G. Gregory Smith, ed. Elizabethan Critical Essays. 1904.
Sir Philip Sidney (15541586)
An Apologie for Poetrie c. 1583 (printed 1595)
[Two editions of Sidneys famous essay (written c. 1583) appeared in 1595(a) The | Defence of | Poesie. | By Sir Phillip Sidney, | Knight || London. | Printed for William Ponsonby. | 1595, and (b) An | Apologie | for Poetrie. | Written by the right noble, vertu- | ous, and learned, Sir Phillip | Sidney, Knight. || Odi profanum vulgus, el arceo. || At London, | Printed for Henry Olney, and are to be sold at | his shop in Paules Church-yard, at the signe | of the George, neere to Cheap-gate. | Anno 1595. Ponsonbys edition, which is extant in the unique copy in the collection of Mr. F. Locker, seems, from the evidence of the Stationers Register,1 to have been the earlier of the two. It is the basis of the later texts from the folio of 1598, where the essay appears as an addition to the Arcadia. It has been reprinted by Dr. Ewald Flügel in his Sir Philip Sidneys Astrophel and Stella und Defence of Poesie, Halle 1889. Yet Olneys text is more carefully printed than Ponsonbys and his successors. It was last reprinted by Mr. Arber in his English Reprints and by Mr. Shuckburgh in the Pitt Press Series. The present text has been taken from the copy of Olneys edition presented to the library of the University of Edinburgh by the poet William Drummond. The important differences between it and Mr. Lockers copy of Ponsonbys edition (ed. Flügel) are pointed out in the Notes. It will be seen that there is bibliographical justification for either titleDefence or Apologie. The popularity of the later editions, founded on Ponsonbys, gave greater vogue to the former. Sidney himself speaks of his effort as a pittiful defence of poore Poetry: and the term was frequently employed by contemporary critics in their pamphlet feuds. But the title Apologie, of the 1595 edition, was perhaps not less common among Sidneys friends and successors, for we find Harington so styling the Essay in his Briefe Apologie of Poetrie (q. v.), which was printed four years before the first edition of Sidneys work. So also William Vaughan (q. v.). The Essay is preceded in Olneys edition by four sonnets written by Henrie Constable to Sir Phillip Sidneys soule, and by the following note To the Reader: The stormie Winter (deere Chyldren of the Muses), which hath so long held backe the glorious Sunshine of diuine Poesie, is heere by the sacred pen-breathing words of diuine Sir Phillip Sidney not onely chased from our fame-inuiting Clyme, but vtterly for euer banisht eternitie: then graciously regreet the perpetuall spring of euer-growing inuention, and like kinde Babes, either enabled by wit or power, help to support me poore Midwife, whose daring aduenture hath deliuered from Obliuions wombe this euer-to-be-admired wits miracle. Those great ones who in themselues haue interred this blessed innocent wil with Aesculapius condemne me as a detractor from their Deities: those who Prophet-like haue but heard presage of his coming wil (if they wil doe wel) not onely defend but praise mee as the first publique bewrayer of Poesies Messias. Those who neither haue seene, thereby to interre, nor heard, by which they might be inflamed with desire to see, let them (of duty) plead to be my Champions, sith both theyr sight and hearing by mine incurring blame is reasoned. Excellent Poesie (so created by this Apologie), be thou my Defendresse; and if any wound mee, let thy beautie (my soules Adamant) recure mee; if anie commend mine endeuored hardiment, to them commend thy most diuinest fury as a winged incouragement; so shalt thou haue deuoted to thee, and to them obliged,
An Apologie for Poetrie.
WHEN the right vertuous Edward Wotton and I were at the Emperors Court together, wee gaue our selues to learne horsemanship of Iohn Pietro Pugliano, one that with great commendation had the place of an Esquire in his stable. And hee, according to the fertilnes of the Italian wit, did not onely afoord vs the demonstration of his practise, but sought to enrich our mindes with the contemplations therein which hee thought most precious. But with none I remember mine eares were at any time more loden, then when (either angred with slowe paiment, or mooued with our learner-like admiration) he exercised his speech in the prayse of his facultie. Hee sayd, Souldiours were the noblest estate of mankinde, and horsemen the noblest of Souldiours. Hee sayde they were the Maisters of warre, and ornaments of peace; speedy goers, and strong abiders; triumphers both in Camps and Courts. Nay, to so vnbeleeued a poynt hee proceeded, as that no earthly thing bred such wonder to a Prince as to be a good horseman. Skill of gouernment was but a Pedanteria in comparison. Then would hee adde certaine prayses, by telling what a peerlesse beast a horse was; the onely seruiceable Courtier without flattery, the beast of most beutie, faithfulnes, courage, and such more, that if I had not beene a peece of a Logician before I came to him, I think he would haue perswaded mee to haue wished my selfe a horse. But thus much at least with his no fewe words hee draue into me, that selfe-loue is better then any guilding to make that seeme gorgious wherein our selues are parties. Wherein, if Pugliano his strong affection and weake arguments will not satisfie you, I wil giue you a neerer example of my selfe, who (I knowe not by what mischance) in these my not old yeres and idelest times, hauing slipt into the title of a Poet, am prouoked to say somthing vnto you in the defence of that my vnelected vocation, which if I handle with more good will then good reasons, beare with me, sith the scholler is to be pardoned that foloweth the steppes of his Maister. And yet I must say that as I haue iust cause to make a pittiful defence of poore Poetry, which from almost the highest estimation of learning is fallen to be the laughingstocke of children; so haue I need to bring some more auaileable proofes: sith the former is by no man barred of his deserued credite, the silly latter hath had euen the names of Philosophers vsed to the defacing of it, with great danger of ciuill war among the Muses. And first, truly to al them that professing learning inueigh against Poetry, may iustly be obiected, that they goe very neer to vngratfulnes, to seek to deface that which, in the noblest nations and languages that are knowne, hath been the first light-giuer to ignorance, and first Nurse, whose milk by little and little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges: and will they now play the Hedghog that, being receiued into the den, draue out his host? or rather the Vipers, that with theyr birth kill their Parents? Let learned Greece in any of her manifold Sciences be able to shew me one booke before Musæus, Homer, and Hesiodus, all three nothing els but Poets. Nay, let any historie be brought that can say any Writers were there before them, if they were not men of the same skil, as Orpheus, Linus, and some other are named: who, hauing beene the first of that Country that made pens deliuerers of their knowledge to their posterity, may iustly chalenge to bee called their Fathers in learning: for not only in time they had this priority (although in it self antiquity be venerable) but went before them, as causes to drawe with their charming sweetnes the wild vntamed wits to an admiration of knowledge. So as Amphion was sayde to moue stones with his Poetrie to build Thebes; and Orpheus to be listened to by beastes, indeed stony and beastly people. So among the Romans were Liuius, Andronicus, and Ennius. So in the Italian language the first that made it aspire to be a Treasure-house of Science were the Poets Dante, Boccace, and Petrarch. So in our English were Gower and Chawcer.
After whom, encouraged and delighted with theyr excellent fore-going, others haue followed, to beautifie our mother tongue, as wel in the same kinde as in other Arts. This did so notably shewe it selfe, that the Phylosophers of Greece durst not a long time appeare to the worlde but vnder the masks of Poets. So Thales, Empedocles, and Parmenides sange their naturall Phylosophie in verses: so did Pythagoras and Phocilides their morral counsells: so did Tirteus in war matters, and Solon in matters of policie: or rather, they, beeing Poets, dyd exercise their delightful vaine in those points of highest knowledge, which before them lay hid to the world. For that wise Solon was directly a Poet it is manifest, hauing written in verse the notable fable of the Atlantick Iland, which was continued by Plato.
And truely, euen Plato, whosoeuer well considereth, shall find that in the body of his work, though the inside and strength were Philosophy, the skinne as it were and beautie depended most of Poetrie: for all standeth vpon Dialogues, wherein he faineth many honest Burgesses of Athens to speake of such matters, that, if they had been sette on the racke, they would neuer haue confessed them. Besides, his poetical describing the circumstances of their meetings, as the well ordering of a banquet, the delicacie of a walke, with enterlacing meere tales, as Giges Ring, and others, which who knoweth not to be flowers of Poetrie did neuer walke into Apollos Garden.
And euen Historiographers (although theyr lippes sounde of things doone, and veritie be written in theyr fore-heads) haue been glad to borrow both fashion and perchance weight of Poets. So Herodotus entituled his Historie by the name of the nine Muses: and both he and all the rest that followed him either stole or vsurped of Poetrie their passionate describing of passions, the many particularities of battailes, which no man could affirme, or, if that be denied me, long Orations put in the mouthes of great Kings and Captaines, which it is certaine they neuer pronounced. So that, truely, neyther Phylosopher nor Historiographer coulde at the first haue entred into the gates of populer iudgements, if they had not taken a great pasport of Poetry, which in all Nations at this day, wher learning florisheth not, is plaine to be seene: in all which they haue some feeling of Poetry. In Turky, besides their lawe-giuing Diuines, they haue no other Writers but Poets. In our neighbour Countrey Ireland, where truelie learning goeth very bare, yet are theyr Poets held in a deuoute reuerence. Euen among the most barbarous and simple Indians where no writing is, yet haue they their Poets, who make and sing songs, which they call Areytos, both of theyr Auncestors deedes and praises of theyr Gods: a sufficient probabilitie that if euer learning come among them, it must be by hauing theyr hard dull wits softned and sharpened with the sweete delights of Poetrie. For vntill they find a pleasure in the exercises of the minde, great promises of much knowledge will little perswade them that knowe not the fruites of knowledge. In Wales, the true remnant of the auncient Brittons, as there are good authorities to shewe the long time they had Poets, which they called Bardes, so thorough all the conquests of Romaines, Saxons, Danes, and Normans, some of whom did seeke to ruine all memory of learning from among them, yet doo their Poets, euen to this day, last; so as it is not more notable in soone beginning then in long continuing. But since the Authors of most of our Sciences were the Romans, and before them the Greekes, let vs a little stand vppon their authorities, but euen so farre as to see what names they haue giuen vnto this now scorned skill.
Among the Romans a Poet was called Vates, which is as much as a Diuiner, Fore-seer, or Prophet, as by his conioyned wordes Vaticinium and Vaticinari is manifest: so heauenly a title did that excellent people bestow vpon this hart-rauishing knowledge. And so farre were they carried into the admiration thereof, that they thought in the chaunceable hitting vppon any such verses great foretokens of their following fortunes were placed. Whereupon grew the worde of Sortes Virgilianae, when, by suddaine opening Virgils booke, they lighted vpon any verse of hys making: whereof the histories of the Emperors liues are full; as of Albinus, the Gouernour of our Iland, who in his childehoode mette with this verse,
Arma amens capio nec sat rationis in armis;
and in his age performed it: which although it were a very vaine and godles superstition, as also it was to think that spirits were commaunded by such verseswhereupon this word charmes, deriued of Carmina, commethso yet serueth it to shew the great reuerence those wits were helde in. And altogether not without ground, since both the Oracles of Delphos and Sibillas prophecies were wholy deliuered in verses. For that same exquisite obseruing of number and measure in words, and that high flying liberty of conceit proper to the Poet, did seeme to haue some dyuine force in it.
And may not I presume a little further, to shew the reasonablenes of this worde Vates? And say that the holy Dauids Psalmes are a diuine Poem? If I doo, I shall not do it without the testimonie of great learned men, both auncient and moderne: but euen the name Psalmes will speake for mee, which, being interpreted, is nothing but songes. Then that it is fully written in meeter, as all learned Hebricians agree, although the rules be not yet fully found. Lastly and principally, his handeling his prophecy, which is meerely poetical. For what els is the awaking his musicall instruments; the often and free changing of persons; his notable Prosopopeias, when he maketh you, as it were, see God comming in his Maiestie; his telling of the Beastes ioyfulnes, and hills leaping, but a heauenlie poesie, wherein almost hee sheweth himselfe a passionate louer of that vnspeakable and euerlasting beautie to be seene by the eyes of the minde, onely cleered by fayth? But truely nowe hauing named him, I feare mee I seeme to prophane that holy name, applying it to Poetrie, which is among vs throwne downe to so ridiculous an estimation: but they that with quiet iudgements will looke a little deeper into it, shall finde the end and working of it such, as beeing rightly applyed, deserueth not to bee scourged out of the Church of God.
