Among all the Diseases of the Mind, there is not one more epidemical or more pernicious than the Love of Flattery. For as where the Juices of the Body are prepared to receive a malignant Influence, there the Disease rages with most Violence; so in this Distemper of the Mind, where there is ever a Propensity and Inclination to suck in the Poison, it cannot be but that the whole Order of reasonable Action must be overturn'd, for, like Musick, it
--So softens and disarms the Mind, That not one Arrow can Resistance find.
First we flatter ourselves, and then the Flattery of others is sure of Success. It awakens our Self-Love within, a Party which is ever ready to revolt from our better Judgment, and join the Enemy without. Hence it is, that the Profusion of Favours we so often see poured upon the Parasite, are represented to us, by our Self-Love, as Justice done to Man, who so agreeably reconciles us to our selves. When we are overcome by such soft Insinuations and ensnaring Compliances, we gladly recompense the Artifices that are made use of to blind our Reason, and which triumph over the Weaknesses of our Temper and Inclinations.
But were every Man perswaded from how mean and low a Principle this Passion is derived, there can be no doubt but the Person who should attempt to gratify it, would then be as contemptible as he is now successful. Tis the Desire of some Quality we are not possessed of, or Inclination to be something we are not, which are the Causes of our giving ourselves up to that Man, who bestows upon us the Characters and Qualities of others; which perhaps suit us as ill and were as little design'd for our wearing, as their Cloaths. Instead of going out of our own complectional Nature into that of others, twere a better and more laudable Industry to improve our own, and instead of a miserable Copy become a good Original; for there is no Temper, no Disposition so rude and untractable, but may in its own peculiar Cast and Turn be brought to some agreeable Use in Conversation, or in the Affairs of Life. A Person of a rougher Deportment, and less tied up to the usual Ceremonies of Behaviour, will, like Manly in the Play, please by the Grace which Nature gives to every Action wherein she is complied with; the Brisk and Lively will not want their Admirers, and even a more reserved and melancholy Temper may at some times be agreeable.
When there is not Vanity enough awake in a Man to undo him, the Flatterer stirs up that dormant Weakness, and inspires him with Merit enough to be a Coxcomb. But if Flattery be the most sordid Act that can be complied with, the Art of Praising justly is as commendable: For tis laudable to praise well; as Poets at one and the same time give Immortality, and receive it themselves for a Reward: Both are pleased, the one whilst he receives the Recompence of Merit, the other whilst he shews he knows now to discern it; but above all, that Man is happy in this Art, who, like a skilful Painter, retains the Features and Complection, but still softens the Picture into the most agreeable Likeness.
There can hardly, I believe, be imagin'd a more desirable Pleasure, than that of Praise unmix'd with any Possibility of Flattery. Such was that which Germanicus enjoyed, when, the Night before a Battle, desirous of some sincere Mark of the Esteem of his Legions for him, he is described by Tacitus listening in a Disguise to the Discourse of a Soldier, and wrapt up in the Fruition of his Glory, whilst with an undesigned Sincerity they praised his noble and majestick Mien, his Affability, his Valour, Conduct, and Success in War. How must a Man have his Heart full-blown with Joy in such an Article of Glory as this? What a Spur and Encouragement still to proceed in those Steps which had already brought him to so pure a Taste of the greatest of mortal Enjoyments?
It sometimes happens, that even Enemies and envious Persons bestow the sincerest Marks of Esteem when they least design it. Such afford a greater Pleasure, as extorted by Merit, and freed from all Suspicion of Favour or Flattery. Thus it is with Malvolio; he has Wit, Learning, and Discernment, but temper'd with an Allay of Envy, Self-Love and Detraction: Malvolio turns pale at the Mirth and good Humour of the Company, if it center not in his Person; he grows jealous and displeased when he ceases to be the only Person admired, and looks upon the Commendations paid to another as a Detraction from his Merit, and an Attempt to lessen the Superiority he affects; but by this very Method, he bestows such Praise as can never be suspected of Flattery. His Uneasiness and Distastes are so many sure and certain Signs of anothers Title to that Glory he desires, and has the Mortification to find himself not possessed of.
