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Philip Sidney was born at Penshurst, in Kent, on the 29th of November, 1554. His father, Sir Henry Sidney, had married Mary, eldest daughter of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and Philip was the eldest of their family of three sons and four daughters. Edmund Spenser and Walter Raleigh were of like age with Philip Sidney, differing only by about a year, and when Elizabeth became queen, on the 17th of November, 1558, they were children of four or five years old.
In the year 1560 Sir Henry Sidney was made Lord President of Wales, representing the Queen in Wales and the four adjacent western counties, as a Lord Deputy represented her in Ireland. The official residence of the Lord President was at Ludlow Castle, to which Philip Sidney went with his family when a child of six. In the same year his father was installed as a Knight of the Garter. When in his tenth year Philip Sidney was sent from Ludlow to Shrewsbury Grammar School, where he studied for three or four years, and had among his schoolfellows Fulke Greville, afterwards Lord Brooke, who remained until the end of Sidney’s life one of his closest friends. When he himself was dying he directed that he should be described upon his tomb as “Fulke Greville, servant to Queen Elizabeth, counsellor to King James, and friend to Sir Philip Sidney.” Even Dr. Thomas Thornton, Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, under whom Sidney was placed when he was entered to Christ Church in his fourteenth year, at Midsummer, in 1568, had it afterwards recorded on his tomb that he was “the tutor of Sir Philip Sidney.”
Sidney was in his eighteenth year in May, 1572, when he left the University to continue his training for the service of the state, by travel on the Continent. Licensed to travel with horses for himself and three servants, Philip Sidney left London in the train of the Earl of Lincoln, who was going out as ambassador to Charles IX., in Paris. He was in Paris on the 24th of August in that year, which was the day of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. He was sheltered from the dangers of that day in the house of the English Ambassador, Sir Francis Walsingham, whose daughter Fanny Sidney married twelve years afterwards.
From Paris Sidney travelled on by way of Heidelberg to Frankfort, where he lodged at a printer’s, and found a warm friend in Hubert Languet, whose letters to him have been published. Sidney was eighteen and Languet fifty-five, a French Huguenot, learned and zealous for the Protestant cause, who had been Professor of Civil Law in Padua, and who was acting as secret minister for the Elector of Saxony when he first knew Sidney, and saw in him a future statesman whose character and genius would give him weight in the counsels of England, and make him a main hope of the Protestant cause in Europe. Sidney travelled on with Hubert Languet from Frankfort to Vienna, visited Hungary, then passed to Italy, making for eight weeks Venice his head-quarters, and then giving six weeks to Padua. He returned through Germany to England, and was in attendance it the Court of Queen Elizabeth in July, 1575. Next month his father was sent to Ireland as Lord Deputy, and Sidney lived in London with his mother.
At this time the opposition of the Mayor and Corporation of the City of London to the acting of plays by servants of Sidney’s uncle, the Earl of Leicester, who had obtained a patent for them, obliged the actors to cease from hiring rooms or inn yards in the City, and build themselves a house of their own a little way outside one of the City gates, and wholly outside the Lord Mayor’s jurisdiction. Thus the first theatre came to be built in England in the year 1576. Shakespeare was then but twelve years old, and it was ten years later that he came to London.
In February, 1577, Philip Sidney, not yet twenty-three years old, was sent on a formal embassy of congratulation to Rudolph II. upon his becoming Emperor of Germany, but under the duties of the formal embassy was the charge of watching for opportunities of helping forward a Protestant League among the princes of Germany. On his way home through the Netherlands he was to convey Queen Elizabeth’s congratulations to William of Orange on the birth of his first child, and what impression he made upon that leader of men is shown by a message William sent afterwards through Fulke Greville to Queen Elizabeth. He said “that if he could judge, her Majesty had one of the ripest and greatest counsellors of State in Philip Sidney that then lived in Europe; to the trial of which he was pleased to leave his own credit engaged until her Majesty was pleased to employ this gentleman, either amongst her friends or enemies.”
Sidney returned from his embassy in June, 1577. At the time of his departure, in the preceding February, his sister Mary, then twenty years old, had become the third wife of Henry Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, and her new home as Countess of Pembroke was in the great house at Wilton, about three miles from Salisbury. She had a measure of her brother’s genius, and was of like noble strain. Spenser described her as
“The gentlest shepherdess that lives this day,
And most resembling, both in shape and spright,
Her brother dear.”
Ben Jonson, long after her brother had passed from earth, wrote upon her death the well-known epitaph:—
“Underneath this sable herse
Lies the subject of all verse,
Sidney’s sister, Pembroke’s mother.
Death, ere thou hast slain another,
Learn’d, and fair, and good as she,
Time shall throw a dart at thee.”
Sidney’s sister became Pembroke’s mother in 1580, while her brother Philip was staying with her at Wilton. He had early in the year written a long argument to the Queen against the project of her marriage with the Duke of Anjou, which she then found it politic to seem to favour. She liked Sidney well, but resented, or appeared to resent, his intrusion of advice; he also was discontented with what seemed to be her policy, and he withdrew from Court for a time. That time of seclusion, after the end of March, 1580, he spent with his sister at Wilton. They versified psalms together; and he began to write for her amusement when she had her baby first upon her hands, his romance of “Arcadia.” It was never finished. Much was written at Wilton in the summer of 1580, the rest in 1581, written, as he said in a letter to her, “only for you, only to you . . . for severer eyes it is not, being but a trifle, triflingly handled. Your dear self can best witness the manner, being done in loose sheets of paper, most of it in your presence, the rest by sheets sent unto you as fast as they were done.” He never meant that it should be published; indeed, when dying he asked that it should be destroyed; but it belonged to a sister who prized the lightest word of his, and after his death it was published in 1590 as “The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia.”
The book reprinted in this volume was written in 1581, while sheets of the “Arcadia” were still being sent to Wilton. But it differs wholly in style from the “Arcadia.” Sidney’s “Arcadia” has literary interest as the first important example of the union of pastoral with heroic romance, out of which came presently, in France, a distinct school of fiction. But the genius of its author was at play, it followed designedly the fashions of the hour in verse and prose, which tended to extravagance of ingenuity. The “Defence of Poesy” has higher interest as the first important piece of literary criticism in our literature. Here Sidney was in earnest. His style is wholly free from the euphuistic extravagance in which readers of his time delighted: it is clear, direct, and manly; not the less, but the more, thoughtful and refined for its unaffected simplicity. As criticism it is of the true sort; not captious or formal, still less engaged, as nearly all bad criticism is, more or less, with indirect suggestion of the critic himself as the one owl in a world of mice. Philip Sidney’s care is towards the end of good literature. He looks for highest aims, and finds them in true work, and hears God’s angel in the poet’s song.
The writing of this piece was probably suggested to him by the fact that an earnest young student, Stephen Gosson, who came from his university about the time when the first theatres were built, and wrote plays, was turned by the bias of his mind into agreement with the Puritan attacks made by the pulpit on the stage (arising chiefly from the fact that plays were then acted on Sundays), and in 1579 transferred his pen from service of the players to attack on them, in a piece which he called “The School of Abuse, containing a Pleasant Invective against Poets, Pipers, Players, Jesters, and such like Caterpillars of a Commonwealth; setting up the Flag of Defiance to their mischievous exercise, and overthrowing their Bulwarks, by Profane Writers, Natural Reason, and Common Experience: a Discourse as pleasant for Gentlemen that favour Learning as profitable for all that will follow Virtue.” This Discourse Gosson dedicated “To the right noble Gentleman, Master Philip Sidney, Esquire.” Sidney himself wrote verse, he was companion with the poets, and counted Edmund Spenser among his friends. Gosson’s pamphlet was only one expression of the narrow form of Puritan opinion that had been misled into attacks on poetry and music as feeders of idle appetite that withdrew men from the life of duty. To show the fallacy in such opinion, Philip Sidney wrote in 1581 this piece, which was first printed in 1595, nine years after his death, as a separate publication, entitled “An Apologie for Poetrie.” Three years afterwards it was added, with other pieces, to the third edition of his “Arcadia,” and then entitled “The Defence of Poesie.” In sixteen subsequent editions it continued to appear as “The Defence of Poesie.” The same title was used in the separate editions of 1752 and 1810. Professor Edward Arber re-issued in 1869 the text of the first edition of 1595, and restored the original title, which probably was that given to the piece by its author. One name is as good as the other, but as the word “apology” has somewhat changed its sense in current English, it may be well to go on calling the work “The Defence of Poesie.”
In 1583 Sidney was knighted, and soon afterwards in the same year he married Frances, daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham. Sonnets written by him according to old fashion, and addressed to a lady in accordance with a form of courtesy that in the same old fashion had always been held to exclude personal suit — personal suit was private, and not public — have led to grave misapprehension among some critics. They supposed that he desired marriage with Penelope Devereux, who was forced by her family in 1580 — then eighteen years old — into a hateful marriage with Lord Rich. It may be enough to say that if Philip Sidney had desired her for his wife, he had only to ask for her and have her. Her father, when dying, had desired — as any father might — that his daughter might become the wife of Philip Sidney. But this is not the place for a discussion of Astrophel and Stella sonnets.
In 1585 Sidney was planning to join Drake it sea in attack on Spain in the West Indies. He was stayed by the Queen. But when Elizabeth declared war on behalf of the Reformed Faith, and sent Leicester with an expedition to the Netherlands, Sir Philip Sidney went out, in November, 1585, as Governor of Flushing. His wife joined him there. He fretted at inaction, and made the value of his counsels so distinct that his uncle Leicester said after his death that he began by “despising his youth for a counsellor, not without bearing a hand over him as a forward young man. Notwithstanding, in a short time he saw the sun so risen above his horizon that both he and all his stars were glad to fetch light from him.” In May, 1586, Sir Philip Sidney received news of the death of his father. In August his mother died. In September he joined in the investment of Zutphen. On the 22nd of September his thigh-bone was shattered by a musket ball from the trenches. His horse took fright and galloped back, but the wounded man held to his seat. He was then carried to his uncle, asked for water, and when it was given, saw a dying soldier carried past, who eyed it greedily. At once he gave the water to the soldier, saying, “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.” Sidney lived on, patient in suffering, until the 17th of October. When he was speechless before death, one who stood by asked Philip Sidney for a sign of his continued trust in God. He folded his hands as in prayer over his breast, and so they were become fixed and chill, when the watchers placed them by his side; and in a few minutes the stainless representative of the young manhood of Elizabethan England passed away.
When the right virtuous Edward Wotton1 and I were at the Emperor’s court together, we gave ourselves to learn horsemanship of Gio. Pietro Pugliano; one that, with great commendation, had the place of an esquire in his stable; and he, according to the fertileness of the Italian wit, did not only afford us the demonstration of his practice, but sought to enrich our minds with the contemplation therein, which he thought most precious. But with none, I remember, mine ears were at any time more laden, than when (either angered with slow payment, or moved with our learner-like admiration) he exercised his speech in the praise of his faculty.
He said, soldiers were the noblest estate of mankind, and horsemen the noblest of soldiers. He said, they were the masters of war and ornaments of peace, speedy goers, and strong abiders, triumphers both in camps and courts; nay, to so unbelieved a point he proceeded, as that no earthly thing bred such wonder to a prince, as to be a good horseman; skill of government was but a “pedanteria” in comparison. Then would he add certain praises by telling what a peerless beast the horse was, the only serviceable courtier, without flattery, the beast of most beauty, faithfulness, courage, and such more, that if I had not been a piece of a logician before I came to him, I think he would have persuaded me to have wished myself a horse. But thus much, at least, with his no few words, he drove into me, that self love is better than any gilding, to make that seem gorgeous wherein ourselves be parties.
Wherein, if Pugliano’s strong affection and weak arguments will not satisfy you, I will give you a nearer example of myself, who, I know not by what mischance, in these my not old years and idlest times, having slipped into the title of a poet, am provoked to say something unto you in the defence of that my unelected vocation; which if I handle with more good will than good reasons, bear with me, since the scholar is to be pardoned that followeth the steps of his master.
And yet I must say, that as I have more just cause to make a pitiful defence of poor poetry, which, from almost the highest estimation of learning, is fallen to be the laughing-stock of children; so have I need to bring some more available proofs, since the former is by no man barred of his deserved credit, whereas the silly latter hath had even the names of philosophers used to the defacing of it, with great danger of civil war among the Muses.2
At first, truly, to all them that, professing learning, inveigh against poetry, may justly be objected, that they go very near to ungratefulness to seek to deface that which, in the noblest nations and languages that are known, hath been the first light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk by little and little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges. And will you play the hedgehog, that being received into the den, drove out his host?3 or rather the vipers, that with their birth kill their parents?4
Let learned Greece, in any of her manifold sciences, be able to show me one book before Musaeus, Homer, and Hesiod, all three nothing else but poets. Nay, let any history he brought that can say any writers were there before them, if they were not men of the same skill, as Orpheus, Linus, and some others are named, who having been the first of that country that made pens deliverers of their knowledge to posterity, may justly challenge to be called their fathers in learning. For not only in time they had this priority (although in itself antiquity be venerable) but went before them as causes to draw with their charming sweetness the wild untamed wits to an admiration of knowledge. So as Amphion was said to move stones with his poetry to build Thebes, and Orpheus to be listened to by beasts, indeed, stony and beastly people, so among the Romans were Livius Andronicus, and Ennius; so in the Italian language, the first that made it to aspire to be a treasure-house of science, were the poets Dante, Boccace, and Petrarch; so in our English were Gower and Chaucer; after whom, encouraged and delighted with their excellent foregoing, others have followed to beautify our mother tongue, as well in the same kind as other arts.
