1753
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Choice of Hercules: A Lesson of Socrates; recorded by Xenophon.

Moralities: or, Essays, Letters, Fables; and Translations. By Sir Harry Beaumont.

Rev. Joseph Spence


Writing as "Sir Harry Beaumont," Joseph Spence, who had written extensively about ancient allegory in Polymetis (1747), translates The Choice of Hercules. The allegory, by the sophist Prodicus of Ceos, is known from Xenophon's Memorabilia. In Polymetis (1747) Spence had published Richard Lowth's Judgment of Hercules (1743), a translation of Prodicus's fable in verse. Spence's Moralities consists of various kinds of didactic essays, including many fables as well as his earlier translation of the Table of Cebes.

Joseph Spence: "The Choice of Hercules was writ originally by Prodicus in verse, and was made use of by Socrates, as a lesson to his disciples, in plain honest prose. It has been turned into English by Mr. Addison in prose and by Mr. Lowth in verse. Mr. Addison has beautified it in some places and shortened it in others. Mr. Lowth has enlarged upon it, and perhaps restored it pretty near to its original form as it came out of Prodicus's hands, for there is nothing of his works that remains to us" June 1748; in Anecdotes, ed. James M. Osborn (1966) 1:435.




When Hercules was drawing very fast toward that Point of his Age, at which young Men being left to their own Disposal, generally shew whether they will turn their Steps to the Path of Virtue, or to that of Vice, for the rest of their Lives; he is said to have gone into a very retir'd Place, fit for Conversation: there to consider with himself, which of those two Paths he shou'd pursue.

As he was sitting there, two Female Personages, (but of a larger Stature than the Human,) appear'd at a Distance, as drawing toward him. One of them had an easy, becoming Air. She seem'd to owe more to Nature, than to Art: every thing was neat, but nothing affected about her. Her Eyes were full of Modesty; her Behaviour, the most decent that can be imagin'd; and her Garments as white as Snow. The other, was of a softer Turn; and rather too plump. She seem'd to have given more Whiteness to her Skin, and a brighter Red to her Complexion, than Nature design'd for them. All her Carriage was affected; and she seem'd even to want to appear taller, than she really was. Her Eyes were open, and busy; and her Dress was adapted to shew all her Beauties, as much as possible. She was frequently regarding herself; then looking, to see whether she was regarded by others: and seem'd solicitous, even how her very Shadow should appear.

As they drew nearer, the former continu'd the same compos'd Pace: while the latter, striving to get before her, ran up to Hercules; and address'd herself to him, in the following Manner.

"I perceive, my Hercules, that you are deliberating which Path you shou'd take in Life. If you will choose me for your Friend, I will lead you to that which is the most easy, and the most agreeable. You shall taste all the Pleasure of Life in it; and be free from all its Cares and Troubles.

"In the first Place, you shall have nothing to do with Wars, or with Affairs of State. All your Study shall be, to consider what may be the most charming to your Taste, and your other Senses; what Amours you will choose to follow; how your Slumbers may be made the most easy; and by what means you may enjoy all these Blessings, without any Pains or Trouble.

"And if any Fears, or Suspicions, shou'd arise in your Mind, whence all these Things shall be supply'd to you; cast away those Suspicions and Fears! There are enough who labour; and fatigue both their Bodies and Minds. What they earn, you shall enjoy; and shall make free with every thing, where-ever you find it, that can afford you any Pleasure or Advantage; for this is a Privilege that I grant to all my Followers."

Hercules, on hearing such Offers, desired to know her Name. "The Name," says she, "by which I am known among my Friends, is Happiness; but my Enemies, out of their great good Humour, are pleas'd to call me — Vice."

By this time the other Lady was come up to him; and said. "I also am come to you, O Hercules; as knowing your Parents, and your own Inclinations from your Childhood: From both of which I entertain great Hopes that, if you follow me, and my Paths, you become the Atchiever of my very great and noble Deeds; and render even me, yet more honour'd, and more desirable in the Eyes of worthy Men.

"I shall not go about to deceive you with any flattering Speeches, as she has done; but shall lay Things before you, according to their true Nature and the immutable Decrees of the Gods.

