He's no small prince who every day Thus to himself can say, Now will I sleep, now eat, now sit, now walk, Now meditate alone, now with acquaintance talk; This I will do, here I will stay, Or, if my fancy call me away, My man and I will presently go ride (For we before have nothing to provide, Nor after are to render an account) To Dover, Berwick, or the Cornish Mount. If thou but a short journey take, As if thy last thou wert to make, Business must be despatched ere thou canst part. Nor canst thou stir unless there be A hundred horse and men to wait on thee, And many a mule, and many a cart: What an unwieldy man thou art! The Rhodian Colossus so A journey too might go.
Where honour or where conscience does not bind, No other law shall shackle me? Slave to myself I will not be, Nor shall my future actions be confined By my own present mind. Who by resolves and vows engaged does stand For days that yet belong to fate, Does like an unthrift mortgage his estate Before it falls into his hand; The bondman of the cloister so All that he does receive does always owe. And still as time come in it goes away, Not to enjoy, but debts to pay. Unhappy slave, and pupil to a bell Which his hour's work, as well as hour's does tell! Unhappy till the last, the kind releasing knell.
If Life should a well-ordered poem be (In which he only hits the white Who joins true profit with the best delight), The more heroic strain let others take, Mine the Pindaric way I'll make, The matter shall be grave, the numbers loose and free. It shall not keep one settled pace of time, In the same tune it shall not always chime, Nor shall each day just to his neighbour rhyme. A thousand liberties it shall dispense, And yet shall manage all without offence Or to the sweetness of the sound, or greatness of the sense; Nor shall it never from one subject start, Nor seek transitions to depart, Nor its set way o'er stiles and bridges make, Nor thorough lanes a compass take As if it feared some trespass to commit, When the wide air's a road for it. So time imperial eagle does not stay Till the whole carcase he devour That's fallen into its power; As if his generous hunger understood That he can never want plenty of food, He only sucks the tasteful blood, And to fresh game flies cheerfully away; To kites and meaner birds he leaves the mangled prey.
"Nunquam minus solus, quam cum solis," is now become a very vulgar saying. Every man and almost every boy for these seventeen hundred years has had it in his mouth. But it was at first spoken by the excellent Scipio, who was without question a most worthy, most happy, and the greatest of all mankind. His meaning no doubt was this: that he found more satisfaction to his mind, and more improvement of it by solitude than by company; and to show that he spoke not this loosely or out of vanity, after he had made Rome mistress of almost the whole world, he retired himself from it by a voluntary exile, and at a private house in the middle of a wood near Linternum passed the remainder of his glorious life no less gloriously. This house Seneca went to see so long after with great veneration, and, among other things, describes his bath to have been of so mean a structure, that now, says he, the basest of the people would despise them, and cry out, "Poor Scipio understood not how to live." What an authority is here for the credit of retreat! and happy had it been for Hannibal if adversity could have taught him as much wisdom as was learnt by Scipio from the highest prosperities. This would be no wonder if it were as truly as it is colourably and wittily said by Monsieur de Montaigne, that ambition itself might teach us to love solitude: there is nothing does so much hate to have companions. It is true, it loves to have its elbows free, it detests to have company on either side, but it delights above all things in a train behind, aye, and ushers, too, before it. But the greater part of men are so far from the opinion of that noble Roman, that if they chance at any time to be without company they are like a becalmed ship; they never move but by the wind of other men's breath, and have no oars of their own to steer withal. It is very fantastical and contradictory in human nature, that men should love themselves above all the rest of the world, and yet never endure to be with themselves. When they are in love with a mistress, all other persons are importunate and burdensome to them. "Tecum vivere amem, tecum obeam lubens," They would live and die with her alone.
Sic ego secretis possum bene vevere silvis Qua nulla humauo sit via trita pede, Tu mihi curarum requies, tu nocte vel atra Lumen, et in solis tu mihi terba locis.
With thee for ever I in woods could rest, Where never human foot the ground has pressed; Thou from all shades the darkness canst exclude, And from a desert banish solitude.
And yet our dear self is so wearisome to us that we can scarcely support its conversation for an hour together. This is such an odd temper of mind as Catullus expresses towards one of his mistresses, whom we may suppose to have been of a very unsociable humour.
Odi et Amo, qua nam id faciam ratione requiris? Nescio, sed fieri sentio, et excrucior.