Page images

will ascend and be like the Highest;” 1 but it is greater blasphemy to personate God, and bring him in saying, “I will descend, and be like the prince of darkness ;” and what is it better, to make the cause of religion to descend to the cruel and execrable actions of murdering princes, butchery of people, and subversion of states and governments ? Surely, this is to bring down the Holy Ghost, instead of the likeness of a dove, in the shape of a vulture or raven; and to set out of the bark of a Christian church a flag of a bark of pirates and assassins; therefore, it is most necessary that the church by doctrine and decree, princes by their sword, and all learnings, both Christian and moral, as by their Mercury rod,do damn and send to hell forever those facts and opinions tending to the support of the same, as hath been already in good part done. Surely, in counsels concerning religion, that counsel of the apostle would be prefixed: “Ira hominis non implet justitiam Dei;” 3 and it was a notable observation of a wise father, and no less ingenuously confessed, that those which held and persuaded pressure of consciences, were commonly interested therein themselves for their own ends.

1 Isa. xiv. 14.

2 Allusion is made to the “caduceus," with which Mercury, the messenger of the Gods, summoned the souls of the departed to the infernal regions.

3 - The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." James i. 20.

IV.–OF REVENGE. REVENGE is a kind of wild justice, which the more man's nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out; for as for the first wrong, it doth but offend the law, but the revenge of that wrong putteth the law out of office. Certainly, in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy, but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince's part to pardon; and Solomon, I am sure, saith, “It is the glory of a man to pass by an offence.” That which is past is gone and irrevocable, and wise men have enough to do with things present and to come; therefore they do but trifle with themselves that labor in past matters. There is no man doth a wrong for the wrong's sake, but thereby to purchase himself profit, or pleasure, or honor, or the like; therefore, why should I be angry with a man for loving himself better than me? And if any man should do wrong merely out of ill-nature, why, yet it is but like the thorn or briar, which prick and scratch, because they can do no other. The most tolerable sort of revenge is for those wrongs which there is no law to remedy; but then, let a man take heed the revenge be such as there is no law to punish, else a man's enemy is still beforehand, and it is two for one. Some, when they take revenge, are desirous the party should know whence it cometh. This is the more generous ; for the delight seemeth to be not so much in doing the hurt as in making the party repent ; but base and crafty cowards are like the arrow that flieth in the dark. Cosmus, Duke of Florence, had a desperate saying

1 He alludes to Cosmo de Medici, or Cosmo I., chief of the Republic of Florence, the encourager of literature and the fine arts.

against perfidious.or neglecting friends, as if those wrongs were unpardonable. “ You shall read,” saith he, “that we are commanded to forgive our enemies; but you never read that we are commanded to forgive our friends.” But yet the spirit of Job was in a better tune: “Shall we,” saith he, “ take good at God's hands, and not be content to take evil also ?”1 and so of friends in a proportion. This is certain, that a man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well. Public revenges 2 are for the most part fortunate; as that for the death of Cæsar; 3 for the death of Pertinax; for the death of Henry the Third of France;* and many more. But in private revenges it is not so; nay, rather, vindictive persons live the life of witches, who, as they are mischievous, so end they unfortunate.

1 Job ii. 10. — "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?"

2 By “public revenges,” he means punishment awarded by the state with the sanction of the laws.

8 He alludes to the retribution dealt by Augustus and Antony to the murderers of Julius Cæsar. It is related by ancient historians, as a singular fact, that not one of them died a natural death.

4 Henry III. of France was assassinated in 1599, by Jacques Clement, a Jacobin monk, in the frenzy of fanaticisin. Although Clement justly suffered punishment, the end of this bloodthirsty and bigoted tyrant may be justly deemed a retribution dealt by the hand of an offended Providence; so truly does the Poet say:

- "neque enim lex æquior ulla Quam necis artifices arte perire suâ."

V.-OF ADVERSITY. It was a high speech of Seneca, (after the manner of the Stoics,) that “the good things which belong to prosperity are to be wished, but the good things that belong to adversity are to be admired.” (“ Bona rerum secundarum optabilia, adversarum mirabilia.”) Certainly, if miracles be the command over nature, they appear most in adversity. It is yet a higher speech of his than the other, (much too high for a heathen,) “It is true greatness to have in one the frailty of a man, and the security of a God.” (“s Vere magnum habere fragilitatem hominis securitatem Dei.") 2 This would have done better in poesy, where transcendencies are more allowed, and the poets, indeed, have been busy with it; for it is, in effect, the thing which is figured in that strange fiction of the ancient poets, which seemeth not to be without mystery ; nay, and to have some approach to the state of a Christian, “ that Hercules, when he went to unbind Prometheus, (by whom human nature is represented,) sailed the length of the great ocean in an earthen pot or pitcher,” lively describing Christian resolution, that saileth in the frail bark of the flesh through the waves of the world. But to

1 Sen. Ad Lucil. 66. 2 Ibid. 53.

8 Stesichorus, Apollodorus, and others. Lord Bacon makes a similar reference to this myth in his treatise. On the Wisdom of the Ancients.” “It is added with great elegance, to console and strengthen the minds of men, that this mighty hero (Hercules) sailed in a cup or urceus,' in order that they may not too much fear and allege the narrowness of their nature and its frailty; as if it were not capable of such fortitude and constancy; of which very thing Seneca argued well, when he said, “It is a great thing to have at the same time the frailty of a man, and the security of a God.'”.

speak in a mean, the virtue of prosperity is temperance, the virtue of adversity is fortitude, which in morals is the more heroical virtue. Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament, adversity is the blessing of the New, which carrieth the greater benediction, and the clearer revelation of God's favor. Yet even in the Old Testament, if you listen to David's harp, you shall hear as many hearse-like airs 1 as carols ; and the pencil of the Holy Ghost hath labored more in describing the afflictions of Job than the felicities of Solomon. Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes. We see, in needleworks and embroideries, it is more pleasing to have a lively work upon a sad and solemn ground, than to have a dark and melancholy work upon a lightsome ground : judge, therefore, of the pleasure of the heart by the pleasure of the eye. Certainly, virtue is like precious odors, most fragrant when they are incensed, or crushed ; for prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.?

1 Funereal airs. It must be remembered that many of the Psalms of David were written by him when persecuted by Saul, as also in the tribulation caused by the wicked conduct of his son Absalom. Some of them, too, though called “ The Psalms of David," were really composed by the Jews in their captivity at Babylon; as, for instance, the 137th Psalm, which so beautifully commences,' “ By the waters of Babylon there we sat down.” One of them is supposed to be the composition of Moses.

2 This fine passage, beginning at “ Prosperity is the blessing," which was not published till 1625, twenty-eight years after the first Essays, has been quoted by Macaulay, with considerable justice, as a proof that the writer's fancy did not decay with the advance of old age, and that his style in his later years became richer and softer. The learned critic contrasts this passage with the terse style of the Essay of Studies, (Essay 50,) which was published in 1597.

« PreviousContinue »