Nonfiction > Harvard Classics > Famous Prefaces
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
CONTENTS · BOOK CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
   Famous Prefaces.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Preface to the History of the World
 
Paras. 26–50
 
Sir Walter Raleigh (1614)
 
 
  Yet did he that which few kings do; namely, repent him of his cruelty. For, among many other things which he performed in the General Assembly of the States, it follows: “Post haec autem palam se errasse confessus, et imitatus Imperatoris Theodosii exemplum, poenitentiam spontaneam suscepit, tam de his, quam quae in Bernardum proprium nepotem gesserat”: “After this he did openly confess himself to have erred, and following the example of the Emperor Theodosius, he underwent voluntary penance, as well for his other offences, as for that which he had done against Bernard his own nephew.”  26
  This he did; and it was praise-worthy. But the blood that is unjustly spilt, is not again gathered up from the ground by repentance. These medicines, ministered to the dead, have but dead rewards.  27
  This king, as I have said, had four sons. to Lothair his eldest he gave the Kingdom of Italy; as Charlemagne, his father, had done to Pepin, the father of Bernard, who was to succeed him in the Empire. to Pepin the second son he gave the Kingdom of Aquitaine: to Louis, the Kingdom of Bavaria: and to Charles, whom he had by a second wife called Judith, the remainder of the Kingdom of France. But this second wife, being a mother-in-law 1 to the rest, persuaded Debonnaire to cast his son Pepin out of Aquitaine, thereby to greaten Charles, which, after the death of his son Pepin, he prosecuted to effect, against his grandchild bearing the same name. In the meanwhile, being invaded by his son Louis of Bavaria, he dies for grief.  28
  Debonnaire dead, Louis of Bavaria, and Charles afterwards called the Bald, and their nephew Pepin, of Aquitaine, join in league against the Emperor Lothair their eldest brother. They fight near to Auxerre the most bloody battle that ever was stroken in France: in which, the marvellous loss of nobility, and men of war, gave courage to the Saracens to invade Italy; to the Huns to fall upon Almaine; and the Danes to enter upon Normandy. Charles the Bald by treason seizeth upon his nephew Pepin, kills him in a cloister: Carloman rebels against his father, Charles the Bald; the father burns out the eyes of his son Carloman; Bavaria invades the Emperor Lothair his brother, Lothair quits the Empire, he is assailed and wounded to the heart by his own conscience, for his rebellion against his father, and for his other cruelties, and dies in a monastery. Charles the Bald, the uncle, oppresseth his nephews the sons of Lothair, he usurpeth the Empire to the prejudice of Louis of Bavaria his elder brother; Bavaria’s armies and his son Carloman are beaten, he dies of grief, and the usurper Charles is poisoned by Zedechias a Jew, his physician, his son Louis le Bègue dies of the same drink. Bègue had Charles the Simple and two bastards, Louis and Carloman; they rebel against their brother, but the eldest breaks his neck, the younger is slain by a wild boar; the son of Bavaria had the same ill destiny, and brake his neck by a fall out of a window in sporting with his companions. Charles the Gross becomes lord of all that the sons of Debonnaire held in Germany; wherewith not contented, he invades Charles the Simple: but being forsaken of his nobility, of his wife, and of his understanding, he dies a distracted beggar. Charles the Simple is held in wardship by Eudes, Mayor of the Palace, then by Robert the brother of Eudes: and lastly, being taken by the Earl of Vermandois, he is forced to die in the prison of Peron. Louis the son of Charles the Simple breaks his neck in chasing a wolf, and of the two sons of this Louis, the one dies of poison, the other dies in the prison of Orleans; after whom Hugh Capet, of another race, and a stranger to the French, makes himself king.  29
  These miserable ends had the issues of Debonnaire, who after he had once apparelled injustice with authority, his sons and successors took up the fashion, and wore that garment so long without other provision, as when the same was torn from their shoulders, every man despised them as miserable and naked beggars. The wretched success they had (saith a learned Frenchman) shows, “que en ceste mort il y avait plus du fait des hommes que de Dieu, ou de la justice”: “that in the death of that Prince, to wit, of Bernard the son of Pepin, the true heir of Charlemagne, men had more meddling than either God or justice had.”  30
  But to come nearer home; it is certain that Francis the First, one of the worthiest kings (except for that fact) that ever Frenchmen had, did never enjoy himself, after he had commended the destruction of the Protestants of Mirandol and Cabrieres, to the Parliament of Provence, which poor people were thereupon burnt and murdered; men, women, and children. It is true that the said King Francis repented himself of the fact, and gave charge to Henry his son, to do justice upon the murderers, threatening his son with God’s judgments, if he neglected it. But this unseasonable care of his, God was not pleased to accept for payment. For after Henry himself was slain in sport by Montgomery, we all may remember what became of his four sons, Francis, Charles, Henry, and Hercules. of which although three of them became kings, and were married to beautiful and virtuous ladies: yet were they, one after another, cast out of the world, without stock or seed. and notwithstanding their subtility, and breach of faith; with all their massacres upon those of the religion, 2 and great effusion of blood, the crown was set on his head, whom they all labored to dissolve; the Protestants remain more in number than ever they were, and hold to this day more strong cities than ever they had.  31
