Good Temper by Richard Steele.

Sir Richard Steele by Godfrey Kneller (c. 1712).
Sir Richard Steele was an Irish writer, a Whig Member of Parliament for Stockbridge (Hampshire) and Boroughbridge (Yorkshire), a member of the famous Kit-Cat Club, and, along with Joseph Addison, founded The Tatler magazine in 1709 (not to be confused with Tatler, founded in 1901 by Clement Shorter, which was named after Addison and Steele's The Tatler). Again with Addison he later founded The Spectator in 1711 and The Guardian in 1713 (neither of which are still in publication, today's Spectator was founded in 1828 and Guardian in 1821). Good Temper is an essay first published in The Spectator on 14th August 1711.

The essay begins with a Latin quote, "Non est vivere sed valere Vita" (meaning "Life is not being alive but being well"). He goes on,
It is an unreasonable thing some Men expect of their Acquaintance. They are ever complaining that they are out of Order, or Displeased, or they know not how, and are so far from letting that be a Reason for retiring to their own Homes, that they make it their Argument for coming into Company. What has any body to do with Accounts of a Man’s being Indispos’d but his Physician? If a Man laments in Company, where the rest are in Humour enough to enjoy themselves, he should not take it ill if a Servant is ordered to present him with a Porringer of Cawdle or Posset-drink, by way of Admonition that he go Home to Bed. That Part of Life which we ordinarily understand by the Word Conversation, is an Indulgence to the Sociable Part of our Make; and should incline us to bring our Proportion of good Will or good Humour among the Friends we meet with, and not to trouble them with Relations which must of necessity oblige them to a real or feigned Affliction. Cares, Distresses, Diseases, Uneasinesses, and Dislikes of our own, are by no means to be obtruded upon our Friends. 
He continues to admonish those who would bring misery to others, referring to them as "Valetudinarians", meaning either those who suffer from poor health or those who are unduly anxious about their health. Steele writes on the attempt at cheerfulness:
Whatever we do we should keep up the Chearfulness of our Spirits, and never let them sink below an Inclination at least to be well-pleased: The Way to this, is to keep our Bodies in Exercise, our Minds at Ease. 
Such spirit "will conquer Pride, Vanity and Affectation", for conquering health itself can be impossible. Steele suggests trying to think positive, or rather consider the afterlife: failing health may be viewed as a step closer to a much better state. That said, "if one does not regard Life after this manner, none but Ideots can pass it away with any tolerable Patience." If that were the case, one ought to accept life's balance, that one cannot be in a perpetual state of pleasure.
It is certain that to enjoy Life and Health as a constant Feast, we should not think Pleasure necessary, but, if possible, to arrive at an Equality of Mind. It is as mean to be overjoyed upon Occasions of Good-Fortune, as to be dejected in Circumstances of Distress.
He concludes with a quote from Theory of the Earth (which I believe, but am not certain, was written either by John Keill or Thomas Burnet):
For what is this Life but a Circulation of little mean Actions? We lie down and rise again, dress and undress, feed and wax hungry, work or play, and are weary, and then we lie down again, and the Circle returns. We spend the Day in Trifles, and when the Night comes we throw our selves into the Bed of Folly, amongst Dreams and broken Thoughts, and wild Imaginations. Our Reason lies asleep by us, and we are for the Time as arrant Brutes as those that sleep in the Stalls or in the Field. Are not the Capacities of Man higher than these? And ought not his Ambition and Expectations to be greater? Let us be Adventurers for another World: ‘Tis at least a fair and noble Chance; and there is nothing in this worth our Thoughts or our Passions. If we should be disappointed, we are still no worse than the rest of our Fellow-Mortals; and if we succeed in our Expectations, we are Eternally Happy.
It's a very short essay and it's rather harsh, but sound advice for general whinging and the mild nigglings and state of unwellness we all suffer from time to time. Not an essay to be taken to extremes, though!

Good Temper was my ninth title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: The Art of Political Lying by Jonathan Swift. This should be a very interesting one!


  1. like his friend and partner, Addison, Steele was unmitigatedly social: people those days drank a whole lot more than they do now: a couple bottles of wine a day was considered average consumption... so he probably got tired of listening to old drunks in their cups "whinging"(love that word) about their health... i like them both and have the four volume Dent edition of "the Spectator". which i delve into periodically...

    1. That's interesting, I hadn't considered that! That makes sense.

      I must read some Addison, I've not got to him yet :)

  2. One of my all-time favorite books, that I've read many times, is the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. In his early years his appetite for books and reading was insatiable and I remember him writing of his fondness for "Addison & Steele" and both the Tatler and The Spectator. The funny thing is, when I saw the title of your post including "by Richard Steele," I didn't immediately realize it was "the same guy." :-) My fondness for Franklin's book led me to purchase a collection of Addison & Steele's writings, but I haven't looked at it in years.

    I love the final passage that you share here too, especially "Our Reason lies asleep by us, and we are for the Time as arrant Brutes as those that sleep in the Stalls or in the Field" that's great stuff! :-)

    This post also made me think about the word "temper" and how like many words its usage has changed over the years, since - in America at least - it is rarely used anymore other than describing someone who is quick to anger.

    Great post!

    1. I haven't read Benjamin Franklin but I've seen some positive reviews - I'll have to add that to my list. And in England too temper means quick to anger. "Temper", in terms of emotions, is just short for "bad temper".

      And thanks, I'm glad you liked it :)


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