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The Theological Tractates And The Consolation of Philosophy

AFTER this she remained silent for a while; and, having by that her modesty made me attentive, began in this wise: “If I be rightly informed of the causes and condition of thy disease, thou languishest with the affection of thy former fortune, and the change of that alone, as thou imaginest, hath overthrown so much of thy mind. I know the manifold illusions of that monster, exercising most alluring familiarity with them whom she meaneth to deceive, to the end she may confound them with intolerable grief, by forsaking them upon the sudden, whose nature, customs, and desert, if thou rememberest, thou shalt know that thou neither didst possess nor hast lost anything of estimation in it; and, as I hope, I shall not need to labour much to bring these things to thy remembrance, for thou wert wont, when she was present, and flattered thee most, to assail her with manful words, and pursue her with sentences taken forth of our most hidden knowledge. But every sudden change of things happeneth not without a certain wavering and disquietness of mind. And this is the cause that thou also for a while hast lost thy former tranquillity and peace. But it is time for thee to take and taste some gentle and pleasant thing which being received may prepare thee for stronger potions. Wherefore let us use the sweetness of Rhetoric’s persuasions, which then only is well employed when it forsaketh not our ordinances; and with this, let Music, a little slave belonging to our house, chant sometime lighter and sometime sadder notes.

Wherefore, O man, what is it that hath cast thee into sorrow and grief? Thou hast, methinks, seen something new and unwonted. If thou thinkest that fortune hath altered her manner of proceeding toward thee, thou art in an error. This was alway her fashion; this is her nature. She hath kept that constancy in thy affairs which is proper to her, in being mutable; such was her condition when she fawned upon thee and allured thee with enticements of feigned happiness. Thou hast discovered the doubtful looks of this blind goddess. She, which concealeth herself from others, is wholly known to thee. If thou likest her, frame thyself to her conditions, and make no complaint. If thou detestest her treachery, despise and cast her off, with her pernicious flattery. For that which hath caused thee so much sorrow should have brought thee to great tranquillity. For she hath forsaken thee, of whom no man can be secure. Dost thou esteem that happiness precious which thou art to lose? And is the present fortune dear unto thee, of whose stay thou art not sure, and whose departure will breed thy grief? And if she can neither be kept at our will, and maketh them miserable whom she at last leaveth, what else is fickle fortune but a token of future calamity? For it is not sufficient to behold that which we have before our eyes; wisdom pondereth the event of things, and this mutability on both sides maketh the threats of fortune not to be feared, nor her flatterings to be desired. Finally, thou must take in good part whatsoever happeneth unto thee within the reach of fortune, when once thou hast submitted thy neck to her yoke. And if to her whom, of thine own accord, thou hast chosen for thy mistress, thou wouldest prescribe a law how long she were to stay, and when to depart, shouldst thou not do her mighty wrong, and with thy impatience make thy estate more intolerable, which thou canst not better? If thou settest up thy sails to the wind, thou shalt be carried not whither thy will desirest, but whither the gale driveth. If thou sowest thy seed, thou considerest that there are as well barren as fertile years. Thou hast yielded thyself to fortune’s sway; thou must be content with the conditions of thy mistress. Endeavourest thou to stay the force of the turning wheel? But thou foolishest man that ever was, if it beginneth to stay, it ceaseth to be fortune.

The pride of fickle fortune spareth none,

And, like the floods of swift Euripus borne,

Oft casteth mighty princes from their throne,

And oft the abject captive doth adorn.

She cares not for the wretch’s tears and moan,

And the sad groans, which she hath caused, doth scorn.

Thus doth she play, to make her power more known,

Showing her slaves a marvel, when man’s state

Is in one hour both downcast and fortunate.

