Study Guide

The Vanity of Human Wishes Stanza 12

By Samuel Johnson

Stanza 12

Lines 129-134

What gave great Villiers to th' assassin's knife,
And fix'd disease on Harley's closing life?
What murder'd Wentworth, and what exil'd Hyde,
By kings protected, and to kings allied?
What but their wish indulg'd, in courts to shine,
And pow'r too great to keep, or to resign?

  • In these lines the speaker refers to a whole host of historical figures who ended up badly.
  • Villiers ended up killed by an assassin. Harley died of disease. Wentworth ended up murdered. Hyde was exiled.Ā 
  • All of these political figures ended their lives in misfortune because their desire for great power was indulged, even though these men were protected by kings and allied to them. (To learn more about these poor sap historical figures referenced in this stanza, check out our "Shout-Outs" section.)

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