Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
 
Love’s Constancy
By John Lyly (1555?–1606)
 
From Euphues and his England

WHEN my lady came, and saw me so altered in a month, wasted to the hard bones, more like a ghost than a living creature, after many words of comfort (as women want none about sick persons) when she saw opportunity, she asked me whether the Italian were my messenger, or if he were, whether his embassage were true, which question I thus answered.
  1
  “Lady, to dissemble with the world, when I am departing from it, would profit me nothing with man, and hinder me much with God, to make my deathbed the place of deceit, might hasten my death, and increase my danger.  2
  “I have loved you long, and now at the length I must leave you, whose hard heart I will not impute to discourtesy, but destiny; it contenteth me that I died in faith, though I could not live in favour, neither was I ever more desirous to begin my love, than I am now to end my life. Things which cannot be altered are to be borne, not blamed: follies past are sooner remembered than redressed, and time lost may well be repented, but never recalled. I will not recount the passions I have suffered, I think the effect show them, and now it is more behoveful for me to fall to praying for a new life, than to remember the old: yet this I add (which though it merit no mercy to save, it deserveth thanks of a friend) that only I loved thee, and lived for thee, and now die for thee.” And so turning on my left side, I fetched a deep sigh.  3
  Iffida, the water standing in her eyes, clasping my hand in hers, with a sad countenance answered me thus.  4
  “My good Fidus, if the increasing of my sorrows, might mitigate the extremity of thy sickness, I could be content to resolve myself into tears to rid thee of trouble: but the making of a fresh wound in my body is nothing to the healing of a festered sore in thy bowels: for that such diseases are to be cured in the end, by the names of their original. For as by basil the scorpion is engendered and by the means of the same herb destroyed: so love which by time and fancy is bred in an idle head, is by time and fancy banished from the heart: or as the salamander which, being a long space nourished in the fire, at the last quencheth it, so affection having taken hold of the fancy, and living as it were in the mind of the lover, in tract of time altereth and changeth the heat, and turneth it to dullness.  5
  “It is no small grief to me Fidus, that I should be thought to be the cause of thy languishing, and cannot be remedy of thy disease. For unto thee I will reveal more than either wisdom would allow, or my modesty permit.  6
  “And yet so much, as may acquit me of ungratitude towards thee, and rid thee of the suspicion conceived of me.  7
  “So it is, Fidus and my good friend, that about a two years past, there was in court a gentleman not unknown unto thee, nor I think unbeloved of thee, whose name I will not conceal, lest thou shouldest either think me to forge, or him not worthy to be named. This gentleman was called Thirsus, in all respects so well qualified as had he not been in love with me, I should have been enamoured of him.  8
  “But his hastiness prevented my heat, who began to sue for that, which I was ready to proffer, whose sweet tale although I wished it to be true, yet at the first I could not believe it: for that men in matters of love have as many ways to deceive, as they have words to utter.  9
  “I seemed strait-laced, as one neither accustomed to such suits, nor willing to entertain such a servant, yet so warily, as putting him from me with my little finger, I drew him to me with my whole hand.  10
  “For I stood in a great mammering, 1 how I might behave myself, lest being too coy he might think me proud, or using too much courtesy, he might judge me wanton. Thus long time I held him in a doubt, thinking thereby to have just trial of his faith, or plain knowledge of his falsehood. In this manner I led my life almost one year, until with often meeting and divers conferences, I felt myself so wounded, that though I thought no heaven to my hap, yet I lived as it were in hell till I had enjoyed my hope.  11
  “For as the tree ebenus though it no way be set in a flame, yet it burneth with sweet savours: so my mind though it could not be fired, for that I thought myself wise, yet was it almost consumed to ashes with pleasant delights and sweet cogitations: insomuch as it fared with me, as it doth with the trees stricken with thunder, which having the barks sound, are bruised in the body, for finding my outward parts without blemish, looking into my mind, could not see it without blows.  12
  “I now perceiving it high time to use the physician, who was always at hand, determined at the next meeting to conclude such faithful and inviolable league of love, as neither the length of time, nor the distance of place, nor the threatening of friends, nor the spite of fortune, nor the fear of death, should either alter or diminish: which accordingly was then finished, and hath hitherto been truly fulfilled.  13
  “Thirsus, as thou knowest, hath ever since been beyond the seas, the remembrance of whose constancy is the only comfort of my life: neither do I rejoice in anything more, than in the faith of my good Thirsus.  14
  “Then Fidus I appeal in this case to thy honesty, which shall determine of mine honour. Wouldest thou have me inconstant to my old friend, and faithful to a new? Knowest thou not that as the almond tree beareth most fruit when he is old, so love hath greatest faith when it groweth in age. It falleth out in love, as it doth in vines, for the young vines bring the most wine but the old the best: so tender love maketh greatest show of blossoms, but tried love bringeth forth sweetest juice.  15
  “And yet I will say thus much, not to add courage to thy attempts, that I have taken as great delight in thy company, as ever I did in any’s (my Thirsus only excepted) which was the cause that oftentimes, I would either by questions move thee to talk, or by quarrels incense thee to choler, perceiving in thee a wit answerable to my desire, which I thought throughly to whet by some discourse. But wert thou in comeliness Alexander, and my Thirsus, Thersites, wert thou Ulysses, he Midas, thou Crœsus, he Codrus, I would not forsake him to have thee: no not if I might thereby prolong thy life, or save mine own, so fast a root hath true love taken in my heart, that the more it is digged at, the deeper it groweth, the oftener it is cut, the less it bleedeth, and the more it is loaden, the better it beareth.  16
  “What is there in this vile earth that more commendeth a woman than constancy? It is neither his wit, though it be excellent, that I esteem, neither his birth though it be noble, nor his bringing up, which hath always been courtly, but only his constancy and my faith, which no torments, no tyrant, not death shall dissolve. For never shall it be said that Iffida was false to Thirsus, though Thirsus be faithless (which the Gods forfend) unto Iffida.  17
  “For as Amulius the cunning painter so portrayed Minerva, that which way so ever one cast his eye, she always beheld him: so hath Cupid so exquisitely drawn the image of Thirsus in my heart, that what way soever I glance, me thinketh he looketh stedfastly upon me: insomuch that when I have seen any to gaze on my beauty (simple, God wot, though it be) I have wished to have the eyes of Augustus Cæsar to dim their sights with the sharp and scorching beams.  18
  “Such force hath time and trial wrought, that if Thirsus should die I would be buried with him, imitating the eagle which Sesta a virgin brought up, who seeing the bones of the virgin cast into the fire, threw himself in with them, and burnt himself with them. Or Hippocrates’ twins, who were born together, laughed together, wept together, and died together.  19
  “For as Alexander would be engraven of no one man, in a precious stone, but only of Pergotales: so would I have my picture imprinted in no heart, but in his, by Thirsus.  20
  “Consider with thyself Fidus, that a fair woman without constancy, is not unlike unto a green tree without fruit, resembling the counterfeit that Praxitiles made for Flora, before the which if one stood directly, it seemed to weep, if on the left side to laugh, if on the other side to sleep: whereby he noted the light behaviour of her, which could not in one constant shadow be set down.  21
  “And yet for the great good will thou bearest me, I cannot reject thy service, but I will not admit thy love. But if either my friends, or myself, my goods, or my good will may stand thee in stead, use me, trust me, command me, as far forth as thou canst with modesty, and I may grant with mine honour. If to talk with me, or continually to be in thy company, may in any respect satisfy thy desire, assure thyself, I will attend on thee, as diligently as thy nurse, and be more careful for thee, than thy physician. More I cannot promise, without breach of my faith, more thou canst not ask without the suspicion of folly.  22
  “Here Fidus, take this diamond, which I have heard old women say, to have been of great force, against idle thoughts, vain dreams, and frantic imaginations, which if it do thee no good, assure thyself it can do thee no harm, and better I think it against such enchanted fantasies, than either Homer’s Moly, or Pliny’s Centaurio.”  23
  When my lady had ended this strange discourse, I was stricken into such a maze, that for the space almost of half an hour, I lay as it had been in a trance, mine eyes almost standing in my head without motion, my face without colour, my mouth without breath, insomuch that Iffida began to screech out, and call company, which called me also to myself, and then with a faint and trembling tongue, I uttered these words. “Lady I cannot use as many words as I would, because you see I am weak, nor give so many thanks as I should, for that you deserve infinite. If Thirsus have planted the vine, I will not gather the grapes: neither is it reason, that he having sowed with pain, that I should reap the pleasure. This sufficeth me and delighteth me not a little, that you are so faithful and he so fortunate. Yet good lady, let me obtain one small suit, which derogating nothing from your true love, must needs be lawful, that is, that I may in this my sickness enjoy your company, and if I recover, be admitted as your servant: the one will hasten my health, the other prolong my life.” She courteously granted both, and so carefully tended me in my sickness, that what with her merry sporting, and good nourishing, I began to gather up my crumbs, and in short time to walk into a gallery, near adjoining unto my chamber, where she disdained not to lead me, and so at all times to use me, as though I had been Thirsus. Every evening she would put forth either some pretty question or utter some merry conceit, to drive me from melancholy. There was no broth that would down, but of her making, no meat but of her dressing, no sleep enter into mine eyes, but by her singing, insomuch as she was both my nurse, my cook, and my physician. Being thus by her for the space of one month cherished, I waxed strong and so lusty, as though I had never been sick.  24
  Now Philautus, judge not partially, whether was she a lady of greater constancy towards Thirsus, or courtesy towards me?  25
  Philautus thus answered. “Now surely Fidus, in my opinion, she was no less to be commended for keeping her faith inviolable, than to be praised for giving such alms unto thee, which good behaviour, differeth far from the nature of our Italian dames, who if they be constant they despise all other that seem to love them. But I long yet to hear the end, for me thinketh a matter begun with such heat, should not end with a bitter cold.”  26
  O Philautus, the end is short and lamentable, but as it is have it.  27
  She after long recreating of herself in the country, repaired again to the court, and so did I also, where I lived, as the elephant doth by air, with the sight of my lady, who ever used me in all her secrets as one that she most trusted. But my joys were too great to last, for even in the middle of my bliss, there came tidings to Iffida, that Thirsus was slain by the Turks, being then in pay with the King of Spain, which battle was so bloody, that many gentlemen lost their lives.  28
  Iffida so distraught of her wits, with these news fell into a phrensy, having nothing in her mouth, but always this, “Thirsus slain, Thirsus slain,” ever doubling this speech with such pitiful cries and screeches, as it would have moved the soldiers of Ulysses to sorrow. At the last by good keeping, and such means as by physic were provided, she came again to herself, unto whom I writ many letters to take patiently the death of him, whose life could not be recalled; divers she answered, which I will shew you at my better leisure.  29
  But this was most strange, that no suit could allure her again to love, but ever she lived all in black, not once coming where she was most sought for. But within the term of five years, she began a little to listen to mine old suit, of whose faithful meaning she had such trial as she could not think that either my love was builded upon lust, or deceit.  30
  But destiny cut off my love, by the cutting off her life, for falling into a hot pestilent fever, she died, and how I took it, I mean not to tell it: but forsaking the court presently, I have here lived ever since, and so mean until death shall call me.  31
 
Note 1. mammering = hesitation, doubt. [back]
 
 
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