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That he subdued the world, was owing to the accidents of art and knowledge ; had he not met with those advantages, the famne fparks of emulation would have kindled within him, and prompted him to distinguish himself in some enterprize of a lower nature. Since therefore no man's lot is fo unalterably fixed in this life, but that a thousand accidents may either forward or disappoint his advancement, it is, methinks, a pleasant and inoffensive speculation, to consider a great man as divested of all the adventitious circumstances of fortune, and to bring him down in one's imagination to that low station of life, the nature of which bears fome distant resemblance to that high one he is at present possessed of. Thus one may view him exercising in miniature those talents of nature, which being drawn out by education to their full length, enable him for the discharge of some important employment. On the other hand, one may raise uneducated merit to such a pitch of greatness, as may feem equal to the possible extent of his improved capacity.
Thus nature furnishes a man with a general appetite of glory, education determines it to this or that particular object. The desire of distinction is not, I think, in any instance, more observable than in the variety of outsides and new appearances, which the modish part of the world are obliged to provide, in order to make themselves remarkable ; for any thing glaring or particular, either in behaviour or apparel, is known to have this good effect, that it catches the eye, and will not suffer you to pass over the perfon fo adorned without due notice and observation. It has likewise, upon this account, been frequently resented as a very great flight, to leave any gentleman out of a lampoon or satire, who has as much right to be there as his neighbour, because it fupposes the person not eminent enough to be taken notice of. To this passionate fondness for distinction are owing various frolickfome and irregular practices, as fallying out into nocturnal exploits, breaking of windows, finging of catches, beating the watch, getting drunk twice a day, killing a great number of horses ; with many other enterprises of the like fiery nature : for certainly many a man is more rakish and
extravagant than he would willingly be, were there not others to look on and give their approbation.
One very common, and at the same time the most absurd ambition that ever shewed itself in human nature, is that which comes upon a man with experience and old age, the season when it might be expected he should be wiseft; and therefore it cannot receive any
of those lessening circumstances which do, in some measure, excuse the disorderly ferments of youthful blood; I mean the passion for getting money, exclusive of the character of the provident father, the affectionate hulband, or the generous friend. It may be remarked, for the comfort of honest poverty, that this desire reigns moft in those who have but few good qualities to recommend them. This is a weed that will grow in a barren foil. Humanity, good-nature, and the advantages of a liberal education, are incompatible with avarice. It is strange to see how suddenly this abject passion kills all the noble sentiments and generous ambitions that adorn human nature ; it renders the man who is over-run with it a peevish and cruel master, a severe parent, an unfociable husband, a distant and mistrusfful friend. But it is more to the present purpose to confider it as an absurd passion of the heart, rather than as a vicious affection of the mind. As there are frequent instances to be met with of a proud humility, so this passion, contrary to most others, affects applause, by avoiding all show and appearance ; for this reason it will not sometimes endure even the common decencies of apparel. “ A covetous man will call hiinself
that you may footh his vanity by contradicting him.” Love, and the desire of glory, as they are the most natural, so they are capable of being refined into the most delicate and rational passions. It is true, the wise man who strikes out of the secret paths of a private life, for honour and dignity, allured by the splendor of a court, and the unfelt weight of public employment, whether he succeeds in his attempts or no, usually comes near enough to this painted greatness to discern the daubing; he is then desirous of extricating himself out of the hurry of life, that he may pass away the remainder of his days in tranquillity and retirement.
It may be thought then but common prudence in a man not to change a better state for a worse, nor ever to quit that which he knows he shall take up again with pleasure ; and yet if human life be rot a little moved with the gentle gales of hope and fears, there may be some danger of its ftagnating in an unmanly indolence and security. It is a known ftory of Domitian, that after he had poffefsed himself of the Roman empire, his defires turned upon catching flies. A@ive and masculine spirits in the vigour of youth neither can nor ought to remain at rest; if they debar themselves from aiming at a noble object, their desires will move downwards, and they will feel themselves actuated by some low and abject passion. Thus if you cut off the top branches of a tree, and will not suffer it to grow any higher, it will not therefore cease to grow, but will quickly shoot out at the bottom. The man indeed who goes into the world only with the narrow views of self-interest, who catches at the applause of an idle multitude, as he can find no folid contentment at the end of his journey, so he deserves to meet with disappointments in his way; but he who is actuated by a nobler principle, whose mind is so far enlarged as to take in the prospect of his country's good, who is enamoured with that praise which is one of the fair attendants of virtue, and values not those acclamations which are not seconded by the impartial teftimnony of his own mind ; who repines not at the low station which Providence has at present allotted him, but yet would willingly advance himself by justifiable means to a more rising and advantageous ground; fuch a man is warmed with a generous emulation ; it is a virtuous movement in him to wish and to endeavour that his power of doing good may be equal to his will.
The man who is fitted out by nature, and sent into the world with great abilities, is capable of doing great good or mischief in it. It ought therefore to be the care of education to infuse into the untainted youth early notices of justice and honour, that so the possible advantages of good parts may not take an evil turn, nor be perverted to base and unworthy purposes. It is the business of religion and philosophy not so much to extinguish our pallions, as to regulate and direct them
to valuable well-chosen objects : when these have pointed out to us which course we may lawfully steer, it is no harm to fet out all our fail ; if the storms and tempefts of adversity should rise upon us, and not suffer us to make the haven where we would be, it will however prove no finall consolation to us in these circumstances, that we have neither mistaken our course, nor fallen into calamities of our own procuring.
Religion therefore, were we to consider it no farther than as it interposes in the affairs of this life, is highly valuable, and worthy of great veneration ; as it seitles the various pretensions, and otherwise interfering interefts of mortal men, and thereby consults the harmony and order of the great community; as it gives a man room to play his part, and exert his abilities; as it animates to actions truly laudable in themselves, in their effects beneficial to fociety ; as it inspires rational ambition, correct love, and elegant desire.
Saturday, November 17.
Nullum numen abest, fi fit prudentia
Juv. Sat. 10. ver. 365. Prudence supplies the want of ev'ry god. I
HAVE often thought if the minds of men were laid open, we should see but little difference between that of the wise man and that of the fool. There are infinite reveries, numberlefs extravagancies, and a perpetual train of vanities which pass through both. The great difference is, that the first knows how to pick and cull his thoughts for conversation, by suppresling fome, and communicating others; whereas the other lets them all indifferently fly out in words. This sort of discretion, however, has no place in private conversation, between intimate friends. On such occasions the wisest men very often talk like the weakest ; for indeed the talking with a friend is nothing else but thinking aloud. VOL. III.
Tully has therefore very juftly exposed a precept delivered by some ancient writers, that a man should live with his
enemy in such a nianner, as might leave him room to become his friend ; and with his friend in such a manner, that if he became his enemy, it should not be in his power to hurt him. The first part of this rule, which regards our behaviour towards an enemy, is indeed very reasonable, as well as very prudential ; but the latter part of it, which regards our behaviour towards a friend, favours more of cunning than of discretion, and would cut a man off from the greatest pleasures of life, which are the freedoms of conversation with a bofom friend. Besides that when a friend is turned into an enemy, and, as the son of Sirach calls him, a bewrayer of secrets, the world is just enough to accuse the perfidiousness of the friend, rather than the indiscretion of the person who confided in him.
Discretion does not only shew itself in words, but in all the circumstances of action ; and is like an underagent of Providence, to guide and direct us in the ordinary concerns of life.
There are many more shining qualities in the mind of man, but there is none so useful as discretion; it is this indeed which gives a value to all the rest, which sets them at work in their proper times and places, and turns them to the advantage of the person who is possessed of them. Without it learning is pedantry, and wit impertinence ; virtue itself looks like weakness; the best parts only qualify a man to be more sprightly in errors, and active to his own prejudice.
Nor does discretion only make a man the master of his own parts, but of other mens. The discreet man finds out the talents of those he converses with, and knows how to apply them to proper uses. Accordingly, if we look into particular communities and divisions of men, we may observe that it is the discreet man, not the witty, nor the learned, nor the brave, who guides the conversation, and gives measures to the society. A man with great talents, but void of discretion, is like Polyphemus in the fable, ftrong and blind, endued with an irresistible force, which for want of sight is of no use to him.