Wednesday, April 23, 1712. Steele.
–De paupertate tacentes
Plus poscente ferent.
I have nothing to do with the Business of this Day, any further than affixing the piece of Latin on the Head of my Paper; which I think a Motto not unsuitable, since if Silence of our Poverty is a Recommendation, still more commendable is his Modesty who conceals it by a decent Dress.
There is an Evil under the Sun which has not yet come within your Speculation; and is, the Censure, Disesteem, and Contempt which some young Fellows meet with from particular Persons, for the reasonable Methods they take to avoid them in general. This is by appearing in a better Dress, than may seem to a Relation regularly consistent with a small Fortune; and therefore may occasion a Judgment of a suitable Extravagance in other Particulars: But the Disadvantage with which the Man of narrow Circumstances acts and speaks, is so feelingly set forth in a little Book called the Christian Hero,  that the appearing to be otherwise is not only pardonable but necessary. Every one knows the hurry of Conclusions that are made in contempt of a Person that appears to be calamitous, which makes it very excusable to prepare ones self for the Company of those that are of a superior Quality and Fortune, by appearing to be in a better Condition than one is, so far as such Appearance shall not make us really of worse.
It is a Justice due to the Character of one who suffers hard Reflections from any particular Person upon this Account, that such Persons would enquire into his manner of spending his Time; of which, tho no further Information can be had than that he remains so many Hours in his Chamber, yet if this is cleared, to imagine that a reasonable Creature wrung with a narrow Fortune does not make the best use of this Retirement, would be a Conclusion extremely uncharitable. From what has, or will be said, I hope no Consequence can be extorted, implying, that I would have any young Fellow spend more Time than the common Leisure which his Studies require, or more Money than his Fortune or Allowance may admit of, in the pursuit of an Acquaintance with his Betters: For as to his Time, the gross of that ought to be sacred to more substantial Acquisitions; for each irrevocable Moment of which he ought to believe he stands religiously Accountable. And as to his Dress, I shall engage myself no further than in the modest Defence of two plain Suits a Year: For being perfectly satisfied in Eutrapeluss Contrivance of making a Mohock of a Man, by presenting him with lacd and embroiderd Suits, I would by no means be thought to controvert that Conceit, by insinuating the Advantages of Foppery. It is an Assertion which admits of much Proof, that a Stranger of tolerable Sense dressd like a Gentleman, will be better received by those of Quality above him, than one of much better Parts, whose Dress is regulated by the rigid Notions of Frugality. A Man’s Appearance falls within the Censure of every one that sees him; his Parts and Learning very few are Judges of; and even upon these few, they cant at first be well intruded; for Policy and good Breeding will counsel him to be reservd among Strangers, and to support himself only by the common Spirit of Conversation. Indeed among the Injudicious, the Words Delicacy, Idiom, fine Images, Structure of Periods, Genius, Fire, and the rest, made use of with a frugal and comely Gravity, will maintain the Figure of immense Reading, and Depth of Criticism.
All Gentlemen of Fortune, at least the young and middle-aged, are apt to pride themselves a little too much upon their Dress, and consequently to value others in some measure upon the same Consideration. With what Confusion is a Man of Figure obliged to return the Civilities of the Hat to a Person whose Air and Attire hardly entitle him to it? For whom nevertheless the other has a particular Esteem, tho he is ashamed to have it challenged in so publick a Manner. It must be allowed, that any young Fellow that affects to dress and appear genteelly, might with artificial Management save ten Pound a Year; as instead of fine Holland he might mourn in Sackcloth, and in other Particulars be proportionably shabby: But of what great Service would this Sum be to avert any Misfortune, whilst it would leave him deserted by the little good Acquaintance he has, and prevent his gaining any other? As the Appearance of an easy Fortune is necessary towards making one, I dont know but it might be of advantage sometimes to throw into ones Discourse certain Exclamations about Bank-Stock, and to shew a marvellous Surprize upon its Fall, as well as the most affected Triumph upon its Rise. The Veneration and Respect which the Practice of all Ages has preserved to Appearances, without doubt suggested to our Tradesmen that wise and Politick Custom, to apply and recommend themselves to the publick by all those Decorations upon their Sign-posts and Houses, which the most eminent Hands in the Neighbourhood can furnish them with. What can be more attractive to a Man of Letters, than that immense Erudition of all Ages and Languages which a skilful Bookseller, in conjunction with a Painter, shall image upon his Column and the Extremities of his Shop? The same Spirit of maintaining a handsome Appearance reigns among the grave and solid Apprentices of the Law (here I could be particularly dull in [proving ] the Word Apprentice to be significant of a Barrister) and you may easily distinguish who has most lately made his Pretensions to Business, by the whitest and most ornamental Frame of his Window: If indeed the Chamber is a Ground-Room, and has Rails before it, the Finery is of Necessity more extended, and the Pomp of Business better maintaind. And what can be a greater Indication of the Dignity of Dress, than that burdensome Finery which is the regular Habit of our Judges, Nobles, and Bishops, with which upon certain Days we see them incumbered? And though it may be said this is awful, and necessary for the Dignity of the State, yet the wisest of them have been remarkable, before they arrived at their present Stations, for being very well dressed Persons. As to my own Part, I am near Thirty; and since I left School have not been idle, which is a modern Phrase for having studied hard. I brought off a clean System of Moral Philosophy, and a tolerable Jargon of Metaphysicks from the University; since that, I have been engaged in the clearing Part of the perplexd Style and Matter of the Law, which so hereditarily descends to all its Professors: To all which severe Studies I have thrown in, at proper Interims, the pretty Learning of the Classicks. Notwithstanding which, I am what Shakespear calls A Fellow of no Mark or Likelihood;  which makes me understand the more fully, that since the regular Methods of making Friends and a Fortune by the mere Force of a Profession is so very slow and uncertain, a Man should take all reasonable Opportunities, by enlarging a good Acquaintance, to court that Time and Chance which is said to happen to every Man.
[Footnote 1: The passage is nearly at the beginning of Steeles third chapter,
It is in every bodys observation with what disadvantage a Poor Man enters upon the most ordinary affairs, etc.]
[Footnote 2: [clearing]]
[Footnote 3: Henry IV. Pt. I. Act iii. sc. 2.]