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N° 373. THURSDAY, MAY 8, 1712.
Fallit enim vitium specie virtutis et umbrâ.
JUY. Sat. xiv. 10
Mr. Locke, in his treatise of Human Understanding, has spent two chapters upon the abuse of words. The first and most palpable abuse of words, he says, is when they are used without clear and distinct ideas; the second, when we are so unconstant and unsteady in the application of them, that we sometimes use them to signify one idea, sometimes another. He adds, that the result of our contemplations and reasonings, while we have no precise ideas fixed to our words, must needs be very confused and absurd. To avoid this inconvenience, more especially in moral discourses, where the same word should be constantly used in the same sense, he earnestly recommends the use of definitions. ' A definition,' says he is the only way whereby the precise meaning of moral words can be known. He therefore accuses those of great negligence who discourse of moral things with the least obscurity in the terms they make use of; since, upon the forementioned ground, he does not scruple to say that he thinks ' morality is capable of demonstration as well as the mathematics.'
I know no two words that have been more abused by the different and wrong interpretations which are put upon them, than those two, modesty and assurance. "To say such a one is a modest
man, sometimes indeed passes for a good character ; but at present is very often used to signify a sheepish, awkward fellow, who has neither good breeding, politeness, nor any knowledge of the world.
Again, a man of assurance, though at first it only denoted a person of a free and open carriage, is now very usually applied to a profligate wretch, who can break through all the rules of decency and morality without a blush.
I shall endeavour therefore in this essay to restore these words to their true meaning, to prevent the idea of modesty from being confounded with that of sheepishness, and to hinder impudence from passing for assurance.
If I was put to define modesty, I would call it * the reflexion of an ingenious * mind, either when a man has committed an action for which he censures himself, or fancies that he is exposed to the censure of others.'
For this reason a man truly modest is as much so when he is alone as in company, and as subject to a blush in his closet as when the eyes of multitudes are upon him. I do not remember to have met with
instance of modesty with which I am so well pleased as that celebrated one of the young prince whose father, being a tributary king to the Romans, had several complaints laid against him before the senate, as a tyrant and oppressor of his subjects. The prince went to Rome to defend his father ; but coming into the senate, and hearing a multilyde of crimes proved upon him, was so oppressed when it came to his turn to speak, that he was unable to utter a word. The story tells us, that the fathers were more moved at this instance of
* Ingenious seems to be here used for ingenuous.
modesty and ingenuity * than they could have been by the most pathetic oration, and, in short, pardoned the guilty father for this early promise of virtue in
I take assurance to be the faculty of possessing a man's self, or of saying and doing indifferent things without any uneasiness or emotion in the mind.' That which generally gives a man assurance is a moderate knowledge of the world, but above all, a mind fixed and determined in itself to do nothing against the rules of honour and decency. An open and assured behaviour is the natural con'sequence of such a resolution. A man thus armed, if his words or actions are at any time misrepresented, retires within himself, and, from a consciousness of his own integrity, assumes force enough to despise the little censures of ignorance and malice.
Every one ought to cherish and encourage in himself the modesty and assurance I have here mentioned,
A man without assurance is liable to be made uneasy by the folly or ill-nature of every one he converses with. A man withoụt modesty is lost to all sense of honour and virtue.
It is more than probable that the prince above mentioned possessed both these qualifications in a 'very eminent degree. Without assurance, he would never have undertaken to speak before the most august assembly in the world without modesty, he would have pleaded the cause he had taken upon him, though it had appeared ever so scandalous.
From what has been said, it is plain that modesty and assurance are both amiable, and may very well meet in the same person. When they are thus
* Ingenuity seems here to be used in the sense of ingenua
mixed and blended together, they compose what we endeavour to express when we say a modest assurance;' by which we understand the just mean between bashfulness and impudence.
I shall conclude with observing, that as the same man may
be both modest and assured, so it is also possible for the same to be both impudent and bashful.
We have frequent instances of this odd kind of mixture in people of depraved minds and mean education, who, though they are not able to meet a man's eyes, or pronounce a sentence without confusion, can voluntarily commit the greatest villanies or most indecent actions.
Such a person seems to have made a resolution to do ill even in spite of himself, and in defiance of all those checks and restraints his temper and complexion seem to have laid in his way.
Upon the whole, I would endeavour to establish this maxim, that the practice of virtue is the most proper method to give a man a becoming assurance in his words and actions. Guilt always seeks to shelter itself in one of the extremes, and is somez, times attended with both.
N° 372. WEDNESDAY, MAY 7, 1712.
-- Pudet hec opprobria nobis
OVID. Met. i. 758.
May 6, 1712. I AM sexton of the parish of Coventgarden, and complained to you some time ago, that as I was tolling into prayers at eleven in the morning, crowds of people of quality hastened to assemble at a puppet-show on the other side of the garden. I had at the same time a very great disesteem for Mr. Powell and his little thoughtless commonwealth, as if they had enticed the gentry, into those wanderings: but let that be as it will, I am convinced of the honest intentions of the said Mr. Powell and company, and send this to acquaint you, that he has given all the profits which shall arise to-morrow night by his play to the use of the poor charity-children of this parish. I have been informed, Sir, that in Holland all persons who set up any show, or act any stage-play, be the actors either of wood and wire, or flesh and blood, are obliged to pay out of their gain such a proportion to the honest and industrious poor in the neighbourhood: by this means they make diversion and pleasure pay a tax to labour and industry. I have been told also, that all the time of Lent, in Roman-catholic countries, the persons of condition administer bo the necessities of the poor, and attends the beds.
* Lan the original publication in folio, the motto is wanting,