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[“ PHILIP DORMER STANHOPE, Earl of CHESTERFIELD was an elegant author, though his only popular compositions are his Letters to his Son, a work containing much excellent advice for the cultivation of the mind and improvement of the external worldly character, but greatly deficient in the higher points of morality. Lord Chesterfield was an able politician and diplomatist, and an eloquent parliamentary debater. The celebrated Letters to his Son' were not intended for publication, and did not appear till after his death. Their publication was much to be regretted by every friend of this accomplished, witty, and eloquent peer."] -Chalmers.
On Good Breeding.
A friend of yours and mine has very justly defined good breeding to be " the result of much good sense, some good nature, and a little self-denial for the sake of others, and with a view to obtain the same indulgence from them." Taking this for granted (as I think it cannot be disputed), it is astonishing to me that anybody, who has good sense and good nature, can essentially fail in good breeding. As to the modes of it, indeed, they vary according to persons, places, and circumstances, and are only to be acquired by observation and experience; but the substance of it is everywhere and eternally the same.
Good manners are, to particular societies, what good morals are to society in general-their cement and their security. And as laws are enacted to enforce good morals, or at least to prevent the ill effects
of bad ones, so there are certain rules of civility, universally implied and received, to enforce good manners and punish bad ones. And indeed there seems to me to be less difference both between the crimes and punishments, than at first one would imagine. The immoral man, who invades another's property, is justly hanged for it: and the ill-bred man, who by his ill manners invades and disturbs the quiet and comforts of private life, is by common consent as justly banished society. Mutual complaisances, attentions, and sacrifices of little conveniences, are as natural an implied compact between civilised people, as protection and obedience are between kings and subjects; whoever, in either case, violates that compact, justly forfeits all advantages arising from it. For my own part, I really think that, next to the consciousness of doing a good action, that of doing a civil one is the most pleasing; and the epithet which I should covet the most, next to that of Aristides, would be that of well-bred. Thus much for good breeding in general; I will now consider some of the various modes and degrees of it.
Very few, scarcely any, are wanting in the respect which they should show to those whom they acknowledge to be infinitely their superiors, such as crowned heads, princes, and public persons of distinguished and eminent posts. It is the manner of showing that respect which is different. The man of fashion and of the world expresses it in its fullest extent, but naturally, easily, and without concern; whereas a man who is not used to keep good company expresses it awkwardly; one sees that he is not used to it, and that it costs him a great deal; but I never saw the worst-bred man living, guilty of lolling, whistling, scratching his head, and such like indecencies, in company that he respected. In such companies, therefore, the only point to be attended to is, to show that respect which everybody means to show, in an easy, unembarrassed, and graceful manner. This is what observation and experience must teach you.
In mixed companies, whoever is admitted to make part of them, is, for the time at least, supposed to be on a footing of equality with the rest; and consequently, as there is no one principal object of awe and respect, people are apt to take a greater latitude in their behaviour, and to be less upon their guard; and so they may, provided it be within certain bounds, which are upon no occasion to be transgressed. But upon these occasions, though no one is entitled to distinguished marks of respect, every one claims, and very justly, every mark of civility and good breeding. Ease is allowed, but carelessness and negligence are strictly forbidden. If a man accosts you, and talks to you ever so dully or frivolously, it is worse than rudeness, it is brutality, to show him by a manifest inattention to what he
think him a fool, or a blockhead, and not worth hearing. It is much more so with regard to women, who, of whatever rank they are, are entitled, in consideration of their sex, not only to an attentive, but an officious good breeding from men. Their little wants, likings, dislikes, preferences, antipathies, fancies, must be officiously attended to, and, if possible, guessed at and anticipated, by a well-bred man. You must never usurp to yourself those conveniences and gratifications which are of common right, such as the best places, the best dishes, &c.: but on the contrary, always decline them yourself, and offer them to others, who in their turns will offer them to you; so that upon the whole
says, that you
you will in your turn enjoy your share of the common right. It would be endless for me to enumerate all the particular instances in which a well-bred man shows his good breeding in good company; and it would be injurious to you to suppose that your own good sense will not point them out to you; and then your own good nature will recommend, and your self-interest enforce the practice.
There is a third sort of good breeding, in which people are the most apt to fail, from a very mistaken notion that they cannot fail at all. I mean with regard to one's most familiar friends and acquaintances, or those who really are our inferiors; and there, undoubtedly, a greater degree of ease is not only allowed, but proper, and contributes much to the comforts of a private social life. But ease and freedom have their bounds, which must by no means be violated. A certain degree of negligence and carelessness becomes injurious and insulting, from the real or supposed inferiority of the persons; and that delightful liberty of conversation among a few friends is soon destroyed, as liberty often has been by being carried to licentiousness.
But example explains things best, and I will put a pretty strong case: Suppose you and me alone together: I believe you will allow that I have as good a right to unlimited freedom in your company, as either you or I can possibly have in any other; and I am apt to believe, too, that you would indulge me in that freedom as far as anybody would. But notwithstanding this, do you imagine that I should think there was no bounds to that freedom? I assure you I should not think so; and I take myself to be as much tied down by a certain degree of good manners to you, as by other degrees of them to other people. The most familiar and intimate habitudes, connexions, and friendships, require a degree of good breeding both to preserve and cement them.
The best of us have our bad sides, and it is as imprudent, as it is ill-bred to exhibit them. I shall not use ceremony with you; it would be misplaced between us; but I shall certainly observe that degree of good breeding with you which is, in the first place, decent, and which, I am sure, is absolutely necessary to make us like one another's company long.
(WILLIAM Pitt, Earl of CHATHAM, is known to the world as one of the greatest of statesmen and orators. It does not accord with the nature of this work to introduce many speeches. One of those of Lord Chatham, however, is too remarkable to be omitted. His style of oratory was said to be of the highest class, rapid, vehement, and overpowering; and his delivery was fully equal to his thoughts and his diction. The remarkable circumstances attending his death, as related by Mr. Belsham, and the brilliant character of him drawn by Grattan, are both quoted, as being valuable in themselves, and as throwing light upon the speech which was delivered in parliament when he was upwards of sixty years old, and under circumstances almost as impressive as those related by Mr. Belsham.]