S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Sir Richard Steele
It is with some so hard a thing to employ their time, that it is a great good fortune when they have a friend indisposed, that they may be punctual in perplexing him, when he is recovered enough to be in that state which cannot be called sickness or health; when he is too well to deny company, and too ill to receive them. It is no uncommon case, if a man is of any figure or power in the world, to be congratulated into a relapse.
Cheerfulness is always to be supported if a man is out of pain, but mirth to a prudent man should always be accidental. It should naturally arise out of the occasion, and the occasion seldom laid out for it: for those tempers who want mirth to be pleased are like the constitutions which flag without the use of brandy. Therefore I say, let your precept be, Be easy. That mind is dissolute and ungoverned which must be hurried out of itself by loud laughter or sensual pleasure, or else be wholly inactive.
It is a melancholy fact, verified by every days observation, that the experience of the past is totally lost both upon individuals and nations. A few persons, indeed, who have attended to the history of former errors, are aware of the consequences to which they invariably lead, and lament the progress of national violence in the same way as they do the career of individual intemperance. But upon the great mass of mankindthe young, the active, and the ambitioussuch examples are wholly thrown away. Each successive generation plunges into the abyss of passion, without the slightest regard to the fatal effects which such conduct has produced upon their predecessors; and lament, when too late, the rashness with which they slighted the advice of experience and stilled the voice of reason.
Human nature is not so much depraved as to hinder us from respecting goodness in others, though we ourselves want it. This is the reason why we are so much charmed with the pretty prattle of children, and even the expressions of pleasure or uneasiness in some parts of the brute creation. They are without artifice or malice; and we love truth too well to resist the charms of sincerity.
Laughter is a vent of any sudden joy that strikes upon the mind, which, being too volatile and strong, breaks out in this tremor of the voice. The poets make use of this metaphor when they would describe nature in her richest dress; for beauty is never so lovely as when adorned with the smile, and conversation never sits easier upon us than when we now and then discharge ourselves in a symphony of laughter, which may not improperly be called the chorus of conversation.
We may range the several kinds of laughter under the following heads:the dimplers, the smilers, the laughers, the grinners, the horse-laughers. The dimple is practised to give a grace to the features, and is frequently made a bait to entangle a gazing lover; this was called by the ancients the Chian laugh. The smile is for the most part confined to the fair sex and their male retinue. It expresses our satisfaction in a silent sort of approbation, doth not too much disorder the features, and is practised by lovers of the most delicate address. This tender motion of physiognomy the ancients called the Ionic laugh. The laugh among us is the common risus of the ancients. The grin, by writers of antiquity is called the Syncrusian; and was then, as it is at this time, made use of to display a beautiful set of teeth. The horse-laugh, or the Sardonic, is made use of with great success in all kinds of disputation. The proficients in this kind, by a well-timed laugh, will baffle the most solid argument. This, upon all occasions, supplies the want of reason; is always received with great applause in coffee-house disputes; and that side the laugh joins with is generally observed to gain the better of his antagonist.
In order to look into any persons temper, I generally make my first observations upon his laugh, whether he is easily moved, and what are the passages which throw him into that agreeable kind of convulsion. People are never so much unguarded as when they are pleased; and laughter being a visible symptom of some inward satisfaction, it is then, if ever, we may believe the face. There is, perhaps, no better index to point us to the particularities of the mind than this, which is itself one of the chief distinctions of our rationality. For, as Milton says,
It may be remarked, in general, under this head, that the laugh of men of wit is for the most part but a faint constrained kind of half-laugh, as such persons are never without some diffidence about them; but that of fools is the most honest, natural, open laugh in the world.
Nothing is more silly than the pleasure some people take in speaking their minds. A man of this make will say a rude thing for the mere pleasure of saying it, when an opposite behaviour, full as innocent, might have preserved his friend, or made his fortune.
The marriage-life is always an insipid, a vexatious, or a happy condition. The first is, when two people of no genius or taste for themselves meet together upon such a settlement as has been thought reasonable by parents and conveyancers, from an exact valuation of the lands and cash of both parties. In this case the young ladys person is no more regarded than the house and improvements in purchase of an estate; but she goes with her fortune, rather than her fortune with her. These make up the crowd or vulgar of the rich, and fill up the lumber of the human race, without beneficence towards those below them, or respect towards those above them.
The vexatious life arises from a conjunction of two people of quick taste and resentment, put together for reasons well known to their friends, in which especial care is taken to avoid (what they think the chief of evils) poverty, and insure to them riches, with every evil besides. These good people live in a constant constraint before company, and too great familiarity alone. When they are within observation, they fret at each others carriage and behaviour; when alone, they revile each others person and conduct. In company, they are in purgatory; when alone together, in a hell.
The happy marriage is where two persons meet and voluntarily make choice of each other without principally regarding and neglecting the circumstances of fortune or beauty. These may still love in spite of adversity or sickness: the former we may, in some measure, defend ourselves from; the other is the portion of our very make.
Pleasure, when it is a mans chief purpose, disappoints itself; and the constant application to it palls the faculty of enjoying it, though it leaves the sense of our inability for that we wish, with a disrelish of everything else. Thus the intermediate seasons of the man of pleasure are more heavy than one would impose upon the vilest criminal.
Allow no man to be so familiar with you as to praise you to your face. Your vanity by this means will want its food; at the same time your passion for esteem will be more fully gratified: men will praise you in their actions: where you now receive one compliment you will then receive twenty civilities.
There is no passion so universal, however diversified or disguised under different forms and appearances, as the vanity of being known to the rest of mankind, and communicating a mans parts, virtues, or qualifications, to the world: this is so strong upon men of great genius that they have a restless fondness for satisfying the world in the mistakes they might possibly be under with relation even to their physiognomy.
When easy writings fall into the hands of an ordinary reader, they appear to him so natural and unlaboured, that he immediately resolves to write, and fancies that all he hath to do is to take no pains. Thus he thinks, indeed, simply, but the thoughts, not being chosen with judgment, are not beautiful: he, it is true, expresses himself plainly, but flatly withal. Again, if a man of vivacity takes it into his head to write this way, what self-denial must he undergo when bright points of wit occur to his fancy! How difficult will he find it to reject florid phrases and pretty embellishments of style! So true it is, that simplicity of all things is the hardest to be copied, and ease to be acquired with the greatest labour.
Daily experience shows us that the most rude rustic grows humane as soon as he is inspired by this passion: it gives a new grace to our manners, a new dignity to our minds, a new visage to our persons. Whether we are inclined to liberal arts, to arms, or address in our exercise, our improvement is hastened by a particular object whom we would please. Cheerfulness, gentleness, fortitude, liberality, magnificence, and all the virtues which adorn men, which inspire heroes, are most conspicuous in lovers.
Men would come into company with ten times the pleasure they do, if they were sure of hearing nothing that would shock them, as well as expected what would please them. When we know every person that is spoken of is represented by one who has no ill will, and everything that is mentioned described by one that is apt to set it in the best light, the entertainment must be delicate, because the cook has nothing brought to his hand but what is the most excellent in its kind. Beautiful pictures are the entertainments of pure minds, and deformities of the corrupted. It is a degree towards the life of angels when we enjoy conversation wherein there is nothing presented but in its excellence: and a degree towards that of demons, wherein nothing is shown but in its degeneracy.
This portable quality of good-humour seasons all the parts and occurrences we meet with, in such a manner that there are no moments lost, but they all pass with so much satisfaction that the heaviest of loads (when it is a load), that of time, is never felt by us. Varilas has this quality to the highest perfection, and communicates it whenever he appears. The sad, the merry, the severe, the melancholy, show a new cheerfulness when he comes among them. At the same time, no one can repeat anything that Varilas has ever said that deserves repetition; but the man has that innate goodness of temper that he is welcome to everybody; because every man thinks he is so to him. He does not seem to contribute anything to the mirth of the company; and yet upon reflection you find it all happened by his being there.
It is a wonderful thing that so many, and they not reckoned absurd, shall entertain those with whom they converse, by giving them a history of their pains and aches, and imagine such narrations their quota of the conversation. This is of all other the meanest help to discourse, and a man must not think at all, or think himself very insignificant, when he finds an account of his headache answered by anothers asking what news by the last mail. Mutual good-humour is a dress we ought to appear in whenever we meet, and we should make no mention of what concerns ourselves, without it be of matters wherein our friends ought to rejoice.
Indolence is, methinks, an intermediate state between pleasure and pain; and very much unbecoming any part of our life after we are out of the nurses arms. Such an aversion to labour creates a constant weariness, and one would think should make existence itself a burden. The indolent man descends from the dignity of his nature, and makes that being which was rational merely vegetative. His life consists only in the mere increase and decay of a body, which, with relation to the rest of the world, might as well have been uninformed, as the habitation of a reasonable mind.
A man advanced in years that thinks fit to look back upon his former life, and call that only life which was passed with satisfaction and enjoyment, excluding all parts which were not pleasant to him, will find himself very young, if not in his infancy. Sickness, ill humour, and idleness will have robbed him of a great share of that space which we ordinarily call our life. It is therefore the duty of every man that would be true to himself, to obtain, if possible, a disposition to be pleased, and place himself in a constant aptitude for the satisfactions of his being. Instead of this, you hardly see a man who is not uneasy in proportion to his advancement in the arts of life.
It would be a noble improvement, or rather a recovery, of what we call good-breeding, if nothing were to pass amongst us for agreeable which was the least transgression against that rule of life called decorum, or a regard to decency. This would command the respect of mankind, because it carries in it deference to their good opinion, as humility lodged in a worthy mind is always attended with a certain homage, which no haughty soul, with all the arts imaginable, will ever be able to purchase.
Tully says, virtue and decency are so nearly related that it is difficult to separate them from each other but in our imagination. As the beauty of the body always accompanies the health of it, so certainly is decency concomitant to virtue. As beauty of body, with an agreeable carriage, pleases the eye, and that pleasure consists in that we observe all the parts with a certain elegance are proportioned to each other; so does decency of behaviour which appears in our lives obtain the approbation of all with whom we converse, from the order, consistency, and moderation of our words and actions.
As it is the part of justice never to do violence, it is of modesty never to commit offence. In the last particular lies the whole force of what is called decency; but this quality is more easily comprehended by an ordinary capacity than expressed with all his eloquence. This decency of behaviour is generally transgressed among all orders of men; nay, the very women, though themselves created as it were for ornament, are often very much mistaken in this ornamental part of life.
You men are writers, and can represent us women as unbecoming as you please in your works, while we are unable to return the injury. You have twice or thrice observed in your discourse, that hypocrisy is the very foundation of our education; and that an ability to dissemble our affections is a professed part of our breeding. These and such other reflections are sprinkled up and down the writings of all ages, by authors, who leave behind them memorials of their resentment against the scorn of particular women, in invectives against the whole sex.
There is a sort of delight, which is alternately mixed with terror and sorrow, in the contemplation of death. The soul has its curiosity more than ordinarily awakened when it turns its thoughts upon the conduct of such who have behaved themselves with an equal, a resigned, a cheerful, a generous or heroic temper in that extremity. We are affected with these respective manners of behaviour, as we secretly believe the part of the dying person imitated by ourselves, or such as we imagine ourselves more particularly capable of. Men of exalted minds march before us like princes, and are to the ordinary race of mankind rather subjects of their admiration than example. However, there are no ideas strike more forcibly upon our imaginations than those which are raised from reflections upon the exits of great and excellent men.
