Page images

on society a rogue who has cheated him, and to leave uncensured aud unexposed a liar by whom he has been belied; and the like in other cases. And if you refuse favour and countenance to those unworthy of it, whose misconduct has at all affected you, he will at once attribute this to personal vindictive feelings; as if there could be no such thing as esteem and disesteem. One may even see tales, composed by persons not wanting in intelligence, and admired by many of what are called the educated classes, in which the virtue held up for admiration and imitation consists in selecting as a bosom friend, and a guide, and a model of excellence, one who had been guilty of manifest and gross injustice; because the party had suffered personally from that injustice.

It is thus that 'fools mistake reverse of wrong for right.' The charity of some persons consists in proceeding on the supposition that to believe in the existence of an injury is to cherish implacable resentment; and that it is impossible to forgive, except when there is nothing to be forgiven. It is obvious that these notions render nugatory the Gospel-precepts. Why should we be called upon to render good for evil, if we are bound always to explain away that evil, and call it good? Where there is manifestly just ground for complaint, we should accustom ourselves to say, 'That man owes me a hundred pence V thus at once estimating the debt at its just amount, and recalling to our mind the parable of him who rigorously enforced his own claims, when he had been forgiven ten thousand talents.

There is a whole class of what may be called secondaiy vulgar errors,—errors produced by a kind of re-action from those of people who are the very lowest of all, in point of intellect, or of moral sentiment,—errors which those fall into who are a few, and but a very few, steps higher.

Any one who ventures a remark on the above error, will be not unlikely to hear as a reply, ' Oh, but most men are far more disposed to judge too severely than too favourably of one who has injured themselves or their friends. ' And this is true; but it is nothing to the purpose, unless we lay down as a principle, that when one fault is more prevalent than another, the latter need not be shunned at all. 'Of two evils, chuse the less,' is a just maxim, then, and then only, when there is no other alternative,—when we must take the one or the other: but it is mere folly to incur either, when it is in our power to avoid both. Those who speak of 'a fault on the right side/ should be reminded that though a greater error is worse than a less, there is no rig fit side in error. And in the present case, it is plain our aim should be to judge of each man's conduct fairly and impartially, and on the same principles, whether we ourselves, or a stranger, be the party concerned.

It may be added, that though the error of unduly glossing over misconduct when the injury has been done to oneself, is far less common than the opposite, among the mass of mankind, who have but little thought of justice and generosity, it is the error to which those are more liable who belong to a superior class,—those of a less coarse and vulgar mind; and who, if they need admonition less, are more likely to profit by it, because they are striving to act on a right principle. The Patriarch Joseph, for instance, whose generous forgiveness of his brethren is justly admired, went into a faulty extreme when he told them (Gen. xlv. 5) 'not to be angry with themselves/ inasmuch as God had over-ruled for good the crime they had committed. If they were thence induced to feel no sorrow and shame, he had not done them any real benefit.

And a person of the disposition alluded to, will be liable to analogous errors in other matters also. For instance, he will perhaps show too little deference,—for fear of showing too much —for the judgment of those he highly esteems; and will do injustice to a friend, in some cause he has to decide, through over-dread of partiality. And perhaps he will under-rate the evidence for a religion he wishes to believe, from dread of an undue bias in its favour.1

An actual case has been known of a person most of whose relatives were accustomed to speak of him much less favourably than they really thought; not from want of good-will, but from dread of being thought partial. And the impression thus produced was such as might have been expected. It was supposed—very naturally—that they were giving the most favourable picture they could, when the contrary was the fact. What ought to have been taken at a premium, was taken at a discount, and vice versd: so that they damaged unfairly the reputation of one to whom they wished well.

1 See Elements of Logic, app. i., article Indifference.

It may be thought superfluous to warn any one against an excess of self-distrust. But in truth, there is the more danger of this, from the very circumstance that men are not usually warned against it, and fancy themselves quite safe from it. We should remember,—besides all other distrust,—to distrust our own self-distrust.


IT was a high speech of Seneca (after the manner of the Stoics), that the 'good things which belong to prosperity are to be wished, but the good things that belong to adversity are to be admired'—'Bona rerum secundarum optabilia, adversarum mirabilia.'1 Certainly, if miracles be the command over nature, they appear most in adversity. It is yet a higher speech of his than the other (much too high for a heathen), 'It is true greatness to have in one the frailty of a man, and the security of a God'—'Vere magnum habere fragilitatem hominis, securitatem Dei.'2 This would have done better in poesy,3 where transcendencies" are more allowed; and the poets, indeed, have been busy with it—for it is in effect the thing which is figured in that strange fiction of the ancient poets, which seemeth not to be without mystery;5 nay, and to have some approach to the state of a Christian, 'that Hercules, when he went to unbind Prometheus (by whom human nature is represented), sailed the length of the great ocean in an earthen pot or pitcher, lively describing christian resolution, that saileth in the frail bark of the flesh through the waves of the world.8 But to speak in a mean,7 the virtue of prosperity is temperance, the virtue of adversity is fortitude, which in morals is the more heroical virtue. Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament, adversity is the blessing of the New, which carrieth the greater benediction, and the clearer revelation of God's favour. Yet even in the Old Testament, if you listen to David's harp, you shall hear as many hearse-like airs as carols; and the pencil of the Holy Ghost hath laboured more in describing the afflictions of Job than the felicities' of Solomon. Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes. We see in needleworks and embroideries, it is more pleasing to have a lively work upon a sad2 and solemn ground, than to have a dark and melancholy work upon a lightsome ground: judge, therefore, of the pleasure of the heart by the pleasure of the eye. Certainly virtue is like precious odours, most fragrant where they are incensed' or crushed; for prosperity doth best discover vice, and adversity doth best discover virtue.

1 Sen. Ad Lucil. 66. s Sen. Ad Lucil. 53.

3 Poesy. Poetry.

'Musick and Poesy
To quicken you.'—Shakespere.

* Transcendencies. Flights; soarings.

* Mystery. A secret meaning; an emblem.

'Important truths still let your fables hold, And moral mysteries with art enfold.'—Granville. 'Apollod. Dear. Orig. 11. 7 Mean. Medium.

'Temperance, with golden square, Betwixt them both can measure out a mean.'—Shakespere.


Some kinds of adversity are chiefly of the character of Trials, and others of Mscipline. But Bacon does not advert to this difference, nor say anything at all about the distinction between discipline and trial; which are quite different in themselves, but often confounded together.

By 'discipline' is to be understood, anything—whether of the character of adversity or not—that has a direct tendency to produce improvement, or to create some qualification that did not exist before; and by trial, anything that tends to ascertain what improvement has been made, or what qualities exist. Both effects may be produced at once; but what we speak of is, the proper character of trial, as such, and of discipline, as such.

A college tutor, for instance, seeks to make his pupils good scholars; an examiner, to ascertain how far each candidate is such. It may so happen that the Tutor may be enabled to

1 Felicities (rarely used in the plural). 'The felicities of her wonderful reign.' p—Atterbury.

3 Sad. Dark-coloured. 'I met him accidentally in London, in tad-coloured clothes, far from being costly.'—Walton's Lives.

* Incensed. Set on fire; burned.

« PreviousContinue »