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   Index of Popular Fallacies

POPULAR FALLACIES

I.-THAT A BULLY IS ALWAYS A COWARD

This axiom contains a principle of compensation which disposes us to admit the truth of it. But there is no safe trusting to dictionaries and definitions. We should more willingly fall in with this popular language, if we did not find brutality sometimes awkwardly coupled with valour -- in the same vocabulary. The comic writers, with their poetical justice, have contributed not a little to mislead us upon this point. To see a hectoring fellow exposed and beaten upon the stage, has something in it wonderfully diverting. Some people's share of animal spirits is notoriously low and defective. It has not strength to raise a vapour, or furnish out the wind of a tolerable bluster. These love to be told that huffing is no art of valour. The truest courage with them is that which is the least noisy and obtrusive. But confront one of these silent heroes with the swaggerer of real life, and his confidence in the theory quickly vanishes. Pretensions do not uniformly bespeak non-performance. A modest inoffensive deportment does not [p 253] necessarily imply valour; neither does the absence of it justify us in denying that quality. Hickman wanted modesty -- we do not mean him of Clarissa -- but who ever doubted his courage? Even the poets -- upon whom this equitable distribution of qualities should be most binding -- have thought it agreeable to nature to depart from the rule upon occasion. Harapha, in the "Agonistes," is indeed a bully upon the received notions. Milton has made him at once a blusterer, a giant, and a dastard. But Almanzor, in Dryden, talks of driving armies singly before him -- and does it. Tom Brown had a shrewder insight into this kind of character than either of his predecessors. He divides the palm more equably, and allows his hero a sort of dimidiate preeminence: -- " Bully Dawson kicked by half the town, and half the town kicked by Bully Dawson." This was true distributive justice.


List of Popular Fallacies