  Let us now see if God be not the same God in Spain, as in England and France. towards whom we will look no further back than to Don Pedro of Castile: in respect of which Prince, all the tyrants of Sicil, our Richard the Third, and the great Ivan Vasilowich of Moscow, were but petty ones: this Castilian, of all Christian and heathen kings, having been the most merciless. For, besides those of his own blood and nobility, which he caused to be slain in his own court and chamber, as Sancho Ruis, the great master of Calatrava, Ruis Gonsales, Alphonso Tello, and Don John of Arragon, whom he cut in pieces and cast into the streets, denying him Christian burial: I say, besides these, and the slaughter of Gomes Mauriques, Diego Peres, Alphonso Gomes, and the great commander of Castile; he made away the two infants of Arragon his cousin germans, his brother Don Frederick, Don John de la Cerde, Albuquergues, Nugnes de Guzman, Cornel, Cabrera, Tenorio, Mendes de toledo, Guttiere his great treasurer and all his kindred; and a world of others. Neither did he spare his two youngest brothers, innocent princes: whom after he had kept in close prison from their cradles, till one of them had lived sixteen years, and the other fourteen, he murdered them there. Nay, he spared not his mother, nor his wife the Lady Blanche of Bourbon. Lastly, as he caused the Archbishop of toledo, and the Dean to be killed of purpose to enjoy their treasures; so did he put to death Mahomet Aben Alhamar, King of Barbary, with thirty-seven of his nobility, that came unto him for succor, with a great sum of money, to levy (by his favor) some companies of soldiers to return withal. Yea, he would needs assist the hangman with his own hand, in the execution of the old king; in so much as Pope Urban declareth him an enemy both to God and man. But what was his end? Having been formerly beaten out of his kingdom, and re-established by the valor of the English nation, led by the famous Duke of Lancaster: he was stabbed to death by his younger brother, the Earl of Astramara, who dispossessed all his children of their inheritance; which, but for the father’s injustice and cruelty, had never been in danger of any such thing.  32
  If we can parallel any man with this king, it must be Duke John of Burgogne, who, after his traitorous murder of the Duke of Orleans, caused the Constable of Armagnac, the Chancellor of France, the Bishops of Constance, Bayeux, Eureux, Senlis, Saintes, and other religious and reverend Churchmen, the Earl of Gran Pre, Hector of Chartres, and (in effect) all the officers of justice, of the Chamber of Accounts, Treasury, and Request, (with sixteen hundred others to accompany them) to be suddenly and violently slain. Hereby, while he hoped to govern, and to have mastered France, he was soon after struck with an axe in the face, in the presence of the Dauphin; and, without any leisure to repent his misdeeds, presently 3 slain. These were the lovers of other men’s miseries: and misery found them out.  33
  Now for the kings of Spain, which lived both with Henry the Seventh, Henry the Eighth, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth; Ferdinand of Arragon was the first: and the first that laid the foundation of the present Austrian greatness. For this King did not content himself to hold Arragon by the usurpation of his ancestor; and to fasten thereunto the Kingdom of Castile and Leon, which Isabel his wife held by strong hand, and his assistance, from her own niece the daughter of the last Henry: but most cruelly and craftily, without all color or pretence of right, he also cast his own niece out of the Kingdom of Navarre, and, contrary to faith, and the promise that he made to restore it, fortified the best places, and so wasted the rest, as there was no means left for any army to invade it. This King, I say, that betrayed also Ferdinand and Frederick, Kings of Naples, princes of his own blood, and by double alliance tied unto him; sold them to the French: and with the same army, sent for their succor under Gonsalvo, cast them out; and shared their kingdom with the French, whom afterwards he most shamefully betrayed.  34
  This wise and politic King, who sold Heaven and his own honor, to make his son, the Prince of Spain, the greatest monarch of the world; saw him die in the flower of his years; and his wife great with child, with her untimely birth, at once and together buried. His eldest daughter married unto Don Alphonso, Prince of Portugal, beheld her first husband break his neck in her presence; and being with child by her second, died with it. A just judgment of God upon the race of John, father to Alphonso, now wholly extinguished; who had not only left many disconsolate mothers in Portugal, by the slaughter of their children; but had formerly slain with his own hand, the son and only comfort of his aunt the Lady Beatrix, Duchess of Viseo.  35
