No. 224. Friday, November 16, 1711. Hughes.

--Fulgente trahit constrictos Gloria curru Non minus ignotos generosis
Hor. Sat. 6.

If we look abroad upon the great Multitudes of Mankind, and endeavour to trace out the Principles of Action in every Individual, it will, I think, seem highly probable that Ambition runs through the whole Species, and that every Man in Proportion to the Vigour of his Complection is more or less actuated by it. It is indeed no uncommon thing to meet with Men, who by the natural Bent of their Inclinations, and without the Discipline of Philosophy, aspire not to the Heights of Power and Grandeur; who never set their Hearts upon a numerous Train of Clients and Dependancies, nor other gay Appendages of Greatness; who are contented with a Competency, and will not molest their Tranquillity to gain an Abundance: But it is not therefore to be concluded that such a Man is not Ambitious; his Desires may have cut out another Channel, and determined him to other Pursuits; the Motive however may be still the same; and in these Cases likewise the Man may be equally pushed on with the Desire of Distinction.

Though the pure Consciousness of worthy Actions, abstracted from the Views of popular Applause, be to a generous Mind an ample Reward, yet the Desire of Distinction was doubtless implanted in our Natures as an additional Incentive to exert our selves in virtuous Excellence.

This Passion indeed, like all others, is frequently perverted to evil and ignoble Purposes; so that we may account for many of the Excellencies and Follies of Life upon the same innate Principle, to wit, the Desire of being remarkable: For this, as it has been differently cultivated by Education, Study and Converse, will bring forth suitable Effects as it falls in with an [ingenuous] [1] Disposition, or a corrupt Mind; it does accordingly express itself in Acts of Magnanimity or selfish Cunning, as it meets with a good or a weak Understanding. As it has been employed in embellishing the Mind, or adorning the Outside, it renders the Man eminently Praise-worthy or ridiculous. Ambition therefore is not to be confined only to one Passion or Pursuit; for as the same Humours, in Constitutions otherwise different, affect the Body after different Manners, so the same aspiring Principle within us sometimes breaks forth upon one Object, sometimes upon another.

It cannot be doubted, but that there is as great Desire of Glory in a Ring of Wrestlers or Cudgel-Players, as in any other more refined Competition for Superiority. No Man that could avoid it, would ever suffer his Head to be broken but out of a Principle of Honour. This is the secret Spring that pushes them forward; and the Superiority which they gain above the undistinguish'd many, does more than repair those Wounds they have received in the Combat. Tis Mr. Waller's Opinion, that Julius Cæsar, had he not been Master of the Roman Empire, would in all Probability have made an excellent Wrestler.

Great Julius on the Mountains bred, A Flock perhaps or Herd had led; He that the World subdued, had been But the best Wrestler on the Green. [2]

That he subdued the World, was owing to the Accidents of Art and Knowledge; had he not met with those Advantages, the same Sparks of Emulation would have kindled within him, and prompted him to distinguish himself in some Enterprize of a lower Nature. Since therefore no Man's Lot is so unalterably fixed in this Life, but that a thousand Accidents may either forward or disappoint his Advancement, it is, methinks, a pleasant and inoffensive Speculation, to consider a great Man as divested of all the adventitious Circumstances of Fortune, and to bring him down in ones Imagination to that low Station of Life, the Nature of which bears some distant Resemblance to that high one he is at present possessed of. Thus one may view him exercising in Miniature those Talents of Nature, which being drawn out by Education to their full Length, enable him for the Discharge of some important Employment. On the other Hand, one may raise uneducated Merit to such a Pitch of Greatness as may seem equal to the possible Extent of his improved Capacity.

Thus Nature furnishes a Man with a general Appetite of Glory, Education determines it to this or that particular Object. The Desire of Distinction is not, I think, in any Instance more observable than in the Variety of Outsides and new Appearances, which the modish Part of the World are obliged to provide, in order to make themselves remarkable; for any thing glaring and particular, either in Behaviour or Apparel, is known to have this good Effect, that it catches the Eye, and will not suffer you to pass over the Person so adorned without due Notice and Observation. It has likewise, upon this Account, been frequently resented as a very great Slight, to leave any Gentleman out of a Lampoon or Satyr, who has as much Right to be there as his Neighbour, because it supposes the Person not eminent enough to be taken notice of. To this passionate Fondness for Distinction are owing various frolicksome and irregular Practices, as sallying out into Nocturnal Exploits, breaking of Windows, singing of Catches, beating the Watch, getting Drunk twice a Day, killing a great Number of Horses; with many other Enterprizes of the like fiery Nature: For certainly many a Man is more Rakish and Extravagant than he would willingly be, were there not others to look on and give their Approbation.

