Chapter 15

Monsieur Dante - Condemned musket - Sporting - Sweet rivulet - The Earl’s Home - The pool - The sonorous voice - What dost thou read? - Man of peace - Zohar and Mishna - Money-changers.

So I studied French and Italian under the tuition of the banished priest, to whose house I went regularly every evening to receive instruction. I made considerable progress in the acquisition of the two languages. I found the French by far the most difficult, chiefly on account of the accent, which my master himself possessed in no great purity, being a Norman by birth. The Italian was my favourite.

Vous serez un jour un grand philologue, mon cher,’ said the old man, on our arriving at the conclusion of Dante’s Hell.

‘I hope I shall be something better,’ said I, ‘before I die, or I shall have lived to little purpose.’

‘That’s true, my dear! philologist - one small poor dog. What would you wish to be?’

‘Many things sooner than that; for example, I would rather be like him who wrote this book.’

Quoi, Monsieur Dante? He was a vagabond, my dear, forced to fly from his country. No, my dear, if you would be like one poet, be like Monsieur Boileau; he is the poet.’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘How, not think so? He wrote very respectable verses; lived and died much respected by everybody. T’other, one bad dog, forced to fly from his country - died with not enough to pay his undertaker.’

‘Were you not forced to flee from your country?’

‘That very true; but there is much difference between me and this Dante. He fled from country because he had one bad tongue which he shook at his betters. I fly because benefice gone, and head going; not on account of the badness of my tongue.’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘you can return now; the Bourbons are restored.’

‘I find myself very well here; not bad country. Il est vrai que la France sera toujours la France; but all are dead there who knew me. I find myself very well here. Preach in popish chapel, teach schismatic, that is Protestant, child tongues and literature. I find myself very well; and why? Because I know how to govern my tongue; never call people hard names. Ma foi, il y a beaucoup de différence entre moi et ce sacre de Dante.

Under this old man, who was well versed in the southern languages, besides studying French and Italian, I acquired some knowledge of Spanish. But I did not devote my time entirely to philology; I had other pursuits. I had not forgotten the roving life I had led in former days, nor its delights; neither was I formed by Nature to be a pallid indoor student. No, no! I was fond of other and, I say it boldly, better things than study. I had an attachment to the angle, ay, and to the gun likewise. In our house was a condemned musket, bearing somewhere on its lock, in rather antique characters, ‘Tower, 1746’; with this weapon I had already, in Ireland, performed some execution among the rooks and choughs, and it was now again destined to be a source of solace and amusement to me, in the winter season, especially on occasions of severe frost when birds abounded. Sallying forth with it at these times, far into the country, I seldom returned at night without a string of bullfinches, blackbirds, and linnets hanging in triumph round my neck. When I reflect on the immense quantity of powder and shot which I crammed down the muzzle of my uncouth fowling-piece, I am less surprised at the number of birds which I slaughtered than that I never blew my hands, face, and old honeycombed gun, it one and the same time, to pieces.

But the winter, alas! (I speak as a fowler) seldom lasts in England more than three or four months; so, during the rest of the year, when not occupied with my philological studies, I had to seek for other diversions. I have already given a hint that I was also addicted to the angle. Of course there is no comparison between

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