Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

selves with a reasonable mind, an equable temper, and a meek and quiet spirit ?

Every animal is endowed by Providence with the peculiar powers adapted to its nature and its wants; while none, except the humán, by grafting art on natural sagacity, injures or mars the gift. Spoilt women, who fancy there is something more picquant and alluring in the mutable graces of caprice than in the monotonous smoothness of an even temper; and who also having heard much, as was observed before, about their “ amiable weakness,” learn to look about them for the best succedaneum to strength, the supposed absence of which they sometimes endeavour to supply by artifice. By this engine the weakest woman frequently furnishes the converse to the famous reply of the French minister, who, when he was accused of governing the mind of that feeble queen, Mary de Medicis, by sorcery, replied, “ that the only sorcery he had used was that influence which strong minds naturally have over weak ones.”

But though it be fair so to study the tempers, defects, and weaknesses of others, as to convert our knowledge of them to the promotion of their benefit and our own; and though it be making a lawful use of our penetration to avail ourselves of the faults of others for “their good to edification;" yet all deviations from the straight line of truth and simplicity; every plot insidiously to turn influence to unfair account; all contrivances to extort from a bribed complaisance what reason and justice would refuse to our wishes; these are

some of the operations of that lowest and most despicable engine, selfish cunning, by which little minds sometimes govern great ones.

And, unfortunately, women from their natural desire to please, and from their sometimes doubting by what means this grand end may be best effected, are in more danger of being led into dissimulation than men; for dissimulation is the result of weakness; it is the refuge of doubt and distrust, rather than of conscious strength, the dangers of which lie another way. Frankness, truth, and simplicity, therefore, as they are inexpressibly charming, so are they peculiarly commendable in women; and nobly evince, that while the possessors of them wish to please, (and why should they not wish it?) they disdain to have recourse to any thing but what is fair, and just, and honourable to effect it; that they scorn to attain the most desired end by any but the most lawful means. The beauty of simplicity is, indeed, so intimately felt, and generally acknowledged by all who have a true taste for personal, moral, or intellectual beauty, that women of the deepest dissimulation often find their account in assuming an exterior the most foreign to their character, and exhibiting the most engaging naïveté. It is curious to see how much art they put in practice in order to appear natural; and the deep design which is set at work to display simplicity. And, indeed, this feigned simplicity is the most mischievous, because the most engaging of all the Proteus forms which Artifice can put on.

For the most free and bold

sentiments have been sometimes hazarded with fatal success under this unsuspected mask. And an innocent, quiet, indolent, artless manner, has been adopted as the most refined and successful accompaniment of sentiments, ideas, and designs, neither artless, quiet, nor innocent.

309

CHAP. XVII.

ON DISSIPATION, AND THE MODERN HABITS OF

FASHIONABLE LIFE.

PERHAPS the interests of true friendship, elegant conversation, mental improvement, social pleasure, maternal duty, and conjugal comfort, never received such a blow as when Fashion issued out that arbitrary and universal decree, that every body must be acquainted with every body; together with that consequent, authoritative, but rather inconvenient, clause, that every body must also go every where every night. The implicit and devout obedience paid to this law is incompatible with the very being of friendship; for as the circle of acquaintance expands, and it will be continually expanding, the affections will be beaten out into such thin laminæ as to leave little solidity remaining. The heart, which is continually exhausting itself in professions, grows cold and hard. The feelings of kindness diminish in proportion as the expression of it becomes more diffuse and indiscriminate. The very traces of a simplicity and godly sincerity,” in a delicate female, wear away imperceptibly by constant collision with the world at large. And, perhaps, no woman takes so little interest in the happiness of her real friends, as she whose affections are incessantly evaporating in universal civilities; as she who is saying fond and flattering things at random to a circle of five hundred people every night.

The decline and fall of animated and instructive conversation has been in a good measure effected by this barbarous project of assembling en masse. An excellent prelate *, with whose friendship the author was long honoured, and who himself excelled in the art of conversation, used to remark, that a few years had brought about a great revolution in the manners of society; that it used to be the custom, previously to going into company, to think that something was to be communicated or received, taught or learnt; that the powers of the understanding were expected to be brought into exercise, and that it was, therefore, necessary, to quicken the mind by reading and thinking, for the share the individual might be expected to take in the general discourse; but that now, knowledge, and taste, and wit, and erudition, seemed to be scarcely considered as necessary materials to be brought into the pleasurable commerce of the world; because now there was little chance of turning them to much account; and, therefore, he who possessed them, and he who possessed them not, were nearly on a footing.

It is obvious, also, that multitudinous assemblies are so little favourable to that cheerfulness which it should seem to be their very end to promote, that if there were any chemical process by which the quantum of spirits, animal or intellectual, could be ascertained, the diminution would be found to

* The late Bishop Horne.

« AnteriorContinuar »