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ANTHONY: That shall I, cousin, with good will. And first, if we could consider what thing imprisonment is of its own nature methinketh we should not have so great horror of it. For of itself it is, perdy, but a restraint of liberty, which hindereth a man from going whither he would.

VINCENT: Yes, by St. Mary, uncle, but methinketh it is much more sorry than that. For beside the hindrance and restraint of liberty, it hath many more displeasures and very sore griefs knit and adjoined to it.

ANTHONY: That is, cousin, very true indeed. And those pains, among many sorer than those, thought I not afterward to forget. Howbeit, I purpose now to consider first imprisonment as imprisonment alone, without any other incommodity besides. For a man may be imprisoned, perdy, and yet not set in the stocks or collared fast by the neck. And a man may be let walk at large where he will, and yet have a pair of fetters fast riveted on his legs. For in this country, you know, and Seville and Portugal too, so go all the slaves. Howbeit, because for such things men's hearts have such horror of it, albeit that I am not so mad as to go about to prove that bodily pain were no pain, yet since it is because of this manner of pains that we so especially abhor the state and condition of prisoners, methinketh we should well perceive that a great part of our horror groweth of our own fancy. Let us call to mind and consider the state and condition of many other folk in whose state and condition we would wish ourselves to stand, taking them for no prisoners at all, who stand yet for all that in many of the selfsame points that we abhor imprisonment for. Let us therefore consider these things in order. First, those other kinds of grief that come with imprisonment are but accidents unto it. And yet they are neither such accidents as be proper unto it, since they may almost all befall man without it; nor are they such accidents as be inseparable from it, since imprisonment may fall to a man and none of them therein. We will, I say, therefore begin by considering what manner of pain or incommodity we should reckon imprisonment to be of itself and of its own nature alone. And then in the course of our communication, you shall as you please increase and aggravate the cause of your horror with the terror of those painful accidents.

VINCENT: I am sorry that I did interrupt your tale, for you were about, I see well, to take an orderly way therein. And as you yourself have devised, so I beseech you proceed. For though I reckon imprisonment much the sorer thing by sore and hard handling therein, yet reckon I not the imprisonment of itself any less than a thing very tedious, although it were used in the most favourable manner that it possibly could be.

For, uncle, if a great prince were taken prisoner upon the field, and in the hand of a Christian king, such as are accustomed, in such cases, for the consideration of their former estate and mutable chance of war, to show much humanity to them, and treat them in very favourable wise—for these infidel emperors handle oftentimes the princes that they take more villainously than they do the poorest men, as the great Tamberlane kept the great Turk, when he had taken him, to tread on his back always when he leapt on horseback. But, as I began to say, by the example of a prince taken prisoner, were the imprisonment never so favourable, yet it would be, to my mind, no little grief in itself for a man to be penned up, though not in a narrow chamber. But although his walk were right large and right fair gardens in it too, it could not but grieve his heart to be restrained by another man within certain limits and bounds, and lose the liberty to be where he please.

ANTHONY: This is, cousin, well considered of you. For in this you perceive well that imprisonment is, of itself and of its own very nature alone, nothing else but the retaining of a man's person within the circuit of a certain space, narrower or larger as shall be limited to him, restraining his liberty from going further into any other place.

VINCENT: Very well said, methinketh.

ANTHONY: Yet I forgot, cousin, to ask you one question.

VINCENT: What is that, uncle?

ANTHONY: This, lo: If there be two men kept in two several chambers of one great castle, of which two chambers the one is much larger than the other, are they prisoners both, or only the one who has the less room to walk in?

VINCENT: What question is it, uncle, but that they are both prisoners, as I said myself before, although the one lay fast locked in the stocks and the other had all the whole castle to walk in?

ANTHONY: Methinketh verily, cousin, that you say the truth. And then, if imprisonment be such a thing as you yourself here agree it is—that is, but a lack of liberty to go whither we please—now would I fain know of you what one man you know who is at this day out of prison?

