This is really so copious a subject, that there is no end of being either serious or ludicrous upon it. It is impossible, too, to enumerate or state to you the various cases in good-breeding; they are infinite; there is no situation or relation in the world so remote or so intimate, that does not require a degree of it. Your own good sense must point it out to you; your own good-nature must incline, and your interest prompt you to practice it; and observation and experience must give you the manner, the air and the graces which complete the whole.
This letter will hardly overtake you, till you are at or near Rome. I expect a great deal in every way from your six months' stay there. My morning hopes are justly placed in Mr. Harte, and the masters he will give you; my evening ones, in the Roman ladies: pray be attentive to both. But I must hint to you, that the Roman ladies are not 'les femmes savantes, et ne vous embrasseront point pour Pamour du Grec. They must have 'ilgarbato, il leggiadro, it disinvolto, il lusinghiero, quel non so che, che piace, che alletta, che incanta'.
I have often asserted, that the profoundest learning and the politest manners were by no means incompatible, though so seldom found united in the same person; and I have engaged myself to exhibit you, as a proof of the truth of this assertion. Should you, instead of that, happen to disprove me, the concern indeed would be mine, but the loss will be yours. Lord Bolingbroke is a strong instance on my side of the question; he joins to the deepest erudition, the most elegant politeness and good- breeding that ever any courtier and man of the world was adorned with. And Pope very justly called him "All-accomplished St. John," with regard to his knowledge and his manners. He had, it is true, his faults; which proceeded from unbounded ambition, and impetuous passions; but they have now subsided by age and experience; and I can wish you nothing better than to be, what he is now, without being what he has been formerly. His address pre-engages, his eloquence persuades, and his knowledge informs all who approach him. Upon the whole, I do desire, and insist, that from after dinner till you go to bed, you make good-breeding, address, and manners, your serious object and your only care. Without them, you will be nobody; with them, you may be anything.
Adieu, my dear child! My compliments to Mr. Harte.
LONDON, November 24, O. S. 1749.
DEAR Boy: Every rational being (I take it for granted) proposes to himself some object more important than mere respiration and obscure animal existence. He desires to distinguish himself among his fellow- creatures; and, 'alicui negotio intentus, prreclari facinoris, aut artis bonae, faman quaerit'. Caesar, when embarking in a storm, said, that it was not necessary he should live; but that it was absolutely necessary he should get to the place to which he was going. And Pliny leaves mankind this only alternative; either of doing what deserves to be written, or of writing what deserves to be read. As for those who do neither, 'eorum vitam mortemque juxta aestumo; quoniam de utraque siletur'. You have, I am convinced, one or both of these objects in view; but you must know and use the necessary means, or your pursuit will be vain and frivolous. In either case, 'Sapere est princihium et fons'; but it is by no means all. That knowledge must be adorned, it must have lustre as well as weight, or it will be oftener taken, for lead than for gold. Knowledge you have, and will have: I am easy upon that article. But my business, as your friend, is not to compliment you upon what you have, but to tell you with freedom what you want; and I must tell you plainly, that I fear you want everything but knowledge.
I have written to you so often, of late, upon good-breeding, address, 'les manieres liantes', the Graces, etc., that I shall confine this letter to another subject, pretty near akin to them, and which, I am sure, you are full as deficient in; I mean Style.
Style is the dress of thoughts; and let them be ever so just, if your style is homely, coarse, and vulgar, they will appear to as much disadvantage, and be as ill received as your person, though ever so well proportioned, would, if dressed in rags, dirt, and tatters. It is not every understanding that can judge of matter; but every ear can and does judge, more or less, of style: and were I either to speak or write to the public, I should prefer moderate matter, adorned with all the beauties and elegancies of style, to the strongest matter in the world, ill-worded and ill-delivered. Your business is negotiation abroad, and oratory in the House of Commons at home. What figure can you make, in either case, if your style be inelegant, I do not say bad? Imagine yourself writing an office-letter to a secretary of state, which letter is to be read by the whole Cabinet Council, and very possibly afterward laid before parliament; any one barbarism, solecism, or vulgarism in it, would, in a very few days, circulate through the whole kingdom, to your disgrace and ridicule. For instance, I will suppose you had written the following letter from The Hague to the Secretary of State at London; and leave you to suppose the consequences of it: