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Hereupon let me advise you this,—whenever you read the writings or hear the orations of the philosophers, attend always things more than words, and be not taken with what is curious and of a delicate thread and contexture, more than that which is strong, nervous, and beneficial. So also, in perusing poems or histories, be sure that nothing escape you that is appositely said, in relation to the cultivating of manners or the calming turbulent, immoderate passions; but always give it a note, and make it surely your own. Simonides said that a student in philosophy should be like a bee. That laborious creature, when it is amongst flowers, makes it its business industriously to extract the yellow honey out of them all; while others care and seek for nothing else except the smell and the color. So, while some others employ their time in reading the poets only for diversion, or for the wit and fancy which usually adorn their works, you (my dear friend) like a bee amongst a swarm of drones, observe and collect what is sweet, palatable, and worthy your pains, and seem already, by your constant custom and application, to have attained a perfect knowledge of what is eminently good and proper.

As to those that peruse the works of Plato and Xenophon only for the style's sake, and do cull out what is elegant and Attic, as the cream and flower of those authors, pray what do they do but as it were admire the fragrancy and flavor of medicinal drugs, yet, at the same time, neither understand nor enquire after their healing and purgative qualities? Whereas, those that have advanced [p. 458] to a higher degree of perfection can extract benefit, not only from philosophical discourses, but also from every thing they see or do, and thence draw something that may be proper and fit for their purpose. I will give you some examples of Aeschylus and other very eminent men, which may be very pat to this purpose. Aeschylus chanced to be a spectator at the Isthmian games, where some were engaged at sword play; seeing one of the combatants wounded, and observing that the theatre immediately made a great shouting and hollowing upon it, he jogged one Ion, an inhabitant of the island Chios, who sat next to him, and whispered him thus, Do you see what exercise can do? He that is wounded holds his peace, and the spectators cry out.

Brasidas, the Lacedaemonian captain, by chance caught a mouse among some dry figs; and, being bit by her, let her go, with this exclamation, By Hercules! there is no creature so little or so weak, that it cannot preserve its life if it dares but defend it.

Diogenes may serve for a thousand instances; when he saw a boy drink out of the palm of his hand, he threw away his dish, which he used to carry always with him in his wallet. Thus sedulity and application have a singular virtue to make us knowing and able to extract motives to virtue from every thing that we meet with.

Nor is it a difficult matter to attain such a temper of mind, if the candidates for virtue intermix discourse and reading with their actions; not only ‘exercising themselves amidst dangers’ (as Thucydides1 said to some), but also engaging pleasures, disputing hard questions, examining precedents, pleading causes, and so (to try themselves thoroughly) undertaking some magistracy or public office, giving thereby demonstration of their opinions and resolution, or rather establishing their resolution by exercise. [p. 459] Whereas, those that are not bred to it, but like novices spy out and catch at any thing that is curious in books, and pragmatically run away with it either to the Exchange, the College, or some club or tavern, deserve no more the name of philosophers, than those quacks that only truck off vile drugs and potions merit the character and value of physicians. Those sophisters seem to me not unlike the bird mentioned in Homer, and to have something of its quality. Whatsoever they catch abroad they presently bring home with them, and cram it into their unfledged chicks, their illiterate scholars, starving their own empty crops the while, as the poet has it; for they neither digest nor convert what they take into true nourishment.

1 Thucyd. I. 18.

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