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No. 165 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 165. Saturday, September 8, 1711.

‘… Si forte necesse est,
Fingere cinctutis non exaudita Cethegis
Continget: dabiturque licentia sumpta pudenter.’ [1]


I have often wished, that as in our Constitution there are several Persons whose Business it is to watch over our Laws, our Liberties and Commerce, certain Men might be set apart as Superintendants of our Language, to hinder any Words of a Foreign Coin from passing among us; and in particular to prohibit any French Phrases from becoming Current in this Kingdom, when those of our own Stamp are altogether as valuable. The present War has so Adulterated our Tongue with strange Words that it would be impossible for one of our Great Grandfathers to know what his Posterity have been doing, were he to read their Exploits in a Modern News Paper. Our Warriors are very industrious in propagating the French Language, at the same time that they are so gloriously successful in beating down their Power. Our Soldiers are Men of strong Heads for Action, and perform such Feats as they are not able to express. They want Words in their own Tongue to tell us what it is they Atchieve, and therefore send us over Accounts of their Performances in a Jargon of Phrases, which they learn among their Conquered Enemies. They ought however to be provided with Secretaries, and assisted by our Foreign Ministers, to tell their Story for them in plain English, and to let us know in our Mother-Tongue what it is our brave Country-Men are about. The French would indeed be in the right to publish the News of the present War in English Phrases, and make their Campaigns unintelligible. Their People might flatter themselves that Things are not so bad as they really are, were they thus palliated with Foreign Terms, and thrown into Shades and Obscurity: but the English cannot be too clear in their Narrative of those Actions, which have raised their Country to a higher Pitch of Glory than it ever yet arrived at, and which will be still the more admired the better they are explained.

For my part, by that time a Siege is carried on two or three Days, I am altogether lost and bewildered in it, and meet with so many inexplicable Difficulties, that I scarce know what Side has the better of it, till I am informed by the Tower Guns that the Place is surrendered. I do indeed make some Allowances for this Part of the War, Fortifications having been foreign Inventions, and upon that Account abounding in foreign Terms. But when we have won Battels [which [2]] may be described in our own Language, why are our Papers filled with so many unintelligible Exploits, and the French obliged to lend us a Part of their Tongue before we can know how they are Conquered? They must be made accessory to their own Disgrace, as the Britons were formerly so artificially wrought in the Curtain of the Roman Theatre, that they seemed to draw it up in order to give the Spectators an Opportunity of seeing their own Defeat celebrated upon the Stage: For so Mr. Dryden has translated that Verse in Virgil.

[Purpurea intexti [3]] tollunt auloea Britanni.

(Georg. 3, v. 25.)

Which interwoven Britains seem to raise,
And shew the Triumph that their Shame displays.

The Histories of all our former Wars are transmitted to us in our Vernacular Idiom, to use the Phrase of a great Modern Critick. [4] I do not find in any of our Chronicles, that Edward the Third ever reconnoitred the Enemy, tho’ he often discovered the Posture of the French, and as often vanquished them in Battel. The Black Prince passed many a River without the help of Pontoons, and filled a Ditch with Faggots as successfully as the Generals of our Times do it with Fascines. Our Commanders lose half their Praise, and our People half their Joy, by means of those hard Words and dark Expressions in which our News Papers do so much abound. I have seen many a prudent Citizen, after having read every Article, inquire of his next Neighbour what News the Mail had brought.