A SENSUAL LIFE IS A MISERABLE LIFE

Never pronounce any man happy that depends upon fortune for his
happiness; for nothing can be more preposterous than to place the
good of a reasonable creature in unreasonable things. If I have lost
any thing, it was adventitious; and the less money, the less trouble;
the less favor, the less envy; nay, even in those cases that put us
out of their wits, it is not the loss itself, but the opinion of the
loss, that troubles us. It is a common mistake to account those things
necessary that are superfluous, and to depend upon fortune for the
felicity of life, which arises only from virtue. There is no trusting
to her smiles; the sea swells and rages in a moment, and the ships are
swallowed at night, in the very place where they sported themselves in
the morning. And fortune has the same power over princes that it has
over empires, over nations that it has over cities, and the same power
over cities that it has over private men. Where is that estate that may
not be followed upon the heel with famine and beggary? that dignity
which the next moment may not be laid in the dust? that kingdom that is
secure from desolation and ruin? The period of all things is at hand,
as well that which casts out the fortunate as the other that delivers
the unhappy; and that which may fall out at any time may fall out this
very day. What _shall_ come to pass I know not, but what _may_ come to
pass I know: so that I will despair of nothing, but expect everything;
and whatsoever Providence remits is clear gain. Every moment, if it
spares me, deceives me; and yet in some sort it does not deceive me;
for though I know that any thing may happen, yet I know likewise
that everything will not. I will hope the best, and provide for the
worst. Methinks we should not find so much fault with Fortune for her
inconstancy when we ourselves suffer a change every moment that we
live; only other changes make more noise, and this steals upon us like
the shadow upon a dial, every jot as certainly, but more insensibly.

The burning of Lyons may serve to show us that we are never safe, and
to arm us against all surprises. The terror of it must needs be great,
for the calamity is almost without example. If it had been fired by an
enemy, the flame would have left some further mischief to have been
done by the soldiers; but to be wholly consumed, we have not heard of
many earthquakes so pernicious: so many rarities to be destroyed in
one night; and in the depth of peace to suffer an outrage beyond the
extremity of war; who would believe it? but twelve hours betwixt so
fair a city and none at all! It was laid in ashes in less time than it
would require to tell the story.

To stand unshaken in such a calamity is hardly to be expected, and
our wonder can but be equal to our grief. Let this accident teach us
to provide against all possibilities that fall within the power of
fortune. All external things are under her dominion: one while she
calls our hands to her assistance; another while she contents herself
with her own force, and destroys us with mischiefs of which we cannot
find the author. No time, place, or condition, is excepted; she makes
our very pleasures painful to us; she makes war upon us in the depth of
peace, and turns the means of our security into an occasion of fear;
she turns a friend into an enemy, and makes a foe of a companion; we
suffer the effects of war without any adversary; and rather than fail,
our felicity shall be the cause of our destruction. Lest we should
either forget or neglect her power, every day produces something
extraordinary. She persecutes the most temperate with sickness, the
strongest constitutions with the phthisis; she brings the innocent
to punishment, and the most retired she assaults with tumults. Those
glories that have grown up with many ages, with infinite labor and
expense, and under the favor of many auspicious providences, one day
scatters and brings to nothing. He that pronounced a day, nay, an hour,
sufficient for the destruction of the greatest empire, might have
fallen to a moment.

It were some comfort yet to the frailty of mankind and of human
affairs, if things might but decay as slowly as they rise; but they
grow by degrees, and they fall to ruin in an instant. There is no
felicity in anything either private or public; men, nations, and
cities, have all their fates and periods; our very entertainments are
not without terror, and our calamity rises there where we least expect
it. Those kingdoms that stood the shock both of foreign wars and civil,
come to destruction without the sight of an enemy. Nay, we are to dread
our peace and felicity more than violence, because we are here taken
unprovided; unless in a state of peace we do the duty of men in war,
and say to ourselves, _Whatsoever may be, will be_. I am to-day safe
and happy in the love of my country; I am to-morrow banished: to-day in
pleasure, peace, health; to-morrow broken upon a wheel, led in triumph,
and in the agony of sickness. Let us therefore prepare for a shipwreck
in the port, and for a tempest in a calm. One violence drives me from
my country, another ravishes that from me; and that very place where
a man can hardly pass this day for a crowd may be to-morrow a desert.
Wherefore let us set before our eyes the whole condition of human
nature, and consider as well what _may_ happen as what commonly _does_.
The way to make future calamities easy to us in the sufferance, is to
make them familiar to us in the contemplation. How many cities in Asia,
Achaia, Assyria, Macedonia, have been swallowed up by earthquakes?
nay, whole countries are lost, and large provinces laid under water;
but time brings all things to an end; for all the works of mortals
are mortal; all possessions and their possessors are uncertain and
perishable; and what wonder is it to lose anything at any time, when we
must one day lose all?

