THE MANNER OF OBLIGING

There is not any benefit so glorious in itself, but it may yet be
exceedingly sweetened and improved by the _manner_ of conferring it.
The virtue, I know, rests in the _intent,_ the profit in the judicious
application of the _matter_; but the beauty and ornament of an
obligation lies in the _manner_ of it; and it is then perfect when the
dignity of the office is accompanied with all the charms and delicacies
of humanity, good-nature, and address; and with dispatch too; for he
that puts a man off from time to time, was never right at heart.

In the first place, whatsoever we give, let us do it _frankly_: a
kind benefactor makes a man happy as _soon_ as he can, and as _much_
as he can. There should be no _delay_ in a benefit but the modesty
of the receiver. If we cannot forsee the request, let us, however,
immediately grant it, and by no means suffer the repeating of it. It
is so grievous a thing to say, _I BEG_; the very word puts a man out
of countenance; and it is a double kindness to do the thing, and save
an honest man the confusion of a blush. It comes too late that comes
for the asking: for nothing costs us so dear as that we purchase with
our prayers: it is all we give, even for heaven itself; and even there
too, where our petitions are at the fairest, we choose rather to
present them in secret ejaculations than by word of mouth. That is the
lasting and the acceptable benefit that meets the receiver half-way.
The rule is, we are to _give_, as we would _receive_, _cheerfully_,
_quickly_, and without _hesitation_; for there is no grace in a benefit
that sticks to the fingers. Nay, if there should be occasion for delay,
let us, however, not seem to deliberate; for _demurring_ is next door
to _denying_; and so long as we suspend, so long are we unwilling. It
is a court-humor to keep people upon the tenters; their injuries are
quick and sudden, but their benefits are slow. Great ministers love
to rack men with attendance, and account it an ostentation of their
power to hold their suitors in hand, and to have many witnesses of
their interest. A benefit should be made acceptable by all possible
means, even to the end that the receiver, who is never to forget it,
may bear it in his mind with satisfaction. There must be no mixture of
sourness, severity, contumely, or reproof, with our obligations; nay,
in case there should be any occasion for so much as an admonition, let
it be referred to another time. We are a great deal apter to remember
injuries than benefits; and it is enough to forgive an obligation that
has the nature of an offence.

There are some that spoil a good office after it is done and others,
in the very instant of doing it. There be so much entreaty and
importunity; nay, if we do but suspect a petitioner, we put on a sour
face; look another way; pretend haste, company, business; talk of other
matters, and keep him off with artificial delays, let his necessities
be never so pressing; and when we are put to it at last, it comes so
hard from us that it is rather extorted than obtained; and not so
properly the giving of a bounty, as the quitting of a man’s hold upon
the tug, when another is too strong for him; so that this is but doing
one kindness for me, and another for himself: he gives for his own
quiet, after he has tormented me with difficulties and delays. The
_manner_ of _saying_ or of _doing_ any thing, goes a great way in the
value of the thing itself. It was well said of him that called a good
office, that was done harshly, and with an ill will, a _stony piece
of bread_; it is necessary for him that is hungry to receive it, but
it almost chokes a man in the going down. There must be no pride,
arrogance of looks, or tumor of words, in the bestowing of benefits; no
insolence of behavior, but a modesty of mind, and a diligent care to
catch at occasions and prevent necessities. A pause, an unkind tone,
word, look, or action, destroys the grace of a courtesy. It corrupts a
bounty, when it is accompanied with state, haughtiness, and elation of
mind, in the giving of it. Some have a trick of shifting off a suitor
with a point of wit, or a cavil. As in the case of the Cynic that
begged a talent of Antigonus: “That is too much,” says he, “for a Cynic
to ask;” and when he fell to a penny, “That is too little,” says he,
“for a prince to give.” He might have found a way to have compounded
this controversy, by giving him a _penny_ as to a _Cynic_ and a
_talent_ as from a _prince_. Whatsoever we bestow, let it be done with
a frank and cheerful countenance: a man must not give with his hand,
and deny with his looks. He that gives quickly, gives willingly.

