« PreviousContinue »
with bladders, or rushes; but, after a time, let him practise with disadvantages, as dancers do with thick shoes; for it breeds great perfection, if the practice be harder than the use. Where nature is mighty, and therefore the victory hard, the degrees had need be, first to stay and arrest nature in time ; like to him that would say over the four and twenty letters when he was angry; then to go less in quantity : as if one should, in forbearing wine, come from drinking healths to a draught at a meal; and lastly, to discontinue altogether : but if a man have the fortitude and resolution to enfranchise himself at once, that is the best :
“ Optimus ille animi vindex lædentia pectus
“ Vincula qui rupit, dedoluitque semel.” Neither is the ancient rule amiss, to bend nature as a wand to a contrary extreme, whereby to set it right; understanding it where the contrary extreme is no vice. Let not a man force a habit upon himself with a perpetual continuance, but with some intermission: for both the pause reinforceth the new onset; and, if a man that is not perfect be ever in practice he shall as well practise his errors as his abilities, and induce one habit of both; and there is no means to help this but by seasonable intermission ; but let not a man trust his victory over his nature too far; for nature will lie buried a great time, and yet revive upon the occasion, or temptation ; like as it was with Æsop's damsel, turned from a cat to a woman, who sat very demurely at the board's end till a mouse ran before her : therefore, let a man either avoid the occasion altogether, or put himself often to it, that he may be little moved with it. A man's nature is best perceived in privateness ; for there is no affectation in passion ; for that putteth a man out of his precepts, and in a new case or experiment, for there custom leaveth him. They are happy men whose natures sort with their rocations; otherwise they may say, "multum incola fuit anima mea," when they converse in those things they do not affect. In studies, whatsoever a man commandeth upon himself, let him set hours for it; but
; whatsoever is agreeable to his nature, let him take no care for any set times; for his thoughts will fly. to it of themselves, so as the spaces of other business or studies will suffice. A man's nature runs either to herbs or weeds; therefore let him seasonably. water the one, and destroy the other.
XXXIX. OF CUSTOM AND EDUCATION.
Men's thoughts are much according to their inclination; their discourse and speeches according to their learning and infused opinions; but their deeds are after as they have been accustomed : and, therefore, as Machiavel well noteth, (though in an evilfavoured instance, there is no trusting to the force of nature, nor to the bravery of words, except it be corroborate by custom. His instance is, that for the achieving of a desperate conspiracy, a man should not rest upon the fierceness of any man's nature, or his resolute undertakings; but take such an one as hath had his hands formerly in blood; but Machiavel knew not of a friar Clement, nor a Ravillac, ñor a Jaureguy, nor a Baltazar Gerard; yet this rule holdeth still, that nature, nor the engagement of words, are not so forcible as custom. Only superstition is now so well advanced, that men of the first blood are as firm as butchers by occupation; and votary resolution is made equipollent to custom even in matter of blood. In other things, the predo
. minancy of custom is every where visible, insomuch as a man would wonder to hear men profess, protest, engage, give great words, and then do just as they have done before, as if they were dead images and engines, moved only by the wheels of custom. We see also the reign or tyranny of custom, what it is. The Indians, (I mean the sect of their wise men), lay themselves quietly upon a stack of wood, and so sacrifice themselves by fire: nay, the wives strive to be burned with the corpse of their husbands. The lads of Sparta, of ancient time, were wont to be scourged upon the altar of Diana, without so much as squeaking. I remember, in the beginning of queen Elizabeth's time of England, an Irish rebel condemned, put up a petition to the deputy that he might be hanged in a wyth, and not in a halter, because it had been so used with former rebels. There be monks in Russia, for penance, that will sit a whole night in a vessel of water, till they be engaged with hard ice. Many examples may be put of the force of custom, both upon mind and body: therefore, since custom is the principal magistrate of man's life, let men by all means endeavour to obtain good customs. Certainly, custom is most perfect when it beginneth in young years: this we
call education, which is, in effect, but an early custom. So we see, in languages the tongue is more pliant to all expressions and sounds, the joints are more supple to all feats of activity and motions in youth, than afterwards; for it is true, that late learners cannot so well take the ply, except it be in some minds that have not suffered themselves to fix, but have kept themselves open and prepared to receive continual amendment, which is exceeding rare: but if the force of custom, simple and separate, be great, the force of custom, copulate and conjoined and collegiate, is far greater ; for their example teacheth, company comforteth, emulation quickeneth, glory raiseth ; so as in such places the force of custom is in its exaltation. Certainly, the great multiplication of virtues upon human nature resteth opon societies well ordained and disciplined ; for commonwealths and good governments do nourish virtue grown, but do not much mend the seeds: but the misery is, that the most effectual means are now applied to the ends least to be desired.
XL. OF FORTUNE.
It cannot be denied but outward accidents conduce much to fortune; favour, opportunity, death of others, occasion fitting virtue : but chiefly, the mould of a man's fortune is in his own hands : “ Faber * quisque fortunæ suæ," saith the poet; and the most frequent of external causes is, that the folly of one man is the fortune of another; for no man prospers so suddenly as by others' errors ; “Serpens “ nisi serpentem comederit non fit draco." Overt and apparent virtues bring forth praise ; but there be secret and hidden virtues that bring forth fortune; certain deliveries of a man's self, which have no name. The Spanish name,
“ disemboltura," partly expresseth them, when there be not stords nor restiveness in a man's nature, but that the wheels of his mind keep way with the wheels of his fortune; for iso Livy (after he had described Cato Major in these words, “ In illo viro, tantum robur corporis et animi “ fuit, ut quocunque loco natus esset, fortunam sibi “ facturus videretur,") falleth upon that that he had “ versatile ingenium :" therefore, if a man look -sharply and attentively, he shall see Fortune ; for though she be blind, yet she is not invisible. The way of fortune is like the milky way in the sky; - which is a meeting, or knot, of a number of small stars, not seen asunder, but giving light together : So are there a number of little and scarce discerned virtues, or rather faculties and customs, that make men fortunate : the Italians note some of them, such as a man would little think. When they speak of one that cannot do amiss, they will throw in into his other conditions, that he hath “ Poco di matto;" and, certainly, there be not two more fortunate properties, than to have a little of the fool, and not too much of the honest : therefore extreme lovers of their country, or masters, were never fortunate : neither can they be ; for when a man placeth his thoughts without himself, he goeth not his own way. An hasty fortune maketh an enterpriser and re