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The Common-place Man.
"Eternal smiles his emptiness betray, As shallow streams run dimpling all the way."-POPE.
THERE is a class of persons, indigenous to England, which appears to have escaped the notice of our subtlest philosophers. Although they have consumed much ink, paper, and patience in their analysis of the nature of genius, and have been equally voluminous in accounting for the causes of ignorance, they have wholly neglected a character which steers midway between the two, and is not inaptly denominated common-place. "A nice young man" is the term usually applied to folks of this description, for they seldom offend by their sarcasm, or delight by their genius, and an indifferent good humor is the sole satisfaction de
rived from their society. But inasmuch as they are removed from intellect, they are finished adepts at the small-talk of the day. The current of fashion is their element, they swim on the surface of public opinion, and follow every winding of the stream. Orthodoxy is their passport to the ballroom; and the golden calf of the hour is the idol of their reverence. In displaying the merits of an opera dancer they are always on the side of power, they vote with the majority on matters of dress, and their judgment on literature is given as the world decides. With the real merits of a book, they have no communion, for the "outward and visible sign" is the surest test of its "inward and spiritual grace." Compliments flow from them as honey from the lips of Nestor, with voluble lubricity of utterance; and it is impossible to resist their arguments on the best mode of peeling oranges, dressing the hair, or plastering the face. A lady of ton has usually a list of these animals on halfpay, who are ready at a moment's warning to take a vacant seat, eat up the good things of the table, and laugh at those of their hostess. In return for such discreet behaviour, they are admitted to the honor of tea and scandal, in a family way; vouchsafed a bow from the carriage window, and allowed to be seen in familiar conversation with their illus
trious patroness. There is a numerous class of such common-place characters, the hangers-on, as it were, of society, who are discarded and resumed with as much indifference as the coat that immortalizes their tailor. The lawyer, the clergyman, the soldier, and the merchant, are all occasionally baptized by the same appropriate epithet. Our business at present is with the merchant, the "nice young man" of the middling circles, the Adonis of city fashion and romance.
He is a youth who hits the exact level of mediocrity, and never for an instant sinks below, or rises above the surface. Like the tragedy of Cato, he is an elegant petrifaction of feeling, and makes a bow, hands a chair, or says a smart thing, with the same faultless insipidity. His very face is a title-page of ignorance, and presents a vast surface unruffled by the lines and furrows of intellect. Nothing can be more happily characteristic; he looks like a card of invitation to a party, in the vapid inanity of which he lives, moves, and has his being. In relating an anecdote, he does it with systematic stupidity, and professes an orthodox horror of people who are addicted to embellishIf this was the aversion of principle it might be pardoned, but it is a bitter consciousness of inferiority which induces him to despise all those
who from native genius, or from a felicitous mode of expression, can gild even common place occurrences with the flowers of wit and fancy.
At the time specified by established usance, our nice young gentleman is metamorphosed into a lover, and scribbles valentines on gilt-edged paper, with the lines written in large text, and the sentences liberally stopped with commas and notes of admiration, being the only notes of admiration in the whole piece. As for the composition, it is symbolically replete with darts, flames, and nonsense, and pours forth vows of attachment with unintelligible vehemence of intellect. Is it in the heart of woman to resist so fascinating a billetdoux?
As in love, so in religion, his feelings are always on the popular side of the question. He believes in the literal construction of the Scriptures, and is of opinion that the book of Apocrypha is doubtful, because it is so called in the title-page. His ideas of Satan are drawn from the picture pamphlets of the nursery; and he has fearful imaginings about the length of his tail, and quality of his brimstone. Lately, however, he has begun to doubt whether Apollyon actually has a tail; but in his more contemplative moments shrinks from such apostacy, as being little better than a suggestion of the
evil one. The principle of his devotion consists in manfully wrestling with a sleepy sermon, and his charity, in giving away a useless shilling at the chancel. He would never miss church on Sundays, if he could be assured of fine weather; but clothes are expensive articles, and you may always hear a sermon, when you are not so confident of a new suit. This is unanswerable logic.
In the sublime and beautiful, his taste is singularly discriminative; for he is of opinion that there is nothing more beautiful in taste than a venison-pie, or more sublime in character than the Lord Mayor at the head of a turtle feast. Still, however, he can feel a sense of the picturesque, in a Sunday walk to Hyde-park; and glow with romantic apprehensions, as he comes home late at night along Hounslow-heath. Nor is Hampstead utterly neglected; for, after all, says our young gentleman, its ponds are exceeding pretty, but not sufficiently
His reading, according to his own account, is very extensive, for he has regularly perused the Observer for the three last years, and is critically skilled in the obituary of the Gentleman's Magazine. He is also a profound scholar, inasmuch as he has deeply studied Smollett's Novels, and slept over Blair's Lectures. In politics he is equally acute;