Polite Conversation in Three Dialogues
Category: Drama
Level 7.73 3:45 h
Johnathan Swift was an Irish writer known for satire. He wrote political pamphlets, poetry, essays, and novels that provided humor, entertainment, and social commentary. Polite Conversation in Three Dialogues is a collection of sarcastic conversations published in England in 1909. The dialogues take place at gatherings, and language and proper speech are addressed, lampooned, and thrown about. Phrases that we still use today are humorously explored and explained.

Polite Conversation in Three Dialogues

Jonathan Swift

Polite Conversation in Three Dialogues

An Introduction to the Following Treatise

As my Life hath been chiefly spent in consulting the Honour and Welfare of my Country for more than Forty Years past, not without answerable Success, if the World and my Friends have not flattered me; so, there is no Point wherein I have so much labour’d, as that of improving and polishing all Parts of Conversation between Persons of Quality, whether they meet by Accident or Invitation, at Meals, Tea, or Visits, Mornings, Noons, or Evenings.

I have passed perhaps more time than any other Man of my Age and Country in Visits and Assemblees, where the polite Persons of both Sexes distinguish themselves; and could not without much Grief observe how frequently both Gentlemen and Ladies are at a Loss for Questions, Answers, Replies and Rejoinders: However, my Concern was much abated, when I found that these Defects were not occasion’d by any Want of Materials, but because those Materials were not in every Hand: For Instance, One Lady can give an Answer better than ask a Question: One Gentleman is happy at a Reply; another excels in a Rejoinder: One can revive a languishing Conversation by a sudden surprizing Sentence; another is more dextrous in seconding; a Third can fill the Gap with laughing, or commending what hath been said: Thus fresh Hints may be started, and the Ball of Discourse kept up.

But, alas! this is too seldom the Case, even in the most select Companies: How often do we see at Court, at public Visiting-Days, at great Men’s Levees, and other Places of general Meeting, that the Conversation falls and drops to nothing, like a Fire without Supply of Fuel; this is what we ought to lament; and against this dangerous Evil I take upon me to affirm, that I have in the following Papers provided an infallible Remedy.

It was in the Year 1695, and the Sixth of his late Majesty King William, the Third, of ever glorious and immortal Memory, who rescued Three Kingdoms from Popery and Slavery; when, being about the Age of Six-and-thirty, my Judgment mature, of good Reputation in the World, and well acquainted with the best Families in Town, I determined to spend Five Mornings, to dine Four times, pass Three Afternoons, and Six Evenings every Week, in the Houses of the most polite Families, of which I would confine myself to Fifty; only changing as the Masters or Ladies died, or left the Town, or grew out of Vogue, or sunk in their Fortunes, (which to me was of the highest moment) or because disaffected to the Government; which Practice I have followed ever since to this very Day; except when I happened to be sick, or in the Spleen upon cloudy Weather; and except when I entertained Four of each Sex at my own Lodgings once a Month, by way of Retaliation.

I always kept a large Table-Book in my Pocket; and as soon as I left the Company, I immediately entered the choicest Expressions that passed during the Visit; which, returning Home, I transcribed in a fair Hand, but somewhat enlarged; and had made the greatest Part of my Collection in Twelve Years, but not digested into any Method; for this I found was a Work of infinite Labour, and what required the nicest Judgment, and consequently could not be brought to any Degree of Perfection in less than Sixteen Years more.

Herein I resolved to exceed the Advice of Horace, a Roman Poet, (which I have read in Mr. Creech’s admirable Translation) That an Author should keep his Works Nine Years in his Closet, before he ventured to publish them; and finding that I still received some additional Flowers of Wit and Language, although in a very small Number, I determined to defer the Publication, to pursue my Design, and exhaust, if possible, the whole Subject, that I might present a complete System to the World: For, I am convinced by long Experience, that the Critics will be as severe as their old Envy against me can make them: I foretel, they will object, that I have inserted many Answers and Replies which are neither witty, humorous, polite, or authentic; and have omitted others, that would have been highly useful, as well as entertaining: But let them come to Particulars, and I will boldly engage to confute their Malice.

