No. 484. Monday, September 15, 1712. Steele.

Neque cuiquam tam statim clarum ingenium est, ut possit emergere; nisi illi materia, occasio, fautor etiam, commendatorque contingat.'
Plin. Epist.


Of all the young Fellows who are in their Progress thro' any Profession, none seem to have so good a Title to the Protection of the Men of Eminence in it as the modest Man; not so much because his Modesty is a certain Indication of his Merit, as because 'tis a certain Obstacle to the producing of it. Now, as of all Professions this Virtue is thought to be more particularly unnecessary in that of the Law than in any other, I shall only apply my self to the Relief of such who follow this Profession with this Disadvantage. What aggravates the matter is, that those Persons who, the better to prepare themselves for this Study, have made some Progress in others, have, by addicting themselves to Letters, encreased their natural Modesty, and consequently heighten'd the Obstruction to this sort of Preferment; so that every one of these may emphatically be said to be such a one as laboureth and taketh pains, and is still the more behind. It may be a Matter worth discussing then, Why that which made a Youth so amiable to the Ancients, should make him appear so ridiculous to the Moderns? and, Why in our days there should be Neglect, and even Oppression of young Beginners, instead of that Protection which was the Pride of theirs? In the Profession spoken of, 'tis obvious to every one whose Attendance is required at Westminster-Hall, with what Difficulty a Youth of any Modesty has been permitted to make an Observation, that could in no wise detract from the Merit of his Elders, and is absolutely necessary for the advancing his own. I have often seen one of these not only molested in his Utterance of something very pertinent, but even plunder'd of his Question, and by a strong Serjeant shoulder'd out of his Rank, which he has recover'd with much Difficulty and Confusion. Now as great part of the Business of this Profession might be dispatched by one that perhaps

'--Abest virtute diserti
Messalæ, nec scit quantum Causellius Aulus--'

so I can't conceive the Injustice done to the Publick, if the Men of Reputation in this Calling would introduce such of the young ones into Business, whose Application to this Study will let them into the Secrets of it, as much as their Modesty will hinder them from the Practice: I say, it would be laying an everlasting Obligation upon a young Man, to be introduc'd at first only as a Mute, till by this Countenance, and a Resolution to support the good Opinion conceiv'd of him in his Betters, his Complexion shall be so well settled, that the Litigious of this Island may be secure of his obstreperous Aid. If I might be indulged to speak in the Style of a Lawyer, I would say, That any one about thirty years of Age, might make a common Motion to the Court with as much Elegance and Propriety as the most aged Advocates in the Hall.

I can't advance the Merit of Modesty by any Argument of my own so powerfully, as by enquiring into the Sentiments the greatest among the Ancients of different Ages entertain'd upon this Virtue. If we go back to the Days of Solomon, we shall find Favour a necessary Consequence to a shame-fac'd Man. Pliny, the greatest Lawyer and most Elegant Writer of the Age he lived in, in several of his Epistles is very sollicitous in recommending to the Publick some young Men of his own Profession, and very often undertakes to become an Advocate, upon condition that some one of these his Favourites might be joined with him, in order to produce the Merit of such, whose Modesty otherwise would have suppressed it. It may seem very marvellous to a saucy Modern, that Multum sanguinis, multum verecundiæ, multum sollicitudinis in ore; to have the Face first full of Blood, then the Countenance dashed with Modesty, and then the whole Aspect as of one dying with Fear, when a Man begins to speak; should be esteem'd by Pliny the necessary Qualifications of a fine Speaker [1]. Shakespear has also express'd himself in the same favourable Strain of Modesty, when he says,

'--In the Modesty of fearful Duty
I read as much as from the rattling Tongue
Of saucy and audacious Eloquence--' [2]

Now since these Authors have profess'd themselves for the Modest Man, even in the utmost Confusions of Speech and Countenance, why should an intrepid Utterance and a resolute Vociferation thunder so successfully in our Courts of Justice? And why should that Confidence of Speech and Behaviour, which seems to acknowledge no Superior, and to defy all Contradiction, prevail over that Deference and Resignation with which the Modest Man implores that favourable Opinion which the other seems to command?

