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Title: Moriae encomium. English - The Praise of Folly
Author: Erasmus, Desiderius, 1469-1536
Language: English
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                           DESIDERIUS ERASMUS

                          THE PRAISE OF FOLLY

                        Translated by John Wilson

                          ERASMUS OF ROTTERDAM
                              to his friend
                          THOMAS MORE, health:

As I was coming awhile since out of Italy for England, that I might not
waste all that time I was to sit on horseback in foolish and illiterate
fables, I chose rather one while to revolve with myself something of our
common studies, and other while to enjoy the remembrance of my friends,
of whom I left here some no less learned than pleasant. Among these you,
my More, came first in my mind, whose memory, though absent yourself,
gives me such delight in my absence, as when present with you I ever
found in your company; than which, let me perish if in all my life I ever
met with anything more delectable. And therefore, being satisfied that
something was to be done, and that that time was no wise proper for any
serious matter, I resolved to make some sport with the praise of folly.
But who the devil put that in your head? you'll say. The first thing was
your surname of More, which comes so near the word _Moriae_ (folly) as
you are far from the thing. And that you are so, all the world will clear
you. In the next place, I conceived this exercise of wit would not be
least approved by you; inasmuch as you are wont to be delighted with such
kind of mirth, that is to say, neither unlearned, if I am not mistaken,
nor altogether insipid, and in the whole course of your life have played
the part of a Democritus. And though such is the excellence of your
judgment that it was ever contrary to that of the people's, yet such is
your incredible affability and sweetness of temper that you both can and
delight to carry yourself to all men a man of all hours. Wherefore you
will not only with good will accept this small declamation, but take upon
you the defense of it, for as much as being dedicated to you, it is now
no longer mine but yours. But perhaps there will not be wanting some
wranglers that may cavil and charge me, partly that these toys are
lighter than may become a divine, and partly more biting than may beseem
the modesty of a Christian, and consequently exclaim that I resemble the
ancient comedy, or another Lucian, and snarl at everything. But I would
have them whom the lightness or foolery of the argument may offend to
consider that mine is not the first of this kind, but the same thing that
has been often practiced even by great authors: when Homer, so many ages
since, did the like with the battle of frogs and mice; Virgil, with the
gnat and puddings; Ovid, with the nut; when Polycrates and his corrector
Isocrates extolled tyranny; Glauco, injustice; Favorinus, deformity and
the quartan ague; Synescius, baldness; Lucian, the fly and flattery; when
Seneca made such sport with Claudius' canonizations; Plutarch, with his
dialogue between Ulysses and Gryllus; Lucian and Apuleius, with the ass;
and some other, I know not who, with the hog that made his last will and
testament, of which also even St. Jerome makes mention. And therefore if
they please, let them suppose I played at tables for my diversion, or if
they had rather have it so, that I rode on a hobbyhorse. For what
injustice is it that when we allow every course of life its recreation,
that study only should have none? Especially when such toys are not
without their serious matter, and foolery is so handled that the reader
that is not altogether thick-skulled may reap more benefit from it than
from some men's crabbish and specious arguments. As when one, with long
study and great pains, patches many pieces together on the praise of
rhetoric or philosophy; another makes a panegyric to a prince; another
encourages him to a war against the Turks; another tells you what will
become of the world after himself is dead; and another finds out some new
device for the better ordering of goat's wool: for as nothing is more
trifling than to treat of serious matters triflingly, so nothing carries
a better grace than so to discourse of trifles as a man may seem to have
intended them least. For my own part, let other men judge of what I have
written; though yet, unless an overweening opinion of myself may have
made me blind in my own cause, I have praised folly, but not altogether
foolishly. And now to say somewhat to that other cavil, of biting. This
liberty was ever permitted to all men's wits, to make their smart, witty
reflections on the common errors of mankind, and that too without
offense, as long as this liberty does not run into licentiousness; which
makes me the more admire the tender ears of the men of this age, that can
away with solemn titles. No, you'll meet with some so preposterously
religious that they will sooner endure the broadest scoffs even against
Christ himself than hear the Pope or a prince be touched in the least,
especially if it be anything that concerns their profit; whereas he that
so taxes the lives of men, without naming anyone in particular, whither,
I pray, may he be said to bite, or rather to teach and admonish? Or
otherwise, I beseech you, under how many notions do I tax myself?
Besides, he that spares no sort of men cannot be said to be angry with
anyone in particular, but the vices of all. And therefore, if there shall
happen to be anyone that shall say he is hit, he will but discover either
his guilt or fear. Saint Jerome sported in this kind with more freedom
and greater sharpness, not sparing sometimes men's very name. But I,
besides that I have wholly avoided it, I have so moderated my style that
the understanding reader will easily perceive my endeavors herein were
rather to make mirth than bite. Nor have I, after the example of Juvenal,
raked up that forgotten sink of filth and ribaldry, but laid before you
things rather ridiculous than dishonest. And now, if there be anyone that
is yet dissatisfied, let him at least remember that it is no dishonor to
be discommended by Folly; and having brought her in speaking, it was but
fit that I kept up the character of the person. But why do I run over
these things to you, a person so excellent an advocate that no man better
defends his client, though the cause many times be none of the best?
Farewell, my best disputant More, and stoutly defend your _Moriae_.

From the country,
the 5th of the Ides of June.

                          THE PRAISE OF FOLLY

                     An oration, of feigned matter,
                   spoken by Folly in her own person

At what rate soever the world talks of me (for I am not ignorant what an
ill report Folly has got, even among the most foolish), yet that I am
that she, that only she, whose deity recreates both gods and men, even
this is a sufficient argument, that I no sooner stepped up to speak to
this full assembly than all your faces put on a kind of new and unwonted
pleasantness. So suddenly have you cleared your brows, and with so frolic
and hearty a laughter given me your applause, that in truth as many of
you as I behold on every side of me seem to me no less than Homer's gods
drunk with nectar and nepenthe; whereas before, you sat as lumpish and
pensive as if you had come from consulting an oracle. And as it usually
happens when the sun begins to show his beams, or when after a sharp
winter the spring breathes afresh on the earth, all things immediately
get a new face, new color, and recover as it were a certain kind of youth
again: in like manner, by but beholding me you have in an instant gotten
another kind of countenance; and so what the otherwise great rhetoricians
with their tedious and long-studied orations can hardly effect, to wit,
to remove the trouble of the mind, I have done it at once with my
single look.

But if you ask me why I appear before you in this strange dress, be
pleased to lend me your ears, and I'll tell you; not those ears, I mean,
you carry to church, but abroad with you, such as you are wont to prick
up to jugglers, fools, and buffoons, and such as our friend Midas once
gave to Pan. For I am disposed awhile to play the sophist with you; not
of their sort who nowadays boozle young men's heads with certain empty
notions and curious trifles, yet teach them nothing but a more than
womanish obstinacy of scolding: but I'll imitate those ancients who, that
they might the better avoid that infamous appellation of _sophi_ or
_wise_, chose rather to be called sophists. Their business was to
celebrate the praises of the gods and valiant men. And the like encomium
shall you hear from me, but neither of Hercules nor Solon, but my own
dear self, that is to say, Folly. Nor do I esteem a rush that call it a
foolish and insolent thing to praise one's self. Be it as foolish as they
would make it, so they confess it proper: and what can be more than that
Folly be her own trumpet? For who can set me out better than myself,
unless perhaps I could be better known to another than to myself? Though
yet I think it somewhat more modest than the general practice of our
nobles and wise men who, throwing away all shame, hire some flattering
orator or lying poet from whose mouth they may hear their praises, that
is to say, mere lies; and yet, composing themselves with a seeming
modesty, spread out their peacock's plumes and erect their crests, while
this impudent flatterer equals a man of nothing to the gods and proposes
him as an absolute pattern of all virtue that's wholly a stranger to it,
sets out a pitiful jay in other's feathers, washes the blackamoor white,
and lastly swells a gnat to an elephant. In short, I will follow that old
proverb that says, "He may lawfully praise himself that lives far from
neighbors." Though, by the way, I cannot but wonder at the ingratitude,
shall I say, or negligence of men who, notwithstanding they honor me in
the first place and are willing enough to confess my bounty, yet not one
of them for these so many ages has there been who in some thankful
oration has set out the praises of Folly; when yet there has not wanted
them whose elaborate endeavors have extolled tyrants, agues, flies,
baldness, and such other pests of nature, to their own loss of both time
and sleep. And now you shall hear from me a plain extemporary speech, but
so much the truer. Nor would I have you think it like the rest of
orators, made for the ostentation of wit; for these, as you know, when
they have been beating their heads some thirty years about an oration and
at last perhaps produce somewhat that was never their own, shall yet
swear they composed it in three days, and that too for diversion: whereas
I ever liked it best to speak whatever came first out.

But let none of you expect from me that after the manner of rhetoricians
I should go about to define what I am, much less use any division; for I
hold it equally unlucky to circumscribe her whose deity is universal, or
make the least division in that worship about which everything is so
generally agreed. Or to what purpose, think you, should I describe myself
when I am here present before you, and you behold me speaking? For I am,
as you see, that true and only giver of wealth whom the Greeks call
_Moria_, the Latins _Stultitia_, and our plain English _Folly_. Or what
need was there to have said so much, as if my very looks were not
sufficient to inform you who I am? Or as if any man, mistaking me for
wisdom, could not at first sight convince himself by my face the true
index of my mind? I am no counterfeit, nor do I carry one thing in my
looks and another in my breast. No, I am in every respect so like myself
that neither can they dissemble me who arrogate to themselves the
appearance and title of wise men and walk like asses in scarlet hoods,
though after all their hypocrisy Midas' ears will discover their master.
A most ungrateful generation of men that, when they are wholly given up
to my party, are yet publicly ashamed of the name, as taking it for a
reproach; for which cause, since in truth they are _morotatoi_, fools,
and yet would appear to the world to be wise men and Thales, we'll even
call them _morosophous_, wise fools.

Nor will it be amiss also to imitate the rhetoricians of our times, who
think themselves in a manner gods if like horse leeches they can but
appear to be double-tongued, and believe they have done a mighty act if
in their Latin orations they can but shuffle in some ends of Greek like
mosaic work, though altogether by head and shoulders and less to the
purpose. And if they want hard words, they run over some worm-eaten
manuscript and pick out half a dozen of the most old and obsolete to
confound their reader, believing, no doubt, that they that understand
their meaning will like it the better, and they that do not will admire
it the more by how much the less they understand it. Nor is this way of
ours of admiring what seems most foreign without its particular grace;
for if there happen to be any more ambitious than others, they may give
their applause with a smile, and, like the ass, shake their ears, that
they may be thought to understand more than the rest of their neighbors.

But to come to the purpose: I have given you my name, but what epithet
shall I add? What but that of the most foolish? For by what more proper
name can so great a goddess as Folly be known to her disciples? And
because it is not alike known to all from what stock I am sprung, with
the Muses' good leave I'll do my endeavor to satisfy you. But yet neither
the first Chaos, Orcus, Saturn, or Japhet, nor any of those threadbare,
musty gods were my father, but Plutus, Riches; that only he, that is, in
spite of Hesiod, Homer, nay and Jupiter himself, _divum pater atque
hominum rex_, the father of gods and men, at whose single beck, as
heretofore, so at present, all things sacred and profane are turned
topsy-turvy. According to whose pleasure war, peace, empire, counsels,
judgments, assemblies, wedlocks, bargains, leagues, laws, arts, all
things light or serious--I want breath--in short, all the public and
private business of mankind is governed; without whose help all that herd
of gods of the poets' making, and those few of the better sort of the
rest, either would not be at all, or if they were, they would be but such
as live at home and keep a poor house to themselves. And to whomsoever
he's an enemy, 'tis not Pallas herself that can befriend him; as on the
contrary he whom he favors may lead Jupiter and his thunder in a string.
This is my father and in him I glory. Nor did he produce me from his
brain, as Jupiter that sour and ill-looked Pallas; but of that lovely
nymph called Youth, the most beautiful and galliard of all the rest. Nor
was I, like that limping blacksmith, begot in the sad and irksome bonds
of matrimony. Yet, mistake me not, 'twas not that blind and decrepit
Plutus in Aristophanes that got me, but such as he was in his full
strength and pride of youth; and not that only, but at such a time when
he had been well heated with nectar, of which he had, at one of the
banquets of the gods, taken a dose extraordinary.

And as to the place of my birth, forasmuch as nowadays that is looked
upon as a main point of nobility, it was neither, like Apollo's, in the
floating Delos, nor Venus-like on the rolling sea, nor in any of blind
Homer's as blind caves: but in the Fortunate Islands, where all things
grew without plowing or sowing; where neither labor, nor old age, nor
disease was ever heard of; and in whose fields neither daffodil, mallows,
onions, beans, and such contemptible things would ever grow, but, on the
contrary, rue, angelica, bugloss, marjoram, trefoils, roses, violets,
lilies, and all the gardens of Adonis invite both your sight and your
smelling. And being thus born, I did not begin the world, as other
children are wont, with crying; but straight perched up and smiled on my
mother. Nor do I envy to the great Jupiter the goat, his nurse, forasmuch
as I was suckled by two jolly nymphs, to wit, Drunkenness, the daughter
of Bacchus, and Ignorance, of Pan. And as for such my companions and
followers as you perceive about me, if you have a mind to know who they
are, you are not like to be the wiser for me, unless it be in Greek: this
here, which you observe with that proud cast of her eye, is _Philantia_,
Self-love; she with the smiling countenance, that is ever and anon
clapping her hands, is _Kolakia_, Flattery; she that looks as if she were
half asleep is _Lethe_, Oblivion; she that sits leaning on both elbows
with her hands clutched together is _Misoponia_, Laziness; she with the
garland on her head, and that smells so strong of perfumes, is _Hedone_,
Pleasure; she with those staring eyes, moving here and there, is _Anoia_,
Madness; she with the smooth skin and full pampered body is _Tryphe_,
Wantonness; and, as to the two gods that you see with them, the one is
_Komos_, Intemperance, the other _Eegretos hypnos_, Dead Sleep. These, I
say, are my household servants, and by their faithful counsels I have
subjected all things to my dominion and erected an empire over emperors
themselves. Thus have you had my lineage, education, and companions.

And now, lest I may seem to have taken upon me the name of goddess
without cause, you shall in the next place understand how far my deity
extends, and what advantage by it I have brought both to gods and men.
For, if it was not unwisely said by somebody, that this only is to be a
god, to help men; and if they are deservedly enrolled among the gods that
first brought in corn and wine and such other things as are for the
common good of mankind, why am not I of right the _alpha_, or first, of
all the gods? who being but one, yet bestow all things on all men. For
first, what is more sweet or more precious than life? And yet from whom
can it more properly be said to come than from me? For neither the
crab-favoured Pallas' spear nor the cloud-gathering Jupiter's shield
either beget or propagate mankind; but even he himself, the father of
gods and king of men at whose very beck the heavens shake, must lay by
his forked thunder and those looks wherewith he conquered the giants
and with which at pleasure he frightens the rest of the gods, and like
a common stage player put on a disguise as often as he goes about that,
which now and then he does, that is to say the getting of children: And
the Stoics too, that conceive themselves next to the gods, yet show me
one of them, nay the veriest bigot of the sect, and if he do not put off
his beard, the badge of wisdom, though yet it be no more than what is
common with him and goats; yet at least he must lay by his supercilious
gravity, smooth his forehead, shake off his rigid principles, and for
some time commit an act of folly and dotage. In fine, that wise man
whoever he be, if he intends to have children, must have recourse to me.
But tell me, I beseech you, what man is that would submit his neck to
the noose of wedlock, if, as wise men should, he did but first truly
weigh the inconvenience of the thing? Or what woman is there would ever
go to it did she seriously consider either the peril of child-bearing or
the trouble of bringing them up? So then, if you owe your beings to
wedlock, you owe that wedlock to this my follower, Madness; and what
you owe to me I have already told you. Again, she that has but once
tried what it is, would she, do you think, make a second venture if it
were not for my other companion, Oblivion? Nay, even Venus herself,
notwithstanding whatever Lucretius has said, would not deny but that
all her virtue were lame and fruitless without the help of my deity.
For out of that little, odd, ridiculous May-game came the supercilious
philosophers, in whose room have succeeded a kind of people the world
calls monks, cardinals, priests, and the most holy popes. And lastly,
all that rabble of the poets' gods, with which heaven is so thwacked
and thronged, that though it be of so vast an extent, they are hardly
able to crowd one by another.

But I think it is a small matter that you thus owe your beginning of life
to me, unless I also show you that whatever benefit you receive in the
progress of it is of my gift likewise. For what other is this? Can that
be called life where you take away pleasure? Oh! Do you like what I say?
I knew none of you could have so little wit, or so much folly, or wisdom
rather, as to be of any other opinion. For even the Stoics themselves
that so severely cried down pleasure did but handsomely dissemble, and
railed against it to the common people to no other end but that having
discouraged them from it, they might the more plentifully enjoy it
themselves. But tell me, by Jupiter, what part of man's life is that that
is not sad, crabbed, unpleasant, insipid, troublesome, unless it be
seasoned with pleasure, that is to say, folly? For the proof of which the
never sufficiently praised Sophocles in that his happy elegy of us, "To
know nothing is the only happiness," might be authority enough, but that
I intend to take every particular by itself.

And first, who knows not but a man's infancy is the merriest part of life
to himself, and most acceptable to others? For what is that in them which
we kiss, embrace, cherish, nay enemies succor, but this witchcraft of
folly, which wise Nature did of purpose give them into the world with
them that they might the more pleasantly pass over the toil of education,
and as it were flatter the care and diligence of their nurses? And then
for youth, which is in such reputation everywhere, how do all men favor
it, study to advance it, and lend it their helping hand? And whence, I
pray, all this grace? Whence but from me? by whose kindness, as it
understands as little as may be, it is also for that reason the higher
privileged from exceptions; and I am mistaken if, when it is grown up and
by experience and discipline brought to savor something like man, if in
the same instant that beauty does not fade, its liveliness decay, its
pleasantness grow flat, and its briskness fail. And by how much the
further it runs from me, by so much the less it lives, till it comes to
the burden of old age, not only hateful to others, but to itself also.
Which also were altogether insupportable did not I pity its condition, in
being present with it, and, as the poets' gods were wont to assist such
as were dying with some pleasant metamorphosis, help their decrepitness
as much as in me lies by bringing them back to a second childhood, from
whence they are not improperly called twice children. Which, if you ask
me how I do it, I shall not be shy in the point. I bring them to our
River Lethe (for its springhead rises in the Fortunate Islands, and that
other of hell is but a brook in comparison), from which, as soon as they
have drunk down a long forgetfulness, they wash away by degrees the
perplexity of their minds, and so wax young again.

But perhaps you'll say they are foolish and doting. Admit it; 'tis the
very essence of childhood; as if to be such were not to be a fool, or
that that condition had anything pleasant in it, but that it understood
nothing. For who would not look upon that child as a prodigy that should
have as much wisdom as a man?--according to that common proverb, "I do
not like a child that is a man too soon." Or who would endure a converse
or friendship with that old man who to so large an experience of things
had joined an equal strength of mind and sharpness of judgment? And
therefore for this reason it is that old age dotes; and that it does so,
it is beholding to me. Yet, notwithstanding, is this dotard exempt from
all those cares that distract a wise man; he is not the less pot
companion, nor is he sensible of that burden of life which the more manly
age finds enough to do to stand upright under it. And sometimes too, like
Plautus' old man, he returns to his three letters, A.M.O., the most
unhappy of all things living, if he rightly understood what he did in it.
And yet, so much do I befriend him that I make him well received of his
friends and no unpleasant companion; for as much as, according to Homer,
Nestor's discourse was pleasanter than honey, whereas Achilles' was both
bitter and malicious; and that of old men, as he has it in another place,
florid. In which respect also they have this advantage of children, in
that they want the only pleasure of the others' life, we'll suppose it
prattling. Add to this that old men are more eagerly delighted with
children, and they, again, with old men. "Like to like," quoted the Devil
to the collier. For what difference between them, but that the one has
more wrinkles and years upon his head than the other? Otherwise, the
brightness of their hair, toothless mouth, weakness of body, love of
mild, broken speech, chatting, toying, forgetfulness, inadvertency, and
briefly, all other their actions agree in everything. And by how much the
nearer they approach to this old age, by so much they grow backward into
the likeness of children, until like them they pass from life to death,
without any weariness of the one, or sense of the other.

