Woe for a Wednesday

Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy [1.2.10]

“This for the most part is the humour of us all, to be discontent, miserable, and most unhappy, as we think at least; and show me him that is not so, or that ever was otherwise. Quintus Metellus his felicity is infinitely admired amongst the Romans, insomuch that as Paterculus mentioneth of him, you can scarce find of any nation, order, age, sex, one for happiness to be compared unto him: he had, in a word, Bona animi, corporis et fortunae, goods of mind, body, and fortune, so had P. Mutianus, Crassus. Lampsaca, that Lacedaemonian lady, was such another in Pliny’s conceit, a king’s wife, a king’s mother, a king’s daughter: and all the world esteemed as much of Polycrates of Samos. The Greeks brag of their Socrates, Phocion, Aristides; the Psophidians in particular of their Aglaus, Omni vita felix, ab omni periculo immunis [lucky all his life, immune to all danger] (which by the way Pausanias held impossible;) the Romans of their Cato, Curius, Fabricius, for their composed fortunes, and retired estates, government of passions, and contempt of the world: yet none of all these were happy, or free from discontent, neither Metellus, Crassus, nor Polycrates, for he died a violent death, and so did Cato; and how much evil doth Lactantius and Theodoret speak of Socrates, a weak man, and so of the rest. There is no content in this life, but as he said, All is vanity and vexation of spirit; lame and imperfect. Hadst thou Sampson’s hair, Milo’s strength, Scanderbeg’s arm, Solomon’s wisdom, Absalom’s beauty, Croesus’ wealth, Pasetis obulum, Caesar’s valour, Alexander’s spirit, Tully’s or Demosthenes’ eloquence, Gyges’ ring, Perseus’ Pegasus, and Gorgon’s head, Nestor’s years to come, all this would not make thee absolute; give thee content, and true happiness in this life, or so continue it. Even in the midst of all our mirth, jollity, and laughter, is sorrow and grief, or if there be true happiness amongst us, ’tis but for a time,

Desinat in piscem mulier formosa superne:
A handsome woman with a fish’s tail,

a fair morning turns to a lowering afternoon. Brutus and Cassius, once renowned, both eminently happy, yet you shall scarce find two (saith Paterculus) quos fortuna maturius destiturit, whom fortune sooner forsook. Hannibal, a conqueror all his life, met with his match, and was subdued at last, Occurrit forti, qui mage fortis erit [there came upon a strong man a man still stronger]. One is brought in triumph, as Caesar into Rome, Alcibiades into Athens, coronis aureis donatus, crowned, honoured, admired; by-and-by his statues demolished, he hissed out, massacred, &c. Magnus Gonsalva, that famous Spaniard, was of the prince and people at first honoured, approved; forthwith confined and banished. Admirandas actiones; graves plerunque sequuntur invidiae, et acres calumniae: ’tis Polybius his observation, grievous enmities, and bitter calumnies, commonly follow renowned actions. One is born rich, dies a beggar; sound today, sick tomorrow; now in most flourishing estate, fortunate and happy, by-and-by deprived of his goods by foreign enemies, robbed by thieves, spoiled, captivated, impoverished, as they of Rabbah put under iron saws, and under iron harrows, and under axes of iron, and cast into the tile kiln,

Quid me felicem toties jactastis amici,
Qui cecidit, stabili non erat ille gradu.
Why do you so often say that I was lucky, friends? One who has fallen never had a stable step.

He that erst marched like Xerxes with innumerable armies, as rich as Croesus, now shifts for himself in a poor cock-boat, is bound in iron chains, with Bajazet the Turk, and a footstool with Aurelian, for a tyrannising conqueror to trample on. So many casualties there are, that as Seneca said of a city consumed with fire, Una dies interest inter maximum civitatem et nullam, one day betwixt a great city and none: so many grievances from outward accidents, and from ourselves, our own indiscretion, inordinate appetite, one day betwixt a man and no man. And which is worse, as if discontents and miseries would not come fast enough upon us: homo homini daemon [humans are demons to each other], we maul, persecute, and study how to sting, gall, and vex one another with mutual hatred, abuses, injuries; preying upon and devouring as so many, ravenous birds; and as jugglers, panders, bawds, cozening one another; or raging as wolves, tigers, and devils, we take a delight to torment one another; men are evil, wicked, malicious, treacherous, and naught, not loving one another, or loving themselves, not hospitable, charitable, nor sociable as they ought to be, but counterfeit, dissemblers, ambidexters, all for their own ends, hard-hearted, merciless, pitiless, and to benefit themselves, they care not what mischief they procure to others.”

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