« PreviousContinue »
come sparing and reserved in their commendations, they envy him the satisfaction of an applause, and look on their praises rather as a kindness done to his person, than as a tribute paid to his merit. Others who are free from this natural perverseness of temper grow wary in their praises of one, who sets too great a value on them, left they should raise him too high in his own imagination, and by consequence remove him to a greater distance from themselves.
But farther, this desire of fame naturally betrays the ambitious man into such indecencies, as are a lessening to his reputation. He is still afraid left any of his actions should be thrown away in private, left his deserts should be concealed from the notice of the world, or receive any disadvantage from the reports which others make of them. This often sets him on empty boasts and oftentations of himself, and betrays him into vain fantastical recitals of his own performances : his discourse generally leans one way, and, whatever is the subject of it, tends obliquely either to the detracting from others, or to the extolling of himself. Vanity is the naiural weakness of an ambitious man, which exposes him to the secret scorn and derision of those he converses with, and ruins the character he is so industrious to advance by it. For though his actions are never so glorious, they lose their luftre when they are drawn at large, and set to show by his own hand; and as the world is more apt to find fault than to commend, the boast will probably be censured when the great action that occalioned it is forgotten.
Besides, this very defire of fame is looked on as a meanness and imperfection in the greatest character. A solid and substantial greatness of foul looks down with a generous neglect on the censures and applauses of the multitude, and places a man beyond the little noise and ftrife of tongues. Accordingly we find in ourselves a secret awe and veneration for the character of one who moves about us in a regular and illustrious course of virtue, without any regard to our good or ill opinions of him, to our reproaches or commendations. As on the contrary it is usual for us, when we would take off from the fame and reputation of an action, to ascribe it to
vain-glory, and a desire of fame in the actor. Nor is this common judgment and opinion of mankind illfounded : for certainly it denotes no great bravery of mind to be worked up to any noble action by fo selfish a motive, and to do thai out of a desire of fame, which we could not be prompted to by a disinterested love to mankind, or by a generous passion for the glory of him that made us.
Thus is fame a thing difficult to be obtained by all, but particularly by those who thirst after it, finca most men have so much either of ill-nature, or of wariness, as not to gratify or footh the vanity of the ambitious man ; and since this very thirst after fame naturally betrays him into fuch indecencies as are a leflening to his reputation, and is itself looked upon as a weakness in the greatest characters.
in the next place, fame is easily lost, and as difficult to be preserved as it was at first to be acquired. But this I shall make the subject of a following paper. С
N° 256 Monday, December 24.
Φήμη γάρ τε κακή πέλεται" κέφη μέν αείρας “Ρεία μάλ', αργαλέη δε φέρειν.
Hel. Desire of fame by various 'ways is croft,
Hard to be gain'd, and easy to be loft. THERE are many passions and tempers of mind
which naturally dispose us to depress and vilify the merit of one rising in the esteem of mankind. All those who made their entrance into the world with the same advantages, and were once looked on as his equals, are apt to think the fame of his merits a reflexion on their own indeserts; and will therefore take care to reproach him with the scandal of some past action, or derogate from the worth of the present, that they may still keep him on the same level with themselves. The like kind of confideration often stirs up the envy of such as were once his superiors, who think it a de6
traction from their merit to see another get ground upon them and overtake them in the pursuits of glory; and will therefore endeavour to sink his reputation, that they may the better preserve their own. Those who were once his equals envy and defame him, because they now see him their superior; and those who were once his superiors, because they look upon him as their equal.
