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lace; instead of being bedaubed with snuff, we should find it breathing perfumes; and, in place of a book-worm, crawling through the gloomy cloisters of a university, we should mark it in the state of a gilded butterfly, buzzing through the gay region of the drawing-room.
Robert Daisey, Esq. is a pedant of this last kind. When he tells you that his ruffles cost twenty guineas a pair; that his buttons were the first of the kind made by one of the most eminent artists in Birmingham; that his buckles were procured by means of a friend at Paris, and are the exact pattern of those worn by the Comte d'Artois; that the loop of his hat was of his own contrivance, and has set the fashion to half-a-dozen of the finest fellows in town: when he descants on all these particulars, with that smile of self-complacency which sits for ever on his cheek, he is as much a pedant as his quondam tutor, who recites verses from Pindar, tells stories out of Herodotus, and talks for an hour on the energy
of the Greek particles.
But Mr. Daisey is struck dumb by the approach of his brother Sir Thomas, whose pedantry goes a pitch higher, and pours out all the intelligence of France and Italy, whence the young Baronet is just returned, after a tour of fifteen months over all the kingdoms of the continent. Talk of music, he cuts you short with the history of the first singer at Naples; of painting, he runs you down with a description of the gallery at Florence; of architecture, he overwhelms you with the dimensions of St. Peter's, or the great church at Antwerp; or, if you leave the province of art altogether, and introduce the name of a river or hill, he instantly deluges you with the Rhine, or makes you dizzy with the height of Etna or Mont Blanc.
Miss will have no difficulty of owning her great
aunt to be a pedant, when she talks all the time of dinner on the composition of the pudding, or the seasoning of the mince-pies; or enters into a disquisition on the figure of the damask table-cloth, with a word or two on the thrift of making one's own linen ; but the young lady will be surprised when I inform her, that her own history of last Thursday's assembly, with the episode of Lady Di's feather, and the digression to the qualities of Mr. Frizzle the hair-dresser, was also a piece of downright pedantry.
Mrs. Caudle is guilty of the same weakness, when she recounts the numberless witticisms of her daughter Emmy, describes the droll figure her little Bill made yesterday at trying on his first pair of breeches, and informs us, that Bobby has got seven teeth, and is just cutting an eighth, though he will be but nine months old next Wednesday at six o'clock in the evening. Nor is her pedantry less disgusting, when she proceeds to enumerate the virtues and good qualities of her husband; though this last species is so uncommon, that it may, perhaps, be admitted into conversation for the sake of variety.
Muckworm is the meanest of pedants, when he tells you of the scarcity of money at present, and that he is amazed how people can afford to live as they do; that, for his part, though he has a tolerable fortune, he finds it exceedingly difficult to command cash for his occasions; that trade is so dead, and debts so ill paid at present, that he was obliged to sell some shares of bank stock to make up the price of his last purchase; and had actually countermanded a service of plate, else he should have been obliged to strike several names out of the list of his weekly pensioners; and that this apology was sustained t'other day by the noble company (giving you a list of three or four peers, and their families) who
did him the honour to eat a bit of mutton with him. All this, however, is true. As is also another anecdote, which Muckworm forgot to mention : his first cousin dined that day with the servants, who took compassion on the lad, after he had been turned down stairs, with a refusal of twenty pounds to set him up
in the trade of a shoemaker. There is pedantry in every disquisition, however masterly it
may be, that stops the general conversation of the company. When Silius delivers that sort of lecture he is apt to get into, though it is supported by the most extensive information and the clearest discernment, it is still pedantry; and while I admire the talents of Silius, I cannot help being uneasy at his exhibition of them. In the course of this dissertation, the farther a man proceeds, the more he seems to acquire strength and inclination for the progress. Last night, after supper, Silius began upon Protestantism, proceeded to the Irish massacre, went through the Revolution, drew the character of King William, repeated anecdotes of Schomberg, and ended at a quarter past twelve, by delineating the course of the Boyne, in half a bumper of port, upon my best table; which river, happening to overflow its banks, did infinite damage to my cousin Sophy's white satin petticoat.
In short, every thing, in this sense of the word, is pedantry, which tends to destroy that equality of conversation which is necessary to the perfect ease and good humour of the company. Every one would be struck with the unpoliteness of that person's behaviour, who should help himself to a whole plate of peas or strawberries which some friend had sent him for a rarity in the beginning of the season.
Now, conversation is one of those good things of which our guests or companions are equally entitled to a share,
as of any other constituent part of the entertainment; and it is as essential a want of politeness to engross the one, as to monopolize the other.
Besides, it unfortunately happens, that we are very inadequate judges of the value of our own discourse, or the rate at which the dispositions of our company will incline them to hold it. The reflections we make, and the stories we tell, are to be judged of by others, who may hold a very different opinion of their acuteness or their humour. It will be prudent, therefore, to consider, that the dish we bring to this entertainment, however pleasing to our own taste, may prove but moderately palatable to those we mean to treat with it; and that, to every man, as well as ourselves (except a few very
humble ones), his own conversation is the plate of peas or strawberries. --V.
No 6. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 1779.
Nec excitatur classico miles truci
Nec horret iratum mare ;
GREAT talents are usually attended with a proportional desire of exerting them; and indeed, were it otherwise, they would be in a great measure useless to those who possess them, as well as to society.
But, while this disposition generally leads men of high parts and high spirit to take a share in active life, by engaging in the pursuits of business or ambition, there are, amidst the variety of human character, some instances, in which persons eminently
possessed of those qualities, give way to a contrary disposition.
A man of an aspiring mind and nice sensibility may, from a wrong direction, or a romantic excess of spirit, find it difficult to submit to the ordinary pursuits of life. Filled with enthusiastic ideas of the glory of a general, a senator, or a statesman, he may look with indifference, or even with disgust, on the less brilliant, though, perhaps, not less useful occupations of the physician, the lawyer, or the trader.
My friend Mr. Umphraville is a remarkable instance of great talents thus lost to himself and to society. The singular opinions which have influenced his conduct, I have often heard him attempt, with great warmth, to defend.
'In the pursuit of an ordinary profession,' would he say, a man of spirit and sensibility, while he is subjected to disgusting occupations, finds it necessary to submit with patience, nay often with the appearance of satisfaction, to what he will be apt to esteem dulness, folly, or impertinence, in those from whose countenance, or opinion, he hopes to derive success; and, while he pines in secret at so irksome a situation, perhaps, amidst the crowds with whom
not find a friend to whom he can communicate his sorrows.
If, on the other hand, he would add, 'he betakes himself to retirement, it is true, he cannot hope for an opportunity of performing splendid actions, or of gratifying a passion for glory; but if he attain not all that he wishes, he avoids much of what he hates. Within a certain range he will be master of his occupations -and his company ; his books will, in part, supply the want of society; and, in contemplation, at least, he may often enjoy those pleasures from which fortune has precluded him.