« PreviousContinue »
hanged for it ; and the illbred man, who, by his ill man ners, invades and disturbs the quiet and comforts of private life; is, by common consent, as justly banished society. Mutual complaisances, attentions, and sacrifices of little conveniences, are as natural an implied compact between civilized people, as protection and obedience are between kings and subjects; whoever, in either case, violates that compact, justly forfeits all advantages arising from it. For my own part, I really. think that, next to the consciousness of doing a good ac tion, that of doing a civil one is one of the most pleasing; and the epithet which I should covet the most, next to that of Aristides, would be that of wellbred. Thus much for good breeding, in general; I will now consider some of the various mades and degrees of it.
Very few, scarcely any, are wanting in the respect which they should show to those whom they acknowledge to be highly their superiors; such as crowned heads, princes, and public persons of distinguished and eminent posts. It is the manner of showing that respect which is different. The man of fashion and of the world, expresses it in its fullest extent; but naturally, easily and without concern: Whereas, a man who is not used to keep good company,expresses it awkwardly; one sees that he is not used to it, and that it costs him a great deal ; but I never saw the worst bred man living, guilty of lolling, whistling, scratching his head, and such like indecencies, in company that he respected. In such companies therefore, the only point to be attended to is, to show that respect, which every body means to show, in an easy, unembarrassed, and graceful manner. This is what observation and experience must teach you.
In mixed companies, whoever is admitted to make part of them, is for the time at least, supposed to be upon a footing of equality with the rest; and, consequently, as there is no one principal object of awe and respect, people are apt to take a greater latitude in their behaviour, and to be less upon their guard; and so they may, provided it be within certain bounds, which are, upon no occasion, to be transgressed. But upon these
occasions, though no one is entitled to distinguished marks of respect, every one claims, and very justly, every mark of civility and good breeding. Ease is allowed, but carelessness and negligence are strictly forbidden. If a man accosts you, and talks to you ever so dully or frivolously, it is worse than rudeness, is brutality, to show him by a manifest inattention to what he says, that you think him a fool, or a blockhead, and not worth hearing. It is much more so with regard to women, who, of whatever rank they are, are entitled, in consideration of their sex, not only to an attentive, but an officious good breeding from men. Their little wants, likings, dislikes, preferences,antipathies and fancies, must be officiously attended to, and if possible, guessed at and anticipated, by a wellbred man. You must never usurp to yourself those conveniences and gratifications which are of common right, such as the best places, the best dishes, &c. but on the contrary, always decline them yourself and offer them to others, who in their turns will offer them to you; so that upon the whole, you will in your turn, enjoy your share of the common right. It would be endless for me to enumerate all the particular circumstances, in which a wellbred man shows his good breeding, in good compa ny; and it would be injurious to you to suppose, that your own good sense will not point them out to you; and then your own good nature will recommend, and your self interest enforce the practice.
There is a third sort of good breeding, in which people are the most apt to fail, from a very mistaken notion, that they cannot fail at all. I mean with regard to one's most familiar friends and acquaintances,or those who really are our inferiors; and there, undoubtedly, a greater degree of ease is not only allowable, but proper, and contributes much to the comforts of a private social life. But ease and freedom have their bounds, which must by no means be violated. A certain degree of negligence and carelessness becomes injurious and insulting, from the real or supposed inferiority of the persons; and that delightful liberty of conversation, among a few friends, is soon destroyed as lib
erty often has been, by being carried to licentiousness, But example explains things best; and I will put a pretty strong case. Suppose you and me alone together; I believe you will allow, that I have as good a right to unlimited freedom in your company, as either you or 1 can possibly have in any other; and I am apt to believe, too, that you would indulge me in that freedom as far as any body would. But notwithstanding this, do you imagine that I should think there were no bounds to that freedom? I assure you I should not think so; and I take myself to be as much tied down, by a certain degree of good manners to you, as by other degrees of them to other people. The most familiar and intimate habitudes, connexions, and friendships, require a degree of good breeding, both to preserve and cement them. The best of us have our bad sides; and it is as imprudent as it is ill bred, to exhibit them. I shall not use ceremony with you; it would be misplaced between us; but I shall certainly observe that degree of good breeding with you, which is, in the first place, decent, and which, I am sure, is absolutely necessary, to make us like one another's company long.
