Monday, October 22, 1711.
‘Saepe decem vitiis instructior odit et horret.’
The other Day as I passed along the Street, I saw a sturdy Prentice-Boy Disputing with an Hackney-Coachman; and in an Instant, upon some Word of Provocation, throw off his Hat and [Cut-Periwig, ] clench his Fist, and strike the Fellow a Slap on the Face; at the same time calling him Rascal, and telling him he was a Gentleman’s Son. The young Gentleman was, it seems, bound to a Blacksmith; and the Debate arose about Payment for some Work done about a Coach, near which they Fought. His Master, during the Combat, was full of his Boy’s Praises; and as he called to him to play with his Hand and Foot, and throw in his Head, he made all us who stood round him of his Party, by declaring the Boy had very good Friends, and he could trust him with untold Gold. As I am generally in the Theory of Mankind, I could not but make my Reflections upon the sudden Popularity which was raised about the Lad; and perhaps, with my Friend Tacitus, fell into Observations upon it, which were too great for the Occasion; or ascribed this general Favour to Causes which had nothing to do towards it. But the young Blacksmith’s being a Gentleman was, methought, what created him good Will from his present Equality with the Mob about him: Add to this, that he was not so much a Gentleman, as not, at the same time that he called himself such, to use as rough Methods for his Defence as his Antagonist. The Advantage of his having good Friends, as his Master expressed it, was not lazily urged; but he shewed himself superior to the Coachman in the personal Qualities of Courage and Activity, to confirm that of his being well allied, before his Birth was of any Service to him.
If one might Moralize from this silly Story, a Man would say, that whatever Advantages of Fortune, Birth, or any other Good, People possess above the rest of the World, they should shew collateral Eminences besides those Distinctions; or those Distinctions will avail only to keep up common Decencies and Ceremonies, and not to preserve a real Place of Favour or Esteem in the Opinion and common Sense of their Fellow-Creatures.
The Folly of People’s Procedure, in imagining that nothing more is necessary than Property and superior Circumstances to support them in Distinction, appears in no way so much as in the Domestick part of Life. It is ordinary to feed their Humours into unnatural Excrescences, if I may so speak, and make their whole Being a wayward and uneasy Condition, for want of the obvious Reflection that all Parts of Human Life is a Commerce. It is not only paying Wages, and giving Commands, that constitutes a Master of a Family; but Prudence, equal Behaviour, with Readiness to protect and cherish them, is what entitles a Man to that Character in their very Hearts and Sentiments. It is pleasant enough to Observe, that Men expect from their Dependants, from their sole Motive of Fear, all the good Effects which a liberal Education, and affluent Fortune, and every other Advantage, cannot produce in themselves. A Man will have his Servant just, diligent, sober and chaste, for no other Reasons but the Terrour of losing his Master’s Favour; when all the Laws Divine and Human cannot keep him whom he serves within Bounds, with relation to any one of those Virtues. But both in great and ordinary Affairs, all Superiority, which is not founded on Merit and Virtue, is supported only by Artifice and Stratagem. Thus you see Flatterers are the Agents in Families of Humourists, and those who govern themselves by any thing but Reason. Make-Bates, distant Relations, poor Kinsmen, and indigent Followers, are the Fry which support the Oeconomy of an humoursome rich Man. He is eternally whispered with Intelligence of who are true or false to him in Matters of no Consequence, and he maintains twenty Friends to defend him against the Insinuations of one who would perhaps cheat him of an old Coat.