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Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of

Of SPOILING A SHIP FOR A HALFPENNY WORTH OF TAR


Paris) pockets his horns when

he cannot gore with them; and will not add to the triumph of his maker by only butting with them ineffectually. A seeming ignorance is very often a most necessary part of worldly knowledge. It is, for instance, commonly advisable to seem ignorant of what people offer to tell you; and when they say, Have you not heard of such a thing? to answer No, and to let them go on; though you know it already. Some have a pleasure in telling it, because they think that they tell it well; others have a pride in it, as being the sagacious discoverers; and many have a vanity in showing that they have been, though very undeservedly, trusted; all these would be disappointed, and consequently displeased, if you said Yes. Seem always ignorant (unless to one's most intimate friend) of all matters of private scandal and defamation, though you should hear them a thousand times; for the parties affected always look upon the receiver to be almost as bad as the thief: and, whenever they become the topic of conversation seem to be a skeptic, though you are really a serious believer; and always take the extenuating part. But all this seeming ignorance should be joined to thorough and extensive private informations: and, indeed, it is the best method of procuring them; for most people have such a vanity in showing a superiority over others, though but for a moment, and in the merest trifles, that they will tell you what they should not, rather than not show that they can tell what you did not know; besides
that such seeming ignorance will make you pass for incurious and consequently undesigning. However, fish for facts, and take pains to be well informed of everything that passes; but fish judiciously, and not always, nor indeed often, in the shape of direct questions, which always put people upon their guard, and, often repeated, grow tiresome. But sometimes take the things that you would know for granted; upon which somebody will, kindly and officiously, set you right: sometimes say that you have heard so and so; and at other times seem to know more than you do, in order to know all that you want; but avoid direct questioning as much as you can. All these necessary arts of the world require constant attention, presence of mind, and coolness. Achilles, though invulnerable, never went to battle but completely armed. Courts are to be the theatres of your wars, where you should be always as completely armed, and even with the addition of a heel-piece. The least inattention, the least DISTRACTION, may prove fatal. I would fain see you what pedants call 'omnis homo', and what Pope much better calls ALL-ACCOMPLISHED: you have the means in your power; add the will; and you may bring it about. The vulgar have a coarse saying, of SPOILING A SHIP FOR A HALFPENNY WORTH OF TAR; prevent the application by providing the tar: it is very easily to be had in comparison with what you have already got.

The fine Mrs. Pitt, who it seems saw you often at Paris, speaking of you the other day, said, in French, for she speaks little English, . . . whether it is that you did not pay the homage due to her beauty, or that it did not strike you as it does others, I cannot determine; but I hope she had some other reason than truth for saying it. I will suppose that you did not care a pin for her; but, however, she surely deserved a degree of propitiatory adoration from you, which I am afraid you neglected. Had I been in your case, I should have endeavored, at least, to have supplanted Mr. Mackay in his office of nocturnal reader to her. I played at cards, two days ago, with your friend Mrs. Fitzgerald, and her most sublime mother, Mrs. Seagrave; they both inquired after you; and Mrs. Fitzgerald said, she hoped you went on with your dancing; I said, Yes, and that you assured me, you had made such considerable improvements in it, that you had now learned to stand still, and even upright. Your 'virtuosa', la Signora Vestri, sung here the other day, with great applause: I presume you are INTIMATELY acquainted with her merit. Good night to you, whoever you pass it with.


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