"Of all the real good Things that Heaven grants to Mortals, there is not any one that is to be attain'd without Application and Labour. If you wou'd render the Gods propitious to you, you must attend their Service. I you wou'd be honour'd by any City, you must be of Service to that City; and if you would be admir'd by any Country, you must do some great and public Good. Who can expect any Fruits from his Lands, when he has never cultivated them? Or looks for a Crop, where he has not sown? If you long to render yourself eminent by warlike Atchievements; or aspire to the Glory of freeing a suffering People, and restraining those that oppress them; you must not only learn the Arts of War, under such as have been well vers'd in them; but must practise them often yourself, that you may be able to exert them upon Occasion. If you would excel others in bodily Strength, you must keep your Body in due Subjection to your Mind; and exercise it with Labour and Pains."

"Do you observe, (interrupted Vice,) what a difficult and tedious Road this Woman wou'd lead you into? Follow me, and I will shew you a much shorter and more easy Way to Happiness."

"Wretch, as thou art! (reply'd Virtue,) what Happiness canst thou bestow? Or what Pleasure canst thou taste, who wouldst never take the Pains necessary to obtain it? You, who do not expect the very Appetite for Pleasures; but satiate yourself with Things, before you feel any Desire for them; eating before you are hungry, and drinking before your are thirsty: and are therefore forc'd after so many Artists, for different Sawces; and to lay in so many Sorts of Wine, at a vast Expence; and to be so solicitous to find out Ice, in the midst of Summer. Then, to make your Slumbers uninterrupted, you must have the softest Down, and the easiest Couches; and a gentle Ascent of Steps, to save you from any the least Disturbance in mounting up to them. And all little enough, Heaven knows! for you have not prepar'd yourself for Sleep, by any thing you have done; but seek after it, only because you have nothing to do. 'Tis the same, in the Enjoyments of Love; in which you rather force, than follow, your Inclinations: and are oblig'd to use Arts, and even to pervert Nature, to keep your Passions alive. Thus is it, that you instruct your Disciples: kept awake, for the greatest Part of the Night, by Debaucheries; and consuming in Drowsiness, all the most useful Part of the Day.

"'Tis true, you were of a Celestial Origin; but were not cast out of the Society of the Gods? And have you not, ever since, been rejected by all the most worthy Men, even upon Earth? Never have your heard that most agreeable of Sounds, your own Praise; nor ever have you beheld the most pleasing of all Objects, any good Work of your own producing. Who wou'd ever give any Credit to any thing that you say? Who was ever willing to serve you, at your Request? Or what Man of Sense wou'd ever venture to be of your mad Parties? Such as do follow you, are robb'd of their Strength, when they are young; and are void of Wisdom, when they grow old. In their Youth they are bred up in Indolence, and all manner of Delicacy; and pass thro' their old Age with Difficulties and Distress. Full of Shame for what they have done; and opprest with the Burden of what they are to do. Squanderers of Pleasures, in their Youth; and Hoarders up of Afflictions, for their old Age.

"On the contrary, My Conversation is with the Gods, and with good Men; and there is no good Work produc'd by either, without my Influence. I am respected above all Things, by the Gods themselves, and by all the best of Mortals. The belov'd Fellow-labourer of the Artificer; a faithful Security to Masters of Families; a kind Assistant to Servants; and useful Associate in the Arts of Peace; a faithful Ally in all the Labours of War; and the best Uniter of all Friendships.

"My Followers enjoy a Pleasure in every thing they either eat or drink, even without having labour'd for it; because they wait for the Demand of their Appetites. Their Sleep is sweeter than that of the indolent and unactive: And they are neither over burthen'd with it, when they arise; nor prevented by it from attending to their proper Affairs. The Young among them are chear'd with the Praises of the Old; and the Old are delighted with the Respects paid them by the Young. They look back with Comfort on their past Actions; and delight themselves in their present Employments. By my means, they are favour'd by the Gods; belov'd by their Friends; and honour'd by their Country: And when the appointed Period of their Lives is come, they are not lost in a dishonourable Oblivion; but flourish in the Praises of Mankind, even to the latest Posterity.

"Thus do, O Hercules, thou Son of great and good Parents! And thus doing, thou shalt attain to the greatest and the most perfect Happiness."


[pp. 137-45]