For these last Six or Seven Years I have not been able to add above Nine valuable Sentences to inrich my Collection; from whence I conclude, that what remains will amount only to a Trifle: However, if, after the Publication of this Work, any Lady or Gentleman, when they have read it, shall find the least thing of Importance omitted, I desire they will please to supply my Defects, by communicating to me their Discoveries; and their Letters may be directed to Simon Wagstaff, Esq; at his Lodgings next Door to the Gloucester-Head in St. James’s-street, (they paying the Postage). In Return of which Favour, I shall make honourable Mention of their Names in a short Preface to the Second Edition.

In the mean time, I cannot but with some Pride, and much Pleasure, congratulate with my dear Country, which hath outdone all the Nations of Europe in advancing the whole Art of Conversation to the greatest Height it is capable of reaching; and therefore being intirely convinced that the Collection I now offer to the Public is full and complete, I may at the same time boldly affirm, that the whole Genius, Humour, Politeness and Eloquence of England are summed up in it: Nor is the Treasure small, wherein are to be found at least a Thousand shining Questions, Answers, Repartees, Replies and Rejoinders, fitted to adorn every kind of Discourse that an Assemblee of English Ladies and Gentlemen, met together for their mutual Entertainment, can possibly want, especially when the several Flowers shall be set off and improved by the Speakers, with every Circumstance of Preface and Circumlocution, in proper Terms; and attended with Praise, Laughter, or Admiration.

There is a natural, involuntary Distortion of the Muscles, which is the anatomical Cause of Laughter: But there is another Cause of Laughter which Decency requires, and is the undoubted Mark of a good Taste, as well as of a polite obliging Behaviour; neither is this to be acquired without much Observation, long Practice, and a sound Judgment: I did therefore once intend, for the Ease of the Learner, to set down in all Parts of the following Dialogues certain Marks, Asterisks, or Nota-bene’s (in English, Markwell’s) after most Questions, and every Reply or Answer; directing exactly the Moment when One, Two, or All the Company are to laugh: But having duly considered, that the Expedient would too much enlarge the Bulk of the Volume, and consequently the Price; and likewise that something ought to be left for ingenious Readers to find out, I have determined to leave that whole Affair, although of great Importance, to their own Discretion.

The Readers must learn by all means to distinguish between Proverbs and those polite Speeches which beautify Conversation: For, as to the former, I utterly reject them out of all ingenious Discourse. I acknowledge indeed, that there may possibly be found in this Treatise a few Sayings, among so great a Number of smart Turns of Wit and Humour, as I have produced, which have a proverbial Air: However, I hope, it will be considered, that even these were not originally Proverbs, but the genuine Productions of superior Wits, to embellish and support Conversation; from whence, with great Impropriety, as well as Plagiarism (if you will forgive a hard Word) they have most injuriously been transferred into proverbial Maxims; and therefore in Justice ought to be resumed out of vulgar Hands, to adorn the Drawing-Rooms of Princes, both Male and Female, the Levees of great Ministers, as well as the Toilet and Tea-table of the Ladies.

I can faithfully assure the Reader, that there is not one single witty Phrase in this whole Collection, which hath not received the Stamp and Approbation of at least one hundred Years, and how much longer, it is hard to determine; he may therefore be secure to find them all genuine, sterling, and authentic.

But before this elaborate Treatise can become of universal Use and Ornament to my native Country, Two Points, that will require Time and much Application, are absolutely necessary.

For, First, whatever Person would aspire to be completely witty, smart, humourous, and polite, must by hard Labour be able to retain in his Memory every single Sentence contained in this Work, so as never to be once at a Loss in applying the right Answers, Questions, Repartees, and the like, immediately, and without Study or Hesitation.

And, Secondly, after a Lady or Gentleman hath so well overcome this Difficulty, as to be never at a Loss upon any Emergency, the true Management of every Feature, and almost of every Limb, is equally necessary; without which an infinite Number of Absurdities will inevitably ensue: For Instance, there is hardly a polite Sentence in the following Dialogues which doth not absolutely require some peculiar graceful Motion in the Eyes, or Nose, or Mouth, or Forehead, or Chin, or suitable Toss of the Head, with certain Offices assigned to each Hand; and in Ladies, the whole Exercise of the Fan, fitted to the Energy of every Word they deliver; by no means omitting the various Turns and Cadence of the Voice, the Twistings, and Movements, and different Postures of the Body, the several Kinds and Gradations of Laughter, which the Ladies must daily practise by the Looking-Glass, and consult upon them with their Waiting-Maids.

My Readers will soon observe what a great Compass of real and useful Knowledge this Science includes; wherein, although Nature, assisted by a Genius, may be very instrumental, yet a strong Memory and constant Application, together with Example and Precept, will be highly necessary: For these Reasons I have often wished, that certain Male and Female Instructors, perfectly versed in this science, would set up Schools for the Instruction of young Ladies and Gentlemen therein.

I remember about thirty Years ago, there was a Bohemian Woman, of that Species commonly known by the name of Gypsies, who came over hither from France, and generally attended Isaac the Dancing-Master when he was teaching his Art to Misses of Quality; and while the young Ladies were thus employed, the Bohemian, standing at some distance, but full in their Sight, acted before them all proper Airs, and turnings of the Head, and motions of the Hands, and twistings of the Body; whereof you may still observe the good Effects in several of our elder Ladies.

After the same manner, it were much to be desired, that some expert Gentlewomen gone to decay would set up publick Schools, wherein young Girls of Quality, or great Fortunes, might first be taught to repeat this following System of Conversation, which I have been at so much pains to compile; and then to adapt every Feature of their Countenances, every Turn of their Hands, every Screwing of their Bodies, every Exercise of their Fans, to the Humour of the Sentences they hear or deliver in Conversation. But above all to instruct them in every Species and Degree of Laughing in the proper seasons at their own Wit, or that of the Company. And, if the Sons of the Nobility and Gentry, instead of being sent to common Schools, or put into the Hands of Tutors at Home, to learn nothing but Words, were consigned to able Instructors in the same Art, I cannot find what Use there could be of Books, except in the hands of those who are to make Learning their Trade, which is below the Dignity of Persons born to Titles or Estates.

It would be another infinite Advantage, that, by cultivating this Science, we should wholly avoid the Vexations and Impertinence of Pedants, who affect to talk in a Language not to be understood; and whenever a polite Person offers accidentally to use any of their Jargon-Terms, have the Presumption to laugh at Us for pronouncing those Words in a genteeler Manner. Whereas, I do here affirm, that, whenever any fine Gentleman or Lady condescends to let a hard Word pass out of their Mouths, every syllable is smoothed and polished in the Passage; and it is a true Mark of Politeness, both in Writing and Reading, to vary the Orthography as well as the Sound; because We are infinitely better Judges of what will please a distinguishing ear than those, who call themselves Scholars, can possibly be; who, consequently, ought to correct their Books, and Manner of pronouncing, by the Authority of Our Example, from whose lips they proceed with infinitely more Beauty and Significancy.

But, in the mean time, until so great, so useful, and so necessary a Design can be put in execution, (which, considering the good Disposition of our Country at present, I shall not despair of living to see) let me recommend the following Treatise to be carried about as a Pocket-Companion, by all Gentlemen and Ladies, when they are going to visit, or dine, or drink Tea; or where they happen to pass the Evening without Cards, (as I have sometimes known it to be the Case upon Disappointments or Accidents unforeseen) desiring they would read their several Parts in their Chairs or Coaches, to prepare themselves for every kind of Conversation that can possibly happen.

Although I have in Justice to my Country, allowed the Genius of our People to excel that of any other Nation upon Earth, and have confirmed this Truth by an Argument not to be controlled, I mean, by producing so great a Number of witty Sentences in the ensuing Dialogues, all of undoubted Authority, as well as of our own Production; yet, I must confess at the same time, that we are wholly indebted for them to our Ancestors; at least, for as long as my memory reacheth, I do not recollect one new Phrase of Importance to have been added; which Defect in Us Moderns I take to have been occasioned by the Introduction of Cant-Words in the Reign of King Charles the Second. And those have so often varied, that hardly one of them, of above a Year’s standing, is now intelligible; nor any where to be found, excepting a small Number strewed here and there in the Comedies and other fantastick Writings of that Age.

The Honourable Colonel James Graham, my old Friend and Companion, did likewise, towards the End of the same Reign, invent a Set of Words and Phrases, which continued almost to the Time of his Death. But, as those Terms of Art were adapted only to Courts and Politicians, and extended little further than among his particular Acquaintance (of whom I had the Honour to be one) they are now almost forgotten.

