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The Difficulties of Being Agreeable by M. D.


"A man will please more by never offending than by giving a great deal of delight." In this remark of Doctor Johnson's lies the art of being agreeable. But nothing is more difficult than to avoid offending. Most people are offended by trifles. For instance, persons generally take umbrage at superior brilliance of conversation. "The man who talks for fame will never please." Even he who talks to unburden his mind will please only some old and solitary friend. Large experience and great learning, however quietly carried, are very offensive to those who have them not. Clever things cannot be said unobtrusively enough. A person so brilliant as to make others feel that his efforts are above theirs will be detested. Moreover, one of the difficulties of being agreeable is that the apprehension of offending and the small hope of pleasing destroy all captivation of manner. The confident expectation of pleasing is an infallible means of pleasing. Characters pleased with themselves please others, for they are joyous and natural in mien, and are at liberty from thinking of themselves to pay successful attention to others. Still, the self-conceited and the bragging are never attractive, self being the topic on which all are fluent and none interesting. They who dwell on self in any way—the self-deniers, the self-improvers—are hateful to the heart of civilized man. The Chinese, who knew everything beforehand, are perfect in self-abnegation of manner. "How are your noble and princely son and your beautiful and angelic daughter?" says Mandarin Number One.—"Dog of a son have I none, but my cat of a daughter is well," says Mandarin Number Two.

To set up for an invariably agreeable person you must adjust yourself to the peculiarities of others. You must talk of books to bookworms: you must be musical with musicians, scientific with savants. Furthermore, you have to make believe all the time that you are enjoying yourself. The belle is a lady who has an air of enjoying herself with whomsoever she talks. We like those who seem to delight in our company. You must not overdo it, and thus make yourself suspected of acting; but do not imagine that you will please without trying. Those who are careless of pleasing are never popular. Those who do not care how they look invariably look ugly. You will never please without doing all these things and more.

What a Pecksniffian business it is to go into! Who wants to refrain from smart, spiteful sayings when he happens to think of them, to abjure laughing at friends and ridiculing enemies, to renounce the tart rebuff, the keen riposte? Amazing that any succeed! and many do. There are some gentlemen who are entirely agreeable—"gentlemen all through," like Robert Moore in Shirley. They have order, neatness, delicacy of movement, reticence, incuriosity: their unaffected English has almost the charm of a musical composition. They are generally men whose mothers well nagged them when they were small with perpetual adjurations: "Do not bang the door," "Stop kicking your feet," "Stop clinking your plate with your fork," and so on.

In some inscrutable way, young girls often attain thorough agreeableness. Look at lazy little Jane: she has acquired the highest charm of repose. Look at Sally, who used to be such an angular and hurried little girl: she is all quips and cranks and wreath├Ęd smiles now. And meek, humble-minded Martha, in former days so diffident, blushing and taciturn, has found out the value of a deferential demeanor and the knack of being a good listener, and can sing a ballad with a pathos and dramatic effect that eclipse the highly-embellished performances of other girls.

Ladies who make a profession of pleasing become irresistibly alluring. Actresses have abundant hair, fine teeth, all physical beauty, because they train themselves to beauty, though not originally better endowed than most others. Actresses' voices are set habitually, not in complaining, whining, creaking or vociferating keys, but in chest-tones clear and calm in quality. Actresses do not grow old, partly in consequence of their constant attention to the toilette, partly in consequence of the fact that they have hope and ambition, and enough occupation and enough rest, and do not worry over trifles.

To remain young is one of the difficulties of being agreeable. Whoever does so is obliged to adopt the Aristotelian maxim of moderation, Placidity of temper is necessary to the clear-pencilled eyebrow and the magnolia complexion. Frowns, weeping, excitement, despair and laughter wrinkle the face. Nature keeps women's forms well rounded to extreme old age, and their faces remain agreeable when they take the trouble to keep them so. The brow, the fair front, need never be furrowed. Of all we meet in the street, very few have tranquil, undistorted faces: the old are screwed out of shape, the young are going to be so. A well-preserved beauty is one who neither puckers her face into wrinkles nor mauls it with her hands: she never buries her knuckles in her cheeks, nor rests cheek on palm or chin on hand, nor folds her fingers around her forehead while reading, nor rubs her "argent-lidded eyes." She veils her face from the wind; she does not work with uncovered neck and arms: therefore they do not become tawny. She avoids immoderate toil, which makes the hair to fall, the features sharp, the skin clammy and yellow. She avoids immoderate laziness, as causing obesity and a greasy complexion or pallor, lassitude and loss of vitality. Such are; the difficulties of being agreeable.

M. D.