Characteristicks, of men, manners, opinions, times, 1711

Cooper, Anthony Ashley, Lord Shaftesbury
From Anthony Ashley Cooper, Characteristicks, of men, manners, opinions, times, &c. 5th edition, vol.1, printed by John Baskerville (Birmingham), 1773.


"why we Moderns, who abound so much in Treatises and Essays, are so sparing in the way of Dialogue..."

The Moralists, Part 1, Section 1

It may be properly alledg'd perhaps, as a Reason for this general Shyness in moral Inquirys; that the People to whom it has principally belong'd to handle these Subjects, have done it in such a manner as to put the better Sort out of countenance with the Undertaking.

The appropriating this Concern to mere Scholasticks, has brought their Fashion and Air into the very Subject. There are formal Set-places, where, we reckon, there is enough said and taught on the Head of these graver Subjects. We can give no quarter to any thing like it in good Company. The least mention of such matters gives us a disgust, and puts us out of humour. Language.If Learning comes a-cross us, we count it Pedantry; if Morality, 'tis Preaching.

One must own this, however, as a real Disadvantage of our modern Conversations; that by such a scrupulous Nicety they lose those masculine Helps of Learning and sound Reason. Even the Fair Sex, in whose favour we pretend to make this Condescension, may with reason despise us for it, and laugh at us for aiming at their peculiar Softness. 'Tis no Compliment to them, to affect their Manners, and be effeminate. Our Sense, Language, and Style, as well as our Voice, and Person, shou'd have something of that Male-Feature, and natural Roughness, by which our Sex is distinguish'd. And whatever Politeness we may pretend to, 'tis more a Disfigurement than any real Refinement of Discourse, to render it thus delicate.

No Work of Wit can be esteem'd perfect without that Style. Strength and Boldness of Hand, which gives it Body and Proportions. A good Piece, the Painters say, must have good Muscling as well as Colouring and Drapery. And surely no Writing or Discourse of any great moment, can seem other than enervated, when neither strong Reason, nor Antiquity, nor the Records of Things, nor the natural History of Man, nor any-thing which can be call'd Knowledg, dares accompany it; except perhaps in some ridiculous Habit, which may give it an Air of Play and Dalliance.

This brings to my mind a Reason I have often sought for; why we Moderns, who abound so much in Treatises and Essays, are so sparing in the way of Dialogue; Dialogue, which heretofore was found the politest and best way of managing even the graver Subjects. The truth is; 'twou'd be an abominable Falshood, and belying of the Age, to put so much good Sense together in any one Conversation, as might make it hold out steddily, and with plain coherence, for an hour's time, till any one Subject had been rationally examin'd.


Text taken from Anthony Ashley Cooper, Characteristicks, of men, manners, opinions, times, &c. In three volumes. Printed in the year 1733 ([London ]), vol. 2, p. 185-186. Full volume from ECCO.