The Stoic philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca—highly regarded by the early Christians—writes, for his brother Gallio, a discourse on what makes for a happy and profitable life.
Human affairs are not disposed so happily that the best things please the most men. It is an argument of the worst cause when the common sort applaudeth it. Let us enquire what is best done, not what is most usually done; and what planteth us in the possession of eternal felicity, not what is ordinarily allowed of by the multitude, which is the worst interpreter of truth.
A TRACT OF BLESSED LIFE Written by LVCIVS ANNAEVS SENECA, To Ivnius Gallio his Brother.
The Argument of JUSTUS LIPSIUS.
HE wrote this book when he was old, and set it down for an apology against those that calumniated his wealth and behaviour. He approveth that Blessed Life consisteth in virtue, yet that she despiseth not these external things if they befall her. It is a lofty writing, and excellent in the parts thereof and because it containeth golden sentences and excellent sayings.
There are two parts thereof, First, what Blessed Life is, and how a man may attain thereunto. As touching the former, he denieth that it is to be sought, either in opinion or manner; if we keep the ordinary way, we stray the farther from her. Reason only is to be given care unto, she saith that Blessed Life is agreeable to Nature, that is placed in virtue, not in pleasure as EPICURUS would have it. No, and diffusedly he reselleth this with the slaves thereof so far as he will neither have pleasure joined with virtue but abolisheth this name utterly; This till the sixteenth Chapter.
Thence followeth the other part; to the attainment thereof, therefore is only virtue to be embraced. And are the rest to be despised? He denieth it; He saith that external things may be admitted, but not as the end. Yea, he maintaineth, that they who as yet are but in the way, and amongst the number of those that are proficient, have need of some indulgence of Fortune. Here cunningly & manfully enough defendeth he his own cause, and induceth an adversary to say: Why hast thou spoken thus of virtue? hast thou not other helps? Why hast thou servants, money, farms, and household stuff? He answereth diversly? And first of all that he is no wiseman, but that he endevoureth to be wise. Afterwards for these worthy men, PLATO, ZENO, ARISTOTLE, against whom in times past these were objected. Virtue is an high matter; they are to be honoured who labour to ascend, although during their attempt, they fall or are hindered.
Then purposely speaketh he of riches, whether a wiseman ought to have them; from the one and twenty chapter. And he averreth that they are had but not beloved, yet gotten honestly that they are, and must be spent bountifully. He whetteth his style against those long-tongued babblers, and under the person if SOCRATES, armeth the edge of his style against them.
But the end is wanting, and those things that are usually added, are of another mans writing, and of a different argument.
ALL men, Brother Gallio, are desirous to live happily, yet blind are they in foreseeing that which maketh the life blessed & happy: and so difficult a matter is it to attain this blessed life, that the swifter every man is carried with a desire to compass her, the farther off departeth he from her, if he have failed in the way: which when it leadeth us to the contrary, the very swiftness thereof is the cause or our greater distance from her. First of all therefore we ought to consider what that is which we require: then to look about us by what way we may more speedily attain thereunto, being well assured in our journey (so the way be true and straight) to understand how much we have daily profited, and how nearer we are unto that whereunto our natural desire impelleth us.
As long as we wander hither and thither and follow not our guide, but the dissonant brute and clamour of those that call on us to undertake different ways, our short life is wearied and worn away amongst errors, although we labour day and night to get us a good mind. Let us therefore advise, both whither we tend, and by which way we pretend; and walk forward under the conduct of some wise man who is exactly instructed & practiced in those paths that we are to tract. For the condition of this voyage is far different from other peregrinations: for in them if any certain place be limited, and we do but enquire and question with the inhabitants of that place, they will not suffer us to wander; but here the worst way, and that which feareth the most shortest and usual doth most of all deceive us.
There is nothing therefore that is more to be prevented by us, then that we follow not like innocent sheep, the troop of those that walk before us, walking not thither whither we ought to go, but whither the rest wander. But there is nothing that entangleth us in greater miseries, than that we couple and apply ourselves to every rumor, supposing those things to be the best which are most approved and received by the conceit of all men, and whereof there are most examples; and live not according to reason, but only according to other mens fashion. From thence procedeth this so great heap of men tumbling one upon another.
That which falleth out in a great press of men, when the people themselves, throng themselves, where no man so falleth, but that he draweth down another after him, and the foremost are the cause of the ruin of those that follow: this mayst thou observe, and see it fall out in every estate of life. There is no man that erreth to himself, but is either the cause or author of other mens error. For much are we hurt because we apply ourselves to those that go before us, and whilest every man had rather believe, than judge, we never judge of our lives but content ourselves always to believe: thus error delivered unto us from hand to hand, vexeth and overturneth us, and we perish by other mens examples.
But we shall be healed, provided only that we separate ourselves from the vulgar; but now the people stand out against reason in defence of their own error. The same therefore falleth out which is usual in common assemblies, wherein, those men whose voices made the Pretor, admire to hear him named; when the inconstant favour of such a multitude hath whirled itself about. We approve and condemn one and the same thing. This is the end of all judgments in decision whereof divers men give their opinions.
WHEN the question is of happy life, thou must not answer me according to the custom of those debates which are censured by voices. This part seemeth the greater; for therefore is it the worst: Human affairs are not disposed so happily that the best things please the most men. It is an argument of the worst cause when the common sort applaudeth it. Let us enquire what is best done, not what is most usually done; and what planteth us in the possession of eternal felicity, not what is ordinarily allowed of by the multitude, which is the worst interpreter of truth. I call the multitude, as well those that are attired in white, as those that are clothed other ways, for I examine not the colours of the garments wherewith the bodies are clothed: I trust not mine eyes, to inform me what a man is, I have a more better and truer light, whereby I shall distinguish truth from falsehood.
Let the soul find out the good of the soul. If once she may have breathing time to retire herself into herself, O how will she confess unto herself, after she hath been examined by herself and say: Whatsoever I have done, yet I had rather it should be undone; whatsoever I have said when I recollect it, I am ashamed of it in others; Whatsoever I wished I repute it to be the execratio of mine enemies; Whatsoever I feared, good gods, how better was it then that which I desired?
I have quarreled with many men, and (if any society be amongst evil men) I have altered their hatreds and drawn myself into favour with them; and yet as yet I am not friends with myself, I have endevoured to the uttermost to get in favour with the multitude, and make myself known unto every man by some noble action: what other thing did I but oppose myself against weapons, and shew hatred a place wherein it might bite me?
Seest thou these who praise eloquence, that follow riches, that flatter authority, that extol power? all these are enemies or can be enemies, for in effect they are all one. How great soever the number be of those that admire, as great is their number who do envy.
WHY rather seek I not something out, which is good in use that I may find in my mind, not shew in outward appearance? These things whereat we gaze, these things whereat we stay, and with admiration one man sheweth unto another, do outwardly shine, but are inwardly miserable.
Let us seek out somewhat that is good not in appearance, but solid and united, and fairest in that which appeareth the least. Let us discover this, neither is it far from us, we shall find it. Yet hadst thou need to know whither thou shouldest stretch thy hand. But now as if we were in darkness we pass by these things that are nearest us, and stumble upon those things which we desire.
But lest I draw thee through a Labyrinth, I will let slip other mens opinions, for it were too long a matter to reckon them up and confute them, and let thee know our own. And when I tell thee ours, I will not tie myself to any one of our principal Stoics: I have authority enough to speak what I think, I will therefore follow someone, I will command another to give a reason of his, and happily being cited after all others, I will disallow none of those things which the former have decreed, and will say: This think I over and beside, and in the meanwhile following the common consent of the Stoics, I will consent to Nature which is the mother of all things. For it is wisdom not to wander from her, but to form ourselves according to her law and example. The life then is happy which is according to nature, which can no otherwise happen then if the mind be first of all found, and in perpetual possession of her health.
Again, if she be strong, and vehement, and fierce, and patient likewise, apt for the time, curious of the body, and those things that appertain thereunto; yet not over careful or diligent in those things which maintain life, disposed to use the presents of Fortune, without admiration of anything, without wondering at any of them, no ways inclined to servitude.
Thou understandest although I aim it not, that from thence there followeth a perpetual tranquility and liberty, driving away far from us all those things that either provoke or terrify us much. For instead of these frail pleasures, (and for those things that are small and frivolous, and that hurt us at that time, when we make use of them to satisfy our passions) there succeedeth an excellent joy in assured, and a continual peace and repose of the soul, and a greatness of the mind accompanied with mildness. For all fury proceedeth from her infirmity.
A MAN may likewise define our good after another sort, that is to say, express the same thing in other terms. Even as one and the same army sometimes spreadeth itself out at large, sometimes refraineth and locketh up herself in a little place, either bendeth herself like a crescent with horns on either side and hollow in the midst; or marcheth in a battalion having wings to warren them, and howsoever she is disposed, yet hath she always the same force and resolution to maintain the party for which she is levied, so our definitions of the sovereign good may sometimes be extended out a far, sometimes comprised in few words and gathered as it were into itself.
It will all come to one, if I say: The sovereign good is a mind despising casualties, and content with virtue: or an invincible force of the mind well experienced in the affairs of this World, peaceable in his actions, full of humanity in regard of those with whom she coverseth. It pleaseth us likewise to define it thus, that we call him a blessed man who esteemeth nothing either good or evil, except a mind either good or evil; a respecter of honesty, content with Virtue, whom neither casualties extol nor depress, who knows no other greater good then that which he can give himself, who reputeth it for a true pleasure to contemn pleasures.
Thou mayest if thou wilt expatiate, turn this definition into one or two other sorts, provided that the principal remain. For what forbiddeth us to esteem him happy that hath his spirit free, raised, assured, and firm, estranged from all fear and desire, that esteemeth nothing but Virtue, and disdaineth nothing but vice? All other the base multitude of things, neither detracting anything, nor adding ought to blessed life, come and go without increase or decrease of the chiefest good.
He that hath laid so good a foundation, shall be always followed whether he will or no, with a continual joy, with a profound content that proceedeth from excellent thoughts, because he contenteth himself with that which he possesseth, neither desireth any more then that he hath at home: why should he make a scruple to change willingly these light and frivolous and unassured motions and pleasures of the body, for goods so certain as these other are? At that very instant when voluptuousness shall over-master a man, at that very time also all misfortunes and cares shall hang over his head.
THOU mayest then see into what dangerous & miserable servitude he falleth who suffereth pleasures and sorrows (two unfaithful and cruel commanders) to possess him successively. We must therefore issue out and find liberty, and this doth no other thing give us then the neglect of Fortune. Then shall that inestimable good arise, namely the repose of the mind retired into an assured place, and mounted so high that she seeth all the mists of errors incontinently scatter themselves, in such sort that from the knowledge of the truth, there proceedeth a great and constant joy, a sweetness and freedom of conscience, wherein the virtuous man shall take pleasure, not as they are goods, but as the fruits which proceed from the ground of that good which is in him.
Because I have begun to discourse liberally, I say that he may be called blessed, who by the benefit of his reason, neither feareth, nor desireth anything. I make mention of reason because stones, and beasts are both of them destitute of fear and sadness, and yet no man will say that they are happy creatures, because they have no sense or understanding of felicity. Put into this rank, those men whose dullness of nature, and ignorance of themselves hath drawn into the number of sheep and beasts. There is no difference betwixt these and them, because the one have no reason, and the other their reason depraved, and if she discourseth it is only to weaken and ruinate herself.
For no man can be called blessed, who is exiled from the truth. That therefore is a blessed life which is grounded upon an upright, certain, and immutable judgment. For then is the mind pure, and exempt from all evils, when it hath no feeling of any distractions or temptations whatsoever, resolved to persist there wheresoever she is settled, and resolute to maintain her abode, in spite of wrathful and repining Fortune.
For in regard of pleasure, although it be dispersed in every place, although she come from every part, and try and attempt by all means whereby she may entangle us, either in whole or in part: what man is he amongst men that hath any impression of man-hood in him, that will suffer himself to be flattered and tickled therewith day and night, and forsaking the soul, will have a care of the body?
BUT the soul likewise (saith he) (shall have her pleasures. Let her enjoy them, and let her sit as judge over dissolution and pleasures. Let her glut herself with all those things that are wont to delight the senses. Furthermore, let her look back to those things that are past, and remembering herself of her decayed pleasures let her enjoy those that are nearest her, extend her hand to the future, ruling her hopes, and lifting up her thoughts to that which is to come, whilest the body tumbleth in delights and surfeits.
This in my judgment is a mere misery, because it is a madness to embrace the evil instead of the good. Neither is any man blessed without health, neither any man healthy, that longeth for hurtful, and letted healthful things pass.
He therefore is blessed, who hath a right judgment. Blessed is he that is contented with the present whatsoever it be, that is a friend to his own affairs, blessed is he who in the government of his whole life giveth ear unto reason.
As for those that have said that the sovereign good consisteth in pleasure, it behooveth them to consider how sordid and abject a place it is wherein they have lodged a thing so precious. For their excuse they allege that a man cannot separate pleasure from virtue, and they say likewise that no man can live honestly except he be pleasant and jovial: and that to be joyful and honest, is one and the same thing. Yet see I not how these two things may be coupled together. And why I pray you may not pleasure be divided from virtue? Forsooth, because every beginning of good proceedeth from virtue.
From the roots thereof even these things spring which you love, and desire so much. But if these were inseparable, we should not see that some things are pleasing, but yet not honest, and some things most honest, but difficult, and such as may not be recovered but by dolour and pain.
ADD hereunto likewise that pleasure intermixeth itself with a most vicious life, but Virtue admiteth it not: It is with pleasure yea for pleasures sake that some are unhappy. Which would not come to pass, if pleasure had intermixed itself with Virtue, which Virtue often misseth, never needeth.
