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Lessons for Kings and Courtiers.
tend to produce vagabond habits, and to make people vagrants? And are not rhetoric, poetry, geography, physic, and numerous other arts and sciences which he describes, all tainted with folly and vitiated by interminable inconsistencies ?
Mingled with this sophistry, however, there is much bitter truth, and many a sage reflection, which, though wholesome, must have been inexpressibly galling. 'Emperors,' says he, 'kings, and 'princes who reign now-a-days, think themselves born and crowned not for the sake of the people, not for the good of their citizens and commonalty, not to maintain justice, but to defend their own state and prerogative, governing as if the 'estates of the people were committed to them, not for protection, but as their own spoil and prey.' Gallantly spoken, Cornelius! for assuredly one of the most frightful blunders ever perpetrated in this world is to suppose that millions of mortals were created for the behoof of a single man, unless indeed that man is twelve feet high, as strong as twenty Samsons, and as wise as if the brains of a whole nation were treasured in his skull. Would it not be laughable if Paley's famous metaphorical pigeon-the bird which gave such offence to George III.-had claimed all his brother pigeons as his own property, and strongly insisted that none of them should ever be put into human pies? Agrippa is equally plain-spoken with regard to courts. A court, says he, is nothing else than a convent of noble and famous knaves, a theatre of the worst satellites, a school of the most corrupt 'morals, and an asylum for execrable sins. There pride, arro'gance, haughtiness, extortion, lust, gluttony, envy, malice, treachery, violence, impiety and cruelty, with whatever other 'vices and corruptions there may be, dwell, rule and reign.' Was not this a dainty dish to set before a king? Nor does he spare the pope; for after a terrible portraiture of the priesthood, he declares that the pontiff is the most intolerable of all, and that none of the tyrants had ever equalled him in pomp and pride. But when he has to deal with the monks, his old and implacable foes, he seizes his scourge of scorpions, and applies it to their greasy backs with a vigour which would have made them tingle, though protected by the cuirass of the self-flagellating St. Dominic himself.
Let us not, however, forget the declared object with which this treatise was composed. 'I write it,' said the author, because I 'see men puffed up with human knowledge, contemning the study of the Scriptures, and giving more heed to the maxims of philosophers than to the laws of God. . . . Moreover, we find that a 'most detestable custom has invaded all or most of the schools ' of learning, to swear their disciples never to contradict Aristotle,
Boethius, Aquinas, or whoever else may be their scholastic god, 'from whom if there be any that differ so much as a nail's breadth, him they proclaim a scandalous heretic, a criminal against the holy sciences, fit only to be consumed in fire and flames.' In other words, Agrippa was anxious to give a rap on the knuckles to the pedants and philosophers of the day.
'You tie down free inquiry, it is meant to say (observes Mr. Morley); you chain our spirits to the ground; you claim to have all wisdom when you know what has been written about your sciences and your arts. But you are wrong. There is as much vanity as sense in all your wisdom, and beyond it lies an undiscovered world in God's word and His works. Hear me cry, 'Out upon knowledge!''
This, in short, you pompous pretenders, is the pill which I have thought it necessary to administer to your conceit! Though bitter to the taste, I trust it will prove profitable in the digestion!
What good this treatise might effect, is a question it would be difficult to answer; but we fear that it was written in a spirit of reproof not at all unlike that in which the Cynic trampled on the pride of Plato. It certainly looks a bilious book. We can hardly suppress the idea that the vast quantity of knowledge absorbed by the author had turned rancid on his stomach, and that the work was produced whilst labouring under the horrors of indigestion. Though prompted, as it probably was, by the Moria Encomium of Erasmus, it is too serious in its tone, too tart in its temper, too slashing in its invectives, to enable us to regard it as a piece of genuine irony; and yet, on the other hand, it is so flagrantly one-sided in its objections, that no man could expect it to make any useful impression if the purpose were simply to correct an erring philosophy, or to administer a salutary snubbing to the pedants of the age. But what can be said of a disquisition in which the writer begins by assuming the privilege of writing like a dog, and ends by sounding the invidious praises of an ass?
As might be expected, this bold declamation brought him into trouble before long. Meanwhile, having received an invitation from Antwerp, he left Lyons with his family, but was vexatiously becalmed at Paris, where, for months, he was compelled to remain, his scanty resources oozing away with frightful rapidity whilst awaiting the passports and safe conduct which the troubles of the time required. Arriving at length at Antwerp, whither he had long turned a wistful eye, as a consumptive patient does to some balmy spot where health is said to dwell, he began to practise as a physician. Patients appeared, with lucrative disorders;
Troubles and Death.
and, not being queens or princes, they were expected to pay. To the joy of Cornelius they really did pay. He was fortunate, also, in winning the smiles of the Regent Margaret-those smiles of which the monk Catilinet had dispossessed him in his younger days. Office, too, was conferred upon him, and the doctor was made Councillor of Archives, and Historiographer to the Emperor Charles. V. Surely the sun of prosperity had now scattered the clouds of misfortune which had clustered so thickly, and hung so heavily over the path of that weary-footed man? Now, at least, his road would lie through green meadows, and by pleasant streams, and beneath smiling skies? Alas! it was but a temporary gleam of bliss! Suddenly the plague struck down his wife, and left him lamenting. She who had been the sharer of his sorrows for the last eight years was snatched from his heart just when his troubles seemed to be surmounted. Then death dealt him another blow, by removing his patroness, Margaret. Soon afterwards he printed his Vanity of the Sciences, and conjured up, if not demons, yet a host of enemies, from the Emperor and his courtiers down to the cormorant monks. His stipend, too, was left unpaid, and the cloud of foes was augmented by clamorous creditors and money-lending hornets. At length he was haled to prison for debt; but, being released, he withdrew from the Tartarus of Court and repaired to Mechlin, where he wedded a woman who seemed to join the general league against his happiness, for she dishonoured his name and forced him to retaliate by a divorce. But why dwell on the miserable remnant of his days? Menaced with death by the Emperor, involved in fierce contentions respecting his works, compelled to move from place to place in search of shelter, actually imprisoned for a while in France, this stricken deer crawled to Grenoble at last, and there, with the hunters' arrows bristling thick in his sides, and the hunters' yells still echoing in his ears, he sank to the ground and died an outcast's death.
