and
his wife also. The holders of this convenient doctrine were in the habit
of presenting themselves in their households as naked as they were born.
In so acting we may be sure they were only in keeping with their sober
convictions, and that they were ready to maintain in argument the
thorough soundness and consistency of their views. For aught we know to
the contrary, this naked doctrine may of itself have been right, but the
misfortune which continued, and for the matter of that still continues,
to be felt, was that by far the larger portion of humanity retained a
decided prejudice in favour of apparel. So long as the disciple of the
Adamite school was contented to denude himself in his own particular
circle there may have been no positive harm, but it would scarcely have
been open to a member of that fraternity to have walked down Fleet
Street like an ancient Briton. The thinker also who takes upon himself
to theorise in a manner apart from any considerable section of humanity,
is no less bound to entertain a fitting respect for the notions, even to
the mistaken notions, with which that section is animated. Whatever his
own disposition towards an absolute freedom of expression, he is under
the obligation of attiring his ideas in the manner habituated to the
tastes of his listeners.

Happily, however, there is possible a middle course. We need not grovel
in the sinks and cellars, neither need we ruminate upon the house-tops.
We can settle ourselves as it were, in that easy, neutral smoking-room
of literature, where we can put off broadcloth for fustian; and utter
our heresies with still a chance left us of being forgiven. Here we may
expect to meet only with that mature and seasoned criticism that holds
the scale very evenly between the outspoken and the insolent. While by
no means to be accounted friendly towards the vile excrescences of
swearing, the ordinary man of the world is not to be repelled by every
street oath, or put to lasting confusion by every passing word of
unseemliness. To put it upon no higher ground than that of mere custom,
it were too arrogant to assume abhorrence of a practice that is as trite
and customary as the incidents of one's daily rounds. Besides, there is
another explanation for the supineness that is exhibited towards errors
of this description. It could be shown how, by a slight mental process,
the extravagances and the follies of other men are capable of offering a
subtle compliment to a person's understanding. They set it off. They
adorn what he fancies to be his intellectual superiority, and he is not
indisposed in consequence to extend a feeble patronage towards the very
vices which, did he not experience ever so slight a benefit from them,
he would otherwise be foremost in decrying. Again, it were too obviously
inconsistent to take our repose in a tavern and yet direct our homilies
at tavern habits, at the enormity of tobacco-smoking or of drinking
drams. And yet it may be possible for most of us to go back to no
distant time when we sickened at the scent of the finest Virginian and
the juice of the juniper was bitter. It was not a great while ago
certainly!

A great while ago! Say, courteous and gentle--nay, uncourteous and
ungentle reader--can you so far travel back in your recollection as to
recall your first parting from all that was homely and kindly and
familiar? Do you remember the first separation from the half-score of
faces that to you had peopled the earth and represented the whole sum
and mystery of living? Can you now realise that desolate night, closing
in upon the blank, colourless day, the lonely stages, the harsh grating
of the wheels, all the impressions in fact of that long, pitiful journey
that once came as a barrier between you and childish innocence? And then
the arrival at that strange school; how hollow the laughter of the men,
how shrill the chirp and twitter of the women! Do you remember the
comfortless morrow that brought the first contact with your boy
associates? They were probably harmless and good-natured enough, those
uncouth, ill-fashioned boys, and doubtless there were among them many
who would have been quick to requite a wrong and eager to soothe any
injury. But how they pained you with their jests; how they bruised you
in their boisterous play; how old they looked to your young eyes; how
full of wiles and intrigue and savagery! And then their talk! not the
mild caressing talk of the lips you loved, of the forms you knew, but
loud and brazen, and savouring of cunning and high-handedness. And in
their quarrels and their games, they swore--those boys swore; not all of
them be it hoped, but the great giants and paladins among them who
seemed to bear rule and mastery with whips and thongs. Many a time
before, perhaps, you may have been seized with faintness and aversion at
some imagined evil, that might as well have been enacted in some distant
planet. But now the horror was no longer slumbering or remote; it was
awake and crying at your door. Now, and within a few hours, were
disclosed the sources of all the aimless brutalities, all the
self-asserting iniquities that have played such havoc in an erring
world. And, as these knowing fellows chattered over their scraps of
worldly wisdom, and as their puny curses were bandied round, it seemed
as if some great treason were being poured out, a trespass alike against
God in heaven and the folks at home.

How could one know at that young age that all one heard was not really
villainous, that much of it indeed was mere _brusquerie_, rough-ridden
perhaps, but brisk and spirited? How should one understand that the
tones which seemed so harsh and jarring belonged in truth to a very code
of sprightliness? But a few weeks more perhaps, and you too had taken
the ring of this brazen metal. You had perceived upon what measure of
aggression, upon what rasping unkindnesses, the applause of your fellows
was bestowed. To violate every rule with fearless indifference, to be
abreast with every move that was daring or was dexterous, these were the
feats by which approval was won. In the matter of swearing you might
have remained only an unwilling dabbler, only a mixer and meddler in the
luxury, were it not that occasion came when you were solemnly arraigned
for the offence, and straightway branded as a culprit. It is in this way
that offences come. So you may have received your punishment and have
revolted under it; and perhaps you may have had a right to revolt. For
our spiritual pastors, in judging of our virtues, too often endowed us
with the capacities of children, and in judging of our vices they
endowed us with the capacities of men.

In that our early play-time, of which we have been speaking, we
distinctly call to mind two errant school-fellows, brought together by
kindred tastes, though differing in temper and disposition. Each is of
an age when the world resembles only some May-day morning, and at the
moment we are recalling them they have no other occupation than that of
dreamily rambling through the fields and lanes, delighted with the
breezy country-side, and luxuriating in their own boyish outpourings.
They had conceived this mutual liking because each felt the other to be
in true sympathy with nature, and to be capable of discerning the
wonderful enchantments of poetry and cadence. They had found a warm and
unselfish delight in ministering to the other's appreciation. They could
drink in great draughts of beauty from the chalice so unsparingly held
out by Shelley or Goethe, by Wordsworth or Byron. They could revel in
the rugged measures of 'Marmion,' in the whirl and clatter of the 'Last
Minstrel.' They could be gay with the loves of the Two Gentlemen, or
kindle at the woes of Imogen or the sorrows of Effie Deans.

And so, in such senseless manner, they are now skirting the golden
harvest-fields, recalling perhaps the bright fancy that has given the
'Skylark' to the world, or mindful of "liquid Peneus" and "darkened
Tempe." Presently there burst out of the thicket two ruffians, with rags
torn and bespattered, caked with summer's dust and mildewed by winter's
rain. As they approached their voices sounded devilish and unearthly.
They raised one long plaint of deep-toned, hard-set blasphemy. Their
every word was shotted with an oath. Hoarse with brandy, bitter with
malevolence, they cursed at the plenty of the harvest,--at the patient
cattle grazing in the fields,--at the crimson poppy blowing in the
ditch,--at the buzzing insects, at the ripening orchards. They cursed at
the luck of the skittle-alley; they cursed at the insolence of the
rulers of the land. When the devil made war with heaven, this must have
been the roar of his artillery.

We looked at our friend--for this has become a personal narrative, as
may already have been conjectured--and we marked the pain and sorrow of
heart that had visibly overcome him. Silently he seemed to implore
protection from the great span of universe surrounding us--for it was he
who was the gentler and more loyal spirit of the two. Then, as the
curses and ribaldry died away, he emerged slowly as from beneath a
stupefying load. Presently he fell to talking of the strange
perverseness with which men have always clung to this undying evil, and
cited the Levitical story of "the son of the Israelitish woman,"--the
impious oaths demanded of old time by emperors and satraps, and the
resistance of the martyred Polycarp.

Who knows but that at that moment we may have thought our friend little
better than a fool, and his words the drivel of idiotcy? We have said
somewhere, speaking of morality, that we have no opinion of professions
of it. It must be known that he was mild and retiring and submissive. He
could not give blow for blow as other boys could; he could not cheat or
lie or gamble as other boys did. He was more awkward of limb and coarser
dressed. Anyhow, we have set down here some of our first impressions of
swearing, and now we are cursorily writing its history.



CHAPTER II.

    "Now don't let us give ourselves a parcel of airs and pretend that
    the oaths we make free with in this land of liberty of ours are our
    own; and because we have the spirit to swear them,--imagine that we
    have had the wit to invent them too."--_Tristram Shandy._


When Hesiod fabled the god of oaths to be the son of Discord, the poet
could hardly have foreseen the grim reality that would attach to his
satiric allegory. It is now a very small thing--a matter of no
consequence at all--that serious and well-meaning men once attested
their assertions by making passing reference to Minerva or Helios. But
yet is it none the less necessary to realise that they made such
reference for the express purpose of being believed, and that when not
pronouncing one or other of these forms of speech, they ran a strong
chance of being absolutely disbelieved.

Hesiod has dimly chronicled the genealogy of oaths. But it was for other
generations to chronicle their posterity, to hear them derided in the
amphitheatre, and to see the divinities that inspired them shattered
and broken down. But there is a singular survival and continuity of the
ancient practice: men still swear by Jove.

A like process of declension seems to have gone on in all countries and
in the same fashion. To begin with, the origin of all swearing was the
same--the one intense dread of falsehood against which as yet no laws
were sufficient to guard. Fancy the mortal distress of barbarian man
when he first wakes to the belief that his enemies can, by smooth
speech, wrest from his hands what his prowess or his labour has
acquired. No art that he is aware of can pervert the action of tongues
set falsely going. Seeing how illimitable is the crop of words, he may
even imagine a plague of lies that will fall thick about him like
locusts or caterpillars; and then arrives the old expedient. Men fasten
upon a symbol such, as it is hoped, the hardiest will revere, and
syllable it out as evidence of truth.

If we are not mistaken, it may even be said that the degree of
refinement that a community has attained is discernible by taking as a
standpoint the merchantable character of truth. Wherever civilisation is
advancing, the ultimate unserviceability of lying becomes the more
apparent, and there ensues in consequence a depreciation in the value of
veracity. The more widely truth is recognised, the more does it
deteriorate in price, while falsehood ceases to arouse its former
measure of reprobation. Then it is, and not, indeed, until then, that
the old blundering remedy by means of oaths and oath-taking is laid
aside as out of date and no longer availing. Nowadays, at least among
most races of mankind, the ordinary inducements to veracity are of
themselves felt to be sufficiently powerful as to leave no ground for
contending that truthfulness should be the subject of rewards and
bounties. No money value is attached as of right to the performance of
an obvious duty, but in remoter times the recognition of such a
doctrine, could it have been recognised at all, would have spared the
coffers of Roman sesterces and have made the work of the Athenian
pay-clerks hang lightly on their hands. The fact would seem to be that
the prevalency of this deliberative swearing will always be found in
inverse ratio to the prevalency of truth.

The later civilisations may, therefore, be said to have profited by
centuries of untruthfulness in that they have learnt the preponderating
advantages of an intelligible code of truth. To seek an illustration by
comparison of two periods perfectly dissimilar, it may be affirmed that
there was no greater proportion of really truthful men in France at the
period, say, of Voltaire, than twelve hundred years previously at the
period of Gregory of Tours. But the countrymen of Voltaire had become
fairly apprised of the expediency of common veracity, and their
assertions, in consequence, were not accustomed to be disbelieved. But
among the Frédégondes, the Clotaires, and the Cunégondes of Gregory's
Frankish history, the case is wholly different. In that day it might
almost be supposed from a perusal of the work that the faculty of
truth-telling was lost, or more correctly that it had never arisen, so
necessary was it considered to put a statement to the severest test
before the possibility of its accuracy could be admitted. In an
indulgent, selfish, but disciplined civilisation, a statement is
generally presumed to be true which bears the ordinary impress of
veracity. In periods considerably less intellectual and enlightened, we
shall find that nothing is presumed to be true until it has been
subjected to a searching process of corroboration. It is in fact this
process of corroboration that has furnished all ranks of swearers with
their necessary side-arms and equipment.

In the two conditions of society we have just indicated, there is
revealed at once the cause and effect of promiscuous oath-taking. The
one, incredulous and diffident of belief, imposes oath upon oath as its
natural safeguard, and engages in an unremitting struggle to render
the bond of truthfulness subservient to a despotic will. The other is
weary of forms that have outlived whatever spirit was once imparted
them; it has snapped asunder the galling fetters, and made sportive
capital of the lumber that remains. An intervening age of irony probably
sufficed to undermine the sanctity of the swearing obligation, until at
last the oath of more sober times has come to be a common catchword, or
the fustian ornament of somewhat spirited talk. In short, we shall
always find that the sonorous expletive of recent days is nothing else
than the once deliberative oath of Christian piety.

Human ingenuity has seldom been more industriously employed than in
attempting to restore successive breaches in the observances of
swearing. Among the Western nations, it is said, religious sentiment had
nothing to do with the foundation of the usage. With them swearing is
represented to have been of purely military origin, and the oaths taken
upon sword and javelin to have owed nothing to the emotions of piety.
The process undergone by the military oath of Gaul before it finally
culminated in an expression of religious import, was of a very slow and
gradual kind. The Franks were accustomed to appeal to the drawn sword
as being the only arbiter of existence. In course of time the sanctity
of this engagement was broken through, and to ensure due regard for the
solemnity of the oath, it was found necessary to make the weapon the
subject of an impressive ceremony. By the capitularies of Dagobert, the
sword and harness of the warrior were required to be consecrated. Still
later, the name of God was brought into the compact. "If two
neighbours," ordains King Dagobert, "are in dispute as to the boundary
of their possessions, let them bring into the camp a turf of the
disputed territory; and each, with hands resting on the points of their
swords, and taking God to be the witness of the truth, shall give battle
until victory decides the question." Not only was the military oath
superseded; but, as years wore on, even these additional guarantees
proved themselves to be ineffectual. The interposition of saints next
came to be deemed essential, and again with the most conflicting
results. When Chilperic and his brothers divided the kingdom of
Clotaire, and swore never to enter the capital except as allies, their
treaty was ratified by oaths taken in the name of Saint Hilaire, Saint
Policeute, and Saint Martin. As time advanced, these further methods of
precaution in their turn proved abortive. Chilperic, seizing Paris in
contravention of his oath, carried as an antidote the relics of more
potent and illustrious saints in the van of his victorious army. So
dangerous a precedent being once admitted, it became necessary to resort
to still other expedients. It was thought as well to ascertain with what
degree of veneration the intending swearer might happen to regard that
particular member of the calendar whose name was proposed to be invoked.
In doubtful cases, therefore, it was not unusual to conduct a deponent
from one shrine to another, that among the multitude of oaths one of
them at least might prove effectual. A son of Clotaire, being plied by a
rebel agent with insurrectionary advice, thought it prudent to conduct
his adviser before the altars of no less than twelve churches before he
felt himself justified in listening to the representations that were
offered him.

It would seem, indeed, from the practice of half barbarous nations, that
so far from the Deity, or even the monuments of religion, being the
immediate subject of the swearing obligation, these were practically the
most remote. During the second siege of Rome by the Goths, the ministers
of Honorius were called upon to swear solemnly that they would refuse to
entertain any overtures of peace, and would wage implacable warfare upon
the enemy. With great difficulty were they induced to confirm this
engagement with an oath taken by the head of the emperor. This formula
was the most impressive and, in effect, the most binding that could well
have been resorted to, and it is reported by Gibbon that the ministers
were heard to declare that had the same oath been taken by the name of
the Deity they would have held themselves free to depart from it. In
doing blind obeisance to the arms of warfare or the symbols of
authority, the ancient world only varied from the modern as the usages
of religion differ from those of idolatry. In Rome, we are told, the
spear was sacred to Juno, and in the province of Rhegium was worshipped
as Mars. In Scythia the sword was glorified as the messenger of life and
death. And it is to be noticed as an evidence of the superstitious
sanctity that pervaded warlike implements, that in Rome, according to a
half-religious rite, the hair of newly-married women was parted with the
point of a spear. The oaths, in fine, of the Western military nations
distinctly breathe of the spirit of war, while those of the more
dreamful Eastern world are redolent of light and air, of sun and shade.
To this day in Servia the popular forms of swearing express dependence
and reliance upon the powers of nature. _Taku mi Suntza_, So help me
sun; _Taku mi Semlje_, So help me earth, are the methods of
asseveration that are in every-day use.

That period in modern history at which the deliberative oath had assumed
something of its ultimate shape is marked by the occurrence of one
singular invasion of its solemnity. The incident we refer to is the
charge preferred by Thomas-à-Becket against John the Marshal, to the
effect that he had sworn upon a "book of old songs" instead of upon the
sacred writings which had then become the proper instruments for this
purpose. Indeed, in tracing the history of these observances it would
seem as if an endeavour was being constantly made to frustrate the aims
and ends of swearing, and that the more Christian modes were only
resorted to when every pagan method had been found inoperative. To swear
upon the authority of everything that was terrible or grotesque--by the
sword or javelin of a conquering nation, as by the love-token on a
maiden's sleeve;[1] by the sepulchre of a debtor;[2] by the abbey church
at Glastonbury,[3] or by the price of the potter's field[4]--these were
expedients that had been tried and been forsaken before the modern forms
of swearing were reached. Like the time-expired worship of the
divinities of the mythology that, in the one solitary temple of Mount
Casano, was maintained for some hundred years after the gods of Olympus
had been deposed: so the impious oaths of pagandom continued to jostle
and wrestle with those of Christianity for many centuries after
authority had pronounced their doom. "Olympian Jupiter!" exclaims
Aristophanes, at the mention of that oath, "to think of your believing
in Jupiter, as old as you are!"

How stubbornly the ground was contested may be inferred from the
enactments of civil and ecclesiastical law. So early as the ninth
century, Justinian prescribed the punishment of death for the offence of
swearing by the limbs of God. The code that prevailed in the northern
districts of Britain was more severe than any that was enforced
elsewhere in these islands. By statutes of Donald VI. and Kenneth II.,
the penalty of cutting out the tongue was inflicted upon swearers. In
France, Charlemagne legislated expressly against the practice of impious
oath-taking, and by an edict of Philip II. swearers were condemned to
drowning in the Seine.[5] The Council of Constantinople passed a
sentence of excommunication upon the swearers of heathen oaths.

To how great an extent this unmeaning discord disturbed the current of
mediæval life may be seen from an examination of contemporary
literature. In particular, we may instance an early fragment that has
come down to us, and was evidently intended as a glowing satire upon the
prevalence of the abuse. It is called the "Moralité des Blasphémateurs,"
and was issued from the Paris press in the early part of the sixteenth
century. The whole design of the piece is to exhibit the supposed agency
of the potentates of Hell in proselytising mankind towards the adoption
of the most abhorrent blasphemy. Satan, according to demonologists once
the governor of the north of Heaven, is now a feudatory prince in the
kingdom of Beelzebub. He is presumed to act under the orders of Lucifer,
the judge of Hell, and is joined in his commission by Behemoth, the
henchman and cupbearer of the infernal chiefs. There is a sufficiency of
invective in the opening greeting of these personages that was doubtless
calculated to add to the repulsive character of the performance:--

  "Sathan, ennemy traistre et faulx,
  Où es tu mauldict loricart?"

To which Satan replies:--

  "Que veulx tu, mauldict Lucifer?
  Que te fault-il, beste saulvaige?"

Their salutation finished, these worthies proceed to recount the sport
they have had on earth. Satan has visited the land of France, where he
has spent his time in the company of horse-stealers and cattle-lifters,
fellows, he assures them, who have no thought for mass or vespers; and
he has left them feasting day and night, getting as drunk as herons.
This account of his stewardship seems to give but small satisfaction to
Lucifer, who thereupon bids his followers--

  "Allez tost par mons et par vaulx
  Faire jurer le nom de Dieu
  A garses et à garsonneaulx
  En toute place et en tout lieu.
  C'est une belle operation
  De jurer Dieu à chascun point."

This strain of conversation continues through over a hundred pages of
closely-printed matter, and is only varied by the exordiums of certain
more admirable characters, who are introduced, as we must suppose, to
point a moral to the story.

The state of feeling disclosed by this offensive farce shows plainly,
even at that time, that the public which tolerated it had passed out of
a state of mere supineness and had assumed an attitude of disrespect and
defiance towards the authority of oaths. The system had been allowed to
overreach itself, and thenceforward its set forms and all the
paraphernalia that pertained to them were made over to the service of
criminality and to the uses of violent speech. The modern practice of
swearing, in either its flippant or vituperative shape, is derived from
the break-up of the process once devised as a protection of truthfulness
and fair dealing. So nearly allied have been the oaths of piety and
statecraft with those of violence and malice, that the severer thinkers,
whether Lollards, Puritans, or Quakers, have waged a war of
extermination against both alike. They have contended, and with some
amount of probability, that these jarring expletives of passion and
irreligion have only been perpetuated by reason of the familiarity that
has ensued from the undue exaction of legal tests. The same stubbornness
with which they combated the evil in endless tracts and broadsides they
maintained before courts and inquisitions. At the Lancaster Assizes of
1664, George Fox and Mrs. Margaret Fell stood upon their trial for
refusing to conform. "I have never laid my hand on the book to swear in
all my life," urged the woman. "I do not care if I never hear an oath
read, for the land mourns because of oaths." And then appealing to the
jury she exclaims: "I was bred and born in this county and never have
been at this assize before. I am a widow, and my estate is a dowry, and
I have five children unpreferred."

There was one device of oath-taking, half pagan and half barbaric, which
but very slowly relaxed its hold on Christian Europe. We have spoken of
the oath upon the sword--the oath of ancient Scythia, the oath of the
Antigone of Euripedes. In the terrors of an isolated death, remote from
all the outward appliances of his faith, the stricken warrior found
consolation in raising before his vision the hilt of his scabbardless
sword. The tapering metal-hafted blade threw the shadow of a cross upon
the dying soldier, and to this rude emblem the poor fevered lips would
stammer out their last words of petition. The sword had become a revered
symbol conveying to the departing the hope of divine favour and
intercession. This thought so powerfully arrested the imagination that
it did not relinquish its grasp when a period of security had succeeded
a reign of bloodshed and danger. In the traditions of Denmark, the oath
upon the sword-hilt was preserved in a spirit of deep solemnity. Later,
in English history, the King-Maker took his vows upon the cross of his
bared steel, and the custom lingered in effigy to the days of Elizabeth,
when the fencing-masters, practising their calling at the Bear Garden,
were required to take an oath upon their rapier's hilt to carry
themselves honourably in their profession.[6] The gravity with which
this form of conjuration is approached by Hamlet's followers is evident
from the passage:--

     "_Hor._ }
             } My lord, we will not.
     _Mar._  }

     _Hamlet._ Nay, but swear it.

     _Hor._ In faith, my lord, not I.

     _Ghost._ (beneath). Swear!

     _Hamlet._ Ha, ha, boy! say'st thou so? art there, true-penny?
     Come on--you hear this fellow in the cellarage,
     Consent to swear.

     _Hor._ Propose the oath, my lord.

     _Hamlet._ Never to speak of this that you have seen,
     Swear by my sword."

The ground that we have thus far traversed is really one of a remarkable
struggle, that has not abated even in our time. It is not the intention
of this essay to follow the history of judicial oath-taking, or of the
attestations that would seem to be demanded by conscience or religion.
But it must be remembered that the subject of vituperative swearing is
so interwoven with that of these legal and religious ordinances, that
the consideration of them must be frequently forced upon us. But whilst
doing so it should be no less borne in mind that we are never really
losing sight of the object we have in view. We aim simply at
disinterring a neglected, possibly a justly neglected, chapter in the
world's social history, and are called upon to judge both of the tree
and its fruit, of the seed and the grain.



CHAPTER III.

THE BRITISH SHIBBOLETH.

    "Pantagruel then asked what sorts of people dwelled in that damn'd
    island."--_Rabelais_ iv., chap. lxiv.


"If ever I should betake myself to swearing," says Sir John Hazlewood in
the play, "I shall give very little concern to the fashion of the oath.
Odd's bodikins will do well enough for me, and lack-a-daisy for my
wife." Many other persons have been much of the same mind as this Sir
John, and, possessing a certain esteem for the pomp and circumstance of
swearing, have been impelled to cherish some curious substitute so that
they might still get a little harmless amusement out of the vice. In
this way they have contrived so to compound with their consciences as to
become swearers in practice without being blasphemers in intention.

