G. Gregory Smith, ed. Elizabethan Critical Essays. 1904.
Sir John Harington (15611612)
A Preface, or rather a Briefe Apologie of Poetrie, prefixed to the translation of Orlando Furioso. 1591
[The following essay, entitled A Preface, or rather a Briefe Apologie of Poetrie, and of the Author and Translator, is prefixed to Haringtons translation of Orlando Furioso in English Heroicall verse, 1591. It is reprinted from the copy in the British Museum.]
THE learned Plutarch in his Laconicall Apothegmes tels of a Sophister that made a long and tedious Oration in praise of Hercules, and expecting at the end thereof for some great thanks and applause of the hearers, a certaine Lacedemonian demanded him who had dispraised Hercules. Me thinkes the like may be now said to me, taking vpon me the defence of Poesie, for surely if learning in generall were of that account among vs, as it ought to be among all men, and is among wise men, then should this my Apologie of Poesie (the verie first nurse and ancient grandmother of all learning) be as vaine and superfluous as was that Sophisters, because it might then be aunswered, and truly answered, that no man disgraced it. But sith we liue in such a time, in which nothing can escape the enuious tooth and backbiting tongue of an impure mouth, and wherein euerie blind corner hath a squint eyed Zoilus that can looke a right vpon no mans doings, (yea sure there be some that will not sticke to call Hercules himselfe a dastard, because forsooth he fought with a club and not at the rapyer and dagger), therefore I thinke no man of iudgement will iudge this my labour needlesse, in seeking to remoue away those slaunders that either the malice of those that loue it not, or the folly of those that vnderstand it not, hath deuised against it; for indeed as the old saying is, Scientia non habet inimicum praeter ignorantem, Knowledge hath no foe but the ignorant. But now because I make account I haue to deale with three sundrie kindes of reproouers, one of those that condemne all Poetrie, which (how strong head soeuer they haue) I count but a verie weake faction; another of those that allow Poetrie, but not this particular Poem, of which kind sure there cannot be manie; a third of those that can beare with the art, & like of the worke, but will finde fault with my not well handling of it, which they may not onely probably, but I doubt too truely do, being a thing as commonly done as said, that where the hedge is lowest, there doth euery man go ouer: therfore against these three I must arme me with the best defensiue weapons I can, and if I happen to giue a blow now and then in mine owne defence, and as good fensers vse to ward & strike at once, I must craue pardon of course, seing our law allowes that is done se defendendo and the law of nature teacheth vim vi repellere.
First therfore of Poetrie it selfe, for those few that generally disallow it might be sufficient to alledge those many that generally approue it, of which I could bring in such an army, not of souldiers, but of famous kings & captaines, as not only the sight, but the verie sound of them were able to vanquish and dismay the final forces of our aduersaries. For who would once dare to oppose himselfe against so many Alexanders, Cæsars, Scipios (to omit infinite other princes, both of former and later ages, and of forraine and nearer countries), that with fauour, with studie, with practise, with example, with honor, with giftes, with preferments, with great and magnificent cost, haue encoraged and aduanced Poets and Poetry? as witnes the huge Theaters and Amphitheaters, monuments of stupendious charge, made onely for Tragedies and Comedies, the workes of Poets, to be represented on: but all these aids and defences I leaue as superfluous. My cause I count so good, and the euidence so open, that I neither neede to vse the countenance of any great state to boulster it, nor the cunning of anie little lawyer to enforce it: my meaning is plainly and bona fide, confessing all the abuses that can truely be objected against some kind of Poets, to shew you what good vse there is of Poetrie. Neither do I suppose it to be greatly behoofull for this purpose to trouble you with the curious definitions of a Poet and Poesie, & with the subtill distinctions of their sundrie kinds; nor to dispute how high and supernatural the name of a Maker is, so christned in English by that vnknowne God-father that this last yeare saue one, viz. 1589, set forth a booke called the Art of English Poetrie: and least of all do I purpose to bestow any long time to argue whether Plato, Zenophon, and Erasmus writing fictions and Dialogues in prose may iustly be called Poets, or whether Lucan writing a story in verse be an historiographer, or whether Master Faire translating Virgil, Master Golding translating Ouids Metamorphosis, and my selfe in this worke that you see, be any more then versifiers, as the same Ignoto termeth all translators: for as for all, or the most part of such questions, I will refer you to Sir Philip Sidneys Apologie, who doth handle them right learnedly, or to the forenamed treatise where they are discoursed more largely, and where, as it were, a whole receit of Poetrie is prescribed, with so manie new named; figures as would put me in great hope in this age to come would breed manie excellent Poetssaue for one obseruation that I gather out of the verie same book. For though the poore gentleman laboreth greatly to proue, or rather to make Poetrie an art, and reciteth as you may see, in the plurall number, some pluralities of patterns and parcels of his owne Poetrie, with diuerse pieces of Partheniads and hymnes in praise of the most praisworthy, yet whatsoeuer he would proue by all these, sure in my poore opinion he doth proue nothing more plainly then that which M. Sidney and all the learneder sort that haue written of it do pronounce, namely that it is a gift and not an art. I say he proueth it, because making himselfe and manie others so cunning in the art, yet he sheweth himselfe so slender a gift in it, deseruing to be commended as Martiall praiseth one that he compares to Tully.
But to come to the purpose, and to speake after the phrase of the common sort that terme all that is written in verse Poetrie, and, rather in scorne then in praise, bestow the name of a Poet on euerie base rymer and balladmaker, this I say of it, and I thinke I say truly, that there are many good lessons to be learned out of it, many good examples to be found in it, many good vses to be had of it, and that therfore it is not nor ought not to be despised by the wiser sort, but so to be studied and imployed as was intended by the first writers and deuisers thereof, which is to soften and polish the hard and rough dispositions of men, and make them capable of vertue and good discipline.
I cannot denie but to vs that are Christians, in respect of the high end of all, which is the health of our soules, not only Poetrie but al other studies of Philosophy are in a manner vaine and superfluous, yea (as the wise man saith) whatsoeuer is under the sunne is vanitie of vanities, and nothing but vanitie. But sith we liue with men & not with saints, and because few men can embrace this strict and stoicall diuinitie, or rather, indeed, for that the holy scriptures, in which those high mysteries of our saluation are contained, are a deepe & profound studie and not subiect to euerie weake capacitie, no nor to the highest wits and iudgments, except they be first illuminat by Gods spirit or instructed by his teachers and preachers: therefore we do first read some other authors, making them as it were a looking glasse to the eyes of our minde, and then after we haue gathered more strength, we enter into profounder studies of higher mysteries, hauing first as it were enabled our eyes by long beholding the sunne in a bason of water at last to looke vpon the sunne it selfe. So we read how that great Moses, whose learning and sanctitie is so renowned ouer all nations, was first instructed in the learning of the Egyptians before he came to that high contemplation of God and familiaritie (as I may so terme it) with God. So the notable Prophet Daniel was brought vp in the learning of the Chaldeans, & made that the first step of his higher vocation to be a Prophet. If then we may by the example of two such special seruants of God spend some of our young yeares in studies of humanitie, what better and more meete studie is there for a young man then Poetrie? specially Heroicall Poesie, that with her sweet statelinesse doth erect the mind & lift it vp to the consideration of the highest matters, and allureth them that of themselues would otherwise loth them to take and swallow & digest the holsome precepts of Philosophie, and many times even of the true diuinitie. Wherefore Plutarch, hauing written a whole treatise of the praise of Homers workes, and another of reading Poets, doth begin this latter with this comparison, that as men that are sickly and haue weake stomakes or daintie tastes do many times thinke that flesh most delicate to eate that is not flesh, and those fishes that be not fish, so young men (saith he) do like best that Philosophy that is not Philosophie, or that is not deliuered as Philosophie, and such are the pleasant writings of learned Poets, that are the popular Philosophers and the popular diuines. Likewise Tasso in his excellent worke of Jerusalem Liberata likeneth Poetrie to the Phisicke that men giue vnto little children when they are sick; his verse is this in Italian, speaking to God with a pretie Prosopopeia,
Sai, che là corre il mondo, oue più versi
Di sue dolcezze il lusinghier Parnaso,
E che l vero condito in molli versi
I più schiui allettando hà persuaso.
Così à legro fanciul porgiamo aspersi
Di soaue licor gli orli del vaso:
Succhi amari ingannato intanto ei beue,
E da linganno suo vita riceue.
Thou knowst, the wanton worldlings euer runne
To sweete Parnassus fruites, how otherwhile
The truth well sawst with pleasant verse hath wonne
Most squeamish stomakes with the sugred stile:
So the sicke child that Pocions all doth shunne
With comfets and with sugar we begile,
And cause him take a holsome sowre receit:
He drinkes, and saues his life with such deceit.
This is then that honest fraud in which (as Plutarch saith) he that is deceiued is wiser than he that is not deceiued, & he that doth deceiue is honester than he that doth not deceiue.
But briefly to answere to the chiefe objections: Cornelius Agrippa, a man of learning & authoritie not to be despised, maketh a bitter inuectiue against Poets and Poesie, and the summe of his reproofe of it is this (which is al that can with any probability be said against it), that it is a nurse of lies, a pleaser of fooles, a breeder of dangerous errors, and an inticer to wantonnes. I might here warne those that wil vrge this mans authoritie to the disgrace of Poetrie, to take heed (of what calling so euer they be) least with the same weapon that they thinke to giue Poetrie a blow they giue themselues a maime. For Agrippa taketh his pleasure of greater matters then Poetrie; I maruel how he durst do it, saue that I see he hath done it; he hath spared neither myters nor scepters. The courts of Princes where vertue is rewarded, iustice maintained, oppressions relieued, he cals them a Colledge of Giants, of Tyrants, of oppressors, warriors: the most noble sort of noble men he termeth cursed, bloodie, wicked, and sacrilegious persons. Noble men (and vs poore Gentlemen) that thinke to borrow praise of our auncestors deserts and good fame, he affirmed to be a race of the sturdier sort of knaues and lycencious liuers. Treasurers & other great officers of the common welth, with graue counsellors whose wise heads are the pillers of the state, he affirmeth generally to be robbers and peelers of the realme, and priuie traitors that sell their princes fauours and rob weldeseruing seruitors of their reward. I omit, as his peccadilia, how he nicknameth priests, saying for the most part they are hypocrites, lawyers, saying they are all theeues, phisicians, saying they are manie of them murtherers: so as I thinke it were a good motion, and would easily passe by the consent of the three estates, that this mans authoritie should be vtterly adnihilated, that dealeth so hardly and vniustly with all sorts of professions. But for the reiecting of his writings, I refer it to others that haue powre to do it, and to condemne him for a generall libeller; but for that he writeth against Poetrie, I meane to speake a word or two in refuting thereof.
And first for lying, I might if I list excuse it by the rule of Poetica licentia, and claime a priuiledge giuen to Poet[s], whose art is but an imitation (as Aristotle calleth it), & therefore are allowed to faine what they list, according to that old verse,
Iuridicis, Erebo, fisco, fas viuere [r]apto;
Militibus, medicis, tortori, occidere ludo est;
Mentiri astronomis, pictoribus atque poetis,
which, because I count it without reason, I will English without rime.
Lawyers, Hell, and the Checquer are allowed to liue on spoile;
Souldiers, Phisicians, and Hangmen make a sport of murther;
Astronomers, Painters, and Poets may lye by authoritie.
Thus you see that Poets may lye if they list Cum priuelegio. But what if they lye least of all other men? what if they lye not at all? then I thinke that great slaunder is verie vniustly raised upon them. For in my opinion they are said properly to lye that affirme that to be true that is false: and how other arts can free themselues from this blame, let them look that professe them: but Poets neuer affirming any for true, but presenting them to vs as fables and imitations, cannot lye though they would: and because this obiection of lyes, is the chief, and that vpon which the rest be grounded, I wil stand the longer vpon the clearing thereof.
The ancient Poets haue indeed wrapped as it were in their writings diuers and sundry meanings, which they call the senses or mysteries thereof. First of all for the litterall sence (as it were the vtmost barke or ryne) they set downe in manner of an historie the acts and notable exploits of some persons worthy memorie: then in the same fiction, as a second rine and somewhat more fine, as it were nearer to the pith and marrow, they place the Morall sence profitable for the actiue life of man, approuing vertuous actions and condemning the contrarie. Manie times also vnder the selfesame words they comprehend some true vnderstanding of naturall Philosophie, or somtimes of politike gouernement, and now and then of diuinitie: and these same sences that comprehend so excellent knowledge we call the Allegorie, which Plutarch defineth to be when one thing is told, and by that another is vnderstood. Now let any man iudge if it be a matter of meane art or wit to containe in one historicall narration, either true or fained, so many, so diuerse, and so deepe conceits: but for making the matter more plaine I will alledge an example thereof.
Perseus sonne of Iupiter is fained by the Poets to haue slaine Gorgon, and, after that conquest atchieued, to haue flown vp to heauen. The Historicall sence is this, Perseus the sonne of Iupiter, by the participation of Iupiters vertues which were in him, or rather comming of the stock of one of the kings of Creet, or Athens so called, slew Gorgon, a tyrant in that countrey (Gorgon in Greeke signifieth earth), and was for his vertuous parts exalted by men vp vnto heauen. Morally it signifieth this much: Perseus a wise man, sonne of Iupiter, endewed with vertue from aboue, slayeth sinne and vice, a thing base & earthly signified by Gorgon, and so mounteth vp to the skie of vertue. It signifies in one kind of Allegorie thus much: the mind of man being gotten by God, and so the childe of God killing and vanquishing the earthlinesse of this Gorgonicall nature, ascendeth vp to the vnderstanding of heauenly things, of high things, of eternal things, in which contemplacion consisteth the perfection of man: this is the natural allegory, because man [is] one of the chiefe works of nature. It hath also a more high and heauenly Allegorie, that the heauenly nature, daughter of Iupiter, procuring with her continuall motion corruption and mortality in the inferiour bodies, seuered it selfe at last from these earthly bodies, and flew vp on high, and there remaineth for euer. It hath also another Theological Allegorie: that the angelicall nature, daughter of the most high God the creator of all things, killing & ouercomming all bodily substance, signified by Gorgon, ascended into heauen. The like infinite Allegories I could pike out of other Poeticall fictions, saue that I would auoid tediousnes. It sufficeth me therefore to note this, that the men of greatest learning and highest wit in the auncient times did of purpose conceale these deepe mysteries of learning, and, as it were, couer them with the vaile of fables and verse for sundrie causes: one cause was that they might not be rashly abused by prophane wits, in whom science is corrupted, like good wine in a bad vessell; another cause why they wrote in verse was conseruation of the memorie of their precepts, as we see yet the generall rules almost of euerie art, not so much as husbandrie, but they are oftner recited and better remembred in verse then in prose; another, and a principall cause of all, is to be able with one kinde of meate and one dish (as I may so call it) to feed diuers tastes. For the weaker capacities will feede themselues with the pleasantnes of the historie and sweetnes of the verse, some that haue stronger stomackes will as it were take a further taste of the Morall sence, a third sort, more high conceited then they, will digest the Allegorie: so as indeed it hath bene thought by men of verie good iudgement, such manner of Poeticall writing was an excellent way to preserue all kinde of learning from that corruption which now it is come to since they left that mysticall writing of verse. Now though I know the example and authoritie of Aristotle and Plato be still vrged against this, who took to themselues another manner of writing, first I may say indeed that lawes were made for poore men and not for Princes, for these two great Princes of Philosophie brake that former allowed manner of writing, yet Plato still preserued the fable, but refuseth the verse. Aristotle, though reiecting both, yet retained still a kind of obscuritie, in so much he aunswered Alexander, who reproued him in a sort for publishing the sacred secrets of Philosophie, that he had set forth his bookes in a sort, and yet not set them forth, meaning that they were so obscure that they would be vnderstood of few, except they came to him for instructions, or else without they were of verie good capacitie and studious of Philosophie. But (as I say) Plato howsoeuer men would make him an enimie of Poetrie (because he found indeed iust fault with the abuses of some comicall Poets of his time, or some that sought to set vp new and strange religions), yet you see he kept still that principall part of Poetrie, which is fiction and imitation; and as for the other part of Poetrie which is verse, though he vsed it not, yet his master Socrates euen in his old age wrote certaine verses, as Plutarke testifieth.
But because I haue named the two parts of Poetrie, namely inuention or fiction and verse, let vs see how well we can authorise the vse of both these. First for fiction, against which, as I told before, many inueigh, calling it by the foul name, of lying, though notwithstanding, as I then said, it is farthest from it. Demosthenes, the famous and renowned Orator, when he would persuade the Athenians to warre against Philip, told them a solemne tale how the wolues on a time sent Ambassadors to the sheepe, offering them peace if they would deliuer vp the dogs that kept their folds, with al that long circumstance (needlesse to be repeated), by which he perswaded them far more strongly then if he should haue told them in plain termes that Philip sought to bereaue them of their chief bulwarks & defences, to haue the better abilitie to ouerthrow them. But what need we fetch an authority so far of from heathen authors, that haue many neerer hand both in time & in place? Bishop Fisher, a stout Prelate (though I do not praise his Religion), when he was assaied by king Henrie the eight for his good will and assent for the suppression of Abbeys, the king alledging that he would but take away their superfluities and let the substance stand still, or at least see it be conuerted to better and more godly vses, the graue Bishop answered it in this kind of Poeticall parable. He said there was an axe that, wanting a helue, came to a thicke and huge ouergrowne wood, & besought some of the great okes in that wood to spare him so much timber as to make him a handle or helue, promising that if he might finde that fauour he would in recompence thereof haue great regard in preseruing that wood, in pruning the braunches, in cutting away the vnprofitable and superfluous boughes, in paring away the bryers and thornes that were combersome to the fayre trees, and make it in fine a groue of great delight and pleasure: but when this same axe had obtained his suit, he so laid about him, & so pared away both timber and top and lop, that in short space of a woodland he made it a champion, and made her liberalitie the instrument of her ouerthrow.
Now though this Bishop had no very good successe with his parable, yet it was so farre from being counted a lye, that it was plainly seen soone after that the same axe did both hew down those woods by the roots & pared off him by the head, and was a peece of Prophecie as well as a peece of Poetrie: and indeed Prophets and Poets haue been thought to haue a great affinitie, as the name Vates in Latin doth testifie. But to come again to this maner of fiction or parable, the Prophet Nathan, reprouing King Dauid for his great sinne of adulterie and murther, doth he not come to him with a pretie parable of a poore man and his lambe that lay in his bosome and eate of his bread, and the rich man, that had whole flocks of his own, would needs take it from him? in which, as it is euident, it was but a parable, so it were vnreuerent and almost blasphemous to say it was a lye. But to goe higher, did not our Sauiour himselfe speake in parables? as that diuine parable of the sower, that comfortable parable of the Prodigall sonne, that dreadfull parable of Diues and Lazarus, though I know of this last many of the fathers hold that it is a storie indeed and no parable. But in the rest it is manifest that he was all holinesse, all wisedome, all truth, vsed parables, and euen such as discreet Poets vse, where a good and honest and wholesome Allegorie is hidden in a pleasaunt and pretie fiction; and therefore for that part of Poetry of Imitation, I thinke no body will make any question but it is not onely allowable, but godly and commendable, if the Poets ill handling of it doe not marre and peruert the good vse of it.
The other part of Poetrie, which is Verse, as it were the clothing or ornament of it, hath many good vses. Of the helpe of memorie I spake somewhat before; for the words being couched together in due order, measure, and number, one doth as it were bring on another, as my selfe haue often proued, & so I thinke do many beside (though for my own part I can rather bost of the marring a good memorie then of hauing one), yet I have euer found that Verse is easier to learne and farre better to preserue in memorie then is prose. An other speciall grace in Verse is the forcible manner of phrase, in which, if it be well made, it farre excelleth loose speech or prose. A third is the pleasure and sweetnesse to the eare which makes the discourse pleasaunt vnto vs often time when the matter it selfe is harsh and vnacceptable: for myne owne part I was neuer yet so good a husband to take any delight to heare one of my ploughmen tell how an acre of wheat must be fallowd and twyfallowed, and how cold land should be burned, and how fruitfull land must be well harrowed; but when I heare one read Virgill, where he saith,
Saepe etiam steriles incendere profuit agros,
Atque leuem stipulam crepitantibus vrere flammis.
Siue inde occultas vires & pabula terrae
Pinguia concipiunt: siue illis omne per ignem
Excoquitur vitium, atque exsudat inutilis humor, &c.,
Multum adeo, rastris glebas qui frangit inertes,
Vimineasque trahit crates iuuat arua;
with many other lessons of homly husbandrie, but deliuered in so good Verse that me thinkes all that while I could find in my hart to driue the plough. But now for the authoritie of Verse, if it be not sufficient to say for them that the greatest Philosophers and grauest Senatours that euerwere haue vsed them both in their speeches and in their writings, that precepts of all Arts haue been deliuered in them, that verse is as auncient a writing as prose, and indeed more auncient in respect that the oldest workes extant be verse, as Orpheus, Linus, Hesiodus, & others beyond memory of man or mention almost of history; if none of these will serue for the credit of it, yet let this serue that some part of the Scripture was written in verse, as the Psalmes of Dauid, & certain other songs of Deborah, of Salomon, & others, which the learnedest diuines do affirme to be verse and find that they are in meeter, though the rule of the Hebrew verse they agree not on. Suffiseth it me only to proue that by the authoritie of sacred Scriptures both parts of Poesie, inuention or imitation and verse, are allowable, & consequently that great obiection of lying is quite taken away & refuted.
