« PreviousContinue »
make a display of wealth and magnificence. This may be accounted, in such a great philosopher, something frivolous. It is worth remarking that the term ' frivolous' is always applied (by those who use language with care and correctness) to a great interest shown about things that are little to the person in question. For, little and great,—trifling or important,—are relative terms. If a grown man or woman were to be occupied with a doll, this would be called excessively frivolous; but no one calls a little girl frivolous for playing with a doll.
ESSAY XXXVIII. OF NATURE IN MEN.
"TVTATURE is often hidden, sometimes overcome, seldom ex-*-' tinguished. Force maketh nature more violent in the return, doctrine and discourse maketh nature less importune,1 but custom only doth alter and subdue nature. He that seeketh victory over his nature, let him not set himself too great nor too small tasks; for the first will make him dejected by often failing, and the second will make him a small proceeder, though by often prevailing. And, at the first, let him practise with helps, as swimmers do with bladders or rushes; but, after a time, let him practise with disadvantages, as dancers do with thick shoes, for it breeds great perfection if the practice be harder than the use. Where nature is mighty, and therefore the victory hard, the degrees had need be, first to stay and arrest nature in time; (like to him that would say over the four-and-twenty letters when he was angry) then to go less in quantity; as if one should, in forbearing wine, come from drinking healths to a draught at a meal; and, lastly, to discontinue altogether; but if a man have the fortitude and resolution to enfranchise himself at once, that is the best:—
'Optimus ille animi vindex, laedentia pectus
Neither is the ancient rule amiss, to bend nature as a wand, to a contrary extreme, whereby to set it right; understanding it where the contrary extreme is no vice. Let not a man force a habit upon himself with a perpetual continuance, but with some intermission, for both the pause reinforceth the new onset; and if a man that is not perfect be ever in practice, he shall as well practise his errors as his abilities, and induce one habit of both, and there is no means to help this but by seasonable intermission. But let not a man trust his victory over his nature too far, for nature will lie buried a great time, and yet revive upon the occasion or temptation; like as it was with iEsop's damsel, turned from a cat to a woman, who sat very demurely at the board's end till a mouse ran before her; therefore, let a man either avoid the occasion altogether, or put himself often to it, that he may be little moved with it. A man's nature is best perceived in privateness,1 for there is no affection: in passion; for that putteth a man out of his precepts, and in a new case or experiment, for there custom leaveth him. They are happy men whose natures sort2 with their vocations,3 otherwise they may say, 'Multum incola fuit anima mea/4 when they converse * in those things they do not affect." In studies, whatsoever a man commandeth upon himself, let him set hours for it; but whatsoever is agreeable to his nature, let him take no care for any set times; for his thoughts will fly to it of themselves, so as the spaces of other business or studies will suffice. A man's nature runs either to herbs or weeds; therefore let him seasonably water the one, and destroy the other.
1 Importune. Importunate; troublesome. See page 95.
3 'He is the best assertor of the soul, who bursts the bonds that gall bis breast, and suffers all, at once.'—Ovid, E. Amor. 293.
ANTITHETA ON NATURE IN MEN.
'Consuetudo contra naturam, quasi 'Cogitamus secundum naturam; lo
tyrannis quaxiam est; et cito, ac levi quimur secundum priecepta; sed agimus
occasione corruit. secundum consuetudinem.
'Custom, when contrary to nature, 'We think according to our nature;
is a kind of usurpation over it; and is we speak according to instruction; but
quickly overthrown on the most trifling we act according to custom.' occasion.'
1 Privateness. Privacy. See page 105. 3 Sort. Suit. See page 72.
3 Vocation. Calling in life. See page 20. 4 'My soul has been long a sojourner.'
4 Converse. To have one's way of life in. See 'Conversation/ page 282. 'Let your conversation be as becometh the Gospel of Christ.'—Phil. i. 27.
* Octavia is of a holy and still conversation.'—Shakespere. 6 Affect. To like.
'Dost thou affect her ?'—Shakespere.
'Neither is the ancient rule amiss, to bend Nature as a wand, to the contrary extreme, whereby to set it right.'
This 'ancient rule" needs to be qualified by a caution against 'bending the wand' too far.- an error sometimes committed by well-intentioned persons. If A. confesses, and with truth, that he is conscious of a natural tendency towards parsimony, and B. that his natural leaning is towards careless prodigality, it is yet possible we may find, in practice,—greatly to the astonishment of some—that A. errs, when he does err, generally on the side of profusion, and B. on that of parsimony; each having guarded exclusively against a danger on one side, and thinking that he cannot go too far the other way. So, also, one who is excessively in dread of over-deference for some highly-esteemed and venerated friend, may, perhaps, in practice, 'bend the wand' too far the other way. His veneration will then be theoretical and general; while, practically, and in almost every particular instance, he will be cherishing, as a matter of duty, a strong prejudice against every proposal, decision, measure, institution, person, or thing, that his friend approves.
I have noticed in the 'Annotations' on Essay VI. a like error, in carrying to a faulty excess the endeavour to repress all ill feelings towards one who has injured one's self: the error, namely, of breaking down, in his favour, the boundaries of right and wrong, and treating a man as blameless or laudable, because it is to us he has done a wrong.
A man's nature is best perceived in privateness; . ... in passion: .... and in a new case or experiment.'
To this excellent list of things that show nature, Bacon might have added small things rather than great. 'A straw best shows how the wind blows.' The most ordinary and unimportant actions of a man's life will often show more of his natural character and his habits, than more important actions
1 Aristotle's: see E(h. Sicom. b. ii.
which are done deliberately, and sometimes against his natural inclinations.
On this is founded the art which many persons (the majority of them probably empty pretenders) now practise, called by some 'Graptomancy'—the judging of character from handwriting. Amidst much delusion and quackery, it is certain that some persons do possess a gift by which they have made some wonderful hits. And to those who deride the whole matter as absurd, it may easily be proved not only that there is something in it, but that they themselves think so. For, all are accustomed to speak of a 'man's hand' and a 'woman's.-' and it is plain the difference must depend on something mental; since there is no call for muscular strength. Almost all, again, speak of a ' genteel' and a ' vulgar' hand-writing. There is, however (as was justly remarked by the late Bishop Copleston), no greater indication of character in a man's way of writing, than in his way of walking, or of wiping his face, &c. But the difference is, that, in all the other ordinary actions, the observation of manner is only momentary; whereas, in writing, there is a permanent record of it, which may be examined at leisure.
'A man's nature runs either to herbs or weeds: therefore let him seasonably water the one and destroy the other.'
There are some considerations with regard to human nature, unnoticed by Bacon, which are very important, as involving the absolute necessity of great watchfulness, candour, and diligence, in those who would, indeed, desire to 'destroy the weeds.' Human nature (as I have observed in a former work) is always and everywhere, in the most important points, substantially the same; circumstantially and externally, men's manners and conduct are infinitely various in various times and regions. If the former were not true,—if it were not for this fundamental agreement,—history could furnish no instruction; if the latter were not true,—if there were not these apparent and circumstantial differences,—hardly any one could fail to profit by that instruction. For, few are so dull as not to learn something from the records of past experience in cases precisely similar to their own. But as it is, much candour and diligence are called