« ZurückWeiter »
on after a barren year : and while the ashes are yet warm, we raise a new house upon the ruins of a former.
7 What obligations can be greater than those which children receive from their parents ? and yet should we give them over in their infancy, it were all to no purpose. Benefits, like grain, must be followed from the seed to the harvest. Í will not so much as leave any place for ingratitude. I will pursue, and I will encompass the receiver with benefits ; so that let him look which way he will, his benefactor shall be still in his eye, even when he would avoid his own memory.
8 In a matter of money, it is a common thing to pay a debt out of course, and before it be due ; but we account ourselves to owe nothing for a good office; whereas the benefit increases by delay. So insensible are we of the most important affair of human life.
9 That man were doubtless in a miserable condition, that could neither see, nor hear, nor taste, nor feel, nor smell : but much more unhappy is he than that, wanting a sense of benefits, loses the greatest comfort in nature in the bliss of giving and receiving them. He that takes a benefit as it is meant, is in the right; for the benefactor has then his end, and his only end, when the receiver is grateful. ABRIDGMENT OF SENECA'S TREATISE ON A HAPPY LIFE.
SECTION II. On a happy life, and wherein it consists. 1 There is not any thing in this world, perhaps, that is more talked of, and less understood, than the business of a happy life. It is every man's wish and design; and yet not one of a thousand that knows wherein that happiness consists. We live, however, in a blind and eager pursuit of it; and the more haste we make in a wrong way, the farther we are from our journey's end.
2 Let us therefore, first, consider “what it is we should be at;" and secondly, “which is the readiest way to compass it.” If we be right, we shall find every day how much we improve ; but if we either follow the cry, or the track, of people that are out of the way, we must expect to be misled, and to continue our days in wandering and error.
3 Wherefore, it highly concerns us to take along with us a skilful guide ; for it is not in this, as in other voyages, where the highway brings us to our place of repose; or if a man should happen to be out, where the inhabitants might set him right again ; but on the contrary, the beaten road is
here the most dangerous, and the people instead of helping us, misguide us. Let us not therefore follow, like beasts, but rather govern ourselves by reason, than by example.
4 It fares with us in human life as in a routed army; one stumbles first, and then another falls upon him, and so they follow, one upon the neck of another, until the whole field comes to be but one heap of miscarriages.
5 And the mischief is, " that the number of the multitude carries it against truth and justice ;" so that we must leave the crowd if we would be happy : for the question of a happy life is not to be decided by vote: nay, so far from it, that plurality of voices is still an argument of the wrong ; the common people find it easier to believe than to judge, and content themselves with what is usual, never examining whether it be good or not.
6 By the common people is intended the man of title as well as the clouted shoe : for I do not distinguish them by the eye, but by the mind, which is the proper judge of the
7 The true felicity of life is to be free from perturbations; to understand our duties toward God and man: to enjoy the present without any anxious dependence upon the future. The great blessings of mankind are within us, and within our reach; but we shut our eyes, and, like people in the dark, we fall foul upon the very thing we search for without finding it.
8 66 Tranquillity is a certain equality of mind, which no condition of fortune can either exalt or depress.
66 True joy is a serene and sober motion;" and they are miserably out that take laughing for rejoicing. The seat of it is within, and there is no cheerfulness like the resolution of a brave mind, that has fortune under his feet. He that can look death in the face, and bid it welcome; open his door to poverty, and bridle his appetites; this is the man whom Providence has established in the possession of inviolable delights. The pleasures of the vulgar are ungrounded, thin, and superficial; but the other are solid and eternal.
9 As the body itself is rather a necessary thing than a great; the comforts of it are but temporary and vain; beside that, without extraordinary moderation, their end is only pain and repentance; whereas, a peaceful conscience, honest thoughts, virtuous actions, and an indifference for casual events, are blessings without end, satiety, or measure.
10 This consummated state of felicity is only a submission to the dictate of right nature; “ The foundation of it is wisdom and virtue; the knowledge of what we ought to do, and the conformity of the will to that knowledge.
SECTION III. Human happiness is founded upon wisdom and virtue.
1 Taking for granted that human happiness is founded upon wisdom and virtue, we shall treat of these two points in order as they lie; and, first, of wisdom; not in the latitude of its various operations, but as it has only a regard to a good life, and the happiness of mankind.
2 Wisdom is a right understanding, a faculty of discerning good from evil; what is to be chosen, and what rejected; a judgment grounded upon the value of things, and not the common opinion of them; an equality of force, and a strength of resolution. It sets a watch over our words and deeds, it takes us up with the contemplation of the works of nature, and makes us invincible to either good or evil fortune.
3 It is the habit of a perfect mind, and the perfection of humanity, raised as high as nature can carry it.
It differs from philosophy, as avarice and money; the one desires, and the other is desired; the one is the effect and the reward of the other. To be wise is the use of wisdom, as seeing is the use of eyes, and well speaking the use of eloquence.
4 He that is perfectly wise is perfectly happy; nay, the very beginning of wisdom makes life easy to us. Neither is it enough to know this, unless we print it in our minds by daily meditation, and so bring a good will to a good habit.
5 And we must practise what we preach: for philosophy is not a subject for popular ostentation; nor does it rest in words, but in things. It is not an entertainment taken up
for delight, or to give a taste to our leisure; but it fashions the mind, governs our actions, tells what we are to do, and what not.
6 It sits at the helm, and guides us through all hazards; nay, we cannot be safe without it, for every hour gives us occasion to make use of it. It informs us in all the duties of life, piety to our parents, faith to our friends, charity to the miserable, judgment in counsel; it gives us peace by fearing nothing, and riches by coveting nothing.
7 There is no condition of life that excludes a wise man from discharging his duty. If his fortune be good, he tempers it; if bad, he masters it; if he has an estate, he will exercise his virtue in plenty; if none, in poverty. 8 Some accidents there are, which I confess may
him, but not overthrow him; as bodily pains, loss of children and friends; the ruin and desolation of a man's country. One must be made of stone, or iron, not to be sensible of these calamities: and beside, it were no virtue to bear them, if a body did not feel them. If there were nothing else in it, a man would apply himself to wisdom, because it settles him in a perpetual tranquillity of mind.
SECTION IV. There can be no Happiness without Virtue. 1. Virtue is that perfect good, which is the complement of a happy life; the only immortal thing that belongs to mortality: it is the knowledge both of others and itself; it is an invincible greatness of mind not to be elevated or dejected with good or ill fortune.
2. It is sociable and gentle, free, steady, and fearless : content within itself; full of inexhaustible delights; and it is valued for itself. One may be a good physician, a good governor, a good grammarian, without being a good man; so that all things from without are only accessạries: for the seat of it is a pure and holy mind.
3 It consists in a congruity of actions which we can never expect so long as we are distracted by our passions. It is not the matter, but the virtue, that makes the action good or ill; and he that is led in triumph may be yet greater than his conqueror.
4. When we come once to value our flesh above our honesty, we are lost; and yet I would not press upon dangers, no, not so much as upon inconveniences, unless where the man and the brute come in competition: and in such a case, rather than make a forfeiture of my credit, my reason, or my faith, I would run all extremities.
5. It is by an impression of nature that all men have a reverence for virtue; they know it, and they have a respect for it, though they do not practise it: nay, for the countenance of their very wickedness, they miscall it virtue. Their injuries they call benefits, and expect a man should thank them for doing him a mischief; they cover their most notorious iniquities with a pretext of justice.
6. He that robs upon the highway, had rather find his booty than force it. Ask any of them that live upon rapine, fraud, oppression, if they had not rather enjoy a fortune honestly gotten, and their consciences will not suffer them to deny it.
7 Men are vicious only for the profit of villany; for, at the same time that they commit it, they condemn it. Nay, so powerful is virtue, and so gracious is Providence, that every man has a light set up within him for a guide; which we do all of us both see and acknowledge, though we do not pursue
8 What I do shall be done for conscience, not ostentation. I will eat and drink, not to gratify my palate, but to satisfy nature: I will be cheerful to my friends, mild and placable to my enemies: I will prevent an honest request, if I can foresee it, and I will grant it without asking: I will look
upon the whole world as my country: I will live and die with this testimony, that I loved good studies and a good conscience; that I never invaded another man's liberty, and that I preserved my own.
9 Virtue is divided into two parts, contemplation and action. The one is delivered by institution, the other by admonition: one part of virtue consists in discipline; the other in exercise; for we must first learn, and then practise. The sooner we begin to apply ourselves to it, and the more haste we make, the longer shall we enjoy the comforts of a rectified mind; nay, we have the fruition of it in the very act of forming it: but it is another sort of delight, I must confess, that arises from the contemplation of a soul which is advanced into the possession of wisdom and virtue.
10 If it was so great a comfort to us to pass from the subjection of our childhood into a state of liberty and business, how much greater will it be when we come to cast off the boyish levity of our minds, and range ourselves among the philosophers ?
11 We are past our minority, it is true, but not our indiscretion; and, which is yet worse, we have the authority of seniors, and the weaknesses of children, (I might have said of infants, for every little thing frights the one, and every trivial fancy the other.)
12 For virtue is open to all; as well to servants and exiles, as to princes: it is profitable to the world and to itself, at all distances and in all conditions; and there is no difficulty that can excuse a man from the exercise of it.
13 Nay, the mind itself has its variety of perverse pleasures as well as the body; as insolence, self-conceit, pride,
* “ I know the right, and I approve it too;