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XX

VINCENT: In good faith, uncle, thus far I not only cannot make resistance against it with any reason, but also I see very clearly proved that it cannot be otherwise. For every man must be in this world a very prisoner, since we are all put here into a sure hold to be kept till we be put unto execution, as folk all already condemned to death.

But yet, uncle, the strait-keeping, collaring, bolting, and stocking, with lying on straw or on the cold ground (which manner of hard handling is used in these special imprisonments that alone are commonly called by that name) must needs make that imprisonment much more odious and dreadful than the general imprisonment with which we are every man universally imprisoned at large, walking where we will round about the wide world. For in this broad prison, outside of those narrow prisons, there is no such hard handling used with the prisoners.

ANTHONY: I said, I think, cousin, that I purposed to prove to you further that in this general prison—the large prison, I mean, of this whole world—folk are, for the time that they are in it, as sore handled and as hardly, and wrenched and wrung and broken in such painful wise, that our hearts (save that we consider it not) have with reason good and great cause to grudge against the hard handling that there is in this prison—and, as far as pertaineth only to the respect of pain, as much horror to conceive against it—as against the other that there is in that one.

VINCENT: Indeed, uncle, it is true that you said you would prove this.

ANTHONY: Nay, so much said I not, cousin! But I said that I would if I could, and if I could not, then would I therein give over my part. But I trust, cousin, that I shall not need to do that—the thing seemeth to me so plain.

For, cousin, not only the prince and king but also the chief jailor over this whole broad prison the world (though he have both angels and devils who are jailors under him) is, I take it, God. And that I suppose you will grant me, too.

VINCENT: That will I not deny, uncle.

ANTHONY: If a man, cousin, be committed unto prison for no cause but to be kept, though there be never so great a charge against him, yet his keeper, if he be good and honest, is neither so cruel as to pain the man out of malice, nor so covetous as to put him to pain to make him seek his friends and pay for a pennyworth of ease. If the place be such that he is sure to keep him safe otherwise, or if he can get surety for the recompense of more harm than he seeth he should have if he escaped, he will never handle him in any such hard fashion as we most abhor imprisonment for. But marry, if the place be such that the keeper cannot otherwise be sure, then is he compelled to keep him to that extent the straiter. And also if the prisoner be unruly and fall to fighting with his fellows or do some other manner of ill turns, then useth the keeper to punish him in some such fashions as you yourself have spoken of.

Now, cousin, God—the chief jailor, as I say, of this broad prison the world—is neither cruel nor covetous. And this prison is also so sure and so subtly built that, albeit that it lieth open on every side without any wall in the world, yet, wander we never so far about in it, we shall never find the way to get out. So God neither needeth to collar us nor to stock us for any fear of our escaping away. And therefore, unless he see some other cause than only our keeping for death, he letteth us in the meanwhile, for as long as he pleases to respite us, walk about in the prison and do there what we will, using ourselves in such wise as he hath, by reason and revelation, from time to time told us his pleasure.

And hence it cometh, lo, that by reason of this favour for a time we wax, as I said, so wanton, that we forget where we are. And we think that we are lords at large, whereas we are indeed, if we would consider, even poor wretches in prison. For, of very truth, our very prison this earth is. And yet we apportion us out divers parts of it diversely to ourselves, part by covenants that we make among ourselves, and part by fraud and violence too. And we change its name from the odious name of prison, and call it our own land and our livelihood. Upon our prison we build; our prison we garnish with gold and make it glorious. In this prison they buy and sell; in this prison they brawl and chide. In this they run together and fight; in this they dice; in this they play at cards. In this they pipe and revel; in this they sing and dance. And in this prison many a man who is reputed right honest forbeareth not, for his pleasure in the dark, privily to play the knave.

And thus, while God our king and our chief jailor too, suffereth us and letteth us alone, we think ourselves at liberty. And we abhor the state of those whom we call prisoners, taking ourselves for no prisoners at all. In this false persuasion of wealth and forgetfulness of our own wretched state, which is but a wandering about for a while in this prison of this world, till we be brought unto the execution of death, we forget in our folly both ourselves and our jail, and our under-jailors the angels and devils both, and our chief jailor God too—God, who forgetteth not us, but seeth us all the while well enough. And being sore discontent to see so ill rule kept in the jail, he sendeth the hangman Death to put some to execution here and there, sometimes by the thousands at once. And he handleth many of the rest, whose execution he forbeareth yet unto a farther time, even as hardly and punisheth them as sorely, in this common prison of the world, as there are any handled in those special prisons which, for the hard handling used in them, you say your heart hath in such horror and so sore abhorreth.

VINCENT: The rest will I not gainsay, for methinketh I see it so indeed. But that God, our chief jailor in this world, useth any such prisonly fashion of punishment, that point must I needs deny. For I see him neither lay any man in the stocks, nor strike fetters on his legs, nor so much as shut him up in a chamber, neither.

ANTHONY: Is he no minstrel, cousin, who playeth not on a harp? Maketh no man melody but he who playeth on a lute? He may be a minstrel and make melody, you know, with some other instrument—a strange-fashioned one, peradventure, that never was seen before.

God, our chief jailor, as he himself is invisible, so useth he in his punishments invisible instruments. And therefore are they not of like fashion as those the other jailors use, but yet of like effect, and as painful in feeling as those. For he layeth one of his prisoners with a hot fever as ill at ease in a warm bed as the other jailor layeth his on the cold ground. He wringeth them by the brows with a migraine; he collareth them by the neck with a quinsy; he bolteth them by the arms with a palsy, so that they cannot lift their hands to their head; he manacleth their hands with the gout in their fingers; he wringeth them by the legs with the cramp in their shins; he bindeth them to the bed with the crick in the back; and he layeth one there at full length, as unable to rise as though he lay fast by the feet in the stocks.

A prisoner of another jail may sing and dance in his two fetters, and fear not his feet for stumbling at a stone, while God's prisoner, who hath his one foot fettered with the gout, lieth groaning on a couch, and quaketh and crieth out if he fear that there would fall on his foot no more than a cushion.

And therefore, cousin, as I said, if we consider it well, we shall find this general prison of this whole earth a place in which the prisoners are as sore handled as they are in the other. And even in the other some make as merry too as there do some in this one, who are very merry at large out of that. And surely as we think ourselves out of prison now, so if there were some folk born and brought up in a prison, who never came on the wall or looked out at the door or heard of another world outside, but saw some, for ill turns done among themselves, locked up in a straiter room; and if they heard them alone called prisoners who were so served and themselves ever called free folk at large; the like opinion would they have there of themselves then as we have here of ourselves now. And when we take ourselves for other than prisoners now, verily are we now as deceived as those prisoners would be then.

VINCENT: I cannot, uncle, in good faith deny that you have performed all that you promised. But yet, since, for all this, there appeareth no more but that as they are prisoners so are we too, and that as some of them are sore handled so are some of us too; we know well, for all this, that when we come to those prisons we shall not fail to be in a straiter prison than we are now, and to have a door shut upon us where we have none shut upon us now. This shall we be sure of at least if there come no worse—and then there may come worse, you know well, since it cometh there so commonly. And therefore is it yet little marvel that men's hearts grudge much against it.

ANTHONY: Surely, cousin, in this you say very well. Howbeit, your words would have touched me somewhat the nearer if I had said that imprisonment were no displeasure at all. But the thing that I say, cousin, for our comfort in the matter, is that our fancy frameth us a false opinion by which we deceive ourselves and take it for sorer than it is. And that we do because we take ourselves for more free before than we were, and imprisonment for a stranger thing to us than it is indeed. And thus far, as I say, I have proved truth in very deed.

But now the incommodities that you repeat again—those, I say, that are proper to the imprisonment of its own nature; that is, to have less room to walk and to have the door shut upon us—these are, methinketh, so very slender and slight that in so great a cause as to suffer for God's sake we might be sore ashamed so much as once to think upon them.

Many a good man there is, you know, who, without any force at all, or any necessity wherefor he should do so, suffereth these two things willingly of his own choice, with much other hardness more. Holy monks, I mean, of the Charterhouse order, such as never pass their cells save only to the church, which is set fast by their cells, and thence to their cells again. And St. Brigit's order, and St. Clare's much alike, and in a manner all enclosed religious houses. And yet anchorites and anchoresses most especially, all whose whole room is less than a good large chamber. And yet are they there as well content many long years together as are other men—and better, too—who walk about the world. And therefore you may see that the lothness of less room and the door shut upon us, since so many folk are so well content with them and will for God's love choose to live so, is but a horror enhanced of our own fancy.

And indeed I knew a woman once who came into a prison, to visit of her charity a poor prisoner there. She found him in a chamber that was fair enough, to say the truth—at least, it was strong enough! But with mats of straw the prisoner had made it so warm, both under foot and round about the walls, that in these things, for the keeping of his health, she was on his behalf very glad and very well comforted. But among many other displeasures that for his sake she was sorry for, one she lamented much in her mind. And that was that he should have the chamber door made fast upon him by night, by the jailor who was to shut him in. "For, by my troth," quoth she, "if the door should be shut upon me, I think it would stop up my breath!" At that word of hers the prisoner laughed in his mind—but he dared not laugh aloud or say anything to her, for indeed he stood somewhat in awe of her, and he had his food there in great part of her charity for alms. But he could not but laugh inwardly, for he knew well enough that she used to shut her own chamber door full surely on the inside every night, both door and windows too, and used not to open them all the long night. And what difference, then, as to the stopping of the breath, whether they were shut up within or without?

And so surely, cousin, these two things that you speak of are neither one of so great weight that in Christ's cause they ought to move a Christian man. And one of the twain is so very childish a fancy, that in a matter almost of three chips (unless it were a chance of fire) it should never move any man.

As for those other accidents of hard handling, I am not so mad as to say that they are no grief, but I say that our fear may imagine them much greater grief than they are. And I say that such as they be, many a man endureth them—yea, and many a woman too—who afterward fareth full well.

And then would I know what determination we take—whether for our Saviour's sake to suffer some pain in our bodies, since he suffered in his blessed body so great pain for us, or else to give him warning and be at a point utterly to forsake him rather than to suffer any pain at all? He who cometh in his mind unto this latter point—from which kind of unkindness God keep every man!—he needeth no comfort, for he will flee the need. And counsel, I fear, availeth him little, if grace be so far gone from him. But, on the other hand, if, rather than to forsake our Saviour, we determine ourselves to suffer any pain at all, I cannot then see that the fear of hard handling should anything stick with us and make us to shrink so that we would rather forsake his faith than suffer for his sake so much as imprisonment. For the handling is neither such in prison but what many men, and many women too, live with it many years and sustain it, and afterward yet fare full well. And yet it may well fortune that, beside the bare imprisonment, there shall happen to us no hard handling at all. Or else it may happen to us for only a short while—and yet, beside all this, peradventure not at all. And which of all these ways shall be taken with us, lieth all in his will for whom we are content to take it, and who for that intent of ours favoureth us and will suffer no man to put more pain to us than he well knoweth we shall be able to bear. For he himself will give us the strength for it, as you have heard his promise already by the mouth of St. Paul: "God is faithful, who suffereth you not to be tempted above what you may bear, but giveth also with the temptation a way out."

But now, if we have not lost our faith already before we come to forsake it for fear, we know very well by our faith that, by the forsaking of our faith, we fall into that state to be cast into the prison of hell. And that can we not tell how soon; but, as it may be that God will suffer us to live a while here upon earth, so may it be that he will throw us into that dungeon beneath before the time that the Turk shall once ask us the question. And therefore, if we fear imprisonment so sore, we are much more than mad if we fear not most the imprisonment that is far more sore. For out of that prison shall no man ever get, and in this other shall no man abide but a while.

In prison was Joseph while his brethren were at large; and yet afterward were his brethren fain to seek upon him for bread. In prison was Daniel, and the wild lions about him; and yet even there God kept him harmless and brought him safe out again. If we think that he will not do the like for us, let us not doubt that he will do for us either the like or better, for better may he do for us if he suffer us there to die. St. John the Baptist was, you know, in prison, while Herod and Herodias sat full merry at the feast, and the daughter of Herodias delighted them with her dancing, till with her dancing she danced off St. John's head. And now sitteth he with great feast in heaven at God's board, while Herod and Herodias full heavily sit in hell burning both twain, and to make them sport withal the devil with the damsel dance in the fire before them.

Finally, cousin, to finish this piece, our Saviour was himself taken prisoner for our sake. And prisoner was he carried, and prisoner was he kept, and prisoner was he brought forth before Annas, and prisoner from Annas carried unto Caiphas. Then prisoner was he carried from Caiphas unto Pilate, and prisoner was he sent from Pilate to King Herod, and prisoner from Herod unto Pilate again. And so was he kept as prisoner to the end of his passion. The time of his imprisonment, I grant you, was not long. But as for hard handling, which our hearts most abhor, he had as much in that short while as many men among them all in a much longer time. And surely, then, if we consider of what estate he was and also that he was prisoner in that wise for our sake, we shall, I think, unless we be worse than wretched beasts, never so shamefully play the ungrateful coward as sinfully to forsake him for fear of imprisonment.

Nor shall we be so foolish either as, by forsaking him, to give him the occasion to forsake us in turn. For so should we, with the avoiding of an easier prison, fall into a worse. And instead of the prison that cannot keep us long, we should fall into that prison out of which we can never come, though the short imprisonment should have won us everlasting liberty.

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