The Battle of the Books And Other Short Pieces
Part 3 out of 3
while we preserve the name of Christians.
To conclude, whatever some may think of the great advantages to
trade by this favourite scheme, I do very much apprehend that in
six months' time after the Act is passed for the extirpation of the
Gospel, the Bank and East India stock may fall at least one per
cent. And since that is fifty times more than ever the wisdom of
our age thought fit to venture for the preservation of
Christianity, there is no reason we should be at so great a loss
merely for the sake of destroying it.
CHAPTER XV - HINTS TOWARDS AN ESSAY ON CONVERSATION.
I HAVE observed few obvious subjects to have been so seldom, or at
least so slightly, handled as this; and, indeed, I know few so
difficult to be treated as it ought, nor yet upon which there
seemeth so much to be said.
Most things pursued by men for the happiness of public or private
life our wit or folly have so refined, that they seldom subsist but
in idea; a true friend, a good marriage, a perfect form of
government, with some others, require so many ingredients, so good
in their several kinds, and so much niceness in mixing them, that
for some thousands of years men have despaired of reducing their
schemes to perfection. But in conversation it is or might be
otherwise; for here we are only to avoid a multitude of errors,
which, although a matter of some difficulty, may be in every man's
power, for want of which it remaineth as mere an idea as the other.
Therefore it seemeth to me that the truest way to understand
conversation is to know the faults and errors to which it is
subject, and from thence every man to form maxims to himself
whereby it may be regulated, because it requireth few talents to
which most men are not born, or at least may not acquire without
any great genius or study. For nature bath left every man a
capacity of being agreeable, though not of shining in company; and
there are a hundred men sufficiently qualified for both, who, by a
very few faults that they might correct in half an hour, are not so
much as tolerable.
I was prompted to write my thoughts upon this subject by mere
indignation, to reflect that so useful and innocent a pleasure, so
fitted for every period and condition of life, and so much in all
men's power, should be so much neglected and abused.
And in this discourse it will be necessary to note those errors
that are obvious, as well as others which are seldomer observed,
since there are few so obvious or acknowledged into which most men,
some time or other, are not apt to run.
For instance, nothing is more generally exploded than the folly of
talking too much; yet I rarely remember to have seen five people
together where some one among them hath not been predominant in
that kind, to the great constraint and disgust of all the rest.
But among such as deal in multitudes of words, none are comparable
to the sober deliberate talker, who proceedeth with much thought
and caution, maketh his preface, brancheth out into several
digressions, findeth a hint that putteth him in mind of another
story, which he promiseth to tell you when this is done; cometh
back regularly to his subject, cannot readily call to mind some
person's name, holdeth his head, complaineth of his memory; the
whole company all this while in suspense; at length, says he, it is
no matter, and so goes on. And, to crown the business, it perhaps
proveth at last a story the company hath heard fifty times before;
or, at best, some insipid adventure of the relater.
Another general fault in conversation is that of those who affect
to talk of themselves. Some, without any ceremony, will run over
the history of their lives; will relate the annals of their
diseases, with the several symptoms and circumstances of them; will
enumerate the hardships and injustice they have suffered in court,
in parliament, in love, or in law. Others are more dexterous, and
with great art will lie on the watch to hook in their own praise.
They will call a witness to remember they always foretold what
would happen in such a case, but none would believe them; they
advised such a man from the beginning, and told him the
consequences just as they happened, but he would have his own way.
Others make a vanity of telling their faults. They are the
strangest men in the world; they cannot dissemble; they own it is a
folly; they have lost abundance of advantages by it; but, if you
would give them the world, they cannot help it; there is something
in their nature that abhors insincerity and constraint; with many
other unsufferable topics of the same altitude.
Of such mighty importance every man is to himself, and ready to
think he is so to others, without once making this easy and obvious
reflection, that his affairs can have no more weight with other men
than theirs have with him; and how little that is he is sensible
Where company hath met, I often have observed two persons discover
by some accident that they were bred together at the same school or
university, after which the rest are condemned to silence, and to
listen while these two are refreshing each other's memory with the
arch tricks and passages of themselves and their comrades.
