S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Charles Caleb Colton
The sun should not set upon our anger, neither should he rise upon our confidence. We should freely forgive, but forget rarely. I will not be revenged, and I owe to my enemy; but I will remember, and this I owe to myself.
As the man of pleasure, by a vain attempt to be more happy than any man can be, is often more miserable than most men are, so the sceptic, in a vain attempt to be wise beyond what is permitted to man, plunges into a darkness more deplorable, and a blindness more incurable, than that of the common herd whom he despises and would fain instruct. For the more precious the gift, the more pernicious ever will be the abuse of it, as the most powerful medicines are the most dangerous if misapplied; and no error is so remediless as that which arises, not from the exclusion of wisdom, but from its perversion. The sceptic, when he plunges into the depths of infidelity, like the miser who leaps from the shipwreck, will find that the treasures which he bears about him will only sink him deeper into the abyss.
Times of general calamity and confusion have ever been productive of the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace, and the brightest thunderbolt is elicited from the darkest storm.
The mob, like the ocean, is very seldom agitated without some cause superior and exterior to itself; but (to continue the simile) both are capable of doing the greatest mischief after the cause which first set them in motion has ceased to act.
A man who knows the world will not only make the most of everything he does know, but of many things he does not know; and will gain more credit by his adroit mode of hiding his ignorance than the pedant by his awkward attempt to exhibit his erudition.
Philosophy is a bully that talks very loud when the danger is at a distance, but the moment she is hard pressed by the enemy she is not to be found at her post; but leaves the brunt of the battle to be borne by her humbler but steadier comrade religion, whom on most other occasions she affects to despise.
Words, those fickle daughters of the earth, are the creation of a being that is finite, and when applied to explain that which is infinite, they fail; for that which is made surpasses not the maker; nor can that which is immeasurable by our thoughts be measured by our tongues.
Knowledge indeed is as necessary as light, and in this coming age most fairly promises to be as common as water, and as free as air. But as it has been wisely ordained that light should have no colour, water no taste, and air no odour, so knowledge also should be equally pure, and without admixture. If it comes to us through the medium of prejudice, it will be discoloured; through the channels of custom, it will be adulterated; through the gothic walls of the college, or of the cloister, it will smell of the lamp.
I have addressed this volume to those who think, and some may accuse me of an ostentatious independence, in presuming to inscribe a book to so small a minority. But a volume addressed to those who think is in fact addressed to all the world; for although the proportion of those who do think be extremely small, yet every individual flatters himself that he is one of the number.
There are two things cheap and common enough when separated, but as costly in value, as irresistible in power, when combined,truth and novelty. Their union is like that of steam and of fire, which nothing can overcome. Truth and novelty, when united, must overthrow the whole superincumbent pressure of error and of prejudice, whatever be its weight; and the effects will be proportionate to the resistance. But the moral earthquake, unlike the natural, while it convulses the nations, reforms them too.
I have first considered whether it be worth while to say a thing at all, before I have taken any trouble to say it well; knowing that words are but air, and that both are capable of much condensation. Words indeed are but the signs and counters of knowledge, and their currency should be strictly regulated by the capital which they represent.
There are three difficulties in authorship: to write anything worth the publishingto find honest men to publish itand to get sensible men to read it. Literature has now become a game; in which the Booksellers are the Kings; the Critics, the Knaves; the Public, the Pack; and the poor Author, the mere Table, or Thing played upon.
Every author is a far better judge of the pains that his efforts have cost him than any reader can possibly be; but to what purpose he has taken those pains, this is a question on which his readers will not allow the author a voice, nor even an opinion; from the tribunal of the public there is no appeal, and it is fit that it should be so; otherwise we should not only have rivers of ink expended in bad writing, but oceans more in defending it: for he that writes in a bad style is sure to retort in a worse.
That author, however, who has thought more than he has read, read more than he has written, and written more than he has published, if he does not command success, has at least deserved it. In the article of rejection and abridgment we must be severe to ourselves, if we wish for mercy from others; since for one great genius who has written a little book we have a thousand little geniuses who have written great books. A volume, therefore, that contains more words than ideas, like a tree that has more foliage than fruit, may suit those to resort to who want not to feast, but to dream and to slumber; but the misfortune is, that in this particular instance nothing can equal the ingratitude of the public; who were never yet known to have the slightest compassion for those authors who have deprived themselves of sleep in order to procure it for their readers.
As the great fault of our orators is, that they get up to make a speech, rather than to speak; so the great error of our authors is, that they sit down to make a book, rather than to write. To combine profundity with perspicuity, wit with judgment, solidity with vivacity, truth with novelty, and all of them with liberality, who is sufficient for these things? a very serious question; but it is one which authors had much better propose to themselves before publication, than have proposed to them by their editors after it.
It is sufficiently humiliating to our nature to reflect that our knowledge is but as the rivulet, our ignorance as the sea. On points of the highest interest, the moment we quit the light of revelation we shall find that Platonism itself is intimately connected with Pyrrhonism, and the deepest inquiry with the darkest doubt.
With books, as with companions, it is of more consequence to know which to avoid than which to choose: for good books are as scarce as good companions, and, in both instances, all that we can learn from bad ones is, that so much time has been worse than thrown away. That writer does the most who gives his reader the most knowledge and takes from him the least time. That short period of a short existence which is rationally employed is that which alone deserves the name of life; and that portion of our life is most rationally employed which is occupied in enlarging our stock of truth and of wisdom.
If a book really wants the patronage of a great name, it is a bad book; and if it be a good book, it wants it not. Swift dedicated a volume to Prince Posterity, and there was a manliness in the act. Posterity will prove a patron of the soundest judgment, as unwilling to give, as unwilling to receive, adulation. But posterity is not a very accessible personage; he knows the high value of that which he gives, he therefore is extremely particular as to what he receives. Very few of the presents that are directed to him reach their destination. Some are too light, others too heavy; since it is as difficult to throw a straw any distance as a ton.
The attempts, however, of dulness are constantly repeated, and as constantly fail. For the misfortune is, that the Head of Dulness, unlike the tail of the torpedo, loses nothing of her benumbing and lethargizing influence by reiterated discharges: horses may ride over her, and mules and asses may trample upon her, but, with an exhaustless and a patient perversity, she continues her narcotic operations even to the end.
We must not only express clearly, but think deeply; nor can we concede to Buffon that style alone is that quality that will immortalize an author. The Essays of Montaigne and the Analogy of Butler will live forever, in spite of their style. Style is indeed the valet of genius, and an able one too; but as the true gentleman will appear, even in rags, so true genius will shine, even through the coarsest style.
The only things in which we can be said to have any property are our actions. Our thoughts may be bad, yet produce no poison; they may be good, yet produce no fruit. Our riches may be taken from us by misfortune, our reputation by malice, our spirits by calamity, our health by disease, our friends by death. But our actions must follow us beyond the grave: with respect to them alone we cannot say that we shall carry nothing with us when we die, neither that we shall go naked out of the world. Our actions must clothe us with an immortality, loathsome or glorious: these are the only title-deeds of which we cannot be disinherited; they will have their full weight in the balance of eternity, when everything else is as nothing; and their value will be confirmed and established by those two sure and sateless destroyers of all other earthly things,Time and Death.
When young we trust ourselves too much, and we trust others too little when old. Rashness is the error of youth, timid caution of age. Manhood is the isthmus between the two extremes: the ripe and fertile season of action, when alone we can hope to find the head to contrive united with the hand to execute.
He that has never known adversity is but half acquainted with others, or with himself. Constant success shows us but one side of the world. For, as it surrounds us with friends, who will tell us only our merits, so it silences those enemies from whom alone we can learn our defects.
Afflictions sent by Providence melt the constancy of the noble-minded, but confirm the obduracy of the vile. The same furnace that hardens clay liquefies gold; and in the strong manifestations of divine power Pharaoh found his punishment, but David his pardon.
It would be well if old age diminished our perceptibilities to pain in the same proportion that it does our sensibilities to pleasure; and if life has been termed a feast, those favoured few are the most fortunate guests who are not compelled to sit at the table when they can no longer partake of the banquet. But the misfortune is, that body and mind, like man and wife, do not always agree to die together. It is bad when the mind survives the body; and worse still when the body survives the mind; but when both these survive our spirits, our hopes, and our health, this is worst of all.
Ambition is to the mind what the cap is to the falcon; it blinds us first, and then compels us to tower by reason of our blindness. But, alas, when we are at the summit of a vain ambition we are also at the depth of real misery. We are placed where time cannot improve, but must impair us; where chance and change cannot befriend, but may betray us: in short, by attaining all we wish, and gaining all we want, we have only reached a pinnacle where we have nothing to hope, but everything to fear.
With respect to the authority of great names, it should be remembered that he alone deserves to have any weight or influence with posterity, who has shown himself superior to the particular and predominant error of his own times; who, like the peak of Teneriffe, has hailed the intellectual sun before its beams have reached the horizon of common minds; who, standing, like Socrates, on the apex of wisdom, has removed from his eyes all film of earthly dross, and has foreseen a purer law, a nobler system, a brighter order of things; in short, a promised land! which, like Moses on the top of Pisgah, he is permitted to survey, and anticipate for others, without being himself allowed either to enter or to enjoy.
The society of dead authors has this advantage over that of the living: they never flatter us to our faces, nor slander us behind our backs, nor intrude upon our privacy, nor quit their shelves until we take them down. Besides, it is always easy to shut a book, but not quite so easy to get rid of a lettered coxcomb. Living authors, therefore, are usually bad companions: if they have not gained a character, they seek to do so by methods often ridiculous, always disgusting; and if they have established a character, they are silent, for fear of losing by their tongue what they have acquired by their pen: for many authors converse much more foolishly than Goldsmith who have never written half so well.
It is a doubt whether mankind are most indebted to those who, like Bacon and Butler, dig the gold from the mine of literature, or to those who, like Paley, purify it, stamp it, fix its real value, and give it currency and utility. For all the practical purposes of life, truth might as well be in a prison as in the folio of a schoolman; and those who release her from her cobwebbed shelf, and teach her to live with men, have the merit of liberating, if not of discovering her.
The great designs that have been digested and matured, and the great literary works that have been begun and finished, in prisons, fully prove that tyrants have not yet discovered any chains that can fetter the mind.
We know the effects of many things, but the causes of few; experience, therefore, is a surer guide than imagination, and enquiry than conjecture. But those physical difficulties which you cannot account for, be very slow to arraign, for he that would be wiser than nature would be wiser than God.
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.
It is not so difficult to fill a comedy with good repartee as might be at first imagined, if we consider how completely both parties are in the power of the author. The blaze of wit in The School for Scandal astonishes us less when we remember that the writer had it in his power to frame both the question and the answer; the reply and the rejoinder; the time and the place. He must be a poor proficient who cannot keep up the game when both the ball, the wall, and the racket are at his sole command.
In all societies it is advisable to associate if possible with the highest: not that the highest are always the best, but because, if disgusted there, we can at any time descend; but if we begin with the lowest, to ascend is impossible. In the grand theatre of human life, a box ticket takes us through the house.
Conversation is the music of the mind; an intellectual orchestra, where all the instruments should bear a part, but where none should play together. Each of the performers should have a just appreciation of his own powers; otherwise an unskilful noviciate, who might usurp the first fiddle, would infallibly get into a scrape. To prevent these mistakes, a good master of the band will be very particular in the assortment of the performers: if too dissimilar there will be no harmony, if too few there will be no variety, and if too numerous there will be no order: for the presumption of one prater might silence the eloquence of a Burke, or the wit of a Sheridan; as a single kettledrum would drown the finest solo of a Gioniwich or a Jordini.
It has been well observed that the tongue discovers the state of the mind no less than that of the body; but in either case, before the philosopher or the physician can judge, the patient must open his mouth. Some men envelope themselves in such an impenetrable cloak of silence, that the tongue will afford us no symptoms of the temperament of the mind. Such taciturnity, indeed, is wise if they are fools, but foolish if they are wise; and the only method to form a judgment of these mutes is narrowly to observe when, where, and how they smile. It shows much more stupidity to be grave at a good thing than to be merry at a bad one; and of all ignorance that which is silent is the least productive; for praters may suggest an idea, if they cannot start one.
Modern criticism discloses that which it would fain conceal, but conceals that which it professes to disclose; it is, therefore, read by the discerning, not to discover the merits of an author, but the motives of his critic.
In death itself there can be nothing terrible, for the act of death annihilates sensation; but there are many roads to death, and some of them justly formidable, even to the bravest: but so various are the modes of going out of the world, that to be born may have been a more painful thing than to die, and to live may prove a more troublesome thing than either.
It is not every man that can afford to wear a shabby coat: and worldly wisdom dictates to her disciples the propriety of dressing somewhat beyond their means, but of living somewhat within them: for every one sees how we dress, but none see how we live, except we choose to let them. But the truly great are, by universal suffrage, exempted from these trammels, and may live or dress as they please.
In one of the notes to a former publication I have quoted an old writer, who observes that we fatten a sheep with grass, not in order to obtain a crop of hay from his back, but in the hope that he will feed us with mutton and clothe us with wool. We may apply this to the sciences: we teach a young man algebra, the mathematics, and logic, not that he should take his equations and his parallelograms into Westminster Hall, and bring his ten predicaments to the House of Commons, but that he should bring a mind to both these places so well stored with the sound principles of truth and reason as not to be deceived by the chicanery of the bar nor the sophistry of the senate. The acquirements of science may be termed the armour of the mind: but that armour would be worse than useless, that cost us all we had, and left us nothing to defend.
Eloquence is the language of nature, and cannot be learnt in the schools: the passions are powerful pleaders, and their very silence, like that of Garrick, goes directly to the soul: but rhetoric is the creature of art, which he who feels least will most excel in; it is the quackery of eloquence, and deals in nostrums, not in cures.
Envy ought, in strict truth, to have no place whatever allowed it in the heart of man; for the goods of this present world are so vile and low that they are beneath it, and those of the future world are so vast and exalted that they are above it.
It is almost as difficult to make a man unlearn his errors as his knowledge. Mal-information is more hopeless than non-information; for error is always more busy than ignorance. Ignorance is a blank sheet on which we may write; but error is a scribbled one on which we must first erase. Ignorance is contented to stand still with her back to the truth; but error is more presumptuous, and proceeds in the same direction. Ignorance has no light, but error follows a false one. The consequence is, that error, when she retraces her footsteps, has farther to go, before she can arrive at the truth, than ignorance.
He that will often put eternity and the world before him, and who will dare to look steadfastly at both of them, will find that the more often he contemplates them, the former will grow greater, and the latter less.
Falsehood is never so successful as when she baits her hook with truth; and no opinions so fatally mislead us as those that are not wholly wrong, as no watches so effectually deceive the wearers as those that are sometimes right.
Custom is the law of one description of fools, and fashion of another; but the two parties often clash; for precedent is the legislator of the first, and novelty of the last. Custom, therefore, looks to things that are past, and fashion to things that are present, but both of them are somewhat purblind as to things that are to come; but of the two, fashion imposes the heaviest burthen; for she cheats her votaries of their time, their fortune, and their comforts, and she repays them only with the celebrity of being ridiculed and despised: a very paradoxical mode of remuneration, yet always most thankfully received! Fashion is the veriest goddess of semblance, and of shade; to be happy is of far less consequence to her worshippers than to appear so; and even pleasure itself they sacrifice to parade, and enjoyment to ostentation. She requires the most passive and implicit obedience at the same time that she imposes a most grievous load of ceremonies, and the slightest murmurings would only cause the recusant to be laughed at by all other classes, and excommunicated by his own. Fashion builds her temple in the capital of some mighty empire, and, having selected four or five hundred of the silliest people it contains, she dubs them with the magnificent and imposing title of THE WORLD! But the marvel and the misfortune is, that this arrogant title is as universally accredited by the many who abjure as by the few who adore her; and this creed of fashion requires not only the weakest folly, but the strongest faith, since it would maintain that the minority are the whole, and the majority nothing! Her smile has given wit to dulness, and grace to deformity, and has brought everything into vogue, by turns, but virtue. Yet she is most capricious in her favours, often running from those that pursue her, and coming round to those that stand still. It were mad to follow her, and rash to oppose her, but neither rash nor mad to despise her.
