Four Minute Essays, Volume 9
Delicacy -- The Flavor Of All The Virtues
IT WAS said of Matthew Arnold that in all the departments of human life he applied the criterion of delicacy. "A finely touched nature," he said, "will respect in itself the sense of delicacy not less than the senses of honesty."
Delicacy is no virtue; it is the flavor of all the virtues.
It is not goodness; it is goodness filtered through modesty.
It is the gentle hand of the courageous heart.
It is that quality without which the most efficient man cannot be a gentleman, and the most accomplished woman cannot be a lady.
It cannot be explained to you; you must absorb it. It cannot be learned; it must be assimilated.
The lack of delicacy has spoiled many a man's career. Nothing is so great an element of weakness in a crisis as a certain coarseness.
Most fallen American idols owe their collapse to the fact that in some crucial moment they offended the delicacy of the people.
These things are fatal to delicacy:
Egotism. All thrusting forward of one's self, smugness, an air of self-sufficiency, a dictatorial attitude, oracular speeches, me, me, me. The consummate flower of good breeding is humility, not put on or assumed but genuinely felt.
Undue esteem of success, particularly when it implies possessions or fame. This argues gross worldliness of character and a lack of appreciation of the nobler human qualities.
Selfishness, whether seeking the best meats at table, the best seat in the room, and such lapses of the commoner sort, or the more subtle coarseness of monopolizing the conversation, or making one's self conspicuous by over-dressing or jewelry.
Insincerity. This is the besetting sin of writers who desire popularity at any cost. "The slightest deviation from the line of clear conviction," writes G. W. E. Russell, "the least turning to left or right in order; to cocker a prejudice or please an audience or flatter a class, shows a want of delicacy, a preference of present favor to permanent self-respect."
Lightly causing suffering in others.
"Ah!" said Rivarol, "no one considers how much pain any man of taste has to suffer before he inflicts any."
Insolence toward inferiors. Lack of respect for the feelings of servants. Fawning upon or cringing toward superiors.
Satisfaction with surroundings that are ugly, uncouth, vulgar, and devoid of taste.
All good qualities have a line which they may not pass beyond, else they become absurd. The danger-point in delicacy is becoming finicky, Miss-Nancyish, effeminate.
This does not alter the fact, however, that a certain amount of womanliness marks the complete man; the will of steel must be gloved in velvet courtesy, the strong courage must be tempered with kindliness, wisdom must be suffused with modesty, conviction must be balanced with toleration.
Delicacy is "to make virtue victorious by practising it attractively."