Friday, May 9, 1712. Steele.
‘Nil actum reputans si quid superesset agendum.’
There is a Fault, which, tho’ common, wants a Name. It is the very contrary to Procrastination: As we lose the present Hour by delaying from Day to Day to execute what we ought to do immediately; so most of us take Occasion to sit still and throw away the Time in our Possession, by Retrospect on what is past, imagining we have already acquitted our selves, and established our Characters in the sight of Mankind. But when we thus put a Value upon our selves for what we have already done, any further than to explain our selves in order to assist our future Conduct, that will give us an over-weening opinion of our Merit to the prejudice of our present Industry. The great Rule, methinks, should be to manage the Instant in which we stand, with Fortitude, Equanimity, and Moderation, according to Men’s respective Circumstances. If our past Actions reproach us, they cannot be attoned for by our own severe Reflections so effectually as by a contrary Behaviour. If they are praiseworthy, the Memory of them is of no use but to act suitably to them. Thus a good present Behaviour is an implicit Repentance for any Miscarriage in what is past; but present Slackness will not make up for past Activity. Time has swallowed up all that we Contemporaries did Yesterday, as irrevocably as it has the Actions of the Antediluvians: But we are again awake, and what shall we do to-Day, to-Day which passes while we are yet speaking? Shall we remember the Folly of last Night, or resolve upon the Exercise of Virtue tomorrow? Last Night is certainly gone, and To-morrow may never arrive: This Instant make use of. Can you oblige any Man of Honour and Virtue? Do it immediately. Can you visit a sick Friend? Will it revive him to see you enter, and suspend your own Ease and Pleasure to comfort his Weakness, and hear the Impertinencies of a Wretch in Pain? Don’t stay to take Coach, but be gone. Your Mistress will bring Sorrow, and your Bottle Madness: Go to neither.–Such Virtues and Diversions as these are mentioned because they occur to all Men. But every Man is sufficiently convinced, that to suspend the use of the present Moment, and resolve better for the future only, is an unpardonable Folly: What I attempted to consider, was the Mischief of setting such a Value upon what is past, as to think we have done enough. Let a Man have filled all the Offices of Life with the highest Dignity till Yesterday, and begin to live only to himself to-Day, he must expect he will in the Effects upon his Reputation be considered as the Man who died Yesterday. The Man who distinguishes himself from the rest, stands in a Press of People; those before him intercept his Progress, and those behind him, if he does not urge on, will tread him down. Caesar, of whom it was said, that he thought nothing done while there was anything left for him to do, went on in performing the greatest Exploits, without assuming to himself a Privilege of taking Rest upon the Foundation of the Merit of his former Actions. It was the manner of that glorious Captain to write down what Scenes he passed through, but it was rather to keep his Affairs in Method, and capable of a clear Review in case they should be examined by others, than that he built a Renown upon any thing which was past. I shall produce two Fragments of his to demonstrate, that it was his Rule of Life to support himself rather by what he should perform than what he had done already. In the Tablet which he wore about him the same Year, in which he obtained the Battel of Pharsalia, there were found these loose Notes for his own Conduct: It is supposed, by the Circumstances they alluded to, that they might be set down the Evening of the same Night.