ANY virtue the mind may possess we ought undoubtedly to maintain; exerting the excelling quality, whatever it may be, associating and intermingling with the good, and avoiding the com­pany of the bad. For the morals of a companion have a powerful influence on the mind:* insomuch that the wise have a saying, Character from com­pany. And like as the society of the bad is to be avoided, in listening to their histories also the same caution is to be observed; especially to such as evidence their tendencies by fanciful introductions and vain fiction.* For, from attending a single party, or listening to a single couplet of this description, the mind may contract vice, from which it can only be freed by long perseverance in irksome expedients and diversified remedy. Nay, not unfrequently do men of attainment and intelligence weary and fall away from the same cause. In the science of divinity, no less, the repeating of passages, whether verse or prose, con­veying representations of sin, or encouragement to it, is of established illegality; and that on the same principle. The interdiction too of such musical instruments as are appropriated by the drinkers of wine, proceeds on the same grounds.* For the mere imagining of such subjects, or contemplating them with approbation, must inevitably stimulate desire and dispose the character to give way. The secret of the matter lying only in this, that the calls of desire and anger are ineradically implanted in the nature of man, by reason of the connexion between mind and body, and the consequent sym­pathy of the former with the corporeal powers: so that yielding to the passions of the mind is like descending a declivity, no trouble or exertion being requisite thereto; and rising to the ascents of virtue is like climbing an acclivity; only attainable by the endurance of labours and difficulty, and the sacrifice of desires and gratifications.*

“Ah, who can tell how hard it is to climb
The steep where fame’s proud temple shines afar?”*

Hence that saying of the Sanctified, “Paradise is begirt with disgusts, and hell with pleasures.”

It must be observed, however, that cordiality towards friends and the reciprocal indulgence of each other’s humour is commendable, and con­ducive to a more perfect state of social intercourse and the permanent confirmation of benevolence. With this, in fact, as with other dispositions, there are two extremes: on the side of deficiency, melan­choly, ill-nature, repugnance; on the side of excess, foolery, infatuation, and sottishness; both which extremes, like all others, are culpable: the middle or laudable point being styled alacrity, cheerful­ness, easiness, or good-fellowship, and the possessor of it described by the terms urbane and jovial. The sacred refuge of revelation, with all the glory of his position, could condescend to jest — “It was the art of the Prophet to jest without untruth.”* The Caliph Aly, by reason of his entire benignity and the ascendant acquired by his pretensions to sovereign power, (which may be said to bring out the individual and dissipate the generic traits of character,) possessed a vein of poignant humour, which led Solimān Fārsy to say of a jest he one day indulged in, “This it is which has kept you back to the fourth;”* — which remark is very just; for a reliance on his rights of sovereignty was the ruling feeling of that sacred person; and it is one which gives ascendance to the inner and individual nature, in opposition to the suggestions of appearance and the observance of our relations with the many. The difference between the two is most decided:

“These pass like Moses through the mount of fire:
Those press uncall’d, and in their zeal expire.”

Another method of preserving mental health is to employ the powers in some laudable pursuit, be it of the observative or the practical class. For every faculty takes deeper root by being exercised in practice, and loses tenacity by suspension; nay, in time, disappears altogether. This principle takes the place of diet to the body — an essential means of maintaining health according to bodily medicine: nay, more is contributed by this diet to the mental, than by the other to the bodily health: because, in that many changes are to be entertained; whereas the mental diet admits of none. For no sooner is the mind released from the exercise of contempla­tion, and ceases to send its soaring thoughts abroad in pursuit of their philosophic food, than it inevitably verges towards folly and stupidity, turns from those fountains of the intellectual world which supply the spirit with sustenance and heavenly support, and stripped, in the eye of reason, of the honors of human perfection, becomes virtually degraded to the shape of ravenous beasts.* Finally, when made conscious of its inverted position, as it only can be at the final resurrection, lamentation and perdition are the only result. Oh, if ye could see when the guilty hang their heads before their Lord, (saying) O Lord, we have seen and heard; then send us back to life unharmed, and we shall rest persuaded. Let no one then, however eminent in his age, and dis­tinguished above his contemporaries in knowledge and attainment, allow conceit and self-sufficiency to drop their veil before his eyes, or hinder him from the felicity of further progress in the heights of perfection; for, Every scholar has his superior.* Neither may he plead in excuse for abandoning his pursuit of perfection any weight of years, any dis­appointment in result, or weariness of exertion. When Plato was asked how long study was to be recommended, he replied, “as long as ignorance is to be condemned.” Let him never allow of negligence in returning to review what he has acquired, but hold himself bound to repeat and recall; for the bane of knowledge is forgetfulness. Let him who desires to maintain the health of his mind reflect, that if the followers of evanescent good and mistaken felicity, which is liable to decay, and ever verging upon change, are contented, for the gain of its every portion, to endure the dangers and toils of travel, and to encounter whatever may arise to disgust or appal them,* à fortiori is con­tinual labour and pertinacious exertion to be employed by him, in mastering real good and essential virtue, the ornament of his whole being, and which no accident can take away.

But what fraud or detriment can equal his, who, for vile and perishable pottery, gives a precious and everlasting jewel, which it requires immense labour to regain? And then, if the equivalent leaves not him, he leaves it; and it then falls to his inheritors, who are generally his ill-wishers.* Thus in the discourses of the Prince of Men, we are repeatedly exhorted to stand aloof from worldly superfluity, and from application to worldly interests, with all their delusive advantages; particularly where he says, “Be intent upon religion, and you will be loved by God: be intent upon what pertains to men, and you will be loved by them.” And again, “Live in the world as though you were a stranger, or a passer by its road, and count yourself for one among a people of the tomb.” “He who can command a competence to his situation in life (says Aristotle) ought not to seek for more; for to that there is no limit, nor to the disgusts which the seeker of it must encounter.” And again, “Not enjoyment is the object of wealth, but defence against infirmities, such as hunger and thirst, and security against falling into bodily afflictions. The true enjoyment is health, and that we are bound to seek for; so that in shunning superfluity enjoy­ment is placed, as well as health; and in seeking it, neither health nor enjoyment.”* In the book of Solimān, son of David, (blessings be on them!) it is written, “Seek not after more in this life; for whether one is master of a house, or guest in it, the stomach holds the same. So that he that has but in the measure of his wants, or he that has more, are both equal in the benefit resulting; only the possessor of more undergoes greater trouble and labour, without any other privilege than that of say­ing it is his.”*

For him who possesses not to the degree of com­petence, let him never indulge in exaggerating the measure of his wants; let him beware of disgraceful emolument, and on no account encourage the facul­ties of desire and resentment. The employment of these let him hold under the absolute guidance of nature: not like that class of persons, who, on the mere recollection of gratification received from relieving an appetite or giving loose to a resent­ment, conceive a desire for the like indulgence; which is plainly invoking lust and anger to appear. This resembles the conduct of him who should first provoke a wild beast, and afterwards apply himself to effecting his escape; conduct, clearly, which no reasonable person would pursue. But when he leaves it to the disposition in its own time to stimu­late them, and then employs them by the measure of judgment, balanced to that degree which is the point of equipoise, keeping aloof from both extremes of excess and deficiency, they bring him to the virtues of temperance and courage.

Another requisite is, to let all our words and actions be preceded by the exercise of thought, lest any thing escape us by course of habit, in opposi­tion to our reasoning volition. And if habit should at times surprise us into an act repugnant to our better purpose, we should have recourse to some such punishment as may be the means of restrain­ing us. For instance, if it hurry us into indulging in a dish which the dictates of reason go to prohibit, let us retort by limiting food, adopting fast, and other such reproofs and inflictions* agreeable to prudence, and suggested by reflection; or if ground­less anger escape us, let us administer discipline by engaging in some discreditable frolic, or embracing some arrangement of property or person which is troublesome to us. We are told in the annals of sages, that when Socrates was urged by the archon of the age to take a wife, (for it was the custom in those days to request sages so to do, in order to perpetuate* the sanctity of their influence,) he selected a scold, noted in those parts for her shrew­ishness, that by this means he might keep the angry feeling in subjection.* Euclid used secretly to keep in pay light persons of his own city, who were to mob him with abuse and insult; and if he perceived any impatience in his mind, he disciplined it by toiling unwontedly in some useful employment.

In order to habituate the inclination, let us engage in such affairs as leave no room for negli­gence or want of care. No act which is culpable, however petty it may be, ought we to consider unimportant; for that leads to mental extenua­tion. And hence it has been affirmed by sundry heads of the institute, that any fault which we con­sider trivial, is, for that very reason, great in regard to us, (a principle expressed indeed in the sayings of the Sanctified,) and must on no account be indulged in.* For trivial faults lead by degrees to great ones; nay, by persistance they acquire the properties of a great one, or, in other words, become great; though which of the two is to be affirmed, is a subject of dispute among the learned.*

The utmost care is likewise to be taken in seek­ing out our mental defects: and seeing, as Galen proposes, that every one is friendly to himself, and, according to the proverb, Love is a thing which maketh blind and deaf, affection is a cause of con­cealing defects, our proper course is — First, to select an intelligent friend, and after a length of intercourse and companionship, to question him of our faults; and this in an impressive and impor­tunate manner, not being satisfied with his pro­fessions of seeing none, but persisting in our demand. When he has thus been won to bring them forward, we are not to appear mortified but rejoiced; for according to the Prophet’s declaration, Blessed be he who points out my defects, he has done us a favour, conveying no ordinary claim on our gratitude. In this way then we may set ourselves to remedy what is amiss.* But if the truth is not made known by a friend, the object may certainly be obtained from an enemy. For these, in the most part, show no tenderness in declaring any one’s bad qualities, but rather strive to publish them abroad. By such means, then, being made aware of our defects, we are to employ the utmost solicitude in filling up any fissure which has taken place; and this is the meaning of what Galen says in another place: “The good are profited of their enemies.”* It is told us for a saying of Eesa* (blessed be he!), “I have learnt manners from the unmannerly;” and others* of the wise have said, the seeker of virtue ought to make his friends’ exteriors a glass* wherein to contemplate his own qualities and dispo­sition; that he may thus become aware how odious his vices are. For the mind is unconscious that any of its own proceedings are odious, but easily per­ceives it in those of others.