Page images

ward the street in his shop. The other, because they minister a singular help and preservative against unbelief and error for our Saviour saith, “You err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God;" laying before us two books or volumes to study, if we will be secured from error; first, the Scriptures, revealing the will of God; and then the creatures expressing his power whereof the latter is a key unto the former: not only opening our understanding to conceive the true sense of the Scriptures, by the general notions of reason and rules of speech; but chiefly opening our belief, in drawing us into a due meditation of the omnipotency of God, which is chiefly signed and engraven upon his works. Thus much therefore for divine testimony and evidence, concerning the true dignity and value of learning.

As for human proofs, it is so large a field, as, in a discourse of this nature and brevity, it is fit rather to use choice of those things which we shall produce, than to embrace the variety of them. First, therefore, in the degrees of human honor amongst the heathen, it was the highest to obtain to a veneration and adoration as a God. This unto the Christians is as the forbidden fruit.

But we speak now sepa

rately of human testimony; according to which, that which the Grecians call "apotheosis," and the Latins,

"relatio inter divos" (admission among the gods), was the supreme honour which man could attribute unto man: especially when it was given, not by a formal decree or act of state, as it was used among the Roman emperors, but by an inward assent and belief. Which honour, being so high, had also a degree or middle term: for there were reckoned, above human honors, honors heroical and divine: in the attribution and distribution of which honors, we see, antiquity made this difference: that whereas founders and uniters of states and cities, lawgivers, extirpers of tyrants, fathers of the people, and other eminent persons in civil merit, were honored but with the titles of worthies or demi-gods; such as were Hercules, Theseus, Minos, Romulus, and the like: on the other side, such as were inventors and authors of new arts, endowments, and commodities towards man's life, were ever consecrated amongst the gods themselves: as were Ceres, Bacchus, Mercurius, Apollo, and others; and justly: for the merit of the former is confined within the circle of an age or a nation; and is like fruitful showers, which though they be profitable and good, yet serve but for that season, and for a latitude of ground where they fall; but the other is indeed like the benefits of heaven, which are permanent and universal. The former, again, is mixed with strife and

perturbation; but the latter hath the true character of divine presence, coming" in aura leni" (calmly), without noise or agitation.

Neither is certainly that other merit of learning, in repressing the inconveniencies which grow from man to man, much inferior to the former, of relieving the necessities which arise from nature; which merit was livelily set forth by the ancients in that feigned relation of Orpheus's theatre, where all beasts and birds assembled, and, forgetting their several appetites, some of prey, some of game, some of quarrel, stood all sociably together listening to the airs and accords of the harp; the sound whereof no sooner ceased, or was drowned by some louder noise, but every beast returned to his own nature : wherein is aptly described the nature and condition of men, who are full of savage and unreclaimed desires of profit, of lust, of revenge; which as long as they give ear to precepts, to laws, to religion, sweetly touched with eloquence and persuasion of books, of sermons, of harangues, so long is society and peace *maintained; but if these instruments be silent, or that sedition and tumult make them not audible, all things dissolve into anarchy and confusion.

But this appeareth more manifestly, when kings themselves, or persons of authority under them, or other governors in commonwealths and popular

estates, are endued with learning. For although he might be thought partial to his own profession, that said, "Then should people and estates be happy, when either kings were philosophers, or philosophers kings;" yet so much is verified by experience, that under learned princes and governors there have been ever the best times: for howsoever kings may have their imperfections in their passions and customs; yet if they be illuminated by learning, they have those notions of religion, policy, and morality, which do preserve them, and refrain them from all ruinous and peremptory errors and excesses; whispering evermore in their ears, when counsellors and servants stand mute and silent. And senators or counsellors likewise, which be learned, do proceed upon more safe and substantial principles, than counsellors which are only men of experience; the one sort keeping dangers afar off, whereas the other discover them not till they come near hand, and then trust to the agility of their wit to ward off or avoid them.

Which felicity of times under learned princes, (to keep still the law of brevity, by using the most eminent and selected examples), doth best appear in the age which passed from the death of Domitian the emperor until the reign of Commodus; comprehending a succession of six princes, all learned, or

singular favourers and advancers of learning; which age, for temporal respects, was the most happy and flourishing that ever the Roman empire, which then was a model of the world, enjoyed: a matter revealed and prefigured unto Domitian in a dream, the night before he was slain; for he thought there was grown behind upon his shoulders a neck and a head of gold which came accordingly to pass in those golden times which succeeded; of which princes we will make some commemoration : wherein although the matter will be vulgar, and may be thought fitter for a declamation than agreeable to a treatise enfolded as this is, yet because it is pertinent to the point in hand, neque semper arcum tendit Apollo" (neither doth Apollo always bend his bow), and to name them only were too naked and cursory, I will not omit it altogether.


The first was Nerva; the excellent temper of whose government is by a glance in Cornelius Tacitus touched to the life: "Postquam divus Nerva res olim insociabiles miscuisset, imperium et libertatem" (under Nerva things till then incompatible were united, imperial power and liberty). And in token of his learning, the last act of his short reign, left to memory, was a missive to his adopted son Trajan, proceeding upon some inward

« PreviousContinue »