« ZurückWeiter »
capable of being very considerable in their country, and doing many illustrious services to it. That this observation is just, experience has put beyond all dispute. But though the fact be so evident and glaring, yet the causes of it are still in the dark; which makes me persuade myself, that it would be no unacceptable piece of entertainment to the town to inquire into the hidden sources of so unaccountable an evil.
'I am, Sir, your most humble servant.'
What this correspondent wonders at has been matter of admiration ever since there was any such thing as human life. Horace reflects upon this inconsistency very agreeably in the character of Tigellius, whom he makes a mighty pretender to economy, and tells you, you might one day hear him speak the most philosophic things imaginable concerning being contented with a little, and his contempt of every thing but mere necessaries; and in half a week after spend a thousand pounds. When he says this of him with relation to expense, he describes him as unequal to himself in every other circumstance of life. And, indeed, if we consider lavish men carefully, we shall find it always proceeds from a certain incapacity of possessing themselves, and finding enjoyment in their own minds.
This loose state of the soul hurries the extravagant from one pursuit to another; and the reason that his expenses are greater than another's is, that his wants are also more numerous.
But what makes so many go on in this way to their lives' end is, that they certainly do not know how
contemptible they are in the eyes of the rest of mankind, or rather, that indeed they are not so contemptible as they deserve. Tully says, it is the greatest of wickedness to lessen your paternal estate. And if a man would thoroughly consider how much worse than banishment it must be to his child, to ride by the estate which should have been his had it not been for his father's injustice to him, he would be smitten with the reflection more deeply than can be understood by any but one who is a father. Sure there can be nothing more afflicting than to think it had been happier for his son to have been born of any other man living than himself.
It is not, perhaps, much thought of, but it is certainly a very important lesson, to learn how to enjoy ordinary life, and to be able to relish your being without the transport of some passion, or gratification of some appetite. For want of this capacity, the world is filled with whetters, tipplers, cutters, sippers, and all the numerous train of those who, for want of thinking, are forced to be ever exercising their feeling or tasting. It would be hard on this occasion to mention the harmless smokers of tobacco and takers of snuff.
The slower part of mankind, whom my correspondent wonders should get estates, are the more inmediately formed for that pursuit. They can expect distant things without impatience, because they are not carried out of their way either by violent passion or keen appetite to any thing. To men addicted to delights, business is an interruption; to such as are cold to delights, business is an entertainment. For which reason it was said by one who
commended a dull man for his application, ‘No thanks to him; if he had no business, he would have nothing to do.'
SATURDAY, November 17, 1711.
I HAVE often thought if the minds of men were laid open, we should see but little difference between that of the wise man and that of the fool. There are infinite reveries, numberless extravagances, and a perpetual train of vanities which pass through both. The great difference is, that the first knows how to pick and cull his thoughts for conversation, by suppressing some and communicating others; whereas the other lets them all indifferently fly out in words. This sort of discretion, however, has no place in private conversation between intimate friends. On such occasions the wisest nen very often talk like the weakest; for indeed the talking with a friend is nothing else but thinking aloud.
Tully has therefore very justly exposed a precept delivered by some ancient writers, that a man should live with his enemy in such a manner as might leave him room to become his friend; and with his friend, in such a manner that, if he became his enemy, it should not be in his power to hurt him.
The first part of this rule, which regards our behaviour towards an enemy, is indeed very reasonable, as well as very prudential; but the latter part of it, which regards our behaviour towards a friend, savours more of cunning than of discretion, and would cut a man off from the greatest pleasures of life, which are the freedoms of conversation with a bosom friend. Besides tliat when a friend is turned into an enemy, and, as the son of Sirach calls him, “a bewrayer of secrets,' the world is just enough to accuse the perfidiousness of the friend, rather than the indiscretion of the person who confided in him.
Discretion does not only show itself in words, but in all the circumstances of action, and is like an under-agent of Providence, to guide and direct us in the ordinary concerns of life.
There are many more shining qualities in the mind of man, but there is none so useful as discretion ; it is this indeed which gives a value to all the rest, which sets them at work in their proper times and places, and turns them to the advantage of the person who is possessed of them. Without it, learning is pedantry, and wit impertinence; virtue itself looks like weakness; the best parts only qualify a man to be more sprightly in errors, and active to his own prejudice.
Nor does discretion only make a man the master of his own parts, but of other men's. The discreet man finds out the talents of those he converses with, and knows how to apply them to proper uses. Accordingly, if we look into particular communities and divisions of men, we may observe that it is the discreet man, not the witty, nor the learned, nor the brave, who guides the conversation, and gives measures to the society. A man with great talents, but void of discretion, is like Polyphemus in the fable, strong and blind, endued with an
the most proper
irresistible force, which for want of sight is of no use to him.
Though a man has all other perfections, and wants discretion, he will be of no great consequence in the world; but if he has this single talent in perfection, and but a common share of others, he may do what he pleases in his particular station of life.
At the same time that I think discretion the most useful talent a man can be master of, I look upon cunning to be the accomplishment of little, mean, ungenerous minds. Discretion points out the noblest ends to us, and pursues
and laudable methods of attaining them: cunning has only private selfish aims, and sticks at nothing which may make them succeed. Discretion has large and extended views, and, like a wellformed eye, commands a whole horizon: cunning is a kind of shortsightedness, that discovers the minutest objects which are near at hand, but is not able to discern things at a distance. . Discretion, the more it is discovered, gives a greater authority to the person who possesses it: cunning, when it is once detected, loses its force, and makes a man incapable of bringing about even those events which he might have done, had he passed only for a plain
Discretion is the perfection of reason, and a guide to us in all the duties of life : cunning is a kind of instinct, that only looks out after our immediate interest and welfare. Discretion is only found in men of strong sense and good understandings : cunning is often to be met with in brutes themselves, and in persons who are but the fewest removes from them. In short, cunning is only the