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ECCENTRICITIES OF AFFECTATION.
BY LAMAN BLANCHARD, ESQ.
'Tis affectations, look you.-SIR Hugu Evans.
“Assume a virtue if you have it not," is Hamlet's recommendation to the Queen. It is one, which however plausible in sound, and practically admissible in particular cases, prescribes in reality the addition of the odious vice of hypocrisy to the vices in existence before. It says in other words, “ Seem more virtuous by committing another
But the advice is distinct and intelligible—we can at least understand the policy of it, whether we approve or condemn. The adoption of it may be a piece of knavery, but it does not follow that the knavery is sheer folly-except in the sense in which all knavery is from first to last.
Now there are assumptions and affectations which, though equally common, are not so comprehensible. Why people pretend to be virtuous, why they affect to be pious, witty, frank, and honest--why they "make believe” to be amiable and generous—a child can understand. But it is not so easy to comprehend the principle upon which they affect to be less perfect than they really are—why they lay claim to defects which are not legally their own-why they pretend to possess weaknesses and demerits, as things admirable and honourable.
“ Assume a failing if you have it not,” seems the perfection of the absurd and irrational.
“Open this muffin for me, there's a good fellow, for positively I haven't strength—and in the mean time I'll just flirt a little with a bit of toast.”
This was lisped out at breakfast by a liale, vigorous specimen of youthful activity, all bone and muscle, six feet high, and strong as Hercules. Strength and Health, indeed, were his father and mother, and the son took mightily after his parents. Yet there he was, affecting the invalid, and insinuating a claim to compassion--a necessity for assistance in the opening of a muffin. With tremendous energy, and a frame that might have led one to expect, when he spoke,
That large utterance of the early gods, he articulated languidly and low; pretending first to be possessed with indolence, which is a pernicious and disgraceful quality-and next to be afflicted with bodily weakness, which is an ailment that nobody admires, though it is sometimes pitied, much to the mortification of the sufferer.
But it may be said that all this affectation is but humour and masquerade, and that the pretence of feebleness is the strong man's joke-"it was only his fun." There is not an atom of fun in the case. The good people of both sexes, who creep about occasionally with dismal looks, and too little strength to tell you they are invalided, are incapable of a joke—they have no fun in them—they all sham in sober seriousness. Were it indeed a trick intended to be funny—a little bit of hoaxing of the very silliest kind-it might pass as all bad jests do pass, and be pardoned for its intention's sake; but again we say, the affectation is no joke.
As there are some who thus deny and cast off their own bodily graces, make rueful their good looks, aud drag their limbs after them to disguise their manly activity, so are there many more who affect to be destitute of certain honourable qnalities, moral and intellectual, which are their own private property.
It is reasonable enough for the hard, sour, selfish grasper to affect a touch or two of the charitable; and we can all comprehend why he who hoards every farthing, scatters his munificent sentiments about so profusely; but why should the tender-hearted and generous reliever of his poor fellow-worms in this world—the heroic struggler on behalf of the neglected, the injured, the trampled, -the kind and active sympathizer with all who are in pain, or trouble, or penury--put on the aspect of a selfish disbeliever, assume unpitying airs, affect the cynic and the tyrant, and speak in the tones of misanthropy! This masquerading is to be seen to this day-out of novels, and beyond the pale of the stage. Where is the sense, the sanity of this affectation of the hard worldly feeling, in natures to which it is perfectly foreign, and never had a resting place for a single moment ?
The affectation of the unintellectual is as marked as the pretended lack of moral warmth when there is a good blazing fire within. Observe, for instance, what is so frequently lo be seen—that pretended indifference to the beautiful, which, if real, would denote a nature “without form, and void," with darkness ever growing thicker upon the face of it. There are plenty of good worldly reasons, grounded upon selfinterest, personal vanity, or the desire of pleasing even, for exclaiming aloud, “ How beautiful!" at sight of some object of art, or some combination of the forms of nature, which nevertheless produces no corresponding emotion in the spectator. For playing the hypocrite, by affecting admiration, every hour brings with it some inducement; but is it not strange, that any body born in a steady, respectable planet, and not in a comet, should ever have been tempted to affect an insensibility to the profound and fascinating influences of beauty !should pretend to be so very much lower than the angels as to see nothing angelic anywhere!
