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within the Bounds of what you know, and never talk upon Things you are ignorant of, unless it be with a View to inform yourself. A Person cannot fail, in the Observance of this Rule without making himself ridiculous; and yet how often do we see it transgressed! Some who on War or Politics could talk very well, will be perpetually haranguing on Works of Genius and the Belles Lettres; others who are capable of Reasoning, and would make a Figure in grave Discourse, will yet constantly aim at Humour and Pleasantry, tho' with the worst Grace imaginable. Hence it is, that we see a Man of Merit sometimes appear like a Coxcomb, and hear a Man of Genius talk like a Fool.
Avoid Disputes as much as possible. In order to appear easy and well-bred in Conversation, you may assure yourself it requires more Wit, as well as more good Humour, to improve, than to contradict the Notions of another ; but if you are at any time obliged to enter on an Argument, give your Reasons with the utmost Coolness and Modesty, two Things which scarce ever fail bf making an Impression on the Hearers. Besides, if you are neither dogmatical, nor shew either by your Actions or Words that you are full of yourself, all will the more heartily rejoice at your Victory; nay, should you be pinch'd in your Argument, you may make your Retreat with a very good Grace; you were never positive, and are now glad to be better inform’d. This has made some approve the Socratical Way of Reasoning, where while you scarce affirm any thing, you can hardly be caught in an Absurdity ; and tho' possibly you are endeavouring to bring over another to your Opinion, which is firmly fixed, you seem only to defire Information from him.
In order to keep that Temper which is so difficult, and yet so necessary to preserve, you may please to consider, that nothing can be more unjust or ridiculous, than to be angry with another, because he is not of your Opinion. The Interest, Education, and Means by which Men attain their Knowledge, are so very different, that it is impossible they should all think alike, and he has at least as much Reason to be angry with you, as you with him. Sometimes, to keep yourself cool, it may be of Service to ask yourself fairly, what might have been your Opinion, had you all the Biassos of Education and Interest your Adversary may possibly have? But if you contend for the Honour of Victory alone, you may lay down this as an infallible Maxim, that you cannot make a more false Step, or give your Antagonist a greater Advantage over you, than by falling into a Paffion.
When When an Argument is over, how many weighty Reasons does a Man recollect, which his Heat and Violence made him utterly forget?
It is yet more absurd to be angry with a Man because he does not apprehend the Force of your Reasons, or give weak ones of his own. If you argue for Reputation, this makes your Victory the easier ; he is certainly in all Respects an Object of your Pity, rather than Anger; and if he cannot comprehend what you do, you ought to thank Nature for her Favours, who has given you so much the clearer Under
You may please to add this Consideration, that among your Equals no one values your Anger, which only preys upon its Master; and perhaps you may find it not very confistent either with Prudence or your Ease, to punish yourself whenever you meet with a Fool or a Knave.
Lastly, if you propose to yourself the true End of Argument, which is Information, it may be a seasonable Check to your Passion; for if you search purely after Truth, 'twill be almost indifferent to you where you find it. I cannot in this Place omit an Observation which I have often made, namely, that nothing procures a Man more Esteem and less Envy from the whole Company, than if he chuses the part of Moderator, without engaging directly on either Side in a Dispute. This gives him the Character of impartial, furnishes him with an Opportunity of lifting Things to the Bottom, of shewing his Judgment, and of sometimes making handsome Compliments to each of the contending Parties. I shall close this Subject with giving you one Caution: When you have gain'd a Victory, do not push it too far; 'tis sufficient to let the Company and your Adversary see 'tis in your Power, but that you are too generous to make use of it.
On the fame Subjeet.
T HE Faculty of interchanging our Thoughts with one
1 another, or what we express by the Word Converfation, has always been represented by moral Writers, as one of the noblest Privileges of Reason, and which more particularly sets Mankind above the Brute Part of the Creation.
every Daontanthy OC as this
Though nothing so much gains upon the Affections as this Extempore Eloquence, which we have constantly Occasion for, and are obliged to practise every Day, we very rarely meet with any who excell it it.
The Conversation of most Men is disagreeable, not so much for want of Wit and Learning, as of good Breeding and Discretion.
If you resolve to please, never speak to gratify any particular Vanity or Passion of your own, but always with a Design either to divert or inform the Company. A Man who only aims at one of these, is always easy in his Difcourse; he is never out of Humour at being interrupted, because he considers that those who hear him are the best Judges, whether what he was saying could either divert or inform them.
A modest Person feldom fails to gain the good Will of those he converses with; because no body envies a Man who does not appear to be pleased with himself.
We should talk extremely little of ourselves. Indeed what can we say? It would be as imprudent to discover our Faults, as ridiculous to count over our fancied Virtues. Our private and domestic Affairs are no less improper to be introduced into Conversation. What does it concern the Company how many Horses you keep in your Stables ? Or whether your Servant is moft Knave or Fool?
