Study Guide

The Vanity of Human Wishes Stanza 10

By Samuel Johnson

Stanza 10

Lines 99-103

In full-blown dignity see Wolsey stand,
Law in his voice, and fortune in his hand:
To him the church, the realm, their pow'rs consign,
Through him the rays of regal bounty shine,
Turn'd by his nod, the stream of honour flows,

  • Here the speaker begins to give examples of historical figures as a way of providing evidence for his views. He begins with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who was a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church under King Henry VIII and was a big political figure in the mid-1500s. 
  • Wolsey was very powerful. He could dictate laws. The power of the church and the English realm were under his control, and through him the bounty of the king shone. Wolsey's nod gave honor to people. His smile alone could provide security for people.

Lines 104-112

His smile alone security bestows:
Still to new heights his restless wishes tow'r;
Claim leads to claim, and power advances powe';
Till conquest unresisted ceas'd to please,
And rights submitted, left him none to seize.
At length his sovereign frowns-the train of state
Mark the keen glance, and watch the sign to hate.
Wher-e'er he turns, he meets a stranger's eye,
His suppliants scorn him, and his followers fly;

  • But still Wolsey wasn't satisfied with all he had, and he was greedy for more power. Everyone submitted their rights to him, until there were no more rights for him to take, and he still wasn't satisfied. 
  • Wolsey goes so far in his greed for more power that the king begins to be displeased. The rest of the country notices the king's displeasure, and waits for a sign from him to begin hating Wolsey. 
  • Suddenly, everywhere Wolsey turns he finds that he is dealing with strangers. The people who had come to him to seek help now scorn him, and his followers turn their backs on him.

Lines 113-120

Now drops at once the pride of awful state,
The golden canopy, the glitt'ring plate,
The regal palace, the luxurious board,
The liv'ried army, and the menial lord.
With age, with cares, with maladies oppress'd,
He seeks the refuge of monastic rest.
Grief aids disease, remember'd folly stings,
And his last sighs reproach the faith of kings. 

  • All at once Wolsey's pride is shaken. His golden canopy, his fancy cutlery and plates, his royal palace, his luxurious lifestyle, his army, and everything else is taken away from him.
  • Wolsey is oppressed by age and worries and illness, and so he seeks to recover by leading a monastic life. But his grief makes his illness worse. The memory of all his mistakes stings him. And with his last breath he reproaches (criticizes) treacherous kings. It's not a good way to go out.

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