Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
 
The Honour of Poesy
By Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586)
 

SO that sith the ever praise-worthy poesy, is full of virtue-breeding delightfulness, and void of no gift that ought to be in the noble name of learning; sith the blames laid against it, are either false, or feeble; sith the cause why it is not esteemed in England, is the fault of poet-apes, not poets; sith 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 reverent title of a rhymer: but to believe with Aristotle, that they were the ancient treasurers of the Grecians’ divinity. To believe with Bembus, that they were first bringers in of all civility. To believe with Scaliger, that no philosophers’ 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.
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  Thus doing, your name 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 Anchises. 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.
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