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on their own heads*: a consideration, that surely should melt our anger into pity, and induce us never
go a step farther in correction or resentment, than security requires : but leave vengeance to him, whose it is. Thus then from the two inseparable commandments of love to God and man, flow inestimable motives to mild sentiments and gentle behaviour, by which pious and Christian minds will be powerfully influenced; experiencing not only their natural force, but the additional efficacy of divine grace, annexed to the use of them. And there is no other radical cure of irregular passions. But still, together with this universal medicine, there are several auxiliary and appropriated rules of regimen during our continuance in the course of it, to be followed, and therefore needful to be specified.
One is, that we avoid forming refined and romantic notions of human perfection in any thing. For these are much apter to heighten our expectations from others, and our demands upon them, than to increase our watchfulness over ourselves : and so every failure provokes us more highly, than it would have done else. A sense of things, too delicate for our nature, and the state in which we live, is no accomplishment, but an infirmity. And overstrained notions of friendship or honour, or any virtuous attainment, constantly do harm. For if we fancy ourselves arrived at these heights; we shall resent it as profanation, when the rest of the world treat us as being nearly on the level with them, which yet they certainly will. And if we go to measure those around us by these ideas; we shall look on persons, whenever we have a mind to do so, as monsters not to be supported, who, in a reasonable way of thinking, would appear very tolerably good people. We should therefore endeavour, by frequent reflection, to form a habit of judging with moderation concerning our neighbours and ourselves. Man is a fallen being, defective in his understanding, and depraved in his inclinations ; placed in circumstances, in which many things call him off from what he should do, many things prompt him to what he should not do; and often, before he hath well learned to distinguish one from the other, or too suddenly for him to apply the distinction rightly.
* Rom. xii. 20.
Now only reflect, when a multitude of such creatures as these are put to live together, with interests and appetites, humours and fancies, interfering every hour; what a number of wrong actions must of course be continually done, and some of them very wrong: which yet may be attended with such alleviations, that even a superior faultless nature, looking down upon our earth, would by no means impute all that was amiss, as heinous guilt to the persons that did it. This however is no reason, why we should indulge ourselves in failings: for wilful indulgence is always criminal. But it is a strong reason, why we should not be bitter against others, on finding them such, as we had cause to expect they would be: but receive a large share of uneasiness from them contentedly, and a small one, with thankfulness that it is no greater; especially considering, what we can never bear in mind too much, that no one of us is that superior faultless nature, which I have been supposing; but each of us a poor frail being, with the seeds in him at least of all the vile actions, that we charge upon others : and on the whole perhaps as bad, perhaps even worse than some of those, at whom we are so vehemently exasperated.
Almost every one is apt to join some notion of peculiar dignity to his own person: and to imagine, that offences are greatly aggravated by being committed against him : that his character and concerns, his family and friends, his opinions and taste, ought to be treated with a singular degree of regard. But then really we should remember, that multitudes besides may just as allowably think the same thing of theirs ; indeed that all men are as dear to themselves, as we can be to ourselves : which brings us back so far upon the level again. And the serious consideration of it must surely convince us, that our common interest, as well as duty is, to think and act mildly; that pride was not made for man, nor furious anger for them that are born of a woman*.
Other directions must be given more briefly. One is, not to indulge ourselves in any sort of over great niceness and delicacy: for it hardly ever gives real pleasure, and it furnishes perpetual occasions of disgust and fretfulness. Another is, to avoid inquisitiveness after materials for anger to work upon. It is better not to hear of every little wrong thing that is done about us, or said of us. And therefore we should never encourage persons in the officiousness of acquainting us with them needlessly: but always have some suspicion of such as are peculiarly forward in it. For innumerable are the friendships and agreeable acquaintances that have been broken off, and the resentments and animosities raised, by tales and insinuations of this kind, either wholly or in part false: or idle and trifling, though true. Two other important rules, and closely connected, are: first, never to engage by choice in more business, than we can easily manage; for that, by causing hurry and frequent miscarriages, will certainly cause vexation
* Ecclus. X. 18.
and peevishness: then, to preserve a steady attention to what we do engage in. Men are often grossly negligent of their affairs : and afterwards furiously, angry at those disorders in them, for which they themselves are almost, if not quite, as much to blame, as others. Now regular care would have prevented mismanagement; which alternate fits of remissness and rage will never do. Indeed we should obviate, as far as we can, every thing, that we find apt to ruffle our minds: and carry the precaution down even to our diversions and amusements. For some of these have often so very bad an effect upon the temper, that not to apply so easy a remedy as laying them aside, is really inexcusable. Another material thing to be shunned, is familiarity with passionate persons : not only for the very plain reason, lest they should provoke us, but also lest their example should infect
Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man thou shalt not go: lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul*. But to converse with those, who are of mild dispositions, to observe how they take things, and be advised by them how we should take them, will be of unspeakable service.
These are preparations before danger. When it approaches near, the main point is, to recollect, how dreadful it would be to give way and lose ourselves, and to resolve that we will not. Towards keeping this resolution we shall find it one great preservative, though it may seem a slight matter, not to let the accent of our speech, or any one of our gestures be vehement. For these things excite passion mechanically: whereas a soft answer, the Scripture tells us, turneth away wratht: composes the spirit of the giver himself, as well as the receiver of it. Also * Prov. xxii. 24.
+ Prov. xv. 1.
making use of the gentlest and least grating terms, that we can, will be extremely beneficial: and accordingly it follows there, that grievous words stir up anger.
But if such begin to present themselves, and struggle for vent, we must resolve to utter as few of any sort as possible: or, if it become requisite, none at all : but shut fast the door of our lips, till the mastiff within hath done barking, as is related to have been the practice of Socrates *. It is a painful restraint: but if we will remain masters of ourselves, it is absolutely necessary. For one hasty expression bursting out, makes freer way for another: till at last the banks are levelled, and the torrent carries all before it. A patient man therefore will bear for a time, and afterwards joy shall spring up unto him. He will hide his words for a time, and the lips of many shall declare his wisdomt. But above all, we should inviolably observe never to act in a heat. Thoughts, alas, will be too quick for us : a few improper words may escape: but actions are much more in our power. We may be too angry at present to venture upon acting at all: a little delay can do no harm, and may do a great deal of good. Only when we take time, we should make a right use of it; not revolve an insignificant offence in our minds, interpret little incidents with perverse acuteness, and lay stress upon groundless fancies, till we work it up into a heinous crime. The best understandings, without good tempers, can go the greatest lengths in Προς δε το μη συναρπαθηναι συνεργει τα μεγιστα εθιθηναι-σ
σιωπαν εως αν της ενδοθεν αναζεσεως αιθωμεθα κατασταλεισης, και ο εν ημιν κυων μηκέτι υλακτη. Λεγεται γουν και Σωκρατης, υποτι θυμωθειη, παντως σιωπαν. Simpl. in Epict. c. 28. p. 135. Comp. Cic. ad Quintum fratrem, 1. 1. ep. i. s. 13.
+ Ecclus. i. 23, 24.