Nature does nothing in vain: the Creator of the Universe has appointed every thing to a certain Use and Purpose, and determin'd it to a settled Course and Sphere of Action, from which, if it in the least deviates, it becomes unfit to answer those Ends for which it was designed. In like manner it is in the Dispositions of Society, the civil Oeconomy is formed in a Chain as well as the natural; and in either Case the Breach but of one Link puts the Whole into some Disorder. It is, I think, pretty plain, that most of the Absurdity and Ridicule we meet with in the World, is generally owing to the impertinent Affectation of excelling in Characters Men are not fit for, and for which Nature never designed them.
Every Man has one or more Qualities which may make him useful both to himself and others: Nature never fails of pointing them out, and while the Infant continues under her Guardianship, she brings him on in this Way; and then offers her self for a Guide in what remains of the Journey; if he proceeds in that Course, he can hardly miscarry: Nature makes good her Engagements; for as she never promises what she is not able to perform, so she never fails of performing what she promises. But the Misfortune is, Men despise what they may be Masters of, and affect what they are not fit for; they reckon themselves already possessed of what their Genius inclined them to, and so bend all their Ambition to excel in what is out of their Reach: Thus they destroy the Use of their natural Talents, in the same manner as covetous Men do their Quiet and Repose; they can enjoy no Satisfaction in what they have, because of the absurd Inclination they are possessed with for what they have not.
Cleanthes had good Sense, a great Memory, and a Constitution capable of the closest Application: In a Word, there was no Profession in which Cleanthes might not have made a very good Figure; but this won't satisfie him, he takes up an unaccountable Fondness for the Character of a fine Gentleman; all his Thoughts are bent upon this: instead of attending a Dissection, frequenting the Courts of Justice, or studying the Fathers, Cleanthes reads Plays, dances, dresses, and spends his Time in drawing-rooms; instead of being a good Lawyer, Divine, or Physician, Cleanthes is a downright Coxcomb, and will remain to all that knew him a contemptible Example of Talents misapplied. It is to this Affectation the World owes its whole Race of Coxcombs: Nature in her whole Drama never drew such a Part: she has sometimes made a Fool, but a Coxcomb is always of a Man's own making, by applying his Talents otherwise than Nature designed, who ever bears an high Resentment for being put out of her Course, and never fails of taking her Revenge on those that do so. Opposing her Tendency in the Application of a Man's Parts, has the same Success as declining from her Course in the Production of Vegetables; by the Assistance of Art and an hot Bed, we may possibly extort an unwilling Plant, or an untimely Sallad; but how weak, how tasteless and insipid? Just as insipid as the Poetry of Valerio: Valerio had an universal Character, was genteel, had Learning, thought justly, spoke correctly; 'twas believed there was nothing in which Valerio did not excel; and 'twas so far true, that there was but one; Valerio had no Genius for Poetry, yet he's resolved to be a Poet; he writes Verses, and takes great Pains to convince the Town, that Valerio is not that extraordinary Person he was taken for.
If Men would be content to graft upon Nature, and assist her Operations, what mighty Effects might we expect? Tully would not stand so much alone in Oratory, Virgil in Poetry, or Cæsar in War. To build upon Nature, is laying the Foundation upon a Rock; every thing disposes its self into Order as it were of Course, and the whole Work is half done as soon as undertaken. Cicero's Genius inclined him to Oratory, Virgil's to follow the Train of the Muses; they piously obeyed the Admonition, and were rewarded. Had Virgil attended the Bar, his modest and ingenious Virtue would surely have made but a very indifferent Figure; and Tully's declamatory Inclination would have been as useless in Poetry. Nature, if left to her self, leads us on in the best Course, but will do nothing by Compulsion and Constraint; and if we are not satisfied to go her Way, we are always the greatest Sufferers by it.
Wherever Nature designs a Production, she always disposes Seeds proper for it, which are as absolutely necessary to the Formation of any moral or intellectual Excellence, as they are to the Being and Growth of Plants; and I know not by what Fate and Folly it is, that Men are taught not to reckon him equally absurd that will write Verses in Spite of Nature, with that Gardener that should undertake to raise a Jonquil or Tulip without the Help of their respective Seeds.
As there is no Good or bad Quality that does not affect both Sexes, so it is not to be imagined but the fair Sex must have suffered by an Affectation of this Nature, at least as much as the other: The ill Effect of it is in none so conspicuous as in the two opposite Characters of Cælia and Iras; Cælia has all the Charms of Person, together with an abundant Sweetness of Nature, but wants Wit, and has a very ill Voice; Iras is ugly and ungenteel, but has Wit and good Sense: If Cælia would be silent, her Beholders would adore her; if Iras would talk, her Hearers would admire her; but Cælia's Tongue runs incessantly, while Iras gives her self silent Airs and soft Languors; so that 'tis difficult to persuade one's self that Cælia has Beauty and Iras Wit: Each neglects her own Excellence, and is ambitious of the other's Character; Iras would be thought to have as much Beauty as Cælia, and Cælia as much Wit as Iras.
The great Misfortune of this Affectation is, that Men not only lose a good Quality, but also contract a bad one: They not only are unfit for what they were designed, but they assign themselves to what they are not fit for; and instead of making a very good Figure one Way, make a very ridiculous one another. If Semanthe would have been satisfied with her natural Complexion, she might still have been celebrated by the Name of the Olive Beauty; but Semanthe has taken up an Affectation to White and Red, and is now distinguished by the Character of the Lady that paints so well. In a word, could the World be reformed to the Obedience of that famed Dictate, Follow Nature, which the Oracle of Delphos pronounced to Cicero when he consulted what Course of Studies he should pursue, we should see almost every Man as eminent in his proper Sphere as Tully was in his, and should in a very short time find Impertinence and Affectation banished from among the Women, and Coxcombs and false Characters from among the Men. For my Part, I could never consider this preposterous Repugnancy to Nature any otherwise, than not only as the greatest Folly, but also one of the most heinous Crimes, since it is a direct Opposition to the Disposition of Providence, and (as Tully expresses it) like the Sin of the Giants, an actual Rebellion against Heaven.
Continuo has leges æternaque foedera certis Imposuit natura locis.
Virg.]Translation of motto: