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THE THUS I THINK OF JOHN LOCKE
MASSILLON ON THE USE OF TIME
FRANKLIN'S CATALOGUE OF VIRTUES AND PLAN FOR ACQUIR-
WASHINGTON'S LETTERS TO HIS NEPHEWS, AND A SELECTION
SELECTIONS FROM THE "PENSÉES ” OF JOUBERT
JEAN PAUL FRIEDRICH RICHTER'S RULES OF LIFE, FROM
WORDSWORTH's 66 CHARACTER OF THE HAPPY WARRIOR
CARLYLE'S “THE EVERLASTING YEA ; FROM SARTOR RE-
A MULTITUDE OF COUNSELLORS
ON THE ANCIENT AND MODERN KNOWLEDGE OF
GOOD AND EVIL
THE book that is believed to be the oldest in the world - the earliest piece of literature known to have escaped destruction and forgetfulness and to have survived to our day — is a collection of precepts of morals and manners, compiled in Egypt well-nigh fifty centuries ago. It is a manuscript known as “ The Papyrus Prisse,” taking the name from a gentleman, M. Prisse d'Avennes, who acquired it at Thebes, in 1847, and presented it to the National Library in Paris. This most interesting message from the remotest antiquity out of which any voice has reached us is in two parts. The first part, which is brief and probably fragmentary, contains a few rules of behavior ascribed to one Kaqimna, of the time of Snefrou, who reigned among the Pharaohs of the third dynasty. The second part is a more extended and important treatise of the same character. Its author introduces himself as “The prefect, the feudal lord, Ptah-hotep, under the majesty of the king of the South and the North, Assa.” Assa was a monarch of the Fifth Dynasty, and the latest reckonings of Egyptian chronology, by Professor Petrie, place his reign somewhere between 3700 and 3500
years before Christ, or considerably more than two thousand years before the time of Moses and the exodus of Israel.
Hence the precepts of Ptah-hotep are probably older than the oldest books of the Jewish Sacred Scriptures by more than twenty centuries, even if the latter came from Moses.
Aside from their extraordinary antiquity, the precepts of Ptah-hotep have a remarkable interest of their own They are the first of a long series of writings in which thoughtful and wise men of every age have deliberately undertaken to prescribe, for themselves or for others, the rules of right, prudent, and seemly conduct that have appeared most important in their several views of life. Each one of such monitory writings may be looked upon as reflecting, incompletely, of course, but with more or less fidelity, the ideas of a good life, or a successful life, that colored the conduct of the better men and women of the age and the region from which it comes. I can think of no study more likely to be profitable and pleasant than a comparative review of the admonitions in such a series.
When I read the “good sayings," as he has rightly called them, of Ptah-hotep, in translations that have been made by the patient and long study of many scholars, I have the feeling that I am being introduced to the primitive archetype of all gentlemen. He may worship, as the venerable Ptah-hotep would enjoin him to do, “ the god with the two crocodiles ; ” he may abase himself to the earth before a man greater than himself; but he has the thinking and the feeling that have made gentlemen from his day to ours.
In conversation with one who displays ignorance, he will not answer the unfortunate in a crushing way, to bring him to shame, but will treat him with courtesy and allow the subject to be dropped. He will always “ speak without heat,” and yet know how to make his answers
penetrate.” He will ever “respect knowledge and calmness of language.” He will answer the evil words of a hot-headed disputant with silence. He will
not despise one whose opinion differs from his own, nor be angry with one who is wrong. If he has 6 become great after having been little,” or “rich after having been poor,” he will not harden his heart, but will remember that he has become only the steward of the good things of God.” He will remember those who were faithful to him in his low estate. He will despise flattery. He will listen with patience and kindness to petitioners, and not be abrupt with them. He will be neither haughty nor mean. He will keep himself from the “ fatal malady” of bad humor, — from grumbling, — from little irritations, from rudeness. He will keep his countenance cheerful. If he hears extravagances of hasty language he will not repeat them. He will let his thoughts be abundant, but keep his mouth under restraint. His lips will be just when he speaks, his eyes when he gazes, his ears when he
, hears. If he is powerful he will not seize the goods of others. He will not inspire men with fear. He will love his wife and cherish her. He will make no improper advances to a woman. He will treat his dependents well. He will 6 train his son to be a teachable man.” He will understand that “ love for the work they accomplish transports men to God.” Is not that to be a gentleman, in almost the highest sense in which we use the word to-day?
Remember that this outlines a standard of right conduct which was set before men some centuries before Abraham, — thousands of years before Homer — before Athens had risen before the foundations of a city were laid on the seven hills of Rome. And the standard set is very high. It makes lofty demands on one who would live to it. It will fit no life that is not lifted to an elevation above petty things, where the mind becomes tolerant, the spirit magnanimous, the temper serene. Its limitations,