We are likewise to accompany _good deeds_ with _good words,_ and say,
(for the purpose,) “Why should you make such a matter of this? why
did not you come to me sooner? why would you make use of any body
else? I take it ill that you should bring me a recommendation; pray
let there be no more of this, but when you have occasion hereafter,
come to me upon your own account.” That is the glorious bounty, when
the receiver can say to himself; “What a blessed day has this been
to me! never was any thing done so generously, so tenderly, with so
good a grace. What is it I would not do to serve this man? A thousand
times as much another way could not have given me this satisfaction.”
In such a case, let the benefit be never so considerable, the manner
of conferring it is yet the noblest part. Where there is harshness of
language, countenance, or behavior, a man had better be without it. A
flat denial is infinitely before a vexatious delay: as a quick death is
a mercy, compared with a lingering torment. But to be put to waitings
and intercessions, after a promise is passed, is a cruelty intolerable.
It is troublesome to stay long for a benefit, let it be never so great;
and he that holds me needlessly in pain, loses two precious things,
time, and the proof of friendship. Nay, the very hint of a man’s want
comes many times too late. “If I had money,” said Socrates, “I would
buy me a cloak.” They that knew he wanted one should have prevented
the very intimation of that want. It is not the value of the present,
but the benevolence of the mind, that we are to consider. “He gave me
but a little, but it was generously and frankly done; it was a little
out of a little: he gave it me without asking; he pressed it upon me;
he watched the opportunity of doing it, and took it as an obligation
upon himself.” On the other side, many benefits are great in show, but
little or nothing perhaps in effect, when they come hard, slow, or at
unawares. That which is given with pride and ostentation, is rather an
ambition than a bounty.

Some favors are to be conferred in _public_, others in _private_.
In _public_ the rewards of great actions; as honors, charges, or
whatsoever else gives a man reputation in the world; but the good
offices we do for a man in want, distress, or under reproach, these
should be known only to those that have the benefit of them. Nay, not
to them neither, if we can handsomely conceal it from whence the favor
came; for the secrecy, in many cases, is a main part of the benefit.
There was a good man that had a friend, who was both poor and sick,
and ashamed to own his condition: he privately conveyed a bag of money
under his pillow, that he might seem rather to find than receive it.
Provided I know that I give it, no matter for his knowing from whence
it comes that receives it. Many a man stands in need of help that has
not the face to confess it: if the discovery may give offence, let it
lie concealed; he that gives to be seen would never relieve a man in
the dark. It would be too tedious to run through all the niceties that
may occur upon this subject; but, in two words, he must be a wise, a
friendly, and a well-bred man, that perfectly acquits himself in the
art and duty of obliging: for all his actions must be squared according
to the measures of _civility_, _good-nature_ and _discretion._

We have already spoken of _benefits_ in _general_; the _matter_ and
the _intention_, together with the _manner_ of conferring them. It
follows now, in course, to say something of the _value_ of them; which
is rated, either by the good they do us, or by the inconvenience they
save us, and has no other standard than that of a judicious regard
to circumstance and occasion. Suppose I save a man from drowning,
the advantage of life is all one to him, from what hand soever it
comes, or by what means; but yet there may be a vast difference in the
obligation. I may do it with hazard, or with security, with trouble, or
with ease; willingly, or by compulsion; upon intercession, or without
it: I may have a prospect of vain-glory or profit: I may do it in
kindness to another, or an hundred _by-ends_ to myself; and every point
does exceedingly vary the case. Two persons may part with the same sum
of money, and yet not the same benefit: the one had it of his _own_,
and it was but a _little_ out of a _great deal_; the other _borrowed_
it, and bestowed upon me that which he wanted for himself. Two boys
were sent out to fetch a certain person to their master: the one of
them hunts up and down, and comes home again weary, without finding
him; the other falls to play with his companions at the wheel of
Fortune, sees him by chance passing by, delivers him his errand, and
brings him. He that found him by chance deserves to be punished; and he
that sought for him, and missed him, to be rewarded for his good-will.

In some cases we value the _thing_, in others the _labor_ and
_attendance_. What can be more precious than good manners, good
letters, life, and health? and yet we pay our physicians and tutors
only for their service in the professions. If we buy things cheap, it
matters not, so long as it is a bargain: it is no obligation from the
seller, if nobody else will give him more for it. What would not a
man give to be set ashore in a tempest? for a house in a wilderness?
a shelter in a storm? a fire, or a bit of meat, when a man is pinched
with hunger or cold? a defence against thieves, and a thousand other
matters of moment, that cost but little? And yet we know that the
skipper has but his freight for our passage; and the carpenters and
bricklayers do their work by the day. Those are many times the greatest
obligations in truth, which in vulgar opinions are the smallest: as
comfort to the sick, poor captives; good counsel, keeping of people
from wickedness, etc. Wherefore we should reckon ourselves to owe most
for the noblest benefits. If the physician adds care and friendship
to the duty of his calling, and the tutor to the common method of his
business, I am to esteem them as the nearest of my relations: for to
watch with me, to be troubled for me, and to put off all other patients
for my sake, is a particular kindness: and so it is in my tutor, if
he takes more pains with me than with the rest of my fellows. It is
not enough, in this case, to pay the one his fees, and the other his
salary; but I am indebted to them over and above for their friendship.
The meanest of mechanics, if he does his work with industry and care,
it is an usual thing to cast in something by way of reward more than
the bare agreement: and shall we deal worse with the preservers of our
lives, and the reformers of our manners? He that gives me himself (if
he be worth taking) gives the greatest benefit: and this is the present
which Æschines, a poor disciple of Socrates, made to his master, and as
a matter of great consideration: “Others may have given you much,” says
he, “but I am the only man that has left nothing to himself.” “This
gift,” says Socrates, “you shall never repent of; for I will take care
to return it better than I found it.” So that a brave mind can never
want matter for liberality in the meanest condition; for Nature has
been so kind to us, that where we have nothing of Fortune’s, we may
bestow something of our own.

It falls out often, that a benefit is followed with an injury; let
which will be foremost, it is with the latter as with one writing
upon another; it does in a great measure hide the former, and keep it
from appearing, but it does not quite take it away. We may in some
cases divide them, and both requite the one, and revenge the other;
or otherwise compare them, to know whether I am creditor or debtor.
You have obliged me in my servant, but wounded me in my brother; you
have saved my son, but have destroyed my father; in this instance, I
will allow as much as piety, and justice, and good nature, will bear;
but I am not willing to set an injury against a benefit. I would
have some respect to the time; the obligation came first; and then,
perhaps, the one was designed, the other against his will; under these
considerations I would amplify the benefit, and lessen the injury; and
extinguish the one with the other; nay, I would pardon the injury even
_without_ the benefit, but much more _after_ it. Not that a man can be
bound by one benefit to suffer all sorts of injuries; for there are
some cases wherein we lie under no obligation for a benefit; because
a greater injury absolves it: as, for example, a man helps me out of
a law-suit, and afterwards commits a rape upon my daughter; where the
following impiety cancels the antecedent obligation. A man lends me a
little money, and then sets my house on fire; the debtor is here turned
creditor, when the injury outweighs the benefit. Nay, if a man does
but so much as repent the good office done, and grow sour and insolent
upon it, and upbraid me with it; if he did it only for his own sake, or
for any other reason than for mine, I am in some degree, more or less,
acquitted of the obligation. I am not at all beholden to him that makes
me the instrument of his own advantage. He that does me good for his
own sake, I will do him good for mine.

Suppose a man makes suit for a place, and cannot obtain it, but upon
the ransom of ten slaves out of the galleys. If there be ten, and
_no more_, they owe him nothing for their redemption; but _they_ are
indebted to him for the choice, where he might have taken ten others
as well as these. Put the case again, that by an act of grace so many
prisoners are to be released, their names to be drawn by lot, and mine
happens to come out among the rest: one part of my obligation is to him
that put me in a capacity of freedom, and the other is to Providence
for my being one of that number. The greatest benefits of all have no
witnesses, but lie concealed in the conscience.

There is a great difference betwixt a common obligation and a
particular; he that lends my country money, obliges me only as a part
of the whole. Plato crossed the river, and the ferry-man would take no
money of him: he reflected upon it as honor done to himself; and told
him, “That Plato was in debt.” But Plato, when he found it to be no
more than he did for others, recalled his words, “For,” says he, “Plato
will owe nothing in particular for a benefit in common; what I owe with
others, I will pay with others.”

Some will have it that the necessity of wishing a man well is some
abatement to the obligation in the doing of him a good office. But I
say, on the contrary, that it is the greater; because the good-will
cannot be changed. It is one thing to say, that a man could not but
do me this or that civility, because he was forced to do it; and
another thing, that he could not quit the good-will of doing it. In
the former case, I am a debtor to him that imposeth the force, in
the other to himself. The unchangeable good-will is an indispensable
obligation: and, to say, that nature cannot go out of her course, does
not discharge us of _what we owe to Providence_. Shall he be said to
will, that may change his mind the next moment? and shall we question
the will of the Almighty, whose nature admits no change? Must the
stars quit their stations, and fall foul one upon another? must the
sun stand still in the middle of his course, and heaven and earth drop
into confusion? must a devouring fire seize upon the universe; the
harmony of the creation be dissolved; and the whole frame of nature
swallowed up in a dark abyss; and will nothing less than this serve to
convince the world of their audacious and impertinent follies? It is
not to say, that _these heavenly bodies are not made for us_; for in
part they are so; and we are the better for their virtues and motions,
whether we will or not; though, undoubtedly, the principal cause is
the unalterable law of God. Providence is not moved by anything from
without; but the Divine will is an everlasting law, an immutable
decree; and the impossibility of variation proceeds from God’s purpose
of preserving; for he never repents of his first counsels. It is not
with our heavenly as with our earthly father. God thought of us and
provided for us, before he made us: (for unto him all future events
are present.) Man was not the work of chance; his mind carries him
above the slight of fortune, and naturally aspires to the contemplation
of heaven and divine mysteries. How desperate a frenzy is it now to
undervalue, nay, to contemn and to disclaim these divine blessings,
without which we are utterly incapable of enjoying any other!

It passes in the world for a generous and magnificent saying, that “it
is a shame for a man to be outdone in courtesy;” and it is worth the
while to examine, both the truth of it, and the mistake. First, there
can be no shame in a virtuous emulation; and, secondly, there can be
no victory without crossing the cudgels, and yielding the cause. One
man may have the advantage of strength, of means, of fortune; and this
will undoubtedly operate upon the events of good purposes, but yet
without any diminution to the virtue. The good will may be the same in
both, and yet one may have the heels of the other; for it is not in a
good office as in a course, where he wins the plate that comes first to
the post: and even there also, chance has many times a great hand in
the success. Where the contest is about benefits; and that the one has
not only a _good will_, but _matter_ to work upon, and a power to put
that good intent in execution; and the other has barely a _good-will_,
without either the _means_, or the _occasion_, of a requital; if he
does but affectionately wish it, and endeavor it, the latter is no more
overcome in courtesy than he is in courage that dies with his sword in
his hand, and his face to the enemy, and without shrinking maintains
his station: for where _fortune_ is _par__tial_, it is enough that
the _good-will_ is _equal_. There are two errors in this proposition:
first, to imply that a good man may be overcome; and then to imagine
that anything shameful can befall him. The Spartans prohibited all
those exercises where the victory was declared by the confession of
the contendant. The 300 Fabii were never said to be _conquered_, but
_slain_; nor Regulus to be _overcome_, though he was taken _prisoner_
by the Carthaginians. The mind may stand firm under the greatest malice
and iniquity of fortune; and yet the giver and receiver continue upon
equal terms: as we reckon it a drawn battle, when two combatants are
parted, though the one has lost more blood than the other. He that
knows how to owe a courtesy, and heartily wishes that he could requite
it, is invincible; so that every man may be as grateful as he pleases.
It is your happiness to give, it is my fortune that I can only receive.
What advantage now has your chance over my virtue? But there are some
men that have philosophized themselves almost out of the sense of human
affections; as Diogenes, that walked naked and unconcerned through
the middle of Alexander’s treasures, and was, as well in other men’s
opinions as in his own, even above Alexander himself, who at that
time had the whole world at his feet: for there was more that the one
scorned to take than that the other had it in his power to give: and it
is a greater generosity for a beggar to refuse money than for a prince
to bestow it. This is a remarkable instance of an immovable mind, and
there is hardly any contending with it; but a man is never the less
valiant for being worsted by an invulnerable enemy; nor the fire one
jot the weaker for not consuming an incombustible body; nor a sword
ever a whit the worse for not cleaving a rock that is impenetrable;
neither is a grateful mind overcome for want of an answerable fortune.
No matter for the inequality of the things given and received, so long
as, in point of good affection, the two parties stand upon the same
level. It is no shame not to overtake a man, if we follow him as fast
as we can. That tumor of a man, the vain-glorious Alexander, was used
to make his boast, that never any man went beyond him in benefits; and
yet he lived to see a poor fellow in a tub, to whom there was nothing
that he could give, and from whom there was nothing that he could take
away.

Nor is it always necessary for a poor man to fly to the sanctuary of
an invincible mind to quit scores with the bounties of a plentiful
fortune; but it does often fall out, that the returns which he cannot
make in _kind_ are more than supplied in _dignity_ and _value_.
Archelaus, a king of Macedon, invited Socrates to his palace: but he
excused himself, as unwilling to receive greater benefits than he
was able to requite. This perhaps was not _pride_ in Socrates, but
_craft_; for he was afraid of being forced to accept of something
which might possibly have been unworthy of him; beside, that he was
a man of liberty, and loath to make himself a voluntary slave. The
truth of it is, that Archelaus had more need of Socrates than Socrates
of Archelaus; for he wanted a man to teach him the art of life and
death, and the skill of government, and to read the book of Nature to
him, and show him the light at noon-day: he wanted a man that, when
the sun was in an eclipse, and he had locked himself up in all the
horror and despair imaginable; he wanted a man, I say, to deliver
him from his apprehensions, and to expound the prodigy to him, by
telling him, that there was no more in it than only that the _moon_
was got betwixt the _sun_ and the _earth_, and all would be well again
presently. Let the world judge now, whether Archelaus’ _bounty_, or
Socrates’ _philosophy_, would have been the greater present: he does
not understand the value of wisdom and friendship that does not know
a wise friend to be the noblest of presents. A rarity scarce to be
found, not only in a family, but in an age; and nowhere more wanted
than where there seems to be the greatest store. The greater a man is,
the more need he has of him; and the more difficulty there is both
of finding and of knowing him. Nor is it to be said, that “I cannot
requite such a benefactor because I am poor, and have it not;” I can
give good counsel; a conversation wherein he may take both delight and
profit; freedom of discourse, without flattery; kind attention, where
he deliberates; and faith inviolable where he trusts; I may bring him
to a love and knowledge of truth; deliver him from the errors of his
credulity, and teach him to distinguish betwixt friends and parasites.

There are many cases, wherein a man speaks of himself as of another.
As, for example, “I may thank myself for this; I am angry at myself; I
hate myself for that.” And this way of speaking has raised a dispute
among the Stoics, “whether or not a man may give or return a benefit to
himself?” For, say they, if I may hurt myself, I may oblige myself; and
that which were a benefit to another body, why is it not so to myself?
And why am I not as criminal in being ungrateful to myself as if I were
so to another body? And the case is the same in flattery and several
other vices; as, on the other side, it is a point of great reputation
for a man to command himself. Plato thanked Socrates for what he had
_learned_ of him; and why might not Socrates as well thank Plato for
that which he had _taught_ him? “That which you want,” says Plato,
“borrow it of yourself.” And why may not I as well give to myself as
lend? If I may be angry with myself, I may thank myself; and if I chide
myself, I may as well commend myself, and do myself good as well as
hurt; there is the same reason of contraries: it is a common thing to
say, “Such a man hath done himself an injury.” If an injury, why not a
benefit? But I say, that no man can be a debtor to himself; for the
benefit must naturally precede the acknowledgment; and a debtor can
no more be without a creditor than a husband without a wife. Somebody
must give, that somebody may receive; and it is neither giving nor
receiving, the passing of a thing from one hand to the other. What
if a man should be ungrateful in the case? there is nothing lost;
for he that gives it has it: and he that gives and he that receives
are one and the same person. Now, properly speaking, no man can be
said to bestow any thing upon himself, for he obeys his nature, that
prompts every man to do himself all the good he can. Shall I call him
liberal, that gives to himself; or good-natured, that pardons himself;
or pitiful, that is affected with his own misfortunes? That which
were bounty, clemency, compassion, to another, to myself is nature.
A benefit is a voluntary thing; but to do good to myself is a thing
necessary. Was ever any man commended for getting out of a ditch, or
for helping himself against thieves? Or what if I should allow, that a
man might confer a benefit upon himself; yet he cannot owe it, for he
returns it in the same instant that he receives it. No man gives, owes,
or makes a return, but to another. How can one man do that to which two
parties are requisite in so many respects? Giving and receiving must
go backward and forward betwixt two persons. If a man give to himself,
he may sell to himself; but to sell is to alienate a thing, and to
translate the right of it to another; now, to make a man both the giver
and the receiver is to unite two contraries. That is a benefit, which,
when it is given, may possibly not be requited; but he that gives to
himself, must necessarily receive what he gives; beside, that all
benefits are given for the receiver’s sake, but that which a man does
for himself, is for the sake of the giver.

This is one of those subtleties, which, though hardly worth a man’s
while, yet it is not labor absolutely lost neither. There is more of
trick and artifice in it than solidity; and yet there is matter of
diversion too; enough perhaps to pass away a winter’s evening, and keep
a man waking that is heavy-headed.

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