But I would urge thee a little with Fortune’s own speeches. Wherefore consider thou if she asketh not reason. ‘For what cause, O man, chargest thou me with daily complaints? What injury have I done thee? What goods of thine have I taken from thee? Contend with me before any judge about the possession of riches and dignities; and if thou canst show that the propriety of any of these things belong to any mortal wight, I will forthwith willingly grant that those things which thou demandest were thine. When Nature produced thee out of thy mother’s womb, I received thee naked and poor in all respects, cherished thee with my wealth, and (which maketh thee now to fall out with me) being forward to favour thee, I had most tender care for thy education, and adorned thee with the abundance and splendour of all things which are in my power. Now it pleaseth me to withdraw my hand, yield thanks, as one that hath had the use of that which was not his own. Thou hast no just cause to complain, as though thou hadst lost that which was fully thine own. Wherefore lamentest thou? I have offered thee no violence. Riches, honours, and the rest of that sort belong to me. They acknowledge me for their mistress, and themselves for my servants, they come with me, and when I go away they likewise depart. I may boldly affirm, if those things which thou complainest to be taken from thee had been thine own, thou shouldst never have lost them. Must I only be forbidden to use my right? It is lawful for the heaven to bring forth fair days, and to hide them again in darksome nights. It is lawful for the year sometime to compass the face of the earth with flowers and fruits, and sometime to cover it with clouds and cold. The sea hath right sometime to fawn with calms, and sometime to frown with storms and waves. And shall the insatiable desire of men tie me to constancy, so contrary to my custom? This is my force, this is the sport which I continually use. I turn about my wheel with speed, and take a pleasure to turn things upside down. Ascend, if thou wilt, but with this condition, that thou thinkest it not an injury to descend when the course of my sport so requireth. Didst thou not know my fashion? Wert thou ignorant how Croesus, King of the Lydians, not long before a terror to Cyrus, within a while after came to such misery that he should have been burnt had he not been saved by a shower sent from heaven? Hast thou forgotten how Paul piously bewailed the calamities of King Perses his prisoner? What other thing doth the outcry of tragedies lament, but that fortune, having no respect, overturneth happy states? Didst thou not learn in thy youth that there lay two barrels, the one of good things and the other of bad, at Jupiter’s threshold? But what if thou hast tasted more abundantly of the good? What if I be not wholly gone from thee? What if this mutability of mine be a just cause for thee to hope for better? Notwithstanding, lose not thy courage, and, living in a kingdom which is common to all men, desire not to be governed by peculiar laws proper only to thyself.

If Plenty as much wealth should give, ne’er holding back her hand,

As the swift winds in troubled seas do toss up heaps of sand,

Or as the stars in lightsome nights shine forth on heaven’s face,

Yet wretched men would still accuse their miserable case.

Should God, too liberal of His gold, their greedy wishes hear,

And with bright honour them adorn; yet all that nothing were,

Since ravenous minds, devouring all, for more are ready still.

What bridle can contain in bounds this their contentless will,

When filled with riches they retain the thirst of having more?

He is not rich that fears and grieves, and counts himself but poor.’

Wherefore if fortune should plead with thee thus in her own defence, doubtless thou wouldst not have a word to answer her. But if there be anything which thou canst allege in thy own defence, thou must utter it. We will give thee full liberty to speak.” Then I said: “These things make a fair show and, being set out with pleasant rhetoric and music, delight only so long as they are heard. But those which are miserable have a deeper feeling of their miseries. Therefore, when the sound of these things is past, hidden sorrow oppresseth the mind.” “It is so indeed,” quoth she, “for these be not the remedies of thy disease, but certain fomentations to assuage thy grief, which as yet resisteth all cure. But when it shall be time, I will apply that which shall pierce to the quick. And yet there is no cause why thou shouldst think thyself miserable. Hast thou forgotten how many ways, and in what degree thou art happy?

