The Consolation of Philosophy


Wouldst thou with unclouded mind

View the laws by God designed,

Lift thy steadfast gaze on high

To the starry canopy;

See in rightful league of love

All the constellations move.

Fiery Sol, in full career,

Ne'er obstructs cold Phoebe's sphere;

When the Bear, at heaven's height,

Wheels his coursers' rapid flight,

Though he sees the starry train

Sinking in the western main,

He repines not, nor desires

In the flood to quench his fires.

In true sequence, as decreed,

Daily morn and eve succeed;

Vesper brings the shades of night,

Lucifer the morning light.

Love, in alternation due,

Still the cycle doth renew,

And discordant strife is driven

From the starry realm of heaven.

Thus, in wondrous amity,

Warring elements agree;

Hot and cold, and moist and dry,

Lay their ancient quarrel by;

High the flickering flame ascends,

Downward earth for ever tends.

So the year in spring's mild hours

Loads the air with scent of flowers;

Summer paints the golden grain;

Then, when autumn comes again,

Bright with fruit the orchards glow;

Winter brings the rain and snow.

Thus the seasons' fixed progression,

Tempered in a due succession,

Nourishes and brings to birth

All that lives and breathes on earth.

Then, soon run life's little day,

All it brought it takes away.

But One sits and guides the reins,

He who made and all sustains;

King and Lord and Fountain-head,

Judge most holy, Law most dread;

Now impels and now keeps back,

Holds each waverer in the track.

Else, were once the power withheld

That the circling spheres compelled

In their orbits to revolve,

This world's order would dissolve,

And th' harmonious whole would all

In one hideous ruin fall.

But through this connected frame

Runs one universal aim;

Towards the Good do all things tend,

Many paths, but one the end.

For naught lasts, unless it turns

Backward in its course, and yearns

To that Source to flow again

Whence its being first was ta'en.


'Dost thou, then, see the consequence of all that we have said?'

'Nay; what consequence?'

'That absolutely every fortune is good fortune.'

'And how can that be?' said I.

'Attend,' said she. 'Since every fortune, welcome and unwelcome alike, has for its object the reward or trial of the good, and the punishing or amending of the bad, every fortune must be good, since it is either just or useful.'

'The reasoning is exceeding true,' said I, 'the conclusion, so long as I reflect upon the providence and fate of which thou hast taught me, based on a strong foundation. Yet, with thy leave, we will count it among those which just now thou didst set down as paradoxical.'

'And why so?' said she.

'Because ordinary speech is apt to assert, and that frequently, that some men's fortune is bad.'

'Shall we, then, for awhile approach more nearly to the language of the vulgar, that we may not seem to have departed too far from the usages of men?'

'At thy good pleasure,' said I.

'That which advantageth thou callest good, dost thou not?'


'And that which either tries or amends advantageth?'


'Is good, then?'

'Of course.'

'Well, this is _their_ case who have attained virtue and wage war with adversity, or turn from vice and lay hold on the path of virtue.'

'I cannot deny it.'

'What of the good fortune which is given as reward of the good--do the vulgar adjudge it bad?'

'Anything but that; they deem it to be the best, as indeed it is.'

'What, then, of that which remains, which, though it is harsh, puts the restraint of just punishment on the bad--does popular opinion deem it good?'

'Nay; of all that can be imagined, it is accounted the most miserable.'

'Observe, then, if, in following popular opinion, we have not ended in a conclusion quite paradoxical.'

'How so?' said I.

'Why, it results from our admissions that of all who have attained, or are advancing in, or are aiming at virtue, the fortune is in every case good, while for those who remain in their wickedness fortune is always utterly bad.'

'It is true,' said I; 'yet no one dare acknowledge it.'

'Wherefore,' said she, 'the wise man ought not to take it ill, if ever he is involved in one of fortune's conflicts, any more than it becomes a brave soldier to be offended when at any time the trumpet sounds for battle. The time of trial is the express opportunity for the one to win glory, for the other to perfect his wisdom. Hence, indeed, virtue gets its name, because, relying on its own efficacy, it yieldeth not to adversity. And ye who have taken your stand on virtue's steep ascent, it is not for you to be dissolved in delights or enfeebled by pleasure; ye close in conflict--yea, in conflict most sharp--with all fortune's vicissitudes, lest ye suffer foul fortune to overwhelm or fair fortune to corrupt you. Hold the mean with all your strength. Whatever falls short of this, or goes beyond, is fraught with scorn of happiness, and misses the reward of toil. It rests with you to make your fortune what you will. Verily, every harsh-seeming fortune, unless it either disciplines or amends, is punishment.'