And now, let him that will compare the benefits they receive by me, the
metamorphoses of the gods, of whom I shall not mention what they have
done in their pettish humors but where they have been most favorable:
turning one into a tree, another into a bird, a third into a grasshopper,
serpent, or the like. As if there were any difference between perishing
and being another thing! But I restore the same man to the best and
happiest part of his life. And if men would but refrain from all commerce
with wisdom and give up themselves to be governed by me, they should
never know what it were to be old, but solace themselves with a perpetual
youth. Do but observe our grim philosophers that are perpetually beating
their brains on knotty subjects, and for the most part you'll find them
grown old before they are scarcely young. And whence is it, but that
their continual and restless thoughts insensibly prey upon their spirits
and dry up their radical moisture? Whereas, on the contrary, my fat fools
are as plump and round as a Westphalian hog, and never sensible of old
age, unless perhaps, as sometimes it rarely happens, they come to be
infected with wisdom, so hard a thing it is for a man to be happy in all
things. And to this purpose is that no small testimony of the proverb,
that says, "Folly is the only thing that keeps youth at a stay and old
age afar off;" as it is verified in the Brabanders, of whom there goes
this common saying, "That age, which is wont to render other men wiser,
makes them the greater fools." And yet there is scarce any nation of a
more jocund converse, or that is less sensible of the misery of old age,
than they are. And to these, as in situation, so for manner of living,
come nearest my friends the Hollanders. And why should I not call them
mine, since they are so diligent observers of me that they are commonly
called by my name?--of which they are so far from being ashamed, they
rather pride themselves in it. Let the foolish world then be packing and
seek out Medeas, Circes, Venuses, Auroras, and I know not what other
fountains of restoring youth. I am sure I am the only person that both
can, and have, made it good. 'Tis I alone that have that wonderful juice
with which Memnon's daughter prolonged the youth of her grandfather
Tithon. I am that Venus by whose favor Phaon became so young again that
Sappho fell in love with him. Mine are those herbs, if yet there be any
such, mine those charms, and mine that fountain that not only restores
departed youth but, which is more desirable, preserves it perpetual. And
if you all subscribe to this opinion, that nothing is better than youth
or more execrable than age, I conceive you cannot but see how much you
are indebted to me, that have retained so great a good and shut out so
great an evil.

But why do I altogether spend my breath in speaking of mortals? View
heaven round, and let him that will reproach me with my name if he find
any one of the gods that were not stinking and contemptible were he not
made acceptable by my deity. Why is it that Bacchus is always a
stripling, and bushy-haired? but because he is mad, and drunk, and spends
his life in drinking, dancing, revels, and May games, not having so much
as the least society with Pallas. And lastly, he is so far from desiring
to be accounted wise that he delights to be worshiped with sports and
gambols; nor is he displeased with the proverb that gave him the surname
of fool, "A greater fool than Bacchus;" which name of his was changed to
Morychus, for that sitting before the gates of his temple, the wanton
country people were wont to bedaub him with new wine and figs. And of
scoffs, what not, have not the ancient comedies thrown on him? O foolish
god, say they, and worthy to be born as you were of your father's thigh!
And yet, who had not rather be your fool and sot, always merry, ever
young, and making sport for other people, than either Homer's Jupiter
with his crooked counsels, terrible to everyone; or old Pan with his
hubbubs; or smutty Vulcan half covered with cinders; or even Pallas
herself, so dreadful with her Gorgon's head and spear and a countenance
like bullbeef? Why is Cupid always portrayed like a boy, but because he
is a very wag and can neither do nor so much as think of anything sober?
Why Venus ever in her prime, but because of her affinity with me? Witness
that color of her hair, so resembling my father, from whence she is
called the golden Venus; and lastly, ever laughing, if you give any
credit to the poets, or their followers the statuaries. What deity did
the Romans ever more religiously adore than that of Flora, the foundress
of all pleasure? Nay, if you should but diligently search the lives of
the most sour and morose of the gods out of Homer and the rest of the
poets, you would find them all but so many pieces of Folly. And to what
purpose should I run over any of the other gods' tricks when you know
enough of Jupiter's loose loves? When that chaste Diana shall so far
forget her sex as to be ever hunting and ready to perish for Endymion?
But I had rather they should hear these things from Momus, from whom
heretofore they were wont to have their shares, till in one of their
angry humors they tumbled him, together with Ate, goddess of mischief,
down headlong to the earth, because his wisdom, forsooth, unseasonably
disturbed their happiness. Nor since that dares any mortal give him
harbor, though I must confess there wanted little but that he had been
received into the courts of princes, had not my companion Flattery
reigned in chief there, with whom and the other there is no more
correspondence than between lambs and wolves. From whence it is that the
gods play the fool with the greater liberty and more content to
themselves "doing all things carelessly," as says Father Homer, that is
to say, without anyone to correct them. For what ridiculous stuff is
there which that stump of the fig tree Priapus does not afford them? What
tricks and legerdemains with which Mercury does not cloak his thefts?
What buffoonery that Vulcan is not guilty of, while one with his
polt-foot, another with his smutched muzzle, another with his
impertinencies, he makes sport for the rest of the gods? As also that old
Silenus with his country dances, Polyphemus footing time to his Cyclops
hammers, the nymphs with their jigs, and satyrs with their antics; while
Pan makes them all twitter with some coarse ballad, which yet they had
rather hear than the Muses themselves, and chiefly when they are well
whittled with nectar. Besides, what should I mention what these gods do
when they are half drunk? Now by my troth, so foolish that I myself can
hardly refrain laughter. But in these matters 'twere better we remembered
Harpocrates, lest some eavesdropping god or other take us whispering that
which Momus only has the privilege of speaking at length.

And therefore, according to Homer's example, I think it high time to
leave the gods to themselves, and look down a little on the earth;
wherein likewise you'll find nothing frolic or fortunate that it owes not
to me. So provident has that great parent of mankind, Nature, been that
there should not be anything without its mixture and, as it were,
seasoning of Folly. For since according to the definition of the Stoics,
wisdom is nothing else than to be governed by reason, and on the contrary
Folly, to be given up to the will of our passions, that the life of man
might not be altogether disconsolate and hard to away with, of how much
more passion than reason has Jupiter composed us? putting in, as one
would say, "scarce half an ounce to a pound." Besides, he has confined
reason to a narrow corner of the brain and left all the rest of the body
to our passions; has also set up, against this one, two as it were,
masterless tyrants--anger, that possesses the region of the heart, and
consequently the very fountain of life, the heart itself; and lust, that
stretches its empire everywhere. Against which double force how powerful
reason is let common experience declare, inasmuch as she, which yet is
all she can do, may call out to us till she be hoarse again and tell us
the rules of honesty and virtue; while they give up the reins to their
governor and make a hideous clamor, till at last being wearied, he suffer
himself to be carried whither they please to hurry him.

But forasmuch as such as are born to the business of the world have some
little sprinklings of reason more than the rest, yet that they may the
better manage it, even in this as well as in other things, they call me
to counsel; and I give them such as is worthy of myself, to wit, that
they take to them a wife--a silly thing, God wot, and foolish, yet wanton
and pleasant, by which means the roughness of the masculine temper is
seasoned and sweetened by her folly. For in that Plato seems to doubt
under what genus he should put woman, to wit, that of rational creatures
or brutes, he intended no other in it than to show the apparent folly of
the sex. For if perhaps any of them goes about to be thought wiser than
the rest, what else does she do but play the fool twice, as if a man
should "teach a cow to dance," "a thing quite against the hair." For as
it doubles the crime if anyone should put a disguise upon Nature, or
endeavor to bring her to that she will in no wise bear, according to that
proverb of the Greeks, "An ape is an ape, though clad in scarlet;" so a
woman is a woman still, that is to say foolish, let her put on whatever
vizard she please.

But, by the way, I hope that sex is not so foolish as to take offense at
this, that I myself, being a woman, and Folly too, have attributed folly
to them. For if they weigh it right, they needs must acknowledge that
they owe it to folly that they are more fortunate than men. As first
their beauty, which, and that not without cause, they prefer before
everything, since by its means they exercise a tyranny even upon tyrants
themselves; otherwise, whence proceeds that sour look, rough skin, bushy
beard, and such other things as speak plain old age in a man, but from
that disease of wisdom? Whereas women's cheeks are ever plump and smooth,
their voice small, their skin soft, as if they imitated a certain kind of
perpetual youth. Again, what greater thing do they wish in their whole
lives than that they may please the man? For to what other purpose are
all those dresses, washes, baths, slops, perfumes, and those several
little tricks of setting their faces, painting their eyebrows, and
smoothing their skins? And now tell me, what higher letters of
recommendation have they to men than this folly? For what is it they do
not permit them to do? And to what other purpose than that of pleasure?
Wherein yet their folly is not the least thing that pleases; which so
true it is, I think no one will deny, that does but consider with
himself, what foolish discourse and odd gambols pass between a man and
his woman, as often as he had a mind to be gamesome? And so I have shown
you whence the first and chiefest delight of man's life springs.

But there are some, you'll say, and those too none of the youngest, that
have a greater kindness for the pot than the petticoat and place their
chiefest pleasure in good fellowship. If there can be any great
entertainment without a woman at it, let others look to it. This I am
sure, there was never any pleasant which folly gave not the relish to.
Insomuch that if they find no occasion of laughter, they send for "one
that may make it," or hire some buffoon flatterer, whose ridiculous
discourse may put by the gravity of the company. For to what purpose were
it to clog our stomachs with dainties, junkets, and the like stuff,
unless our eyes and ears, nay whole mind, were likewise entertained with
jests, merriments, and laughter? But of these kind of second courses I am
the only cook; though yet those ordinary practices of our feasts, as
choosing a king, throwing dice, drinking healths, trolling it round,
dancing the cushion, and the like, were not invented by the seven wise
men but myself, and that too for the common pleasure of mankind. The
nature of all which things is such that the more of folly they have, the
more they conduce to human life, which, if it were unpleasant, did not
deserve the name of life; and other than such it could not well be,
did not these kind of diversions wipe away tediousness, next cousin to
the other.

But perhaps there are some that neglect this way of pleasure and rest
satisfied in the enjoyment of their friends, calling friendship the most
desirable of all things, more necessary than either air, fire, or water;
so delectable that he that shall take it out of the world had as good put
out the sun; and, lastly, so commendable, if yet that make anything to
the matter, that neither the philosophers themselves doubted to reckon it
among their chiefest good. But what if I show you that I am both the
beginning and end of this so great good also? Nor shall I go about to
prove it by fallacies, sorites, dilemmas, or other the like subtleties of
logicians, but after my blunt way point out the thing as clearly as it
were with my finger.

And now tell me if to wink, slip over, be blind at, or deceived in the
vices of our friends, nay, to admire and esteem them for virtues, be not
at least the next degree to folly? What is it when one kisses his
mistress' freckle neck, another the wart on her nose? When a father shall
swear his squint-eyed child is more lovely than Venus? What is this, I
say, but mere folly? And so, perhaps you'll cry it is; and yet 'tis this
only that joins friends together and continues them so joined. I speak of
ordinary men, of whom none are born without their imperfections, and
happy is he that is pressed with the least: for among wise princes there
is either no friendship at all, or if there be, 'tis unpleasant and
reserved, and that too but among a very few 'twere a crime to say none.
For that the greatest part of mankind are fools, nay there is not anyone
that dotes not in many things; and friendship, you know, is seldom made
but among equals. And yet if it should so happen that there were a mutual
good will between them, it is in no wise firm nor very long lived; that
is to say, among such as are morose and more circumspect than needs, as
being eagle-sighted into his friends' faults, but so blear-eyed to their
own that they take not the least notice of the wallet that hangs behind
their own shoulders. Since then the nature of man is such that there is
scarce anyone to be found that is not subject to many errors, add to this
the great diversity of minds and studies, so many slips, oversights, and
chances of human life, and how is it possible there should be any true
friendship between those Argus, so much as one hour, were it not for that
which the Greeks excellently call _euetheian_? And you may render by
folly or good nature, choose you whether. But what? Is not the author and
parent of all our love, Cupid, as blind as a beetle? And as with him all
colors agree, so from him is it that everyone likes his own sweeter-kin
best, though never so ugly, and "that an old man dotes on his old wife,
and a boy on his girl." These things are not only done everywhere but
laughed at too; yet as ridiculous as they are, they make society
pleasant, and, as it were, glue it together.

And what has been said of friendship may more reasonably be presumed of
matrimony, which in truth is no other than an inseparable conjunction of
life. Good God! What divorces, or what not worse than that, would daily
happen were not the converse between a man and his wife supported and
cherished by flattery, apishness, gentleness, ignorance, dissembling,
certain retainers of mine also! Whoop holiday! how few marriages should
we have, if the husband should but thoroughly examine how many tricks his
pretty little mop of modesty has played before she was married! And how
fewer of them would hold together, did not most of the wife's actions
escape the husband's knowledge through his neglect or sottishness! And
for this also you are beholden to me, by whose means it is that the
husband is pleasant to his wife, the wife to her husband, and the house
kept in quiet. A man is laughed at, when seeing his wife weeping he licks
up her tears. But how much happier is it to be thus deceived than by
being troubled with jealousy not only to torment himself but set all
things in a hubbub!

In fine, I am so necessary to the making of all society and manner of
life both delightful and lasting, that neither would the people long
endure their governors, nor the servant his master, nor the master his
footman, nor the scholar his tutor, nor one friend another, nor the wife
her husband, nor the usurer the borrower, nor a soldier his commander,
nor one companion another, unless all of them had their interchangeable
failings, one while flattering, other while prudently conniving, and
generally sweetening one another with some small relish of folly.

And now you'd think I had said all, but you shall hear yet greater
things. Will he, I pray, love anyone that hates himself? Or ever agree
with another who is not at peace with himself? Or beget pleasure in
another that is troublesome to himself? I think no one will say it that
is not more foolish than Folly. And yet, if you should exclude me,
there's no man but would be so far from enduring another that he would
stink in his own nostrils, be nauseated with his own actions, and himself
become odious to himself; forasmuch as Nature, in too many things rather
a stepdame than a parent to us, has imprinted that evil in men,
especially such as have least judgment, that everyone repents him of his
own condition and admires that of others. Whence it comes to pass that
all her gifts, elegancy, and graces corrupt and perish. For what benefit
is beauty, the greatest blessing of heaven, if it be mixed with
affectation? What youth, if corrupted with the severity of old age?
Lastly, what is that in the whole business of a man's life he can do with
any grace to himself or others--for it is not so much a thing of art, as
the very life of every action, that it be done with a good mien--unless
this my friend and companion, Self-love, be present with it? Nor does she
without cause supply me the place of a sister, since her whole endeavors
are to act my part everywhere. For what is more foolish than for a man to
study nothing else than how to please himself? To make himself the object
of his own admiration? And yet, what is there that is either delightful
or taking, nay rather what not the contrary, that a man does against the
hair? Take away this salt of life, and the orator may even sit still with
his action, the musician with all his division will be able to please no
man, the player be hissed off the stage, the poet and all his Muses
ridiculous, the painter with his art contemptible, and the physician with
all his slip-slops go a-begging. Lastly, you will be taken for an ugly
fellow instead of youthful, and a beast instead of a wise man, a child
instead of eloquent, and instead of a well-bred man, a clown. So
necessary a thing it is that everyone flatter himself and commend himself
to himself before he can be commended by others.

Lastly, since it is the chief point of happiness "that a man is willing
to be what he is," you have further abridged in this my Self-love, that
no man is ashamed of his own face, no man of his own wit, no man of his
own parentage, no man of his own house, no man of his manner of living,
nor any man of his own country; so that a Highlander has no desire to
change with an Italian, a Thracian with an Athenian, nor a Scythian for
the Fortunate Islands. O the singular care of Nature, that in so great a
variety of things has made all equal! Where she has been sometimes
sparing of her gifts she has recompensed it with the more of self-love;
though here, I must confess, I speak foolishly, it being the greatest of
all other her gifts: to say nothing that no great action was ever
attempted without my motion, or art brought to perfection without my

Is not war the very root and matter of all famed enterprises? And yet
what more foolish than to undertake it for I know what trifles,
especially when both parties are sure to lose more than they get by the
bargain? For of those that are slain, not a word of them; and for the
rest, when both sides are close engaged "and the trumpets make an ugly
noise," what use of those wise men, I pray, that are so exhausted with
study that their thin, cold blood has scarce any spirits left? No, it
must be those blunt, fat fellows, that by how much the more they exceed
in courage, fall short in understanding. Unless perhaps one had rather
choose Demosthenes for a soldier, who, following the example of
Archilochius, threw away his arms and betook him to his heels e'er he had
scarce seen his enemy; as ill a soldier, as happy an orator.

But counsel, you'll say, is not of least concern in matters of war. In a
general I grant it; but this thing of warring is not part of philosophy,
but managed by parasites, panders, thieves, cut-throats, plowmen, sots,
spendthrifts, and such other dregs of mankind, not philosophers; who how
unapt they are even for common converse, let Socrates, whom the oracle of
Apollo, though not so wisely, judged "the wisest of all men living," be
witness; who stepping up to speak somewhat, I know not what, in public
was forced to come down again well laughed at for his pains. Though yet
in this he was not altogether a fool, that he refused the appellation of
wise, and returning it back to the oracle, delivered his opinion that a
wise man should abstain from meddling with public business; unless
perhaps he should have rather admonished us to beware of wisdom if we
intended to be reckoned among the number of men, there being nothing but
his wisdom that first accused and afterwards sentenced him to the
drinking of his poisoned cup. For while, as you find him in Aristophanes,
philosophizing about clouds and ideas, measuring how far a flea could
leap, and admiring that so small a creature as a fly should make so great
a buzz, he meddled not with anything that concerned common life. But his
master being in danger of his head, his scholar Plato is at hand, to wit
that famous patron, that being disturbed with the noise of the people,
could not go through half his first sentence. What should I speak of
Theophrastus, who being about to make an oration, became as dumb as if he
had met a wolf in his way, which yet would have put courage in a man of
war? Or Isocrates, that was so cowhearted that he dared never attempt it?
Or Tully, that great founder of the Roman eloquence, that could never
begin to speak without an odd kind of trembling, like a boy that had got
the hiccough; which Fabius interprets as an argument of a wise orator and
one that was sensible of what he was doing; and while he says it, does he
not plainly confess that wisdom is a great obstacle to the true
management of business? What would become of them, think you, were they
to fight it out at blows that are so dead through fear when the contest
is only with empty words?

And next to these is cried up, forsooth, that goodly sentence of Plato's,
"Happy is that commonwealth where a philosopher is prince, or whose
prince is addicted to philosophy." When yet if you consult historians,
you'll find no princes more pestilent to the commonwealth than where the
empire has fallen to some smatterer in philosophy or one given to
letters. To the truth of which I think the Catoes give sufficient credit;
of whom the one was ever disturbing the peace of the commonwealth with
his hair-brained accusations; the other, while he too wisely vindicated
its liberty, quite overthrew it. Add to this the Bruti, Casii, nay Cicero
himself, that was no less pernicious to the commonwealth of Rome than was
Demosthenes to that of Athens. Besides M. Antoninus (that I may give you
one instance that there was once one good emperor; for with much ado I
can make it out) was become burdensome and hated of his subjects upon no
other score but that he was so great a philosopher. But admitting him
good, he did the commonwealth more hurt in leaving behind him such a son
as he did than ever he did it good by his own government. For these kind
of men that are so given up to the study of wisdom are generally most
unfortunate, but chiefly in their children; Nature, it seems, so
providently ordering it, lest this mischief of wisdom should spread
further among mankind. For which reason it is manifest why Cicero's son
was so degenerate, and that wise Socrates' children, as one has well
observed, were more like their mother than their father, that is to
say, fools.

