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Nero, of whom I lately spake,
And whose mere frown sufficed to shake
The world, o'er which he held such sway
As never tyrant till his day
Had known, had yet no power to check
Fortune, but bowed before her beck,
If history lie not, for 'tis said
Most wretchedly he perished.
So did he fire the people's hate,
That rose they all infuriate
Against this monster. Then he sent
Envoys to all his friends, intent
To save his worthless life, but not
A single man he found, I wot,
To give him refuge. Then while rocked
His craven heart with fear, he knocked
With frantic strokes at many a portal,
But, to his thundering, not a mortal
Replied and he aback returned,
While helpless rage his vitals burned."
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This tells how Nero sought to hide
Within a garden, where he died,
Self-slain. Thus, coward-like, life's stage
He fled, nor dared the people's rage.
"THEN ran he swift to hide his head
In flower-grown close, and with him fled
Two faithful slaves, but all around
He heard the fearful surging sound
Of maddening voices, which: 'Nero,'
Cried loudly, 'thou to hell shalt go;
Where skulk'st thou?' And he, terrified,
Beheld that vain it was to hide,
Yet knew not how to go or stay
So he might 'scape the dread affray.
And compassing his fearsome case,
Despaired he of all hope of grace,
And 'mandment gave his slaves to kill
Their master, and when nought fulfil
Would they his hest, the wretched elf
Fell on his sword and slew himself
Outright, but ere death came he gave
His servants bidding they should shave
His head from off his trunk, that none
Might know 'twas he, and, that stroke done,
They should his corse without delay
Burn on a pyre to ashes grey.
This may be read by him who dives
Among old parchments in the lives
Of those twelve Caesars, which were writ
By Suetonius, who doth twit
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The law of Christ as tale absurd
(This is the wretched caitiff's word)
And mischievous. Alas! the day,
That mouth of man such words should say!
With Nero perished out the line
Of Caesar, and, as I opine,
This monster so was void of grace
Or virtue, that 'twere meet his race
Should fall extinct. He nobly reigned
Five years before with crime he stained
His annals, and no prince e'er gave
A fairer promise by his grave
And loyal rule; so good at first
Appeared this felon-king accurst,
That once in audience given at Rome,
When some poor caitiff that home
Whence none return he should consign,
He cried: 'O evil fate is mine
That e'er my hand hath learned to write.'
This monster stood upon the height
Of empire more than sixteen years,
Deceiving hopes, fulfilling fears,
And for his whole life thirty-two
Years good and evil lived he through.
But, stirred to felony by pride,
So grievously he turned aside
From virtue, that he lastly fell
From highest grace to lowest hell
Of crime and sin, as thou hast heard,
And Fortune's freak it was preferred
Him thus on high, that she might show
Her power to raise and overthrow.
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Neither could Croesus, Lydia's king,
And mighty conqueror, 'scape the sting
Of Fortune. On the burning pyre
He stood and round him leapt the fire,
When suddenly the lowering sky
Disburdened it so copiously
That died the flames; his foes dismayed
Thereat took flight, nor long time stayed
King Croesus, but escaped his bane.
Then ruled he o'er his land again
But yet, once more by Fortune flung
In durance, was he lastly hung
But ere that happed this vision dreamed
High on a beech tree's top he seemed,
Where mighty Jupiter had set
Himself to wash him: when all wet
By Jove's hands made, his glorious son,
Phoebus, with towel, had begun
To dry his skin. Alas! too true
That dreaming proved he thereby grew
To hateful pride and foolishness,
And then succumbed to sore distress.
Though when to Phanie fair, his child,
He told this dream so strange and wild,
She strove to tear from off his eyes
The veil, for she was passing wise
To pierce the visions of the night,
And show their truth in morning light."
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This tells how Phanie to the king
Gave warning that his pride would bring
Him shameful death. The dream but sung
His knell, when he on gallows hung.
"FAIR father,' quoth the damosel,
This dream but rings your passing bell
I count your pride not worth a cock;
The jade hight Fortune doth but mock
And jeer at you; by this portent
I clearly read that she is bent
That you, ere long, on gallows tree
Shall perish; and while mournfully,
The sport of winds, it swings in air,
Heaven's rain upon your body bare
Shall beat, and then the scorching sun
Shall dry it. So doth Fortune run
Against you. She but gives and takes
As pleaseth her; one while she makes
The highest nought, and then amain
The pauper setteth up again
In wealth or splendour. Why should I
Betray your heart with flattery?
Fortune hath ruthlessly assigned
You to the gibbet, and will bind
The halter close about your neck,
And that gold crown that now doth deck
Your well-loved head will she uplift
Therefrom, and then as royal gift
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Bestow it where you dream not. Hear,
While yet I make my rede more clear:
God Jupiter, who you did wash,
Is air and cloud, whose rains shall lash
Your corpse; and Phoebus, who bedried
Your body, clearly typified
The sun; the high beech tree,
What should it but the gallows be?
This cruel path you needs must tread,
Dear father; on your glorious head
Will Fortune wreak her wrath as one
Whose arrogant pride hath vengeance won:
No man, whate'er his dignity,
More than an apple counteth she.
High loyalty or treachery base,
Lordly estate or pauper case,
Are one to her. As shuttlecock
Which playful damsels lightly knock
Hither and thither, so doth she
Toss gifts and favours recklessly,
Without a thought whereso they fall,
On mansion proud or cobbler's stall.
For good or bad hath she no care,
All, all alike her giftings share;
She valueth none above a pea,
Saving her child Nobility,
Misfortune's cousin, and her friend,
Who doth in Fortune's balance pend.
But Fortune, though she take away
Nobility from whom she may,
Will deal it forth to none except
Such as through every change have kept
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Them pure in heart and courteous,
Upright, and good, and generous.
For never yet was man so bold
In field, but, if he chanced to hold
In heart some baseness, then would flee
Far from him fair Nobility.
Nobility I greatly prize,
Because mean spirits in her eyes
Are hateful, and I meekly pray,
Dear father, that you cast away
All proud and villain thought, and reign
The good man's prop, the bad man's bane.
Make your dear heart the dwelling-place
Of gentle love and tender grace
For ill poor folk; 'tis well a king
The portals of his heart should fling
Wide open. O my father, deign
To list my speech, you then shall gain
The people's love; that lacking, poor
Is greatest king as rudest boor.'
O Phanie, precious words were these,
But never fool his folly sees
In other light than worthiest sense,
Wisdom he hears, but learns nought thence.
Thus Croesus' heart was obdurate,
And sternly scorned he to abate
His pride; if herein wise was he,
Or foolish, that ere long shalt see.
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Croesus makes answer to Phanie.
"My daughter, neither courtesy
Nor sense you show herein,' quoth he;
'Much better versed am I than you
In what the Gods propose to do;
You do but treat me to a lie,
Interpreting most shamefully
This riddle hid within my dream:
Your gloss approacheth the extreme
Of witlessness: my dream will be
Fulfilled, I doubt not, literally:
Sure ne'er before did prophet dare
To shadow forth for dream so fair
Such vile fulfillment.
Yet will come
The Gods from out their sky-built home,
To work the end that they in sleep
Foretold to me, and I shall reap,
Dear child, from them such high reward
As they to those they love accord,
For well have I deserved of them.'
"Alas! the boastful apothegm!
Fortune laid hand on him and gave
His body wastefully to wave
In wind and storm on gibbet hung,
And last be o'er the desert flung.
Doth this not plainly demonstrate
No man can cause her wheel to wait
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Or stay its course, and thus be able,
Honour attained, to keep him stable?
And dost thou aught of logic know
(Which falsity from truth doth show),
Thou'lt see, where great and strong men fall,
For poor and weak, the chance how small!
But if examples thou shouldst scorn
From old authentic writings torn,
Then is it well that thou shouldst learn
That if thou wilt, thou need'st but turn
For good examples which have been
Before the eyes of all men seen,
Writ large for us in later days,
Of turmoils, battles, and affrays.
In Sicily we first may see
Lord Manfred, who by treachery
Long time unchallenged kept the land,
Till Charles of Anjou's mighty hand
O'ercame him, and there reigns to-day,
Where no man dares dispute his sway.
Him thou mayst better know perchance
As Count of Anjou and Provence,
And who by providence of God
Is lord of Sicily's fair sod.
This good King Charles from Manfred took
His kingdom not alone, but strook
The life from him; when he, with sword
Fine tempered, on the battle sward
Where first they met assailed him, high
On towering war-horse mounted: 'Die,'
He cried, 'shalt thou, for check and mate
I give thee,' but soon met his fate,
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Amid his goodly company,
By arrow-stroke, death pierced, fell he.
