HAPPY IS THE MAN THAT MAY CHOOSE HIS OWN BUSINESS

Oh the blessings of privacy and leisure! The wish of the powerful
and eminent, but the privilege only of inferiors; who are the only
people that live to themselves: nay, the very thought and hope of it
is a consolation, even in the middle of all the tumults and hazards
that attend greatness. It was Augustus’ prayer, that he might live to
retire and deliver himself from public business: his discourses were
still pointing that way, and the highest felicity which this mighty
prince had in prospect, was the divesting himself of that illustrious
state, which, how glorious soever in show, had at the bottom of it
only anxiety and care. But it is one thing to retire for pleasure, and
another thing for virtue, which must be active even in that retreat,
and give proof of what it has learned: for a good and a wise man does
in privacy consult the well-being of posterity. Zeno and Chrysippus
did greater things in their studies than if they had led armies, borne
offices, or given laws; which in truth they did, not to one city alone,
but to all mankind: their _quiet_ contributed more to the common
benefit than the _sweat_ and _labor_ of other people. That retreat is
not worth the while which does not afford a man greater and nobler work
than business. There is no slavish attendance upon great officers,
no canvassing for places, no making of parties, no disappointments in
my pretension to this charge, to that regiment, or to such or such a
title, no envy of any man’s favor or fortune; but a calm enjoyment of
the general bounties of Providence in company with a good conscience.
A wise man is never so busy as in the solitary contemplation of God
and the works of Nature. He withdraws himself to attend the service of
future ages: and those counsels which he finds salutary to himself, he
commits to writing for the good of after-times, as we do the receipts
of sovereign antidotes or balsams. He that is well employed in his
study, though he may seem to do nothing at all, does the greatest
things yet of all others, in affairs both human and divine. To supply a
friend with a sum of money, or give my voice for an office, these are
only private and particular obligations: but he that lays down precepts
for the governing of our lives and the moderating of our passions,
obliges human nature not only in the present, but in all succeeding
generations.

He that would be at quiet, let him repair to his philosophy, a study
that has credit with all sorts of men. The eloquence of the bar, or
whatsoever else addresses to the people, is never without enemies; but
philosophy minds its own business, and even the worst have an esteem
for it. There can never be such a conspiracy against virtue, the world
can never be so wicked, but the very name of a _philosopher_ shall
still continue venerable and sacred. And yet philosophy itself must be
handled modestly and with caution. But what shall we say of Cato then,
for his meddling in the broil of a civil war, and interposing himself
in the quarrel betwixt two enraged princes? He that, when Rome was
split into _two factions_ betwixt Pompey and Cæsar, declared himself
against _both_. I speak this of Cato’s last part; for in his former
time the commonwealth was made unfit for a wise man’s administration.
All he could do then was but bawling and beating of the air: one while
he was lugged and tumbled by the rabble, spit upon and dragged out of
the _forum_, and then again hurried out of the senate-house to prison.
There are some things which we propound originally, and others which
fall in as accessory to another proposition. If a wise man retire, it
is no matter whether he does it because the commonwealth was wanting to
him, or because he was wanting to it. But to what republic shall a man
betake himself? Not to Athens, where Socrates was condemned, and whence
Aristotle fled, for fear he should have been condemned too, and where
virtue was oppressed by envy: not to Carthage, where there was nothing
but tyranny, injustice, cruelty, and ingratitude. There is scarce any
government to be found that will either endure a wise man, or which a
wise man will endure; so that privacy is made necessary, because the
only thing which is better is nowhere to be had. A man may commend
navigation, and yet caution us against those seas that are troublesome
and dangerous: so that he does as good as command me not to weigh
anchor that commends sailing only upon these terms. He that is a slave
to business is the most wretched of slaves.

“But how shall I get myself at liberty? We can run any hazards for
money: take any pains for honor; and why do we not venture also
something for leisure and freedom? without which we must expect to live
and die in a tumult: for so long as we live in public, business breaks
in upon us, as one billow drives on another; and there is no avoiding
it with either modesty or quiet.” It is a kind of whirlpool, that sucks
a man in, and he can never disengage himself. A man of business cannot
in truth be said to live, and not one of a thousand understands how to
do it: for how to live, and how to die, is the lesson of every moment
of our lives: all other arts have their masters.

As a busy life is always a miserable life, so it is the greatest of all
miseries to be perpetually employed upon _other people’s business_;
for to sleep, to eat, to drink, at their hour; to walk their pace, and
to love and hate as they do, is the vilest of servitudes. Now, though
business must be quitted, let it not be done unseasonably; the longer
we defer it, the more we endanger our liberty; and yet we must no more
fly before the time than linger when the time comes: or, however, we
must not love business for business’ sake, nor indeed do we, but for
the profit that goes along with it: for we love the reward of misery,
though we hate the misery itself. Many people, I know, seek business
without choosing it, and they are even weary of their lives without it
for want of entertainment in their own thoughts; the hours are long
and hateful to them when they are alone, and they seem as short on the
other side in their debauches. When they are no longer _candidates_,
they are _suffragans_; when they give over other people’s business,
they do their own; and pretend business, but they make it, and value
themselves upon being thought men of employment.

Liberty is the thing which they are perpetually a-wishing, and never
come to obtain: a thing never to be bought nor sold, but a man must
ask it of himself, and give it to himself. He that has given proof of
his virtue in public, should do well to make a trial of it in private
also. It is not that solitude, or a country life, teaches innocence or
frugality; but vice falls of itself, without witnesses and spectators,
for the thing it designs is to be taken notice of. Did ever any man
put on rich clothes not to be seen? or spread the pomp of his luxury
where nobody was to take notice of it? If it were not for admirers and
spectators there would be no temptations to excess: the very keeping
of us from exposing them cures us of desiring them, for vanity and
intemperance are fed with ostentation.

He that has lived at sea in a storm, let him retire and die in the
haven; but let his retreat be without ostentation, and wherein he may
enjoy himself with a good conscience, without the want, the fear, the
hatred, or the desire, of anything, not out of malevolent detestation
of mankind, but for satisfaction and repose. He that shuns both
business and men, either out of envy, or any other discontent, his
retreat is but to the life of a mole: nor does he live to himself, as
a wise man does, but to his bed, his belly, and his lusts. Many people
seem to retire out of a weariness of public affairs, and the trouble of
disappointments; and yet ambition finds them out even in that recess
into which fear and weariness had cast them; and so does luxury, pride,
and most of the distempers of a public life.

There are many that lie close, not that they may live securely, but
that they may transgress more privately: it is their conscience, not
their states, that makes them keep a porter; for they live at such a
rate, that to be seen before they be aware is to be detected. Crates
saw a young man walking by himself; “Have a care,” says he “of lewd
company.” Some men are busy in idleness, and make peace more laborious
and troublesome than war; nay, and more wicked too, when they bestow it
upon such lusts, and other vices, which even the license of a military
life would not endure. We cannot call these people men of leisure that
are wholly taken up with their pleasures. A troublesome life is much
to be preferred before a slothful one; and it is a strange thing,
methinks, that any man should fear death that has buried himself alive;
as privacy without letters is but the burying of a man quick.

There are some that make a boast of their retreat, which is but a kind
of lazy ambition; they retire to make people talk of them, whereas I
would rather withdraw to speak to myself. And what shall that be, but
that which we are apt to speak of one another? I will speak ill of
myself: I will examine, accuse, and punish my infirmities. I have no
design to be cried up for a great man, that has renounced the world in
a contempt of the vanity and madness of human life; I blame nobody but
myself, and I address only to myself. He that comes to me for help is
mistaken, for I am not a physician, but a patient: and I shall be well
enough content to have it said, when any man leaves me, “I took him
for a happy and a learned man, and truly I find no such matter.” I had
rather have my retreat pardoned than envied.

There are some creatures that confound their footing about their dens,
that they may not be found out, and so should a wise man in the case of
his retirement. When the door is open, the thief passes it by as not
worth his while; but when it is bolted and sealed, it is a temptation
for people to be prying. To have it said “that such a one is never
out of his study, and sees nobody,” etc.; this furnishes matter for
discourse. He that makes his retirement too strict and severe, does as
good as call company to take notice of it.

Every man knows his own constitution; one eases his stomach by
vomit—another supports it with good nourishment; he that has the gout
forbears wine and bathing, and every man applies to the part that is
most infirm. He that shows a gouty foot, a lame hand, or contracted
nerves, shall be permitted to lie still and attend his cure; and why
not so in the vices of his mind! We must discharge all impediments and
make way for philosophy, as a study inconsistent with common business.
To all other things we must deny ourselves openly and frankly, when we
are sick refuse visits, keep ourselves close, and lay aside all public
cares, and shall we not do as much when we philosophize? Business is
the drudgery of the world, and only fit for slaves, but contemplation
is the work of wise men. Not but that solitude and company may be
allowed to take their turns: the one creates in us the love of mankind,
the other that of ourselves; solitude relieves us when we are sick of
company, and conversation when we are weary of being alone; so that
the one cures the other. “There is no man,” in fine, “so miserable as
he that is at a loss how to spend his time.” He is restless in his
thoughts, unsteady in his counsels, dissatisfied with the present,
solicitous for the future; whereas he that prudently computes his
hours and his business, does not only fortify himself against the
common accidents of life, but improves the most rigorous dispensations
of Providence to his comfort, and stands firm under all the trials of
human weakness.

It is a hard task to master the natural desire of life by a
philosophical contempt of death, and to convince the world that there
is no hurt in it, and crush an opinion that was brought up with us from
our cradles. What help? what encouragement? what shall we say to human
frailty, to carry it fearless through the fury of flames, and upon the
points of swords? what rhetoric shall we use to bear down the universal
consent of people to so dangerous an error? The captious and superfine
subtleties of the schools will never do the work: these speak many
things sharp, but utterly unnecessary, and void of effect. The truth
of it is, there is but one chain that holds all the world in bondage,
and that is the love of life. It is not that I propound the making of
death so indifferent to us, as it is, whether a man’s hairs be even or
odd; for what with self-love, and an implanted desire in every being of
preserving itself, and a long acquaintance betwixt the soul and body,
friends may be loth to part, and death may carry an appearance of evil,
though in truth it is itself no evil at all. Beside, that we are to go
to a strange place in the dark, and under great uncertainties of our
future state; so that people die in terror, because they do not know
whither they are to go, and they are apt to fancy the worst of what
they do not understand: these thoughts are indeed sufficient to startle
a man of great resolution without a wonderful support from above. And,
moreover, our natural scruples and infirmities are assisted by the wits
and fancies of all ages, in their infamous and horrid description of
another world: nay, taking it for granted that there will be no reward
and punishment, they are yet more afraid of an annihilation than of
hell itself.

But what is it we fear? “Oh! it is a terrible thing to die.” Well;
and is it not better once to suffer it, than always to fear it? The
earth itself suffers both _with_ me, and _before_ me. How many islands
are swallowed up in the sea! how many towns do we sail over! nay, how
many nations are wholly lost, either by inundations or earthquakes!
and shall I be afraid of my little body? why should I, that am sure
to die, and that all other things are mortal, be fearful of coming to
my last gasp myself? It is the fear of death that makes us base, and
troubles and destroys the life we would preserve; that aggravates all
circumstances, and makes them formidable. We depend but upon a flying
moment. Die we must; but when? what is that to us? It is the law of
Nature, the tribute of mortals, and the remedy of all evils. It is only
the disguise that affrights us; as children that are terrified with
a vizor. Take away the instruments of death, the fire, the ax, the
guards, the executioners, the whips, and the racks; take away the pomp,
I say, and the circumstances that accompany it, and death is no more
than what my slave yesterday contemned; the pain is nothing to a fit of
the stone; if it be tolerable, it is not great; and if intolerable,
it cannot last long. There is nothing that Nature has made necessary
which is more easy than death: we are longer a-coming into the world
than going out of it; and there is not any minute of our lives wherein
we may not reasonably expect it. Nay, it is but a moment’s work, the
parting of the soul and body. What a shame is it then to stand in fear
of anything so long that is over so soon!

Nor is it any great matter to overcome this fear; for we have examples
as well of the _meanest_ of men as of the greatest that have done it.
There was a fellow to be exposed upon the theatre, who in disdain
thrust a stick down his own throat, and choked himself; and another on
the same occasion, pretended to nod upon the chariot, as if he were
asleep, cast his head betwixt the spokes of the wheel, and kept his
seat until his neck was broken. Caligula, upon a dispute with Canius
Julius; “Do not flatter yourself,” says he, “for I have given orders to
put you to death.” “I thank your most gracious Majesty for it,” says
Canius, giving to understand, perhaps, that under his government death
was a mercy: for he knew that Caligula seldom failed of being as good
as his word in that case. He was at play when the officer carried him
away to his execution, and beckoning to the centurion, “Pray,” says
he, “will you bear me witness, when I am dead and gone, that I had the
better of the game?” He was a man exceedingly beloved and lamented,
and, for a farewell, after he had preached moderation to his friends;
“You,” says he, “are here disputing about the immortality of the soul,
and I am now going to learn the truth of it. If I discover any thing
upon that point, you shall hear of it.” Nay, the most timorous of
creatures, when they see there is no escaping, they oppose themselves
to all dangers; the despair gives them courage, and the necessity
overcomes the fear. Socrates was thirty days in prison after his
sentence, and had time enough to have starved himself, and so to have
prevented the poison: but he gave the world the blessing of his life
as long as he could, and took that fatal draught in the meditation and
contempt of death.

Marcellinus, in a deliberation upon death, called several of his
friends about him: one was fearful, and advised what he himself would
have done in the case; another gave the counsel which he thought
Marcellinus would like best; but a friend of his that was a Stoic, and
a stout man, reasoned the matter to him after this manner; Marcellinus
do not trouble yourself, as if it were such a mighty business that you
have now in hand; it is nothing to _live_; all your servants do it,
nay, your very beasts too; but to die honestly and resolutely, that
is a great point. Consider with yourself there is nothing pleasant in
life but what you have tasted already, and that which is to come is
but the same over again; and how many men are there in the world that
rather choose to die than to suffer the nauseous tediousness of the
repetition? Upon which discourse he fasted himself to death. It was
the custom of Pacuvius to solemnize, in a kind of pageantry, every day
his own funeral. When he had swilled and gormandized to a luxurious
and beastly excess, he was carried away from supper to bed with this
song and acclamation, “He has lived, he has lived.” That which he did
in lewdness, will become us to do in sobriety and prudence. If it
shall please God to add another day to our lives, let us thankfully
receive it; but, however, it is our happiest and securest course so
to compose ourselves to-night, that we may have no anxious dependence
on to-morrow. “He that can say, I have lived this day, makes the next
clear again.”

Death is the worst that either the severity of laws or the cruelty of
tyrants can impose upon us; and it is the utmost extent of the dominion
of Fortune. He that is fortified against that, must, consequently, be
superior to all other difficulties that are put in the way to it. Nay,
and on some occasions, it requires more courage to live than to die.
He that is not prepared for death shall be perpetually troubled, as
well with vain apprehensions, as with real dangers. It is not death
itself that is dreadful, but the fear of it that goes before it. When
the mind is under a consternation, there is no state of life that can
please us; for we do not so endeavor to avoid mischiefs as to run away
from them, and the greatest slaughter is upon a flying enemy. Had not
a man better breathe out his last once for all, than lie agonizing
in pains, consuming by inches, losing of his blood by drops? and yet
how many are there that are ready to betray their country, and their
friends, and to prostitute their very wives and daughters, to preserve
a miserable carcass! Madmen and children have no apprehension of death;
and it were a shame that our reason should not do as much toward our
security as their folly. But the great matter is to die considerately
and cheerfully upon the foundation of virtue; for life in itself is
irksome, and only eating and drinking in a circle.

How many are there that, betwixt the apprehensions of death and the
miseries of life, are at their wits’ end what to do with themselves?
Wherefore let us fortify ourselves against those calamities from which
the prince is no more exempt than the beggar. Pompey the Great had his
head taken off by a boy and a eunuch, (young Ptolemy and Photinus.)
Caligula commanded the tribune Dæcimus to kill Lepidus; and another
tribune (Chæreus) did as much for Caligula. Never was a man so great
but he was as liable to suffer mischief as he was able to do it. Has
not a thief, or an enemy, your throat at his mercy? nay, and the
meanest of servants has the power of life and death over his master;
for whosoever contemns his own life may be master of another body’s.
You will find in story, that the displeasure of servants has been as
fatal as that of tyrants: and what matters it the power of him we
fear, when the thing we fear is in every body’s power? Suppose I fall
into the hands of an enemy, and the conqueror condemns me to be led
in triumph; it is but carrying me thither whither I should have gone
without him, that is to say, toward death, whither I have been marching
ever since I was born. It is the fear of our last hour that disquiets
all the rest. By the justice of all constitutions, mankind is condemned
to a capital punishment; now, how despicable would that man appear,
who, being sentenced to death in common with the whole world, should
only petition that he might be the last man brought to the block?

Some men are particularly afraid of thunder, and yet extremely careless
of other and of greater dangers: as if that were all they have to
fear. Will not a sword, a stone, a fever, do the work as well? Suppose
the bolt should hit us, it were yet braver to die with a stroke than
with the bare apprehension of it: beside the vanity of imagining
that heaven and earth should be put into such a disorder only for the
death of one man. A good and a brave man is not moved with lightning,
tempest, or earthquakes; but perhaps he would voluntarily plunge
himself into that gulf, where otherwise he should only fall. The
cutting of a corn, or the swallowing of a fly, is enough to dispatch a
man; and it is no matter how great that is that brings me to my death,
so long as death itself is but little. Life is a small matter; but it
is a matter of importance to contemn it. Nature, that begat us, expels
us, and a better and a safer place is provided for us. And what is
death but a ceasing to be what we were before? We are kindled and put
out: to cease to be, and not to begin to be, is the same thing. We die
daily, and while we are growing, our life decreases; every moment that
passes takes away part of it; all that is past is lost; nay, we divide
with death the very instant that we live. As the last sand in the glass
does not measure the hour, but finishes it; so the last moment that
we live does not make up death, but concludes. There are some that
pray more earnestly for death than we do for life; but it is better to
receive it cheerfully when it comes than to hasten it before the time.

“But what is it that we would live any longer for?” Not for our
pleasures; for those we have tasted over and over, even to satiety: so
that there is no point of luxury that is new to us. “But a man would be
loth to leave his country and his friends behind him;” that is to say,
he would have them go first; for that is the least part of his care.
“Well; but I would fain live to do more good, and discharge myself
in the offices of life;” as if to die were not the duty of every man
that lives. We are loth to leave our possessions; and no man swims
well with his luggage. We are all of us equally fearful of death, and
ignorant of life; but what can be more shameful than to be solicitous
upon the brink of security? If death be at any time to be feared, it
is always to be feared; but the way never to fear it, is to be often
thinking of it. To what end is it to put off for a little while that
which we cannot avoid? He that dies does but follow him that is dead.
“Why are we then so long afraid of that which is so little awhile of
doing?” How miserable are those people that spend their lives in the
dismal apprehensions of death! for they are beset on all hands, and
every minute in dread of a surprise. We must therefore look about us,
as if we were in an enemy’s country; and consider our last hour, not as
a punishment, but as the law of Nature: the fear of it is a continual
palpitation of the heart, and he that overcomes that terror shall never
be troubled with any other.

Life is a navigation; we are perpetually wallowing and dashing one
against another; sometimes we suffer shipwreck, but we are always in
danger and in expectation of it. And what is it when it comes, but
either the end of a journey, or a passage? It is as great a folly to
fear _death_ as to fear _old age_; nay, as to fear life itself; for he
that would not die ought not to live, since death is the condition of
life. Beside that it is a madness to fear a thing that is certain; for
where there is no doubt, there is no place for fear.

We are still chiding of Fate, and even those that exact the most
rigorous justice betwixt man and man are yet themselves unjust to
Providence. “Why was such a one taken away in the prime of his years?”
As if it were the number of years that makes death easy to us, and not
the temper of the mind. He that would live a little longer to-day,
would be as loth to die a hundred years hence. But which is more
reasonable for us to obey Nature, or for Nature to obey us? Go we must
at last, and no matter how soon. It is the work of Fate to make us live
long, but it is the business of virtue to make a short life sufficient.
Life is to be measured by action, not by time; a man may die old at
thirty, and young at fourscore: nay, the one lives after death, and
the other perished before he died. I look upon age among the effects
of chance. How long I shall live is in the power of others, but it is
in my own how well. The largest space of time is to live till a man is
wise. He that dies of old age does no more than go to bed when he is
weary. Death is the test of life, and it is that only which discovers
what we are, and distinguishes betwixt ostentation and virtue. A man
may dispute, cite great authorities, talk learnedly, huff it out, and
yet be rotten at heart. But let us soberly attend our business: and
since it is uncertain _when_, or _where_, we shall die, let us look for
death in all places, and at all times: we can never study that point
too much, which we can never come to experiment whether we know it or
not. It is a blessed thing to dispatch the business of life before we
die, and then to expect death in the possession of a happy life. He is
the great man who is willing to die when his life is pleasant to him.
An honest life is not a greater good than an honest death. How many
brave young men, by an instinct of Nature, are carried on to great
actions, and even to the contempt of all hazards!

It is childish to go out of the world groaning and wailing as we came
into it. Our bodies must be thrown away, as the secundine that wraps
up the infant, the other being only the covering of the soul; we shall
then discover the secrets of Nature; the darkness shall be discussed,
and our souls irradiated with light and glory: a glory without a
shadow; a glory that shall surround us, and from whence we shall look
down and see day and night beneath us. If we cannot lift up our eyes
toward the lamp of heaven without dazzling, what shall we do when we
come to behold the divine light in its illustrious original? That death
which we so much dread and decline, is not the determination, but the
intermission of a life, which will return again. All those things,
that are the very cause of life, are the way to death: we fear it as
we do fame; but it is a great folly to fear words. Some people are so
impatient of life, that they are still wishing for death; but he that
wishes to die does not desire it: let us rather wait God’s pleasure,
and pray for health and life. If we have a mind to live, why do we
wish to die? If we have a mind to die, we may do it without talking
of it. Men are a great deal more resolute in the article of _death_
itself than they are about the circumstances of it: for it gives a man
courage to consider that his fate is inevitable: the slow approaches of
death are the most troublesome to us; as we see many a gladiator, who
upon his wounds, will direct his adversary’s weapon to his very heart,
though but timorous perhaps in the combat. There are some that have not
the heart either to live or die; that is a sad case. But this we are
sure of, “the fear of death is a continual slavery, as the contempt of
it is certain liberty.”

This life is only a prelude to eternity, where we are to expect another
original, and another state of things; we have no prospect of heaven
here but at a distance; let us therefore expect our last and decretory
hour with courage. The last (I say) to our bodies, but not to our
minds: our luggage we leave behind us, and return as naked out of the
world as we came into it. The day which we fear as our last is but
the birth-day of our eternity; and it is the only way to it. So that
what we fear as a rock, proves to be but a port, in many cases to be
desired, never to be refused; and he that dies young has only made a
quick voyage of it. Some are becalmed, others cut it away before wind;
and we live just as we sail: first, we rub our childhood out of sight;
our youth next; and then our middle age: after that follows old age,
and brings us to the common end of mankind.

It is a great providence that we have more ways out of the world than
we have into it. Our security stands upon a point, the very article
of death. It draws a great many blessings into a very narrow compass:
and although the fruit of it does not seem to extend to the defunct,
yet the difficulty of it is more than balanced by the contemplation of
the future. Nay, suppose that all the business of this world should be
forgotten, or my memory, traduced, what is all this to me? “I have done
my duty.” Undoubtedly that which puts an end to all other evils, cannot
be a very great evil itself, and yet it is no easy thing for flesh and
blood to despise life. What if death comes? If it does not stay with us
why should we fear it? One hangs himself for a mistress; another leaps
the garret-window to avoid a choleric master; a third runs away and
stabs himself, rather than he will be brought back again. We see the
force even of our infirmities, and shall we not then do greater things
for the love of virtue? To suffer death is but the law of nature;
and it is a great comfort that it can be done but once; in the very
convulsions of it we have this consolation, that our pain is near an
end, and that it frees us from all the miseries of life.

