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but if the staple conceit consists in profaneness, then it is a viper, all poison, and meddle not with it.
He that will lose his friend for a jest deserves to die a beggar by the bargain. Yet some think their conceits, like mustard, not good except they bite. We read that all those who were born in England the year after the beginning of the great mortality, 1349, wanted their four cheek-teeth. Such let thy jests be, that they may not hurt the credit of thy friend, and make not jests so long till thou becomest one.
No time to break jests when the heartstrings are about to be broken. No more showing of wit when the head is to be cut off. Like that dying man, who, when the priest coming to him to give him extreme unction, asked of him where his feet were, answered, “At the end of my legs.” But at such a time jests are an unmannerly crepitus ingenii; and let those take heed who end here with Democritus, that they begin not with Heraclitus hereafter.
Complete. From the “Holy State.»
IT IS the treasure-house of the mind, wherein the monuments I thereof are kept and preserved. Plato makes it the mother
of the Muses; Aristotle sets it one degree further, making experience the mother of arts, memory the parent of experience. Philosophers place it in the rear of the head; and it seems the mine of memory lies there, because there naturally men dig for it, scratching it when they are at a loss. This again is twofold: one, the simple retention of things; the other, a regaining them when forgotten.
Brute creatures equal, if not exceed, men in a bare retentive memory. Through how many labyrinths of woods, without other clue of thread than natural instinct, doth the hunted hare return to her muce! How doth the little bee, flying into several meadows and gardens, sipping of many cups, yet never intoxicated, through an ocean (as I may say) of air, steadily steer herself home, without help of card or compass! But these cannot play an aftergame, and recover what they have forgotten, which is done by the meditation of discourse.
Artificial memory is rather a trick than an art, and more for the gain of the teacher than profit of the learners; like the tossing of a pike, which is no part of the postures and motions thereof, and is rather for ostentation than use, to show the strength and nimbleness of the arm, and is often used by wandering sol. diers as an introduction to beg. Understand it of the artificial rules which at this day are delivered by memory mountebanks; for, sure, an art thereof may be made (wherein as yet the world is defective), and that no more destructive to natural memory than spectacles are to eyes, which girls in Holland wear from twelve years of age. But till this be found out, let us observe these plain rules:
First, soundly infix in thy mind what thou desirest to remember. What wonder is it if agitation of business jog that out of thy head which was there rather tacked than fastened? Whereas those notions which get in by violenta possessio will abide there till ejectio firma, sickness, or extreme age dispossesses them. It is best knocking in the nail over-night, and clinching it the next morning
Overburden not thy memory to make so faithful a servant a slave! Remember Atlas was weary. Have as much reason as a camel, to rise when thou hast thy full load. Memory, like a purse, if it be overfull that it cannot shut, all will drop out of it: take heed of a gluttonous curiosity to feed on many things, lest the greediness of the appetite of thy memory spoil the digestion thereof. Beza's case was peculiar and memorable; being above fourscore years of age, he perfectly could say by heart any Greek chapter in St. Paul's Epistles, or anything else which he had learned long before, but forgot whatsoever was newly told him,- his memory, like an inn, retaining old guests, but having no room to entertain new.
Spoil not thy memory with thine own jealousy, nor make it bad by suspecting it. How canst thou find that true which thou wilt not trust ? St. Augustine tells of his friend Simplicius, who, being asked, could tell all Virgil's verses backward and forward, and yet the same party avowed to God that he knew not that he could do it till they did try him. Sure there is concealed strength in men's memories, which they take no notice of.
Marshal thy notions into a handsome method. One will carry twice more weight trussed and packed up in bundles, than when
it lies untoward flapping and hanging about his shoulders. Things orderly fardled up under heads are most portable.
Adventure not all thy learning in one bottom, but divide it betwixt thy memory and thy notebooks. He that with Bias carries all his learning about him in his head will utterly be beggared and bankrupt if a violent disease, a merciless thief, should rob and strip him. I know some have a commonplace against commonplace books, and yet, perchance, will privately make use of what publicly they declaim against. A commonplace book contains many notions in garrison, whence the owner may draw out an army into the field on competent warning.
Moderate diet and good air preserve memory; but what air is best I dare not define, when such great ones differ. Some say a pure and subtle air is best, another commends a thick and foggy air. For the Pisans, sited in the fens and marshes of Arnus, have excellent memories, as if the foggy air were a cap for their heads.
Thankfulness to God for it continues the memory, whereas some proud people have been visited with such oblivion that they have forgotten their own names. Staupitius, tutor to Luther, and a godly man, in a vain ostentation of his memory, repeated Christ's genealogy (Matt. i.) by heart in his sermon, but being out about the captivity of Babylon, “I see,” saith he, “God resisteth the proud,” and so betook himself to his book.
Abuse not thy memory to be sin's register, nor make advantage thereof for wickedness. Excellently Augustine, - Quidam vero pessimi memoria sunt mirabili, qui tanto pejores sunt, quanto minus possunt, quæ male cogitant, oblivisci.
Complete. From the Holy State. »
OF NATURAL FOOLS
THEY have the cases of men, and little else of them besides
speech and laughter. And indeed it may seem strange,
that, risible being the property of man alone, they who have least of man should have most thereof, laughing without cause or measure.
Generally, nature hangs out a sign of simplicity in the face of a fool, and there is enough in his countenance for a hue and
cry to take him on suspicion; or else it is stamped on the figure of his body,—their heads sometimes so little that there is no room for wit, sometimes so long that there is no wit for so much room.
Yet some by their faces may pass current enough till they cry themselves down by their speaking. Thus men know the bell is cracked when they hear it tolled; yet some that have stood out the assault of two or three questions, and have answered pretty rationally, have afterwards, of their own accord, betrayed and yielded themselves to be fools.
The oaths and railing of fools is oftentimes no fault of theirs, but their teachers. The Hebrew word barak signifies to bless and to curse; and it is the speaker's pleasure if he use it in the worst acceptation. Fools of themselves are equally capable to pray and to swear; they, therefore, have the greatest sin who by their example or otherwise teach them so to do.
One may get wisdom by looking on a fool. In beholding him, think how much thou art beholden to him that suffered thee not to be like him; only God's pleasure put a difference betwixt you. And consider that a fool and a wise man are alike both in the starting place, their birth, and at the post, their death; only they differ in the race of their lives.
It is unnatural to laugh at a natural. How can the object of thy pity be the subject of thy pastime? I confess sometimes the strangeness, and, as I may say, witty simplicity of their actions may extort a smile from a serious man, who at the same time may smile at them and sorrow for them. But it is one thing to laugh at them in transitu, a snap and away, and another to make a set meal in jeering them, and as the Philistines, to send for Samson to make them sport.
To make a trade of laughing at a fool is the highway to become one. Tully confesseth that whilst he laughed at one Hircus, a very ridiculous man; dum illum rideo pene factus sum ille; and one telleth us of Gallus Vibius, a man first of great eloquence, and afterwards of great madness, which seized not on him so much by accident as his own affectation, so long mimically imitating madmen that he became one.
Many have been the wise speeches of fools, though not so many as the foolish speeches of wise men. Now the wise speeches of these silly souls proceed from one of these reasons: either because talking much and shooting often they must needs hit the mark sometimes, though not by aim, by hap; or else, because a fool's mediocriter is optime, sense from his mouth, a sentence, and a tolerable speech cried up for an apothegm; or, lastly, because God may sometimes illuminate them, and, especially towards their death, admit them to the possession of some part of reason. A poor beggar in Paris, being very hungry, stayed so long in a cook's shop, who was dishing up meat, till his stomach was satisfied with only the smell thereof. The choleric covetous cook demanded of him to pay for his breakfast. The poor man denied it, and the controversy was referred to the deciding of the next man that should pass by, which chanced to be the most notorious idiot in the whole city. He, on the relation of the matter, determined that the poor man's money should be put betwixt two empty dishes, and the cook should be recompensed with the jingling of the poor man's money, as he was satisfied with only the smell of the cook's meat. And this is affirmed by credible writers as no fable, but an undoubted fact. More waggish was that of a rich landed fool, whom a courtier had begged, and carried about to wait on him. He, coming with his master to a gentleman's house where the picture of a fool was wrought in a fair suit of arras, cut the picture out with a penknife. And being chidden for so doing, “ You have more cause,” said he, «to thank me; for if my master had seen the picture of the fool, he would have begged the hangings of the king, as he did my lands.” When the standers-by comforted a natural which lay on his deathbed, and told him that four proper fellows should carry his body to the church, «Yea,” quoth he, “but I had rather by half go thither myself”; and then prayed to God at his last gasp not to require more of him than he gave him.
As for a changeling, which is not one child changed for another, but one child on a sudden much changed from itself; and for a jester, which some count a necessary evil in a court, an office which none but he that hath wit can perform, and none but he that wants wit will perform, I conceive them not to belong to the present subject.
Complete. From the «Holy State.”