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.
Suspect, in general, those who remarkably affect any one virtue; who raise it above all others, and who, in a manner, intimate that they possess it exclusively. I say suspect them, for they are commonly impostors; but do not be sure that they are always so; for I have sometimes known saints really religious, blusterers really brave, reformers of manners really honest, and prudes really chaste. Pry into the recesses of their hearts yourself, as far as you are able, and never implicitly adopt a character upon common fame; which, though generally right as to the great outlines of characters, is always wrong in some particulars.
Be upon your guard against those who upon very slight acquaintance, obtrude their unasked and unmerited friendship and confidence upon you; for they probably cram you with them only for their own eating; but, at the same time, do not roughly reject them upon that general supposition. Examine further, and see whether those unexpected offers flow from a warm heart and a silly head, or from a designing head and a cold heart; for knavery and folly have often the same symptoms. In the first case, there is no danger in accepting them, 'valeant quantum valere possunt'. In the latter case, it may be useful to seem to accept them, and artfully to turn the battery upon him who raised it.
There is an incontinency of friendship among young fellows, who are associated by their mutual pleasures only, which has, very frequently, bad consequences. A parcel of warm hearts and inexperienced heads, heated by convivial mirth, and possibly a little too much wine, vow, and really mean at the time, eternal friendships to each other, and indiscreetly pour out their whole souls in common, and without the least reserve. These confidences are as indiscreetly repealed as they were made; for new pleasures and new places soon dissolve this ill-cemented connection; and then very ill uses are made of these rash confidences. Bear your part, however, in young companies; nay, excel, if you can, in all the social and convivial joy and festivity that become youth. Trust them with your love tales, if you please; but keep your serious views secret. Trust those only to some tried friend, more experienced than yourself, and who, being in a different walk of life from you, is not likely to become your rival; for I would not advise you to depend so much upon the heroic virtue of mankind, as to hope or believe that your competitor will ever be your friend, as to the object of that competition.
These are reserves and cautions very necessary to have, but very imprudent to show; the 'volto sciolto' should accompany them. Adieu.
DEAR BOY: Great talents and great virtues (if you should have them) will procure you the respect and the admiration of mankind; but it is the lesser talents, the 'leniores virtutes', which must procure you their love and affection. The former, unassisted and unadorned by the latter, will extort praise; but will, at the same time, excite both fear and envy; two sentiments absolutely incompatible with love and affection.
Caesar had all the great vices, and Cato all the great virtues, that men could have. But Caesar had the 'leniores virtutes' which Cato wanted, and which made him beloved, even by his enemies, and gained him the hearts of mankind, in spite of their reason: while Cato was not even beloved by his friends, notwithstanding the esteem and respect which they could not refuse to his virtues; ,and I am apt to think, that if Caesar had wanted, and Cato possessed, those 'leniores virtutes', the former would not have attempted (at least with success), and the latter could have protected, the liberties of Rome. Mr. Addison, in his "Cato," says of Caesar (and I believe with truth),
"Curse on his virtues, they've undone his country."
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