« PreviousContinue »
The next argument that discredits luxury with me is, that it occasions many and great inconveniences, both to him who labours under it, and to the commonwealth under which he lives.
The luxurious man oppresses that nature which should be the foundation of his joy; and, by false reasoning, he is made by this vice to believe, that because some ease and aliments are pleasant, therefore, the more he takes of them, the more he will be pleased. And the first proofs by which he is convinced that he is cheated in this are those diseases, into which those vices, when they are swelled, overflow, and destroy that ground which a gentle watering would have refreshed. Then he begins to understand that a mediocrity is the Golden Rule, and that proportion is to be observed in all the course of our life.
Luxury also makes a man 80 soft, that it is hard to please him, and easy to trouble him.
So that his pleasures at last become his burden. Luxury is a nice master, hard to be pleased : Res est severa voluptas, said he who knew it best. Whereas the frugal and temperate man can, by fasting till a convenient time, make any food pleasant; and is by travelling, when it is convenient, hardened sufficiently not to be troubled by any ordinary accidents. The luxurious must at last owe to this temperance that health and ease which his false pleasures have robbed him of; he must abstain from his wines, feastings, and fruits, until temperance has cured him. And I have known many, who after they have been tortured by the tyranny of luxury, whilst they had riches in abundance to feed it, become very healthful and strong when they fell into that poverty which they had so abhorred. Some whereof have confessed to me, that they never thought themselves so happy, and that they were never so well pleased, as since they had escaped the temptations of that dangerous vice. Luxury does not more ruin a man's body, than it debases his mind; for it makes him servilely drudge under those who support his luxury; in pimping to all their vices, flattering all their extravagances, and executing the most dreadful of their commands. I have oft-times remarked, with great pleasure, that in commonwealths, where to be free was accounted the greatest glory, nothing reigned save frugality, and nothing was rich save the common treasure. But under those monarchies which have degenerated into tyranny, care is taken to have those who get the public pay spend it luxuriously, to the end, that those they employ may still want,
and so may be obliged to that contemptible slavery, to which none would bow if they could otherwise live. It is also very observable that those who dwell in the richest countries, which incline men to luxury, such as Greece and Italy, are poor and slaves; whereas the hard rocks of Switzerland breed men who think themselves rich and happy. I like well his reply, who, being tempted to comply with what his conscience could not digest, said to him who tempted him, I can con. tentedly walk on foot, but you cannot live without a coach. I will be advised by my innocency; consult you with your grandeur. Rulers can bestow treasures, but virtue only can bestow esteem.
From these reflections may arise remedies against luxury to any thinking man: for though when we consider the luxurious as they shine at courts, live in sumptuous palaces, saluted in the streets, adorned with panegyrics; it is probable that most men will think that philosophers and divines have only writ against luxury, because they could not attain to the riches that are necessary for maintaining it : yet, to balance this, let us consider the vast numbers of those whom it has drowned in pleasures, others whom it has sent to starve in prisons, and dragged to scaffolds by its temptations. I have ofttimes seen the luxurious railed at with much malice by those they had sumptuously entertained, who envied the entertainer for being able to treat them so highly, and for living so far above their own condition: concluding, that they were rather called to be witnesses of the enter: tainer's abundance than sharers in his bounty. And though some think to make an atonement for their oppression, by living sumptuously upon its spoils; yet no wise man will pardon a robber, because he gives back a small share of the great riches he has taken.
Some think riches necessary for keeping great tables, and excuse this by the hopes they have of good company. And a great man told me, he wished such a man's estate, that he might keep us all about him. But my answer was, that the luxurious gathered about them ordinarily the worst of company; and worthy men valued more virtuous conversation than sumptuous diet, which they rather shunned than followed. I believe there are few so prodigal of their money, but that they have oft some regrets for having spent it: from which the frugal man is exempted, by the assurance he has from his virtue that he can live happily upon the little he has, and can with pleasure find, that he
is neither oppressed with the weight of riches, nor terrified by the fear of want; breeding up his posterity not to need these great patrimonies, which he cannot give.
This discourse tends not to forbid the use of all pleasure, nor even the pleasing our senses; for it is not to be imagined that God Almighty brought man into the world to admire his greatness, and taste his goodness, without allowing him to rejoice in these things which he sees and receives. The best way to admire an artist is to be highly pleased with what he has made; and a benefactor is ill rewarded, when the receiver is not pleased with what is bestowed : his joy being the justest measure and standard of his esteem. We find that in Eden the tasting of all the sweet and delicious fruits was allowed, save only that of the Tree of Knowledge. And why should all these fruits have been made so pleasant to the eye, and so delicious to the taste, if it had not been to make man, his beloved guest, happy there ? And I really think that the eye has got the quality of not being satisfied long with any object, nor the ear with hearing any sound, to the end that they might, by this curiosity, be obliged to seek after that variety in which they may every moment discover new proofs of their master's greatness and goodness. But I condemn the pleasing of the senses only, where more pains is taken, and more time is spent in gratifying them, than is due to those inferior or less noble parts of the reasonable creature. The soul being the nobler and more sublime part, our chief care should be laid out in pleasing it, as a wise subject should take more care in pleasing the king than his ministers, and the masters than bis servants. The true and allowable luxury of the soul consists in contemplation and thinking, or else in the practice of virtue, whereby we may employ our time in being useful to others : albeit, when our senses and other inferior faculties have served the soul in these great employments, they ought to be gratified as good servants, but not so as to make them wild masters, as luxury does, when it rather oppresses than refreshes them. I do also think that our chief pleasure should not be expected from the senses; be
they are too dull and inactive to please a thinking man; they are only capable to enjoy little, and are soon blunted by enjoyment: whereas religion and virtue do, by the ravishing hopes of what we are to expect, or the pleasant remembering of what we have done, afford constantly new scenes of joy, and which are justly augmented by the
concurring testimonies of the best of mankind, who applaud our vir tuous actions and decry the vicious. So that the virtuous man is by as many degrees pleased beyond the vicious, as the past and future exceed the single moment of the present time, or as many suffrages exceed one. Nor doubt I but those who have relieved a starving family by their charity have feasted upon the little which they have bestowed with ore joy, than ever Lucullus or Apicius did in all the delicacies their cooks could invent. I am convinced, that any generous gentleman would be much more troubled to think that his poor tenants, who toil for him, are screwed up to some degrees that look too liké oppression, than he could be pleased with any delicacies which that superplus of rent 'could buy for him: and that he who has rescued á poor innocent creature from the jaws of a ravenous oppression, finds a greater joy irradiated on his spirit, by the great and just Judge, than any general does in that night, wherein he has defeated his enemies merely for his glory. We remember to this day, with veneration and esteem, John the Baptist's locusts and wild honey; but the deliciousness of Herod's feasts lasted no longer than the taste: and even the pleasure of the present moment, which the luxurious only enjoy, is much lessened, by the prevailing conviction which arises from that small remaining force, which is still left in the reasonable faculty of the most corrupted man: and which can never be so blinded, as not to have some glimmerings whereby it can discover the ugliness and deformity of vice.
216.-THE STRAWBERRY PLANT.
Sr. PIERRE. [BERNARDIN DE ST. PIERRE is best known through his delightful tale of Paul and Virginia.' His Studies of Nature, from which the following is an extract, is a work of very unequal merit;- inaccurate in its science, visionary in its morals and politics. Still there are passages of great eloquence, and even of strong good sense, which ought not to be forgotten. St. Pierre was born in 1737 ; led a wandering life for many years ; was in some danger during the French Revolution from his declaration of a belief in a Supreme Being; was protected by Joseph Bonaparte, and pensioned by Napoleon ; and died in 1814.]
One day in summer, while I was buşied in the arrangement of some observations which I had made respecting the harmonies discoverable in this globe of ours, I perceived, on a strawberry plant which had been accidentally placed in my window, some small winged inSects, so very beautiful that I took a fancy to describe them. Next day a different sort appeared, which I proceeded likewise to describe. In the course of three weeks, no less than thirty-seven species, totally distinct, had visited my strawberry plant: at length they came in such crowds, and presented such variety, that I was constrained to relinquish this study, though highly amusing, for want of leisure, and, to acknowledge the truth, for want of expression.
The insects which I had observed were all distinguishable from each other by their colours, their forms, and their motions. Some of them shone like gold, others were of the colour of silver and of brass ; some were spotted, some striped; they were blue, green, brown, chestnut coloured. The heads of some were rounded like a turban, those of others were drawn out into the figure of a cone. Here it was dark as a tuft of black velvet, there it sparkled like a ruby.
There was not less diversity in their wings. In some they were long and brilliant, like transparent plates of mother-of-pearl ; in others, short and broad, resembling net-work of the finest gauze. Each had his particular manner of disposing and managing his wings, Some disposed theirs perpendicularly; others horizontally; and they seemed to take pleasure in displaying them. Some few spirally, after the manner of butterflies; others sprang into the air, directing their flight in opposition to the wind, by a mechanism somewhat similar to that of a paper-kite, which, in rising, forms, with the axis of the wind, an angle I think of twenty-two degrees and a half.
Some alighted on the plant to deposit their eggs; others, merely to shelter themselves from the sun. But the greatest part paid this visit from reasons totally unknown to me; for some went and came in an incessant motion, while others moved only the hinder part of their body. A great many of them remained entirely motionless, and There like me, perhaps, employed in making observations.
I scored to pay any attention, as being sufficiently known, to all the other tribes of insects which my strawberry plant had attracted ; such as the snail which nestles under the leaves; the butterfly which flutters around; the beetle, which digs about its roots; the small