I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. After the death of his father, Marcus Aurelius was raised by his paternal grandfather, Marcus Annius Verus. Here are The Meditations Book Four, Part Forty-Eight through Book Five, Part Four.
Think continually how many physicians are dead after often furrowing their eyebrows over the sick; and how many astrologers are dead after predicting with great pretensions the deaths of others; and how many philosophers are dead after endless discourses on death or immortality; and how many heroes are dead after killing thousands; and how many tyrants are dead who have used their power over men’s lives with terrible insolence, as if they were immortal; and how many cities are entirely dead, such as Helice and Pompeii and Herculaneum, and others innumerable. Add to the reckoning all whom you have known, one after another. One man, after burying another, has himself been laid out dead, and another buries him, and all this in a short time. Always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are, and what was yesterday a little mucus, tomorrow will be a mummy or ashes. Pass then through this little space of time conformably to Nature, and end your journey contentedly, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing Nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.
Be like the rock against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.
Am I unhappy because something has happened to me? No, I am happy, although something has happened to me. And this is because I continue, free from pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearing the future. For such a thing as this might have happened to any man; but not every man would have continued free from pain on such an occasion. Why then is this misfortune than good fortune? Do you in all cases know that a man’s misfortune is not a deviation from man’s Nature? Does something seem to you to be a deviation from man’s Nature, when it is not contrary to the will of man’s Nature? Well, you know the will of Nature. Will this which has happened prevent you from being just, magnanimous, temperate, prudent, secure against inconsiderate opinions and falsehood; will it prevent you from having modesty, freedom, and everything else, by the presence of which man’s Nature obtains all that is its own? Remember on every occasion which leads you to vexation to apply this principle: not that this is a misfortune, but that to bear it nobly is good fortune.
It is a vulgar (but still a useful) attitude toward death to pass in review those who have tenaciously stuck to life. What more then have they gained than those who have died early? They lie in their tombs in the end, Cadicianus, Fabius, Julianus, Lepidus, and everyone else like them, who carried out many to be buried, and then were carried out themselves. Altogether the interval between birth and death is small. Consider with how much trouble, and in company with what sort of people, and in what a feeble body this interval is laboriously passed. Do not then consider life a thing of any value. For look to the immensity of time behind you, and the time which is before you is another boundless space. In this infinity, then, what is the difference between him who lives three days and him who lives three generations?
Always run to the short way; and the short way is the Natural. Accordingly, say and do everything in conformity with the soundest reason. For such a purpose frees a man from trouble, and warfare, and all artifice and ostentatious display.
In the morning when you rise unwillingly, let this thought be present: I am rising to do the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made to lie in the bed-clothes and keep myself warm? It is more pleasant, but do I exist for pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? See the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees, working together to put in order their several parts of the universe. Are you unwilling to do the work of a human being, and do you not make haste to do that which is according to your Nature? It is necessary to take rest also. It is necessary. However, Nature has fixed bounds to this too: she has fixed bounds to eating and drinking, and yet you go beyond these bounds, beyond what is sufficient. In your acts it is not so, but you stop short of what you can do. So you love not yourself, for if you did, you would love your Nature and Her will. Those who love their arts exhaust themselves in working at them, unwashed and without food, but you value your own Nature less than the potter values the potter’s art, or the dancer the dancing art, or the lover of money values his money, or the vainglorious man his little glory. These men, when they have a violent affection to a thing, choose neither to eat nor to sleep; rather, they do perfect the things which they care for. Are the acts which concern society more vile in your eyes and less worthy of your labor?
How easy it is to repel and to wipe away every impression which is troublesome or unsuitable, and immediately to be in all tranquillity.
Judge every word and deed which is according to Nature to be fit for you. Be not diverted by the blame which follows from any man nor by their words. If a thing is good to be done or said, do not consider it unworthy of you. For those men have their peculiar leading principle and follow their peculiar movement. Do not regard them but go straight on, following your own Nature and the common Nature. The way of both is one.
I go through the things which happen according to Nature before I sleep, breathing out my breath into that element out of which I daily draw it in, and falling upon that earth out of which my father collected the seed, and my mother the blood, and my nurse the milk, out of which during so many years I have been supplied with food and drink, which bears me when I tread on it and seize it for so many purposes.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
Ray Miller Orchestra – Angry (Brunswick 2844 1929)