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No. 102. SATURDAY, APRIL 29, 1780.
TO THE AUTHOR OF THE MIRROR.
“ You have already observed how difficult it is to reduce the science of manners to general denominations, and have shown how liable to misapplication are some of the terms which are used in it. To your instances of men of fashion and good company, you will give me leave to add another, of which, I think, the perversion is neither less common nor less dangerous :
mean the term applied to a certain species of character which we distinguish by the appellation of a man of spirit.
“Lord Chesterfield says, somewhere, that, to speak and act with spirit, is to speak rudely, and act foolishly; and his Lordship's definition is frequently right. At the same time, SPIRIT may be, and certainly is, often applied to that line of conduct and ment that deserves it: a person of virtue, dignity, and prudence is with much propriety, denominated a MAN OF SPIRIT ; but, by the abuse I complain of, ' man of spirit' is, for the most part, very differently applied.
“ In the various departments of business, the term spirit is frequently applied to unprofitable projects and visionary speculations. Let a man be bold enough to risk his own fortune, and the fortunes of other people, upon schemes brilliant but
improbable; let him go on, sanguine amidst repeated losses, and dreaming of wealth till he wakes in bankruptcy; and it is ten to one that, after he fails, the world will give a sort of fame to his folly, and hold him up to future trust and patronage, under the title of an unfortunate man of spirit.
“But these are not the most glaring instances of the monstrous perversion of this character; the airy adventurer, or the magnificent but ruined projector, may both be men of spirit, though it is not spirit, but want of judgement, and visionary impetuosity, that have procured them the character. They may, however, possess that dignity and independence of mind in which alone true spirit consists, and may have been ruined by whim and want of foresight, not want of spirit. But there is one set of men on whom the appellation is bestowed, whose conduct, for the most part, is, in every article, the reverse of dignity or spirit, and perfectly inconsistent with it.
“ The men I mean are those, who, by a train of intemperance and profusion, run out their fortunes, and reduce themselves to misery. Such men are common, and will be so, while vice, folly, and want of foresight prevail among mankind. They have been frequently ridiculed and exposed by the ablest pens : and it is not the character itself that falls under my observation ; it is the unaccountable absurdity of bestowing upon such characters the appellation of men of spirit ;' which they uniformly acquire, whether the fortune they have squandered is new, or has been handed down to them through a long line of ancestors.
“The misapplication of the term is so completely ridiculous, as to be beneath contempt, were it not for the mischief that I am convinced has been occasioned by it. Youths entering on the stage of life are catched with the engaging appellation, a man
of spirit;' they become ambitious of acquiring that epithet ; and, perceiving it to be most generally bestowed on such men as I have described, they look up to them as patterns of life and manners, and begin to ape them at an age which thinks only of enjoyment, and despises consequences ; nay, if they should look forward, and view the "
man of spirit' reduced, by his own profusion, to the most abject state of servile dependence, it does not mend the matter. In the voice of the world, he is a man of spirit' still.-It is said, that the easy engaging manners of Captain Macheath have induced many young men to go on the highway. I am convinced the character of a man of spirit' tempts many a young man to enter on a course of intemperance and prodigality, that most frequently ends in desperate circumstances and a broken constitution.
“ This perversion is the more provoking, that of all human characters, the intemperate prodigal is, in every feature and every stage, the most diametrically opposite to a man of spirit.--True spirit is founded on a love and desire of independence, and the two are so blended together, that is impossible, even in idea, to separate them. But the intemperate prodigal is the most dependent of all human beings. He depends on others for amusement and company: and, however fashionable he may be in the beginning, his decline in the article of companions is certain ard rapid. In the course of his profusion he becomes dependent on others for the means of supporting it; and, when his race of prodigality is run, he suffers a miserable dependence for the support even of that wretched life to which it has reduced him. After all, the world calls him • a man of spirit,' when he is really in a state of servile indigence, with a broken constitution, with
out spirit, and without the power of exerting it; with the additional reflection of having himself been the cause of his distresses.
“ Nor is it only in the affirmative use of the term that I have to complain of its perversion; the same injustice takes place when it is applied in the negative. Calling an intemperate and ruined prodigal a MAN OF SPIRIT, may proceed sometimes from pity; but when you hear a man of moderation and virtue, especially if he happen also to be opulent, blamed as wanting spirit, the accusation is generally the child of detraction and malignity. I do not apply my observation to the avaricious and niggardly, to men whose purses are shut against their friends, and whose doors are barred against every body; such men certainly want spirit, and are, for the most part, defective in every virtue ; but I am afraid that it often happens that a person, benevolent to his friends, hospitable to the deserva ing, kind to his servants, and indulgent to his children, is blamed as wanting spirit, for no reason but because he is proof against the absurdities of fashion and vanity, because he guards against the tricks of the designing, despises the opinions and disapprobation of the foolish, and persists in that train of moderate economy, which he knows is best suited to his fortune and rational views.
“ Instead of wanting spirit, such a character is the true idea of a man of spirit.' In every part of his manners and conduct, he passes through life with an uniform steadiness and dignity. His moderation secures his independence, and his attention supplies the means of hospitality and benevolence. While the prodigal is running his feverous and distempered course, the man of moderation and virtue proceeds in a train of quiet contentment
and respectable industry; and, at the end of their race, when the prodigal, with a shattered constitution, without fortune and without friends, is in absolute want, or, at best, become the mean flatterer of some insolent minion of wealth or power ; the man of moderation and virtue, feeling his independence without pride, is happy in himself, useful to his family and friends, and beneficent to mankind, contributing, perhaps, from charity, not respect, his assistance to that very decayed prodigal who had frequently characterized him as a man of no spirit.
“But it was not my purpose to delineate at length the character of a real man of spirit.' – I proposed only to explode a very absurd and mischievous abuse of an epithet that too generally prevails. I shall, therefore, conclude, with assuring those who are ambitious of being' men of spirit’ by putting on the life and manners of an intemperate prodigal, that, though they may attain the character, and even preserve it after their fortunes are spent, and their constitutions broken, yet they will be ' men of spirit' only nominally, and in the mouths of the world ; in reality, and in their hearts, they will be the meanest as well as the most unhappy of mankind, lingering out a useless and contemptible life, on which intemperance has entailed disease, and extravagance and profusion inflicted poverty and dependence.
“ I am, &c.
My correspondent has confined his observations to one-half of the world, and remarked the abuse of the term spirit, when applied to the men only. Might he not have extended his remarks a little further,