I know a great officer of the army, who will sit for some time with
a supercilious and impatient silence, full of anger and contempt
for those who are talking; at length of a sudden demand audience;
decide the matter in a short dogmatical way; then withdraw within
himself again, and vouchsafe to talk no more, until his spirits
circulate again to the same point.
There are some faults in conversation which none are so subject to
as the men of wit, nor ever so much as when they are with each
other. If they have opened their mouths without endeavouring to
say a witty thing, they think it is so many words lost. It is a
torment to the hearers, as much as to themselves, to see them upon
the rack for invention, and in perpetual constraint, with so little
success. They must do something extraordinary, in order to acquit
themselves, and answer their character, else the standers by may be
disappointed and be apt to think them only like the rest of
mortals. I have known two men of wit industriously brought
together, in order to entertain the company, where they have made a
very ridiculous figure, and provided all the mirth at their own
I know a man of wit, who is never easy but where he can be allowed
to dictate and preside; he neither expecteth to be informed or
entertained, but to display his own talents. His business is to be
good company, and not good conversation, and therefore he chooseth
to frequent those who are content to listen, and profess themselves
his admirers. And, indeed, the worst conversation I ever remember
to have heard in my life was that at Will's coffee-house, where the
wits, as they were called, used formerly to assemble; that is to
say, five or six men who had written plays, or at least prologues,
or had share in a miscellany, came thither, and entertained one
another with their trifling composures in so important an air, as
if they had been the noblest efforts of human nature, or that the
fate of kingdoms depended on them; and they were usually attended
with a humble audience of young students from the inns of courts,
or the universities, who, at due distance, listened to these
oracles, and returned home with great contempt for their law and
philosophy, their heads filled with trash under the name of
politeness, criticism, and belles lettres.
By these means the poets, for many years past, were all overrun
with pedantry. For, as I take it, the word is not properly used;
because pedantry is the too front or unseasonable obtruding our own
knowledge in common discourse, and placing too great a value upon
it; by which definition men of the court or the army may be as
guilty of pedantry as a philosopher or a divine; and it is the same
vice in women when they are over copious upon the subject of their
petticoats, or their fans, or their china. For which reason,
although it be a piece of prudence, as well as good manners, to put
men upon talking on subjects they are best versed in, yet that is a
liberty a wise man could hardly take; because, beside the
imputation of pedantry, it is what he would never improve by.
This great town is usually provided with some player, mimic, or
buffoon, who hath a general reception at the good tables; familiar
and domestic with persons of the first quality, and usually sent
for at every meeting to divert the company, against which I have no
objection. You go there as to a farce or a puppet-show; your
business is only to laugh in season, either out of inclination or
civility, while this merry companion is acting his part. It is a
business he hath undertaken, and we are to suppose he is paid for
his day's work. I only quarrel when in select and private
meetings, where men of wit and learning are invited to pass an
evening, this jester should be admitted to run over his circle of
tricks, and make the whole company unfit for any other
conversation, besides the indignity of confounding men's talents at
so shameful a rate.
Raillery is the finest part of conversation; but, as it is our
usual custom to counterfeit and adulterate whatever is too dear for
us, so we have done with this, and turned it all into what is
generally called repartee, or being smart; just as when an
expensive fashion cometh up, those who are not able to reach it
content themselves with some paltry imitation. It now passeth for
raillery to run a man down in discourse, to put him out of
countenance, and make him ridiculous, sometimes to expose the
defects of his person or understanding; on all which occasions he
is obliged not to be angry, to avoid the imputation of not being
able to take a jest. It is admirable to observe one who is
dexterous at this art, singling out a weak adversary, getting the
laugh on his side, and then carrying all before him. The French,
from whom we borrow the word, have a quite different idea of the
thing, and so had we in the politer age of our fathers. Raillery
was, to say something that at first appeared a reproach or
reflection, but, by some turn of wit unexpected and surprising,
ended always in a compliment, and to the advantage of the person it
was addressed to. And surely one of the best rules in conversation
is, never to say a thing which any of the company can reasonably
wish we had rather left unsaid; nor can there anything be well more
contrary to the ends for which people meet together, than to part
unsatisfied with each other or themselves.