However this were to be born with, if only as to public employments they
were "like a sow upon a pair of organs," were they anything more apt to
discharge even the common offices of life. Invite a wise man to a feast
and he'll spoil the company, either with morose silence or troublesome
disputes. Take him out to dance, and you'll swear "a cow would have done
it better." Bring him to the theatre, and his very looks are enough to
spoil all, till like Cato he take an occasion of withdrawing rather than
put off his supercilious gravity. Let him fall into discourse, and he
shall make more sudden stops than if he had a wolf before him. Let him
buy, or sell, or in short go about any of those things without there is
no living in this world, and you'll say this piece of wisdom were rather
a stock than a man, of so little use is he to himself, country, or
friends; and all because he is wholly ignorant of common things and lives
a course of life quite different from the people; by which means it is
impossible but that he contract a popular odium, to wit, by reason of the
great diversity of their life and souls. For what is there at all done
among men that is not full of folly, and that too from fools and to
fools? Against which universal practice if any single one shall dare to
set up his throat, my advice to him is, that following the example of
Timon, he retire into some desert and there enjoy his wisdom to himself.

But, to return to my design, what power was it that drew those stony,
oaken, and wild people into cities but flattery? For nothing else is
signified by Amphion and Orpheus' harp. What was it that, when the common
people of Rome were like to have destroyed all by their mutiny, reduced
them to obedience? Was it a philosophical oration? Least. But a
ridiculous and childish fable of the belly and the rest of the members.
And as good success had Themistocles in his of the fox and hedgehog. What
wise man's oration could ever have done so much with the people as
Sertorius' invention of his white hind? Or his ridiculous emblem of
pulling off a horse's tail hair by hair? Or as Lycurgus his example of
his two whelps? To say nothing of Minos and Numa, both which ruled their
foolish multitudes with fabulous inventions; with which kind of toys that
great and powerful beast, the people, are led anyway. Again what city
ever received Plato's or Aristotle's laws, or Socrates' precepts? But, on
the contrary, what made the Decii devote themselves to the infernal gods,
or Q. Curtius to leap into the gulf, but an empty vainglory, a most
bewitching siren? And yet 'tis strange it should be so condemned by those
wise philosophers. For what is more foolish, say they, than for a
suppliant suitor to flatter the people, to buy their favor with gifts, to
court the applauses of so many fools, to please himself with their
acclamations, to be carried on the people's shoulders as in triumph, and
have a brazen statue in the marketplace? Add to this the adoption of
names and surnames, those divine honors given to a man of no reputation,
and the deification of the most wicked tyrants with public ceremonies;
most foolish things, and such as one Democritus is too little to laugh
at. Who denies it? And yet from this root sprang all the great acts of
the heroes which the pens of so many eloquent men have extolled to the
skies. In a word, this folly is that that laid the foundation of cities;
and by it, empire, authority, religion, policy, and public actions are
preserved; neither is there anything in human life that is not a kind of
pastime of folly.

But to speak of arts, what set men's wits on work to invent and transmit
to posterity so many famous, as they conceive, pieces of learning but the
thirst of glory? With so much loss of sleep, such pains and travail,
have the most foolish of men thought to purchase themselves a kind of
I know not what fame, than which nothing can be more vain. And yet
notwithstanding, you owe this advantage to folly, and which is the
most delectable of all other, that you reap the benefit of other
men's madness.

And now, having vindicated to myself the praise of fortitude and
industry, what think you if I do the same by that of prudence? But some
will say, you may as well join fire and water. It may be so. But yet I
doubt not but to succeed even in this also, if, as you have done
hitherto, you will but favor me with your attention. And first, if
prudence depends upon experience, to whom is the honor of that name more
proper? To the wise man, who partly out of modesty and partly distrust of
himself, attempts nothing; or the fool, whom neither modesty which he
never had, nor danger which he never considers, can discourage from
anything? The wise man has recourse to the books of the ancients, and
from thence picks nothing but subtleties of words. The fool, in
undertaking and venturing on the business of the world, gathers, if I
mistake not, the true prudence, such as Homer though blind may be said to
have seen when he said, "The burnt child dreads the fire." For there are
two main obstacles to the knowledge of things, modesty that casts a mist
before the understanding, and fear that, having fancied a danger,
dissuades us from the attempt. But from these folly sufficiently frees
us, and few there are that rightly understand of what great advantage it
is to blush at nothing and attempt everything.

But if you had rather take prudence for that that consists in the
judgment of things, hear me, I beseech you, how far they are from it that
yet crack of the name. For first 'tis evident that all human things, like
Alcibiades' Sileni or rural gods, carry a double face, but not the least
alike; so that what at first sight seems to be death, if you view it
narrowly may prove to be life; and so the contrary. What appears
beautiful may chance to be deformed; what wealthy, a very beggar; what
infamous, praiseworthy; what learned, a dunce; what lusty, feeble; what
jocund, sad; what noble, base; what lucky, unfortunate; what friendly, an
enemy; and what healthful, noisome. In short, view the inside of these
Sileni, and you'll find them quite other than what they appear; which, if
perhaps it shall not seem so philosophically spoken, I'll make it plain
to you "after my blunt way." Who would not conceive a prince a great lord
and abundant in everything? But yet being so ill-furnished with the gifts
of the mind, and ever thinking he shall never have enough, he's the
poorest of all men. And then for his mind so given up to vice, 'tis a
shame how it enslaves him. I might in like manner philosophize of the
rest; but let this one, for example's sake, be enough.

Yet why this? will someone say. Have patience, and I'll show you what I
drive at. If anyone seeing a player acting his part on a stage should go
about to strip him of his disguise and show him to the people in his true
native form, would he not, think you, not only spoil the whole design of
the play, but deserve himself to be pelted off with stones as a
phantastical fool and one out of his wits? But nothing is more common
with them than such changes; the same person one while impersonating a
woman, and another while a man; now a youngster, and by and by a grim
seignior; now a king, and presently a peasant; now a god, and in a trice
again an ordinary fellow. But to discover this were to spoil all, it
being the only thing that entertains the eyes of the spectators. And what
is all this life but a kind of comedy, wherein men walk up and down in
one another's disguises and act their respective parts, till the
property-man brings them back to the attiring house. And yet he often
orders a different dress, and makes him that came but just now off in the
robes of a king put on the rags of a beggar. Thus are all things
represented by counterfeit, and yet without this there was no living.

And here if any wise man, as it were dropped from heaven, should start up
and cry, this great thing whom the world looks upon for a god and I know
not what is not so much as a man, for that like a beast he is led by his
passions, but the worst of slaves, inasmuch as he gives himself up
willingly to so many and such detestable masters. Again if he should bid
a man that were bewailing the death of his father to laugh, for that he
now began to live by having got an estate, without which life is but a
kind of death; or call another that were boasting of his family ill
begotten or base, because he is so far removed from virtue that is the
only fountain of nobility; and so of the rest: what else would he get by
it but be thought himself mad and frantic? For as nothing is more foolish
than preposterous wisdom, so nothing is more unadvised than a forward
unseasonable prudence. And such is his that does not comply with the
present time "and order himself as the market goes," but forgetting that
law of feasts, "either drink or begone," undertakes to disprove a common
received opinion. Whereas on the contrary 'tis the part of a truly
prudent man not to be wise beyond his condition, but either to take no
notice of what the world does, or run with it for company. But this is
foolish, you'll say; nor shall I deny it, provided always you be so civil
on the other side as to confess that this is to act a part in that world.

But, O you gods, "shall I speak or hold my tongue?" But why should I be
silent in a thing that is more true than truth itself? However it might
not be amiss perhaps in so great an affair to call forth the Muses from
Helicon, since the poets so often invoke them upon every foolish
occasion. Be present then awhile, and assist me, you daughters of
Jupiter, while I make it out that there is no way to that so much famed
wisdom, nor access to that fortress as they call it of happiness, but
under the banner of Folly. And first 'tis agreed of all hands that our
passions belong to Folly; inasmuch as we judge a wise man from a fool by
this, that the one is ordered by them, the other by reason; and therefore
the Stoics remove from a wise man all disturbances of mind as so many
diseases. But these passions do not only the office of a tutor to such as
are making towards the port of wisdom, but are in every exercise of
virtue as it were spurs and incentives, nay and encouragers to well
doing: which though that great Stoic Seneca most strongly denies, and
takes from a wise man all affections whatever, yet in doing that he
leaves him not so much as a man but rather a new kind of god that was
never yet nor ever like to be. Nay, to speak plainer, he sets up a stony
semblance of a man, void of all sense and common feeling of humanity. And
much good to them with this wise man of theirs; let them enjoy him to
themselves, love him without competitors, and live with him in Plato's
commonwealth, the country of ideas, or Tantalus' orchards. For who would
not shun and startle at such a man, as at some unnatural accident or
spirit? A man dead to all sense of nature and common affections, and no
more moved with love or pity than if he were a flint or rock; whose
censure nothing escapes; that commits no errors himself, but has a lynx's
eyes upon others; measures everything by an exact line, and forgives
nothing; pleases himself with himself only; the only rich, the only wise,
the only free man, and only king; in brief, the only man that is
everything, but in his own single judgment only; that cares not for the
friendship of any man, being himself a friend to no man; makes no doubt
to make the gods stoop to him, and condemns and laughs at the whole
actions of our life? And yet such a beast is this their perfect wise man.
But tell me pray, if the thing were to be carried by most voices, what
city would choose him for its governor, or what army desire him for their
general? What woman would have such a husband, what goodfellow such a
guest, or what servant would either wish or endure such a master? Nay,
who had not rather have one of the middle sort of fools, who, being a
fool himself, may the better know how to command or obey fools; and who
though he please his like, 'tis yet the greater number; one that is kind
to his wife, merry among his friends, a boon companion, and easy to be
lived with; and lastly one that thinks nothing of humanity should be a
stranger to him? But I am weary of this wise man, and therefore I'll
proceed to some other advantages.

Go to then. Suppose a man in some lofty high tower, and that he could
look round him, as the poets say Jupiter was now and then wont. To how
many misfortunes would he find the life of man subject? How miserable, to
say no worse, our birth, how difficult our education; to how many wrongs
our childhood exposed, to what pains our youth; how unsupportable our old
age, and grievous our unavoidable death? As also what troops of diseases
beset us, how many casualties hang over our heads, how many troubles
invade us, and how little there is that is not steeped in gall? To say
nothing of those evils one man brings upon another, as poverty,
imprisonment, infamy, dishonesty, racks, snares, treachery, reproaches,
actions, deceits--but I'm got into as endless a work as numbering the
sands--for what offenses mankind have deserved these things, or what
angry god compelled them to be born into such miseries is not my present
business. Yet he that shall diligently examine it with himself, would he
not, think you, approve the example of the Milesian virgins and kill
himself? But who are they that for no other reason but that they were
weary of life have hastened their own fate? Were they not the next
neighbors to wisdom? among whom, to say nothing of Diogenes, Xenocrates,
Cato, Cassius, Brutus, that wise man Chiron, being offered immortality,
chose rather to die than be troubled with the same thing always.

And now I think you see what would become of the world if all men should
be wise; to wit it were necessary we got another kind of clay and some
better potter. But I, partly through ignorance, partly unadvisedness, and
sometimes through forgetfulness of evil, do now and then so sprinkle
pleasure with the hopes of good and sweeten men up in their greatest
misfortunes that they are not willing to leave this life, even then when
according to the account of the destinies this life has left them; and by
how much the less reason they have to live, by so much the more they
desire it; so far are they from being sensible of the least wearisomeness
of life. Of my gift it is, that you have so many old Nestors everywhere
that have scarce left them so much as the shape of a man; stutterers,
dotards, toothless, gray-haired, bald; or rather, to use the words of
Aristophanes, "Nasty, crumpled, miserable, shriveled, bald, toothless,
and wanting their baubles," yet so delighted with life and to be thought
young that one dyes his gray hairs; another covers his baldness with a
periwig; another gets a set of new teeth; another falls desperately in
love with a young wench and keeps more flickering about her than a young
man would have been ashamed of. For to see such an old crooked piece with
one foot in the grave to marry a plump young wench, and that too without
a portion, is so common that men almost expect to be commended for it.
But the best sport of all is to see our old women, even dead with age,
and such skeletons one would think they had stolen out of their graves,
and ever mumbling in their mouths, "Life is sweet;" and as old as they
are, still caterwauling, daily plastering their face, scarce ever from
the glass, gossiping, dancing, and writing love letters. These things are
laughed at as foolish, as indeed they are; yet they please themselves,
live merrily, swim in pleasure, and in a word are happy, by my courtesy.
But I would have them to whom these things seem ridiculous to consider
with themselves whether it be not better to live so pleasant a life in
such kind of follies, than, as the proverb goes, "to take a halter and
hang themselves." Besides though these things may be subject to censure,
it concerns not my fools in the least, inasmuch as they take no notice of
it; or if they do, they easily neglect it. If a stone fall upon a man's
head, that's evil indeed; but dishonesty, infamy, villainy, ill reports
carry no more hurt in them than a man is sensible of; and if a man have
no sense of them, they are no longer evils. What are you the worse if the
people hiss at you, so you applaud yourself? And that a man be able to do
so, he must owe it to folly.

But methinks I hear the philosophers opposing it and saying 'tis a
miserable thing for a man to be foolish, to err, mistake, and know
nothing truly. Nay rather, this is to be a man. And why they should call
it miserable, I see no reason; forasmuch as we are so born, so bred, so
instructed, nay such is the common condition of us all. And nothing can
be called miserable that suits with its kind, unless perhaps you'll think
a man such because he can neither fly with birds, nor walk on all four
with beasts, and is not armed with horns as a bull. For by the same
reason he would call the warlike horse unfortunate, because he understood
not grammar, nor ate cheese-cakes; and the bull miserable, because he'd
make so ill a wrestler. And therefore, as a horse that has no skill in
grammar is not miserable, no more is man in this respect, for that they
agree with his nature. But again, the virtuosi may say that there was
particularly added to man the knowledge of sciences, by whose help he
might recompense himself in understanding for what nature cut him short
in other things. As if this had the least face of truth, that Nature that
was so solicitously watchful in the production of gnats, herbs, and
flowers should have so slept when she made man, that he should have need
to be helped by sciences, which that old devil Theuth, the evil genius of
mankind, first invented for his destruction, and are so little conducive
to happiness that they rather obstruct it; to which purpose they are
properly said to be first found out, as that wise king in Plato argues
touching the invention of letters.

Sciences therefore crept into the world with other the pests of mankind,
from the same head from whence all other mischiefs spring; we'll suppose
it devils, for so the name imports when you call them demons, that is to
say, knowing. For that simple people of the golden age, being wholly
ignorant of everything called learning, lived only by the guidance and
dictates of nature; for what use of grammar, where every man spoke the
same language and had no further design than to understand one another?
What use of logic, where there was no bickering about the double-meaning
words? What need of rhetoric, where there were no lawsuits? Or to what
purpose laws, where there were no ill manners? from which without doubt
good laws first came. Besides, they were more religious than with an
impious curiosity to dive into the secrets of nature, the dimension of
stars, the motions, effects, and hidden causes of things; as believing it
a crime for any man to attempt to be wise beyond his condition. And as to
the inquiry of what was beyond heaven, that madness never came into their
heads. But the purity of the golden age declining by degrees, first, as I
said before, arts were invented by the evil genii; and yet but few, and
those too received by fewer. After that the Chaldean superstition and
Greek newfangledness, that had little to do, added I know not how many
more; mere torments of wit, and that so great that even grammar alone is
work enough for any man for his whole life.

Though yet among these sciences those only are in esteem that come
nearest to common sense, that is to say, folly. Divines are half starved,
naturalists out of heart, astrologers laughed at, and logicians slighted;
only the physician is worth all the rest. And among them too, the more
unlearned, impudent, or unadvised he is, the more he is esteemed, even
among princes. For physic, especially as it is now professed by most men,
is nothing but a branch of flattery, no less than rhetoric. Next them,
the second place is given to our law-drivers, if not the first, whose
profession, though I say it myself, most men laugh at as the ass of
philosophy; yet there's scarce any business, either so great or so small,
but is managed by these asses. These purchase their great lordships,
while in the meantime the divine, having run through the whole body of
divinity, sits gnawing a radish and is in continual warfare with lice and
fleas. As therefore those arts are best that have the nearest affinity
with folly, so are they most happy of all others that have least commerce
with sciences and follow the guidance of Nature, who is in no wise
imperfect, unless perhaps we endeavor to leap over those bounds she has
appointed to us. Nature hates all false coloring and is ever best where
she is least adulterated with art.

Go to then, don't you find among the several kinds of living creatures
that they thrive best that understand no more than what Nature taught
them? What is more prosperous or wonderful than the bee? And though they
have not the same judgment of sense as other bodies have, yet wherein has
architecture gone beyond their building of houses? What philosopher ever
founded the like republic? Whereas the horse, that comes so near man in
understanding and is therefore so familiar with him, is also partaker of
his misery. For while he thinks it a shame to lose the race, it often
happens that he cracks his wind; and in the battle, while he contends for
victory, he's cut down himself, and, together with his rider "lies biting
the earth;" not to mention those strong bits, sharp spurs, close stables,
arms, blows, rider, and briefly, all that slavery he willingly submits
to, while, imitating those men of valor, he so eagerly strives to be
revenged of the enemy. Than which how much more were the life of flies or
birds to be wished for, who living by the instinct of nature, look no
further than the present, if yet man would but let them alone in it. And
if at anytime they chance to be taken, and being shut up in cages
endeavor to imitate our speaking, 'tis strange how they degenerate from
their native gaiety. So much better in every respect are the works of
nature than the adulteries of art.

In like manner I can never sufficiently praise that Pythagoras in a
dunghill cock, who being but one had been yet everything, a philosopher,
a man, a woman, a king, a private man, a fish, a horse, a frog, and, I
believe too, a sponge; and at last concluded that no creature was more
miserable than man, for that all other creatures are content with those
bounds that nature set them, only man endeavors to exceed them. And
again, among men he gives the precedency not to the learned or the great,
but the fool. Nor had that Gryllus less wit than Ulysses with his many
counsels, who chose rather to lie grunting in a hog sty than be exposed
with the other to so many hazards. Nor does Homer, that father of
trifles, dissent from me; who not only called all men "wretched and full
of calamity," but often his great pattern of wisdom, Ulysses,
"miserable;" Paris, Ajax, and Achilles nowhere. And why, I pray but that,
like a cunning fellow and one that was his craft's master, he did nothing
without the advice of Pallas? In a word he was too wise, and by that
means ran wide of nature. As therefore among men they are least happy
that study wisdom, as being in this twice fools, that when they are born
men, they should yet so far forget their condition as to affect the life
of gods; and after the example of the giants, with their philosophical
gimcracks make a war upon nature: so they on the other side seem as
little miserable as is possible who come nearest to beasts and never
attempt anything beyond man. Go to then, let's try how demonstrable this
is; not by enthymemes or the imperfect syllogisms of the Stoics, but by
plain, downright, and ordinary examples.

And now, by the immortal gods! I think nothing more happy than that
generation of men we commonly call fools, idiots, lack-wits, and dolts;
splendid titles too, as I conceive them. I'll tell you a thing, which at
first perhaps may seem foolish and absurd, yet nothing more true. And
first they are not afraid of death--no small evil, by Jupiter! They are
not tormented with the conscience of evil acts, not terrified with the
fables of ghosts, nor frightened with spirits and goblins. They are not
distracted with the fear of evils to come nor the hopes of future good.
In short, they are not disturbed with those thousand of cares to which
this life is subject. They are neither modest, nor fearful, nor
ambitious, nor envious, nor love they any man. And lastly, if they should
come nearer even to the very ignorance of brutes, they could not sin, for
so hold the divines. And now tell me, you wise fool, with how many
troublesome cares your mind is continually perplexed; heap together all
the discommodities of your life, and then you'll be sensible from how
many evils I have delivered my fools. Add to this that they are not only
merry, play, sing, and laugh themselves, but make mirth wherever they
come, a special privilege it seems the gods have given them to refresh
the pensiveness of life. Whence it is that whereas the world is so
differently affected one towards another, that all men indifferently
admit them as their companions, desire, feed, cherish, embrace them, take
their parts upon all occasions, and permit them without offense to do or
say what they like. And so little does everything desire to hurt them,
that even the very beasts, by a kind of natural instinct of their
innocence no doubt, pass by their injuries. For of them it may be truly
said that they are consecrate to the gods, and therefore and not without
cause do men have them in such esteem. Whence is it else that they are in
so great request with princes that they can neither eat nor drink, go
anywhere, or be an hour without them? Nay, and in some degree they prefer
these fools before their crabbish wise men, whom yet they keep about them
for state's sake. Nor do I conceive the reason so difficult, or that it
should seem strange why they are preferred before the others, for that
these wise men speak to princes about nothing but grave, serious matters,
and trusting to their own parts and learning do not fear sometimes "to
grate their tender ears with smart truths;" but fools fit them with that
they most delight in, as jests, laughter, abuses of other men, wanton
pastimes, and the like.

