In his contribution to Culture and Politics from Puritanism to the Enlightenment (Publications from the Clark Library Professorship, Ucla ; 5), John M. Wallace suggests that “A history of the influence of De Beneficiis on English thought would be a sizable undertaking, especially as Christian homiletics are also much concerned with gratitude.”
He offers a brief summary of what this undertaking would involve:
“In the first edition of his popular Treatise of Morall Phylosophie (1547), William Baldwin entitled one chapter ‘Of benefyttes, and of unthankfulness,’ which he soon expanded into a longer essay ‘Of giving and receiving.’ By the end of the seventeenth century Saint-Evremond could ask rhetorically, ‘Is there a dispute about the acknowledgment of a good turn, a thousand Men refine upon the Discourses of Seneca?’ Catholics and Protestant alike tended to ally the mutual obligations of children and parents with similar ties between rulers and ruled. Essayists expounded the theme, and writers on friendship could hardly avoid it. Thomas Gainsford in 1616 summarized the clichés in his handbook, including the reflection that ‘benefits have sometimes a taste of bribery,’ and Nicholas Caussin made gratitude the tenth motive for stirring up people of quality to seek Christian perfection; he scattered his pages with metaphors for the power of benefits. ‘Benefits are sharp-pointed Arrows, which thoroughly penetrate the heart of Tygers and Lions….Good turns are golden Nets, which catch the swiftest gliding Fishes….O how strong bird-lime is a benefit all generous birds are taken with it.’ Clarendon found the fourth psalm an occasion for a brief discourse on the subject. In the political realm, as we might expect, patriarchalism best expressed the universal wish for a society united like a happy family, with each member gladly acknowledging his indebtedness to the others.”
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, October 29, 2012 at 5:21 am
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