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ABRIDGMENT OF BARON KNIGGE'S PRACTICAL PHILOSOPHY OF SOCIAL LIFE, OR THE ART OF CONVERSING WITH MEN: TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN, BY THE REV. P. WILL.
The advantages which I have derived from the study and application of the excellent observations and rules which this work contains, and the salutary effects which I have seen it produce in the life of those of my pupils to whom I have recommended it, and who followed the sage instructions with which it abounds, made me wish most ardently, to see it dressed in an English garb, and circulated in a country which is so dear to me. It went through five editions in the course of a few years, and, if I may presume to judge of its usefulness, from my own experience, stands foremost amongst all the books which ever have been written to promote social happiness. Translator.
General rules and observations to guide us in conversation with men.
1 Strive to render yourself perfect; but avoid the appearance of perfection and infallibility. Be however not too much the slave of the opinion which others form of you. Be self-consistent! What need have you to care for the censure of the world if you act as you ought to do? Your whole wardrobe of external virtues is not worth a pin, if you conceal a weak and mean heart under that tinsel dress, and put it on only to make a show with it in companies.
2 Above all things take care not to lose your confidence in yourself, your trust in God, in good men and fortune. Disclose never in an ungenerous manner the defects of your neighbor, in order to sound your own praise at his expense; nor expose the failings of others to shine with additional lustre.
3 No rule is more generally useful, none ought to be observed more sacredly, and tends more to procure us respect and friends than that which teaches us to keep our word rigidly, even in the most trifling instances, to be faithful to all our promises, and never to wander from the strait road of truth and veracity. You are entitled in no instance, and by no motive whatever, to say the contrary of what you think, although it would frequently be highly wrong and imprudent to disclose every thought of your heart.
4 No necessity, how imperious soever it be, can excuse an untruth; no breach of veracity has ever been committed without having produced, sooner or later, painful consequences; whereas the man who is known to be a slave to his
word, and never to indulge himself with the commission of an untruth, gains confidence, a good name, and general regard.
5 Be strict, punctual, regular, assiduous and diligent in your calling. Interest yourself for others, if you wish them to interest themselves for you. A person that is destitute of fellow-feeling, of a sense of friendship, benevolence and love, and lives merely for himself, will also be left to shift for himself when he wants the assistance of others.
6 Above all things be always consistent. Form a certain plan of life, and do not swerve from it the breadth of a hair, although that plan should be rather singular. People will, perhaps, talk a short time of your singularity, but finally be silent, refrain from disturbing you any further, and, esteem you for your firmness. We in general, are always gainers by a regular perseverance and a wise firmness.
7 Above all things strive to have always a good conscience. Avoid most studiously to give your heart the least occasion to reproach you on account of the object of your actions, and of the means which you employ to attain it. Pursue never crooked ways, and you may firmly rely upon good consequences, the assistance of God and of good men in time of need.
8 Although you should be thwarted for some time by misfortune, yet the blissful consciousness of the goodness of your heart, and of the rectitude of your designs, will afford you uncommon strength and comfort. Attempt never to render a person ridiculous in how company, many defects soever he may have.
9 If you are desirous to gain lasting respect; if you wish to offend no one; to tire no person by your conversation; I advise you not to season your discourse constantly with aspersions, ridicule, and backbiting, nor to use yourself to the contemptible custom of jeering.
10 This may please now and then, particularly in the circle of a certain class of people; but a man that constantly labors to amuse the company at the expense of other people, or of truth, will certainly be shunned and despised at last, and he deserves it; for a man of feeling and understanding will bear with the failings of others, as he must be sensible how much mischief sometimes a single expression of ridicule may produce, though no harm be meant. He also cannot but wish for more substantial and useful conversation, and loathe gibing nonsense. Yet we use ourselves but too easily to that miserable custom, in what are called the fashionable circles.
11 I do however not mean to condemn all ridicule in gen
eral, and at all times, nor to deny that many follies and absurdities can be counteracted best, in less familiar circles by the lashes of fine, not too plain, nor too personal ridicule. Neither do I desire you to applaud every thing you see and hear, nor to excuse all faults; I rather must confess, that I always suspect people that affect to cover all defects of others with the cloak of charity.
12 They are generally hypocrites, who wish to bribe others by the honorable terms in which they speak of them, to forget the injuries which they commit against those very persons: or they intend to prevail on us by such a conduct, to be equally indulgent to their own failings and defects.
13 Be careful not to carry stories from one house to another, nor to relate familiar table talks, family discourses, and observations which you have made on the domestic concerns and life of people with whom you frequently converse. Although you should not be a malicious tale-bearer, yet such an officious garrulity would create mistrust, and might occasion a great deal of animosity and discord.
