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would frequently appear before the police magistrates.
He would eventually become a billiard-marker; and
might ultimately be hanged, with general approval.
If the man, in his undipped proportions, did actually
exist, it would be right that a combination should be
formed to wipe him out of creation. He should be
put down : as you would put down a tiger or a rattle-
snake if found at liberty somewhere in the Midland
Counties. A more hateful character, to all who
possess a grain of moral discernment, could not even
be imagined. And it need not be shown, that the
conception of such a character is worthy only of a
baby. However many years the man who deliber-
ately and admiringly delineates such a person may
have lived in this world, intellectually he cannot be
more than about seven years old. And none but
calves the most immature can possibly sympathize
with him. Yet if there were not many silly persons
to whom such a character is agreeable, such a charac-
ter would not be portrayed. And it seems certain
that a single exhibition of strength or daring will
to some minds be the compendium of all good qual-
ities : or (more accurately speaking) the equivalent
for them. A muscular blackguard clears a high



CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 135

fence ; he does precisely Tiat, neither more nor less.
And upon the strength of that single achievement, the
servants of the house where he is visiting declare that
they would follow him over the world. And you
may find various young women, and various women
who wish to pass for young, who would profess, and
perhaps actually feel, a like enthusiasm for the mus-
cular blackguard. I confess that I cannot find words
strong enough to express my contempt and abhorrence
for the theory of life and character which is assumed
by the writers who describe such blackguards, and by
the fools who admire them. And though very far
from saying or thinking that the kind of human being
who has been described, is no worse than disagreeable,
I assert with entire confidence that to all right-think-
ing men, he is more disagreeable than almost any
other kind of human being. And I do not know any
single lesson you could instil into a youthful mind,
which would be so mischievous, as the lesson that the
muscular blackguard should be regarded with any
other feeling than that of pure loathing and disgust.
But let us have done with him. I cannot think of the
books which delineate him, and ask you to admire
him, without indignation more bitter than I wish to
feel in writing such a page.

And passing to the consideration of human beings
who though disagreeable, are good in the main ; it
may be laid down, as a general principle, that any
person, however good, is disagreeable, from whom



140 CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.

you feel it a relief to get away. We have all known
people, thorouglily estimable, and whom you could not
but respect, in whose presence it was impossible to
feel at ease ; and whose absence was felt as the with-
drawal of a sense of constraint of the most oppressive
kind. And this vague, uncomfortable influence, which
breathes from some men, is produced in various ways.
Sometimes it is the result of mere stiffness and
awkwardness of manner ; and there are men whose
stiffness and awkwardness of manner are such as
w^ould freeze the most genial and silence the frank-
est. Sometimes it arises from ignorance of social
rules and proprieties ; sometimes from incapacity to
take, or even to comprehend, a joke. Sometimes it
proceeds from a pettedness of nature, which keeps
you ever in fear that offence may be taken at the
most innocent word or act. Sometimes it comes of
a preposterous sense of his own standing and impor-
tance, existing in a man whose standing and impor-
tance are very small. It is quite wonderful what
very great folk, very little folk will sometimes fjmcy
themselves to be. The present writer has had little
opportunity of conversing with men of great rank and
power. Yet he has conversed with certain men of
the very greatest ; and he can say sincerely that he
has found head-stewards to be much more dignified
men than dukes ; and parsons of no earthly reputa-
tion, and of very limited means, to be infinitely more
stuck-up than archbishops. And though at first the



COXCEENING DISArREEABLE PEOPLE. 141

airs of stuck-up small men are amazingly ridiculous,
and so rather amusing ; they speedily become so ir-
ritating, that the men who exhibit them cannot be
classed otherwise than with the disagreeable of the
earth.

Few people are more disagreeable than the man
who (you know) is, while you are conversing with
him, taking a mental estimate of you ; more particu-
larly of the soundness of your doctrinal views ; with
the intention of showing you up if you be wrong, and
of inventing or misrepresenting something to your
prejudice if you be right. Whenever you find any
man trying (in a moral sense) to trot you out^ and
examine your paces, and pronounce upon your gen-
eral soundness ; there are two courses you may fol-
low. The one is, severely to shut him up ; and stern-
ly make him understand that you don't choose to be
inspected by him. Show him that you will not ex-
hibit for his approval your particular views about the
Papacy, or about Moral Inability, or about Pelagian-
ism or the Patripassian heresy. Indicate that you will
not be pumped ; and you may convey, in a kindly
and polite way, that you really don't care a rush what
he thinks of you. The other course is, with deep
solemnity and an unchanged countenance, to horrify
your inspector by avowing the most fearful views.
Tell him that on long reflection, you are prepared to
advocate the revival of Cannibalism. Say that prob-
ably something may be said for Polygamy. Defend



142 CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.

the Thwgs, and say something for Mumbo Jumbo.
End by saying that no doubt black is white, and twice
ten are fifty. Or a third way of meeting such a man,
is suddenly to turn upon him, and ask him to give
you a brief and lucid account of the views he is con-
demning. Ask him to tell you what are the theologi-
cal ; peculiarities of Bunsen ; and what is the exact
teaching of Mr. Maurice. He does not know, you
may be tolerably sure. In the case of the latter em-
inent man, I never met anybody who did know ; and
I have the firmest belief that he does not know him-
self. I was told, lately, of an eminent foreigner, who
came to Britain to promote a certain public end. For
its promotion, the eminent man wished to conciliate
the sympathies of a certain small class of religionists
He procured an introduction to a leading man among
them ; a good, but very stupid and self-conceited man.
This man entered into talk with the eminent foreign-
er ; and ranged over a multitude of topics, political
and religious. And at an hour's end the foreigner
was astonished by the good but stupid man suddenly
exclaiming : " Now, sir, I have been reckoning you
up ; you won't do ; you are a " вАФ no matter what. It
was something that had nothing earthly to do with
the end to be promoted. The religious demagogue
had been trotting out the foreigner ; and he had found
him unsound. The religious demagogue belonged to
a petty sect, no doubt ; and he was trying for his
wretched little Shibboleth. But you may have seen



CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 143

the like, even with leading men in National Churches.
And I have seen a pert little whippersnapper ask a
venerable clergyman what he thought of a certain
outrageous lay-preacher ; and receive the clergyman's
reply that he thought most unfavorably of many of
the lay-preacher's doings, with a self-conceited smirk
that seemed to say to the venerable clergyman, " I
have been reckoning you up ; you won't do."

People whom you cannot get to attend to you when
you talk to them, are disagreeable. There are men
whom you feel it is vain to speak to ; whether you are
mentioning facts, or stating arguments. All the while
you are speaking, they are thinking of what they are
themselves to say next. There is a strong current, as
it were, setting outward from their minds ; and it pre-
vents what you say from getting in. You know, if a
pipe be full of water, running strongly one way, it is
vain to think to push in a stream running the other
way. You cannot get at their attention. You cannot
get at the quick of their mental sensorium. It is not
the dull of hearing whom it is hardest to get to hear :
it is rather the man who is roaring out himself, and so
who cannot attend to anything else. Now this is pro-
voking. It is a mortifying indication of the little im-
portance that is attached to what we are saying ; and
there is something of the irritation that is produced in
the living being by contending with the passive resist
ance of inert matter. And there is something provok-
ing even in the outward signs that the mind is in a



144 CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.

non-receptive state. You remember the eye that is
looking beyond you ; the grin that is not at anything
funny in what you say ; the occasional inarticulate
sounds that are put in at the close of your sentences,
as if to delude you with a show of attention. The
non-receptive mind is occasionally found in clever
men; but the men who exhibit it are invariably very
conceited. They can think of nothing but themselves.
And you may find the last-named characteristic strongly
developed, even in men with gray hair, who ought to
have learned better through the experience of a pretty
long life. There are other minds which are very re-
ceptive. They seem to have a strong power of suc-
tion. They take in, very decidedly, all that is said to
them. The best mind, of course, is that which com-
bines both characteristics ; which is strongly receptive
when it ought to be receiving ; and which gives out
strongly when it ought to be giving out. The power
of receptivity is greatly increased by habit. I re-
member feeling awe-stricken by the intense attention
with which a very great Judge was wont, in ordinary
conversation, to listen to all that was said to him. It
was the habit of the judgment-seat, acquired through
many years of listening, with every faculty awake, to
the arguments addressed to him. But when you be-
gan to make some statement to him, it was positively
alarming to see him look you full in the face, and lis-
ten with inconceivable fixedness of attention to all you
said. You could not help feeling that really the snudl



CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 145

remark you had to make was not worth that great
mind's grasping it so intently, as he might have grasped
an argument by Follett. The mind was intensely re-
ceptive, when it was receiving at all. But I remem-
ber, too, that when the great Judge began to speak,
then his mind was, (so to speak,) streaming out ; and
he was particularly impatient of inattention or inter-
ruption ; and particularly non-receptive of anything
that might be sufrgested to him.

It is extremely disagreeable when a vulgar fellow,
whom you hardly know, addresses you by your sur-
name with great familiarity of manner. And such a
person will take no hint that he is disagreeable ; how-
ever stiff, and however formally polite, you may take
pains to be to him. It is disagreeable when persons,
with whom you have no desire to be on terms of inti-
macy, persist in putting many questions to you as to
your private concerns ; such as your annual income
and expenditure, and the like. No doubt, it is both
pleasant and profitable for people who are not rich, to
compare notes on these matters with some frank and
Tiearty friend, whose means and outgoings are much
the same as their own. I do not think of such a case ;
but of the prying curiosity of persons who have no
right to pry, and who, very generally, while diligently
prying into your affairs, take special care not to take
you into their confidence. Such people, too, while
making a pretence of revealing to you all their secrets,
will often tell a very small portion of them, and make
10



146 CONCERNING DISACxREE.-VBLE PEOPLE.

various statements which you at the time are quite
aware are not true. There are not many things more
disagreeable than a very stupid and ill-set old woman,
who, quite unaware what her opinion is worth, ex-
presses it with entire confidence upon many subjects
of which she knows nothing whatever, and as to which
she is wholly incapable of judging. And the self-
satisfied and confident air with which she settles the
most difficult questions, and pronounces unfavorable
judgment upon people ten thousand times wiser and
better than herself, is an insufferably irritating phe-
nomenon. It is a singular fact, that the people I have
in view invariably combine extreme ugliness with
spitefulness and self-conceit. Such a person will
make particular inquiries of you as to some near rel-
ative of your own ; and will add, with a malicious and
horribly ugly expression of face, that she is glad to
hear how very much im-proved your relative now is.
She will repeat the sentence several times, laying
great emphasis and significance upon the very much
improved. Of course, the notion conveyed to any
stranger who may be present, is that your relative
must in former days have been an extremely bad
fellow. The fact probably is, that he has always, man
and boy, been particularly well-behaved ; and that
really you were not aware that he needed any special
improvement ; save indeed in the sense that every
human being might be and ought to be a great deal
better than he is.



CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 147

People who are always vaporing about their own
importance, and the value of their own possessions?,
are disagreeable. We all know such people ; and
they are made more irritating by the fact, that their
boasting is almost invariably absurd and false. I do
not mean ethically false, but logically, false. For
doubtless, in many cases, human beings honestly think
themselves and their possessions as much better than
other men and their possessions ; as they say they do.
If thirty families compose the best society of a little
country town, you may be sure that each of tlie thirty
families in its secret soul looks down upon the other
twenty-nine ; and ftmcies that it stands on a totally
different level. And it is a kind arrangement of
Providence, that a man's own children, horses, house,
and other possessions, are so much more interesting to
himself than are the children, horses, and houses of
other men, that he can readily persuade himself that
they are as much better in fact, as they are more
interesting to his personal feeling. But it is provok-
ing when a man is always obtruding on you how high-
ly he estimates his own belongings, and how much
better than yours he thinks them, even when this is
done in all honesty and simplicity ; and it is infuriat-
ing when a man keeps constantly telling you things
which he knows are not true, as to the preciousness
and excellence of the gifts with Avhich fortune has en-
dowed him. You feel angry when a man, who has
lately bought a house, one in a square containing fifty,



J 48 CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.

all as nearly as possible alike, tells you with an air of
confidence that he has got the finest house in Scot-
land, or in England, as the case may be. You are ir-
ritated by the man who on all occasions tells you that
he drives in his mail-phaeton " five hundred pounds'
worth of horseflesh." You are well aware that he did
not pay a quarter of that sum for the animals in ques-
tion ; and you assume as certain that the dealer did
not give him that pair of horses for less than they
were worth. It is somewhat irritating when a man,
not remarkable in any way, begins to tell you that he
can hardly go to any part of the world without being
recognized by some one who remembers his striking
aspect, or is familiar Jkvith his famous name. " It costs
me three hundred a year, having that picture to look
at," said Mr. Windbag, pointing to a picture hanging on
a wall in his library. He goes on to explain that he
refused six thousand pounds for that picture ; which at
five per cent, would yield the annual income named.
You repeat Windbag's statement to an eminent artist.
The artist knows the picture. He looks at you fix-
edly ; and for all comment on Windbag's story, says
(he is a Scotchman) Hoot toot. But the disposition
to vapor is deep set in human nature. There are not
very many men or women whom I would trust, to give
an accurate account of their family, dwelling, influ-
ence, and general position, to people a thousand miles
from home, who were not likely e^er to be able to
verify the picture drawn.



COXCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 149

It is hardly necessary to mention among disagree'
able people, those individuals who take pleasure in
telling you that you are looking ill ; that you are
falling off, physically or mentally. " Surely you have
lost some of your teeth since I saw you last," said a
good man to a man of seventy-five years : " I cannot
make out a word you say, you speak so indistinctly."
And so obtuse, and so thoroughly devoid of gentle-
manly feeling, was that good man, that when admon-
ished that he ought not to speak in that fashion to a
man in advanced years, he could not for his life see
that he had done anything unkind or unmannerly. "I
dare say you are wearied wi' preachin' to-day; you
see you're gettin' frail noo," said a Scotch elder, in my
hearing, to a worthy clergyman. Seldom has it cost
me a greater effort than it did to refrain from turning
to the elder, and saying with candor, " What a boor
and what a fool you must be, to say that ! " It was as
well I did not ; the boor would not have known what
I meant. He would not have known the provocation
which led me to give him my true opinion of him.
" How very bald you are getting," said a really good-
natured man, to a friend he was meeting for the first
time in several years. Such remarks are for the most
part made by men who, in good faith, have not the
least idea that they are making themselves disagree-
able. There is no malicious intention. It is a matter
of pure obtuseness, stupidity, selfishness, and vulgar-
ity. But an obtuse, stupid, selfish, and vulgar person



150 CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.

is disagreeable. And your right course will be, to
carefully avoid all intercourse with such a person.

But besides people who blunder into saying un-
pleasant things, there are a few who do so of set in-
tention. And such people ought to be cracked. They
can do a great deal of harm ; inflict a great deal of
suffering. I believe that human beings in general
are more miserable than you think. They are very
anxious ; very careworn ; stung by a host of worries ;
a good deal disappointed, in many ways. And in the
case of many people, worthy and able, there is a very
low estimate of themselves and their abilities ; and a
sad tendency to depressed spirits and gloomy views.
And while a kind word said to such is a real benefit,
and a great lightener of the heart ; an ingenious
malignant may suggest to such, things which are as a
stunning blow, and as an added load on the weary
frame and mind. I have seen, with burning indigna-
tion, a malignant beast (I mean man) playing upon
that tendency to a terrible apprehensiveness which is
born with many men. I have seen the beast vaguely
suggest evil to the nervous and apprehensive man.
" This cannot end here ; " "I shall take my own meas-
ures now;" "A higher authority shall decide between
us ; " I have heard the beast say ; and then go away.
Of course I knew well that the beast could and would
do nothing ; and I hastened to say so to the appre-
hensive man. But I knew that the poor fellow would
go away home ; and brood over the beast's ominous



CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 151

threats ; and imagine a hundred terrible contingencies ;
nnd work himself into a fever of anxiety and alarm.
And it is because I know that the vague threatener
counted on all that ; and wished it ; and enjoyed the
tliought of the slow torment he was causing; that I
choose to call him a beast rather than a man. In-
deed, there is an order of beings, worse than beasts,
to which that being should rather be referred. You
have said or done something, which has given offence
to certain of your neighbors. Mr. Snarling comes and
gives you a full and particular account of the indigna-
tion they feel, and of their plans for vengeance. Mr.
Snarhng is happy to see you look somewhat annoyed ;
and he kindly says, " Oh, never mind ; this will blow
over, as other things you have said and done have blown
over" Thus he vaguely suggests that you have given
great offence on many occasions, and made many bit-
ter enemies. He adds, in a musing voice, " Yes, as
MANY other things have blown over." Turn the in-
dividual out ; and cut his acquaintance. It would be
better to have a upas-tree in your neighborhood. Of
all disagreeable men, a man with his tendencies is the
most disagreeable. The bitterest and longest lasting
east wind, acts less perniciously on body and soul, than
does the society of Mr. Snarling.

Suspicious people are disagreeable, also people who
are always taking the pet. Indeed, suspiciousness and
pettedness generally go together. There are many
men and women who are always imagining that some



152 CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.

insult is designed by the most innocent words and do-
ings of those around them ; and always suspecting that
some evil intention against their peace is cherished
by some one or other. It is most irritating to have
anything to do with such impracticable and silly mor-
tals. But it is a delightful thing to work along with
a man who never takes offence : a frank, manly man,
who gives credit to others for the same generosity of
nature which he feels within himself; and who if he
thinks he has reason to complain, speaks out his mind
and has things cleared up at once. A disagreeable
person is he who frequently sends letters to you with-
out paying the postage ; leaving you to pay twopence
for each penny which he has thus saved. The loss of
twopence is no great matter; but there is something
irritating in the feeling that your correspondent has
deliberately resolved that he would save his penny at
the cost of your twopence. There is a man, describ-
ing himself as a clergyman of the Church of England,
(I cannot think he is one,) who occasionally sends me
an abusive anonymous letter, and who invariably sends
his letters unpaid. I do not mind about the man's
abuse, but I confess I grudge my twopence. I have
observed, too, that the people who send letters unpaid
do so habitually. I have known the same individual
send six successive letters unpaid. And it is probably
within the experience of most of my readers, that out
of (say) a hundred correspondents, ninety-nine inva-
riably pay their letters properly ; while time after time



CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE. 153

the hundredth sends his with the abominable big 2
stamped upon it, and your servant walks in and
worries you by the old statement that the postman is
waiting. Let me advise every reader to do what I
intend doing for the future: to wit, to refuse tQ receive
any unpaid letter. You may be quite sure that by so
doing you Avill not lose any letter that is worth having.
A class of people, very closely analogous to that of
the people who do not pay their letters is that of such
as are constantly borrowing small sums from their
friends, which they never restore. If you should ever
be thrown into the society of such, your right course
Avill be to take care to have no money in your pocket.
People are disagreeable, who are given to talking of
the badness of their servants, the undutifulness of their
children, the smokiness of their chimneys, and the de-
ficiency of their digestive organs. And though with
a true and close friend, it is a great relief, and a
special tie, to have spoken out your heart about your
burdens and sorrows, it is expedient, in conversation
with ordinary acquaintances, to keep these to yourself.
It must be admitted, with great regret, that people
who make a considerable profession of religion have
succeeded in making themselves more thoroughly dis-
agreeable than almost any other human beings have
ever made themselves. You will find people, who not
merely claim to be pious and Christian people, but to be
very much more pious and Christian than others, who
are extremely uncharitable, unamiable, repulsive, stu-



154 CONCERNING DISAGREEABLE PEOPLE.


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Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 9 of 19)