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CORNELIUS O'DOWD UPON MEN AND WOMEN, AND OTHER THINGS IN GENERAL.
WHEN John Girder declared that whatever was perfectly uneatable might be given to the poor," he enunciated the grand maxim of Scientific Congresses; these wonderful meetings of world-famed men being very little else than grand gatherings for the disposal of rejected articles. What the originators of such societies intended, what they meant or hoped for when they instituted them, is clear and clean beyond me. I never met yet the man who owned he had gleaned anything from their lucubrations. I never saw the woman who did not come away more conceited and self-opinionated from having frequented them. First of all, they are not congresses at all, for the discussional element in them is at the very lowest. When I have read my paper on the "Prismatic formation observable in maiden ladies of advanced years," another opens with a "Remarkable phosphorescence in the eyes of sanguineous gentlemen, when they discuss the poor-rates;" but nobody disputes, nobody inquires into, nobody investigates these. A timid naturalist at the end of the room will perhaps hint that something or other in his own experience has not corroborated the learned gentleman's most interesting paper; but the President comes down at once with his vote of thanks, and there's a great clapping of hands and scraping of feet, and they all rise and go off to tea, "dreary companions, every one!"
The only bit of real cleverness I have ever detected in these "scientific" swells, is the choice of the place they meet in. I have not tested the fact by experiment, and therefore I am ready to offer an honest wager on it, that if you'll
take up a census return, you'll always find that the place they select will have an overwhelming proportion of the female population.
In this way they are like the monks of old, who had an aptitude for a neat locality that has never been surpassed. If you place a civil engineer on the top of a mountain, he'll tell you very soon where there will be water, and generally too what direction the streams will run in; and I'd back a Scientific Congressite to hit off the spot where rooms full of green-veiled goddesses will be found, and where the dreariest old chemists and archæologists will be fondled and fêted and pampered for ten days or a fortnight, as if they were Phaethons or Apollos.
This is the real secret of the whole thing; it is what the Cockneys call an out "outing." Mineralogy and comparative anatomy are dead beat with a hard lecturing season. They are not creatures who can take their holiday at Homburg and Wiesbaden. The musty odour of their daily pursuits does not over-well fit them for general society; and, besides, they have an eye to profit. They cherish the thought of all the little thoughtful attentions and politenesses they are certain to meet in the provinces. They have only to determine, then, the interesting scene of their labours, and all the rest" will be added to them." Let them receive ever so little, they are sure to give less. The paper" they read has either been returned scores of times by some quarterly or monthly, or it is a dexterous synopsis of something they have done at more length elsewhere. Whenever it is original, take your oath on it it is utterly worthless. The coins the
most lavish benevolence flung out of the carriage window never were guineas; and, indeed, for the mere pleasure of seeing the beggars fight for them, halfpennies sufficed just as well.
Now, I grudge no man his holiday. I have taken a great many myself in life, and always found them agree with me; neither do I grudge him the society of those who deem him agreeable or amusing; so that, if these learned Smell funguses think this to be the appropriate mode of spending the long vacation, I have not a word against it. I only protest against my being obliged to believe that this is done in the interest of science. This I will not swallow.
That he who reads, and he who is waiting to read after him, may like it, I consent to. That going out about in great hives may be pleasant to the old drones who do it, I concede; that Bath, or Leamington, or Tunbridge, or any some semi-detached-from-civilisation little place, may feel its importance increased by playing host to red-sandstone people and beetlegatherers, is all intelligible enough; only, again I say, don't ask me to accept this as scientific.
talk till you're hoarse, but I'll not believe these crusts to be mutton.'
Popularising science, as it is called, is like playing whist for nothing. No man ever learned that way, take my word for it; but there is a worse feature in the affair than all this. We English are a very routine people, and our newspapers give a very truthful indication of the jog-trot regularity of our lives. From February to July we live on politics; from July to August we go to the sea and read Kingsley's novels. Science and the partridges come next; and a pleasant time would it be if we could keep them each in his own sphere; but this is impossible. The ladies who do not shoot, geologise, botanise, archæologise, entomologise, and fraternise
with all the dreariest old prosers of Europe, and bring back to their homes each day stores of the stalest trash-the study-sweepings of the most learned and long-winded people on the face of the globe.
Now, when I come back to a late dinner, with my eight brace of birds or my fifteen-pound salmon, I want to see Mrs O'Dowd smiling, civil, and complimentary; and what do I meet? a woman overwhelmed with care, her eyes actually red with tears. It is the coalfields, she tells me, cannot last above twelve thousand years
longer; or it is the earth's crustshe had it from Mr Buckland himself-is positively a seventeenth of an inch thinner than it was in the time of Moses. I try to dispel her gloom by talking of my day's performance, and how many miles I have walked since breakfast, and she sneeringly tells me "there was a time when a very different race inhabited this earth, and when one might have seen a young Giant walking about with a mastodon at his heels-just as we see a butcher now with a bull - dog.” This is downright offensive; it is personal
What right has Sir David Brewster or Professor Faraday to fill my wife's head with speculations about the First man? I am, or at least I ought to be, the first man to her; and what bones of contention are these that these rash old crucibleheaters throw into the bosoms of families about the age of the world, and the signs it is giving of decrepitude?
There is a large market, I am told, for second-hand clothes in our colonies; the most flaring colours. the very gaudiest of uniforms, find purchasers. Why not, then, export these second-hand wares of science to Canada and the Cape? Ticketo'-leave land would, I am sure, appreciate them, and not the less that some of them were stolen. We send them cricketers, why not chemists? We are enthusiastic about acclimatisation; and O how glad I
should be to know that we had sent them a ship of entomologists and a large supply of healthy zoologists in spawn, with ample directions for future treatment!
The real difficulty in these lecturings is, that you must be too high or too low for a great portion of your audience. You must either soar into the realms of the xy people, who live on quadratic equations, or come down to that small twaddle of popular science-a very bread-and-milk diet for the grownup adults of knowledge. And we are overrun, actually overrun, with information. The press teems with treatises showing how everything is made, and why it was made; and I am very far from believing that the sum of our happiness is the greater in consequence. For the mere enjoyment of life-God forgive me for that "mere!"-but for the mere enjoyment of life, all this knowledge does not contribute very largely.
My enjoyment of M. Houdin was infinitely greater before I read his book and learned how his tricks were done. The wonderful way he abstracted my waistcoat and sent it back to me in the little dog's mouth, and the way he cut open the same little dog to discover my watch which he had swallowed, were charming till I saw that they could be done with a box and a coil of wire, and another gentle
man who looked like one of the audience; and, though I am just as far off the ability to perform the trick as ever, I have lost all my desire to see it; and my surprise and my amazement have gone, never to return to me. In precisely the same degree have I suffered from these scientific teachers, and even to a worse extent, for they have robbed me of some illusions I had just as soon they would have spared me. I do not desire to have it impressed upon me so forcibly that I am only a compound of neutral salts, gelatine, fibrine, and adipose matter. It is no pleasure to me to regard Mrs O'Dowd as a vehicle for phosphate of lime, various carbonates, and an appreciable portion of arsenic.
With all his pride of knowledge, the "Bourgeois Gentilhomme was infinitely happier before he knew he had been talking "prose;" and I am sure most of us would sleep as soundly under the impression of being men and women, as after hearing an account of a complexity of structure, compared to which a steam-engine is simplicity, and a delicacy of fibre beside which a cobweb is almost a cable.
There is another and especial set who devote themselves to social science, who, so far as outrageous humbug goes, are worse than these; but I will not treat of them in a postscript. They shall have a page to themselves, and a full one.
What is the meaning of this new malady which deluges Nice with men in white chokers, and renders Naples like a town under an (Episcopal) visitation? It is calledand called professionally too"Parson's sore-throat;" and I am all curiosity to learn why it should peculiarly affect the clergy? Surely vocal exercitation exists amongst the laity; lawyers, members of Parliament, auctioneers, and actors, not to speak of lieutenants
VOL. XCVI.-NO. DXC.
in the navy, are occasionally loud of speech and profuse of intonation.
The coarser themes that form the staple of bar eloquence, the sterner stuff that men talk on the husting, the rantings of the stage, and the roaring of the sea-service, might naturally strain the organs fully as much as the most impassioned appeals from the pulpit; and yet how is it that there is no such thing known to physic as Old Bailey Bronchitis or
Parliamentary Phthisis? Nor are the watering-places of the Continent filled with legal gentlemen, usually in the charge of a bevy of female friends, who kindly do the talking for them. A mute member of Parliament or a muzzled Queen's Counsel is never met with, but I'll engage to find you five-and-twenty speechless Parsons in every Italian city with a south aspect, mild air, and a large female element in the society.
I have inquired largely amongst my medical friends what is the reason of this strange fact. What can it be in their calling that renders these men more liable to vocal derangements than the other talkers of humanity? The same unsatisfactory answer always met me -It is the preaching does it.
