Johnson on Virtue

Samuel Johnson in The Rambler #66 (1750-11-03) suggests that instead of blaming people who overvalue worldly "trifles"— money, fame, physical beauty, power, etc. — the real guilt belongs to those who are wiser and yet applaud such unworthy things:

It is common to consider those whom we find infected with an unreasonable regard for trifling accomplishments, as justly chargeable with all the consequences of their folly, and as the authors of their own unhappiness: but, perhaps, those whom we thus scorn or detest, have more claim to tenderness than has been yet allowed them. Before we permit our severity to break loose upon any fault or error, we ought surely to consider how much we have countenanced or promoted it. We see multitudes busy in the persuit of riches, at the expence of wisdom and of virtue; but we see the rest of mankind approving their conduct, and inciting their eagerness, by paying that regard and deference to wealth, which wisdom and virtue only can deserve. We see women universally jealous of the reputation of their beauty, and frequently look with contempt on the care with which they study their complexions, endeavour to preserve or to supply the bloom of youth, regulate every ornament, twist their hair into curls, and shade their faces from the weather. We often recommend to them the care of their nobler part, and tell them how little addition is made by all their arts to the graces of the mind. But when was it known that female virtue or knowledge was able to attract that officiousness, or inspire that ardour which beauty produces whenever it appears? And with what hope can we endeavour to persuade the ladies, that the time spent at the toilet is lost in vanity, when they have every moment some new conviction, that their interest is more effectually promoted by a ribband well disposed, than by the brightest act of heroick virtue?

In every instance of vanity it will be found, that the blame ought to be shared among more than it generally reaches; all who exalt trifles by immoderate praise, or instigate needless emulation by invidious incitements, are to be considered as perverters of reason, and corrupters of the world: and since every man is obliged to promote happiness and virtue, he should be careful not to mislead unwary minds, by appearing to set too high a value upon things by which no real excellence is conferred.

(from [1]; cf. Habitual Virtue (2008-12-18), Trusting and Happy (2010-06-10), ...) ^z - 2016-07-01