« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
modest and meritorious rival into the shade. Nor shall I proceed to show how great a drawback is a noble sincerity in the com. merce of the world. The memorable scene between Gil Blas and the Archbishop of Toledo, is daily and nightly re-acted on the great stage of life. I cannot enter upon minute particulars, or touch upon all the numerous branches of my subject, without exceeding the limits I have proposed to myself in the present essay.
Perhaps a knowledge of the world, in the ordinary acceptation of the phrase, may mean nothing more than a knowledge of conventionalisms, or a familiarity with the forms and ceremonials of society. This, of course, is of easy acquisition when the mind is once bent
upon the task. The practice of the small proprieties of life to a congenial spirit, soon ceases to be a study; it rapidly becomes a mere habit, or an untroubled and unerring instinct. This is always the case when there is no sedentary labour by the midnight lamp to produce an ungainly stoop in the shoulders, and a conscious defect of grace and pliancy in the limbs; and when there is no abstract thought or poetic vision to dissipate the attention, and blind us to the trivial realities that are passing immediately around us. Some degree of vanity and a perfect self-possession are absolutely essential ; but high intellect is only an obstruction. Men whose heads are little better than a pin's, have rendered themselves extremely acceptable in well-dressed circles. There are some who seem born for the boudoir and the ball-room, while others are as little fitted for fashionable society, as a fish is for the open air and the dry land. They who are more familiar with books than with men, cannot look calm and pleased when their souls are inwardly perplexed. The almost venial hypocrisy of politeness, is the more criminal and disgusting in their judg. ment, on account of its difficulty to themselves and the provoking ease with which it appears to be adopted by others. The loquacity of the forward, the effeminate affectation of the foppish, and
the sententiousness of shallow gravity, excite a feeling of contempt and weariness that they have neither the skill nor the in. clination to conceal.
A recluse philosopher is anable to return a simple salutation without betraying his awkwardness and uneasiness to the quick ere of a man of the world. He exhibits a ladicrous mixture of humi. lity and pride. He is indignant at the assurance of others, and is mortified at his own timidity. He is vexed that he should suffer those whom he feels to be his inferiors to enjoy a temporary superiority. He is troubled that they should be able to trouble him, and ashamed that they should make him ashamed. Such a man, when he enters into society, brings all his pride, but leaves his vanity behind him. Pride allows our wounds to remain exposed, and makes them doubly irritable ; but vanity, as Sancho says of sleep, seems to cover a man all over as with a cloak. A contemplative spirit cannot concentrate its attention on minute and uninteresting ceremonials, and a sense of unfitness for society makes the most ordinary of its duties a painful task. There are some authors who would rather write a quarto volume in praise of woman, than hand a fashionable lady to her chair.
The foolish and formal conversation of polite life is naturally uninteresting to the retired scholar; but it would, perhaps, be less objectionable if he thought he could take a share in it with any degree of credit. He has not the feeling of calm and unmixed contempt; there is envy and irritation in his heart. He cannot despise his fellow-creatures, nor be wholly indifferent to their good opinion. Whatever he may think of their manners and conversation, his uneasiness evinces that he does not feel altogether above or independent of them. No man likes to seem unfit for the company he is in. At Rome every man would be a Roman.
Of the class of proud and sensitive men of thought, the poet Cowper was a striking example, and he has described their feelings with great truth and vivacity :
I pity bashful men, who feel the pain
The visit paid, with ecstacy we come
There is in this City of Palaces* more than one example of the unfitness of the literary character for general society. A particular friend of my own, who is fonder of the study than the drawingroom, when he enters a social circle in which there are faces not thoroughly familiar to him, is like a wanderer in a foreign scene. His strange blunders are often exceedingly offensive to the feelings and prejudices of those whom he is most desirous to oblige. He fails in exact proportion to his anxiety for success. If he were walking in his own garden or sitting in his own domestic circle, he could be as self-possessed and common-place a person as any in the world. He might remain for hours in a state of mental ease or inaction, and even whistle for want of thought ;" but the moment that he enters a new scene, and feels a little out of his element, his intellectual faculties commence a rapid chaotic dance. It is in vain that he attempts to control or guide a single thought ; the reason has no longer sovereign sway and masterdom. His brain resembles the state of a ship in the last extremity, when the sailors, laughing at all authority, leave everything to fate, and indulge themselves in a mad and melancholy merriment. In this state of temporary delirium, a man can hardly be thought responsible for his own actions. My friend, with all his defects, is so genuinely candid and kind-hearted, that he will excuse the liberty I am taking with his character, in using it as an illustration, and I know well that he will readily acknowledge the truth of the portrait. He will not be displeased should others also recognize it, for it forms an indirect apology that may set him right with many who may have imagined that he had intentionally offended them. I will even mention a few instances of his strange confusion and forgetfulness. When he was preparing to leave England for this country, he called at the India House for a ‘shipping order' for himself and family. He found himself suddenly in a crowd of gay young clerks, in whose presence he was somewhat abruptly questioned as to the number and names of his children. He had only three of those inestimable treasures ; but there was such an instantaneous anarchy in his brain, that he was obliged to confess he could not answer the question. Every one stared at him with astonishment, and set him down for a madman. He sneaked painfully out of the room, and had scarcely closed the door, when his memory was as clear and precise as ever. I shall venture upon another anecdote, equally characteristic. He received some time ago a pair of marriage tickets. He was eager to acknowledge the compliment, and pay his grateful respects to the young bride; but bad health, official duties, obliviousness, and a spirit of procrastination, all combined to occasion the postponement of his visit. He called at last, and experienced his usual stultification. In the presence of a number of visitors, all of whose eyes were intently fixed upon him, he observed that he was glad to see so many persons present, as it convinced him that the honeymoon was over, and that he had not called earlier than delicacy and custom permitted. He had forgotten that a whole year had slipped away since he had received his ticket! There was a general laugh, and the lady goodhumouredly sent for a fine strapping baby, as a still stronger proof that his
* Calcutta--where this article was written,
visit was perfectly well-timed. I cannot resist the temptation to add one more example of his occasional perplexities. He was acquainted with two brothers, of whom the one was a literary man and the other a merchant. The latter died, and a few months after that event, my friend met the survivor. He at once confounded the dead man with the living, and in the course of conversation embraced an opportunity to express his regret to the supposed merchant at the deplorably bad success of his poor brother's published poems, adding in the freedom and plenitude of his confidence, a candid opinion (which could not now, he observed, reach the ears of the person referred to, or give him a moment's pain) that in devoting himself to literature he had sadly mistaken the nature of his own powers. My unhappy friend had hardly let fall the last word of his unconscious jest, when a light flashed across his brain, and he saw his error.
The scene that ensued baffles all description. It would be difficult to say which of the two was the most severely vexed—the vain and irritable poetaster or the dreaming blunderer. I could easily multiply instances of my friend's excessive abstraction and laughable forgetfulness; but these are enough for my purpose. I will only add that he hardly ever addresses any person by his right name, and if suddenly called upon to introduce a friend to a strange circle, would be sure to make some extraordinary blunder, the absurdity of which would stare him in the face the moment after. He is sometimes so vexed by his almost incredible mistakes, that he vows in his despair he will never again attempt any intercourse with general society, however numerous or pressing may be the invitations of his friends. He knows too well, he says, that if any subject is especially unpleasing to his hearers, he is sure, by some horrible fatality, to bring it prominently forward ; and if he attempts a compliment, he is ruined for ever.
With the strongest ambition to be thought both sensible and good-natured, he often acts as if he were either a perfect idiot, or one of the most malicious of human beings.