Page images

laborious, have gone near to deprive the inquiry of all its beauty and worth; while men of no experience in affairs, nor any learning beyond a few commonplaces, have applied the sense of the parables to some generalities and vulgar observations, without .attaining their true force, their genuine propriety, or their deeper reach. Here, on the other hand, it will be found (if I mistake not) that though the subjects be old, yet the matter is new; while leaving behind us the open and level parts we bend our way towards the nobler heights that rise beyond.

[merged small][graphic]





They say that Cassandra was beloved by Apollo; that she contrived by various artifices to elude his desires, and yet to keep his hopes alive until she had drawn from him the gift of divination; that she had no sooner obtained this, which had all along been her object, than she openly rejected his suit; whereupon he, not being permitted to recal the boon once rashly promised, yet burning with revenge, and not choosing to be the scorn of an artful woman, annexed to it this penalty, — that though she should always foretell true, yet nobody should believe her. Her prophecies therefore had truth, but not credit: and so she found it ever after, even in regard to the destruction of her country; of which she had given many warnings, but could get nobody to listen to her or believe her.

This fable seems to have been devised in reproof of unreasonable and unprofitable liberty in giving advice and admonition. For they that are of a froward and rough disposition, and will not submit to learn of Apollo, the god of harmony, how to observe time and measure in affairs, flats and sharps (so to speak) in discourse, the differences between the learned and the vulgar ear, and the times when to speak and when to be silent; such persons, though they be wise and free, and their counsels sound and wholesome, yet with all their efforts to persuade they scarcely can do any good; on the contrary, they rather hasten the destruction of those upon whom they press their advice; and it is not till the evils they predicted have come to pass that they are celebrated as prophets and men of a far foresight. Of this we have an eminent example in Marcus Cato of Utica, by whom the ruin of his country and the usurpation that followed, by means first of the conjunction and then of the contention between Pompey and Caesar, was long before foreseen as from a watchtower, and foretold as by an oracle; yet all the while he did no good, but did harm rather, and brought the calamities of his country faster on; as was wisely observed and elegantly described by Marcus Cicero, when he said in a letter to a friend, Cato means well: but he does hurt sometimes to the State; for he talks as if he were in the republic of Plato and not in the dregs of Romulus.




The poets tell us that Juno being angry that Jupiter had brought forth Pallas by himself without her help,

implored of all the gods and goddesses that she also might bring forth something without the help of Jupiter: to which when wearied with her violence and importunity they had assented, she smote the earth, which quaking and opening gave birth to Typhon, a huge and hideous monster. He was given to a serpent by way of foster-father to be nursed. As soon as he was grown up he made war upon Jupiter, whom in the conflict he took prisoner; and bearing him on his shoulders to a remote and obscure region, cut out the sinews of his hands and feet, and carrying them away, left him there helpless and mutilated. Then came Mercury, and having stolen the sinews from Typhon gave them back to Jupiter, who finding his strength restored attacked the monster again. And first he struck him with a thunderbolt, which made a wound the blood whereof engendered serpents; then, as he fell back and fled, threw upon him the mountain .35tna and crushed him beneath the weight.

The fable has been composed in allusion to the variable fortune of kings and the rebellions that occur from time to time in monarchies. For kings and their kingdoms are properly, like Jupiter and Juno, man and wife. But it sometimes happens that the king, depraved by the long habit of ruling, turns tyrant and takes all into his own hands; and not caring for the consent of his nobles and senate, brings forth as it were by himself; that is to say, administers the government by his own arbitrary and absolute authority. Whereat the people aggrieved endeavour on their part to set up some head of their own. This generally begins with the secret solicitation of nobles and great persons, whose connivency being obtained, an attempt is then

« PreviousContinue »