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faculties in providing against. The most fertile soil does not necessarily bear the most abundant harvest; its weeds, if neglected, will grow the rankest. And the servant who has received but one talent, if he put it out to use, will fare better than he who has been intrusted with five, if he squander or bury them. But still, this last does not suffer because he received five talents; but because he has not used them to advantage.'
ESSAY XXXV. OF PROPHECIES.
I MEAN not to speak of divine prophecies, nor of heathen oracles, nor of natural predictions, but only of prophecies that have been of certain memory, and from hidden causes. Saith the Pythonissa1 to Saul, 'To-morrow thou and thy sons shall be with me." Virgil hath these verses from Homer:
* At domus ."Enc'si' cunctis dominabitur oris,
a prophecy, as it seems, of the Roman empire. Seneca the tragedian hath these verses:
a prophecy of the discovery of America. The daughter of Polycrates dreamed that Jupiter bathed her father, and Apollo anointed him; and it came to pass that he was crucified in an open place, where the sun made his body run with sweat, and the rain washed it.s Philip of Macedon6 dreamed he sealed up his wife's belly; whereby he did expound it, that his wife should be barren; but Aristander, the soothsayer, told him his wife was with child, because men do not use to seal vessels that are empty. A phantom that appeared to M. Brutus in his tent, said to him, 'Philippis iterum me videbis." Tiberius said to Galba, 'Tu quoque, Galba, degustabis imperium." In Vespasian's time there went a prophecy in the East, that those that should come forth of Judea should reign over the world; which, though it may be was meant of our Saviour, yet Tacitus expounds it of Vespasian.1 Domitian dreamed, the night before he was slain, that a golden head was growing out of the nape of his neck;2 and, indeed, the succession that followed him, for many years, made golden times. Henry VI. of England said of Henry VII. when he was a lad, and gave him water,'This is the lad that shall enjoy the crown for which we strive.' When I was in France, I heard from one Dr. Pena, that the queen-mother, who was given to curious arts, caused the king her husband's nativity to be calculated under a false name, and the astrologer gave a judgment that he should be killed in a duel; at which the queen laughed, thinking her
1 Pythonissa. Pylhoness. * i Sum. xxviii. ip.
8 'Over every shore the house of ./Eneas shall reign; his children's children, and their posterity likewise.'—jEneid, iii. 97.
4 'There shall come a time, in later ages, when Ocean shall relax his chains, and a vast continent appear; and a pilot shall find new worlds, and Thule shall be no more earth's bound.'—Sen. Med. \\. 375.
6 Jlesiod, iii. 24. 'Plut. Vil. Alexan. 2.
7 'Thou shalt see me again at Philippi.'—Appian, Bell. Civ. iv. 134. 3 'Thou, also, Galba, shalt taste of empire.'—Stat. Vit. Galba.
husband to be above challenges and duels; but he was slain upon a course at tilt, the splinters of the staff of Montgomery going in at his beaver. The trivial prophecy which I heard when I was a child, and Queen Elizabeth was in the flower of her years, was,
'When hempe is spun,
whereby it was generally conceived, that after the princes had reigned which had the principal letters of that word hempe, which were Henry, Edward, Mary, Philip, and Elizabeth, England should come to utter confusion; which, thanks be to God, is verified in the change of the name, for the king's style is now no more of England, but of Britain. There was also another prophecy before the year of eighty-eight, which I do not well understand:
'There shall be seen upon a day,
It was generally conceived to be meant of the Spanish fleet that came in eighty-eight; for that the king of Spain's surname, as they say, is Norway. The prediction of Regiomontanus,
'Octogesimus octavus mirabilis annus ;'*
was thought likewise accomplished in the sending of that great fleet, being the greatest in strength, though not in number, of all that ever swam upon the sea. As for Cleon's dream,1 I think it was a jest—it was, that he was devoured of2 a long dragon; and it was expounded of a maker of sausages, that troubled him exceedingly. There are numbers of the like kind, especially if you include dreams, and predictions of astrology; but I have set down these few only of certain credit, for example. My judgment is, that they ought all to be despised, and ought to serve but for winter-talk by the fireside. Though when I say despised, I mean it as for belief—for otherwise, the spreading or publishing of them is in no sort to be despised—for they have done much mischief, and I see many severe laws made to suppress them. That that hath given them grace, and some credit, consisteth in three things. First, that men mark when they hit, and never mark when they miss; as they do, generally, also of dreams. The second is, that probable conjectures, or obscure traditions, many times turn themselves into prophecies: while the nature of Man, which coveteth divination, thinks it no peril to foretell that which indeed they do but collect, as that of Seneca's verse; for so much was then subject to demonstration, that the globe of the earth had great parts beyond the Atlantic, which might be probably conceived not to be all sea, and adding thereto the tradition in Plato's Timesus and his Atlanticus,3 it might encourage one to turn it to a prediction. The third and last, which is the great one, is, that almost all of them, being infinite in number, have been impostures, and by idle and crafty brains, merely contrived and feigned, after the event past.
1 Tacit. Hist. v. 13. a Suet. Fit. Domit. 23.
3 Baugh. Sough (probably). * 'Eighty-eight, a wonderful year.'
1 Aristoph. Equit. 195. * Of. By. 'Lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him.'—Luke xiv. 8.
'The spreading or publishing of them is in no sort to be despised, for they have done much mischief
A political prediction, publicly uttered, will often have had, or be supposed to have had, a great share in bringing about its own fulfilment. Accordingly, when a law is actually passed, and there is no reasonable hope of its repeal, we should be very cautious in publicly uttering predictions of dangers and discontents, lest we should thus become the means of engendering or aggravating them. He who gives out, for instance, that the people will certainly be dissatisfied with such and such a law, is in this doing his utmost to make them dissatisfied. And this being the case in all unfavourable, as well as favourable, predictions, some men lose their deserved credit for political sagacity, through their fear of contributing to produce the evils they apprehend; while others, again, contribute to evil results by their incapacity to keep their anticipations locked up in their own bosoms, and by their dread of not obtaining deserved credit. It would be desirable to provide for such men a relief like that which the servant of King Midas found, due care, however, being taken that there should be no whispering reeds to divulge it.
In another 'New Atlantis,' entitled An Expedition to the Interior of New Holland, 1 a Prediction-office is supposed to exist in several of the States; namely, an establishment consisting of two or three inspectors, and a few clerks, appointed to receive from any one, on payment of a trifling fee, any sealed-up prediction, to be opened at a time specified by the party himself. His name is to be signed to the prediction within; aud on the outer cover is inscribed the date of its delivery, and the time when the seal is to be broken. There is no pretence made to supernatural prophetic powers; only to supposed political sagacity.
Unless in some case in which very remarkable sagacity has been evinced, the predictions are not made public. But pre1 Published by Bentlcy. •