Front Page Titles (by Subject) Spectator, No. 293 - Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays
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Spectator, No. 293 - Joseph Addison, Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays 
Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays, ed. by Christine Dunn Henderson and Mark E. Yellin, with a Foreword by Forrest McDonald (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004).
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Spectator, No. 293
Tuesday, February 5, 1712
Πᾶσιν γὰρ εὖ φρονοῦσι συμμαχεῖ τύχη.
The Famous Gratian,2 in his little Book wherein he lays down Maxims for a Man’s advancing himself at Court, advises his Reader to associate himself with the Fortunate, and to shun the Company of the Unfortunate; which, notwithstanding the Baseness of the Precept to an honest Mind, may have something useful in it for those who push their Interest in the World. It is certain a great part of what we call good or ill Fortune, rises out of right or wrong Measures, and Schemes of Life. When I hear a Man complain of his being unfortunate in all his Undertakings, I shrewdly suspect him for a very weak Man in his Affairs. In conformity with this way of thinking, Cardinal Richelieu3 used to say, that unfortunate and imprudent, were but two words for the same thing. As the Cardinal himself had a great share both of Prudence and Good-Fortune, his famous Antagonist, the Count d’Olivarez,4 was disgraced at the Court of Madrid, because it was alledged against him that he had never any Success in his Undertakings. This, says an Eminent Author,5 was indirectly accusing him of Imprudence.
Cicero recommended Pompey to the Romans for their General upon three Accounts, as he was a Man of Courage, Conduct and Good-Fortune.6 It was, perhaps, for the Reason abovementioned, namely, that a Series of Good-Fortune supposes a prudent Management in the Person whom it befalls, that not only Sylla the Dictator,7 but several of the Roman Emperors, as is still to be seen upon their Medals, among their other Titles, gave themselves that of Felix, or Fortunate. The Heathens, indeed, seem to have valued a Man more for his Good-Fortune than for any other Quality, which I think is very natural for those who have not a strong Belief of another World. For how can I conceive a Man crowned with many distinguishing Blessings, that has not some extraordinary Fund of Merit and Perfection in him, which lies open to the Supream Eye, tho’ perhaps it is not discovered by my Observation? What is the Reason Homer’s and Virgil’s Heroes do not form a Resolution, or strike a Blow, without the Conduct and Direction of some Deity? Doubtless, because the Poets esteemed it the greatest Honour to be favoured by the Gods, and thought the best way of praising a Man was to recount those Favours which naturally implied an extraordinary Merit in the Person on whom they descended.
Those who believe a future State of Rewards and Punishments act very absurdly, if they form their Opinions of a Man’s Merit from his Successes. But certainly, if I thought the whole Circle of our Being was concluded between our Births and Deaths, I should think a Man’s Good-Fortune the Measure and Standard of his real Merit, since Providence would have no Opportunity of rewarding his Vertue and Perfections, but in the present Life. A Vertuous Unbeliever, who lies under the Pressure of Misfortunes, has reason to cry out, as they say Brutus8 did a little before his Death, O Vertue, I have worshiped thee as a Substantial Good, but I find thou art an empty Name.9
But to return to our first Point. Tho’ Prudence does undoubtedly in a great measure produce our good or ill Fortune in the World, it is certain there are many unforeseen Accidents and Occurrences, which very often pervert the finest Schemes that can be laid by Human Wisdom. The Race is not always to the Swift, nor the Battel to the Strong.10 Nothing less than infinite Wisdom can have an absolute Command over Fortune; the highest degree of it which Man can possess, is by no means equal to fortuitous Events, and to such Contingencies as may rise in the Prosecution of our Affairs. Nay, it very often happens, that Prudence, which has always in it a great mixture of Caution, hinders a Man from being so fortunate, as he might possibly have been without it. A Person who only aims at what is likely to succeed, and follows closely the Dictates of Human Prudence, never meets with those great and unforeseen Successes, which are often the effect of a Sanguine Temper, or a more happy Rashness; and this perhaps may be the Reason, that according to the common Observation, Fortune, like other Females, delights rather in favouring the young than the old.11
Upon the whole, since Man is so short-sighted a Creature, and the Accidents which may happen to him so various, I cannot but be of Dr. Tillotson’s12 Opinion in another Case, that were there any doubt of a Providence, yet it certainly would be very desirable there should be such a Being of infinite Wisdom and Goodness, on whose Direction we might rely in the Conduct of Human Life.
It is a great Presumption to ascribe our Successes to our own Management, and not to esteem our selves upon any Blessing, rather as it is the Bounty of Heaven, than the Acquisition of our own Prudence. I am very well pleased with a Medal which was struck by Queen Elizabeth a little after the Defeat of the Invincible Armada, to perpetuate the Memory of that extraordinary Event.13 It is well known how the King of Spain, and others who were the Enemies of that great Princess, to derogate from her Glory, ascribed the Ruin of their Fleet rather to the Violence of Storms and Tempests, than to the Bravery of the English. Queen Elizabeth, instead of looking upon this as a Diminution of her Honour, valued her self upon such a signal Favour of Providence; and accordingly in the Reverse of the Medal above-mentioned, has represented a Fleet beaten by a Tempest, and falling foul upon one another, with that Religious Inscription, Afflavit Deus & dissipantur. He blew with his Wind, and they were scattered.
It is remarked of a famous Graecian General,14 whose Name I cannot at present recollect, and who had been a particular Favourite of Fortune, that upon recounting his Victories among his Friends, he added at the end of several great Actions, And in this Fortune had no share. After which it is observed in History, that he never prospered in any thing he undertook.
As Arrogance, and a Conceitedness of our own Abilities, are very shocking and offensive to Men of Sense and Vertue, we may be sure they are highly displeasing to that Being who delights in an humble Mind, and by several of his Dispensations seems purposely to shew us, that our own Schemes or Prudence have no share in our Advancement.
Since on this Subject I have already admitted several Quotations which have occurred to my Memory upon writing this Paper, I will conclude it with a little Persian Fable.15 A Drop of Water fell out of a Cloud into the Sea, and finding it self lost in such an Immensity of fluid Matter, broke out into the following Reflection: “Alas! What an inconsiderable Creature am I in this prodigious Ocean of Waters; my Existence is of no Concern to the Universe, I am reduced to a kind of nothing, and am less than the least of the Works of God.” It so happened, that an Oyster, which lay in the neighbourhood of this Drop, chanced to gape and swallow it up in the midst of this his humble Soliloquy. The Drop, says the Fable, lay a great while hardning in the Shell, ’till by degrees it was ripen’d into a Pearl, which falling into the Hands of a Diver, after a long Series of Adventures, is at present that famous Pearl which is fixed on the Top of the Persian Diadem.
[1. ]“Fortune fights on the side of the prudent.” Greek source unknown (translation courtesy of Aristide Tessitore).
[2. ]Baltasar Gracián (1601–58) was a Spanish Jesuit philosopher and writer. His 1647 Oráculo manual y arte de prudencia (or The Art of Worldly Wisdom) contains a series of maxims and instructions. Addison seems to be referring to Maxim XXXI, which begins: “We must know the fortunate to choose them and the unfortunate to flee from them” (translation courtesy of Emilio J. Pacheco).
[3. ]Armand Jean du Plessis, duc de Richelieu (1585–1642) became a cardinal in 1622 and was Louis XIII’s chief minister. Richelieu’s domestic policy sought to increase royal power and consequently endeavored to weaken the nobility and also the Huguenots, while his foreign policy was marked by alliances with the Netherlands and the German Protestant states.
[4. ]Don Gaspar de Guzman, Count-Duke d’Olivarez (1587–1645), was the chief advisor to Philip IV of Spain and one of Richelieu’s most noteworthy opponents.
[5. ]In his Dictionnaire Historique et Critique, Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) makes this observation (fifth edition, Amsterdam: 1740, 4:377, remark L).
[6. ]Cicero De Imperio Cn. Pompei ad Quirites Oratio X.28.
[7. ]Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138–78 b.c.).
[8. ]Marcus Junius Brutus (c. 85–42 b.c.) was one of the chief conspirators in the assassination of Julius Caesar. Brutus originally sided with Pompey against Caesar but was pardoned by Caesar after the battle at Pharsalus. Married to Cato the Younger’s daughter Portia, Brutus was known as a Stoic philosopher and was often likened to Cato.
[9. ]Florus Epitome of Roman History 2.17.11.
[10. ]Ecclesiastes 9:11.
[11. ]See Machiavelli’s The Prince, chapter 25.
[12. ]John Tillotson (1630–1694), Archbishop of Canterbury, expresses this opinion in numerous sermons.
[13. ]Naval forces of Elizabeth I (b. 1533, r. 1558–1603) defeated the Armada of King Philip II in 1588.
[14. ]Timoleon was a fourth-century b.c. Greek general and statesman, known as the scourge of tryants. Plutarch’s Life of Sulla seems to be the source of this anecdote, which is also quoted by Bayle in remark I of his “Timoleon” entry.
[15. ]This tale, which is from the Persian poet Sadi, is quoted in the Voyages de Chardin (Amsterdam, 1711), viii.19. It reads: “Une goûte d’eau tomba de la nuë dans la mer, / Elle demeura toute étourdie en considerant l’immensité de la mer. / Helas! dit-elle, en comparaison de la mer, que suis je? /Sûrement où la mer est, je ne suis qu’un vrai rien. / Pendant qu’elle se consideroit ainsi en son neant, / Une huitre la reçût dans son sein, & l’y éleva. / Le Ciel avança la chose, & la porta à ce point, / Qu’elle devint la Perle fameuse de la Couronne du Roi.”