S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Besides, this very desire of fame is looked on as a meanness and imperfection in the greatest character. A solid and substantial greatness of soul looks down with a generous neglect on the censures and applauses of the multitude, and places a man beyond the little noise and strife of tongues. Accordingly, we find in ourselves a secret awe and veneration for the character of one who moves above 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 vainglory and a desire of fame in the actor. Nor is this common judgment and opinion of mankind ill founded; for certainly it denotes no great bravery of mind to be worked up to any noble action by so selfish a motive, and to do that 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 who made us.
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.
If the same actions be the instruments both of acquiring fame and procuring this happiness, they would nevertheless fail in the attainment of this last end if they proceeded from a desire of the first.
Many, indeed, have given over their pursuits after fame, either from disappointment, or from experience of the little pleasure which attends it, or the better informations or natural coldness of old age; but seldom from a full satisfaction and acquiescence in their present enjoyments of it.
Certainly fame is like a river that beareth up things light and swollen and drowns things weighty and solid; but if persons of quality and judgment concur, then it is (as the Scripture saith) Nomen bonum instar unguenti fragrantis; it filleth all round about, and will not easily away: for the odours of ointments are more durable than those of flowers.
The poets make fame a monster: they describe her in part finely and elegantly, and in part gravely and sententiously: they say, Look how many feathers she hath! so many eyes she hath underneath! so many tongues! so many voices! she pricks up so many ears!
This is a flourish: there follow excellent parables: as that she gathereth strength in going; that she goeth upon the ground, and yet hideth her head in the clouds; that in the daytime she sitteth in a watch-tower, and flieth most by night; that she mingleth things done with things not done; and that she is a terror to great cities.
The delight which men have in popularity, fame, submission, and subjection of other mens minds seemeth to be a thing (in itself without contemplation of consequence) agreeable and grateful to the nature of man.
Man is naturally a prospective creature, endowed not only with a capacity of comparing the present with the past, but also of anticipating the future, and dwelling with anxious rumination on scenes which are yet remote. He is capable of carrying his views, of attaching his anxieties, to a period much more distant than that which measures the limits of his present existence; capable, we distinctly perceive, of plunging into the depths of future duration, of identifying himself with the sentiments and opinions of a distant age, and of enjoying, by anticipation, the fame of which he is aware he shall never be conscious, and the praises he shall never hear. So strongly is he disposed to link his feelings with futurity, that shadows become realities when contemplated as subsisting there; and the phantom of posthumous celebrity, the faint image of his being impressed on future generations, is often preferred to the whole of his present existence, with all its warm and vivid realities.
Robert Hall: Funeral Sermon for the Princess Charlotte.
Of this ambiguous and disputable kind is the love of fame, a desire of filling the minds of others with admiration, and of being celebrated by generations to come with praises which we shall not hear. This ardour has been considered by some as nothing better than splendid madness, as a flame kindled by pride and fanned by folly; for what, say they, can be more remote from wisdom than to direct all our actions by the hope of that which is not to exist till we ourselves are in the grave? To pant after that which can never be possessed, and of which the value thus wildly put upon it arises from this particular condition, that during life it is not to be obtained? To gain the favour and hear the applauses of our contemporaries is indeed equally desirable with any other prerogative of superiority, because fame may be of use to smooth the paths of life, to terrify opposition, and fortify tranquillity; but to what end shall we be the darlings of mankind, when we can no longer receive any benefits from their favour? It is more reasonable to wish for reputation while it may yet be enjoyed, as Anacreon calls upon his companions to give him for present use the wine and garlands which they purpose to bestow upon his tomb.
The advocates for the love of fame allege in its vindication that it is a passion natural and universal; a flame lighted by Heaven, and always burning with greatest vigour in the most enlarged and elevated minds. That the desire of being praised by posterity implies a resolution to deserve their praises, and that the folly charged upon it is only a noble and disinterested generosity, which is not felt, and therefore not understood, by those who have been always accustomed to refer everything to themselves, and whose selfishness has contracted their understandings. That the soul of man, formed for eternal life, naturally springs forward beyond the limits of corporeal existence, and rejoices to consider herself as co-operating with future ages, and as co-extended with endless duration. That the reproach urged with so much petulance, the reproach of labouring for what cannot be enjoyed, is founded on an opinion which may with great probability be doubted; for since we suppose the powers of the soul to be enlarged by its separation, why should we conclude that its knowledge of sublunary transactions is contracted or extinguished?
How constantly has mortification accompanied triumph! with what secret sorrow has that praise been received from strangers denied to us by our friends! Nothing astonishes me more than the envy which attends literary fame, and the unkindly depreciation which waits upon the writer. Of every species of fame it is the most ideal and apart: it would seem to interfere with no one. It is bought by a life of labour; generally, also, of seclusion and privation. It asks its honours only from all that is most touching and most elevated in humanity. What is the reward that it craves?to lighten many a solitary hour, and to spiritualize a world that were else too material. What is the requital that the Athenians of the earth give to those who have struggled through the stormy water, and the dark night, for their applause?Both reproach and scorn. If the author haveand why should he be exempt from?the faults of his kind, with what greedy readiness are they seized upon and exaggerated! How ready is the sneer against his weakness or his error! What hours of feverish misery have been passed, what bitter tears have been shed, over the unjust censure and the personal sarcasm! The imaginative feel such wrong far beyond what those of less sensitive temperament can dream.
It is a very indiscreet and troublesome ambition which cares so much about fame; about what the world says of us; to be always looking in the faces of others for approval; to be always anxious about the effect of what we do or say; to be always shouting, to hear the echoes of our own voices.
Among the writers of all ages, some deserve fame, and have it; others neither have nor deserve it; some have it, not deserving; others, though deserving, yet totally miss it, or have it not equal to their deserts.