Section 3: Self-command

6.3.1. A man is said to be perfectly virtuous if he acts according to the rules of:

  • perfect prudence,
  • strict justice, and
  • proper benevolence.

But the perfect knowledge of those rules alone will not enable him to act in this way.

  • His own passions:
    • are very apt to mislead him, and
    • sometimes drive and seduce him to violate all the rules which he himself approves of in all his sober and cool hours
  • The perfect knowledge will not always enable him to do his duty if it is not supported by the most perfect self-command.


6.3.2. Some of the best of the ancient moralists divided those passions into two:

  1. The passions which require a big exertion of self-command to restrain, even for a single moment
  2. Those passions which are easy to restrain for a short time but can mislead into great deviations in a lifetime, by their continual and almost incessant solicitations


6.3.3. The first class of passions are made up of fear and anger, together with some other passions which are mixed or connected with them

  • Extravagant fear and furious anger are often difficult to restrain even for a single moment.
    • These often drive us from our duty.
    • The command of fear and anger denominated fortitude, manhood, and strength of mind.

The second class is made up of the love of ease, pleasure, applause, and many other selfish gratifications

  • These are are always easy to restrain for a short time.
  • But by their continual solicitations, they often mislead us into many weaknesses which we have much reason to be ashamed of afterwards.
    • These often seduce us from our duty.
    • The command of the love of ease, pleasure, and applause denominated temperance, decency, modesty, and moderation.


6.3.4. The command of each of those two sets of passions has a beauty of its own.

  • This beauty:
    • is independent of the beauty it derives from:
      • its utility, and
      • from its enabling us always to act according to the dictates of prudence, justice, and proper benevolence.
    •  deserve a certain degree of esteem and admiration for its own sake
  • Some of that esteem and admiration is excited by:
    • the strength and greatness of the exertion in the command of fear and anger, and
    • the uniformity, equality, and unremitting steadiness of that exertion in the command of the love of ease, pleasure, and applause.


6.3.5. A man is very much admired if he preserves his tranquility and acts in perfect accordance with the feelings of the most indifferent spectator while he is in danger, torture, and near death.

  • If he suffers in the cause of liberty and justice for the sake of humanity and the love of his country, the following are mixed with the admiration of his magnanimity:
    • the most tender compassion for his sufferings,
    • the strongest indignation against the injustice of his persecutors,
    • the warmest sympathetic gratitude for his beneficent intentions, and
    • the highest sense of his merit.
  • These often inflame that self-command into the most enthusiastic and rapturous veneration.

Many of the heroes of the past who are remembered most favourably are those who, in the cause of truth, liberty, and justice, have:

  • perished on the scaffold, and
  • behaved there with ease and dignity.

If Socrates’ enemies had made him die quietly in his bed, his glory might never have acquired that dazzling splendour which all succeeding ages held of it.

  • In the English history, the illustrious heads engraven by Vertue and Howbraken makes everyone feel a real dignity and charm over the characters which have the axe affixed to them.
    • That axe is the emblem of having been beheaded.
    • It is engraved under the most illustrious of them:
      • the Sir Thomas Mores,
      • the Rhaleighs,
      • the Russels,
      • the Sydneys, etc.
    • This dignity is much superior to what they can derive from all the futile ornaments of heraldry which sometimes accompany them.


6.3.6. This magnanimity gives lustre to innocent and virtuous men.

  • It draws some favourable regard even on the greatest criminals.
  • When a robber behaves with decency and firmness during his execution, we often regret that he, who had such great and noble powers, could do such bad things, even if we perfectly approve of his punishment.


6.3.7. War is the great school for acquiring and exercising this species of magnanimity.

  • Death is the king of terrors.
    • The man who has conquered the fear of death will not likely lose his presence of mind at the approach of any other natural evil.
  • In war, men become familiar with death.
    • They are necessarily cured of that superstitious horror which afflicts the weak and inexperienced.
    • They consider it merely as the loss of life.
      • Death is no longer the object of aversion than as life may be the object of desire.
  • They learn from experience too that:
    • many great dangers are not so great as they appear
    • with courage, activity, and presence of mind, they can extricate themselves honourably from seemingly hopeless situations.
  • The dread of death is thus greatly reduced.
    • The confidence or hope of escaping death is augmented.
    • They learn to expose themselves to danger less reluctantly.
    • They are less anxious to get out of it.
    • They are less apt to lose their presence of mind while they are in danger.
  • This habitual contempt of danger and death ennobles the profession of a soldier.
    • It bestows on that profession a natural rank and dignity superior to any other profession.
    • The skillful and successful exercise of this profession in the service of their country, constituted the most distinguishing feature in the character of the favourite heroes of all ages.


6.3.8. Great warlike exploits sometimes:

  • interests us, and
  • commands even some esteem for the very worthless characters which conduct it.
    • Even if those exploits were undertaken contrary to justice and without any regard to humanity.

We are interested even in the exploits of the Buccaneers.

  • We read the history of the most worthless men with some sort of esteem and admiration.
  • In the most criminal pursuits, they:
    • endured greater hardships,
    • surmounted greater difficulties, and
    • encountered greater dangers than ordinary.


6.3.9. On many occasions, the command of anger appears not less generous and noble than the command of fear.

  • The proper expression of just indignation composes many of the most splendid and admired passages of ancient and modern eloquence.
    • The Philippics of Demosthenes and Catalinarians of Cicero, derive their whole beauty from the noble propriety they expressed.
  • But this just indignation is merely anger restrained and properly attempered to what the impartial spectator can enter into.
    • The blustering and noisy passion which goes beyond this is always odious and offensive.
      • It interests us, not for the angry man, but for the man with whom he is angry.
  • On many occasions, the nobleness of pardoning appears superior even to the most perfect propriety of resenting.
    • The man who can remove all animosity and act confidently and cordially towards the person who most grievously offended him, seems justly to merit our highest admiration when:
      • proper acknowledgments have been made by the offending party, and
      • the public interest requires that the most mortal enemies unite for some important duty, even without any such acknowledgments.


6.3.10. However, the command of anger does not always appear in such splendid colours.

  • Fear is contrary to anger.
    • Fear is often the motive which restrains anger.
    • In such cases, the meanness of the motive takes away all the nobleness of the restraint.
  • Anger prompts to attack.
    • The indulgence of anger seems sometimes to show courage and superiority to fear.
  • The indulgence of anger is sometimes an object of vanity.
    • The indulgence of fear never is an object of vanity.

Vain and weak men often affect to be ostentatiously passionate among their inferiors or those who dare not resist them.

  • They fancy that they show spirit in being so.
  • A bully tells many stories of his own insolence which are not true.
    • He imagines that he renders himself more formidable, amiable, and respectable to his audience.
  • By favouring the practice of duelling, modern manners in some cases encourage private revenge.
    • In modern times, they perhaps render the restraint of anger by fear more contemptible than otherwise.
  • There is always something dignified in the command of fear, whatever may be its motive.
    • It is not so with the command of anger.
      • Unless it is founded in the sense of decency, dignity, and propriety, the command of anger is never perfectly agreeable.


6.3.11. To act according to the dictates of prudence, of justice, and proper beneficence, seems to have no great merit where there is no temptation to do otherwise.

  • The character of the most exalted wisdom and virtue is to:
    • act with cool deliberation in the midst of the greatest dangers and difficulties,
    • observe religiously the sacred rules of justice in spite of:
      • the greatest interests which might tempt us to violate them, and
      • the greatest injuries which might provoke us to violate them.
    • never suffer the benevolence of our temper to be damped or discouraged by the malignity and ingratitude of the individuals towards whom it may have been exercised.
  • Self-command is a great virtue by itself.
    • All the other virtues seem to derive their principal lustre from self-command.


6.3.12. The command of fear and anger, are always great and noble powers.

  • When they are directed by justice and benevolence they:
    • are great virtues, and
    • increase the splendour of those other virtues.
  • However, they may sometimes be directed by very different motives.
    • In this case, though still great and respectable, they may be excessively dangerous.
  • The most intrepid valour may be employed in the cause of the greatest injustice.

Amidst great provocations, apparent tranquility and good humour may sometimes conceal the most determined and cruel resolution to revenge.

  • The strength of mind needed for such dissimulation is always contaminated by the baseness of falsehood.
    • However, such strength has been often much admired by many people of no contemptible judgment.
      • The dissimulation of:
        • Catharine of Medicis is often celebrated by the profound historian Davila,
        • Lord Digby, afterwards Earl of Bristol, by the grave and conscientious Lord Clarendon, and
        • the first Ashley Earl of Shaftesbury, by the judicious Mr . Locke.
    • Even Cicero considers this deceitful character as not unsuitable to a certain flexibility of manners, not as of the highest dignity.
      • He thinks these manners may still be agreeable and respectable on the whole.
      • He exemplifies it by the characters of:
        • Homer’s Ulysses,
        • the Athenian Themistocles,
        • the Spartan Lysander, and
        • the Roman Marcus Crassus.
  • This character of dark and deep dissimulation occurs most commonly:
    • in times of great public disorder, and
    • amidst the violence of faction and civil war.
  • The regard to self-defence obliges most men to have recourse to dexterity, address, and apparent accommodation to the current prevailing party when:
    • law has become impotent, and
    • the most perfect innocence cannot alone insure safety.
  • This false character is also frequently accompanied with the coolest and most determined courage.
    • Its proper exercise supposes that courage, as death is commonly the certain consequence of detection.
  • It can be used indifferently to exasperate or to allay those furious animosities of adverse factions which impose the need to assume it.
    • It may sometimes be useful.
    • But it is at least equally liable to be excessively pernicious.


6.3.13. The command of the less violent and turbulent passions seems much less liable to be abused to any pernicious purpose.

  • Temperance, decency, modesty, and moderation, are always amiable.
    • They can seldom be directed to any bad end.
  • The following virtues derive their sober lustre from the steadiness of those gentler exertions of self-command:
    • chastity,
    • industry and frugality.
  • The conduct of those who live humbly in private and peaceable life, also derives most of their beauty and grace from that gentler self-command.
    • It is a beauty and grace much less dazzling.
    • But is not always less pleasing than those which accompany the more splendid actions of the hero, statesman, or legislator.


The Point of Propriety

6.3.14. I think it is unnecessary to explain self-command further.

  • The point of propriety is the degree of any passion which the impartial spectator approves of.
    • This point propriety is differently situated in different passions.
  • In some passions, the excess is less disagreeable than the defect.
    • In such passions, the point of propriety seems to stand high, or nearer to the excess than to the defect.
    • The spectator is most disposed to sympathize with these passions.
    • The immediate feeling or sensation of these passions is agreeable to the person principally concerned.
  • In other passions, the defect is less disagreeable than the excess.
    • In such passions, the point of propriety seems to stand low, or nearer to the defect than to the excess.
    • The spectator is least disposed to sympathize with these passions.
    • The immediate feeling of these passions is disagreeable to the person principally concerned.

It may be laid down as a general rule, that the passions which the spectator is most disposed to sympathize with, and in which, on that account, the point of propriety stands high, are those of which the immediate feeling is more or less agreeable to the person principally concerned.

  • On the contrary, the passions which the spectator is least disposed to sympathize with, and in which, on that account, the point of propriety may be said to stand low, are those of which the immediate feeling is more or less disagreeable or even painful, to the person principally concerned.
  • This general rule has no exception.
    • A few examples will sufficiently explain it and demonstrate its truth at once.


The Unifying and Divisive Force

6.3.15. The disposition to the affections which unite men in society, to humanity, kindness, natural affection, friendship, esteem, may sometimes be excessive.

  • However, even the excess of this disposition renders a man interesting to everybody.

We blame it.

  • But we still regard it with compassion and even with kindness, and never with dislike.
    • We are more sorry for it than angry at it.
  • To the person himself, the indulgence even of such excessive affections is agreeable, but delicious.
    • It exposes him to real and heartfelt distress sometimes, especially when directed towards unworthy objects.
  • However, even on such occasions, a well-disposed mind regards him with the most exquisite pity.
    • He feels the highest indignation against those who affect to despise him for his weakness and imprudence.

The defect of this disposition is called the hardness of heart.

  • It renders a man insensible to other people’s feelings and distresses.
  • It renders other people equally insensible to his.
    • By excluding him from the friendship of all the world, it excludes him from the best and most comfortable of all social enjoyments.


