Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Wisdom from the Shakespearean Era for Today

 Anatomy of Melancholy eBook by Robert Burton - 9781455386512 | Rakuten Kobo  United States

 A Brief Portion From The Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton (1621)


    Many poor men, younger brothers, &c. by reason of bad policy and idle education (for they are likely brought up in no calling), are compelled to beg or steal, and then hanged for theft; than which, what can be more ignominious, non minus enim turpe principi multa supplicia, quam medico multa funera (1), 'tis the governor's fault. Libentius verberant quam docent (2), as schoolmasters do rather correct their pupils, than teach them when they do amiss. "They had more need provide there should be no more thieves and beggars, as they ought with good policy, and take away the occasions, than let them run on, as they do to their own destruction:  root out likewise those causes of wrangling, a multitude of lawyers, and compose controversies, lites lustrales et seculares (3), by some more compendious means." 


    Whereas now for every toy and trifle they go to law, Mugit litibus insanum forum, et saevit invicem discordantium rabies (4), they are ready to pull out one another's throats; and for commodity "to squeeze blood," saith Hierom, "out of their brother's heart," defame, lie, disgrace, backbite, rail, bear false witness, swear, forswear, fight and wrangle, spend their goods, lives, fortunes, friends, undo one another, to enrich an harpy advocate, that preys upon them both, and cries Eia Socrates, Eia Xantippe (5); or some corrupt judge, that like the kite in Aesop, while the mouse and frog fought, carried both away. 


    Generally they prey one upon another as so many ravenous birds, brute beasts, devouring fishes, no medium, omnes hic aut captantur aut captant; aut cadavera quae lacerantur, aut corvi qui lacerant (6), either deceive or be deceived; tear others or be torn in pieces themselves; like so many buckets in a well, as one riseth another falleth, one's empty, another's full; his ruin is a ladder to the third; such are our ordinary proceedings. 


    What's the market?  A place, according to Anacharsis, wherein they cozen one another, a trap;  nay, what's the world itself?  A vast chaos, a confusion of manners, as fickle as the air, domicilium insanorum (7), a turbulent troop full of impurities, a mart of walking spirits, goblins, the theatre of hypocrisy, a shop of knavery, flattery, a nursery of villainy, the scene of babbling, the school of giddiness, the academy of vice; a warfare, ubi velis nolis pugnandum, aut vincas aut succumbas (8), in which kill or be killed; wherein every man is for himself, his private ends, and stands upon his own guard. 


    No charity, love, friendship, fear of God, alliance, affinity, consanguinity, Christianity, can contain them, but if they be any ways offended, or that string of commodity be touched, they fall foul.  Old friends become bitter enemies on a sudden for toys and small offences, and they that erst were willing to do all mutual offices of love and kindness, now revile and persecute one another to death, with more than Vatinian hatred, and will not be reconciled. 


    So long as they are behoveful, they love, or may bestead each other, but when there is no more good to be expected, as they do by an old dog, hang him up or cashier him: which Cato counts a great indecorum, to use men like old shoes or broken glasses, which are flung to the dunghill;  he could not find in his heart to sell an old ox, much less to turn away an old servant:  but they instead of recompense, revile him, and when they have made him an instrument of their villainy, as Bajazet the second Emperor of the Turks did by Acomethes Bassa, make him away, or instead of reward, hate him to death, as Silius was served by Tiberius.

 
    In a word, every man for his own ends. Our summum bonum (9) is commodity, and the goddess we adore Dea moneta, Queen money, to whom we daily offer sacrifice, which steers our hearts, hands, affections, all:   that most powerful goddess, by whom we are reared, depressed, elevated, esteemed the sole commandress of our actions, for which we pray, run, ride, go, come, labour, and contend as fishes do for a crumb that falleth into the water. 


    It's not worth, virtue, (that's bonum theatrale [10],)  wisdom, valour, learning, honesty, religion, or any sufficiency for which we are respected, but money, greatness, office, honour, authority; honesty is accounted folly; knavery, policy;  men admired out of opinion, not as they are, but as they seem to be:   such shifting, lying, cogging, plotting, counterplotting, temporizing, nattering, cozening, dissembling, "that of necessity one must highly offend God if he be conformable to the world, Cretizare with Crete, or else live in contempt, disgrace and misery."


    One takes upon him temperance, holiness, another austerity, a third an affected kind of simplicity, when as indeed, he, and he, and he, and the rest are "hypocrites, ambidexters," outsides, so many turning pictures, a lion on the one side, a lamb on the other.  How would Democritus have been affected to see these things!

Notes

(1)  For it would be  no less disgraceful for a prince to suffer  many punishments  than for a physician to have  many deaths.

(2)  They beat  more  readily  than  they  teach.

(3)  purifying and secular strife

(4)  The  mad forum  rumbles with lawsuits, and  the fury  of the discordant rages against each  other.

(5)  Hurray, Socrates!  Hurray, Xanthippe!

(6)   all here are either caught or captivated; or the carcasses that are torn

(7)  madhouse

(8)  where  you wish  you would not  like to fight, or you will win or you will fall

(9)  ultimate good

(10) good theatre



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