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Munafa ebook

Munafa ebook

Read Ebook: Essays or discourses vol. 2 (of 4) by Feijoo Benito Jer Nimo Brett John Translator

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Upright Administration of Justice:

In a LETTER from an OLD JUDGE, to his SON who was newly raised to the Bench.

XL. Let us now consider, that the falsehoods and deceits, with which tribunals are environed, make the investigation of truth so difficult, that in some causes it is come at late, and in others never. This is a most pernicious injury to the public, for the tediousness and difficulty of the verification, gives breathing-time for the ill intentioned, to devise and concert all sorts of wickedness. What remedy then can you apply to this evil, but that of punishing rigorously every kind of judicial deceit? The most pernicious loss or disadvantage to a commonwealth, does not consist so much in there being a great number of members in it who do not fear God, as it does in those members who do not fear God, not fearing the magistrate neither.

L. When delinquents have no families, and the consequences of depriving them of their money are only felt by themselves, no punishments appear to me more rational and proper than pecuniary ones, and especially when the nature of the offence does not demand a more severe chastisement. In the first place, it is not a sanguinary punishment, and is more consonant to the feelings of compassion, than one that is tinged with blood, both with respect to him who pronounces the sentence, and him to whom it is applied. Secondly, despoiling an evil-disposed man of his money, is disarming him of vice, as it deprives him of the weapons with which he was enabled to do mischief. Thirdly, if the money is expended for the good of the public, the community will derive a double advantage from this mode of punishment, as somewhat of temporal benefit will be added by it, to a well-adapted and exemplary application of justice.


In the idea of this poet, desolating his own country by excessive contributions, carrying fire and sword into the territories of his neighbours, and sacrificing men by tens of thousands on the altars of Mars, is the most effectual way to make people happy; and that it is the great glory of a monarch, to be the pest of his own dominions, and those of all his neighbours. To these extravagant lengths has flattery been carried, and such are the unhappy effects it has produced.

A neglected or disappointed man, brags of the interest he has with a great person; and some who hear and believe what he says, fancy he will be a good channel through which they may convey an application to that great person, and induce him to assist them in a matter they have much at heart, and in which they are deeply interested, and in hopes of the great benefits they may derive from his friendship and aid, pay great court to him, and waste the greatest part of their substance in presents and bribes to him. A spiritual puffer, brags of the miracles he has seen and experienced of such and such a saint; which one way or other, is generally attended with prejudicial consequences to the cause of religion. The physician brags of a skill or knowledge he does not possess; a valetudinary person who hears him, believing him to be an Esculapius, surrenders himself without further enquiry to his management, and becomes a voluntary victim. A young mariner, brags of his great abilities and skill in navigating and conducting a ship, which afterwards being trusted to him, is shipwrecked and dashed to pieces, on some rock or shoal. The same dangers, in a greater or a less degree, and in proportion to the matters that are confided to their management, are we exposed to, by trusting vaunters in all arts and professions, who although they are unskilful, presume to boast of their great knowledge. I should never have done, was I to set about enumerating all the species of lies, which go under the name of jocose and officious, and which are attended with pernicious consequences.

ON THE LOVE OF OUR COUNTRY, AND National Prejudice or Prepossession.

This is a picture of the love of their country so celebrated among the Romans, and to which many at this day, judge they owed the enormous extension of the Roman empire.

This tenderness in one of the wisest of the Greeks was very puerile; but with all, there is not much inconvenience in viewing with tenderness the smoke of one's country, provided the smoke does not blind the eyes of him who looks at it. Let him view the smoke of his own country; but alas, do not let him prefer it to the light and splendour of foreign ones; but this is what we see every day. He who by being placed at the head of an eminent department, has the disposal of various employments at his pleasure, can scarce find any persons properly qualified for those employments, but people of his own country. In vain it is represented to him, that these men are unfit to fill the post, and that there are others better qualified. He finds the smoke of his country so grateful an aromatick, that he would abandon for it the most brilliant lights of other places. O how strangely does this smoke blind men's eyes! How wonderfully does it disorder and affect their heads!