Nor did the late D. of R— and E. of E— succeed much better, although they proceeded no further than single Words; whereof, except Bite, Bamboozle, and one or two more, the whole Vocabulary is antiquated.

The same Fate hath already attended those other Town-Wits, who furnish us with a great Variety of new Terms, which are annually changed, and those of the last Season sunk in Oblivion. Of these I was once favoured with a compleat List by the Right Honourable the Lord and Lady H , with which I made a considerable Figure one Summer in the Country; but returning up to Town in Winter, and venturing to produce them again, I was partly hooted, and partly not understood.

The only Invention of late Years, which hath any way contributed towards Politeness in Discourse, is that of abbreviating or reducing Words of many Syllables into one, by lopping off the rest. This Refinement, having begun about the Time of the Revolution, I had some Share in the Honour of promoting it, and I observe, to my great Satisfaction, that it makes daily Advancements, and I hope in Time will raise our Language to the utmost Perfection; although, I must confess, to avoid Obscurity, I have been very sparing of this Ornament in the following Dialogues.

But, as for Phrases, invented to cultivate Conversation, I defy all the Clubs of Coffee-houses in this town to invent a new one equal in Wit, Humour, Smartness, or Politeness, to the very worst of my Set; which clearly shews, either that we are much degenerated, or that the whole Stock of Materials hath been already employed. I would willingly hope, as I do confidently believe, the latter; because, having my self, for several Months, racked my Invention (if possible) to enrich this Treasury with some Additions of my own (which, however, should have been printed in a different Character, that I might not be charged with imposing upon the Publick) and having shewn them to some judicious Friends, they dealt very sincerely with me; all unanimously agreeing, that mine were infinitely below the true old Helps to Discourse, drawn up in my present Collection, and confirmed their Opinion with Reasons, by which I was perfectly convinced, as well as ashamed, of my great Presumption.

But, I lately met a much stronger Argument to confirm me in the same Sentiments: For, as the great Bishop Burnet, of Salisbury, informs us in the Preface to his admirable History of his own Times, that he intended to employ himself in polishing it every Day of his Life, (and indeed in its Kind it is almost equally polished with this Work of mine:) So, it hath been my constant Business, for some Years past, to examine, with the utmost Strictness, whether I could possibly find the smallest Lapse in Style or Propriety through my whole Collection, that, in Emulation with the Bishop, I might send it abroad as the most finished Piece of the Age.

It happened one Day as I was dining in good Company of both Sexes, and watching, according to my Custom, for new Materials wherewith to fill my Pocket-Book, I succeeded well enough till after Dinner, when the Ladies retired to their Tea, and left us over a Bottle of Wine. But I found we were not able to furnish any more Materials, that were worth the Pains of transcribing: For, the Discourse of the Company was all degenerated into smart Sayings of their own Invention, and not of the true old Standard; so that, in absolute Despair, I withdrew, and went to attend the Ladies at their Tea. From whence I did then conclude, and still continue to believe, either that Wine doth not inspire Politeness, or that our Sex is not able to support it without the Company of Women, who never fail to lead us into the right Way, and there to keep us.

It much encreaseth the Value of these Apophthegms, that unto them we owe the Continuance of our Language, for at least an hundred Years; neither is this to be wondered at; because indeed, besides the Smartness of the Wit, and Fineness of the Raillery, such is the Propriety and Energy of Expression in them all, that they never can be changed, but to Disadvantage, except in the Circumstance of using Abbreviations; which, however, I do not despair, in due Time, to see introduced, having already met them at some of the Choice Companies in town.

