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I am exceedingly fond of the phrase a “ Clever Man;" it is not always well applied, but it is always well intended ; it implies respect on the part of the speaker, and conveys agreeable ideas to the mind of the hearer. I was somewhat baffled in this theory a few months ago, by a gentleman, of whose abilities I have a high opinion, who assured me, that he had often heard the term clever applied to men, whose only sign of acuteness lay in a keen, cunning, attentive eye to their own interests; but when we came to discuss the point, he allowed that such men were only called “clever fellows."
Now this gives the phrase a completely different bearing; the familiarity of the substantive in a great degree neutralises the praise of the adjective ; people speak of a clever fellow in a tone of contemptuous admiration, as they do for instance of a rope-dancer, who performs feats which they cannot do themselves, but which they would not do, even if they could. A “clever man,” however, is spoken of with the deference which mental superiority must always command: for my own part, I consider an introduction to a clever man as a decided favour and benefit. I do not, at present, say a word about clever women, because it is my wish to treat only of the highest order of talent; and I am no disciple of Mary Wolstonecraft, no advocate for the equality of the sexes. I am certainly of opinion, that there are many women of decided intellect, that the education of the present day unfolds such intellect more than that of the past century, and that the improvements of future days may unfold it still more, but there my concessions must cease ; as the education of women progresses, so does that of men; they must always keep far in advance of us, and the cleverest woman of this age, or of any other, if in company with a really clever man, will, if she be prudent, give up all thoughts of rivalling his conversation, and be contented to admire, and to profit by it. This would be a delightful world if all the clever men we hear of deserved the term ; but, alas ! I have so often been introduced to a clever man, with the assurance that I shall be enraptured with him, and so often found the cheating phantom fade into air in the first ten minutes of conversation, that, in fact, I begin now to have a kind of premonitory horror of the clever men who are introduced to my notice with a flourish of trumpets, and prefer those whose abilities I find out for myself. It is the custom to decry the society of watering-places as trilling and frivolous, but I must in justice to them say, that some of the very cleverest men whom I know, have been met with by me at a watering-place; and the perfect freedom of intercourse enjoyed under such circumstances, renders the conversation of the clever man a source of far greater satisfaction than if he were encountered at the crowded assembly of a lionizing dowager, or the formal banquet of some ostentatious dinner-giver, who, secure that his service of plate is no counterfeit, does not care whether his clever man be so or not. Let me now, however, give my own notions on the subject. I was once asked in company to define my idea of a clever man. I answered, “ A man who combines original genius, with extensive reading." I was told that my definition was a good one, but that I required too much; now, here the vox populi was, as it is very apt to be, in the wrong; it was not a good definition, and the fault of it was, that I did not require enough. I should have added, that my clever man must possess practical knowledge and experience of the world, for without that qualification, he could never bring his abilities to bear, so as to be generally useful in society.
A clever man should have tact enough to know when to be silent, and when and how to speak ; he should be as well versed in the study of men as of books, and a person who has lived in retirement, or in a limited circle, can no more be fully acquainted with the former, than one, who has merely opened a few authors, can be thoroughly skilled in the latter. My definition, therefore, was as faulty as if I had been asked to define a good singer, and replied, “ A person who unites a fine voice with an accurate ear:" these are certainly important requisites, but knowledge of musical science is indispensable, to regulate and keep them in order ; and knowledge of the world, in the same way, can alone enable the clever man to turn his originality and his reading to good account. One of the disappointments which I have suffered so often, that I have now become quite hardened to it, is, being introduced to a clever man, and finding out that he is an eminent classical scholar, and nothing else. I do not mean to deny that a classical scholar may be a clever man in all the particulars I have enumerated, but his classical abilities do not necessarily render him so. I have sometimes also been entrapped into the idea that I am going to meet a clever man, and have found that he is only clever and distinguished in his own profession. What is it to me that a man is pre-eminently excellent and skilful in medicine, or in the law, unless I wish to become bis patient, or his client? The same remark applies, in some measure, to professors of the fine arts; a sculptor, a painter, a musician, may be clever in his profession, and much may be learned from his conversation on professional subjects, but if he be not clever out of it, he ought not to receive the praise due alone to general talent.
