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nature graunts to the poorest creatures. Whereby, and by other his vnnaturall dealings, he hath been driven to such griefe, as euen now he would haue had me to haue led him to the toppe of this rocke, thence to cast himselfe headlong to death: and so would have made me, who received my life of him, to be the worker of his destruction. But noble gentlemen, (said he) if either of you haue a father, and feele what duetifull affection is engraffed in a sonnes heart, let me entreate you to conuay this afflicted prince to some place of rest and securitie. Amongst your worthie actes it shall be none of the least, that a king, of such might and fame, and so vniustlie oppressed, is in any sort by you relieued.
"But before they coulde make him aunswere, his father began to speake. Ah, my sonne, (said he) how euill an historian are you, that leaue out the chief knot of all the discourse? my wickednes, my wickednes. And if thou doest it to spare my ears, (the onely sense now left mee proper for knowledge,) assure thy selfe thou doest mistake me. And I take witnesse of that sunne which you see, (with that he cast vp his blind eies, as if he would hunt for light,) and wish my selfe in worse case then I doe wish my selfe, which is as euill as may bee, if I speake vntruely, that nothing is so welcome to my thoughts, as the publishing of my shame. Therefore know you, gentlemen, (to whome from my heart I wish that it may not proue some ominous foretoken of misfortune to haue met with such a miser as I am,) that whatsoeuer my sonne (ô God, that truth bindes me to reproach him with the name of my son!) hath saide, is true. But besides those truthes, this also is true; that hauing had in lawfull marriage, of a mother fitte to bear roiall children, this sonne, (such a one as partly you see, and better shall knowe by my short declaration,) and so enjoyed the expectations in the world of him, till he was growen to iustifie their expectations, (so as I needed enuie no father for the chiefe comfort of mortalitie, to leaue an other ones selfe after me,) I was carried by a bastard sonne of mine (if at least I be bounde to beleeue the words of that base woman my concubine, his mother,) first to mislike, then to hate, lastly to destroy, or to doo my best to destroy, this sonne (I thinke you thinke) vndeseruing destruction. What waies he vsed to bring me to it, if I shoulde tell you, I shoulde tediouslie trouble you with as much poisonous hypocrisie, desperate fraud, smooth malice, hidden ambition, and smiling enuie, as in any liuing person could be harbored. But I list it not; no remembraunce of naughtinesse delightes me, but mine owne; and me thinkes, the accusing his trappes might in some manner excuse my fault, which certainelie I loth to doo. But the conclusion is, that I gaue order to some seruantes of mine, whom I thought as apte for such charities as my selfe, to lead him out into a forrest, and there to kill him.
"But those theeues (better natured to my sonne than my selfe) spared his life, letting him goe, to learne to liue poorlie: which he did, giuing himselfe to be a priuate souldier, in a countrey here by. But as he was ready to be greatlie aduaunced for some noble peeces of seruice which he did, he heard newes of me: who, dronke in my affection to that vnlawfull and vnnaturall sonne of mine, suffered my selfe so to be gouerned by him, that all fauours and punishments passed by him; all offices, and places of importances, distributed to
his fauourites; so that ere I was aware, I had left my selfe nothing but the name of a king: which he shortly wearie of too, with manie indignities, if any thing may be called an indignitie, which was laide vpon me, threw me out of my seate, and put out my eies; and then, proud in his tirannie, let me goe, neither imprisoning nor killing me : but rather delighting to make me feele my miserie; miserie in deede, if euer there were any; full of wretchednesse, fuller of disgrace, and fullest of guiltines. And as he came to the crowne by so vniust meanes, as vniustlie he kept it, by force of straunger souldiers in cittadels, the nestes of tirannie, and murderers of libertie; disarming all his own countrimen, that no man durst shew himselfe a well-willer of mine; to say the truth, (I thinke) few of them being so, considering my cruell folly to my good sonne, and foolish kindnesse to my vnkind bastard: but if there were any who felt a pitty of so great a fall, and had yet any sparkes of vnslaine duety lefte in them towards me, yet durst they not shewe it, scarcely with giuing mee almes at their doores; which yet was the onely sustenaunce of my distressed life, no body daring to showe so much charitie, as to lende mee a hande to guide my darke steppes: till this sonne of mine, (God knowes, woorthy of a more vertuous, and more fortunate father,) forgetting my abhominable wronges, not recking daunger, and neg. lecting the present good way hee was in of doing himselfe good, came hether to doo this kind office you see him performe towardes me, to my vnspeakable griefe; not only because his kindnes is a glasse euen to my blind eies, of my naughtines, but that, aboue al griefes, it greeues me he should