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was gone, God called to Abraham, and asked him where the stranger was; he replied, “I thrust him away because he did not worship Thee:” God answered him, “I have suffered him these hundred years, although he dishonoured Me, and couldst not thou endure him one night when he gave thee no trouble?” Upon this’ saith the story
Abraham fetched him back again and gave him hospitable entertainment and wise instruction. Go thou and do likewise, and thy charity will be rewarded by the God of Abraham.
SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE.
The family of Temple has contributed many famous names to the political history of England, but Sir William Temple is the only son of his race whose name survives in literature. He was born in London, in 1628, and was the eldest son of his father, who was Master of the Rolls in Ireland. At seventeen he went into residence at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he studied under Cudworth, whose influence may be traced in the Essays of his pupil. His career at the University was that of most young men of his time, and, after two years of residence, he went abroad, a professed Royalist. In 1654 he married a lady of the highest accomplishments, who had been faithful to her engagement during several years. It is said that she preferred Temple to Henry Cromwell, the younger son of the Protector. For some time Sir William Temple sat in the Irish Parliament, and in 1665 he was sent on a mission of great importance abroad. This was the beginning of a distinguished series of diplomatic services. To his energy the Triple Alliance was mainly due. He continued, until recalled in 1671, to carry out his policy at the Hague, and became especially disliked by the French Government. In his retirement at Sheen he amused himself with gardening, and wrote several of his best known treatises. He was recalled to active service, and established his independence as a statesman by refusing to sign the treaty proposed after the peace of Nimeguen. The rest of his life was passed in retirement, from which William III in vain attempted to attract him. He died in 1699.
Sir William Temple is master of a style which is seen to most advantage in memoirs and essays of the lighter kind. Indeed, he may almost be said to have originated it. He seldom fails to gratify his reader, and there are occasional passages of great splendour and dignity. His works consist of Letters, Essays, and Memoirs.
Sir James Mackintosh says of Temple, 'in an age of extremes he was attached to liberty, and yet averse from endangering the public quiet.' It is not altogether fanciful to say that the political and domestic character of Temple is reflected in his Essays and Memoirs. In an evil hour for his reputation he lavished praise on the so-called Letters of Phalaris, and provoked a controversy for ever memorable in literary annals. He was the patron of Swift, who has hardly done justice to his memory.
Temple has a place of his own among English writers, and will be read for his manner, when greater thinkers, whose style is uncouth, are neglected.
1. Giants in Wit and Genius exceptional productions
of Nature. I HAVE long thought, that the different abilities of men, which we call wisdom or prudence, for the conduct of public affairs or private life, grow directly out of that little grain of intellect or good sense which they bring with them into the world; and that the defect of it in men comes from some want in their conception or birth.
Dixitque semel nascentibus auctor,
Quicquid scire licet. And though this may be improved or impaired in some degree, by accidents of education, of study, and of conversation and business, yet it cannot go beyond the reach of its native force, no more than life can beyond the period to which it was destined by the strength or weakness of the seminal virtue.
If these speculations should be true, then I know not what advantages we can pretend to modern knowledge by any we receive from the ancients; nay it is possible, men may lose rather than gain by them; may lessen the force and growth of their own genius by constraining and forming it upon that of others; may have less knowledge of their own, for contenting themselves with that of those before them. So a man that only translates, shall never be a poet, nor a painter that only copies, nor a swimmer that swims always with bladders. So people that trust wholly to other's charity, and without industry of their own, will be always poor. Besides who can tell, whether learning may not even weaken invention in a man that has great advantages from nature and birth; whether the weight and number of so many other men's thoughts and notions may not suppress his own, or hinder the motion and agitation of them, from which all invention arises; as heaping on wood, or too many sticks, extinguishes a little spark that would otherwise have grown up to a noble flame. The strength of mind, as well as of body, grows more from the warmth of exercise than of clothes; nay, too much of this foreign heat rather makes men faint, and their constitutions tender or weaker than they would be without them. Let it come about how it will, if we are dwarfs, we are still so though we stand upon a giant's shoulders; and even so placed, yet we see less than he, if we are naturally shorter sighted, or if we do not look as much about us, or if we are dazzled with the height, which often happens from weakness either of heart or brain.
In the growth and stature of souls, as well as bodies, the common productions are of indifferent sizes, that occasion no gazing, nor no wonder: but though there are or have been sometimes dwarfs and sometimes giants in the world, yet it does not follow, that there must be such in every age, nor in every country; this we can no more conclude, than that there never have been any, because there are none now, at least in the compass of our present knowledge or enquiry. As I believe there may have been giants at some time, and some place or other in the world, or such a stature, as may not have been equalled perhaps again in several thousands of years, or in any other parts, so there may be giants in wit and knowledge, of so over-grown a size, as not to be equalled again in many successions of ages, or any compass of place or country. Such, I am sure, Lucretius esteems and describes Epicurus to have been, and to have risen, like a prodigy of invention and knowledge, such as had not been before, nor was like to be again; and I know not why others of the ancients may not be allowed to have been as great in their kinds, and to have built as high, though upon different schemes or foundations. Because there is a stag's head at Amboyse of a most prodigious size, and a large table at Memorancy cut out of the thickness of a vine stock, is it necessary that there must be, every age, such a stag in every great forest, or such a vine in every large vineyard; or that the productions of nature, in any kind, must be still alike, or something near it, because nature is still the same? May there not many circumstances concur to one production that do not to any other, in one or many ages? In the growth of a tree, there is the native strength of the seed, both from the kind, and from the perfections of its ripening, and from the health and vigour of the plant that bore it: there is the degree of strength and excellence in that vein of earth where it first took root; there is a propriety of soil, suited to the kind of tree that grows in it; there is a great favour or disfavour to its growth from accidents of water and of shelter, from the kindness or unkindness of seasons, till it be past the need or the danger of them. All these, and perhaps many others, joined with the propitiousness of climate to that sort of tree, and the length of age it shall stand and grow, may produce an oak, a fig, or a plane-tree, that shall deserve to be renowned in story, and shall not perhaps be paralleled in other countries or times.