Although this Work be calculated for all Persons of Quality and Fortune of both Sexes; yet the Reader may perceive, that my particular View was to the Officers of the Army, the Gentlemen of the Inns of Courts, and of Both the Universities; to all Courtiers, Male and Female, but principally to the Maids of Honour, of whom I have been personally acquainted with two-and-twenty Sets, all excelling in this noble Endowment; till for some Years past, I know not how, they came to degenerate into Selling of Bargains, and Free-Thinking; not that I am against either of these Entertainments at proper Seasons, in compliance with Company, who may want a Taste for more exalted Discourse, whose Memories may be short, who are too young to be perfect in their Lessons. Or (although it be hard to conceive) who have no Inclination to read and learn my Instructions. And besides, there is a strong Temptation for Court-Ladies to fall into the two Amusements above-mentioned, that they may avoid the Censure of affecting Singularity, against the general Current and Fashion of all about them: But, however, no Man will pretend to affirm, that either Bargains or Blasphemy, which are the principal Ornaments of Free-Thinking, are so good a Fund of polite Discourse, as what is to be met with in my Collection. For, as to Bargains, few of them seem to be excellent in their kind, and have not much Variety, because they all terminate in one single Point; and, to multiply them, would require more Invention than People have to spare. And, as to Blasphemy or Free-Thinking, I have known some scrupulous Persons, of both Sexes, who, by a prejudiced Education, are afraid of Sprights. I must, however, except the Maids of Honour, who have been fully convinced, by an infamous Court-Chaplain, that there is no such Place as Hell.

I cannot, indeed, controvert the Lawfulness of Free-Thinking, because it hath been universally allowed, that Thought is free. But, however, although it may afford a large Field of Matter; yet in my poor Opinion, it seems to contain very little of Wit or Humour; because it hath not been antient enough among us to furnish established authentick Expressions, I mean, such as must receive a Sanction from the polite World, before their Authority can be allowed; neither was the Art of Blasphemy or Free-Thinking invented by the Court, or by Persons of great Quality, who, properly speaking, were Patrons, rather than Inventors of it; but first brought in by the Fanatick Faction, towards the end of their Power, and, after the Restoration, carried to Whitehall by the converted Rumpers, with very good Reasons; because they knew, that K. Charles the Second, who, from a wrong Education, occasioned by the Troubles of his Father, had Time enough to observe, that Fanatick Enthusiasm directly led to Atheism, which agreed with the dissolute Inclinations of his Youth; and, perhaps, these Principles were farther cultivated in him by the French Huguenots, who have been often charged with spreading them among us: However, I cannot see where the Necessity lies, of introducing new and foreign Topicks for Conversation, while we have so plentiful a Stock of our own Growth.

I have likewise, for some Reasons of equal Weight, been very sparing in Double Entendres; because they often put Ladies upon affected Constraints, and affected Ignorance. In short, they break, or very much entangle, the Thread of Discourse; neither am I Master of any Rules, to settle the disconcerted Countenances of the Females in such a Juncture; I can, therefore, only allow Inuendoes of this Kind to be delivered in Whispers, and only to young Ladies under Twenty, who, being in Honour obliged to blush, it may produce a new Subject for Discourse.

Perhaps the Criticks may accuse me of a Defect in my following System of Polite Conversation; that there is one great Ornament of Discourse, whereof I have not produced a single Example; which, indeed, I purposely omitted for some Reasons that I shall immediately offer; and, if those Reasons will not satisfy the Male Part of my gentle Readers, the Defect may be supplied in some manner by an Appendix to the Second Edition; which Appendix shall be printed by it self, and sold for Sixpence, stitched, and with a Marble Cover, that my Readers may have no Occasion to complain of being defrauded.

The Defect I mean is, my not having inserted, into the Body of my Book, all the Oaths now most in Fashion for embellishing Discourse; especially since it could give no Offence to the Clergy, who are seldom or never admitted to these polite Assemblies. And it must be allowed, that Oaths, well chosen, are not only very useful Expletives to Matter, but great Ornaments of Style.

What I shall here offer in my own Defence upon this important Article, will, I hope, be some Extenuation of my Fault.

First, I reasoned with my self, that a just Collection of Oaths, repeated as often as the Fashion requires, must have enlarged this Volume, at least, to Double the Bulk; whereby it would not only double the Charge, but likewise make the Volume less commodious for Pocket-Carriage.

Secondly, I have been assured by some judicious Friends, that themselves have known certain Ladies to take Offence (whether seriously or no) at too great a Profusion of Cursing and Swearing, even when that Kind of Ornament was not improperly introduced; which, I confess, did startle me not a little; having never observed the like in the Compass of my own several Acquaintance, at least for twenty Years past. However, I was forced to submit to wiser Judgments than my own.

