On Benefits Book I, XV


The three main points in the question of benefits are, first, a judicious choice in the object; secondly, in the matter of our benevolence; and thirdly, a grateful felicity in the manner of expressing it.

But there are also incumbent upon the benefactor other considerations, which will deserve a place in this discourse.

It is not enough to do one good turn, and to do it with a good grace too, unless we follow it with more, and without either upbraiding or repining.

It is a common shift, to charge that upon the ingratitude of the receiver, which, in truth, is most commonly the levity and indiscretion of the giver; for all circumstances must be duly weighed to consummate the action.

Some there are that we find ungrateful; but what with our forwardness, change of humor and reproaches, there are more that we make so.

And this is the business: we give with design, and most to those that are able to give most again.

We give to the covetous, and to the ambitious; to those that can never be thankful, (for their desires are insatiable,) and to those that will not.

He that is a tribune would be prætor; the prætor, a consul; never reflecting upon what he was, but only looking forward to what he would be.

People are still computing, Must I lose this or that benefit?

If it be lost, the fault lies in the ill bestowing of it; for rightly placed, it is as good as consecrated; if we be deceived in another, let us not be deceived in ourselves too.

A charitable man will mend the matter: and say to himself, Perhaps he has forgot it, perchance he could not, perhaps he will yet requite it.

A patient creditor will, of an ill paymaster, in time make a good one; an obstinate goodness overcomes an ill disposition, as a barren soil is made fruitful by care and tillage.

But let a man be never so ungrateful or inhuman, he shall never destroy the satisfaction of my having done a good office.

But what if others will be wicked? does it follow that we must be so too?

If others will be ungrateful, must we therefore be inhuman?

To give and to lose, is nothing; but to lose and to give still, is the part of a great mind.

And the others in effect is the greater loss; for the one does but lose his benefit, and the other loses himself.

The light shines upon the profane and sacrilegious as well as upon the righteous.

How many disappointments do we meet with in our wives and children, and yet we couple still?

He that has lost one battle hazards another.

The mariner puts to sea again after a wreck.

An illustrious mind does not propose the profit of a good office, but the duty.

If the world be wicked, we should yet persevere in well-doing, even among evil men.

I had rather never receive a kindness than never bestow one: not to return a benefit is the greater sin, but not to confer it is the earlier.

We cannot propose to ourselves a more glorious example than that of the Almighty, who neither needs nor expects anything from us; and yet he is continually showering down and distributing his mercies and his grace among us, not only for our necessities, but also for our delights; as fruits and seasons, rain and sunshine, veins of water and of metal; and all this to the wicked as well as to the good, and without any other end than the common benefit of the receivers.

With what face then can we be mercenary one to another, that have received all things from Divine Providence gratis?

It is a common saying, “I gave such or such a man so much money: I would I had thrown it into the sea;” and yet the merchant trades again after a piracy, and the banker ventures afresh after a bad security.

He that will do no good offices after a disappointment, must stand still, and do just nothing at all.

The plow goes on after a barren year: and while the ashes are yet warm, we raise a new house upon the ruins of a former.

What obligations can be greater than those which children receive from their parents? and yet should we give them over in their infancy, it were all to no purpose.

Benefits, like grain, must be followed from the seed to the harvest.

I will not so much as leave any place for ingratitude.

I will pursue, and I will encompass the receiver with benefits; so that let him look which way he will, his benefactor shall be still in his eye, even when he would avoid his own memory: and then I will remit to one man because he calls for it; to another, because he does not; to a third, because he is wicked; and to a fourth, because he is the contrary.

I will cast away a good turn upon a bad man, and I will requite a good one; the one because it is my duty, and the other that I may not be in debt.

I do not love to hear any man complain that he has met with a thankless man.

If he has met but with one, he has either been very fortunate or very careful.

And yet care is not sufficient: for there is no way to escape the hazard of losing a benefit but the not bestowing of it, and to neglect a duty to myself for fear another should abuse it.

It is another’s fault if he be ungrateful, but it is mine if I do not give.

To find one thankful man, I will oblige a great many that are not so.

The business of mankind would be at a stand, if we should do nothing for fear of miscarriages in matters of certain event.

I will try and believe all things, before I give any man over, and do all that is possible that I may not lose a good office and a friend together.

What do I know but he may misunderstand the obligation? business may have put it out of his head, or taken him off from it: he may have slipt his opportunity.

I will say, in excuse of human weakness, that one man’s memory is not sufficient for all things; it is but a limited capacity, so as to hold only so much, and no more: and when it is once full, it must let out part of what it had to take in anything beside; and the last benefit ever sits closest to us.

In our youth we forget the obligations of our infancy, and when we are men we forget those of our youth.

If nothing will prevail, let him keep what he has and welcome; but let him have a care of returning evil for good, and making it dangerous for a man to do his duty.

I would no more give a benefit for such a man, than I would lend money to a beggarly spendthrift; or deposit any in the hands of a known knight of the post.

However the case stands, an ungrateful person is never the better for a reproach; if he be already hardened in his wickedness, he gives no heed to it; and if he be not, it turns a doubtful modesty into an incorrigible impudence: beside that, he watches for all ill words to pick a quarrel with them.

As the benefactor is not to upbraid a benefit, so neither to delay it: the one is tiresome, and the other odious.

We must not hold men in hand, as physicians and surgeons do their patients, and keep them longer in fear and pain than needs, only to magnify the cure.

A generous man gives easily, and receives as he gives, but never exacts.

He rejoices in the return, and judges favorably of it whatever it be, and contents himself with bare thanks for a requital. It is a harder matter with some to get the benefit after it is promised than the first promise of it, there must be so many friends made in the case.

One must be desired to solicit another; and he must be entreated to move a third; and a fourth must be at last besought to receive it; so that the author, upon the upshot, has the least share in the obligation.

It is then welcome when it comes free, and without deduction; and no man either to intercept or hinder, or to detain it.

And let it be of such a quality too, that it be not only delightful in the receiving, but after it is received; which it will certainly be, if we do but observe this rule, never to do any thing for another which we would not honestly desire for ourselves.