Show yourself, upon all occasions, the advocate, the friend, but not the bully, of virtue. Colonel Chartres, whom you have certainly heard of, (who was, I believe, the most notorious blasted rascal in the world, and who, by all sorts of crimes, amassed immense wealth,) was so sensible of the disadvantage of a bad character, that I heard him once say, in his impudent, profligate manner, that though he would not give one farthing for virtue, he would give ten thousand pounds for a character; because he should get a hundred thousand pounds by it: whereas he was so blasted that he had no longer an opportunity of cheating people. Is it possible then that an honest man can neglect what a wise rogue would purchase so dear?
Lord Chesterfield: Letters to his Son, Jan. 8, 1750.
There are two modes of establishing our reputation: to be praised by honest men, and to be abused by rogues. It is best, however, to secure the former, because it will be invariably accompanied by the latter. His calumniation is not only the greatest benefit a rogue can confer upon us, but it is also the only service that he will perform for nothing.
There is, it will be confessed, a delicate sensibility to character, a sober desire of reputation, a wish to possess the esteem of the wise and good, felt by the purest minds, which is at the farthest remove from arrogance or vanity. The humility of a noble mind scarcely dares to approve of itself until it has secured the approbation of others. Very different is that restless desire of distinction, that passion for theatrical display, which inflames the heart and occupies the whole attention of vain men. This, of all the passions, is the most unsocial, avarice itself not excepted.
Of so many thousands of valiant men that have died within these fifteen years in France, with their swords in their hands, not a hundred have come to our knowledge. The memory, not of the commanders only, but of battles and victories, is buried and gone. The fortunes of above half of the world, for want of a record, stir not from their place, and vanish without duration. If I hod unknown events in my possession, I should think with great ease to outdo those that are recorded in all sorts of examples. Is it not strange that even of the Greeks and Romans, amongst so many writers and witnesses, and so many rare and noble exploits, so few are arrivd at our knowledge? It will be much if a hundred years hence it be remembered in gross that in our times there were civil wars in France.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. lxxiii.
There is nothing more necessary to establish reputation than to suspend the enjoyment of it. He that cannot bear the sense of merit with silence must of necessity destroy it: for fame being the genial mistress of mankind, whoever gives it to himself insults all to whom he relates any circumstances to his own advantage.
A good name is fitly compared to a precious ointment, and when we are praised with skill and decency, it is indeed the most agreeable perfume; but if too strongly admitted into the brain of a less vigorous and happy texture, it will, like too strong an odour, overcome the senses, and prove pernicious to those nerves it was intended to refresh. A generous mind is of all others the most sensible of praise and dispraise; and a noble spirit is as much invigorated with its due proportion of honour and applause, as it is depressed by neglect and contempt. But it is only persons far above the common level who are thus affected with either of these extremes; as in a thermometer, it is only the purest and most sublimated spirit that is either contracted or dilated by the benignity or inclemency of the season.