A Man may equally affront the Company he is in, by engrossing all the Talk, or observing a contemptuous Silence.
Before you tell a Story, it may be generally not amiss to draw a short Character, and give the Company a true Idea of the principal Persons concerned in it. The Beauty of most Things consisting not so much in their being said or done, as in their being said or done by such a particular Person, or on such a particular Occasion.
Notwithstanding all the Advantages of Youth, few young People please in Conversation; the Reason is, that want of Experience makes them positive, and what they say is rather with a Design to please themselves, than any one else.
It is certain, that Age itself shall make many Things pass well enough, which would have been laugh'd at in the Mouth of one much younger.
Nothing, however, is more insupportable to Men of Sense, than an empty formal Man who speaks in Proverbs, and decides all Controverfies with a fhort Sentence. This Piece of Stupidity is the more insufferable, as it puts on the Air of Wisdom.
Whether you may equi alk,
People:ence machian to plee itself !!
A prudent Man will avoid talking much of any particutar Science for which he is remarkably famous. There is not methinks an handsomer Thing faid of Mr. Cowley in his whole Life, than that none but his intimate Friends ever discover'd he was a great Poet by his Discourse. Besides the Decency of this Rule, it is certainly founded in good Policy. A Man who talks of any thing he is already famous for, has little to get, but a great deal to lose. I might add, that he who is sometimes silent on a Subject where every one is fatiffied he could speak well, will often be thought no less knowing in other Matters, where perhaps he is wholly ignorant.
Whenever you command, add your Reasons for doing so; it is this which distinguishes the Approbation of a Man of Sense from the Flattery of Sycophants, and Admiration of Fools.
Raillery is no longer agreeable than while the whole Company is pleased with it. I would least of all be understood to except the Person rallied.
Though good Humour, Sense and Discretion, seldom fail to make a Man agreeable, it may be no ill Policy sometimes to prepare yourself in a particular Manner for Conversation, by looking a little farther than your Neighbours into whatever is become a reigning Subject. If our Armies are befieging a Place of Importance Abroad, or our House of Commons debating a Bill of Consequence at Home, you can hardly fail of being heard with Pleasure, if you have nicely inform'd yourself of the Strength, Situation and History of the first, or of the Reasons for and against the latter. It will have the same Effect, if when any single Person begins to make a Noise in the World, you can learn some of the smallest Accidents in his Life or Conversation, which though they are too fine for the Observation of the Vulgar, give more Satisfaction to Men of Sense, (as they are the best Opening to a real Character) than the Recital of his most glaring Actions. I know but one ill Consequence to be fear'd from this Method, namely, that coming full charg'dinto Company, you should resolve to unload, whether an handsome Opportunity offers itself or no.
Though the asking of Questions may plead for itself the specious Name of Modesty, and a Desire of Information, it affords little Pleasure to the rest of the Company, who are not troubled with the same Doubts; besides which, he who asks a Question would do well to consider, that he lies wholly at the Mercy of another, before he receives an Answer.
Nothing Nothing is more filly than the Pleasure some people take in what they call speaking their Minds. A Man of this Make will say a rude Thing for the mere Pleasure of saying it; when an opposite Behaviour, full as innocent, might have preserv'd his friend, or made his Fortune.
It is not impossible for a Man to form to himself as exquisite a Pleasure in complying with the Humour and Sentiments of others, as of bringing others over to his own; since 'tis the certain Sign of a superior Genius, that can take and become whatever Dress it pleases.
I shall only add, that besides what I have here said, there is something that can never be learnt, but in the Company of the Polite. The Virtues of Men are catching as well as their Vices, and your own Observations added to these, will foon discover what it is that commands Attention in one Man, and makes you tir'd and displeased with the Discourse of another.
THO' Invention be the Mother of Poetry, yet this . Child is like all others, born naked, and must be nourished with Care, cloath'd with Exactness and Elegance, educated with Industry, instructed with Art improved by Application, corrected with Severity, and accomplished with Labour and with Time, before it arrives at any great Perfection or Growth. 'Tis certain, that no Composition requires so many several Ingredients, or of more different Sorts, than this; nor that to excel in any Qualities, there are necessary so many Gifts of Nature, and so many Improvements of Learning and of Art. For there must be an universal Genius, of great Compass, as well as great Elevation. There must be a sprightly Imagination or Fancy, fertile in a thousand Productions, ranging over infinite Ground, piercing into every Corner, and by the Light of that true poetical Fire, discovering a thousand little Bodies or Images in the World, and Similitudes among them, unseen to common Eyes, and which could not be discover'd without the Rays of that Sun. Besides the Heat of Invention and Liveliness of Wit, there must be the Coldness of good Sense, and Sound