Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A Defence of Poesie and Poems by Philip Sidney

Part 1 out of 2

Adobe PDF icon
Download A Defence of Poesie and Poems pdf
File size: 0.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

This etext was prepared by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk
from the 1891 Cassell & Company edition.



Introduction by Henry Morley
A Defence of Poesie


Philip Sidney was born at Penshurst, in Kent, on the 29th of
November, 1554. His father, Sir Henry Sidney, had married Mary,
eldest daughter of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and Philip
was the eldest of their family of three sons and four daughters.
Edmund Spenser and Walter Raleigh were of like age with Philip
Sidney, differing only by about a year, and when Elizabeth became
queen, on the 17th of November, 1558, they were children of four or
five years old.

In the year 1560 Sir Henry Sidney was made Lord President of Wales,
representing the Queen in Wales and the four adjacent western
counties, as a Lord Deputy represented her in Ireland. The official
residence of the Lord President was at Ludlow Castle, to which
Philip Sidney went with his family when a child of six. In the same
year his father was installed as a Knight of the Garter. When in
his tenth year Philip Sidney was sent from Ludlow to Shrewsbury
Grammar School, where he studied for three or four years, and had
among his schoolfellows Fulke Greville, afterwards Lord Brooke, who
remained until the end of Sidney's life one of his closest friends.
When he himself was dying he directed that he should be described
upon his tomb as "Fulke Greville, servant to Queen Elizabeth,
counsellor to King James, and friend to Sir Philip Sidney." Even
Dr. Thomas Thornton, Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, under whom
Sidney was placed when he was entered to Christ Church in his
fourteenth year, at Midsummer, in 1568, had it afterwards recorded
on his tomb that he was "the tutor of Sir Philip Sidney."

Sidney was in his eighteenth year in May, 1572, when he left the
University to continue his training for the service of the state, by
travel on the Continent. Licensed to travel with horses for himself
and three servants, Philip Sidney left London in the train of the
Earl of Lincoln, who was going out as ambassador to Charles IX., in
Paris. He was in Paris on the 24th of August in that year, which
was the day of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. He was sheltered
from the dangers of that day in the house of the English Ambassador,
Sir Francis Walsingham, whose daughter Fanny Sidney married twelve
years afterwards.

From Paris Sidney travelled on by way of Heidelberg to Frankfort,
where he lodged at a printer's, and found a warm friend in Hubert
Languet, whose letters to him have been published. Sidney was
eighteen and Languet fifty-five, a French Huguenot, learned and
zealous for the Protestant cause, who had been Professor of Civil
Law in Padua, and who was acting as secret minister for the Elector
of Saxony when he first knew Sidney, and saw in him a future
statesman whose character and genius would give him weight in the
counsels of England, and make him a main hope of the Protestant
cause in Europe. Sidney travelled on with Hubert Languet from
Frankfort to Vienna, visited Hungary, then passed to Italy, making
for eight weeks Venice his head-quarters, and then giving six weeks
to Padua. He returned through Germany to England, and was in
attendance it the Court of Queen Elizabeth in July, 1575. Next
month his father was sent to Ireland as Lord Deputy, and Sidney
lived in London with his mother.

At this time the opposition of the Mayor and Corporation of the City
of London to the acting of plays by servants of Sidney's uncle, the
Earl of Leicester, who had obtained a patent for them, obliged the
actors to cease from hiring rooms or inn yards in the City, and
build themselves a house of their own a little way outside one of
the City gates, and wholly outside the Lord Mayor's jurisdiction.
Thus the first theatre came to be built in England in the year 1576.
Shakespeare was then but twelve years old, and it was ten years
later that he came to London.

In February, 1577, Philip Sidney, not yet twenty-three years old,
was sent on a formal embassy of congratulation to Rudolph II. upon
his becoming Emperor of Germany, but under the duties of the formal
embassy was the charge of watching for opportunities of helping
forward a Protestant League among the princes of Germany. On his
way home through the Netherlands he was to convey Queen Elizabeth's
congratulations to William of Orange on the birth of his first
child, and what impression he made upon that leader of men is shown
by a message William sent afterwards through Fulke Greville to Queen
Elizabeth. He said "that if he could judge, her Majesty had one of
the ripest and greatest counsellors of State in Philip Sidney that
then lived in Europe; to the trial of which he was pleased to leave
his own credit engaged until her Majesty was pleased to employ this
gentleman, either amongst her friends or enemies."

Sidney returned from his embassy in June, 1577. At the time of his
departure, in the preceding February, his sister Mary, then twenty
years old, had become the third wife of Henry Herbert, Earl of
Pembroke, and her new home as Countess of Pembroke was in the great
house at Wilton, about three miles from Salisbury. She had a
measure of her brother's genius, and was of like noble strain.
Spenser described her as

"The gentlest shepherdess that lives this day,
And most resembling, both in shape and spright,
Her brother dear."

Ben Jonson, long after her brother had passed from earth, wrote upon
her death the well-known epitaph:-

"Underneath this sable herse
Lies the subject of all verse,
Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother.
Death, ere thou hast slain another,
Learn'd, and fair, and good as she,
Time shall throw a dart at thee."

Sidney's sister became Pembroke's mother in 1580, while her brother
Philip was staying with her at Wilton. He had early in the year
written a long argument to the Queen against the project of her
marriage with the Duke of Anjou, which she then found it politic to
seem to favour. She liked Sidney well, but resented, or appeared to
resent, his intrusion of advice; he also was discontented with what
seemed to be her policy, and he withdrew from Court for a time.
That time of seclusion, after the end of March, 1580, he spent with
his sister at Wilton. They versified psalms together; and he began
to write for her amusement when she had her baby first upon her
hands, his romance of "Arcadia." It was never finished. Much was
written at Wilton in the summer of 1580, the rest in 1581, written,
as he said in a letter to her, "only for you, only to you . . . for
severer eyes it is not, being but a trifle, triflingly handled.
Your dear self can best witness the manner, being done in loose
sheets of paper, most of it in your presence, the rest by sheets
sent unto you as fast as they were done." He never meant that it
should be published; indeed, when dying he asked that it should be
destroyed; but it belonged to a sister who prized the lightest word
of his, and after his death it was published in 1590 as "The
Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia."

The book reprinted in this volume was written in 1581, while sheets
of the "Arcadia" were still being sent to Wilton. But it differs
wholly in style from the "Arcadia." Sidney's "Arcadia" has literary
interest as the first important example of the union of pastoral
with heroic romance, out of which came presently, in France, a
distinct school of fiction. But the genius of its author was at
play, it followed designedly the fashions of the hour in verse and
prose, which tended to extravagance of ingenuity. The "Defence of
Poesy" has higher interest as the first important piece of literary
criticism in our literature. Here Sidney was in earnest. His style
is wholly free from the euphuistic extravagance in which readers of
his time delighted: it is clear, direct, and manly; not the less,
but the more, thoughtful and refined for its unaffected simplicity.
As criticism it is of the true sort; not captious or formal, still
less engaged, as nearly all bad criticism is, more or less, with
indirect suggestion of the critic himself as the one owl in a world
of mice. Philip Sidney's care is towards the end of good
literature. He looks for highest aims, and finds them in true work,
and hears God's angel in the poet's song.

The writing of this piece was probably suggested to him by the fact
that an earnest young student, Stephen Gosson, who came from his
university about the time when the first theatres were built, and
wrote plays, was turned by the bias of his mind into agreement with
the Puritan attacks made by the pulpit on the stage (arising chiefly
from the fact that plays were then acted on Sundays), and in 1579
transferred his pen from service of the players to attack on them,
in a piece which he called "The School of Abuse, containing a
Pleasant Invective against Poets, Pipers, Players, Jesters, and such
like Caterpillars of a Commonwealth; setting up the Flag of Defiance
to their mischievous exercise, and overthrowing their Bulwarks, by
Profane Writers, Natural Reason, and Common Experience: a Discourse
as pleasant for Gentlemen that favour Learning as profitable for all
that will follow Virtue." This Discourse Gosson dedicated "To the
right noble Gentleman, Master Philip Sidney, Esquire." Sidney
himself wrote verse, he was companion with the poets, and counted
Edmund Spenser among his friends. Gosson's pamphlet was only one
expression of the narrow form of Puritan opinion that had been
misled into attacks on poetry and music as feeders of idle appetite
that withdrew men from the life of duty. To show the fallacy in
such opinion, Philip Sidney wrote in 1581 this piece, which was
first printed in 1595, nine years after his death, as a separate
publication, entitled "An Apologie for Poetrie." Three years
afterwards it was added, with other pieces, to the third edition of
his "Arcadia," and then entitled "The Defence of Poesie." In
sixteen subsequent editions it continued to appear as "The Defence
of Poesie." The same title was used in the separate editions of
1752 and 1810. Professor Edward Arber re-issued in 1869 the text of
the first edition of 1595, and restored the original title, which
probably was that given to the piece by its author. One name is as
good as the other, but as the word "apology" has somewhat changed
its sense in current English, it may be well to go on calling the
work "The Defence of Poesie."

