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No. 038 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

When our Consciousness turns upon the main Design of Life, and our Thoughts are employed upon the chief Purpose either in Business or Pleasure, we shall never betray an Affectation, for we cannot be guilty of it: But when we give the Passion for Praise an unbridled Liberty, our Pleasure in little Perfections, robs us of what is due to us for great Virtues and worthy Qualities. How many excellent Speeches and honest Actions are lost, for want of being indifferent where we ought? Men are oppressed with regard to their Way of speaking and acting; instead of having their Thought bent upon what they should do or say, and by that Means bury a Capacity for great things, by their fear of failing in indifferent things. This, perhaps, cannot be called Affectation; but it has some Tincture of it, at least so far, as that their Fear of erring in a thing of no Consequence, argues they would be too much pleased in performing it.

It is only from a thorough Disregard to himself in such Particulars, that a Man can act with a laudable Sufficiency: His Heart is fixed upon one Point in view; and he commits no Errors, because he thinks nothing an Error but what deviates from that Intention.

The wild Havock Affectation makes in that Part of the World which should be most polite, is visible where ever we turn our Eyes: It pushes Men not only into Impertinencies in Conversation, but also in their premeditated Speeches. At the Bar it torments the Bench, whose Business it is to cut off all Superfluities in what is spoken before it by the Practitioner; as well as several little Pieces of Injustice which arise from the Law it self. I have seen it make a Man run from the Purpose before a Judge, who was, when at the Bar himself, so close and logical a Pleader, that with all the Pomp of Eloquence in his Power, he never spoke a Word too much. [2]

It might be born even here, but it often ascends the Pulpit it self; and the Declaimer, in that sacred Place, is frequently so impertinently witty, speaks of the last Day it self with so many quaint Phrases, that there is no Man who understands Raillery, but must resolve to sin no more: Nay, you may behold him sometimes in Prayer for a proper Delivery of the great Truths he is to utter, humble himself with so very well turned Phrase, and mention his own Unworthiness in a Way so very becoming, that the Air of the pretty Gentleman is preserved, under the Lowliness of the Preacher.

I shall end this with a short Letter I writ the other Day to a very witty Man, over-run with the Fault I am speaking of.

Dear SIR,

‘I Spent some Time with you the other Day, and must take the Liberty of a Friend to tell you of the unsufferable Affectation you are guilty of in all you say and do. When I gave you an Hint of it, you asked me whether a Man is to be cold to what his Friends think of him? No; but Praise is not to be the Entertainment of every Moment: He that hopes for it must be able to suspend the Possession of it till proper Periods of Life, or Death it self. If you would not rather be commended than be Praiseworthy, contemn little Merits; and allow no Man to be so free with you, as to praise you to your Face. Your Vanity by this Means will want its Food. At the same time your Passion for Esteem will be more fully gratified; Men will praise you in their Actions: Where you now receive one Compliment, you will then receive twenty Civilities. Till then you will never have of either, further than


Your humble Servant.’


[Footnote 1: Dr. Thomas Burnet, who produced in 1681 the ‘Telluris Theoria Sacra,’ translated in 1690 as ‘the Sacred Theory of the Earth,’ was living in the ‘Spectator’s’ time. He died in 1715, aged 80. He was for 30 years Master of the Charter-house, and set himself against James II. in refusing to admit a Roman Catholic as a Poor Brother. Burnet’s Theory, a romance that passed for science in its day, was opposed in 1696 by Whiston in his ‘New Theory of the Earth’ (one all for Fire, the other all for Water), and the new Romance was Science even in the eyes of Locke. Addison, from Oxford in 1699, addressed a Latin ode to Burnet.]

[Footnote 2: Lord Cowper.]