Again, take notice of this no contemptible blessing which Nature has
given fools, that they are the only plain, honest men and such as speak
truth. And what is more commendable than truth? For though that proverb
of Alcibiades in Plato attributes truth to drunkards and children, yet
the praise of it is particularly mine, even from the testimony of
Euripides, among whose other things there is extant that his honorable
saying concerning us, "A fool speaks foolish things." For whatever a fool
has in his heart, he both shows it in his looks and expresses it in his
discourse; while the wise men's are those two tongues which the same
Euripides mentions, whereof the one speaks truth, the other what they
judge most seasonable for the occasion. These are they "that turn black
into white," blow hot and cold with the same breath, and carry a far
different meaning in their breast from what they feign with their tongue.
Yet in the midst of all their prosperity, princes in this respect seem to
me most unfortunate, because, having no one to tell them truth, they are
forced to receive flatterers for friends.

But, someone may say, the ears of princes are strangers to truth, and for
this reason they avoid those wise men, because they fear lest someone
more frank than the rest should dare to speak to them things rather true
than pleasant; for so the matter is, that they don't much care for truth.
And yet this is found by experience among my fools, that not only truths
but even open reproaches are heard with pleasure; so that the same thing
which, if it came from a wise man's mouth might prove a capital crime,
spoken by a fool is received with delight. For truth carries with it a
certain peculiar power of pleasing, if no accident fall in to give
occasion of offense; which faculty the gods have given only to fools. And
for the same reasons is it that women are so earnestly delighted with
this kind of men, as being more propense by nature to pleasure and toys.
And whatsoever they may happen to do with them, although sometimes it be
of the most serious, yet they turn it to jest and laughter, as that sex
was ever quick-witted, especially to color their own faults.

But to return to the happiness of fools, who when they have passed over
this life with a great deal of pleasantness and without so much as the
least fear or sense of death, they go straight forth into the Elysian
field, to recreate their pious and careless souls with such sports as
they used here. Let's proceed then, and compare the condition of any of
your wise men with that of this fool. Fancy to me now some example of
wisdom you'd set up against him; one that had spent his childhood and
youth in learning the sciences and lost the sweetest part of his life in
watchings, cares, studies, and for the remaining part of it never so much
as tasted the least of pleasure; ever sparing, poor, sad, sour, unjust,
and rigorous to himself, and troublesome and hateful to others; broken
with paleness, leanness, crassness, sore eyes, and an old age and death
contracted before their time (though yet, what matter is it, when he die
that never lived?); and such is the picture of this great wise man.

And here again do those frogs of the Stoics croak at me and say that
nothing is more miserable than madness. But folly is the next degree, if
not the very thing. For what else is madness than for a man to be out of
his wits? But to let them see how they are clean out of the way, with the
Muses' good favor we'll take this syllogism in pieces. Subtly argued, I
must confess, but as Socrates in Plato teaches us how by splitting one
Venus and one Cupid to make two of either, in like manner should those
logicians have done and distinguished madness from madness, if at least
they would be thought to be well in their wits themselves. For all
madness is not miserable, or Horace had never called his poetical fury a
beloved madness; nor Plato placed the raptures of poets, prophets, and
lovers among the chiefest blessings of this life; nor that sibyl in
Virgil called Aeneas' travels mad labors. But there are two sorts of
madness, the one that which the revengeful Furies send privily from hell,
as often as they let loose their snakes and put into men's breasts either
the desire of war, or an insatiate thirst after gold, or some dishonest
love, or parricide, or incest, or sacrilege, or the like plagues, or when
they terrify some guilty soul with the conscience of his crimes; the
other, but nothing like this, that which comes from me and is of all
other things the most desirable; which happens as often as some pleasing
dotage not only clears the mind of its troublesome cares but renders it
more jocund. And this was that which, as a special blessing of the gods,
Cicero, writing to his friend Atticus, wished to himself, that he might
be the less sensible of those miseries that then hung over the

Nor was that Grecian in Horace much wide of it, who was so far made that
he would sit by himself whole days in the theatre laughing and clapping
his hands, as if he had seen some tragedy acting, whereas in truth there
was nothing presented; yet in other things a man well enough, pleasant
among his friends, kind to his wife, and so good a master to his servants
that if they had broken the seal of his bottle, he would not have run mad
for it. But at last, when by the care of his friends and physic he was
freed from his distemper and become his own man again, he thus
expostulates with them, "Now, by Pollux, my friends, you have rather
killed than preserved me in thus forcing me from my pleasure." By which
you see he liked it so well that he lost it against his will. And trust
me, I think they were the madder of the two, and had the greater need of
hellebore, that should offer to look upon so pleasant a madness as an
evil to be removed by physic; though yet I have not determined whether
every distemper of the sense or understanding be to be called madness.

For neither he that having weak eyes should take a mule for an ass, nor
he that should admire an insipid poem as excellent would be presently
thought mad; but he that not only errs in his senses but is deceived also
in his judgment, and that too more than ordinary and upon all
occasions--he, I must confess, would be thought to come very near to it.
As if anyone hearing an ass bray should take it for excellent music, or a
beggar conceive himself a king. And yet this kind of madness, if, as it
commonly happens, it turn to pleasure, it brings a great delight not only
to them that are possessed with it but to those also that behold it,
though perhaps they may not be altogether so mad as the other, for the
species of this madness is much larger than the people take it to be. For
one mad man laughs at another, and beget themselves a mutual pleasure.
Nor does it seldom happen that he that is the more mad, laughs at him
that is less mad. And in this every man is the more happy in how many
respects the more he is mad; and if I were judge in the case, he should
be ranged in that class of folly that is peculiarly mine, which in truth
is so large and universal that I scarce know anyone in all mankind that
is wise at all hours, or has not some tang or other of madness.

And to this class do they appertain that slight everything in comparison
of hunting and protest they take an unimaginable pleasure to hear the
yell of the horns and the yelps of the hounds, and I believe could pick
somewhat extraordinary out of their very excrement. And then what
pleasure they take to see a buck or the like unlaced? Let ordinary
fellows cut up an ox or a wether, 'twere a crime to have this done by
anything less than a gentleman! who with his hat off, on his bare knees,
and a couteau for that purpose (for every sword or knife is not
allowable), with a curious superstition and certain postures, lays open
the several parts in their respective order; while they that hem him in
admire it with silence, as some new religious ceremony, though perhaps
they have seen it a hundred times before. And if any of them chance to
get the least piece of it, he presently thinks himself no small
gentleman. In all which they drive at nothing more than to become beasts
themselves, while yet they imagine they live the life of princes.

And next these may be reckoned those that have such an itch of building;
one while changing rounds into squares, and presently again squares into
rounds, never knowing either measure or end, till at last, reduced to the
utmost poverty, there remains not to them so much as a place where they
may lay their head, or wherewith to fill their bellies. And why all this?
but that they may pass over a few years in feeding their foolish fancies.

And, in my opinion, next these may be reckoned such as with their new
inventions and occult arts undertake to change the forms of things and
hunt all about after a certain fifth essence; men so bewitched with this
present hope that it never repents them of their pains or expense, but
are ever contriving how they may cheat themselves, till, having spent
all, there is not enough left them to provide another furnace. And yet
they have not done dreaming these their pleasant dreams but encourage
others, as much as in them lies, to the same happiness. And at last, when
they are quite lost in all their expectations, they cheer up themselves
with this sentence, "In great things the very attempt is enough," and
then complain of the shortness of man's life that is not sufficient for
so great an understanding.

And then for gamesters, I am a little doubtful whether they are to be
admitted into our college; and yet 'tis a foolish and ridiculous sight to
see some addicted so to it that they can no sooner hear the rattling of
the dice but their heart leaps and dances again. And then when time after
time they are so far drawn on with the hopes of winning that they have
made shipwreck of all, and having split their ship on that rock of dice,
no less terrible than the bishop and his clerks, scarce got alive to
shore, they choose rather to cheat any man of their just debts than not
pay the money they lost, lest otherwise, forsooth, they be thought no men
of their words. Again what is it, I pray, to see old fellows and half
blind to play with spectacles? Nay, and when a justly deserved gout has
knotted their knuckles, to hire a caster, or one that may put the dice in
the box for them? A pleasant thing, I must confess, did it not for the
most part end in quarrels, and therefore belongs rather to the Furies
than me.

But there is no doubt but that that kind of men are wholly ours who love
to hear or tell feigned miracles and strange lies and are never weary of
any tale, though never so long, so it be of ghosts, spirits, goblins,
devils, or the like; which the further they are from truth, the more
readily they are believed and the more do they tickle their itching ears.
And these serve not only to pass away time but bring profit, especially
to mass priests and pardoners. And next to these are they that have
gotten a foolish but pleasant persuasion that if they can but see a
wooden or painted Polypheme Christopher, they shall not die that day; or
do but salute a carved Barbara, in the usual set form, that he shall
return safe from battle; or make his application to Erasmus on certain
days with some small wax candles and proper prayers, that he shall
quickly be rich. Nay, they have gotten a Hercules, another Hippolytus,
and a St. George, whose horse most religiously set out with trappings and
bosses there wants little but they worship; however, they endeavor to
make him their friend by some present or other, and to swear by his
master's brazen helmet is an oath for a prince. Or what should I say of
them that hug themselves with their counterfeit pardons; that have
measured purgatory by an hourglass, and can without the least mistake
demonstrate its ages, years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds,
as it were in a mathematical table? Or what of those who, having
confidence in certain magical charms and short prayers invented by some
pious imposter, either for his soul's health or profit's sake, promise to
themselves everything: wealth, honor, pleasure, plenty, good health, long
life, lively old age, and the next place to Christ in the other world,
which yet they desire may not happen too soon, that is to say before the
pleasures of this life have left them?

And now suppose some merchant, soldier, or judge, out of so many rapines,
parts with some small piece of money. He straight conceives all that sink
of his whole life quite cleansed; so many perjuries, so many lusts, so
many debaucheries, so many contentions, so many murders, so many deceits,
so many breaches of trusts, so many treacheries bought off, as it were by
compact; and so bought off that they may begin upon a new score. But what
is more foolish than those, or rather more happy, who daily reciting
those seven verses of the Psalms promise to themselves more than the top
of felicity? Which magical verses some devil or other, a merry one
without doubt but more a blab of his tongue than crafty, is believed to
have discovered to St. Bernard, but not without a trick. And these are so
foolish that I am half ashamed of them myself, and yet they are approved,
and that not only by the common people but even the professors of
religion. And what, are not they also almost the same where several
countries avouch to themselves their peculiar saint, and as everyone of
them has his particular gift, so also his particular form of worship? As,
one is good for the toothache; another for groaning women; a third, for
stolen goods; a fourth, for making a voyage prosperous; and a fifth, to
cure sheep of the rot; and so of the rest, for it would be too tedious to
run over all. And some there are that are good for more things than one;
but chiefly, the Virgin Mother, to whom the common people do in a manner
attribute more than to the Son.

Yet what do they beg of these saints but what belongs to folly? To
examine it a little. Among all those offerings which are so frequently
hung up in churches, nay up to the very roof of some of them, did you
ever see the least acknowledgment from anyone that had left his folly, or
grown a hair's breadth the wiser? One escapes a shipwreck, and he gets
safe to shore. Another, run through in a duel, recovers. Another, while
the rest were fighting, ran out of the field, no less luckily than
valiantly. Another, condemned to be hanged, by the favor of some saint or
other, a friend to thieves, got off himself by impeaching his fellows.
Another escaped by breaking prison. Another recovered from his fever in
spite of his physician. Another's poison turning to a looseness proved
his remedy rather than death; and that to his wife's no small sorrow, in
that she lost both her labor and her charge. Another's cart broke, and he
saved his horses. Another preserved from the fall of a house. All these
hang up their tablets, but no one gives thanks for his recovery from
folly; so sweet a thing it is not to be wise, that on the contrary men
rather pray against anything than folly.

But why do I launch out into this ocean of superstitions? Had I a hundred
tongues, as many mouths, and a voice never so strong, yet were I not able
to run over the several sorts of fools or all the names of folly, so
thick do they swarm everywhere. And yet your priests make no scruple to
receive and cherish them as proper instruments of profit; whereas if some
scurvy wise fellow should step up and speak things as they are, as, to
live well is the way to die well; the best way to get quit of sin is to
add to the money you give the hatred of sin, tears, watchings, prayers,
fastings, and amendment of life; such or such a saint will favor you, if
you imitate his life--these, I say, and the like--should this wise man
chat to the people, from what happiness into how great troubles would he
draw them?

Of this college also are they who in their lifetime appoint with what
solemnity they'll be buried, and particularly set down how many torches,
how many mourners, how many singers, how many almsmen they will have at
it; as if any sense of it could come to them, or that it were a shame to
them that their corpse were not honorably interred; so curious are they
herein, as if, like the aediles of old, these were to present some shows
or banquet to the people.

And though I am in haste, yet I cannot yet pass by them who, though they
differ nothing from the meanest cobbler, yet 'tis scarcely credible how
they flatter themselves with the empty title of nobility. One derives his
pedigree from Aeneas, another from Brutus, a third from the star by the
tail of Ursa Major. They show you on every side the statues and pictures
of their ancestors; run over their great-grandfathers and the
great-great-grandfathers of both lines, and the ancient matches of their
families, when themselves yet are but once removed from a statue, if not
worse than those trifles they boast of. And yet by means of this pleasant
self-love they live a happy life. Nor are they less fools who admire
these beasts as if they were gods.

But what do I speak of any one or the other particular kind of men, as if
this self-love had not the same effect everywhere and rendered most men
superabundantly happy? As when a fellow, more deformed than a baboon,
shall believe himself handsomer than Homer's Nereus. Another, as soon as
he can draw two or three lines with a compass, presently thinks himself a
Euclid. A third, that understands music no more than my horse, and for
his voice as hoarse as a dunghill cock, shall yet conceive himself
another Hermogenes. But of all madness that's the most pleasant when a
man, seeing another any way excellent in what he pretends to himself,
makes his boasts of it as confidently as if it were his own. And such was
that rich fellow in Seneca, who whenever he told a story had his servants
at his elbow to prompt him the names; and to that height had they
flattered him that he did not question but he might venture a rubber at
cuffs, a man otherwise so weak he could scarce stand, only presuming on
this, that he had a company of sturdy servants about him.

Or to what purpose is it I should mind you of our professors of arts?
Forasmuch as this self-love is so natural to them all that they had
rather part with their father's land than their foolish opinions; but
chiefly players, fiddlers, orators, and poets, of which the more ignorant
each of them is, the more insolently he pleases himself, that is to say
vaunts and spreads out his plumes. And like lips find like lettuce; nay,
the more foolish anything is, the more 'tis admired, the greater number
being ever tickled at the worst things, because, as I said before, most
men are so subject to folly. And therefore if the more foolish a man is,
the more he pleases himself and is admired by others, to what purpose
should he beat his brains about true knowledge, which first will cost him
dear, and next render him the more troublesome and less confident, and
lastly, please only a few?

And now I consider it, Nature has planted, not only in particular men but
even in every nation, and scarce any city is there without it, a kind of
common self-love. And hence is it that the English, besides other things,
particularly challenge to themselves beauty, music, and feasting. The
Scots are proud of their nobility, alliance to the crown, and logical
subtleties. The French think themselves the only well-bred men. The
Parisians, excluding all others, arrogate to themselves the only
knowledge of divinity. The Italians affirm they are the only masters of
good letters and eloquence, and flatter themselves on this account, that
of all others they only are not barbarous. In which kind of happiness
those of Rome claim the first place, still dreaming to themselves of
somewhat, I know not what, of old Rome. The Venetians fancy themselves
happy in the opinion of their nobility. The Greeks, as if they were the
only authors of sciences, swell themselves with the titles of the ancient
heroes. The Turk, and all that sink of the truly barbarous, challenge to
themselves the only glory of religion and laugh at Christians as
superstitious. And much more pleasantly the Jews expect to this day the
coming of the Messiah, and so obstinately contend for their Law of Moses.
The Spaniards give place to none in the reputation of soldiery. The
Germans pride themselves in their tallness of stature and skill in magic.

And, not to instance in every particular, you see, I conceive, how much
satisfaction this Self-love, who has a sister also not unlike herself
called Flattery, begets everywhere; for self-love is no more than the
soothing of a man's self, which, done to another, is flattery. And though
perhaps at this day it may be thought infamous, yet it is so only with
them that are more taken with words than things. They think truth is
inconsistent with flattery, but that it is much otherwise we may learn
from the examples of true beasts. What more fawning than a dog? And yet
what more trusty? What has more of those little tricks than a squirrel?
And yet what more loving to man? Unless, perhaps you'll say, men had
better converse with fierce lions, merciless tigers, and furious
leopards. For that flattery is the most pernicious of all things, by
means of which some treacherous persons and mockers have run the
credulous into such mischief. But this of mine proceeds from a certain
gentleness and uprightness of mind and comes nearer to virtue than its
opposite, austerity, or a morose and troublesome peevishness, as Horace
calls it. This supports the dejected, relieves the distressed, encourages
the fainting, awakens the stupid, refreshes the sick, supplies the
untractable, joins loves together, and keeps them so joined. It entices
children to take their learning, makes old men frolic, and, under the
color of praise, does without offense both tell princes their faults and
show them the way to amend them. In short, it makes every man the more
jocund and acceptable to himself, which is the chiefest point of
felicity. Again, what is more friendly than when two horses scrub one
another? And to say nothing of it, that it's a main part of physic,
and the only thing in poetry; 'tis the delight and relish of all
human society.

But 'tis a sad thing, they say, to be mistaken. Nay rather, he is most
miserable that is not so. For they are quite beside the mark that place
the happiness of men in things themselves, since it only depends upon
opinion. For so great is the obscurity and variety of human affairs that
nothing can be clearly known, as it is truly said by our academics, the
least insolent of all the philosophers; or if it could, it would but
obstruct the pleasure of life. Lastly, the mind of man is so framed that
it is rather taken with the false colors than truth; of which if anyone
has a mind to make the experiment, let him go to church and hear sermons,
in which if there be anything serious delivered, the audience is either
asleep, yawning, or weary of it; but if the preacher--pardon my mistake,
I would have said declaimer--as too often it happens, fall but into an
old wives' story, they're presently awake, prick up their ears and gape
after it. In like manner, if there be any poetical saint, or one of whom
there goes more stories than ordinary, as for example, a George, a
Christopher, or a Barbara, you shall see him more religiously worshiped
than Peter, Paul, or even Christ himself. But these things are not for
this place.