Such was the end of Henry Cornelius Agrippa at the age of forty-nine. There are men whose lives appear to be little else than a scene of protracted torture. They do not fit the world, or the world does not fit them. They seem to have been born a few centuries too soon, or it may be, a few centuries too late. Perhaps they have landed on the wrong planet, or strayed into he wrong system? Meant for Mercury or Jupiter, they have wandered into this wicked, money-making, most uncongenial star. Who knows? At any rate they find themselves immersed in an element they cannot freely respire, and surrounded by circumstances with which they cannot cheerfully fraternize. What is to be done? Strive to accommodate themselves to their posi
tion, and wear away life in silent toil or, worse still, in sullen inaction? That would be impracticable with men so restless in temperament, so aspiring in intellect as Agrippa. They must rule though they should suffer, and speak though they should bring down the firmament on their heads. Hence, as they will not labour in harmony with their age, they must prepare to do battle with the world and to maintain a running fight to the last. Much, perhaps, of the suffering which Cornelius was compelled to endure, may be ascribed to his own indiscretion. He sought for patrons without sufficiently counting the cost. He was unwilling to pay the price in sycophancy, and therefore chose a courtier's life without being disposed to practise a courtier's arts. Honourable to some extent this certainly was, but unfortunately he thought it his duty to go through existence hanging to the skirts of some great person, as though that were the sole method by which an ambitious man could mount to the stars. It is pitiable to see one of the lights of the age' lounging about the purlieus of palaces and waiting to don the livery of any prince who would take him under his wing. Better for Agrippa would it have been had he manfully repudiated the Courts he professed to abhor as so many little hells,' and valiantly sat him down to write books and make shoes like his contemporary, Hans Sachs, or his successor, Jacob Behmen.
Not the least noticeable consequence of this error was that Cornelius was compelled to spend much of his time in playing the Dun. Now Duns are always nuisances. The character is odious under the most favourable circumstances. Let your claim be as just as it may, the debtor believes that he is a persecuted man, and naturally wishes you at the bottom of the Red Sea. Let that claim be as just as it may, you too are conscious that the task of worrying the fellow into honesty is painful to the feelings and injurious to the temper. But if this is unpleasant when dealing with an equal, what must it be when a prince is in your books, or when you have to badger an Emperor? You cannot send in your bill, and plead that you have a large account to make up by next Monday. You cannot give him a call at his palace, and after delivering a cross little sermon on probity, intimate that you will wait no longer than next week. Still less can you put the matter in the hands of your solicitor, and instruct him to apprise his Majesty that unless the amount due be paid by return of post, proceedings at law will be immediately commenced for the recovery thereof. And least of all would it be polite to send in the bailiffs to your sovereign and have his goods seized in execution. It would have been a different thing for Cornelius if he could have issued a writ of summons against
Queen Louisa, or got the Emperor Charles deposited in gaol. But that would have been high treason. Hence the mischief of having a monarch for your debtor. Instead of taking severe measures in case the offender persists in his iniquity, the wretched claimant must prefer humble petitions, or write adulatory verses, or fritter away his independence in wheedling courtiers to undertake his cause, only to discover at last that the labour of earning a salary is nothing to the labour involved in getting it paid. It was so with Cornelius. He had to dun treasurers and princes; he had to dun a queen and an emperor; he had to dun when there was no poverty to plead, and no excuse to assign for the delay. Why he should have stooped to lead a life of importunity may not be very intelligible to us who look upon patrons as extinct monsters, and who cannot sympathize heartily with the usages of a medieval age. But certainly if Dante had stood in need of another galling occupation for his Inferno, he might have fixed upon a high-minded dun-he himself had a bitter taste of the trade-and pictured him as a turnspit-dog compelled to clamber up incessantly in a red-hot wheel, in the vain hope of reaching a scanty pittance of flesh, which, if attained, would prove to be phantom food after all.
But, however luckless Cornelius may have been whilst living, one piece of good fortune has befallen his memory when dead. Mr. Morley has become his biographer. We wish he could have foreseen the event before he departed. It would have brushed many a frown from his brow, and lit up many a dark hour with flashes prophetic of posthumous fame. How consoling to the exile, could he have known that one day an Englishman would come forward, with generous temper and in a loving spirit, to strew flowers over his ashes, and to remove the monkish mud with which his name has been encrusted! Perhaps zeal for a vituperated man has led the author to take too favourable a view of his subject; perhaps, too, he has devoted more space and toil to his task than its intrinsic value really demands. But Mr. Morley is always a delightful biographer; he is always dexterous and workmanlike in his productions; he always infuses so much sentiment into his pages, that the very bone-dust of his characters seems as if it would begin to live; and writing as he has here done with the view of rescuing an injured reputation from further obloquy, it is a duty to say that the literary merits of the work are fully equal to the benevolent intentions of its composer.