In 1583 Sidney was knighted, and soon afterwards in the same year he
married Frances, daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham. Sonnets
written by him according to old fashion, and addressed to a lady in
accordance with a form of courtesy that in the same old fashion had
always been held to exclude personal suit--personal suit was
private, and not public--have led to grave misapprehension among
some critics. They supposed that he desired marriage with Penelope
Devereux, who was forced by her family in 1580--then eighteen years
old--into a hateful marriage with Lord Rich. It may be enough to
say that if Philip Sidney had desired her for his wife, he had only
to ask for her and have her. Her father, when dying, had desired--
as any father might--that his daughter might become the wife of
Philip Sidney. But this is not the place for a discussion of
Astrophel and Stella sonnets.

In 1585 Sidney was planning to join Drake it sea in attack on Spain
in the West Indies. He was stayed by the Queen. But when Elizabeth
declared war on behalf of the Reformed Faith, and sent Leicester
with an expedition to the Netherlands, Sir Philip Sidney went out,
in November, 1585, as Governor of Flushing. His wife joined him
there. He fretted at inaction, and made the value of his counsels
so distinct that his uncle Leicester said after his death that he
began by "despising his youth for a counsellor, not without bearing
a hand over him as a forward young man. Notwithstanding, in a short
time he saw the sun so risen above his horizon that both he and all
his stars were glad to fetch light from him." In May, 1586, Sir
Philip Sidney received news of the death of his father. In August
his mother died. In September he joined in the investment of
Zutphen. On the 22nd of September his thigh-bone was shattered by a
musket ball from the trenches. His horse took fright and galloped
back, but the wounded man held to his seat. He was then carried to
his uncle, asked for water, and when it was given, saw a dying
soldier carried past, who eyed it greedily. At once he gave the
water to the soldier, saying, "Thy necessity is yet greater than
mine." Sidney lived on, patient in suffering, until the 17th of
October. When he was speechless before death, one who stood by
asked Philip Sidney for a sign of his continued trust in God. He
folded his hands as in prayer over his breast, and so they were
become fixed and chill, when the watchers placed them by his side;
and in a few minutes the stainless representative of the young
manhood of Elizabethan England passed away.


When the right virtuous Edward Wotton {1} and I were at the
Emperor's court together, we gave ourselves to learn horsemanship of
Gio. Pietro Pugliano; one that, with great commendation, had the
place of an esquire in his stable; and he, according to the
fertileness of the Italian wit, did not only afford us the
demonstration of his practice, but sought to enrich our minds with
the contemplation therein, which he thought most precious. But with
none, I remember, mine ears were at any time more laden, than when
(either angered with slow payment, or moved with our learner-like
admiration) he exercised his speech in the praise of his faculty.

He said, soldiers were the noblest estate of mankind, and horsemen
the noblest of soldiers. He said, they were the masters of war and
ornaments of peace, speedy goers, and strong abiders, triumphers
both in camps and courts; nay, to so unbelieved a point he
proceeded, as that no earthly thing bred such wonder to a prince, as
to be a good horseman; skill of government was but a "pedanteria" in
comparison. Then would he add certain praises by telling what a
peerless beast the horse was, the only serviceable courtier, without
flattery, the beast of most beauty, faithfulness, courage, and such
more, that if I had not been a piece of a logician before I came to
him, I think he would have persuaded me to have wished myself a
horse. But thus much, at least, with his no few words, he drove
into me, that self love is better than any gilding, to make that
seem gorgeous wherein ourselves be parties.

Wherein, if Pugliano's strong affection and weak arguments will not
satisfy you, I will give you a nearer example of myself, who, I know
not by what mischance, in these my not old years and idlest times,
having slipped into the title of a poet, am provoked to say
something unto you in the defence of that my unelected vocation;
which if I handle with more good will than good reasons, bear with
me, since the scholar is to be pardoned that followeth the steps of
his master.

And yet I must say, that as I have more just cause to make a pitiful
defence of poor poetry, which, from almost the highest estimation of
learning, is fallen to be the laughing-stock of children; so have I
need to bring some more available proofs, since the former is by no
man barred of his deserved credit, whereas the silly latter hath had
even the names of philosophers used to the defacing of it, with
great danger of civil war among the Muses. {2}

At first, truly, to all them that, professing learning, inveigh
against poetry, may justly be objected, that they go very near to
ungratefulness to seek to deface that which, in the noblest nations
and languages that are known, hath been the first light-giver to
ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk by little and little enabled
them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges. And will you play
the hedgehog, that being received into the den, drove out his host?
{3} or rather the vipers, that with their birth kill their parents?

Let learned Greece, in any of her manifold sciences, be able to show
me one book before Musaeus, Homer, and Hesiod, all three nothing
else but poets. Nay, let any history he brought that can say any
writers were there before them, if they were not men of the same
skill, as Orpheus, Linus, and some others are named, who having been
the first of that country that made pens deliverers of their
knowledge to posterity, may justly challenge to be called their
fathers in learning. For not only in time they had this priority
(although in itself antiquity be venerable) but went before them as
causes to draw with their charming sweetness the wild untamed wits
to an admiration of knowledge. So as Amphion was said to move
stones with his poetry to build Thebes, and Orpheus to be listened
to by beasts, indeed, stony and beastly people, so among the Romans
were Livius Andronicus, and Ennius; so in the Italian language, the
first that made it to aspire to be a treasure-house of science, were
the poets Dante, Boccace, and Petrarch; so in our English were Gower
and Chaucer; after whom, encouraged and delighted with their
excellent foregoing, others have followed to beautify our mother
tongue, as well in the same kind as other arts.

This {5} did so notably show itself that the philosophers of Greece
durst not a long time appear to the world but under the mask of
poets; so Thales, Empedocles, and Parmenides sang their natural
philosophy in verses; so did Pythagoras and Phocylides their moral
counsels; so did Tyrtaeus in war matters; and Solon in matters of
policy; or rather they, being poets, did exercise their delightful
vein in those points of highest knowledge, which before them lay
hidden to the world; for that wise Solon was directly a poet it is
manifest, having written in verse the notable fable of the Atlantic
Island, which was continued by Plato. {6} And, truly, even Plato,
whosoever well considereth shall find that in the body of his work,
though the inside and strength were philosophy, the skin, as it
were, and beauty depended most of poetry. For all stands upon
dialogues; wherein he feigns many honest burgesses of Athens
speaking of such matters that if they had been set on the rack they
would never have confessed them; besides, his poetical describing
the circumstances of their meetings, as the well-ordering of a
banquet, the delicacy of a walk, with interlacing mere tiles, as
Gyges's Ring, {7} and others; which, who knows not to be flowers of
poetry, did never walk into Apollo's garden.

And {8} even historiographers, although their lips sound of things
done, and verity be written in their foreheads, have been glad to
borrow both fashion and, perchance, weight of the poets; so
Herodotus entitled the books of his history by the names of the Nine
Muses; and both he, and all the rest that followed him, either stole
or usurped, of poetry, their passionate describing of passions, the
many particularities of battles which no man could affirm; or, if
that be denied me, long orations, put in the months of great kings
and captains, which it is certain they never pronounced.

So that, truly, neither philosopher nor historiographer could, at
the first, have entered into the gates of popular judgments, if they
had not taken a great disport of poetry; which in all nations, at
this day, where learning flourisheth not, is plain to be seen; in
all which they have some feeling of poetry. In Turkey, besides
their lawgiving divines they have no other writers but poets. In
our neighbour-country Ireland, where, too, learning goes very bare,
yet are their poets held in a devout reverence. Even among the most
barbarous and simple Indians, where no writing is, yet have they
their poets who make and sing songs, which they call "Arentos," both
of their ancestor's deeds and praises of their gods. A sufficient
probability, that if ever learning comes among them, it must be by
having their hard dull wits softened and sharpened with the sweet
delight of poetry; for until they find a pleasure in the exercise of
the mind, great promises of much knowledge will little persuade them
that know not the fruits of knowledge. In Wales, the true remnant
of the ancient Britons, as there are good authorities to show the
long time they had poets, which they called bards, so through all
the conquests of Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans, some of whom
did seek to ruin all memory of learning from among them, yet do
their poets, even to this day, last; so as it is not more notable in
the soon beginning than in long-continuing.

But since the authors of most of our sciences were the Romans, and
before them the Greeks, let us, a little, stand upon their
authorities; but even so far, as to see what names they have given
unto this now scorned skill. {9} Among the Romans a poet was called
"vates," which is as much as a diviner, foreseer, or prophet, as by
his conjoined words "vaticinium," and "vaticinari," is manifest; so
heavenly a title did that excellent people bestow upon this heart-
ravishing knowledge! And so far were they carried into the
admiration thereof, that they thought in the changeable hitting upon
any such verses, great foretokens of their following fortunes were
placed. Whereupon grew the word of sortes Virgilianae; when, by
sudden opening Virgil's book, they lighted upon some verse, as it is
reported by many, whereof the histories of the Emperors' lives are
full. As of Albinus, the governor of our island, who, in his
childhood, met with this verse -

Arma amens capio, nec sat rationis in armis

and in his age performed it. Although it were a very vain and
godless superstition; as also it was, to think spirits were
commanded by such verses; whereupon this word charms, derived of
"carmina," cometh, so yet serveth it to show the great reverence
those wits were held in; and altogether not without ground, since
both the oracles of Delphi and the Sibyl's prophecies were wholly
delivered in verses; for that same exquisite observing of number and
measure in the words, and that high-flying liberty of conceit proper
to the poet, did seem to have some divine force in it.

And {10} may not I presume a little farther to show the
reasonableness of this word "vates," and say, that the holy David's
Psalms are a divine poem? If I do, I shall not do it without the
testimony of great learned men, both ancient and modern. But even
the name of Psalms will speak for me, which, being interpreted, is
nothing but Songs; then, that is fully written in metre, as all
learned Hebricians agree, although the rules be not yet fully found.
Lastly, and principally, his handling his prophecy, which is merely
poetical. For what else is the awaking his musical instruments; the
often and free changing of persons; his notable prosopopoeias, when
he maketh you, as it were, see God coming in His majesty; his
telling of the beasts' joyfulness, and hills leaping; but a heavenly
poesy, wherein, almost, he sheweth himself a passionate lover of
that unspeakable and everlasting beauty, to be seen by the eyes of
the mind, only cleared by faith? But truly, now, having named him,
I fear I seem to profane that holy name, applying it to poetry,
which is, among us, thrown down to so ridiculous an estimation. But
they that, with quiet judgments, will look a little deeper into it,
shall find the end and working of it such, as, being rightly
applied, deserveth not to be scourged out of the church of God.

But {11} now let us see how the Greeks have named it, and how they
deemed of it. The Greeks named him [Greek text], which name hath,
as the most excellent, gone through other languages; it cometh of
this word [Greek text], which is TO MAKE; wherein, I know not
whether by luck or wisdom, we Englishmen have met with the Greeks in
calling him "a maker," which name, how high and incomparable a title
it is, I had rather were known by marking the scope of other
sciences, than by any partial allegation. There is no art delivered
unto mankind that hath not the works of nature for his principal
object, without which they could not consist, and on which they so
depend as they become actors and players, as it were, of what nature
will have set forth. {12} So doth the astronomer look upon the
stars, and by that he seeth set down what order nature hath taken
therein. So doth the geometrician and arithmetician, in their
diverse sorts of quantities. So doth the musician, in times, tell
you which by nature agree, which not. The natural philosopher
thereon hath his name; and the moral philosopher standeth upon the
natural virtues, vices, or passions of man; and follow nature, saith
he, therein, and thou shalt not err. The lawyer saith what men have
determined. The historian, what men have done. The grammarian
speaketh only of the rules of speech; and the rhetorician and
logician, considering what in nature will soonest prove and
persuade, thereon give artificial rules, which still are compassed
within the circle of a question, according to the proposed matter.
The physician weigheth the nature of man's body, and the nature of
things helpful and hurtful unto it. And the metaphysic, though it
be in the second and abstract notions, and therefore be counted
supernatural, yet doth he, indeed, build upon the depth of nature.
Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted
up with the vigour of his own invention, doth grow, in effect, into
another nature; in making things either better than nature bringeth
forth, or quite anew; forms such as never were in nature, as the
heroes, demi-gods, Cyclops, chimeras, furies, and such like; so as
he goeth hand in hand with Nature, not enclosed within the narrow
warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging within the zodiac of his
own wit. {13} Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry
as divers poets have done; neither with so pleasant rivers, fruitful
trees, sweet-smelling flowers, nor whatsoever else may make the too-
much-loved earth more lovely; her world is brazen, the poets only
deliver a golden.

But let those things alone, and go to man; {14} for whom as the
other things are, so it seemeth in him her uttermost cunning is
employed; and know, whether she have brought forth so true a lover
as Theagenes; so constant a friend as Pylades; so valiant a man as
Orlando; so right a prince as Xenophon's Cyrus; and so excellent a
man every way as Virgil's AEneas? Neither let this be jestingly
conceived, because the works of the one be essential, the other in
imitation or fiction; for every understanding knoweth the skill of
each artificer standeth in that idea, or fore-conceit of the work,
and not in the work itself. And that the poet hath that idea is
manifest by delivering them forth in such excellency as he had
imagined them; which delivering forth, also, is not wholly
imaginative, as we are wont to say by them that build castles in the
air; but so far substantially it worketh not only to make a Cyrus,
which had been but a particular excellency, as nature might have
done; but to bestow a Cyrus upon the world to make many Cyruses; if
they will learn aright, why, and how, that maker made him. Neither
let it be deemed too saucy a comparison to balance the highest point
of man's wit with the efficacy of nature; but rather give right
honour to the heavenly Maker of that maker, who having made man to
His own likeness, set him beyond and over all the works of that
second nature; which in nothing he showeth so much as in poetry;
when, with the force of a divine breath, he bringeth things forth
surpassing her doings, with no small arguments to the incredulous of
that first accursed fall of Adam; since our erected wit maketh us
know what perfection is, and yet our infected will keepeth us from
reaching unto it. But these arguments will by few be understood,
and by fewer granted; thus much I hope will be given me, that the
Greeks, with some probability of reason, gave him the name above all
names of learning.

Now {15} let us go to a more ordinary opening of him, that the truth
may be the more palpable; and so, I hope, though we get not so
unmatched a praise as the etymology of his names will grant, yet his
very description, which no man will deny, shall not justly be barred
from a principal commendation.

Poesy, {16} therefore, is an art of imitation; for so Aristotle
termeth it in the word [Greek text]; that is to say, a representing,
counterfeiting, or figuring forth: to speak metaphorically, a
speaking picture, with this end, to teach and delight.

Of {17} this have been three general kinds: the CHIEF, both in
antiquity and excellency, which they that did imitate the
inconceivable excellencies of God; such were David in the Psalms;
Solomon in the Song of Songs, in his Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs;
Moses and Deborah in their hymns; and the writer of Job; which,
beside others, the learned Emanuel Tremellius and Fr. Junius do
entitle the poetical part of the scripture; against these none will
speak that hath the Holy Ghost in due holy reverence. In this kind,
though in a wrong divinity, were Orpheus, Amphion, Homer in his
hymns, and many others, both Greeks and Romans. And this poesy must
be used by whosoever will follow St. Paul's counsel, in singing
psalms when they are merry; and I know is used with the fruit of
comfort by some, when, in sorrowful pangs of their death-bringing
sins, they find the consolation of the never-leaving goodness.

The {18} SECOND kind is of them that deal with matter philosophical;
either moral, as Tyrtaeus, Phocylides, Cato, or, natural, as
Lucretius, Virgil's Georgics; or astronomical, as Manilius {19} and
Pontanus; or historical, as Lucan; which who mislike, the fault is
in their judgment, quite out of taste, and not in the sweet food of
sweetly uttered knowledge.

But because this second sort is wrapped within the fold of the
proposed subject, and takes not the free course of his own
invention; whether they properly be poets or no, let grammarians
dispute, and go to the THIRD, {20} indeed right poets, of whom
chiefly this question ariseth; betwixt whom and these second is such
a kind of difference, as betwixt the meaner sort of painters, who
counterfeit only such faces as are set before them; and the more
excellent, who having no law but wit, bestow that in colours upon
you which is fittest for the eye to see; as the constant, though
lamenting look of Lucretia, when she punished in herself another's
fault; wherein he painteth not Lucretia, whom he never saw, but
painteth the outward beauty of such a virtue. For these three be
they which most properly do imitate to teach and delight; and to
imitate, borrow nothing of what is, hath been, or shall be; but
range only, reined with learned discretion, into the divine
consideration of what may be, and should be. These be they, that,
as the first and most noble sort, may justly be termed "vates;" so
these are waited on in the excellentest languages and best
understandings, with the fore-described name of poets. For these,
indeed, do merely make to imitate, and imitate both to delight and
teach, and delight to move men to take that goodness in hand, which,
without delight they would fly as from a stranger; and teach to make
them know that goodness whereunto they are moved; which being the
noblest scope to which ever any learning was directed, yet want
there not idle tongues to bark at them.

