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and the comfort of these thoughts, it had been even as well for us never to have been born. For to what end do we live; is it only to eat and drink? to stuff up an infirm and fluid carcass, that would perish without it: and to live only a servant to one that is sick ? to fear death, to which we are all born ? Take away this inestimable good, and life itself is not worth the labor and the care of it. Oh! how wretched, how contemptible a thing were man, if he should not advance himself above the state of human affairs ! So long as we struggle with our passions, what is there in this world that we do which is glorious ? Nay, if we advance ourselves so far as to overcome them, it is but the destroying so many monsters. And have we not then a mighty exploit to value ourselves upon, when we have made ourselves a little more tolerab) than the worst of men? Is it not a wondrous matter to boast of, that we are a little stronger than a man that is sick? Alas! alas ! my friend, there is a large difference between strength and health. You have not a bad mind, perhaps; you may have a clear brow, a tongue that will not flatter, and a single heart; you have not that avarice, perchance, that refuses to itself whatsoever it takes from other people; nor that luxury that squanders away money shamefully, and yet more shamefully repairs it; nor that ambition that leads you, by unworthy ways, to places of preferment. These are only negatives; and you have got nothing all this while. You will tell me that you have escaped many things; but you have not yet escaped yourself. The virtue that we recommend is high and illustrious. Not that it is a happiness itself to be free from evil, but because it dignifies and enlarges the mind; because it prepares it for the knowledge of heavenly things, and makes it capable of conversing with our God. It is then arrived at the highest pitch of human felicity, when it soars aloft and enters into the privacies of Nature, trampling all that is evil or vulgar under its feet. What a delight, what a transport is it, for a soul that is wandering among the stars, to look down, and laugh at the palaces of princes, and the whole globe of the earth, and all its treasures ! I do not speak of that only that is converted into money and plate, but of that also which is reserved in the bowels of the earth to gratify the insatiable covetousness of posterity. Nor can we ever bring ourselves to the absolute contempt of luxurious ornaments, rich furniture, stately buildings, pleasant gardens and fountains, until we have the world under us, and until looking down from the heavens, and beholding that spot of ground we live upon, the greater part of it covered with the sea, besides a great deal of it desolate and either scorched or frozen; we shall thus say to ourselves, “Is this miserable point the ball of contention, that is divided among so many nations with fire and sword ? How ridiculous are the bounds as well as the contests of mortals ! Such a prince must not pass
such a river, nor another prince those mountains; and why do not the very ants canton out their posts and jurisdiction too ?” For what does the bustle of troops and armies amount to more than the business of a swarm of ants upon a mole-hill? The scene of all important actions here below, where both at sea and land we tug and scuffle for dominion and wealth, is but a wretched point of earth ; whereas the dominions of the soul above are boundless. This very contemplation gives us force, liberty, and nourishment; the mind is there at home, and has this argument of its divinity, that it takes delight in what is divine: it contemplates the rising and the falling of the stars, and the admirable harmony of order even in their various motions ; discussing and inquiring into every thing, as properly appertaining unto itself. With how much scorn does it then reflect upon
the narrowness of its former habitation! There it is that it learns the end of its proper being, the knowledge of its God. And what is God ? “An immense and an almighty power; great, without limits." He that applies himself to this study transcends the very lot and condition of his mortality: That almighty Power is all that we do see, and all that we do not see. What is the difference between the Divine Nature and ours? Man is compounded, and his best part is his mind; but the ALMIGHTY is all mind, and all reason; and yet mortals are so blind, that the actions of this incomprehensible power, so excellent for beauty, constancy, and disposition, are looked upon by many men only as fortuitous, and the work of Chance, and subject to all the tumults of thunder, clouds, and tempests, that affect poor mortals. And this is not only the folly and madness of the common people, but the weakness also of the wise men. There are some that arrogate to themselves the faculties of Nature and reason, and the skill of disposing as well other people's affairs as their own: and yet these very men are so besotted as to imagine the world only to be governed by an unadvised rashness, as if Na-, ture knew not what she did. How profitable would it be for us to know the truth of things, and to allow them their due terms and measures ! To inquire into the power of God, and the method of his workings: whether he made the matter itself or found it ready to his hand; and whether was first, the matter itself, or the idea of it? Whether or not he does what he pleases; and what may be the reason of so many seeming imperfections in his operations? It is well said of Aristotle, that we should handle divine matters with modesty and reverence. When we enter into a temple, or approach the altar, we compose our looks and our actions to all the decencies of humility and respect; how much more then does it concern us, when we treat of heavenly things, to deal candidly, and not to let one syllable pass our lips that may savor of confidence, rashness, or ignorance ! Truth lies deep, and must be fetched up at leisure. How many mysteries are there, which Nature has placed out of our sight, and which are only to be reached by thought and contemplation ! The truth of the Divinity is profound and obscure; or else perhaps we see it without understanding it. The contemplation of the Divine is only accessible to the human mind. What this is (without which nothing is) we are not able to determine : and when we have guessed at some sparks of it, the greater part lies yet concealed from
How many creatures have we now in this age, that never were known to us before! and how many more will the next age know more than we do! And many yet will be still reserved for after-times. The very rites of religion are at this day a secret, and unknown to many people. Nay, the very thing that we most eagerly pursue, we are
not yet arrived at; that is to say, a perfection in unrighteousness. Vice is still upon the improvement: luxury, immodesty, and a prostitute dissolution of manners, will find still new matter to work upon. Our men are grown effeminate in their habits, in their motions, and in their ornaments, even to the degree of licentiousness. Nobody minds philosophy but for want of comedy, perhaps, or in bad weather, when there is nothing else to be done.
BY SIR ROGER L’ESTRANGE, KNT.
BEFORE I take my last leave of Seneca, I will here discharge my conscience, as if I were upon my last leave with the whole world. I have been so just, both to the reader and to the author, that I have neither left out any thing in the original, which I thought the one might be the better for; nor added any thing of my own, to make the other fare the worse. I have done in this volume of Epistles, as a good husband does with his cold meat; they are only hash, made up of the fragments that remained of the two former parts; which I could not well dispose of in any other form, or so properly publish under any other title. Let me not be understood to impose this piece upon the public as an abstract of Seneca's Epistles, any more than I did the other, for the abstracts of his Benefits, and Happy Life. It is in works of this nature as it is in cordial waters, we taste all the ingredients, without being able to separate this from that; but still we find the virtue of every plant in every drop. To return to my allegory; books and dishes have this common fate; there was never any one of either of them that pleased all palates. And, in truth, it is a thing as little to be wished for as expected; for an universal applause is at least two-thirds of a scandal. So that though I deliver
I invite no man to the reading of them : and whosoever reads and repents, it is his own fault. To conclude: As I made this composition principally for myself, so it agrees exceedingly well with my constitution; and yet, if any man has a mind to take part with me, he has free leave and wel
But let him carry his consideration along with him, that he is a very unmannerly guest, that presses upon another body's table and then quarrels with his dinner.
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