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Whilst we are in the pursuit of any thing, we think ever and ever how beneficial it may be to us, and we promise to ourselves much good from it; and our thoughts are so taken up with such meditations, that we consider it abstractedly from those discommodiousnesses and in cumbrances which yet inseparably cleave thereunto; but when we have gotten what we so importunely desired, and think to enter upon the enjoyment, we then begin to find those discommodiousnesses and incumbrances which before we never thought of, as well as those services and advantages which we expected from it. Now, if we could be so wise and provident beforehand, as to forethink and forecast the inconveniences as well as the usefulness of those things we seek after, it would certainly bring our desires to better moderation, work in us a just disestimation of these earthly things which we usually over-prize, and make us the better contented if we go without themas Damocles said of his diadem, what a glorious lustre doth the imperial crown make to dazzle the eyes of the beholders, and to tempt ambition to wade even through a sea of blood, and stretch itself beyond all the lines of justice and religion to get within the reach of it! Yet, did a man but know what legions of fears and cares, like so many iestless spirits, are encircled within that narrow round, he could not be excused from the extremity of madness if he should much envy him that wore it; much less if he should by villainy or bloodshed aspire to it. When Damocles had the sword hanging over his head in a twine thread, he had little stomach to eat of those delicacies that stood before him upon the board, which a little before he deemed the greatest happiness the world could afford. There is nothing under the sun but is full, not of vanity only, but also of vexation; why then should we not be well content to be without that thing (if it be the Lord's will we should want it), which we cannot have without much vanity, and some vexation withal ?
In the sixth place, a notable help to contentment is sobriety, under which name I comprehend both frugality and temperance. Frugality is of very serviceable use, partly to the acquiring, partly to the exercising of every man's graces and virtues, as magnificence, justice, liberality, thankfulness, &c., and this contentation among the rest. Hardly can that man be either truly thankful unto God, or much helpful to his friends, or do any great matters in the way of charity and to pious uses, or keep touch in his promises, and pay every man his own (as every honest man should do), nor live a contented life, that is not frugal. We all cry out against covetousness, and that justly, as a base sin, the cause of many evils and mischiefs, and a main opposite to contentment; but truly, if things be rightly considered, we shall find prodigality to match it, as in sundry other respects, so particularly for the opposition it hath to contentedness. For contentedness consisteth in the mutual and relative sufficiency of the things unto the mind, and of the mind unto the things; where covetousness reigneth in the heart, the mind is too narrow for the things; and where the estate is profusely wasted the things must needs be too scant for the mind; so that the disproportion is still the same, though it arise not from the same principle. As in many other things we may observe an unhappy coincidence of extremes, contrary causes, for different reasons, producing one and the same evil effect. Extreme cold parcheth the grass, as well as extreme heat; and lines drawn from the opposite parts of the circumference meet in the centre. Although the prodigal man, therefore, utterly disclaim covetousness, and profess to hate it, yet doth he indeed, by his wastefulness, pull upon himself a necessity of being covetous, and transgresseth the commandment which saith, “Thou shalt not covet,” as much as the most covetous wretch in the whole world doth. The difference is but this—the one coveteth that he may have it, the other coveteth that he may spend it; as St. James saith, he coveteth “ that he may consume it upon his lusts.” He that will fare deliciously every day, or carry a great port in the world, and maintain a numerous family of idle and unnecessary dependents, or adventure great sums in gaming or upon matches, or bring up his children too highly, or any other way stretch himself in his expenses beyond the proportion of his revenues, it is impossible but he should desire means wherewithal to maintain the charges he must be at for the aforesaid ends, wbich, since his proper revenues (according to our supposition) will not reach to do, his wits are set in work how to compass supplies, and to make it out of other men's estates. Hence he is driven to succour himself by frauds and oppressions, and all those other evils that spring from the root of covetousness; and when these also fail (as hold, they cannot long), there is then no remedy, but he must live the remainder of his days upon borrowing and shifting, whereby he casteth himself into debts and dangers, loseth his credit or liberty, or, both, and createth to him a world of discontents. He that would live a contented life, and bear a contented mind, it standeth him upon to be frugal.
Temperance, also, is of right good use to the same end; that is to say, a moderate use at all times, and now and then a voluntary forbearance of and abstinence from the creatures, when we might lawfully use them. If we would sometimes deny our appetites in the use of meats, and drinks, and sleep, and sports, and other comforts and refreshments of this life, and exercise ourselves sometimes to fastings and wantings, and other hardnesses and austerities, we should be the better able sure to undergo them stoutly, and grudge and shrink less under them, if at any time hereafter, by any accident or affliction, we should be hard put to it. We should, in all likelihood, be the better content to want many things when we cannot have them, if we would now and then inure ourselves to be as if we wanted them whilst we have them.
