1621
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Brides Ornaments: Meditat. II. Of Humilitie.

The Brides Ornaments: Poetical Essayes upon a Divine Subject. [In The Song of Songs, which was Salomons.]

Robert Aylett


Robert Aylett alludes to Spenser's fable of the Oak and the Briar in Februarie as a violation of Humilitie. This meditation was abridged in the 1654 Divine and Moral Speculations.

Herbert E. Cory: "The spirit of classicism had as yet but a thin voice in the literary affairs of the age. The heavy cloth of gold of the renaissance made a mantle which the poets were loth to relinquish. Giles and Phineas Fletcher, for instance, those pastor-poets of Cambridge University who sang, in Spenser's allegorical manner, of the sacrifice of Christ and the soul of man, founded a school of poets who perpetuated the sensuous Spenserian manner even into the eighteenth century. Quarles, Thomas Robinson, Dr. Joseph Beaumont, and others published ambitious attempts in imitation of Spenser and the Fletchers, and emulated their spirit in an age when chaotic sectarianism was vitally connected with the issues of the day. As late as 1679 this movement was very much alive in Samuel Woodford's Legend of Love and its Epoda in Spenserian stanzas. Even in the eighteenth century, when neo-classicism held full sway, William Thompson registered his name as the last in this school with his Hymn to May (1757), a piece which closely followed Spenser's Epithalamion and Phineas Fletcher's Purple Island and which is pure Elizabethan even in an age of trim paterres. From Cambridge came a man who owed a debt to the school of the Fletchers although he was too large to be imprisoned as a member, John Milton, the supreme poet of his age, who learned from Spenser much of the eloquence with which he wrought his great religious and political experiences into immortal song. The spirit of the dreamer of The Faerie Queene was not, after all, so far remote from the great issues of the middle decades of the seventeenth century. These poets, with the exception of Milton (who, like all supreme artists, knew how to reconcile classicism and romanticism), formed one of the many groups of seventeenth century poets who still preferred to worship beauty with Elizabethan exuberance and childlike enumeration of infinite detail rather than by attention to finish, the sense of finiteness, of repression which attracted the new classicists" Critics of Edmund Spenser (1911) 109-10.



My boundless thoughts, that in a restlesse mind,
Deprive my body oft of natural rest,
And urge my soule true happinesse to finde,
And that once found therein to set my rest,
Doe often to my purer Soule suggest,
To seeke for pleasures, honour, wealth, promotion,
But more of them I gayne, the more opprest
I am with worldly cares, and mindes commotion,
So that to nothing in this world I have devotion.

And yet I see, all Things that being have,
Unto their bene esse doe intend;
Their Summum bonum 'tis that all doe crave,
First sought for, though they last it apprehend:
Love is that good I seeke to apprehend,
As all Things being to their end doe move:
But none but by Humilitie can wend
Into Loves Court, without her none can prove
What is the end and finishing of all, true Love.

Therefore I sing next of Humilitie,
The lowly Porter of high Loves Court Gate,
Who brought me first Loves glorious Court to see,
And all her Courtiers, as I told of late;
Humilitie the poorest beggars Mate,
Yet equall to the highest Peere of Love,
And by her us'd in all affaires of State,
Humilitie which doth so gracious prove
To all good men on earth, and Angels pure above.

God! second Person in the Trinitie,
Whose being is immortall, uncreate,
Who in the dayes of thy Humilitie,
Didst here converse with men in meane estate,
That we thy lowlinesse might imitate,
Direct my Muse most lively to expresse
Humilitie, that opens wide Loves gate
To those, that doe confesse their wretchednesse,
But shuts close 'gainst all proud and vaine ambitious ghests.

Humilitie that vertue is, whereby
We vile and lowly seeme in our owne eyes;
Despising our owne worth and dignitie,
Since of our selves we nothing have to prise:
The first and certayne step whereby we rise,
And climbe the Hill of Joy and Happinesse;
Stranger to fooles companion of the wise.
Of Folly, Pride; of Grace comes humblenesse;
One head-long leades to hell, the other unto Blesse.

This modest Lady, Humblenesse of Spirit,
Her selfe unwise and ignorant doth deeme,
And never thinks shee able is to merit,
In Loves high Court to be in such esteeme,
Shee far inferiour to her selfe doth seem,
And never thinks shee Knowledge can attayne,
Disgrace or losse shee sweetly doth redeeme
With Humbleness, and holds it greatest gayne,
Her Peace, not Place; true Love, not Glorie to maintain.

Most fruitfull Lady like the fertile Vine,
Which evermore when shee most fruit doth beare,
Her goodliest branches lowliest doth decline,
And as the fairest clusters doe appeare,
Hid under leaves; ev'n so this gracious Peere
Covers all Vertues under lowlinesse;
Of Fortunes stormes shee never stands in feare,
Nor troubled is with want or with distresse,
For shee hath learn'd content in paine or ease.

Inward and outward's this Humilitie,
In words and actions, lookes, thoughts, and attire,
The inward by the outward we descrie.
It is hypocrisie for to desire
Lowly to seeme, and secretly aspire
Unto a Crowne, by legs, with Absalom:
Such complement let Pagan Courts admire,
Never such basenesse yet had any roome
In Court of heav'nly Love, where heart and looke is one.

For true Humilitie is undivided,
She alwayes looks, speaks, does, seems, thinks the same,
And though shee bee by scorners oft derided,
Shee's alwayes humble like unto her name:
Nor doth shee vertuous deeds to purchase fame,
But for themselves, and for her Lords deare sake,
Who with her suffered much reproach and shame,
When he a Servants forme did on him take,
And Lord of all, himselfe of none account did make.

The Sonne of God from all eternitie,
Most holy, happy, wise, whose glorious Station
Being pight in Heav'n, thought it no robberie
To be with God of equall estimation;
Himselfe to make here of no reputation,
His glorie great in highest Heav'ns to leave,
And live here in the meanest servants fashion,
And when the Heav'ns did him againe receave,
Her here unto his Spouse for an ensample leave.

Oh! could we but this wondrous Grace conceave,
And honour Love hath done Humilitie,
Would it not cause us unto her to cleave,
And her embrace with all integritie,
Keeping her in our hearts most carefully,
That from our humbled hearts, as from a Well,
There might flow forth unfayn'd humilitie,
That when we are hence summon'd by the bell,
We in Loves Court with joy eternally may dwell:

This is the small cause of Humblenesse,
To gaine true Blisse, and Gods eternall Love:
The formall is unfayned Lowlinesse,
In and without, which God and Man approve;
The knowledge of our selves us well may move
As the efficient cause, her to embrace:
Thoughts, manners, lookes, words, tires materiall prove;
For by the words, eye, act, attire and face,
A wise man may discerne what in the heart hath place.

But now if we unto th' effects proceede,
What gaynes a man by all his lowliness:
Wee see what mickle sorrow it did breede
Unto our Captayne, when in great distresse,
Hee's humbled to the Crosse: and we no lesse
By his ensample looke to under-goe
His scoffes and scornes, his gall and bitternesse:
If this be all Humilitie can doe,
Of all they are most wretched that are humbled so.

But loe! our Leader that did her embrace
With such affection, God doth him regard
As his deare Sonne: behold, he doth him grace
Above the Angels; and he hath prepar'd
Such joyes for him as cannot be compar'd:
With glorie and with honour he him crown'd.
And though a while on earth he meanely far'd,
All now unto his honour doth redound,
At naming of his Name all knees must kisse the ground.

And us that in our Captaynes steps doe treade,
And follow him in true Humilitie,
He will to endlesse blisse and glorie leade,
And honour here with true nobilitie:
And as he captive led captivitie,
And did from lowest earth to heaven ascend,
So from the dust and grave shall we on high
Be rais'd, where we in glorie shall transcend
The Angels: which on Head and Members must attend.

But soft, my Muse, thou now dost farre transcend
The subject of thy song, Humilitie,
Now homeward to thy selfe thy thoughts intend,
And view the subject where shee doth aby.
The heart's the seate of true Humilitie,
And in thy body seated is thine heart,
Both made of basest Clay: thy soule from high,
The highest by thy nostrils did impart,
Which is there all in all, and all in ev'ry part.

The bodi's base; the soule it doth transcend,
And were't not here immur'd in house of clay,
Against her nature shee would re-ascend
To him that gave her: Then, my Soule, I say,
Into her Makers presence would away,
And be accepted by his mediation,
Who humbled to the Crosse, for her did pay
His dearest blood for reconciliation.
For after humblenesse doth follow exaltation.

Nay ev'n our flesh, though humbled in the dust,
By vertue of our Saviours Resurrection,
Againe shall bee united: and the just
Which have beene humbled here by his direction,
Shall bee deliver'd from worlds base subjection
Into the libertie and glorious light
Of Gods owne Sonnes, under whose safe protection
They ever shall enjoy the happy sight
Of God and's Saints, which here have humbled beene aright.

But Humbleness is not the onely way
To bring us to this glorious exaltation,
End of our hopes: but first doth us convay
To wholesome true Repentance to salvation;
Which is from filthy sinne the best purgation:
Mercy the meeke and humble man doth save,
Though Justice us condemne to dire damnation,
If Faith and Hope for us we Patrons have,
Whilest Bountie grants us all things needfull we doe crave.

The Treasurer Knowledge, who hath alwayes vow'd
Her selfe true servant to Humilitie,
Hath her with precious and rare gifts endow'd,
Yet still more meane and lowly shee will bee:
For well shee wots, in whom the Treasuree
Of Wisedome and of Knowledge all did dwell,
Became a servant meane of low degree,
Truth often unto her (what shee knowes well)
That shee nought but what shee hath receav'd, doth tell.

Thus Meekness, Patience, true Obedience, Joy,
Do alwayes with Humilitie abide;
She is most kind and courteous, never coy
Unto the vertuous; and shee opens wide
Loves gate unto the Humble: but doth hide
From th' envious, vaine, and the ambitious wight,
Truth, Prudence, Knowledge, which should be their guide;
Thus Humbleness guides all to Truth and Light,
But Pride, Ambition, leade to darknesse, errour, night.

This Monster, foule Ambition, cursed Pride,
Who, envying Man, ev'n in his first creation,
Did like a subtile Serpent smoothly slide
In t' Edens Garden, Mans sweet habitation,
Where by malicious, subtile, false perswasion,
He then perswaded simple Eve to trie
Forbidden fruits, and by false application
Assur'd her shee should knowledge gain thereby,
Such knowledge gayne all that equivocate and lie.

Oh! had Humilitie true Knowledge brought
To Eve, before shee did commit this sinne!
Shee ne're had entertayn'd so base a thought,
Nor we of Pride and Satan bond-slaves bin;
See here the end of all, that doe begin
In pride and in ambition: they must fall,
Pride first betraid us to the Fowlers gin,
But Humblenesse delivers them from thrall,
That doe unfeignedly with her for mercy call.

What? Be as gods! For to be proud and poore,
Is a base sinne, hated of God and Man,
Behold, ev'n Humility's the doore,
That leades to Happinesse, ev'n so began
At Pride the miserie and smart of Man:
Which still in him remaynes a dangerous sore.
For honour here a Worldling what you can,
His greedie thoughts will never count it store,
Ambition, like to to Hell and Grave, still gapes for more.

Thus Poets tell of an ambitious Snaile,
That golden weather-cocke on steeple high
Espying, from sweet Garden, would assaile,
And for vaine glorie life would jeopardie:
He by fast hold and winding subtiltie,
Mounts slily up the steeples highest spire,
Whence he the poore Bird throwes downe cruelly,
And to his place vaine-gloriously aspire,
Till Boreas brasen wings him throwes downe in the mire.

Thus vaine fond youth left his sage Fathers lore,
And by his borrowed wings did soare so high,
(Loe here their end that seeke so high to soare)
The Sunne beames heate his waxen wings did frie.
Proud Bryar that safe and secure did lie
Under stout Oakes most safe protecting armes,
Supplanted him by treason cunningly,
Then to Sunnes heat expos'd and Winters storms,
He's trod downe by wild beasts, and eaten up of wormes.

Once had the feete the noble Head defide,
Grieving to beare his burthen any more,
And Brawny armes their helping hands denide,
To feede the belly with convenient store:
But hands and armes forthwith grew weake and poore
For want of stomacks strength'ning nourishment,
And now the legs that able were before,
To beare both Head and Bodies wonderment,
Became wrang, stumbling, lame for want of government.

When Jothams trees went out t' anoint a King,
They first besought the Olive tree to raigne,
But he his fatnesse highly valewing,
Refus'd to leave it for a Kingdomes gaine:
Next Fig-tree sweet to rule they would constraine,
Who nould his sweetnesse leave for Kingdomes glee:
Last to the fertile Vine they doe complaine,
Who fruitfulnesse loves more then Sov'raigntee,
But Bryar base will raigne and the anointed bee.

Like as on Mountaynes which doe breake the clouds,
Sand, gravell, and unfruitfull earth doe lye,
But in the fruitfull Valleyes lowly shrowds
Fruit good for meate, and to delight the eye:
And as the brackish Waves doe mount on high,
Whilest fresher Waters silent slide away;
Ev'n so it fares with sweet Humilitie,
Which like the fruitfull Meadow's fruitfull ay,
And like fresh Brookes, whose sweetnesse never doth decay.

And as tall ships which beare too high a saile,
Are soon o'returned by a boystrous wind,
Whilest smaller Vessels 'gainst the Waves prevaile,
Arriving safely at the Port assign'd:
So they, that to ambition are enclin'd,
And Phaeton-like to guide the Sunne aspire,
All things consume that under them they find,
Till from their Coach they tumble in the mire.
Till fewell failes, Ambition never slakes her fire.

And as mans eye, the higher he doth stand,
The things which are beneath doth lesser deeme,
So he that doth Gods greatnesse understand,
In his owne eyes, doth vile and nothing seeme,
An humble man's a gemme of high esteeme,
Which ignorant men doe trample in the mire,
Until the skillfull Jeweller redeeme
It from the dust, and cleanse it in the fire,
Then those that trod on it before, doe it admire.

Those that in Princes service purchase fame,
And thereby would raise their posteritie,
Seeke great allyance to confirme the same,
And of the Heralds get a Pedigree:
But they that would gaine true nobilitie,
To doe Christ's heav'nly Fathers will must seeke,
For such his Mother, Brother, Sister bee,
No honour or allyance can be like
To this: yet sure such are the humble and the meeke.

Humilitie's the Basis and foundation
Of Vertues all into one building brought,
Which for to raise on high by contemplation,
Must deepe and low within the ground be wrought:
If one desire to mount his house aloft,
And workes his under-pinning slight below,
He builds upon the sands: all comes to nought,
For if the flouds doe come or wind doe blow,
Affliction, Persecution, all doth overthrow.

The thing which God or Nature doth decree
In secret: Man, oft b' innate augurie
Unwittingly foretells, which shewes to bee
Betweene our soules and heav'n a sympathie;
Hence is it, that this Dame Humilitie
Hath her denomination from the ground:
For though, as shee is spirituall, shee can flie
Above the highest heav'ns, yet shee is found
The lowliest wight on earth, though highly to be crown'd.

The ancient Latines Homo, Man did name,
By derivation from Humilitie,
To teach him that he should become the same
In Truth, as in names Etymologie;
And let a man looke through Antiquitie,
Loe! all the Men, whose vertues are commended
For paternes good unto posteritie,
In humblenesse they have begun and ended,
When Pride, as basest sinne, is alwayes reprehended.

Abel and Cain, firstlings of humane seed,
Ambitious Cain, but Abel meeke and mild,
His offring was accepted, which did breed
Such wrath in Cain, that he the ground defil'd
With his owne brothers bloud, which he hath spoil'd:
Moses is cal'd the meekest man alive,
Abram himselfe but dust and ashes styl'd,
When he besought his Maker, for twice five
Just men there found, to save the Sodomites alive.

Jacob fed Labans sheepe, the Patriarchs all
Like trade of husbandrie did exercise;
The Judges with the Prophets great and small,
And all good Kings were low in their owne eyes.
John Baptist the Messias-ship denyes,
And humbly doth himself unworthy deeme
To be him that stoops and his shooe untyes,
Christ did it no disparagement esteeme,
To wash their feete, whom with his bloud he would redeeme.

Ah what an humble mind did Mary beare,
When with salt teares that flowed from her eyes,
She wash'd Christs feet, and wip't them with her haire,
Great Volumes I suppose would not comprise
Names of all humble Saints: let it suffice;
Their Names are written in the Booke of Life,
They here vaine worldly glorie did despise,
Free from Ambition, Malice, Envy, Strife,
And now by Faith and Hope in Loves Court leade their life.

Oh! could we but this Vertue truely taste,
And as w' are dust and ashes apprehend,
How he that in the highest heav'n is plac't,
And did of nothing to us Being lend,
And one condition unto all men send,
Vouchsafes spirituall communication,
Calls us his Spouse, his Children, Host and Friend,
We n'ould despise the honest conversation
Of meanest brother, that's Coheire of like salvation.

Dares dust and ashes thus expostulate:
Shall not the Lord of all the World doe right?
And yet dares dust and ashes in his state,
Denie his brother poore to come in sight:
Shall dogs licke Lazar's sores: whilst thou no bite
Or crummes which underneath thy table fall,
Wilt to him give: Behold, he shall be site
in Abram's bosome: thou the Devills thrall,
For thus the Humble rise, and thus the Proud must fall.

No better object of magnificence,
Can there be found here, than an humble heart,
Who still ascribes all to beneficence,
That he receives, not to his owne desart:
Unto thy humble brother then impart
Part of thy substance: with true courtesie
Intreat the least: The lowlier that thou art,
God will thee higher raise: Humilitie
Mounts up to heav'n, whilst Pride in hell doth burning lie.

But ah! Ambition still cryes for a name,
Like Giants proud that Babels Tower would raise,
Whence followes sure confusion, losse and shame:
Alas! how few there be now in our dayes,
That seeke by humblenesse anothers praise,
Humilitie, no entertainment finds,
But poorely 'bout Court, Citie, Countrey straynes,
And in her roome faign'd complement her winds,
Who ne're minds as shee sayes, nor e're sayes as shee minds.

Base Complement! hatcht of Pride and Ambition,
Faire Dame Humilitie to emulate,
Whose onely pietie is superstition,
And by pretence of frienship, covers hate;
Cain by her did worke his brothers fate,
Joab slue Abner in the time of peace,
In Court shee styled is a trick of State,
In Church and Citie shee doth so increase,
For Catholique and Universall shee doth prease.

Nay, goe unto the meanest beggars cell,
And there as proud a heart you often find,
As those that under Cedar roofes doe dwell,
And did his purse but answere to his mind,
He would despise the proudest of mankind.
Where shall you see more Envie, Malice, Strife,
Than is betweene the Servant and the Hind?
Where more dissembling than twixt Man and Wife:
The Sword is not more keene, than is the bloody Knife.

Ambition! How dost thou possesse the mind
Of restlesse Man, whilst, in an idle vaine,
(Which thou call'st Honour) thou dost nothing find
But vanitie and vexation for thy paine?
Know'st thou not Godlinesse is greatest gaine:
And that the Merchant was pronounc'd most wise,
That sold all that he had this Pearle t' obtaine,
Oh, would'st thou seeke to buy this merchandize,
Humilitie is shee can helpe thee to such prize.

Then, O my Soul, covet Humilitie:
Dost thou seeke Knowledge, Pleasure, Wealth, Promotion?
All these shee will thee bring assuredly,
Shee's like the Master-spring, that first gives notion
To ev'ry wheele, that in the Clocke hath motion.
Like Salt that savours every dish we eate,
Shee's Sugar sweetning every bitter Potion,
Promotion, Knowledge, Pleasure, Wealth, Drinke, Meat,
Humilitie's all these, and yet shee is not great.

Oh, never let me seeke to emulate,
Except in Goodnesse, and with more desire
To follow, then in hope to adequate,
And like a Tree low planted near the Mire,
Bring forth much Fruit, not Fewell for the fire:
With little let me ever be content,
Patient of miseries; for my sinnes require,
Than I have had, farre greater punishment,
And farre thy smallest favours my deserts out-went.

For, I confesse, that too ambitiously
I hunt for worlds enticements base and vaine,
Which clogge my Soule so, that shee cannot flie
Aloft, where sound joyes evermore remaine:
And though I basely thinke of gold and gaine,
Yet Honours glitt'ring shewes so daze mine eyes,
That still I'm tainted with ambitious staine,
And wish I might to worldly honour rise,
But this in me the Flesh not Spirit doth devise.

For shee hath learn'd, that not from East or West
Promotion comes, The higher one is plac't
The greater cares and troubles him infest,
And as thou more or greater Talents hast,
The more thou art to count for at the last.
Thou art a Steward here: 'Tis not thine owne,
But as thee 'bove thy fellows God hath grac't,
So must thy Faith and care 'bove theirs be showne,
We doe expect best Crops whereas best Seed is sowne.

These things, O God, I aske, doe not denie,
Let me depend upon thy Providence
In paine and ease, losse and prosperitie,
My selfe submit with all obedience
Unto thy Will: perform with diligence
Charge publique, private: Let Humilitie
Be unto me a Rocke of sure defence,
Against Mens malice, and Worlds injurie,
And where my weaknesse failes, let thy good Grace supply.

Oh thou that Lazarus from Dives gate,
Didst into Abrams blessed bosome raise,
There to enjoy eternall happy state,
That here on earth was humbled all his dayes;
Direct mine humble heart in all thy wayes,
The meeke, in judgement, thou delight'st to guide,
Turne all I doe unto thy glorious praise,
Preserve me from Ambition, Envy, Pride,
And though with Lazar's sores, in thy Love let me bide.

Thou hast, O Lord! proclaymed blessednesse
To all the meeke in Heart and poore in Spirit:
Blest are the Meeke, they shall the earth possesse,
The Poore ev'n now Gods Kingdome doe inherit.
Lord! I acknowledge freely my demerit,
It is thy Grace whereby I live and move,
Thy humbling to the Crosse, for me, did merit,
That I should be exalted to thy Love,
And live with thee in blisse eternally above.

I aske that which thy blessed Martyrs had,
Which here have witness'd their Humilitie,
And of that cup of gall to taste were glad,
Which first their Master swallow'd willingly
Thy Grace, O Lord! which thou wilt not denie,
For they have found it all sufficient,
Humble me how thou wilt: Abilitie
Yet grant in sorrow to be patient,
And strength with Paul, in paine or ease, to be content.

Grant me thy Grace, but to conceive the end
And certayne fruits of my humiliation,
Then shall I plainely see and apprehend,
That it prepares me fit for exaltation;
And to make sure with feare mine owne salvation,
Whereby I may stand firme and confident
'Gainst wicked Men, Hell, Devils, and damnation,
Who never shall be able to prevent
Thy love in Christ, which thou on humble men hast bent.

Now for that thing which worldlings doe deplore,
I yeeld to thee most heartie laud and praise,
That thou art pleas'd to humble me therefore,
On earth, that thou againe to heav'n might'st raise,
Oh teach me, Lord, to number so my dayes,
That I my life may labour to amend,
Oh, teach me lowlinesse in all my wayes,
To thinke of my beginning and mine end.
Prince, Beggar, borne alike, and to their grave descend.

And since that sweet Humilities condition
I have so learned by this Meditation,
That now I hate Pride, Envie, and Ambition,
With complements base subtle machination;
Grant me to follow Christs humiliation,
Who from the Crosse to Glorie did ascend,
Whose sufferings make a reconciliation
For those, that by true Faith him apprehend,
And follow him in lowlinesse unto the end.

You may remember how I earst you told,
That when Humilitie had clear'd the score,
Whereby t' ambitious Pride my heart was sold,
Shee led me to Repentance: who before
The chiefe Judge Justice brought, and me foule sore
Discover'd to my more humiliation,
Till Faith and Hope at Mercies seate therefore
Did pleade Christs Blood my reconciliation.
But this I leave unto another Meditation.

[pp. 47-61]