Another horrible disgrace to greatness is, that it is for the most part in pitiful want and distress. What a wonderful thing is this, unless it degenerate into avarice, and so cease to be greatness. It falls perpetually into such necessities as drive it into all the meanest and most sordid ways of borrowing, cozenage, and robbery, Mancipiis locopules, eget aris Cappadocum Rex. This is the case of almost all great men, as well as of the poor King of Cappadocia. They abound with slaves, but are indigent of money. The ancient 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 it." The master mouth has no more than before; the owner, methinks, is like Genus in the fable, who is perpetually winding a rope of hay and an ass at the end perpetually eating it. Out of these inconveniences 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 but gain that point, it would obtain all its desires; but yet at last, when it is got up to the very top of the peak of Teneriffe, 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 spoiled all the work when they were come up to the third storey;
And what a noble plot was crossed, And what a brave design was lost.
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 the want of the title of an emperor or a god. The reason of this is, that greatness has no reality in nature, but is 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; everything is little and everything is great according as it is diversely compared. There may be perhaps some villages 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 anything--and choose rather to be the first man of the village than second at Rome. Our Country is called Great Britain, 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 inconveniences of grandeur I have spoken of dispersedly in several chapters, and shall end this with an ode of Horace, not exactly copied but rudely imitated.
HORACE. LIB. 3. ODE 1. Odi profanum vulgus, etc.
Hence, ye profane; I hate ye all; Both the great vulgar, and the small. To virgin minds, which yet their native whiteness hold, Not yet discoloured 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. The humblest bush and proudest oak Are but of equal proof against the thunder-stroke. Beauty and strength, and wit, and wealth, and power Have their short flourishing hour, And love to see themselves, and smile, And joy in their pre-eminence a while; Even so in the same land, Poor weeds, rich corn, gay flowers together stand; Alas, death mows down all with an impartial hand.
And all you men, whom greatness does so please, Ye feast, I fear, like Damocles. If you your eyes could upwards move, (But you, I fear, think nothing is above) You would perceive by what a little thread The sword still hangs over your head. No tide of wine would drown your cares, No mirth or music over-noise your fears; The fear of death would you so watchful keep, As not to admit the image of it, sleep.
Sleep is a god too proud to wait in palaces; And yet so humble, too, as not to scorn The meanest country cottages; His poppy grows among the corn. The halcyon sleep will never build his nest In any stormy breast. 'Tis not enough that he does find Clouds and darkness in their mind; Darkness but half his work will do, 'Tis not enough; he must find quiet too.