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DAMON AND PYTHIAS.
HEN Damon was sentenced, by Dionysius the
tyrant of Syracuse, to die on a certain day, he prayed permission to retire, in the mean time, to his own country, to set the affairs of his disconsolate family in order. This the tyrant intended most peremptorily to refuse, by granting it, as he conceived, on the impossible condition of his procuring some one to remain as hostage for his return, under equal forfeiture of life. Pythias heard the condition, and did not wait for an application on the part of Damon. He instantly offered himself to confinement in place of his friend, and Damon was accordingly set at liherty.
The king and all his courtiers were astonished at this action, as they could not account for it on any allowed principles. Self-interest, in their judgment, was the sole mover of human affairs : and they looked on virtue, friendship, benevolence, love of country, and the like, as terms invented by the wise, to impose upon the weak.
They therefore imputed this act of Pythias to the extravagance of his folly; to a defect of understanding merely, and no way to any virtue, or good quality of heart.
When the day of the destined execution drew near, the tyrant had the curiosity to visit Pythias in his dungeon.-Having reproached him for the extravagance of his conduct, and rallied him some time on his madness, in presuming that Damon, by his return, would prove as romantic as himself—“My lord,” said Pythias with a firm voice, and noble aspect, “I would it were possible that I might suffer a thousand deaths, rather than my friend should fail in any article of his honour. He cannot fail therein, my lord. confident of his virtue as I am of my own existence.
I am as
But I pray, I beseech the gods to preserve the life and integrity of my Damon together. Oppose him, ye, winds! prevent the eagerness and impatience of his honourable endeavours : and suffer him not to arrive till, by my death, I have redeemed a life a thousand times of more estimation, than my own: more esti -mable to his lovely wife, to his precious little innocents, to his friends, to his country. Oh! leave me not to die the worst of deaths in my Damon.” Dionysius was awed and confounded by the dignity of these sentiments, and by the manner, still more affecting, in which they were uttered. He felt his heart struck by a slight sense of invading truth ; but it served rather to perplex than undeceive him. He hesitated. He would have spoken, But he looked down; and retired in silence.
The fatal day arrived. Pythias was brought forth; and walked, amidst the guard, with a serious, but satisfied air, to the place of execution. Dionysius was already there. He was exalted on a moving throne, drawn by six white horses, and sat pensive and attentive to the demeanor of the prisoner. Pythias came. He vaulted lightly on the scaffold, and, beholding for some time the apparatus of death, he turned, and, with a pleasing countenance, thus addressed the assembly.-" My prayers are heard. The gods are propitious.—You know my friends, that the winds have been contrary till yesterday. Damon could not come :he could not conquer impossibilities. He will be here to-morrow; and the blood which is shed to-day, shall have ransomed the life of my friend.--Oh! could I erase from your bosoms every doubt, every mean suspicion, of the houour of the man for whom I am about to suffer, I should go to my death even as I would to my bridal. - Be it sufficient, in the mean time, that my friend will be found noble—that his truth is unimpeachable that he will speedily approve it-that he is now on his way, liurrying on, accusing
himself, the adverse elements, and the gods. But E hasten to prevent his speed.- Executioner, do your office.” As he pronounced the last words, a buzz began to arise amongst the remotest of the people. A distant voice was heard. The crowd caught the words ; and us
Stop, stop the execution," was repeated by the whole assembly. A man came at full speed. The throng gave way to his approach. He was mounted on a steed of foam. In an instant he was off his horse, on the scaffold, and held Pythias closely embraced. “ You are safe,” he cried, “ you are safe, my friend, my beloved! the gods be praised, you are safe! I now have nothing but death to suffer : and I am delivered from the anguish of those reproaches, which I gave myself, for having endangered a life so much dearer than my own.” Pale, and almost speechless,
the arms of his Damon, Pythias replied in broken accents, “ Fatal haste! -Cruel impatience !-- What envious powers have wrought impossibilities in your favour !--But I will not be wholly disappointed. Since I cannot die to save, I will not survive you."
Dionysius heard, beheld, and considered all with astonishment. His heart was touched ; his eyes were opened; and he could no longer refuse his assent to truths so incontestibly proved by facts. He descended from his throne. He ascended the scaffold.
« Live! live, ye incomparable pair !" he exclaimed. “Ye have borne unquestionable testimony to the existence of virtue !-- Live happy! live renowned! And, oh! form me by your pręcepts, as you have invited me by your example, to be worthy of the participation of so sacred a friendship."
COULD not but smile at the account that was yes
terday given me of a modest young gentleman, who being invited to an entertainment, though he was not used to drink, had not the confidence to refuse his glass in his turn, when on a sudden he grew so flustered that he took all the talk of the table into his own hands, he abused every one of the company, and fung a bottle at the gentleman's head who treated him. This has given me occasion to reflect upon the ill effects of a vicious modesty, and to remember the saying of Brutus, as it is quoted by Plutarch, that the
person has had but an ill education, who has not
been taught to deny any thing. This false kind of modesty has, perhaps, betrayed both sexes into many vices as the most abandoned impudence, and is more inexcusable to reason, because it acts to gratify others rather than itself, and is punished with a kind of remorse, not only like other vicious habits when the crime is over, but even at the very time that it is committed.
Nothing is more amiable than true modesty, and nothing is more contemptible than the false. The one guards virtue, the other betrays it. True modesty is ashamed to do any thing that is repugnant to right reason: false modesty is ashamed to do any thing that is opposite to the humour of the company. True modesty avoids every thing that is criminal, false modesty every thing that is unfashionable. The latter is only a general undetermined effect; the former is that insiinct, limited and circumscribed by the rules of prudence and religion.
We may conclude that modesty to be false and yicious which engages a man to do any thing that is ill or indiscreet, or which restrains him from doing any thing that is of a contrary nature. How many men, in the common concerns of life, lend sums of money which they are not able to spare, are bound for persons whom they have but little friendship for, give recommendatory characters of men whom they are not acquainted with, bestow places on those whom they do not esteem, live in such a manner as they themselves do not approve, and all this merely because they have not the confidence to resist solicitation, importunity, or example.
Nor does this false modesty expose us only to such actions as are indiscreet, but very often to such as are highly criminal. When Xenophanes was called timorous, because he would not venture his money in a game at dice: "I confess,' said he,
" that I am exceeding timorous, for I dare not do an ill thing.' On the contrary, a man of vicious modesty complies with every thing, and is only fearful of doing what may look singular in the company where he is engaged. He falls in with the torrent, and lets himself go to every action or discourse, however unjustifiable in itself, so it be in vogue among the present party. This, though one of the most common, is one of the most ridiculous dispositions in human nature, that men should not be ashamed of speaking or acting in a dissolute or irrational manner, but that one who is in their company should be ashamed of governing himself by the principles of reason and virtue.
In the second place we are to consider false modesty, as it restrains a man from doing what is good and laudable. My reader's own thoughts will suggest to him many instances and examples under this head. I shall only dwell upon one reflection, which I cannot make without a secret concern. We have in England a particular bashfulness in every thing that regards religion. A well-bred man is obliged to conceat any serious sentiments of this nature, and very