Monday, September 17, 1711.
‘Non solum Scientia, quae est remota a Justitia, Calliditas potius quam Sapientia est appellanda; verum etiam Animus paratus ad periculum, si sua cupiditate, non utilitate communi impellitur, Audaciae potius nomen habeat, quam Fortitudinis.’
Plato apnd Tull.
There can be no greater Injury to humane Society than that good Talents among Men should be held honourable to those who are endowed with them without any Regard how they are applied. The Gifts of Nature and Accomplishments of Art are valuable, but as they are exerted in the Interest of Virtue, or governed by the Rules of Honour. We ought to abstract our Minds from the Observation of any Excellence in those we converse with, till we have taken some Notice, or received some good Information of the Disposition of their Minds; otherwise the Beauty of their Persons, or the Charms of their Wit, may make us fond of those whom our Reason and Judgment will tell us we ought to abhor.
When we suffer our selves to be thus carried away by meer Beauty, or meer Wit, Omniamante, with all her Vice, will bear away as much of our Good-will as the most innocent Virgin or discreetest Matron; and there cannot be a more abject Slavery in this World, than to doat upon what we think we ought to contemn: Yet this must be our Condition in all the Parts of Life, if we suffer our selves to approve any Thing but what tends to the Promotion of what is good and honourable. If we would take true Pains with our selves to consider all Things by the Light of Reason and Justice, tho’ a Man were in the Height of Youth and amorous Inclinations, he would look upon a Coquet with the same Contempt or Indifference as he would upon a Coxcomb: The wanton Carriage in a Woman, would disappoint her of the Admiration which she aims at; and the vain Dress or Discourse of a Man would destroy the Comeliness of his Shape, or Goodness of his Understanding. I say the Goodness of his Understanding, for it is no less common to see Men of Sense commence Coxcombs, than beautiful Women become immodest. When this happens in either, the Favour we are naturally inclined to give to the good Qualities they have from Nature, should abate in Proportion. But however just it is to measure the Value of Men by the Application of their Talents, and not by the Eminence of those Qualities abstracted from their Use; I say, however just such a Way of judging is, in all Ages as well as this, the Contrary has prevailed upon the Generality of Mankind. How many lewd Devices have been preserved from one Age to another, which had perished as soon as they were made, if Painters and Sculptors had been esteemed as much for the Purpose as the Execution of their Designs? Modest and well-governed Imaginations have by this Means lost the Representations of Ten Thousand charming Portraitures, filled with Images of innate Truth, generous Zeal, couragious Faith, and tender Humanity; instead of which, Satyrs, Furies, and Monsters are recommended by those Arts to a shameful Eternity.
The unjust Application of laudable Talents, is tolerated, in the general Opinion of Men, not only in such Cases as are here mentioned, but also in Matters which concern ordinary Life. If a Lawyer were to be esteemed only as he uses his Parts in contending for Justice, and were immediately despicable when he appeared in a Cause which he could not but know was an unjust one, how honourable would his Character be? And how honourable is it in such among us, who follow the Profession no otherwise than as labouring to protect the Injured, to subdue the Oppressor, to imprison the careless Debtor, and do right to the painful Artificer? But many of this excellent Character are overlooked by the greater Number; who affect covering a weak Place in a Client’s Title, diverting the Course of an Enquiry, or finding a skilful Refuge to palliate a Falsehood: Yet it is still called Eloquence in the latter, though thus unjustly employed; but Resolution in an Assassin is according to Reason quite as laudable, as Knowledge and Wisdom exercised in the Defence of an ill Cause.