Lastly (for I may not enlarge), that meditation, which was so frequent with the godly fathers under both Testaments (and whereof the more sober sort among the heathens had some glimmering light), that “we have here no abiding city, but seek one to come;" that we are here but as strangers and pilgrims in a foreign land, heaven being our home; and that our continuance in this world is but as the lodging of a traveller in an inn for a night: this meditation, I say, if followed home, would much further us in the present learning. The apostle seemeth to make use of it for this very purpose, “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out;" and thence inferreth in the very next words, “having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.” We forget ourselves very much when we fancy to ourselves a kind of perpetuity here, as if our "houses should continue for ever, and our dwelling-places should remain from one generation to another.” We think it good being here, here we would build us tabernacles, set up our rest here, and that is it that maketh us so greedy after the things that belong hither, and so sullen and discomposed when our endeavours in the pursuit of them prove successless; whereas, if we would rightly inform ourselves, and seriously think of it, what the world is, and what ourselves are—the world but an inn, and ourselves but passengers-it would fashion us to more moderate desires, and better composed affections. In our inns we would be glad to have wholesome diet, clean lodgings, diligent attend
ance, and all other things with convenience to our liking; but yet we will be wary what we call for, that we exceed not too much, lest the reckoning prove too sharp afterwards; and if such things as we are to make use of there, we find not altogether as we wish, we do not much trouble ourselves at it, but pass it over, cheering ourselves with these thoughts, that our stay is but for a night; we shall be able sure to make shift with mean accommodations for one night; we shall be at home ere it be long, where we can mend ourselves, and have things more to our own heart's content. The plenteousness of that house, when we shall arrive at our own home, will fully satiate our largest desires. In the meantime, let the expectation of that fulness, and the approach of our departure out of this sorry inn, sustain our souls with comfort against all the emptiness of this world, and whatsoever we meet with in our passage through it that is any way apt to breed us vexation or discontent; that we may learn with St. Paul, “in whatsoever estate we are, to be therewith content.” God vouchsafe this to us all for his dear Son's sake, Jesus Christ.
289.-SOCIETY AT NAPLES.
FORSYTH. (JAMES FORSYTH, the author of · Remarks on Antiquities, Arts, and Letters during an Excursion in Italy,' was born at Elgin, in 1763. He was educated at Aberdeen, and subsequently became the head of a classical school near London. His passionate desire was to see Italy ; and in 1802 and 1803 he accomplished his object, and acquired the materials for the volume which has given him a more enduring repu tation than is won by many tourists. Upon the rupture between England and France, which followed the short peace, Mr. Forsyth was seized at Turin, on his return home, and was detained in Italy and France till 1814, when the allied armies entered Paris. His health was broken by his long confinement under the brutal despotism of Napoleon, and he died in 1815.]
Nobility is nowhere so pure as in a barbarous state. When a nation becomes polished, its nobles either corrupt their blood with plebeian mixture, as in England; or they disappear altogether, as in
France. Now Naples, in spite of all her fiddlers, is still in a state of barbarian twilight, which resisted the late livid flash of philosophy; and the nobility of Naples remains incorrupt. Though often cut by adultery with footmen, and sometimes reduced to beg in the streets, still is it pure both in heraldry and opinion ; for nothing here degrades it but mesalliance, commerce, or a hemp-rope.
The Neapolitan noblemen have seldom been fairly reported. In England, where rank is more circumscribed, nobility generally commands fortune or pride enough to protect it from common contempt. At Naples it is diffused so widely and multiplies so fast, that you find titles at every corner. Principi or de' Principi, without a virtue or a ducat. Hence strangers, who find no access to noblemen of retired merit, must form on those of the coffee-houses their opinion of the whole order, and level it with the lowest lazaroni, till the two extremes of society meet in ignorance and vice.
In fact, these children of the sun are too ardent to settle in mediocrity. Some noblemen rose lately into statesmen and orators in the short-lived republic; some fell gloriously; others have enriched literature or extended the bounds of science; a few speak with a purity foreign to this court; and not a few are models of urbanity. If you pass, however, from these into the mob of gentlemen, you will find men who glory in an exemption from mental improvement, and affect “all the honourable points of ignorance.” In a promiscuous company, the most noted sharper or the lowest buffoon shall, three to one, be a nobleman.
In the economy of the noblest houses there is something farcical. In general, their footmen, having only six ducats a month to subsist on, must, from sheer hunger, be thieves. A certain prince, who is probably not singular, allots to his own dinner one ducat a day. For this sum his people are bound to serve up a stated number of dishes, but then he is obliged to watch while eating; for, if he once turn round, half the service disappears. Yet such jugglers as these find their match in his Highness ; for, whenever be means to smuggle the remains of his meal, he sends them all out on different errands at the same moment, and then crams his pockets for supper. Yet, when this man gives an entertainment, it is magnificence itself. On these rare occasions he acts like a prince, and his people behave like gentlemen for the day. He keeps a chaplain in his palace ; but the poor priest