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design appears to me very plainly to have been to ridicule all sobriety, modesty, decency, virtue, and religion, out of the world. Now whoever reads over the five great writers first mentioned in this paragraph, must either have a very bad head or a very bad heart, if he doth not become both a wiser and a better man.
In the exercise of the mind, as well as in the exercise of the body, diversion is a secondary consideration, and designed only to make that agreeable which is at the same time useful, to such noble purposes as health and wisdom. But what should we say to a man who mounted his chamber-hobby, or fought with his own shadow, for his amusement only? How much more absurd and weak would he appear who swallowed poison because it was sweet!
How differently did Horace think of the study from our modern readers!
« Quid verum atque decens curo et rogo, et omnis in hoc sum:
Condo et compono, quæ mox depromere possim.”
« Truth and decency are my whole care and inquiry. In this study I am entirely occupied; these I am always laying up, and so disposing that I can at any time draw forth my stores for my immediate use."
The whole epistle, indeed, from which I have paraphrased this passage, is a comment upon it, and affords many useful lessons of philosophy.
When we are employed in reading a great and good author, we ought to consider ourselves as searching after treasures, which, if well and regularly laid up in the mind, will be of use to us on sundry occasions in our lives. If a man, for instance, should be overloaded with prosperity or adversity (both of which cases are liable to happen to us), who is there so very wise, or so very foolish, that, if he were a master of Seneca and Plutarch, could not find great matter of comfort and utility from their doctrines? I mention these rather than Plato and Aristotle, as the works of the latter are not, I think, yet completely made English, and, consequently, are less within the reach of most of my country. men.
But perhaps it may be asked, Will Seneca or Plutarch make us laugh ? Perhaps not; but if you are not a fool, my worthy friend, which I can hardly with civility suspect, they will both (the latter especially) please you more than if they did. For my own part, I declare I have not read even Lucian himself with more delight than I have Plutarch; but surely it is astonishing that such scribblers as Tom Brown, Tom D’Urfey, and the wits of our age, should find readers, while the writings of so excellent, so entertaining, and so voluminous an author as Plutarch remain in the world, and, as I apprehend, are very little known.
The truth, I am afraid, is that real taste is a quality with which human nature is very slenderly gifted. It is indeed so very rare, and so little known, that scarce two authors have agreed in their notions of it; those who have endeavored to explain it to others seem to have succeeded only in showing us that they know it not themselves. If I might be allowed to give my own sentiments, I should derive it from a nice harmony between the imagination and the judgment; and hence perhaps it is that so few have ever possessed this talent in any eminent degree. Neither of these will alone bestow it; nothing is indeed more common than to see men of very bright imaginations, and of very accurate learning (which can hardly be acquired without judgment), who are entirely devoid of taste; and Longinus, who, of all men, seems most exquisitely to have possessed it, will puzzle his reader very much if he should attempt to decide whether imagination or judgment shine the brighter in that inimitable critic.
But as for the bulk of mankind, they are clearly void of any degree of taste. It is a quality in which they advance very little beyond a state of infancy. The first thing a child is fond of in a book is a picture, the second is a story, and the third a jest. Here then is the true Pons Asinorum, which very few readers ever get over.
From what I have said it may perhaps be thought to appear that true taste is the real gift of nature only; and if so, some may ask to what purpose have I endeavored to show men that they are without a blessing which it is impossible for them to attain ?
Now, though it is certain that to the highest consummation of taste, as well as of every other excellence, nature must lend much assistance, yet great is the power of art, almost of itself, or at best with only slender aids from nature; and, to say the truth, there are very few who have not in their minds some small seeds of taste. «A11 men,” says Cicero, “have a sort of tacit sense of what is right or wrong in arts and sciences, even without the help of arts. This surely it is in the power of art very greatly to improve. That most men, therefore, proceed no further than as I have above declared, is owing either to the want of any, or (which is perhaps yet worse) to an improper education.
I shall probably, therefore, in a future paper, endeavor to lay down some rules by which all men may acquire at least some degree of taste. In the meanwhile, I shall (according to the method observed in inoculation ) recommend to my readers, as a preparative for their receiving my instructions, a total abstinence from all bad books. I do therefore most earnestly entreat all my readers that they would cautiously avoid the perusal of any modern book till it hath first had the sanction of some wise and learned man; and the same caution I propose to all fathers, mothers, and guardians.
“Evil communications corrupt good manners” is a quotation of St. Paul from Menander. Evil books corrupt at once both our manners and our taste.
Complete. Covent Garden Journal, No. 10.
