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but I will endeavour to give one or two reasons, why it does not deserve to be considered the best; and to prove, on the contrary, that many of its points present the most glaring absurdities.
Taking common sense for my guide, a quality, bythe-bye, not eminently possessed by our opposite neighbours, I shall mention a few instances, for which I will thank any of their savans to render any thing like a satisfactory explanation.
1. That a Frenchman should sacrifice sense to sound is not remarkable; but it certainly does present a very striking mark of the national character. Suppose, for instance, we take this sentence:
“My absence was inevitable.” If the substantive absence, is in the feminine gender, then, according to all the rules of propriety and of grammar, the pronoun my should be feminine also, to agree with it; but the French do not stand on such viceties: they express the phrase thus:
vi Mon absence etoit inévitable.” Mon (my) is masculine, absence (absence) is feminine. Why this incongruity? Because, if it were ma absence, the collision of the two vowels would be offensive to the ear!! I could multiply instances, ad infinitum, but this will suffice.
2. The next grossiereté is their assigning genders to inanimate objects. Thus, pelle, a shovel, is feminine; fourgon, a poker, is masculine; moutarde, mustard, is feminine; poivre, pepper, is masculine. What reason they can give for these distinctions, I am at a loss to guess; for it is certain they have no clear rule to decide them. · 3. That two negatives make an affirmative is a position few logicians will dispute; but perhaps ihe French are not logicians: be this as it may, the following phrase, in its strict meaning, bears a great resemblance to what the Irish would call a bull:
“Je vous n'aime pas."-"I do not love you.” But translated word for word, it would read thus :
“I don't not love you." However absurd this may appear, it is their invariable rule to use two negatives to express one.
4. One more instance of their sacrifice of sense to sound.
There is, is expressed by Il-y-a.,
Is there? ........ 1 Of what utility is the t in this latter sentence? None whatever; it has no meaning, and is perfectly useless. But the Frenchman can give you what he calls a reason. “If the phrase were merely transposed thus, Y-a-il? the contact of the vowels would be too barbarous for the ear; we therefore add the t, that the sound may be elegant.” All this may be very well; but to an Englishman of common sense, these étourdéries form very great obstructions to the acquirement of a language, to which common fame has ascribed the most exalted character, for grandeur, elegance, and perspicuity.
Your obedient servant, 10th August, 1818.
No. 8.--THE EARTHQUAKE AT LISBON, IN 1766.* THERE never was a finer morning seen than the first of November; the sun shone out in full lustre, the whole face of the sky was perfectly serene and clear, and not the least signal or warning of that approaching event, which has made this once Aourishing, opulent, and populous city, a scene of the utmost horror and desolation, except only such as served to alarm, but scarcely left a moment's time to fly from the general destruction.
It was on the morning of this fatal day, between the hours of nine and ten, that I was sat down in my apartment, just finishing a letter, when the papers and table I was writing on began to tremble with a gentle motion, which rather surprised me, as I could not perceive a breath of wind stirring. Whilst I was reflecting with myself what this could be owing to, but without having the least apprehension of the real cause, the whole house began to shake from the very foundation; which at first I imputed to the rattling of several coaches in the main street, which usually passed that way, at this time,
* This Account is by a Mr. Braddock.
from Belem to the palace; but, on hearkening more attentively, I was soon undeceived, as I found it was owing to a strange frightful kind of noise underground, resembling the hollow distant rumbling of thunder; all this passed in less than a minute, and I must confess I now began to be alarmed, as it naturally occurred to me, that this noise might possibly be the forerunner of an earthquake, as one I remembered, which had happened about six or seven years ago, in the island of Madeira, commenced in the same manner, though it did little or no damage.
