1 June 2016

Fame in a Footnote

Arthur Helps, Brevia (London: Bell and Daldy, 1871), pp. 77-78:
In a company of learned men there was talk about posthumous fame. Some said that it was a strong motive to exertion with many persons. Others maintained that its potency as a motive was very small indeed, except with a few half-crazy people, like Alexander the Great. All agreed that it was a foolish motive as applied to the mass of men, because anything that was worthy of the name of "fame" was unattainable for them.

A man writes an elaborate work upon a learned subject. In a few years' time, another man writes an elaborate work upon the same learned subject, and is kind enough to allude to the former author in a foot-note. Twenty or thirty years afterwards, this second man's work is also absorbed in a similar manner; and his labours, too, are chronicled in a foot-note. Now, the first man's fame, if you come to look at it carefully, is but small. His labours are kindly alluded to in a foot-note of a work which is also kindly alluded to in a foot-note of a work published forty or fifty years hence.

Surely this fame in a foot-note is not much worth having.