14 Whenever you speak of bodily, mental, moral, or other defects, or relate anecdotes that place certain principles in a ridiculous light, or reflect some blame upon certain ranks in life; then be cautious to ascertain first, that no one is present who could be offended by it, or take that censure or ridicule as a reflection upon himself, or his relations and friends. Ridicule the person, shape and features of no one; for it is not in the power of any mortal to alter them.
On the conversation with ourselves.
1 Take care of the health of your mind as well as that of your body; but spoil neither the one nor the other by too much tenderness. The man that endangers his constitution by too much labor or excess, squanders away a treasure which frequently is alone sufficient to raise him above men and fate, and for the loss of which the wealth of all the world cannot compensate.
2 But he that dreads every breeze of air, and is fearful to exert and exercise his limbs, lives a nerveless life of constant anxiety, and attempts in vain to put the rusty springs in motion when he has occasion to exert his natural powers.
3 A man that constantly exposes his mind to the tempests of passion, or incessantly crowds the sails of his spirit, either aground or must return with his leaky vessel into port,
when the best season for making new discoveries sets in. But he that suffers the faculties of his understanding and memory constantly to sleep, or shudders at every little struggle or at any sort of painful exertion, enjoys not only very little of the sweets of life, but is also totally lost as soon as energy, courage and resolution are required.
4 Take care, therefore, not to torment yourself by imaginary sufferings of the body or the mind; do not give way to every adverse incident or corporeal affliction! Take courage and be resolute! All the storms of adversity are transient; all difficulties can be overcome by firmness of mind; and the remembrance of every loss can be exploded from the memory, if we bend our attention upon some other object.
5 Have a proper regard for yourself, if you wish to be esteemed by others. Act well and properly, rather to preserve your regard for yourself than to please others. Preserve a proper sense of your internal dignity. Never lose your reliance upon yourself, and upon the consciousness of your value in the eyes of your Creator; and although you are sensible not to be as wise and capable as others, yet do not despair; let not your zeal slacken, nor be wanting in probity of heart!
6 Have confidence in yourself and trust to Providence! There exists a greatness which is independent of men, fate, and the applause of the world; it consists in the internal consciousness of our merit and rectitude, and our sense of it grows stronger, the less it is taken notice of.
7 Be an agreeable companion to yourself: that is, never be entirely unoccupied, nor confide entirely in the store of knowledge which you have treasured up in your mind; but collect new ideas from books and men.
8 Our own society does, however, never grow more tedious and distressing to ourselves than when we have painful accounts to settle with our heart and conscience. If you wish to convince yourself of the truth of this assertion, you need but to observe the difference of your disposition.
9 How much dissatisfied with ourselves, how absent, and how burdensome to ourselves, are we after a train of hours which we have trifled away or spent in doing wrong, and how serene, how happy to reflect upon our conduct, and to give audience to our ideas at the close of a well spent day!
On the conversation with people of different tempers and dispositions.
1 Amongst all adventurers, gamblers by profession are the most contemptible and prejudicial class. On speaking of them, I beg leave to say a few words on gaming in general.
2 No passion can lead to such extremities, nor involve a man in such a complicated train of crimes and vices, and ruin whole families, so completely, as the baneful rage for gambling. It produces and nourishes all imaginable disgraceful sensations; it is the most fertile nursery of covetousness, envy, rage, malice, dissimulation, falsehood, and foolish reliance on blind fortune;* it frequently leads to fraud, quarrels, murder, forgery, meanness and despair; and robs us, in the most unpardonable manner, of the greatest and most irrecoverable treasure-Time.
3 Drunkards, voluptuaries, and all votaries of vice in general, you ought to shun, and if possible, to avoid their society; yet if you should not always be able to do it, you cannot be too careful to watch over your innocence lest it should be infected by their example.
4 This, however, is not sufficient; it is also your duty not to indulge them in their excesses, how pleasing soever the shape may be in which they appear, but to show, as far as prudence permits, that you have an unconquerable aversion against them, and to be particularly careful never to join in smutty discourses.
5 We see frequently that elegant rakes are uncommonly well received in the fashionable circles as they are called; and but too often experience in many societies, particularly
*The same pernicious consequences are liable to occur more or less, from the toleration of lotteries, horse-racing, and every description of wagering, or betting; which, it is to be hoped, will not, much longer, be encouraged and promoted by gentlemen of honor and wealth, who, in all other respects, sustain the reputation of irreproachable morals, patriotism and beneficence. These fashionable modes of gambling may be amusing to those who have an abundance of money and leisure; but there are two insuperable objections to their indulgence in them. First, every parent incurs a moral obligation of fidelity and prudence in the management of the property, which, though in his possession and control, his family and descendants have a just claim to a participation in, during his life, and the possession of, after his decease. Second, public games promote dissipation and idleness among all classes who attend them. J.T.