What it is we know not, and it were rash to condemn what we do not
understand; but this we presume, either that we shall pass out of this
into a better life, where we shall live with tranquillity and splendor,
in diviner mansions, or else return to our first principles, free from
the sense of any inconvenience. There is nothing immortal, nor many
things lasting; by but divers ways everything comes to an end. What
an arrogance is it then, when the world itself stands condemned to a
dissolution, that man alone should expect to live forever! It is unjust
not to allow unto the giver the power of disposing of his own bounty,
and a folly only to value the present. Death is as much a debt as
money, and life is but a journey towards it: some dispatch it sooner,
others later, but we must all have the same period. The thunderbolt is
undoubtedly just that draws even from those that are struck with it a
veneration.

A great soul takes no delight in staying with the body: it considers
whence it came, and knows whither it is to go. The day will come that
shall separate this mixture of soul and body, of divine and human; my
body I will leave where I found it, my soul I will restore to heaven,
which would have been there already, but for the clog that keeps it
down: and beside, how many men have been the worse for longer living,
that might have died with reputation if they had been sooner taken
away! How many disappointments of hopeful youths, that have proved
dissolute men! Over and above the ruins, shipwrecks, torments, prisons,
that attend long life; a blessing so deceitful, that if a child were
in condition to judge of it, and at liberty to refuse it, he would not
take it.

What Providence has made necessary, human prudence should comply with
cheerfully: as there is a necessity of death, so that necessity is
equal and invincible. No man has cause of complaint for that which
every man must suffer as well as himself. When we _should_ die, we
_will not_, and when we _would not_ we _must_: but our fate is fixed,
and unavoidable is the decree. Why do we then stand trembling when
the time comes? Why do we not as well lament that we did not live a
thousand years ago, as that we shall not be alive a thousand years
hence? It is but traveling the great road, and to the place whither we
must all go at last. It is but submitting to the law of Nature, and to
that lot which the whole world has suffered that is gone before us; and
so must they too that are to come after us. Nay, how many thousands,
when our time comes, will expire in the same moment with us! He that
will not follow shall be drawn by force: and is it not much better now
to do that willingly which we shall otherwise be made to do in spite of
our hearts?

The sons of mortal parents must expect a mortal posterity—death is
the end of great and small. We are born helpless, and exposed to the
injuries of all creatures and of all weathers. The very necessaries
of life are deadly to us; we meet with our fate in our dishes, in
our cups, and in the very air we breathe; nay, our very birth is
inauspicious, for we come into the world weeping, and in the middle of
our designs, while we are meditating great matters, and stretching of
our thoughts to after ages, death cuts us off, and our longest date is
only the revolution of a few years. One man dies at the table; another
goes away in his sleep, a third in his mistress’s arms, a fourth is
stabbed, another is stung with an adder, or crushed with the fall of
a house. We have several ways to our end, but the end itself, which
is death, is still the same. Whether we die by a sword, by a halter,
by a potion, or by a disease, it is all but _death_. A child dies in
the swaddling-clouts, and an old man at a hundred—they are both mortal
alike, though the one goes sooner than the other. All that lies betwixt
the cradle and the grave is uncertain. If we compute the _troubles_,
the life even of a child is long: if the _sweetness_ of the _passage_,
that of an old man is short; the whole is slippery and deceitful, and
only death certain; and yet all people complain of that which never
deceived any man. Senecio raised himself from a small beginning to a
vast fortune, being very well skilled in the faculties both of getting
and of keeping, and either of them was sufficient for the doing of his
business. He was a man infinitely careful both of his patrimony and of
his body. He gave me a morning’s visit, (says our author,) and after
that visit he went away and spent the rest of the day with a friend of
his that was desperately sick. At night, he was merry at supper, and
seized immediately after with a quinsy which dispatched him in a few
hours. This man that had money at use in all places, and in the very
course and height of his prosperity was thus cut off. How foolish a
thing is it then for a man to flatter himself with long hopes, and to
pretend to dispose of the future: nay, the very present slips through
our fingers, and there is not that moment which we can call our own.

How vain a thing is it for us to enter upon projects, and to say to
ourselves, “Well, I will go build, purchase, discharge such offices,
settle my affairs, and then retire!” We are all of us born to the same
casualties—all equally frail and uncertain of to-morrow. At the very
altar where we pray for life, we learn to die, by seeing the sacrifices
killed before us. But there is no need of a wound, or searching the
heart for it, when the noose of a cord, or the smothering of a pillow
will do the work. All things have their seasons—they begin, they
increase, and they die. The heavens and the earth grow old, and are
appointed their periods.

That which we call _death_ is but a pause or suspension; and, in
truth, a progress to life, only our thoughts look downward upon the
body, and not forward upon things to come. All things under the sun
are mortal—cities—empires—and the time will come when it shall be a
question where they were, and, perchance, whether ever they had a
being or not. Some will be destroyed by war, others by luxury, fire,
inundations, earthquakes—why should it trouble me then to die, as a
forerunner of an universal dissolution? A great mind submits itself to
God, and suffers willingly what the law of the universe will otherwise
bring to pass upon necessity.

