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Considerations of the miseries of Mans Life.
As our life is very short, so it is very miserable; and therefore it is well it is short. God, in pity to mankind, lest his burden should be insupportable, and his nature an intolerable load, hath reduced our state of misery to an abbreviator; and the greater our misery is, the less while it is like to last: the sorrows of a man's spirit being like ponderous weights, which by the greatness of their burden make a swifter motion, and descend into the grave to rest and ease our wearied limbs; for then only we shall sleep quietly, when those fetters are knocked off, which not only bound our souls in prison, but also ate the flesh, till the very bones opened the secret garments of their cartilages, discovering their nakedness and sorrow.
1. Here is no place to sit down in, but you must rise as soon as you are set, for we have gnats in our chambers, and worms in our gardens,3333Nula requies in terris; surgite, postquam sederitis; hie est locus pulicum et culicum. and spiders and flies in the palaces of the greatest kings. How few men in the world are prosperous! What an infinite number of slaves and beggars, of persecuted and oppressed people, fill all corners of the earth and groans, and heaven itself with weeping, prayers, and sad remembrances! How many provinces and kingdoms are afflicted by a violent war, or made desolate by popular diseases! Some whole countries are remarked with fatal evils or periodical sicknesses. Grand Cairo, in Egypt, feels the plague every three years returning like a quartan ague, and destroying many thousands of persons. All the inhabitants of Arabia, the desert, are in a continual fear of being buried in huge heaps of sand, and therefore dwell in tents and ambulatory houses, or retire to unfruitful mountains, to prolong an uneasy and wilder life. And all the countries round about the Adriatic Sea feel such violent convulsions by tempests and intolerable earthquakes, that sometimes whole cities find a tomb, and every man sinks with his own house made ready to become his monument, and his bed is crushed into the disorders of a grave. Was not all the world drowned at one deluge and breach of the divine agner? And shall not all the world again be destroyed by fire? Are there not many thousands that die every night, and that groan and weep sadly every day? But what shall we think of the great evil which for the sins of men God hath suffered to posses the greatest part of mankind? Most of the men that are now alive, or that have been living for many ages, are Jews, heathens, or Turks; and God was pleased to suffer a base epileptic person, a villain and a vicious, to set up a religion which hath filled all the nearer parts of Asia, and much of Africa, and some part of Europe; so that the greatest number of men and women born in so many kingdoms and provinces are infallibly made Mahometan, strangers and enemies to Christ, by whom alone we can be saved. This consideration is extremely sad, when we remember how universal and how great an evil it is, that so many millions of sons and daughters are born to enter into the possession of devils to eternal ages. These evils are the miseries of great parts of mankind, and we cannot easily consider more particularly the evils which happen to us, being the inseparable affections or incidents to the whole nature of man.
2. We find that all the women in the world are either born for barrenness or the pains of childbirth, and yet this is one of our greatest blessings; but such indeed are the blessings of this world, we cannot be well with nor without many things. Perfumes make our heads ache, roses prick our fingers, and in our very blood, where our life dwells, is the scene under which nature acts many sharp fevers and heavy sicknesses. It were too sad if I should tell how many persons are afflicted with evil spirits, with spectres and illusions of the night; and that huge multitudes of men and women live upon man's flesh, nay, worse yet, upon the sins of men, upon the sins of their sons and of their daughters, and they pay their souls down for the bread they eat, buying this day's meal with the price of the last night's sin.
3. Or if you please in charity to visit a hospital, which is indeed a map of the whole world, there you shall see the effects of Adam's sin, and the ruins of human nature; bodies laid up in heaps, like the bones of a destroyed town, homines precarit spiritus et male haerentis — men whose souls seem to be borrowed, and are kept there by art and the force of medicine — whose miseries are so great, that few people have charity or humanity enough to visit them, fewer have the heart to dress them, and we pity them in civility or with a transient prayer, but we do not feel their sorrows by the mercies of a religious pity; and, therefore, as we leave their sorrows in many degrees unrelieved and uneased, so we contract by our unmercifulness a guilt by which ourselves become liable to the same calamities. Those many that need pity, and those infinities of people that refuse to pity, are miserable upon a several charge, but yet they almost make up all mankind.
4. All wicked men are in love with that which entangles them in huge varieties of troubles; they are slaves to the worst of masters, to sin and to the devil, to a passion and to an imperious woman. Good men are for ever persecuted, and God chastises every son whom he receives; and whatsoever is easy is trifling and worth nothing; and whatsoever is excellent is not to be obtained without labour and sorrow; and the conditions and states of men that are free from great cares are such as have in them nothing rich and orderly, and those that have are stuck full of thorns and trouble. Kings are full of care, and learned men in all ages have been observed to be very poor,3434Villis adulator pieto jacet ebrius ostro, Et qui solicitat numtas, ad praemia peccat. Sola pruinoisis horret facundia pannis, Atque inopi lingua desertas invocat artes. Petron. c. 83. p. 249.ed. Ant. Hine et jocus apud Aristophaneon in Avibus—934. honestas miserias accusant - they complain of their honest miseries.
