« ForrigeFortsett »
and what required the nicest judgment, and consequently could not be brought to any degree of perfection in less than sixteen years more.
Herein I resolved to exceed the advice of Horace, a Român poet, which I have read in Mr Creech's admitable translation, that an author should keep his works nine years in his closet, before he ventured to publish them: and finding that I still received some additional flowers of wit and language, although in a very small number, I determined to defer the publication, to purfue my design, and exhaust if possible the whole subject, that I might present a complete system to the world. For I am convinced by long experience, that the critics will be as severe as their old envy against me can make them. I 'foresee they will object, that I have inserted many answers and replies which are neither witty, hu. morous, polite, nor authentic; and have omitted others that would have been highly useful, as well as entere taining. But let them come to particulars, and I will boldly
engage to confute their malice.
For these last fix or seven years I have not been able to add above nine valuable sentences to enrich my collection : from whence I conclude, that what remains will amount only to a trife. However, if, after the publication of this work, any lady or gentleman, when they have read it, thall find the least thing of importance omitted, I defire they will please to supply my defects, by communicating to me their discoveries ; and their letters may be directed to Simon Wagstaff, Esq; at his lodgings next door to the Gloucester-head in St James's ftreet, (paying the postage). In return of which favour, I shall make honourable mention of their names in a short preface to the second edition.
In the mean time, I cannot but with some pride, and much pleasure, congratulate with my dear country, which hath outdone all the nations of Europe, in advancing the whole art of conversation to the greatest height it is capable of reaching; and therefore, being entirely convinced that the collection I now offer to the public is full and complete, I may at the same time boldly affirm, that the whole genius, humour, politeness, and eloquence of England are summed up in it.
Nor is the treasure small, wherein are to be found at least a thousand shining questions, answers, repartees, replies, and rejoinders, fitted to adorn every kind of discourse that an allembly of English ladies and gentlemen, met together for their mutual entertainment, can posibly want: especially when the several flowers Thall be set off and improved by the speakers, with every circumstance of preface and circumlocution, in proper terms; and attended with praise, laughter, or admiration.
There is a natural, involuntary distortion of the muscles, which is the anatomical caufe of laughter : but there is another cause of laughter which decency requires, and is the undoubted mark of a good taste, as well as of a polite obliging behaviour ; neither is this to be acquired without much observation, long practice, and a sound judgment. I did therefore once in. tend, for the ease of the learner, to set down in all parts of the following dialogues, certain marks, afterisks, or nota-bene's, (in English, markrvells,) after moft questions, and everò reply or answer; directing exactly, the moment when one, two, or all the company, are to laugh : but having duly confidered, that this expedient would too much enlarge the bulk of the volume, and confequently the price; and likewise that fomething ought to be left for ingenious readers to find out ; I have determined to leave that whole affair, although of great importance, to their own discretion.
The reader muft learn by all means to distinguish between proverbs, and those polite fpeeches which beautify conversation : for as to the former, I utterly reject them out of all ingenious difcourse. I acknowledge indeed, that there may possibly be found in this treatise a few sayings, among so great a number of smart turns. of wit and humour as I have produced, which have a proverbial air : however, I hope it will be considered, that even these were not originally proverbs, but the genuine productions of superior wits to imbellifhand fupport conversation; from whence, with great impropriety, as well as plagiarism, (if you will forgive a hard word,) they have moft injuriously been transferred into proverbial maxims; and therefore in justice ought to be re
fumed out of vulgar hands, to adorn the drawing-rooms of princes, both male and female, the levees of great ministers, as well as the toilet and tea:table of the ladies.
I can faithfully assure the reader, that there is not one single witty phrase in this whole collection, which hath not received the stamp and approbation of at least one hundred years, and how much longer, it is hard to determine; he may therefore be secure to find them all genuine, sterling, and authentic.
But before this elaborate treatise can become of universal use and ornament to my native country, two points, that will require time and much application, are absolutely neceffary.
For, first, whatever person would aspire to be completely witty, smart, humorous, and polite, must by hard labour be able to retain in his memory every single fentence contained in this work, so as never to be once at a loss in applying the right answers, questions, repartees, and the like, immediately, and without ftudy or hesitation.
AND, secondly, after a lady or gentleman hath fo well overcome this difficulty, as never to be at a loss upon any emergency, the true management of every feature, and almost of every limb, is equally necessary; without which an infinite number of absurdities will inevitably ensue. For instance, there is hardly a polite fentence in the following dialogues which doth not ab, folutely require some peculiar graceful motion in the eyes, or nose, or mouth, or forehead, or chin, or fuitable toss of the head, with certain offices assigned to each hand; and in ladies, the whole exercise of the fan, fitted to the energy of every word they deliver ; by no means omitting the various turns and cadence of the voice, the twistings, and movements, and different poftures of the body, the several kinds and gradations of laughter, which the ladies must daily practise by the looking-glass, and consult upon them with their waiting-maids.
My readers will soon observe what a great compass of real and useful knowledge this science includes ; wherein altho. nature, aslifted by a genius, may be very instrumental, yet a strong memory and constant application, together with example and precept, will be highly necessary. For these reasons I have often wished, that certain male and female instructors, perfectly versed in this science, would set up schools for the instruction of young ladies and gentlemen therein.
I remember about thirty years ago, there was a Bohemian woman, of that species commonly known by the name of gypsies, who came over hither from France, and generally attended Isaac the dancing master, when he was teaching his art to misses of quality; and while the young ladies were thus employed, the Bohemian, standing at some distance, but full in their fight, acted before them all proper airs, and heavings of the head, and motions of the hands, and - twistings of the body; whereof you may still observe the good effects in several of our elder ladies.
After the same manner, it were much to be defired, that some expert gentlewomen gonë to decay would set up public schools, wherein young girls of quality, or great fortunes, might first be taught to repeat this fola lowing system of conversation, which I have been at fo much pains to compile ; and then to adapt every feature of their countenances, every turn of their hands, every screwing of their bodies, every exercise of their fans, to the humour of the sentences they hear or de liver in conversation : but above all to instruct them in every fpecies and degree of laughing in the proper seafons at their own wit, or that of the company. And if the fans of the nobility and gentry, instead of being sent to common schools, or put into the hands of tutors at home, to learn nothing but words, were consigned to able instructors in the same art, I cannot find what use there could be of books, except in the hands of those who are to make learning their trade, which is below the dignity of persons born to titles or estates.
It would be another infinite advantage, that, by cul. tivating this science, we should wholly avoid the vexations and impertinence of pedants, who affect to talk in a language ot to be understood, and whenever a polite perfon offers accidentally to use any of their jatgon-têrms, have the presumption to laugh at us for pro
nouncing nouncing those words in a genteeler manner. Whereas I do here affirm, that whenever any fine gentleman or lady condescends to let a hard word pass out of their mouths, every syllable is smoothed and polished in the paffage; and it is a true mark of politeness, both in writing and reading, to vary the orthography as well as the found ; because we are infinitely better -judges of what will please a distinguishing ear, than those who call themselves scholars, can possibly be; who, consequently, ought to correct their books, and manner of
pronouncing, by the authority of our example, from whose lips they proceed with infinitely more beauty and fignificancy,
But, in the mean time, until so great, so useful, and so necessary a design can be put in execution, (which, considering the good difpofition of our country at prefent, I shall not despair of living to see), let me recommend the following treatise, to be carried about as a pocket companion, by all gentlemen and ladies, when they are going to visit, or dine, or drink tea; or where they happen to pass the evening without cards, (as I have sometimes known it to be the case, upon disappointments or accidents unforeseen); defiring they would read their several parts in their chairs or coaches, to prepare themfelves for every kind of conversation that can possibly happen.
Altho' I have, in justice to my country, allowed the genius of our people to excel that of any other nation upon earth, and have confirmed this truth by an argument not to be controuled, I mean by producing so great a number of witty sentences in the ensuing dialogues, ali of undoubted authority, as well as of our own production ; yet I must confess at the same time, that we are wholly indebted for them to our ancestors ; at least, for as long as my memory reacheth, I do not recollect one new phrase of importance to have been added; which defect in us moderns I take to have been occasioned by the introduction of cant-words in the reign of King Charles II. And those have so often varied, that hardly one of them, of above a year's standing, is now intel. ligible ; nor any where to be found, excepting a small