Gesta Romanorum Vol. II (1871)/Of the Burdens of this Life

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Gesta Romanorum Vol. II  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of the Burdens of this Life



A certain king once went to a fair, (102) and took with him a preceptor and his scholar. Standing in the market-place, they perceived eight packages exposed for sale. The scholar questioned his teacher respecting the first of them. "Pray," said he, "what is the price of poverty? that is, of tribulation for the love of God?"

Preceptor. The kingdom of heaven.

Scholar. It is a great price indeed. Open the second package, and let us see what it contains.

Preceptor. It contains meekness: blessed are the meek.

Scholar. Meekness, indeed, is a very illustrious thing, and worthy of divine majesty. What is its price?

Preceptor. Neither gold nor silver will be taken; they are too contemptible. I demand earth for it; and nothing but earth will I receive.

Scholar. There is a spacious tract of uninhabited country between India and Britain. Take as much of it as you please.

Preceptor. No; this land is the land of the dying; the land which devours its inhabitants. Men die there. I demand the land of the living.

Scholar. I muse at what you say. All die, and would you alone be exempt? Would you live for ever? Behold, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. What is there in the third package?

Preceptor. Hunger and thirst.

Scholar. For how much may these be purchased?

Preceptor. For righteousness. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

Scholar. Therefore you shall possess righteousness, provided there be no neglect. What does the fourth contain?

Preceptor. Tears, waitings, and woe;
Moisture above, and moisture below"[1].

Scholar. It is not customary to buy tears and wailings, yet I will buy it; because the saints desire it at this price. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. What is the fifth package?

Preceptor. It is a divided parcel, and contains mercy, which I will weigh to please you. At a word, I will take mercy for mercy; eternity for time.

Scholar. You were a bad umpire to ask this, unless mercy should plead for you. Nevertheless, she shall become your surety. And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. In this life we abound in poverty and wretchedness and hardship. Undo the sixth package, perhaps it may contain something better.

Preceptor. It is clearly full; but it loves not, like a purple robe, to be exposed before the common eye; you shall see it in private, and there we will agree about the price.

Scholar. Very well; what is the next?

Preceptor. Purity; which is extremely valuable. That gold and silver vase contains piety, goodness, charity, and spiritual joy. Now then let us open these precious garments. Here are lectures, meditations, prayers, and contemplations. The judgments of the Lord are justified in themselves, and more to be desired than gold and precious stones.

Scholar. There is a great reward in the possession. Ask, therefore, what you will.

Preceptor. To see God.

Scholar. Therefore, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Open the seventh package.

Preceptor. It contains peace.

Scholar. What! are you going to sell me your peace?

Preceptor. It does not accord with my poverty, nor would it with your justice, and great wealth, to take anything of me for nothing. But your liberality will make me rich. What then? I am a mean country fellow, and made of clay; formed of the very dust of the earth. My want of nobility oppresses me, and I would no longer bear the reproach which says, "You are earth, and to earth you shall go." I would rather have it said to me, "You are heaven; and to heaven you shall go." I eagerly desire to fulfil the destiny of the sons of God; I would become a son of God.

Scholar. I have done: I confess the truth, and distrust you no longer. Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons of God. If, therefore, you preserve the love of a son, you shall receive the paternal inheritance. Now what is contained on the last package? Explain it.

Preceptor. It contains only tribulation and persecution for the sake of righteousness.

Scholar. And what do you want for it?

Preceptor. The kingdom of heaven.

Scholar. I gave you that as the price of poverty!

Preceptor. True; but month after month, week after week, man wanders in his wishes. Before the present week or month expires, what will remain of it?

Scholar. I marvel at your sagacity in making a bargain. Now hear, Good and faithful servant! because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will appoint thee Lord over many: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord[2].

  1. Magister. Lacrymas, fletus et ploratus: irriguum superius, et irriguum inferius." This is a curious package!
  2. This is a curious instance of the once fashionable practice of forcing every thing into allegory. Not many would have hit upon so odd an invention. It may be thought that the preceptor and his disciple should change places in the dialogue.

Note 102.Page 371.

"Among the revenues accruing to the crown of England, from the fair of Saint Botolph, at Boston, in Lincolnshire, within the Honour of Richmond, mention is made of the royal pavilion, or booth, which stood in the fair, about the year 1280. This fair was regularly frequented by merchants from the most capital trading towns of Normandy, Germany, Flanders, and other countries."—Warton.