Make then, my dear child, I conjure you, good-breeding the great object of your thoughts and actions, at least half the day. Observe carefully the behavior and manners of those who are distinguished by their good- breeding; imitate, nay, endeavor to excel, that you may at least reach them; and be convinced that good-breeding is, to all worldly qualifications, what charity is to all Christian virtues. Observe how it adorns merit, and how often it covers the want of it. May you wear it to adorn, and not to cover you! Adieu.
LONDON, November 14, O. S. 1749.
DEAR BOY: There is a natural good-breeding which occurs to every man of common sense, and is practiced by every man, of common good-nature. This good-breeding is general, independent of modes, and consists in endeavors to please and oblige our fellow-creatures by all good offices, short of moral duties. This will be practiced by a good-natured American savage, as essentially as by the best-bred European. But then, I do not take it to extend to the sacrifice of our own conveniences, for the sake of other people's. Utility introduced this sort of good-breeding as it introduced commerce; and established a truck of the little 'agremens' and pleasures of life. I sacrifice such a conveniency to you, you sacrifice another to me; this commerce circulates, and every individual finds his account in it upon the whole. The third sort of good-breeding is local, and is variously modified, in not only different countries, but in different towns of the same country. But it must be founded upon the two former sorts; they are the matter to which, in this case, fashion and custom only give the different shapes and impressions. Whoever has the two first sorts will easily acquire this third sort of good-breeding, which depends singly upon attention and observation. It is, properly, the polish, the lustre, the last finishing stroke of good-breeding. It is to be found only in capitals, and even there it varies; the good-breeding of Rome differing, in some things, from that of Paris; that of Paris, in others, from that of Madrid; and that of Madrid, in many things, from that of London. A man of sense, therefore, carefully attends to the local manners of the respective places where he is, and takes for his models those persons whom he observes to be at the head of fashion and good-breeding. He watches how they address themselves to their superiors, how they accost their equals, and how they treat their inferiors; and lets none of those little niceties escape him which are to good-breeding what the last delicate and masterly touches are to a good picture; and of which the vulgar have no notion, but by which good judges distinguish the master. He attends even to their air, dress, and motions, and imitates them, liberally, and not servilely; he copies, but does not mimic. These personal graces are of very great consequence. They anticipate the sentiments, before merit can engage the understanding; they captivate the heart, and give rise, I believe, to the extravagant notions of charms and philters. Their effects were so surprising, that they were reckoned supernatural. The most graceful and best-bred men, and the handsomest and genteelest women, give the most philters; and, as I verily believe, without the least assistance of the devil. Pray be not only well dressed, but shining in your dress; let it have 'du brillant'. I do not mean by a clumsy load of gold and silver, but by the taste and fashion of it. The women like and require it; they think it an attention due to them; but, on the other hand, if your motions and carriage are not graceful, genteel, and natural, your fine clothes will only display your awkwardness the more. But I am unwilling to suppose you still awkward; for surely, by this time, you must have catched a good air in good company. When you went from hence you were naturally awkward; but your awkwardness was adventitious and Westmonasterial. Leipsig, I apprehend, is not the seat of the Graces; and I presume you acquired none there. But now, if you will be pleased to observe what people of the first fashion do with their legs and arms, heads and bodies, you will reduce yours to certain decent laws of motion. You danced pretty well here, and ought to dance very well before you come home; for what one is obliged to do sometimes, one ought to be able to do well. Besides, 'la belle danse donne du brillant a un jeune homme'. And you should endeavor to shine. A calm serenity, negative merit and graces, do not become your age. You should be 'alerte, adroit, vif'; be wanted, talked of, impatiently expected, and unwillingly parted with in company. I should be glad to hear half a dozen women of fashion say, 'Ou est donc le petit Stanhope? due ne vient-il? Il faut avouer qu'il est aimable'. All this I do not mean singly with regard to women as the principal object; but, with regard to men, and with a view of your making yourself considerable. For with very small variations, the same things that please women please men; and a man whose manners are softened and polished by women of fashion, and who is formed by them to an habitual attention and complaisance, will please, engage, and connect men, much easier and more than he would otherwise. You must be sensible that you cannot rise in the world, without forming connections, and engaging different characters to conspire in your point. You must make them your dependents without their knowing it, and dictate to them while you seem to be directed by them. Those necessary connections can never be formed, or preserved, but by an uninterrupted series of complaisance, attentions, politeness, and some constraint. You must engage their hearts, if you would have their support; you must watch the 'mollia tempora', and captivate them by the 'agremens' and charms of conversation. People will not be called out to your service, only when you want them; and, if you expect to receive strength from them, they must receive either pleasure or advantage from you.
I received in this instant a letter from Mr. Harte, of the 2d N. S., which I will answer soon; in the meantime, I return him my thanks for it, through you. The constant good accounts which he gives me of you, will make me suspect him of partiality, and think him 'le medecin tant mieux'. Consider, therefore, what weight any future deposition of his against you must necessarily have with me. As, in that case, he will be a very unwilling, he must consequently be a very important witness. Adieu!
DEAR Boy: My last was upon the subject of good-breeding; but I think it rather set before you the unfitness and disadvantages of ill-breeding, than the utility and necessity of good; it was rather negative than positive. This, therefore, should go further, and explain to you the necessity, which you, of all people living, lie under, not only of being positively and actively well-bred, but of shining and distinguishing yourself by your good-breeding. Consider your own situation in every particular, and judge whether it is not essentially your interest, by your own good-breeding to others, to secure theirs to you and that, let me assure you, is the only way of doing it; for people will repay, and with interest too, inattention with inattention, neglect with neglect, and ill manners with worse: which may engage you in very disagreeable affairs. In the next place, your profession requires, more than any other, the nicest and most distinguished good-breeding. You will negotiate with very little success, if you do not previously, by your manners, conciliate and engage the affections of those with whom you are to negotiate. Can you ever get into the confidence and the secrets of the courts where you may happen to reside, if you have not those pleasing, insinuating manners, which alone can procure them? Upon my word, I do not say too much, when I say that superior good-breeding, insinuating manners, and genteel address, are half your business. Your knowledge will have but very little influence upon the mind, if your manners prejudice the heart against you; but, on the other hand, how easily will you DUPE the understanding, where you have first engaged the heart? and hearts are by no means to be gained by that mere common civility which everybody practices. Bowing again to those who bow to you, answering dryly those who speak to you, and saying nothing offensive to anybody, is such negative good-breeding that it is only not being a brute; as it would be but a very poor commendation of any man's cleanliness to say that he did not stink. It is an active, cheerful, officious, seducing, good-breeding that must gain you the good-will and first sentiments of men, and the affections of the women. You must carefully watch and attend to their passions, their tastes, their little humors and weaknesses, and 'aller au devant'. You must do it at the same time with alacrity and 'empressement', and not as if you graciously condescended to humor their weaknesses.
For instance, suppose you invited anybody to dine or sup with you, you ought to recollect if you had observed that they had any favorite dish, and take care to provide it for them; and when it came you should say, You SEEMED TO ME, AT SUCH AND SUCH A PLACE, TO GIVE THIS DISH A PREFERENCE, AND THEREFORE I ORDERED IT; THIS IS THE WINE THAT I OBSERVED YOU LIKED, AND THEREFORE I PROCURED SOME. The more trifling these things are, the more they prove your attention for the person, and are consequently the more engaging. Consult your own breast, and recollect how these little attentions, when shown you by others, flatter that degree of self-love and vanity from which no man living is free. Reflect how they incline and attract you to that person, and how you are propitiated afterward to all which that person says or does. The same causes will have the same effects in your favor. Women, in a great degree, establish or destroy every man's reputation of good-breeding; you must, therefore, in a manner, overwhelm them with these attentions: they are used to them, they expect them, and, to do them justice, they commonly requite them. You must be sedulous, and rather over officious than under, in procuring them their coaches, their chairs, their conveniences in public places: not see what you should not see; and rather assist, where you cannot help seeing. Opportunities of showing these attentions present themselves perpetually; but if they do not, make them. As Ovid advises his lover, when he sits in the Circus near his mistress, to wipe the dust off her neck, even if there be none: 'Si nullus, tamen excute nullum'. Your conversation with women should always be respectful; but, at the same time, enjoue, and always addressed to their vanity. Everything you say or do should convince them of the regard you have (whether you have it or not) for their beauty, their wit, or their merit. Men have possibly as much vanity as women, though of another kind; and both art and good-breeding require, that, instead of mortifying, you should please and flatter it, by words and looks of approbation. Suppose (which is by no means improbable) that, at your return to England, I should place you near the person of some one of the royal family; in that situation, good-breeding, engaging address, adorned with all the graces that dwell at courts, would very probably make you a favorite, and, from a favorite, a minister; but all the knowledge and learning in the world, without them, never would. The penetration of princes seldom goes deeper than the surface.
It is the exterior that always engages their hearts; and I would never advise you to give yourself much trouble about their understanding. Princes in general (I mean those 'Porphyrogenets' who are born and bred in purple) are about the pitch of women; bred up like them, and are to be addressed and gained in the same manner. They always see, they seldom weigh. Your lustre, not your solidity, must take them; your inside will afterward support and secure what your outside has acquired. With weak people (and they undoubtedly are three parts in four of mankind) good- breeding, address, and manners are everything; they can go no deeper; but let me assure you that they are a great deal even with people of the best understandings. Where the eyes are not pleased, and the heart is not flattered, the mind will be apt to stand out. Be this right or wrong, I confess I am so made myself. Awkwardness and ill-breeding shock me to that degree, that where I meet with them, I cannot find in my heart to inquire into the intrinsic merit of that person--I hastily decide in myself that he can have none; and am not sure that I should not even be sorry to know that he had any. I often paint you in my imagination, in your present 'lontananza', and, while I view you in the light of ancient and modern learning, useful and ornamental knowledge, I am charmed with the prospect; but when I view you in another light, and represent you awkward, ungraceful, ill-bred, with vulgar air and manners, shambling toward me with inattention and DISTRACTIONS, I shall not pretend to describe to you what I feel; but will do as a skillful painter did formerly--draw a veil before the countenance of the father.
I dare say you know already enough of architecture, to know that the Tuscan is the strongest and most solid of all the orders; but at the same time, it is the coarsest and clumsiest of them. Its solidity does extremely well for the foundation and base floor of a great edifice; but if the whole building be Tuscan, it will attract no eyes, it will stop no passengers, it will invite no interior examination; people will take it for granted that the finishing and furnishing cannot be worth seeing, where the front is so unadorned and clumsy. But if, upon the solid Tuscan foundation, the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian orders rise gradually with all their beauty, proportions, and ornaments, the fabric seizes the most incurious eye, and stops the most careless passenger; who solicits admission as a favor, nay, often purchases it. Just so will it fare with your, tittle fabric, which, at present, I fear, has more of the Tuscan than of the Corinthian order. You must absolutely change the whole front, or nobody will knock at the door. The several parts, which must compose this new front, are elegant, easy, natural, superior good- breeding; an engaging address; genteel motions; an insinuating softness in your looks, words, and actions; a spruce, lively air, fashionable dress; and all the glitter that a young fellow should have.