previous next
The grave account which Hesiod gives of proficiency is, in my judgment, either the very same, or comes very near to this which I have now set down. Proficiency is (says he) when all difficulties are removed, all unevenness smoothed and cleared, and the way made easy and passable. It must be smoothed by frequent exercise, cleared by beams of divine light that guide the way to true philosophy, nothing at all of the clouds of doubt, error, or inconstancy in good resolutions remaining, which are as usually incident to learners in their first attempts upon philosophy, as distraction and solicitudes are to those who, sailing from a known land, cannot yet discover the place whither they are bound. Thus I have known impatient sophisters skip over common and ordinary notions, before they have learned or attained better, and lose themselves [p. 453] in the middle of their journey in so troublesome a maze, that they would be willing to return (if they could) to their primitive state of quiet, inactive ignorance. Sextius, a nobleman of Rome, may serve for an instance of this. He quitted all offices and places of honor, that he might more freely and undisturbedly apply himself to the study of philosophy. At first he met with many difficulties; and finding himself unable to encounter or conquer them, out of very despair and despondency, he had thoughts of throwing himself out of a little boat into the river Tiber. Parallel to this is a merry story told of Diogenes of Sinope; when he first put on his gown, it happened to be at a time when the Athenians celebrated a festival with extraordinary banquets, night-drinking, sports, and pageantry usual at great solemnities. The philosopher, as he lay in the holidays in the corner of the street, muffled up in his clothes, to try if he could take a nap, had some running thoughts in his head, which checked the resolutions he had taken as to a philosophical life, and troubled him extremely. He reasoned with himself, that there was no necessity for his entering into so troublesome and singular a way of living, that he thereby deprived himself of all the sweets and pleasures of life, and the like. While he was thinking thus with himself, he espied (as the story goes) a mouse venturing toward him, and now and then nibbling at a mouldy crust that he had in his pouch. This sight (which is much) turned his thoughts, and made him vexed and troubled at himself as much on the other side. What (says he) is the matter with thee, Diogenes? Thou seest this tiny mouse lives well, and is very glad of thy scraps; but thou, who must needs be a person of quality, forsooth, art extremely sorry and out of humor, because thou dost not feast upon down-beds, and cast not have the genteel privilege at this merry time to be drunk as well as others.

[p. 454] Another rational argument of gradual proficiency is when avocations are not frequent upon us, and when they happen, very short; while the substantial rules and precepts of wisdom, as if they had been violently driven out, presently return upon our minds, and dispossess all empty trouble and disconsolate thoughts.

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: