Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
The Maxims of Self-Contentment
By Sir Kenelm Digby (16031665)
From Private Memoirs
THERE is no man certainly that seeth so far as I do into these contentments and blessings, but will desire them as vehemently as I do; but there may be this difference between us, that they may want courage and resolution to possess and defend them; and I deem it a greater weakness to disguise ones passions than to entertain them. Other mens opinions shall never drive me from maintaining the rules that I have prescribed to myself; then since this so mainly importeth my happiness I will not fail to justify myself to the world for giving way to my affections; and then, although I may not gain the opinion of wisdom suitable to those times, yet I hope I shall have the ancients my friends, in that I seek to get a habitude that breedeth full pleasure and interior delight, and banish far from my consideration those things that are without me, to the end that not being afraid of the censures of the world, I may not drown my life in perpetual disquiet. But if what I have said to that effect, do not relish to other mens fantasies; and that it be like too solid meat for weak stomachs and tender teeth, as the vulgars are, I will proceed with them in a more gentle, or rather submissive way; if they will not absolve me, let them pardon me; let my friends be so indulgent to me as to pass by this one action, and I will not fail their hopes or their desires in any thing else. Although I cannot persuade myself that I am in an error in this, yet since others believe it, it will make me strive to behave myself so in all things else, that I may rectify myself in their good opinion, and, to that effect, strain myself in virtuous actions beyond what otherwise I should have done. If it be a fault in me, yet it would be a greater injustice in them to condemn all that may be good besides, for so small a mixture of the contrary; what discreet man ever threw away a fair and rich garment for having a small spot in some one corner of it! It importeth no man but himself; then it is reason that no man but myself should trouble himself about it; yet if they will still search into me, let them remember, that in the choice of friends those are to be esteemed good that are the least ill, since none are positively good; and if all men have something of evil, let them examine the nature and weight of what evil is inherent to every one, and make their choice accordingly. And if herein I strive not to better myself, let them conceive the cause proceedeth as much out of my design as out of my weakness, for I have learned, and from an author of unquestionable authority, that even the mending of a state is not worth the disordering and troubling it. And if I yield more to the tempest that carryeth me away, than some may like of, let them consider that a ship tossed in a violent storm maketh fairest weather before the wind; wherefore I judge it folly for any man to force and strain his nature, to raise a civil war within himself. Besides, I care not for mending myself by halves: with me if anything be awry, let all that hangeth upon that string be so too. If my affection be a fault, I must confess I cannot help it, for herein we are under the conduct of the stars, and then I will never go about to prescribe its limits; and sure it is better to have some evil increased, than all ones good troubled. But withal I will say this in my own behalf, that I think who hath given testimony of wisdom in other things, shall never be accounted a fool for his affections when he can give himself a good account of them; and they that live in the memory of after ages, shall not be judged by their loves, but by their other actions. Let them in me look upon those, and cover this, as they did in ancient times that sold a good horse; they covered those parts of him that were not essential to be observed in judging of his goodness, lest they might carry away the buyers eye from marking the principal limbs, by the which they might make a judgment of the rest. Howsoever, since this may be liable to dispute, whether I have done well or ill, let men suspend their sentences till the event give the verdict one way; let them follow that wise mans advice that would have none judge of anothers happiness till after his death; and in this, censure me by the tenor of my future life, wherein I dare boldly promise to myself that, whensoever I shall avow her for such, she will prove an exact pattern of a virtuous wife, and I of a happy man; and this not through any prophetic revelation or credulous fantasy, but upon infallible grounds and the certain knowledge of her nature, which is such that it will be my fault if she prove not as I would have her; and I am confident that her life will belie any rumour that may have been spread abroad to her disadvantage by malicious persons, and believed by others that take up their opinions upon trust.
To end then this long, and I fear tedious discourse of mine, let me put you in mind, how some ancient and much esteemed philosophers were of opinion that a man of vigorous spirits and of a clear understanding might not only love, but without blame use the liberty of his own election and inclinations, and ought to oppose the original rules of nature against vulgar laws and customs; and that limited and artificial ordinances are only for weak minds, who are not able to judge of things truly as they are by the dim light of their own feeble nature. And while it remaineth in controversy what is best for a man to do, let him in the mean time at least do what pleaseth him most: and for my part, I can never deem those humours very vain that are very pleasing, since content is the true seasoning of all other blessings, and that without it they are all nothing; nor guide my actions by other mens censures, which hurt not at all when they are neglected or patiently endured, nor be afflicted when they condemn me; and thus I shall be free from the servitude that most men live in, who are more troubled by the opinions of evils than by their real essence; and then the world shall see that my happiness and content is not proportioned to the estimation that they make of it, which will soon be forgotten and vanish away; but to what I truly enjoy and feel in myself, which will remain in me for ever. And to express fully the exact character of my mind in this particular, give me leave to make use of the sententious poets words, though applied to my purpose somewhat differing from his sense, where he saith:
And then I will entreat them to think of me as I do of others; which is, that no man of a competent understanding and judgment is to be lamented or pitied for finding any means, whatsoever it be, to please and satisfy himself.