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ESSA Y XIV.
ON RESPECTABLE PEOPLE.
There is not any term that is oftener misapplied, or that is a stronger instance of the abuse of language, than this same word respect, able. By a respectable man is generally meant a person whom there is no reason for respecting, or none that we choose to name: for if there is any good reason for the opinion we wish to express, we naturally assign it as the ground of his respectability. If the person
: whom you are desirous to characterise favour, ably, is distinguished for his good-nature, yoy say that he is a good-natured man; if by his zeal to serve his friends, you call him a friendly man; if by his wit or sense, you say that he is witty or sensible ; if by his honesty or learning, you say so at once; but if he is none of these, and there is no one quality which you can bring forward to justify the high opinion you would be thought to entertain of him, you then take the question for granted, and jump at a conclusion, by observing gravely, that “he is a very
respectable man.” It is clear, indeed, that where we have any striking and generally admitted reasons for respecting a man, the most obvious way to ensure the respect of others, will be to mention his estimable qualities ; where these are wanting, the wisest course must be to say nothing about them, but to insist on the general inference which we have our particular reasons for drawing, only vouching for its authenticity. If, for instance, the only motive we have for thinking or speaking well of another is, that he gives us good dinners, as this is not a valid reason to those who do not, like us, partake of his hospitality, we may (without going into particulars) content ourselves with assuring them, that he is a most respectable man: if he is a slave to those above him, and an oppressor of those below him, but sometimes makes us the channels of his bounty or the tools of his caprice, it will be as well to say nothing of the matter, but to confine ourselves to the safer generality, that he is a person of the highest respectability: if he is a low dirty fellow, who has amassed an immense fortune, which he does not know what to do with, the possession of it alone will guarantee his respectability, if we say nothing of the manner in which he has come by it, or in which he spends it. A man
may be a knave or a fool, or both (as it may happen) and yet be a most respectable man, in the common and authorized sense of the term, provided he saves appearances, and does not give common fame a handle for no longer keeping up the imposture. The best title to the character of respectability lies in the convenience of those who echo the cheat, and in the conventional hypocrisy of the world. Any one may lay claim to it who is willing to give himself airs of importance, and can find means to divert others from inquiring too strictly into his pretensions. It is a disposable commodity, not a part of the man, that sticks to him like his skin, but an appurtenance, like his goods and chattels.' It is meat, drink, and clothing to those who take the benefit of it by allowing others the credit. It is the current coin, the circulating medium, in which the factitious intercourse of the world is carried on, the bribe which interest pays to vanity. Respectability includes all that vague and undefinable mass of respect floating in the world, which arises from sinister motives in the person who pays it, and is offered to adventitious and doubtful qualities in the person who receives it. It is spurious and nominal ; hollow and venal. To suppose that it is to be taken literally or applied to ster