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The perusal of the lessons of practical wisdom, preserved in the writings of the ancients, must always give pleasure to a well cultivated mind, both on account of their correspondence with the natural dictates of the human heart, and on account of the elegant and nervous manner in which they are commonly expressed.
In this view, the writings of Seneca have been always justly held in high estimation. Whatever may be thought of the consistency of this philosopher's conduct with his doctrine, it cannot be doubted, that his system of philosophy required the strictest virtue, and that in all his writings, a variety of just and noble sentiments are expressed with great conciseness and energy. Evert the pointed and antithetical form of expression, which is the peculiar character of his style, and which is, not without reason, censured as a deviation from the simplicity which distinguished the writers of the preceding period, seems peculiarly adapted to the purpose of giving vivacity and strength to particular maxims and observations in morals. i
Dr. Morell, therefore, rendered an acceptable service to the Public, by clothing the best part of Seneca's works, his Epistles, in a modern dress, which has, we believe, never been attempted since they were done into Enghjh by Thomas Lodge, and arrayed in a rustic habit by that great master of the vulgar dialectj L'Estf|nge. Every one knows that Dr. Morell, the improver of ATrmvorth Dictionary, and author of Tbe/aurut Graccc Pet/ems* devoted a long life to classical learning, and therefore, as might be expected, must have been well qualified to give a correct and faithful translation of Seneca. That our Readers may judge for themselves how far he was capable of imitating the peculiar manner of the original, we shall select two passages.
* Of Booh. 9"be Mind is to be employed Oh Things and not on Wordi. The happy Alan. 'You complain, Lucilius, that, where you at present reside you, want books: it matters not how many you have, but how good they "are. Reading, with some point in view, profits a man; but variety only amuseth. He that hath fixed upon the end of his journey, must pursue one path, and not wan-der out of his uay: this would not be called a journey, but rambling. You had rather, yon fay, I should give you books than counsel. Such as 1 have I am ready to fend you, and even my whole stock: nay, I would, if possible, transport myself to you; and indeed did I not expect that you soon will have fulfilled your commission, old as 1 m, 1 should have undertaken the voyage: nor would Charybdis, Scylla, or any sabulous stories relating to this sea, have deterred me from it. I would have swam over it, instead of being carried; to have enjoyed your presence, and learned what progress you have made in the accomplishments of the mind. But as for your desiring me to fend you my books, I think myself not a whit the more ingenious, than I should think myself
handsome, handsome, because you desired my picture. I know you make this request more out of complaisance than judgment; but if it be from judgment, I must tell you, your complaisance hath imposed upon, you. However, such as they are, I will fend them; and entreat you to read them, as the writings of one, who is still seeking after Truth; not presuming to have found it; and seeking it-with earnestness and resolution: for I have not given myself up to any particular master; I have not enlisted myself solemnly in any sect*: I trust indeed much to the judgment of great men, but at the same time despise not my own. They have still left nt many things for future investigation; and perhaps might have supplied us. with many things necessary, had they not attached themselves to things vain and superfluous: they lost much time in cavilling about word;, and in captious disputations, which serve only to exercise and amuse vain minds. They start knotty questions, and then solve them, by the help os a sew words of doubtful meaning: and have we leisure for all this? do we yet know how to live, or how to die? Thither should our utmost care and discretion be directed, in order to be provided against being deceived by things, as by words: what avails it to perplex yourself and me, with the distinction of words of like sound, when no one can be deceived by them but in subtle disputations?
* Things themselves deceive us: let us learn to distinguish them: ■we embrace evil for good; we wish for things contrary to what we wished for before; our vows impugn our vows; and our purposes thwart and oppose one another: how nearly does flattery resemble fri:ndship? It not only imitaxs friendship, but seems to overcome and excel it + ; it is sucked in with favourable ears; descends into the heart; and is then most grateful, when most pernicious: teach me to distinguish this likeness: a fawning enemy sometimes attacks me in the name of a friend: vice imposes upon us under the mask of virtue; temerity lies concealed, under the title of valour; indolence is taken for moderation; and tho coward for a cautious man. Now, error in this respect is very iL-ingerous; set therefore a particular mark on these things: but was you to ask a man if he has got horns, no one would be so foolish as to rub his brow for conviction ; nor so dull and stupid as not to know, he has not got that which, by the most subtle inferences you would persuade him he has. These then deceive without any detriment; like the cups and balls of jugglers J, in which the very fallacy delights us; make me,to understand how the feat is done, and all the pleasure of it is lost: I may fay the fame of all idle questions, properly called sophistry; which to be ignorant
* * Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri. Hor. Ep. I. 1. 14. f « Thus Horace (A. P. 431.)
