Though fame is smoke,
Its fumes are frankincense to human thoughts.
Fame, like money, should neither be despised nor idolized. An honest fame, based on worth
and merit, and gained, like large estates, by prudence and industry, deservedly perpetuates
the names of the great and good.
No glory or fame is both consolatory and enduring unless based on virtue, wisdom, and
justice. That acquired by wild ambition, is tarnished by association - time deepens the stain.
We read the biography of Washington with calmness and delight; that of Bonaparte with
mingled feelings of admiration and abhorrence. We admire the gigantic powers of his
intellect, the vastness of his designs, the boldness of their execution; but turn, with horror,
from the slaughter-fields of his ambition, and his own dreadful end. His giddy height of power
served to plunge him deeper in misery; his lofty ambition increased the burning tortures of his
exile; his towering intellect added a duplicate force to the consuming pangs of his
disappointment. His fatal end should cool the ardor of all who have an inordinate desire for
The praises and commendations of intimates and friends, are the greatest and most impassable
obstacles to real superiority. Better were it, that they should whip us with cords and drive us
to work, than that they should extol and exaggerate our childish scintillations and puerile
False fame is the rushlight which we, or our attendants, kindle in our apartments. We witness
its feeble burning, and its gradual but certain decline. It glimmers for a little while, when,
with flickering and palpitating radiance, it soon expires.
Egotism and vanity detract from fame as ostentation diminishes the merit of an action. He that
is vain enough to cry up himself, ought to be punished with the silence of others. We soil the
splendor of our most beautiful actions by our vainglorious magnifying them. There is no vice
or folly that requires so much nicety and skill to manage as fame, nor any which, by ill
management, makes so contemptible a figure. The desire of being thought famous is often a
hindrance to being so; for such an one is more solicitous to let the world see what knowledge
he hath than to learn that which he wants. Men are found to be bainer on account of those
qualities which they fondly believe they have, than of those which they really have. Some
would be thought to do great things, who are but tools or instruments; like the fool who
fancied he played upon the organ, when he only drew the bellows.
Be not so greedy of popular applause as to forget that the same breath which blows up a fire
may blow it out again. True fame is the light of heaven. It cometh from afar. It shines
powerfully and brightly, but not always without clouds and shadows, which interpose, but do
not destroy; eclipse, but do not extinguish. Like the glorious sun, it will continue to diffuse its
beams when we are no more; for other eyes will hail the light, when we are withdrawn from it.
Great and decided talent is a tower of strength which cannot be subverted. Envy, detraction,
and persecution are missiles hurled against it only to fall harmless at its base, and to
strengthen what they cannot overthrow. It seeks not the applause of the present moment, in
which folly or mediocrity often secure the preference; but it extends its bright and prophetic
vision through the "dark obscure" of distant time, and bequeaths to remote generations the
vindication of its honor and fame, and the clear comprehension of its truths.
No virtues and learning are inherited, but rather ignorance and misdirected inclinations; and
assiduous and persevering labor must correct these defects, and make a fruitful garden of that
soil which is naturally encumbered with stones and thistles. All home-triumphs and initiatory
efforts are nothing worth. That which is great, commanding, and lasting, must be won by
stubborn energy, by patient industry, by unwearied application, and by indefatigable zeal. We
must lie down and groan, and get up and toil. It is a long race, not a pleasant walk, and the
prize is not a leaf or a bauble, but a chaplet or a crown. The spectators are not friends, but
foes; and the contest is one in which thousands fall through weakness and want of real force
We may add virtue to virtue, strength to strength, and knowledge to knowledge, and yet fail,
and soon be lost and forgotten in that mighty and soul-testing struggle, in which few come off
conquerors and win an induring and imperishable name. If we embark on this course, we shall
need stout hearts conjoined with invincible minds. We must bid adieu to vice, to sloth, to
flatteries and ease, "And scorn delights and live laborious days."
The Royal Path of Life - Aims and Aids to Success and Happiness - 1882 by T.L. Haines & L.W. Yaggy