Why unite you things different, nay more, contrary? Virtue is a thing high, kingly, invincible, infatigueable; pleasure, humble, servile, weak, frail, whose actions and bounds are Tauernes and brothel-houses. You shall find Virtue in the temple, in the market place, in the court, in the court of guard smothered in dust, red with heat, having hard hands: pleasure ofttimes lying hidden and affecting darkness about baths and hot-houses, and such places as fear the constable, dainty, effeminate, soused in wine, and perfumes, pale, painted, and beslabbered with medicine.
The chiefest good is immortal, it cannot perish, neither hath it satiety, neither repentance, for the just mind is never altered, he is never hateful to himself, neither being herself the best, hath she changed anything. But pleasure at that time when the most delighteth is extinguished. Neither taketh she up great room, and therefore she quickly filleth and lotheth, and after the first assault pineth away; and as there is nothing certain, whose nature is in motion, so can there not be any substance of that thing that cometh and passeth quickly, and such as is like to perish in the very use thereof. For he hath attained thither where he should end, and in beginning he already regardeth the end.
FURTHERMORE the evil have their pleasures, as well as the good: and the basest take no less contentment in their absurdities, than great men do in things that are excellent. And therefore the Ancients have commanded, that we should follow the better & not the most pleasing life. For Nature must govern us, she it is that ruleth and counseleth reason. To live then happily and according to Nature is one and the same thing.
I will now tell you what this is. If we carefully and confidently conserve the goods of the body, according as we ought, and as they are agreeable unto Nature, as gifts that have no continuance, but communicable, from day to day: If we enthrall not ourselves to their servitude, and if those that have been distributed to our neighbours possess us not, if that which is agreeably unto us, and given us as an overplus to the body, serveth us only in that nature, as spys and forlorn hopes in an army: in brief, if they serve us and command us not, then may we say that they are profitable and necessary for the soul.
A man that is entire ought not to be surmounted with exterior things, he must admire nothing but himself, he ought to be confident, disposed against all casualties, a composer of his own life, & see that his resolution be accompanied with science or constancy, that that which he once hath conceived, remain unaltered, & that no exception accompany his resolution.
It is understood likewise although I add it not, that such a man should be addressed and ordered as he ought, gracious & magnificent in all his entertainments, that true reason be engrossed in his senses, and that from thence he take his principles. For thence it is and from no other place, that she extendeth herself, to apprehend the truth, & afterwards returneth into herself.
The world likewise that embraceth & comprehendeth all things, and God who is the Governour of this World, extendeth himself truly to exterior things, and yet he returneth in every part entirely into himself. Let our mind do the like, that after she hath served the senses, and by the means thereof, hath extendeth herself to external things, she may possess herself, in brief, that she may rely & stay herself upon the chiefest good. By this means she shall become a faculty and power according with herself; and that certain reason shall arise which is neither shaken nor extravagant in her opinions, apprehensions, or persuasions, but being well ordered and well agreed with her parts with which she singeth (if we may so say it) in the same tune, she hath attained the fullness of her felicity.
For she hath no way that is rugged or slippery to pass through, neither any wherein she may stumble or fall. She shall do all that which she lifteth, and nothing shall befall her that is unexpected, but all that which she shall do shall turn to her good, easily, addressedly, and without delay. For idleness & want of resolution discover contradiction and inconstancy; thou mayest therefore boldly maintain that the peace of conscience is the sovereign good, because it must needs follow, that the virtues remain there where consent and union have their abode, and vices at are odds amongst themselves.
BUT thou likewise (saith he) honourest Virtue for no other cause but for that thou expectest some pleasure thereby. First, virtue is not therefore sought after, because she bringeth with her some pleasure, for she produceth it not, and yet is not without it. Neither laboureth she for this, but her labour although intended to another end gaineth also this point to produce some pleasure.
Even as in a field that is ploughed up for corn, some flowers spring up amongst the good grains, and yet this ground was not manured to that end it should bring forth these flowers, although they delight the eye, neither had the husbandman any such intention, and yet the flowers sprout up with the corn: so pleasure is not the reward or cause of Virtue but an accession unto Virtue.
Neither is it pleasing because it delighteth; but because it is pleasing it delighteth. The chiefest good consisteth and is grounded on judgement and the habit of a good mind, which having fulfilled his habitude, and confined himself within his limits, the chiefest good is consummate, neither desireth any other thing more. For there is nothing without the whole, no more than beyond the end.
Thou art therefore deceived when thou askest me, what that is for which I require Virtue: for thou seekest for somewhat that is above the chiefest. Thou askest me what I pretend from Virtue? Herself: for nothing is better, she is the reward of herself. Is this a small thing, when I say unto thee, that the sovereign good is an inflexible vigour, a prvuidence, a firm disposition, a liberty, a concord, and beauty of the soul? doest thou look for anything more, whereunto these may be referred? why namest thou pleasure unto me? I seek for the good of a man, not of the belly, which is more disordered then any brute beast.
THOU pretendest to be ignorant (saith he) of that which I say: For I deny that any man may live pleasingly, except he live honestly likewise: which cannot befall brute beasts, which measure their good by their bellies. I protest I tell thee both plainly and publicly, that this life which I call pleasant, cannot consist without the addiction of virtue. But who knoweth not that even the very foolishest amongst you are the fullest of pleasure, and that iniquity aboundeth in delight, and that the mind itself not only suggesteth some kinds of pleasure, but also many?
First, insolence and over-great esteem of a mans self, a pride surpassing all other, a blind and improvident love of that which a man hath, affluent delights, a joy proceeding from trifling and childish occasions, detraction, and arrogancy, rejoicing in contumelies, sloth and dissolution of the sluggish mind, that is benumbed in itself. But these doth virtue discuss, she pulls us by the ear, and estimateth pleasures before she admit them, neither careth she much for those she hath entertained, (although she admit them) neither is delighted in the use of them, but temperance is joyful: but when as temperance diminisheth pleasures, she injurieth the chiefest good in meddling with the same.
Thou embracest pleasure, I moderate it. Thou enjoyest pleasure, I use it: Thou thinkest it to be the chiefest good, I scarcely deem it good. Thou doest all things for pleasures sake, and I nothing: when I say that I do nothing for pleasures sake, I speak of that wise man to whom alone thou grantest pleasure.
YET I call not him a wise man that is subject to any passion above all things, if he be a vassal to pleasure. For being subject unto her how shall he resist labour, danger, poverty, and so many tempests as storm about this life? How shall he endure the sight of death and sorrow? How shall he sustain the assaults of this world, and of so many other dreadful adversaries, if he be conquered by such an effeminate enemy?
He will do all that which pleasure persuadeth him unto. Go to; seest thou not how many follies the will persuade him to? She cannot, saist thou, persuade anything undecently, because she is accompanied with virtue. Seest thou not again what the chiefest good should be, if he had need of such a guard to make him good?
