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The Government Of The Tongue by Richard Allestree

Section IX. Of Boasting.

We have now seen some effects of an ungoverned Tongue, as they relate to God and our Neighbor. There is yet a third sort which reflect upon a man's self. So unboundedly mischievous is that petulant member, that heaven and earth are not wide enough for its range, but it will find work at home too: and like the viper, that after it had devoured its companions, preyed upon itself, so it corrodes inward, and becomes often as fatal to its owner, as to all the world besides.

2. Of this there are as many instances, as there are imprudent things said, for all such have the worst reflection upon the speaker: and therefore, all that have given rules for civil life, have in order to it, put very severe restraints upon the Tongue, that it run not before the judgment. Twas the advice of Zeno to dip the tongue in the mind before one should permit it to speak. Theophrastus used to say, It was safer trusting to an unbridled horse, than to intemperate speech. And daily experience confirms the Aphorism, for those that set no guard upon their tongues are hurried by them into a thousand indecencies, and very often into real considerable mischiefs. By this means men have proved their own delators, discovered their own most important secrets: and, whereas their heart should have kept a lock upon their Tongue, they have given their Tongue the key of their heart, and the event has been oft as unhappy as the proceeding was preposterous. There are indeed so many ways for men to lose themselves in their talk, that I should do the like if I should pretend to trace them. Besides, my subject leads me not to discourse Ethically but Christianly of the faults of the Tongue, and therefore I have all along considered the one no farther than it happens to be twisted with the other.

3. In the present case I shall insist only upon one fault of the tongue, which partakes of both kinds, and it is at once a vice and a folly, I mean that of Boasting and vaunting a man's self: a strain to which some men's tongues have a wonderful glibness. No discourse can be administered, but they will try to turn the Tide, and draw it all into their own Channel, by entertaining you with long stories of themselves: or if there be no room for that, they will at least screw in here and there some intimations of what they did or said. Yea, so stupid a vanity is this, that it works alike upon all materials: not only their greater and more illustrious acts or sentences, but even their most slight and trivial occurrences, by being theirs, they think acquire a considerableness, and are forcibly imposed upon the company; the very dreams of such people strait commence prophesy, and are as seriously related, as if they were undoubted revelations. And sure if we reflect upon our Savior's rule, that Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh, we cannot but think these men are very full of themselves, and to be so, is but another phrase of being very Proud. So, tis Pride in the heart, which is the spring that feeds this perpetual current at the mouth, and under that notion we are to consider it.

4. And truly there is nothing can render it more infamous, Pride being a vice that of all others is the most branded in Scripture as most detestable to God, and is signalized by the punishment to be so. This turned Lucifer out of Heaven, Nebuchadnezzar out of his Throne, nay, out of Human society. And indeed, it seems still to have something of the same effect, nothing rendering a man so inconsiderable; for it sets him above the meaner sort of company, and makes him intolerable to the better, and to compete the parallel, he seldom comes to know himself till he be turned a-grazing, be reduced to some extremities.

5. But this Boasting, arrogant humor, though always bad, yet is more or less so according to the Subject on which it works. If it be only on Natural excellencies, as Beauty, Wit, or accidental acquisitions, as Honor, Wealth, or the like, yet even here tis not only a Theft, but a Sacrilege; the glory of those being due only to the Donor, not to the receiver, there being not so much as any predisposition in the subject to determine God's bounty. He could have made the most deformed Beggar as handsome and as rich as those who most pride themselves in their wealth and beauty. No man fancies himself to be his own Creator, and though some have assumed to be the Architects of their own fortunes, yet the frequent defeats of men's industry and contrivance, do sufficiently confute that bold pretense, and evince that there is something above them, which can either blast or prosper their attempts. What an invasion then is it of God's right, to engross the honor of those being done, which were not at all in their power to do? And sure the folly is as great in respect of men, as the sin is towards God. This boasting, like a heavy Nurse, overlays the Child, the vanity of that quite drowns the notice of the things in which tis founded; and men are not so apt to say such a man is Handsome, Wise, or Great, as that he is proud upon the fancy of being so. In a word, he that celebrates his own excellencies, must be content with his own applauses, for he will get none of others, unless it be from those fawning Sycophants, whose praises are worse than the bitterest Detractions.

6. And yet so sottish a vice is Pride, that it can make even those insidious Flatteries matter of boast, which is a much more irrational object of it than the former. How eagerly do some men propagate every little Encomium their Parasites make of them? With what gust and sensuality will they tell how such a Jest of theirs took, or such a Magnificence was admired? Tis pleasant to see what little Arts and dexterities they have to wind in such things into discourse: when alas, it amounts to no more than this, that some have thought them fools enough to be flattered, and tis odds but the hearers will think them enough so to be laughed at.

7. But there is yet another Subject of Boasting more foolish, and more criminal too, than either of the former, and that is when men vaunt of their Piety; which if it were true, were yet less owing to themselves than any natural endowment. For though we do not at all assist towards them, yet do we neither obstruct, but in the operations of Grace tis otherwise: we have there a principle of opposition, and God never makes us his own till He subdues that: and though He do it not by irresistible force, but by such sweet and gentle insinuations, that we are sometimes captivated ere we are aware: yet that does not impeach His right of conquest, but only shews Him the more gracious conqueror. Tis true in respect of the event we have great cause of exultance and joy, God's service being the most perfect freedom: yet in regard of the efficiency, we have as little matter of Boast, as the surprised City has in the triumphs of its victor.

8. But secondly, either this vaunted Piety is not real, and then tis good for nothing; or else by being vaunted becomes so. If it be not real, tis then the superadding Hypocrisy to the former sacrilege, an attempt at once to rob God and cheat men, and in the event usually renders them hateful to both: to God (who cannot be mocked) it does so at the instant, and seldom misses to do so at last to men. An Hypocrite has a long part to act, and if his memory fail him but in any one scene, his play is spoiled: so that his hazards are so great, that tis as little prudent as tis honest to set up the trade, especially in an age when Piety itself is at so low a price, that its counterfeit cannot pass much. But if the Piety be indeed true, the Boasting it blasts it, makes it utterly insignificant. This we are told by Christ Himself, who assure us, that even the most Christian actions of prayer, alms, and fasting, must expect no other reward (when boasted) that the sought-for applause of men. Matt.6. When a man shall make his own tongue the trumpet of his Alms, or the echo of his prayers, he carves, or rather snatches his own reward, and must not look God should heap more upon him: the recompense of his pride he may indeed look for from Him, but that of his virtue he has forestalled. In short, piety is like those Lamps of old, which maintained their light some Ages under ground, but as soon as they took air expired. And surely there cannot be a more deplorable folly, than thus to lose a rich Jewel, only for the pitiful pleasure of shewing it: it's the humor of Children and Idiots, who must be handling their birds till they fly away, and it ranks us with them in point of discretion, though not of innocence.

9. From the view of these particulars we may in the gross conclude, that this ostentation is a most foolish sin, such as never brought in advantage to any man. There is no vice so undermines itself as this does: tis glory it seeks, and instead of gaining that, it loses common, ordinary estimation. Everybody that sees a bladder puffed up, knows tis but wind that so swells it: and there is no surer argument of a light, frothy brain than this bubbling at the mouth. Indeed, there is nothing renders any man so contemptible, so utterly useless to the world; it excludes him almost from all commerce, makes him uncapable of receiving or doing a benefit. No man will do him a good turn, because he foresees he will arrogate it to himself, as the effect of his merit: and none (that are not in some great exigence) will receive one from him, as knowing it shall be not only proclaimed, but magnified much above the true worth. There seems to be but one purpose for which he serves, and that is to be sport for his company: and that he seldom fails to be, for in these gamesome days men will not lose such an opportunity of divertissement, and therefore, will purposely give him hints, which may put him upon his Rodomontades. I do not speak this by way of encouragement to them, but only to shew these vaporers, to what scorn they expose themselves, and what advantage they give to any that have a mind to abuse them: for they need not be at any pains for it, they do but swim with their stream; an approving nod or smile, serves to drive on the design, and make them display themselves more disadvantageously, more ridiculously, than the most Satirical Character could possibly do.

