It is, perhaps, one of the most pernicious errors of a rash and
inconsiderate life, the common ignorance of the world in the matter of
exchanging _benefits_. And this arises from a mistake, partly in the
person that we would oblige, and partly in the thing itself. To begin
with the latter: “A benefit is a good office, done with intention and
judgment;” that is to say, with a due regard to all the circumstances
of _what_, _how_, _why_, _when_, _where_, _to whom_, _how much_, and
the like; or otherwise: “It is a voluntary and benevolent action that
delights the giver in the comfort it brings to the receiver.” It will
be hard to draw this subject, either into method or compass: the one,
because of the infinite variety and complication of cases; the other,
by reason of the large extent of it: for the whole business (almost)
of mankind in society falls under this head; the duties of kings
and subjects, husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and
servants, natives and strangers, high and low, rich and poor, strong
and weak, friends and enemies. The very meditation of it breeds good
blood and generous thoughts; and instructs us in honor, humanity,
friendship, piety, gratitude, prudence, and justice. In short, the art
and skill of conferring benefits is, of all human duties, the most
absolutely necessary to the well-being, both of reasonable nature, and
of every individual; as the very cement of all communities, and the
blessing of particulars. He that does good to another man does good
also to himself; not only in the consequence, but in the very act of
doing it; for the conscience of well-doing is an ample reward.

Of benefits in general, there are several sorts; as _necessary_,
_profitable_, and _delightful_. Some things there are, without which
we _cannot_ live; others without which we _ought not_ to live; and
some, again, without which we _will not_ live. In the first rank are
those which deliver us from capital dangers, or apprehensions of
death: and the favor is rated according to the hazard; for the greater
the extremity, the greater seems the obligation. The next is a case
wherein we may indeed live, but we had better die; as in the question
of liberty, modesty, and a good conscience. In the third place, follow
those things which custom, use, affinity, and acquaintance, have made
dear to us; as husbands, wives, children, friends, etc., which an
honest man will preserve at his utmost peril. Of things profitable
there is a large field, as money, honor, etc., to which might be
added, matters of superfluity and pleasure. But we shall open a way
to the circumstances of a benefit by some previous and more general
deliberations upon the thing itself.

We shall divide _benefits_ into _absolute_ and _vulgar_; the one
appertaining to good life, the other is only matter of commerce. The
former are the more excellent, because they can never be made void;
whereas all material benefits are tossed back and forward, and change
their master. There are some offices that look like benefits, but are
only desirable conveniences, as wealth, etc., and these a wicked man
may receive from a good, or a good man from an evil. Others, again,
that bear the face of injuries, which are only benefits ill taken; as
cutting, lancing, burning, under the hand of a surgeon. The greatest
benefits of all are those of good education, which we receive from our
parents, either in the state of ignorance or perverseness; as, their
care and tenderness in our infancy; their discipline in our childhood,
to keep us to our duties by fear; and, if fair means will not do,
their proceeding afterwards to severity and punishment, without which
we should never have come to good. There are matters of great value,
many times, that are but of small price; as instructions from a tutor,
medicine from a physician, etc. And there are small matters again,
which are of great consideration to us: the gift is small, and the
consequence great; as a cup of cold water in a time of need may save a
man’s life. Some things are of great moment to the giver, others to the
receiver: one man gives me a house; another snatches me out when it is
falling upon my head; one gives me an estate; another takes me out of
the fire, or casts me out a rope when I am sinking. Some good offices
we do to friends, others to strangers; but those are the noblest that
we do without pre-desert. There is an obligation of bounty, and an
obligation of charity; this in case of necessity, and that in point of
convenience. Some benefits are common, others are personal; as if a
prince (out of pure grace) grant a privilege to a city, the obligation
lies upon the community, and only upon every individual as a part of
the whole; but if it be done particularly for my sake, then am I singly
the debtor for it. The cherishing of strangers is one of the duties
of hospitality, and exercises itself in the relief and protection of
the distressed. There are benefits of good counsel, reputation, life,
fortune, liberty, health, nay, and of superfluity and pleasure. One man
obliges me out of his pocket; another gives me matter of ornament and
curiosity; a third, consolation. To say nothing of negative benefits;
for there are that reckon it an obligation if they do a body no hurt;
and place it to account, as if they saved a man, when they do not undo
him. To shut up all in one word; as benevolence is the most sociable of
all virtues, so it is of the largest extent; for there is not any man,
either so great or so little, but he is yet capable of giving and of
receiving benefits.

