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Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 430 Volume 17, New Series, March 27, 1852   By:

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NO. 430. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, MARCH 27, 1852. PRICE 1 1/2 d.


Do you not find, in almost every company, one who pronounces decisively upon every matter which comes in question? His voice is loud and firm, his eye bold and confident, and his whole manner oracular. No cold hesitations as to points of fact ever tease him. Little time does he require to make up his mind on any speculative subject. He is all yes or all no at once and without appeal. Opposite opinions he treats with, at the best, a sublime pity, meant to be graceful, but, in reality, galling. He is often a goose; but, be he what he may, it is ten to one that he carries off the majority of the company in the mere sweep of his gown. They are led by him for the time, fascinated by the energy of his pronunciations. They may all recover from him afterwards some after one day, some after two, and particularly weak men after, perhaps, a week. At the moment, however, the pronouncer has vast influence, and, if immediate action can be determined on, it is very likely that he drags his victims into some committal of themselves, from which subsequent escape may not be very easy.

While pronouncing is thus the prominent quality of a few, it is more or less the vice of nearly all. Men feel that they have an inherent right to their opinion, and to the promulgation of it, and are not very apt to reflect that there is another question as to whether their opinion be worth delivering; whether it has been formed upon a good basis of knowledge or experience, or upon any basis at all; whether it is the emanation of ripe judgment and reflection, or of some mere passing gust of ideas springing from the whim of the minute. Hence, when any question arises, it is seldom found that any one is quite unprepared to give some sort of decision. Even the giddy girl of seventeen will have something to say upon it, albeit she may never have heard of the matter before. It is thought foolish looking not to be able to pronounce, as if one imperiled the right of private judgment itself by not being prepared in every case to act upon it. In consequence, what absurd opinions do we hear in all kinds of companies upon all kinds of topics! How the angels, who know better, must weep!

A conversational party even of tolerably well educated persons, often presents itself in a ludicrous light. Some question has arisen amongst them. No one has any clear or definite information upon it. They have had disputes about the simplest matters of fact involved in it. Yet no person there, down to the youngest, but would take scorn to be held as incapable of pronouncing upon it. There are as many opinions as there are persons present, and not one less confident than another. What is very natural in such circumstances, no one has the least respect for the opinions of any of the rest. Each, in fact, does justice upon his neighbour for the absurdity of pronouncing without grounds, while incapable of seeing the absurdity in himself. And thus an hour will be passed in a most unprofitable manner, and perhaps the social spirit of the company be not a little marred. How much better to say: 'Well, that is a subject I know nothing about: I will not undertake to judge.' Supposing all who are present to be in the same predicament, they might dismiss the barren subject, and start another on which some one could throw real light, and from which, accordingly, all might derive some benefit.

Is not this habit of pronouncing without preparation in inquiry and reflection just one of the causes of that remarkable diversity of opinion which is so often deplored for its unpleasant consequences? In ignorance fancy, whim, and prejudice usurp the directing power. If we take no time for consideration, we shall be apt to plunge into an error, and afterwards persevere in it for the sake of consistency, or because it has become a thing which we regard as our own... Continue reading book >>

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