On Benefits Book II, V

Nothing is more bitter than long uncertainty; some can bear to have their hopes extinguished better than to have them deferred.

Yet many men are led by an unworthy vanity into this fault of putting off the accomplishment of their promises, merely in order to swell the crowd of their suitors, like the ministers of royalty, who delight in prolonging the display of their own arrogance, hardly thinking themselves possessed of power unless they let each man see for a long time how powerful they are.

They do nothing promptly, or at one sitting; they are indeed swift to do mischief, but slow to do good.

Be sure that the comic poet speaks the most absolute truth in the verses:⁠—

“Know you not this? If you your gifts delay, You take thereby my gratitude away.”

And the following lines, the expression of virtuous pain⁠—a high-spirited man’s misery⁠—

“What thou doest, do quickly;”


“Nothing in the world Is worth this trouble; I had rather you Refused it to me now.”

When the mind begins through weariness to hate the promised benefit, or while it is wavering in expectation of it, how can it feel grateful for it?

As the most refined cruelty is that which prolongs the torture, while to kill the victim at once is a kind of mercy, since the extremity of torture brings its own end with it⁠—the interval is the worst part of the execution⁠—so the shorter time a benefit hangs in the balance, the more grateful it is to the receiver.

It is possible to look forward with anxious disquietude even to good things, and, seeing that most benefits consist in a release from some form of misery, a man destroys the value of the benefit which he confers, if he has the power to relieve us, and yet allows us to suffer or to lack pleasure longer than we need.

Kindness is always eager to do good, and one who acts by love naturally acts at once; he who does us good, but does it tardily and with long delays, does not do so from the heart.

Thus he loses two most important things: time, and the proof of his good will to us; for a lingering consent is but a form of denial.