Nothing is more natural than that a foolish, heavy-eyed plodder among pictures should affect to fall into raptures about Raphael, and boast of a capacity to appreciate all his divine doings. But nothing surely is more unnatural than the affectation of not perceiving any thing remarkable in the Cartoons—than the affectation of a want of eyesight, a want of interest, a want of soul, which if real would be a monstrous and most pitiable defect.
We know well enough, why, in rambles under summer-hedges and along garden-walks, the prettiest “sentimentalities” are uttered about flowers by persons who have no real taste for those perfumed delicacies ; but we do not know so well what people mean by affecting a fine dis
dain, turning up their noses filled with fragrance, and protesting that " they can't bear flowers." Yet we witness both spectacles.
To boast of a fine sense, an exquisite perception, which has unhappily been denied to us, is in the usual order of things, and a rational lie enough; but to boast of some sad deficiency, some gross deformity and distortion, which nevertheless has no existence in us, is, by pretending to be contemptible, to become so.
To do at Rome as the English do, when they go there-see all that is to be seen-denotes, at any rate, a laudable curiosity, and a degree of interest which is rather better than the total absence of it: but on the other hand, what a profound affectation of indifference to grandeur and beauty, of insensibility to the charm which thousands, though not sepsibly touched, have yet the grace to pretend to be enslaved by, is conveyed in the answer of the elegant tourist to the inquiry,
“ Did you visit Rome?"
Equally deep and exquisite was the affectation of a certain scholar, learned in all languages, who was for the space of a minute in some doubt whether he had ever read a tragedy entitled “ Macbeth.”
“ Yes, I think I did read it once-I believe I considered its merits to be over-estimated. Yes, I remember it now very well."
This pretence to a bad memory ranks of course, under some circumstances, among the more reasonable make-believes: it may be convevient to forget; but it must be included in our category of absurdities, because practised often when it would be more rational to remember. Somebody is questioned about an affair familiar to him as his name he can recollect nothing-it is all a blank. He thinks it looks large minded to forget, and assures you with a sim per that he has a shocking memory.
Charles Lamb in one of his admirable letters to Manning, when in China, supposes his friend's memory to be weakened by distance; and accordingly, to the information that “So-and-so is gone to France,” adds “ You remember France ?" Some people would have face enough to affect to forget it, if they fancied this would add to the dignity of their littleness, or render their ignorance more impressive.
Another specimen of these anomalous and many-headed affectations, in which the utmost inconsistency is manifested, is to be met with in every family, however select--or shall we say every family, almost ?the reader's is the exception.
It consists in affecting to be a little younger than the parish-register proclaims us to be; so that, in order doubtless to signalize our admission into the church, a miracle has been worked in each of our particular cases, by introducing the ceremony of christening long prior to the ceremony of birth.
The number of years struck off the register varies of course with the exigencies of circumstance and the elasticity of conscience ; but even one year is something, and the “forty-four" folks think they act handsomely, and in a spirit of martyrdom to truth, if they acknowledge to “forty-three.” The trifle of time is really very trifling, but they cannot bear to be exact.
Now if there be any advantage in wandering either way from the fact, it should exist on the side of age. To call ourselves sixty at fifty-two is to obtain renown for good looks, to be rated higher in the scale of respect, and accounted deeper in the knowledge of books and men. On the other hand, to understate the age, is to be thought looking “very old for your years,” and a victim to early dissipation and unbridled passions.
Assuredly the affectation, on this side, can elevate us not an inch in any human being's estimation. And yet this it is which is continually practised. People pretend to be just a year or so younger, as though they fancied they should thus live a year or so longer. When the deception has some specific object, some particular victim in view, it has some obvious use, and the falsehood is simply disgraceful; but where it is general, and the fruit of a foolish affectation, it is still disgraceful, as all falsehood is, with this addition, that it is pre-eminently user less, ridiculous, and vain.
As there is an affectation of coldness and indifference, so there is one of enthusiasm ; which, though we may grant it to be less objectionable, is equally inconsistent, because it includes in its vast sympathy all conceivable objects, employing the same words to describe the high and low, and lavishing the same fervour on the insignificant and the sublime. Thus, when a lady throwing her large handsome eyes up to heaven, and resting her clasped hands upon her lap, exclaims, with more intensity than becomes the occasion,
“Oh, I have such a passion for roast-pig !"
