No. 458. Friday, August 15, 1712. Addison.

[Greek: 'Lidôs ouk agáthae--Hes.]
--Pudor malus--

I could not Smile at the Account that was Yesterday given me of a modest young Gentleman, who being invited to an Entertainment, though he was not used to drink, had not the Confidence to refuse his Glass in his Turn, when on a sudden he grew so flustered that he took all the Talk of the Table into his own Hands, abused every one of the Company, and flung a Bottle at the Gentleman's Head who treated him. This has given me Occasion to reflect upon the ill Effects of a vicious Modesty, and to remember the Saying of Brutus, as it is quoted by Plutarch, that the Person has had but an ill Education, who has not been taught to deny any thing. This false kind of Modesty has, perhaps, betrayed both Sexes into as many Vices as the most abandoned Impudence, and is the more inexcusable to Reason, because it acts to gratify others rather than it self, and is punished with a kind of Remorse, not only like other vicious Habits when the Crime is over, but even at the very time that it is committed.

Nothing is more amiable than true Modesty, and nothing is more contemptible than the false. The one guards Virtue, the other betrays it. True Modesty is ashamed to do any thing that is repugnant to the Rules of right Reason: False Modesty is ashamed to do any thing that is opposite to the Humour of the Company. True Modesty avoids every thing that is criminal, false Modesty every thing that is unfashionable. The latter is only a general undetermined Instinct; the former is that Instinct, limited and circumscribed by the Rules of Prudence and Religion.

We may conclude that Modesty to be false and vicious, which engages a Man to do any thing that is ill or indiscreet, or which restrains him from doing any thing that is of a contrary Nature. How many Men, in the common Concerns of Life, lend Sums of Money which they are not able to spare, are bound for Persons whom they have but little Friendship for, give Recommendatory Characters of Men whom they are not acquainted with, bestow Places on those whom they do not esteem, live in such a Manner as they themselves do not approve, and all this meerly because they have not the Confidence to resist Solicitation, Importunity or Example?

Nor does this false Modesty expose us only to such Actions as are indiscreet, but very often to such as are highly criminal. When Xenophanes [1] was called timorous, because he would not venture his Money in a Game at Dice: I confess, said he, that I am exceeding timorous, for I dare not do any ill thing. On the contrary, a Man of vicious Modesty complies with every thing, and is only fearful of doing what may look singular in the Company where he is engaged. He falls in with the Torrent, and lets himself go to every Action or Discourse, however unjustifiable in it self, so it be in Vogue among the present Party. This, tho' one of the most common, is one of the most ridiculous Dispositions in Human Nature, that Men should not be ashamed of speaking or acting in a dissolute or irrational Manner, but that one who is in their Company should be ashamed of governing himself by the Principles of Reason and Virtue.

This little Appearance of a Religious Deportment in our Nation, may proceed in some measure from that Modesty which is natural to us, but the great occasion of it is certainly this. Those Swarms of Sectaries that overran the Nation in the time of the great Rebellion, carried their Hypocrisie so high, that they had converted our whole Language into a Jargon of Enthusiasm; insomuch that upon the Restoration Men thought they could not recede too far from the Behaviour and Practice of those Persons, who had made Religion a Cloak to so many Villanies. This led them into the other Extream, every Appearance of Devotion was looked upon as Puritannical, and falling into the Hands of the Ridiculers who flourished in that Reign, and attacked every thing that was Serious, it has ever since been out of Countenance among us. By this means we are gradually fallen into that Vicious Modesty which has in some measure worn out from among us the Appearance of Christianity in Ordinary Life and Conversation, and which distinguishes us from all [our Neighbours. [2]]

Hypocrisie cannot indeed be too much detested, but at the same time is to be preferred to open Impiety. They are both equally destructive to the Person who is possessed with them; but in regard to others, Hypocrisie is not so pernicious as bare-faced Irreligion. The due Mean to be observed is to be sincerely Virtuous, and at the same time to let the World see we are so. I do not know a more dreadful Menace in the Holy Writings, than that which is pronounced against those who have this perverted Modesty, to be ashamed before Men in a Particular of such unspeakable Importance.

C. [3]

[Footnote 1: Xenophon]

[Footnote 2: the Nations that lie about us.]

[Footnote 3: No letter affixed in the first issue.]

Translation of motto:
'False modesty.'