THE FORCE OF PRECEPTS

If it be true, that the _understanding_ and the _will_ are the _two
eminent faculties of the reasonable soul_, it follows necessarily,
that _wisdom_ and _virtue_, (which are the best improvements of these
two faculties,) must be the perfection also of our _reasonable being_;
and consequently, _the undeniable foundation of a happy life_. There
is not any duty to which Providence has not annexed a blessing; nor
any institution of Heaven which, even in this life, we may not be the
better for; not any temptation, either of fortune or of appetite, that
is not subject to our reason; nor any passion or affliction for which
virtue has not provided a remedy. So that it is our own fault if we
either fear or hope for anything; which two affections are the root of
all our miseries. From this general prospect of the _foundation_ of our
_tranquillity_, we shall pass by degrees to a particular consideration
of the _means_ by which it may be _procured_, and of the _impediments_
that _obstruct_ it; beginning with that _philosophy_ which principally
regards our manners, and instructs us in the measures of a virtuous and
quiet life.

_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_. _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 passion? or to master our
appetites without understanding the _when_, the _what_, the _how_,
and other circumstances of our proceedings? For it is one thing to
know the rate and dignity of things, and another to know the little
nicks and springs of acting. _Natural philosophy_ is conversant about
things _corporeal_ and _incorporeal_; the disquisition of _causes_ and
_effects_, and the contemplation of the _cause of causes_. _Rational
philosophy_ is divided into _logic_ and _rhetoric_; the one looks after
_words_, _sense_, and _order_; the other treats barely of _words_,
and the _significations_ of them. 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. The
force of it is incredible; for it gives us in the weakness of a man
the security of a _spirit_: in sickness it is as good as a remedy to
us; for whatsoever eases the mind is profitable also to the body. The
_physician_ may prescribe diet and exercise, and accommodate his rule
and medicine to the disease, but it is _philosophy_ that must bring
us to a contempt of death, which is the remedy of all diseases. In
poverty it gives us riches, or such a state of mind as makes them
superfluous to us. 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. 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. Honors, monuments, and all the works of vanity
and ambition are demolished and destroyed by time; but the reputation
of wisdom is venerable to posterity, and those that were envied or
neglected in their lives are adored in their memories, and exempted
from the very laws of created nature, which has set bounds to all other
things. 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_.

Neither is _philosophy_ only profitable to the public, but one wise man
helps another, even in the exercise of the virtues; and the one has
need of the other, both for conversation and counsel; for they kindle a
mutual emulation in good offices. We are not so perfect yet, but that
many new things remain still to be found out, which will give us the
reciprocal advantages of instructing one another: for as one wicked man
is contagious to another, and the more vices are mingled, the worse it
is, so is it on the contrary with good men and their virtues. As men
of letters are the most useful and excellent of friends, so are they
the best of subjects; 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
without either pomp or envy. That which we see in high mountains,
we find in _philosophers_; they seem taller near at hand than at a
distance. They are raised above other men, but their greatness is
substantial. Nor do they stand upon tiptoe, that they may seem higher
than they are, but, content with their own stature, they reckon
themselves tall enough when fortune cannot reach them. Their laws are
short, and yet comprehensive too, for they bind all.

It is the bounty of _nature_ that we _live_; but of _philosophy_ that
we _live well_, which is in truth a greater benefit than life itself.
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. 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,
assuages our lusts, refutes our errors, restrains our luxury, reproves
our avarice, and works strangely upon tender natures. I could never
hear Attalus (says Seneca) 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. 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.

Now, to show you (says our author) how much earnester my entrance upon
philosophy was than my progress, my tutor Sotion gave me a wonderful
kindness for Pythagoras, and after him for Sextius: the former forbore
shedding of blood upon his _metempsychosis:_ and put men in fear of it,
lest they should offer violence to the souls of some of their departed
friends or relations. “Whether,” says he, “there be a transmigration or
not; if it be true, there is no hurt; if false, there is frugality: and
nothing is gotten by cruelty neither, but the cozening a wolf, perhaps,
or a vulture, of a supper.”

