« PreviousContinue »
regions, upon principles and opinions which are ever held sacred by the wise and good. A witty man is a dramatic performer; in process of time, he can no more exist without applause, than he can exist without air; if his audience be small, or if they are inattentive, or if a new wit defrauds him of any portion of his admiration, it is all over with him ; he sickens, and is extinguished. The applauses of the theatre on which he performs are so essential to him, that he must obtain them at the expense of decency, friendship, and good feeling.
It must always be probable, too, that a mere wit is a person of light and frivolous understanding. His business is not to discover relations of ideas that are useful, and have a real influence
life, but to discover the more trifling relations, which are only amusing; he never looks at things with the naked
of common sense, but is always gazing at the world through a Claude Lorraine glass,* discovering a thousand appearances which are created only by the instrument of inspection, and covering every object with factitious and unnatural colors. In short, the character of a mere wit it is impossible to consider as very amiable, very respectable, or very safe. So far the world, in judging of wit where it has swallowed up all other qualities, judge aright; but I doubt if they are sufficiently indulgent to this faculty where it exists in a less degree, and as one out of many ingredients of understanding.
There is an association in men's minds between dulness and wisdom, amusement and folly, which has a very powerful influence in decision upon character, and is not overcome withont considerable difficulty. The reason is, that the outward signs of a dull man and a wise man are the same; and so are the outward signs of a frivolous man and a witty man; and wo are not to expect that the majority will be disposed to look
* A Claude Lorraine glass throws a sunny hue over a landscape : 80 calad from Claude Lorraine, a celebrated artist, whose pictures are full of Ligat and sunshine.
to much more than the outward sign. I believe the fact to be, that wit is very seldom the only eminent quality of any man ; it is commonly accompanied by many other talents of every description, and ought to be considered as a strong evidence of a fertile and superior understanding. Almost all the great poets, orators, and statesmen of all times have been witty. Cæsar, Alexander, Aristotle, Descartes, and Lord Bacon were witty men; so were Cicero, Shakspeare, Demosthenes, Boileau, Pope, Dryden, Fontenelle, Jonson, Waller, Cowley, Solon, Socrates, Dr. Johnson, and almost every man who has made a distinguished figure in the House of Commons. I have talked of the danger of wit; I do not mean by that to enter into commonplace declamation against faculties because they are dangerous. Wit is dangerous; eloquence is dangerous; a talent for observation is dangerous; every thing is dangerous that has efficacy and vigor for its characteristics; nothing is safe but mediocrity. The business is, in conducting the understanding well, to risk something; to aim at uniting things that are commonly incompatible.
The meaning of an extraordinary man is, that he is eight men, not one man; that he has as much wit as if he had no sense, and as much sense as if he had no wit; that his conduct is as judicious as if he were the dullest of human beings, and his imagination as brilliant as if he were irretrievably ruined. But when wit is combined with sense and information; when it is softened by benevolence, and restrained by principle; when it is in the hands of a man who can use it and despise it, who can be witty, and something much better than witty; who loves honor, justice, decency, good nature, morality, and religion, ten thousand times better than wit, wit is then a beautiful and delightful part of our nature. There is no more interesting spectacle than to see the effects of wit upon the different characters of men; than to observe it expanding caution, relaxing dignity, unfreezing coldness, teaching age, and care, and pain to smile, extorting reluctant gleams of pleasure from melancholy, and charming even the pangs of grief. It is pleasant to observe how it penetrates through the coldness and awkwardness of society, gradually bringing men nearer together, and, like the combined force of wine and oil, giving every man a glad heart and a shining countenance. Genuine and innocent wit like this is surely the flavor of the mind. Man could direct his ways by plain reason, and support his life by tasteless food; but God has given us wit, and flavor, and brightness, and laughter, and perfumes, to enliven the days of man's pilgrimage, and to "charm his pained steps over the burning marl.”
LIV. - TACT AND TALENT.
TALENT is something, but tact is every thing. Talent is serious, sober, grave, and respectable: tact is all that, and more too. It is not a sixth sense, but it is the life of all the five. It is the open eye, the quick ear, the judging taste, the keen smell, and the lively touch; it is the interpreter of all riddles, the surmounter of all difficulties, the remover of all obstacles. It is useful in all places, and at all times; it is useful in solitude, for it shows a man his way into the world ; it is useful in society, for it shows him his way through the world. Talent is power, tact is skill; talent is weight, tact is momentum ; talent knows what to do, tact knows how to do it; talent makes a man respectable, tact will make him respected; talent is wealth, tact is ready money. For all the practical purposes of life, tact carries it against talent, ten to one. Take them to the theatre, and put them against each other on the stage, and talent shall produce you a tragedy that will scarcely live long enough to be condemned, while tact keeps the house in a roar, night after night, with its successful farces. There is no want of dramatic talent, there is no want of dramatic tact; but they are seldom together: so we have successful pieces which are not respectable, and respectable pieces which are not successful.
Take them to the bar, and let them shake their learned curls at each other in legal rivalry ; talent sees its way clearly, but tact is first at its journey's end. Talent has many a compliment from the bench, but tact touches fees from attorneys and clients. Talent speaks learnedly and logically, tact triumphantly. Talent makes the world wonder that it gets on no faster, tact excites astonishment that it gets on so fast. And the secret is, that it has no weight to carry; it makes no false steps; it hits the right nail on the head; it loses no time; it takes all hints; and by keeping its eye on the weathercock, is ready to take advantage of every wind that blows. Take them into the church. Talent has always something worth hearing, tact is sure of abundance of hearers; talent may obtain a living, tact will make one; talent gets a good name, tact a great one; talent convinces, tact converts; talent is an honor to the profession, tact gains honor from the profession.
Take them to court. Talent feels its weight, tact finds its way; talent commands, tact is obeyed; talent is honored with approbation, and tact is blessed by preferment. Place them in the senate. Talent has the ear of the house, but tact wins its heart, and has its votes; talent is fit for employment, but tact is fitted for it. It has a knack of slipping into place with a sweet silence and glibness of movement, as a billiard ball insinuates itself into the pocket. It seems to know every thing, without learning any thing. It has served an invisible and extemporary apprenticeship; it wants no drilling; it never ranks in the awkward squad; it has no left hand, no deaf ear, no blind side. It puts on no looks of wondrous wisdom, it has no air of profundity, but plays with the details of place as dexterously as a well-taught hand flourishes over the keys of the piano-forte. It has all the air of com monplace, and all the force and power of genius.
LV.- WASHING DAY.
The Muses are turned gossips; they have lost