« PreviousContinue »
to that natural excellence which consists in acuteness and sagacity, to that which is best adapted to human society, and to that which is energetic and manly. But the chief force of the graceful lies in that suitableness of which I am now treating. For not only those emotions of a physical kind, but still more those of the mind are to be approved as they are comformable to nature. For the nature and powers of the mind are twofold; one consists in appetite, by the Greeks called ogun (i. e. impulse), which hurries man hither and thither; the other in reason, which teaches and explains what we are to do, and what we are to avoid. The result is, that reason should direct and appetite obey.
XXIX. Now every human action ought to be free from precipitancy and negligence, nor indeed ought we to do any thing for which we can not give a justifiable reason. This indeed almost amounts to a definition of duty. Now we must manage so as to keep the appetites subservient to reason, that they may neither outstrip it nor fall behind through sloth and cowardice. Let them be ever composed and free from all perturbation of spirit; and thus entire consistency and moderation will display themselves. For those appetites that are too vagrant and rampant as it were, either through desire or aversion, are not sufficiently under the command of reason; such, I say, undoubtedly transgress bounds and moderation. For they abandon and disclaim that subordination to reason, to which by the law of nature they are subjected, and thereby not only the mind but the body is thrown into disturbance. Let any one observe the very looks of men who are in a rage, of those who are agitated by desire or fear, or who exult in an excess of joy; all whose countenances, voices, motions, and attitudes, are changed.
But to return to my description of duty. From these particulars we learn that all our appetites ought to be contracted and mitigated ; that all our attention and diligence ought to be awake, so that we do nothing in a rash, random, thoughtless, and inconsiderate manner. For nature has not formed us to sport and merriment, but rather to seriousness, and studies that are important and sublime. Sport and merriment
' In other words, to wisdom, justice, and fortitude.
are not always disallowable : but we are to use them as we do sleep and other kinds of repose, when we have dispatched our weighty and important affairs. Nay, our very manner of joking should be neither wanton nor indecent, but genteel and good-humored. For as we indulge boys not in an unlimited license of sport, but only in that which is not inconsistent with virtuous conduct, so in our very jokes there should appear some gleam of a virtuous nature.
The manner of joking is reduceable under two denominations ;-one that is ill-bred, insolent, profligate, and obscene; another that is elegant, polite, witty, and good-humored. We have abundance of this last, not only in our Plautus, and the authors of the old Greek comedy, but in the writings of the Socratic philosophers. Many collections have likewise been made by various writers, of humorous sayings, such as that made by Cato, and called his Apopthegms. The disdinction, therefore, between a genteel and an ill-mannered
joke is a very ready one. The former, if seasonably made, and when the attention is relaxed, is worthy of a virtuous man; the other, if it exhibit immorality in its subject, or obscenity in the expression, is unworthy even of a man. There is likewise a certain limit to be observed, even in our amusements, that we do not give up every thing to amusement, and that, after being elevated by pleasure, we do not sink into some immorality. Our Campus Martius, and the sport of hunting, supply creditable examples of amusement.
XXX. But in all our disquisitions concerning the nature of a duty, it is material that we keep in our eye the great excellence of man's nature above that of the brutes and all other creatures. They are insensible to every thing but pleasure, and are hurried to it by every impulse. Whereas the mind of man is nourished by study and reflection, and, being charmed by the pleasure of seeing and hearing, it is ever either inquiring or acting. But if there is a man who has a small bias to pleasure, provided he is not of the brute kind (for there are some who are men only in name); but, I say, if he is more high-minded even in a small degree, though he may be smitten with pleasure, he yet, through a principle of shame, hides and disguises his inclination for it.
From this we are to conclude that mere corporeal pleasure is unworthy the excellence of man's nature ; and that it ought therefore to be despised and rejected; but that if a man shall have any delight in pleasure, he ought to be extremely observant of limits in its indulgence. - Therefore the nourishment and dress of our bodies should be with a view not to our pleasure, but to our health and our strength; and should we examine the excellence and dignity of our nature, we should then be made sensible how shameful it is to melt away in pleasure, and to live in voluptuousness and effeminacy; and how noble it is to live with abstinence, with modesty, with strictness, and sobriety.
We are likewise to observe that nature has, as it were, endowed us with two characters. The first is in common to all mankind, because all of us partake in that excellency of reason, which places us above the brutes; from which is derived all that is virtuous, all that is graceful, and by which we trace our connections with our several duties. The other character is peculiar to individuals. For, as there are great dissimilarities in our persons-some for instance are swift in running, others strong in wrestling; and in style of beauty some have a dignity, and others a sweetness of aspectso are there still greater varieties in our minds.
Lucius Crassus and Lucius Philippus had a great deal of wit; but in Caius Cæsar, the son of Lucius, it was greater in degree, and more elaborate. In their cotemporaries, Marcus Scaurus, and young Marcus Drusus, there was a remarkable seriousness; in Caius Lælius great hilarity; but in his friend Scipio greater ambition, and a graver style of life. As to the Greeks, we are told of Socrates that he was agreeable and witty ; his conversation jocose, and in all his discourse à feigner of opinions whom the Greeks called e l'ouv. On the other hand, Pythagoras and Pericles, without any gayety, attained the highest authority. Among the Carthaginian generals, Hannibal, we learn, was crafty, and Quintus Maximus among our own generals was apt at concealment, secrecy, dissimulation, plotting, and anticipating the designs of enemies. In this class the Greeks rank Themistocles, and Iason of Pheræ, above all others; and place among the very first, that cunning and artful device of Solon, when, to secure his own life, and that he might be of greater service to his country, he counterfeited madness. In opposition to those characters, the tempers of many others are plain and open. Lovers of truth and haters of deceit, they think that nothing should be done by stealth, nothing by stratagem; while others care not what they suffer themselves, or whom they stoop to, provided they accomplish their ends; as we have seen Sylla and Marcus Crassus. In which class Lysander the Lacedæmonian, we are told, had the greatest art and perseverance, and that Callicratides, who succeeded to Lysander in the command of the fleet, was the reverse. We have known some others, who though 'very powerful in conversation, always make themselves appear undistinguished individuals among many; such were the Catuli, father and son, and Quintus Mucius Mancia. I have heard from men older than myself, that Publius Scipio Nasica was of the same cast, but that his father, the same who punished the pernicious designs of Tiberius Gracchus, was void of all politeness, in conversation : and the same of Xenocrates, the most austere of philosophers, and from that very circumstance a distinguished and celebrated man. Innumerable, but far from being blamable, are the other differences in the natures and manners of men.
XXXI. Every man, however, ought carefully to follow out his peculiar character, provided it is only peculiar, and not vicious, that he may the more easily attain that gracefulness of which we are inquiring. For we ought to manage so as never to counteract the general system of nature; but having taken care of that, we are to follow our natural bias; insomuch, that though other studies may be of greater weight and excellence, yet we are to regulate our pursuits by the disposition of our nature. It is to no purpose to thwart nature, or to aim at what you can not attain. We therefore may have a still clearer conception of the graceful I am recommending, from this consideration, that nothing is graceful that goes (as the saying is) against the grain, that is, in contradiction and opposition to nature.
If any thing at all is graceful, nothing surely is more sɔ than a uniformity through the course of all your life, as well as through every particular action of it; and you never can preserve this uniformity, if, aping another man's nature, you forsake your own. For as we ought to converse in the language we are best acquainted with, for fear of
making ourselves justly ridiculous, as those do who cram in Greek expressions; so there ought to be no incongruity in our actions, and none in all the tenor of our lives.?
Now so powerful is this difference of natures, that it may be the duty of one man to put himself to death, and yet not of another, though in the same predicament. For was the predicament of Marcus Cato different from that of those who surrendered themselves to Cæsar in Africa ? Yet it had been perhaps blamable in the latter, had they put themselves to death, because their lives were less severe, and their moral natures more pliable. But it became Cato, who had by perpetual perseverance strengthened that inflexibility which nature had given him, and had never departed from the purpose and resolution he had once formed, to die rather than to look upon the face of a tyrant.”
1 “Decency, or a proper regard to age, sex, character, and station in the world, may be ranked among the qualities which are immediately agreeable to others, and which by that means acquire praise and approbation. An effeminate behavior in a man, a rough manner in a woman, these are ugly because unsuitable to each character, and different from the qualities which we expect in the sexes. It is as if a tragedy abounded in comic beauties, or a comedy in tragic. The disproportions hurt the eye, and convey a disagreeable sentiment to the spectators, the source of blame and disapprobation. This is that indecorum which is explained so much at large by Cicero in his Offices."—Hume's “Principles of Morals," sec. 8.
? The guilt of suicide has been palliated by Godwin, and utterly denied by Hume. The following remarks emanated from a sounder moralist than either:
"The lesson which the self-destroyer teaches to his connections, of sinking in despair under the evils of life, is one of the most pernicious which a man can bequeath. The power of the example is also great. Every act of suicide tacitly conveys the sanction of one more judgment in its favor; frequency of repetition diminishes the sensation of abhorrence, and makes succeeding sufferers resort to it with less reluctance." “Besides which general reasons," says Dr. Paley, (“Moral and Political Philosophy,” book 4, c. 3), “ each case will be aggravated by its own proper and particular consequences; by the duties that are deserted; by the claims that are defrauded: by the loss, affliction, or disgrace, which our death, or the manner of it, causes our family, kindred, or friends; by the occasion we give to many to suspect the sincerity of our moral and religious professions, and together with ours those of all others;" and lastly by the scandal which we bring upon religion itself, by declaring practically that it is not able to support man under the calamities of life. Some men say that the New Testament contains no prohibition of suicide. If this were true it would avail nothing, because there are many things