Monday, February 3, 2014

On Complaisance

Dear Reader----

‘Twas the other day that I had been presiding over another meeting of my MeetUp group, known as the Amateur Shakespeare Society, when there came in among us Mr. Brockden’s cousin, Mackenzie, who was one of those obnoxious gentlemen who think they can pass in society as candid and plain-speaking, who excuse their rudeness by claiming to be merely speaking the truth. Mack (as he is called) is, in short, a lively, impudent clown, and has wit enough to make him a pleasant companion, had it been polished and rectified by good manners.

It had not been a half hour before Mack proceeded to set the ladies a-blushing and insult the gentlemen. He asked Miss Carrington if her wit had yet got her husband; and he plied her that since she looked a little wan under the eyes, there was no sense in brooking any more delay in securing a husband. He told Mr. Lismahago that ‘twas unfortunate Mr. Lismahago could not make a farthing every time he spoke some dull cliché, for he would then be filthy rich indeed, as he always desired to be. He told Miss Farquhar that ‘twas better to leave her nails undone than to put up with such sloppy handling of the paint-job herself; and if she could not afford a professional manicurist, she most certainly would benefit from fingernails au naturel.  He delivered himself to Mr. Byrd upon the advantages of a ploughman’s lunch over that of a gourmand’s, suggesting to him the need for a leaner physique. I must confess he put me out of countenance with his rudeness, so that I made some excuse, and left the room. Some my friends were less than pleased with Mackenzie’s company as well.

This fellow’s behavior made me reflect on the usefulness of complaisance, to make all conversation agreeable. This quality gives luster to every talent a man can be possessed of. It renders a superior amiable, an equal agreeable, and an inferior acceptable. It produces good-nature and mutual benevolence, encourages the socially timorous, humbles the monopolizer of conversations, and differentiates civilized persons from a confusion of savages.

Universal complaisance is necessary to make all conversations more than merely tolerable, but enjoyable too. Without complaisance, a clever wit becomes a cynical dog, like the scabrous Thersites; a discerning philosopher becomes a raging misanthrope; a courtly lover becomes a wretched libertine.

So important is this notion of complaisance that it behooves young people to cultivate the habit as early in their lives as possible. Therefore, Mothers, teach your Daughters to laugh at their future husband’s jokes. Fathers, teach your Boys the proper ways to compliment women’s features, especially their eyes, noses, lips, and cheekbones. Most importantly, Parents, introduce your children to the novels of yours truly, Mr. Samuel Richardson, and to the essays of Mr. Joseph Addison, wherein they will read more about the importance of universal complaisance.    

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