Giacomo Leopardi - Opera Omnia >>  Remarkable sayings of Philip Ottonieri   (1)
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Translated by Charles Edwardes


PHILIP OTTONIERI, a few of whose remarkable sayings I am about to recount, partly beard from his own mouth and partly related to me by others, was born at Nubiana in the province of "Valdivento. There he lived most of his life, and died a short time ago, leaving behind him the reputation of having never injured any one either by word or deed. He was detested by the majority of his fellow-citizens, because he took so little interest in the many things that gave them pleasure; although he did nothing to show that he despised those who differed from himself in this respect. He is believed to have been, not only in theory, but also in practice, what so many of his contemporaries professed to be, that is, a philosopher. For this reason other men thought him peculiar, though really he never affected singularity in anything. Indeed, he once said that a man who nowadays practised the greatest possible singularity in dress, manners, or actions, would be far less singular than were those ancients who obtained a reputation for singularity; and that the difference between such a person and his contemporaries would by the ancients have been regarded as scarcely worthy of notice. And, comparing J. J. Piousseau's singularity, which seemed very striking to the people of his generation, with that of Democritus and the first Cynic philosophers, he said that whoever nowadays lived as differently from his contemporaries as these Greeks lived from theirs, would not merely be regarded as singular, but would be treated as outside the pale of human society. He thought, too, that the degree of civilisation reached by any country might be estimated from observation of the degree of singularity possible in the inhabitants of that country.

Though very temperate in his habits of life, he professed Epicureanism, perhaps lightly rather than from conviction. But he condemned Epicurus, affirming that in his time and nation there was much more pleasure to be obtained from the pursuit of glory and virtue, than from idleness, indifference, and sensuality, which things were considered by that philosopher to represent the greatest good of life. He said also that the Epicureanism of modern times has nothing in common with the Epicureanism of the ancients.

In philosophy, he liked to call himself Socratic. Like Socrates, too, he often spent great part of the day reasoning philosophically with any chance acquaintance, and especially with certain of his friends, on any impromptu subject. But unlike Socrates, he did not frequent the shops of the shoemakers, carpenters, and blacksmiths; for he was of opinion that, though the artisans of Athens may have had time to spend in philosophising, those of Nubiana would starve were they to follow such an example. ISTor did he, like Socrates, explain his conclusions by means of endless interrogation and argument; for, he said, although men in the present day may have more patience than their ancestors, they would never consent to reply to a thousand consecutive questions, still less to hear their answers answered. In fact, he only resembled Socrates in his manner of speaking, sometimes ironical, sometimes equivocal.

He analysed the famous Socratic irony in the following way: -

"Socrates was naturally very tender-hearted, and of a most lovable disposition. But he was physically so unattractive that it is probable he despaired from his youth of ever inspiring others with a warmer feeling than that of friendship, far insufficient to satisfy his sensitive and ardent nature, which often felt towards others a much more lively affection. He was courageous in all matters of the intellect, but seems to have been wanting in natural courage, and those other qualities that would have enabled him to hold his own in public life, amid the tumult of wars, the sedition, and the license of all kinds, then characteristic of Athenian affairs. In addition to this, his ridiculous* and insignificant figure must have been no slight prejudice to him among people who made little distinction between the good and the beautiful, and who were also much addicted to banter. Thus it happened that in a free city, full of wealth and the bustle and amusements of life, Socrates, poor, rejected by love, incapable of a public career, yet gifted with very great intelligence which doubtless intensified the consciousness of his defects, resigned himself to a life of philosophising on the actions, manners, and thoughts of his fellow-citizens. The irony he used was natural to a man who found himself as it were excluded from participation in the existence of others. But it was due to his inherent nobility and affableness, and perhaps also to the celebrity he gained by his reasonings, and which flattered his self-esteem, that this irony, instead of being bitter and contemptuous, was pleasing, and expressed in a friendly manner.

"Then it was that Philosophy, as Cicero has well said, made her first descent from heaven, and was led by Socrates into the towns and houses of men. Hitherto occupied with speculations as to the nature of hidden things, she now studied the manners and lives of men, and discussed virtues and vices, things good and useful, and the contrary. But Socrates did not primarily think of introducing this novel feature into philosophy, nor did he propose to teach anything, nor even aspire to the name of philosopher, which then only belonged to those who made physics or metaphysics the study of their lives. He openly proclaimed his ignorance of all things, and in his conversation with others simply discussed the affairs of his neighbours, and the topics of the day. He preferred this amusement to the real study of philosophy, or any other science or art; and being naturally more inclined to act than speculate, he only adopted this manner of life, because shut out from a more congenial employment. He was always more willing to converse with young and handsome persons than with others; in this way he hoped to gain at least esteem, where he would far rather have had love."

And since all the schools of Greek philosophy are traceable directly or indirectly to the Socratic school, Ottonieri asserted that the flat nose and satyr-like visage of a highly intellectual and warm-hearted man were the origin of all Greek philosophy, and, consequently, the philosophy of modern times. He also said that in the writings of his followers, the individuality of Socrates is comparable to those theatrical masks of the ancients, which always retained their name, character, and identity, but the rôle of which varied in each distinct performance.

He left behind him no philosophical or other writings for public benefit. Being asked one day why he did not give written as well as verbal expression to his philosophical views, he replied: "Reading is a conversation held with the writer. Now, as in fetes and public entertainments, they who take no active part in the spectacle or performance soon become tired, similarly in conversation men prefer to speak rather than listen. And books necessarily resemble those people who take all the speaking to themselves, and never listen to others. Consequently, to atone for their monopoly of talking, they ought to say many fine and excellent things, expressing them in a remarkable manner. Every book that does not do this inspires the same feeling of aversion as an insatiable chatterer."


OTTONIERI made no distinction between business and pleasure. However serious his occupation, he called it pastime. Only once, having been idle temporarily, he confessed he had then experienced no amusement.

He said that our truest pleasures are due to the imagination. Thus, children construct a world out of nothing, whereas men find nothing in the world. He compared those pleasures termed real to an artichoke, all the leaves of which must be masticated in order to reach the pith. He added that such artichokes as these are very rare; and that many others resemble them in exterior, but within are void of kernel. He for his part, finding the leaves unpalatable, determined to abstain from both leaves and kernel.

Being asked what was the worst moment of life, he said: "Except those of pain or fear, the worst moments are, in my opinion, those spent in pleasure. For the anticipation and recollection of these last, which fill up the remainder of life, are better and more delightful than the pleasures themselves." He also made a comparison between pleasures and odours. The latter he considered usually leave behind a desire to experience them again, proportioned to their agreeableness; and he regarded the sense of smell as the most difficult to satisfy of all our senses. Again, he compared odours to anticipations of good things; and said that odoriferous foods are generally more pleasing to the nose than the palate, for their scent originates savoury expectations which are seldom sufficiently realised. He explained why sometimes he was so impatient about the delay of a pleasure sure to occur sooner or later, by saying that he feared the enjoyment he should derive from it would be of diminished force, on .account of the exaggerated anticipation conceived by his mind. For this reason he endeavoured in the meantime to forget the coming good, as though it were an impending misfortune.

He said that each of us in entering the world resembles a man on a hard and uncomfortable bed. As soon as the man lies down, he feels restless and begins to toss from side to side and change his position momentarily, in the hope of inducing sleep to close his eyes. Thus he spends the whole night, and though sometimes he believes himself on the point of falling asleep, he never actually succeeds in doing so. At length dawn comes, and he rises unrefreshed.

Watching some bees at work one day in company with certain acquaintances, he remarked: "Blessed are ye, if ye know not your unhappiness."

He considered the miseries of mortals to be incalculable, and that no single one of them could be adequately deplored.

