L O I T E R E R.
"Speak of us as we are."
PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR,
And sold by C. S. RANN, OXFORD;
Mess. EGERTONS, Whitehall, LONDON; Mess. PEARSON
And ROLLASON, BIRMINGHAM; Mr. W. MEYLER, Grove,
BATH; AND Mess. COWSLADE and SMART, READING.
L O I T E R E R.
SATURDAY, September 12, 1789.
His passion still, to covet general praise;
His life, to forfeit it a thousand ways. Pope.
AMONGST the many advantages which the present improved State of Society and Manners gives us, over our hardy and unpolished Ancestors, none perhaps are more distinguished in their kind, or more pleasing in their effects, than the minute attention with which we promote the pleasures of those by whom we are surrounded, and the eagerness we discover to conciliate the good opinion of all with whom we converse.
We now no longer wrap ourselves up in that stern independence, Which however favourable to the cause of private virtues, is highly detrimental to the stock of public happiness; which recoils against the blandishments of praise, and shrinks at the soothing of condolence; annihilates the elegancies, the civilities the diversions of life, and under the vain pretence of securing our integrity, renders our manners rough, and perhaps our hearts unfeeling.
We now no longer think it unmanly to pay attention to those smaller virtues, whose Exertion gives a higher relish to the endearments of Friendship, and the intercourse of Acquaintance. We can now cultivate those nameless, but important refinements from which, Conversation (that greatest Luxury of well informed Minds) draws its various and powerful resources of Instruction and Entertainment. No longer oppressed by the Egotisms of the Great, or the Pedantry of the Learned, it is equally diffused over a large miscellaneous Circle; it receives the contributions, and adds to the enjoyment of the numerous Classes of Individuals of which Society is composed. Each Sex, Rank, and Profession; the Man of Learning, the Man of Business, and the Man of Pleasure; the Matron, the Wife, and the Maid, all throw in their stock to the general Fund, and receive without respect of Persons, a quantity of Amusement and Applause in fair proportion to the Value of their Contribution.
But as the mixt intercourse of ranks has promoted the refinement of our manners, and improved the Charms of Society, it must be owned that the consequent desire of pleasing our Friends, and a wish to become eminent in our little circle of acquaintance, has been sometimes productive of an over-strained behaviour, to which we have given the name of Affectation.
So various, indeed, are the errors in conversation, and absurdities in manner, into which we are led by the too eager desire of exciting the wonder or gaining the affections of those around us, that it would be no easy task to discriminate the different kinds of Affectation of which each Sex is continually guilty. To enumerate a few of the most obviously striking is the design of this paper, and though my hopes of reforming my Readers by the following slight sketches, are not very sanguine, they may at least acknowledge the justness of the portraits and will possibly not be displeased to discover a resemblance to some of their acquaintance.
Among the younger part of our own Sex, especially among the Oxford circles, the species of Affectation most usual to be met with, is an unaccountable endeavour to appear more idle, uninformed, and ignorant than we really are. So ardently indeed have I known some men hunt after this kind of reputation, so much pains have they taken to convince the Company that they never looked into a book, attended a Lecture, or performed an Exercise properly, that one would suppose it required a more than common share of resolution to pass one’s life in idleness, dissipation, and folly. A man of this kind is always exceedingly careful to inform you in what particular manner he has mis-spent his time, that you may not do him the injustice to imagine he has employed any part of it properly. He is, therefore, elaborate and minute in the account of the Bottles he has swallowed, and the Rows he has been engaged in. And his whole discourse is little more than a Catalogue of the Impositions he has received from Presidents, Deans, and Proctors, enlivened by the recital if the “hair-breadth 'Scapes” he has gone through in leaping from the windows of his College, or the pleasure he has enjoyed in that glorious Achievement, A Scheme to Town. — Scarce less common, and far more disagreeable is the Knowing Man. The former honestly disclaims the knowledge of any Science whatever; — the latter affects to be well informed in a very few. While the conversation continues general, or turns on literary or elegant subjects, he remains a silent, but not an unobservant Spectator; happy if a momentary pause or lucky allusion gives him an opportunity to introduce his favourite Subject; still more happy, if he can make an advantageous Bet; and ill fares the man who dares assert an opinion, which his prudence or his poverty prevents him from supporting, by flinging down the proposed Sum with a resolute Air, To these numberless others might be added, which, however different in their kinds, all aim at the same point; for the long Beard and dirty Shirt of the Scholar, the plastered Hair and large Buckles of the Coxcomb, are alike marks of Affectation, and equally meant to obtain by Singularity, that admiration which is due to Genius.
