The Emperor Justinian, that famed compiler of the Digests and Code, the other day presented to Appollo, for the royal approbation, a new law against self- murder. Appolo was mightily astonished and fetching a deep sigh he said "Is the good government of mankind, Justinian, then fallen into so great disorder that men do voluntarily kill themselves? And whereas I have hitherto given pensions to an infinite number of moral philosophers, only that by their words and writings they may make men less apprehensive of death, are things now reduced to such calamity that even they will now live no longer, who could not formerly frame themselves to be content to die? And am I amongst all the disorders of my Litterati all this while supinely asleep?" To this Justinian answered, that the law was necessary, and that many cases of violent deaths having happened by many men having desperately made themselves away, worse was to be feared if some opportune remedy were not found out against so great such disorder.
Apollo then began diligently to inform himself, and found that the world was so impaired, that many valued not their lives nor estate, so they might be out of it. The disorders necessitated his Majesty to provide against them with all possible speed, and he absolutely resolved to institute a society of the men most famous in his dominions for wisdom and good life. But in the entrance into so weighty a business he met with insuperable difficulties, for amongst so many philosophers, and the almost infinite number of vertuosi, he could not find so much as one who was endowed with half the requisite qualifications to reform his fellow creatures, his majesty knowing well that men are better improved by the exemplary life of their reformers then than by the best rules that can be given. In this penury of fitting personages Apollo gave the charge of the Universal Reformation to the Seven Wise Men of Greece, who are of great repute in Parnassus, and are conceived by all men to have found the receipt of washing blackmoors white, which antiquity laboured after in vain. The Grecians were rejoiced at this news for the honour which Apollo had done their nation, but the Latins were grieved, thinking themselves thereby much injured. Wherefore Apollo, well knowing that prejudice against reformers hinders the fruit that is to be hoped by reformation, and being naturally given to appease his subjects' imbittered minds more by giving them satisfaction then by that legislative power with which men are not pleased withal, because they are bound to obey it,,that he might satisfy the Romans, joined in commission with the Seven Sages of Greece, Marcus and Annaeus Seneca, and in favour to the modern Italian philosophers, he made Jacopo Mazzoni da Cesena Secretary of the Congregation, and honoured him with a vote in their consultations.
On the fourteenth of the last month the seven wise men, with the aforesaid addition, accompanied by a train of the choicest vertuosi of this State, went to the Delfick Palace, and the place appropriated for the Reformation. The Litterati were well pleased to see the great number of pedants, who, baskets in hands, went gathering up the sentences and apothegms which, fell from those wise men as they went along. The day after the solemn entrance they assembled for the first time, and 'tis: said that Thales the Milesian, the first of the Grecian sages spake thus:-
"The business, most wise philosophers, about which we are met, is the greatest that can be treated on by human understanding; and though there be nothing harder then to set bones that have been long broken, wounds that are fistuled, and incurable cancers, yet difficulties which are able to affright others ought not to make us despair, for the impossibility will increase our glory, and I do assure you that I have already found out the true antydote against the poyson of these present corruptions. I am sure we do all-believe that nothing hath more corrupted this age then hidden hatreds, feigned love, impiety, and the perfidiousness of double-dealers under the specious cloke of simplicity, love to religion, and charity. Apply yourselves to these evils gentlemen; make use of fire and razor, lay corrosive plasters to these wounds which I discover unto you, and mankind, which by reason of their vices, that lead them the highway to death, may be said to be given over by physitians, will soon be made whole, become sincere and plain in their proceedings, true in what they say, and such in their sanctity of life as they were in former times. The true and immediate cure, then, for these present evils consists in necessitating men to live with candour of mind and purity of heart, which cannot be better effected then by making that little window in men's breasts which his Majesty hath often promised to his most faithful virtuosi; for when those who use such art in their proceedings shall be forced to speak and act, having a window whereby one may see into their hearts they will learn the excellent virtue of being, and not appearing to be; they will conform deeds to words, and their tongues to sincerity of heart; all men will banish lies and falsehood, and the diabolical spirit of hypocrisy will abandon many who are now possest with so foul a fiend."
