G. Gregory Smith, ed. Elizabethan Critical Essays. 1904.
Thomas Nashe (15671601)
Preface to Sidneys Astrophel and Stella 1591
[This Preface appears in the first quarto edition of Sir Philip Sidneys Astrophel and Stella, printed at London by Thomas Newman in 1591. The text is taken from the copy in the British Museum.]
TEMPUS adest plausus; aurea pompa venit: so endes the Sceane of Idiots, and enter Astrophel in pompe. Gentlemen, that haue seene a thousand lines of folly, drawn forth ex vno puncto impudentiae, & two famous Mountains to goe to the conception of one Mouse, that haue had your eares defned with the eccho of Fames brasen towres when only they haue been toucht with a leaden pen, that haue seene Pan sitting in his bower of delights & a number of Midasses to admire his miserable hornepipes, let not your surfeted sight, new come from such puppet play, think scorne to turn aside into this Theater of pleasure, for here you shal find a paper stage streud with pearle, an artificial heaun to ouershadow the fair frame, & christal wals to encounter your curious eyes, while the tragicommody of loue is performed by starlight. The chiefe Actor here is Melpomene, whose dusky robes, dipt in the ynke of teares, as yet seeme to drop when I view them neere. The argument cruell chastitie, the Prologue hope, the Epilogue dispaire; videte, quaeso, et linguis animisque fauete. And here, peraduenture, my witles youth may be taxt with a margent note of presumption for offering to put vp any motion of applause in the behalfe of so excellent a Poet (the least sillable of whose name sounded in the eares of iudgment is able to giue the meanest line he writes a dowry of immortality); yet those that obserue how iewels oftentimes com to their hands that know not their value, & that the cockcombes of our days, like Esops Cock, had rather haue a Barly kernell wrapt vp in a Ballet then they wil dig for the welth of wit in any ground that they know not, I hope wil also hold me excused though I open the gate to his glory & inuite idle eares to the admiration of his melancholy.
Quid petitur sacris nisi tantum fama poetis?
Which although it be oftentimes imprisoned in Ladyes casks & the president bookes of such as cannot see without another mans spectacles, yet at length it breakes foorth in spight of his keepers, and vseth some priuate penne (in steed of a picklock) to procure his violent enlargement. The Sunne for a time may maske his golden head in a cloud, yet in the end the thicke vaile doth vanish, and his embellished blandishment appeares. Long hath Astrophel (Englands Sunne) withheld the beames of his spirite from the common view of our darke sence, and night hath houered ouer the gardens of the nine Sisters, while Ignis fatuus and grosse fatty flames (such as commonly arise out of Dunghilles) haue tooke occasion, in the middest eclipse of his shining perfections, to wander a broade with a wispe of paper at their tailes like Hobgoblins, and leade men vp and downe in a circle of absurditie a whole weeke, and neuer know where they are. But now that cloude of sorrow is dissolued which fierie Loue exhaled from his dewie haire, and affection hath vnburthened the labouring streames of her wombe in the lowe cesterne of his Graue; the night hath resigned her iettie throne vnto Lucifer, and cleere daylight possesseth the skie that was dimmed; wherfore breake off your daunce, you Fayries and Elues, and from the fieldes with the torne carcases of your Timbrils, for your kingdome is expired. Put out your rush candles, you Poets and Rimers, and bequeath your crazed quaterzayns to the Chaundlers; for loe, here he cometh that hath broke your legs. Apollo hath resigned his Iuory Harp vnto Astrophel, & he, like Mercury, must lull you a sleep with his musicke. Sleepe Argus, sleep Ignorance, sleep Impudence, for Mercury hath Io, & onely Io Pæan belongeth to Astrophel. Deare Astrophel, that in the ashes of thy Loue liuest againe like the Phnix, O might thy bodie (as thy name) liue againe likewise here amongst vs! but the earth, the mother of mortalitie, hath snacht thee too soone into her chilled colde armes, and will not let thee by any meanes be drawne from her deadly imbrace; and thy diuine Soule, carried on an Angels wings to heauen, is installed in Hermes place, sole prolocutor to the Gods. Therefore mayest thou neuer returne from the Elisian fieldes like Orpheus; therefore must we euer mourne for our Orpheus.
Fayne would a seconde spring of passion heere spend it selfe on his sweet remembrance; but Religion, that rebuketh prophane lamentation, drinkes in the riuers of those dispaireful teares which languorous ruth hath outwelled, & bids me looke back to the house of honor, where from one and the selfe same root of renowne I shal find many goodly branches deriued, & such as, with the spreading increase of their vertues, may somewhat ouershadow the Griefe of his los. Amongst the which, fayre sister of Phbus, and eloquent secretary to the Muses, most rare Countesse of Pembroke, thou art not to be omitted, whom Artes doe adore as a second Minerua, and our Poets extoll as the Patronesse of their inuention; for in thee the Lesbian Sappho with her lirick Harpe is disgraced, and the Laurel Garlande which thy Brother so brauely aduaunst on his Launce is still kept greene in the Temple of Pallas. Thou only sacrificest thy soule to contemplation, thou only entertainest emptie handed Homer, & keepest the springs of Castalia from being dryed vp. Learning, wisedom, beautie, and all other ornaments of Nobilitie whatsoeuer seeke to approue themselues in thy sight and get a further seale of felicity from the smiles of thy fauour:
I feare I shall be counted a mercenary flatterer for mixing my thoughts with such figuratiue admiration, but generall report that surpasseth my praise condemneth my rhetoricke of dulnesse for so colde a commendation. Indeede, to say the truth, my stile is somewhat heauie gated, and cannot daunce, trip, and goe so liuely, with oh! my loue, ah! my loue, all my loues gone, as other Sheepheards that haue beene fooles in the Morris time out of minde; nor hath my prose any skill to imitate the Almond leape verse, or sit tabring fiue yeres together nothing but to bee, to hee, on a paper drum. Onely I can keepe pace with Grauesend barge, and care not if I haue water enough to lande my ship of fooles with the Tearme (the tyde I shoulde say). Now euery man is not of that minde; for some, to goe the lighter away, will take in their fraught of spangled feathers, golden Peebles, Straw, Reedes, Bulrushes, or anything, and then they beare out their sayles as proudly as if they were balisted with Bulbiefe. Others are so hardly bested for loading that they are faine to retaile the cinders of Troy, and the shiuers of broken trunchions, to fill vp their boate that else should goe empty; and if they haue but a pound weight of good Merchandise, it shall be placed at the poope, or pluckt in a thousand peeces to credit their carriage. For my part, euery man as he likes, mens cuiusque is est quisque. Tis as good to goe in cut-fingerd Pumps as corke shooes, if one were Cornish diamonds on his toes. To explain it by a more familiar example, an Asse is no great statesman in the beastes common-wealth, though he weare his eares vpseuant muffe, after the Muscouy fashion, & hange the lip like a Capcase halfe open, or look as demurely as a sixpenny browne loafe, for he hath some imperfections that do keepe him from the common Councel; yet of many he is deemed a very vertuous member, and one of the honestest sort of men that are. So that our opinion (as Sextus Empiricus affirmeth) giues the name of good or ill to euery thing. Out of whose works (latelie translated into English for the benefit of vnlearned writers) a man might collect a whole booke of this argument, which no doubt woulde proue a worthy commonwealth matter, and far better than wits waxe karnell: much good worship haue the Author.
Such is this golden age wherein we liue, and so replenisht with golden asses of all sortes, that, if learning had lost it selfe in a groue of Genealogies, wee neede doe no more but sette an olde goose ouer halfe a dozen pottle pots (which are as it were the egges of inuention), and wee shall haue such a breede of bookes within a little while after, as will fill all the world with the wilde fowle of good wits. I can tell you this is a harder thing then making golde of quick siluer, and will trouble you more then the Morrall of Æsops Glow-worme hath troubled our English Apes, who, striuing to warme themselues with the flame of the Philosophers stone, haue spent all their wealth in buying bellowes to blowe this false fyre. Gentlemen, I feare I haue too much presumed on your idle leysure, and beene too bold to stand talking all this while in an other mans doore; but now I will leaue you to suruey the pleasures of Paphos, and offer your smiles on the Aulters of Venus. Yours in all desire to please,