This5 did so notably show itself that the philosophers of Greece durst not a long time appear to the world but under the mask of poets; so Thales, Empedocles, and Parmenides sang their natural philosophy in verses; so did Pythagoras and Phocylides their moral counsels; so did Tyrtaeus in war matters; and Solon in matters of policy; or rather they, being poets, did exercise their delightful vein in those points of highest knowledge, which before them lay hidden to the world; for that wise Solon was directly a poet it is manifest, having written in verse the notable fable of the Atlantic Island, which was continued by Plato.6 And, truly, even Plato, whosoever well considereth shall find that in the body of his work, though the inside and strength were philosophy, the skin, as it were, and beauty depended most of poetry. For all stands upon dialogues; wherein he feigns many honest burgesses of Athens speaking of such matters that if they had been set on the rack they would never have confessed them; besides, his poetical describing the circumstances of their meetings, as the well-ordering of a banquet, the delicacy of a walk, with interlacing mere tiles, as Gyges’s Ring,7 and others; which, who knows not to be flowers of poetry, did never walk into Apollo’s garden.
And8 even historiographers, although their lips sound of things done, and verity be written in their foreheads, have been glad to borrow both fashion and, perchance, weight of the poets; so Herodotus entitled the books of his history by the names of the Nine Muses; and both he, and all the rest that followed him, either stole or usurped, of poetry, their passionate describing of passions, the many particularities of battles which no man could affirm; or, if that be denied me, long orations, put in the months of great kings and captains, which it is certain they never pronounced.
So that, truly, neither philosopher nor historiographer could, at the first, have entered into the gates of popular judgments, if they had not taken a great disport of poetry; which in all nations, at this day, where learning flourisheth not, is plain to be seen; in all which they have some feeling of poetry. In Turkey, besides their lawgiving divines they have no other writers but poets. In our neighbour-country Ireland, where, too, learning goes very bare, yet are their poets held in a devout reverence. Even among the most barbarous and simple Indians, where no writing is, yet have they their poets who make and sing songs, which they call “Arentos,” both of their ancestor’s deeds and praises of their gods. A sufficient probability, that if ever learning comes among them, it must be by having their hard dull wits softened and sharpened with the sweet delight of poetry; for until they find a pleasure in the exercise of the mind, great promises of much knowledge will little persuade them that know not the fruits of knowledge. In Wales, the true remnant of the ancient Britons, as there are good authorities to show the long time they had poets, which they called bards, so through all the conquests of Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans, some of whom did seek to ruin all memory of learning from among them, yet do their poets, even to this day, last; so as it is not more notable in the soon beginning than in long-continuing.
But since the authors of most of our sciences were the Romans, and before them the Greeks, let us, a little, stand upon their authorities; but even so far, as to see what names they have given unto this now scorned skill.9 Among the Romans a poet was called “vates,” which is as much as a diviner, foreseer, or prophet, as by his conjoined words “vaticinium,” and “vaticinari,” is manifest; so heavenly a title did that excellent people bestow upon this heart-ravishing knowledge! And so far were they carried into the admiration thereof, that they thought in the changeable hitting upon any such verses, great foretokens of their following fortunes were placed. Whereupon grew the word of sortes Virgilianae; when, by sudden opening Virgil’s book, they lighted upon some verse, as it is reported by many, whereof the histories of the Emperors’ lives are full. As of Albinus, the governor of our island, who, in his childhood, met with this verse —
Arma amens capio, nec sat rationis in armis
and in his age performed it. Although it were a very vain and godless superstition; as also it was, to think spirits were commanded by such verses; whereupon this word charms, derived of “carmina,” cometh, so yet serveth it to show the great reverence those wits were held in; and altogether not without ground, since both the oracles of Delphi and the Sibyl’s prophecies were wholly delivered in verses; for that same exquisite observing of number and measure in the words, and that high-flying liberty of conceit proper to the poet, did seem to have some divine force in it.
And10 may not I presume a little farther to show the reasonableness of this word “vates,” and say, that the holy David’s Psalms are a divine poem? If I do, I shall not do it without the testimony of great learned men, both ancient and modern. But even the name of Psalms will speak for me, which, being interpreted, is nothing but Songs; then, that is fully written in metre, as all learned Hebricians agree, although the rules be not yet fully found. Lastly, and principally, his handling his prophecy, which is merely poetical. For what else is the awaking his musical instruments; the often and free changing of persons; his notable prosopopoeias, when he maketh you, as it were, see God coming in His majesty; his telling of the beasts’ joyfulness, and hills leaping; but a heavenly poesy, wherein, almost, he sheweth himself a passionate lover of that unspeakable and everlasting beauty, to be seen by the eyes of the mind, only cleared by faith? But truly, now, having named him, I fear I seem to profane that holy name, applying it to poetry, which is, among us, thrown down to so ridiculous an estimation. But they that, with quiet judgments, will look a little deeper into it, shall find the end and working of it such, as, being rightly applied, deserveth not to be scourged out of the church of God.
But11 now let us see how the Greeks have named it, and how they deemed of it. The Greeks named him [Greek text], which name hath, as the most excellent, gone through other languages; it cometh of this word [Greek text], which is TO MAKE; wherein, I know not whether by luck or wisdom, we Englishmen have met with the Greeks in calling him “a maker,” which name, how high and incomparable a title it is, I had rather were known by marking the scope of other sciences, than by any partial allegation. There is no art delivered unto mankind that hath not the works of nature for his principal object, without which they could not consist, and on which they so depend as they become actors and players, as it were, of what nature will have set forth.12 So doth the astronomer look upon the stars, and by that he seeth set down what order nature hath taken therein. So doth the geometrician and arithmetician, in their diverse sorts of quantities. So doth the musician, in times, tell you which by nature agree, which not. The natural philosopher thereon hath his name; and the moral philosopher standeth upon the natural virtues, vices, or passions of man; and follow nature, saith he, therein, and thou shalt not err. The lawyer saith what men have determined. The historian, what men have done. The grammarian speaketh only of the rules of speech; and the rhetorician and logician, considering what in nature will soonest prove and persuade, thereon give artificial rules, which still are compassed within the circle of a question, according to the proposed matter. The physician weigheth the nature of man’s body, and the nature of things helpful and hurtful unto it. And the metaphysic, though it be in the second and abstract notions, and therefore be counted supernatural, yet doth he, indeed, build upon the depth of nature. Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigour of his own invention, doth grow, in effect, into another nature; in making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or quite anew; forms such as never were in nature, as the heroes, demi-gods, Cyclops, chimeras, furies, and such like; so as he goeth hand in hand with Nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging within the zodiac of his own wit.13 Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as divers poets have done; neither with so pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, sweet-smelling flowers, nor whatsoever else may make the too-much-loved earth more lovely; her world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden.
But let those things alone, and go to man;14 for whom as the other things are, so it seemeth in him her uttermost cunning is employed; and know, whether she have brought forth so true a lover as Theagenes; so constant a friend as Pylades; so valiant a man as Orlando; so right a prince as Xenophon’s Cyrus; and so excellent a man every way as Virgil’s AEneas? Neither let this be jestingly conceived, because the works of the one be essential, the other in imitation or fiction; for every understanding knoweth the skill of each artificer standeth in that idea, or fore-conceit of the work, and not in the work itself. And that the poet hath that idea is manifest by delivering them forth in such excellency as he had imagined them; which delivering forth, also, is not wholly imaginative, as we are wont to say by them that build castles in the air; but so far substantially it worketh not only to make a Cyrus, which had been but a particular excellency, as nature might have done; but to bestow a Cyrus upon the world to make many Cyruses; if they will learn aright, why, and how, that maker made him. Neither let it be deemed too saucy a comparison to balance the highest point of man’s wit with the efficacy of nature; but rather give right honour to the heavenly Maker of that maker, who having made man to His own likeness, set him beyond and over all the works of that second nature; which in nothing he showeth so much as in poetry; when, with the force of a divine breath, he bringeth things forth surpassing her doings, with no small arguments to the incredulous of that first accursed fall of Adam; since our erected wit maketh us know what perfection is, and yet our infected will keepeth us from reaching unto it. But these arguments will by few be understood, and by fewer granted; thus much I hope will be given me, that the Greeks, with some probability of reason, gave him the name above all names of learning.
Now15 let us go to a more ordinary opening of him, that the truth may be the more palpable; and so, I hope, though we get not so unmatched a praise as the etymology of his names will grant, yet his very description, which no man will deny, shall not justly be barred from a principal commendation.
Poesy,16 therefore, is an art of imitation; for so Aristotle termeth it in the word [Greek text]; that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth: to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture, with this end, to teach and delight.
Of17 this have been three general kinds: the CHIEF, both in antiquity and excellency, which they that did imitate the inconceivable excellencies of God; such were David in the Psalms; Solomon in the Song of Songs, in his Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs; Moses and Deborah in their hymns; and the writer of Job; which, beside others, the learned Emanuel Tremellius and Fr. Junius do entitle the poetical part of the scripture; against these none will speak that hath the Holy Ghost in due holy reverence. In this kind, though in a wrong divinity, were Orpheus, Amphion, Homer in his hymns, and many others, both Greeks and Romans. And this poesy must be used by whosoever will follow St. Paul’s counsel, in singing psalms when they are merry; and I know is used with the fruit of comfort by some, when, in sorrowful pangs of their death-bringing sins, they find the consolation of the never-leaving goodness.
The18 SECOND kind is of them that deal with matter philosophical; either moral, as Tyrtaeus, Phocylides, Cato, or, natural, as Lucretius, Virgil’s Georgics; or astronomical, as Manilius19 and Pontanus; or historical, as Lucan; which who mislike, the fault is in their judgment, quite out of taste, and not in the sweet food of sweetly uttered knowledge.
But because this second sort is wrapped within the fold of the proposed subject, and takes not the free course of his own invention; whether they properly be poets or no, let grammarians dispute, and go to the THIRD,20 indeed right poets, of whom chiefly this question ariseth; betwixt whom and these second is such a kind of difference, as betwixt the meaner sort of painters, who counterfeit only such faces as are set before them; and the more excellent, who having no law but wit, bestow that in colours upon you which is fittest for the eye to see; as the constant, though lamenting look of Lucretia, when she punished in herself another’s fault; wherein he painteth not Lucretia, whom he never saw, but painteth the outward beauty of such a virtue. For these three be they which most properly do imitate to teach and delight; and to imitate, borrow nothing of what is, hath been, or shall be; but range only, reined with learned discretion, into the divine consideration of what may be, and should be. These be they, that, as the first and most noble sort, may justly be termed “vates;” so these are waited on in the excellentest languages and best understandings, with the fore-described name of poets. For these, indeed, do merely make to imitate, and imitate both to delight and teach, and delight to move men to take that goodness in hand, which, without delight they would fly as from a stranger; and teach to make them know that goodness whereunto they are moved; which being the noblest scope to which ever any learning was directed, yet want there not idle tongues to bark at them.
These21 be subdivided into sundry more special denominations; the most notable be the heroic, lyric, tragic, comic, satyric, iambic, elegiac, pastoral, and certain others; some of these being termed according to the matter they deal with; some by the sort of verse they like best to write in; for, indeed, the greatest part of poets have apparelled their poetical inventions in that numerous kind of writing which is called verse. Indeed, but apparelied verse, being but an ornament, and no cause to poetry, since there have been many most excellent poets that never versified, and now swarm many versifiers that need never answer to the name of poets.22 For Xenophon, who did imitate so excellently as to give us effigiem justi imperii, the portraiture of a just of Cyrus, as Cicero saith of him, made therein an absolute heroical poem. So did Heliodorus,23 in his sugared invention of Theagenes and Chariclea; and yet both these wrote in prose; which I speak to show, that it is not rhyming and versing that maketh a poet (no more than a long gown maketh an advocate, who, though he pleaded in armour should be an advocate and no soldier); but it is that feigning notable images of virtues, vices, or what else, with that delightful teaching, which must be the right describing note to know a poet by. Although, indeed, the senate of poets have chosen verse as their fittest raiment; meaning, as in matter they passed all in all, so in manner to go beyond them; not speaking table-talk fashion, or like men in a dream, words as they changeably fall from the mouth, but piecing each syllable of each word by just proportion, according to the dignity of the subject.
Now,24 therefore, it shall not be amiss, first, to weight this latter sort of poetry by his WORKS, and then by his PARTS; and if in neither of these anatomies he be commendable, I hope we shall receive a more favourable sentence. This purifying of wit, this enriching of memory, enabling of judgment, and enlarging of conceit, which commonly we call learning under what name soever it come forth, or to what immediate end soever it be directed; the final end is, to lead and draw us to as high a perfection as our degenerate souls, made worse by, their clay lodgings,25 can be capable of. This, according to the inclination of man, bred many formed impressions; for some that thought this felicity principally to be gotten by knowledge, and no knowledge to be so high or heavenly as to be acquainted with the stars, gave themselves to astronomy; others, persuading themselves to be demi-gods, if they knew the causes of things, became natural and supernatural philosophers. Some an admirable delight drew to music, and some the certainty of demonstrations to the mathematics; but all, one and other, having this scope to know, and by knowledge to lift up the mind from the dungeon of the body to the enjoying his own divine essence. But when, by the balance of experience, it was found that the astronomer, looking to the stars, might fall in a ditch; that the enquiring philosopher might be blind in himself; and the mathematician might draw forth a straight line with a crooked heart; then lo! did proof, the over-ruler of opinions, make manifest that all these are but serving sciences, which, as they have a private end in themselves, so yet are they all directed to the highest end of the mistress knowledge, by the Greeks called [Greek text], which stands, as I think, in the knowledge of a man’s self; in the ethic and politic consideration, with the end of well doing, and not of well knowing only; even as the saddler’s next end is to make a good saddle, but his farther end to serve a nobler faculty, which is horsemanship; so the horseman’s to soldiery; and the soldier not only to have the skill, but to perform the practice of a soldier. So that the ending end of all earthly learning being virtuous action, those skills that most serve to bring forth that have a most just title to be princes over all the rest; wherein, if we can show it rightly, the poet is worthy to have it before any other competitors.26
Among27 whom principally to challenge it, step forth the moral philosophers; whom, methinks, I see coming toward me with a sullen gravity (as though they could not abide vice by daylight), rudely clothed, for to witness outwardly their contempt of outward things, with books in their hands against glory, whereto they set their names; sophistically speaking against subtlety, and angry with any man in whom they see the foul fault of anger. These men, casting largesses as they go, of definitions, divisions, and distinctions, with a scornful interrogative do soberly ask: Whether it be possible to find any path so ready to lead a man to virtue, as that which teacheth what virtue is; and teacheth it not only by delivering forth his very being, his causes and effects; but also by making known his enemy, vice, which must be destroyed; and his cumbersome servant, passion, which must be mastered, by showing the generalities that contain it, and the specialities that are derived from it; lastly, by plain setting down how it extends itself out of the limits of a man’s own little world, to the government of families, and maintaining of public societies?
