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
The Flower of the Grass
By Robert Leighton (1611–1684)
From Commentary on 1st Epistle of St. Peter

THIS is elegantly added. There is indeed a great deal of seeming difference betwixt the outward conditions of life amongst men. Shall the rich and honourable and beautiful and healthful go in together, under the same name, with the baser and unhappier part, the poor, wretched sort of the world, who seem to be born for nothing but sufferings and miseries? At least, hath the wise no advantage beyond the fools? Is all grass? Make you no distinction? No; all is grass, or if you will have some other name, be it so, once this is true, that all flesh is grass; and if that glory which shines so much in your eyes must have a difference, then this is all it can have,—it is but the flower of that same grass; somewhat above the common grass in gayness, a little comelier, and better apparelled than it, but partaker of its frail and fading nature; it hath no privilege nor immunity that way, yea, of the two, it is the less durable, and usually shorter lived; at the best it decays with it: “The grass withereth and the flower thereof falleth away.”
  How easily and quickly hath the highest splendour of a man’s prosperity been blasted, either by men’s power or by the immediate hand of God! “The Spirit of the Lord blows upon it” (as Isaiah says, chap. xl. 7), and by that, not only the grass withers, but the flower fades, though never so fair. “When thou correctest man for iniquity,” says David, “thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth,” Psalm xxxix. 11. How many have the casualties of fire, or war, or shipwreck, in one day, or in one night, or in a small part of either, turned out of great riches into extreme poverty! And the instances are not few, of those who have on a sudden fallen from the top of honour into the foulest disgraces, not by degrees coming down the stair they went up, but tumbled down headlong. And the most vigorous beauty and strength of body, how doth a few days’ sickness, or if it escape that, a few years’ time, blast that flower! Yea, those higher advantages which have somewhat both of truer and more lasting beauty in them, the endowments of wit and learning and eloquence, yea, and of moral goodness and virtue, yet they cannot rise above this word, they are still, in all their glory, but the flower of grass; their root is in the earth. Natural ornaments are of some use in this present life, but they reach no further. When men have wasted their strength, and endured the toil of study night and day, it is but a small parcel of knowledge they can attain to, and they are forced to lie down in the dust in the midst of their pursuit of it: that head that lodges most sciences, shall within a while be disfurnished of them all; and the tongue that speaks most languages be silenced.  2
  The great projects of kings and princes, and they also themselves, come under this same notion; all the vast designs that are framing in their heads fall to the ground in a moment; “They return to their dust and in that day all their thoughts perish,” Psalm cxlvi. 4. Archimedes was killed in the midst of his demonstration.  3
  If they themselves did consider this in the heat of their affairs, it would much allay the swelling and loftiness of their minds; and if they who live upon their favour would consider it, they would not value it at so high a rate, and buy it so dear as often they do. “Men of low degree are vanity,” says the Psalmist (Psalm lxii. 9), but he adds, “men of high degree are a lie.” From base, mean persons we expect nothing; but the estate of great persons promises fair, and often keeps not its promise; therefore they are a lie, although they can least endure that word. They are, in respect of mean persons, as the flower to the grass; a somewhat fairer lustre they have, but no more endurance, nor exemption from decaying.  4

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