In answer to Horace's question, "Why is no one content with his lot?" he said: "Because no one's lot is happy. Subjects equally with princes, the weak and the strong, were they happy, would be contented, and would envy no one. For men are no more incapable of being satisfied than other animals. But since happiness alone can satisfy them, they are necessarily dissatisfied, because essentially unhappy."

"If a man could be found," he said, "who had attained to the summit of human happiness, that man would be the most miserable of mortals. For even the oldest of us have hopes and schemes for the improvement of our condition." He recalled a passage in Zenophon, where a purchaser of land is advised to buy badly cultivated fields, because such as do not in the future bring forth more abundantly than at the time of purchase, give less satisfaction than if they were to increase in productiveness. Similarly, all things in which we can observe improvement please us more than others in which improvement is impossible.

On the other hand, he observed that no condition is so bad that it cannot be worse; and that however unhappy a man may be, he cannot console or boast himself that his misfortunes are incapable of increase. Though hope is unbounded, the good things of life are limited. Thus, were we to consider a single day in the life of a rich or poor man, master or servant, bearing in mind all the circumstances and needs of their respective positions, we should generally find an equality of good throughout. But nature has not limited our misfortunes; nor can the mind scarcely conceive a cause of suffering which is nonexistent, or which at some time was not to be found among humanity. Thus, whereas most men vainly hope for an increase of the good things they possess, they never want for genuine objects of fear; and if Fortune sometimes obstinately refuses to benefit us in the least degree, she never fails to afflict us with new torments of such a nature as to crush within us even the courage of despair.

He often used to laugh at those philosophers who think that a man is able to free himself from the tyranny of Fortune, by having a contempt for good and evil things which are entirely beyond his control; as if happiness and the contrary were absolutely in his own power to accept or refuse. On the same subject he also said, amongst other things, that however much a man may act as a philosopher in his relations with others, he is never a philosopher to himself. Again, he said that it is as impossible to take more interest in the affairs of others than in our own, as to regard their affairs as though they were our own. But, supposing this philosophical disposition of mind were possible, which it is not, and possessed by one of us, how would it stand the test of a thousand trials? Would it not be evident that the happiness or unhappiness of such a person is nevertheless a matter of fortune? Would not the very disposition they boast of be dependent on circumstances? 'Is not man's reason daily governed by accidents of all kinds? Do not the numberless bodily disturbances due to stupidity, excitement, madness, rage, dullness, and a hundred other species of folly, temporary or continuous, trouble, weaken, distract, and even extinguish it? Does not memory, wisdom's ally, lose strength as we advance in age? How many of us fall into a second childhood! And we almost all decrease in mental vigour as we grow old; or when our mind remains unimpaired, time, by means of some bodily disease, enfeebles our courage and firmness, and not infrequently deprives us of both attributes altogether. In short, it is utter folly to confess that physically we are subject to many things over which we have no control, and at the same time to assert that the mind, which is so greatly dependent on the body, is not similarly controlled by external influences. He summed up by saying that man as a whole is absolutely in the power of Fortune. Being asked for what purpose he thought men were born, he laughingly replied: "To realise how much better it were not to be born."


ON the occasion of a certain misfortune, Ottonieri said: "It is less hard to lose a much-loved person suddenly, or after a short illness, than to see him waste away gradually, so that before his death he is transformed in body and mind into quite another being from what he formerly was. This latter is a cruel thing; for the beloved one, instead of leaving to us the tender recollections of his real identity, remains with us a changed being, in whose presence our old affection slowly but surely fades away. At length he dies; but the remembrance of him as he was at the last destroys the sweeter and earlier image within us. Thus he is lost entirely, and our imagination, instead of comforting, saddens us. Such misfortunes as these are inconsolable."

One day he heard a man lamenting and saying, "If only I were freed from this trouble, all my other troubles would be easy to bear." He replied: "Not so; for then those that are now light would be heavy."

Another person said to him: "Had this pain continued, I could not have borne it." Ottonieri answered: "On the contrary, habit would have made it more bearable."