And now at how cheap a rate is this happiness purchased! Forasmuch as to
the thing itself a man's whole endeavor is required, be it never so
inconsiderable; but the opinion of it is easily taken up, which yet
conduces as much or more to happiness. For suppose a man were eating
rotten stockfish, the very smell of which would choke another, and yet
believed it a dish for the gods, what difference is there as to his
happiness? Whereas on the contrary, if another's stomach should turn at a
sturgeon, wherein, I pray, is he happier than the other? If a man have a
crooked, ill-favored wife, who yet in his eye may stand in competition
with Venus, is it not the same as if she were truly beautiful? Or if
seeing an ugly, ill-pointed piece, he should admire the work as believing
it some great master's hand, were he not much happier, think you, than
they that buy such things at vast rates, and yet perhaps reap less
pleasure from them than the other? I know one of my name that gave his
new married wife some counterfeit jewels, and as he was a pleasant droll,
persuaded her that they were not only right but of an inestimable price;
and what difference, I pray, to her, that was as well pleased and
contented with glass and kept it as warily as if it had been a treasure?
In the meantime the husband saved his money and had this advantage of her
folly, that he obliged her as much as if he had bought them at a great
rate. Or what difference, think you, between those in Plato's imaginary
cave that stand gaping at the shadows and figures of things, so they
please themselves and have no need to wish, and that wise man, who, being
got loose from them, sees things truly as they are? Whereas that cobbler
in Lucian if he might always have continued his golden dreams, he would
never have desired any other happiness. So then there is no difference;
or, if there be, the fools have the advantage: first, in that their
happiness costs them least, that is to say, only some small persuasion;
next, that they enjoy it in common. And the possession of no good can be
delightful without a companion. For who does not know what a dearth there
is of wise men, if yet any one be to be found? And though the Greeks for
these so many ages have accounted upon seven only, yet so help me
Hercules, do but examine them narrowly, and I'll be hanged if you find
one half-witted fellow, nay or so much as one-quarter of a wise man,
among them all.

For whereas among the many praises of Bacchus they reckon this the chief,
that he washes away cares, and that too in an instant, do but sleep off
his weak spirits, and they come on again, as we say, on horseback. But
how much larger and more present is the benefit you receive by me, since,
as it were with a perpetual drunkenness I fill your minds with mirth,
fancies, and jollities, and that too without any trouble? Nor is there
any man living whom I let be without it; whereas the gifts of the gods
are scrambled, some to one and some to another. The sprightly delicious
wine that drives away cares and leaves such a flavor behind it grows not
everywhere. Beauty, the gift of Venus, happens to few; and to fewer gives
Mercury eloquence. Hercules makes not everyone rich. Homer's Jupiter
bestows not empire on all men. Mars oftentimes favors neither side. Many
return sad from Apollo's oracle. Phoebus sometimes shoots a plague among
us. Neptune drowns more than he saves: to say nothing of those
mischievous gods, Plutoes, Ates, punishments, favors, and the like, not
gods but executioners. I am that only Folly that so readily and
indifferently bestows my benefits on all. Nor do I look to be entreated,
or am I subject to take pet, and require an expiatory sacrifice if some
ceremony be omitted. Nor do I beat heaven and earth together if, when the
rest of the gods are invited, I am passed by or not admitted to the
stream of their sacrifices. For the rest of the gods are so curious in
this point that such an omission may chance to spoil a man's business;
and therefore one has as good even let them alone as worship them: just
like some men, who are so hard to please, and withall so ready to do
mischief, that 'tis better be a stranger than have any familiarity
with them.

But no man, you'll say, ever sacrificed to Folly or built me a temple.
And troth, as I said before, I cannot but wonder at the ingratitude; yet
because I am easily to be entreated, I take this also in good part,
though truly I can scarce request it. For why should I require incense,
wafers, a goat, or sow when all men pay me that worship everywhere which
is so much approved even by our very divines? Unless perhaps I should
envy Diana that her sacrifices are mingled with human blood. Then do I
conceive myself most religiously worshiped when everywhere, as 'tis
generally done, men embrace me in their minds, express me in their
manners, and represent me in their lives, which worship of the saints is
not so ordinary among Christians. How many are there that burn candles to
the Virgin Mother, and that too at noonday when there's no need of them!
But how few are there that study to imitate her in pureness of life,
humility and love of heavenly things, which is the true worship and most
acceptable to heaven! Besides why should I desire a temple when the whole
world is my temple, and I'm deceived or 'tis a goodly one? Nor can I want
priests but in a land where there are no men. Nor am I yet so foolish as
to require statues or painted images, which do often obstruct my worship,
since among the stupid and gross multitude those figures are worshiped
for the saints themselves. And so it would fare with me, as it does with
them that are turned out of doors by their substitutes. No, I have
statues enough, and as many as there are men, everyone bearing my lively
resemblance in his face, how unwilling so ever he be to the contrary. And
therefore there is no reason why I should envy the rest of the gods if in
particular places they have their particular worship, and that too on set
days--as Phoebus at Rhodes; at Cyprus, Venus; at Argos, Juno; at Athens,
Minerva; in Olympus, Jupiter; at Tarentum, Neptune; and near the
Hellespont, Priapus--as long as the world in general performs me every
day much better sacrifices.

Wherein notwithstanding if I shall seem to anyone to have spoken more
boldly than truly, let us, if you please, look a little into the lives of
men, and it will easily appear not only how much they owe to me, but how
much they esteem me even from the highest to the lowest. And yet we will
not run over the lives of everyone, for that would be too long, but only
some few of the great ones, from whence we shall easily conjecture the
rest. For to what purpose is it to say anything of the common people, who
without dispute are wholly mine? For they abound everywhere with so many
several sorts of folly, and are every day so busy in inventing new, that
a thousand Democriti are too few for so general a laughter though there
were another Democritus to laugh at them too. 'Tis almost incredible what
sport and pastime they daily make the gods; for though they set aside
their sober forenoon hours to dispatch business and receive prayers, yet
when they begin to be well whittled with nectar and cannot think of
anything that's serious, they get them up into some part of heaven that
has better prospect than other and thence look down upon the actions of
men. Nor is there anything that pleases them better. Good, good! what an
excellent sight it is! How many several hurly-burlies of fools! for I
myself sometimes sit among those poetical gods.

Here's one desperately in love with a young wench, and the more she
slights him the more outrageously he loves her. Another marries a woman's
money, not herself. Another's jealousy keeps more eyes on her than Argos.
Another becomes a mourner, and how foolishly he carries it! nay, hires
others to bear him company to make it more ridiculous. Another weeps over
his mother-in-law's grave. Another spends all he can rap and run on his
belly, to be the more hungry after it. Another thinks there is no
happiness but in sleep and idleness. Another turmoils himself about other
men's business and neglects his own. Another thinks himself rich in
taking up moneys and changing securities, as we say borrowing of Peter to
pay Paul, and in a short time becomes bankrupt. Another starves himself
to enrich his heir. Another for a small and uncertain gain exposes his
life to the casualties of seas and winds, which yet no money can restore.
Another had rather get riches by war than live peaceably at home. And
some there are that think them easiest attained by courting old childless
men with presents; and others again by making rich old women believe they
love them; both which afford the gods most excellent pastime, to see them
cheated by those persons they thought to have over-caught. But the most
foolish and basest of all others are our merchants, to wit such as
venture on everything be it never so dishonest, and manage it no better;
who though they lie by no allowance, swear and forswear, steal, cozen,
and cheat, yet shuffle themselves into the first rank, and all because
they have gold rings on their fingers. Nor are they without their
flattering friars that admire them and give them openly the title of
honorable, in hopes, no doubt, to get some small snip of it themselves.

There are also a kind of Pythagoreans with whom all things are so common
that if they get anything under their cloaks, they make no more scruple
of carrying it away than if it were their own by inheritance. There are
others too that are only rich in conceit, and while they fancy to
themselves pleasant dreams, conceive that enough to make them happy. Some
desire to be accounted wealthy abroad and are yet ready to starve at
home. One makes what haste he can to set all going, and another rakes it
together by right or wrong. This man is ever laboring for public honors,
and another lies sleeping in a chimney corner. A great many undertake
endless suits and outvie one another who shall most enrich the dilatory
judge or corrupt advocate. One is all for innovations and another for
some great he-knows-not-what. Another leaves his wife and children at
home and goes to Jerusalem, Rome, or in pilgrimage to St. James's where
he has no business. In short, if a man like Menippus of old could look
down from the moon and behold those innumerable rufflings of mankind, he
would think he saw a swarm of flies and gnats quarreling among
themselves, fighting, laying traps for one another, snatching, playing,
wantoning, growing up, falling, and dying. Nor is it to be believed what
stir, what broils, this little creature raises, and yet in how short a
time it comes to nothing itself; while sometimes war, other times
pestilence, sweeps off many thousands of them together.

But let me be most foolish myself, and one whom Democritus may not only
laugh at but flout, if I go one foot further in the discovery of the
follies and madnesses of the common people. I'll betake me to them that
carry the reputation of wise men and hunt after that golden bough, as
says the proverb. Among whom the grammarians hold the first place, a
generation of men than whom nothing would be more miserable, nothing more
perplexed, nothing more hated of the gods, did not I allay the troubles
of that pitiful profession with a certain kind of pleasant madness. For
they are not only subject to those five curses with which Home begins his
Iliads, as says the Greek epigram, but six hundred; as being ever
hunger-starved and slovens in their schools--schools, did I say? Nay,
rather cloisters, bridewells, or slaughterhouses--grown old among a
company of boys, deaf with their noise, and pined away with stench and
nastiness. And yet by my courtesy it is that they think themselves the
most excellent of all men, so greatly do they please themselves in
frighting a company of fearful boys with a thundering voice and big looks,
tormenting them with ferules, rods, and whips; and, laying about them
without fear or wit, imitate the ass in the lion's skin. In the meantime
all that nastiness seems absolute spruceness, that stench a perfume, and
that miserable slavery a kingdom, and such too as they would not change
their tyranny for Phalaris' or Dionysius' empire. Nor are they less happy
in that new opinion they have taken up of being learned; for whereas most
of them beat into boys' heads nothing but foolish toys, yet, you good
gods! what Palemon, what Donatus, do they not scorn in comparison of
themselves? And so, I know not by what tricks, they bring it about that
to their boys' foolish mothers and dolt-headed fathers they pass for such
as they fancy themselves. Add to this that other pleasure of theirs, that
if any of them happen to find out who was Anchises' mother, or pick out
of some worm-eaten manuscript a word not commonly known--as suppose it
bubsequa for a cowherd, bovinator for a wrangler, manticulator for a
cutpurse--or dig up the ruins of some ancient monument with the letters
half eaten out; O Jupiter! what towerings! what triumphs! what
commendations! as if they had conquered Africa or taken in Babylon.

But what of this when they give up and down their foolish insipid verses,
and there wants not others that admire them as much? They believe
presently that Virgil's soul is transmigrated into them! But nothing like
this, when with mutual compliments they praise, admire, and claw one
another. Whereas if another do but slip a word and one more quick-sighted
than the rest discover it by accident, O Hercules! what uproars, what
bickerings, what taunts, what invectives! If I lie, let me have the ill
will of all the grammarians. I knew in my time one of many arts, a
Grecian, a Latinist, a mathematician, a philosopher, a physician, a man
master of them all, and sixty years of age, who, laying by all the rest,
perplexed and tormented himself for above twenty years in the study of
grammar, fully reckoning himself a prince if he might but live so long
till he could certainly determine how the eight parts of speech were to
be distinguished, which none of the Greeks or Latins had yet fully
cleared: as if it were a matter to be decided by the sword if a man made
an adverb of a conjunction. And for this cause is it that we have as many
grammars as grammarians; nay more, forasmuch as my friend Aldus has given
us above five, not passing by any kind of grammar, how barbarously or
tediously soever compiled, which he has not turned over and examined;
envying every man's attempts in this kind, how to be pitied than happy,
as persons that are ever tormenting themselves; adding, changing, putting
in, blotting out, revising, reprinting, showing it to friends, and nine
years in correcting, yet never fully satisfied; at so great a rate do
they purchase this vain reward, to wit, praise, and that too of a very
few, with so many watchings, so much sweat, so much vexation and loss of
sleep, the most precious of all things. Add to this the waste of health,
spoil of complexion, weakness of eyes or rather blindness, poverty, envy,
abstinence from pleasure, over-hasty old age, untimely death, and the
like; so highly does this wise man value the approbation of one or two
blear-eyed fellows. But how much happier is this my writer's dotage who
never studies for anything but puts in writing whatever he pleases or
what comes first in his head, though it be but his dreams; and all this
with small waste of paper, as well knowing that the vainer those trifles
are, the higher esteem they will have with the greater number, that is to
say all the fools and unlearned. And what matter is it to slight those
few learned if yet they ever read them? Or of what authority will the
censure of so few wise men be against so great a cloud of gainsayers?

But they are the wiser that put out other men's works for their own, and
transfer that glory which others with great pains have obtained to
themselves; relying on this, that they conceive, though it should so
happen that their theft be never so plainly detected, that yet they
should enjoy the pleasure of it for the present. And 'tis worth one's
while to consider how they please themselves when they are applauded by
the common people, pointed at in a crowd, "This is that excellent
person;" lie on booksellers' stalls; and in the top of every page have
three hard words read, but chiefly exotic and next degree to conjuring;
which, by the immortal gods! what are they but mere words? And again, if
you consider the world, by how few understood, and praised by fewer! for
even among the unlearned there are different palates. Or what is it that
their own very names are often counterfeit or borrowed from some books of
the ancients? When one styles himself Telemachus, another Sthenelus, a
third Laertes, a fourth Polycrates, a fifth Thrasymachus. So that there
is no difference whether they title their books with the "Tale of a Tub,"
or, according to the philosophers, by alpha, beta.

But the most pleasant of all is to see them praise one another with
reciprocal epistles, verses, and encomiums; fools their fellow fools, and
dunces their brother dunces. This, in the other's opinion, is an absolute
Alcaeus; and the other, in his, a very Callimachus. He looks upon Tully
as nothing to the other, and the other again pronounces him more learned
than Plato. And sometimes too they pick out their antagonist and think to
raise themselves a fame by writing one against the other; while the giddy
multitude are so long divided to whether of the two they shall determine
the victory, till each goes off conqueror, and, as if he had done some
great action, fancies himself a triumph. And now wise men laugh at these
things as foolish, as indeed they are. Who denies it? Yet in the
meantime, such is my kindness to them, they live a merry life and would
not change their imaginary triumphs, no, not with the Scipioes. While yet
those learned men, though they laugh their fill and reap the benefit of
the other's folly, cannot without ingratitude deny but that even they too
are not a little beholding to me themselves.

And among them our advocates challenge the first place, nor is there any
sort of people that please themselves like them: for while they daily
roll Sisyphus his stone, and quote you a thousand cases, as it were, in a
breath no matter how little to the purpose, and heap glosses upon
glosses, and opinions on the neck of opinions, they bring it at last to
this pass, that that study of all other seems the most difficult. Add to
these our logicians and sophists, a generation of men more prattling than
an echo and the worst of them able to outchat a hundred of the best
picked gossips. And yet their condition would be much better were they
only full of words and not so given to scolding that they most
obstinately hack and hew one another about a matter of nothing and make
such a sputter about terms and words till they have quite lost the sense.
And yet they are so happy in the good opinion of themselves that as soon
as they are furnished with two or three syllogisms, they dare boldly
enter the lists against any man upon any point, as not doubting but to
run him down with noise, though the opponent were another Stentor.

And next these come our philosophers, so much reverenced for their furred
gowns and starched beards that they look upon themselves as the only wise
men and all others as shadows. And yet how pleasantly do they dote while
they frame in their heads innumerable worlds; measure out the sun, the
moon, the stars, nay and heaven itself, as it were, with a pair of
compasses; lay down the causes of lightning, winds, eclipses, and other
the like inexplicable matters; and all this too without the least
doubting, as if they were Nature's secretaries, or dropped down among us
from the council of the gods; while in the meantime Nature laughs at them
and all their blind conjectures. For that they know nothing, even this is
a sufficient argument, that they don't agree among themselves and so are
incomprehensible touching every particular. These, though they have not
the least degree of knowledge, profess yet that they have mastered all;
nay, though they neither know themselves, nor perceive a ditch or block
that lies in their way, for that perhaps most of them are half blind, or
their wits a wool-gathering, yet give out that they have discovered
ideas, universalities, separated forms, first matters, quiddities,
haecceities, formalities, and the like stuff; things so thin and bodiless
that I believe even Lynceus himself was not able to perceive them. But
then chiefly do they disdain the unhallowed crowd as often as with their
triangles, quadrangles, circles, and the like mathematical devices, more
confounded than a labyrinth, and letters disposed one against the other,
as it were in battle array, they cast a mist before the eyes of the
ignorant. Nor is there wanting of this kind some that pretend to
foretell things by the stars and make promises of miracles beyond
all things of soothsaying, and are so fortunate as to meet with people
that believe them.

But perhaps I had better pass over our divines in silence and not stir
this pool or touch this fair but unsavory plant, as a kind of men that
are supercilious beyond comparison, and to that too, implacable; lest
setting them about my ears, they attack me by troops and force me to a
recantation sermon, which if I refuse, they straight pronounce me a
heretic. For this is the thunderbolt with which they fright those whom
they are resolved not to favor. And truly, though there are few others
that less willingly acknowledge the kindnesses I have done them, yet even
these too stand fast bound to me upon no ordinary accounts; while being
happy in their own opinion, and as if they dwelt in the third heaven,
they look with haughtiness on all others as poor creeping things and
could almost find in their hearts to pity them; while hedged in with so
many magisterial definitions, conclusions, corollaries, propositions
explicit and implicit, they abound with so many starting-holes that
Vulcan's net cannot hold them so fast, but they'll slip through with
their distinctions, with which they so easily cut all knots asunder that
a hatchet could not have done it better, so plentiful are they in their
new-found words and prodigious terms. Besides, while they explicate the
most hidden mysteries according to their own fancy--as how the world was
first made; how original sin is derived to posterity; in what manner, how
much room, and how long time Christ lay in the Virgin's womb; how
accidents subsist in the Eucharist without their subject.

But these are common and threadbare; these are worthy of our great and
illuminated divines, as the world calls them! At these, if ever they fall
athwart them, they prick up--as whether there was any instant of time in
the generation of the Second Person; whether there be more than one
filiation in Christ; whether it be a possible proposition that God the
Father hates the Son; or whether it was possible that Christ could have
taken upon Him the likeness of a woman, or of the devil, or of an ass, or
of a stone, or of a gourd; and then how that gourd should have preached,
wrought miracles, or been hung on the cross; and what Peter had
consecrated if he had administered the Sacrament at what time the body of
Christ hung upon the cross; or whether at the same time he might be said
to be man; whether after the Resurrection there will be any eating and
drinking, since we are so much afraid of hunger and thirst in this world.
There are infinite of these subtle trifles, and others more subtle than
these, of notions, relations, instants, formalities, quiddities,
haecceities, which no one can perceive without a Lynceus whose eyes could
look through a stone wall and discover those things through the thickest
darkness that never were.

Add to this those their other determinations, and those too so contrary
to common opinion that those oracles of the Stoics, which they call
paradoxes, seem in comparison of these but blockish and idle--as 'tis a
lesser crime to kill a thousand men than to set a stitch on a poor man's
shoe on the Sabbath day; and that a man should rather choose that the
whole world with all food and raiment, as they say, should perish, than
tell a lie, though never so inconsiderable. And these most subtle
subtleties are rendered yet more subtle by the several methods of so many
Schoolmen, that one might sooner wind himself out of a labyrinth than the
entanglements of the realists, nominalists, Thomists, Albertists,
Occamists, Scotists. Nor have I named all the several sects, but only
some of the chief; in all which there is so much doctrine and so much
difficulty that I may well conceive the apostles, had they been to deal
with these new kind of divines, had needed to have prayed in aid of some
other spirit.

Paul knew what faith was, and yet when he said, "Faith is the substance
of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen," he did not
define it doctor-like. And as he understood charity well himself, so he
did as illogically divide and define it to others in his first Epistle to
the Corinthians, Chapter the thirteenth. And devoutly, no doubt, did the
apostles consecrate the Eucharist; yet, had they been asked the question
touching the "terminus a quo" and the "terminus ad quem" of
transubstantiation; of the manner how the same body can be in several
places at one and the same time; of the difference the body of Christ has
in heaven from that of the cross, or this in the Sacrament; in what point
of time transubstantiation is, whereas prayer, by means of which it is,
as being a discrete quantity, is transient; they would not, I conceive,
have answered with the same subtlety as the Scotists dispute and define
it. They knew the mother of Jesus, but which of them has so
philosophically demonstrated how she was preserved from original sin as
have done our divines? Peter received the keys, and from Him too that
would not have trusted them with a person unworthy; yet whether he had
understanding or no, I know not, for certainly he never attained to that
subtlety to determine how he could have the key of knowledge that had no
knowledge himself. They baptized far and near, and yet taught nowhere
what was the formal, material, efficient, and final cause of baptism, nor
made the least mention of delible and indelible characters. They
worshiped, 'tis true, but in spirit, following herein no other than that
of the Gospel, "God is a Spirit, and they that worship, must worship him
in spirit and truth;" yet it does not appear it was at that time revealed
to them that an image sketched on the wall with a coal was to be
worshiped with the same worship as Christ Himself, if at least the two
forefingers be stretched out, the hair long and uncut, and have three
rays about the crown of the head. For who can conceive these things,
unless he has spent at least six and thirty years in the philosophical
and supercelestial whims of Aristotle and the Schoolmen?

In like manner, the apostles press to us grace; but which of them
distinguishes between free grace and grace that makes a man acceptable?
They exhort us to good works, and yet determine not what is the work
working, and what a resting in the work done. They incite us to charity,
and yet make no difference between charity infused and charity wrought in
us by our own endeavors. Nor do they declare whether it be an accident or
a substance, a thing created or uncreated. They detest and abominate sin,
but let me not live if they could define according to art what that is
which we call sin, unless perhaps they were inspired by the spirit of the
Scotists. Nor can I be brought to believe that Paul, by whose learning
you may judge the rest, would have so often condemned questions,
disputes, genealogies, and, as himself calls them, "strifes of words," if
he had thoroughly understood those subtleties, especially when all the
debates and controversies of those times were rude and blockish in
comparison of the more than Chrysippean subtleties of our masters.
Although yet the gentlemen are so modest that if they meet with anything
written by the apostles not so smooth and even as might be expected from
a master, they do not presently condemn it but handsomely bend it to
their own purpose, so great respect and honor do they give, partly to
antiquity and partly to the name of apostle. And truly 'twas a kind of
injustice to require so great things of them that never heard the least
word from their masters concerning it. And so if the like happen in
Chrysostom, Basil, Jerome, they think it enough to say they are not
obliged by it.

The apostles also confuted the heathen philosophers and Jews, a people
than whom none more obstinate, but rather by their good lives and
miracles than syllogisms: and yet there was scarce one among them that
was capable of understanding the least "quodlibet" of the Scotists. But
now, where is that heathen or heretic that must not presently stoop to
such wire-drawn subtleties, unless he be so thick-skulled that he can't
apprehend them, or so impudent as to hiss them down, or, being furnished
with the same tricks, be able to make his party good with them? As if a
man should set a conjurer on work against a conjurer, or fight with one
hallowed sword against another, which would prove no other than a work to
no purpose. For my own part I conceive the Christians would do much
better if instead of those dull troops and companies of soldiers with
which they have managed their war with such doubtful success, they would
send the bawling Scotists, the most obstinate Occamists, and invincible
Albertists to war against the Turks and Saracens; and they would see, I
guess, a most pleasant combat and such a victory as was never before. For
who is so faint whom their devices will not enliven? who so stupid whom
such spurs can't quicken? or who so quick-sighted before whose eyes they
can't cast a mist?

But you'll say, I jest. Nor are you without cause, since even among
divines themselves there are some that have learned better and are ready
to turn their stomachs at those foolish subtleties of the others. There
are some that detest them as a kind of sacrilege and count it the height
of impiety to speak so irreverently of such hidden things, rather to be
adored than explicated; to dispute of them with such profane and
heathenish niceties; to define them so arrogantly and pollute the majesty
of divinity with such pithless and sordid terms and opinions. Meantime
the others please, nay hug themselves in their happiness, and are so
taken up with these pleasant trifles that they have not so much leisure
as to cast the least eye on the Gospel or St. Paul's epistles. And while
they play the fool at this rate in their schools, they make account the
universal church would otherwise perish, unless, as the poets fancied of
Atlas that he supported heaven with his shoulders, they underpropped the
other with their syllogistical buttresses. And how great a happiness is
this, think you? while, as if Holy Writ were a nose of wax, they fashion
and refashion it according to their pleasure; while they require that
their own conclusions, subscribed by two or three Schoolmen, be accounted
greater than Solon's laws and preferred before the papal decretals;
while, as censors of the world, they force everyone to a recantation that
differs but a hair's breadth from the least of their explicit or implicit
determinations. And those too they pronounce like oracles. This
proposition is scandalous; this irreverent; this has a smack of heresy;
this no very good sound: so that neither baptism, nor the Gospel, nor
Paul, nor Peter, nor St. Jerome, nor St. Augustine, no nor most
Aristotelian Thomas himself can make a man a Christian, without these
bachelors too be pleased to give him his grace. And the like in their
subtlety in judging; for who would think he were no Christian that should
say these two speeches "matula putes" and "matula putet," or "ollae
fervere" and "ollam fervere" were not both good Latin, unless their
wisdoms had taught us the contrary? who had delivered the church from
such mists of error, which yet no one ever met with, had they not come
out with some university seal for it? And are they not most happy while
they do these things?

Then for what concerns hell, how exactly they describe everything, as if
they had been conversant in that commonwealth most part of their time!
Again, how do they frame in their fancy new orbs, adding to those we have
already an eighth! a goodly one, no doubt, and spacious enough, lest
perhaps their happy souls might lack room to walk in, entertain their
friends, and now and then play at football. And with these and a thousand
the like fopperies their heads are so full stuffed and stretched that I
believe Jupiter's brain was not near so big when, being in labor with
Pallas, he was beholding to the midwifery of Vulcan's axe. And therefore
you must not wonder if in their public disputes they are so bound about
the head, lest otherwise perhaps their brains might leap out. Nay, I have
sometimes laughed myself to see them so tower in their own opinion when
they speak most barbarously; and when they humh and hawh so pitifully
that none but one of their own tribe can understand them, they call it
heights which the vulgar can't reach; for they say 'tis beneath the
dignity of divine mysteries to be cramped and tied up to the narrow rules
of grammarians: from whence we may conjecture the great prerogative of
divines, if they only have the privilege of speaking corruptly, in which
yet every cobbler thinks himself concerned for his share. Lastly, they
look upon themselves as somewhat more than men as often as they are
devoutly saluted by the name of "Our Masters," in which they fancy there
lies as much as in the Jews' "Jehovah;" and therefore they reckon it a
crime if "Magister Noster" be written other than in capital letters; and
if anyone should preposterously say "Noster Magister," he has at once
overturned the whole body of divinity.

And next these come those that commonly call themselves the religious and
monks, most false in both titles, when both a great part of them are
farthest from religion, and no men swarm thicker in all places than
themselves. Nor can I think of anything that could be more miserable did
not I support them so many several ways. For whereas all men detest them
to that height, that they take it for ill luck to meet one of them by
chance, yet such is their happiness that they flatter themselves. For
first, they reckon it one of the main points of piety if they are so
illiterate that they can't so much as read. And then when they run over
their offices, which they carry about them, rather by tale than
understanding, they believe the gods more than ordinarily pleased with
their braying. And some there are among them that put off their
trumperies at vast rates, yet rove up and down for the bread they eat;
nay, there is scarce an inn, wagon, or ship into which they intrude not,
to the no small damage of the commonwealth of beggars. And yet, like
pleasant fellows, with all this vileness, ignorance, rudeness, and
impudence, they represent to us, for so they call it, the lives of the
apostles. Yet what is more pleasant than that they do all things by rule
and, as it were, a kind of mathematics, the least swerving from which
were a crime beyond forgiveness--as how many knots their shoes must be
tied with, of what color everything is, what distinction of habits, of
what stuff made, how many straws broad their girdles and of what fashion,
how many bushels wide their cowl, how many fingers long their hair, and
how many hours sleep; which exact equality, how disproportionate it is,
among such variety of bodies and tempers, who is there that does not
perceive it? And yet by reason of these fooleries they not only set
slight by others, but each different order, men otherwise professing
apostolical charity, despise one another, and for the different wearing
of a habit, or that 'tis of darker color, they put all things in
combustion. And among these there are some so rigidly religious that
their upper garment is haircloth, their inner of the finest linen; and,
on the contrary, others wear linen without and hair next their skins.
Others, again, are as afraid to touch money as poison, and yet neither
forbear wine nor dallying with women. In a word, 'tis their only care
that none of them come near one another in their manner of living, nor
do they endeavor how they may be like Christ, but how they may differ
among themselves.

And another great happiness they conceive in their names, while they call
themselves Cordiliers, and among these too, some are Colletes, some
Minors, some Minims, some Crossed; and again, these are Benedictines,
those Bernardines; these Carmelites, those Augustines; these Williamites,
and those Jacobines; as if it were not worth the while to be called
Christians. And of these, a great part build so much on their ceremonies
and petty traditions of men that they think one heaven is too poor a
reward for so great merit, little dreaming that the time will come when
Christ, not regarding any of these trifles, will call them to account for
His precept of charity. One shall show you a large trough full of all
kinds of fish; another tumble you out so many bushels of prayers; another
reckon you so many myriads of fasts, and fetch them up again in one
dinner by eating till he cracks again; another produces more bundles of
ceremonies than seven of the stoutest ships would be able to carry;
another brags he has not touched a penny these three score years without
two pair of gloves at least upon his hands; another wears a cowl so lined
with grease that the poorest tarpaulin would not stoop to take it up;
another will tell you he has lived these fifty-five years like a sponge,
continually fastened to the same place; another is grown hoarse with his
daily chanting; another has contracted a lethargy by his solitary living;
and another the palsy in his tongue for want of speaking. But Christ,
interrupting them in their vanities, which otherwise were endless, will
ask them, "Whence this new kind of Jews? I acknowledge one commandment,
which is truly mine, of which alone I hear nothing. I promised, 'tis
true, my Father's heritage, and that without parables, not to cowls, odd
prayers, and fastings, but to the duties of faith and charity. Nor can I
acknowledge them that least acknowledge their faults. They that would
seem holier than myself, let them if they like possess to themselves
those three hundred sixty-five heavens of Basilides the heretic's
invention, or command them whose foolish traditions they have preferred
before my precepts to erect them a new one." When they shall hear these
things and see common ordinary persons preferred before them, with what
countenance, think you, will they behold one another? In the meantime
they are happy in their hopes, and for this also they are beholding
to me.

And yet these kind of people, though they are as it were of another
commonwealth, no man dares despise, especially those begging friars,
because they are privy to all men's secrets by means of confessions, as
they call them. Which yet were no less than treason to discover, unless,
being got drunk, they have a mind to be pleasant, and then all comes out,
that is to say by hints and conjectures but suppressing the names. But if
anyone should anger these wasps, they'll sufficiently revenge themselves
in their public sermons and so point out their enemy by circumlocutions
that there's no one but understands whom 'tis they mean, unless he
understand nothing at all; nor will they give over their barking till you
throw the dogs a bone. And now tell me, what juggler or mountebank you
had rather behold than hear them rhetorically play the fool in their
preachments, and yet most sweetly imitating what rhetoricians have
written touching the art of good speaking? Good God! what several
postures they have! How they shift their voice, sing out their words,
skip up and down, and are ever and anon making such new faces that they
confound all things with noise! And yet this knack of theirs is no less a
mystery that runs in succession from one brother to another; which though
it be not lawful for me to know, however I'll venture at it by
conjectures. And first they invoke whatever they have scraped from the
poets; and in the next place, if they are to discourse of charity, they
take their rise from the river Nilus; or to set out the mystery of the
cross, from bell and the dragon; or to dispute of fasting, from the
twelve signs of the zodiac; or, being to preach of faith, ground their
matter on the square of a circle.

I have heard myself one, and he no small fool--I was mistaken, I would
have said scholar--that being in a famous assembly explaining the mystery
of the Trinity, that he might both let them see his learning was not
ordinary and withal satisfy some theological ears, he took a new way, to
wit from the letters, syllables, and the word itself; then from the
coherence of the nominative case and the verb, and the adjective and
substantive: and while most of the audience wondered, and some of them
muttered that of Horace, "What does all this trumpery drive at?" at last
he brought the matter to this head, that he would demonstrate that the
mystery of the Trinity was so clearly expressed in the very rudiments of
grammar that the best mathematician could not chalk it out more plainly.
And in this discourse did this most superlative theologian beat his
brains for eight whole months that at this hour he's as blind as a
beetle, to wit, all the sight of his eyes being run into the sharpness of
his wit. But for all that he thinks nothing of his blindness, rather
taking the same for too cheap a price of such a glory as he won thereby.

And besides him I met with another, some eighty years of age, and such a
divine that you'd have sworn Scotus himself was revived in him. He, being
upon the point of unfolding the mystery of the name Jesus, did with
wonderful subtlety demonstrate that there lay hidden in those letters
whatever could be said of him; for that it was only declined with three
cases, he said, it was a manifest token of the Divine Trinity; and then,
that the first ended in _S_, the second in _M_, the third in _U_, there
was in it an ineffable mystery, to wit, those three letters declaring to
us that he was the beginning, middle, and end (_summum, medium, et
ultimum_) of all. Nay, the mystery was yet more abstruse; for he so
mathematically split the word Jesus into two equal parts that he left the
middle letter by itself, and then told us that that letter in Hebrew was
_schin_ or _sin_, and that _sin_ in the Scotch tongue, as he remembered,
signified as much as sin; from whence he gathered that it was Jesus that
took away the sins of the world. At which new exposition the audience
were so wonderfully intent and struck with admiration, especially the
theologians, that there wanted little but that Niobe-like they had been
turned to stones; whereas the like had almost happened to me, as befell
the Priapus in Horace. And not without cause, for when were the Grecian
Demosthenes or Roman Cicero ever guilty of the like? They thought that
introduction faulty that was wide of the matter, as if it were not the
way of carters and swineherds that have no more wit than God sent them.
But these learned men think their preamble, for so they call it, then
chiefly rhetorical when it has least coherence with the rest of the
argument, that the admiring audience may in the meanwhile whisper to
themselves, "What will he be at now?" In the third place, they bring in
instead of narration some texts of Scripture, but handle them cursorily,
and as it were by the bye, when yet it is the only thing they should have
insisted on. And fourthly, as it were changing a part in the play, they
bolt out with some question in divinity, and many times relating neither
to earth nor heaven, and this they look upon as a piece of art. Here they
erect their theological crests and beat into the people's ears those
magnificent titles of illustrious doctors, subtle doctors, most subtle
doctors, seraphic doctors, cherubin doctors, holy doctors, unquestionable
doctors, and the like; and then throw abroad among the ignorant people
syllogisms, majors, minors, conclusions, corollaries, suppositions, and
those so weak and foolish that they are below pedantry. There remains yet
the fifth act in which one would think they should show their mastery.
And here they bring in some foolish insipid fable out of _Speculum
Historiale_ or _Gesta Romanorum_ and expound it allegorically,
tropologically, and anagogically. And after this manner do they and their
chimera, and such as Horace despaired of compassing when he wrote "Humano
capiti," etc.

But they have heard from somebody, I know not whom, that the beginning of
a speech should be sober and grave and least given to noise. And
therefore they begin theirs at that rate they can scarce hear themselves,
as if it were not matter whether anyone understood them. They have
learned somewhere that to move the affections a louder voice is
requisite. Whereupon they that otherwise would speak like a mouse in a
cheese start out of a sudden into a downright fury, even there too, where
there's the least need of it. A man would swear they were past the power
of hellebore, so little do they consider where 'tis they run out. Again,
because they have heard that as a speech comes up to something, a man
should press it more earnestly, they, however they begin, use a strange
contention of voice in every part, though the matter itself be never so
flat, and end in that manner as if they'd run themselves out of breath.
Lastly, they have learned that among rhetoricians there is some mention
of laughter, and therefore they study to prick in a jest here and there;
but, O Venus! so void of wit and so little to the purpose that it may be
truly called an ass's playing on the harp. And sometimes also they use
somewhat of a sting, but so nevertheless that they rather tickle than
wound; nor do they ever more truly flatter than when they would seem to
use the greatest freedom of speech. Lastly, such is their whole action
that a man would swear they had learned it from our common tumblers,
though yet they come short of them in every respect. However, they are
both so like that no man will dispute but that either these learned their
rhetoric from them, or they theirs from these. And yet they light on some
that, when they hear them, conceive they hear very Demosthenes and
Ciceroes: of which sort chiefly are our merchants and women, whose ears
only they endeavor to please, because as to the first, if they stroke
them handsomely, some part or other of their ill-gotten goods is wont to
fall to their share. And the women, though for many other things they
favor this order, this is not the least, that they commit to their
breasts whatever discontents they have against their husbands. And now, I
conceive me, you see how much this kind of people are beholding to me,
that with their petty ceremonies, ridiculous trifles, and noise exercise
a kind of tyranny among mankind, believing themselves very Pauls and

But I willingly give over these stage-players that are such ingrateful
dissemblers of the courtesies I have done them and such impudent
pretenders to religion which they haven't. And now I have a mind to give
some small touches of princes and courts, of whom I am had in reverence,
aboveboard and, as it becomes gentlemen, frankly. And truly, if they had
the least proportion of sound judgment, what life were more unpleasant
than theirs, or so much to be avoided? For whoever did but truly weigh
with himself how great a burden lies upon his shoulders that would truly
discharge the duty of a prince, he would not think it worth his while to
make his way to a crown by perjury and parricide. He would consider that
he that takes a scepter in his hand should manage the public, not his
private, interest; study nothing but the common good; and not in the
least go contrary to those laws whereof himself is both the author and
exactor: that he is to take an account of the good or evil administration
of all his magistrates and subordinate officers; that, though he is but
one, all men's eyes are upon him, and in his power it is, either like a
good planet to give life and safety to mankind by his harmless influence,
or like a fatal comet to send mischief and destruction; that the vices of
other men are not alike felt, nor so generally communicated; and that a
prince stands in that place that his least deviation from the rule of
honesty and honor reaches farther than himself and opens a gap to many
men's ruin. Besides, that the fortune of princes has many things
attending it that are but too apt to train them out of the way, as
pleasure, liberty, flattery, excess; for which cause he should the more
diligently endeavor and set a watch over himself, lest perhaps he be led
aside and fail in his duty. Lastly, to say nothing of treasons, ill will,
and such other mischiefs he's in jeopardy of, that that True King is over
his head, who in a short time will call him to account for every the
least trespass, and that so much the more severely by how much more
mighty was the empire committed to his charge. These and the like if a
prince should duly weigh, and weigh it he would if he were wise, he would
neither be able to sleep nor take any hearty repast.

But now by my courtesy they leave all this care to the gods and are only
taken up with themselves, not admitting anyone to their ear but such as
know how to speak pleasant things and not trouble them with business.
They believe they have discharged all the duty of a prince if they hunt
every day, keep a stable of fine horses, sell dignities and commanderies,
and invent new ways of draining the citizens' purses and bringing it into
their own exchequer; but under such dainty new-found names that though
the thing be most unjust in itself, it carries yet some face of equity;
adding to this some little sweet'nings that whatever happens, they may be
secure of the common people. And now suppose someone, such as they
sometimes are, a man ignorant of laws, little less than an enemy to the
public good, and minding nothing but his own, given up to pleasure, a
hater of learning, liberty, and justice, studying nothing less than the
public safety, but measuring everything by his own will and profit; and
then put on him a golden chain that declares the accord of all virtues
linked one to another; a crown set with diamonds, that should put him in
mind how he ought to excel all others in heroic virtues; besides a
scepter, the emblem of justice and an untainted heart; and lastly, a
purple robe, a badge of that charity he owes the commonwealth. All which
if a prince should compare them with his own life, he would, I believe,
be clearly ashamed of his bravery, and be afraid lest some or other
gibing expounder turn all this tragical furniture into a ridiculous

And as to the court lords, what should I mention them? than most of whom
though there be nothing more indebted, more servile, more witless, more
contemptible, yet they would seem as they were the most excellent of all
others. And yet in this only thing no men more modest, in that they are
contented to wear about them gold, jewels, purple, and those other marks
of virtue and wisdom; but for the study of the things themselves, they
remit it to others, thinking it happiness enough for them that they can
call the king master, have learned the cringe _à la mode_, know when and
where to use those titles of Your Grace, My Lord, Your Magnificence; in a
word that they are past all shame and can flatter pleasantly. For these
are the arts that speak a man truly noble and an exact courtier. But if
you look into their manner of life you'll find them mere sots, as
debauched as Penelope's wooers; you know the other part of the verse,
which the echo will better tell you than I can. They sleep till noon and
have their mercenary Levite come to their bedside, where he chops over
his matins before they are half up. Then to breakfast, which is scarce
done but dinner stays for them. From thence they go to dice, tables,
cards, or entertain themselves with jesters, fools, gambols, and horse
tricks. In the meantime they have one or two beverages, and then supper,
and after that a banquet, and 'twere well, by Jupiter, there were no more
than one. And in this manner do their hours, days, months, years, age
slide away without the least irksomeness. Nay, I have sometimes gone away
many inches fatter, to see them speak big words; while each of the ladies
believes herself so much nearer to the gods by how much the longer train
she trails after her; while one nobleman edges out another, that he may
get the nearer to Jupiter himself; and everyone of them pleases himself
the more by how much more massive is the chain he swags on his shoulders,
as if he meant to show his strength as well as his wealth.

