The Idler, Volume III., Issue XIII., February 1893 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 110 pages of information about The Idler, Volume III., Issue XIII., February 1893.

The career, no doubt, has some incidental drawbacks.  No fewer than five British correspondents were killed in the recent campaigns in the Soudan.  General Sherman threatened to hang all the correspondents found in his camp after a certain day, and General Sherman was the kind of man to fulfil any threat he made.  I suppose there was no correspondent taking part in the Franco-German and Russo-Turkish wars who was not in custody over and over again on suspicion of being a spy.  I have been a prisoner myself in France, Spain, Servia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Russia, Roumania and Bulgaria; and I may perhaps venture to remark in passing that I cannot recommend any of these countries from this point of view.  But the casual confinements, half irritating, half comic, to which he may be subjected, do not bother the war correspondent of the old world nearly as much as do the foreign languages which, if he is not a good linguist, hamper him every hour of every day.  He really should possess the gift of tongues—­be conversant with all European languages, a neat assortment of the Asiatic languages, and a few of the African tongues, such as Abyssinian, Ashantee, Zulu, and Soudanese.  But how few in the nature of things can approximate this polyglot versatility.  Often in Eastern Europe, and in Afghanistan, I have envied Messrs. Swinton, Smalley, Whitelaw Reed, and the other notable war correspondents of the American Civil War, in that they had not the difficulties of outlandish tongues to contend with.  I own myself to be a poor linguist, and have many and many a time suffered for my dullness of what the Scotch call “up-take.”  It is true that I was fairly conversant with French and German, and could express my wants in Russian, Roumanian, Bulgarian, Spanish, Turkish, Hindustanee, Pushtoo, and Burmese, every word of which smatterings I have long since forgotten.  But the truth is that the poorest peoples in the world in acquiring foreign languages are the English and the French; the readiest are the Russians and Americans.  It was, after a fashion, a liberal education to listen to the fluency in some half-dozen languages of Poor McGahan, the “Ohio boy,” who graduated from the plough to be perhaps the most brilliant war correspondent of modern times.  His compatriot and colleague, Frank Millet, who has fallen away from glory as a war correspondent, and has taken to the inferior trade of painting, seemed to pick up a language by the mere accident of finding himself on the soil where it was spoken.  In the first three days, after crossing the Danube into Bulgaria, Millet went about with book in hand, gathering in the names of things at which he pointed, and jotting down each acquisition in the book.  On the fourth day he could swear in Bulgarian, copiously, fervently, and with a measure of intelligibility.  Within a week he had conquered the uncouth tongue.  As he voyaged lately down the Danube from source to mouth, charmingly describing the scenic panorama of the great river in the pages of Harper, those of you who have read those sketches will not have failed to notice how Millet talked to German, Hungarian, Servian, Bulgarian, Roumanian, and Turkish, each in his own tongue, those diverse languages having been acquired by him during the few months of the Russo-Turkish war.

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The Idler, Volume III., Issue XIII., February 1893 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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