Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

abuses of argument, and gives full play to sense by rendering sound a corrective of itself. Whatever be the turn of the conversation, no man obtrudes his opinions without a competent share of information ; and a real knowledge of the subject can alone bespeak attention among us. None, without this claim, can obtain even a hearing, unless his part in the dialogue consist chiefly of interro. gations. For it is a plain case, that where other circumstances are equal, knowledge will always prevail over ignorance: and nonsense has but an indifferent chance, without the countenance of friends, or the violence of vociferation.

But the great praise and principal advantage of our institutions is the particular power of

compression they possess, by which double the quantity of knowledge is produced in a given time, on a given subject, comparatively with any other society, supposing the mean quantity of information in the members to be the same. This, and more, will be granted meby every man of common sense and candour, who makes the proper allowance for the accumulation of idle matter, that fills out the dialogue of ordinary meetings, and the little room that is left for the temperate flow of rational observation, amidst the press of volubility, and the pertinacity of opposition.

The praise of long harangues and lofty declamation is considered here as profane; and we do all we can to have the condimento sermonum, without the lateris contentio ; " the delicacies of speech without the vehemence of delivery.” This object, our scale of sense, no less than our scale of sounds, is designed to promote; for every man is too fond of his own opinions and hypotheses, to persevere long in the support of them, without launching into superlatives, which he no sooner does, than he pays the forfeit of his ambition, and perishes often on the very eve of victory. Like some of the eastern generals of old, he brings his elephants into the field of battle, which, in the heat of the conflict, turn back upon his own troops, and occasion the ruin of his cause.

I should be sorry, however, if the better part of my readers should imagine, that under these circumstances of restraint, the utterance of noble feelings must be shackled, and virtue fail of her due homage and reward. In the relation of a virtuous action, the simpler the tale, the more forcible its effects; and in the defence or eulogy of virtue itself, a vehement phraseology carries not so high a commendation as a sober and practical display of its advantages and excellencies. Our panegyrics, in general, are robbed of half their lustre, and all their discrimination, by being carried at once as far as they can go: thus, when a picture is varnished too highly, we lose all the distinctions of light and shadow; and all those bold touches, that give strength and relief, are lost in the dusky glare of glowing confusion.

There are doubtless a multitude of circumstances that pass without observation or comment at the time, which have nevertheless a mighty influence on conversation, and are singly sufficient to spread a cheerful or gloomy complexion over a whole evening. We have all of us our jealous points; we have all our secret vanities, our topics of selfadulation, in which we readily grant to no man undisputed precedence: whence, it is probable that, out of a large company, some are always displeased when superlatives are lavished on others, and when they feel themselves called upon to acquiesce in a judgement that pronounces their own exclusion. Such is the inborn pride of the human heart, that most of us would rather that no estimate at all were made of our merit, unless that estimate would raise us to the highest rank, and that it were doubted whether we possessed abilities or not, than that those abilities, by being ascertained, should be fixed and confined to second-rate excellence.

I believe I shall not extend my observation too far, by maintaining, that even in cases wherein we are no ways imposed upon by the whispers of selflove, or at least wherein we nourish no conceit of superior excellence, it is yet unwelcome to the greater part of us to hear superlatives scattered prodigally around us, while we ourselves are left so decidedly out of the question, and while the superiority, which perhaps we do not arrogate, is carried, at the moment that we are looking towards it, to a cautious distance above the reach of our pretensions. Thus, in our little society, where every member has bid adieu to the morning of youth and meridian of manhood, I think I have sometimes observed the countenance of some of my old friends overcast for a moment, when a new member has talked of the stoutest and handsomest man of all his acquaintance; and a remark having fallen inadvertently from one of the company at our last meeting, that Tom Topping the blacksmith was by much the strongest man in the parish, Mr. Blunt gave my hand so cordial a squeeze at parting, that the blacksmith's superiority

very
undecided in

my

mind. I don't know how it is, but Mr. Allworth seems to feel no inconvenience from this abolition of superlatives at our club. He has a way of doing virtue such justice, and expressing his feelings so forcibly without them, that we sometimes can hardly persuade ourselves, that he has escaped the penalty of our statute; and I have observed Mr. Barnaby, who has a few littlenesses of character and a sportive

VOL. XXXV.

was left

[ocr errors]

kind of malice belonging to him, note my good friend's words with a great deal of attention, in hopes to catch him tripping, and

to have the glory of putting his name in the Black Book. Of this triumph, however, he has always hitherto been disap. pointed; for when this worthy gentleman's sensibisities are wrought up to such a pitch as almost to bear down his philosophy, as will sometimes be the case when he favours us with some tender story, and when the quivering of his cheek discovers the agitation which prevails within him, he yet continues to avoid an absolute superlative, while he gives full latitude to his own feelings on the subject, and satisfies the mind of every body present.

" A greater soul was never displayed on any occasion"_" One of the best characters in the world”—“As great abi. lities as ever shone in that station”.

-or some such qualified expression serves his purpose quite as well as a direct superlative: it is a modester clothing for his own opinions, and is a tacit courtesy to all that hear him, which operates insensibly in begetting attention, and in conciliating acquiescence.

I have heard Mr. Allworth, in maintaining the expediency of this rule, which has been opposed more than any other which we have established, compare a man, whose enthusiasm always pushes him at once into superlatives, to a singer, who, by beginning with a note too high, is obliged in consequence to strain his voice to a pitch that robs it of its music and modulation. In speaking on this subject the other day, I thought he made a just allusion to those lines of Horace,

Vis consili expers mole ruit sua,
Vim temperatam Düi quoque provehunt
In majus.

CAR. III. 4. 65,

Force without judgement, falls by its own weight; but force circumscribed by prudence, is amplified by the favour of Heaven itself.

In my two papers on this subject, I have gone to some length on these two fundamental rules of our little constitution, relating to the judgement of the Echo, and the abolition of superlatives, as the two supporters on which the whole fabric bears. The advantages, indeed, which result from them, are so numerous, as to reduce within a very small compass our other canons of conversation, which we esteem very great happiness, as we look upon the multiplication of laws as a multiplication of disputes, and that too much theory in government is subversive of practice and utility. So much is our constitution simplified by the breadth and compass of our laws and regulations, that we have only six departments for the cognizance and prohibition of all possible offences. Over each of these departments we have a judge, whose determination is final in all cases which come under his province: one of these judges is perpetual, the rest are elected every year. We have also a registrar, who notes down offences and forfeits in what are called black books, one of which is appropriated to each member; and if any member's book be filled in the course of the first six weeks after his election into our society, he is judged to be incorrigible, and his seat is declared vacant. The executive power is lodged with the president, whose business it is to protect and enforce thelaws, to elect to certain offices, and to declare to the whole society the decrees of each department. Our six departments are

1st. Noise. Echo, the perpetual judge. The decisions of this court are characterized by

« PredošláPokračovať »