« FöregåendeFortsätt »
disposition to repeat his efforts for the public good, and to seek his recompense in the consciousness of well-doing.
He, therefore, is no good citizen, or he is one of the lower order, who is eager to urge his claims to public favour or reward. For however his claims may be just, and such as he ought not entirely to forego, still it becomes him to prefer them with modesty, in due time and place, without any exaggeration of his merits, and as one who is sensible, that virtue, if at all it deserve the name, though it must ever need the allowance of heaven, is something beyond all human remuneration.
But without dwelling on this general view, let us descend to a few more particular reflections on the subject.
The public claims of a citizen must be grounded either on the constitution or laws of his country; on his own personal character; or on the natural rights of man. The first of these cases, as it scarcely falls within our present subject, we shall dismiss very briefly; on the two latter we shall detain the reader a moment longer.
1. Those public claims, which are grounded on the constitution and laws of the state, a citizen may seem most at liberty to prosecute. Should he possess some dormant title to nobility, he may laudably avail himself of his right, and assume his rank in the peerage, provided it be assumed from a pure motive, and with a reasonable prospect of extending his sphere of public service; otherwise, should he seek this elevation from an impulse of vanity, and with a probability of diminished usefulness, he would then act the part of a weak or of a bad member of the community. Again: should it be some public official situation to which a citizen is legally entitled, and in which he might usefully serve his country, while at the same time it afforded him the means of his own comfortable subsistence; every one must approve of his prosecuting a claim under circumstances so highly just and honourable. In these and many other cases which might be supposed, a good citizen may step forth and assert his political privileges, with the full countenance and approbation of his country, or at
least without any danger of incurring its censure.
2. We have next to consider those claims, or rather pretensions, that are grounded on personal character; and particularly on - a man's honest intentions and abilities to serve his country. Such pretensions a good and prudent citizen will not be eager to bring forward, and for the following, among other reasons.
(1.) Because whatever his honesty may be, he feels it is too imperfect and assailable to permit him to be proud or to make a boast of it; and however considerable may be his abilities, he is sensible they must often be found unequal to the intricacy and exigency of affairs. Besides, his character for parts and integrity is either already established, or it is not; if the former, he has no need eagerly to display it himself; and, if the latter, such ostentation, though it may take with the populace, will not help to recommend him to the countenance and esteem of the more discerning citizens, who are aware, that men of suspicious character are most apt to boast of their probity, and
that showy and superficial wits are the readiest to trumpet their extraordinary parts and abilities. This caution against an ostentatious humour was perhaps never more necessary than at present, when, among the numbers who step forward to proclaim their own merits, there are found some men of undoubted sense and understanding, and we may hope also of general integrity; who, if they fall short of the great Roman orator in genius, learning, and eloquence, may, at least, be allowed to surpass him in the faculty of which we are speaking, and in which too, he was so pre-eminent. Such authorities, however, should be so far from weighing with a sober citizen in favour of this vaunting disposition, which he must have observed to be generally followed with miscarriage and dishonour; that they should rather serve to confirm him more strongly in the salutary opinion, that modesty, as well as honesty, is, on the whole, the best policy.
(2.) Another reason against a forwardness to advance public pretensions founded on personal qualities, is the difficulty of ascertaining their value. Though a man's honesty and capacity may in general be acknowledged, the particular degree of these qualities, or whether they are such as may entitle him to some specific rank or office in the state, may be matter of various opia nion. Hence it becomes a good citizen to be reserved and modest in his estimate of his own merits; and not hastily to suppose himself injured, though they should not be admitted to the extent at which he had rated them. Even though he should be appointed by his country to some station manifestly beneath his deserts, or to one less honourable than what he had before occupied, let him not sullenly refuse it on these accounts; nor imagine that by its acceptance he would suffer any degradation; but rather, in such a case, let him nobly think and say with the excellent Plutarch, who, after he had been preceptor to the emperor Trajan, and enjoyed the dignity of the consulate; upon being nominated scavenger to the city, replied to one who reproached him with the meanness of the office, “ That