I WAS delighted with the magnanimity of the teacher who comes to the rescue of the college Dogberry. Every Dogberry has his day; yet after all, does any Dogberry need a Defense? For my part, I confess to admiring the student Dogberry so heartily that if he should desert my classes, I should be strongly tempted to follow him. Feeling thus, I am disposed to resent any apology for him; as if he were an aspicious person, and did not have everything handsome about him! At least, much more should be said in behalf of that Dogberry.
He has preserved many an English teacher from death by boredom. Every freshman class can find it in their hearts to bestow all of their tediousness on the English teacher. After reading scores of stupidly mediocre themes, the teacher welcomes Dogberry’s excommunications as gifts that God gives, and gladly allows every Dogberry, as one of him says, to “ display a feigned learning with irnpugnity.” It may be that, in the words of another, this display “ throws a dark light on ” the instructor, as the too tender conscience of Dogberry’s apologist suggests ; but methinks “’t were to consider too curiously ” to consider so. Frankly, I am not at all ashamed to play Boswell to Dogberry’s Johnson; and I here set down a few of his remarks.
Of country life, he (or, to speak accurately, she) observes: “ My chickens were then moulding, that is, beginning to lose their foliage.”
Of immigration: “ Many illegible foreigners are now coming in.”
Of one of Kipling’s stories: “The hero consumes a lady’s dress and voice.”
Of a love affair: “ Facilitating herself on his attentions, she regulated her other admirers to Limbo.”
But Dogberry is more than a delightful blunderer. How pregnant sometimes his replies are! he hits on a happiness that no one else could so prosperously be delivered of. He snatches a grace beyond the reach of art. A certain Dogberry (not one of mine) was asked to comment on the words of Marcellus to Horatio, when the Ghost appears, — “ Thou art a scholar, speak to it, Horatio.” The reply was, “ Horatio being a scholar knew Latin; and ghosts had to be addressed in Latin, because it is a dead language.”
“ Nine-tenths of the wearers of felt hats,” says another, “ never stop to think how they are made.” Has Arnold or Carlyle summed up Philistinism better ?
“ Ibsen,” says another, “ was born at Skien, a modest unsuspecting town of Southern Norway.”
Is not this the ultimate word for the sleepy little village in which that grim portent appeared ? It is a description such as Flaubert wore out his heart to attain to; absolutely final, and in two words. What volumes of literary history and criticism it contains! And who but Dogberry could have said it?