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And therefore we repeat here what we advised at our entrance into this discourse, that we cashier every vain Opinion of ourselves and all self-love. For their inbred flattery only disposes and prepares us to a more favorable reception of that from without. For, if we did but square our actions according to the famous oracular precept of knowing ourselves, rate things according to their true intrinsic value, and withal, reflecting upon our own nature and education, consider what gross imperfections and failures mix with our words, actions, and affections, we should not lie so [p. 138] open to the attempts of every flatterer who designs upon us. For even Alexander himself, being reminded of his mortality by two things especially, the necessity of sleep and the use of women, began to stagger in the opinion they had made him conceive of his godhead. And did we in like manner but take an impartial survey of those troubles, lapses, and infirmities incident to our nature, we should find we stood in no need of a friend to praise and extol our virtues, but of one rather that would chide and reprimand us for our vices. For first, there are but few who will venture to deal thus roundly and impartially with their friends, and fewer yet who know the art of it, men generally mistaking railing and ill language for a decent and friendly reproof. And then a chiding, like any other physic, if ill-timed, racks and torments you to no purpose, and works in a manner the same effect with pain that flattery does with pleasure. For an unseasonable reprehension may be equally mischievous with an unseasonable commendation, and force your friend to throw himself upon the flatterer; like water which, leaving the too precipitous and rugged hills, rolls down upon the humble valleys below. And therefore we ought to qualify and allay the sharpness of our reproofs with a due temper of candor and moderation,—as we would soften light which is too powerful for a distempered eye,—lest our friends, being plagued and ranted upon every trivial occasion, should at last fly to the flatterer's shade for their ease and quiet. For all vice, Philopappus, is to be corrected by an intermediate virtue, and not by its contrary extreme, as some do who, to shake off that sheepish bashfulness which hangs upon their natures, learn to be impudent; to lay aside their country breeding, endeavor to be comical; to avoid the imputation of softness and cowardice, turn bullies; out of an abhorrence of superstition, commence atheists; and rather than be reputed fools, play the knave; forcing their [p. 139] inclinations, like a crooked stick, to the opposite extreme, for want of skill to set them straight.

But it is highly rude to endeavor to avoid the suspicion of flattery by only being insignificantly troublesome, and it argues an ungenteel, unconversable temper in a man to show his just abhorrency of mean and servile ends in his friendship only by a sour and disagreeable behavior; like the freedman in the comedy, who would needs persuade himself that his railing accusation fell within the limits of that freedom in discourse which every one had right to with his equals. Since therefore it is absurd to incur the suspicion of a flatterer by an over-obliging and obsequious humor, and as absurd, on the other hand, in endeavoring to decline it by an immoderate latitude in our apprehensions, to lose the enjoyments and salutary admonitions of a friendly conversation, and since the measures of what is just and proper in this, as in other things, are to be taken from decency and moderation; the nature of the argument seems to require me to conclude it with a discourse upon this subject.

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