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hanged ; he himself belonging to the former class.
But we all, more or less, recognize and act upon the
great classification of all human beings into the agree-
able and the disagreeable. And we begin very early
to recognize and act upon it. Very early in life, the
little child understands and feels the vast diflference
between people who are nice, and people who are not
nice. In schoolboy days, the first thing settled as to
any new acquaintance, man or boy, is on which side
he stands of the great boundary line. It is not genius,
not scholarship, not wisdom, not strength nor speed,
that fixes the man's place. None of these things is
chiefly looked to ; the question is, Is he agreeable or
disagreeable ? And according as that question is de-
cided, the man is described, in the forcible language
of youth, as " a brick," or as " a beast."

Yet it is to be remembered, that the division be-
tween the agreeable and disagreeable of mankind, is
one which may be transcended. It is a scratch on the
earth ; not a ten-foot wall. And you will find men
who pass from one side of it to the other ; and back
again ; probably several times in a week, or even in a
day. There are people whom you never know where
to have. They are constantly skipping from side to



CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 123

side of that line of demarcation ; or they even walk
along with a foot on each side of it. There are peo-
ple M'ho are always disagreeable ; and disagreeable to
all men. There are people who are agreeable at some
times, and disagreeable at others. There are people
who are agreeable to some men and disagreeable to
other men. I do not intend by the last-named class,
people who intentionally make themselves agreeable
to a certain portion of the race, to which they think it
worth while to make themselves agreeable ; and who
do not take that trouble in the case of the remainder
of humankind. What I mean is this : that there are
people who have such an affinity and sympathy with
certain other people ; who so suit certain other people ;
that they are agreeable to these other people ; though
perhaps not particularly so to the race at large. And
exceptional tastes and likings are often the strongest.
The thing you like enthusiastically, another man ab-
solutely loathes. The thing which all men like, is for
the most part liked with a mild and subdued liking.
Everybody likes good and well-made bread ; but no-
body goes into raptures over it. Few persons like
caviare ; but those who like it are very fond of it. I
never knew but one being who liked mustard with
apple-pie ; but that solitary man ate it with avidity,
and praised the flavor with enthusiasm.

But it is impossible to legislate for every individual
case. Every rule must have exceptions from it ; but
it would be foolish to resolve to lay down no more



124 CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.

rules. There may be, somewhere, the man who likes
Mr. Snarling ; and to that man Mr. Snarling would
doubtless be agreeable. But for practical purposes,
Mr. Snarling may justly be described as a disagree-
able man, if he be disagreeable to nine hundred and
ninety-nine mortals out of every thousand. And with
precision sufficient for the ordinary business of life,
we may say that there are people who are essentially
disagreeable.

There are people who go through life, leaving an
unpleasant influence on all whom they come near.
You are not at your ease in their society. You feel
awkward and constrained while with them. That is
probably the mildest degree in the scale of unpleasant-
ness. There are people who disseminate a much
worse influence. As the upas-tree was said to blight
all the country round it, so do these disagreeable folk
prejudicially affect the whole surrounding moral at-
mosphere. They chill all warmth of heart in those
near them ; they put down anything generous or mag-
nanimous ; they suggest unpleasant thoughts and asso-
ciations ; they excite a diverse and numerous array
of bad tempers. The great evil of disagreeable peo-
ple lies in this : that they tend powerfully to make
other people disagreeable too. And these people are
not necessarily bad people, though they produce a bad
effect. It is not certain that they design to be disa-
greeable. There are those who do entertain that
design ; and they always succeed in carrying it out.



