People and Their Silly Principles

4 Jan 2010 /
William Makepeace Thackeray

If every person is to be banished from society who runs into debt and cannot pay–if we are to be peering into everybody’s private life, speculating upon their income, and cutting them if we don’t approve of their expenditure–why, what a howling wilderness and intolerable dwelling Vanity Fair would be! Every man’s hand would be against his neighbour in this case, my dear sir, and the benefits of civilization would be done away with. We should be quarrelling, abusing, avoiding one another. Our houses would become caverns, and we should go in rags because we cared for nobody. Rents would go down. Parties wouldn’t be given any more. All the tradesmen of the town would be bankrupt. Wine, wax-lights, comestibles, rouge, crinoline-petticoats, diamonds, wigs, Louis-Quatorze gimcracks, and old china, park hacks, and splendid high-stepping carriage horses–all the delights of life, I say,–would go to the deuce, if people did but act upon their silly principles and avoid those whom they dislike and abuse. Whereas, by a little charity and mutual forbearance, things are made to go on pleasantly enough: we may abuse a man as much as we like, and call him the greatest rascal unhanged–but do we wish to hang him therefore? No. We shake hands when we meet. If his cook is good we forgive him and go and dine with him, and we expect he will do the same by us. Thus trade flourishes–civilization advances; peace is kept; new dresses are wanted for new assemblies every week; and the last year’s vintage of Lafitte will remunerate the honest proprietor who reared it.

— William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair

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