The opinion of Thales was so well approved by the whole Congregation that it was unanimously voted just, and Secretary Mazzoni was commanded to give Apollo a sudden account thereof, who perfectly approved the opinion, and commanded that they should begin that very day to make windows in the breasts of mankind. But at the very instant that the surgeons took their instruments in hand, Homer, Virgil, Plato, Aristotle, Averroes, and other eminent Litterati went to Apollo, and said his Majesty must needs know that the prime means whereby men do govern the world with facility is the reputation of those who command, and they hoped his Majesty would be tender of the credit which the reverend Philosophical Synod and the honourable Colledg of Vertuosi had universally obtained for sanctity of life and manners. If his Majesty should unexpectedly open every man's breast, the philosophers who formerly were most highly esteemed ran evident hazard of being shamed, and that he might, peradventure, find fowlest faults in those whom he has held to be immaculate. Therefore, before a business of such importance should be taken in hand, they entreated that he would afford his vertuosi a competent time to wash and cleanse their souls. Apollo was greatly pleased by the advice of so famous poets and philosophers, and, by a publick edict, prorogued the day of incision for eight days, during which everyone did so attend the cleansing of their souls from all fallacies, hidden vice, hatred, and counterfeit love, that there was no more honey of roses, succory, cassia, scena, scamony, nor laxative syrups to be found in any grocer's or apothecary's shop in all Parnassus; and the more curious did observe that in the parts where the Platonicks, Peripateticks, and Moral Philosophers did live, there was then such a stink as if all the privies of the country had been emptied, where then the quarters of Latin and Italian poets smelt only of cabbadg Porrage.
The time allotted for the general purging was already past, when, the day before the operation was to begin Hippocrates, Galen,' Cornelius, Celsus, and other the most skilful Physitians of this State, went to Apollo and said: -"Is it possible, Sire, you that are the Lord of the Liberal Sciences, that this Microcosmos must be deformed, which is so nobly and miraculously framed, for the advantage of a few ignorant people? For not only the wiser sort of men, but even those of an indifferent capacity, who have coversed but four daies with any quacksalver, know how to penetrate even into the inmost bowels."
This memorandum of the physitians wrought so much with Apollo that he changed his former resolution, and by Ausonius Gallus bad the Philosophers of the Reformation proceed in delivering their opinions.
Then Solon thus began: - "In my opinion, gentlemen, that which hath put the present age into so great confusion is the cruel hatred and spiteful envy which is seen to reign generally amongst men. All hope then for these present evils is from the infusion of charity, reciprocal affection, and that sanctified love of our neighbour which is God's chiefest commandment to mankind. We ought, therefore, to employ all our skill in removing the occasions of those hatreds which reign in men's hearts, which, if we be able to effect, men will agree like other animals, who, by instinct, love their own species, and will, consequently, drive away all hatred and rancor of mind. I have been long thinking, my friends, what the true spring's head may be of all human hatred, and am still more established in my old opinion that it proceeds from the disparity of means, from the hellish custom of meum and tuum, which, if it were introduced among the beasts, even they would consume and waste themselves with the same hatred wherewith we so much disquiet ourselves, whereas the equality, in which they live, and their having nothing of their own, are the blessings which preserve that peace among them which we have cause to envy. Men are likewise creatures but rational; this world was created by Almighty God, that mankind might live thereon.in peace, not that the avaritious should divide it amongst themselves, and should turn what was common into that meum and tuum which hath put us all into such confusion. So it clearly appears, that the depravation of men's souls by avarice, ambition, and tyranny, hath occaisioned the present inequality, and if it be true, as we all confess it is, that the world is an inheritance left to mankind by one father and mother, from whom we are all descended like brethren, what justice is it that men should not all have a brother's share? What greater disproportion can be imagined then that this world should be such that some possess more than they can govern, and others have not so much as they could govern? But that which doth infinitely aggravate this disorder is, that usually vertuous men are beggars, whereas wicked and ignorant people are wealthy. From the root of this inequality it then ariseth, that the rich are injurious to the poor, and that the poor envy the rich.
"Now, gentlemen, that I have discovered the malady unto you, it is easie to apply the medicine. To reform the age no better course can be taken then to divide the world anew, allotting an equal part to everyone, and, that we may fall no more upon the like disorders, I advise, that, for the future, all buying and selling be forbidden, to the end that there may be established that parity of goods, the mother of publick peace which myself and other lawmakers have formerly so much laboured to procure."
Solon's opinion suffered a long debate, and though it was not only thought good but necessary by Bias Periander and Pittacus, it was gainsaid by all the rest, and Senecal's opinion prevailed, who with substantial reasons convinced the assembly, that if they should come to a new division of the world one great disorder would necessarily follow; that too much would fall to the share of fools, and too little to gallant men; and that plague, famine and war were not God's severest scourges, for the affliction of mankind would be to enrich villains.
Solon's opinion being laid aside, Chilo argued as follows:- "Which of you, most wise philosophers, doth not know that the immoderate thirst after gold hath now adaies filled the world with all the mischiefs which we see and feel. What wickedness, how execrable soever it be, will men not willingly commit, if thereby they may accumulate riches? Conclude, therefore, unanimously with me, that no better way can be found out, whereby to extirpate all the vices with which our age is opprest, then forever to banish out of the world the two infamous mettals, gold and silver, for so the occasion of our present disorders being removed, the evils will necessarily cease."
Though Chilo's opinion had a very specious appearance, it would not bear the test, for it was said, that men took so much pains to get gold and silver because they are the measure and counterpoise of all things, and that it was requisite for man to have some mettals, or other thing of price, by which he might purchase what was fitting for him, that if there were no such thing as gold or silver, he would make use of something instead of them, which, rising in value, would be equally coveted, as was plainly seen in the Indies, where cockle-shells were made use of instead of money, and more vallued than either gold or silver. Cleobulus, particularly, being very hot in refuting this opinion, said, with much perturbation of mind: "My Masters, banish iron out of the world, for that is the metal which hath put us into the present condition. Gold and silver serve the purpose ordained by God, whereas iron, which Nature produced for the making of plow-shears, spades, and mattocks, is by the mallice and mischief of men, forged into swords, daggers, and other deadly instuments."
Though Cleobolus his opinion was judged to be very true, yet it was concluded by the whole Assembly, that, it being impossible to expel iron but by grasping iron and putting on corslets, it was imprudent to multiply mischiefs, and to cure one wound with another. "Twas, therefore, generally resolved, that the ore of gold and silver should be still kept, but that the refiners should be directed for the future to cleanse them well, and not to take them out of the fire till they had removed from both mettals that vein of turpentine which is the reason why gold and silver stick so close to the fingers even of good and honest men.
Then Pittachus, with extraordinary gravity, thus began:- "The world, most learned philosophers, is fallen into that deplorable condition which we labour to amend because men in these daies have given over travailing by the beaten roadway to vertue, and take the bye-waies of vice, by which, in this corrupted age, they obtain the rewards only due to vertue. Things are brought to such a woeful state, that none can, get entrance into the palace of dignity, honor, or reward by the gate of merit, but like thieves they climb the windows with ladders of tergeversation, and some, by the force of gifts and favours, have opened the roof to get thereby into the house of honour. If you would reform this corrupted age, my opinion is, that you should force men to walk by the way of vertue, and make severe laws, that whosoever will take the laborsom journey which leads to supreme dignities must travail with the waggon of desert, and with the sure guide of vertue. Consequently, you should order the stopping up of all cross-paths and the crooked lanes discovered by ambitious men and, modern hypocrites, who, multiplying faster then locusts in Africa, have filled the world with contagion. What greater affront can be put upon vertue then to see one of these rescals mounted on the throne of preferment when no man can guess what course he took to reach it? Which makes many think they have got it by the magick of hypocrisy, whereby these magicians do inchant the minds even of wise princes."
Pittacus his opinion was not only prized, but greatly praised by the whole assembly, and certainly would have been approved as the most excellent, had not Periander changed their minds by the following discourse:- "Gentlemen the disorder mentioned by Pittacus is very true; but the thing we should chiefly consider is why princes who are so quick-sighted and interested in their own State-affairs, do not bestow, in these our daies their great places (as they were wont to do of old) on able-and deserving men, by whose service they may receive advantage and reputation, but instead, make use of new fellows recently raised out of the mire, and without either worth or honor? The opinion of those who say that it is fatal for princes to love carrion is so false, that for the least interest of State they neglect their brethren, and wax cruel even against their own children, so far from ruining themselves are they by blind fondness for their servants. Princes do not act by chance, nor suffer themselves to be guided in their proceeding by their passions; whatsoever they do is out of interest, and those things which to private men appear errors and negligence are accurate politick precepts. All that have written of State-affairs freely confess that the best way to govern kingdoms well is to confer places of highest dignity upon men of great merit and known worth and valour. This is a truth very well known to princes; and though it be clearly seen that they do not observe it, he is a fool that believes they do not out of carelessness. I, who have long studied a point of so great weight, am perswaded that ignorant and raw men, and men of no merit, are preferred before learned and deserving persons, not out of any fault in the prince but (I blush to say it) through default of the vertuosi. I acknowledge that princes stand in need of learned officers and men of experienced valor, but they likewise need faithful servants. If deserving men and men of valor were loyal in proportion to their capacity, we should not complain of the present disorders in seeing undeserving dwarfs become great giants in four daies' space, ignorance seated in the chair of vertue, and folly in valor's tribunal. 'Tis common to all men to overrate their own worth, but the vertuosi do presume so much upon their own good parts that they rather pretend to add to the prince's reputation by accepting preferments then to receive credit themselves by accepting his munificence. I have known many so foolishly enamoured of their own works that they have thought it a greater happiness for a prince to have an occasion of honouring them then good luck for the other to meet with so liberal a prince. Such men, acknowledging all favours conferred upon them as debts paid to their deserts, prove so ungrateful to their benefactors in their necessity that they are abhorred as perfidious, and are causes of this grievance, that princes seek fidelity instead of more shining accomplishments, that they may be secure of gratitude when they stand in need of it."
