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No 293. TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 1711-12,
Πώσιν γαρ ευφρονεσι συμμαχεί τύχη. .
FRAG. Vet. Poet.
The prudent still have fortune on their side.
The famous Grecian, in his little book wherein he lays down maxims for a man's advancing himself at court, advises his reader to associate himself with the fortunate, and to shun the company of the unfortunate, which, notwithstanding the baseness of the precept to an honest mind, may have something useful in it, for those who push their interest in the world. It is certain, a great part of what we call good or ill fortune, rises out of right or wrong measures and schemes of life. When I hear a man complain of his being unfortunate in all his undertakings, I shrewdly suspect him for a very weak man in his affairs. In conformity with this way of thinking, Cardinal Richelieu used to say, that the unfortunate and imprudent were but two words for the same thing. As the cardinal himself had a great share both of prudence and good fortune, his famous antagonist, the Count d'Olivares, was disgraced at the court of Madrid, because it was alleged against him that he had never any success in his undertakings. This, says an eminent author, was indirectly accusing him of imprudence.
Cicero recommended Pompey to the Romans for their general upon three accounts, as he was a man of courage, conduct, and good fortune. It was, perhaps, for the reason above mentioned, namely, that a series of good fortune, supposes a prudent
management in the person whom it befals, that not only Sylla the dictator, but several of the Roman emperors, as is still to be seen upon their medals, among their other titles, gave themselves that of Felix or Fortunate. The heathens, indeed, seem to have valued a man more for his good fortune than for other quality, which I think is
natural for those who have not a strong belief of another world. For how can I conceive a man crowned with any distinguishing blessings, that has not some extraordinary fund of merit and perfection in him, which lies open to the Supreme eye, though perhaps it is not discovered by my observation ? What is the reason Homer's and Virgil's heroes do not form a resolution, or strike a blow, without the conduct and direction of some deity? Doubtless, because the poets esteemed it the greatest honour to be favoured by the gods, and thought the best way of praising a man was, to recount those favours which naturally implied an extraordinary merit in the person on whom they descended.
Those who believe a future state of rewards and punishments act very absurdly, if they from their opinions of a man's merit from his successes. But certainly, if I thought the whole circle of our being was included between our births and deaths, I should think a man's good fortune the measure and standard of his real merit, since Providence would have no opportunity of rewarding his virtue and perfections, but in the present life. A virtuous unbeliever, who lies under the pressure of misfortunes, has reason to cry out, as they say Brutus did, a little before his death: “Oh virtue, I have worshipped thee as a substantiałgood, but I find thou art an empty name.'
But to return to our first point. Though Prudence does undoubtedly in a great measure produce
our good or ill fortune in the world, it is certain there are many unforeseen accidents and occurrences, which
very often pervert the finest schemes that can be laid by human wisdom.
• The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.' Nothing less than infinite wisdom can have an absolute command over fortune; the highest degree of it, which man can possess, is by no means equal to fortuitous events, and to such contingencies as may rise in the prosecution of our affairs. Nay, it very often happens, that prudence, which has always in it a great mixture of caution, hinders a man from being so unfortunate, as he might possibly have been without it. A person who only aims at what is likely to succeed, and follows closely the dictates of human prudence, never meets with those great and unforeseen successes, which are often the effect of a sanguine temper or a more happy rashness; and this perhaps may be the reason, that according to the common observation, Fortune, like other females, delights rather in avouring the young than the old.
Upon the whole, since man is so short-sighted a creature, and the accidents which may happen to him so various, I cannot but be of Dr. Tillotson's opinion in another case, that were there any doubt of Providence, yet it certainly would be very desirable there should be such a Being of infinite wisdom and goodness on whose direction we might rely in the conduct of human life.
It is a great presumption to ascribe our successes to our own management, and not to esteem ourselves upon any blessing, rather as it is the bounty of heaven than the acquisition of our own prudence. I am very well pleased with a medal which was struck by Queen Elizabeth, a little after the defeat of the invincible armada, to perpetuate the me
mory of that extraordinary event. It is well known how the King of Spain, and others who were the enemies of that great princess, to derogate from her glory, ascribed the ruin of their fleet rather to the violence of storms and tempests, than to the bravery of the English. Queen Elizabeth, instead of looking upon this as a diminution of her honour, valued herself upon such a signal favour of Provi. dence, and accordingly, in the reverse of the medal above mentioned, has represented a fleet beaten by a tempest, and falling foul upon one another, with that religious inscription, Aflarit Deus, et dissipantur,' He blew with his wind, and they were scattered.'
It is remarked of a famous Grecian general, whose name I cannot at present recollect," and who had been a particular favourite of Fortune, that, upon recounting his victories among his friends, he added at the end of several great actions, ' And in this Fortune had no share.' After which it is observed in history, that he never prospered in any thing he undertook. As arrogance and a conceitedness of our own abilities are very shocking and offensive to men of sense and virtue, we may be sure they are highly displeasing to that Being who delights in an humble mind, and by several of his dispensations seems purposely to shew us, that our own schemes, or prudence, have no share in our advancements.
Since on this subject I have already admitted several quotations, which have occurred to my memory upon writing this paper, I will conclude it with a little Persian fable. A drop of water fell out of a cloud into the sea, and finding itself lost in such an
* Timotheus the Athenian. See Shaw's edit. of Lord Bacon's Works, 4to. vol. i. p. 219.
immensity of fluid matter, broke oụt into the following reflection : “ Alas! What an * inconsiderable creature am I in this prodigious ocean of waters ! My existence is of no concern to the universe; I am reduced to a kind of nothing and am less than the least of the works of God.' It so happened than an oyster which lay in the neighbourhood of this drop chanced to gape and swallow it up in the midst of this its humble soliloquy. The drop, says the fable, lay a great while hardening in the shell, until by degrees it was ripened into a pearl, which falling into the hands of a diver, after a long series of adventures, is at present that famous pearl which is fixed on the top of the Persian diadem.
N° 294. WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 6,1711-12.
Difficile est plurimùm rirtutem rerereri qui semper secunda fortunâ sit usus.
Tull. ad Herennium. The man who is always fortunate, cannot easily have much reverence for virtue.
INSOLENCE is the crime of all others which every man is apt to rail at; and yet there is one respect in which almost all men living are guilty of it, and that is in the case of laying a greater value upon
the gifts of fortune than we ought. It is here in England come into our very language, as a propriety of distinction, to say, when we should speak of persons
* Altered from insignificant, according to a direction in Speet. iu folio, No. 295.