These {21} be subdivided into sundry more special denominations; the
most notable be the heroic, lyric, tragic, comic, satyric, iambic,
elegiac, pastoral, and certain others; some of these being termed
according to the matter they deal with; some by the sort of verse
they like best to write in; for, indeed, the greatest part of poets
have apparelled their poetical inventions in that numerous kind of
writing which is called verse. Indeed, but apparelied verse, being
but an ornament, and no cause to poetry, since there have been many
most excellent poets that never versified, and now swarm many
versifiers that need never answer to the name of poets. {22} For
Xenophon, who did imitate so excellently as to give us effigiem
justi imperii, the portraiture of a just of Cyrus, as Cicero saith
of him, made therein an absolute heroical poem. So did Heliodorus,
{23} in his sugared invention of Theagenes and Chariclea; and yet
both these wrote in prose; which I speak to show, that it is not
rhyming and versing that maketh a poet (no more than a long gown
maketh an advocate, who, though he pleaded in armour should be an
advocate and no soldier); but it is that feigning notable images of
virtues, vices, or what else, with that delightful teaching, which
must be the right describing note to know a poet by. Although,
indeed, the senate of poets have chosen verse as their fittest
raiment; meaning, as in matter they passed all in all, so in manner
to go beyond them; not speaking table-talk fashion, or like men in a
dream, words as they changeably fall from the mouth, but piecing
each syllable of each word by just proportion, according to the
dignity of the subject.

Now, {24} therefore, it shall not be amiss, first, to weight this
latter sort of poetry by his WORKS, and then by his PARTS; and if in
neither of these anatomies he be commendable, I hope we shall
receive a more favourable sentence. This purifying of wit, this
enriching of memory, enabling of judgment, and enlarging of conceit,
which commonly we call learning under what name soever it come
forth, or to what immediate end soever it be directed; the final end
is, to lead and draw us to as high a perfection as our degenerate
souls, made worse by, their clay lodgings, {25} can be capable of.
This, according to the inclination of man, bred many formed
impressions; for some that thought this felicity principally to be
gotten by knowledge, and no knowledge to be so high or heavenly as
to be acquainted with the stars, gave themselves to astronomy;
others, persuading themselves to be demi-gods, if they knew the
causes of things, became natural and supernatural philosophers.
Some an admirable delight drew to music, and some the certainty of
demonstrations to the mathematics; but all, one and other, having
this scope to know, and by knowledge to lift up the mind from the
dungeon of the body to the enjoying his own divine essence. But
when, by the balance of experience, it was found that the
astronomer, looking to the stars, might fall in a ditch; that the
enquiring philosopher might be blind in himself; and the
mathematician might draw forth a straight line with a crooked heart;
then lo! did proof, the over-ruler of opinions, make manifest that
all these are but serving sciences, which, as they have a private
end in themselves, so yet are they all directed to the highest end
of the mistress knowledge, by the Greeks called [Greek text], which
stands, as I think, in the knowledge of a man's self; in the ethic
and politic consideration, with the end of well doing, and not of
well knowing only; even as the saddler's next end is to make a good
saddle, but his farther end to serve a nobler faculty, which is
horsemanship; so the horseman's to soldiery; and the soldier not
only to have the skill, but to perform the practice of a soldier.
So that the ending end of all earthly learning being virtuous
action, those skills that most serve to bring forth that have a most
just title to be princes over all the rest; wherein, if we can show
it rightly, the poet is worthy to have it before any other
competitors. {26}

Among {27} whom principally to challenge it, step forth the moral
philosophers; whom, methinks, I see coming toward me with a sullen
gravity (as though they could not abide vice by daylight), rudely
clothed, for to witness outwardly their contempt of outward things,
with books in their hands against glory, whereto they set their
names; sophistically speaking against subtlety, and angry with any
man in whom they see the foul fault of anger. These men, casting
largesses as they go, of definitions, divisions, and distinctions,
with a scornful interrogative do soberly ask: Whether it be
possible to find any path so ready to lead a man to virtue, as that
which teacheth what virtue is; and teacheth it not only by
delivering forth his very being, his causes and effects; but also by
making known his enemy, vice, which must be destroyed; and his
cumbersome servant, passion, which must be mastered, by showing the
generalities that contain it, and the specialities that are derived
from it; lastly, by plain setting down how it extends itself out of
the limits of a man's own little world, to the government of
families, and maintaining of public societies?