Or when a little affected miss thinks it quite fine and grand to be emphatic, and affects to break out into poetry with,
"Oh ! Camilla, do you not admire pale green ribbon? I must say I am fond of pale green ribbon-I could live upon it.'"
When these little oddities catch one's eyes and ears, of course we know that the affectation-principle is at high-pressure.*
There are several forms of that remarkable affectation which exhibits a partiality for personal defects, and flourishes on the strength of weaknesses which are visionary. One form affects the eyesight--a short-sighted affectation.
A lover's eye can gaze an eagle blind, sings the poet ; but the lover of prose, when he beholds his mistress raises bis glass to his eye, affecting an inconvenient brevity of vision, and achieving at the same time an inelegant screw of the features. That the short-sighted should pretend to see things distant, is easily accounted for.; but it does appear inexplicable that any one who is blessed with perfect sight should affect a slight deficiency in that
The following describes an affectation which, though common and ridiculous enough, does not belong to the inconsistent and contradictory class which it is our present purpose to discuss;
Young LADY.—Oh, mamma, I'm so sorry, William says his tortoise is as dead as mytton!
MAMMA.—Hush, my dear, hush! What a vulgar phrase to repeat!--never let me hear you mention mutton in that manner.
Young LADY (after a pause employed in considering the points of gentility).Mamma, might I have said with more propriety, “as dead as venison ?"
MAMMA.-Why, my dear, that would undoubtedly have been better, and I don't know that there could be the least objection to the expression.
respect, and apply so actively the needless ornament pendent at the neck.
Another form affects the speech, and another the gait.
“ God hath given you one face and you make yourselves another," says Hamlet.
The affectation of false roses and sham lilies is intelligible-ve see the object-it is to complete what nature has left imperfect, to heighten her handiwork after her own immaculate pattern. There is nothing incongruous in this, except the bad taste and folly of attempting to graft the artificial upon the natural.
But Hamlet goes on to describe a reasonless and most ridiculous order of affectation.
“ You lisp,” he says, “ you amble—" and do you not, to this hour? All the rest of his charge is comprehensible, but this is not. Why Jisp ? To pretend to have a defective utterance, as though there were a musical charm in it, seems 100 gross and preposterous a fancy to have been popular among the affected for centuries! Again, why amble? Are the mincing gait, the studied shufle, the decided limp, which are practised and performed so assiduously, superior to the easy and graceful walk which is abandoned for them?' Have they any thing to do with the poetry of motion ?
We shall be warned that some of the eccentricities of affectation at which we have glanced are very rarely to be seen or heard. It is enough for us that they exist, or have existed-being so absurd and unnatural, as to be at least as wonderful as they are rare.
Among the minor ones is the affectation of writing a most slovenly and illegible hand-a scrawl too wild and tangled to be interpreted by any but the long familiarized and incurably friendly. If a style too obscure to be deciphered, even by the writer, were achieved, still we should see no vast merit in it. It has never been written down anywhere that pothooks-run-nad constitute an elegant and useful accomplishment. Yet people, here and there, scribble as though they thought so, affect to be totally unable to shape a single letter decently, and are very fond of remarking, with a pretty little self-satisfied giggle, that “ they really do write a wretched hand.”
There existed for a considerable time a rather formidable affected conspiracy against correct spelling; but this is now almost rooted even out of the boarding-schools.
There is one form of affectation which should not be left out of the list. As many who can walk well affect a limp, and some who can see clearly pretend to enjoy a necessity for a glass, and a few who in robust health assume an interesting ailment, so there are numbers who, while much given to vocalism, profess to be totally unable to sing. There is such a thing, strange as it may seem and is, as the affectation of not showing off. The reputation for a given faculty is sometimes best kept up by never exercising the given faculty itself. Persons of this order are always asked to sing, and never do. One is always hearing their voices, protesting that they have no voice. But it must be admitted that the affectation of singing is sometimes almost as annoying, though certainly not so inexcusable.
There is one thing stranger than all this ; one example of the perverse and anomalous in affectation, which excels the rest in absurdity.