1822
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Pleasures of Conversation. Part II.

The Pleasures of Conversation, a Poem. By William Cooke, Esq. New Edition, enlarged with Poetical Portraits of the principal Characters of Dr. Johnson's Club.

William Cook


The speaker must attend to the size of the group: one can speak at larger in small groups, but in larger groups sprightlier methods work best. The example of Florio is held up: "Like him compliance to your parties bring, | Like him disarm Contention of its sting" p. 37. Men are asked to emulate the politeness of women, and women the academic learning of men. Egotism ("the mighty I") and the desire to shine at the expense of others are best avoided: "Praise where you can with genuine warmth of heart, | And, ev'n when forc'd to censure, — spare the smart" p. 42. Dashall, whose simple thoughts, though well-intended, commits a fault when he paints in broad strokes: "No middle teints his giant talents lack, | His grand variety is WHITE and BLACK" p. 43. Fawning is reprobated, and common sense preferred to over refinement. Sir Vapid is an example of the folly of indulging in modish vices; Ventoso speaks to please the ear rather than to gratify the sense. Obscurity is to be avoided: "With what contempt, the liberal mind must see | Arcano gravely take his fool's degree" p. 52. The opposite extreme is misplaced candor. Gloomy complaints become tedious, and praises of the past at the expense of the present. The canto concludes by censuring those who mimic the debilities of others: "Tho' spurn'd from courts, your sires have long since fled, | In taverns still you may be kick'd and fed, | But dare not here the social board prophane, | Where manners — sense — and sympathy should reign" p. 62.



Again the pleasing subject we renew,
And all its various requisites pursue;
Again would trace this thought exchanging art,
Which forms the taste and meliorates the heart,
Aids love and friendship's sanctimonious rights,
With ever new yet rational delights,
Mild tho' instructive — social tho' refin'd,
The glass of manners — and the ready mind.

In different circles — different subjects trace,
As best accord with numbers, rank and place.
Mongst small, if learn'd, let graver topics claim
Their due pre-eminence to classic fame,
Where by discussion opening truths are shewn,
And feebler thoughts acquire a firmer tone;
In larger groups, where invitation blends
Life's sprightly sons alike with Wisdom's friends,
Where mirth and knowledge join their mutual aid,
To shew the mingled charms of light and shade,
Here touch the subject, circling as it flies,
With something apropos, yet briefly wise;
Proportion'd thus in little parts — the ball
Of Conversation's best — kept up by all.
To these subjoin that happier art to please,
THE CHARM OF MANNERS — AND OF WELL-BRED EASE.
This charm attracts, when talents oft provoke
The Cynic's envy, or the Witling's joke;
Obtains esteem, because best understood,
"It does the giver, and receiver good;"
We pay respect — we feel the kind retort
In present praise, and future good report.

Doubt you this truth? — Come make example thine,
And learn from FLORID, how to please and shine:
Circl'd by ladies, — statesmen, beaus, and wits,
With how much grac'd complacency he sits?
His eye abroad, anticipates each thought,
His manner'd mind's just govern'd as it ought,
Who talks with wisdom gains his ready ear,
Who speaks of misery starts the pitying tear;
Should whispering scandal take its flippant round,
No note of his in unison is found,
But should the voice of worth and sense prevail,
His heart's responsive to the happy tale.
Thus FLORIO, of his party forms the soul,
Prais'd — cherish'd — lov'd — respected by the whole.
What does he say — to gain this general vote?
Does he talk freely? Does he aptly quote?
How does he manage? Tell how FL0RIO charms,
"GOOD MANNERS — AND GOOD NATURE ARE HIS ARMS;"
These shew a breeding, by refinement wrought,
A sense in silence, and a will in thought."

Hear all! who wish to imitate this plan,
And copy FLORIO in the polished man;
Like him compliance to your parties bring,
Like him disarm Contention of its sting,
For wit — with all its powers to entertain,
Its bright allusions — fascinating strain,
Should it too sportive, wing one pointed dart,
The barb so rankles in the wounded part,
Nor time — nor soothing can the pain remove,
So much more steadily men hate than love.
Like FL0RIO too frequent some female school
Where truth and elegance prescribe the rule,
Where conversation shuts out vain pretence,
And cards and trifles yield to useful sense,
Where LOVE and HONOUR — now romantic names,
Though once the boast of high-bred lords and dames,
Again may spread their happiest means to please,
And blend with morals — dignity and ease.

And O ye Fair! though Nature's gifts be yours,
With all that Art's variety procures,
Arts which profess to polish maiden life,
Yet often spoil the duties of a wife,
Let not these gaudes your better sense betray,
Nor hope connubial bliss from their display;
Call sweet discourse to garnish Beauty's shrine,
Raise every charm, and as they bloom refine;
For taste and breeding we'll exchange those powers
Which Learning forms in academic bowers;
For mild forbearance, constancy, and love,
Those views of life which busier scenes improve;
Uniting thus, — we'll catch that pliant air,
Which wins by manners, and which softens care;
Whilst you by Pallas, and the Graces drest,
—All trifling passions banish'd from the breast—
A double influence on our hearts shall claim,
And light the torch of love with purer flame;
"Shall prove yourselves, by such a school refin'd,
The GUARDIANS — COMFORTS — BLESSINGS of mankind."

The several letters which Grammarians spread,
Alike before the grave, or thoughtless head,
In conversation you may freely choose,
—As suit the range of philologic views—
Save one — which well-bred modesty puts by
On most occasions, call'd the MIGHTY I.
Let not this braggart vaunt what I have done,
The long illustrious line from whence I sprung;
The jokes I told — the fortune I possess,
The skill I boast in science and address,
The plans I schem'd at college, or at school,
With all my wondrous pow'rs to play the fool.
Nor shift your course, and cant in humbler tone,
O'er all the faults peculiarly your own;
"As how too blunt your manners will prevail,
Or how deceiv'd by some concerted tale,
Madly good-natur'd, though your friends betray,
But 'tis your failing, and you must obey."
Ah! would the EGOTIST but fairly state
How he participates another's fate,
How much he heeds another's joys and cares,
—When not commingling with his own affairs—
From kindred feelings he'd confess with shame,
The unavailing boasts of selfish fame.

In reasoning, likewise, — SHUN THE VAUNTING LINE,
AND SOMETIMES WAVE THE PRIVILEGE TO SHINE,
Why press a feeble foe? or let him see
How you excel him, and in what degree?
Praise where you can with genuine warmth of heart,
And, ev'n when forc'd to censure, — spare the smart.
Nay, should some rustic of the forest birth,
Who proves his near affinity to earth,
Should he come forward with his clumsy skill,
His talent force — his reasoning head-strong will,
By silence ward the blow — or help to find
A quagmire bottom for his flound'ring mind;
Fast in his native mud — his brawl's soon o'er,
And wisdom gains a respite from his roar.

See modern DASHALL, fir'd with critic flame
—No matter which to flatter, or to blame—
His two pound brushes to the easel fly,
And all the canvas fills before his eye,
No middle teints his giant talents lack,
His grand variety is WHITE and BLACK;
Yet charg'd with these, he gives unclouded light,
Or sinks his subject in eternal night.
Ah! judge not DASHALL by too strict a rule,
He bears no malice, nor is yet a fool;
In common life, he clearly sees his way,
His duty's call will readily obey,
Flies to support a brother in distress,
And has a heart, to harmonize and bless.
Then why by turns, so partial and so loud?
He only claims precedence from the crowd;
He but aspires, by all this shade and glare,
To set his hearers on the wondrous stare:
Grant him but this — he's rightly understood,
And all his tendencies are just and good.

