"The Art Of Pleasing Consists In Being Pleased"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Hazlitt was very much an individualist, and his free-ranging style is essentially his own. His lack of formal education and the narrow limits of his reading furnished ammunition to his enemies, of whom he had many; he admitted the truth of their charges but was not cowed by them. A lover of art in all its forms, he felt that his function as a critic was to sense what is good in art and to furnish reasons for the faith he had in it. Thus his critical opinions depended less on knowledge than on his "depth of taste," as his friend Keats evaluated it. This faculty seldom went astray; Hazlitt's judgements of his contemporaries usually anticipate those of posterity. As an essayist he commands a respectable place in English literature. The Round Table, similar to a number of other volumes by him, is a collection of essays on a variety of subjects. Hazlitt's usual method is to begin with a specific idea and then to follow it with a rapid series of examples and associations; this, together with his terseness and clarity, gives the writing a sense of excitement. He does not usually end with a definite conclusion. In the essay, "On Manner," Hazlitt begins by noting that Lord Chesterfield believed manner was more important than matter; and he adds that the practice of the world seems to bear this opinion out. He then defines his terms: "What any person says or does is one thing; the mode in which he says or does it is another. The last of these is what we understand by manner." He then presents a rush of examples. Manner is involuntary or incidental, betraying our sincerity or lack of it; the way we confer a favor is often far more valuable than the favor itself; the difference between a good actor and bad one is the manner in which the part is played. He then discusses humor:

. . . The same story told by two different persons shall, from the difference of the manner, either set the table in a roar, or not relax a feature in the whole company. We sometimes complain (perhaps rather unfairly) that particular persons possess more vivacity than wit. But we ought to take into the account, that their very vivacity arises from their enjoying the joke; and their humouring a story by drollery of gesture or archness of look, shews only that they are acquainted with the different ways in which the sense of the ludicrous expresses itself. It is not the mere dry jest, but the relish which the person himself has of it, with which we sympathise. For in all that tends to pleasure and excitement, the capacity for enjoyment is the principal point. One of the most pleasant and least tiresome persons of our acquaintance is a humourist, who has three or four quaint witticisms and proverbial phrases, which he always repeats over and over; but he does this with just the same vivacity and freshness as ever, so that you feel the same amusement with less effort than if he had startled his hearers with a succession of original conceits. Another friend of ours, who never fails to give vent to one or two real jeu-d'esprits every time you meet him, from the pain with which he is delivered of them, and the uneasiness he seems to suffer all the rest of the time, makes a much more interesting than comfortable companion. If you see a person in pain for himself, it naturally puts you in pain for him. The art of pleasing consists in being pleased. To be amiable is to be satisfied with one's self and others. Good-humour is essential to pleasantry.