« PreviousContinue »
demanded what was the greatest happiness man was capable of, said, 'Not to be born, or die quickly.' With reason did Democritus say, That the life of man was most miserable, since those who seek for good, hardly find it, and evil comes of itself, and enters our gates unsought for: insomuch as our life is always exposed unto innumerable dangers, injuries, losses, and to so many infirmities, that, according to Pliny and many physicians, Greeks and Arabians, there were more than thirty several sorts of new diseases discovered in the space of few years; and now every day finds out others, and some so cruel, that they are not to be named without horror; and the malice of the disease is not greater than many times the remedies strange. Some have been cured by cauterizing with fire, by sawing off a member, by trepanizing the scull, or drawing bones from it; others have been cured with the opening of the belly, and drawing forth the guts. Above all, the cure of Palæologus II., emperor of Constantinople, was most cruel, whose infirmity, after a year's continuance, found no other remedy but to be continually vexed and displeased; his wife and servants, who most desired his health, having no ways to restore it, but by disobedience, still crossing and opposing him in what he most desired: a harsh cure for a prince! If remedies be so great evils, what are the infirmities? The sickness of Mæcenas was so strange, that he slept not, nor closed his eyes in three whole years. That of king Antiochus was so pestilential, that his loathsome smell infected his whole army, and his body flowed with lice and vermin. Consider here the end of majesty, when the greatest power of earth cannot defend itself against so noisome and contemptible an enemy. In the same manner Feretrina, queen of the Barcæans, all the flesh of her body turned into maggots and grubs, which, swarming every where, at last consumed her. Some have had serpents bred in their arms and thighs, which have devoured their flesh even whilst they lived. With reason, then, does man enter into the world with tears, as divining the many miseries which he shall have time enough to suffer, but not to lament; and, therefore, begins to weep so early. All the days of man are full of grief and misery.
What shall I say of those strange pestilential distempers, which have destroyed whole cities and provinces? In many
places it hath raged with such fury, as if it meant to extirpate all mankind; so many thousands of people having died, that whole towns and countries have remained desert. The evil hath been many times so great, that fathers forsook their children, and women their husbands; riches did not preserve them from dying of hunger; if they found by chance what to eat, the fury of the distemper was such, as they often died with the morsel in their mouths. To all this, is human life subject. Let those, therefore, who are in health and jollity, fear what may befall them.
Famine is no less a misery of man's life, than pestilence, which not only particular persons, but whole provinces, have often suffered; many times people, when they had nothing left them to eat, have fed on horses, dogs, cats, rats, dormice, and other vermin, when they could lay hold on them; and when those failed, ate one another; nay, fathers spared not their sons, nor women those whom they brought forth; and many would willingly have pawned their bowels, to have had wherewith to feed them. What a horrid prospect is it, to see a company of people appearing in the streets more like unto ghosts and phantoms than living men! others stretched upon the ground half dead, and ready to draw the last gasp! What pity is it to behold thousands of women, feeble, pale, and hunger-starved, charged with a great number of their poor languishing infants, which, dried up with hunger, could not so much as weep, or demand succour from their sorrowful and afflicted mothers; who could only help them with their compassionate looks, of which rivers of tears, which ran from their eyes, were a sufficient witness! This is a lamentable scene of a most miserable tragedy! All those miseries which fall not under imagination, are found in the life of
Greater than all these calamities is that of war, which, of the three scourges of God, wherewith he uses to chastise. kingdoms, is the most terrible; as well because it is commonly followed by the other two, as for that it brings along with it greater punishments; and which is worse, greater sins, whereof plagues are free, in which all endeavour to be reconciled with God; and even those who are in health, dispose themselves for death. Famine also, though it brings with it some sins, yet it lessens others; though it be accompanied
with many thefts, yet it suits not so much with pride and vanity; neither doth it permit so many sorts of vices as are occasioned by war.
Above all, the greatest calamities of man's life are not pestilence, famine, or war, but human passions not subordinate to reason: what did David suffer from the envy of Saul? exile, hunger, dangers, and war. Naboth sooner lost his life by the covetousness of Ahab, than he could have done by a plague. Elias was more afflicted with the desire of revenge in Jezebel, than if he had had the pestilence; for that made him weary of his life, and this would but have made him weary of his disease. What plagues or wars were like the ambition of Herod, which destroyed so many thousand children? What contagion was more mortal than the cruelty of Nero and other tyrants, who took away the lives of so many innocent people, to satisfy their fears or fancies? Who is so happy to content all, and be envied of none? Who is so esteemed that some do not despise him? Who is so general a well-doer, that nobody complains of him? The Athenians found fault with their Simonides, because he talked too loud. The Thebans accused Panniculus, that he spit too much. The Carthaginians spake ill of Hannibal, because he went open-breasted, with his stomach bare. Others laughed at Julius Cæsar, because he was ill girt. There is none so upright, in whom envy will not find something to reprehend.
So many are the miseries of life, that they cannot all be numbered. Death, which is thought by some the greatest of evils, is, by many, esteemed a lesser evil than life; the many evils in this, surpassing the greatness of the evil in that and, therefore, some have conceived it is bett suffer the greatest, which is death, than to suffer so many, though lesser, which are in life: for this reason, one calls death the last and greatest physician, because, though in itself it be the greatest evil, yet it cures all others; and, therefore, prescribes the hopes of it, as an efficacious remedy and comfort in the afflictions of life.
What security can there be in life, when the earth, which is the mother of the living, is unfaithful to them, and sprouts out miseries and deaths, even of whole cities? What can be secure in the world, if the world itself be not, and the most
solid parts of it shake? If that which is only immoveable and fixed for to sustain the living, tremble with earthquakes; if what is proper to the earth, which is to be firm, be unstable and betray us; where shall our fears find a refuge? When the roof of the house shakes, we may fly into the fields; but when the earth shakes, whither shall we go ?
In the time of the plague we may change places; but from the whole earth who can fly? and so from dangers: and, therefore, not to have a remedy, may secure us as a comfort in our evils; for fear is foolish without hope. Reason banishes fear in those who are wise, and in those who are not. Despair of remedy gives a kind of security, at least takes away fear. He that will fear nothing, let him think all things are to be feared. See what slight things endanger us; even those which sustain life, lay ambushes for us. Meat and drink, without which we cannot live, take away our lives. It is not wisdom, therefore, to fear swallowing by an earthquake, and not to fear the falling of a tile. In death, all sorts of dyings are equal. What imports it, whether one single stone kills thee, or a whole mountain oppress thee? Death consists in the soul's leaving of the body, which often happens by slight accidents.
Wonderful are the ways by which death finds us out, and most poor and contemptible those things, upon which life depends; it hangs not upon a thread, but sometimes upon so small a thing as a hair. No door is shut to death; it enters where the air cannot enter, and encounters us in the very action of life. Small things are able to deprive us of so great a good! A little grain of a grape took away the life of Anacreon. The affections of the soul, and the pleasures of the body, become the highway unto death. Homer died of grief, and Sophocles of an excess of joy; Dionysius was killed with the good news of a victory, which he had obtained; Aurelianus died dancing; Cornelius Gallus, and Titus Etherius, died in the act of lust.
Let no man assure himself of that life, which hath so many entrances for death. Let no man say, 'I shall not die to-day;' for many have thought so, and yet suddenly died that very hour. By so inconsiderable things, as we have said, have many died; and thou mayest die without any of them; for sudden death, there is no need of a hair, or excess
of grief, or sudden joy to surprise thee: it may happen without any of those exterior causes. A corrupt humour in the entrails, which flies unto the heart without any body's perceiving it, is sufficient to make an end of thee; and it is to be admired that no more die suddenly, considering the disorders of our life, and the frailties of our bodies. We are not of iron or brass, but of soft and delicate flesh. A clock, though of hard metal, in time wears out, and every hour needs mending; and breaking of one wheel stops the motions of all the rest. There is more artifice in a human body than in a clock; and it is much more delicate; the nerves are not of steel, nor the veins of brass, nor the entrails of iron. How many have had their livers or spleens corrupted or displaced, and have died suddenly! No man sees what he hath within his body; and such may his infirmity be, although he thinks and feels himself well, yet he may die within an hour. Let us all tremble at what may happen!
But Christians, in all the miseries and dangers of human life, have great comforts to lay hold on; which are, a good conscience, hope of glory, conformity unto the Divine will, and the imitation and example of Jesus Christ. From these four he shall in life have happiness, in death security, in both comfort, and in eternity a reward.
We may draw from what hath been said, how unjust was the complaint of Theophrastus, that nature hath given a longer life unto many birds and beasts, than unto man. our life were less troublesome, he had some reason; but it being so fraught with miseries, he might rather think that life the happiest, which was shortest; wherefore it is better to die young, and die well, than to die old, and die ill. This voyage being of necessity, the felicity of it consists not in being long, but being prosperous; and that, at the last, we arrive in the desired port. Therefore, supposing so many miseries, we cannot complain of God for having given us a short life, but of ourselves for having made it a bad one; our life being compassed with so many miseries, as that death seems rather a shelter for evils, than a punishment. God was pleased that it should be short, that the vexations and misfortunes of it, which cannot be counterpoised with any joys of the earth, might be more supportable. At least, if this life, with so many miseries, do not displease us; yet let