Touching many things as to human nature, he held opinions not in accordance with those of the multitude, and often different from those of learned men. For instance, he thought it unwise to address a petition to any one when the person addressed is in a state of extraordinary hilarity." And," he said, " when the petition is such that it cannot be granted at once, I consider occasions of joy and sorrow as equally inopportune to its success. Tor both sentiments make a man too selfish to trouble himself with the affairs of others. In sorrow our misfortune, in joy our good fortune, monopolises our mind, and erects, as it were, a barrier between us and matters external to ourselves. Both are also peculiarly unsuitable for exciting compassion: when sorrowful, we reserve all pity for ourselves; when joyful, we colour all things with our joy, and are inclined to regard the troubles and misfortunes of others as entirely imaginative, or else we refuse to think of them, as too discordant with the mind's present condition. The best time to ask a favour, or some beneficial promise for others, is when the person petitioned is in a state of quiet, happy good humour, unaccompanied by any excessive joyfulness; or better still, when under the influence of that keen but indefinite pleasure which results from a reverie of thought, and consists of a peaceful agitation of the spirit. At such times men are most open to pity and entreaty, and are often glad to please others, and give expression to the vague gratifying activity of their thoughts by some good action."

He also denied that an afflicted person ordinarily receives more pity from fellow-sufferers than from other people. For a man's companions in misfortune are always inclined to give their own troubles precedence over his, as being more serious and compassionable. And often, when a man in recounting his sufferings thinks he has excited the sympathy of his auditors, he is interrupted by one of them who expatiates in turn on his misfortunes, and ends by trying to show that he is the more afflicted of the two. He said that in such cases it generally happens as occurred to Achilles when Priam prostrated himself at his feet, with entreaties and lamentations. The tears of Priam excited the tears of Achilles, who began to groan and weep like the Trojan king. This he did, not from sympathy, but because of his own misfortunes, and the thoughts of his dead father and friend. " We compassionate others," he said, "when they suffer from evils we have experienced; but not so when we and they suffer simultaneously."

He said that from carelessness and thoughtlessness we do many cruel or wicked things, which very often have the appearance of genuine cruelty and maliciousness. For example, he mentioned the case of a man who spending his time away from home left his servants in a dwelling scarcely weather proof, not designedly, but simply from thoughtlessness or disregard of their comfort. He considered malice, inhumanity, and the like to be far less common among men than mere thoughtlessness, to which he attributed very many things called by harder names.

He once said that it were better to be completely ungrateful towards a benefactor than to make some trifling return for his great kindness. For in the latter case the benefactor must consider the obligation as cancelled, whatever may have been the motive that inspired the donor, and however small the return. He is thus despoiled of the bare satisfaction of gratitude, on which he probably reckoned; and yet he cannot regard himself as treated ungratefully, though he is so in reality.

I have heard the following saying attributed to him: - "We are inclined and accustomed to give our acquaintances credit for being able to discern our true merits, or what we imagine them to be, and to recognise the virtue of our words and actions. We also suppose that they ponder over these virtues and merits of ours, and never let them escape their memory. But, on the other hand, we do not discern similar qualities in them, or else are unwilling to acknowledge the fact."


OTTONIERI observed that irresolute men sometimes persevere in their undertakings in the face of the greatest opposition. This is even a consequence of their irresolution ; for were they to abandon their design, it would be evidence that they had for once fulfilled a determination. Sometimes they skilfully and speedily carry out a resolution. To this they are urged by fear lest they should be compelled to cease their task, when they would return to the state of perplexity and uncertainty in which they were formerly. Thus they strenuously hasten the execution of their design, stimulated rather by anxiety and uncertainty as to whether they will conquer themselves, than by the goal or the difficulties to be overcome before it can be reached. At another time he said, with a smile, that people accustomed to give expression to their every thought and feeling in conversation with others, cry out when alone if a fly bite them, or if they chance to upset a glass of water; and, on the other hand, they who live solitary lives become so reserved that even the presentiment of apoplexy would not induce them to speak in the presence of others.

He was of opinion that most men reputed great in ancient and modern times have obtained their reputation through a preponderance of one quality over the rest in their character. And a man possessed of the most brilliant but evenly proportioned endowments, would fail to acquire celebrity either with his contemporaries or posterity.

He divided the men of civilised nations into three classes. The first class are they whose individual nature, and partly also their natural human constitution, become transformed under the influence of the arts and customs of urban life. Among these he included all men who are skilful in business, whether private or public, who appreciate society, and make themselves universally agreeable to their fellows. Generally speaking, such men alone inspire esteem and respect. The second class are they who preserve their primitive nature in a greater degree, either from lack of culture or because they are naturally incapable of being influenced by the arts, manners, and customs of others. This is the most numerous of the three classes, and is held in general contempt. It embraces those who are known as the common people, or who deserve to be included with them, be their station in life what it may. The third class, incomparably the smallest in numbers, and often even more despised than the second, consists of those men in whom nature is strong enough to resist and often repulse the civilising influence of the times. They are seldom apt in business, or self-governed in society; nor do they shine in conversation, nor succeed in making themselves agreeable to their fellow-men. This class is subdivided into two varieties. The one includes those strong and courageous natures that despise the contempt they excite, and often indeed esteem it more than honour. They differ from other men, not only by nature, but also by choice and preference. Having nothing in common with the hopes and pleasures of society, solitary in a crowd, they avoid other men as much as they themselves are avoided. Specimens of this class are rarely met with. The other variety consists of persons whose nature is a compound of strength, weakness, and timidity, and who are therefore in a constant state of agitation. They are as a rule desirous of associating with their fellows, and wishing to emulate the men of the cultivated class, they feel acutely the contempt in which they are held by their inferiors. These men are never successful in life; they fail in ever becoming practical, and in society are neither tolerable to themselves nor others. Not a few of our most gifted men of modern times have belonged to this division in more or less degree. J. J. Eousseau is a famous example, and with him may be bracketed one of the ancients, Virgil. Of the latter it is said, on the authority of Melissus, that he was very slow of speech, and apparently a most ordinary endowed man. And this, together with the probability that owing to his great talents Virgil was little at ease in society, seems likely enough, both from the laboured subtlety of his style, and the nature of his poetry; it is also confirmed by what we read towards the end of the Second Book of the Georgics. There the poet expresses a wish for a quiet and solitary life, as though he regarded it as a remedy and refuge more than an advantage in itself. Now, seeing that with rare exceptions men of these two species are never esteemed until they are dead, and are of little power in the world; he asserted as a general rule, that the only way to gain esteem during life is to live unnaturally. And since the first class, which is the mean of the two extremes, represents the civilisation of our times; he concluded from this and other circumstances that the conduct of human affairs is entirely in the hands of mediocrity.

He distinguished also three conditions of old age, compared with the other ages of man. When nature and manners were first instituted, men were just and virtuous at all ages. Experience and knowledge of the world did not make men less honest and upright. Old age was then the most venerable time of life; for besides having all the good qualities common to other men, the aged were naturally possessed of greater prudence and judgment than their juniors. But in process of time, the conduct of men changed; their manners became debased and corrupt. Then were the aged the vilest of the vile; for they had served a longer apprenticeship to vice, had been longer under the influence of the wickedness of their neighbours, and were besides possessed of the spirit of cold indifference natural to their time of life. Under such conditions they were powerless to act, save by calumny, fraud, perfidy, cunning, dissimulation, and other such despicable means. The corruption of men at length exceeded all bounds. They despised virtue and well-doing before they knew anything of the world, and. its sad truth. In their youth they drained the cup of evil and dissipation. Old age was then not indeed venerable, for few things thenceforward could be so called, but the most bearable time of life. For whereas the mental ardour and bodily strength which formerly stimulated the imagination and the conception of noble thoughts, had often given rise to virtuous habits, sentiments, and actions; the same causes latterly increased man's wickedness by enlarging his capacity for evil, to which it lent an additional attractiveness. But this ardour diminished with age, bodily decrepitude, and the coldness incident to age, things ordinarily more dangerous to virtue than vice. In addition to this, excessive knowledge of the world became so dissatisfactory and wearisome a thing, that instead of conducting men from good to evil, as formerly, it gave them strength to resist wickedness, and sometimes even to hate it. So that, comparing old age with the other periods of life, it may be said to have been as better to good in the earliest times; as worse to bad in the corrupt times; and subsequently as bad to worse.


OTTONIERI often talked of the quality of self-love, nowadays called egotism. I will narrate some of his remarks on this subject.

He said that "if you hear a person speak well or ill of another with whom he has had dealings, and term him honest or the contrary; value his opinion not a whit. He speaks well or ill of the man simply as his relationship with him has proved satisfactory or the reverse." He said that no one can love without a rival. Being asked to explain, he replied: "Because the person beloved is a very close rival of the lover."

"Suppose a case," he said, " in which you asked a favour from a friend, who could not grant it without incurring the hatred of a third person. Suppose, too, that the three interested people are in the same condition of life. I affirm that your request would have little chance of success, even though your gratitude to the granter might exceed the hatred he would incur from the other person. The reason of this is as follows: we fear men's anger and hatred more than we value their love and gratitude. And rightly so. Tor do we not oftener see the former productive of results than the latter? Besides, hatred or vengeance is a personal satisfaction; whereas gratitude is merely a service pleasing to the recipient."

He said that respect and services rendered to others in expectation of some profitable return, are rarely successful; because men, especially nowadays when they are more knowing than formerly, are less inclined to give than receive. Nevertheless, such services as the young render to the old who are rich or powerful, attain their end more often than not.

The following remarks about modern customs I remember hearing from his own mouth: -

"Nothing makes a man of the world so ashamed as the feeling that he is ashamed, if by chance he ever realises it.

"Marvellous is the power of fashion! For we see nations and men, so conservative in everything else, and so careful of tradition, act blindly in this respect, often indeed unreasonably, and against their own interests. Fashion is despotic. She constrains men to lay aside, change, or assume manners, customs, and ideas, just when she pleases; even though the things changed be rational, useful, or beautiful, and the substitutes the contrary. (2)

"There are an infinite number of things in public and private life which, though truly ridiculous, seldom excite laughter. If by chance a man does laugh in such a case, he laughs alone, and is soon silent. On the other hand, we laugh daily at a thousand very serious and natural things; and such laughter is quickly contagious. Thus, most things which excite laughter are in reality anything but ridiculous; and we often laugh simply because there is nothing to laugh at, or nothing worthy of laughter.

"We frequently hear and say such things as, 'The good ancients,' 'our good ancestors,' &c. Again, 'A man worthy of the ancients,' by which we mean a trustworthy and honest man. Every generation believes, on the one hand, that its ancestors were better than its contemporaries; and on the other hand, that the human race progresses as it leaves the primitive state, to return to which would be a movement for the worse, further and further behind. Wonderful contradiction!

"The true is not necessarily the beautiful. Yet, though beauty be preferable to truth, where the former is wanting, the latter is the next best thing. Now in large towns the beautiful is not to be found, because it no longer has a place in the excitement of human life. The true is equally non-existent; for all things there are false or frivolous. Consequently, in large towns one sees, feels, hears, and breathes nothing but falsity, which in time, custom renders even pleasurable. To sensitive minds, what misery can exceed this?

"People who need not work for their bread, and who accordingly leave the care of it to others, have usually great difficulty in providing themselves with one of the chief necessities of life, occupation. This may indeed be called the greatest necessity of life, for it includes all others. It is greater even than the necessity of living; for life itself, apart from happiness, is not a good thing. And possessing life, as we do, our one endeavour should be to endure as little unhappiness as possible. Now, on the one hand, an idle and empty life is very unhappy; and on the other hand, the best way to pass our time is to spend it in providing for our wants."