I pass over with silence that, having lost thy father, thou wert provided for by men of the best sort, and, being chosen to have affinity with the chiefest of the city, thou begannest sooner to be dear unto them than to be akin, which is the most excellent kind of kindred. Who esteemed thee not most happy, having so noble a father-in-law, so chaste a wife, and so noble sons? I say nothing (for I will not speak of ordinary matters) of the dignities denied to others in their age, and granted to thee in thy youth. I desire to come to the singular top of thy felicity. If any fruit of mortal things hath any weight of happiness, can the remembrance of that light be destroyed with any cloud of miseries that can overcast thee? When thou sawst thy two sons being both Consuls together carried from their house, the Senators accompanying them, and the people rejoicing with them; when, they sitting in the Senate in their chairs of state, thou making an oration in the King’s praise deservedst the glory of wit and eloquence. When in public assembly, thou, standing betwixt thy two sons, didst satisfy with thy triumphant liberality the expectation of the multitudes gathered together, I suppose thou flatteredst fortune, while she fawned thus upon thee, as her dearest friend. Thou obtainedst more at her hands than ever private man had before thee. Wilt thou then reckon with fortune? This is the first time that ever she frowned upon thee. If thou considerest the number and measure of thy joyful and sad accidents, thou canst not choose but think thyself fortunate hitherto; and if thou esteemest not thyself fortunate because those things which seemed joyful are past, there is no cause why thou shouldst think thyself miserable, since those things which thou now takest to be sorrowful do pass. Comest thou now first as a pilgrim and stranger into the theatre of this life? Supposest thou to find any constancy in human affairs, since that man himself is soon gone? For although things subject to fortune seldom keep touch in staying, yet the end of life is a certain death, even of that fortune which remaineth. Wherefore, what matter is it whether thou by dying leavest it, or it forsaketh thee by flying?

When Phoebus with his rosy team

Showeth his lightsome beam,

The dull and darkened stars retire

Yielding to greater fire.

When Zephyrus his warmth doth bring,

Sweet roses deck the spring;

Let noisome Auster blow apace,

Plants soon will lose their grace.

The sea hath often quiet stood

With an unmovéd flood,

And often is turmoiled with waves,

When boisterous Boreas raves.

If thus the world never long tarry

The same, but often vary,

On fading fortunes then rely,

Trust to those goods that fly.

An everlasting law is made,

That all things born shall fade.”

To which I answered: “The things which thou reportest are true, O nurse of all virtues, and I cannot deny the most speedy course of my prosperity. But this is that which vexeth me most, when I remember it. For in all adversity of fortune it is the most unhappy kind of misfortune to have been happy.” “But,” quoth she, “thou canst not justly impute to the things themselves that thou art punished for thy false opinion. For if this vain name of casual felicity moveth thee, let us make accompt with how many and how great things thou aboundest. Wherefore, if that which in all thy revenues of fortune thou esteemest most precious doth still by God’s providence remain safe and untouched, canst thou, retaining the best, justly complain of misfortune?

But thy father-in-law, Symmachus (that most excellent ornament of mankind) liveth in safety, and for the obtaining of which thou wouldst willingly spend thy life, that man wholly framed to wisdom and virtues, being secure of his own, mourneth for thy injuries. Thy wife liveth, modest in disposition, eminent in chastity, and, to rehearse briefly all her excellent gifts, like her father. She liveth, I say, and weary of her life reserveth her breath only for thee. In which alone even I must grant that thy felicity is diminished, she consumeth herself with tears and grief for thy sake.

What should I speak of thy children, which have been Consuls, in whom already, as in children of that age, their father’s or grandfather’s good disposition appeareth? Wherefore, since the greatest care that mortal men have is to save their lives, O happy man that thou art, if thou knowest thine own wealth, who still hast remaining those things which no man doubteth to be dearer than life itself? And therefore cease weeping. Fortune hath not hitherto showed her hatred against you all, neither art thou assailed with too boisterous a storm, since those anchors hold fast which permit neither the comfort of the time present nor the hope of the time to come to be wanting.”

