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- The Laws of Etiquette - 5/14 -
Flattery never should be direct. It should not be stated, but inferred. It is better acted than uttered. Flattery should seem to be the unwitting and even unwilling expression of genuine admiration. Some very weak persons do not require that expressions of praise and esteem toward them should be sincere. They are pleased with the incense, although they perceive whence it arises: they are pleased that they are of importance enough to have their favour courted. But in most eases it is necessary that the flattery should appear to be the honest offspring of the feelings. _Such_ flattery _must_ succeed; for, it is founded upon a principle in our nature which is as deep as life; namely, that we always love those who we think love us.
It is sometimes flattery to accept praises.
Never flatter one person in the presence of another.
Never commend a lady's musical skill to another lady who herself plays.
It has often, however, a good effect to praise one man to his particular friend, if it be for something to which that friend has himself no pretensions.
It is an error to imagine that men are less intoxicated with flattery than women. The only difference is that esteem must be expressed to women, but proved to men.
Flattery is of course efficacious to obtain positive benefits. It is of, more constant use, however, for purposes of defence. You conquer an attack of rudeness by courtesy: you avert an attack of accusation by flattery. Every:one remembers the anecdote of Dr. Johnson and Mr. Ewing. "Prince," said Napoleon to Talleyrand, "they tell me that you sometimes speculate improperly in the funds. "They do me wrong then," said Talleyrand. "But how did you acquire so much money!" "I bought stock the day before you were proclaimed First Consul," replied the ex-bishop, "and I sold it the day after."
Compliments are light skirmishes in the war of flattery, for the purpose of obtaining an occasional object. They are little false coins that you receive with one hand and pay away with the other. To flatter requires a profound knowledge of human nature and of the character of your subject; to compliment skillfully, it is sufficient that you are a pupil of Spurzheim.
It is a common practice with men to abstain from grave conversation with women. And the habit is in general judicious. If the woman is young, gay and trifling, talk to her only of the latest fashions, the gossip of the day, etc. But this in other cases is not to be done. Most women who are a little old, particularly married women -- and even some who are young -- wish to obtain a reputation for intellect and an acquaintance With science. You therefore pay them a real compliment, and gratify their self-love, by conversing occasionally upon grave matters, which they do not understand, and do not really relish. You may interrupt a discussion on the beauty of a dahlia, by observing that as you know that they take an interest in such things you mention the discovery of a new method of analyzing curves of double curvature. Men who talk only of trifles will rarely be popular with women past twenty-five.
Talk to a mother about her children. Women are never tired of hearing of themselves and their children.
If you go to a house where there are children you should take especial care to conciliate their good will by a little manly _tete-a-tete,_ otherwise you may get a ball against your skins, or be tumbled from a three-legged chair.
To be able to converse with women you must study their vocabulary. You would make a great mistake in interpreting _never, forever,_ as they are explained in Johnson.
Do not be for ever telling a woman that she is handsome, witty, etc. She knows that a vast deal better than you do.
Do not allow your love for one woman to prevent your paying attention to others. The object of your love is the only one who ought to perceive it.
A little pride, which reminds you what is due to yourself, and a little good nature, which suggests what is due to others, are the pre-requisites for the moral constitution of a gentleman.
Too much vivacity and too much inertness are both fatal to politeness. By the former we are hurried too far, by the latter we are kept too much back.
_Nil admirari,_ the precept of stoicism, is the precept for conduct among gentlemen. All excitement must be studiously avoided. When you are with ladies the case is different. Among them, wonder, astonishment, ecstacy, and enthusiasm, are necessary in order to be believed.
Never dispute in the presence of other persons. If a man states an opinion which you cannot adopt, say nothing. If he states a fact which is of little importance, you may carelessly assent. When you differ let it be indirectly; rather a want of assent than actual dissent.
If you wish to inquire about anything, do not do it by asking a question; but introduce the subject, and give the person an opportunity of saying as much as he finds it agreeable to impart. Do not even say, "How is your brother to-day?" but "I hope your brother is quite well."
Never ask a lady a question about anything whatever.
It is a point of courtly etiquette which is observed rigorously by every one who draws nigh, that a question must never be put to a king.
Never ask a question about the price of a thing. This horrible error is often committed by a _nouveau riche._
If you have accepted an invitation to a party never fail to keep your promise. It is cruel to the lady of the house to accept, and then send an apology at the last moment. Especially do not break your word on account of bad weather. You may be certain that many others will, and the inciter will be mortified by the paucity of her guests. A cloak and a carriage will secure you from all inconvenience, and you will be conferring a real benefit.
CHAPTER V. THE ENTRANCE INTO SOCIETY.
Women, particularly women a little on the decline, are those who make the reputation of a young man. When the lustre of their distinction begins to fade, a slight feeling of less wonted leisure, perhaps a little spite, makes them observe attentively those who surround them. Eager to gain new admirers, they encourage the first steps of a _debutant_ in the career of society, and exert themselves to fit him to do honour to their patronage.
A young man, therefore, in entering the world, cannot be too attentive to conciliate the goodwill of women. Their approbation and support will serve him instead of a thousand good qualities. Their judgment dispenses with fortune, talent, and even intelligence. "Les hommes font les lois: les femmes font les reputations."
The desire of pleasing is, of course, the basis of social connexion. Persons who enter society with the intention of producing an effect, and of being distinguished, however clever they may be, are never agreeable. They are always tiresome, and often ridiculous. Persons, who enter life with such pretensions, have no opportunity for improving themselves and profiting by experience. They are not in a proper state to _observe_: indeed, they look only for the effect which they produce, and with that they are not often gratified. They thrust themselves into all conversations, indulge in continual anecdotes, which are varied only by dull disquisitions, listen to others with impatience and heedlessness, and are angry that they seem to be attending to themselves. Such men go through scenes of pleasure, enjoying nothing. They are equally disagreeable to themselves and others. Young men should, therefore, content themselves with being natural. Let them present themselves with a modest assurance: let them observe, hear, and examine, and before long they will rival their models.
The conversation of those women who are not the most lavishly supplied with personal beauty, will be of the most advantage to the young aspirant. Such persons have cultivated their manners and conversation more than those who can rely upon their natural endowments. The absence of pride and pretension has improved their good nature and their affability. They are not too much occupied in contemplating their own charms, to be disposed to indulge in gentle criticism on others. One acquires from them an elegance in one's manners as well as one's expressions. Their kindness pardons every error, and to instruct or reprove, their acts are so delicate that the lesson which they give, always without offending, is sure to be profitable, though it may be often unperceived.
Women observe all the delicacies of propriety in manners, and all the shades of impropriety, much better than men; not only because they attend to them earlier and longer, but because their perceptions are more refined than those of the other sex, who are habitually employed about greater things. Women divine, rather than arrive at, proper conclusions.
The whims and caprices of women in society should of course be tolerated by men, who themselves require toleration for greater inconveniences. But this must not be carried too far. There are certain limits to empire which, if they themselves forget, should be pointed out to them with delicacy and politeness. You should be the slave of women, but not of all their fancies.
Compliment is the language of intercourse from men to women.
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