One very Common, and at the same time the most absurd Ambition that ever shewed it self in Humane Nature, is that which comes upon a Man with Experience and old Age, the Season when it might be expected he should be wisest; and therefore it cannot receive any of those lessening Circumstances which do, in some measure, excuse the disorderly Ferments of youthful Blood: I mean the Passion for getting Money, exclusive of the Character of the Provident Father, the Affectionate Husband, or the Generous Friend. It may be remarked, for the Comfort of honest Poverty, that this Desire reigns most in those who have but few good Qualities to recommend them. This is a Weed that will grow in a barren Soil. Humanity, Good Nature, and the Advantages of a Liberal Education, are incompatible with Avarice. Tis strange to see how suddenly this abject Passion kills all the noble Sentiments and generous Ambitions that adorn Humane Nature; it renders the Man who is over-run with it a peevish and cruel Master, a severe Parent, an unsociable Husband, a distant and mistrustful Friend. But it is more to the present Purpose to consider it as an absurd Passion of the Heart, rather than as a vicious Affection of the Mind. As there are frequent Instances to be met with of a proud Humility, so this Passion, contrary to most others, affects Applause, by avoiding all Show and Appearance; for this Reason it will not sometimes endure even the common Decencies of Apparel. A covetous Man will call himself poor, that you may sooth his Vanity by contradicting him. Love and the Desire of Glory, as they are the most natural, so they are capable of being refined into the most delicate and rational Passions. Tis true, the wise Man who strikes out of the secret Paths of a private Life, for Honour and Dignity, allured by the Splendour of a Court, and the unfelt Weight of publick Employment, whether he succeeds in his Attempts or no, usually comes near enough to this painted Greatness to discern the Dawbing; he is then desirous of extricating himself out of the Hurry of Life, that he may pass away the Remainder of his Days in Tranquillity and Retirement.

It may be thought then but common Prudence in a Man not to change a better State for a worse, nor ever to quit that which he knows he shall take up again with Pleasure; and yet if human Life be not a little moved with the gentle Gales of Hopes and Fears, there may be some Danger of its stagnating in an unmanly Indolence and Security. It is a known Story of Domitian, that after he had possessed himself of the Roman Empire, his Desires turn'd upon catching Flies. Active and Masculine Spirits in the Vigour of Youth neither can nor ought to remain at Rest: If they debar themselves from aiming at a noble Object, their Desires will move downwards, and they will feel themselves actuated by some low and abject Passion.

Thus if you cut off the top Branches of a Tree, and will not suffer it to grow any higher, it will not therefore cease to grow, but will quickly shoot out at the Bottom. The Man indeed who goes into the World only with the narrow Views of Self-interest, who catches at the Applause of an idle Multitude, as he can find no solid Contentment at the End of his Journey, so he deserves to meet with Disappointments in his Way; but he who is actuated by a noble Principle, whose Mind is so far enlarged as to take in the Prospect of his Country's Good, who is enamoured with that Praise which is one of the fair Attendants of Virtue, and values not those Acclamations which are not seconded by the impartial Testimony of his own Mind; who repines not at the low Station which Providence has at present allotted him, but yet would willingly advance himself by justifiable Means to a more rising and advantageous Ground; such a Man is warmed with a generous Emulation; it is a virtuous Movement in him to wish and to endeavour that his Power of doing Good may be equal to his Will.

The Man who is fitted out by Nature, and sent into the World with great Abilities, is capable of doing great Good or Mischief in it. It ought therefore to be the Care of Education to infuse into the untainted Youth early Notices of Justice and Honour, that so the possible Advantages of good Parts may not take an evil Turn, nor be perverted to base and unworthy Purposes. It is the Business of Religion and Philosophy not so much to extinguish our Passions, as to regulate and direct them to valuable well-chosen Objects: When these have pointed out to us which Course we may lawfully steer, tis no Harm to set out all our Sail; if the Storms and Tempests of Adversity should rise upon us, and not suffer us to make the Haven where we would be, it will however prove no small Consolation to us in these Circumstances, that we have neither mistaken our Course, nor fallen into Calamities of our own procuring.

Religion therefore (were we to consider it no farther than as it interposes in the Affairs of this Life) is highly valuable, and worthy of great Veneration; as it settles the various Pretensions, and otherwise interfering Interests of mortal Men, and thereby consults the Harmony and Order of the great Community; as it gives a Man room to play his Part, and exert his Abilities; as it animates to Actions truly laudable in themselves, in their Effects beneficial to Society; as it inspires rational Ambitions, correct Love, and elegant Desires.


[Footnote 1: ingenious]

[Footnote 2: In the Poem To Zelinda.]

Translation of motto:
HOR. 1 Sat. vi. 23.
'Chain'd to her shining car, Fame draws along
With equal whirl the great and vulgar throng.'