A good Name is fitly compared to a precious Ointment, and when we are praised with Skill and Decency, tis indeed the most agreeable Perfume, but if too strongly admitted into a Brain of a less vigorous and happy Texture, twill, like too strong an Odour, overcome the Senses, and prove pernicious to those Nerves twas intended to refresh. A generous Mind is of all others the most sensible of Praise and Dispraise; and a noble Spirit is as much invigorated with its due Proportion of Honour and Applause, as tis depressed by Neglect and Contempt: But tis only Persons far above the common Level who are thus affected with either of these Extreams; as in a Thermometer, tis only the purest and most sublimated Spirit that is either contracted or dilated by the Benignity or Inclemency of the Season.
The Translations which you have lately given us from the Greek, in some of your last Papers, have been the Occasion of my looking into some of those Authors; among whom I chanced on a Collection of Letters which pass under the Name of Aristaenetus. Of all the Remains of Antiquity, I believe there can be Nothing produc'd of an Air so gallant and polite; each Letter contains a little Novel or Adventure, which is told with all the Beauties of Language and heightened with a Luxuriance of Wit. There are several of them translated, but with such wide Deviations from the Original, and in a Style so far differing from the Authors, that the Translator seems rather to have taken Hints for the expressing his own Sense and Thoughts, than to have endeavoured to render those of Aristænetus. In the following Translation, I have kept as near the Meaning of the Greek as I could, and have only added a few Words to make the Sentences in English fit together a little better than they would otherwise have done. The Story seems to be taken from that of Pygmalion and the Statue in Ovid: Some of the Thoughts are of the same Turn, and the whole is written in a kind of Poetical Prose.
Philopinax to Chromation.
"Never was Man more overcome with so fantastical a Passion as mine.
I have painted a beautiful Woman, and am despairing, dying for the
Picture. My own Skill has undone me; tis not the Dart of _Venus_,
but my own Pencil has thus wounded me. Ah me! with what Anxiety am I
necessitated to adore my own Idol? How miserable am I, whilst every
one must as much pity the Painter as he praises the Picture, and own
my Torment more than equal to my Art. But why do I thus complain?
Have there not been more unhappy and unnatural Passions than mine?
Yes, I have seen the Representations of _Phædra, Narcissus,_ and
_Pasiphæ_. _Phædra_ was unhappy in her Love; that of _Pasiphæ_ was
monstrous; and whilst the other caught at his beloved Likeness, he
destroyed the watery Image, which ever eluded his Embraces. The
Fountain represented _Narcissus_ to himself, and the Picture both
that and him, thirsting after his adored Image. But I am yet less
unhappy, I enjoy her Presence continually, and if I touch her, I
destroy not the beauteous Form, but she looks pleased, and a sweet
Smile sits in the charming Space which divides her Lips. One would
swear that Voice and Speech were issuing out, and that ones Ears
felt the melodious Sound. How often have I, deceived by a Lovers
Credulity, hearkned if she had not something to whisper me? and when
frustrated of my Hopes, how often have I taken my Revenge in Kisses
from her Cheeks and Eyes, and softly wooed her to my Embrace, whilst
she (as to me it seem'd) only withheld her Tongue the more to
inflame me. But, Madman that I am, shall I be thus taken with the
Representation only of a beauteous Face, and flowing Hair, and thus
waste myself and melt to Tears for a Shadow? Ah, sure tis something
more, tis a Reality! for see her Beauties shine out with new
Lustre, and she seems to upbraid me with such unkind Reproaches. Oh
may I have a living Mistress of this Form, that when I shall compare
the Work of Nature with that of Art, I may be still at a loss which
to choose, and be long perplex'd with the pleasing Uncertainty.
[Footnote 1: Wycherley's Plain Dealer.]
[Footnote 2: Eccles, vii. I.]
[Footnote 3: In a volume of translated Letters on Wit, Politicks, and Morality, edited by Abel Boyer, in 1701. The letters ascribed to Aristænetus of Nicer in Bithynis, who died A.D. 358, but which were written after the fifth century, were afterwards translated as Letters of Love and Gallantry, written in Greek by Aristænetus. This volume, 12mo (1715), was dedicated to Eustace Budgell, who is named in the Preface as the author of the Spectator papers signed X.]Translation of motto: