Pleasant People

— What a boon to all his friends and acquaintance a pleasant person is ! It may be hard to define pleasantness, but we find no difficulty in recognizing it when we meet with it. Pleasant people are not always by any means the most admirable of mankind, nor the most interesting; for it often happens that the qualities in a man which are worthiest of esteem are, for lack of other modifying elements, the very ones which make against his agreeableness as a companion ; and a person who does not impress us as particularly pleasant may nevertheless interest us very much by the display of unusual mental or moral characteristics, or from a complexity of nature which seems to offer itself as an enigma we are curious to solve. Pleasant people may not even be the most truly lovable, but they are likable; we perhaps have no desire to make friends of them, in the deeper sense of friendship, but we are glad when we meet them, and enjoy ourselves while in their society. The tie thus formed, though slight, is a real one, and I believe that we should all do well to remember, in the interest of our closer friendships, the attractive and cohesive force of mere pleasantness. The highest virtues and offices of friendship we are not called on to exercise every day, and in familiar intercourse we have not less, but rather the more, need of making ourselves pleasant, because of the times when our friends will have to answer our drafts on their patience and sympathy.

If we question what it is that goes to constitute a man or woman pleasant, it appears to be a result of both temperament and character. It is hardly necessary to say that these are not the same thing, and yet they are not distinguished in common thought and speech as clearly as they might be. Without attempting any close analysis, we may perhaps say that temperament is a certain combination of elements given us at birth, while character is another set of powers and dispositions, slowly acquired and grown in us: for the first nature is responsible, our parents and ourselves for the second.

It seems easiest to describe a pleasant person by negatives, although assuredly his pleasantness affects us as a most positive quality. To begin with, such a person must not be too much “ shut up in his own individuality,” to use the phrase of an English writer. That is, he must not be very reserved and concentrated in his emotions and affections, but have a certain expansiveness of nature and openness of manner. He must not be too fastidious, but able to take people for what they are, and what they are worth to him for the passing moment and the needs of the social hour. He must not be of too intense a nature, nor so preoccupied with the serious aspects and duties of life that he is unable to put them aside temporarily, and lend himself to lighter thoughts and lighter people. One of the pleasantest men I ever met was one of the most hardworking, devoted to a dozen good causes and public interests beside his personal and professional ones. None of these were made a bore to others, and his equable and kindly disposition, his readiness to enter into other persons’ ideas, his interest in literature and art as well as weightier matters of politics and science, made him able to please and be pleased by men and women of the most diverse sorts. It has sometimes struck me forcibly with respect to such a man, How pleasant he must be to himself, — how comfortable to live with every day!

But as has been said, many a person may be a delightful companion who is far from possessing solid qualities like those of my friend above mentioned. Selfishness is obviously incompatible with pleasantness in any of its more marked and open manifestations ; yet of two persons, one may be as radically selfish as the other, and the first be found pleasant, while the second is not. In greater matters, the former acts with as keen an eye to his own advantage as the latter; but he is willing to forego a trifling advantage, or to do a little service that does not cost too much, out of a surface kindliness of disposition which the other lacks. Or take two women, one rather shallow and cold in her emotions, the other capable of deeper and truer feeling : it may be that she whom we would least count on for real affection has an adaptable and easy-going temper, and an instinct of pleasing that render her the more agreeable of the two to live with or to go on a journey with. The genuinely pleasant person, I take it, is such from a sort of natural necessity, and therefore at all times and to all persons alike.

One trait of such a man may be noted in the words of a writer who impresses me with the belief that he himself would be found on acquaintance eminently pleasant. Mr. Stevenson says in one of his essays, “It is a useful accomplishment to be able to say No, but it is surely the essence of amiability to prefer to say Yes. There is something wanting in the man who does not hate himself whenever he is constrained to say No to another.”

There are degrees of pleasantness, and in its highest manifestations the power to please is doubtless due to something more than a mere natural instinct or gift, and implies a happy balance of moral and intellectual qualities. We might all be much pleasanter than our friends find us, — there is no question of that. Yet it remains time that the simple wish and effort to please are not always enough; little foibles and faults we are unconscious of, sometimes our very virtues, stand in the way of many a well-meant attempt.

The late Dean Stanley was, like Shakespeare’s heroine, of so free, so kind, so apt a disposition ” that he made, and kept, an unusually large number of warm friends among men of all sorts. Mr. Lowell has paid him a tribute by applying to the Dean the sentiment of an epitaph which was found in a New England graveyard, where it was written over an obscure woman by her sorrowing relatives, “ She was so pleasant.” One smiles at the simplicity of the phrase, but is it not touching too ? The good woman’s friends could hardly have said more for her human quality than in the few words that told the impress she had made on those around her.