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No subject requires to be treated more delicately than praise, especially when it is given to a person present. Flattery is so nauseous to a liberal spirit, that even when praise is merited, it is disagreeable at least to unconcerned hearers, if it appear in a garb which adulation commonly assumes. For this reason, an encomium or compliment never succeeds so well as when it is indirect. It then appears to escape the speaker unawares, at a time that he seems to have no intention to commend. Of this kind the following story will serve as an example: “ A gentleman “ who had an employment bestowed on him, without " so much as being known to his benefactor, waited
upon the great man who was so generous, and was beginning to say, he was infinitely obliged Not " at all, says the patron, turning from him to an“other: Had I known a more deserving man in Eng"land, he should not have had it *.” Here the apparent intention of the minister was only to excuse the person on whom the favour had been conferred, the trouble of making an acknowledgment, by assuring him that it had not been given him from personal attachment or partiality. But whilst he appears intending only to say this, he says what implies the
subject, “ Souvenez-vous que rien n'est plus opposé à la veritable "delicatesse que d'exprimer trop les choses, et que le grand art “ consiste à ne pas tout dire sur certain sujets; à glisser dessus plû. “ tot que d'y appuyer; en un mot, à en laisser penser aux autres plus que l'on n'en dit.” Maniere de bien penser, &c.
* Tatler, No. 17.
The extensive usefulness of perspicuity.
greatest praise, and, as it were, accidentally betrays the high opinion he entertained of the other's merit. If he had said directly, “ You are the most deserving
man that I know in England,” the answer, though implying no more than what he did say, would have been not only indelicate, but intolerable. On so slight a turn in the expression it frequently depends, whether the same sentiment shall appear delicate or gross, complimental or affronting.
SOMETIMES praise is very successfully and very delicately conveyed, under an appearance of chagrin. This constitutes the merit of that celebrated thought of Boileau : “ To imagine in such a warlike age,
which “ abounds in Achileses, that we can write verses as
easily as they take towns * !” The poet seems only venting his complaints against the unreasonable expectations of some persons, and at the same time discovers, as by chance, the highest admiration of his monarch and the heroes who served him, by suggesting the incredible rapidity of the success with which their arms were crowned.
SOMETIMES also commendation will be couched with ' great delicacy under an air of reproach. An example of this I shall give from the paper lately quoted :
My Lord, said the Duke of B--m, after his li
* Et dans ce tems guerrier et fecond en Achilles Croit
que l'on fait les vers, comme l'on prend les villes.
bertine way, to the Earl of 0---y, you will certainly be damn'd. How, my Lord, said the Earl, with some warmth. Nay, replied the Duke, there's no help for it, for it is positively said, Cursed is be " of whom all men speak well t."
A still stronger example in this way we have from the Drapier, who, speaking to Lord Molesworth of the seditious expressions of which he had himself been accused, says, “ I “ have witnesses ready to depose, that your Lordship “ hath said and writ fifty times worse, and what is " still an aggravation, with infinitely more wit and
learning, and stronger arguments : So that as poli“tics run, I do not know a person of more exception"able principles than yourself: And if ever I shall " be discovered, I think you will be bound in honour " to pay my fine and support me in prison, or else I may chance to inform against you by way of re
I SHALL produce one other instance from the same hand, of an indirect, but successful manner of praising, by seeming to invert the course of the obligation, and to represent the person obliging as the person obliged. Swift, in a letter to the Archbishop of Dublin, speaking of Mr Harley, then Lord High Treasurer, afterwards Earl of Oxford, by whose means the Irish clergy had obtained from the queen, the grant of the first fruits and tenths, says, “ I told him, that
The extensive usefulness of perspicuity.
my part, I thought he was obliged to the clergy “ of Ireland, for giving him an occasion of gratifying “ the pleasure he took in doing good to the church I."
It may be observed, that delicacy requires indirectness of manner no less in censure than in praise. If the one, when open and direct, is liable to be branded with the name of flattery, the other is no less exposed to the opprobrious appellation of abuse, both alike, though in different ways, offensive to personsof taste and breeding. I shall give, from the work last quoted, a specimen (I cannot say) of great delicacy in stigmatising, but at least of such an indirect manner as is sufficient to screen the author from the imputation of downright rudeness.
I hear you are “ like to be the sole opposer of the bank; and you “ will certainly miscarry, because it would prove a
most perfidious thing. Bankrupts are always for
setting up banks; how then can you think a bank “ will fail of a majority in both houses *?" It must be owned that the veil here is extremely thin, too thin to be altogether decent, and serves only to save from the imputation of scurrility, a very severe reproach. It is the manner which constitutes one principal distinction between the libeller and the satirist. I shall give one instance more of this kind from another work of the same author. " To smooth the way for the “ return of popery in Queen Mary's time, the grantees
" were confirmed by the pope in the possession of the “abbey-lands. But the bishop tells us, that this " confirmation was fraudulent and invalid. I shall “ believe it to be so, although I happen to read it in " his Lordship’s history t.” Thus he insinuates, or signifies by implication, that his Lordship’s history is full of lies. Now, from all the specimens I have exhibited, it will, I suppose, sufficiently appear to any person of common understanding, that the obscurity required by delicacy, either in blaming or in commending, is totally distinct in kind from obscurity of expression, with which none of the examples above quoted is in the smallest degree chargeable.
The illustrations I have given on this topic will contribute in some measure to explain the obscurity that is requisite in allegories, apologues, parables, and enigmas. In all these sorts of composition, there are two senses plainly intended, the literal and the figurative; the language is solely the sign of literal sense, , and the literal sense is the sign of the figurative. Perspicuity in the style, which exhibits only the literal sense, is so far from being to be dispensed with here, that it is even more requisite in this kind of composition than in any other. Accordingly, you will perhaps nowhere find more perfect models both of simplicity and of perspicuity of style, than in the parables of
+ Preface to the Bishop of Sarum's Introduction to the 3d volume of his History of the Reformation.