previous next
But since a weak and foolish friend, as Euripides says of old age, has its strong as well as its feeble part, we ought to observe both, and cheerfully extol the one before we fall foul upon the other. For as we first soften iron in the fire and then dip it in water, to harden it into a due consistence; so, after we have warmed and mollified our friend by a just commendation of his virtues, we may then safely temper him with a moderate reprehension of his vices. We may then say, Are these actions comparable to [p. 154] the other? Do you not perceive the advantages of a virtuous life? This is what we who are your friends require of you. These are properly your own actions, for which nature designed you; but for the other,
Let them for ever from you banished be,
To desert mountains or the raging sea.
1

For as a prudent physician had rather recover his patient with sleep and good diet than with castor and scammony, so a candid friend, a good father or schoolmaster, will choose to reform men's manners by commendations rather than reproofs. For nothing in the world renders our corrections so inoffensive and withal so useful as to address ourselves to the delinquent in a kind, affectionate manner. And therefore we ought not to deal roughly with him upon his denial of the matter of fact, nor hinder him from making his just vindication; but we should rather handsomely help him out in his apology and mollify the matter. As Hector to his brother Paris,

Unhappy man, by passion overruled;2

suggesting that he did not quit the field, in his encounter with Menelaus, out of cowardice, but mere anger and indignation. And Nestor speaks thus to Agamemnon:

You only yielded to the great impulse.3

For to tell a man that he did such a thing through ignorance or inadvertency is, in my opinion, a much more genteel expression than bluntly to say, ‘You have dealt unjustly or acted basely by me.’ And to advise a man not to quarrel with his brother is more civil than to say, ‘Don't you envy and malign him.’ And ‘Keep not company with that woman who debauches you’ is softer language than ‘Don't you debauch her.’

And thus you see with what caution and moderation we [p. 155] must reprehend our friends in reclaiming them from vices to which they are already subjected; whilst the prevention of them doth require a clear contrary method. For when we are to divert them from the commission of a crime, or to check a violent and headstrong passion, or to push on and excite a phlegmatic lazy humor to great things, we may then ascribe their failings to as dishonorable causes as we please.

Thus Ulysses, when he would awaken the courage of Achilles, in one of the tragedies of Sophocles, tells him, that it was not the business of a supper that put him in such a fret, as he pretended, but because he was now arrived within sight of the walls of Troy. And when Achilles, in a great chafe at the affront, swore he would sail back again with his squadron and leave him to himself, Ulysses came upon him again with this rejoinder:

Come, sir, 'tis not for this you'd sail away;
But Hector's near, it is not safe to stay.

And thus, by representing to the bold and valiant the danger of being reputed a coward, to the temperate and sober that of being thought a debauchee, and to the liberal and magnificent the chance of being called stingy and sordid, we spur them on to brave actions and divert them from base and ignominious ones.

Indeed, when a thing is once done and past remedy, we ought to qualify and attemperate our reproofs, and commiserate rather than reprimand. But if it be a business of pure prevention, of stopping a friend in the career of his irregularities, our applications must be vehement, inexorable, and indefatigable; for this is the proper season for a man to show himself a true monitor and a friend indeed. But we see that even enemies reprove each other for faults already committed. As Diogenes said pertinently enough to this purpose, that he who would act wisely ought to be surrounded either with good friends or flagrant enemies; [p. 156] for the one always teach us well, and the other as constantly accuse us if we do ill.

But certainly it is much more eligible to forbear the commission of a fault by hearkening to the good advice of our friends, than afterwards to repent of it by reason of the obloquy of our enemies. And therefore, if for no other reason, we ought to apply our reprehensions with a great deal of art and dexterity, because they are the most sovereign physic that a friend can prescribe, and require not only a due mixture of ingredients in the preparation of them but a seasonable juncture for the patient to take them in.

1 Il. VI. 347.

2 Il. VI. 326.

3 Il. IX. 109.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus English (Frank Cole Babbitt, 1927)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: