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[45] You do not, till then, see with how strong and steady a hand he seizes the subject, and with what ease, as well as dexterity, he turns and examines it on every side. You are not, until then, convinced that he but plays with what is the labor of ordinary minds, and that half his faculties are not called into exercise by what you at first supposed would tax his whole strength. And, after all, you are able to estimate him, not by what you witness,—for he is always above a topic which can be made the subject of conversation,—but by what you imagine he would be able to do if he were excited by a great and difficult subject and a powerful adversary.

With all this, he preserves in your estimation a transparent simplicity of character. You are satisfied that he does nothing for effect and show; you see that he never chooses the subject, and never leads the conversation in such a way as best to display his own powers and acquirements. You see that he is not ambitious of being thought a wit; and that, when he has been most fortunate in his argument or illustration, he never looks round, as some great men do, to observe what impression he has produced upon his hearers. In short, you could not be in his presence an hour without being convinced that he has neither artifice nor affectation; that he does not talk from the pride of skill or of victory, but because his mind is full to overflowing, and conversation is his relief and pleasure.

But, notwithstanding everybody saw and acknowledged these traits in Mr. Jeffrey's character, he was very far from winning the good opinion of all. There were still not a few who complained that he was supercilious, and that he thought himself of a different and higher order from those he met; that he had been used to dictate until he was unwilling to listen, and that he had been fed upon admiration until it had become common food, and he received it as a matter of course.

There is some ground for this complaint; but I think the circumstances of the case should take its edge from censure. It seems to me that Mr. Jeffrey has enough of that amiable feeling from which politeness and the whole system of the petite morale springs, but that he has not learned the necessary art of distributing it in judicious proportions. He shows the same degree of deference to every one he meets; and, therefore, while he flatters by his civility those who are little accustomed to attention from their superiors, he disappoints the reasonable expectations of those who have received the homage of all around them until it has become a part of their just expectations and claims.


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Francis Jeffrey (2)
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