Sensible women have often been the dupes of designing men in the following way: they have taken an opportunity of praising them to their own confidante, but with a solemn injunction to secrecy. The confidante, however, as they know, will infallibly inform her principal the first moment she sees her; and this is a mode of flattery which always succeeds. Even those females who nauseate flattery in any other shape will not reject it in this: just as we can hear the light of the sun without pain when reflected by the moon.
The wise man has his follies, no less than the fool; but it has been said that herein lies the difference,the follies of the fool are known to the world, but are hidden from himself; the follies of the wise are known to himself, but hidden from the world. A harmless hilarity and a buoyant cheerfulness are not infrequent concomitants of genius; and we are never more deceived than when we mistake gravity for greatness, solemnity for science, and pomposity for erudition.
Fortune has been considered the guardian divinity of fools; and, on this score, she has been accused of blindness; but it should rather be adduced as a proof of her sagacity, when she helps those who certainly cannot help themselves.
That modes of government have much more to do with the formation of national character than soils, suns, and climates, is sufficiently evident from the present state of Greece and Rome, compared with the ancient. Give these nations back their former governments, and all their national energies would return, and enable them to accommodate themselves to any conceivable change of climate; but no conceivable change of climate would enable them to recover their former energies. In fact, so powerful are all those causes that are connected with changes in their governments that they have sometimes made whole nations alter as suddenly and as capriciously as individuals. The Romans laid down their liberties at the feet of Nero, who would not even lend them to Cæsar; and we have lately seen the whole French nation rush, as one man, from the very extremes of loyalty, to behead the mildest monarch that ever ruled them, and conclude a sanguinary career of plunder by pardoning and rewarding a tyrant to whom their blood was but water, and their groans but wind: thus they sacrificed one that died a martyr to his clemency, and they rewarded another who lives to boast of his murders.
Times of general calamity and confusion have ever been productive of the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace, and the brightest thunderbolt is elicited from the darkest storm.
In reading the life of any great man you will always, in the course of his history, chance upon some obscure individual who, on some particular occasion, was greater than him whose life you are reading.
Some men who know that they are great are so very haughty withal and insufferable that their acquaintance discover their greatness only by the tax of humility, which they are obliged to pay as the price of their friendship. Such characters are as tiresome and disgusting in the journey of life as rugged roads are to the weary traveller, which he discovers to be turnpikes only by the toll.
How small a portion of our life it is that we really enjoy! In youth we are looking forward to things that are to come; in old age we are looking backwards to things that are gone past; in manhood, although we appear indeed to be more occupied in things that are present, yet even that is too often absorbed in vague determinations to be vastly happy on some future day, when we have time.
Happiness is much more equally divided than some of us imagine. One man shall possess most of the materials, but little of the thing; another may possess much of the thing, but very few of the materials. In this particular view of it, happiness has been beautifully compared to the manna in the desert: he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack: therefore, to diminish envy, let us consider not what others possess, but what they enjoy; mere riches may be the gift of lucky accident or blind chance, but happiness must be the result of prudent preference and rational design; the highest happiness then can have no other foundation than the deepest wisdom; and the happiest fool is only as happy as he knows how to be.
In the constitution both of our mind and of our body everything must go on right, and harmonize well together, to make us happy; but should one thing go wrong, that is quite enough to make us miserable; and although the joys of this world are vain and short, yet its sorrows are real and lasting: for I will show you a ton of perfect pain with greater ease than one ounce of perfect pleasure; and he knows little of himself or of the world, who does not think it sufficient happiness to be free from sorrow: therefore, give a wise man health, and he will give himself every other thing. I say, give him health; for it often happens that the most ignorant empiric can do us the greatest harm, although the most skilful physician knows not how to do us the slightest good.
What matters it if thou art not happy on earth, provided thou art so in heaven? Heaven may have happiness as utterly unknown to us as the gift of vision would be to a man born blind. If we consider the inlets of pleasure from five senses only, we may be sure that the same Being who created us could have given us five hundred if He pleased. Mutual love, pure and exalted, founded on charms both mental and corporeal, as it constitutes the highest happiness on earth, may, for anything we know to the contrary, also form the lowest happiness of heaven. And it would appear consonant with the administration of Providence in other matters that there should be a link between heaven and earth; for in all cases a chasm seems to be purposely avoided; prudento Deo. Thus the material world has its links, by which it is made to shake hands, as it were, with the vegetablethe vegetable with the animalthe animal with the intellectualand the intellectual with what we may be allowed to hope of the angelic.
There is this difference between those two temporal blessings health and money: money is the most envied, but the least enjoyed; health is the most enjoyed, but the least envied; and this superiority of the latter is still more obvious when we reflect that the poorest man would not part with health for money, but that the richest would gladly part with all their money for health.
Some historians, like Tacitus, Burnet, and the Abbé Raynal, are never satisfied without adding to their detail of events the secret springs and causes that have produced them. But both heroes and statesmen, amid the din of arms, and the hurry of business, are often necessitated to invert the natural order of things; to fight before they deliberate, and to decide before they consult. A statesman may regulate himself by events; but it is seldom that he can cause events to regulate themselves by him. It often happens, too, both in courts and in cabinets, that there are two things going on together, a main plot and an under plot; and he that understands only one of them will, in all probability, be the dupe of both.
