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ERRORS IN CONVERSATION.
he must know that to lay open his vanity in public, is no less absurd than to lay open his bosom to an enemy, whose drawn sword is pointed against it; for every man hath a dagger in his hand, ready to stab the vanity of another, whenever he perceives it.
HAVING shewn in the former Essay that the pleasure of conversation must arise from the discourse being on subjects levelled to the capacity of the whole company; from being on such in which every person is equally interested; from every one being admitted to his share in the discourse; and lastly from carefully avoiding all noise, violence and impetuosity; it might seem proper to lay down some particular rules for the choice of those subjects which are most likely to conduce to the cheerful delights proposed from
this social communication.
But as such an at
tempt might appear absurd, from the infinite variety, and perhaps too dictatorial in its nature, I shall confine myself to those topics only which seem most foreign to this delight, and which are most likely to be accompanied with consequences rather tending to make society an evil than a good.
First, I shall mention that which I have hitherto only endeavoured to restrain within certain bounds, namely ́arguments; but which if they were entirely banished out of company, especially from mixed assemblies, and where ladies make part of the society, it would, I believe, promote their happiness: they have been sometimes attended with bloodshed, generally with hatred from the conquered party towards his victor, and scarce ever with conviction. Here I except jocose arguments, which often produce much mirth; and serious disputes between men of learning (when none but such are present) which tend to the propagation of knowledge and the edification of the company.
Secondly slander, which, however frequently used, or however savory to the palate of ill nature, is extremely pernicious. As it is often unjust, and highly injurious to the person slandered, and always dangerous, especially in large
and mixed companies; where sometimes an undesigned offence is given to an innocent relation or friend of such persons, who is thus exposed to shame and confusion, without having any right to resent the affront. Of this there have been very tragical instances; and I have myself seen some very ridiculous ones, but which have given great pain, as well to the person offended, as to him who was the innocent occasion of giving offence.
Thirdly, all general reflections on countries, religions, aud professions, which are always unjust. If these are ever tolerable, they are only from the persons who with some pleasantry ridicule their own country.
Fourthly, blasphemy, and irreverent mention of religion. I will not here debate what compliment a man pays to his own understanding, by the profession of infidelity: it is sufficient to my purpose, that he runs a risk of giving the cruelest offence to persons of a different temper. For if a loyalist would be greatly affronted by hearing any indecencies offered to the person of a temporal prince; how much more bitterly must a man, who sincerely believes in such a being as the Almighty, feel any insult or irreverence shewn to his name, his honour, or his institutions!
A fifth particular to be avoided is indecency.
We are not only to forbear repeating such words as would give an immediate affront to a lady of reputation; but must avoid raising any loose ideas tending to the offence of modesty. How inconsistent to good breeding it is to give pain and confusion to modest women is sufficiently apparent; all double entendres, and indecent jests, are therefore carefully be avoided before them. But suppose no ladies present, nothing can be meaner, and less productive of rational mirth than this loose conversation. Nor can I help observing, to the discredit of such merriment, that it is commonly the last resource of impotent wit, the weak strainings of the lowest, silliest, and dullest fellows in the world.
Sixthly, you are to avoid knowingly mentioning any thing which may revive in any person the remembrance of some past accident, or raise an uneasy reflection on a present misfortune, or corporal blemish. To maintain this rule nicely, perhaps requires great delicacy, but it is absolutely necessary to a well bred man. I have observed numberless breaches of it; many, I believe, proceeding from negligence and inadvertency. Yet I am afraid some may be imputed to a malicious desire of triumphing in our own superior happiness and perfections; now when it proceeds from
this motive, it is not easy to imagine any thing more criminal.
Under this head, I shall caution my well bred reader against a common fault, much of the same nature, which is to mention any particular quality as absolutely essential to either man or woman, and exploding all who want it. This renders every one uneasy who is in the least selfconscious of the defect. I have heard a boor of fashion declare in the presence of women remarkably plain, that beauty was the chief perfection of that sex; and an essential without which no woman was worth regarding. A certain method of putting all those in the room, who are but suspicious of their defect that way, out of
I shall mention but one fault more, which is, not paying a proper regard to the present temper of our company, or the occasion of their meeting, introducing a topic of conversation, by which as great an absurdity is sometimes committed, as it would be to sing a dirge at a wedding, or an epithalamium at a funeral.
Thus I have, I think, enumerated most of the principal errors, which we are apt to fall into in conversation; and though perhaps some particulars worthy of remark may have escaped me; yet an attention to what I have here said, may enable