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Roman emperors, who had the riches of the whole world for their revenue, had wherewithal to live (one would have thought) pretty well at ease, and to have been exempt from the pressures of extreme poverty. But yet with most of them it was much otherwise; and they fell perpetually into such miserable penury, that they were forced to devour or squeeze most of their friends and servants, to cheat with infamous projects, to ransack and pillage all their provinces. This fashion of imperial grandeur is imitated by all inferior and subordinate sorts of it, as if it were a point of honour. They must be cheated of a third part of their estates, two other thirds they must expend in vanity; so that they remain debtors for all the necessary provisions of life, and have no way to satisfy those debts, but out of the succours and supplies of rapine: "As riches increase (says Solomon), so do the mouths that devour them *." The master mouth has no more than before. The owner, methinks, is like Ocnus in the fable, who is perpetually winding a rope of hay, and an ass at the end perpetually eating it.
Out of these inconveniencies arises naturally one more, which is, that no greatness can be satisfied or contented with itself: still, if it could mount up a little higher, it would be happy; if it could gain but that point, it would obtain all its desires: but
* EccL v. 11.
yet at last, when it is got up to the very top of the Pic of Teneriff, it is in very great danger of breaking its neck downwards, but in no possibility of ascending upwards into the seat of tranquillity above the moon. The first ambitious men in the world, the old giants, are said to have made an heroical attempt of scaling heaven in despite of the gods: and they cast Ossa upon Olympus, and Pelion upon Ossa: two or three mountains more, they thought, would have done their business: but the thunder spoilt all the work, when they were come up to tha third story:
And what a noble plot was cross'd!
A famous person of their offspring, the late giant of our nation, when, from the condition of a very inconsiderable captain, he had made himself lieutenant-general of an army of little Titans, which was his first mountain, and afterwards general, which was his second, and after that, absolute tyrant of three kingdoms, which was the third, and almost touched the heaven which he affected, is believed to have died with grief and discontent, because he could not attain to the honest name of a king, and the old formality of a crown, though he had before exceeded the power by a wicked usurpation. If he could have compassed that, he would perhaps have wanted something else that is necessary to felicity, and pined away for want of the title of an emperof or a god. The reason of this is, that greatness has no reality in nature, being a creature of the fancy, a notion that consists only in relation and comparison: it is indeed an idol; but St. Paul teaches us, "that an idol is nothing in the world.'' There is in truth no rising or meridian of the sun, but only in respect to several places: there is no right or left, no upper-hand in nature; every thing is little, and every thing is great, according as it is diversely compared. There may be perhaps some village in Scotland or Ireland, where I might be a great man: and in that case I should be like Caesar (you would wonder how Caesar and I should be like one another in any thing); and choose rather to be the first man of the village, than second at Rome. Our country is called Great Britany, in regard only of a lesser of the same name; it would be but a ridiculous epithet for it, when we consider it together with the kingdom of China. That, too, is but a pitiful rood of ground, in comparison of the whole earth besides: and this whole globe of earth, which we account so immense a body, is but one point or atom in relation to those numberless worlds that are scattered up and down in the infinite space of the sky which we behold.
The other many inconveniencies of grandeur have spoken of dispersedly in several chapters; and shall end this with an ode of Horace, not exactly copied, but rudely imitated.
HORACE, B. III. ODE I.
"Odi profanum vulgus, fyc."
HENCE, ye profane! I hate you all;
Both the great vulgar, and the small. To virgin minds, which yet their native whiteness
hold, Not yet discolour'd with the love of gold
(That jaundice of the soul, Which makes it look so gilded and so foul), To you, ye very few, these truths I tell; The Muse inspires my song; hark, and observe it well.
We look on men, and wonder at such odds
'Twixt things that were the same by birth;
We look on kings as giants of the earth,
These giants are but pigmies to the gods.
Are but of equal proof against the thunder-stroke.
Beauty, and strength, and wit, and wealth, and
And joy in their pre-eminence awhile;
Poor weeds, rich corn, gay flowers, together stand;
Alas! death mows do wo all with an impartial hand.
And all ye men, whom greatness does so please,
The sword still hangs over your head:
Sleep is a god too proud to wait in palaces,
And yet so humble too, as not to scorn
The halcyon Sleep will never build his nest
T is not enough; he must find quiet too.
The man, who, in all wishes he does make,
That wise and happy man will never fear
Nor tremble, though two comets should appear:
He does not look in almanacks to see
Let Mars and Saturn in the heavens conjoin,