As the Case at present stands, the best Consolation that I can administer to those who cannot get into that Stroke of Business (as the Phrase is) which they deserve, is to reckon every particular Acquisition of Knowledge in this Study as a real Increase of their Fortune; and fully to believe, that one day this imaginary Gain will certainly be made out by one more substantial. I wish you would talk to us a little on this Head, you would oblige,


Your most humble Servant.

The Author of this Letter is certainly a Man of good Sense; but I am perhaps particular in my Opinion on this Occasion; for I have observed, that under the Notion of Modesty, Men have indulged themselves in a Spiritless Sheepishness, and been for ever lost to themselves, their Families, their Friends, and their Country. When a Man has taken care to pretend to nothing but what he may justly aim at, and can execute as well as any other, without Injustice to any other; it is ever want of Breeding or Courage to be brow-beaten or elbow'd out of his honest Ambition. I have said often, Modesty must be an Act of the Will, and yet it always implies Self-Denial: For if a Man has an ardent Desire to do what is laudable for him to perform, and, from an unmanly Bashfulness, shrinks away, and lets his Merit languish in Silence, he ought not to be angry at the World that a more unskilful Actor succeeds in his Part, because he has not Confidence to come upon the Stage himself. The Generosity my Correspondent mentions of Pliny, cannot be enough applauded. To cherish the Dawn of Merit, and hasten its Maturity, was a Work worthy a noble Roman and a liberal Scholar. That Concern which is described in the Letter, is to all the World the greatest Charm imaginable: but then the modest Man must proceed, and shew a latent Resolution in himself; for the Admiration of his Modesty arises from the Manifestation of his Merit. I must confess we live in an Age wherein a few empty Blusterers carry away the Praise of Speaking, while a Crowd of Fellows over-stock'd with Knowledge are run down by them. I say Over-stock'd, because they certainly are so as to their Service of Mankind, if from their very Store they raise to themselves Ideas of Respect, and Greatness of the Occasion, and I know not what, to disable themselves from explaining their Thoughts. I must confess, when I have seen Charles Frankair rise up with a commanding Mien, and Torrent of handsome Words, talk a Mile off the Purpose, and drive down twenty bashful Boobies of ten times his Sense, who at the same time were envying his Impudence and despising his Understanding, it has been matter of great Mirth to me; but it soon ended in a secret Lamentation, that the Fountains of every thing praiseworthy in these Realms, the Universities, should be so muddied with a false Sense of this Virtue, as to produce Men capable of being so abused. I will be bold to say, that it is a ridiculous Education which does not qualify a Man to make his best Appearance before the greatest Man and the finest Woman to whom he can address himself. Were this judiciously corrected in the Nurseries of Learning, pert Coxcombs would know their Distance: But we must bear with this false Modesty in our young Nobility and Gentry, till they cease at Oxford and Cambridge to grow dumb in the Study of Eloquence.


[Footnote 1: The citation is from a charming letter in which Pliny (Bk. v. letter 17) tells Spurinna the pleasure he had just received from a recitation by a noble youth in the house of Calpurnius Piso, and how, when it was over, he gave the youth many kisses and praises, congratulated his mother and his brother, in whom, as the reciter tried his powers, first fear for him and then delight in him was manifest. To the sentences quoted above the next is

'Etenim, nescio quo pacto, magis in studiis homines timor quam fiducia decet.'

'I don't know how it is, but in brain-work mistrust better becomes men than self-confidence.']

[Footnote 2: Midsummer Night's Dream, Act v. sc. 1.]

Translation of motto:
PLIN. Epist.
'Nor has any one so bright a genius as to become illustrious
instantaneously, unless it fortunately meets with occasion and
employment, with patronage too, and commendation.'