But farther, a man whose extraordinary reputation thus lifts him up to the notice and observation of mankind, draws a multitude of eyes upon him that will narrowly inspect every part of him, consider him nicely in all views, and not be a little pleased when they have taken him in the worst and most disadvantageous light. There are many who find a pleasure in contradicting the common reports of fame, and in spreading abroad the weaknesses of an exalted character. They publish their ill-natured discoveries with a secret pride, and applaud themselves for the fingularity of their judgment which has searched deeper than others, detected what the rest of the world have overlooked, and found a flaw in what the generality of mankind admires. Others there are, who proclaim the errors and infirmities of a great man with an inward satisfaction and complacency, if they discover none of the like errors and infirmities in themselves; for while they are exposing another's weaknesses, they are tacitly aiming at their own commendations, who are not subject to the like infirmities, and are apt to be transported with a secret kind of vanity to see themselves fuperior in some respects to one of a sublime and celebrated reputation. Nay, it
very often happens, that none are more industrious in publishing the blemishes of an extraordinary reputation, than such as lie open to the same censures in their own characters, as either hoping to excuse their own defects by the authority of fo high an example, or raising an imaginary applause to themselves for resembling a person of an exalted reputation, though in the blameable parts of his character. If all these secret springs of detraction fail, yet very often a vain oftentation of wit fets a man on attacking an established name, and facrificing it to the mirth and laughter of those about him. A satire or a libel on
one of the 5
common itamp, never meets with that reception and approbation among its readers as what is aimed at a person whose merit places him upon an eminence, and gives him a more conspicuous figure among men. Whether it be that we think it shews greater art to expose and turn to ridicule a man whose character seems so improper a subject for it, or that we are pleased by some implicit kind of revenge to see him taken down and humbled in his reputation, and in some measure reduced to our own rank, who had so far raised himself above us in the reports and opinions of mankind.
Thus we see how many dark and intricate motives there are to detraction and defamation, and how many malicious spies are searching into the actions of a great man, who is not, always, the best prepared for so narrow an inspection. For we may generally observe, that our admiration of a famous man lessens upon our nearer acquaintance with him: and that we feldom hear the defcription of a celebrated person, without a catalogue of fonie notorious weaknesses and infirmities. The reason may be, because any little slip is more conspicuous and observable in his conduct than in another's, as it is not of a piece with the rest of his character, or because it is impoflible for a man at the same time to be attentive to the more important part of his life, and to keep a watchful eye over all the inconsiderable circumstances of his behaviour and conversation ; or because, as we have before observed, the fame temper of mind which inclines us to a desire of fame, naturally betrays us into such slips and unwarinesses as are not incident to men of a contrary disposition.
After all it must be confessed, that a noble and triumphant merit often breaks through and diffipates these little spots and fullies in its reputation' ; but if by a mistaken pursuit after fame, or through human infirmity, any false step be made in the more momentous concerns of life, the whole scheme of ambitious designs is broken and disappointed. The smaller flains and blemishes may die away and disappear amidit the brightness that surrounds them; but a blot of a deeper nature casts a shade on all the other beauties, and darkens the whole character, How difficult therefore is it VOL. IV.
to preserve a great name, when he that has acquired it is so obnoxious to such little weaknesses and infirmities as are no small diminution to it when discovered, especially when they are so industriously proclaimed, and aggravated by such as were once his fuperiors or equals; by such as would set to fhew their judgment or their wit, and by such as are guilty or innocent of the fame Tips or misconducts in their own behaviour ?
But were there none of these dispositions in others ito censure a famous man; nor any such miscarriages in himself, yet would he meet with no small trouble in keeping op his reputation in all its height and splendor. There muit be always a noble train of actions to preserve his fame in life and motion. For when it is once at a stand, it naturally Haga and languishes. Admiration is a very lort-lived passion, that immediately decays upon growing familiar with its obje&t, unless it be til fed with fresh discoveries, and kept alive by a new perpetual succession of miracles rising up to its view. And even the greatest actions of a celebrated person labour under this disadvantage, that however surprising and extraordinary they may be, they are no more than what are expected from him; but on the contrary, if they fall any thing below the opinion that is conceived of him, though they might raise the reputation of another, they are a diminution to his.
One would think there Mould be something wonderfully pleasing in the possession of fame, that, rotwithítanding all these mortifying considerations, can engage a man in so desperate a pursuit ; and yet if we consider the little happiness that attends a great character, and the multitude of disquietudes to which the desire of it fübjects an ambitious mind, one would be fill the more surprised to see so many restless candidates for glory.
Ambition raises a secret tumult in the soul, it infames the mind, and puts it into a violent hurry of thought: it is itill reaching after an empty imaginary good, that has not in it the power to abate or satisfy it. Most other things we long for can allay the cravings of their proper sense, and for a while set the appetite at seft: but fame is a good fo wholly foreign to our na4