Word of the Day
Free website content provided by The Free Dictionary

Article of the Day
Free website content provided by The Free Dictionary

This Day in History
Free website content provided by The Free Dictionary

Today's Birthday
Free website content provided by The Free Dictionary

In the News
Free website content provided by The Free Dictionary

Quotation of the Day
Free website content provided by The Free Dictionary

Match Up
Match each word in the left column with its synonym on the right. When finished, click Answer to see the results. Good luck!

Free website content provided by The Free Dictionary

Free website content provided by The Free Dictionary

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A Defence of Poesie and Poems

By Sir Philip Sidney

When the right virtuous Edward Wotton {1} 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?


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.

This {5} 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.

And {8} 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.

And {10} 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.

But {11} 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.

Now {15} 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.

Of {17} 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.

The {18} 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 Manilius {19} 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.

These {21} 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}

Among {27} 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 historian {28} scarcely gives leisure to the moralist to say so

much, but that he (laden with old mouse-eaten records, authorizing

{29} 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.

Now {31} 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.

Now {32} 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 pre-supposeth 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


"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-places {34} 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 to-day; 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


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.

Infinite {43} 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


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 defectious {44} piece we may find


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


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


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.

But {59} 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


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


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.

Now {63} 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.

To {66} 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.

Their {67} 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 rampire {68} 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.

But {70} 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 exigendos {71}:"

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


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 guards {73} 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 down

{74}; 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.

But {75} 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


"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 Hospital {77} 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,


"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


Our {83} 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 Buchanan {89} 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.

Other {90} 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.

Now {91} 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-books {92} 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


But what! methinks I deserve to be pounded {94} 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.

So {97} 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.

(Courtesy of The Critical Tradition: Classical Texts and Contemporary Trends)

Posted by jebratt :: Thursday, September 29, 2005 :: 0 comments

Post a Comment