Story type: Essay
Thursday, June 5, 1712. Addison.
‘–Dolor ipse disertum
As the Stoick Philosophers discard all Passions in general, they will not allow a Wise Man so much as to pity the Afflictions of another. If thou seest thy Friend in Trouble, says Epictetus, thou mayst put on a Look of Sorrow, and condole with him, but take care that thy Sorrow be not real.  The more rigid of this Sect would not comply so far as to shew even such an outward Appearance of Grief, but when one told them of any Calamity that had befallen even the nearest of their Acquaintance, would immediately reply, What is that to me? If you aggravated the Circumstances of the Affliction, and shewed how one Misfortune was followed by another, the Answer was still, All this may be true, but what is it to me?
For my own part, I am of Opinion, Compassion does not only refine and civilize Humane Nature, but has something in it more pleasing and agreeable than what can be met with in such an indolent Happiness, such an Indifference to Mankind as that in which the Stoicks placed their Wisdom. As Love is the most delightful Passion, Pity is nothing else but Love softned by a degree of Sorrow: In short, it is a kind of pleasing Anguish, as well as generous Sympathy, that knits Mankind together, and blends them in the same common Lot.
Those who have laid down Rules for Rhetorick or Poetry, advise the Writer to work himself up, if possible, to the Pitch of Sorrow which he endeavours to produce in others. There are none therefore who stir up Pity so much as those who indite their own Sufferings. Grief has a natural Eloquence belonging to it, and breaks out in more moving Sentiments than be supplied by the finest Imagination. Nature on this Occasion dictates a thousand passionate things which cannot be supplied by Art.
It is for this Reason that the short Speeches, or Sentences which we often meet with in Histories, make a deeper Impression on the Mind of the Reader, than the most laboured Strokes in a well-written Tragedy. Truth and Matter of Fact sets the Person actually before us in the one, whom Fiction places at a greater Distance from us in the other. I do not remember to have seen any Ancient or Modern Story more affecting than a Letter of Ann of Bologne, Wife to King Henry the Eighth, and Mother to Queen Elizabeth, which is still extant in the Cotton Library, as written by her own Hand.
Shakespear himself could not have made her talk in a Strain so suitable to her Condition and Character. One sees in it the Expostulations of a slighted Lover, the Resentments of an injured Woman, and the Sorrows of an imprisoned Queen. I need not acquaint my Reader that this Princess was then under Prosecution for Disloyalty to the King’s Bed, and that she was afterwards publickly beheaded upon the same Account, though this Prosecution was believed by many to proceed, as she her self intimates, rather from the King’s Love to Jane Seymour than from any actual Crime in Ann of Bologne.
Queen Ann Boleyn’s last Letter to King Henry.
[Cotton Libr. Otho C. 10.]
Your Grace’s Displeasure, and my Imprisonment, are Things so strange unto me, as what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant. Whereas you send unto me (willing me to confess a Truth, and so obtain your Favour) by such an one, whom you know to be mine ancient professed Enemy, I no sooner received this Message by him, than I rightly conceived your Meaning; and if, as you say, confessing a Truth indeed may procure my Safety, I shall with all Willingness and Duty perform your Command.
But let not your Grace ever imagine, that your poor Wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a Fault, where not so much as a Thought thereof preceded. And to speak a Truth, never Prince had Wife more Loyal in all Duty, and in all true Affection, than you have ever found in Ann Boleyn: with which Name and Place I could willingly have contented my self, if God and your Grace’s Pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forget my self in my Exaltation, or received Queenship, but that I always looked for such an Alteration as now I find; for the Ground of my Preferment being on no surer Foundation than your Grace’s Fancy, the least Alteration I knew was fit and sufficient to draw that Fancy to some other [Object. ] You have chosen me, from a low Estate, to be your Queen and Companion, far beyond my Desert or Desire. If then you found me worthy of such Honour, good your Grace let not any light Fancy, or bad Counsel of mine Enemies, withdraw your Princely Favour from me; neither let that Stain, that unworthy Stain, of a Disloyal Heart towards your good Grace, ever cast so foul a Blot on your most Dutiful Wife, and the Infant-Princess your Daughter. Try me, good King, but let me have a lawful Tryal, and let not my sworn Enemies sit as my Accusers and Judges; Yea let me receive an open Tryal, for my Truth shall fear no open Shame; then shall you see either mine Innocence cleared, your Suspicion and Conscience satisfied, the Ignominy and Slander of the World stopped, or my Guilt openly declared. So that whatsoever God or you may determine of me, your Grace may be freed from an open Censure, and mine Offence being so lawfully proved, your Grace is at liberty, both before God and Man, not only to Execute worthy Punishment on me as an unlawful Wife, but to follow your Affection, already settled on that Party, for whose sake I am now as I am, whose Name I could some good while since have pointed unto, your Grace being not ignorant of my Suspicion therein.
But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my Death, but an Infamous Slander must bring you the enjoying of your desired Happiness; then I desire of God, that he will pardon your great Sin therein, and likewise mine Enemies, the Instruments thereof; and that he will not call you to a strict Account for your unprincely and cruel Usage of me, at his general Judgment Seat, where both you and my self must shortly appear, and in whose Judgment I doubt not (whatsoever the World may think of me) mine Innocence shall be openly known, and sufficiently cleared.
My last and only Request shall be, that my self may only bear the Burthen of your Grace’s Displeasure, and that it may not touch the innocent Souls of those poor Gentlemen, who (as I understand) are likewise in strait Imprisonment for my sake. If ever I have found Favour in your Sight, if ever the Name of Ann Boleyn hath been pleasing in your Ears, then let me obtain this Request, and I will so leave to trouble your Grace any further, with mine earnest Prayers to the Trinity to have your Grace in his good Keeping, and to direct you in all your Actions. From my doleful Prison in the Tower, this sixth of May;
Your most Loyal,
And ever Faithful Wife,
When you see a Neighbour in Tears, and hear him lament the Absence of his Son, the Hazards of his Voyage into some remote Part of the World, or the Loss of his Estate; keep upon your Guard, for fear lest some false Ideas that may rise upon these Occasions, surprise you into a Mistake, as if this Man were really miserable, upon the Account of these outward Accidents. But be sure to distinguish wisely, and tell your self immediately, that the Thing which really afflicts this Person is not really the Accident it self, (for other People, under his Circumstances, are not equally afflicted with it) but merely the Opinion which he hath formed to himself concerning this Accident. Notwithstanding all which, you may be allowed, as far as Expressions and outward Behaviour go, to comply with him; and if Occasion require, to bear a part in his Sighs, and Tears too; but then you must be sure to take care, that this Compliance does not infect your Mind, nor betray you to an inward and real Sorrow, upon any such Account.
Epictetus his Morals, with Simplicius his Comment.
Made English from the Greek by George Stanhope (1694) chapter xxii.]
[Footnote 2: Subject.]