Page images
PDF
EPUB

ESSAY LIII. OF PRAISE.

PEAISE is the reflection of virtue: but it is as the glass, or body, which giveth the reflection; if it be from the common people, it is commonly false and naught,1 and rather followeth vain persons than virtuous: for the common people understand not many excellent virtues: the lowest virtues draw praise from them, the middle virtues work in them astonishment or admiration; but of the highest virtues they have no sense or perceiving3 at all; but shows, and 'species virtutibus similes'3 serve best with them. Certainly, fame is like a river, that beareth up things light and swollen, and drowns things weighty and solid; but if persons of quality and judgment concur, then it is (as the scripture saith) * Nomen bonum instar unguenti fragrantis ;'4 it filleth all round about, and will not easily away ;5 for the odours of ointments are more durable than those of flowers.

There be so many false points of praise, that a man may justly hold it in suspect.6 Some praises proceed merely of flattery; and if it be an ordinary flatterer, he will have certain common attributes, which may serve every man; if he be a cunning flatterer, he will follow the arch-flatterer, which is a man's self, and wherein a man thinketh best of himself, therein the flatterer will uphold him most: but if he be an impudent flatterer, look wherein a man is conscious to himself that he is most defective, and is most out of countenance in bimself, that will the flatterer entitle him to, perforce, 'Spreta conscientia.'7 Some praises come of good wishes and respects, which is a form due in civility to kings and great persons, 'laudandopraecipere;'8 when by telling them what they are, they represent to them what they should be. Some men are praised maliciously to their hurt, thereby to stir envy and jealousy towards them; 'pessimum genus inimicorum laudantium;'' insomuch as it was a proverb amongst the Grecians, that'He that was praised to his hurt, should have a push2 rise upon his nose;' as we say, that a blister will rise upon one's tongue that tells a lie. Certainly moderate praise, used with opportunity, and not vulgar, is that which doeth the good. Solomon saith, 'He that praiseth his friend aloud, rising early, it shall be to him no better than a curse.'3 Too much magnifying of man or matter doth irritate contradiction, and procure envy and scorn. To praise a man's self, cannot be decent, except it be in rare cases; but to praise a man's office or profession, he may do it with good grace, and with a kind of magnanimity. The cardinals of Borne, which are theologues,4 and friars, and schoolmen, have a phrase of notable5 contempt and scorn towards civil business: for they call all temporal business of wars, embassages, judicature, and other employments, sherrerie, which is under-sheriffries, as if they were but matters for under-sheriffs and catch-poles; though many times those under-sheriffries do more good than their high speculations. St . Paul, when he boasts of himself, doth oft interlace, ' I speak like a fool ;'6 but speaking of his calling, he saith, 'Magnificabo apostolatum meuni.'7

1 Naught. Worthiess; despicable. See page 394.

* Perceiving. Perception. a 'Appearances like virtues.'

* 'A good name is like a fragrant ointment.'—Ecchs. vii. 1. J Away. Pass away.

* 'I have a pain upon my forehead here.

Why that's with watching; 'twill away again.'—Shakespere.

6 Suspect. Suspicion. 7 'Despising conscience.'

3 'To instruct by praising.'

ANTITHETA ON PEAISB.

Pro. Contra.

Virtutis radii rcflexi laudcs. 'Fama deterior judex, quam nnncia,

'Praises are the reflected rays of 'Common fame is a bad messenger,

virtue.' but a worse judge.'

'Laus honor is est, ad qucm libera 'Fama veluti fluvius, levia attollit,

suffragiis pervenitur. solida mergit.

'Praise is that kind of honour which 'Fame, like a river, bears up what is

is conferred by free votes.' light, and einlis what is solid.'

'Honores diverse a diversis politiis •Infimarum virtutum apod Tulgns

1 'The worst kind of enemies are those who praise.'

5 Push. A pustule; a pimple. 'Proverbs xxvii. 14.

4 Theologue. A theologian; a Divine.

'A theologue more by need than genial bent.'—Dryden. 'Notable. Remarkable. 'Aud they had then a notable prisoner.'—Matt. xxvii. 16. * 2 Cor. xi. 23. 7 'I magnify mine office.'—Bomans xi. 13.

oonferuntur; sed laade9 ubiquc sunt laus est, mcdiarnm admiratio, suprema

libertatis. rum sensus nullus.

'Honors are conferred differently 'The lowest of the virtues the vulgar

in different governments; but praises praise; the middle ones they admire; of

everywhere by popular suffrage.' the highest they /iare no perception.'

» » » »

• Nc mireris, si vulgus verius loquatur, quam honoratiores; quia etiam tutiua loquitur.