10. But besides these sportive projects, such a man lays himself open to more dangerous circumventions. He that shews himself so enamoured of praise, that (Narcissus like) dotes on his own reflections, is a fit prey for Flatterers, and such a Carcass will never want those Eagles: when his weak part is one discerned (as it must soon be when himself publishes it) he shall quickly be surrounded with assailants. The last Section has shewed the misery of a man so besieged, therefore, I shall not enlarge on it here, this mention being only intended to evince how apt this vainglorious humor is to betray men to it.

11. These are competent Specimens of the folly of this vice: but it has yet a farther aggravation, that it precludes all means of growing wiser: tis Solomon's assertion, Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a Fool than of him. Prov.26.12. And the reason is evident, for he discards the two grant instruments of instruction, Admonition and Observation. The former he thinks superseded by his own Perfections, and therefore, when any such friendly office is attempted towards him, he imputes it either to Envy, and a desire to eclipse his luster by finding some spot, or else to Ignorance and incapacity of estimating his worth: the one he entertains with Indignation, the other with disdainful Pity. As for Observation, he so circumscribes it within himself, that it can never fetch in anything from without. Reading of men has been by some thought the most facile and expedite Method of acquiring Knowledge; and sure for some kinds of Knowledge it is: but then a man must not only read one Author, much less the one worst he can pick out for himself. Tis an old and true saying, He that is his own Pupil shall have a fool for his Tutor: and truly he that studies only himself, will be like to make but a sorry Progress. Yet this is the case of arrogant men, they lose all the benefit of Conversation, and when they should be enriching their Minds with foreign treasure, they are only counting over their own store. Instead of adverting to those sober discourses which they hear from others, they are perhaps watching to interrupt them by some pompous Story of themselves, or at least in the abundance of their self-sufficiency, think they can say much better things, Magisterially obtrude their own notions, and fall a-teaching when tis fitter they should learn: and sure to be thus forward to lay out, and take no care to bring in, must needs end in a Bankrupt state. Tis true, I confess, the study of a man's self is (rightly taken) the most useful part of Learning, but then it much be such a Study as brings him to know himself, which none do so little as these men, who in this are like those silly women the Apostle describes, 2 Tim.3.7. Who are ever learning yet never attain. And tis no wonder, for they begin at the wrong end, make no inquiry into their faults or defects, but fix their Contemplation only on their more splendid qualities, with which they are so dazzled, that when you bring them to the darker parts of themselves, it fares with them as with those that come newly from gazing on the Sun, they can see nothing.

12. And now having dissected this swelling vice, and seen what it is that feeds the tumor, the cure suggests itself. If the disease be founded in Pride, the abating that is the most natural and proper remedy: and truly, one would think that mere weighing of the foregoing considerations might prove sufficient allays to it. Yet because where humors are turgent, tis necessary not only to purge them, but also to strengthen the infested part, I shall adventure to give some few advices by way of fortification and Antidote.

13. In the first place, that of the Apostle offers itself to my hand, Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Phil.2.4. A counsel which in a distorted sense seems to be too much practiced. We are apt to apply it to worldly advantages, and in that notion not to look on our own things with thankfulness, but on other men's with envy. We apply it also to errors and sins, and look not on our own to correct and reform, but on others to despise and censure. Let us at last take it in the genuine sense, and not look on our own excellencies, but those of others. We see in all things how desuetude does contract and narrow our faculties, so that we may apprehend only those things wherein we are conversant. The droiling Peasant scarce thinks there is any world beyond his own Village, or the neighboring Markets, nor any gayety beyond that of a Wake or Morris, and men who are accustomed only to the admiration of themselves, think there is nothing beside them worthy of regard. These unbred minds must be a little sent abroad, made acquainted with those excellencies which God has bestowed on other men, and then they will not think themselves like Gideon's fleece to have sucked up all the dew of heaven: nay, perhaps they many find they rather answer the other part of the miracle, and are drier than their neighbors. Let them therefore put themselves in this course, observe diligently all the good that is visible in other men, and when they find themselves mounting into their altitudes, let them clog their wings with the remembrance of those who have out-soared them, not in vain opinion, but in true worth. Tis nothing but the fancy of singularity that puff us up. To breath, to walk, to hear, to see, are excellent powers, yet nobody is proud of them, because they are common to the whole kind: and therefore, if we would observe the great number of those that equal or exceed us, even in the more appropriate endowments, we should not put so excessive a price upon ourselves.

