In the 1600s, Lord Falkland Henry Cary was wasteful with his wealth. He thought a reversal of fortune was in the offing when he arranged for his son, Lucius Cary (2nd Viscount Falkland) to marry Lady Theresa in hopes of merging his (dwindling) fortune with that of Richard Weston, aka Earl of Portland and the Lord Treasurer. The scene was set after Lucius was sent to Fleet Prison by the king, who dubbed him "Sir What I Care," because of his poor attitude. His father secured his release and thought his monetary woes would be resolved.
The year 1629 was a tumultuous one, in which Lucius inherited the estates, Great Tew and Burford Priory, from his maternal grandparents. He also suffered a great and painful loss of his best friend, Sir Henry Morison, which was revealed in his long, passionate elegy.
The next year, he married his best friend's dowry less sister, Lettice Morison, squashing hopes of reviving his father's sagging financial position.
This enraged his father, estranging their relationship that would never be repaired. Lucius, on the other hand, was fixed pretty well with the estates, Great Tew and Burford Priory. He then turned his attention toward purchasing a military command in Holland. That effort was rejected by the Dutch, who no doubt learned of his escapades that had brought the scorn of the English king. Now, Lucius decided he would move to the country estate of Great Tew to become a man of letters. There he studied Greek for two years, in order to read and learn classics like Homer.
He never became a famous writer. He returned to London upon his father's death to help settle his affairs, (he actually had to sell Burford Priory for £7,000, to cover the accumulated debts left behind by his father.) He went back to the country, where he lived out his days studying and contemplating (convivium philosophicum & convivium theologicum) with local scholars and visitors. Later he gained some notoriety as a constitutional royalist, but for the most part was an uninspired Lord, and today there is little evidence of his reign, other than an inn called "The Falkland Arms," and a memorial in a local church.
Nonetheless, Lucius Cary had an eventful life, although not spectacular. He squandered his place in society; he was considered an ingrate, who let down his father with an impetuous marriage, and who never was truly successful at any goal or effort. Yet for others, he put love above fortune, and was a great friend. So great, that their friendship became the stuff of a legendary poem. His agonizing grief over his friend's death, whom he was convinced would have been both an amazing poet and military leader, was taken up by Ben Jonson, in an effort to console Cary.
Jonson's ode was the first attempt in English, to apply the Pindaric style of poetry. For that reason and others, it has become a legendary poem, although not without a fair number of critics.
In "Ben Jonson: A Life," David Riggs assesses the man and his works. On "To the Immortal Memory of Sir Lucius Cary and Sir Henry Morison," these observations grabbed my attention:
Jonson contrives to extol the beauty of Morison's life even as he concludes the modesty of his accomplishments. The ornate diction and musical properties of the choral ode give his poem the tonality of a victory song for Morison, the heroic man who ran the good race.
Running the Good Race
When it's all said and done, there's nothing new under the sun; it refers to man's emotions, mistakes and individual epic lives. Those lives don't make headlines- even with the Internet, social media, and selfies, none can escape the observation made by Henry David Thoreau: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." For many, the love of family and friends makes the difference, and a belief that beyond the grave, a glorious and everlasting existence awaits. If fortune is squandered, opportunities are lost, and accomplishments are modest in this life, so be it.
Just run the good race.
Now, there is an effort to turn this way of thinking around. The misguided movement for the so-called living wage as a reward for not running the good race threatens to upend an economic system, crafted as an extension of the life of humans. We begin with crawling, and then learn to walk, and then we discover the freedom of running. Along the way, we understand that a maximum effort can result in wonderful things, like winning and with winning come rewards. Those rewards include pride of achievement. In the new twist of the "fairer" America winning, will bring the pangs of loathing and guilt. In addition, it will bring economic penalty.
Where once friends wrote spirited elegies that romanticized what was, or could have been; these days, real accomplishments are met with high taxes and talk of paying a fair share. Even if you are in the camp that thinks government should set us free from "want," it doesn't explain how we unlock the potential of individuals to reach further on their own. The economic reward for mediocrity still doesn't bring with it that pride of achievement. Moreover, confiscating wealth from others doesn't mean the masses are unshackled from their lives of quiet desperation.
Social engineering that attempts to erase natural human emotions has always resulted in disaster. Yes, you can legislate against hate and discrimination for the benefit of all men, but what happens when those things are given the green light? When we are told, people that have achieved a certain success are greedy, remorseful, and selfish, and therefore must be punished; must face a different set of rules. Along the way, we are also telling people that have attained goals, made a difference, lived up to natural obligations to provide for their family, that their achievements aren't good enough.
Society should contrive to extol the beauty of lives marked by modest accomplishments. Instead, these days we are told, the rich have mitigated even what we might deem successful lives, and there is only one way to get even. The current system is designed to push people, to push themselves, to reach desired positions in life. Heretofore, those that did this were known as heroic.
It's a shame because in short measures life may perfect be.