Home  »  Lyra Sacra: A Book of Religious Verse  »  The Character of a Happy Life

Henry Charles Beeching, ed. (1859–1919). Lyra Sacra: A Book of Religious Verse. 1903.

By Sir Henry Wotton (1568–1639)

The Character of a Happy Life

HOW 1 happy is he born and taught
  That serveth not another’s will;
Whose armour is his honest thought,
  And simple truth his utmost skill;
Whose passions not his masters are;        5
  Whose soul is still prepared for death,
Untied unto the world by care
  Of public fame or private breath;
Who envies none that chance doth raise,
  Nor vice; who never understood        10
How deepest wounds are given by praise;
  Nor rules of state, but rules of good;
Who hath his life from rumours freed;
  Whose conscience is his strong retreat;
Whose state can neither flatterers feed,        15
  Nor ruin make oppressors great;
Who God doth late and early pray
  More of His grace than gifts to lend;
And entertains the harmless day
  With a religious book or friend.        20
This man is freed from servile bands
  Of hope to rise or fear to fall:
Lord of himself, though not of lands,
  And, having nothing, yet hath all.
Note 1. Sir Henry Wotton, whose life is so charmingly told by Izaak Walton, is probably best known now by his poem on the Queen of Bohemia. But his religious verse is of no mean order. His life was passed in diplomacy, chiefly at Venice; he was the author of the famous epigram, “An ambassador is an honest man, sent to lie abroad for the good of his country”; to lie being the technical term for an ambassador’s residence. In old age he became Provost of Eton. Milton’s “Comus” is preceded by a delightful letter from him, written the year before his death. [back]