If we look into the secret springs and motives that set people at work on these occasions, and put them upon asking advice which they never intend to take, I look upon it to be none of the least, that they are incapable of keeping a secret which is so very pleasing to them. A girl longs to tell her confidante that she hopes to be married in a little time; and, in order to talk of the pretty fellow that dwells so much in her thoughts, asks her very gravely what she would advise her to do in a case of so much difficulty.
There is nothing which we receive with so much reluctance as advice. We look upon the man who gives it us as offering an affront to our understanding, and treating us like children or idiots. We consider the instruction as an implicit censure, and the zeal which any one shows for our good on such an occasion as a piece of presumption or impertinence. The truth of it is, the person who pretends to advise does, in that particular, exercise a superiority over us, and can have no other reason for it but that, in comparing us with himself, he thinks us defective either in our conduct or our understanding. For these reasons, there is nothing so difficult as the art of making advice agreeable; and indeed all the writers, both ancient and modern, have distinguished themselves among one another according to the perfection at which they have arrived in this art. How many devices have been made use of to render this bitter potion palatable! Some convey their instructions to us in the best chosen words, others in the most harmonious numbers; some in points of wit, and others in short proverbs.
Counsel is of two sorts; the one concerning manners, the other concerning business: for the first, the best preservative to keep the mind in health is the faithful admonition of a friend. The calling of a mans self to a strict account is a medicine sometimes too piercing and corrosive; reading good books of morality is a little flat and dead; observing our faults in others is sometimes improper for our case; but the best receipt (best, I say, to work and best to take) is the admonition of a friend. It is a strange thing to behold what gross errors and extreme absurdities many (especially of the greater sort) do commit for want of a friend to tell them of them, to the great damage both of their fame and fortune.
To take advice of some few friends is ever honourable; for lookers-on many times see more than gamesters; and the vale best discovereth the hill. There is little friendship in the world, and least of all between equals, which was wont to be magnified. That that is, is between superior and inferior, whose fortunes may comprehend the one the other.
Whoever is wise, is apt to suspect and be diffident of himself, and upon that account is willing to hearken unto counsel; whereas the foolish man, being in proportion to his folly full of himself, and swallowed up in conceit, will seldom take any counsel but his own, and for that very reason because it is his own.
Advice, however earnestly sought, however ardently solicited, if it does not coincide with a mans own opinions, if it tends only to investigate the improprieties, to correct the criminal excesses of his conduct, to dissuade from a continuance and to recommend a reformation of his errors, seldom answers any other purpose than to put him out of humour with himself, and to alienate his affections from the adviser.
It is by no means necessary to imagine that he who is offended at advice was ignorant of the fault, and resents the admonition as a false charge; for perhaps it is most natural to be enraged when there is the strongest conviction of our own guilt. While we can easily defend our character, we are no more disturbed by an accusation than we are alarmed by an enemy whom we are sure to conquer, and whose attack, therefore, will bring us honour without danger. But when a man feels the reprehension of a friend seconded by his own heart, he is easily heated into resentment and revenge, either because he hoped that the fault of which he was conscious had escaped the notice of others; or that his friend had looked upon it with tenderness and extenuation, and excused it for the sake of his other virtues; or had considered him as too wise to need advice, or too delicate to be shocked with reproach; or, because we cannot feel without pain these reflections roused, which we have been endeavouring to lay asleep; and when pain has produced anger, who would not willingly believe that it ought to be discharged on others, rather than himself?
A man takes contradiction and advice much more easily than people think, only he will not bear it when violently given, even though it be well founded. Hearts are flowers; they remain open to the softly-falling dew, but shut up in the violent down-pour of rain.