Thirdly, as this most useful Treatise is calculated for all future Times, I considered, in this Maturity of my Age, how great a Variety of Oaths I have heard since I began to study the World, and to know Men and Manners. And here I found it to be true what I have read in an antient Poet.

“For, now-a-days, Men change their Oaths, As often as they change their Cloaths.”

In short, Oaths are the Children of Fashion, they are in some sense almost Annuals, like what I observed before of Cant-Words; and I my self can remember about forty different Sets. The old Stock-Oaths I am confident, do not mount to above forty five, or fifty at most; but the Way of mingling and compounding them is almost as various as that of the Alphabet.

Sir John Perrot was the first Man of Quality whom I find upon Record to have sworn by G’s Ws. He lived in the Reign of Q. Elizabeth, and was supposed to have been a natural Son of Henry the Eighth, who might also have probably been his Instructor. This Oath indeed still continues, and is a Stock-Oath to this Day; so do several others that have kept their natural Simplicity: But, infinitely the greater Number hath been so frequently changed and dislocated, that if the Inventors were now alive, they could hardly understand them.

Upon these Considerations I began to apprehend, that if I should insert all the Oaths as are now current, my Book would be out of Vogue with the first Change of Fashion, and grow useless as an old Dictionary: Whereas, the Case is quite otherways with my Collection of polite Discourse; which, as I before observed, hath descended by Tradition for at least an hundred Years, without any Change in the Phraseology. I, therefore, determined with my self to leave out the whole System of Swearing; because, both the male and female Oaths are all perfectly well known and distinguished; new ones are easily learnt, and with a moderate Share of Discretion may be properly applied on every fit Occasion. However, I must here, upon this Article of Swearing, most earnestly recommend to my male Readers, that they would please a little to study Variety. For, it is the Opinion of our most refined Swearers, that the same Oath or Curse, cannot, consistent with true Politeness, be repeated above nine Times in the same Company, by the same Person, and at one Sitting.

I am far from desiring, or expecting, that all the polite and ingenious Speeches, contained in this Work, should, in the general Conversation between Ladies and Gentlemen, come in so quick and so close as I have here delivered them. By no means: On the contrary, they ought to be husbanded better, and spread much thinner. Nor, do I make the least Question, but that, by a discreet thrifty Management, they may serve for the Entertainment of a whole Year, to any Person, who does not make too long or too frequent Visits in the same Family. The Flowers of Wit, Fancy, Wisdom, Humour, and Politeness, scattered in this Volume, amount to one thousand, seventy and four. Allowing then to every Gentleman and Lady thirty visiting Families, (not insisting upon Fractions) there will want but little of an hundred polite Questions, Answers, Replies, Rejoinders, Repartees, and Remarks, to be daily delivered fresh, in every Company, for twelve solar Months; and even this is a higher Pitch of Delicacy than the World insists on, or hath Reason to expect. But, I am altogether for exalting this Science to its utmost Perfection.

It may be objected, that the Publication of my Book may, in a long Course of Time, prostitute this noble Art to mean and vulgar People: But, I answer; That it is not so easy an Acquirement as a few ignorant Pretenders may imagine. A Footman can swear; but he cannot swear like a Lord. He can swear as often: But, can he swear with equal Delicacy, Propriety, and Judgment? No, certainly; unless he be a Lad of superior Parts, of good Memory, a diligent Observer; one who hath a skilful Ear, some Knowledge in Musick, and an exact Taste, which hardly fall to the Share of one in a thousand among that Fraternity, in as high Favour as they now stand with their Ladies; neither hath one Footman in six so fine a Genius as to relish and apply those exalted Sentences comprised in this Volume, which I offer to the World: It is true, I cannot see that the same ill Consequences would follow from the Waiting-Woman, who, if she hath been bred to read Romances, may have some small subaltern, or second-hand Politeness; and if she constantly attends the Tea, and be a good Listner, may, in some Years, make a tolerable Figure, which will serve, perhaps, to draw in the young Chaplain or the old Steward. But, alas! after all, how can she acquire those hundreds of Graces and Motions, and Airs, the whole military Management of the Fan, the Contortions of every muscular Motion in the Face, the Risings and Fallings, the Quickness and Slowness of the Voice, with the several Turns and Cadences; the proper Junctures of Smiling and Frowning, how often and how loud to laugh, when to jibe and when to flout, with all the other Branches of Doctrine and Discipline above-recited?