desperatlie aduenture the losse of his well deseruing life for mine, that yet owe more to fortune for my deserts; as if hee would cary mudde in a chest of christall. For well I know, he that now raigneth, howe much soeuer (and with good reason) he despiseth me, of all men despised, yet hee will not let slippe any aduantage to make away him, whose iust title, enobled by courage and goodnes, may one day shake the seate of a neuer-secure ty. rannie. And for this cause I craued of him to leade mee to the toppe of this rocke, indeede I must confesse, with meaning to free him from so serpentine a companion as I am. But he finding what I purposed, onely therein since hee was borne, shewed himselfe disobedient vnto mee. And now, gentlemen, you haue the true storie, which I pray you publish to the world, that my mischieuous proceedings may bee the glorie of his filiall pietie, the onely reward now left for so greate a merite. And if it may be, let me obtaine that of you, which my sonne denies me: for neuer was there more pity in sauing any, then in ending me; both because therein my agonies shall ende, and so shall you preserue this excellent young man, who els wilfully followes his owne ruine.
"The matter in it selfe lamentable, lamentably expressed by the old prince, which needed not take to himselfe the gestures of pitie, since his face coulde not put of the markes thereof, greatly moued the two princes to compassion, which coulde not stay in such harts as theirs without seeking remedie. But by and by the occasion was presented: for Plexirtus (so was the bastard called) came thether with fortie horse, onely of purpose to murder this brother; of whose comming he had soon aduertiseinent, and thought no eyes of sufficient
credite in such a matter, but his owne; and therefore came himselfe to be actor, and spectator. And as soone as hee came, not regarding the weake (as hee thought) garde of but two men, commaunded some of his followers to set their handes to his, in the killing of Leonatus. But the young prince, though not otherwise armed but with a sworde, howe falsely soeuer he was dealt with by others, would not betray him selfe; but brauely drawing it out, made the death of the first that assayled him warne his fellowes to come more warily after him. But then Pyrocles and Musidorus were quickly become parties, (so just a defence deserving as much as old friendship) and so did behave them among that companie, more iniurious than valiant, that many of them lost their liues for their wicked maister
"Yet perhaps had the number of them at last prevailed, if the king of Pontus (lately by them made so) had not come vnlooked for to their succour. Who, hauing had a dreame which had fixt his imagination vehemently vpon some great daunger presently to follow those two princes whom hee most dearely loued, was come in all hast, following as wel as he could their track with a hundreth horses, in that countrie which he thought, considering who then raigned, a fitte place inough to make the stage of any tragedie.
"But then the match had beene so ill made for Plexirtus, that his ill-led life, and worse gotten honour, should haue tumbled together to destruction, had there not come in Tydeus and Telenor, with forty or fifty in their suité, to the defence of Plexirtus. These two were bro❤ thers, of the noblest house of that country, brought vppe from their infancy with Plexirtus: men of such prowesse, as not to knowe feare in themselues, and yet to teach it others that shoulde deale with them; for they had often made their liues triumph ouer most terrible daun. gers; neuer dismaied, and euer fortunate; and truely no more setled in valure, then disposed to goodnes and iustice, if either they had lighted on a better friend, or coulde haue learned to make friendship a childe, and not the father of vertue. But bringing vp, rather than choise, hauing first knit their mindes vnto him, (indeede crafty inough, either to hide his faultes, or neuer to showe them, but when they might pay home,) they willingly helde out the course, rather to satisfie him then all the woride; and rather to be good friendes, then good men: so as though they did not like the euill hee did, yet they liked him that did the euill; and though not councellors of the offence, yet protectors of the offender. Now they hauing heard of this sodaine going out, with so small a company, in a countrey full of euill-wishing mindes toward him, though they knew not the cause, followed him; till they founde him in such case as they were to venture their liues, or else he to loose his: which they did with such force of minde and bodie, that truely I may iustly say, Pyrocles and Musidorus had neuer till then found any, that could make them so well repeate their hardest lesson in the feates of armes. And briefly so they did, that if they ouercame not, yet were they not ouercome, but carried away that vngratefull maister of theirs to a place of security; howsoeuer the princes laboured to the contrary. But this matter being thus farre begun, it became not the constancy of the princes so to leaue it; but in all hast making forces both in Pontus and Phrigia, they had in fewe daies lefte him but onely that one strong place VOL. XIV.
where he was. For feare hauing beene the onely knot that had fastned his people vnto him, that once vntied by a greater force, they all scattered from him; like so many birdes, whose cage had beene broken.
"In which season the blinde king, hauing in the chiefe cittie of his realme set the crown vppon his son Leonatus head, with many teares (both of ioy and sorr w) setting forth to the whole people his owne fault and his sonnes vertue after he had kist him, and forst his sonne to accept honour of him, as of his new-become subject, euen in a moment died: as it should seeme his heart broken with unkindenes and affliction, stretched so farre beyond his limits with this excesse of comfort, as it was able no longer to keepe safe his vitall spirites But the new king, hauing no lesse louingly performed all duties to him dead, then aliue pursued on the siege of his vnnaturall brother, asmuch for the reuenge of his father, as for the establishing of his owne quet. In which siege truely I cannot but acknowledge the prowesse of those two brothers, then whome the princes neuer found in all their trauaile two of greater hability to performe, nor of habler skil for conduct.
“But Piexirtus finding, that if nothing else, famine would at last bring him to destruction, thought better by humblenes to creepe, where by pride he could not marche. For certainely so had nature formed him, and the exercise of craft conformed him, to all turningnes of sleights, that though no man had lesse goodnes in his soule than he, no man could better find the places whence arguments might grow of goodnesse to another: though no man felt lesse pitie, no man could tel better how to stir pitie: no man more impudent to deny, where proofes were not manifest; no man more ready to confesse with a repenting manner of aggrauating his owne euill, where denial would but make the fault fowler. Now he tooke this way, thar hauing gotten a pasport for one (that pretended he would put Plexirtus aliue into his hands) to speake with the king his brother, he himselfe (though much against the minds of the valiant brothers, who rather wished to die in braue defence,) with a rope about his necke, barefooted, came to offer himselfe to the discretion of Leonatus. Where, what submission he vsed, how cunningly in making greater the faulte he made the faultines the lesse, how artificially he could set out the torments of his owne conscience, with the burdensome comber he had found of his ambitious desires, how finely seeming to desire nothing but death, as ashamed to liue, he begd life in the refusing it, I am not cunning inough to be able to expresse: but so fell out of it, that though at first sight Leonatus saw him with other eie than as the murderer of his father, and anger already began to paint reuenge in many colours, ere long he had not onely gotten pitie, but pardon; and if not an excuse of the faulte past, yet an opinion of a future amendment: while the poor villaines chiefe ministers of his wickednes, now betraied by the author thereof, were delivered to many cruell sorts of death; he so handling it, that it rather seemed, hee had more come into the defence of an vnremediable mischiefe already committed, then that they had done it at first by his consent. Malone.
A LAMENTABLE SONG
OF THE DEATH OF
KING LEIR AND HIS THREE DAUGHTERS.
KING LEIR* once ruled in this land,
So on a time it pleas'd the king
Could show the dearest love:
To whom the eldest thus began;
And so will I, the second said;
Dear father, for your sake,
The worst of all extremities
I'll gently undertake:
And serve your highness night and day
With diligence and love;
That sweet content and quietness
Discomforts may remove.
*King Leir &c.] This ballad is given from an ancient copy in The Golden Garland, black letter, to the tune of When flying fame. It is here reprinted from Dr. Percy's Reliques of ancient English Poetry, Vol. I, third edit. Steevens.