« PreviousContinue »
up his prayers for the observers of his law. The people assembled : Mahomet called the hill to come to him again and again ; and when the hill stood still, he was never a whit abashed, but said, “ If the hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill." So these men, when they have promised great matters and failed most shamefully, yet (if they have the perfection of boldness) they will but slight it over, and make a turn, and no more ado. Certainly to men of great judgment, bold persons are a sport to behold ; nay, and to the vulgar also boldness hath somewhat of the ridiculous : for if absurdity be the subject of laughter, doubt you not but great boldness is seldom without some absurdity; especially it is a sport to see when a bold fellow is out of countenance, for that puts his face into a most shrunken and wooden posture as needs it must; for in bashfulness the spirits do a little go and come ; but with bold men, upon like occasion, they stand at a stay ; like a stale at chess, where it is no mate, but yet the game cannot stir : but this last were fitter for a satire than for a serious observation. This is well to be weighed, that boldness is ever blind; for it seeth not dangers and inconveniences: therefore it is ill in counsel, good in execution ; so that the right use of bold persons is, that they never command in chief, but be seconds and under the direction of others; for in counsel it is good to see dangers, and in execution not to see them except they be vrey great.
XIII. OF GOODNESS AND GOODNESS O .
NATURE. I take goodness in this sense, the affecting of the weal of men, which is that the Grecians call Philanthropia ; and the word humanity (as it is used), is a little too light to express it. Goodness I call the habit, and goodness of nature the inclination. This of all virtues and dignities of the mind, is the greatest, being the character of the Deity: and without it man is a busy, mischievous, wretched thing, no better than a kind of vermin. Goodness answers to the theological virtue charity, and admits no excess but error. The desire of power in excess caused the angels to fall; the desire of knowledge in excess caused man to fall : but in charity there is no excess, neither can angel or man come in danger by it. The inclination to goodness is imprinted deeply in the nature of man; insomuch, that if it issue not towards men, it will take unto other living creatures ; as it is seen in the Turks, a cruel people, who nevertheless are kind to beasts, and give alms to dogs and birds; insomuch, as Busbechius reporteth, a Christian boy in Constantinople had like to have been stoned for gagging in a waggishness a long-billed fowl. Errors indeed, in this virtue, of goodness or charity, may be committed. The Italians have an ungracious proverb, “ Tanto buon che val
“ “ niente;" “ So good, that he is good for nothing" and one of the doctors of Italy, Nicholas Machiavel, had the confidence to put in writing, almost in plain
terms, “ That the Christian faith had given up good
men in prey to those that are tyrannical and unjust;" which he spake, because, indeed, there was never law or sect or opinion did so much magnify goodness as the Christian religion doth : therefore, to avoid the scandal and the danger both, it is good to take knowledge of the errors of an habit so excellent. Seek the good of other men, but be not in bondage to their faces or fancies; for that is but facility or softness, which taketh an honest mind prisoner. Neither give thou Æsop's cock a gem, who would be better pleased and happier if he had a barley-corn.* The example of God teacheth the lesson truly ; " He sendeth his rain, and maketh the “sun to shine upon the just and the unjust;" but he doth not rain wealth, nor shine honour and virtues upon men equally : common benefits are to be communicated with all, but peculiar benefits with choice. And beware how in making the portraiture thou breakest the pattern: for divinity maketh the love of ourselves the pattern; the love of our neighbours but the portraiture : “ Sell all thou hast and give it " to the poor, and follow me:" but sell not all thou hast except thou come and follow me; that is, except thou have a vocation wherein thou mayest do as much good with little means as with great ; for otherwise, in feeding the streams, thou driest the fountain. Neither is there only a habit of goodness directed by right reason; but there is in some men, even in nature, a disposition towards it; as, on the other side, there is a natural malignity: for there be
See note G at the end.
that in their nature do not affect the good of others. The lighter sort of malignity turneth but to a crossness, or frowardness, or aptness to oppose, or difficileness, or the like; but the deeper sort to envy, and mere mischief. Such men in other men's calamities, are, as it were, in season, and are ever on the loading part: not so good as the dogs that licked Lazarus' sores, but like flies that are still buzzing upon any thing that is raw; misanthropi, that make it their practice to bring men to the bough, and yet have never a tree for the purpose in their gardens, as Timon had : such dispositions are the very errours of human nature, and yet they are the fittest timber to make great politics of; like to knee timber, that is good for ships that are ordained to be tossed, but not for building houses that shall stand firm. The parts and signs of goodness are many. If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shews he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them : if he be compassionate towards the afflictions of others, it shews that his heart is like the noble tree that is wounded itself when it gives the balm: if he easily pardons and remits offences, it shews that his mind is planted above injuries, so that he cannot be shot : if he be thankful for small benefits, it shews that he weighs men's minds, and not their trash: but, above all, if he have St. Paul's perfection, that he would wish to be an anathema from Christ for the salvation of his brethren, it shews much of a divine nature, and a kind of conformity with Christ himself,
XIV. OF NOBILITY. We will speak of nobility first as a portion of an estate, then as a condition of particular persons. A monarchy, where there is no nobility at all, is ever a pure and absolute tyranny, as that of the Turks; for nobility attempers sovereignty, and draws the eyes of the people somewhat aside from the line royal : but for democracies they need it not; and they are commonly more quiet and less subject to sedition, than where there are stirps of nobles ; for men's eyes are upon the business, and not upon the persons; or if
it is for the business sake, as fittest, and not for flags and pedigree. We see the Switzers last well, notwithstanding their diversity of religion and of cantons; for utility is their bond, and not respects. The united provinces of the Low Countries in their government excel ; for where there is an equality the consultations are more indifferent, and the payments and tributes more cheerful.
A great and potent nobility addeth majesty to a monarch, but diminisheth power, and putteth life and spirit into the people, but presseth their fortune. It is well when nobles are not too great for sovereignty nor for justice; and yet maintained in that height, as the insolency of inferiors may be broken upon them before it come on too fast upon the majesty of kings. A numerous nobility causeth poverty and inconvenience in a state, for it is a surcharge of expense ; and besides, it being of necessity that many of the