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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From the ‘Heptameron’
By Marguerite de Navarre (1492–1549)
 
I
A LITTLE company of five ladies and five noble gentlemen have been interrupted in their travels by heavy rains and great floods, and find themselves together in a hospitable abbey. They while away the time as best they can, and the second day Parlemente says to the old Lady Oisille, “Madame, I wonder that you who have so much experience … do not think of some pastime to sweeten the gloom that our long delay here causes us.” The other ladies echo her wishes, and all the gentlemen agree with them, and beg the Lady Oisille to be pleased to direct how they shall amuse themselves. She answers them:—  1
 
  “MY children, you ask of me something that I find very difficult,—to teach you a pastime that can deliver you from your sadness; for having sought some such remedy all my life I have never found but one—the reading of Holy Writ; in which is found the true and perfect joy of the mind, from which proceed the comfort and health of the body. And if you ask me what keeps me so joyous and so healthy in my old age, it is that as soon as I rise I take and read the Holy Scriptures, seeing and contemplating the will of God, who for our sakes sent his Son on earth to announce this holy word and good news, by which he promises remission of sins, satisfaction for all duties by the gift he makes us of his love, Passion and merits. This consideration gives me so much joy that I take my Psalter and as humbly as I can I sing with my heart and pronounce with my tongue the beautiful psalms and canticles that the Holy Spirit wrote in the heart of David and of other authors. And this contentment that I have in them does me so much good that the ills that every day may happen to me seem to me to be blessings, seeing that I have in my heart, by faith, Him who has borne them for me. Likewise, before supper, I retire, to pasture my soul in reading; and then, in the evening, I call to mind what I have done in the past day, in order to ask pardon for my faults, and to thank Him for his kindnesses, and in His love, fear and peace I repose, assured against all ills. Wherefore, my children, this is the pastime in which I have long stayed my steps, after having searched all things, where I found no content for my spirit. It seems to me that if every morning you will give an hour to reading, and then, during mass, devoutly say your prayers, you will find in this desert the same beauty as in cities; for he who knows God, sees all beautiful things in him, and without him all is ugliness.”  2
 
  Her nine companions are not quite of this pious mind, and pray her to remember that when they are at home the men have hunting and hawking, and the ladies have their household affairs and needlework, and sometimes dancing; and that they need something to take the place of all these things. At last it is decided that in the morning the Lady Oisille should read to them of the life led by Our Lord Jesus Christ; and in the afternoon, from after dinner to vespers, they should tell tales like those of Boccaccio.  3
 
II
  One of the tales opens thus:—
  4
 
  “IN the city of Saragossa there was a rich merchant who, seeing his death draw nigh, and that he could no longer retain his possessions, which perhaps he had acquired with bad faith, thought that by making some little present to God he might satisfy in part for his sins, after his death,—as if God gave his grace for money.”  5
 
  So he ordered his wife to sell a fine Spanish horse he had, as soon as he was gone, and give its price to the poor. But when the burial was over, the wife, “who was as little of a simpleton as Spanish women are wont to be,” told her man-servant to sell the horse indeed, but to sell him for a ducat, while the purchaser must at the same time buy her cat, and for the cat must be paid ninety-nine ducats. So said, so done; and the Mendicant Friars received one ducat, and she and her children ninety-and-nine.  6
 
  “In your opinion,” asks Namerfide in conclusion, “was not this woman much wiser than her husband? and should she have cared as much for his conscience as for the good of her household?”—“I think,” said Parlamente, “that she loved her husband well, but seeing that most men are not of sound mind on their death-beds, she, who knew his intention, chose to interpret it for the profit of his children, which I think very wise.”—“But,” said Gebaron, “don’t you think it a great fault to fail to carry out the wills of dead friends?”—“Indeed I do,” said Parlamente, provided the testator is of good sense and of sound mind.”—“Do you call it not being of sound mind to give our goods to the Church and the Mendicant Friars?”—“I don’t call it wanting in sound-mindedness,” said Parlamente, “when a man distributes among the poor what God has put in his power; but to give alms with what belongs to others I do not consider high wisdom, for you will see constantly the greatest usurers there are, build the most beautiful and sumptuous chapels that can be seen, wishing to appease God for a hundred thousand ducats’ worth of robbery by ten thousand ducats’ worth of buildings, as if God did not know how to count.”  7
  “Truly I have often marveled at this,” said Oisille; “how do they think to appease God by the things that he himself, when on earth, reprobated, such as great buildings, gildings, decorations, and paintings? But, if they rightly understood what God has said in one passage, that for all sacrifice he asks of us a contrite and humble heart, and in another St. Paul says we are the temple of God in which he desires to dwell, they would have taken pains to adorn their consciences while they were alive; not waiting for the hour when a man can no longer do either well or ill, and even what is worse, burdening those who survive them with giving their alms to those they would not have deigned to look at while they were alive. But He who knows the heart cannot be deceived, and will judge them, not only according to their works, but according to the faith and charity they have had in Him.” “Why is it then,” said Gebaron, “that these Gray Friars and Mendicant Friars sing no other song to us on our death-beds save that we should give much wealth to their monasteries, assuring us that that will carry us to Paradise, willy-nilly?” “Ah! Gebaron,” said Hircan, “have you forgotten the wickedness that you yourself have related to us of the Gray Friars, that you ask how it is possible for such people to lie? I declare to you that I do not think that there can be in the world greater lies than theirs. And yet those men cannot be blamed who speak for the good of the whole community, but there are those who forget their vow of poverty to satisfy their avarice.” “It seems to me, Hircan,” said Nomerfide, “that you know something about such a one; I pray you, if it be worthy of this company, that you will be pleased to tell it to us.” “I am willing,” said Hircan, “although I dislike to speak of this sort of people, for it seems to me that they are of the same kind as those of whom Virgil said to Dante, ‘Pass on, and heed them not’ (‘Passe oultre et n’en tiens compte’).”  8
 
III
  The following conversation contains the comments on a tale told of the virtuous young wife of an unfaithful husband, who by dint of patience and discretion regained his affection; so that “they lived together in such great friendship that even his just faults by the good they had brought about increased their contentment.”
  9
 
  “I BEG you, ladies,” continues the narrator, “if God give you such husbands, not to despair till you have long tried every means to reclaim them; for there are twenty-four hours in a day in which a man may change his way of thinking, and a woman should deem herself happier to have won her husband by patience and long effort than if fortune and her parents had given her a more perfect one.” “Yes,” said Oisille, “this is an example for all married women.”—“Let her follow this example who will,” said Parlamente: “but as for me, it would not be possible for me to have such long patience; for, however true it may be that in all estates patience is a fine virtue, it’s my opinion that in marriage it brings about at last unfriendliness; because, suffering unkindness from a fellow being, one is forced to separate from him as far as possible, and from this separation arises a contempt for the fault of the disloyal one, and in this contempt little by little love diminishes; for it is what is valued that is loved.”—“But there is danger,” said Ennarsuite, “that the impatient wife may find a furious husband, who would give her pain in lieu of patience.”—“But what could a husband do,” said Parlamente, “save what has been recounted in this story?” “What could he do?” said Ennarsuite: “he could beat his wife.”…  10
  “I think,” said Parlamente, “that a good woman would not be so grieved in being beaten out of anger, as in being contemptuously treated by a man who does not care for her, and after having endured the suffering of the loss of his friendship, nothing the husband might do would cause her much concern. And besides, the story says that the trouble she took to draw him back to her was because of her love for her children, and I believe it.”—“And do you think it was so very patient of her,” said Nomerfide, “to set fire to the bed in which her husband was sleeping?”—“Yes,” said Longarine, “for when she saw the smoke she awoke him; and that was just the thing where she was most in fault, for of such husbands as those the ashes are good to make lye for the washtub.”—“You are cruel, Longarine,” said Oisille, “and you did not live in such fashion with your husband.”—“No,” said Longarine, “for, God be thanked, he never gave me such occasion, but reason to regret him all my life, instead of to complain of him.”—“And if he had treated you in this way,” said Nomerfide, “what would you have done?”—“I loved him so much,” said Longarine, “that I think I should have killed him and then killed myself; for to die after such vengeance would be pleasanter to me than to live faithfully with a faithless husband.”  11
  “As far as I see,” said Hircan, “you love your husbands only for yourselves. If they are good after your own heart, you love them well; if they commit towards you the least fault in the world, they have lost their week’s work by a Saturday. The long and the short is that you want to be mistresses; for my part I am of your mind, provided all the husbands also agree to it.”—“It is reasonable,” said Parlamente, “that the man rule us as our head, but not that he desert us or ill-treat us.”—“God,” said Oisille, “has set in such due order the man and the woman that if the marriage estate is not abused, I hold it to be one of the most beautiful and stable conditions in the world; and I am sure that all those here present, whatever air they assume, think no less highly of it. And forasmuch as men say they are wiser than women, they should be more sharply punished when the fault is on their side. But we have talked enough on this subject.”  12
 
IV
  “IT seems to me, since the passage from one life to another is inevitable, that the shortest death is the best. I consider fortunate those who do not dwell in the suburbs of death, and who from that felicity which alone in this world can be called felicity pass suddenly to that which is eternal.”—“What do you call the suburbs of death?” said Simortault.—“I mean that those who have many tribulations, and those also who have long been sick, those who by extremity of bodily or mental pain, have come to hold death in contempt and to find its hour too tardy,—all these have wandered in the suburbs of death, and will tell you the hostelries where they have more wept than slept.”
  13
 
V
  “DO you count as nothing the shame she underwent, and her imprisonment?”
  14
  “I think that one who loves perfectly, with a love in harmony with the commands of God, knows neither shame nor dishonor save when the perfection of her love fails or is diminished; for the glory of true loves knows not shame: and as to the imprisonment of her body, I believe that through the freedom of her heart which was united with God and with her husband, she did not feel it, but considered its solitude very great liberty; for to one who cannot see the beloved, there is no greater good than to think incessantly of him, and the prison is never narrow where the thought can range at will.”  15
 
VI
  “IN good faith I am astonished at the diversity in the nature of women’s love: and I see clearly that those who have most love have most virtue; but those who have less love, dissimulate, wishing to feign virtue.”
  16
  “It is true,” said Parlamente, “that a heart pure towards God and man, loves more strongly than one that is vicious, and it fears not to have its very thoughts known.”  17
 
 
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