Judith Sargent Murray Society
JSM's dates: 1751-1820
The Reaper. No. V.
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This essay appeared in the Monday, November 20, 1794 edition of the Federal Orrery. In it, "The Reaper" cautions her readers about the love of fame and its potentially damaging effects.


The Reaper. No. V.
 
Although the love of fame may perhaps be considered as the mania of the mind -- yet it is certainly a very powerful incentive to action, and those, who deem themselves superior to its influence, are often the most obsequious of its votaries. The desire of a being, in the bosom of posterity, seems interwoven with our existence. We catch at every probable circumstance, that, we imagine, may convey us with eclat, down the stream of time -- We are industrious in furnishing mementos, that we have lived upon the fleetest winds, we inscribe our pretensions, and we fondly expect, that those transient probationers of a moment, who so rapidly succeed each other, will endow us with the highly appreciated blessings of immortality.

By the way, Are not those ardent wishes, that are the co-evals of our systemized hopes and fears, a strong presumptive proof of the future resuscitation of the eternity of that intelligence, which is thus early taught to raise, towards undying felicity, its aspiring ideas? I do not say, that reason countenances this restless pursuit of an imaginary good, or that a visionary existence, in the aerial records of fame, as kept in this region of vicissitudes, can merit any, but an artificial value -- But if stoicism can produce no philosophical arguments in favor of this generally predominating inclination, yet nature, or nature's God, is irrefragably wise, and good; and if nature, or nature's God, hath implanted, in the bosom, the irresistible disposition, the ergo is undeniable -- it must be irrefragably wise and good. In the bosom of him, who burnt the temple at Ephesus, this phrensy of the soul was highly wrought. But, it is conceded, that the best motives, precipitated by the impetuous tide of passion, may produce the most pernicious consequences; and, although this fine principle, operating upon the turbid bosom of Eratostratus, produced such a singular conflagration, it would be irrational to conclude, that an incentive, so prevalent, might not generally procure the most salutary effects. There are animals, who cleanse the air, with horridly discordant shrieks, at the approach of the splendid luminary of day; and yet the sunny beams of that creative orb look with the most genial and benignant influence, upon the beauteous face of nature.

The love of posthumous fame was so carefully cultivated by a certain celebrated nation, that they absolutely appointed advocates, and ordained judges, to plead the cause, and to decide upon the merits of their dead; and the judicial proceedings obtaining every legal form, and permitting no appeal from their award, that degree of honor was conferred upon the several candidates, to which, upon a strict and impartial investigation, they were found entitled. Many years have revolved, since I have travelled through the pages, which contain this influential code. I may not therefore have given an accurate sketch. But, upon the utility of such an arrangement, I conceive it would be superfluous to expatiate.

PRAISE is the minister of FAME: and the elevated understanding hath obtained the fairest ornament, when it is enwreathed by the panegyric of that virtue, which is informed by wisdom, and enriched by experience -- Sweet is the gale of praise. It is genial as the vernal breeze -- Fanned by its tepid airs, the latent germe puts forth the tender bud -- its opening leaves receive the rich perfumes -- gradually it unfolds, and gathers strength -- until, beneath the blaze of meridian day, it finally uplifts its modest head.

In my juvenile days -- thirty years since -- I was honored by a correspondent among the sons of Harvard -- A sentiment, contained in one of his letters, I remember as well, as if it had been written, but yesterday -- It is indelibly impressed upon my heart, and I am confident, that, while memory exists, it will never be erased from its tablet -- "Praise, if well applied, has a good effect -- It raises, in the breast, a noble emulation, and it stimulates us, to actions, almost divine. Whether this sentiment, thus embodied, originated with our young student, or was by him transcribed, from some more sage authority, its propriety must be acknowledged, as unquestionable -- With the experience of my subsequent life, it hath exactly corresponded; and I have invariably observed, that I could, at all times, accomplish my every laudable purpose, much more eligibly by the dulcet voice of skilfull applause, than by the corrosive shafts of ill-judged rebuke.

The warm and ardent mind, although conscious, that it falls far short of the attainments, attributed to it, by its panegyrist, is yet animated thereby to the pursuit of uncommon achievements. It becomes emulous, to catch the endowments so partially ascribed to it; and, wafted onward upon the pleasurable stream of improvement, it inhales the odiferous incense -- it partakes the perfumed gall -- it feeds upon ambrosial food, and its repast is delicious.

Wisdom, enshrined by experience, and garbed by philanthropy -- rich in its treasured hoards of inborn genius, and superior worth -- frequently bends a benignant eye upon the toiling votaries of beamy fame: -- and, hasting to place the goal of eminence, full in the view of the trembling proficient, with pity mild, and bland benevolence, it delayeth not to draw aside the veil. Many are the examples, which, by way of illustrating my position, might readily be produced; -- but, absorbed in that pleasing thrill, which originated in the most enchanting gratitude, I can only point my readers to the truly elegant lines, which rose refulgent in the galaxy of last monday's Orrery. Receive, divine penman, the answered acknowledgments of her, for whose brow thou hast entwined a wreath so honorary -- and, although she is well apprised, as the severest of her judges can possibly be, that were she, appropriating the eulogy, to assume the star-gemmed crown, she must, in the strictest sense of the word, be considered as an usurper -- yet, thus soothed, she will persevere in the path, which she hath commenced, under such dignified and elating auspices -- Yes, the humble Reaper recognizes the benignant design of her Dorchester eulogist; and, thus allured to excellence, she will be studious to obtain those acquirements, which, from her early dawn, she hath not ceased to venerate.

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2007 © Bonnie Hurd Smith

Independent scholar and author Bonnie Hurd Smith is the president and CEO of History Smiths, a marketing company that works with businesses to incorporate history -- their own and their community's -- into their branding, marketing, and community outreach to attract customers, boost customer loyalty, and secure a high status reputation in the communities they serve.