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DEAR JACK, - I am afraid that you are horribly incautious. When your taste happens to differ from that of most of your friends, you have no hesitation in writing about them in terms more forcible than complimentary; and the chances are that what you write so freely to me you sometimes say to them. If so, you must bid good by to that glorious popularity which is going to carry you through the world so beautifully. In certain classes of society a man who declares his friend to display a lack of elegance in taste is knocked down and kicked; in the higher walks of life in which you move, he is voted an insufferable prig and is avoided by everybody but eccentric people who court the society of social outcasts.
This sermon-like opening of my letter is suggested, as you must have perceived, by your criticisms upon the troupe that has lately been delighting the admirers of the school of drama which has been described as the legitimate with a hard g. Now I perfectly agree with you that to a man who is accustomed to decently artistic acting an English burlesque is as dull as a game of old maid. But, at the same time, to a man whose dramatic taste has not been educated it seems very amusing. And for my own part, instead of growing disgusted with people of this sort, I generally manage to be amused at their amusement, and to admire the pertinacity with which they insist upon enjoying the most monotonous of monotonous entertainments.
As I have told you more than once, this is a world where many things should be thought and not spoken. A safe rule is never to express an opinion when you can possibly help it; and this rule ought particularly to be observed when you find yourself differing from the popular world on a subject which is not of vital importance to the salvation of either party concerned. As a religious friend of mine once observed, who had been thrashed for expounding to a fast friend his views of the other world, it is well to learn the grace of silence.
This matter of theatricals, which you have suggested, is a very good example of what I mean. You find your friends interested in something that bores you. It would be unwise to tell them that they are fools, for, in the first place, at their period of life that is a foregone conclusion, and in the second place, two can play at that game. Neither would it be wise to retire to your own room in disgust, for man is a gregarious mammal, and you are a man. Nor yet ought you to look as gloomy as a funeral in the midst of a crowd of amused men. If they laugh, you ought to laugh too. If you can't laugh with them, you can always laugh at them; and if you only laugh loud enough, they will not trouble themselves to investigate your motives.
Old-fashioned people might call this a waste of time; and if your object in life were to become an old-fashioned person, I suppose that it would be so. But the better a man of the world knows life in the world, the better off he is, and the more he studies character that does not know that it is being studied, the better be knows life.
I used to do a good deal of that sort of thing, and I was never sorry for it. In case you should like to follow in my footsteps, I will give you one or two examples, by way of ending my letter. And as special examples are always more amusing, both to read and to write, than generalities, however glittering, I will stick to the theatre and to burlesque.
You go to the theatre, then, because everybody else does. It has been your misfortune to see ballets in Italy, and opera bouffe in Paris; consequently the clumsy amazons and pages, and the crude, undrilled comedians, do not amuse you at all. You yawn and look about you. Not far off is Smith, with open eyes and open mouth, enjoying himself to his heart's content. He catches your eye as the comic man gets off a pun as stupid as the jokes of a circus clown; and he leans across and remarks that it is bully. You smile and nod, and are pleased with the contrast between your own acute perception of the humorous and that of the Occidental intellect of Smith. Between the acts you meet Jones, who says that he comes in every night, and then hurries off in a mysterious way. Little Thompson, who thinks that Jones is the English for God, comes up in a minute, and tells you how Jones wrote a letter to the little priestess in green, Miss Rosalie Montague; and how Miss Rosalie answered the letter, and dined with Jones the next evening; and how Jones has sent her a beautiful bracelet; and how he (Thompson) lent Jones the money to buy the bracelet with; and so on, ad infinitum. You laugh at Thompson's remarks, and say that Jones is a lucky man, - reflecting that he was never known to pay his debts. A little later you come across Squibble, that incorrigible Bohemian, who knows almost everything that he ought to know, and everything that he ought not to. And Squibble, who has seen you talking to Jones, tells you how delightfully Miss Rosalie is taking him in; and how her husband - the fat man with the red nose who plays the bass-viol - has been full every night for a week on the proceeds of Jones's bracelet.
During the next act you are attracted by the blushes of a lady not far off, and you discover that it is the pretty girl whom Jack Brown, who graduated three or four years ago, has just married. Jack has brought her here, or she has brought Jack here, for want of a Palais Royal.
I won't bore you with any more illustrations. You can soon learn how to laugh at people, and how to make them think that you are laughing with them. And when you learn that, ennui will vanish, and you will be as consummate a man of the world as
Your affectionate brother
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