Why envious wretch, with such a piercing ray, Blind to thine own, dost others’ faults survey? (PLUTARCH) | Part A

Why envious wretch, with such a piercing ray, Blind to thine own, dost others’ faults survey? (PLUTARCH) | Part A

Among these may deservedly be accounted that sort of curiosity, which, by its studious prying into the evils of mankind, seems to be a distemper of envy and ill-nature.

Why envious wretch, with such a piercing ray,
Blind to thine own, dost others’ faults survey?

If the knowledge of ill can reward the industrious search with so much delight and pleasure, turn the point of thy curiosity upon thyself and thine own affairs, and thou shalt within doors find matter enough for the most laborious enquiries, plentiful as ‘Water in Aliso’s stream, or leaves about the oak.’ So vast a heap of offences shalt thou find in thy own conversation, such variety of perturbations in thy soul, and manifold failures in thy duty.

To take a distinct and orderly survey of all which, that of Xenophon will be good direction, who said, that it was the manner of discreet housekeepers to place their weapons of war, utensils for the kitchen, instruments of husbandry, and furniture for religious and sacred services, each in several and proper repositories. So every man that would make an exact enquiry into and take a just account of himself, should first make a particular search into the several mischiefs that proceed from each passion within him, whether it be envy or jealousy, covetousness or cowardice, or any other vicious inclination; and then distribute and range them all (as it were) into distinct apartments.

This done, make thy reviews upon them with the most accurate inspection, so that nothing may divert thee from the severest scrutiny; obstruct every prospect that looks towards thy neighbors’ quarters, and close up all those avenues which may lead thee to any foreign curiosity; become an eavesdropper to thine own house, listen to the whispers of thine own walls, and observe those secret arts of the female closet, the close intrigues of the parlor, and the treacherous practices of thy servants, which thy own windows will discover to thee.

Here this inquisitive and busy disposition may find an employment that will be of use and advantage, and is neither ill-natured nor impertinent; while every man shall call himself to this strict examination:

Where have I err’d? What have I said, or done?
What duty, when, and how have I foregone?

But we through extreme sloth and ignorance, being stupidly careless of our own affairs, must be idly spending our time and talk either about our neighbor’s pedigree, how that such a one had a tapster for his grandfather, and that his grandmother was a laundress; or that another owes three or four talents, and is not able to pay the interest. Nay, and such trivial stuff as this we busy ourselves about, — where such a man’s wife has been all this while; and what it was, that this and the other fellow have been talking of in a corner.

But the wise Socrates employed his curiosity to better purpose, when he went about enquiring by what excellent precepts Pythagoras obtained so great authority among his follower.

And Aristippus, meeting Ischomachus at the Olympic games, asked him what those notions were with which Socrates had so powerfully charmed the minds of his young scholars; upon the slight information whereof, he was so passionately inflamed with a desire of going to Athens, that he grew pale and lean, and almost languished till he came to drink of the fountain itself, and had been acquainted with the person of Socrates, and more fully learned that philosophy of his, the design of which was to teach men how to discover their own ills and apply proper remedies to them.

But to some sort of men their own life and actions would appear the most unpleasant spectacle in the world, and therefore they fly from the light of their conscience, and cannot bear the torture of one reflecting thought upon themselves; for when the soul, being once defiled with all manner of wickedness, is scared at its own hideous deformity, it endeavors to run from itself, and ranging here and there, it pampers its own malignity with malicious speculations on the ills of others.

It is observed of the hen that, loathing the plenty of meat that is cast before her on a clean floor, she will be scratching in a hole or spurning the dunghill, in search of one single musty grain. So these over-busy people, neglecting such obvious and common things into which any man may enquire and talk of without offence, cannot be satisfied unless they rake into the private and concealed evils of every family in the neighborhood.





Plutarch’s Morals



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