The following Letter having in it some Observations out of the common Road, I shall make it the Entertainment of this Day.
'The common Topicks against the Pride of Man which are laboured by florid and declamatory Writers, are taken from the Baseness of his Original, the Imperfections of his Nature, or the short Duration of those Goods in which he makes his Boast. Though it be true that we can have nothing in us that ought to raise our Vanity, yet a Consciousness of our own Merit may be sometimes laudable. The Folly therefore lyes here: We are apt to pride our selves in worthless, or perhaps shameful Things; and, on the other hand, count that disgraceful which is our truest Glory.
'Hence it is, that the Lovers of Praise take wrong Measures to attain it. Would a vain Man consult his own Heart, he would find that if others knew his Weaknesses as well as he himself doth, he could not have the Impudence to expect the publick Esteem. Pride therefore flows from want of Reflection, and Ignorance of our selves. Knowledge and Humility come upon us together.
'The proper way to make an Estimate of our selves, is to consider seriously what it is we value or despise in others. A Man who boasts of the Goods of Fortune, a gay Dress or a new Title, is generally the Mark of Ridicule. We ought therefore not to admire in our selves, what we are so ready to laugh at in other Men.
'Much less can we with Reason pride our selves in those things, which at some time of our Life we shall certainly despise. And yet, if we will give our selves the Trouble of looking backward and forward on the several Changes, which we have already undergone and hereafter must try, we shall find that the greater Degrees of our Knowledge and Wisdom, serve only to shew us our own Imperfections.
'As we rise from Childhood to Youth, we look with Contempt on the Toys and Trifles which our Hearts have hitherto been set upon. When, we advance to Manhood, we are held wise in proportion to our Shame and Regret for the Rashness and Extravagance of Youth. Old Age fills us with mortifying Reflections upon a Life, mis-spent in the Pursuit of anxious Wealth or uncertain Honour. Agreeable to this Gradation of Thought in this Life, it may be reasonably supposed, that in a future State, the Wisdom, the Experience, and the Maxims of old Age, will be looked upon by a separate Spirit in much the same Light, as an ancient Man now sees the little Follies and Toyings of Infants. The Pomps, the Honours, the Policies, and Arts of mortal Men, will be thought as trifling as Hobby-Horses, Mock Battles, or any other Sports that now employ all the Cunning, and Strength, and Ambition of rational Beings from four Years old to nine or ten.
'If the Notion of a gradual Rise in Beings, from the meanest to the most High, be not a vain Imagination, it is not improbable that an Angel looks down upon a Man, as a Man doth upon a Creature which approaches the nearest to the rational Nature. By the same Rule (if I may indulge my Fancy in this Particular) a superior Brute looks with a kind of Pride on one of an inferior Species. If they could reflect, we might imagine from the Gestures of some of them, that they think themselves the Sovereigns of the World, and that all things were made for them. Such a Thought would not be more absurd in Brute Creatures, than one which Men are apt to entertain, namely, That all the Stars in the Firmament were created only to please their Eyes and amuse their Imaginations. Mr. Dryden, in his Fable of the Cock and the Fox, makes a Speech for his Hero the Cock, which is a pretty Instance for this Purpose,
'Then turning, said to_ Partlet, _See, my Dear,
How lavish Nature hath adorn'd the Year;
How the pale Primrose and the Violet spring,
And Birds essay their Throats, disus'd to sing:
All these are ours, and I with Pleasure see
Man strutting on two Legs, and aping me.'
'What I would observe from the Whole is this, That we ought to value our selves upon those Things only which superior Beings think valuable, since that is the only way for us not to sink in our own Esteem hereafter.Translation of motto: