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The classics, Greek & Latin; the most celebrated works of Hellenic and Roman literatvre, embracing poetry, romance, history, oratory, science, and philosophy (Volume 14) online

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Online LibraryMarion Mills MillerThe classics, Greek & Latin; the most celebrated works of Hellenic and Roman literatvre, embracing poetry, romance, history, oratory, science, and philosophy (Volume 14) → online text (page 5 of 36)
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who are quickly resolved into their elements. More particu-
larly recollect those within your own memory, who have been
hurried on in these vain pursuits; how they have overlooked
the dignity of their nature, and neglected to hold fast to that,
and be satisfied with it. And here you must remember to
proportion your concern to the weight and importance of each
action. Thus, if you refrain from trifling, you may part with
amusements without regret.

Those words which were formerly current are now
become obsolete. Alas ! this is not all ; fame tarnishes in time
too, and men grow out of fashion as well as language. Those
celebrated names of Camillus, Cseso, Volesus, and Leonnatus
are antiquated. Those of Scipio, Cato, and Augustus will
soon have the same fortune, and those of Hadrian and Anto-
ninus must follow. All these things are transitory, and
quickly become as a tale that is told, and are swallowed up
in oblivion. I speak this of those who have been the wonder
of their age and who shone with unusual lustre. But as for
the rest, they are no sooner dead than forgotten. And after
all, what does fame everlasting mean? Mere vanity. What
then is it that is worth one's while to be concerned for ? Why
nothing but this : to bear an honest mind, to act for the good
of society, to deceive nobody, to welcome everything that
happens as necessary and familiar, and flowing from a like

Put yourself frankly into the hands of fate, and let her
spin you out what fortune she pleases. 1

He that does a memorable action, and those that report
it, are all but short-lived things.

Accustom yourself to consider that whatever is produced,
is produced by alteration ; that nature loves nothing so much
as changing existing things, and producing new ones like
them. For that which exists at present is, as it were, the
seed of what shall spring from it. But if you take seed in the

1 Clotho was one of the Fates. They were three sisters Clotho, the
spinning fate; Lachesis, the one who assigns to man his fate; and
Atropos, the sister who cut the thread when a man's destiny was


common notion, and confine it to the field or the womb, you
have a dull fancy.

You are just taking leave of the world, and yet you have
not done with unnecessary desires. Are you not yet above
disturbance and suspicion, and fully convinced that nothing
without can hurt you ? You have not yet learned to be friends
with everybody, and that to be an honest man is the only
way to be a wise one.

To understand the true quality of people, you must look
into their minds, and examine their pursuits and aversions.

Your pain cannot originate in another man's mind, nor
in any change or transformation of your corporeal covering.
Where then does it lie ? Why, in that part of you that forms
judgments about things evil. Do not imagine you are hurt,
and you are impregnable. Suppose then your flesh was
hacked, burnt, putrified, or mortified, yet let that part that
judges keep quiet ; that is, do not conclude that what is com-
mon to good or ill men can be good or evil in itself. For
that which may be everybody's lot, must in its own nature
be indifferent.

You ought frequently to consider that the world is an
animal, consisting of one soul and body, that an universal
sense runs through the whole mass of matter. You should
likewise reflect how nature acts by a joint effort, and how
everything contributes to the being of everything: and lastly,
what connection and subordination there is between causes
and effects.

Epictetus will tell you that you are a living soul, that
drags a corpse about with her.

Things that subsist upon change, and owe their being to
instability, can neither be considerably good nor bad.

Time is like a rapid river, and a rushing torrent of all
that comes and passes. A thing is no sooner well come, but
it is past ; and then another is borne after it, and this too will
be carried away.

Whatever happens is as common and well known as a
rose in the spring, or an apple in autumn. Of this kind are
diseases and death, calumny and trickery, and every other


thing which raises and depresses the spirits of unthinking

Antecedents and consequents are dexterously tied together
in the world. Things are not carelessly thrown on a heap,
and joined more by number than nature, but, as it were,
rationally connected with each other. And as the things
that exist are harmoniously connected, so those that become
exhibit no mere succession, but an harmonious relationship.

Do not forget the saying of Heraclitus, " That the
earth dies into water, water into air, air into fire, and so
backward." Remember likewise the story of the man that
travelled on without knowing to what place the way would
bring him; and that many people quarrel with that reason
that governs the world, and with which they are daily con-
versant, and seem perfectly unacquainted with those things
which occur daily. Farther, we must not nod over business
for even in sleep we seem to act, neither are we to be
wholly governed by tradition; for that is like children, who
believe anything their parents tell them.

Put the case, some god should acquaint you you were to
die to-morrow, or next day at farthest. Under this warning,
you would be a very poor wretch if you should strongly solicit
for the longest time. For, alas! how inconsiderable is the
difference? In like manner, if you would reason right, you
would not be much concerned whether your life was to end
to-morrow or a thousand years hence.

Consider how many physicians are dead that used to knit
their brows over their patients; how many astrologers who
thought themselves great men by foretelling the death of
others ; how many philosophers have gone the way of all
flesh, after all their learned disputes about dying and immor-
tality; how many warriors, who had knocked so many men's
brains out; how many tyrants, who managed the power of
life and death with as much insolence, as if themselves had
been immortal ; how many cities, if I may say so, have given
up the ghost: for instance, Helice in Greece, Pompeii and
Herculaneum in Italy; not to mention many besides. Do
but recollect your acquaintance, and here you will find one


man closing another's eyes, then he himself is laid out, and
this one by another. And all within a small compass of time.
In short, mankind are poor transitory things! They are one
day in the rudiments of life and almost the next turned to
mummy or ashes. Your way is therefore to manage this
minute in harmony with nature, and part with it cheerfully;
and like a ripe olive when you drop, be sure to speak well
of the mother that bore you, and make your acknowledg-
ments to the tree that produced you.

Stand firm like a rock, against which though the waves
batter, yet it stands unmoved, and they fall to rest at last.
How unfortunate has this accident made me, cries such an
one! Not at all! He should rather say, What a happy
mortal am I for being unconcerned upon this occasion! for
being neither crushed by the present, nor afraid of what is
to come. The thing might have happened to any other man
as well as myself; but for all that, everybody would not have
been so easy under it. Why then is not the good fortune of
the bearing more considerable than the ill fortune of the
happening? Or, to speak properly, how can that be a mis-
fortune to a man which does not frustrate his nature? And
how can that cross upon a man's nature which is not opposed
to the intention and design of it? Now what that intention
is, you know. To apply this reasoning : does the present acci-
dent hinder your being just, magnanimous, temperate and
modest, judicious, truthful, reverent, and unservile? Now,
when a man is furnished with these good qualities, his nature
has what she would have. Farther, when everything grows
troublesome, recollect this maxim : This accident is not a
misfortune, but bearing it well turns it to an advantage.

To consider those old people that resigned life so
unwillingly, is a common yet not unserviceable aid in facing
death. For what are these long-lived mortals more than
those that went off in their infancy? What has become of
Cadicianus, Fabius, Julianus, and Lepidus, and others like
them? They buried a great many, but came at last to it
themselves. Upon the whole, the difference between long
and short life is insignificant, especially if you con-
sider the accidents, the company, and the body you must go


through with. Therefore do not let a thought of this kind
affect you. Do but look upon the astonishing notion of time
and eternity; what an immense deal has run out already, and
how infinite it is still in the future. Do but consider this,
and you will find three days and three ages of life come much
to the same thing.

Always go the shortest way to work. Now, the nearest
road to your business is the road of nature. Let it be your
constant method, then, to be sound in word and in deed, and
by this means you need not grow fatigued, you need not
quarrel, flourish and dissemble like other people.


WHEN you find an unwillingness to rise early in the morn-
ing, make this short speech to yourself : I am getting up now
to do the business of a man; and am I out of humour for
going about that I was made for, and for the sake of
which I was sent into the world? Was I then designed
for nothing but to doze and keep warm beneath the counter-
pane ? Well ! but this is a comfortable way of living. Grant-
ing that: were you born only for pleasure? were you never
to do anything? Is not action the end of your being? Pray
look upon the plants and birds, the ants, spiders, and bees,
and you will see them all exerting their nature, and busy in
their station. Pray, shall not a man act like a man? Why
do you not rouse your faculties, and hasten to act according
to your nature? For all that, there is no living without rest.
True ; but nature has fixed a limit to eating and drinking, and
here, too, you generally exceed bounds, and go beyond what
is sufficient. Whereas in business you are apt to do less than
lies in your power. In earnest, you have no true love for
yourself. If you had, you would love your nature and
honour her wishes. Now, when a man loves his trade, how
he will sweat and drudge to perform to perfection. But you
honour your nature less than a turner does the art of turn-
ing, a dancing-master the art of dancing. And as for wealth
and popularity, how eagerly are they pursued by the vain
and the covetous? All these people when they greatly desire


anything 1 , seek to attain it, might and main, and will scarcely
allow themselves necessary refreshment. And now, can you
think the exercise of social duties less valuable than these
petty amusements, and worth less exertion?

What an easy matter it is to stem the current of your
imagination, to discharge a troublesome or improper thought,
and at once return to a state of calm.

Do not think any word or action beneath you which is
in accordance with nature ; and never be misled by the appre-
hension of censure or reproach. Where honesty prompts you
to say or do anything never hold it beneath you. Other
people have their own guiding principles and impulses; mind
them not. Go on in the straight road, pursue your own and
the common interest. For to speak strictly, these two are
approached by one and the same road.

I will march on in the path of nature till my legs sink
under me, and then I shall be at rest, and expire into that
air which has given me my daily breath ; fall upon that earth
which has maintained my parents, helped my nurse to her
milk, and supplied me with meat and drink for so many
years; and though its favours have been often abused, still
suffers me to tread upon it.

Wit and smartness are not your talent. What then?
There are a great many other good qualities in which you
cannot pretend nature has failed you ; improve them as far as
you can, and let us have that which is perfectly in your power.
You may if you please behave yourself like a man of gravity
and good faith, endure hardship, and despise pleasure; want
but a few things, and complain of nothing ; you may be gentle
and magnanimous if you please, and have nothing of luxury
or trifling in your disposition. Do not you see how much
you may do if you have a mind to it, where the plea of in-
capacity is out of place? And yet you do not push forward
as you should do. What then! Does any natural defect
force you to grumble, to lay faults upon your constitution,
to be stingy or a flatterer, to seek after popularity, boast,
and be disturbed in mind? Can you say you are so weakly
made as to be driven to these practices? The immortal gods
know the contrary. No, you might have stood clear of all


this long since; and after all, if your parts were somewhat
slow, and your understanding heavy, your way had been to
have taken the more pains with yourself, and not to have
lain fallow and remained content with your own dulness.

Some men, when they do you a kindness, at once demand
the payment of gratitude from you; others are more modest
than this. However, they remember the favour, and look
upon you in a manner as their debtor. A third sort shall
scarce know what they have done. These are much like a
vine, which is satisfied by being fruitful in its kind, and bears
a bunch of grapes without expecting any thanks for it. A
fleet horse or greyhound does not make a noise when they
have done well, nor a bee neither when she has made a little
honey. And thus a man that has done a kindness never pro-
claims it, but does another as soon as he can, just like a vine
that bears again the next season. Now we should imitate
those who are so obliging, as hardly to reflect on their benefi-
cence. But you will say, a man ought not to act without
reflection. It is surely natural for one that is generous to be
conscious of his generosity; yes, truly, and to desire the
person obliged should be sensible of it too. What you say is
in a great measure true. But if you mistake my meaning,
you will become one of those untoward benefactors I first
mentioned; indeed, they too are misled by the plausibility of
their reasoning. But if you will view the matter in its true
colours, never fear that you will neglect any social act.

A prayer of the Athenians, " Send down, oh ! send down
rain, dear Zeus, on the ploughed fields and plains of the
Athenians." Of a truth, we should not pray at all, or else
in this simple and noble fashion.

^Esculapius, as we commonly say, has prescribed such an
one riding out, walking in his slippers, or a cold bath. Now,
with much the same meaning we may affirm that the nature
of the universe has ordered this or that person a disease, loss
of limbs or estate, or some such other calamity. For as in
the first case, the word " prescribed " signifies a direction for
the health of the patient, so in the latter it means an applica-
tion fit for his constitution and fate. And thus these harsher
events may be counted fit for us, as stone properly joined



together in a wall or pyramid is said by the workmen to fit
in. Indeed, the whole of nature consists of harmony. For as
the world has its form and entireness from that universal
matter of which it consists, so the character of fate results
from the quality and concurrence of all other causes con-
tained in it. The common people understand this notion very
well. Their way of speaking is : " This happened to this
man, therefore it was sent him and appointed for him."
Let us then comply with our doom, as we do with the pre-
scriptions of ^Esculapius. These doses are often unpalatable
and rugged, and yet the desire of health makes them go
merrily down. Now that which nature esteems profit and
convenience, should seem to you like your own health. And,
therefore, when anything adverse happens, take it quietly to
you; it is for the health of the universe, and the prosperity
of Zeus himself. Depend upon it, this had never been sent
you, if the universe had not found its advantage in it. Nei-
ther does nature act at random, or order anything which is
not suitable to those beings under her government. You have
two reasons, therefore, to be contented with your condition.
First, because it has befallen you, and was appointed you
from the beginning by the highest and most ancient causes.
Secondly, The lot even of individuals is in a manner destined
for the interest of him that governs the world. It perfects
his nature in some measure, and causes and continues his
happiness; for it holds in causes, no less than in parts of a
whole that if you lop off any part of the continuity and con-
nection, you maim the whole. Now, if you are displeased
with your circumstances, you dismember nature, and pull the
world in pieces, as much as lies in your power.

Be not uneasy, discouraged, or out of humour, because
practice falls short of precept in some particulars. If you
happen to be beaten, come on again, and be glad if most of
your acts are worthy of human nature. Love that to which
you return, and do not go like a schoolboy to his master, with
an ill will. No, you must apply to philosophy with inclina-
tion, as those who have sore eyes make use of a good receipt.
And when you are thus disposed, you will easily acquiesce in
reason, and make your abode with her. And here you are


to remember that philosophy will put you upon nothing but
what your nature wishes and calls for. But you are crossing
the inclinations of your nature. Is not this the most agree-
able? And does not pleasure often deceive us under this
pretence? Now think a little, and tell me what is there more
delightful than greatness of mind, and generosity, simplicity,
equanimity, and piety? And once more, what can be more
delightful than prudence? than to be furnished with that
faculty of knowledge and understanding which keeps a man
from making a false step, and helps him to good fortune
in all his business?

Things are so much perplexed and in the dark that several
great philosophers looked upon them as altogether unintel-
ligible, and that there was no certain test for the discovery
of truth. Even the Stoics agree that certainty is very hard
to come at; that our assent is worth little, for where is
infallibility to be found? However, our ignorance is not so
great but that we may discover how transitory and insignifi-
cant all things are, and that they may fall into the worst
hands. Farther, consider the temper of those you converse
with, and you will find the best will hardly do; not to men-
tion that a man has work enough to make himself tolerable
to himself. And since we have nothing but darkness and
dirt to grasp at, since time and matter, motion and mortals
are in perpetual flux; for these reasons, I say, I cannot im-
agine what there is here worth the minding or being eager
about. On the other hand, a man ought to keep up his spirits,
for it will not be long before his discharge comes. In the
meantime, he must not fret at the delay, but satisfy himself
with these two considerations : the one is, that nothing will
befall me but what is in accordance with the nature of the
universe; the other, that I need do nothing contrary to my
mind and divinity, since no one can force me to act thus, or
force me to act against my .own judgment.

What use do I put my soul to? It is a serviceable ques-
tion this, and should frequently be put to oneself. How does
my ruling part stand affected ? And whose soul have I now ?
That of a child, or a young man, or a feeble woman, or of a
tyrant, of cattle or wild beasts.


What sort of good things those are, which are commonly
so reckoned on, you may learn from hence. For the purpose,
if you reflect upon those qualities which are intrinsically val-
uable, such as prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude,
you will not find it possible afterwards to give ear to those,
for this is not suitable to a good man. But if you have once
conceived as good what appears so to the many, you will
hear and gladly accept as suitable the saying of the comic
writer. Thus we see the generality are struck with the dis-
tinction, otherwise they would not dislike the liberty in one
case, and allow it in the other, holding it a suitable and witty
jest when it is directed against wealth, and the means that
further luxury and ambition. Now, what significancy and
excellence can there be in these things, to which may be
applied the poet's jest, that excess of luxury leaves no room
for comfort?

My being consists of matter and form, that is, of soul
and body; annihilation will reach neither of them, for they
were never produced out of nothing. The consequence is,
that every part of me will serve to make something in the
world; and this again will change into another part through
an infinite succession of change. This constant method of
alteration gave me my being, and my father before me, and so
on to eternity backward: for I think I may speak thus, even
though the world be confined within certain determinate

Reason and the reasoning faculty need no foreign assist-
ance, but are sufficient for their own purposes. They move
within themselves, and make directly for the point in view.
Wherefore, acts in accordance with them are called right
acts, for they lead along the right road.

Those things do not belong to a man which do not belong
to him as a man. For they are not included in the idea ; they
are not required of us men; human nature does not promise
them; neither is it perfected by them. Form whence it fol-
lows that they can neither constitute the chief end of man,
nor strictly contribute towards it. Farther, if these things
were any real additions, how comes the contempt of them,
and the being easy without them, to be so great a commenda-


tion? To balk an advantage would be folly if these things
were truly good. But the case stands otherwise; for we
know that self-denial and indifference about these things, and
patience when they are taken away, is the character of a
good man.

Your manners will depend very much upon the quality
of what you really think on; for the soul is as it were
tinged with the colour and complexion of thought. Be sure
therefore to work in such maxims as these. Wherever a man
lives, he may live well; by consequence, a life of virtue and
that of a courtier are not inconsistent. Again, that which a
thing is made for, is that towards which it is carried, and
in that which it is naturally carried to, lies the end of the
act. Now where the end of a thing is, there the advantage
and improvement of it is certainly lodged. Now the happi-
ness of mankind lies in society, since that we were made for
this purpose, I have proved already. For is it not plain that
the lower order of beings are made for the higher, and the
higher for the service of each other? Now as those with
souls are superior to the soulless, so amongst all creatures
with souls the rational are the best.

To expect an impossibility is madness. Now it is impos-
sible for ill men not to do ill.

There is nothing happens to any person but what was
in his power to go through with. Some people have had very
severe trials, and yet either by having less understanding, or
more pride than ordinary, have charged bravely through
the misfortune, and come off without a scratch. Now it is
a disgrace to let ignorance and vanity do more with us than
prudence and principle.

Outward objects cannot take hold of the soul, nor force
their passage into her, nor set any of her wheels going. No,
the impression comes from herself, and it is her own motions
which affect her. As for the contingencies of fortune, they
are either great or little, according to the opinion she has
of her own strength.

When we consider we are bound to be serviceable to man-
kind, and bear with their faults, we shall perceive there is a
common tie of nature and relation between us. But when


we see people grow troublesome and disturb us in our busi-
ness, here we are to look upon men as indifferent sort of
things, no less than sun or wind, or a wild beast. It is true
they may hinder me in the executing part, but all this is of
no moment while my inclinations and good intent stand firm,
for these can act according to the condition and change. For
the mind converts and changes every hindrance into help.

Online LibraryMarion Mills MillerThe classics, Greek & Latin; the most celebrated works of Hellenic and Roman literatvre, embracing poetry, romance, history, oratory, science, and philosophy (Volume 14) → online text (page 5 of 36)