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TRUE AND FALSE MEEKNESS.
A LOW voice and soft address are the common indications of a well-bred woman, and should seem to be the natural effects of a meek and quiet spirit ; but they are only the outward and visible signs of it: for they are no more meekness itself, than a red coat is courage, or a black one devotion.
Yet nothing is more common than to mistake the sign for the thing itself; nor is any practice more frequent than that of endeavouring to acquire the exterior mark, without once thinking to labour after the interior grace. Surely this is beginning at the wrong end, like attacking the symptom, and neglecting the disease. To regulate the features while the soul is in tumults, or to command the voice while the passions are without restraint, is as idle as throwing odours into a stream when the source is polluted.
The sapient king, * who knew better than any man the nature and the power of beauty, has assured us, that the temper of the mind has a strong influence
* Solomon is here understood ; but the term by which he is indicated, ill suits the dignity of one who had the reputation of being the wisest of men. Ev.
upon the features: “ Wisdom maketh the face to shine," says that exquisite judge ; and surely no part of wisdom is more likely to produce this amiable effect, than a placid serenity of soul.
It will not be difficult to distinguish the true from the artificial meekness. The former is universal and habitual; the latter, local and temporary. Every young female may keep this rule by her, to enable her to form a just judgment of her own temper: if she is not as gentle to her chambermaid as she is to her visiter, she may rest satisfied that the spirit of gentleness is not in her.
Who would not be shocked and disappointed to behold a well-bred young lady, soft and engaging as the doves of Venus, displaying a thousand graces and attractions to win the hearts of a large company; and the instant they are gone, to see her look mad as the Pythian maid, and all the frightened graces driven from her furious countenance, only because her gown was brought home a quarter of an hour later than she expected, or her ribbon sent half a shade lighter or darker than she ordered ?
All men's characters are said to proceed from their servants; and this is more particularly true of ladies : for as their situations are more domestic, they lie more open to the inspection of their families, to whom their real characters are easily and perfectly known; for they seldom think it worth while to practise any disguise before those whose good opinion they do not value, and who are obliged to submit to their most insupportable humours, because they are paid for it.
Among women of breeding, the exterior of gentleness is so uniformly assumed, and the whole manner is so perfectly level and uni, that it is next to impossible for a stranger to know any thing of their true dispositions by conversing with them, and even the very features are so exactly regulated, that physiog
nomy, which may sometimes be trusted among the vulgar, is, with the politę, a most lying science.
A very termagant woman, if she happens also to be a very artful one, will be conscious she has so much to conceal, that the dread of betraying her real temper will make her put on an over-acted softness, which, from its very excess, may be distinguished from the natural, by a penetrating eye That gentleness is ever liable to be suspected for the counterfeited, which is so excessive as to deprive people of the proper use of speech and motion, or which, as Hamlet says, makes them lisp and amble, and nick-name God's creatures.
The countenance and manners of some very fashionable
persons may be compared to the inscriptions on their monuments, which speak nothing but good of what is within ; but he who knows any thing of the world, or of the human heart, will no more trust to the courtesy, than he will depend on the epitaph.
Among the various artifices of factitious meekness, one of the most frequent and most plausible, is that of affecting to be always equally delighted with all persons and all characters. The society of these languid beings is without confidence, their friendship without attachment, and their love without affection, or even preference. This insipid mode of conduct may be safe, but I cannot think it has either taste, sense, or principle in it.
These uniformly smiling and approving ladies, who have neither the noble courage to reprehend vice, nor the generous warmth to bear their honest testimony in the cause of virtue, conclude every one to be ill-natured who has any penetration, and look upon a distinguishing judgment as want of tenderness. But they should learn, that this discernment does not always proceed from an uncharitable temper, but from that long experience and thorough knowledge of the world, which lead those who have it to scrutinize
into the conduct and disposition of men, before they trust entirely to those fair appearances, which some times veil the most insidious purposes.
We are perpetually mistaking the qualities and dispositions of our own hearts. We elevate our failings into virtues, and qualify our vices into weaknesses: and hence arise so many false judgments respecting meekness. Self-ignorance is at the root of all this mischief. Many ladies complair. that, for their part, their spirit is so meek they can bear nothing; whereas, if they spoke truth, they would say, their spirit is so high and unbroken, that they can bear nothing. Strange! to plead their meekness as a reason why they cannot endure to be crossed and to produce their impatience of contradic. tion as a proof of their gentleness !
Meekness, like most other virtues, has certain limits, which it no sooner exceeds than it becomes criminal. Servility of spirit is not gentleness but weakness, and if allowed, under the specious appearances it sometimes puts on, will lead to the most dangerous compliances. She who hears innocence maligned without vindicating it, falsehood asserted without contradicting it, or religion profaned without resenting it, is not gentle but wicked.
To give up the cause of an innocent, injured friend, if the popular cry happens to be against him, is the most disgraceful weakness. This was the case of Madame de Maintenon. She loved the character and admired the talents of Racine; she caressed him while he had no enemies, but wantec the greatness of mind, or rather the common justice, to protect him against their resentment when he had; and her favourite was abandoned to the suspicious jealousy of the king, when a prudent remonstrance might have preserved him.—But her tameness, if not absolute connivance in the great massacre of the protestants, in whose church she had been bred, is
a far more guilty instance of her weakness; an instance which, in spite of all her devotional zeal and incomparable prudence, will disqualify her from shining in the annals of good women, however she may be entitled to figure among the great and the fortunate. Compare her conduct with that of her undaunted and pious countryman and contemporary, Bougi, who, when Louis would have prevailed on him to renounce his religion for a commission or a government, nobly replied, “ If I could be persuaded to betray my God for a marshal's staff, I might betray my king for a bribe of much less consequence.”
Meekness is imperfect, if it be not both active and passive; if it will not enable us to subdue our own passions and resentments, as well as qualify us to bear patiently the passions and resentments of others.
Before we give way to any violent emotion of anger, it would perhaps be worth while to consider the object which excites it, and to reflect for a moment, whether the thing we so ardently desire, or so vehemently resent, be really of as much importance to us, as that delightful tranquillity of soul, which we renounce in pursuit of it. If, on a fair calculation, we find we are not likely to get as much as we are sure to lose, then, putting all religious considerations out of the question, common sense and human policy will tell us, we have made a foolish and unprofitable exchange. Inward quiet is a part of one's self; the object of our resentment may be only a matter of Opinion; and certainly, what makes a portion of our actual happiness ought to be too dear to us, to be sacrificed for a trifling, foreign, perhaps imaginary good.
The most pointed satire I remember to have read, on a mind enslaved by anger, is an observation of Seneca's. Alexander," said he,“ had two friends, Clitus and Lysimachus; the one he exposed