That which we call our own is but lent us; and what we have received
_gratis_ we must return without complaint. That which Fortune gives
us this hour she may take away the next; and he that trusts to her
favors, shall either find himself deceived, or if he be not, he will
at least be troubled, because he may be so. There is no defence in
walls, fortifications, and engines, against the power of fortune; we
must provide ourselves within, and when we are safe there, we are
invincible; we may be battered, but not taken. She throws her gifts
among us, and we sweat and scuffle for them, never considering how few
are the better for that which is expected by all. Some are transported
with what they get; others tormented for what they miss; and many
times there is a leg or an arm broken in a contest for a counter. She
gives us honors, riches, favors, only to take them away again, either
by violence or treachery: so that they frequently turn to the damage
of the receiver. She throws out baits for us, and sets traps as we do
for birds and beasts; her bounties are snares and lime-twigs to us; we
think that we take, but we are taken. If they had any thing in them
that was substantial, they would some time or other fill and quiet us;
but they serve only to provoke our appetite without anything more than
pomp and show to allay it. But the best of it is, if a man cannot mend
his fortune, he may yet mend his manners, and put himself so far out of
her reach, that whether she gives or takes, it shall be all one to us;
for we are neither the greater for the one, nor the less for the other.
We call this a dark room, or that a light one; when it is in itself
neither the one nor the other, but only as the day and the night render
it. And so it is in riches, strength of body, beauty, honor, command:
and likewise in pain, sickness, banishment, death: which are in
themselves middle and indifferent things, and only good or bad as they
are influenced by virtue. To weep, lament, and groan, is to renounce
our duty; and it is the same weakness on the other side to exult and
rejoice. I would rather make my fortune than expect it; being neither
depressed with her injuries, nor dazzled with her favors. When Zeno was
told, that all his goods were drowned; “Why then,” says he, “Fortune
has a mind to make me a philosopher.” It is a great matter for a man to
advance his mind above her threats or flatteries; for he that has once
gotten the better of her is safe forever.

It is some comfort yet to the unfortunate, that great men lie under the
lash for company; and that death spares the palace no more than the
cottage, and that whoever is above me has a power also above him. Do
we not daily see funerals without trouble, princes deposed, countries
depopulated, towns sacked; without so much as thinking how soon it may
be our own case? whereas, if we would but prepare and arm ourselves
against the iniquities of fortune, we should never be surprised.

When we see any man banished, beggared, tortured, we are to account,
that though the mischief fell upon another, it was levelled at us. What
wonder is it if, of so many thousands of dangers that are constantly
hovering about us, one comes to hit us at last? That which befalls any
man, may befall every man; and then it breaks the force of a present
calamity to provide against the future. Whatsoever our lot is, we must
bear it: as suppose it be contumely, cruelty, fire, sword, pains,
diseases, or a prey to wild beasts; there is no struggling, nor any
remedy but moderation. It is to no purpose to bewail any part of our
life, when life itself is miserable throughout; and the whole flux of
it only a course of transition from one misfortune to another.

A man may as well wonder that he should be cold in winter, sick at sea,
or have his bones clatter together in a wagon, as at the encounter
of ill accidents and crosses in the passage of human life; and it is
in vain to run away from fortune, as if there were any hiding-place
wherein she could not find us; or to expect any quiet from her; for she
makes life a perpetual state of war, without so much as any respite or
truce. This we may conclude upon, that her empire is but imaginary, and
that whosoever serves her, makes himself a voluntary slave; for “the
things that are often contemned by the inconsiderate, and always by the
wise, are in themselves neither good nor evil:” as pleasure and pains;
prosperity and adversity; which can only operate upon our outward
condition, without any proper and necessary effect upon the mind.

