By Force or Guile

We'll move right past the amount of time it's been since I last posted as it will only recall to me how much time has gone by since I've done anything the least bit substantive.

This won't be substantive either, as it's a call for help. I expect that once the semester's Job Market michigas has ended, I will have plenty of time to pursue this line of inquiry myself (time that would be better spent preparing to go on the the Job Market again the following year, though we'll jump off that bridge when we come to it), but I'm feeling twitchy and frustrated so I thought I would do as many have done before me and turn to the internet to solve all of my problems.

I'm sure there's an easy way I could do this myself, but I'm too flustered to find it, and I want answers, so I'm asking you. I might soon put the question to the C-18L list as well, but for the moment I lack the nerve, and it's not really an 18th century question.

I'm intersted in pursuing the origins and history of the phrase that I've taken for this entry's title. Most likely, you know it from Paradise Lost, specifically Book I, lines 121-22, as spoken by Captain Hubris himself:

"We may with more successful hope resolve
To wage by force or guile eternal war..."

Google (surprisingly) returns (via Bartleby.com) Wordsworth's sonnet "Malham Cove" in the first position*:

"Was the aim frustrated by force or guile,
When giants scooped from out the rocky ground..."

For the most part, though, Google gives Milton and his Satan ownership of the phrase, and while there were many subsquent users, I'm more interested in Milton's predecessors. Dryden came after, but he retroactively gave it to Virgil in his translation of the Aeneid:

"But truly tell, was it for Force or Guile,
or some Religious end, you rais'd the Pile? (ll. 201-02).

I'm guessing he got it from Milton. A likely (or at least reasonable, or at very least possible) source for Milton is Spenser's The Faerie Queene, V.IV.XXI:

"For all those Knights, the which by force or guile
she doth subdue, she fowly doth entreate..."

A variation also occurs in Sir Thomas Wyatt's "Complaint Upon Love to Reason, with Love's Answer," and it's the earliest occasion of it I have come across thus far:

"Since I was his, hour rested I never,
Nor look to do; and eke the wakey nights
The banished sleep may in no wise recover
By guile and force, over my thralled sprites."

It's likely, then, that it was already current and colloquial by Milton's time and that he simply plucked it from the air. Those I have talked to about it have suggested this or that translation of the bible for a source; one has offered Machiavelli as a possible point of origin, and I must say The Prince does seem a likely candidate given Satan's political business in Paradise Lost (talk about entering a new Principality--that joke will make sense in just a second), but I'd have to find the right contemporary English translation to verify it. Obviously Wyatt knew his Italian fairly well, but I don't know the precise date he composed the above. The Prince, for what it's, appeared in 1532, and Wyatt died ten years later.

The 1910 Harvard Classics translation of The Prince contains the closest corollary phrase to that made (more) famous by Milton:

"Whoever, therefore, on entering a new Princedom, judges it necessary to rid himself of enemies, to conciliate friends, to prevail by force or fraud, to make himself feared yet not hated by his subjects..." (29).

"Force or fraud" is or was, a very superficial search suggests, no less common a construction or pairing as "force or guile." That said, Edward Dacres' 1640 English translation of The Prince renders the above lines as follows:

"Whoever therefore deemes it necessary in his entrance into a new Principality, to secure himself of his enemies, and gain friends, to overcome either by force, or by cunning, to make himself belovd or feard of his people..." (56).

So here we have force and cunning. Not quite force and guile, which is really what I'm after. And this is the earliest traslation of The Prince available to me through EEBO.

I don't have an argument to make about this phrase--at least, not yet--and if it's simply one of those stock phrases that enjoyed (and is still enjoying something of a) vogue, there probably isn't an argument to make. I'm guessing it predates Machiavelli by a fair bit, but I'm already well out of my element. Has anyone out there come across this phrase, and precisely this phrase, before the mid-sixteenth century? I feel certain it must be out there somewhere.

So--to borrow from Jerome K. Jerome--these are just the idle thoughts of an idle fellow. But any tips or leads would be very much appreciated, if for no other reason than to satisfy my undirected and unfruitful curiosity.

*This post is now the first return in a Google search for "by force or guile." How odd!


dave mazella said...

This sounds a bit like the humanist rhetor, whose job is to prevail over others in the public assembly or on the battlefield. M's Satan certainly fits this profile, as does Machiavelli's prince. You might want to think about this phrase in relation to Ruth W. Grant's and Judith Shklar's treatments of the political, instrumental hypocrisy of the Prince. Best, DM

Scriblerus said...

Thanks for the tips--I definitely think it's worth continuing to chase this down via The Prince. I was just reading Jean Howard's introduction to 1 Henry IV in the Norton Shakespeare collection, and it deploys precisely the phase in question just before explicating the Machiavellian elements of the play. Can't say if it was done with specific knowledge of the source translation or not, but the connection certainly seems to be there.