  The second daughter of Ferdinand, married to the Arch-Duke Philip, turned fool, and died mad and deprived. 4 His third daughter, bestowed on King Henry the Eighth, he saw cast off by the King: the mother of many troubles in England; and the mother of a daughter, that in her unhappy zeal shed a world of innocent blood; lost Calais to the French; and died heartbroken without increase. to conclude, all those kingdoms of Ferdinand have masters of a new name; and by a strange family are governed and possessed.  36
  Charles the Fifth, son to the Arch-Duke Philip, in whose vain enterprises upon the French, upon the Almains, and other princes and states, so many multitudes of Christian soldiers, and renowned captains were consumed; who gave the while a most perilous entrance to the Turks, and suffered Rhodes, the Key of Christendom, to be taken; was in conclusion chased out of France, and in a sort out of Germany; and left to the French, Mentz, toule, and Verdun, places belonging to the Empire, stole away from Inspurg; and scaled the Alps by torchlight, pursued by Duke Maurice; having hoped to swallow up all those dominions wherein he concocted nothing save his own disgraces. and having, after the slaughter of so many millions of men, no one foot of ground in either: he crept into a cloister, and made himself a pensioner of an hundred thousand ducats by the year, to his son Philip, from whom he very slowly received his mean and ordinary maintenance.  37
  His son again King Philip the Second, not satisfied to hold Holland and Zealand, (wrested by his ancestors from Jacqueline their lawful Princess) and to possess in peace many other provinces of the Netherlands: persuaded by that mischievous Cardinal of Granvile, and other Romish tyrants; not only forgot the most remarkable services done to his father the Emperor by the nobilities of those countries, not only forgot the present made him upon his entry, of forty millions of florins, called the “Novaile aide”; nor only forgot that he had twice most solemnly sworn to the General States, to maintain and preserve their ancient rights, privileges, and customs, which they had enjoyed under their thirty and five earls before him, Conditional Princes of those provinces: but beginning first to constrain them, and enthrall them by the Spanish Inquisition, and then to impoverish them by many new devised and intolerable impositions; he lastly, by strong hand and main force, attempted to make himself not only an absolute monarch over them, like unto the kings and sovereigns of England and France; but Turk-like to tread under his feet all their natural and fundamental laws, privileges, and ancient rights. to effect which, after he had easily obtained from the Pope a dispensation of his former oaths (which dispensation was the true cause of the war and bloodshed since then;) and after he had tried what he could perform, by dividing of their own nobility, under the government of his base sister Margaret of Austria, and the Cardinal Granvile; he employed that most merciless Spaniard Don Ferdinand Alvarez of toledo, Duke of Alva, followed with a powerful army of strange nations: by whom he first slaughtered that renowned captain, the Earl of Egmont, Prince of Gavare: and Philip Montmorency, Earl of Horn: made away Montigue, and the Marquis of Bergues, and cut off in those six years (that Alva governed) of gentlemen and others, eighteen thousand and six hundred, by the hands of the hangman, besides all his other barbarous murders and massacres. By whose ministry when he could not yet bring his affairs to their wished ends, having it in his hope to work that by subtility, which he had failed to perform by force; he sent for governor his bastard brother Don John of Austria, a prince of great hope, and very gracious to those people. But he, using the same papal advantage that his predecessors had done, made no scruple to take oath upon the Holy Evangelists, to observe the treaty made with the General States; and to discharge the Low Countries of all Spaniards, and other strangers therein garrisoned: towards whose pay and passport, the Netherlands strained themselves to make payment of six hundred thousand pounds. Which monies received, he suddenly surprised the citadels of Antwerp and Nemours: not doubting (being unsuspected by the states) to have possessed himself of all the mastering places of those provinces. For whatsoever he overtly pretended, he held in secret a contrary counsel with the Secretary Escovedo, Rhodus, Barlemont, and others, ministers of the Spanish tyranny, formerly practised, and now again intended. But let us now see the effect and end of this perjury and of all other the Duke’s cruelties. First, for himself, after he had murdered so many of the nobility; executed (as aforesaid) eighteen thousand and six hundred in six years, and most cruelly slain man, woman, and child, in Mechlin, Zutphen, Naerden, and other places: notwithstanding his Spanish vaunt, that he would suffocate the Hollanders in their own butter-barrels, and milk-tubs; he departed the country no otherwise accompanied, than with the curse and detestation of the whole nation; leaving his master’s affairs in a tenfold worse estate, than he found them at his first arrival. For Don John, whose haughty conceit of himself overcame the greatest difficulties; though his judgment were over-weak to manage the least: what wonders did his fearful breach of faith bring forth, other than the King his brother’s jealousy and distrust, with the untimely death that seized him, even in the flower of his youth? and for Escovedo his sharp-witted secretary, who in his own imagination had conquered for his master both England and the Netherlands; being sent into Spain upon some new project, he was at the first arrival, and before any access to the King, by certain ruffians appointed by Anthony Peres (though by better warrant than his) rudely murdered in his own lodging. Lastly, if we consider the King of Spain’s carriage, his counsel and success in this business, there is nothing left to the memory of man more remarkable. For he hath paid above an hundred millions, and the lives of above four hundred thousand Christians, for the loss of all those countries; which, for beauty, gave place to none; and for revenue, did equal his West Indies: for the loss of a nation which most willingly obeyed him; and who at this day, after forty years war, are in despite of all his forces become a free estate, and far more rich and powerful than they were, when he first began to impoverish and oppress them.  38
  Oh, by what plots, by what forswearings, betrayings, oppressions, imprisonments, tortures, poisonings, and under what reasons of state, and politic subtlety, have these forenamed kings, both strangers, and of our own nation, pulled the vengeance of God upon themselves, upon theirs, and upon their prudent ministers! and in the end have brought those things to pass for their enemies, and seen an effect so directly contrary to all their own counsels and cruelties; as the one could never have hoped for themselves; and the other never have succeeded; if no such opposition had ever been made. God hath said it and performed it ever: “Perdam sapientiam sapientum”; “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise.”  39
  But what of all this? and to what end do we lay before the eyes of the living, the fall and fortunes of the dead: seeing the world is the same that it hath been; and the children of the present time, will still obey their parents? It is in the present time that all the wits of the world are exercised. to hold the times we have, we hold all things lawful: and either we hope to hold them forever; or at least we hope that there is nothing after them to be hoped for. For as we are content to forget our own experience, and to counterfeit the ignorance of our own knowledge, in all things that concern ourselves; or persuade ourselves, that God hath given us letters patents to pursue all our irreligious affections, with a “non obstante” 5 so we neither look behind us what hath been, nor before us what shall be. It is true, that the quantity which we have, is of the body: we are by it joined to the earth: we are compounded of earth; and we inhabit it. The Heavens are high, far off, and unsearchable: we have sense and feeling of corporal things; and of eternal grace, but by revelation. No marvel then that our thoughts are also earthly: and it is less to be wondered at, that the words of worthless men cannot cleanse them: seeing their doctrine and instruction, whose understanding the Holy Ghost vouchsafed to inhabit, have not performed it. For as the Prophet Isaiah cried out long ago, “Lord, who hath believed our reports?” and out of doubt, as Isaiah complained then for himself and others: so are they less believed, every day after other. For although religion, and the truth thereof be in every man’s mouth, yea, in the discourse of every woman, who for the greatest number are but idols of vanity: what is it other than an universal dissimulation? We profess that we know God: but by works we deny him. For beatitude doth not consist in the knowledge of divine things, but in a divine life: for the Devils know them better than men. “Beatitudo non est divinorum cognitio, sed vita divina.” and certainly there is nothing more to be admired, and more to be lamented, than the private contention, the passionate dispute, the personal hatred, and the perpetual war, massacres, and murders for religion among Christians: the discourse whereof hath so occupied the world, as it hath well near driven the practice thereof out of the world. Who would not soon resolve, that took knowledge but of the religious disputations among men, and not of their lives which dispute, that there were no other thing in their desires, than the purchase of Heaven; and that the world itself were but used as it ought, and as an inn or place, wherein to repose ourselves in passing on towards our celestial habitation? when on the contrary, besides the discourse and outward profession, the soul hath nothing but hypocrisy. We are all (in effect) become comedians in religion: and while we act in gesture and voice, divine virtues, in all the course of our lives we renounce our persons, and the parts we play. For Charity, Justice, and Truth have but their being in terms, like the philosopher’s Materia prima.  40
  Neither is it that wisdom, which Solomon defineth to be the “Schoolmistress of the knowledge of God,” that hath valuation in the world: it is enough that we give it our good word: but the same which is altogether exercised in the service of the world as the gathering of riches chiefly, by which we purchase and obtain honor, with the many respects which attend it. These indeed be the marks, which (when we have bent our consciences to the highest) we all shoot at. For the obtaining whereof it is true, that the care is our own; the care our own in this life, the peril our own in the future: and yet when we have gathered the greatest abundance, we ourselves enjoy no more thereof, than so much as belongs to one man. For the rest, he that had the greatest wisdom and the greatest ability that ever man had, hath told us that this is the use: “When goods increase (saith Solomon) they also increase that eat them; and what good cometh to the owners, but the beholding thereof with their eyes? As for those that devour the rest, and follow us in fair weather: they again forsake us in the first tempest of misfortune, and steer away before the sea and wind; leaving us to the malice of our destinies. of these, among a thousand examples, I will take but one out of Master Danner, and use his own words: “Whilest the Emperor Charles the Fifth, after the resignation of his estates, stayed at Flushing for wind, to carry him his last journey into Spain; he conferred on a time with Seldius, his brother Ferdinand’s Ambassador, till the deep of the night. and when Seldius should depart, the Emperor calling for some of his servants, and nobody answering him (for those that attended upon him, were some gone to their lodgings, and all the rest asleep), the Emperor took up the candle himself, and went before Seldius to light him down the stairs; and so did, notwithstanding all the resistance that Seldius could make. and when he was come to the stair’s foot, he said thus unto him: “Seldius, remember this of Charles the Emperor, when he shall be dead and gone, that him, whom thou hast known in thy time environed with so many mighty armies and guards of soldiers, thou hast also seen alone, abandoned, and forsaken, yea even of his own domestical servants, &c. I acknowledge this change of Fortune to proceed from the mighty hand of God, which I will by no means go about to withstand.”  41
  But you will say, that there are some things else, and of greater regard than the former. The first is the reverend respect that is held of great men, and the honor done unto them by all sorts of people. and it is true indeed: provided, that an inward love for their justice and piety accompany the outward worship given to their places and power; without which what is the applause of the multitude, but as the outcry of an herd of animals, who without the knowledge of any true cause, please themselves with the noise they make? For seeing it is a thing exceeding rare, to distinguish Virtue and Fortune: the most impious (if prosperous) have ever been applauded; the most virtuous (if unprosperous) have ever been despised. For as Fortune’s man rides the horse, so Fortune herself rides the man; who when he is descended and on foot, the man taken from his beast, and Fortune from the man, a base groom beats the one, and a bitter contempt spurns at the other, with equal liberty.  42
  The second is the greatening of our posterity, and the contemplation of their glory whom we leave behind us. Certainly, of those which conceive that their souls departed take any comfort therein, it may be truly said of them, which Lactantius spake of certain heathen philosophers, “quod sapientes sunt in re stulta.” 6 For when our spirits immortal shall be once separate from our mortal bodies, and disposed by God; there remaineth in them no other joy of their posterity which succeed, than there doth of pride in that stone, which sleepeth in the wall of the king’s palace; nor any other sorrow for their poverty, than there doth of shame in that, which beareth up a beggar’s cottage. “Nesciunt mortui, etiam sancti, quid agunt vivi, etiam eorum filii, quia animae mortuorum rebus viventium non intersunt”: “The dead, though holy, know nothing of the living, no, not of their own children: for the souls of those departed, are not conversant with their affairs that remain.” 7 and if we doubt of St. Augustine, we can not of Job; who tells us, “That we know not if our sons shall be honorable: neither shall we understand concerning them, whether they shall be of low degree.” Which Ecclesiastes also confirmeth: “Man walketh in a shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain: he heapeth up riches, and can not tell who shall gather them. The living (saith he) know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing at all: for who can show unto man what shall be after him under the sun?” He therefore accounteth it among the rest of worldly vanities, to labor and travail in the world; not knowing after death whether a fool or a wise man should enjoy the fruits thereof: “which made me (saith he) endeavor even to abhor mine own labor.” and what can other men hope, whose blessed or sorrowful estates after death God hath reserved? man’s knowledge lying but in his hope, seeing the Prophet Isaiah confesseth of the elect, “That Abraham is ignorant of us, and Israel knows us not.” But hereof we are assured, that the long and dark night of death (of whose following