6.3.16. The disposition to the affections which drive men from one another tends to break the bands of human society.

  • The disposition to anger, hatred, envy, malice, revenge is much more apt to offend by its excess than by its defect.
  • The excess renders a man wretched and miserable in his own mind.
  • It makes him the object of hatred, and sometimes even of horror, to other people.
  • The defect is very seldom complained of.
    • However, it may be defective.
  • The lack of proper indignation is a most essential defect in the manly character.
  • On many occasions, it renders a man incapable of protecting himself or his friends from insult and injustice.
  • Envy is an odious and detestable passion.
    • Even its excess and improper direction may be defective.
    • It views with malignant dislike the superiority of those who are really entitled to all their superiority.
  • However, the man who tamely allows others, who are not entitled to such superiority, to rise above him in important matters, is justly condemned as mean-spirited.
    • This weakness is commonly founded in:
      • indolence,
      • good nature, sometimes,
      • an aversion to opposition,
      • bustle and solicitation, and
      • a sort of ill-judged magnanimity, sometimes.
        • It fancies that it can always continue to despise the advantage which it then despises, and, therefore, so easily gives up.
        • However, such weakness is commonly followed by much regret and repentance.
        • What seemed as magnanimity in the beginning frequently gives way to:
          • a most malignant envy in the end, and
          • a hatred of that superiority attained by others.
  • In order to live comfortably in the world, it is always as necessary to defend our dignity and rank, as it is to defend our life or our fortune.


Sensibility and Insensibility

6.3.17. Our sensibility to personal danger and distress, like that to personal provocation, is much more apt to offend by its excess than by its defect.

  • No character is more contemptible than that of a coward.
  • No character is more admired than that of the man who:
    • faces death with intrepidity
    • maintains his tranquillity and presence of mind amidst the most dreadful dangers
  • We esteem the man who supports pain and even torture with manhood and firmness.
    • We can have little regard for the man who:
      • sinks under them
      • abandons himself to useless outcries and womanish lamentations
        • His fretful temper makes him:
          • feel every little cross accident with too much sensibility
          • miserable in himself
          • offensive to other people
  • A calm character which does not allow its tranquility to be disturbed by the small injuries or little disasters:
    • is a blessing to the man himself, and
    • gives ease and security to all his companions.
  • Amidst the natural and moral evils infesting the world, this character:
    • lays its account, and
    • is contented to suffer a little from both evils.


6.3.18. Our sensibility to our own injuries and misfortunes is generally too strong.

  • It may likewise be too weak.
  • The man who feels little for his own misfortunes must always:
    • feel less for those of other people
    • be less disposed to relieve them
  • The man who has little resentment for the injuries done to himself must always:
    • have less resentment for those done to other people
    • be less disposed to protect or avenge them
  • A stupid insensibility to the events of human life necessarily extinguishes all that keen and earnest attention to the propriety of our own conduct.
    • This propriety is the real essence of virtue.
  • We can feel little anxiety about the propriety of our own actions when we are indifferent about their effects.

The real man of virtue is alone someone who:

  • feels the full distress of the calamity which has befallen him,
  • feels the whole baseness of the injustice done to him, but feels more strongly the dignity required by his own character
  • does not abandon himself to undisciplined passions naturally inspired by his situation
  • governs his whole behaviour and conduct according to those restrained and corrected emotions which the great inmate, the great demi-god within the breast prescribes and approves of

A real man of virtue is the only real and proper object of love, respect, and admiration.

  • Insensibility is so different from that exalted self-command.
    • That noble firmness is founded in the sense of dignity and propriety.
    • In many cases, the merit of self-command is entirely removed in proportion as insensibility takes place.


6.3.19. The total lack of sensibility to personal injury, danger, and distress would remove the whole merit of self-command.

  • However, that sensibility may very easily be too exquisite.
    • It frequently is so.
  • The sense of propriety is the authority of the judge within the breast.
    • That authority must appear very noble and great when it can control this extreme sensibility.
    • But its exertion may be too fatiguing.
      • It may have too much to do.

The individual may behave perfectly well through a great effort.

