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On attention

WHEN you have remitted your attention for a short time, do not imagine this, that you will recover it when you choose; but let this thought be present to you, that in consequence of the fault committed to-day your affairs must be in a worse condition for all that follows. For first, and what causes most trouble, a habit of not attending is formed in you; then a habit of deferring your attention. And continually from time to time you drive away by deferring it the happiness of life, proper behaviour, the being and living conformably to nature.1 If then the procrastination of attention is profitable, the complete omission of attention is more profitable; but if it is not profitable, why do you not maintain your attention constant?—To-day I choose to play—Well then, ought you not to play with attention?—I choose to sing—What then hinders you from doing so with attention? Is there any part of life excepted, to which attention does not extend? For will you do it (any thing in life) worse by using attention, and better by not attending at all? And what else of the things in life is done better by those who do not use attention? Does he who works in wood work better by not attending to it? Does the captain of a ship manage it better by not attending? and is any of the smaller acts done better by inattention? Do you not see that when you have let your mind loose, it is no longer in your power to recall it, either to propriety, or to modesty, or to moderation: but you do every thing that comes into your mind in obedience to your inclinations.

To what things then ought I to attend? First to those general (principles) and to have them in readiness, and without them not to sleep, not to rise, not to drink, not to eat, not to converse (associate) with men; that no man is master of another man's will, but that in the will alone is the good and the bad. No man then has the power either to procure for me any good or to involve me in any evil, but I alone myself over myself have power in these things. When then these things are secured to me, why need I be disturbed about external things? What tyrant is formidable, what disease, what poverty, what offence (from any man)? Well, I have not pleased a certain person. Is he then (the pleasing of him) my work, my judgment? No. Why then should I trouble myself about him?—But he is supposed to be some one (of importance)—He will look to that himself; and those who think so will also. But I have one whom I ought to please, to whom I ought to subject myself, whom I ought to obey, God and those who are next to him.2 He has placed me with myself, and has put my will in obedience to myself alone, and has given me rules for the right use of it; and when I follow these rules in syllogisms, I do not care for any man who says any thing else (different): in sophistical argument, I care for no man. Why then in greater matters do those annoy me who blame me? What is the cause of this perturbation? Nothing else than because in this matter (topic) I am not disciplined. For all knowledge (science) despises ignorance and the ignorant; and not only the sciences, but even the arts. Produce any shoemaker that you please, and he ridicules the many in respect to his own work3 (business). Produce any carpenter.

First then we ought to have these (rules) in readiness, and to do nothing without them, and we ought to keep the soul directed to this mark, to pursue nothing external, and nothing which belongs to others (or is in the power of others), but to do as he has appointed who has the power; we ought to pursue altogether the things which are in the power of the will, and all other things as it is permitted. Next to this we ought to remember who we are,4 and what is our name, and to endeavour to direct our duties towards the character (nature) of our several relations (in life) in this manner: what is the season for singing, what is the season for play, and in whose presence; what will be the consequence of the act;5 whether our associates will despise us, whether we shall despise them;6 when to jeer (σκῶψαι), and whom to ridicule; and on what occasion to comply and with whom; and finally, in complying how to maintain our own character.7 But wherever you have deviated from any of these rules, there is damage immediately, not from any thing external, but from the action itself.

What then? is it possible to be free from faults, (if you do all this)? It is not possible; but this is possible, to direct your efforts incessantly to being faultless. For we must be content if by never remitting this attention we shall escape at least a few errors. But now when you have said, To-morrow I will begin to attend, you must be told that you are saying this, To-day I will be shameless, disregardful of time and place, mean; it will be in the power of others to give me pain; to-day I will be passionate, and envious. See how many evil things you are permitting yourself to do. If it is good to use attention to-morrow, how much better is it to do so to-day? if to-morrow it is in your interest to attend, much more is it to-day, that you may be able to do so to-morrow also, and may not defer it again to the third day.8

1 See Schweig.'s note on the words εἰώθει ὑπερτιφέμενον, in place of which he proposes ἐξωφῇ ὑπερτιφέμενος. Compare Persius, Slat. v. 66.

“Cram hoc flet.” Idem cras flet, etc.,
and Martial, v. 58.

2 Compare iv. 4, 39, i. 14, 12; and Encheirid. e. 32, and the remark of Simplicius. Schweig. explains the words τοῖς μετ᾽ ἐκεῖνον thus: “'qui post Illum (Deum) et sub Illo rebus humanis praesunt; qui proximum ab Illo locum tenent.'

3 Compare ii. 13, 15 and 20; and Antoninus, vi. 35: 'Is it not strange if the architect and the physician shall have more respect to the reason (the principles) of their own arts than man to his own reason, which is common to him and the gods? '

4 'Quid sumus, aut quidnam victuri gignimur.' Persius, Sat. iii. 67.

5 Schweig. thinks that the text will be better translated according to Upton's notion and H. Stephen's (hors de propos) by 'Quid sit abs re futurum,' 'what will be out of season.' Perhaps he is right.

6 Schweig. says that the sense of the passage, as I have rendered it, requires the reading to be καταφρονήσουσι; and it is so, at least in the better Greek writers.

7 See iii. 14, 7, . 29, 64.

8 Compare Antoninus, viii. 22: “Attend to the matter which is before thee, whether it is an opinion, or an act, or a word. Thou sufferest this justly, for thou choosest rather to become good to-morrow than to be good to-day.

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