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THE DANGER OF PROCRASTINATION.
A LETTER TO MR. S. L.
I AM glad that you approve and applaud my design of withdrawing myself from all tumult and business of the world, and consecrating the little rest of my time to those studies, to which nature had so motherly inclined me, and from which fortune, like a step-mother, has so long detained me. But nevertheless (you say, which but is "aerugo mera," a rust which spoils the good metal it grows upon. But you say) you would advise me not to precipitate that resolution, but to stay a while longer with patience and complaisance, till I had gotten such an estate as might afford me (according to the saying of that person, whom you and I love very much, and would believe as soon as another man) " cum dignitate otium." This were excellent advice to Joshua, who could bid the sun stay too. But there is no fooling with life, when it is once turned beyond forty. The seeking for a fortune then, is but a desperate after-game : it is a hundred to one, if a man fling two sixes and recover all; especially, if his hand be no luckier than mine.
There is some help for all the defects of fortune; for, if a man cannot attain to the length of his wishes, he may have his remedy by cutting of them shorter. Epicurus writes a letter to Idomeneus (who was then a very powerful, wealthy, and, it seems, bountiful person) to recommend to him, who had made so many men rich, one Pythocles, a friend of his, whom he desired might be made a rich man too; " but I intreat you that you would not do it just the same way as you have done to many less deserving persons, but in the most gentlemanly. manner of obliging him, which is, not to add any thing to his estate, but to take something from his desires."
The sura of this is, that, for the uncertain hopes of some conveniencies, we ought not to defer the execution of a work that is necessary; especially, when the use of those things, which we would stay for, may otherwise be supplied; but the loss of time, never recovered: nay, further yet, though we were sure to obtain all that we had a mind to, though we .were sure of getting never so much by continuing the game, yet, when the light of life is so near going out, and ought to be so precious, " le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle," the play is not worth the expence of the candle: after having been long tossed in a tempest, if our masts be standing, and we have still sail and tackling enough to carry us to our port, it is no matter for the want of streamers and topgallants;
Totos pande sinus—*
A gentleman in our late civil wars, when his quarters were beaten up by the enemy, was taken prisoner, and lost his life afterwards, only by staying to put on a band, and adjust his periwig: he would escape like a person of quality, or not at all, and died the noble martyr of ceremony and gentility. I think, your counsel of " Festina lente " is as ill to a man who is flying from the world, as it would have been to that unfortunate, well-bred gentleman, who was so cautious as not to fly undecently from his enemies ; and therefore I prefer Horace's advice before yours,
- sapere aude,
Begin; the getting out of doors is the greatest part of the journey. Varro* teaches us that Latin proverb, " portam itineri longissimam esse:" but to return to Horace,
"— Sapere aude:
"Incipe. Vivendi recte qui prorogat horam,
Begin, be hold, and venture to be wise;
• Lib. i. Agric. f 1 Ep. ii. 40,
Till the whole stream, which stopp'd him, should be
gone, That runs, and as it runs, for ever will run on.
'r Caesar (the man of expedition above all others) was so far from this folly, that whensoever, in a journey, he was to cross any river, he never went one foot out of his way for a bridge, or a ford, or a ferry; but flung himself into it immediately, and swam oyer; and this is the course we ought to imitate, if we meet with any stops in our way to happiness. Stay, till the waters are low; stay, till some boats come by to transport you; stay, till a bridge be built for you; you had even as good stay, till the river be quite past. Persius (who, you use to say, you do not know whether he be a good poet or no, because you cannot understand him, and whom therefore, I say, I know to be not a good poet) has an odd expression of these procrastinators, which, methinks, is full of fancy:
"Jam eras hesternumconsumpsimus; eccealiudcras "Egerit hos annos."
Our yesterday's to-morrow now is gone,
And now, I think, I am even with you, for your "Otium cum dignitate," and " Festina lente," and three or four other more of your new Latin sentences: if I should draw upon you all my forces out of Seneca and Plutarch upon this subject, I should overwhelm you; but I leave those, as TriarU, for your next charge. I shall only give you now a light skirmish out of an epigrammatist, your special good friend; and so, vale.
MARTIAL. LIB. V. EPIGR. LIX,
"Cras te victurum, eras dkis, Posthume, semper," 4 c,
TO-MORROW you will live, you always cry: In what far country does this morrow lie, That't is so mighty long ere it arrive? Beyond the Indies does this morrow live? 'T is so far fetch'd this morrow, that I fear 'T will be both very old and very dear. To-morrow I will live, the fool does say: To-day itself's too late; the wise liv'd yesterday,
MARTIAL. LIB. II. EPIGR. XC.
*' Quinctiliane} vagce moderator svmmejvxenta" fyc.
WONDER not, Sir (you who instruct the town In the true wisdom of the sacred gown),