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PROVERBS xxvii. 2. “T ET another man praise thee, and not thine own
L mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.” Our English adage, “Self-praise is no recommendation,” has its analogue in the Latin : Laus in proprio ore sordescit—“A man's own laudation of himself is unseemly.” Another bit of good old Latin admonition is, to enlarge rather upon the praises of one's friends, than upon one's own : Amicorum, magis quàm tuam ipsius laudem, prædica ; which seems to be, however, but a literal transcript of the second line in a couplet from the Greek Anthology:
“Υπέρ σεαυτού μή φράσης εγκώμια:
Φίλων έπαινον μάλλον και σαυτού λέγε. Syrus, again, utters the caution, “That whoso praiseth himself will soon find some one to laugh at him”- Qui seipsum laudat, cito derisorem inveniet. It was Æsop's derisive counsel to an unreadable author, who did all his own praising and puffing, and therefore did it well— well, at least, in quantity, if not in quality—to stick by all manner of means to that homebrewed system ; for it was the poor creature's only chance of ever tasting the sweets of praise at all.
“Ego, quod te laudas, vehementer probo,
Namque hoc ab alio nunquam continget tibi." In one of the wordy encounters between Shakspeare's Beatrice and Benedick, the lady imputes signal unwisdom to the signor, when she tells him “ There's not one wise man in twenty that will praise himself.” Benedick scouts this as an old, old apophthegm, quite out of date; for, says he, “ if a man do not erect in this age his own tomb ere he dies, he shall live no longer in monument than the bell rings, and the widow weeps.” And how long is that? Why, an hour in clamour (the bell), and (the widow) a quarter in rheum. Therefore, he infers, “it is most expedient for the wise to be the trumpeter of his own virtues, as I am to myself. So
much for praising myself (who, I myself will bear witness, is praiseworthy).” Shakspeare often expatiates, with dramatic diversities of phase and aspect, of character and incident, upon this worldly-wise theme, by the worldly-wise held worthy of all acceptation, of every man his own trumpeter. To a few examples out of these many we may recur anon.
Swift is writing after his own humour when he says, in the work he seems to have admired the most of his voluminous opera omnia, but to which some refer as the distinct cause of his never getting a bishopric—“That as for the liberty he has thought fit to take of praising himself upon some occasions or none, he is sure it will need no excuse, if a multitude of great examples be allowed sufficient authority; for it is to be noted,” he goes on to say, that praise was originally a pension paid by the world; but the moderns, finding the trouble and charge too great in collecting it, "have lately bought out the fee simple ; since which time the right of presentation is wholly in ourselves.” But it is in the simpler states and stages of society, according to a latter-day essayist on social subjects, that the man who values himself highly has little scruple in confessing as much. “Savages have no more reticence in parading their good points than peacocks." North American Indians, and the like, sublimely ignore any such courses of conduct as that, Not he that approveth himself is commended. Their faith and practice run counter to this kind of self-discipline. Chateaubriand gives an example of the style of chant in which a jubilant warrior, Sioux or Iroquois, proclaims his doughty prestige :-“Brave and renowned were my forefathers. My grandsire was the wisdom of his tribe, and the thunder of war. My father was a pine-tree in strength. My great-grandmother gave birth to five men of war; my grandmother was alone worth a council of sachems; my mother makes first-rate soup. As for myself, I am stronger and wiser than all my ancestors.” Later Americans, not of the redskin family, are charged with a scarcely inferior knack of extolling themselves in all the simplicity of an ignorance which knows nothing higher or better, and with
being frankly astonished at their own successes. Among them, it is alleged by caustic Cis-atlantic criticism, nobody is thought the worse of for praising himself ; whereas among ourselves, “the practice is out of date; a man cannot here puff himself off with impunity—without in fact, being taken for a fool ; and therefore, if he have ordinary sagacity, he will keep within bounds.” But not the less, it is allowed, must the thought of the heart find some outlet ; men draw wide distinctions between pride and vanity, but both have at least this in common, that they like to feel and be acknowledged “first;" and both, it is added, “agree in the instinct to gain their end by a side-wind-to boast themselves by implication, if circumstances will not permit the more agreeable incense of positive praise and adulation.” • Plutarch does not blame Cato (the elder) for perpetually boasting and exalting himself, although the old censor somewhere pronounces it absurd for a man either to praise or to disparage himself. But Plutarch does “ think the man who is often praising himself, not so complete in virtue as the modest man, who does not even want others to praise him.” He takes frequent note of the habit of self-commendation in some of his heroes, and of the absence of it in others. Cato, “who was never sparing in his own praises, and thought boasting a natural attendant on great actions," was nothing like so grievous an offender in this respect, to Plutarch's thinking, as Cicero, whose writings, says he, “ were so interlarded with encomiums on himself that, although his style was elegant and delightful, his discourses were disgusting and nauseous to the reader; for the blemish stuck to him like an incurable disease.” Comparing this greatest of Roman orators with the greatest of the Greek, Plutarch observes of their respective writings, that Demosthenes, when he touches on his own praise does it with an inoffensive delicacy, never, indeed, giving way to it at all unless he has some important matter in view; whereas Cicero, habitually and systematically, “speaks in such high terms of himself that it is plain he had a most intemperate vanity.” Modern critics not a few, German, English, and French, have made the most- not to say made the best-of this foible of Cicero's. In particular, Mr. de Quincey makes merry over it, without mercy, at the father of his country's expense.
Isaac Barrow points the moral of the text which these heterogeneous annotations are meant to illustrate, with a special warning against Cicero's infirmity. “If a man have worthy qualities and do great deeds, let them speak for him," urges that masterly divine ; they will of themselves extort commendation; his silence about them, his seeming to neglect them, will enhance their worth in the opinion of men.“ Prating about them, obtruding them upon men, will mar their credit, inducing men to think them done, not out of love to virtue, but for a vain-glorious design. Thus did Cicero, thus have many others, blasted the glory of their virtuous deeds.” It is quaintly said by Owen Feltham, that whoso makes boast of the good he truly has, obscures much of his own worth, in drawing it up by so unseemly a bucket as his own tongue. “ Though the vaunts be true, they do but awaken scoffs; and instead of a clapping hand, they find a look of scorn.” When a soldier bragged too much of a great scar in his forehead, he was asked by Augustus if he did not get it when he turned his back on the enemy. So, “If I have done anything well”—this is one of Feltham's “Resolves,”—"I will never think it worth while to tell the world of it.”
“O sir, to such as boasting show their scars,
A mock is due," says Shakspeare's Troilus to Ulysses—modest, valiant Trojan, to shrewd, circumspect Greek. So another Trojan to another Greek, in the same play—which Coleridge reckoned almost the most wonderful of Shakspeare's all-Æneas, namely, to Agamemnon; or rather, indeed, Æneas to himself, in Agamemnon's hearing :
... “But peace, Æneas,
But what the repining enemy commends,
That breath fame follows ; that praise, sole pure, transcends.” And in yet another scene, Agamemnon, King of Men, pithily and pointedly tells that stalwart dullard—big, blustering, boisterous Ajax-who, for the life of him, cannot see the pith or point of it, that “whatever praises itself but in the deed, devours the deed in the praise.” Ajax suspects not the general to mean that he, son of Telamon, is his own praise, his own chronicle.
One more excerpt from our myriad-minded poet :-" Then we wound our modesty, and make foul the clearness of our deservings, when of ourselves we publish them.” The wise saw drops from the sententious lips of the sage old steward of the Countess of Roussillon in what is probably as little read and slightly relished as any of Shakspeare's plays.
Years ago there used to perambulate the streets of London, a prodigy of a hat, some seven feet high, the trade-mark advertisement of a hatter in the Strand. This gigantic puff Mr. Carlyle once made the text for some characteristic strictures on the puffery of the age. Every man his own trumpeter : that he alleged was, to an alarming extent, the accepted rule. “Make loudest possible proclamation of your hat.” Against which doctrine our strenuous censor morum objected, that nature requires no man to make proclamation of his doings and hat-makings; but, on the contrary, forbids all men to make such. There is not, he contends, a man, or hatmaker born into the world but feels, or has felt, that he is degrading himself if he speak of his excellences, and prowesses, and supremacy in his craft. His inmost heart says to him, “Leave thy friends to speak of these : if possible, thy enemies to speak of these ; but at all events, thy friends."