Page images

principles of morality they taught, yet such was the unparalleled modesty of this philosopher, that he never assumed the least honor about them.

18 He ingenuously owned, that the doctrine was not his own, but was much more ancient; and that he had done nothing more than collected it from wise legislators who lived fifteen hundred years before him. There are some maxims and moral sentences in his collection, equal to those of the seven wise men of Greece, which have always been so much admired.

NOTE.-The preceding article is derived principally from the Chinese Traveller, which describes some traces of the precepts of Confucius, which are observed in China, at the present time; but are much obscured and adulterated by a "monstrous heap of superstitions, magic, idolatry, and all sorts of ridiculous and extravagant opinions."



[blocks in formation]

Of right and wrong he taught
Truths as refin'd as ever Athens heard;

And (strange to tell!) he practis'd what he preach'd.

1. SOCRATES was born at Athens, 471 years before the commencement of the Christian era. His father was a sculptor; and he at first learned the same trade himself, in which he became very expert. His example, like that of Franklin, the Socrates of America, shows that greatness of mind is not excluded by the hand of nature, from the sons of industry; though wherever found, the polish of knowledge is essential to the developement of its inherent beauties.

2 Criton is reported to have taken him out of his father's shop, from the admiration of his fine genius, and the opinion that it was inconsistent for a young man, capable of the great

est things, to continue perpetually employed upon stone with a chisel in his hand. His first study was physics, the works of nature, astronomy, &c.; according to the custom of those times.

3 But after having found by his own experience, how difficult, abstruse, intricate, and at the same time, how little useful that kind of learning was to the generality of mankind, he was the first, according to Cicero, who conceived the thought of bringing down philosophy from heaven, to place it in cities, and introduce it into private houses; humanizing it, to use that expression, and rendering it more familiar, more useful in common life, more within the reach of man's capacity, and applying it solely to what might make them more rational, just and virtuous.

4 He found there was a kind of folly in devoting the whole vivacity of his mind, and employing all his time, in inquiries merely curious, involved in impenetrable darkness, and absolutely incapable of contributing to human happiness; whilst he neglected to inform himself in the ordinary duties of life.

5 He had accustomed himself early to a sober, severe, laborious life; and yet he entertained the most perfect contempt for riches, and contentment with poverty. He looked upon it as a divine perfection to be in want of nothing. Seeing the pomp and show displayed by luxury in certain ceremonies, and the infinite quantity of gold and silver employed in them; "How many things," said he, congratulating himself on his condition, "do I not want!"

6 His father left him eighty mina, that is to say, 4,000 livres, which he lent to one of his friends, who had occasion for that sum. But the affairs of that friend having taken an ill turn, he lost the whole, and suffered that misfortune with such indifference and tranquillity, that he did not so much as complain of it.

7 The peculiar austerity of his life did not render him gloomy and morose, as, was common enough in those times. Though he was very poor, he piqued himself upon the neatness of his person and his house, and could not suffer the ridiculous affectation of Antisthenes, who always wore dirty and ragged clothes. He told him once, that through the holes in his cloak, and the rest of his tatters, abundance of vanity might be discerned.

8 The ardent admiration of poverty, imputed to Socrates, Diogenes, and other ancient philosophizers, ought to be styled philosophical fanaticism, rather than genuine wisdom and

prudence; which inculcate the accumulation of property by persevering diligence, as well as the preservation of it, by economy and simplicity of manners.

9 The desire of wealth may become pernicious, when cherished at the sacrifice of honesty; and the possession of it may be mischievous, both to the owner and others, or beneficial, according to his want of capacity to govern his passions, or his discretion and benevolence.

10 Extreme poverty ought to be regarded among the most terrible calamities of human life; and though vastly preferable to riches with a prostituted conscience, ought not to be submitted to contentedly, except on these conditions:*

"For the future be prepar'd,

Guard wherever thou canst guard;

But thy utmost duty done,

Welcome what thou canst not shun."-Burns.

11 One of the most distinguishing qualities of Socrates, was a tranquillity of soul, that no accident, no loss, no injury, no ill treatment could ever alter. Seneca tells us, that he had desired his friends to apprise him whenever they saw him ready to fall into a passion, and that he had given them that privilege over him, which he took himself with them. Finding himself in great emotion against a slave, "I would beat you," says he, "if I were not angry.'