There are two faults in conversation which appear very different,
yet arise from the same root, and are equally blamable; I mean, an
impatience to interrupt others, and the uneasiness of being
interrupted ourselves. The two chief ends of conversation are, to
entertain and improve those we are among, or to receive those
benefits ourselves; which whoever will consider, cannot easily run
into either of those two errors; because, when any man speaketh in
company, it is to be supposed he doth it for his hearers' sake, and
not his own; so that common discretion will teach us not to force
their attention, if they are not willing to lend it; nor, on the
other side, to interrupt him who is in possession, because that is
in the grossest manner to give the preference to our own good
There are some people whose good manners will not suffer them to
interrupt you; but, what is almost as bad, will discover abundance
of impatience, and lie upon the watch until you have done, because
they have started something in their own thoughts which they long
to be delivered of. Meantime, they are so far from regarding what
passes, that their imaginations are wholly turned upon what they
have in reserve, for fear it should slip out of their memory; and
thus they confine their invention, which might otherwise range over
a hundred things full as good, and that might be much more
There is a sort of rude familiarity, which some people, by
practising among their intimates, have introduced into their
general conversation, and would have it pass for innocent freedom
or humour, which is a dangerous experiment in our northern climate,
where all the little decorum and politeness we have are purely
forced by art, and are so ready to lapse into barbarity. This,
among the Romans, was the raillery of slaves, of which we have many
instances in Plautus. It seemeth to have been introduced among us
by Cromwell, who, by preferring the scum of the people, made it a
court-entertainment, of which I have heard many particulars; and,
considering all things were turned upside down, it was reasonable
and judicious; although it was a piece of policy found out to
ridicule a point of honour in the other extreme, when the smallest
word misplaced among gentlemen ended in a duel.
There are some men excellent at telling a story, and provided with
a plentiful stock of them, which they can draw out upon occasion in
all companies; and considering how low conversation runs now among
us, it is not altogether a contemptible talent; however, it is
subject to two unavoidable defects: frequent repetition, and being
soon exhausted; so that whoever valueth this gift in himself hath
need of a good memory, and ought frequently to shift his company,
that he may not discover the weakness of his fund; for those who
are thus endowed have seldom any other revenue, but live upon the
Great speakers in public are seldom agreeable in private
conversation, whether their faculty be natural, or acquired by
practice and often venturing. Natural elocution, although it may
seem a paradox, usually springeth from a barrenness of invention
and of words, by which men who have only one stock of notions upon
every subject, and one set of phrases to express them in, they swim
upon the superficies, and offer themselves on every occasion;
therefore, men of much learning, and who know the compass of a
language, are generally the worst talkers on a sudden, until much
practice hath inured and emboldened them; because they are
confounded with plenty of matter, variety of notions, and of words,
which they cannot readily choose, but are perplexed and entangled
by too great a choice, which is no disadvantage in private
conversation; where, on the other side, the talent of haranguing
is, of all others, most insupportable.
Nothing hath spoiled men more for conversation than the character
of being wits; to support which, they never fail of encouraging a
number of followers and admirers, who list themselves in their
service, wherein they find their accounts on both sides by pleasing
their mutual vanity. This hath given the former such an air of
superiority, and made the latter so pragmatical, that neither of
them are well to be endured. I say nothing here of the itch of
dispute and contradiction, telling of lies, or of those who are
troubled with the disease called the wandering of the thoughts,
that they are never present in mind at what passeth in discourse;
for whoever labours under any of these possessions is as unfit for
conversation as madmen in Bedlam.
I think I have gone over most of the errors in conversation that
have fallen under my notice or memory, except some that are merely
personal, and others too gross to need exploding; such as lewd or
profane talk; but I pretend only to treat the errors of
conversation in general, and not the several subjects of discourse,
which would be infinite. Thus we see how human nature is most
debased, by the abuse of that faculty, which is held the great
distinction between men and brutes; and how little advantage we
make of that which might be the greatest, the most lasting, and the
most innocent, as well as useful pleasure of life: in default of
which, we are forced to take up with those poor amusements of dress
and visiting, or the more pernicious ones of play, drink, and
vicious amours, whereby the nobility and gentry of both sexes are
entirely corrupted both in body and mind, and have lost all notions
of love, honour, friendship, and generosity; which, under the name
of fopperies, have been for some time laughed out of doors.
This degeneracy of conversation, with the pernicious consequences
thereof upon our humours and dispositions, hath been owing, among
other causes, to the custom arisen, for some time past, of
excluding women from any share in our society, further than in
parties at play, or dancing, or in the pursuit of an amour. I take
the highest period of politeness in England (and it is of the same
date in France) to have been the peaceable part of King Charles
I.'s reign; and from what we read of those times, as well as from
the accounts I have formerly met with from some who lived in that
court, the methods then used for raising and cultivating
conversation were altogether different from ours; several ladies,
whom we find celebrated by the poets of that age, had assemblies at
their houses, where persons of the best understanding, and of both
sexes, met to pass the evenings in discoursing upon whatever
agreeable subjects were occasionally started; and although we are
apt to ridicule the sublime Platonic notions they had, or
personated in love and friendship, I conceive their refinements
were grounded upon reason, and that a little grain of the romance
is no ill ingredient to preserve and exalt the dignity of human
nature, without which it is apt to degenerate into everything that
is sordid, vicious, and low. If there were no other use in the
conversation of ladies, it is sufficient that it would lay a
restraint upon those odious topics of immodesty and indecencies,
into which the rudeness of our northern genius is so apt to fall.
And, therefore, it is observable in those sprightly gentlemen about
the town, who are so very dexterous at entertaining a vizard mask
in the park or the playhouse, that, in the company of ladies of
virtue and honour, they are silent and disconcerted, and out of
There are some people who think they sufficiently acquit themselves
and entertain their company with relating of facts of no
consequence, nor at all out of the road of such common incidents as
happen every day; and this I have observed more frequently among
the Scots than any other nation, who are very careful not to omit
the minutest circumstances of time or place; which kind of
discourse, if it were not a little relieved by the uncouth terms
and phrases, as well as accent and gesture peculiar to that
country, would be hardly tolerable. It is not a fault in company
to talk much; but to continue it long is certainly one; for, if the
majority of those who are got together be naturally silent or
cautious, the conversation will flag, unless it be often renewed by
one among them who can start new subjects, provided he doth not
dwell upon them, but leaveth room for answers and replies.
CHAPTER XVI - THOUGHTS ON VARIOUS SUBJECTS.
WE have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to
make us love one another.
Reflect on things past as wars, negotiations, factions, etc. We
enter so little into those interests, that we wonder how men could
possibly be so busy and concerned for things so transitory; look on
the present times, we find the same humour, yet wonder not at all.
A wise man endeavours, by considering all circumstances, to make
conjectures and form conclusions; but the smallest accident
intervening (and in the course of affairs it is impossible to
foresee all) does often produce such turns and changes, that at
last he is just as much in doubt of events as the most ignorant and
Positiveness is a good quality for preachers and orators, because
he that would obtrude his thoughts and reasons upon a multitude,
will convince others the more, as he appears convinced himself.
How is it possible to expect that mankind will take advice, when
they will not so much as take warning?
I forget whether Advice be among the lost things which Aristo says
are to be found in the moon; that and Time ought to have been
No preacher is listened to but Time, which gives us the same train
and turn of thought that older people have tried in vain to put
into our heads before.
When we desire or solicit anything, our minds run wholly on the
good side or circumstances of it; when it is obtained, our minds
run wholly on the bad ones.
In a glass-house the workmen often fling in a small quantity of
fresh coals, which seems to disturb the fire, but very much
enlivens it. This seems to allude to a gentle stirring of the
passions, that the mind may not languish.
Religion seems to have grown an infant with age, and requires
miracles to nurse it, as it had in its infancy.
All fits of pleasure are balanced by an equal degree of pain or
languor; it is like spending this year part of the next year's
The latter part of a wise man's life is taken up in curing the
follies, prejudices, and false opinions he had contracted in the
Would a writer know how to behave himself with relation to
posterity, let him consider in old books what he finds that he is
glad to know, and what omissions he most laments.
Whatever the poets pretend, it is plain they give immortality to
none but themselves; it is Homer and Virgil we reverence and
admire, not Achilles or AEneas. With historians it is quite the
contrary; our thoughts are taken up with the actions, persons, and
events we read, and we little regard the authors.
When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by this
sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.
Men who possess all the advantages of life, are in a state where
there are many accidents to disorder and discompose, but few to
It is unwise to punish cowards with ignominy, for if they had
regarded that they would not have been cowards; death is their
proper punishment, because they fear it most.
The greatest inventions were produced in the times of ignorance, as
the use of the compass, gunpowder, and printing, and by the dullest
nation, as the Germans.
One argument to prove that the common relations of ghosts and
spectres are generally false, may be drawn from the opinion held
that spirits are never seen by more than one person at a time; that
is to say, it seldom happens to above one person in a company to be
possessed with any high degree of spleen or melancholy.
I am apt to think that, in the day of Judgment, there will be small
allowance given to the wise for their want of morals, nor to the
ignorant for their want of faith, because both are without excuse.
This renders the advantages equal of ignorance and knowledge. But,
some scruples in the wise, and some vices in the ignorant, will
perhaps be forgiven upon the strength of temptation to each.
The value of several circumstances in story lessens very much by
distance of time, though some minute circumstances are very
valuable; and it requires great judgment in a writer to
It is grown a word of course for writers to say, "This critical
age," as divines say, "This sinful age."
It is pleasant to observe how free the present age is in laying
taxes on the next. FUTURE AGES SHALL TALK OF THIS; THIS SHALL BE
FAMOUS TO ALL POSTERITY. Whereas their time and thoughts will be
taken up about present things, as ours are now.
The chameleon, who is said to feed upon nothing but air, hath, of
all animals, the nimblest tongue.
When a man is made a spiritual peer he loses his surname; when a
temporal, his Christian name.
It is in disputes as in armies, where the weaker side sets up false
lights, and makes a great noise, to make the enemy believe them
more numerous and strong than they really are.
Some men, under the notions of weeding out prejudices, eradicate
virtue, honesty, and religion.
In all well-instituted commonwealths, care has been taken to limit
men's possessions; which is done for many reasons, and among the
rest, for one which perhaps is not often considered: that when
bounds are set to men's desires, after they have acquired as much
as the laws will permit them, their private interest is at an end,
and they have nothing to do but to take care of the public.
There are but three ways for a man to revenge himself of the
censure of the world: to despise it, to return the like, or to
endeavour to live so as to avoid it. The first of these is usually
pretended, the last is almost impossible; the universal practice is
for the second.
I never heard a finer piece of satire against lawyers than that of
astrologers, when they pretend by rules of art to tell when a suit
will end, and whether to the advantage of the plaintiff or
defendant; thus making the matter depend entirely upon the
influence of the stars, without the least regard to the merits of
The expression in Apocrypha about Tobit and his dog following him I
have often heard ridiculed, yet Homer has the same words of
Telemachus more than once; and Virgil says something like it of
Evander. And I take the book of Tobit to be partly poetical.
I have known some men possessed of good qualities, which were very
serviceable to others, but useless to themselves; like a sun-dial
on the front of a house, to inform the neighbours and passengers,
but not the owner within.
If a man would register all his opinions upon love, politics,
religion, learning, etc., beginning from his youth and so go on to
old age, what a bundle of inconsistencies and contradictions would
appear at last!
What they do in heaven we are ignorant of; what they do not we are
told expressly: that they neither marry, nor are given in
It is a miserable thing to live in suspense; it is the life of a
The Stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our
desires, is like cutting off our feet when we want shoes.
Physicians ought not to give their judgment of religion, for the
same reason that butchers are not admitted to be jurors upon life
The reason why so few marriages are happy, is, because young ladies
spend their time in making nets, not in making cages.
If a man will observe as he walks the streets, I believe he will
find the merriest countenances in mourning coaches.
Nothing more unqualifies a man to act with prudence than a
misfortune that is attended with shame and guilt.
The power of fortune is confessed only by the miserable; for the
happy impute all their success to prudence or merit.
Ambition often puts men upon doing the meanest offices; so climbing
is performed in the same posture with creeping.
Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent.
