Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

22.

COMPARISON BETWEEN LIVY AND POLYBIUS. Nobody admires more than I do the historical merit of Livy; the majestic flow of his narrative, in which events follow each other with rapidity, yet without hurry or confusion; and the continual beauty and energy of his style, which transports his readers from their closets to the scene of action. But here we have to do not with the orator, but with the witness. Considered in this view, Livy appears merely as a man of letters, covered with the dust of his library, little acquainted with the art of war, careless in point of geography, and who lived two centuries after Hannibal's expedition.

In the whole of his recital, we may perceive rather a romantic picture, calculated to please the fancy, than a faithful and judicious history, capable of satisfying the understanding. The God who appeared to the Carthaginian general, the mountains accessible to him alone, the vinegar with which he split the rocks, are fables which Livy relates without criticism, as without suspicion. We seem to read Homer describing the exploits of Achilles. In Polybius, on the other hand, we meet with nothing but unadorned simplicity and plain reason. A justness of thinking, rare in his age and country, united with a sterility of fancy still more rare, made him prefer the truth, which he thoroughly knew, to ornaments which he was perhaps more inclined to despise, because he felt himself incapable of attaining them.

23. PRAISE OF GOD TENDS TO THE ENLARGEMENT OUR FACULTIES. It is another distinguishing property of Divine Praise, that it enlargeth the powers and capacities of our souls; turning them from little and low things upon their greatest and noblest objects, the Divine Nature; and employing them in the discovery and admiration of those several perfections that adorn it. We see what difference there is between man and man; such, as there is hardly greater between man and beast: and this proceeds chiefly from the different sphere of thought which they act in, and the different objects they converse with. The mind is essentially the same in the peasant and the prince; the forces of it naturally equal in the untaught man and the philosopher; only the one of these is busied in mean affairs, and within narrower bounds, the other exercises himself in things of weight and moment; and this it is that puts the wide distance between them. Noble objects are to the mind, what the sunbeams

:

FOL. CENT.

2

are to a bud or flower: they open and unfold, as it were, the leaves of it; put it upon exerting and spreading itself every way; and call forth all those powers, that lie hid and locked up in it. The praise and admiration of God, therefore, brings this advantage along with it, that it sets our faculties upon their full stretch, and improves them to all the degrees of perfection of which they are capable.

F. ATTERBURY

24. THE OBJECT OF EDUCATION. The man, who is fitted out by nature and sent into the world with great abilities, is capable of doing great good or mischief in it. How great then is the duty of parents and instructors to infuse into the untainted youth early notices of justice and honour, that so: the possible advantages of good parts may not take an evil. turn, nor be perverted to base and unworthy purposes! It is the iness of Religion and Philosophy not so much to extinguish our passions, as to regulate and direct them to valuable well-chosen objects: when these have pointed out to us which course we may lawfully steer, it is no harm to set out all our sail: if the storms and tempests of adversity should rise upon us, and not suffer us to make the haven where we would be, it will however prove no small consolation to us in these circumstances, that we have neither mistaken our course nor fallen into calamities of our own procuring.

J. ADDISON

25. PERFORMANCE OF DUTY PARAMOUNT TO ALL OTHER CONSIDERATIONS. When a man is thoroughly persuaded that he ought neither to admire, wish for or pursue any thing but what is exactly his duty, it is not in the power

of seasons, persons or accidents, to diminish his value. He only is a great man who can neglect the applause of the multitude and enjoy himself independent of its favour. This is indeed an arduous task: but it should comfort a glorious spirit that it is the highest step to which human nature can arrive. Triumph applause acclamation are dear to the mind of man; but it is still a more exquisite delight to say to yourself, you have done well, than to hear the whole human race pronounce you glorious, except you yourself can join with them in your own reflections. A mind thus equal and uniform may be deserted by little fashionable admirers and followers, but will ever be had in reverence by souls like itself. The branches of the oak endure all the seasons of the year, though its leaves fall off in autumn; and these too will be restored with the returning spring.

SIR W. TEMPLE

a

26. IMPUTATION OF IGNORANCE RESENTED BY ALL. Self-satisfaction, at least in some degree, is an advantage which equally attends the fool and the wise man: but it is the only one; nor is there any other circumstance in the conduct of life, where they are upon an equal footing. Business books conversation, for all of these, a fool is totally incapacitated; and except condemned by his station to the coarsest drudgery, remains a useless burthen upon the earth. Accordingly it is found that men are extremely jealous of their character in this particular; and many instances are seen of profligacy and treachery, the most avowed and unreserved; none of bearing patiently the imputation of ignorance and stupidity. Dicearchus the Macedonian general, who, as Polybius tells us, openly erected one altar to impiety, another to injustice, in order to bid defiance to mankind: even he, I am well assured, would have started at the epithet of fool and have meditated revenge for so injurious an appellation. Except the affection of parents, the strongest and most indissoluble bond in nature, no connexion has strength sufficient to support the disgust arising from this character. Love itself, which can subsist under treachery ingratitude malice and infidelity, is immedi ely extinguished by it, when perceived and acknowledged; nor are deformity and old age more fatal to the dominion of that passion. So dreadful are the ideas of an utter incapacity for any purpose or undertaking and of continued error and misconduct in life!

When it is asked, whether a quick or a slow apprehension be most valuable: whether one, that, at first view, penetrates far into a subject but can perform nothing upon study, or a contrary character which must work out every thing by dint of application: whether a clear head or a copious invention: whether a profound genius or a sure judgment: in short, what character or peculiar turn of understanding is more excellent than another: it is evident that we can answer none of these questions, without considering which of those qualities capacitates a man best for the world and carries him farthest in any undertaking.

If refined sense and exalted sense be not so useful aş common sense, their rarity their novelty and the nobleness of their objects make some compensation and render them the admiration of mankind : as gold, though less serviceable than iron, acquires from its scarcity a value which is much superior.

D. HUME

27 DEATH OF FIESCO. Just as he was about to leave the harbour, where everything had succeeded to his wish, that he might join his victorious companions, he heard some extraordinary uproar on board the Admiral's galley: alarmed at the noise, and fearing that the slaves might break their chains and overpower his associates, he ran thither. But the plank which reached from the shore to the vessel happening to overturn, he fell into the sea, while he hurried forward too precipitately. Being loaded with heavy armour, he sunk to the bottom, and perished in the very moment when he must have taken full possession of everything that his ambitious heart could desire. Verrina was the first who discovered this fatal accident, and foreseeing at once all its consequences, concealed it with the utmost industry from every one but a few leaders of the conspiracy.

W. ROBERTSON

28. POLITICAL DISCONTENTMENTS. The matter of seditions is of two kinds, much poverty and much discontentment. It is certain, so many overthrown estates, so many votes for troubles. And if this poverty and broken estate in the better sort be joined with a want and necessity in the mean people, the danger is imminent and great-for the rebellions of the belly are the worst. As for discontentments, they are in the politic body like to humours in the natural, which are apt to gather a preternatural heat and to inflame; and let no prince measure the danger of them by this, whether they be just or unjust—for that were to imagine people to be too reasonable, who do often spurn at their own good,-nor yet by this, whether the griefs whereupon they rise be in fact great or small;—for they are the most dangerous discontentments, where the fear is greater than the feeling besides, in great oppressions, the same things that provoke the patience do withal mate the courage; but in fears it is not so-neither let any prince or state be secure concerning discontentments, because they have been often, or have been long and yet no peril hath ensued—for as it is true that every vapour or fume doth not turn into a storm, so it is nevertheless true, that storms though they blow over divers times yet may fall at last; and, as the Spanish proverb noteth well, “The cord breaketh at the last by the weakest pull.”

LORD BACON

[ocr errors]

29. HESIOD HIS TRIPLE DIVISION OF MEN AS REGARDS INTELLECTUAL APPLICABLE TO THEIR MORAL DIFFERENCES. Hesiod, in his celebrated distribution of mankind, divides them into three orders of intellect. “The first place,” says he, “belongs to him that can by his own powers discern what is right and fit and penetrate to the remoter motives of action. The second is claimed by him that is willing to hear instruction and can perceive right and wrong when they are shewn him by another; but he that has neither acuteness nor docility, who can neither find the way by himself nor will be led by others, is a wretch without use or value.”

If we survey the moral world, it will be found that the same division may be made of men, with regard to their virtue. There are some whose principles are so firmly fixed, whose conviction is so constantly present to their minds, and who have raised themselves such ardent wishes for the approbation of God and the happiness with which he has promised to reward obedience and perseverance, that they rise above all other cares and considerations and uniformly examine every action and desire by comparing it with the divine commands. There are others in a kind of equipoise between good and ill, who are moved on the one part by riches or pleasure, by the gratifications of passion and the delights of sense; and, on the other, by laws of which they own the obligation and rewards of which they believe the reality, and whom a very small addition of weight turns either way. The third class consists of beings immersed in pleasure or abandoned to passion, without any desire of higher good or any effort to extend their thoughts beyond immediate and gross satisfactions.

S. JOHNSON

THE TRUE LAW. The true law is right reason, conformable to nature, constant eternal diffused through all, which calls us to duty by commanding, deters us from vice by forbidding, which never loses its influence with the good

30.

« AnteriorContinuar »