« PreviousContinue »
ESSAY LIV. OF VAIN GLORY.
IT was prettily devised of iEsop, the fly sat upon the axle-tree of the chariot wheel, and said, 'What a dust do I raise V 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 glorious1 must needs be factious; for all bravery2 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,3 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 Livius4 noteth, in the case of Antiochus and the iEtolians, there are sometimes great effects of6 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 than 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 glory6 one courage sharpeneth another. In cases of great enterprise upon7 charge and adventure,1 a composition of glorious natures doth put life into business; and those that are of solid and sober natures, have more of the ballast than of the sail. In fame of learning, the flight will be slow without some feathers of osteutation: 'Qui de contemnenda gloria libros scribunt, nomen suum inscribunt.'2 Socrates, Aristotle, Galen, were men full of ostentation: certainly vain glory helpeth to perpetuate a man's memory; and virtue was never so beholden3 to human nature, as4 it received its due at the second hand. Neither had the fame of Cicero, Seneca, Plinius Secundus, borne her age so well if it had not been joined with some vanity in themselves, like unto varnish, that makes ceilings not only shine, but last.
1 Glorious. Boastful. See page 467.
3 Bravery. Ostentation. See page 388.
8 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 iii. 19.
4 Vid. Liv. xxxvii. 48. 6 Of. From. See page 270.
6 Glory. Vaunting; boastfulness. 'I will punish the glory of his high looks.' —Isaiah 1.
'On death-beds some in conscious glory lie,
7 Upon. At. See page 369.
But all this while, when I speak of vain glory, I mean not of that property that Tacitus doth attribute to Mucianus, 'Omnium, quae dixerat feceratque, arte quadam ostentator :" for that proceeds not of vanity, but of natural magnanimity and discretion; and in some persons it is not only comely, but gracious :s for excusations,7 cessions," modesty itself, well governed, are but arts of ostentation; and amongst those arts there is none better than that which Plinius Secundus speaketh of, which is, to be liberal of praise and commendation to others, in that wherein a man's self hath any perfection; for, saith Pliny, very wittingly, 'In commending another, you do yourself right;'8 for he that you commend is either superior to you in that10 you commend, or inferior; if he be inferior, if he be to be commended, you much more; if he be superior, if he be not to be commended, you much less.
1 Charge and adventure. Cost and risk. 'That I may make the gospel of Christ without charge.'—i Cor. ix. 18. 'One castle yielded; but two stood on their adventure.'—Hat/ward.
3 'Those who write books on despising glory inscribe their names therein.'— Cicero, Tusc. Disp. i. 15.
3 Beholden. Indebted.
'We are not much beholden to your love.'—Shakespere.
* As. That. See page 23.
* 'By a certain art he made a display of all he had said or done.'—Hist. xi. 80.
6 Gracious. Graceful. See page 435.
7 Excusation. Excuse; apology.
'He made his excusation,
s Cessions. Concessions.
9 Plin. Epist. vi. 17.
10 That. What. See page 73.
Vain glorious men are the scorn of wise men, the admiration of fools, the idols of parasites, and the slaves of their own vaunts.
ANTITHETA ON VAIN GLORY.
'Qui snas laudes appetit, aliorum * * * * *
simul appetit utilitates. 'Turpo est proco solicitare ancillam:
'He who earnestly seeks glory for est autem virtutis ancilla laus.
himself, is seeking, at the same time, 'It is disgraceful for a wooer to pay
the welfare of others' court to the handmaid; now glory is
the handmaid of virtue.'
The following passage from the Lessons on Morals is somewhat to the purpose of this Essay :—
'It is a mistake to think that any one who does happen to be superior to the generality, intellectually or morally, is bound, as a point of modesty, to be ignorant of this, or to pretend to be so, and to think, or profess to think, himself inferior to what he really is. For, on the one hand, it cannot be a part of Duty to be under any kind of mistake; and, on the other hand, there cannot be any virtue in feigning or affectation of any kind.
'Properly speaking, self-conceit and modesty have reference to a man's estimate of himself as compared with the reality. A conceited man over-rates himself; and a modest man does not. But many people do not at all take this into account. They are apt to reckon a man conceited who has a high opinion (whether rightly or wrongly) of his own powers; and him modest who forms a low one. And yet it may so happen that this latter may be in reality over-rating himself in thinking himself not below the average, or only a little below: and the other may possibly be even under-rating himself in thinking himself only a little above it.
'If you could imagine a mouse imagining itself just equal to such a small animal as a rabbit, and an elephant believing itself only equal to such a large animal as an ox, they would be making opposite mistakes.
'But if your belief is, that you do possess some superior endowments as to any point, take care—as far as regards yourself—to be thankful to the Giver of all such advantages, and to remember that for every Talent entrusted to you, you are accountable to Him. And, as far as regards others, take care to avoid ostentation, and disdainful assumption of superiority. For, this is offensive, even in such matters of fact as admit of no possible mistake or doubt. A person, for instance, who should have gained some great prize in a competition, or discovered a new Planet, or invented a new Telegraph, or performed some other notable exploit, must not boast, nor be always reminding people of what he has done.
'And, on the other hand, even if he should be mistaken in his opinion of his own abilities, and think them greater than they are, a mere error of judgment will not be imputed to him as a sin, provided he keep clear of pride; nor will he be offensive to others, if he is but free from disdainful arrogance, and from ostentation.
'Again, there is no humility in a mere general confession that you are a 'miserable sinner,' if in each particular case you always stoutly justify yourself, and can never be brought to own a fault.
'Lastly, there is no humility in confessing any faults which you do not strive to correct. It would indeed be a shocking presumption to think that you need not aim at improvement, but are quite good enough, being without faults; but it is still greater presumption to think that you are good enough with all your faults. 'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves f but if we say that we have sins, and yet do not earnestly seek God's promised help 'to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,' this would be even a more fatal self-deception.
'Remember then that the virtue of christian Humility is not to be considered as some bitter potion which you can swallow in a large dose, once for all, and so have done with it; but rather as a kind of alterative medicine, to be taken daily, and drop by drop.
'You must study, daily, to be open to conviction—patient of opposition—ready to listen to reproof, even when you are not convinced that it is deserved—ready, when you are convinced, to confess an error—and glad to receive hints, and suggestions, and corrections, even from your inferiors in ability—and never overbearing or uncharitable towards those who differ from you, or ostentatious of superiority.