1632 By George Herbert

The Parson's eye.

THe Countrey Parson at spare times from action, stand-
ing on a hill, and considering his Flock, discovers two
sorts of vices, and two sorts of vicious persons. There are
some vices, whose natures are alwayes deer, and evident, as
Adultery, Murder, Hatred, Lying, &c. There are other
vices, whose natures, at least in the beginning, are dark and
obscure: as Covetousnesse, and Gluttony. So likewise there
are some persons, who abstain not even from known sins;
there are others, who when they know a sin evidently, they
commit it not. It is true indeed, they are long a knowing it,
being partiall to themselves, and witty to others who shall
reprove them from it. A man may be both Covetous, and
Intemperate, and yet hear Sermons against both, and him-
selfe condemn both in good earnest: and the reason hereof
is, because the natures of these vices being not evidently
discussed, or known commonly, the beginnings of them are
not easily observable: and the beginnings of them are not
observed, because of the suddain passing from that which
was just now lawfull, to that which is presently unlawfull,
even in one continued action. So a man dining, eats at first
lawfully; but proceeding on, comes to do unlawfully, even
before he is aware; not knowing the bounds of the action,
nor when his eating begins to be unlawfull. So a man
storing up mony for his necessary provisions, both in present
for his family, and in future for his children, hardly perceives
when his storing becomes unlawfull: yet is there a period for
his storing, and a point, or center, when his storing, which
was even now good, passeth from good to bad. Wherefore
the Parson being true to his businesse, hath exactly sifted
the definitions of all vertues, and vices; especially canvasing
those, whose natures are most stealing, and beginnings
uncertaine. Particularly, concerning these two vices, not
because they are all that are of this dark, and creeping dis-
position, but for example sake, and because they are most
common, he thus thinks: first, for covetousnes, he lays this
ground: Whosoever when a just occasion cals, either spends
not at all, or not in some proportion to Gods blessing upon
him is covetous. The reason of the ground is manifest,
because wealth is given to that end to supply our occasions.
Now, if I do not give every thing its end, I abuse the Creature,
I am false to my reason which should guide me, I offend
the supreme Judg, in perverting that order which he hath
set both to things, and to reason. The application of the
ground would be infinite; but in brief, a poor man is an
occasion, my countrey is an occasion, my friend is an
occasion, my Table is an occasion, my apparell is an occasion:
if in all these, and those more which concerne me, I either
do nothing, or pinch, and scrape, and squeeze blood un-
decently to the station wherein God hath placed me, I am
Covetous. More particularly, and to give one instance for
all, if God have given me servants, and I either provide too
little for them, or that which is unwholsome, being some-
times baned meat, sometimes too salt, and so not competent
nourishment, I am Covetous. I bring this example, because
men usually think, that servants for their mony are as other
things that they buy, even as a piece of wood, which they
may cut, or hack, or throw into the fire, and so they pay
them their wages, all is well. Nay, to descend yet more
particularly, if a man hath wherewithall to buy a spade, and
yet hee chuseth rather to use his neighbours, and wear out
that, he is covetous. Nevertheless, few bring covetousness
thus low, or consider it so narrowly, which yet ought to be
done, since there is a Justice in the least things, and for the
least there shall be a judgment. Country people are full of
these petty injustices, being cunning to make use of another,
and spare themselves: And Scholers ought to be diligent in
the observation of these, and driving of their generall Schoole
rules ever to the smallest actions of Life; which while they
dwell in their bookes, they will never finde; but being seated in
the Countrey, and doing their duty faithfully, they will soon
discover: especially if they carry their eyes ever open, and fix
them on their charge, and not on their preferment. Secondly,
for Gluttony, the parson lays this ground: He that either
for quantity eats more then his health or imployments will
bear, or for quality is licorous after dainties, is a glutton; as
he that eats more then his estate will bear, is a Prodigall;
and hee that eats offensively to the Company, either in his
order, or length of eating, is scandalous and uncharitable.
These three rules generally comprehend the faults of eating,
and the truth of them needs no proofe: so that men must eat
neither to the disturbance of their health, nor of their affairs,
(which being overburdened, or studying dainties too much,
they cannot wel dispatch) nor of their estate, nor of their
brethren. One act in these things is bad, but it is the custome
and habit that names a glutton. Many think they are at more
liberty then they are, as if they were Masters of their health,
and so they will stand to the pain, all is well. But to eat to
ones hurt, comprehends, besides the hurt, an act against
reason, because it is unnaturall to hurt ones self; and this
they are not masters of. Yet of hurtfull things, I am
more bound to abstain from those, which by mine own
experience I have found hurtfull, then from those which
by a Common tradition, and vulgar knowledge are reputed to
be so. That which is said of hurtfull meats, extends to hurt-
full drinks also. As for the quantity, touching our imploy-
ments, none must eat so as to disable themselves from a fit
discharging either of Divine duties, or duties of their calling.
So that if after dinner they are not fit (or un-weeldy) either
to pray, or work, they are gluttons. Not that all must pre-
sently work after dinner; (For they rather must not work,
especially Students, and those that are weakly,) but that
they must rise so, as that it is not meate or drinke that
hinders them from working. To guide them in this, there
are three rules: first, the custome, and knowledg of their
own body, and what it can well disgest: The second, the
feeling of themselves in time of eating, which because it is
deceitfull; (for one thinks in eating, that he can eat more,
then afterwards he finds true:) The third is the observation
with what appetite they sit down. This last rule joyned with
the first, never fails. For knowing what one usually can well
disgest, and feeling when I go to meat in what disposition
I am, either hungry or not, according as I feele my self,
either I take my wonted proportion, or diminish of it. Yet
Phisicians bid those that would live in health, not keep an
uniform diet, but to feed variously, now more, now lesse:
And Gerson, a spirituall man, wisheth all to incline rather to
too much, then to too little; his reason is, because diseases of
exinanition1 are more dangerous, then diseases of repletion.
But the Parson distinguisheth according to his double aime,
either of Abstinence a morall vertue, or Mortification a
divine. When he deals with any that is heavy, and carnall;
he gives him those freer rules: but when he meets with a
refined, and heavenly disposition, he carryes them higher,
even somtimes to a forgetting of themselves, knowing that
there is one, who when they forget, remembers for them;
As when the people hungred and thirsted after our Saviours
Doctrine, and tarryed so long at it, that they would have
fainted, had they returned empty, He suffered it not; but
rather made food miraculously, then suffered so good desires
to miscarry.

1 exinanition - the action or process of emptying of matter or pride. (Oxford English Dictionary.) [Return]

Editor's Note: The last allusion is probably to the feeding of the 5 thousand.

Concerning sin: Herbert admits no gray area. Eating goes from lawful to unlawful. He sees the difference as a line not to be crossed, not a broad area with psychological justification or a gradient of good and sinful.

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