Meditations

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THE FOURTH BOOK

1. The power which rules within us, when its state is accordant with nature, so acts in every occurrence as easily to adapt itself to all present or possible situations. It requires no set material to work upon, but, under proper reservation, needs but the incitement to pursue, and makes matter for its activities out of every opposition. Even so a fire masters that which is cast upon it, and though a small flame would have been extinguished, your great blaze quickly makes the added fuel its own, consumes it, and grows mightier therefrom.

2. Let no action be done at random, nor otherwise than in complete accordance with the principles involved.

3. Men seek retirement in the country, on the sea-coast, in the mountains; and you too have frequent longings for such distractions. Yet surely this is great folly, since you may retire into yourself at any hour you please. Nowhere can a man find any retreat more quiet and more full of leisure than in his own soul; especially when there is that within it on which, if he but look, he is straightway quite at rest. And rest I hold to be naught else but perfect order in the soul. Constantly, therefore, allow yourself this retirement, and so renew yourself. Have also at hand thoughts brief and fundamental, which readily may occur; sufficing to shut out the discordant clamour of the world, and to send you back without fretting at the task to which you return. For at what do you fret? At the wickedness of mankind. Recollect the maxim that all reasoning beings are created for one another, that to bear with them is a part of justice, and that they cannot help their sin. Remember how many of those who lived in enmity, suspicion, and hatred, at daggers drawn, have been stretched on their funeral pyres, and turned to ashes. Remember and cease from your complaints. Is it your allotted part in the world’s destiny that chagrins you? Be calm, and renew your knowledge of the alternative, that “Either providence directs the world, or there is nothing but unguided atoms;” and recollect the many proofs that the Universe is as it were a state. Do the ills of the body still have power to touch you? Reflect that the mind, once withdrawn within itself, once grown conscious of its own power, has no concern with the motions, rough or smooth, of the breathing body. Remember, too, all that you have heard and assented to concerning pain and pleasure. Are you distracted by the poor thing called fame? Think how swiftly all things are forgotten. Behold the chaos of eternity which besets us on either side. Think how empty is the noisy echo of acclamation; how fickle and how scant of judgment are they who would seem to praise us, and how narrow the bounds within which their praise is confined. All the earth is but a point in the Universe; how small a corner of that little is inhabited, and even there how few are they and of how little worth who are to praise us! Remember then that there ever remains for you retirement into the little field within. And, above all, be neither distraught nor overstrained. Hold fast your freedom: consider all things as a man of courage, as a human being, as a citizen, as a mortal. Readiest among the principles to which you look let there be these two: Firstly, things external do not touch the soul, but remain powerless without; and all trouble comes from what we think of them within. Secondly, all things visible change in a moment, and are gone for ever. Recollect all the changes of which you have yourself been a witness. The world is a succession of changes: life is but thought.

4. If mind be common to us all, the reason in virtue of which we are rational is also common; so too is the power which bids us do or not do. Therefore we have all a common law; and if so, we are fellow-citizens and members of some common polity. The Universe, then, must in a manner be a state, for of what other common polity can all mankind be said to be members? Wherefore it is from this common state that we derive our intellectual power, our reason, and our law; or whence do we derive them? For that which is earthy in me is derived from earth, my moisture from some other element, my breath and what is warm or fiery from their proper sources. And therefore, as nothing can arise from nothing or return thereto, my intellectual part has also a source.

5. Death, like birth, is a mystery of nature; the one a compounding of elements, the other a resolution into the same. In neither is there anything shameful or against the nature of the rational animal, or contrary to the law of its constitution.

6. It is fate that such actions should come from such men. He who would have it otherwise would have figs without juice. This, too, you should remember: that in a very short time both you and he must die; and a little after not even the name of either shall remain.

7. Suppress the thought; and the cry “I am hurt!” is gone. Suppress “I am hurt!” and you suppress the injury.

8. What makes not a man worse than he was, makes not his life worse, nor hurts him without or within.

9. The law of utility must act so.

10. All that happens, happens right: you will find it so if you observe narrowly. I mean not only according to a natural order, but according to our idea of justice, and, as it were, by the action of one who distributes according to merit. Go on then observing this as you have begun, and whatever you do, let your aim be goodness, goodness as it is rightly understood. Hold to this in every action.

