“The fallacy” of being surprised at wickedness in prosperity, and righteousness in misery, “can only lie,” says Mr. Froude, in words which would have delighted Epictetus, and which would express the inmost spirit of his philosophy, “in the supposed right to happiness.... Happiness is not what we are to look for. Our place is to be true to the best we know, to seek that, and do that; and if by ’virtue is its own reward’ be meant that the good man cares only to continue good, desiring nothing more, then it is a true and a noble saying.... Let us do right, and then whether happiness come, or unhappiness, it is no very mighty matter. If it come, life will be sweet; if it do not come, life will be bitter—bitter, not sweet, and yet to be borne.... The well-being of our souls depends only on what we are; and nobleness of character is nothing else but steady love of good, and steady scorn of evil.... Only to those who have the heart to say, ’We can do without selfish enjoyment: it is not what we ask or desire,’ is there no secret. Man will have what he desires, and will find what is really best for him, exactly as he honestly seeks for it. Happiness may fly away, pleasure pall or cease to be obtainable, wealth decay, friends fail or prove unkind; but the power to serve God never fails, and the love of Him is never rejected.”
LIFE AND VIEWS OF EPICTETUS (continued.)
Of the life of Epictetus, as distinct from his opinions, there is unfortunately little more to be told. The life of
slave, who in Nicopolis
Taught Arrian, when Vespasian’s brutal son
Cleared Rome of what most shamed him,”
is not an eventful life, and the conditions which surrounded it are very circumscribed. Great men, it has been observed, have often the shortest biographies; their real life is in their books.
At some period of his life, but how or when we do not know, Epictetus was manumitted by his master, and was henceforward regarded by the world as free. Probably the change made little or no difference in his life. If it saved him from a certain amount of brutality, if it gave him more uninterrupted leisure, it probably did not in the slightest degree modify the hardships of his existence, and may have caused him some little anxiety as to the means of procuring the necessaries of life. He, of all men, would have attached the least importance to the external conditions under which he lived; he always regarded them as falling under the category of things which lay beyond the sphere of his own influence, and therefore as things with which he had nothing to do. Even in his most oppressed days, he considered himself, by the grace of heaven, to be more free—free in a far truer and higher sense—than thousands of those who owed allegiance to no master’s will. Whether he had saved any small sum of money, or whether his needs were supplied by the many who loved and honoured him, we do not know. He was a man who was content with the barest necessaries of life, and we may be sure that he would have refused to be indebted to any one for more than these.