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turn from them, and close our Memoir with a production of his pen, which will show him at least to have been a master of the rules of prudence, if he himself could not practise them: the following letter was printed in the Annual Register,^ and is there said to be ' A Letter of the late Dr. Goldsmith, when about twenty-five years old, to a young Gentleman whom he had for a short time instructed in different branches of learning.'
I Have thought it adviseable, my dear young pupil, to adopt this method of giving my thoughts to you on some subjects which I find myself not well disposed to speak of in your presence. The reason of this you will yourself perceive in the course of reading this letter. It is disagreeable to most men, and particularly so to me, to say any thing which has the appearance of a disagreeable truth; and, as what I have now to say to you is entirely respecting yourself, it is highly probable that, in some respect or other, your view of things and mine may considerably differ.
In the various objects of knowledge, which I have had the pleasure of seeing you study under my care, as well as those which you have acquired under the various teachers who have hitherto instructed you, the most material branch of information which it imports a human being to know, has been entirely overlooked; I mean, the knowledge of yourself. There are indeed very few 70 For 1801, p. 503.
persons who possess at once the capability and the disposition to give you this instruction. Your parents, who alone are perhaps sufficiently acquainted with you for the purpose, are usually disqualified for the task, by the very affection and partiality which would prompt them to undertake it. Your masters, who probably labour under no such prejudices, have seldom either sufficient opportunities of knowing your character, or are so much interested in your welfare, as to undertake an employment so unpleasant and laborious. You are as yet too young and inexperienced to perform this important office for yourself, or indeed to be sensible of its very great consequence to your happiness. The ardent hopes and the extreme vanity natural to early youth blind you at once to every thing within and every thing without, and make you see both yourself and the world in false colours. This allusion, it is true, will gradually wear away as your reason matures and your experience increases; but the question is, What is to be done in the meantime? Evidently there is no plan for you to adopt but to make use of the reason and experience of those who are qualified to direct you.
Of this, however, I can assure you, both from my own experience and from the opinions of all those whose opinions deserve to be valued, that if you aim at any sort of eminence or respectability in the eyes of the world, or in those of your friends; if you have any ambition to be distinguished in your future career for your virtues, or talents, or accomplishments, this self-knowledge of which I am speaking is above all things requisite. For how is your moral character to be improved, unless you know what are the virtues and vices which your natural disposition is calculated to foster, and what are the passions which are most apt to govern you? How are you to attain eminence in any talent or pursuit, unless you know in what particular way your powers of mind best capacitate you for excelling? It is therefore my intention, in this letter, to offer you a few hints on this most important subject.
When you come to look abroad into the world, and to study the different characters of men, you will find that the happiness of any individual depends not, as you would suppose, on the advantages of fortune or situation, but principally on the regulation of his own mind. If you are able to secure tranquillity within, you will not be much annoyed by any disturbance without. The great art of doing this consists in a proper government of the passions. In taking care that no propensity is suffered to acquire so much power over your mind as to be the cause of immoderate uneasiness, either to yourself or others, I insist particularly on this point, my dear young friend, because, if I am not greatly deceived, you are yourself very much disposed by nature to two passions, the most tormenting to the possessor, and the most offensive to others, of any which afflict the human race; I mean, pride and anger. Indeed, these two dispositions seem to be naturally connected with each other; for you have probably remarked, that most proud men are addicted to anger, and that most passionate men are also proud. Be this as it may, I can confidently assure you, that if an attempt is not made to subdue those uneasy propensities now, when your temper is flexible, and your mind easy of impression, they will most infallibly prove the bane and torment of your whole life. They will not only destroy all possibility of your enjoying any happiness yourself, but they will produce the same effect on those about you; and by that means you will deprive yourself both of the respect of others, and the approbation of your own heart; the only two sources from which can be derived any substantial comfort or real enjoyment. •
It is moreover a certain principle in morals, that all the bad passions, but especially those of which we are speaking, defeat, in all cases, their own purposes; a position which appears quite evident on the slightest examination. For what is the object which the proud man has constantly in view? Is it not to gain distinction, and respect, and consideration among mankind? Now it is unfortunately the nature of pride to aim at this distinction, not by striving to acquire such virtues and talents as would really entitle him to it, but by labouring to exalt himself above his equals by little and degrading methods; by endeavouring, for example, to outvie them in dress, or show, or expense, or by affecting to look down with haughty superciliousness on such as are inferior to himself only by some accidental advantages for which he is no way indebted to his own merit. The consequence of this is, that all mankind declare war against him; his inferiors, whom he affects to despise, will hate him, and consequently will exert themselves to injure and depress him; and his superiors, whom he attempts to imitate, will ridicule his absurd and unavailing efforts to invade what they consider as their own peculiar province.
If it may with truth be said, that a proud man defeats his own purposes, the same may, with equal certainty, be affirmed of a man who gives way to violence of temper. His angry invectives, his illiberal abuse, and his insulting language, produce very little effect on those who hear him, and who, perhaps, only smile at his infirmities; but who can describe the intolerable pangs of vexation, rage, and remorse, by which the heart of a passionate man is successively ravaged? Alas! it is himself alone for whom the storm is pent up, who is torn by its violence, and not those against whom its fury is meant to be directed.
You will, I dare say, readily agree to the truth of all this; but you will perhaps be at a loss to conceive what can be my reasons for applying it to you. My principal reasons for thinking you