The Ruins HTML version
Part II, Chapter 8
ON COURAGE AND ACTIVITY
Q. Are courage and strength of body and mind virtues in the law of nature?
A. Yes, and most important virtues; for they are the efficacious and indispensable means
of attending to our preservation and welfare. The courageous and strong man repulses
oppression, defends his life, his liberty, and his property; by his labor he procures himself
an abundant subsistence, which he enjoys in tranquillity and peace of mind. If he falls
into misfortunes, from which his prudence could not protect him, he supports them with
fortitude and resignation; and it is for this reason that the ancient moralists have reckoned
strength and courage among the four principal virtues.
Q. Should weakness and cowardice be considered as vices?
A. Yes, since it is certain that they produce innumerable calamities. The weak or
cowardly man lives in perpetual cares and agonies; he undermines his health by the
dread, oftentimes ill founded, of attacks and dangers: and this dread which is an evil, is
not a remedy; it renders him, on the contrary, the slave of him who wishes to oppress
him; and by the servitude and debasement of all his faculties, it degrades and diminishes
his means of existence, so far as the seeing his life depend on the will and caprice of
Q. But, after what you have said on the influence of aliments, are not courage and force,
as well as many other virtues, in a great measure the effect of our physical constitution
A. Yes, it is true; and so far, that those qualities are transmitted by generation and blood,
with the elements on which they depend: the most reiterated and constant facts prove that
in the breed of animals of every kind, we see certain physical and moral qualities,
attached to the individuals of those species, increase or decay according to the
combinations and mixtures they make with other breeds.
Q. But, then, as our will is not sufficient to procure us those qualities, is it a crime to be
destitute of them?
A. No, it is not a crime, but a misfortune; it is what the ancients call an unlucky fatality;
but even then we have it yet in our power to acquire them; for, as soon as we know on
what physical elements such or such a quality is founded, we can promote its growth, and
hasten its developments, by a skillful management of those elements; and in this consists
the science of education, which, according as it is directed, meliorates or degrades
individuals, or the whole race, to such a pitch as totally to change their nature and
inclinations; for which reason it is of the greatest importance to be acquainted with the