But how can Virtue govern pleasure, when she followeth her, when as it is the part of a servant to attend, and of a master to command? You make her the servant that should command. But you prefer Virtue unto a goodly office, you make her a taster to pleasures. But we will see whether virtue be lodged amongst those who have done her so many outrages, since she can no more be called Virtue, if she hath given over her place.
In the meanwhile (for it is that whereof we entreat) I will shew that there are divers voluptuous men on whom Fortune hath powered all her goods, whom thou must needs confess to be evil. Look upon Nomentanus, and Apicius, two careful engrossers (as these men call them) of whatsoever delicate either land or sea affordeth, and who present upon their tables all the choice creatures, that are fit for meat ia every country. Behold these very men who from their beds, behold their kitchens, who fill their ears with music, their eyes with pleasing shews, and delight their palates with sundry sauces, with soft and gentle fomentations all their body is suppled, and lest in the meanwhile their nostrils should be idle, that very place is filled with divers odours, wherein the funeral banquet of dissolution is celebrated. Thou wilt say that these men have their pleasures, yet are they not at their case, because they rejoice not in goodness.
EVIL will befall them (saist thou) because divers things happen in the interim which trouble the mind, and contrary opinions shall disquiet the spirits, which I grant to be so. Yet notwithstanding those very fools, those inconstant fellows whom repentance attendeth at the heels, are plunged in delight?, so as we are informed to confess that such men are as far estranged from discontents and troubles, as from good minds, and (as as it falleth out in many men) they are pleasant fools, and merry mad-men.
But on the contrary part, the pleasures of wise men are more remiss and modest, feeble enough, secret, and less observed, because they are not sought after; and if they come without calling, they are less made account of or entertained. For wise men intermix the pleasures of this life, as men are wont to mingle their serious matters with sports and pleasant discourses. Let them desist therefore to join inconveniences, and to implicate virtue with pleasure, for by such false opinions they seduce those who are already too much corrupted with vice.
The one of these abandoned unto his pleasures always drunk and tumbling on the Earth, knowing well that he liveth voluptuously: believeth also that he followeth the Tract of Virtue: because he believeth that pleasure cannot be separated from virtue, and afterwards entitleth his vices with the name of wisdom, and publisheth those things which should be hidden. So these kind of men (who have not learned it of the Epicure) surfeit in their delights, and being drowned in vices, hide their voluptuousness in the bosom of Philosophy: and have their recourse thither where they hear that pleasure is praised.
Neither estimate they rightly (for such undoubtedly is my opinion) how sober and moderate his pleasure is: but fly unto the name, seeking out a patronage and excuse for their lusts. They therefore lose that one good which they had in evils, which is the shame of offending. For they praise these things whereof they were ashamed, and glory in their vice, and therefore youth cannot rouse and recover itself, when they ascribe so fair a title to so foul an errour.
THIS is the cause why this praise of pleasure is so pernicious, because honest precepts remain buried hereby, and that which most corrupteth is most apparent. But my opinion is (although it be to the disgust of those of my sect) that the precepts of the Epicure are holy, right, and if thou examine them more nearly, severe enough.
For he scantleth the wing of pleasure very much, neither giveth her any liberty, but imposeth the same Law upon voluptuousness that we do upon Virtue. He commandeth her to obey Nature, but that which sufficeth Nature, is too little for dissolution. What is it therefore? He that calleth slothful idleness, and the variety of gormandize and dissolution, felicity, seeketh a fair pretext for an evil thing, and whilest he commeth thither (being shrouded under a name of respect) he followeth pleasure, not that which he hath learned; but that which he had in herself, and thinking his vices had been taught him in some School, be pleaseth himself in them, not fearefully, not obscurely, yea he surfeiteth on them in the sight and presence of all men: I will not therefore say, as divers of the Stoics do, that the Epicures Sect teacheth nothing but wickedness, but this I say that it hath an evil report, and is undeservedly defamed.
No man can know this thing, except he be admitted to know the secrets of this school. The front and that which appeareth outwardly, is the cause why men detract the same, and speak so sinisterly of it. It is as it were a valiant man clothed in an effeminate robe. As long as thou maintainest modesty, Virtue is in security, Thou wilt say that thy body is not addicted to any uncleanness, but thou holdest (as some say) the drum in thy hand, and awakenest others to do evil.
Make choice therefore of an honest title; and let the inscription be such as may incite the mind to repel those vices which weaken as presently as they are entertained: whosoever approcheth virtue, he giveth hope of some generous thing. He that followeth pleasure seemeth to be weak, broken, effeminate, disposed to do wickedly.
Except some man decipher unto him what pleasures are: to the end he may know which of them are limited within a natural desire: which are carried away head-long and are infinite, and the more they are fulfilled, the less are they satisfied. Well then, let virtue lead the way, and our steps shall be assured. Over-great pleasure is hurtful, in virtue it is not to be feared that there should be anything excessive, for she herself only is the mean. That which is tired with her own greatness, is not good.
BUT to those that have a reasonable nature, what better thing then reason may be proposed? If this union be agreeable, and if a man will travel in such company towards happy life, let virtue go before, and pleasure follow after, as the shadow doth the body. It is a small matter for a great mind to give pleasure for a handmaid to attend on virtue, which is the most honourablest mistress that a man may meet with all.
Let Virtue march before and carry the ensign, yet notwithstanding, we shall have pleasure, although we be masters and governours of the same. She will press us to grant her something, but she cannot constrain us thereunto. But they that have given the superiority to pleasure, have wanted both, for they lose virtue: Moreover, they have not pleasure; but pleasure is Lord over them, with whose want they are either tormented, or else abundance strangled. Wretched if they be forsaken by her, and more wretched if they be over-pressed. Like these who are entangled in the Syrtes: Now are they left on dry land, presently hurried away with the violence of the stream.
But this falleth out through too much intemperance, and the blind love we bear unto the same. He that requireth evil for good, casteth himself into great danger, if he obtain the same. Even as we hunt wild beasts with labour and hazard, and when we have caught them, it is a hard matter to keep them: because the oftentimes they tear their masters in pieces; so fareth it with those who have great pleasures, for the turn to their great miseries; and surprise them when they imagine they have the mastery over them. Which the more and greater they be, so the less is he, and more subject and slave unto many whom the common sort call, Happy.
To continue and prosecute the similitude which I have proposed: Even as he that searcheth the haunts of wild beasts and accounts it a great matter to catch such dumb creatures in his nets, and environ some great forest with a kennel of hounds, to the end to follow their tract, forsaketh his better affairs, and renounceth many other offices: so he that followeth pleasure, neglecteth all other things, respecteth not his former liberty, but dependeth on his belly, neither buyeth he pleasures for himself, but selleth himself to pleasures.
BUT what (saith he) leteth virtue and voluptuousness to be confounded in one, to the end that from them both the sovereign god might be derived, so that it might be one thing to be honest, and to be pleasant? Because there cannot be a part of honesty which is not honest, neither shall the chiefest good have his sincerity, if he discover ought in his self that is unlike the better. Neither it that joy which proceedeth from virtue, although it be good, a part of the chiefest and absolute god: no more than mirth and tranquility, although they are derived from most excellent causes. For these are goods: yet such as attend the sovereign good, but perfect it not. But whosoever will associate virtue, and pleasure, and not equal them; by the frailty of the one, he mortifieth all that which is active in the other. Finally, he enthralleth that invincible liberty that knoweth nothing more precious than herself. For he beginneth to have need of Fortune which is the greatest servitude of all others. And he is attended by a doubtful, fearful, and suspicious life, fearful of casualties, ad suspended upon the moments of time.
Thou givest not Virtue a settled and immoveable foundation, but commandest her to stand in a slippery place. But what is so uncertain as the expection of casualties, and the variety of the body, and such things as affect the body? How can he obey God, and entertain everything that happeneth to him with a good mind, and cease to complain of Fate, and be a faithful interpreter of his own casualties, if he be shaken with the smallest assaults of pleasures or sorrows? Neither can he be a good tutor or defender of his country, nor a maintainer of his friends, if he be inclined to pleasures.
Thither therefore doth the chiefest good ascend from whence she may not be drawn by any force: Whereby there is neither entrance given to sorrow, hope, or fear, nor to any other thing which may indemnify or lessen the greatness of the chiefest good. And only Virtue may ascent thereunto, by her steps this steepy rock must be broken; she will stand stiffly, and whatsoever shall happen will endure it, not only patient but also willing, knowing that every difficulty of time is but the Law of Nature. And as a good soldier will endure wounds, number his scares; and though thrust through with many weapons, will dying love that captain of whose sake he breatheth his last: so will Virtue have this ancient precept in mind, March after God.
But whosoever complaineth, weepeth, and mourneth, is compelled to do that which is commanded; and notwithstanding is violently enforced to do that which is enjoined him. But what madness is it rather to be drawn than to follow? As great in truth, as if through sottishness and ignorance of thy condition, thou shouldest lament, because some misfortuen is befallen thee; or shouldest be amazed and diffident, that thou couldest not endure that, which happenenth as well to the good as to the evil, that is to say, sickness, death of parents and friends, weakness, and such other encumbrances of mortal life. Let us courageously endure all that which the common condition of all things that are created, submitteth us unto. We are obliged unto this, to endure all the accidents of our life without troubling ourselves with those casualties, which we know how to avoid. We are not born under a royal domination. It is liberty to obey God.
TRUE felicity therefore is placed in Virtue. What will she counsel thee to? That thou think that neither good nor evil that happeneth unto thee, either by virtue or by malice. Afterwards, that by the means of God thou remain always firm and confident against evil; and that as far as lieth in thy power thou follow God. What then is that which is promised thee, if thou behavest thyself after this manner? Great things and such as are answerable to those that are divine. Thou shalt be enforced in nothing; Thou shalt want nothing, thou shalt be free, assured, and exempt from all damage: thou shale undertake nothing in vain: thou shalt do that which thou pleasest without trouble or disturbance. All things shall fall out as thou wishest: Adversity shall not touch thee.
What then? shall Virtue only which is thus perfect and divine, suffice to live happily? And why should it not suffice? I say this, it is more then sufficient. For what can he want that is contented with everything, & desireth nothing whatsoever?
He that hath gathered all things that are his into himself, hath no need of any external thing. But he that tendeth unto Virtue, although he hath gotten the greater part of his way, yet hath he need of some indulgence and favour of Fortune, who as yet is entangled amidst the cares of this life, and hath not as yet acquit himself of those bonds which tie him captive to this World. What difference then is there, some are tied, some are lockt up, and some are fettered. But he that hath gotten more high, and is as it were lifted up from the Earth, draweth his chain, being as yet not at full liberty, and reputed for a man that is wholly free.
IF therefore any one of these that bark at Philosophy allege that which they are accustomed, Why then speakest thou better than thou livest? whence cometh it that thou flatterest a man more greater then thyself? that thou esteemest money to be a necessary aid, that thou art moved if thou losest the same, that thou weepest if thou hearest news of the death of thy wife, or of thy friend, that thou art glad if thou be praised and spoken well of in all places, and that detractions torment thee?
Why are thy country grounds better trimmed then the natural use requireth? why keepest thou no ordinary rule in taking thy repast? what meaneth thy house better furnished then other mens? What moveth thee to drink wine more older than thyself? why is everything so well ordered in thy house? whence cometh it that thou plantest trees, which serve for no other use but for shade? whence is it that thy wife weareth the revenue of a rich family hanging at her ears? And what is the cause that thy pages are so richly appareled? why hast thou an art in thy house to know how to serve the table, and that thy plate is not set upon thy board rashly, and at every mans pleasure, but is served in by courses, and that thou hast a carver to cut up thy dainties?
Add hereunto if thou wilt: Why hast thou goods beyond seas? and why art thou master of so many goods, that thou knowest not how to number them? Art thou so dishonest and negligent that thou knowest not three or four of thy servants? or so dissolute that thou hast them in so great number that thy memory sufficeth not to contain their names?
Hereafter I will assist thee in speaking evil of me, and besides this, will propose against myself, more than thou thinkest. For the present, behold what answer I will make thee. I am not wise (and to satisfy thy displeasure the better) I shall not be wise. I require not therefore of myself to be equal with the best, but to be better than the worst. It sufficeth me to cut off day by day some part of my vices, and to check my imperfections; my health neither is, nor shall be entire. I prepare unguents, but no exact remedies for my pain of the gout, contenting myself if it trouble me not often, and that it be less furious and burning than it is. If I be compared with thee for swiftness of pace, I am but a weak runner.
I SPEAK not this for myself (for I am drowned in vices) but for him that already hath gotten ground. Thou speakest, saist thou, in one kind, but believest in another. This hath been reproached by some lewd companions, enemies of all good men, to Plato, to the Epicure, and to Zeno. For all these shewed how we ought to live, and not how they themselves lived. I speak of Virtue not of myself.
When I blame vices, I first of all reprove mine own, and when I may possibly, I will live as I ought. This malignity infected with divers poisons, shall not drive me from my laudable designs. This venom which you vomit out against others, and wherewith you poison yourselves, shall not hinder me from praising that life, according to which I know that I ought to govern myself, although I govern not myself in that sort as I ought therein. Your malignity (I tell you) shall not restrain me from adorning that virtue, which I follow not, although it be estranged and far off from me.
Shall I expect that reproach, shall I in any sort restrain her hands which neither respected Rutilius, nor forbear Cato? Why should not any man in these mens opinion, be over-rich, to whom Demetrius the Cynic seemed not poor enough? O exact person and adversary to all the desires of Nature, so far as he forbade himself to demand those things from the ufe whereof he had resolved to abstain. For he maintaineth that the wise man wanteth nothing. Markest thou this? he professed not the science of Virtue: but of poverty.
THEY deny that Diodorus the Philosopher, and the Epicure, who not long since hastened his own death, by cutting his throat with his own hands, followed in this act the Doctrine of the Epicures. Some impute this unto fury, some unto folly, and vain-glory. He contrawise content and furnished with a good conscience hath given testimony to himself in departing out of this life, and hath praised the repose of his days, and arrived at the port, pronouncing that which you have heard, in despite of your teeth, and that which you yourselves also must say when your turn cometh:
Long have I lived, and folly have I ended
That race of life that Fortune first commended.
You dispute of another mans life, of another mans death, and bark like little dogs, against the names of great and laudable men, as if you met with men that were unknown. For it is expedient for you, that no man should seem good, because another mans virtue should not reproach your iniquities. To your great hearts grief you compare famous things with your absurdities, neither perceive you that this boldness of yours woundeth you wonderfully; For if the scholars of Virtue be covetous, voluptuous and ambitious, what name shall we allot you, who have the very name of Virtue?
You object that no man doth that which he teacheth, and that he doth otherwise then he speaketh. Is this to be wondered at? considering that they propose great and valorous things, which are above all the tempests of the world, and strive to nail themselves to the cross, wherein every one of you hath planted some nail: yea, before they are at the place of punishment, they are content to be tied to any wood that they meet withall. They that do not chastise and reprove themselves by themselves, are so many times tied unto the gibbet, as there are passions that draw them hither and thither, and are so ready to out-rage another; I would believe them, were there not some of them that from the gallows cursed and spit on those that beheld them.
THE Philosophers perform not what they speak, yet perform they very much, because they speak that which they have conceived with an honest mind. For if their words and deeds were one, what were more blessed than they? In the mean space, thou hast no cause to despise good words, neither those hearts that are full of good thoughts. You ought to praise the fair and honest occupations of the mind, and the study of good sciences, although there follow no effect thereupon. What wonder is it if they that have attempted high matters, attain not to honour? Reverence thou the hardy and difficult enterprises of virtue, admire the men, although attempting great matters, they fail of their purpose.
It is a generous thing, for a man that considereth not his own, but natures forces to attempt and undertake high matters, and to conceive that in his thought which the most ablest men in the world cannot effect; who hath purposed and said this unto himself; I will keep the same countenance in beholding death, as I kept when I heard that she approached me. How great weight so ever shall be imposed on me, I will yield my shoulder, and my mind shall sustain my body. I will make as small reckoning of those goods that I have, as of those that I have not, if they lie on the ground in another mans house, it shall not trouble me, neither is they shine about me will I be proud. I will neither respect the present prosperity or future adversity; I will look upon every mans land as if it were mine own, and on mine as if it were all mens; I will so live, as if I knew that I was born for others, and for that will I give thanks to nature that hath appropriated me to that use. What could she do more for me? She hath given me only unto all men, and all men unto me alone; whatsoever I have, I will neither keep it too niggardly, nor spend it too prodigally. I will believe that I possess nothing more, than that which is well given me. I will not esteem any benefits by the number or weight, nor estimate them any other ways, but in respect of him that receiveth them.
That shall never seem too much to me, which a worthy man receiveth at my hands; I will do all things, not for opinion but for conscience sake. I will believe it is done in the sight of all men, whatsoever I do unwittingly. The end of my eating and drinking shall be to satisfy the desires of nature, not to fill and empty my belly. I will be pleasing to my friends, gentle and facile to mine enemies. I will grant before I be asked, and will prevent all honest demands. I will remember that the world is my country, that the gods who govern the world are above me, and stand about me as censors of my deedes and words. And as often as nature shall redemand my soul, or reason dismiss it, I will depart this life with this testimony, that I have loved and laboured to have a good conscience, and to be exercised in laudable actions; that no mans liberty hath been diminished by me, nor mine by any man.
WHOSOEVER resolveth with himself to do this, he will assay, he will walk towards the gods, and aspire unto great things, although he always attain them not. But you that hate Virtue and such as are virtuous, do nothing new. For sick eyes are afraid of the sun, and those creatures which see not clearly but by night, are astonished as soon as the bright-some day appeareth, and retire themselves to their lurking holes; In brief, those creatures that fear the light, lock them up in their retreats. Grieve and spend your wretched tongs in detracting good men; bark and bite at them, sooner shall you break your teeth then lay hold or hurt them.
But why liveth such an one who saith he is a friend of Wisdom, so deliciously? Wherefore saith he a man should despise riches, and yet he hath them? He doth nought else but speak against the love of this life, and yet he liveth. Why commendeth he sickness, and yet so diligently maintaineth and longeth for health?
Banishment with him is but a word of no use, and he saith that the change of a mans country is no evil thing: Notwithstanding if he may make choice, he endeth his days in the place where he was born. He judgeth that there is little difference betwixt a short and long life, yet if nothing let him he extendeth his age, and flourisheth in quietness for many years.
He saith that these things should be contemned, not in regard of the propriety and possession, but in respect we should not have them with labour; he will not drive them from him, but will follow them securely when they flit away. In what store-house may Fortune better lock her riches then there, from whence she may fetch them, without complaint of him that keepeth them? Marcus Cato when he praised Curius and Coruncanius, and that age wherein it was an offence worthy of censure to have some few plates of silver, was himself master of a million of gold, far less in respect of the treasure which Crassus had, yet far more then Cato the Censor was Lord of. By far more had he surpassed his great Grand-father, had they been compared together, then he was surpassed by Crassus; And if greater fortunes had befallen him, he had not refused them. For a wise man thinketh himself worthy of all those presents of fortune. He loveth not riches, and yet he preferreth them before poverty; he receiveth them into his house, but not in his mind, neither treadeth them under foot in possessing them, but containeth them, and will have an excellent subject to exercise his virtue upon.
BUT who doubteth, but that a wise man hath a greater means to express the worthiness of his mind, when he hath riches, then when he hath poverty, when as in poverty there is but one virtue not to be detected, not to be depressed? In riches a man may say that temperance, liberty, diligence, disposition, and magnificence, have a spacious field to shew themselves in.
A wise man will not contemn himself, although he be of a low stature, yet could he wish that he were higher. Though he be slender in body, and have lost an eye, yet will he be content, yet had be rather that his body were strong enough, and to this end, that he may learn that there is something in him more strong and more vigorous; he shall be patient in sickness, and wish for health. There are some things although they be small in appearance, and such as may be taken from us without the ruin of the principal good, yet add they something to perpetual joy which springeth from virtue.
So do riches affect and comfort him, as a fair and merry wind doth a sailor; as a fair day, or as a covert in cold weather and rain. But who is he, say I, amongst our wise men, who accounteth virtue for the only good, that denieth likewise that these which we call indifferent, have some worth in them, and that some are to be preferred before others? To some of these some honour is given, to some great.
Do not therefore deceive thyself, riches are amongst those things that are to be desired. Why then saist thou, dost thou mock me, when as they are as highly esteemed by thee as they are by me? Wilt thou know how differently they are affected? If riches slip out of my hands, they shall carry nothing away with them but themselves; Thou wilt be astonished, and seem unto thyself to be lest without thyself, if they depart from thee. Riches with me are in some request, with thee in high esteem. In brief, my riches serve me, thou art a slave to thine.
GIVE over therefore to forbid philosophers to have money. No man hath condemned Wisdom to perpetual poverty. A wise man may have great wealth, but taken from no man, nor bought with the effusion of other mens blood, gotten without any mans prejudice, without unlawful gain, whose departure shall be as honest as their entry, whereat no man shall grieve except he be envious. Urge against them as much as thou pleasest, they are honest; in which whereas there are many things which every man would have called his, yet is there nothing that any man may say it is his.
But the wise man will not estrange the bounty of Fortune from himself, neither will he glory or be ashamed of that patrimony that he hath gotten with honesty; yet shall he have wherein to glory, if his doors being open, and the gitty admitted to enter to examine his substance, he might say: Let every man take that hence which he knoweth to be his! O great man, happily rich, if his actions be answerable to these speeches of his, if after this speech he have so much; this I say, if safe and secure he hath submitted himself to the cities search, if no man hath sound ought in his house that another man may challenge, boldly and openly, he shall be rich.
Even as a wise man admitteth no money into his house that is badly got, so will he not refuse nor exclude great riches, which are the gifts of fortune and the fruits of virtue. For what cause is there, why he should envy them a good place? Let them come and dwell with him; he will neither boast of them, nor hide them: the one is the sign of an insolent mind, the other of a fearful and weak mind; as if containing a great good within his bosom. Neither as I said, will he cast them out of his house. For what will he say? whether this, You are unprofitable; or this, I know not how to use riches?
Even as he that although he can walk his journey on foot, yet he had rather get up into his coach, so if he may be rich he will, and he will entertain riches; yet as slight transitory things, neither will he suffer them to be burthensome to any other, nor to himself. He will give them: what, hearken you now? Why open you your bosoms? he will give, but with great deliberation, making choice of the worthiest as remembering himself, that he is to give an account both of his expences and receipts. He will give upon a just and reasonable cause, for to give evilly, is the shameful loss. He will have his bosom open, but not rent, out of which much money shall pass, but nothing shall be lost.
HE deceiveth himself, whosoever thinketh that it is an easy matter to give; This thing hath great difficulty in it, if so be it be given with judgment, not scattered by adventure or rashly. I gain the heart of such a man, I restore unto another; I succour this man, I take pity on that man; I furnish such an one, because he deserveth to be warranted from poverty, and to be no more busied in seeking his fortune. To some I will not give although he want; because, although I should give, yet will he still be needy. To some will I offer, and othersome will I press to take, I cannot be negligent in this thing, I never oblige so many unto my profit as when I give.
What saith thou, dost thou give to receive again? Yea, to the end I may not lose; yet must the gift that is given be in such hands whence it may not be redemanded, it may be restored. Let a benefit be bestowed like a treasure that is deeply hidden, which thou wilt not dig up, except to do good? For who would tie liberality only to citizens and men of account? Nature commandeth us to do good unto men, whether they be slaves or freemen, whether they be naturally bred, or by manumission freed of unjust liberty, or given amongst friends. What is that to the matter? Wheresoever a man is, there is a place of benefit.
The wise man likewise may spread his money in his own house, and exercise liberality, which is not so called, because it is given to free men, but because it proceedeth from a free mind. This liberality of a wise man, is never employed upon filthy and unworthy persons, neither is it ever so wearied, but that as often as he findeth out a worthy receiver, it floweth abundantly; you are not therefore to give a sinister interpretation, to those things that are spoken honestly, manfully, and stoutly, by those that are lovers of wisdom.
But consider this first of all, that there is a difference betwixt him that is studious of wisdom, and him that is wise and hath gotten wisdom. He that hath wisdom will say unto thee, I speak justly, yet am I entangled with many vices.
You are not to require of me a life that is every way correspondent to my words, whereas I endeavour as much as I may to make and form myself, and address myself according to an excellent pattern. If I proceed as well as I have intended, require this of me, that my deeds may be answerable to my words. But he that hath attained the fullness of wisdom, will deal otherwise with thee, and will say. First of all, thou art not to permit thyself to give sentence of thy betters; for now already (which is the argument that I am in the right way) I have gotten thus far as to displease evil men.
But to let thee know, that I envy no mortal man, hear what I promise thee, and how much I estimate everything. I deny that riches are good, for if they were, they should make good men: but now since that which is found amongst evil men, cannot be called good, I deny them this name, yet confess I that they are to be had, that they are profitable, and bring great commodities.
HEAR therefore what the cause is, why I number them not amongst goods, and what thing I consider in them, more than you, since it is agreed between us both that they are to be had. Put me into a rich house; put me there where I shall be ordinarily served in silver and gold; I will not be proud for all this, which, although I have by me, yet are they without me. Transfer me to a wooden bridge, and drive me amongst the beggars, I will not therefore despise myself, because I sit amongst them, who thrust out their hand to have an alms given them; for what is this to the matter, whether a crust of bread be wanting to him, who wants not the power to die? What then is it? I had rather have that fair house than a bridge.
Lodge me in a rich bed with delicate hangings and goodly furniture, I will not suppose myself more happy, because I have soft and silken coverings upon me, and because purple carpets are spread for my guests to sit upon. I shall be no whit more miserable, if my wearied head rest itself upon a lock of hay, or if I lie upon a Circensian and broken pad, whence the straw breaketh forth, through the rotten and ragged linen. What therefore is it? I had rather shew what my manner were in cleanly and decent apparel, then with half covered or naked shoulders. Though all the days of my life should be pleasant, and that one honour should draw on others that are new, I would not be a whit prouder for all this.
Change to the contrary this indulgence of time; let my mind be wounded every ways with losses, sorrows, and divers incursions: Let not an hour slip without some complaint, yet will I not say, that I am wretched amongst the wretchedest; I will not therefore curse my day, for I have already resolved with myself, that no day should seem fatal unto me.
What therefore is it? I had rather temperate my joys, than still my sorrows. This will Socrates say unto thee: Make me the conqueror of all nations; let that delicate and triumphant Chariot of Bacchus carry me as far as Thebes from the sun-rise; Let the Persian Kings require laws at my hands, then will I think myself most of all to be a man when all the world shall salute me for a god. Join to this sudden greatness, a contrary change; Let them cast me upon a hurdle, to be led in shew in the triumph of some proud and insolent enemy by reason of his victory; I will march with such a countenance behind his Chariot, as I did when I was mounted in mine.
What therefore is it? I had rather overcome than be taken. I will despise the whole Kingdom of Fortune; out of that if I may take my choice, I will choose the best and most pleasing. Whatsoever befalleth me, I will repute it good, but I desire they should be easy and pleasant, and such as should least trouble me in the handling of them. For, thou must not think that there is any virtue without labour, but some virtues need spurs, other some rains: Even as the body that ascendeth a high place ought to be kept back, and he that ascendeth upon should bear forward: so some virtues are as it were descending, some that are troublesome to mount.
Is it to be doubted, but that patience, valour, and perseverance, (and other virtues opposed to afflictions, and tread fortune underfoot,) are such virtues as mount and advance themselves with travel, and outstrip many difficulties? What therefore? Is it not as apparent, that liberty, temperance and clemency march downwards? In these we contain our mind, lest it slip. In those we encourage and incite: So then when where shall be question of poverty, we will arm ourselves with the strongest, best disposed, and such as know best how to fight: in the use of riches, we will call the other which will march leisurely, and sustain the weight.
THIS being thus distinguished, I had rather have the use of those virtues, the exercise whereof is peaceable, then to assay those other that make a man sweat blood and water. I therefore, saith the Wise-man, live not otherwise than I speak, but you hear otherwise than you should: only the sound of words is come to your ears, but what they signify you inquire not.
What difference then is there betwixt me a fool, and thee a wise man, if both of us will have wealth? Great: for riches are to the wise man as his slaves, to the fool as his commanders. The wise man giveth not any authority to riches, but they master you wholly: you, as though someone had promised you an eternal possession of them, accustom yourselves to them, and cleave unto them.
The wise-man doth then most of all meditate upon poverty, when as he is in the midst of his riches. Never doth an Emperour so trust to peace, that he prepareth not for war, which he reputeth to be already proclaimed, although as yet they are not come to handy strokes. A fair house, as though it could never burn nor fall down, maketh you insolent. Riches do amaze you, as if they were out of all danger, and were greater than that fortune had power enough to consume them. Idling you envy your riches, neither foresee you the danger of them. Wherein you behave yourselves like Barbarians besieged in a place, who set their arms across, beholding those that besiege them travelling after certain engines, and know not what they be, neither understand whereto men will make use of these engines of battery, which are addressed far off from the wall. The same befalleth you, you rot in your goods, neither think you what casualties hang over your heads every ways, and that suddenly shall pluck from you the fairest and the richest spoils. Whosoever shall take away a wise mans riches shall leave him that which is his, for he liveth being contented with those things that were present, and secure of the future.
I have never so much persuaded myself, saith Socrates, or any other that hath the same right and power over human affairs, as to apply my manner of living to your opinions. Use your accustomed habits every way. I will not think them to be the injuries of men, but the cries of little children. Thus will he speak that hath gotten and attained wisdom, whose mind being freed from all vice, will loathe him to reprehend others, not because he hateth them, but because he would amend them.
To these will he add: Your reputation moveth me, not in mine own respect, but for your cause: When I see you hate and harrow virtue, it is a forswearing of good hope. You do me no more injury, than they do the gods, who overturn their altars; but your evil intent, and evil counsel appeareth even there where it could not hurt. Thus bear I with your impertinencies, even as almighty Jupiter doth the follies of the Poets; Whereof one of them giveth him wings, another horns, another brought him forth as an adulterer; another, as a night-watcher; another, as cruel towards the gods; another, as unjust towards men; another as a ravisher, and corrupter of children of free condition and of good parentage; another, for a parricide, and such a one as hath invaded other mens dominions, yea, the kingdom of his own father: all which was to no other end, but to take from men (who believed that the gods were such) all shame of doing evil.
But although these things hurt me nothing, yet do I warn you for your own sakes, and counsel you to embrace virtue. Believe those that have long time followed her, cry out that they follow some great thing, and that one day or other, will shew itself more excellent and honour her as the gods, and reverence those that serve her, as you would do the professors and priests of the gods: and as often as there is any mention made of the sacred letters, keep your silence: for this word is nor derived from favour, as divers men suppose, but silence is commanded, that the sacrifice might be duly performed without any interruption.
WHICH so much the rather ought to be enjoined you, because that as often as anything is uttered by that Oracle, with an intent and humble voice, you may hear the same. When some apostate priest maketh a man believe, that the sifter of Apollo hath swooned, when anyone well learned to carve the flesh from his muscles, woundeth himself both in arms and shoulders with a sparring hand; when some woman creeping upon her knees along the ways howleth, and an old man appareled in linen, carrying in his hands a lantern and a candle at midday, crieth out that some one of the gods are displeased; you flock about him, and listen, and entertaining one anothers mutual amaze, you affirm, that he is some Prophet.
Behold Socrates crieth out from that prison, into which when he entered it, he cleansed it, & made it more honest than any court of plea. What madness is this? What nature is this so opposite against gods and men? to defame virtues, and to violate holy things with malignant speeches? If you can, praise good men; if not, pass by them. But if you take pleasure to exercise this unbridled liberty, assail one another: for when you are mad against heaven (I say not that you commit sacrilege) but you lose your labours.
Sometimes I ministered matter to Aristophanes to break his jest upon me, and all that band of comic poets powered out their envenomed scoffs against me: my virtue grew more famous by these very means, whereby they assailed her; for it behooveth her to be produced and attempted; neither do any men more understand what he is, then they, who by provoking her, have tired her forces. The hardness of the flint stone is known to no men more than to those who strike upon it: I present myself unto you in such sort, as a rock in midst of a tempestuous sea, the which is on every side, and incessantly beaten with the waves; and yet notwithstanding continues in his place ,and neither by length of time, nor by the assaults of the same, is any ways consumed. Enforce yourselves against me, and leave me at your pleasure, I will overcome you with patience; whatsoever he be that attempteth those things that are firm and impregnable, employeth his forces to the ruin of himself. And therefore seek out some more soft and yielding matter, wherein you may fix your weapons.
But have you so much leisure as to examine other mens faults, and to give your censures of any man: why this Philosopher hath so fair a house? why the other suppeth more daintily? you observe pustules and little spots in other men, being yourselves besieged with ulcers. It is as much as if you should carp at some mens freckles and warts which should appear in their fairest bodies, and you yourselves were overgrown with a loathsome scab. Object against Plato, that he desired money; against Aristotle, that he received the same; against Democritus, that he neglected it; against the Epicure, that he spent it; object against me Alcibiades and Phœdrus. O how happy should you be, when you could but counterfeit our vices! But why rather examine you not you own vices which wound you on every side; the one assailing you outwardly, the other burning in your bowels? The affairs of the world are not brought to that pass, (although you are wholly ignorant of your estates) that you may have so much leisure as to employ the rest of your time, and your tongues in detraction of good men.
THIS understand you not, and you carry another countenance than becometh your fortune; even as many men do, who sitting in the Circus or Theater, have someone dead in their houses, and are wholly ignorant of that which hath happened. But I beholding from a high place, see what tempests either hang over your heads, (that will somewhat later break from out their cloud, to such as are near at hand,) which shall ravish both you and yours away, as soon as they shall meet you. And why? see you not already likewise, (although you have little sense thereof,) a certain tempest that transporteth your minds, and hurleth you up, flying and pursuing the same thing, and ravisheth you now lifted up on high; now battereth you against the ground.
The end of the Discourse touching a Blessed Life.
—Thomas Lodge (translator), 1620.