Perianader having finished his discourse, Bias spake thus: - "Most wise philosophers, all of you sufficiently know that the reason of the world's depravity is only because mankind hath so shamefully abandoned those holy laws which God gave them to observe when he bestowed the whole world upon them for a habitation; nor did he place the French in France, the Spaniards in Spain, the Dutch in Germany, and bound up the fowl fiend in hell for any other reason but the advantage of that general peace which he desired might be observed throughout the whole world. But avarice and ambition (spurs which have alwaies egged on men to greatest wickedness), causing nations to pass into other men's countries, have caused these evils which we endeavour to amend. If it be true, as we all confess it is, that God hath done nothing in vain, wherefore, think you, hath His Divine Magesty placed the inaccessible Pyrenean mountains between the Spaniards and Italians, the rocky Alpes between the Italians and Germans, the dreadful English Channel between the French and English, the Mediterranean Sea between Africa and Europe? Why hath he made the infinite spacious rivers of Euphrates, Indus, Ganges, and the rest, save only that people might be content to live in their own countries by reason of the difficulties of fords and passages? And the Divine Wisdom, knowing that the harmony of universal peace would be out of tune, and that the world would be filled with incurable diseases, if men should exceed their allotted bounds, added the multitude and variety of languages to all the fore-mentioned impediments, without which all men would speak the same tongue, as all creatures of the same species sing, bark, or bray after one and the same manner. 'Tis then man's boldness in boaring through mountains, passing over the broadest and most rapid rivers, and even manifestly and rashly hazarding himself and all his substance by crossing the largest seas in a little wooden vessel, which caused the ancient Romans, not to mention any other nations, to ruine other men's affairs and discompose their own, not being satisfied with their dominion over the whole of Italy. The true remedy, then, for so great disorder is, first to force every nation to return to their own countreys, and then, to prevent the like confusion in future, I am of opinion that all bridges built for the more commodious passing of rivers should be absolutely broken down, that the ways over the mountains should be quite destroyed and the mountains made more inaccessible by man's industry then originally by nature; and I would have all navigation forbidden upon severest penalty, not allowing so much as the least boats to pass over rivers."
Bias his opinion was regarded with unusual attention, but after being well examined by the best wits of the Assembly, it was found not to be good, for all those philosophers knew that the greatest enmities between nation and nation are not national, but occasioned by cunning princes, who are great masters in the proverb, Divide et impera, and that that perfection of manners being found in all nations joyned together which was not to be had in any particular one, travel is necessary to acquire the complete wisdom which adorned the Great Ulysses. Now, this is a benefit entirely owing to navigation, which is very necessary to mankind, were it onely for that God, having created this world of an almost incomprehensible greatness, having filled it with pretious things, and endowed every province with somewhat of particular navigation, 'tis by that wonderful art reduced to so small an extent that the aromatics of Molucca, though above fifteen thousand miles from Italy, seem to the Italians to grow in their own gardens.
Thus the opinion of Bias was laid aside, when Cleobulus, rising up, and with a low bow, seeming to crave leave to speak, said thus:- "I clearly perceive, most wise gentleman, that the reformation of the present age, a business of itself very easie, becomes by the diversity and extravagancy of our opinions rather impossible then difficult. And to speak with the freedom which becomes this place and the weight of the business which we have in hand, it grieves my heart to find, even amongst us, that common defect of ambitious and slight wits, who, getting up into publike pulpits, labor more to display their ingenuity by their new and curious conceits, then to profit their auditors by useful precepts and sound doctrines. To raise man out of the foul mire where into he has fallen, to what purpose is that dangerous operation of making little windows in their breasts, which Thales advised? And why should we undertake the laborious business of dividing the world into equal partitions according to Solon's proposition? Or the course mentioned by Chilo, of banishing gold and silver out of the world? Or that of Pittacus, of forcing men to walk in the way of merit and vertue? or lastly, that of Bias, that mountains should be raised higher and made more difficult then Nature hath made them, and that the miracle of navigation should be extirpated, the greatest proof of human ingenuity that was ever given? What are these but chimaeras and sophistical fancies? The chief consideration which reformers ought to have is, that the remedy proposed be practicable, that it may work its effect soon and secretly, that it may be cheerfully received by those who are to be reformed, for, otherwise, we shall rather deform the world then improve it. There is great reason for this assertion, for that Physitian deserves to be blamed, who should ordain a medicine for his impatient which is impossible to be used, and which would afflict him more then his disease. Therefore is it the requisite duty of reformers to provide a sure remedy before they take notice of the wound; it is not onely foolishness but impiety to defame men by publishing their vices, and to show the world that their maladies are grown to such a height that they are past cure. Therefore the great Tacitus, who always speaks to the purpose if he be rightly understood, doth in this particular advise men. Omittere potius praevalida et adulta vitia, quam hoc assequi, ut palam fieret, quibus flagittiis impares essemus. (Tacitus, Lib. 3, Ann.) Those who would fell an old oak are ill-advised if they begin with lopping the top boughs; our true method, gentlemen, is to lay the axe to the root, as I do now, in affirming that the reformation of the present age consists wholly in these few words- REWARD THE GOOD AND PUNISH THE BAD."