XXII-Address to a young Student.—KNOX.
YOUR parents have watched over your helpless infancy, and conducted you, with many a pang, to an age at which your mind is capable of manly improvement. Their solicitude still continues, and no trouble nor expense is spared, in giving you all the instructions and accomplishments which may enable you to act your part in life, as a man of polished sense and comfirmed virtue. You have, then, already contracted a great debt of gratitude to them. You can pay it by no other method, but by using properly the advantages which their goodness has afforded you.
If your own endeavors are deficient, it is in vain that you have tutors, book, and all the external appa ratus of literary pursuits. You must love learning, if you would possess it. In order to love it, you must feel its delights; in order to feel its delights, you must apply to it, however irksome at first, closely, constantly,
and for a considerable time. If you have resolution enough to do this, you cannot but love learning; for the mind always loves that to which it has been long, steadily and voluntarily attached. Habits are formed, which render what was at first disagreeable, not only pleasant but necessary.
Pleasant, indeed, are all the paths which lead to polite and elegant literature. Yours then, is surely a lot particularly happy. Your education is of such a sort, that its principal scope is, to prepare you to receive a refined pleasure during your life. Elegance, or delicacy of taste, is one of the first objects of classical discipline; and it is this fine quality, which opens a new world to the scholar's view. Elegance of taste has a connexion with many virtues, and all of them virtues of the most amiable kind. It tends to render you, at once, good and agreeable. You must, therefore, be an enemy to your own enjoyment, if you enter on the discipline which leads to the attainment of a classical and liberal education, with reluctance. Value duly the opportunities you enjoy, and which are denied to thousands of your fellow creatures.
Without exemplary diligence you will make but a contemptible proficiency. You may,indeed,pass through the forms of schools and universities; but you will bring nothing away from them,of real value. The proper sort and degree of diligence, you cannot possess, but by the efforts of your own resolution. Your instructor may indeed confine you within the walls of a school, a certain number of hours. He may place books before you, and compel you to fix your eyes upon them; but no authority can chain down your mind. Your thoughts will escape from every external restraint, and, amidst the most serious lectures, may be ranging in the wild pursuits of trifles and vice. Rules, restraints, commands and punishments, may, indeed, assist in strengthening your resolution; but, without your own voluntary choice, your diligence will not often conduce to your pleasure and advantage. Though this truth is obvious, yet it seems to be a secret to those parents, who expect to find their son's improvement increase, in proportion
to the number of tutors, and external assistance which their opulence has enabled them to provide. These assistances, indeed, are sometimes afforded, chiefly, that the young heir to a title or estate may indulge himself in idleness and nominal pleasures. The lesson is construed to him, and the exercise written for him, by the private tutor, while the hapless youth is engaged in some ruinous pleasure, which,at the same time, prevents him from learning any thing desirable, and leads to the formation of destructive habits, which can seldom be removed.
But the principle obstacle to your improvement at school, especially if you are too plentifully supplied with money,is a perverse ambition of being distinguished as a boy of spirit, in mischievous pranks, in neglecting the tasks and lessons, and for every vice and irregularity which the puerile age can admit. Yo will have sense enough, I hope, to discover, beneath the mask of gaiety and good nature, that malignant spirit of detraction, which endeavors to render the boy who applies to books, and to all the duties and proper business of the school, ridiculous. You will see, by the light of your reason, that the ridicule is misapplied. You will dis. cover, that the boys who have recourse to ridicule, are, for the most part, stupid, unfeeling, ignorant and vicious. Their noisy folly, their bold confidence, their contempt of learning, and their defiance of authority, are for the most part, the genuine effects of hardened insensibility. Let not their insults and ill treatment dispirit you. If you yield to them, with a tame and abject submission, they will not fail to triumph over you with additional insolence. Display a fortitude in your pursuits, equal in degree to the obstinacy in which they persist in theirs. Your fortitude will soon overcome theirs, which is, indeed, seldom any thing more than the audacity of a bully. Indeed, you cannot go through a school with ease to yourself, and with success, without a considerable share of courage. I do not mean that sort of courage which leads to battles and contentions, but which enables you to have a will of your own, and to pursue what is right, amidst all the persecutions of