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Thomas Taylor (Essays) – The triumph of the wise man over fortune.

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quinta-feira 13 de julho de 2023, por Cardoso de Castro


Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (1805)


THE doctrine of the genuine Stoics and Platonists, concerning the constancy of the wise man, is no less paradoxical to the vulgar  , though perfectly scientific, than the examples which they have given of the endurance of calamity are magnanimous and sublime ; for what to the apprehension of the multitude can be more incredible, than the dogma  , that a wise man can neither receive an injury nor contumely ? That he may be a servant, and deprived of all the necessaries of life, and yet not be poor; that he may be insane, and yet his intellect remain uninjured ? For the vulgar conceive that the wise man is not to be adorned with an imaginary honour of words, for such, in their opinion, are these assertions, but that he is to be? situated in that place where no injury is permitted. Will there, however, we ask, be no one who will revile, no one who will attempt to injure him ?

But there is not any thing so sacred which sacrilegious hands will not attempt to violate. Divine natures, however, are not less elevated, because there are those who will attack a magnitude placed far beyond their reach. The invulnerable is not that which may not be assaulted, but that which cannot be injured. And this is the mark by which a wise man may be known. Can it indeed be doubted, but that the power is more certainly strong which cannot be conquered, than that which cannot be attacked ; for strength untried is dubious; but the force is deservedly considered as most sure which baffles all attacks. Hence the wise man is of a more excellent nature, if no injury can hurt him, than if he is beyond the reach of injurious attempts. As a wise man, therefore, of this kind, is obnoxious to no injury, it is of no consequence how many darts are hurled against him, since he is not penetrable by any. Just as the hardness of certain stones is unconquerable by iron ; and just as some things cannot be consumed by fire, but preserve their rigour and mode of subsistence amidst surrounding flames. Thus, too, rocks swelling on high break the sea, and do not exhibit any vestiges of its rage, though for so many ages they have been lashed by its waves.

But it may be said, will there not be some one who will try to do an injury to the wise man ? Some one may attempt it indeed but the attempt will be ineffectual; for he is removed from the contact of inferior   natures by so great an interval, as to be beyond the reach of all noxious force. Hence, when potentates, kings, and men powerful by the consent of their vassals, attempt to hurt him, all their attacks fall as far short of the wise man, as the arrows discharged by the Thracians fail short of the Olympian gods. Or is it to be supposed, that when that foolish king obscured the day by the multitude of his darts, that anv ’arrow struck against the sun   ? or that the chains which he threw into the deep could reach Neptune ? As celestial natures escape human hands, and divinity is not hurt by those who plunder temples, or destroy statues, in like manner, whatever is done against the wise man, insolently, petulantly, and proudly, is done in vain. But it may be said, it would be better that there should be no one who would wish to act in this manner., He who says this, wishes for a thing very difficult to the human race — innocence. It is their concern, however, who are about to do an injury to the wise man, that it should not be done, and not his, who cannot suffer indeed, not even though it should be done. Perhaps, too, wisdom more exhibits its strength by being tranquil amidst attacks; just as the security of an emperor in the land of his enemies is the greatest proof of his strength and the flourishing condition of his arms.

Again, the intention of an injury is to bring an evil on some one ; but wisdom leavei no place for evil; for the only evil to wisdom is baseness, which cannot enter where virtue and worth reside. Injury, therefore, cannot reach the wise man ; for if an injury is the being passive to some evil, but a wise man suffers no ill, no injury can reach the wise man. Again, every injury is a diminution of him who is injured ; nor can any one receive an injury, without some detriment either of dignity, or body, or of external concerns; but a wise man can lose nothing; he has deposited every thing in himself; he trusts nothing to fortune, but solidly possesses his own good; content with virtue, which is not indigent of things fortuitous. Hence it can neither be increased nor diminished : for things which have arrived at the summit, afford no place for increase. Fortune takes away nothing except that which she gave; but she does not give virtue, and therefore does not take it away. Virtue is free, inviolable, unmoved, unshaken, and so hardened against casualties, that she cannot even be made to incline, much less can she be vanquished. At the apparatus of things of a terrible nature, she looks with a direct eye, and suffers no change in her countenance, whether calamity or prosperity is presented to her view. Hence the wise man loses nothing of which he will perceive the loss ; for he is in the possession of virtue, from which he can never be driven ; and he uses every thing else as something different from his proper good. But who would be moved with the loss of that which is foreign to his concerns? If, therefore, an injury cannot hurt any of those things which are the property of a wise man, because they are safe through virtue, an injury cannot be done to a wise man. Demetrius, who was surnamed Poliorcetes (a besieger of cities), had taken Megara, and Stilpo the philosopher being asked by him, whether he had lost any thing — " Nothing," said he, " for all that is mine is with meyet his patrimony was a part of the plunder, and the enemy had ravished his daughters, and captured his country. But he shook off victory from the conqueror, and testified, that though the city was taken, he himself was not only unconquered, but without loss; for he had with him true goods, upon which no hand can be laid. Whatever may be dissipated and plundered, he did not consider as his own, but as a thing adventitious, and which follows the nod of fortune ; and hence he did not love it as his proper good. Consider now, whether a robber, or calumniator, or neighbouring potentate, or any rich man, exercising the dominion of a desolate old age, could do any injury to this man, from whom war, and that enemy who professed the illustrious art of subverting cities, could take nothing away ? Amidst swords every where glittering, and the tumult of soldiers intent on rapine; amidst flames,, and blood, and slaughter; amidst the crash of. temples falling on their gods (NA: The ancients were not so stupid as to consider statues as in reality gods ; but just as they called good men gods, from their similitude to the divine nature, so they denominated statues gods, from their adumbrating certain incorporeal powers pf the divinities.), there was peace to one man. It will not easily be believed that such strength or magnitude of mind   can fall to the lot of man. Let us, however, suppose him to ad-, dress us as follows:

"There is no reason that you should doubt whether man can raise himself above human concerns; whether he can securely behold pain, losses, ulcerations, wounds, and the violent motions of things raging round him ; whether he can bear adversity placidly, and prosperity moderately, neither yielding to the former, nor trusting to the latter, but remaining one and the same amidst different circumstances, and conceiving nothing to be his own except himself, and his true self to be his most excellent part. The truth of this I will now prove to you. Under that subverter of so many cities, fortifications were thrown down by the battering-ram, lofty turrets were laid low, and formed a heap equal to the highest citadel, but no engines could be found capable of shaking a well   established soul. I have just now escaped from the ruins of my house, and from burnings every where resplendent, I fled through flames, and through blood. What has been the destiny of my daughters, whether worse than that of the pub-r lie, I know not. I alone, old, and seeing every thing about me hostile, nevertheless profess that my estate is entire and safe; I hold, I possess whatever I have of mine. There is no reason you should believe that I am vanquished, and that you are the victor. Your fortune has conquered my fortune. With respect to those fallen concerns, and which change their master, where they are I know not; but with respect to my own concerns, they are with me, they will be with me; for I indeed possess all that is mine intire and undefiled. Do not therefore ask me what I have lost, but interrogate those who weep and lament; who for the sake of their money   opposed their naked bodies to drawn swords, and who fled from the enemy with a burthened bosom." It must, therefore, be admitted, that this perfect man, who was full of human and divine virtues, lost nothing. His goods were begirt with solid and insurmountable fortifications. You must not compare with these the walls of Babylon, which Alexander entered; nor the walls of Carthage or Numantia, which were captured by one hand; nor the capitol, or the citadel ; for these possess an hostile vestige. But the walls which defend the wise man are safe from flames and incursion ; they afford no entrance, are unconquerable, and so lofty, that they reach even to the gods.