The characteristic of this good Hazlewood is his extreme tolerance and
neutrality. He is not among the swearers himself, but at a moment of
danger he is prepared to join that body, taking service in the ranks.
To disown allegiance altogether never for a moment coincides with his
sense of the becoming. The worthy man is too loyal to the set rules of
his acknowledged leaders, to harbour a notion so subversive and
dangerous. And in this particular we shall find he has been followed by
the greater number not only of his own degree and class but of all
orders and conditions.

A circumstance like this would seem to suggest some remarkable
underlying motive as accounting for the wonderful omnipotence of
swearing. It is possible that an occult virus congenial to its
development is so insinuated into the composition of the human mind as
to defy the power of ethics wholly to eradicate it. Can it be that the
habit owes its existence and source of delight to some soothing and
pleasureful qualities which, like the solace of the tobacco-leaf or the
balm of the nightshade, the world will not willingly forego?

We are disposed to think that the instinct of swearing is very deeply
rooted in the mental constitution. A very little experience of mankind
will incline one to the belief that the censors of morals have on the
whole done wisely in temporising with this strange humour. Of all the
philosophers who of old laid down rules for worldly guidance, Socrates
may be trusted to have held at a just appreciation the trips and sallies
of Athenian manhood. And yet even Socrates is understood to have sworn
deeply and volubly. Not, however, the Herculean oaths that were
resounded in the amphitheatre and at the festivals, but by the names of
more despicable objects, by the dog, the caper, and the plane-tree.[7]
The philosopher was too well versed in the ways of headstrong humanity
to run exactly counter to all the follies inspired by the grape of Chios
and Lesbos. On the contrary, he gains his momentary end and creates a
lasting remonstrance while seemingly sporting and dallying with the
abuse. In like manner, Aristophanes could afford to trifle with the
asseverations of his own Athenian audiences. In portraying the
wind-paved city of the feathered tribes, he transforms these oaths into
the milder shape of "by snares," "by nets," "by meshes." And further to
display the ludicrous side of Attic swearing, he records a time when "no
man used to swear by gods, but all by birds. And still Lampon swears by
the goose when he practises any deceit."[8]

It would seem almost as if all writers of this indulgent turn had
arrived at one perception, namely, that "bad language" is an
indispensable element in social life, an element to be only softened by
ridicule or perhaps be checked by dissuasion. To seek to suppress it
altogether is regarded as futile. The same impression has evidently
prevailed among the number of practical philosophers who in everyday
life are accustomed to handicap the ebullitions of this impetuous vice.
They may place nagging obstacles in the way of its career, and burdens
upon its back; but otherwise it is allowed to run its course. By means
of an accepted code of rules a kind of _modus vivendi_ in this respect
is obtained. Thus the conversation that is conceded in a club
smoking-room would be intolerable in the boudoir. In some sort men have
been permitted the enjoyment of swearing, and that with impunity,
provided they did not carry it beyond the prohibited pale. To turn again
to ancient Athens for illustration, we find that even children were
allowed to swear profanely by the name of Hercules, but with the single
restriction that they should do so in the open air. The oath was for
some singular reason deemed the especial privilege of young people, and
was only thought offensive and visited with punishment when invoked
within the curtilage of the dwelling.[9]

It has always seemed to us that vituperative swearing is too closely
allied to the passion of animosity to be ever successfully treated apart
from the human failing from which it takes its rise. Joy and hatred,
terror and surprise must indeed be very old and steadfast emotions in
the history of the world; and while we should prefer to find that joy is
the more universal of these perceptions, hatred is, we fear, the more
historic and the more enduring. Animosity is resolute even in its
caprices; it has few facilities for disguise and but little capacity for
assumption. The tones and gestures it employs are perfectly unequivocal,
and not easily mistaken. For although the vocabulary of hatred has from
time to time received handsome embellishment at the hands of ingenious
and illustrious haters, its wonted expression must always remain fixed.
The keynote is the oath which, in all ages and in all languages, passion
seems to generate with but very little assistance.

Among a people who, perhaps unjustly, have been prided for the
choiceness of their swearing, the favourite growth and very spoilt-child
of animosity is the word of an exceedingly forcible kind. In
endeavouring to chronicle the amenities of the British "damn," we
believe we are dealing with a monosyllable possessing a remarkable fund
of application. The term has fairly puzzled the ingenuity of continental
neighbours to comprehend. Not only has it excited their ridicule, but we
are not sure that it has not even stimulated their envy. It has been
said by one of the sprightliest of Frenchmen, that a foreigner might
conveniently travel through England with the assistance only of this one
particle of speech.

The uses, or the misuses, of the word would seem to be twofold: first,
as an accessory of abuse, and secondly, as an accessory of geniality. In
some instances the two qualities are blended. Thus the knights of the
road who stopped coaches and filched purses on the heath of Newmarket or
Hounslow usually rode off "damning" their victims and advising them to
sue the hundred for the injury. Whereat it was customary to remark, in
the joking spirit of the age, that the villains showed themselves true
men of the law by taking their fee before they gave their advice.
Everyone who remembers the eleventh canto of Don Juan will recollect the
pugilistic conflict that took place upon that hero's first arrival at
the outskirts of London, a shower of blackguard oaths taking a
conspicuous part in the encounter. Juan, weary with travel, has arrived
at Shooter's Hill. He is meditating upon the vastness of the city
stretched in panorama at his feet. Suddenly his studious occupation is
interrupted by the onset of a gang of footpads. In the confusion that
ensues, his ignorance of the language places him at a momentary
disadvantage. The only English word he is acquainted with being, as he
phrases it, "their shibboleth, 'Goddamn.'" Even this Juan innocently
imagines to be a form of salutation, a sort of God-be-with-you, a
misconception which the poet professes to think not unnatural--

        "... for half English as I am
  (To my misfortune) never can I say
  I heard them wish 'God with you,' save that way."

No stanza of the poem is more replete than this with a vein of painfully
sarcastic drollery. The insular failing is elsewhere frequently
displayed by the poet in the trying light cast from a misanthrope
genius.

But perhaps the severest hit, and not the less severe because tempered
with banter and good humour, is that which has been directed from the
pen of Beaumarchais.[10] "Diable! c'est une belle langue que l'anglais;
il en faut peu pour aller loin; avec Goddam en Angleterre on ne manque
de rien ... les Anglais à la vérité, ajoutent par-ci par-là, quelques
autres mots en conversant; mais il est bien aisé de voir que Goddam est
le fond de la langue."

The highest point of wit in this direction must be supposed to have been
reached when Evariste Parny, a poet of no mean celebrity, produced his
"Goddam! poëme en quatre chants, par un French-dog." This was in the
year XII. or, as we now should prefer to call it, 1804.

The countrymen, and in one remarkable instance, a countrywoman of
Beaumarchais, have been particularly industrious in fastening this
aspersion upon their English neighbours. So long ago as 1429, when the
arms of Shrewsbury and Bedford had well-nigh wrested the last jewel from
the diadem of France, and a peasant maiden of the Calvados had flung
herself into Orleans to stem the tide of the English advance, there
likewise came to the aid of the fainting cause a welcome supply of mirth
and invective. The Maid of Orleans, inspiriting the beleaguered army by
harangue, by entreaty, even by quips and jests, kept them constantly
reminded of the insular nickname. Rising from sleep and putting on her
armour to direct the memorable assault upon the Tournelles, a soldier of
her command ventured to produce a repast of fish, and prayed her to
break her fast. "Joan, let us eat this shad-fish before we set out."
The Maid indignantly put aside the proffered gift, "In the name of God,"
said she, "it shall not be eaten till supper, by which time we will
return by way of the bridge, and I will bring you back a Goddam to eat
it with." How the redoubtable Tournelles was taken by steel and
culverin, and how Joan succeeded in bringing back many hundred Goddams,
has become matter of history. As to the conclusion of the Maid's career,
there has been opened a wide field of controversy, but one incident in
the closing chapter of her life is supported by reliable testimony.
While undergoing close imprisonment pending the decision of her fate,
two English noblemen, the Earls of Warwick and Stafford, came to visit
her in gaol, and would seem to have held out hopes of ransom; Joan,
irritated at the specious language of her visitors, retorted on them
sharply: "I know you well," she cried, "you have neither the will nor
the power to ransom me. You think when you have slain me, you will
conquer France; but that you will never bring about. No! although there
were one hundred thousand Goddams in this land more than there
are!"[11]

With the assumption of the soldier's tunic, it did not follow that she
adopted the manners of the military fire-eater, or suited herself to the
wild talk of camps. The epithet "Goddam" in the mouth of La Pucelle was
expressive only of acrimony towards the oppressor, and even assuming it
to have been irreverent and ungainly, was not the least in accord with
the language that usually distinguished her. So far from condoning the
irregularities of military life, Joan seems to have laid her strongest
commands upon the soldiery to abstain from oath-taking, and in one
instance would appear to have made a convert of an illustrious kind.
Stories are told, which we need not here repeat, of the licence in
expression of the celebrated La Hire, who may be likened to a Boanerges
among swearers. With him the habit was perfectly indispensable. At last
Joan came to a compromise. He was to retain to the full his privilege of
swearing, provided he referred in his oaths to no other substantive than
his marshal's baton, and thenceforward this sturdy soldier betook
himself to this emasculated form of swearing.

According to an authority that is entitled to credit, a very similar
subterfuge would seem to have been attempted at a still earlier period
of French history. The courtiers of Louis IX. were wont to indulge in
what may be described as a very flippant and volatile description of
swearing. The indignation of their master, the beloved St. Louis, may of
itself have been no inconsiderable punishment, but a still worse one was
provided in the statute-book, which prescribed the penalty of branding
the tongue with a red-hot iron upon every commission of the offence. The
oaths which at this period were the cause of the greatest mortification
to the saintly king were the _cordieus_, the _têtedieus_, the _pardieus_
and the numerous offshoots, the effigies of which still survive in the
pages of Rabelais and Molière--the "Moyen de Parvenir" and the "Baron de
Foeneste". With the airy nonchalance of practised sophistry, these
apologists of swearing conceived a device that to themselves at least
proved eminently satisfactory. At this time there was at the palace a
pet dog, known by the name of Bleu. To elude the harsh sentence of the
law that might for ever deprive these gay swearers of the power of
taking oaths, they determine to substitute for _dieu_ the name of the
favourite dog. Thus _cordieu_ became CORBLEU and _têtedieu_ became
TÊTEBLEU, and so on throughout the entire series. Unlike the rigid St.
Louis, a later French monarch, Henry IV. was himself a notorious
offender in this respect. On every occasion of annoyance, he was heard
to give utterance to his favourite oath "Jarnidieu!" To him once came
his confessor, Coton. "Sire," said the confessor, "it is a great sin to
mention the holy name in these terms." "You are right," said Henry, "in
future I will say 'Jarnicoton.'"

It is singular to turn for a moment from the extravagant exuberance of a
polished French court to find the same device existing in a very
different era of the world's history. The educated Athenian vented his
"Mon Dieus" like any Frenchman on the boulevard, and in like manner
learned to soften his "[Greek: Ma ton theon]" to a simple "[Greek: Ma
ton]" in deference to ears polite. Socrates himself, never altogether
free from a predilection for jocose forms of swearing, also took the
palace dog, so to speak, as his colloquial stalking-horse, and, like the
courtiers of St. Louis, swore [Greek: nê ton kuna].

The framework of the story dealing with the conversion of La Hire has
not been lost upon the writers of the theatre. A _petite comédie_ well
known on the boards of the Théâtre Français as 'Les Jurons de Cadillac,'
is occupied with the sufferings of a naval officer who is constrained by
feminine influence to relinquish his customary expletives. "How is it,"
asks La Comtesse, "that you have contracted this horrible habit; you, a
scion of an old stock, one of our first Gascon gentlemen?" Cadillac's
answer is spirited. "Comtesse, I was brought up by my grandfather, an
old sea dog, corbleu! With him I learnt to swear before I learnt to
read, and if he has not taught me the language of courts, it is because,
sacrébleu! he did not know it. He made me a true sailor, ventre mahon!"
The Comtesse insists that, as a proof of the captain's professions of
regard, he should abstain from indulging in this habit for the space of
one single hour. Should the ordeal be successfully passed, she consents
that he shall receive her hand as his reward. Cadillac is fairly driven
to desperation. "Ask of me anything but that!" he exclaims; "only let me
swear, or I shall go mad!" Finally he sees no help for it but to accept
the challenge, and the audience is detained in a state of amusing
suspense while witnessing the contrivances with which the honest captain
endeavours to overcome the difficulty. He tampers with the hands of the
clock in the hope of abridging the hour of trial, and this ruse being
discovered he unworthily seeks safety in sullen silence. "No, no,
captain," objects the Comtesse, "unless you converse it is not fair
play." His tormentor lures him with all her skill to let slip one of his
unpremeditated expletives, and a hundred times the worthy fellow is on
the point of giving way. At last, beguiled into a description of one of
his most thrilling sea-fights, and with the recollection of the wild
scenes of carnage passing vividly before his eyes, he is no longer able
to maintain composure. He bursts into a volume of his old sea terms, but
the lady, moved, as it would seem, by the _élan_ and spirit of the
recital, finds it in her heart to be merciful. The play concludes with a
modest _sacrébleu_, this time spoken by La Comtesse. It will be seen
from the evidence of this performance alone that in ascribing to our
nationality a monopoly of energetic language, public report has hardly
been discriminating.

Not desiring, however, to turn the tables upon our aspersers, we propose
to still further pursue the fortunes of the Britannic shibboleth from
when we left it upon the lips of La Pucelle. The aspersion cast upon the
English on the Picard battle-fields continued to be handed down in camp
story and in rugged _vaux-de-vire_. Neither did it cease to provoke
derision and merriment when it had entered into the common parlance of
the Paris cabaret, and became the stock property of the Palais Royal
farce.[12] The "Goddam" that greeted British officers rollicking
through the city of pleasure in the days succeeding Waterloo was the
same term of opprobrium that assailed the English archers at Agincourt
and Honfleur.

To what "mute inglorious" satirist we are indebted for this lasting
compliment we shall probably never now determine. The word is at least
discovered in the collection of Norman ballads subjoined to the
'Vaux-de-Vire' of Master Oliver Basselin published at Caen, 1821. This
work dates from the early part of the sixteenth century, but has
reference to the events of the preceding one. It more particularly
speaks of Henry V. as dying _par le mal de St. Fiacre_ and of Henry VI.
as ascending the throne. It is the latter monarch who is referred to in
these verses as "little King Goddam"--

  "Ils out chargé l'artillerye sus mer,
  Force bisquit et chascun ung bydon,
  Et par la mer jusqu'en Biscaye aller,
  Pour couronner leur petit roy godon."

We might search in vain for mention of the expression in English
writings of the same period. In France however the epithet is repeated
with equal malignancy in the angry verses which Guillaume Crétin was
pleased to write upon the 'Battle of the Spurs':

  "Cryant: Qui vive aux Godons d'Angleterre.

       *       *       *       *       *

  Seigneurs du sang, barons et chevaliers,
  Tous seculiers d'illustre parentage,
  Permettez vous à ses Godons, galliers,
  Gros godaillers, houspalliers, poullalliers,
  Prendre palliers au françoys heritaige?"

The aspersion however did not always rest with Frenchmen. Lord Hailes,
in a criticism written about the year 1770, incidentally gives it as his
experience that in Holland the children when they espy any English
people say, "There come the Goddams," and that the Portuguese, as soon
as they acquire a smattering of the tongue, exclaim, "How do you do,
Jack? damn you!"[13]

We have attentively considered the tone of contemporary English writings
to ascertain whether by a hazard the nickname was appropriately
bestowed. In the result we have not been able to discover anything to
lead to the supposition that this particular form of speech was, upon
these shores at least, very generally indulged in. Either the tall
soldiers who accompanied Henry of Monmouth to the wars were so
stimulated by the unaccustomed juice of the grape as to then and there
originate this vigorous epithet, unspoken at home, or else there was
little or no justification for the taunting expression. We are inclined
to think that the former surmise is approximately correct. The habit was
not an Englishman's but a soldier's vice, and when the foreign troubles
were at an end it may very well have been drafted back to this country
with the rest of the fighting contingent.

Although in its usage it is now considered essentially British, there is
no reason to impute to it any other than an etymology decidedly French.
Its similarity with the numerous derivatives of the verb _damno_ have
probably obscured the true derivation of the word. For its real
parentage we must have recourse to the Latin _dominus_ or _domina_ which
produced the Gallic _dame_. This again was used equally to denote a
potentate of either sex, until at last we find the interjection _dame!_
applied in the same sense as _Seigneur!_ or our own _Lord!_ When,
therefore, we go still further, and meet with _dame Dieu!_ occurring
frequently in ancient texts we are helped at once to the source of our
adopted expletive. By one of those combinations so often to be found
where there is a confusion or admixture of tongues, the English
soldiery rendered their _dame!_ or _dame Dieu!_ in the way we have seen,
and a hybrid term was thus produced which has not even yet been found
waning in popularity. The derivation we have here suggested is
sufficient of itself to account for the amusement that was displayed by
laughter-loving Frenchmen, who twitted the invader in that he was unable
to pronounce the irrepressible _Dieu_, and was forced to anglicise it to
fit it to the remainder of the oath. It will be perceived that, taking
this view of the case, the British shibboleth is rather more of a
shibboleth than has previously been supposed.

It is true that in a scarce work we find it is recorded that the
expression originated with Richard III., but this is easily confuted by
the examples we have given. The 'Comedy of Errors' contains one isolated
allusion to it:--"_God damn me!_ that's as much as to say, God make me a
light wench." Here the term is dearly interpolated as a kind of
newly-coined catchword. We suspect that the true era of the oath being
absorbed into common speech is indicated by a passage in the epigrams of
Sir John Harrington. This work, which appeared in 1613, is much
concerned at the abusive element that had at that time entered into
English conversation. No longer, says Sir John, do men swear devoutly
by the cross and mass, or by such innocent oaths as the pyx or the
mousefoot. Now they invite damnation as their pledge of sincerity.
"Goddamn-me," he repines, had then become the customary oath. This
appears to us to be the first intimation of the fact that we find in
English literature.[14]

Neither was amusement neglected to be created out of this new
word-sally. In one of the comedies which throw so much light upon the
manners of the time, a piece called 'Amends for Ladies,' from the pen of
Nat Field, we are introduced among a so-called society of roarers. The
experiment had been already tried by Thomas Middleton, who, in his
'Faire Quarrel,' had initiated his audience into the exercises of a
pretended roaring-school. The notion was simply that the young idlers
about town met together to acquire perfection in the arts of bombast and
exaggeration. In the former production, a Lord Feesimple is supposed to
be enjoying the coveted distinction of being drilled into becoming a
roarer. As was usual in these performances, the characters pass from one
insolence to another, until at last swords are drawn and general uproar
prevails. But what upon the present occasion has given rise to the
misunderstanding, is the unlucky assumption by Feesimple of one of the
roysterers' private and particular oaths. In an ill-omened moment he has
presumed to exclaim, "Damn me!" whereupon a certain Tearchaps who has
been noticeable through the play as the improprietor of the term, very
loudly objects--"Use your own words, damn me is mine; I am known by it
all the town o'er. D'ye hear?"

Feesimple, although disposed to contest the other's title, is happily
brought to order by the timely interference of one Welltried, whose
knowledge of such matters enables him to bear out the truth of the
assertion. This play, produced in 1618 and acted upon the stage of the
Blackfriars, tallies in substance with Harrington's verses produced in
the earlier year.

Allied to this expression is a phrase which may even be said to have a
kind of literary merit. "Don't care a damn" is indicative of about the
utmost possible amount of unconcern. It would be in vain to seek for any
object more intrinsically inconsiderable with which to liken a
condition of indifference. Anstey seizes upon it in his 'Bath Guide':--

        "Absurd as I am,
        I don't care a damn
  Either for you or your valet-de-sham."

But curiously enough this figure of speech was originally as independent
of the "shibboleth" as we have seen that was of the classic "damno."
There is in India a piece of money of the minutest value, which is known
as a _dam_. The phrase, therefore, so far from originating in a fanciful
comparison, really does nothing more than announce a prosaic fact. It
has been said that the expression was occasionally used by the "great
Duke," a circumstance for which the Indian experiences of the victor of
Assaye has been held sufficient to account. Mr. Trevelyan, indeed, in
his 'Life of Lord Macaulay' (ii. 257) states positively that the Duke of
Wellington invented this oath.

Etymology, which has thus brushed away what one might have taken to be a
thoroughly characteristic expression, also supplies a matter-of-fact
explanation for another modification of the phrase. "Don't care a
curse," or "Not worth a curse," we might fondly imagine to possess
something of poetic imagery. The learned in derivations undeceive us.
They say that the word _curse_ is here identical with the plant
"cress." In that sense, "not worth a curse" will be found in Piers
Ploughman's Vision, the remarkable work of the fourteenth century.

       *       *       *       *       *

Since the days when City madams and Fleet Street apprentices flocked
round the dusty scaffold of the Blackfriars play-house, and laughed and
rallied one another, or possibly took passing umbrage at the satire that
was being levelled at this newly-nurtured word, what a remarkable, what
an astounding ascendancy has it not enjoyed? No mint has ever issued its
metal more swiftly than has this exchequer of bad language, or given it
a more unmistakable impression. And yet there is nothing healthful,
nothing good in it. From the disorders which first environed it, it has
never yet recovered. It lives only by disease and unhealthiness, and
when it has rid itself of disease and unhealthiness it will die.



CHAPTER IV.

WHICH GIVES A DOG A BAD NAME.


We have already adverted to that foreign and slanderous tradition which
lays all the grosser sins of vituperation at the Englishman's door. It
has been seen how the "damns" and "goddams" of a marauding soldiery,
though scattered upon the winds of many centuries ago, have continued to
be held up in judgment against the English-speaking race. There remains
to be noticed one other item of continental asperity that has enjoyed in
its day a full measure of approbation owing to the delightful assumption
that it savoured of perfidious Britain.

Parisian caricaturists have always affected to believe that the
inhabitants of these islands are usually accompanied in their travels
abroad by some member of the canine species. The British bull-dog has
figured again and again in pictorial skits that are supposed to
represent the idiosyncrasies of the travelling Englishman. But the
notion may very well be of older date than this period of facile
illustration. Examples can be quoted of the occurrence of the word dog,
or _dogue_, as a malediction similar to that of "goddam," and at a date
nearly as distant.[15] There can be little doubt as to the inspired
origin of the phrase. So grateful is the demon of animosity for every
new-shaped weapon of attack, that in course of time it came to be
levelled indifferently at any object whether insular or otherwise that
it happened to be the speaker's intention to abuse. The inoffensive word
was the more readily adopted by the classes who had least notion of its
signification. As Dr. Johnson, when he wished to get the better of a
fishwife in a wordy encounter, would call her a parallelogram or a
hypothenuse, so the Seine boatmen and the market-women of the Halles
would denounce their antagonist as a "_dogue_." "Je laisserais plutôt ma
roupille en gage," exclaims one of the characters in the farce of
'Piarot et Janin,'[16] "que de te laisser payer mon quartier. La dogue!
tu ne me connais pas."

What actual necessity can there have been for so invidiously employing
an imported word, when the French equivalent was already firmly
established as a particle of abuse? Although in our own vernacular the
epithet "dog!" is seldom to be met with outside the histories of Miss
Porter or of Mr. James, elsewhere the Gallic "chien!" has always been in
brisk demand. Both before and since the composition of 'Piarot and
Janin,' has it been customary among a numerous class to grind it in the
teeth of persons who have been the cause of annoyance or affront. In
conjunction also with other substantives, it has served as a powerful
degree of comparison and denotes a superlative expression of contempt.
In the most polite language, _quel chien de temps_ indicates weather of
a most deplorable description; _quel chien d'auteur_, an author whose
stupidity is exasperating. The oath of _Jarnichien!_ passed for a term
of the very darkest complexion; while in _sacré chien_, we have an
expletive as forcible as any that a Frenchman can utter.

