It is the Work of a Philosopher to be every Day subduing his Passions, and laying aside his Prejudices. I endeavour at least to look upon Men and their Actions only as an impartial Spectator, without any regard to them as they happen to advance or cross my own private Interest. But while I am thus employed my self, I cannot help observing, how those about me suffer themselves to be blinded by Prejudice and Inclination, how readily they pronounce on every Man's Character, which they can give in two Words, and make him either good for nothing, or qualified for every thing. On the contrary, those who search thoroughly into humane Nature, will find it much more difficult to determine the Value of their Fellow-Creatures, and that Mens Characters are not thus to be given in general Words. There is indeed no such thing as a Person entirely good or bad; Virtue and Vice are blended and mixed together, in a greater or less Proportion, in every one; and if you would search for some particular good Quality in its most eminent Degree of Perfection, you will often find it in a Mind, where it is darkned and eclipsed by an hundred other irregular Passions.
Men have either no Character at all, says a celebrated Author, or it is that of being inconsistent with themselves. They find it easier to join Extremities, than to be uniform and of a Piece. This is finely illustrated in Xenophon's Life of Cyrus the Great. That Author tells us, that Cyrus having taken a most beautiful Lady named Panthea, the Wife of Abradatas, committed her to the Custody of Araspas, a young Persian Nobleman, who had a little before maintain'd in Discourse, that a Mind truly virtuous was incapable of entertaining an unlawful Passion. The young Gentleman had not long been in Possession of his fair Captive, when a Complaint was made to Cyrus, that he not only sollicited the Lady Panthea to receive him in the Room of her absent Husband, but that finding his Entreaties had no Effect, he was preparing to make use of Force. Cyrus, who loved the young Man, immediately sent for him, and in a gentle Manner representing to him his Fault, and putting him in Mind of his former Assertion, the unhappy Youth, confounded with a quick Sense of his Guilt and Shame, burst out into a Flood of Tears, and spoke as follows.
Oh Cyrus, I am convinced that I hare two Souls. Love has taught me this Piece of Philosophy. If I had but one Soul, it could not at the same time pant after Virtue and Vice, wish and abhor the same thing. It is certain therefore we have two Souls: When the good Soul rules, I undertake noble and virtuous Actions; but when the bad Soul predominates, I am forced to do Evil. All I can say at present is, that I find my good Soul, encouraged by your Presence, has got the Better of my bad.
I know not whether my Readers will allow of this Piece of Philosophy; but if they will not, they must confess we meet with as different Passions in one and the same Soul, as can be supposed in two. We can hardly read the Life of a great Man who lived in former Ages, or converse with any who is eminent among our Contemporaries, that is not an Instance of what I am saying.
But as I have hitherto only argued against the Partiality and Injustice of giving our Judgment upon Men in gross, who are such a Composition of Virtues and Vices, of Good and Evil; I might carry this Reflection still farther, and make it extend to most of their Actions. If on the one Hand, we fairly weighed every Circumstance, we should frequently find them obliged to do that Action we at first sight condemn, in order to avoid another we should have been much more displeased with. If on the other Hand we nicely examined such Actions as appear most dazzling to the Eye, we should find most of them either deficient and lame in several Parts, produced by a bad Ambition, or directed to an ill End. The very same Action may sometimes be so oddly circumstanced, that it is difficult to determine whether it ought to be rewarded or punish'd. Those who compiled the Laws of England were so sensible of this, that they have laid it down as one of their first Maxims, It is better suffering a Mischief than an Inconvenience; which is as much as to say in other Words, That since no Law can take in or provide for all Cases, it is better private Men should have some Injustice done them, than that a public Grievance should not be redressed. This is usually pleaded in Defence of all those Hardships which fall on particular Persons in particular Occasions, which could not be foreseen when a Law was made. To remedy this however as much as possible, the Court of Chancery was erected, which frequently mitigates and breaks the Teeth of the Common Law, in Cases of Men's Properties, while in Criminal Cases there is a Power of pardoning still lodged in the Crown.
Notwithstanding this, it is perhaps impossible in a large Government to distribute Rewards and Punishments strictly proportioned to the Merits of every Action. The Spartan Commonwealth was indeed wonderfully exact in this Particular; and I do not remember in all my Reading to have met with so nice an Example of Justice as that recorded by Plutarch, with which I shall close my Paper for this Day.
The City of Sparta being unexpectedly attacked by a powerful Army of Thebans, was in very great Danger of falling into the Hands of their Enemies. The Citizens suddenly gathering themselves into a Body, fought with a Resolution equal to the Necessity of their Affairs, yet no one so remarkably distinguished himself on this Occasion, to the Amazement of both Armies, as Isadas the Son of Phoebidas, who was at that time in the Bloom of his Youth, and very remarkable for the Comeliness of his Person. He was coming out of the Bath when the Alarm was given, so that he had not time to put on his Cloaths, much less his Armour; however transported with a Desire to serve his Country in so great an Exigency, snatching up a Spear in one Hand, and a Sword in the other, he flung himself into the thickest Ranks of his Enemies. Nothing could withstand his Fury: in what Part soever he fought he put the Enemies to Flight without receiving a single Wound. Whether, says Plutarch, he was the particular Care of some God, who rewarded his Valour that Day with an extraordinary Protection, or, that his Enemies, struck with the Unusualness of his Dress, and Beauty of his Shape, supposed him something more than Man, I shall not determine.
The Gallantry of this Action was judged so great by the Spartans, that the Ephori, or chief Magistrates, decreed he should be presented with a Garland; but as soon as they had done so, fined him a thousand Drachmas for going out to the Battle unarmed.Translation of motto: