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led ?” I not only know that she had heard evil reports of
me, but I know who told her-one of those acute fellows, my dear brethren, of whom we spoke in a previous sermon, who has found me out-found out actions which I never did, found out thoughts and sayings which I never spoke, and judged me accordingly. Ah, my lad ! have I found you out ? O risum teneatis. Perhaps the person I am accusing is no more guilty than I.
How comes it that the evil which men say spreads so widely and lasts so long, whilst our good, kind words don't seem somehow to take root and bear blossom? Is it that in the stony hearts of mankind these pretty flowers can't find a place to grow? Certain it is that scandal is good brisk talk, whereas praise of one's neighbor is by no means lively hearing. An acquaintance grilled, scored, devilled, and served with mustard and cayenne pepper, excites the appetite ; whereas a slice of cold friend with currant jelly is but a sickly, unrelishing meat.
Now, such being the case, my dear worthy Mrs. Candor, in whom I know there are a hundred good and generous qualities : it being perfectly clear that the good things which we say of our neighbors don't fructify, but somehow perish in the ground where they are dropped, whilst the evil words are wafted by all the winds of scandal, take root in all soils, and flourish amazingly-seeing, I say, that this conversation does not give us a fair chance, suppose we give up censoriousness altogether, and decline uttering our opinions about Brown, Jones, and Robinson (and Mesdames B., J., and R.) at all. We may be mistaken about every one of them, as, please goodness, those anecdote-mongers against whom I have uttered my meek protest have been mistaken about me. We need not go to the extent of saying that Mrs. Manning was an amiable creature, much misunderstood ; and Jack Thurtell a gallant, unfortunate fellow, not near so black as he was painted; but we will try and avoid personalities altogether in talk, won't we? We will range the fields of science, dear madam, and communicate to each other the pleasing results of our studies. We will, if you please, examine the infinitesimal wonders of nature through the microscope. We will cultivate entomology. We will sit with our arms round each other's waists on the pons asinorum, and see the stream of mathematics flow beneath. We will take refuge in cards, and play at "beggar my neighbor," not abuse my neighbor. We will go to the Zoological Gardens and talk freely about the gorilla and his kindred, but not talk about people who can talk in their turn. Suppose we praise the High Church?
we offend the Low Church. The Broad Church ? High and Low are both offended. What do you think of Lord Derby as a politician? And what is your opinion of Lord Palmerston ? If you please, will you play me those lovely variations of “In my cottage near a wood ? It is a charming air (you know it in French, I suppose ? Ah ! te dirai-je maman?) and was a favorite with poor Marie Antoinette. I say “poor,” because I have a right to speak with pity of a sovereign who was renowned for so much beauty and so much misfortune. But as for giving any opinion on her conduct, saying that she was good or bad, or indifferent, goodness forbid! We have agreed we will not be censorious. Let us have a game at cards—at écarté, if you please. You deal. I ask for cards. I lead the deuce of clubs.
What? there is no deuce! Deuce take it! What? People will go on talking about their neighbors, and won't have their mouths stopped by cards, or ever so much microscopes and aquariums ? Ah, my poor dear Mrs. Candor, I agree with you. By the way, did you ever see anything like Lady Godiva Trotter's dress last night ? People will go on chattering, although we hold our tongues ; and, after all, my good soul, what will their scandal matter a hundred years hence?
Not long since, at a certain banquet, I had the good fortune to sit by Doctor Polymathesis, who knows everything, and who, about the time when the claret made its appearance, mentioned that old dictum of the grumbling Oxford Don, that “All CLARET would be port if it could !” Imbibing a bumper of one or the other not ungratefully, I thought to myself, “ Here surely, Mr. Roundabout, is a good text for one of your reverence's sermons.” Let us apply to the human race, dear brethren, what is here said of the vintages of Portugal and Gascony, and we shall have no difficulty in perceiving how many clarets aspire to the ports in their way ; how most men and women of our acquaintance, how we ourselves, are Aquitanians giving ourselves Lusitanian airs ; how we wish to have credit for being stronger, braver, more beautiful, more worthy than we really are,
Nay, the beginning of this hypocrisy-a desire to excel, a desire to be hearty, fruity, generous, strength-imparting-is a virtuous and noble ambition ; and it is most difficult for a man in his own case, or his neighbor's, to say at what point this ambition transgresses the boundary of virtue, and becomes vanity, pretence, and self-seeking. You are a poor man, let us say, showing a bold face to adverse fortune, and wearing a confident aspect. Your purse is very narrow, but you owe no man a penny; your means are scanty, but your wife's gown is decent; your old coat well brushed ; your children at a good school ; you grumble to no one ; ask favors of no one ; truckle to no neighbors on account of their superior rank, or (a worse, and a meaner, and a more common crime still) envy none for their better fortune. To all outward appearances you are as well to do as your neighbors, who have thrice your income. There may be in this case some little mixture of pretension in your life and behavior. You certainly do put on a smiling face whilst fortune is pinching you. Your wife and girls, so smart and neat at evening-parties, are cutting, patching, and cobbling all day to make both ends of life's haberdashery meet. You give a friend a bottle of wine on occasion, but are content yourself with a glass of whiskey-and-water. You avoid a cab, saying that of all things you like to walk home after dinner (which you know, my good friend, is a fib). I grant you that in this scheme of life there does enter ever so little hypocrisy ; that this claret is loaded, as it were ; but your desire to fortify yourself is amiable, is pardonable, is perhaps honorable and were there no other hypocrisies than yours in the world we should be a set of worthy fellows; and sermonizers, moralizers, satirizers, would have to hold their tongues, and go to some other trade to get a living.