I should consider it as very useless and unnecessary, to prescribe rules for the carriage and actions of such sort of people. Let precepts be kept for the use of those who are naturally aukward, and let them be tried to see whether by art, they can mend this defect of nature.

L. But even these appearances may be fallacious and deceiving, and more especially to persons of high rank and authority; for the dependants of such, not only flatter them with their tongues, but with their eyes also. Why should I confine their adulation to the expressions of their tongues and their eyes, when they convert their whole bodies, and every limb and member of them, to instruments of delusion and flattery? for with certain fawning movements, and certain mysterious gestures of complaisance and admiration, they attend to and applaud all that is said or done by a man in power, on whom they are in any shape depending. He at the same time, big with his own cleverness, and his chops watering with approbation of himself, with the drivel running out at both corners of his mouth, vents his oratory, and talks whatever comes uppermost, be it good or bad, in a full persuasion, that the words of Apollo of Delphos were never listened to with more attention, or more respect. But, unhappy man, how do you deceive yourself! for you tire every body, and you disgust every body; and, the worst is, that those who had been just listening to you with such seeming applause, as soon as your back is turned, to relieve themselves from the pain the forced tribute of their adulation to you gave them, vent themselves in repeated bursts of laughter and derision at your folly. Great people may believe what I say, and be convinced that this is the way of the world; and they may also believe me when I tell them, that power in the hands of a weak man, only tends to make him appear more ridiculous; and that in the hands of a discreet one, if he is not extremely so, it tends in a great measure to cast a blemish on his understanding.

Of those, who according to the description given of them by Ennius, could more easily retain in their mouths a hot iron, than a keen saying; these are a sort of people, who seem to claim a right of making error pass for sterling gold, of converting comedy into tragedy, injurious treatment into good behaviour, and of converting honey also into poison. Their tongues may be compared to those of the lions, which are so rough and sharp, that wherever they lick they take the skin off. They are also called hummers; and so they are, for like wasps, hornets, flies, and all other vile insects of the humming kind, they the instant they have hummed, implant their sting.

XC. The subject of the conversation with a sick Person, should in general turn upon such things, as he was observed to be most fond of when in health; for with respect both to the aliments of the soul, as well as those of the body, I am of opinion, that physicians and those who attend on, or visit sick people, should have regard to their appetites and desires, and I am inclined to think, that with respect to these particulars, there are frequent mistakes made, and especially with relation to the aliments of the soul, for by making them grateful to people, there will seldom any inconvenience result, but having regard to doing this, may be attended with much use and benefit. Whenever an epidemical distemper prevails in a town or country, it may not be improper now and then, to talk to sick people on the subject of that disorder; but in doing this, care should always be taken to mention to them only those who have been visited with, and have recovered from the disease; and regard should likewise be had, never to say a word of such as have died of it; but I have known visitors who were such blunderers, as scarce to tell a sick person any other news, than that such a one, or such a one is dead. This tends to make a sick man very unhappy, for according to the logic of his melancholy, he is apt to conclude, that his death must be an infallible consequence of that of the other persons.

C. But what remedy is there for these impertinences? why no other, but disregarding, and not giving answers to such letters. Oh! but this would shew want of urbanity; no it would not, for I assert, that so far from it, it would manifest much discretion; and I consider any man who maintains a contrary opinion, to be under a great mistake. There is no one who thinks it shews want of urbanity, to deny your being at home to a man who persecutes you with troublesome visits. Why then should it be thought that a man is wanting in this respect, who returns no answer to these sort of letters? It is very likely, that the writer of them will be much concerned and affected at not having answers to them; but if I can cure an indisposition I labour under, by making the person who brought it upon me, swallow the bitter draught that it may be necessary should be taken to accomplish that end, instead of my taking it myself, why should not I avail myself of such a remedy? In short, in cases of this sort, it is impossible to adopt any other method than that of giving no answer to these kind of letters; for attempting to do otherwise, would be attempting more than a man who receives great numbers of such letters could find leisure to execute; for I can safely declare with respect to myself, that if I had not taken a resolution not to answer all the letters I received, my whole time would not have been sufficient to write those answers, nor my whole fortune, to pay the postage of those that would have been addressed to me.


Instead of replying to such insolent malevolence, the best method is, to treat it with contempt and detestation. Not a few of those, who are most addicted to paint the sex in the blackest colouring, have been observed to be the most solicitous about obtaining their favour and good graces. Euripides, who was exceedingly satirical upon them in his tragedies, as Athenaeus and Stobaeus inform us, was excessively fond of them in private. He execrated them on the theatre, and idolized them in the chamber. Boccace, who was excessively addicted to women, wrote a satyr against them, entitled, The Labyrinth of Love. What was the mystery of this? Why it most probably was, that, under the disguise of having an aversion to them, he endeavoured to conceal his passion for them; or it might be, that the brutal satiety of the turpid appetite had brought on a loathing, which caused every thing appertaining to the other sex to appear hateful and disgusting. This sort of abuse, may also sometimes proceed from a refusal to lend a kind ear to entreaties and solicitations; for there are men so malevolent, as to be capable of saying a woman is not good, because she has refused to be bad. This unjust motive for complaint and resentment, has sometimes vented itself in the most cruel acts of revenge; an example of which, may be instanced in the unhappy fate of that most beautiful Irish lady madam Douglass, against whom, William Leout was blindly irritated, for having refused to comply with his lewd solicitations. To be revenged, he accused her of high treason; and procured the calumniating and false charge to be proved by suborned witnesses. She suffered capital punishment; and la Mothe de la Vayer, who gives the relation, says, that Leout himself afterwards confessed the falsity of the accusation, and the wicked means used to prove her guilty.

To this instance, may be added that of a most virtuous and beautiful French lady, the marchioness of Gange. Her two brothers-in-law made dishonourable propositions to her, and successively tried many arts, to prevail on her to gratify their base inclinations; but, notwithstanding one of them, who was an extreme cunning man, and governed the marquis her consort entirely, threatened to instil into the mind of her husband suspicions of her fidelity, she vigorously rejected their entreaties. Finding themselves in spite of the menace, repeatedly repulsed with scorn and indignation, they resolved to carry the threat into execution; and, having prevailed on the credulous husband to entertain doubts of his wife's honour and constancy, he consented that the two brothers should take away the life of the innocent marchioness; which they did in a barbarous and cruel manner, by first forcing her to swallow a poisonous draught, but afterwards, doubting of the efficacy of the potion, they gave her several desperate wounds. Although she survived both the wounds and the operation of the poison for the space of nineteen days, and, by means of her relation of the matter, which was corroborated by other circumstances, the officers of justice and the public were informed of the whole transaction, and measures were taken for apprehending the delinquents; yet they, finding themselves discovered, fled the kingdom, and escaped the punishment due to their crime. This tragical event happened in the year 1667, and is related by Gayot Piteval, in his fifth volume of Remarkable Cases.

Lib. 7. Cap. 17.

XL. Notwithstanding all this, the ordinary practice of nations is most conformable to reason, as it corresponds best with the divine decree notified to our first mother in Paradise, and to all her daughters in her name, which enjoins a subjection to the men; and we should only correct the impatience, which many people shew at submitting to female government, when according to the laws of the land they should obey; and we should also bridle that extravagant estimation for our own sex, which carries us such lengths, as to prefer the government of a weak child, to that of an able and experienced woman. The antient Persians were drawn by this prepossession to such a ridiculous extreme, that the widow of one of their princes happening to be left with child at the death of her husband, and being advised by their magi, that she had conceived a male, they crowned the belly of the queen, and before it was born, proclaimed the foetus king by the name of Sapor.

N. B. With respect to the women who laid violent hands on themselves, we do not mean to propose their resolution as examples of virtue, but only to exhibit it, as a vicious excess of fierce courage, which is sufficient to answer the purpose intended.

L. Nor are there examples wanting, of women of invincible constancy in the article of keeping a secret. Pythagoras, when he found himself near dying, delivered all his writings, in which were contained the most hidden mysteries of his philosophy, into the custody of his prudent and dutiful daughter Damo; directing her at the same time, never to permit them to be published, which injunction she so punctually obeyed, that, even when she found herself reduced to extreme poverty, and could have sold those books for a large sum of money, she chose rather to endure the anguish and pinchings of want, than be deficient in point of the confidence reposed in her by her father.

XC. But waiving these proofs, which proceed upon Aristotelic doctrines, which are either false or uncertain, and which on this account, can only be serviceable to the cause of the women, by way of retorting upon those rigid partizans of Aristotle, who approve of all their master has said: I say, waiving these proofs, let us proceed to enquire, if, from the cause of the humidity in which a woman exceeds a man, there can be deduced any objection to her intellectual aptitude. On this ground, those commonly take their stand, who are desirous of proving by physical arguments, the inferiority of feminine understanding; and their reasoning seems to have an air of probability, because an excess of humour, either of itself, or by means of the vapour it attracts, is apt to retard the course of the animal spirits, by occupying in part, the narrow passages through which these exceeding fine substances flow.

C. Father Malebranche, reasons in another way, and denies the women have equal understanding with the men, on account of their brains being more soft and tender than those of the other sex. I really don't know whether what he supposes about this greater degree of softness be true or not, but I have read two treatises on anatomy, and did not find the least mention of it in either of them. Perhaps, from having taken it for granted, that the brains of women were more humid, he concluded they were more soft; but this is not always a certain consequence, for ice is humid and not soft, and melted metal is soft, but not humid; or perhaps, from having observed the women were of a more soft and docile disposition than men, he inferred, that in their material composition they were the same; for there have been people so superficial, as to form ideas upon these sort of analogies, which afterwards, for want of due reflection, have been adopted by persons of great perspicuity.

N.B. Sitti is a title of honour among the Persians, and equivalent to lady with us.

CL. I answer secondly, that it might be insisted, the political subjection of the woman was absolutely a punishment for her sin, and therefore, that in the state of innocence there was no such thing. The text at least does not contradict such an opinion; for it rather seems, that if it had been intended the woman should obey the man in the state of innocence, God would have intimated this subjection, at the time he formed her; and from these premises, it cannot so properly be inferred, that God gave the man the preference, on account of his possessing an understanding superior to the woman's, as that it was done, because she gave the first occasion to sin.


L. Even those, whose compositions are held in estimation, do no more, than provide and prepare the first light conceits that occur to them on the subject they are about to write upon; and although they have not in themselves, union with respect to time, or tendency to any design whatever, they distribute them in couplets, and notwithstanding one leads to Flanders, and another to Morocco, they introduce them into the context; and provided each couplet says something, for this is their explanation, although it is without life, spirit, or force; nay more, although it is without order, or direction to any determinate point or purpose, they say it is good composition; when, in truth, it no more deserves the name of a composition, than a heap of stones that of an edifice, or the throwing or huddling together a number of colours, that of a picture.

The following, which is extracted from the learned Letters of FEYJOO, is an Answer of the Author's to a Letter from a Friend on the Subject of Music. The Title he gives to the Letter, is,






I have now stated to you the arguments and reasonings on both sides of the question, with respect to the competition between antient and modern music; and methinks I already hear you say, to which shall we give the preference? To this I shall only answer, that I have sent you all the pleadings and documents in the cause, and must beg you to pronounce the sentence, for I must confess, for my own part, that I am undecided.

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