Index of Popular Fallacies
This axiom contains a principle of compensation
which disposes us to admit the truth of it. But there is no safe
trusting to dictionaries and definitions. We should more willingly
fall in with this popular language, if we did not find brutality
sometimes awkwardly coupled with valour -- in the same vocabulary.
The comic writers, with their poetical justice, have contributed
not a little to mislead us upon this point. To see a hectoring
fellow exposed and beaten upon the stage, has something in it
wonderfully diverting. Some people's share of animal spirits is
notoriously low and defective. It has not strength to raise a
vapour, or furnish out the wind of a tolerable bluster. These
love to be told that huffing is no art of valour. The truest courage
with them is that which is the least noisy and obtrusive. But
confront one of these silent heroes with the swaggerer of real
life, and his confidence in the theory quickly vanishes. Pretensions
do not uniformly bespeak non-performance. A modest inoffensive
deportment does not [p 253] necessarily imply valour; neither
does the absence of it justify us in denying that quality. Hickman
wanted modesty -- we do not mean him of Clarissa -- but who ever
doubted his courage? Even the poets -- upon whom this equitable
distribution of qualities should be most binding -- have thought
it agreeable to nature to depart from the rule upon occasion.
Harapha, in the "Agonistes," is indeed a bully upon
the received notions. Milton has made him at once a blusterer,
a giant, and a dastard. But Almanzor, in Dryden, talks of driving
armies singly before him -- and does it. Tom Brown had a shrewder
insight into this kind of character than either of his predecessors.
He divides the palm more equably, and allows his hero a sort of
dimidiate preeminence: -- " Bully Dawson kicked by half the
town, and half the town kicked by Bully Dawson." This was
true distributive justice.