But now, let vs see how the Greekes named it, and howe they deemed of it. The Greekes called him a Poet, which name hath, as the most excellent, gone thorough other Languages. It commeth of this word Poiein, which is to make: wherein I know not, whether by lucke or wisedome, wee Englishmen haue mette with the Greekes in calling him a maker: which name, how high and incomparable a title it is, I had rather were knowne by marking the scope of other Sciences then by my partiall allegation.
There is no Arte deliuered to mankinde that hath not the workes of Nature for his principall obiect, 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 haue set foorth. So doth the Astronomer looke vpon the starres, and, by that he seeth, setteth downe what order Nature hath taken therein. So doe the Geometrician and Arithmetician in their diuerse sorts of quantities. So doth the Musitian in times tel you which by nature agree, which not. The naturall Philosopher thereon hath his name, and the Morrall Philosopher standeth vpon the naturall vertues, vices, and passions of man; and followe Nature (saith hee) therein, and thou shalt not erre. The Lawyer sayth what men haue determined. The Historian what men haue done. The Grammarian speaketh onely of the rules of speech; and the Rethorician and Logitian, considering what in Nature will soonest proue and perswade, thereon giue artificial rules, which still are compassed within the circle of a question, according to the proposed matter. The Phisition waigheth the nature of a mans bodie, and the nature of things helpeful or hurtefull vnto it. And the Metaphisick, though it be in the seconde and abstract notions, and therefore be counted supernaturall, yet doth hee indeede builde vpon the depth of Nature. Onely the Poet, disdayning to be tied to any such subiection, lifted vp with the vigor of his owne inuention, dooth growe in effect another nature, in making things either better then Nature bringeth forth, or, quite a newe, formes such as neuer were in Nature, as the Heroes, Demigods, Cyclops, Chimeras, Furies, and such like: so as hee goeth hand in hand with Nature, not inclosed within the narrow warrant of her guifts, but freely ranging onely within the Zodiack of his owne wit.
Nature neuer set forth the earth in so rich tapistry as diuers Poets haue done, neither with plesant riuers, fruitful trees, sweet smelling flowers, nor whatsoeuer els may make the too much loued earth more louely. Her world is brasen, the Poets only deliuer a golden. But let those things alone and goe to man, for whom as the other things are, so it seemeth in him her vttermost cunning is imployed, and knowe whether shee haue brought foorth so true a louer as Theagines, so constant a friende as Pilades, so valiant a man as Orlando, so right a Prince as Xenophons Cyrus, so excellent a man euery way as Virgils Aeneas: neither let this be iestingly concerned, because the works of the one be essentiall, the other, in imitation or fiction; for any vnderstanding knoweth the skil of the Artificer standeth in that Idea or fore-conceite of the work, and not in the work it selfe. And that the Poet hath that Idea is manifest, by deliuering them forth in such excellencie as hee hath imagined them. Which deliuering forth also is not wholie imaginatiue, as we are wont to say by them that build Castles in the ayre: but so farre substantially it worketh, not onely to make a Cyrus, which had been but a particuler excellencie, as Nature might haue done, but to bestow a Cyrus vpon the worlde, to make many Cyruss, if they wil learne aright why and how that Maker made him.
Neyther let it be deemed too sawcie a comparison to ballance the highest poynt of mans wit with the efficacie of Nature: but rather giue right honor to the heauenly Maker of that maker, who, hauing made man to his owne likenes, set him beyond and ouer all the workes of that second nature, which in nothing hee sheweth so much as in Poetrie, when with the force of a diuine breath he bringeth things forth far surpassing her dooings, with no small argument to the incredulous of that first accursed fall of Adam: sith our erected wit maketh vs know what perfection is, and yet our infected will keepeth vs from reaching vnto it. But these arguments wil by fewe be vnderstood, and by fewer granted. Thus much (I hope) will be giuen me, that the Greekes with some probabilitie of reason gaue him the name aboue all names of learning. Now let vs goe to a more ordinary opening of him, that the trueth may be more palpable: and so I hope, though we get not so vnmatched a praise as the Etimologie of his names wil grant, yet his very description, which no man will denie, shall not iustly be barred from a principall commendation.
Poesie therefore is an arte of imitation, for so Aristotle termeth it in his word Mimesis, that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring foorth: to speake metaphorically, a speaking picture: with this end, to teach and delight. Of this haue beene three seuerall kindes.
The chiefe both in antiquitie and excellencie were they that did imitate the inconceiuable excellencies of GOD. Such were Dauid in his Psalmes, Salomon in his song of Songs, in his Ecclesiastes, and Prouerbs, Moses and Debora in theyr Hymnes, and the writer of Iob; which, beside other, the learned Emanuell Tremelius and Franciscus Iunius doe entitle the poeticall part of the Scripture. Against these none will speake that hath the holie Ghost in due holy reuerence. In this kinde, though in a full wrong diuinitie, were Orpheus, Amphion, Homer in his hymnes, and many other, both Greekes and Romaines: and this Poesie must be vsed, by whosoeuer will follow S. Iames his counsell, in singing Psalmes when they are merry: and I knowe is vsed with the fruite of comfort by some, when, in sorrowfull pangs of their death-bringing sinnes, they find the consolation of the neuer-leauing goodnesse.
The second kinde is of them that deale with matters Philosophicall; eyther morrall, as Tirteus, Phocilides, and Cato; or naturall, as Lucretius and Virgils Georgicks; or Astronomicall, as Manilius and Pontanus; or historical, as Lucan: which who mislike, the faulte is in their iudgements quite out of taste, and not in the sweet foode of sweetly vttered knowledge.
But because thys second sorte is wrapped within the folde of the proposed subiect, and takes not the course of his owne inuention, whether they properly be Poets or no let Gramarians dispute: and goe to the thyrd, indeed right Poets, of whom chiefly this question ariseth; betwixt whom and these second is such a kinde of difference as betwixt the meaner sort of Painters (who counterfet onely such faces as are sette before them) and the more excellent, who, hauing no law but wit, bestow that in cullours vpon you which is fittest for the eye to see: as the constant though lamenting looke of Lucrecia, when she punished in her selfe an others fault; wherein he painteth not Lucrecia whom he neuer sawe, but painteth the outwarde beauty of such a vertue. For these third 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, onely rayned with learned discretion, into the diuine consideration of what may be, and should be. These bee they that, as the first and most noble sorte, may iustly bee termed Vates, so these are waited on in the excellen[te]st languages and best vnderstandings, with the fore described name of Poets: for these indeede doo meerely make to imitate, and imitate both to delight and teach, and delight to moue men to take that goodnes in hande, which without delight they would flye as from a stranger; and teach, to make them know that goodnes whereunto they are mooued, which being the noblest scope to which euer any learning was directed, yet want there not idle tongues to barke at them.
These be subdiuided into sundry more speciall denominations. The most notable bee the Heroick, Lirick, Tragick, Comick, Satirick, Iambick, Elegiack, Pastorall, and certaine others, some of these being termed according to the matter they deale with, some by the sorts of verses they liked best to write in, for indeede the greatest part of Poets have apparelled their poeticall inuentions in that numbrous kinde of writing which is called verse: indeed but apparelled, verse being but an ornament and no cause to Poetry, sith there haue beene many most excellent Poets that neuer versified, and now swarme many versifiers that neede neuer aunswere to the name of Poets. For Xenophon, who did imitate so excellently as to giue vs effigiem iusti imperii, the portraiture of a iust Empire vnder the name of Cyrus (as Cicero sayth of him), made therein an absolute heroicall Poem; so did Heliodorus in his sugred inuention of that picture of loue in Theagines and Cariclea; and yet both these writ in Prose: which I speak to shew that it is not riming and versing that maketh a Poet, no more then a long gowne maketh an Aduocate, who though he pleaded in armor should be an Aduocate and no Souldier. But it is that fayning notable images of vertues, vices, or what els, with that delightfull teaching, which must be the right describing note to know a Poet by: although indeed the Senate of Poets hath chosen verse as their fittest rayment, meaning, as in matter they passed all in all, so in maner to goe beyond them: not speaking (table talke fashion or like men in a dreame) words as they chanceably fall from the mouth, but peyzing each sillable of each worde by iust proportion according to the dignitie of the subiect.
Nowe therefore it shall not bee amisse first to waigh this latter sort of Poetrie by his works, and then by his partes; and if in neyther of these Anatomies hee be condemnable, I hope wee shall obtaine a more fauourable sentence. This purifing of wit, this enritching of memory, enabling of iudgment, and enlarging of conceyt, which commonly we call learning, vnder what name soeuer it com forth, or to what immediat end soeuer it be directed, the final end is to lead and draw vs to as high a perfection as our degenerate soules, made worse by theyr clayey lodgings, can be capable of. This, according to the inclination of the man, bred many formed impressions. For some that thought this felicity principally to be gotten by knowledge, and no knowledge to be so high and heauenly as acquaintance with the starres, gaue themselues to Astronomie; others, perswading themselues to be Demigods if they knewe the causes of things, became naturall and supernaturall Philosophers; some an admirable delight drew to Musicke; and some the certainty of demonstration to the Mathematickes: But all, one and other, hauing this scopeto knowe, and by knowledge to lift vp to the mind from the dungeon of the body to the enioying his owne diuine essence. But when by the ballance of experience it was found that the Astronomer looking to the starres might fall into a ditch, that the enquiring Philosopher might be blinde in himselfe, and the Mathematician might draw foorth a straight line with a crooked hart; then loe, did proofe, the ouer ruler of opinions, make manifest that all these are but seruing Sciences, which as they haue each a priuate end in themselues, so yet are they all directed to the highest end of the mistres Knowledge, by the Greekes called Arkitecktonike, which stands, (as I thinke) in the knowledge of a mans selfe, in the Ethicke and politick consideration, with the end of well dooing and not of well knowing onely; euen as the Sadlers next end is to make a good saddle, but his as farther end to serue a nobler facultie, which is horsemanship; so the horsemans to souldiery, and the Souldier not onely to haue the skill, but to performe the practise of a Souldier: so that, the ending end of all earthly learning being vertuous action, those skilles that most serue to bring forth that haue a most iust title to bee Princes ouer all the rest. Wherein if wee can shewe the Poets noblenes, by setting him before his other Competitors, among whom as principall challengers step forth the morrall Philosophers, whom, me thinketh, I see comming towards mee with a sullen grauity, as though they could not abide vice by day light, rudely clothed for to witnes outwardly their contempt of outward things, with bookes in their hands agaynst glory, whereto they sette theyr names, sophistically speaking against subtility, and angry with any man in whom they see the foule fault of anger: these men casting larges as they goe of Definitions, Diuisions, and Distinctions, with a scornefull interogatiue doe soberly aske whether it bee possible to finde any path so ready to leade a man to vertue as that which teacheth what vertue is? and teacheth it not onely by deliuering forth his very being, his causes, and effects; but also by making known his enemie vice, which must be destroyed, and his combersome seruant Passion, which must be maistered; by shewing the generalities that contayneth it, and the specialities that are deriued from it; lastly, by playne setting downe, how it extendeth it selfe out of the limits of a mans own little world to the gouernment of families, and maintayning of publique societies.
The Historian scarcely giueth leysure to the Moralist to say so much, but that he, loden with old Mouse-eaten records, authorising himselfe (for the most part) vpon other histories, whose greatest authorities are built vpon the notable foundation of Heare-say, hauing much a-doe to accord differing Writers and to pick trueth out of partiality, better acquainted with a thousande yeeres a goe then with the present age, and yet better knowing how this world goeth then how his owne wit runneth, curious for antiquities and inquisitiue of nouelties, a wonder to young folkes and a tyrant in table talke, denieth, in a great chafe, that any man for teaching of vertue, and vertuous actions, is comparable to him. I am Lux vitae, Temporum magistra, Vita memoriae, Nuncia vetustatis, &c.
The Phylosopher (sayth hee) teacheth a disputatiue vertue, but I doe an actiue: his vertue is excellent in the dangerlesse Academie of Plato, but mine sheweth foorth her honorable face in the battailes of Marathon, Pharsalia, Poitiers, and Agincourt. Hee teacheth vertue by certaine abstract considerations, but I onely bid you follow the footing of them that haue gone before you. Olde-aged experience goeth beyond the fine-witted Phylosopher, but I giue the experience of many ages. Lastly, if he make the Song-booke, I put the learners hande to the Lute: and if hee be the guide, I am the light.
Then woulde hee alledge you innumerable examples, conferring storie by storie, how much the wisest Senatours and Princes haue beene directed by the credite of history, as Brutus, Alphonsus of Aragon, and who not, if need bee? At length the long lyne of theyr disputation maketh a poynt in thys, that the one giueth the precept, and the other the example.
Nowe, whom shall wee finde (sith the question standeth for the highest forme in the Schoole of learning) to bee Moderator? Trulie, as mee seemeth, the Poet; and if not a Moderator, euen the man that ought to carrie the title from them both, and much more from all other seruing Sciences. Therefore compare we the Poet with the Historian, and with the Morrall Phylosopher, and, if hee goe beyond them both, no other humaine skill can match him. For as for the Diuine, with all reuerence it is euer to be excepted, not only for hauing his scope as far beyonde any of these as eternitie exceedeth a moment, but euen for passing each of these in themselues. And for the Lawyer, though Ius bee the Daughter of Iustice, and Iustice the chiefe of Vertues, yet because hee seeketh to make men good rather Formidine poenae then Virtutis amore, or, to say righter, dooth not indeuour to make men good, but that their euill hurt not others, hauing no care, so hee be a good Cittizen, how bad a man he be: Therefore, as our wickednesse maketh him necessarie, and necessitie maketh him honorable, so is hee not in the deepest trueth to stande in rancke with these who all indeuour to take naughtines away, and plant goodnesse euen in the secretest cabinet of our soules. And these foure are all that any way deale in that consideration of mens manners, which beeing the supreme knowledge, they that best breed it deserue the best commendation.
The Philosopher therfore and the Historian are they which would win the gole, the one by precept, the other by example. But both not hauing both, doe both halte. For the Philosopher, setting downe with thorny argument the bare rule, is so hard of vtterance, and so mistie to bee conceiued, that one that hath no other guide but him shall wade in him till hee be olde before he shall finde sufficient cause to bee honest: for his knowledge standeth so vpon the abstract and generall, that happie is that man who may vnderstande him, and more happie that can applye what hee dooth vnderstand. On the other side, the Historian, wanting the precept, is so tyed, not to what shoulde bee but to what is, to the particuler truth of things and not to the general reason of things, that hys example draweth no necessary consequence, and therefore a lesse fruitfull doctrine.
Nowe dooth the peerelesse Poet performe both: for whatsoeuer the Philosopher sayth shoulde be doone, hee giueth a perfect picture of it in some one, by whom hee presupposeth it was doone. So as hee coupleth the generall notion with the particuler example. A perfect picture I say, for hee yeeldeth to the powers of the minde an image of that whereof the Philosopher bestoweth but a woordish description: which dooth neyther strike, pierce, nor possesse the sight of the soule so much as that other dooth.
For as in outward things, to a man that had neuer seene an Elephant or a Rinoceros, who should tell him most exquisitely all theyr shapes, cullour, bignesse, and perticular markes, or of a gorgeous Pallace the Architecture, with declaring the full beauties, might well make the hearer able to repeate, as it were by rote, all hee had heard, yet should neuer satisfie his inward conceits with being witnes to it selfe of a true liuely knowledge: but the same man, as soone as hee might see those beasts well painted, or the house wel in moddel, should straightwaies grow, without need of any description, to a iudicial comprehending of them: so no doubt the Philosopher with his learned definition, bee it of vertue, vices, matters of publick policie or priuat gouernment, replenisheth the memory with many infallible grounds of wisdom, which, notwithstanding, lye darke before the imaginatiue and iudging powre, if they bee not illuminated or figured foorth by the speaking picture of Poesie.
Tullie taketh much paynes, and many times not without poeticall helpes, to make vs knowe the force loue of our Countrey hath in vs. Let vs but heare old Anchises speaking in the middest of Troyes flames, or see Vlisses in the fulnes of all Calipsos delights bewayle his absence from barraine and beggerly Ithaca. Anger, the Stoicks say, was a short madnes: let but Sophocles bring you Aiax on a stage, killing and whipping Sheepe and Oxen, thinking them the Army of Greeks, with theyr Chiefetaines Agamemnon and Menelaus, and tell mee if you haue not a more familiar insight into anger then finding in the Schoolemen his Genus and difference. See whether wisdome and temperance in Vlisses and Diomedes, valure in Achilles, friendship in Nisus and Eurialus, euen to an ignoraunt man carry not an apparent shyning: and, contrarily, the remorse of conscience in Oedipus, the soone repenting pride of Agamemnon, the selfe-deuouring crueltie in his Father Atreus, the violence of ambition in the two Theban brothers, the sowre-sweetnes of reuenge in Medæa, and, to fall lower, the Terentian Gnato and our Chancers Pandar so exprest that we nowe vse their names to signifie their trades: and finally, all vertues, vices, and passions so in their own naturall seates layd to the viewe, that wee seeme not to heare of them, but cleerely to see through them. But euen in the most excellent determination of goodnes, what Philosophers counsell can so redily direct a Prince, as the fayned Cyrus in Xenophon? or a vertuous man in all fortunes, as Aeneas in Virgill? or a whole Common-wealth, as the way of Sir Thomas Moores Eutopia? I say the way, because where Sir Thomas Moore erred, it was the fault of the man and not of the Poet, for that way of patterning a Common-wealth was most absolute, though hee perchaunce hath not so absolutely perfourmed it: for the question is, whether the fayned image of Poesie or the regular instruction of Philosophy hath the more force in teaching: wherein if the Philosophers haue more rightly shewed themselues Philosophers then the Poets haue obtained to the high top of their profession, as in truth,
Mediocribus esse poetis,
Non Di, non homines, non concessere Columnae,
it is, I say againe, not the fault of the Art, but that by fewe men that Arte can bee accomplished. Certainly, euen our Sauiour Christ could as well haue giuen the morrall common places of vncharitablenes and humblenes as the diuine narration of Diues and Lazarus; or of disobedience and mercy, as that heauenly discourse of the lost Child and the gratious Father; but that hys through-searching wisdom knewe the estate of Diues burning in hell, and of Lazarus being in Abrahams bosome, would more constantly (as it were) inhabit both the memory and iudgment. Truly, for my selfe, mee seemes I see before my eyes the lost Childes disdainefull prodigality, turned to enuie a Swines dinner: which by the learned Diuines are thought not historicall acts, but instructing Parables. For conclusion, I say the Philosopher teacheth, but he teacheth obscurely, so as the learned onely can vnderstande him, that is to say, he teacheth them that are already taught; but the Poet is the foode for the tenderest stomacks, the Poet is indeed the right Popular Philosopher, whereof Esops tales giue good proofe: whose pretty Allegories, stealing vnder the formall tales of Beastes, make many, more beastly then Beasts, begin to heare the sound of vertue from these dumbe speakers.
But now may it be alledged that if this imagining of matters be so fitte for the imagination, then must the Historian needs surpasse, who bringeth you images of true matters, such as indeede were doone, and not such as fantastically or falsely may be suggested to haue been doone. Truely, Aristotle himselfe, in his discourse of Poesie, plainely determineth this question, saying that Poetry is Philosophoteron and Spoudaioteron, that is to say, it is more Philosophicall and more studiously serious then history. His reason is, because Poesie dealeth with Katholou, that is to say, with the vniuersall consideration; and the history with Kathekaston, the perticuler: nowe, sayth he, the vniuersall wayes what is fit to bee sayd or done, eyther in likelihood or necessity, (which the Poesie considereth in his imposed names), and the perticuler onely marks whether Alcibiades did, or suffered, this or that. Thus farre Aristotle: which reason of his (as all his) is most full of reason. For indeed, if the question were whether it were better to haue a perticular acte truly or falsly set down, there is no doubt which is to be chosen, no more then whether you had rather haue Vespasians picture right as hee was, or at the Painters pleasure nothing resembling. But if the question be for your owne vse and learning, whether it be better to haue it set downe as it should be, or as it was, then certainely is more doctrinable the fained Cirus in Xenophon then the true Cyrus in Iustine, and the fayned Aeneas in Virgil then the right Aeneas in Dares Phrigius. As to a Lady that desired to fashion her countenance to the best grace, a Painter should more benefite her to portraite a most sweet face, wryting Canidia vpon it, then to paynt Canidia as she was, who, Horace sweareth, was foule and ill fauoured.
If the Poet doe his part a-right, he will shew you in Tantalus, Atreus, and such like, nothing that is not to be shunned; in Cyrus, Aeneas, Vlisses, each thing to be followed; where the Historian, bound to tell things as things were, cannot be liberall (without hee will be poeticall) of a perfect patterne, but, as in Alexander or Scipio himselfe, shew dooings, some to be liked, some to be misliked. And then how will you discerne what to followe but by your owne discretion, which you had without reading Quintus Curtius? And whereas a man may say, though in vniuersall consideration of doctrine the Poet preuaileth, yet that the historie, in his saying such a thing was doone, doth warrant a man more in that hee shall follow, the aunswere is manifest, that if hee stande vpon that wasas if hee should argue, because it rayned yesterday, therefore it shoulde rayne to daythen indeede it hath some aduantage to a grose conceite; but if he know an example onlie informes a coniectured likelihood, and so goe by reason, the Poet dooth so farre exceede him, as hee is to frame his example to that which is most reasonable, be it in warlike, politick, or priuate matters, where the Historian in his bare Was hath many times that which wee call fortune to ouer-rule the best wisedome. Manie times he must tell euents whereof he can yeelde no cause: or, if hee doe, it must be poeticall.
For that a fayned example hath asmuch force to teach as a true example (for as for to mooue, it is cleere, sith the fayned may bee tuned to the highest key of passion), let vs take one example wherein a Poet and a Historian doe concur. Herodotus and Iustine do both testifie that Zopirus, King Darius faithfull seruaunt, seeing his Maister long resisted by the rebellious Babilonians, fayned himselfe in extreame disgrace of his King: for verifying of which, he caused his own nose and eares to be cut off: and so flying to the Babylonians, was receiued, and for his knowne valour so far credited, that hee did finde meanes to deliuer them ouer to Darius. Much like matter doth Liuie record of Tarquinius and his sonne. Xenophon excellently faineth such another stratageme, performed by Abradates in Cyrus behalfe. Now would I fayne know, if occasion bee presented vnto you to serue your Prince by such an honest dissimulation, why you doe not as well learne it of Xenophons fiction as of the others verity: and truely so much the better, as you shall saue your nose by the bargaine; for Abradates did not counterfet so far. So then the best of the Historian is subiect to the Poet; for whatsoeuer action, or faction, whatsoeuer counsell, pollicy, or warre stratagem the Historian is bound to recite, that may the Poet (if he list) with his imitation make his own; beautifying it both for further teaching, and more delighting, as it pleaseth him: hauing all, from Dante his heauen to hys hell, vnder the authoritie of his penne. Which if I be asked what Poets haue done so, as I might well name some, yet say I, and say againe, I speak of the Arte, and not of the Artificer.
Nowe, to that which commonly is attributed to the prayse of histories, in respect of the notable learning is gotten by marking the successe, as though therein a man should see vertue exalted and vice punished. Truely that commendation is peculiar to Poetrie, and farre of from History. For indeede Poetrie euer setteth vertue so out in her best cullours, making Fortune her wel-wayting hand-mayd, that one must needs be enamored of her. Well may you see Vlisses in a storme, and in other hard plights; but they are but exercises of patience and magnanimitie, to make them shine the more in the neere-following prosperitie. And of the contrarie part, if euill men come to the stage, they euer goe out (as the Tragedie Writer answered to one that misliked the shew of such persons) so manacled as they little animate folkes to followe them. But the Historian, beeing captiued to the trueth of a foolish world, is many times a terror from well dooing, and an incouragement to vnbrideled wickednes.
For see wee not valiant Milciades rot in his fetters? The iust Phocion and the accomplished Socrates put to death like Traytors? The cruell Seuerus liue prosperously? The excellent Seuerus miserably murthered? Sylla and Marius dying in theyr beddes? Pompey and Cicero slaine then when they would haue thought exile a happinesse? See wee not vertuous Cato driuen to kyll himselfe? and rebell Cæsar so aduaunced that his name yet, after 1600 yeares, lasteth in the highest honor? And marke but euen Cæsars own words of the fore-named Sylla (who in that onely did honestly, to put downe his dishonest tyrannie), Literas nesciuit, as if want of learning caused him to doe well. Hee meant it not by Poetrie, which, not content with earthly plagues, deuiseth new punishments in hel for Tyrants: nor yet by Philosophie, which teacheth Occidendos esse; but no doubt by skill in Historie, for that indeede can affoord your Cipselus, Periander, Phalaris, Dionisius, and I know not how many more of the same kennell, that speede well enough in theyr abhominable vniustice or vsurpation. I conclude, therefore, that hee excelleth Historie, not onely in furnishing the minde with knowledge, but in setting it forward to that which deserueth to be called and accounted good: which setting forward, and moouing to well dooing, indeed setteth the Lawrell crowne vpon the Poet as victorious, not onely of the Historian, but ouer the Phylosopher, howsoeuer in teaching it may bee 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, doth teach more perfectly then the Poet, yet do I thinke that no man is so much Philophilosophos as to compare the Philosopher, in moouing, with the Poet.
And that moouing is of a higher degree then teaching, it may by this appeare, that it is wel nigh the cause and the effect of teaching. For who will be taught, if hee bee not mooued with desire to be taught? and what so much good doth that teaching bring forth (I speak still of morrall doctrine) as that it mooueth one to doe that which it dooth teach? for, as Aristotle sayth, it is not Gnosis but Praxis must be the fruit. And howe Praxis cannot be, without being mooued to practise, it is no hard matter to consider.
The Philosopher sheweth you the way, hee informeth you of the particularities, as well of the tediousnes of the way, as of the pleasant lodging you shall haue when your iourney is ended, as of the many by-turnings that may diuert you from your way. But this is to no man but to him that will read him, and read him with attentiue studious painfulnes. Which constant desire, whosoeuer hath in him, hath already past halfe the hardnes of the way, and therefore is beholding to the Philosopher but for the other halfe. Nay truely, learned men haue learnedly thought that, where once reason hath so much ouer-mastred passion as that the minde hath a free desire to doe well, the inward light each minde hath in it selfe is as good as a Philosophers booke; seeing in nature we know it is wel to doe well, and what is well and what is euill, although not in the words of Arte which Philosophers bestowe vpon vs. For out of naturall conceit the Philosophers drew it; but to be moued to doe that which we know, or to be mooued with desire to knowe, Hoc opus, hic labor est.
Nowe therein of all Sciences (I speak still of humane, and according to the humaine conceits) is our Poet the Monarch. For he dooth not only show the way, but giueth so sweete a prospect into the way, as will intice any man to enter into it. Nay, he dooth, as if your iourney should lye through a fayre Vineyard, at the first giue you a cluster of Grapes, that, full of that taste, you may long to passe further. He beginneth not with obscure definitions, which must blur the margent with interpretations, and load the memory with doubtfulnesse; but hee commeth to you with words sent in delightfull proportion, either accompanied with, or prepared for, the well inchaunting skill of Musicke; and with a tale forsooth he commeth vnto you, with a tale which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney corner. And, pretending no more, doth intende the winning of the mind from wickednesse to vertue: euen as the childe is often brought to take most wholsom things by hiding them in such other as haue a pleasant tast: which, if one should beginne to tell them the nature of Aloes or Rubarb they shoulde receiue, woulde sooner take their Phisicke at their eares then at their mouth. So is it in men (most of which are childish in the best things, till they bee cradled in their graues): glad they will be to heare the tales of Hercules, Achilles, Cyrus, and Aeneas; and, hearing them, must needs heare the right description of wisdom, valure, and iustice; which, if they had been barely, that is to say Philosophically, set out, they would sweare they bee brought to schoole againe.
That imitation, wherof Poetry is, hath the most conueniency to Nature of all other, in somuch that, as Aristotle sayth, those things which in themselues are horrible, as cruell battailes, vnnaturall Monsters, are made in poeticall imitation delightfull. Truely, I haue knowen men, that euen with reading Amadis de Gaule (which God knoweth wanteth much of a perfect Poesie) haue found their harts mooued to the exercise of courtesie, liberalitie, and especially courage. Who readeth Aeneas carrying olde Anchises on his back, that wisheth not it were his fortune to perfourme so excellent an acte? Whom doe not the words of Turnus mooue? (the tale of Turnus hauing planted his image in the imagination)
Fugientem haec terra videbit?
Vsque adeone mori miserum est?
Where the Philosophers, as they scorne to delight, so must they bee content little to mooue, sauing wrangling whether Vertue bee the chiefe or the onely good, whether the contemplatiue or the actiue life doe excell: which Plato and Boetius well knew, and therefore made Mistres Philosophy very often borrow the masking rayment of Poesie. For euen those harde harted euill men who thinke vertue a schoole name, and knowe no other good but indulgere genio, and therefore despise the austere admonitions of the Philosopher, and feele not the inward reason they stand vpon, yet will be content to be delighted, which is al the good felow Poet seemeth to promise; and so steale to see the forme of goodnes (which seene they cannot but loue) ere themselues be aware, as if they tooke a medicine of Cherries. Infinite proofes of the strange effects of this poeticall inuention might be alledged; onely two shall serue, which are so often remembred, as I thinke all men knowe them.
The one of Menenius Agrippa, who, when the whole people of Rome had resolutely deuided themselues from the Senate, with apparent shew of vtter ruine, though hee were (for that time) an excellent Oratour, came not among them vpon trust of figuratiue speeches or cunning insinuations; and much lesse with farre fet Maximes of Phylosophie, which (especially if they were Platonick) they must haue learned Geometrie before they could well haue conceiued; but forsooth he behaues himselfe like a homely and familiar Poet. Hee telleth them a tale, that there was a time when all the parts of the body made a mutinous conspiracie against the belly, which they thought deuoured the fruits of each others labour: they concluded they would let so vnprofitable a spender starue. 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 themselues. This applied by him wrought such effect in the people, as I neuer read that euer words brought forth but then so suddaine and so good an alteration; for vpon reasonable conditions a perfect reconcilement ensued. The other is of Nathan the Prophet, who when the holie Dauid had so far forsaken God as to confirme adulterie with murther, when hee was to doe the tenderest office of a friende, in laying his owne shame before his eyes, sent by God to call againe so chosen a seruant, how doth he it but by telling of a man whose beloued Lambe was vngratefullie taken from his bosome? the applycation most diuinely true, but the discourse it selfe fayned; which made Dauid (I speake of the second and instrumentall cause) as in a glasse to see his own filthines, as that heauenly Psalme of mercie wel 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 then any other Arte dooth: and so a conclusion not vnfitlie ensueth, that as vertue is the most excellent resting place for all worldlie learning to make his end of, so Poetrie, beeing the most familiar to teach it, and most princelie to moue towards it, in the most excellent work is the most excellent workman. But I am content not onely to decipher him by his workes (although works in commendation or disprayse must euer holde an high authority), but more narrowly will examine his parts: so that (as in a man) though al together may carry a presence ful of maiestie and beautie, perchance in some one defectious peece we may find a blemish. Now in his parts, kindes, or Species (as you list to terme them), it is to be noted that some Poesies haue coupled together two or three kindes, as Tragicall and Comicall, wher-vpon is risen the Tragi-comicall. Some in the like manner haue mingled Prose and Verse, as Sanazzar and Boetius. Some haue mingled matters Heroicall and Pastorall. But that commeth all to one in this question, for, if seuered they be good, the coniunction cannot be hurtfull. Therefore perchaunce forgetting some, and leauing some as needlesse to be remembred, it shall not be amisse in a worde to cite the speciall kindes, to see what faults may be found in the right vse of them.
Is it then the Pastorall Poem which is misliked? (for perchance, where the hedge is lowest they will soonest leape ouer). Is the poore pype disdained, which sometime out of Melibeus mouth can shewe the miserie of people vnder hard Lords or rauening Souldiours? and again, by Titirus, what blessednes is deriued to them that lye lowest from the goodnesse of them that sit highest? sometimes, vnder the prettie tales of Wolues and Sheepe, can include the whole considerations of wrong dooing and patience; sometimes shew that contention for trifles can get but a trifling victorie. Where perchaunce a man may see that euen Alexander and Darius, when they straue who should be Cocke of thys worlds dunghill, the benefit they got was that the after-liuers may say,
Or is it the lamenting Elegiack, which in a kinde hart would mooue rather pitty then blame, who bewailes with the great Philosopher Heraclitus the weakenes of mankind and the wretchednes of the world: who surely is to be praysed, either for compassionate accompanying iust causes of lamentation, or for rightly paynting out how weake be the passions of wofulnesse? Is it the bitter but wholsome Iambick, which rubs the galled minde, in making shame the trumpet of villanie with bolde and open crying out against naughtines? Or the Satirick, who
Omne vafer vitium ridenti tangit amico?
who sportingly neuer leaueth vntil hee make a man laugh at folly, and, at length ashamed, to laugh at himselfe; which he cannot auoyd, without auoyding the follie; who, while
circum praecordia ludit,
giueth vs to feele how many head-aches a passionate life bringeth vs tohow, when all is done,
Est Vlubris, animus si nos non deficit aequus?
No, perchance it is the Comick, whom naughtie Play-makers and Stage-keepers haue iustly made odious. To the argument of abuse I will answer after. Onely 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 scornefull 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 bee knowne as wel as the right, and in Arithmetick the odde as well as the euen, so in the actions of our life who seeth not the filthines of euil wanteth a great foile to perceiue the beauty of vertue. This doth the Comedy handle so in our priuate and domestical matters, as with hearing it we get as it were an experience, what is to be looked for of a nigardly Demea, of a crafty Dauus, of a flattering Gnato, of a vaine glorious Thraso, and not onely to know what effects are to be expected, but to know who be such, by the signifying badge giuen them by the Comedian. And little reason hath any man to say that men learne euill by seeing it so set out: sith, as I sayd before, there is no man liuing but, by the force trueth hath in nature, no sooner seeth these men play their parts, but wisheth them in Pistrinum: although perchance the sack of his owne faults lye so behinde hys back that he seeth not himselfe daunce the same measure; whereto yet nothing can more open his eyes then to finde his own actions contemptibly set forth. So that the right vse of Comedy will (I thinke) by no body be blamed, and much lesse of the high and excellent Tragedy, that openeth the greatest wounds, and sheweth forth the Vlcers that are couered with Tissue; that maketh Kinges feare to be Tyrants, and Tyrants manifest their tirannicall humors; that, with sturring the affects of admiration and commiseration, teacheth the vncertainety of this world, and vpon how weake foundations guilden roofes are builded; that maketh vs knowe,
But how much it can mooue, Plutarch yeeldeth a notable testimonie of the abhominable Tyrant Alexander Pheraeus; from whose eyes a Tragedy, wel made and represented, drewe aboundance of teares, who, without all pitty, had murthered infinite nombers, and some of his owne blood. So as he, that was not ashamed to make matters for Tragedies, yet coulde not resist the sweet violence of a Tragedie. And if it wrought no further good in him, it was that he, in despight of himselfe, withdrewe himselfe from harkening to that which might mollifie his hardened heart.
But it is not the Tragedy they doe mislike: For it were too absurd to cast out so excellent a representation of whatsoeuer is most worthy to be learned. Is it the Liricke that most displeaseth, who with his tuned Lyre, and wel accorded voyce, giueth praise, the reward of vertue, to vertuous acts? who giues morrall precepts, and naturall Problemes, who sometimes rayseth vp his voice to the height of the heauens, in singing the laudes of the immortall God. Certainly I must confesse my own barbarousnes: I neuer heard the olde song of Percy and Duglas that I found not my heart mooued more then with a Trumpet; and yet is it sung but by some blinde Crouder, with no rougher voyce then rude stile; which being so euill apparrelled in the dust and cobwebbes of that vnciuill age, what would it worke trymmed in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar? In Hungary I haue seene it the manner at all Feasts, and other such meetings, to haue songes of their Auncestours valour; which that right Souldier-like Nation thinck the chiefest kindlers of braue courage. The incomparable Lacedemonians did not only carry that kinde of Musicke euer with them to the field, but euen at home, as such songs were made, so were they all content to bee the singers of them, when the lusty men were to tell what they dyd, the olde men what they had done, and the young men what they wold doe. And where a man may say that Pindar many times prayseth highly victories of small moment, matters rather of sport then vertue; as it may be aunswered, it was the fault of the Poet, and not of the Poetry; so indeede the chiefe fault was in the tyme and custome of the Greekes, who set those toyes at so high a price that Phillip of Macedon reckoned a horse-race wonne at Olimpus among hys three fearefull felicities. But as the vnimitable Pindar often did, so is that kinde most capable and most fit to awake the thoughts from the sleep of idlenes, to imbrace honorable enterprises.
There rests the Heroicall, whose very name (I thinke) should daunt all back-biters; for by what conceit can a tongue be directed to speake euill of that which draweth with it no lesse Champions then Achilles, Cyrus, Aeneas, Turnus, Tideus, and Rinaldo? who doth not onely teach and moue to a truth, but teacheth and mooueth to the most high and excellent truth; who maketh magnanimity and iustice shine throughout all misty fearefulnes and foggy desires; who, if the saying of Plato and Tullie bee true, that who could see Vertue would be wonderfully rauished with the loue of her beauty: this man sets her out to make her more louely in her holyday apparell, to the eye of any that will daine not to disdaine vntill they vnderstand. But if any thing be already sayd in the defence of sweete Poetry, all concurreth to the maintaining the Heroicall, which is not onely a kinde, but the best and most accomplished kinde of Poetry. For as the image of each action styrreth and instructeth the mind, so the loftie image of such Worthies most inflameth the mind with desire to be worthy, and in formes with counsel how to be worthy. Only let Aeneas be worne in the tablet of your memory; how he gouerneth himselfe in the ruine of his Country; in the preseruing his old Father, and carrying away his religious ceremonies; in obeying the Gods commandement to leaue Dido, though not onely all passionate kindenes, but euen the humane consideration of vertuous gratefulnes, would haue craued other of him; how in storms, howe in sports, howe in warre, howe in peace, how a fugitiue, how victorious, how besiedged, how besiedging, howe to strangers, howe to allyes, how to enemies, howe to his owne; lastly, how in his inward selfe, and how in his outward gouernment; and I thinke, in a minde not preiudiced with a preiudicating humor, hee will be found to in excellencie fruitefull, yea, euen as Horace sayth,
But truely I imagine it falleth out with these Poet-whyppers, as with some good women, who often are sicke, but in fayth they cannot tel where. So the name of Poetrie is odious to them, but neither his cause nor effects, neither the sum that containes him nor the particularities descending from him, giue any fast handle to their carping disprayse.
Sith then Poetrie is of all humane learning the most auncient and of most fatherly antiquitie, as from whence other learnings haue taken theyr beginnings; sith it is so vniuersall that no learned Nation dooth despise it, nor no barbarous Nation is without it; sith both Roman and Greek gaue diuine names vnto it, the one of prophecying, the other of making; and that indeede that name of making is fit for him, considering that where as other Arts retaine themselues within their subiect, and receiue, as it were, their beeing from it, the Poet onely bringeth his owne stuffe, and dooth not learne a conceite out of a matter, but maketh matter for a conceite; Sith neither his description nor his ende contayneth any euill, the thing described cannot be euill; Sith his effects be so good as to teach goodnes and to delight the learners; Sith therein (namely in morrall doctrine, the chiefe of all knowledges) hee dooth not onely farre passe the Historian, but, for instructing, is well nigh comparable to the Philosopher, and, for mouing, leaues him behind him; Sith the holy scripture (wherein there is no vncleannes) hath whole parts in it poeticall, and that euen our Sauiour Christ vouchsafed to vse the flowers of it; Sith all his kindes are not onlie in their vnited formes but in their seuered dissections fully commendable: I think (and think I thinke rightly) the Lawrell crowne appointed for tryumphing Captaines doth worthilie (of al other learnings) honor the Poets tryumph. But because wee haue eares aswell as tongues, and that the lightest reasons that may be will seeme to weigh greatly, if nothing be put in the counter-ballance, let vs heare, and aswell as wee can ponder, what obiections may bee made against this Arte, which may be worthy eyther of yeelding or answering.
First, truely I note not onely in these Mysomousoi, Poet-haters, but in all that kinde of people who seek a prayse by dispraysing others, that they doe prodigally spend a great many wandering wordes in quips and scoffes, carping and taunting at each thing, which, by styrring the Spleene, may stay the braine from a through beholding the worthines of the subiect.
Those kinde of obiections, as they are full of very idle easines, sith there is nothing of so sacred a maiestie but that an itching tongue may rubbe it selfe vpon it, so deserue they no other answer, but, in steed of laughing at the iest, to laugh at the iester. Wee know a playing wit can prayse the discretion of an Asse, the comfortablenes of being in debt, and the iolly commoditie of beeing sick of the plague. So of the contrary side, if we will turne Ouids verse,
Vt latent virtus proximitate mali,
that good lye hid in neerenesse of the euill, Agrippa will be as merry in shewing the vanitie of Science as Erasmus was in commending of follie. Neyther shall any man or matter escape some touch of these smyling raylers. But for Erasmus and Agrippa, they had another foundation then the superficiall part would promise. Mary, these other pleasant Fault-finders, who wil correct the Verbe before they vnderstande the Noune, and confute others knowledge before they confirme theyr owne, I would haue them onely remember that scoffing commeth not of wisedom. So as the best title in true English they gette with their merriments is to be called good fooles, for so haue our graue Fore-fathers euer termed that humorous kinde of iesters. But that which gyueth greatest scope to their scorning humors is ryming and versing. It is already sayde (and, as I think, trulie sayde) it is not ryming and versing that maketh Poesie. One may bee a Poet without versing, and a versifyer without Poetry. But yet presuppose it were inseparable (as indeede it seemeth Scaliger iudgeth) truelie it were an inseparable commendation. For if Oratio next to Ratio, Speech next to Reason, bee the greatest gyft bestowed vpon mortalitie, that can not be praiselesse which dooth most pollish that blessing of speech, which considers each word, not only (as a man may say) by his forcible qualitie but by his best measured quantitie, carrying euen in themselues a Harmonie (without, perchaunce, Number, Measure, Order, Proportion be in our time growne odious). But lay a side the iust prayse it hath, by beeing the onely fit speech for Musick (Musick I say, the most diuine striker of the sences), thus much is vndoubtedly true, that if reading bee foolish without remembring, memorie being the onely treasurer of knowled[g]e, those words which are fittest for memory are likewise most conuenient for knowledge.
Now, that Verse farre exceedeth Prose in the knitting vp of the memory, the reason is manifest; the words (besides theyr delight, which hath a great affinitie to memory) beeing so set as one word cannot be lost but the whole worke failes: which accuseth it selfe, calleth the remembrance backe to it selfe, and so most strongly confirmeth it; besides, one word so, as it were, begetting another, as, be it in ryme or measured verse, by the former a man shall haue a neere gesse to the follower: lastly, euen they that haue taught the Art of memory haue shewed nothing so apt for it as a certaine roome deuided into many places well and throughly knowne. Now, that hath the verse in effect perfectly, euery word hauing his naturall seate, which seate must needes make the words remembred. But what needeth more in a thing so knowne to all men? who is it that euer was a scholler that doth not carry away some verses of Virgill, Horace, or Cato, which in his youth he learned, and euen to his old age serue him for howrely lessons? But the fitnes it hath for memory is notably proued by all deliuery of Arts: wherein for the most part, from Grammer to Logick, Mathematick, Phisick, and the rest, the rules chiefely necessary to bee borne away are compiled in verses. So that, verse being in it selfe sweete and orderly, and beeing best for memory, the onely handle of knowledge, it must be in iest that any man can speake against it.
Nowe then goe wee to the most important imputations laid to the poore Poets: for ought I can yet learne, they are these. First, that there beeing many other more fruitefull knowledges, a man might better spend his tyme in them then in this. Secondly, that it is the mother of lyes. Thirdly, that it is the Nurse of abuse, infecting vs with many pestilent desires; with a Syrens sweetnes, drawing the mind to the Serpents tayle of sinfull fancy. And heerein, especially, Comedies giue the largest field to erre, as Chaucer sayth: howe both in other Nations and in ours, before Poets did soften vs, we were full of courage, giuen to martiall exercises, the pillers of manlyke liberty, and not lulled a sleepe in shady idlenes with Poets pastimes. And lastly, and chiefely, they cry out with an open mouth, as if they out shot Robin Hood, that Plato banished them out of hys Common-wealth. Truely, this is much, if there be much truth in it. First to the first: that a man might better spend his tyme is a reason indeede: but it doth (as they say) but Petere principium: for if it be, as I affirme, that no learning is so good as that which teacheth and mooueth to vertue, and that none can both teach and moue thereto so much as Poetry, then is the conclusion manifest that Incke and Paper cannot be to a more profitable purpose employed. And certainly, though a man should graunt their first assumption, it should followe (me thinkes) very vnwillingly, that good is not good because better is better. But I still and vtterly denye that there is sprong out of earth a more fruitefull knowledge. To the second therefore, that they should be the principall lyars, I aunswere paradoxically, but, truely, I thinke truely, that of all Writers vnder the sunne the Poet is the least lier, and, though he would, as a Poet can scarcely be a lyer. The Astronomer, with his cosen the Geometrician, can hardly escape, when they take vpon them to measure the height of the starres. How often, thinke you, doe the Phisitians lye, when they auer things good for sicknesses, which afterwards send Charon a great nomber of soules drownd in a potion before they come to his Ferry? And no lesse of the rest, which take vpon them to affirme. Now, for the Poet, he nothing affirmes, and therefore neuer lyeth. For, as I take it, to lye is to affirme that to be true which is false. So as the other Artists, and especially the Historian, affirming many things, can, in the cloudy knowledge of mankinde, hardly escape from many lyes. But the Poet (as I sayd before) neuer affirmeth. The Poet neuer maketh any circles about your imagination, to coniure you to beleeue for true what he writes. Hee citeth not authorities of other Histories, but euen for hys entry calleth the sweete Muses to inspire into him a good inuention; 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 hee telleth them not for true, he lyeth not, without we will say that Nathan lyed in his speech, before alledged, to Dauid. Which as a wicked man durst scarce say, so think I none so simple would say that Esope lyed in the tales of his beasts: for who thinks that Esope writ it for actually true were well worthy to haue his name cronicled among the beastes hee writeth of. What childe is there that, comming to a Play, and seeing Thebes written in great Letters vpon an olde doore, doth beleeue that it is Thebes? If then a man can ariue, at that childs age, to know that the Poets persons and dooings are but pictures what should be, and not stories what haue beene, they will neuer giue the lye to things not affirmatiuely but allegorically and figuratiuelie written. And therefore, as in Historie, looking for trueth, they goe away full fraught with falshood, so in Poesie, looking for fiction, they shal vse the narration but as an imaginatiue groundplot of a profitable inuention.
But heereto is replyed, that the Poets gyue names to men they write of, which argueth a conceite of an actuall truth, and so, not being true, prooues a falshood. And doth the Lawyer lye then, when vnder the names of Iohn a stile and Iohn a noakes hee puts his case? But that is easily answered. Theyr naming of men is but to make theyr picture the more liuely, and not to builde any historie; paynting men, they cannot leaue men namelesse. We see we cannot play at Chesse but that wee must giue names to our Chesse-men; and yet, mee thinks, hee were a very partiall Champion of truth that would say we lyed for giuing a peece of wood the reuerend title of a Bishop. The Poet nameth Cyrus or Aeneas no other way then to shewe what men of theyr fames, fortunes, and estates should doe.
Their third is, how much it abuseth mens wit, trayning it to wanton sinfulnes and lustfull loue: for indeed that is the principall, if not the onely abuse I can heare alledged. They say the Comedies rather teach then reprehend amorous conceits. They say the Lirick is larded with passionate Sonnets: The Elegiack weepes the want of his mistresse: And that euen to the Heroical Cupid hath ambitiously climed. Alas, Loue, I would thou couldest as well defende thy selfe as thou canst offende others. I would those, on whom thou doost attend, could eyther put thee away, or yeelde good reason why they keepe thee. But grant loue of beautie to be a beastlie fault (although it be very hard, sith onely man, and no beast, hath that gyft to discerne beauty). Grant that louely name of Loue to deserue all hatefull reproches (although euen some of my Maisters the Phylosophers spent a good deale of theyr Lamp-oyle in setting foorth the excellencie of it). Grant, I say, what soeuer they wil haue granted; that not onely loue, but lust, but vanitie, but (if they list) scurrilitie, possesseth many leaues of the Poets bookes: yet thinke I, when this is granted, they will finde theyr sentence may with good manners put the last words foremost, and not say that Poetrie abuseth mans wit, but that mans wit abuseth Poetrie.
For I will not denie but that mans wit may make Poesie (which should be Eikastike, which some learned haue defined, figuring foorth good things) to be Phantastike: which doth, contrariwise, infect the fancie with vnworthy obiects. As the Painter, that shoulde giue to the eye eyther some excellent perspectiue, or some fine picture, fit for building or fortification, or contayning in it some notable example, as Abraham sacrificing his Sonne Isaack, Iudith killing Holofernes, Dauid fighting with Goliah, may leaue those, and please an ill-pleased eye with wanton shewes of better hidden matters. But what, shall the abuse of a thing make the right vse odious? Nay truely, though I yeeld that Poesie may not onely be abused, but that beeing abused, by the reason of his sweete charming force, it can doe more hurt then any other Armie of words, yet shall it be so far from concluding that the abuse should giue reproch to the abused, that contrariwise it is a good reason, that whatsoeuer, being abused, dooth most harme, beeing rightly vsed (and vpon the right vse each thing conceiueth his title), doth most good.
Doe wee not see the skill of Phisick (the best rampire to our often-assaulted bodies) beeing abused, teach poyson, the most violent destroyer? Dooth not knowledge of Law, whose end is to euen and right all things being abused, grow the crooked fosterer of horrible iniuries? Doth not (to goe to the highest) Gods word abused breed heresie? and his Name abused become blasphemie? Truely, a needle cannot doe much hurt, and as truely (with leaue of Ladies be it spoken) it cannot doe much good. With a sword thou maist kill thy Father, and with a sword thou maist defende thy Prince and Country. So that, as in their calling Poets the Fathers of lyes they say nothing, so in this theyr argument of abuse they prooue the commendation.
They alledge heere-with, that before Poets beganne to be in price our Nation hath set their harts delight vpon action, and not vpon imagination: rather doing things worthy to bee written, then writing things fitte to be done. What that before tyme was, I thinke scarcely Sphinx can tell: Sith no memory is so auncient that hath the precedence of Poetrie. And certaine it is that, in our plainest homelines, yet neuer was the Albion Nation without Poetrie. Mary, thys argument, though it bee leaueld against Poetrie, yet is it indeed a chaine-shot against all learning, or bookishnes, as they commonly tearme it. Of such minde were certaine Gothes, of whom it is written that, hauing in the spoile of a famous Citie taken a fayre librarie, one hangman (bee like fitte to execute the fruites of their wits), who had murthered a great number of bodies, would haue set fire on it: no, sayde another very grauely, take heede what you doe, for whyle they are busie about these toyes, wee shall with more leysure conquer their Countries.
This indeede is the ordinary doctrine of ignorance, and many wordes sometymes I haue heard spent in it: but because this reason is generally against all learning, aswell as Poetrie, or rather, all learning but Poetry; because it were too large a digression to handle, or at least to superfluous (sith it is manifest that all gouernment of action is to be gotten by knowledg, and knowledge best by gathering many knowledges, which is reading), I onely, with Horace, to him that is of that opinion,
Iubeo stultum esse libenter:
for as for Poetrie it selfe, it is the freest from thys obiection. For Poetrie is the companion of the Campes.
I dare vndertake, Orlando Furioso, or honest King Arthur, will neuer displease a Souldier: but the quiddity of Ens and Prima materia will hardely agree with a Corslet: and therefore, as I said in the beginning, euen Turks and Tartares are delighted with Poets. Homer, a Greek, florished before Greece florished. And if to a slight coniecture a coniecture may be opposed, truly it may seeme, that as by him their learned men tooke almost their first light of knowledge, so their actiue men receiued their first motions of courage. Onlie Alexanders example may serue, who by Plutarch is accounted of such vertue, that Fortune was not his guide but his foote stoole: whose acts speake for him, though Plutarch did not; indeede the Phnix of warlike Princes. This Alexander left his Schoolemaister, liuing Aristotle, behinde him, but tooke deade Homer with him: he put the Philosopher Calisthenes to death for his seeming philosophicall, indeed mutinous, stubburnnes; but the chiefe thing he euer was heard to wish for was that Homer had been aliue. He well found he receiued more brauerie of minde bye the patterne of Achilles then by hearing the definition of Fortitude: and therefore, if Cato misliked Fuluius for carying Ennius with him to the fielde, it may be aunswered that, if Cato misliked it, the noble Fuluius liked it, or els he had not doone it: for it was not the excellent Cato Vticensis (whose authority I would much more haue reuerenced), but it was the former, in truth a bitter punisher of faults, but else a man that had neuer wel sacrificed to the Graces. Hee misliked and cryed out vpon all Greeke learning, and yet, being 80 yeeres olde, began to learne it; be-like fearing that Pluto vnderstood not Latine. Indeede, the Romaine lawes allowed no person to be carried to the warres but hee that was in the Souldiers role: and therefore, though Cato misliked his vnmustered person, hee misliked not his worke. And if hee had, Scipio Nasica, iudged by common consent the best Romaine, loued him. Both the other Scipio Brothers, who had by their vertues no lesse surnames then of Asia and Affrick, so loued him that they caused his body to be buried in their Sepulcher. So as Cato his authoritie being but against his person, and that aunswered with so farre greater then himselfe, is heerein of no validitie.
But now indeede my burthen is great; now Plato his name is layde vpon mee, whom, I must confesse, of all Philosophers I haue euer esteemed most worthy of reuerence, and with great reason, sith of all Philosophers he is the most poeticall. Yet if he will defile the Fountaine out of which his flowing streames haue proceeded, let vs boldly examine with what reasons hee did it. First truly, a man might maliciously obiect that Plato, being a Philosopher, was a naturall enemie of Poets: for indeede, after the Philosophers had picked out of the sweete misteries of Poetrie the right discerning true points of knowledge, they forthwith, putting it in method, and making a Schoole-arte of that which the Poets did onely teach by a diuine delightfulnes, beginning to spume at their guides, like vngratefull Premises, were not content to set vp shops for themselues, but sought by all meanes to discredit their Maisters. Which by the force of delight beeing barred them, the lesse they could ouerthrow them, the more they hated them. For indeede, they found for Homer seauen Cities stroue who should haue him for their Citizen; where many Citties banished Philosophers as not fitte members to liue among them. For onely repeating certaine of Euripides verses, many Athenians had their lyues saued of the Siracusians; when the Athenians themselues thought many Philosophers vnwoorthie to liue. Certaine Poets, as Simonides and Pindarus, had so preuailed with Hiero the first, that of a Tirant they made him a iust King, where Plato could do so little with Dionisius, that he himselfe of a Philosopher was made a slaue. But who should doe thus, I confesse, should requite the obiections made against Poets with like cauillation against Philosophers, as likewise one should doe that should bid one read Phædrus or Symposium in Plato, or the discourse of loue in Plutarch, and see whether any Poet doe authorize abhominable filthines, as they doe. Againe, a man might aske out of what Common-wealth Plato did banish them? insooth, thence where he himselfe alloweth communitie of women. So as belike this banishment grewe not for effeminate wantonnes, sith little should poeticall Sonnets be hurtfull when a man might haue what woman he listed. But I honor philosophicall instructions, and blesse the wits which bred them: so as they be not abused, which is likewise stretched to Poetrie.
S. Paule himselfe, who (yet for the credite of Poets) alledgeth twise two Poets, and one of them by the name of a Prophet, setteth a watch-word vpon Philosophy, indeede vpon the abuse. So dooth Plato vpon the abuse, not vpon Poetrie. Plato found fault that the Poets of his time filled the worlde with wrong opinions of the Gods, making light tales of that vnspotted essence; and, therefore, would not haue the youth depraued with such opinions. Heerin may much be said: let this suffice: the Poets did not induce such opinions, but dyd imitate those opinions already induced. For all the Greek stories can well testifie that the very religion of that time stoode vpon many, and many-fashioned, Gods, not taught so by the Poets, but followed according to their nature of imitation. Who list may reade in Plutarch the discourses of Isis and Osiris, of the cause why Oracles ceased, of the diuine prouidence, and see whether the Theologie of that nation stood not vpon such dreames which the Poets indeed supersticiously obserued, and truly (sith they had not the light of Christ) did much better in it then the Philosophers, who, shaking off superstition, brought in Atheisme. Plato therefore (whose authoritie I had much rather iustly conster then vniustly resist) meant not in general of Poets, in those words of which Iulius Scaliger saith, Qua authoritate barbari quidam atque hispidi abuti velint ad Poetas e republica exigendos; but only meant to driue out those wrong opinions of the Deitie (whereof now, without further law, Christianity hath taken away all the hurtful beliefe), perchance (as he thought) norished by the then esteemed Poets. And a man need goe no further then to Plato himselfe to know his meaning: who, in his Dialogue called Ion, giueth high and rightly diuine commendation to Poetrie. So as Plato, banishing the abuse, not the thing, not banishing it, but giuing due honor vnto it, shall be our Patron and not our aduersarie. For indeed I had much rather (sith truly I may doe it) shew theyr mistaking of Plato (vnder whose Lyons skin they would make an Asse-like braying against Poesie) then goe about to ouerthrow his authority, whom the wiser a man is the more iust cause he shall find to haue in admiration; especially sith he attributeth vnto Poesie more then my selfe doe, namely, to be a very inspiring of a diuine force, farre aboue mans wit, as in the aforenamed Dialogue is apparant.