“And I pray God,” quoth I, “that they may hold fast, for so long as they remain, howsoever the world goeth we shall escape drowning. But thou seest how great a part of our ornaments is lost.” “We have gotten a little ground,” quoth she, “if thy whole estate be not irksome unto thee. But I cannot suffer thy daintiness, who with such lamentation and anxiety complaineth that something is wanting to thy happiness. For who hath so entire happiness that he is not in some part offended with the condition of his estate? The nature of human felicity is doubtful and uncertain, and is neither ever wholly obtained, or never lasteth always. One man hath great revenues, but is contemned for his base lineage. Another’s nobility maketh him known, but, oppressed with penury, had rather be unknown. Some, abounding with both, bewail their life without marriage. Some other, well married but wanting children, provideth riches for strangers to inherit. Others, finally, having children, mournfully bewail the vices which their sons or daughters are given to. So that scarce any man is pleased with the condition of his fortune. For there is something in every estate, which without experience is not known, and being experienced doth molest and trouble. Besides that, those which are most happy are most sensible, and unless all things fall out to their liking, impatient of all adversity, every little cross overthrows them, so small are the occasions which take from the most fortunate the height of their happiness. How many are there, thinkest thou, which would think themselves almost in Heaven if they had but the least part of the remains of thy fortune? This very place, which thou callest banishment, is to the inhabitants thereof their native land. So true it is that nothing is miserable but what is thought so, and contrariwise, every estate is happy if he that bears it be content. Who is so happy that if he yieldeth to discontent, desireth not to change his estate? How much bitterness is mingled with the sweetness of man’s felicity, which, though it seemeth so pleasant while it is enjoyed, yet can it not be retained from going away when it will. And by this it appeareth how miserable is the blessedness of mortal things, which neither endureth alway with the contented, nor wholly delighteth the pensive.

Wherefore, O mortal men, why seek you for your felicity abroad, which is placed within yourselves? Error and ignorance do confound you. I will briefly show thee the centre of thy chiefest happiness. Is there anything more precious to thee than thyself? I am sure thou wilt say, nothing. Wherefore, if thou enjoyest thyself, thou shalt possess that which neither thou wilt ever wish to lose nor fortune can take away. And that thou mayst acknowledge that blessedness cannot consist in these casual things, gather it thus. If blessedness be the chiefest good of nature endued with reason, and that is not the chiefest good which may by any means be taken away, because that which cannot be taken away is better, it is manifest that the instability of fortune cannot aspire to the obtaining of blessedness. Moreover, he that now enjoyeth this brittle felicity, either knoweth it to be mutable or no. If not, what estate can be blessed by ignorant blindness? And if he knoweth it, he must needs fear lest he lose that which he doubteth not may be lost, wherefore continual fear permitteth him not to be happy. Or though he should lose it, doth he think that a thing of no moment? But so it were a very small good which he would be content to lose. And because thou art one whom I know to be fully persuaded and convinced by innumerable demonstrations that the souls of men are in no wise mortal, and since it is clear that casual felicity is ended by the body’s death, there is no doubt, if this can cause blessedness, but that all mankind falleth into misery by death. But if we know many who have sought to reap the fruit of blessedness, not only by death, but also by affliction and torments, how can present happiness make men happy, the loss of which causeth not misery?

Who with an heedful care

Will an eternal seat prepare,

Which cannot be down cast

By force of windy blast,

And will the floods despise,

When threatening billows do arise,

He not on hills must stand,

Nor on the dangerous sinking sand.

For there the winds will threat,

And him with furious tempests beat,

And here the ground too weak

Will with the heavy burden break.

Fly then the dangerous case

Of an untried delightful place,

And thy poor house bestow

In stony places firm and low.

For though the winds do sound,

And waves of troubled seas confound:

Yet thou to rest disposed

In thy safe lowly vale inclosed,

Mayst live a quiet age,

Scorning the air’s distempered rage.

