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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 same temper of mind which inclines us to a desire of fame, naturally betrays us into such slips and unwariness, as are not incident to men of a contrary disposition.
After all it must be confessed, that noble and triumphant merit often breaks through and dissipates these little spots and sullies în 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 stains and blemishes may die away and disappear, amidst 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 it is 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 superiors, or equals; by such as would set to shew their judgment, or their wit, and by such as are guilty, or innocent, of the same slips or misconducts in their own behaviour!
But were there none of these dispositions in others to censure a famous man, nor any such miscarriages in himself, yet would he meet with no small trouble in keeping up his reputation, in all its height and splendor. There must 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 flags and languishes. Admiration is a very short-lived passion, that immediately decays upon growing familiar with its object, unless it be still 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 extraor dinary 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 repu tation of another, they are a diminution to his.
One would think there should be something wonderfully pleasing in the possession of fame, that, notwithstanding all these mortifying consi derations, 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 subjects an ambitious mind, one would be still the more surprised to see so many restless candidates for glory.
Ambition raises a secret tumult in the soul, it inflames the mind, and puts it into a violent hurry of thought. It is still 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 rest: but fame is a good so wholly foreign to our natures, that we have no faculty in the soul adapted to it, nor any organ in the body to relish it: an object of desire, placed out of the possibility of fruition. It may indeed fill the mind for a while with a giddy kind of pleasure, but it is such a pleasure as makes a man restless and uneasy under it; and
which does not so much satisfy the present thirst, as it excites fresh desires, and sets the soul on new enterprises. For how few ambitious men are there, who have got as much fame as they desired, and whose thirst after it has not been as eager in the very height of their reputation, as it was before they became known and eminent among men? There is not any circumstance in Cæsar's character which gives me a greater idea of him, than a saying which Cicero tells us he frequently made use of in private conversation,' That he was satisfied with his share of life and fame.' Se satis vel ad naturam, vel ad gloriam vixisse. Many indeed have given over their pursuits after fame, but that has proceeded either from the disappointments they have met in it, or from their experience of the little pleasure which attends it, or from the better informations or natural coldness of old age; but seldom from a full satisfaction and acquiescence in their present enjoyments of it.
Nor is fame only unsatisfying in itself, but the desire of it lays us open to many accidental troubles which those are free from, who have no such a tender regard for it. How often is the ambitious man cast down and disappointed, if he receives no praise where he expected it? Nay, how often is he mortified with the very praises he receives, if they do not rise so high as he thinks they ought; which they seldom do, unless increased by flattery, since few men have so good an opinion of us as we have of ourselves? But if the ambitious man can be so much grieved even with praise itself, how will he be able to bear up under scandal and defamation? for the same temper of mind which makes him desire fame, makes him hate reproach. If he can be transported
with the extraordinary praises of men, he will be as much dejected by their censures. How little therefore is the happiness of an ambitious man, who gives every one a dominion over it, who thus subjects himself to the good or ill speeches of others, and puts it in the power of every malicious tongue to throw him into a fit of melancholy, and destroy his natural rest and repose of mind; especially when we consider that the world is more apt to censure than applaud, and himself fuller of imperfections than virtues.
We may further observe, that such a man will be more grieved for the loss of fame, than he could have been pleased with the enjoyment of it. For though the presence of this imaginary good cannot make us happy, the absence of it may make us miserable: because in the enjoyment of an object we only find that share of pleasure which it is capable of giving us, but in the loss of it we do not proportion our grief to the real value it bears, but to the value our fancies and imaginations set upon it.
So inconsiderable is the satisfaction that fame brings along with it, and so great the disquietudes to which it makes us liable. The desire of it stirs up very uneasy motions in the mind, and is rather inflamed than satisfied by the presence of the thing desired. The enjoyment of it brings but very little pleasure, though the loss or want of it be very sensible and afflicting; and even this little happiness is so very precarious, that it wholly depends upon the will of others. We are not only tortured by the reproaches which are offered us, but are disappointed by the silence of men when it is unexpected; and humbled even by their praises. C.
No. 257. TUESDAY, DECEMBER 25, 1711.
Οὐχ ̓ εὐδει Διὸς
Incert. ex STOB.
No slumber seals the eye of Providence,
THAT I might not lose myself upon a subject of so great extent as that of fame, I have treated it in a particular order and method. I have first of all considered the reasons why Providence may have implanted in our mind such a principle of action. I have in the next place shewn from many considerations, first, that fame is a thing difficult to be obtained, and easily lost; secondly, that it brings the ambitious man very little happiness, but subjects him to much uneasiness and dissatisfaction. I shall in the last place shew, that it hinders us from obtaining an end which we have abilities to acquire, and which is accompanied with fulness of satisfaction. I need not tell my reader, that I mean by this end, that happiness which is reserved for us in another world, which every one has abilities to procure, and which will bring along with it, 'fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore.'
How the pursuit after fame may hinder us in the attainment of this great end, I shall leave the reader to collect from the three following considerations:
First, Because the strong desire of fame breeds several vicious habits in the mind.
Secondly, Because many of those actions, which are apt to procure fame, are not in their nature conducive to this our ultimate happiness.