That good old man Bassus, (though with one foot in the grave,) how
cheerful a mind does he bear. He lives in the view of death, and
contemplates his own end with less concern of thought or countenance,
than he would do another man’s. It is a hard lesson, and we are a long
time a learning of it, to receive our death without trouble, especially
in the case of Bassus: in other deaths there is a mixture of hope—a
disease may be cured, a fire quenched, a falling house either propped
or avoided, the sea may swallow a man and throw him up again, a pardon
may interpose twixt the ax and the body—but in the case of old age
there is no place for either hope or intercession.

Let us live in our bodies, therefore, as if we were only to lodge
in them this night, and to leave them to-morrow. It is the frequent
thought of death that must fortify us against the necessity of it. He
that has armed himself against poverty, may, perhaps, come to live
in plenty. A man may strengthen himself against pain and yet live in
a state of health; against the loss of friends, and never lose any,
but he that fortifies himself against the fear of death shall most
certainly have occasion to employ that virtue. It is the care of a wise
and a good man to look to his manners and actions; and rather how well
he lives than how long, for to die sooner or later is not the business,
but to die well or ill, for “death brings us to immortality.”

Next to the encounter of death in our own bodies, the most sensible
calamity to an honest man is the death of a friend; and we are not in
truth without some generous instances of those that have preferred
a friend’s life before their own; and yet this affliction, which by
nature is so grievous to us, is by virtue and Providence made familiar
and easy.

To lament the death of a friend is both natural and just; a sigh
or a tear I would allow to his memory: but no profuse or obstinate
sorrow. Clamorous and public lamentations are not so much the effects
of grief as of vain-glory. He that is sadder in company than alone,
shows rather the ambition of his sorrow than the piety of it. Nay, and
in the violence of his passion there fall out twenty things that set
him a-laughing. At the long-run, time cures all, but it were better
done by moderation and wisdom. Some people do as good as set a watch
upon themselves, as if they were afraid that their grief would make
an escape. The ostentation of grief is many times more than the grief
itself. When any body is within hearing, what groans and outcries! when
they are alone and private, all is hush and quiet: so soon as any body
comes in, they are at it again; and down they throw themselves upon the
bed; fall to wringing of their hands, and wishing of themselves dead;
which they might have executed by themselves; but their sorrow goes off
with the company. We forsake nature, and run over to the practices of
the people, that never were the authors of anything that is good. If
destiny were to be wrought upon by tears, I would allow you to spend
your days and nights in sadness and mourning, tearing of your hair, and
beating of your breast; but if Fate be inexorable, and death will keep
what it has taken, grief is to no purpose. And yet I would not advise
insensibility and hardness; it were inhumanity, and not virtue, not to
be moved at the separation of familiar friends and relations: now, in
such cases, we cannot command ourselves, we cannot forbear weeping, and
we ought not to forbear: but let us not pass the bounds of affection,
and run into imitation; within these limits it is some ease to the mind.

A wise man gives way to tears in some cases, and cannot avoid them in
others. When one is struck with the surprise of ill-news, as the death
of a friend, or the like; or upon the last embrace of an acquaintance
under the hand of an executioner, he lies under a natural necessity
of weeping and trembling. In another case, we may indulge our sorrow,
as upon the memory of a dead friend’s conversation or kindness, one
may let fall tears of generosity and joy. We favor the one, and we are
overcome by the other; and this is well: but we are not upon any terms
to force them: they may flow of their own accord, without derogating
from the dignity of a wise man; who at the same time both preserves
his gravity, and obeys nature. Nay, there is a certain _decorum_ even
in weeping; for excess of sorrow is as foolish as profuse laughter.
Why do we not as well cry, when our trees that we took pleasure in,
shed their leaves, as at the loss of our satisfactions; when the next
season repairs them, either with the same again, or others in their
places. We may _accuse_ Fate, but we cannot _alter_ it; for it is hard
and inexorable, and not to be removed either with reproaches or tears.
They may carry _us_ to the _dead_, but never bring _them_ back again
to us. If reason does not put an end to our sorrows, fortune never
will: one is pinched with poverty; another solicited with ambition, and
fears the very wealth that he coveted. One is troubled for the loss
of children; another for the want of them: so that we shall sooner
want tears than matter for them; let us therefore spare that for which
we have so much occasion. I do confess, that in the very parting of
friends there is something of uneasiness and trouble; but it is rather
voluntary than natural; and it is custom more than sense that affects
us: we do rather impose a sorrow upon ourselves than submit to it; as
people cry when they have company, and when nobody looks on, all is
well again. To mourn without measure is folly, and not to mourn at
all is insensibility. The best temper is betwixt piety and reason;
to be sensible, but neither transported nor cast down. He that can
put a stop to his tears and pleasures when he will is safe. It is an
equal infelicity to be either too soft or too hard: we are overcome
by the one, and put to struggle with the other. There is a certain
intemperance in that sorrow that passes the rules of modesty; and yet
great piety is, in many cases, a dispensation to good manners. The
loss of a son or of a friend, cuts a man to the heart, and there is no
opposing the first violence of his passion; but when a man comes once
to deliver himself wholly up to lamentations, he is to understand,
that though some tears deserve compassion, others are yet ridiculous. A
grief that is fresh finds pity and comfort, but when it is inveterate
it is laughed at, for it is either counterfeit or foolish. Beside that,
to weep excessively for the dead is an affront to the living. The most
justifiable cause of mourning is to see good men come to ill ends, and
virtue oppressed by the iniquity of Fortune. But in this case, too,
they either suffer resolutely, and yield us delight in their courage
and example, or meanly, and so give us the less trouble for the loss.
He that dies cheerfully, dries up my tears; and he that dies whiningly,
does not deserve them. I would bear the death of friends and children
with the same constancy that I would expect my own, and no more lament
the one than fear the other. He that bethinks himself, how often
friends have been parted, will find more time lost among the living,
than upon the dead; and the most desperate mourners are they that cared
least for their friends when they were living; for they think to redeem
their credits, for want of kindness to the living, by extravagant
ravings after the dead. Some (I know) will have grief to be only the
perverse delight of a restless mind, and sorrows and pleasures to be
near akin; and there are, I am confident, that find joy even in their
tears. But which is more barbarous, to be insensible of grief for the
death of a friend, or to fish for pleasure in grief, when a son perhaps
is burning, or a friend expiring? To forget one’s friend, to bury the
memory with the body, to lament out of measure, is all inhuman. He that
is gone either would not have his friend tormented, or does not know
that he is so: if he does not feel it, it is superfluous; if he does,
it is unacceptable to him. If reason cannot prevail, reputation may;
for immoderate mourning lessens a man’s character: it is a shameful
thing for a wise man to make the _weariness_ of grieving the _remedy_
of it. In time, the most stubborn grief will leave us, if in prudence
we do not leave that first.

