From London to Land's End by Daniel Defoe

[Continued from Dorset. See the first page for publication details.]


In my return to my western progress, I passed some little part of Somersetshire, as through Evil or Yeovil, upon the River Ivil, in going to which we go down a long steep hill, which they call Babylon Hill, but from what original I could find none of the country people to inform me.

This Yeovil is a market-town of good resort; and some clothing is carried on in and near it, but not much. Its main manufacture at this time is making of gloves.

It cannot pass my observation here that when we are come this length from London the dialect of the English tongue, or the country way of expressing themselves, is not easily understood--it is so strangely altered. It is true that it is so in many parts of England besides, but in none in so gross a degree as in this part. This way of boorish country speech, as in Ireland it is called the brogue upon the tongue, so here it is called jouring; and it is certain that though the tongue be all mere natural English, yet those that are but a little acquainted with them cannot understand one-half of what they say. It is not possible to explain this fully by writing, because the difference is not so much in the orthography of words as in the tone and diction--their abridging the speech, cham for I am, chil for I will, don for put on, and doff for put off, and the like. And I cannot omit a short story here on this subject. Coming to a relation's house, who was a school-master at Martock, in Somersetshire, I went into his school to beg the boys a play-day, as is usual in such cases (I should have said, to beg the master a play-day. But that by the way). Coming into the school, I observed one of the lowest scholars was reading his lesson to the usher, which lesson, it seems, was a chapter in the Bible. So I sat down by the master till the boy had read out his chapter. I observed the boy read a little oddly in the tone of the country, which made me the more attentive, because on inquiry I found that the words were the same and the orthography the same as in all our Bibles. I observed also the boy read it out with his eyes still on the book and his head (like a mere boy) moving from side to side as the lines reached cross the columns of the book. His lesson was in the Canticles, v. 3 of chap. v. The words these:- I have put off my coat. How shall I put it on? I have washed my feet. How shall I defile them?

The boy read thus, with his eyes, as I say, full on the text:- Chav a doffed my cooat. How shall I don't? Chav a washed my veet. How shall I moil 'em?

How the dexterous dunce could form his month to express so readily the words (which stood right printed in the book) in his country jargon, I could not but admire. I shall add to this another piece as diverting, which also happened in my knowledge at this very town of Yeovil, though some years ago.

There lived a good substantial family in the town not far from the "Angel Inn"--a well-known house, which was then, and, I suppose, is still, the chief inn of the town. This family had a dog which, among his other good qualities for which they kept him (for he was a rare house-dog), had this bad one--that he was a most notorious thief, but withal so cunning a dog, and managed himself so warily, that he preserved a mighty good reputation among the neighbourhood. As the family was well beloved in the town, so was the dog. He was known to be a very useful servant to them, especially in the night (when he was fierce as a lion; but in the day the gentlest, lovingest creature that could be), and, as they said, all the neighbours had a good word for this dog.

It happened that the good wife or mistress at the Angel Inn had frequently missed several pieces of meat out of the pail, as they say--or powdering-tub, as we call it--and that some were very large pieces. It is also to be observed the dog did not stay to eat what he took upon the spot, in which case some pieces or bones or fragments might be left, and so it might be discovered to be a dog; but he made cleaner work, and when he fastened upon a piece of meat he was sure to carry it quite away to such retreats as he knew he could be safe in, and so feast upon it at leisure.

It happened at last, as with most thieves it does, that the inn- keeper was too cunning for him, and the poor dog was nabbed, taken in the fact, and could make no defence.

Having found the thief and got him in custody, the master of the house, a good-humoured fellow, and loth to disoblige the dog's master by executing the criminal, as the dog law directs, mitigates his sentence, and handled him as follows:- First, taking out his knife, he cut off both his ears; and then, bringing him to the threshold, he chopped off his tail. And having thus effectually dishonoured the poor cur among his neighbours, he tied a string about his neck, and a piece of paper to the string, directed to his master, and with these witty West Country verses on it:-

To my honoured master, - Esq.
Hail master a cham a' com hoam,
So cut as an ape, and tail have I noan,
For stealing of beef and pork out of the pail,
For thease they'v cut my ears, for th' wother my tail;
Nea measter, and us tell thee more nor that
And's come there again, my brains will be flat.

I could give many more accounts of the different dialects of the people of this country, in some of which they are really not to be understood; but the particulars have little or no diversion in them. They carry it such a length that we see their "jouring" speech even upon their monuments and grave-stones; as, for example, even in some of the churchyards of the city of Bristol I saw this excellent poetry after some other lines:-

And when that thou doest hear of thick,
Think of the glass that runneth quick.

[Continues to Devon.]