But since the soothing of my reasons begins to sink into thee, I will use those which are somewhat more forcible. Go to then, if the gifts of fortune were not brittle and momentary, what is there in them which can either ever be made your own, or, well weighed and considered, seemeth not vile and of no accompt? Are riches precious in virtue either of their own nature or of yours? What part of them can be so esteemed of? The gold or the heaps of money? But these make a fairer show when they are spent than when they are kept. For covetousness alway maketh men odious, as liberality famous. And if a man cannot have that which is given to another, then money is precious when, bestowed upon others, by the use of liberality it is not possessed any longer. But if all the money in the whole world were gathered into one man’s custody, all other men should be poor. The voice at the same time wholly filleth the ears of many, but your riches cannot pass to many, except they be diminished, which being done, they must needs make them poor whom they leave. O scant and poor riches, which neither can be wholly possessed of many, and come to none without the impoverishment of others! Doth the glittering of jewels draw thy eyes after them? But if there be any great matter in this show, not men but the jewels shine, which I exceedingly marvel that men admire. For what is there wanting life and members that may justly seem beautiful to a nature not only endued with life but also with reason? Which, though by their maker’s workmanship and their own variety they have some part of basest beauty, yet it is so far inferior to your excellency that it did in no sort deserve your admiration. Doth the pleasant prospect of the fields delight you? Why not? For it is a fair portion of a most fair work. So we are delighted with a calm sea, so we admire the sky, the stars, the sun, and the moon. Do any of these belong to thee? Darest thou boast of the beauty which any of them have? Art thou thyself adorned with May flowers? Or doth thy fertility teem with the fruits of summer? Why rejoicest thou vainly? Why embracest thou outward goods as if they were thine own? Fortune will never make those things thine which by the appointment of Nature belong not to thee. The fruits of the earth are doubtless appointed for the sustenance of living creatures. But if thou wilt only satisfy want, which sufficeth Nature, there is no cause to require the superfluities of fortune. For Nature is contented with little and with the smallest things, and, if, being satisfied, thou wilt overlay it with more than needs, that which thou addest will either become unpleasant or hurtful. But perhaps thou thinkest it a fine thing to go decked in gay apparel, which, if they make a fair show, I will admire either the goodness of the stuff or the invention of the workman. Or doth the multitude of servants make thee happy? Who, if they be vicious, they are a pernicious burden to thy house, and exceedingly troublesome to their master; and if they be honest, how shall other men’s honesty be counted amongst thy treasures? By all which is manifestly proved that none of these goods which thou accountest thine, are thine indeed. And if there is nothing in these worthy to be desired, why art thou either glad when thou hast them or sorry when thou losest them? Or what is it to thee, if they be precious by nature? For in this respect they would have pleased thee, though they had belonged to others. For they are not precious because they are come to be thine, but because they seemed precious thou wert desirous to have them. Now, what desire you with such loud praise of fortune? Perhaps you seek to drive away penury with plenty. But this falleth out quite contrary, for you stand in need of many supplies, to protect all this variety of precious ornaments. And it is true that they which have much, need much; and contrariwise, that they need little which measure not their wealth by the superfluity of ambition, but by the necessity of nature. Have you no proper and inward good, that you seek your goods in those things which are outward and separated from you? Is the condition of things so changed that a living creature, deservedly accounted divine for the gift of reason, seemeth to have no other excellency than the possession of a little household stuff without life? All other creatures are content with that they have of their own; and you, who in your mind carry the likeness of God, are content to take the ornaments of your excellent nature from the most base and vile things, neither understand you what injury you do your Creator. He would have mankind to excel all earthly things; you debase your dignity under every meanest creature. For if it be manifest that the good of everything is more precious than that whose good it is, since you judge the vilest things that can be to be your goods, you deject yourselves under them in your own estimation, which questionless cometh not undeservedly to pass; for this is the condition of man’s nature, that then only it surpasseth other things when it knoweth itself, and it is worse than beasts when it is without that knowledge. For in other living creatures the ignorance of themselves is nature, but in men it is vice. And how far doth this error of yours extend, who think that any can be adorned with the ornaments of another? Which can in no wise be. For if any adjoined thing seem precious, it is that which is praised, but that which is covered and enwrapped in it remaineth, notwithstanding, with the foul baseness which it hath of itself. Moreover, I deny that to be good which hurteth the possessor. Am I deceived in this? I am sure thou wilt say no. But riches have often hurt their possessors, since every lewdest companion, who are consequently most desirous of that which is not their own, think themselves most worthy to possess alone all the gold and jewels in the world. Wherefore thou, who with much perturbation fearest now to be assailed and slain, if thou hadst entered the path of this life like a poor passenger, needest not be afraid, but mightest rejoice and sing even in the sight of most ravenous thieves. O excellent happiness of mortal riches, which, when thou hast gotten, thou hast lost thy safety!

