Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: John Lyly
Editor: James D. Mardock
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Euphues and His England (A Selection)

The Commonwealth of Bees (E3-G1v)

1Traveling thus like two pilgrims, [Euphues and Philautus] thought it most necessary to direct their steps toward London, which they heard was the most royal seat of the Queen of England. But first they came to Canterbury, an old city, somewhat decayed, yet beautiful to behold, most famous for a cathedral church the very majesty whereof struck them into amaze, where they saw many monuments, and heard tell of greater, than either they ever saw or easily would believe. After they had gone long, seeing themselves almost benighted, determined to make the next house their inn and espying in their way even at hand a very pleasant garden, drew near, where they saw a comely old man, as busy as a bee among his bees, whose countenance bewrayed his conditions.

This ancient father Euphues greeted in this manner: "Father, if the courtesy of England be answerable to the custom of pilgrims, then will the nature of the country excuse the boldness of strangers. Our request is to have such entertainment, being almost tired with travel, not as divers have for acquaintance, but as all men have for their money; which courtesy if you grant, we will ever remain in your debt, although every way discharge our due. And rather we are importunate for that we are no less delighted with the pleasures of your garden than the sight of your gravity."

Unto whom the old man said: "Gentlemen -- you are no less, I perceive by your manners, and you can be no more, being but men -- I am neither so uncourteous to mislike your request nor so suspicious to mistrust your truths, although it be no less perilous to be secure than peevish to be curious. I keep no victualing, yet is my house an inn, and I an host, for every honest man, so far as they with courtesy will and I may with ability. Your entertainment shall be as small for cheer as your acquaintance is for time, yet in my house you may haply find some one thing cleanly, nothing courtly, for that wisdom provideth things necessary, not superfluous, and age seeketh rather a modicum for sustenance than feasts for surfeits. But until something may be made ready, might I be so bold as enquire your names, countries, and the cause of your pilgrimage? Wherein if I shall be more inquisitive than I ought, let my rude birth satisfy my bold request. which I will not urge as one importunate -- I might say impudent."

Euphues, seeing this fatherly and friendly sire (whom we will name Fidus) to have no less inward courtesies than outward comeliness, conjectured (as well he might) that the proffer of his bounty noted the nobleness of his birth, being well assured that as no Thersites could be transformed into Ulysses, so no Alexander could be couched in Damocles. Thinking therefore now with more care and advisedness to temper his talk lest either he might seem foolish or curious, he answered him in these terms: "Good sir, you have bound us unto you with a double chain, the one in pardoning our presumption, the other in granting our petition. Which great and undeserved kindness, though we cannot requite with the like, yet if occasion shall serve, you shall find us hereafter as willing to make amends as we are now ready to give thanks. Touching your demands, we are not so unwise to mislike them, or so ungrateful to deny them, lest in concealing our names it might be thought for some trespass, and, covering our pretense, we might be suspected of treason.

5"Know you then, sir, that this gentleman my fellow is called Philautus, I Euphues; he, an Italian, I a Grecian; both sworn friends by just trial, both pilgrims by free will. Concerning the cause of our coming into this island, it was only to glue our eyes to our ears that we might justify those things by sight which we have oftentimes with incredible admiration understood by hearing: to wit, the rare qualities, as well of the body as the mind, of your most dread sovereign and queen, the bruit of the which hath filled every corner of the world, insomuch as there is nothing that moveth either more matter or more marvel than her excellent majesty, which fame, when we saw without comparison and almost above credit, we determined to spend some part of our time and treasure in the English court, where if I could find the report but to be true in half, we should not only think our money and travel well employed, but returned with interest more than infinite. This is the only end of our coming, which we are nothing fearful to utter, trusting as well to the courtesy of your country as the equity of our cause. Touching the court, if you can give us any instructions, we shall think the evening well spent, which procuring our delight, can no way work your disliking."

