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No. 038 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 38
Friday, April 13, 1711. Steele.

‘Cupias non placuisse nimis.’


A Late Conversation which I fell into, gave me an Opportunity of observing a great deal of Beauty in a very handsome Woman, and as much Wit in an ingenious Man, turned into Deformity in the one, and Absurdity in the other, by the meer Force of Affectation. The Fair One had something in her Person upon which her Thoughts were fixed, that she attempted to shew to Advantage in every Look, Word, and Gesture. The Gentleman was as diligent to do Justice to his fine Parts, as the Lady to her beauteous Form: You might see his Imagination on the Stretch to find out something uncommon, and what they call bright, to entertain her; while she writhed her self into as many different Postures to engage him. When she laughed, her Lips were to sever at a greater Distance than ordinary to shew her Teeth: Her Fan was to point to somewhat at a Distance, that in the Reach she may discover the Roundness of her Arm; then she is utterly mistaken in what she saw, falls back, smiles at her own Folly, and is so wholly discomposed, that her Tucker is to be adjusted, her Bosom exposed, and the whole Woman put into new Airs and Graces. While she was doing all this, the Gallant had Time to think of something very pleasant to say next to her, or make some unkind Observation on some other Lady to feed her Vanity. These unhappy Effects of Affectation, naturally led me to look into that strange State of Mind which so generally discolours the Behaviour of most People we meet with.

The learned Dr. Burnet, [1] in his Theory of the Earth, takes Occasion to observe, That every Thought is attended with Consciousness and Representativeness; the Mind has nothing presented to it but what is immediately followed by a Reflection or Conscience, which tells you whether that which was so presented is graceful or unbecoming. This Act of the Mind discovers it self in the Gesture, by a proper Behaviour in those whose Consciousness goes no further than to direct them in the just Progress of their present Thought or Action; but betrays an Interruption in every second Thought, when the Consciousness is employed in too fondly approving a Man’s own Conceptions; which sort of Consciousness is what we call Affectation.

As the Love of Praise is implanted in our Bosoms as a strong Incentive to worthy Actions, it is a very difficult Task to get above a Desire of it for things that should be wholly indifferent. Women, whose Hearts are fixed upon the Pleasure they have in the Consciousness that they are the Objects of Love and Admiration, are ever changing the Air of their Countenances, and altering the Attitude of their Bodies, to strike the Hearts of their Beholders with new Sense of their Beauty. The dressing Part of our Sex, whose Minds are the same with the sillyer Part of the other, are exactly in the like uneasy Condition to be regarded for a well-tied Cravat, an Hat cocked with an unusual Briskness, a very well-chosen Coat, or other Instances of Merit, which they are impatient to see unobserved.

But this apparent Affectation, arising from an ill-governed Consciousness, is not so much to be wonder’d at in such loose and trivial Minds as these: But when you see it reign in Characters of Worth and Distinction, it is what you cannot but lament, not without some Indignation. It creeps into the Heart of the wise Man, as well as that of the Coxcomb. When you see a Man of Sense look about for Applause, and discover an itching Inclination to be commended; lay Traps for a little Incense, even from those whose Opinion he values in nothing but his own Favour; Who is safe against this Weakness? or who knows whether he is guilty of it or not? The best Way to get clear of such a light Fondness for Applause, is to take all possible Care to throw off the Love of it upon Occasions that are not in themselves laudable; but, as it appears, we hope for no Praise from them. Of this Nature are all Graces in Mens Persons, Dress and bodily Deportment; which will naturally be winning and attractive if we think not of them, but lose their Force in proportion to our Endeavour to make them such.