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.” This wrought
upon me so far 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. Philosophers are the tutors of mankind; if they have
found out remedies for the mind, it must be our part to employ them.
I cannot think of Cato, Lelius, Socrates, Plato, without veneration:
their very names are sacred to me. Philosophy is the health of the
mind; let us look to that health first, and in the second place to
that of the body, which may be had upon easier terms; for a strong
arm, a robust constitution, or the skill of procuring this, is not a
philosopher’s business. He does some things as a _wise man,_ and other
things as he is a _man_; and he may have strength of body as well as of
mind; but if he runs, or casts the sledge, it were injurious to ascribe
that to his wisdom which is common to the greatest of fools. He studies
rather to fill his mind than his coffers; and he knows that gold and
silver were mingled with dirt, until avarice or ambition parted them.
His life 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. The house of a wise man is safe,
though narrow; there is neither noise nor furniture in it, no porter
at the door, nor anything that is either vendible or mercenary, nor any
business of fortune, for she has nothing to do where she has nothing
to look after. This is the way to Heaven which Nature has chalked out,
and it is both secure and pleasant; there needs no train of servants,
no pomp or equipage, to make good our passage; no money or letters of
credit, for expenses upon the voyage; but the graces of an honest mind
will serve us upon the way, and make us happy at our journey’s end.

To tell you my opinion now of the _liberal sciences_; I have no great
esteem for any thing that terminates in profit or money; and yet I
shall allow them to be so far beneficial, as they only _prepare_ the
understanding without _detaining_ it. They are but the rudiments
of wisdom, and only then to be learned when the mind is capable of
nothing better, and the knowledge of them is better worth the keeping
than the acquiring. They do not so much as pretend to the making of
us virtuous, but only to give us an aptitude of disposition to be
so. The _grammarian’s_ business lies in a _syntax_ of speech; or if
he proceed to _history_, or the measuring of a _verse_, he is at
the end of his line; but what signifies a congruity of periods, the
computing of syllables, or the modifying of numbers, to the taming
of our passions, or the repressing of our lusts? The _philosopher_
proves the body of the sun to be large, but for the true dimensions
of it we must ask the _mathematician_: _geometry_ and _music_, if
they do not teach us to master our hopes and fears, all the rest is
to little purpose. 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? Are not we ourselves tossed with tempestuous passions?
and both _assaulted_ by terrible _monsters_ on the one hand, and
_tempted_ by _syrens_ 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 to
live according to that knowledge. 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 _measuring 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. You teach me how I may hold my own, and keep my estate; but
I would rather learn how I may lose it all, and yet be contented. “It
is hard,” you will say, “for a man to be forced from the fortune of his
family.” This estate, it is true, was my _father’s_; but whose was it
in the time of my _grandfather_? I do not only say, what _man’s_ was
it? but what _nation’s_? The _astrologer_ tells me of Saturn and Mars
in _opposition_; but I say, let them be as they will, their courses
and their positions are ordered them by an unchangeable decree of
fate. Either they produce and point out the effects of all things, or
else they signify them; if the former, what are we the better for the
knowledge of that which must of necessity come to pass? If the latter,
what does it avail us to foresee what we cannot avoid? So that whether
we know or not know, the event will still be the same.

He that designs the institution of human life should not be
over-curious of his words; it does not stand with his dignity to be
solicitous about sounds and syllables, and to debase the mind of
man with trivial things; placing wisdom in matters that are rather
difficult than great. If it be _eloquent_, it is his _good fortune_,
not his _business_. Subtle disputations are only the sport of wits,
that play upon the catch, and are fitter to be contemned than resolved.
Were not I a madman to sit wrangling about words, and putting of
nice and impertinent questions, when the enemy has already made the
breach, the town fired over my head, and the mine ready to play that
shall blow me up into the air? were this a time for fooleries? Let me
rather fortify myself against death and inevitable necessities; let
me understand that the good of life does not consist in the length or
space, but in the use of it. When I go to _sleep_, who knows whether
I shall ever _wake_ again? and when I _wake_, whether ever I shall
_sleep_ again? When I go _abroad_, whether ever I shall come _home_
again? and when I _return_, whether ever I shall go _abroad_ again? It
is not at sea only that life and death are within a few inches one of
another; but they are as near everywhere else too, only we do not take
so much notice of it. What have we to do with frivolous and captious
questions, and impertinent niceties? Let us rather study how to deliver
ourselves from sadness, fear, and the burden of all our secret lusts:
let us pass over all our most solemn levities, and make haste to a
good life, which is a thing that presses us. Shall a man that goes
for a midwife, stand gaping upon a post to see _what play to-day_?
or, when his house is on fire, stay the curling of a periwig before
he calls for help? Our houses are on fire, our country invaded, our
goods taken away, our children in danger; and, I might add to these,
the calamities of earthquakes, shipwrecks, and whatever else is most
terrible. Is this a time for us now to be playing fast and loose with
idle questions, which are in effect so many unprofitable riddles? Our
duty is the cure of the mind rather than the delight of it; but we have
only the words of wisdom without the works; and turn philosophy into a
pleasure that was given for a remedy. What can be more ridiculous than
for a man to _neglect_ his _manners_ and _compose_ his _style_? We are
sick and ulcerous, and must be lanced and scarified, and every man has
as much business within himself as a physician in a common pestilence.
“Misfortunes,” in fine, “cannot be avoided; but they may be sweetened,
if not overcome; and our lives may be made happy by philosophy.”

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_. The _wisdom_ of the _ancients_, as to the government of
life, was no more than certain precepts, what to do and what not: and
men were much better in that simplicity; for as they came to be more
_learned_, they grew less careful of being _good_. That _plain_ and
_open virtue_ is now turned into a _dark_ and _intricate science_; and
we are taught to _dispute_ rather than to _live_. So long as wickedness
was simple, simple remedies also were sufficient against it; but now it
has taken root, and spread, we must make use of stronger.

There are some dispositions that embrace good things as soon as they
hear them; but they will still need quickening by admonition and
precept. We are rash and forward in some cases, and dull in others;
and there is no repressing of the one humor, or raising of the other,
but by removing the causes of them; which are (in one word) _false
admiration_ and _false fear_.

Every man knows his duty to his country, to his friends, to his
guests; and yet when he is called upon to draw his sword for the one,
or to labor for the other, he finds himself distracted betwixt his
apprehensions and his delights: he knows well enough the injury he
does his wife in the keeping of a wench, and yet his lust overrules
him: so that it is not enough to give good advice, unless we can take
away that which hinders the benefit of it. If a man does what he ought
to do, he will never do it constantly or equally, without knowing why
he does it: and if it be only chance or custom, he that does well by
chance, may do ill so too. And farther, a precept may direct us what
we _ought_ to do, and yet fall short in the manner of doing it: an
expensive entertainment may, in one case be extravagance or gluttony,
and yet a point of honor and discretion in another. Tiberius Cæsar had
a huge _mullet_ presented him, which he sent to the market to be sold:
“and now,” says he, “my masters,” to some company with him, “you shall
see that either Apicius or Octavius will be the chapman for this fish.”
Octavius beat the price, and gave about thirty pounds sterling for it.
Now, there was a great difference between Octavius, that bought it for
his luxury, and the _other_ that purchased it for a _compliment_ to
Tiberius. Precepts are idle, if we be not first taught what opinion
we are to have of the matter in question; whether it be _poverty_,
_riches_, _disgrace_, _sickness_, _banishment_, etc. Let us therefore
examine them one by one; not what they are _called_, but what in truth
they _are_. And so for the _virtues_; it is to no purpose to set a high
esteem upon prudence, _fortitude_, _temperance_, _justice_, if we do
not first know _what virtue is_; whether _one_ or _more_; or if he
that has _one_, has _all_; or _how they differ_.

Precepts are of great weight; and a few useful ones at hand do more
toward a happy life than whole volumes or cautions, that we know not
where to find. These salutary precepts should be our daily meditation,
for they are the rules by which we ought to square our lives. When they
are contracted into _sentences_, they strike the _affections_: whereas
_admonition_ is only _blowing_ of the _coal_; it moves the vigor of the
mind, and excites virtue: we have the thing already, but we know not
where it lies. It is by precept that the understanding is nourished
and augmented: the offices of prudence and justice are guided by them,
and they lead us to the execution of our duties. A _precept_ delivered
in _verse_ has a much greater effect than in _prose_: and those very
people that never think they have enough, let them but hear a sharp
sentence against _avarice_, how will they clap and admire it, and bid
open defiance to money? So soon as we find the affections struck, we
must follow the blow; not with _syllogisms_ or quirks of _wit_; but
with _plain_ and _weighty reason_ and we must do it with _kindness_
too, and _respect_ for “there goes a blessing along with counsels and
discourses that are bent wholly upon the good of the hearer:” and
those are still the most efficacious that take reason along with them;
and tell us as well why we are to do this or that, as _what_ we are
to do: for some understandings are weak, and need an instructor to
expound to them what is good and what is evil. It is a great virtue
to _love_, to _give_, and to _follow good counsel_; if it does not
_lead_ us to honesty, it does at least _prompt_ us to it. As several
parts make up but one harmony, and the most agreeable music arises
from discords; so should a wise man gather many acts, many precepts,
and the examples of many arts, to inform his own life. Our forefathers
have left us in charge to avoid three things; _hatred_, _envy_, and
_contempt_; now, it is hard to avoid envy and not incur _contempt_;
for in taking too much care not to usurp upon others, we become many
times liable to be trampled upon ourselves. Some people are afraid of
others, because it is possible that others may be afraid of them: but
let us secure ourselves upon all hands; for _flattery_ is as dangerous
as _contempt_. It is not to say, in case of admonition, I knew this
before, for we know many things, but we do not think of them; so that
it is the part of a _monitor_, not so much to _teach_ as to _mind_ us
of our duties. Sometimes a man oversees that which lies just under his
nose; otherwhile he is careless, or _pretends_ not to see it: we do all
know that friendship is sacred, and yet we violate it; and the greatest
libertine expects that his own wife should be honest.

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. If that fruit
be pleasantest which we gather from a tree of our own planting, how
much greater delight shall we take in the growth and increase of good
manners of our own forming! It is an eminent mark of wisdom for a man
to be always like himself. You shall have some that keep a thrifty
table, and lavish out upon building; profuse upon themselves, and
forbid to others; niggardly at home, and lavish abroad. This diversity
is vicious, and the effect of a dissatisfied and uneasy mind; whereas
every wise man lives by rule. This disagreement of purposes arises
from hence, either that we do not propound to ourselves what we would
be at; or if we do, that we do not pursue it, but pass from one thing
to another; and we do not only _change_ neither but return to the very
thing which we had both quitted and condemned.

In all our undertakings, let us first examine our own strength; the
enterprise next; and, thirdly, the persons with whom we have to do. The
first point is most important; for we are apt to overvalue ourselves,
and reckon that we can do more than indeed we can. One man sets up
for a speaker, and is out as soon as he opens his mouth; another
overcharges his estate, perhaps, or his body: a bashful man is not
fit for public business: some again are too stiff and peremptory for
the court: many people are apt to fly out in their anger, nay, and in
a frolic too; if any sharp thing fall in their way, they will rather
venture a neck than lose a jest. These people had better be quiet in
the world than busy. Let him that is naturally choleric and impatient
avoid all provocations, and those affairs also that multiply and draw
on more; and those also from which there is no retreat. When we may
come off at pleasure, and fairly hope to bring our matters to a period,
it is well enough. If it so happen that a man be tied up to business,
which he can neither loosen nor break off, let him imagine those
shackles upon his mind to be irons upon his legs: they are troublesome
at first; but when there is no remedy but patience, custom makes them
easy to us, and necessity gives us courage. We are all slaves to
fortune: some only in loose and golden chains, others in strait ones,
and coarser: nay, and _they that bind us are slaves too themselves_;
some to honor, others to wealth; some to offices, and others to
contempt; some to their superiors, others to themselves: nay, life
itself is a servitude: let us make the best of it then, and with our
philosophy mend our fortune. Difficulties may be softened, and heavy
burdens disposed of to our ease. Let us covet nothing out of our reach,
but content ourselves with things hopeful and at hand; and without
envying the advantages of others; for greatness stands upon a craggy
precipice, and it is much safer and quieter living upon a level. How
many great men are forced to keep their station upon mere necessity;
because they find there is no coming down from it but headlong? These
men should do well to fortify themselves against ill consequences by
such virtues and meditations as may make them less solicitous for the
future. The surest expedient in this case is to bound our desires, and
to leave nothing to fortune which we may keep in our own power. Neither
will this course wholly compose us, but it shows us at worst the end of
our troubles.

It is but a main point to take care that we propose nothing but what is
hopeful and honest. For it will be equally troublesome to us, either
not to succeed, or to be ashamed of the success. Wherefore let us be
sure not to admit any ill design into our heart; that we may lift up
pure hands to heaven and ask nothing which another shall be a loser by.
Let us pray for a good mind, which is a wish to no man’s injury. I
will remember always that I am a man, and then consider, that if I am
_happy_, it will not last _always_; if _unhappy_, I may be _other_ if
I please. I will carry my life in my hand, and deliver it up readily
when it shall be called for. I will have a care of being a slave to
myself; for it is a perpetual, a shameful, and the heaviest of all
servitudes: and this may be done by moderate desires. I will say to
myself, “What is it that I labor, sweat, and solicit for, when it is
but very little that I want, and it will not be long that I will need
any thing?” He that would make a trial of the firmness of his mind, let
him set certain days apart for the practice of his virtues. Let him
mortify himself with fasting, coarse clothes, and hard lodging; and
then say to himself, “Is this the thing now that I was afraid of?” In a
state of security, a man may thus prepare himself against hazards, and
in plenty fortify himself against want. If you will have a man resolute
when he comes to the push, train him up to it beforehand. The soldier
does duty in peace, that he may be in breath when he comes to battle.
How many great and wise men have made experiment of their moderation
by a practice of abstinence, to the highest degree of hunger and
thirst; and convinced themselves that a man may fill his belly without
being beholden to fortune; which never denies any of us wherewith to
satisfy our necessities, though she be never so angry! It is as easy
to _suffer_ it _always_ as to _try_ it _once_; and it is no more than
thousands of servants and poor people do every day in their lives. He
that would live happily, must neither trust to good fortune nor submit
to bad: he must stand upon his guard against all assaults; he must
stick to himself, without any dependence upon other people. Where
the mind is tinctured with philosophy, there is no place for grief,
anxiety, or superfluous vexations. It is prepossessed with virtue to
the neglect of fortune, which brings us to a degree of security not
to be disturbed. It is easier to give counsel than to take it; and
a common thing for one choleric man to condemn another. We may be
sometimes earnest in advising, but not violent or 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 trust. There are
some precepts that serve in common both to the rich and poor, but they
are too general; as “Cure your avarice, and the work is done.” It is
one thing not to desire money, and another thing not to understand
how to use it. In the choice of the persons we have to do withal, we
should see that they be worth our while; in the choice of our business,
we are to consult nature, and follow our inclinations. He that gives
sober advice to a witty droll must look to have every thing turned into
ridicule. “As if you philosophers,” says Marcellinus, “did not love
your whores and your guts as well as other people:” and then he tells
you of such and such that were taken in the manner. We are all sick, I
must confess, and it is not for sick men to play the physicians; but
it is yet lawful for a man in an hospital to discourse of the common
condition and distempers of the place. He that should pretend to teach
a madman how to speak, walk, and behave himself, were not he the most
mad man of the two? He that directs the pilot, makes him move the
helm, order the sails so or so, and makes the best of a scant wind,
after this or that manner. And so should we do in our counsels.

Do not tell me what a man should do in health or poverty, but show
me the way to be either sound or rich. Teach me to master my vices:
for it is to no purpose, so long as I am under their government, to
tell me what I must do when I am clear of it. In case of an avarice a
little eased, a luxury moderated, a temerity restrained, a sluggish
humor quickened; precepts will then help us forward, and tutor us how
to behave ourselves. It is the first and the main tie of a soldier his
military oath, which is an engagement upon him both of religion and
honor. In like manner, he that pretends to a happy life must first lay
a foundation of virtue, as a bond upon him, to live and die true to
that cause. We do not find felicity in the veins of the earth where we
dig for gold, nor in the bottom of the sea where we fish for pearls,
but in a pure and untainted mind, which, if it were not holy, were not
fit to entertain the Deity. “He that would be truly happy, must think
his own lot best, and so live with men, as considering that God sees
him, and so speak to God as if men heard him.”

“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; learned to be content with his condition;
and that death is no evil in itself, but only the end of man. He that
has dedicated his mind to virtue, and to the good of human society,
whereof he is a member, has consummated all that is either profitable
or necessary for him to know or to do toward 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. We have a veneration for all the
works of Nature, the heads of rivers, and the springs of medicinal
waters; the horrors of groves and of caves strike us with an impression
of religion and worship. To see a man fearless in dangers, untainted
with lusts, 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. And this is it that carries us to the
disquisition of things divine and human; what the state of the world
was before the distribution of the first matter into parts; what power
it was that drew order out of that confusion, and gave laws both to the
whole, and to every particle thereof; what that space is beyond the
world; and whence proceed the several operations of Nature.

Shall any man see the glory and order of the universe; so many
scattered parts and qualities wrought into one mass; such a medley of
things, which are yet distinguished: the world enlightened, and the
disorders of it so wonderfully regulated; and shall he not consider
the Author and Disposer of all this; and whither we ourselves shall
go, when our souls shall be delivered from the slavery of our flesh?
The whole creation we see conforms to the dictates of Providence, and
follows God both as a governor and as a guide. 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; it came from heaven, and to
heaven it must return; and it is a kind of heavenly felicity, which a
pure and virtuous mind enjoys, in some degree, even upon earth: whereas
temples of honor are but empty names, which, probably, owe their
beginning either to ambition or to violence.

I am strangely transported with the thoughts of eternity; nay, with
the belief of it; for I have a profound veneration for the opinions
of great men, especially when they promise things so much to my
satisfaction: for they do promise them, though they do not prove them.
In the question of the immortality of the soul, it goes very far with
me, a general consent to the opinion of a future reward and punishment;
which meditation raises me to the contempt of this life, in hopes of
a better. But still, though we know that we have a soul; yet what the
soul is, how, and from whence, we are utterly ignorant: this only we
understand, that all the good and ill we do is under the dominion of
the mind; that a clear conscience states us in an inviolable peace; and
that the greatest blessing in Nature is that which every honest man may
bestow upon himself. The body is but the clog and prisoner of the mind;
tossed up and down, and persecuted with punishments, violences, and
diseases; but the mind itself is sacred and eternal, and exempt from
the danger of all actual impression.

Provided that we look to our consciences, no matter for opinion: let
me deserve well, though I hear ill. The common people take stomach and
audacity for the marks of magnanimity and honor; and if a man be soft
and modest, they look upon him as an easy fop; but when they come once
to observe the dignity of his mind in the equality and firmness of his
actions; and that his external quiet is founded upon an internal peace,
the very same people who have him in esteem and admiration; for there
is no man but approves of virtue, though but few pursue it; we see
where it is, but we dare not venture to come at it: and the reason is,
we overvalue that which we must quit to obtain it.

A good conscience fears no witnesses, but a guilty conscience is
solicitous even of 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! Wickedness, it is true, may escape the law, but
not the conscience; for a private conviction is the first and the
greatest punishment to 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. 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 so. 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.

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. It is not
the posture of the body, or the composure of the bed, that will give
rest to an uneasy mind: there is an impatient sloth that may be roused
by action, and the vices of laziness must be cured by business. True
happiness is not to be found in excesses of wine, or of women, or in
the largest prodigalities of fortune; what she has given to me, she
may take away, but she shall not tear it from me; and, so long as it
does not grow to me, I can part with it without pain. He that would
perfectly know himself, let him set aside his money, his fortune, his
dignity, and examine himself naked, without being put to learn from
others the knowledge of himself.

It is dangerous for a man too suddenly, or too easily, to believe
himself. Wherefore let us examine, 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?” 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
(says our author) 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; for why should I fear the sight of my own errors, when I can
admonish and forgive myself? “I was a little too hot in such a dispute:
my opinion might have been as well spared, for it gave offence, and
did no good at all. The thing was true, but all truths are not to be
spoken at all times; I would I had held my tongue, for there is no
contending either with fools or our superiors. I have done ill, but it
shall be so no more.” If every man would but thus look into himself,
it would be the better for us all. What can be more reasonable than
this daily review of a life that we cannot warrant for a moment? Our
fate is set, and the first breath we draw is only the first motion
toward our last: one cause depends upon another; and the course of all
things, public and private, is but a long connection of providential
appointments. There is a great variety in our lives, but all tends to
the same issue. Nature may use her own bodies as she pleases; but a
good man has this consolation, that nothing perishes which he can call
his own. It is a great comfort that we are only condemned to the same
fate with the universe; the heavens themselves are mortal as well
as our bodies; Nature has made us passive, and to suffer is our lot.
While we are in flesh, every man has his chain and his clog, only it is
looser and lighter to one man than to another; and he is more at ease
that takes it up and carries it, than he that drags it. We are born, to
lose and to perish, to hope and to fear, to vex ourselves and others;
and there is no antidote against a common calamity but virtue; for “the
foundation of true joy is in the conscience.”

Share