5. But these evils are notorious and confessed; even they also whose felicity men stare at and admire, besides their splendour and the sharpness of their light, will, with their appendant sorrows, wring a tear from the most resolved eye; for not only the winter is full of storms and cold and darkness, but the beauteous spring hath blasts and sharp frosts; the fruitful teeming summer is melted with heat, and burnt with the kisses of the sun, her friend, and choked with dust; and the rich autumn is full of sickness; and we are weary of that which we enjoy, because sorrow is its biggest portion; and when we remember, that upon the fairest face is placed one of the worst sinks of the body, the nose, we may use it not only as a mortification to the pride of beauty, but as an allay to the fairest outside of condition which any of the sons and daughters of Adam do posses. For look upon kings and conquerors: I will not tell that many of them fall into the condition of servants,3535Vilis servus habet regni bona, cellaque capti Derides festam Romulcamque casam.—Petron. Frag. 21. Omnia, crede mihi, etiam felicibus dubia sunt.—Seneca. and their subjects rule over them, and stand upon the ruins of their families, and that to such persons the sorrow is bigger than usually happens in smaller fortunes; but let us suppose them still conquerors, and see what a goodly purchase they get by all their bounds of the river Rhine: I speak in the style of the Roman greatness; for now-adays the biggest fortune swells not beyond the limits of a petty province or two, and a hill confines the progress of their prosperity, or a river checks it: but whatsoever tempts the pride and vanity of ambitious persons is not so big as the smallest star which we see scattered in disorder and unregarded upon the pavement and floor of heaven. And if we would suppose the pismires had but our understandings, they also would have the method of a man's greatness, and divide their little mole-hills into provinces and exharchates; and if they also grew as vicious and as miserable, one of their princes would lead an army out, and kill his neighbour ants, that he might reign over the next handful of a turf. But then, if we consider at what price and with what felicity all this is purchased, the sting of the painted snake will quickly appear, and the fairest of their fortunes will properly enter into this account of human infelicities.
We may guess at it by the constitution of Augustus's fortune, who struggled for his power, first, with the Roman citizens, then with Brutus and Cassius, and all the fortune of the republic; then with his colleague, Mary Antony; then with his kindred and nearest relatives; and, after he was wearied with slaughter of the Romans, before he could sit down and rest in his imperial chair, he was forced to carry armies into Macedonia, Galatia, beyond Euphrates, Rhine, and Danubius; and when he dwelt at home in greatness, and within the circles of a mighty power, he hardly escaped the sword of the Egnatii, of Lepidus, Caepio, and Muraena: and after he had entirely reduced the felicity and grandeur into his own family, his daughter, his only child, conspired with many of the young nobility, and, being joined with adulterous complications, as with an impious sacrament,3636Et adulterio velut sacramento adacti.—Tacit. they affrighted and destroyed the fortune of the old man, and wrought him more sorrow than all the troubles that were hatched in the baths and beds of Egypt between Antony and Cleopatra.3737Plusque et iterum timenda cum Antonio mulier. This was the greatest fortune that the world had then or ever since, and therefore we cannot expect it to be better in a less prosperity.
6. The prosperity of this world is so infinitely soured with the overflowing of evils, that he is counted the most happy that hath the fewest; all conditions being evil and miserable, they are only distinguished by the number of calamities. The collector of the Roman and foreign examples, when he had reckoned two-and-twenty instances of great fortunes, every one of which had been allayed with great variety of evils; in all his reading or experience, he could tell but of two who had been famed for an entire prosperity. Quintus Metellus, and Gyges the king Lydia: and yet concerning the one of them he tells, that his felicity was so considerable (and yet it was the bigger of the two) that the oracle said that Aglaus the Sophidius, the poor Arcadian shepherd, was more happy than he-that is, he had fewer troubles; for so indeed we are to reckon the pleasures of this life; the limit of our joy is the absence of some degree of sorrow, and he that hath the least of this is the most prosperous person. But then we must look for prosperity, not in palaces or courts of princes, not in the tents of conquerors, or in the gaieties of fortunate and prevailing sinners; but rather in the cottages of honest, innocent, and contented persons, whose mind is no bigger than their fortune, nor their virtue less than their security. As for others, whose fortune looks bigger, and allures fools to follow it, like the wandering fires of the night, till they run into rivers, or are broken upon rocks with staring and running after them, they are all in the condition of Marius, than whose condition nothing was more constant, and nothing more mutable: if we reckon them amongst the miserable, they are the most miserable.3838Quem si inter miseros posueris, miserrimus; inter felices, felicissimus reperiebatur. For just as is a man's condition, great or little, so is the state of his misery: all have their share; but kings and princes, great generals and consuls, rich men and mighty, as they have the biggest business and the biggest charge, and are answerable to God for the greatest accounts, so they have the biggest trouble, that the uneasiness of their appendage may divide the good and evil of the world, making the poor man's fortune as eligible as the greatest; and also restraining the vanity of man's spirit, which a great fortune is apt to swell from a vapour to a bubble; but God in mercy hath mingles wormwood with their wine, and so restrained the drunkenness and follies of prosperity.
7. Man never hath one day to himself of entire peace from the things of the world, but either something troubles him, or nothing satisfies him, or his very fulness swells him and makes him breathe short upon his bed. Men's joys are troublesome; and besides that the fear of losing them takes away the present pleasure, (and a man hath need of another felicity to preserve this,) they are also wavering and full of trepidation, not only from their inconstant nature, but from their weak foundation: they arise from vanity, and they dwell upon ice, and they converse with the wind, and they have the wings of a bird, and are serious but as the resolutions of a child, commenced by chance, and managed by folly, and proceeded by inadvertency, and end in vanity and forgetfulness. So that, as Livius Drusus said of himself, he never had any play-days or days of quiet when he was a boy;3939Uni sibi nec puero unquam ferias contigisse. Seditious et foro gravis. for he was troublesome and busy, a restless and unquiet man - the same may every man observe to be true of himself; he is always restless and uneasy, he dwells upon the waters, and leans upon thorns, and lays his head upon a sharp stone.
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