Part 14 Icon

August 1, 2022

XXII. (1) Now, therefore, that we have spoken of this fruit of life, it remaineth to speak of the husbandry that belongeth thereunto, without which part the former seemeth to be no better than a fair image or statue, which is beautiful to contemplate, but is without life and motion; whereunto Aristotle himself subscribeth in these words: Necesse est scilicet de virtute dicere, et quid sit, et ex quibus gignatur. Inutile enum fere fuerit virtutem quidem nosse, acquirendæ autem ejus modos et vias ignorare.

Cicero commended Cato the second, that he had applied himself to philosophy, Non ita disputandi causa, sed ita vivendi.

And although the neglect of our times, wherein few men do hold any consultations touching the reformation of their life (as Seneca excellently saith, De partibus vitæ quisque deliberat, de summa nemo), may make this part seem superfluous; yet I must conclude with that aphorism of Hippocrates, Qui gravi morbo correpti dolores non sentiunt, iis mens ægrotat. They need medicine, not only to assuage the disease, but to awake the sense.

The cure of men’s minds belongs to sacred divinity.

But yet moral philosophy may be preferred unto her as a wise servant and humble handmaid. For as the Psalm saith, “That the eyes of the handmaid look perpetually towards the mistress,”

Yet many things are left to the discretion of the handmaid to discern of the mistress’ will; so ought moral philosophy to give a constant attention to the doctrines of divinity, and yet so as it may yield of herself (within due limits) many sound and profitable directions.


This part, therefore, because of the excellency thereof, I cannot but find exceeding strange that it is not reduced to written inquiry; the rather, because it consisteth of much matter, wherein both speech and action is often conversant; and such wherein the common talk of men (which is rare, but yet cometh sometimes to pass) is wiser than their books.

It is reasonable, therefore, that we propound it in the more particularity, both for the worthiness, and because we may acquit ourselves for reporting it deficient, which seemeth almost incredible, and is otherwise conceived and presupposed by those themselves that have written. We will, therefore, enumerate some heads or points thereof, that it may appear the better what it is, and whether it be extant.

(3) First, therefore, in this, as in all things which are practical we ought to cast up our account, what is in our power, and what not; for the one may be dealt with by way of alteration, but the other by way of application only. The husbandman cannot command neither the nature of the earth nor the seasons of the weather; no more can the physician the constitution of the patient nor the variety of accidents. So in the culture and cure of the mind of man, two things are without our command: points of Nature, and points of fortune. For to the basis of the one, and the conditions of the other, our work is limited and tied. In these things, therefore, it is left unto us to proceed by application:—

“Vincenda est omnis fertuna ferendo:”

and so likewise,

“Vincenda est omnis Natura ferendo.”

But when that we speak of suffering, we do not speak of a dull and neglected suffering, but of a wise and industrious suffering, which draweth and contriveth use and advantage out of that which seemeth adverse and contrary; which is that properly which we call accommodating or applying. Now the wisdom of application resteth principally in the exact and distinct knowledge of the precedent state or disposition, unto which we do apply; for we cannot fit a garment except we first take measure of the body.

(4) So, then, the first article of this knowledge is to set down sound and true distributions and descriptions of the several characters and tempers of men’s natures and dispositions, specially having regard to those differences which are most radical in being the fountains and causes of the rest, or most frequent in concurrence or commixture; wherein it is not the handling of a few of them in passage, the better to describe the mediocrities of virtues, that can satisfy this intention. For if it deserve to be considered, that there are minds which are proportioned to great matters, and others to small (which Aristotle handleth, or ought to have bandied, by the name of magnanimity), doth it not deserve as well to be considered that there are minds proportioned to intend many matters, and others to few? So that some can divide themselves: others can perchance do exactly well, but it must be but in few things at once; and so there cometh to be a narrowness of mind, as well as a pusillanimity. And again, that some minds are proportioned to that which may be dispatched at once, or within a short return of time; others to that which begins afar off, and is to be won with length of pursuit:—

“Jam tum tenditqus fovetque.”