VINCENT: What one man, uncle? Marry, I know almost none other! For surely I am acquainted with no prisoner, that I remember.

ANTHONY: Then I see well that you visit poor prisoners seldom.

VINCENT: No, by my troth, uncle, I cry God mercy. I send them sometimes mine alms, but by my troth I love not to come myself where I should see such misery.

ANTHONY: In good faith, Cousin Vincent (though I say it before you) you have many good qualities, but surely (though I say that before you, too) that is not one of them. If you would amend it, then should you have yet the more good qualities by one—and peradventure the more by three or four. For I assure you it is hard to tell how much good it doth to a man's soul, the personal visiting of poor prisoners.

But now, since you can name me none of them that are in prison, I pray you name me some one of all those whom you are, you say, better acquainted with—men, I mean, who are out of prison. For I know, methinketh, as few of them as you know of the others.

VINCENT: That would, uncle, be a strange case. For every man is out of prison who may go where he will, though he be the poorest beggar in the town. And, in good faith, uncle (because you reckon imprisonment so small a matter of itself) meseemeth the poor beggar who is at his liberty and may walk where he will is in better case than is a king kept in prison, who cannot go but where men give him leave.

ANTHONY: Well, cousin, whether every way-walking beggar be, by this reason, out of prison or no, we shall consider further when you will. But in the meanwhile I can by this reason see no prince who seemeth to be out of prison. For if the lack of liberty to go where a man will, be imprisonment, as you yourself say it is, then is the great Turk, by whom we fear to be put in prison, in prison already himself, for he may not go where he will. For if he could he would go into Portugal, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and England, and as far in the other direction too—both into Prester John's land and into the Grand Cham's too.

Now, the beggar that you speak of, if he be (as you say he is) by reason of his liberty to go where he will, in much better case than a king kept in prison, because he cannot go but where men give him leave; then is that beggar in better case, not only than a prince in prison but also than many a prince out of prison too. For I am sure there is many a beggar who may without hindrance walk further upon other men's ground than many a prince at his best liberty may walk upon his own. And as for walking out abroad upon other men's, that prince might be withstood and held fast, where that beggar, with his bag and staff, might be suffered to go forth and keep on his way.

But forasmuch, cousin, as neither the beggar nor the prince is at free liberty to walk where they will, but neither of them would be suffered to walk in some places without men withstanding them and saying them nay; therefore if imprisonment be, as you grant it is, a lack of liberty to go where we please, I cannot see but the beggar and the prince, whom you reckon both at liberty, are by your own reason restrained in prison both.

VINCENT: Yea, but uncle, both the one and the other have way enough to walk—the one in his own ground and the other in other men's, or in the common highway, where they may both walk till they be weary of walking ere any man say them nay.

ANTHONY: So may, cousin, that king who had, as you yourself put the case, all the whole castle to walk in. And yet you deny not that he is prisoner for all that—though not so straitly kept, yet as verily prisoner as he that lieth in the stocks.

VINCENT: But they may go at least to every place that they need, or that is commodious for them, and therefore they do not wish to go anywhere but where they may. And therefore they are at liberty to go where they will.

ANTHONY: I need not, cousin, to spend the time about impugning every part of this answer. Let pass by that, though a prisoner were brought with his keeper into every place where need required, yet since he might not when he wished go where he wished for his pleasure alone, he would be, as you know well, a prisoner still. And let pass over also that it would be needful for this beggar, and commodious for this king, to go into divers places where neither of them may come. And let pass also that neither of them is lightly so temperately determined by what they both fain would so do indeed, if this reason of yours put them out of prison and set them at liberty and made them free, as I will well grant it doth if they so do indeed—that is, if they have no will to go anywhere but where they may go indeed.

Then let us look on our other prisoners enclosed within a castle, and we shall find that the straitest kept of them both, if he get the wisdom and grace to quiet his mind and hold himself content with that place, and not long (as a woman with child longeth for her desires) to be gadding out anywhere else, is by the same reason of yours, while his will is not longing to be anywhere else, he is, I say, at his free liberty to be where he will. And so he is out of prison too.

And, on the other hand, if, though his will be not longing to be anywhere else, yet because if his will so were he should not be so suffered, he is therefore not at his free liberty but a prisoner still, since your free beggar that you speak of and the prince that you call out of prison too, though they be (which I daresay few be) by some special wisdom so temperately disposed that they will have not the will to be anywhere but where they see that they may be suffered to be, yet, since if they did have that will they could not then be where they would, they lack the effect of free liberty and are both twain in prison too.

VINCENT: Well, uncle, if every man universally is by this reason in prison already, after the proper nature of imprisonment, yet to be imprisoned in this special manner which alone is commonly called imprisonment is a thing of great horror and fear, both for the straitness of the keeping and for the hard handling that many men have therein. Of all the griefs that you speak of, we feel nothing at all. And therefore every man abhorreth the one, and would be loth to come into it. And no man abhorreth the other, for they feel no harm and find no fault therein.

Therefore, uncle, in good faith, though I cannot find fitting answers with which to avoid your arguments, yet (to be plain with you and tell you the very truth) my mind findeth not itself satisfied on this point. But ever methinketh that these things, with which you rather convince and conclude me than induce a credence and persuade me that every man is in prison already, are but sophistical fancies, and that except those that are commonly called prisoners, other men are not in any prison at all.

ANTHONY: Well fare thine heart, good Cousin Vincent! There was, in good faith, no word that you spoke since we first talked of these matters that I liked half so well as these that you speak now. For if you had assented in words and your mind departed unpersuaded, then, if the thing be true that I say, yet had you lost the fruit. And if it be peradventure false, and I myself deceived therein, then, since I should have supposed that you liked it too, you would have confirmed me in my folly. For, in good faith, cousin, such an old fool am I that this thing (in the persuading of which unto you I had thought I had quit me well, and yet which, when I have all done, appeareth to your mind but a trifle and sophistical fancy) I myself have so many years taken it for so very substantial truth that as yet my mind cannot give me to think it any other. But I would not play the part of that French priest who had so long used to say Dominus with the second syllable long that at least he thought it must needs be so, and was ashamed to say it short. So to the intent that you may the better perceive me and I may the better perceive myself, we shall here between us a little more consider the thing. So spit well on your hands boldly, and take good hold, and give it not over against your own mind, for then we would be never the nearer.

VINCENT: Nay, by my troth, uncle, that intend I not to do. Nor have I done it yet since we began. And that may you well perceive by some things which, without any great cause, save for the further satisfaction of my own mind, I repeated and debated again.

ANTHONY: That guise, cousin, you must hold on boldly still. For I purpose to give up my part in this matter, unless I make you yourself perceive both that every man universally is a very prisoner in very prison—plainly, without any sophistry at all—and also that there is no prince living upon earth who is not in a worse case prisoner by this general imprisonment that I speak of, than is many a simple ignorant wretch by that special imprisonment that you speak of. And beside this, that in this general imprisonment that I speak of, men are for the time that they are in it, so sore handled and so hardly and in such painful wise, that men's hearts have with reason great cause to abhor this hard handling that is in this imprisonment as sorely as they do the other that is in that.

VINCENT: By my troth, uncle, these things would I fain see well proved.

ANTHONY: Tell me, then, cousin, first by your troth: If a man were attainted of treason or felony; and if, after judgment had been given of his death and it were determined that he should die, the time of his execution were only delayed till the king's further pleasure should be known; if he were thereupon delivered to certain keepers and put up in a sure place out of which he could not escape—would this man be a prisoner, or not?

VINCENT: This man, quoth he? Yea, marry, that would he be in very deed, if ever man were!

