Essay 3, Part 3

The Middle Station Of Life

March 3, 2020

The Moral of the following Fable will easily discover itself, without my explaining it.

One Rivulet met another, who had been long united in strictest Amity. He said Haughtily:

The other rivulet replies:

I compare this Fable to the different Stations of Life. It is best for us to be satisfied with the Middle Station. Most people, who are capable of philosophy, are in this station. Therefore, all Moral Philosophy should principally be addressed to them.

  • The Great are too much immersed in Pleasure.
  • The Poor are too occupied in providing for Necessities, to hearken to the calm Voice of Reason.

The Middle Station is most happy in many Respects. A Man in this situation can, with the greatest Leisure, consider his own Happiness and reap a new Enjoyment from comparing his Situation with those above or below him.

Agur’s Prayer is sufficiently noted. Two Things have I requir’d of thee, deny me them not before I die, Remove far from me Vanity and Lies;

Give me neither Poverty nor Riches, feed me with Food convenient for me: Lest I be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? Or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the Name of my GOD in vain.

The middle Station is here justly recommended, as affording the fullest Security for Virtue. It gives Opportunity for the most ample Exercise of it, and furnishes Employment for every good Quality, which we can possibly be possest of.

Those, who are plac’d among the lower Rank of Men, have little Opportunity of exerting any other Virtue, besides those of Patience, Resignation, Industry and Integrity. Those, who are advanc’d into the higher Stations, have full Employment for their Generosity, Humanity, Affability and Charity. When a Man lyes betwixt these two Extremes, he can exert the former Virtues towards his Superiors, and the latter towards his Inferiors.

Every moral Quality, which the human Soul is susceptible of, may have its Turn, and be called up to Action.

A Man may, after this Manner, be much more certain of his Progress in Virtue, than where his good Qualities lye dormant, and without Employment.

But there is another Virtue, that seems principally to ly among Equals, and is, for that Reason, chiefly calculated for the middle Station of Life. This Virtue is Friendship.

Most generous men tend to envy the Great, when they consider how the Great have many Opportunities to do Good.

They make no advances in vain and are not obliged to associate with those whom they have little Kindness for; like People of inferior Stations, who are subject to have their Proffers of Friendship rejected, even where they wou’d be most fond of placing their Affections. But tho’ the Great have more Facility in acquiring Friendships, they cannot be so certain of the Sincerity of them, as Men of a lower Rank; since the Favours, they bestow, may acquire them Flattery, instead of Good-will and Kindness. It has been very judiciously remark’d, that we attach ourselves more by the Services we perform than by those we receive, and that a Man is in Danger of losing his Friends by obliging them too far.

I choose to be in the middle way and to have my Commerce with my Friend varied both by Obligations given and receiv’d.

I have too much Pride to be willing that all the Obligations should ly on my Side.

I am afraid, that, if they all lay on his, he wou’d also have too much Pride to be entirely easy under them, or have a perfect Complacency in my Company.

The middle Station of Life is more favourable to the acquiring of Wisdom, Ability, and Virtue.

a Man so situate has a better Chance for attaining a Knowledge both of Men and Things, than those of a more elevated Station.

He enters, with more Familiarity, into human Life.

Everything appears in its natural Colours before him.

He has more Leisure to form Observations.

He has, besides, ambition to push him on in his Attainments.

He is certain, that he can never rise to any Distinction or Eminence in the World, without his own Industry.

Providence has wisely ordained the middle Station is the most favourable to the improving our natural Abilities, since there is really more Capacity requisite to perform the Duties of that Station, than is requisite to act in the higher Spheres of Life.

There are more natural Parts, and a stronger Genius requisite to make a good Lawyer or Physician, than to make a great Monarch.

For let us take any Race or Succession of Kings, where Birth alone gives a Title to the Crown.

The English Kings are not the best leaders in History. From the Conquest to our current king, we have had 28 sovereigns. Of these, eight are Princes of great Capacity:

  • William the Conqueror,
  • Harry II
  • Edward I
  • Edward III
  • Harry V
  • Harry VII
  • Elisabeth
  • the late King William.

Now, I believe every one will allow, that, in the common Run of Mankind, there are not eight out of twenty eight, who are fitted, by Nature, to make a Figure either on the Bench or at the Bar.

Since Charles VII, 10 Monarchs have reigned in France, omitting Francis II. Five of these were Princes of Capacity:

  • Loüis XI
  • Loüis XII
  • Loüis XIV
  • Francis I
  • Harry IV

In short, proper governance requires a great deal of Virtue, Justice, and Humanity, but not a surprising Capacity. A Pope used to say, Let us divert ourselves, my Friends, the World governs itself.

There are, indeed, some critical Times, such as those in which Harry IV. liv’d, that call for the utmost Vigour; and a less Courage and Capacity, than what appear’d in that great Monarch, must have sunk under the Weight. But such Circumstances are rare; and even then, Fortune does, at least, one Half of the Business. Since the common Professions, such as Law or Physic, require equal, if not superior Capacity, to what are exerted in the higher Spheres of Life, ’tis evident, that the Soul must be made of still a finer Mold, to shine in Philosophy or Poetry, or in any of the higher Parts of Learning. Courage and Resolution are chiefly requisite in a Commander: Justice and Humanity in a Statesman:

But Genius and Capacity in a Scholar. Great Generals, and great Politicians, are found in all Ages and Countries of the World, and frequently start up, at once, even amongst the greatest Barbarians.

Sweden was sunk in ignorance when it produced Gustavus Ericson, and Gustavus Adolphus.

Moscow was sunk in ignorance when the Czar appeared.

Carthage was sunk when it gave Birth to Hannibal.

But England must pass thro’ a long Gradation of its Spencers, Johnsons, Wallers, Drydens, before it arrive at an Addison or a Pope. A happy Talent for the liberal Arts and Sciences, is a Kind of Prodigy among Men.

Nature must afford the richest Genius that comes from her Hands; Education and Example must cultivate it from the earliest Infancy; And Industry must concur to carry it to any Degree of Perfection. No Man needs be surprised to see Kouli-Kan17 among the Persians: but Homer, in so early an Age, among the Greeks, is certainly Matter of the highest Wonder. A Man cannot show a Genius for War, who is not so fortunate as to be trusted with Command; and it seldom happens, in any State or Kingdom, that several, at once, are plac’d in that Situation. How many Marlboroughs18 were there in the confederate Army, who never rose so much as to the Command of a Regiment?

There has been but one Milton in England within these hundred Years because every one may exert the Talents for Poetry who is possest of them; and no one cou’d exert them under greater Disadvantages than that divine Poet.

If no Man were allowed to write Verses, but who was, before-hand, nam’d to be laureat, cou’d we expect a Poet in ten thousand Years?

Were we to distinguish the Ranks of Men by their Genius and Capacity more, than by their Virtue and Usefulness to the Public, great Philosophers wou’d certainly challenge the first Rank, and must be plac’d at the Top of human Kind. So rare is this Character, that, perhaps, there has not, as yet, been above two in the World, who can lay a just Claim to it. At least, Galilæo and Newton seem to me so far to excel all the rest, that I cannot admit any other into the same Class with them.

Great Poets may challenge the second Place. This Species of Genius is rare. But it is yet much more frequent than the former.

Of the Greek Poets: Homer alone seems to merit this Character. Of the Romans: Virgil, Horace and Lucretius Of the English: Milton and Pope Of the French: Corneille, Racine, Boileau1 and Voltaire
Of the Italians: Tasso and Ariosto

Great Orators and Historians are more rare than great Poets.

But as the Opportunities for exerting the Talents requisite for Eloquence, or acquiring the Knowledge requisite for writing History, depend, in some Measure, upon Fortune, we cannot pronounce these Productions of Genius to be more extraordinary than the former. I should now return from this Digression, and show, that the middle Station of Life is more favourable to Happiness, as well as to Virtue and Wisdom: But as the Arguments, that prove this, seem pretty obvious, I shall here forbear insisting on them.

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