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ON THE INFERENCES OF MERIT OR DEMERIT FROM POPULARITY, AND SOMETHING CONCERNING FALSE REPUTATIONS.
POPULARITY (I speak of social and personal not political popularity) till it be traced to its sources is no more than a slight presumption either way; but so far as it is a ground of judgment at all, it is against a man; because the defects which ordinarily accompany it are more essential than the merits. Hardly any man obtains popularity without desiring and seeking it, or without making some sacrifices for it. It is most commonly obtained by an abuse of humility, and a large indulgence for all qualities and proceedings which are not denounced as flagitious by the society to which a man belongs.
I say an abuse of humility, because humility well used consists in a constant reference to a high standard and a prostration of pride and self-love before that standard, whether it be merely ideal, or whether we see it embodied in men of virtue and understanding superior to our own and it does not consist in any undue and untrue self-depreciation, leading a man to postpone himself to what is worse than himself, and thereby to desert his moral station.
One of the doctrines of this popular humility is much the same with that which Machiavelli ascribes to the Romish Church in his timethe doctrine, "come è male del male dir male." There is a better doctrine which teaches that men are not only the subjects, but the instruments, of God's moral government. The judgments of the street and of the market-place, the sentences which men pronounce upon each other in the ordinary intercourse of life, constitute the most essential of all social jurisdic
tions, and he who would serve the great Lawgiver with fidelity must carry the sword of justice in his mouth. A righteous humility will teach a man never to pass a censure in a spirit of exultation; a righteous courage will teach him never to withhold it from fear of being disliked. Popularity is commonly obtained by a dereliction of the duties of censure under a pretext of humility.
There are other ways in which statesmen may obtain popularity, which are not better. Easiness of access contributes greatly to a man's popularity, and in the case of a statesman in office detracts proportionably from his utility. Accessibility is, in men so circumstanced, sometimes a mode of idleness as well as an aim at popularity; and whether it be the one or the other, or proceed from pure good nature, or be adopted from a mistaken sense of duty, it equally involves the neglect of those functions and habits to which it is of most consequence to the public
that their servant should devote himself.
The statesman who is easy of access will not only squander his time; he will commonly be found to sacrifice the distant to the near, public to individual interests, and matters of no light importance to the ill-considered smile of the moment. It is not in human nature that a statesman should not desire to satisfy the man whom he sees and who sees him, in preference to the unembodied name or idea of a man who is separated from him by lands or seas; or that he should not prefer the interests of the man who is there, to those of the multitude which is an abstraction; nor is it in human nature that such preference should not taint the justness of his judgments with partiality. Social popularity in a statesman therefore (connected with easiness of access) may reasonably suggest a suspicion of some such taint, of some idle waste or injudicious employment of time, of some disregard or erroneous estimate of the relative
value of topics, of using (so to speak) false weights and measures in his dealings with his duties.
Yet easiness of access will generally raise to a man a reputation the very reverse of that presumptive inference (I will call it no more) which ought to be deduced from it. He who allows himself to be interrupted every hour of the day, will be applauded for his assiduity and attention to business. Interviews, indeed, make a show of transacting business; but (as I shall presently take occasion to explain) business is seldom really and usefully transacted otherwise than in writing. Whilst, therefore, the popular statesman, ready at all hours to receive all applicants, open to hear every side of the question with his own ears, flatters with a listening look, or imposes with a look of reserved fulness, and thus sends from his presence twenty trumpeters of his merit in a day, the questions to which this show of attention has been given, will com