Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
 
A Man of the Ton
By Frances (Fanny) Burney (Madame d’Arblay) (1752–1840)
 
From Cecilia

“NAY, if you do not admire Mr. Meadows,” cried he, “you must not even whisper it to the winds.”
  1
  “Is he then so very admirable?”  2
  “Oh! he is now in the very height of fashionable favour; his dress is a model, his manners are imitated, his attention is courted, and his notice is envied.”  3
  “Are you not laughing?”  4
  “No indeed; his privileges are much more extensive than I have mentioned: his decision fixes the exact limits between what is vulgar and what is elegant, his praise gives reputation, and a word from him in public confers fashion!”  5
  “And by what wonderful powers has he acquired such influence?”  6
  “By nothing but a happy art in catching the reigning foibles of the times, and carrying them to an extreme yet more absurd than any one had done before him. Ceremony, he found, was already exploded for ease, he therefore exploded ease for indolence: devotion to the fair sex had given way to a more equal and rational intercourse, which, to push still further, he presently exchanged for rudeness; joviality, too, was already banished for philosophical indifference, and that, therefore, he discarded for weariness and disgust.”  7
  “And is it possible that qualities such as these should recommend him to favour and admiration?”  8
  “Very possible, for qualities such as these constitute the present taste of the times. A man of the ton who would now be conspicuous in the gay world, must invariably be insipid, negligent, and selfish.”  9
  “Admirable requisites!” cried Cecilia; “and Mr. Meadows, I acknowledge, seems to have attained them all.”  10
  “He must never,” continued Mr. Gosport, “confess the least pleasure from any thing, a total apathy being the chief ingredient of his character: he must, upon no account, sustain a conversation with any spirit, lest he should appear, to his utter disgrace, interested in what is said; and when he is quite tired of his existence, from a total vacuity of ideas, he must affect a look of absence, and pretend, on the sudden, to be wholly lost in thought.”  11
  “I would not wish,” said Cecilia laughing, “a more amiable companion!”  12
  “If he is asked his opinion of any lady,” he continued, “he must commonly answer by a grimace, and if he is seated next to one, he must take the utmost pains to show, by his listlessness, yawning, and inattention, that he is sick of his situation; for what he holds of all things to be most gothic is gallantry to the women. To avoid this is, indeed, the principal solicitude of his life. If he sees a lady in distress for her carriage, he is to inquire of her what is the matter, and then with a shrug, wish her well through her fatigues, wink at some bystander, and walk away. If he is in a room where there is a crowd of company, and a scarcity of seats, he must early ensure one of the best in the place, be blind to all looks of fatigue, and deaf to all hints of assistance and seeming totally to forget himself, lounge at his ease, and appear an unconscious spectator of what is going forward. If he is at a ball where there are more women than men, he must decline dancing at all, though it should happen to be his favourite amusement, and smiling as he passes the disengaged young ladies, wonder to see them sit still, and perhaps ask them the reason!”  13
  “A most alluring character, indeed!” cried Cecilia: “and pray how long have these been the accomplishments of a fine gentleman?”  14
  “I am but an indifferent chronologer of the modes,” he answered; “but I know it has been long enough to raise just expectations that some new folly will be started soon, by which the present race of Insensibilists may be driven out. Mr. Meadows is now at the head of this sect, as Miss Larolles is of the Voluble, and Miss Leeson of the Supercilious. But this way comes another, who, though in a different manner, labours with the same view, and aspires at the same reward which stimulates the ambition of this happy triplet, that of exciting wonder by peculiarity, and envy by wonder.”  15
  This description announced Captain Aresby; who, advancing from the fireplace, told Cecilia how much he rejoiced in seeing her, said he had been reduced to despair by so long missing that honour, and that he had feared she made it a principle to avoid coming in public, having sought her in vain partout.  16
  He then smiled, and strolled on to another party.  17
  “And pray of what sect,” said Cecilia, “is this gentleman?”  18
  “Of the sect of Jargonists,” answered Mr. Gosport; “he has not an ambition beyond paying a passing compliment, nor a word to make use of that he has not picked up at public places. Yet this dearth of language, however you may despise it, is not merely owing to a narrow capacity; foppery and conceit have their share in the limitation; for though his phrases are almost always ridiculous or misapplied, they are selected with much study, and introduced with infinite pain.”  19
  “Poor man!” cried Cecilia, “is it possible it can cost him any trouble to render himself so completely absurd?”  20
  “Yes; but not more than it costs his neighbours to keep him in countenance. Miss Leeson, since she has presided over the sect of the Supercilious, spends at least half her life in wishing the annihilation of the other half; for as she must only speak in her own coterie, she is compelled to be frequently silent, and therefore, having nothing to think of, she is commonly grown with self-denial, and soured with want of amusement: Miss Larolles, indeed, is better off, for in talking faster than she thinks, she has but followed the natural bent of her disposition: as to this poor jargonist, he has, I must own, rather a hard task, from the continual restraint of speaking only out of his own Liliputian vocabulary, and denying himself the relief of ever uttering one word by the call of occasion: but what hardship is that compared with what is borne by Mr. Meadows! who, since he commenced insensibilist, has never once dared to be pleased, nor ventured for a moment to look in good humour!”  21
  “Surely, then,” said Cecilia, “in a short time the punishment of this affectation will bring its cure.”  22
  “No; for the trick grows into habit, and habit is a second nature. A secret idea of fame makes his forbearance of happiness supportable to him; for he has now the self-satisfaction of considering himself raised to that highest pinnacle of fashionable refinement which is built upon apathy and scorn, and from which, proclaiming himself superior to all possibility of enjoyment, he views the whole world with contempt! holding neither beauty, virtue, wealth, nor power, of importance sufficient to kindle the smallest emotion!”  23
 
 
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