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higher and more solemn meditations, till we work up our way beyond the clinging and heavy atmosphere of this earthly sojourn, and look abroad upon the light that knows neither blemish nor bound, while our ears are saluted at that egress by the harmony of the skies, and our eyes behold the lost and congenial spirits that we have loved hastening to welcome us with their sparkling eyes, and their curls that are ripe with sunshine.
But earth recalls us again; the last flame is out; the fading embers tinkle with a gaping dreariness; and the chill reminds us where we should be. Another gaze on the hearth that has so cheered us, and the last, lingering action is to wind up the watch for the next day. Upon how many anxieties shall the finger of that brief chronicler strike, — and upon how many comforts too! Tomorrow our fire shall be trimmed anew; and so, gentle reader, good night: may the weariness I have caused you make sleep the pleasanter!
“Let no lamenting cryes, nor dolefull tears,
Be heard all night within, nor yet without;
* In the new edition of “The Round Table,” published in the Bayard Series of books, this article is given to Hazlitt. “Our style bewrays us,” says Burton; and “A Day by the Fire” is full of Leigh Hunt's peculiarities of thought and diction. "The question of authorship, however, is not to be de
ON COMMONPLACE PEOPLE.
GREEABLY to our chivalrous, as well as do
mestic, character, and in order to show further in what sort of spirit we shall hereafter confer blame and praise, whom we shall cut up for
the benefit of humanity, and to whom apply our healing balsams, we have thought fit, in our present number, to take the part of a very numerous and ill-treated body of persons, known by the various appellations of commonplace people, — dull fellows, or people who have nothing to say.
It is perhaps wrong, indeed, to call these persons commonplace. Those who are the most vehement in objecting to them have the truest right to the title, however little they may suspect it; but of this more hereafter. It is a name by which the others are very commonly known; though they might rather be called persons of simple common sense, and, in fact, have just enough of that valuable quality to inspire them with the very quietness which brings them into so much contempt.
We need not, however, take any pains to describe a set of people so well known. They are, of course, what none of our readers are, but many are acquainted with. They are the more silent part of companies, and generally the best behaved people at table. They are the best of dumb waiters near the lady of the house. They are always at leisure to help you to good things, if not to say them. They will supply your absence of mind for you while you are talking, and believe you are taking sugar for pepper. Above all, — which ought to recommend them to the very hardest of their antagonists, — they are uninquiring laughers at jokes, and most exemplary listeners.
cided upon internal evidence ; facts prove that the essay was written by the author of the “Story of Rimini.” The prolusion was originally published in the “Reflector," with Hunt's well-known signature, - 7. It was afterwards re-printed in the “Examiner," as one of “The Round Table” papers. When these essays were collected into a volume, Leigh Hunt's initials were printed at the end of “A Day by the Fire ;” and Hazlitt, in the preface to this original edition of “The Round Table,” says, “out of the fifty-two numbers, twelve are Mr. Hunt's, with the signature, L. H." - ED.
Now, we do not say that these are the very best of companions, or that when we wished to be particularly amused or informed we should invite them to our houses, or go to see them at theirs ; all we demand is that they should be kindly and respectfully treated when they are by, and not insolently left out of the pale of discourse, purely because they may not bring with them as much as they find, or say as brilliant things as we imagine we do ourselves. .
This is one of the faults of over-civilization. In a stage of society like the present, there is an intellectual as well as personal coxcombry apt to prevail, which leads people to expect from each other a certain dashing turn of mind, and an appearance, at least, of having ideas, whether they can afford them or not. Their minds endeavor to put on intelligent attitudes, just as their bodies do graceful ones; and every one who, from conscious modesty, or from not thinking about the matter, does not play the same monkey tricks with his natural deficiency, is set down for a dull fellow, and treated with a sort of scornful resentment, for differing with the others. It is equally painful and amusing to see how the latter will look upon an honest fellow of this description, if they happen to find him in a company where they think he has no business. On the first entrance of one of these intolerant men of wisdom, to see, of course, a brilliant friend of his, -he concludes
that all the party are equally lustrous; but finding, by degrees, no flashes from an unfortunate gentleman on his right, he turns stiffly towards him at the first commonplace remark, measures him from head to foot with a kind of wondering indifference, and then falls to stirring his tea with a half-inquiring glance at the rest of the company, just as much as to say, “a fellow not overburdened, eh ?” or, “who the devil has Tom got here?”
Like all who are tyrannically given, and of a bullying turn of mind, - which is by no means confined to those who talk loudest, — these persons are apt to be as obsequious and dumb-stricken before men of whom they have a lofty opinion as they are otherwise in the case above mentioned. This, indeed, is not always the case; but you may sometimes find out one of the caste by seeing him waiting with open mouth and impatient eyes for the brilliant things which the great gentleman to whom he has been introduced is bound to utter. The party, perhaps, are waiting for dinner, and as silent as most Englishmen, not very well known to each other, are upon such occasions. Our hero waits with impatience to hear the celebrated person open his mouth, and is at length gratified ; but not hearing very distinctly, asks his next neighbor, in a serious and earnest whisper, what it was.
“Pray, sir, what was it that Mr. W. said ?”
The gentleman thinks this no very profound remark for so great a man, but puts on as patient a face as he can, and, refreshing himself with shifting one knee over the other, waits anxiously for the next observation. After a little silence, broken only by a hem or two, and by somebody's begging pardon of a gentleman next him for touching his shoe, Mr. W. is addressed by a friend, and the stranger is all attention.
“ By the bye, W., how did you get home last night?"
“Oh, very well, thank’ye; I couldn't get a coach, but it was’nt very rainy, and I was soon there, and jumped into bed.”
“Ah, there's nothing like bed after getting one's coat wet."
“Nothing, indeed. I had the clothes round me in a twinkling, and in two minutes was as fast as a church.”
Here the conversation drops again ; and our delighter in intellect cannot hide from himself his disappointment. The description of pulling the clothes round, he thinks, might have been much more piquant; and the simile, as fast as a church, appears to him wonderfully commonplace from a man of wit. But such is his misfortune. He has no eyes but for something sparkling or violent; and no more expects to find any thing simple in genius, than any thing tolerable in the want of it.
Persons impatient of others' deficiencies are, in fact, likely to be equally undiscerning of their merits; and are not aware, in either case, how much they are exposing the * deficiencies on their own side. Not only, however, do they get into this dilemma, but what is more, they are lowering their respectability beneath that of the dullest person in the room. They show themselves deficient, not merely in the qualities they miss in him, but in those which he really possesses, such as self-knowledge and good temper. Were they as wise as they pretend to be, they would equal him in these points, and know how to extract something good from him in spite of his deficiency in the other; for intellectual qualities are not the only ones that excite the reflections, or conciliate the regard, of the truly intel