Now the second obiection is pleasing of fooles. I haue already showed how it displeaseth not wise men. Now if it haue this vertue to, to please the fooles and ignorant, I would thinke this an article of prayse not of rebuke: wherefore I confesse that it pleaseth fooles, and so pleaseth them that, if they marke it and obserue it well, it will in time make them wise, for in verse is both goodnesse and sweetnesse, Rubarb and Sugercandie, the pleasaunt and the profitable. Wherefore, as Horace sayth, Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit vtile dulci, he that can mingle the sweete and the wholesome, the pleasaunt & the profitable, he is indeed an absolute good writer: and such be Poets, if any be such; they present vnto vs a pretie tale, able to keepe a childe from play, and an old man from the chimnie corner; Or, as the same Horace sayth to a couetous man,
Tantalus a labris sitiens fugientia captat
Flumina. Quid rides? mutato nomine de te
One tels a couetous man a tale of Tantalus that sits vp to the chinne in water, and yet is plagued with thirst. This signifies the selfe same man to whom the tale is told, that wallows in plentie, and yet his miserable minde barres him the vse of it: As my selfe knew, and I am sure many remember, Iustice Randall of London, a man passing impotent in body but much more in mind, that, leauing behind him a thousand pounds of gold in a chest ful of old boots & shoes, yet was so miserable that at my Lord Maiors dinner they say he would put vp a widgen for his supper, & many a good meale he did take of his franke neighbour the widdow Penne. But to come to the matter, this same great sinne that is layd to Poetrie of pleasing fooles is sufficiently answered if it be worth the answering.
Now for the breeding of errours which is the third Obiection, I see not why it should breed any when none is bound to beleeue that they write, nor they looke not to haue their fictions belieued in the litterall sence; and therefore he that well examines whence errours spring shall finde the writers of prose & not of verse the authors and maintainers of them; and this point I count so manifest as it needes no proofe.
The last reproofe is lightnes & wantonnes. This is indeed an Obiection of some importaunce, sith, as Sir Philip Sidney confesseth, Cupido is crept euen into the Heroicall Poemes, & consequently makes that also subiect to this reproofe. I promised in the beginning not partially to prayse Poesie, but plainly and honestly to confesse that that might truely be obiected against it, and, if any thing may be, sure it is this lasciuiousnesse: yet this I will say, that of all kinde of Poesie the Heroicall is least infected therewith. The other kindes I will rather excuse then defende, though of all the kindes of Poesie it may bee sayd where any scurrilitie and lewdnesse is founde, there Poetry doth not abuse vs, but writers haue abused Poetrie.
And brieflie to examine all the kindes. First, the Tragicall is meerly free from it, as representing onely the cruell & lawlesse proceedings of Princes, mouing nothing but pitie or detestation. The Comicall, whatsoeuer foolish playmakers make it offend in this kind, yet being rightly vsed, it represents them so as to make the vice scorned and not embraced. The Satyrike is meerly free from it, as being wholly occupied in mannerly & couertly reprouing of all vices. The Elegie is still mourning. As for the Pastorall with the Sonnet or Epigramme, though many times they sauour of wantonnes and loue and toying, and, now and then breaking the rules of Poetry, go into plaine scurrilitie, yet euen the worst of them may be not ill applied, and are, I must confesse, too delightfull, in so much as Martiall saith,
Laudant illa, sed ista legunt,
and in another place,
Erubuit posuitque meum Lucrecia librum,
Sed coram Bruto; Brute recede; leget.
Lucrecia (by which he signifies any chast matron) will blush and be ashamed to read a lasciuious booke. But how? not except Brutus be by, that is if any graue man should see her read it. But if Brutus turne his backe, she will go to it agayne and read it all.
But to end this part of my Apologie, as I count and conclude Heroicall Poesie allowable and to be read and studied without all exception, so I may as boldly say that Tragedies well handled be a most worthy kinde of Poesie, that Comedies may make men see and shame at their owne faults, that the rest may be so written and so read as much pleasure and some profite may be gathered out of them. And for myne owne part, as Scaliger writeth of Virgill, so I beleeue that the reading of a good Heroicall Poeme may make a man both wiser and honester. And for Tragedies, to omit other famous Tragedies, that that was played at S. Iohns in Cambridge, of Richard the 3, would moue (I thinke) Phalaris the tyraunt, and terrifie all tyrannous minded men from following their foolish ambitious humors, seeing how his ambition made him kill his brother, his nephews, his wife, beside infinit others, and, last of all, after a short and troublesome raigne, to end his miserable life, and to haue his body harried after his death. Then, for Comedies, how full of harmeles myrth is our Cambridge Pedantius? and the Oxford Bellum Grammaticale? or, to speake of a London Comedie, how much good matter, yea and matter of state, is there in that Comedie cald the play of the Cards, in which it is showed how foure Parasiticall knaues robbe the foure principall vocations of the Realme, videl. the vocation of Souldiers, Schollers, Marchants, and Husbandmen? Of which Comedie I cannot forget the saying of a notable wise counseller that is now dead, who when some (to sing Placebo) aduised that it should be forbidden, because it was somewhat too plaine, and indeed as the old saying is, sooth boord is no boord, yet he would haue it allowed, adding it was fit that They which doe that they should not should heare that they would not. Finally, if Comedies may be so made as the beholders may be bettered by them, without all doubt all other sortes of Poetrie may bring their profit as they do bring delight, and if all, then much more the chiefe of all, which by all mens consent is the Heroicall. And thus much be sayd for Poesie.
Now for this Poeme of Orlando Furioso, which, as I haue heard, hath been disliked by some (though by few of any wit or iudgement), it followes that I say somewhat in defence thereof, which I will do the more moderately and coldly; by how much the paynes I haue taken, it (rising as you may see to a good volume) may make me seeme a more partiall prayser. Wherefore I will make choise of some other Poeme that is allowed and approued by all men, and a litle compare them together. And what worke can serue this turne so fitly as Virgils Æneados, whom aboue all other it seemeth my authour doth follow, as appeares both by his beginning and ending? The tone begins,
Arma virumque cano.
Le donne, i cauallier, larme, gli amori,
Le cortesie, laudaci imprese io canto.
