Fame has no proper ending to it, when it is first begun, as have things belonging to other appetites, nor is any man satiated with it at any time. Upon the contrary, the hunger after it will lead a man forward madly always to some sort of disaster, whether of disappointment in the soul, or of open dishonour.
Fame is not to be despised or trodden under as a thing not to be sought, for no man is free of the desire of it, nor can any man believe that desire to be an imperfection in him unless he desire at the same time something greater than Fame, and even then there is a flavour of Fame certain to attach to his achievement in the greater thing. No one can say of Fame, “I contemn it”; as a man can say of titles, “I contemn them.” Nor can any man say of the love of Fame, “This is a thing I should cast from me as evil,” as a man can say of lust when it is inordinate, that is, out of place. Nor can any man say of Fame, “It is a little thing,” for if he says that he is less or more than a man.
The love of Fame is the mobile of all great work in which also man is in the image of God, who not only created but took pleasure in what he did and, as we know, is satisfied by praise thereof.
In what way, then, shall men treat Fame? How shall they seek it, or hope to use it if obtained? To these questions it is best answered that a man should have for Fame a natural appetite, not forced nor curiously entertained; it must be present in him if he would do noble things. Yet if he makes the Fame of those things, and not those things themselves his chief business, then not only will he pursue Fame to his hurt, but also Fame will miss him. Though he should not disregard it yet he must not pursue it to himself too much, but he will rightly make of it in difficult times a great consolation.
When Fame comes upon a man well before death then must he most particularly beware of it, for is it then most dangerous. Neither must he, having achieved it, relax effort not (a much greater peril) think he has done his work because some Fame now attaches thereto.
Some say that after a man has died the spreading of his earthly Fame is still a pleasure to him among greater scenes: but this is doubtful. One thing is certain, Fame is enjoyable in good things accomplished; bitter, noisome and poisonous in all other things—whether it be the Fame of things thought to be accomplished but not accomplished, or Fame got by accident, or Fame for evil things concealed because they are evil.
The judgment of Fame is this: That many men having done great things of a good sort have not Fame. And that many men have Fame who have done little things and most of them evil. The virtue of Fame is that it nourishes endeavour. The peril of Fame is that it leads men towards itself, and therefore into inanities and sheer loss. But Fame has a fruit, which is a sort of satisfaction coming from our communion with mankind.
They that believe they deserve Fame though they lack it may be consoled in this: that soon they shall be concerned with much more lasting things, and things more immediate and more true: just as a man who misses some entertainment at a show will console himself if he knows that shortly he shall meet his love. They that have Fame may correct its extravagances by the same token: remembering that shortly they will be so occupied that this earthly Fame of theirs will seem a toy. Old men know this well.
~Hilaire Belloc: in This And That And The Other.