Beautiful and remarkable as these fragments are we have no space for more, and must conclude by comparing the last with the celebrated lines of George Herbert:—
“Lord! with what
care hast Thou begirt us round;
Parents first season us. Then schoolmasters
Deliver us to laws. They send us bound
To rules of reason. Holy messengers;
Pulpits and Sundays, sorrow dogging sin;
Afflictions sorted; anguish of all sizes;
Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in!
Bibles laid open; millions of surprises;
Blessings beforehand; ties of gratefulness;
The sound of glory ringing in our ears;
Without one shame; within our consciences;
Angels and grace; eternal hopes and fears!
Yet all these fences and their whole array,
One cunning bosom sin blows quite away.”
THE DISCOURSES OF EPICTETUS.
The Discourses of Epictetus, as originally published by Arrian, contained eight books, of which only four have come down to us. They are in many respects the most valuable expression of his views. There is something slightly repellent in the stern concision, the “imperious brevity,” of the Manual. In the Manual, says M. Martha, “the reason of the Stoic proclaims its laws with an impassibility which is little human; it imposes silence on all the passions, even the most respectable; it glories in waging against them an internecine war, and seems even to wish to repress the most legitimate impulses of generous sensibility. In reading these rigorous maxims one might be tempted to believe that this legislator of morality is a man without a heart, and, if we were not touched by the original sincerity of the language, one would only see in this lapidary style the conventional precepts of a chimerical system or the aspirations of an impossible perfection.” The Discourses are more illustrative, more argumentative, more diffuse, more human. In reading them one feels oneself face to face with a human being, not with the marble statue of the ideal wise man. The style, indeed, is simple, but its “athletic nudity” is well suited to this militant morality; its picturesque and incisive character, its vigorous metaphors, its vulgar expressions, its absence of all conventional elegance, display a certain “plebeian originality” which gives them an almost autobiographic charm. With trenchant logic and intrepid conviction “he wrestles with the passions, questions them, makes them answer, and confounds them in a few words which are often sublime. This Socrates without grace does not amuse us by making his adversary fall into the long entanglement of a captious dialogue, but he rudely seizes and often finishes him with two blows. It is like the eloquence of Phocion, which Demosthenes compares to an axe which is lifted and falls.”