« PreviousContinue »
Si vis, veniam; sin autem, tu autem.
To which the abbot replied,
Si bonus sis, venias; si nequam, nequaquam.
"Bishop Godwin, in his Catalogue of the Bishops of Lincoln," says Winstanley, " makes mention of a passage of wit between him and Philip Repington, bishop of Lincoln, the latter sending the challenge:
Et niger, et Nequam, cum sis cognomine Nequam,
Which Winstanley renders,
Both black and bad, whilst Bad the name to thee,
To which Nequam, punning on the bishop's Christian name, replied:
Phi nota fcetoris, Lippus malus omnibus boris;
Stinks are branded with a Phi, Lippus, Latin for Blear-eye; Phi and Lippus bad as either; then Philippus worse together.
Neckam died in 1217; but even death could not save his name from monkish wit.
According to some accounts, he was buried at Worcester with this monkish inscription, which, though meant to be serious, (as Heaven knows, it is complimentary enough,) still plays with his name.
Eclipsim patitur Sapientia, Sol sepelitur;
Wisdom's eelips'd, sky of the Sun bereft;
Albans; "where," says Winstanley, who was infected by antithesis and alliteration, "he found Repulse when living, but Repose when dead."
XXIII. THE ABBE GALIANI;
A WITTY POLITICAL ECONOMIST!
An impertinent Frenchman of the last century seriously put this question; "Est ce qu'un Allemand pent avoir de V esprit f"
With better reason, some people may ask, was there ever a witty political economist?" We can answer in the affirmative : there once was one.
Ferdinando Galiani was not more distinguished in his day by his many excellent writings, chiefly on subjects connected with what we now call political economy, than he was by the readiness and playfulness of his wit and his exquisite humour. Unfortunately, the best of his sayings perished with him, or with his contemporaries and associates.
He was born at Chieti, the capital of the province of Abruzzo, in the kingdom of Naples, at the end of the year 1728, and came into the world sadly deformed. He went through his studies in the city of Naples, where, from his early youth, his gay and facetious spirit made his society to be much courted. At that time the Neapolitans had a number of poetic academies and hackneyed literary societies, which did a great deal of harm to poetry and literature, and finished like the Arcadia of Rome, by becoming thoroughly ridiculous. The abbti's brother, the Marquis Galiani, who had distinguished himself by a translation of Vitruvius, had to deliver in one of these academies an oration on the Miraculous Conception of the Virgin Mary; but, being unexpectedly obliged to set off on a journey, he begged the abbe' to supply his place. The abbi accordingly composed a panegyric on the Virgin in the usual forms; but, when he presented himself among the academicians, the president, a certain Neapolitan advocate, called John-Anthony Sergio, (whose name has been preserved from oblivion solely by Galiani's witty revenge,) sternly forbade him to recite it. All those pedantic and puerile conclaves were open to ridicule on a hundred sides; but a lucky coincidence afforded Galiani a most stinging point.
It was the tiresome custom of the academies to publish cumbrous collections of prose and verse, at the death of every grand or titled personage. A simple cavalier might get off with a duodecimo, a baron with an octavo, but when you came to marquises, dukes, and princes, (particularly if they died rich,) nothing less than a quarto would suffice: and as for princes and princesses of the blood royal, kings, queens, emperors and empresses, a folio full of sighs and tears, eulogiums and comparisons, was considered a light weight to lay upon their tombs. There was no possibility for a person of any fortune, or name, or fame of any kind, to escape, and go quietly and modestly to the grave, without their shades being made to blush at the hyperboles and extravagant eulogiums of these shameless incorporated poetasters. A hundred sonnets, to say nothing of elegies and eclogues, often arose out of the demise of an antiquated maid-olhonour ; and we have seen an equal number devoted to the immortal memory of the King's first fiddler. In order not to be taken unawares, or to be pressed for time, these academicians were accustomed to prepare beforehand, and there was scarcely one among them but (like the Persian poet in Anastasius) could at any moment have said to his friends or patrons, "Gentlemen! you may all die perfectly easy; 1 have an epitaph for every one of you ready in my lx)cket."
A few days after Galiani's quarrel with the president John-Anthony, who was one of the most prolific of these panegyrists of little great people, the Jack-Ketch of Naples chanced to die; and this event furnished the abbe with the opportunity of revenging himself, and exposing an absurd custom at the same time.
Having set diligently to work, Galiani soon produced a volume under the following title: " Various compositions for the death of Dominick Jannacone, hangman of the grand court of the Vicaria ;* collected and published by John-Anthony Sergio, Neapolitan advocate."
The humorous imitations of style, the general felicity of this piece of burlesque, filled all Italy with laughter: and if it did not destroy, it tended to diminish the academical nuisances described above. At the present day, though not always, ladies may pretty generally get married and be brought to bed, fall sick and recover, and gentlemen may come into the world and go out of it without causing any hubbub in the court of Apollo and the Muses, or being gibbeted in bad rhymes and unmerited praises.
Among his numerous studies Galiani turned his attention to Mineralogy and Volcanoes; and having formed a complete collection of the stones, lava, and other volcanic materials ejected during different eruptions by Mount Vesuvius, he packed it up as a present for the Pope, and being miserably poor at the time, he wrote on the large chest, Beatissime Pater, fac ut lapides isti panesfiant.
The Pope thus addressed was Benedict XIV., better known among us by his family name Ganganelli. Like several other of the Roman pontiffs, he was a wit himself and a warm admirer of wit in other men, anil "he performed the miracle asked of him, " (as the Italian biographers say,) by giving Galiani a canonry which was worth four hundred ducats a-year.
His admirable talent for business as well as for conversation recommended Galiani to a congenial spirit, the witty Marquis of Caracciolo, at whose request (in 1765) the abbe was sent to Paris in quality of secretary of embassy.
In the absence of the ambassador, Galiani presented himself alone at the court of Louis XV. In stature he was a dwarf, and a prominent hump did not add to the
* The Newgate of Naples.
beauty of the abbe's person. The ill-bred courtiers of that base-minded vulgar King burst out into loud laughter at his appearance; but Galiani, without being at all disturbed by this, said to Louis, "Sire, vous voyez a present l'echantillon du secretaire, le secretaire vient apres."
The readiness of his repartees, his searching sarcasms, the originality and comprehensiveness of his mind, soon made the abbd one of the lions of Parisian society, and brought him acquainted with all the most celebrated French philosophers, economists, and wits of that period; among whom it was found that, though speaking a foreign language, he could beat most of the beaux esprits who used their own.
Not long after he showed that he could write French even better than he spoke it, and that he could be as witty with his pen as with his tongue. The French economists having got up a furious contest on the question of the liberty or restriction of the corn-trade, Galiani entered the arena incognito; and, in a little work in the form of a dialogue, contrived not only to treat the solemn subject in a more correct and convincing manner than any of his contemporaries, but to render it amusing and attractive to all the world by the gaiety and wit with which, to the surprise of every body, he invested its usually repulsive dryness. For several weeks all Paris could talk of nothing else, but it was never suspected at the time that so much wit and such French could proceed from any one but a Frenchman. Voltaire, who was certainly a great judge of wit, says of these Corn Dialogues, in a letter to Diderot, " Dans ce livre il me scmble que Platon et Moliere se soient reurris pour composer l' Out. rage . . . On n'a jamais raisonne ni mieux, ni plus plaisamment . . . Oh le plaisant livre, le charmant livre, que Les Dialogues sur le Commerce des Bles!"
Frederic the Great, of Prussia, was equally enchanted with the wisdom and spirit of the Dialogues: but Galiani, who had thrown them off, currente calamo, almost without an effort, used to wonder that people should find them so extraordinary. The little hump-backed abbe