In this world of uncertainties, there is, at any rate, one thing which may be pretty confidently set down as a certainty: and that is, that this celebrated little phrase-book will never die while the English language lasts. Its delicious unconscious ridiculousness, and its enchanting naivete, as are supreme and unapproachable, in their way, as are Shakespeare's sublimities. Whatsoever is perfect in its kind, in literature, is imperishable: nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect, it must and will stand alone: its immortality is secure.
It is one of the smallest books in the world, but few big books have received such wide attention, and been so much pondered by the grave and learned, and so much discussed and written about by the thoughtful, the thoughtless, the wise, and the foolish. Long notices of it have appeared, from time to time, in the great English reviews, and in erudite and authoritative philological periodicals; and it has been laughed at, danced upon, and tossed in a blanket by nearly every newspaper and magazine in the English-speaking world. Every scribbler, almost, has had his little fling at it, at one time or another; I had mine fifteen years ago. The book gets out of print, every now and then, and one ceases to hear of it for a season; but presently the nations and near and far colonies of our tongue and lineage call for it once more, and once more it issues from some London or Continental or American press, and runs a new course around the globe, wafted on its way by the wind of a world's laughter.
Many persons have believed that this book's miraculous stupidities were studied and disingenuous; but no one can read the volume carefully through and keep that opinion. It was written in serious good faith and deep earnestness, by an honest and upright idiot who believed he knew something of the English language, and could impart his knowledge to others. The amplest proof of this crops out somewhere or other upon each and every page. There are sentences in the book which could have been manufactured by a man in his right mind, and with an intelligent and deliberate purposes to seem innocently ignorant; but there are other sentences, and paragraphs, which no mere pretended ignorance could ever achieve—nor yet even the most genuine and comprehensive ignorance, when unbacked by inspiration.
It is not a fraud who speaks in the following paragraph of the author's Preface, but a good man, an honest man, a man whose conscience is at rest, a man who believes he has done a high and worthy work for his nation and his generation, and is well pleased with his performance:
We expect then, who the little book (for the care what we wrote him, and for her typographical correction) that may be worth the acceptation of the studious persons, and especially of the Youth, at which we dedicate him particularly.
One cannot open this book anywhere and not find richness. To prove that this is true, I will open it at random and copy the page I happen to stumble upon. Here is the result:
For To See the Town
Anothony, go to accompany they gentilsmen, do they see the town.
We won't to see all that is it remarquable here.
Come with me, if you please. I shall not folget nothing what can to merit your attention. Here we are near to cathedral; will you come in there?
We will first to see him in oudside, after we shall go in there for to look the interior.
Admire this master piece gothic architecture's.
The chasing of all they figures is astonishing' indeed.
The cupola and the nave are not less curious to see.
What is this palace how I see yonder?
It is the town hall.
And this tower here at this side?
It is the Observatory.
The bridge is very fine, it have ten arches, and is constructed of free stone.
The streets are very layed out by line and too paved.
What is the circuit of this town?
There is it also hospitals here?
It not fail them.
What are then the edifices the worthest to have seen?
It is the arsnehal, the spectacle's hall, the Cusiomhouse, and the Purse.
We are going too see the others monuments such that the public pawnbroker's office, the plants garden's, the money office's, the library.
That it shall be for another day; we are tired.
To Inform One'self of a Person
How is that gentilman who you did speak by and by?
Is a German.
I did think him Englishman.
He is of the Saxony side.
He speak the french very well.
Tough he is German, he speak so much well italyan, french, spanish and english, that among the Italyans, they believe him Italyan, he speak the frenche as the Frenches himselves. The Spanishesmen believe him Spanishing, and the Englishes, Englishman. It is difficult to enjoy well so much several languages.
The last remark contains a general truth; but it ceases to be a truth when one contracts it and apples it to an individual—provided that that individual is the author of this book, Sehnor Pedro Carolino. I am sure I should not find it difficult "to enjoy well so much several languages"—or even a thousand of them—if he did the translating for me from the originals into his ostensible English.