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Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 431 Volume 17, New Series, April 3, 1852   By: (1802-1871)

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NO. 431. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, APRIL 3, 1852. PRICE 11/2 d.


Everybody must have had some trouble in his time with imperfect respectabilities. Nice, well dressed, well housed, civil, agreeable people are they. No fault to find with them but that there is some little flaw in their history, for which the very good (rigid) don't visit them. The degree to which one is incommoded with imperfect respectabilities, depends of course a good deal upon the extent of his good nature, or his dislike of coming to strong measures in social life. Some have an inherent complaisance which makes them all but unfit for any such operation as cutting, or even for the less violent one of cooling off. Some take mild views of human infirmity, and shrink from visiting it too roughly. They would rather that the sinners did not cross them; but, since the contrary is the fact, what can they do but be civil?

One great source of perplexity in the case, is the excessive urbanity of the imperfect respectabilities themselves. They come up to you on the street with such sunny faces, and have so many kind inquiries to make, and so many pleasant things to say, that, for the life of you, you cannot stiffen up as you ought to do. Some haunting recollection of a bad affair of cards, or some awkward circumstances attending an insolvency, will come across your mind, and make you wish the fellow in the next street; but, unluckily, there he is, cheerful, even funny, talking of all sorts of respectable things, such as the state of the money market, and what Sir George said to him the other day about the reviving prospects of Protection; and what avails your secret writhing? He holds you by the glittering eye. You listen, you make jocular observations in reply; the cards and the insolvency vanish from your thoughts; you at length shake hands, and part in a transport of good humoured old acquaintanceship, and not till you have got a hundred yards away, do you cool down sufficiently to remember that you have made a fool of yourself by patronising an imperfect respectability.

It is, after all, not a harsh and censorious world. Let the imperfect respectabilities bear witness. If rigid justice held rule below, or men were really persecutors of each other, there would be no life for that class. In point of fact, they not only live, but sometimes do tolerably well in the world. They only could do so by virtue of a certain mutual tolerance which pervades society. It is a nice matter, however, to say what degree of imperfect respectability will be endured. Some things, we all know, cannot be forgiven upon earth; and in such cases there is no resource but in obscurity. But there is also a large class of offences, the consequences of which may be overcome. Perhaps the facts do not come fully out into general notice. Perhaps there may be some little thing to say in exculpation. If the offender can, after a short space, continue to make his usual personal appearances, he is safe, because the great bulk of his old friends would rather continue to recognise him, than come to a positive rupture an event always felt as inconvenient. Of course, they will be too well bred to allude before him to any unpleasant fact in his history. He will never recall it to their minds. By being thus thrown out of all common reference, it will become obscured to a wonderful degree, insomuch that many will at length think of it only as a kind of domestic myth, to which no importance is to be attached. Thus Time is continually bringing in his bills of indemnity in favour of these unconfessing culprits. Were the world as harsh as is said, we should rather be having post facto acts to punish them, supposing that existing statutes were insufficient... Continue reading book >>

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