The Romans of old are said to have played with two sorts of dice, the
tali and the tesseræ. The tali had four even surfaces, the tesseræ six.
On opposite faces of the four-sided figure were marked respectively the
numbers one and six, the numbers three and four appearing respectively
on the other surfaces. The tessera, or six-sided figure, bore on its
additional faces the numbers two and five. Both tali and tesseræ were
usually knuckle-bones of an animal, frequently the gazelle; the uneven
ends being planed smooth in the case of the tesseræ, while for the tali
they were left in their natural condition. The game admitted of various
rules and of various degrees of skill, and it would seem that the more
ancient Greek sculptures represent the children and maidens of Athens
manipulating the tesseræ in much the same manner as school-boys still
play at the game of knuckle-bones. But whatever element of dexterity may
have originally pervaded the pastime, it was very rapidly dispelled, and
both tali and tesseræ became, as they have since remained, the
instruments of wagering and gain. The best throw, called the Venus, only
happened when each of the upturned surfaces presented different units.
The worst throw was when the four pieces exposed the same number on
each, and that number an ace. This single pip was technically known as
the _unio_, the side of six as the _senio_; while the name by which the
throw of four aces was chiefly distinguished among the gamesters of
antiquity was the _canicula_ or _canis_.

  "Jure etenim id summum quid dexter senio ferret
  Scire erat in voto, damnosa canicula quantum
  Raderet."            _Persius, Sat._ iii.

The deduction has been drawn that the player, baulked in his luck, and
turning angrily upon the prone dice as they disclosed the four upturned
aces, sought passing relief by hurling at them an insensate malediction.
In this way, after a long interval and by a slow process of development,
the _damnosa canicula_ of the Roman gamester is said to have become, or
more strictly to be represented by, the _sacré chien_ of a nearer
civilisation.

The force of association has so indelibly connected the mention of this
animal with whatever is inferior or contemptuous, that there is at first
no room for surprise at finding it used in its present application. So
imperceptibly has this turn of thought entered into our habits of mind,
that, without further inquiry, such an application would appear
perfectly natural and proportionable. But upon the very slightest
reflection a sense of inappropriateness cannot fail to be forced upon
us. Surely the nomenclature of the animal world is sufficiently varied
as to admit of the dishonour done to it being more equally divided. One
would expect to find the members of the canine family at the least no
more than sharers in the distinction in common with other creatures of
the brute world. But no such equal distribution would appear to prevail.
The question therefore that remains is, how it is that the name of the
most sagacious of animals should be universally identified in the
vernacular tongue with whatever is the most ignoble and despicable of
its kind? The wild rose is called the dog-rose, the scentless violet the
dog-violet; bad Latin is termed dog-Latin; and in Ovid we have _verba
canina_ as denoting abusive conversation.

Although the author of Gallus goes the length of saying that among the
ancients the names of the lower animals were seldom heard as particles
of abuse, the opprobrious application of the name of the dog will be
found to be most classical. The use made of the word in the conversation
of ancient Greece should be in easy recollection, bringing down as it
did upon the Athenian people the accusation of being their popular oath
of asseveration. Socrates, we are to believe, rarely used in his
swearing any other form of expression. "By the dog! Polus," he is made
to exclaim in Plato's 'Gorgias,' "I am really in doubt each time you
speak whether you are stating your own views or are asking my
opinion."[17]

When, therefore, we find in the twelfth century an archbishop of Juvavia
interdicting his countrymen from ratifying their treaties with an oath
taken by the dog, we gain some insight into the portent of the canine
oath of Thebes and Athens. The superstition and mysticism attaching to
this animal are brought still closer home by a passage from De
Joinville, which mentions the sacrificing of a living dog as a Byzantine
method of confirming an obligation. Moreover, on the coins of Syracuse
the dog as the emblem of constancy is represented in company with the
goddess Diana. That a sacrificial ceremony, barbarous at once and
ineffectual, should have received any countenance among a people of
culture, is only in accordance with the view expressed at an earlier
part of these pages, that the progress of true civilisation may be
clearly traced by comparing the relative values of the veracity. The
cities of Greece were full of straw-shoes, men who distinguished their
calling by a straw at their feet, and who were ready at the bid of a
suitor to give the lightest evidence for the heaviest fee. Confidence
had little place among a nation far too volatile and specious to be able
to rely upon any system of reciprocal good faith. From this circumstance
it was that the Greeks earned for themselves the repute of being the
least trustworthy of all the untruthful nations of antiquity. In such a
community the fragile safeguard of an oath is, from sheer helplessness,
the more rigorously demanded. The Hellenic people may be said to have
been eminently a swearing people. The character had so persistently
clung to them, and was descended from so remote an antiquity, that
Juvenal, in the Sixth Satire, can only refer their immunity from
swearing to the period when innocence was said to have prevailed upon
earth and before Jupiter had begun to let his beard grow.

But while Greek and Roman riveted oath upon oath and laid ceremony upon
ceremony, to accomplish that simple understanding which should be
effected by the mere parole of right-thinking men, there is no evidence
to show that swearing was carried to the precise point to which it has
been brought among ourselves. That at the lightest stir of the emotions
they were ready to apostrophise the ruling divinities as well as the
shapes of field and flood, of earth and air, must pass as
uncontradicted,[18] but never do they appear, as in the modern world, to
have forged their poetic oaths into weapons of malevolence and hurt.
There would seem to have been no actual counterpart in these languages
to the vituperative swearing of modern days. The difference in this
respect is somewhat singular, but it may readily be accounted for. With
the ancients, oaths were employed in guarding as efficiently as they
could the public conscience and the public security. With the moderns
they have been for the most part released from this unstable duty, and
accordingly, with untrammelled energy and ungovernable vigour, they have
entered upon a system of privateering upon their own account.

Not only had the ancient mythology to struggle against the constant
infraction of the sanctity of the deliberative oath, but the minds of
heathen votaries must have been strongly biassed by an acquaintance with
instances of light swearing in the gods themselves. To render the
practice the less capricious and incontinent, a notion of an individual
property or trade-mark in oaths came to be perceptibly encouraged. The
specific appropriation of some distinctive oath raised the presumption
that it implied an unequivocal pledge of sincerity. In this way Zeno,
the founder of the Stoics, swore continually "by the caper." Pythagoras,
we are told, was accustomed to swear by the number four, [Greek: ma tên
tetrakton]. This numeral came to be regarded in consequence as
symbolical of the divinity, and the Pythagorean school gravely
inculcated it as a point of morals to abstain from intruding upon so
illustrious an example.

Besides the oath of Socrates, "by the dog," he is reported to have sworn
variously by the goose and by the plane-tree. Those who argue in favour
of the piety of the philosopher, explain that the habit was assumed as a
foil to the irreverent mention of the gods that was then so universal.
Lucian attaches an intelligible meaning to these flippant expletives,
and represents Socrates as justifying their use. "Are you not aware," he
is presumed to reason, "that the dog is the Anubis of Egypt, the Sirius
of the skies; and in hell is the keeper Cerberus?" and Plutarch is also
found to comment on the oath, "those that worship the dog have a certain
sacred meaning that must not be revealed; in the more remote and ancient
times the dog had the highest honours paid to him in Egypt." In the
copiousness of the ancient swearing the notion of an oath accommodated
itself to all the varieties of monstrous gods. The divinities Isis and
Osiris were invoked in witness of a sacred pledge no less than the
garlic, the leek, and the onion, and indeed every other deity which, as
was said by the Roman satirist, grew and flourished in the
market-gardens of Alexandria.

We are admitted to a just appreciation of the levity of Athenian
swearing through the medium of one of the most remarkable performances
ever placed upon the stage, whether of the modern or the ancient world.
When, returning from an expedition, Socrates repaired to the theatre to
witness Aristophanes' comedy 'The Clouds,' he found himself portrayed
upon the scene as the central figure of the drama. He was even
represented swung up in a basket in his own thinking-shop and giving
utterance to innumerable heresies and follies. When Strepsiades offers
to swear by the gods, he is at once interrupted by Socrates in the
basket, who reminds him that the gods are not current coin in his system
of philosophy. "By what then do you swear?" asks Strepsiades; "by the
iron money, as they do at Byzantium?" Unhappily the query remained
unanswered.

The result, however, of the Socratic influence is intended to be shown
by the circumstance of Strepsiades subsequently swearing "by the mist!"
and reproaching his son for taking oaths in the name of a deity of the
outside world. Presently, on being importuned by a creditor for the
return of twelve minæ lent for the purchase of a dapple-grey horse, he
is ready to swear any number of oaths "by the gods" that he is innocent
of the debt. His opinions have in the course of this short dialogue
undergone alteration. He feels justified in ridding himself of his
obligation to repay the loan by making use of declarations which the
philosopher has argued are no longer of any consequence.

"And will you be willing to deny it upon oath of the gods?" screams the
creditor.

"What gods?" asks Strepsiades.

"Jupiter, Mercury, and Neptune."

"Yes, by Jupiter!" rejoins Strepsiades, "and would pay down, too, a
three-obol piece besides to swear by them."

It must have been a sorry spectacle to have beheld Socrates in the midst
of an Athenian audience solemnly witnessing this masterpiece of
buffoonery, and a still sadder one to those whose feeling was still
enlisted upon the side of the moribund system of oath-taking.

One singular instance of whimsicality in the ancient practice of
swearing must not be allowed to pass unnoticed. The Levantine merchants
trading with the port of Rhodes had familiarized Athenian households
with a most excellent description of cabbage. The herb was only to be
found in its highest perfection upon the southern coasts of the
Mediterranean. This Rhodian cabbage had a mellower flavour than that
indigenous to the Troad, and was, moreover, prized by all Athenian
topers as the surest antidote to the effects of drink. No supper-table
would have been perfect without some preparation of this delicacy, and
the gay revellers knew, or in any case imagined, that with this nostrum
close at hand the choicest Chian or Lesbian vintages might safely be
defied. Hence it was that the very name of so precious a vegetable came
to be held in estimation, until it was customary to say that if it were
permitted to blaspheme without offending the gods, it would be by
mention of the Rhodian cabbage.[19] The lover in a fragment of the lost
poet Ananius invokes it solemnly in evidence of his attachment, and
there is found a suggestion in the iambics of Hipponax of the vegetable
having even entered into the mythology--

  "He, falling down, worshipped the seven-leaved cabbage,
  To which, before she drank the poisoned draught,
  Pandora brought a cake at Thargelia."

This oath by the cabbage became in time the favourite expletive of
Ionia, and having winged its way westwards, still lingers in the shape
of the exclamation _Cavolo!_ as a popular phrase of modern Italy.

Specific forms of swearing were in a great measure localised in the
ancient world. As the Thebans swore by Osiris, the Ionians by the
cabbage and the colewort, so also in Athens Minerva formed the staple of
the national oaths. No Roman citizen was heard to swear by Castor. Why
there should have been this denial upon the part of those who swore
freely by Pollux is not easily explained. But while the Roman women were
loud in the use of "Mecastor"--the affix _me_ being supplied to adapt
the name to swearing purposes, the men abjured that oath as scrupulously
as the women in their turn ignored the expression "Mehercule."[20]
Hercules himself, so the story went, was known to swear but one oath in
the whole course of his life. In recognition of such singular
forbearance, the Roman children were instructed never to make light use
of his sacred name. The prohibition, however, extended no farther than
the four walls and curtilage of the dwelling, and they were free to make
what use they liked of it out of doors.

An instance of oaths being subjected to the like whimsical conditions is
noticeable in the domestic manners of Old Germany. We gather from the
popular mediæval satire, the 'Ship of Fools,' that a code of rules had
been formulated regulating the propriety of swearing. Society in this
case would seem to have formed its precedents of oath-taking, and to
have withheld its sanction from any others than its own. There was a
time in Germany it appears when a man adopted an oath as deliberately as
he might take to a trade, it being only necessary, to bring it within
the licensed pale, that it should be derived from the symbols of his own
or his father's occupation. The particular merit of this system was that
while it partook of all the abandonment and conferred all the enjoyment
of swearing, it was practically no swearing at all. When, in an outburst
of passion, the grazier called out upon his beeves, or the smith invoked
his anvil or his sledge, all the advantages of swearing, whatever they
may be held to be, had been accomplished, and that without prudery being
ruffled or innocence shocked. In fact the needs of society had invented
a kind of stalking-horse for blasphemy, and the Bob Acreses and Captain
Absolutes of that day must have found themselves cruelly hoodwinked by
the inanimate effigy of swearing.

But while northern nations were conspicuous for the substantial and
ponderous nature of their oaths, the Roman yielded to none in the
multiform versatility of his adjurations. Caligula owned a horse that
he not only treated as a fellow-being and brought to meals at his table,
but whose name served him wherewith to pronounce his accustomed oaths.
The same emperor is reported to have put to death a Roman citizen who
refused to swear by his "imperial genius." Another of the oaths
prescribed by command of Caligula was "per numen Drusillæ." This
wretched woman he constrained his subjects to worship as a divinity. To
explain this partiality for the use of these absurd if not impious
oaths, it would seem that a tradition had been circulated, ascribing the
duration of his own lifetime to the period during which the oath should
pass current. Any attack of illness that happened to the emperor was
directly attributed to the waning popularity of the oath. Nor was the
doctrine strange to many of the nationalities over which the Roman sway
extended. We have it distinctly occurring among the Scythians,[21] and
it has more recently been noticed by travellers as existing among
half-barbarous tribes. The oath itself was probably a development of the
affirmation that has been used more than any other in the history of the
world. The _life_ or the _head_ of the ruler of the chief tribesman, or
of the spiritual prophet, has invariably furnished the true standard of
affirmation. But even as a mere domestic oath, the _head_ of the goodman
of the house seems to have been permitted a degree of solemnity--

  "Per caput hoc juro, per quod pater ante solebat."
  _Virgil_, Æn. ix. 300.



CHAPTER V.

    "He swore by the wound in Jesu's side."--_Coleridge, 'Christabel.'_


We may now turn our backs upon the luxuriant and fanciful swearing of
the ancient world and pursue our researches into one other division of
the subject that gives rise to more serious reflections. The diversions
of the Roman and the Greek in the way of imprecation seem to have been
mostly intended in good part, and to have been productive of little
theological odium. But there is a body of swearing that has diffused
itself through Christian countries which is the very reverse of
sportive, and has undeniably provoked the strongest feelings of
aversion. The abuse to which we allude consisted mainly in the
indiscriminate use of popular oaths that selected the limbs and members
of Christ as the paraphernalia of swearing. There does not appear at the
present day any great irreverence in the exclamation, "S'light," or
"S'lid," or "Bodikins," as, happily, the wave of impiety that brought
them has long since broken and passed away. Indeed, as they now occur
in the pages of sixteenth century writings, they only strike the modern
reader in the light of so many interruptions from the text. But we shall
find as we pursue the inquiry further, that there was a great deal of
meaning wrapped up in these expletives, and that they played a by no
means unimportant part in the workings of the mediæval understanding.

Whatever may have been the malignities laid to the charge of the later
middle ages, it is certain that the Englishman was on the whole of a
reverential type. The pious moralist who laboured in those times was so
far assisted by an utter absence of captious criticism to honeycomb his
teaching, and by the solid sense of appreciation that was wont to fill
the minds of his listeners. He was practised, moreover, in the exercise
of two potent influences that he was ever ready to exert. The one may be
said to have had its root in his hearers' fund of ready sympathy, the
other in their ghostly apprehension of horror and dread. It is not at
all surprising that in later times we should find an opaqueness to have
obscured the clear crystal of these subtle perceptions, for fear and
pity have no longer the same ascendancy in a busy world. But at a period
more piously illiterate, things of this shadowy nature were linked very
closely to objects of a material kind. A long process of reasoning
could then be saved by reference to some obscure picture of monkish
fancy. And so, in the glooms and twilights of mediæval life, the
moralist might insure speedy victory by overwhelming men's intellects by
an appeal to the formidable images of terror and compassion.

The pre-Reformation Englishman, stricken and toil-worn, having no hope
save in forbearance from the skies, and no consolation but in the repose
of the ale-house, could yet be awed and subdued by the apprehension of
some priest-directed shape of ghostly terrorism. Above all, he had been
made to grasp a sentiment, which, slightly as it can be treated in a
secular work, may be said to have left no adequate imprint upon the
Protestant world. By dint of the monastic teaching, he had been brought
to entertain a keen personal realisation of the actual sufferings of
Christ. The fact is self-evident from every fragment of contemporaneous
literature intended to react upon the fears and sympathies of
uncultivated men. It was the constant presentment of the notion of the
divine agony, the daily calling to remembrance of the thorns, the nails,
and the hyssop, that was relied upon to keep alive in those poor agued
souls some struggling flame of spiritual vitality. And so surely was the
spark wont to kindle, and so reverently was the similitude of these
priestly images treasured up, that they formed the mainstay of the
ploughman's faith, the sum total of the poor man's theology.

From this cause it arose, as there is now every reason to suspect, that
the country was at one time inundated with a torrent of the most acrid
and rasping blasphemy. It would not be difficult to trace the relative
connection between the luxuriance of oath-taking and the various forms
of religion under which oath-taking has successively flourished. It
could be shown that the swearing of most Catholic states is of greater
fertility, and displays a readier fund of invention than that of
countries brought under the reformed faith. The more religion appeals to
the senses, the more fecund has been the vocabulary of oaths. The more
it has been made the subject of illustration and imagery, the more
finished and ornate have been the comminations in use. A priest-ridden
nation, such as the Spanish or Italian, has always been eminent for its
proficiency in blasphemy; and as part of the argument it may not be out
of place to mention the instance of the hedge-parson in the 'Fortunes of
Nigel,' who, by reason of his superior knowledge of divinity, could
swear with greater volubility than any of his associates.

Thus it was that, labouring under the ban of priestly exaction, and
confronted on all sides by the ghostly emblems of wrath and
condemnation, there descended upon England in the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries, a torrent of the hardest and direst of verbal
abuse. Not mere words of intemperate anger came bubbling to the surface,
but sullen and defiant blasphemies, execrations that proclaimed open
warfare with authority and a lasting separation from everything that was
tender in men's faith. Imprecations were contrived from every incident
in the narrative of the Crucifixion. The limbs and members of the slain
Christ were made the vehicle of revolting profanation. The didactic
writers of the time, no less than epic poets and sprightly versifiers,
give full testimony to the prevalency of the offence. The laureate,
Stephen Hawes, Lydgate, Chaucer and the "moral Gower," all are alike
loud in their expression of horror and renunciation. Among the later
writers replete with instances of the scandal is the epigrammatist,
Robert Crowley, who enumerates a lengthy catalogue of expletives current
in his day. Although by the time Crowley appeared upon the scene the
language of blasphemy had become a little softened by the admixture of
rather more innocent particles, as "by cock and pye," or "by the cross
of the mousefoot," the author still finds it necessary to record a set
of hard, grating oaths pronounced by the "hands," the "feet," and the
"flesh" of Christ.

To refer, for instance, to the use of the one word "zounds!" This
strikes us now-a-days as anything but a very solemn or a very momentous
form of adjuration. But in unreformed England--the England that still
adored the _Genetrix incorrupta_, and had earned among the devout the
title of Our Lady's Dower, it was absolutely impossible to surpass in
blasphemy the hideous import that had been imparted to the user of the
word. It was in fact nothing else than a rebellious and mutinous
rendering of the once sacred oath taken by the wounds of the Redeemer.
There are few who can probably now realise the conspicuous place then
occupied in the Catholic worship by the legends relating to the five
several incisions in the body of Christ. The monkish representations of
the wounds were depicted in countless rosaries and Books of Hours.
Confraternities were formed in the Church for their greater veneration.
There were occasions when papal absolution was specially extended to
those worshippers who paid their devotions to the wound in the side of
Christ. The so-called measurement of them was even preserved in
families, and was reputed to be a charm.[22] In the great northern
insurrection of 1536, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Five Wounds
was the badge under which York and Lincoln farmers marched to avenge the
spoliation of the monasteries. Such was the oath in the days of the last
King Henry. Its more modern application scarcely requires illustration,
but if any such were needed, we might find it in the villainous lines
which Lord Byron wrote in connection with a certain trip on board the
_Lisbon_ packet.

To the present hour, in Italy, the popular oaths are in close alliance
with the Romanist faith. The ordinary exclamation "_Per l'ostia_" is the
equivalent of "God's bread!" that so long did duty in England of the
pre-Reformation era. A modern traveller has noticed how distinct an
impress has been set upon Italian swearing by the particular notions of
heavenly beings that are inculcated by the national creed. A workman in
an art-studio was heard vociferating in such terms as "_Per Christo_,"
"_Per sangue di Christo_," "_Per maladetto sangue di Christo_,"
whereupon the following conversation occurred:--

"Do you forget who Christ is, that you thus blaspheme Him?"

"Bah!" replied the man, "I am not afraid of Him."

"Who, then, do you fear?"

"I'm afraid of the Madonna, and not of Him."

The fact was that the Mother of God was the sole being the mind was
brought to esteem with feelings of veneration. Christ was only the
_bambino_, or infant in arms, and nothing more.[23]

The state of feeling that still prevails in Italy should go far to
explain the presence in pre-Reformation England of this widely-spread
body of irreverent swearing. With the Reformation, however, the
contagion was shortly to abate. The severer authors at the close of the
sixteenth century do not have to complain so bitterly of these jarring
elements of vituperation. In the literature of the stage there is a
marked improvement: in none but the earlier of the Elizabethan comedies
do the characters accentuate their meaning by reference to the grossest
description of blasphemy. When expletives occur they are generally in
the spirit of derision and lampoon. As the writings of the stage grew
more robust, the custom altogether wore away. It may, indeed, be held
that the subversion of the Catholic religion was mainly, if not
entirely, accountable for the change. There is certainly a marked
distinction between the oaths of the outgoing and incoming creeds. But
if we have been finally spared from the ravages of the infection, we may
attribute our deliverance to that reserve of reverence of which we have
spoken as possessed by English laymen, and to the pious devices that
were practised upon it by the inferior orders of preachers.

The position they chose to assume in combating this "fine old
gentlemanly vice" is a singular feature in its history. Their method was
to associate the practice of swearing with the notion of actual bodily
pain being occasioned to the Saviour. They made it appear that Christ in
person was put to extreme physical agony on every occasion of its
committal. Not alone did they assert the wantonness and hardihood of so
directly incurring the Divine displeasure, but they raised the most
piteous appeal to the compassion of these benighted swearers. It was
daily proclaimed from their pulpits that the profanity in this one
respect of professedly Christian men had worked a sharper and more
agonising martyrdom than that formerly designed by the Jews themselves.
In countless broadsheets, no less than by pictorial illustration, the
wounds of Christ were portrayed as hourly re-opened, and the sufferings
of Golgotha renewed from day to day. The doctrine gained additional
credit when transferred from the hands of monkish authors and embraced
by popular and captivating pens. Stephen Hawes, own poet to
carpet-knights and buckram soldiery, brought home conviction to a class
of offenders that a whole consistory would not have succeeded in
convincing. In a rhyming pamphlet, prefaced by a figure of the bleeding
Christ, Hawes depicts with awful realism those sufferings which, as he
believed, were being actually and bodily inflicted.[24] The author of
'Bel Amour' describes the feet and hands of Christ as literally pierced
anew, and every member torn and lacerated by reason of the imprecations
of unheeding Christians.

At this time of day it might be difficult to ascertain with any
certainty the origin of this forced view of the iniquity of swearing. So
far as concerns printed literature, we discover it for the first time
in the doggerel of the poet Hawes, but it is none the less traceable to
that encyclopædic work of the thirteenth century, the 'Miroir du Monde.'
This takes us to the year 1279, and instances could be furnished showing
its regular passage through the next three centuries, until the monkish
notion is at last surrendered and delivered over to the cleansing fires
of the Reformation. The last of the English authors who seems to have
seriously advanced the theory is to be found in the rigid disciple of
asceticism, Thomas Becon.