But while thus severe in exposing the follies of our own Sex, let us not forget to remark the foibles of the other; and of this failing, I believe, our fair friends may claim something more than an equal share. By nature more yielding and compliant, by education more cautious and reserved, and by both more solicitous to attract admiration, no wonder if in the earnest desire of pleasing they more frequently endeavour to conceal their real character, and, perhaps, assume one to which they have no right; and it is but justice to them to own, that I have known some very warm admirers of fashionable manners, among our own Sex, who have thought, or fancied they thought, a small share of affectation not unbecoming in a pretty Woman; to argue with them on such a question would be doing them too much honour, and I will only ask them whether they ever found affectation an improvement to age, or a compensation for deformity, and if they answer in the negative, we may conclude they have reversed the matter, and that Affectation can never improve Beauty, though Beauty may make Affectation tolerable. But to return to my subject; the mental difference of Sex is never more observable than in the different Kinds of Affectation we adopt; for while Men endeavour to appear something worse than they are, Women, on the other hand, almost always affect to be much better. Of this, the most prevailing in the present age is, the Affectation of Candour; impelled by this principle, the modem fair one not only defends the actions, but even praises the persons of all her Cotemporaries and Rivals; She never lets slip an opportunity of praising all her acquaintance, either for their merits or their faults; if a Lady is said to be regularly pretty, but insipid, She immediately declaims on the symmetry of her features and exactness of her make; if on the other hand, the person in debate has no claim to admiration but from an expressive Countenance, She is full as ready to cry up the superiority of expression and manner over regularity of features; nay should the Lady be unfortunate enough to be void of every personal charm which can attract admiration, it is hard but she will find something to praise in her, and if every thing else fails, applaud the sweetness of her disposition, and hint that she will make an excellent Wife. Thus she goes on, excusing, defending or applauding the faults or deficiencies of her long list of friends, and in the vain hope of being admired for her Candour, forgets that praise, like satire, loses its force without discrimination, judgment, or taste. Next to this in frequency, and absurdity, is the Affectation of Affection. A young Woman, the moment she has received this species of infection, becomes on a sudden more than commonly attached to all her Relations without Exception. If married, She is always plaguing you with the good qualities of her Husband: If single; the Wit and Learning of her Brothers, the Beauty and Graces of her Sisters, form an eternal topic of panegyric. She never speaks of them but in highest raptures, or to them but in the most endearing phrases. She distributes her Dears, Loves, &c. without moderation or mercy, and her whole conversation is such a string of surfeiting sweets as is sufficient to make the bye-standers sick of natural affection as long as they live. Not entirely dissimilar to this is the Affectation of Feeling, but with this difference, that as the love of the Affectionate Girl is concentred in one family, the regard and concern of the Feeling Woman are diffused amongst an extended circle of great friends, little friends, and acquaintances; the former boasts only a partial and confined affection, the heart of the latter expands in an unbounded philanthropy to all mankind: Such an one, from the moment you enter the room, is all flutter and anxiety until you flatter her of the health, prosperity and happiness of your Father, Mother, Brother, Sisters, Cousins, and in short, all your Relations whom she has ever seen, and almost all she has ever heard of; nor will she suffer you to rest in peace, till she has enquired after your own health, and is perfectly convinced by your own words, that you actually and Bona-Fide are alive at the moment, notwithstanding when you last parted from her you were obliged to experience the inclemency of the Morning Air after being heated with Country Dances. And woe be to the youth who, in an evil hour, has given up his heart to a Feeling young Woman, for as this species of Affectation is usually mixed with a dash of Coquetry, he may be some time in discovering that a Lady whose heart is thus torn in pieces by so many different Claimants, can have but a small share to bestow on any one, But by far the most disagreeable of all the Affectation of being Unaffected. This is oftener the failing of the middle aged than the young, and its effects are more felt by their own Sex than by ours. A Lady of this description always puts me in mind of a speech in King Lear, which wants nothing but the change of Sex to make it completely applicable:
“— This is some fellow
“Who having been prais’d for bluntness, doth affect
“A saucy roughness, and constrains the garb
“Quite from his nature. He can’t flatter, he,
“An honest mind and plain, he must speak truth,
“An they will take it, so, if not, he’s plain.”
In pursuance of this idea, she enters the room, (flinging herself into a Chair with an air of Brusquerie which she thinks mightily becoming) begins abusing the mistress of the house for some defect in her domestic economy, and finds fault with her daughters for their bad taste in dress, or little proficiency in their acquirements; should her intimacy be not sufficient to warrant this good advice, she contents herself with talking at you instead of to you, and in this ingenious manner, distresses you by abusing every thing you do or say, and depreciating all you admire or like; in short, her whole aim seems to be, to convince you of her great superiority, and to put you as much as possible out of humour with yourself.
Such are the various ways by which we all of us endeavour to make ourselves conspicuous by appearing to possess qualities in a superior degree to the generality of those around us; and as they are all of them tried with the sole view of making ourselves admired, esteemed, and loved; there will surely need no arguments to induce us to quit the practice of them, when we are once satisfied, that the only emotions we can possibly excite in the minds of our acquaintance are either contempt for our hypocrisy, or pity for our want of sense.
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