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Poverty or a low fortune.
1. Poverty is better than riches, and a mean fortune to be chosen before a great and splendid one. It is indeed despised, and makes men contemptible; it exposes a man to the insolence of evil persons, and leaves a man to the insolence of evil persons, and leaves a man defenceless; it is always suspected; its stories are accounted lies, and all its counsels follies; it puts a man from all employment; it makes a man's discourses tedious, and his society troublesome. This is the worst of it; and yet all this, and far worse than this, the apostles suffered for being Christians; and Christianity itself may be esteemed an affliction as well as poverty, if this be all that can be said against it; for the apostles and the most eminent Christians were really poor, and were used contemptuously; and yet, that poverty is despised may be an argument to commend it, if it be despised by none but persons vicious and ignorant.143143Alta fortuna also travaglio apporta. However, certain it is that a great fortune is a great vanity, and riches are nothing but danger, trouble, and temptation; like a garment that is too long, and bears a train; not so useful to one, but it is troublesome to two — to him that bears the one part upon his shoulders, and to him that bears the other part in his hand. But poverty is the sister of a good mind, the parent of sober counsels, and the nurse of all virtue.
For what is it that you admire in the fortune of a great king?
Is it that he always goes in a great company? You may thrust yourself into the same
crowd, or go often to church, and then you have as great a company as he hath; and
that may upon as good grounds please you as him, that is, justly neither: for so
impertinent and useless pomp, and the other circumstances of his distance, are not
made for him, but for his subjects, that they may learn to separate him from common
usages, and be taught to be governed.144144Da autorita la ceremonia al atto.
But if you look upon them as fine things in themselves, you may quickly alter your
opinion when you shall consider that they cannot cure the toothache, nor make one
wise, or fill the belly, or give one night’s sleep — (though they help to break
many,) — not satisfying any appetite of nature, or reason or religion; but they
are states of greatness which only make it possible for a man to be made extremely
miserable. And it was long ago observed by the Greek tragedians, and from them by
Arrianus,145145 Ονδεις οε πενμς
τραγψοιαν σνμπλμσοι ει ργ
Bis sex dierum mensura consero ego agros,
Animusque menus sursum usque evectus ad polum
Decidit humi, et me sic videtur alloqui;
Disea haud nimis magnifacere mortalia. Tantal. in Traged. saying, “that all our tragedies are of kings and princes, and rich or ambitious personages; but you never see a poor man have a part, unless it be as a chorus, or to fill up the scenes, to dance or to be derided; but the kings and the great generals. First, says he, they begin with joy, crown the houses, but about the third or fourth act they cry out, O Citheron! why didst thou spare my life to reserve me for this more sad calamity?” And this is really true in the great accidents of the world; for a great estate hath great crosses, and a mean fortune hath but small ones. It may be the poor man loses a cow; or if his child dies he is quit of his biggest care; but such an accident in a rich and splendid family doubles upon the spirits of the parents. Or, it may be the poor man is troubled to pay his rent, and that is his biggest trouble; but is is a bigger care to secure a great fortune in a troubled estate, or with equal greatness, or with the circumstances of honour and the niceness of reputation, to defend a lawsuit; and that which will secure a common man’s whole estate is not enough to defend a great man’s honour.
And therefore it was not without mystery observed among the ancients, that they who made gods of gold and silver, of hope and fear, peace and fortune, garlic and onions, beasts and serpents, and a quartan ague, yet never deified money; meaning that however wealth was admired by common or abused understandings, yet from riches, that is from that proportion of good things which is beyond the necessities of nature, no moment could be added to a man’s real content or happiness. Corn from Sardinia, herds from Calabrian cattle, meadows through which pleasant Liris glides, silks from Tyrus, and golden chalices to drown my health in, are nothing but instruments of vanity or sin; and suppose a disease in the soul of him that longs for them or admires them. And this I have otherwhere represented more largely; to which I here add, that riches have very great dangers to their souls not only to them who covet them, but to all that have them. For if a great personage undertakes an action passionately and upon great interest, let him manage it indiscreetly, let the whole design be unjust, let it be acted with all the malice and impotency in the world, he shall have enough to flatter him, but not enough to reprove him. He had need be a bold man that shall tell his patron he is going to hell; and that prince had need be a good man that shall suffer such a monitor; and though it be a strange kind of civility, and an evil dutifulness in friends and relatives to suffer him to perish without reproof or medicine, rather than to seem unmannerly to a great sinner, yet it is none of their least infelicities that their wealth and greatness shall put them into sin, and yet put them past reproof. I need not instance in the habitual intemperance of rich tables, nor the evil accidents and effects of fulness, pride and lust, wantonness and softness of disposition, huge talking and an imperious spirit, despite of religion, and contempt of poor persons; at the best, it is a great temptation for a man to have in his power whatsoever he can have in his sensual desires;146146James, ii. 5-7. and therefore riches is a blessing like to a present made of a whole vintage to a man in a hectic fever; he will be much tempted to drink of it, and if he does, he is inflamed, and may chance to die with the kindness.
Now besides what hath been already noted in the state of poverty, there is nothing to be accounted for but the fear of wanting necessaries; of which, if a man could be secured that he might live free from care, all the other parts of it might be reckoned amongst the advantages of wise and sober persons, rather than objections against that state of fortune.
But concerning this, I consider that there must needs be great security to all Christians, since Christ not only made express promises that we should have sufficient for this life, but took great pains and used many arguments to create confidence in us; and such they were, which by their own strength were sufficient, though you abate the authority of the speaker. The Son of God told us, his Father takes care of us: he that knew all his Father’s counsels, and his whole kindness towards mankind, told us so. How great is that truth, how certain, how necessary, which Christ himself proved by arguments! The excellent words and most comfortable sentences which are our bills of exchange, upon the credit of which we lay our cares down and receive provisions for our need, are these, ‘Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them! Are ye not much better than they? Which of you, by taking thought, can add one cubit to his stature? and why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow — they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Therefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or wherewithal shall we be clothes? (for after all these things do the gentiles seek); for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself: sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.” The same discourse is repeated by St. Luke;147147Matt. vi. 25, etc. and accordingly our duty is urged, and our confidence abetted, by the disciples of our Lord, in divers places of Holy Scripture. So St. Paul — ‘Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” And again, “Charge them that are rich in this world that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy. And yet again, “Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have; for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee: so that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper.”148148Heb. xiii. 5, 6. And all this is by St. Peter summed up in our duty thus: “Cast all your care upon him, for he careth for you.” Which words he seems to have borrowed out of the fifty-fifth Psalm, ver. 23, where David saith the same thing almost in the same words; to which I only add the observation made by him, and the argument of experience: ‘I have been young, and now am old, and yet saw I never the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread.’ And now after all this, a fearless confidence in God, concerning a provision of necessaries, is so reasonable, that it is become a duty; and he is scarce a Christian whose faith is so little as to be jealous of God and suspicious concerning meat and clothes — that man hath nothing in him of the nobleness or confidence of charity.
Does not God provide for all the birds and beasts and fishes? Do not the sparrows fly from their bush, and every morning find meat where they laid it not? Do not the young ravens call to God, and he feeds them? And were it reasonable that the sons of the family should fear the father would give meat to the chickens and the servants, his sheep and his dogs, but give none to them? He were a very ill father that should do so; or he were a very foolish son that should think so of a good father. But besides the reasonableness of this faith and this hope, we have infinite experience of it. How innocent, how careless, how secure, is infancy! and yet how certainly provided for! We have lived at God’s charges all the days of our life, and have (as the Italian proverb says) set down to meat at the sound of a bell; and hitherto he hath not failed us: we have no reason to suspect him for the future; we do not use to serve men so; and less time of trial creates great confidences in us towards them, who for twenty years together never broke their word with us: and God hath so ordered it, that a man shall have had the experience of many years’ provision before he shall understand how to doubt; that he may be provided for an answer against the temptation shall come, and the mercies felt in his childhood may make him fearless when he is a man. Add to this, that God hath given us his Holy Spirit; he hath promised heaven to us; he hath given us his Son; and we are taught from Scripture to make this inference from hence, ‘How should not he with him give us all things else?’
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