« PreviousContinue »
bent to do acceptable things from a delight he takes in them merely as such; and the affectation of that character is what constitutes a fop. Under these leaders one may draw up all those who make any manner of figure, except in dumb show. A rational and select conversation is composed of persons who have the talent of pleasing with delicacy of sentiments flowing from the habitual chastity of thought; but mixed company is frequently made up of pretenders to mirth, and is usually pestered with constrained, obscene, and painful witticisms. Now and then you meet with a man so exactly formed for pleasing that it is no matter what he is doing or saying-that is to say, that there need be no manner of importance in it to make him gain upon everybody who hears or beholds him. This felicity is not the gift of nature only, but must be attended with happy circumstances, which add a dignity to the familiar behavior which distinguishes him whom we call an agreeable man. It is from this that everybody loves and esteems Polycarpus. He is in the vigor of his age and the gayety of life, but has passed through very conspicuous scenes in it; though no soldier, he has shared the danger, and acted with great gallantry and generosity, on a decisive day of battle. To have those qualities which only make other men conspicuous in the world as it were supernumerary to him, is a circumstance which gives weight to his most indifferent actions; for as a known credit is ready cash to a trader, so is acknowledged merit immediate distinction, and serves in the place of equipage, to a gentleman. This renders Polycarpus graceful in mirth, important in business, and regarded with love in every ordinary occurrence. But not to dwell upon characters which have such particular recommendations to our hearts, let us turn our thoughts rather to the methods of pleasing which must carry men through the world who cannot pretend to such advantages. Falling in with the particular humor or manner of one above you, abstracted from the general rules of good behavior, is the life of a slave. A parasite differs in nothing from the meanest servant but that the footman hires himself for bodily labor, subjected to go and come at the will of his master, but the other gives up his very soul: he is prostituted to speak, and professes to think, after the mode of him whom he courts. This servi
tude to a patron, in an honest nature, would be more grievous than that of wearing his livery; therefore we shall speak of those methods only which are worthy and ingenuous.
The happy talent of pleasing either those above you or below you seems to be wholly owing to the opinion they have of your sincerity. This quality is to attend the agree able man in all the actions of his life; and I think there need be no more said in honor of it than that it is what forces the approbation even of your opponents. The guilty man has an honor for the judge who, with justice, pronounces against him the sentence of death itself. The author of the sentence at the head of this paper was an excellent judge of human life, and passed his own in company the most agreeable that ever was in the world. Augustus lived amongst his friends as if he had his fortune to make in his own court. Candor and affability, accompanied with as much power as ever mortal was vested with, were what made him in the utmost manner agreeable among a set of admirable men, who had thoughts too high for ambition, and views too large to be gratified by what he could give them in the disposal of an empire, without the pleasures of their mutual conversation. A certain unanimity of taste and judgment, which is natural to all of the same order in the species, was the band of this society; and the emperor assumed no figure in it but what he thought was his due, from his private talents and qualifications, as they contributed to advance the pleasures and sentiments of the company.
Cunning people, hypocrites, all who are but half virtuous or half wise, are incapable of tasting the refined pleasure of such an equal company as could wholly exclude the regard of fortune in their conversations. Horace, in the discourse from whence I take the hint of the present specu lation, lays down excellent rules for conduct in conversation with men of power; but he speaks it with an air of one who had no need of such an application for anything which related to himself. It shows he understood what it was to be a skillful courtier, by just admonitions against importunity, and showing how forcible it was to speak modestly of your own wants. There is indeed something so shameless in taking all opportunities to speak of your own
affairs that he who is guilty of it towards him on whom he depends, fares like the beggar who exposes his sores, which, instead of moving compassion, makes the man he begs of turn away from the object.
I cannot tell what is become of him, but I remember about sixteen years ago an honest fellow who so justly understood how disagreeable the mention or appearance of his wants would make him that I have often reflected upon Lim as a counterpart of Irus, whom I have formerly mentioned. This man, whom I have missed for some years in my walks, and have heard was some way employed about the army, made it a maxim that good wigs, delicate linen, and a cheerful air, were to a poor dependent the same that working tools are to a poor artificer. It was no small entertainment to me, who knew his circumstances, to see him, who had fasted two days, attribute the thinness they told him of to the violence of some gallantries he had lately been guilty of. The skillful dissembler carried this on with the utmost address; and if any suspected his affairs were narrow, it was attributed to indulging himself in some fashionable vice rather than an irreproachable poverty, which saved his credit with those on whom he depended.
The main art is to be as little troublesome as you can, and make all you hope for come rather as a favor from your patron than claim from you. But I am here prating of what is the method of pleasing so as to succeed in the world, when there are crowds who have-in city, town, court, and country-arrived to considerable acquisitions, and yet seem incapable of acting in any constant tenor of life, but have gone on from one successful error to another: therefore I think I may shorten this inquiry after the method of pleasing, and as the old beau said to his son, once for all, "Pray, Jack, be a fine gentleman," so may I to my reader abridge my instructions and finish the art of pleasing in a word, "Be rich."
ODDLY humorous is the characteristic note of the personality of this author, as well as of his writings. There is nothing quite like them, or to be classed with them, in our own or in any other literature; although he may be said to have followed Rabelais, he is so distinctly himself that no one can be said to have followed him. Indeed, those who have accused him of plagiarism, not without justice perhaps, have been obliged to admit that he has so invested his pickings with the Shandean flavor that their own authors would not recognize them.
Without writing a single book which may be called great, either in plot or in style, he has given to the world a group of characters which have become as personal acquaintances to thousands who have never read his writings. 'My Uncle Toby,' Mr. and Mrs. Shandy,' 'The Widow Wadman,' Yorick,' Corporal Trim,' and Dr. Slop,' are familiar in our mouths as household words, and many of their sayings and expressions have become a part of the language.
Laurence Sterne was born at Clonmel, Ireland, on Nov. 24, 1713. His father was an officer in the 34th Regiment, and the child was dragged from barrack to transport, from Ireland to England, knocking about in this way until in 1722 he was sent to a school in Halifax, Yorkshire. Here be continued till 1731, when his father died. While there, he tells us, the schoolmaster "had the ceiling of the schoolroom new whitewashed; the ladder remained there; I one unlucky day mounted it, and wrote with a brush in large capital letters, LAU. STERNE,' for which the usher severely whipped me. My master was very much hurt at this, and said before me that never should that name be effaced, for I was a boy of genius, and he was sure that I should come to preferment. This expression made me forget the stripes I had received."
In 1732 he went to the University of Cambridge, and in 1736 he received the degree of B.A. After this he went to his uncle, Dr. Jaques Sterne, at York, where he made the acquaintance of the lady whom he married in 1741. After his marriage his uncle procured him the prebendary of York. By his wife's means he later acquired the living of Stillington. "I had then very good health,' "Books, painting, fiddling, and shooting were my amuse
Leaving his family at York, he went up to London in 1761 to publish the first two volumes of 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent. The success of these was enough to turn his head, and, fortune still favoring him, he was the same year presented with the curacy of Coxwold, a sweet retirement." Here he resided for some years at Shandy Hall in the village, and here also he finished his Tristram Shandy' and other works. In 1762 he went to France, the outcome of his journey thither being the 'Sentimental Journey,'