ANTHONY: But now what if, for the time that were between his attainder and his execution, he were so favourably handled that he were suffered to do what he would, as he did while he was free—to have the use of his lands and his goods, and his wife and his children to have license to be with him, and his friends leave at liberty to resort unto him, and his servants not forbidden to abide about him. And add yet thereunto that the place were a great castle royal with parks and other pleasures in it, a very great circuit about. Yes, and add yet, if you like, that he were suffered to go and ride also, both when he wished and whither he wished; only this one point always provided and foreseen, that he should ever be surely seen to, and safely kept from escaping. So though he had never so much of his own will in the meanwhile (in all matters save escaping), yet he should well know that escape he could not, and that when he were called for, to execution and to death he should go.

Now, Cousin Vincent, what would you call this man? A prisoner, because he is kept for execution? Or no prisoner, because he is in the meanwhile so favourably handled and suffered to do all that he would, save escape? And I bid you not here be hasty in your answer, but advise it well that you grant no such thing in haste as you would afterward at leisure mislike, and think yourself deceived.

VINCENT: Nay, by my troth, uncle, this thing needeth no study at all, to my mind. But, for all this favour showed him and all this liberty lent him, yet being condemned to death, and being kept for it, and kept with sure watch laid upon him that he cannot escape, he is all that while a very plain prisoner still.

ANTHONY: In good faith, cousin, methinketh you say very true. But then one thing must I yet desire you, cousin, to tell me a little further. If there were another laid in prison for a brawl, and through the jailors' displeasure were bolted and fettered and laid in a low dungeon in the stocks, where he might lie peradventure for a while and abide in the meantime some pain but no danger of death at all, but that out again he should come well enough—which of these two prisoners would stand in the worse case? He that hath all this favour, or he that is thus hardly handled?

VINCENT: By our Lady, uncle, I believe that most men, if they should needs choose, had liefer be such prisoners in every point as he who so sorely lieth in the stocks, than in every point such as he who walketh at such liberty about the park.

ANTHONY: Consider, then, cousin, whether this thing seem any sophistry to you that I shall show you now. For it shall be such as seemeth in good faith substantially true to me. And if it so happen that you think otherwise, I will be very glad to perceive which of us both is beguiled.

For it seemeth to me, cousin, first, that every man coming into this world here upon earth as he is created by God, so cometh he hither by the providence of God. Is this any sophistry first, or not?

VINCENT: Nay, verily, this is very substantial truth.

ANTHONY: Now take I this, also, for very truth in my mind: that there cometh no man nor woman hither into the earth but what, ere ever they come alive into the world out of the mother's womb, God condemneth them unto death by his own sentence and judgment, for the original sin that they bring with them, contracted in the corrupted stock of our forefather Adam. Is this, think you, cousin, verily thus or not?

VINCENT: This is, uncle, very true indeed.

ANTHONY: Then seemeth this true further unto me: that God hath put every man here upon the earth under so sure and so safe keeping that of all the whole people living in this wide world, there is neither man, woman, nor child—would they never so far wander about and seek it—who can possibly find any way by which they can escape from death. Is this, cousin, a fond imagined fancy, or is it very truth indeed?

VINCENT: Nay, this is no imagination, uncle, but a thing so clearly proved true that no man is so mad as to deny it.

ANTHONY: Then need I say no more, cousin. For then is all the matter plain and open evident truth, which I said I took for truth. And it is yet a little more now than I told you before, when you took my proof yet but for a sophistical fancy, and said that, for all my reasoning that every man is a prisoner, yet you thought that, except those whom the common people call prisoners, there is else no man a very prisoner indeed. And now you grant yourself again for very substantial truth, that every man, though he be the greatest king upon earth, is set here by the ordinance of God in a place, be it never so large, yet a place, I say (and you say the same) out of which no man can escape. And you grant that every man is there put under sure and safe keeping to be readily set forth when God calleth for him, and that then he shall surely die. And is not then, cousin, by your own granting before, every man a very prisoner, when he is put in a place to be kept to be brought forth when he would not, and himself knows not whither?

