S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
William Makepeace Thackeray
A pair of bright eyes with a dozen glances suffice to subdue a man; to enslave him, and inflame; to make him even forget; they dazzle him so that the past becomes straightway dim to him; and he so prizes them that he would give all his life to possess them. What is the fond love of dearest friends compared to his treasure?
Perhaps a gentleman is a rarer man than some of us think for. Which of us can point out many such in his circle, men whose aims are generous, whose truth is constant, and not only constant in its kind, but elevated in its degree; whose want of meanness makes them simple, who can look the world honestly in the face with an equal manly sympathy for the great and the small? We all know a hundred whose coats are very well made, and a score who have excellent manners, and one or two happy beings who are what they call in the inner circles, and have shot into the very centre and bulls-eye of fashion; but of gentlemen, how many? Let us take a little scrap of paper, and each make out his list.
What is it to be a gentleman? Is it to be honest, to be gentle, to be generous, to be brave, to be wise, and, possessing all those qualities, to exercise them in the most graceful outward manner? Ought a gentleman to be a loyal son, a true husband, an honest father? Ought his life to be decent, his bills to be paid, his tastes to be high and elegant, his aims in life lofty and noble?
It is an old saying, that we forget nothing, as people in fever begin suddenly to talk the language of their infancy; we are stricken by memory sometimes, and old affections rush back on us as vivid as in the time when they were our daily talk; when their presence gladdened our eyes; when their accents thrilled in our ears; when, with passionate tears and grief, we flung ourselves upon their hopeless corpses. Parting is death,at least as far as life is concerned. A passion comes to an end; it is carried off in a coffin, or weeping in a post-chaise; it drops out of life one way or the other, and the earth-clods close over it, and we see it no more. But it has been part of our souls, and it is eternal.
Out of the fictitious book I get the expression of the life, of the times, of the manners, of the merriment, of the dress, the pleasure, the laughter, the ridicules, of society; the old times live again, and I travel in the old country of England. Can the heaviest historian do more for me?
Novelty has charms that our minds can hardly withstand. The most valuable things, if they have for a long while appeared among us, do not make any impression as they are good, but give us a distaste as they are old. But when the influence of this fantastical humour is over, the same men or things will come to be admitted again by a happy return of our good taste.
Novels are sweets. All people with healthy literary appetites love them; almost all women; a vast number of clever, hard-headed men. Judges, bishops, chancellors, mathematicians, are notorious novel-readers, as well as young boys and girls, and their kind, tender mothers.
No wonder that the clergy were corrupt and indifferent amid this indifference and corruption. No wonder that sceptics multiplied and morals degenerated, so far as they depended on the influence of such a king. No wonder that Whitefield cried out in the wilderness,that Wesley quitted the insulted temple to pray on the hill-side. I look with reverence on these men at that time. Which is the sublimer spectacle,the good John Wesley surrounded by his congregation of miners at the pits mouth, or the queens chaplains mumbling their morning office in their anteroom, under the picture of the great Venus, with the door opening into the adjoining chamber, where the queen is dressing, talking scandal to Lord Hervey, or uttering sneers at Lady Suffolk, who is kneeling with the basin at her mistresss side?
William Makepeace Thackeray: The Four Georges: George the Second.