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battery of whispers is against all legal rights of war; ........poisoned arrows, and stabs in the dark, are not more repugnant to the general laws of humanity.
If the misconduct, which I have described, had been only to be found, Mr. Town, at my friend's table, I should not have troubled you with this letter: but the same kind of ill-breeding prevails too often, and in too many places. The gigglers and the whisperers are innumerable; they beset us wherever we go; and it is observable, that after a short murmur of whispers out comes the burst of laughter: like a gun-powder serpent, which, after hissing about for some time, goes off in a bounce.
Modern writers of comedy often introduce a pert witling into their pieces, who is very severe upon the rest of the company; but all his waggery is spoken aside. These gigglers and whisperers seem to be acting the same part in company, that this arch rogue does in the play. Every word or motion produces a train of whispers; the dropping of a snuff-box, or spilling the tea, is sure to be accompanied with a titter; and upon the entrance of any one with something particular in his person or manner, I have seen a whole room in a buzz like a bee-hive.
This practice of whispering, if it is any where allowable, may perhaps be indulged the fair-sex at church, where the conversation can only be carried on by the secret symbols of a curtsey, an ogle, or a nod. A whisper in this place is very often of great use, as it serves to convey the most secret intelligence, which a lady would be ready to burst with, if she could not find vent for it by this kind of auricu lar confession. A piece of scandal transpires in this manner from one pew to another, then presently whizzes along the chancel, from whence it crawls up to the galleries, 'till at last the whole church hums with it.
It were also to be wished, that the ladies would be pleased to confine themselves to whispering, in their tete-a-tete conferences at the opera or the play-house: which would be a proper deference to the rest of the audience. In France, we are told, it is common for the parterre to join with the performers in any favourite air; but we seem to have carried this custom still further, as the company in our boxes, without concerning themselves in the least with the play, are even louder than the players. The wit and humour of a Vanburgh or a Congreve is frequently interrupted by a brilliant dialogue between two persons of fashion; and a love-scene in the side-box has often been more attended to, than that on the stage. As to their loud bursts of laughter at the theatre, they may very well be excused, when they are excited by any lively strokes in a comedy: but I have seen our ladies titter at the most distressful scenes in Romeo and Juliet, grin over the anguish of a Monimia or Belvidera, and fairly laugh King Lear off the stage.
Thus the whole behaviour of these ladies is in direct contradiction to good manners. They laugh when they should cry, are loud when they should be silent, and are silent when their conversation is desirable. If a man in a select company was thus to laugh or whisper me out of countenance, I should be apt to construe it as an affront, and demand an explanation. As to the ladies, I would desire them to reflect how much they would suffer, if their own weapons were turned against them, and the gentlemen should attack them with the same arts of laughing and whispering. But, however free they may be from our resentment, they are still open to ill-natured suspicions. They do not consider, what strange constructions may be put on these laughs and whispers. It were, indeed, of little consequences, if we only imagined, that they were taking the reputations of their acquaintance to pieces, or abusing the com
pany round; but when they indulged themselves in this behaviour, some perhaps may be led to conclude, that they are discoursing upon topics, which they are ashamed to speak of in a less private manner.
Some excuse may perhaps be framed for this illtimed merriment in the fair-sex. Venus, the goddess of beauty, is frequently called the laughter-loving dame; and by laughing our modern ladies may possibly imagine, that they render themselves like Venus. I have indeed remarked, that the ladies commonly adjust their laugh to their persons, and are merry in proportion as it sets off their particular charms. One lady is never further moved than to a smile or a simper, because nothing else shews her dimples to so much advantage; another, who has a very fine set of teeth, runs into the broad grin; while a third, who is admired for a well-turned neck and graceful chest, calls up all her beauties to view, by breaking into violent and repeated peals of laughter.
I would not be understood to impose gravity or too great a reserve on the fair-sex. Let them laugh at a feather; but let them declare openly, that it is a feather which occasions their mirth. I must confess, that laughter becomes the young, the gay and the handsome but a whisper is unbecoming at all ages and in both sexes; nor ought it ever to be practised, except in the round gallery at St. Paul's, or in the famous whispering place in Gloucester cathedral, where two whisperers hear each other at the distance of five and twenty yards.
I am, Sir,
Your most humble servant,
No. XV. THURSDAY, MAY 9,
........Tu dic, mecum quo pignore certes.
A FRIEND of mine, who belongs to the StampOffice, acquaints me, that the revenue arising from the duty on cards and dice continues to increase every year, and that it now brings in near six times more than it did at first. This will not appear very wonderful, when we consider, that gaming is now become rather the business than amusement of our persons of quality; and that they are more concerned about the transactions of the two clubs at White's, than the proceedings of both houses of parliament. Thus it happens, that estates are now almost as frequently made over by whist and hazard, as by deeds and settlements; and the chariots of many of our nobility may be said (like Count Basset's in the play) "to roll upon the four aces."
This love of gaming has taken such entire possession of their ideas, that it infects their common conversation. The management of a dispute was formerly attempted by reason and argument; but the new way of adjusting all difference in opinion is by the sword or a wager: so that the only genteel method of dissenting is to risk a thousand pounds, or take your chance of being run through the body. The strange custom of deciding every thing by a wager is so universal, that if (in imitation of Swift) any body was to publish a specimen of Polite Conversation, instead of old sayings and trite repartees, he would in all probability fill his dialogues with little more than bet after bet, and now or then a calculation of the odds.
White's, the present grand scene of these transactions, was formerly distinguished by gallantry and intrigue. During the publication of the Tatler, Sir Richard Steele thought proper to date all his lovenews from that quarter: but it would now be as absurd to pretend to gather any such intelligence from White's, as to send to Batson's for a lawyer, or to the Rolls coffee-house for a man-midwife.
The gentlemen, who now frequent this place, profess a kind of universal scepticism; and as they look upon every thing as dubious, put the issue upon a wager. There is nothing, however trivial or ridicu lous, which is not capable of producing a bet, Many pounds have been lost upon the colour of a coach-horse, an article in the news, or the change of the weather. The birth of a child has brought great advantages to persons not in the least related to the family it was born in; and the breaking off a match has affected many in their fortunes, besides the parties immediately concerned.
But the most extraordinary part of this fashionable practice is, what in the gaming dialect is called PITTING one man against another; that is, in plain English, wagering which of the two will live longest. In this manner, people of the most opposite characters make up the subject of a bet. A player perhaps is pitted against a duke, an alderman against a bishop, or a pimp with a privy-counsellor. There is scarce one remarkable person, upon whose life there are not many thousand pounds depending; or one person of quality, whose death will not leave several of these kind of mortgages upon his estate. The various changes in the health of one, who is the subject of many bets, occasion very serious reflections in those, who have ventured large sums on his life and death. Those, who would be gainers by his decease, upon every slight indisposition, watch all the stages of his illness, and are as impatient for his