Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Let Us Be True to Ourselves
By Samuel Daniel (15621619)
LET us go no further, but look upon the wonderful architecture of this state of England, and see whether they were deformed times that could give it such a form. Where there is no one the least pillar of majesty, but was set with most profound judgment, and borne up with the just conveniency of prince and people. No court of justice, but laid by the rule and square of nature, and the best of the best commonwealths that ever were in the world; so strong and substantial as it hath stood against all the storms of factions, both of belief and ambition, which so powerfully beat upon it, and all the tempestuous alterations of humorous times whatsoever; being continually, in all ages, furnished with spirits fit to maintain the majesty of her own greatness, and to match in an equal concurrency all other kingdoms round about her with whom it had to encounter.
But this innovation, like a viper, must ever make way into the worlds opinion, through the bowels of her own breeding, and is always born with reproach in her mouth; the disgracing others is the best grace it can put on, to win reputation of wit, and yet it is never so wise as it would seem, nor doth the world ever get so much by it as it imagineth; which being so often deceived, and seeing it never performs so much as it promises, methinks men should never give more credit unto it: for, let us change never so often, we cannot change man, our imperfections must still run on with us, and therefore the wiser nations have taught men always to use moribus legibusque præsentibus etiam si deteriores sint. The Lacedemonians, when a musician, thinking to win himself credit by his new invention, and be before his fellows, had added one string more to his crowd, brake his fiddle, and banished him the city, holding the innovator, though in the least things, dangerous to a public society. It is but a fantastic giddiness to forsake the way of other men, especially where it lies tolerable: Ubi nunc est respublica, ibi simus potius quam, dum illam veterem sequimur, simus in nulla.1
But shall we not tend to perfection? Yes, and that ever best by going on in the course we are in, where we have advantage, being so far onward, of him that is but now setting forth; for we shall never proceed, if we be ever beginning, nor arrive at any certain port, sailing with all winds that blow, non convalescit planta quæ sæpius transfertur, and therefore let us hold on in the course we have undertaken, and not still be wandering. Perfection is not the portion of man; and if it were, why may we not as well get to it this way as another? And suspect these great undertakers, lest they have conspired with envy to betray our proceedings, and put us by the honour of our attempts, with casting us back upon another course, of purpose to overthrow the whole action of glory, when we lay the fairest for it, and were so near our hopes. I thank God, that I am none of these great scholars, if thus their high knowledges do but give them more eyes to look out into uncertainty and confusion, accounting myself rather beholding to my ignorance, that hath set me in so low an under-room of conceit with other men, and hath given me as much distrust as it hath done hope, daring not adventure to go alone, but plodding on the plain tract I find beaten by custom and the time, contenting me with what I see in use.
And surely methinks these great wits should rather seek to adorn, than to disgrace the present, bring something to it, without taking from it what it hath; but it is ever the misfortune of learning, to be wounded by her own hand. Stimulos dat æmula virtus; and when there is not ability to match what is, malice will find out engines, either to disgrace or ruin it, with a perverse encounter of some new impression; and, which is the greatest misery, it must ever proceed from the powers of the best reputation, as if the greatest spirits were ordained to endanger the world, as the gross are to dishonour it; and that we were to expect ab optimis periculum, a pessimis dedecus publicum. Emulation, the strongest pulse that beats in high minds, is oftentimes a wind, but of the worst effect; for whilst the soul comes disappointed of the object it wrought on, it presently forges another, and even cozens itself, and crosses all the world, rather than it will stay to be under her desires, falling out with all it hath, to flatter and make fair that which it would have.