Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Of Repulse
By Robert Burton (1577–1640)
From the Cure of Melancholy

REPULSE and disgrace are two main causes of discontent, but, to an understanding man, not so hardly to be taken. Cæsar himself hath been denied; and when two stand equal in fortune, birth, and all other qualities alike, one of necessity must lose. Why shouldst thou take it so grievously? It hath been a familiar thing for thee thy self to deny others. If every man might have what he would, we should all be deified, emperors, kings, princes; if whatsoever vain hope suggests, unsatiable appetite affects, our preposterous judgment thinks fit were granted, we should have another chaos in an instant, a mere confusion. It is some satisfaction to him that is repelled, that dignities, honours, offices, are not always given by desert or worth, but for love, affinity, friendship, affection, great men’s letters, or as commonly they are bought and sold. Honours in court are bestowed, not according to men’s virtues and good conditions (as an old courtier observes); but, as every man hath means, or more potent friends, so he is preferred. With us in France (for so their own countryman relates) most part the matter is carried by favour and grace; he that can get a great man to be his mediator, runs away with all the preferment. Indignissimus plerumque præfertur, Vatinius Catoni, illaudatus laudatissimo:
        “… servi dominantur; aselli
  Ornantur phaleris; dephalerantur equi.” 1
An illiterate fool sits in a man’s seat, and the common people hold him learned, grave, and wise. One professeth (Cardan well notes) for a thousand crowns; but he deserves not ten; when as he that deserves a thousand cannot get ten. Salarium non dat multis salem. 2 As good horses draw in carts, as coaches; and oftentimes, which Machiavel seconds, principes non sunt, qui ob insignem virtutem principatu digni sunt; 3 he that is most worthy wants employment; he that hath skill to be a pilot wants a ship; and he that could govern a commonwealth, a world itself, a king in conceit, wants means to exercise his worth, hath not a poor office to manage. And yet all this while he is a better man than is fit to reign, etsi careat regno, though he want a kingdom, than he that hath one, and knows not how to rule it. A lion serves not always his keeper, but oftentimes the keeper the lion; and, as Polydore Virgil hath it, multi reges, ut pupilli, ob inscitiam non regunt, sed reguntur. 4 Hieron of Syracuse was a brave king, but wanted a kingdom; Perseus of Macedon had nothing of a king but the bare name and title; for he could not govern it; so great places are often ill bestowed, worthy persons unrespected. Many times too the servants have more means than the masters whom they serve; which Epictetus counts an eyesore and inconvenient. But who can help it? It is an ordinary thing in these days to see a base impudent ass, illiterate, unworthy, unsufficient, to be preferred before his betters, because he can put himself forward, because he looks big, can bustle in the world, hath a fair outside, can temporise, collogue, insinuate, or hath good store of friends and money; whereas a more discreet, modest, and better deserving man shall lie hid or have a repulse. ’Twas so of old, and ever will be, and which Tiresias advised Ulysses in the poet—
        “Accipe, qua ratione queas ditescere,” etc. 5
is still in use; lie, flatter, and dissemble; if not, as he concludes,
        “Ergo pauper eris,”
then go like a beggar, as thou art. Erasmus, Melancthon, Lipsius, Budæus, Cardan, lived and died poor. Gesner was a silly old man, baculo innixus, amongst all those huffing cardinals, swelling bishops, that flourished in his time, and rode on foot-clothes. It is not honesty, learning, worth, wisdom, that prefers men (the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong), but, as the wise man said, chance, and sometimes a ridiculous chance: casus plerumque ridiculus multos elevavit. ’Tis fortune’s doings, as they say, which made Brutus now dying exclaim, O misera virtus! ergo nihil quam verba eras! atqui ego te tanquam rem exercebam; sed tu serviebas fortunæ. 6 Believe it hereafter, O my friends! Virtue serves fortune. Yet be not discouraged (O my well deserving spirits) with this which I have said; it may be otherwise; though seldom, I confess, yet sometimes it is. But, to your farther content, I’ll tell you a tale. In Moronia pia, or Moronia felix, I know not whether, nor how long since, nor in what cathedral church, a fat prebend fell void. The carcase scarce cold, many suitors were up in an instant. The first had rich friends, a good purse; and he was resolved to outbid any man before he would lose it; every man supposed he should carry it. The second was my Lord Bishop’s chaplain (in whose gift it was); and he thought it his due to have it. The third was nobly born; and he meant to get it by his great parents, patrons, and allies. The fourth stood upon his worth; he had newly found out strange mysteries in chemistry, and other rare inventions, which he would detect to the public good. The fifth was a painful preacher; and he was commended by the whole parish where he dwelt; he had all their hands to his certificate. The sixth was the prebendary’s son lately deceased; his father died in debt (for it, as they say), left a wife and many poor children. The seventh stood upon fair promises, which to him and his noble friends had been formerly made for the next place in his lordship’s gift. The eighth pretended great losses, and what he had suffered for the church, what pains he had taken at home and abroad; and besides he brought noble men’s letters. The ninth had married a kinswoman, and he sent his wife to sue for him. The tenth was a foreign doctor, a late convert, and wanted means. The eleventh would exchange for another; he did not like the former’s site, could not agree with his neighbours and fellows upon any terms; he would be gone. The twelfth and last was (a suitor in conceit) a right honest, civil, sober man, an excellent scholar, and such a one as lived private in the university; but he had neither means nor money to compass it; besides he hated all such courses; he could not speak for himself, neither had he any friends to solicit his cause, and therefore made no suit, could not expect, neither did he hope for, or look after it. The good bishop, amongst a jury of competitors, thus perplexed, and not yet resolved what to do, or on whom to bestow it, at the last, of his own accord, mere motion, and bountiful nature, gave it freely to the university student, altogether unknown to him but by fame; and, to be brief, the academical scholar had the prebend sent him for a present. The news was no sooner published, abroad, but all good students rejoiced, and were much cheered up with it, though some would not believe it; others, as men amazed, said it was a miracle; but one amongst the rest thanked God for it, and said, “Nunc juvat tandem studiosum esse, et Deo integro corde servire.” 7 You have heard my tale; but, alas! it is but a tale, a mere fiction; ’twas never so, never like to be; and so let it rest.
Note 1. indignissimus plerumque præfertur, etc. = the most unworthy is usually preferred, a Vatinius to a Cato, a mean man to an honourable:
      “… Slaves are masters: asses wear
The trappings of horses: and horses go undecked.
Note 2. Salarium non dat, etc. = the pay (the allowance of salt allowed to the legionary) supplies few with salt. [back]
Note 3. principes non sunt, etc. = they are not princes, whose sterling worth makes them deserve princeship. [back]
Note 4. multi reges, ut pupilli, etc. = many kings, like pupils, on account of their ignorance do not rule, but are ruled. [back]
Note 5. multi reges, ut pupilli, etc. = many kings, like pupils, on account of their ignorance do not rule, but are ruled. [back]
Note 6. O misera virtus! etc. = O wretched virtue! Thou wast, then, nothing but words! Yet I cultivated thee as something real, while thou wast but the slave of fortune. [back]
Note 7. Nunc juvat tandem, etc. = At last it is of use to be zealous, and serve God with all one’s heart. [back]

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