Page images

obliging demeanour : not insisting, that our humour or interest should be more regarded, than that of others, who have as good pretensions; but submitting, for the sake of peace, to whatever, with tolerable convenience and propriety, we can: not seeking to engross, and confine to ourselves, the esteem, the friendship, the good offices of every one; not complaining, whenever another is preferred to us, though by one who hath full right to do as he pleases; nor, even if the preference be unjust, resenting it, as a more heinous crime for our being the sufferers, than if it were a different person; but bearing with the faults of our fellow-creatures, as we hope to have them bear with ours. All these things are so plainly equitable, that perhaps we can scarcely believe, that we ever fail to observe them. There can be no harm however in a little self-inspection upon the subject. If it confirm our good opinion of our own conduct, it will give us great delight: if not, it may do us great service, by leading us to amendment.

III. Humility of behaviour towards our inferiors, on which I shall chiefly enlarge, must be differently expressed in different cases. For some kinds of superiority ought not to be concealed, but supported and exerted. Parents, masters, magistrates, rulers, and officers of all kinds, would offend against their duty, were they to make their authority insignificant by too large or unseasonable condescensions. Their humility therefore consists in acting as persons, intrusted with power, not for their own sake, but that of others : in assuming no greater dignity, than is manifestly requisite for good ends : in joining with it always humanity and affability, and continuing, in the midst of it, to know themselves : in procuring diligently, and hearing impartially, true information and faithful advice: being reasonable in their commands and expectations, moderate in the burthens they impose, merciful in the punishments they inflict; and in watching over all committed to their care, as they that must give account ; that they may do it with joy, and not with grief *.

But, where pre-eminence carries no authority along with it, an humble mind will be very backward to claim it; for seldom any desirable effects will follow, and often many bad ones. It may not only give needless pain to others, which ought never to be done, but incite them to envy and ill-will, produce contentions and injuries. Most persons are uneasy at seeing themselves in a state of inferiority: and therefore both good-nature and prudence forbid us to remind them of it without necessity. If we are acknowledged to be superiors, humility, assisted by a little discretion, will contribute much to perpetuate the acknowledgment. And if the case be doubtful, haughtiness is by no means the way to procure a determination in our favour. People are not willing to let that be extorted from them by overbearing violence, which, if left to themselves, they would have granted with pleasure, and invited us to accept, as an equitable tribute. Finding any one take upon him, without a call to do so, alarms every one: they know not how far the matter will be carried ; put themselves on their guard, and set up pretensions in opposition. And, if the question comes once to be tried by popular opinion, the world, we know, is exceedingly apt to judge wrong, especially when provoked to it. And if, after all, the point should be given against us; what a superfluous disgrace shall we have brought down upon our own

* Heb. xiii, 17.

heads, by indulging a spirit, the most incapable of bearing disgrace that can be! Solomon's counsel therefore is full of wisdom. Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame *. But indeed success, in a competition of this nature, may be altogether as hurtful, as disappointment: by inspiring men with a vanity, which may prove the parent of many sins and follies ; may expose them to much ridicule, and bring them also into more serious inconveniences.

Nor must we avoid only such open and gross claims of superiority, but the indirect one of an assuming air and manner : which some have, to so strange a degree, that they neither do nor say any thing, without intimating their own importance. Indeed our very expressions of civility may have insolence mixed with them: for what is it less, if instead of treating those unaffectedly and frankly as our equals, whom we ought, whether absolutely such in all respects or not; we take pains to signify to them politely, that we have the goodness to stoop beneath our rank, in order to put ourselves on a level with them ? Nay, were we in no way to claim regard from others, but in the most submissive and insinuating way to court it; yet scarce any thing is remoter from true lowness of mind, than that behaviour, which most solicitously disguises itself under the appearance of it, and enables us to climb by creeping. Or even supposing neither interest nor advancement to be our point, but applause only: still, both acting from a view to gain it, and taking too much pleasure in the consciousness of having gained it, are snares highly dangerous to humility.

* Prov. xxv, 8.

And many a man, of otherwise virtuous dispositions, hath by this one weakness, of delighting in his own praises, been corrupted insensibly within; and brought to deserve an extremely different character from that which he coveted.

But to return. If concealing our superiority be for the most part right; resenting a delay, or even refusal, to acknowledge it, must be exceedingly wrong. Other persons may very innocently be ignorant of our merit; may have no concern to inquire about it; may be no judges of it; or may be, on the other hand, better judges than we; and perceive that we over-value ourselves. But suppose they mistake, or, yet worse, are unwilling to do us justice; we are so liable to the same failing, that we must forgive it each other of course, or there can be no longer any peace upon earth.

But farther : as no displeasure should be expressed towards our inferiors on such occasions, no contempt should be expressed towards them on any occasion. The distance is not so extremely great between the highest and lowest of men : besides that they, who are inconsiderable in one respect, may deserve highly in another; perhaps more than he, who despises them. Indeed no one is truly despicable, but for his wilful follies and sins: and the sight of these ought to give us concern, instead of triumph; especially as we have all too many of our own. But for the rest, be the outward circumstances of others ever so mean, be the defects of their persons or understandings ever so remarkable, the Disposer of all things might have placed us originally in a condition full as wretched, and may even still reduce us to it. Therefore laugh no man to scorn in the bitterness of his soul : for there is One, which humblets

[blocks in formation]

and exalteth* Yet how needlessly and wantonly do persons often make their inferiors, especially in rank and fortune, suffer by their slighting and over-bearing usage of them, both in words and actions ! for an insolent word, or even a haughty look, is enough to cause bitter affliction to him, that knows he must bear it, whether he deserves it or not. And when, to speak in the son of Sirach's language, the rich man hath done wrong, and yet he threateneth withal ; when the poor is wronged, and he must intreat also t; the more helpless the condition is, the more severely the injury is felt. For people of the lowest class have by nature just the same sensibility that others have. And if others would reflect how painful the feeling of such ill usage is, they would surely scruple inflicting it on their fellow-creatures ; as not only barbarous, but ungenerous : for all the good uses of subordination might be as well, and much better, secured by gentler means.

But superiors too frequently consider those beneath them as worthy of no attention; and their most serious concerns of life as things to be played with, and sacrificed to every caprice. Now this is one of the most pernicious kinds of pride. Let any one think ever so much too highly of himself; so long as he keeps it to himself, or only gives out a few slighter intimations of it, though he is very blamable, yet he is tolerably harmless. But there are many who crush their inferiors under their feet, without minding them; though perhaps from principle, such as it is, they would behave to one of their equals in a quite different manner. But so far all men are equal, that the meanest wretch on earth hath the same right to live unmolested and free from inEcclus, vii. 11.

+ Ecclus. xiji. 3.

« PreviousContinue »