The world is nothing but variety and disemblance, vices are all alike, as they are vices, and peradventure the Stoics understand them so; but although they are equally vices, yet they are not all equal vices; and he who has transgressed the ordinary bounds a hundred paces:
“Quos ultra citraque nequit consistere rectum,”
["Beyond or within which the right cannot exist."
--Horace, Sat., i, 1, 107.]
should not be in a worse condition than he that has advanced but ten, is not to be believed; or that sacrilege is not worse than stealing a cabbage:
“Nec vincet ratio hoc, tantumdem ut peccet, idemque,
Qui teneros caules alieni fregerit horti,
Et qui nocturnus divum sacra legerit.”
There is in this as great diversity as in anything whatever. The confounding of the order and measure of sins is dangerous: murderers, traitors, and tyrants get too much by it, and it is not reasonable they should flatter their consciences, because another man is idle, lascivious, or not assiduous at his devotion. Every one overrates the offence of his companions, but extenuates his own. Our very instructors themselves rank them sometimes, in my opinion, very ill. As Socrates said that the principal office of wisdom was to distinguish good from evil, we, the best of whom are vicious, ought also to say the same of the science of distinguishing betwixt vice and vice, without which, and that very exactly performed, the virtuous and the wicked will remain confounded and unrecognised.
Now, amongst the rest, drunkenness seems to me to be a gross and brutish vice. The soul has greater part in the rest, and there are some vices that have something, if a man may so say, of generous in them; there are vices wherein there is a mixture of knowledge, diligence, valour, prudence, dexterity, and address; this one is totally corporeal and earthly. And the rudest nation this day in Europe is that alone where it is in fashion. Other vices discompose the understanding: this totally overthrows it and renders the body stupid:
“Cum vini vis penetravit . . .
Consequitur gravitas membrorum, praepediuntur
Crura vacillanti, tardescit lingua, madet mens,
Nant oculi; clamor, singultus, jurgia, gliscunt.”
["When the power of wine has penetrated us, a heaviness of the limbs follows, the legs of the tottering person are impeded; the tongue grows torpid, the mind is dimmed, the eyes swim; noise, hiccup, and quarrels arise.--"Lucretius, i. 3, 475.]
The worst state of man is that wherein he loses the knowledge and government of himself. And ’tis said amongst other things upon this subject, that, as the must fermenting in a vessel, works up to the top whatever it has in the bottom, so wine, in those who have drunk beyond measure, vents the most inward secrets:
Curas et arcanum jocoso
Consilium retegis Lyaeo.”
["Thou disclosest to the merry Lyacus the cares and secret
counsel of the wise."--Horace, Od., xxi. 1, 114.]
[Lyacus, a name given to Bacchus.]
Josephus tells us that by giving an ambassador the enemy had sent to him his full dose of liquor, he wormed out his secrets. And yet, Augustus, committing the most inward secrets of his affairs to Lucius Piso, who conquered Thrace, never found him faulty in the least, no more than Tiberias did Cossus, with whom he intrusted his whole counsels, though we know they were both so given to drink that they have often been fain to carry both the one and the other drunk out of the Senate:
“Hesterno inflatum venas ut semper, Lyaeo.”
["Their veins full, as usual, of yesterday's wine."
--Virgil, Egl., vi. 15.]
And the design of killing Caesar was as safely communicated to Cimber, though he would often be drunk, as to Cassius, who drank nothing but water.