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other arrangement than what the disposition of the time might prompt. These little papers formed a kind of new society, which I could command at any time, without stirring from my fire-side. It was, of all sorts of company, the most fitted for a Lounger; company in which he could be unaccommodating without offence, and inattentive without incivility.
The idea of giving those trifles to the world in the form of periodical essays, is an effect beyond the usual force of my character. Unknown, however, as a man, and new as an author, the Lounger risks but little either in censure or in praise. There is a censure, indeed, and a suffrage, which no man can escape, to which one of his disposition is peculiarly liable, I mean that of his own mind. He trusts his publication will be such as to risk nothing on this ground; it is the only promise which he will venture on its behalf. It may be gay without wit, and grave without depth, when its author is disposed to gaiety or to thought; but while it endeavours to afford some little amusement by the one, or some little instruction by the other, it will at least be harmless in both.
No. 2. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 1785.
The precepts of the moralist and philosopher are generally directed to guide their disciples in the great and important concerns of life, to incite to the practice of cardinal virtues, and to deter from the commission of enormous crimes: the advices of wisdom and experience point out the road to success and to
honour in stations of public consequence, or in nice and important circumstances of private duty.
In the earlier periods of society, a very simple code of morality and of rectitude was all that was necessary. To control the violence of the stronger passions, to prescribe the rules of distributive justice, and to inculcate the duties of active humanity, was the proper and essential province of the instructor, as well as of the legislator. At first, indeed, these two characters would be nearly the same; legislation embracing all that was required of morality, and morality having no range beyond that of the laws. And even when man advanced to a certain point, where the doctrine of morals went beyond the legal rules of conduct; yet that would contain incentives to the exertion only of principal and leading virtues, in certain modes and situations, which the law could not foresee, and for which it could not provide.
In a state of society so advanced as ours (for it is needless to trouble my reader with the intermediate gradations), every one will see the necessity of a nicer and more refined system of morality. The family of the social virtues, like the genealogical tree of an extensive ancestry, spreads with the advancing cultivation of mankind, till it is branched out into a numerous list of collateral duties, many of which it needs an acute discernment to trace up to their source; and some acknowledge their connexion, without being able to unravel their pedigree.
The study of those lesser branches of duty and of excellence is called the science of manners; but our language has no word to distinguish the teacher of it. As moralist is applied to the teacher of the more important obligations, so mannerist should have been the denomination of him who inculcates the lesser, « had not that word been already appropriated to a very different meaning,
But however the professors of the art may be distinguished, its importance will not be denied. It is seldom that in more essential points of duty men of a certain class are deficient. In most particulars the obligations of morality are aided by the ties of honour, and the fear of punishment enforced by the dread of shame. But in the smaller offices of social life, men may be wanting in their duty, without incurring either punishment or obloquy. The decalogue (if the phrase may be allowed) of manners, the laws of civility, of gentleness, of taste, and of feeling, are not precisely set down, and cannot easily be punished in the breach, or rewarded in the observance: and yet their observance forms, amidst the refinements of modern society, an important part of our own happiness, and of that regard we owe to the happiness of others. To practise them is somewhat difficult; to teach them is still more so: yet ’tis an art which, though difficult, does not always obtain the honours of difficulty. The pictures which it exhibits must be drawn in those middle tints which it requires a nice pencil to hit; and yet when attained they acquire but a small portion of that applause whích stronger colouring and deeper shades are calculated to procure. It is not easy to define that right which our neighbour possesses to general complacency, or to little attentions ; nor to mark with precision that injury we do, those wounds we inflict, by a contrary behaviour ; and yet the favour in the first, and the wrong in the tter case, is strongly felt as in the serious exertions of kindness or malevolence. I have known a friend acquired for life by a trifling civility in a crowded theatre; and a lasting enmity created by a boisterous laugh, or a mutilated bow.
Amidst weighty business indeed, and momentous concerns, such things do not easily tind place, But
the number of those who are within their reach more than compensates for the
of the few who are beyond it. 'Tis but a very small proportion of men who can move in the sphere of government or of greatness; but scarce any body is exempted from performing a part in the relations of ordinary life. Even of the first class, the reward they hope for their labours consists often in the opportunity of coming down with advantage to the region of the latter; like the hero of a pageant, who looks forward to the hour when he shall undo his trappings, and enjoy, in his plain apparel, the tale of the day at his family fire-side.
A periodical paper, though it may sometimes lift its voice against a neglect of the greater moralities, yet has for its peculiar province the correction and reform of any breach of the lesser. For that purpose it is perhaps better calculated than more laboured and more extended compositions, from its diurnal or weekly appearance. The greater virtues are always the same; but many of the lesser duties of social intercourse receive much of their complexion from the daily fluctuating circumstances of custom and of fashion. But the creed of custom is not always that of right; and it is the privilege of such a work, as well as one of its chief uses, to attack the entrenchments of fashion, whenever she is at war with modesty or virtue.
Of this study of manners the Lounger had early discovered the use and the necessity. He who seldom quits the walk of a particular science or occupation has a determined object in his view, the pursuit of which leaves little time for scattering attentions around him, and always affords some apology for the neglect of them. But for such neglect the man of no profession cannot so easily be excused, who has neither the hurry of business to occupy his time, nor
its embarrassments to distract his thought. It is not, however, by the etiquette of a court, or the ceremonial of a drawing-room, that this virtue is to be regulated. Genuine excellence here, as every where else, springs from nature, and is to be cultivated only, not created, by artificial instruction. There is more complacency in the negligence of some men, than in what is called the good breeding of others; and the little absences of the heart are often more interesting and engaging than the punctilious attention of a thousand professed sacrificers to the Graces.
Idleness, or that species of little occupations which is attached to no particular business or profession, is a state more difficult to support than is generally imagined. Even the perfect idler, like some other harmless and insignificant animals whom naturalists are acquainted with, though he can live on air, cannot subsist in vacuo : and the idler of a higher sort needs perhaps more ideas, more store of mind about him, than would go to the furnishing of twenty brains of mere plodding men of business.
The Lounger feels for the family of the idle in all its branches, however distant their relation to that of which he owns himself descended. To them, therefore, his lucubrations will in a particular manner be adapted. To those in whom the want of active employment has not relaxed the power of thought, they may afford some opportunity for speculation; and even to that prodigal of mind as well as time, who has forgotten how to think the few moments required for the perusal of them will be at least a small portion of life harmlessly spent, and, it may be, saved from less innocent employments.