Beauty has been the delight and torment of the world ever since it began. The philosophers have felt its influence so sensibly that almost every one of them has left some saying or other which intimated that he knew too well the power of it. One has told us that a graceful person is a more powerful recommendation than the best letter that can be writ in your favour. Another desires the possessor of it to consider it is a mere gift of nature, and not any perfection of its own. A third calls it a short-lived tyranny; a fourth, a silent fraud, because it imposes upon us without the help of language. But I think Carneades spoke as much like a philosopher as any of them, though more like a lover, when he calls it royally without force. It is not indeed to be denied but there is something irresistible in a beauteous form; the most severe will not pretend that they do not feel an immediate prepossession in favour of the handsome.
It is an unreasonable thing some men expect of their acquaintance. They are ever complaining that they are out of order, or displeased, or they know not how, and are so far from letting that be a reason for retiring to their own homes, that they make it their argument for coming into company. What has anybody to do with accounts of a mans being indisposed but his physician? If a man laments in company, where the rest are in humour to enjoy themselves, he should not take it ill if a servant is ordered to present him with a porringer of caudle or posset-drink, by way of admonition that he go home to bed.
Whatever we do, we should keep the cheerfulness of our spirits, and never let them sink below an inclination at least to be well pleased. The way to this, is to keep our bodies in exercise, our minds at ease. That insipid state wherein neither are in vigour, is not to be accounted any part of our portion of being. When we are in the satisfaction of some innocent pleasure, or pursuit of some laudable design, we are in the possession of life, of human life. Fortune will give us disappointments enough, without our adding to the unhappy side of our account by our spleen or ill humour.
That part of life which we ordinarily understand by the word conversation, is an indulgence to the sociable part of our make; and should incline us to bring our proportion of good-will or good humour among the friends we meet with, and not to trouble them with relations which must of necessity oblige them to a real or feigned affliction. Cares, distresses, diseases, uneasinesses, and dislikes of our own, are by no means to be obtruded upon our friends. If we would consider how little of this vicissitude of motion and rest, which we call life, is spent with satisfaction, we should be more tender of our friends, than to bring them little sorrows which do not belong to them. There is no real life but cheerful life; therefore valetudinarians should be sworn, before they enter into company, not to say a word of themselves until the meeting breaks up.
We know the highest pleasure our minds are capable of enjoying with composure, when we read sublime thoughts communicated to us by men of great genius and eloquence. Such is the entertainment we meet with in the philosophic parts of Ciceros writings. Truth and good sense have there so charming a dress, that they could hardly be more agreeably represented with the addition of poetical fiction and the power of numbers.
Pleasure seizes the whole man who addicts himself to it, and will not give him leisure for any good office in life which contradicts the gaiety of the present hour. You may indeed observe in people of pleasure a certain complacency and absence of all severity, which the habit of a loose unconcerned life gives them; but tell the man of pleasure your secret wants, cares, or sorrows, and you will find that he has given up the delicacy of his passions to the cravings of his appetites. He little knows the perfect joy he loses, for the disappointing gratifications which he pursues. He looks at Pleasure as she approaches, and comes to him with the recommendation of warm wishes, gay looks, and graceful motion; but he does not observe how she leaves his presence with disorder, impotence, downcast shame, and conscious imperfection. She makes our youth inglorious, our age shameful.
As to all the rational and worthy pleasures of our being, the conscience of a good fame, the contemplation of another life, the respect and commerce of honest men, our capacities for such enjoyments are enlarged by years. While health endures, the latter part of life, in the eye of reason, is certainly the more eligible. The memory of a well-spent youth gives a peaceable, unmixed, and elegant pleasure to the mind; and to such who are so unfortunate as not to be able to look back on youth with satisfaction they may give themselves no little consolation that they are under no temptation to repeat the follies, and that they at present despise them.
There is but one thing necessary to keep the possession of true glory, which is to hear the opposers of it with patience, and preserve the virtue by which it was acquired. When a man is thoroughly persuaded that he ought neither to admire, wish for, or pursue anything but what is exactly his duty, it is not in the power of seasons, persons, or accidents to diminish his value. He only is a great man who can neglect the applause of the multitude, and enjoy himself independent of its favour. This is indeed an arduous task; but it should comfort a glorious spirit that it is the highest step to which human nature can arrive. Triumph, applause, acclamation, are dear to the mind of man; but it is a still more exquisite delight to say to yourself, you have done well, than to hear the whole human race pronounce you glorious, except you yourself can join with them in your own reflections. A mind thus equal and uniform may be deserted by little fashionable admirers and followers, but will ever be had in reverence by souls like itself. The branches of the oak endure all the seasons of the year, though its leaves fall off in autumn; and these too will be restored with the returning spring.
But those men only are truly great who place their ambition rather in acquiring to themselves the conscience of worthy enterprises, than in the prospect of glory which awaits them. These exalted spirits would rather be secretly the authors of events which are serviceable to mankind, than, without being such, to have the public fame of it. Where therefore an eminent merit is robbed by artifice or detraction, it does but increase by such endeavours of its enemies. The impotent pains which are taken to sully it, or diffuse it among a crowd to the injury of a single person, will naturally produce the contrary effect; the fire will blaze out, and burn up all that attempt to smother what they cannot extinguish.
There can be no greater injury to human society than that good talents among men should be held honourable to those who are endowed with them, without any regard to how they are applied. The gifts of nature and accomplishments of art are valuable but as they are exerted in the interests of virtue or governed by the rules of honour. We ought to abstract our minds from the observation of an excellence in those we converse with, till we have taken some notice, or received some good information, of the disposition of their minds; otherwise the beauty of their persons, or the charms of their wit, may make us fond of those whom our reason and judgment will tell us we ought to abhor.
If a lawyer were to be esteemed only as he uses his parts in contending for justice, and were immediately despicable when he appeared in a cause which he could not but know was an unjust one, how honourable would his character be! And how honourable is it in such among us, who follow the profession no otherwise than as labouring to protect the injured, to subdue the oppressor, to imprison the careless debtor, and do right to the painful artificer! But many of this excellent character are overlooked by the greater number; who affect covering a weak place in a clients title, diverting the course of an inquiry, or finding a skilful refuge to palliate a falsehood: yet it is still called eloquence in the latter, though thus unjustly employed: but resolution in an assassin is according to reason quite as laudable, as knowledge and wisdom exercised in the defence of an ill cause.
These are the toils in which I am taken, and I carry off my servitude as well as most men; but my application to you is in behalf of the hen-pecked in general, and I desire a dissertation from you in defence of us. You have, as I am informed, very good authorities in our favour, and hope you will not omit the mention of the renowned Socrates, and his philosophic resignation to his wife Xantippe. This would be a very good office to the world in general, for the hen-pecked are powerful in their quality and numbers, not only in cities, but in courts; in the latter they are ever the most obsequious, in the former the most wealthy, of all men.
It is possible you may not believe there are such tyrants in the world; but, alas, I can tell you of a man who is ever out of humour in his wifes company, and the pleasantest man in the world everywhere else; the greatest sloven at home when he appears to none but his family, and most exactly well dressed in all other places. Alas, sir, is it of course, that to deliver ones self wholly into a mans power without possibility of appeal to any other jurisdiction but his own reflections, is so little an obligation to a gentleman, that he can be offended and fall into a rage, because my heart swells tears into my eyes when I see him in a cloudy mood?
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.
It is the most beautiful object the eyes of man can behold to see a man of worth and his son live in an entire, unreserved correspondence. The mutual kindness and affection between them, give an inexpressible satisfaction to all who know them. It is a sublime pleasure which increases by the participation. It is as sacred as friendship, as pleasurable as love, and as joyful as religion. This state of mind does not only dissipate sorrow which would be extreme without it, but enlarges pleasures which would otherwise be contemptible. The most indifferent thing has its force and beauty when it is spoke by a kind father, and an insignificant trifle has its weight when offered by a dutiful child. I know not how to express it, but I think I may call it a transplanted self-love.
There is a particular fault which I have observed in most of the moralists in all ages, and that is, that they are always professing themselves, and teaching others, to be happy. This state is not to be arrived at in this life; therefore I would recommend to you to talk in a humbler strain than your predecessors have done, and, instead of presuming to be happy, instruct us only to be easy. The thoughts of him who would be discreet, and aim at practicable things, should turn upon allaying our pain, rather than promoting our joy. Great inquietude is to be avoided, but great felicity is not to be attained. The great lesson is equanimity, a regularity of spirit, which is a little above cheerfulness and below mirth. Cheerfulness is always to be supported if a man is out of pain, but mirth to a prudent man should always be accidental. It should naturally arise out of the occasion, and the occasion seldom be laid for it; for those tempers who want mirth to be pleased are like the constitutions which flag without the use of brandy. Therefore, I say, let your precept be, be easy.
But if there were no such consideration as the good effect which self-denial has upon the sense of other men towards us, it is of all qualities the most desirable for the agreeable disposition in which it places our own minds. I cannot tell what better to say of it, than that it is the very contrary of ambition; and that modesty allays all those passions and inquietudes to which that vice exposes us. He that is moderate in his wishes, from reason and choice, and not resigned from sourness, distaste, or disappointment, doubles all the pleasures of his life. The air, the season, a sunshiny day, or a fair prospect, are instances of happiness; and that which he enjoys in common with all the world (by his exemption from the enchantments by which all the world are bewitched), are to him uncommon benefits and new acquisitions. Health is not eaten up with care, nor pleasure interrupted by envy.
I have very often lamented and hinted my sorrow in several speculations, that the art of painting is made so little use of to the improvement of our manners. When we consider that it places the action of the person represented in the most agreeable aspect imaginable, that it does not only express the passion or concern as it sets upon him who is drawn, but has under those features the height of the painters imagination, what strong images of virtue and humanity might we not expect would be instilled into the mind from the labours of the pencil?
Among all the diseases of the mind, there is not one more epidemical or more pernicious than the love of flattery. For as where the juices of the body are prepared to receive the malignant influence, there the disease rages with most violence; so in this distemper of the mind, where there is ever a propensity and inclination to suck in the poison, it cannot be but that the whole order of reasonable action must be overturned; for, like music, it
First we flatter ourselves, and then the flattery of others is sure of success. It awakens our self-love within, a party which is ever ready to revolt from our better judgment and join the enemy without.
But if flattery be the most sordid act that can be complied with, the art of praising justly is as commendable; for it is laudable to praise well; as poets at one and the same time give immortality, and receive it themselves as a reward. Both are pleased; the one whilst he receives the recompense of merit, the other whilst he shows he knows how to discern it: but above all, that man is happy in this art, who, like a skilful painter, retains the features and complexion, but still softens the picture into the most agreeable likeness. There can hardly, I believe, be imagined a more desirable pleasure than that of praise unmixed with any possibility of flattery.
A good name is fitly compared to a precious ointment, and when we are praised with skill and decency, it is indeed the most agreeable perfume; but if too strongly admitted into the brain of a less vigorous and happy texture, it will, like too strong an odour, overcome the senses, and prove pernicious to those nerves it was intended to refresh. A generous mind is of all others the most sensible of praise and dispraise; and a noble spirit is as much invigorated with its due proportion of honour and applause, as it is depressed by neglect and contempt. But it is only persons far above the common level who are thus affected with either of these extremes; as in a thermometer, it is only the purest and most sublimated spirit that is either contracted or dilated by the benignity or inclemency of the season.
The great foundation of civil virtue is self-denial; and there is no one above the necessities of life, but has opportunities of exercising that noble quality, and doing as much as his circumstances will bear for the ease and convenience of other men; and he who does more than ordinary men practise upon such occasions as occur in his life, deserves the value of his friends, as if he had done enterprises which are usually attended with the brightest glory. Men of public spirit differ rather in their circumstances than their virtue; and the man who does all he can, in a low station, is more a hero than he who omits any worthy action he is able to accomplish in a great one.
I am married, and have no other concern but to please the man I love; he is the end of every care I have; if I dress, it is for him; if I read a poem, or a play, it is to qualify myself for a conversation agreeable to his taste; he is almost the end of my devotions; half my prayers are for his happiness.
These slight intimations will give you to understand that there are numberless little crimes which children take no notice of while they are doing, which, upon reflection, when they shall themselves become fathers, they will look upon with the utmost sorrow and contrition, that they did not regard before those whom they offended were to be no more seen. How many thousand things do I remember which would have highly pleased my father, and I omitted for no other reason but that I thought what he proposed the effect of humour and old age, which I am now convinced had reason and good sense in it! I cannot now go into the parlour to him and make his heart glad with an account of a matter which was of no consequence, but that I told it and acted in it. The good man and woman are long since in their graves, who used to sit and plot the welfare of us their children, while, perhaps, we were sometimes laughing at the old folks at the other end of the house.
Age is so unwelcome to the generality of mankind, and growth towards manhood so desirable to all, that resignation to decay is too difficult a task in the father; and deference, amidst the impulse of gay desires, appears unreasonable to the son. There are so few who can grow old with a good grace, and yet fewer that can come slow enough into the world, that a father, were he to be actuated by his desires, and a son, were he to consult himself only, could neither of them behave himself as he ought to the other.
It has been from age to age an affectation to love the pleasure of solitude, among those who cannot possibly be supposed qualified for passing life in that manner. This people have taken up from reading the many agreeable things which have been written on that subject, for which we are beholden to excellent persons who delighted in being retired, and abstracted from the pleasures that enchant the generality of the world. This way of life is recommended indeed with great beauty, and in such a manner as disposes the reader for the time to pleasing forgetfulness or negligence of the particular hurry of life in which he is engaged, together with a longing for that state which he is charmed with in description. But when we consider the world itself, and how few there are capable of a religious, learned, or philosophic solitude, we shall be apt to change a regard to that sort of solitude, for being a little singular in enjoying time after the way a man himself likes best in the world, without going so far as wholly to withdraw from it.
Methinks it is a misfortune, that the marriage state, which in its own nature is adapted to give us the completest happiness this life is capable of, should be so uncomfortable a one to so many as it daily proves. But the mischief generally proceeds from the unwise choice people make for themselves, and an expectation of happiness from things not capable of giving it. Nothing but the good qualities of the person beloved can be a foundation for a love of judgment and discretion; and whoever expects happiness from anything but virtue, wisdom, good humour, and a similitude of manners will find themselves widely mistaken.
There is scarce a thinking man in the world, who is involved in the business of it, but lives under a secret impatience of the hurry and fatigue he suffers, and has formed a resolution to fix himself, one time or other, in such a state as is suitable to the end of his being. You hear men every day in conversation profess that all the honour, power, and riches, which they propose to themselves, cannot give satisfaction enough to reward them for half the anxiety they undergo in the pursuit or the possession of them. While men are in this temper (which happens very frequently), how inconsistent are they with themselves! They are wearied with the toil they bear, but cannot find it in their hearts to relinquish it: retirement is what they want, but they cannot betake themselves to it. While they pant after shade and covert, they still affect to appear in the most glittering scenes of life. Sure this is but just as reasonable as if a man should call for more light, when he has a mind to go to sleep.
The desire of pleasing makes a man agreeable or unwelcome to those with whom he converses, according to the motive from which that inclination appears to flow. If your concern for pleasing others arises from an innate benevolence, it never fails of success; if from a vanity to excel, its disappointment is no less certain. What we call an agreeable man, is he who is endowed with the natural bent to do acceptable things from a delight he takes merely as such; and the affectation of that character is what constitutes a fop.
The happy talent of pleasing either those above you or below you, seems to be wholly owing to the opinion they have of your sincerity. This quality is to attend the agreeable man in all the actions of his life; and I think there need no more be said in honour of it than that it is what forces the approbation of your opponents.
It is a lamentable thing that every man is full of complaints and constantly uttering sentences against the fickleness of Fortune, when people generally bring upon themselves all the calamities they fall into, and are constantly heaping up matter for their own sorrow and disappointment. That which produces the greatest part of the delusions of mankind is a false hope which people indulge with so sanguine a flattery to themselves, that their hearts are bent upon fantastical advantages which they have no reason to believe should ever have arrived to them. By this unjust measure of calculating their happiness, they often mourn with real affliction for imaginary losses.
It is indeed the greatest insolence imaginable, in a creature who would feel the extremes of thirst and hunger if he did not prevent his appetites before they call upon him, to be so forgetful of the common necessities of human nature as never to cast an eye upon the poor and needy. The fellow who escaped from a ship which struck upon a rock in the west, and joined with the country people to destroy his brother sailors and make her a wreck, was thought a most execrable creature; but does not every man who enjoys the possession of what he naturally wants, and is unmindful of the unsupplied distress of other men, betray the same temper of mind?
When you talk of the subject of love, and the relations arising from it, methinks you should take care to leave no fault unobserved which concerns the state of marriage. The great vexation that I have observed in it is, that the wedded couple seem to want opportunities of being often alone together, and are forced to quarrel and be fond before company. Mr. Hotspur and his lady, in a room full of their friends, are ever saying something so smart to each other, and that but just within rules, that the whole company stand in the utmost anxiety and suspense, for fear of their falling into extremities which they could not be present at. On the other side, Tom Faddle and his pretty spouse, wherever they come, are billing and cooing at such a rate as they think must do our hearts good to behold them. Cannot you possibly propose a mean between being wasps and doves in public?
It is a very melancholy reflection, that men are usually so weak that it is absolutely necessary for them to know sorrow and pain, to be in their right senses. Prosperous people (for happy there are none) are hurried away with a fond sense of their present condition, and thoughtless of the mutability of fortune. Fortune is a term which we must use, in such discourses as these, for what is wrought by the unseen hand of the Disposer of all things. But methinks the disposition of a mind which is truly great is that which makes misfortunes and sorrows little when they befall ourselves, great and lamentable when they befall other men. The most unpardonable malefactor in the world going to his death and bearing it with composure would win the pity of those who should behold him; and this not because his calamity is deplorable, but because he seems himself not to deplore it. We suffer for him who is less sensible of his own misery, and are inclined to despise him who sinks under the weight of his distresses.
A gentleman, where I happened to be last night, fell into a discourse which I thought showed a good discerning in him. He took notice, that whenever men have looked into their heart for the idea of true excellence in human nature, they have found it to consist in suffering after a right manner and with a good grace. Heroes are always drawn bearing sorrows, struggling with adversities, undergoing all kinds of hardships, and having, in the service of mankind, a kind of appetite to difficulties and dangers.
I take it to be the highest instance of a noble mind, to bear great qualities without discovering in a mans behaviour any consciousness that he is superior to the rest of the world. Or, to say it otherwise, it is the duty of a great person so to demean himself, as that whatever endowments he may have, he may appear to value himself upon no qualities but such as any man may arrive at. He ought to think no man valuable but for his public spirit, justice, and integrity: and all other endowments to be esteemed only as they contribute to the exerting those virtues.
But however spirits of a superficial greatness may disdain at first sight to do anything, but from a noble impulse in themselves, without any future regards in this or any other being; upon stricter inquiry they will find, to act worthily, and expect to be rewarded only in another world, is as heroic a pitch of virtue as human nature can arrive at. If the tenor of our actions have any other motive than the desire to be pleasing in the eye of the Deity, it will necessarily follow that we must be more than men, if we are not too much exalted in prosperity and depressed in adversity. But the Christian world has a Leader, the contemplation of whose life and sufferings must administer comfort in affliction, while the sense of his power and omnipotence must give them humiliation in prosperity.
It is owing to the forbidding and unlovely constraint with which men of low conceptions act when they think they conform themselves to religion, as well as to the more odious conduct of hypocrites, that the word Christian does not carry with it at first view all that is great, worthy, friendly, generous, and heroic. The man who suspends his hopes of the reward of worthy actions till after death, who can bestow unseen, who can overlook hatred, do good to his slanderer, who can never be angry at his friend, never revengeful to his enemy, is certainly formed for the benefit of society. Yet these are so far from heroic virtues, that they are but the ordinary duties of a Christian.
It is an assertion which admits of much proof, that a stranger of tolerable sense, dressed like a gentleman, will be better received by those of quality above him, than one of much better parts whose dress is regulated by the rigid notions of frugality. A mans appearance falls within the censure of every one that sees him; his parts and learning very few are judges of; and even upon these few they cannot at first be well intruded; for policy and good breeding will counsel him to be reserved among strangers, and to support himself only by the common spirit of conversation.
The lawyer who is vehement and loud in the cause wherein he knows he has not the truth of the question on his side, is a player as to the personated part, but incomparably meaner than he as to the prostitution of himself for hire: because the pleaders falsehood introduces injustice; the player feigns for no other end but to divert or instruct you.
There is a fault which, though common, wants a name. It is the very contrary to procrastination. As we lose the present hour by delaying from day to day to execute what we ought to do immediately, so most of us take occasion to sit still and throw away the time in our possession by retrospect on what is past, imagining we have already acquitted ourselves, and established our characters in the sight of mankind. But when we thus put a value upon ourselves for what we have already done, any farther than to explain ourselves in order to assist our future conduct, that will give us an overweening opinion of our merit, to the prejudice of our present industry. The great rule, methinks, should be, to manage the instant in which we stand, with fortitude, equanimity, and moderation, according to mens respective circumstances. If our past actions reproach us, they cannot be atoned for by our own severe reflections so effectually as by a contrary behaviour. If they are praiseworthy, the memory of them is of no use but to act suitably to them. Thus a good present behaviour is an implicit repentance for any miscarriage in what is past; but present slackness will not make up for past activity.
When our consciousness turns upon the main design of life, and our thoughts are employed upon the chief purpose either in business or pleasure, we shall never betray an affectation, for we cannot be guilty of it; but when we give the passion for praise an unbridled liberty, our pleasure in little perfections robs us of what is due to us for great virtues and worthy qualities. How many excellent speeches and honest actions are lost for want of being indifferent where we ought!
The wild havoc affectation makes in that part of the world which should be most polite, is visible wherever we turn our eyes; it pushes men not only into impertinences in conversation, but also in their premeditated speeches. At the bar it torments the bench, whose business it is to cut off all superfluities in what is spoken before it by the practitioner; as well as several little pieces of injustice which arise from the law itself. I have seen it make a man run from the purpose before a judge who was, when at the bar himself, so close and logical a pleader, that, with all the pomp of eloquence in his power, he never spoke a word too much.
As the love of praise is implanted in our bosoms as a strong incentive to worthy actions, it is a very difficult task to get above a desire of it for things that should be wholly indifferent. Women, whose hearts are fixed upon the pleasure they have in the consciousness that they are the objects of love and admiration, are ever changing the air of their countenances, and altering the attitude of their bodies, to strike the hearts of their beholders with new sense of their beauty. The dressing part of our sex, whose minds are the same with the sillier part of the other, are exactly in the like uneasy condition to be regarded for a well-tied cravat, a hat cocked with an uncommon briskness, a very well-chosen coat, or other instances of merit, which they are impatient to see unobserved.
Pride, in some particular disguise or other (often a secret to the proud himself), is the most ordinary spring of action among men. You need no more than to discover what a man values himself for: then of all things admire that quality, but be sure to be failing in it yourself in comparison of the man whom you court.
I do not know anything which gives greater disturbance to conversation than the false notion some people have of raillery. It ought, certainly, to be the first point to be aimed at in society, to gain the good will of those with whom you converse: the way to that is, to show you are well inclined towards them. What then can be more absurd than to set up for being extremely sharp and biting, as the term is, in your expressions to your familiars? A man who has no good quality but courage is in a very ill way towards making an agreeable figure in the world, because that which he has superior to other people cannot be exerted without raising himself an enemy. Your gentleman of a satirical turn is in the like condition.
It is a certain sign of an ill heart to be inclined to defamation. They who are harmless and innocent can have no gratification that way: but it ever arises from a neglect of what is laudable in a mans self, and an impatience of seeing it in another.
It is a very common expression, that such a one is very good-natured, but very passionate. The expression, indeed, is very good natured, to allow passionate people so much quarter; but I think a passionate man deserves the least indulgence possible. It is said, it is soon over; that is, all the mischief he does is quickly despatched, which, I think, is no great recommendation to favour.
Fidelia, on her part, as I was going to say, as accomplished as she is, with all her beauty, wit, air, and mien, employs her whole time in care and attendance upon her father. How have I been charmed to see one of the most beauteous women the age has produced, on her knees, helping on an old mans slipper! Her filial regard to him is what she makes her diversion, her business, and her glory.
There is something sacred in misery to great and good minds; for this reason all wise lawgivers have been extremely tender how they let loose even the man who has right on his side, to act with any mixture of resentment against the defendant.
Let any one who is conversant in the variety of human life reflect upon it, and he will find the man who wants mercy has a taste of no enjoyment of any kind. There is a natural disrelish of everything which is good in his very nature, and he is born an enemy to the world. He is ever extremely partial to himself in all his actions, and has no sense of iniquity but from the punishment which shall attend it. The law of the land is his gospel, and all his cases of conscience are determined by his attorney.
People are not aware of the very great force which pleasantry in company has upon all those with whom a man of that talent converses. His faults are generally overlooked by all his acquaintance; and a certain carelessness that constantly attends all his actions carries him on with greater success than diligence and assiduity does others who have no share of this endowment.
There is no one passion which all mankind so naturally give in to as pride, nor any other passion which appears in such different disguises. It is to be found in all habits and all complexions. Is it not a question whether it does more harm or good in the world; and if there be not such a thing as what we may call a virtuous and laudable pride?
It is this passion alone, when misapplied, that lays us so open to flatterers; and he who can agreeably condescend to soothe our humour or temper finds always an open avenue to our soul; especially if the flatterer happen to be our superior.
As our greatest pleasures and knowledge are derived from the sight, so has Providence been more curious in the formation of its seat, the eye, than in the organs of the other senses. That stupendous machine is composed, in a wonderful manner, of muscles, membranes, and humours. Its motions are admirably directed by the muscles; the perspicuity of the humours transmit the rays of light; the rays are regularly refracted by their figure; the black lining of the sclerotes effectually prevents their being confounded by reflection. It is wonderful indeed to consider how many objects the eye is fitted to take in at once, and successively, in an instant, and at the same time to make a judgment of their position, figure, and colour. It watches against our dangers, guides our steps, and lets in all the visible objects, whose beauty and variety instruct and delight.
Being of the number of those that have lately retired from the centre of business and pleasure, my uneasiness in the country where I am arises rather from the society than the solitude of it. To be obliged to receive and return visits from and to a circle of neighbours, who, through diversity of age or inclinations, can neither be entertaining nor serviceable to us, is a vile loss of time, and a slavery from which a man should deliver himself if possible: for why must I lose the remaining part of my life because they have thrown away the former part of theirs?
I fancied it must be very surprising; to any one who enters into a detail of fashions to consider how far the vanity of mankind has laid itself out in dress, what a prodigious number of people it maintains, and what a circulation of money it occasions. Providence in this case makes use of the folly which we will not give up, and it becomes instrumental to the support of those who are willing to labour.
I have hardly ever observed the married condition unhappy, but from want of judgment or temper in the man. The truth is, we generally make love in a style and with sentiments very unfit for ordinary life: they are half theatrical, half romantic. By this means we raise our imaginations to what is not to be expected in human life; and because we did not beforehand think of the creature we are enamoured of, as subject to dishumour, age, sickness, impatience, or sullenness, but altogether considered her as the object of joy, human nature itself is often imputed to her as her particular imperfection, or defect.
Socrates, who is by all accounts the undoubted head of the sect of the hen-pecked, owned and acknowledged that he owed great part of his virtue to the exercise which his useful wife constantly gave it. There are several good instructions may be drawn from his wise answers to the people of less fortitude than himself on her subject. A friend, with indignation, asked him how so good a man could live with so violent a creature? He observed to him, that they who learn to keep a good seat on horseback mount the least manageable they can get; and when they have mastered them, they are sure never to be discomposed on the backs of steeds less restive. At several times, to different persons, on the same subject, he has said, My dear friend, you are beholden to Xantippe that I bear so well your flying out in a dispute.
According as the husband has disposed in himself, every circumstance in his life is to give him torment or pleasure. When the affection is well placed, and is supported by the considerations of duty, honour, and friendship, which are in the highest degree engaged in this alliance, there can nothing rise in the common course of life, or from the blows and favours of fortune, in which a man will not find matters of some delight unknown to a single condition.
I have observed that under the notion of modesty men have indulged themselves in a spiritless sheepishness, and been forever lost to themselves, their families, their friends, and their country. When a man has taken care to pretend to nothing but what he may justly aim at, and can execute as well as any other, without injustice to any other, it is ever want of breeding, or courage, to be browbeaten, or elbowed out of his honest ambition. I have said often, modesty must be an act of the will, and yet it always implies self-denial: for if a man has an ardent desire to do what is laudable for him to perform, and from an unmanly bashfulness shrinks away, and lets his merit languish in silence, he ought not to be angry at the world that a more unskilful actor succeeds in his part, because he has not confidence to come upon the stage himself.
It is a secret known but to few, yet of no small use in the conduct of life, that when you fall into a mans conversation, the first thing you should consider is, whether he has a greater inclination to hear you, or that you should hear him. The latter is the more general desire, and I know very able flatterers that never speak a word in praise of the persons from whom they obtain daily favours, but still practise a skilful attention to whatever is uttered by those with whom they converse.
Marriage is an institution calculated for a constant scene of as much delight as our being is capable of. Two persons who have chosen each other out of all the species, with design to be each others mutual comfort and entertainment, have in that action bound themselves to be good-humoured, affable, discreet, forgiving, patient, and joyful, with respect to others frailties and perfections, to the end of their lives. The wiser of the two (and it always happens one of them is such) will, for her or his own sake, keep things from outrage with the utmost sanctity. When this union is thus preserved (as I have often said), the most indifferent circumstance administers delight. Their condition is an endless source of new gratifications.
I have very long entertained an ambition to make the word wife the most agreeable and delightful name in nature. If it be not so in itself, all the wiser part of mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, has consented in an error.
There is another accidental advantage in marriage, which has likewise fallen to my share; I mean the having a multitude of children. These I cannot but regard as very great blessings. When I see my little troop before me, I rejoice in the additions which I have made to my species, to my country, and to my religion, in having produced such a number of reasonable creatures, citizens, and Christians. I am pleased to see myself thus perpetuated.
I came home a little later than usual the other night; and, not finding myself inclined to sleep, I took up Virgil to divert me until I should be more disposed to rest. He is the author whom I always choose on such occasions; no one writing in so divine, so harmonious, nor so equal a strain, which leaves the mind composed and softened into an agreeable melancholy: the temper in which, of all others, I choose to close the day. The passages I turned to were those beautiful raptures in his Georgics, where he professes himself entirely given up to the Muses, and smit with the love of poetry, passionately wishing to be transported to the cool shades and retirements of the mountain Hæmus.
Of all the monstrous passions and opinions which have crept into the world there is none so wonderful as that those who profess the common name of Christians should pursue each with rancour and hatred for differences in their way of following the example of their Saviour. It seems so natural that all who pursue the steps of any leader should form themselves after his manners, that it is impossible to account for effects so different from what we might expect from those who profess themselves followers of the highest pattern of meekness and charity, but by ascribing such effects to the ambition and corruption of those who are so audacious, with souls full of fury, to serve at the altars of the God of Peace.
When a woman is deliberating with herself whom she shall choose of many near each other in other pretensions, certainly he of best understanding is to be preferred. Life hangs heavily in the repeated conversation of one who has no imagination to be tired at the several occasions and objects which come before him, or who cannot strike out of his reflections new paths of pleasing discourse.
The advantages, as I was going to say, of sense, beauty, and riches, are what are certainly the chief motives to a prudent young woman of fortune for changing her condition; but as she is to have her eye upon each of these, she is to ask herself whether the man who has most of these recommendations in the lump is not the most desirable. He that has excellent talents, with a moderate estate, and an agreeable person, is preferable to him who is only rich, if it were only that good faculties may purchase riches; but riches cannot purchase worthy endowments. I do not mean that wit, and a capacity to entertain, is what should be highly valued, except it is founded on good nature and humanity. There are many ingenious men whose abilities do little else but make themselves and those about them uneasy.
There is a sort of man of wit and sense that can reflect upon his own make and that of his partner with eyes of reason and honour, and who believes he offends against both these if he does not look upon the woman who chose him to be under his protection in sickness and health with the utmost gratitude, whether from that moment she is shining or defective in person or mind: I say there are those who think themselves bound to supply with good-nature the failings of those who love them, and who always think those the objects of love and pity who came to their arms the objects of joy and admiration.
I am sure it is not to exalt the commerce with an ingenious companion too high, to say that every new accident or object which comes into such a gentlemans way gives his wife new pleasures and satisfactions. The approbation of his words and actions is a continual new feast to her; nor can she enough applaud her good fortune in having her life varied every hour, her mind more improved, and her heart more glad, from every circumstance which they meet with. He will lay out his invention in forming new pleasures and amusements, and make the fortune she has brought him subservient to the honour and reputation of her and hers. A man of sense who is thus obliged is ever contriving the happiness of her who did him so great a distinction; while the fool is ungrateful without vice, and never returns a favour because he is not sensible of it.
I do not doubt but England is at present as polite a nation as any in the world; but any man who thinks, can easily see that the affectation of being gay and in fashion has very near eaten up our good sense, and our religion. Is there anything so just as that mode and gallantry should be built upon exerting ourselves in what is proper and agreeable to the institutions of justice and piety among us? And yet is there anything more common than that we run in perfect contradiction to them? All which is supported by no other pretension than that it is done with what we call a good grace.
I know no evil under the sun so great as the abuse of the understanding, and yet there is no one vice more common. It has diffused itself through both sexes, and all qualities of mankind, and there is hardly that person to be found who is not more concerned for the reputation of wit and sense, than of honesty and virtue. But this unhappy affectation of being wise rather than honest, witty than good natured, is the source of most of the ill-habits of life. Such false impressions are owing to the abandoned writings of men of wit, and the awkward imitation of the rest of mankind.
When modesty ceases to be the chief ornament of one sex, and integrity of the other, society is upon a wrong basis, and we shall be ever after without rules to guide our judgment in what is really becoming and ornamental. Nature and reason direct one thing, passion and humour another. To follow the dictates of these two latter is going into a road that is both endless and intricate; when we pursue the other, our passage is delightful, and what we aim at easily attainable.
In a word, to be a fine gentleman is to be a generous and a brave man. What can make a man so much in constant good humour, and shine, as we call it, than to be supported by what can never fail him, and to believe that whatever happens to him was the best thing that possibly could befall him, or else He on whom it depends would not have permitted it to have befallen him at all?
He that can work himself into a pleasure in considering this being as an uncertain one, and think to reap an advantage by its discontinuance, is in a fair way of doing all things with a graceful unconcern and a gentlemanlike ease. Such a one does not behold his life as a short transient perplexing state, made up of trifling pleasures and great anxieties; but sees it in quite another light; his griefs are momentary, and his joys immortal. Reflection upon death is not a gloomy and sad thought of resigning everything that he delights in, but it is a short night followed by an endless day.
As to the latter species of mankind, the beauties, whether male or female, they are generally the most untractable people of all others. You are so excessively perplexed with the particularities in their behaviour, that to be at ease, one would be apt to wish there were no such creatures. They expect so great allowances, and give so little to others, that they who have to deal with them find, in the main, a man with a better person than ordinary, and a beautiful woman, might be very happily changed for such to whom nature has been less liberal. The handsome fellow is usually so much a gentleman, and the fine woman has something so becoming, that there is no enduring either of them. It has therefore been generally my choice to mix with cheerful ugly creatures, rather than gentlemen who are graceful enough to omit or do what they please, or beauties who have charms enough to do and say what would be disobliging in anybody but themselves.
It has been thought we are not generally so ignorant as ill-taught, or that our sex does not so often want wit, judgment, or knowledge, as the right application of them. You are so well-bred, as to say your fair readers are already deeper scholars than the beaux, and that you could name some of them that talk much better than several gentlemen that make a figure at Wills. This may possibly be, and no great compliment, in my opinion, even supposing your comparison to reach Toms and the Grecian. Surely you are too wise to think that the real commendation of a woman. Were it not rather to be wished we improved in our own sphere, and approved ourselves better daughters, better wives, mothers, and friends?
A man that is treacherously dealt with in love may have recourse to many consolations. He may gracefully break through all opposition to his mistress, or explain with his rival; urge his own constancy, or aggravate the falsehood by which it is repaid. But a woman that is ill treated has no refuge in her griefs but in silence and secrecy. The world is so unjust that a female heart which has been once touched is thought forever blemished.
A nation may indeed abound with persons of such uncommon parts and worth as may make them rather a misfortune than a blessing to the public. Those, who singly might have been of infinite advantage to the age they live in, may, by rising up together in the same crisis of time, and by interfering in their pursuits of honour, rather interrupt, than promote, the service of their country. Of this we have a famous instance in the republic of Rome, when Cæsar, Pompey, Cato, Cicero, and Brutus, endeavoured to recommend themselves at the same time to the admiration of their contemporaries. Mankind was not able to provide for so many extraordinary persons at once, or find out posts suitable to their ambition and abilities. For this reason they were all as miserable in their deaths as they were famous in their lives, and occasioned not only the ruin of each other, but also that of the commonwealth.
It is therefore a particular happiness to a people when the men of superior genius and character are so justly disposed in the high places of honour, that each of them moves in a sphere which is proper to him, and requires those particular qualities in which he excels.
I could not but reflect with myself, as I was going out, upon the talkative humour of old men, and the little figure which that part of life makes in one who cannot employ his natural propensity in discourses which would make him venerable. I must own, it makes me very melancholy in company, when I hear a young man begin a story; and have often observed that one of a quarter of an hour long in a man of five-and-twenty, gathers circumstances every time he tells it, until it grows into a long Canterbury tale of two hours by that time he is threescore.
Cicero, after having mentioned the great heroes of knowledge that recommended this divine doctrine of the immortality of the soul, calls those small pretenders to wisdom, who declared against it, certain minute philosophers, using a diminutive even of the word little, to express the despicable opinion he had of them. The contempt he throws upon them in another passage is yet more remarkable; where, to show the mean thoughts he entertains of them, he declares he would rather be in the wrong with Plato, than in the right with such company.
On the contrary, the persons who now set up for Free-thinkers are such as endeavour, by a little trash of words and sophistry, to weaken and destroy those very principles, for the vindication of which freedom of thought at first became laudable and heroic. These apostates from reason and good sense can look at the glorious frame of nature without paying an adoration to Him that raised it; can consider the great revolutions in the universe without lifting up their minds to that superior Power which hath the direction of it; can presume to censure the Deity in his ways toward men; can level mankind with the beasts that perish; can extinguish in their own minds all the pleasing hopes of a future state, and lull themselves into a stupid security against the terrors of it. If one were to take the word priestcraft out of the mouths of these shallow monsters, they would be immediately struck dumb. It is by the help of this single term that they endeavour to disappoint the good works of the most learned and venerable order of men, and harden the hearts of the ignorant against the very light of nature and the common received notions of mankind. We ought not to treat such miscreants as these upon the foot of fair disputants; but to pour out contempt upon them, and speak of them with scorn and infamy, as the pests of society, the revilers of human nature, and the blasphemers of a Being whom a good man would rather die than hear dishonoured.
I would fain ask a minute philosopher, what good he proposes to mankind by the publishing of his doctrines? Will they make a man a better citizen, or father of a family; a more endearing husband, friend, or son? Will they enlarge his public or private virtues, or correct any of his frailties or vices? What is there either joyful or glorious in such opinions? do they either refresh or enlarge our thoughts? do they contribute to the happiness or raise the dignity of human nature? The only good that I have ever heard pretended to, is that they banish terrors, and set the mind at ease. But whose terrors do they banish? It is certain, if there were any strength in their arguments, they would give great disturbance to minds that are influenced by virtue, honour, and morality, and take from us the only comforts and supports of affliction, sickness, and old age. The minds, therefore, which they set at ease, are only those of impenitent criminals and malefactors, and which, to the good of mankind, should be in perpetual terror and alarm.
But indeed I must do my female readers the justice to own that their tender hearts are much more susceptible of good impressions than the minds of the other sex. Business and ambition take up mens too much to leave room for philosophy; but if you speak to women in a style and manner proper to approach them, they never fail to improve by your counsels.
Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. As by the one health is preserved, strengthened, and invigorated; by the other, virtue, which is the health of the mind, is kept alive, cherished, and confirmed. But as exercise becomes tedious and painful when we make use of it only as the means of health, so reading is apt to grow uneasy and burdensome when we apply ourselves to it only for our improvement in virtue. For this reason, the virtue which we gather from a fable, or an allegory, is like the health we get by hunting; as we are engaged in an agreeable pursuit that draws us on with pleasure, and makes us insensible of the fatigues that accompany it.
The humour of affecting a superior carriage generally rises from a false notion of the weakness of a female understanding in general, or an overweening opinion that we have of our own; for when it proceeds from a natural ruggedness and brutality of temper, it is altogether incorrigible, and not to be amended by admonition. Sir Francis Bacon, as I remember, lays it down as a maxim that no marriage can be happy in which the wife has no opinion of her husbands wisdom; but, without offence to so great an authority, I may venture to say that a sullen wise man is as bad as a good-natured fool. Knowledge, softened with complacency and good breeding, will make a man equally beloved and respected; but when joined with a severe, distant, and unsociable temper, it creates rather fear than love.
When Virgil describes a wit, he always means a virtuous man; and all his sentiments of men of genius are such as show persons distinguished from the common level of mankind; such as place happiness in the contempt of low fears, and mean gratifications: fears which we are subject to with the vulgar; and pleasures which we have in common with beasts.
It is very commonly observed, that the most smart pangs which we meet with, are in the beginning of wedlock, which proceed from ignorance of each others humour, and want of prudence to make allowances for a change from the most careful respect, to the most unbounded familiarity. Hence it arises, that trifles are commonly occasions of the greatest anxiety; for contradiction being a thing wholly unusual between a new-married couple, the smallest instance of it is taken for the highest injury; and it very seldom happens, that the man is slow enough in assuming the character of a husband, or the woman quick enough in condescending to that of a wife. It immediately follows, that they think they have all the time of their courtship been talking in masks to each other, and therefore begin to act like disappointed people. Philander finds Delia ill-natured and impertinent; and Delia, Philander surly and inconstant.
Those who begin this course of life without jars at their setting out, arrive within few months at a pitch of benevolence and affection of which the most perfect friendship is but a faint resemblance. As in the unfortunate marriage, the most minute and indifferent things are objects of the sharpest resentment; so in a happy one, they are occasions of the most exquisite satisfaction. For what does not oblige in one we love? What does not offend in one we dislike? For these reasons I take it for a rule, that in marriage, the chief business is to acquire a prepossession in favour of each other. They should consider one anothers words and actions with a secret indulgence. There should always be an inward fondness pleading for each other, such as may add new beauties to everything that is excellent, give charms to what is indifferent, and cover everything that is defective. For want of this kind propensity and bias of mind, the married pair often take things ill of each other, which no one else would take notice of in either of them.
But the most unhappy circumstance of all is, where each party is always laying up fuel for dissension, and gathering together a magazine of provocations to exasperate each other with when they are out of humour.
There is no character more deservedly esteemed than that of a country gentleman who understands the station in which Heaven and Nature have placed him. He is father to his tenants, and patron to his neighbours, and is more superior to those of lower fortune by his benevolence than his possessions. He justly divides his time between solitude and company so as to use one for the other. His life is spent in the good offices of an advocate, a referee, a companion, a mediator, and a friend. His counsel and knowledge are a guard to the simplicity and innocence of those of lower talents, and the entertainment and happiness of those of equal. When a man in a country life has this turn, as it is hoped thousands have, he lives in a more happy condition than any that is described in the pastoral description of poets, or the vainglorious solitudes recorded by philosophers.
I am sure I do not mean it an injury to women when I say there is a sort of sex in souls. I am tender of offending them, and know it is hard not to do it on this subject; but I must go on to say that the soul of a man, and that of a woman, are made very unlike, according to the employments for which they are designed. The ladies will please to observe, I say, our minds have different, not superior, qualities to theirs. The virtues have respectively a feminine and masculine cast. What we call in men wisdom, is in women prudence. It is a partiality to call one greater than the other.
As for the elegant writer of whom I am talking [Horace], his excellencies are to be observed as they relate to the different concerns of his life; and he is always to be looked upon as a lover, a courtier, or a man of wit. His admirable Odes have numberless instances of his merit in each of these characters. His Epistles and Satires are full of proper notices for the conduct of life in a court; and what we call good breeding is most agreeably intermixed with his morality. His addresses to the persons who favoured him are so inimitably engaging, that Augustus complained of him for so seldom writing to him, and asked him, whether he was afraid posterity should read their names together? Now, for the generality of men to spend much time in such writings is as pleasant a folly as any he ridicules. Whatever the crowd of scholars may pretend, if their way of life, or their own imaginations, do not lead them to a taste of him, they may read, may write, fifty volumes upon him, and be just as they were when they began.
I remember to have heard a great painter say, There are certain faces for certain painters, as well as certain subjects for certain poets. This is as true in the choice of studies; and no one will ever relish an author thoroughly well who would not have been fit company for that author, had they lived at the same time. All others are mechanics in learning, and take the sentiments of writers like waiting-servants, who report what passed at their masters table, but debase every thought and expression, for want of the air with which they were uttered.
It is a melancholy thing to consider, that the most engaging sort of men in conversation are frequently the most tyrannical in power, and the least to be depended upon in friendship. It is certain this is not to be imputed to their own disposition; but he, that is to be led by others, has only good luck if he is not the worst, though in himself the best, man living.
This watch over a mans self, and the command of his temper, I take to be the greatest of human perfections, and is the effect of a strong and resolute mind. It is not only the most expedient practice for carrying on our designs, but is also very deservedly the most amiable quality in the sight of others. It is a winning deference to mankind which creates an immediate imitation of itself wherever it appears, and prevails upon all who have to do with a person endued with it, either through shame or emulation. I do not know how to express this habit of mind, except you will let me call it equanimity. It is a virtue which is necessary at every hour, in every place, and in all conversations; and it is the effect of a regular and exact prudence. He that will look back upon all the acquaintances he has had in his whole life will find he has seen more men capable of the greatest employments and performances, than such as could, in the general bent of their carriage, act otherwise than according to their own complexion and humour.
With the greatest softness and benevolence imaginable, he is impartial in spite of all importunity, even that of his own good nature. He is ever clear in his judgment: but in complaisance to his company speaks with doubt; and never shows confidence in argument, but to support the sense of another. Were such an equality of mind the general endeavour of all men, how sweet would be the pleasures of conversation! He that is loud would then understand that we ought to call a constable; and know that spoiling good company is the most heinous way of breaking the peace.
I must detain you a little longer, to tell you that I never enter this delicious retirement but my spirits are revived, and a sweet complacency diffuses itself over my whole mind. And how can it be otherwise, with a conscience void of offence, where the music of falling waters, the symphony of birds, the gentle humming of bees, the breath of flowers, the fine imagery of painting and sculpture, in a word, the beauties and the charms of nature and of art, court all my faculties, refresh the fibres of the brain, and smooth every avenue of thought? What pleasing meditations, what agreeable wanderings of the mind, and what delicious slumbers, have I enjoyed here! And when I turn up some masterly writer to my imagination, methinks here his beauties appear in the most advantageous light, and the rays of his genius shoot upon me with greater force and brightness than ordinary.
With such inclinations in my heart, I went to my closet yesterday evening, and resolved to be sorrowful; upon which occasion I could not but look with disdain upon myself, that though all the reasons which I had to lament the loss of many of my friends are now as forcible as at the moment of their departure, yet did not my heart swell with the same sorrow which I felt at that time: but I could, without tears, reflect upon many pleasing adventures I have had with some, who have long been blended with common earth. Though it is by the benefit of nature, that length of time thus blots out the violence of afflictions; yet with tempers too much given to pleasure, it is almost necessary to revive the old places of grief in our memory; and ponder step by step on past life, to lead the mind into that sobriety of thought which poises the heart, and makes it beat with due time, without being quickened with desire, or retarded with despair, from its proper and equal motion.
When men look into their own bosoms, and consider the generous seeds which are there planted, that might, if rightly cultivated, ennoble their lives, and make their virtue venerable to futurity; how can they, without tears, reflect on the universal degeneracy from that public spirit which ought to be the first and principal motive of all their actions? In the Grecian and Roman nations, they were wise enough to keep up this great incentive, and it was impossible to be in the fashion without being a patriot.
But however general custom may hurry us away in the stream of a common error, there is no evil, no crime, so great as that of being cold in matters which relate to the common good. This is in nothing more conspicuous than in a certain willingness to receive anything that tends to the diminution of such as have been conspicuous instruments in our service. Such inclinations proceed from the most low and vile corruption of which the soul of man is capable. This effaces not only the practice, but the very approbation of honour and virtue; and has had such an effect, that, to speak freely, the very sense of public good has no longer a part even of our conversations.
A wag is the last order even of pretenders to wit and good humour. He has generally his mind prepared to receive some occasion of merriment, but is of himself too empty to draw any out of his own set of thoughts; and therefore laughs at the next thing he meets, not because it is ridiculous, but because he is under a necessity of laughing. A wag is one that never in its life saw a beautiful object; but sees what it does see in the most low and most inconsiderable light it can be placed.
There is a kind of sympathy in souls, that fits them for each other; and we may be assured when we see two persons engaged in the warmths of a mutual affection, that there are certain qualities in both their minds which bear a resemblance to one another. A generous and constant passion in an agreeable lover, where there is not too great a disparity in other circumstances, is the greatest blessing that can befall the person beloved; and, if overlooked in one, may perhaps never be found in another.
There is no calamity in life that falls heavier upon human nature than a disappointment in love; especially when it happens between two persons whose hearts are mutually engaged to each other. It is this distress which has given occasion to some of the finest tragedies that were ever written; and daily fills the world with melancholy, discontent, frenzy, sickness, despair, and death. I have often admired at the barbarity of parents, who so frequently interpose their authority in this grand article of life. I would fain ask Sylvias father, whether he thinks he can bestow a greater favour on his daughter, than to put her in the way to live happily?
Thus the vain man takes praise for honour; the proud man, ceremony for respect; the ambitious man, power for glory. These three characters are indeed of very near resemblance, but differently received by mankind. Vanity makes men ridiculous; pride, odious; and ambition, terrible. The foundation of all which is, that they are grounded upon falsehood: for if men, instead of studying to appear considerable, were in their own hearts possessors of the requisites for esteem, the acceptance they otherwise unfortunately aim at would be as inseparable from them, as approbation is from truth itself.
The effects of pride and vanity are of consequence only to the proud and vain; and tend to no further ill than what is personal to themselves, in preventing their progress in anything that is worthy and laudable, and creating envy instead of emulation of superior virtue. These ill qualities are to be found only in such as have so little minds as to circumscribe their thoughts and designs within what properly relates to the value which they think due to their dear and valuable selves: but ambition, which is the third great impediment to honour and virtue, is a fault of such as think themselves born for moving in a higher orb, and prefer being powerful and mischievous to being virtuous and obscure. The parent of this mischief in life, so far as to regulate it into schemes, and make it possess a mans whole heart without his believing himself a demon, was Machiavel. He first taught that a man must necessarily appear weak, to be honest. Hence it gains upon the imagination, that a great is not so despicable as a little villain; and men are insensibly led to a belief that the aggravation of crimes is a diminution of them. Hence the impiety of thinking one thing and speaking another. In pursuance of this empty and unsatisfying dream, to betray, to undermine, to kill in themselves all natural sentiments of love to friends or country, is the willing practice of such as are thirsty of power for any other reason than that of being useful and acceptable to mankind.
There is nothing more necessary to establish reputation than to suspend the enjoyment of it. He that cannot bear the sense of merit with silence must of necessity destroy it: for fame being the genial mistress of mankind, whoever gives it to himself insults all to whom he relates any circumstances to his own advantage.
Were one to point out a method of education, one could not, methinks, frame one more pleasing or improving than this: where the children get a habit of communicating their thoughts and inclinations to their best friend with so much freedom that he can form schemes for their future life and conduct from an observation of their tempers, and by that means be early enough in choosing their way of life to make them forward in some art or science at an age when others have not determined what profession to follow.
By this means it is that a cunning man is so far from being ashamed of being esteemed such, that he secretly rejoices in it. It has been a sort of maxim that the greatest art is to conceal art; but, I know not how, among some people we meet with, their greatest cunning is to appear cunning. There is Polypragon makes it the whole business of his life to be thought a cunning fellow, and thinks it a much greater character to be terrible than to be agreeable. When it has once entered a mans head to have an ambition to be thought crafty, all other evils are necessary consequences. To deceive is the immediate endeavour of him who is proud of the capacity of doing it.
There is a sort of littleness in the minds of men of strong sense, which makes them much more insufferable than mere fools, and has the farther inconvenience of being attended by an endless loquacity; for which reason it would be a very proper work if some well-wisher to human society would consider the terms upon which people meet in public places, in order to prevent the unseasonable declamations which we meet there. I remember, in my youth, it was the humour at the university, when a fellow pretended to be more eloquent than ordinary, and had formed to himself a plot to gain all our admiration, or triumph over us with an argument, to either of which he had no manner of call; I say, in either of these cases, it was the humour to shut one eye. This whimsical way of taking notice to him of his absurdity has prevented many a man from being a coxcomb. If amongst us, on such an occasion, each man offered a voluntary rhetorician some snuff, it would probably produce the same effect.
But of all mankind, there are none so shocking as these injudicious civil people. They ordinarily begin upon something that they know must be a satisfaction; but then, for fear of the imputation of flattery, they follow it with the last thing in the world of which you would be reminded. It is this that perplexes civil persons. The reason that there is such a general outcry among us against flatterers is, that there are so very few good ones. It is the nicest art in this life, and is a part of eloquence which does not want the preparation that is necessary to all other parts of it, that your audience should be your well-wishers; for praise from an enemy is the most pleasing of all commendations.
It is generally thought, that warmth of imagination, quick relish of pleasure, and a manner of becoming it, are the most essential qualities for forming this sort of man. But any one that is much in company will observe, that the height of good breeding is shown rather in never giving offence, than in doing obliging things; thus he that never shocks, you, though he is seldom entertaining, is more likely to keep your favour, than he who often entertains, and sometimes displeases you. The most necessary talent therefore in a man of conversation, which is what we ordinarily intend by a fine Gentleman, is a good judgment. He that hath this in perfection is master of his companion, without letting him see it; and has the same advantage over men of any other qualifications whatsoever, as one that can see would have over a blind man of ten times his strength.
His judgment is so good and unerring, and accompanied with so cheerful a spirit, that his conversation is a continual feast, at which he helps some, and is helped by others, in such a manner that the equality of society is perfectly kept up, and every man obliges as much as he is obliged; for it is the greatest and justest skill, in a man of superior understanding, to know how to be on a level with his companions.
There is something so natively great and good in a person that is truly devout, that an awkward man may as well pretend to be genteel, as a hypocrite to be pious. The constraint in words and actions are equally visible in both cases; and anything set up in their room does but remove the endeavours farther off from their pretensions. But, however the sense of true piety is abated, there is no other motive of action that can carry us through all the vicissitudes of life with alacrity and resolution.
All pleasures that affect the body must needs weary, because they transport; and all transportation is a violence; and no violence can be lasting; but determines upon the falling of the spirits, which are not able to keep up that height of motion that the pleasure of the senses raises them to. And therefore how inevitably does an immoderate laughter end in a sigh, which is only natures recovering itself after a force done to it; but the religious pleasure of a well-disposed mind moves gently, and therefore constantly.
To this end, nothing is to be more carefully consulted than plainness. In a ladys attire this is the single excellence; for to be what some people call fine, is the same vice in that case, as to be florid is in writing or speaking. I have studied and writ on this important subject, until I almost despair of making reformation in the females of this island; where we have more beauty than any spot in the universe, if we did not disguise it by false garniture and detract from it by impertinent improvements.
That part of life which we spend in company is the most pleasing of all our moments; and therefore I think our behaviour in it should have its laws as well as the part of our being which is generally esteemed the more important. From hence it is, that from long experience I have made it a maxim, That however we may pretend to take satisfaction in sprightly mirth and high jollity, there is no great pleasure in any company where the basis of the society is not mutual good will. When this is in the room, every trifling circumstance, the most minute accident, the absurdity of a servant, the repetition of an old story, the look of a man when he is telling it, the most indifferent and the most ordinary occurrences, are matters which produce mirth and good-humour.
An easy manner of conversation is the most desirable quality a man can have; and for that reason coxcombs will take upon them to be familiar with people whom they never saw before. What adds to the vexation of it is, that they will act upon the foot of knowing you by fame; and rally with you, as they call it, by repeating what your enemies say of you; and court you, as they think, by uttering to your face, at a wrong time, all the kind things your friends speak of you in your absence.
These people are the more dreadful, the more they have of what is usually called wit: for a lively imagination, when it is not governed by a good understanding, makes such miserable havoc both in conversation and business, that it lays you defenceless, and fearful to throw the least word in its way that may give it new matter for its farther errors.
Tom Mercet has as quick a fancy as any one living; but there is no reasonable man can bear him half an hour. His purpose is to entertain, and it is of no consequence to him what is said, so it be what is called well said: as if a man must bear a wound with patience, because he that pushed at you came up with a good air and mien.
The hours which we spend in conversation are the most pleasing of any which we enjoy: yet methinks there is very little care taken to improve ourselves for the frequent repetition of them. The common fault in this case is that of growing too intimate, and falling into displeasing familiarities; for it is a very ordinary thing for men to make no other use of a close acquaintance with each others affairs, but to tease one another with unacceptable allusions. One would pass over patiently such as converse like animals, and salute each other with bangs on the shoulder, sly raps with canes, or other robust pleasantries practised by the rural gentry of this nation: but even among those who should have more polite ideas of things, you see a set of people who invert the design of conversation, and make frequent mention of ungrateful subjects; nay, mention them because they are ungrateful; as if the perfection of society were in knowing how to offend on the one part, and how to bear an offence on the other.
Equality is the life of conversation; and he is as much out who assumes to himself any part above another, as he who considers himself below the rest of the society. Familiarity in inferiors is sauciness; in superiors, condescension; neither of which are to have being among companions, the very word implying that they are to be equal. When, therefore, we have abstracted the company from all considerations of their quality or fortune, it will immediately appear, that to make it happy and polite, there must nothing be started which shall discover that our thoughts run upon any such distinctions. Hence it will arise, that benevolence must become the rule of society, and he that is most obliging must be most diverting.
Shallow wits, superficial critics, and conceited fops, are with me so many blind men in respect of excellences. They can behold nothing but faults and blemishes, and indeed see nothing that is worth seeing. Show them a poem, it is stuff; a picture, it is daubing. They find nothing in architecture that Ls not irregular, or in music that is not out of tune. These men should consider that it is their envy which deforms everything, and that the ugliness is not in the object, but in the eye. And as for nobler minds, whose merits are either not discovered, or are misrepresented by the envious part of mankind, they should rather consider their defamers with pity than indignation. A man cannot have an idea of perfection in another, which he was never sensible of in himself.
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.
I have often wondered how it should be possible that this turn to politics should so universally prevail to the exclusion of every other subject out of conversation; and, upon mature consideration, find it is for want of discourse. Look round you among all the young fellows you meet, and you see those who have the least relish for books, company, or pleasure, though they have no manner of qualities to make them succeed in those pursuits, shall make very passable politicians. Thus the most barren invention shall find enough to say to make one appear an able man in the top coffee-houses. It is but adding a certain vehemence in uttering yourself, let the thing you say be never so flat, and you shall be thought a very sensible man, if you were not too hot.
The history I am going to speak of is that of Joseph in Holy Writ, which is related with such majestic simplicity, that all the parts of it strike us with strong touches of nature and compassion; and he must be a stranger to both, who can read it with attention and not be overwhelmed with the vicissitudes of joy and sorrow. I hope it will not be a profanation to tell it ones own way here, that they who may be unthinking enough to be more frequently readers of such papers as this, than of Sacred Writ, may be advertised that the greatest pleasures the imagination can be entertained with are to be found there, and that even the style of the Scriptures is more than human.
When the mind has been perplexed with anxious cares and passions, the best method of bringing it to its usual state of tranquillity is, as much as we possibly can, to turn our thoughts to the adversities of persons of higher consideration in virtue and merit than ourselves. By this means all the little incidents of our own lives, if they are unfortunate, seem to be the effect of justice upon our faults and indiscretions. When those whom we know to be excellent, and deserving of a better fate, are wretched, we cannot but resign ourselves, whom most of us know to merit a much worse state than that we are placed in.
Were there only this single consideration, that we are less masters of ourselves, when we drink in the least proportion above the exigencies of thirst; I say, were this all that could be objected, it were sufficient to make us abhor this vice, but we may go on to say, that as he who drinks but a little is not master of himself, so he who drinks much is a slave to himself. As for my part, I ever esteemed a Drunkard of all vicious persons the most vicious: for, if our actions are to be weighed and considered according to the intention of them, what can we think of him who puts himself into a circumstance wherein he can have no intention at all, but incapacitates himself for the duties and offices of life, by a suspension of all his faculties? If a man considers that he cannot, under the oppression of drink, be a friend, a gentleman, a master, or a subject: that he has so long banished himself from all that is dear, and given up all that is sacred to him: he would even think of a debauch with horror. But when he looks still farther, and acknowledges that he is not only expelled out of all the relations of life, but also liable to offend against them all; what words can express the terror and detestation he would have of such a condition? And yet he owns all this to himself, who says he was drunk last night.
As I have all along persisted in it, that all the vicious in general are in a state of death; so I think I may add to the non-existence of Drunkards, that they died by their own hands. He is certainly as guilty of suicide who perishes by a slow, as he that is dispatched by an immediate, poison.
When I had run over several such in my thoughts, I concluded, however unaccountable the assertion might appear at first sight, that good-nature was an essential quality in a satirist, and that all the sentiments which are beautiful in this way of writing must proceed from that quality in the author. Good-nature produces a disdain of all baseness, vice, and folly: which prompts them to express themselves with smartness against the errors of men, without bitterness towards their persons. This quality keeps the mind in equanimity, and never lets an offence unseasonably throw a man out of his character. When Virgil said, he that did not hate Bavius might love Mævius, he was in perfect good humour; and was not so much moved at their absurdities as passionately to call them sots or blockheads in a direct invective, but laughed at them with a delicacy of scorn, without any mixture of anger.
The men of the greatest character in this kind were Horace and Juvenal. There is not, that I remember, one ill-natured expression in all their writings, not one sentence of severity, which does not apparently proceed from the contrary disposition. Whoever reads them will, I believe, be of this mind; and if they were read with this view, it might possibly persuade our young fellows that they might be very witty men without speaking ill of any but those who deserve it. But, in the perusal of these writers, it may not be unnecessary to consider that they lived in very different times.
In conversation, the medium is neither to affect silence or eloquence; not to value our approbation, and to endeavour to excel us who are of your company, are equal injuries. The great enemies therefore to good company, and those who transgress most against the laws of equality, which is the life of it, are the clown, the wit, and the pedant.
The pedant is so obvious to ridicule, that it would be to be one to offer to explain him. He is a gentleman so well known, that there is none but those of his own class who do not laugh at and avoid him. Pedantry proceeds from much reading and little understanding. A pedant among men of learning and sense is like an ignorant servant giving an account of a polite conversation. You may find he has brought with him more than could have entered into his head without being there, but still that he is not a bit wiser than if he had not been there at all.
When one considers the turn which conversation takes in almost every set of acquaintance, club, or assembly in this town or kingdom, one cannot but observe that, in spite of what I am every day saying, and all the moral writers since the beginning of the world have said, the subject of discourse is generally upon one anothers faults. This, in a great measure, proceeds from self-conceit, which were to be endured in one or other individual person; but the folly has spread itself almost over all the species; and one cannot only say Tom, Jack, or Will, but, in general, that man is a coxcomb. From this source it is, that any excellence is faintly received, any imperfection unmercifully exposed.
I shall therefore hereafter consider how the bravest men in other ages and nations have behaved themselves upon such incidents as we decide by combat; and show, from their practice, that this resentment neither has its foundation from true reason or solid fame, but is an imposture, made up of cowardice, falsehood, and want of understanding.
It is necessary to any easy and happy life, to possess our minds in such a manner as to be always well satisfied with our own reflections. The way to this state is to measure our actions by our own opinion, and not by that of the rest of the world. The sense of other men ought to prevail over us in things of less consideration, but not in concerns where truth and honour are engaged.
Thus to contradict our desires, and to conquer the impulses of our ambition, if they do not fall in with what we in our inward sentiments approve, is so much to our interest, and so absolutely necessary to our real happiness, that to contemn all the wealth and power in the world, where they stand in competition with a mans honour, is rather good sense than greatness of mind.
When I find myself awakened into being, and perceive my life renewed within me, and at the same time see the whole face of nature recovered out of the dark uncomfortable state in which it lay for several hours, my heart overflows with such secret sentiments of joy and gratitude, as are a kind of implicit praise to the great Author of Nature. The mind, in these early seasons of the day, is so refreshed in all its faculties, and borne up with such new supplies of animal spirits, that she finds herself in a state of youth, especially when she is entertained with the breath of flowers, the melody of birds, the dews that hang upon the plants, and all those other sweets of nature that are peculiar to the morning.
It is impossible for a man to have this relish of being, this exquisite taste of life, who does not come into the world before it is in all its noise and hurry; who loses the rising of the sun, the still hours of the day, and, immediately upon his first getting up, plunges himself into the ordinary cares or follies of the world.
But it is not only public places of resort, but private clubs, and conversations over a bottle, that are infested with this loquacious kind of animal, especially with that species which I comprehend under the name of a story-teller. I would earnestly desire these gentlemen to consider that no point of wit or mirth at the end of a story can atone for the half-hour that has been lost before they come at it. I would likewise lay it home to their serious consideration, whether they think that every man in the company has not a right to speak as well as themselves? and whether they do not think they are invading another mans property when they engross the time which should be divided equally amongst the company to their own private use?
What makes this evil the much greater in conversation is, that these humdrum companions seldom endeavour to wind up their narrations into a point of mirth or instruction, which might make some amends for the tediousness of them; but think they have a right to tell anything that has happened within their memory. They look upon matter of fact to be a sufficient foundation for a story, and give us a long account of things, not because they are entertaining or surprising, but because they are true.
Methusalem might be half an hour in telling what oclock it was; but as for us post-diluvians, we ought to do everything in haste; and in our speeches, as well as actions, remember that our time is short. A man that talks for a quarter of an hour together in company, if I meet him frequently, takes up a great part of my span. A quarter of an hour may be reckoned the eight-and-fortieth part of a day, a day the three hundred and sixtieth part of a year, and a year the threescore and tenth part of life. By this moral arithmetic, supposing a man to be in the talking world one-third part of the day, whoever gives another a quarter of an hours hearing makes him a sacrifice of more than the four hundred thousandth part of his conversable life.
I would establish but one great general rule to be observed in all conversation, which is this, that men should not talk to please themselves, but those that hear them. This would make them consider whether what they speak be worth hearing, whether there be either wit or sense in what they are about to say, and whether it be adapted to the time when, the place where, and the persons to whom it is spoken.
For the utter extirpation of these orators and story-tellers, which I look upon as very great pests of society, I have invented a watch which divides the minute into twelve parts, after the same manner that the ordinary watches are divided into hours; and will endeavour to get a patent, which shall oblige every club or company to provide themselves with one of these watches, that shall lie upon the table, as an hour-glass is often placed near the pulpit, to measure out the length of a discourse.
I shall be willing to allow a man one round of my watch, that is, a whole minute, to speak in; but if he exceeds that time, it shall be lawful for any of the company to look upon the watch, or to call him down to order.
Provided, however, that if any one can make it appear that he is turned of threescore, he may take two, or, if he pleases, three rounds of the watch, without giving offence. Provided, also, that this rule be not construed to extend to the fair sex, who shall still be at liberty to talk by the ordinary watch that is now in use. I would likewise earnestly recommend this little automaton, which may be easily carried in the pocket without any encumbrance, to all such as are troubled with this infirmity of speech, that upon pulling out their watches they may have frequent occasion to consider what they are doing, and by that means cut the thread of their story short, and hurry to a conclusion.
It would be a good appendix to The Art of Living and Dying, if any one would write The Art of Growing Old, and teach men to resign their pretensions to the pleasures and gallantries of youth, in proportion to the alteration they find in themselves by the approach of age and infirmities. The infirmities of this stage of life would be much fewer, if we did not affect those which attend the more vigorous and active part of our days; but instead of studying to be wiser, or being contented with our present follies, the ambition of many of us is also to be the same sort of fools we formerly have been. I have often argued, as I am a professed lover of women, that our sex grows old with a much worse grace than the other does; and have ever been of opinion that there are more well-pleased old women than old men. I thought it a good reason for this, that the ambition of the fair sex being confined to advantageous marriages, or shining in the eyes of men, their parts were over sooner, and consequently the errors in the performance of them.
Since I am engaged unawares in quotations, I must not omit the satire which Horace has written against this impertinent talkative companion; and which, I think, is fuller of humour than any other satire he has written. This great author, who had the nicest taste of conversation, and was himself a most agreeable companion, had so strong an antipathy to a great talker that he was afraid, some time or other, it would be mortal to him; as he has very humorously described it in his conversation with an impertinent fellow, who had like to have been the death of him.
I now take leave to address you in your character of Censor, and complain to you, that among the various errors in conversation which you have corrected, there is one which, though it has not escaped a general reproof, yet seems to deserve a more particular severity. It is a humour of jesting on disagreeable subjects, and insisting on the jest, the more it creates uneasiness; and this some men think they have a title to do as friends. Is the design of jesting to provoke? or does friendship give a privilege to say things with a design to shock? How can that be called a jest which has nothing in it but bitterness?