'It is no wonder that the vulgar sometimes speak more truly than those of high place, because they speak more safely.'

ANNOTATIONS.

'If it be from the common people, it is commonly false and
naught.'

It was remarked by a sensible man, that any one who has been 'raised from the ranks' (as the phrase is) about middle life, to a high station, is in danger of being over-sensitive to public opinion;—too anxiously watchful of what is said of him by this, that, and t'other set of men, and thence liable to be blown about to and fro, by the breath of popular applause and censure, from various quarters. A man, on the contrary, who has, from his youth up, occupied a high station, will have been hardened,—sometimes perhaps even too much hardened,— against all this; and having been always used to live, as it were, in public, and to have all his movements commented on with praise or dispraise, will have acquired a habit of regarding public opinion with something of the indifference which is the proverbial effect of long familiarity.

The one of these needs to be warned against too much attention, the other, against too much inattention, to what is said of him. [See the Annotation on 'Nobility.']

'The common people understand not many excellent virtues: the lowest virtues draw praise front them, the middle virtues work in them astonishment or admiration, but of the highest virtues they have no sense or perceiving at all.'

What a pregnant remark is this! By the lowest of the virtues he means probably such as hospitality, liberality, gratitude, good-humoured courtesy, and the like; and these he says the common run of mankind are accustomed to praise. Those which they admire, such as daring courage, and firm fidelity to friends, or to the cause or party one has espoused, are what he ranks in the next highest place. But the most elevated virtues of all, such as disinterested and devoted public spirit, thoroughgoing even-handed justice, and disregard of unpopularity when duty requires, of these he says the vulgar have usually no notion. And he might have gone further; for it often happens that a large portion of mankind not only do not praise or admire the highest qualities, but even censure and despise them. Cases may occur in which, though you may obtain the high approbation of a very few persons of the most refined and exalted moral sentiments, you must be prepared to find the majority (even of such as are not altogether bad men) condemning you as unnatural, unkind, faithless, and not to be depended on; or deriding you as eccentric, crotchety, fanciful, or absurdly scrupulous.1

Mr. Pitt, it is reported, said of the celebrated Mr. Wilberforce, that he was 'always to be had, except when he was wanted.' Whether this particular anecdote is true or not, there can be no doubt that many a Statesman will think lightly of the support afforded to measures, or to persons, that are sufficiently recommended by their intrinsic goodness; but when the object is to screen the guilty, or (as Thucydides expresses it) to 'carry through by a plausible speech some objectionable measure,'- then it is that the support of a man of high character is much 'wanted;' and the scruples which prevent his affording it, are likely to cause much vexation. 'Heaven forbid, Sir,' (says Davy to Justice Shallow), ' but a

1 Soo Lessons on Morals,
2 Ei'iTi-perrem \6yov 4*i<p86vm T! Sia*pi(<ur6ou.

knave should have some countenance at his friend's request. An honest man, Sir, is able to speak for himself, when a knave is not. I have served your Worship truly, Sir, these eight years; and if I cannot once or twice in a quarter bear out a knave against an honest man, I have very little credit with your Worship.'l

And such a disparagement of the highest virtues as has been above described, is the more likely to occur, because there are many cases in which the same conduct may result either from the very highest motive, or from a base one; and then, those of the noblest character, and who are also cautious and intelligent, will judge from your general conduct and character which motive to assign; while those who are themselves strangers to the highest principle, will at once attribute your acts to the basest . For example, if you shrink from some daring or troublesome undertaking which is also unjustifiable, this may be either from cowardice or indolence, or from serupulous integrity; and the worse motive will be at once assigned by those who have no notion of the better. If you are tolerant in religion, this may be either from utter carelessness, like Gallio's, or from a perception of the true character of the Gospel: and those who want this latter, will be sure to attribute to you at once the other. If you decline supporting a countryman against foreigners when they have right on their side, or a friend against a stranger, this may be either from indifference to your country, or your friend, or from a strong love of justice; and those who have but dim views of justice will at once set you down as unpatriotic or unfriendly. And so in many other cases.

If, accordingly, you refuse to defend, or to deny, or to palliate, the faults of those engaged in a good cause, and if yon are ready to bear testimony to whatever there may be that is right on the opposite side, you will be regarded by many as treacherous, or lukewarm, or inconsistent. If you advocate toleration for an erroneous faith, and protest against forcing, or entrapping, or bribing any persons into the profession of a true one, many will consider you as yourself either tainted with error, or indifferent about religious truth. If, again, you con

1 Second Part of King Henry IV., Act v.

« PreviousContinue »