Although men are accused for not knowing their own weakness, yet
perhaps as few know their own strength. It is, in men as in soils,
where sometimes there is a vein of gold which the owner knows not
Satire is reckoned the easiest of all wit, but I take it to be
otherwise in very bad times: for it is as hard to satirise well a
man of distinguished vices, as to praise well a man of
distinguished virtues. It is easy enough to do either to people of
Invention is the talent of youth, and judgment of age; so that our
judgment grows harder to please, when we have fewer things to offer
it: this goes through the whole commerce of life. When we are
old, our friends find it difficult to please us, and are less
concerned whether we be pleased or no.
No wise man ever wished to be younger.
An idle reason lessens the weight of the good ones you gave before.
The motives of the best actions will not bear too strict an
inquiry. It is allowed that the cause of most actions, good or
bad, may he resolved into the love of ourselves; but the self-love
of some men inclines them to please others, and the self-love of
others is wholly employed in pleasing themselves. This makes the
great distinction between virtue and vice. Religion is the best
motive of all actions, yet religion is allowed to be the highest
instance of self-love.
Old men view best at a distance with the eyes of their
understanding as well as with those of nature.
Some people take more care to hide their wisdom than their folly.
Anthony Henley's farmer, dying of an asthma, said, "Well, if I can
get this breath once OUT, I'll take care it never got IN again."
The humour of exploding many things under the name of trifles,
fopperies, and only imaginary goods, is a very false proof either
of wisdom or magnanimity, and a great check to virtuous actions.
For instance, with regard to fame, there is in most people a
reluctance and unwillingness to be forgotten. We observe, even
among the vulgar, how fond they are to have an inscription over
their grave. It requires but little philosophy to discover and
observe that there is no intrinsic value in all this; however, if
it be founded in our nature as an incitement to virtue, it ought
not to be ridiculed.
Complaint is the largest tribute heaven receives, and the sincerest
part of our devotion.
The common fluency of speech in many men, and most women, is owing
to a scarcity of matter, and a scarcity of words; for whoever is a
master of language, and hath a mind full of ideas, will be apt, in
speaking, to hesitate upon the choice of both; whereas common
speakers have only one set of ideas, and one set of words to clothe
them in, and these are always ready at the mouth. So people come
faster out of a church when it is almost empty, than when a crowd
is at the door.
Few are qualified to shine in company; but it is in most men's
power to be agreeable. The reason, therefore, why conversation
runs so low at present, is not the defect of understanding, but
pride, vanity, ill-nature, affectation, singularity, positiveness,
or some other vice, the effect of a wrong education.
To be vain is rather a mark of humility than pride. Vain men
delight in telling what honours have been done them, what great
company they have kept, and the like, by which they plainly confess
that these honours were more than their due, and such as their
friends would not believe if they had not been told: whereas a man
truly proud thinks the greatest honours below his merit, and
consequently scorns to boast. I therefore deliver it as a maxim,
that whoever desires the character of a proud man, ought to conceal
Law, in a free country, is, or ought to be, the determination of
the majority of those who have property in land.
One argument used to the disadvantage of Providence I take to be a
very strong one in its defence. It is objected that storms and
tempests, unfruitful seasons, serpents, spiders, flies, and other
noxious or troublesome animals, with many more instances of the
like kind, discover an imperfection in nature, because human life
would be much easier without them; but the design of Providence may
clearly be perceived in this proceeding. The motions of the sun
and moon - in short, the whole system of the universe, as far as
philosophers have been able to discover and observe, are in the
utmost degree of regularity and perfection; but wherever God hath
left to man the power of interposing a remedy by thought or labour,
there he hath placed things in a state of imperfection, on purpose
to stir up human industry, without which life would stagnate, or,
indeed, rather, could not subsist at all: CURIS ACCUUNT MORTALIA
Praise is the daughter of present power.
How inconsistent is man with himself!
I have known several persons of great fame for wisdom in public
affairs and counsels governed by foolish servants.
I have known great Ministers, distinguished for wit and learning,
who preferred none but dunces.
I have known men of great valour cowards to their wives.
I have known men of the greatest cunning perpetually cheated.
I knew three great Ministers, who could exactly compute and settle
the accounts of a kingdom, but were wholly ignorant of their own
The preaching of divines helps to preserve well-inclined men in the
course of virtue, but seldom or never reclaims the vicious.
Princes usually make wiser choices than the servants whom they
trust for the disposal of places: I have known a prince, more than
once, choose an able Minister, but I never observed that Minister
to use his credit in the disposal of an employment to a person whom
he thought the fittest for it. One of the greatest in this age
owned and excused the matter from the violence of parties and the
unreasonableness of friends.
Small causes are sufficient to make a man uneasy when great ones
are not in the way. For want of a block he will stumble at a
Dignity, high station, or great riches, are in some sort necessary
to old men, in order to keep the younger at a distance, who are
otherwise too apt to insult them upon the score of their age.
Every man desires to live long; but no man would be old.
Love of flattery in most men proceeds from the mean opinion they
have of themselves; in women from the contrary.
If books and laws continue to increase as they have done for fifty
years past, I am in some concern for future ages how any man will
be learned, or any man a lawyer.
Kings are commonly said to have LONG HANDS; I wish they had as LONG
Princes in their infancy, childhood, and youth are said to discover
prodigious parts and wit, to speak things that surprise and
astonish. Strange, so many hopeful princes, and so many shameful
kings! If they happen to die young, they would have been prodigies
of wisdom and virtue. If they live, they are often prodigies
indeed, but of another sort.
Politics, as the word is commonly understood, are nothing but
corruptions, and consequently of no use to a good king or a good
ministry; for which reason Courts are so overrun with politics.
A nice man is a man of nasty ideas.
Apollo was held the god of physic and sender of diseases. Both
wore originally the same trade, and still continue.
Old men and comets have been reverenced for the same reason: their
long beards, and pretences to foretell events.
A person was asked at court, what he thought of an ambassador and
his train, who were all embroidery and lace, full of bows, cringes,
and gestures; he said, it was Solomon's importation, gold and apes.
Most sorts of diversion in men, children, and other animals, is an
imitation of fighting.
Augustus meeting an ass with a lucky name foretold himself good
fortune. I meet many asses, but none of them have lucky names.
If a man makes me keep my distance, the comfort is he keeps his at
the same time.
Who can deny that all men are violent lovers of truth when we see
them so positive in their errors, which they will maintain out of
their zeal to truth, although they contradict themselves every day
of their lives?
That was excellently observed, say I, when I read a passage in an
author, where his opinion agrees with mine. When we differ, there
I pronounce him to be mistaken.
Very few men, properly speaking, live at present, but are providing
to live another time.
Laws penned with the utmost care and exactness, and in the vulgar
language, are often perverted to wrong meanings; then why should we
wonder that the Bible is so?
Although men are accused for not knowing their weakness, yet
perhaps as few know their own strength.
A man seeing a wasp creeping into a vial filled with honey, that
was hung on a fruit tree, said thus: "Why, thou sottish animal,
art thou mad to go into that vial, where you see many hundred of
your kind there dying in it before you?" "The reproach is just,"
answered the wasp, "but not from you men, who are so far from
taking example by other people's follies, that you will not take
warning by your own. If after falling several times into this
vial, and escaping by chance, I should fall in again, I should then
but resemble you."
An old miser kept a tame jackdaw, that used to steal pieces of
money, and hide them in a hole, which the cat observing, asked why
he would hoard up those round shining things that he could make no
use of? "Why," said the jackdaw, "my master has a whole chest
full, and makes no more use of them than I."
Men are content to be laughed at for their wit, but not for their
If the men of wit and genius would resolve never to complain in
their works of critics and detractors, the next age would not know
that they ever had any.
After all the maxims and systems of trade and commerce, a stander-
by would think the affairs of the world were most ridiculously
There are few countries which, if well cultivated, would not
support double the number of their inhabitants, and yet fewer where
one-third of the people are not extremely stinted even in the
necessaries of life. I send out twenty barrels of corn, which
would maintain a family in bread for a year, and I bring back in
return a vessel of wine, which half a dozen good follows would
drink in less than a month, at the expense of their health and
A man would have but few spectators, if he offered to show for
threepence how he could thrust a red-hot iron into a barrel of
gunpowder, and it should not take fire.
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