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  • Title: The Vanity of the Eye (Selections)
  • Author: George Hakewill
  • Editor: Christopher Matusiak

  • Copyright Queen's Men Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: George Hakewill
    Editor: Christopher Matusiak
    Not Peer Reviewed

    The Vanity of the Eye (Selections)

    CAP 2. How idolatry hath a kind of necessary dependence upon the eye.

    I had thought to have passed over in silence the rest of those particular vices which flow from the eye without any farther opening of them, only contenting myself to have pointed at them with some brief references in the margin, but upon farther search I found some of them, and those of the higher degree, to depend upon the sight in a more necessary & immediate manner than at the first I conceived: among the chiefest of which rank is Idolatry, which as it had his original from the eye, so is it still nourished by the same, the very name giving us to understand that primarily, and properly in the nature of the word it is nothing else but the representation of somewhat in a material shape, apprehended by the eye, & adored by the mind; whence it is in my judgement that among all these idolatrous nations which worshipped false Gods & went a whoring after their own inventions, ascribing the honor due to the creator to some creature, the greatest part have ever consented in worshipping the host of heaven, the sun, the moon, or the stars, which among all creatures the eye most admireth and delighteth in, as the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Phoenicians, the Medes, the Massagetes, the Persians, & in a word, as Macrobius hath learnedly observed, all the heathen. … For this cause doth God by his Prophet call the Idols of Egypt the abomination of the eyes twice within the compass of 2 verses, and in the 15 of Numbers, you shall not seek after your own hart, nor after your own eyes, after which you go a whoring; but that of Exodus is in my judgement yet much fitter for this present discourse: Take therefore good heed unto your selves, for you saw no image in the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire, that ye corrupt not your selves & make a graven image or representation of figure, and lest thou lift up thine eyes to heaven and when thou seest the sun and the moon and the stars with all the host of heaven, shouldst be driven to worship them. Which words in the weakest apprehension, at first view, cannot but enforce a very powerful and active operation of the eye in drawing the mind from the contemplation of the fairest visible creatures to the foulest of all sins, if it find not the grace of God and the sense of true religion planted in it. (13-17)

    CAP 5. How curiosity & prying into other mens始 business is bred and maintained by the eye.

    The 6th particular is curiosity, for such is the condition of most men that although nature have seated the eye in the inner chamber of the face yet are they prying always into other mens始 business: sharp-sighted as eagles in censuring other mens始 actions, but bats & moles in their own. Not unlike those witches called Lamiae of whom Plutarch speaks in his book of curiosity, who were wont to put up their eyes in a box whiles they stayed at home, and never to set them in their heads till they were going abroad. Insomuch that the oracle of truth itself hath pronounced it for truth that those who can see a mote in their brothers eye cannot yet discern a beam in their own; & the second wise man that ever lived hath laid it down for a maxim that a wise man始s eyes are in his head, but a fool始s are peeping in at every window … (26-27)

    CAP 10. A general discourse of the delusion of the eye by artificial means as also by the passions of the mind.

    I might here take occasion to enlarge of the delusion of the sight by the subtlety of the devil, by the charms of sorcerers, by the spells and exorcisms of conjurers, by the legerdemain of jugglers, by the knavery of priests and friars, by the nimbleness of tumblers and ropewalkers, by the sleights of false and cunning merchants, by the smooth deportment and behavior of hypocrites, by the stratagems of generals, by the giddiness of the brain, by the distemper of frenzies, and lastly, by the violent passions of fear and melancholy; besides a thousand pretty conclusions drawn out of the bowels of natural philosophy and the mathematics; by the burning of certain mixed powders, oils, & liquors; by the casting of false lights, by the reflection of glasses, and the like … (53-54)

    CAP 21. That the eye is not so useful for the gathering of knowledge as is pretended, whether we consider it absolutely in itself or in respect of the hearing.

    And surely for the gaining of knowledge, I durst confidently affirm, that were the eye never so indefatigable in watching or informed the inner faculties aright in all it apprehended yet in most things can it not possibly without the help of hearing hunt out the truth, since as well in the works of art as nature that which hath greatest force in actuating & quickening the thing we see (as the soul in the body) is notwithstanding itself for the most not seen; the stateliness of houses, the goodliness of trees when we behold them delighteth the eye, but the foundation which beareth up the one and the root which to the other ministreth sap and juice is in the bosom of the earth concealed. And generally the sight is not capable but of corporal, accidental, particular things and in them only of their crust and surface, and that only in direct objects and by help of the light; whereas the hearing apprehends all manner of sounds from all difference of places, as well from behind as from before, & that at all times as well in the dark as in the day, and that which chiefly makes for the increase of knowledge: universals, immaterials, and the inward parts of things.

    […] We read that Democritus, supposing the sharpness of his sight to hinder the quickness of his wit, was content to pluck out both his eyes for the better compassing of that one end which he attained sowell, that (as Tully witnesseth of him) though he were not able to put a difference between blacks and whites yet was he able to distinguish between good and bad, just and unjust, honest and dishonest; & without the variety of colors could he live happily, without the knowledge of things he could not; and when others saw not that which lay before their eyes, he traveled through all infinity, setting no stint to his boundless conceit. And surely I for my part am clearly of opinion that howbeit his practice in this case be not allowed, much less his example to be followed, yet the reason and ground of the action was not so strange and ridiculous as some men have conceited it, it being a necessary certain means for the unity of the thoughts and by it redoubling of their force, which by the sight are commonly distracted in the variety of objects, & by consequence lose much even of their natural strength […] (99-108)

    CAP 27. That the eye of the sense failing, that of the understanding & spirit wax more clear.

    So ordained it is, in a manner by God and nature, that as when one eye is deprived of sight the other sees better than it did before; or as John Baptist decreasing, Christ increased; and as the house of David waxed stronger & stronger, the house of Saul waxed weaker & weaker. So when the eye of the outward sense grows dull & dim, the intellectual eye of reason and the spiritual eye of faith grow more fresh and clear; between which three I find the like proportion as between the life of man in his mother始s womb, the world, and the kingdom of heaven. Thus we see Paul始s blindness in the eyes of his sense, and the opening of the eyes of his understanding to have happened in a manner at the same instant. And in the Ecclesiastical story, Paphnutius comforts Maximus his friend with this speech, that the mortal light of their bodily eye being extinguished they had gained a fuller fruition of heavenly and immortal brightness. And in the Gospel we read not of any on whom our Savior wrought so many miracles as upon the blind in restoring their sight, which must needs argue in them an extraordinary strength of faith, the virtue and effect of his working being ever proportioned to the belief of those on whom he wrought. To which we may from thence be the more easily induced to grant assent, for that among all those blind men which the scripture names and commends to our consideration, we find none of them branded with any notorious vice but on the contrary, many of them of excellent virtue, renowned in their ages, and commended to posterity ... (130-134)