Nor are princes by themselves in their manner of life, since popes,
cardinals, and bishops have so diligently followed their steps that
they've almost got the start of them. For if any of them would consider
what their Albe should put them in mind of, to wit a blameless life; what
is meant by their forked miters, whose each point is held in by the same
knot, we'll suppose it a perfect knowledge of the Old and New Testaments;
what those gloves on their hands, but a sincere administration of the
Sacraments, and free from all touch of worldly business; what their
crosier, but a careful looking after the flock committed to their charge;
what the cross born before them, but victory over all earthly
affections--these, I say, and many of the like kind should anyone truly
consider, would he not live a sad and troublesome life? Whereas now they
do well enough while they feed themselves only, and for the care of their
flock either put it over to Christ or lay it all on their suffragans, as
they call them, or some poor vicars. Nor do they so much as remember
their name, or what the word bishop signifies, to wit, labor, care, and
trouble. But in racking to gather money they truly act the part of
bishops, and herein acquit themselves to be no blind seers.

In like manner cardinals, if they thought themselves the successors of
the apostles, they would likewise imagine that the same things the other
did are required of them, and that they are not lords but dispensers of
spiritual things of which they must shortly give an exact account. But if
they also would a little philosophize on their habit and think with
themselves what's the meaning of their linen rochet, is it not a
remarkable and singular integrity of life? What that inner purple; is it
not an earnest and fervent love of God? Or what that outward, whose loose
plaits and long train fall round his Reverence's mule and are large
enough to cover a camel; is it not charity that spreads itself so wide to
the succor of all men? that is, to instruct, exhort, comfort, reprehend,
admonish, compose wars, resist wicked princes, and willingly expend not
only their wealth but their very lives for the flock of Christ: though
yet what need at all of wealth to them that supply the room of the poor
apostles? These things, I say, did they but duly consider, they would not
be so ambitious of that dignity; or, if they were, they would willingly
leave it and live a laborious, careful life, such as was that of the
ancient apostles.

And for popes, that supply the place of Christ, if they should endeavor
to imitate His life, to wit His poverty, labor, doctrine, cross, and
contempt of life, or should they consider what the name pope, that is
father, or holiness, imports, who would live more disconsolate than
themselves? or who would purchase that chair with all his substance? or
defend it, so purchased, with swords, poisons, and all force imaginable?
so great a profit would the access of wisdom deprive him of--wisdom did I
say? nay, the least corn of that salt which Christ speaks of: so much
wealth, so much honor, so much riches, so many victories, so many
offices, so many dispensations, so much tribute, so many pardons; such
horses, such mules, such guards, and so much pleasure would it lose them.
You see how much I have comprehended in a little: instead of which it
would bring in watchings, fastings, tears, prayers, sermons, good
endeavors, sighs, and a thousand the like troublesome exercises. Nor is
this least considerable: so many scribes, so many copying clerks, so many
notaries, so many advocates, so many promoters, so many secretaries, so
many muleteers, so many grooms, so many bankers: in short, that vast
multitude of men that overcharge the Roman See--I mistook, I meant
honor--might beg their bread.

A most inhuman and economical thing, and more to be execrated, that those
great princes of the Church and true lights of the world should be
reduced to a staff and a wallet. Whereas now, if there be anything that
requires their pains, they leave that to Peter and Paul that have leisure
enough; but if there be anything of honor or pleasure, they take that to
themselves. By which means it is, yet by my courtesy, that scarce any
kind of men live more voluptuously or with less trouble; as believing
that Christ will be well enough pleased if in their mystical and almost
mimical pontificality, ceremonies, titles of holiness and the like, and
blessing and cursing, they play the parts of bishops. To work miracles is
old and antiquated, and not in fashion now; to instruct the people,
troublesome; to interpret the Scripture, pedantic; to pray, a sign one
has little else to do; to shed tears, silly and womanish; to be poor,
base; to be vanquished, dishonorable and little becoming him that scarce
admits even kings to kiss his slipper; and lastly, to die, uncouth; and
to be stretched on a cross, infamous.

Theirs are only those weapons and sweet blessings which Paul mentions,
and of these truly they are bountiful enough: as interdictions, hangings,
heavy burdens, reproofs, anathemas, executions in effigy, and that
terrible thunderbolt of excommunication, with the very sight of which
they sink men's souls beneath the bottom of hell: which yet these most
holy fathers in Christ and His vicars hurl with more fierceness against
none than against such as, by the instigation of the devil, attempt to
lessen or rob them of Peter's patrimony. When, though those words in the
Gospel, "We have left all, and followed Thee," were his, yet they call
his patrimony lands, cities, tribute, imposts, riches; for which, being
enflamed with the love of Christ, they contend with fire and sword, and
not without loss of much Christian blood, and believe they have then most
apostolically defended the Church, the spouse of Christ, when the enemy,
as they call them, are valiantly routed. As if the Church had any
deadlier enemies than wicked prelates, who not only suffer Christ to run
out of request for want of preaching him, but hinder his spreading by
their multitudes of laws merely contrived for their own profit, corrupt
him by their forced expositions, and murder him by the evil example of
their pestilent life.

Nay, further, whereas the Church of Christ was founded in blood,
confirmed by blood, and augmented by blood, now, as if Christ, who after
his wonted manner defends his people, were lost, they govern all by the
sword. And whereas war is so savage a thing that it rather befits beasts
than men, so outrageous that the very poets feigned it came from the
Furies, so pestilent that it corrupts all men's manners, so unjust that
it is best executed by the worst of men, so wicked that it has no
agreement with Christ; and yet, omitting all the other, they make this
their only business. Here you'll see decrepit old fellows acting the
parts of young men, neither troubled at their costs, nor wearied with
their labors, nor discouraged at anything, so they may have the liberty
of turning laws, religion, peace, and all things else quite topsy-turvy.
Nor are they destitute of their learned flatterers that call that
palpable madness zeal, piety, and valor, having found out a new way by
which a man may kill his brother without the least breach of that charity
which, by the command of Christ, one Christian owes another. And here, in
troth, I'm a little at a stand whether the ecclesiastical German electors
gave them this example, or rather took it from them; who, laying aside
their habit, benedictions, and all the like ceremonies, so act the part
of commanders that they think it a mean thing, and least beseeming a
bishop, to show the least courage to Godward unless it be in a battle.

And as to the common herd of priests, they account it a crime to
degenerate from the sanctity of their prelates. Heidah! How soldier-like
they bustle about the _jus divinum_ of titles, and how quick-sighted they
are to pick the least thing out of the writings of the ancients wherewith
they may fright the common people and convince them, if possible, that
more than a tenth is due! Yet in the meantime it least comes in their
heads how many things are everywhere extant concerning that duty which
they owe the people. Nor does their shorn crown in the least admonish
them that a priest should be free from all worldly desires and think of
nothing but heavenly things. Whereas on the contrary, these jolly fellows
say they have sufficiently discharged their offices if they but anyhow
mumble over a few odd prayers, which, so help me, Hercules! I wonder if
any god either hear or understand, since they do neither themselves,
especially when they thunder them out in that manner they are wont. But
this they have in common with those of the heathens, that they are
vigilant enough to the harvest of their profit, nor is there any of them
that is not better read in those laws than the Scripture. Whereas if
there be anything burdensome, they prudently lay that on other men's
shoulders and shift it from one to the other, as men toss a ball from
hand to hand, following herein the example of lay princes who commit the
government of their kingdoms to their grand ministers, and they again to
others, and leave all study of piety to the common people. In like manner
the common people put it over to those they call ecclesiastics, as if
themselves were no part of the Church, or that their vow in baptism had
lost its obligation. Again, the priests that call themselves secular, as
if they were initiated to the world, not to Christ, lay the burden on the
regulars; the regulars on the monks; the monks that have more liberty on
those that have less; and all of them on the mendicants; the mendicants
on the Carthusians, among whom, if anywhere, this piety lies buried, but
yet so close that scarce anyone can perceive it. In like manner the
popes, the most diligent of all others in gathering in the harvest of
money, refer all their apostolical work to the bishops, the bishops to
the parsons, the parsons to the vicars, the vicars to their brother
mendicants, and they again throw back the care of the flock on those that
take the wool.

But it is not my business to sift too narrowly the lives of prelates and
priests for fear I seem to have intended rather a satire than an oration,
and be thought to tax good princes while I praise the bad. And therefore,
what I slightly taught before has been to no other end but that it might
appear that there's no man can live pleasantly unless he be initiated to
my rites and have me propitious to him. For how can it be otherwise when
Fortune, the great directress of all human affairs, and myself are so all
one that she was always an enemy to those wise men, and on the contrary
so favorable to fools and careless fellows that all things hit luckily
to them?

You have heard of that Timotheus, the most fortunate general of the
Athenians, of whom came that proverb, "His net caught fish, though he
were asleep;" and that "The owl flies;" whereas these others hit
properly, wise men "born in the fourth month;" and again, "He rides
Sejanus's his horse;" and "gold of Toulouse," signifying thereby the
extremity of ill fortune. But I forbear the further threading of
proverbs, lest I seem to have pilfered my friend Erasmus' adages. Fortune
loves those that have least wit and most confidence and such as like that
saying of Caesar, "The die is thrown." But wisdom makes men bashful,
which is the reason that those wise men have so little to do, unless it
be with poverty, hunger, and chimney corners; that they live such
neglected, unknown, and hated lives: whereas fools abound in money, have
the chief commands in the commonwealth, and in a word, flourish every
way. For if it be happiness to please princes and to be conversant among
those golden and diamond gods, what is more unprofitable than wisdom, or
what is it these kind of men have, may more justly be censured? If wealth
is to be got, how little good at it is that merchant like to do, if
following the precepts of wisdom, he should boggle at perjury; or being
taken in a lie, blush; or in the least regard the sad scruples of those
wise men touching rapine and usury. Again, if a man sue for honors or
church preferments, an ass or wild ox shall sooner get them than a wise
man. If a man's in love with a young wench, none of the least humors in
this comedy, they are wholly addicted to fools and are afraid of a wise
man and fly him as they would a scorpion. Lastly, whoever intend to live
merry and frolic, shut their doors against wise men and admit anything
sooner. In brief, go whither you will, among prelates, princes, judges,
magistrates, friends, enemies, from highest to lowest, and you'll find
all things done by money; which, as a wise man condemns it, so it takes a
special care not to come near him. What shall I say? There is no measure
or end of my praises, and yet 'tis fit my oration have an end. And
therefore I'll even break off; and yet, before I do it, 'twill not be
amiss if I briefly show you that there has not been wanting even great
authors that have made me famous, both by their writings and actions,
lest perhaps otherwise I may seem to have foolishly pleased myself only,
or that the lawyers charge me that I have proved nothing. After their
example, therefore, will I allege my proofs, that is to say, nothing to
the point.

And first, every man allows this proverb, "That where a man wants matter,
he may best frame some." And to this purpose is that verse which we teach
children, "'Tis the greatest wisdom to know when and where to counterfeit
the fool." And now judge yourselves what an excellent thing this folly
is, whose very counterfeit and semblance only has got such praise from
the learned. But more candidly does that fat plump "Epicurean bacon-hog,"
Horace, for so he calls himself, bid us "mingle our purposes with folly;"
and whereas he adds the word _bravem_, short, perhaps to help out the
verse, he might as well have let it alone; and again, "'Tis a pleasant
thing to play the fool in the right season;" and in another place, he had
rather "be accounted a dotterel and sot than to be wise and made mouths
at." And Telemachus in Homer, whom the poet praises so much, is now and
then called _nepios_, fool: and by the same name, as if there were some
good fortune in it, are the tragedians wont to call boys and striplings.
And what does that sacred book of Iliads contain but a kind of
counter-scuffle between foolish kings and foolish people? Besides, how
absolute is that praise that Cicero gives of it! "All things are full of
fools." For who does not know that every good, the more diffusive it is,
by so much the better it is?

But perhaps their authority may be of small credit among Christians.
We'll therefore, if you please, support our praises with some testimonies
of Holy Writ also, in the first place, nevertheless, having forespoke our
theologians that they'll give us leave to do it without offense. And in
the next, forasmuch as we attempt a matter of some difficulty and it may
be perhaps a little too saucy to call back again the Muses from Helicon
to so great a journey, especially in a matter they are wholly strangers
to, it will be more suitable, perhaps, while I play the divine and make
my way through such prickly quiddities, that I entreat the soul of
Scotus, a thing more bristly than either porcupine or hedgehog, to leave
his scorebone awhile and come into my breast, and then let him go whither
he pleases, or to the dogs, I could wish also that I might change my
countenance, or that I had on the square cap and the cassock, for fear
some or other should impeach me of theft as if I had privily rifled our
masters' desks in that I have got so much divinity. But it ought not to
seem so strange if after so long and intimate an acquaintance and
converse with them I have picked up somewhat; when as that fig-tree-god
Priapus hearing his owner read certain Greek words took so much notice of
them that he got them by heart, and that cock in Lucian by having lived
long among men became at last a master of their language.

But to the point under a fortunate direction. Ecclesiastes says in his
first chapter, "The number of fools is infinite;" and when he calls it
infinite, does he not seem to comprehend all men, unless it be some few
whom yet 'tis a question whether any man ever saw? But more ingeniously
does Jeremiah in his tenth chapter confess it, saying, "Every man is made
a fool through his own wisdom;" attributing wisdom to God alone and
leaving folly to all men else, and again, "Let not man glory in his
wisdom." And why, good Jeremiah, would you not have a man glory in his
wisdom? Because, he'll say, he has none at all. But to return to
Ecclesiastes, who, when he cries out, "Vanity of vanities, all is
vanity!" what other thoughts had he, do you believe, than that, as I said
before, the life of man is nothing else but an interlude of folly? In
which he has added one voice more to that justly received praise of
Cicero's which I quoted before, viz., "All things are full of fools."
Again, that wise preacher that said, "A fool changes as the moon, but a
wise man is permanent as the sun," what else did he hint at in it but
that all mankind are fools and the name of wise only proper to God? For
by the moon interpreters understand human nature, and by the sun, God,
the only fountain of light; with which agrees that which Christ himself
in the Gospel denies, that anyone is to be called good but one, and that
is God. And then if he is a fool that is not wise, and every good man
according to the Stoics is a wise man, it is no wonder if all mankind be
concluded under folly. Again Solomon, Chapter 15, "Foolishness," says he,
"is joy to the fool," thereby plainly confessing that without folly there
is no pleasure in life. To which is pertinent that other, "He that
increases knowledge, increases grief; and in much understanding there is
much indignation." And does he not plainly confess as much, Chapter 7,
"The heart of the wise is where sadness is, but the heart of fools
follows mirth"? by which you see, he thought it not enough to have
learned wisdom without he had added the knowledge of me also. And if you
will not believe me, take his own words, Chapter 1, "I gave my heart to
know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly." Where, by the way, 'tis
worth your remark that he intended me somewhat extraordinary that he
named me last. A preacher wrote it, and this you know is the order among
churchmen, that he that is first in dignity comes last in place, as
mindful, no doubt, whatever they do in other things, herein at least to
observe the evangelical precept.

Besides, that folly is more excellent than wisdom the son of Sirach,
whoever he was, clearly witnesses, Chapter 44, whose words, so help me,
Hercules! I shall not once utter before you meet my induction with a
suitable answer, according to the manner of those in Plato that dispute
with Socrates. What things are more proper to be laid up with care, such
as are rare and precious, or such as are common and of no account? Why do
you give me no answer? Well, though you should dissemble, the Greek
proverb will answer for you, "Foul water is thrown out of doors;" which,
if any man shall be so ungracious as to condemn, let him know 'tis
Aristotle's, the god of our masters. Is there any of you so very a fool
as to leave jewels and gold in the street? In truth, I think not; in the
most secret part of your house; nor is that enough; if there be any
drawer in your iron chests more private than other, there you lay them;
but dirt you throw out of doors. And therefore, if you so carefully lay
up such things as you value and throw away what's vile and of no worth,
is it not plain that wisdom, which he forbids a man to hide, is of less
account than folly, which he commands him to cover? Take his own words,
"Better is the man that hideth his folly than he that hideth his wisdom."
Or what is that, when he attributes an upright mind without craft or
malice to a fool, when a wise man the while thinks no man like himself?
For so I understand that in his tenth chapter, "A fool walking by the
way, being a fool himself, supposes all men to be fools like him." And is
it not a sign of great integrity to esteem every man as good as himself,
and when there is no one that leans not too much to other way, to be so
frank yet as to divide his praises with another? Nor was this great king
ashamed of the name when he says of himself that he is more foolish than
any man. Nor did Paul, that great doctor of the Gentiles, writing to the
Corinthians, unwillingly acknowledge it; "I speak," says he, "like a
fool. I am more." As if it could be any dishonor to excel in folly.

But here I meet with a great noise of some that endeavor to peck out the
crows' eyes; that is, to blind the doctors of our times and smoke out
their eyes with new annotations; among whom my friend Erasmus, whom for
honor's sake I often mention, deserves if not the first place yet
certainly the second. O most foolish instance, they cry, and well
becoming Folly herself! The apostle's meaning was wide enough from what
you dream; for he spoke it not in this sense, that he would have them
believe him a greater fool than the rest, but when he had said, "They are
ministers of Christ, the same am I," and by way of boasting herein had
equaled himself with to others, he added this by way of correction or
checking himself, "I am more," as meaning that he was not only equal to
the rest of the apostles in the work of the Gospel, but somewhat
superior. And therefore, while he would have this received as a truth,
lest nevertheless it might not relish their ears as being spoken with too
much arrogance, he foreshortened his argument with the vizard of folly,
"I speak like a fool," because he knew it was the prerogative of fools to
speak what they like, and that too without offense. Whatever he thought
when he wrote this, I leave it to them to discuss; for my own part, I
follow those fat, fleshy, and vulgarly approved doctors, with whom, by
Jupiter! a great part of the learned had rather err than follow them that
understand the tongues, though they are never so much in the right. Not
any of them make greater account of those smatterers at Greek than if
they were daws. Especially when a no small professor, whose name I
wittingly conceal lest those choughs should chatter at me that Greek
proverb I have so often mentioned, "an ass at a harp," discoursing
magisterially and theologically on this text, "I speak as a fool, I am
more," drew a new thesis; and, which without the height of logic he could
never have done, made this new subdivision--for I'll give you his own
words, not only in form but matter also--"I speak like a fool," that is,
if you look upon me as a fool for comparing myself with those false
apostles, I shall seem yet a greater fool by esteeming myself before
them; though the same person a little after, as forgetting himself, runs
off to another matter.

But why do I thus staggeringly defend myself with one single instance? As
if it were not the common privilege of divines to stretch heaven, that is
Holy Writ, like a cheverel; and when there are many things in St. Paul
that thwart themselves, which yet in their proper place do well enough if
there be any credit to be given to St. Jerome that was master of five
tongues. Such was that of his at Athens when having casually espied the
inscription of that altar, he wrested it into an argument to prove the
Christian faith, and leaving out all the other words because they made
against him, took notice only of the two last, viz., "To the unknown
God;" and those too not without some alteration, for the whole
inscription was thus: "To the Gods of Asia, Europe, and Africa; To the
unknown and strange Gods." And according to his example do the sons of
the prophets, who, forcing out here and there four or five expressions
and if need be corrupting the sense, wrest it to their own purpose;
though what goes before and follows after make nothing to the matter in
hand, nay, be quite against it. Which yet they do with so happy an
impudence that oftentimes the civilians envy them that faculty.

