Peevish Rage Over Petty Incidents

“A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but [he that is] slow to anger appeaseth strife” (Proverbs 15:18).


“Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).


The English lexicographer and essayist Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), writes:


“Pride is undoubtedly the original of anger; but pride, like every other passion, if it once breaks loose from reason, counteracts its own purposes. A passionate man upon the review of his day will have very few gratifications to offer to his pride when he has considered how his outrages were caused, why they were borne, and in what they are likely to end at last” (Samuel Johnson, The Essays of Samuel Johnson“).


As a matter of course, the hasty, impulsive, wrathful, and foolish man of peevish passion does not thoughtfully consider (often even in retrospect) the actual origin and ultimate result of his fury.


“Those sudden bursts of rage generally break out upon small occasions; for life, unhappy as it is, cannot supply great evils as frequently as the man of fire thinks it fit to be enraged; therefore the first reflection upon his violence must show him that he is mean enough to be driven from his post by every petty incident, that he is the mere slave of casualty, and that his reason and virtue are in the power of the wind” (Samuel Johnson, The Essays of Samuel Johnson“).


Note that these bombastic bursts of bluster are occasioned by relatively small and unimportant matters. A bit of inconvenient weather will ruin his entire weekend. Or, to change the expression, he is the kind of person who fumes over receiving bad service at every restaurant he frequents.


“One motive there is of these loud extravagancies, which a man is careful to conceal from others, and does not always discover to himself. He that finds his knowledge narrow, and his arguments weak, and by consequence his suffrage not much regarded, is sometimes in hope of gaining that attention by his clamours which he cannot otherwise obtain, and is pleased with remembering that at least he made himself heard, that he had the power to interrupt those whom he could not confute, and suspend the decision which he could not guide … He may, by a steady perseverance in his ferocity, fright his children and harass his servants, but the rest of the world will look on and laugh; and he will have the comfort at last of thinking that he lives only to raise contempt and hatred, emotions to which wisdom and virtue would be always unwilling to give occasion” (Samuel Johnson, The Essays of Samuel Johnson).


In brief, the idea is this: “Argument weak, shout here.”


Samuel Johnson concludes with this:


“Yet, even this degree of depravity we may be content to pity, because it seldom wants a punishment equal to its guilt. Nothing is more despicable or more miserable than the old age of a passionate man. When the vigour of youth fails him and his amusements pall with frequent repetition, his occasional rage sinks by decay of strength into peevishness; that peevishness, for want of novelty and variety, becomes habitual; the world falls off from around him, and he is left, as Homer expresses it, to devour his own heart in solitude and contempt” (Samuel Johnson, The Essays of Samuel Johnson; italics mine).


In a similar manner to what Johnson describes above, is envy.


“A healthy heart [is] the life of the flesh, but envy is the rottenness of the bones” (Proverbs 14:30).


As one fellow had expounded on envy:


“The envious is a man of the worst diet, and like a strange cook, stews himself; nay, and conceits pleasure in pining so that his body at last hath just cause to sue his soul on an action of dilapidations. He finds fault with all things that himself hath not done. He wakes whiles his enemy takes rest. …By putting in a superfluous syllable he hath corrupted one of the best words, turning amorem into amarorem, love into bitterness. A philosopher seeing a malicious man dejected asked him whether some evil had happened to himself, or some good to his neighbour.” 


Similarly (or by way of analogy), this peevish and passionate fool stews in his own juices, and ultimately devours himself.