« VorigeDoorgaan »
1. The State of France in 1753.
WHEREVER you are, inform yourself minutely of, and attend particularly to, the affairs of France; they grow serious, and, in my opinion, will grow more and more so every day. The King is despised, and I do not wonder at it; but he has brought it about to be hated at the same time, which seldom happens to the same man. His Ministers are known to be as disunited as incapable: he hesitates between the Church and the Parliaments, like the ass in the fable, that starved between two hampers of hay; too much in love with his mistress to part with her, and too much afraid for his soul, to enjoy her: jealous of the Parliaments, who would support his authority; and a devoted bigot to the Church that would destroy it. The people are poor, consequently discontented: those who have religion are divided in their notions of it; which is saying that they hate one another. The clergy never do forgive; much less will they forgive the Parliament: the Parliament never will forgive them. The army must, without doubt, take, in their own minds at least, different parts in all these disputes, which, upon occasion, would break out. Armies, though always the supporters and tools of absolute power for the time being, are always the destroyers of it too; by frequently changing the hands in which they think proper to lodge. it. This was the case of the Praetorian bands, who deposed and murdered the monsters they had raised to oppress mankind. The Janissaries in Turkey, and the regiments of Guards in Russia, do the same now. The French nation reasons freely, which they never did before, upon matters of religion and government, and begin to be spregiudicati; the officers do so too; in short, all the symptoms which I have ever met with in history, previous to great changes and
revolutions in Government, now exist, and daily increase in France. I am glad of it; the rest of Europe will be the quieter, and have time to recover. England, I am sure, wants rest; for it wants men and money: the Republic of the United Provinces wants both still more: the other Powers cannot well dance, whence neither France nor the Maritime Powers can, as they used to do, pay the piper. The first squabble in Europe that I foresee will be about the Crown of Poland, should the present King die; and therefore I wish his Majesty a long life and a merry Christmas. Letters to his Son.
2. Casuistry and Common Sense.
PRAY let no quibbles of lawyers, no refinements of casuists, break into the plain notions of right and wrong, which every man's right reason, and plain common sense, suggest to him. To do as you would be done by, is the plain, sure, and undisputed rule of morality and justice. Stick to that; and be convinced, that whatever breaks into it, in any degree, however speciously it may be turned, and however puzzling it may be to answer it, is, notwithstanding, false in itself, unjust, and criminal. I do not know a crime in the world which is not, by the casuists among the Jesuits (especially the twenty-four collected, I think, by Escobar) allowed in some, or many, cases not to be criminal. The principles first laid down by them are often specious, the reasonings plausible, but the conclusion always a lie for it is contrary to that evident and undeniable rule of justice which I have mentioned above, of not doing to any one what you would not have him do to you. But, however, these refined pieces of casuistry and sophistry being very convenient and welcome to people's passions and appetites, they gladly accept the indulgence, without desiring to detect
the fallacy of the reasoning: and, indeed, many, I might say most, people are not able to do it, which makes the publication of such quibblings and refinements the more pernicious. I am no skilful casuist, nor subtle disputant; and yet I would undertake to justify and qualify the profession of a highwayman, step by step, and so plausibly as to make many ignorant people embrace the profession, as an innocent, if not even a laudable one; and to puzzle people of some degree of knowledge to answer me point by point. I have seen a book, entitled Quidlibet ex Quolibet, or, the art of making anything out of anything; which is not so difficult as it would seem, if once one quits certain plain truths, obvious in gross to every understanding, in order to run after the ingenious refinements of warm imaginations and speculative reasonings. Doctor Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, a very worthy, ingenious, and learned man, has written a book to prove that there is no such thing as matter, and that nothing exists but in idea: that you and I only fancy ourselves eating, drinking, and sleeping; you at Leipsig, and I at London: that we think we have flesh and blood, legs, arms, &c., but that we are only spirit. His arguments are, strictly speaking, unanswerable; but yet I am so far from being convinced by them, that I am determined to go on to eat and drink, and walk and ride, in order to keep that matter, which I so mistakenly imagine my body at present to consist of, in as good plight as possible. Common sense (which, in truth, is very uncommon) is the best sense I know of; abide by it; it will counsel you best. Read and hear, for your amusement, ingenious systems, nice questions subtilely agitated, with all the refinements that warm imaginations suggest; but consider them only as exercitations for the mind, and return always to settle with common
3. Good Manners and Good Company.
THERE should be in the least, as well as in the greatest parts of a gentleman, les manières nobles. Sense will teach you some, observation others: attend carefully to the manners, the diction, the motions, of people of the first fashion, and form your own upon them. On the other hand, observe a little those of the vulgar, in order to avoid them; for though the things which they say or do may be the same, the manner is always totally different; and in that, and nothing else, consists the characteristic of a man of fashion. The lowest peasant speaks, moves, dresses, eats, and drinks as much as a man of the first fashion, but does them all quite differently; so that by doing and saying most things in a manner opposite to that of the vulgar, you have a great chance of doing and saying them right. There are gradations in awkwardness and vulgarism, as there are in everything else. Les manières de Robe, though not quite right, are still better than les manières Bourgeoises; and these, though bad, are still better than les manières de Campagne. But the language, the air, the dress, and the manners of the Court, are the only true standard des manières nobles, et d'un honnête homme. Ex pede Herculem is an old and true saying, and very applicable to our present subject; for a man of parts, who has been bred at Courts, and used to keep the best company, will distinguish himself, and is to be known from the vulgar, by every word, attitude, gesture, and even look. I cannot leave these seeming minuties, without repeating to you the necessity of your carving well, which is an article, little as it is, that is useful twice every day of one's life; and the doing it ill is very troublesome to one's self, and very disagreeable, often ridiculous, to others.
Good company is not what respective sets of company are
pleased either to call or think themselves; but it is that company which all the people of the place call, and acknowledge to be, good company, notwithstanding some objections which they may form to some of the individuals who compose it. It consists chiefly (but by no means without exception) of people of considerable birth, rank, and character: for people of neither birth nor rank, are frequently, and very justly, admitted into it, if distinguished by any peculiar merit, or eminency in any liberal art or science. Nay, so motley a thing is good company, that many people, without birth, rank, or merit, intrude into it by their own forwardness, and others slide into it by the protection of some considerable person; and some even of indifferent characters and morals make part of it. But, in the main, the good part preponderates, and people of infamous and blasted characters are never admitted.
In this fashionable good company, the best manners, and the best language, of the place are most unquestionably to be learnt; for they establish, and give the tone to both, which are therefore called the language and manners of good company: there being no legal tribunal to ascertain either.
A company consisting wholly of people of the first quality, cannot, for that reason, be called good company, in the common acceptation of the phrase, unless they are, into the bargain, the fashionable and accredited company of the place; for people of the very first quality can be as silly, as ill-bred, and as worthless, as people of the meanest degree. On the other hand, a company consisting entirely of people of very low condition, whatever their merit or parts may be, can never be called good company; and consequently should not be much frequented, though by no means despised.
A company wholly composed of men of learning, though greatly to be valued and respected, is not meant by the words