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Alfred, reduced to extremity by the Danes, who were spreading devastation all over England, was obliged to relinquish the ensigns of his dignity, to dismiss his servants, and to seek shelter, in the meanest disguise, from the pursuit and fury of his enemies. He concealed himself under a peasant's habit, and lived some time in the house of a neat-herd, who had been intrusted with the care of some of his cows. There passed here an incident, which has been recorded by all the historians, and was long preserved by popular tradition; though it contains nothing memorable in itself, except so far as every circumstance is interesting, which attends so great virtue and dignity reduced to so much distress. The wife of the neat-herd was ignorant of the condition of her royal guest; and, observing him one day busy by the fireside in trimming his bow and arrows, she desired him to take care of some cakes which were toasting, while she was employed elsewhere in other domestic af. fairs. But Alfred, whose thoughts were otherwise engaged, neglected the injunction; and the good woman, on her return, finding her cakes all burned, rated the king very severely, and upbraided him, that he always seemed very well pleased to eat her warm cakes, though he was thus negligent in toasting them. Alfred, having been driven from his throne by the Danes, was forced to seek refuge, under the disguise of a peasant, in the house of one of his own neat-herds. Here occurred an incident, which both tradition and history have preserved. One day, as Alfred was sitting by the fire trimming his bow and arrows, the wife of his host, who did not know that he was the king, desired him, while she was otherwise occupied, to attend to some cakes that were toasting; an injunction, which the monarch, who was thinking of far different matters, neglected to obey. “You have allowed the cakes to burn, by your carelessness,” said the good woman, on her return; “but you seem always very well pleased to eat them.”
1. Dionysius, the tyrant of Sicily, was far from being happy, though he abounded in riches, and all the pleasures which riches can procure. Damocles, one of his flatterers, was one day complimenting him on his power, his treasures, and his royal magnificence, and affirming that no monarch ever was greater or happier than he. “Hast thou a mind, Damocles,” says the king, “to taste this happiness, and know, by experience, what the enjoyments are of which you have so high an idea P” Damocles gladly accepted the offer. Upon this the king ordered, that a royal banquet should be prepared for him, and a gilded couch, covered with rich embroidery. Side-boards, loaded with gold and silver plate of immense value, were arranged in the apartment. Pages of extraordinary beauty were ordered to attend his table, and to obey his commands with the greatest readiness and the most profound submission. Fragrant ointment, chaplets of flowers, and rich perfumes, were added to the entertainment. The table was loaded with the most exquisite delicacies of every kind. Damocles was intoxicated with pleasure. But in the midst of all his happiness, as he lay indulging himself in state, he sees let down from the ceiling, exactly over his head, a glittering sword hung by a single hair. The sight of impending destruction put a speedy end to his joy and revelling. The pomp of his attendants, the glitter of the carved plate, and the delicacy of the viands, ceased to afford him any pleasure. He dreads to stretch forth his hand to the table. He throws off the garland of roses. He hastens to remove from his dangerous situation; and earnestly entreats the king to restore him to his former humble condition, having no desire to enjoy any longer a happiness so terrible.
2. A nightingale, that all day long
That you with music, I with light,
3. Philip, king of Macedon, is celebrated for an act of private justice, which does greater honour to his memory than all his public victories. A certain soldier, in the Macedonian army, had, in various instances, distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of valour, and had received many marks of Philip's approbation and favour. On a particular occasion, he embarked on board a vessel, which was wrecked in a violent storm, and he himself cast on the shore naked and helpless, with scarcely any signs of life. A Macedonian, whose lands were contiguous to the sea, came opportunely to be witness of his distress, and with all possible tenderness flew to the relief of the unhappy stranger. He bore him to his house, laid him on his bed, revived, cherished, and comforted him; and, for forty days, supplied him freely with all the necessaries and conveniences, which his languishing condition could require. The soldier, thus happily rescued from death, was incessant in the warmest expressions of gratitude to his benefactor, and assured him of his interest with the king, and of his resolution to obtain for him, from the royal bounty, the noble returns which such extraordinary benevolence deserved. He was at length completely recovered, and was supplied by his kind host with money to pursue his journey. Some time after, he presented himself before the king; he recounted his misfortunes, magnified his services, and, having, looked with an eye of envy on the possessions of the man who had preserved his life, was so devoid of every feeling of gratitude, as to request the king to bestow upon him the houses and lands where he had been so kindly and so tenderly entertained. Unhappily, Philip, without examination, inconsiderately granted his infamous
request. The soldier then returned to his preserver, and repaid his kindness by driving him from his settlement, and taking immediate possession of all the fruits of his honest industry. The poor man, stung with this instance of unparalleled ingratitude, boldly determined to seek relief; and, in a letter addressed to Philip, represented his own and the soldier's conduct in a lively and affecting manner. The king was instantly fired with indignation : he ordered that justice should be done without delay; that the pos. sessions should be immediately restored to the man, whose charitable offices had been thus horribly repaid; and that the soldier should be seized, and have these words branded on his forehead, “The Ungrateful Guest.” 4. Oft has it been my lot to mark A proud, conceited, talking spark, With eyes that hardly serv'd at most To guard their master’gainst a post; Yet round the world the blade had been, To see whatever could be seen. Returning from his finish'd tour, Grown ten times perter than before; Whatever word you chance to drop, The travell'd fool your mouth will stop : “Sir, if my judgment you'll allow— I’ve seen—and sure I ought to know”— So begs you'd pay a due submission, And acquiesce in his decision. Two travellers of such a cast, As o'er Arabia's wilds they pass'd, And on their way, in friendly chat, Now talk'd of this, and then of that, Discours'd a while, 'mongst other matter, Of the chameleon’s form and nature. “A stranger animal,” cries one, “Sure never lived beneath the sun : A lizard's body lean and long, A fish's head, a serpent's tongue, Its foot with triple claw disjoin'd, And what a length of tail behind How slow its pace 1 and then its hue— Who ever saw so fine a blue P” “Hold there,” the other quick replies, “'Tis green—I saw it with these eyes,