Monday, June 2, 1712. Steele.
‘Bene colligitur haec Pueris et Mulierculis et Servis et Servorum simillimis Liberis esse grata. Gravi vero homini et ea quae fiunt Judicio certo ponderanti probari posse nullo modo.’
I have been considering the little and frivolous things which give Men Accesses to one another, and Power with each other, not only in the common and indifferent Accidents of Life, but also in Matters of greater importance. You see in Elections for Members to sit in Parliament, how far saluting Rows of old Women, drinking with Clowns, and being upon a level with the lowest Part of Mankind in that wherein they themselves are lowest, their Diversions, will carry a Candidate. A Capacity for prostituting a Man’s Self in his Behaviour, and descending to the present Humour of the Vulgar, is perhaps as good an Ingredient as any other for making a considerable Figure in the World; and if a Man has nothing else, or better, to think of, he could not make his way to Wealth and Distinction by properer Methods, than studying the particular Bent or Inclination of People with whom he converses, and working from the Observation of such their Biass in all Matters wherein he has any Intercourse with them: For his Ease and Comfort he may assure himself, he need not be at the Expence of any great Talent or Virtue to please even those who are possessd of the highest Qualifications. Pride in some particular Disguise or other, (often a Secret to the proud Man himself) is the most ordinary Spring of Action among Men. You need no more than to discover what a Man values himself for; then of all things admire that Quality, but be sure to be failing in it your self in comparison of the Man whom you court. I have heard, or read, of a Secretary of State in Spain, who served a Prince who was happy in an elegant use of the Latin Tongue, and often writ Dispatches in it with his own Hand. The King shewed his Secretary a Letter he had written to a foreign Prince, and under the Colour of asking his Advice, laid a Trap for his Applause. The honest Man read it as a faithful Counsellor, and not only excepted against his tying himself down too much by some Expressions, but mended the Phrase in others. You may guess the Dispatches that Evening did not take much longer Time. Mr. Secretary, as soon as he came to his own House, sent for his eldest Son, and communicated to him that the Family must retire out of Spain as soon as possible; for, said he, the King knows I understand Latin better than he does.
This egregious Fault in a Man of the World, should be a Lesson to all who would make their Fortunes: But a Regard must be carefully had to the Person with whom you have to do; for it is not to be doubted but a great Man of common Sense must look with secret Indignation or bridled Laughter, on all the Slaves who stand round him with ready Faces to approve and smile at all he says in the gross. It is good Comedy enough to observe a Superior talking half Sentences, and playing an humble Admirer’s Countenance from one thing to another, with such Perplexity that he knows not what to sneer in Approbation of. But this kind of Complaisance is peculiarly the Manner of Courts; in all other Places you must constantly go farther in Compliance with the Persons you have to do with, than a mere Conformity of Looks and Gestures. If you are in a Country Life, and would be a leading Man, a good Stomach, a loud Voice, and a rustick Chearfulness will go a great way, provided you are able to drink, and drink any thing. But I was just now going to draw the Manner of Behaviour I would advise People to practise under some Maxim, and intimated, that every one almost was governed by his Pride. There was an old Fellow about forty Years ago so peevish and fretful, though a Man of Business, that no one could come at him: But he frequented a particular little Coffee-house, where he triumphed over every body at Trick-track and Baggammon. The way to pass his Office well, was first to be insulted by him at one of those Games in his leisure Hours; for his Vanity was to shew, that he was a Man of Pleasure as well as Business. Next to this sort of Insinuation, which is called in all Places (from its taking its Birth in the Housholds of Princes) making one’s Court, the most prevailing way is, by what better-bred People call a Present, the Vulgar a Bribe. I humbly conceive that such a thing is conveyed with more Gallantry in a Billet-doux that should be understood at the Bank, than in gross Money; But as to stubborn People, who are so surly as to accept of neither Note or Cash, having formerly dabbled in Chymistry, I can only say that one part of Matter asks one thing, and another another, to make it fluent; but there is nothing but may be dissolved by a proper Mean: Thus the Virtue which is too obdurate for Gold or Paper, shall melt away very kindly in a Liquid. The Island of Barbadoes (a shrewd People) manage all their Appeals to Great-Britain, by a skilful Distribution of Citron-Water among the Whisperers about Men in Power. Generous Wines do every Day prevail, and that in great Points, where ten thousand times their Value would have been rejected with Indignation.