Page images
PDF
EPUB

gates to the invaders of most of our time, we expose our life to a quotidian ague of frigid impertinences, which would make a wise man tremble to think of. Now, as for being known much by sight and pointed at, I cannot comprehend the honour; whatsoever it be, every mountebank has more of it than the best doctor, and the hangman more than the lord chief justice of a city. Every creature has it, both of nature and art, if it be any ways extraordinary. It is as often said “ This is that Bucephalus,” or “ This is that Incitatus,” when they were led prancing through the streets, as

“ This is that Alexander," or “ This is that Domitian," and truly for the latter I take Incitatus to have been a much more honourable beast than his master, and more deserving the consulship than he the empire.

I love and commend a true good fame, because it is the shadow of virtue; not that it does any good to the body which it accompanies, but it is an efficacious shadow, and like that of St. Peter cures the diseases of others. The best kind of glory, no doubt, is that which is reflected from honesty, such as was the glory of Cato and Aristides, but it was harmful to them both, and is seldom beneficial to any man while he lives; wliat it is to him after his death, I cannot say; because I love not philosophy merely notional and conjectural, and no man who has made the

experiment has been so kind as to come back to inforın us.*

Upon the whole malter, I account a person who has a moderate inind and fortune, and lives in the conversation of two or three agreeable friends, with little commerce in the world be. sides, who is esteemed well enough by his few neighbours that know him, and is truly irreproachable by any body, and so after a healthful quiet life, before the inconveniences of old age, goes more silently out of it than he came in (for I would not have him so much as cry in the exit) this innocent deceiver of the world, as Horace calls him, this mute, I take to have been more happy in his part tlian the greatest actors that fill the stage with shew and bustle, nay even then Augustus himself, who asked, with his last breath, whether he liad not played his farce very well.

“ Stet, quicumque volet potens
“ Aulæ carmine lubrico :
“Me dulcis saturet quies.

* He means, to inform us whether posthumous fame contributes to make men happier in another life. He knew that honesty would turn to account there ; but doubted whether the glory reflected from it on a good man's memory would be any ingredicnt in his future happiness. This doctrine he calls a philosophy merely notional and conjectural; not the doctrine of a future state, which no man believed with more assurance. -Hurd.

“ Obscuro positus loco,
“ Leni perfruar orio.
“ Nullis nota quiritibus
“ Ætas per tacitum Auat.
“ Sic cùm transierint mei
" Nullo cum strepitur dies,
“ Plebeius moriar senex.
“ Illi mors gravis incubat,

Qui, notus nimis omnibus
“ Ignotus moritur sibi.”

Seneca ex Thyeste, Act. ii. Chor. “ Upon the slippery tops of human state

The gilded pinnacles of fate,
Let others stand, and for a while

The giddy danger to beguile,
With joy and with disdain look down on ali,

Till their heads turn, and down they fall.
Me, oh ye Gods, on earth, or else so near,

That I no fall to earth may fear;
And oh ye Gods, at a good distance seat,

From the long ruins of the great.
Here wrapt in the arms of quiet let me lie,
Quiet, companion of obscurity.
Here let my life with as much silence slide,

As time, that measures it, does glide.
Nor let the breach of i famy or fame,
From town to town echo about my name;
Nor let my homely death embroider'd be

With scutcheon or with elegy.

An old plebeian let me die,
Alas, all men are such as well as I.

To him, alas, to him I fear,
The face of death will terrible appear,
Who in his life flattering his senseless pride,
By being known to all the world beside,
Does not himself, when he is dying, know,
Nor what he is, nor whither he's to go.

65

ESSAY 15.

COURAGE.

(Norris.)

ARISTOTLE in his morals begins the doctrine of virtues with courage, and has puzzled his interpreters to assign the reason of his method. But methinks, there is no great need to study or differ much about it. For certainly, among all the virtues, courage will justly challenge the precedency, and is the most cardinal and fundamental part of morality. This virtue is necessary, as a foundation for all the rest. For the very entrance into the school of wisdom and a virtuous course, is a state of discipline, difficulty, and hardship. And therefore it is, sapere aude, a great piece of daring and boldness to set up for a good man, especially if to the proper difficulties of a virtuous engagement we add those calamities and straits to which it often

exposes us, through the malice and folly of the world. So that, as Plato wrote on his school, Let none enter here that understands not mathematics,

be set as a motto upon the school of virtue, Let none enter here that wants courage.

it may

And as courage is necessary for the foundation of all other virtue, so it is their main support and guardian. Without this, let but a pistol be held to tie breast, and the severest chastity will be frighted into compliance, the most heroic friendship into treachery, and the most ardent piety into renunciation of God and religion. There is nothing among all the frailties and uncertainties of this sublunary world so tottering and unstable as the virtue of a coward. He has that within him, which upon occasion will betray every virtue ; and to secure him from sin, you must keep him from temptation,

Having now seen the usefulness of this great virtue, it will be proper to enquire a little into its nature. This is the more necessary, because it is not only variously and falsely comprehended by the many, but perhaps too confusedly and darkly described even by moralists themselves. That which

passes

for
courage

with the vulgar is certainly nothing but stupidity, desperation, or fool-hardiness : : a brutish sort of knight errantry in seeking out needless encounters, and running into dangers, without fear or wit, which is so far from having the chief property of courage, of being a guardian and security of our virtues, that it is in itself a sin,

Do moralists describe it better! They tell you that it is a mean between fear and rashness ; but as they have never defined what this mean is,

« PreviousContinue »