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No. 464. FRIDAY, AUGUST 22.
Auream quisiquis mediocritatem
HOR. 2 Od. x. 5.
I am wonderfully pleased when I meet with any passage in an old Greek or Latin author, that is not blown upon," and which I have never met with in any quotation. Of this kind is a beautiful saying in Theognis; Vice is covered by wealth, and virtue by poverty; ' or to give it in the verbal translation, 'Among men there are some who have their vices concealed by wealth, and others who have their virtues concealed by poverty. Every man's observation will supply him with instances of rich men, who have several faults and defects that are overlooked, if not entirely hidden, by means of their riches; and, I think, we cannot find a more natural description of a poor man, whose merits are lost in his poverty, than that in the words of the wise man. * There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he, by his wisdom, delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.
Then said I, wisdom is better than strength; nevertheless, the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.'
Blown upon. A metaphor from flowers, which, being breathed and blown upon, lose at once their fragrance and lustre. It is prettily applied here to a beautiful saying (which is a flower of discourse) flattened and tar nished by the public brcath, i. e. freqrient quotation. --H.
The middle condition seems to be the most advantageously situated for the gaining of wisdom. Poverty turns our thoughts too much upon the supplying of our wants, and riches upon enjoying our superfluities; and, as Cowley has said in another case,
It is hard for a man to keep a steady eye upon truth, who is always in a battle or a triumph.'
If we regard poverty and wealth, as they are apt to produce virtues or vices in the mind of man, one may observe, that there is a set of each of these growing out of poverty, quite different from that which rises out of wealth. Humility and patience, industry and temperance, are often the good qualities of a poor man. Humanity and good-nature, magnanimity, and a sense of honour, are as often the qualifications of the rich. On the con trary, poverty is apt to betray a man into envy, riches into arro. gance. Poverty is too often attended with fraud, vicious compliance, repining, murmur, and discontent. Riches exposes a man to pride and luxury, a foolish elation of heart, and too great a fondness for the present world. In short, the middle condition is most eligible to the man who would improve himself in virtue; as I have before shown, it is the most advantageous for the gaining of knowledge. It was upon this consideration that Agur founded his prayer, which for the wisdom of it is recorded in holy writ. Two things have I required of thee, deny me them not before I die. Remove far from me vanity and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient
Lest I be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord ? or lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.
I shall fill the remaining part of my paper with a very pretty allegory, which is wrought into a play by Aristophanes the Greek comedian. It seems originally designed as a satire upon the rich, though, in some parts of it, it is like the foreguing discourse, a kind of comparison between wealth and poverty.
Chremylus, who was an old and a good man, and withal exceeding poor, being desirous to leave some riches to his son, consults the oracle of Apollo upon the subject. The oracle bids him follow the first man he should see upon his going out of the temple. The person he chances to see was to appearance an old sordid blind man, but upon his following him from place to place, he at last found by his own confession, that he was Plutus the god of riches, and that he was just come out of the house of a miser. Plutus further told him, that when he was a boy he used to declare, that as soon as he came to age, he would distribute wealth to none but virtuous and just men; upon which Jupiter, considering the pernicious consequences of such a resolution, took his sight away from him, and left him to stroll about the world in the blind condition wherein Chremylus beheld him. With much ado Chremylus prevailed upon him to go to his house, where he met an old woman in a tattered raiment, who had been his guest for many years, and whose name was Poverty. The old woman refusing to turn out so easily as he would have her, he threatened to banish her not only from his own house, but out of all Greece, if she made any more words upon the matter. Poverty on this occasion pleads her cause very notably, and represents to her old landlord, that should she be driven out of the country, all their trades, arts, and sciences, would be driven out with her ; and that if every one was rich, they would never be supplied with these pomps, ornaments, and conveniencies of life which made riches desirable. She likewise represented to him the several advantages which she bestowed upon her votaries, in regard to their shape, their health, and their activity, by preserving them from gouts, dropsies, unwieldiness, and intemperance. But whatever she had to say for herself, she was at last forced to troop off. Chremylus immediately considered how he might restore Plutus to his sight; and in order to it conveyed bim to the temple of
Æsculapius, who was famous for cures and miracles of this na ture. By this means the deity recovered his eyes, and begun to make a right use of them, by enriching every one that was distinguished by piety towards the gods, and justice towards men; and at the same time by taking away his gifts from the impious and undeserving. This produces several merry incidents, 'till in the last act Mercury descends with great complaints from the gods, that since the good men were growing rich, they had received no sacrifices, which is confirmed by a priest of Jupiter, who enters with a remonstrance, that since this late innovation he was reduced to a starving condition, and could not live upon his office. Chremylus, who in the beginning of the play was religious in his poverty, concludes it with a proposal which was relished by all the good men who were now grown rich as well as himself, that they should carry Plutus in a solemn procession to the temple, and instal him in the place of Jupiter. This allegory instructed the Athenians in two points; first, as it vindicated the conduct of Providence in its ordinary distributions of wealth; and in the next place, as it shewed the great tendency of riches to corrupt the morals of those who possessed them.
No. 465. SATURDAY, AUGUST 23.
Quâ ratione queas traducere leniter ævum;
Hor. 1 EF Xvir. 97.
Having endeavoured in my last Saturday's paper to shew the great excellency of faith, I shall here consider what are the proper means of strengthening and confirming it in the mind of man. Those who delight in reading books of controversy, which are written on both sides of the question in points of faith, do very seldom arrive at a fixed and settled habit of it. They are one day entirely convinced of its important truths, and the next meet with something that shakes and disturbs them. The doubt which was laid revives again, and shews itself in new difficulties, and that generally for this reason, because the mind which is perpetually tost in controversies and disputes, is apt to forget the reasons which had once set it at rest, and to be disquieted with any former perplexity, when it appears in a new shape, or is started by a different hand. As nothing is more laudable than an inquiry after truth, so nothing is more irrational than to pass away our whole lives, without determining ourselves one way or other in those points which are of the last importance to us.
There are indeed many things from which we may withhold our assent; but in cases by which we are to regulate our lives, it is the greatest absurdity to be wavering and unsettled, without closing with that side which appears the most safe and the most probable. The first rule, therefore, which I shall lay down is this, that when hy reading or discourse we find ourselves thoroughly convinced of