Dialogues Concerning Education (1745)

Fordyce, David
Frontispiece of David Fordyce, Dialogues Concerning Education. London, [s.n.], 1745


"The End of Conversation, as I take it, is to be understood, and to exchange Sentiments with one another for mutual Instruction and Pleasure; but if we make it only a Conveyance of Lies, and Circulation of Fraud, we render it not only useless, but also hurtful."

Dialogue II. Simplicius, Cleora.

SIMPLICIUS having gone to visit Cleora, the following Conversation past between them.

Simplicius. Far be it from me, Madam, to defend any kind of Imposition on your Sex; but methinks, it were too rigid to weigh, with a critical Exactness, every gay and complaisant thing, that is said by us in the Company of the Ladies. Conversation would languish, and lose of its Sprightliness and Poignancy, if the Men were debarred those agreeable cajoling Ways, which are really expressive of a peculiar Regard to the Sex, but are perhaps raised somewhat above the Truth.

Cleora. The End of Conversation, as I take it, is to be understood, and to exchange Sentiments with one another for mutual Instruction and Pleasure; but if we make it only a Conveyance of Lies, and Circulation of Fraud, we render it not only useless, but also hurtful. And pray, Sir ! may we not be honest without being rude and offensive? Nay, may we not be polite and agreeable, without polishing our selves out of our old British Plainness and Sincerity?

Simp. I grant, Madam, that the End of Conversation is such as you have represented it, and think I am no Friend to Deceit; but may we not look upon the ordinary Forms of Civility, and polite Phrases, that are used by well-bred People, as no more than Counters, which, tho’ they may glitter, and amuse the Eye as much as real Gold, yet none but Fools are amused with them? Their Value is known, and they signify just as much, and no more, than they were at first intended to stand for.

Cle. I have heard it said, that those Phrases we commonly use, as humble Servant, and the like, were once real Badges or Expressions of Servitude, by which Inferiors signified their Dependence on their Superiors, in those times when Vassalage prevailed. If so, may there not be something mean in continuing the use of them, when the Cause is happily removed; and might it not be better to use those which import less Subjection, but more of that Equality and Friendship which ought to reign in Society? But it is not so much those common Forms of speaking, which Custom has made universal, that I condemn, as those courtly Strains of Deceit, used by your Sex, to flatter and impose on ours.

Simp. I find, Madam, it will be no easy matter to please one of your Delicacy; but I believe, whenever you come to try it, you will find it a knotty kind of Business, either to dissuade the Men from giving into those polite Modes of Complaisance, or to persuade the Ladies to reject them as fallacious and insignificant.

Cle. It may be so; mean while, I do not see what excuse you can have for nourishing our Vanity as you do. – But ‘tis, it seems, the Fate of our weak Sex, to be always treated like Children – You throw us fine Toys and Gew-gaws to amuse us, and when you see us taken with the shining Trifles, you carry us off in triumph, and reduce us under the Orders of domestic Discipline.

Simp. I am sorry you think our Sex pay so little Regard to your Sense and Merit, as to treat you like Children – if the End of all our Pursuits, is only to get possession of you, it is a shrewd Suspicion, we esteem you a Treasure richly worth having; which is, at bottom, no bad Proof of the Value we set upon you, let us talk what and how we will. But may I beg leave to ask you, Madam, how it has come about, that you, who have been bred up at and near the Town, and have been often at Court, should be such a sworn Foe to the elegant Forms of polite Life, or to those Ways of Adress, that are in vogue among People who pass for the best-bred?

Cle. I would not have you imagine, Sir, from any thing I have said, that I incline to give my self any nice Airs, or to take a different Road in Life from others – but if I happen to have a different way of thinking in some things, I owe it chiefly to my Guardian, and to my having lived mostly with plain sincere People, who never flattered me themselves, and taught me to abhor it in others.

Simp. I have heard, Madam, that you have been much indebted to that Gentleman for the Care he has had of you, and especially of your Education. His Conversation plainly shews, that he is no great Friend to any thing that looks like Craft or Disingenuity.

Cle. And I assure you he is what he appears to be, a plain honest Man, without Guile or Shew. He has often told me, that whatever swerves from Truth, is beneath the Dignity of the human Kind; – that to indulge those Forms of Speech, which either signify nothing at all, or, if they have any Meaning, trespass in some degree on Truth, tho’ it may be in trivial Matters, do yet lessen the Reverence due to it, and beget a Habit of slighting it in things of greater Importance; – he farther informed me, that many of the polite Forms of ordinary Conversation are only a more specious kind of Lies, and that they fetter the Freedom and Easiness of friendly Intercourse, and ought therefore to be banished out of a Country, once justly celebrated for the Plainness, and honest Bluntness of its Inhabitants, to those politer Regions which glory in wearing such Chains.

Simp. I am much of your Friend’s Opinion, and heartily agree with you, Madam, in thinking it wisest, and most humane too, to err on the honest side, though the gay Part of the World should call it Bluntness, or Affectation: for I had rather be called a scrupulous Simpleton, than a polite Dissembler. But after all, if we are too rigorous in our Maxims, what, Madam, shall become of those DECENCIES of Life, that regulate the Conversation and Practice of the Politest Part of the World? Shall we not be reckoned aukward, antiquated Creatures, and even somewhat unsociable, if we despise or transgress them? Shall we offer no Sacrifice to those interior Graces?


Texte taken from David Fordyce, Dialogues Concerning Education. London, [s.n.], 1745, vol. 1, p. 45-49. Transcription by Noémie Vandenborre (UBO). Full book from HATHITRUST.