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As evil can never be preferred, and though evil is often the effect of our own choice, yet we never desire it but under the appearance of an imaginary good. Many things we indulge ourselves in may be considered by us as evils, and yet be desirable; but then, they are only considered as evils in their effects and consequences, not as evils at present, and attended with immediate misery. Reason represents things to us, not only as they are at present, but as they are in their whole nature and tendency: passion only regards them in the former light; when this governs us, we are regardless of the future, and are only affected by the present. It is impossible for us ever to enjoy ourselves rightly, if our conduct be not such as to preserve the harmony and order of our faculties, and the original frame and constitution of our minds: all true happiness, as all that is truly beautiful, can only result from order. Whilst there is a conflict betwixt the two principles of passion and reason, we must be miserable in proportion to the ardor of the struggle; and when the victory is gained, and reason is so far subdued as seldom to trouble us with its remonstrances, the happiness we have then attained is not the happiness of our rational nature, but the happiness only of the inferior and sensual part of us; and consequently a very low and imperfect happiness, compared with that which the other would have afforded llS. If we reflect upon any one passion and disposition of mind abstracted from virtue, we shall soon see the disconnection between that and true solid happiness. It is of the very essence, for instance, of envy to be uneasy and disquieted; pride meets with provocations and disturbances upon almost every occasion; covetousness is ever attended with solicitude and anxiety; ambition has its disappointments to sour us, but never the good fortune to satisfy us; its appetite grows the keener by indulgence, and all we can gratify it with at present serves but the more to inflame its insatiable desires. The passions, by being too much conversant with earthly objects, can never fix in us a proper composure, and acquiescence of mind. Nothing but an indifference to the things of this world, an entire submission to the will of Providence here, and a well-grounded expectation of happiness hereafter, can give us a true satisfactory enjoyment of ourselves. Virtue is the best guard against the many unavoidable evils incident to us; nothing better alleviates the weight of the afflictions, or gives a truer relish of the blessings of human life. What is without us has not the least connection with happiness, only so far as the preservation of our lives and health depends upon it; health of body, though so far necessary that we cannot be perfectly happy without it, is not sufficient to make us happy of itself. Happiness springs immediately from the mind; health is but to be considered as a condition or circumstance, without which this happiness cannot be tasted pure and unabated. Virtue is the best preservative of health, as it prescribes temperance, and such a regulation of our passions as is most conducive to the well-being of the animal economy. So that it is at the same time the only true happiness of the mind, and the best means of preserving the health of the body. If our desires are for the things of this world, they are never to be satisfied. If our great view is upon those of the next, the expectation of them is an infinitely higher satisfaction than the enjoyment of those of the present. There is no true happiness, then, but in a virtuous and self. approving conduct; unless our actions will bear the test of our sober judgments and reflections upon them, they are not the actions, and consequently not the happiness, of a rational being.
[From the Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 18, 1734.]
It is commonly asserted that without self-denial there is no virtue; and that the greater the self-denial is, the greater is the virtue. If it were said that he who cannot deny himself anything he inclines to, though he knows it will be to his hurt, has not the virtue of resolution or fortitude, it would be intelligible enough; but, as it stands, the proposition seems obscure or erroneous. Let us consider some of the virtues singly. If a man has no inclination to wrong people in his dealings, – if he feels no temptation to it, and therefore never does it, can it be said that he is not a just man 2 If he is a just man; has he not the virtue of justice 2 If to a certain man idle diversions have nothing in them that is tempting, and therefore he never relaxes his application to business for their sake, is he not an industrious man; or has he not the virtue of industry? I might in like manner instance in all the rest of the virtues; but, to make the thing short, as it is certain that the more we strive against the temptation to any vice, and practise the contrary virtue, the weaker will that temptation be, and the stronger will be that habit, till at length the temptation hath no force, or entirely vanishes, does it follow from thence that in our endeavors to overcome vice we grow continually less and less virtuous, till at length we have no virtue at all ? If self-denial be the essence of virtue, then it follows that the man who is naturally temperate, just, &c., is not virtuous, but that, in order to be virtuous, he must, in spite of his natural inclinations, wrong his neighbors, and eat and drink, &c., to excess. But perhaps it may be said, by the word virtue, in the above assertion, is meant merit, and so it should stand; thus without self-denial there is no merit, and the greater the self-denial the greater the merit. The self-denial here meant must be when our inclinations are towards vice, or else it would still be nonsense. By merit is understood desert; and when we say a man merits, we mean that he deserves praise or reward. We do not pretend to merit anything of God; for he is above our service, and the benefits he confers on us are the effects of his goodness and bounty. All our merit, then, is with regard to one another, and from one to another. Taking, then, the proposition as it stands: If a man does me a service from a natural benevolent inclination, does he deserve less of me than another who does me the like kindness against his inclination ? If I have two journeymen, one naturally industrious, the other idle, but both perform a day's work equally good, ought I to give the latter the most wages? Indeed, lazy workmen are commonly observed to be more extravagant in their demands than the industrious; for, if they have not more for their work, they cannot live as well as the industrious. But, though it be true to a proverb that lazy folks take the most pains, does it follow that they deserve the most money 2 If you were to employ servants in affairs of trust, would you pay more wages to one you knew was naturally honest, than for one maturally roguish, but who had lately acted honestly; for currents whose natural channels are dammed up, till a new course is by time worn sufficiently deep, and become natural, are apt to break • their banks. If one servant is more valuable than another, has he not more merit than the other? and yet this is not on account of superior self-denial. Is a patriot not praiseworthy, if public spirit is natural to him Is a pacing horse less valuable for being a natural pacer Nor, in my opinion, has any man less merit for having in general naturally virtuous inclinations. The truth is, that temperance, justice, charity, &c., are virtues whether practised with or against our inclinations; and the man who practises them merits our love and esteem; and self-denial is neither good nor bad, but as it is applied. He that denies a vicious inclination is virtuous in proportion to his resolution; but the most perfect virtue is above all temptation, such as the virtue of the saints in heaven: and he who does any foolish, indecent, or wicked thing, merely because it is contrary to his inclination, like some mad enthusiasts I have read of, who ran about in public naked under the notion of taking up the cross, is not practising the reasonable science of virtue, but is lunatic. Newcastle, February 5.
[From Poor Richard's Almanac, 1742.]
CourTEOUS READER: This is the ninth year of my endeavors to serve thee in the capacity of a calendar-writer. The encouragement I have met with must be ascribed, in a great measure, to your charity, excited by the open, honest declaration I made of my poverty at my first appearance. This my brother Philomaths could, without being conjurers, discover; and Poor Richard's success has produced ye a Poor Will, and a Poor Robin ; and, no doubt, Poor John, &c., will follow, and we shall all be, in name, what some folks say we are already in fact, a parcel of poor almanac-makers.
During the course of these nine years, what buffetings have I not sustained . The fraternity have been all in arms. Honest Titan, deceased, was raised, and made to abuse his old friend. Both authors and printers were angry. Hard names, and many, were bestowed on me. They denied me to be the author of my own works ; declared there never was any such person; asserted that I was dead sixty years ago; prognosticated my death to happen within a wo ; with many other malicious incon
sistencies, the effects of blind passion, envy at my success, and a vain hope of depriving me, dear reader, of thy wonted countenance and favor. Who knows him 2 they cry: Where does he live 2 But what is that to them 2 If I delight in a private life, have they any right to drag me out of my retirement 2 I have good reason for concealing the place of my abode. It is time for an old man, as I am, to think of preparing for his great remove. The perpetual teasing of both neighbors and strangers, to calculate nativities, give judgments on schemes, and erect figures, discover thieves, detect horse-dealers, describe the route of runaways and strayed cattle; the crowd of visitors with a thousand trifling questions,—Will my ship return safe 2 Will my mare win the race f Will her next colt be a pacer 2 When will my wife die 2 Who shall be my husband? And HOW LONG first 2 When is the best time to cut hair, trim cocks or sow salad? — these and the like impertinences I have now neither taste nor leisure for. I have had enough of them. All that these angry folks can say will never provoke me to tell them where I live—I would eat my nails first. My last adversary is J. J–n, philomat, who declares and protests (in his preface, 1741) that the false prophecy put in my almanac concerning him, the year before, is altogether false and untrue, and that I am one of Baal's false prophets. This false, false prophecy he speaks of related to his reconciliation with the Church of Rome; which, notwithstanding his declaring and protesting, is, I fear, too true. Two things in his elegiac verses confirm me in this suspicion. He calls the first of November AllHallows day. Reader, does not this smell of popery 3 Does it in the least savor of the pure language of Friends? But the plainest thing is, his adoration of saints, which he confesses to be his practice, in these words, page 4:
“When any trouble did me befall,
Did he think the whole world were so stupid as not to take notice of this So ignorant as not to know that all Catholics pay the highest regard to the Virgin Mary Ah! friend John, we must allow you to be a poet, but you are certainly no Protestant. I could heartily wish your religion was as good as your verses. RICHARD SAUNDERs.