« PreviousContinue »
garrulity, laziness, and the abusive wit of turning every thing into ridicule; whereas virtue weighs all this and corrects it.
Philosophy is the guide of Life.
1 Philosophy* is divided into moral, natural, and rational: the first concerns our manners; the second searches the works of nature; and the third furnishes us with propriety of words and arguments, and the faculty of distinguishing, that we may not be imposed upon with tricks and fallacies. The causes of things fall under natural philosophy, arguments under rational, and actions under moral.
2 Moral philosophy is again divided into matter of justice, which arises from the estimation of things and of men: and into affections and actions; and a failing in any one of these, disorders all the rest: for what does it profit us to know the true value of things, if we be transported by our passions? or to master our appetites without understanding the when, the what, the how, and other circumstances of our proceedings?
3 Socrates places all philosophy in morals; and wisdom in the distinguishing of good and evil. It is the art and law of life, and it teaches us what to do in all cases, and, like good marksmen, to hit the white at any distance. In poverty it gives us riches, or such a state of mind as makes them superfluous to us.
4 It arms us against all difficulties; one man is pressed with death, another with poverty; some with envy, others are offended at Providence, and unsatisfied with the condition of mankind: but philosophy prompts us to relieve the prisoner, the infirm, the necessitous, the condemned; to show the ignorant their errors, and rectify their affections.
5 It makes us inspect and govern our manners; it rouses us where we are faint and drowsy; it binds up what is loose, and humbles in us that which is contumacious; it delivers the mind from the bondage of the body, and raises it up to the contemplation of its divine original. The very shadow of glory carries a man of honor upon all dangers, to the contempt of fire and sword; and it were a shame if right reason should not inspire as generous resolutions into a man of virtue.
* Love of wisdom, from two Greek words, philos and sophia.
6 As men of letters are the most useful and excellent of friends, so are they the best of citizens; as being better judges of the blessings they enjoy under a well ordered government, and of what they owe to the magistrate for their freedom and protection. They are men of sobriety and learning, and free from boasting and insolence; they reprove the vice, without reproaching the person; for they have learned to be wise, without either pomp or envy:
7 It is of the bounty of nature that we live; but of philosophy that we live well. Not but that philosophy is also the gift of heaven, so far as to the faculty, but not to the science; for that must be the business of industry. No man is born wise; but wisdom and virtue require a tutor, though we can easily learn to be vicious without a master.
8 It is philosophy that gives us a veneration for God, a charity for our neighbor, that teaches us our duty to heaven, and exhorts us to an agreement one with another; it unmasks things that are terrible to us, refutes our errors, restrains our luxury, reproves our avarice.
9 I could never hear Attalus upon the vices of the age, and the errors of life, without a compassion for mankind; and in his discourses upon poverty, there was something, methought, that was more than human. "More than we use,' says he, "is more than we need, and only a burden to the bearer." That saying of his put me out of countenance at the superfluities of my own fortune.
10 And so in his invectives against vain pleasures, he did at such a rate advance the felicities of a sober table, a pure mind, and a chaste body, that a man could not hear him without a love for continence and moderation. Upon these lectures of his, I denied myself, for a while after, certain delicacies that I had formerly used: but in a short time I fell to them again, though so sparingly, that the proportion came little short of a total abstinence.
11 Now, to show you how much more earnest my entrance upon philosophy was than my progress, my tutor Sotion gave me a wonderful affection for Pythagoras, and after him for Sextius: the former forebore shedding of blood upon his metempsycosis; and put men in fear of it, lest they should offer violence to the souls of some of their departed friends or relations.
12 "Whether," says he, "there be a transmigration or not, if it be true, there is no hurt in it; if false, there is frugality; and nothing is gotten by cruelty neither, but
the cozening a wolf, perhaps, or a vulture, of a supper." 13 Now, Sextius abstained upon another account, which was, that he would not have men inured to hardness of heart. by the laceration and tormenting of living creatures; beside, that nature had sufficiently provided for the sustenance of mankind without blood.
14 This wrought so far upon me that I gave over eating of flesh, and in one year I made it not only easy to me, but pleasant; my mind, methought, was more at liberty, (and I am still of the same opinion,) but I gave it over nevertheless; and the reason was this: It was imputed as a superstition to the Jews, the forbearance of some sorts of flesh, and my father brought me back again to my old custom, that I might not be thought tainted with their superstition. Nay, and I had much ado to prevail upon myself to suffer it too. I make use of this instance to show the aptness of youth to take good impressions, if there be a friend at hand to press them.
15 Philosophers are the tutors of mankind; if they have found out remedies for the mind, it must be our part to apply them. I cannot think of Cato, Lelius, Socrates, Plato, without veneration; their very names are sacred to me.
