[p. 368] THE resolution which you have taken to enter into the friendship and familiarity of Sorcanus, that by the frequent opportunities of conversing with him you may cultivate and improve a soil which gives such early promises of a plentiful harvest, is an undertaking which will not only oblige his relations and friends, but redound very much to the advantage of the public; and (notwithstanding the peevish censures of some morose or ignorant people) it is so far from being an argument of an aspiring and vain-glorious temper, that it shows you to be a lover of virtue and good manners, and a zealous promoter of the common interest of mankind.

They themselves are rather to be accused of an indirect but more vehement sort of ambition, who would not upon any terms be found in the company ar so much as be seen to give a civil salute to a person of quality. For how unreasonable would it be to enforce a well-disposed young [p. 369] gentleman, and one who needs the direction of a wise governor, to such complaints as these: ‘Would that I might change myself from a Pericles or a Cato to a cobbler like Simon or a grammarian like Dionysius, that I might like them have the conversation of such a man as Socrates, enjoy his company, and hear his instructive lessons of morality.’

So far, I am sure, was Aristo of Chios from being of their humor, that when he was censured for exposing and prostituting the dignity of philosophy by his freedom to all comers, he answered, that he could wish that Nature had given understanding to wild beasts, that they too might be capable of being his hearers. Shall we then deny that privilege to men of interest and power, which this good man would have communicated (if it had been possible) to the brute beasts? But these men have taken a false notion of philosophy, they make it much like the art of statuary, whose business it is to carve out a lifeless image in the most exact figure and proportions, and then to raise it upon its pedestal, where it is to continue for ever. The true philosophy is of a quite different nature; it is a spring and principle of motion wherever it comes; it makes men active and industrious, it sets every wheel and faculty a going, it stores our minds with axioms and rules by which to make a sound judgment, it determines the will to the choice of what is honorable and just; and it wings all our faculties to the swiftest prosecution of it. It is accompanied with an elevation and nobleness of mind, joined with a coolness and sweetness of behavior, and backed with a becoming assurance and inflexible resolution. And from this diffusiveness of the nature of good it follows, that the best and most accomplished men are inclined to converse with persons of the highest condition. Indeed a physician, if he have any good nature and sense of honor, would be more ready to cure an eye [p. 370] which is to see and watch for a great many thousands, than that of a private person; how much more then ought a philosopher to form and fashion, to rectify and cure the soul of such a one, who is (if I may so express it) to inform the body politic,—who is to think and understand for so many others, to be in so great measure the rule of reason, the standard of law, and model of behavior, by which all the rest will square and direct their actions? Suppose a man to have a talent at finding out springs and contriving of aqueducts (a piece of skill for which Hercules and other of the ancients are much celebrated in history), surely he could not so satisfactorily employ himself in sinking a well or deriving water to some private seat or contemptible cottage, as in supplying conduits to some fair and populous city, in relieving an army just perishing with thirst, or in refreshing and adorning with fountains and cool streams the beautiful gardens of some glorious monarch. There is a passage of Homer very pertinent to this purpose, in which he calls Minos Διὸς μεγάλου ὀαριστήν, which, as Plato interprets it, signifies the disciple and companion of Jupiter. For it were beneath his dignity indeed to teach private men, such as care only for a family or indulge their useless speculations; but kings are scholars worthy the tuition of a God, who, when they are well advised, just, good. and magnanimous, never fail to procure the peace and prosperity of all their subjects. The naturalists tell us that the eryngium hath such a property with it, that if one of the flock do but taste it, all the rest will stand stock still in the same place till the shepherd hath taken it out of its mouth. Such quickness of action does it have, pervading and spreading itself over every thing that is near it, as if it were fire. The effects of philosophy, however. are different according to the difference of inclinations in men. If indeed it lights on one who loves a dull and [p. 371] inactive sort of life, that makes himself the centre and the little conveniences of life the circumference of all his thoughts, such a one does contract the sphere of her activity, so that having only made easy and comfortable the life of a single person, it fails and dies with him; but when it finds a man of a ruling genius, one fitted for conversation and able to grapple with the difficulties of public business, if it once possess him with principles of honesty, honor, and religion, it takes a compendious method, by doing good to one, to oblige a great part of mankind. Such was the effect of the conversation of Anaxagoras with Pericles, of Plato with Dion, and of Pythagoras with the principal statesmen of all Italy. Cato himself took a voyage, when he had the concern of an expedition lying upon him, to see and hear Athenodorus; and Scipio sent for Panaetius, when he was commissioned by the senate ‘to take a survey alike of the outrages and the good order which were practised in their provinces,’ 1 as Posidonius observes. Now what a pretty sort of return would it have been in Panaetius to send word back,—‘If indeed you were in a private capacity, John a Nokes or John a Stiles, that had a mind to get into some obscure corner or cell, to state cases and resolve syllogisms, I should very gladly have accepted your invitation; but now, because you are the son of Paulus Aemilius who was twice consul, and grandson of that Scipio who was surnamed from his conquest of Hannibal and Africa, I cannot with honor hold any conversation with you!’

1 Odyss. XVII. 487

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