He said that the custom of buying and selling human beings has proved useful to the race. In confirmation of this, he mentioned the practice of inoculating for small-pox, which originated in Circassia; from Constantinople it passed to England, and thence became disseminated throughout Europe. Its office was to mitigate the destructiveness wrought by true small-pox, which besides endangering the life and comeliness of the Circassian children and youths, was especially disastrous in its effects on the sale of their maidens.

He narrated of himself that on leaving school to enter the world of life, he mentally resolved, inexperienced, and devoted to truth as he was, to praise no. person or thing that did not seem really deserving of praise. He kept his determination for a whole year, during which time lie did not utter a single word of praise. Then he broke his vow, fearing lest, from want of practice, he should forget all the eulogistic phraseology he had learnt shortly before, at the School of Rhetoric. From that time he absolutely renounced his intention.


OTTONIERI was accustomed to read out passages from books taken at hazard, especially those of ancient writers. He would often interrupt himself by uttering some remark or comment on this or that passage.

One day he read from Laertius' "Lives of the Philosophers," the passage where Chilo, being asked how the learned differed from the ignorant, is said to have replied, that the former possess 'hopes.' Ottonieri said: "Now all is changed. The ignorant hope, but the learned do not."

Again, as he read in the same book how Socrates affirmed that the world contains but one benefit, knowledge, and but one evil, ignorance, he said: "I know nothing about the knowledge and ignorance of the ancients; but in the present day I should reverse this saying."

Commenting on this maxim of Hegesias, also from the book of Laertius, " The wise man attends to his own interests in everything," he said: "If all men who carry out this principle be philosophers, Plato may come and establish his republic throughout the civilised world."

He greatly praised the following saying of Bion Borysthenes, mentioned by Laertius: "They who seek the greatest happiness, suffer most." To this he added: "And they on the other hand are happiest who are contented with least, and who are accustomed to enjoy their happiness over again in memory."

From Plutarch he read how Stratocles excited the anger of the Athenians by inducing them on a certain occasion to sacrifice as though they were victors; and how he then replied by demanding why they blamed him that he had made them happy and joyful for the space of three days. Ottonieri added: "Nature might make the same response to those who complain that she endeavours to conceal the truth beneath a multitude of vain but beautiful and pleasing appearances. How have I injured you, in making you happy for three or four days?"

On another occasion he remarked that Tasso's saying about a child induced to take his medicine under a false belief, "he is nourished on deception," is equally applicable to all our race, in relation to the errors in which man puts faith.

Reading the following from Cicero's "Paradoxes" - "Do pleasures make a person better or more estimable? Is there any one who boasts of the pleasures he enjoys?" he said: "Beloved Cicero, I cannot say that pleasures make men in the present day either more estimable or better; but undoubtedly they cause them to be more esteemed. For in the present day most young men seek esteem by no other way than pleasure. And not only do they boast of these pleasures when they obtain them, but they din the intelligence of their enjoyment into the ears of friends and strangers, willing or unwilling. There are also many pleasures which are eagerly desired and sought after, not as pleasures, but for the sake of the renown, reputation, and self-satisfaction that they bring; and very often these latter things are appropriated when the pleasures have neither been obtained, nor sought, or else have been entirely imaginary."

He noted from Arrian's History of the Wars of Alexander the Great, that at the battle of Issus, Darius placed his Greek mercenaries in the van of his army, and Alexander his Greeks at the wings. He thought that this fact alone was sufficient to determine the result of the battle.