day we shall never behold the dawn till his return that hath triumphed over it), shall cover us over till the world be no more. After which, and when we shall again receive organs glorified and incorruptible, the seats of angelical affections, in so great admiration shall the souls of the blessed be exercised, as they can not admit the mixture of any second or less joy; nor any return of foregone and mortal affection towards friends, kindred, or children. of whom whether we shall retain any particular knowledge, or in any sort distinguish them, no man can assure us; and the wisest men doubt. But on the contrary, if a divine life retain any of those faculties which the soul exercised in a mortal body, we shall not at that time so divide the joys of Heaven, as to cast any part thereof on the memory of their felicities which remain in the world. No, be their estates greater than ever the world gave, we shall (by the difference known unto us) even detest their consideration. and whatsoever comfort shall remain of all forepast, the same will consist in the charity which we exercised living; and in that piety, justice, and firm faith, for which it pleased the infinite mercy of God to accept of us, and receive us. Shall we therefore value honor and riches at nothing? and neglect them, as unnecessary and vain? Certainly no. For that infinite wisdom of God, which hath distinguished his angels by degrees; which hath given greater and less light and beauty to heavenly bodies; which hath made differences between beasts and birds; created the eagle and the fly, the cedar and the shrub; and among stones, given the fairest tincture to the ruby, and the quickest light to the diamond; hath also ordained kings, dukes, or leaders of the people, magistrates, judges, and other degrees among men. and as honor is left to posterity, for a mark and ensign of the virtue and understanding of their ancestors: so (seeing Siracides preferreth death before beggary: and that titles, without proportionable estates, fall under the miserable succor of other men’s pity) I account it foolishness to condemn such a care: provided, that worldly goods be well gotten, and that we raise not our own buildings out of other men’s ruins. For, as Plato doth first prefer the perfection of bodily health; secondly, the form and beauty; and thirdly, “Divitias nulla fraude quaesitas”: 8 so Jeremiah cries, “Woe unto them that erect their houses by unrighteousness, and their chambers without equity”: and Isaiah the same, “Woe to those that spoil and were not spoiled.” and it was out of the true wisdom of Solomon, that he commandeth us, “not to drink the wine of violence; not to lie in wait for blood, and not to swallow them up alive, whose riches we covet: for such are the ways (saith he) of everyone that is greedy of gain.”  43
  And if we could afford ourselves but so much leisure as to consider, that he which hath most in the world, hath, in respect of the world, nothing in it: and that he which hath the longest time lent him to live in it, hath yet no proportion at all therein, setting it either by that which is past, when we were not, or by that time which is to come, in which we shall abide forever: I say, if both, to wit, our proportion in the world, and our time in the world, differ not much from that which is nothing; it is not out of any excellency of understanding, that we so much prize the one, which hath (in effect) no being: and so much neglect the other, which hath no ending: coveting those mortal things of the world, as if our souls were therein immortal; and neglecting those things which are immortal, as if ourselves after the world were but mortal.  44
  But let every man value his own wisdom, as he pleaseth. Let the rich man think all fools, that cannot equal his abundance: the revenger esteem all negligent, that have not trodden down their opposites; the politician, all gross that cannot merchandise their faith: yet when we once come in sight of the port of death, to which all winds drive us, and when by letting fall that fatal anchor, which can never be weighed again, the navigation of this life takes end; then it is, I say, that our own cogitations (those sad and severe cogitations, formerly beaten from us by our health and felicity) return again, and pay us to the uttermost for all the pleasing passages of our lives past. It is then that we cry out to God for mercy; then when our selves can no longer exercise cruelty to others; and it is only then, that we are strucken through the soul with this terrible sentence, “That God will not be mocked.” For if according to St. Peter, “The righteous scarcely be saved: and that God spared not his angles”; where shall those appear, who, having served their appetites all their lives, presume to think, that the severe commandments of the all-powerful God were given but in sport; and that the short breath, which we draw when death presseth us, if we can but fashion it to the sound of mercy (without any kind of satisfaction or amends) is sufficient? “O quam multi,” saith a reverend father, “cum hac spe ad aeternos labores et bella descendunt!” 