11. Think not as your insulter judges or wishes you to judge: but see things as they truly are.

12. For two things be ever ready: First, to do that only which reason, the sovereign and legislative faculty, suggests for the good of mankind: Secondly, to change your course on meeting any one who can correct and alter your opinion. But let the change be made because you really believe it to be in the interest of justice or the public good, or such like, and not with any view to pleasure or glory for yourself.

13. Have you reason? I have. Why then do you not use it? When it performs its proper office what more do you require?

14. You exist as part of a whole. You will disappear again in that which produced you; or rather you will change and be resumed again into the productive intelligence.

15. Many grains of frankincense are laid on the same altar. One falls soon, another later. It makes no difference.

16. Within ten days, if you return to the observance of moral principles and to the cult of reason, you will appear a God to them who now esteem you a wild beast or an ape.

17. Order not your life as though you had ten thousand years to live. Fate hangs over you. While you live, while yet you may, be good.

18. How much he gains in leisure who looks not to what his neighbours say, or do, or intend; but considers only how his own actions may be just and holy, looking not, as Agathon says, to the moral example of others, but running a straight course and never turning therefrom.

19. He who is careful and troubled about the fame which is to live after him considers not that each one of those who remember him must very soon die himself, and thereafter also the succeeding generation, until every memory of him, handed on by excited and ephemeral admirers, dies utterly away. Grant that your memory were immortal, and those immortal who retain it; yet what is that to you? I ask not, what is that to the dead? But to the living what is the profit in praise, except it be in some convenience that it brings? And you now abandon what nature has put in your power in order to set your hopes upon the report of others.

20. Whatever is beautiful at all is beautiful in itself. Its beauty ends there, and praise has no part in it. Nothing is the better or the worse for being praised; and this holds also of what is beautiful in the common estimation: of material forms and works of art. Thus true beauty needs nothing beyond itself, any more than law, or truth, or kindness, or honour. For none of these gets a single grace from praise or one blot from censure. Does the emerald lose its virtue if one praise it not? Can one by scanting praise depreciate gold, ivory, or purple, a lyre or a dagger, a flower or a shrub?

21. If our souls survive us, how, you ask, has the air contained them from eternity? How, I answer, does the earth contain so many bodies buried during so long a time? Just as corpses, after remaining for a while in the earth, change, and are dissipated to make room for others; so also the souls, liberated into air, remain for a little, and then are changed, diffused, rekindled, and resumed into the universal productive spirit; and so give way to others who come to take their places. This may serve for an answer, on the supposition that the soul survives the body. But we have not merely to consider the number of bodies thus buried in the earth. There are also all the living creatures eaten day by day by ourselves and other animals. How great a multitude of them is thus consumed, and as it were buried in the bodies of those who feed upon them. Yet there is ever space to contain them, owing to the changes into blood, air, and fire. What, then, is the key to this enquiry? Discrimination of matter and cause.

22. Swerve not from your path. In every impulse render justice its due, and in all thinking be sure that you understand.

23. I am in tune with all that is of thy harmony, O Nature. For me nothing is too early and nothing is too late that comes in thy good time. All is fruit to me, O Nature, that thy seasons bring. From thee are all things, thou comprehendest all, and all returns to thee. The poet says, “O dear City of Cecrops!” Shall I not say, “Dear City of God!”

24. “Do few things,” says the philosopher, “if you would have quiet.” This is perhaps a better saying, “Do what is necessary, do what the reason of the being that is social in its nature directs, and do it in the spirit of that direction.” By this you will attain the calm that comes from virtuous action, and that calm also which comes from having few things to do. Most things you say and do are not necessary. Have done with them, and you will be more at leisure and less perturbed. On every occasion, then, ask yourself the question, Is this thing not unnecessary? And put away not only unnecessary deeds but unnecessary thoughts, for by so doing you will avoid all superfluous actions.

25. Make trial how the life of a good man succeeds with you, the life of one who is content with the lot appointed him by Providence, and satisfied with the justice of his own actions and the benevolence of his disposition.

26. You have seen the other state, make trial also of this. Avoid perplexity; seek simplicity. Has a man sinned? He bears his own sin. Has aught befallen you? It is well; for all that befalls you is an ordained part in the weaving of the destiny of all things from the beginning. In sum, life is short. Make the best of the present in reason and in justice. Be sober in your relaxation.

27. The Universe is either an ordered whole or a confusion. But, although a mixture of phenomena, it is certainly an ordered whole. Or, do you think that there can be order in you and confusion in the Universe, and that too when all things, though diffused and separated, are all in sympathy, one with another?

28. Consider the deformity of these characters: the black or malicious, the effeminate, the savage, the beastly, the childish, the brutish, the stupid, the false, the ribald, the knavish, the tyrannical.

29. He is a foreigner, and not a citizen of the world, who knows not what the world contains; and he, too, who knows not what happens in it. He is a deserter who flies from the reason that rules this polity. He is blind, whose intellectual eye is closed. He is a beggar, who needs the gifts of others, and has not from himself all that is necessary for life. He is an excrescence on the scheme of things, who withdraws and separates himself from the reasoned constitution of the nature in which he shares, by discontent with what befalls. That same nature which produces this event produced thee. He is the seditious citizen who separates his particular soul from the one soul of all reasonable beings.

30. One acts the philosopher without a coat, another without books, a third half-naked. Says one, “I have not bread, and yet I hold to reason.” Says another, “I have not even the spiritual food of instruction, and yet I hold to it.”

31. Love the art which you have learned, humble though it be, and in it find your recreation. And spend the remainder of your life as one who with all his heart commits his concerns to the Gods, and neither acts the tyrant nor the slave to any of mankind.

32. Recall, for example, the age of Vespasian. It is as the spectacle of our own time. You will see men marrying, bringing up children, sick and dying, warring and feasting, trading and farming. You will see men flattering, obstinate in their own will, suspecting, plotting, wishing for the death of others, repining at fortune, courting mistresses, hoarding treasure, pursuing consulships and kingdoms. Yet all that life is spent and gone. Come down to Trajan’s days. Again all is the same; and again, that life, too, is dead. Consider, likewise, the records of other times and nations, and see how, after their fit of eagerness, all quickly fell, and were resolved into the elements. But most of all, remember those whom you yourself have known, men who were distracted about vain things, men who neglected the course which suited their own nature, neither holding fast to it nor finding their contentment there. And, herein, forget not that care is to be bestowed on any enterprise only in proportion to its proper worth. For if you keep this in mind you will not be disheartened from over concern with things of less account.

33. The familiar phrases of old days are now strange and obsolete; and, likewise, the names of such as were once much celebrated now sound strangely in our ears. Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Leonnatus; after them Scipio and Cato; lastly, Augustus, Hadrian, and Antonine - all are forgotten. All things hasten to an end, shall speedily seem old fables, and then be buried in oblivion. This I say of those who have shone with the brightness of their fame. The rest of men, as soon as they expire, are unknown and forgotten. What, then, is it to be remembered for ever? A wholly empty thing. For what should we be zealous? For this alone, that our souls be just, our actions unselfish, our speech ever sincere, and our disposition such as may cheerfully embrace whatever happens, seeing it to be inevitable, familiar, and sprung from the same source and origin as we ourselves.

34. Willingly resign yourself to Clotho, permitting her to spin her thread of what yarn she may.

35. All things are for a day, both what remembers and what is remembered.

36. Observe continually that all things exist in change; and keep this thought ever with you, that Nature loves nothing more than changing what things now are, and making others like them. For what now is, is in a manner the seed of what shall be. Therefore, conceive not that that alone is seed which is cast into the earth or the womb, for that is the thought of ignorance.

37. You are presently to die, and yet you have not attained to simplicity or calm, or to disbelief that you can be hurt by things external. You have not learned to be kindly to all men, or to count just dealing the whole of wisdom.

38. Scan closely that which governs men; see what are their cares, and what they pursue or shun.

39. That which is evil for you exists not in the soul of another; nor in any change or alteration of the body which surrounds you. Where, then, is it? It lies in that part of you by which you apprehend what evil is. Stay the apprehension, and all is well. And though the poor body to which it is so closely bound be cut and burned, though it suppurate or mortify, yet let the apprehension remain inactive: that is, let it judge nothing either bad or good which can happen equally to the bad man and to the good. For that which befalls equally him who lives in accord, and him who lives in discord with Nature, can neither be natural nor unnatural.

