S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
I am very much pleased with a consolatory letter of Phalaris, to one who had lost a son who was a young man of great merit. The thought with which he comforts the afflicted father is, to the best of my memory, as follows: That he should consider death had set a kind of seal upon his sons character, and placed him out of the reach of vice and infamy; that, while he lived, he was still within the possibility of falling away from virtue, and losing the fame of which he was possessed. Death only closes a mans reputation, and determines it as good or bad.
This, among other motives, may be one reason why we are naturally averse to the launching out into a mans praise till his head is laid in the dust. Whilst he is capable of changing, we may be forced to retract our opinions. He may forfeit the esteem we have conceived of him, and some time or other appear to us under a different light from what he does at present. In short, as the life of any man cannot be called happy or unhappy, so neither can it be pronounced vicious or virtuous, before the conclusion of it.
It was upon this consideration that Epaminondas, being asked whether Chabrias, Iphicrates, or he himself, deserved most to be esteemed? You must first see us die, saith he, before that question can be answered.
As there is not a more melancholy consideration to a good man than his being obnoxious to such a change, so there is nothing more glorious than to keep up a uniformity in his actions and preserve the beauty of his character to the last.
If you would work any man, you must either know his nature or fashions, and so lead him; or his ends, and so persuade him; or his weakness and disadvantages, and so awe him; or those that have interest in him, and so govern him. In dealing with cunning persons we must ever consider their ends to interpret their speeches; and it is good to say little to them, and that which they least look for. In all negotiations of difficulty, a man may not look to sow and reap at once; but must prepare business, and so ripen it by degrees.
The heart is pinched up and contracted by the very studies which ought to have enlarged it,if we keep all our praise for the triumphant and glorified virtues, and all our uneasy suspicions, and doubts, and criticisms, and exceptions, for the companions of our warfare. A mind that is tempered as it ought, or aims to come to the temper it ought to have, will measure out its just proportion of confidence and esteem for a man of invariable rectitude, of principle, steadiness in friendship, moderation in temper, and a perfect freedom from all ambition, duplicity, and revenge; though the owner of these inestimable qualities is seen in the tavern and on the pavement, as well as in the senate, or appearing with much more decency than solemnity even there.
Far from taking away its value, everything which makes virtue accessible, simple, familiar, and companionable, makes its use more frequent, and its reality a great deal less doubtful. Neither, I apprehend, is the value of great qualities taken away by the defects or errors that are most nearly related to them. Simplicity, and a want of ambition, do something detract from the splendour of great qualities; and men of moderation will sometimes be defective in vigour. Minds (and these are the best minds) which are more fearful of reproach than desirous of glory, will want that extemporaneous promptitude, and that decisive stroke, which are often so absolutely necessary in great affairs.
Instead of saying that man is the creature of circumstance, it would be nearer the mark to say that man is the architect of circumstance. Our strength is measured by our plastic power. From the same materials one man builds palaces, another hovels; one warehouses, another villas: bricks and mortar are mortar and bricks, until the architect can make them something else. Thus it is that in the same family, in the same circumstances, one man rears a stately edifice, while his brother, vacillating and incompetent, lives forever amid ruins: the block of granite which was an obstacle in the pathway of the weak becomes a stepping-stone in the pathway of the strong.
He that has never suffered extreme adversity knows not the full extent of his own depravation; and he that has never enjoyed the summit of prosperity is equally ignorant how far the iniquity of others can go. For our adversity will excite temptations in ourselves, or prosperity in others.
He that acts towards men as if God saw him, and prays to God as if men heard him, although he may not obtain all that he asks, or succeed in all that he undertakes, will most probably deserve to do so. For with respect to his actions to men, however he may fail with regard to others, yet if pure and good, with regard to himself and his highest interests they cannot fail; and with respect to his prayers to God, although they cannot make the Deity more willing to give, yet they will and must make the supplicant more worthy to receive.
There are four classes of men in the world: first, those whom every one would wish to talk to, and whom every one does talk of; these are that small minority that constitute the great. Secondly, those whom no one wishes to talk to, and whom no one does talk of; these are that vast majority that constitute the little. The third class is made up of those whom everybody talks of, but nobody talks to; these constitute the knaves; and the fourth is composed of those whom everybody talks to, but whom nobody talks of; and these constitute the fools.
Distinguished merit will ever rise superior to oppression, and will draw lustre from reproach. The vapours which gather round the rising sun and follow it in its course seldom fail at the close of it to form a magnificent theatre for its reception, and to invest with variegated tints, and with a softened effulgence, the luminary which they cannot hide.
Robert Hall: Christianity Consistent with a Love of Freedom.
Our most secret doings, nay, what we imagine to be our inmost thoughts, are often the open talk and jeer of hundreds of people with whom we have never interchanged a word. That more people know Tom Fool than Tom Fool knows, is, though at once a truism and a vulgarism, a profound and philosophic axiom. Despise not the waiter, for he may know you thoroughly. Be careful what you do or say, for there are hundreds of machicolated crevices in every dead wall, whence spy-glasses are pointed at you; and the sky above is darkened with little birds, eager to carry matters concerning you. Dio ti vede (God sees thee) they write on the walls in Italy. A mans own heart should tell him this; but his common sense should tell him likewise that men are also always regarding him; that the streets are full of eyes, the walls of ears.
Yet such is the state of all moral virtue, that it is always uncertain and variable, sometimes extending to the whole compass of duty, and sometimes shrinking into a narrower space, and fortifying only a few avenues of the heart, while all the rest is left open to the incursions of appetite, or given up to the dominion of wickedness. Nothing therefore is more unjust than to judge of man by too short an acquaintance and too slight inspection; for it often happens that in the loose, and thoughtless, and dissipated, there is a secret radical worth, which may shoot out by proper cultivation; that the spark of Heaven, though dimmed and obstructed, is yet not extinguished, but may by the breath of counsel and exhortation be kindled into flame.
It is a painful fact, but there is no denying it, the mass are the tools of circumstance; thistledown on the breeze, straw on the river, their course is shaped for them by the currents and eddies of the stream of life; but only in proportion as they are things, not men and women. Man was meant to be not the slave, but the master of circumstance; and in proportion as he recovers his humanity, in every sense of the great obsolete word,in proportion as he gets back the spirit of manliness, which is self-sacrifice, affection, loyalty to an idea beyond himself, a God above himself, so far will he rise above circumstances and wield them at his will.
The flexibleness of the former part of a mans age, not yet grown up to be headstrong, makes it more governable and safe; and in the after-part reason and foresight begin a little to take place, and mind a man of his safety and improvement.
There is, in one respect, a remarkable analogy between the faces and the minds of men. No two faces are alike; and yet very few faces deviate very widely from the common standard. Among the eighteen hundred thousand human beings who inhabit London there is not one who could be taken by his acquaintance for another; yet we may walk from Paddington to Mile End without seeing one person in whom any feature is so overcharged that we turn round to stare at it. An infinite number of varieties lies between limits which are not very far asunder. The specimens which pass those limits on either side form a very small minority.
It is the same with the characters of men. Here, too, the variety passes all enumeration. But the cases in which the deviation from the common standard is striking and grotesque, are very few. In one mind avarice predominates; in another, pride; in a third, love of pleasure; just as in one countenance the nose is the most marked feature, while in others the chief expression lies in the brow, or in the lines of the mouth. But there are very few countenances in which nose, brow, and mouth do not contribute, though in unequal degrees, to the general effect; and so there are very few characters in which one overgrown propensity makes all others utterly insignificant.
It is evident that a portrait-painter who was able only to represent faces and figures such as those which we pay money to see at fairs would not, however spirited his execution might be, take rank among the highest artists. He must always be placed below those who have skill to seize peculiarities which do not amount to deformity. The slighter those peculiarities, the greater is the merit of the limner who can catch them and transfer them to his canvas. To paint Daniel Lambert or the living skeleton, the pig-faced lady or the Siamese twins, so that nobody can mistake them, is an exploit within the reach of a sign-painter. A third-rate artist might give us the squint of Wilkes, and the depressed nose and protuberant cheeks of Gibbon. It would require a much higher degree of skill to paint two such men as Mr. Canning and Sir Thomas Lawrence, so that nobody who had ever seen them could for a moment hesitate to assign each picture to its original. Here the mere caricaturist would be quite at fault. He would find in neither face anything on which he could lay hold for the purpose of making a distinction. Two ample bald foreheads, two regular profiles, two full faces of the same oval form, would baffle his art; and he would be reduced to the miserable shift of writing their names at the foot of his picture. Yet there was a great difference; and a person who had seen them once would no more have mistaken one of them for the other than he would have mistaken Mr. Pitt for Mr. Fox. But the difference lay in delicate lineaments and shades, reserved for pencils of a rare order.
This distinction runs through all the imitative arts. Footes mimicry was exquisitely ludicrous, but it was all caricature. He could take off only some strange peculiarity, a stammer or a lisp, a Northumbrian burr or an Irish brogue, a stoop or a shuffle. If a man, said Johnson, hops on one leg, Foote can hop on one leg. Garrick, on the other hand, could seize those differences of manner and pronunciation which, though highly characteristic, are yet too slight to be described. Foote, we have no doubt, could have made the Haymarket theatre shake with laughter by imitating a conversation between a Scotchman and a Somersetshireman. But Garrick could have imitated a conversation between two fashionable men, both models of the best breeding, Lord Chesterfield, for example, and Lord Albemarle, so that no person could doubt which was which, although no person could say that, in any point, either Lord Chesterfield or Lord Albemarle spoke or moved otherwise than in conformity with the best usages of the best society.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Madame DArblay, Jan. 1843.
Insensibility, in return for acts of seeming, even of real, unkindness, is not required of us. But, whilst we feel for such acts, let our feelings be tempered with forbearance and kindness. Let not the sense of our own sufferings render us peevish and morose. Let not our sense of neglect on the part of others induce us to judge of them with harshness and severity. Let us be indulgent and compassionate towards them. Let us seek for apologies for their conduct. Let us be forward in endeavouring to excuse them. And if, in the end, we must condemn them, let us look for the cause of their delinquency, less in a defect of kind intention than in the weakness and errors of human nature. He who knoweth of what we are made, and hath learned, by what he himself suffered, the weakness and frailty of our nature, hath thus taught us to make compassionate allowances for our brethren, in consideration of its manifold infirmities.
Health and sickness, enjoyment and suffering, riches and poverty, knowledge and ignorance, power and subjection, liberty and bondage, civilization and barbarity, have all their offices and duties: all serve for the formation of character.
Everything in Asiapublic safety, national honour, personal reputationrests upon the force of individual character . The officer who forgets that he is a gentleman does more harm to the moral influence of this country than ten men of blameless life can do good.
If things were once in this train,if virtue were established as necessary to reputation, and vice not only loaded with infamy, but made the infallible ruin of all mens pretensions,our duty would take root in our nature.
It is worth mentioning, that your judgment of any ones character who has done anything wrong ought to be exactly the same whether the wrong was done to you or to any one else. A man who has cheated or slandered you is neither more nor less a cheat and a slanderer than if it had been some other person, a stranger to you. This is evident; yet there is great need to remind people of it; for, as the very lowest minds of all regard with far the most disapprobation any wrong from which they themselves suffer, so, those a few steps, and only a few, above them, in their dread of such manifest injustice, think they cannot bend the twig too far the contrary way, and are for regarding (in theory, at least, if not in practice) wrongs to oneself as no wrongs at all. Such a person will reckon it a point of heroic generosity to let loose on society a rogue who has cheated him, and to leave uncensured and unexposed a liar by whom he has been belied; and the like in other cases. And if you refuse favour and countenance to those unworthy of it, whose misconduct has at all affected you, he will at once attribute this to personal vindictive feelings; as if there could be no such thing as esteem and disesteem.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Revenge.