Now, why should pulpit eloquence be more exacting than all other forms of oratory? Is not the place from which the parson speaks rather a check upon than an incentive to those rhetorical flights whose successes are dependent on bold bursts of passion? Torrents of words poured forth in all the exuberance of a flood-apostrophes that, for their effect, call for the wildest imageries conveyed in tones no less startling, the withering storm of invective, the overwhelming avalanche of abuse, have no place in the pulpit, where the very themes inspire self-control, restraint, moderation, a manner of winning persuasion, and a tone at once equable and conciliating. Are these the subjects which demand a chest swollen and distended, and bronchial tubes strained like the cylinders of high-pressure engines? How can preaching, I ask, be the cause of all this distress? Why must these calm gentle men, of easy lives and well-regulated habits, crack their voices in efforts which call for no inordinate power, and which are, after all, most successful when conveyed in tones very slightly raised above those of ordinary conversation? That the criminal lawyer who has bad
gered his witnesses in a three hours' cross-examination, and then addressed a five hours' speech to the jury, should go home hoarse as a bull-frog, if not actually voiceless, I can well understand. This man has been performing every instrument of the orchestra with his one poor throat. From oboe to ophycleide he has explored them all—in entreaty, conviction, scorn, pathos, defamation, ridicule, and lastly, to wind up, religion. No wonder if he should only be able to make signs to his wife at dinner, and pantomime his wishes for food and drink. But the Parson-the parson of honeyed words and dulcet accents-the bland, smooth-cheeked, oleaginous angel, the very ereak of whose shoes whispers patience he has none of these moods of violence, for, be it remembered, we talk of sin with far less of reprobation than of the individual sinner; and no one that ever I heard laid the same stress on the Decalogue as the most commonplace Quarter-Session chairman will do in sentencing a delinquent to the game-laws. The abstract never has that tangible reality about it, that the smallest instance possesses; and for this reason, again, I say the parson's task exacts less strain, less violent effort, than that of other public speakers. And why, for the third time, I ask, are these men the victims of an especial disease that now goes by their name, and promises, like the Painter's Colic, to show the perils that attach to a peculiar calling? The fact is there; there is no denying it : the speechless curates of the Jardin Anglais at Nice, the voiceless vicars of the Pincian, prove it.
Physicians, I am told, confess themselves little able to deal with this malady; they treat, and treat, and treat it, and end, as they ever do when baffled, by sending the patient abroad. Law and medicine have this much in common, that, whenever they are fairly beaten, "they change the venue.'
Hence is it that every sheltered
angle on the Mediterranean, every warm nook on the "Corniche," has its three, four, or five mild-faced, pale men, sauntering amongst the orange groves, and whispering through a respirator. There is something so interesting in these people, deserted in a measure by physic, and left to the slow influences of climate-soft airs and softer attentions being their only medicamentsthat I found myself eagerly engaged in thinking, first, what it might be that predisposed to the affection; and, secondly, how it might be met by precaution. Cure, I need not say, I was not presumptuous enough to consider.
I cannot now record how the subject baffled me-what combinations of difficulty met me here, what new and unexpected phenomena started up there; but I went steadily, carefully on. I amassed my facts, I registered my observations; and at last-I hope it is not in vain boastfulness I declare itI solved my problem. Few words will tell my explanation. The Parson throat is not the malady of necessarily loud talkers or energetic speakers; it is not induced by exaggerated efforts in the pulpit; it is not brought on by terrific denunciations delivered in the trumpetcall, or mild entreaties insinuated in the flute-stop of the human organ. It is simply and purely brought on by men persisting in preaching in an assumed unnatural voice-a conventional voice, imagined, I suppose, to be the most appropriate tone to call sinners from their wickedness and teach them to live better. You are startled by my explanation, but grant me a brief hearing. Who are the victims of this throat-affection? Not the high-and-dry old rubicund parsons, with bright frank eyes and well-rounded chins, neat of dress, knowing in horse-flesh, strong in horticulture. These hale and healthy fellows have one voice, just as they have one nature; the same note that summons the gardener to look after the dahlias cries to the congregation to take care of their
souls. They are not, perhaps, outand-out divines; there is a bucolic element through them that makes them what Sydney Smith used to call "Squarsons." They are, at all events, a very noble set of fellows and thorough gentlemen. These men are totally free from parsonitis; a case has never been known amongst them. Next come more muscular Christians, whose throats, attuned to the hunting-field, could perform, if called on, the office of a railroad whistle. These have no touch of the complaint.
All Colenso," I am told, is exempt, which is the more singular, as the men who deny everything and oppose every one are necessarily called on for vocal efforts of the most forcible kind. This is remarkable.
It is, then, amongst the more distinctively pious of the clergy that the disease commits its ravagesthose who, by distinctive epithet, are called Evangelicals. Now there are numbers of these-vast numbers-who labour throughout their whole lives, and labour arduously, untouched by the affection. They are of all classes of the clergy the most untiring, the most devoted, and the most intensely imbued with the duties of their calling; but there are others who have all their zeal, all their devotion, and all their sincerity, and none of their abilities. These men, eager to emulate the usefulness of their superior brethren, bent on displaying in themselves the splendid success around them, cannot rise to the intellectual heights of their more gifted neighbours, and are driven to imitate not the wellargued statement-not the close narrative of facts-not the impassioned appeal, or the startling exhortation, but simply the tone of voice in which these were conveyed. Hence is it that these men, good and excellent men in every way, but of very commonplace minds and unelevated views, copy the one sole trait that has no merit or value the tone and delivery of those