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been hearers or witnesses of it. But this, indeed, is mimickry on its good behaviour, and in its holiday garb; on common occasions, and in its working dress, caricature and exaggeration are its meat and drink, the spirit of detraction is its soul, and its object, mischievous ridicule.
A talent for mimickry is a very dangerous snare; and to possess and not to use it is one of the most enviable triumphs of good principle. There is scarcely any talent whose exertion gives so much pleasure. It not only gratifies the vanity of the mimick, but gratifies that of the hearers; for a good piece of mimickry is a sort of conundrum or charade; it is a something to exercise one's ingenuity in guessing, and happy those who can first exclaim, 66 Oh! how like! I never saw such a likeness!
And how difficult it is, when we are in company with professed mimicks, to abstain from tempting them to do what one considers to be wrong, by asking them to give a specimen of their powers. Departed public characters may be considered as fair subjects for this power to be exercised upon; and were the mimick to stop there, it might be narrow and absurd to disapprove the exhibition. But the permitted use of a thing often leads to its abuse; the mimick would be tempted to go on, and exhibit the living as well as the dead; private persons would succeed, in the mimick's magic lantern, to public characters; the audience, too much amused to reprove, would encourage, by their laughter and their praise, to further daring, till acquaintances, friends, and, probably, relations, would be made to join in this new 66 dance of death;" for such exhibitions may wel be said to consist of the wounded and the maimed; and the sweet confidences, the holy trusts of private and domestic life, are broken up and destroyed; for what must appear to the hearers and spectators, on reflection, a heartless and an ungenerous enjoyment.
I have said on reflection, for there is such a charm about perfect imitations of this nature, it is only when the exhibition is over,
that we can be alive to the real meanness of the display, and to the self-blame to which it ought to lead.
It is mean, because it is treacherous; and it is treacherous, because such displays can only take place in the absence and without the knowledge of the persons exhibited; as such exhibitions would not only be uncalled for in their presence, but the mimick, if called upon, would not dare to comply.
That exertion of talent which, in order to be safe, must depend on the secresy of those who witness it, because, if known to the persons on whom it is exerted, it might call forth in them pain and mortification, together with lasting hatred to the mimick, if a woman, and personal chastisement to the offender, if a man, can not be beheld, on reflection, with aught but serious disapproval, by a religious, or even by a merely moral being. But whence is it that most, if not all, persons are more offended and hurt at being taken off, as it is called, than by be
ing unjustly spoken of, severely censured, or even made the subjects of defamation? because such is the weakness of human nature, that it shrinks more from personal ridicule, and from what seems to call in question our powers to please, in looks, voice, manner and gesture, than from any imputed want of morals and conduct. Hence it is that mimicks, though often the most courted, are the most dreaded of companions, and though the most amusing of our acquaintance, are the most distrusted and disliked also, and that they are considered as the most formidable detractors in society, because one can scarcely help admitting that they are the most entertaining.
And if it be permitted to any one to rejoice in witnessing the administration of retributive justice, it must be when notorious and unsparing mimicks are mimicked in their turn, and held up to the laughter and the ridicule, which they have so often called forth on others. But, for this retribution to be complete, it should be witnessed by the offenders themselves; and then, perhaps, they too might be taught to remember the precept which they had hitherto despised—" Do unto others what you would that others should do unto you.” If I should be asked whether I do not believe, that mimickry may take place where there is neither general nor particular competition, I must answer, yes; because actors, singers, preachers, orators, are often mimicked in society, with whom unprofessional mimicks can come neither into general nor particular competition;
but the case is different when the mimickry is employed on private individuals; for then, I doubt not, that the mimick exerts his power on particular persons, and is asked so to employ them from a desire to lower them, and see them lowered, existing in himself, or those who require him to exert his talent for their amusement.
It is a remarkable fact, that I have never known a single mimick who, from some defect in articulation, some peculiar tone of voice, or some provincial yet characteristic habit of speaking, was not liable to be mimicked even with more than common facility; and I have been forcibly reminded, on such occasions, of the old proverb, “ Those whose heads are made of glass, should be careful how they throw stones.'
Before I quit this subject, I must venture to address some words of friendly admonition to the young of both sexes; especially those in whom the tendency to satirize and ridicule is not easily kept within due bounds.
A satirical detracting spirit is a worldly spirit; and in nothing does it show itself more than in the critical spirit with which some who go regularly to their place of worship, listen to what they hear there.
Public performers of all descriptions may be just objects of criticism to those who frequent public places; and at public meetings of various kinds, the speakers may be commented upon, if judged with candour, and with a willingness to approve, and a reluctance to condemn. But
it is not with a critical spirit that we are to enter the house of worship.
It is desirable, undoubtedly, that all teachers of the word should be able to give it in a voice and manner calculated to allure the attention, and gratify the taste; but there is a gift far beyond them in value: namely, that of heartfelt piety, and a power of uttering “the deep things of God,” even though it be in “ weakness, fear, and trembling,' and those who enter a place of worship in a proper frame of mind, look not at the manner, because they become absorbed in the matter; nor will such be disposed to congregate after the church service is over, and the meeting broken up, with those who are of a mocking spirit, and who take an unworthy pleasure in pointing out the defects of the preachers, while some of them, perhaps, add offensive mimickry to their illfelt criticism.
This sort of mimickry, that of preachers of the gospel, is by far the most offensive; for it not only is casting ridicule upon holy things, but it shows in what an improper state of mind the listeners were, when uniting, apparently, with their fellow-christians in religious duties; and proves that they were marking for their prey the defects of pious teachers, whom they afterwards accosted, probably, with seeming love and reverence, but from whom they turned away with a proud consciousness how well they had learnt to play them off, at no very distant moment, for the amusement of others, and the gratification of their own vanity.