Nor must it be said that such a wise man as this is no where to be found; since Stilpo, and many other illustrious instances that might be adduced from history, sufficiently prove that this is no vain ornament of human wit. Such a character is indeed rare, and is only to be found in great intervals of ages; for neither is that frequently produced which surpasses the accustomed and vulgar mode. In short, that which injures ought to be more powerful than that which is injured; but vice is not stronger than virtue. The wise man therefore cannot be injured. An injury cannot be attempted against the good except by the bad ; for among the good there is peace. But if he only, who is more infirm, can be injured ; and the bad man is more infirm than the good; and an injury cannot be done to the good man except by one unequal to him, injury cannot happen   to the wise man. For it is unnecessary to observe, that no man is a good but a wise man. But it may be said, that Socrates   was unjustly condemned, and that he received an injury. Here, however, it is necessary to understand, that a man may be a noxious character himself, though he has not injured another. If any one lies with his own wife, as if she were the wife of another, he will be an adulterer, though she will not be an adulteress. Some one may give poison to another, but the poison being mingled with food may lose its power; he who gave the poison is guilty, though it did no injury. He is no less an assassin, whose dagger is eluded by the opposing garment. All wickedness, even prior to its existence in energy, is perfect, so far as is sufficient to the crime. Some things are of that condition, and are so conjoined, that the one cannot be, and, on the contrary, others so subsist, that the one may be, without the other. Thus, a man may move his feet, and yet not run; but he cannot run without moving his feet. A man may be in water, and yet not swim; but he cannot swim without being in water. The condition of what is now discussed is of this kind. If a man receives an injury, it is necessary the injury should be done; but if the injury is done, it is not necessary that he should receive it; for many things may happen which may remove the injury. Thus, chance may throw down an outstretched hand, and cause a dart when hurled to deviate in its course. Thus some particular thing may repel injuries of whatever kind they may be, and may intercept them in the midst, so as that they may be done, and yet not be received.

Besides, justice can suffer nothing unjust, because contraries do not coalesce; but it is impossible for an injury to be done, without being done unjustly. An injury, therefore, cannot be done to a wise man. Nor is it wonderful that no one can do an injury to him; for neither can any one profit him, nor is any thing wanting to the wise man, which he can receive in the place of a gift. For he who gives, ought to have before he gives; but he has nothing with which, when transferred to himself, the wise man will be delighted. No one, therefore, can either injure or profit the wise man ; just as divine natures neither desire to be assisted, nor can be injured; and the wise man is allied to, and similar to divinity. Hence the wise man, ardently tending to divine natures, which are sublime, secure, benignant, and which possess an invariable sameness of subsistence, born for the public good, and salutary both to himself and others, he will desire nothing groveling, weep for nothing, but, leaning on reason, he will walk through human casualties with a divinely elevated mind. He is not only, indeed, incapable of being injured by man, but also by fortune, who, as often as she engages with virtue, never departs on equal terms. If we receive with an equal and placid mind that greatest of all events, beyond which angry laws, and the most cruel masters, have nothing to threaten, and in which fortune terminates her empire, and if we are convinced that death is not an evil, and therefore no injury, we shall much more easily endure   other things, such as losses, pain, ignominy, change of place, and in short whatever is considered as calamitous, all which, though they should surround, yet will not overwhelm the’ wise man, much less will a single attack of any one of these plunge him in sorrow. And if he bears the injuries of fortune moderately, how much more will he bear those of powerful men, whom he knows to be the hands of fortune.

He will therefore endure every thing, in the same manner as he endures the rigour of winter, the inclemency of the heavens, immoderate heats, diseases, and other casualties of a similar kind. Nor will he judge so favourably of any one, as to conceive that he does any thing from the dictates of intellect, which belongs to the wise man alone.

The actions of all others are not the result of wise deliberation, but are frauds and stratagems, and rude motions of the mind, which he con-numerates with casualties. Add, too, that no one receives an injury with an unmoved mind, but is disturbed by the consciousness   of having received it; but the erect man is void of perturbation, is the moderator of himself, and is of a profound and placid quiet. For if an injury could reach him, it would both move and impede him. But the wise man is void of anger, which injury excites. Hence, he is so erect, so elated with continual joy. So far is he from receiving any detriment from the hostile attacks of men and things, that even injury itself is of use to him, through which he derives experience of himself, and tries his virtue. Let not the multitude be indignant that the wise man is excepted from the number of those that are injured ; nor let any thing on this account be detracted from their petulance, their rapacious desires, or their temerity and pride. Their vices remaining, let this liberty be given to the wise man. While they are still permitted to do an injury, let it be granted that the wise man gives all injuries to the winds, and defends himself by patience and magnitude of mind. Thus, in sacred contests, many conquered, through wearying by obstinate patience the slaughtering hands of their antagonists. Conceive, therefore, that the wise man ranks in the number of those, who by long and faithful exercise, have acquired the strength of enduring and fatiguing all hostile power.

With respect to the wise man’s endurance of contumely, it must be observed that he cannot be despised by any one ; for he knows his own dignity, and confidently announces to himself that it is not in the power of any one to accomplish a thing of such magnitude. Hence, with respect to all those trifling casualties, which may be called, not the miseries, but the molestations of the mind, he is so far from striving to vanquish, that he does not even perceive them. He does not, therefore, employ against these his accustomed virtue of in-durance, but either does not notice them, or considers them deserving of laughter. Besides, since a great part of contumelies are caused by the proud and insolent, and by those who bear prosperity badly, the wise man posseses that most beautiful of human goods, by which he is able to reject with scorn that inflated affection — sanity and magnitude of mind : for these rapidly pass by every thing of this kind, as delusive dreams, and nocturnal visions, which contain nothing solid, nothing true. Contumely is denominated from contempt, because no one marks another with an injury of this kind unless he despises him. But no one can despise that which is greater and better than himself, even though he should do something which de-» t spisers are wont to do. For boys sometimes strike the face   of their parents, and infants disorder and tear the hair of their mothers, and yet nothing of this kind is called contumely, because those who thus act are unable to despise. In the same manner, therefore, as we are affected towards children, the wise man is affected towards all those who are puerile, even after youth, and hoary hairs: for these only differ from children in the magnitude and form of their bodies. Hence, when he experiences the contempt of these, he will exclaim in the language of Achilles:

"Jove honours me, and favours my designs."

In short, as the wise man knows that the most serious occupations of the multitude are as trifling as the sports of children, he will consider their contumely as a jest, though he will sometimes admonish them as he would children, by punishment, not because he has received an injury, but because they have done one, and in order that they may cease to act injuriously. Thus cattle also are tamed by the whip; yet we are not angry with them when they refuse their rider, but we chastise them in order that pain may subdue their contumacy. Though the wise man, therefore, can neither receive an injury nor contumely, yet he punishes the injurious and contumelious, not that he may avenge himself, but that he may amend the depravity of these.

And such is the doctrine of the Stoics concerning the wise man’s indurance of calamity, who, as they placed felicity in an active life, and conse-.quently did not ascend so high as to the theoretic or contemplative virtues, derived all their arguments for the constancy of the wise man from his possession of the political virtues in consummate perfection. But the Platonists, who justly considered the supreme felicity of man as consisting in the highest intellectual energy, place their wise man on the summit of intellect, as on the top of a lofty citadel, situated beyond the reach of Fortune, and thence behold him contemplating the beatific visions of the luminous world of ideas, and from this survey deriving such an adamantine strength of mind, as to be no more disturbed by calamity, than he who, gazing on the beauty of the heavens while standing on the margin of a river, is agitated when looking down he sees his image distorted in the fluctuating stream. But their doctrine on this subject is as follows:

If felicity consisted in a freedom from sickness and danger, and in never falling into great adversity, no one could be happy while things of such a .contrary nature are dependent. But if felicity consists in the possession of true good, and this is intellectual, why is it requisite, neglecting this, to inquire after other things which ought not to be associated with felicity? For if it is proper that there should be some one end, and not many ends, it is necessary to pursue that alone which is the last and most excellent, and which the soul   seeks after as something which may reside in the depths of its essence. But inquiry and will do not tend to the non-possession of this most excellent end ; for reason does not choose a declination of things inconvenient from a principal desire of nature; but the principal appetite of the soul is directed to that which is best, with which, when present, it is filled, and enjoys perfect repose: and this is the life which the prime desire of the soul pursues. But that something of necessaries should be present, is not the wish of the soul, if we consider the soul’s desire properly, and not according to the abuse of words; since we alone think the presence of these requisite, because to the utmost of our ability we decline from every thing evil. Nor yet is this employment of declination to be principally desired; for it is far more desirable never to want it. The truth of this is sufficiently evident from necessaries when present, such as health, and a privation of pain ; for which of these in a wonderful manner attracts the soul to itself? Since it is usual to neglect present ease and health, and to be unconscious of their possession. But such things as when present possess no gentle attractive power of converting the soul to themselves, cannot add any thing to felicity; and it is reasonable to believe, that things whose absence is caused by the presence of their offending contraries, are necessary rather than good. They are not therefore to be enumerated with the end, but while they are absent, and their contraries succeed, the end of life is to be preserved perfect and intire.

