Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In which the author makes an observation on a libertine's rhetoric

Anyone who has any experience of high society is surely aware that wretchedness of soul as well as gentility of conduct may often be intermingled in a single supposed gentleman; and such is their scheming natures, that only a learned scholar of rakish behavior can expose these Machiavels for who they truly are. It shall now be my duty to relate one unmistakable way in which the creatures known as a libertine, who often make vile attempts upon a woman's honor, may be securely identified from among a list of potential husbands, so that a lady may thereby permanently shut herself up from this vile man.

One way of identifying him is by studying the literary style in which he couches his correspondences to his beloved or to his friends. For the style doth make the man! And if this point be granted, I will endeavour to shew which particular writing style may be associated with a libertine spirit.

The rhetoric of the 18th century libertine, such as my Lovelace, is that of a person who has read an excessive amount of courtly literature and French and Spanish romances; for these examples have inspired him to compose his letters with more gallantry than sincerity, more artifice than heart. Beware, ladies, of the Lovelace touch in your suitor's correspondences! The Lovelace touch may be understood as employing these devices, or their equivalents: comparing the lady to a saint, or calling her a "heavenly creature in a mortal carcass": comparing the lady's beauty to Venus's or her comeliness to Pallas's and describing her lips as "more red than coral": and the writer himself making apologies for his mad boldness, and lamenting the lady's cruelty towards him. Here is one such letter from Lovelace to his friend, Mr.Belford:

If you love to see features that glow, though the heart is frozen, and never yet was thawed; if you love fine sense, and adages flowing through teeth of ivory and lips of coral; an eye that penetrates all things; a voice that is harmony itself; an air of grandeur, mingled with a sweetness that cannot be described; a politeness that, if ever equaled, was never excelled—you'll see all these excellencies, and ten times more, in this my GLORIANA.

Beware, ladies, of creatures who write letters like this one, for it is a sure mark of the corrupt nature of a scheming, dishonest rake. Of course, you will want to ask his friends to read his correspondences which he sent them in order to determine this point, for a true Machiavel will rather adopt a more naturalistic style in his correspondences with the lady. 

Many rakes will not hesitate to use their liberal education---thus, for instance, freely employing classical symbols, composing poems, and developing a witty manner of conversation---for deceitful purposes, in both their letters and in the manner of speaking. Beware such rhetoric and such characters!

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