Sidor som bilder



They are so generally understood to mean nothing beyond mere forms, that they do not, in any

de. gree, imply insincerity. Perhaps, when first instituted, better might have been selected; but as the majority of these conventional phrases seem to have been chosen from a good-natured motivemany to soften, as much as possible, the harshness of a refusal-we will not quarrel with them.*

An extension of Christian benevolence would do more than any other thing to promote sincerity. If people really felt more kindly towards one another, more inclined to do as they would be done by, there would be no occasion for those false compliments and false professions, which have no other result than that of misleading the simple and unsuspecting. There would be fewer of those

Greetings where no kindness is, and all

The dreary intercourse of human life; upon which Wordsworth touches so feelingly in a poem addressed to his beloved sister. But I fear that the day is still remote when social intercourse will become what the sensitive and ingenuous ardently desire to find it.

* To none of these forms does the above remark apply more strictly than to the mode so universally adopted of denying ourselves to unwelcome or inopportune visitors. We do not deceive them by it: all persons living in society are aware that no deception is intended ; that nothing more is implied than a disinclination to receive them at that precise time, or say at any time whatsoever. But it behoves us fully to initiate our servants into the acceptation of those words, otherwise it will be difficult for them to discriminate between truth and falsehood; and they will scruple as little to depart from veracity on their own account as for their master's convenience.

While endeavouring to prevent the young from lapsing into the heartless insincerity of the world, we must be careful that they do not run into the other extreme, and degrade sincerity into rudeness, which is only too much in consonance with many dispositions. In under-bred society, this error not only prevails to a great extent, but is even gloried in. To “tell a piece of one's mind,” to “say one's say,” &c.: who has not heard from the lips of the vulgar these boastings of their own deviations from the beautiful rule of benevolence in trifles”? for, in sooth, their sincerity is nothing less. Self-sufficient, unused to pay respect to the opinions or feelings of others, or to control their own tempers, such persons, under pretence of a zeal for truth, take every opportunity to display their superior sagacity, or to vent their ill-nature upon their neighbours. They call it, perhaps, giving good advice, when, by coarse comments upon affairs with which they have no right to intermeddle, they afford ample proof, to use their favourite phrase, that they are “above thinking one thing, and saying another.”

There is both much of wisdom and, paradoxical as it may seem, of Christianity also in the axiom, that “truth is not to be spoken at all times;" for be it remembered, that although we refrain from speaking the truth when not imperatively called upon by conscience to do so, there is no need for us to deviate from it.

On indifferent matters, silence will often be not only the safest, but the

[blocks in formation]

most benevolent course to pursue. In matters of importance, every thing ought to be hazarded for truth-sake. The counsel of a sensible friend is above all price, and he who takes it not in good part, throws a pearl away, and thereby proves his own folly.


AFFECTATION is the insincerity of vanity, and is always either contemptible or ridiculous. Mrs. E. Hamilton has, I think, omitted to rank affectation among the various exhibitions of the propensity to magnify the idea of self, but might have done so with great propriety. The craving for distinction—that is, of being marked and singled out from the multitude, joined to a self-satisfied belief that it must needs be for praise-is most commonly at the bottom of affectation. Hence the assumed eccentricities of some persons, in whom affectation certainly may be said to exhibit as much moral distortion as the custom many savages have of slitting the ears, distending the lips, compressing the skull, mutilating the limbs, &c. does of physical. Sometimes affectation descends to the servile folly of imitating the peculiarities of manner, nay, the physical infirmities of persons really eminent, or, what answers the purpose of the imitator equally well, notorious.

Madame de Staël used to say that there was no such thing as a tête à tête with affected people,

because the personage assumed made a third, and answered in place of the others.

Admitting that it is the desire to appear something superior to the common herd which betrays young people into affectation, I would nevertheless bid them remember that persons of real genius and elevation of mind are generally remarkable for a greater degree of simplicity and sincerity of manner than the rest of mankind. Let them emulate this if they can, without servile imitation, and they will gain credit. I can hardly conceive it possible that affectation should display itself where education has been conducted on rational principles.


Something akin to affectation, and bordering still more closely upon falsehood, is the habit of EXAGGERATION; I allude not to the exaggeration of malevolence, which is a crime of the deepest dye, but to that bad and foolish habit, in which too many persons indulge, of giving a character and colouring far exceeding the bounds of truth, to whatever they narrate or describe. They deceive themselves if they suppose that it is any proof either of wit or imagination to put a hundred in the place of ten; or that extravagant terms in the expression of sentiment are indications of great sensibility of heart. Vanity is the parent of this vice, as well as of affectation. He who is guilty of it, fancies that his own consequence bears an exact proportion to the exaggerated importance of

[blocks in formation]

the circumstance he relates. The absurdity and the fallacy of this notion is obvious; the trick, once detected, defeats itself; and thenceforth a qualified belief attaches to whatever proceeds from such doubtful authority.


Unlike most of the principles whose examination has occupied the foregoing pages, JUSTICE is exclusively, or nearly so, the product of education; its presence in a savage or demi-civilized state of existence being a phenomenon of rare occurrence. Indeed, it were hardly going beyond the mark to assert that its opposite, injustice, is an inherent principle of savage nature, and wherever suffered to prevail with impunity, forms the grand distinction between the unorganized and long-organized state of society. It requires not only a considerable degree of civilization, but a tolerably long experience, to make mankind properly understand and appreciate its importance. It must be acknowledged, in conjunction with truth, as the essential tie which binds society together, without which there can be neither order nor confidence, nor security for life and property.

Some moralists, I am aware, hold a different opinion, considering an equitable regard to the meum and tuum, which is justice in one of its most important significations, coeval with the earliest dawn of human reason. We cannot, I think, pay attention to the habits of children or of

« FöregåendeFortsätt »