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No. 292. MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4.
Illam, quicquid agit, quoquò vestigia flectit,
As no one can be said to enjoy health, who is only not sick, without he fees within himself a lightsome and invigorating principle, which will not suffer him to remain idle, but still spurs him on to action; so in the practice of every virtue, there is some additional grace required, to give a claim of excelling in this or that particular action. A diamond may want polishing, though the value be still intrinsically the same; and the same good may be done with different degrees of lustre. No man should be contented with himself that he barely does well, but he should perform every thing in the best and most becoming manner that he is able.
Tully tells us, he wrote his book of Offices, because there was no time of life in which some correspondent duty might not be practised; nor is there a duty without a certain decency accompanying it, by which every virtue it is joined to, will seem to be doubled. Another may do the same thing, and yet the action want that air and beauty which distinguish it from others; like that inimitable sunshine Titian is said to have diffused over his landscapes, which denotes them his, and has been always unequalled by any other person.
There is no one action in which this quality I am speaking of will be more sensibly perceived, than in granting a request, or doing an office of kindness. Mummius, by his way of consenting to a benefaction, shall make it lose its name; while Carus doubles the kindness and the obligation: from the first, the desired request drops indeed at last, but from so doubtful a brow, that the obliged has almost as much reason to resent the manner of bestowing it, as to be thankful for the favour itself. Carus invites with a pleasing air, to give him an opportunity of doing an act of humanity, meets the petition half way, and consents to a request with a countenance which proclaims the satisfaction of his mind in assisting the distressed.
The decency then that is to be observed in liberality, seems to consist in its being performed with such cheerfulness, as may express the godlike pleasure to be met with in obliging one's fellow creatures; that may show good nature and benevolence overflowed, and do not, as in some men, run upon the tilt, and taste of the sediments of a grutching, uncommunicative disposition.
Since I have intimated that the greatest decorum is to be preserved in the bestowing our good offices, I will illustrate it a little by an example drawn from private life, which carries with it such a profusion of liberality, that it can be exceeded by nothing but the humanity and good nature which accompanies it. It is a letter of Pliny, which I shall here translate, because the action will best appear in its first dress of thought, without any foreign or ambitious ornaments.
PLINY TO QUINTILIAN. Though I am fully acquainted with the con
I tentment and just moderation of your mind, and the conformity the education you have given your daughter bears to your own character; yet since she is suddenly to be married to a person of distinction, whose figure in the world makes it necessary for her to be at a more than ordinary expense in clothes and equipage suitable to her husband's quality; by which, though her intrinsic worth be not augmented, yet will it receive both ornament and lustre; and knowing your estate to be as moderate as the riches of
your abundant, I must challenge to myself some part of the burthen; and, as a parent your
child, I present her with twelve hundred and fifty crowns towards these expenses; which sum had been much larger, had not I feared the smallness of it would be the greatest inducement with you to accept of it. Farewell.'
Thus should a benefaction be done with a good grace, and shine in the strongest point of light; it should not only answer all the hopes and exigencies of the receiver, but even outrun his wishes. It is this happy manner of behaviour which adds new charms to it, and softens those gifts of art and nature which otherwise would be rather distasteful than agreeable. Without it valour would degenerate into brutality, learning into pedantry, and the genteelest demeanour into affectation. Even religion itself, unless decency be the handmaid which waits upon her, is apt to make people appear guilty of sourness and ill-humour: but this shows virtue in her first original form, adds
a comeliness to religion, and gives its professors the justest title to the beauty of holiness. A man fully instructed in this art, may assume a thousand shapes, and please in all: he may do a thousand actions shall become none other but himself; not that the things themselves are different, but the manner of doing them.
If you examine each feature by itself, Aglaura and Caliclea are equally handsome; but take them in the whole, and you can not suffer the comparison; the one is full of numberless nameless graces, the other of as many nameless faults.
The comeliness of person, and the decency of behaviour, add infinite weight to what is pronounced by any one.
It is the want of this that often makes the rebukes and advice of old rigid persons of no effect, and leave a displeasure in the minds of those they are directed to: but youth and beauty, if accompanied with a graceful and becoming severity, is of mighty force to raise, even in the most profligate, a sense of shame. In Milton, the devil'is never described ashamed but once, and that at the rebuke of a beauteous angal.
So spake the cherub; and his grave rebuke, Severe in youthful beauty, added grace Invincible: abash'd the devil stood, And felt how awful goodness is, and saw Virtue in her own shape how lovely! saw, And pined his loss. The care of doing nothing unbecoming has accompanied the greatest minds to their last moments. They avoided even an indecent posture in the very article of death. Thus Cæsar gather ed his robe about him, that he might not fall in a
manner unbecoming of himself; and the greatest concern that appeared in the behaviour of Lucretia, when she stabbed herself, was, that her body should lie in an attitude worthy the mind which had inhabited it.
- Ne non procumbat honestè, Extrema hæc etiam cura cadentis erat. Ovid. 'Twas her last thought how decently to fall. MR. SPECTATOR,
"I am a young woman without a fortune, but of a very high mind: that is, good sir, I am to the last degree, proud and vain. I am ever railing at the rich, for doing things which, upon search into my heart, I find I am only angry at, because I can not do the same myself. the hooped petticoat, and am all in calicoes, when the finest are in silks. It is a dreadful thing to be poor and proud; therefore, if you please, a lecture on that subject for the satisfaction of • Your uneasy humble servant,
" JEZEBEL.' [THE AUTHOR UNKNOWN.]
No. 293. TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5.
Πασιν γας ευφρονεσί συμμαχεί συχ”.
The famous Gracian,* in his little book, wherein he lays down maxims for a man's advancing
* He vas a Jesuit, who published several volumes about