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of being talked of by others. With us, indeed, a very moderate degree of genius
, is sufficient for this purpose; in small societies, folks are set agape by small circumstances. I have known a lady here contrive to make a figure for half the winter, on the strength of a plume of feathers, or the trimming of a petticoat; and a gentleman make shift to be thought a fine fellow, only by outdoing every body else in the thickness of his queue, or the height of his foretop.
“But people will not only make themselves fools ; I have known instances of their becoming knaves, or, at least, boasting of their being so, from this desire of figure-making. You shall hear a fellow, who has once got the character of being a sharp man, tell things of himself, for which, if they had been true, he deserved to be hanged, merely because his line of figure-making lies in trick and chicane; hence too, proceed all those histories of their own profligacies and vice, which some young men of spirit are perpetually relating, who are willing to record themselves villains, rather than not be recorded at all.
“ In the arts, as well as in the characters of men, this same propensity is productive of strange disorders. Hence proceed the bombast of poetry, the tumor of prose, the garish light of some paintings, the unnatural chiaro scuro of others; hence, in music, the absurd mixture of discordant movements, and the squeak of high-strained cadences; in short, all those sins against nature and simplicity, which artists of inferior merit are glad to practise, in order to extort the notice of the public, and to make a figure by surprise and singularity.”
The accidental interruption of a new visitor now stopped the current of my friend's discourse; he had, indeed, begun to tire most of the company, who were
not all disposed to listen quite so long as he seemed inclined to speak. In truth, he had forgot, that the very reproof he meant to give his neighbours, applied pretty strongly to himself; and that, though he might suppose he was lecturing from the desire of reformation, he was, in reality, haranguing in the spirit of figuremaking
That life consists, in a great measure, of trifling occurrences and little occupations, there needs no uncommon sagacity or attention to discover. Notwithstanding the importance we are apt to ascribe to the employments and the time, even of the greatest and most illustrious, were we to trace such persons to the end of their labours, and the close of their pursuits, we should frequently discover, that trifles were the solace of the one, and the purpose of the other. Public business and political arrangement are often only the constrained employments to which
accident or education have devoted their hours, while their willing moments are destined, perhaps, to light amusements, and to careless mirth.
It is not, then, surprising, that trifles should form the chief gratification of ordinary men, on whom the public has no claim, and individuals have little dependence. But, of those trifles, the nature will commonly mark the man, as much as circumstances of greater importance. A mind capable of high exertion, or delicate sentiment, will stoop with a certain consciousness of its descent, that will not allow it to wanton into absurdity, or sink
There is, in short, a difference, which sense and feeling will not easily forget, between the little and the mean, the simple and the rude, the playful and the foolish.
But the surest mark of a weak mind is an affectation of importance amidst the