In your destination, you will have frequent occasions to speak in public; to princes and states abroad; to the House of Commons at home; judge, then, whether eloquence is necessary for you or not; not only common eloquence, which is rather free from faults than adorned by beauties; but the highest, the most shining degree of eloquence. For God's sake, have this object always in your view and in your thoughts. Tune your tongue early to persuasion; and let no jarring, dissonant accents ever fall from it, Contract a habit of speaking well upon every occasion, and neglect yourself in no one. Eloquence and good-breeding, alone, with an exceeding small degree of parts and knowledge, will carry a man a great way; with your parts and knowledge, then, how far will they not carry you? Adieu.
LONDON, December 16, O. S. 1749.
DEAR Boy: This letter will, I hope, find you safely arrived and well settled at Rome, after the usual distresses and accidents of a winter journey; which are very proper to teach you patience. Your stay there I look upon as a very important period of your life; and I do believe that you will fill it up well. I hope you will employ the mornings diligently with Mr. Harte, in acquiring weight; and the evenings in the best companies at Rome, in acquiring lustre. A formal, dull father, would recommend to you to plod out the evenings, too, at home, over a book by a dim taper; but I recommend to you the evenings for your pleasures, which are as much a part of your education, and almost as necessary a one, as your morning studies. Go to whatever assemblies or SPECTACLES people of fashion go to, and when you are there do as they do. Endeavor to outshine those who shine there the most, get the 'Garbo', the 'Gentilezza', the 'Leggeadria' of the; Italians; make love to the most impertinent beauty of condition that you meet with, and be gallant with all the rest. Speak Italian, right or wrong, to everybody; and if you do but laugh at yourself first for your bad Italian, nobody else will laugh at you for it. That is the only way to speak it perfectly; which I expect you will do, because I am sure you may, before you leave Rome. View the most curious remains of antiquity with a classical spirit; and they will clear up to you many passages of the classical authors; particularly the Trajan and Antonine Columns; where you find the warlike instruments, the dresses, and the triumphal ornaments of the Romans. Buy also the prints and explanations of all those respectable remains of Roman grandeur, and compare them with the originals. Most young travelers are contented with a general view of those things, say they are very fine, and then go about their business. I hope you will examine them in a very different way. 'Approfondissez' everything you see or hear; and learn, if you can, the WHY and the WHEREFORE. Inquire into the meaning and the objects of the innumerable processions, which you will see at Rome at this time. Assist at all the ceremonies, and know the reason, or at least the pretenses of them, and however absurd they may be, see and speak of them with great decency. Of all things, I beg of you not to herd with your own countrymen, but to be always either with the Romans, or with the foreign ministers residing at Rome. You are sent abroad to see the manners and characters, and learn the languages of foreign countries; and not to converse with English, in English; which would defeat all those ends. Among your graver company, I recommend (as I have done before) the Jesuits to you; whose learning and address will both please and improve you; inform yourself, as much as you can, of the history, policy, and practice of that society, from the time of its founder, Ignatius of Loyola, who was himself a madman. If you would know their morality, you will find it fully and admirably stated in 'Les Lettres d'un Provincial', by the famous Monsieur Pascal; and it is a book very well worth your reading. Few people see what they see, or hear what they hear; that is, they see and hear so inattentively and superficially, that they are very little the better for what they do see and hear. This, I dare say, neither is, nor will be your case. You will understand, reflect upon, and consequently retain, what you see and hear. You have still two years good, but no more, to form your character in the world decisively; for, within two months after your arrival in England, it will be finally and irrevocably determined, one way or another, in the opinion of the public. Devote, therefore, these two years to the pursuit of perfection; which ought to be everybody's object, though in some particulars unattainable; those who strive and labor the most, will come the nearest to it. But, above all things, aim at it in the two important arts of speaking and pleasing; without them all your other talents are maimed and crippled. They are the wings upon which you must soar above other people; without them you will only crawl with the dull mass of mankind. Prepossess by your air, address, and manners; persuade by your tongue; and you will easily execute what your head has contrived. I desire that you will send me very minute accounts from Rome, not of what you see, but, of who you see; of your pleasures and entertainments. Tell me what companies you frequent most, and how you are received.
LONDON, December 19, O. S. 1749.
DEAR BOY: The knowledge of mankind is a very use ful knowledge for everybody; a most necessary one for you, who are destined to an active, public life. You will have to do with all sorts of characters; you should, therefore, know them thoroughly, in order to manage them ably. This knowledge is not to be gotten systematically; you must acquire it yourself by your own observation and sagacity; I will give you such hints as I think may be useful land-marks in your intended progress.
I have often told you (and it is most true) that, with regard to mankind, we must not draw general conclusions from certain particular principles, though, in the main, true ones. We must not suppose that, because a man is a rational animal, he will therefore always act rationally; or, because he has such or such a predominant passion, that he will act invariably and consequentially in the pursuit of it. No. We are complicated machines: and though we have one main-spring, that gives motion to the whole, we have an infinity of little wheels, which, in their turns, retard, precipitate, and sometimes stop that motion. Let us exemplify. I will suppose ambition to be (as it commonly is) the predominant passion of a minister of state; and I will suppose that minister to be an able one. Will he, therefore, invariably pursue the object of that predominant passion? May I be sure that he will do so and so, because he ought? Nothing less. Sickness or low spirits, may damp this predominant passion; humor and peevishness may triumph over it; inferior passions may, at times, surprise it and prevail. Is this ambitious statesman amorous? Indiscreet and unguarded confidences, made in tender moments, to his wife or his mistress, may defeat all his schemes. Is he avaricious? Some great lucrative object, suddenly presenting itself, may unravel all the work of his ambition. Is he passionate? Contradiction and provocation (sometimes, it may be, too, artfully intended) may extort rash and inconsiderate expressions, or actions destructive of his main object. Is he vain, and open to flattery? An artful, flattering favorite may mislead him; and even laziness may, at certain moments, make him neglect or omit the necessary steps to that height at which he wants to arrive. Seek first, then, for the predominant passion of the character which you mean to engage and influence, and address yourself to it; but without defying or despising the inferior passions; get them in your interest too, for now and then they will have their turns. In many cases, you may not have it in your power to contribute to the gratification of the prevailing passion; then take the next best to your aid. There are many avenues to every man; and when you cannot get at him through the great one, try the serpentine ones, and you will arrive at last.
There are two inconsistent passions, which, however, frequently accompany each other, like man and wife; and which, like man and wife too, are commonly clogs upon each other. I mean ambition and avarice: the latter is often the true cause of the former, and then is the predominant passion. It seems to have been so in Cardinal Mazarin, who did anything, submitted to anything, and forgave anything, for the sake of plunder. He loved and courted power, like a usurer, because it carried profit along with it. Whoever should have formed his opinion, or taken his measures, singly, from the ambitious part of Cardinal Mazarin's character, would have found himself often mistaken. Some who had found this out, made their fortunes by letting him cheat them at play. On the contrary, Cardinal Richelieu's prevailing passion seems to have been ambition, and his immense riches only the natural consequences of that ambition gratified; and yet, I make no doubt, but that ambition had now and then its turn with the former, and avarice with the latter. Richelieu (by the way) is so strong a proof of the inconsistency of human nature, that I cannot help observing to you, that while he absolutely governed both his king and his country, and was, in a great degree, the arbiter of the fate of all Europe, he was more jealous of the great reputation of Corneille than of the power of Spain; and more flattered with being thought (what he was not) the best poet, than with being thought (what he certainly was) the greatest statesman in Europe; and affairs stood still while he was concerting the criticism upon the Cid. Could one think this possible, if one did not know it to be true? Though men are all of one composition, the several ingredients are so differently proportioned ,in each individual, that no two are exactly alike; and no one at all times like himself. The ablest man will sometimes do weak things; the proudest man, mean things; the honestest man, ill things; and the wickedest man, good ones. Study individuals then, and if you take (as you ought to do,) their outlines from their prevailing passion, suspend your last finishing strokes till you have attended to, and discovered the operations of their inferior passions, appetites, and humors. A man's general character may be that of the honestest man of the world: do not dispute it; you might be thought envious or ill-natured; but, at the same time, do not take this probity upon trust to such a degree as to put your life, fortune, or reputation in his power. This honest man may happen to be your rival in power, in interest, or in love; three passions that often put honesty to most severe trials, in which it is too often cast; but first analyze this honest man yourself; and then only you will be able to judge how far you may, or may not, with safety trust him.
Women are much more like each other than men: they have, in truth, but two passions, vanity and love; these are their universal characteristics. An Agrippina may sacrifice them to ambition, or a Messalina to lust; but those instances are rare; and, in general, all they say, and all they do, tends to the gratification of their vanity or their love. He who flatters them most, pleases them best; and they are the most in love with him, who they think is the most in love with them. No adulation is too strong for them; no assiduity too great; no simulation of passion too gross; as, on the other hand, the least word or action that can possibly be construed into a slight or contempt, is unpardonable, and never forgotten. Men are in this respect tender too, and will sooner forgive an injury than an insult. Some men are more captious than others; some are always wrongheaded; but every man living has such a share of vanity, as to be hurt by marks of slight and contempt. Every man does not pretend to be a poet, a mathematician, or a statesman, and considered as such; but every man pretends to common sense, and to fill his place in the world with common decency; and, consequently, does not easily forgive those negligences, inattentions and slights which seem to call in question, or utterly deny him both these pretensions.
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