  • The contest between the two principles is the warfare within the breast.
    • It may be too violent to be consistent with internal tranquility and happiness.
  • The wise man will avoid, as much as duty and propriety will permit, the situations he is not perfectly fit for.
    • He was endowed by Nature with this too exquisite sensibility.
    • His too lively feelings have not been sufficiently blunted and hardened by early education and proper exercise.
  • A man with feeble and delicate constitution might render him too sensible to pain, hardship, and bodily distress.
    • He should not wantonly embrace the profession of a soldier.
  • The man who is too much sensible to injury should not rashly engage in the contests of faction.
  • The sense of propriety might be strong enough to command all those sensibilities
    • But the mind’s composure must always be disturbed in the struggle.
      • In this disorder, the judgment cannot always maintain its ordinary acuteness and precision.
      • He may always mean to act properly.
      • But he may often act:
        • rashly and imprudently, and
        • in a way which he himself will be forever ashamed of later.
  • Undoubtedly, the best preparatives for all the great exertions of self-command are a certain:
    • intrepidity,
    • firmness of nerves, and
    • hardiness of constitution, whether natural or acquired.


6.3.20. War and faction are certainly the best:

  • schools for forming every man to this hardiness and firmness of temper, and
  • remedies for curing him of the opposite weaknesses.

Yet the consequences might not be agreeable if the day of trial comes before:

  • he has completely learned his lesson
  • the remedy has had time to produce its proper effect

6.3.21. In the same way, our sensibility to the pleasures, amusements, and enjoyments of human life may offend by its:

  • excess, or
  • defect

Of the two, however, the excess seems less disagreeable than the defect.

  • To the spectator and to the person principally concerned, a strong propensity to joy is certainly more pleasing than a dull insensibility to the objects of amusement and diversion.
    • We are charmed with:
      • the gaiety of youth
      • the playfulness of childhood
    • But we soon grow weary of the flat and tasteless gravity which frequently accompanies old age.
      • This grave propensity is justly blamed as excessive when it is:
        • it is not restrained by the sense of propriety
        • it is unsuitable to the time, place, age or situation of the person
        • he neglects his interest or duty to indulge it
      • It is as hurtful to the individual and to society.
  • In most of such cases, however, what is chiefly to be found fault with is, not so much the strength of the propensity to joy, as the weakness of the sense of propriety and duty.
  • A young man is disliked as formal and pedantic if he
    • has no relish for the diversions and amusements that are natural and suitable to his age
    • talks of nothing but his book or his business
  • We give him no credit for his abstinence even from improper indulgences, to which he seems to have so little inclination.


6.3.22. The principle of self-estimation may be too high, and it may likewise be too low.

  • It is so very agreeable to think highly or meanly of ourselves.
    • To the person himself, some excess must be less disagreeable than any defect.
  • But to the impartial spectator, things must appear quite differently.
    • To him, the defect must always be less disagreeable than the excess.
    • in our companions, we much more frequently complain of the excess than the defect.
  • When they set themselves before us, their self-estimation mortifies our own.
    • Our own pride and vanity prompt us to accuse them of pride and vanity.
      • We cease to be the impartial spectators of their conduct.
  • However, when the same companions suffer any other man to assume over them a superiority which does not belong to him, we not only blame them.
    • We often despise them as mean-spirited.
  • On the contrary, when they push themselves forward among other people and scramble to a higher elevation, we are often diverted with their conduct, to their merit, even if we may not perfectly approve of it.
    • If there is no envy, we are almost always less displeased with them than if they sunk below their proper station.

6.3.23. There are two standards which we naturally estimate our own merit or judge our own character and conduct.

  1. Our individual idea of exact propriety and perfection
  2. That degree of approximation to this idea commonly attained in the world
    • Most of our friends, companions, rivals, and competitors, may have actually arrived at this perfection.
  • I think we never attempt to judge of ourselves without giving more or less attention to these different standards.
  • But the attention of different men, and even of the same man at different times, is often very unequally divided between them.
    • It is sometimes principally directed towards the one, and sometimes towards the other.

6.3.24. The wisest and best of us can only see weakness and imperfection in his own character and conduct, as long as our attention is directed towards perfect propriety.

