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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Henry IV.

  • [King of France and Navarre; founder of the royal house of Bourbon; born at Pau, Dec. 14, 1553; educated by his mother in the Protestant faith; married the sister of Charles IX., and barely escaped the massacre of St. Bartholomew; became king of France, 1589, on the failure of the house of Valois; was opposed by the Duc de Mayenne, over whom he gained the battle of Ivry, 1590; embraced the Catholic religion, 1593; entered Paris, 1594; proclaimed the Edict of Nantes, 1598; encouraged manufactures, agriculture, and learning; assassinated, May 14, 1610.]
  • I am your king, you are Frenchmen, there are the enemy: let us charge! (Je suis votre roi, vous êtes Français, voilà l’ennemi, donnons!)

  • At Ivry, near Evreux, in North-western France, where, as already mentioned (see Francis I.), he told his followers to keep his white plume in view.
  • For many years his inexhaustible spirits had sustained a cause which often looked desperate; and on that day, when told that he had provided no place of retreat, he replied, “There is no other retreat than the field of battle.”
  • To the Comte de Bélin, who had been captured by Henry’s light horse, and who, when brought to the camp, looked around for an army, but saw only small parties of soldiers here and there, the king exclaimed with a gay and confident air, “You do not perceive all that I have with me, M. de Bélin, for you do not reckon God and the right on our side.” This was similar to the countersign given by Richard I. at the battle of Gisors, where his troops defeated the French in 1198: “God and my right” (Dieu et mon droit), afterwards the motto of the arms of England.
  • While Mohammed and Abu-Bekir were in a cave near Mecca, before starting on the Hegira to Medina, the latter, contrasting their weakness with the strength of the enemy, which was led by the powerful tribe of Koreish, said, “We are but two.”—“No,” replied the prophet, “there is a third: it is God himself.”
  • Hang yourself, brave Crillon.

  • Henry had already, in September, 1589, defeated five times his number at Arques, where he said to an old officer of the Swiss regiment, “Father, keep me a pike here; for I intend to fight at the head of your battalion.” While endeavoring to rally his cavalry, he exclaimed to each horseman, man by man, “Cannot I find fifty gentlemen in all France resolute enough to die with their king?” He called out to a colonel whose regiment he was leading to a charge, “Comrade, I have come to die or win honor along with you.” It was after this battle that he wrote to his friend Crillon, the Ney of the sixteenth century: “Hang yourself, brave Crillon: we have fought at Arques, and you were not there; but I love you all the same.” This letter, which Fournier compares with that of Francis I. after Pavia, gained its celebrity by appearing in a note to Voltaire’s “Henriade,” VIII. 109; but it had already been printed in Bening’s “Bouclier d’Honneur,” Avignon, 1616. It was not written from the field of Arques, where Crillon could not have been, as in 1589 he had not joined Henry’s party, but from the camp before Amiens, Sept. 20, 1597, an occasion not sufficiently brilliant to serve the purpose of the “Inventor of History,” as Mme. du Deffand called Voltaire. The first sentence of the letter to the brave Grillon, as Henry calls him, is, “Hang yourself for not having been near me last Monday, on the finest occasion which ever was, and which may never be again” (Pendés-vous de n’avoir esté icy près de moy, lundy dernier, à la plus belle occasion qui se soit jamais veue, et qui peut-estre ne se verra jamais)…. I hope to be next Thursday in Amiens, where I shall tarry but little, but attempt some undertaking, for which I have the finest army imaginable. It only lacks the brave Grillon, who will always be welcome.” Similar notes are possessed by great families in France, written by Henry to their ancestors; as that to one Manaud de Batz, in which the king says, “Those who obey implicitly their conscience are of my religion; and I am of the religion of all those who are brave and good” (Ceux qui suyvent tout droict leur conscyence sont de ma relygion, et je suis de celle de tous ceux-là quy sont braves et bons). When about to cut off from Paris its source of provisions, he wrote “as from the saddle-bow:” “I am going to be the good physician of my people, and prescribe a diet which will bring them back to health;” and, in ordering the seizure of five wine-boats coming down the Seine, “Let nothing pass before convalescence: then we will have a feast together” (Ne leur laissés rien passer avant la convalescence, se sera pour la fester tous ensemble).—L’Esprit dans l’Histoire, chap. xxxv.
  • The charm which drew men to Henry was a natural one; but he had a maxim which explained his success: “Men catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than with twenty tons of vinegar” (On prend plus de mouches avec une cuillerée de miel qu’avec vingt tonneaux de vinaigre). This has also been attributed to St. Francis de Sales.
  • Henry’s unconventional manner, which, later on, assumed a bluffness bordering on rudeness, is shown by his willingness to find a place of refuge, without the protection which his attendants thought necessary: “Who ever heard,” he said, “of a king dying in a hovel?”
  • I am going to take the perilous leap.

  • Voltaire, when seized with a hemorrhage a few weeks before his death, said, “Like my Henry IV., to-day I take the perilous leap;” alluding to the words of the king to Gabrielle d’Estrées on the eve of his reception into the Catholic Church, “C’est demain, ma belle amie, que je fais le saut périlleux.”
  • Watkins says that Hobbes, the metaphysician, was very much afraid of death, which he called “taking a leap in the dark;” and his last words were, “I am going to take a great leap into obscurity.”—Anecdotes of Men of Learning and Genius.
  • The Earl of Derby said in the House of Lords, Aug. 6, 1867, on the third reading of Disraeli’s Reform Bill, “No doubt, we are making a great experiment, and ‘taking a leap in the dark.’” The expression is given as the translation of the last words attributed to Rabelais, “Je m’en vay chercher un grand Peut-estre” (literally: I am going in search of a great Perhaps).
  • As a reason for taking this leap, we have the celebrated mot: “Paris is worth a mass” (Paris vaut une messe; or, La couronne vaut bien une messe). “In whatever form it may be given,” it is, says Fournier, “a very impudent expression. If it had occurred to Henry, when he resolved to abjure his religion in order to make his entrance to Paris and to the throne smoother, he was too shrewd to give utterance to it.” Fournier, therefore, subscribes to the theory that when Henry IV. asked the Baron de Rosny (Sully), why he did not go to mass like himself, the Protestant courtier replied, “Sire, the crown is well worth a mass.”
  • The king said to the Catholic clergy in 1591, when he was urging them to be patient while he restored the prosperity of the Church, “Paris was not built in a day.” The proverb, “Rome was not built in a day,” is common to many languages.
  • When at last he entered the capital, which had taken sides with the League against him, and of which he had said during the siege, “I had rather conquer my foes by kindness than by arms,” it was with difficulty that he could make his way through the streets. The guards would have kept back the people who crowded around him, rejoiced that their sufferings were over: Henry, however, forbade it, saying, “They are starving to see a king.” He had refused to expose them to the fury of his army: “Paris,” he said, “must not become a graveyard;” but even without the horrors of an assault, their condition extorted the comment, “Poor people, how they must have been tyrannized over!”
  • Hannibal had dined.

  • The pomps and parades of royalty had no charms for King Henry IV. Many of his replies to wearisome provincial orators may have been invented by the ingenious historiographers, who have fastened their own fancies to his name. Thus, when a deputation from Marseilles began an address: “Hannibal leaving Carthage”— The king interrupted them by saying, “Hannibal leaving Carthage, had dined, and I am going to do the same.” To a tiresome deputy who said that the new Louvre lacked nothing but completion, the king replied, “Very well: it will be the same with your speech.” To an address beginning: “Very high, puissant, and glorious monarch!”—“Add, very weary!” said Henry. Once, however, he received as good as he gave; for, threatening the Spanish ambassador that if he were provoked, “he would breakfast at Milan, and dine at Naples,” then in possession of Spain, the minister added, “And your majesty may perhaps arrive in Sicily for vespers,” alluding to the Sicilian Vespers, or the massacre of eight thousand Frenchmen in Sicily, beginning at Palermo, on Easter Monday, 1282.
  • Two sayings date from this event, the popular but incorrect version of which Verdi followed in his “Sicilian Vespers.” Peter III., of Aragon, asserted a claim to Sicily by marriage, in which he was supported by the Pope, who gave him a secret deed of gift of the fiefs of St. Peter, including the territory in question. His interest was promoted by the massacre, of the preparations for which he said, “I would cut off my left hand, if it were conscious of the intentions of the right.” His rival, Charles of Anjou, when informed of the Sicilian Vespers, by which his power in that island was overthrown, exclaimed, “O God, if thou hast decreed to humble me, grant me a gentle and gradual descent from the pinnacle of greatness!”
  • If God shall grant me the ordinary term of life, I hope to see France in such a condition that every peasant shall have a fowl in his pot on Sunday (je veux que le dimanche chaque paysan ait la poule au pot).

  • The well-known wish of the king, to accomplish which he endeavored to amend the financial state of France, which had been reduced to a condition resembling that under the later Bourbons, by long internal wars, and the mismanagement and greed of the Council of Finance. In his efforts to this end he was supported by the Duc de Sully, one of the purest men of his time. Not only was the minister interested in the material welfare of the country, but he exercised a wise personal influence over his royal master. The king had drawn up in favor of Henriette d’Entragues a written promise of marriage, which he showed to Sully. The honest minister tore up the document in the king’s presence. “I believe you are mad,” exclaimed Henry with an oath. “True, sire, I am,” replied Sully; “but would to God I were the only madman in France!” To Henriette, excusing himself, the king said, “Know, woman, that a minister like Sully must be dearer to me than even such a friend as you.”
  • Sully was sent to negotiate with the pedantic and timid James I. of England, after the death of Elizabeth had put the Protestants of the Low Countries in jeopardy. James, however, abandoned them for an alliance with Spain; which caused Henry to call him “the wisest fool in Christendom,” and Sully to designate him as “the wisest of the idiots of Europe.” The following verse indicates the feeling of the time towards “King Elizabeth and Queen James:”—
  • “Rex fuit Elizabeth, et nunc regina Jacobus,
  • Error naturæ sic in utroque fuit.”
  • Who has not heard of Sully’s finding the king riding a stick with his children on his back, and of Henry’s asking him if he had children at home? upon his answering in the negative, the king said, “Tell nobody until you are a father yourself.” But this story is told by Plutarch of Agesilaus the Great, king of Sparta, in exactly the same terms.—Laconic Apothegms.
  • Sully appeared but seldom at the frivolous court of Louis XIII., Henry’s successor. On one occasion, however, when the king had sent for him, and the courtiers made sport of his old-fashioned dress, the aged minister said, “Sire, when your father did me the honor to call me, he dismissed his fools.”
  • If I perish, my last thought but one shall be given to thee, my last to God.

  • To Gabrielle d’Estrées, when expecting a battle. At another time, when she expressed her surprise that he should promise the Notables at Rouen to be governed by their advice (se mettre en tutelle), he exclaimed, “It is true, but ventre saint gris! I understand it with my sword at my side!” (Je l’entends avec mon épée au côté!)
  • That variety is the spice of love as well as of life, we know from the famous moral which Henry drew after offering his father-confessor successive courses of partridge during an entire dinner, until he called from him the sorrowful exclamation of “Toujours perdrix!”