IF Fortune and Chance were not sometimes the causes of good and evil in men, but an idle voice, whereby we express success, how comes it then, that so many worthy and wise men depend upon so many unworthy and empty headed fools; that riches and honour are given to external men, and without kernel: and so many learned, virtuous, and valiant men wear out their lives in poor and dejected estates?
In a word there is no other inferior, or apparent cause, beside the partiality of mans affection, but the fashioning and not fashioning of our selves according to the nature of the time wherein we live, for whosoever is most able, and best sufficient to discern, and hath withall an honest and open heart and loving truth. If Princes, or those that govern, endure no other discourse then their own flatteries, then I say such an one, whose virtue and courage forbiddeth him to be base and a dissembler, shall evermore hang under the wheel, which kind of deserving well and receiving ill, we always falsely charge Fortune withall. For whosoever shall tell any great man or Magistrate, that he is not just, the General of an Army, that he is not valiant, and great Ladies that they are not fair, shall never be made a Counselor, a Captain, or a Courtier. Neither is it sufficient to be wise with a wise Prince, valiant with a valiant, and just with him that is just, for such a one hath no estate in his prosperity; but he must also change with the successor, if he be of contrary qualities, sail with the tide of the time, and alter form and condition, as the Estate or the Estates Master changeth: Otherwise how were it possible, that the most base men, and separate from all imitable qualities, could so often attain to honour and riches, but by such an observant slavish course? These men having nothing else to value themselves by, but a counterfeit kind of wondering at other men, and by making them believe that all their vices are virtues, and all their dusty actions crystalline, have yet in all ages prospered equally with the most virtuous, if not exceeded them. For according to Menander,
Omnis insipiens arrogantia et plausibus capitur, Every fool is won with his own pride and others flattering applause
so as whosoever will live altogether out of himself, and study other men's humours, and observe them, shall never be unfortunate; and on the contrary, that man which prizes truth and virtue (except the season wherein he lives be of all these, and of all sorts of goodness fruitfull) shall never prosper by the possession or profession thereof. It is also a token of a worldly wise man, not to wait or contend in vain against the nature of times wherein he lives: for such a one is often the author of his own misery, but best it were to follow the advice, which the Pope gave the Bishops of that age, out of Ovid, while the Arian Heresy raged:
Dum furor in cursu est, currenti cede furori.
While fury gallops on the way,
Let no man's furies gallop stay.
And if Cicero (then whom that world begat not a man of more reputed judgment) had followed the counsel of his brother Quintus Potuisset (saith Petrarch)
in lectulo suo mori, potuisset integro cadavere sepeliri, He might then have died the death of nature, and been with an untorn and undissevered body buried;
for as Petrarch in the same place noted:
Quid stultius quam desperantem (praesertim de effectu) litibus perpetuis implicari, What more foolish then for him that despairs, especially of the effect, to be entangled with endless contentions?
Whosoever therefore will set before him Machiaveli's two marks to shoot at (to wit) riches and glory, must set on and take off a back of iron to a weak wooden bow, that it may fit both the strong and the feeble: for as he, that first devised to add sails to rowing vessels, did either so proportion them, as being fastened aloft, and towards the head of his mast, he might abide all winds and storms, or else he sometime or other perished by his own invention: so that man which prizes virtue for it self and cannot endure to hoist and strike his sails, as the divers natures of calms and storms require, must cut his sails, and his cloth, of mean length and breadth, and content himself with a slow and sure navigation, (to wit) a mean and free estate.