THE VERSATILE GUEST.
1141HE past two or three weeks must have brought home to many an otherwise well-satisfied person a sense of his own limitations. At no season so strongly as at Christmas and the New Year do the minor arts of life flourish. Without the minor arts country-house parties could not be sficaessful; indeed, they would hardly be worthy of the name of parties. Time must be occupied somehow, and if it were not for Shoot- ing, riding, golf, and other outdoor amusements by day, ad dancing, music, billiards, and cards in the evening, would there be any justification for compelling numbers of differ- ently constituted persons to submit to each others' society in the same house for days together ? In an atmosphere of amusement the man who does not know how to amuse himself or his fellow-guests is to that extent a failure, and how many a man in such surroundings has not envied the past-master to whom none of the minor accomplishments of life is a difficulty.
The brilliantly versatile man is a rarity, and it is no wonder that he should be so, considering the number and variety of accomplishments at which he is called to be adept. A week of an English country-house party gives him, indeed, an extremely wide opportunity. He may be offered a mount, and, besides possessing the ordinary accomplishment of a good seat, he will know how to ride another man's horse, be will he - properly turned out, and in the evening will be able to talk horses or hound-work with his host out of the knowledge of experience. He may be asked to shoot, and will show himself acquainted with shooting-men's etiquette ; he will take his place at the covert-side, kill his birds cleanly and quietly, and tip the keeper the right amount at the end of the day. He will play a good enough game of golf to make it worth while for anybody, however expert, to play him a game on handicap terms ; his billiards will be as good as his golf, and at pool or pyramids he will win or lose just enough, neither too much nor too little. He will be perfectly ready to take his part if somebody proposes an impromptu charade, or even if he has to join in one of those extremely awkward games necessitating an ability to compose rhymes or to write out lists of names at a moment's notice, when many sensible persons' faculties entirely desert them. Should the festivities include a hunt hall, or even a hastily got up evening party, dancing will present no difficulty to him ; indeed, if there is any question raised as to the proper steps of some new kind of dance, his opinion will probably be asked. He will never hesitate to make a fourth in a bridge party ; and though his play need not necessarily be brilliant, he will know a sufficient number of the leads and conventions of the game to be able to sit with some degree of comfort at the same table even with much better players. For many of these accomplishments custom will demand that be should be suitably dressed, and nothing, perhaps, shows the versatile man more versatile than his capacity to appear in exactly the right costume for the right occasion. It may not have frozen• for a dozen successive winters, but that will be no obstacle to his making his appearance with an excellently fitting pair of skates (probably fastened to boots kept solely for that especial purpose), and, beginning with a few careless turns on the outside edge, he will soon be executing rocking-turns with a sufficient lack of effort to excite the admiration of all. Nothing, in short, comes amiss to him ; he has no dislikes and no disabilities. He never experiences the misery of the man who, though he may love to have a gun in his bands, knows that if he hits a driven partridge it will only be by accident, and who at the end of a drive meets the keeper's question as to the number of the slain with ill- suppressed melancholy. He is never compelled to refuse a mount because he bas no clothes with him, or because he knows that the groom will immediately detect his inexperience, even though with impassive politeness. How great the mental discomforts are which he avoids, indeed, only the nnversatile man really knows. The unversatile man may be a first-rate shot; but it may also be sheer unhappiness to him to be com- pelled to sit down and make mistakes at a game of cards, to learn the complicated rules of which be may regard as so much pure waste of time. Or he may be an admirable horse- man, and yet feel utterly miserable when compelled to stand up to make the numbers even for a set of lancers. To have to join in a set of lancers against his will is, perhaps, the un- versatile man's chiefest misery. To some men, and probably to all women, the performance of that dance may seem an amusing, and even an intellectual, occupation; to him the musics is merely an accompaniment to a series of dreary manceuvres interspersed with meaningless bowings, scrapings, and twiddlings in odd corners. • One of the corollaries of great versatility, it might be argued with some show of reason, ought to be the capacity to earn the liking of every one with whom the versatile man comes in contact. He throws so wide a net that he surely must catch all; his sympathies are so various that he would (teem to have something in common with almost every one. But does that really happen to be the case? On the contrary, it is prebably true that the brilliant, versatile man is not generally' a popular companion. He may, of course, com- mand the deep affections of those who know him best, but to the general run of men, contradictory as it may seem, he is a little unsympathetic. It is not that they dislike or distrust him, but it is difficult to feel really at home with him. The fact is that he does not dislike a sufficient number of things ,to make him sympathetic. Those whom he meets recognise almost instinctively that here is a man with whom they cannot discuss their own shortcomings or prejudices, because they will not be shared by him. It is related somewhere of the novelist Peacock that a friend once remarked of a guest who was to arrive in the evening that he was sure ,Peacock would get on very well with him, because he liked so many things which Peacock liked also. Peacock's reply was : " That may be very well, but does he hate the things that I bate?" The truth is that, at all events for casual acquaint- ances, there are far readier and far stronger bonds of sym- pathy to be found in dislikes than in likes. As a general rule, most men dislike doing what they do badly, and to discover a companion who shares a dislike is often to find a friend who mildly gratifies self-conceit by admitting a lack of ability. The innate reticence of Englishmen does not permit them to 'gush with enthusiasm over anything for which they care greatly, but they are not so measured in their reserve when it comes to denouncing anything of which they disapprove. Probably, therefore, since knowledge is essential to friendship, and since one man cannot know another well until he has talked with him on many subjects, the discussion of common dislikes and disabilities may be the quickest and surest way to friendship. As distinct from the ordinary individual, however, the versatile man neither attracts nor looks for sym- pathy, just because he has no disabilities to confess ; he may be a pattern of all the virtues and admirably good-tempered, bid somewhere into the atmosphere in which he moves there creeps a little hardness.
It is certainly not true that the man who does everything well does nothing extremely well; but is it easy to think of any man supremely distinguished in the great arts of life who was adept in all the minor arts ? The most versatile of all English writers was, to be sure, so far an out-of-door sports- man as to get into trouble for poaching a deer; but then he was the exception to all rules. To humbler individuals, abashed at their inability to come up to this or that standard in the small accomplishments of life, it may be consoling to reflect that in their seeming incapacity there may lurk the germ of greatness. The versatile men have not the time to neglect every pursuit but one to achieve fame. After all, the Admirable Crichton left no more enduring monument behind 'him than to be known to every schoolboy as admirable.