S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
A just and reasonable modesty does not only recommend eloquence, but sets off every great talent which a man can be possessed of. It heightens all the virtues which it accompanies; like the shades in paintings, it raises and rounds every figure, and makes the colours more beautiful, though not so glaring, as they would be without it.
Modesty is not only an ornament, but also a guard, to virtue. It is a kind of quick and delicate feeling in the soul, which makes her shrink and withdraw herself from everything that has danger in it. It is such an exquisite sensibility, as warns her to shun the first appearance of everything which is hurtful.
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 anything that is repugnant to the rules of right reason: false modesty is ashamed to do anything that is opposite to the humour of the company. True modesty avoids everything that is criminal, false modesty everything 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.
If I was put to define modesty, I would call it the reflection of an ingenuous 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.
I have observed that under the notion of modesty men have indulged themselves in a spiritless sheepishness, and been forever 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 browbeaten, or elbowed 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.
It is to be noted that modesty in a man is never to be allowed as a good quality, but a weakness, if it suppresses his virtue, and hides it from the world, when he has at the same time a mind to exert himself. A French author says, very justly, that modesty is to the other virtues in a man, what shade in a picture is to the parts of the thing represented. It makes all the other beauties conspicuous, which would otherwise be but a wild heap of colours. This shade in our actions must, therefore, be very justly applied: for if there be too much, it hides our good qualities, instead of showing them to advantage.