Lady Fortune and her Wheel.
Boccaccio De Casibus Virorum Illustrium
MSS Hunter 371-372. vol. 1, f. 1r.
Thomas More to them who trust in Fortune.
Thou that art proud of honour, shape, or kin,|
That heapest-up this wretched world its treasure,
Thy fingers shrin'd with gold, thy tawny skin
With fresh apparel garnish'd out of measure,
And weenest1 to have Fortune at thy pleasure;
Cast-up thine eye, and look how slipp'ry chance
Illudeth2 her men with change and variance.
Sometime she look'th as lovely, fair, and bright
As goodly Venus, mother of Cupid,
She becketh and she smil'th on every wight;3
But this chear4 feigned may not long abide,
There com'th a cloud, and farewell all our pride.
Like any serpent she beginn'th to swell
And look'th as fierce as any fury of hell.
Yet for all that, we brittle men are fain,5
So wretched is our nature and so blind,
As soon as fortune list6 to laugh again
With fair countenance and deceitful mind,
To crouch and kneel and gape after the wind;
Not one or twain,7 but thousands in a rout,
Like swarming bees, come flickering her about.
Then as a bait she bringeth forth her ware,
Silver and gold, rich pearl and precious stone,
On which the amazed people gaze and stare
And gape therefore as dogs do for a bone.
Fortune at them laugheth, and in her throne
Amid her treasure and wavering riches
Proudly she heaveth as lady and empress.
Fast by her side doth weary Labour stand
Pale Fear also, and sorrow all bewept,
Disdain and Hatred on that other hand
Eke8 restless watch, from sleep with travail kept,
His eyes drowsy and looking as he slept.
Before her standeth Danger and Envy,
Flatt'ry, Deceit, Mischief, and Tyranny.
About her cometh all the world to beg;
He asketh land; and He to pass would bring
This toy and that, and all not worth an egg;
He would in love prosper above all thing;
He kneeleth down and would be made a king;
He forceth not so he may money have,
Tho' all the world account him for a knave.
Lo thus ye see, divers heads divers wits,
Fortune, alone as divers as they all,
Unstable, here and there among them flits,
And at a venture down her gifts they fall;
Catch whoso may, she throweth great and small,
Not to all men as cometh sun or dew,
But for the most part, all among a few.
And yet, her brittle gifts long may not last.
He that she gave them looketh proud and high,
She whirl'th about and pluck'th away as fast
And giv'th them to another by and by.
And thus from man to man continually
She us'th to give and take, and slily toss
One man to winning of another's loss.
And when she robbeth one, down go'th his pride,
He weep'th and wail'th and curseth her full sore.
But he who receiv'th it on t'other side
Is glad and bless'th her oftentimes therefore.
But in a while, when she lov'th him no more,
She glideth from him, and her gifts they too,
And he her curseth as other fools do.
Alas! the foolish people cannot cease,
Nor 'void9 her train10 till they the harm do feel,
About her alway busily they press;
But Lord! how he doth think himself full well
That may set once his hand upon her wheel.
He holdeth fast; but upward as he sty'th,
She whipp'th her wheel about, and there he li'th.
Thus fell Julius from his mighty power,11
Thus fell Darius, the worthy king of Perse,12
Thus fell Alexander, the great conqueror,13
Thus many more than I may well rehearse.14
Thus double15 Fortune, when she list reverse
Her slipp'ry favour from them that in her trust,
She fli'th her way and li'th them in the dust.
She suddenly enhanceth them aloft
And suddenly mischieveth all the flock,
The head that late lay easily and full soft
Instead of pillows li'th after on the block,
And yet, alas the most cruel proud mock
The dainty mouth that ladies kissed have
She bringeth in the case to kiss a knave.
In changing of her course the change shew'th this,
Up start'th a knave and down there fall'th a knight,
The beggar rich and the rich man poor is,
Hatred is turned to love, love to despight;16
This is her sport, thus proveth she her might.
Great boast she mak'th if one be by her pow'r
Wealthy and wretched both within an hour.
Poverty, that of her gifts will nothing take,
With merry cheer looketh upon the press
And seeth how Fortune's household go'th to wreck.
