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"What will be a greater embellishment to your discourse will be, that you may find instances of the haughty, the proud, the frolic, the stubborn, who are each of them in secret downright slaves to their wives, or mistresses. I must beg of you in the last place to dwell upon this, that the wise and valiant in all ages have been hen-peckt; and that the sturdy tempers who are not slaves to affection, owe that exemption to their being enthralled by ambition, avarice, or some meaner passion. I have ten thousand thousand things more to say, but my wife sees me writing, and will, according to custom, be consulted, if I do not seal this immediately.
No. 177. SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 1711.
Quis enim bonus, aut face dignus
JUV. SAT. xv. 140.
Who can all sense of others' ills escape,
IN one of my last week's papers I treated of good-nature, as it is the effect of constitution; I shall now speak of it as it is a moral virtue. The first may make a man easy in himself and agreeable to others, but implies no merit in him that is
possessed of it. A man is no more to be praised upon this account, than because he has a regular pulse, or a good digestion. This good-nature, however, in the constitution, which Mr. Dryden somewhere calls a 'milkiness of blood,' is an admirable groundwork for the other. In order, therefore, to try our good-nature, whether it arises from the body or the mind, whether it be founded in the animal or rational part of our nature; in a word, whether it be such as is entitled to any other reward, besides that secret satisfaction and contentment of mind which is essential to it, and the kind reception it procures us in the world, we must examine it by the following rules:
First, whether it acts with steadiness and uniformity in sickness and in health, in prosperity and in adversity; if otherwise, it is to be looked upon as nothing else but an irradiation of the mind from some new supply of spirits, or a more kindly circulation of the blood. Sir Francis Bacon mentions a cunning solicitor, who would never ask a favour of a great man before dinner; but took care to prefer his petition at a time when the party petitioned had his mind free from care, and his appetites in good humour. Such a transient temporary good nature as this, is not that philanthropy, that love of mankind, which deserves the title of a moral virtue.
The next way of a man's bringing his good nature to the test, is, to consider whether it operates according to the rules of reason and duty; for, if notwithstanding its general benevolence to mankind, it makes no distinction between its objects, if it exerts itself promiscuously towards the deserving and the undeserving, if it relieves alike the idle and the indigent, if it gives itself up to the first petitioner, and lights upon any one rather by accident than choice,
it may pass for an amiable instinct, but must not assume the name of a moral virtue.
The third trial of good nature will be the examining ourselves, whether or no we are able to exert it to our own disadvantage, and employ it on proper objects, notwithstanding any little pain, want, or inconvenience which may arise to ourselves from it. In a word, whether we are willing to risk any part of our fortune, our reputation, our health, or ease, for the benefit of mankind. Among all these expressions of good nature, I shall single out that which goes under the general name of charity, as it consists in relieving the indigent; that being a trial of this kind which offers itself to us almost at all times, and in every place.
I should propose it as a rule, to every one who is provided with any competency of fortune more than sufficient for the necessaries of life, to lay aside a certain portion of his income for the use of the poor. This I would look upon as an offering to Him who has a right to the whole, for the use of those whom, in the passage hereafter mentioned, he has described as his own representatives upon earth. At the same time we should manage our charity with such prudence and caution, that we may not hurt our own friends or relations, whilst we are doing good to those who are strangers to us.
This may possibly be explained better by an example than by a rule.
Eugenius is a man of a universal good-nature, and generous beyond the extent of his fortune; but withal so prudent, in the economy of his affairs, that what goes out in charity is made up by good management. Eugenius has what the world calls two hundred pounds a year; but never values himself above nine score, as not thinking he has a right to the tenth
part, which he always appropriates to charitable uses. To this sum he frequently makes other voluntary additions, insomuch that in a good year, for such he accounts those in which he has been able to make greater bounties than ordinary, he has given above twice that sum to the sickly and indigent. Eugenius prescribes to himself many particular days of fasting and abstinence, in order to increase his private bank of charity, and sets aside what would be the current expenses of those times for the use of the poor. He often goes afoot where his business calls him, and at the end of his walk has given a shilling, which in his ordinary methods of expense would have gone for coach-hire, to the first necessitous person that has fallen in his way. I have known him, when he has been going to a play, or an opera, divert the money which was designed for that purpose, upon an object of charity whom he has met with in the street; and afterwards pass his evening in a coffee-house, or at a friend's fireside, with much greater satisfaction to himself, than he could have received from the most exquisite entertainments of the theatre. By these means he is generous without impoverishing himself, and enjoys his estate by making it the property of others.
There are few men so cramped in their private affairs, who may not be charitable after this manner, without any disadvantage to themselves, or prejudice to their families. It is but sometimes sacrificing a diversion or convenience to the poor, and turning the usual course of our expenses into a better channel. This is, I think, not only the most prudent and convenient, but the most meritorious piece of charity which we can put in practice. By this method, we in some measure share the necessities of the poor at the same time that we relieve them, and make our
selves not only their patrons, but their fellow-sufferers.
Sir Thomas Brown, in the last part of his Religio Medici, in which he describes his charity in several heroic instances, and with a noble heat of sentiments, mentions that verse in the Proverbs of Solomon, "He that giveth to the poor, lendeth to the Lord :'* There is more rhetoric in that one sentence, says he, than in a library of sermons; and indeed, if those sentences were understood by the reader, with the same emphasis as they are delivered by the author, we needed not those volumes of instructions, but might be honest by an epitome.t
This passage of Scripture is, indeed, wonderfully persuasive; but I think the same thought is carried much further in the New Testament, where our Saviour tells us in a most pathetic manner, that he shall hereafter regard the clothing of the naked, the feeding of the hungry, and the visiting of the imprisoned, as offices done to himself, and reward them accordingly. Pursuant to those passages in Holy Scripture, I have somewhere met with the epitaph of a charitable man, which has very much pleased me. I cannot recollect the words, but the sense of it is to this purpose: What I spent I lost; what I possessed is left to others; what I gave away remains with me.§
*Prov. xix. 17.
† Brown's Rel. Medici, part ii. sect. 13. f. 1659, p. 29. Matt. xxv. 31. et seq.
The epitaph alluded to is, or was, in St. George's Church, at Doncaster in Yorkshire, and runs in old English thus:
How now, who is heare? I Robin of Doncastere And Margaret my feare A. D. 1579. Quoth Robertus Byrks, who in this world did reign threescore years and seven, and yet lived not one.
That I spent, that I had: