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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 ‘Table-Talk’
By John Selden (1584–1654)
 
The Scriptures

THE TEXT serves only to guess by: we must satisfie our selves fully out of the Authors that liv’d about those times.  1
  In interpreting the Scripture, many do as if a man should see one have ten pounds, which he reckoned by 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10,—meaning four was but four Unities, and five, five Unities, etc., and that he had in all but ten pounds; the other that sees him, takes not the Figures together as he doth, but picks here and there, and thereupon reports that he hath five pounds in one Bag, and six pounds in another Bag, and nine pounds in another Bag, &c., whenas in truth he has but ten pounds in all. So we pick out a Text here and there to make it serve our turn; whereas, if we take it all together, and consider’d what went before and what followed after, we should find it meant no such thing.  2
 
The Bishops

  THE BISHOPS were too hasty, else with a discreet slowness they might have had what they aim’d at. The old Story of the Fellow that told the Gentleman that he might get to such a place if he did not ride too fast, would have fitted their turn.
*        *        *        *        *
  3
  Bishops are now unfit to Govern, because of their Learning. They are bred up in another Law; they run to the Text for something done amongst the Jews that nothing concerns England. ’Tis just as if a Man would have a Kettle, and he would not go to our Brazier to have it made as they make Kettles, but he would have it as Hiram made his Brass work, who wrought in Solomon’s Temple….  4
  They that would pull down the Bishops and erect a new way of Government, do as he that pulls down an old House and builds another in another fashion: there’s a great deal of do, and a great deal of trouble; the old rubbish must be carryed away, and new materials must be brought; Workmen must be provided: and perhaps the old one would have serv’d as well.  5
 
Books

  IN answering a Book, ’tis best to be short; otherwise he that I write against will suspect I intend to weary him, not to satisfy him. Besides, in being long I shall give my Adversary a huge advantage: somewhere or other he will pick a hole….
  6
  To quote a modern Dutch Man where I may use a Classic Author, is as if I were to justify my Reputation, and I neglect all Persons of Note and Quality that know me, and bring the Testimonial of the Scullion in the Kitchen.  7
 
Ceremony

  CEREMONY keeps up all things. ’Tis like a Penny-Glass to a rich Spirit, or some Excellent Water: without it the water were spilt, the Spirit lost.
  8
  Of all people, Ladies have no reason to cry down Ceremonies, for they take themselves slighted without it. And were they not used with Ceremony,—with Compliments and Addresses, with Legs, and Kissing of Hands,—they were the pittyfullest Creatures in the World; but yet methinks to kiss their Hands after their Lips as some do, is like little Boys, that after they eat the Apple, fall to the paring, out of a Love they have to the Apple.  9
 
Clergy

  THE CLERGY would have us believe them against our own Reason, as the Woman would have her Husband against his own Eyes. “What! will you believe your own Eyes before your own sweet Wife?”
  10
 
The House of Commons

  THE HOUSE OF COMMONS is called the Lower House in Twenty Acts of Parliament; but what are Twenty Acts of Parliament amongst Friends?
  11
 
Competency

  THAT which is a Competency for one Man, is not enough for another: no more than that which will keep one Man warm, will keep another Man warm; one man can go in Doublet and Hose, when another Man cannot be without a Cloak and yet have no more Cloaths than is necessary for him.
  12
 
Conscience

  HE that hath a Scrupulous Conscience is like a Horse that is not well weigh’d: he starts at every Bird that flies out of the Hedge.
  13
  A Knowing Man will do that which a tender Conscience Man dares not do, by reason of his Ignorance: the other knows there is no hurt,—as a Child is afraid to go into the dark, when a Man is not, because he knows there is no danger.  14
 
Consecrated Places

  ALL things are God’s already: we can give him no right by consecrating any, that he had not before; only we set it apart to his Service. Just as when a Gardiner brings his Lord and Master a Basket of Apricocks, and presents them, his Lord thanks him, perhaps gives him something for his pains; and yet the Apricocks were as much his Lord’s before as now.
  15
 
Council

  THEY talk (but blasphemously enough) that the Holy Ghost is President of their General Councils; when the truth is, the odd man is still the Holy Ghost.
  16
 
Devils

  A PERSON of Quality came to my Chamber in the Temple, and told me he had two Devils in his head (I wonder’d what he meant), and just at that time one of them bid him kill me (with that I begun to be afraid, and thought he was mad); he said he knew I could Cure him, and therefore entreated me to give him something, for he was resolv’d to go to nobody else. I, perceiving what an Opinion he had of me, and that ’twas only Melancholy that troubl’d him, took him in hand, warranted him if he would follow my directions to Cure him in a short time. I desired him to let me be alone about an hour, and then to come again, which he was very willing to. In the mean time I got a Card, and lapt it up handsome in a piece of Taffata, and put strings to the Taffata, and when he came, gave it to him to hang about his Neck; withal charged him that he should not disorder himself, neither with eating or drinking, but eat very little of Supper, and say his Prayers duly when he went to Bed, and I made no question but he would be well in three or four days. Within that time I went to Dinner to his House, and askt him how he did? He said he was much better, but not perfectly well; for in truth he had not dealt clearly with me: he had four Devils in his head, and he perceiv’d two of them were gone, with that which I had given him, but the other two troubled him still. Well, said I, I am glad two of them are gone; I make no doubt but to get away the other two likewise. So I gave him another thing to hang about his Neck: three days after, he came to me to my Chamber and protest he was now as well as ever he was in his life, and did extreamly thank me for the great care I had taken of him. I, fearing lest he might relapse into the like Distemper, told him that there was none but my self and one Physitian more in the whole Town, that could Cure the Devils in the head; and that was Dr. Harvey (whom I had prepared), and wisht him if ever he found himself ill in my absence to go to him, for he could Cure his Disease, as well as my self. The Gentleman lived many Years, and was never troubl’d after.
  17
 
Friends

  OLD Friends are best. King James us’d to call for his Old Shoos: they were easiest for his Feet.
  18
 
Humility

  HUMILITY is a Vertue all preach, none practice; and yet every body is content to hear. The Master thinks it good Doctrine for his Servant, the Laity for the Clergy, and the Clergy for the Laity.
  19
 
Jews

  TALK what you will of the Jews, that they are Cursed, they thrive where e’er they come; they are able to oblige the Prince of their Country by lending him money; none of them beg; they keep together: and for their being hated, my life for yours, Christians hate one another as much.
  20
 
The King

  THE KING calling his Friends from the Parliament, because he had use of them at Oxford, is as if a man should have use of a little piece of wood, and he runs down into the Cellar, and takes the Spiggot; in the mean time all the Beer runs about the House: when his Friends are absent the King will be lost.
  21
 
The Court of England

  THE COURT OF ENGLAND is much alter’d. At a solemn Dancing, first you had the grave Measures, then the Corrantoes and the Galliards, and this is kept up with Ceremony, at length to French-more, and the Cushion-Dance, and then all the Company Dance, Lord and Groom, Lady and Kitchen-Maid, no distinction. So in our Court in Queen Elizabeth’s time Gravity and State were kept up. In King James’s time things were pretty well. But in King Charles’s time, there has been nothing but French-more and the Cushion-Dance, omnium gatherum, tolly, polly, hoite come toite.
  22
 
Language

  IF you look upon the Language spoken in the Saxon time, and the Language spoken now, you will find the difference to be just as if a man had a Cloak that he wore plain in Queen Elizabeth’s days, and since, here has put in a piece of Red, and there a piece of Blew, and here a piece of Green, and there a piece of Orange-tawny. We borrow words from the French, Italian, Latine, as every Pedantick man pleases.
  23
  We have more words than Notions,—half a dozen words for the same thing. Sometime we put a new signification to an old word, as when we call a Piece a Gun. The word Gun was in use in England for an Engine to cast a thing from a man, long before there was any Gun-powder found out.  24
  Words must be fitted to a man’s mouth: ’twas well said of the Fellow that was to make a Speech for my Lord Mayor, he desir’d to take the measure of his Lordship’s mouth.  25
 
Libels

  THO’ some make slight of Libels, yet you may see by them how the wind fits: as take a straw and throw it up into the Air, you shall see by that which way the Wind is; which you shall not do by casting up a Stone. More solid things do not show the Complexion of the times so well as Ballads and Libels.
  26
 
Marriage

  OF all Actions of a man’s life, his Marriage does least concern other people; yet of all Actions of our Life, ’tis most medled with by other people.
  27
 
Measure of Things

  WE measure the Excellency of other men by some Excellency we conceive to be in our selves. Nash, a Poet, poor enough (as Poets us’d to be), seeing an Alderman with his Gold Chain, upon his great Horse, by way of scorn said to one of his Companions, Do you see yon fellow, how goodly, how big he looks: why, that fellow cannot make a blank Verse!
  28
 
Number

  ALL those misterious things they observe in numbers, come to nothing, upon this very ground; because number in it self is nothing, has not to do with Nature, but is merely of Human Imposition, a meer sound. For Example, when I cry one a Clock, two a Clock, three a Clock,—that is but Man’s division of time; the time itself goes on, and it had been all one in Nature if those Hours had been call’d nine, ten, and eleven. So when they say the Seventh Son is Fortunate, it means nothing; for if you count from the seventh backwards, then the first is the seventh: why is not he likewise Fortunate?
  29
 
Oaths

  WHEN men ask me whether they may take an Oath in their own Sense, ’tis to me as if they should ask whether they may go to such a place upon their own Legs: I would fain know how they can go otherwise.
  30
 
Opinion

  OPINION and Affection extremely differ: I may affect a Woman best, but it does not follow I must think her the Handsomest Woman in the World. I love Apples the best of any Fruit, but it does not follow I must think Apples to be the best Fruit. Opinion is something wherein I go about to give Reason why all the World should think as I think. Affection is a thing wherein I look after the pleasing of myself.
  31
  ’Tis a vain thing to talk of an Heretick; for a man for his heart can think no otherwise than he does think. In the Primitive times there were many Opinions, nothing scarce but some or other held. One of these Opinions being embrac’d by some Prince, and received into his Kingdom, the rest were Condemn’d as Heresies; and his Religion, which was but one of the several Opinions, first is said to be Orthodox, and so have continu’d ever since the Apostles.  32
 
Peace

  THOUGH we had Peace, yet ’twill be a great while e’er things be settled. Tho’ the Wind lye, yet after a Storm the Sea will work a great while.
  33
 
Pleasure

  WHILST you are upon Earth enjoy the good things that are here (to that end were they given), and be not melancholly, and wish yourself in Heaven. If a King should give you the keeping of a Castle, with all things belonging to it,—Orchards, Gardens, etc.,—and bid you use them; withal promise you that after twenty years to remove you to Court, and to make you a Privy Councillor,—if you should neglect your Castle, and refuse to eat of those fruits, and sit down, and whine, and wish you were a Privy Councillor, do you think the King would be pleased with you?
  34
 
Prayer

  “GOD hath given gifts unto men.” General Texts prove nothing: let him shew me John, William, or Thomas in the Text, and then I will believe him. If a man hath a voluble Tongue, we say, He hath the gift of Prayer. His gift is to pray long,—that I see; but does he pray better?
  35
  We take care what we speak to men, but to God we may say any thing.  36
  Prayer should be short, without giving God Almighty Reasons why he should grant this or that: he knows best what is good for us. If your Boy should ask you a Suit of Cloaths, and give you Reasons, “otherwise he cannot wait upon you, he cannot go abroad, but he shall discredit you,” would you endure it? You know it better than he: let him ask a Suit of Cloaths.  37
 
Preaching

  THE MAIN Argument why they would have two Sermons a day, is, because they have two Meals a Day; the Soul must be fed as well as the Body. But I may as well argue, I ought to have two Noses because I have two Eyes, or two Mouths because I have two Ears. What have Meals and Sermons to do one with another?
  38
 
Preferment

  WHEN the Pageants are a coming there’s a great thrusting and a riding upon one another’s backs, to look out at the Window: stay a little, and they will come just to you; you may see them quietly. So ’tis when a new Statesman or Officer is chosen: there’s great expectation and listening who it should be; stay a while, and you may know quietly.
  39
 
Reason

  THE REASON of a Thing is not to be inquired after, till you are sure the Thing it self be so. We commonly are at “What’s the Reason of it?” before we are sure of the Thing. ’Twas an excellent Question of my Lady Cotten, when Sir Robert Cotten was magnifying of a Shooe which was Moses’s or Noah’s, and wondring at the strange Shape and Fashion of it: But Mr. Cotten, says she, are you sure it is a Shooe?
  40
 
Religion

  MEN say they are of the same Religion for Quietness’s sake; but if the matter were well Examin’d, you would scarce find Three any where of the same Religion in all Points.
  41
  Disputes in Religion will never be ended, because there wants a Measure by which the Business would be decided. The Puritan would be judged by the Word of God: if he would speak clearly, he means himself, but he is ashamed to say so; and he would have me believe him before a whole Church, that has read the Word of God as well as he. One says one thing, and another another; and there is, I say, no Measure to end the Controversie. ’Tis just as if Two men were at Bowls, and both judg’d by the Eye: one says ’tis his Cast, the other says ’tis my Cast; and having no Measure, the Difference is Eternal. Ben Jonson Satyrically express’d the vain Disputes of Divines by Inigo Lanthorne, disputing with his Puppet in a Bartholomew Fair: It is so; It is not so; It is so; It is not so,—crying thus one to another a quarter of an Hour together.  42
  ’Tis to no purpose to labor to Reconcile Religions, when the Interest of Princes will not suffer it. ’Tis well if they could be Reconciled so far that they should not cut one another’s Throats.  43
 
Thanksgiving

  AT first we gave Thanks for every Victory as soon as ever ’twas obtained; but since we have had many now we can stay a good while. We are just like a Child: give him a Plum, he makes his Leg; give him a second Plum, he makes another Leg; at last when his Belly is full, he forgets what he ought to do: then his Nurse, or somebody else that stands by him, puts him in mind of his Duty—Where’s your Leg?
  44
 
Wife

  HE that hath a handsome Wife, by other men is thought happy; ’tis a pleasure to look upon her and be in her company: but the Husband is cloy’d with her. We are never content with what we have.
  45
  You shall see a Monkey sometime, that has been playing up and down the Garden, at length leap up to the top of the Wall, but his Clog hangs a great way below on this side; the Bishop’s Wife is like that Monkey’s Clog,—himself is got up very high, takes place of the Temporal Barons, but his wife comes a great way behind.  46
  ’Tis reason a man that will have a Wife should be at the charge of her Trinkets, and pay all the scores she sets on him. He that will keep a Monkey, ’tis fit he should pay for the Glasses he breaks.  47
 
Wisdom

  NEVER tell your Resolution before hand; but when the Cast is thrown, Play it as well as you can to win the Game you are at. ’Tis but folly to study how to Play Size-ace, when you know not whether you shall throw it or no.
  48
 
 
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