Authors are more usually clever men than any other class of persons : an author, if at all eminent, must possess two of my requisites -he must have studied and digested the thoughts of others, to enable him to arrange and harmonise his own : as to knowledge of the world, he is rather likely to have too much than too little of it; the rivalries, the enmities, the jealousies, the littlenesses of human nature, have been too plainly revealed to him. On that account, although I am always glad to meet authors, I would rather choose that my clever man par excellence should not be an author, at least, not a decided and professional member of the world of letters. An author must be more than mortal if he can converse on the works of his brotherwriters without the slightest mixture of prejudice and party spirit ; it is probable he has met with injustice and unkindness from some among them, whose talents are undoubted and splendid; and the feelings of the man will, in such a case, often prevail over those of the clever man, and he will be tempted to decry those abilities which he would naturally be inclined to admire and extol. Of all those whom the world denominates clever men, the most insufferable to me is the showoff man, the wit, the punster, whose every sentence is chorussed by a laugh, who is the life of a large party, but who we hear, from private information, is apt to be extremely dull and stupid by his own fireside. No wonder, the sobering-down of the spirits and feelings after violent mental excitement, must be, at least, as painful and depressing as the recovery from intoxication. Next to the wit, I dislike the teller of good stories. I was once introduced to a gentleman, whom I was told I should consider a clever man, and an amusing companion. I could not concede the former title to him, for I soon discovered his ignorance of books ; but I was willing to allow his claims to the latter ; he told a variety of original and entertaining stories, and told them in very good language, and in a striking tone and manner.
The second time I met him, my opinion remained unchanged; but the third time, to my great consternation, some of the stories of the first day made their re-appearance, not only the same stories, but related in the very same words, and with the same action and emphasis. In short, I found him to be a complete barrel-organ: when he had got to the end of his tunes he began them again; he was the delight of new acquaintance, and the torment of old ones. There is a description of half-clever men very superior to the one whom I have been sketching, and yet falling far short of the reality of talent:-I mean the man who reads cursorily and superficially, but who wishes to be thought to read deeply and universally ; who makes himself up for conversation by studying the reviews and magazines, and generally figures in the evening with the freshly-acquired knowledge of the morning. Such a man is usually assuming and overbearing in his manners ; he claims the lead in conversation, and always leads it to the point calculated to show himself to the best advantage; he touches, in the course of his visit, on new novels, poems, volumes of travels, works of science and philosophy, and quotes a striking passage from each, and the wondering hearers say, “ What surprising general knowledge Mr. __ has !" when the whole of it is most likely gleaned from the « Athenæum ” and “ Literary Gazette ” of the preceding week. Having thus touched on a few of the classes of pretended clever men, I will now mention several signs, besides the three grand requisites before enumerated, by which my readers may be enabled to discover the really clever man. In the first place, he is thoroughly easy and unaffected. Moore, speaking of Crabbe, feelingly and beautifully says,
" True bard and simple, as the race:
Of true-born poets ever are;
They're children near, though gods afar !" That character which Moore applies to poets in particular, I should apply generally to all the sons of genius; dogmatism, stiffness, and
pedantry are utterly foreign to their feelings and manners. I can never understand what people mean when they say, they are afraid to talk to a clever man ; there is no description of person to whom I can talk with so little fear, no one whom I feel assured will pass over my deficiencies with so much charity and candour. Another characteristic of the clever man is, that he is quite free from all propensity to quizzing and banter. I do not mean that he may not enjoy a joke, and occasionally join in a laugh against folly and absurdity, but the setting up any one person as a butt, and constantly striving to expose his foibles and weaknesses, is an instance of bad taste, of which the clever man is never guilty. The acknowledged quizzer's character has, indeed, never been better described than by Miss Pardoe, who calls him, “ the professor of an art which, born of Aippancy and selfconceit, is nursed by malice, and is the fitting concomitant of low birth, low breeding, and low ideas !” The clever man never talks very long on one theme, however interesting; he always avoids what is quaintly called, “ wearing a subject to rags," and he can well afford to be liberal of his mental expenditure, for his range of subjects is so extensive and varied, that he can dismiss each with some portion of the gloss upon it, and call forth another to his auditors in all the bloom of novelty. The clever