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Manus haec inimica tyrannis.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Of Anger

November 14, 1755

A Man may have need of Philosophy not only when holding fast against the Wrath or the Blandishments of Tyrants, or in the Smoke and Din of Battle, but also in his dealings with his Family and his Household. I was the other Day entering the Kitchen just as one of my Servants was pouring a Bucketful of scalding Water on the Floor, to which she was about to employ her Mop. The Water landed on my Legs, rendering my Breeches and Shoes sodden. By Luck I was not burn’d, but I found myself immediately as much awash in Rage as I was in Water.

But pray, at whom was I vexed? At the Girl? Why, the poor Wench cou’d have no inkling that I was about to enter the Room, nor was she doing anything which lay outside the normal Course of her Duties. Was I to visit my Anger upon her for doing precisely that which I pay her to do, and for which I wou'd equally visit my Anger upon her for not doing?

It is Man's Misfortune that Anger of such a kind is a most natural Passion, and one which wou’d seem to well up of its own accord, without Reflection. Not only is it natural, but if we are to believe ARISTOTLE, it is also a most necessary Passion, for he wou’d convince us that Courage, that most worthy Virtue, celebrated through the Ages by Moralists and Poets alike, wou’d be impossible without a just Measure of Anger.

This is not only a hoary Opinion of the Ancients, for our modern Mr. HOBBES in his Leviathan defines Anger as “sudden Courage” [See chapter 6 — Ed.], against which Definition the witty and elegant Lord SHAFTESBURY most acutely observ’d that if this be so, we must be made to believe that the Virtue of Courage, as being the Disposition to act courageously, is “Anger constantly returning” [Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (1711), Vol. I, p. 119 — Ed.]. Hobbes is reputed to have been a Man rare at Definitions, but we here find him involv’d in gross Error, for he does Violence to common Sense in asserting that the Virtue of Courage is the same as the Vice of Irascibility.

Aristotle was somewhat closer to the Mark than Hobbes, for at least he had the good Sense to admit that Anger is not the sole Ingredient in Courage, but that a just Measure of Reason is also wanted. But for this opinion, SENECA justly put him upon the Horns of the following Dilemma: Either Anger is stronger than Reason, or it is not. If it be stronger, then how can Reason limit or restrain Anger to the extent necessary for Courage to be properly controlled and directed? If, however, Reason be the stronger Partner, then why is Anger necessary to Courage at all? [See Seneca, De Ira, 1.8.4-6 — Ed.]

The Stoick School held that Anger, as it is a Passion, must for that very Reason be held suspect. It will always be clouding a Man’s Judgment; it wou’d make us Judges in our own Cause, magnifying the Wrong done us, and demanding unreasonable Restitution. It wou’d have us visit our Vengeance upon the Wrongdoer while we are in no fit State for making a proper Job of it. Here we ought to attend to the Counsel of honest old MONTAIGNE: “Let an hungry Man have Meat; but a Man who wou’d Punish shou’d neither hunger nor thirst for it” [Essays, “Of Anger” — Ed.].

I cannot end without a Remark upon an opinion of Lord VERULAM’s that to calm one’s Wrath, “it is the best Remedy to win Time, and to make a man’s Self believe that the Opportunity of his Revenge is not yet come: But that he Foresees a Time for it, and so to still Himself in the mean Time, and reserve it” [Francis Bacon, Essays (1623), “Of Anger” — Ed.]. Thus he wou’d have us nurse a Resentment in the hopes of forestalling rash Action. He wou’d have us apply a numbing Ointment to the Wound but not a curative one. Notwithstanding, Montaigne gives the opposite Counsel, preferring rather to produce his Passions than to brood over them at his own Expense, for “they grow languid when they have Vent and Expression.”

I confess myself unable to decide between these opposed Reasonings, but I also cannot avoid the Conclusion that it is Danger to coddle a Resentment, for a smoldering Anger may suddenly become an Anger ablaze.

I remain, Sir, ever your humble Servant,

Jos. Darlington, Esq.
Darlington Close,
Horton-cum-Studley, Oxfordshire.

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