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"The End Must Justify The Means"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Matthew Prior, English poet and diplomat who played a part in several important treaty negotiations, is best remembered today for his satires, epigrams, and light verse. "Hans Carvel" is an example of the last. In it Prior exploits a comic situation arising from the marriage of an impotent old man to a lively and warm-blooded young woman. This venerable device of the ribald story was undoubtedly popular long before Chaucer employed it in The Miller's Tale, and it appears frequently in such anecdotes today. In Prior's treatment of the theme, old Hans seeks help from the Devil; and the joke is in such help as the Devil gives him. The basic situation is familiar. When evening comes, Hans can think of nothing but sleep; his wife, "a Lass of London Mould," much prefers night life and other diversions. Since Hans cannot regain his lost youth, he endeavors to reform her–but, as might be expected, to no avail. At length, in desperation, he wonders:

What if to Spells I had Resource?
'Tis but to hinder something Worse.
The End must justifie the Means:
He only Sins who Ill intends:
Since therefore 'tis to Combat Evil;
'Tis lawful to employ the Devil.