40. Ever consider this Universe as one living being, with one material substance and one spirit. Observe how all things are referred to the one intelligence of this being; how all things act on one impulse; how all things are concurrent causes of all others; and how all things are connected and intertwined.

41. “Thou art a poor soul, saddled with a corpse,” said Epictetus.

42. There is no evil for things which subsist in change; and there can be no good for things which subsist without it.

43. Time is a river, a violent torrent of things coming into being. Each one, as soon as it has appeared, is swept away: it is succeeded by another which is swept away in its turn.

44. All that happens is as natural and familiar as a rose in spring, or fruit in summer. Such are disease and death, calumny and treachery, and all else which gives fools joy or sorrow.

45. Consequents follow antecedents by virtue of a special and necessary connexion. This relation is not that which exists in a mere enumeration of independent things, and depends merely on some arbitrary convention. It is a rational relationship. And just as things now existing are ranged harmoniously together, so those which come into existence display no bare succession, but a wonderful harmony with what preceded.

46. Remember always the sayings of Heraclitus: that the death of earth is to become water, the death of water to become air, and the death of air to become fire; and so conversely. Remember in what a case he is who forgets whither the way leads: that men are frequently at variance with their close and constant companion, the reason which rules all: that men count strange that which they meet every day: that we should neither act nor speak as though in slumber, although even in slumber we seem to act and speak; nor yet like children learning from their parents, with a mere acceptance of everything just as we are told it.

47. If some God were to inform you that you must die tomorrow, or the next day at farthest, you would take little concern whether it was to be tomorrow or the next day; that is if you were not the most miserable of cowards. For how small is the difference? Wherefore, account it of no great moment whether you die after many years or tomorrow.

48. Constantly consider how many physicians are dead and gone, who frequently knitted their brows over their patients; how many astrologers, who foretold the deaths of others with great ostentation of their art; how many philosophers, who wrote endlessly on death and immortality; how many warriors, who slew their thousands; and how many tyrants, who used their power of life and death with cruel wantonness, as though they had been immortal. How many whole cities, if I may so speak, are dead: Helice and Pompeii and Herculaneum, and others past counting. Tell over next all those you have known, one after the other: think how one buried his fellow, then lay dead himself, to be buried by a third. And all this within a little time. In sum, look upon human things, and behold how short-lived and how vile they are; mucus yesterday, tomorrow ashes or pickled carrion. Spend, then, the fleeting remnant of your time in a spirit that accords with Nature, and depart contentedly. So the olive falls when it is grown ripe, blessing the ground from whence it sprung, and thankful to the tree that bore it.

49. Be like a promontory against which the waves are always breaking. It stands fast, and stills the waters that rage around it. “Wretched am I,” says one, “that this has befallen me.” “Nay,” say you, “happy am I who, though this has befallen me, can still remain without sorrow, neither broken by the present nor dreading the future.” The like might have befallen any one; but every one would not have endured it unpained. Why, then, should we dwell more on the misfortune of the incident than on the felicity of such strength of mind? Can you call that a misfortune for a man which is not a miscarriage of his nature? And can you call anything a miscarriage of his nature which is not contrary to its purpose? You have learned its purpose, have you not? Then does this accident debar you from justice, magnanimity, prudence, wisdom, caution, truth, honour, freedom, and all else in the possession of which man’s nature finds its full estate? Remember, therefore, for the future, upon all occasions of sorrow, to use the maxim: this thing is not misfortune, but to bear it bravely is good fortune.

50. It is a vulgar meditation, and yet very effectual for enabling us to despise death, to consider the fate of those who have been most earnestly tenacious of life, and enjoyed it longest. Wherein is their gain greater than that of those who died before their time? They are all lying dead somewhere or other. Cadicianus, Fabius, Julian, Lepidus, and their fellows, saw the corpses of multitudes carried to the grave, and then themselves were carried thither. In sum, how small was the difference of time, spent painfully amid what troubles, among what worthless men, and in how mean a carcase! Think it not a thing of value. Rather look back into the eternity that gapes behind, and forward into the other abyss of immensity. Compared with such infinity, small is the difference between a life of three days and one of three ages like Nestor’s.

51. Run ever the short way. The short way is the way according to Nature. Therefore speak and act according to the soundest rule; for this resolution will free you from much toil and warring, and from all artful management and ostentation.

END OF THE FOURTH BOOK.