There has happened another Revolution in the Point of Good Breeding, which relates to the Conversation among Men of Mode, and which I cannot but look upon as very extraordinary. It was certainly one of the first Distinctions of a well-bred Man, to express every thing that had the most remote Appearance of being obscene, in modest Terms and distant Phrases; whilst the Clown, who had no such Delicacy of Conception and Expression, clothed his Ideas in those plain homely Terms that are the most obvious and natural. This kind of Good Manners was perhaps carried to an Excess, so as to make Conversation too stiff, formal and precise: for which Reason (as Hypocrisy in one Age is generally succeeded by Atheism in another) Conversation is in a great measure relapsed into the first Extream; so that at present several of our Men of the Town, and particularly those who have been polished in France, make use of the most coarse uncivilized Words in our Language, and utter themselves often in such a manner as a Clown would blush to hear.
This infamous Piece of Good Breeding, which reigns among the Coxcombs of the Town, has not yet made its way into the Country; and as it is impossible for such an irrational way of Conversation to last long among a People that make any Profession of Religion, or Show of Modesty, if the Country Gentlemen get into it they will certainly be left in the Lurch. Their Good-breeding will come too late to them, and they will be thought a Parcel of lewd Clowns, while they fancy themselves talking together like Men of Wit and Pleasure.
As the two Points of Good Breeding, which I have hitherto insisted upon, regard Behaviour and Conversation, there is a third which turns upon Dress. In this too the Country are very much behind-hand. The Rural Beaus are not yet got out of the Fashion that took place at the time of the Revolution, but ride about the Country in red Coats and laced Hats, while the Women in many Parts are still trying to outvie one another in the Height of their Head-dresses.
But a Friend of mine, who is now upon the Western Circuit, having promised to give me an Account of the several Modes and Fashions that prevail in the different Parts of the Nation through which he passes, I shall defer the enlarging upon this last Topick till I have received a Letter from him, which I expect every Post.
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No. 120. Wednesday, July 18, 1711. Addison.
Equidem credo, quia sit Divinitus illis
My Friend Sir Roger is very often merry with me upon my passing so much of my Time among his Poultry: He has caught me twice or thrice looking after a Bird’s Nest, and several times sitting an Hour or two together near an Hen and Chickens. He tells me he believes I am personally acquainted with every Fowl about his House; calls such a particular Cock my Favourite, and frequently complains that his Ducks and Geese have more of my Company than himself.