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own. Nor is this equality only necessary to enable men of exalted genius and extensive knowledge to taste the sublimer pleasures, of communicating their refined ideas to each other, but is likewise necessary to the inferior happiness of every subordinate degree of society down to the lowest.'
For instance, we will suppose a conversation between Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and three dancing masters. It will be acknowledged, I believe, that the heel-sophists would be as little pleased with the company of the philosophers, as the philosophers with theirs. It would be greatly therefore, for the improvement and happiness of conversation, if society could be formed on this equality; but as men are not ranked in this world by the different degrees of their understanding, but by other methods, and consequently all degrees of understanding often meet in the same class, and must frequently converse together, the impossibility of accomplishing any such Utopian scheme very plainly appears. Here therefore is a visible but unavoidable imperfection in society itself.
But as we have laid it down as a fundamental that the essence of good breeding is, to contribute as much as possible to the ease and happiness of mankind, so it will be the business of our well
bred man to endeavour to lessen this imperfection to his utmost, and to bring society as near to a level at least as he is able.
Now there are but two ways to compass this, viz. by raising the lower, and by lowering what is higher.
Let us suppose then that the very unequal company I have before mentioned met, the former of these is apparently impracticable. Let Socrates, for instance, institute a discourse on the nature of the soul, or Plato reason on the native beauty of virtue, and Aristotle on his occult qualities. What must become of our dancing masters? Would they not stare at one another with surprise? and most probably at our philosophers with contempt? Would they have any pleasure in such society? Or would they not rather wish themselves in a dancing school, or a green-room at the playhouse? What, therefore, have our philosophers to do, but to lower themselves to those who cannot rise to them?
And surely there are subjects on which both can converse. Has not Socrates heard of harmony? Has not Plato, who draws virtue in the person of a fine woman, any idea of the gracefulness of attitude? and has not Aristotle himself written a book on motion? In short, to be
a little serious, there are many topics on which they can at least be intelligible to each other.
How absurd then must appear the conduct of Cenodoxus, who having had the advantage of a liberal education, and having made a pretty good progress in literature, is constantly advancing learned subjects in common conversation. He talks of the classics before the ladies; and of Greek criticisms among fine gentlemen. What is this less than an insult on the company, over whom he thus affects a superiority, and whose time he sacrifices to his vanity?
Widely different is the amiable conduct of Sophronius, who, though he exceeds the former in knowledge, can submit to discourse on the most trivial matters, rather than introduce such as his company are utter strangers to. He can talk of fashions and diversions, among the ladies; nay, can even condescend to horses and dogs with country squires. This gentleman, who is equal to dispute on the highest and abstrusest points, can likewise talk on a fair or a horse race; nor had ever any one, who was not himself a man of learning, the least reason to conceive the vast knowledge of Sophronius, unless from the report of others.
Let us compare these together. Cenodoxus
proposes the satisfaction of his own pride from the admiration of others; Sophronius thinks of nothing but their amusement. In the company of Cenodoxus, every one is rendered uneasy, laments his own want of knowledge, and longs for the end of the dull assembly: With Sophronius all are pleased, and contented with themselves in their knowledge of matters which they find worthy the consideration of every man of sense. Admiration is involuntarily paid to the former; to the latter it is given joyfully. The former receives it with envy and hatred; the latter enjoys it as the sweet fruit of good will. The former is shunned, the latter courted by all.
This behaviour of Cenodoxus may in 'some measure account for an observation we must have frequent occasion to make: that the conversation of men of very moderate capacities is often preferred to that with men of superior talents, in which the world act more wisely than at first they may seem; for besides that back. wardness in mankind to give their admiration, what can be duller or more void of pleasure than discourses on subjects above our comprehension ! It is like listening to an unknown language; and if such company is ever desired by us, it is a sacrifice to our vanity, which imposes on us to believe that we may by these means
raise the general opinion of our parts and knowledge; and not from that cheerful delight which is the natural result of agreeable conversation.
There is another very common fault, equally destructive of this delight, by much the same means, though it is far from owing its original to any real superiority of parts and knowledge. This is discoursing on the mysteries of a particular profession, to which all the rest of the company, except one or two, are utter strangers. Lawyers are generally guilty of this fault, as they are more confined to the conversation of one another; and I have known a very agreeable company spoilt, where there have been two lawyers present, who have seemed rather to think themselves in a court of justice, than in a mixed assembly of persons met only for the entertainment of each other.
A well bred man, therefore, will not take more of the discourse than falls to his share, nor in this will he shew any violent impetuosity of temper, or exert any loudness of voice, even in arguing; for the information of the company and the conviction of his antagonist, are to be his apparent motives, not the indulgence of his own pride, or an ambitious desire of victory; which, if a wise man should entertain, he will be sure to conceal, with his utmost endeavour; since