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"This alone I yet know to be good in nobility: that it makes many men ashamed of being worse than their elders were; and therefore they strive all their power, that they may become better in some habits, and may increase their virtues.
With the same nobleness of mind, he paraphrases and adds sentiments to the sixth metrum of Boetius (1), which would surprise us from any other king, than the great-minded, wise, and moral Alfred.
"What! all men had a like beginning; because they all come of one father and one mother. They all are yet born alike. This is no wonder; because God alone is the Father of all creatures. He made them all, and governs all. He gave us the sun's light, and the moon, and placed all the stars. He created men on the earth. He has connected together the soul and the body by his power, and made all men equally noble in their first nature. Why then do ye arrogate over other men for your birth without works? Now you can find none unnoble. But all are equally noble, if you will think of your beginning creation, and the Creator, and afterwards of your own nativity; yet the right nobility is in the mind. It is not in the flesh, as we said before. But every man that is at all subjected to his vices, forsakes his Creator, and his first creation, and his nobility; and thence becomes more ignoble than if he were not nobly born (2). "
Alfred adapts to his own times a passage of Boetius, which he rather imitates than translates, and thereby gives us a lively picture of the habits and pursuits of his day, with an allusion to his own sufferings:
"Dost thou then mean to be covetous for money? Now thou mayest no how else get it, except thou steal it, or plunder it, or find it hidden, or there increase thyself with it, where you lessen it to others.
"Wouldest thou now be foremost in dignities? But if thou wilt have them, thou must flatter very miserably and very humbly those that may assist thee to them. If thou wilt make thyself better and worthier than many, then shalt thou let thyself be worse than some. How! is not this then some portion of unhappiness, that a man so brave should cringe to those that can give it?
"Desirest thou power? But thou shalt never obtain it free from sorrows from foreign nations, and yet more from thine own men and kindred. "Yearnest thou for glory? But thou canst never have it without vexations; for thou will always have something contrary and unpleasing.
"Dost thou wish to enjoy thine unrestrained desires? But then thou wilt despise God's commandments, and thy wearied flesh will have the command of thee; not thou of that. How can a man become more wretched,
(1) Boetius says: "All the human race arises on earth from a like origin. There is one Father of things: one administers all things. He gave the sun his rays, and he gave the moon her horns. He gave men to the earth, and stars to the sky. He has enclosed in limbs souls derived from a lofty seat. Therefore a noble germ has produced all mortals. Why do you boast of your race and ancestors? If you look at your beginnings and your Author, God, you will perceive that no one lives ignobly born." Lib. iii. met. 6.
(2) Alfred, p. 67.
than by being subject to his wearying flesh, and not to his reasoning soul (1) ? "
We now come to a series of thoughts on kings, in which Alfred largely adds to those of Boetius (2). They display his feelings on kingly power used for oppression; his magnanimity in alluding to his own anxieties and vicissitudes; his estimate of sovereign greatness; his reasoning cast, and effusion of consecutive thought, and his flowing style :
"Dost thou now think that the friendship and society of On kings. kings, and the wealth and power which they give to their favourites, may make any man happy or powerful?
'Then answered I, and said: "Why may they not? What is in this present life more pleasant and better than the retinue of the king, and to be near him and the wealth and power that follow.'
“Then answered Wisdom, and said: "Tell me, now, whether thou ever heardest, that these things always continued with those who have been before us or dost thou think that any may always keep what they now possess? Dost thou not know that all books are fuil of the examples of men that lived before us? and every man knows, that of those who now are alive, the power and affluence have changed with many kings, till they have become poor again.
“Oh, this is a very admirable felicity, that neither may support itself nor its lord, so that he need no more help, or that they be both retained!
"How ! is your highest happiness the power of kings, and yet, if there be any failure of his will to any king, then that diminishes his power and increaseth his misery! Hence this your happiness will always be in some things unblessed.
"But kings! though they rule many nations, yet they rule not all those that they would govern; and for this they are so wretched in their minds; because they have not something which they would have.
“Therefore, I know, that the king who is rapacious hath more misery than power(3).'
Alfred continues the theme with a direct allusion to himself "Thus it is said, formerly, of a king that unrightfully seized his power (4).
(1) Alfred, p. 69, 70.
(2) The passage of Boetius is: "Do kingdoms or the familiarity of kings make you powerful? Why not? Since their felicity lasts perpetually. But antiquity is full of examples, the present age is full of them, in which the felicity of kings has been changed by calamity. Oh, excellent power! which is not found to be sufficiently efficacious to its own preservation. Yet if this power of kingdoms were the author of blessedness, would it not, if failing in any part, lessen our felicity and introduce misery. But though human empire should be widely spread, yet it must abandon many nations over whom every king cannot reign. Wherever the power that makes us happy ceases, that impotence enters which makes us miserable. Therefore kings must have a larger portion of misery." Boetius, lib. iii. prosa 5.
(3) Alfred, p. 62, 63.
(4) The Latin original of this part expresses the tyrant who had experienced this sort of danger, compared his fear to the terror of a sword hanging over his head. What then is this power which cannot expel the gnawings of cares, nor the stings of apprehensions? They who wished to have lived secure could not, and yet boast of their power. Do you think him powerful who you see wishes what he
Oh, what a happy man was he, that always had a naked sword hanging over his head from a small thread! so as to me it always yet did.
"How! dost thou think now that wealth and power are pleasing, when they are never without fear, and difficulties, and sorrows? What! thou knowest that every king would wish to be without these, and yet have power, if he might; but I know that he cannot.
"This I wonder at; why they should glory in such power.
"Whether dost thou think now, that a man who has much power is very happy, that always desires what he may not obtain; or believest thou that he is very happy that always goes out with a great train; or, again, he that dreads both those who dread him, and those who fear him not?
"Whether dost thou think that the man has much power, who himself fancies that he has none, as now many believe that they have none, except they have many persons to obey them?
"What need we now more speak of kings and their followers, except that every wise man may know that they be full wretched and full unmighty? How can kings deny or conceal their unmightiness, when they cannot display their dignity without the help of their thanes (1)?
He enlarges greatly on the short metre of Boetius, on tyrannical kings (2), and describes them with the costume of his own times. A sovereign himself, he displays the superior nobility of his mind in perceiving so impartially, and painting so strongly the vicious feelings of bad and weak-minded rulers.
"Hear now a discourse on proud and unrighteous kings. We see them sitting on the highest high seats. They shine in garments of many kinds, and are with a great company of their thegns standing about them; who are / adorned with belts, and golden-hilted swords, and manifold warlike appendages. They threaten all mankind with their majesty; and of those they govern, they care neither for friend nor foe, no more than a maddened hound. They are very incomprehensibly puffed up in their minds from their immoderate power.
"But if men should divest them of their clothes, and withdraw from them their retinue and their power, then might thou see that they be very like some of their thegns that serve them, except that they be worse. And if it was now to happen to them that their retinue was a while taken away, and their dress and their power, they would think that they were brought into
cannot effect? Do you think him powerful who surrounds his side with a guard; who himself dreads those whom he terrifies; who, however powerful he may seem, is placed in the hands of his servants? Why should I dissert on the companions of kings, when I have shown their own government to be so full of imbecility ?" Boetius, lib. iii. prosa 5.
(1) Alfred, p. 63, 64.
(2) The English of Boetius is: "If, from the proud kings whom you see sitting on the lofty summit of the throne, splendid in their shining purple; hedged with sad arms; threatening with their stern countenance; breathless with the fury of their hearts; any one should draw aside the coverings of a vain dress, you would see the lord loaded with strong chains within. Here the lust of rapacity pours its poison on their hearts. Here turbid wrath raising its waves lashes their minds, or grief wearies its captive, or disappointing hope torments them. Then as you see one single head bears so many tyrants, how can he that is oppressed by such wicked masters do what he wishes." Boetius, lib. iv. met. 2.
a prison, or were in bondage; because from their excessive and unreasonable apparel, from their sweet-meats, and from the various drinks of their cup, the raging course of their luxury is excited, and would very powerfully torment their minds. Then would increase both their pride and their inquietude then would they be enraged; then would their minds be lashed with the fervour of their hot-heartedness, till they were overcome with their own sadness, and were made captives. After this were done, the hope of their revenge would begin to cheat them, and whatsoever their anger desired, they would promise themselves that this would be their security.
"I told thee formerly in this same book, that all creatures desire some good from nature but unrighteous kings can do no good. Hence I said it to thee. This is no wonder, because they subject themselves to all the vices that I before named to thee. Thus they are necessarily under the power of these masters, whom at first they might have subdued. And what is worse, they will not oppose these when they might begin to do it; and then continue in the struggle, though then they would have had no guilt (1).”
The warmth of feeling, and voluntary additions and amplifications here exhibited by Alfred, on this delicate subject, in which he was so personally involved, tempt one to recollect his own faults in the first part of his reign, and to believe that he is describing, with a generous self-reproach, some of his own former tendencies and imperfections, and some of the effects of his own humiliations.
The freedom which Alfred has taken in adding to his author what he pleases; in substituting opinions and reasoning of his own instead of those he found; and of enlarging upon the topics that pleased him, makes this work a record of the king's own feelings. Hence many parts in which the king paraphrases his original become interesting to us as evidences of his own sentiments, although the substance of them be found in Boetius. One of these is the conversation on adversity. Alfred had become well acquainted with this unwelcome visitor, and he repeats, enlarges, and sometimes alters what Boetius had said upon it, sufficiently to show that he has given us the effusions of his own heart and mind upon the subject. From a king who did not write, like Seneca, in the full enjoyment of every luxury, which he never lessened; but who formed and penned his thoughts amid vicissitudes, difficulties, privations, and dangers that would have overwhelmed most other men, a statement of the uses of adversity is peculiarly valuable for its sincerity as well as its practical wisdom. Nor are the ease and breaks of the dialogue, and flow of style, less remarkable than the justness of the feeling, in the following passages (2) :
"Dost thou now understand whither this discourse will on the benefits of lead us?' adversity.
(1) Alfred, p. 110, 111.
(2) To see how much Alfred has added of his own, both of dialogue and sentiment, on this part, the reader may compare Boetius, lib. iv. prosa 7.
"Tell me whither it will.'
"I would say, "that every fortune is good; whether men think it good, or whether they think it evil.'
"I imagine it may easily be so, though we should at times think otherwise.'
"There is no doubt that every fortune is good in those things that be right and useful for this reason, every fortune, whether it be pleasant, or whether it be unpleasant, cometh to the good for the purpose that it may do one of two things: either it urges them to this, that they should act better than they did before, or it rewards them for what they have done well before. And again, every fortune of those things that come to evil men, cometh for these two purposes, whether it be severe, or whether it be pleasant; if severe fortune cometh to evil men, it comes as a retribution for their evils, or for correction, and to teach them that they do not act so again.'
"Then I began to wonder, and said—
"Is it from inwardly right observation that thou explainest this so?' "It is as thou sayest. But I would, if thou art willing, that we turn a little while to the popular discourse on this subject, lest they should say that we are talking above man's understanding.'
Speak as you wish.'
"Dost thou suppose that that is not good which is useful?'
"I suppose that it is good.'
"Then every fortune is useful that happens to thee. It either teaches or it punishes.'
6 This is true.'
"Adverse fortune is a good to those who strive against vices, and inclineth them to good.'
"I cannot contradict this.'
What dost thou suppose of that good fortune which comes often to good men in this world so as to be a foretoken of eternal blessings? Whether can people say of this that it is evil fortune?'
66 'Then I smiled, and said –
"No man would say that, but would declare that it is very good. So also it would be.'
""What thinkest thou of that invisible fortune that often threatens the evil to punish them? Whether would this folk suppose that that was good fortune?'
They would not suppose that it was good, but would think that it was very miserable.'
"Let us then pause, that we may not think so as the people think; if we should think on this as the people suppose, then we should lose all reason and all rightwiseness.'
'Why should we lose these ever the more?'
"Because the populace say that every severe and unpleasant fortune is an evil. But we should not believe this; because that every fortune is good, as we before mentioned, whether it be severe, or whether it be pleasant.' "Then I was afraid, and said
"That is true which thou sayest. Yet, I know not how I dare to mention it to foolish men; because no foolish man can believe it.'
"Then Wisdom severely opposed, and said
666 For this reason no wise man should tremble or lament at what may happen to him in this way, whether severe or agreeable fortune comes to