The historian28 scarcely gives leisure to the moralist to say so much, but that he (laden with old mouse-eaten records, authorizing29 himself, for the most part, upon other histories, whose greatest authorities are built upon the notable foundation of hearsay, having much ado to accord differing writers, and to pick truth out of partiality; better acquainted with a thousand years ago than with the present age, and yet better knowing how this world goes than how his own wit runs; curious for antiquities, and inquisitive of novelties, a wonder to young folks, and a tyrant in table-talk) denieth, in a great chafe, that any man for teaching of virtue and virtuous actions, is comparable to him. I am “Testis temporum, lux veritatis, vita memoriae, magistra vitae, nuncia vetustatis.”30 The philosopher, saith he, teacheth a disputative virtue, but I do an active; his virtue is excellent in the dangerless academy of Plato, but mine showeth forth her honourable face in the battles of Marathon, Pharsalia, Poictiers, and Agincourt: he teacheth virtue by certain abstract considerations; but I only bid you follow the footing of them that have gone before you: old-aged experience goeth beyond the fine-witted philosopher; but I give the experience of many ages. Lastly, if he make the song book, I put the learner’s hand to the lute; and if he be the guide, I am the light. Then would he allege you innumerable examples, confirming story by stories, how much the wisest senators and princes have been directed by the credit of history, as Brutus, Alphonsus of Aragon (and who not? if need be). At length, the long line of their disputation makes a point in this, that the one giveth the precept, and the other the example.
Now31 whom shall we find, since the question standeth for the highest form in the school of learning, to be moderator? Truly, as me seemeth, the poet; and if not a moderator, even the man that ought to carry the title from them both, and much more from all other serving sciences. Therefore compare we the poet with the historian, and with the moral philosopher; and if he go beyond them both, no other human skill can match him; for as for the Divine, with all reverence, he is ever to be excepted, not only for having his scope as far beyond any of these, as eternity exceedeth a moment, but even for passing each of these in themselves; and for the lawyer, though “Jus” be the daughter of Justice, the chief of virtues, yet because he seeks to make men good rather “formidine poenae” than “virtutis amore,” or, to say righter, doth not endeavour to make men good, but that their evil hurt not others, having no care, so he be a good citizen, how bad a man he be: therefore, as our wickedness maketh him necessary, and necessity maketh him honourable, so is he not in the deepest truth to stand in rank with these, who all endeavour to take naughtiness away, and plant goodness even in the secretest cabinet of our souls. And these four are all that any way deal in the consideration of men’s manners, which being the supreme knowledge, they that best breed it deserve the best commendation.
The philosopher, therefore, and the historian are they which would win the goal, the one by precept, the other by example; but both, not having both, do both halt. For the philosopher, setting down with thorny arguments the bare rule, is so hard of utterance, and so misty to be conceived, that one that hath no other guide but him shall wade in him until he be old, before he shall find sufficient cause to be honest. For his knowledge standeth so upon the abstract and general, that happy is that man who may understand him, and more happy that can apply what he doth understand. On the other side the historian, wanting the precept, is so tied, not to what should be, but to what is; to the particular truth of things, and not to the general reason of things; that his example draweth no necessary consequence, and therefore a less fruitful doctrine.
Now32 doth the peerless poet perform both; for whatsoever the philosopher saith should be done, he giveth a perfect picture of it, by some one by whom he presupposeth it was done, so as he coupleth the general notion with the particular example. A perfect picture, I say; for he yieldeth to the powers of the mind an image of that whereof the philosopher bestoweth but a wordish description, which doth neither strike, pierce, nor possess the sight of the soul, so much as that other doth. For as, in outward things, to a man that had never seen an elephant, or a rhinoceros, who should tell him most exquisitely all their shape, colour, bigness, and particular marks? or of a gorgeous palace, an architect, who, declaring the full beauties, might well make the hearer able to repeat, as it were, by rote, all he had heard, yet should never satisfy his inward conceit, with being witness to itself of a true living knowledge; but the same man, as soon as he might see those beasts well painted, or that house well in model, should straightway grow, without need of any description, to a judicial comprehending of them; so, no doubt, the philosopher, with his learned definitions, be it of virtue or vices, matters of public policy or private government, replenisheth the memory with many infallible grounds of wisdom, which, notwithstanding, lie dark before the imaginative and judging power, if they be not illuminated or figured forth by the speaking picture of poesy.
Tully taketh much pains, and many times not without poetical help, to make us know the force love of our country hath in us. Let us but hear old Anchises, speaking in the midst of Troy’s flames, or see Ulysses, in the fulness of all Calypso’s delights, bewail his absence from barren and beggarly Ithaca. Anger, the Stoics said, was a short madness; let but Sophocles bring you Ajax on a stage, killing or whipping sheep and oxen, thinking them the army of Greeks, with their chieftains Agamemnon and Menelaus; and tell me, if you have not a more familiar insight into anger, than finding in the schoolmen his genus and difference? See whether wisdom and temperance in Ulysses and Diomedes, valour in Achilles, friendship in Nisus and Euryalus, even to an ignorant man, carry not an apparent shining; and, contrarily, the remorse of conscience in OEdipus; the soon-repenting pride in Agamemnon; the self-devouring cruelty in his father Atreus; the violence of ambition in the two Theban brothers; the sour sweetness of revenge in Medea; and, to fall lower, the Terentian Gnatho, and our Chaucer’s Pandar, so expressed, that we now use their names to signify their trades; and finally, all virtues, vices, and passions so in their own natural states laid to the view, that we seem not to hear of them, but clearly to see through them?
But even in the most excellent determination of goodness, what philosopher’s counsel can so readily direct a prince as the feigned Cyrus in Xenophon? Or a virtuous man in all fortunes, as AEneas in Virgil? Or a whole commonwealth, as the way of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia? I say the way, because where Sir Thomas More erred, it was the fault of the man, and not of the poet; for that way of patterning a commonwealth was most absolute, though he, perchance, hath not so absolutely performed it. For the question is, whether the feigned image of poetry, or the regular instruction of philosophy, hath the more force in teaching. Wherein, if the philosophers have more rightly showed themselves philosophers, than the poets have attained to the high top of their profession, (as in truth,
“Mediocribus esse poetis
Non Di, non homines, non concessere columnae,”33
it is, I say again, not the fault of the art, but that by few men that art can be accomplished. Certainly, even our Saviour Christ could as well have given the moral common-places34 of uncharitableness and humbleness, as the divine narration of Dives and Lazarus; or of disobedience and mercy, as the heavenly discourse of the lost child and the gracious father; but that his thorough searching wisdom knew the estate of Dives burning in hell, and of Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom, would more constantly, as it were, inhabit both the memory and judgment. Truly, for myself (me seems), I see before mine eyes the lost child’s disdainful prodigality turned to envy a swine’s dinner; which, by the learned divines, are thought not historical acts, but instructing parables.
For conclusion, I say the philosopher teacheth, but he teacheth obscurely, so as the learned only can understand him; that is to say, he teacheth them that are already taught. But the poet is the food for the tenderest stomachs; the poet is, indeed, the right popular philosopher. Whereof AEsop’s tales give good proof; whose pretty allegories, stealing under the formal tales of beasts, make many, more beastly than beasts, begin to hear the sound of virtue from those dumb speakers.
But now may it be alleged, that if this managing of matters be so fit for the imagination, then must the historian needs surpass, who brings you images of true matters, such as, indeed, were done, and not such as fantastically or falsely may be suggested to have been done. Truly, Aristotle himself, in his Discourse of Poesy, plainly determineth this question, saying, that poetry is [Greek text], that is to say, it is more philosophical and more ingenious than history. His reason is, because poesy dealeth with [Greek text], that is to say, with the universal consideration, and the history [Greek text], the particular. “Now,” saith he, “the universal weighs what is fit to be said or done, either in likelihood or necessity; which the poesy considereth in his imposed names; and the particular only marks, whether Alcibiades did, or suffered, this or that:” thus far Aristotle.35 Which reason of his, as all his, is most full of reason. For, indeed, if the question were, whether it were better to have a particular act truly or falsely set down? there is no doubt which is to be chosen, no more than whether you had rather have Vespasian’s picture right as he was, or, at the painter’s pleasure, nothing resembling? But if the question be, for your own use and learning, whether it be better to have it set down as it should be, or as it was? then, certainly, is more doctrinable the feigned Cyrus in Xenophon, than the true Cyrus in Justin;36 and the feigned AEneas in Virgil, than the right AEneas in Dares Phrygius; 37 as to a lady that desired to fashion her countenance to the best grace, a painter should more benefit her, to portrait a most sweet face, writing Canidia upon it, than to paint Canidia as she was, who, Horace sweareth, was full ill-favoured. If the poet do his part aright, he will show you in Tantalus, Atreus, and such like, nothing that is not to be shunned; in Cyrus, AEneas, Ulysses, each thing to be followed; where the historian, bound to tell things as things were, cannot be liberal, without he will be poetical, of a perfect pattern; but, as in Alexander, or Scipio himself, show doings, some to be liked, some to be misliked; and then how will you discern what to follow, but by your own discretion, which you had, without reading Q. Curtius?38 And whereas, a man may say, though in universal consideration of doctrine, the poet prevaileth, yet that the history, in his saying such a thing was done, doth warrant a man more in that he shall follow; the answer is manifest: that if he stand upon that WAS, as if he should argue, because it rained yesterday therefore it should rain today; then, indeed, hath it some advantage to a gross conceit. But if he know an example only enforms a conjectured likelihood, and so go by reason, the poet doth so far exceed him, as he is to frame his example to that which is most reasonable, be it in warlike, politic, or private matters; where the historian in his bare WAS hath many times that which we call fortune to overrule the best wisdom. Many times he must tell events whereof he can yield no cause; or if he do, it must be poetically.
For, that a feigned example bath as much force to teach as a true example (for as for to move, it is clear, since the feigned may be tuned to the highest key of passion), let us take one example wherein an historian and a poet did concur. Herodotus and Justin do both testify, that Zopyrus, King Darius’s faithful servant, seeing his master long resisted by the rebellious Babylonians, feigned himself in extreme disgrace of his King; for verifying of which he caused his own nose and ears to be cut off, and so flying to the Babylonians, was received; and, for his known valour, so far credited, that he did find means to deliver them over to Darius. Much-like matters doth Livy record of Tarquinius and his son. Xenophon excellently feigned such another stratagem, performed by Abradatus in Cyrus’s behalf. Now would I fain know, if occasion be presented unto you to serve your prince by such an honest dissimulation, why do you not as well learn it of Xenophon’s fiction as of the other’s verity? and, truly, so much the better, as you shall save your nose by the bargain; for Abradatus did not counterfeit so far. So, then, the best of the historians is subject to the poet; for, whatsoever action or faction, whatsoever counsel, policy, or war stratagem the historian is bound to recite, that may the poet, if he list, with his imitation, make his own, beautifying it both for farther teaching, and more delighting, as it please him: having all, from Dante’s heaven to his hell, under the authority of his pen. Which if I be asked, What poets have done so? as I might well name some, so yet, say I, and say again, I speak of the art, and not of the artificer.
Now, to that which commonly is attributed to the praise of history, in respect of the notable learning which is got by marking the success, as though therein a man should see virtue exalted, and vice punished: truly, that commendation is peculiar to poetry, and far off from history; for, indeed, poetry ever sets virtue so out in her best colours, making fortune her well-waiting handmaid, that one must needs be enamoured of her. Well may you see Ulysses in a storm, and in other hard plights; but they are but exercises of patience and magnanimity, to make them shine the more in the near following prosperity. And, on the contrary part, if evil men come to the stage, they ever go out (as the tragedy writer answered to one that misliked the show of such persons) so manacled, as they little animate folks to follow them. But history being captive to the truth of a foolish world, in many times a terror from well-doing, and an encouragement to unbridled wickedness. For see we not valiant Miltiades rot in his fetters? the just Phocion and the accomplished Socrates put to death like traitors? the cruel Severus live prosperously? the excellent Severus miserably murdered? Sylla and Marius dying in their beds? Pompey and Cicero slain then when they would have thought exile a happiness? See we not virtuous Cato driven to kill himself, and rebel Caesar so advanced, that his name yet, after sixteen hundred years, lasteth in the highest honour? And mark but even Caesar’s own words of the forenamed Sylla, (who in that only did honestly, to put down his dishonest tyranny), “literas nescivit:” as if want of learning caused him to do well. He meant it not by poetry, which, not content with earthly plagues, deviseth new punishment in hell for tyrants: nor yet by philosophy, which teacheth “occidentes esse:” but, no doubt, by skill in history; for that, indeed, can afford you Cypselus, Periander, Phalaris, Dionysius, and I know not how many more of the same kennel, that speed well enough in their abominable injustice of usurpation.
I conclude, therefore, that he excelleth history, not only in furnishing the mind with knowledge, but in setting it forward to that which deserves to be called and accounted good: which setting forward, and moving to well-doing, indeed, setteth the laurel crowns upon the poets as victorious; not only of the historian, but over the philosopher, howsoever, in teaching, it may be questionable. For suppose it be granted, that which I suppose, with great reason, may be denied, that the philosopher, in respect of his methodical proceeding, teach more perfectly than the poet, yet do I think, that no man is so much [Greek text], as to compare the philosopher in moving with the poet. And that moving is of a higher degree than teaching, it may by this appear, that it is well nigh both the cause and effect of teaching; for who will be taught, if he be not moved with desire to be taught? And what so much good doth that teaching bring forth (I speak still of moral doctrine) as that it moveth one to do that which it doth teach. For, as Aristotle saith, it is not [Greek text] but [Greek text]39 must be the fruit: and how [Greek text] can be, without being moved to practise, it is no hard matter to consider. The philosopher showeth you the way, he informeth you of the particularities, as well of the tediousness of the way and of the pleasant lodging you shall have when your journey is ended, as of the many by-turnings that may divert you from your way; but this is to no man, but to him that will read him, and read him with attentive, studious painfulness; which constant desire whosoever hath in him, hath already passed half the hardness of the way, and therefore is beholden to the philosopher but for the other half. Nay, truly, learned men have learnedly thought, that where once reason hath so much over-mastered passion, as that the mind hath a free desire to do well, the inward light each mind hath in itself is as good as a philosopher’s book: since in nature we know it is well to do well, and what is well and what is evil, although not in the words of art which philosophers bestow upon us; for out of natural conceit the philosophers drew it; but to be moved to do that which we know, or to be moved with desire to know, “hoc opus, hic labor est.”
Now,40 therein, of all sciences (I speak still of human and according to the human conceit), is our poet the monarch. For he doth not only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way, as will entice any man to enter into it; nay, he doth, as if your journey should lie through a fair vineyard, at the very first give you a cluster of grapes, that full of that taste you may long to pass farther. He beginneth not with obscure definitions, which must blur the margin with interpretations, and load the memory with doubtfulness, but he cometh to you with words set in delightful proportion, either accompanied with, or prepared for, the well-enchanting skill of music; and with a tale, forsooth, he cometh unto you with a tale which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney-corner;41 and, pretending no more, doth intend the winning of the mind from wickedness to virtue; even as the child is often brought to take most wholesome things, by hiding them in such other as have a pleasant taste; which, if one should begin to tell them the nature of the aloes or rhubarbarum they should receive, would sooner take their physic at their ears than at their mouth; so it is in men (most of them are childish in the best things, till they be cradled in their graves); glad they will be to hear the tales of Hercules, Achilles, Cyrus, AEneas; and hearing them, must needs hear the right description of wisdom, valour, and justice; which, if they had been barely (that is to say, philosophically) set out, they would swear they be brought to school again. That imitation whereof poetry is, hath the most conveniency to nature of all other; insomuch that, as Aristotle saith, those things which in themselves are horrible, as cruel battles, unnatural monsters, are made, in poetical imitation, delightful. Truly, I have known men, that even with reading Amadis de Gaule, which, God knoweth, wanteth much of a perfect poesy, have found their hearts moved to the exercise of courtesy, liberality, and especially courage. Who readeth AEneas carrying old Anchises on his back, that wisheth not it were his fortune to perform so excellent an act? Whom doth not those words of Turnus move (the tale of Turnus having planted his image in the imagination)
“— fugientem haec terra videbit?
Usque adeone mori miserum est?”42
Where the philosophers (as they think) scorn to delight, so much they be content little to move, saving wrangling whether “virtus” be the chief or the only good; whether the contemplative or the active life do excel; which Plato and Boetius well knew; and therefore made mistress Philosophy very often borrow the masking raiment of poesy. For even those hard-hearted evil men, who think virtue a school-name, and know no other good but “indulgere genio,” and therefore despise the austere admonitions of the philosopher, and feel not the inward reason they stand upon; yet will be content to be delighted, which is all the good-fellow poet seems to promise; and so steal to see the form of goodness, which seen, they cannot but love, ere themselves be aware, as if they took a medicine of cherries.
Infinite43 proofs of the strange effects of this poetical invention might be alleged; only two shall serve, which are so often remembered, as, I think, all men know them. The one of Menenius Agrippa, who, when the whole people of Rome had resolutely divided themselves from the senate, with apparent show of utter ruin, though he were, for that time, an excellent orator, came not among them upon trust, either of figurative speeches, or cunning insinuations, and much less with far-fetched maxims of philosophy, which, especially if they were Platonic, they must have learned geometry before they could have conceived; but, forsooth, he behaveth himself like a homely and familiar poet. He telleth them a tale, that there was a time when all the parts of the body made a mutinous conspiracy against the belly, which they thought devoured the fruits of each other’s labour; they concluded they would let so unprofitable a spender starve. In the end, to be short (for the tale is notorious, and as notorious that it was a tale), with punishing the belly they plagued themselves. This, applied by him, wrought such effect in the people as I never read that only words brought forth; but then so sudden, and so good an alteration, for upon reasonable conditions a perfect reconcilement ensued.
The other is of Nathan the prophet, who, when the holy David had so far forsaken God, as to confirm adultery with murder, when he was to do the tenderest office of a friend, in laying his own shame before his eyes, being sent by God to call again so chosen a servant, how doth he it? but by telling of a man whose beloved lamb was ungratefully taken from his bosom. The application most divinely true, but the discourse itself feigned; which made David (I speak of the second and instrumental cause) as in a glass see his own filthiness, as that heavenly psalm of mercy well testifieth.
By these, therefore, examples and reasons, I think it may be manifest that the poet, with that same hand of delight, doth draw the mind more effectually than any other art doth. And so a conclusion not unfitly ensues; that as virtue is the most excellent resting-place for all worldly learning to make his end of, so poetry, being the most familiar to teach it, and most princely to move towards it, in the most excellent work is the most excellent workman.
But I am content not only to decipher him by his works (although works in commendation and dispraise must ever hold a high authority), but more narrowly will examine his parts; so that (as in a man) though all together may carry a presence full of majesty and beauty perchance in some one defectious44 piece we may find blemish.
Now,45 in his parts, kinds, or species, as you list to term them, it is to be noted that some poesies have coupled together two or three kinds; as the tragical and comical, whereupon is risen the tragi-comical; some, in the manner, have mingled prose and verse, as Sannazaro and Boetius; some have mingled matters heroical and pastoral; but that cometh all to one in this question; for, if severed they be good, the conjunction cannot be hurtful. Therefore, perchance, forgetting some, and leaving some as needless to be remembered, it shall not be amiss, in a word, to cite the special kinds, to see what faults may be found in the right use of them.
Is it, then, the pastoral poem which is misliked?46 For, perchance, where the hedge is lowest, they will soonest leap over. Is the poor pipe disdained, which sometimes, out of Melibaeus’s mouth, can show the misery of people under hard lords and ravening soldiers? And again, by Tityrus, what blessedness is derived to them that lie lowest from the goodness of them that sit highest? Sometimes under the pretty tales of wolves and sheep, can include the whole considerations of wrong doing and patience; sometimes show, that contentions for trifles can get but a trifling victory; where, perchance, a man may see that even Alexander and Darius, when they strove who should be cock of this world’s dunghill, the benefit they got was, that the after-livers may say,
“Haec memini, et victum frustra contendere Thyrsim.
Ex illo Corydon, Corydon est tempore nobis.”47
Or is it the lamenting elegiac,48 which, in a kind heart, would move rather pity than blame; who bewaileth, with the great philosopher Heraclitus, the weakness of mankind, and the wretchedness of the world; who, surely, is to be praised, either for compassionately accompanying just causes of lamentations, or for rightly pointing out how weak be the passions of wofulness?
Is it the bitter, but wholesome iambic,49 who rubs the galled mind, making shame the trumpet of villany, with bold and open crying out against naughtiness?
Or the satiric? who,
“Omne vafer vitium ridenti tangit amico;”50
who sportingly never leaveth, until he make a man laugh at folly, and, at length, ashamed to laugh at himself, which he cannot avoid without avoiding the folly; who, while “circum praecordia ludit,” giveth us to feel how many headaches a passionate life bringeth us to; who when all is done,
“Est Ulubris, animus si nos non deficit aequus.”51
No, perchance, it is the comic;52 whom naughty play-makers and stage-keepers have justly made odious. To the arguments of abuse I will after answer; only thus much now is to be said, that the comedy is an imitation of the common errors of our life, which he representeth in the most ridiculous and scornful sort that may be; so as it is impossible that any beholder can be content to be such a one. Now, as in geometry, the oblique must be known as well as the right, and in arithmetic, the odd as well as the even; so in the actions of our life, who seeth not the filthiness of evil, wanteth a great foil to perceive the beauty of virtue. This doth the comedy handle so, in our private and domestical matters, as, with hearing it, we get, as it were, an experience of what is to be looked for, of a niggardly Demea, of a crafty Davus, of a flattering Gnatho, of a vain-glorious Thraso; and not only to know what effects are to be expected, but to know who be such, by the signifying badge given them by the comedian. And little reason hath any man to say, that men learn the evil by seeing it so set out; since, as I said before, there is no man living, but by the force truth hath in nature, no sooner seeth these men play their parts, but wisheth them in “pistrinum;”53 although, perchance, the sack of his own faults lie so behind his back, that he seeth not himself to dance in the same measure, whereto yet nothing can more open his eyes than to see his own actions contemptibly set forth; so that the right use of comedy will, I think, by nobody be blamed.
And much less of the high and excellent tragedy,54 that openeth the greatest wounds, and showeth forth the ulcers that are covered with tissue; that maketh kings fear to be tyrants, and tyrants to manifest their tyrannical humours; that with stirring the effects of admiration and commiseration, teacheth the uncertainty of this world, and upon how weak foundations gilded roofs are builded; that maketh us know, “qui sceptra saevos duro imperio regit, timet timentes, metus in authorem redit.” But how much it can move, Plutarch yielded a notable testimony of the abominable tyrant Alexander Pheraeus; from whose eyes a tragedy, well made and represented, drew abundance of tears, who without all pity had murdered infinite numbers, and some of his own blood; so as he that was not ashamed to make matters for tragedies, yet could not resist the sweet violence of a tragedy. And if it wrought no farther good in him, it was that he, in despite of himself, withdrew himself from hearkening to that which might mollify his hardened heart. But it is not the tragedy they do dislike, for it were too absurd to cast out so excellent a representation of whatsoever is most worthy to be learned.
Is it the lyric that most displeaseth, who with his tuned lyre and well-accorded voice, giveth praise, the reward of virtue, to virtuous acts? who giveth moral precepts and natural problems? who sometimes raiseth up his voice to the height of the heavens, in singing the lauds of the immortal God? Certainly, I must confess mine own barbarousness; I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas, that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet;55 and yet it is sung but by some blind crowder, with no rougher voice than rude style; which being so evil apparelled in the dust and cobweb of that uncivil age, what would it work, trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar? In Hungary I have seen it the manner at all feasts, and all other such-like meetings, to have songs of their ancestors’ valour, which that right soldier-like nation think one of the chiefest kindlers of brave courage. The incomparable Lacedaemonians did not only carry that kind of music ever with them to the field, but even at home, as such songs were made, so were they all content to be singers of them; when the lusty men were to tell what they did, the old men what they had done, and the young what they would do. And where a man may say that Pindar many times praiseth highly victories of small moment, rather matters of sport than virtue; as it may be answered, it was the fault of the poet, and not of the poetry, so, indeed, the chief fault was in the time and custom of the Greeks, who set those toys at so high a price, that Philip of Macedon reckoned a horse-race won at Olympus among three fearful felicities. But as the inimitable Pindar often did, so is that kind most capable, and most fit, to awake the thoughts from the sleep of idleness, to embrace honourable enterprises.
There rests the heroical,56 whose very name, I think, should daunt all backbiters. For by what conceit can a tongue be directed to speak evil of that which draweth with him no less champions than Achilles, Cyrus, AEneas, Turus, Tydeus, Rinaldo? who doth not only teach and move to truth, but teacheth and moveth to the most high and excellent truth: who maketh magnanimity and justice shine through all misty fearfulness and foggy desires? who, if the saying of Plato and Tully be true, that who could see virtue, would be wonderfully ravished with the love of her beauty; this man setteth her out to make her more lovely, in her holiday apparel, to the eye of any that will deign not to disdain until they understand. But if any thing be already said in the defence of sweet poetry, all concurreth to the maintaining the heroical, which is not only a kind, but the best and most accomplished kind, of poetry. For, as the image of each action stirreth and instructeth the mind, so the lofty image of such worthies most inflameth the mind with desire to be worthy, and informs with counsel how to be worthy. Only let AEneas be worn in the tablet of your memory, how he governeth himself in the ruin of his country; in the preserving his old father, and carrying away his religious ceremonies; in obeying God’s commandments, to leave Dido, though not only passionate kindness, but even the human consideration of virtuous gratefulness, would have craved other of him; how in storms, how in sports, how in war, how in peace, how a fugitive, how victorious, how besieged, how besieging, how to strangers, how to allies, how to enemies; how to his own, lastly, how in his inward self, and how in his outward government; and I think, in a mind most prejudiced with a prejudicating humour, he will be found in excellency fruitful. Yea, as Horace saith, “Melius Chrysippo et Crantore:”57 but, truly, I imagine it falleth out with these poet-whippers as with some good women who often are sick, but in faith they cannot tell where. So the name of poetry is odious to them, but neither his cause nor effects, neither the sum that contains him, nor the particularities descending from him, give any fast handle to their carping dispraise.
Since, then,58 poetry is of all human learnings the most ancient, and of most fatherly antiquity, as from whence other learnings have taken their beginnings; since it is so universal that no learned nation doth despise it, nor barbarous nation is without it; since both Roman and Greek gave such divine names unto it, the one of prophesying, the other of making, and that indeed that name of making is fit for him, considering, that where all other arts retain themselves within their subject, and receive, as it were, their being from it, the poet only, only bringeth his own stuff, and doth not learn a conceit out of a matter, but maketh matter for a conceit; since neither his description nor end containeth any evil, the thing described cannot be evil; since his effects be so good as to teach goodness, and delight the learners of it; since therein (namely, in moral doctrine, the chief of all knowledges) he doth not only far pass the historian, but, for instructing, is well nigh comparable to the philosopher; for moving, leaveth him behind him; since the Holy Scripture (wherein there is no uncleanness) hath whole parts in it poetical, and that even our Saviour Christ vouchsafed to use the flowers of it; since all his kinds are not only in their united forms, but in their severed dissections fully commendable; I think, and think I think rightly, the laurel crown appointed for triumphant captains, doth worthily, of all other learnings, honour the poet’s triumph.
But59 because we have ears as well as tongues, and that the lightest reasons that may be, will seem to weigh greatly, if nothing be put in the counterbalance, let us hear, and, as well as we can, ponder what objections be made against this art, which may be worthy either of yielding or answering.
First, truly, I note, not only in these [Greek text], poet-haters, but in all that kind of people who seek a praise by dispraising others, that they do prodigally spend a great many wandering words in quips and scoffs, carping and taunting at each thing, which, by stirring the spleen, may stay the brain from a thorough beholding, the worthiness of the subject. Those kind of objections, as they are full of a very idle uneasiness (since there is nothing of so sacred a majesty, but that an itching tongue may rub itself upon it), so deserve they no other answer, but, instead of laughing at the jest, to laugh at the jester. We know a playing wit can praise the discretion of an ass, the comfortableness of being in debt, and the jolly commodities of being sick of the plague; so, of the contrary side, if we will turn Ovid’s verse,
“Ut lateat virtus proximitate mali.”
“That good lies hid in nearness of the evil,” Agrippa will be as merry in the showing the Vanity of Science, as Erasmus was in the commending of Folly;60 neither shall any man or matter escape some touch of these smiling railers. But for Erasmus and Agrippa, they had another foundation than the superficial part would promise. Marry, these other pleasant fault-finders, who will correct the verb before they understand the noun, and confute others’ knowledge before they confirm their own; I would have them only remember, that scoffing cometh not of wisdom; so as the best title in true English they get with their merriments, is to be called good fools; for so have our grave forefathers ever termed that humorous kind of jesters.
But that which giveth greatest scope to their scorning humour, is rhyming and versing.61 It is already said, and, as I think, truly said, it is not rhyming and versing that maketh poesy; one may be a poet without versing, and a versifier without poetry. But yet, presuppose it were inseparable, as indeed, it seemeth Scaliger judgeth truly, it were an inseparable commendation; for if “oratio” next to “ratio,” speech next to reason, be the greatest gift bestowed upon mortality, that cannot be praiseless which doth most polish that blessing of speech; which considereth each word, not only as a man may say by his forcible quality, but by his best measured quantity; carrying even in themselves a harmony; without, perchance, number, measure, order, proportion be in our time grown odious.
But lay aside the just praise it hath, by being the only fit speech for music — music, I say, the most divine striker of the senses; thus much is undoubtedly true, that if reading be foolish without remembering, memory being the only treasure of knowledge, those words which are fittest for memory, are likewise most convenient for knowledge. Now, that verse far exceedeth prose in the knitting up of the memory, the reason is manifest: the words, besides their delight, which hath a great affinity to memory, being so set as one cannot be lost, but the whole work fails: which accusing itself, calleth the remembrance back to itself, and so most strongly confirmeth it. Besides, one word so, as it were, begetting another, as, be it in rhyme or measured verse, by the former a man shall have a near guess to the follower. Lastly, even they that have taught the art of memory, have showed nothing so apt for it as a certain room divided into many places, well and thoroughly known; now that hath the verse in effect perfectly, every word having his natural seat, which seat must needs make the word remembered. But what needs more in a thing so known to all men? Who is it that ever was a scholar that doth not carry away some verses of Virgil, Horace, or Cato, which in his youth he learned, and even to his old age serve him for hourly lessons? as,
“Percontatorem fugito: nam garrulus idem est.
Dum sibi quisque placet credula turba sumus.”62
But the fitness it hath for memory is notably proved by all delivery of arts, wherein, for the most part, from grammar to logic, mathematics, physic, and the rest, the rules chiefly necessary to be borne away are compiled in verses. So that verse being in itself sweet and orderly, and being best for memory, the only handle of knowledge, it must be in jest that any man can speak against it.
Now63 then go we to the most important imputations laid to the poor poets; for aught I can yet learn, they are these.
First, that there being many other more fruitful knowledges, a man might better spend his time in them than in this.
Secondly, that it is the mother of lies.
Thirdly, that it is the nurse of abuse, infecting us with many pestilent desires, with a syren sweetness, drawing the mind to the serpent’s tail of sinful fancies; and herein, especially, comedies give the largest field to ear, as Chaucer saith; how, both in other nations and ours, before poets did soften us, we were full of courage, given to martial exercises, the pillars of manlike liberty, and not lulled asleep in shady idleness with poets’ pastimes.
And lastly and chiefly, they cry out with open mouth, as if they had overshot Robin Hood, that Plato banished them out of his commonwealth. Truly this is much, if there be much truth in it.
First,64 to the first, that a man might better spend his time, is a reason indeed; but it doth, as they say, but “petere principium.”65 For if it be, as I affirm, that no learning is so good as that which teacheth and moveth to virtue, and that none can both teach and move thereto so much as poesy, then is the conclusion manifest, that ink and paper cannot be to a more profitable purpose employed. And certainly, though a man should grant their first assumption, it should follow, methinks, very unwillingly, that good is not good because better is better. But I still and utterly deny that there is sprung out of earth a more fruitful knowledge.
To66 the second, therefore, that they should be the principal liars, I answer paradoxically, but truly, I think truly, that of all writers under the sun, the poet is the least liar; and though he would, as a poet, can scarcely be a liar. The astronomer, with his cousin the geometrician, can hardly escape when they take upon them to measure the height of the stars. How often, think you, do the physicians lie, when they aver things good for sicknesses, which afterwards send Charon a great number of souls drowned in a potion before they come to his ferry. And no less of the rest which take upon them to affirm. Now for the poet, he nothing affirmeth, and therefore never lieth; for, as I take it, to lie is to affirm that to be true which is false: so as the other artists, and especially the historian, affirmeth many things, can, in the cloudy knowledge of mankind, hardly escape from many lies: but the poet, as I said before, never affirmeth; the poet never maketh any circles about your imagination, to conjure you to believe for true what he writeth: he citeth not authorities of other histories, but even for his entry calleth the sweet Muses to inspire into him a good invention; in troth, not labouring to tell you what is or is not, but what should or should not be. And, therefore, though he recount things not true, yet because he telleth them not for true he lieth not; without we will say that Nathan lied in his speech, before alleged, to David; which, as a wicked man durst scarce say, so think I none so simple would say, that AEsop lied in the tales of his beasts; for who thinketh that AEsop wrote it for actually true, were well worthy to have his name chronicled among the beasts he writeth of. What child is there that cometh to a play, and seeing Thebes written in great letters upon an old door, doth believe that it is Thebes? If then a man can arrive to the child’s age, to know that the poet’s persons and doings are but pictures what should be, and not stories what have been, they will never give the lie to things not affirmatively, but allegorically and figuratively written; and therefore, as in history, looking for truth, they may go away full fraught with falsehood, so in poesy, looking but for fiction, they shall use the narration but as an imaginative ground-plot of a profitable invention.
But hereto is replied, that the poets give names to men they write of, which argueth a conceit of an actual truth, and so, not being true, proveth a falsehood. And doth the lawyer lie then, when, under the names of John of the Stile, and John of the Nokes, he putteth his case? But that is easily answered, their naming of men is but to make their picture the more lively, and not to build any history. Painting men, they cannot leave men nameless; we see we cannot play at chess but that we must give names to our chess-men: and yet, methinks, he were a very partial champion of truth that would say we lied for giving a piece of wood the reverend title of a bishop. The poet nameth Cyrus and AEneas no other way than to show what men of their fames, fortunes, and estates should do.
Their67 third is, how much it abuseth men’s wit, training it to a wanton sinfulness and lustful love. For, indeed, that is the principal if not only abuse I can hear alleged. They say the comedies rather teach, than reprehend, amorous conceits; they say the lyric is larded with passionate sonnets; the elegiac weeps the want of his mistress; and that even to the heroical Cupid hath ambitiously climbed. Alas! Love, I would thou couldst as well defend thyself, as thou canst offend others! I would those on whom thou dost attend, could either put thee away or yield good reason why they keep thee! But grant love of beauty to be a beastly fault, although it be very hard, since only man, and no beast, hath that gift to discern beauty; grant that lovely name of love to deserve all hateful reproaches, although even some of my masters the philosophers spent a good deal of their lamp-oil in setting forth the excellency of it; grant, I say, what they will have granted, that not only love, but lust, but vanity, but, if they list, scurrility, possess many leaves of the poets’ books; yet, think I, when this is granted, they will find their sentence may, with good manners, put the last words foremost; and not say that poetry abuseth man’s wit, but that man’s wit abuseth poetry. For I will not deny but that man’s wit may make poesy, which should be [Greek text], which some learned have defined, figuring forth good things, to be [Greek text], which doth contrariwise infect the fancy with unworthy objects; as the painter, who should give to the eye either some excellent perspective, or some fine picture fit for building or fortification, or containing in it some notable example, as Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac, Judith killing Holofernes, David fighting with Goliath, may leave those, and please an ill-pleased eye with wanton shows of better-hidden matters.
But, what! shall the abuse of a thing make the right use odious? Nay, truly, though I yield that poesy may not only be abused, but that being abused, by the reason of his sweet charming force, it can do more hurt than any other army of words, yet shall it be so far from concluding, that the abuse shall give reproach to the abused, that, contrariwise, it is a good reason, that whatsoever being abused, doth most harm, being rightly used (and upon the right use each thing receives his title) doth most good. Do we not see skill of physic, the best rampire68 to our often-assaulted bodies, being abused, teach poison, the most violent destroyer? Doth not knowledge of law, whose end is to even and right all things, being abused, grow the crooked fosterer of horrible injuries? Doth not (to go in the highest) God’s word abused breed heresy, and His name abused become blasphemy? Truly, a needle cannot do much hurt, and as truly (with leave of ladies be it spoken) it cannot do much good. With a sword thou mayest kill thy father, and with a sword thou mayest defend thy prince and country; so that, as in their calling poets fathers of lies, they said nothing, so in this their argument of abuse, they prove the commendation.
They allege herewith, that before poets began to be in price, our nation had set their heart’s delight upon action, and not imagination; rather doing things worthy to be written, than writing things fit to be done. What that before time was, I think scarcely Sphynx can tell; since no memory is so ancient that gives not the precedence to poetry. And certain it is, that, in our plainest homeliness, yet never was the Albion nation without poetry. Marry, this argument, though it be levelled against poetry, yet it is indeed a chain-shot against all learning or bookishness, as they commonly term it. Of such mind were certain Goths, of whom it is written, that having in the spoil of a famous city taken a fair library, one hangman, belike fit to execute the fruits of their wits, who had murdered a great number of bodies, would have set fire in it. “No,” said another, very gravely, “take heed what you do, for while they are busy about those toys, we shall with more leisure conquer their countries.” This, indeed, is the ordinary doctrine of ignorance, and many words sometimes I have heard spent in it; but because this reason is generally against all learning as well as poetry, or rather all learning but poetry; because it were too large a digression to handle it, or at least too superfluous, since it is manifest that all government of action is to be gotten by knowledge, and knowledge best by gathering many knowledges, which is reading,; I only say with Horace, to him that is of that opinion,
“Jubeo stultum esse libenter —”69
for as for poetry itself, it is the freest from this, objection, for poetry is the companion of camps. I dare undertake, Orlando Furioso, or honest King Arthur, will never displease a soldier: but the quiddity of “ens” and “prima materia” will hardly agree with a corslet. And, therefore, as I said in the beginning, even Turks and Tartars are delighted with poets. Homer, a Greek, flourished before Greece flourished; and if to a slight conjecture a conjecture may be opposed, truly it may seem, that as by him their learned men took almost their first light of knowledge, so their active men receive their first notions of courage. Only Alexander’s example may serve, who by Plutarch is accounted of such virtue that fortune was not his guide but his footstool; whose acts speak for him, though Plutarch did not; indeed, the phoenix of warlike princes. This Alexander left his schoolmaster, living Aristotle, behind him, but took dead Homer with him. He put the philosopher Callisthenes to death, for his seeming philosophical, indeed mutinous, stubbornness; but the chief thing he was ever heard to wish for was that Homer had been alive. He well found he received more bravery of mind by the pattern of Achilles, than by hearing the definition of fortitude. And, therefore, if Cato misliked Fulvius for carrying Ennius with him to the field, it may be answered that if Cato misliked it the noble Fulvius liked it, or else he had not done it; for it was not the excellent Cato Uticensis whose authority I would much more have reverenced, but it was the former, in truth a bitter punisher of faults, but else a man that had never sacrificed to the Graces. He misliked, and cried out against, all Greek learning, and yet, being fourscore years old, began to learn it, belike fearing that Pluto understood not Latin. Indeed, the Roman laws allowed no person to be carried to the wars but he that was in the soldiers’ roll. And, therefore, though Cato misliked his unmustered person, he misliked not his work. And if he had, Scipio Nasica (judged by common consent the best Roman) loved him: both the other Scipio brothers, who had by their virtues no less surnames than of Asia and Afric, so loved him that they caused his body to be buried in their sepulture. So, as Cato’s authority being but against his person, and that answered with so far greater than himself, is herein of no validity.
But70 now, indeed, my burthen is great, that Plato’s name is laid upon me, whom, I must confess, of all philosophers I have ever esteemed most worthy of reverence; and with good reason, since of all philosophers he is the most poetical; yet if he will defile the fountain out of which his flowing streams have proceeded, let us boldly examine with what reason he did it.
First, truly, a man might maliciously object that Plato, being a philosopher, was a natural enemy of poets. For, indeed, after the philosophers had picked out of the sweet mysteries of poetry the right discerning of true points of knowledge, they forthwith, putting it in method, and making a school of art of that which the poets did only teach by a divine delightfulness, beginning to spurn at their guides, like ungrateful apprentices, were not content to set up shop for themselves, but sought by all means to discredit their masters; which, by the force of delight being barred them, the less they could overthrow them, the more they hated them. For, indeed, they found for Homer seven cities strove who should have him for their citizen, where many cities banished philosophers as not fit members to live among them. For only repeating certain of Euripides’ verses many Athenians had their lives saved of the Syracusans, where the Athenians themselves thought many of the philosophers unworthy to live. Certain poets, as Simonides and Pindar, had so prevailed with Hiero the First, that of a tyrant they made him a just king; where Plato could do so little with Dionysius that he himself, of a philosopher, was made a slave. But who should do thus, I confess, should requite the objections raised against poets with like cavillations against philosophers; as likewise one should do that should bid one read Phaedrus or Symposium in Plato, or the discourse of Love in Plutarch, and see whether any poet do authorise abominable filthiness as they do.
Again, a man might ask, out of what Commonwealth Plato doth banish them? In sooth, thence where he himself alloweth community of women. So, as belike this banishment grew not for effeminate wantonness, since little should poetical sonnets be hurtful, when a man might have what woman he listed. But I honour philosophical instructions, and bless the wits which bred them, so as they be not abused, which is likewise stretched to poetry. Saint Paul himself sets a watchword upon philosophy, indeed upon the abuse. So doth Plato upon the abuse, not upon poetry. Plato found fault that the poets of his time filled the world with wrong opinions of the gods, making light tales of that unspotted essence, and therefore would not have the youth depraved with such opinions. Herein may much be said; let this suffice: the poets did not induce such opinions, but did imitate those opinions already induced. For all the Greek stories can well testify that the very religion of that time stood upon many and many-fashioned gods; not taught so by poets, but followed according to their nature of imitation. Who list may read in Plutarch the discourses of Isis and Osiris, of the cause why oracles ceased, of the Divine providence, and see whether the theology of that nation stood not upon such dreams, which the poets indeed superstitiously observed; and truly, since they had not the light of Christ, did much better in it than the philosophers, who, shaking off superstition, brought in atheism.
Plato, therefore, whose authority I had much rather justly construe than unjustly resist, meant not in general of poets, in those words of which Julius Scaliger saith, “qua authoritate, barbari quidam atque insipidi, abuti velint ad poetas e republica exigendos71:” but only meant to drive out those wrong opinions of the Deity, whereof now, without farther law, Christianity hath taken away all the hurtful belief, perchance as he thought nourished by then esteemed poets. And a man need go no farther than to Plato himself to know his meaning; who, in his dialogue called “Ion,”72 giveth high, and rightly, divine commendation unto poetry. So as Plato, banishing the abuse, not the thing, not banishing it, but giving due honour to it, shall be our patron, and not our adversary. For, indeed, I had much rather, since truly I may do it, show their mistaking of Plato, under whose lion’s skin they would make an ass-like braying against poesy, than go about to overthrow his authority; whom, the wiser a man is, the more just cause he shall find to have in admiration; especially since he attributeth unto poesy more than myself do, namely, to be a very inspiring of a divine force, far above man’s wit, as in the fore-named dialogue is apparent.
Of the other side, who would show the honours have been by the best sort of judgments granted them, a whole sea of examples would present themselves; Alexanders, Caesars, Scipios, all favourers of poets; Laelius, called the Roman Socrates, himself a poet; so as part of Heautontimeroumenos, in Terence, was supposed to be made by him. And even the Greek Socrates, whom Apollo confirmed to be the only wise man, is said to have spent part of his old time in putting AEsop’s Fables into verse; and, therefore, full evil should it become his scholar Plato to put such words in his master’s mouth against poets. But what needs more? Aristotle writes the “Art of Poesy;” and why, if it should not be written? Plutarch teacheth the use to be gathered of them; and how, if they should not be read? And who reads Plutarch’s either history or philosophy, shall find he trimmeth both their garments with guards73 of poesy.
But I list not to defend poesy with the help of his underling historiographer. Let it suffice to have showed it is a fit soil for praise to dwell upon; and what dispraise may be set upon it is either easily overcome, or transformed into just commendation. So that since the excellences of it may be so easily and so justly confirmed, and the low creeping objections so soon trodden down74; it not being an art of lies, but of true doctrine; not of effeminateness, but of notable stirring of courage; not of abusing man’s wit, but of strengthening man’s wit; not banished, but honoured by Plato; let us rather plant more laurels for to ingarland the poets’ heads (which honour of being laureate, as besides them only triumphant captains were, is a sufficient authority to show the price they ought to be held in) than suffer the ill-favoured breath of such wrong speakers once to blow upon the clear springs of poesy.
But75 since I have run so long a career in this matter, methinks, before I give my pen a full stop, it shall be but a little more lost time to inquire, why England, the mother of excellent minds, should be grown so hard a step-mother to poets, who certainly in wit ought to pass all others, since all only proceeds from their wit, being, indeed, makers of themselves, not takers of others. How can I but exclaim,
“Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso?”76
Sweet poesy! that hath anciently had kings, emperors, senators, great captains, such as, besides a thousand others, David, Adrian, Sophocles, Germanicus, not only to favour poets, but to be poets; and of our nearer times can present for her patrons, a Robert, King of Sicily; the great King Francis of France; King James of Scotland; such cardinals as Bembus and Bibiena; such famous preachers and teachers as Beza and Melancthon; so learned philosophers as Fracastorius and Scaliger; so great orators as Pontanus and Muretus; so piercing wits as George Buchanan; so grave councillors as, besides many, but before all, that Hospital77 of France, than whom, I think, that realm never brought forth a more accomplished judgment more firmly builded upon virtue; I say these, with numbers of others, not only to read others’ poesies, but to poetise for others’ reading: that poesy, thus embraced in all other places, should only find in our time a hard welcome in England, I think the very earth laments it, and therefore decks our soil with fewer laurels than it was accustomed. For heretofore poets have in England also flourished; and, which is to be noted, even in those times when the trumpet of Mars did sound loudest. And now that an over-faint quietness should seem to strew the house for poets, they are almost in as good reputation as the mountebanks at Venice. Truly, even that, as of the one side it giveth great praise to poesy, which, like Venus (but to better purpose), had rather be troubled in the net with Mars, than enjoy the homely quiet of Vulcan; so serveth it for a piece of a reason why they are less grateful to idle England, which now can scarce endure the pain of a pen. Upon this necessarily followeth that base men with servile wits undertake it, who think it enough if they can be rewarded of the printer; and so as Epaminondas is said, with the honour of his virtue, to have made an office by his exercising it, which before was contemptible, to become highly respected; so these men, no more but setting their names to it, by their own disgracefulness, disgrace the most graceful poesy. For now, as if all the Muses were got with child, to bring forth bastard poets, without any commission, they do post over the banks of Helicon, until they make their readers more weary than post-horses; while, in the meantime, they,
“Queis meliore luto finxit praecordia Titan,”78
are better content to suppress the outflowings of their wit, than by publishing them to be accounted knights of the same order.
But I that, before ever I durst aspire unto the dignity, am admitted into the company of the paper-blurrers, do find the very true cause of our wanting estimation is want of desert, taking upon us to be poets in despite of Pallas. Now, wherein we want desert, were a thankworthy labour to express. But if I knew, I should have mended myself; but as I never desired the title so have I neglected the means to come by it; only, overmastered by some thoughts, I yielded an inky tribute unto them. Marry, they that delight in poesy itself, should seek to know what they do, and how they do, especially look themselves in an unflattering glass of reason, if they be inclinable unto it.
For poesy must not be drawn by the ears, it must be gently led, or rather it must lead; which was partly the cause that made the ancient learned affirm it was a divine, and no human skill, since all other knowledges lie ready for any that have strength of wit; a poet no industry can make, if his own genius be not carried into it. And therefore is an old proverb, “Orator fit, poeta nascitur.”79
Yet confess I always, that as the fertilest ground must be manured, so must the highest flying wit have a Daedalus to guide him. That Daedalus, they say, both in this and in other, hath three wings to bear itself up into the air of due commendation; that is art, imitation, and exercise. But these, neither artificial rules, nor imitative patterns, we much cumber ourselves withal. Exercise, indeed, we do, but that very forebackwardly; for where we should exercise to know, we exercise as having known; and so is our brain delivered of much matter which never was begotten by knowledge. For there being two principal parts, matter to be expressed by words, and words to express the matter, in neither we use art or imitation rightly. Our matter is “quodlibet,”80 indeed, although wrongly, performing Ovid’s verse,
“Quicquid conabor dicere, versus erit;”81
never marshalling it into any assured rank, that almost the readers cannot tell where to find themselves.
Chaucer, undoubtedly, did excellently in his Troilus and Cressida; of whom, truly, I know not whether to marvel more, either that he in that misty time could see so clearly, or that we in this clear age go so stumblingly after him. Yet had he great wants, fit to be forgiven in so reverend antiquity. I account the Mirror of Magistrates meetly furnished of beautiful parts. And in the Earl of Surrey’s Lyrics, many things tasting of a noble birth, and worthy of a noble mind. The “Shepherds’ Kalendar” hath much poesy in his eclogues, indeed, worthy the reading, if I be not deceived. That same framing of his 82 style to an old rustic language, I dare not allow; since neither Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor Sannazaro in Italian, did affect it. Besides these, I do not remember to have seen but few (to speak boldly) printed that have poetical sinews in them. For proof whereof, let but most of the verses be put in prose, and then ask the meaning, and it will be found that one verse did but beget another, without ordering at the first what should be at the last; which becomes a confused mass of words, with a tinkling sound of rhyme, barely accompanied with reason.
Our83 tragedies and comedies, not without cause, are cried out against, observing rules neither of honest civility nor skilful poetry. Excepting Gorboduc (again I say of those that I have seen), which notwithstanding, as it is full of stately speeches, and well-sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca his style, and as full of notable morality, which it does most delightfully teach, and so obtain the very end of poesy; yet, in truth, it is very defectuous in the circumstances, which grieves me, because it might not remain as an exact model of all tragedies. For it is faulty both in place and time, the two necessary companions of all corporal actions. For where the stage should always represent but one place; and the uttermost time presupposed in it should be, both by Aristotle’s precept, and common reason, but one day; there is both many days and many places inartificially imagined.
But if it be so in Gorboduc, how much more in all the rest? where you shall have Asia of the one side, and Afric of the other, and so many other under kingdoms, that the player, when he comes in, must ever begin with telling where he is, 84 or else the tale will not be conceived. Now shall you have three ladies walk to gather flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden. By and by, we hear news of shipwreck in the same place, then we are to blame if we accept it not for a rock. Upon the back of that comes out a hideous monster with fire and smoke, and then the miserable beholders are bound to take it for a cave; while, in the meantime, two armies fly in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and then, what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field?
Now of time they are much more liberal; for ordinary it is, that two young princes fall in love; after many traverses she is got with child; delivered of a fair boy; he is lost, groweth a man, falleth in love, and is ready to get another child; and all this in two hours’ space; which, how absurd it is in sense, even sense may imagine; and art hath taught and all ancient examples justified, and at this day the ordinary players in Italy will not err in. Yet will some bring in an example of the Eunuch in Terence, that containeth matter of two days, yet far short of twenty years. True it is, and so was it to be played in two days, and so fitted to the time it set forth. And though Plautus have in one place done amiss, let us hit it with him, and not miss with him. But they will say, How then shall we set forth a story which contains both many places and many times? And do they not know, that a tragedy is tied to the laws of poesy, and not of history; not bound to follow the story, but having liberty either to feign a quite new matter, or to frame the history to the most tragical convenience? Again, many things may be told, which cannot be showed: if they know the difference betwixt reporting and representing. As for example, I may speak, though I am here, of Peru, and in speech digress from that to the description of Calicut; but in action I cannot represent it without Pacolet’s horse. And so was the manner the ancients took by some “Nuntius,”85 to recount things done in former time, or other place.
Lastly, if they will represent an history, they must not, as Horace saith, begin “ab ovo,”86 but they must come to the principal point of that one action which they will represent. By example this will be best expressed; I have a story of young Polydorus, delivered, for safety’s sake, with great riches, by his father Priamus to Polymnestor, King of Thrace, in the Trojan war time. He, after some years, hearing of the overthrow of Priamus, for to make the treasure his own, murdereth the child; the body of the child is taken up; Hecuba, she, the same day, findeth a sleight to be revenged most cruelly of the tyrant. Where, now, would one of our tragedy-writers begin, but with the delivery of the child? Then should he sail over into Thrace, and so spend I know not how many years, and travel numbers of places. But where doth Euripides? Even with the finding of the body; leaving the rest to be told by the spirit of Polydorus. This needs no farther to be enlarged; the dullest wit may conceive it.
But, besides these gross absurdities, how all their plays be neither right tragedies nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in the clown by head and shoulders to play a part in majestical matters, with neither decency nor discretion; so as neither the admiration and commiseration, nor the right sportfulness, is by their mongrel tragi-comedy obtained. I know Apuleius did somewhat so, but that is a thing recounted with space of time, not represented in one moment: and I know the ancients have one or two examples of tragi-comedies as Plautus hath Amphytrio. But, if we mark them well, we shall find, that they never, or very daintily, match horn-pipes and funerals. So falleth it out, that having indeed no right comedy in that comical part of our tragedy, we have nothing but scurrility, unworthy of any chaste ears; or some extreme show of doltishness, indeed fit to lift up a loud laughter, and nothing else; where the whole tract of a comedy should be full of delight; as the tragedy should be still maintained in a well-raised admiration.
But our comedians think there is no delight without laughter, which is very wrong; for though laughter may come with delight, yet cometh it not of delight, as though delight should be the cause of laughter; but well may one thing breed both together. Nay, in themselves, they have, as it were, a kind of contrariety. For delight we scarcely do, but in things that have a conveniency to ourselves, or to the general nature. Laughter almost ever cometh of things most disproportioned to ourselves and nature: delight hath a joy in it either permanent or present; laughter hath only a scornful tickling. For example: we are ravished with delight to see a fair woman, and yet are far from being moved to laughter; we laugh at deformed creatures, wherein certainly we cannot delight; we delight in good chances; we laugh at mischances; we delight to hear the happiness of our friends and country, at which he were worthy to be laughed at that would laugh: we shall, contrarily, sometimes laugh to find a matter quite mistaken, and go down the hill against the bias,87 in the mouth of some such men, as for the respect of them, one shall be heartily sorrow he cannot choose but laugh, and so is rather pained than delighted with laughter. Yet deny I not, but that they may go well together; for, as in Alexander’s picture well set out, we delight without laughter, and in twenty mad antics we laugh without delight: so in Hercules, painted with his great beard and furious countenance, in a woman’s attire, spinning at Omphale’s commandment, it breeds both delight and laughter; for the representing of so strange a power in love procures delight, and the scornfulness of the action stirreth laughter.
But I speak to this purpose, that all the end of the comical part be not upon such scornful matters as stir laughter only, but mix with it that delightful teaching which is the end of poesy. And the great fault, even in that point of laughter, and forbidden plainly by Aristotle, is, that they stir laughter in sinful things, which are rather execrable than ridiculous; or in miserable, which are rather to be pitied than scorned. For what is it to make folks gape at a wretched beggar, and a beggarly clown; or against the law of hospitality, to jest at strangers, because they speak not English so well as we do? what do we learn, since it is certain,
“Nil habet infelix pauperatas durius in se,
Quam qnod ridiculos, homines facit.”88
But rather a busy loving courtier, and a heartless threatening Thraso; a self-wise seeming school-master; a wry-transformed traveller: these, if we saw walk in stage names, which we play naturally, therein were delightful laughter, and teaching delightfulness: as in the other, the tragedies of Buchanan89 do justly bring forth a divine admiration.
But I have lavished out too many words of this play matter; I do it, because, as they are excelling parts of poesy, so is there none so much used in England, and none can be more pitifully abused; which, like an unmannerly daughter, showing a bad education, causeth her mother Poesy’s honesty to be called in question.
Other90 sorts of poetry, almost, have we none, but that lyrical kind of songs and sonnets, which, if the Lord gave us so good minds, how well it might be employed, and with how heavenly fruits, both private and public, in singing the praises of the immortal beauty, the immortal goodness of that God, who giveth us hands to write, and wits to conceive; of which we might well want words, but never matter; of which we could turn our eyes to nothing, but we should ever have new budding occasions.
But, truly, many of such writings as come under the banner of unresistible love, if I were a mistress, would never persuade me they were in love; so coldly they apply fiery speeches, as men that had rather read lover’s writings, and so caught up certain swelling phrases, which hang together like a man that once told me, “the wind was at north-west and by south,” because he would be sure to name winds enough; than that, in truth, they feel those passions, which easily, as I think, may be bewrayed by the same forcibleness, or “energia” (as the Greeks call it), of the writer. But let this be a sufficient, though short note, that we miss the right use of the material point of poesy.
Now91 for the outside of it, which is words, or (as I may term it) diction, it is even well worse; so is that honey-flowing matron eloquence, apparelled, or rather disguised, in a courtesan-like painted affectation. One time with so far-fetched words, that many seem monsters, but most seem strangers to any poor Englishman: another time with coursing of a letter, as if they were bound to follow the method of a dictionary: another time with figures and flowers, extremely winter-starved.
But I would this fault were only peculiar to versifiers, and had not as large possession among prose printers: and, which is to be marvelled, among many scholars, and, which is to be pitied, among some preachers. Truly, I could wish (if at least I might be so bold to wish, in a thing beyond the reach of my capacity) the diligent imitators of Tully and Demosthenes, most worthy to be imitated, did not so much keep Nizolian paper-books92 of their figures and phrases, as by attentive translation, as it were, devour them whole, and make them wholly theirs. For now they cast sugar and spice upon every dish that is served at the table: like those Indians, not content to wear ear-rings at the fit and natural place of the ears, but they will thrust jewels through their nose and lips, because they will be sure to be fine.
Tully, when he was to drive out Catiline, as it were with a thunderbolt of eloquence, often useth the figure of repetition, as “vivit et vincit, imo in senatum venit, imo in senatum venit,” &c.93 Indeed, inflamed with a well-grounded rage, he would have his words, as it were, double out of his mouth; and so do that artificially which we see men in choler do naturally. And we, having noted the grace of those words, hale them in sometimes to a familiar epistle, when it were too much choler to be choleric.
How well, store of “similiter cadences” doth sound with the gravity of the pulpit, I would but invoke Demosthenes’ soul to tell, who with a rare daintiness useth them. Truly, they have made me think of the sophister, that with too much subtlety would prove two eggs three, and though he may be counted a sophister, had none for his labour. So these men bringing in such a kind of eloquence, well may they obtain an opinion of a seeming fineness, but persuade few, which should be the end of their fineness.
Now for similitudes in certain printed discourses, I think all herbalists, all stories of beasts, fowls, and fishes are rifled up, that they may come in multitudes to wait upon any of our conceits, which certainly is as absurd a surfeit to the ears as is possible. For the force of a similitude not being to prove anything to a contrary disputer, but only to explain to a willing hearer: when that is done, the rest is a most tedious prattling, rather overswaying the memory from the purpose whereto they were applied, than any whit informing the judgment, already either satisfied, or by similitudes not to be satisfied.
For my part, I do not doubt, when Antonius and Crassus, the great forefathers of Cicero in eloquence; the one (as Cicero testifieth of them) pretended not to know art, the other not to set by it, because with a plain sensibleness they might win credit of popular ears, which credit is the nearest step to persuasion (which persuasion is the chief mark of oratory); I do not doubt, I say, but that they used these knacks very sparingly; which who doth generally use, any man may see, doth dance to his own music; and so to he noted by the audience, more careful to speak curiously than truly. Undoubtedly (at least to my opinion undoubtedly) I have found in divers small-learned courtiers a more sound style than in some professors of learning; of which I can guess no other cause, but that the courtier following that which by practice he findeth fittest to nature, therein (though he know it not) doth according to art, though not by art: where the other, using art to show art, and not hide art (as in these cases he should do), flieth from nature, and indeed abuseth art.
But what! methinks I deserve to be pounded94 for straying from poetry to oratory: but both have such an affinity in the wordish considerations, that I think this digression will make my meaning receive the fuller understanding: which is not to take upon me to teach poets how they should do, but only finding myself sick among the rest, to allow sonic one or two spots of the common infection grown among the most part of writers; that, acknowledging ourselves somewhat awry, we may bend to the right use both of matter and manner: whereto our language giveth us great occasion, being, indeed, capable of any excellent exercising of it.95 I know some will say, it is a mingled language: and why not so much the better, taking the best of both the other? Another will say, it wanteth grammar. Nay, truly, it hath that praise, that it wants not grammar; for grammar it might have, but needs it not; being so easy in itself, and so void of those cumbersome differences of cases, genders, moods, and tenses; which, I think, was a piece of the tower of Babylon’s curse, that a man should be put to school to learn his mother tongue. But for the uttering sweetly and properly the conceit of the mind, which is the end of speech, that hath it equally with any other tongue in the world, and is particularly happy in compositions of two or three words together, near the Greek, far beyond the Latin; which is one of the greatest beauties can be in a language.
Now,96 of versifying there are two sorts, the one ancient, the other modern; the ancient marked the quantity of each syllable, and according to that framed his verse; the modern, observing only number, with some regard of the accent, the chief life of it standeth in that like sounding of the words, which we call rhyme. Whether of these be the more excellent, would bear many speeches; the ancient, no doubt more fit for music, both words and time observing quantity; and more fit lively to express divers passions, by the low or lofty sound of the well-weighed syllable. The latter, likewise, with his rhyme striketh a certain music to the ear; and, in fine, since it doth delight, though by another way, it obtaineth the same purpose; there being in either, sweetness, and wanting in neither, majesty. Truly the English, before any vulgar language I know, is fit for both sorts; for, for the ancient, the Italian is so full of vowels, that it must ever be cumbered with elisions. The Dutch so, of the other side, with consonants, that they cannot yield the sweet sliding fit for a verse. The French, in his whole language, hath not one word that hath his accent in the last syllable, saving two, called antepenultima; and little more, hath the Spanish, and therefore very gracelessly may they use dactiles. The English is subject to none of these defects.
Now for rhyme, though we do not observe quantity, we observe the accent very precisely, which other languages either cannot do, or will not do so absolutely. That “caesura,” or breathing-place, in the midst of the verse, neither Italian nor Spanish have, the French and we never almost fail of. Lastly, even the very rhyme itself the Italian cannot put in the last syllable, by the French named the masculine rhyme, but still in the next to the last, which the French call the female; or the next before that, which the Italian calls “sdrucciola:” the example of the former is, “buono,” “suono;” of the sdrucciola is, “femina,” “semina.” The French, of the other side, hath both the male, as “bon,” “son,” and the female, as “plaise,” “taise;” but the “sdrucciola” he hath not; where the English hath all three, as “due,” “true,” “father,” “rather,” “motion,” “potion;” with much more which might be said, but that already I find the trifling of this discourse is much too much enlarged.
So97 that since the ever praiseworthy poesy is full of virtue, breeding delightfulness, and void of no gift that ought to be in the noble name of learning; since the blames laid against it are either false or feeble; since the cause why it is not esteemed in England is the fault of poet-apes, not poets; since, lastly, our tongue is most fit to honour poesy, and to be honoured by poesy; I conjure you all that have had the evil luck to read this ink-wasting toy of mine, even in the name of the Nine Muses, no more to scorn the sacred mysteries of poesy; no more to laugh at the name of poets, as though they were next inheritors to fools; no more to jest at the reverend title of “a rhymer;” but to believe, with Aristotle, that they were the ancient treasurers of the Grecian’s divinity; to believe, with Bembus, that they were the first bringers in of all civility; to believe, with Scaliger, that no philosopher’s precepts can sooner make you an honest man, than the reading of Virgil; to believe, with Clauserus, the translator of Cornutus, that it pleased the heavenly deity by Hesiod and Homer, under the veil of fables, to give us all knowledge, logic, rhetoric, philosophy natural and moral, and “quid non?” to believe, with me, that there are many mysteries contained in poetry, which of purpose were written darkly, lest by profane wits it should be abused; to believe, with Landin, that they are so beloved of the gods that whatsoever they write proceeds of a divine fury. Lastly, to believe themselves, when they tell you they will make you immortal by their verses.
Thus doing, your names shall flourish in the printers’ shops: thus doing, you shall be of kin to many a poetical preface: thus doing, you shall be most fair, most rich, most wise, most all: you shall dwell upon superlatives: thus doing, though you be “Libertino patre natus,” you shall suddenly grow “Herculea proles,”
“Si quid mea Carmina possunt:”
thus doing, your soul shall be placed with Dante’s Beatrix, or Virgil’s Anchisis.
But if (fie of such a but!) you be born so near the dull-making cataract of Nilus, that you cannot hear the planet-like music of poetry; if you have so earth-creeping a mind, that it cannot lift itself up to look to the sky of poetry, or rather, by a certain rustical disdain, will become such a Mome, as to be a Momus of poetry; then, though I will not wish unto you the ass’s ears of Midas, nor to be driven by a poet’s verses, as Bubonax was, to hang himself; nor to be rhymed to death, as is said to be done in Ireland; yet thus much curse I must send you in the behalf of all poets; that while you live, you live in love, and never get favour, for lacking skill of a sonnet; and when you die, your memory die from the earth for want of an epitaph.
1 Edward Wotton, elder brother of Sir Henry Wotton. He was knighted by Elizabeth in 1592, and made Comptroller of her Household. Observe the playfulness in Sidney’s opening and close of a treatise written throughout in plain, manly English without Euphuism, and strictly reasoned.
2 Here the introduction ends, and the argument begins with its Part 1. Poetry the first Light-giver.
3 A fable from the “Hetamythium” of Laurentius Abstemius, Professor of Belles Lettres at Urbino, and Librarian to Duke Guido Ubaldo under the Pontificate of Alexander VI. (1492–1503).
4 Pliny says (“Nat. Hist.,” lib. xi., cap. 62) that the young vipers, impatient to be born, break through the side of their mother, and so kill her.
5 Part 2. Borrowed from by Philosophers.
6 Timaeus, the Pythagorean philosopher of Locri, and the Athenian Critias are represented by Plato as having listened to the discourse of Socrates on a Republic. Socrates calls on them to show such a state in action. Critias will tell of the rescue of Europe by the ancient citizens of Attica, 10,000 years before, from an inroad of countless invaders who came from the vast island of Atlantis, in the Western Ocean; a struggle of which record was preserved in the temple of Naith or Athene at Sais, in Egypt, and handed down, through Solon, by family tradition to Critias. But first Timaeus agrees to expound the structure of the universe; then Critias, in a piece left unfinished by Plato, proceeds to show an ideal society in action against pressure of a danger that seems irresistible.
7 Plato’s “Republic,” book ii.
8 Part 3. Borrowed from by Historians.
9 Part 4. Honoured by the Romans as Sacred and Prophetic.
10 Part 5. And really sacred and prophetic in the Psalms of David.
11 Part 6. By the Greeks, Poets were honoured with the name of Makers.
12 Poetry is the one creative art. Astronomers and others repeat what they find.
13 Poets improve Nature.
14 And idealize man.
15 Here a Second Part of the Essay begins.
16 Part 1. Poetry defined.
17 Part 2. Its kinds. a. Divine.
18 Philosophical, which is perhaps too imitative.
19 Marcus Manilius wrote under Tiberius a metrical treatise on Astronomy, of which five books on the fixed stars remain.
20 Poetry proper.
21 Part 3. Subdivisions of Poetry proper.
22 Its essence is in the thought, not in apparelling of verse.
23 Heliodorus was Bishop of Tricca, in Thessaly, and lived in the fourth century. His story of Theagenes and Chariclea, called the “AEthiopica,” was a romantic tale in Greek which was, in Elizabeth’s reign, translated into English.
24 The Poet’s Work and Parts. Part 1. WORK: What Poetry does for us.
25 Their clay lodgings —
“Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”
(Shakespeare, “Merchant of Venice,” act v., sc. 1)
26 Poetry best advances the end of all earthly learning, virtuous action.
27 Its advantage herein over Moral Philosophy.
28 It’s advantage herein over History.
29 “All men make faults, and even I in this, Authorising thy trespass with compare.” Shakespeare, “Sonnet” 35.
30 “Witness of the times, light of truth, life of memory, mistress of life, messenger of antiquity.”— Cicero, “De Oratore.”
31 In what manner the Poet goes beyond Philosopher, Historian, and all others (bating comparison with the Divine).
32 He is beyond the Philosopher.
33 Horace’s “Ars Poetica,” lines 372–3. But Horace wrote “Non homines, non Di”—“Neither men, gods, nor lettered columns have admitted mediocrity in poets.”
34 The moral common-places. Common Place, “Locus communis,” was a term used in old rhetoric to represent testimonies or pithy sentences of good authors which might be used for strengthening or adorning a discourse; but said Keckermann, whose Rhetoric was a text-book in the days of James I. and Charles I., “Because it is impossible thus to read through all authors, there are books that give students of eloquence what they need in the succinct form of books of Common Places, like that collected by Stobaeus out of Cicero, Seneca, Terence, Aristotle; but especially the book entitled ‘Polyanthea,’ provides short and effective sentences apt to any matter.” Frequent resort to the Polyanthea caused many a good quotation to be hackneyed; the term of rhetoric, “a common-place,” came then to mean a good saying made familiar by incessant quoting, and then in common speech, any trite saying good or bad, but commonly without wit in it.
35 Thus far Aristotle. The whole passage in the “Poetics” runs: “It is not by writing in verse or prose that the Historian and Poet are distinguished. The work of Herodotus might be versified; but it would still be a species of History, no less with metre than without. They are distinguished by this, that the one relates what has been, the other what might be. On this account Poetry is more philosophical, and a more excellent thing than History, for Poetry is chiefly conversant about general truth; History about particular. In what manner, for example, any person of a certain character would speak or act, probably or necessarily, this is general; and this is the object of Poetry, even while it makes use of particular names. But what Alcibiades did, or what happened to him, this is particular truth.”
36 Justinus, who lived in the second century, made an epitome of the history of the Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, Macedonian, and Roman Empires, from Trogus Pompeius, who lived in the time of Augustus.
37 Dares Phrygius was supposed to have been a priest of Vulcan, who was in Troy during the siege, and the Phrygian Iliad ascribed to him as early as the time of AElian, A.D. 230, was supposed, therefore, to be older than Homer’s.
38 Quintus Curtius, a Roman historian of uncertain date, who wrote the history of Alexander the Great in ten books, of which two are lost and others defective.
39 Not knowledge but practice.
40 The Poet Monarch of all Human Sciences.
41 In “Love’s Labour’s Lost” a resemblance has been fancied between this passage and Rosalind’s description of Biron, and the jest:—
“Which his fair tongue — conceit’s expositor —
Delivers in such apt and gracious words,
That aged ears play truant at his tables,
And younger hearings are quite ravished,
So sweet and voluble is his discourse.”
42 Virgil’s “AEneid,” Book xii.:—
“And shall this ground fainthearted dastard Turnus flying view? Is it so vile a thing to die?” (Phaer’s Translation 1573.)
43 Instances of the power of the Poet’s work.
44 Defectuous. This word, from the French “defectueux,” is used twice in the “Apologie for Poetrie.”
45 Part II. The PARTS of Poetry.
46 Can Pastoral be condemned?
47 The close of Virgil’s seventh Eclogue — Thyrsis was vanquished, and Corydon crowned with lasting glory.
48 Or Elegiac?
49 Or Iambic? or Satiric?
50 From the first Satire of Persius, line 116, in a description of Homer’s satire:
“Omne vafer vitium ridenti Flaccus amico Tangit, et admissus circum praecordia ludit,” &c.
Shrewd Flaccus touches each vice in his laughing friend. Dryden thus translated the whole passage:—
“Unlike in method, with concealed design
Did crafty Horace his low numbers join;
And, with a sly insinuating grace
Laughed at his friend, and looked him in the face:
Would raise a blush where secret vice he found;
And tickle, while he gently probed the wound;
With seeming innocence the crowd beguiled,
But made the desperate passes while he smiled.”
51 From the end of the eleventh of Horace’s epistles (Lib. 1):
“Coelum non animum mutant, qui trans mare currunt,
Strenua nos exercet inertia; navibus atque
Quadrigis petimus bene vivere.
Quod petis, hic est,
Est Ulubris, animus si te non deficit aequus.”
They change their skies but not their mind who run across the seas;
We toil in laboured idleness, and seek to live at ease
With force of ships and four horse teams.
That which you seek is here,
At Ulubrae, unless your mind fail to be calm and clear.
“At Ulubrae” was equivalent to saying in the dullest corner of the world, or anywhere. Ulubrae was a little town probably in Campania, a Roman Little Pedlington. Thomas Carlyle may have had this passage in mind when he gave to the same thought a grander form in Sartor Resartus: “May we not say that the hour of spiritual enfranchisement is even this? When your ideal world, wherein the whole man has been dimly struggling and inexpressibly languishing to work, becomes revealed and thrown open, and you discover with amazement enough, like the Lothario in Wilhelm Meister, that your America is here or nowhere. The situation that has not its duty, its ideal, was never occupied by man. Yes, here, in this poor, miserable hampered actual wherein thou even now standest, here or nowhere, is thy Ideal: work it out therefrom, believe, live, and be free. Fool! the Ideal is in thyself, the impediment too is in thyself. Thy condition is but the stuff thou art to shape that same Ideal out of. What matter whether such stuff be of this sort or that, so the form thou give it be heroic, be poetic? O thou that pinest in the imprisonment of the actual, and criest bitterly to the gods for a kingdom wherein to rule and create, know this of a truth, the thing thou seekest is already with thee, here or nowhere, couldest thou only see.”
52 Or Comic?
53 In pistrinum. In the pounding-mill (usually worked by horses or asses).
54 Or Tragic?
55 The old song of Percy and Douglas, Chevy Chase in its first form.
56 Or the Heroic?
57 Epistles I. ii. 4. Better than Chrysippus and Crantor. They were both philosophers, Chrysippus a subtle stoic, Crantor the first commentator upon Plato.
58 Summary of the argument thus far.
59 Objections stated and met.
60 Cornelius Agrippa’s book, “De Incertitudine et Vanitate Scientiarum et Artium,” was first published in 1532; Erasmus’s “Moriae Encomium” was written in a week, in 1510, and went in a few months through seven editions.
61 The objection to rhyme and metre.
62 The first of these sentences is from Horace (Epistle I. xviii. 69): “Fly from the inquisitive man, for he is a babbler.” The second, “While each pleases himself we are a credulous crowd,” seems to be varied from Ovid (Fasti, iv. 311):—
“Conscia mens recti famae mendacia risit:
Sed nos in vitium credula turba sumus.”
A mind conscious of right laughs at the falsehoods of fame but towards vice we are a credulous crowd.
63 The chief objections.
64 That time might be better spent.
65 Beg the question.
66 That poetry is the mother of lies.
67 That poetry is the nurse of abuse, infecting us with wanton and pestilent desires.
68 Rampire, rampart, the Old French form of “rempart,” was “rempar,” from “remparer,” to fortify.
69 “I give him free leave to be foolish.” A variation from the line (Sat. I. i. 63), “Quid facias illi? jubeas miserum esse libenter.”
70 That Plato banished poets from his ideal Republic.
71 Which authority certain barbarous and insipid writers would wrest into meaning that poets were to be thrust out of a state.
72 Ion is a rhapsodist, in dialogue with Socrates, who cannot understand why it is that his thoughts flow abundantly when he talks of Homer. “I can explain,” says Socrates; “your talent in expounding Homer is not an art acquired by system and method, otherwise it would have been applicable to other poets besides. It is a special gift, imparted to you by Divine power and inspiration. The like is true of the poet you expound. His genius does not spring from art, system, or method: it is a special gift emanating from the inspiration of the Muses. A poet is light, airy, holy person, who cannot compose verses at all so long as his reason remains within him. The Muses take away his reason, substituting in place of it their own divine inspiration and special impulse . . . Like prophets and deliverers of oracles, these poets have their reason taken away, and become the servants of the gods. It is not they who, bereft of their reason, speak in such sublime strains, it is the god who speaks to us, and speaks through them.” George Grote, from whose volumes on Plato I quote this translation of the passage, placed “Ion” among the genuine dialogues of Plato.
73 Guards, trimmings or facings.
74 The Second Summary.
75 Causes of Defect in English Poetry.
76 From the invocation at the opening of Virgil’s AEneid (line 12), “Muse, bring to my mind the causes of these things: what divinity was injured . . . that one famous for piety should suffer thus.”
77 The Chancellor, Michel de l’Hopital, born in 1505, who joined to his great political services (which included the keeping of the Inquisition out of France, and long labour to repress civil war) great skill in verse. He died in 1573.
78 Whose heart-strings the Titan (Prometheus) fastened with a better clay. (Juvenal, Sat. xiv. 35). Dryden translated the line, with its context —
“Some sons, indeed, some very few, we see
Who keep themselves from this infection free,
Whom gracious Heaven for nobler ends designed,
Their looks erected, and their clay refined.”
79 The orator is made, the poet born.
80 What you will; the first that comes.
81 “Whatever I shall try to write will be verse.” Sidney quotes from memory, and adapts to his context, Tristium IV. x. 26.
“Sponte sua carmen numeros veniebat ad aptos,
Et quod temptabam dicere, versus erat.”
82 HIS for “its” here as throughout; the word “its” not being yet introduced into English writing.
83 Defects in the Drama. It should be remembered that this was written when the English drama was but twenty years old, and Shakespeare, aged about seventeen, had not yet come to London. The strongest of Shakespeare’s precursors had not yet begun to write for the stage. Marlowe had not yet written; and the strength that was to come of the freedom of the English drama had yet to be shown.
84 There was no scenery on the Elizabethan stage.
86 From the egg.
87 Bias, slope; French “biais.”
88 Juvenal, Sat. iii., lines 152–3. Which Samuel Johnson finely paraphrased in his “London:”
“Of all the griefs that harass the distrest,
Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest.”
89 George Bachanan (who died in 1582, aged seventy-six) had written in earlier life four Latin tragedies, when Professor of Humanities at Bordeaux, with Montaigne in his class.
90 Defects in Lyric Poetry.
91 Defects in Diction. This being written only a year or two after the publication of “Euphues,” represents that style of the day which was not created but represented by the book from which it took the name of “Euphuism.”
92 Nizolian paper-books, are commonplace books of quotable passages, so called because an Italian grammarian, Marius Nizolius, born at Bersello in the fifteenth century, and one of the scholars of the Renaissance in the sixteenth, was one of the first producers of such volumes. His contribution was an alphabetical folio dictionary of phrases from Cicero: “Thesaurus Ciceronianus, sive Apparatus Linguae Latinae e scriptis Tullii Ciceronis collectus.”
93 “He lives and wins, nay, comes to the Senate, nay, comes to the Senate,” &c.
94 Pounded. Put in the pound, when found astray.
95 Capacities of the English Language.
96 Metre and Rhyme.
97 Last Summary and playful peroration
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