Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online
OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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ON COURAGE AND ACTIVITY.
Are courage and strength of body and mind virtues in the law of
Yes, and most important virtues; for they are the efficacious
and indispensable means of attending to our preservation and
welfare. The courageous and strong man repulses oppression,
defends his life, his liberty, and his property; by his labor he
procures himself an abundant subsistence, which he enjoys in
tranquillity and peace of mind. If he falls into misfortunes, from
which his prudence could not protect him, he supports them with
fortitude and resignation; and it is for this reason that the
ancient moralists have reckoned strength and courage among the four
Should weakness and cowardice be considered as vices?
Yes, since it is certain that they produce innumerable
calamities. The weak or cowardly man lives in perpetual cares and
agonies; he undermines his health by the dread, oftentimes ill
founded, of attacks and dangers: and this dread which is an evil,
is not a remedy; it renders him, on the contrary, the slave of him
who wishes to oppress him; and by the servitude and debasement of
all his faculties, it degrades and diminishes his means of
existence, so far as the seeing his life depend on the will and
caprice of another man.
But, after what you have said on the influence of aliments, are
not courage and force, as well as many other virtues, in a great
measure the effect of our physical constitution and temperament?
Yes, it is true; and so far, that those qualities are
transmitted by generation and blood, with the elements on which
they depend: the most reiterated and constant facts prove that in
the breed of animals of every kind, we see certain physical and
moral qualities, attached to the individuals of those species,
increase or decay according to the combinations and mixtures they
make with other breeds.
But, then, as our will is not sufficient to procure us those
qualities, is it a crime to be destitute of them?
No, it is not a crime, but a misfortune; it is what the
ancients call an unlucky fatality; but even then we have it yet in
our power to acquire them; for, as soon as we know on what physical
elements such or such a quality is founded, we can promote its
growth, and hasten its developments, by a skillful management of
those elements; and in this consists the science of education,
which, according as it is directed, meliorates or degrades
individuals, or the whole race, to such a pitch as totally to
change their nature and inclinations; for which reason it is of the
greatest importance to be acquainted with the laws of nature by
which those operations and changes are certainly and necessarily
Why do you say that activity is a virtue according to the law
Because the man who works and employs his time usefully,
derives from it a thousand precious advantages to his existence.
If he is born poor, his labor furnishes him with subsistence; and
still more so, if he is sober, continent, and prudent, for he soon
acquires a competency, and enjoys the sweets of life; his very
labor gives him virtues; for, while he occupies his body and mind,
he is not affected with unruly desires, time does not lie heavy on
him, he contracts mild habits, he augments his strength and health,
and attains a peaceful and happy old age.
Are idleness and sloth vices in the law of nature?
Yes, and the most pernicious of all vices, for they lead to all
the others. By idleness and sloth man remains ignorant, he forgets
even the science he had acquired, and falls into all the
misfortunes which accompany ignorance and folly; by idleness and
sloth man, devoured with disquietude, in order to dissipate it,
abandons himself to all the desires of his senses, which, becoming
every day more inordinate, render him intemperate, gluttonous,
lascivious, enervated, cowardly, vile, and contemptible. By the
certain effect of all those vices, he ruins his fortune, consumes
his health, and terminates his life in all the agonies of sickness
and of poverty.
From what you say, one would think that poverty was a vice?
No, it is not a vice; but it is still less a virtue, for it is
by far more ready to injure than to be useful; it is even commonly
the result, or the beginning of vice, for the effect of all
individual vices is to lead to indigence, and to the privation of
the necessaries of life; and when a man is in want of necessaries,
he is tempted to procure them by vicious means, that is to say, by
means injurious to society. All the individual virtues tend, on
the contrary, to procure to a man an abundant subsistence; and when
he has more than he can consume, it is much easier for him to give
to others, and to practice the actions useful to society.
Do you look upon opulence as a virtue?
No; but still less as a vice: it is the use alone of wealth
that can be called virtuous or vicious, according as it is
serviceable or prejudicial to man and to society. Wealth is an
instrument, the use and employment alone of which determine its
virtue or vice.