« PreviousContinue »
with a kind of condescending familiarity which is gratifying to moan minds, but which to every person of delicacy, is the most odious form of insolence. If you wish to be familiar with an inferior, let him rather feel that you have raised him to your own level than that you have lowered yourself to his. You may see the propriety of this aphorism unfortunately manifested in books written by clever men for the use of the humble classes, and for children. Many of these are rejected as offensive, because the writers deem it necessary to show that they are going down to a low level of understanding; their familiarity becomes sheer vulgarity, and their affected simplicity is puzzleheaded obscurity. The condescension of some great people is like the 'letting down ' in such authors: they render themselves more ridiculous than Hercules at the court of Omphale; for they assume the distaff without discarding the club and lion's skin. It is also very unfair; for those who go to admire the spinning, or to be amused at its incongruity, are exposed to the danger of getting an awkward knock from the club.' (Page 180.)
'Certainly, men in great fortunes are strangers to themselves; and while they are in the puzzle of business they have no time to tend tlveir health either of body or mind.'
The following passage from The Bishop bears upon this engrossment in public business :—' There are two opposite errors into which many public men have fallen: on the one hand, allowing family concerns to intermingle with public business; on the other, sacrificing to their station all the enjoyments of private life. The former interference is rare; it is so obviously a source of perplexity and annoyance, that it soon works its own cure; but the latter 'grows by what it feeds upon.' Unless you habitually court the privacy of the domestic circle, you will find that you are losing that intimate acquaintance with those who compose it which is its chief charm, and the source of all its advantage. In your family alone can there be that intercourse of heart with heart which falls like refreshing dew on the soul when it is withered and parched by the heats of business, and the intense selfishness which you must hourly meet in public life. Unless your affections are sheltered in that sanctuary, they cannot long resist the blighting influence of a constant repression of their development, and a compulsory substitution of calculation in their stead. Domestic privacy is necessary, not only to your happiness, but even to your efficiency; it gives the rest necessary to your active powers of judgment and discrimination; it keeps unclosed those well-springs of the heart whose flow is necessary to float onwards the determination of the head. It is not enough that the indulgence of these affections should fill up the casual chinks of your time; they must have their allotted portion of it, with which nothing but urgent necessity should be allowed to interfere. These things are the aliments of his greatness; they preserve within him that image of moral beauty which constant intercourse with the public world—that is, the world with its worst side outwards—is too likely to efface. 'If our clergy had been permitted to marry,' said an intelligent Romanist, 'we never should have had inquisitors." (Page 327.)
'A place showeth the man: and it showeth some to the better, and some to the worse.'
Bacon here quotes a Greek proverb, and a very just one. Some persons of great promise, when raised to high office, either are puffed up with self-sufficiency, or daunted by the 'high winds that blow on high hills,' or in some way or other disappoint expectation. And others, again, show talents and courage, and other qualifications, when these are called forth by high office, beyond what any one gave them credit for before, and beyond what they suspected to be in themselves. It is unhappily very difficult to judge how a man will conduct himself in a high office, till the trial has been made.
It must not, however, be forgotten that censure and commendation will, as in other cases, be indiscriminate. By those whose nearness, or easiness of access, enables them to form an accurate judgment, many a public man will be found neither so detestable nor so admirable as perhaps he is thought by opposite parties. This truth is well expressed in the fable of ' The Clouds.''
'Two children once, at eventide,
1 See Fourth Book of the Lessons for the Use of National Schools, p. 49.
'See, mother, see that stormy cloud!
What can its inky bosom shroud?
It looks so black, I do declare
I shudder quite to see it there.'
'And father, father, now behold
Those others, all of pink and gold!
How beautiful and bright their hue!
I wish that I were up there too:
For, if they look so fine from here,
What must they be when one is near!'
'Children,' the smiling sire replied,
'I've climbed a mountain's lofty side,
Where, lifted 'mid the clouds awhile,
Distance no longer could beguile:
And closer seen, I needs must say
That all the clouds are merely grey;
Differing in shade from one another,
But each in colour like his brother.
Those clouds you see of gold and pink,
To others look as black as ink;
And that same cloud, so black to yon,
To some may wear a golden hue.
E'en so, my children, they whom fate
Has planted in a low estate,
Viewing their rulers from afar,
Admire what prodigies they are.
O! what a tyrant! dreadful doom!
His crimes have wrapped our land in gloom!
A tyrant! nay, a hero this,
The glorious source of all our bliss!
But they who haunt the magic sphere,
Beholding then its inmates near,
Know that the men, by some adored,
By others flouted and abhorred,
Nor sink so low, nor rise so high,
As seems it to the vulgar eye.
The man his party deems a hero,
His foes, a Judas, or a Nero—
Patriot of superhuman worth,
Or vilest wretch that cumbers earth,
Derives his bright or murky hues
In a smaller number, but still a considerable number, one may find the opposite error to the one just noticed. For, in almost all subjects, each kind of fault may be matched with a contrary one, in those who 'mistake reverse of wrong for right-' And as the great mass of mankind are prone to that kind of exaggeration I have alluded to, so there are some whom one may call levellers; persons whom the late Mr. Canning in some satirical verses ironically calls the ' candid;' men who maintain that (as he expresses it) 'Black's not so black, nor white so very white.'
They are in such dread of indiscriminate and exaggerated views, that they extenuate every thing, good or bad, always looking out for some ground of disparagement of whatever is excellent, and for something to excuse, or commend, or admire, in whatever is odious or contemptible; and bringing each person or thing to a kind of Procrustean bed, on which they stretch the short, and curtail the long. Having observed that the vulgar are prone to divide all men into Angels and Fiends—to see no fault in those they esteem, and no good in those they disapprove, these persons cultivate a habit of viewing all small faults, or small merits, through a magnifying glass, and to view all that are great through a reversed telescope. They magnify whatever is little, and extenuate all that is great .
This is one of what I have ventured to designate as Secondary vulgar errors.'
ESSAY XII. OF BOLDNESS.
IT is a trivial grammar-school text, but yet worthy a wise man's consideration:—question was asked of Demosthenes,1 what was the chief part of an orator? He answered, action: what next? action: what next again? action. He said it that knew it best, and had by nature himself no advantage in that he commended. A strange thing, that that part of an orator which is but superficial, and rather the virtue of a player, should be placed so high above those other noble parts, of invention, elocution, and the rest; nay, almost alone, as if it were all in all. But the reason is plain. There is in human nature generally more of the fool than of the wise; and therefore those faculties by which the foolish part -of men's minds is taken, are most potent . Wonderful like is the case of boldness in civil busisiness; what first? boldness: what second and third? boldness. And yet boldness is a child of ignorance and baseness, far inferior to other parts: but, nevertheless, it doth fascinate, and bind hand and foot those that are either shallow in judgment or weak in courage, which are the greatest part; yea, and prevaileth with wise men at weak times; therefore we see it hath done wonders in popular States, but with senates and princes less— and more, ever upon the first entrance of bold persons into action, than soon after; for boldness is an ill keeper of promise. Surely, as there are mountebanks for the natural body, so there are mountebanks for the politic! Body—men that undertake great cures, and perhaps have ,been lucky in two or three experiments, but want the grounds of science, and therefore cannot hold out. Nay, you shall see a bold fellow many times do Mahomet's miracle. Mahomet made the people believe that he would call a hill to him, and from the top of it offer up his prayers for the observers of his law. The people assembled; Mahomet called the hill to come to him again and again; and when the hill stood still, he was never a whit3 abashed, but
1 Plut. Pit. Demosth. 17, 18. s Politic. Political; civil.
3 Whit. The least degree; the smalkst particle. 'Not a whit behind the very chiefest Apostles.'—2 Cor. xi. 5.