"Gentlemen," answered this old man, "if because I entertain you you seek to undermine me, you offer me great discourtesy. You must needs think me very simple, or yourselves very subtle, if upon so small acquaintance I should answer to such demands as are neither for me to utter, being a subject, nor for you to know, being strangers. I keep hives for bees, not houses for busybodies -- pardon me, gentlemen; you have moved my patience -- and more welcome shall a wasp be to my honey than a privy enemy to my house. If the rare report of my most gracious lady have brought you hither, methinketh you have done very ill to choose such a house to confirm your minds as seemeth more like a prison than a palace, whereby in my opinion you mean to derogate from the worthiness of the person by the vileness of the place, which argueth your pretenses to savor of malice more than honest meaning.

"They use to consult of Jove in the Capitol, of Caesar in the senate, of our noble queen in her own court. Besides that, Alexander must be painted of none but Apelles, nor engraven of any but Lysippus, nor our Elizabeth set forth of everyone that would in duty, which are all, but of those that can in skill, which are few. So far hath nature overcome art, and grace eloquence, that the painter draweth a veil over that he cannot shadow, and the orator holdeth a paper in his hand for that he cannot utter. But whither am I wandering, rapt farther by devotion than I can wade through with discretion? Cease then, gentlemen, and know this: that a Englishman learneth to speak of men, and to hold his peace of the gods. Enquire no farther than beseemeth you, lest you hear that which cannot like you. But if you think the time long before your repast, I will find some talk which shall breed your delight, touching my bees."

And here Euphues brake him off, and replied, though not as bitterly as he would, yet as roundly as he durst, in this manner: "We are not a little sorry, sir; not that we have opened our minds, but that we are taken amiss, and when we meant so well to be entreated so ill, having talked of no one thing unless it be of good will towards you, whom we reverence for age, and of duty toward your sovereign, whom we marveled at for virtue: which good meaning of ours, misconstrued by you, hath bred such a distemperature in our heads that we are fearful to praise her whom all the world extolleth, and suspicious to trust you, whom above any in the world we loved. And whereas your greatest argument is the baseness of your house, methinketh that maketh most against you. Caesar never rejoiced more than when he heard that they talked of his valiant exploits in simple cottages, alleging this: that a bright sun shineth in every corner, which maketh not the beams worse, but the place better.

"When (as I remember) Agesilaus' son was set at the lower end of the table and one cast it in his teeth as a shame, he answered: 'this is the upper end where I sit, for it is not the place that maketh the person, but the person that maketh the place honorable.' When it was told Alexander that he was much praisedof a miller, 'I am glad,' quoth he, 'that there is not so much as a miller but loveth Alexander.'

10"Among other fables, I call to my remembrance one, not long, but apt, and as simple as it is, so fit it is that I cannot omit it for the opportunity of the time, though I might overleap it for the baseness of the matter. When all the birds were appointed to meet to talk of the eagle, there was great contention at whose nest they should assemble, every one willing to have it at his own home, one preferring the nobility of his birth, another the stateliness of his building; some would have it for one quality, some for an other; at the last the swallow said they should come to his nest (being commonly of filth), which all the birds disdaining, said, 'Why, thy house is nothing else but dirt!' And therefore answered the swallow, 'Would I have talk there of the eagle, for being the basest, the name of an eagle will make it the bravest.' And so, good father, may I say of thy cottage, which thou seemest to account of so homely that moving but speech of thy sovereign it will be more like a court than a cabin, and of a prison, the name of Elizabeth will make it a palace.

"The image of a prince stamped in copper goeth as current; and a crow may cry 'Ave Caesar' without any rebuke. The name of a prince is like the sweet dew, which falleth as well upon low shrubs as high trees, and resembleth a true glass wherein the poor may see their faces with the rich, or a clear stream wherein all may drink that are dry, not they only that are wealthy.

Where you add that we should fear to move any occasion touching talk of so noble a prince, truly our reverence taketh away the fear of suspicion. The lamb feareth not the lion, but the wolf. The partridge dreadeth not the eagle, but the hawk. A true and faithful heart standeth more in awe of his superior, whom he loveth for fear, than of his prince, whom he feareth for love. A clear conscience needeth no excuse, nor feareth any accusation.

Lastly, you conclude that neither art nor heart can so set forth your noble queen as she deserveth. I grant it and rejoice at it, and that is the cause of our coming to see her, whom none can sufficiently commend. And yet doth it not follow that because we cannot give her as much as she is worthy of, therefore we should not owe her any. But in this we will imitate the old painters in Greece, who, drawing in their tables the portraiture of Jupiter, were every hour mending it, but durst never finish it. And being demanded why they began that which they could not end, they answered, 'In that we show him to be Jupiter, whom every one may begin to paint, but none can perfect.' In the like manner mean we to draw in part the praises of her whom we cannot thoroughly portray, and in that we signify her to be Elizabeth, who enforceth every man to do as much as he can, when in respect of her perfection it is nothing. For as he that beholdeth the sun steadfastly, thinking thereby to describe it more perfectly, hath his eyes so dazzled that he can discern nothing, so fareth it with those that seek marvelously to praise those that are without the compass of their judgments and all comparison, that the more they desire, the less they discern, and the nearer they think themselves in good will, the farther they find themselves off in wisdom, thinking to measure that by the inch which they cannot reach with the ell. And yet, father, it can be neither hurtful to you, nor hateful to your prince to hear the commendation of a stranger or to answer his honest request, who will wish in heart no less glory to her than you do, although they can wish no more.

And therefore methinketh you have offered a little discourtesy not to answer us, and to suspect us, great injury, having neither might to attempt anything which may do you harm nor malice to revenge where we find help. For mine own part this I say, and for my friend present the like I dare swear, how boldly I cannot tell, how truly I know: that there is not anyone -- whether he be bound by benefit, or duty, or both; whether linked by zeal, or time, or blood, or all -- that more humbly reverenceth her majesty, or marveleth at her wisdom, or prayeth for her long prosperous and glorious reign, than we, than whom we acknowledge none more simple, and yet dare avow none more faithful. Which we speak not to get service by flattery, but to acquit ourselves of suspicion by faith, which is all that either a prince can require of his subject or a vassal yield to his sovereign, and that which we owe to your queen, and all others should offer, that either for fear of punishment dare not offend, or for love of virtue will not."

15Here old Fidus interrupted young Euphues, being almost induced by his talk to answer his request, yet as one neither too credulous nor altogether mistrustful, he replied as a friend, and so wisely as he glanced from the mark Euphues shot at and hit at last the white which Philautus set up, as shall appear hereafter. And thus he began: "My sons (mine age giveth me the privilege of that term, and your honesties cannot refuse it), you are too young to understand matters of state, and were you elder, to know them it were not for your estates. And therefore methinketh the time were but lost in pulling Hercules' shoe upon an infant's foot, or in setting Atlas' burden on a child's shoulder, or to bruise your backs with the burden of a whole kingdom -- which I speak not that either I mistrust you (for your reply hath fully resolved that fear) or that I malice you (for my good will may clear me of that fault) or that I dread your might (for your small power cannot bring me into such a folly), but that I have learned by experience that to reason of kings or princes hath ever been much misliked of the wise, though much desired of fools, especially where old men, which should be at their beads, be too busy with the court, and young men, which should follow their books, be too inquisitive in the affairs of princes.

"We should not look at that we cannot reach, nor long for that we should not have; things above us are not for us, and therefore are princes placed under the gods that they should not see what they do, and we under princes that we might not enquire what they do. But as the foolish eagle, that seeing the sun, coveteth to build her nest in the sun, so fond youth, which viewing the glory and gorgeousness of the court, longeth to know the secrets in the court. But as the eagle burneth out her eyes with that proud lust, so doth youth break his heart with that peevish conceit. And as Satyrus, not knowing what fire was, would needs embrace it and was burned, so these fond Satyri, not understanding what a prince is, run boldly to meddle in those matters which they know not and so feel worthily the heat they would not.

"And therefore, good Euphues and Philautus, content yourselves with this: that to be curious in things you should not enquire of, if you know them, they appertain not unto you; if you knew them not, they cannot hinder you. And let Apelles' answer to Alexander be an excuse for me. When Alexander would needs come to Apelles' shop and paint, Apelles placed him at back, who going to his own work did not so much as cast an eye back to see Alexander's devices, which being well marked, Alexander said thus unto him: 'Art not thou a cunning painter, and wilt thou not overlook my picture and tell me wherein I have done well and wherein ill?' Whom he answered wisely, yet merely: 'In faith, O king, it is not for Apelles to enquire what Alexander hath done, neither if he show it me to judge how it is done, and therefore did I set your majesty at my back that I might not glance towards a king's work, and that you looking over my head might see mine, for Apelles' shadows are to be seen of Alexander, but not Alexander's of Apelles.' So ought we, Euphues, to frame ourselves in all our actions and devices as though the king stood over us to behold us, and not to look what the king doth behind us. For whatsoever he painteth, it is for his pleasure, and we must think for our profit, for Apelles had his reward, though he saw not the work.

"I have heard of a magnifico in Milan -- and I think, Philautus, you being an Italian do remember it -- who hearing his son inquisitive of the emperor's life and demeanor, reprehended him sharply, saying that it beseemed not one of his house to enquire how an emperor lived, unless he himself were an emperor; for that the behavior and usage of so honorable personages are not to be called in question of every one that doubteth, but of such as are their equals.

"Alexander, being commanded of Philip his father to wrestle in the games of Olympia, answered he would if there were a king to strive with him, whereby I have noted (that others seem to enforce) that as kings' pastimes are no plays for everyone, so their secrets, their counsels, their dealings, are not to be either scanned or enquired of any way, unless of those that are in the like place or serve the like person.

20"I cannot tell whether it be a Canterbury Tale or a fable in Aesop (but pretty it is, and true in my mind), that the fox and the wolf, going both a-filching for food, thought it best to see whether the lion were asleep or awake, lest being too bold, they should speed too bad. The fox entering into the king's den (a king I call the lion), brought word to the wolf that he was asleep, and went himself to his own kennel. The wolf, desirous to search in the lion's den that he might espy some fault or steal some prey, entered boldly, whom the lion caught in his paws, and asked what he would? The silly wolf (an unapt term for a wolf, yet fit being in a lion's hands), answered that understanding by the fox he was asleep, he thought he might be at liberty to survey his lodging. Unto whom the princely lion with great disdain though little despite (for that there can be no envy in a king) said thus: 'Dost thou think that a lion, thy prince and governor, can sleep, though he wink? Or darest thou enquire whether he wink or wake? The fox had more craft than thou, and thou more courage -- courage I will not say, but boldness; and boldness is too good; I may say desperateness -- but you shall both well know, and to your griefs feel, that neither the wiliness of the fox nor the wildness of the wolf ought either to see or to ask whether the lion either sleep or wake, be at home or abroad, dead or alive. For this is sufficient for you to know: that there is a lion, not where he is or what he doth.'

"In like manner, Euphues, is the government of a monarchy (though homely be the comparison, yet apt it is), that it is neither the wise fox nor the malicious wolf should venture so far as to learn whether the lion sleep or wake in his den, whether the prince fast or feast in his court; but this should be their order: to understand there is a king, but what he doth is for the gods to examine, whose ordinance he is, not for men, whose overseer he is. Then how vain is it, Euphues (too mild a word for so mad a mind), that the foot should neglect his office to correct the face, or that subjects should seek more to know what their princes do than what they are, wherein they show themselves as bad as beasts, and much worse than my bees, who in my conceit, though I may seem partial, observe more order than they, and if I might say so of my good bees, more honesty. Honesty my old grandfather called that when men lived by law, not list, observing in all things the mean, which we name virtue, and virtue we account nothing else but to deal justly and temperately. And if I might crave pardon, I would a little acquaint you with the commonwealth of my bees, which is neither impertinent to the matter we have now in hand, nor tedious to make you weary."

Euphues, delighted with the discourses of old Fidus, was content to hear anything so he might hear him speak something, and consenting willingly, he desired Fidus to go forward; who now removing himself nearer to the hives, began as followeth: "Gentlemen, I have for the space of this twenty years dwelt in this place, taking no delight in anything but only in keeping my bees and marking them, and this I find, which had I not seen I should hardly have believed: that they use as great wit by induction and art by workmanship as ever man hath or can, using between themselves no less justice than wisdom, and yet not so much wisdom as majesty, insomuch as thou wouldst think that they were a kind of people, a commonwealth for Plato, where they all labor, all gather honey, fly altogether in a swarm, eat in a swarm, and sleep in a swarm; so neat and finely that they abhor nothing so much as uncleanness, drinking pure and clear water, delighting in sweet and sound music, which if they hear but once out of tune they fly out of sight. And therefore are they called the muses' birds, because they follow not the sound so much as the concent. They live under a law, using great reverence to their elder, as to the wiser.

"They choose a king, whose palace they frame both braver in show and stronger in substance; whom if they find to fall they establish again in his throne with no less duty than devotion, guarding him continually as it were for fear he should miscarry, and for love he should not; whom they tender with such faith and favor that whithersoever he flyeth they follow him, and if he cannot fly, they carry him; whose life they so love that they will not for his safety stick to die, such care have they for his health on whom they build all their hope. If their prince die, they know not how to live; they languish, weep, sigh, neither intending their work nor keeping their old society. And that which is most marvelous and almost incredible: if there be any that hath disobeyed his commandments, either of purpose or unwittingly, he killeth himself with his own sting as executioner of his own stubbornness.

"The king himself hath his sting, which he useth rather for honor than punishment. And yet, Euphues, albeit they live under a prince, they have their privilege, and as great liberties as strait laws. They call a parliament wherein they consult for laws, statutes, penalties, choosing officers, and creating their king -- not by affection, but reason; not by the greater part, but the better. And if such a one by chance be chosen (for among men sometimes the worst speed best) as is bad, then is there such civil war and dissention that until he be plucked down there can be no friendship; and overthrown, there is no enmity, not fighting for quarrels, but quietness.

25"Every one hath his office: some trimming the honey, some working the wax, one framing hives, another the combs, and that so artificially that Daedalus could not with greater art or excellency better dispose the orders, measures, proportions, distinctions, joints, and circles. Divers hew, others polish; all are careful to do their work so strongly as they may resist the craft of such drones as seek to live by their labors, which maketh them to keep watch and ward, as living in a camp to others, and as in a court to themselves. Such a care of chastity that they never engender, such a desire of cleanness that there is not so much as meat in all their hives. When they go forth to work, they mark the wind, the clouds, and whatsoever doth threaten either their ruin or reign, and having gathered out of every flower honey, they return laden in their mouths, thighs, wings, and all the body, whom they that tarried at home receive readily, as casting their backs of so great burdens.

"The king himself, not idle, goeth up and down entreating, threatening, commanding, using the counsel of a sequel but not losing the dignity of a prince, preferring those that labor to greater authority and punishing those that loiter with due severity. All which things being much admirable, yet this is most: that they are so profitable, bringing unto man both honey and wax, each so wholesome that we all desire it, both so necessary that we cannot miss them. Here, Euphues, is a commonwealth, which oftentimes calling to my mind, I cannot choose but commend above any that either I have heard or read of: where the king is not for every one to talk of, where there is such homage, such love, such labor, that I have wished oftentimes rather be a bee than not be as I should be.

"In this little garden, with these hives, in this house have I spent the better part of my life, yea and the best. I was never busy in matters of state, but referring all my cares unto the wisdom of grave counselors and my confidence in the noble mind of my dread sovereign and queen, never asking what she did, but always praying she may do well, not enquiring whether she might do what she would, but thinking she would do nothing but what she might. Thus contented with a mean estate, and never curious of the high estate, I found such quiet that methinketh he which knoweth least liveth longest, insomuch that I choose rather to be an hermit in a cave than a counselor in the court."

Euphues, perceiving old Fidus to speak what he thought, answered him in these short words: "He is very obstinate whom neither reason nor experience can persuade; and truly seeing you have alleged both, I must needs allow both. And if my former request have bred any offence, let my latter repentance make amends. And yet this I know: that I enquired nothing that might bring you into danger or me into trouble. For as young as I am, this I have learned: that one may point at a star but not pull at it, and see a prince but not search him; and for mine own part, I never mean to put my hand between the bark and the tree, or in matters which are not for me, to be over curious.

"The commonwealth of your bees did so delight me that I was not a little sorry that either their estate have not been longer or your leisure more, for in my simple judgment, there was such an orderly government that men may not be ashamed to imitate them, nor you weary to keep them."