William Temple

On fortune

Selection from essays “Written in his Youth at Brussels”

It is unreasonable that I should give fortune so a great a space in my thoughts, while she gives me so small an one in hers. I have often said I could never adore a disdainful face, never smile upon a frown unless in scorn, never pursue a fugitive unless for revenge; in fine never love anything that hated me; and yet while I most unjustly detain the tribute of my thoughts from a kinder mistress, why do I thus unjustly lavish them away upon this cruel and yet common strumpet, for the last is the word that most speaks her disgrace or rather mine, to be at the pains of courting her, and after all at the shame of a refusal? Sure, ’t would create a gall in a dove, beget despite in a Stoic, and so it would in me, could my passion find anything to seize upon; but to rail at fortune were to scold against an echo: as one has no voice, so t’ other has no power but what we give it. I might fret at my spleen, wear out my lungs, but to as little purpose as I do my pens. Fortune is nothing, and my thoughts e’en as empty as if they were so too. We say she is blind, when the truth of it is ’t is we that are so. Our ignorance gives her a name, when we cannot discover the cause of any effect, either because the way is dark, or we are purblind; ’t is but believing there is none, and then in comes fortune like a cypher that signifies nothing, and yet you may make it stand for whatever you please. Sure he were a wise man would conclude there were no sea further than he could see, or there were no bottom because his line were at an end. Never any huntsman said the hare was vanished where his hounds came to a loss. What hounds are we, that with our noses grovelling on the earth and sensible objects, presume to trace that eternal order and series of things, which though it soon leaves us at a loss yet mounts up by the links of a certain chain, the end of which is in the hand of its Maker! We believe that Nilus has a head, though by dividing itself into so many streams it deludes the search of all that seek it out; that no drop of water but comes from some stream, no stream but comes from the sea, though some are derived through visible channels, and others invisibly conveyed into the bowels of the earth or into the womb of a cloud; but I begin to fly out of my sphere: the application and our folly is easily found. If I should soar high, I should be forced to make a stoop: ’t is easier running upon plain ground, than rises and descents. Indeed, I distaste and avoid nothing more than a swelled style, having observed it commonly proceeds from a swelled mind (which makes scholars and youth its only patrons), and that naturally the emptiest things make the greatest sound: in heaven’s thunder the vapour, in earth’s thunder the powder only, make the noise; while the bolt and the bullet pass silently, but give the blow. Metals that have most pores give most sound, fools the greatest talkers; and I have seldom heard a man speak very loud and much to the purpose; though I must confess myself no competent judge, having a general and innate aversion from a loud voice. This makes me much more apprehensive of provoking a woman than a man, as who without difficulty would choose rather to be beaten than rated? Yet there may be another reason in being careful of observing a particular complaisance to women, in that men’s injuries may be revenged with honour, women’s not without shame. Besides that the tone of anger and dissension becomes not friendly discourses, loud talking appears in my eye an effort of vanity or presumption, rather than any natural imperfection of necessity. There is no man but can make a shift to whisper what he is ashamed should be public; as on the other side he must be very far gone in a consumption, whose lungs will not serve him to shout a witty saying to the farther end of the room, if there be no echo near him to convey it, which seldom fails. I have known some throats as very wind-guns as any made at Utrecht, and that carry a charge if not so dangerous yet sure as painful. I hate a loud beggar, because he robs me of my money and my charity too, which is lost by proceeding from a desire to relieve myself and not him, from compassion for my own worth, and not of his misery. It is at most men’s ears as at their doors, which are opened to them that knock loudest, not to them who come first or have most business. Yet reason is on their side. Methinks ’tis strange (if it be true) that in our Parliament upon some votes, the determination passes without examining further than the sound of the ayes or noes. Why, at this rate, with a score of High Germans, I would undertake to carry every vote in spite of the whole house. Indeed, the Almain is a language I should never learn unless it were to fright children when they cry; yet methinks it should be good to clear a man’s throat that were hoarse with a cold. I have heard some speak it so as to make one expect their words should break down their teeth as they rushed out of their mouth. There are no soldiers like the Germans where the interest of the army is, in a dark engagement to make a few seem many; where to talk with a good will they may well pass for 100. Flemish is a lower, yet to my ear a worse sound; I never could esteem any woman handsome while she spoke, and I believe the ladies are generally conscious of it, for in company none of them will ever use it: the tone is the more displeasing, because it sounds as if they who speak it were always displeased, and something arrogant withal. They talk as if a man owed them money and would not pay them. To conclude with ill sounds,—if I were to make a concert of music to entertain the devil, it should be composed of a child, a cat, a screech-owl, an ass, and Mynheer Vanderberg.


MLA Citation

Temple, William. “On fortune.” 1652. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 6 Oct 2007. 04 Dec 2023 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/temple/fortune/>.

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