Ut qui conducti plorant in sunere, dicunt Et faciunt prope plura dolentibus ex aninio. As hirelings, paid for the funereal tear, Oufweep the sorrows of a friendstneere. \ ' This rub on the logicians, comparing their trifling argumentation to the tricks osjugglers, was from Arcestlaus, who said, Ts; i.a
of of is by no means prejudicial; nor is there any profit or delight is knowing them.
'Throw aside the ambiguity of words, and teach us this important truth; that he is not the happy man, whom the vulgar esteem so, on account of his great wealth, but he whose mind is all goodness; upright, and noble, trampling upon what the world holds in admiration ; who fees no one, with whom he would change condition; who reckons a man happy, only in thac he preserves the dignity of man; who takes Nature for his guide; conducts himself by her laws; and lives up to her prescriptions; whose truly good possessions are such, as no external power can take away; who turns evil into good; sure and steady in point of judgment, without prejudice, without sear; whom no external force can disturb, though perchance it move him; whom, when Fortune hath pointed at him her sharpest arrow, and with her whole strength, she only rakes, but cannot wound him; and that but seldom; for her other weapons, with which she assails mankind, rebound from him like the hailstones, which falling on our houses, without any inconvenience to the inhabitants, make a little rattling, and are dissolved *.
* Here then exert yourself, for why should you detain me with such stuff as you yourself call pseudomtnon (i. e. fallacious reasoning): and of which so many idle books are composed? Behold, the whole os life deceives me; reprove this; if you are so acute, reduce this to truth. We judge those things necessary the greatest part of which are merely superfluous; and even thole things, which are not superfluous, have not sufficient weight in them to make a man rich and happy : nay, though a thing be necessary, it is not immediately to be pronounced good : we prostitute this title if we give it to bread, or other viands, without which no one can support life: what is good, is necessary; but not every thing that is necessary is good; because some things are abject and mean, which however are absolutely necessary.
'There is no one, I think, so ill informed of the importance of good, as to apply this term to the necessaries of the day: why then will you not rather transfer your care, to shew to all men, that with great loss of time they are ever seeking superfluities; and that many spend their whole life in quest of the means to live. Consider the whole world; reconnoitre individuals; who is there, whose life is not taken up with providing for to-morrow? Do you ask what harm there is in this? An infinite deal: for such men do not live, but are
• * This is a most admirable character or description of a good man: but how greatly it may be heightened under the Christian scheme, we may see exemplified in that incomparable £ction entitled Sir Charles Grandison. Fiction did I say? Be it so. It seems to me so replete with sentimental truths, and elegant diction, that I know no book, next to those of a religious tenour, that I would sooner recommend for perusal to a young man, and especially one of a superior rank. —According to roy first plan, I had inscribed the following Epistle to Mr. Richardson ; and desired his acceptance of my application of it to bis the said history, as coming from one of his many just admirers.'
about about to live: they defer every thing from day to day : however circumspect we are, life will Hill outrun us * : but now, while we are so dilatory, it paiTeth away as if it did not belong to us; it ends indeed at its last day, but is !o(l every day.
'But that [ may not exceed the bounds of an epistle, and sill the reader's hand with a load of paper; I (hall defer to another opportunity this dispute with the logicians; who generally spin their reasonings somewhat too fine , and are studious to exhibit little else than this and that f.'
'On Contentment and Magnanimity.
'Still, Lucilius, are you forgetful, and still complaining; and seem not to understand, that there is nothing evil in these worldly affairs, but what you m..ke so yourself; by heing thus displeased and ever querulous. For my part, I think there is nothing that can be called miserable in man, unless he thinks there is something miserable in the nature of things. I would quarrel with myself, if I thought there was any thing that I could not endure. Am 1 sick? It i« part v.f my destiny. Is my family afflicted? am I hard pressed by the usurer f does my house crack? losses, wounds, difficulties, fears, do they all assault me t It is nothing more than what is common in the world: nay, further, it must be so. These things therefore cannot be said to hasten, they are decreed.
