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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
good company: they cannot have the easy manners and tournure of the world, as they do not live in it. If you can bear your part well in such a company, it is extremely right to be in it sometimes, and you will be but more esteemed, in other companies, for having a place in that. But then do not let it engross you; for if you do, you will be only considered as one of the litterati by profession; which is not the way either to shine, or rise in the world.
The company of professed wits and poets is extremely inviting to most young men; who, if they have wit themselves, are pleased with it, and if they have none, are sillily proud of being one of it: but it should be frequented with moderation and judgment, and you should by no means give yourself up to it. A wit is a very unpopular denomination, as it carries terror along with it; and people in general are as much afraid of a live wit, in company, as a woman is of a gun, which she thinks may go off of itself, and do her a mischief. Their acquaintance is, however, worth seeking, and their company worth frequenting; but not exclusively of others, nor to such a degree as to be considered only as one of that particular set.
But the company, which of all others, you should most carefully avoid, is, that low company, which, in every sense of the word, is low indeed; low in rank, low in parts, low in manners, and low in merit. You will, perhaps, be surprised, that I should think it necessary to warn you against such company; but yet I do not think it wholly unnecessary, after the many instances which I have seen, of men of sense and rank, discredited, vilified, and undone, by keeping such company. Vanity, that source of many of our follies, and of some of our crimes, has sunk many a man into company, in every light infinitely below himself, for the sake of being the first man in it. There he dictates, is applauded, admired; and,
for the sake of being the Coryphæus of that wretched chorus, disgraces, and disqualifies himself soon for any better company. Depend upon it, you will sink or rise to the level of the company which you commonly keep people will judge of you, and not unreasonably, by that. There is good sense in the Spanish saying, 'Tell me who you live with, and I will tell you who you are.' Make it therefore your business,
wherever you are, to get into that company, which everybody of the place allows to be the best company, next to their own: which is the best definition that I can give you, of good company.-Letters to his Son.
Most people complain of fortune, few of nature; and the kinder they think the latter has been to them, the more they murmur at what they call the injustice of the former.
Why have not I the riches, the rank, the power, of such and such, is the common expostulation with fortune: but why have not I the merit, the talents, the wit, or the beauty of such and such others, is a reproach rarely or never made
The truth is, that nature, seldom profuse, and seldom niggardly, has distributed her gifts more equally than she is generally supposed to have done. Education and situation make the great difference. Culture improves, and occasions elicit, natural talents. I make no doubt but that there are potentially, if I may use that pedantic word, many Bacons, Lockes, Newtons, Cæsars, Cromwells, and Marlboroughs, at the plough-tail, behind counters, and, perhaps, even among the nobility; but the soil must be cultivated, and the seasons favourable, for the fruit to have all its spirit and flavour.
If sometimes our common parent has been a little partial, and not kept the scales quite even; if one preponderates too
much, we throw into the lighter a due counterpoise of vanity, which never fails to set all right. Hence it happens, that hardly any one man would, without reserve, and in every particular, change with any other.
Though all are thus satisfied with the dispensations of nature, how few listen to her voice! how few follow her as a guide! In vain she points out to us the plain and direct way to truth; vanity, fancy, affectation, and fashion, assume her shape, and wind us through fairy-ground to folly and
These deviations from nature are often attended by serious consequences, and always by ridiculous ones; for there is nothing truer than the trite observation, 'that people are never ridiculous for being what they really are, but for affecting what they really are not.' Affectation is the only source, and, at the same time, the only justifiable object, of ridicule. No man whatsoever, be his pretensions what they will, has a natural right to be ridiculous: it is an acquired right, and not to be acquired without some industry; which perhaps is the reason why so many people are so jealous and tenacious of it. Even some people's vices are not their own, but affected and adopted, though at the same time unenjoyed, in hopes of shining in those fashionable societies, where the reputation of certain vices gives lustre. In these cases, the execution is commonly as awkward as the design is absurd; and the ridicule equals the guilt.
This calls to my mind a thing that really happened not many years ago. A young fellow of some rank and fortune, just let loose from the university, resolved, in order to make a figure in the world, to assume the shining character of what he called a rake. By way of learning the rudiments of his intended profession, he frequented the theatres, where he was often drunk, and always noisy. Being one night at