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council to go on no further, lest the act should seem to depend upon their pleasure. Now, therefore, the king usually assumes to himself whatever was wrought, elaborated, or formed, as it were, in the womb of the council (unless it be a matter of an invidious nature, which he is sure to put from him), so that the decree and the execution shall seem to flow from himself.a And as this decree or execution proceeds with prudence and power, so as to imply necessity, it is elegantly wrapt up under the figure of Pallas armed.
Nor are kings content to have this seem the effect of their own authority, free will, and uncontrollable choice, unless they also take the whole honour to themselves, and make the people imagine that all good and wholesome decrees proceed entirely from their own head, that is, their own sole prudence and judgment.
XXXI.—THE SIRENS, OR PLEASURES.
EXPLAINED OF VEN'S PASSION FOR PLEASURES.
INTRODUCTION.—The fable of the Sirens is, in a vulgar sense, justly enough explained of the pernicious incentives to pleasure ; but the ancient mythology seems to us like a vintage ill-pressed and trod; for though something has been drawn from it, yet all the more excellent parts remain behind in the grapes that are untouched.
FABLE.—The Sirens are said to be the daughters of Achelous and Terpsichore, one of the Muses. In their early days they had wings, but lost them upon being conquered by the Muses, with whom they rashly contended; and with the feathers of these wings the Muses made themselves crowns, so that from this time the Muses wore wings on their heads, excepting only the mother to the Sirens.
a This policy strikingly characterized the conduct of Louis XIV., who laced his generals under a particular injunction, to advertise him of the success of any siege likely to be crowned with an immediate triumph, that he might attend in person and appear to take the town by a coup de main.
These Sirens resided in certain pleasant islands, and when, from their watch-tower, they saw any ship approaching, they first detained the sailors by their music, then, enticing them to shore, destroyed them.
Their singing was not of one and the same kind, but they adapted their tunes exactly to the nature of each person, in order to captivate and secure him. And so destructive had they been, that these islands of the Sirens appeared, to a very great distance, white with the bones of their unburied captives.
Two different remedies were invented to protect persons against them, the one by Ulysses, the other by Orpheus. Ulysses commanded his associates to stop their ears close with wax; and he, determining to make the trial, and yet avoid the danger, ordered himself to be tied fast to a mast of the ship, giving strict charge not to be unbound, even though himself should entreat it; but Orpheus, without any binding at all, escaped the danger, by loudly chanting to his harp the praises of the gods, whereby he drowned the voices of the Sirens.
EXPLANATION.—This fable is of the moral kind, and appears no less elegant than easy to interpret. For pleasures proceed from plenty and affluence, attended with activity or exultation of the mind.a Anciently their first incentives were quick, and seized upon men as if they had been winged, but learning and philosophy afterwards prevailing, had at least the power to lay the mind under some restraint, and make it consider the issue of things, and thus deprived pleasures of their wings:
This conquest redounded greatly to the honour and ornament of the Muses; for after it appeared, by the example of a few, that philosophy could introduce a contempt of pleasures, it immediately seemed to be a sublime thing that could raise and elevate the soul, fixed in a manner down to the earth, and thus render men's thoughts, which reside in the head, winged as it were, or sublime.
Only the mother of the Sirens was not thus plumed on the head, which doubtless denotes superficial learning, in
• The one denoted by the river Achelous, and the other by Terpsi. chore, the muse that invented the cithara aud delighted in dancing.
vented and used for delight and levity; an eminent example whereof we have in Petronius, who, after receiving sentence of death, still continued his gay frothy humour, and, as Tacitus observes, used his learning to solace or divert himself, and instead of such discourses as give firmness and constancy of mind, read nothing but loose poems and verses.b Such learning as this seems to pluck the crowns again from the Muses' heads, and restore them to the Sirens.
The Sirens are said to inhabit certain islands, because pleasures generally seek retirement, and often shun society. And for their songs, with the manifold artifice and destructiveness thereof, this is too obvious and common to need explanation. But that particular of the bones stretching like white cliffs along the shores, and appearing afar off, contains a more subtile allegory, and denotes that the examples of others' calamity and misfortunes, though ever so manifest and apprent, a have yet but little force to deter the corrupt nature of man from pleasures.
The allegory of the remedies against the Sirens is not difficult, but very wise and noble: it proposes, in effect, three remedies, as well against subtile as violent mischiefs, two drawn from philosophy and one from religion.
The first means of escaping is to resist the earliest temptation in the beginning, and diligently avoid and cut off all occasions that may solicit or sway the mind; and this is well represented by shutting up the ears, a kind of remedy to be necessarily used with mean and vulgar minds, such as the retinue of Ulysses.
But nobler spirits may converse, even in the midst of pleasures, if the mind be well guarded with constancy and resolution. And thus some delight to make a severe trial of their own virtue, and thoroughly acquaint themselves with the folly and madness of pleasures, without complying or being wholly given up to them ; which is what Solomon professes of himself when he closes the account of all the
b “Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus ;
Rumoresque senum severiorum
Omnes unius estimemus assis.”—Catull. Eleg. v. And again, “ Jura senes norint, et quod sit tasque nefasque
Inquirant tristes; legumque examina servent."- -Metam, ix 550.
numerous pleasures he gave a loose to, with this expression, “ But wisdom still continued with me." Such heroes in virtue may, therefore, remain unmoved by the greatest incentives to pleasure, and stop themselves on the very precipice of danger; if, according to the example of Ulysses. they turn a deaf ear to pernicious counsel, and the flatteries of their friends and companions, which have the greatest power to shake and unsettle the mind.
But the most excellent remedy, in every temptation, is that of Orpheus, who, by loudly chanting and resounding the praises of the gods, confounded the voices, and kept himself from hearing the music of the Sirens ; for divine contemplations exceed the pleasures of sense, not only in power but also in sweetness.
NE W ATLANTIS.
A WORK UNFINISHED.
TO THE READER. This fable my lord devised, to the end that he might exhibit therein A model or description of a college, instituted for the interpreting of nature, and the producing of great and marvellous works for the benefit of man, under the name of Solomon's House, or the College of the Six Days' Works. And even so far his lordship hath proceeded as to finish that part. Certainly the inodel is more vast and high than can possibly be imitated in all things, notwithstanding most things therein are within men's power to effect. His lordship thought also in this present fable to have composed a frame of laws, or of the best state or mould of a commonwealth ; but foreseeing it would be a long work, his desire of collecting the natural history diverted him, which he preferred many degrees before it.
NEW ATLANTIS. WE sailed from Peru, where we had continued for the space of one whole year, for China and Japan, by the South Sea, taking with us victuals for twelve months, and had good winds from the east, though soft and weak, for five months space and more ; but then the wind came about, and settled in the west for many days, so as we could make little or no way, and were sometimes in purpose to turn back. But then again there arose strong and great winds from the south, with a point east, which carried us up, for all that we could do, towards the north ; by which time our victuals failed us, though we had made good spare of them. So that, finding ourselves in the midst of the greatest wilderness of waters in the world, without victuals, we gave ourselves for lost men, and prepared for death. Yet we did lift up our hearts and voices to God above, “whe showeth his wonders in the deep,” beseeching him of his mercy, that as in the beginning he discovered the face of the deep, and brough;