Tag Archives: Fiction

Lord Chesterfield on Giving Compliments, Day 3 REPOST

Originally posted 12/28/10

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

I was recently watching a splendid film called ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (centuries ahead of your time, I’m afraid, old boy) and couldn’t help but cringe upon the following scene involving how to (or how not to) give delicate compliments.

Mr. Collins (the creepy toad): It’s been many years since I had such an exemplary vegetable.

Mr. Bennet: How happy for you, Mr. Collins, to possess a talent for flattering with such . . . delicacy.

Elizabeth Bennet (the serpent-tongued yet lovely chit): Do these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they the result of previous study?

Mr. Collins: They arise chiefly from what is passing of the time. And though I do sometimes amuse myself with arranging such little elegant compliments, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.

Elizabeth Bennet: Oh, believe me, no one would suspect your manners to be rehearsed.

I trust you can see how I would positively shudder at being considered a Mr. Collins.  Please do advise.

Lost in Austen

Dear Lost in Austen:

You will easily discover every man’s prevailing vanity by observing his favourite topic of conversation; for every man talks most of what he has most a mind to be thought to excel in.  Touch him there, and you touch him to the quick. 

Do not mistake me, and think that I mean to recommend you to abject and criminal flattery: no; flatter nobody’s vices or crimes: on the contrary, abhor and discourage them.  But there is no living in the world without a complaisant indulgence for people’s weaknesses, and innocent, though ridiculous vanities.  If a man has a mind to be thought wiser, and a woman handsomer, than they really are, their error is a comfortable one to themselves, and an innocent one with regard to other people; and I would rather make them my friends by indulging them in it, than my enemies by endeavouring (and that to no purpose) to undeceive them.

There are little attentions, likewise, which are infinitely engaging, and which sensibly affect that degree of pride and self-love, which is inseperable from human nature; as they are unquestionable proofs of the regard and consideration which we have for the persons to whom we pay them.   As for example: to observe the little habits, the likings, the antipathies, and the tastes of those whom we would gain; and then take care to provide them with the one, and to secure them from the other; giving them genteely to understand, that you had ovserved to like such a dish or such a room; for which reason you had prepared it: or, on the contrary having observed they had an aversion to such a dish, dislike to such a person, etc., you had taken care to avoid presenting them.  Such attention to such trifles flatters self-love much more than greater things, as it makes people think themselves almost the only objects of your care and thoughts.

Adieu!

From London, October 16, O.S. 1747

So why did Mr. Collins blunder?  First he asked which cousin to compliment on such a fine meal (An insult.  The Bennet’s were well-off enough to have a cook.  Harrumph!)  Then, he proceeded to compliment them on boiled potatoes, calling such a basic and ordinary food exemplary.  Yikes!  Hopefully none of you endured this sort of exchange over Christmas dinner.

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for Lord Chesterfield on Domestic Affairs!

Missed the previous day?  Lord Chesterfield on Friendship

Lord Chesterfield on Friendship, Day 2 REPOST

Originally posted 12/27/10

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

I find myself in a common predicament these days: I have an abundance of friends when I have no real need of them and few friends when I do. What, pray, is the difference between a true friend and friend to pass the time, and why, when in most cases companionship is not wanting, should I care?

Adrift and Addlepated

Dear Adrift and Addlepated,

People of your age have, commonly, an unguarded frankness about them; which makes them the easy prey and bubbles of the artful and the inexperienced: they look upon every knave, or fool, who tells them that he is their friend, to be really so; and pay that profession of simulated friendship, with an indiscreet and unbounded confidence, always to their loss, often to their ruin. Beware, therefore, now that you are coming into the world, of these proffered friendships. Receive them with great civility, but with great incredulity too; and pay them with compliments, but not with confidence. Do not let your vanity, and self-love, make you suppose that people become your friends at first sight, or even upon a short acquaintance. Real friendship is a slow grower; and never thrives, unless ingrafted upon a stock of known and reciprocal merit.

There is another kind of nominal friendship, among young people, which is warm for a time, but, by good luck, of short duration. This friendship is hastily produced, by their being accidentally thrown together, and pursuing the same course of riot and debauchery. A fine friendship, truly! and well cemented by drunkeness and lewdness. It should rather be called a conspiracy against morals and good manners, and be punished as such by the civil magistrate. However, they have the impudence, and folly, to call this confederacy a friendship. They lend one another money, for bad purposes; they engage in quarrels, offensive and defensive, for their accomplices; they tell one another all they know, and often more too; when, of a sudden, some incident disperses them, and they think no more of each other, unless it be to betray and laugh at their imprudent confidence. Remember to make a great difference between companions and friends, for a very complaisant and agreeable companion may, and often does, prove a very improper and a very dangerous friend.

Adieu!

From London, October 9, O.S. 1747.

Missed the first post The Sagacious Letters of Lord Chesterfield?

Come back the day after tomorrow for Lord Chesterfield on Giving Compliments!

Risk One’s Hair, Risk One’s Head: Losing the Periwig

As I am wont to do, I was recently digging around a volume of The Gentleman’s Magazine when I discovered a fictionalized account regarding the first brave soul to don natural hair après the periwig fashion and the row that ensued.  Dare I say this is a version of Gentlemen brawlers, bandying over hairstyle supremacy? Victor Hugo, if only it were true!  I would be most amused.

From ‘By Order of the King: A Romance of English History’ by Victor Hugo

“Lord David held the position of judge in the gay life of London.  He was looked up to by the nobility and gentry.  Let us register a fact to the glory of Lord David.  He dared to wear his own hair.  The reaction against the wig was beginning.  Just as in 1824, Eugene Deveria was the first who dared to allow his beard to grow, so in 1702 Price Devereux dared for the first time to risk his natural hair in public, disguised by artful curling.  For to risk one’s hair was almost to risk one’s head.  The indignation was universal.  Nevertheless Price Devereux was Viscount Hereford, a peer of England.  He was insulted and the deed was well worth the insult.  In the hottest part of the row, Lord David suddenly appeared without his wig and in his natural hair. Such conduct shakes the foundations of society.  Lord David was insulted even more than Viscount Hereford.  He held his ground.  Price Devereux was the first; Lord David Dirry Moir, the second.  It is sometimes more difficult to be second than first.  It requires less genius, but more courage.  The first, intoxicated by the novelty, may ignore the danger; the second sees the abyss and precipitates himself therein.  Lord David flung himself into the abyss of no longer wearing a periwig.

Later in the century these lords found imitators.  After these two revolutionists, men found sufficient audacity to wear their own hair and powder was introduced as an extenuating circumstance.  In order to establish, before we pass on an important period of history, we should remark that the true pre-eminence in the war of wigs belongs to a Queen Christina of Sweden, who wore man’s clothes and had appeared in 1680 in her hair of golden brown, powdered and brushed up from her head.  She had besides, says Nisson, a slight beard.  The pope on his part, by his bull of March, 1694, had somewhat let down the wig by taking it from the heads of bishops and priests and in ordering churchmen to let their hair grow.”

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18th Century Wig Curlers