But do I grieve for my friend’s sake or for my own? Why should I
afflict myself for the loss of him that is either happy or not at all
in being? In the one case it is envy, and in the other it is madness.
We are apt to say, “What would I give to see him again, and to enjoy
his conversation! I was never sad in his company: my heart leaped
whenever I met him; I want him wherever I go.” All that is to be said
is, “The greater the loss, the greater is the virtue to overcome it.”
If grieving will do no good, it is an idle thing to grieve; and if that
which has befallen one man remains to all, it is as unjust to complain.
The whole world is upon the march towards the same point; why do we
not cry for ourselves that are to follow, as well as for him that has
gone first? Why do we not as well lament beforehand for that which we
know will be, and can not possibly but be? He is not _gone_, but _sent
before_. As there are many things that he has lost, so there are many
things that he does not fear; as anger, jealousy, envy, etc. Is he not
more happy in desiring nothing than miserable in what he has lost? We
do not mourn for the absent, why then for the dead, who are effectually
no other? We have lost one blessing, but we have many left; and shall
not all these satisfactions support us against one sorrow?

The comfort of having a friend may be taken away, but not that
of having had one. As there is a sharpness in some fruits, and a
bitterness in some wines that please us, so there is a mixture in the
remembrance of friends, where the loss of their company is sweetened
again by the contemplation of their virtues. In some respects, I have
lost what I had, and in others, I retain still what I have lost. It
is an ill construction of Providence to reflect only upon my friend’s
being taken away, without any regard to the benefit of his being
once given me. Let us therefore make the best of our friends while
we have them; for how long we shall keep them is uncertain. I have
lost a hopeful son, but how many fathers have been deceived in their
expectations! and how many noble families have been destroyed by luxury
and riot! He that grieves for the loss of a son, what if he had lost a
friend? and yet he that has lost a friend has more cause of joy that
he once had him, than of grief that he is taken away. Shall a man bury
his friendship with his friend? We are ungrateful for that which is
past, in hope of what is to come; as if that which is to come would not
quickly be past too. That which is past we are sure of. We may receive
satisfaction, it is true, both from the future and what is already
past; the one by expectation, and the other by memory; only the one may
possibly not come to pass, and it is impossible to make the other not
to have been.

But there is no applying of consolation to fresh and bleeding sorrow;
the very discourse irritates the grief and inflames it. It is like an
unseasonable medicine in a disease; when the first violence is over,
it will be more tractable, and endure the handling. Those people
whose minds are weakened by long felicity may be allowed to groan and
complain, but it is otherwise with those that have led their days
in misfortunes. A long course of adversity has this good in it, that
though it vexes a body a great while, it comes to harden us at last;
as a raw soldier shrinks at every wound, and dreads the surgeon more
than an enemy; whereas a _veteran_ sees his own body cut and lamed with
as little concern as if it were another’s. With the same resolution
should we stand the shock and cure of all misfortunes; we are never the
better for our experience, if we have not yet learned to be miserable.
And there is no thought of curing us by the diversion of sports and
entertainments; we are apt to fall into relapses; wherefore we had
better overcome our sorrow than delude it.

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