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in reality we possess, and to value ourselves on those to which we have little or no pretensions ; yet when we come to form a judgment of our own merit, in comparison with that of our neighbours, we are apt to despise every person who is deficient in any one particular in which we excel. We ought, however, to recollect, that to aim at universal excellence is a vain and fruitless attempt, which seldom fails to expose even men of the most superior talents to deserved ridicule : and, if this be allowed, it must follow, that it is no less unjust than ungenerous, to despise others for the want of a particular quality or accomplishment which we may happen to possess ; because it is extremely probable that we may be equally deficient in some article, perhaps more important and more useful to mankind, in which they have attained a high degree of excellence.
No. 4. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 1785.
Laudator temporis acti.
'Get thee a place, for I must be idle,' says Hamlet to Horatio at the play. It is often so with me at public places: I am more employed in attending to the spectators than to the entertainment; a practice which, in the present state of some of our entertainments, I frequently find very convenient. In me, however, it is an indolent, quiet sort of indulgence, which, if it affords some amusement to myself, does not disturb that of any other body.
At an assembly at which I happened to be present a few nights ago, my notice was peculiarly attracted by a gentleman with what is called a fresh look for his
age, dressed in a claret-coloured coat, with gold buttons, of a cut not altogether modern, an embroidered waistcoat with very large flaps, a major wig, long ruffles nicely plaited (that looked however as if the fashion had come to them rather than that they had been made for the fashion); his white silk stockings ornamented with figured clocks, and his shoes with high insteps, buckled with small round gold buckles. His sword, with a silver hilt somewhat tarnished, I might have thought only an article of his dress, had not a cockade in his hat marked him for a military man. It was some time before I was able to find out who he was, till at last my
friend Mr. S. informed me he was a very worthy relation of his, who had not been in town above twice these forty years; that an accidental piece of business had lately brought him from his house in the country, and he had been prevailed on to look on the ladies of Edinburgh at two or three public places before he went home again, that he might see whether they were as handsome as their mothers and grandmothers, whom he had danced with at balls, and squired to plays and concerts, near half a century ago. was,' continued my friend, a professed admirer and votary of the sex; and when he was a young man fought three duels for the honour of the ladies, in one of which he was run through the body, but luckily escaped with his life. The lady, however, for whom he fought, did not reward her knight as she ought to have done, but soon after married another man with a larger fortune; upon which he forswore society in a great measure, and though he continued for several years to do his duty in the army, and actually rose to the rank of lieutenant
colonel, mixed but little in the world, and has for a long space of time resided at his estate a determined bachelor, with somewhat of misanthropy, and a great deal of good-nature about him. If you please I will introduce you to him—Colonel Caustic, this is a very particular friend of mine, who solicits the honour of being known to you.'-The colonel kissed me on both cheeks, and seeming to take a liking to my face, we appeared mutually disposed to be very soon acquainted.
Our conversation naturally began on the assembly, which I observed to be a full one. Why, yes,' said the colonel, here is crowd enough, and to spare; and yet your ladies seem to have been at a loss for partners. I suppose the greatest part of the men, or rather boys, whom I see now standing up to dance, have been brought in to make up a set, as people in the country sometimes fill up the places in a dance with chairs, to help them to go through the figure.Bụt as I came too late for the minuets, I presume the dressed gentlemen walked up stairs after they were ended. Why, sir, there are now-a-days no minuets.'— No minuets !-(looking for a while at the company on the floor)—Ì don't wonder at it.' -
Why, perhaps, colonel,' said I, 'these young gentlemen have not quite an aspect serious enough for the pas grave; and yet yonder is one standing with his back to the fire. Why, yes, there is something of gravity, of almost melancholy on his face.'— Yes, melancholy and gentleman-like,' said I, as Master Stephen in the play has it.'Why, that young man, sir,—now that I have observed him closer,—with that roll of handkerchief about his neck, his squarecut striped vest, his large metal buttons and nankeen breeches, Why, sir, 'tis a stable-boy out of place !
Pray, who are those gentlemen,' said Colonel Caustic, who have ranged themselves in a sort of
phalanx at the other end of the room, like the devil in Milton, to carry stern defiance on their brow?'- I have not the honour of their acquaintance,' I replied ; ' but some of them I presume from the cockades in their hats' You do not say so,' interrupted the colonel. Is that the military air of the present day? But you must be mistaken; they cannot be real soldiers : militia, or train-band subalterns, believe me, who having neither seen service nor good company, contrive to look fierce, in order to avoid looking sheepish. I remember indeed of old, some of our boys used to put on that fierce air in coffee-houses and taverns; but they could never dream of wearing it before the ladies.' I think, however,' said Mr.S—, smiling, 'the ladies don't seem much afraid of them.'—Why, your ladies, answered the colonel, 'to say truth, have learned to look people in the face. During the little while I have been in town, I have met with some in my walks, in great coats, riding hats, and rattans, whom I could not show an eye to: but I am newly come from the country; I shall keep a better countenance by and by
At that moment a lady and her party, for whose appearance the dancers were waiting, were just entering the room, and seemed in a great hurry to get forward. Their progress, however, was a good deal impeded by a tall stout young man, who had taken his station just at the threshold, and leaning his back against one of the door-posts, with his right foot placed firm on the end of the bench, was picking his teeth with a perfect nonchalance to every thing around him. I saw the colonel fasten a very angry look on him, and move his hand with a sort of involuntary motion towards
The ladies had now got through the defile, and we stood back to make way for them. “Was there ever such a brute ?'
said Colonel Caustic. The young gentleman stalked up to the place where we were standing, put up his glass to his eye, looked hard at the colonel, and then -put it down again. The colonel took snuff.
. Our sex,' said I, • colonel, is not perhaps improved in its public appearance; but I think you will own the other is not less beautiful than it was. He cast his eye round for a few minutes before he answered me. “Why, yes,' said he, sir, here are many pretty, very pretty girls. That young lady in blue is a very pretty girl. I remember her grandmother at the same age; she was a fine woman.. - But the one next her, with the fanciful cap, and the panache of red and white feathers, with that elegant form, that striking figure, is not she a fine woman?'• Why, no, sir, not quite a fine woman; not quite such a woman, as a man (raising his chest as he pronounced the word man, and pressing the points of his three unemployed fingers gently on his bosom), as a man would be proud to stake his life for.
· But in short, sir, continued he,— I speak to you because you look like one that can understand me there is nothing about a woman's person merely (were she formed like the Venus de Medicis), that can constitute a fine woman. There is something in the look, the manner, the voice, and still more the silence, of such a one as I mean, that has no connexion with any thing material; at least no more than just to make one think such a soul is lodged as it deserves.
- In short, sir, a fine woman,- I could have shown you some examples formerly. I mean, however, no disparagement to the young ladies here; none, upon my honour; they are as well made, and if not better dressed, at least more dressed than their predecessors; and their complexions I think are better. But I am an old fellow, and apt to talk foolishly.'