Becon was a man who, throughout a devout and severe life, had set
himself sternly to the task of rebuking the immoderate lawlessness of
the orders among which he lived. The rustic usage of collecting round
the village tavern to celebrate the Sabbath in sport and holiday was one
particularly repellant to the mind of Becon, and held by him to be the
mainspring of all the evils that ravaged the country-side. The fore part
of the day having been devoted to the services of the Church, it was
usual for a time of high festival to succeed the morning's austerities.
Noon discovered all the grown men of the village assembled round the
vintner's door and partaking of the ale-house hospitalities. Here feats
of rude strength were performed, wrestlers practised their throws, and
sturdy fellows played bouts at quarter-staff. Foot-races were run upon
the greensward for wholesome wagers of barley-cake, and games of hazard
were conducted under the shelter of the ivy-bush at the publican's
threshold. Bets were staked, dice were rattled, and yokels learned to
place the dues of the harvest-field upon the fortunes of the winning or
losing colour. When, therefore, after earnest and fruitless entreaty,
the good Becon rushed into print and produced his learned 'Invective,'
he did not omit to visit with uncompromising censure the chartered
licence of this Sunday festival.

The riot and pastime that on every seventh day had been wont to disturb
the quietude of rustic life appeared to our reformer as a direct
encouragement to the practice of swearing, and in fact as constituting
so many training-schools for the cultivation of this unwelcome
accomplishment. In the hope of rendering the habit positively forbidding
to the more impressionable among his readers, he reminds them how the
body of the Saviour is actually torn and mangled by reason of the
imprecations hurled at him in these country sports. Oaths, he deplores,
were then used in every matter of chopping and changing, of bargaining
and selling, and he groans to think how the "dicer" will swear rather
than passively submit to the loss of a single cast, the "carder will
tear God in pieces rather than lose the profit of an ace."

It is a feature that must be very palpable to the student of incipient
literature, that when once an original and daring notion was fairly
launched upon the world, it was not allowed to founder for want of
repetition. The peculiar mode of thought which we have ventured to
ascribe to the 'Miroir du Monde' in the thirteenth century, could boast
a long line of exponents in the interval that closed with Thomas Becon.
The writer to whose industry, rather than invention, English laymen were
indebted for their acquaintance with this painful doctrine was a certain
Dan Michael, described as a brother of the Cloister of Saint Austin.
This person has produced a didactic treatise based upon the model of the
famous 'Miroir,' an original from which no writer at that time felt
himself justified in departing. With the subject of swearing he deals in
a way that is highly painstaking. Not to mention the intricate
distinctions which he treats under these several heads, we find that he
has grouped the offences of the tongue into no less than eight cardinal
divisions. It may be curious to record the titles as our author
enumerates them, notwithstanding that it is scarcely to our purpose to
follow him through the niceties he has created. The branches of the
subject, according to his classification, would therefore seem to be:
"ydelnesse," "yelpinge," "bloudynge," "todiazinge," "stryfinge,"
"grochynge," "wyþstondinge," and lastly "blasfemye." So far as we have
mastered the system of Dan Michael we are driven to the conclusion that
the practice of swearing, as understood in the Cloister of Saint Austin,
was, save for the outward distinction of dress, much the same as
prevails in the later world. "For there are some," says he of the
cloister, "so evil taught that they are able to say nothing without
swearing. Some swear as if smitten with sudden pain. Others swear by the
sun, the moon, by the head, or by their father's soul."

Minute as is Dan Michael in his treatment of the subject of abuse, his
elaborations are possibly surpassed by the next competitor for
moralistic fame. Robert of Brunné, who produced a similar work in the
year 1303, availed himself largely of the other's labours, while he
enriched his collections with recitals of wrong-doing from his own
exclusive stores. From the "Handlyng Sinne," as the production is
called, one may gather considerable insight into the state of prejudice
existing at the time. The neighbours tell one another good stories in
church time, and inquire during the sermon where they can get the best
ale. The monks have become so luxurious that they refuse to shave their
heads and have commenced to array themselves in fine clothes. The king's
courts are crowded with supplicating suitors, craving for redress from
the extortions of trustees and executors, and yielding themselves
victims to the falsity of the men of law. Swearing, at that time, would
seem to be no longer the prerogative of laymen, but even to have become
the privilege of learned clerks.

To depict what, from this author's point of view, were the fruits and
consequences of blasphemy, Brunné enters into a narrative describing the
Mother of God presenting the bleeding Jesus to the gaze of the rich man
Dives. The latter inquires the reason for the Child being gashed with
wounds. In reply the Virgin points out in terms of keen resentment the
injuries inflicted upon the Infant by the swearing of Dives and his
associates. The doctrine of the 'Miroir' is then introduced in full to
demonstrate the infamy and inhumanity of the practice, the whole
concluding with a promise of repentance on the part of the sinful man.
This fable is only one among many others that were narrated with a view
to curbing the propensities of blaspheming swearers. The work that
contains it met with general circulation at the commencement of the
fourteenth century, but that the spread of the iniquity was not sensibly
abated we may infer from other sources of information we have
mentioned.[25] In 1544, the evil was set forth in the light of a
national grievance, and was paraded in a broadsheet published in that
year entitled a "Supplycacion to Kynge Henry the Eyght."

Such, then, was the ponderous metal that passed current as the swearing
of pre-Reformation England. These verbal projectiles were sometimes
moulded, however, of a lighter calibre, and when employed in the talk
of priests or women, were so nicely rounded off as to incur little of
theological displeasure. Chaucer's people, in particular, are very
punctilious in the propriety of their oaths; good Sir Thopas swearing
mildly "by ale and bread," and Madame Eglantine naming holy Saint
Eligius as the patron of her vows--

  "There was also a nonne, a prioresse,
  That of hire smyling was ful symple and coy,
  Hire grettest oath was but by St. Eloy."

In much the same way did princes and dignitaries of the land single out
some swearing cognizance that might befriend them in the everlasting
conflict between lies and honesty. Edward I. sanctified his oaths by the
mention of a brace of milk-white swans, and whoever will consult St.
Palaye will find that the peacock and the pheasant entered largely into
the codes of chivalry as bearing witness to the truth of a statement.
Edward III. followed the lead of his grandsire in the selection of his
gage of testimony. At the festival held in 1349 to celebrate the
creation of the Order of the Garter, his cognizance was the swan,
adorned, moreover, with the swearing motto: "Haye! Haye! the Whyte Swan!
by Godde's soule I am thy man."

The tradition that St. Paul was the saint that Richard III. was wont to
conjure with, has found expression in the tragedy of Shakespeare.
Faithful to the popular notions of the usurper's characteristic, this
form of oath has been placed upon Gloucester's lips at each impassioned
outburst. Henry V., in his wooing of Katherine, gallantly invokes St.
Denis to aid him in his attempts at love-making. But the chronicler who
seems positively to have had an affection for the oaths the memory of
which he is recalling, is the historian Brantôme. Upon this
unimpeachable testimony we learn that the oath of Louis XI. was _par la
Pâque Dieu_, an affirmation that Scott avails himself of in his
portraiture of that monarch in 'Quentin Durward.' This was succeeded by
the _jour de Dieu_ of Charles VIII.; by the _diable m'emporte_ of Louis
XII., and the _foi de gentilhomme_ of Francis I. Among the Gascon oaths
of Henry IV. the most usual was _ventre Saint Gris_. As for Charles IX.,
adds Brantôme, he swore in all fashions, and always like a sergeant who
was leading a man to be hanged.[26]

The question has frequently been asked who was intended by the cognomen
Saint Gris? The answer accorded by Le Duchat, a savant learned in such
matters, is that Saint Francis d'Assise was the person indicated. It is
true that Saint Francis was _ceint_ by a hempen girdle, and, moreover,
was clad in a habit of _gris_. But there nevertheless seems no reason to
suppose that any individual personage was suggested, or, indeed, as has
been stated, that the oath was of a Huguenot character. Says M. Charles
Rozan,[27] who has had occasion to refer to this subject, Saint Gris is
purely a creature of fancy, and was constituted a patron of drinkers, as
St. Lâche was a patron of idlers and St. Nitouche of hypocrites.

The oath of William Rufus, _per vultum de Lucca,_ has raised conjectures
as to its probable signification. The literal meaning, "by Saint Luke's
face," being rejected as not very intelligible, there remain two
distinct explanations: one that it referred to the face of Christ as
painted by St. Luke, the other that the portrait of Christ as preserved
in the cathedral church at Lucca is the object intended. To support the
first derivation, credence must be given to the legend which places the
apostle among the artist craftsmen of Judæa, and has enshrined him as
the patron saint of all workers in the arts. On the other hand, there
has reposed for some centuries at Lucca a miraculous crucifix, famous
alike for the marvels it has seen and accomplished. The Tuscan people
set great store by the possession of this relic, and have engraved a
representation of it upon their coins. The inscription upon the Tuscan
florin, "Sanctus vultus de Lucca," would seem, therefore, to be
identical with the expletive of William Rufus.

We have seen how the occupants of the throne have usually comported
themselves in the matter of oaths, but there is one recorded instance of
Plantagenet royalty having created a singular precedent. If any man can
be said to have ever had cause for swearing, Henry VI. might be
described as being that individual. It is stated, however, by
contemporaries who had opportunities for conversing with this king, and
by whom it is given as a somewhat remarkable fact, that he was never
known to swear under the greatest provocation.

The adage that enjoins us to repeat "no scandal about Queen Elizabeth"
should dispose us to deal lightly with any verbal excesses committed by
the virgin queen. It would appear, however, that the moral atmosphere of
her court, despite the intellect and talent that adorned it, was not so
refined or particular but that the sovereign and the ladies over their
breakfasts of steaks and beer could ring out exclamations that to a
later generation might appear of rather an astounding character.[28] To
turn for comparison to the era of the next female majesty, it is
questionable whether even Sarah Jennings, with all her power of abuse,
would not have taken exception to the flavour of some of the Elizabethan
adjectives.

A story is told of Edward VI., that at the time of arriving at the
kingly dignity he gave way to a torrent of the most sonorous oaths. The
pastors and masters charged with the well-being of the royal youth could
not but stare in blank astonishment at the conduct of one so well
nurtured as the child of Anne Boleyn. It transpired, however, that the
young king had been given to believe by one of his associates that
language of the kind was dignified and becoming in the person of a
sovereign. Edward was asked to name the preceptor who had so ably
supplemented the course of the royal education. This he instantly and
innocently did, and was not a little surprised at the severe whipping
that was administered to the delinquent.[29]

The predicament in which the royal child was placed is similar to that
which once befel a clerical gentleman while travelling on mule-back
across Syria. The Syrian muleteers are, it seems, accustomed to urge
onward their beasts with the shout of "Yullah!" or "Bismillah!" and it
was under the escort of these shouting and belabouring drivers that the
traveller made his way into the town of Beyrout. His friends naturally
inquired of him what progress he had made in Arabic, and in reply he
told them he had only acquired two words, _bakhshish_ for a present, and
_Yullah!_ for go-ahead. He was asked if he had used the latter word much
on his way. Certainly, he said, he had used it all the way. "Then, your
reverence," replied his friend, "you have been swearing all the way
through the Holy Land."



CHAPTER VI.

    "When a gentleman is disposed to swear, it is not for any
    standers-by to curtail his oaths."--'_Cymbeline_,' ii. 1.


In the study of antiquity there are steep and irregular by-paths that
defy the traveller every step that he pursues them. It is in threading
these tortuous windings that many a fearless venturer has lost foot-hold
and been utterly cast away. Many a man with the passion for antiquity
deep at his heart, and with limbs well girded to attain to the summit of
his aim, has been fain to settle down, jaded and dispirited, at
mid-task. He has accomplished nothing perhaps beyond the mere reading of
an inscription or deciphering of a medallion, but the spirit of his
insight is dimmed, and stricken in the work. Thus has it been with many
generations of seekers and inquirers. The _virtuosi_ and _cognoscenti_,
the curious in gems and medals, in brasses and torsos, the commentators
and concordancers,--all these may be said to be nothing more than so
many units in the lost tribe of eager scholarship. Starting confident
of probing to the very source and mystery of things, they have rather
preferred the shelter of some attainable evening refuge than be
overtaken in their task by the chills and storms of night.

It is easier far, means not being wanting, to place in one's cabinet
some matchless group of Capo di Monti, some priceless specimen of the
fabric of Sèvres or Dresden, than to tax one's strength in extracting
the lessons conveyed by form and colour. It is a simpler matter to be
the possessor of Damascus sword-blades or Aleppo prayer-rugs than to
burden one's self with reflections upon oriental chivalry or mysticism.
And so, again, it is a far readier, as it is certainly a rougher, way of
being in sympathy with antiquity, to notch off a fragment in the
Acropolis, or carve one's name among the ruins of the Forum, than to
originate such poetic passages as Byron uttered over the field of
Marathon, or Longfellow in the market-place of Nuremburg. Say what we
will, both forms of veneration arise alike from the same innate craving
to grasp some part or parcel of the tissue of the past.

To the untiring few who have overcome the drought and dust of the
up-land journey, the summit, once attained, will disclose many a point
and promontory unsuspected by the purblind dweller in the plain. The
retrospect will reveal to them a busy, thronging life underlying the
serenity of history. They will be able to range the perished multitudes
in their once motley grouping, to restore warmth and colour to
lineaments long obscured in death, and greed and alacrity to the sunk
eyes and folded hands. To those whom the spirit of the past is apt to
visit as a passionate inspiration, the mere record of consecutive events
is often wearisome. It is not altogether for this that they have
laboured to catch some murmur, however slight, of the infinite harmony
that is being sounded by all, the chords of history. Rather, it is to
tramp mistily along from generation to generation in the long, forced
march of human life. Rather, to probe to the depths of some one of the
world's stupendous follies, of some one of its golden vanities, that
they have thus cast about them with measure and lead-line. And when they
have completely searched out and written of the world's stupendous
follies, they will perhaps have written what alone would be worth
calling its history.

As some small, tentative contribution to the understanding of this
under-life, the plan of this volume has been designed. The past has come
down to us cloaked and shrouded, and attended by its decorous retinue of
mutes and bearers. We are continually seeking to revive this dead past,
just as it was, when its future was a wild, inscrutable thing, and its
life was so fragrant, so masterful, and so momentous. It wants a great
mental effort to recall events that are as indubitably past as if they
had never happened at all. The pleasure of possessing, or of even
entering, the vanished territory is a privilege so rare, that there are
permitted but a few moments for its enjoyment. It is so subtle a
perception that even seasoned historians seldom have the power of
imparting it. They may surround us with the conflict of contending
legionaries, until we seem to recognise the thud of advancing battalions
and the clash and impact of the squadron. These, however lifelike, are
impressions of a much grosser and more tangible nature, and can have but
little in common with the blended sweetness and irony that pertain to
the spontaneous realisation of the dead past.

What we are for ever craving to learn is something more of the gambols,
the humours, and the anticing of this sad army, for ever on the march.
We yearn to know something more of the vanity and the pettiness, the
fever and the longing, of those weary men and women, the memorial of
whose lives has been trampled out. The historian will sometimes rend
away the veil that separates us from this unwritten history; but more
often it is the creation of the romancer that helps to clothe the dim
spirit of the past from the loom of its misty memories; Pascarel,
depicting the splendours of the artist-life of Florence, while
Arlecchino and the rest of the gay carnival troupe are romping in the
faded street of the stocking-makers; Slender and Shallow and the simple
folk of the Cotswold country ambling out their jests midst the turmoil
of those stirring Lancastrian times; or "sweet Anne Page," provoking and
winning, three hundred years ago, in the glades of Windsor Forest. The
honest yeoman who fought the master of fence--three veneys for a dish of
stewed prunes; the foolish justice who in the days of his youth had beat
Sampson Stockfish behind Gray's Inn, and had heard the chimes at
midnight, lying out in the windmill in St. George's Fields--these and
many kindred types represent to us so many factors in that prodigious
army of the unknown that is never permitted us more thoroughly to know.
It is indeed in the fancy of Shakespeare that this bygone sweetness and
irony seem the oftener to be kindled and awakened. Not, certainly, in
the wordy warring of Capulet and Montagu; not, perhaps, in the outspoken
chivalry of "Harry the King," or the blunt generosity of Falconbridge.
But we find it moving and thrilling in every tone caught up from the
English country-side, in the echoes wafted from the vintage-lands of
France, or the garden walks of Padua. And freshest and daintiest of all,
we find it in the poet's snatches of song and rugged bursts of
minstrelsy. This indeed is the enchantment that subdues us as the
dimpled page advances to the gay theatre lights, and pleading the woes
of three hundred years ago, and exhorting now as he exhorted then, bids
"Sigh no more, ladies; ladies, sigh no more." It is this which
captivates as the scene pauses and the drama halts, that the eye may be
carried back through a vista of three centuries to dwell upon a simple
"lover and his lass" as they wander "between the acres of the rye."

The subject of swearing the writer has come to regard as one of the many
indices by which the paths of our ancestors may be traced. Holding in
fitting estimation the monuments of their industry and their prudence,
none the less may we seek to view the departed generations in their
hours of carelessness and frolic, and may peer into their casinos and
their tiring-rooms, their spital-houses and their bridewells. What
manner of men were they? we ask. Were they sparkling and festive,
tellers of rare stories, dealers in racy jokes? Were they wholesome in
their living, manly and courageous in their lives, or were they loose
and liquorish, winking at falsehood and cajoling the truth? And if the
monumental record of their virtues be a just one, why did they heirloom
on posterity this bitter heritage of swearing?

The truth would seem to be that in every society there has existed a
certain _corps d'élite_, which, distinguished at once by its breeding
and its brusquerie, has perversely thought fit to adopt the insignia of
swearing as its own particular device. In advancing this explanation of
the fidelity with which posterity has exercised its watchfulness over
the bequest of swearing, we must not for a moment be misunderstood. It
is far from our purpose to associate good breeding with the use of
coarse vituperation, but at the same time it is impossible to overlook
the fact that swearing has mostly owed its favour and its audacity to
the practice of really cultivated men. The first contrivers of our
modern methods of swearing took pains to raise an air of mystery and
exclusiveness around their favourite art. "To be an accomplished
gentleman," says Carlo Buffone, in Ben Jonson's comedy,[30] "have two
or three peculiar oaths to swear by that no man else swears"; and it
would seem to have been one of the gravest charges brought against the
Hectors and Bobadils of the Elizabethan stage, that they dare assume
acquaintance with courtly oaths. Even Hotspur is portrayed by the
dramatist as a most precise and scrupulous swearer. It may be seen how
he reproaches Lady Percy for swearing "like a comfit-maker's wife," and
bids her "swear me, Kate, like a lady as thou art!" and not to mince her
oaths like some city madam or seller of gingerbread.[31] For upwards of
two centuries, the notion of finish and exclusiveness in oath-taking
afforded constant merriment for the stage, the creations of the
playwright seldom failing to give full scope to the illustration of this
strange humour. Every period brought its particular oath and fresh
generations of exponents. Now it was the soldier of fortune returned
from encounters with the Spaniards or the Turk. Anon it was the tavern
rake of King James' day, and after some interval, the wits and foplings
of the Restoration. By-and-by, there followed the crowd of nabobs and
parvenus, the blustering swearers of the days of East Indian
speculation, and finally came the truculent swabbers and commodores of
Adelphi melodrama. The _nouveau riche_ of the younger Colman, who fails
to enrobe himself with dignity by the aid of all ordinary resources, is
enjoined by his more practical helpmate to vent his "zounds" and
"damme," in emulation of the swearing of the great.

For this _corps d'élite_ of which we have spoken have drawn to
themselves men the most worthless, and men the most admirable. It has
found disciples in every capital--the easy, the affluent, the
voluptuous, cheery and sunny of speech, bold and swarthy of countenance.
There are numbered among them free livers and free lances innumerable.
There are men remarkable for their stores of boisterous animalism, no
less than delicate scholars remarkable only for the brightness of their
fancy and the vividness of their dreams. They have ever been a composite
and a cosmopolitan crew, some shouldering into the ranks by the weight
of their purses or the length of their rent-rolls, others by skill
evinced at high midnight, when taper-lights throw pale vertical rays
upon a refreshing margent of green cloth. Among them, too, are stout
soldiers, bold fearless riders, the wild and fevered blood of many
countries, the fervour of Italy, and the craft of the Levant. To the
precincts of this gilded and splendid society come many sorts and
conditions of aspirants. The boy-parson lays down the sanctity of the
priesthood and rapturously sues for admission. Elders of threescore
demand an entrance upon the strength of _risqué_ stories sprung from
garrison-towns and college common-rooms. Skilled physicians feign
indifference to their calling that they may smack of the kennel and the
hunting-field. Staid, contemplative men, men with a prayer and a tune in
them, press into this joyous throng, eager to clasp the bruised fruit of
human desire and to claim kindred with these cheery fellowships. But,
however varied the elements of the order, the members are constituted
alike in this: they are hearty and laughter-loving; they are jolly and
courageous.

With outposts so widely distributed, it is the more necessary that there
should be some unmistakable uniform, that whether it be in a Paris
ordinary, or on the steppes of Tartary, one may easily recognise the
scion of the order. Such a uniform, so at least we are constrained to
understand it, has, for the most part, been supplied by a subdued and
discriminate use of the materials of swearing. A Sandwich Islander
appreciates this when he salutes a British crew in terms compounded of
oaths and ribaldry.[32] He is really intending to denote his sense of
the distinction of the exalted visitors, when he exclaims: "Very glad
see you! Damn your eyes! Me like English very much. Devilish hot, sir!
Goddam!" It is to claim kindred with the brotherhood that swell surgeons
vent their "blasted!" and "damnation!" as they tender to the ailments of
rackety young patients. It is to bridge over the gulf between
carelessness and propriety that even mild college tutors will sometimes
venture upon a modest "botheration!" or "confounded!" The most fertile
and most voluminous swearer, we have been given to understand, exists in
the person of one of the leading _littérateurs_ of the century when
desiring to curry favour with a company of fast men.

Not that it can be altogether denied that there are other contrivances
whereby the members of the fraternity succeed in courting mutual
recognition. The topic of sporting is, perhaps, the most effectual of
these, and it must be understood that a man's convivial condition is
often undergoing a crucial investigation when he is questioned as to his
views upon such subjects as the Cesarewitch or the Cambridgeshire. The
several processes of swearing would seem however to supply the readiest
hall-mark, and are rather of an easier manipulation. This theory of
indulgence might go far to explain the leniency of men like Jonathan
Swift towards a custom which, had they wished it, they might have
deposed from its high places by their ridicule. Swearing was far from
being a rock of offence to the society of Harley and St. John. Why else,
again, has it been permitted from commanders of the stamp of Picton in
the field, and from lawyers of the pattern of Thurlow on the woolsack?
"I will now proceed to my seventh point," pursued Sir Ilay Campbell,
arguing an interminable Scotch appeal in the House of Lords. "I'm damned
if you do," shrieked Lord Thurlow, and the House adjourned neither angry
or scandalised. And again, how else explain the exuberance of the
Duchess of Marlborough's language when calling at Lord Mansfield's
lodgings? His lordship, as we know, was away, and on his return
questioned the doorkeeper as to the name of his visitor. "I do not know
who she was," replied the man, "but she swore like a lady of quality."

Of Thurlow it has been said that he was renowned as a swearer even in a
swearing age. "He took it as a lad who wishes to show that he has
arrived at man's estate. He could not have got on without it."[33] At
one time a dispute was pending as to the right to present to a vacant
benefice. A certain bishop who claimed the right sent his secretary to
argue with Lord Thurlow, who, for his part, obstinately maintained the
counter-claim of the Crown. The envoy no sooner opened his case and made
known his message, than Thurlow cut short all further argument. "Give my
compliments to his lordship, and tell him I will see him damned before
he present." "That," remonstrated the secretary, "is a very unpleasant
message to deliver to a bishop." "You are right," replied Thurlow, "so
it is. Tell him I will see myself damned before he present."