Virgill endes with the death of Turnus,
Vitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub vmbras.
Ariosto ends with the death of Rodomont,
Bestemmiando fuggì lalma sdegnosa,
Che fu sì altera al mondo, e sì orgogliosa.
Virgill extolled Æneas to please Augustus, of whose race he was thought to come; Ariosto prayeth Rogero to the honour of the house of Este: Æneas hath his Dido that retaineth him; Rogero hath his Alcina: finally, least I should note euery part, there is nothing of any speciall obseruation in Virgill but my author hath with great felicitie imitated it, so as whosoeuer wil allow Virgil must ipso facto (as they say) admit Ariosto. Now of what account Virgil is reckned, & worthily reckned, for auncient times witnesseth August. C. verse of him:
Ergone supremis potuit vox improba verbis
Tam dirum mandare nefas? &c.,
Laudetur, placeat, vigeat, relegatur, ametur.
This is a great prayse comming from so great a Prince. For later times, to omit Scaliger, whom I recited before, that affirmeth the reading of Virgill may make a man honest and vertuous, that excellent Italian Poet Dant professeth plainly that when he wandred out of the right way, meaning thereby when he liued fondly and looslie, Virgill was the first that made him looke into himselfe and reclaime himselfe from that same daungerous and lewd course. But what need we further witnes, do we not make our children read it commonly before they can vnderstand it, as a testimonie that we do generally approue it? And yet we see old men study it, as a proofe that they do specially admire it: so as one writes very pretily, that children do wade in Virgill, and yet strong men do swim in it.
Now to apply this to the prayse of myne author, as I sayd before so I say still, whatsoeuer is prayseworthy in Virgill is plentifully to be found in Ariosto, and some things that Virgill could not haue, for the ignoraunce of the age he liued in, you finde in my author, sprinckled ouer all his worke, as I will very briefly note and referre you for the rest to the booke it selfe. The deuout and Christen demeanor of Charlemayne in the 14 booke, with his prayer,
Non uoglia tua bontà per mio fallire,
Chi l tuo popol fedele habbia à patire. &c.
And in the beginning of the xvii booke, that would beseeme any pulpit,
Il giusto Dio, quando i peccati nostri.
But, aboue all, that in the xli. booke of the conuersion of Rogero to the Christen Religion, where the Hermit speaketh to him, contayning in effect a full instruction against presumption and dispaire, which I haue set downe thus in English,
These and infinit places full of Christen exhortation, doctrine, & example I could quote out of the booke, saue that I hasten to an ende, and it would be needles to those that will not read them in the booke it selfe, and superfluous to those that will: but most manifest it is & not to be denyed, that in this point my author is to be preferred before all the auncient Poets, in which are mentioned so many false Gods, and of them so many fowle deeds, their contentions, their adulteries, their incest, as were both obscenous in recitall and hurtful in example: though indeed those whom they termed Gods were certaine great Princes that committed such enormous faults, as great Princes in late ages (that loue still to be cald Gods of the earth) do often commit. But now it may be & is by some obiected that although he write Christianly in some places, yet in other some he is too lasciuious, as in that of the baudy Frier, in Alcina and Rogeros copulation, in Anselmus his Giptian, in Richardetto his metamorphosis, in mine hosts tale of Astolfo, & some few places beside. Alas, if this be a fault, pardon him this one fault, though I doubt too many of you (gentle readers) wil be to exorable in this point: yea, me thinks, I see some of you searching already for these places of the booke, and you are halfe offended that I haue not made some directions that you might finde out and read them immediatly. But I beseech you stay a while, and as the Italian sayth Pian piano, fayre and softly, & take this caueat with you, to read them as my author ment them, to breed detestation and not delectation. Remember, when you read of the old lecherous Frier, that a fornicator is one of the things that God hateth; when you read of Alcina, thinke how Joseph fled from his intising mistres; when you light on Anselmus tale, learne to loth bestly couetousnes; when on Richardetto, know that sweet meate wil haue sowre sawce; when on mine hostes tale, (if you will follow my counsell) turne ouer the leafe and let it alone, although euen that lewd tale may bring some men profit, and I haue heard that it is already (and perhaps not vnfitly) termed the comfort of cuckolds. But as I say, if this be a fault, then Virgill committed the same fault in Dido and Æneas intertainement, and if some will say he tels that mannerly and couertly, how will they excuse that where Vulcan was intreated by Venus to make an armour for Æneas?
Dixerat, & niueis hinc atque hinc diua lacertis
Cunctantem amplexu molli fouet: ille repente
Accepit solitam flammam, notusque per artus
And a little after:
Ea verba locutus
Optatos dedit amplexus, placitumque petiuit
Coniugis infusus gremio per membra soporem.
I hope they that vnderstand Latin will confesse this is plaine enough, & yet with modest words & no obscenous phrase: and so I dare take vpon me that in all Ariosto (and yet I thinke is as much as three Æneades,) there is not a word of ribaldry or obscenousness; farther there is so meet a decorum in the persons of those that speake lasciuiously, as any of iudgement must needs allow. And therfore, though I rather craue pardon then prayse for him in this point, yet me thinkes I can smile at the finesse of some that will condemne him, and yet not onely allow but admire our Chawcer, who both in words & sence incurreth far more the reprehension of flat scurrilitie, as I could recite many places, not onely in his millers tale; but in the good wife of Bathes tale, & many more, in which onely the decorum he keepes is that that excuseth it and maketh it more tolerable.
But now whereas some will say Ariosto wanteth art, reducing all heroicall Poems vnto the methode of Homer and certain precepts of Aristotle, for Homer I say that that which was commendable in him to write in that age, the times being changed, would be thought otherwise now, as we see both in phrase & in fashions the world growes more curious each day then other. Ouid gaue precepts of making loue, and one was that one should spill wine on the boord & write his mistresse name therewith. This was a quaynt cast in that age; but he that should make loue so now, his loue would mocke him for his labour, and count him but a slouenly sutor. And if it be thus chaunged since Ouids time, much more since Homers time. And yet for Ariostos tales that many thinke vnartificially brought in, Homer him selfe hath the like: as in the Iliads the conference of Glaucus with Diomedes vpon some acts of Bellerophon, & in his Odysse as the discourse of the hog with Vlysses.
Further, for the name of the booke, which some carpe at because he called it Orlando Furioso rather then Rogero, in that he may also be defended by example of Homer, who, professing to write of Achilles, calleth his book Iliade of Troy, and not Achillide.
Briefly, Aristotle and the best censurers of Poesie would haue the Epopeia, that is the heroicall Poem, should ground on some historie, and take some short time in the same to bewtifie with his Poetrie: so doth mine Author take the storie of k. Charls the great, and doth not exceed a yeare or therabout in his whole work. Secondly, they hold that nothing should be fayned vtterly incredible. And sure Ariosto neither in his inchantments exceedeth credit (for who knowes not how strong the illusions of the deuill are?) neither in the miracles that Altolfo by the power of S. Iohn is fayned to do, since the Church holdeth that Prophetes both aliue and dead haue done mightie great miracles. Thirdly, they would haue an heroicall Poem (aswell as a Tragedie) to be full of Peripet[e]ia, which I interpret an agnition of some vnlooked for fortune either good or bad, and a sudden change thereof: of this what store there be the reader shall quickly find. As for apt similitudes, for passions well expressed of loue, of pitie, of hate, of wrath, a blind man may see, if he can but heare, that this worke is full of them.
There follows only two reproofs, which I rather interpret two peculiar praises of this writer aboue all that wrate before him in this kind. One, that he breaks off narrations verie abruptly, so as indeed a loose vnattentiue reader will hardly carrie away any part of the storie: but this doubtlesse is a point of great art, to draw a man with a continuall thirst to reade out the whole worke, and toward the end of the booke to close vp the diuerse matters briefly and clenly. If S. Philip Sidney had counted this a fault, he would not haue done so himselfe in his Arcadia. Another fault is, that he speaketh so much in his own person by digression, which they say also is against the rules of Poetrie, because neither Homer nor Virgill did it. Me thinks it is a sufficient defence to say, Ariosto doth it. Sure I am it is both delightfull and verie profitable, and an excellent breathing place for the reader, and euen as if a man walked in a faire long alley, to haue a seat or resting place here and there is easie and commodious: but if at the same seat were planted some excellent tree, that not onely with the shade shoulde keepe vs from the heat, but with some pleasant and right wholsom fruite should allay our thirst and comfort our stomacke, we would thinke it for the time a litle paradice. So are Ariostos morals and pretie digressions sprinkled through his long worke to the no lesse pleasure then profit of the reader. And thus much be spoken for defence of mine Author, which was the second part of my Apologie.
Now remaines the third part of it, in which I promised to speake somwhat for my selfe, which part, though it haue most need of an Apologie both large & substantiall, yet I will runne it ouer both shortly & slightly, because indeed the nature of the thing it self is such that the more one doth say, the lesse he shall seeme to say; and men are willinger to praise that in another man which himselfe shall debase then that which he shall seeme to maintaine. Certainly if I shold confesse or rather professe that my verse is vnartificiall, the stile rude, the phrase barbarous, the meeter vnpleasant, many more would beleeue it to be so, then would imagine that I thought them so: for this same [philantia] or self pleasing is so common a thing, as the more a man protests himself to be free from it, the more we wil charge him with it. Wherfore let me take thus much vpon me that admit it haue many of the fornamed imperfections, & many not named, yet as writing goes now a dayes it may passe among the rest; and as I haue heard a friend of mine (one verie iudicious in the bewtie of a woman) say of a Ladie whom he meant to praise, that she had a low forhead, a great nose, a wide mouth, a long visage, and yet all these put together she seemed to him a verie well fauoured woman, so I hope and I find alreadie some of my partiall friends that what seuerall imperfections soeuer they find in this translation, yet taking all together they allow it, or at least wise they reade it, which is a great argument of their liking.
Sir Thomas Moore, a man of great wisdome & learning, but yet a litle enclined (as good wits are many times) to scoffing, when one had brought him a booke of some shallow discourse, and preassed him very hard to haue his opinion of it, aduised the partie to put it into verse. The plaine meaning man in the best maner he could did so, and a twelue-month after at the least came with it to Sir Thomas, who, slightly perusing it, gaue it this encomium, that now there was rime in it, but afore it had neither rime nor reason. If any man had ment to serue me so, yet I haue preuented him; for sure I am he shall find rime in mine, and, if he be not voyd of reason, he shall find reason to. Though for the matter I can challenge no praise, hauing but borowed it; & for the verse I do challenge none, being a thing that euery body that neuer scarce bayted their horse at the Vniuersitie take vpon them to make. It is possible that, if I would haue employed that time that I haue done vpon this vpon some inuention of mine owne, I could haue by this made it haue risen to a iust volume, &, if I wold, haue done, as many spare not to do, flowne very high with stolen fethers. But I had rather men should see and know that I borrow all then that I steale any: and I would wish to be called rather one of the worst translators then one of the meaner makers, specially sith the Earle of Surrey and Sir Thomas Wiat, that are yet called the first refiners of the English tong, were both translators out of Italian. Now for those that count it such a contemptible and trifling matter to translate, I wil but say to them as M. Bartholomew Clarke, an excellent learned man, and a right good translator, saith in maner of a pretie challenge, in his Preface (as I remember) vpon the Courtier, which booke he translated out of Italian into Latin. You, saith he, that thinke it such a toy, lay aside my booke, and take my author in your hand, and trie a leafe or such a matter, and compare it with mine. If I should say so, there would be inow that would quickly put me down perhaps: but doubtlesse he might boldly say it, for I thinke none could haue mended him. But as our English prouerb saith, many talke of Robin Hood that neuer shot in his bow, and some correct Magnificat that know not quid significat.
For my part I will thanke them that will mend any thing that I haue done amisse, nor I haue no such great conceipt of that I haue done but that I thinke much in it is to be mended; & hauing dealt plainly with some of my plaine dealing frends, to tell me frankly what they heard spoken of it (for indeed I suffred some part of the printed copies to go among my frends, & some more perhaps went against my will), I was told these in effect were the faults were found with it. Some graue men misliked that I should spend so much good time on such a trifling worke as they deemed a Poeme to be. Some more nicely found fault with so many two sillabled and three sillabled rimes. Some (not vndeseruedly) reproued the fantasticalnes of my notes, in which they say I haue strained my selfe to make mention of some of my kindred and frends that might very well be left out. And one fault more there is which I will tell my selfe, though many would neuer find it, and that is, I haue cut short some of his Cantos, in leauing out many staues of them, and sometimes put the matter of two or three staues into one. To these reproofes I shall pray you gentle and noble Readers with patience heare my defence, and then I will end.
For the first reproofe, either it is alreadie excused or it will neuer be excused; for I haue I thinke sufficiently proued both the art to be allowable and this worke to be commendable. Yet I will tell you an accident that happened vnto my selfe. When I was entred a pretie way into the translation, about the seuenth booke, comming to write that where Melissa, in the person of Rogeros Tutor, comes and reproues Rogero in the 4 staffe,
Was it for this that I in youth thee fed
With marrow? &c.,
Is this a meanes or readie way you trow,
That other worthie men haue trod before,
A Cæsar or a Scipio to grow? &c.,
straight I began to thinke that my Tutor, a graue and learned man, and one of a verie austere life, might say to me in like sort, was it for this that I read Aristotle and Plato to you, and instructed you so carefully both in Greek & Latin, to haue you now become a translator of Italian toyes? But while I thought thus, I was aware that it was no toy that could put such an honest and seriouse consideration into my mind.
Now for them that find fault with polysyllable meeter, me thinke they are like those that blame men for putting suger in their wine, and chide to bad about it, and say they marre all, but yet end with Gods blessing on their hearts. For indeed if I had knowne their diets, I could haue saued some of my cost, at least some of my paine: for when a verse ended with ciuillitie, I could easier, after the auncient maner of rime, haue made see, or flee, or decree to aunswer it, leauing the accent vpon the last syllable, then hunt after three syllabled wordes to answere it with facillitie, gentillitie, tranquillitie, hostillitie, scurillitie, debillitie, agillitie, fragillitie, nobillitie, mobillitie, which who mislike may tast lamp oyle with their eares. And as for two syllabled meeters, they be so approued in other languages, that the French call them the feminine rime, as the sweeter, & the one syllable the masculin. But in a word to answer this, & to make them for euer hold their peaces of this point, Sir Philip Sidney, not only vseth them, but affecteth themsignifie, dignifie, shamed is, named is, blamed is, hide away, bide away. Thogh if my many blotted papers that I haue made in this kind might affoord me authoritie to giue a rule of it, I would say that to part them with a one syllable meeter between them wold giue it best grace. For as men vse to sow with the hand and not with the whole sacke, so I would haue the eare fed but not cloyed with these pleasing and sweet falling meeters.
For the third reproofe about the notes, sure they were a worke (as I may so call it) of supererogation, and I would wish sometimes they had bin left out, & the rather if I be in such faire possibilitie to be thought a foole or fantasticall for my labour. True it is I added some notes to the end of euery canto, euen as if some of my frends and my selfe reading it together (and so it fell out indeed many times) had after debated vpon them what had bene most worthie consideration in them, and so oftimes immediatly I set it downe. And wheras I make mention here & there of some of mine owne frends & kin, I did it the rather because Plutarke in one place speaking of Homer, partly lamenteth, and partly blameth him, that writing so much as he did, yet in none of his works there was any mention made, or so much as inkling to be gathered, of what stocke he was, of what kindred, of what towne, nor, saue for his language, of what countrey. Excuse me then if I in a worke that may perhaps last longer then a better thing, and being not ashamed of my kindred, name them here and there to no mans offence, though I meant not to make euery body so far of my counsell why I did it, till I was told that some person of some reckening noted me of a litle vanitie for it: and thus much for that point.
For my omitting and abreuiating some things, either in matters impertinent to vs, or in some to tediouse flatteries of persons that we neuer heard of, if I haue done ill I craue pardon: for sure I did it for the best. But if anie being studious of the Italian would for his vnderstanding compare them, the first sixe bookes, saue a litle of the third, will stand him in steed. But yet I would not haue any man except that I should obserue his phrase so strictly as an interpreter, nor the matter so carefully as if it had bene a storie, in which to varie were as great a sinne as it were simplicitie in this to go word for word.
But now to conclude, I shall pray you all that haue troubled yourselues to read this my triple apologie to accept my labors and to excuse my errors, if with no other thing, at least with the name of youth (which commonly hath need of excuses); and so presuming this pardon to be graunted, we shall part good frends. Only let me intreate you in reading the booke ensuing not to do me that iniurie that a Potter did to Ariosto.