  • We can discover:
    • no ground for arrogance and presumption
    • a great deal for humility, regret and repentance
  • We may be affected in the one way or in the other, as long as our attention is directed towards common propriety.
    • We feel ourselves really above or below the standard to which we compare ourselves.


6.3.25. The wise and virtuous man directs his principal attention to exact propriety and perfection.

  • This idea exists in every man’s mind.
    • It is gradually formed from his observations on the character and conduct of himself and other people.
    • It is the slow, gradual, and progressive work of the great demigod within the breast, the great judge and arbiter of conduct.
    • In every man, this idea is more or less accurately drawn.
      • Its colouring is more or less just.
      • Its outlines are more or less exactly designed according to the delicacy and acuteness of that sensibility.
        • That sensibility makes those observations according to the care and attention employed in making them.
  • In the wise and virtuous man, they have been made with the most acute and delicate sensibility.
    • The utmost care and attention have been employed in making them.
  • Everyday some feature is improved.
    • Everyday some blemish is corrected.
  • He has studied this idea more than other people.
    • He comprehends it more distinctly.
    • He has formed a much more correct image of it.
      • It is much more deeply enamoured of its exquisite and divine beauty.
    • He endeavours as well as he can, to assimilate his own character to this archetype of perfection.
      • But he imitates the work of a divine artist, which can never be equalled.
    • He feels the imperfect success of all his best endeavours.
      • He sees, with grief and affliction, in how many different features the mortal copy falls short of the immortal original.
  • He remembers, with concern and humilation, how often he has violated the exact rules of perfect propriety in words and actions and in conduct and conversation from his:
    • lack of attention,
    • lack of judgment, and
    • lack of temper.
  • He has so far departed from that model he wished to fashion his own character and conduct.
  • When he directs his attention towards the second standard or the excellence which his friends have commonly arrived at, he may be sensible of his own superiority.
    • But as his principal attention is always directed towards perfect propriety, he is necessarily much more humbled by the one comparison, than he ever can be elevated by the other.
      • He is never so elated as to look down insolently on those below him.
      • He feels his own imperfection so well.
      • He knows so well the difficulty he attained in his rectitude, that he cannot regard other people’s greater imperfection with contempt.
        • Far from insulting over their inferiority, he views it with the most indulgent commiseration.
        • By his advice and example, he is at all times willing to promote their further advancement.
  • If, in any particular qualification, they happen to be superior to him (for who is so perfect as not to have many superiors in many different qualifications?), far from envying their superiority, he, who knows how difficult it is to excel, esteems and honours their excellence, and never fails to bestow upon it the full measure of applause which it deserves.
  • In short, his whole mind is deeply impressed.
    • His whole behaviour and deportment are distinctly stamped with the character of real modesty.
      • Real modesty is the very moderate estimation of one’s own merit and a full sense of other people’s merit.


6.3.26. The liberal and ingenious arts are painting, poetry,  music, eloquence, and philosophy.

  • The great artist in those arts always feels the real imperfection of his own best works.
    • He is more sensible than any man how much they fall short of his concept of the ideal perfection.
      • He imitates that ideal as well as he can.
      • But he despairs of ever equaling it.
  • Only the inferior artist is ever perfectly satisfied with his own performances.
    • He has little conception of this ideal perfection.
      • He has only thought about this ideal a little.
    • He compares his own works chiefly to the works of other artists of, perhaps, a lower order.



Nicolas Boileau

Boileau was a great French poet.

  • In some of his works, he is perhaps not inferior to the greatest ancient or modern poets.
  • He used to say that no great man was ever completely satisfied with his own works.
  • His acquaintance Santeuil was a writer of Latin verses, which was a schoolboy accomplishment.
    • Because of his accomplishment, he had the weakness to fancy himself a poet.
    • He assured Boileau that he himself was always completely satisfied with his own works.
    • Boileau replied with an arch ambiguity, that Santeuil certainly was the only great man that ever was so.
  • Boileau compared his own works with the standard of ideal perfection.
    • In the poetic art, I presume that he had meditated as deeply and conceived as distinctly, as it is possible for man to conceive it.
  • Santeuil compared his own works chiefly to the works of the other Latin poets of his own time.
    • Most of those other poets were not so much superior to him.

But to support a whole life’s conduct and conversation to some ideal perfection is much more difficult than to create perfection in the ingenious arts.

