Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
 
The Speech of the Lord Epimonus de Garrula
By James Harrington (1611–1677)
 
From Oceana

“MAY it please your Highness, my Lord Archon,—
  “Under correction of Mr. Peregrin Spy, our very learned agent and intelligencer, I have seen the world a little, Venice, and (as gentlemen are permitted to do) the great council balloting. And truly I must needs say, that it is for a dumb show the goodliest that I ever beheld with my eyes. You should have some would take it ill, as if the noble Venetians thought themselves too good to speak to strangers, but they observed them not so narrowly. The truth is, they have nothing to say to their acquaintance; or men that are in council sure would have tongues: for a council, and not a word spoken in it, is a contradiction. But there is such a pudder with their marching and countermarching, as, though never a one of them draw a sword, you would think they were training; which till I found that they did it only to entertain strangers, I came from among them as wise as I went thither. But in the parliament of Oceana you had no balls nor dancing, but sober conversation; a man might know and be known, show his parts, and improve them. And now if you take the advice of this same fellow, you will spoil all with his whimsies. Mr. Speaker—cry you mercy, my Lord Archon, I mean—set the wisest man of your house in the great council of Venice, and you will not know him from a fool. Whereas nothing is more certain than that flat and dull fellows in the judgment of all such as used to keep company with them before, upon election into our house, have immediately chitted, 1 like barley in the vat where it acquires a new spirit, and flowed forth into language, that I am as confident as I am here, if there were not such as delight to abuse us, is far better than Tully’s; or, let anybody but translate one of his orations, and speak it in the house, and see if everybody do not laugh at him. This is a great matter, Mr. Speaker; they do not cant it with your book-learning, your orbs, your centres, your prime magnitudes, and your nebulones, 2 things I profess that would make a sober man run stark mad to hear them; while we, who should be considering the honour of our country, and that it goes now or never upon our hand, whether it shall be ridiculous to all the world, are going to nine-holes or trow madam 3 for our business, like your dumb Venetian, whom this same Sir Politic your resident, that never saw him do any thing but make faces, would insinuate into you, at this distance, to have the only knack of state. Whereas if you should take the pains, as I have done, to look a little nearer, you would find these same wonderful things to be nothing else but mere natural fopperies, or capriccios, as they call them in Italian, even of the meanest, of that nation. For, put the case you be travelling in Italy, ask your contadino, that is, the next country-fellow you meet, some question, and presently he ballots you an answer with a nod, which is affirmative; or a shake with his head, which is the negative box; or a shrug with his shoulder, which is the bossolo di non sinceri. 4 Good! You will admire Sandys for telling you, that grotto di cane 5 is a miracle: and I shall be laughed at, for assuring you, that it is nothing else but such a damp (continued by the neighbourhood of certain sulphur mines) as through accidental heat does sometimes happen in our coalpits. But ingratitude must not discourage an honest man from doing good. There is not, I say, such a tongue-tied generation under heaven as your Italian, that you should not wonder if he make signs. But our people must have something in their diurnals; we must ever and anon be telling them our minds; or if we be at it when we raise taxes, like those gentlemen with the finger and the thumb, they will swear that we are cutpurses. Come, I know what I have heard them say, when some men had money that wrought hard enough for it; and do you conceive they will be better pleased when they shall be told that upon like occasions you are at mumchance 6 or stool-ball? I do not speak for myself; for though I shall always acknowledge that I got more by one year’s sitting in the house than by my three years’ travels, it was not of that kind. But I hate that this same Spy, for pretending to have played at billiards with the most serene commonwealth of Venice, should make such fools of us here, when I know that he must have had his intelligence from some corncutter upon the Rialto; for a noble Venetian would be hanged if he should keep such a fellow company. And yet if I do not think he has made you all dote, never trust me, my Lord Archon is sometimes in such strange raptures. Why, good my lord, let me be heard as well as your apple squire. Venice has fresh blood in her cheeks, I must confess, yet she is but an old lady. Nor has he picked her cabinet; these he sends you are none of her receipts, I can assure you; he bought them for a Julio at St. Mark’s of a mountebank. She has no other wash, upon my knowledge, for that same envied complexion of hers but her marshes. My lords, I know what I say, but you will never have done with it, that neither the great Turk, nor any of those little Turks her neighbours, have been able to spoil her! Why you may as well wonder that weasels do not suck eggs in swans’ nests. Do you think that it has lain in the devotion of her beads? which you that have puked so much at Popery, are now at length resolved shall consecrate Mr. Parson, and be dropped by every one of his congregation, while those same whimsical intelligences your surveyors (you will break my heart) give the turn to your primum mobile! And so I think they will; for you will find that money is the primum mobile, and they will turn you thus out of some three or four hundred thousand pounds: a pretty sum for urns and balls, for boxes and pills, which these same quacksalvers are to administer to the parishes; and for what disease I marvel! Or how does it work? Out comes a constable, an overseer, and a churchwarden! Mr. Speaker, I am amazed!”
  1
 
Note 1. chitted = sprouted. [back]
Note 2. nebulones means “worthless fellows.” But it would seem as if Harrington had in his mind nebulæ (clouds), with its derivative nebulosus. [back]
Note 3. nine-holes or trow-madam.  Games of different kinds. [back]
Note 4. bossolo di non sinceri = the box of insincere men. [back]
Note 5. grotto di cane.  The grotto near Pozzuolo, the effect of the mephitic exhalations from which was exhibited on dogs. [back]
Note 6. mumchance or stool-ball.  Mumchance was a sort of pantomime; stool-ball, a game of ball. [back]
 
 
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