A man must not only consider how his life wastes and decreases daily, but this also, that if he lives a long time he cannot be certain whether his understanding shall continue as able and sufficient as before for either discreet consideration in matter of businesses or for contemplation. It is the thing where true knowledge of things both divine and human depends.
For once his mind starts to go, his respiration, nutrition, his imaginative, and appetite, and other natural faculties may still continue the same. He shall find no want of them.
But how to make that right use of himself that he should, how to observe exactly in all things that which is right and just? How to redress and rectify all wrong, or sudden apprehensions and imaginations? Even of this particular, to duly consider whether he should live any longer or not. For all such things, wherein the best strength and vigor of the mind require most; his power and ability will be past and gone.
You must therefore know that not only because you are every day nearer to death than others, but also because that intellectual faculty in you, where you are enabled to know the true nature of things, and to order all your actions by that knowledge, daily wastes and decays, or may fail you before you die.
You must also observe that whatever it is that naturally happens to natural things has something in itself that is pleasing and delightful, as a great loaf when it is baked. Some parts of it cleave and part asunder and make the crust of it rugged and unequal, and yet those parts of it, though in some way it is against the art and intention of baking itself, that they are thus cleft and parted, which should have been and were first made all even and uniform, they nevertheless became it, and have a certain peculiar property to stir the appetite.
As figs are accounted fairest and ripest when they begin to shrink and wither, the same with ripe olives, when they are next to putrefaction are they in their proper beauty.
The hanging down of grapes, the brow of a lion, the froth of a foaming wild boar, and many other similar things; though considered by themselves, they are far from any beauty, yet because they happen naturally, they are both comely and delightful. If a man considers all things in the world with a profound mind and apprehension, even among all those things which are but mere accessories and natural appendices, as it were, there will scarcely appear anything to him where he will not find a matter of pleasure and delight.
So he will behold with as much pleasure the true grin of wild beasts, as those which by skillful painters and other artists are imitated. So he will be able to perceive the proper ripeness and beauty of old age, whether in man or woman.
And whatever else it is that is beautiful and alluring in whatever is, with content eyes he will soon find out and discern. Those and many other things will he discern, not credible to everyone, but only to them who are truly and familiarly acquainted, both with nature itself and all natural things.
Having cured many sicknesses, Hippocrates fell sick himself and died. The Chaldeans and Astrologians having foretold the deaths of many, were afterwards themselves surprised by the fates. Alexander and Pompeius, and Caius Caesar, having destroyed so many towns, and cut off in the field so many thousands both of horse and foot soldiers at last were willing to part with their own lives. Heraclitus having written so many natural tracts concerning the last and general conflagration of the world, died afterwards all filled with water within, and all bedaubed with dirt and dung without.
Lice killed Democritus; and Socrates, another sort of vermin, wicked ungodly men. How then stands the case? You have taken ship, you have sailed, you have come to land, go out if to another life, there also will you find gods, who are everywhere.
If all life and sense shall cease, then will you cease as well to be subject to either pains or pleasures; and to serve and tend this vile cottage; so much the viler, by how much that which ministers to it excels; the one being a rational substance, and a spirit, the other nothing but earth and blood.
Don't spend the remnant of your days in thoughts and fancies concerning other men when it is not in relation to some common good and it hinders you from some other work. That is, don't spend your time in thinking, what such a man does, and to what end. What he says, and what he thinks, and what he is about. Such other things or curiosities, which make a man to rove and wander from the care and observation of that part of himself which is rational and overruling.
See, therefore, in the whole series and connection of your thoughts that you are careful to prevent whatever is idle and impertinent. Especially, whatever is curious and malicious.
You must use yourself to think only of such things, of which if a man upon a sudden should ask you, what it is that you are now thinking, you may answer "This," and "That," freely and boldly that so by your thoughts it may presently appear that you are sincere in all things, and peaceable; as becomes one that is made for society and doesn't regard pleasures, nor gives way to any voluptuous imaginations at all: free from all contentiousness, envy, and suspicion, and from whatever else you would blush to confess your thoughts were set upon.
He that is such is surely someone that does not put off to lay hold on that which is best indeed, a very priest and minister of the gods. Well acquainted and in good correspondence with him, especially, that is seated and placed within himself. As in a temple and obsolete. To whom he also keeps and preserves himself unmarred by pleasure, undaunted by pain; free from any manner of wrong, or harsh language, by himself offered to himself
Not capable of any evil from others, a wrestler of the best sort, and for the highest prize, that he may not be cast down by any passion or affection of his own. Deeply dyed and drenched in righteousness, embracing and accepting with his whole heart whatever either happens or is allotted to him.
