( Originally Published 1879 )
This propensity pervades the whole human family, to a less or greater degree, as the atmosphere does the globe. It is the froth and effervescence of pride. The latter is unyielding haughtiness, the former, as soft, pliant, and light, as the down of a goose. It is selfishness modified and puffed up, like a bladder with wind. It is all action, but has no useful strength. It feeds voraciously and abundantly on the richest food that can be served up; and can live on less and meaner diet, than anything of which we can have a conception. The rich, poor, learned, ignorant, beautiful, ugly, high, low, strong, and weak—all have a share of vanity. The humblest Christian is not free from it, and, when he is most humble, the devil will flatter his vanity by telling him of it.
Vanity is ever striving to hide itself, like the peacock its ugly feet, and will even deny its own name. "I speak without vanity"— HUSH — you deceitful puff. You make men and women, the only animals that can laugh, the very ones to be laughed at. Dr. Johnson once remarked, "When any one complains of the want of what he is known to possess in an eminent degree, he waits, with impatience, to be contradicted;" and thus vanity converts him into a fool and a liar, only to render him ridiculous. Vanity engenders affectation, mock modesty, and a train of such like et ceteras; all subtracting from the real dignity of man.
On the other hand, it feeds, with equal voracity on vulgarity, coarseness, and fulsome eccentricity; every thing by which the person can attract attention. It often takes liberality by the hand, prompts advice, administers reproof, and sometimes perches, visibly and gaily, on the prayers and sermons in the pulpit. It is an every where and ever present principle of human nature—a wen on the heart of man; less painful, but quite as loathsome as a cancer. It is, of all others, the most baseless propensity.
We have nothing of which we should be vain, but much to induce humility. If we have any good qualities they are the gift of God; in the best of men there are bad ones enough, if they can see themselves, to strangle vanity. Let every one guard against this all-pervading principle, and teach their children' that it is the shadow of a shade.