« PreviousContinue »
by Horace-no very profound philosopher—as a mark of wisdom.
The above is the description of the most unthinking. Those, again, who are a little—and but a little—more reflective, finding that most people impute to them, as a matter of course, an over-veneration for any eminent person they may be connected with, are not unlikely to think that they cannot go too far in the opposite direction, and (as was observed in the ‘Annotations' on Essays IV. and XXXVIII.) rush into the contrary extreme. And this dread of partiality, combined with the usual effect of familiarity, sometimes leads to an undue depreciation of what is excellent.
In one of the comedies of the early part of last century (many of which, though in bad taste, have considerable wit, and some wisdom) a man is represented complaining to a friend how desperately he is in love with a lady, in spite of her faults ; though he has noted them, and written a list of them, which he has dwelt on till quite familiar with them; and still, he complained, he was more and more in love. “Oh, I will tell you a remedy,' says the other: 'marry her; get as familiar with her virtues, as you are with her faults; and your passion will be cured.'
Hence, perhaps, partly, it may be that the proverb is sometimes applicable, of 'a prophet being without honour in his own country.
Certainly moderate praise, used with opportunity, and not.
vulgar, is that which doeth the good.'
It is worth remarking that praise is one of the things which almost everyone must wish for, and be glad of, yet which it is not allowable to seek for as an end. To obtain the approbation of the wise and good, by doing what is right, simply because it is right, is most gratifying to the natural and allowable wish to escape the censure and gain the approbation of our fellowcreatures; but to make this gratification, either wholly or partly, our object—to hold up a finger on purpose (and for that sole purpose) to gain the applause of the whole world, is unjustifiable.
A well-known writer once acknowledged his having said what he did from a wish to be orthodox. Now, such a wish—merely as a wish-is quite natural and allowable; for almost every one would prefer being on the side of the majority; and this will of course be, by the majority, accounted orthodoxy. But he evidently meant that he was practically influenced by the wish, that he acted with a view to the reputation for orthodoxy, and did not merely welcome it if it came spontaneously while he was aiming simply at truth. And accordingly he had his reward, in becoming a great party-leader; and he abandoned truth.
*No man can serve two masters ;' not because they are necessarily at variance, but because they are two, and do not necessarily draw the same way. Even worldly profit (Mammon) will often be secured by the same conduct as would be dictated by a regard for divine favour ; for • honesty is in general the best policy. But sometimes the two will pull different ways, and then it is that it will appear which master a man is serving. The desire of Truth must reign supreme, and everything else be welcomed only if coming in her train.
Deference for the (supposed) wise and good, and love of approbation, are two very distinct things, though in practice very difficult to be distinguished. The former may be felt towards those whom we never can meet with,—who perhaps were dead, ages before we were born, and survive only in their writings. It may be misplaced, or excessive; but it is quite different from the desire of their applause or sympathy, or dread of their displeasure or contempt. A man's desire to find himself in agreement with Aristotle, or Bacon, or Locke, or Paley, &c., whether reasonable, or unreasonable, can have nothing to do with their approbation of him. But when we are glad to concur with some living friends, whom we think highly of, and dread to differ from, then it is very difficult to decide how far this feeling is the presumption formed by our judgment in favour of the correctness of their views, and how far it is the desire of their approbation and sympathy, and dread of the reverse. It is the desire of personal approbation,—the excessive care concerning what is thought of ourselves,—that we are bound so severely to check.
There is a distinction (alluded to above) between the love of admiration and the love of commendation, that is worth remarking. The tendency of the love of commendation is, chiefly, to make a man exert himself; of the love of admiration, to make him puff himself. The love of admiration leads to fraud, much more than the love of commendation ; but, on the other hand, the latter is much more likely to spoil our good actions by the substitution of an inferior motive. And if we would guard against this, we must set ourselves resolutely to act as if we cared neither for praise nor censure,--for neither the bitter nor the sweet; and in time a man gets hardened. And this will always be the case, more or less, through God's help, if we will but persevere, and persevere from a right motive. One gets hardened, as the Canadians do to walking in snow shoes [raquets); at first a man is almost crippled with the 'mal au raquet'the pain and swelling of the feet; but the prescription is, to go on walking in them, as if you felt nothing at all; and in a few days you do feel nothing.
Much eloquence and ingenuity is often exerted in descanting on the propriety of not being wholly indifferent to the opinions formed of us—the impossibility of eradicating the regard for approbation—and the folly of attempting it, or pretending to it, &c. Now, this is very true. The propensity to desire to gain approval and escape censure, we are not called upon to extirpate (that being, I conceive, impossible); but our care and pains are better bestowed in keeping under the feeling than in eradicating it. It must be treated like the grass on a lawn which you wish to keep in good order: you neither attempt, nor wish, to destroy the grass; but you mow it down from time to time, as close as you possibly can, well trusting that there will be quite enough left, and that it will be sure to grow again.
One difficulty in acting upon this principle is, that it is often even a duty to seek the good opinion of others, not as an ultimate object for its own sake, but for the sake of influencing them for their own benefit and that of others. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. But we are to watch and analyse the motives even of actions which we are sure are in themselves right. "Take heed that ye do not
your alms before men, to be seen of them. And this is a kind of vigilance which human nature is always struggling to escape. One class of men are satisfied so long as they do what is justifiable ;—what may be done from a good motive, and, when so done, would be right, and which therefore may be satisfactorily defended. Another class—the ascetic—are for cutting off everything that may be a snare. They have heard of the deceitfulness of riches,' and so they vow poverty; which is less trouble than watching their motives in gaining, and in spending, money. And so on with the rest. But if we would cut off all temptations, we must cut off our heads at once.
The praise of men is not the test of our praiseworthiness ; nor is their censure; but either should set us upon testing ourselves.
It is to be observed that, in some cases, censure is equivalent to high praise. If, for instance, those who wish to perpetuate some abuse, fiercely assail one who advocates needful reform, or if revolutionists of any description decry some defender of law and order, this affords a presumption that he is a formidable champion. And the more pains they take to assure us that his arguments deserve nothing but contempt, the more they prove that they themselves do not feel any. Again, if any defender of the truth of Christianity, who refuses to join any Party in the Church, is thereupon denounced as unsound by zealous party-men, this adds to the force of his arguments by indicating that the belief he professes is sincere, and not assumed for the sake of popularity. And if, again, some violent and injudicious advocates of a good cause are doing it harm instead of good, so that it is needful for a wise and moderate man to repudiate all connexion with them, no disclaimer on his part will have so much weight, as their vehemently reviling him.
ESSAY LIV. OF VAIN GLORY.
TT was prettily devised of Æsop, the fly sat upon the axle-tree I of the chariot wheel, and said, “What a dust do I raise!' So are there some vain persons, that, whatsoever goeth alone, or moveth upon greater means, if they have never so little hand in it, they think it is they that carry it. They that are glorious ? must needs be factious; for all bravery 2 stands upon comparisons. They must needs be violent, to make good their own vaunts; neither can they be secret; and therefore not effectual; but, according to the French proverb, beaucoup de bruit, peu de fruit'-much bruit, little fruit. Yet, certainly, there is use of this quality in civil affairs: where there is an opinion and fame to be created, either of virtue or greatness, these men are good trumpeters. Again, as Titus Livius* noteth, in the case of Antiochus and the Ætolians, there are sometimes great effects of cross lies, as if a man that negotiates between two princes, to draw them to join in a war against a third, doth extol the forces of either of them above measure, the one to the other: and sometimes he that deals between man and man raiseth his own credit with both, by pretending greater interest that he hath in either; and in these, and the like kinds, it often falls out, that somewhat is produced of nothing; for lies are sufficient to breed opinion, and opinion brings on substance.
In military commanders and soldiers, vain glory is an essential point; for as iron sharpens iron, so by glory one courage sharpeneth another. In cases of great enterprise upon charge
i Glorious. Boastful. See page 493.
3 Bruit. Noise ; report. (This proverb has its parallel in the English one, •Great cry and little wool.') *All that hear the bruit of thee.'-Nahum ii. 19. 4 Vid. Liv. xxxvii. 48.
5 Of. From. See page 289. 6 Glory. Vaunting; boastfulness. •I will punish the glory of his high looks.' -Isaiah x.
•On death-beds some in conscious glory lie,
. Since of the doctor in the mode they die.'- Young. 7 Upon. At. See page 393.