I am, therefore, not under the least Apprehension that this Art will be ever in Danger of falling into common Hands, which requires so much Time, Study, Practice, and Genius, before it arrives to Perfection; and, therefore, I must repeat my Proposal for erecting Publick Schools, provided with the best and ablest Masters and Mistresses, at the Charge of the Nation.

I have drawn this Work into the Form of a Dialogue, after the Patterns of other famous Writers in History, Law, Politicks, and most other Arts and Sciences, and I hope it will have the same Success: For, who can contest it to be of greater Consequence to the Happiness of these Kingdoms, than all human Knowledge put together. Dialogue is held the best Method of inculcating any Part of Knowledge; and, as I am confident, that Publick Schools will soon be founded for teaching Wit and Politeness, after my Scheme, to young People of Quality and Fortune, I have determined next Sessions to deliver a Petition to the House of Lords for an Act of Parliament, to establish my Book, as the Standard Grammar in all the principal Cities of the Kingdom where this Art is to be taught, by able Masters, who are to be approved and recommended by me; which is no more than Lilly obtained only for teaching Words in a Language wholly useless: Neither shall I be so far wanting to my self, as not to desire a Patent granted of course to all useful Projectors; I mean, that I may have the sole Profit of giving a Licence to every School to read my Grammar for fourteen Years.

The Reader cannot but observe what Pains I have been at in polishing the Style of my Book to the greatest Exactness: Nor, have I been less diligent in refining the Orthography, by spelling the Words in the very same Manner that they are pronounced by the Chief Patterns of Politeness, at Court, at Levees, at Assemblees, at Play-houses, at the prime Visiting-Places, by young Templers, and by Gentlemen-Commoners of both Universities, who have lived at least a Twelvemonth in Town, and kept the best Company. Of these Spellings the Publick will meet with many Examples in the following Book. For instance, can’t, han’t, sha’nt, didn’t, coodn’t, woodn’t, isn’t, e’n’t, with many more; besides several Words which Scholars pretend are derived from Greek and Latin, but not pared into a polite Sound by Ladies, Officers of the Army, Courtiers and Templers, such as Jommetry for Geometry, Verdi for Verdict, Lierd for Lord, Larnen for Learning; together with some Abbreviations exquisitely refined; as, Pozz for Positive; Mobb for Mobile; Phizz for Physiognomy; Rep for Reputation; Plenipo for Plenipotentiary; Incog for Incognito; Hypps, or Hippo, for Hypocondriacks; Bam for Bamboozle; and Bamboozle for God knows what; whereby much Time is saved, and the high Road to Conversation cut short by many a Mile.

I have, as it will be apparent, laboured very much, and, I hope, with Felicity enough, to make every Character in the Dialogue agreeable with it self, to a degree, that, whenever any judicious Person shall read my Book aloud, for the Entertainment and Instruction of a select Company, he need not so much as name the particular Speakers; because all the Persons, throughout the several Subjects of Conversation, strictly observe a different Manner, peculiar to their Characters, which are of different kinds: But this I leave entirely to the prudent and impartial Reader’s Discernment.

Perhaps the very Manner of introducing the several Points of Wit and Humour may not be less entertaining and instructing than the Matter it self. In the latter I can pretend to little Merit; because it entirely depends upon Memory and the Happiness of having kept polite Company. But, the Art of contriving, that those Speeches should be introduced naturally, as the most proper Sentiments to be delivered upon so great Variety of Subjects, I take to be a Talent somewhat uncommon, and a Labour that few People could hope to succeed in unless they had a Genius, particularly turned that way, added to a sincere disinterested Love of the Publick.

Although every curious Question, smart Answer, and witty Reply be little known to many People; yet, there is not one single Sentence in the whole Collection, for which I cannot bring most authentick Vouchers, whenever I shall be called; and, even for some Expressions, which to a few nice Ears may perhaps appear somewhat gross, I can produce the Stamp of Authority from Courts, Chocolate-houses, Theatres, Assemblees, Drawing-rooms, Levees, Card-meetings, Balls, and Masquerades, from Persons of both Sexes, and of the highest Titles next to Royal. However, to say the truth, I have been very sparing in my Quotations of such Sentiments that seem to be over free; because, when I began my Collection, such kind of Converse was almost in its Infancy, till it was taken into the Protection of my honoured Patronesses at Court, by whose Countenance and Sanction it hath become a choice Flower in the Nosegay of Wit and Politeness.

