THE MATTER OF OBLIGATIONS

The _good-will_ of the benefactor is the fountain of all benefits;
nay it is the benefit itself, or, at least, the stamp that makes it
valuable and current. Some there are, I know, that take the matter
for the benefit, and tax the obligation by weight and measure. When
anything is given them, they presently cast it up; “What may such a
house be worth? such an office? such an estate?” as if that were the
benefit which is only the sign and mark of it: for the obligation
rests in the mind, not in the matter; and all those advantages which
we see, handle, or hold in actual possession by the courtesy of
another, are but several modes or ways of explaining and putting the
good-will in execution. There needs no great subtlety to prove, that
both benefits and injuries receive their value from the intention,
when even brutes themselves are able to decide this question. Tread
upon a dog by chance, or put him to pain upon the dressing of a wound;
the one he passes by as an accident; and the other, in his fashion, he
acknowledges as a kindness: but, offer to strike at him, though you
do him no hurt at all, he flies yet in the face of you, even for the
mischief that you barely meant him.

It is further to be observed, that all benefits are good; and (like the
distributions of Providence) made up of wisdom and bounty; whereas the
gift itself is neither good nor bad, but may indifferently be applied,
either to the one or to the other. The benefit is immortal, the gift
perishable: for the benefit itself continues when we have no longer
either the use or the matter of it. He that is dead was alive; he that
has lost his eyes, did see; and, whatsoever is done, cannot be rendered
undone. My friend (for instance) is taken by pirates; I redeem him; and
after that he falls into other pirates’ hands; his obligation to me is
the same still as if he had preserved his freedom. And so, if I save
a man from any misfortune, and he falls into another; if I give him a
sum of money, which is afterwards taken away by thieves; it comes to
the same case. Fortune may deprive us of the matter of a benefit, but
the benefit itself remains inviolable. If the benefit resided in the
matter, that which is good for one man would be so for another; whereas
many times the very same thing, given to several persons, work contrary
effects, even to the difference of life or death; and that which is one
body’s cure proves another body’s poison. Beside that, the timing of
it alters the value; and a crust of bread, upon a pinch, is a greater
present than an imperial crown. What is more familiar than in a battle
to shoot at an enemy and kill a friend? or, instead of a friend, to
save an enemy? But yet this disappointment, in the event, does not at
all operate upon the intention. What if a man cures me of a wen with
a stroke that was designed to cut off my head? or, with a malicious
blow upon my stomach, breaks an imposthume? or, what if he saves my
life with a draught that was prepared to poison me? The providence
of the issue does not at all discharge the obliquity of the intent.
And the same reason holds good even in religion itself. It is not the
incense, or the offering, that is acceptable to God, but the purity and
devotion of the worshipper: neither is the bare will, without action,
sufficient, that is, where we have the means of acting; for, in that
case, it signifies as little to _wish_ well, without _well-doing_, as
to _do_ good without _willing_ it. There must be effect as well as
intention, to make me owe a benefit; but, to will against it, does
wholly discharge it. In fine, the conscience alone is the judge, both
of benefits and injuries.

It does not follow now, because the benefit rests in the good-will,
that therefore the good-will should be always a benefit; for if it be
not accompanied with government and discretion, those offices, which we
call _benefits_, are but the works of passion, or of chance; and many
times, the greatest of all injuries. One man does me good by mistake;
another ignorantly; a third upon force: but none of these cases do I
take to be an obligation; for they were neither directed to me, nor
was there any kindness of intention; we do not thank the seas for the
advantages we receive by navigation; or the rivers with supplying us
with fish and flowing of our grounds; we do not thank the trees either
for their fruits or shades, or the winds for a fair gale; and what is
the difference betwixt a reasonable creature that does not know and
an inanimate that cannot? A good _horse_ saves one man’s life; a good
suit of _arms_ another’s; and a _man_, perhaps, that never intended it,
saves a third. Where is the difference now betwixt the obligation of
one and of the other? A man falls into a river, and the fright cures
him of the ague; we may call this a kind of lucky mischance, but not
a remedy. And so it is with the good we receive, either without, or
beside, or contrary to intention. It is the mind, and not the event,
that distinguishes a benefit from an injury.

As it is the _will_ that designs the benefit, and the _matter_ that
conveys it, so it is the _judgment_ that perfects it; which depends
upon so many critical niceties, that the least error, either in the
person, the matter, the manner, the quality, the quantity, the time, or
the place, spoils all.

The consideration of the _person_ is a main point: for we are to give
by choice, and not by hazard. My inclination bids me oblige one man; I
am bound in duty and justice to serve another; here it is a charity,
there it is pity; and elsewhere, perhaps, encouragement. There are some
that want, to whom I would not give; because, if I did, they would want
still. To one man I would barely offer a benefit; but I would press it
upon another. To say the truth, we do not employ any more profit than
that which we bestow; and it is not to our friends, our acquaintances
or countrymen, nor to this or that condition of men, that we are to
restrain our bounties; but wheresoever there is a man, there is a place
and occasion for a benefit. We give to some that are good already; to
others, in hope to make them so: but we must do all with discretion;
for we are as well answerable for what we give as for what we receive;
nay, the misplacing of a benefit is worse than the not receiving of it;
for the one is another man’s fault; but the other is mine. The error
of the giver does oft-times excuse the ingratitude of the receiver:
for a favor ill-placed is rather a profusion than a benefit. It is the
most shameful of losses, an inconsiderate bounty. I will choose a man
of integrity, sincere, considerate, grateful, temperate, well-natured,
neither covetous nor sordid: and when I have obliged such a man, though
not worth a groat in the world, I have gained my end. If we give only
to receive, we lose the fairest objects of our charity: the absent,
the sick, the captive, and the needy. When we oblige those that can
never pay us again in kind, as a stranger upon his last farewell, or a
necessitous person upon his death-bed, we make Providence our debtor,
and rejoice in the conscience even of a fruitless benefit. So long as
we are affected with passions, and distracted with hopes and fears,
and (the most unmanly of vices) with our pleasures, we are incompetent
judges where to place our bounties: but when death presents itself,
and that we come to our last will and testament, we leave our fortunes
to the most worthy. He that gives nothing, but in hopes of receiving,
must die intestate. It is the honesty of another man’s mind that moves
the kindness of mine; and I would sooner oblige a grateful man than
an ungrateful: but this shall not hinder me from doing good also to a
person that is known to be ungrateful: only with this difference, that
I will serve the one in all extremities with my life and fortune, and
the other no farther than stands with my convenience. But what shall
I do, you will say, to know whether a man will be grateful or not? I
will follow probability, and hope the best. He that sows is not sure
to reap; nor the seaman to reach his port; nor the soldier to win
the field: he that weds is not sure his wife shall be honest, or his
children dutiful: but shall we therefore neither sow, sail, bear arms,
nor marry? Nay, if I knew a man to be incurably thankless, I would yet
be so kind as to put him in his way, or let him light a candle at mine,
or draw water at my well; which may stand him perhaps in great stead,
and yet not be reckoned as a benefit from me; for I do it carelessly,
and not for his sake, but my own; as an office of humanity, without any
choice or kindness.

Next to the choice of the _person_ follows that of the _matter_;
wherein a regard must be had to time, place, proportion, quality;
and to the very nicks of opportunity and humor. One man values his
peace above his honor, another his honor above his safety; and not
a few there are that (provided they may save their bodies) never
care what becomes of their souls. So that good offices depend much
upon construction. Some take themselves to be obliged, when they are
not; others will not believe it, when they are; and some again take
obligations and injuries, the one for the other.

For our better direction, let it be noted, “That a benefit is a common
tie betwixt the giver and receiver, with respect to both:” wherefore
it must be accommodated to the rules of discretion; for all things
have their bounds and measures, and so must liberality among the rest;
that it be neither too much for the one nor too little for the other;
the excess being every jot as bad as the defect. Alexander bestowed a
city upon one of his favorites; who modestly excusing himself, “That
it was too much for him to receive.” “Well, but,” says Alexander, “it
is not too much for me to give.” A haughty certainly, and an imprudent
speech; for that which was not fit for the one to take could not be
fit for the other to give. It passes in the world for greatness of mind
to be perpetually giving and loading of people with bounties; but it is
one thing to know how to _give_, and another thing not to know how to
_keep_. Give me a heart that is easy and open, but I will have no holes
in it; let it be bountiful with judgment, but I will have nothing run
out of it I know not how. How much greater was he that refused the city
than the other that offered it? Some men throw away their money as if
they were angry with it, which is the error commonly of weak minds and
large fortunes. No man esteems of anything that comes to him by chance;
but when it is governed by reason, it brings credit both to the giver
and receiver; whereas those favors are, in some sort, scandalous, that
make a man ashamed of his patron.

It is a matter of great prudence, for the benefactor to suit the
benefit to the condition of the receiver: who must be either his
superior, his inferior, or his equal; and that which would be the
highest obligation imaginable to the one, would perhaps be as great a
mockery and affront to the other; as a plate of broken meat (for the
purpose) to a rich man were an indignity, which to a poor man is a
charity. The benefits of princes and of great men, are honors, offices,
monies, profitable commissions, countenance, and protection: the poor
man has nothing to present but good-will, good advice, faith, industry,
the service and hazard of his person, an early apple, peradventure, or
some other cheap curiosity: equals indeed may correspond in kind; but
whatsoever the present be, or to whomsoever we offer it, this general
rule must be observed, that we always design the good and satisfaction
of the receiver, and never grant anything to his detriment. It is not
for a man to say, I was overcome by importunity; for when the fever is
off, we detest the man that was prevailed upon to our destruction. I
will no more undo a man with his will, than forbear saving him against
it. It is a benefit in some cases to grant, and in others to deny; so
that we are rather to consider the advantage than the desire of the
petitioner. For we may in a passion earnestly beg for (and take it ill
to be denied too) that very thing, which, upon second thoughts, we may
come to curse, as the occasion of a most pernicious bounty. Never give
anything that shall turn to mischief, infamy, or shame. I will consider
another man’s want or safety; but so as not to forget my own; unless
in the case of a very excellent person, and then I shall not much
heed what becomes of myself. There is no giving of water to a man in
a fever; or putting a sword into a madman’s hand. He that lends a man
money to carry him to a bawdy-house, or a weapon for his revenge, makes
himself a partaker of his crime.

He that would make an acceptable present, will pitch upon something
that is desired, sought for, and hard to be found; that which he sees
nowhere else, and which few have; or at least not in that place or
season; something that may be always in his eye, and mind him of his
benefactor. If it be lasting and durable, so much the better; as plate,
rather than money; statues than apparel; for it will serve as a monitor
to mind the receiver of the obligation, which the presenter cannot so
handsomely do. However, let it not be improper, as arms to a woman,
books to a clown, toys to a philosopher: I will not give to any man
that which he cannot receive, as if I threw a ball to a man without
hands; but I will make a _return_, though he cannot receive it; for my
business is not to oblige him, but to free myself: nor anything that
may reproach a man of his vice or infirmity; as false dice to a cheat;
spectacles to a man that is blind. Let it not be unseasonable neither;
as a furred gown in summer, an umbrella in winter. It enhances the
value of the present, if it was never given to him by anybody else, nor
by me to any other; for that which we give to everybody is welcome to
nobody.

The particularity does much, but yet the same thing may receive
a different estimate from several persons; for there are ways of
marking and recommending it in such a manner, that if the same _good
office_ be done to twenty people, every one of them shall reckon
himself peculiarly obliged as a cunning whore, if she has a thousand
sweethearts, will persuade every one of them she loves him best. But
this is rather the artifice of conversation than the virtue of it.

The citizens of Megara send ambassadors to Alexander in the height of
his glory, to offer him, as a compliment, the freedom of their city.
Upon Alexander’s smiling at the proposal, they told him, that it was
a present which they had never made but to Hercules and himself.
Whereupon Alexander treated them kindly, and accepted of it; not for
the presenters’ sake, but because they had joined him with Hercules;
now unreasonably soever; for Hercules conquered nothing for himself,
but made his business to vindicate and to protect the miserable,
without any private interest or design; but this intemperate young
man (whose virtue was nothing else but a successful temerity) was
trained up from his youth in the trade of violence; the common enemy
of mankind, as well of his friends as of his foes, and one that valued
himself upon being terrible to all mortals: never considering, that the
dullest creatures are as dangerous and as dreadful, as the fiercest;
for the poison of a toad, or the tooth of a snake, will do a man’s
business, as sure as the paw of a tiger.