14. Secondly, if we will needs be reflecting upon ourselves, let us do it more ingeniously, more equally, let us take a true survey, and observe as well the barren as the fertile part of the soil: and if this were done, may men's value would be much short of what they are willing to suppose it. Did we but compare our crop of Weeds and Nettles, with that of our Corn, we must either think our ground is poor, or ourselves very ill husbands. When therefore, the recollection of either real or fancied worth begins to make us airy, let us condense again by the remembrance of our sins and folly: tis the only possible service they can do us, and considering how dear they are to cost us, we had not need lose this one accidental advantage. In this sense Satan may cast out Satan, our vilest guilts help to eject our pride, and did we will manage this one stratagem against him, twould give us more cause of triumph, than most of those things for which we so spread our plumes: I do not say we should contract new guilts to make us humble, God knows we need not, we have all of us enough of the old stock if we would but thus employ them.

15. In the last place I should advise those who are apt to talk big things of themselves, to turn into some other road of discourse: for if they are their own theme, their tongues will as naturally turn into Eulogies, as a horse does into that Inn to which he is customed. All habits do require some little excess of the contrary to their cure: for we have not so just a scantling of ourselves, as to know to a grain what will level the scales, and place in the right Mediocrity. Let men therefore that have this infirmity, shun (as far as prudence and interest permits) all discourse of themselves, till they can sever it from that unhappy appendage. They will not be at all the less acceptable company, it being generally thought none of the best parts of breeding, to talk much of one's self: for though it be done so an not to argue pride, yet is does ignorance of more worthy subjects.

16. I Should here conclude this Section, but that there is another sort of vaunting Talk, which was not well reducible to any of the former Heads, the subject matter being vastly distant: for in those the Boasting was founded in some either real or supposed worth, but in this is all Baseness and villainy. There are a Generation of men, who have removed all the Land-marks which their Fathers (nay, even the Father of Spirits) have set, reversed the common notions of Humanity, and call evil good, and good evil, and those things which a moderate impudence would blush to be surprised in, they not only proclaim but boast of, blow the Trumpet as much before their crimes, as others before their good deeds. Nay, so much to they affect this inverted sort of Hypocrisy, that they own more wickedness than they act, assume to have made practical the highest Speculations of villainy, and like the Devil's Knights errant, pretend to those Romantic achievements, which the veriest Fiend incarnate could never compass. These are such Prodigies, such Monsters of villainy, that though they are objects of Grief and Wonder, they are not of Counsel. Men who thus rave, we many conclude their brains are turned, and one may as well read Lectures at Bedlam as treat with such. Yet we know that there sharp corrections recover crazed men to Sobriety; and then their Cure lies only in the hand of Civil Justice: if that would take them at their words, receive their brags as Confessions, and punish them accordingly, it may be a little real smart would correct this mad Itch, and teach them not to glory in their shame. Phil.3.19.

In the mean time, let others who are not yet arrived to this height consider betimes, that all indulgent practice of sin is the direct Road to it, and according to the degrees of that indulgence, they make more less haste. He that constantly and habitually indulges, rides upon the Spur, and will quickly overtake his Leaders. Nay, if it be but this one vice of vanity, it may finally bring him to their state. He that loves to brag, will scarce find exercise enough for that faculty in his virtues, and therefore, may at last be tempted to take in his vices also. But that which is more seriously considerable is, that Pride is so provoking to Almighty God, that it often causes him to withdraw His Grace, which is a Donative He has promised only to the humble. Jam.4.6. And indeed, when we turn that Grace into wantonness, as the proud man does who is pampered by it into high conceits of himself, tis not probable God will any longer prostitute his favors to such abuse. The Apostle observes it of the Gentiles, who had in contradiction of their natural light abandoned themselves to vile Idolatries, that God after gave them up to a reprobate mind and vile affections. Rom.1.25, 26. But the proud now stifle a much clearer light, and give up themselves to as base an Idolatry, the adoration of themselves. And therefore, tis but equal to expect God should desert them, and (as some Nations have Deified their diseases) permit them to celebrate even their foulest enormities. The application of all I shall sum up in the words of the Apostle. Rom.11.21. Take heed also that he spare not thee.

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