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On Constancy

Hi mores baec duri immota Catonis
Secta fuit, servare modum, finemque tenere,
Naturamque sequi, patriaeque impendere vitam
. Lucan.

When I have sometimes observ’d Men of Wit and Learning, in Spite of their excellent natural and acquir’d Qualifications, fail of obtaining that Regard and Esteem with Mankind, which their Inferiors in point of Understanding frequently arrive at, I have, upon a slight Reflection, been apt to think, that it was owing to the ill Judgment, Malice, or Envy of their Acquaintance: But of late two or three flagrant Instances of this kind have put me upon thinking and deliberating more maturely, and I find within the Compass of my Observation the greatest part of those fine Men have been ruined for want of CONSTANCY, a Virtue never too highly priz’d, and whose true Worth is by few rightly understood.

A Man remarkably wavering and inconstant, who goes through with no Enterprize, adheres to no Purpose that he has resolv’d on, whose Courage is surmounted by the most trifling Obstacles, whose Judgment is at any time byass’d by his Fears, whose trembling and disturb’d Imagination will at every Turn suggest to him Difficulties and Dangers that actually have no Existence, and enlarge those that have; A Man, I say, of this Stamp, whatever natural and acquir’d Qual ities he may have, can never be a truly useful Member of a Common-wealth, a sincere or amiable Friend, or a formidable Enemy; and when he is once incapable of bearing either of these Characters, ’tis no Wonder he is contemn’d and disregarded by Men of all Ranks and Conditions.

Without Steadiness or Perseverance no Virtue can long subsist; and however honest and well-meaning a Man’s Principles may be, the Want of this is sufficient to render them ineffectual, and useless to himself or others. Nor can a Man pretend to enjoy or impart the lasting Sweets of a strict and glorious Friendship, who has not Solidity enough to despise the malicious Misrepresentations frequently made use of to disturb it, and which never fail of Success where a mutual Esteem is not founded upon the solid Basis of Constancy and Virtue. An Intimacy of this sort, contracted by chance, or the Caprice of an unstable Man, is liable to the most violent Shocks, and even an intire Ruin, from very trifling Causes. Such a Man’s Incapacity for Friendship, makes all that know his Character absolutely indifferent to him: His known Fickleness of Temper renders him too inconsiderable to be fear’d as a Foe, or caress’d as a Friend.

I may venture to say there never was a Man eminently famous but what was distinguish’d by this very Qualification; and few if any can live comfortably even in a private Life without it; for a Man who has no End in View, no Design to pursue, is like an irresolute Master of a Ship at Sea, that can fix upon no one Port to steer her to, and consequently can call not one Wind favourable to his Wishes.

‘Tis by his firm and unshaken Adherence to his Country’s Cause, his constant Bravery in her Defence, and his burying himself but in her Ruins, that the rigid and severe Cato shines thro’ those admirable Lines of Lucan, of which my Motto is a part, superior to the learn’d and eloquent Cicero, the great and majestick Pompey, or the mighty and invincible Caesar himself. This is alone what could move the Poet to set him in Competition with the Gods themselves, and will transmit him down to latest Posterity with the highest Veneration and Honour.

To come nearer to our own Times; ‘Tis the extraordinary Constancy of Charles XII. of Sweden, which makes up the most admirable and inimitable Part of his Character: His severe and impartial Distribution of Justice in his Army, and that fierce and resolute Speech with which he broke up his Council, Gentlemen, I have resolved never to engage in an unjust War, but never to finish one that is founded upon Justice and Right, but by the Destruction of my Enemies: these and such like Instances of his Steadiness and Perseverance in the Pursuit of Justice, have deservedly made him esteem’d the Wonder of his Age.

King Charles II. of England, was doubtless a Man of great Understanding: His acquir’d Qualities far surpass’d those of Cromwell, and his natural Talents at least equal’d them: He came to rule over a People, formidable to all Europe for their Bravery, and exceedingly prepossessed in his Favour; he had learn’d to bear Misfortune by many Years Exile, and numerous Hazards and Difficulties: With these Advantages how great and glorious might he have made his Reign, by the Happiness, Content and Security of his People! ‘Tis however undeniable, that the English never were less happy, or less regarded by their Neighbours, than during his Reign. The Reason is obvious; his Inconstancy and Indolence laid him open to every trifling Project, every self-interested Scheme, that an avaritious or revengeful Minister or Mistress could suggest to him for their own sinister Ends. ‘Tis this has given many Occasion to think, that he acted thro’out his whole Reign upon no Principles and Maxims, and had no one Design in View.

Cromwel came to the supreme Authority with few of these Advantages, and against the Will of the whole Nation, except a few Fanaticks in the Army; but his constant and resolute Carriage, which was the Effect of his keeping one principal End in view, surmounted all Obstacles: ‘Twas this, and this alone, which rais’d him so far above the Malice of his Enemies, or the Expectation of his Friends; and gain’d him that high Character from a judicious Historian, That never Man chose his Party with more Judgment, and executed his Designs with more Constancy and Vigour. By virtue of this Constancy the English Nation under him arriv’d to that Pitch of Grandeur, as to become a Terror and Dread to their Enemies, and the greatest Protection to their Allies. ‘Tis this steady Perseverance that render’d him the Center of the different Factions and Interests in which England was at that time embroil’d, that secur’d his former Friends and Adherents to his Interest, and deter’d his Foes from attempting to undermine his Authority.

The Pennsylvania Gazette, April 4, 1734