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IV. OF REVENGE.
REVENGE is a kind of wild justice, which the more man's nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out; for as for the first wrong, it doth but offend the law, but the revenge of that wrong putteth the law out of office. Certainly, in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy, but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince's part to pardon; and Solomon, I am sure, saith, "It is the glory of a man to pass by an offence." That which is past is gone and irrevocable, and wise men have enough to do with things present and to come; therefore they do but trifle with themselves that labor in past matters. There is no man doth a wrong for the wrong's sake, but thereby to purchase himself profit, or pleasure, or honor, or the like; therefore, why should I be angry with a man for loving himself better than me? And if any man should do wrong merely out of ill-nature, why, yet it is but like the thorn or briar, which prick and scratch, because they can do no other. The most tolerable sort of revenge is for those wrongs which there is no law to remedy; but then, let a man take heed the revenge be such as there is no law to punish, else a man's enemy is still beforehand, and it is two for one. Some, when they take revenge, are desirous the party should know whence it cometh. This is the more generous; for the delight seemeth to be not so much in doing the hurt as in making the party repent; but base and crafty cowards are like the arrow that flieth in the dark. Cosmus, Duke of Florence,1 had a desperate saying
1 He alludes to Cosmo de Medici, or Cosmo I., chief of the Republic of Florence, the encourager of literature and the fine arts.
against perfidious or neglecting friends, as if those wrongs were unpardonable. "You shall read," saith he, "that we are commanded to forgive our enemies; but you never read that we are commanded to forgive our friends." But yet the spirit of Job was in a better tune: "Shall we," saith he, "take good at God's hands, and not be content to take evil also?" and so of friends in a proportion. This is certain, that a man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well. Public revenges 2 are for the most part fortunate; as that for the death of Ca3 for the death of Pertinax; for the death of Henry the Third of France; and many more. But in private revenges it is not so; nay, rather, vindictive persons live the life of witches, who, as they are mischievous, so end they unfortunate.
1 Job ii. 10. -"Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?"
2 By "public revenges," he means punishment awarded by the state with the sanction of the laws.
8 He alludes to the retribution dealt by Augustus and Antony to the murderers of Julius Cæsar. It is related by ancient historians, as a singular fact, that not one of them died a natural death.
4 Henry III. of France was assassinated in 1599, by Jacques Clement, a Jacobin monk, in the frenzy of fanaticism. Although Clement justly suffered punishment, the end of this bloodthirsty and bigoted tyrant may be justly deemed a retribution dealt by the hand of an offended Providence; so truly does the Poet say:
V. OF ADVERSITY.
It was a high speech of Seneca, (after the manner of the Stoics,) that "the good things which belong to prosperity are to be wished, but the good things that belong to adversity are to be admired." ("Bona rerum secundarum optabilia, adversarum mirabilia.")1 Certainly, if miracles be the command over nature, they appear most in adversity. It is yet a higher speech of his than the other, (much too high for a heathen,) "It is true greatness to have in one the frailty of a man, and the security of a God." ("Vere magnum habere fragilitatem hominis securitatem Dei.") 2 This would have done better in poesy, where transcendencies are more allowed, and the poets, indeed, have been busy with it; for it is, in effect, the thing which is figured in that strange fiction of the ancient poets, which seemeth not to be without mystery; nay, and to have some approach to the state of a Christian, "that Hercules, when he went to unbind. Prometheus, (by whom human nature is represented,) sailed the length of the great ocean in an earthen pot or pitcher," lively describing Christianresolution, that saileth in the frail bark of the flesh through the waves of the world. But to
1 Sen. Ad Lucil. 66.
2 Ibid. 53.
8 Stesichorus, Apollodorus, and others. Lord Bacon makes a similar reference to this myth in his treatise "On the Wisdom of the Ancients." "It is added with great elegance, to console and strengthen the minds of men, that this mighty hero (Hercules): sailed in a cup or urceus,' in order that they may not too much fear and allege the narrowness of their nature and its frailty; as if it were not capable of such fortitude and constancy; of which very thing Seneca argued well, when he said, 'It is a great thing to have at the same time the frailty of a man, and the security of a God.'"
speak in a mean, the virtue of prosperity is temperance, the virtue of adversity is fortitude, which in morals is the more heroical virtue. Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament, adversity is the blessing of the New, which carrieth the greater benediction, and the clearer revelation of God's favor. Yet even in the Old Testament, if you listen to David's harp, you shall hear as many hearse-like airs 1 as carols; and the pencil of the Holy Ghost hath labored more in describing the afflictions of Job than the felicities of Solomon. Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes. We see, in needleworks and embroideries, it is more pleasing to have a lively work upon a sad and solemn ground, than to have a dark and melancholy work upon a lightsome ground: judge, therefore, of the pleasure of the heart by the pleasure of the eye. Certainly, virtue is like precious odors, most fragrant when they are incensed, or crushed; for prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.2
1 Funereal airs. It must be remembered that many of the Psalms of David were written by him when persecuted by Saul, as also in the tribulation caused by the wicked conduct of his son Absalom. Some of them, too, though called "The Psalms of David," were really composed by the Jews in their captivity at Babylon; as, for instance, the 137th Psalm, which so beautifully commences, "By the waters of Babylon there we sat down." One of them is supposed to be the composition of Moses.
2 This fine passage, beginning at "Prosperity is the blessing," which was not published till 1625, twenty-eight years after the first Essays, has been quoted by Macaulay, with considerable justice, as a proof that the writer's fancy did not decay with the advance of old age, and that his style in his later years became richer and softer. The learned critic contrasts this passage with the terse style of the Essay of Studies, (Essay 50,) which was published in 1597.
VI.-OF SIMULATION AND DISSIMULATION.
DISSIMULATION is but a faint kind of policy, or wisdom; for it asketh a strong wit and a strong heart to know when to tell truth, and to do it; therefore it is the weaker sort of politicians that are the great dissemblers.
Tacitus saith, "Livia sorted well with the arts of her husband, and dissimulation of her son;1 attributing arts or policy to Augustus, and dissimulation to Tiberius:" and again, when Mucianus encourageth Vespasian to take arms against Vitellius, he saith, "We rise not against the piercing judgment of Augustus, nor the extreme caution or closeness of Tiberius." 2 These properties of arts or policy, and dissimulation or closeness, are indeed habits and faculties several, and to be distinguished; for if a man have that penetration of judgment as he can discern what things are to be laid open, and what to be secreted, and what to be showed at halflights, and to whom and when, (which indeed are arts of state, and arts of life, as Tacitus well calleth them,) to him a habit of dissimulation is a hinderance and a poorness. But if a man cannot obtain to that judgment, then it is left to him generally to be close, and a dissembler; for where a man cannot choose or vary in particulars, there it is good to take the safest and wariest way in general, like the going softly by one that cannot well see. Certainly, the ablest men that ever were, have had all an openness and frankness of dealing, and a name of certainty and veracity: but then they were like horses well managed, for they could tell passing
1 Tac. Ann. v. 1.
2 Tac. Hist. ii. 76.