Thus, with all the good intentions in the world to amendment, this creature sins on against Heaven, himself, his friends, and his country, who all call for a better use of his talents. There is not a being under the sun so miserable as this: he goes on in a pursuit he himself disapproves, and has no enjoyment but what is followed by remorse; no relief from remorse but the repetition of his crime. It is possible I may talk of this person with too much indulgence; but I must repeat it that I think this a character which is the most the object of pity of any in the world. The man in the pangs of the stone, gout, or any acute distemper is not in so deplorable a condition, in the eye of right sense, as he that errs and repents, and repents and errs on.
It is a particular observation I have always made, that of all mortals a Critic is the silliest; for, by inuring himself to examine all things, whether they are of consequence or not, he never looks upon anything but with a design of passing sentence upon it; by which means he is never a companion, but always a censor. This makes him earnest upon trifles, and dispute on the most indifferent occasions with vehemence. If he offers to speak or write, that talent, which should approve the work of the other faculties, prevents their operations.
A thorough Critic is a sort of Puritan in the polite world. As an enthusiast in religion stumbles at the ordinary occurrences of life, if he cannot quote Scripture examples on the occasion; so the Critic is never safe in his speech or writing, without he has, among the celebrated writers, an authority for the truth of his sentence.
If wit is to be measured by the circumstances of time and place, there is no man has generally so little of that talent as he who is a wit by profession. What he says, instead of arising from the occasion, has an occasion invented for bringing it in. Thus he is new for no other reason, but that he talks like nobody else; but has taken up a method of his own, without commerce of dialogue with other people.
We see a world of pains taken, and the best years of life spent, in collecting a set of thoughts in a college for the conduct of life, and, after all, the man so qualified shall hesitate in his speech to a good suit of clothes, and want common sense before an agreeable woman. Hence it is that wisdom, valour, justice, and learning cannot keep a man in countenance that is possessed with these excellences, if he wants that inferior art of life and behaviour, called good breeding. A man endowed with great perfections, without this, is like one who has his pockets full of gold, but always wants change for his ordinary occasions.
For a man may flatter himself as he pleases; but he will find that the women have more understanding in their own affairs than we have, and women of spirit are not to be won by mourners. He that can keep handsomely within rules, and support the carriage of a companion to his mistress, is much more likely to prevail, than he who lets her see the whole relish of his life depends upon her. If possible, therefore, divert your mistress rather than sigh for her. The pleasant man she will desire for her own sake; but the languishing lover has nothing to hope from, but her pity.
Learning, wit, gallantry, and good breeding are all but subordinate qualities in society, and are of no value, but as they are subservient to benevolence, and lend to a certain manner of being or appearing equal to the rest of the company; for conversation is composed of an assembly of men, as they are men, and not as they are distinguished by fortune.
Among others in that company we had Florio, who never interrupted any man living when he was speaking; or ever ceased to speak but others lamented that he had done. His discourse ever arises from a fulness of the matter before him, and not from ostentation or triumph of his understanding; for though he seldom delivers what he need fear being repeated, he speaks without having that end in view; and his forbearance of calumny or bitterness is owing rather to his good nature than his discretion; for which reason he is esteemed a gentleman perfectly qualified for conversation, in whom a general good will to mankind takes off the necessity of caution and circumspection.
Were men so enlightened and studious of their own good, as to act by the dictates of their reason and reflection, and not the opinion of others, conscience would be the steady ruler of human life; and the words truth, law, reason, equity, and religion, could be but synonymous terms for that only guide which makes us pass our days in our own favour and approbation.
It is to be noted that modesty in a man is never to be allowed as a good quality, but a weakness, if it suppresses his virtue, and hides it from the world, when he has at the same time a mind to exert himself. A French author says, very justly, that modesty is to the other virtues in a man, what shade in a picture is to the parts of the thing represented. It makes all the other beauties conspicuous, which would otherwise be but a wild heap of colours. This shade in our actions must, therefore, be very justly applied: for if there be too much, it hides our good qualities, instead of showing them to advantage.
Thus, we see, every man is the maker of his own fortune; and, what is very odd to consider, he must in some measure be the trumpeter of his own fame; not that men are to be tolerated who directly praise themselves: but they are to be endued with a sort of defensive eloquence, by which they shall be always capable of expressing the rules and arts whereby they govern themselves.
I hope, Sir, you will not take this amiss: I can assure you, I have a profound respect for you, which makes me write this with the same disposition with which Longinus bids us read Homer and Plato. When in reading, says he, any of those celebrated authors, we meet with a passage to which we cannot well reconcile our reasons, we ought firmly to believe, that were those great wits present to answer for themselves, we should to our wonder be convinced that we are only guilty of the mistakes before attributed to them.
The greatest evils in human society are such as no law can come at; as in the case of ingratitude, where the manner of obliging very often leaves the benefactor without means of demanding justice, though that very circumstance should be the more binding to the person who has received the benefit.
You see in no place of conversation the perfection of speech so much as in accomplished women. Whether it be that there is a partiality irresistible when we judge of that sex, or whatever it is, you may observe a wonderful freedom in their utterance, and an easy flow of words, without being distracted (as we often are who read much) in the choice of dictions and phrases.
Of the like turn are all your marriage-haters, who rail at the noose, at the words for ever and aye, and at the same time are secretly pining for some young thing or other that makes their hearts ache by her refusal. The next to these are such as pretend to govern their wives, and boast how ill they use them; when at the same time, go to their houses, and you shall see them step as if they feared making a noise, and as fond as an alderman.
In all the marriages I have ever seen, most of which have been unhappy ones, the great cause of evil has proceeded from slight occasions; and I take it to be the first maxim in a married condition, that you are to be above trifles. When two persons have so good an opinion of each other as to come together for life, they will not differ in matters of importance, because they think of each other with respect; and in regard to all things of consideration that may affect them, they are prepared for mutual assistance and relief in such occurrences. For less occasions, they form no resolutions, but leave their minds unprepared.
I will not enter into the dispute between you, which I find his prudence put an end to before it came to extremity; but charge you to have a care of the first quarrel, as you tender your happiness; for then it is that the mind will reflect harshly upon every circumstance that has ever passed between you. If such an accident is ever to happen, which I hope never will, be sure to keep to the circumstance before you; make no allusions to what is passed, or conclusions referring to what is to come: do not show a hoard of matter for dissension in your breast; but, if it is necessary, lay before him the thing as you understand it, candidly, without being ashamed of acknowledging an error, or proud of being in the right. If a young couple be not careful in this point, they will get into a habit of wrangling; and when to displease is thought of no consequence, to please is always of as little moment.
There is nothing which I contemplate with greater pleasure than the dignity of human nature, which often shows itself in all conditions of life. For, notwithstanding the degeneracy and meanness that is crept into it, there are a thousand occasions in which it breaks through its original corruption, and shows what it once was, and what it will be hereafter. I consider the soul of man as the ruin of a glorious pile of buildings; where, amidst great heaps of rubbish, you meet with noble fragments of sculpture, broken pillars and obelisks, and a magnificence in confusion. Virtue and wisdom are continually employed in clearing the ruins, removing these disorderly heaps, recovering the noble pieces that lie buried under them, and adjusting them as well as possible according to their ancient symmetry and beauty. A happy education, conversation with the finest spirits, looking abroad into the works of nature, and observations upon mankind, are the great assistances to this necessary and glorious work. But even among those who never have had the happiness of any of these advantages, there are sometimes such exertions of the greatness that is natural to the mind of man, as show capacities and abilities, which only want these accidental helps to fetch them out, and show them in a proper light.
As for my labours, which he is pleased to inquire after, if they can but wear one impertinence out of human life, destroy a single vice, or give a mornings cheerfulness to an honest mind, in short, if the world can be but one virtue the better, or in any degree less vicious, or receive from them the smallest addition to their innocent diversions, I shall not think my pains, or indeed my life, to have been spent in vain.
I know no manner of speaking so offensive as that of giving praise and closing it with an exception; which proceeds (where men do not do it to introduce malice and make calumny more effectual) from the common error of considering man as a perfect creature. But, if we rightly examine things, we shall find that there is a sort of economy in Providence, that one shall excel where another is defective, in order to make men more useful to each other, and mix them in society. This man having this talent, and that man another, is as necessary in conversation, as one professing one trade, and another another, is beneficial in commerce. The happiest climate does not produce all things; and it was so ordered, that one part of the earth should want the product of another, for uniting mankind in a general correspondence and good understanding. It is, therefore, want of sense as well as good nature, to say, Simplicius has a better judgment, but not so much wit as Latius; for that these have not each others capacities is no more a diminution to either, than if you should say, Simplicius is not Latius, or Latius not Simplicius.
We reject many eminent virtues, if they are accompanied with one apparent weakness. The reflecting after this manner made me account for the strange delight men take in reading lampoons and scandal, with which the age abounds, and of which I receive frequent complaints. Upon mature consideration, I find it is principally for this reason that the worst of mankind, the libellers, receive so much encouragement in the world. The low race of men take a secret pleasure in finding an eminent character levelled to their condition by a report of its defects; and keep themselves in countenance, though they are excelled in a thousand virtues, if they believe they have in common with a great person any one fault. The libeller falls in with this humour, and gratifies the baseness of temper which is naturally an enemy to extraordinary merit.
That which we call gallantry to women seems to be the heroic virtue of private persons; and there never breathed one man who did not, in that part of his days wherein he was recommending himself to his mistress, do something beyond his ordinary course of life. As this has a very great effect even upon the most slow and common men, so, upon such as it finds qualified with virtue and merit, it shines out in proportionable degrees of excellence. It gives new grace to the most eminent accomplishments; and he who of himself has either wit, wisdom, or valour exerts each of those noble endowments, when he becomes a lover, with a certain beauty of action above what was ever observed in him before; and all who are without any one of these qualities are to be looked upon as the rabble of mankind.
There are several persons who have many pleasures and entertainments in their possession which they do not enjoy. It is therefore a kind and good office to acquaint them with their own happiness, and turn their attention to such instances of their good fortune as they are apt to overlook. Persons in the married state often want such a monitor; and pine away their days, by looking on the same condition in anguish and murmur, which carries with it in the opinion of others a complication of all the pleasures of life, and a retreat from its inquietudes.
I have always been of opinion, says he, that virtue sinks deepest into the heart of man when it comes recommended by the powerful charms of poetry. The most active principle in our mind is the imagination; to it a good poet makes his court perpetually, and by this faculty takes care to gain it first. Our passions and inclinations come over next; and our reason surrenders itself with pleasure in the end. Thus the whole soul is insensibly betrayed into morality, by bribing the fancy with beautiful and agreeable images of those very things that in the books of the philosophers appear austere and have at the best but a kind of forbidding aspect. In a word, the poets do, as it were, strew the rough paths of virtue so full of flowers, that we are not sensible of the uneasiness of them; and imagine ourselves in the midst of pleasures, and the most bewitching allurements, at the time we are making progress in the severest duties of life.
If, therefore, I were blessed with a son, in order to the forming of his manners, which is making him truly my son, I should be continually putting into his hand some fine poet. The graceful sentences and the manly sentiments so frequently to be met with in every great and sublime writer are, in my judgment, the most ornamental and valuable furniture that can be for a young gentlemans head: methinks they show like so much rich embroidery upon the brain. Let me add to this, that humanity, and tenderness, without which there can be no true greatness in the mind, are inspired by the Muses in such pathetic language, that all we find in prose authors towards the raising and improving of these passions is, in comparison, but cold or lukewarm at the best. There is besides a certain elevation of soul, a sedate magnanimity, and a noble turn of virtue, that distinguishes the hero from the plain honest man, to which verse only can raise us.