VII. On Air and Manner.
There is an air which belongs to the figure and talents of each
individual; we always lose it when we abandon it to assume another.
We should try to find out what air is natural to us and never abandon
it, but make it as perfect as we can. This is the reason that the
majority of children please. It is because they are wrapt up in the air
and manner nature has given them, and are ignorant of any other. They
are changed and corrupted when they quit infancy, they think they should
imitate what they see, and they are not altogether able to imitate it.
In this imitation there is always something of falsity and uncertainty.
They have nothing settled in their manner and opinions. Instead of being
in reality what they want to appear, they seek to appear what they are
All men want to be different, and to be greater than they are; they seek
for an air other than their own, and a mind different from what
they possess; they take their style and manner at chance. They make
experiments upon themselves without considering that what suits one
person will not suit everyone, that there is no universal rule for taste
or manners, and that there are no good copies.
Few men, nevertheless, can have unison in many matters without being
a copy of each other, if each follow his natural turn of mind. But in
general a person will not wholly follow it. He loves to imitate. We
often imitate the same person without perceiving it, and we neglect our
own good qualities for the good qualities of others, which generally do
not suit us.
I do not pretend, from what I say, that each should so wrap himself up
in himself as not to be able to follow example, or to add to his own,
useful and serviceable habits, which nature has not given him. Arts and
sciences may be proper for the greater part of those who are capable for
them. Good manners and politeness are proper for all the world. But, yet
acquired qualities should always have a certain agreement and a certain
union with our own natural qualities, which they imperceptibly extend
and increase. We are elevated to a rank and dignity above ourselves. We
are often engaged in a new profession for which nature has not adapted
us. All these conditions have each an air which belong to them, but
which does not always agree with our natural manner. This change of our
fortune often changes our air and our manners, and augments the air of
dignity, which is always false when it is too marked, and when it is not
united and amalgamated with that which nature has given us. We should
unite and blend them together, and thus render them such that they can
never be separated.
We should not speak of all subjects in one tone and in the same manner.
We do not march at the head of a regiment as we walk on a promenade;
and we should use the same style in which we should naturally speak of
different things in the same way, with the same difference as we should
walk, but always naturally, and as is suitable, either at the head of
a regiment or on a promenade. There are some who are not content to
abandon the air and manner natural to them to assume those of the rank
and dignities to which they have arrived. There are some who assume
prematurely the air of the dignities and rank to which they aspire.
How many lieutenant-generals assume to be marshals of France, how many
barristers vainly repeat the style of the Chancellor and how many female
citizens give themselves the airs of duchesses.
But what we are most often vexed at is that no one knows how to conform
his air and manners with his appearance, nor his style and words with
his thoughts and sentiments, that every one forgets himself and how far
he is insensibly removed from the truth. Nearly every one falls into
this fault in some way. No one has an ear sufficiently fine to mark
perfectly this kind of cadence.
Thousands of people with good qualities are displeasing; thousands
pleasing with far less abilities, and why? Because the first wish to
appear to be what they are not, the second are what they appear.
Some of the advantages or disadvantages that we have received from
nature please in proportion as we know the air, the style, the manner,
the sentiments that coincide with our condition and our appearance, and
displease in the proportion they are removed from that point.