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Jack Lizard (no. 24. Guardian) Post by :AlexR Category :Essays Author :Richard Steele Date :October 2011 Read :2953

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Jack Lizard (no. 24. Guardian)

Jack Lizard was about Fifteen when he was first entered in the University, and being a Youth of a great deal of Fire, and a more than ordinary Application to his Studies, it gave his Conversation a very particular Turn. He had too much Spirit to hold his Tongue in Company; but at the same time so little Acquaintance with the World, that he did not know how to talk like other People.

After a Year and half's stay at the University, he came down among us to pass away a Month or two in the Country. The first Night after his Arrival, as we were at Supper, we were all of us very much improved by Jack's Table-Talk. He told us, upon the Appearance of a Dish of Wild-Fowl, that according to the Opinion of some natural Philosophers they might be lately come from the Moon. Upon which the Sparkler bursting out into a Laugh, he insulted her with several Questions relating to the Bigness and Distance of the Moon and Stars; and after every Interrogatory would be winking upon me, and smiling at his Sister's Ignorance. Jack gained his Point; for the Mother was pleased, and all the Servants stared at the Learning of their young Master. Jack was so encouraged at this Success, that for the first Week he dealt wholly in Paradoxes. It was a common Jest with him to pinch one of his Sister's Lap-Dogs, and afterwards prove he could not feel it. When the Girls were sorting a Set of Knots, he would demonstrate to them that all the Ribbands were of the same Colour; or rather, says Jack, of no Colour at all. My Lady Lizard her self, though she was not a little pleas'd with her Son's Improvements, was one Day almost angry with him; for having accidentally burnt her Fingers as she was lighting the Lamp for her Tea-pot; in the midst of her Anguish, Jack laid hold of the Opportunity to instruct her that there was no such thing as Heat in Fire. In short, no Day pass'd over our Heads, in which Jack did not imagine he made the whole Family wiser than they were before.

That part of his Conversation which gave me the most Pain, was what pass'd among those Country Gentlemen that came to visit us. On such Occasions Jack usually took upon him to be the Mouth of the Company; and thinking himself obliged to be very merry, would entertain us with a great many odd Sayings and Absurdities of their College-Cook. I found this Fellow had made a very strong Impression upon Jack's Imagination; which he never considered was not the Case of the rest of the Company, 'till after many repeated Tryals he found that his Stories seldom made any Body laugh but himself.

I all this while looked upon Jack as a young Tree shooting out into Blossoms before its Time; the Redundancy of which, though it was a little unseasonable, seemed to foretel an uncommon Fruitfulness.

In order to wear out the vein of Pedantry which ran through his Conversation, I took him out with me one Evening, and first of all insinuated to him this Rule, which I had my self learned from a very great Author, To think with the Wise, but talk with the Vulgar. Jack's good Sense soon made him reflect that he had often exposed himself to the Laughter of the Ignorant by a contrary Behaviour; upon which he told me, that he would take Care for the future to keep his Notions to himself, and converse in the common received Sentiments of Mankind. He at the same time desired me to give him any other Rules of Conversation which I thought might be for his Improvement. I told him I would think of it; and accordingly, as I have a particular Affection for the young Man, I gave him next Morning the following Rules in Writing, which may perhaps have contributed to make him the agreeable Man he now is.

The Faculty of interchanging our Thoughts with one another, or what we express by the Word Conversation, 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.

Though nothing so much gains upon the Affections as this Extempore Eloquence, which we have constantly Occasion for, and are obliged to practice every Day, we very rarely meet with any who excel in 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 gratifie 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 easie in his Discourse. 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 seldom 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 extreamly little of our selves. 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 domestick Affairs are no less improper to be introduced in Conversation. What does it concern the Company how many Horses you keep in your Stables? Or whether your Servant is most 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 it self shall make many things pass well enough, which would have been laughed 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 Controversies with a short Sentence. This piece of Stupidity is the more insufferable, as it puts on the Air of Wisdom.

A prudent Man will avoid talking much of any particular Science, for which he is remarkably famous. There is not methinks an handsomer thing said of Mr. Cowley in his whole Life, than that none but his intimate Friends ever discovered 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 satisfied he could speak well, will often be thought no less knowing in other Matters, where perhaps he is wholly ignorant.

Women are frightened at the Name of Argument, and are sooner convinced by an happy Turn, or Witty Expression, than by Demonstration.

Whenever you commend, 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 can seldom fail to make a Man agreeable, it may be no ill Policy sometimes to prepare your self 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 besieging 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 informed your self 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 Openings to a real Character) than the Recital of his most glaring Actions. I know but one ill Consequence to be feared from this Method, namely, that coming full charged into Company, you should resolve to unload whether an handsome Opportunity offers it self or no.

Though the asking of Questions may plead for it self the specious Names 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 is more silly 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 meer Pleasure of saying it, when an opposite Behaviour, full as Innocent, might have preserved 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 which 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 soon discover what it is that commands Attention in one Man and makes you tired and displeased with the Discourse of another.


(The end)
Richard Steele's essay: Jack Lizard (No. 24. Guardian)

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