But you know you will step over that boundary line of virtue and modesty, into the district where humbug and vanity begin, and there the moralizer catches you and makes an example of you. For instance, in a certain novel in another place my friend' Mr. Talbot Twysden is mentioned--a man whom you and I know to be a wretched ordinaire, but who persists in treating himself as if he was the finest ’20 port. In our Britain there are hundreds of men like him ; forever striving to swell beyond their natural size, to strain beyond their natural strength, to step beyond their natural stride. Search, search within your own waistcoat, dear brethren---you know in your hearts, which of your ordinaire qualities you would pass off, and fain consider as first-rate port. And why not you yourself, Mr. Preacher ? says the congregation. Dearly beloved, neither in nor out of this pulpit do I profess to be bigger, or cleverer, or wiser, or better than any of you. A short while since, a certain Reviewer announced that I gave myself great pretensions as a philosopher. I a philosopher! I advance pretensions! My dear Saturday friend, And you? Don't you teach everything to everybody ? and punish the naughty boys if they don't learn as you bid them? You teach politics to Lord John and Mr. Gladstone. You teach poets how to write ; painters, how to paint; gentlemen, manners; and opera-dancers, how to pirouette. I was not a little amused of late by an instance of the modesty of our Saturday friend, who, more Athenian than the Athenians, and à propos of a Greek book by a Greek author, sat down and gravely showed the Greek gentleman how to write his own language.
No, I do not, as far as I know, try to be port at all; but offer in these presents, a sound genuine ordinaire, at 18s. per doz. let us say, grown on my own hill-side, and offered de bon caur to those who will sit down under my tonnelle, and have a half-hour's drink and gossip. It is none of your
hot porto, my friend. I know there is much better and stronger liquor elsewhere. Some pronounce it sour: some say it is thin ; some that it has wofully lost its flavor. This may or may not be true, There are good and bad years; years that surprise everybody ; years of which the produce is small and bad, or rich and plentiful. But if my tap is not genuine it is naught, and no man should give himself the trouble to drink it. I do not even say that I would be port if I could; knowing that port (by which I would imply much stronger, deeper, richer, and more durable liquor than my vineyard can furnish) is not relished by all palates, or suitable to all heads. We will assume then, dear brother, that you and I are tolerably modest people ; and, ourselves being thus out of the question, proceed to show how pretentious our neighbors are, and how very many of them would be port if they could.
Have you never seen a small man from college placed amongst great folk, and giving himself the airs of a man of fashion? He goes back to his common room with fond reminiscences of Ermine Castle or Strawberry Hall
. He writes to the dear countess, to say that dear Lord Lollypop is getting on very well at St. Boniface, and that the accident which he met with in a scuffle with an inebriated bargeman only showed his spirit and honor, and will not permanently disfigure his lordship's nose. He gets his clothes from dear Lollypop's
London tailor, and wears a mauve or magenta tie when he rides out to see the hounds. A love of fashionable people is a weakness, I do not say of all, but of some tutors. Witness that Eton tutor t’other day, who intimated that in Cornhill we could not understand the perfect purity, delicacy, and refinement of those genteel families who sent their sons to Eton. O usher, mon ami! Old Sam Johnson, who, too, had been an usher in his early life, kept a little of that weakness always. Suppose Goldsmith had knocked him up at three in the morning and proposed a boat to Greenwich, as Topham Beauclerc and his friend did, would he have said, “What, my boy, are you for a frolic? I'm with you!” and gone and put on his clothes ?. Rather he would have pitched poor Goldsmith down stairs. He would have liked to be port if he could. Of course we wouldn't. Our opinion of the Portugal grape is known. It grows very high, and is very sour, and we don't go for that kind of grape at all.
“I was walking with Mr. Fox”—and sure this anecdote comes very pat after the grapes—"I was walking with Mr. Fox in the Louvre," says Benjamin West (apud some paper I have just been reading), “and I remarked how many people turned round to look at me. This shows the respect of the French for the fine arts.” This is a curious instance of a very small claret indeed, which imagined itself to be port of the strongest body. There are not many instances of a faith so deep, so simple, so satisfactory as this.
I have met many who would like to be port; but with few of the Gascon sort, who absolutely believed they were port. George III. believed in West's port, and thought Reynolds' overrated stuff. When I saw West's pictures at Philadelphia, I looked at them with astonishment and awe. Hide, blushing glory, hide your head under your old nightcap. O immortality! is this the end of you ? Did any of you, my dear brethren, ever try and read “ Bíackmore's Poems," or the “Epics of Baour-Lormian," or the “ Henriade,” or—what shall we say ?-Pollok's “ Course of Time !” They were thought to be more lasting than brass by some people, and where are they now? And our masterpieces of literature-our ports—that, if not immortal, at any rate are to last their fifty, their hundred years-oh, sirs, don't you think a very small cellar will hold them?
Those poor people in brass, on pedestals, hectoring about Trafalgar Square and that neighborhood, don't you think many of them—apart even from the ridiculous execution-cut rather a ridiculous figure, and that we are too eager to set up our ordin.