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the reader to discover them. At least I am persuaded, that if the rules I have now laid down were strictly observed, our conversation would be more perfect, and the pleasure resulting from it purer and more unsullied than it is at present.
But I must not dismiss this subject without some animadversions on a particular species of pleasantry, which though I am far from being desirous of banishing from conversation, requires most certainly some reins to govern, and some rule to direct it. The reader may perhaps guess I mean raillery, to which I may apply the fable of the lap dog and the ass; for while in some hands it diverts and delights us with its dexterity and gentleness; in others it paws, dawbs, offends, and hurts.
The end of conversation being the happiness of mankind, and the chief means to procure their delight and pleasure; it follows, I think, that nothing can conduce to this end, which tends to make a man uneasy and dissatisfied with himself, or which exposes him to the scorn and contempt of others. I recommend to my well bred man, who aims at raillery, the excellent character given of Horace by Persuis.
Omne vafer vitium ridenti Flaccus amico
Callidus excusso populam suspendere naso.
Yet could shrewd Horace, with disportive wit,
The raillery which is consistent with good breeding is a gentle animadversion on some foible, which while it raises a laugh in the rest of the company, does not put the person rallied out of countenance, or expose him to shame and contempt. On the contrary, the jest should be so delicate, that the object of it should be capable of joining in the mirth it occasions.
All great vices, therefore, misfortunes and notorious blemishes of mind or body, are improper subjects of raillery. Indeed a hint at such is an abuse and affront, is sure to give the person (unless he be shameless and abandoned) pain and uneasiness, and should be received with contempt instead of applause, by all the rest of the company.
Again, the nature and quality of the person are to be considered. As to the first, some men will not bear any kind of raillery. I remember a gentleman who declared " he never made a "jest, nor would ever take one." deed greatly recommend such a
I do not in
person for a
companion; but at the same time a well bred man, who is to consult the pleasure and happiness of the whole, is not at liberty to make any one present uneasy. By the quality I mean the sex, degree, profession, and circumstances; on which head I need not be very particular. With regard to the two former, all raillery on ladies and superiors should be extremely fine and gentle; and with respect to the latter, any of the rules I have laid dowu, most of which are to be applied to it, will afford sufficient caution.
Lastly, a consideration is to be had of the persons before whom we rally. A man will be justly uneasy, at being reminded of those railleries in one company, which he would very patiently bear the imputation of in another. Instances on this head are so obvious, that they need not be mentioned. In short, the whole doctrine of raillery is comprised in this famous line.
QUID, de QUOQUE viro, et cui dicas sæpe caveto. Be cautious wHAT you say, OF WHOM, and TO WHOM.
And now methinks, I hear some one cry out, that such reflections are, in effect, to exclude all raillery from conversation; and to confess the truth, it is a weapon from which many persons will do wisely in totally abstaining; for it does
the more mischief by how much the blunter it is. The sharpest wit, therefore, is only to be indulged the free use of it; for no more than a very slight touch is to be allowed, no hacking nor bruising, as if they were to hew a carcase for hounds, as Shakespeare phrases it.
Nor is it sufficient that it be sharp, it must be used likewise with the utmost tenderness and good nature; and as the nicest dexterity of a gladiator is shewn in being able to hit without cutting deep, so is this of our rallier, who is rather to tickle than wound.
The raillery, indeed, consists rather in playing on peccadillos, which however they may be censured by some, are not esteemed as really blemishes in a character in the company where they are made the subject of mirth. Or secondly, in pleasantly representing real good qualities in a false light of shame, and bantering them as ill ones. So generosity may be treated as prodigality, œconomy as avarice; true courage as fool-hardiness, and so of the rest.
Lastly in ridiculing men for vices and faults which they are known to be free from. Thus the cowardice of Argyle, the dullness of Chesterfield, the unpoliteness of Dodington, may be attacked without danger of offence; and thus Lyt
tleton may be censured for whatever vice or folly you may please to impute to him.
And however limited their bounds may appear to some; yet in skillful and witty hands, I have known raillery, thus confined, afford a very diverting as well as inoffensive entertainment to the company.
I shall conclude this Essay with these two observations which I think may be clearly deduced from what has been said.
First, that every person who indulges his ill nature or vanity, at the expence of others, and in introducing uneasiness, vexation and confusion into society, however exalted or high titled he may be, is thoroughly ill bred.
Secondly, that whoever, from the goodness of his disposition or understanding endeavours to the utmost of his power to cultivate the good humour and happiness of others; and to contribute to the ease and comfort of his acquaintance, however low in rank fortune may have placed him, or however clumsy he may be in his figure or demeanour, has in the truest sense of the word, a claim to good breeding.