The question is (in the first place) whether it may not be possible
for a father to owe more to a son, in other respects, than the son
owes to his father for his being? That many sons are both greater and
better than their fathers, there is no question; as there are many
other things that derive their beings from others, which yet are far
greater than their original. Is not the tree larger than the seed? the
river than the fountain? The foundation of all things lies hid, and
the superstructure obscures it. If I owe all to my father, because he
gives me life, I may owe as much to a physician that saved his life;
for if my father had not been cured, I had never been begotten: or, if
I stand indebted for all that I am to my beginning, my acknowledgment
must run back to the very original of all human beings. My father gave
me the benefit of life: which he had never done, if his father had not
first given it to him. He gave me life, not knowing to whom; and when
I was in a condition neither to feel death nor to fear it. That is the
great benefit, to give life to one that knows how to use it, and that
is capable of the apprehension of death. It is true, that without a
father I could never have had a being; and so, without a nurse, that
being had never been improved: but I do not therefore owe my virtue
either to my nativity or to her that gave me suck. The generation of me
was the last part of the benefit: for to live is common with brutes;
but to live well is the main business; and that virtue is all my own,
saving what I drew from my education. It does not follow that the
_first_ benefit must be the _greatest_, because without the first the
greatest could never have been. The father gives life to the son but
once; but if the son save the father’s life often, though he do but his
duty, it is yet a greater benefit. And again, the benefit that a man
receives is the greater, the more he needs it; but the living has more
need of life than he that is not yet born; so that the father receives
a greater benefit in the continuance of his life than the son in the
beginning of it. What if a son deliver his father from the rack; or,
which is more, lay himself down in his place? The giving of him a being
was but the office of a father; a simple act, a benefit given at a
venture: beside that, he had a participant in it, and a regard to his
family. He gave only a single life, and he received a happy one. My
mother brought me into the world naked, exposed, and void of reason;
but my reputation and my fortune are advanced by my virtue. Scipio (as
yet in his minority) rescued his father in a battle with Hannibal, and
afterward from the practices and persecution of a powerful faction;
covering him with consulary honors, and the spoils of public enemies.
He made himself as eminent for his moderation as for his piety and
military knowledge: he was the defender and the establisher of his
country: he left the empire without a competitor, and made himself as
well the ornament of Rome as the security of it: and did not Scipio,
in all this, more than requite his father barely for begetting of him?
Whether did Anchises more for Æneas, in dandling the child in his arms;
or Æneas for his father, when he carried him upon his back through
the flames of Troy, and made his name famous to future ages among the
founders of the Roman Empire? T. Manlius was the son of a sour and
imperious father, who banished him his house as a blockhead, and a
scandal to the family. This Manlius, hearing that his father’s life was
in question, and a day set for his trial, went to the tribune that was
concerned in his cause, and discoursed with him about it: the tribune
told him the appointed time, and withal (as an obligation upon the
young man) that his cruelty to his son would be part of his accusation.
Manlius, upon this, takes the tribune aside, and presenting a poniard
to his breast, “Swear,” says he, “that you will let this cause fall,
or you shall have this dagger in the heart of you; and now it is at
your choice which way you will deliver my father.” The tribune swore
and kept his word, and made a fair report of the whole matter to the
council. He that makes himself famous by his eloquence, justice, or
arms, illustrates his extraction, let it be never so mean; and gives
inestimable reputation to his parents. We should never have heard of
Sophroniscus, but for his son Socrates; nor for Aristo and Gryllus, if
it had not been for Xenophon and Plato.

This is not to discountenance the veneration we owe to parents; nor
to make children the worse, but the better; and to stir up generous
emulations: for, in contests of good offices, both parties are happy;
as well the vanquished as those that overcome. It is the only honorable
dispute that can arise betwixt a father and son, which of the two
shall have the better of the other in the point of benefits.

In the question betwixt a master and a servant, we must distinguish
betwixt benefits, duties, and actions ministerial. By _benefits_, we
understand those good offices that we receive from strangers, which
are voluntary, and may be forborne without blame. _Duties_ are the
parts of a son and wife, and incumbent upon kindred and relations.
_Offices ministerial_ belong to the part of a servant. Now, since it
is the _mind_, and not the _condition_ of a person, that prints the
value upon the benefit, a servant may oblige his master, and so may a
subject his sovereign, or a common soldier his general, by doing more
than he is expressly bound to do. Some things there are, which the law
neither commands nor forbids; and here the servant is free. It would
be very hard for a servant to be chastised for doing less than his
duty, and not thanked for it when he does more. His body, it is true,
is his master’s, but his mind is his own: and there are many commands
which a servant ought no more to obey than a master to impose. There is
no man so great, but he may both need the help and service, and stand
in fear of the power and unkindness, even of the meanest of mortals.
One servant kills his master; another saves him, nay, preserves his
master’s life, perhaps, with the loss of his own: he exposes himself to
torment and death; he stands firm against all threats and batteries:
which is not only a benefit in a servant, but much the greater for his
being so.

When Domitius was besieged in Corfinium, and the place brought to great
extremity, he pressed his servant so earnestly to poison him, that at
last he was prevailed upon to give him a potion; which, it seems, was
an innocent opiate, and Domitius outlived it: Cæsar took the town, and
gave Domitius his life, but it was his servant that gave it him first.

There was another town besieged, and when it was upon the last pinch,
two servants made their escape, and went over to the enemy: upon the
Romans entering the town, and in the heat of the soldiers’ fury, these
two fellows ran directly home, took their mistress out of her house,
and drove her before them, telling every body how barbarously she had
used them formerly, and that they would now have their revenge; when
they had her without the gates, they kept her close till the danger was
over; by which means they gave their mistress her life, and she gave
them their freedom. This was not the action of a servile mind, to do so
glorious a thing, under an appearance of so great a villainy; for if
they had not passed for deserters and parricides, they could not have
gained their end.

With one instance more (and that a very brave one) I shall conclude
this chapter.

In the civil wars of Rome, a party coming to search for a person of
quality that was proscribed, a servant put on his master’s clothes,
and delivered himself up to the soldiers as the master of the house;
he was taken into custody, and put to death, without discovering the
mistake. What could be more glorious, than for a servant to die for his
master, in that age, when there were not many servants that would not
betray their masters? So generous a tenderness in a public cruelty;
so invincible a faith in a general corruption; what could be more
glorious, I say, than so exalted a virtue, as rather to choose death
for the reward of his fidelity, than the greatest advantages he might
otherwise have had for the violation of it?