Nor play the parasite's delusive part,
Who looks, and talks, and acts without a heart,
Whose candy'd tongue with every thing complies,
And stamps "as very true," the veriest lies.
Behold this GNATHO at the sumptuous hoard
Of some vain citizen, or witless lord
There see him wait to catch his patron's glance,
To talk — to listen — slacken — or advance;
Now ready, when he finds him at a stand,
To turn the theme, or lend a helping hand;
Now merry, when he jokes — but when he traces
The very glimpse of sorrow — makes long faces.
Thus every hue, camelion-like, he'll wear,
Except that Gnatho will not live on air.

O base abandonment of those delights
Which crown the freedom of colloquial rites!
Where in the place of those electric fires,
Which link and animate the same desires,
Two sordid minds will trade as interests suit,
One buys dishonour — t' other sells his truth.

With caution, likewise, shun that glitt'ring bait
—Alike the gift of genius and its fate—
REFINEMENT'S ART — which every subject tries,
And sees each subject with an hundred eyes,
Sets them in such diversities of view,
So gayly colour'd — yet so far from true,
That sense thus rarefied eludes the theme,
As fades the vapour of a morning dream.
Seductive art! Why judgment's bounds transgress,
And like a wanton give each hour to dress?
What tho' to Genius nearly thou'rt allied,
Or that 'tis thine to blaze in letter'd pride,
Tho' Fancy wings it through her gay domain,
And culls each flower to decorate thy fame,
Tho' tropes and metaphors at will appear,
And all thy periods melt upon the ear;
These splendid ornaments are vain pretence,
Without the simpler charm of COMMON SENSE.

PRESS NONE TO CONTEST ON HIS FAVOURITE ART,
NOR IN YOUR OWN ASSUME THE CRITIC'S PART.
The first is rude, and fruitful of disgrace,
For who with skill the several arts can trace?
The last is flippancy's perpetual sign,
And shows the pedant in the lowest line.

NOR TURN FROM HIM WHOSE HABIT AND ADDRESS,
NO MODISH FORMS — NO BRILLIANCY EXPRESS;
To science bred — perhaps no grace was there,
To mould his form, or give the polish'd air,
The soft assenting look — the yielding head
Which nods alike to every thing that's said;
Yet far superior to this outward show
He claims the higher privilege to know,
To know — and act in virtue's honour'd cause,
The guardian and exemplar of her laws.
Such claim respect — hence let Discretion guide,
—And spite of Fashion's undiscerning pride—
Glean from his mind, whate'er that mind will lend,
Exchange your knowledge, and engage a friend.

To such behold — how cool SIR VAPID shews!
—Who measures man by feather — hat — and clothes—
See how he eyes him with forbidding stare!
Then — indolently turning on his chair—
Retails some trash, the last new batch of plays,
Or, what's still worse, the little wits who praise,
What nymph's best practised in the mazy dance,
Where vicious attitudes her charms enhance;
What philosophe religious duty flouts,
And braves the Sabbath with her crowded routs;
What peeress opes her gates for midnight pay,
To aid some new-blown bubble of the day,
Or introduce some demirep of fame,
To prove that virtue's but a vulgar name;
—What coxcomb — void of true poetic fire,
Prowl's through the wards of Bedlam for his lyre,
Makes daemons, goblins, sprites converse in rhyme,
The very MANIA of the false sublime;
Or who retails the poison of his muse,
In novels worthy the Italian stews.
What does SIR VAPID get by this? — disdain,
From all beside the profligate and vain.
What does he shew? — a slavish itch to chime
In all the modish vices of the time.

Next to SIR VAPID — shun VENTOSO'S choice,
Who thinks to claim distinction by his voice,
Who proud alone to educate his ear,
Leaves common sense to find its proper sphere.
Lo! when he talks — involv'd in many a fold
Of fustian pomp — the mighty nothing's told,
All "mere mouth-honour" — full of sound and show,
Yet all VENTOSO ever deigns to know.
So with lixivial bubbles boys would pass
Their sportive puffs for parti-colour'd glass;
Awhile they float, and please the youthful eye,
And catch the full grown child who passes by;
Once touch'd, alas! no more these globules glare,
And all their little efforts melt in air.

In the same flattering strain of self-applause,
ARRAIGN NO NATION FOR A PARTIAL CAUSE,
'Tis false in manners as in nature's laws;
Friendship and fraud shoot up in every soil,
With those who govern and with those who toil,
With those of science, and with those who stray
In all the vulgar errors of the day;
As various accidents will oft conspire
T' embase the soul, or elevate its fire;
Make some the scourge, or bubble of their age,
Others — the wonder of th' historic page;
All climes alike are subject to these rules,
Baeotia had her wits — Athens her fools.

Yet if you needs must rail — with decent mirth
Select the favourite country of your birth,
This like your character is all your own,
Where little freedoms may be fairly shewn.
Such as some folly from good nature sprung,
Some equivoque or blunder of the tongue,
Some wondrous story of domestic fame,
Or, feats of love congenial to the same,
Something that triumphs at a light expense,
A kind of compromise with graver sense.
These oft are lapses of a generous mind,
But let her vices share with all mankind;
Thus from your country shall we learn to raise
Subjects alike for pleasantry, or praise.

Feeble in thought, yet labouring to be wise,
Some live in mists and cultivate disguise,
Dealing, like Delphic oracles, around
Their dubious answers — mystic and profound,
Where ifs and buts, on proper pauses placed,
Supply the want of prudence, truth and taste.
With what contempt, the liberal mind must see
Arcano gravely take his fool's degree,
Screw every feature to the forms of sense,
The very puppet of its own pretence.
When at the levee last — the park, or play,
In vain he strives to recollect the day;
"Business so hurries — trifles so crowd so fast.
"'Tis hard to calculate how time has past."
Ask for the friend with whom he lives at will,
"Perhaps he might be in the country still."
But what's the current news — what's out of date,
"He knows no more than as the papers state."
Mixed in discourse alike his frothy mind
Teems with precautions of the puzzling kind;
If 'tis an anecdote, tho' fully known,
No clue to place or character is shown;
If now a jest, or harmless equivoque,
"It was a person introduced the joke;"
Nay such his stratagem in taking coach,
Lest tatling envy should his haunts reproach.
He hurries in, nods with a joyless smile,
Nor gives his orders 'till he, off a mile—
Yet know, close fool — tho' secrecy we prize,
As what becomes the prudent — good — and wise,
This shuffling art in all you say, or do,
Hangs a suspicious character to view;
Betrays false consequence — or worse, would hide
Some very secrets, ranker still than pride.

Others reverse this principle, and show
Such suffocating pains from what they know,
Not wisdom's voice — or friendship's claims can still,
Nor yet the pow'rful fear of spreading ill;
Their breasts, transparent as the polish'd glass,
Reflect the different objects as they pass.
Thus every petty fact of common life,
With whom he lives in amity — or strife,
His age — his fortune — maladies — or cares,
With what he hears of other men's affairs—
The BABBLER tells alike to friend, or foe,
The loose historian of Himself and Co.—
From both extremes adopt this wiser part,
"Be not too close — or prodigal of heart."
Dup'd by its cunning, that obtains no end,
Lur'd by its folly, this acquires no friend;
But, like the giddy spendthrift, feels too late
The various miseries of a lost estate.

Others again — tho' scrupulous to touch
The slightest secret, compromis'd as such;
BOUND BY NO PROMISE, THINK IT LAWFUL PRIZE,
Hence round the town in various shapes it flies,
As suits the comic, or satyric strain,
The loose — malicious — ignorant, or vain.
But is there no restrictive power which stays
Folly's report? — or Passion's hasty phrase?
Is there no voluntary pledge of mind
In Conversation's institutes, which bind?
O yes! — 'tis our's to take the generous side,
And feel this more, injunction — 'tis implied;
No seal like HONOUR — 'tis the stamp of kings,
The sacred fount whence obligation springs,
Virtue's strong guard against corruption's host,
The peer's best voucher — and the poor's best boast;
Without it, words unheeded pass away,
Nor oaths bind those accustomed to betray.

As Conversation, through each varying line,
Leads to inform — exhilarate — refine,
All who associate in this pleasing school,
Should sedulously keep each social rule.
WHY WILL THE HIPPISH THEN, OR AILING TRIBE,
THEIR FEIGN'D — OR REAL MALADIES DESCRIBE?
Why thus the rites of harmony destroy,
And force a temporary pause from joy?
"To-day is given to mirth" — HILARIO cries,
"Away complaint — nor take us by surprize;
'Tis out of time, propriety and place,
We're not in consultation on your case."
HILARIO'S right — no invalid should roam
Beyond the limits of his nurse and home.

Inclin'd alike — HEAR CROAKING AGE DECLAIM
WITH SELF-TORMENTING SPLEEN ON MODERN FAME!
"Nothing is good, or wise, since days of old,
Love's mere convenience, honour's bought and sold,
Arts — manners — fashions — all have fell decay,
Chas'd by the follies of the present day."
Could this be so since elder time began,
And every age produc'd a baser man,
By this, no virtue scarcely could exist,
Unstain'd by folly — or corruption's mist,
Ere now — each art and science must have fled,
"And darkness been the burier of the dead."

Alas! too true, in life's declining day,
The joys of youth no more our wills obey,
To, proud to brook a sage's grave command,
"They leave a barren sceptre in his hand."
No more the horn shall rouse, or sprightly dance,
Or Beauty's eye transfix with killing glance;
No more shall midnight routs with every art
Of glare and revelry, engage the heart,
Nor shows delight — nor rural sports endear,
Or nature's self the same gay liveries wear;
All — all in fainter sicklier views are plac'd,
Age — but the echo of its former taste;
Such is our lot! — but why should man, tho' cloy'd,
Deny to others what he once enjoy'd,
Rail at each fashion-spurn each rising name?
'Tis youth has fled, the times are still the same.

So the young seaman clearing first the shore,
Looks to that spot, his eyes may meet no more,
And as he views the well known scenes around,
Where every fond domestic joy was found,
The neighbouring hills which brac'd his boyish frame
The village school which rous'd his mind to fame,
The mill which turn'd at every brisker breeze,
The grove, and dear co-temporary trees,
Where fancy oft by moonlight visions drew,
And love first sigh'd — and purest friendships grew
With smiling hope in roseate pinions drest,
Swelling with every joy, the youthful breast.
All these seem parting from his straining eye,
As if the earth-bound hills and plains could fly,
Or if once more old Orpheus by his song,
Drew trees and stones in merry dance along.
Delusion this! — The scene unchang'd remains;
Lo! 'tis his bark, relinquishes the plains,
Catches the gale and seeks the distant seas
Where storms and toils contrast a life of ease,
Where climes succeeding climes, congeal, or burn,
And different views and manners take their turn.

Not so the MIMIC, he, in merrier lays,
Draws no comparison with former days,
A different line his pilf'ring talents chose,
He stints th' insulter of his neighbour's woes:
Do any halt — or squint? the Copyist straight,
Assumes the leering eye — the limping gait.
Are any mark'd with oddity of speech,
Phrase or address? The Mimic preys on each;
The good man's weakness in his sport appears,
Nor poverty's exempted from his sneers.
And can we prize such, base acquirements? — fie!
Forbid it, honour! — truth! and charity!
No, ye informers! no, ye apish crew!
Ye spies on nature! take your only due;
Tho' spurn'd from courts, your sires have long since fled,
In taverns still you may be kick'd and fed,
But dare not here the social board prophane,
Where manners — sense — and sympathy should reign.

[pp. 33-62]

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