For what is it in a manner they may not hope for success in, when this
great doctor (I had almost bolted out his name, but that I once again
stand in fear of the Greek proverb) has made a construction on an
expression of Luke, so agreeable to the mind of Christ as are fire and
water to one another. For when the last point of danger was at hand, at
which time retainers and dependents are wont in a more special manner to
attend their protectors, to examine what strength they have, and prepare
for the encounter, Christ, intending to take out of his disciples' minds
all trust and confidence in such like defense, demands of them whether
they wanted anything when he sent them forth so unprovided for a journey
that they had neither shoes to defend their feet from the injuries of
stones and briars nor the provision of a scrip to preserve them from
hunger. And when they had denied that they wanted anything, he adds, "But
now, he that hath a bag, let him take it, and likewise a scrip; and he
that hath none, let him sell his coat and buy a sword." And now when the
sum of all that Christ taught pressed only meekness, suffering, and
contempt of life, who does not clearly perceive what he means in this
place? to wit, that he might the more disarm his ministers, that
neglecting not only shoes and scrip but throwing away their very coat,
they might, being in a manner naked, the more readily and with less
hindrance take in hand the work of the Gospel, and provide themselves of
nothing but a sword, not such as thieves and murderers go up and down
with, but the sword of the spirit that pierces the most inward parts, and
so cuts off as it were at one blow all earthly affections, that they mind
nothing but their duty to God. But see, I pray, whither this famous
theologian wrests it. By the sword he interprets defense against
persecution, and by the bag sufficient provision to carry it on. As if
Christ having altered his mind, in that he sent out his disciples not so
royally attended as he should have done, repented himself of his former
instructions: or as forgetting that he had said, "Blessed are ye when ye
are evil spoken of, despised, and persecuted, etc.," and forbade them to
resist evil; for that the meek in spirit, not the proud, are blessed: or,
lest remembering, I say, that he had compared them to sparrows and
lilies, thereby minding them what small care they should take for the
things of this life, was so far now from having them go forth without a
sword that he commanded them to get one, though with the sale of their
coat, and had rather they should go naked than want a brawling-iron by
their sides. And to this, as under the word "sword" he conceives to be
comprehended whatever appertains to the repelling of injuries, so under
that of "scrip" he takes in whatever is necessary to the support of life.
And so does this deep interpreter of the divine meaning bring forth the
apostles to preach the doctrine of a crucified Christ, but furnished at
all points with lances, slings, quarterstaffs, and bombards; lading them
also with bag and baggage, lest perhaps it might not be lawful for them
to leave their inn unless they were empty and fasting. Nor does he take
the least notice of this, that he so willed the sword to be bought,
reprehends it a little after and commands it to be sheathed; and that it
was never heard that the apostles ever used or swords or bucklers against
the Gentiles, though 'tis likely they had done it, if Christ had ever
intended, as this doctor interprets.

There is another, too, whose name out of respect I pass by, a man of no
small repute, who from those tents which Habakkuk mentions, "The tents of
the land of Midian shall tremble," drew this exposition, that it was
prophesied of the skin of Saint Bartholomew who was flayed alive. And
why, forsooth, but because those tents were covered with skins? I was
lately myself at a theological dispute, for I am often there, where when
one was demanding what authority there was in Holy Writ that commands
heretics to be convinced by fire rather than reclaimed by argument; a
crabbed old fellow, and one whose supercilious gravity spoke him at least
a doctor, answered in a great fume that Saint Paul had decreed it, who
said, "Reject him that is a heretic, after once or twice admonition." And
when he had sundry times, one after another, thundered out the same
thing, and most men wondered what ailed the man, at last he explained it
thus, making two words of one. "A heretic must be put to death." Some
laughed, and yet there wanted not others to whom this exposition seemed
plainly theological; which, when some, though those very few, opposed,
they cut off the dispute, as we say, with a hatchet, and the credit of so
uncontrollable an author. "Pray conceive me," said he, "it is written,
'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.' But every heretic bewitches the
people; therefore, etc." And now, as many as were present admired the
man's wit, and consequently submitted to his decision of the question.
Nor came it into any of their heads that that law concerned only
fortunetellers, enchanters, and magicians, whom the Hebrews call in their
tongue "Mecaschephim," witches or sorcerers: for otherwise, perhaps,
by the same reason it might as well have extended to fornication
and drunkenness.

But I foolishly run on in these matters, though yet there are so many of
them that neither Chrysippus' nor Didymus' volumes are large enough to
contain them. I would only desire you to consider this, that if so great
doctors may be allowed this liberty, you may the more reasonably pardon
even me also, a raw, effeminate divine, if I quote not everything so
exactly as I should. And so at last I return to Paul. "Ye willingly,"
says he, "suffer my foolishness," and again, "Take me as a fool," and
further, "I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly," and
in another place, "We are fools for Christ's sake." You have heard from
how great an author how great praises of folly; and to what other end,
but that without doubt he looked upon it as that one thing both necessary
and profitable. "If anyone among ye," says he, "seem to be wise, let him
be a fool that he may be wise." And in Luke, Jesus called those two
disciples with whom he joined himself upon the way, "fools." Nor can I
give you any reason why it should seem so strange when Saint Paul imputes
a kind of folly even to God himself. "The foolishness of God," says he,
"is wiser than men." Though yet I must confess that origin upon the place
denies that this foolishness may be resembled to the uncertain judgment
of men; of which kind is, that "the preaching of the cross is to them
that perish foolishness."

But why am I so careful to no purpose that I thus run on to prove my
matter by so many testimonies? when in those mystical Psalms Christ
speaking to the Father says openly, "Thou knowest my foolishness." Nor is
it without ground that fools are so acceptable to God. The reason perhaps
may be this, that as princes carry a suspicious eye upon those that are
over-wise, and consequently hate them--as Caesar did Brutus and Cassius,
when he feared not in the least drunken Antony; so Nero, Seneca; and
Dionysius, Plato--and on the contrary are delighted in those blunter and
unlabored wits, in like manner Christ ever abhors and condemns those wise
men and such as put confidence in their own wisdom. And this Paul makes
clearly out when he said, "God hath chosen the foolish things of this
world," as well knowing it had been impossible to have reformed it by
wisdom. Which also he sufficiently declares himself, crying out by the
mouth of his prophet, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and cast
away the understanding of the prudent."

And again, when Christ gives Him thanks that He had concealed the mystery
of salvation from the wise, but revealed it to babes and sucklings, that
is to say, fools. For the Greek word for babes is fools, which he opposes
to the word wise men. To this appertains that throughout the Gospel you
find him ever accusing the Scribes and Pharisees and doctors of the law,
but diligently defending the ignorant multitude (for what other is that
"Woe to ye Scribes and Pharisees" than woe to you, you wise men?), but
seems chiefly delighted in little children, women, and fishers. Besides,
among brute beasts he is best pleased with those that have least in them
of the foxes' subtlety. And therefore he chose rather to ride upon an ass
when, if he had pleased, he might have bestrode the lion without danger.
And the Holy Ghost came down in the shape of a dove, not of an eagle or
kite. Add to this that in Scripture there is frequent mention of harts,
hinds, and lambs; and such as are destined to eternal life are called
sheep, than which creature there is not anything more foolish, if we may
believe that proverb of Aristotle "sheepish manners," which he tells us
is taken from the foolishness of that creature and is used to be applied
to dull-headed people and lack-wits. And yet Christ professes to be the
shepherd of this flock and is himself delighted with the name of a lamb;
according to Saint John, "Behold the Lamb of God!" Of which also there is
much mention in the Revelation. And what does all this drive at, but that
all mankind are fools--nay, even the very best?

And Christ himself, that he might the better relieve this folly, being
the wisdom of the Father, yet in some manner became a fool when taking
upon him the nature of man, he was found in shape as a man; as in like
manner he was made sin that he might heal sinners. Nor did he work this
cure any other way than by the foolishness of the cross and a company of
fat apostles, not much better, to whom also he carefully recommended
folly but gave them a caution against wisdom and drew them together by
the example of little children, lilies, mustard-seed, and sparrows,
things senseless and inconsiderable, living only by the dictates of
nature and without either craft or care. Besides, when he forbade them to
be troubled about what they should say before governors and straightly
charged them not to inquire after times and seasons, to wit, that they
might not trust to their own wisdom but wholly depend on him. And to the
same purpose is it that that great Architect of the World, God, gave man
an injunction against his eating of the Tree of Knowledge, as if
knowledge were the bane of happiness; according to which also, St. Paul
disallows it as puffing up and destructive; whence also St. Bernard seems
in my opinion to follow when he interprets that mountain whereon Lucifer
had fixed his habitation to be the mountain of knowledge.

Nor perhaps ought I to omit this other argument, that Folly is so
gracious above that her errors are only pardoned, those of wise men
never. Whence it is that they that ask forgiveness, though they offend
never so wittingly, cloak it yet with the excuse of folly. So Aaron, in
Numbers, if I mistake not the book, when he sues unto Moses concerning
his sister's leprosy, "I beseech thee, my Lord, not to lay this sin upon
us, which we have foolishly committed." So Saul makes his excuse of
David, "For behold," says he, "I did it foolishly." And again, David
himself thus sweetens God, "And therefore I beseech thee, O Lord, to take
away the trespass of thy servant, for I have done foolishly," as if he
knew there was no pardon to be obtained unless he had colored his offense
with folly and ignorance. And stronger is that of Christ upon the cross
when he prayed for his enemies, "Father, forgive them," nor does he cover
their crime with any other excuse than that of unwittingness--because,
says he, "they know not what they do." In like manner Paul, writing to
Timothy, "But therefore I obtained mercy, for that I did it ignorantly
through unbelief." And what is the meaning of "I did it ignorantly" but
that I did it out of folly, not malice? And what of "Therefore I received
mercy" but that I had not obtained it had I not been made more allowable
through the covert of folly? For us also makes that mystical Psalmist,
though I remembered it not in its right place, "Remember not the sins of
my youth nor my ignorances." You see what two things he pretends, to wit,
youth, whose companion I ever am, and ignorances, and that in the plural
number, a number of multitude, whereby we are to understand that there
was no small company of them.

But not to run too far in that which is infinite. To speak briefly, all
Christian religion seems to have a kind of alliance with folly and in no
respect to have any accord with wisdom. Of which if you expect proofs,
consider first that boys, old men, women, and fools are more delighted
with religious and sacred things than others, and to that purpose are
ever next the altars; and this they do by mere impulse of nature. And in
the next place, you see that those first founders of it were plain,
simple persons and most bitter enemies of learning. Lastly there are no
sort of fools seem more out of the way than are these whom the zeal of
Christian religion has once swallowed up; so that they waste their
estates, neglect injuries, suffer themselves to be cheated, put no
difference between friends and enemies, abhor pleasure, are crammed with
poverty, watchings, tears, labors, reproaches, loathe life, and wish
death above all things; in short, they seem senseless to common
understanding, as if their minds lived elsewhere and not in their own
bodies; which, what else is it than to be mad? For which reason you must
not think it so strange if the apostles seemed to be drunk with new wine,
and if Paul appeared to Festus to be mad.

But now, having once gotten on the lion's skin, go to, and I'll show you
that this happiness of Christians, which they pursue with so much toil,
is nothing else but a kind of madness and folly; far be it that my words
should give any offense, rather consider my matter. And first, the
Christians and Platonists do as good as agree in this, that the soul is
plunged and fettered in the prison of the body, by the grossness of which
it is so tied up and hindered that it cannot take a view of or enjoy
things as they truly are; and for that cause their master defines
philosophy to be a contemplation of death, because it takes off the mind
from visible and corporeal objects, than which death does no more. And
therefore, as long as the soul uses the organs of the body in that right
manner it ought, so long it is said to be in good state and condition;
but when, having broken its fetters, it endeavors to get loose and
assays, as it were, a flight out of that prison that holds it in, they
call it madness; and if this happen through any distemper or
indisposition of the organs, then, by the common consent of every man,
'tis downright madness. And yet we see such kind of men foretell things
to come, understand tongues and letters they never learned before, and
seem, as it were, big with a kind of divinity. Nor is it to be doubted
but that it proceeds from hence, that the mind, being somewhat at liberty
from the infection of the body, begins to put forth itself in its native
vigor. And I conceive 'tis from the same cause that the like often
happens to sick men a little before their death, that they discourse in
strain above mortality as if they were inspired. Again, if this happens
upon the score of religion, though perhaps it may not be the same kind of
madness, yet 'tis so near it that a great many men would judge it no
better, especially when a few inconsiderable people shall differ from the
rest of the world in the whole course of their life. And therefore it
fares with them as, according to the fiction of Plato, happens to those
that being cooped up in a cave stand gaping with admiration at the
shadows of things; and that fugitive who, having broke from them and
returning to them again, told them he had seen things truly as they were,
and that they were the most mistaken in believing there was nothing but
pitiful shadows. For as this wise man pitied and bewailed their palpable
madness that were possessed with so gross an error, so they in return
laughed at him as a doting fool and cast him out of their company. In
like manner the common sort of men chiefly admire those things that are
most corporeal and almost believe there is nothing beyond them. Whereas
on the contrary, these devout persons, by how much the nearer anything
concerns the body, by so much more they neglect it and are wholly hurried
away with the contemplation of things invisible. For the one give the
first place to riches, the next to their corporeal pleasures, leaving the
last place to their soul, which yet most of them do scarce believe,
because they can't see it with their eyes. On the contrary, the others
first rely wholly on God, the most unchangeable of all things; and next
him, yet on this that comes nearest him, they bestow the second on their
soul; and lastly, for their body, they neglect that care and condemn and
fly money as superfluity that may be well spared; or if they are forced
to meddle with any of these things, they do it carelessly and much
against their wills, having as if they had it not, and possessing as if
they possessed it not.

There are also in each several things several degrees wherein they
disagree among themselves. And first as to the senses, though all of them
have more or less affinity with the body, yet of these some are more
gross and blockish, as tasting, hearing, seeing, smelling, touching; some
more removed from the body, as memory, intellect, and the will. And
therefore to which of these the mind applies itself, in that lies its
force. But holy men, because the whole bent of their minds is taken up
with those things that are most repugnant to these grosser senses, they
seem brutish and stupid in the common use of them. Whereas on the
contrary, the ordinary sort of people are best at these, and can do least
at the other; from whence it is, as we have heard, that some of these
holy men have by mistake drunk oil for wine. Again, in the affections of
the mind, some have a greater commerce with the body than others, as
lust, desire of meat and sleep, anger, pride, envy; with which holy men
are at irreconcilable enmity, and contrary, the common people think
there's no living without them. And lastly there are certain middle kind
of affections, and as it were natural to every man, as the love of one's
country, children, parents, friends, and to which the common people
attribute no small matter; whereas the other strive to pluck them out of
their mind: unless insomuch as they arrive to that highest part of the
soul, that they love their parents not as parents--for what did they get
but the body? though yet we owe it to God, not them--but as good men or
women and in whom shines the image of that highest wisdom which alone
they call the chiefest good, and out of which, they say, there is nothing
to be beloved or desired.

And by the same rule do they measure all things else, so that they make
less account of whatever is visible, unless it be altogether
contemptible, than of those things which they cannot see. But they say
that in Sacraments and other religious duties there is both body and
spirit. As in fasting they count it not enough for a man to abstain from
eating, which the common people take for an absolute fast, unless there
be also a lessening of his depraved affections: as that he be less angry,
less proud, than he was wont, that the spirit, being less clogged with
its bodily weight, may be the more intent upon heavenly things. In like
manner, in the Eucharist, though, say they, it is not to be esteemed the
less that 'tis administered with ceremonies, yet of itself 'tis of little
effect, if not hurtful, unless that which is spiritual be added to it, to
wit, that which is represented under those visible signs. Now the death
of Christ is represented by it, which all men, vanquishing, abolishing,
and, as it were, burying their carnal affections, ought to express in
their lives and conversations that they may grow up to a newness of life
and be one with him and the same one among another. This a holy man does,
and in this is his only meditation. Whereas on the contrary, the common
people think there's no more in that sacrifice than to be present at the
altar and crowd next it, to have a noise of words and look upon the
ceremonies. Nor in this alone, which we only proposed by way of example,
but in all his life, and without hypocrisy, does a holy man fly those
things that have any alliance with the body and is wholly ravished with
things eternal, invisible, and spiritual. For which cause there's so
great contrarity of opinion between them, and that too in everything,
that each party thinks the other out of their wits; though that
character, in my judgment, better agrees with those holy men than the
common people: which yet will be more clear if, as I promised, I briefly
show you that that great reward they so much fancy is nothing else but a
kind of madness.

And therefore suppose that Plato dreamed of somewhat like it when he
called the madness of lovers the most happy condition of all others. For
he that's violently in love lives not in his own body but in the thing he
loves; and by how much the farther he runs from himself into another, by
so much the greater is his pleasure. And then, when the mind strives to
rove from its body and does not rightly use its own organs, without doubt
you may say 'tis downright madness and not be mistaken, or otherwise
what's the meaning of those common sayings, "He does not dwell at home,"
"Come to yourself," "He's his own man again"? Besides, the more perfect
and true his love is, the more pleasant is his madness. And therefore,
what is that life hereafter, after which these holy minds so pantingly
breathe, like to be? To wit, the spirit shall swallow up the body, as
conqueror and more durable; and this it shall do with the greater ease
because heretofore, in its lifetime, it had cleansed and thinned it into
such another nothing as itself. And then the spirit again shall be
wonderfully swallowed up by the highest mind, as being more powerful than
infinite parts; so that the whole man is to be out of himself nor to be
otherwise happy in any respect, but that being stripped of himself, he
shall participate of somewhat ineffable from that chiefest good that
draws all things into itself. And this happiness though 'tis only then
perfected when souls being joined to their former bodies shall be made
immortal, yet forasmuch as the life of holy men is nothing but a
continued meditation and, as it were, shadow of that life, it so happens
that at length they have some taste or relish of it; which, though it be
but as the smallest drop in comparison of that fountain of eternal
happiness, yet it far surpasses all worldly delight, though all the
pleasures of all mankind were all joined together. So much better are
things spiritual than things corporeal, and things invisible than things
visible; which doubtless is that which the prophet promises: "The eye
hath not seen, nor the ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of
man to consider what God has provided for them that love Him." And this
is that Mary's better part which is not taken away by change of life,
but perfected.

And therefore they that are sensible of it, and few there are to whom
this happens, suffer a kind of somewhat little differing from madness;
for they utter many things that do not hang together, and that too not
after the manner of men but make a kind of sound which they neither heed
themselves, nor is it understood by others, and change the whole figure
of their countenance, one while jocund, another while dejected, now
weeping, then laughing, and again sighing. And when they come to
themselves, tell you they know not where they have been, whether in the
body or out of the body, or sleeping; nor do they remember what they have
heard, seen, spoken, or done, and only know this, as it were in a mist or
dream, that they were the most happy while they were so out of their
wits. And therefore they are sorry they are come to themselves again and
desire nothing more than this kind of madness, to be perpetually mad. And
this is a small taste of that future happiness.

But I forget myself and run beyond my bounds. Though yet, if I shall seem
to have spoken anything more boldly or impertinently than I ought, be
pleased to consider that not only Folly but a woman said it; remembering
in the meantime that Greek proverb, "Sometimes a fool may speak a word in
season," unless perhaps you expect an epilogue, but give me leave to tell
you you are mistaken if you think I remember anything of what I have
said, having foolishly bolted out such a hodgepodge of words. 'Tis an old
proverb, "I hate one that remembers what's done over the cup." This is a
new one of my own making: I hate a man that remembers what he hears.
Wherefore farewell, clap your hands, live and drink lustily, my most
excellent disciples of Folly.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Moriae encomium. English - The Praise of Folly" ***

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