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No. 101: Censure [from The Spectator]
by [?]

Romulus, et Liber pater, et cum Castore Pollux,
Post ingentia facta, deorum in templa recepti;
Dum terras hominumque colunt genus, aspera bella
Componunt, agros assignant, oppida condunt;
Ploravere suis non respondere favorem
Speratum meritis.

HOR., Epist. ii. 1, 5.

MITATED.

Edward and Henry, now the boast of fame,
And virtuous Alfred, a more sacred name,
After a life of generous toils endured,
The Gaul subdued, or property secured,
Ambition humbled, mighty cities storm’d,
Or laws establish’d, and the world reform’d;
Closed their long glories with a sigh to find
Th’ unwilling gratitude of base mankind.

POPE.

“Censure,” says a late ingenious author, “is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent.” It is a folly for an eminent man to think of escaping it, and a weakness to be affected with it. All the illustrious persons of antiquity, and indeed of every age in the world, have passed through this fiery persecution. There is no defence against reproach but obscurity; it is a kind of concomitant to greatness, as satires and invectives were an essential part of a Roman triumph.

If men of eminence are exposed to censure on one hand, they are as much liable to flattery on the other. If they receive reproaches which are not due to them, they likewise receive praises which they do not deserve. In a word, the man in a high post is never regarded with an indifferent eye, but always considered as a friend or an enemy. For this reason persons in great stations have seldom their true characters drawn till several years after their deaths. Their personal friendships and enmities must cease, and the parties they were engaged in be at an end, before their faults or their virtues can have justice done them. When writers have the least opportunity of knowing the truth, they are in the best disposition to tell it.

It is therefore the privilege of posterity to adjust the characters of illustrious persons, and to set matters right between those antagonists who by their rivalry for greatness divided a whole age into factions. We can now allow Caesar to be a great man, without derogating from Pompey; and celebrate the virtues of Cato, without detracting from those of Caesar. Every one that has been long dead has a due proportion of praise allotted him, in which, whilst he lived, his friends were too profuse, and his enemies too sparing.

According to Sir Isaac Newton’s calculations, the last comet that made its appearance, in 1680, imbibed so much heat by its approaches to the sun, that it would have been two thousand times hotter than red-hot iron, had it been a globe of that metal; and that supposing it as big as the earth, and at the same distance from the sun, it would be fifty thousand years in cooling, before it recovered its natural temper. In the like manner, if an Englishman considers the great ferment into which our political world is thrown at present, and how intensely it is heated in all its parts, he cannot suppose that it will cool again in less than three hundred years. In such a tract of time it is possible that the heats of the present age may be extinguished, and our several classes of great men represented under their proper characters. Some eminent historian may then probably arise that will not write recentibus odiis, as Tacitus expresses it, with the passions and prejudices of a contemporary author, but make an impartial distribution of fame among the great men of the present age.

I cannot forbear entertaining myself very often with the idea of such an imaginary historian describing the reign of Anne the First, and introducing it with a preface to his reader, that he is now entering upon the most shining part of the English story. The great rivals in fame will be then distinguished according to their respective merits, and shine in their proper points of light. Such an one, says the historian, though variously represented by the writers of his own age, appears to have been a man of more than ordinary abilities, great application, and uncommon integrity: nor was such an one, though of an opposite party and interest, inferior to him in any of these respects. The several antagonists who now endeavour to depreciate one another, and are celebrated or traduced by different parties, will then have the same body of admirers, and appear illustrious in the opinion of the whole British nation. The deserving man, who can now recommend himself to the esteem of but half his countrymen, will then receive the approbations and applauses of a whole age.