VINCENT: Yes, in good faith, uncle, I cannot but well perceive this to be so.

ANTHONY: This would be true, you know, even though a man were but taken by the arm and in a fair manner led out of this world unto his judgment. But now, we well know that there is no king so great but what, all the while he walketh here, walk he never so loose, ride he with never so strong an army for his defence, yet he himself is very sure—though he seek in the meantime some other pastime to put it out of his mind—yet is he very sure, I say, that escape he cannot. And very well he knoweth that he hath already sentence given upon him to die, and that verily die he shall. And though he hope for long respite of his execution, yet can he not tell how soon it will be. And therefore, unless he be a fool, he can never be without fear that, either on the morrow or on the selfsame day, the grisly cruel hangman Death, who from his first coming in hath ever hoved aloof and looked toward him, and ever lain in wait for him, shall amid all his royalty and all his main strength neither kneel before him nor make him any reverence, nor with any good manner desire him to come forth. But he shall rigorously and fiercely grip him by the very breast, and make all his bones rattle, and so by long and divers sore torments strike him stark dead in his prison. And then shall he cause his body to be cast into the ground in a foul pit in some corner of the same, there to rot and be eaten by the wretched worms of the earth, sending yet his soul out further into a more fearful judgment. Of that judgment at his temporal death his success is uncertain and therefore, though by God's grace not out of good hope, for all that in the meanwhile in very sore dread and fear and peradventure in peril inevitable of eternal fire, too.

Methinketh therefore, cousin, that, as I told you, this keeping of every man in this wretched world for execution of death is a very plain imprisonment indeed. And it is, as I say, such that the greatest king is in this prison in much worse case, for all his wealth, than is many a man who, in the other imprisonment, is sore and hardly handled. For while some of those lie not there attainted nor condemned to death, the greatest man of this world and the most wealthy in this universal prison is laid in to be kept undoubtedly for death.

VINCENT: But yet, uncle, in that case is the other prisoner too, for he is as sure that he shall die, perdy.

ANTHONY: This is very true, cousin, indeed, and well objected too. But then you must consider that he is not in danger of death by reason of the prison into which he is put peradventure but for a little brawl, but his danger of death is by the other imprisonment, by which he is prisoner in the great prison of this whole earth, in which prison all the princes of the world be prisoners as well as he.

If a man condemned to death were put up in a large prison, and while his execution were respited he were, for fighting with his fellows, put up in a strait place, part of that prison, then would he be in danger of death in that strait prison, but not by the being in that, for there is he but for the brawl. But his deadly imprisonment was the other—the larger, I say, into which he was put for death. So the prisoner that you speak of is, beside the narrow prison, a prisoner of the broad world, and all the princes of the world are prisoners there with him. And by that imprisonment both they and he are in like danger of death, not by that strait imprisonment that is commonly called imprisonment, but by that imprisonment which, because of the large walk, men call liberty—and which you therefore thought but a sophistical fancy to prove it a prison at all!

But now may you, methinketh, very plainly perceive that this whole earth is not only for all the whole of mankind a very plain prison indeed, but also that all men without exception (even those that are most at their liberty in it, and reckon themselves great lords and possessors of very great pieces of it, and thereby wax with wantonness so forgetful of their state that they think they stand in great wealth) do stand for all that indeed, by reason of their imprisonment in this large prison of the whole earth, in the selfsame condition that the others do stand who, in the narrow prisons which alone are called prisons, and which alone are reputed prisons in the opinion of the common people, stand in the most fearful and in the most odious case—that is, condemned already to death.

And now, cousin, if this thing that I tell you seem but a sophistical fancy of your mind, I would be glad to know what moveth you so to think. For, in good faith, as I have told you twice, I am no wiser but what I verily think that it is very plain truth indeed.

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