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As if it fear'd some trespass to commit,
When the wide air's a road for it. So the imperial eagle does not stay
Till the whole carcase he devour,
That's fallen into its power:
He only sucks the tasteful blood;
"NUNQUAM minus solus, quam cum solus," is now become a very vulgar saying. Every man, and almost every boy, for these seventeen hundred years, has had it in his mouth. But it was at first spoken by the excellent Scipio, who was without question a most eloquent and witty person, as well as the most wise, most worthy, most happy, and the greatest of all mankind, His meaning, no doubt, was this, that he found more satisfaction to his mind, and more improvement of it, by solitude than by company; and, to shew that he spoke not this loosely or out of vanity, after he had made Rome mistress of almost the whole world, he retired himself from it by a voluntary exile, and at a private house, in the middle of a wood, near Linternum *, passed the res mainder of his glorious life no less gloriously. This house Seneca went to see so long after with great veneration; and, among other things, describes his baths to have been of so mean a structure, that now, says he, the basest of the people would de^ spise them, and cry out, " Poor Scipio understood pot how to live." What an authority is here for the credit of retreat! and happy had it been for Hannibal, if adversity could have taught him as much wisdom as was learnt by Scipio from the highest prosperities. This would be no wonder, if it were as truly as it is colourably and wittily said by Monsieur de Montaigne, "that ambition itself might teach us to love solitude; there is nothing does so much hate to have companions." It is. true, it loves to have its elbows free, it detests to have company on either side; but it delights above all things in a train behind, aye, and ushers too before it. But the greatest part of men are so far from the opinion of that noble Roman, that, if they chance at any time to be without company, they are like a becalmed ship; they never move but by the wind of other men's breath, and have no oars of their own to steer withal. It is very fantastical and contradictory in human nature, that men should love themselves
above all the rest of the world, and yet never endure to be with themselves. When they are in love 'with a mistress, all other persons are importunate and burthensome to them, "Tecum vivere amem, tecum obeam lubeiis," they would live and die with her alone.
"Sic ego secretis possum bene vivere sylvis,
"Tu mihi curarum requies, tu nocte vel atrA
With thee for ever I in woods could rest,
And yet our dear self is so wearisome to us, that we can scarcely support its conversation for an hour together. This is such an odd temper of mind, as Catullus expresses towards one of his mistresses, whom we may suppose to have been of a very unsociable humour f.
"Odj, & amo: quare id faciam fortasse requiris. "Nescio; scd fieri sentio, & excrucior."
J hate, and yet I love thee too; How can that be? I know not how; '. * 4 Tibull. xiii. 9. f De amorc suo, Ixxxiii. Only that so it is I know;
And feel with torment that't is so.
It is a deplorable condition this, and drives a man sometimes to pitiful shifts, in seeking how to avoid himself.
The truth of the matter is, that neither he who is a fop in the world is a fit man to be alone; nor he who has set his heart much upon the world though he have never so much understanding; so that solitude can be well fitted, and sit right, but upon a very few persons. They must have enough knowledge of the world to see the vanity of it, and enough virtue to despise all vanity; if the mind be possessed with any lust or passions, a man had better be in a fair, than in a wood alone. They may, like petty thieves, cheat us perhaps, and pick our pockets, in the midst of company; but, like robbers, they use to strip and bind, or murder us, when they catch us alone. This is but to retreat from men, and fall into the hands of devils. If is like the punishment of parricides among the Romans, to be sowed into a bag, with an ape, a dog, and a serpent.
The first work therefore that a man must do, to make himself capable of the good of solitude, is, the very eradication of all lusts; for how is it possible for a man to enjoy himself, while his affections are tied to things without himself? In the second place, lie must learn the art and get the habit of thinking; for this too, no less than well-speaking, depends upon much practice; and cogitation is the thing which distinguishes the solitude of a God from a wild beast. Now, because the soul of man is not by its own nature or observation furnished with sufficient materials to work upon, it is necessary for it to have continual recourse to learning and books for fresh supplies, so that the solitary life will grow indigent, and be ready \o starve, without them; but if once we be thoroughly engaged in the love of letters, instead of being wearied with the length of any day, we shall only complain of the shortness of our whole life.
"O vita, stulto longa, sapienti brevis *!"
O life, long to the fool, short to the wise!
The first minister of state has not so much business in publick, as a wise man has in private: if the one have little leisure to be alone, the other has less leisure to be in company; the one has but part of the affairs of one nation, the other all the works of God and nature, under his consideration. There is no saying shocks me so much as that which I hear very often, "that a man does not know how to pass his time." It would have been but ill-spoken by Methusalem in ihe nine hundred sixty-ninth year of.his life; so far it is from us, who have not
* 0 vita, miscro longa, felici btcvis!"