Another professor in the same uncompromising school of hard swearers
would seem to have been Sir Thomas Maitland, His Majesty's Lord High
Commissioner administering the government of the Ionian Islands, at that
time and long afterwards under the British dominion. Sir Charles Napier
relates that on arriving at Corfu to enter upon a military appointment,
and being ushered into his Excellency's presence, he was received with a
sullen "Who the devil are you?" and on explaining his business, Sir
Thomas rejoined, "Then I hope you are not such a damned scoundrel as
your predecessor." Sir Thomas seems to have been in the habit of dealing
out abuse the most flagrant towards those with whom he was brought into
contact. "On one occasion,"--we may follow Sir Charles Napier's
words,--"the senate having been assembled in the saloon of the palace
waiting in all form for his Excellency's appearance, the door slowly
opened and Sir Thomas walked in with the following articles of clothing
upon him:

"One shirt, which like Tam o' Shanter's friend, the cutty-sark,

        "In longitude was sorely scanty."

"One red night-cap,

"One pair of slippers.

"The rest of his Excellency's person was perfectly divested of garments.
In this state he walked into the middle of the saloon, looked round at
the assembled senators and then said, addressing the secretary, "Damn
them, tell them all to go to hell."[34]

What reception this outburst provoked from the assembled notables we are
not informed. When Thurlow once at a dinner-party administered a similar
admonition to a blundering man-servant, telling him he wished he was in
hell, the terrified man wearily replied, "I wish I was, my lord! I wish
I was."

There can be little doubt that the practice of gentlemen "damning
themselves as black as butter-milk" was intended to overawe, and on the
whole it has answered the intention. It is however but a cheap
substitute for authority, and belongs of right to a rampant jingoism of
a past age. We are here reminded of a kind of oath which, having
conferred a nick-name upon a political party, seems likely to pass into
the language in some altered form. The "Jingos," as will be remembered,
were the faction in the country who favoured an aggressive policy during
the recent Russian war. The name came to be given them from a
circumstance of quite an insignificant kind. At a certain London
singing-room a patriotic song happened to be nightly delivered, in which
the vocalist emphasised his warlike utterances with a constant
recurrence of this oath. The Radicals seized the moment, and in a short
space of time the term "by Jingo" was pinned to the backs of the Tory
party like a tin kettle tied to a dog's tail. Men soon began to ask
themselves where first they could have met with this undignified
expression? The 'Ingoldsby Legends' seemed the most likely ground, only
that readers of Goldsmith referred to the example of the town-bred lady
who, when introduced into the Vicar's family, swore "by the living
Jingo!"

Moreover, the term is to be observed in the earliest translation of Don
Quixote (iii. vi.): "by the living jingo, I did but jest," and in
Rabelais (v. xxviii.): "by jingo, I believe he would make three bites of
a cherry." To seek for the origin of the oath, we should have to turn to
a somewhat singular source. We should find it as far away as the slopes
of the Pyrenees, where Basque peasants have long sworn by _Jincoa_, that
in fact being the Basque name for God.

We have made mention of Swift in a way that might favour the presumption
that his ridicule was not at any time directed against the subject of
oath-taking. That such is hardly the case will be seen from his
prospectus of the Bank of Swearing, where this overgrown distempered
plant is singled out as a fair butt for his sallies. The nature of the
business proposed to be transacted at this fanciful banking-house may be
more aptly considered in another chapter.



CHAPTER VII.

    "_Viola._ Swear as if you came but new from the knighting.
    _Fust._ Nay; I'll swear after £400 a year."
                                            _Decker's Honest W._


Written during the fever of South Sea speculation, the skit of Jonathan
Swift, known as the "Bank of Swearing," was one exceedingly felicitous
and well-timed. We are amused even now, as we read the prospectus of
this preposterous undertaking, at the extreme audacity with which the
would-be projector solemnly enumerates its advantages. Impossible and
altogether ludicrous as was the enterprise, it is not improbable that
many of the eager financiers of that speculative age fancied they saw
solid reason in the scheme. It is only to be hoped that they did not too
eagerly respond to the facilities for investment which the Swearers'
Bank was reputed to hold out.

The notion was simply that of a chartered bank established upon a novel
basis and financing upon an original principle. Such bank was in fact to
enjoy a monopoly of levying the fines which the laws of the country
imposed upon swearing. Although these penalties had been rarely
inflicted, the mere circumstance of their being warranted by the
statute-book was regarded by the projector in the light of a mine of
latent wealth. A profitable banking concern once fairly in operation,
and backed by the security of these statutory imposts, what more could
the investor require for his capital?

To convince the investing public of the merits of his scheme, he
proceeds to calculate the sums that might be realised by fully putting
the act into vigour. The neglected statute upon the basis of which the
whole of this superstructure was to be raised and the Bank of Swearing
endowed, was the act of the sixth and seventh year of William and Mary,
inflicting a penalty at the rate of not less than a shilling an
oath.[35]

"It is computed by geographers,"--so argues the promoter--"that there
are two millions in the kingdom [Ireland], of which number there may be
said to be a million of swearing souls. It is thought there may be five
thousand gentlemen. Every gentleman, taken one with another, may afford
to swear an oath every day, which will yearly produce one million eight
hundred and twenty-five thousand oaths; which number of shillings makes
the yearly sum of £91,250.

"The farmers of this kingdom, who are computed to be ten thousand, are
able to spend yearly five hundred thousand oaths, which gives £25,000;
and it is conjectured that from the bulk of the people twenty or five
and twenty thousand pounds may be yearly collected."

The swearing capacity of the army is no less minutely investigated. In
the case of the militia, however, the promoter is disposed to recommend
either a partial immunity from the tax or else a scale of fines
considerably cheapened. To put the law in full force against militiamen,
at least so opines the promoter, would only be to fill the stocks with
porters and the pawnshops with accoutrements. So essential is this point
with him, that he makes direct appeal to his Protestant countrymen,
reminding them of the satisfaction it would afford the Papists to see a
most useful body of soldiery actually swear themselves out of their
Swords and muskets.

Inclined to a politic leniency towards the military classes, it would
seem that this ingenious projector looked mainly for his revenue to the
swearing dues that might be collected at wakes and fairings. The oaths
of a single Connaught fair, he has calculated, amount to upwards of
three thousand. "It is true," he allows, "that it would be impossible to
turn all of them into money, for a shilling is so great a duty on
swearing, that if it were carefully exacted, the common people might as
well pretend to drink wine as to swear, and an oath would be as rare
among them as a clean shirt." In this way the Reverend Dean rattles on.
He is pointing his satire both at the epidemic of financial adventure
then so fatally prevalent and at that incomprehensible leaning to the
use of "bad language" of which even he was so ready to avail himself
when it either suited his purpose or strengthened his style.

The Dean can scarcely be supposed to have known that one of the many
proposals put before Lord Burghley in the very early days of political
economy, bore a close resemblance to his manner of handling oaths. A
Monsieur Rodenberg proposed to show how the revenue could be increased
to twenty millions of crowns, and part of his plan consisted in a
rigorous levy of fines on swearing. He further recommended that a
council of twelve "grave persons" should have the disposal of the fund,
which while unexpended should be put out to usury.[36]

A recommendation of this kind urged upon Queen Elizabeth's ministers was
very much in advance of English politics. It so far denotes a
turning-point in the history of swearing, that we cannot do better than
trace out what the future course of legislation was to be.

Previous to the period we are now entering, a person addicted to
intemperate language might have been called to account by his church, or
at the bar of his own conscience. He could not have been called to
account by the State. The suggestion of State interference, so far as
concerns the southern division of this island, seems not to have
previously occurred, and we are consequently justified in inferring that
the necessity for it had never seriously arisen. There is, indeed,
complete cohesion and consistency in what was happening. We believe we
have shown elsewhere whence it was, and when it was, that the English
people first began to swear, and we are confirmed in our conclusions by
finding that this was the precise period at which English law-makers
began to legislate upon swearing.

Passing over barbarous and obsolete laws of a more imperfect
civilisation, we find that the first essays in State control commenced
in Scotland. A full half century before the question came before
Elizabeth's parliament, the sister kingdom had the benefit of a statute
inflicting a monetary penalty upon the use of oaths. This enactment,
passed by the Scottish parliament of 1551, calls for notice upon other
grounds besides those of morality. If a legal document can be said to
partake of a poetic character, it was certainly the case with this
ordinance of Queen Mary, which seems to have been directly inspired by
the metrical labours of William Dunbar, then lately the national poet.

The verses of Dunbar to which this result can be partially attributed
are those known as 'The Sweirers and the Devill.' It is certainly
remarkable that the framers of the Act would seem to have prepared its
clauses with Dunbar's poetry open before them. At all events, the
statute literally recites the "ugsome oaths" that are used by the old
versifier. There is a severity in the statute at which Dunbar himself
would have been surprised had he lived down to Mary's reign. In
particular, it enacts that "a prelate of kirk, earl or lord," shall for
the first offence be fined to the extent of twelve pennies, but for the
fourth the delinquent shall be banished or imprisoned for a year.

Dunbar's treatment of his subject is very similar to that of the
nameless author of the 'Moralité des Blasphémateurs' which we have
previously noticed. He supposes the devil to have assumed human shape,
an assumption which in those times would have been thought nothing out
of the way, and in that guise to be conversing with the traders in a
Lowland market. As is usual in these episodes, he invites them to join
him in the use of the most delectable oaths that he can lay before them.
The honest market-folk are so taken by his allurements that we have the
maltman, the goldsmith, the "sowter," and the "fleshor" vieing with one
another in their choice of ribaldry. In this friendly contest, needless
to say, it is the parish priest who carries off the prize. One hopes
that his excuse was as valid as that of the monk in Rabelais. "How now,"
exclaims Ponocrates, "you swear, Friar John!" "It is only," replies the
friar, "to grace and adorn my speech; it is the colour of a Ciceronian
rhetoric."

The place in literature left vacant by Dunbar was soon occupied by
Lindsay, the

  "Sir David Lindsay of the Mount
  Lord Lion, king at arms,"

whose name and titles are so familiar to the readers of Scott. He
likewise appears to have led up to the impending legislation, if not
indeed to have been the immediate cause of it. His 'Satyre of the Three
Estaitis,' performed at Coupar in 1535, besides containing other
objectionable matter, is a wild medley of oaths.

Apart from what was passing in and near the capital, the local
authorities from Glasgow to Aberdeen were up in arms against swearers
before any movement of the kind had taken place in the other division of
the island. To judge from the borough records of the former city,[37]
the prevalency of the habit was a source of great scandal to the
presbytery of that town. The number of Janet Andersons and William
Crawfords who were arraigned before the high bailiff for offences of
this character is something considerable. At Aberdeen[38] in 1592 the
attention of the council was specially engaged in repressing the
swearing of "horrible and execrable oaths." They proceeded to put on
foot a system of fines, and with a degree of confidence that is hardly
commendable, they authorised the heads of families to keep a box in
which to place the mulcts they were empowered to inflict in their
households. Servants' wages were liable to be taxed at the will of
their masters, and wives' pin-money at the instance of their lords. A
few years later the presbytery went further than even the magistracy had
already done. They directed the master of the house to keep a "palmer,"
or instrument for inflicting pain upon the palm of the open hand. This
we suppose to have been the last argument used against offenders whose
wages or whose pin-money had been sworn away. Altogether the attempt to
make people moral by Act of Parliament seems to have been productive of
much strife in Scotland, without securing, so far as can be perceived,
any positive gain. The Act of 1551, that under which the local and
spiritual authorities derived their powers, was further supplemented by
Acts of 1567 and 1581.

We now arrive at the point at which legislation upon the subject was to
cross the border and take a prominent place in the counsels of King
James' reign.

We have seen that it was Queen Elizabeth's godson Sir John Harington,
who first recorded the positive introduction of the damnatory oath. A
long time, however, must have elapsed before the bantling took heart of
grace and found strength to run alone. An examination of Elizabethan
writings does not conduce to the idea of the term having had a
widespread acceptation. The reference we have given to the comedy of
Nat Field, 'Amends for Ladies,' tends to show that the British
shibboleth was still regarded as of exotic growth. The truth would seem
to be that the literature of the country, gross and abusive as it often
was, was singularly free from terms of this particular description,
while the conversation of the humbler orders was not so unexceptionable.
Already it had become a source of uneasiness to the Legislature. In 1601
a measure was introduced into the Commons "against usual and common
swearing," but, having been carried up to the Lords, it dropped after
the first reading. This would appear to have been the first attempt at
legislation on the subject.[39] On the accession of James I. the topic
was again brought to the notice of the House, but the early Parliaments
of this reign were too much occupied with the work thrown upon them in
consequence of the Gunpowder Treason to formulate any code for the
regulation of this abuse. Although no less than five separate bills,
having the prevention of swearing for their object, were presented
during the course of this reign, it was not until 1623 that an enactment
was finally carried defining and controlling the offence. The statute of
that year[40] provided that every offender should forfeit the sum of
twelve pence. In default of payment the culprit was to be placed in the
stocks for three hours, or if under the age of twelve years was to be
severely whipped.

The attack made by the Puritans upon performances of a dramatic nature
had resulted in a kindred piece of legislation especially affecting the
stage. By an Act[41] passed in 1606 it was provided that a penalty of
10_l._ should be borne by every person who jestingly or profanely used
the name "of God, or of Christ Jesus, or the Holy Ghost, or of the
Trinity," in any interlude, pageant or stage-play. It was in consequence
of the rigour of this enactment that Ben Jonson narrowly escaped a
prosecution for blasphemy. On the production of the 'Magnetic Lady,' the
language employed upon the stage gave great offence in legal quarters,
and the author was sent for from a sick-bed and severely questioned by
the Master of the Revels. An examination of the play will show the
charge, as against Jonson, to have been unfounded; even the author was
at a loss to understand the occasion for the accusation being preferred.
The actors in the piece were accordingly called together, and when
confronted with the dramatist, were forced to admit that the
objectionable expletives were those of their own supplying.

When some months later the play of 'The Wits' was presented to the
licenser, previous to its production on the stage of the Blackfriars,
that dignitary was particularly careful to expunge all such passages as
struck him as unparliamentary. Sir William D'Avenant, the author of the
comedy, complained to the king of this exercise of the censorship, and
His Majesty, after reading the play for himself, negatived the decision
of the licenser. He ruled that the words "s'death," "s'light," and such
kindred terms, were asseverations merely, and not oaths. The court
functionary does not appear to have been any the more satisfied, and has
left an entry in his diary, submitting indeed to his master's judgment,
but maintaining his own opinion. The play was returned to D'Avenant,
having the full sanction of the king, who on its first production took
boat to the Blackfriars playhouse to witness the performance.[42]

The stage has continued to enjoy a species of traditional immunity from
all the reprobation which swearing is presumed to incur. So long as the
action passing on the boards is in ever so remote a degree in affinity
with its supposed natural counterpart, and is suited with dialogue that
is fairly appropriate, the use of expletives is not omitted in deference
to the susceptibilities of an audience. The theatre may in some sense be
called a school of swearing, and in that capacity has frequently brought
upon itself the castigations of its appointed supervisors. Of all the
censors who from time to time have made a stand against this traditional
licence, George Colman is to be remembered as the most violent and the
most inconsistent.

As a writer he had scandalised a whole generation of playgoers. The
'Heir-at-Law' and the 'Poor Gentleman,' comedies with which he has
permanently benefited stage literature, do not certainly halt at any
extreme. His very appointment as censor was due to the bottle-acquaintance
that had sprung up with the regent Prince of Wales. Yet so squeamish did
he become when once the official mantle had descended upon his shoulders,
that even the exclamations "lud!" and "la!" were ruthlessly expunged from
productions submitted to his censorship. The words "Oh, Providence!" were
also rigidly excised, and the very names of heaven and hell were flatly
condemned as savouring of irreverence.

Says Mr. Dutton Cook, in treating of this feature of the Georgian
drama:--"Men swore in those days not meaning much harm or particularly
conscious of what they were doing, but as a matter of bad habit, in
pursuance of a custom certainly odious enough, but which they had not
originated and could hardly be expected immediately to overcome. In this
way malediction formed part of the manners of the time. How could these
be depicted upon the stage in the face of Mr. Colman's new ordinance?
There was great consternation among actors and authors. Critics amused
themselves by searching through Colman's own dramatic writings and
cataloguing the bad language they contained. The list was very
formidable. There were comminations and anathemas in almost every scene.
The matter was pointed out to him, but he treated it with indifference.
He was a writer of plays then, but now he was Examiner of Plays."

The persecution under which Jonson suffered was due to the steady growth
of Puritan principles. Measures of austerity were speedily generated by
this ascetic philosophy; and among others we find that a scheme for
bringing oaths, in a liquidated shape, to the aid of the national
resources, was put into operation. Letters patent were granted in the
month of July 1635, for establishing a public department for enforcing
the laws against swearing. One Robert Lesley was appointed to the office
of chief inquisitor, and was authorised to take all necessary steps for
carrying out the act in every parish of the kingdom. Whatever moneys
might be realised were to be paid over to the bishops for the benefit of
the deserving poor. Lesley appointed deputies in the parishes, who, we
notice, were at liberty to deduct 2_s._ 6_d._ in the £ for their pains.
A copy of one of these appointments to a London parish appears among the
State papers, but no balance-sheet from which we might learn something
of the "turn-over" of the office appears to be forthcoming.[43]

With what feelings the army of the Parliament regarded this offence may
be gathered from two sentences passed upon offenders convicted under
military law. In March 1649, a quartermaster named Boutholmey was tried
by council of war for uttering impious expressions. The man was found
guilty and condemned to have his tongue bored with a red-hot iron, his
sword broken over his head, and himself ignominiously dismissed the
service. In the following year a dragoon was similarly sentenced by
court-martial to be branded on the tongue.[44] Even in districts removed
from martial severity the monetary tax on oath-taking was frequently
demanded. We perceive from a recent writer,[45] who has collected the
ancient records of quarter sessions, that swearing was severely visited
upon the lieges of Somerset and Devon. John Huishe, of Cheriton, was
convicted for swearing twenty-two oaths. Humfrey Trevitt, for swearing
ten oaths, was adjudged to pay 33_s._ 4_d._ for the use of the poor.
William Harding, of Chittlehampton, was held to be within the act of
swearing for saying "Upon my life," and Thomas Buttand was fined for
exclaiming "On my troth!"

To glance at Scotland at this time, we find the governing body enacting
laws of a more searching and stringent character than any that had
preceded them. The Parliament of 1645 ordered that whoever should curse
or blaspheme should upon a second conviction be "censurable" in the
manner prescribed, that is, a nobleman should pay twenty pounds Scots, a
baron twenty marks, a gentleman ten marks. The Act anticipates the case
of a minister of religion coming under its provisions. The punishment in
that case was the forfeit of the first part of his year's stipend. In
1649 a further enactment was passed, the previous one being admittedly
too lenient, and in the same session the offence of cursing a parent was
made punishable by sentence of death. It is certainly curious to witness
the extremes to which the Scottish nation were prepared to go in
legislating against the commission of this offence. In 1650, when the
country was rushing to arms to resist the invasion of Cromwell, an Act
of Parliament was prepared which disqualified for command all officers
who were addicted to swearing.

The code which, in this country, had proved sufficient for the Puritans
remained in force until the manners of the Restoration had rendered
further legislation imperative. This took the shape of the statute of
William and Mary, by which, as we have seen, the Dean of St. Patrick's
was so greatly exhilarated. After an interval of some fifty years the
interference of Parliament was again felt to be necessary, and an Act of
George II. was passed which still regulates the law upon the subject of
swearing.[46]

The preamble admits that the existing laws were not sufficiently
powerful to meet the circumstances for which they were designed. A more
onerous scale of penalties was to be prescribed, commencing with a fine
of one shilling in the case of a labourer, and rising to five shillings
in the case of a swearer of gentleman's degree. That this measure should
not want for publicity, it was ordered to be read quarterly in every
church and chapel throughout the kingdom.

A curious instance of punishment for neglect of this saving provision,
is noticed in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' for 1772. In July of that year
a rich vicar and a poor curate were condemned to pay into the hands of
the proper officer a sum of 15_l._ for neglecting to read in church the
Act against swearing. This clause was only repealed by an enactment of
the present century.

We have some means of knowing whether the fines recoverable under this
statute were in point of fact actually inflicted, and from the
importance attached by the public prints to the decisions of
magistrates on this head, we are justified in thinking that the statute
was very rarely put into requisition. In the 'Gentleman's Magazine' for
July 1751 we read that a woman convicted of uttering a profane oath and
unable to defray the shilling penalty, was sentenced to ten days' hard
labour in Bridewell. In December of the same year a tradesman was
committed for a matter of three hundred and ninety oaths, the fines
amounting to upwards of 20_l._, which he was unable to pay. Convictions
under the statute were at this time seriously attracting public
attention. That the calculations of Dean Swift should not be altogether
lost to the world, one rigid economist practically entertained the
notion of adding to the national resources by preaching a crusade
against the opulent classes of swearers. There was a Mr. Matthew
Towgood, who in 1746 prepared a treatise 'Upon the Prophane and Absurd
use of the Monosyllable Damn.' It is enough to say that neither
imagination nor research seem to have been the especial gift of Mr.
Towgood. It is a whining piece of work, in which the author gravely
informs us that he had taken up his residence at a seaport town in order
the more closely to observe the impious language of the sailors. We
should, however, do the author the justice to refer to the one
distinctive experience he seems to have gathered in his marine retreat.
He had discovered,--so at least he solemnly assures us,--that the
monosyllable in question was a "hortatory expression" by which the
chaplains in His Majesty's navy were accustomed to summon British seamen
to their prayers.

But much as it enters into the penal administration of the seventeenth
century, there is little to indicate that the vice was countenanced in
high places, or that it was seriously regarded as a pardonable incident
pertaining to the enjoyments of men of rank. That crowning distinction
seems to have been reserved for the age of Anne and the first sovereigns
of the house of Brunswick. Then it was that the insular propensity grew
impudent and headstrong, and soon became a power in the land. It is only
probable that the moral relapse that followed the Restoration may have
given the first impetus to the ascendancy of this invigorating habit.
Charles II. is said to have taught his ladies to swear like parrots, but
oaths were still only the plaything and not part of the serious business
of the Court. The Foppingtons and Clumsys were scrupulously nice in
their methods of affirmation, but it was publicly recognised that their
swearing was a mere theatrical device, and that they either swore like
cavaliers or swore like chambermaids. The acme had not even then been
reached. That point was only attained in the age when Duchess
Marlborough found disguise impossible by reason of her oaths. In the
matter of swearing the courtiers of the Stuarts may have demeaned
themselves like Mantalinis, but the giants of a later day swore home. An
obscure American clergyman, having undertaken a voyage across the
Atlantic to solicit alms for a pious foundation in Virginia, and urging
that the people of that state had souls to be saved as well as their
brethren in England, was met with the rejoinder from King William's
attorney-general, "Souls! damn your souls! make tobacco!"

In the year 1700 there was founded the Society for the Reformation of
Manners. It had for one of its prime objects the entire suppression of
oath-taking. The society seems to have enrolled members distinguished
alike for a laxity of their own morals and a tender solicitude for the
welfare of other people's. The King Consort, "Est-il-possible," was
persuaded to become a fellow, and was induced to put forth a howling
manifesto upon the iniquities of the age. This exordium was publicly
read at Bow Church. What with openly declaiming against the hideousness
of vice and proceeding criminally against its professors, the society
convinced the diarist Evelyn that they were working a complete
reformation in the habits of the community.

The building of Saint Paul's Cathedral was proceeding at this time, and
the work necessarily employed a large body of labourers and workmen,
who, as things were and are, were not scrupulously delicate in the
choice of words. Nevertheless, it was the particular care of the
builders that not one offensive word should be used during the progress
of the work.[47] Sir Christopher Wren framed rules which made a
delinquency in this respect liable to be so summarily visited that it
has been the boast of many earnest and slightly credulous people that
the mighty fabric was piled up without an oath being spoken. The society
certainly did good work if they had any hand in this result.

In spite of the society, the question of swearing and its prevalent
grossness seems to have attracted the attention of the civil courts of
law at this time. In a number of Applebee's Journal for 1723, some
account is given of a certain Abel Boyer, an infamous scribbler and
notorious swearer of the day. It seems he had threatened some of his
fellow journalists with the pains of libel because they had done him
simple justice in referring to the comminations he was accustomed to use
in speech. Before commencing his suit, Abel prudently sought the advice
of counsel, contending that his trifling derelictions did not partake of
the colour of blasphemy. The lawyers accordingly gave it against Mr.
Boyer, advising that his "goddams" and kindred expletives came entirely
within the prohibited pale. In March 1718, there is another instance of
swearing being food for Westminster Hall, as appears from the _Flying
Post_, the prominent Whig journal of the day. Mr. Richard Burridge, a
scurrilous newsman attached to the _British Gazetteer_, had been tried
at Hicks's Hall for addiction to blasphemous expressions, too shocking,
says the _Post_, to be named. Burridge was very properly convicted,
although a strong presentation was made in his favour, that when sober a
better conducted man did not exist. To account for this person's
unfortunate relapse, it was urged that he was "excessively drunk," a
consideration that so weighed with the tribunal, that they passed upon
him what was admitted on all hands to be a most moderate sentence.
Burridge was ordered to take up a position at the New Church in the
Strand and to be from there publicly whipped to Charing Cross. Further,
he was to pay a fine of twenty shillings and be imprisoned for a month.
Thenceforward a paper war was waged between the two political divisions
of journalism. The Tories professed to see the Whig journalists
stigmatised by the disgrace of one of their number, and the great Daniel
Defoe cast censure upon them and upon Burridge from _Mist's Journal_,
the Tory paper he conducted.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so, pursued by judgments of court and branded with letters of
infamy, it would seem to have been a very desperate time for these
unfortunate swearers. The profession of the pen was likely enough to
rankle under this load of aspersion, were it not that a more genial
influence had arisen that was bent upon remedying rather than provoking
offences. For while the leaders of opinion were playing their intensest
game of political intrigue, while poets were occupied with the trade of
admiration, and divines with the trade of subserviency, there arose in
England a gentler and more captivating literature of reproval, that laid
its generous laws upon men the most intolerant and the most prurient. We
allude to that more benevolent code of morality inaugurated by Joseph
Addison.



CHAPTER VIII.

    "_Lackwit._ Now do I want some two or three good oaths to express
    my meaning withall. An they would but learn me to swear and take
    tobacco! 'tis all I desire."--'_A fine Companion_,' _by Shackerley
    Marmion_, 1633.


This one voice of kindly censure was that of a man incapable of a
literary mistake. Whatever his own personal blunders, it was impossible
for Joseph Addison to err in a point of literary judgment. Although
wedded to the society of men of taste and perception, it was no part of
his purpose to remove himself from contact with the coarsest of human
ware. The tolerance he exhibited in ordinary intercourse reflects itself
in the labours of his pen. In his philanthropies, as in his severities
or his rebukes, he assumes no tinge of sanctity, no moralist's
sad-coloured robe. He is familiar, and in a manner identified, with the
very follies he is so generously decrying. The society into which he
went was disposed to be exceedingly lenient to fashionable excesses. And
thus it was that in the fulness of his wisdom, it pleased him to be of
good accord with priest and prelate as with the very movers and
seconders of iniquity.

And so, in the consideration of any social folly of his time and ours,
we are in a moment impelled to ask--What does Mr. Spectator say to this;
or gentle Master Tatler? Even in the present inquiry there can be no
reasonable doubt of their competency to give us testimony. Addison may
have heard as many and as furious oaths as any man of his time. His ways
were beset by inveterate and uncontrollable swearers. His friend Steele
had a tongue that was foolish enough, heaven knows; and when he was wont
to meet with Swift in St. James' Coffee House, may he not too often have
been assailed with language needlessly expressive? What cronies he must
have had! what lads he must have known! He had seen all the tearing
fellows of the day--the three-bottle men at the October Club, the young
blood of the shires who rode into the gap at Blenheim. He could have
remembered the roughest livers of King Charles' time, Sedley and
Rochester, Bully Dawson and Fighting Fitzgerald. He was surrounded with
bravado and devilry, with all the disbanded sins of the Flanders
regiments. For these were the days of Ramilies and Malplaquet, when the
nation was intoxicated with her meed of victory; when his Grace of
Marlborough won the country's battles, and his Lord of Peterborough
scattered sovereigns from his chariot to show the people he was _not_
the Duke of Marlborough. It was a time of great profusion and great
excess, in curses as in everything else.

And so, Joseph Addison, though living in the flighty times you did,
there can be no doubt of the quiet evenness of your ways, or how jovial
were the companions who shook you by the fist. But how you drilled and
moulded them, how you held and swayed them by the force of your bright
intelligence, how shall we who never heard your voice be able to
determine? Happily in the pages of the 'Tatler' and 'Spectator' there is
stored up for us the best and rarest of that quiet wisdom. No matter
whether the night were studious or riotous, there arrives the punctual
morning sheet with its offering of sober satire and sprightly sense. He
goes about his task of persuading and humanising as gaily as a man might
set out to laugh at a comedy. He mounts his best ruffles and his finest
tunic as he sits down to write his homily.

It is with no halting, staid, discriminative pen that he descants upon
the pleasantries and follies, the very reference to which give life and
colour to a weary argument. By the aid of these threads of human
sentiment we fancy we come the closer to him in his musings and his
wanderings, now hieing, as he does, to the pantiles or the playhouse,
now to the Temple Stairs or Vauxhall Gardens. Posterity takes delight in
reversing the footsteps of its favourites. It attempts to return with
them to the scenes which they themselves have left for good so long ago.
And so with Addison, we accustom ourselves to see him mixing in a crowd
of masquers and dominos, or supping in upper chambers with ministers of
state and tavern wits. The fancy is a harmless one, and not far removed
from reality. Imagine, therefore, Mr. Joseph Addison at
Hockley-in-the-Hole or at Cupar's Gardens, but be sure that to-morrow's
sermon will want nothing of its grace and sparkle because inspired
over-night in a mug-house parlour.

Addison has in fact conceived and transmitted to us some of the loftiest
notions ever formed of a Deity, and of the unending trespass against
divine law. Among surroundings possibly resonant with ribaldry, he could
reflect, as few before him have so impartially and equably reflected,
how much of vileness is to be set down to the score of thoughtlessness
and inanity, how much to a high-handed defiance of the Master he owns.
One number of the 'Spectator,' that of November 8th, 1711, sends forth
the sternest challenge to the government of error. Few other secular
works have made so moderate and at once so eloquent a protest. Adapting
the notion of Locke that the unaided realisation of the Deity is formed
by observation of the qualities we should desire to find in ourselves,
but sublimated by the notion of infinity attaching to each of them,
Addison proceeds to argue a state of veneration being the normal
condition of the mental frame. The horror that is conceived by a child,
or, as it may be, by a grown man, at the jarring dissonance of an oath
is nothing else than a sense of injury dealt out to this deeply-rooted
conviction. A condition of reverence being thus inherent, it follows
that the images which reason has unconsciously reared must meet with
some disturbing shock before they can be impaired or dismembered. But
the blow once fairly delivered, the victim of the assault in too many
cases passes out into the ranks of the assailants. The boundary line
between the state of abhorrence and the succeeding one of aggression is
so faint that it may almost imperceptibly be overpassed, and is apt to
become the more obscure with growth of years.

The danger is so easily incurred by even right-thinking men, that
Addison enjoins perfect abstinence from the passing mention of the name
of the Deity, instancing the Jewish prohibition which forbad its use
even in professedly religious discourses. And in this point of
veneration, we shall find the practice of Judæa to have been more
precise than anything that is recorded of a nation. Apart from the high
deliberative swearing that was so severely visited by the Mosaic law,
the use of most unmeaning and flippant particles was met with signal
retribution. The man who standing in the Syrian market-place made
mention of the holy name in reference to the common incidents of the
day--to the lusciousness of the melons, the knavery of the merchants--a
mere impatient whisper, perhaps, in all the hubbub of the fair, was
instantly deprived of civil rights. He had lost all power of intercourse
or conversation. He could not appear at a feast of three or a
congregation of ten; he could not mourn for a brother or bury a child.
The sentence was only removed after thirty days of expiation.

In the 'Spectator' of May 6th, in the same year, he recounts an
experiment supposed to have been successfully practised in a company of
hardened swearers. A host is presented as having invited to his table as
many of his friends as were conspicuous for their proficiency in
swearing. He takes the precaution to station a shorthand writer in a
concealed part of the room. The repast, as may be supposed, was rendered
terrific by the unceasing clatter of oaths, but as soon as it had ended,
the Amphytrion ushered in the scribe, who proceeded to read aloud the
faithful report he had taken down. The writer, it would seem, had filled
many sheets with this animated conversation, but this was found to be so
interspersed with swearing redundancies that the whole might have been
summarised in a single page. The perusal of the document, we are
informed, so far brought conviction to the minds of the swearers, that
they forthwith began to work with a will to amend their lives and their
vocabulary.

The indignation of our essayist is without doubt most powerfully aroused
at the inadvertent use that was made of the sacred name. "What can we
think," he exclaims, "of those who make use of so tremendous a name in
the ordinary expressions of their anger, mirth, and most impertinent
passions? of those that admit it into the most familiar questions and
assertions, ludicrous phrases and works of humour?" And then, as if
recollecting that gentlemanly example was the one rule to which the
squires and politicians at Button's or the Kitcat would most readily
submit, he instances a person of position, who, during a long life, was
never known to omit a gesture of reverence at the mention of the Deity.
It is a noticeable point in the gossiping moralist that he always
carefully guards himself from passing upon his readers the affront, for
such it would have been esteemed, of directing their attention to the
qualities of persons in a presumably lesser position than themselves.

On the whole Mr. Spectator has perhaps done wisely in humouring as well
as reprobating. The temper of the times required something less
ponderous than the invective of the older school of moralists, and this
was the very want that a man of Addison's temperament was best able to
supply. The confidence reposed in his readers was not misplaced. The
banter and the satire of these graceful essays are acknowledged to be
reflected in the mended morality of the whole body of subsequent
literature.

If we mistake not, there is the same improvement soon to be witnessed in
every department, in the national life of the nation as well as the
private life of the citizen. In part attributable to the politic sway of
the Walpole government, in part to the tincture of politeness and good
breeding that these polished penmen had striven to disseminate, there
is, for a time at least, a marked absence of rancour and strife of
tongues.

The fires of the Puritan faction had smouldered out; those of the
Jacobite frenzy had hardly had time to rekindle. That spirit of minute
controversy which had never ceased to divide both court and city since
the days of Martin Mar-prelate was at length at rest. In this somewhat
remarkable lull we find very little giving or taking of abuse. So far as
social records are a guide, there seems even to be a calm in the usual
tempest of swearing.

But towards the middle of the eighteenth century comes the relapse.
Jacobitism had blazed again. The factions were relit. Controversy wagged
its tongue as before. Everywhere are evidences of want and misery, of
low sedition and of strong drink. The tipsy Duke of Cumberland is the
hero whose graces we are to admire. The 'Guards' march to Finchley' is
the picture which may be trusted to convey a portraiture of the manners
of the times. It is precisely at this conjuncture that Parliament
enacted the last and most stringent of the measures by which it sought
to place an embargo upon swearing. In the use of coarse and violent
language women competed with the men. In 1756 on the occasion of the
memorable trial concerning the fair fame of the Countess of Grosvenor,
the letters of this lady were produced and read in court. We have Horace
Walpole's authority for saying that the oaths with which they were
plentifully besprinkled were far more masculine than they can be said to
have been tender. The prince of the blood to whom they were addressed
could swear volubly too, and his oaths we may feel assured were neither
masculine nor tender.

We of this generation can scarcely have any adequate notion of what the
swearing has been which has prevailed in this country at different
periods, and more particularly in the latter part of the reign of George
II. So popular and so ungovernable was the habit, that there is hardly
any rational means to be found for accounting for it. At this time there
lived in an obscure village in Sussex a decent, well-to-do tradesman,
whose shop, well stocked with broadcloth and homespun, was a centre of
commerce for miles around. He was known to be a thriving man, and seems
to have taken a leading part in the administration of parish affairs.
Business was not so burdensome but that he found time to attend at every
festive gathering, and to keep a well-written chronicle of his own and
his neighbours' doings. This diary has of late years been unearthed, and
a very pretty story it has to tell of the _bourgeois_ manner of life
towards the meridian of the century.[48] One entry will speak for many
of the same character.

"February 5th, 1759.--In the evening I went down to the vestry; there
was no business of moment to transact, but oaths and imprecations seemed
to resound from all sides of the room. I believe if the penalty were
paid assigned by the legislature by every person that swears that
constitute our vestry, there would be no need to levy any tax to
maintain our poor."

The outbreak must have reached an unprecedented point when we find the
president of quarter sessions, Sir John Fielding, alluding to it in the
charge to the grand jury delivered at the Guildhall in April, 1763. No
language can be stronger than that of Sir John--"I cannot sufficiently
lament," he says "that shameful, inexcusable and almost universal
practice of profane swearing in our streets; a crime so easy to be
punished, and so seldom done, that mankind almost forget it to be an
offence, and to our dishonour be it spoken, it is almost peculiar to the
English nation."

A state of things like this would seem to have given rise to a singular
communication addressed to the 'Gentleman's Magazine.' The writer lays
the whole blame upon the clergy; they have offered a direct
encouragement to swearing by declaring it a sin. He recommends that
divines in future should describe it as a virtue, which, he says, may be
as easily done as saying the contrary, and he will answer for the
success of the experiment. A clergyman of his acquaintance, continues
the writer, had already carried this bit of precept into use. To
convince the congregation that swearing was far from being a sin, this
gentleman constantly practised it in his own discourses. There might
indeed be some doubt here which was the worse, the remedy or the
disease.

The imprecations that are so severely censured by Fielding are a totally
different thing from the imprecations patronised by Lady Grosvenor, if
we are to understand the oaths of the populace to have been the hideous
and unsightly objects presented for condemnation to the Middlesex jury.
And here we hardly need point out the distinction between swearing when
at its earnest, and swearing when at its play. In numberless courts and
alleys, in the sinks and hiding-places of a great city, we may be sure
there are innumerable spots where oaths and imprecations never for a
moment are laid aside. They are as punctual and as regular as the
ticking of a clock. No word is uttered that has not its accompaniment of
an oath; no bread broken that is not devoured with cursing. For why?
Human nature is at all times bent upon possessing, and upon increasing
what it has acquired. The very act of producing is sufficient to uphold
the equilibrium of the mental frame. But this same nature, when pinched
and starved, becomes a perfect storehouse of enmity and ill-feeling.
Among the denizens of these holes and crannies humanity has been driven
very hard. It has been crushed and bruised to a point beyond endurance.
The possibility of possessing is very faint, that of enjoying still more
remote. No graceful thing--no pleasant thing, can readily come to its
hand. Yet there is one chattel they _can_ possess when every stick and
stone is denied them. They can be tenacious of their swearing. See how
manifestly useful a thing it is! It can give a man an eloquence where
none would otherwise belong to him. It can set him up with a semblance
of bodily strength, when otherwise he would be puny and fragile. He can
assail authorities, and they dare not answer. He can drown down the
voice of missionaries, and they are halting in reproval. There are
beings so dejected--so penurious--that this swearing constitutes their
whole store of worldly opulence. They know it too, in a fashion,
although it has never been told them and they themselves are incapable
of the telling.

So much for swearing when in grim earnest; how are we to account for it
in its transition to sport and play? Unless we are greatly mistaken,
there has entered into its composition a spirit of broad humour which
has, in a manner, rendered it attractive, if not positively amusing.
Were we to put the whole body of bad language to a judicial trial, we
should in fairness be compelled to admit the extenuating circumstance of
a time-expired claim to the mock-heroic and the ludicrous. It certainly
does not sparkle now, but it must have come of a witty stock, and have
boasted a mirth-provoking pedigree. To have rendered itself so
particularly palatable as it has done, like many other kinds of verbal
folly, it can only have taken its rise in a perverted spirit of
merriment.

To apply words, and more especially adjectives, in an unwonted and
unusual sense is one of the arts which go a long way to make
conversation agreeable. To do this with taste, and without corrupting or
annihilating the meaning of the word, demands a certain amount of
literary skill. To do so at any price frequently demands skill, and is
always fraught with consequences of some kind to the listener. Most of
these perversions of highly respectable words have now become so trite
that they pass unchallenged. The verb "to bag," for instance, is in
jocular use for implying a petty appropriation of property. It must of
course at some time have been forcibly wrested from the language of
sportsmen, and no doubt with this circumstance secretly underlying it,
has been productive, and will be again, of general good-humour. Such
another _tour de phrase_ is met with in the verb "to charter." This
originally had reference to the hiring of a ship; but when we hear of
chartering a fly, or chartering a stretcher, there certainly arises an
odd sense of the incongruous. We are far from saying that the merriment
in these cases is acute, but we contend that this kind of pleasantry is
at the bottom of every phrase or catchword obtaining universal
acceptance.

Examples might be multiplied of this wanton abduction of words. The not
very polite expression "the damage," as signifying the cost of any
article of purchase, is one which upon frequent repetition may fail to
strike the mind as containing any element of humour. But recollecting
the wide region the imagination has to traverse in order to connect the
idea of detriment with the idea of price, we are disposed to allow that
this mental circuit is enlivened with some shreds of grotesque imagery.
Indeed, a large and by no means contemptible portion of the world have
derived a high degree of enjoyment from the simple confusion and
dislocation of terms. Nothing is more frequent than to find a catch-word
ostensibly of no kind of intelligence being exchanged by delighted
youths across half the desks and counters of the metropolis. The
flippant use of oaths is so far practically explained; the colloquial
habit of imputing to unoffending objects a condition of damnation
passing in the light of a fairly respectable joke. Joke indeed there is
none, but it is the popular repute or suspicion of a jest that exercises
this fascination. It is noticeable that a provincial audience witnessing
one of Colman's or Sheridan's comedies is more genuinely amused by the
"zounds" and "dammes" uttered in provoking situations by testy speakers,
than by all the polish of epigram and dialogue.

As further illustrating this latent element of humour, which has helped
to perpetuate the practice of purposeless swearing, we may be permitted
to refer to an occurrence that befell us when, some number of years ago,
we happened to be taking a humble part in a legal inquiry at a county
assizes. The case was one in which, let us say, Moribundus was
plaintiff, and the Juggernaut Railway Company were defendants. It is not
necessary to refer to the business of the dispute further than to say
that the plaintiff had been shattered almost beyond recovery, and that
our province it was to help to prove to demonstration the utter
untrustworthiness of the story relied upon by Moribundus. The repast
that succeeded the inquiry more nearly concerns us; the lawyers, the
London doctor, and the local practitioner having agreed thus to
celebrate the evening. We do not recollect that the company were at all
disposed to fraternity, as a degree of professional acrimony seemed to
preside at that feast. In the course of dinner, one of the party,
looking round the board, happens to inquire, "Where's the damned
mustard?" No particular notice is taken of this remark, until presently
one of the legal gentlemen solemnly observes, "Where's the damned salt?"
We do not attempt to explain it, but a sudden sense of the ludicrous
instantly overcame the men of law and medicine assembled at the
_Fleece_. This incongruous and perfectly irrelevant joinder of words,
while it revealed the source from which amusement was supposed to flow,
was at the same time a potent satire upon the practice of a
disreputable art. It was taking the name of swearing itself in vain. It
substituted for any closer argument the incisive logic of ridicule.

It occurs to us to notice that Shakespeare, who was certainly alive to
the hidden springs of swearing, has conceived the notion of winging much
the same folly with a precisely similar shaft. It had been the fashion
among the gay Ephesians of Eastcheap, during Elizabeth's reign, to swear
by their honour. "Where learnt you that oath, fool?" asks Rosalind. "Of
a certain knight," returns Touchstone, "who swore by his honour they
were good pancakes."

With these examples of compromise before us, it becomes almost a matter
for regret that there should remain so large a body of protectionists
whose resentment at anything savouring of an oath is perhaps one of the
surest means of perpetuating swearing. Among the severest codes devised
to check the progress of the vice was that designed by the Puritan
settlers in Connecticut and Rhode Island. These Blue Laws, as they were
called, aimed at establishing an almost theocratic form of government.
Adopting the polity of Great Britain as a standpoint, these enactments
went considerably further and sought to remodel that system upon the
basis of the severest of Jewish ordinances. Among offences to which the
Puritan mind would seem to have been especially averse are to be
numbered those of swearing and tobacco-smoking. In the case of the
latter, however, retribution was only visited upon the after-generation
of smokers. People who had already acquired the habit were free to
continue in it for the days of their life. In the case of swearing,
needless to say, no such licence was extended, convicted swearers being
liable to be dealt with according to the gravity of the offence. The
penalty seems to have been rated in some instances as low as a fine of
five shillings, and to have amounted in others to the punishment of
death.

In all countries enactments have been levelled against the excesses of
ejaculation, but the true instruments for keeping them in bounds,
assuming there to be an actual necessity for such treatment, has been
shown to be the voice of ridicule and the keen banter of satire.
Moralists of the pattern of the law-givers of Connecticut would probably
be found to take exception to the oaths of Bobadil, and would condemn
'Every Man in his Humour' as a licentious work. It does not however need
argument to show that the mere fact of the redoubted Bobadil taking
credit to himself for his freaks with the fourth commandment, forms one
of the strongest inducements to respect that prohibition. But in view of
any latent admiration being lurking in any portion of his auditory,
Jonson has contrived a foil in the person of Master Stephen. This is a
vain-glorious, empty parasite, whose clumsy imitation of the Captain is
certainly calculated to put his hearers out of all sympathy with his
model. So captivated is this apt disciple with Bobadil's string of
expletives, that he is found anxiously inquiring whether he also may
swear _en militaire_. "Certainly," says the sagacious Well-bred, "if, as
I remember, your name is entered in the Artillery Garden."

Bobadil "swore the legiblest of any man christened." The field, however,
has not been suffered to be left without competitors. To see how
persistent has been the struggle for reputation in the matter as well as
manner of swearing, we have only to turn to the well-known dialogue in
Sheridan's comedy:

"_Absolute._ But pray, Bob, I observe you have got an odd kind of a new
method of swearing.

"_Acres._ Ha! ha! you've taken notice of it--'tis genteel, isn't it? I
didn't invent it myself though, but a commander in our militia, a great
scholar I assure you, says that there is no meaning in the common
oaths, and that nothing but their antiquity makes them respectable;
because, he says, the ancients would never stick to an oath or two, but
would say, By Jove! or by Bacchus!--by Mars! or by Pallas! according to
the sentiment, so that to swear with propriety, says my little major,
the oath should be an echo of the sense; and this we call the oath
referential, or sentimental swearing--ha! ha! 'tis genteel, isn't it?

"_Absolute._ Very genteel, and very new, indeed!--and I daresay will
supplant all other figures of imprecation.

"_Acres._ Ay, ay, the best terms will grow obsolete. Damns have had
their day."[49]

We are not aware whether it has been noticed how closely this passage is
foreshadowed by dialogue occurring in a much earlier play. Both turn
upon the notion of a species of property being acquired in set forms of
swearing. The play in question is from the pen of Richard Brome, and is
further useful to our purpose as showing that this eccentricity had not
abated in the interval that elapsed between Jonson and Sheridan. Under
the title of 'Covent Garden Weeded,' it exposes the riotous doings that
prevailed in that joyous locality. It was to cleanse this new
plantation of the human nettles and creepers that found shelter in its
precincts that the drama purports to have been designed. The builders
had just completed the spacious piazza which occupies a portion of the
site of the convent garden formerly existing there. Among the rollicking
societies that were springing up in this new settlement, was one known,
at least in the comedy, as the "Brothers of the Blade and the Batoon."
One scene in this play discloses the brethren in a state of carnival.
They are engaged in passing a novice into the ranks of the order, their
captain thus exhorting the new-comer as to their social code:--

"_Captain._ I have given you all the rudiments and my most fatherly
advice withall.

"_Clot._ And the last is that I should not swear; how make you that
good?

"_Captain._ That's most unnecessary, for look you, the best, and even
the lewdest of my sons do forbear it, not out of conscience, but for
very good ends, and instead of an oath, furnish the mouth with some
affected protestation. _As I am honest!_ it is so. _I am no honest man!_
if it be not. _'Ud take me!_ if I lie to you. _Nev'rigo! nev'rstir! I
vow!_ and such like.

"_Clot._ I'll have _I vow_, then.

"_Nick._ Nay, but you shall not, that's mine.

"_Clot._ Can't you lend it me now and then, brother?"

It would almost seem, from the evidence of the several passages we have
had occasion to refer to, as if the various diversities of character and
occupation had engendered a spirit of competition in the assumption of
oaths. Whether scholar or soldier, knight or citizen, each man,
according to his degree, is burning to distinguish himself by some
distinctive and eccentric form of swearing. The asseverations employed
by the Shallows and Slanders are as limpid and as timorous as those of
Falstaff and Bardolph are downright and headstrong. Hotspur, as we have
seen, reproaches Lady Percy for swearing like a comfit-maker's wife.
With the rest of the Percies he had lived in Aldersgate Street, and had
probably contracted an aversion to everything savouring of the vulgar
life of a great city. How defiant and versatile were the expletives of
the old French nobility, we may learn from the pages of Brantôme. When
seeking to convey a flattering portrait of his father, François de
Bourdeilles, he does not omit to impress us with the importance of his
oaths. Playing backgammon with Pope Jules II., his form of adjuration
was _Chardieu bénit!_ when he lost, and _Chardon bénit!_ when he won.

In Elizabethan England a ridiculous notion prevailed among town society,
associating the idea of good breeding with the use, by way of oath, of
the word "protest." Such an affirmation was understood to raise the
presumption of quality in the person who used it. Says Carlo Buffone,
"Ever, when you can, have two or three peculiar oaths to swear by, that
no man else swears, and above all protest." Neither is Shakespeare
silent upon this fashionable eccentricity. The Nurse in 'Romeo and
Juliet' is instantly won over to the side of the Veronese lover the
moment he utters "I protest," and no longer harbours a doubt of his
principles. We see her desirous of communicating to her mistress this
single expression of gentlemanhood without concerning herself about the
more weighty portion of Romeo's message. This is, perhaps, almost
beneath the dignity of the love-story, but we have to regard it as a
relic. We must understand the allusion as a piece of chaff administered
to the gallants and templars who sported their fine clothes and broached
their oaths and their jests seated upon the very stage where the
performers were playing. A passage in a contemporary, entitled 'Sir
Giles Goosecap,' affords a key to the especial estimation in which the
term then happened to be held:--"There is not the best duke's son in
France dares say _I protest_ till he be one-and-thirty years old at
least, for the inheritance of that word is not to be possessed before."

Not only do we view these allusions as relics, but we may as justly
consider them in the light of literary fossils. The aim and intention of
the author have become petrified. It is, in fact, only by the help of
study and appreciation that the true shape and proportion of the idea
can be adequately revealed. But search beneath the crust of this
intellectual spoil-bank, and there will be seen those slight, if
somewhat corroded indications which disclose the humour and the temper
of a forgotten age. These inconsequent oaths and no less
incomprehensible bywords, fit only now-a-days to undetermine critics and
to baffle commentary, are really the reflection of a tinsel finery that
was no doubt borne aloft and bravely carried in its day. The explanation
for this is simple. The player, to be well in with his patrons, had to
turn the laugh from side to side, to give a thrust here and a buffet
there, just as the mood or the opportunity dictated. It is this easy
familiarity with audiences which has filled our play-books with such
store of meaningless or half-meaningless expressions. Not that their
supposed want of meaning is more than co-extensive with their apparent
want of purpose. Once re-animated with a design, and that of ever so
trivial a character, and their significance stands out in relief. When,
as frequently happens in our reading, we encounter oaths of the pattern
which Shakespeare ascribes to the youth of Verona, we may feel sure we
have fallen upon some passing home-thrust, some spectral blow,
delivered, as it were, among now ghostly antagonists.

Thus we find that in the town life of the more favoured days of Charles
I. it was a common affectation to use the words "refuse me," much as the
Elizabethan dandies made mention of the word "protest." We see this
indicated by several examples of contemporary raillery, and particularly
in the play of 'Match at Midnight,' in which the lordlings of the time
are described as "those wicked elder brothers, that swear, _refuse
them!_ and drink nothing but wicked sack."

So at other periods we find other combinations doing yeoman service in
this particular; as, for instance, in Killigrew's play 'The Parson's
Wedding,' where Careless is explaining his plan for attacking the
affections of the fair sex--"I am resolved to put on their own silence,
answer forsooth, swear nothing but _God's nigs_." Except upon the score
of banter at prevailing idiotcies, it would be difficult to account for
the luxuriant way in which oaths of this description have been
provided.

We may not inaptly before closing this chapter travel into another
hemisphere and advert to that side of the subject in which the powers of
darkness are accustomed to be apostrophised in place of the powers of
light. Most of the swearing which we have had to pass in review may be
said to have been accumulated at a vast expense to our notions and
perceptions regarding the Source of all light. How is it, then, that the
full detriment of this system was never taken into account before, and
that the obverse of the present practice was not more generally adopted.
One might have supposed that the malignant beings who find so facile an
entrance into popular imagination would have been the first objects with
which to associate so much that is acrimonious. If this could have been
seen to, and thoroughly brought about, it is possible that we should
never have heard of "swearing" at all, or that it might very well have
occupied the same relative position upon the pedestal of virtues as it
now does upon the more degraded tallies of vice. However this may be,
and of course speculation upon the subject can be nothing more than
fanciful, it is the beneficent creations of the universe, and not the
malignant ones, that have absorbed the greater part of the energy
directed to the practice of swearing.

In English archaic writings the instances in which the mention of the
Satanic power is thus utilised are not numerous. We cannot compete with
the _diables_ and _diavolos_ of another race. Wherever references of
this kind do occur, they as often assume the shape of some amusing
transposition. The sharp edge is at once taken off the anathema. Thus
the soubriquet "old Harry" or "the Lord Harry" generally understood to
refer to Satan, is frequently used as an adjunct of strong feeling.[50]
But as an imprecation it is of quite inferior magnitude, and seems
almost to imply the existence of a strain of good-fellowship with the
Evil One which it might be exceedingly impolitic to disturb.

But beyond the intuitive feeling that the cognomen does apply to this
individual, there is little to advance which can clear up the question
as to the precise origin of the term. It is supposed that our popular
notion of the devil is derived from the Roman fauni. The shaggy coat,
the horns and cloven feet, are certainly peculiar to the classical
treatment of this supernatural being. It is inferred therefore that the
idea has been transmitted to us through the medium of our early
moralities and interludes. This course of descent derives colour from
the fact that the like paraphernalia are not the subject of opprobrious
mention in the Scriptures,[51] and that hence our notion of the devil
must be drawn from pagan rather than biblical influences. It is
accordingly suggested that "old Harry," the subject of so much
irreverent and irresponsible reference, is no other than "old hairy" of
the earliest phases of theatrical representation.

A jocose turn seems also to have been given to that common contraction
of the Satanic name of which Mistress Page makes use in the 'Merry
Wives' when she exclaims, "I cannot tell what the dickens his name is!"
It does not however seem that the expression can be traced earlier than
Heywood's 'Edward the Fourth,' of the date 1600, where we meet with the
passage: "What the dickens! Is it love that makes you prate to me so
fondly?" The word is, however, less of an oath than an exclamation.

Probably few persons who allow themselves the enjoyment of that rather
jocular expletive, _the deuce!_ are in the least aware of the remote
antiquity of this delectable figure of speech. It is perhaps the most
ancient of all the oaths and apologies for oaths that have come down to
us, and which after a long and vicissitudinous transit have arrived at
last, neither mutilated or dismembered. So old is it that it dates from
the very formation of the language, but of so tainted a pedigree that in
spite of some six hundred years of regular descent we can scarcely
permit it to hold dictionary rank.

But, if the account we have to give of its origin can be credited, its
history is singular as being intimately connected with one of the
greatest social changes that have taken place in the national life. When
we are told that the Norman conquerors imposed their language upon the
subject race, we can understand with what difficulty and hesitation the
Saxon thanes would attempt to assimilate the foreign tongue. So severe a
lesson could only be learned by grasping at such words and phrases as
were the more frequently recurring. To say that oaths and imprecations,
and in fact all terms of anger and violence, would leave the more
durable impression, is only to insist upon what we see daily exemplified
in countries where the like process is going on. So it happened with a
very favourite Norman exclamation. From the evidence of the earliest
metrical romances we gather that _Deus!_ was such a term of impatience
as was constantly upon the lips of the descendants of the invaders. But
no sooner did these more courtly and cultivated entertainments make
their way into English vernacular, than we find that even in this latter
shape the Norman _deus_ is significantly preserved. There it appears
among the rugged doggrel, a piece of continental finery stitched into
the homely Saxon garb. It had dropped out of the vocabularies of the
French romancists and had become the common property of the ordinary
provincial poetaster. It had passed in fact from the French to the
English tongue, and is claimed to be that very _deuce_ with which we are
most of us familiar.

Proof of this is afforded by comparison of the old romance of 'Havelok
the Dane'[52] as it exists in its home and in its foreign versions, and
both of which are assigned to a period anterior to the fourteenth
century. The translator was evidently a man of spirit, who to warm his
Lincolnshire readers has added much original incident and local
colouring. Nevertheless he carefully retained the Norman _deus_. It was
evidently quite at home on the wolds and in the fens of the
translator's country, and only wanted the accent which Grimsby patrons
would not fail to supply, to transform it to the expression with which
we are so well acquainted.

There seems to be one oath of this description which bids fair to elude
all guess-work as to its origin or meaning. It was formerly a practice
in France to swear _par le diable de Biterne_. When so much exactitude
had been employed to emphasise the whereabouts of this personage, it is
only natural to inquire where the locality referred to might happen to
be. We believe, however, that no satisfactory answer has as yet been
returned. Some light is thrown upon the question by Francisque Michel
who (in his 'Récherches sur les Etoffes de Soie') has shown that a
present of some rare _pailes de Biterne_ was sent to Alexander by
Candace, one of the queens of Ethiopia. With this single ray of
illumination we must be content.



CHAPTER IX.

    "As I was finishing this worke, an oyster-wife tooke exception
    against me and called me knave."--'_Lamentable Effect of Two
    Dangerous Comets_,' 1591.


We trust that we have travelled thus far on our journey without wounding
the susceptibilities of any of our readers, and that thus it may
continue to the not distant end. In all probability our remarks and
illustrations will have been scanned by two totally diverse classes of
patrons, those to whom the topics suggested present much that is worthy
of attention, and those to whom this little treatise will appear to be
written in almost an unknown tongue. All that we can do is to claim the
indulgence of these latter. We hope that they at least will acquit us of
any intention of blemishing the fair front of human nature, or of
darkening any of the windows that administer to its requirements of
light and air. In fine, we trust that what has been said, has been
spoken fairly and frankly. Not, however, that we pretend that the views
we may have advanced have anything but a local application. There is a
swearing world, a place in which people habitually swear, but there is
also a non-swearing world in which they are partially if not totally
unacquainted with observances of swearing. To present a picture of the
former to the dwellers in the more opposite locality is to expect
approval of a marine painting from those who have never beheld the sea.
The reflections therefore that we may have been called upon to make by
the way, no less than the numerous instances we have found it as well to
refer to, must be taken as pertaining only to those troubled waters that
surge around the continent inhabited of swearers.

This careless, indulgent and pleasure-seeking portion of the world have
derived even comfort and convenience from a recognition of the best
regulated usages of swearing. Reputations for courage and audacity have
thus been hourly established by the careful insinuation of hideous
expletives. Friendships have been cemented by the force of this common
bond of union; strangers set at their ease; the weak and hesitating have
been galvanised into action. Judging from a purely worldly standpoint,
it would be inconsistent not to admit that society has been under deep
obligations to this especial form of wickedness. Swearing has in the
main been rendered agreeable and popular in so far that it has been
adopted to span over social distances and level social distinctions, to
create in fact a code of easy sympathy between otherwise thoroughly
unsympathetic men. The worst--and swearers are not necessarily the
worst--no less than the best of mankind endeavour to generate some
species of that "touch of nature" which we are told makes the whole
world kin. We must not therefore be too severe on finding that this very
creditable object is sometimes sought to be accomplished by somewhat
discreditable means.

As a few of our readers may by this time have harboured a conviction
that swearing is in some degree a social necessity, they will be able to
give full scope to the views upon this point of the excellent Mr.
Shandy.[53] The only compunction that seems to have been entertained by
this gentleman resided in the danger of expending small curses upon
totally inadequate occasions. He maintained, indeed, with the utmost
Cervantic gravity, that he had the greatest veneration for that student
of swearing who, in obvious mistrust of his own extempore powers,
composed forms suitable to all degrees of provocation, and kept them
framed over his chimney-piece for daily reference.

"I never apprehended," puts in Dr. Slop, "that such a thing was ever
thought of--much less executed."

"I beg your pardon," replies Mr. Shandy, "I was reading--though not
using--one of them to my brother Toby this morning, whilst he poured out
the tea."

The work of ingenuity in question turned out to be a decree of
excommunication, certainly a very ponderous and damnatory one, compiled
by Ernulphus, a learned bishop of Rochester. Mr. Shandy is understood to
account for the comprehensiveness of this anathema by assuming it to
have been designed as an institute or perfect digest of swearing. He
conjectures that upon a decline of vituperation Ernulphus had with great
learning collected all the known methods, for fear of their being
dispersed and so lost to the world for ever. The worthy Shandy would
even go so far as to maintain that there was no kind of oath that was
not to be found in Ernulphus. "In short," he would add, "I defy a man to
swear out of it."

This piece of quaintness, as we need hardly point out, only goes to the
fact that wide as is the range of imprecation, it must always come back
to that one monotonous symbol of despisal. The anathema of the good
bishop is pitched in many keys and sounds, like the collected utterances
of many throats. But even Ernulphus can scarcely have foreseen the
Rabelaisian refinements that would suggest themselves to the minds of
men as soon as literary demands were made upon the well-worn supply.

The genius of the French language seems more particularly to lend itself
to the fabrication of burlesque forms and subterfuges. Thus to affirm by
_le sacré froc d'Habacuc_, or by _la double-triple manche de serpe_, are
fair specimens of the ingenuity that has been lavished. Far less
offending have been the ludicrous forms of asseveration popular in the
lower ranks of French society, and one of which it is sufficient to
mention as occurring in a curious rhyme of the last century,[54] where
among other things is found characterised the pseudo-nuptials of a
certain abbess and a dignitary of the Church--

  "Mais, _par la vertu d'un oignon_,
  Ils sont mariés environ,
  Comme l'est l'évêque de Chartres
  Avec l'abbesse de Montmartres."

It is not improbable that a great deal of the aversion that is
associated with the practice of swearing is due to the custom of those
novelists who are in the habit of screening their oaths behind the most
transparent of disguises. To denote an expletive by its initial letter
followed with a dash is really to attract undue attention to that which
the writer acknowledges himself ashamed of printing. The contrivance
serves no useful purpose, and, if we are not mistaken, the more robust
of modern novelists have eschewed it altogether. Very different in this
respect is the device adopted by Dickens in one of the most entertaining
of his romances. Readers of 'Great Expectations' will remember the
description of Mr. William Barley. This presents us with a picture of a
water-logged old ship's captain, who, as he lay through the long hours
of the day and night upon his uneasy mattress, never ceased to hold
communion with himself in anything but a strain of piety--"Ahoy! bless
your eyes, here's old Bill Barley! Here's old Bill Barley on the flat of
his back, by the Lord! Lying on the flat of his back, like a drifting
old dead flounder; here's old Bill Barley, bless your eyes. Ahoy! Bless
you!" Of course the point of this monologue lies in the fact that the
supposed blessings are really substituted by the novelist for desires of
a very opposite description.

There are few pictures we would less willingly omit from the gallery of
the author's creations. We have here the portraiture of one among that
godless but soft-hearted race of veterans who have alternately bullied
and blustered, or cried and whimpered, throughout many ages of fiction
and melodrama. And in depicting this type of character writers have
invariably felt it their bounden duty to give full prominence to this
fateful gift of swearing. With much discretion the novelist has in the
present instance invented a subterfuge, which, while it does not rob Mr.
Barley of his idiosyncrasies of speech, leaves an amused and not an
offensive impression behind it. We are, in fact, called in to assist at
a very quiet piece of human contradiction. We are presented to the prone
Barley in his state of helplessness and suffering, and at the same time
are given to understand that the sufferer derives comfort and
consolation from nothing so much as a downright plunge into the torrent
of bad language.

In these wandering musings of the complaining old sea-captain there is
suggested one of the many spells that are exercised by the force of
imprecation. There is no paucity of men, whether dejected, dissatisfied
or penurious, who are wont to apostrophise some imagined effigy of
themselves, or to construct some idealised fabric as a monument of their
lives, and stalk it abroad for their own and for other men's wonderment.
And the means they employ to spirit up these creations are not
dissimilar to those in use by Mr. Barley. By declaiming loudly against
the ravages of a hard fate that lays them on their backs "like an old
dead flounder," the mind is assisted to form a notion of the victims in
their prime. By deploring the hardships of fallen fortune the eye of the
sympathiser is carried instinctively back to bygone days of
supposititious enjoyment. Imprecation is seldom absent from these
incursions, being, in fact, urgently needed to do duty for closer
argumentation. Again, as there are men so genial that they swear as a
challenge to discontent, so there are men so discontented that they
swear as a challenge to geniality.

This more unsociable aspect of the subject brings us perforce to the
consideration of a term of swearing that contains no element of
geniality. Of itself it can be accounted nothing but a mere outcome of
bombast and vulgarity, appealing as it does to no known passion of the
human mind. And yet so widespread is its influence, and so powerful its
dominion, that it has been rung out and has reverberated probably more
than any other in the great "fisc and exchequer" of abuse.

The expletive that it now behoves us to consider is one which has never
been adequately treated in a book. We cannot disguise to ourselves that
there is much in its unfortunate associations to render its occurrence
still exceedingly painful. Originating in a senseless freak of language,
it has by dint of circumstances become so noisome and offensive, that
were it not for the undue power and influence it has usurped, we should
hardly be disposed to treat of it at all. But when we mention that it is
the ungainly adjective "bloody" that will occupy our attention for the
next few pages, we must be allowed to add that it is with the view of
stripping the term of its infamous significance, and if possible of
dispelling from it the cloud of ill favour and of ill fame, that we
venture with less reluctance to grapple with it.

With the full knowledge of the abhorrence it has imparted in our day, it
is difficult to imagine any unsullied spring-time in the history of so
sordid a word. It is the single particle of objuration that has not
dared assume, as others have so frequently done, a jaunty or a
rollicking demeanour. Not in the wildest days of Eastcheap revelry did
it resound in any one key of vinous harmony. While other epithets may
from time to time have received the sanction of conviviality, here is a
word that is nothing unless discordant and acrimonious. It is the apt
accompaniment of a whining tongue, the fit complement of a verjuice
countenance. Dirty drunkards hiccup it as they wallow on ale-house
floors. Morose porters bandy it about on quays and landing-stages. From
the low-lying quarters of the towns the word buzzes in your ear with the
confusion of a Babel. In the cramped narrow streets you are deafened by
its whirr and din, as it rises from the throats of the chaffering
multitude, from besotted men defiant and vain-glorious in their drink,
from shrewish women hissing out rancour and menace in their harsh
querulous talk.

And yet to look back no further than to the youth of Shakespeare, the
word had no application beyond such as was seemly, and its history was
simple and spotless and without reproach. The one play of 'Macbeth'
contains an unusual number of instances of its occurrence, all written
without any suspicion of an _équivoque_ and dwelt upon with an
undoubting sincerity that has become barely possible in a modern work.
Indeed into such ill company has fallen this true-minded adjective, that
it is no longer competent to be admitted to its proper place in an
ordinary publication. Now and again strong protest has been made against
the hard sentence passed upon so well-meaning a term, and authors of
taste have demanded its restitution to its former intellectual
companionship. In one of her "Letters to the Author of Orion," Mrs. E.
B. Browning throws reserve upon the subject altogether to the winds, and
insists upon embracing and cherishing this ill-starred word as a long
lost acquaintance. But when Shakespeare wrote of

  "The bloody house of life,"

there was no need for hesitation in shaping it. It was as unsullied and
as transparent as any that might have been placed upon Imogen's lips or
thrown by Hamlet into Ophelia's lap.

To account for the moral kidnapping that the word has undergone, it
behoves us, strangely enough, to set face towards the Netherlands, and
to hark back there to the campaigns of Flushing and Deventer, where Ben
Jonson and others of his countrymen are shouldering their pikes under
the generalship of Vere and Stanley. We shall then find it to have been
one of the doubtful advantages that were gained by long years of Low
Country soldiering. With the winds and tides that brought home the
shoals of broken veterans, there was wafted to this country the flavour
of foreign oaths, and among them the renown in speech of the German
"blutig." Now "blutig" happened to be an inconsequent sort of particle
that was employed in all the dialects of Germany to denote a sense of
the emphatic. It had been chosen throughout the German fatherland to
minister to the wants of those defective degrees of comparison which are
usually, however, found to be more or less admirably fitted to their
purpose. It thus constituted itself a fourth degree, or
extra-ultra-superlative. Like all verbal contrivances of this kind, it
was more especially favoured among the less cultivated students of the
forms of grammar, and seems at last to have become recognised as a
convenient make-weight with which a reprobate soldiery were accustomed
to balance their assertions.

It will be at once seen that this alien growth was capable of being
readily transplanted to our soil in the shape of its literal
counterpart. The circumstance of the words being so nearly identical is
sufficient to account for the work of transposition being swiftly and
effectually done. But beyond the mere accident of the respective tongues
offering an exact literal equivalent, there was nothing in common
between the German "blutig" and the English correlative term. As
evidenced by the purity of its antecedents, the latter derives nothing
of the opprobrium that has devolved upon it by reason of any hereditary
defects, far less on account of any of its inherent properties.

If Ben Jonson, who must have been brought face to face with this
treasure in its natural home, does not seek to commend it to the keeping
of his audiences, we may be sure that in his time at least it had
attained no perceptible degree of literary currency. The comic
dramatists were agreed at this period as to one canon of dramatic
representation. They were accustomed to interlace the serious business
of the comedy with mirth-moving interludes in which the more farcical
characters of the piece were met together for the purpose, as it seemed,
of besprinkling one another with the most aggravating and unpardonable
abuse. The ingenuity of writers was ransacked to furnish material for
this spirited by-play. Collections of all nationalities, and the
reserves of all professions and handicrafts, were studiously drawn upon
to furnish subject-matter for these wordy encounters. So far as they
could help themselves, these shameless dramatists left no word unsaid
that could increase the strife of tongues and raise a smile at the
energy or possibly the grossness of the jargon. But as yet the epithet
in question found no place in the prompt-book, and continued to be
omitted from their vocabularies. Had Bohemian society even partially
adopted it, it would be difficult to imagine the humours of the
Artillery Garden, or the disorders of Ruffians' Hall and Turnbull
Street,[55] being glibly depicted by these outspoken playwrights without
recourse being had to the services of this unconscionable adjective.

Shakespeare, himself probably the greatest exponent of the arts of
scurrility, is totally exempt from any blameworthy intention in applying
the word in the manner he so frequently uses it. But as years wore on
the relish of foreign and far-travelled terms grew upon the public taste
with surprising rapidity. A novelty must be extremely popular to enable
it to become vulgar, and must even be liked before it can be thoroughly
hated. "Bloody" was no exception to the rule, and enjoyed a brief day of
estimation and patronage. Men of refinement and high culture adopted it
rather as an article of scholarly adornment. Dryden uses it in this way,
as does Swift. Play-writers heralded it on the stage, bestowing upon it
the passport of literary sanction. In Sir George Etheredge's comedy,
'The Man of Mode,' a play that was witnessed by society with unbounded
approval, the final stage in the process of abduction is plainly
indicated. Says one of the characters, referring to the importunities of
a tipsy vagrant, "Give him half-a-crown!" to which the other replies,
"Not without he will promise to be bloody drunk!"

In this way it would seem that the ball was set rolling. How the game
has continued to be played we are most of us aware. It calls for no
particular skill on the part of the players, neither does the sport
appear to decline for want of appreciation. That it was received at its
first incoming with a kind of _éclat_ is not so surprising as is the
strange attachment that for upwards of two centuries has been manifested
by some ranks of society towards this discreditable word. Its first
flush of approval may have been due to a certain element of
whimsicality. This at least is a sensation frequently conveyed by the
occurrence of any meaningless affectation. But, however this may be, it
certainly was not at the first outset the mere grovelling and
unmitigated blackguardism which it was very shortly to be. Dean Swift,
full of wit and penury, writing from his London lodging to Stella in her
comfortable Irish home, breaks into frequent outbursts at the scantiness
of his comforts. One October, when removed to Windsor, he is
particularly tried by the severity of the autumnal weather, but the
terms in which, addressing a well-bred woman, he expresses his
discomfort are striking, as showing the strange vicissitudes that
language may undergo. "It grows bloody cold," he writes--and one may
well imagine the chilled extremities of the reverend Dean--"it grows
bloody cold, and I have no waistcoat."

In support of the view that there is nothing in the inherent properties
of the word, or even in the range and frequency of its use, to account
for the degraded position it has occupied in modern times, we have only
to inquire whether any similar treatment has been the fate of the
equivalent word in the language of France. What do we find? The French
_sanglant_ has even a wider sphere of application, and in its legitimate
sense is even a greater favourite than our own adjective, but no such
evil days have overtaken it. It can be used literally, as in the case of
_viande sanglante_, or metaphorically, as in _un sanglant affront_ or
the aphorism _la sanglante raillerie blesse et ne corrige pas_, but not
at any time is it found to deviate from the paths of decency.
Everything, we consider, favours the idea we have formed of our stately
English word proceeding soberly and reputably upon its honest course
only to become the victim of this species of subversive horse-play at
the hands of professed word-corrupters. Appreciative of the objurgatory
advantages of the German _blutig_, they were indifferent to any affront
they might pass upon the English tongue. From that time forward the word
was branded as infamous. The manly ring that of right belonged to it, as
instanced in such widely different productions as 'Piers Ploughman,'[56]
or the 'Philaster' of Beaumont and Fletcher,[57] was becoming no longer
possible. In recent days people have sometimes tried to reconcile these
opposite tendencies and to endow the word with some amount of literary
grace. The best attempt we have noticed in this direction is in a decree
of the Government of Paraguay, which in August 1869 instructed its
resident in this country that the presence of Francisco Lopez on
Paraguayan soil was "a bloody sarcasm to civilisation." The gentleman
who penned this document may have been influenced by the example of
Montaigne[58] who admitted that he was accustomed to swear "more by
imitation than complexion."

We have given what we believe to be the rational explanation of this
most unwarrantable abduction of the word from its ancient uses. The
English language, whose handmaid it was, has never put in a claim to the
return of its services, and the professors of that language continue to
be scared when they meet with the vulgar changeling at the corner of the
street. The principal reason for abhorrence is probably founded upon
misapprehension. It is assumed that the expression bears the savour of
irreligion. The old Catholic oath of "blood and wounds" has been
advanced as the origin. So far from this theory being well founded, we
rather find the whole brood of Catholic oaths to have been swept away by
the besom of the Reformation long before this expletive had raised its
head. Neither are we able to support the contention that it takes its
rise in the archaic "woundy," which perished in the same fires. It is
quite clear that in this instance there is a marked and deep interval
between the outgoing of the old form of scurrility and the advent of the
new.

Without being understood to array ourselves on the side of this baneful
expression, we desire to acquit it at once of all suspicion of
irreligion. The men who originated it had furthest from their minds any
inroad upon Catholic fervour. It was simply an imported ware, smuggled
over in a soldier's knapsack. It was left to linger for a time upon the
lips of sutlers and tapsters, and became the plaything of sergeants and
backswordsmen, the broken companions who had smelt powder in the German
wars. It took will and way from the mere caprices of imitation, that
sufficed in time to render it palatable to the wiser and more sober of
men. From the time of Dean Swift downwards, it has mostly suffered from
being lamentably unfashionable. Association, which can do so much to
influence and so little to regulate our dislikes, has insisted in
linking this expletive with the classes that are taken to be the more
sordid and malignant.

It may certainly come into play now and again among those people who are
not averse to perpetrating a joke at the expense of a little casual loss
of refinement. On these few occasions indeed it would even appear to be
tinctured with some slight leaven of good-nature. Thus, the sailor
appellation of Admiral Gambier--"old bloody Politeful"--must not be
inveighed against too hardly. Neither need we be too squeamish over a
once famous (or infamous) _bon mot_ that passed current in a fashionable
club where a certain learned and witty serjeant was wont to repair for
his nightly rubber. One evening, after meeting with a stranger at the
card-table who held a remarkable number of trumps, he had impatiently
inquired who had been his antagonist. On being told that the player was
Sir So-and-So, Bart., the serjeant is reported to have at once rejoined
that "he might have known the fellow to have been a baronet by his
bloody hand!"

But there is a deeper and more solemn aspect in all this than any that
we have suggested or advanced. No statistics, could any be collected, no
known or imaginable facts, could be trusted to convey the faintest
notion of the large place that is occupied in public morals by the
presence of this solitary piece of imprecation. Those who have
opportunities of judging, will be bound to admit that they see in it the
plaything and fondling of whole sections of citizen society. In
innumerable households, in countless families, if we may so designate
those fetid accumulations of humanity that we must here be understood to
indicate, there is not an hour of the day--not a moment of the day--in
which this virulent and acrid malediction does not send out its empty
challenge. How can this moral choke-damp, with all its fatal
incrustations, fail to eat away the supports and very framework of the
dwelling. It is hard perhaps to pass so heavy a sentence upon seemingly
so slight an offence, but we are forced to believe that the very
existence and presence of this evil, in its more rampant and impudent
state, is of itself conclusive upon the point of good or evil
government, upon the question of the predominance of human charity or of
the blackest intensity of malice.

Neither is it the least regrettable circumstance that, considered as a
piece of mingled vileness and effrontery, the word has been, and for the
matter of that is still likely to be, a most telling and signal success.
Those who have followed the writer at all closely will have already
noticed the irresistible impulse of succeeding generations to secure to
themselves the strongest possible anathema with which to carry on all
manner of petty hostilities. But until the expletive that is now passing
under our consideration was fairly launched upon society, no great
measure of success can be said to have crowned their endeavours. The
swearing of the pre-Reformation era may be adjudged the nearest approach
to maledictory perfection, but even that system, admirable as it may
have been from the point of view of an accomplished Boanerges of the
time, was at best but an unstable and fluctuating one, and depended for
its efficiency upon the swearer's own powers of invocation. As a rule no
two oaths were alike, and men gave you the idea of thinking before they
swore. So various a code could hardly be expected to meet with general
success, it being as impossible for an individual to invent a really new
oath--a new "bloody," for example--as it is said to be impossible to
invent a new proverb or a new rhyme for the nursery. Imitations can of
course be easily contrived, but the genuine product only arises through
the seemingly spontaneous consent of approving multitudes. It was
precisely in this way that the present abomination was generated. Not
proceeding from any one man's store of virulence, but resulting from a
long process of evolution and development, it at last springs into
sudden life, in obedience, it would almost seem, to a nation's clamours.
But no sooner was it called into this sphere of activity, than it
became, we repeat, a gigantic success. It is the crown and apex of all
bad language, the coping-stone of all systems of verbal aggression and
abuse. By consent, as it were, of the general conscience it is allowed
to have surpassed in vileness and intensity anything of the kind that
has been intense or vile. That this stream of pollution should continue
to flow, uninterruptedly and with increasing volume, through its inky
channel, is one of the gloomiest and grimmest of the minor features of
our social life.



APPENDIX.


_Page 73. Feminine Oaths._--Among the number of feminine expletives may
be reckoned Ophelia's adjuration "by Gis." The derivation has been a
source of trouble to the commentators, who profess to see in it a
corruption of Saint Cecily, an abbreviation of Saint Gislen, or else, as
is more probable, a phonetic form of the letters I.H.S. But whatever its
derivation, the oath was commonly attributed to the female sex. Thus, in
Preston's 'Cambyses,' 1561, it is so employed; and again in the
pre-Shakespearian play of 'King John' the nuns swear by Gis, and the
monks, by way of distinction, take their oaths by Saint Withold. In
'Gammer Gurton's Needle' the oath is placed in the mouth of the old
housewife.

_Page 84. Foreign Oaths._--We learn from Miss Bunbury's 'Summer in
Northern Europe,' that the most common form of swearing in Sweden is a
contraction of "God preserve us," and that hardly a sentence can escape
from the lips of the lower orders without being supplemented by this
expression--"bevars," the lengthened form of which is "Gud bevarva oss."
Another form of imprecation is "Kors" or "Kors Jesu," the Cross of
Jesus, which the same writer intimates is in great request among the
educated orders in Sweden.

_Page 85. Pre-Reformation Swearing._--The testimony of Elyot in 'The
Boke named the Governour,' written in 1531, is very conclusive upon the
question. He says: "In dayly communication the mater savoureth nat,
except it be as it were seasoned with horrible othes. As by the holy
blode of Christe, his woundes whiche for our redemption he paynefully
suffred, his glorious harte, as it were numbles chopped in pieces.
Children (whiche abborreth me to remembre) do play with the armes and
bones of Christe, as they were chery stones. The soule of God, whiche is
incomprehensible, and nat to be named of any creature without a
wonderfull reverence and drede, is nat onely the othe of great
gentilmen, but also so indiscretely abused, that they make it (as I
mought saye) their gonnes, wherwith they thunder out thretenynges and
terrible menacis, whan they be in their fury, though it be at the
damnable playe of dyse. The masse, in which honourable ceremony is lefte
unto us the memoriall of Christes glorious passion, with his corporall
presence in fourme of breade, the invocation of the thre divine persones
in one deitie, with all the hole company of blessed spirites and soules
elect, is made by custome so simple an othe that it is nowe all most
neglected and little regarded of the nobilitie, and is onely used among
husbandemen and artificers, onelas some taylour or barbour, as well in
his othes as in the excesse of his apparayle, will counterfaite and be
lyke a gentilman."--ii. 252, _ed. Croft_.

So also Roger Hutchinson in his 'Image of God,' 1550:--"You swearers and
blasphemers which use to swear by God's heart, arms, nails, bowels,
legs, and hands, learn what these things signify, and leave your
abominable oaths."

_Page 93. Oath by the Swan._--It was also the custom during the middle
ages to serve with great pomp a pheasant, or some other noble bird, on
which the knights swore to visit the Holy Land. In 1453, Philip the
Good, Duke of Burgundy, vowed, _sur le faisan_, to go to the deliverance
of Constantinople. His example was followed by the barons and knights
assembled, who, in the words of Gibbon, "swore to God, the Virgin, the
ladies and the pheasant."

_Page 107. A swearing corps d'élite._--So long ago as the reign of Henry
VIII. the expression "to swear like a lord" had become proverbial:--"For
they wyll say he that swereth depe, swereth like a lorde."--'_The
Governour_,' _by Sir T. Elyot_, 1531, _ed. Croft_, i. 275.

That the habit was making headway in high places may also be inferred
from a bequest in one of the wills preserved in Doctors' Commons, in
which the testator bequeathed a legacy of twenty shillings on condition
that the legatee should desist from swearing. The will is that of Sir
David Owen, a natural son of Owen Tudor, and is dated 1535.

_Page 121. Sir David Lindsay._--Some idea of the fecundity of the old
poet in the matter of expletives is conveyed by the catalogue of oaths
culled from the 'Satyre of the Three Estaitis' and added to Chalmers'
edition of Lindsay, published in 1806. The list is as follows:--

  "Be Cokis passion.
  Be Godis passion.
  Be Cok's deir passion.
  Be Cok's tois.
  Be God's wounds.
  Be God's croce.
  Be God's mother.
  Be God's breid.
  Be God's gown.
  Be God himsell.
  Be greit God that all has wrocht.
  Be him that made the mone.
  Be the gude Lord.
  Be him that wore the crown of thorn.
  Be him that bare the cruel crown of thorn.
  Be him that herryit hell.
  Be him that Judas sauld.
  Be the rude.
  Be the Trinity; Be the haly Trinity.
  Be the sacrament; Be the haly sacrament.
  Be the messe.
  Be him that our Lord Jesus sauld.
  Be him that deir Jesus sauld.
  Be our Lady; Be Sainct Mary; Be sweit Sainct Mary; Be Mary bricht.
  Be Alhallows.
  Be Sanct James.
  Be Sanct Michell.
  Be Sanct Ann.
  Be Sanct Bryde; Be Bryde's bell.
  Be Sanct Geill; Be sweit Sanct Geill.
  Be Sanct Blais.
  Be Sanct Blane.
  Be Sanct Clone; Be Sanct Clune.
  Be Sanct Allan.
  Be Sanct Fillane.
  Be Sanct Tan.
  Be Sanct Dyonis of France.
  Be Sanct Maverne.
  Be the gude lady that me bare.
  Be my saul.
  Be my thrift.
  Be my Christendom.
  Be this day."

Against this list we may place a similar catalogue of objurgations
extracted from the old play of 'Gammer Gurton's Needle,' acted at
Cambridge in 1566. This work, ascribed to John Still, Bishop of Bath and
Wells, very plainly depicts the condition of rustic manners at the
period at which it was written:--

  "By the mass (occurs 22 times).
  Gog's bones (4 times).
  Gog's soul (9 times).
  By my father's soul (2 times).
  Gog's sacrament (2 times).
  By my troth.
  By God.
  By sun and moon.
  Gog's heart (6 times).
  By God's mother.
  Gog's bread (8 times).
  By'r Lady (2 times).
  By the cross.
  By our dear lady of Boulogne.
  Saint Dunstan.
  Saint Dominic.
  The three kings of Cologne.
  By God and the devil too.
  By bread and salt (2 times).
  By him that Judas sold.
  Gog's cross (2 times).
  By Gog's malt (2 times).
  Gog's death.
  Gog's blessed body.
  By God's blest (2 times).
  By Gis.
  By Saint Benet.
  By my truth.
  By Cock's mother dear.
  By Saint Mary.
  Gog's wounds (2 times).
  By Cock's bones.
  By All Hallows.
  By my fay.
  By my father's skin.
  By God's pity (2 times).
  Gog's sides (2 times)."

_Page 169. The deuce!_--A specimen from the English version of 'Havelok
the Dane,' edited by Sir F. Madden from the manuscript in the Laudian
Collection in the Bodleian Library, may be appended:--

  "'Deus!' quoth he, 'hwat may this mene!'
  He calde bothe arwe men, and kene
  Knithes, and serganz swithe sleie,
  Mo than an hundred."--l. 2114.

Madden also refers the exclamation, _dash you_ or _dase you_, from the
Anglo-Saxon imprecation _datheit_ which had been caught up from the
Norman _deshait_.


LONDON: PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, STAMFORD STREET AND
CHARING CROSS.



Footnotes:

[1] Ducange.

[2] The laws of Hoel the Good.

[3] Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester.

[4] Ducange.

[5] Mezeray, ii. 121.

[6] Sloane MS. No. 2530, xxvi. D.; a manuscript giving details of the
grades of students and masters of fence, and of the ceremonial attending
taking their degrees. The oath runs, "First you shall swear, so help you
God and halidome, and by all the christendome which God gave you at the
fount stone, and by the cross of this sword which doth represent unto
you the cross which our Saviour suffered his most painful deathe upon,"
&c.

[7] Socrates' oath, _by the cabbage_, [Greek: ma tên krambên] is given
in Athenæus, ib. ix. p. 370.

[8] Aristophanes, 'The Birds.'

[9] Plutarch, Quæstion. Rom., p. 271.

[10] 'Mariage de Figaro,' iii. 5.

[11] MS. Bibliothèque nationale. 'Collection Complète des Mémoires,'
vol. viii.

[12]

  "_Williams._ Ah, damnation! Goddam!
  _Blondel._ Goddam! Monsieur est Anglais apparemment."

  '_Coeur de Lion_,' 1789.

[13] 'Notes on Ancient Poetry,' ed. 1770.

[14] One of the last cases where the use of the word produced some
coolness on the part of the persons concerned, occurred when a certain
bishop in a northern diocese was reported by the local newspaper to have
said in a sermon, "that he would not preach in that damned old church
any more." The bishop wrote to the paper that he had said "damp old
church." The editor, however, declined to question the accuracy of his
reporter.

[15] See passage from Roger de Collerye, given by Littré.

[16] 'L'agréable conférence de Piarot et Janin.' Paris, 1651.

[17] "[Greek: SO] Nê ton kuna, amphignoô mentoi ô Pôle]"
&c.--'_Gorgias._'

[18] "On Tuesday, March 31, he and I dined at General Paoli's.... We
talked of the strange custom of swearing in conversation. The general
said that all barbarous nations swore from a certain violence of temper
that could not be confined to earth, but was always reaching at the
powers above. He said, too, that there was a greater variety of swearing
in proportion as there was a greater variety of religious
ceremonies."--Boswell's '_Life of Johnson_,' p. 235.

[19] Letter from Lynceus at Rhodes to Diagoras at Athens, in 'Journal
des Savants,' 1839, p. 37.

[20] Aldus Gellius, xi. 6. We find these oaths so distributed in Terence
and Plautus, the women swearing by Castor and the men by Hercules.

[21] Herodotus, bk. iv. 67. It was the _hearth_ of kings of Scythia that
was dealt with in this way.

[22] For an able article on the Five Wounds as represented in Art, see
Journal of Brit. Arch. Association for Dec. 1874, by the Rev. W. Sparrow
Simpson.

[23] 'Roba di Roma,' by W. W. Story, 1863. The writer adds, "A curious
feature in the oaths of the Italians may be remarked. _Dio mio_ is
usually an exclamation of sudden surprise or wonder; _Madonna mia_, of
pity and sorrow, and _per Christo_ of hatred and revenge. It is in the
name of Christ, and not of God as with us, that imprecations, curses,
and maledictions are invoked. The reason is very simple. Christ is to
him the judge and avenger of all, and so represented in every picture he
sees, from Orcagua's and Michael Angelo's Last Judgment down, while the
Eternal Father is a peaceful old figure bending over him."

[24] 'The Conversyon of Swerers,' 1540.

[25] The identity of ideas that we have referred to as invariably
occurring in mediæval writings, whenever they happen to turn upon a
similar theme, may be shown by comparison of the following extracts.
They are taken from writers of different times and countries, and who
are not directly plagiarising one another. Dan Michael, in the 'Ayenbite
of Inwyt' (modernised), has:--

"These (Christians) are worse than the Jews that did crucify him. They
broke none of his bones. But these break him to pieces smaller than one
doth swine in butchery."

Robert of Brunné, in the 'Handlyng Sinne,' writes:--

  "Thy oaths do him more grievousness,
  Than all the Jews' wickedness;
  They pained him once and passed away,
  But thou painest him every day."

Again, in the 'Moralité des Blasphémateurs' (circa 1530):--

  "Tu luy fais plus dure bataille
  Que les juifz sans nulla faille
  Qui pour toy le crucifierent."

[26] A certain delight in arranging the favourite oaths of his
contemporaries and of other historical personages is plainly to be seen
in Brantôme. In the 'Vies des Grands Capitaines' he throws off a whole
string of these cherished devices. "On appeloit ce grand capitaine,
Monsr. de la Trimouille, 'La vraye Corps Dieu' d'autant que c'estoit son
serment ordinaire, ainsin que ces vieux et anciens grands capitaines en
ont sceu choisir et avoir aucuns particuliers à eux; comme Monsr. de
Bayard juroit, 'Feste Dieu, Bayard!' Monsr. de Bourbon, 'Saincte Barbe!'
le prince d'Orange, 'Saincte Nicolas!' le bonne homme M. de la Roche du
Maine juroit 'Teste de Dieu pleine de reliques!' (où diable alla il
chercher celuy là) et autres que je nommerois, plus sangreneux que ceux
là."

[27] Ch. Rozan, 'Petites Ignorances de la Conversation.'

[28] "A shocking practice seems to have been rendered fashionable by the
very reprehensible habit of the Queen, whose oaths were neither
diminutive or rare, for it is said that she never spared an oath in
public speech or private conversation when she thought it added energy
to either,"--_Drake_, '_Shakspeare and his Times_,' ii. 160.

[29] J. G. Nicholls, 'Literary Remains of Edward VI.'

[30] 'Every Man out of his Humour,' i. 1.

[31] 1 Henry IV., iii. 7.

[32] See Capt. Basil Hall's 'Fragments of Voyages and Travels,' chap.
xvi. p. 89.

[33] Leigh Hunt's Journal, No. 6, for Jan. 11, 1851.

[34] 'The Colonies,' by Col. C. J. Napier, 1833.

[35] If any person or persons shall ... profanely swear or curse ... for
every such offence the party so offending shall forfeit and pay to the
use of the poor of the parish where such offence or offences shall be
committed the respective sums hereinafter mentioned; that is to say,
every servant, day-labourer, common soldier, or common seaman, one
shilling; and every other person two shillings; and in case any of the
persons aforesaid shall, after conviction, offend a second time, such
person shall forfeit and pay double, and if a third time treble the sum
respectively.--6 & 7 _William and Mary_, c. 11.

[36] Coll. of State Papers, Domestic, 1595, p. 12.

[37] Borough records of the City of Glasgow, 1573-1581.

[38] Aberdeen Presbytery Records, printed by the Spalding Club.

[39] Within the precincts of royal palaces regulations seem to have been
made from time to time to clear the atmosphere of all impious particles.
According to a work by Alexander Howell, the Dean of St. Paul's, printed
in 1611, King Henry I. prescribed a scale of fines according to a table
as follows:--

               {a Duke   40 shillings.
               {a Lord   20 do.
  "If he were: {a Squire 10 do.
               {a Yeoman 3_s._ 4_d._
               {a Page, to be whipt."

        '_A Sword against Swearers_,' 1611.

[40] 21 Jac. I. c. 20.

[41] 3 Jac. I. c. 21.

[42] Office-book of Sir Henry Herbert. Collier's 'History of Dramatic
Poetry,' ii. 58.

[43] Coll. of State Papers, Domestic, 1635-6.

[44] Whitelock's Memorials.

[45] Quarter Sessions from Queen Elizabeth to Queen Anne, by A. H. A.
Hamilton. 1878.

[46] 19 Geo. II. cap. 21. There is also a penalty of 40_s._ for using
profane language in the streets under the Town Police Clauses Act, 1847,
and the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839.

[47] J. P. Malcolm, 'Manners of London during XVII. Century.'

[48] "Diary of a Sussex Tradesman a hundred years ago," printed in
Sussex Arch. Coll., vol. xi.

[49] 'The Rivals,' act ii. sc. 1.

[50] "By the Lord Harry! he should have done with Christmas boxes."
Swift, '_Journal to Stella_.'

[51] The cloven foot is an evidence of a clean beast, and horns are
attributed, pictorially at least, to Moses.

[52] Edited by Sir Frederick Madden for the Roxburgh Club, 1828.

[53] 'Tristram Shandy,' vol. iii. ch. 12.

[54] 'Harangue des Habitans de Sarcelles,' 1740.

[55] "This same starved justice hath done nothing but prate to me of the
wildness of his youth, and the feats he hath done about Turnbull
Street."--2 _Henry IV._, ii. 3.

[56] Where it is used in the sense of pertaining to kinship--"They are
my blody brethren, quod pieres, for God boughte us alle."--'_Piers
Plowman_,' vi. 210.

[57] Where it is met with as a verb--"With my own hands, I'll bloody my
own sword."

[58] 'Montaigne's Essays,' ed. Hazlitt, iii. 120.



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14 KING WILLIAM STREET, STRAND, LONDON, W.C.



Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by _italics_.

Punctuation has been corrected without note.

The original text includes Greek characters. For this text version
these letters have been replaced with transliterations.

The misprint "the the" has been corrected to "the" (page 69).

Inconsistencies in spelling and hyphenation have been retained from
the original.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Cursory History of Swearing" ***

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