Page images
PDF
EPUB

2) among his companions, for having bought a fish for scoo festerces,

which Cæfar had sold, and Apicius could not buy: now it was shameful in Oétavius to buy it at such a price; but not in the person who bought it for a present to Tiberius, whatever it cost him; though I do not think it altogether excusable; it was vanity that made him admire a thing which he thought worthy Cæfar.

Again ; a man, suppose, is sitting by a fick friend; this is certainly a kind office; but if he sits there, in order to be appointed his heir, he is then a mere vulture, waiting for carrion (0). Thus the same thing may be both vile and honest, according to circumstances; it is of great moment therefore, why, or in what manner a thing is done: but all things will be done decently, if we abide by the fitness of action; and judge this principle, and what flows therefrom to be the only good in human affairs; all other things being good only for a time, and with regard to circumstances. Therefore some firm persuasion concerning the whole of life, must be implanted in the mind; and this is what I call a philosophical decree. Such as this persuasion is, such will our thoughts and actions be; and on our thoughts and actions depends the just conduct of life.

It is not enough, for one who intends to form the whole aright, to give direction in particulars. Marcus Brutus in his book Tepà K&Jhxartos, of ofices (P), gives many precepts, to parents, to children, to brethren; but no one can follow these as he ought, unless there be fome rule to go by; some foundation to build upon: we must propose some end, as the principal good, at which we must aim ftrenuously, by addressing generally, every thought, word, and action thereto, as the mariner steers his course by a certain star. Life without a fixed view is loose and vague. If then such a view or principle is to be fixed, decrees will soon discover how necessary they are. I think you will grant this, that nothing can be more shameful, than to see a man doubtful, irresolute, timorous; now setting his foot backward, and now forward; and this must be our case continually, unless those impediments are rooted out, which tie down, and cramp the understanding, not suffering us to exert the whole man,

rooted

We are usually told, how the Gods are to be worshipped: we are forbid to light our lamps on the Sabbath-day (9), because the Gods want no light, nor are men themselves delighted with smoke. Let us likewise forbid the morning falutations (r), and fitting at the Temple (before the doors are opened) to receive ceremonial compliments. These are vain allurements, that please human ambition. He who knows God, serveth and honoureth him. Let us forbid the bringing linnen, and Aleth-brushes and combs to Jupiter, or the holding out a mirror to Juno (s). God wants not such services, nor requires at his altars such idle ministers. For why? He himself ministreth to man; he is every where present and easy of access to all (t); a man may be taught how to behave himself at sacrifices and in public worship, without any curious and troublesome superstition; but he will never be perfect in religious duty, 'till he hath conceived in his mind a right notion of God; as the poffeffor, and giver, of all things, and who freely and graciously bestows inestimable benefits upon us (u). And from whence ariseth this affection for man? What induceth the Almighty thus to

pour
his benefits

upon
us?

Nature, (or his own goodness.) The man is mistaken who thinks the Gods afilict any one willingly (x). They cannot; they neither can do, nor receive an injury. (For there is a connection between doing and suffering harm.) That supreme and most excellent Nature which hath exempted them froin danger, hath likewise rendered them not dangerous to their creature,

man.

Now the first step to the right worshipping of God, is, to believe there is a God (y). And next, to ascribe unto him all Majesty and all Goodness (z), without which true Majesty cannot fubsist; to know likewise, that it is he who governs the world, and presides over the universe as his own, who hath taken mankind in general under his protection; and on some is pleased to bestow particular favour (aa). He can neither do, nor suffer evil. God however is sometimes pleased to

4

chastife,

chastise, and lay heavy penalties upon fome persons under the

appearance of some good (bb). But would you be happy in his favour? be a good man (cc). To be a good man, and to honour God as you ought, is to endeavour as much as poslible to imitate him in all things.

one.

Another question is, how we must behave ourselves towards man? And how do we behave? What precepts do we give in this respect ? To abstain from shedding human blood ? But what a small thing is it not to hurt him, to whom we ought to do all the good that lies in our power? It is indeed praise-worthy for men to be kindly affectioned, one towards another (dd). Shall we then direct a man to reach out his hand to the shipwreck’d; to shew the wandering traveller his way; and to divide our bread with the hungry (ee)? Yes, certainly. But every thing that he ought to do, or avoid doing, may be comprehended in a few words; when, to follow Nature, may be looked upon as a complete direction and rule of human duty: all that you see, (the heavens and the earth wherein are contained all things, both human and divine) is

We are members of this great body (ff): we are all akin by Nature, who hath formed us of the same elements, and placed us here together for the same end : she hath implanted in us mutual affection, and made us sociable (88); fe hath commanded justice and equity; by her appointment it is more wretched to do an injury than to suffer one (bb); and by her command the hand is ever ready to assist our brother. That excellent verse (of Terence) should ever be in our breast and in our mouth;

Homo fum, humani nihil a me alienum puto (ii):
I am a man, and, as such, concern'd

In every business that relates to man. We must consider that we are born, for the good of the whole : human society resembles a vaulted roof of stone, which would soon fall, unless prevented by one stone fupporting another (kk).

Having thus considered our duty with regard both to God and man, let us see how we are to act with regard to things. Precepts would be entirely superfluous, unless it were premised what opinion we ought to have of every thing, as of poverty, riches, glory, ignominy, our own country, and banishment. We must weigh each particular severally, without any regard to common report, and duly examine what they really are, and not what they are called.

To pass on to the consideration of virtues. Some one perhaps will direct us, highly to esteem Providence; cordially to embrace friendship; to love temperance, and that, if possible, we should more strictly adhere to justice than to any of the rest. But all this would be to little purpose, if we knew not what virtue is; whether there be one or more; whether they are separable, or indissolubly connected together (ll); whether he that hath one virtue, hath all the reit, or what is the difference between them. There is no need for a smith to be inquisitive after the origin of his art, or of what use it is, any more than for a player of pantomimes to make the like enquiries concerning the art of dancing. Such occupations are fully comprehended in the knowledge of the art itself; they need nothing more, for they appertain not to the whole of life. But virtue is the knowledge of other things as well as of herself: we must learn from her what the will is, or ought to be. An action can never be fit and right where the will is not so; for on the will depends the action.

Again, the will can never be right, unless the habit or disposition of the mind be so; for from this proceeds the will; the disposition of the mind cannot be in its best state unless it perceives the whole duty of life, knows how to judge of things, and can reduce them all to truth. None but such as have a steady and immutable judgment can enjoy true tranquillity: other men fall now and then, and again recover themselves; and are continually fluctuating between desire and averfion. Now the reason of this is, that, being led by common report, that most uncertain guide, they are confident in nothing. Would you always will the same thing? you must always will that which is right and according to the truth of things (mm.) But no one can come at truth without certain maxims and decrees which comprehend the whole of life.

Good

Good and evil, honourable and base, just and unjust, pious and impious, all virtues and their uses, the possession of all conveniencies (nn), esteem, dignity, health, strength, beauty, fagacity, and wit, all these things require such a one as can truly judge of them, and rate them according to their merit, or demerit. For you are often mistaken, and estimate things at more than their real value; nay, you are so far deceived that those things, which are generally esteemed at the highest rate, as riches, favour, power, are intrinsically of little or no worth at all. Now this you cannot know unless you inspect the nature of things, and observe the decree itself, whereby all things are comparatively valuable: as the leaves of trees cannot live of themselves, but require a branch whereon to stick, and receive therefrom their proper fap and nutriment; fo precepts while fingle, wither away and die; they require to be fixed and supported by the mother-root (00).

Besides, they who would discard decrees, scem not to know, that they confirm them by the very reasons they give for discarding them. For they say, that life being sufficiently displayed and tutored by precepts, the decrees or maxims of wisdom are therefore superfluous : but even this assertion is itself a decree; just as were I to say, that we ought to give over precepts, and apply ourselves only to decrees; in the very article by which I deny the use of precepts, I should offer a precept myself.

There are some things which require only the fimple admonition of philosophy; other things require proof; and there are some fo

very

intricate and confused, that with the greatest fubtilty, diligence and application, a man can scarce come at the true fenfe and meaning of them. If proofs then are necessary, so are decrees, which are founded

upon truth collected from arguments. Some things are clear and manifest; other things dark and obscure; the former are such as are comprehended by the senses and memory; the latter such as lie beyond their reach: but reason is not satisfied with the things that are manifest; the greater and more beautiful part thereof is employed on things that are hidden : now hidden things require proof, and proof cannot be without decrees; decrees therefore are necessary,

« PreviousContinue »