Here Cleobulus held his peace, whose opinion Thales Milesius did with such violence oppose as showed how dangerous a thing it is to offend, though by speaking the truth, those who have the repute to be good and wise, for he with a fiery countenance broke forth into these words:- "Myself, and these gentlemen, most wise Cleobulus, whose opinions you have been pleased to reject as sophistical and meer chimeras, did expect from your rare wisdom that you had brought some new and miraculous Bezoar from the Indies for cure of these present evils, whereas you have propounded that for the easiest remedy which is the hardest and most impossible that could ever be fancied by the prime pretenders to high mysteries, Caius Plinius and Albertus Magnus. There is not any of us, my Cleobulus that did not know, before you were pleased to put us in mind of it, that the reformation of the world depends wholly upon rewarding such as are good and punishing the wicked. But give me leave to ask you, who are those that in this our age are perfectly good, and who exactly ill? I would also know whether your eye can discern that which could never yet be found out by any man living, how to know true goodness from that which is counterfeit. Do not you know that modern hypocrites are arrived at that height of cunning that, in this our unhappy age, those are accounted to be cunningest in their wickedness who seem most exactly good, and that really perfect men, who live in sincerity and singleness of soul, with an undisguised and unartificial goodness, are thought to be scandalous and silly? Everyone by natural instinct loves those that are good and hates those that are wicked, but princes do it both out of instinct and interest, and when hypocrites or other curring cheaters are listened unto by great men while good men are suppressed and undervalued, it is not by the princes' own election but through the abuse of others. True vertue is known onely and rewarded by God, by whom also vices are discovered and punished. He onely penetrates into the depths of men's hearts, and we, by means of window I proposed, might also have looked therein had not the enemy of mankind sown tares in the field where I sowed the grain of good advice. But new laws, how good and wholesome soever, have alwaies been and ever will be withstood by those vitious people who are thereby punished."
The reasoning of Thales gave mighty satisfaction to the Assembly, and all of them turned their eyes upon Periander, who, thinking himself thereby desired to speak his opinion, began thus:- "The variety of opinions which I have heard confirms me in my former tenet, that four parts of five who are sick perish because the physitians know not their disease; such errors are indeed excusable, because men are easily deceived in matters of mere conjecture, but that we, who are judged by Apollo to be the salt of the earth, should not know the evil under which the present age labours, redounds much to our shame, since the malady which we ought to cure lies not hidden in the veins, but is so manifestly known to all men that it self cries aloud for help. And yet, by all the reasons I have heard alledged, me thinks you go about to mend the arm when the heart it is that is fistulated. Gentlemen, since it is Apollo's pleasure that we should do so, since our reputation stands upon it, and charity to our so afflicted age requires it at our hands, let us, I beseech you, take from our faces the mask of respect, which hath been hitherto worn by us all, and let us speak freely. The fatal error then which has so long confirmed mankind in their unhappiness is this, that while the vices of the great have brought the world into confusion, a reformation of private men's faults has been thought sufficient to retrieve it. But the falsehood, avarice, pride and hypocrisie of private men are not the vices (though I confess them to be hanious evils, which so much depraved our age, for fitting punishments being by the law provided for every fault and foul action, man is so obedient to the laws and so apprehensive of justice that a few ministers thereof make millions of men tremble, and men live in such peace that the rich cannot, without much danger to themselves, oppress the poor, and every one may walk safely both by day and night with gold in their hand, not onely in the streets but even in the highways. But the world's most dangerous infirmities are discovered when publique peace is disturbed, and we must all of us confess that the ambition, avarice, and diabolical engagement which the swords of some powerful princes have usurped over the states of those less powerful is the great scandal of the present times. 'Tis this, gentlemen, which hath filled the world with hatred and suspicion, and hath defiled it with so much blood, that men, who were created by God with humane hearts and civil inclinations, are become ravenous wilde beasts, tearing one another in pieces with all sorts of inhumanity. The ambition of these men hath changed publike peace into most cruel war, vertue into vice, and love which we ought to bear our neighbours into such intestine hatred, that, though lyons appear lyons to their own species, yet the Scotch to the English, the Italians to the Germans, the French to the Spaniards, and every nation to another, appear not men and brethren but creatures of another kind, so that justice being oppressed by the inexplicable ambition of potent men, our race, which was born, brought up, and did live long under the government of wholesome laws, waxing now cruel to itself, lives with the instinct of beasts, ready to oppress the weaker. Theft which is undoubtedly base, is so persecuted by the laws that the stealing of an egg is a capital fault, yet powerful men are so blinded with ambition as to rob another man perfidiously of his whole state, which is not thought to be an execrable mischief but a noble occupation, and onely fit for kings. Tacitus, the master of policy, that he may win the good will of princes, is not ashamed to say, In summa Fortuna id aequis, quod vallidius, et sua retinere*privatae domus, de alienis certare, regiam laudem, esse. (Tacitus, Lib 7. Ann.) If it be true, as all politicians agree, that people are the prince's apes, how can those who obey live vertuously quiet when their commanders do so abound in vice. To bereave a powerful prince of a kingdome is a weighty business which is not to be done by one man alone. To effect so foul an intent they muster a multitude of men, who, that they may not fear the shame of stealing their neighbours' goods, of murthering men, and of firing cities, change the name of base thief into that of gallant souldier and valliant commander. And that which aggravates this evil is that even good princes are forced to run upon the same rocks to defend their own estates from the ravenousness of these harpyes, and to regain what they have lost, and to revenge themselves of those that have injured them, have in reprizal got possession of their dominions, till, lured on by gain, they betake themselves to the same shameful trade. Thus the method of plundering others of their kingdomes is become a reputable art, and humane wit, made to admire and contemplate the miracles of Heaven and the wonders of the earth, is wholly turned to invent stratagems and to plot treasons, while the hands, which were made to cultivate the earth that feeds us, are employed in the exercise of arms that we may kill one another. This is the wound which hath brought our age to its last gasp, and the true way to remedy it is for princes who use such dealings to amend themselves, and to be content with their own fortunes, for, certainly, it appears very strange that there should be any king who cannot satisfie his ambition with the absolute command over twenty millions of men. Princes, as you all know, were ordained by God on earth for the good of mankind; therefore, it would do well not onely to bridle their ambitious lust after the possessions of others, but I think it necessary that the peculiar engagement which some men pretend their swords have over all estates, be cut up by the root, and I advise above all things that the greatness of principalities be limited, it being impossible that overgrown kingdoms should be governed with that exact care and justice which is requisite to the people's good, and which princes are bound to observe. There never was a vast monarchy which was not in a short time lost by the negligence of its governors."
Here Periander ended, whom Solon thus opposed:- "The true Cause, Periander, of our present mischiefs which you have mentioned with such liberty of speech was not omitted by us out of ignorance, but out of prudence. The disorders you speak of began when the world was first peopled, and you know that the most skilful physitian cannot restore sight to one born blind. I mention this because it is much the same thing to cure an infirm eye as to reform antiquated errors. For as the skilful physitian betakes himself to his cauters the first day he sees the distempered eye water, but is forced to leave that patient in deserved blindness who neglected to seek a cure till his sight was quite lost, so reformers should oppose abuses with severe remedies the very first hour that they commence, for when vice and corruption have got deep rooting, it is wiselier done to tolerate the evil then to go about to remedy it out of time, with danger to occasion worse inconveniences, it being more dangerous to cut an old wen then it is misbecoming to let it stand. Moreover, we are here to call to mind the disorders of private men, and to use modesty in so doing, but to be silent in what concerns princes, for they having no superiours in this world it belongs onely to God to reform them, He having given them the prerogative to command, us the glory to obey. Subjects, therefore, should correct the faults of their rulers onely by their own godly living, for the hearts of princes being in the hands of the Almighty, when people deserve ill from His Divine Majestie he raiseth up Pharoahs against them, and, on the contrary, makes princes tender-hearted, when people by their fidelity and obedience deserve God's Assistance."
