The Works of Francis Bacon, Volume 1/Essays/Of Adversity
V. OF ADVERSITY.
It was a high speech of Seneca, (after the manner of the Stoics,) that the good things which helong to prosperity are to be wished, but the good things that belong to adversity are to be admired: "Bona rerum secundarum optabilia, adversarum mirabilia." Certainly, if miracles be the command over nature, they appear most adversity. It is yet a higher speech of his than the other, (much too high for a heathen.) "It is true greatness to have in one the frailty of a man, and the security of a God:"—"Vere magnum habere fragilitatem hominis, securitatem Dei." This would have done better in poesy, where transcendencies are more allowed; and the poets, indeed, have been busy with it; for it is in effect the thing which is figured in that strange fiction of the ancient poets, which seemeth not to be without mystery; nay, and to have some approach to the state of a Christian, "that Hercules, when he went to unbind Prometheus, (by whom human nature is represented,) sailed the length of the great ocean in an earthen pot or pitcher, lively describing Christian resolution, that saileth in the frail bark of the flesh through the waves of the world." But to speak in a mean, the virtue of prosperity is temperance, the virtue of adversity is fortitude, which in morals is the more hercical virtue. Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament, adversity is the blessing of the New, which carrieth the greater benediction, and the clearer revelation of God's favour. Yet even in the Old Testament, if you listen to David's harp, you shall hear as many hearse-like airs as carols; and the pencil of the Holy Ghost hath laboured more in describing the afflictions of Job than the felicities of Solomon. Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes. We see in needle-works and embroideries, it is more pleasing to have a lively work upon a sad and solemn ground, than to have a dark and melancholy work upon a lightsome ground: judge, therefore, of the pleasure of the heart by the pleasure of the eye. Certainly virtue is like precious odours, most fragrant when they are incensed, or crushed: for prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.