9 I confess that it is a great comfort to our friends, to have it said, that we ended well; for we all desire (as Balaam did) “to die the death of the righteous.” But what shall we call a disesteeming, an opposing, or (indeed) a mocking of God: if those men do not oppose Him, disesteem Him, and mock Him, that think it enough for God, to ask Him forgiveness at leisure, with the remainder and last drawing of a malicious breath? For what do they otherwise, that die this kind of well-dying, but say unto God as followeth? “We beseech Thee, O God, that all the falsehoods, forswearings, and treacheries of our lives past, may be pleasing unto thee; that Thou wilt for our sakes (that have had no leisure to do anything for Thine) change Thy nature (though impossible, and forget to be a just God; that Thou wilt love injuries and oppressions, call ambition wisdom, and charity foolishness. For I shall prejudice my son (which I am resolved not to do) if I make restitution; and confess myself to have been unjust (which I am too proud to do) if I deliver the oppressed.” Certainly, these wise worldlings have either found out a new God, or made one: and in all likelihood such a leaden one, as Louis the Eleventh wore in his cap; which when he had caused any that he feared, or hated, to be killed, he would take it from his head and kiss it: beseeching it to pardon him this one evil act more, and it should be the last; which (as at other times) he did, when by the practice of a cardinal and a falsified sacrament, he caused the Earl of Armagnac to be stabbed to death: mockeries indeed fit to be used towards a leaden, but not towards the ever-living God. But of this composition are all devout lovers of the world, that they fear all that is dureless 10 and ridiculous: they fear the plots and practises of their opposites, 11 and their very whisperings: they fear the opinions of men, which beat but upon shadows: they flatter and forsake the prosperous and unprosperous, be they friends or kings: yea they dive under water, like ducks, at every pebblestone, that is but thrown toward them by a powerful hand: and on the contrary, they show an obstinate and giant-like valor, against the terrible judgments of the all-powerful God: yea they show themselves gods against God, and slaves towards men; towards men whose bodies and consciences are alike rotten.  45
  Now for the rest: If we truly examine the difference of both conditions; to wit, of the rich and mighty, whom we call fortunate; and of the poor and oppressed, whom we account wretched: we shall find the happiness of the one, and the miserable estate of the other, so tied by God to the very instant, and both so subject to interchange (witness the sudden downfall of the greatest princes, and the speedy uprising of the meanest persons) as the one hath nothing so certain, whereof to boast; nor the other so uncertain, whereof to bewail itself. For there is no man so assured of his honor, of his riches, health, or life; but that he may be deprived of either, or all, the very next hour or day to come. “Quid vesper vehat, incertum est,” “What the evening will bring with it, it is uncertain.” “and yet ye cannot tell (saith St. James) what shall be tomorrow. today he is set up, and tomorrow he shall not be found; for he is turned into dust, and his purpose perisheth.” and although the air which compasseth adversity be very obscure; yet therein we better discern God, than in that shining light which environeth worldly glory; through which, for the clearness thereof, there is no vanity which escapeth our sight. and let adversity seem what it will; to happy men ridiculous, who make themselves merry at other men’s misfortunes; and to those under the cross, grievous: yet this is true, that for all that is past, to the very instant, the portions remaining are equal to either. For be it that we have lived many years, “and (according to Solomon) in them all we have rejoiced;” or be it that we have measured the same length of days and therein have evermore sorrowed: yet looking back from our present being, we find both the one and the other, to wit, the joy and the woe, sailed out of sight; and death, which doth pursue us and hold us in chase, from our infancy, hath gathered it. “Quicquid aetatis retro est, mors tenet:” “Whatsoever of our age is past, death holds it.” So as whosoever he be, to whom Fortune hath been a servant, and the Time a friend; let him but take the account of his memory (for we have no other keeper of our pleasures past), and truly examine what it hath reserved either beauty and youth, or foregone delights; what it hath saved, that it might last, of his dearest affections, or of whatever else the amorous springtime gave his thoughts of contentment, then unvaluable; and he shall find that all the art which his elder years have, can draw no other vapor out of these dissolutions, than heavy, secret, and sad sighs. He shall find nothing remaining, but those sorrows, which grow up after our fastspringing youth; overtake it, when it is at a stand; and overtopped it utterly, when it begins to wither: in so much as looking back from the very instant time, and from our now being, the poor, diseased, and captive creature, hath as little sense of all his former miseries and pains, as he, that is most blessed in common opinions, hath of his fore-passed pleasure and delights. For whatsoever is cast behind us, is just nothing: and what is to come, deceitful hope hath it: “Omnia quae eventura sunt, in incerto jacent.” 12 Only those few black swans, I must except: who having had the grace to value worldly vanities at no more than their own price; do, by retaining the comfortable memory of a well acted life, behold death without dread, and the grave without fear; and embrace both, as necessary guides to endless glory.  46
