« ZurückWeiter »
A s the mutual shocks, in society, and the oppositions of interest and self-love have constrained mankind to establish the laws of justice; in or. der to preserve the advantages of mutual assistance and protection : In like manner, the eternal contrarieties, in company, of men's pride and selfconceit, have introduced the rules of Good-Manners or Politeness; in order to facilitate the intercourse of minds and an undisturbed commerce and conversation. Among well-bred people, a mutual deference is affected : Contempt of others disguifed: Authority concealed : Attention given to each in his turn: And an easy stream of conversation maintained, without vehemence, without interruption, without eagerness for victory, and without any airs of fuperiority. These attentions and regards are immediately agreeable to others, abstract
*. It is the nature, and, indeed, the definition of virtue, that it is a quality of the mind agreeable to or approved of by every one, wubo considers or contemplates it. But some qualities produce pleasure, because they are useful to society, or useful or agreeable to the person himself; others produce it more immediately: Which is the case with the class of virtues here considered.
ed from any consideration of utility or beneficial tendencies :. They conciliate affection, promote esteem, and extremely enhance the merit of the person, who regulates his behaviour by thein. .
Many of the forms of breeding are arbitrary and casual : But the thing expreffed by them is still the same. · A Spaniard goes out of his own house before his guest, to signify that he leaves him master of all. In other countries, the landlord walks out last, as a common mark of deference and re
But, in order to render a man perfect good company, he inust have Wit and Ingenuity as well as good-manners. What wit is, it may not be easy to define; but it is easy surely to determine, that it is a quality immediately agreeable to others, and communicating, on its first appearance, a lively joy and satisfaction to every one who has any comprehension of it. The most profound metaphysics, indeed, might be employed, in explaining the various kinds and species of wit; and many classes of it, which are now received on the fole testimony of taste and sentiment, might, perhaps, be resolved into more general principles. But this is sufficient for our present purpose, that it does affect taste and sentiment, and bestowing an immediatè enjoyment, is a sure source of approbation and affection.
In countries, where men pass most of their time in conversation, and visits, and assemblies, these companionable qualities, so to speak, are of high estimation, and form a chief part of perfonal merit. In countries, where men live a more domestic life; and either are employed in business, or amuse themfelves in a' narrower circle of acquaintance, the more folid qualities are chiefly regarded. Thus, I have often observed, that, among the French, the first questions, with regard to a stranger, are, Is be polite? Has be wit?
In our own country, the chief praise bestowed, is always that of a good-natured, sensible fellow.
In conversation, the lively spirit of dialogue is agreeable, even to those who desire not to have any share in the discourse: Hence the teller of long stories, or the pompous declaimer, is very little approved of. But molt men desire likewise their turn in the conversarion, and regard, with a very evil eye, that loquacity, which deprives them of a right they are naturally so jealous of. : , . There is a sort of harmless liars, frequently to be met with in company, who deal much in the marvellous. Their usual intention is to pleafe and entertain ; but as men are most delighted with what they conceive to be truth, these people mistake extremely the means of pleasing, and incur universal blame. Some indulgence, however, to lying or fiction is given in humorous stories, because it is there really agreeable and entertaining; and truth is not of any importance.
Eloquence, genius of all kinds, even good sense, and sound reasoning, when it rises to an eminent degree, and is employed upon subjects of any considerable dignity and nice discernment; all these endowments seem immediately agreeable, and have a merit distinct from their usefulness. Rarity, likewise, which so much enhances the price of every thing, muft set an additional value on these noble talents of the human mind.
Modesty may be underftood in different fenses, even abstracted from chastity, which has been already treated of. It. sometimes means that tender·ness and nicety of honour, that apprehensions of blame, that dread of intrusion or injury towards others, that Pudor, which is the proper guardian of every kind of virtue, and a sure preservative against vice and corruption. But its most usual meaning is when it is opposed to impudence and arrogance, and expresses a diffidente of our own
judgment, judgment, and a due attention and regard for others. · In young men chiefly, this quality is a sure sign of good sense; and is also the certain means of augmenting that endowment, by preserva ing their ears open to instruction, and making them still grasp after new attainments. But it has a farther charm to every spectator ; by Aattering every man's vanity, and presenting the appearance of a docile pupil, who receives, with proper attention and respect, every word they utter.
Men have, in general, a much greater propenfity to over-value than undervalue themselves ; notwithstanding the opinion of Aristotle *. This makes us more jealous of the excess on the former side, and causes us to regard, with a peculiar indulgence, all tendency to modesty and self-diffidence; as esteeming the danger less of falling into any vicious extreme of that nature. It is thus, in countries, where inen's bodies are apt to exceed in corpulency, personal beauty is placed in a much greater degree of nenderness, than in countries, where that is the most usual defect. Being so of. ten struck with instances of one species of deformity, men think they can never keep at too great a distance from it, and wish always to have a leaning to the opposite side. In like inanner, were the door opened to self-praise, and were Montaigne's maxim observed, that one should say as frankly, I have sense, I bave learning, I have courage, beauty, or wit; as it is sure we often think so ; were this the case, I say, every one is sensible, that such a Hood of impertinence would break in upon us, as would render society wholly intolérable. For his reason custom has established it as a rule, in common societies, that men should not indulge themselves in self-praise, or even speak much of themselves; and it is only among intimate friends or
people * Ethic. ad Nicomachum. .
Sre better lifervable," thaid he
people of very manly behaviour, that one is allowed to do himself justice. No body finds fault with Maurice, Prince of Orange, for his reply to one, who asked him, whom he esteemed the first general of the age, The marquis of Spinola, said he, is the second. Though it is observable, that the felf-praise implied is here better implied, than if it had been directly expressed, without any cover or disguise. · He must be a very superficial thinker, who imagines, that all instances of mutual deference are to be understood in earnest, and that a man would be more esteemable for being ignorant of his own merits and accomplishments. A small bias towards modesty, even in the internal sentiment, is favourably regarded, especially in young people; and a strong bias is required, in the outward behaviour: But this excludes not a noble pride and spirit, which may openly display itself in its full extent, when one lies under calumny or oppression of any kind. The generous contumacy of Socrates, as Cicero calls it, has been highly celebrated in all ages; and when joined to the usual modesty of his behaviour, forms a shining character. Iphicrates, the Athenian, being accused of betraying the interests of his country, asked his accuser, Would you, says he, have, on a like occasion, been guilty of that crime? By no means, replied the other. And can you then imagine, cried the hero, that Iphicrates would be guilty * ? In short, a generous spirit and self-value, well founded, decently disguised, and courageously supported under distress and calumny, is a great excellency, and seeins to derive its meric from the noble elevation of its sentiment, or its immediate agreeableness to its poffeffor. In ordi- . nary characters, we approve of a bias towards modesty, which is a quality immediately agreeable to
* Quinctil. lib. v. cap. 12.