Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise; He who defers the work from day to day, Does on a river's bank expecting stay, Till the whole stream which stopped him should be gone, That runs, and as it runs, for ever will run on.
Caesar (the man of expedition above all others) was so far from this folly, that whensoever in a journey he was to cross any river, he never went one foot out of his way for a bridge, or a ford, or a ferry; but flung himself into it immediately, and swam over; and this is the course we ought to imitate if we meet with any stops in our way to happiness. Stay till the waters are low, stay till some boats come by to transport you, stay till a bridge be built for you; you had even as good stay till the river be quite past. Persius (who, you used to say, you do not know whether he be a good poet or no, because you cannot understand him, and whom, therefore, I say, I know to be not a good poet) has an odd expression of these procrastinations, which, methinks, is full of fancy.
Jam cras hesterum consumpsimus, ecce aliud cras egerit hos annos.
Our yesterday's to-morrow now is gone, And still a new to-morrow does come on; We by to-morrows draw up all our store, Till the exhausted well can yield no more.
And now, I think, I am even with you, for your otium cum dignitate and festina lente, and three or four other more of your new Latin sentences: if I should draw upon you all my forces out of Seneca and Plutarch upon this subject, I should overwhelm you, but I leave those as triarii for your next charges. I shall only give you now a light skirmish out of an epigrammatist, your special good friend, and so, vale.
To-morrow you will live, you always cry; In what far country does this morrow lie, That 'tis so mighty long ere it arrive? Beyond the Indies does this morrow live? 'Tis so far-fetched, this morrow, that I fear 'Twill be both very old and very dear. To-morrow I will live, the fool does say; To-day itself's too late, the wise lived yesterday.
Wonder not, sir (you who instruct the town In the true wisdom of the sacred gown), That I make haste to live, and cannot hold Patiently out, till I grow rich and old. Life for delays and doubts no time does give, None ever yet made haste enough to live. Let him defer it, whose preposterous care Omits himself, and reaches to his heir, Who does his father's bounded stores despise, And whom his own, too, never can suffice: My humble thoughts no glittering roofs require, Or rooms that shine with ought be constant fire. We ill content the avarice of my sight With the fair gildings of reflected light: Pleasures abroad, the sport of Nature yields Her living fountains, and her smiling fields: And then at home, what pleasure is 't to see A little cleanly, cheerful family? Which if a chaste wife crown, no less in her Than fortune, I the golden mean prefer. Too noble, nor too wise, she should not be, No, nor too rich, too fair, too fond of me. Thus let my life slide silently away, With sleep all night, and quiet all the day.
It is a hard and nice subject for a man to write of himself; it grates his own heart to say anything of disparagement and the reader's ears to hear anything of praise for him. There is no danger from me of offending him in this kind; neither my mind, nor my body, nor my fortune allow me any materials for that vanity. It is sufficient for my own contentment that they have preserved me from being scandalous, or remarkable on the defective side. But besides that, I shall here speak of myself only in relation to the subject of these precedent discourses, and shall be likelier thereby to fall into the contempt than rise up to the estimation of most people. As far as my memory can return back into my past life, before I knew or was capable of guessing what the world, or glories, or business of it were, the natural affections of my soul gave me a secret bent of aversion from them, as some plants are said to turn away from others, by an antipathy imperceptible to themselves and inscrutable to man's understanding. Even when I was a very young boy at school, instead of running about on holidays and playing with my fellows, I was wont to steal from them and walk into the fields, either alone with a book, or with some one companion, if I could find any of the same temper. I was then, too, so much an enemy to all constraint, that my masters could never prevail on me, by any persuasions or encouragements, to learn without book the common rules of grammar, in which they dispensed with me alone, because they found I made a shift to do the usual exercises out of my own reading and observation. That I was then of the same mind as I am now (which I confess I wonder at myself) may appear by the latter end of an ode which I made when I was but thirteen years old, and which was then printed with many other verses. The beginning of it is boyish, but of this part which I here set down, if a very little were corrected, I should hardly now be much ashamed.