  • The artist sits down to his work undisturbed, at leisure, with all his skills, experience, and knowledge.
  • The wise man:
    • must support the propriety of his own conduct:
      • in health and in sickness,
      • in success and in disappointment,
      • in the hour of fatigue and drowsy indolence, and
      • in the hour of the most awakened attention.
    • must never:
      • be surprised by the most sudden and unexpected assaults of difficulty and distress,
      • be provoke to injustice by the injustice of other people,
      • be confounded by the violence of faction, nor
      • be disheartened or appalled by all the hardships and hazards of war.


6.3.27. Some people direct most of their attention to the second standard.

  • The second standard is the ordinary degree of excellence commonly attained by other people when they estimate their own merit.
    • Some of them really and justly feel themselves very much above the common standard.
    • They are acknowledged to be so by every intelligent and impartial spectator.

However, their attention is always principally directed to ordinary perfection, not to the ideal perfection.

  • They thus have little:
    • sense of their own weaknesses and imperfections, and
    • little modesty.
  • They are often:
    • assuming, arrogant, and presumptuous,
    • great admirers of themselves, and
    • great haters of other people.
  • Their characters are generally much less correct.
    • Their merit is much inferior to the merit of the man of real and modest virtue.
    • Their excessive presumption is founded on their own excessive self-admiration.
      • Yet it dazzles the multitude.
      • It often imposes even on those who are much superior to the multitude.

The frequent, and often wonderful, success of the most ignorant civil and religious quacks and imposters, demonstrate how easily the multitude are imposed on by the most extravagant and groundless pretensions.

  • But even the man of sober judgment often abandons himself to the general admiration when those pretensions are:
    • supported by real and solid merit,
    • displayed with all the splendour of ostentation,
    • supported by high rank and great power,
    • are often successfully exerted, and
    • attended by the loud acclamations of the multitude.
      • The very noise of those foolish acclamations often confounds his understanding.
      • While he sees those great men from afar, he often worships them with a sincere admiration, superior even to that which they worship themselves with.
  • When there is no envy in the case, we all take pleasure in admiring.
    • We naturally render their characters perfect in our fancies, so very worthy of admiration.
  • The excessive self-admiration of those great men is well understood.
    • It is perhaps even seen through with some derision by those wise men who:
      • are familiar with them, and
      • secretly smile at those lofty pretensions which are revered and almost adored by people from afar.
  • In all ages, such have been the majority of those men who have procured to themselves:
    • the noisiest fame, and
    • the most extensive reputation.
      • These fame and reputation, too, have often descended to the remotest posterity.


6.3.28. The following have very seldom been acquired without some of this excessive self-admiration:

  • Great success in the world
  • Great authority over mankind’s sentiments and opinions.


Many of the following have been more distinguished for their degree of presumption and self-admiration than their very great merit:

  • the most splendid characters,
  • the men who have:
    • performed the most illustrious actions,
    • brought about the greatest revolutions in mankind’s situations and opinions,
  • the most successful warriors,
  • the greatest statesmen and legislators, and
  • the eloquent founders and leaders of the most popular and successful sects and parties.

Perhaps this presumption was necessary to prompt them:

  • to undertakings which a more sober mind would never have thought of, and
  • to command the submission and obedience of their followers to support them in such undertakings

When crowned with success, this presumption has often betrayed them into a vanity that approached insanity and folly.

  • Alexander the Great appears to have:
    • wished that other people should think him a God, and
    • at least very well disposed to fancy himself as a God.
  • His death-bed was the most ungodlike of all situations.
    • On it, he requested his friends that his old mother Olympia might also be added to the respectable list of Deities.
      • He himself was inserted into that list long before.




Socrates did not fancy himself a God.

  • The oracle probably followed the voice of the public applause.
    • It pronounced Socrates the wisest of men amidst the:
      • respectful admiration of his followers and disciples, and
      • universal public applause.
  • Yet Socrates was not great enough to hinder himself from imagining that he had secret and frequent intimations from some invisible and divine Being.

Caesar’s head was not so perfectly sound as to hinder him from being much pleased with his divine genealogy from Venus.

