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 that ease and freedom have their bounds too, 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 were 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. Were I to show you, by a manifest inattention to what you said to me, that I was thinking of something else the whole time; were I to yawn extremely, snore, or break wind in your company, I should think that I behaved myself to you like a beast, and should not expect that you would care to frequent me. No. The most familiar and intimate habitudes, connections, and friendships, require a degree of good-breeding, both to preserve and cement them. If ever a man and his wife, or a man and his mistress, who pass nights as well as days together, absolutely lay aside all good-breeding, their intimacy will soon degenerate into a coarse familiarity, infallibly productive of contempt or disgust. The best of us have our bad sides, and it is as imprudent, as it is ill-bred, to exhibit them. I shall certainly 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.
I will say no more, now, upon this important subject of good-breeding, upon which I have already dwelt too long, it may be, for one letter; and upon which I shall frequently refresh your memory hereafter; but I will conclude with these axioms:
That the deepest learning, without good-breeding, is unwelcome and tiresome pedantry, and of use nowhere but in a man's own closet; and consequently of little or no use at all.
That a man, Who is not perfectly well-bred, is unfit for good company and unwelcome in it; will consequently dislike it soon, afterward renounce it; and be reduced to solitude, or, what is worse, low and bad company.
That a man who is not well-bred, is full as unfit for business as for company.
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.