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Acts and Duties of Modesty, as it is opposed to Curiosity.

1. Inquire not into the secrets of God, but be content to learn thy duty according to the quality of thy person or employment; that i plainly, if thou beest not concerned in the conduct of others; but if thou beest a teacher, learn it so as may best enable thee to discharge thy office. God’s commandments were proclaimed to all the world; but God’s counsels are to himself and to his secret ones, when they are admitted within the veil.

2. Inquire not into the things which are too hard for thee, but learn modestly to know thy infirmities and abilities; and raise not thy mind up to inquire into mysteries of state, or the secrets of government, or difficulties theological, if thy employment really be, or thy understanding be judged to be, of a lower rank.

3. Let us not inquire into the affairs of others that concern us not, but be busied within ourselves and our own spheres; ever remembering that to pry into the actions or interests of other men not under our charge, may minister to pride, to tyranny, to uncharitableness, to trouble, but can never consist with modesty, unless where duty or the mere intentions of charity and relation do warrant it.

4. Never listen at the doors or windows:125125Ecclus. vii. 21.—Ne occhi in lettera, ne mano in tasca, ne orecchi in secreti altrui. for, besides that it contains in it danger and a snare, it is also an invading thy neighbour’s privacy, and a laying that open which he therefore enclosed, that it might not be open. Never ask what he carried covered s o curiously; for it is enough that it is covered curiously. Hither also is reducible that we never open letters without public authority, or reasonably presumed leave, or great necessity, or charity.

Every man hath in his own life sins enough, in his own mind trouble enough, in his own fortune evils enough, and in performance of his offices failings more than enough, to entertain his own inquiry; so that curiosity after the affairs of others cannot be without envy, and an evil mind. What is it to me, if my neighbour’s grandfather were a Syrian, or his grandmother illegitimate; or that another is indebted five thousand pounds, or whether his wife be expensive? But commonly curious persons, or (as the apostle’s phrase is) ‘busybodies,’ are not solicitous or inquisitive into the beauty and order of a well-governed family, or after the virtues of an excellent person; but if there be anything for which men keep locks and bars, and porters, things that blush to see the light, and either are shameful in manners, or private in nature, these things are their care and their business. But if great things will satisfy our inquiry, the course of the sun and moon, the spots in their faces, the firmament of heaven, and the supposed orbs, the ebbing and flowing of the sea, are work enough for us; or if this be not, let him tell me whether the number of the stars be even or odd, and when they began to be so, since some ages have discovered new stars which the former knew not, but might have seen if they had been where now they are fixed. If these be too troublesome search lower, and tell me why this turf this year brings forth a daisy, and the next year a plantain; why the apple bears his seed in his heart, and wheat bears it in his head: let him tell why a graft, taking nourishment from a crab-stock, shall have a fruit more noble than its nurse and parent: let him say why the best of oil is at the top, the best of wine in the middle, and the best of honey at the bottom, otherwise than it is in some liquors that are thinner, and in some that are thicker. But these things are to such as please busybodies; they must feed upon tragedies, and stories of misfortunes and crimes: and yet tell them ancient stories of the ravishment of chaste maidens, or the debauchment of nations, or the extreme poverty of learned persons, or the persecutions of the old saints, or the changes of government, and sad accidents happening in royal families amongst the Arsacidae, the Caesars, the Ptolemies, these were enough to scratch the itch of knowing sad stories; but unless you stem them something sad and new, something that is done within the bounds of their own knowledge or relation, it seems tedious and unsatisfying; which shows plainly, it is an evil spirit; envy and idleness married together, and begot curiosity. Therefore Plutarch rarely well compares curious and inquisitive ears to the execrable gates of cities, out of which only malefactors and hangmen and tragedies pass — nothing that is chaste or holy. If a physician should go from house to house unsent for, and inquire what woman hath a cancer in her bowels, or what man hath a fisula in his colic-gut, though he could pretend to cure it, he would be almost as unwelcome as the disease itself; and therefore it is inhuman to inquire after crimes and disasters without pretence of amending them, but only to discover them. We are not angry with searchers and publicans, when they look only on public merchandise; but when they break open trunks, and pierce vessels, and unrip packs, and open sealed letters.

Curiosity is the direct incontinency of the spirit: and adultery itself in its principle is many times nothing but a curious inquisition after, and envying of, another man’s enclosed pleasures; and there have been many who refused fairer objects that they might ravish an enclosed woman from her retirement and single possessor. But these inquisitions are seldom without danger, never with our baseness; they are neither just, nor honest, nor delightful, and very often useless to the curious inquirer. For men stand upon their guards against them, as they secure their meat against harpies and cats, laying all their counsels and secrets out of their way; or as men clap their garments close about them, when the searching and saucy winds would discover their nakedness; as knowing that what men willingly hear they do willingly speak of. Knock, therefore, at the door before you enter upon your neighbour’s privacy; and remember, that there is no difference between entering into his house, and looking into it.

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