[ocr errors]

12 Without going out of his own house, he found enough to exercise his patience in all its extent. Xantippe, his wife, put it to the severest proofs by her capricious, passionate, violent disposition. She would sometimes be transported with such an excess of rage as to tear off his cloak in the open street; and even one day, after having vented all the reproaches her fury could suggest, she emptied a pot upon his head; at which he only laughed, and said, "that so much thunder must needs produce a shower."

13 After having related some particularities in the life of Socrates, it is time to proceed to that in which his character principally and peculiarly consisted; I mean the pains he took to instruct mankind, and particularly in forming the youth of Athens.

14 He seemed, says Libarius, the common father of the republic, so attentive was he to the happiness and advantage of his whole country. But as it is very difficult to correct the aged, and to make people change principles who revere

* J. T.

[ocr errors]

the errors in which they have grown gray, he devoted his labors principally to the instruction of youth, in order to sow the seeds of virtue in a soil more fit to produce the fruits of it.

15 He had no open school, like the rest of the philosophers, nor set times for his lessons. He had no benches prepared, nor ever mounted a professor's chair. He was the philosopher of all times and seasons. He taught in all places and upon all occasions; in walking, conversation, at meals, in the army, in the public assemblies, in prison itself; and when he drank the poison, he philosophized, says Plutarch, and instructed mankind. And from thence the same judicious author takes occasion to establish a great principle in point of government.

16 To be a public man, says he, it is not necessary to be actually in office, to wear the robe of judge or magistrate, and to sit in the highest tribunals, for the administration of justice. But whoever knows how to give wise counsel to those who consult him, to animate the citizens to virtue, and to inspire them with sentiments of probity, equity, generosity, and love of their country; this is, says Plutarch, the true magistrate and ruler, in whatever place or condition he be.

17 Such was Socrates. The services he did the state, by the instructions he gave their youth, and the disciples he formed, were inexpressibly great; never had master a greater number, or so illustrious. The ardor of the young Athenians to follow him, was incredible. They left father and mother, and renounced all parties of pleasure, to attach themselves to him, and hear his discourses.


Dialogue between Socrates and Glauco, on Excessive Ambition.

1 The young people of Athens, dazzled with the glory of Themistocles, Cimon, and Pericles, and full of a wild ambition, after having received for some time the lessons of the sophists, who promised to make them very great politicians, conceived themselves capable of every thing, and aspired to the highest employments.

2 One of these, named Glauco, had taken it so strongly into his head, to enter upon the administration of the public affairs, though not twenty years old, that none of his family

or friends were able to divert him from a design, so little consistent with his age and capacity. Socrates, who had an affection for him on account of Plato his brother, was the only person who could prevail upon him to change his resolution.

3 Meeting him one day, he accosted him so happily with discourse, that he engaged him to give the hearing. "You are desirous then to govern the republic," said he to him. "True," replied Glauco. "You cannot have a more noble design," answered Socrates, "for if you succeed you will have it in your power to serve your friends effectually, to aggrandize your family, and to extend the confines of your country.

4 "You will make yourself known, not only to Athens, but throughout all Greece, and perhaps your renown, like that of Themistocles, may spread abroad amongst the barbarous nations. In short, wherever you are, you will attract the respect and admiration of the whole world."

5 So smooth and insinuating a prelude, was extremely pleasing to the young man, who was taken by his blind side. He staid willingly, gave him no occasion to press him on that account, and the conversation continued. "Since you desire to be esteemed and honored, no doubt your view is to be useful to the public?" "Certainly." "Tell me then, I beg you, what is the first service you propose to render the state ?"

6 As Glauco seemed at a loss, and meditated upon what he should answer; "I presume," continues Socrates, "it is to enrich it, that is to say, to augment its revenues." "My very thought." "You are well versed then, undoubtedly in the revenues of the state, and know perfectly to what they may amount. You have not failed to make them your particular study, in order that if a fund should happen to fail, by any unforeseen accident, you might be able to supply the deficiency, by another."


7 "I protest," replied Glauco, "that never entered my thoughts." "At least you will tell to what the expenses of the republic amount; for you must know the importance of retrenching such as are superfluous." "I own I am as little informed in this point as the other." "You must therefore defer your design of enriching the state till another time; for it is impossible you should do it, whilst you are unacquainted with its revenues and expenses."

8 He ran over in this manner, several other articles no less important, with which Glauco appeared equally unacquainted; till he brought him to confess, how ridiculous those

« PreviousContinue »