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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 which 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 latter case, is often as 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 find place. But
the number of those who are within their reach more than compensates for the consequence 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
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.
No. 3. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 1785.
Quid nefert quantum habeas ? multo illud plus est quod non habes.
It is an old and a common observation, that men are more desirous to be thought to possess talents and qualities to which in truth they have no pretensions, than those in which they excel in an eminent degree. Of this Cicero was in ancient times a remarkable example; and the observation of every one must have furnished instances as striking in our own days. We see grave and profound statesmen wishing to pass for fine gentlemen, and fine gentlemen valuing themselves upon their knowledge of things of which they are most ignorant. If you wish to compliment the
gay, the elegant Lothario, you must not mention his taste in dress, his fine figure, or the lively elegance of his conversation : you must dwell upon his knowledge of the interests of the different states of Europe, his extensive political information, and his talents for business. Camillus is a barrister of the first eminence, possessed of great knowledge in his profession, an acute reasoner, and a powerful pleader. In external appearance nature has been less bountiful to Camillus : his figure is mean and ungraceful; and from his air and manner a stranger would be apt to take him for any thing rather than a gentleman. With all this, Camillus fancies that there is an uncommon degree of elegance in his form, and cannot conceal his ambition to be considered as a man of fashion.
But the most amusing instance of this sort I have met with was that of the late Duke of
His Grace was undoubtedly possessed of sound judgment, a cultivated understanding, a greater portion of knowledge than usually falls to the share of those of his rank; and though not perhaps calculated to make a brilliant figure in the senate, his talents were admirably adapted for business, and must in any age have entitled their possessor to respect and consideration. Amidst his other studies, the Duke had happened to look into some books of physic; from that moment he commenced a most skilful physician, and, compared to himself, considered the whole faculty as a set of ignorant blunderers. An artful courtier, well acquainted with this whimsey of his Grace's, contrived to let it be known, that he was affected with a particular disorder; in the cure of which the Duke thought himself more than commonly expert. He kindly offered his assistance, which was received with becoming gratitude; and from time to time he was acquainted with the progress of the cure, and the effects of the medicine supposed to have been administered in consequence of his prescriptions. At the end of six weeks, the wily patient had to thank his noble physician, both for a complete cure, and a considerable employment which he had long in vain solicited.
Among the other sex, though, from their situation, and the narrow circle of their acquirements, this weakness has less room to display itself, yet it is not unfrequently to be found. Elizabeth might be quoted as a counterpart to Cicero, were it not that the claim to beauty is so natural to a woman, that we do not wonder when we find even a queen not superior to that pretension. But there are, in our own times, ladies who forget the certain empire of their beauty, and aspire to the doubtful reputation of