The sensuality that we here treat of falls naturally under the head of
luxury; which extends to all the excesses of gluttony, lust, effeminacy
of manners; and, in short, to whatsoever concerns the overgreat care of
the carcass.

To begin now with the pleasures of the palate, (which deal with us like
Egyptian thieves, that strangle those they embrace), what shall we say
of the luxury of Nomentanus and Apicius, that entertained their very
souls in the kitchen: they have the choicest music for their ears; the
most diverting spectacles for their eyes; the choicest variety of meats
and drinks for their palates. What is all this, I say, but a _merry
madness_? It is true, they have their delights, but not without heavy
and anxious thoughts, even in their very enjoyments, beside that, they
are followed with repentance, and their frolics are little more than
the laughter of so many people out of their wits. Their felicities are
full of disquiet, and neither sincere nor well grounded: but they have
need of one pleasure to support another; and of new prayers to forgive
the errors of their former. Their life must needs be wretched that get
with great pains what they keep with greater.

One diversion overtakes another; hope excites hope; ambition begets
ambition; so that they only change the matter of their miseries,
without seeking any end of them; and shall never be without either
prosperous or unhappy causes of disquiet. What if a body might have
all the pleasures in the world for the asking? who would so much unman
himself, as by accepting of them, to desert his soul, and become a
perpetual slave to his senses? Those false and miserable palates, that
judge of meats by the price and difficulty, not by the healthfulness
of taste, they vomit that they may eat, and they eat that they may
fetch it up again. They cross the seas for rarities, and when they have
swallowed them, they will not so much as give them time to digest.
Wheresoever Nature has placed men, she has provided them aliment: but
we rather choose to irritate hunger by expense than to allay it at an
easier rate.

What is it that we plow the seas for; or arm ourselves against men and
beasts? To what end do we toil, and labor, and pile bags upon bags? We
may enlarge our fortunes, but we cannot our bodies; so that it does
but spill and run over, whatsoever we take more than we can hold. Our
forefathers (by the force of whose virtues we are now supported in our
vices) lived every jot as well as we, when they provided and dressed
their own meat with their own hands; lodged upon the ground, and were
not as yet come to the vanity of gold and gems; when they swore by
their earthen gods, and kept their oath, though they died for it.

Did not our consuls live more happily when they cooked their own meat
with those victorious hands that had conquered so many enemies and
won so many laurels? Did they not live more happily, I say, than our
Apicius (that corrupter of youth, and plague of the age he lived in)
who, after he had spent a prodigious fortune upon his belly, poisoned
himself for fear of starving, when he had yet 250,000 crowns in his
coffers? which may serve to show us, that it is the mind, and not
the sum, that makes any man rich; when Apicius with all his treasure
counted himself in a state of beggary, and took poison to avoid that
condition, which another would have prayed for. But why do we call
it poison, which was the wholesomest draught of his life? His daily
gluttony was poison rather, both to himself and others. His ostentation
of it was intolerable; and so was the infinite pains he took to mislead
others by his example, who went even fast enough of themselves without
driving.

It is a shame for a man to place his felicity in those entertainments
and appetites that are stronger in brutes. Do not beasts eat with a
better stomach? Have they not more satisfaction in their lusts? And
they have not only a quicker relish of their pleasures, but they enjoy
them without either scandal or remorse. If sensuality were happiness,
beasts were happier than men; but human felicity is lodged in the
soul, not in the flesh. They that deliver themselves up to luxury
are still either tormented with too little, or oppressed with too
much; and equally miserable, by being either deserted or overwhelmed:
they are like men in a dangerous sea; one while cast a-dry upon a
rock, and another while swallowed up in a whirlpool; and all this
from the mistake of not distinguishing good from evil. The huntsman,
that with which labor and hazard takes a wild beast, runs as great a
risk afterwards in the keeping of him; for many times he tears out
the throat of his master; and it is the same thing with inordinate
pleasures: the more in number, and the greater they are, the more
general and absolute a slave is the servant of them. Let the common
people pronounce him as happy as they please, he pays his liberty for
his delights, and sells himself for what he buys.

Let any man take a view of our kitchens, the number of our cooks, and
the variety of our meats; will he not wonder to see so much provision
made for one belly? We have as many diseases as we have cooks or
meats; and the service of the appetite is the study now in vogue. To
say nothing of our trains of lackeys, and our troops of caterers and
sewers: Good God! that ever one belly should employ so many people!
How nauseous and fulsome are the surfeits that follow these excesses?
Simple meats are out of fashion, and all are collected into one; so
that the cook does the office of the stomach; nay, and of the teeth
too; for the meat looks as if it were chewed beforehand: here is the
luxury of all tastes in one dish, and liker a vomit than a soup. From
these compounded dishes arise compounded diseases, which require
compounded medicines. It is the same thing with our minds that it is
with our tables; simple vices are curable by simple counsels, but a
general dissolution of manners is hardly overcome; we are overrun with
a public as well as with a private madness. The physicians of old
understood little more than the virtue of some herbs to stop blood, or
heal a wound; and their firm and healthful bodies needed little more
before they were corrupted by luxury and pleasure; and when it came to
that once, their business was not to allay hunger, but to provoke it by
a thousand inventions and sauces. That which was aliment to a craving
stomach is become a burden to a full one. From hence came paleness,
trembling, and worse effects from crudities than famine; a weakness in
the joints, the belly stretched, suffusion of choler, the torpor of
the nerves, and a palpitation of the heart. To say nothing of megrims,
torments of the eyes and ears, head-ache, gout, scurvy, several sorts
of fevers and putrid ulcers, with other diseases that are but the
punishment of luxury. So long as our bodies were hardened with labor,
or tired with exercise or hunting, our food was plain and simple; many
dishes have made many diseases.

It is an ill thing for a man not to know the measure of his stomach,
nor to consider that men do many things in their drink that they are
ashamed of sober; drunkenness being nothing else but a voluntary
madness. It emboldens men to do all sorts of mischiefs; it both
irritates wickedness and discovers it; it does not make men vicious,
but it shows them to be so. It was in a drunken fit that Alexander
killed Clytus. It makes him that is insolent prouder, him that is
cruel fiercer, it takes away all shame. He that is peevish breaks out
presently into ill words and blows. The lecher, without any regard to
decency or scandal, turns up his whore in the market-place. A man’s
tongue trips, his head runs round, he staggers in his pace. To say
nothing of the crudities and diseases that follow upon this distemper,
consider the public mischiefs it has done. How many warlike nations
and strong cities, that have stood invincible to attacks and sieges,
has drunkenness overcome! Is it not a great honor to drink the company
dead? a magnificent virtue to swallow more wine than the rest, and yet
at last to be outdone by a hogshead? What shall we say of those men
that invert the offices of day and night? as if our eyes were only
given us to make use of in the dark? Is it day? “It is time to go to
bed.” Is it night? “It is time to rise.” Is it toward morning? “Let us
go to supper.” When other people lie down they rise, and lie till the
next night to digest the debauch of the day before. It is an argument
of clownery, to do as other people do.

Luxury steals upon us by degrees; first, it shows itself in a more
than ordinary care of our bodies, it slips next into the furniture of
our houses; and it gets then into the fabric, curiosity, and expense
of the house itself. It appears, lastly, in the fantastical excesses
of our tables. We change and shuffle our meats, confound our sauces,
serve that in first that used to be last, and value our dishes, not for
the taste, but for the rarity. Nay, we are so delicate, that we must
be told when we are to eat or drink; when we are hungry or weary; and
we cherish some vices as proofs and arguments of our happiness. The
most miserable mortals are they that deliver themselves up to their
palates, or to their lusts: the pleasure is short and turns presently
nauseous, and the end of it is either shame or repentance. It is a
brutal entertainment, and unworthy of a man, to place his felicity in
the service of his senses. As to the wrathful, the contentious, the
ambitious, though the distemper be great, the offence has yet something
in it that is manly; but the basest of prostitutes are those that
dedicate themselves wholly to lust; what with their hopes and fears,
anxiety of thought, and perpetual disquiets, they are never well, full
nor fasting.

What a deal of business is now made about our houses and diet, which
was at first both obvious and of little expense? Luxury led the
way, and we have employed our wits in the aid of our vices. First
we desired superfluities, our next step was to wickedness, and, in
conclusion, we delivered up our minds to our bodies, and so became
slaves to our appetites, which before were our servants, and are now
become our masters. What was it that brought us to the extravagance
of embroideries, perfumes, tire-women, etc. We passed the bounds of
Nature, and launched out into superfluities; insomuch, that it is
now-a-days only for beggars and clowns to content themselves with what
is sufficient; our luxury makes us insolent and mad. We take upon us
like princes, and fly out for every trifle, as though there were life
and death in the case. What a madness is it for a man to lay out an
estate upon a table or a cabinet, a patrimony upon a pain of pendants,
and to inflame the price of curiosities according to the hazard either
of breaking or losing of them? To wear garments that will neither
defend a woman’s body, nor her modesty: so thin that one could make a
conscience of swearing she were naked: for she hardly shows more in
the privacies of her amour than in public? How long shall we covet
and oppress, enlarge our possessions, and account that too little for
one man which was formerly enough for a nation? And our luxury is as
insatiable as our avarice. Where is that lake, that sea, that forest,
that spot of land; that is not ransacked to gratify our palate? The
very earth is burdened with our buildings; not a river, not a mountain,
escapes us. Oh, that there should be such boundless desires in our
little bodies! Would not fewer lodgings serve us? We lie but in one,
and where we are not, that is not properly ours. What with our hooks,
snares, nets, dogs, etc., we are at war with all living creatures; and
nothing comes amiss but that which is either too cheap, or too common;
and all this is to gratify a fantastical palate. Our avarice, our
ambition, our lusts, are insatiable; we enlarge our possessions, swell
our families, we rifle sea and land for matter of ornament and luxury.
A bull contents himself with one meadow, and one forest is enough for a
thousand elephants; but the little body of a man devours more than all
other living creatures. We do not eat to satisfy hunger, but ambition;
we are dead while we are alive, and our houses are so much our tombs,
that a man might write our _epitaphs_ upon our very doors.

A voluptuous person, in fine, can neither be a good man, a good
patriot, nor a good friend; for he is transported with his appetites,
without considering, that the lot of man is the law of Nature. A good
man (like a good soldier) will stand his ground, receive wounds, glory
in his scars, and in death itself love his master for whom he falls;
with that divine precept always in his mind, “Follow good:” whereas
he that complains, laments, and groans, must yield nevertheless, and
do his duty though in spite of his heart. Now, what a madness is it
for a man to choose rather to be lugged than to follow, and vainly to
contend with the calamities of human life? Whatsoever is laid upon
us by necessity, we should receive generously; for it is foolish to
strive with what we cannot avoid. We are born subjects, and to obey
God is perfect liberty. He that does this shall be free, safe, and
quiet: all his actions shall succeed to his wish: and what can any man
desire more than to want nothing from without, and to have all things
desirable within himself? Pleasures do but weaken our minds, and send
us for our support to Fortune, who gives us money only as the wages of
slavery. We must stop our eyes and our ears. Ulysses had but one rock
to fear, but human life has many. Every city, nay, every man, is one;
and there is no trusting even to our nearest friends. Deliver me from
the superstition of taking those things which are light and vain for
felicities.

The man that would be truly rich must not increase his fortune, but
retrench his appetites: for riches are not only superfluous, but mean,
and little more to the possessor than to the looker-on. What is the
end of ambition and avarice, when at best we are but stewards of what
we falsely call our own? All those things that we pursue with so much
hazard and expense of blood, as well to keep as to get, for which we
break faith and friendship, what are they but the mere _deposita_ of
Fortune? and not ours, but already inclining toward a new master.
There is nothing our own but that which we give to ourselves, and of
which we have a certain and an inexpugnable possession. Avarice is
so insatiable, that it is not in the power of liberality to content
it; and our desires are so boundless, that whatever we get is but in
the way to getting more without end: and so long as we are solicitous
for the increase of wealth, we lose the true use of it; and spend our
time in putting out, calling in, and passing our accounts, without
any substantial benefit, either to the world or to ourselves. What is
the difference betwixt old men and children? the one cries for nuts
and apples, and the other for gold and silver: the one sets up courts
of justice, hears and determines, acquits and condemns, in jest; the
other in earnest: the one makes houses of clay, the other of marble:
so that the works of old men are nothing in the world but the progress
and improvement of children’s errors; and they are to be admonished and
punished too like children, not in revenge for injuries received, but
as a correction of injuries done, and to make them give over. There
is some substance yet in gold and silver; but as to judgments and
statutes, procuration and continuance-money, these are only the visions
and dreams of avarice. Throw a crust of bread to a dog, he takes it
open-mouthed, swallows it whole, and presently gapes for more: just so
do we with the gifts of Fortune; down they go without chewing, and we
are immediately ready for another chop. But what has avarice now to do
with gold and silver, that is so much outdone by curiosities of a far
greater value? Let us no longer complain that there was not a heavier
load laid upon those precious metals, or that they were not buried
deep enough, when we have found out ways by wax and parchments, and
by bloody usurious contracts, to undo one another. It is remarkable,
that Providence has given us all things for our advantage near at hand;
but iron, gold, and silver, (being both the instrument of blood and
slaughter, and the price of it) Nature has hidden in the bowels of the
earth.

There is no avarice without some punishment, over and above that which
it is to itself. How miserable is it in the desire! how miserable even
in the attaining of our ends! For money is a greater torment in the
possession than it is in the pursuit. The fear of losing it is a great
trouble, the loss of it a greater, and it is made a greater yet by
opinion. Nay, even in the case of no direct loss at all, the covetous
man loses what he does not get. It is true, the people call the rich
man a happy man, and wish themselves in his condition; but can any
condition be worse than that which carries vexation and envy along with
it? Neither is any man to boast of his fortune, his herds of cattle,
his number of slaves, his lands and palaces; for comparing that which
he has to that which he further covets, he is a beggar. No man can
possess all things, but any man may contemn them; and the contempt of
riches is the nearest way to the gaining of them.

Some magistrates are made for money, and those commonly are bribed with
money. We are all turned merchants, and look not into the quality of
things, but into the price of them; for reward we are pious, and for
reward again we are impious. We are honest so long as we may thrive
upon it; but if the devil himself gives better wages, we change our
party. Our parents have trained us up into an admiration of gold and
silver, and the love of it is grown up with us to that degree that
when we would show our gratitude to Heaven, we make presents of those
metals. This it is that makes poverty look like a curse and a reproach;
and the poets help it forward; the chariot of the sun must be all of
gold; the best of times must be the Golden Age, and thus they turn the
greatest misery of mankind into the greatest blessings.

Neither does avarice make us only unhappy in ourselves, but malevolent
also to mankind. The soldier wishes for war; the husbandman would have
his corn dear; the lawyer prays for dissension; the physician for a
sickly year; he that deals in curiosities, for luxury and excess, for
he makes up his fortunes out of the corruptions of the age. High winds
and public conflagrations make work for the carpenter and bricklayer,
and one man lives by the loss of another; some few, perhaps, have
the fortune to be detected, but they are all wicked alike. A great
plague makes work for the sexton; and, in one word, whosoever gains
by the dead has not much kindness for the living. Demades of Athens
condemned a fellow that sold necessaries for funerals, upon proof that
he wished to make himself a fortune by his trade, which could not be
but by a great mortality; but perhaps he did not so much desire to have
many customers, as to sell dear, and buy cheap; besides, that all of
that trade might have been condemned as well as he. Whatsoever whets
our appetites, flatters and depresses the mind, and, by dilating it,
weakens it; first blowing it up, and then filling and deluding it with
vanity.

To proceed now from the most prostitute of all vices, sensuality and
avarice, to that which passes in the world for the most generous, the
thirst of glory and dominion. If they that run mad after wealth and
honor, could but look into the hearts of them that have already gained
these points, how would it startle them to see those hideous cares and
crimes that wait upon ambitious greatness: all those acquisitions that
dazzle the eyes of the vulgar are but false pleasures, slippery and
uncertain. They are achieved with labor, and the very guard of them is
painful. Ambition puffs us up with vanity and wind: and we are equally
troubled either to see any body before us, or nobody behind us; so that
we lie under a double envy; for whosoever envies another is also envied
himself. What matters it how far Alexander extended his conquests,
if he was not yet satisfied with what he had? Every man wants as
much as he covets; and it is lost labor to pour into a vessel that
will never be full. He that had subdued so many princes and nations,
upon the killing of Clytus (one friend) and the loss of Hyphestion
(another) delivered himself up to anger and sadness; and when he was
master of the world, he was yet a slave to his passions. Look into
Cyrus, Cambyses, and the whole Persian line, and you shall not find so
much as one man of them that died satisfied with what he had gotten.
Ambition aspires from great things to greater; and propounds matters
even impossible, when it has once arrived at things beyond expectation.
It is a kind of dropsy; the more a man drinks, the more he covets. Let
any man but observe the tumults and the crowds that attend palaces;
what affronts must we endure to be admitted, and how much greater when
we are in! The passage to virtue is fair, but the way to greatness
is craggy and it stands not only upon a precipice, but upon ice too;
and yet it is a hard matter to convince a great man that his station
is slippery, or to prevail with him not to depend upon his greatness;
but all superfluities are hurtful. A rank crop lays the corn; too
great a burden of fruit breaks the bough; and our minds may be as well
overcharged with an immoderate happiness. Nay, though we ourselves
would be at rest, our fortune will not suffer it: the way that leads
to honor and riches leads to troubles; and we find the source of our
sorrows in the very objects of our delights.

What joy is there in feasting and luxury; in ambition and a crowd of
clients; in the arms of a mistress, or in the vanity of an unprofitable
knowledge? These short and false pleasures deceive us, and, like
drunkenness, revenge the jolly madness of _one_ hour with the nauseous
and sad repentance of _many_. Ambition is like a gulf: everything is
swallowed up in it and buried, beside the dangerous consequences of
it; for that which one has taken from all, may be easily taken away
again by all from one. It was not either virtue or reason, but the
mad love of a deceitful greatness, that animated Pompey in his wars,
either abroad or at home. What was it but his ambition that hurried
him to Spain, Africa, and elsewhere, when he was too great already
in everybody’s opinion but his own? And the same motive had Julius
Cæsar, who could not, even then, brook a superior himself, when the
commonwealth had submitted unto two already.

Nor was it any instinct of virtue that pushed on Marius, who at the
head of an army was himself led on under the command of ambition: but
he came at last to the deserved fate of other wicked men, and to drink
himself of the same cup that he had filled to others. We impose upon
our reason, when we suffer ourselves to be transported with titles; for
we know that they are nothing but a more glorious sound; and so for
ornaments and gildings, though there be a lustre to dazzle our eyes,
our understanding tells us that it is only outside, and the matter
under it is only coarse and common.

I will never envy those that the people call great and happy. A sound
mind is not to be shaken with a popular and vain applause; nor is it
in the power of their pride to disturb the state of our happiness. An
honest man is known now-a-days by the dust he raises upon the way, and
it is become a point of honor to overrun people, and keep all at a
distance; though he that is put out of the way may perchance be happier
than he that takes it. He that would exercise a power profitable to
himself, and grievous to nobody else, let him practice it upon his
passion. They that have burnt cities, otherwise invincible, driven
armies before them, and bathed themselves in human blood, after they
have overcome all open enemies, they have been vanquished by their
lust, by their cruelty, and without any resistance.

Alexander was possessed with the madness of laying kingdoms waste.
He began with Greece, where he was brought up; and there he quarried
himself upon that in it which was the best; he enslaved Lacedemon, and
silenced Athens: nor was he content with the destruction of those towns
which his father Philip had either conquered or bought; but he made
himself the enemy of human nature; and, like the worst of beasts, he
worried what he could not eat.

Felicity is an unquiet thing; it torments itself, and puzzles the
brain. It makes some people ambitious, others luxurious; it puffs up
some, and softens others; only (as it is with wine) some heads bear
it better than others; but it dissolves all. Greatness stands upon a
precipice: and if prosperity carries a man never so little beyond his
poise, it overbears and dashes him to pieces. It is a rare thing for
a man in a great fortune to lay down his happiness gently; it being a
common fate for a man to sink under the weight of those felicities that
raise him. How many of the nobility did Marius bring down to herdsmen
and other mean offices! Nay, in the very moment of our despising
servants, we may be made so ourselves.

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