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Boetius has merely said
His thoughts on
"Are riches precious in their own nature, or in yours? Which of them do you prefer, gold or accumulated money? wealth and liberBut these shine more by being poured out than by being heaped ality. up; for avarice makes us always odious, but liberality illustrious (1). ”
On this text Alfred has expatiated into these effusions :
"Tell me now whether thy riches, that in thine own thought are so precious, be so from their own nature. But yet, I tell thee, that what is so of its own nature, is not so from thee. If then of its own nature it be so, and not of thine, why art thou then ever the better for its good?
"Tell me now which of these thou thinkest the most dear. Is it gold? I know that gold avails something. But though it now be good, and dear to us, yet he will be more renowned, and more beloved, who gives it, than he who gathereth it, or plunders it from others. So riches are more reputable and estimable when men give them, than they are when men gather and hold them.
"Hence covetousness maketh the avaricious odious both to God and man; while bounty maketh us always pleasing and famous, and worthy both to God and to men who love it.
"Now as property cannot then belong both to those who give it and to those who take it away, it is therefore always better and more valuable when given than when held (2). "
On this subject a passage may be read as an instance of the intelligent ease and force, with which the king partly translates, and partly imitates his author when he means to render him exactly.
"Your riches, unless broken into pieces, cannot pass to many, and when this is done they must make those poor whom they quit. O narrow and impotent riches, which cannot be had entire by many, and yet cannot come to each without the poverty of the rest!"
Alfred's version is :
"Though thou shouldest divide them as small as dust, yet thou couldst not make all men to possess them equally; and when thou hadst divided them all, thou wouldest then be poor thyself. So worthy of a man are the riches of this world! No man may fully have them. They can make no man happy except they make others poor.
(1) Boet. lib. ii. prosa 5.
On a good name.
Alfred has taken occasion to insert the following thoughts from his own mind, on reputation, obviously expressing his own feelings of the value of that blessing which has accompanied his memory :
"This is clear enough, that a good word and good fame are better and more precious to every man than any riches. The word filleth the ears of all who hear it; and it thrives not the less with those who speak it. It openeth the vacancy of the heart: it pierces through other hearts that are locked up, and in its progress among them it is never diminished. No one
(2) Alfred's Boet. p. 23, 24.
can slay it with a sword, nor bind it with a rope, nor ever kill it (1). ”
He has so expanded the thought of Boetius on the value of jewels, with turns and feelings of his own, and expressed them with so much more energy than his author, as to be in a great measure original even where he copies :
On the value of "Why should the beauty of gems draw your eyes to them jewels. to wonder at them, as I know they do? What is then the nobility of that beauty which is in gems? It is theirs; not yours. At this I am most exceedingly astonished, why you should think this irrational, created good, better than your own excellence: why should you so exceedingly admire these gems, or any of those dead-like things that have not reason; because they can by no right deserve that you should wonder at them. Though they be God's creatures, they are not to be measured with you because one of two things occurs; either they are not good for you themselves, or but for a little good compared with you. WE TOO MUCH UNDERVALUE OURSELVES when we love that which is inferior to us, and in our power, more than ourselves, or the Lord that has made us and given us all these goods (2).
Alfred's translation of the passages on the other advantages possessed by the rich is also so animated, that we quote it as a specimen of his own genuine feelings on the subject, with a version of the Latin (3), that the reader may make his own comparison,
On the advantages
of the rich.
"Dost thou like fair lands?'
"Then Mind answered to Reason, and said
“'Why should I not like fair lands? How! Is not that the fairest part of God's creation? Full oft we rejoice at the mild sea, and also admire the beauty of the sun, and the moon, and of all the stars.
"Then answered Wisdom and Reason to the Mind, and thus said:
“How belongeth heaven's fairness to thee? Durst thou glory that its beauty is thine? It is not, it is not. How! Knowest thou not that thou madest none of them. If thou wilt glory, glory in God.