man does not only read much, but he reads miscellaneously; he has most likely some particular description of study, which he prefers, but he reads all publications of any note, partly to enlarge his already expansive mind by extended research, and partly, because he feels that it is a duty which he owes to society to be able to give his opinion, if asked, on every variety of literary topic. You will never hear from a clever man the vulgarly self-sufficient boast, “ I read none but standard authors; I have no time to waste on modern trash !” In effect, the clever man finds that a little leisure time enables him to read a vast deal. I do not think I can fix on a more decided characteristic of the clever man than his exceeding rapidity in reading ; it is such as not only to excite the wonder, but even to puzzle the comprehension of the dullards of society. There is an idea that those who read rapidly are not able to retain what they read, but it is a mistaken one; the same quickness of understanding and vividness of mind which enable them to do the one, will befriend them in the other. I must acknowledge, however, that people of talent lay themselves open to that observation, for they are very fond of saying, that they have bad memories, when, if they compared them with those of their neighbours, they would have every reason to be satisfied with them; but they expect impossibilities from their memories, and therefore, of course, meet with disappointment. One of the cleverest men I know is constantly lamenting his want of memory, although it is scarcely possible to mention a book that he cannot discuss, or to begin a quotation that he cannot finish. There is nothing unnatural in this feeling; he who reads and remembers much, so far from being vain of his knowledge, is always sure to regret that he does not know more. The clever man talks with great fluency and command of words, but with great simplicity; there is never anything in his manner which puts you in mind of a speaker at a debating so
ciety, and if he find the whole company silent, attending to him as if he were a public orator, he is rather annoyed than gratified.
Were any one whom I thought really qualified to enjoy the conversation of a clever man to ask my advice, how they might insure that benefit in its fullest extent, I should say, “ Do not attempt to draw him out, as it is coarsely and presumptuously called; endeavour to engage him in immediate discourse with yourself; in a large party you will probably find an opportunity of doing so; let him start his own subject; do not speak much yourself, but, at the same time, do not speak affectedly little ; let him see that you can understand and appreciate him ; be respectful and easy, but, at the same time, do not allow your respect to amount to awe, or your ease to degenerate into familiarity; he will be pleased to meet with a congenial mind, even although of an inferior grade to his own, and you will probably enjoy more of his really good conversation than the whole herd of flatterers and worshippers remaining in the room. A clever man can, in a moment, discern between the sycophantic fawning of those who applaud merely because others do, and the natural unsophisticated admiration of a kindred spirit.”
Having thus sketched my clever man, I will add a few particulars, the combination of which is desirable to exist if he is to be seen in a thoroughly advantageous light. He must not be rich or poor: if the former, we are disgusted by seeing common-płace people fawn upon him; if the latter, we are incensed at their affectation of patronising him: he must not be handsome or ugly; a clever man's person should never be such as to claim any notice in conversation, we should only talk of his mind; of the two extremes, I should much rather that he were ugly than handsome, for he would talk away the impression of his ugliness in the first half hour of his introduction to any one whose good opinion was worth having. One is sensible of this charm even in a book: I do not know any modern hero of fiction whom I like so much as Colonel Manners, in the “Gipsy," and yet I felt decidedly prejudiced against him by the description in the opening pages, of his exceeding plainness. If, on the other hand, the clever man be handsome, it does not render him at all more agreeable, most probably it makes him less so, and it gives his own sex an opportunity, whenever he is commended by a lady, of insinuating that his personal rather than his mental recommendations are the objects of her admiration. The clever man ought not to be too young or too old; presumption and flippancy are the faults of young men, dogmatism and prosiness those of old ones; and, although extreme cleverness will keep these qualities in subjection, they may occasionally be apt to peep out: I should, therefore, like the clever man to be somewhere between thirty and fifty, if at the precise middle arch so much the better. In regard to marriage, I would decidedly wish the clever man to be single; would he indeed marry the cleverest woman of his acquaintance, who was suitable to him in other respects, it would be an excellent thing for society. What a treat I should consider it to visit at the house of a clever couple! the “Will you pass a long day with me?" which Miss Landon now playfully designates as one of the “ penalties of friendship," would then become a cabalistic spell of enjoyment, an “Open, Se