This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
Let us return from our digression. As his mistress's disagreeable failings escape the blinded lover, or even give him pleasure (as Hagna's wen does to Balbinus), I could wish that we erred in this manner with regard to friendship, and that virtue had affixed a reputable appellation to such an error. And as a father ought not to contemn his son, if he has any defect, in the same manner we ought not [to contemn] our friend. The father calls his squinting boy, a pretty leering rogue; and if any man has a little despicable brat, such as the abortive Sisyphus1 formerly was, he calls it a sweet moppet: this [child] with distorted legs, [the father] in a fondling voice calls one of the Vari; and another, who is club-footed, he calls a Scaurus.2 [Thus, does] this friend of yours live more sparingly than ordinarily? Let him be styled a man of frugality. Is another impertinent, and apt to brag a little? He requires to be reckoned entertaining to his friends. But [another] is too rude, and takes greater liberties than are fitting. Let him be esteemed a man of sincerity and bravery. Is he too fiery, let him be numbered among persons of spirit. This method, in my opinion, both unites friends, and preserves them in a state of union. But we invert the very virtues themselves, and are desirous of throwing dirt upon the untainted vessel. Does a man of probity live among us? he is a person of singular diffidence;3 we give him the name of a dull and fat-headed fellow. Does this man avoid every snare, and lay himself open to no ill-designing villain; since we live amid such a race, where keen envy and accusations are flourishing? Instead of a sensible and wary man, we call him a disguised and subtle fellow. And is any one more open, [and less reserved] than usual in such a degree as I often have presented myself to you, Maecenas, so as perhaps impertinently to interrupt a person reading, or musing, with any kind of prate? We cry, "[this fellow] actually wants common sense."4 Alas! how indiscreetly do we ordain a severe law against ourselves! For no one is born without vices: he is the best man who is encumbered with the least. When my dear friend, as is just, weighs my good qualities against my bad ones, let him, if he is willing to be beloved, turn the scale to the majority of the former (if I have indeed a majority of good qualities), on this condition, he shall be placed in the same balance. He who requires that his friend should not take offense at his own protuberances, will excuse his friend's little warts. It is fair that he who entreats a pardon for his own fault, should grant one in his turn.
1 Sisyphus. The dwarf of Mark Antony the triumvir. He was of a diminutive stature, scarcely two feet high, but of a very acute wit; whence he got the name of Sisyphus; for Sisyphus was so remarkable for his dexterity and cunning, that Sisyphi artes came to be a proverb.
2 “Balbutit Scaurum” . Rutgersius informs us that all these names, Strabo, Paetus, Pullus, Varus, and Scaurus, are surnames of illustrious Roman families, from whence fathers gave them to their children, to cover their defornlties with names of dignity. This is one of many beauties in the original, which it is impossible to preserve in a translation.
4 “Communi sensu plane caret” . He wants an understanding that distinguishes the common decencies to be observed in addressing the great. Such was the Communis sensus among the Romans, for which we have no expression in English. “Sit in beneficio sensus communis: tempus, locum, personas observer”. Seneca. “Quae versantur in consuetudine rei publicae; in sensu hominum communi, in natura, in moribus, comprehendenda esse oratori puto”. Cicero de Oratore. Lord Shaftesbury explains the sensus communis in Juvenal, that sense which regards the common good, the public welfare. A sense, according to the ingenious author, seldom found among the great. “Raro enim ferme sensus communis in illa | Fortuna”.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.