S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
The most difficult province in friendship is the letting a man see his faults and errors; which should, if possible, be so contrived that he may perceive our advice is given him not so much to please ourselves as for his own advantage. The reproaches, therefore, of a friend should always be strictly just, and not too frequent.
Those who have searched into human nature observe that nothing so much shows the nobleness of the soul, as that its felicity consists in action. Every man has such an active principle in him, that he will find out something to employ himself upon, in whatever place or state of life he is posted.
Avoid disputes as much as possible. In order to appear easy and well-bred in conversation, you may assure yourself that it requires more wit, as well as more good humour, to improve than to contradict the notions of another: but if you are at any time obliged to enter on an argument, give your reasons with the utmost coolness and modesty, two things which scarce ever fail of making an impression on the hearers. Besides, if you are neither dogmatical, nor show either by your actions or words that you are full of yourself, all will the more heartily rejoice at your victory. Nay, should you be pinched in your argument, you may make your retreat with a very good grace. You were never positive, and are now glad to be better informed. This has made some approve the Socratic way of reasoning, where, while you scarce affirm anything, you can hardly be caught in an absurdity; and though possibly you are endeavouring to bring over another to your opinion, which is firmly fixed, you seem only to desire information from him.
In order to keep that temper which is so difficult, and yet so necessary to preserve, you may please to consider, that nothing can be more unjust or ridiculous, than to be angry with another because he is not of your opinion. The interests, education, and means by which men attain their knowledge, are so very different, that it is impossible they should all think alike; and he has at least as much reason to be angry with you, as you with him. Sometimes, to keep yourself cool, it may be of service to ask yourself fairly, what might have been your opinion, had you all the biasses of education and interest your adversary may possibly have?
We are generally so much pleased with any little accomplishments, either of body or mind, which have once made us remarkable in the world, that we endeavour to persuade ourselves it is not in the power of time to rob us of them. We are eternally pursuing the same methods which first procured us the applauses of mankind. It is from this notion that an author writes on, though he is come to dotage; without ever considering that his memory is impaired, and that he hath lost that life, and those spirits, which formerly raised his fancy and fired his imagination. The same folly hinders a man from submitting his behaviour to his age, and makes Clodius, who was a celebrated dancer at five-and-twenty, still love to hobble in a minuet, though he is past threescore. It is this, in a word, which fills the town with elderly fops and superannuated coquettes.
How different from this manner of education is that which prevails in our own country, where nothing is more usual than to see forty or fifty boys of several ages, tempers, and inclinations, ranged together in the same class, employed upon the same authors, and enjoined the same tasks! Whatever their natural genius may be, they are all to be made poets, historians, and orators alike. They are all obliged to have the same capacity, to bring in the same tale of verse, and to furnish out the same amount of prose. Everybody is bound to have as good a memory as the captain of the form. To be brief, instead of adapting studies to the particular genius of a youth, we expect from the young man that he should adapt his genius to his studies. This, I must confess, is not so much to be imputed to the instructor, as to the parent, who will never be brought to believe that his son is not capable of performing as much as his neighbours, and that he may not make him whatever he has a mind to.
In short, a private education seems the most natural method for the forming of a virtuous man; a public education for making a man of business. The first would furnish out a good subject for Platos republic, the latter a member for a community overrun with artifice and corruption.
The beard, conformable to the notion of my friend Sir Roger, was for many ages looked upon as the type of wisdom. Lucian more than once rallies the philosophers of his time, who endeavoured to rival one another in beards; and represents a learned man who stood for a professorship in philosophy, as unqualified for it by the shortness of his beard.
Ælian, in his account of Zoilus, the pretended critic, who wrote against Homer and Plato, and thought himself wiser than all who had gone before him, tells us that this Zoilus had a very long beard that hung down upon his breast, but no hair upon his head, which he always kept close shaved, regarding, it seems, the hairs of his head as so many suckers, which, if they had been suffered to grow, might have drawn away the nourishment from his chin, and by that means have starved his beard.
We see by these instances what homage the world has formerly paid to beards; and that a barber was not then allowed to make those depredations on the faces of the learned which have been permitted him of late years.
If we look into the history of our own nation, we shall find that the beard flourished in the Saxon heptarchy, but was very much discouraged under the Norman line. It shot out, however, from time to time, in several reigns under different shapes. The last effort it made seems to have been in Queen Marys days, as the curious reader may find, if he pleases to peruse the figures of Cardinal Pole and Bishop Gardiner; though, at the same time, I think it may be questioned, if zeal against popery has not induced our Protestant painters to extend the beards of these two persecutors beyond their natural dimensions, in order to make them appear the more terrible.
During the civil wars there appeared one, which makes too great a figure in story to be passed over in silence; I mean that of the redoubted Hudibras, an account of which Butler has transmitted to posterity in the following lines:
In short, nothing is more wanting to our public schools than that the masters of them should use the same care in fashioning the manners of their scholars as in forming their tongues to the learned languages. Wherever the former is omitted, I cannot help agreeing with Mr. Locke, that a man must have a very strange value for words, when, preferring the languages of the Greeks and Romans to that which made them such brave men, he can think it worth while to hazard the innocence and virtue of his son for a little Greek and Latin.
If I was put to define modesty, I would call it the reflection of an ingenuous mind, either when a man has committed an action for which he censures himself, or fancies that he is exposed to the censure of others.
A likeness of inclinations in every particular is so far from being requisite to form a benevolence in two minds towards each other, as it is generally imagined, that I believe we shall find some of the firmest friendships to have been contracted between persons of different humours; the mind being often pleased with those perfections which are new to it, and which it does not find among its own accomplishments. Besides that, a man in some measure supplies his own defects, and fancies himself at second-hand possessed of those good qualities and endowments which are in the possession of him who in the eye of the world is looked on as his other self.
The most difficult province in friendship is the letting a man see his faults and errors, which should, if possible, be so contrived that he may perceive our advice is given him not so much to please ourselves as for his own advantage. The reproaches therefore of a friend should always be strictly just, and not too frequent.
The violent desire of pleasing in the person reproved, may otherwise change into a despair of doing it, while he finds himself censured for faults he is not conscious of. A mind that is softened and humanized by friendship cannot bear frequent reproaches; either it must sink under the oppression, or abate considerably of the value and esteem it had for him who bestows them.
But what has been often urged as a consideration of much more weight, is not only the opinion of the better sort, but the general consent of mankind to this great truth; which I think could not possibly have come to pass, but from one of the three following reasons: either that the idea of a God is innate and co-existent with the mind itself; or that this truth is so very obvious that it is discovered by the first exertion of reason in persons of the most ordinary capacities; or, lastly, that it has been delivered down to us through all ages by a tradition from the first man. The Atheists are equally confounded, to whichever of these three causes we assign it.
Some small engagement at least in business not only sets a mans talents in the fairest light, and allots him a part to act in which a wife cannot well intermeddle, but gives frequent occasions for those little absences, which, whatever seeming uneasiness they may give, are some of the best preservatives of love and desire.
The fair sex are so conscious to themselves that they have nothing in them which can deserve entirely to engross the whole man, that they heartily despise one who, to use their own expression, is always hanging at their apron-strings.
There is something so gross in the carriage of some wives that they lose their husbands hearts for faults which, if a man has either good-nature or good-breeding, he knows not how to tell them of. I am afraid, indeed, the ladies are generally most faulty in this particular; who at their first giving into love find the way so smooth and pleasant that they fancy it is scarce possible to be tired in it. There is so much nicety and discretion required to keep love alive after marriage, and make conversation still new and agreeable after twenty or thirty years, that I know nothing which seems readily to promote it but an earnest endeavour to please on both sides, and superior good sense on the part of the man.
Lastly, if you propose to yourself the true end of argument, which is information, it may be a seasonable check to your passion; for if you search purely after truth, it will be almost indifferent to you where you find it. I cannot in this place omit an observation which I have often made, namely, That nothing procures a man more esteem and less envy from the whole company, than if he chooses the part of moderator, without engaging directly on either side in a dispute.