Too much the former age was blest,

When fields their pleaséd owners failéd not,

Who, with no slothful lust opprest,

Broke their long fasts with acorns eas’ly got.

No wine with honey mixéd was,

Nor did they silk in purple colours steep;

They slept upon the wholesome grass,

And their cool drink did fetch from rivers deep.

The pines did hide them with their shade,

No merchants through the dangerous billows went,

Nor with desire of gainful trade

Their traffic into foreign countries sent.

Then no shrill trumpets did amate

The minds of soldiers with their daunting sounds,

Nor weapons were with deadly hate

Dyed with the dreadful blood of gaping wounds.

For how could any fury draw

The mind of man to stir up war in vain,

When nothing but fierce wounds he saw,

And for his blood no recompense should gain?

O that the ancient manners would

In these our latter hapless times return!

Now the desire of having gold

Doth like the flaming fires of Aetna burn.

Ah, who was he that first did show

The heaps of treasure which the earth did hide,

And jewels which lay close below,

By which he costly dangers did provide?

Now, why should I discourse of dignities and power which you, not knowing what true dignity and power meaneth, exalt to the skies? And if they light upon wicked men, what Aetnas, belching flames, or what deluge can cause so great harms? I suppose thou rememberest how your ancestors, by reason of the consuls’ arrogancy, desired to abolish that government which had been the beginning of their freedom, who before, for the same cause, had removed the government of kings from their city. And if sometime, which is very seldom, good men be preferred to honours, what other thing can give contentment in them but the honesty of those which have them? So that virtues are not honoured by dignities, but dignities by virtue. But what is this excellent power which you esteemed so desirable? Consider you not, O earthly wights, whom you seem to excel? For if among mice thou shouldst see one claim jurisdiction and power to himself over the rest, to what a laughter it would move thee! And what, if thou respectest the body, canst thou find more weak than man, whom even the biting of little flies or the entering of creeping worms doth often kill? Now, how can any man exercise jurisdiction upon anybody except upon their bodies, and that which is inferior to their bodies, I mean their fortunes? Canst thou ever imperiously impose anything upon a free mind? Canst thou remove a soul settled in firm reason from the quiet state which it possesseth? When a tyrant thought to compel a certain free man by torments to bewray his confederates of a conspiracy attempted against him, he bit off his tongue, and spit it out upon the cruel tyrant’s face, by that means wisely making those tortures, which the tyrant thought matter of cruelty, to be to him occasion of virtue. Now, what is there that any can enforce upon another which he may not himself be enforced to sustain by another? We read that Busiris, wont to kill his guests, was himself slain by his guest Hercules. Regulus had laid fetters upon many Africans taken in war, but ere long he found his own hands environed with his conqueror’s chains. Wherefore thinkest thou the power of that man to be anything worth, who cannot hinder another from doing that to him which he can do to another? Moreover, if dignities and power had any natural and proper good in them, they would never be bestowed upon the worst men, for one opposite useth not to accompany another; nature refuseth to have contraries joined. So that, since there is no doubt but that men of the worst sort often enjoy dignities, it is also manifest that they are not naturally good which may follow most naughty men. Which may more worthily be thought of all fortune’s gifts which are more plentifully bestowed upon every lewd companion. Concerning which, I take that also to be worthy consideration, that no man doubteth him to be a valiant man in whom he seeth valour, and it is manifest that he which hath swiftness is swift. So, likewise, music maketh musicians, physic physicians, and rhetoric rhetoricians. For the nature of everything doth that which is proper unto it, and is not mixed with contrary effects but repelleth all opposites. But neither can riches extinguish unsatiable avarice, nor power make him master of himself whom vicious lusts keep chained in strongest fetters. And dignity bestowed upon wicked men doth not only not make them worthy but rather bewrayeth and discovereth their unworthiness. How cometh this to pass? Because in miscalling things that are otherwise, you take a pleasure which is easily refuted by the effect of the things themselves. Wherefore, by right, these things are not to be called riches, this is not to be called power, that is not to be called dignity. Lastly, we may conclude the same of all fortunes in which it is manifest there is nothing to be desired, nothing naturally good, which neither are always bestowed upon good men, nor do make them good whom they are bestowed upon.

