Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][ocr errors]

philosopher might be blind in himself, and the mathematician might draw forth a straight line with a crooked heart; then, lo! did proof, the over-ruler of opinions, make manifest that all these are but serving sciences, which as they have a private end in themselves, so yet are they all directed to the highest end of the mistress-knowledge, by the Greeks called ApXitextovixn, which stands (as I think) in the knowledge of a man's self, in the ethic and politic consideration, with the end of well-doing and not of well-knowing only: even as the saddler's next end is to make a good saddle, but his farther end, to serve a noble faculty, which is horsemanship; sò the horseman's to soldiery; and the soldier's, not only to have the skill, but to perform the practice, of a soldier. So that the ending end of all earthly learning being virtuous action, those skills that most serve to bring forth that, have a most just title to be princes over all the rest; wherein, if we can show it rightly, the Poet is worthy to have it before any other competitors.

* Among whom principally, to challenge it, step forth the Moral Philosophers: whom methinks I see coming toward me with a sullen gravity, as though they could not abide vice by daylight; rudely clothed, for to witness outwardly their contempt of outward things, with books in their hands against glory, whereto they set their names; sophistically speaking against subtilty, and angry with any man in whom they see the foul fault of anger. These men casting largesses as they go, of definitions, divisions, and distinctions, with a scornful interrogative do soberly ask; · Whether it be possible to find any path so ready to lead a man to virtue, as that which teacheth

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

what Virtue is: and teacheth it not only by delivering forth his very being, his causes, and effects; but also by making known his enemy Vice, which must be destroyed, and his cumbersome servant Passion, which must be mastered; by showing the generalities that contain it, and the specialities that are derived from it; lastly, by plain setting down, how ít extends itself out of the limits of a man's own little world to the government of families, and maintaining of public societies ?'

• The Historian scarce gives leisure to the Moralist to say. so much, but that he (loaden with old mouseeaten records, authorising himself for the most part upon other histories, whose greatest authorities are built upon

the notable foundation Hearsay, having much ado to accord differing writers, and to pick truth out of partiality; better acquainted with a thousand years ago, than with the present age, and yet better knowing how this world goes, than how his own wit runs; curious for antiquities and inquisitive of novelties, a wonder to young folks, and a tyrant in table-talk) denieth, in a great chafe, that any man for teaching of virtue and virtuous actions is comparable' to him. I am Testis temporum, lux veri, tatis, vita memoria, magistra vita, nuncia vetustatis. “ The philosopher,” saith he,“ teacheth a disputative virtue, but I do an active : his virtue is excellent in the dangerless Academy of Plato, but mine showeth forth her honourable face in the battles of Marathon, Pharsalia, Poictiers, and Agincourt: he teacheth virtue by certain abstract considerations ; but I only bid you follow the footing of them, that are gone before you: old-aged experience goeth beyond the fine-witted philosopher ; but I give the experience of many ages : lastly, if he make the songbook, I put the learner's hand to the lute; and if he be the guide, I am the light.” Then would he allege you innumerable examples, confirming story by stories; how much the wisest senators and princes have been directed by the credit of history, as Brutus, Alphonsụs of Arragon (and who not? if need be). At length, the long line of their disputation makes a point in this, that the one giveth the precept, and the other the example.

• Now whom shall we find, since the question standeth for the highest form in the school of learning, to be mediator? Truly, as me seemeth, the Poet; and if not a moderator, even the man that ought to carry the title from them both, and much more from all other serving sciences. Therefore compare we the Poet with the Historian, and with the Moral Philosopher; and, if he go beyond them both, no other human skill can match him. For as for the Divine, with all reverence he is ever to be excepted; not only for having his scope as far beyond any of these, as eternity exceedeth a moment, but even for passing each of these in themselves: and for the Lawyer, though Jus be the daughter of Justice, the chief of virtues, yet because he seeks to make men good rather formidine pænæ than virtutis amore; or, to say righter doth not endeavour to make men good, but that their evil hurt not others, having no care, so he be a good citizen, how bad a man he be: therefore, as our wickedness maketh him necessary, and necessity maketh him honourable, so is he not in the deepest truth to stand in rank with these, who all endeavour to take naughtiness away, and plant goodness even in the secretest cabinets of our. souls. And these four, are all that any way deal in the consideration of men's manners; which being the supreme knowledge, they that best breed it, deservé the best commendation.

• The Philosopher therefore, and the Historian, are they which would win the goal, the one by precept, the other by example; but both, not having both, do both halt. For the Philosopher sitting down with the thorny arguments, the bare rule is so hard of utterance, and so misty to be conceived, that one that hath no other guide but him, shall wade in him until he be old, before he shall find sufficient cause to be honest. For his knowledge standeth so upon the abstract and general, that happy is that man who may understand him, and more happy that can apply what he doth understand. On the other side, the Historian wanting the precept is so tied, not to what should be but to what is, to the particular truth of things and not to the general reason of things, that his example draweth no necessary consequence, and therefore a less fruitful doctrine.

• Now. doth the peerless Poet perform both; for whatsoever the Philosopher saith should be done, he giveth a perfect picture of it, by some one by whom he pre-supposeth it was done, so as he coupleth the general notion with the particular example: 'a perfect picture' (I say) for he yieldeth to the powers of the mind an image of that, whereof the Philosopher bestoweth but a wordish description; which doth neither strike, pierce, nor possess the sight of the soul, so much as that other doth. For as in outward things, to a man that had never seen an elephant or a rhinoceros, who should tell him most exquisitively all their shape, colour, bigness, and particular marks? or of a gorgeous palace, an architect, who declaring the full beauties might well make the hearer able to repeat (as it were, by rote) all he had heard, yet should never satisfy his inward conceit, with being witness to itself of a true living knowledge? But the same man, as soon as he might see those beasts well painted, or that house well in model, should straightway grow, without need of any description, to a judicial comprehending of them: so no doubt the Philosopher with his learned definitions, be it of virtues or vices, matters of public policy or private government, replenisheth the memory with

many

infallible grounds of wisdom, which notwithstanding lie dark before the imaginative and judging power, if they be not illuminated or figured forth by the speaking picture of Poesy.

• Tully taketh much pains, and many times not without poetical helps, to make us know what force the love of our country hath in us. Let us but hear old Anchises, speaking in the midst of Troy's flames; or see Ulysses, in the fulness of all Calypso's delights, bewail his absence from barren and beggarly Ithaca. “ Anger," the Stoics said, “was a short madness;" let but Sophocles bring you Ajax on a stage, killing or whipping sheep and oxen, thinking them the army

of Greeks with their chieftains Agamemnon and Menelaus: and tell me, if you have not a more familiar insight into anger, than finding in the schoolmen his genus and difference? See whether wisdom and temperance in Ulysses and Diomedęs, valour in Achilles, friendship in Nisus and Euryalus even to an ignorant man carry not an apparent shining; and, contrarily, the remorse of conscience in Edipus, the soon-repenting pride in Agamemnon, the self-devour.

« PreviousContinue »