It scarcely needs my page to blot
By telling of the woeful lot
Of Conradin, whom Charles decreed
To death, although for him did plead
The German princes; or how fell
Henry, the prince of Spain as well,
In prison slain, as guerdon good
For one whose treason shamed manhood.
These two rash, foolish men, I ween,
Lost knights and rooks, and pawns and queen,
Till, seeing all against them scored,
They fled and left swept clear, the board.
Great fear they had lest round them spun
Should be the web they had begun,
Yet ne'er need they have been afraid
Lest they should see check-mate arrayed
Against them, since devoid of king
They fought, their foes could nowise bring
Those into check with whom they played,
Since first this noble game was made,
For never men at chess can fight
(How great soe'er the power they dight)
With check 'gainst those who fight afoot,
The pawn, or rook, or fool to boot,
Nor queen or knight, nor all the hoard
Of commoners who fill the board.
For of a truth I dare to state
What meaneth that men call 'a mate';
The king it is to whom we give
'Check,' when his men have ceased to live,
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Or captive stand, and none he sees
Around him save his enemies,
And thus doth he in check remain,
Escape debarred, resistance vain.
And thus saith Attalus the wise,
Who did the game of chess devise
With worthy wit; its subtle trick
He found when deep arithmetic
He taught, and Polycraticus,
Of John of Sarum, showeth us
How he the intricate movements set,
Wherewith the game is played e'en yet.
From off the field these leaguers cleared,
Since to be captive ta'en they feared
Most bitterly. What say I then?
They feared captivity, these men?
Nay, but far worse; fierce death they fled,
Which nevertheless they sufferèd,
For in this wretched game had they
With impious daring played their play.
Despising faith, estranged from God,
They madly his chastising rod
Had bared their backs to; Holy Church
They braved, and found them left a-lurch.
And if their fortunes lay in wreck,
And on them cried their foes 'a check!'
What wonder? Who would cover them,
Or who their tide of misery stem?
For when the onset came their queen
They lost, as well might be foreseen,
And then this worthless, foolish king
Lost rooks, knights, pawns, and everything.
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Forsooth she nought was present there
But worn with grief, and wan with care
Could not defend herself nor flee,
Hearing how Manfred wretchedly
Lay dead and cold, head, hands, and feet.
And when these tidings men repeat
To good King Charles, how both these men
Like caitiffs fled the combat, then
On both he freely worked his will,
Giving command to slay and kill
Them and their fellows who had stood
To aid their impious hardihood.
This noble prince, whose deeds I sing,
Of many a tale hath been the spring.
May God preserve both night and day
His body, soul, and heirs I pray,
And grant such wisdom as ne'er falls:
The pride he conquered of Marseilles,
Whose rebel burghers' heads lopped he
Ere yet high rule in Sicily
To him was given, where he as king
Was crowned, and vicar ministering
For all the Empire: but to write
His deeds at full must one indite
A ponderous tome.
See what became
Of all these favourites of fame
Doth she not, I ask,
Make fools of those who calmly bask
Beneath her smiles?
At first they find
All fair, then comes a stab behind.
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And thou, who joy'dst to kiss the Rose,
Through which to thee such misery grows
As seems would never more abate,
Dost thou desire it for thy fate
Ever to live in soft delight
Kissing fair roses, day and night?
Now swear I stoutly by my head,
Good sense within thee seemeth dead.
Lest thou beneath thy sorrow sink,
I counsel thee to muse and think
Of Manfred and of Conradin
And Henry, who, than Saladin,
Did deadlier crimes, since war they made
'Gainst Holy Church their nurse, who laid
Her curse on them, and mark how died
Those of Marseilles through fatal pride.
With ancient lore too well acquaint
Art thou that I again need paint
Vile Nero's crime, or Croesus' fall,
Such lessons might'st thou well recall,
Showing how vain their power to stay
The turn of Fortune's wheel one day.
I'faith! the freeman who in pride
Of freedom scorneth all beside,
Forgets how mighty Croesus fell
From freedom's heaven to serfdom's hell,
And in his memory holds he not
Sad Hecuba's unhappy lot,
The wife of Priam, nor the fate
Of Sisygambis, who the great
Darius, king of Persia, bore,
Yet Alexander fell before;
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All these o'er realms in freedom reigned
Yet slaves became when Fortune waned.