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WRITES ODE ON THE NATIVITY.
life would be bitter amid these heats and tossings, that it would be better even to have lost knowledge of the Arts altogether. And so, scarce master of myself, I undertook the rash design of praising Ignorance, as having none of these inflictions disturbing it; and I proposed as a subject of debate, which of the two, Art or Ignorance, made its votaries happier. I know not what it is, but either fate or my genius has willed that I should not depart from my once-begun love of the Muses; nay, blind Chance herself, as if suddenly become prudent and provident, seems to have set herself against the same result. Sooner than I could have anticipated, Ignorance has found an advocate for herself; and Knowledge is left to be defended by me.2
'But if you will know what I am myself doing (if, indeed, you think it of so much consequence to know if I am doing anything), here is the fact: We are engaged in singing the heavenly birth of the King of Peace, and the happy age promised by the holy books, and the infant cries
The thesis of this Prolusion is 'Art, i.e. Knowledge, is more conducive to human happiness than Ignorance.'
2 Prolusio VII. (Masson's translation). Styled by him 'one of the noblest pieces of Latin prose ever penned by an Englishman.'
and cradling in a manger under a poor roof of that God who rules, with his Father, the kingdom of heaven, and the sky with the new-sprung star in it, and the ethereal choirs of hymning angels, and the gods of heathen eld suddenly fleeing to their endangered fanes. This is the gift which we have presented to Christ's natal day. On that very morning, at daybreak, it was first conceived. The verses, which are composed in the vernacular, await your criticism; you shall be the judge to whom I shall recite them.'1
Having spent his first onset (the son of Bishop Hall, in his "Modest Confutation against a slanderous and scurrilous Libel "), not in confuting but in a reasonless defaming of the book (the Animadversions), the method of his malice hurries him on to attempt the like against the author, but "having
Elegy VI. 79-90. Thus headed, "To Charles Diodati, residing in the country, who, when he had written on the 13th of December, and had asked (the author) to excuse his verses, if they were less good than usual, on the ground that in the midst of the festivities with which he had been received by his friends, he was unable to give a sufficient happy attention to the Muses, had the following answer sent him.' We need hardly add that Milton, in the part of the elegy we have quoted, alludes to his Ode on the Nativity.
no certain notice of me," as he professes, "further than what he gathers from the Animadversions," blunders at me for the rest, and flings out stray crimes at a venture. To me, readers, it happens as a singular contentment, and let it be to good men no light satisfaction, that the slanderer here confesses that he has "no further notice of me than his own conjecture." Although it had been honest to have inquired, before he uttered such infamous words, and I am credibly informed he did inquire; but finding small comfort from the intelligence which he received, whereon to ground the falsities which he had provided, thought it his likeliest course, under a pretended ignorance, to let drive at random, lest he should lose his odd ends, which from some penurious book of characters he had been culling out and would fain apply. Not caring to burden me (i.e. he did do so) with those vices, whereof, among whom my conversation hath been, I have been ever least suspected; perhaps not without some subtlety to cast me into envy, by bringing on me a necessity to enter into mine own praises. In which argument I know every wise
man is more unwillingly drawn to speak, than the most refining ear can be averse to hear.
Nevertheless, since I dare not wish to pass this life unpersecuted of slanderous tongues, for God hath told us that, to be generally praised, is woful, I shall rely on His promise to free the innocent from causeless aspersions; whereof nothing sooner can assure me, than if I shall feel Him now assisting me in the just vindication of myself, which yet I could defer, it being more meet, that to those other matters of public debatement in this book I should give attendance first, but that I fear it would but harm the truth for me to reason in her behalf, so long as I should suffer my honest estimation to lie unpurged from these insolent suspicions. And if I shall be large, or unwonted in justifying myself to those who know me not, for else it would be needless, let them consider that a short slander will ofttimes reach further than a long apology; and that he who will do justly to all men, must begin from knowing how, if it so happen, to be not unjust to himself. I must be thought, if this libeller (for now he shows himself to be so) can find belief, after an inordinate and riotous
RESPECTED BY HIS COLLEGE.
youth spent at the university, to have been at length "vomited out thence." For which commodious lie, that he may be encouraged in this trade another time, I thank him; for it hath given me an apt occasion to acknowledge publicly, with all grateful mind, that more than ordinary favour and respect, which I found above any of my equals at the hands of those courteous and learned men, the fellows of that college wherein I spent some years: who at my parting, after I had taken two degrees, as the manner is, signified many ways how much better it would content them that I would stay; as by many letters full of kindness and loving respect, both before that time and long after, I was assured of their singular good affection towards Which being likewise propense to all such as were for their studious and civil life worthy of esteem, I could not wrong their judgments and upright intentions, so much as to think I had that regard from them for other cause, than that I might be still encouraged to proceed in the honest and laudable courses, of which they apprehended I had given good proof. And to those ingenuous and friendly men, who were ever the countenancers of