When honours come to us, rather than we to them; when they meet us, as it were, in the vestibule of life, it is well if our enemies can say no more against us than that we are too young for our dignities: it would be much worse for us if they could say that we are too old for them: time will destroy the first objection, but confirm the second.
Hope is a prodigal young heir, and Experience is his banker; but his drafts are seldom honoured, since there is often a heavy balance against him, because he draws largely on a small capital, is not yet in possession, and if he were, would die.
No two men who have handled the same subject differ so completely, both in character and style, as Horace and Juvenal: to the latter may be applied what Seneca said of Cato, that he gained as complete a triumph over the vices of his country as Scipio did over the enemies of it. Had Juvenal lived in the days of Horace, he would have written much better, because much bolder; but had Horace lived in the time of Juvenal, he would not have dared to have written satire at all: in attacking the false friends of his country he would have manifested the same pusillanimity which he himself informs us he discovered when he, on one occasion, ventured to attack her real foes.
Horace makes an awkward figure in his vain attempt to unite his real character of sycophant with the assumed one of the satirist. He sometimes attempts to preach down vice, without virtue, sometimes to laugh it down, without wit. His object was to be patronized by a court,without meanness, if possible, but, at all events, to be patronized. He served the times more, perhaps, than the times served him, and instead of forming the manners of his superiors, he himself was, in great measure, formed by them.
If the devil ever laughs, it must be at hypocrites; they are the greatest dupes he has: they serve him better than any others, and receive no wages: nay, what is still more extraordinary, they submit to greater mortifications to go to hell, than the sincerest Christian to go to heaven.
Some one, in casting up his accounts, put down a very large sum per annum for his idleness. But there is another account more awful than that of our expenses, in which many will find that their idleness has mainly contributed to the balance against them. From its very inaction, idleness ultimately becomes the most active cause of evil; as a palsy is more to be dreaded than a fever. The Turks have a proverb which says that the devil tempts all other men, but that idle men tempt the devil.
No men deserve the title of infidels so little as those to whom it has been usually applied: let any of those who renounce Christianity write fairly down in a book all the absurdities that they believe instead of it, and they will find that it requires more faith to reject Christianity than to embrace it.
Some sciolists have discovered a short path to celebrity. Having heard that it is a vastly silly thing to believe everything, they take it for granted that it must be a vastly wise thing to believe nothing. They therefore set up for free thinkers; but their only stock in trade is, that they are free from thinking. It is not safe to contemn them, nor very easy to convince them: since no persons make so large a demand upon the reason of others as those who have none of their own; as a highwayman will take greater liberties with our purse than our banker.
No sound philosopher will confound instinct with reason because an orang outang has used a walking-stick, or a trained elephant a lever. Reason imparts powers that are progressive, and that, in many cases, without any assignable limit; instinct only measures out faculties that arrive at a certain point and then invariably stand still. Five thousand years have added no improvement to the hive of the bee, nor to the house of the beaver; but look at the habitations and the achievements of man.
Love may exist without jealousy, although this is rare; but jealousy may exist without love, and this is common; for jealousy can feed on that which is bitter, no less than on that which is sweet, and is sustained by pride as often as by affection.
In the pursuit of knowledge, follow it wherever it is to be found; like fern, it is the produce of all climates, and like coin, its circulation is not restricted to any particular class. We are ignorant in youth from idleness, and we continue so in mankind from pride: for pride is less ashamed of being ignorant than of being instructed, and she looks too high to find that which very often lies beneath her . Mr. Locke was asked how he had contrived to accumulate a mine of knowledge so rich, yet so extensive and so deep: he replied that he attributed what little he knew, to the not being ashamed to ask for information; and to the rule he had laid down, of conversing with all descriptions of men on those topics chiefly that formed their own peculiar professions or pursuits.
A certain degree of labour and exertion, seems to have been allotted us by Providence, as the condition of humanity. In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread, this is a curse which has proved a blessing in disguise. And those favoured few who, by their rank or their riches, are exempted from all exertion have no reason to be thankful for the privilege. It was the observation of this necessity that led the ancients to say that the gods sold us everything, but gave us nothing. Water, however, which is one of the great necessaries of life, may in general be gratuitously procured; but it has been well observed that if bread, the other great necessary of human life, could be procured on terms equally cheap and easy, there would be much more reason to fear that men would become brutes, for the want of something to do, rather than philosophers, from the possession of leisure. And the fact seems to bear out the theory. In all countries where nature does the most, man does the least; and where she does but little, there we shall find the utmost acme of human exertion.
Forensic eloquence may be said to lose in comprehension what it gains in acuteness, as an eye so formed as to perceive the motion of the hour-hand would be unable to discover the time of the day. We might also add, that a mind long hackneyed in anatomizing the nice distinctions of words must be the less equal to grapple with the more extended bearings of things; and that he that regulates most of his conclusions by precedent, that is past, will be somewhat embarrassed when he has to do with power that is present.
The two most precious things on this side the grave are our reputation and our life. But it is to be lamented that the most contemptible whisper may deprive us of the one, and the weakest weapon of the other. A wise man, therefore, will be more anxious to deserve a fair name than to possess it, and this will teach him so to live as not to be afraid to die.
No man can promise himself even fifty years of life, but any man may if he please live in the proportion of fifty years in forty: let him rise early, that he may have the day before him; and let him make the most of the day, by determining to spend it on two sorts of acquaintance only; those by whom something may be got, and those from whom something may be learnt.
Literature has her quacks no less than medicine, and they are divided into two classes; those who have erudition without genius, and those who have volubility without depth: we shall get second-hand sense from the one, and original nonsense from the other.
As there are none so weak that we may venture to injure them with impunity, so there are none so low that they may not at some time be able to repay an obligation. Therefore what benevolence would dictate, prudence would confirm. For he that is cautious of insulting the weakest, and not above obliging the lowest, will have attained such habits of forbearance and of complacency as will secure him the good will of all that are beneath him, and teach him how to avoid the enmity of all that are above him. For he that would not abuse even a worm will be still more cautious how he treads upon a serpent.
He that gives a portion of his time and talent to the investigation of mathematical truth will come to all other questions with a decided advantage over his opponents. He will be in argument what the ancient Romans were in the field: to them the day of battle was a day of comparative recreation, because they were ever accustomed to exercise with arms much heavier than they fought; and their reviews differed from a real battle in two respects: they encountered more fatigue, but the victory was bloodless.
The victims of ennui paralyze all the grosser feelings by excess, and torpify all the finer by disuse and inactivity. Disgusted with this world, and indifferent about another, they at last lay violent hands upon themselves, and assume no small credit for the sang-froid with which they meet death. But, alas! such beings can scarcely be said to die, for they have never truly lived.
Memory is the friend of wit, but the treacherous ally of invention; and there are many books that owe their success to two things: the good memory of those who write them and the bad memory of those who read them.
The science of the mathematics performs more than it promises, but the science of metaphysics promises more than it performs. The study of the mathematics, like the Nile, begins in minuteness but ends in magnificence; but the study of metaphysics begins with a torrent of tropes, and a copious current of words, yet loses itself at last in obscurity and conjecture, like the Niger in his barren deserts of sand.
Folly disgusts us less by her ignorance than pedantry by her learning; since she mistakes the nonage of things for their virility; and her creed is, that darkness is increased by the accession of light; that the world grows younger by age; and that knowledge and experience are diminished by a constant and uninterrupted accumulation.
There are some persons whose erudition so much outweighs their observation, and have read so much, but reflected so little, that they will not hazard the most familiar truism, or commonplace allegation, without bolstering up their ricketty judgments in the swaddling bands of antiquity, their doting nurse and preceptress. Thus, they will not be satisfied to say that content is a blessing, that time is a treasure, or that self-knowledge is to be desired, without quoting Aristotle, Thales, or Cleobulus; and yet these very men, if they met another walking in noon-day by the smoky light of a lanthorn, would be the first to stop and ridicule such conduct, but the last to recognize in his folly their own.
That policy that can strike only while the iron is hot, will be overcome by that perseverance which, like Cromwells, can make the iron hot by striking; and he that can only rule the storm must yield to him who can both raise and rule it.
There are three modes of bearing the ills of life: by indifference, which is the most common; by philosophy, which is the most ostentatious; and by religion, which is the most effectual. It has been acutely said that Philosophy readily triumphs over past or future evils, but that present evils triumph over philosophy. Philosophy is a goddess, whose head indeed is in heaven, but whose feet are upon earth: she attempts more than she accomplishes, and promises more than she performs; she can teach us to hear of the calamities of others with magnanimity; but it is religion only that can teach us to bear our own with resignation.
No men despise physic so much as physicians, because no men so thoroughly understand how little it can perform. They have been tinkering the human constitution four thousand years, in order to cure about as many disorders. The result is, that mercury and brimstone are the only two specifics they have discovered. All the fatal maladies continue to be what they were in the days of Paracelsus, Hippocrates, and Galen,opprobria medicorum. It is true that each disorder has a thousand prescriptions, but not a single remedy.
The Chinese, who aspire to be thought an enlightened nation, to this day are ignorant of the circulation of the blood; and even in England the man who made that noble discovery lost all his practice in consequence of his ingenuity; and Hume informs us that no physician in the United Kingdoms who had attained the age of forty ever submitted to become a convert to Harveys theory, but went on preferring numpsimus to sumpsimus to the day of his death. So true is that line of the satirist, a fool at forty is a fool indeed; and we may also add on this occasion another line from another satirist:
All the poets are indebted more or less to those who have gone before them; even Homers originality has been questioned, and Virgil owes almost as much to Theocritus in his pastorals, as to Homer in his Heroics; and if our own countryman, Milton, has soared above both Homer and Virgil, it is because he has stolen some feathers from their wings. But Shakspeare stands alone. His want of erudition was a most happy and productive ignorance; it forced him back upon his own resources, which were exhaustless.
If rich, it is easy enough to conceal our wealth; but if poor, it is not quite so easy to conceal our poverty. We shall find that it is less difficult to hide a thousand guineas than one hole in our coat.
Power will intoxicate the best hearts, as wine the strongest heads. No man is wise enough, nor good enough, to be trusted with unlimited power; for, whatever qualifications he may have evinced to entitle him to the possession of so dangerous a privilege, yet when possessed, others can no longer answer for him, because he can no longer answer for himself.
There are three kinds of praise: that which we yield, that which we lend, and that which we pay. We yield it to the powerful from fear, we lend it to the weak from interest, and we pay it to the deserving from gratitude.
It has been shrewdly said that, when men abuse us, we should suspect ourselves, and when they praise us, them. It is a rare instance of virtue to despise censure which we do not deserve, and still more rare to despise praise which we do. But the integrity that lives only on opinion would starve without it; and that theatrical kind of virtue which requires publicity for its stage, and an applauding world for an audience, could not be depended on in the secrecy of solitude, or the retirement of a desert.
In pulpit eloquence the grand difficulty lies here,to give the subject all the dignity it so fully deserves, without attaching any importance to ourselves. The Christian messenger cannot think too highly of his prince, nor too humbly of himself. This is that secret art which captivates and improves an audience, and which all who see will fancy they could imitate; while most who try will fail.
If we steal thoughts from the moderns, it will be cried down as plagiarism; if from the ancients, it will be cried up as erudition. But in this respect every author is a Spartan, being more ashamed of the discovery than of the depredation. Yet the offence itself may not be so heinous as the manner of committing it; for some, as Voltaire, not only steal, but, like the harpies, befoul and bespatter those whom they have plundered. Others, again, give us the mere carcase of another mans thoughts, but deprived of all their life and spirit, and this is to add murder to robbery. I have somewhere seen it observed that we should make the same use of a book that the bee does of a flower: she steals sweets from it, but does not injure it; and those sweets she herself improves and concocts into honey. But most plagiarists, like the drone, have neither taste to select, nor industry to acquire, nor skill to improve; but impudently pilfer the honey ready prepared from the hive.
Some read to thinkthese are rare; some to writethese are common; and some read to talkand these form the great majority. The first page of an author not unfrequently suffices all the purposes of this latter class, of whom it has been said that they treat books as some do lords: they inform themselves of their titles, and then boast of an intimate acquaintance.
If there be a pleasure on earth which angels cannot enjoy, and which they might almost envy man the possession of, it is the power of relieving distress. If there be a pain which devils might pity man for enduring, it is the death-bed reflection that we have possessed the power of doing good, but that we have abused and perverted it to purposes of ill.
Some well-meaning Christians tremble for their salvation, because they have never gone through that valley of tears and of sorrow, which they have been taught to consider as an ordeal that must be passed through before they can arrive at regeneration: to satisfy such minds it may be observed that the slightest sorrow for sin is sufficient if it produce amendment, and that the greatest is insufficient if it do not. Therefore, by their own fruits let them prove themselves: for some soils will take the good seed without being watered with tears or harrowed up by affliction.
There are two modes of establishing our reputation: to be praised by honest men, and to be abused by rogues. It is best, however, to secure the former, because it will be invariably accompanied by the latter. His calumniation is not only the greatest benefit a rogue can confer upon us, but it is also the only service that he will perform for nothing.
Revenge is a debt in the paying of which the greatest knave is honest and sincere, and, so far as he is able, punctual. By paying our other debts we are equal with all mankind; but in refusing to pay a debt of revenge, we are superior. Yet it must be confessed that it is much less difficult to forgive our enemies than our friends; and if we ask how it came to pass that Coriolanus found it so hard a task to pardon Rome, the answer is that he was himself a Roman.
Should the world applaud, we must thankfully receive it as a boon; for if the most deserving of us appear to expect it as a debt, it will never be paid. The world, it has been said, does as much justice to our merits as to our defects, and I believe it; but, after all, none of us are so much praised or censured as we think; and most men would be thoroughly cured of their self-importance if they would only rehearse their own funeral, and walk abroad incognito the very day after that on which they were supposed to have been buried.
Were the life of man prolonged, he would become such a proficient in villainy that it would be necessary again to drown or to burn the world. Earth would become an hell: for future rewards, when put off to a great distance, would cease to encourage, and future punishments to alarm.
To be continually subject to the breath of slander will tarnish the purest virtue, as a constant exposure to the atmosphere will obscure the brightness of the finest gold; but in either case the real value of both continues the same, although the currency may be somewhat impeded.
We submit to the society of those that can inform us, but we seek the society of those whom we can inform. And men of genius ought not to be chagrined if they see blockheads favoured with a heartier welcome than themselves. For when we communicate knowledge we are raised in our own estimation, but when we receive it we are lowered.
As we ascend in society, like those who climb a mountain, we shall find that the clime of perpetual congelation commences with the higher circles, and the nearer we approach to the grand luminary the court, the more frigidity and apathy shall we experience.
When I meet with any that write obscurely or converse confusedly, I am apt to suspect two things: first, that such persons do not understand themselves; and secondly, that they are not worthy of being understood by others.
Nothing is so difficult as the apparent ease of a clear and flowing style: those graces which, from their presumed facility, encourage all to attempt an imitation of them are usually the most inimitable.
To judge by the event is an error all abuse, and all commit; for, in every instance, courage, if crowned with success, is heroism; if clouded by defeat, temerity. When Nelson fought his battle in the Sound, it was the result alone that decided whether he was to kiss a hand at a court, or a rod at a court-martial.
Anguish of mind has driven thousands to suicide; anguish of body, none. This proves that the health of the mind is of far more consequence to our happiness than the health of the body, although both are deserving of much more attention than either of them receive.
The peculiar superiority of talent over riches may be best discovered from henceThat the influence of talent will always be the greatest in that government which is the most pure, while the influence of riches will always be the greatest in that government which is the most corrupt. So that from the preponderance of talent we may always infer the soundness and vigour of the commonwealth; but from the preponderance of riches, its dotage and degeneration.
Men are born with two eyes, but with one tongue, in order that they should see twice as much as they say: but from their conduct one would suppose that they were born with two tongues and one eye; for those talk the most who have observed the least, and obtrude their remarks upon everything who have seen into nothing.
Time is the most undefinable yet paradoxical of things: the past is gone, the future is not come, and the present becomes the past even while we attempt to define it, and, like the flash of lightning, at once exists and expires.Time is the measurer of all things, but is itself immeasurable, and the grand discloser of all things, but is itself undisclosed. Like space, it is incomprehensible, because it has no limit, and it would be still more so if it had. It is more obscure in its source than the Nile, and in its termination than the Niger; and advances like the slowest tide, but retreats like the swiftest torrent. It gives wings of lightning to pleasure, but feet of lead to pain, and lends expectation a curb, but enjoyment a spur. It robs Beauty of her charms, to bestow them on her picture, and builds a monument to merit, but denies it a house: it is the transient and deceitful flatterer of falsehood, but the tried and final friend of truth. Time is the most subtle yet the most insatiable of depredators, and by appearing to take nothing, is permitted to take all, nor can it be satisfied until it has stolen the world from us, and us from the world. It constantly flies, yet overcomes all things by flight, and although it is the present ally, it will he the future conqueror, of death. Time, the cradle of hope, but the grave of ambition, is the stern corrector of fools, but the salutary counsellor of the wise, bringing all they dread to the one, and all they desire to the other; but, like Cassandra, it warns us with a voice that even the sagest discredit too long, and the silliest believe too late. Wisdom walks before it, opportunity with it, and repentance behind it: he that has made it his friend will have little to fear from his enemies, but he that has made it his enemy will have little to hope from his friends.
If men have been termed pilgrims, and life a journey, then we may add that the Christian pilgrimage far surpasses all others in the following important particulars: in the goodness of the roadin the beauty of the prospectsin the excellence of the companyand in the vast superiority of the Accommodation provided for the Christian traveller when he has finished his course.
Natural good is so intimately connected with moral good, and natural evil with moral evil, that I am as certain as if I heard a voice from Heaven proclaim it, that God is on the side of virtue. He has learnt much, and has not lived in vain, who has practically discovered that most strict and necessary connection that does and will ever exist between vice and misery, and virtue and happiness. The greatest miracle that the Almighty could perform would be to make a bad man happy, even in heaven: He must unparadise that blessed place to accomplish it. In its primary signification all vice, that is, all excess, brings its own punishment even here. By certain fixed, settled, and established laws of Him who is the God of Nature, excess of every kind destroys that constitution that temperance would preserve. The debauchee, therefore, offers up his body a living sacrifice to sin.
This tendency, however, to ascribe an universality of genius to great men, led Dryden to affirm, on the strength of two smart satirical lines, that Virgil could have written a satire equal to Juvenal. But, with all due deference to Dryden, I conceive it much more manifest that Juvenal could have written a better epic than Virgil than that Virgil could have written a satire equal to Juvenal. Juvenal has many passages of the moral sublime far superior to any that can be found in Virgil, who, indeed, seldom attempts a higher flight than the sublime of description. Had Lucan lived, he might have rivalled them both, as he had all the vigour of the one, and time might have furnished him with the taste and elegance of the other.
There is but one pursuit in life which it is in the power of all to follow, and of all to attain. It is subject to no disappointments, since he that perseveres makes every difficulty an advancement, and every contest a victory; and this is the pursuit of virtue. Sincerely to aspire after virtue is to gain her, and zealously to labour after her wages is to receive them. Those that seek her early will find her before it is late; her reward also is with her, and she will come quickly. For the breast of a good man is a little heaven commencing on earth; where the Deity sits enthroned with unrivalled influence, every subjugated passion like the wind and storm fulfilling his word.
The good make a better bargain, and the bad a worse, than is usually supposed; for the rewards of the one, and the punishments of the other, not unfrequently begin on this side of the grave; for vice has more martyrs than virtue; and it often happens that men suffer more to be lost than to be saved.
Villainy that is vigilant will be an overmatch for virtue, if she slumber on her post; and hence it is that a bad cause has often triumphed over a good one; for the partisans of the former, knowing that their cause will do nothing for them, have done everything for their cause; whereas the friends of the latter are too apt to expect everything from their cause, and to do nothing for themselves.
It is not known where he that invented the plough was born, nor where he died: yet he has effected more for the happiness of the world than the whole race of heroes and of conquerors, who have drenched it with tears, and manured it with blood, and whose birth, parentage, and education have been handed down to us with a precision proportionate to the mischief they have done.
Wit, however, is one of the few things which has been rewarded more often than it has been defined. A certain bishop said to his chaplain: What is wit? The chaplain replied: The rectory of B is vacant; give it to me, and that will be wit. Prove it, said his Lordship, and you shall have it. It would be a good thing well applied, rejoined the chaplain.
Strong and sharp as our wit may be, it is not so strong as the memory of fools, nor so keen as their resentment: he that has not strength of mind to forgive, is by no means so weak as to forget; and it is much more easy to do a cruel thing than to say a severe one.
The plainest man who pays attention to women will sometimes succeed as well as the handsomest who does not. Wilkes observed to Lord Townsend, You, my lord, are the handsomest man in the kingdom, and I the plainest. But I would give your lordship half an hours start, and yet come up with you in the affections of any woman we both wished to win; because all those attentions which you would omit on the score of your fine exterior, I should be obliged to pay, owing to the deficiencies of mine.
Malherbe, on hearing a prose work of great merit much extolled, drily asked if it would reduce the price of bread? Neither was his appreciation of poetry much higher, when he observed that a good poet was of no more service to the church or the state than a good player at nine pins!!