A Vice that Leans Toward Virtue

The man who does not know who his great-grandfather was, naturally enough would not care what he was. The Caskodens have pride of ancestry because they know both who and what. 
Even admitting that it is vanity at all, it is an impersonal sort of failing, which, like the excessive love of country, leans virtueward; for the man who fears to disgrace his ancestors is certainly less likely to disgrace himself.
Charles Major (under the pen name Edwin Caskoden) wrote these lines in the introduction to his novel set in the early years of Henry VIII.  I have a copy of his book -- first American edition! -- because not long ago I stopped my motorcycle by a ramshackle old Georgia building in Carlton, Georgia (once locally important as a farming town located on the railroad line, but now, population 233).  You can see a few pictures of the town here; the only building that remains in very good repair is the Post Office.

The antique store had a copy forgotten on a back shelf, for which they asked three dollars.  It is no surprise to find a book like this in Georgia, although it was too late to share the blame that Mark Twain put on Ivanhoe.

It's proving to be a very good book, with some memorable scenes and lines.  This one right at the introduction especially caught my interest.  It's an interesting concept:  a vice that leans toward virtue.  This particular vice is perhaps unique in that regard, because it is pride:  and pride has a conflicted history in the West.

This good sort of pride is really honor.  To honor is to give of yourself for something or someone worthy; honor is the quality of a man who does.  Thus the pride in one's ancestry is a form of respect for the worthy things they have done; and if you demonstrate your respect for them by trying to live so as not to disgrace them, you have become a man of honor yourself.

The vice of pride is something like vanity, and in this guise its history is far less noble.  To some degree the difference in emphasis is between the non-Christian and Christian elements that make up Western civilization, but not entirely.  There is a qualitative difference between these two expressions:  the one is a form of sacrifice, and the other a form of self-service.

You may enjoy the book, in any case.  It takes the trouble to flatter the reader by making the hero -- a young soldier of energy and skill -- a great lover of books, which is not entirely out of the realm of possibility.  It was just such a love of letters among an active and warlike people that made Ivanhoe such an influence in the South, and that doubtless brought this particular copy of the book to Georgia in its first available edition.


William said...

The concept of Pride when looked at this way reminds me of the difference between eustress and distress. Almost alike does not mean that they are the same though not crossing from one to the other takes awareness and discipline. The great stories are full of such balancing acts, and indeed, redemption in many cases.

William sends.

Grim said...

The great stories are full of such balancing acts...

They are, it's true. I had thought when I wrote this that pride might be an unusual case, even a unique case, because it's a quality that really is a vice in some cases; but which, in others, pushes you to virtue.

But what you said here reminds me of how Aristotle views all virtue as a right between two wrongs. Courage stands not against cowardice, but between cowardice and rashness. Perhaps it is right to say that honor stands not against pride, but between pride and shamelessness.

William said...

Heh. I believe that he was also responsible for one of my favorite sayings. "Moderation in all things." I can only use my personal experience but my life has been a balancing act with challenges constantly changing and successes being mitigated at each step. Even in hindsight it's usually difficult to truly judge the extent of success or failure. Sometimes it's simply not possible to see success or failure except in the microcosm of self applied criteria.

William sends.

William said...

Or said another way, though there may be true black and white or good and evil, it's our human condition to exist in between. Our vision clouded and our perspective limited.

William sends.

douglas said...

"...though not crossing from one to the other takes awareness and discipline."

Indeed. I can recall times when I wished for some real difficulty to befall me so that I could more easily see my enemy. Fighting the edges of one's own nature gets tiring. 'Ever vigilant' is a hero's call.