Some will perhaps object, that when I bring my Company to Dinner, I mention too great a Variety of Dishes, not always consistent with the Art of Cookery, or proper for the Season of the Year, and Part of the first Course mingled with the second, besides a Failure in Politeness, by introducing Black Pudden to a Lord’s Table, and at a great Entertainment: But, if I had omitted the Black Pudden, I desire to know what would have become of that exquisite Reason given by Miss Notable for not eating it; the World perhaps might have lost it for ever, and I should have been justly answerable for having left it out of my Collection. I therefore cannot but hope, that such Hypercritical Readers will please to consider, my Business was to make so full and compleat a Body of refined Sayings, as compact as I could; only taking care to produce them in the most natural and probable Manner, in order to allure my Readers into the very Substance and Marrow of this most admirable and necessary Art.

I am heartily sorry, and was much disappointed to find, that so universal and polite an Entertainment as Cards, hath hitherto contributed very little to the Enlargement of my Work; I have sate by many hundred Times with the utmost Vigilance, and my Table-Book ready, without being able in eight Hours to gather Matter for one single Phrase in my Book. But this, I think, may be easily accounted for by the Turbulence and Justling of Passions upon the various and surprising Turns, Incidents, Revolutions, and Events of good and evil Fortune, that arrive in the course of a long Evening at Play; the Mind being wholly taken up, and the Consequence of Non-attention so fatal.

Play is supported upon the two great Pillars of Deliberation and Action. The Terms of Art are few, prescribed by Law and Custom; no Time allowed for Digressions or Tryals of Wit. Quadrille in particular bears some Resemblance to a State of Nature, which, we are told, is a State of War, wherein every Woman is against every Woman: The Unions short, inconstant, and soon broke; the League made this Minute without knowing the Ally; and dissolved in the next. Thus, at the Game of Quadrille, female Brains are always employed in Stratagem, or their Hands in Action. Neither can I find, that our Art hath gained much by the happy Revival of Masquerading among us; the whole Dialogue in those Meetings being summed up in one sprightly (I confess, but) single Question, and as sprightly an Answer. Do you know me? Yes, I do. And, Do you know me? Yes, I do. For this Reason I did not think it proper to give my Readers the Trouble of introducing a Masquerade, meerly for the sake of a single Question, and a single Answer. Especially, when to perform this in a proper manner, I must have brought in a hundred Persons together, of both Sexes, dressed in fantastick Habits for one Minute, and dismiss them the next.

Neither is it reasonable to conceive, that our Science can be much improved by Masquerades; where the Wit of both Sexes is altogether taken up in continuing singular and humoursome Disguises; and their Thoughts entirely employed in bringing Intrigues and Assignations of Gallantry to an happy Conclusion.

The judicious Reader will readily discover, that I make Miss Notable my Heroin, and Mr. Thomas Never-out my Hero. I have laboured both their Characters with my utmost Ability. It is into their Mouths that I have put the liveliest Questions, Answers, Repartees, and Rejoynders; because my Design was to propose them both as Patterns for all young Batchelors and single Ladies to copy after. By which I hope very soon to see polite Conversation flourish between both Sexes in a more consummate Degree of Perfection, than these Kingdoms have yet ever known.

I have drawn some Lines of Sir John Linger’s Character, the Derbyshire Knight, on purpose to place it in Counter-view or Contrast with that of the other Company; wherein I can assure the Reader, that I intended not the least Reflexion upon Derbyshire, the Place of my Nativity. But, my Intention was only to shew the Misfortune of those Persons, who have the Disadvantage to be bred out of the Circle of Politeness; whereof I take the present Limits to extend no further than London, and ten Miles round; although others are please to compute it within the Bills of Mortality. If you compare the Discourses of my Gentlemen and Ladies with those of Sir John, you will hardly conceive him to have been bred in the same Climate, or under the same Laws, Language, Religion, or Government: And, accordingly, I have introduced him speaking in his own rude Dialect, for no other Reason than to teach my Scholars how to avoid it.

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