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(From Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, 1625.)
"What is truth?" said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer. Certainly there be that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief, affecting free will in thinking as well as in acting. And though the sects of phi5 losophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them as was in those of the ancients. But it is not only the difficulty and labor which men take in finding out of truth, nor again that when it is found it im10 poseth upon men's thoughts, that doth bring lies in favor, but a natural though corrupt love of the lie itself. One of the later school of the Grecians examineth the matter, and is at a stand to think what should be in it that men should love lies where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets, nor 15 for advantage, as with the merchant, but for the lie's sake. But I cannot tell: this same truth is a naked and open daylight, that doth not show the masks and mummeries and triumphs of the world half so stately and daintily as candlelights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that 20 showeth best by day; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt that if there were taken out of men's minds vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would 25 nd the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of
men poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves? One of the fathers, in great severity, called poesy "vinum daemonum" because it filleth the imagination, and yet it is but with the shadow of a lie. But it is not the lie that passeth through the mind, but 5 the lie that sinketh in and settleth in it, that doth the hurt, such as we spake of before. But howsoever these things are thus in men's depraved judgments and affections, yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making or wooing of it, the knowl- 10 edge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature. The first creature of God, in the works of the days, was the light of the sense; the last was the light of reason; and His sabbath work ever since is the illumination 15 of His Spirit. First He breathed light upon the face of the matter, or chaos; then He breathed light into the face of man; and still He breatheth and inspireth light into the face of His chosen. The poet that beautified the sect that was otherwise inferior to the rest saith yet excellently well: "It 20 is a pleasure to stand upon the shore and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle and to see a battle and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth" (a hill not to be commanded, and where the 25 air is always clear and serene) "and to see the errors and wanderings, and mists and tempests, in the vale below "— so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling or pride. Certainly it is heaven upon earth to have a man's mind move in charity, rest in Providence, and turn 30 upon the poles of truth.
To pass from theological and philosophical truth to the truth of civil business: it will be acknowledged, even by those that practise it not, that clear and round dealing is the honor of man's nature, and that mixture of falsehood is like allay in 35 coin of gold and silver, which may make the metal work the better but it embaseth it; for these winding and crooked courses are the goings of the serpent, which goeth basely upon
the belly and not upon the feet. There is no vice that doth so cover a man with shame as to be found false and perfidious: and therefore Montaigne saith prettily, when he inquired the reason why the word of the lie should be such a disgrace 5 and such an odious charge, saith he, "If it be well weighed, to say that a man lieth is as much to say as that he is brave towards God and a coward towards men." For a lie faces God and shrinks from man. Surely the wickedness of falsehood and breach of faith cannot possibly be so highly ex10 pressed as in that it shall be the last peal to call the judg- · ments of God upon the generations of men, it being foretold that when Christ cometh "He shall not find faith upon the earth."
(From the same.)
As the births of living creatures at first are ill-shapen, so 15 are all innovations, which are the births of time; yet, notwithstanding, as those that first bring honor into their family are commonly more worthy than most that succeed, so the first precedent (if it be good) is seldom attained by imitation: for ill, to man's nature as it stands perverted, hath a 20 natural motion strongest in continuance; but good, as a forced motion, strongest at first. Surely every medicine is an innovation; and he that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils: for time is the greatest innovator; and if time of course alter things to the worse, and wisdom and 25 counsel shall not alter them to the better, what shall be the end? It is true that what is settled by custom, though it be not good, yet at least it is fit; and those things which have long gone together are, as it were, confederate within themselves: whereas new things piece not so well; but though they 30 help by their utility, yet they trouble by their inconformity; besides, they are like strangers, more admired and less favored. All this is true, if time stood still; which, contrariwise, moveth so round that a froward retention of custom is as turbulent a thing as an innovation; and they that reverence
too much old times are but a scorn to the new. It were good, therefore, that men in their innovations would follow the example of time itself, which indeed innovateth greatly, but quietly and by degrees scarce to be perceived: for otherwise whatsoever is new is unlooked for, and ever it mends some 5 and pairs other; and he that is holpen takes it for a fortune and thanks the time; and he that is hurt, for a wrong and imputeth it to the author. It is good also not to try experiments in States, except the necessity be urgent or the utility evident: and well to beware that it be the reformation that 10 draweth on the change, and not the desire of change that pretendeth the reformation: and lastly, that the novelty, though it be not rejected, yet be held for a suspect; and as the Scripture saith, "That we make a stand upon the ancient way, and then look about us, and discover what is the straight and 15 right way, and so to walk in it.”
OF NATURE IN MEN.
(From the same.)
Nature is often hidden, sometimes overcome, seldom extinguished. Force maketh nature more violent in the return; doctrine and discourse maketh nature less importune; but custom only doth alter and subdue nature. He that seeketh victory 20 over his nature, let him not set himself too great nor too small tasks; for the first will make him dejected by often failings, and the second will make him a small proceeder though by often prevailings. And, at the first, let him practise with helps, as swimmers do with bladders or rushes; but, after a 25 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. When 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 30 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 dis
continue 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.”
5 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 10 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 intermissions. But let not a man trust his victory over his nature too far, for nature will lay buried a 15 great time and yet revive upon the occasion or temptation; like as it was with Esop'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 et an man either avoid the occasion altogether, or put himself often to it that he may be little 20 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 Teaveth him. They are happy men whose natures sort with their vocations; otherwise they may say, 25" 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 30 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.