Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
The Souls Excellence
By Sir Kenelm Digby (16031665)
From Two Treatises of the Nature of Bodies and the Nature of Mans Soul
AND now I hope I may confidently say I have been as good as my word: and I doubt not but my reader will find it so, if he spend but half as much time in perusing these two treatises as the composing of them hath cost me. They are too nice (and indeed unreasonable) who expect to attain without pains unto that which hath cost others years of toil. Let them remember the words of holy Job, that wisdom is not found in the land of those who live at their ease. Let them cast their eyes on every side round about them, and then tell me, if they meet with any employment that may be compared to the attaining unto these, and such like principles; whereby a man is enabled to govern himself understandingly and knowingly, towards the happiness both of the next life and of this; and to comprehend the wise mans theme; what is good for a man in the days of his vanity, whiles he playeth the stranger under the sun. Let us fear Gods judgments. Let us carefully pursue the hidden bounties He hath treasured up for us. Let us thank Him for the knowledge He hath given us: and admire the excellency of Christian religion; which so plainly teaches us that unto which it is so extreme hard to arrive by natural means. Let us bless Him that we are born unto it. And let us sing to Him; That it is He, who preached His doctrine to Jacob, and giveth His laws to Israel. He hath not done the like to all nations; nor hath He manifested His secret truths unto them.
But before I cut off this thread, which hath cost me so much pains to spin out to this length, I must crave my readers leave to make some use of it for my own behoof. Hitherto my discourse hath been directed to him, now I shall entreat his patience that I may reflect it in a word or two upon myself. And as I am sure I have profited myself not a little by talking all this while to him, that obliging me to polish my conceptions with more care, and to range them into better order, than while they were but rude meditations within my own breast, so I hope that a little conversation with myself upon this important subject (which is to be studied for use and practice, not for speculative science) may prove advantageous unto him, if his warmed thoughts have tuned his soul to such a key, as I am sure these considerations have wound up mine unto.
To thee then, my soul, I now address my speech. For since by long debate, and toilsome rowing against the impetuous tides of ignorance and false apprehensions which overflow thy banks and hurry thee headlong down the stream, whilst thou are imprisoned in thy clayey mansion, we have with much ado arrived at some little atom of thy vast greatness; and with the hard and tough blows of strict and wary reasoning we have stricken out some few sparkles of that glorious light which environeth and swelleth thee, or, rather, which is thee: it is high time I should retire myself out of the turbulent and slippery field of eager strife and litigious disputation, to make my accounts with thee, where no outward noise may distract us, nor any way intermeddle between us, excepting only that eternal verity, which by thee shineth upon my faint and gloomy eyes, and in which I see whatever doth or can content thee in me. I have discovered that thou (my soul) wilt survive me: and so survive me as thou will also survive the mortality and changes which belong to me, and which are but accidentary to thee, merely because thou art in me. Then shall the vicissitude of time, and the inequality of dispositions in thee be turned into the constancy of immortality: and into the evenness of one being, never to end, and never to receive a change, or succession to better or worse.
When my eye of contemplation hath been fixed upon this bright sun as long as it is able to endure the radiant beams of it; whose redundant light veileth the looker on with a dark mist; let me turn it for a little space upon the straight passage and narrow gullet through which thou strivest (my soul) with faint and weary steps during thy hazardous voyage upon the earth to make thyself away; and let me examine what comparison there is between thy two conditions, the present one wherein thou now findest thyself immersed in flesh and blood, and the future state that will betide thee, when thou, shalt be melted out of this gross ore, and refined from this mean alloy. Let my term of life be of a thousand long years, longer than ever happened to our aged forefathers, who stored the earth with their numerous progeny, by outliving their skill to number the diffused multitudes that swarmed from their loins; let me, during this long space, be sole emperor and absolute lord of all the huge globe of land and water encompassed with Adams offspring; let all my subjects be prostrate at my feet, with obedience and awe, distilling their activest thoughts in studying night and day to invent new pleasures and delights for me; let nature conspire with them to give me a constant and vigorous health, a perpetual spring of youth, that may to the full relish whatsoever good all they can fancy; let gravest prelates, and greatest princes, serve instead of flatterers to heighten my joys, and yet those joys be raised above their power of flattery; let the wise men of this vast family (whose sentiments are maxims and oracles, to govern the worlds beliefs and actions) esteem, reverence, and adore me in the secretest and the most recluse withdrawings of their hearts; let all the wealth which to this very day hath ever been torn out of the bowels of the earth, and all the treasures which the sea hideth from the view of greedy men, well round about me, whilst all the world besides lyeth gaping to receive the crumbs that fall neglected by me from my full loaden table; let my imagination be as vast as the unfathomed universe, and let my felicity be as accomplished as my imagination can reach unto, so that wallowing in pleasure I be not able to think how to increase it, or what to wish for more than that which I possess and enjoy.
Thus when my thoughts are at a stand, and can raise my present happiness no higher; let me call to mind how this long lease of pleasant days will in time come to an end: this bottom of a thousand joyful years will at length be unwound, and nothing remain of it; and then (my soul) thy infinitely longer lived immortality will succeed; thy never-ending date will begin a new account, impossible to be summed up, and beyond all proportion infinitely exceeding the happiness we have rudely aimed to express, so that no comparison can be admitted between them. For suppose first that such it were, as the least and shortest of those manifold joys, which swell it to that height we have fancied, were equal to all the contentment thou shalt receive in a whole million of years, yet millions of years may be so often multiplied, as at length the slender and limited contentments supposed in them may equalise and outgo the whole heap of overflowing bliss, raised so high in the large extent of these thousand happy years, which when they are cast into a total sum; and that I compare it with the immeasurable eternity which only measureth thee; then I see that all this huge product of algebraical multiplication appeareth as nothing, in respect of the remaining, and never-ending survivance, and is less than the least point in regard of the immense universe. But then, if it be true (as it is most true) that thy least spark and moment of real happiness in that blessed eternity thou hopest for is infinitely greater and nobler than the whole mass of fancied joys of my thousand years life here on earth, how infinitely will the value of thy duration exceed all proportion, in regard of the felicity I had imagined myself? And seeing there is no proportion between them, let me sadly reflect upon my own present condition, let me examine what it is, I so busily and anxiously employ my thoughts and precious time upon; let me consider my own courses, and whither they lead me; let me take a survey of the lives and actions of the greatest part of the world, which make so loud a noise about my ears,and then may I justly sigh out from the bottom of my anguished heart, to what purpose have I hitherto lived? to what purpose are all these millions of toilsome ants, that live and labour about me? To what purpose were Cæsars and Alexanders? To what Aristotles and Archimedeses? How miserably foolish are those conquering tyrants, that divide the world with their lawless swords? What senseless idiots those acute philosophers, who tear mens wits in pieces by their different ways, and subtle logic! striving to show men beatitudes in this world, and seeking for that, which if they had found, were but nothing of a nothing in respect of true beatitude! He only is truly wise, who, neglecting all that flesh and blood desireth, endeavoureth to purchase at any rate this felicity which thy survivance promiseth; the least degree of which so far surmounteth all the heaps which the giants of the earth are able to raise by throwing hills upon hills, and striving in vain to scale and reach those eternities which reside above the skies. Alas, how fondly doth mankind suffer itself to be deluded! How true it is that the only thing necessary proveth the only thing that is neglected! Look up, my soul, and fix thine eye upon that truth, which eternal light maketh so clear unto thee, shining upon thy face with so great evidence, as defyeth the noontide sun in its greatest brightness. And this it is, that every action of thine, be it never so slight, is mainly mischievous; or be it never so bedecked with those specious considerations which the wise men of the world judge important, is foolish, absurd, and unworthy of a man, and unworthy of one that understandeth, and acknowledgeth thy dignity, if in it there be any speck, or if through it there appear any spark of those mean and false motives which with a false bias draw any way aside from attaining that happiness we expect in thee. That happiness ought to be the end and mark we level at; that the rule and model of all our actions; that the measure of every circumstance, of every atom, of whatsoever we bestow so precious a thing upon, as the employment of thee is.