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Men's thoughts are much according to their inclination: their discourse and speechesaccording to their learning, and infused opinions; but their deeds are after as they have beenaccustomed. And therefore, as Machiavelli well noteth (though in an evil favoured instance)there is no trusting to the force of nature, nor to the bravery of words; except it becorroborate by custom. His instance is, that for the achieving of a desperate conspiracy, aman should not rest upon the fierceness of any man's nature, or his resolute undertakings;but take Such an one, as hath had his hands formerly in blood. But Machiavelli knew not of aFriar Clement, nor a Ravillac, nor a Jaureguy, nor a Baltazar Gerard: yet his rule holdeth still,that nature, nor the engagement of words, are not so forcible as custom. Only superstition isnow so well advanced, that men of the first blood are as firm as butchers by occupation: andvotary resolution is made equipollent to custom, even in matter of blood. In other things, thepredominancy of custom is everywhere visible; in so much, as a man would wonder, to hearmen profess, protest, engage, give great words, and then do just as they have done before:as if they were dead images, and engines moved only by the wheels of custom.
We see also the reign or tyranny of custom, what it is. The Indians (I mean the sect of theirwise men) lay themselves quietly upon a stack of wood, and so sacrifice themselves by fire.Nay, the wives strive to be burned with the corpses of their husbands. The lads of Sparta, ofancient time, were wont to be scourged upon the altar of Diana, without so much as queening. Iremember in the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's time of England, an Irish rebel condemned,put up a petition to the deputy, that he might be hanged in a with, and not in an halter,because it had been so used, with former rebels.
There ON be monks in Russia, for penance, that will sit a whole night in a vessel of water, tillthey be engaged with hard ice. Many examples may be put of the force of custom, both uponmind, and body. Therefore, since custom is the principal magistrate of man's life, let men by allmeans endeavour to obtain good customs.
Certainly, custom is most perfect, when it beginneth in young years: this we call education;which is, in effect, but an early custom. So we see, in languages the tongue is more pliant to allexpressions and sounds, the joints are more supple to all fears of activity and motions, inyouth than afterwards. For it is true, that late learners cannot so well take the ply; except it bein some minds, that have not suffered themselves to fix, but have kept themselves open andprepared to receive continual amendment, which is exceeding rare.
But if the force of custom simple and separate, be great: the force of custom copulate, andconjoined and collegiate, is far greater. For there example teacheth; company comforteth;emulation quickeneth; glory raiseth: so as in such places the force of custom is in hisexaltation. Certainly, the great multiplication of virtues upon human nature resteth uponsocieties well ordained, and disciplined. For commonwealths, and good governments, donourish virtue grown, but do not much mend the seeds. But the misery is, that the mosteffectual means are now applied to the ends least to be desired.