On Benefits Book I, VII


There is not any benefit so glorious in itself, but it may yet be exceedingly sweetened and improved by the manner of conferring it.

The virtue, I know, rests in the intent, the profit in the judicious application of the matter; but the beauty and ornament of an obligation lies in the manner of it; and it is then perfect when the dignity of the office is accompanied with all the charms and delicacies of humanity, good-nature, and address; and with dispatch too; for he that puts a man off from time to time, was never right at heart.

In the first place, whatsoever we give, let us do it frankly: a kind benefactor makes a man happy as soon as he can, and as much as he can.

There should be no delay in a benefit but the modesty of the receiver. If we cannot forsee the request, let us, however, immediately grant it, and by no means suffer the repeating of it.

It is so grievous a thing to say, I BEG; the very word puts a man out of countenance; and it is a double kindness to do the thing, and save an honest man the confusion of a blush.

It comes too late that comes for the asking: for nothing costs us so dear as that we purchase with our prayers: it is all we give, even for heaven itself; and even there too, where our petitions are at the fairest, we choose rather to present them in secret ejaculations than by word of mouth.

That is the lasting and the acceptable benefit that meets the receiver half-way.

The rule is, we are to give, as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.

Nay, if there should be occasion for delay, let us, however, not seem to deliberate; for demurring is next door to denying; and so long as we suspend, so long are we unwilling.

It is a court-humor to keep people upon the tenters; their injuries are quick and sudden, but their benefits are slow.

Great ministers love to rack men with attendance, and account it an ostentation of their power to hold their suitors in hand, and to have many witnesses of their interest.

A benefit should be made acceptable by all possible means, even to the end that the receiver, who is never to forget it, may bear it in his mind with satisfaction.

There must be no mixture of sourness, severity, contumely, or reproof, with our obligations; nay, in case there should be any occasion for so much as an admonition, let it be referred to another time.

W e are a great deal apter to remember injuries than benefits; and it is enough to forgive an obligation that has the nature of an offence.

There are some that spoil a good office after it is done and others, in the very instant of doing it.

There be so much entreaty and importunity; nay, if we do but suspect a petitioner, we put on a sour face; look another way; pretend haste, company, business; talk of other matters, and keep him off with artificial delays, let his necessities be never so pressing; and when we are put to it at last, it comes so hard from us that it is rather extorted than obtained; and not so properly the giving of a bounty, as the quitting of a man’s hold upon the tug, when another is too strong for him; so that this is but doing one kindness for me, and another for himself: he gives for his own quiet, after he has tormented me with difficulties and delays.

The manner of saying or of doing any thing, goes a great way in the value of the thing itself.

It was well said of him that called a good office, that was done harshly, and with an ill will, a stony piece of bread; it is necessary for him that is hungry to receive it, but it almost chokes a man in the going down.

There must be no pride, arrogance of looks, or tumor of words, in the bestowing of benefits; no insolence of behavior, but a modesty of mind, and a diligent care to catch at occasions and prevent necessities.

A pause, an unkind tone, word, look, or action, destroys the grace of a courtesy.

It corrupts a bounty, when it is accompanied with state, haughtiness, and elation of mind, in the giving of it.

Some have a trick of shifting off a suitor with a point of wit, or a cavil.

As in the case of the Cynic that begged a talent of Antigonus: “That is too much,” says he, “for a Cynic to ask;” and when he fell to a penny, “That is too little,” says he, “for a prince to give.”

He might have found a way to have compounded this controversy, by giving him a penny as to a Cynic and a talent as from a prince.

Whatsoever we bestow, let it be done with a frank and cheerful countenance: a man must not give with his hand, and deny with his looks.

He that gives quickly, gives willingly.

We are likewise to accompany good deeds with good words, and say, (for the purpose,) “Why should you make such a matter of this? why did not you come to me sooner? why would you make use of any body else?

I take it ill that you should bring me a recommendation; pray let there be no more of this, but when you have occasion hereafter, come to me upon your own account.”

That is the glorious bounty, when the receiver can say to himself; “What a blessed day has this been to me! never was any thing done so generously, so tenderly, with so good a grace.

What is it I would not do to serve this man?

A thousand times as much another way could not have given me this satisfaction.”

In such a case, let the benefit be never so considerable, the manner of conferring it is yet the noblest part.

Where there is harshness of language, countenance, or behavior, a man had better be without it.

A flat denial is infinitely before a vexatious delay: as a quick death is a mercy, compared with a lingering torment.

But to be put to waitings and intercessions, after a promise is passed, is a cruelty intolerable.

It is troublesome to stay long for a benefit, let it be never so great; and he that holds me needlessly in pain, loses two precious things, time, and the proof of friendship.

Nay, the very hint of a man’s want comes many times too late.

“If I had money,” said Socrates, “I would buy me a cloak.”

They that knew he wanted one should have prevented the very intimation of that want.

It is not the value of the present, but the benevolence of the mind, that we are to consider.

“He gave me but a little, but it was generously and frankly done; it was a little out of a little: he gave it me without asking; he pressed it upon me; he watched the opportunity of doing it, and took it as an obligation upon himself.”

On the other side, many benefits are great in show, but little or nothing perhaps in effect, when they come hard, slow, or at unawares.

That which is given with pride and ostentation, is rather an ambition than a bounty.

Some favors are to be conferred in public, others in private.

In public the rewards of great actions; as honors, charges, or whatsoever else gives a man reputation in the world; but the good offices we do for a man in want, distress, or under reproach, these should be known only to those that have the benefit of them.

Nay, not to them neither, if we can handsomely conceal it from whence the favor came; for the secrecy, in many cases, is a main part of the benefit.

There was a good man that had a friend, who was both poor and sick, and ashamed to own his condition: he privately conveyed a bag of money under his pillow, that he might seem rather to find than receive it.

Provided I know that I give it, no matter for his knowing from whence it comes that receives it.

Many a man stands in need of help that has not the face to confess it: if the discovery may give offence, let it lie concealed; he that gives to be seen would never relieve a man in the dark.

It would be too tedious to run through all the niceties that may occur upon this subject; but, in two words, he must be a wise, a friendly, and a well-bred man, that perfectly acquits himself in the art and duty of obliging: for all his actions must be squared according to the measures of civility, good-nature and discretion.