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Secondly, Antiquity, what is it else (God only expected) but man's authority born some ages before us ? Now for the truth of things, time makes no alteration ; things are still the same they are, let the time be past, present, or to come. Those things which we reverence for antiquity, what were they at their first birth ? were they false ? time cannot make them true ; were they true ? time cannot make them more true. The circumstance therefore of time, in respect of truth and error, is merely impertinent. Yet thus much must I say for antiquity, that amongst all these balancing and halting proofs, if truth have any advantage against error and deceit, it is here. For there is an antiquity which is proper to truth, and in which error can claim no part; but then it must be an antiquity most ancient. This cannot be but true, for it is God, and God is truth. All other parts of antiquity, deceit and falsehood will lay claim to as well as truth. Most certain it is, truth is more ancient than error; for error is nothing else but deviation and swerving from the truth. Were not truth therefore first, there could be no error, since there could be no swerving from that which is not. When therefore antiquity is pleaded for the proof of any conclusion commended to you for true, be you careful to know whether it be most ancient, yea or no: if it be so, then is it an invincible proof, and pleads for nothing but the truth; if otherwise, though it be as ancient, I say not as Inachus, but as Satan himself, yet it is no proof of truth.
Thirdly, Universality is such a proof of truth, as truth itself is ashamed of; for universality is nothing but a quainter and a trimmer name to signify the multitude. Now human authority at the strongest is but weak, but the multitude is the weakest part of human authority ; it is the great patron of error, most easily abused, and most hardly disabused. The beginning of error may be, and mostly is, from private persons, but the maintainer and continuer of error is the multitude. Private persons first beget errors in the multitude, and make them public ; and publicness of them begets them again in private persons.
It is a thing which our common experience and practice acquaints us with, that when some private persons have gained authority with the multitude, and infused some error into them, and made it public, the publicness of the error gains authority to it, and interchangeably prevails with private persons to entertain it. The most singular and strongest part of human authority is properly in the wisest and most virtuous ; and these, I trow, are not the most
universal. If truth and goodness go by universality and multitude, what mean then the prophets and holy men of God everywhere in Scripture so frequently, so bitterly, to complain of the small number of good men, careful of God and truth? Neither is the complaint proper to Scripture, it is the common complaint of all that have left any records of antiquity behind them. Could wishing do any good, I could wish well to this kind of proof; but it will never go so well with mankind that the most shall be the best. The best that I can say of argument and reason drawn from universality and multitude, is this, such reason may, perchance, well serve to excuse an error, but it can never serve to warrant a truth.
Fourthly, Councils and synods, and consent of churches, these indeed may seem of some force, they are taken to be the strongest weapons which the church had fought with ; yet this is still human authority after another fashion ; let me add one thing, that the truth hath not been more relieved by these than it hath been distressed. At the council at Nice met 318 bishops to defend the divinity of the Son of God ; but at Ariminum met well near 600 bishops to deny it. I ask then, What gained the truth here by a synod ? Certainly in the eye of reason it more endangered it; for it discovered the advantage that error had among the multitude above the truth ; by which reason truth might have been greatly hazarded. I have read that the nobility of Rome, upon some fancy or other, thought fit, that all servants should wear a kind of garment proper to them, that so it might be known who were servants, who were freemen : but they were quickly weary of this conceit ; for perceiving in what multitudes servants were in most places, they feared that the singularity of their garment might be an item to them to take notice of their multitude, and to know their own strength, and so at length take advantage of it against their masters. This device of calling councils was but like that fancy of the Roman gentlemen ; for many times it might well have proved a great means to have endangered the truth, by making the enemies thereof to see their own strength, and work upon that advantage ; for it is a speedy way to make them to see that, which for the most part is very true, that there are more which run against the truth, than with it.
(From Private Judgment in Religion.)
[William Drummond (1585-1649) was educated at the High School, and at the recently founded University of Edinburgh. After some years of law study on the Continent, he in 1610 succeeded his father as laird of Hawthornden. There he spent a life of quiet seclusion, in study and in composition, at first mainly poetical, His notes, and the catalogue of his library, show that he was a student of Greek, Latin, Italian, and French, and a diligent reader of the English writers of his time. In 1618 he was visited by Ben Jonson, of whose conversations he took careful notes. In 1623, after a serious illness, Drummond published A Cypress Grove, a philosophical meditation on Death. The popularity of this work is proved by the publication of a second edition in 1630. It was probably the connection of his family with the Stuarts, by the marriage of Robert III. with Annabella Drummond, that impelled him to take up the History of Scotland during the Reigns of the Five Jameses. The troubles which preceded the Civil War drew from him a number of contributions, advocating a mediating policy from the royalist side. The best of these are Irene, or a Remonstrance for Concord, Amity, and Love (1638), and Erlauaxia (1643) ; but they were not allowed more than a MS. circulation. In spite of his reputation as a malignant, Drummond did not suffer seriously at the hands of the later Presbyterian tyranny. The defeat of his friend Montrose at Philiphaugh (1645) crushed his last hope of a settled government, and his remaining years were clouded by despondency and failing health. He died in December 1649.
A Cypress Grove is Drummond's only prose work that was published in his lifetime. The History of the Jameses was printed in 1655, with several “Memorials of State,” and a few letters ; his royalist tracts were first included in the collected edition of 1711. Extracts from Drummond's unpublished manuscripts were printed by Laing in the Archæologia Scotica, iv. 57-110, 224-270.]
A Cypress Grove is a remarkable, and in some respects unique, example of sonorous poetic prose. Detached passages of similar eloquence are to be found in the prose of Drummond's contemporaries and immediate successors ; none of them has maintained the same height of imaginative contemplation throughout a piece of equal length. A Cypress Grove is the first original work in which an English writer has deliberately set himself to make
prose do service for poetry. It is a dignified “Meditation upon Death,” tinged with melancholy; and the whole has unity of tone and conception. Opening with a picture of his fears as “in the quiet solitariness of the night” he thinks “on the last of human terrors,” the author reflects upon the necessity and universality of death ; upon the vexations, disasters, indignities, and meanness of life—where beauty, greatness, knowledge, are but vanity, “on so small a round as is this earth, and bounded with so short a course of time”; where to die young is to leave the feast before satiety ; where fame is defeated by oblivion, Then, from these purely mundane views, he breaks into a train of idealistic thoughts which are put into the form of an apostrophe to his soul. Having at last fallen asleep, he sees in a dream the vision of a lost friend who reveals to him the meaning of death and the joys of eternity. A Cypress Grove is, therefore, not a series of “dispersed meditations,” as Bacon defines his “Essay"; nor is its argument intended as a chain of connected reasoning. The meditation is imaginatively conceived; it is presented as the expression of an individual mood, rising to a natural climax, and placed in an artistic setting.
This essential character of the work has been neglected by some of its critics. It has been objected that its argument is one-sided ; that the author has not given a more wholesome and bracing view of life as the scene of joyous and passionate endeavour. This is no doubt true ; yet the objection is beside the mark. For it applies an alien standard to what is not an essay, but a reverie.
It blames what is practically a poem on resignation to death for not depicting the joys of life. One might as reasonably complain that Milton had not mingled the moods of L'Allegro and Il Penseroso. The critic is not called upon to refute poetical reflections by formal logic. His true criterion is congruity. And it is part of the success of A Cypress Grove that no dissonant note mars its pensive melancholy.
The most characteristic qualities of Drummond's style are wealth of imagery, variety of sentence-structure, and rhythmic flow. His metaphors are apt and pregnant; he uses similes less frequently than the writers of his age, and seldom draws them out beyond a line. The antithesis of some of the apophthegms which break the continuity of his periods is not over-strained. Two cases of word-play occur, but they are venial. The composition, though carefully elaborated, is seldom laboured or overcharged with ornament; and his ear is rarely, if ever, betrayed into a pre
ference of sound to sense. The even pitch of subdued eloquence at which the style is maintained would prove monotonous but for the ever-changing and contrasting formation of the sentences. This skilful variation of construction, by diversifying the length and cadence of the clauses, gives to the pages of A Cypress Grove the peculiar charm of richly modulated music.
Drummond's idealistic bent is seen in the recurrence of certain ideas—at times of phrases and allusions. The pettiness of earthly life is a constant refrain. The earth is "a mote of dust encircled by a pond”; another time, “an anthill, and men as many pismires and grasshoppers." Again, “This globe of the earth, which seemeth huge to us, in respect of the universe and compared with that wide pavilion of heaven, is less than little, of no sensible quantity, and but as a point.” He returns more than once to the image of the Ptolemaic cosmos for his conception of "the All.”
On a theme so common among the Elizabethan writers, it is not strange that Drummond's treatment should occasionally echo theirs. In the Platonic apostrophe to his soul one is reminded of Spenser's Hymn to Beauty, and his stanzas on Mutability. Passages here and there seem to be paraphrases or expansions of the monologues of Hamlet and of Prospero. There is even at times a similarity of phrase, as in “The goodly fabric of this world,” “ This fair and admirable frame,” “ The rank weeds in this garden of the world,” and in the recurring comparisons of the world to a stage, of life to a dream, and of death to sleep. Drummond was, as his library shows, a diligent reader of the English literature of his time ; yet these parallels may be accidental. But the exact reproduction of some of Bacon's phrases in his Essay on Death proves that this at least had been closely studied. In the following -“So do little children fear to go in the dark, and their fear is increased with tales” ; “Death nor painful is, nor evil, except in contemplation of the cause”—the parts italicised are transcripts of the words in Bacon's two opening sentences. When Drummond speaks of death as being of itself as indifferent as birth,” and of “the marble colours of obsequies, weeping and funeral pomp,” adding“ much more ghastliness unto it than otherwise it hath,” he paraphrases Bacon more loosely. But Bacon's sentence (in the 1612 edition), “ There is no passion in the mind of man so weak, but masters the fear of death,” is copied as literally as Drummond's context will allow.
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