Upon this I threw down my pen, and started upon my feet, remaining a moment in suspense, whether I should stay in the apartnicnt, or run into the street, as the danger in both places seemed equal; and still fattering niyself that this tremor might produce no other effects than such inconsiderable ones as had been felt at Madeira; but in a moment I was roused from my dream, being instantly stunned with a most horrid crash, as if every edifice in the city had tumbled down at once. The house I was in shook with such violence, that the upper stories immediately fell, and though my apartment (which was the first floor,) did not then share the same fate, yet every thing was thrown out of its place in such a manner, that it was with no small difficulty I kept my feet, and expected nothing less than to be soon crushed to death, as the walls continued rocking to and fro in the frightfullest manner, opening in several places; large stones falling down on every side from the cracks; and the ends of most of the rafters starting from the roof. To add to this terrifying scene, the sky in a moment became so gloomy, that I could now distinguish no particular object; it was an Ægyptian darkness indeed, such as might be felt; owing, no doubt, to the prodigious clouds of dust and lime, raised from so violent a concussion, and, as some reported, to sulphureous exhalations, but this I cannot affirm; however, it is certain I found myself almost choked for nearly ten minutes.
As soon as the gloom began to disperse, and the violence of the shock seemed pretty much abated, the first object I perceived in the room was a woman sitting upon the floor, with an infant in her arms, all covered with dust, pale and trembling. I asked her how she got hither ; but her consternation was so great, that she could give me no account of her escape. I suppose that when the tremor first began, she ran out of her own house, and, finding herself in such imminent danger from the falling stones, retired into the door of mine, which was almost contiguous to hers, for shelter, and when the shock increased, which filled the door with dust and rubbish, ran up stairs into my apartment, which was then open. Be it as it might, this was no time for curiosity. I remember the poor creature asked me, in the utmost agony, if I did not think that the world was at an end; at the same time she complained of being choked, and begged, for God's sake, I would procure her a little drink. Upon this I went to a closet, where I kept a large jar of water (which, you know, is sometimes a pretty scarce commodity in Lisbon); but, finding it broken in pieces, I told her she must not now think of quenching her thirst, but saving her life, as the house was just falling on our heads, and if a second shock came, would certainly bury us both. I bade ber take hold of my arm, and that I would endeavour to bring her into some place of security.
I shall always look upon it as a particular provi. dence, that I happened, on this occasion, to be undressed; for had I dressed myself, as I purposed, when I got out of bed, in order to breakfast with a friend, I should, in all probability, have run into the street, at the beginning of the shock, as the rest of the people in the house did, and consequently have had my brain dashed out, as every one of them had. However, the imminent danger I was in, did not hinder me from considering that my present dress, only a gown and slippers, would render my getting over the ruins almost impracticable; I bad, therefore, still presence of mind enough left, to put on a pair of shoes and a coat, the first that came in my way, which was every thing I saved, and in this dress I hurried down stairs, the wo. man with me, holding by my arm, and made directly to that end of the street which opens to the Tagus; but finding the passage this way entirely blocked up with the fallen houses, to the height of their second
stories, I turned back to the other end, which led into the main street (the common thoroughfare to the Palace), and having helped the woman over a vast heap of ruins, with no small hazard to my own life, just as we were going into this street, as there was one part I could not well climb over without the assistance of my hands as well as feet, I desired her to let go her hold, which she did, remaining two or three feet behind me, at which instant there fell a vast stone from a tottering wall, and crushed both her and the child in pieces. So dismal a spectacle, at any otber time, would have af. fected me in the highest degree, but the dread I w in of sharing the same fate myself, and the many instances of the same kind which presented themselves all around, were too shocking to let me dwell a moment on this single object.
I had now a long narrow street to pass, with the houses on each side four or five stories bigh, all very old, the greater part already thrown down, or continually falling, and threatening the passengers with inevitable death at every step, numbers of whom lay killed before me, or, what I thought far more deplorable, so bruised and wounded, that they could not stir to help themselves. For my own part, as destruction appeared to me unavoidable, I only wished I might be made an end of at once, and not have my limbs broken, in which case I could expect nothing else but to be left upon the spot, lingering in misery, like these poor unhappy wreiches, without receiving the least succour from any person.
As self preservation, however, is the first law of nature, these sad thoughts did not so far prevail, as to make me totally despair. I proceeded on as fast as I conveniently could, though with the utmost caution, and having, at length, got clear of this horrid passage, I found myself safe and unhurt in the large open space before St. Paul's Church, which had been thrown down a few minutes before, and buried a great part of the congregation, that was generally pretty numerous, this being reckoned one of the most populous parishes in Lisbon. Here I stood some time, considering what I should do; and not thinking myself safe in this situation, I came to the resolution of climbing over the ruins