16 The life of a philosopher is ordinate, fearless, equal, secure; he stands firm in all extremities, and bears the lot of his humanity with a divine temper. There is a great difference betwixt the splendor of philosophy and of fortune; the one shines with an original light, the other with a borrowed one; beside that, it makes us happy and immortal: for learning shall outlive palaces and monuments.
17 What does it concern us which was the elder of the two, Homer or Hesiod; or which was the taller, Helen or Hecuba? We take a great deal of pains to trace Ulysses in his wanderings; but were it not time as well spent to look to ourselves, that we may not wander at all?
18 Are not we ourselves tossed with tempestuous passions? and both assaulted by terrible monsters on the one hand, and tempted by sirens on the other? Teach me my duty to my country, to my father, to my wife, to mankind. What is it to me whether Penelope was honest or not? teach me to know how to be so myself, and live according to that knowledge.
19 What am I the better for putting so many parts together in music, and raising a harmony out of so many different tones? teach me to tune my affections, and to hold constant to myself. Geometry teaches me the art of mea
suring acres; teach me to measure my appetites, and to know when I have enough; teach me to divide with my brother, and to rejoice in the prosperity of my neighbor.
20 What can be more ridiculous than for a man to neglect his manners, and compose his style? "Misfortunes," in fine, "cannot be avoided; but they may be sweetened, if not overcome! and our lives may be made happy by philosophy."
21 There seems to be so near an affinity betwixt wisdom, philosophy, and good counsels, that it is rather matter of curiosity than of profit to divide them; philosophy, being only a limited wisdom; and good counsels a communication of that wisdom, for the good of others, as well as of ourselves; and to posterity, as well as to the present.
22 Good counsel is the most needful service that we can do to mankind; and if we give it to many, it will be sure to profit some: for of many trials, some or other will undoubtedly succeed. He that places a man in the possession of himself, does a great thing; for wisdom does not show itself so much in precept, as in life; in a firmness of mind and a mastery of appetite: it teaches us to do as well as to talk: and to make our words and actions all of a color.
23 We may be sometimes earnest in advising, but not violent and tedious. Few words, with gentleness and efficacy, are best: the misery is, that the wise do not need counsel, and fools will not take it. A good man, it is true, delights in it; and it is a mark of folly and ill-nature to hate reproof. To a friend I would be always frank and plain; and rather fail in the success, than be wanting in the matter of faith and
No felicity like peace of conscience.
1 "A good conscience is the testimony of a good life, and the reward of it." This is it that fortifies the mind against fortune, when a man has gotten the mastery of his passions; placed his treasure and security within himself; and learned to be content with his condition.
2 He that has dedicated his mind to virtue, and to the good of human society, whereof he is a member, has consummated the establishment of his peace. Every man has a judge and a witness within himself, of all the good and ill that he does, which inspires us with great thoughts, and administers to us wholesome counsels.
3 To see a man fearless in dangers, happy in adversity,
composed in a tumult, and laughing at all those things which are generally either coveted or feared; all men must acknowledge that this can be nothing else but a beam of divinity that influences a mortal body. A great, a good, and a right mind, is a kind of divinity lodged in flesh, and may be the blessing of a slave as well as of a prince.
4 A good conscience fears no witness, but a guilty conscience is solicitous even in solitude. If we do nothing but what is honest, let all the world know it; but if otherwise, what does it signify to have nobody else know it, so long as I know it myself? Miserable is he that slights that witness! 5 Wickedness, it is true, may escape the law, but not the conscience: for a private conviction is the first and the greatest punishment of offenders; so that sin plagues itself; and the fear of vengeance pursues even those that escape the stroke of it. It were ill for good men that iniquity may so easily evade the law, the judge, and the execution, if Nature had not set up torments and gibbets in the consciences of transgressors.
6 He that is guilty lives in perpetual terror; and while he expects to be punished, he punishes himself; and whosoever deserves it expects it. What if he be not detected? he is still in apprehension yet that he may be. His sleeps are painful, and never secure; and he cannot speak of another man's wickedness without thinking of his own; whereas a good conscience is a continual feast.
7 Those are the only certain and profitable delights, which arise from the consciousness of a well acted life; no matter for noise abroad, so long as we are quiet within: but if our passions be seditious, that is enough to keep us waking without any other tumult.
8 It is dangerous for a man too suddenly, or too easily to believe himself. Wherefore let us examine, watch, observe, and inspect our own hearts; for we ourselves are our own greatest flatterers: we should every night call ourselves to account: "What infirmity have I mastered to-day? what passion opposed? what temptation resisted? what virtue acquired ?"
9 Our vices will abate of themselves, if they be brought every day to the shrift. Oh the blessed sleep that follows such a diary! Oh the tranquillity, liberty, and greatness of that mind that is a spy upon itself, and a private censor of its own manners! It is my custom every night, so soon as the candle is out, to run over all the words and actions of the past day; and I let nothing escape me.