THE ART OF CONVERSATION
AS CONVERSATION is a branch of society, it follows that it can A be proper to none who is not in his nature social. Now,
society is agreeable to no creatures who are not inoffensive to each other; and we therefore observe in animals who are entirely guided by nature that it is cultivated by such only, while those of more noxious disposition addict themselves to solitude, and, unless when prompted by lust, or that necessary instinct implanted in them by nature for the nurture of their young, shun as much as possible the society of their own species. If, therefore, there should be found some human individuals of so savage a habit, it would seem they were not adapted to society, and, consequently, not to conversation; nor would any inconvenience ensue the admittance of such exceptions, since it would by no means impeach the general rule of man's being a social animal; especially when it appears (as is sufficiently and admirably proved by my friend, the author of “An Inquiry into Happiness”) that these men live in a constant opposition to their own nature, and are no less monsters than the most wanton abortions or extravagant births.
Again, if society require that its members should be inoffensive, so the more useful and beneficial they are to each other the more suitable are they to the social nature, and more perfectly adapted to its institution; for all creatures seek their own happiness, and society is therefore natural to any, because it is naturally productive of this happiness. To render therefore any animal social is to render it inoffensive; an instance of which is to be seen in those the ferocity of whose nature can be tamed by man. And here the reader may observe a double distinction of man from the more savage animals by society, and from the social by conversation.
But if men were merely inoffensive to each other, it seems as if society and conversation would be merely indifferent; and that, in order to make it desirable by a sensible being, it is necessary we should go further and propose some positive good to ourselves from it; and this presupposes, not only negatively, our not receiving any hurt, but positively our receiving some good, some pleasure or advantage from each other in it, something which we could not find in an unsocial and solitary state; otherwise we might cry out with the right honorable poet
Give us our wildness and our woods,
The art of pleasing or doing good to one another is therefore the art of conversation. It is this habit which gives to all its value. And as man's being a social animal (the truth of which is incontestably proved by that excellent author of “An Inquiry,” etc., I have above cited) presupposes a natural desire or tendency this way, it will follow that we can fail in attaining this truly desirable end from ignorance only in the means; and how general this ignorance is may be, with some probability, inferred from our want of even a word to express this art by; that which comes the nearest to it, and by which, perhaps, we would sometimes intend it, being so horribly and barbarously corrupted, that it contains at present scarce a simple ingredient of what it seems originally to have been designed to express.
The word I mean is good breeding; a word, I apprehend, not at first confined to externals, much less to any particular dress or attitude of the body; nor were the qualifications expressed by it to be furnished by a milliner, a tailor, or a periwig maker; no, nor even by the dancing master himself. According to the idea I myself conceive from this word, I should not have scrupled to call Socrates a well-bred man, though, I believe, he was very little instructed by any of the persons I have above enumerated. In short, by good breeding (notwithstanding the corrupt use of the word in a very different sense) I mean the art of pleasing, or contributing as much as possible to the ease and happiness of those with whom you converse. I shall contend, therefore, no longer on this head; for, whilst my reader clearly conceives the sense in which I use this word, it will not be very material whether I am right or wrong in its original application.
Good breeding then, or the art of pleasing in conversation, is expressed two different ways, viz., in our actions and our words, and our conduct in both may be reduced to that concise, comprehensive rule in Scripture: Do unto all men as you would they should do unto you. Indeed, concise as this rule is and plain as it appears, what are all treatises on ethics but comments upon it ? And whoever is well read in the book of nature, and hath made much observation on the actions of men, will perceive so few capable of judging or rightly pursuing their own happiness, that he will be apt to conclude that some attention is necessary (and more than is commonly used) to enable men to know truly what they would have done unto them, or, at least, what it would be their interest to have done.
If, therefore, men, through weakness or inattention, often err in their conceptions of what would produce their own happiness, no wonder they should miss in the application of what will contribute to that of others; and thus we may, without too severe a censure on their inclinations, account for that frequent failure in true good breeding which daily experience gives us instances of.
Besides, the commentators have well paraphrased on the abovementioned divine rule, that it is, to do unto men what you would they (if they were in your situation and circumstances, and you in theirs) should do unto you; and, as this comment is necessary to be observed in ethics, so it is particularly useful in this our art, where the degree of the person is always to be considered, as we shall explain more at large hereafter.
We see, then, a possibility for a man well disposed to this golden rule, without some precautions, to err in the practice; nay, even good nature itself, the very habit of mind most essential to furnish us with true good breeding, the latter so nearly resembling the former that it hath been called, and with the ap.