Fast by her standeth the wise Socrates,
Aristippus, Pythagoras, and many a leash
Of old philosophers. And eke against the sun
Baketh him poor Diogenes in his tun.17
With her is Bias,18 whose country lack'd defence
And whilom of their foes stood so in doubt
That each man hastily 'gan to carry thence19
And asked him, why he nought carried out?
I bear, quoth he, all mine with me about.
Wisdom he meant, not Fortune's brittle fees,
For nought he counted his which he might leese.20
Heraclitus eke list fellowship to keep
With glad poverty. Democritus also.
Of which the first can never cease but weep
To see how thick21 the blinded people go,
With labour great, to purchase care and woe.
That other laugh'th to see the foolish apes
How earnestly they walk about their japes.22
Of this poor sect it is common usage,
Only to take
that23 nature may sustain,
Banishing clean all other surplusage
They be content and of nothing complain.
No niggard24 eke is of his good so fain25
But they more pleasure have a thousand fold
The secret draughts of nature to behold.
Set Fortune's servants by them an ye wull,26
That one is free, that other ever thrall,27
That one content, that other never full,
That one in surety, t'other like to fall.
Who list to advise them both, perceive he shall
As great diffrence between them, as we see
Betwixt wretchedness and felicity.
Now have I shew'd ye both, choose which ye list,
Stately Fortune or humble poverty;
That is to say, now li'th it in your fist
To take here bondage or free liberty.
But in this point an28 ye do after me,
Draw ye to Fortune, labour her to please
If that ye think yourselves too well at ease.
And first upon thee lovely shall she smile
And friendly on thee cast her wandering eyes,
Embrace thee in her arms, and for a while
Put thee and keep thee in fool's paradise;
And forthwith all, whatso thou list devise,
She will thee grant it liberally perhaps,
But for all that, beware of afterclaps.29
Reckon you never of her favour sure.
You may in clouds as eas'ly trace an hare,
Or in dry land cause fishes to endure,
And make the burning fire his heat to spare,
And all this world in compass to forfare,30
As her to make by craft or engine stable
That of her nature is ever variable.
Serve her day and night, as reverently
Upon thy knees as any servant may,
And in conclusion, that31 thou shalt win thereby
Shall not be worth thy service I dare say.
And look yet, what she giveth thee to-day
With labour won, she shall haply to-morrow
Pluck it again out of thine hand with sorrow.
Wherefore, if thou in surety list to stand,
Take Pov'rty's part and let proud Fortune go,
Receive no thing that cometh from her hand.
Love manner and virtue, they be only tho'
Which double Fortune may not take thee fro.
Then mayst thou boldly defy her turning chance,
She can thee neither hinder nor advance.
But an thou wilt needs meddle with her treasure,
Trust not therein and spend it lib'rally,
Bear thee not proud, nor take not out of measure,
Build not thine house on high up in the sky.
None falleth far but he who climbeth high.
Remember nature sent thee hither bare,
The gifts of Fortune, count them borrowed ware.
1. weenest, thinkest.
2. Illudeth, eludeth.
3. wight, fellow.
4. chear, cheer, i.e. mood.
5. fain, foolish.
6. list, wishes.
7. twain, two.
8. eke, also; as well.
9. 'void, avoid.
10. train, entourage; following.
11. i.e., Julius Caesar.
12. i.e., Darius The Great, King of Persia.
13. i.e., Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia.
14. rehearse, recount.
15. double, duplicitous, deceitful; two-faced.
16. despight, spite; hatred.
17. tun, cask; barrel. The Green philosopher Diogenes Laertius was said to have taken an empty cask from the Temple of Cybele and used it as his house.
18. Greek philosopher Bias of Priene, considered the wisest of the Seven Sages of Greece.
19. carry thence, i.e., to carry their riches away with them, away from the impending attack.
20. leese, lose.
21. thick, stupidly.
22. japes, jests; i.e., how earnestly they work for something that is but trickery, a joke.
23. that, that which.
24. niggard, miser; stingy person.
25. fain, fond; enamored.
26. an ye wull, if ye will.
27. thrall, slave.
28. an, if.
29. afterclaps, unexpected, unpleasant consequences; as, after a thunderclap, another.
30. in compass to forfare,
31. that, that which.
Cayley, Arthur, the Younger. Memoirs of sir Thomas More. Vol I.
London: Cadell and Davis, 1808. 50-56.
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