  For myself, this is my consolation, and all that I can offer to others, that the sorrows of this life are but of two sorts: whereof the one hath respect to God, the other, to the world. In the first we complain to God against ourselves, for our offences against Him; and confess, “Et Tu justus es in omnibus quae venerunt super nos.” “and Thou, O Lord, are just in all that hath befallen us.” In the second we complain to ourselves against God: as if he had done us wrong, either in not giving us worldly goods and honors, answering our appetites: or for taking them again from us having had them; forgetting that humble and just acknowledgment of Job, “the Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken.” to the first of which St. Paul hath promised blessedness; to the second, death. and out of doubt he is either a fool, or ungrateful to God, or both, that doth not acknowledge, how mean soever his estate be, that the same is yet far greater than that which God oweth him: or doth not acknowledge, how sharp soever his afflictions be, that the same are yet far less, than those which are due unto him. and if an heathen wise man call the adversities of the world but “tributa vivendi,” “the tributes of living;” a wise Christian man ought to know them, and bear them, but as the tributes of offending. He ought to bear them manlike, and resolvedly; and not as those whining soldiers do, “quigementes sequuntur imperatorem.”  13  47
  For seeing God, who is the author of all our tragedies, hath written out for us and appointed us all the parts we are to play: and hath not, in their distribution, been partial to the most mighty princes of the world: that gave unto Darius the part of the greatest emperor, and the part of the most miserable beggar, a beggar begging water of an enemy, to quench the great drought of death: that appointed Bajazet to play the Grand Signior of the Turks in the morning, and in the same day the footstool of Tamerlane (both which parts Valerian had also played, being taken by Sapores): that made Belisarius play the most victorious captain, and lastly the part of a blind beggar: of which examples many thousands may be produced: why should other men, who are but as the least worms, complain of wrong? Certainly there is no other account to be made of this ridiculous world, than to resolve, that the change of fortune on the great theatre, is but as the change of garments on the less. For when on the one and the other, every man wears but his own skin, the players are all alike. Now, if any man out of weakness prize the passages of this world otherwise (for saith Petrarch, “Magni ingenii est revocare mentem a sensibus” 14) it is by reason of that unhappy phantasy of ours, which forgeth in the brains of man all the miseries (the corporal excepted) whereunto he is subject. Therein it is, that misfortunes and adversity work all that they work. For seeing Death, in the end of the play, takes from all whatsoever Fortune or Force takes from any one; it were a foolish madness in the shipwreck of worldly things, where all sinks but the sorrow, to save it. That were, as Seneca saith, “Fortunae succumbere, quod tristius est omni fato:” “to fall under Fortune, of all other the most miserable destiny.”  48
  But it is now time to sound a retreat; and to desire to be excused of this long pursuit: and withal, that the good intent, which hath moved me to draw the picture of time past (which we call History) in so large a table, may also be accepted in place of a better reason.  49
  The examples of divine providence, everywhere found (the first divine histories being nothing else but a continuation of such examples) have persuaded me to fetch my beginning from the beginning of all things: to wit, Creation. For though these two glorious actions of the Almighty be so near, and (as it were) linked together, that the one necessarily implieth the other: Creation inferring Providence (for what father forsaketh the child that he hath begotten?) and Providence pre-supposing Creation: yet many of those that have seemed to excel in worldly wisdom, have gone about to disjoin this coherence; the epicure denying both Creation and Providence, but granting the world had a beginning; the Aristotelian granting Providence, but denying both the creation and the beginning.  50
 
Note 1. I. e., Protestantism. [back]
Note 2. Instantly. [back]
Note 3. Dispossessed. [back]
Note 4. “Nothing hindering.” [back]
Note 5. “That they are wise in a foolish matter.”—Lactantius, De falsa sapientia, 3, 29. [back]
Note 6. Augustine, De cura pro morte. [back]
Note 7. “Wealth acquired without fraud.” [back]
Note 8. “O how many go down with this hope to endless labors and wars.” [back]
Note 9. Transient. [back]
Note 10. Opponents. [back]
Note 11. “Everything which is to come lies in uncertainty.” [back]
Note 12. “Who follow their commander with groans.” [back]
Note 13. “It takes great genius to call back the mind from the senses.” [back]
Note 14. “Against him who denies the principles.” [back]
 

CONTENTS · BOOK CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors