Henry Neville: Plato Redivivus (1681)

The First Dialogue[7]

ENGLISH GENTLEMAN.[8] The sudden news I had of your sad distemper, and the danger you were in, has been the cause of a great deal of affliction to me; as well as of my present and speedy repair to London, some weeks sooner than I intended. I must confess I received some comfort to hear at my arrival of your amendment; and do take much more now to find you up, and as I hope recovered: which I knew would be a necessary consequence of your sending for this excellent physician, the Aesculapius of our age; it being the first request I had to make to you, if by seeing him here in your chamber I had not found it needless. For the destiny of us Englishmen depends upon him; and we either live or die infallibly, according to the judgement or good fortune we have when we are sick, either to call or not call him to our assistance.

NOBLE VENETIAN. I am infinitely obliged to you, for your care of me; but am sorry it has been so inconvenient to you, as to make you leave your affairs in the country sooner than you proposed to yourself to do. I wish I might be so fortunate in the course of my life, as to find an opportunity of making some part of an acknowledgement, for this and all the rest of your favours; but shall pray God it may not be in the same kind: but that your health may ever be so entire, that you never need so transcendent a charity, as I now receive from your goodness. And as to this incomparable doctor; although, I must confess, that all the good which has happened to me in this country, as well as the knowledge I have received of persons and things, does derive from you; yet I must make an exception, as to this one point: for if I can either read or hear, this gentleman's excellent writings, and the fame he worthily enjoys in my country, would have made it inexcusable in me to implore the help of any other. And I do assure you, that, before I left England, it was in my ambition to beg your mediation towards the bringing me into the acquaintance and favour of this learned person; even before I had any thoughts of becoming the object of his care and skill, as now I am the trophy of both.

DOCTOR. Well, gentlemen, you are both too great to be flatterers, and I too little to be flattered; and therefore I will impute this fine discourse you both make about me, to the overflowing of your wit, and the having no object near you to vent it upon but me. And for you, sir, if my art fail me not, the voiding this mirth is a very good sign that you are in a fair way to a perfect recovery. And for my countryman here, I hope whilst he has this vent, that his hypochondriac distemper will be at quiet; and that neither his own thoughts, nor the ill posture of our public affairs, will make him hang himself, for at least this twelve-month. Only, gentlemen, pray take notice, that this does not pass upon me, nor do I drink it like milk (as the French phrase it;) being mindful of what a grave gentleman at Florence replied to a young esquire, (who answered his compliments with, 'Oh, sir, you flatter me,') — 'The principle of flattery is that your equals understand you'.[9] That last word I cannot render well into Latin.

ENG. GENT. Well, doctor, we will not offend your modesty: the next time we do you justice, it shall be behind your back, since you are so severe upon us. But you may assure yourself, that my intention of recommending you to this gentleman, was for his own sake and not for yours: for you have too many patients already; and it were much better, both for you and us, that you had but half so many: for then we should have more of your writings, and sometimes enjoy your good conversation; which is worth our being sick on purpose for: and I am resolved to put my self sometimes into my bed, and send for you, since you have done coming to our coffee-house.[10]

But to leave this subject now, I hear you say, that this gentleman is in a perfect way of recovery: pray is he well enough to hear, without any prejudice to his convalescence, a reprehension I have to make him?

DOCT. Yes, yes, you may say what you will to him; for your reprimands will rather divert than trouble him, and prove more a cordial than a corrosive.

ENG. GENT. Then, sir, pray consider what satisfaction you can ever make me for the hard measure you have used towards me, in letting me learn from common fame and fortune, the news of your sickness, and that not till your recovery; and for depriving me of the opportunity of paying the debt I owe to your own merit, and to the recommendation of those worthy persons in Italy, who did me the honour to address you to me. And this injury is much aggravated by the splendour of your condition, and greatness of your fortune; which makes it impossible for me ever to hope for any other occasion to express my faithful service to you, or satisfy any part of the duty I have to be at your devotion. To be sick in a strange country, and to distrust the sincerity and obedience of —

NOBLE VEN. Pray, sir, give me leave to interrupt you, and to assure you, that it was not any distrust of your goodness to me, of which I have had sufficient experience; nor any insensibleness how much your care might advantage me; much less any scruple I had of being more in your debt; which if it had been possible for me to entertain, it must have been thought of long since, before I had received those great obligations, which I never made any difficulty to accept of. It was not, I say, any of these considerations, which hindered me from advertising you of my distemper; but the condition and nature of it, which in a moment deprived me of the exercise of those faculties which might give me a capacity of helping myself in any thing. But otherwise I assure you that no day of my life shall pass, wherein I will not express a sense of your favours; and —

DOCT. Pray now, sir, permit me to interrupt you; for this gentleman, I dare say, looks for no compliments: but that which I have to say, is; that the desire you signified to me, to give you some account of our affairs here, and the turbulency of our present state, will be much better placed, if you please to address it to this gentleman, whose parts and studies have fitted him for such an employment; besides his having had a great share in the managing affairs of state here, in other times: and really no man understands the government of England better than he.[11]

ENG. GENT. Now doctor, I should tell you, those who are my equals understand me;[12] for so you yourself have baptized this kind of civility. But however, this is a province that I cannot be reasonably pressed to take upon me, whilst you are present; who are very well known to be as skilful in the nature and distemper of the body politic, as the whole nation confesses you to be in the concerns of the natural. And you would have good store of practice in your former capacity, if the wise custom amongst the ancient Greeks were not totally out of use. For they, when they found any craziness or indisposition in their several governments, before it broke out into a disease, did repair to the physicians of state (who, from their profession, were called the seven wise men of Greece;) and obtained from them some good recipes, to prevent those seeds of distemper from taking root, and destroying the public peace. But in our days, these signs or forerunners of diseases in state are not foreseen, till the whole mass is corrupted; and that the patient is incurable, but by violent remedies. And if we could have perceived the first symptoms of our distemper, and used good alternatives, the curiosity of this worthy gentleman had been spared, as also his command to you to give him some light into our matters; and we unfortunate Englishmen had reposed in that quiet, ease, and security, which we enjoyed three hundred years since. But let us leave the contest who shall inform this gentleman, lest we spend the time we should do it in unprofitably, and let each of us take his part; for if one speak all, it will look like a studied discourse fitted for the press, and not a familiar dialogue. For it ought to be in private conversation, as it was originally in the planting the gospel; when there were two sorts of preaching: the one concionary,[13] which was used by the apostles and other missionaries, when they spoke to those who had never heard of the mysteries of Christian religion; possibly not so much, as of the Jewish law or the history of Christ; the duty of those was to hear, and not reply, or any way interrupt the harangue: but when the believers (called the church) assembled together, it was the custom of such of the auditors to whom any thing occurred, or (as saint Paul calls it) was revealed, to interpose and desire to be heard; which was called an interlocutory preaching, or religious conversation: and served very much to the instructing and edifying those who had long believed in Christ, and possibly knew as much of him as their pastor himself; and this is used still amongst many of our independent congregations.

DOCT. I have (besides the reason I alleged before, and which I still insist upon) some other cause to beg that you will please to give yourself the trouble of answering this gentleman's queries; which is, that I am very defective in my expressions in the Italian language: which though I understand perfectly, and so comprehend all that either of you deliver; yet I find not words at hand to signify my own meaning, and am therefore necessitated to deliver my self in Latin, as you see. And I fear that our pronunciation being so different from that which is used in Italy, this worthy person may not so easily comprehend what I intend, and so be disappointed in the desire he has to be perfectly instructed in our affairs.[14]

NOBLE VEN. Really, sir, that is not all; for besides that, I confess your pronunciation of the Latin tongue to be very new to me, and for that reason I have been forced to be troublesome to you, in making you repeat things twice, or thrice. I say besides that, your Latinity, (as your writings show and all the world knows) is very pure and elegant: which it is notorious to all, that we in Italy scarce understand; gentlemen there never learning more Latin, than what is necessary to call for meat and drink, in Germany or Holland, where most of the hosts speak a certain Franck, compounded of Dutch, Latin, and Italian. And though some of us have Latin enough to understand a good author, (as you have of our language) yet we seldom arrive to speak any better than this Franck; or can without study comprehend good Latin, when we meet with it in discourse. And therefore it is your perfection in that tongue, and my ignorance in it, that makes me concur with you, in desiring this gentleman to take the pains of instructing my curiosity in Italian.

ENG. GENT. I shall obey you in this, and all things else, upon this condition, that both you and the doctor will vouchsafe to interrogate me, and by that means give me the method of serving you in this: and then that you will both please to interrupt and contradict me, when you think I say any thing amiss, or that either of you are of a different opinion; and to give me a good occasion of explaining myself, and possibly of being convinced by you, which I shall easily confess; for I hate nothing more than to hear disputes amongst gentlemen and men of sense, wherein the speakers seem (like sophisters in a college) to dispute rather for victory, than to discover and find out the truth.

DOCT. Well, all this I believe will be granted you; so that we have nothing to do now, but to adjourn, and name a time when to meet again. Which I, being this gentleman's physician, will take upon me to appoint: and it shall be tomorrow morning about nine of the clock, after he has slept well; as I hope he will, by means of a cordial I intend to send him immediately. In the mean time, not to weary him too much, we will take our leaves of him for this night.

NOBLE VEN. I shall expect your return with great impatience; and if your cordial be not very potent, I believe the desire of seeing you will make me wake much sooner than the hour you appoint: and I am very confident, that my mind as well as my body, will be sufficiently improved by such visits. It begins to be darkish; boy, light your torch, and wait on these gentlemen down.

BOTH. Sir, we wish you all good rest and health.

NOBLE VEN. And I, with a thousand thanks, the like to you.

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