IT is an old saying, "A blow with a word strikes deeper than a blow with a sword" and many men are as much galled with a calumny, a scurrilous and bitter jest, a libel, a pasquil, satire, apologue, epigram, stage-play or the like, as with any misfortune whatsoever. Princes and potentates that are otherwise happy, and have all at command, secure and free, quibus potentia sceleris impunitatem fecit, are grievously vexed with these pasquilling libels, and satires: they fear a railing Aretine more than an enemy in the field, which made most princes of his time (as some relate) "allow him a liberal pension, that he should not tax them in his satires." The gods had their Momus, Homer his Zoilus, Achilles his Thersites, Philip his Demades: the Cæsars themselves in Rome were commonly taunted. There was never wanting a Petronius, a Lucian in those times, nor will be a Rabelais, an Euphormio, a Boccalinus in ours. Adran the sixth pope was so highly offended, and grievously vexed with Pasquillers at Rome, he gave command that his statue should be demolished and burned, the ashes flung into the river Tiber, and had done it forthwith, had not Lodovicus Suessanus, a facete companion, dissuaded him to the contrary, by telling him, that Pasquil's ashes would turn to frogs in the bottom of the river, and croak worse and louder than before, -- genus irritabile vatum, and therefore Socrates in Plato adviseth all his friends, "that respect their credits, to stand in awe of poets, for they are terrible fellows, can praise and dispraise as they see cause." Hinc quam sit calamus sævior ense, patet. The prophet David complains, Psalm cxxiii. 4. "that his soul was full of the mocking of the wealthy, and of the despitefulness of the proud," and Psalm lv. 4. "for the voice of the wicked, &c., and their hate: his heart trembled within him, and the terrors of death came upon him; fear and horrible fear," &c., and Psalm lxix. 20. "Rebuke hath broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness." Who hath not like cause to complain, and is not so troubled, that shall fall into the mouths of such men? for many are of so petulant a spleen; and have that figure Sarcasmus so often in their mouths, so bitter, so foolish, as Baltasar Castilio notes of them, that "they cannot speak, but they must bite;" they had rather lose a friend than a jest; and what company soever they come in, they will be scoffing, insulting over their inferiors, especially over such as any way depend upon them, humouring, misusing, or putting gulleries on some or other till they have made by their humouring or gulling ex stulto insanum, a mope or a noddy, and all to make themselves merry:
"-- dummodo risum
Excutiat sibi; non hic cuiquam pareit amico;"
(Hor. ser. lib. 2 sat. 4 "Provided he can only excite laughter, he spares not his best friend.")
Friends, neuters, enemies, all are as one, to make a fool a madman, is their sport, and they have no greater felicity than to scoff and deride others; they must sacrifice to the god of laughter, with them in Apuleius, once a day, or else they shall be melancholy themselves; they care not how they grind and misuse others, so they may exhilarate their own persons. Their wits indeed serve them to that sole purpose, to make sport, to break a scurrile jest, which is levissimus ingenii fructus, the froth of wit, as Tully holds, and for this they are often applauded, in all other discourse, dry, barren, stramineous, dull and heavy, here lies their genius, in this they alone excel, please themselves and others. Leo Decimus, that scoffing pope, as Jovius hath registered in the Fourth book of his life, took an extraordinary delight in humouring of silly fellows, and to put gulleries upon them, by commending some, persuading others to this or that; he made ex stolidis stultissimos, et maxime ridiculos, ex stultis insanos; soft fellows, stark noddies; and such as were foolish, quite mad before he left them. One memorable example he recites there, of Tarascomus of Parma, a musician that was so humoured by Leo Decimus, and Bibiena his second in this business, that he thought himself to be a man of most excellent skill (who was indeed a ninny), they "made him set foolish songs, and invent new ridiculous precepts, which they did highly commend," as to tie his arm that played on the lute, to make him strike a sweeter stroke, "and to pull down the Arras hangings, because the voice would be clearer, by reason of the reverberation of the wall." In the like manner they persuaded one Baraballius of Caieta, that he was as good a poet as Petrarch; would have him to be made a laureate poet, and invite all his friends to his instalment; and had so possessed the poor man with a conceit of his excellent poetry, that when some of his more discreet friends told him of his folly, he was very angry with them, and said "they envied his honour, and prosperity:" it was strange (saith Jovius) to see an old man of 60 years, a venerable and grave old man, so gulled. But what cannot such scoffers do, especially if they find a soft creature, on whom they may work? nay, to say truth, who is so wise, or so discreet, that may not be humoured in this kind, especially if some excellent wits shall set upon him; he that made others, if he were so humoured, would be as mad himself as much grieved and tormented; he might cry with him in the comedy, Proh Jupiter, tu homo me adigas ad insaniam. For all is in these things as they are taken; if he be a silly soul, and do not perceive it, 'tis well, he may haply make others sport, and be no whit troubled himself; but if he be apprehensive of his folly, and take it to heart, then it torments him worse than any lash: a bitter jest, a slander, a calumny, pierceth deeper than any loss, danger, bodily pain, or injury whatsoever; laviter enim volat (it flies swiftly), as Bernard of an arrow, sed graviter vulnerat (but wounds deeply), especially if it shall proceed from a virulent tongue, "it cuts (saith David) like a two-edged sword. They shoot bitter words as arrows," Psalm lxiv. 3. "And they smote with their tongues", Jer. xviii. 18. and that so hard, that they leave an incurable wound behind them. Many men are undone by this means, moped, and so dejected, that they are never to be recovered; and of all other men living, those which are actually melancholy, or inclined to it, are most sensible (as being suspicious, choleric, apt to mistake) and impatient of an injury in that kind: they aggravate, and so meditate continually of it, that it is a perpetual corrosive, not to be removed till time wear it out Although they peradventure that so scoff, do it alone in mirth and merriment, and hold it optimum aliena frui insania, an excellent thing to enjoy another man's madness; yet they must know, that it is a mortal sin (as Thomas holds), and as the prophet David denounceth, "they that use it, shall never dwell in God's tabernacle."
Such scurrilous jests, flouts, and sarcasms, therefore, ought not at all to be used; especially to our betters, to those that are in misery, or any way distressed: for to such, ærumnarum incrementa sunt, they multiply grief; and as he perceived, in multis pudor, in multis iracundia, &c., many are ashamed, many vexed, angered, and there is no greater cause or furtherer of melancholy. Martin Cromerus, in the Sixth book of his history, hath a pretty story to this purpose, of Uladislaus, the second king of Poland, and Peter Dunnius, earl of Shrine; they had been hunting late, and were enforced to lodge in a poor cottage. When they went to bed, Uladislaus told the earl in jest, that his wife lay softer with the abbot of Shrine; he not able to contain, replied, Et tua cum Dabesso, and yours with Dabessus, a gallant young gentleman in the court, whom Christina the queen loved. Tetigit id dictum Principis animum, these words of his so galled the prince, that he was long after tristis et cogiabundus, very sad and melancholy for many months; but they were the earl's utter undoing: for when Christina heard of it, she persecuted him to death. Sophia the empress, Justinian's wife, broke a bitter jest upon Narsetes the eunuch, a famous captain then disquieted for an overthrow which he lately had: that he was fitter for a distaff and to keep women company, than to wield a sword, or to be general of an army: but it cost her dear, for he so far distasted it, that he went forthwith to the adverse part, much troubled in his thoughts, caused the Lombards to rebel, and thence procured many miseries to the commonwealth. Tiberius the emperor withheld a legacy from the people of Rome, which his predecessor Augustus had lately given, and perceiving a fellow round a dead corse in the ear, would needs know wherefore he did so; the fellow replied, that he wished the departed soul to signify to Augustus, the commons of Rome were yet unpaid: for this bitter jest the emperor caused him forthwith to be slain, and carry the news himself. For this reason, all those that otherwise approve of jests in some cases, and facete companions, (as who doth not?) let them laugh and be merry, rumpantur et ilia Codro, 'tis laudable and fit, those yet will by no means admit them in their companies, that are any way inclined to this malady; non jocandum cum iis qui miseri sunt, et ærumnosi, no jesting with a discontented person, 'Tis Castilio's caveat, Jo. Pontanus, and Galateus, and every good man's.
Play with me, but hurt me not:
Jest with me, but shame me not.
Comitas is a virtue between rusticity and scurrility, two extremes, as affability is between flattery and contention, it must not exceed; but be still accompanied with that αβλβαεια [ablabeia] or innocency, quæ nemini nocet, omnem injuriæ oblationem abhorrens, hurts no man, abhors all offer of injury. Though a man be liable to such a jest or obloquy, have been overseen, or committed a foul fact, yet it is no good manners or humanity to upbraid, to hit him in the teeth with his offence, or to scoff at such a one; 'tis an old axiom, turpis in reum omnis exprobratio (every reproach uttered against one already condemned, is mean-spirited). I speak not of such as generally tax vice, Barclay, Gentilis, Erasmus, Agrippa, Fishcartus, &c., the Varronists and Lucians of our time, satirists, epigrammatists, comedians, apologists, &c., but such as personate, rail, scoff, calumniate, perstringe by name, or in presence offend;
"Ludit qui stolida procacitate,
Non est Sestius ille sed caballus;"
'Tis horse-play this, and those jests (as he saith) "are no better than injuries," biting jests, mordentes et aculeati, they are poisoned jests, leave a sting behind them, and ought not to be used.
"Set not thy foot to make the blind to fall;
Nor wilfully offend thy weaker brother:
Nor wound the dead with thy tongues' bitter gall,
Neither rejoice thou in the fall of other."
If these rules could be kept, we should have much more ease and quietness then we have, less melancholy; whereas, on the contrary, we study to misuse each other, how to sting and gall, like two fighting boors, bending all our force and wit, friends, fortune, to crucify one another's souls; by means of which, there is little content and charity, much virulency, hatred, malice, and disquietness among us.