We know what stirs he made

Who did the Senate slay and Rome with fire invade,

Who did his brother kill,

And with his mother’s blood his moistened hand did fill;

Who looked on that cold face

Tearless, and nicely marked her members’ several grace.

Yet his dread power controlled

Those people whom the sun doth in the east behold,

And those who do remain

In western lands or dwell under Boötes’ wain

And those whose skins are tanned

With southern winds, which roast and burn the parched sand.

What? Could this glorious might

Restrain the furious rage of wicked Nero’s spite?

But oh! mishap most bad.

Which doth the wicked sword to cruel poison add!

Then I said: “Thou thyself knowest that the ambition of mortal things hath borne as little sway with me as with any, but I desired matter of action, lest old age should come upon me ere I had done anything.” To which she answered: “This is the only thing which is able to entice such minds as, being well qualified by nature, are not yet fully brought to full excellence by the perfecting of virtues, I mean desire of glory, and fame of best deserts towards their commonwealth, which how slender it is, and void of all weight, consider this: thou hast learnt by astronomical demonstrations that the compass of the whole earth compared to the scope of heaven is no bigger than a pin’s point, which is as much as to say that, if it be conferred with the greatness of the celestial sphere, it hath no bigness at all. And of this so small a region in the world only the fourth part is known to be inhabited by living creatures known to us, as Ptolemy proveth. From which fourth part, if thou takest away in imagination the seas, the marsh grounds, and all other desert places, there will scarcely be left any room at all for men to inhabit. Wherefore, enclosed and shut up in this smallest point of that other point, do you think of extending your fame and enlarging your name? But what great or heroical matter can that glory have, which is pent up in so small and narrow bounds? Besides that the little compass of this small habitation is inhabited by many nations, different in language, fashions, and conversation, to which by reason of the difficulties in travelling, the diversity of speech, and the scarcity of traffic, not only the Fame of particular men but even of cities can hardly come. Finally, in the age of Marcus Tullius, as he himself writeth, the fame of the Roman Commonwealth had not passed the mountain Caucasus, and yet it was then in the most flourishing estate, fearful even to the Parthians and to the rest of the nations about. Seest thou therefore how strait and narrow that glory is which you labour to enlarge and increase? Where the fame of the Roman name could not pass, can the glory of a Roman man penetrate? Moreover, the customs and laws of diverse nations do so much differ the one from the other, that the same thing which some commend as laudable, others condemn as deserving punishment. So that if a man be delighted with the praise of fame, it is no way convenient for him to be named in many countries. Wherefore, every man must be content with that glory which he may have at home, and that noble immortality of fame must be comprehended within the compass of one nation.

Now, how many, most famous while they lived, are altogether forgotten for want of writers! Though what do writings themselves avail which perish, as well as their authors, by continuance and obscurity of time? But you imagine that you make yourselves immortal when you cast your eyes upon future fame. Whereas, if thou weighest attentively the infinite spaces of eternity, what cause hast thou to rejoice at the prolonging of thy name? For if we compare the stay of one moment with ten thousand years, since both be limited, they have some proportion, though it be but very small. But this number of years, how oft so ever it be multiplied, is no way comparable to endless eternity. For limited things may in some sort be compared among themselves, but that which is infinite admitteth no comparison at all with the limited. So that the fame of never so long time, if it be compared with everlasting eternity, seemeth not little but none at all. But without popular blasts and vain rumours you know not how to do well, and, rejecting the excellency of a good conscience and of virtue, you choose to be rewarded with others’ tattling. Hear how pleasantly one jested at this vain and contemptible arrogancy. For having assaulted with reproachful speeches a certain fellow who had falsely taken upon him the name of a philosopher, not for the use of virtue but for vainglory, and having added that now he would know whether he were a philosopher or no by his gentle and patient bearing of injuries, the other took all patiently for a while, and having borne his contumely, as it were, triumphing, said: ‘Dost thou now at length think me a philosopher?’ To which he bitingly replied: ‘I would have thought thee one if thou hadst holden thy peace.’ But what have excellent men (for of these I speak) who seek for glory by virtue, what have we, I say, to expect for these by fame after final death hath dissolved the body? For if, contrary to our belief, men wholly perish, there is no glory at all, since he to whom it is said to belong is nowhere extant. But if a guiltless mind freed from earthly imprisonment goeth forthwith to heaven, will she not despise all earthly traffic who, enjoying heaven, rejoiceth to see herself exempted from earthly affairs?

He that to honour only seeks to mount

And that his chiefest end doth count,

Let him behold the largeness of the skies

And on the strait earth cast his eyes;

He will despise the glory of his name,

Which cannot fill so small a frame.

Why do proud men scorn that their necks should bear

That yoke which every man must wear?

Though fame through many nations fly along

And should be blazed by every tongue,

And houses shine with our forefathers’ stories,

Yet Death contemns these stately glories,

And, summoning both rich and poor to die,

Makes the low equal with the high.

Who knows where faithful Fabrice’ bones are pressed,

Where Brutus and strict Cato rest?

A slender fame consigns their titles vain

In some few letters to remain.

Because their famous names in books we read,

Come we by them to know the dead?

You dying, then, remembered are by none,

Nor any fame can make you known.

But if you think that life outstrippeth death,

Your names borne up with mortal breath,

When length of time takes this away likewise,

A second death shall you surprise.

But lest thou shouldst think that I am at implacable war with Fortune, there is a time when this thy goddess ceasing to deceive deserveth of men, to wit, when she declareth herself, when she discovereth her face and showeth herself in her own colours. Perhaps thou understandest not yet what I say. I would utter a wonderful thing, insomuch as I can scarcely explicate my mind in words. For I think that Fortune, when she is opposite, is more profitable to men than when she is favourable. For in prosperity, by a show of happiness and seeming to caress, she is ever false, but in adversity when she showeth herself inconstant by changing, she is ever true. In that she deceiveth, in this she instructeth; in that she imprisoneth the minds of men with falsely seeming goods, which they enjoy, in this she setteth them at liberty by discovering the uncertainty of them. Wherefore, in that thou shalt alway see her puffed up, and wavering, and blinded with a self-conceit of herself, in this thou shalt find her sober, settled, and, with the very exercise of adversity, wise. Finally, prosperity with her flatterings withdraweth men from true goodness, adversity recalleth and reclaimeth them many times by force to true happiness. Dost thou esteem it a small benefit that this rough and harsh Fortune hath made known unto thee the minds of thy faithful friends? She hath severed thy assured from thy doubtful friends; prosperity at her departure took away with her those which were hers, and left thee thine. How dearly wouldst thou have bought this before thy fall, and when thou seemedst to thyself fortunate! Now thou dost even lament thy lost riches; thou hast found friends, the most precious treasure in the world.

That this fair world in settled course her several forms should vary,

That a perpetual law should tame the fighting seeds of things,

That Phoebus should the rosy day in his bright chariot carry,

That Phoebe should govern the nights which Hesperus forth brings,

That to the floods of greedy seas are certain bounds assigned,

Which them, lest they usurp too much upon the earth, debar,

Love ruling heaven, and earth, and seas, them in this course doth bind.

And if it once let loose their reins, their friendship turns to war,

Tearing the world whose ordered form their quiet motions bear.

By it all holy laws are made and marriage rites are tied,

By it is faithful friendship joined. How happy mortals were,

If that pure love did guide their minds, which heavenly spheres doth guide!”








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