On Benefits Book II, X

Sometimes even the person who is assisted must be deceived, in order that he may receive our bounty without knowing the source from whence it flows.

It is said that Arcesilaus had a friend who was poor, but concealed his poverty; who was ill, yet tried to hide his disorder, and who had not money for the necessary expenses of existence.

Without his knowledge, Arcesilaus placed a bag of money under his pillow, in order that this victim of false shame might rather seem to find what he wanted than to receive.

“What,” say you, “ought he not to know from whom he received it?”

Yes; let him not know it at first, if it be essential to your kindness that he should not; afterwards I will do so much for him, and give him so much that he will perceive who was the giver of the former benefit; or, better still, let him not know that he has received anything, provided I know that I have given it.

“This,” you say, “is to get too little return for one’s goodness.”

True, if it be an investment of which you are thinking; but if a gift, it should be given in the way which will be of most service to the receiver.

You should be satisfied with the approval of your own conscience; if not, you do not really delight in doing good, but in being seen to do good.

“For all that,” say you, “I wish him to know it.”

Is it a debtor that you seek for?

“For all that, I wish him to know it.”

What! though it be more useful, more creditable, more pleasant for him not to know his benefactor, will you not consent to stand aside?

“I wish him to know.”

So, then, you would not save a man’s life in the dark? I do not deny that, whenever the matter admits of it, one ought to take into consideration the pleasure which we receive from the joy of the receiver of our kindness; but if he ought to have help and is ashamed to receive it⁠—if what we bestow upon him pains him unless it be concealed⁠—I forbear to make my benefits public.

Why should I not refrain from hinting at my having given him anything, when the first and most essential rule is, never to reproach a man with what you have done for him, and not even to remind him of it.

The rule for the giver and receiver of a benefit is, that the one should straightaway forget that he has given, the other should never forget that he has received it.