REVENGE is a kind of wild jusitce; which the more man's nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out. For as for the first wrong, it doth but offend the law; but the revenge of that wrong pulleth the law out of office. Certainly, in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince's part to pardon. And Salomon, I am sure, saith, It is the glory of a man to pass by an offence.
That which is past is gone, and irrevocable; and wise men have enough to do with
things present and to come: therefore they do but trifle with themselves, that labour in past
There is no man doth a wrong for the wrong's sake; but thereby to purchase himself
profit, or pleasure, or honour, or the like. There why should I be angry with a man for
loving himself better than me? And if any man should do wrong merely out of ill nature,
why, yet it is but like the thorn or briar, which prick and scratch, because they can do no
The most tolerable sort of revenge is for those wrongs which there is no law or
remedy; but then let a man take heed the revenge be such as there is no law to punish; else a
man's enemy is still beforehand, and it is two for one.
Some, when they take revenge, are desirous the party should know whence it cometh:
this is the more generous. For the delight seemeth to be not so much in doing the hurt as in
making the party repent: but base and crafty cowards are like the arrow that flieth in the
Cosmus, Duke of Florence, had a desperate saying against perfidious or neglecting
friends, as if those wrongs were unpardonable: You shall read (saith he) that
we are commanded to forgive our friends. But yet the spirit of Job was in a better tune:
Shall we (saith he) take good at God's hands, and not be content to take evil
also? And so of friends in a proportion.
This is certain, that a man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, which
otherwise would heal and do well.
Public revenges are for the most part fortunate; as that for the death of Caesar; for the
death of Pertinax(1); for the death of Henry the Third of France (2); and many more. But in
private revenges it is not so. Nay rather, vindictive persons live the life of witches; who as
they are mischievous, so end they unfortunate.
(1) Publius Helvius Pertinax became emperor of Rome in 193 and was assassinated three
months after his accession to the throne by a soldier in his praetorian Guard.
(2) King of France, 1574-1589, assassinated during the Siege of Paris.