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. Here are The Meditations Book Seven, Parts Sixty-Eight through Seventy-Five, and Book Eight, Parts One through Ten.
It is in your power to live free from all compulsion, in the greatest tranquillity of mind, even if all the world cry out against you as much as they choose, and even if wild beasts tear in pieces the members of this kneaded matter which has grown around you. Nothing hinders the mind in the midst of all this from maintaining itself in tranquillity, and in a just judgment of all surrounding things, and in a ready use of the objects which are presented to it. The mind may say to the thing which falls under its observation: ‘this you are in reality, though in men’s opinion you may appear to be of a different kind.’ Your actions may say to that which falls under the hand: ‘you are the thing that I was seeking, for to me that which presents itself is always a material for virtue both rational and social, and in a word, for the exercise of art, which belongs to man and God.’ Everything which happens has a relationship either to God or man, and is neither new nor difficult to handle. It is the usual and appropriate matter to work on.
The perfection of moral character consists in this: pass every day as the last, and be neither violently excited, nor torpid, nor playing the hypocrite.
The gods who are immortal are not vexed because during so long a time they must tolerate continually men such as they are, and so many of them bad. They also take care of men in all ways. But you, who are destined to end so soon, are you wearied of enduring the bad, and this when you also are one of the bad?
It is a ridiculous thing for a man not to fly from his own badness, which is indeed possible, but to instead fly from other men’s badness, which is impossible.
Whatever the rational and social faculty finds to be neither rational nor social, it properly judges to be inferior to itself.
When you have done a good act and another has received it, do not still look for a third thing besides these, as fools do, either to have the reputation of having done a good act or to obtain a good act a return.
No man is tired of receiving what is useful. It is useful to act according to nature. Do not then be tired of receiving what is useful by being tired of other men.
The nature of the All moved to make the universe. Now, either everything that takes place comes by way of consequence and continuity, or even the chief things towards which the ruling power of the universe directs its own movement are governed by no rational principle. If this is remembered, it will make you more tranquil in many things.
This reflection also tends to the removal of the desire of empty fame. It is no longer in your power to have lived the whole of your life (or at least your life from your youth upwards) like a philosopher, but both to many others and to yourself it is plain that you are far from philosophy. You have fallen into disorder then, so that it is no longer easy for you to get the reputation of a philosopher. Your plan of life also opposes it. If then you have truly seen where the matter lies, throw away the thought, ‘how shall I seem to others?’ Be content if you will live the rest of your life as your nature wills. Observe what it wills, and let nothing else distract you. You have had experience of many wanderings without having found happiness anywhere. Not in syllogisms, nor in wealth, nor in reputation, nor in enjoyment, nor anywhere. Where is it then? In doing what man’s nature requires. How then will a man do this? By having principles from which come his opinion and his actions. What are these principles? Those which relate to good and bad: the belief that there is nothing good for man which does not make him just, temperate, manly, free; and that there is nothing bad which does not do the contrary.
On the occasion of every act ask yourself, ‘how is this with respect to me? Shall I repent of it? A little time and I am dead, and all is gone. What more do I seek, if what I am now doing is the work of an intelligent living being, and a social being, and one who is under the same law with God?’
Alexander and Caius and Pompeius, what are they in comparison with Diogenes and Heraclitus and Socrates? They were all acquainted with things, and their causes, and their matter, and the ruling principles of these men were the same. But as to former, how many things had they to care for, and to how many things were they slaves!
Men will do the same things nevertheless, even though you should burst.
This is the most important rule: be not perturbed. All things are according to the nature of the universal. In a little time you will be nobody and nowhere, like Hadrianus and Augustus. The next most important rule is that having fixed your eyes steadily on your business, look at it. Remember that it is your duty to be a good man, and what man’s nature demands. Do that without turning aside. Speak as it seems to you most just. Let it be with a good disposition, and with modesty, and without hypocrisy.
The nature of the universal has this work to do: remove to that place all things, to change them, to take them away hence, and to carry them there. All things are change, yet we need not fear anything new. All things are familiar, and the distribution of them still remains the same.
Every nature is contented with itself when it goes on its way well. A rational nature goes on its way well when (in its thoughts) it assents to nothing false or uncertain, and when it directs its movements to social acts only, and when it confines its desires and aversions to the things which are in its power, and when it is satisfied with everything that is assigned to it by the common nature. Every particular nature is a part of this common nature, as the nature of the leaf is a part of the nature of the plant. In the plant, the nature of the leaf is part of a nature which has not perception or reason, and is subject to be impeded. The nature of man is part of a nature which is not subject to impediments, and is intelligent, and just, since it gives to everything in equal portions and according to its worth, times, substance, cause, activity and incident. Examine all things, not to discover that any one thing compared with any other single thing is equal in all respects, but by taking all the parts together of one thing and comparing them with all the parts together of another.
You may not have the ability to read. But you have ability to check arrogance. You have the ability to be superior to pleasure and to pain. You have ability to be superior to the love of fame, and not to be vexed at stupid and ungrateful people, nay even to care for them.
Let no man any longer hear you finding fault with the court life or with your own life.
Repentance is a kind of self-reproof for having neglected something useful. That which is good must be something useful, and the perfect good man should look after it. But no such man would ever repent of having refused any sensual pleasure. Pleasure then is neither good nor useful.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
Ruth Etting – Whose Honey Are You? (1935)