Of the other side, who wold shew the honors haue been by the best sort of iudgements granted them, a whole Sea of examples woulde present themselues: Alexanders, Cæsars, Scipios, al fauorers of Poets; Lelius, called the Romane Socrates, him selfe a Poet, so as part of Heautontimorumenos in Terence was supposed to be made by him. And euen the Greek Socrates, whom Apollo confirmed to be the onely wise man, is sayde to haue spent part of his old tyme in putting Esops fables into verses. And therefore, full euill should it become his scholler Plato to put such words in his Maisters mouth against Poets. But what need more? Aristotle writes the Arte of Poesie: and why, if it should not be written? Plutarch teacheth the vse to be gathered of them, and how, if they should not be read? And who reades Plutarchs eyther historie or philosophy shall finde hee trymmeth both theyr garments with gards of Poesie. But I list not to defend Poesie with the helpe of her vnderling Historiography. Let it suffise that it is a fit soyle for prayse to dwell vpon; and what dispraise may set vpon it, is eyther easily ouer-come, or transformed into iust commendation. So that, sith the excellencies of it may be so easily and so iustly confirmed, and the low-creeping obiections so soone troden downe; it not being an Art of lyes, but of true doctrine; not of effeminatenes, but of notable stirring of courage; not of abusing mans witte, but of strengthning mans wit; not banished, but honored by Plato; let vs rather plant more Laurels for to engarland our Poets heads (which honor of beeing laureat, as besides them onely tryumphant Captaines weare, is a sufficient authority to shewe the price they ought to be had in) then suffer the ill-fauouring breath of such wrong-speakers once to blowe vpon the cleere springs of Poesie.
But sith I haue runne so long a careere in this matter, me thinks, before I giue my penne a fulle stop, it shalbe but a little more lost time to inquire why England (the Mother of excellent mindes) should bee growne so hard a step-mother to Poets, who certainly in wit ought to passe all other; sith all onely proceedeth from their wit, being indeede makers of themselues, not takers of others. How can I but exclaime,
Musa mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso.
Sweete Poesie, that hath aunciently had Kings, Emperors, Senators, great Captaines, such as, besides a thousand others, Dauid, Adrian, Sophocles, Germanicus, not onely to fauour Poets, but to be Poets. And of our neerer times can present for her Patrons a Robert, king of Sicil, the great king Francis of France, King Iames 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 graue Counsellors as, besides many, but before all, that Hospitall of Fraunce, then whom (I thinke) that Realme neuer brought forth a more accomplished iudgement, more firmely builded vpon vertue. I say these, with numbers of others, not onely to read others Poesies, but to Poetise for others reading. That Poesie, thus embraced in all other places, should onely finde in our time a hard welcome in England, I thinke the very earth lamenteth it, and therfore decketh our Soyle with fewer Laurels then it was accustomed. For heertofore Poets haue in England also florished; and, which is to be noted, euen in those times when the trumpet of Mars did sounde loudest. And now that an ouer-faint quietnes should seeme to strew the house for Poets, they are almost in as good reputation as the Mountibancks at Venice. Truly euen that, as of the one side it giueth great praise to Poesie, which like Venus (but to better purpose) hath rather be troubled in the net with Mars then enioy the homelie quiet of Vulcan; so serues it for a peece of a reason why they are lesse gratefull to idle England, which nowe can scarce endure the payne of a pen. Vpon this necessarily followeth, that base men with seruile wits vndertake it: who think it inough if they can be rewarded of the Printer. And so as Epaminondas is sayd, with the honor of his vertue, to haue made an office, by his exercising it, which before was contemptible, to become highly respected; so these, no more but setting their names to it, by their owne disgracefulnes disgrace the most gracefull Poesie. For now, as if all the Muses were gotte with childe, to bring foorth bastard Poets, without any commission they doe poste ouer the banckes of Helicon, tyll they make the readers more weary then Post-horses; while, in the mean tyme, they,
Queis meliore luto finxit praecordia Titan,
are better content to suppresse the out-flowing of their wit, then by publishing them to bee accounted Knights of the same order. But I that, before euer I durst aspire vnto the dignitie, am admitted into the company of the Paper-blurrers, doe finde the very true cause of our wanting estimation is want of desert; taking vpon vs to be Poets in despight of Pallas. Nowe, wherein we want desert were a thanke-worthy labour to expresse: but if I knew, I should haue mended my selfe. But I, as I neuer desired the title, so haue I neglected the meanes to come by it. Onely, ouer-mastred by some thoughts, I yeelded an inckie tribute vnto them. Mary, they that delight in Poesie it selfe should seeke to knowe what they doe, and how they doe; and, especially, looke themselues in an vnflattering Glasse of reason, if they bee inclinable vnto it. For Poesie must not be drawne by the eares; it must bee gently led, or rather it must lead. Which was partly the cause that made the auncient-learned affirme it was a diuine gift, and no humaine skill: sith all other knowledges lie ready for any that hath strength of witte: A Poet no industrie can make, if his owne Genius bee not carried vnto it: and therefore is it an old Prouerbe, Orator fit, Poeta nascitur. Yet confesse I alwayes that as the firtilest ground must bee manured, so must the highest flying wit haue a Dedalus to guide him. That Dedalus, they say, both in this and in other, hath three wings to beare it selfe vp into the ayre of due commendation: that is, Arte, Imitation, and Exercise. But these, neyther artificiall rules nor imitatiue patternes, we much cumber our selues withall. Exercise indeede wee doe, but that very forebackwardly: for where we should exercise to know, wee exercise as hauing knowne: and so is oure braine deliuered of much matter which neuer was begotten by knowledge. For, there being two principal parts, matter to be expressed by wordes and words to expresse the matter, in neyther wee vse Arte or Imitation rightly. Our matter is Quodlibet indeed, though wrongly perfourming Ouids verse
Quicquid conabar dicere versus erat:
neuer marshalling it into an assured rancke, that almost the readers cannot tell where to finde themselues.
Chaucer, vndoubtedly, did excellently in hys Troylus and Cresseid; of whom, truly, I know not whether to meruaile more, either that he in that mistie time could see so clearely, or that wee in this cleare age walke so stumblingly after him. Yet had he great wants, fitte to be forgiuen in so reuerent antiquity. I account the Mirrour of Magistrates meetely furnished of beautiful parts; and in the Earle of Surries Liricks many things tasting of a noble birth, and worthy of a noble minde. The Sheapheards Kalender hath much Poetrie in his Eglogues: indeede worthy the reading, if I be not deceiued. That same framing of his stile to an old rustick language I dare not alowe, sith neyther Theocritus in Greeke, Virgill in Latine, nor Sanazar in Italian did affect it. Besides these, doe I not remember to haue seene but fewe (to speake boldely) printed, that haue poeticall sinnewes in them: for proofe whereof, let but most of the verses bee put in Prose, and then aske 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 masse of words, with a tingling sound of ryme, barely accompanied with reason.
Our Tragedies and Comedies (not without cause cried out against), obseruing rules neyther of honest ciuilitie nor of skilfull Poetrie, excepting Gorboduck (againe, I say, of those that I haue seene), which notwithstanding, as it is full of stately speeches and well sounding Phrases, clyming to the height of Seneca his stile, and as full of notable moralitie, which it doth most delightfully teach, and so obtayne the very end of Poesie, yet in troth it is very defectious in the circumstaunces, which greeueth mee, because it might not remaine as an exact model of all Tragedies. For it is faulty both in place and time, the two necessary companions of all corporall actions. For where the stage should alwaies represent but one place, and the vttermost time presupposed in it should be, both by Aristotles precept and common reason, but one day, there is both many dayes, and many places, inartificially imagined. But if it be so in Gorboduck, how much more in al the rest? where you shal haue Asia of the one side, and Affrick of the other, and so many other vnder-kingdoms, that the Player, when he commeth in, must euer begin with telling where he is, or els the tale wil not be conceiued. Now ye shal haue three Ladies walke to gather flowers, and then we must beleeue the stage to be a Garden. By and by, we heare newes of shipwracke in the same place, and then wee are to blame if we accept it not for a Rock. Vpon the backe of that, comes out a hidious Monster, with fire and smoke, and then the miserable beholders are bounde to take it for a Caue. While in the meantime two Armies flye in, represented with foure swords and bucklers, and then what harde heart will not receiue it for a pitched fielde? Now, of time they are much more liberall, for ordinary it is that two young Princes fall in loue. After many trauerces, she is got with childe, deliuered of a faire boy; he is lost, groweth a man, falls in loue, and is ready to get another child; and all this in two hours space: which how absurd it is in sence euen sence may imagine, and Arte hath taught, and all auncient examples iustified, and, at this day, the ordinary Players in Italie wil not erre in. Yet wil some bring in an example of Eunuchus in Terence, that containeth matter of two dayes, yet far short of twenty yeeres. True it is, and so was it to be playd in two daies, and so fitted to the time it set forth. And though Plautus hath in one place done amisse, let vs hit with him, and not misse with him. But they wil say, how then shal we set forth a story, which containeth both many places and many times? And doe they not knowe that a Tragedie is tied to the lawes of Poesie, and not of Historie? not bound to follow the storie, but, hauing liberty, either to faine a quite newe matter, or to frame the history to the most tragicall conueniencie. Againe, many things may be told which cannot be shewed, if they knowe the difference betwixt reporting and representing. As, for example, I may speake (though I am heere) of Peru, and in speech digresse from that to the description of Calicut; but in action I cannot represent it without Pacolets horse: and so was the manner the Auncients tooke, by some Nuncius, to recount thinges done in former time or other place. Lastly, if they wil represent an history, they must not (as Horace saith) beginne Ab ouo, but they must come to the principall poynt of that one action which they wil represent. By example this wil be best expressed. I haue a story of young Polidorus, deliuered for safeties sake, with great riches, by his Father Priamus to Polimnestor, king of Thrace, in the Troyan war time. Hee after some yeeres, hearing the ouer-throwe of Priamus, for to make the treasure his owne, murthereth the child; the body of the child is taken vp by Hecuba; shee the same day findeth a slight to bee reuenged most cruelly of the Tyrant: where nowe would one of our Tragedy writers begin, but with the deliuery of the childe? Then should he sayle ouer into Thrace, and so spend I know not how many yeeres, and trauaile numbers of places. But where dooth Euripides? Euen with the finding of the body, leauing the rest to be tolde by the spirit of Polidorus. This need no further to be inlarged; the dullest wit may conceiue it.
But besides these grosse absurdities, how all theyr Playes be neither right Tragedies, nor right Comedies; mingling Kings and Clownes, not because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in Clownes by head and shoulders, to play a part in maiesticall matters, with neither decencie nor discretion: So as neither the admiration and commiseration, nor the right sportfulnes, is by their mungrell Tragy-comedie obtained. I know Apuleius did some-what so, but that is a thing recounted with space of time, not represented in one moment: and I knowe the Auncients haue one or two examples of Tragy-comedies, as Plautus hath Amphitrio. But, if we marke them well, we shall find, that they neuer, or very daintily, match Horn-pypes and Funeralls. So falleth it out that, hauing indeed no right Comedy, in that comicall part of our Tragedy we haue nothing but scurrility, vnwoorthy of any chast eares, or some extreame shew of doltishnes, indeed fit to lift vp a loude laughter, and nothing els: where the whole tract of a Comedy shoulde be full of delight, as the Tragedy shoulde be still maintained in a well raised admiration. But our Comedians thinke there is no delight without laughter; which is very wrong, for though laughter may come with delight, yet commeth it not of delight, as though delight should be the cause of laughter; but well may one thing breed both together: nay, rather in themselues they haue, as it were, a kind of contrarietie: for delight we scarcely doe but in things that haue a conueniencie to our selues or to the generall nature: laughter almost euer commeth of things most disproportioned to our selues and nature. Delight hath a ioy in it, either permanent or present. Laughter hath onely a scornful tickling. For example, we are rauished with delight to see a faire woman, and yet are far from being moued to laughter. We laugh at deformed creatures, wherein certainely we cannot delight. We delight in good chaunces, we laugh at mischaunces; we delight to heare the happines of our friends, or Country, at which he were worthy to be laughed at that would laugh; wee shall, contrarily, laugh sometimes to finde a matter quite mistaken and goe downe the hill agaynst the byas, in the mouth of some such men, as for the respect of them one shalbe hartely sorry, yet he cannot chuse but laugh; and so is rather pained then delighted with laughter. Yet deny I not but that they may goe well together; for as in Alexanders picture well set out wee delight without laughter, and in twenty mad Anticks we laugh without delight, so in Hercules, painted with his great beard and furious countenance, in womans attire, spinning at Omphales commaundement, it breedeth both delight and laughter. For the representing of so strange a power in loue procureth delight: and the scornefulnes of the action stirreth laughter. But I speake to this purpose, that all the end of the comicall part bee not vpon such scornefull matters as stirreth laughter onely, but, mixt with it, that delightful teaching which is the end of Poesie. And the great fault euen in that point of laughter, and forbidden plainely by Aristotle, is that they styrre laughter in sinfull things, which are rather execrable then ridiculous: or in miserable, which are rather to be pittied then scorned. For what is it to make folkes gape at a wretched Begger, or a beggerly Clowne? or, against lawe of hospitality, to iest at straungers, because they speake not English so well as wee doe? what do we learne? sith it is certaine
Nil habet infelix paupertas durius in se,
Quam quod ridiculos homines facit.
But rather a busy louing Courtier, a hartles threatening Thraso, a selfe-wise-seeming schoolemaster, a awry-transformed Traueller: These if wee sawe walke in stage names, which wee play naturally, therein were delightfull laughter, and teaching delightfulnes: as in the other, the Tragedies of Buchanan doe iustly bring forth a diuine admiration. But I haue lauished out too many wordes of this play matter. I doe it because as they are excelling parts of Poesie, so is there none so much vsed in England, and none can be more pittifully abused. Which like an vnmannerly Daughter, shewing a bad education, causeth her mother Poesies honesty to bee called in question.
Other sorts of Poetry almost haue we none, but that Lyricall kind of Songs and Sonnets: which, Lord, if he gaue vs so good mindes, how well it might be imployed, and with howe heauenly fruite, both priuate and publique, in singing the prayses of the immortall beauty, the immortall goodnes of that God who gyueth vs hands to write and wits to conceiue; of which we might well want words, but neuer matter; of which we could turne our eies to nothing, but we should euer haue new budding occasions. But truely many of such writings as come vnder the banner of vnresistable loue, if I were a Mistres, would neuer perswade mee they were in loue; so coldely they apply fiery speeches, as men that had rather red Louers writings, and so caught vp certaine swelling phrases, which hang together like a man which once tolde mee the winde was at North West, and by South, because he would be sure to name windes enowe,then that in truth they feele those passions, which easily (as I think) may be bewrayed by that same forciblenes, or Energia (as the Greekes cal it), of the writer. But let this bee a sufficient though short note, that wee misse the right vse of the materiall point of Poesie.
Now, for the out-side of it, which is words, or (as I may tearme it) Diction, it is euen well worse. So is that honny-flowing Matron Eloquence apparelled, or rather disguised, in a Curtizan-like painted affectation: one time with so farre fette words, they may seeme Monsters, but must seeme straungers to any poore English man; another tyme, with coursing of a Letter, as if they were bound to followe the method of a Dictionary; an other tyme, with figures and flowers, extreamelie winter-starued. But I would this fault were only peculier to Versifiers, and had not as large possession among Prose-printers, and (which is to be meruailed) among many Schollers, and (which is to be pittied) 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 Tullie and Demosthenes (most worthy to be imitated) did not so much keep Nizolian Paper-bookes of their figures and phrases, as by attentiue translation (as it were) deuoure them whole, and make them wholly theirs. For nowe they cast Sugar and Spice vpon euery dish that is serued to the table; like those Indians, not content to weare eare-rings at the fit and naturall place of the eares, but they will thrust Iewels through their nose and lippes, because they will be sure to be fine. Tullie, when he was to driue out Catiline, as it were with a Thunder-bolt of eloquence, often vsed that figure of repitition, Viuit. viuit? imo in Senatum venit &c. Indeed, inflamed with a well-grounded rage, hee would haue his words (as it were) double out of his mouth; and so doe that artificially which we see men doe in choller naturally. And wee, hauing noted the grace of those words, hale them in sometime to a familier Epistle, when it were too much choller to be chollerick.
Now for similitudes, in certaine printed discourses, I thinke all Herbarists, all stories of Beasts, Foules, and Fishes are rifled vp, that they come in multitudes to waite vpon any of our conceits; which certainly is as absurd a surfet to the eares as is possible: for the force of a similitude not being to prooue anything to a contrary Disputer but onely to explane to a willing hearer, when that is done, the rest is a most tedious pratling, rather ouer-swaying the memory from the purpose whereto they were applyed then any whit informing the iudgement, already eyther satisfied, or by similitudes not to be satisfied. For my part, I doe not doubt, when Antonius and Crassus, the great forefathers of Cicero in eloquence, the one (as Cicero testifieth of them) pretended not to know Arte, the other not to set by it, because with a playne sensiblenes they might win credit of popular eares; which credit is the neerest step to perswasion; which perswasion is the chiefe marke of Oratory;I doe not doubt (I say) but that they vsed these tracks very sparingly, which who doth generally vse any man may see doth daunce to his owne musick; and so be noted by the audience more careful to speake curiously then to speake truly.
Vndoubtedly (at least to my opinion vndoubtedly) I haue found in diuers smally learned Courtiers a more sounde stile then in some professors of learning: of which I can gesse no other cause, but that the Courtier, following that which by practise hee findeth fittest to nature, therein (though he know it not) doth according to Art, though not by Art: where the other, vsing Art to shew Art, and not to hide Art (as in these cases he should doe), flyeth from nature, and indeede abuseth Art.
But what? me thinkes I deserue to be pounded for straying from Poetrie to Oratorie: but both haue such an affinity in this wordish consideration, that I thinke this digression will make my meaning receiue the fuller vnderstanding: which is not to take vpon me to teach Poets howe they should doe, but onely, finding my selfe sick among the rest, to shewe some one or two spots of the common infection growne among the most part of Writers: that, acknowledging our selues somewhat awry, we may bend to the right use both of matter and manner; whereto our language gyueth vs great occasion, beeing indeed capable of any excellent exercising of it. 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 Grammer. Nay truly, it hath that prayse, that it wanteth not Grammer: for Grammer it might haue, but it needes it not; beeing so easie of it selfe, and so voyd of those cumbersome differences of Cases, Genders, Moodes, and Tenses, which I thinke was a peece of the Tower of Babilons curse, that a man should be put to schoole to learne his mother-tongue. But for the vttering sweetly and properly the conceits of the minde, which is the end of speech, that hath it equally with any other tongue in the world: and is particulerly happy in compositions of two or three words together, neere the Greeke, far beyond the Latine: which is one of the greatest beauties can be in a language.
Now, of versifying there are two sorts, the one Auncient, the other Moderne: the Auncient marked the quantitie of each silable, and according to that framed his verse; the Moderne obseruing onely number (with some regarde of the accent), the chiefe life of it standeth in that lyke sounding of the words, which wee call Ryme. Whether of these be the most excellent, would beare many speeches. The Auncient (no doubt) more fit for Musick, both words and tune obseruing quantity, and more fit liuely to expresse diuers passions, by the low and lofty sounde of the well-weyed silable. The latter likewise, with hys Ryme, striketh a certaine musick to the eare: and, in fine, sith it dooth delight, though by another way, it obtaines the same purpose: there beeing in eyther sweetnes, and wanting in neither maiestie. Truely the English, before any other vulgar language I know, is fit for both sorts: for, for the Ancient, the Italian is so full of Vowels that it must euer be cumbred with Elisions; the Dutch so, of the other side, with Consonants, that they cannot yeeld the sweet slyding fit for a Verse; the French, in his whole language, hath not one word that hath his accent in the last silable, sauing two, called Antepenultima; and little more hath the Spanish: and, therefore, very gracelesly may they vse Dactiles. The English is subiect to none of these defects.
Nowe, for the ryme, though wee doe not obserue quantity, yet wee obserue the accent very precisely: which other languages eyther cannot doe or will not doe so absolutely. That Cæsura, or breathing place in the middest of the verse, neither Italian nor Spanish haue, the French, and we, neuer almost fayle of. Lastly, euen the very ryme it selfe the Italian cannot put in the last silable, by the French named the Masculine ryme, but still in the next to the last, which the French call the Female, or the next before that, which the Italians terme Sdrucciola. The example of the former is Buono, Suono, of the Sdrucciola, Femina, Semina. The French, of the other side, hath both the Male, as Bon, Son, and the Female, as Plaise, Taise. But the Sdrucciola hee hath not: where the English hath all three, as Due, True, Father, Rather, Motion, Potion; with much more which might be sayd, but that I finde already the triflingnes of this discourse is much too much enlarged.
So that sith the euer-praise-worthy Poesie is full of vertue-breeding delightfulnes, and voyde of no gyfte 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 Englande is the fault of Poet-apes, not Poets; sith, lastly, our tongue is most fit to honor Poesie, and to bee honored by Poesie; I coniure you all that haue had the euill lucke to reade this incke-wasting toy of mine, euen in the name of the nyne Muses, no more to scorne the sacred misteries of Poesie, no more to laugh at the name of Poets, as though they were next inheritours to Fooles, no more to iest at the reuerent title of a Rymer; but to beleeue, with Aristotle, that they were the auncient Treasurers of the Graecians Diuinity. To beleeue, with Bembus, that they were first bringers in of all ciuilitie. To beleeue, with Scaliger, that no Philosophers precepts can sooner make you an honest man then the reading of Virgill. To beleeue, with Clauserus, the Translator of Cornutus, that it pleased the heauenly Deitie, by Hesiod and Homer, vnder the vayle of fables, to giue vs all knowledge, Logick, Rethorick, Philosophy, naturall and morall; and Quid non? To beleeue, with me, that there are many misteries contained in Poetrie, which of purpose were written darkely, least by prophane wits it should bee abused. To beleeue, with Landin, that they are so beloued of the Gods that whatsoeuer they write proceeds of a diuine fury. Lastly, to beleeue themselues, when they tell you they will make you immortall by their verses.
Thus doing, your name shal florish in the Printers shoppes; thus doing, you shall bee of kinne to many a poeticall Preface; thus doing, you shall be most fayre, most ritch, most wise, most all; you shall dwell vpon Superlatiues. Thus dooing, though you be Libertino patre natus, you shall suddenly grow Herculea proles,
Si quid mea carmina possunt.
Thus doing, your soule shal be placed with Dantes Beatrix, or Virgils Anchises. But if (fie of such a but) you be borne so neere the dull making Cataphract of Nilus that you cannot heare the Plannet-like Musick of Poetrie, if you haue so earth-creeping a mind that it cannot lift it selfe vp to looke to the sky of Poetry, or rather, by a certaine rusticall disdaine, will become such a Mome as to be a Momus of Poetry; then, though I will not wish vnto you the Asses eares of Midas, nor to bee driuen by a Poets verses (as Bubonax was) to hang himselfe, nor to be rimed to death, as is sayd to be doone in Ireland; yet thus much curse I must send you, in the behalfe of all Poets, that while you liue, you liue in loue, and neuer get fauour for lacking skill of a Sonnet; and when you die, your memory die from the earth for want of an Epitaph.