Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Genesis of Vanity
By Bernard Mandeville (16701733)
WHEN the incomparable Sir Richard Steele, in the usual elegance of his easy style, dwells on the praises of his sublime species, and with all the embellishments of rhetoric sets forth the excellency of human nature, it is impossible not to be charmed with his happy turns of thought, and the politeness of his expressions. But though I have been often moved by the force of his eloquence, and ready to swallow the ingenious sophistry with pleasure, yet I could never be so serious but, reflecting on his artful encomiums, I thought on the tricks made use of by the women that would teach children to be mannerly. When an awkward girl, before she can either speak or go, begins, after many entreaties, to make the first rude essays of courtseying, the nurse falls into an ecstasy of praise; Theres a delicate curtsey! O fine Miss! Theres a pretty lady! Mamma! Miss can make a better curtsey than her sister Molly! The same is echoed over by the maids, whilst mamma almost hugs the child to pieces: only Miss Molly, who being four years older, knows how to make a very handsome curtsey, wonders at the perverseness of their judgment, and, swelling with indignation, is ready to cry at the injustice that is done her, till, being whispered in the ear that it is only to please the baby, and that she is a woman, she grows proud at being let into the secret; and rejoicing at the superiority of her understanding, repeats what has been said with large additions, and insults over the weakness of her sister, whom all this while she fancies to be the only bubble among them. These extravagant praises would, by any one above the capacity of an infant, be called fulsome flatteries, and, if you will, abominable lies; yet experience teaches us, that by the help of such gross encomiums, young misses will be brought to make pretty curtsies, and behave themselves womanly much sooner, and with less trouble, than they would without them. Tis the same with boys, whom theyll strive to persuade, that all fine gentlemen do as they are bid, and that none but beggar boys are rude, or dirty their clothes; nay as soon as the wild brat with his untaught fist begins to fumble for his hat, the mother, to make him pull it off, tells him, before he is two years old, that he is a man, and if he repeats that action when she desires him, hes presently a captain, a lord mayor, a king, or something higher, if she can think of it; till, egged on by the force of praise, the little urchin endeavours to imitate man as well as he can, and strains all his faculties to appear what his shallow noddle imagines he is believed to be.