No. XIV. 

 

            There are few talents more engaging, than the local and evanescent graces of conversable elocution, and few more rare: the great bane to the pleasures of conversation is affectation, or the wish to appear to possess what nature has denied. While people are content to act in their natural character, if that is not very gross and [193] vitiated indeed, though we may be neither improved nor entertained, we are seldom disgusted. Insipidity may make us yawn, and frivolity may fatigue, but it is affectation and hypocrisy only that provoke our indignation and contempt. 

            Fabio entertains his company with his sympathy for the poor, his exquisite sensibility of heart, his great generosity to his debtors and dependents; and in order to exemplify these qualities, enters into long dull narratives, in every one of which he is the hero: but Fabio never pays his debts unless obliged by the law; can be guilty of a thousand dirty actions when he thinks he shall escape detection; cherishes the most unrelenting malevolence against his more prosperous neighbours; and tortures his family by serious and incessant gusts of passions, which from taking no pains to controul, are become at the decline of life a sort of insanity, in which there are but few lucid intervals. Curio, intended by nature for an honest mechanic, but from the profession [194] of an attorney habituated to quibbling, assumes the censorial chair as a philological critic: whatever party he enters into he involves in never ending disputation, not a word is pronounced (for he seldom rises above words) but it must be brought to the test of analytical accuracy, and every syllable that is uttered in the discussion, is fated to undergo the same laborious investigation; so that at length, he bewilders himself and his company in a labyrinth of terms and definitions, from whence there is no escape, but by a precipitate retreat. 

            Pompous has read a few books superficially, and seen a little of the town, and therefore on every occasion takes the tone of a dictator — 

 

            “As who should say, I am Sir Oracle;

            And when I ope my mouth, let no dog bark.”

 

Not a subject occurs on which he does not think himself capable of deciding: he is constantly producing exceptions, and applying them against general rules, and requiring [195] demonstrations of self-evident propositions. However gross his blunders, it is not possible to confute him, for he understands nothing of reasoning; and so sublimely obscure is the language in which he clothes his ideas, if ideas he had any, and so wide the circuit which he takes, as to elude and confound the most acute and patient hearer; and when such are turning with disgust and weariness from his ridiculous assertions, in themselves incapable of proof, he triumphs in his victory, mistaking silent contempt for conviction and assent. Pyrrhus, whom a learned education, and a cold heart have made a sophist and a pedant, either from spleen or vanity, or a mixture of both, without possessing any fixed principles of his own, invariably opposes the opinions of every society in which he mixes; the never failing consequences of which are fierce debate, acrimonious sarcasms or gloomy silence. “He (says Lavater) who seeks to embitter the innocent pleasures, has a canker at his heart.” [196]

            Philander wishes to be thought a man of genius, and having sometimes observed in superior minds a whimsical deviation from common modes and customs, occasioned perhaps by mental abstraction, or by some strong originality of character, affects a wild and eccentric behavior: and from associating the ideas of great talents with great irregularities, expects that it will be taken for granted — that where the shadow is, there must be substance; without reflecting, that there may be the shadow of a shade. “The vulgar trace your faults, (says Shenstone) those you have in common with themselves: but they have no idea of your excellencies, to which they have no pretension.” Orontes, whom a few steps into the world have metamorphosed from an awkward booby, into a pert coxcomb, equally ignorant, as incapable of the dignity which sense and virtue confers, affects to be a libertine and debauchee, because he conceives it manly to set at defiance all laws, both human and divine; while he sacrifices his health and his fortune, merely to prove — that he has a weak head, a depraved [197] heart, and a bad taste. Palemon, educated for trade, but enriched by a lottery ticket; whom coarse organs have incapacitated for delicacy or elegance of mind, in despite of nature would be thought a connoisseur, and a man of taste: he languishes at an opera, attends every collection of pictures, runs over the terms of art, follows implicitly to recover from this fit of awkward imitation, till his exhausted finances shall once more compel him to become an industrious and useful member of society. 

            Clermont, though he possesses neither vivacity or fancy, is ever affecting to be witty: he seldom rises higher than a pun, and that frequency a lame one, which he repeats incessantly, vainly endeavouring by his own example to perpetuate the forced and languid smile. Mercator, laying it down as a maxim, — that every honest man is to be dealt with as if he were a knave; and that a wise man will benefit himself by flattering the weakness of others; accosts [198] every one with a smile, a cordial shake of the hand, and professions of service and friendship; by which the frank and the guileless are for a short time deceived: but a little observation convinces them, that those indiscriminate caresses, which when known to be indiscriminate, none consider as a compliment, must necessarily be insincere: and the meretricious varnish detected, the canvas beneath appears with two-fold deformity. Crito is a profound news-paper politician, and affects an insight into all the arcana of government; but grossly ignorant of first principles, and overbearing and impetuous in his temper, from a consciousness of muscular strength; when his antagonist reasons too closely, to escape the “clubs of argument,” he avails himself of his skill in the science of boxing, and silences the adversary whom he despaired of confuting. It would be an endless and invidious task, to mark the various discordant and jarring qualities which tend to untune the cords of harmony, and cloud the social hour. The tedious storyteller, the pert coxcomb, the egotist, the [199] dogmatist, the sophist, the censorious, the malicious, and the vain, by turns provoke and weary the most patient ear. 

            But when escaping from folly and impertinence, to the circle of cordial friends — 

 

            “Attun’d the happy unison of soul!

            To whose exalting eye, a fairer world, 

            Of which the vulgar never had a glimpse, 

            Displays it charms.” 

 

It is then the higher powers of our nature find their proper gratification. — Friendship is a term often used, but little comprehended; it must be founded on principle, and sanctioned by reason; cemented by tender confidence, and assured by respect; it is of all affections the most exalted and disinterested: nothing sordid, mean, or base can exist with it. — He whose general converse is not unaffected, open, ingenuous; whose features do not vary with his feelings; whose practice is not consistent with his theory; who is not humane and considerate to his inferiors, firm and dauntless with his superiors, engaging [200] and kind to his equals; just in his dealings, candid in his temper, liberal in his opinions, enlarged in his conceptions, inflexible in his integrity, warm in his affections, and virtuous in his conduct, — is incapable of the sacred flame of friendship! Neither can he who feels not devotional affections, who loves not God, ever properly be said to love his neighbor; sensibility of heart, if not quenched by sensual indulgence, ever leads to piety, and guides us to the source of all loveliness, and excellence: the precepts and duties of religion are all included in benevolence — for “God is love.” The Heathens have erected altars to friendship. “It was natural for untaught superstition to deify the source of every good. They worshipped friendship, with animates the moral world, on the same principle as they paid adoration to the Sun, which gives life to the world of nature.” [201]