  • He pretended Venus to be his great-grandmother.
  • Before the temple of Venus, he received the Roman Senate without rising from his seat.
    • The Senate came to confer to him the most extravagant honours.
  • This insolence, joined to some other acts of an almost childish vanity, seems to have:
    • exasperated the public jealousy, and
    • emboldened his assassins.
      • It hastened the execution of their conspiracy.
  • His vanity is not expected from a person with a very acute and comprehensive understanding.

The religion and manners of modern times give our great men little encouragement to fancy themselves as Gods or even Prophets.

  • However, success, joined to great popular favour, has often turned the heads of the greatest of them.
    • It has made them ascribe to themselves an importance and ability much beyond what they really possessed.
      • This presumption led them to precipitate themselves into many rash and sometimes ruinous adventures.



John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough

It is a characteristic almost peculiar to the great Duke of Marlborough.

  • He had 10 years of uninterrupted and splendid success that no other general could boast of.
  • His successes never betrayed him into:
    • a single rash action, nor
    • a single rash word or expression.
  • I think the same temperate coolness and self-command cannot be ascribed to any other great warrior of later times.
    • It cannot be ascribed to Prince Eugene, the late King of Prussia, the great Prince of Conde, not even to Gustavus Adolphus.
    • Turrenne seems to have approached the nearest to it.
      • But several transactions of his life demonstrate that it was not as perfect in him as in the great Duke of Marlborough.


6.3.29. In the beginning, great abilities and successful enterprise have frequently encouraged undertakings leading to bankruptcy and ruin in:

  • the humble project of private life, and
  • the ambitious and proud pursuit of high stations.


6.3.30. Every impartial spectator admires the real merit of those spirited, magnanimous, and high-minded persons.

  • It is a just, well-founded, steady, and permanent sentiment.
    • It is independent of their good or bad fortune.

It is otherwise with the impartial spectator’s admiration for those persons’ excessive self-estimation and presumption.

  • He is often perfectly conquered and overborne by them while they are successful.
    • Success hides their enterprises’:
      • great imprudence, and
      • great injustice, frequently.
    • He often admires this defective part of their character instead of blaming it.
  • When they are unfortunate, things change their colours and names.
    • What before was heroic magnanimity, becomes extravagant rashness and folly.
    • The blackness of that avidity and injustice, which was before hidden under the splendour of prosperity, comes full into view.
      • It blots the whole lustre of their enterprise.

Had Caesar lost the battle of Pharsalia, his character would have been ranked a little above Catiline’s character.

  • The weakest man would have viewed Caesar’s enterprise against his country in blacker colours than perhaps even Cato viewed it then, with all the animosity of a party-man.
  • Catiline had many great qualities.
  • The following abilities of Caesar would all have been acknowledged in the same way that Catiline’s real merit is acknowledged today:
    • his real merit,
    • the justness of his taste,
    • the simplicity and elegance of his writings,
    • the propriety of his eloquence,
    • his skill in war,
    • his resources in distress,
    • his cool and sedate judgment in danger,
    • his faithful attachment to his friends, and
    • his unexampled generosity to his enemies.
  • But the insolence and injustice of his all-grasping ambition would have darkened the glory of all that real merit.
  • Fortune has great influence over mankind’s moral sentiments.
    • It can render the same character the object of general love or of universal hatred, as fortune is favourable or adverse.
  • This great disorder in our moral sentiments is not useless.
    • We admire God’s wisdom even in the weakness and folly of man.
  • Our admiration of success is founded on the same principle with our respect for wealth and greatness.
    • It is equally necessary for establishing the distinction of ranks and the order of society.
  • By this admiration of success we are taught:
    • to submit more easily to those superiors assigned to us by the course of human affairs,
    • to revere and respect that fortunate violence which we can no longer resist from:
      • the splendid characters such as those of a Caesar or Alexander, or
      • the most brutal and savage barbarians, of an Attila, Gengis, or Tamerlane.
  • To all such mighty conquerors, the great mob of mankind are naturally disposed to look up with a wondering but very weak and foolish admiration.
    • By this admiration, they are taught to acquiesce less reluctantly under that government:
      • imposed on them by an irresistible force, and
      • from which no reluctance could deliver them.

Words: 6,550

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