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A Sailor’s Fortune – Essay I
by [?]

Fortuna plerumque est veluti
Galaxia quarundam obscurarum
Virtutum sine nomine.
BACON.

(Translation)–Fortune is for the most part but a galaxy or milky way, as it were, of certain obscure virtues without a name.

“Does Fortune favour fools? Or how do you explain the origin of the proverb, which, differently worded, is to be found in all the languages of Europe?”

This proverb admits of various explanations, according to the mood of mind in which it is used. It may arise from pity, and the soothing persuasion that Providence is eminently watchful over the helpless, and extends an especial care to those who are not capable of caring for themselves. So used, it breathes the same feeling as “God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb”–or the more sportive adage, that “the fairies take care of children and tipsy folk.” The persuasion itself, in addition to the general religious feeling of mankind, and the scarcely less general love of the marvellous, may be accounted for from our tendency to exaggerate all effects that seem disproportionate to their visible cause, and all circumstances that are in any way strongly contrasted with our notions of the persons under them. Secondly, it arises from the safety and success which an ignorance of danger and difficulty sometimes actually assists in procuring; inasmuch as it precludes the despondence, which might have kept the more foresighted from undertaking the enterprise, the depression which would retard its progress, and those overwhelming influences of terror in cases where the vivid perception of the danger constitutes the greater part of the danger itself. Thus men are said to have swooned and even died at the sight of a narrow bridge, over which they had ridden, the night before, in perfect safety; or at tracing the footmarks along the edge of a precipice which the darkness had concealed from them. A more obscure cause, yet not wholly to be omitted, is afforded by the undoubted fact that the exertion of the reasoning faculties tends to extinguish or bedim those mysterious instincts of skill, which, though for the most part latent, we nevertheless possess in common with other animals.

Or the proverb may be used invidiously; and folly in the vocabulary of envy or baseness may signify courage and magnanimity. Hardihood and fool-hardiness are indeed as different as green and yellow, yet will appear the same to the jaundiced eye. Courage multiplies the chances of success by sometimes making opportunities, and always availing itself of them: and in this sense Fortune may be said to favour fools by those who, however prudent in their own opinion, are deficient in valour and enterprise. Again: an emiently good and wise man, for whom the praises of the judicious have procured a high reputation even with the world at large, proposes to himself certain objects, and adapting the right means to the right end attains them; but his objects not being what the world calls fortune, neither money nor artificial rank, his admitted inferiors in moral and intellectual worth, but more prosperous in their worldly concerns, are said to have been favoured by Fortune and be slighted; although the fools did the same in their line as the wise man in his; they adapted the appropriate means to the desired end, and so succeeded. In this sense the proverb is current by a misuse, or a catachresis at least, of both the words, fortune and fools.

How seldom, friend, a good great man inherits
Honour or wealth with all his worth and pains!
It sounds like stories from the land of spirits,
If any man obtain that which he merits,
Or any merit that which he obtains.

REPLY.

For shame! dear friend, renounce this canting strain;
What would’st thou have a good great man obtain?
Place? titles? salary? a gilded chain?
Or throne of corses which his sword hath slain?
Greatness and goodness are not means, but ends!
Hath he not always treasures, always friends,
The good great man? Three treasures, love, and light,
And calm thoughts regular as infant’s breath:
And three firm friends, more sure than day and night,
Himself, his Maker, and the angel Death.
S. T. C.