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John Lubbock : The Good Life

Dernière mise à jour : 25 sept. 2022

The Pleasures of Life

by John Lubbock

"Life is not to live merely, but to live well."


Goethe tells us that at thirty he resolved "to work out life no longer by halves, but in all its beauty and totality." Life indeed must be measured by thought and action, not by time. It certainly may be, and ought to be, bright, interesting, and happy; and, according to the Italian proverb,

"If all cannot live on the Piazza, every one may feel the sun."

If we do our best; if we do not magnify trifling troubles; if we look resolutely, I do not say at the bright side of things, but at things as they really are; if we avail ourselves of the manifold blessings which surround us; we cannot but feel that life is indeed a glorious inheritance.

Few of us, however, realize the wonderful privilege of living, or the blessings we inherit ; the glories and beauties of the Universe, which is our own if we choose to have it so; the extent to which we can make ourselves what we wish to be; or the power we possess of securing peace, of triumphing over pain and sorrow.

Dante pointed a serious fault :

Man can do violence
To himself and his own blessings, and for this
He, in the second round, must aye deplore,
With unavailing penitence, his crime.
Whoe'er deprives himself of life and light
In reckless lavishment his talent wastes,
And sorrows then when he should dwell in joy.


People sometimes think how delightful it would be to be entirely free. But a fish, as Ruskin says, is freer than a man, and as for a fly, it is "a black incarnation of freedom." A life of so­-called pleasure and self­-indulgence is not a life of real happiness or true freedom. Far from it, if we once begin to give way toourselves, we fall under a most intolerable tyranny.

Other temptations are in some respects like that of drink. At first, perhaps, it seems delightful, but there is bitterness at the bottom of the cup. To resist is difficult, to give way is painful; until at length the wretched victim to himself, can only purchase, or thinks he can only purchase, temporary relief from intolerable craving and depression, at the expense of far greater suffering in the future.

On the other hand, self-­control, however difficult at first, becomes step by step easier and more delightful. We possess mysteriously a sort of dual nature, and there are few truer triumphs, or more delightful sensations, than to obtain thorough command of oneself. To rule oneself is in reality the greatest triumph.

"He who is his own monarch, contentedly sways the sceptre of himself, not envying the glory to crowned heads and Elohim of the earth. For those are really highest who are nearest to heaven, and those are lowest who are farthest from it. True greatness has little, if anything, to do with rank or power." says Sir T. Browne.

« Eurystheus being what he was, was not really king of Argos nor of Mycenae, for he could not even rule himself ; while Hercules purged lawlessness and introduced justice, though he was both naked and alone. » says Epictetus.

We are told that Cineas the philosopher once asked Pyrrhus what he would do when he had conquered Italy.

"­I will conquer Sicily."
"­And after Sicily ?"
"­Then Africa."
"­And after you have conquered the world ?"
"­I will take my ease and be merry."
"­Then"asked Cineas,"why can you not take your ease
and be merry now ?"


"The enlarged view we have of the Universe must in some measure damp personal ambition. What is it to be king, sheikh, tetrarch, or emperor over a bit of a bit of this little earth ? All rising to great place, is by a winding stair ; and princes are like heavenly bodies, which have much veneration, but no rest." says Francis Bacon.

Moreover, there is a great deal of drudgery in the lives of courts. Ceremonials may be important, but they take up much time and are terribly tedious. A man then is his own best kingdom. "He that ruleth his speech," says Solomon, "is better than he that taketh a city."

But self-control, this truest and greatest monarchy, rarely comes by inheritance. Every one of us must conquer himself ; and we may do so, if we take conscience for our guide and general. No one really fails, who does his best.

Seneca observes that"no one saith the three hundred Fabii were defeated, but that they were slain," and if you have done your best, you will, in the words of an old Norse ballad, have gained

"Success in thyself, which is best of all."

We read of and admire the heroes of old, but every one of us has to fight his own Marathon and Thermopylae ; every one meets the Sphinx sitting by the road he has to pass ; to each of us, as to Hercules, is offered the choice of Vice or Virtue; we may, like Paris, give the apple of life to Venus, or Minerva.

"He who is virtuous is wise ;

and he who is wise is good;

and he who is good is happy."

But we cannot expect to be happy if we do not lead pure and useful lives. To be good company for ourselves we must store our minds well ; fill them with pure and peaceful thoughts ; with pleasant memories of the past, and reasonable hopes for the future."

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