Wednesday, April 9, 1712. Steele.
Invidiam placare paras virtute relicta?
I have not seen you lately at any of the Places where I visit, so that I am afraid you are wholly unacquainted with what passes among my part of the World, who are, tho I say it, without Controversy, the most accomplished and best bred of the Town. Give me leave to tell you, that I am extremely discomposed when I hear Scandal, and am an utter Enemy to all manner of Detraction, and think it the greatest Meanness that People of Distinction can be guilty of: However, it is hardly possible to come into Company, where you do not find them pulling one another to pieces, and that from no other Provocation but that of hearing any one commended. Merit, both as to Wit and Beauty, is become no other than the Possession of a few trifling Peoples Favour, which you cannot possibly arrive at, if you have really any thing in you that is deserving. What they would bring to pass, is, to make all Good and Evil consist in Report, and with Whispers, Calumnies and Impertinencies, to have the Conduct of those Reports. By this means Innocents are blasted upon their first Appearance in Town; and there is nothing more required to make a young Woman the object of Envy and Hatred, than to deserve Love and Admiration. This abominable Endeavour to suppress or lessen every thing that is praise-worthy, is as frequent among the Men as the Women. If I can remember what passed at a Visit last Night, it will serve as an Instance that the Sexes are equally inclined to Defamation, with equal Malice, with equal Impotence. Jack Triplett came into my Lady Airy’s about Eight of [the] Clock. You know the manner we sit at a Visit, and I need not describe the Circle; but Mr. Triplett came in, introduced by two Tapers supported by a spruce Servant, whose Hair is under a Cap till my Lady’s Candles are all lighted up, and the Hour of Ceremony begins: I say, Jack Triplett came in, and singing (for he is really good Company) Every Feature, Charming Creature,–he went on, It is a most unreasonable thing that People cannot go peaceably to see their Friends, but these Murderers are let loose. Such a Shape! such an Air! what a Glance was that as her Chariot pass’d by mine–My Lady herself interrupted him; Pray who is this fine Thing–I warrant, says another, tis the Creature I was telling your Ladyship of just now. You were telling of? says Jack; I wish I had been so happy as to have come in and heard you, for I have not Words to say what she is: But if an agreeable Height, a modest Air, a Virgin Shame, and Impatience of being beheld, amidst a Blaze of ten thousand Charms–The whole Room flew out–Oh Mr. Triplett!–When Mrs. Lofty, a known Prude, said she believed she knew whom the Gentleman meant; but she was indeed, as he civilly represented her, impatient of being beheld–Then turning to the Lady next to her–The most unbred Creature you ever saw. Another pursued the Discourse: As unbred, Madam, as you may think her, she is extremely bely’d if she is the Novice she appears; she was last Week at a Ball till two in the Morning; Mr. Triplett knows whether he was the happy Man that took Care of her home; but–This was followed by some particular Exception that each Woman in the Room made to some peculiar Grace or Advantage so that Mr. Triplett was beaten from one Limb and Feature to another, till he was forced to resign the whole Woman. In the end I took notice Triplett recorded all this Malice in his Heart; and saw in his Countenance, and a certain waggish Shrug, that he design’d to repeat the Conversation: I therefore let the Discourse die, and soon after took an Occasion to commend a certain Gentleman of my Acquaintance for a Person of singular Modesty, Courage, Integrity, and withal as a Man of an entertaining Conversation, to which Advantages he had a Shape and Manner peculiarly graceful. Mr. Triplett, who is a Woman’s Man, seem’d to hear me with Patience enough commend the Qualities of his Mind: He never heard indeed but that he was a very honest Man, and no Fool; but for a fine Gentleman, he must ask Pardon. Upon no other Foundation than this, Mr. Triplett took occasion to give the Gentleman’s Pedigree, by what Methods some part of the Estate was acquired, how much it was beholden to a Marriage for the present Circumstances of it: After all, he could see nothing but a common Man in his Person, his Breeding or Understanding.
Thus, Mr. SPECTATOR, this impertinent Humour of diminishing every one who is produced in Conversation to their Advantage, runs thro the World; and I am, I confess, so fearful of the Force of ill Tongues, that I have begged of all those who are my Well-wishers never to commend me, for it will but bring my Frailties into Examination, and I had rather be unobserved, than conspicuous for disputed Perfections. I am confident a thousand young People, who would have been Ornaments to Society, have, from Fear of Scandal, never dared to exert themselves in the polite Arts of Life. Their Lives have passed away in an odious Rusticity, in spite of great Advantages of Person, Genius and Fortune. There is a vicious Terror of being blamed in some well-inclin’d People, and a wicked Pleasure in suppressing them in others; both which I recommend to your Spectatorial Wisdom to animadvert upon; and if you can be successful in it, I need not say how much you will deserve of the Town; but new Toasts will owe to you their Beauty, and new Wits their Fame. I am,
Your most Obedient