« AnteriorContinuar »
ambitious and the covetous, were kakà Onpla—“evil wild beasts;" these are yaptépes åpyai—“slow bellies," as our translation renders it, but the word åpyai (which is a fantastical word, with two directly opposite significations) will bear as well the translation of "quick” or “diligent bellies;” and both interpretations may be applied to these men. Metrodorus said, “That he had learnt αληθώς γαστρί χαρίζεσθαι-- to give “his belly just thanks for all his pleasures.” This, by the calumniators of Epicurus's philosophy, was objected as one of the most scandalous of all their sayings; which, according to my charitable understanding, may admit a very virtuous sense, - which is, that he thanked his own belly for that moderation, in the customary appetites of it, which can only give a man liberty and happiness in this world. Let this suffice at present to be spoken of those great triumviri of the world ; the covetous man, who is a mean villain, like Lepidus ; the ambitious, who is a brave one, like Octavius; and the voluptuous, who is a loose and debauched one, like Mark Antony.
17" Quisnam igitur liber? Sapiens, sibíque imperiosus." Not Oenomaus, who commits himself wholly to a charioteer that may break his neck, but the man
" Who governs his own course with steady hand,
Who does himself with sovereign power command
this, I confess, is a freeman. But it may be said, that many persons are so shackled by their fortune, that they are hindered from enjoyment of that manumission which they have obtained from virtue. I do both understand and in part feel the weight of this objection. All I can answer to it is, that we must get as much liberty as we can, we must use our utmost endeavours, and, when all that is done, be contented with the length of that line which is allowed us. If you ask me in what condition of life I think the most allowed, I should pitch upon that sort of people whom King James was
wont to call the happiest of our nation ;-the men placed in the country by their fortune above an high constable, and yet beneath the trouble of a justice of peace; in a moderate plenty, without any just argument for the desire of increasing it by the care of many relations; and with so much knowledge and love of piety and philosophy (that is, of the study of God's laws and of his creatures) as may afford him matter enough never to be idle, though without business; and never to be melancholy, though without sin or vanity.
THE SHORTNESS OF LIFE, AND UNCERTAINTY OF RICHES.
If you should see a man, who 1 were to cross from Dover to Calais, run about very busy and solicitous, and trouble himself many weeks before in making provisions for his voyage, would you commend him for a cautious and discreet person, or laugh at him for a timorous and impertinent coxcomb ? A man who is excessive in his pains and diligence, and who consumes the greatest part of his time in furnishing the remainder with all conveniences, and even superfluities, is to angels and wise men no less ridiculous : he does as little consider the shortness of his passage, that he might proportion his cares accordingly. It is, alas ! so narrow a strait betwixt the womb and the grave, that it might be called the Pas de Vie, as well as that the Pas de Calais.
We are all éphuepou (as Pindar calls us), “ creatures of a day,” and therefore our Saviour bounds our desires to that little space; as if it were very probable that every day should be our last, we are taught to demand even bread for no longer a time. The sun ought not to set upon our covetousness, no more than upon our anger; but as to God Almighty a thousand years are as one day, so, in direct opposition, one day to the covetous, man is as a thousand years ; “Tam brevi fortis jaculatur aevo multa,”—“So far he shoots beyond his butt:" one would think he were of the opinion of the Millenaries, and hoped for so long a reign upon earth. The patriarchs before the flood, who enjoyed almost such a life, made, we are sure, less stores for the maintaining of it: they, who lived nine hundred
years, scarcely provided for a few days ; we, who live but a few days, provide at least for nine hundred years. What a strange alteration is this of human life and manners ! and yet we see an innitation of it in every man's particular experience ; for we begin not the cares of life till it be half spent, and still increase them as that decreases.
What is there among the actions of beasts so illogical and repugnant to reason ? When they do anything which seems to proceed from that which we call reason, we disdain to allow them that perfection, and attribute it only to a natural instinct: and are not we fools, too, by the same kind of instinct? If we could but learn to “ number our days” (as we are taught to pray that we might), we should adjust much better our other accounts; but whilst we never consider an end of them, it is no wonder if our cares for them be without end too. Horace advises very wisely, and in excellent good words :
"...... Spatio brevi
Spem longam reseces"from a short life cut off all hopes that grow too long. They must be pruned away like suckers, that choke the mother-plant and hinder it from bearing fruit. And in another place to the same sense :
2“ Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam;" which Seneca does not mend when he says, 3" Oh! quanta dementia est spes longas inchoantium !” but he gives an example there of an acquaintance of his, named Senecio, who, from a very mean beginning, by great industry in turning about of money through all ways of gain, had attained to extraordinary riches, but died on a sudden after having supped merrily, “In ipso actu benè cedentium rerum, in ipso procurrentis fortunae impetu,”—in the full course of his good fortune, when she had a high tide, and a stiff gale, and all her sails on : upon which occasion he cries, out of Virgil,
“ Insere nunc, Melibaee, pyros; pone ordine vites!"
“...... Go, Melibaeus, now, Go graff thy orchards, and thy vineyards plant
Behold the fruit!"
For this Senecio I have no compassion, because he was taken, as we say, “in ipso facto,”-still labouring in the work of avarice; but the poor rich man in St. Luke (whose case was not like this) I could pity, methinks, if the Scripture would permit me : for he seems to have been satisfied at last; he confesses he had enough for many years, he bids his soul take its ease ; and yet, for all that, God says to him, “ Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee ; and the things thou hast laid up, whom shall they belong to?” Where shall we find the causes of this bitter reproach and terrible judgment? We may find, I think, two; and God, perhaps, saw more. First, that he did not intend true rest to his soul, but only to change the employments of it from avarice to luxury; his design is, to eat, and to drink, and to be merry. Secondly, that he went on too long before he thought of resting; the fulness of his old barns had not sufficed him, he would stay till he was forced to build new ones : and God meted out to him in the same measure ; since he would have more riches than his life could contain, God destroyed his life, and gave the fruits of it to another.
Thus God takes away sometimes the man from his riches, and no less frequently riches from the man: what hope can there be of such a marriage, where both parties are so fickle and uncertain? by what bonds can such a couple be kept long together?
Why dost thou heap up wealth, which thou must quit,
Or, what is worse, be left by it?
O man, ordained to die ?
Thou who art under ground to lie ?
For Death, alas ! is sowing thee.
And clip or pinion her wing;
As not to cut off thy entail;
Death will that foolish gard'ner mock,
Who does a slight and annual plant engraft
Upon a lasting stock.
*A mighty husband thou wouldst seem; Fond man! like a bought slave, thou all the while
Dost but for others sweat and toil. Officious fool! that needs must meddling be
In business that concerns not thee ! For when to future years thou extend'st thy cares,
Thou deal'st in other men’s affairs. Even aged men, as if they truly were
Children again, for age prepare ; Provisions for long travel they design,
In the last point of their short line. Wisely the ant against poor winter hoards
The stock which summer's wealth affords : In grasshoppers, that must at autumn die,
How vain were such an industry!
Of power and honour the deceitful light
Might half excuse our cheated sight,
And be our sunshine all the day;
Like lightning, that, begot but in a cloud,
(Though shining bright, and speaking loud) Whilst it begins, concludes its violent race,
And where it gilds, it wounds the place.
Only to men that stand not near !
And, like a rainbow, painted tears !
In a weak boat trust not the deep ;
Pity great-men, great things despise.
Thy fellow-poet, Cowley, mark ;
Thy humble nest build on the ground.