I have often wondered that the Jews should contrive such a worthless Greatness for the Deliverer whom they expected, as to dress him up in external Pomp and Pageantry, and represent him to their Imagination, as making Havock amongst his Creatures, and acted with the poor Ambition of a Cásar or an Alexander. How much more illustrious doth he appear in his real Character, when considered as the Author of universal Benevolence among Men, as refining our Passions, exalting our Nature, giving us vast Ideas of Immortality, and teaching us a Contempt of that little showy Grandeur, wherein the Jews made the Glory of their Messiah to consist!
Nothing (says Longinus) can be Great, the Contempt of which is Great. The Possession of Wealth and Riches cannot give a Man a Title to Greatness, because it is looked upon as a Greatness of Mind, to contemn these Gifts of Fortune, and to be above the Desire of them. I have therefore been inclined to think, that there are greater Men who lie concealed among the Species, than those who come out, and draw upon themselves the Eyes and Admiration of Mankind. Virgil would never have been heard of, had not his Domestick Misfortunes driven him out of his Obscurity, and brought him to Rome.
If we suppose that there are Spirits or Angels who look into the Ways of Men, as it is highly probable there are, both from Reason and Revelation; how different are the Notions which they entertain of us, from those which we are apt to form of one another? Were they to give us in their Catalogue of such Worthies as are now living, how different would it be from that, which any of our own Species would draw up?
We are dazled with the Splendour of Titles, the Ostentation of Learning, the Noise of Victories; They, on the contrary, see the Philosopher in the Cottage, who possesses his Soul in Patience and Thankfulness, under the Pressure of what little Minds call Poverty and Distress. They do not look for great Men at the Head of Armies, or among the Pomps of a Court, but often find them out in Shades and Solitudes, in the private Walks and By-paths of Life. The Evening's Walk of a wise Man is more illustrious in their Sight, than the March of a General at the Head of a hundred thousand Men. A Contemplation of God's Works; a voluntary Act of Justice to our own Detriment; a generous Concern for the Good of Mankind; Tears that are shed in Silence for the Misery of others; a private Desire or Resentment broken and subdued; in short, an unfeigned Exercise of Humility, or any other Virtue; are such Actions as are glorious in their Sight, and denominate Men great and reputable. The most famous among us are often looked upon with Pity, with Contempt, or with Indignation; while those who are most obscure among their own Species, are regarded with Love, with Approbation and Esteem.
The Moral of the present Speculation amounts to this, That we should not be led away by the Censures and Applauses of Men, but consider the Figure that every Person will make, at that Time when Wisdom shall be justified of her Children, and nothing pass for Great or Illustrious, which is not an Ornament and Perfection to humane Nature.
The Story of Gyges the rich Lydian Monarch, is a memorable Instance to our present Purpose. The Oracle being asked by Gyges, who was the happiest Man, replied AglaÅ¾s. Gyges, who expected to have heard himself named on this Occasion, was much surprized, and very curious to know who this AglaÅ¾s should be. After much Enquiry he was found to be an obscure Countryman, who employ'd all his Time in cultivating a Garden, and a few Acres of Land about his House.
Cowley's agreeable Relation of this Story shall close this Day's Speculation.
'Thus_ AglaÅ¾s (a Man unknown to Men, But the Gods knew, and therefore lov'd him then) Thus liv'd obscurely then without a Name, AglaÅ¾s, now consign'd t' eternal Fame. For _Gyges, the rich King, wicked and great, Presum'd at wise_ Apollo's Delphick_ Seat, Presum'd to ask, Oh thou, the whole World's Eye, See'st thou a Man that happier is than I? The God, who scorned to flatter Man, reply'd, AglaÅ¾s _happier is. But _Gyges cry'd, In a proud Rage, Who can that_ AglaÅ¾s_ be? We've heard as yet of no such King as he. And true it was, through the whole Earth around, No King of such a Name was to be found. Is some old Hero of that Name alive, Who his high Race does from the Gods derive? Is it some mighty Gen'ral, that has done Wonders in Fight, and God-like Honours won? Is it some Man of endless Wealth? said he: None, none of these; who can this AglaÅ¾s be? After long Search, and vain Enquiries past, In an obscure_ Arcadian Vale at last, (Th' Arcadian Life has always shady been) Near Sopho's Town (which he but once had seen) This AglaÅ¾s, who Monarchs Envy drew, Whose Happiness the Gods stood Witness to, This mighty AglaÅ¾s _was lab'ring found, With his own Hands, in his own little Ground.
So, gracious God, (if it may lawful be, Among those foolish Gods to mention thee) So let me act, on such a private Stage, The last dull Scenes of my declining Age; After long Toils and Voyages in vain, This quiet Port let my toss'd Vessel gain; Of heav'nly Rest, this Earnest to me lend, Let my Life sleep, and learn to love her End.'Translation of motto: