« PreviousContinue »
Neither is the ancient rule amiss, to bend Nature as a wand,
to the contrary extreme, whereby to set it right.' This "ancient rule'' needs to be qualified by a caution against 'bending the wand' too far: an error sometimes committed by well-intentioned persons. If A. confesses, and with truth, that he is conscious of a natural tendency towards parsi. mony, and B. that his natural leaning is towards careless prodigality, it is yet possible we may find, in practice,- greatly to the astonishment of some—that A. errs, when he does err, generally on the side of profusion, and B. on that of parsimony; each having guarded exclusively against a danger on one side, and thinking that he cannot go too far the other way. So, also, one who is excessively in dread of over-deference for some highly-esteemed and venerated friend, may, perhaps, in practice, “bend the wand' too far the other way. His veneration will then be theoretical and general ; while, practically, and in almost every particular instance, he will be cherishing, as a matter of duty, a strong prejudice against every proposal, decision, measure, institution, person, or thing, that his friend approves.
I have noticed in the ‘Annotations' on Essay VI. a like error, in carrying to a faulty excess the endeavour to repress all ill feelings towards one who has injured one's self: the error, namely, of breaking down, in his favour, the boundaries of right and wrong, and treating a man as blameless or laudable, because it is to us he has done a wrong. 'A man's nature is best perceived in privateness ;
and in a new case or experiment.' To this excellent list of things that show nature, Bacon might have added small things rather than great. "A straw best shows how the wind blows.' The most ordinary and unimportant actions of a man's life will often show more of his natural character and his habits, than more important actions
· Aristotle's; see Eth, Nicom b. ii.
which are done deliberately, and sometimes against his natural inclinations.
On this is founded the art which many persons (the majority of them probably empty pretenders) now practise, called by some Graptomancy'—the judging of character from handwriting. Amidst much delusion and quackery, it is certain that some persons do possess a gift by which they have made some wonderful hits. And to those who deride the whole matter as absurd, it may easily be proved not only that there is something in it, but that they themselves think so. For, all are accustomed to speak of a 'man's hand and a woman's :' and it is plain the difference must depend on something mental; since there is no call for muscular strength. Almost all, again, speak of a 'genteel and a 'vulgar' hand-writing. There is, however (as was justly remarked by the late Bishop Copleston), no greater indication of character in a man's way of writing, than in his way of walking, or of wiping his face, &c. But the difference is, that, in all the other ordinary actions, the observation of manner is only momentary: whereas, in writing, there is a permanent record of it, which may be examined at leisure.
'A man's nature runs either to herbs or weeds: therefore let him
seasonably water the one and destroy the other.'
There are some considerations with regard to human nature, unnoticed by Bacon, which are very important, as involving the absolute necessity of great watchfulness, candour and diligence, in those who would, indeed, desire to destroy the weeds.' Human nature (as I have observed in a former work) is always and everywhere, in the most important points, substantially the same; circumstantially and externally, men's manners and conduct are infinitely various in various times and regions. If the former were not true,--if it were not for this fundamental agreement,-history could furnish no instruction; if the latter were not true,—if there were not these apparent and circumstantial differences,—hardly any one could fail to profit by that instruction. For, few are so dull as not to learn something from the records of past experience in cases precisely similar to their own. But as it is, much candour and diligence are called
for in tracing the analogy between cases which, at the first glance, seem very different—in observing the workings of the same human nature under all its various disguises,-in recog. nizing, as it were, the same plant in different stages of its growth, and in all the varieties resulting from climate and culture, soil and season. For, so far as any fault or folly is peculiar to any particular age or country, its effects may be expected to pass away soon, without spreading very widely; but so far as it belongs to human nature in general, we must expect to find the evil effects of it reappearing, again and again, in various forms, in all ages, and in various regions. Plants brought from a foreign land, and cultivated by human care, may often be, by human care, extirpated, or may even perish for want of care; but the indigenous product of the soil, even when seemingly eradicated, will again and again be found springing up afresh:
'Sponte suâ quæ se tollunt in luminis oras
Infecunda quidem, sed læta et fortia surgunt,
If we would be really safe from the danger of committing faults of a like character with those which we regard with abhorrence in men removed from us either by time or place, we must seek that safety in a vigilant suspicion of the human heart. We can be secured from the recurrence of similar faults in some different shapes, only by the sedulous cultivation of that christian spirit, whose implantation is able to purify, to renovate, to convert that nature-in short, to 'CREATE THE NEW MAN. Christian principle only can overthrow the 'idols of the race' (idola tribus), as Bacon elsewhere calls them; —the errors springing out of man's nature.'
*See Essays, 3d Series,
ESSAY XXXIX. OF CUSTOM AND
EN'S thoughts are much according to their inclination ;
their discourse and speeches according to their learning and infused opinions; but their deeds are after' as they have been accustomed : and, therefore, as Machiavel well noteth (though in an evil-favoured instance), there is no trusting to the force of nature, nor to the bravery of words, except it be corroborate by custom. His instance is, that for the achieving of a desperate conspiracy, a man should not rest upon the fierceness of any man's nature, or his resolute undertakings, but take such a one as hath had his hands formerly in blood: but Machiavel knew not of a friar Clement, nor a Ravillac, nor a Jaureguy, nor a Baltazar Gerard; yet his rule holdeth still, that nature, nor the engagement of words, are not so forcible as custom. Only superstition is now so well advanced, that men of the first blood are as firm as butchers by occupation; and votary resolution is made equipollent to custom, even in matter of blood. In other things, the predominancy of custom is everywhere visible, insomuch as a man would wonder to hear men profess, protest, engage, give great words, and then do just as they have done before, as if they were dead images and engines, moved only by the wheels of custom. We see also the reign or tyranny of custom, what it is. The Indians (I mean the sect of their wise men) lay themselves quietly upon a stack of wood, and so sacrifice themselves by fire: nay, the wives
* After. According to. That ye seek not after your own heart.'— Num. xv. 39. 'He who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh.”—Gal. iv. 23. *Deal not with us after our sins.'-Litany.
As. That. See page 23.
• His heart is corroborate.'-Shakespere.
• Nor to no Roman else.'-Shakespere.
Drayton. 5 Votary. Consecrated by a vow.
strive to be burned with the corpse of their husbands. The lads of Sparta,' of ancient time, were wont to be scourged upon the altar of Diana, without so much as queching.' I remember, in the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's time of England, an Irish rebel condemned, put up a petition to the deputy that he might be hanged in a withe,' and not in a halter, because it had been so used with former rebels. There be monks in Russia, for penance, that will sit a whole night in a vessel of water, till they be engaged with hard ice.
Many examples may be put of the force of custom, both upon mind and body; therefore, since custom is the principal magistrate of man's life, let men by all means endeavour to obtain good customs. Certainly, custom is most perfect when it beginneth
young years: this we call education, which is, in effect, but an early custom. So we see in languages, the tone is more pliant to all expressions and sounds, the joints are more supple to all feats of activity and motions in youth, than afterwards ; for it is true, the late learners cannot so well take up the ply, except it be in some minds, that have not suffered themselves to fix, but have kept themselves open and prepared to receive continual amendment, which is exceeding rare : but if the force of custoin, simple and separate, be great, the force of custom, copulate and conjoined, and collegiate, is far greater; for there example teacheth, company comforteth,' emulation quickeneth, glory raiseth ; so as in such places the force of custom is in his exaltation. Certainly, the great multiplication of virtues upou human nature resteth upon societies well ordained and dis
· Cic. Tuscul. Dial, ii. 14.
• Underre her feet, there as she sate,
Not once he could nor move nor quich.'—Spenser. s Withs.
Twigs, or bands of twigs. 'If they bind me with seven green withs, then shall I be weak.'-Judges xvi. 7.
• Comfort. To strengthen as an auxiliary; to help. (The meaning of the original Latin word, Conforto.) “Now we exhort you brethren, comfort the feeble-minded.'—1 Thess. v. 14.
• His. Its. “But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body.'— 1 Cor. xv. 38.
• Multiplication upon. 'Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy.'-Collect for the 4th Sunday after Trinity.