So that there may be fitly said to be a longanimity, which is commonly also ascribed to God as a magnanimity. So further deserved it to be considered by Aristotle, “That there is a disposition in conversation (supposing it in things which do in no sort touch or concern a man’s self) to soothe and please, and a disposition contrary to contradict and cross;” and deserveth it not much better to be considered. “That there is a disposition, not in conversation or talk, but in matter of more serious nature (and supposing it still in things merely indifferent), to take pleasure in the good of another; and a disposition contrariwise, to take distaste at the good of another?” which is that properly which we call good nature or ill nature, benignity or malignity; and, therefore, I cannot sufficiently marvel that this part of knowledge, touching the several characters of natures and dispositions, should be omitted both in morality and policy, considering it is of so great ministry and suppeditation to them both.

A man shall find in the traditions of astrology some pretty and apt divisions of men’s natures, according to the predominances of the planets: lovers of quiet, lovers of action, lovers of victory, lovers of honour, lovers of pleasure, lovers of arts, lovers of change, and so forth. A man shall find in the wisest sort of these relations which the Italians make touching conclaves, the natures of the several cardinals handsomely and lively painted forth.

A man shall meet with in every day’s conference the denominations of sensitive, dry, formal, real, humorous, certain, huomo di prima impressione, huomo di ultima impressione, and the like; and yet, nevertheless, this kind of observations wandereth in words, but is not fixed in inquiry. For the distinctions are found (many of them), but we conclude no precepts upon them: wherein our fault is the greater, because both history, poesy, and daily experience are as goodly fields where these observations grow; whereof we make a few posies to hold in our hands, but no man bringeth them to the confectionary that receipts might be made of them for use of life.


Of much like kind are those impressions of Nature, which are imposed upon the mind by the sex, by the age, by the region, by health and sickness, by beauty and deformity, and the like, which are inherent and not extern; and again, those which are caused by extern fortune, as sovereignty, nobility, obscure birth, riches, want, magistracy, privateness, prosperity, adversity, constant fortune, variable fortune, rising per saltum, per gradus, and the like. And, therefore, we see that Plautus maketh it a wonder to see an old man beneficent, benignitas hujis ut adolescentuli est.

Saint Paul concludeth that severity of discipline was to be used to the Cretans, increpa eos dure, upon the disposition of their country, Cretensus semper mendaces, malæ bestiæ, ventres. Sallust noteth that it is usual with kings to desire contradictories: Sed plerumque regiæ voluntates, ut vehementes sunt, sic mobiles, sæpeque ipsæ sibi advers. Tacitus observeth how rarely raising of the fortune mendeth the disposition: solus Vespasianus mutatus in melius.

Pindarus maketh an observation, that great and sudden fortune for the most part defeateth men qui magnam felicitatem concoquere non possunt.

So the Psalm showeth it is more easy to keep a measure in the enjoying of fortune, than in the increase of fortune; Divitiæ si affluant, nolite cor apponere.

These observations and the like I deny not but are touched a little by Aristotle as in passage in his Rhetorics, and are handled in some scattered discourses; but they were never incorporate into moral philosophy, to which they do essentially appertain; as the knowledge of this diversity of grounds and moulds doth to agriculture, and the knowledge of the diversity of complexions and constitutions doth to the physician, except we mean to follow the indiscretion of empirics, which minister the same medicines to all patients.

(6) Another article of this knowledge is the inquiry touching the affections; for as in medicining of the body, it is in order first to know the divers complexions and constitutions; secondly, the diseases; and lastly, the cures: so in medicining of the mind, after knowledge of the divers characters of men’s natures, it followeth in order to know the diseases and infirmities of the mind, which are no other than the perturbations and distempars of the affections.

For as the ancient politiques in popular estates were wont to compare the people to the sea, and the orators to the winds; because as the sea would of itself be calm and quiet, if the winds did not move and trouble it; so the people would be peaceable and tractable if the seditious orators did not set them in working and agitation: so it may be fitly said, that the mind in the nature thereof would be temperate and stayed, if the affections, as winds, did not put it into tumult and perturbation. And here again I find strange, as before, that Aristotle should have written divers volumes of Ethics, and never handled the affections which is the principal subject thereof; and yet in his Rhetorics, where they are considered but collaterally and in a second degree (as they may be moved by speech), he findeth place for them, and handleth them well for the quantity; but where their true place is he pretermitteth them.

For it is not his disputations about pleasure and pain that can satisfy this inquiry, no more than he that should generally handle the nature of light can be said to handle the nature of colours; for pleasure and pain are to the particular affections as light is to particular colours.

Better travails, I suppose, had the Stoics taken in this argument, as far as I can gather by that which we have at second hand. But yet it is like it was after their manner, rather in subtlety of definitions (which in a subject of this nature are but curiosities), than in active and ample descriptions and observations. So likewise I find some particular writings of an elegant nature, touching some of the affections: as of anger, of comfort upon adverse accidents, of tenderness of countenance, and other.

But the poets and writers of histories are the best doctors of this knowledge; where we may find painted forth, with great life, how affections are kindled and incited; and how pacified and refrained; and how again contained from act and further degree; how they disclose themselves; how they work; how they vary; how they gather and fortify: how they are enwrapped one within another; and how they do fight and encounter one with another; and other the like particularities. Amongst the which this last is of special use in moral and civil matters; how, I say, to set affection against affection, and to master one by another; even as we used to hunt beast with beast, and fly bird with bird, which otherwise percase we could not so easily recover: upon which foundation is erected that excellent use of præmium and pæna, whereby civil states consist: employing the predominant affections of fear and hope, for the suppressing and bridling the rest. For as in the government of states it is sometimes necessary to bridle one faction with another, so it is in the government within.

(7) Now come we to those points which are within our own command, and have force and operation upon the mind, to affect the will and appetite, and to alter manners: wherein they ought to have handled custom, exercise, habit, education, example, imitation, emulation, company, friends, praise, reproof, exhortation, fame, laws, books, studies: these as they have determinate use in moralities, from these the mind suffereth, and of these are such receipts and regiments compounded and described, as may serve to recover or preserve the health and good estate of the mind, as far as pertaineth to human medicine: of which number we will insist upon some one or two, as an example of the rest, because it were too long to prosecute all; and therefore we do resume custom and habit to speak of.


Aristotle thinks tht of things which consist by Nature, nothing can be changed by custom. I think Aristotle is negligent in this regard.

For example, he says that:

  • if a stone were thrown 10,000 times up, it will not learn to ascend.
  • frequent seeing or hearing will not make us learn to see or hear better.

This principle is true in things wherein Nature is peremptory. Yet it is otherwise in things wherein Nature admitteth a latitude.

For he might see that a strait glove will come more easily on with use; and that a wand will by use bend otherwise than it grew; and that by use of the voice we speak louder and stronger; and that by use of enduring heat or cold we endure it the better, and the like: which latter sort have a nearer resemblance unto that subject of manners he handleth, than those instances which he allegeth.

But allowing his conclusion, that virtues and vices consist in habit, he ought so much the more to have taught the manner of superinducing that habit: for there be many precepts of the wise ordering the exercises of the mind, as there is of ordering the exercises of the body, whereof we will recite a few.

(9) The first shall be, that we beware we take not at the first either too high a strain or too weak: for if too high, in a diffident nature you discourage, in a confident nature you breed an opinion of facility, and so a sloth; and in all natures you breed a further expectation than can hold out, and so an insatisfaction in the end: if too weak, of the other side, you may not look to perform and overcome any great task.

(10) Another precept is to practise all things chiefly at two several times, the one when the mind is best disposed, the other when it is worst disposed; that by the one you may gain a great step, by the other you may work out the knots and stonds of the mind, and make the middle times the more easy and pleasant.

(11) Another precept is that which Aristotle mentioneth by the way, which is to bear ever towards the contrary extreme of that whereunto we are by nature inclined; like unto the rowing against the stream, or making a wand straight by bending him contrary to his natural crookedness.

(12) Another precept is that the mind is brought to anything better, and with more sweetness and happiness, if that whereunto you pretend be not first in the intention, but tanquam aliud agendo, because of the natural hatred of the mind against necessity and constraint. Many other axioms there are touching the managing of exercise and custom, which being so conducted doth prove indeed another nature; but, being governed by chance, doth commonly prove but an ape of Nature, and bringeth forth that which is lame and counterfeit.

(13) So if we should handle books and studies, and what influence and operation they have upon manners, are there not divers precepts of great caution and direction appertaining thereunto? Did not one of the fathers in great indignation call poesy vinum dæmonum, because it increaseth temptations, perturbations, and vain opinions?

Is not the opinion of Aristotle worthy to be regarded, wherein he saith, “That young men are no fit auditors of moral philosophy, because they are not settled from the boiling heat of their affections, nor attempered with time and experience”? And doth it not hereof come, that those excellent books and discourses of the ancient writers (whereby they have persuaded unto virtue most effectually, by representing her in state and majesty, and popular opinions against virtue in their parasites’ coats fit to be scorned and derided), are of so little effect towards honesty of life, because they are not read and revolved by men in their mature and settled years, but confined almost to boys and beginners?

But is it not true also, that much less young men are fit auditors of matters of policy, till they have been thoroughly seasoned in religion and morality; lest their judgments be corrupted, and made apt to think that there are no true differences of things, but according to utility and fortune, as the verse describes it, Prosperum et felix scelus virtus vocatur; and again, Ille crucem pretium sceleris tulit, hic diadema: which the poets do speak satirically and in indignation on virtue’s behalf; but books of policy do speak it seriously and positively; for so it pleaseth Machiavel to say, “That if Cæsar had been overthrown, he would have been more odious than ever was Catiline;” as if there had been no difference, but in fortune, between a very fury of lust and blood, and the most excellent spirit (his ambition reserved) of the world? Again, is there not a caution likewise to be given of the doctrines of moralities themselves (some kinds of them), lest they make men too precise, arrogant, incompatible; as Cicero saith of Cato, In Marco Catone hæc bona quæ videmus divina et egregia, ipsius scitote esse propria; quæ nonunquam requirimus ea sunt omnia non a natura, sed a magistro? Many other axioms and advices there are touching those proprieties and effects, which studies do infuse and instil into manners. And so, likewise, is there touching the use of all those other points, of company, fame, laws, and the rest, which we recited in the beginning in the doctrine of morality.

(14) But there is a kind of culture of the mind that seemeth yet more accurate and elaborate than the rest, and is built upon this ground; that the minds of all men are at some times in a state more perfect, and at other times in a state more depraved. The purpose, therefore, of this practice is to fix and cherish the good hours of the mind, and to obliterate and take forth the evil. The fixing of the good hath been practised by two means, vows or constant resolutions, and observances or exercises; which are not to be regarded so much in themselves, as because they keep the mind in continual obedience. The obliteration of the evil hath been practised by two means, some kind of redemption or expiation of that which is past, and an inception or account de novo for the time to come. But this part seemeth sacred and religious, and justly; for all good moral philosophy (as was said) is but a handmaid to religion.

(15) Wherefore we will conclude with that last point, which is of all other means the most compendious and summary, and again, the most noble and effectual to the reducing of the mind unto virtue and good estate; which is, the electing and propounding unto a man’s self good and virtuous ends of his life, such as may be in a reasonable sort within his compass to attain. For if these two things be supposed, that a man set before him honest and good ends, and again, that he be resolute, constant, and true unto them; it will follow that he shall mould himself into all virtue at once. And this indeed is like the work of nature; whereas the other course is like the work of the hand. For as when a carver makes an image, he shapes only that part whereupon he worketh; as if he be upon the face, that part which shall be the body is but a rude stone still, till such times as he comes to it. But contrariwise when nature makes a flower or living creature, she formeth rudiments of all the parts at one time. So in obtaining virtue by habit, while a man practiseth temperance, he doth not profit much to fortitude, nor the like but when he dedicateth and applieth himself to good ends, look, what virtue soever the pursuit and passage towards those ends doth commend unto him, he is invested of a precedent disposition to conform himself thereunto. Which state of mind Aristotle doth excellently express himself, that it ought not to be called virtuous, but divine. His words are these: Immanitati autem consentaneum est opponere eam, quæ supra humanitatem est, heroicam sive divinam virtutem; and a little after, Nam ut feræ neque vitium neque virtus est, swic neque Dei: sed hic quidem status altius quiddam virtute est, ille aluid quiddam a vitio. And therefore we may see what celsitude of honour Plinius Secundus attributeth to Trajan in his funeral oration, where he said, “That men needed to make no other prayers to the gods, but that they would continue as good lords to them as Trajan had been;” as if he had not been only an imitation of divine nature, but a pattern of it.