One who not often, nor without some great necessity tending to some public good, mindful of what any other, either speaks, or does, or purposes. For those things only that are in his own power, or that are truly his own, are the objects of his employments, and his thoughts are ever taken up with those things which of the whole universe are by the fates or Providence destined and appropriated to himself.
Those things that are his own, and in his own power, he himself takes order, for that they are good. As for those that happen to him, he believes them to be so. For that lot and portion is assigned to everyone, as it is unavoidable and necessary, so is it always profitable.
He remembers besides that whatever partakes of reason is akin to him, and that to care for all men generally is agreeing to the nature of a man. But as for honor and praise, that they ought not generally to be admitted and accepted of from all, but from such only who live according to nature.
As for them that do not, what manner of men they are at home or abroad, day or night, how conditioned they are with what manner of conditions, or with men of what conditions they labor and pass away the time together, he knows and remembers well, and therefore doesn't regard such praise and approbation as proceeding from them who can't like and approve themselves.
Do nothing against your will, nor contrary to the community, nor without due examination, nor reluctantly. Don't try to set out your thoughts with curious neat language. Be neither a great talker, nor a great undertaker.
Moreover, let your God that is in you rule over you. Find what he has to do with a man; an aged man; a sociable man; a Roman; a prince; one that has ordered his life as one that is expected, as it were, nothing but the sound of the trumpet, sounding a retreat to depart out of this life with all expedition. One who for his word or actions neither needs an oath, nor any man to be a witness.
Be cheerful, and stand in no need, either of other men's help or attendance, or of that rest and tranquility that you must be beholden to others for. Be like one that is straight of himself, or has always been straight, rather than one that has been rectified.
If you find anything in this mortal life better than righteousness, truth, temperance, fortitude, and in general better than a mind contented both with those things which according to right and reason she does, and in those, which without her will and knowledge happen to you by providence, apply yourself to it with your whole heart, and enjoy that which is best freely, wherever you find it.
But if you find nothing to be preferred to that spirit which is within you, if nothing better than to subject you into your own lusts and desires, and not to give way to any fancies or imaginations before you have duly considered them, nothing is better than to withdraw yourself (to use Socrates' words) from all sensuality, and submit yourself to the gods, and to have care of all men in general.
If you will find that all other things in comparison of this are only vile, and of little moment, then don't give way to anything else, which being once though but affected and inclined to, it will no more be in your power without all distraction that you ought to prefer and to pursue after that good, which is your own proper good.
For it is not lawful that anything that is of another and inferior kind and nature, be it what it will, as either popular applause, or honor, or riches, or pleasures; should be suffered to confront and contest, as it were, with that which is rational, and operationally good. For all these things, if once though but for a while, they begin to please, they presently prevail and pervert a man's mind, or turn a man from the right way.
Therefore, absolutely and freely make choices of that which is best, and stick to it. Now, they say that which is most profitable is best. If they mean profitable to man as he is a rational man, stand to it and maintain it. But if they mean profitable, as he is a creature, only reject it, and from this your tenet and conclusion keep off carefully all plausible shows and colors of external appearance, that you may be able to discern things correctly.
Never esteem anything as profitable which can ever constrain you either to break your faith, to lose your modesty, to hate any man, to suspect, to curse, to dissemble, or to lust after anything that requires the secret of walls or veils. But whoever prefers his rational part and spirit before all things, and the sacred mysteries of virtue which issue from it, he shall never lament and exclaim, never sigh. He will never want either solitude or company. Which is chiefest of all, he shall live without either desire or fear.
And as for life, whether for a long or short time he shall enjoy his soul thus compassed about with a body, he is altogether indifferent. For if even now he were to depart, he is as ready for it, as for any other action, which may be performed with modesty and decency. For all his life long, his only care is that his mind may always be occupied in such intentions and objects as are proper to a rational, sociable creature.
In the mind that is truly disciplined and purged, you can't find anything either foul or impure, or as if it was festered. There is nothing that is either servile or affected, no partial tie, no malicious aversion, nothing obnoxious, nothing concealed. Death can never surprise the life of such a one as imperfect, as of an actor that should die before he had ended, or the play itself were at an end, a man might speak.
Use your opinion making faculty with all honor and respect, for in her is indeed all, that your opinions don't cause anything in your understanding to be contrary to either nature, or the proper constitution of a rational creature.
The end and object of a rational constitution is to do nothing rashly, to be kindly affected towards men, and in all things willingly to submit to the gods. Therefore, casting all other things aside, keep yourself to these few and always remember that no man can be said properly to live in more than that which is now present, which is but a moment of time.
Whatever is besides either is already past, or uncertain. The time therefore that any man lives is but a little, and the place where he lives is but a very little corner of the earth. The greatest fame that can remain of a man after his death, even that is but little, and that too, such as it is while it is, is by the succession of silly mortal men preserved, who likewise shall shortly die, and even while they live don't know what in very deed they themselves are, and much less can know one who long before is dead and gone.
To these ever-present helps and mementos, let one more be added, ever to make a particular description and delineation of every object that presents itself to your mind, that you may fully and thoroughly contemplate it in its own proper nature, bare and naked.
Contemplate it wholly, and severally, divided into its several parts and quarters, and then in your mind, to call both it, and those things of which it consists, and in which it shall be resolved by their own proper, true names and appellations.
For there is nothing so effectual to cause true magnanimity as to be able truly and methodically to examine and consider all things that happen in this life. To penetrate into their natures, that at the same time, this also may concur in our apprehensions: what is the true use of it?
And what is the true nature of this universe, to which it is useful? How much in regard of the universe may it be esteemed? How much in regard of man, a citizen of the supreme city, of which all other cities in the world are as it were but houses and families?
What is this that my fancy is now set upon? Of what things does it consist? How long can it last? Which of all the virtues is the proper virtue for this present use? As whether meekness, fortitude, truth, faith, sincerity, contentment, or any of the rest?
Of everything therefore you must use yourself to say, This immediately comes from God, this by that fatal connection, and concatenation of things, or (which almost comes to one) by some coincidental casualty. And as for this, it proceeds from my neighbor, my kinsman, my fellow. It proceeds through his ignorance indeed, because he doesn't know what is truly natural to him; but I know, and therefore carry myself towards him according to the natural law of fellowship; that is, kindly, and justly.
As for those things that of themselves are altogether indifferent, as in my best judgment I conceive everything to deserve more or less, so I carry myself towards it.
If you will intend that which is present, following the rule of right and reason carefully, solidly, meekly, and will not intermix any other businesses, but shall study this only to preserve your spirit unpolluted, and pure, and shall cleave to him without either hope or fear of anything, in all things that you will either do or speak, contenting yourself with heroic truth, you will live happily. From this, there is no man that can hinder you.
As physicians and surgeons always have their instruments ready at hand for all sudden cures, so you always have your dogma in a readiness for the knowledge of things both divine and human. Whatever you do, even in the smallest things that you do, you must always remember that mutual relation and connection that is between these two divine things and human things. For without relation to God, you will never speed in any worldly actions; nor on the other side in any divinity, without some respect given to human things.
Don't be deceived; you will never live to read your moral commentaries, nor the acts of the famous Romans and Grecians; nor those excerpts from several books, all of which you had provided and laid up for yourself against your old age, having, therefore, an end, and giving over all vain hopes, help yourself in time if you care for yourself, as you ought to do.
To steal, to sow, to buy, to be at rest, to see what is to be done (which is not seen by the eyes, but by another kind of sight) what these words mean, and how many ways to be understood, they do not understand. The body, the soul, the understanding. As the senses naturally belong to the body, and the desires and affections to the soul, so does dogma to understanding.
To be capable of fancies and imaginations is common to man and beast. To be violently drawn and moved by the lusts and desires of the soul is proper to wild beasts and monsters, such as Phalaris and Nero were.
To follow reason for ordinary duties and actions is common to them also, who don't believe that there are any gods, and for their advantage would not hesitate to betray their own country, and who, when the doors once are shut on them, dare to do anything.
If therefore all other things are common to these as well, it follows that for a man to like and embrace all things that happen and are destined to him, and not to trouble and molest that spirit which is seated in the temple of his own breast, with a multitude of vain fancies and imaginations, but to keep him benevolent and to obey him as a god, never either speaking anything contrary to truth, or doing anything contrary to justice, is the only true property of a good man.
And such a one, though no man should believe that he lives as he does, either sincerely and consciously, or cheerful and contentedly. Yet is he neither with any man at all angry for it, nor diverted by it from the way that leads to the end of his life, through which a man must pass pure, ever ready to depart, and willing of himself without any compulsion to fit and accommodate himself to his proper lot and portion.
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