( Originally Published 1879 )
ENVY'S memory is nothing but a row of hooks to hang up grudges on. Some people's sensibility is a mere bundle of aversions, and you hear them display and parade it, not in recounting the things they are attached to, but in telling you how many things and persons "they cannot bear."
Envy is not merely a perverseness of temper, but it is such a distemper of the mind as disorders all the faculties of it. It began with Satan; for when he fell he could see nothing to please him in Paradise, and envied our first parents when in innocence, and therefore tempted them to sin, which ruined them, and all the human race. Mr. Locke tells us that upon asking a blind man what he thought scarlet was, he answered he believed it was like the sound of a trumpet. He was forced to form his conceptions of ideas which he had not, by those which he had. In the same manner, though an envious man cannot but see perfections, yet, having contracted the distemper of acquired blindness, he will not own them, but is always degrading or misrepresenting things which are excellent. Thus, point out a pious person, and ask the envious man what he thinks of him, he will say he is a hypocrite, or deceitful; praise a man of learning or of great abilities, and he will say he is a pedant, or proud of his attainments; mention a beautiful woman, and he will either slander her chastity or charge her with affectation; show him a fine poem or painting, and he will call the one "stiff," and the other a "daubing." In this way he depreciates or deforms every pleasing object. With respect to other vices, it is frequently seen that many confess and forsake them; but this is not often the case with respect to this vice, for as the person afflicted with this evil knows very well to own that we envy a man is to allow him to be a superior, his pride will not therefore permit him to make any concession, if accused of indulging this base principle, but he becomes more violent against the person envied, and generally remains incurable.
Like Milton's fiend in Paradise, he sees, undelighted, all delight. The brightness of prosperity that surrounds others, pains the eyes of the envious man more than the meridian rays of the sun. It starts the involuntary tear, and casts a gloom over his mind. It brings into action jealousy, revenge, falsehood, and the basest passions of the fallen nature of man. It goads him onward with a fearful impetus, like a locomotive ; and often runs his car off the track, dashes it in pieces, and he is left, bruised and bleeding. Like the cuttlefish, he emits his black venom for the purpose of darkening the clear waters that surround his prosperous neighbors; and, like that phenomenon of the sea, the inky sub-stance is confined to a narrow circumference, and only tends to hide himself. The success of those around him throws him into convulsions, and, like a man with the delirium tremens, he imagines all who approach him demons, seeking to devour him. Like Haman, he often erects his own gallows in his zeal to hang others. His mind is like the troubled sea, casting up the mire of revenge. "Dionysius, the tyrant," says Plutarch, "out of envy, punished Philoxenius, the musician, because he could sing ; and Plato, the philosopher, because he could dispute better than himself."
Envy is a sentiment that desires to equal, or, excel the efforts of compeers; not so much by increasing our own toil and ingenuity, as by diminishing the merit due to the efforts of others. It seeks to elevate itself by the degradation of others; it detests the sounds of anther's praise, and deems no renown acceptable that must be shared. Hence, when disappointments occur, they fall, with unrelieved violence, and the sense of discomfited rivalry gives poignancy to the blow.
How is envy exemplified ? A worm defiling the healthful blossom—a, mildew, blasting the promised harvest. How true, yet how forbidding an image of the progress of envy ! And would any rational creature be willingly the worm that defiles the pure blossoms of virtue, the mildew that blasts the promised harvest of human talent, or of human happiness ?
And what produces envy ? The excellence of another. Humiliating deduction! Envy is, then, only the expression of inferiority — the avowal of deficiency — the homage paid to excellence. Let pride, for once, be virtue, and urge the extinction of this baneful passion, since its indulgence can only produce shame and regret. Envy is, unquestionably, a high compliment, but a most ungracious one. An envious man repines as much at the manner in which his neighbors live as if he maintained them. Some people as much envy others a good name, as they want it themselves, and that is the reason of it. Envy is fixed on merit; and, like a sore eye, is offended with anything that is bright. Envy increases in exact proportion with fame; the man that makes a character makes enemies. A radiant genius calls forth swarms of peevish, biting, stinging insects, just as the sunshine awakens the world of flies. Virtue is not secure against envy. Evil men will lessen what they won't imitate. If a man is good, he is envied; if evil, himself is envious. Envious people are doubly miserable, in being afflicted with others' prosperity and their own adversity. t
Envy is a weed that grows in all soils and climates, and is no less luxuriant in the country. than in the court; is not confined to any rank of men or extent of fortune, but rages in the breasts of all degrees. Alexander was not prouder than Diogenes; and it may be, if we would endeavor to suprise it in its most gaudy dress and attire, and in the exercise of its full empire and tyranny, we should find it in schoolmasters and scholars, or in some country lady, or the knight her husband; all which ranks of people more despise their neighbors than all the degrees of honor in which courts abound. and it rages as much in a sordid affected dress as in all the silks and embroideries which the excess of the age and the folly of youth delight to be adorned with. Since, then, it keeps all sorts of company, and wriggles itself into the liking of the most contrary natures and dispositions, and yet carries so much poison and venom with it, that it alienates the affections from heaven, and raises rebellion against God himself, it is worth our utmost care co watch it in all its disguises and approaches, that we may discover it in its first entrance and dislodge it before it procures a shelter or retiring place to lodge and conceal itself.
Envy, like a cold poison, benumbs and stupefies; and thus, as if conscious of its own impotence, it folds its arms in despair and sits cursing in a corner. When it conquers it is commonly in' the dark, by treachery and undermining, by calumny and detraction. Envy is no less foolish than detestable; it is a vice which, they say, keeps no holiday, but is always in the wheel, and working upon its own disquiet. Envy, jealousy, scorpions and rattlesnakes can be made to sting themselves to death. He whose first emotion on the view of an excellent production is to undervalue it, will never have one of his own to show.
Reader, if envy is ranking in your bosom, declare war against it at once; a war of extermination; no truce, no treaty, no compromise. Like the pirate on the high seas, it is an outlaw, an enemy to all mankind, and should be hung up at the yard arm until it is dead, DEAD, DEAD.