Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
What Is Pleasure?
By Stephen Gosson (15541624)
From the Ephemerides of Phialo
YOU abuse the word pleasure very much, when taking it sometime in one sense, sometime in another. Now fleeting above, then diving to the bottom, and with the hedgehog, never abiding that quarter where the wind blows, you are able to draw the simple awry and make them angle for butterflies in a dry ditch. We must not fight loosely as the wild Scythians, which sally out on the sudden with terrible shouts, brandish their darts with invincible courage, and, daring not tarry the chiefest brunt, presently squat themselves in their bogs. It shall be my practice in this quarrel to define the same pleasure which you maintain, that, finding by this where the field is pitched, I may bring my force to your main battle. Pleasure is a sweet tickling of sense, with a present joy. Being a tickling of the sense, you may see that to have no disquietness cannot be pleasure; for stocks and stones feel no trouble at all, yet I think you will not say that they live in pleasure. To be cured of anguish cannot be this, because it is no otherwise than a delivery from pain. In that it is bred of a present joy, it neither consisteth in remembrance of pleasures past, because they are fled and cannot be felt, nor in hope of any such life to come, because we taste them not yet, and they may be prevented. What pleasure can you find if, being in Russia in the middle of winter with a needle in your hand, never a thread about you, you remember straight you had clothes on your back and were warm enough in Venice, in the middle of summer? What availeth it, if thirsting now, you call to your mind that you drunk yesterday; or presently ready to famish for hunger, you persuade yourself there will be corn in harvest? Again, if pleasure be the tickling of sense with a present joy, what delight had Marius in the surgeons knife? Scaevola in torments of the fire? Curtius in the bosom of the gulf? or Iphigenia in the butchers axe? Forsooth, sir, say you, I meant that, for their friends sakes, they conceived a pleasure in their minds; alas, then, say I, you must not dream of chalk when you speak of cheese. That which other enjoy belongs not to us, and when we are dead, the praise that is given us never comes to our ears except you assure yourself that, with Seleus, our souls shall forsake us a while in a trance, and after they have compassed heaven to learn some news, be blown into our bodies again through a squirt. But you trifle in this, let us shake up our kennel a little better.
Wisdom, justice, all virtues, all arts, all that we do in this life, levels, say you, at nothing but pleasure. Can you make such a hotchpotch of vice and virtue that each with the other shall both agree? that contraries shall nestle together in one body, one part, at one instant? The pleasure that is got by virtue is an honest delight of the mind, rejoicing in nothing but that which is good; yet is it not that which virtue seeketh, for the countryman soweth his grain to reap the fruit, though he gather the flower that grows up with it. And we exercise virtue not for pleasures sake, but to do good; refusing not the pleasures that spring up with it, as flowers with corn, and follow it continually as a shadow the body; neither do they please us because they delight, but delight because they please. Your lovers, whensoever you frown, descend into hell; when you smile, are carried with wings into heaven; yet neither of them both are out of Venice. Poets feign Jupiter to have two barrels in heaventhe one of weal, the other of woe, which he disperseth abroad at his pleasure. If your beauty have drawn Jupiter from heaven in a shower of rain, compelling him by love to resign his office unto you, that opening the barrels of bliss and bale, you might govern the lives of men as you list, torment and relieve, scourge and release, set up and throw down whomsoever you will
O Goddess worthy of a God, and Juno of thy Jove.
These are the frantic inventions of heathen writers, which, if they be wrought, will not hold the hammering. You must not think your sweet face to make you perfect, nor believe whatsoever your suitors speak. Because that they say, they burn, will you think their bodies are set on fire? if they dream of your hue, that it is heavenly, is there no hoe,1 but you will shine in your brightness among the stars? These are hyperboles to flatter you, which they commonly speak in the midst of their passion, when their wits are a wool-gathering.
Note 1. is there no hoe. Hoe, or ho, is the same as wo! and was also used in Elizabethan English for hindrance or stop. The word is introduced, of course, to pun with hue in the previous clause: and the meaning is, Is there nothing to stop you from shining? [back]