He never blamed authors for writing much about themselves. On the contrary, he applauded them for so doing, and said that on such occasions they are nearly always eloquent, and their style, though perhaps unusual and even singular, is ordinarily good and fluent. And this is not surprising; for writers treating of themselves have their heart and soul in the work. They are at no loss what to say; their subject and the interest they take in it are jointly productive of original thought. They confine themselves to themselves, and do not drink at strange fountains; nor need they be commonplace and trite. There is nothing to induce them to garnish their writing with artificial ornamentation, or to affect an unnatural style. And it is an egregious error to suppose that readers are ordinarily little interested in a writer's confessions. For in the first place, whenever a man relates his own experiences and thoughts simply and pleasingly, he succeeds in commanding attention. Secondly, because in no way can we discuss and represent the affairs of others more truthfully and effectively than by treating of our own affairs; seeing that all men have something in common, either naturally or by force of circumstances, and that we are better able to illustrate human nature in ourselves than in others. In confirmation of these opinions, he instanced Demosthenes' Oration for the Crown, in which the speaker, continually referring to himself, is surpassingly eloquent. And Cicero, when he touches on his own affairs, is equally successful; peculiarly so in his Oration for Milo, admirable throughout, but above all praise towards the end, where he himself is introduced. Bossuet also is supremely excellent in his panegyric of the Prince de Conde", where he mentions his own extreme age and approaching death. Again, the Emperor Julian, whose writings are all else trifling, and often unbearable, is at his best in the "Misopogony" (speech against the beard), in which he replies to the ridicule and malice of the people of Antioch. He is here scarcely inferior to Lucian in wit, vigour, and acuteness; whereas his work on the Csesars, professedly an imitation of Lucian, is pointless, dull, feeble, and almost stupid. In Italian literature, which is almost devoid of eloquent writings, the apology of Lorenzo de Medici is a specimen of eloquence, grand and perfect in every way. Tasso also is often eloquent where he speaks much of himself, and is nearly always excessively so in his letters, which are almost occupied with his own affairs.


MANY other famous sayings of Ottonieri are recorded. Amongst them is a reply he gave to a clever, well-read young man, who knew little of the world. This youth said that he learned daily one hundred pages of the art of self-government in society. "But," remarked Ottonieri, "the book has five million pages."

Another youth, whose thoughtless and impetuous behaviour constantly got him into trouble, used to excuse himself by saying that life is a comedy. "May be," replied Ottonieri, "but even then it is better for the actor to gain applause than rebuke; often, too, the ill-trained or clumsy comedian ends by dying of starvation."

One day he saw a murderer, who was lame, and could not therefore escape, being carried off by the police. "See, friends," he said, "Justice, lame though she be, can bring the doer of evil to account, if he also be lame."

During a journey through Italy he met a courtier, who, desirous of acting the critic to Ottonieri, began: "I will speak candidly, if you will allow me." "I will listen attentively," said the other, " for, as a traveller, I appreciate uncommon things."

Being in need of money, he once asked a loan from a certain man, who, excusing himself on the plea of poverty, added that were he rich, the necessities of his friends would be his first thought. "I should he truly sorry were you to bestow on us such a valuable moment," replied Ottonieri: "God grant you may never become rich!"

When young, he wrote some verses, using certain obsolete expressions. At the request of an old lady he recited them to her. She professed ignorance of their meaning, and said that in her day such words were not in use. Ottonieri replied: "I thought they might have been, simply because they are very ancient."

Of a certain very rich miser who had been robbed of a little money, he said: "This man behaved in a miserly manner even to thieves."

He said of a man who had a mania for calculate every possible occasion: "Other men make things; this fellow counts them."

Being asked his opinion about a certain old terracotta figure of Jove, over which some antiquaries were disputing, he said: "Do you not see that it is a Cretan Jove?"

Of a foolish fellow, who imagined himself to be an admirable reasoner, yet was illogical whenever he s poire two words, he said: "This person exemplifies the Greek definition of man, as a 'logical animal.' "

When on his deathbed, he composed this epitaph, which was subsequently engraved on his tomb:



(1) A fictitious personage.

(2) See "Dialogue between Fashion and Death," p. 19.

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