But these be heathen and profane passages, having but a shadow of that divine state of mind, which religion and the holy faith doth conduct men unto, by imprinting upon their souls charity, which is excellently called the bond of perfection, because it comprehendeth and fasteneth all virtues together.

And as it is elegantly said by Menander of vain love, which is but a false imitation of divine love, Amor melior Sophista lœvo ad humanam vitam—that love teacheth a man to carry himself better than the sophist or preceptor; which he calleth left-handed, because, with all his rules and preceptions, he cannot form a man so dexterously, nor with that facility to prize himself and govern himself, as love can do: so certainly, if a man’s mind be truly inflamed with charity, it doth work him suddenly into greater perfection than all the doctrine of morality can do, which is but a sophist in comparison of the other.

Nay, further, as Xenophon observed truly, that all other affections, though they raise the mind, yet they do it by distorting and uncomeliness of ecstasies or excesses; but only love doth exalt the mind, and nevertheless at the same instant doth settle and compose it: so in all other excellences, though they advance nature, yet they are subject to excess. Only charity admitteth no excess. For so we see, aspiring to be like God in power, the angels transgressed and fell; Ascendam, et ero similis altissimo: by aspiring to be like God in knowledge, man transgressed and fell; Eritis sicut Dii, scientes bonum et malum: but by aspiring to a similitude of God in goodness or love, neither man nor angel ever transgressed, or shall transgress. For unto that imitation we are called: Diligite inimicos vestros, benefacite eis qui oderunt vos, et orate pro persequentibus et calumniantibus vos, ut sitis filii Patris vestri qui in cœlis est, qui solem suum oriri facit super bonos et malos, et pluit super justos et injustos. So in the first platform of the divine nature itself, the heathen religion speaketh thus, Optimus Maximus: and the sacred Scriptures thus, Miscericordia ejus super omnia opera ejus.

(16) Wherefore I do conclude this part of moral knowledge, concerning the culture and regiment of the mind; wherein if any man, considering the arts thereof which I have enumerated, do judge that my labour is but to collect into an art or science that which hath been pretermitted by others, as matter of common sense and experience, he judgeth well.

But as Philocrates sported with Demosthenes, “You may not marvel (Athenians) that Demosthenes and I do differ; for he drinketh water, and I drink wine;” and like as we read of an ancient parable of the two gates of sleep—

so if we put on sobriety and attention, we shall find it a sure maxim in knowledge, that the more pleasant liquor (“of wine”) is the more vaporous, and the braver gate (“of ivory”) sendeth forth the falser dreams.

(17) But we have now concluded that general part of human philosophy, which contemplateth man segregate, and as he consisteth of body and spirit. Wherein we may further note, that there seemeth to be a relation or conformity between the good of the mind and the good of the body. For as we divided the good of the body into health, beauty, strength, and pleasure, so the good of the mind, inquired in rational and moral knowledges, tendeth to this, to make the mind sound, and without perturbation; beautiful, and graced with decency; and strong and agile for all duties of life. These three, as in the body, so in the mind, seldom meet, and commonly sever. For it is easy to observe, that many have strength of wit and courage, but have neither health from perturbations, nor any beauty or decency in their doings; some again have an elegancy and fineness of carriage which have neither soundness of honesty nor substance of sufficiency; and some again have honest and reformed minds, that can neither become themselves nor manage business; and sometimes two of them meet, and rarely all three. As for pleasure, we have likewise determined that the mind ought not to be reduced to stupid, but to retain pleasure; confined rather in the subject of it, than in the strength and vigour of it.