( Originally Published 1879 )
Though fame is smoke,
FAME, like money, should neither be despised or idolized. An honest fame, based on worth and merit, and gained, like large estates, by prudence and industry, deservedly perpetuates the names of the great and good.
No glory or fame is both consolatory and enduring, unless based on virtue, wisdom, and justice. That acquired by wild ambition, is tarnished by association—time deepens the stain. We read the biography of Washington with calmness and delight; that of Bonaparte, with mingled feelings of admiration and abhorrence. We admire the gigantic powers of his intellect, the vastness of his designs, the boldness of their execution; but turn, with horror, from the slaughter-fields of his ambition, and, his own dreadful end. His giddy height of power served to plunge him deeper in misery; his lofty ambition increased the burning tortures of his exile; his towering intellect added a duplicate force to the consuming pangs of his disappointment. His fatal end should cool the ardor of all who have an inordinate desire for earthly glory.
The praises and commendations of intimates and friends, are the greatest and most impassable obstacles to real superiority. Better were it, that they should whip us with cords and drive us to work, than that they should extol and exaggerate our childish scintillations and puerile achievements.
False fame is the rushlight which we, or our attend-ants, kindle in our apartments. We witness its feeble burning, and its gradual but certain decline. It glimmers for a little while, when, with flickering and palpitating radiance, it soon expires.
Egotism and vanity detract from fame as ostentation -diminishes the merit of an action. He that is vain enough to cry up himself, ought to be punished with the silence of others. We soil the splendor of our most beautiful actions by our vain-glorious magnifying them. There is no vice or folly that requires so much nicety and skill to manage as fame, nor any which, by ill management, makes so contemptible a figure. The desire of being thought famous is often a hindrance to being so; for such an one is more solicitous to let the world see what knowledge he hath than to learn that which he wants. Men are found to be vainer on account of those qualities which they fondly believe they have, than of those which they really have. Some would be thought to do great things, who are but tools or instruments; like the fool who fancied he played upon the organ, when he only drew the bellows.
Be not so greedy of popular applause, as to forget that the same breath which blows up a fire may blow it out again. True fame is the light of heaven. It cometh from afar, it shines powerfully and brightly, but not always without clouds and shadows, which interpose, but do not destroy; eclipse, but do not extinguish. Like the glorious sun, it will continue to diffuse its beams when we are no more; for other eyes will hail the light, when we are withdrawn from it.
Great and decided talent is a tower of strength which cannot be subverted. Envy, detraction, and persecution are missiles hurled against it only to fall harmless at its base, and to strengthen what they cannot overthrow. It seeks not the applause of the present moment, in which folly or mediocrity often secure the preference; but it extends its bright and prophetic vision through the "dark obscure" of distant time, and bequeaths to remote generations the vindication of its honor and fame, and the clear comprehension of its truths.
No virtues and learning are inherited, but rather ignorance and misdirected inclinations; and assiduous and persevering labor must correct these defects, and make a fruitful garden of that soil which is naturally encumbered with stones and thistles. ,All home-triumphs and initiatory efforts are nothing worth. That which is great, commanding, and lasting, must be won by stubborn energy, by patient industry, by unwearied application, and by indefatigable zeal. We must lie down and groan, and get up and toil. It is a long race, not a pleasant walk, and the prize is not a leaf or a bauble, but a chaplet or a crown. The spectators are not friends, but foes; and the contest is one in which thousands fall through weakness and want of real force and courage.
We may add virtue to virtue, strength to strength, and knowledge to knowledge, and yet fail, and soon be lost and forgotten in that mighty and soul-testing struggle, in which few come off conquerors and win an enduring and imperishable name. If we embark on this course, we shall need stout hearts conjoined with invincible minds. We must bid adieu to vice, to sloth, to flatteries and ease.