"Whether now dost thou rejoice in the fairer blossoms of Easter, as if thou hadst made them (4); canst thou now make any such? or hast thou
(1) Alfred. p. 24. (2) Alfred, p. 24. The literal English of Boetius is "Does the brightness of gems attract your eyes? But the chief part of the splendor with them is the light itself of the jewels, not of the men, which indeed I wonder that any should so vehemently admire; for what is there in that which wants the motion of the soul, and the combination of limbs, which can seem by right to be beautiful to animate and rational nature? Although they are the works of the Creator, and by this distinction attract something of the final beauty, yet placed below your excellence, they by no means deserve your admiration." Lib. ii. pr. 5.
(3) The passage in Boetius is "Does the beauty of the fields delight you?— Why not? It is a fair portion of the fairest work. So sometimes we delight in the face of the serene sea. So we admire the sky, the stars, the sun, and the moon. But do any of these touch you? Do you dare to boast of the splendor of any such?" Boet. lib. ii. pr. 5.
(4) "Are you yourself distinguished by the vernal flowers? Or does your abundance swell in the summer fruits? Why are you carried away by empty joys? Why do you embrace external goods for your own? Will fortune make those
made them? Not so, not so. Do not thou thus. Is it now from thy power that the harvest is so rich in fruits? How! Do I not know that this is not in thy power? Why art thou then inflamed with such an idle joy? or why lovest thou strange goods so immeasurably as if they now had been thine own?
"Thinkest thou that fortune may do for thee, that those things be thine own, which of their own nature are made foreign to thee? Not so, not so. Is it not natural to thee that thou should possess them; nor does it belong to them that they should follow thee. But the heavenly things they are natural to thee: not these earth-like ones.
"The earthly fruits are made for animals to subsist on (1); and the riches of the world are made to deceive those men that are like animals ; that are unrighteous and insatiable. To these they also oftenest come.
"If thou wilt then have this moderation, and wilt know what necessity requires; this is, that meat and drink, and clothes, and tools for such craft as thou knowest, are natural to thee, and are what it is right for thee to have. What advantage is it to thee that thou should desire these temporal riches above measure, when they can neither help thee nor themselves? With very little of them hath nature enough: with so much she has enough, as we before mentioned. If thou usest more of them, one of two things happens; either they hurt thee; or they are unpleasant. Inconvenient or dangerous is all that thou now doest beyond moderation. If thou eatest now, or drinkest immoderately, or hast more clothes on than thou needest, the excess becomes to thee either sorrow or nauseous, or unsuitable or dangerous.
*** If thou thinkest that extraordinary apparel be any honour (2), then I assert the honour to belong to the workman who wrought it, and not to thee. The workman is God, whose skill I praise in it.
“Thinkest thou that a great company of thy servants will make thee happy (3)? Not so, not so. But if they be evil, then are they more dangerous to thee and more troublesome, if bound to you, than if had you them not, because evil thegns will always be their lord's enemies. If they be good and faithful to their lord, and not of double mind How ! Is not this their virtue? It is not thine. How canst thou then possess their virtue? If thou now gloriest in this How! Dost thou not glory in their merit? It is not thine.
Alfred has added the following remarks of his own on the intrinsic value of worldly advantages:
things to be yours which by the nature of things she has made foreign to you?" Boet. lib. ii. pr. 5.
(1) "The fruits of the earth indeed are, without doubt, provided for the nourishment of animals. But if you wish to supply your wants by what is sufficient for nature, there is no reason that you should seek the affluence of fortune, for nature is contented with very little; whom if you urge into satiety by superfluities, what you shall pour in becomes unpleasant and hurtful." Boet. lib. ii. pr. 5.
(2) Do you think it beautiful to shine in various garments ? But if their appearance be agreeable to look at, I would admire either the nature of the materials, or the ingenuity of the artificer." Ibid.
"But will a long train of servants make you happy? who, if they be vicious in morals, are the pernicious burthen of a house, and grievously an enemy to their lord himself. If honest, how can another's probity be reckoned among your wealth?" Ibid.
“Now then, now, every creature shunneth that which is contrary to it, and toils very diligently that it be removed from him. But what two are more contrary between themselves than good and evil? They never will be harmonious together.
"By this thou mayest understand, that if the prosperities of this present life, through themselves, possessed power of themselves, and were good from their own nature, they would then always cleave to those who work with them good, and not evil.
"But there, where they be a good, then are they good through the goodness of the good man that doeth good with them; and he is good through God. If then a bad man hath them, then are they evil through the badness of that man who doeth evil with them; and through the devil (1).
He has followed up these remarks by adding to Boetius's metrum on Nero, the following observations:
"What cruelties; what adulteries; and what crimes; and what impiety, that unrighteous Cæsar Nero committed!
"He commanded at some time that all Rome city should be burnt after the example, formerly, when Troy's city was burnt. It pleased him also to see how it burnt, and how long, and how light, compared with that other.
"Thinkest now that the Divine power could not have removed the dominion from this unrighteous Cæsar, and have restrained him from that evil if he would? Yes. Oh yes! I know that he might if he had willed. Oh! how heavy a yoke he slipped on all that in his times were living on the earth, and how oft his sword was sullied with guiltless blood! How! Was it not there clear enough that power, of its own worth, is not good, when he is not good to whom it comes (2) ?"
He has enlarged on the remark of Boetius on power, so as to exhibit his own sentiments in addition to those of his original.
Boetius had only said—
"If ever, which is very rare, honours are conferred on the upright, what is pleasing in them but the integrity of those who use them? Thus honour accrues not to the virtues from the dignity, but to the dignity from the virtues (3). "
Alfred, a king, expands this to insert his own feelings on this subject.
"If then it should ever happen, as it very seldom happens, that power and dignity come to good men, and to wise ones, what is there then worth liking but the goodness and dignity of these persons of the good king, not of the power? Hence power is never a good, unless he be good that has it; and that is the good of the man, not of the power. If power be goodness, it is so for this, that no man by his dominion comes to the virtues, and to merit; but by his virtues and merit he comes to dominion and power. Thus no man is better for his power; but I if he be good, it is from his virtues that he is good. From his virtues he becomes worthy of power, if be he worthy of it (4). "
(1) Alfred, p. 34, 35. . (3) Boct. lib. ii. pr. 6.
(2) Ibid. p. 36.
(4) Alfred, p. 31.
He adds to this, entirely his own, and as if he intended it to be the annunciation to his people of his own principle of govern
"Learn therefore wisdom, and when ye have learned it, do not neglect it. I tell you then, without any doubt, that by that you may come to power, though you should not desire the power. You need not be solicitous about power, nor strive after it. If you be wise and good, it will follow you, though you should not wish it (1).
Connected with the subject of power, Alfred has in another place inserted these passages of his own :--
"If thou now saw some very wise man that had very good qualities, but was nevertheless very poor, and very unhappy, whether wouldst thou say that he was unworthy of power and dignity?'
"Then answered Boetius and said 'Not so, Oh, not so. If I found him such, I would never say that he was unworthy of power and dignity, for me thinketh that he would be worthy of every honour that is in this world (2)." "
With the same freedom he amplifies another idea of Boetius, and applies it to express his own high estimate of the human mind.
His author says―
"If you saw among mice one claiming a right to himself, and power over the rest, to what a horse-laugh would you be moved? But if you look at the body, what can you find weaker than man, whom a bite of his flesh or of something within secretly creeping destroys (3) ? "
Alfred's paraphrase :
On the mind.
"If you now saw a mouse that was lord over other mice, and established laws for them, and compelled them to pay taxes, how wonderlike you would think it! What derision you would have of this; and to how much laughter would you not be excited! How much more then would it be to compare the body of man with his mind, than the mouse with the man? You may easily conceive it. If you will diligently inquire about it, and investigate, you will find that no creature's body is tenderer than that of man's. The least fly may hurt it, and the gnats with their little stings may injure it; and also the small worms that crawl within and without him, even sometimes nearly kill him. Indeed the little fleas may sometimes destroy him. Every living thing may hurt him, either inside or out (4). "
He then adds, partly translating and partly imitating Boetius :
"But where can a man hurt another except in his body, or in that wealth which we call happiness? No one can injure the reasoning mind, nor make it that it should not be what it is (5). "
We now come to a noble effusion of Alfred's mind and heart, on his own power and government.
(1) Alfred, p. 31, 32. (3) Boet. lib. ii, pr. 6.
(2) Alfred, p. 59, 60.