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evil, how careful ought a man to be in his language of a merchant? It may possibly be in the power
of a very shallow creature to lay the ruin of the best family in the most opulent city: and the more so, the more highly he deserves of his country; that is to say, the further he places his wealth out of his hands, to draw home that of another climate.
In this case an ill word may change plenty into want, and by a rash sentence a free and generous fortune may, in a few days, be reduced to beggary. How little does a giddy prater imagine, that an idle phrase to the disfavour of a merchant, may be as pernicious in the consequence as the forgery of a deed to bar an inheritance would be to a gentleman? Land stands where it did before a gentleman was calumniated, and the state of a great action is just as it was before calumny was offered to diminish it, and there is time, place, and occasion expected to unravel all that is contrived against those characters; but the trader, who is ready only for probable demands upon him, can have no armour against the inquisitive, the malicious, and the envious, who are prepared to fill the cry to his dishonour. Fire and sword are slow engines of destruction in comparison of the babbler in the case of the merchant.
For this reason I thought it an imitable piece of humanity, of a gentleman of my acquaintance, who had great variety of affairs, and used to talk with warmth enough against gentlemen by whom he thought himself ill dealt with; but he would never let any thing he urged against a merchant with whom he had any difference, except in a court of justice. He used to say, that to speak
ill of a merchant, was to begin his suit with judga ment and execution. One can not, I think, say more on this occasion, than to repeat, that the merit of the merchant is above that of all other subjects; for while he is untouched in his credit, his hand-writing is a more portable coin for the service of his fellow-citizens, and his word the gold of Ophir to the country wherein he resides,
No. 219. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10.
Vix ea nostra voco. —
These I scarce call our own.
THERE are but few men who are not ambitious of distinguishing themselves in the nation or country where they live, and of growing considerable among those with whom they converse. There is a kind of grandeur and respect, which the meanest and most insignificant part of mankind endeavour to procure in the little circle of their friends and acquaintance. The poorest mechanic, nay, the man who lives upon common alms, gets him his set of admirers, and delights in that superiority which he enjoys over those who are in some respects beneath him. This am bition, which is natural to the soul of man, might, methinks, receive a very happy turn; and if it were rightly directed, contribute as much to a person's advantage as it generally does to his uneasiness and disquiet.
I shall therefore put together some thoughts on this subject, which I have not met with in other writers; and shall set them down as they have occurred to me, without being at the pains to connect or methodise them.
All superiority and pre-eminence that one man can have over another, may be reduced to the notion of quality, which, considered at large, is either that of fortune, body, or mind. The first is that which consists in birth, title, or riches; and is the most foreign to our natures, and what we can the least call our own, of any of the three kinds of quality. In relation to the body, quality arises from health, strength, or beauty; which are nearer to us, and more a part of ourselves, than the former. Quality, as it regards the mind, has its rise from knowledge and virtue, and is that which is more essential to us, and more intimately united with us, than either of the other two.
The quality of fortune, though a man has less reason to value himself upon it than on that of the body or mind, is, however, the kind of quality which makes the most shining figure in the eye of the world.
As virtue is the most reasonable and genuine source of honour, we generally find in titles an intimation of some particular merit that should recommend men to the high stations which they possess. Holiness is ascribed to the pope; majesty to kings; serenity or mildness of temper, to princes; excellence or perfection, to ambassadors; grace to archbishops; honour to peers; worship or venerable behaviour, to magistrates; and reverence, which is of the same import as the former to the inferior clergy.
In the founders of great families, such attributes of honour are generally correspondent with the virtues of the person to whom they are applied; but in the descendants they are too often the marks rather of grandeur than of merit. The stamp and denomination still continues, but the intrinsic value is frequently lost.
The death-bed shows the emptiness of titles in a true light. A poor dispirited sinner lies trembling under the apprehension of the state he is entering on; and is asked by a grave attendant, how his holiness does? Another hears himself addressed to under the title of Highness or Excellency, who lies under such mean circumstances of mortality as are the disgrace of human nature. Titles, at such a time, look rather like insults and mockery than respect.
The truth of it is, irs are in this world under no 'regulation; true quality is neglected, virtue is oppressed, and vice triumphant. The last day will rectify this disorder, and assign to every one a station suitable to the dignity of his character; ranks will be then adjusted, and precedency set right.
Methinks we should have an ambition, if not to advance ourselves in another world, at least to preserve our post in it, and outshine our inferiors in virtue here, that they may not be put above us in a state which is to settle the distinction for eternity.
Men, in scripture, are called strangers and sojourners upon earth, and life a pilgrimage. Several Heathen, as well as Christian authors, under the same kind of metaphor, have represented the world as an inn, which was only designed
way to it.
. We are
to furnish us with accommodations in this our passage. It is therefore very absurd to think of setting up our rest before we come to our journey's end, and not rather to take care of the reception we shall there meet, than to fix our thoughts on the little conveniencies and advantages which we enjoy one above another in the
Epictetus makes use of another kind of allusion, which is very beautiful, and wonderfully proper to incline us to be satisfied with the post in which Providence has placed us. here,' says he, as in a theatre, where every one has a part allotted to him. The great duty which lies upon a man is to act his part in perfection. We
indeed that our part does not suit us, and that we could act another better. But this,' says the philosopher, is not our business. All that we are concerned in is to excel in the part which is given us. If it be an improper one, the fault is not in us, but in him who has cast our several parts, and is the great disposer of the drama.'
The part which was acted by this philosopher himself was but a very indifferent one; for he lived and died a slave. His motive to contentment in this particular, receives a very great enforcement from the above-mentioned consideration, if we remember that our parts in the other world will be new cast, and that mankind will be there ranged in different stations of superiority and preeminence in proportion as they have here excelled one another in virtue, and performed in their several posts of life, the duties which belong to them.