What Solon said was much commended by all the hearers, and then Cato began thus:- "Your opinions, most wise Grecians, are much to be admired, and have abundantly justified the profound esteem which all the Litterati have of you; the vices, corruptions, and ulcerated wounds under which the age languishes could not be better discovered and pointed out. Nor are your opinions, which are full of humane knowledge, gain-said here for that they are not excellent but for that the malady is so habituated in the veins, and is even so grounded in the bones, that the constitution of mankind is worn out, and their vital vertue yields to the strength of the distemper; in short, the patient spits nothing but blood and putrefaction, and the hair falls from his head. The physitian, gentlemen, hath a hard part to play when the sick man's maladies are many, and, one so far differin from another that cooling medicines, and such as are good for a liver, are nought for the stomach, and weaken it too much. Truly this is just our case, for the maladies which molest our age equal the stars of heaven, and are more various than the flowers of the field. I therefore think this cure desperate, and that the patient is totally incapable of humane help. We must have recourse to prayers and to other divine helps, which in like case are usually implored from God; this is the true north-star, which, in the greatest difficulties, leads men into the harbour of perfection, for Pauci prudentia, honesta ab deterioribus, utilia ab noxiis discernunt; plures aliorum exentis docentur. (Tac. Lib. iv., Ann.) If we approve this consideration, we shall find that when the world was formerly sunk into the same disorders, it was God's care that did help it by sending a universal deluge to raze mankind, full of abominable and incorrigible vice, from off the world. And, gentlemen, when a man sees the walls of his house all gaping and ruinous, and its foundations so weakened that, in all appearance, it is ready to fall, certainly it is more wisely done to pull down the house and build it anew, then to lose money and time in piecing and parching it. Therefore, since man's life is so foully depraved with vice that it is past all human power to restore it to its former health, I do with all my heart beseech the Divine Majestie, and coulsel you to do the like, that He will again open the cataracts of Heaven, and pour down upon the earth another deluge with this restriction, that a new Ark may be made, wherein all boys not above twelve years of age may be saved, and that all the female sex, of whatsoever age, be so wholly consumed, that nothing but their unhappy memory may remain. And I beseech the same Divine Majestie that as He hath granted the singular benefit to bees, fishes, beetles, () and other animals, to procreate without the female sex, so He will think men worthy of the like favour. I have learnt for certain that as long as there shall be any women in the world men will wicked."
It is not to be believed how much Cato's discourse displeased the whole Assembly, who did all so abhor the harsh conceit of a deluge, that, casting themselves upon the ground, with their hands held up to heaven, they humbly beseeched Almighty God that He would preserve the excellent female sex, that He would keep mankind from any more deluges, or that He would send them on the earth onely to extirpate those discomposed and wilde wits, those untunable and bloodthirsty souls, those heterodox and phantastick brains, who, being of a depraved judgment, are nothing but mad men whose ambition was boundless, and pride without end, and that when mankind should, through their demerits, become unworthy of any mercy from the Almighty, He would be pleased to punish them with the scourges of plague, sword, and famine, rather than to deliver mankind unto the good will and pleasure of those insolent and wicked rulers, who, being composed of nothing but blind zeal and diabolical folly, would pull the world in pieces if they could compass the bestial caprices they hourly hatch in their heads.
Cato's opinion had this unlucky end, when Seneca thus began:- "Rough dealing is not so greatly requisite in reformation as would seem by many of your discourses, especially when disorders have grown to so great a height; on the contrary, they ought, like wounds which are subject to convulsions, to be drest with a light hand. It is a scandal to the physitian that the patient should die with his prescriptions in his body, since all men will conclude that the medicine hath done him more harm then his malady. It is a rash advice to go from one extreme to another, passing by the due medium; man's nature is not capable of violent mutations, and if it be true that the world hath been falling many thousand years into the present infirmities, he is a very fool who thinks to restore it to health in a few days. Moreover, in reformation the conditions of those who do reform, and the qualities of those that are to be reformed, ought to be exactly considered. We that are the reformers are philosophers and men of learning, and if those to be reformed be onely stationers, printers, such as sell paper, pens, and ink, or other such things appertaining to learning, we may very well correct their errors, but if we offer to rectify the faults of other trades, we shall commit worse errors, and become more ridiculous then the shoemaker who would judge of colours, and durst censure Apelles his pictures. This, I must say is a defect frequent in us Litterati, who, for four cujus that we have in our heads, pretend to know all things, and are not aware that when we first swerve from our books we run riot, and say a thousand things from the purpose. I say this, gentlemen, because nothing more obviates reformations then to walk therein in the dark, which happens when reformers are not well acquainted with the vices of those with whom they have to deal. The reason is apparent for nothing makes men more obstinate in their errors then when they find their reformers ill-informed of their defects. Now, which of us is acquainted with the is acquainted with the falsehoods of notaries, the prevarications of advocates, the simony of judges, the tricks of attorneys, the cheats of apothecaries, the filching of tailors, the roguery of butchers, and the cheating tricks of a thousand other artificers? And yet all these excesses must be by us corrected, which are so far from our profession that we shall appear like so many blind fellows fumbling to stop a leaky cask which spills the wine on ever side. This, gentlemen, is enough to convince you that reformation is only likely to proceed well when marinors discourse of navigation, souldiers of war, shepherds of sheep, and herdsmen of bullocks. It is manifest presumption in us to pretend to know all things, and meer malice to believe that in every occupation there are not three or four honest men. My opinion therefore, is, that we ought to send for a few of each profession of known probity and worth, and that everyone should correct his own trade; by this means, we shall publish to the world a reformation worthy of ourselves and of the present exigencies."
Pittachus and Chilo extolled this speech to the skies, and seeing the other philosophers of a contrary sentiment, protested before God and the world that they believed it was impossible to find out a better means for the reformation of mankind, yet did the rest of their companions abhor it more than Cato's proposition, and with great indignation told Seneca they much wondered that he, by more reformers into their number, should, so far dishonour Apollo, who had thought them not only sufficient but excellently fit for that business. It was not wisely advised to begin the general reformation by publishing their own weakness, for all resolutions which detract from the credit of the publishers want that reputation which is the very soul of business. It was strange a man who was the very prime sage of Latin writers should be so lavish of authority, which, should be guarded more jealously then women's honor, since the wisest men did all agree that twenty pound of blood taken from the life-vain was well imployed to gain but one ounce of jurisdiction.
The whole Assembly were mightily afflicted when, by the reputation of Seneca's opinion, they found small hopes of effecting, the reformation, for they relyed little on Mazzoni, who was but a novice; which though Mazzoni did by many signs perceive, yet, no whit discouraged, he spoke thius:- "It was not for any merit of mine, most wise philosophers, that I was admitted by Apollo into this reverend congregation, but out of His Majestie's special favour; and I very well know that it better becomes me to use my ears than my tongue and certainly I should not dare to open my mouth upon any other occasion; but reformation being the business in hand, and I lately coming where nothing is spoken of but reformation and reformers, I desire that every one may hold their peace, and that I alone may be heard to speak in a business which I am so verst in that I may boast myself to be the onely Euclid of this mathematick. Give me leave, I beseech you, to say that you, in relating your opinions, seem to me to be like those indiscrete physitians who lose time in consulting and disputing without having seen the sick party, or heard from his own mouth the account of his disease. Our business, gentlemen, is to cure the present age of the foul infirmities under which she labours, we have all laboured to find out the reasons of the maladies and its proper remedys, but none of us hath been so wise as to visit the sick party. I therefore advise that we send for the present Age to come hither and be examined, that we interrogate it of its sickness, and that we see the ill-affected parts naked, for this will make the cure easie, which you now think desperate."
The whole Assembly was so pleased at Mazzoni's motion, that the reformers immediately commanded the Age to be sent for, who was presently brought in a chair to the Delphick Palace by the four seasons of the year. He was a man full of years, but of so great and strong a complexion that he seemed likely to live yet many ages, onely he was short breathed, and his voyce was very weak, at which the philosophers, much wondering, asked him what was, the reason that he, whose ruddy face was a sign of much natural heat and vigor, and of a good stomach, was nevertheless so feeble? And they told him that a hundred years before his face was so yellow that he seemed to have the jaundice, yet he spoke freely, and seemed to be stronger then he was now, and since they sent for him to cure his infirmity, he should speak freely of his griefs.
The Age answered thus:- "Soon after I was born, gentlemen, I fell into these maladies under which I now labour. My face is fresh and ruddy because people have petered it and coloured it with lakes; my sickness resembles the ebbing and flowing of the sea, which alwaies contains the same water, though it rises and falls, with this variation notwithstanding, that when my looks are outwardly good, may malady is more grievous inwardly (as at this present), but when my face looks ill, I am best within. As for the infirmities which torment me, do but take off this jacket, wherewith some good people have covered a rotten carcass, and view me naked as was made by Nature."
All these words the philosophers stript him in a trice, and found that this
miserable wretch was covered all over four inches thick with a scurf of
appearances. They caused ten razors to be forthwith brought unto them, and -
fell to shaving it off with great diligence, but they found it so far eaten
into his very bones that in all the huge colossus there was not one inch of
good live flesh, at which, being struck with horror and despair, they put on
the patient's cloaths again, and dismist him. Then, convinced that the
disease was incurable, they shut themselves up together, and abandoning the
case of publike affairs, they resolved to provide for the safety of their own
reputations. Mazzoni writ what the rest of the reformers dictated, a
Manifesto wherein they witnessed to the world the great care Apollo ever had
of the virtuous lives of his Litterati, and of the welfare of all mankind,
also what pains the Reformers had taken in compiling the General Reformation.
Then, coming to particulars, they fixt the prices of sprats, cabbiges, and
pumpkins. The Assembly had already underwritten the Reformation when Thales
put them in mind that certain higlers, who sold pease and black-cherryes,
vinted such small measures that it was a shame not to take order therein. The
Assembly thankt Thales for his advertisement, and added to their reformation
that the measures should be made greater. Then the palace gates were thrown
open, and the General Reformation was read, in the place appointed for such
purposes, to the people assembled in great numbers in the Market-place, and
was so generally applauded by everyone that all Parnassus rang with shouts of
joy, for the rabble are satisfied with trifles, while men of judgment know
that vitia erunt donae homines, -long as there be men there will be vices-
that men live on earth not indeed well, but as little ill as they may, and
that the height of human wisdom lies in the discretion to be content with
leaving the world as they found it.
Translated by Arthur Edward Waite
First published: 1614