But it may be said, on what account does the wise man desire these to be present, and reject their contraries ? Perhaps, not because they confer any thing to felicity, but rather are, in some respects necessary to existence itself in the present state; while their contraries either lead to nonexistence, or disturb by their presence, the wise man’s enjoyment of the end, at the same time not destroying that end ; and because he who enjoys that which is best, desires to possess it alone, and not in conjunction with any thing else. But, though any thing else should occur, it will not take away the end, which is not absent while this is present. And, indeed, though something should happen to the wise man contrary to his desire, he will not on this account lose any part of his felicity ; for if this were admitted, he must be daily changed, and fall from felicity ; as when he loses a son, or suffers any loss in his domestic concerns: since there are innumerable accidents which take place contrary to the will, and which detract nothing from the true and invariable end of life. But it may be said, that great adversities .only lessen felicity. What, however, is there among human concerns so great, which will not be despised by him who betakes himself to things far more excellent and sublime, and is no longer dependent on such as are subordinate ? Hence, in adverse circumstances, the wise man will consider that the nature of the universe is such, that he should bear things of this kind, and that it is requisite he should follow the general order. If, too, he should be led captive, he knows that many in such a situation act better than they did before, and that it is in the power of those who are bound to make themselves free. But if they abide   in captivity, they either continue for some particular reason, and in this case there is nothing truly .grievous in their condition, or they abide without reason, and jn   this case it is not proper to be the cause of their own perturbation. Indeed, the wise man is never oppressed with evil, through ignorance of his own concerns, nor changed by the fortunes of others whether prosperous or adverse; but when his pains are vehement, as far as it is possible to bear, he bears them; and when they are excessive they may cause him to be delirious; yet he will not be miserable in the midst of his greatest pains, but his intellectual light will assiduously shine in the penetralia of his soul, like a lamp secured in a watch-tower, which shines with unremitted splendour, though surrounded by stormy winds and raging seas. But what shall we say, if through the violence of pain, he is just ready to destroy himself? Indeed, if the pain is so vehemently extended, he will, if sensible  , consult what is requisite to be done, for in these circumstances the freedom of the will is not taken away. At the same time it must be observed, that things of this kind do not appear to men excellent in virtue so dreadful as to others, nor yet reach to the inward and true man. If any one, however, objects that we are so formed by nature, that we ought to grieve for domestic misfortunes, he should understand that, in the first place all men are not so affected, and in the next place, that it is the business of virtue to reduce the common condition of nature to that which is better, and to something more honest than the decisions of the vulgar. But it is more honest to consider as things of no moment, all that appear grievous to our common nature. For the wise man is not as one rude and unskilful, but, like a strenuous wrestler, vigorously repels the strokes of fortune, endeavouring to throw his fortitude on the ground; since he knows that such things are displeasing to a common nature, but that to such a nature as his own they are not really grievous, but are terrible only as it were to boys. Hence he contemplates even the slaughter and destruction of cities, the rapine and prey, like the scenes in a theatre, as nothing more than certain transmutations, and alternate changes of figures ; and weeping and distress every where as delusive and fictitious. For in the particular acts of human life, he knows it is not the interior soul and the true man, but the exterior shadow of the man alone, which laments and weeps, performing his part on the earth as in a more ample and extended scene, in which many shadows of souls and phantom scenes appear.

But what shall we say when the wise man is no longer himself, in consequence of being overwhelmed with disease ? We reply, that if in such a state it is allowed he may retain his proper virtue like one in a deep sleep, what is there to prevent his being happy ? Since no one would deprive him of felicity in sleep, nor consider that interval of rest as any hindrance to the happiness of the whole of life. Again, if it is said, how can he be happy, though endued with virtue, while he does not perceive himself virtuous, nor energizes according to virtue ? We repty, though a man ’does not perceive himself to be healthy, he may nevertheless be healthy: and again, he will not be less beautiful in his body, though not sensible of Tiis beauty ; and will a man be less wise if he does not perceive himself to be wise ? But perhaps some one may say, that wisdom should be accompanied with sense and animadversion, for felicity is present with wisdom in energy. We reply, if this energy of wisdom was any thing adventitious, there might be some weight in the assertion ; but if the subsistence of wisdom is situated in a certain essence, or rather in essence itself, this essence will neither perish in him who is asleep or delirious, or is denied to be any longer conscious of his felicity. And indeed, the energy of this essence resides in the soul of such a one, and is an energy perpetually vigilant; for then the wise man, considered as wise, energizes, whether he be in a dormant state, or overwhelmed with infirmity. But an energy of this kind is not concealed from the whole itself, but rather from some particular part; just as with respect to the vegetable energy in its most flourishing state, an animadversion of such an energy does not transmigrate into the external man by means of a sentient nature; and if we were entirely the same with our vegetable power, there is no doubt but we should energize whenever such a virtue was in energy. Since, however, the case is otherwise, and we are the energy of that which is intelligent, we energize in consequence of its energy.

Perhaps, indeed, such an energy is concealed from us because it does not reach any sentient power; for to. this purpose it should energize through sense as a medium  . But why should not intellect energize, and soul about intellect, preceding all sense and animadversion ? For it is requisite there should be some energy prior to animadversion , since the energy of intellect is the same with its essence. But animadversion appears to take place when the energy of intellect is reflected ; and when that which energizes according to the life of the soul, rebounds, as it were, back again, like images in a smooth and polished mirror quietly situated, so as to reflect every form which its receptacle contains. For as in things of this kind, when the mirror is not present, or is not properly disposed, the energy from which the image was formed is indeed present, but the » resemblance absent; so with respect to the soul, when it energizes in quiet, certain resemblances of thought and intellect beam on our imagination, like the images in the smooth and polished mirror; and in a sensible manner, as it were, we acknowledge that our intellect and reason energize together with the former knowledge. But when this medium is confounded, because the harmony of the body is disturbed, then intellect and reason understand without an image, and intellection is carried on without imagination. Hence, intelligence may be considered as subsisting together with the phantasy, while, in the mean time, intelligence is something very different from the phantasy. Besides, it is easy to discover many speculations of men when vigilant, and worthy actions, in the performance of which it is evident that we do not perceive ourselves to speculate and act. For it is not necessary that he who reads should be conscious he is reading, especially when he reads with the greatest attention ; nor that he who acts vigorously should acknowledge his vigorous energy; and the same consequence ensues in a variety of other operations, so that sensible animadversions appear to render more debile the actions which they attend; but when they are alone, they are then pure, and seem to possess more of energy and life. And hence when worthy men live in such a state, it follows that they live in a more perfect manner; since their life is not at that time diffused into sense, and by this means remitted in its energy, but is collected into itself, in one uniform, intellectual tenor.

Nor are the wise man’s energies entirely prevented by the changes of fortune, but different energies will take place in different fortunes, yet all of them equally worthy, and those perhaps more worthy which rightly compose jarring externals. The only difference indeed which fortune can effect in his energies is this, that in prosperity he will act magnificently, and in adversity magnanimously. For the greatest discipline always resides with him, and this more so, though he should be placed in the bull of Phalaris. For what is there pronounced in agony, is pronounced by that which is placed in torment, the external and shadowy man, which is far different from the true man, who, dwelling by himself, so far as he necessarily resides with himself, never ceases from the contemplation of the supreme good.

But he who does not place the wise man in such an exalted intellect, but subjects him to the power of fortune and to the fear of evil, certainly presents us with a mixed character and life, composed from good and evil, and which possesses nothing great, either pertaining to the excellency of wisdom, or the purity of goodness. Felicity, therefore, cannot consist in a common life ; and Plato rightly judges that the chief good is to be sought from above; that it must be beheld by him who is wise, and wishes to become happy in futurity; and that he must study to approach to its similitude, and to live its exalted life. It is requisite therefore to possess this alone, in order to obtain the end of life ; and the wise man will consider all besides as certain mutations of place, which in reality confer nothing to felicity. In every circumstance of being he will conjecture what is right, and act as necessity requires, as far as his abilities extend. To which we may add, that •though he lives a life superior to sense, he will not be hindered from taking a proper care of the body with which he is connected, always acting similar to the musician, who cares for his lyre as long as he is able to use it; but when it becomes useless, and ceases any longer to perform the office of a lyre, he either changes it for another, or abstains entirely from its exercise, having an employment independent of the lyre, and despising it lying near him, as no longer harmonious, he sings without its instrumental assistance. Yet this instrument was not bestowed on the musician from the first in vain, because it has often been used by him with advantage and delight.

Ver online : Thomas Taylor