'If you will believe me, Lucilius, 1 will lay open to you my inmost thoughts and affections. Thus then, when any thing see-ms adverse or hard to me, do I behave myself: I obey not God forcibly, but willingly; I follow him, not from necessity, but with all my mind and all my soul J. Nothing can befal me that I will receive,
• 'Life ivillstill outrun us] Life speeds away,
From point :o point, tho' seeming to stand still; The cunning fugitive is swift by stealth: Too subtle is the moment to be seen: Yet scon man's hour is up and we are gone. Too prone'* our heart to whisper what we wish; 'Tis later with the wife than he's aware; The wisest tnan goes flower than the (On; And all mankind mistake their time of day, Ev'n age itself. —■— Toung. \ ' This and that] Hoc folutn curantibus, non et hoc. Alluding to the usu^I forms ot their vllogisms; a thifg must be either this or that; /'/ cannot be this, therefore it must be that; or, /'/ cannot be this and that; // is this, therefore not that. This puts me in mind of two lines, which a modern wit hath set by way of moral to a burlesque tragedy:
From such examples as 'of this and that.
We all are taught to know—I know not what.
Covens Garden Tragedy.'
X 'This is trOe wisdom, the principal coctrineof the Stoics, and
confirmed throughout the whole tenour of the Gospel. "He is but
a bad soldier, who sighs and marches on with rcluctancy; we mull
recive the orders wiih spirit and chearfulness, and not endeavour to
Rev. July 17B7. C slink
r ceive, either with an heavy heart, or a sorrowful countenance. There is no kind of tribute but what I will pay readily; considering that all we either mourn or fear is but the tribute we owe to Nature for our existence. It is in vain either to expect an exemption from these things, or to ask it*. Are you racked with pains in the bladder? have you had continual losses ? - I will go further: are you in fear of your life? And did you not know that you wished for these things when you wished for old age f? All these things as necessarily attend a long life, as in a long journey we mult expect dust, and dirt, and (howers.
'But you -would fain live, you fay, and yet be free from all these inconveniencies. Such an effeminate declaration by no means becomes a man. I would fain fee how you would take this wish of mine; which I protell I make, not only with a great, but good, intention; may neither Gods nor Goddesses permit Fortune to indulge you in ease and pleasure. Put to yourself this question, whether, if God was pleased
stink out of the part assigned us in this beautiful disposition of things; whereef even our sufferings make a necessary part. Let us address ourselves to God who governs all; as Cleanthes did in those excellent lines which are going to lose part of their grace and energy by my translation of them. Bolinghroke. (See the original Epistle, 107, N. f.)
Parent of Nature, Master of the -world,
Where'er thy providence direcls, behold
My Jieps with chearful refignation turn. •
Fate leads the -willing, drags the backward on,
Why Jhould I grieve, -when grieving I must bear,
Or take -with guilt, -what guiltless I might /hare.
— Thus let us speak, thus let us act. Resignation to the will
of God is true m gnanimity. But the sure mark of a pusillanimous and base spirit, is to struggle against, to censure, the order of Providence; and instead of mending our own conduct, to set up for that of correcting our Maker. Id.—See also Adams on Suicide, p. 176.
* " This established course of things it is not in our power to change: but it is in our power to assume such a greatness of mind as becomes wife and virtuous men; as may enable us to encounter the accidents of life with fortitude; and to conform ourselves to the order of Nature; who governs her great kingdom, the world, by continual mutations. Let us submit to this order: let us be persuaded that whatever does happen ought to happen; (or, as Mr. Pope expresses it, -whatever is, is right;) and never to be so foolish as to expostulate with Nature."
'The best resolution we can take, is to suffer what we eannot alter; and to pursue, without repining, the road which Providence, who directs every thing, has marked out to us. Id.
■J- r«fa; iira.t y.tv Uttt,, was iv^iTan, >j» Js woi ita»
• . All -wijh for age, but -when it comes, they cry,
They have enough, and rather -wijh to die.