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Meditation VIII


STILL when we return to that meditation that man is a world, we find new discoveries. Let him be a world, and himself will be the land, and misery the sea. His misery (for misery is his, his own; of the happiness even of this world, he is but tenant, but of misery the freeholder; of happiness he is but the farmer, but the usufructuary, but of misery the lord, the proprietary), his misery, as the sea, swells above all the hills, and reaches to the remotest parts of this earth, man; who of himself is but dust, and coagulated and kneaded into earth by tears; his matter is earth, his form misery. In this world that is mankind, the highest ground, the eminentest hills, are kings; and have they line and lead enough to fathom this sea, and say, My misery is but this deep? Scarce any misery equal to sickness, and they are subject to that equally with their lowest subject. A glass is not the less brittle, because a king's face is represented in it; nor a king the less brittle, because God is represented in him. They have physicians continually about them, and therefore sickness, or the worst of sicknesses, continual fear of it. Are they gods? He that called them so cannot flatter. They are gods, but sick gods; and God is presented to us under many human affections, as far as infirmities: God is called angry, and sorry, and weary, and heavy, but never a sick God; for then he might die like men, as our gods do. The worst that they could say in reproach and scorn of the gods of the heathen was, that perchance they were asleep; but gods that are so sick as that they cannot sleep are in an infirmer condition. A god, and need a physician? A Jupiter, and need an Aesculapius? that must have rhubarb to purge his choler lest he be too angry, and agarick to purge his phlegm lest he be too drowsy; that as Tertullian says of the Egyptian gods, plants and herbs, that "God was beholden to man for growing in his garden," so we must say of these gods, their eternity (an eternity of threescore and ten years) is in the apothecary's shop, and not in the metaphorical deity. But their deity is better expressed in their humility than in their height; when abounding and overflowing, as God, in means of doing good, they descend, as God, to a communication of their abundances with men according to their necessities, then they are gods. No man is well that understands not, that values not his being well; that hath not a cheerfulness and a joy in it; and whosoever hath this joy hath a desire to communicate, to propagate that which occasions his happiness and his joy to others; for every man loves witnesses of his happiness, and the best witnesses are experimental witnesses; they who have tasted of that in themselves which makes us happy. It consummates therefore, it perfects the happiness of kings, to confer, to transfer, honour and riches, and (as they can) health, upon those that need them.

John Donne