Prepossessions and Antipathies

by Albany Poyntz

Undue prepossession against or in favour of some object, is as much to be guarded against as any other irrational prejudices.

It is not uncommon to hear people reply when some particular dish is offered to them: “Thank you, I have never eaten any, and nothing could persuade me to touch it.” Such a prepossession scarcely would be pardonable in women or children.

An anecdote is related in the life of Talma, which has lately formed the subject of a drama.

A poor strolling player, universally rejected, arrived, at his wits’ end, in a city where the illustrious actor was expected. A bright idea flashed across his mind to personate Talma; as whom he accordingly announced himself. The authorities of the town hastened to offer him their homage. The theatre was crowded, and all the world enraptured with his performance. In the midst of his popularity, the real Talma arrived; but foreseeing that a prepossession once established in favour of the imitator was not likely to be easily reversed, departed without making himself known. The chances were that he might have been hissed.

It is difficult to comprehend the use of the flatteries of painters to Princes and Princesses about to be married by proxy. The portraits being exchanged, the betrothed receive a first strong impression, and form their opinions accordingly. A favourable prepossession is conceived; and in place of an agreeable and expressive countenance, a frightful reality is often rendered more frightful by disappointment.

With regard to literary predilections, the works of an unknown author, however meritorious, often lie mildewed on the shelf, while some trash, protected by a favourite name, becomes popular. The admirable leading articles of Benjamin Constant produced no effect till he signed them with his well-known name, when their merit was instantly recognised. When Michael Angelo first exhibited the productions of his chisel, they were treated as far inferior to the sculptures of the ancient world. In the seclusion of his studio, and unknown to any one, he accordingly set to work on a statue of Cupid; of which he broke off the arm, and concealed the mutilated statue in the midst of the excavations making by the Pope. When the statue was discovered, all Rome fell into ecstasies; pronouncing it to be the work of Phidias or Praxiteles. Michael Angelo immediately produced the mutilated arm, and his former critics became rebuked into silence.

At the time when the rage for Italian music excluded every other composition from the stage, and the great French composers had fallen in public estimation, Méhul avenged himself much in the manner of Michael Angelo. Zealous in the cause of French music, he composed the opera of the Irato, the words by the ingenious Hoffmann; who, to render the illusion complete, made the libretto as incomprehensible as possible. The opera was rehearsed in secret, though fifty persons were engaged in it; and it was circulated in the world, that the forthcoming opera was a mere pasticcio, borrowed from the operas recently in vogue in Italy.

When the curtain rose, the overture was enthusiastically applauded. Still more so, the different airs executed by Ellevion, Martin, and the excellent company of the Comic Opera. The theatre was crowded with enthusiastic admirers of Italian music, whose applause was vehement; one person declaring that the music was by Fioravanti, and that he had heard it at Naples; another, that it was by Cimarosa. At the end of the opera, it was announced to be by Méhul, when the amateurs of the Italian school were confounded.

Teniers also exposed the unjust prejudices of his countrymen; who, underrating his paintings, they sold far short of their value. Having previously published a report of his death and burial, he instructed his wife to assume widow’s weeds; and, after a certain time, to announce the sale of the paintings of her deceased husband. The stratagem succeeded, his very detractors enhancing the value of his works. Teniers afterwards returned to his native country, and resumed his labours, which were never afterwards disparaged.

When a History of France by Pigault Le Brun was announced, it was pronounced to be detestable long before it appeared; solely because Pigault Lebrun was the author of a variety of amusing novels. The famous physician Portal turned to good account the prejudice that prevails in Paris in favour of fashion. Established in the capital, he was some time without obtaining practice. At length, he devoted all his means to the purchase of a beautiful equipage, and sent it every day to stand before the doors of illustrious patients. Of course the numerous inquirers after the invalid, could not fail to remark the beautiful equipage of the physician in every quarter of the town; and the Marchioness immediately determined to try the physician of the Duchess, and vice versâ; till in a short time, Portal received applications from all quarters, calling in his advice to the noblest sufferers of the capital. Endowed with a distinguished appearance, elegant manners, and considerable powers of conversation, he became the indispensable attendant of all fashionable invalids; and thus, founded a reputation to which he subsequently proved himself entitled.