CONCERNmG DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 125

Nobody ever tried diligently to be disagreeable, and
failed. Such persons may indeed inflict much less
annoyance than they wished , they may even fail of
inflicting any pain whatever on others ; but they make
themselves as disgusting as they could desire. And
in many cases, they succeed in inflicting a good deal
of pain. A very low, vulgar, petty, and uncultivated
nature, may cause much suffering to a lofty, noble,
and refined one ; particularly if the latter be in a posi-
tion of dependence or subjection. A wretched hornet
may madden a noble horse ; a contemptible mosquito
may destroy the night's rest which would have re-
cruited a noble brain. But Avithout any evil inten-
tion ; sometimes with the very kindest intention ;
there are those who worry and torment you. It is
through want of perception ; want of tnct ; coarseness
of nature ; utter lack of power to understand you.
Were you ever sitting in a considerable company, a
good deal saddened by something you did not choose to
tell to any one, and probably looking dull and dispir-
ited enough ; and did a fussy host or hostess draw the
attention of the entire party upon you, by earnestly
and repeatedly asking if you were ill, if you had a
headache, because you seemed so dull and so unlike
yourself? And did that person time after time return
to the charge, till you would have liked to poison him ?
There is nothing more disagreeable, and few things
more mischievous, than a well-meaning, meddling fool.
And where there was no special intention, good or



126 CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.

bad, towards yourself, you have known people make
you uncomfortable through the simple exhibition to
you, and pressure upon you, of their own inherent dis-
agreeableness. You have known people after talking
to whom for awhile, you felt disgusted with every-
thing ; and above all, with those people themselves.
Talking to them, you felt your moral nature being rub-
bed against the grain ; being stung all over with net-
tles. You showed your new house and furniture to
such a man ; and with eagle eye he traced out and
pointed out every scratch on your fine fresh paint,
and every flaw in your oak and walnut. He showed
you that there were corners of your big mirrors that
distort your face ; that there were bits of your grand
marble mantel-pieces that might be expected soon to
scale away. Or you have known a man who, with no
evil intention, made it his practice to talk of you be-
fore your face, as your other friends are accustomed
to talk of you behind your back. It need not be said
that the result is anything but pleasant. " What a
fool you were. Smith, in saying that at Snooks's last
night," your friend exclaims when you meet him next
morning. You were quite aware, by this time, that
what you said was foolish ; but there is something
grating in hearing your name connected w^ith the un-
pleasant name. I would strongly advise any man,
who does not wish to be set down as disagreeable,
entirely to break off the habit (if he has such a habit)
of addressing to even his best friends any sentence



CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 127

beginning with " What a fool you were." Let me
offer the like advice as to sentences which set out as
follows : " I say, Smith, I think your brother is the
greatest fool on the face of the earth." Stop that
kind of thing, my friend ; or you may come to be
classed with Mr. Snarling. You are probably a
manly fellow, and a sincere friend ; and for the sake
of your substantial good qualities, one would stand a
great deal. But over-frankness is disagreeable ; and
if you make over-frankness your leading characteris-
tic, of course your entire character will come to be
a disagreeable one ; and you will be a disagreeable
person.

Besides the people who are disagreeable through
malignant intention, and through deficiency of sen-
sitiveness, there are other people who are disagreeable
through pure ill-luck. It is quite certain that there
are people whom evil fortune dogs through all their
life : who are thoroughly and hopelessly unlucky.
And in no respect have we beheld a man's ill-luck so
persecute him, as in the matter of making him (with-
out the slightest evil purpose, and even when he is
most anxious to render himself agreeable), render
himself extremely disagreeable. Of course there must
be some measure of thoughtlessness and forgetfulness ;
some lack of th.at social caution so indispensable in the
complication of modern society, which teaches a man
(so to speak) to try if the ice will bear him before
venturing his entire weight upon it ; about people who



128 CONCER^TNG DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.

are unlucky in the way of which I am speaking. But
doubtless you have known persons who were always
saying disagreeable things, or putting disagreeable
questions; either through forgetf'ulness of things which
they ought to have remembered, or through unhappily
chancing on forbidden ground. You will find a man,
a thoughtless but quite good-natured man, begin at a
dinner-table to relate a succession of stories very much
to the prejudice of somebody ; while somebody's daugh-
ter is sitting opposite him. And you will find the
man quite obtuse to all the hints by which the host or
hostess tries to stop him ; and going on to particulars
worse and worse ; till in terror of what all this might
grow to, the hostess has to exclaim, " Mr. Smith, you
won't take a hint ; that is Mr. Somebody's daughter
sitting opposite you." It is quite essential that any
man, whose conversation consists mainly of observa-
tions not at all to the advantage of some absent ac-
quaintance, should carefully feel his way before giv-
ing full scope to his malice and his invention, in the
presence of any general company. And before mak-
ing any playful reference to halters, you should be
clear that you are not talking to a man whose grand-
father was hanged. Nor should you venture any
depreciatory remarks upon men who have risen from
the ranks, unless you are tolerably versed in the fam-
ily history of those to whom you are talking. You
may have heard a man very jocular upon lunatic asy-
lums, to another who had several brothers and sisters



CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 129

in one. And though in some cases, human beings may
render themselves disagreeable through a combination
of circumstances which really absolves them from all
blame ; yet, as a general rule, the man who is disa-
greeable through i'l-luck is at least guilty of culpable
carelessness.

You have probably, my reader, known people who
had the faculty of making themselves extremely
agreeable. You have known one or two men who,
whenever you met them, conveyed to you by a re-
markably frank and genial manner, an impression
that they esteemed you as one of their best and dear-
est friends. A vague idea took possession of your
mind, that they had been longing to see you ever
since they saw you last : which in all probability was
six or twelve months previously. And during all
that period it may be regarded as quite certain, that
the thought of you had never once entered their
mind. Such a manner has a vast effect upon young
and inexperienced folk. The inexperienced man fan-
cies that this manner, so wonderfully frank and friend-
ly, is reserved specially for himself ; and is a recog-
nition of his own special excellences. But the man
of greater experience has come to suspect this man-
ner, and to see through it. He has discovered that
it is the same to everybody : at least, to everybody
to whom it is thought worth while to put it on. And
he no more thinks of arguing the existence of any
9



130 CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.

particular liking for himself, or of any particular
merit in himself, from that friendly manner ; than
he thinks of believing, on a warm summer day, that
the sun has a special liking for himself, and is look-
ing so beautiful and bright all for himself. It is per-
haps unjust to accuse the man, always overflowing in
geniality upon everybody he meets, of being an im-
postor or humbug. Perhaps he does feel an irrepres-
sible gush of love to all his race ; but why convey to
each individual of the race that he loves him more
than all the others ?

Yet it is to be admitted, that it is always well that
a man should be agreeable. Pleasantness is always a
pleasing thing. And a sensible man, seeking by hon-
est means to make himself agreeable, will generally
succeed in making himself agreeable to sensible men.
But although there is an implied compliment, to your
power if not to your personality, in the fact of a
man's taking pains to make himself agreeable to you ;
it is certain that he may try to make himself so by
means of which the upshot will be, to make him in-
tensely disagreeable. You know the fawning, sneak-
ing manner which an occasional shopkeeper adopts.
It is most disagreeable to right-thinking people. Let
him remember that he is also a man ; and let his
manner be manly as well as civil. It is an awful and
humiliating sight, a man who is always squeezing
himself together like a whipped dog whenever you
speak to him ; grinning and bowing ; and (in a moral



CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 131

sense) wriggling about before you on the earth, and
begging you to wipe your feet on his head. You
cannot help thinking that the sneak would be a ty-
rant if lie had the opportunity. It is pleasant to find
people in the huntMest position, blending a manly in-
dependence of demeanor with the regard justly due to
those placed by Providence farther up the social scale.
Yet doubtless there are persons to whom the sneak-
iest manner is agreeable ; who enjoy the flattery and
the humiliation of the wretched toady who is always
ready to tell them that they are the most beautiful,
graceful, witty, well-informed, aristocratic-looking, and
generally-beloved, of the human race. You must re-
member that it depends very much upon the nature
of a man himself, whether any particular demeanor
shall be agreeable to him or not. And you know
well that a cringing, toadying manner, which would
be thoroughly disgusting to a person of sense, may
be extremely agreeable and delightful to a self-con-
ceited idiot. Was there not an idiotic monarch, who
was greatly pleased when his courtiers, in speaking
to him, affe#ted to veil their eyes with their hands, as
unable to bear the insufferable effulgence of his coun-
tenance ? And would not a monarch of sense have
been ready to kick the people who thus treated him
like a fool ? And every one has observed that there
are silly women who are much gratified by coarse and
fulsome compliments upon their personal appearance,
which would be regarded as grossly insulting by a



132 CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.

woman of sense. You may have heard of country
gentlemen, of Radical politics, who had seldom wan-
dered beyond their paternal acres (by their paternal
acres I mean the acres they had recently bought),
and who had there grown into a fixed belief that they
were among the noblest and mightiest of the earth ;
who thought their parish clergyman an agreeable
man if he voted at the county election for the candi-
date they supported, though that candidate's politics
were directly opposed to those of the parson. These
individuals, of course, would hold their clergyman as
a disagreeable man, if he held by his own principles ;
and quite declined to take their wishes into account
in exercising the trust of the franchise. Now of
course a nobleman or gentleman of right feeling,
would regard the parson as a turncoat and sneak,
who should thus deny his convictions. Yes : there is
no doubt that you may make yourself agreeable to
unworthy folk, by unworthy means. A late notori-
ous Marquis declared on his dying bed, that a two-
legged animal of human pretensions, who had acted
as his valet, and had aided that hoary i^prohate in
the gratification of his peculiar tastes, was " an ex-
cellent man." And you may remember how Burke
said that as we learn that a certain Mr. Russell made
himself very agreeable to Henry the Eighth, we may
reasonably suppose that Mr. Russell was himself (in a
humble degree) something like his master. Proba
bly to most right-minded men, the fact that a man



CONCERNIXG DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 133

was agreeable to Henry the Eighth, or to the Marquia
in question, or to Belial, Beelzebub, or Apollyon,
would tend to make that man remarkably disagree-
able. And let the reader remember the guarded way
ill which the wr'^er laid down his general principle as
to pleasantness of character and demeanor. I said
that a sensible man, seeking by honest means to
make himself agreeable, will generally succeed in
making himself agreeable to sensible men. I ex-
clude from the class of men to be esteemed agree-
able, those who would disgust all but fools or black-
guards. I exclude parsons who express heretical
views in theology, in the presence of a patron known
to be a free-thinker. I exclude men who do great
folk's dirty work. I exclude all toad-eaters, sneaks,
flatterers, and fawning impostors ; from the schoolboy
who thinks to gain his master's favor by voluntarily
bearing tales of his companions, up to the bishop who
declared that he regarded it not merely as a constitu-
tional principle but as an ethical fact, that the King
could do no wrong ; and the other bishop who de-
clared that the reason why George the Second died,
was that this world was not good enough for him, and
it was necessary to transfer him to heaven that he
might be the right man in the right place. Such per-
sons may succeed in making themselves agreeable to
the man with whom they desire to ingratiate them-
selves, provided that man be a fool or a knave ; but
they assuredly render themselves disagreeable, not to



134 CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.

Bay revolting, to all human beings whose good opinion
is worth the possessing. And though any one who is
not a fool will generally make himself agreeable to
people of ordinary temper and nervous system if he
wishes to do so ; it is to be remembered that too in-
trusive attempts to be agreeable often make a man
very disagreeable ; and likewise, that a man is the
reverse of agreeable if you see that he is trying by
managing and humoring you to make himself agree-
able to you. I mean, if you can see that he is smooth-
ing you down, and agreeing with you, and trying to
get you on your blind side, as if he thought you a
baby or a lunatic. And there is all the difference in
the world, between the frank hearty wish in nian or
woman to be agreeable ; and this diplomatic and in-
direct way. No man likes to think that he is being
managed as Mr. Rarey miglit manage an unbroken
colt. And though many human beings must in fact
be thus managed ; though a person of a violent or a
sullen temper, or of a wrong head, or of outrageous
vanity, or of invincible prejudices, must be managed
very much as you would manage a lunatic (being, in
fact, removed from perfect sanity upon these points) ;
still, they must never be allowed to discern that they
are being managed ; or the charm will fail at once.
I confess, for myself, that I am no believer in the
efficacy of diplomacy and indirect ways in dealing
with one's fellow-creatures. I believe that a manly,
candid, straightforward course is always the best.



CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 135

Treat people in a perfectlj frank manner : -with
frankness not put on, but real ; and you will be
agreeable to most of those to whom you would de-
sire to be so.

My reader, I am now about to tell you of certain
sorts of human beings, who appear to me as worthy
of being ranked among disagreeable people. I do not
pretend to give you an exhaustive catalogue of such.
Doubtless you have your own black beasts, your own
special aversions, which have for you a disagreeable-
ness beyond the understanding or sympathy of others.
Nor do I make quite sure that you will agree with me
in all the views which I am going to set forth. It
is not impossible that you may regard as very nice
people, or even as quite fascinating and enthralling
people, certain people whom 1 regard as intensely
disagreeable. Let me begin with an order of human
beings, as to which I do not expect every one who
reads this page to go along with me ; though I do not
know any opinion which I hold more resolutely than
that which I am about to express.

We all understand the kind of thing which is meant
by people who talk of Muscular Christianity. It is
certainly a noble and excellent thing to make people
discern that a good Christian need not be a muff
(pardon the slang term : there is no other that would
bring out my meaning). It is a fine thing to make
it plain that manliness and dash may coexist Avith
pure morality and sincere piety. It is a fine thing to



136 CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.

make young fellows comprehend that there is nothing
fine and manly in being bad ; and nothing unmanly in
being good. And in this view, it is impossible to
value too highly such characters and such biographies
as those of Hod son of Hodson's Horse and of Cap-
tain Hedley Vicars. It is a splendid combination,
pluck and daring in their highest degree, with an
unaffected and earnest regard to religion and religious
duties : in short, muscularity with Christianity. A
man consists of body and soul : and both would be in
their ideal perfection, if the soul were decidedly
Christian, and the body decidedly muscular.

But there are folk whose admiration of the mus-
cularity is very great ; but whose regard for the
Christianity is very small. They are captivated by
the dash and glitter of physical pluck ; they are quite
content to accept it without any Christianity; and
even without the most ordinary morality and decency.
They appear, indeed, to think that the grandeur
of the character is increased, by the combination of
thorough blackguardism with high physical qualifica-
tions ; their gospel, in short, may be said to be that of
Unchristian Muscularity. And you will find various
books in which the hero is such a man ; and while the
writer of the book frankly admits that he is in strict
morality an extremely bad man, the writer still recalls
his doings with such manifest gusto and sympathy,
and takes such pains to make him agreeable on the
whole, and relates with such approval the admiration



CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 137

which emptj-headed idiots express for him when he
has jumped his horse over some very perilous fence
or thrashed some insolent farmer, that it is painfully
apparent what is the writer's ideal of a grand and
imposing character. You know the kind of man who
is the hero of some novels : the muscular blackguard ;
and you remember what are his unfailing charac-
teristics. He has a deep chest. He has huge arms
and limbs : the muscles being knotted. He has an
immense moustache. He has (God knows why) a
serene contempt for ordinary mortals. He is always
growing black with fury, and bullying w^eak men.
On such occasions, his lips may be observed to be
twisted into an evil sneer. He is a seducer and
liar : he has ruined various women, and had special
facilities for becoming acquainted with the rottenness
of society ; and occasionally he expresses, in language
of the most profane, not to say blasphemous character,
a momentary regret for having done so much harm ;
such as the Devil might sentimentally have expressed
when he had succeeded in misleading our first pa-
rents. Of course he never pays tradesmen for the
things with which they supply him. He can drink an
enormous quantity of wine without his head becoming
affected. He looks down with entire disregard on the
laws of God and man, as made for inferior beings. As
for any worthy moral quality ; as for anything beyond
a certain picturesque brutality and bull-dog disregard
of danger; not a trace of such a thing can be found
about him.



138 CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.

We all know, of course, that such a person, though
not uncommon in novels, very rarely occurs in real
life ; and if he occur at all, it is with his ideal perfec-
tions very much toned down. In actual life, such a
hero would become known in the Insolvent Court, and


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Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 8 of 19)