Do not mistake me, and think that I mean to recommend to you abject and criminal flattery: no; flatter nobody's vices or crimes: on the contrary, abhor and discourage them. But there is no living in the world without a complaisant indulgence for people's weaknesses, and innocent, though ridiculous vanities. If a man has a mind to be thought wiser, and a woman handsomer than they really are, their error is a comfortable one to themselves, and an innocent one with regard to other people; and I would rather make them my friends, by indulging them in it, than my enemies, by endeavoring (and that to no purpose) to undeceive them.
There are little attentions likewise, which are infinitely engaging, and which sensibly affect that degree of pride and self-love, which is inseparable from human nature; as they are unquestionable proofs of the regard and consideration which we have for the person to whom we pay them. As, for example, to observe the little habits, the likings, the antipathies, and the tastes of those whom we would gain; and then take care to provide them with the one, and to secure them from the other; giving them, genteelly, to understand, that you had observed that they liked such a dish, or such a room; for which reason you had prepared it: or, on the contrary, that having observed they had an aversion to such a dish, a dislike to such a person, etc., you had taken care to avoid presenting them. Such attention to such trifles flatters self-love much more than greater things, as it makes people think themselves almost the only objects of your thoughts and care.
These are some of the arcana necessary for your initiation in the great society of the world. I wish I had known them better at your age; I have paid the price of three-and-fifty years for them, and shall not grudge it, if you reap the advantage. Adieu.
LONDON, October 30, O. S. 1747
DEAR BOY: I am very well pleased with your 'Itinerarium,' which you sent me from Ratisbon. It shows me that you observe and inquire as you go, which is the true end of traveling. Those who travel heedlessly from place to place, observing only their distance from each other, and attending only to their accommodation at the inn at night, set out fools, and will certainly return so. Those who only mind the raree-shows of the places which they go through, such as steeples, clocks, town-houses, etc., get so little by their travels, that they might as well stay at home. But those who observe, and inquire into the situations, the strength, the weakness, the trade, the manufactures, the government, and constitution of every place they go to; who frequent the best companies, and attend to their several manners and characters; those alone travel with advantage; and as they set out wise, return wiser.
I would advise you always to get the shortest description or history of every place where you make any stay; and such a book, however imperfect, will still suggest to you matter for inquiry; upon which you may get better informations from the people of the place. For example; while you are at Leipsig, get some short account (and to be sure there are many such) of the present state of the town, with regard to its magistrates, its police, its privileges, etc., and then inform yourself more minutely upon all those heads in, conversation with the most intelligent people. Do the same thing afterward with regard to the Electorate of Saxony: you will find a short history of it in Puffendorf's Introduction, which will give you a general idea of it, and point out to you the proper objects of a more minute inquiry. In short, be curious, attentive, inquisitive, as to everything; listlessness and indolence are always blameable, but, at your age, they are unpardonable. Consider how precious, and how important for all the rest of your life, are your moments for these next three or four years; and do not lose one of them. Do not think I mean that you should study all day long; I am far from advising or desiring it: but I desire that you would be doing something or other all day long; and not neglect half hours and quarters of hours, which, at the, year's end, amount to a great sum. For instance, there are many short intervals during the day, between studies and pleasures: instead of sitting idle and yawning, in those intervals, take up any book, though ever so trifling a one, even down to a jest-book; it is still better than doing nothing.
Nor do I call pleasures idleness, or time lost, provided they are the pleasures of a rational being; on the contrary, a certain portion of your time, employed in those pleasures, is very usefully employed. Such are public spectacles, assemblies of good company, cheerful suppers, and even balls; but then, these require attention, or else your time is quite lost.
There are a great many people, who think themselves employed all day, and who, if they were to cast up their accounts at night, would find that they had done just nothing. They have read two or three hours mechanically, without attending to what they read, and consequently without either retaining it, or reasoning upon it. From thence they saunter into company, without taking any part in it, and without observing the characters of the persons, or the subjects of the conversation; but are either thinking of some trifle, foreign to the present purpose, or often not thinking at all; which silly and idle suspension of thought they would dignify with the name of ABSENCE and DISTRACTION. They go afterward, it may be, to the play, where they gape at the company and the lights; but without minding the very thing they went to, the play.