A man that hath no virtue in himself ever envieth virtue in others; for mens minds will either feed upon their own good or upon others evil; and who wanteth the one will prey upon the other; and whoso is out of hope to attain anothers virtue will seek to come at even hand by depressing anothers fortune.
A man that is busy and inquisitive is commonly envious; for to know much of other mens matters cannot be, because all that ado may concern his own estate; therefore it must needs be that he taketh a kind of play-pleasure in looking upon the fortunes of others; neither can he that mindeth but his own business find much matter for envy; for envy is a gadding passion, and walketh in the streets, and doth not keep home: Non est curiosus, quin idem sit malevolus.
Let age, not envy, draw wrinkles on thy cheeks; be content to be envied, but envy not. Emulation may be plausible, and indignation allowable, but admit no treaty with that passion which no circumstance can make good. A displacency at the good of others because they enjoy it, though not unworthy of it, is an absurd depravity, sticking fast unto corrupted nature, and often too hard for humility and charity, the great suppressors of envy. This surely is a lion not to be strangled but by Hercules himself, or the highest stress of our minds, and an atom of that power which subdueth all things unto itself.
Every other sin hath some pleasure annexed to it, or will admit of some excuse; but envy wants both: we should strive against it; for, if indulged in, it will be to us as a foretaste of hell upon earth.
Envy is a weed that grows in all soils and climates, and is no less luxuriant in the country than in the court; is not confined to any rank of men or extent of fortune, but rages in the breasts of all degrees. Alexander was not prouder than Diogenes; and it may be, if we would endeavour to surprise it in its most gaudy dress and attire and in the exercise of its full empire and tyranny, we should find it in schoolmasters and scholars, or in some country lady, or the knight her husband; all which ranks of people more despise their neighbours than all the degrees of honour in which courts abound; and it rages as much in a sordid, affected dress as in all the silks and embroideries which the excess of the age and folly of youth delight to be adorned with. Since then it keeps all sorts of company, and wriggles itself into the liking of the most contrary natures and dispositions, and yet carries so much poison and venom with it that it alienates the affections from heaven, and raises rebellion against God himself, it is worth our utmost care to watch it in all its disguises and approaches, that we may discover it in its first entrance, and dislodge it before it procures a shelter or retiring-place to lodge and conceal itself.
Envy is an ill-natured vice, and is made up of meanness and malice. It wishes the force of goodness to be strained, and the measure of happiness abated. It laments our prosperity, and sickens at the sight of health. It oftentimes wants spirit as well as good nature.
Envy ought, in strict truth, to have no place whatever allowed it in the heart of man; for the goods of this present world are so vile and low that they are beneath it, and those of the future world are so vast and exalted that they are above it.
In some unlucky dispositions there is such an envious kind of pride that they cannot endure that any but themselves should be set forth for excellent: so when they hear one justly praised, they will either seek to dismount his virtues; or, if they be like a clear night, eminent, they will stab him with a but of detraction: as if there were something yet so foul as did obnubilate even his brightest glory. Thus, when their tongue cannot justly condemn him, they will leave him in suspected ill, by silence. Surely, if we considered detraction to be bred of envy, nested only in deficient minds, we should find that the applauding of virtue would win us far more honour than the seeking slyly to disparage it. That would show we loved what we commended, while this tells the world we grudge at what we want in ourselves.
We are often infinitely mistaken, and take the falsest measures, when we envy the happiness of rich and great men; we know not the inward canker that eats out all their joy and delight, and makes them really much more miserable than ourselves.
Emulation is grief arising from seeing ones self exceeded or excelled by his concurrent, together with hope to equal or exceed him, in time to come, by his own ability. But envy is the same grief joined with pleasure conceived in the imagination of some ill fortune that may befall him.
All envy is proportionate to desire; we are uneasy at the attainments of another, according as we think our own happiness would be advanced by the addition of that which he withholds from us; and therefore whatever depresses immoderate wishes will, at the same time, set the heart free from the corrosion of envy, and exempt us from that vice which is, above most others, tormenting to ourselves, hateful to the world, and productive of mean artifices and sordid projects.
We may cure envy in ourselves, either by considering how useless or how ill these things were for which we envy our neighbour, or else how we possess as much or as good things. If I envy his greatness, I consider that he wants my quiet; as also I consider that he possibly envies me as much as I do him; and that when I begun to examine exactly his perfections, and to balance them with my own, I found myself as happy as he was. And though many envy others, yet very few would change their condition even with those whom they envy, all being considered.
I congratulate you upon having your share in that which all the great men and all the good men that ever lived have had their share of,envy and calumny. To be uncensured and to be obscure is the same thing.
The man who, by some sudden revolution of fortune, is lifted up all at once into a condition of life greatly above what he had formerly lived in, may be assured that the congratulations of his best friends are not all of them perfectly sincere. An upstart, though of the greatest merit, is generally disagreeable, and a sentiment of envy commonly prevents us from heartily sympathizing with his joy. If he has any judgment, he is sensible of this, and, instead of appearing to be elated with his good fortune, he endeavours, as much as he can, to smother his joy, and keep down that elevation of mind with which his new circumstances naturally inspire him. He affects the same plainness of dress, and the same modesty of behaviour, which became him in his former station. He redoubles his attention to his old friends, and endeavours more than ever to be humble, assiduous, and complaisant. And this is the behaviour which in his situation we most approve of; because we expect, it seems, that he should have more sympathy with our envy and aversion to his happiness, than we have with his happiness. It is seldom that with all this he succeeds. We suspect the sincerity of his humility, and he grows weary of this constraint.
The greatest flood has the soonest ebb; the sorest tempest the most sudden calm; the hottest love the coldest end; and from the deepest desire oftentimes ensues the deadliest hate. A wise man had rather be envied for providence than pitied for prodigality. Revenge barketh only at the stars, and spite spurns at that she cannot reach. An envious man waxeth lean with the fatness of his neighbours. Envy is the daughter of pride, the author of murder and revenge, the beginner of secret sedition, and the perpetual tormentor of virtue. Envy is the filthy slime of the soul; a venom, a poison, or quicksilver which consumeth the flesh and drieth up the marrow of the bones.
Such an envy as I have here described may possibly enter into an ingenuous mind; but the envy which makes a man uneasy to himself and others, is a certain distortion and perverseness of temper, that renders him unwilling to be pleased with anything without him, that has either beauty or perfection in it. I look upon it as a distemper in the mind, which I know no moralist that has described in this light, when a man cannot discern anything, which another is master of, that is agreeable. For which reason, I look upon the good-natured man to be endowed with a certain discerning faculty which the envious are altogether deprived of.
The envious man is in pain upon all occasions which ought to give him pleasure. The relish of his life is inverted; and the objects which administer the highest satisfaction to those who are exempt from this passion give the quickest pangs to persons who are subject to it. All the perfections of their fellow-creatures are odious. Youth, beauty, valour, and wisdom are provocations of their displeasure. What a wretched and apostate state this is! to be offended with excellence, and to hate a man because we approve him! The condition of the envious man is the most emphatically miserable; he is not only incapable of rejoicing in anothers merit or success, but lives in a world wherein all mankind are in a plot against his quiet, by studying their own happiness and advantage.
He that is envious or angry at a virtue that is not his own, at the perfection and excellency of his neighbour, is not covetous of the virtue, but of its reward and reputation; and then his intentions are polluted.
When any person of really eminent virtue becomes the object of envy, the clamour and abuse by which he is assailed is but the sign and accompaniment of his success in doing service to the Public. And if he is a truly wise man, he will take no more notice of it than the moon does of the howling of the dogs. Her only answer to them is to shine on.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Envy.