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of seriousness consists, or what it is to be in good earnest a serious man; and we may distinguish seriousness from these qualities, which, resembling it in appearance, prove often the cause of error and confusion.
It does not consist in the moroseness of a cynic, nor in the severity of an hermit, nor in the demureness of affected precision; it is neither in a drooping head, nor a mortified face, nor a primitive beard. It is something very different and more excellent than this, which must compose a serious man. And I believe, I shall not misrepresent him, if I say, he is one who duly and impartially weighs the value of things, so as neither to esteem trifles, nor despise things really excellent; who dwells much at home, and studies to know himself as well as books or men: who considers why he came into the world, how great his business, how short his stay, and how uncertain the time when he shall leave it in a word, who knows how to distinguish between a moment and eternity.
This is to be truly serious, and however the pretender to gaiety and levity of humour, may miscall and ridicule it by the names of melancholy, dullness, and stupidity; he that is thus disposed, cannot fail of being wise and good here, and happy hereafter.
(Sir William Temple.)
I CAN truly say, that of all the paper I have blotted, which has been a great deal in my time, I have never written any thing for the public without the intention of some public good. Whether I have succeeded or no, is not my part to judge; and others in what they tell me, may deceive either me or themselves. Good intentions are at least the seed of good actions, and every man ought to sow them, and leave it to the soil and the seasons, whether they come up or not, and whether he or any one gathers the fruit.
I have chosen those subjects of these Essays, wherein I take human life to be most concerned, and which are of most common use, or most necessary knowledge; and wherein, though I may not be able to inform men more than they
know, yet I may perhaps give them the occasion to consider more than they do.
This is a sort of instruction that no mau can dislike, since it comes from himself, and is made without envy or fear, constraint or obligation, which makes us commonly dislike what is taught us by others. All men would be glad to be their own masters, and should not be sorry to be their own scholars, when they pay no more for their learning, than for their own thoughts, which they have commonly more store of about them, than they know what to do with; and which if they do not apply to something of good use, nor employ about something of ill, they will trifle away upon something vain or impertinent; their thoughts will be but waking dreams, as their dreams are sleeping thoughts. Yet of all sorts of instructions, the best is gained from our own thoughts as well as experience: for though a man may grow learned by other men's thoughts, yet he will grow wise or happy only by his own; the use of other men's towards these ends, is but to serve for our own reflections, otherwise they are but like meat swallowed down for pleasure or greediness, which only charges the stomach, or fumes into the brain, if it be not well digested, and thereby turned into the very mass or substance of the body that receives it.
Some writers in casting up the goods most desirable in life, have given them this ránk, health, beauty and riches. Of the first I find no dispute, but to the two others much may be said: for beauty is a good that makes others happy rather than one's self; and how riches should claim so high a rank, I cannot tell, when so great, so wise, and so good a part of mankind, have in all ages preferred poverty before them. The Therapeutæ and Ebionites among the Jews, the primitive monks and modern friars among the Christians, so many dervises among the Mahometans, the Brachmans among the Indians, and all the antient philosophers, who, whatever else they differed in, agreed in this of despising riches, and at best esteeming them an unnecessary trouble or incumbrance of life. So that whether they are to be reckoned among goods or evils, is yet left in doubt.
When I was young and in some idle company, it was proposed, that every one should tell what his three wishes should be, if they were sure to be granted. Some were very pleasant, and some very extravagant; mine were health, and peace, and fair weather, which though out of the way among young men, yet perhaps might pass well enough among old. They are all of a strain; for health in the body
is like peace in the state, and serenity of the air: the sun, in our climate, at least, has something so reviving, that a fair day is a kind of sensual pleasure, and of all others the most innocent.
Peace is a public blessing, without which no man is safe in his fortune, his liberty, or his life. Neither innocence nor laws are a guard or defence; no possessions are enjoyed but in danger or fear, which equally lose the pleasure, and ease of all that fortune can give us. Health is the soul that animates all enjoyments of life, which fade and are tasteless, if not dead without it. A man starves at the best and the greatest tables, makes faces at the noblest and most delicate wines, is old and feeble in seraglios of the most sparkling beauties, poor and wretched in the midst of the greatest treasures and fortunes. With common diseases, strength grows decrepit; youth loses all vigour, and beauty all charms : music grows harsh, and conversation disagreeable; palaces are prisons, or of equal confinement; riches are useless, honour and attendance are cumbersome, and crowns themselves a burthen. But if diseases are painful and violent, they equalise all conditions of life, make no difference between a prince and a beggar; and a fit of the stone, or the cholic, puts a king to the rack, and makes him as miserable as he