Sketches by Boz, by Charles Dickens

The Plausible Couple

The plausible couple have many titles. They are ‘a delightful couple,’ an ‘affectionate couple,’ ‘a most agreeable couple, ‘a good-hearted couple,’ and ‘the best-natured couple in existence.’ The truth is, that the plausible couple are people of the world; and either the way of pleasing the world has grown much easier than it was in the days of the old man and his ass, or the old man was but a bad hand at it, and knew very little of the trade.

‘But is it really possible to please the world!’ says some doubting reader. It is indeed. Nay, it is not only very possible, but very easy. The ways are crooked, and sometimes foul and low. What then? A man need but crawl upon his hands and knees, know when to close his eyes and when his ears, when to stoop and when to stand upright; and if by the world is meant that atom of it in which he moves himself, he shall please it, never fear.

Now, it will be readily seen, that if a plausible man or woman have an easy means of pleasing the world by an adaptation of self to all its twistings and twinings, a plausible man AND woman, or, in other words, a plausible couple, playing into each other’s hands, and acting in concert, have a manifest advantage. Hence it is that plausible couples scarcely ever fail of success on a pretty large scale; and hence it is that if the reader, laying down this unwieldy volume at the next full stop, will have the goodness to review his or her circle of acquaintance, and to search particularly for some man and wife with a large connexion and a good name, not easily referable to their abilities or their wealth, he or she (that is, the male or female reader) will certainly find that gentleman or lady, on a very short reflection, to be a plausible couple.

The plausible couple are the most ecstatic people living: the most sensitive people — to merit — on the face of the earth. Nothing clever or virtuous escapes them. They have microscopic eyes for such endowments, and can find them anywhere. The plausible couple never fawn — oh no! They don’t even scruple to tell their friends of their faults. One is too generous, another too candid; a third has a tendency to think all people like himself, and to regard mankind as a company of angels; a fourth is kind-hearted to a fault. ‘We never flatter, my dear Mrs. Jackson,’ say the plausible couple; ‘we speak our minds. Neither you nor Mr. Jackson have faults enough. It may sound strangely, but it is true. You have not faults enough. You know our way, — we must speak out, and always do. Quarrel with us for saying so, if you will; but we repeat it, — you have not faults enough!’

The plausible couple are no less plausible to each other than to third parties. They are always loving and harmonious. The plausible gentleman calls his wife ‘darling,’ and the plausible lady addresses him as ‘dearest.’ If it be Mr. and Mrs. Bobtail Widger, Mrs. Widger is ‘Lavinia, darling,’ and Mr. Widger is ‘Bobtail, dearest.’ Speaking of each other, they observe the same tender form. Mrs. Widger relates what ‘Bobtail’ said, and Mr. Widger recounts what ‘darling’ thought and did.

If you sit next to the plausible lady at a dinner-table, she takes the earliest opportunity of expressing her belief that you are acquainted with the Clickits; she is sure she has heard the Clickits speak of you — she must not tell you in what terms, or you will take her for a flatterer. You admit a knowledge of the Clickits; the plausible lady immediately launches out in their praise. She quite loves the Clickits. Were there ever such true-hearted, hospitable, excellent people — such a gentle, interesting little woman as Mrs. Clickit, or such a frank, unaffected creature as Mr. Clickit? were there ever two people, in short, so little spoiled by the world as they are? ‘As who, darling?’ cries Mr. Widger, from the opposite side of the table. ‘The Clickits, dearest,’ replies Mrs. Widger. ‘Indeed you are right, darling,’ Mr. Widger rejoins; ‘the Clickits are a very high-minded, worthy, estimable couple.’ Mrs. Widger remarking that Bobtail always grows quite eloquent upon this subject, Mr. Widger admits that he feels very strongly whenever such people as the Clickits and some other friends of his (here he glances at the host and hostess) are mentioned; for they are an honour to human nature, and do one good to think of. ‘YOU know the Clickits, Mrs. Jackson?’ he says, addressing the lady of the house. ‘No, indeed; we have not that pleasure,’ she replies. ‘You astonish me!’ exclaims Mr. Widger: ‘not know the Clickits! why, you are the very people of all others who ought to be their bosom friends. You are kindred beings; you are one and the same thing:-not know the Clickits! Now WILL you know the Clickits? Will you make a point of knowing them? Will you meet them in a friendly way at our house one evening, and be acquainted with them?’ Mrs. Jackson will be quite delighted; nothing would give her more pleasure. ‘Then, Lavinia, my darling,’ says Mr. Widger, ‘mind you don’t lose sight of that; now, pray take care that Mr. and Mrs. Jackson know the Clickits without loss of time. Such people ought not to be strangers to each other.’ Mrs. Widger books both families as the centre of attraction for her next party; and Mr. Widger, going on to expatiate upon the virtues of the Clickits, adds to their other moral qualities, that they keep one of the neatest phaetons in town, and have two thousand a year.

As the plausible couple never laud the merits of any absent person, without dexterously contriving that their praises shall reflect upon somebody who is present, so they never depreciate anything or anybody, without turning their depreciation to the same account. Their friend, Mr. Slummery, say they, is unquestionably a clever painter, and would no doubt be very popular, and sell his pictures at a very high price, if that cruel Mr. Fithers had not forestalled him in his department of art, and made it thoroughly and completely his own; — Fithers, it is to be observed, being present and within hearing, and Slummery elsewhere. Is Mrs. Tabblewick really as beautiful as people say? Why, there indeed you ask them a very puzzling question, because there is no doubt that she is a very charming woman, and they have long known her intimately. She is no doubt beautiful, very beautiful; they once thought her the most beautiful woman ever seen; still if you press them for an honest answer, they are bound to say that this was before they had ever seen our lovely friend on the sofa, (the sofa is hard by, and our lovely friend can’t help hearing the whispers in which this is said;) since that time, perhaps, they have been hardly fair judges; Mrs. Tabblewick is no doubt extremely handsome, — very like our friend, in fact, in the form of the features, — but in point of expression, and soul, and figure, and air altogether — oh dear!

But while the plausible couple depreciate, they are still careful to preserve their character for amiability and kind feeling; indeed the depreciation itself is often made to grow out of their excessive sympathy and good will. The plausible lady calls on a lady who dotes upon her children, and is sitting with a little girl upon her knee, enraptured by her artless replies, and protesting that there is nothing she delights in so much as conversing with these fairies; when the other lady inquires if she has seen young Mrs. Finching lately, and whether the baby has turned out a finer one than it promised to be. ‘Oh dear!’ cries the plausible lady, ‘you cannot think how often Bobtail and I have talked about poor Mrs. Finching — she is such a dear soul, and was so anxious that the baby should be a fine child — and very naturally, because she was very much here at one time, and there is, you know, a natural emulation among mothers — that it is impossible to tell you how much we have felt for her.’ ‘Is it weak or plain, or what?’ inquires the other. ‘Weak or plain, my love,’ returns the plausible lady, ‘it’s a fright — a perfect little fright; you never saw such a miserable creature in all your days. Positively you must not let her see one of these beautiful dears again, or you’ll break her heart, you will indeed. — Heaven bless this child, see how she is looking in my face! can you conceive anything prettier than that? If poor Mrs. Finching could only hope — but that’s impossible — and the gifts of Providence, you know — What DID I do with my pocket-handkerchief!’

What prompts the mother, who dotes upon her children, to comment to her lord that evening on the plausible lady’s engaging qualities and feeling heart, and what is it that procures Mr. and Mrs. Bobtail Widger an immediate invitation to dinner?

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:30