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courtier, though perhaps under the strongest provocations, from unjust delays and broken promises, calmly swallows his unavailing wrath, disguises it even under smiles, and gently waits for more favourable moments; nor does the criminal fly in a passion at his judge or his jury.
There is then but one solid excuse to be alleged in favour of these people; and if they will frankly urge it, I will candidly admit it, because it points out its own remedy. I mean, let them fairly confess themselves mad, as they most unquestionably are; for what plea can those that are frantic ten times a day bring against shaving, bleeding, and a dark room, when so many much more harmless madmen are confined in their cells at Bedlam for being mad only once in a moon? Nay, I have been assured by the late ingenious Doctor Monro, that such of his patients who were really of a good-natured disposition, and who in their lucid intervals were allowed the liberty of walking about the hospital, would frequently, when they found the previous symptoms of their returning madness, voluntarily apply for confinement, conscious of the mischief which they might possibly do if at liberty. If those who pretend not to be mad, but who really are so, had the same fund of good-nature, they would make the same application to their friends, if they have any.
There is in the Menagiana', a very pretty story of one of these angry gentlemen, which sets their extravagancy in a very ridiculous light.
Two gentlemen were riding together, one of whom, who was a choleric one, happened to be mounted on a high-mettled horse. The horse grew a little troublesome, at which the rider grew very angry, and whipped and
1 One of the many popular books of ana produced in France in the 17th century, and so named from Menage, poet and grammarian, who died in Paris, 1692.
spurred him with great fury; to which the horse, almost as wrong-headed as his master, replied with kicking and plunging. The companion, concerned for the danger, and ashamed of the folly of his friend, said to him coolly, “Be quiet, be quiet, and show yourself the wiser of the two".
This sort of madness, for I will call it by no other name, flows from various causes, of which I shall now enumerate the most general.
Light unballasted heads are very apt to be overset by every gust, or even breeze of passion; they appreciate things wrong, and think everything of importance, but what really is so; hence those frequent and sudden transitions from silly joy to sillier anger, according as the present silly humour is gratified or thwarted. This is the never failing characteristic of the uneducated vulgar, who often in the same half-hour fight with fury, and shake hands with affection. Such heads give themselves no time to reason; and if you attempt to reason with them they think you rally them, and resent the affront. They are, in short, overgrown children, and continue so in the most advanced age. Far be it from me to insinuate, what some ill-bred authors have bluntly asserted, that this is in general the case of the fairest part of our species, whose great vivacity does not always allow them time to reason consequentially, but hurries them into testiness upon the least opposition to their will; but at the same time, with all the partiality which I have for them, and nobody can have more than I have, I must confess that, in all their debates, I have much more admired the copiousness of their rhetoric than the conclusiveness of their logic.
People of strong animal spirits, warm constitutions, and a cold genius (a most unfortunate and ridiculous, though common compound) are most irascible animals,
and very dangerous in their wrath. They are active, puzzling, blundering, and petulantly enterprising and persevering. They are impatient of the least contradiction, having neither arguments nor words to reply with; and the animal part of their composition bursts out into furious explosions, which have often mischievous consequences. Nothing is too outrageous or criminal for them to say or do in these fits; but as the beginning of their frenzy is easily discoverable by their glaring eyes, inflamed countenances, and rapid motions, the company, as conservators of the peace (which, by the way, every man is, till the authority of a magistrate can be produced), should forcibly seize these madmen, and confine them, in the meantime, in some dark closet, vault, or coal-hole.
Men of nice honour, without one grain of common honesty (for such there are), are wonderfully combustible. The honourable is to support and protect the dishonest part of their character. The consciousness of their guilt makes them both sore and jealous.
There is another very irascible sort of human animals, whose madness proceeds from pride. These are generally the people, who, having just fortunes sufficient to live idle and useless to society, create themselves gentlemen, and are scrupulously tender of the rank and dignity which they have not. They require the more respect, from being conscious that they have no right to any. They construe everything into a slight, ask explanations with heat, and misunderstand them with fury.
" Who are you? What are you? Do you know who you speak to? I'll teach you to be insolent to a gentleman,” are their daily idioms of speech, which frequently end in assault and battery, to the great emolument of the Round-house and Crown office.
I have known many young fellows, who, at their first setting out in the world, or in the army, have simulated
a passion which they did not feel, merely as an indication of spirit, which word is falsely looked upon as synonymous with courage. They dress and look fierce, swear enormously, and rage furiously, seduced by that popular word “spirit”. But I beg leave to inform these mistaken young gentlemen, whose error I compassionate, that the true spirit of a rational being consists in cool and steady resolution, which can only be the result of reflection and virtue.
I am very sorry to be obliged to own, that there is not
more irritable part of the species than my brother authors. Criticism, censure, or even the slightest disapprobation of their immortal works excite their most furious indignation. It is true indeed that they express their resentment in a manner less dangerous, both to others and to themselves. Like incensed porcupines, they dart their quills at the objects of their wrath. The wounds given by these shafts are not mortal, and only painful in proportion to the distance from whence they fiy. Those which are discharged (as by much the greatest number are) from great heights, such as garrets or four-pair-of-stairs rooms, are puffed away by the wind, and never hit the mark; but those which are let off from a first or second floor, are apt to occasion a little smarting, and sometimes festering, especially if the party wounded be unsound.
Our Great Creator has wisely given us passions to rouse us into action, and to engage our gratitude to him by the pleasures they procure us; but at the same time He has kindly given us reason sufficient, if we will but give that reason fair play, to control those passions; and has delegated authority to say to them, as He said to the waters, “Thus far shall ye go, and no farther". The angry man is his own severest tormentor; his breast knows no peace, while his raging passions are restrained by no sense of either religious or moral duties. What would be his case, if his unforgiving example (if I may use such an expression) were followed by his All-Merciful Maker, whose forgiveness he can only hope for, in proportion as he himself forgives and loves his fellow-creatures?
HORACE WALPOLE, EARL OF ORFORD
XXX. CHANGE OF STYLE.
THE great men who introduced the reformation into
these kingdoms were so sensible of the necessity of maintaining devotion in the minds of the vulgar by some external objects, by somewhat of ceremony and form, that they refrained from entirely ripping off all ornament from the drapery of religion. When they were purging the calendar of legions of visionary saints, they took due care to defend the niches of real martyrs from profanation. They preserved the holy festivals, which had been consecrated for many ages to the great luminaries of the church, and at once laid proper observance to the memory of the good, and fell in with the popular humour, which loves to rejoice and mourn at the discretion of the almanac.
In so enlightened an age as the present, I shall perhaps be ridiculed if I hint, as my opinion, that the observation of certain festivals is something more than a mere political institution. I cannot, however, help thinking that even nature itself concurs to confirm my sentiment. Philosophers and freethinkers tell us that a general system was laid down at first, and that no deviations have been made to accommodate it to any subsequent events, or to favour
1 The change of style was introduced by Act of Parliament in 1752, ordaining that the 4th Sept. of that year should be reckoned the 14th.