« 上一頁繼續 »
many other virtues, difficult and painful, but attended with so much pleasure, that were there no positive command which enjoined it, nor any recompense laid up for it hereafter, a generous mind would indulge in it for the natural gratification which it affords.
If gratitude is due from man to man, how much more from man to his Maker? The Supreme Being does not only confer upon us those bounties which proceed more immediately from his hand, but even those benefits which are conveyed to us by others. Every blessing we enjoy, by what means soever it may be conferred upon us, is the gift of him who is the great Author of good, and the Father of mercies.
If gratitude, when exerted towards one another, naturally produces a very pleasing sensation in the mind of a grateful man, it exalts the soul into rapture, when it is employed on this great object of gratitude ; on this beneficent Being, who has given us everything we already possess, and from whom we expect everything we yet hope for.
On Contentment. Contentment produces, in some measure, all those effects which the alchymist usually ascribes to what he calls the philosopher's stone; and if it does not bring riches, it does the same thing, by banishing the desire of them. If it cannot remove the disquietudes arising from a man's mind, body or fortune, it makes him easy under them. It has indeed a kindly influence on the soul of man, in respect of every being to whom he stands related.
It extinguishes all murmur, repining, and ingratitude towards that Being who has allotted him his part to act in this world. It destroys all inordinate ambition, and every tendency to corruption, with regard to the community wherein he is placed. It gives sweetness to his conversation, and a perpetual serenity to all his thoughts.
Among the many methods which might be made use of for acquiring this virtue, I shall mention only the two following. First of all, a man should always consider how much he has more than he wants; and secondly, how much more unhappy he might be than he really is.
First, a man should always consider how much he has more than he wants. I am wonderfully pleased with the reply which Aristippus made to one, who condoled with him upon the loss of a farm : “Why," said he, “ I have three farms still, and you have but one; so that I ought rather to be afflicted for you, than you for me.”
On the contrary, foolish men are more apt to consider what they have lost, than what they possess; and to fix their eyes upon those who are richer than themselves, rather than those who are under greater difficulties. All the real pleasures and conveniences of life lie in a narrow compass ; but it is the humour of mankind to be always looking forward, and straining after one who has got the start of them in wealth and honour.
For this reason, as none can be properly called rich, who have not more than they want, there are few rich men in any of the politer nations, but among the middle sort of people who keep their wishes within
their fortunes, and have more wealth than they know how to enjoy.
Persons of a higher rank, live in a kind of splendid poverty; and are perpetually wanting, because, instead of acquiescing in the solid pleasures of life, they endeavour to outvie one another in shadows and appearances. Men of sense have at all times beheld, with a great deal of mirth, this silly game that is playing over their head; and, by contracting their desires, they enjoy all that secret satisfaction which others are always in quest of.
The truth is, this ridiculous chase after imaginary pleasures cannot be sufficiently exposed, as it is the great source of those evils which generally undo a nation. Let a man's estate be what it may, he is a poor man if he does not live within it: and naturally sets himself to sale to any one that can give him his price.
When Pittacus, after the death of his brother, who left him a good estate, was offered a great suin of money by the king of Lydia, he thanked him for his kindness; but told him, he had already more by half than he knew what to do with. In short, content is equivalent to wealth, and luxury to poverty; or, to give the thought a more agreeable turn, “ Content is natural wealth,” says Socrates ; to which I shall add, luxury is artificial poverty.
I shall therefore recommend to the consideration of those who are always aiming at superfluous and imaginary enjoyments, and who will not be at the trouble of contracting their desires, an excellent saying of Bion, the philosopher, namely, “ That no man has so
much care, as he who endeavours after the most happiness.”
In the second place, every one ought to reflect how much more unhappy he might be than he really is. The former consideration took in all those who are sufficiently provided with the means to make themselves easy; this regards such as actually lie under some pressure or misfortune. These may receive great alleviation, from such a comparison as the unhappy person may make between himself and others; or between the misfortune which he suffers, and greater misfortunes which might have befallen him.
I like the story of the honest Dutchman, who, upon breaking his leg by a fall from the main-mast, told the standers by, it was a great mercy that it was not his neck. To which, since I am got into quotations, give me leave to add the saying of an old philosopher, who, after having invited some of his friends to dine with him, was ruffled by a person that came into the room in a passion, and threw down the table that stood before him: “Every one,” says he, “ has his calamity; and he is a happy man that has no greater than this."
We find an instance to the same purpose, in the life of Doctor Hammond, written by Bishop Fell. As this good man was troubled with a complication of distempers, when he had the gout upon him, he used to thank God that it was not the stone; and when he had the stone, that he had not both these distempers on him at the same time.
I cannot conclude this essay without observing, that there never was any system besides that of Christianity, which could effectually produce in the mind of man, the virtue I have been hitherto speaking of. In order
to make us contented with our condition, many of the present philosophers tell us, that our discontent only hurts ourselves, without being able to make any alteration in our circumstances; others that whatever evil befalls us is derived to us by a fatal necessity, to which superior beings themselves are subject; while others, very gravely, tell the man who is miserable, that it is necessary he should be so, to keep up the harmony of the universe; and that the scheme of Providence would be troubled and perverted, were he otherwise.
These, and the like considerations, rather silence than satisfy a man. They may show him that his discontent is unreasonable, but they are by no means sufficient to relieve it. They rather give despair ihan consolation. In a word, a man might reply to one of these comforters, as Augustus did to his friend, who advised him not to grieve for the death of a person whom he loved, because his grief could not fetch hin again : “It is for that very reason,” said the emperor, ** that I grieve.”
On the contrary, religion bears a more tender regard to human nature. It prescribes to every miserable man the means of bettering his condition: nay, it shows him, that bearing his afflictions as he ought to do, will naturally end in the removal of them. It makes him easy here, because it can make him happy hereafter.