The historian {28} scarcely gives leisure to the moralist to say so
much, but that he (laden with old mouse-eaten records, authorizing
{29} himself, for the most part, upon other histories, whose
greatest authorities are built upon the notable foundation of
hearsay, having much ado to accord differing writers, and to pick
truth out of partiality; better acquainted with a thousand years ago
than with the present age, and yet better knowing how this world
goes than how his own wit runs; curious for antiquities, and
inquisitive of novelties, a wonder to young folks, and a tyrant in
table-talk) denieth, in a great chafe, that any man for teaching of
virtue and virtuous actions, is comparable to him. I am "Testis
temporum, lux veritatis, vita memoriae, magistra vitae, nuncia
vetustatis." {30} The philosopher, saith he, teacheth a disputative
virtue, but I do an active; his virtue is excellent in the
dangerless academy of Plato, but mine showeth forth her honourable
face in the battles of Marathon, Pharsalia, Poictiers, and
Agincourt: he teacheth virtue by certain abstract considerations;
but I only bid you follow the footing of them that have gone before
you: old-aged experience goeth beyond the fine-witted philosopher;
but I give the experience of many ages. Lastly, if he make the song
book, I put the learner's hand to the lute; and if he be the guide,
I am the light. Then would he allege you innumerable examples,
confirming story by stories, how much the wisest senators and
princes have been directed by the credit of history, as Brutus,
Alphonsus of Aragon (and who not? if need be). At length, the long
line of their disputation makes a point in this, that the one giveth
the precept, and the other the example.

Now {31} whom shall we find, since the question standeth for the
highest form in the school of learning, to be moderator? Truly, as
me seemeth, the poet; and if not a moderator, even the man that
ought to carry the title from them both, and much more from all
other serving sciences. Therefore compare we the poet with the
historian, and with the moral philosopher; and if he go beyond them
both, no other human skill can match him; for as for the Divine,
with all reverence, he is ever to be excepted, not only for having
his scope as far beyond any of these, as eternity exceedeth a
moment, but even for passing each of these in themselves; and for
the lawyer, though "Jus" be the daughter of Justice, the chief of
virtues, yet because he seeks to make men good rather "formidine
poenae" than "virtutis amore," or, to say righter, doth not
endeavour to make men good, but that their evil hurt not others,
having no care, so he be a good citizen, how bad a man he be:
therefore, as our wickedness maketh him necessary, and necessity
maketh him honourable, so is he not in the deepest truth to stand in
rank with these, who all endeavour to take naughtiness away, and
plant goodness even in the secretest cabinet of our souls. And
these four are all that any way deal in the consideration of men's
manners, which being the supreme knowledge, they that best breed it
deserve the best commendation.

The philosopher, therefore, and the historian are they which would
win the goal, the one by precept, the other by example; but both,
not having both, do both halt. For the philosopher, setting down
with thorny arguments the bare rule, is so hard of utterance, and so
misty to be conceived, that one that hath no other guide but him
shall wade in him until he be old, before he shall find sufficient
cause to be honest. For his knowledge standeth so upon the abstract
and general, that happy is that man who may understand him, and more
happy that can apply what he doth understand. On the other side the
historian, wanting the precept, is so tied, not to what should be,
but to what is; to the particular truth of things, and not to the
general reason of things; that his example draweth no necessary
consequence, and therefore a less fruitful doctrine.

Now {32} doth the peerless poet perform both; for whatsoever the
philosopher saith should be done, he giveth a perfect picture of it,
by some one by whom he pre-supposeth it was done, so as he coupleth
the general notion with the particular example. A perfect picture,
I say; for he yieldeth to the powers of the mind an image of that
whereof the philosopher bestoweth but a wordish description, which
doth neither strike, pierce, nor possess the sight of the soul, so
much as that other doth. For as, in outward things, to a man that
had never seen an elephant, or a rhinoceros, who should tell him
most exquisitely all their shape, colour, bigness, and particular
marks? or of a gorgeous palace, an architect, who, declaring the
full beauties, might well make the hearer able to repeat, as it
were, by rote, all he had heard, yet should never satisfy his inward
conceit, with being witness to itself of a true living knowledge;
but the same man, as soon as he might see those beasts well painted,
or that house well in model, should straightway grow, without need
of any description, to a judicial comprehending of them; so, no
doubt, the philosopher, with his learned definitions, be it of
virtue or vices, matters of public policy or private government,
replenisheth the memory with many infallible grounds of wisdom,
which, notwithstanding, lie dark before the imaginative and judging
power, if they be not illuminated or figured forth by the speaking
picture of poesy.

Tully taketh much pains, and many times not without poetical help,
to make us know the force love of our country hath in us. Let us
but hear old Anchises, speaking in the midst of Troy's flames, or
see Ulysses, in the fulness of all Calypso's delights, bewail his
absence from barren and beggarly Ithaca. Anger, the Stoics said,
was a short madness; let but Sophocles bring you Ajax on a stage,
killing or whipping sheep and oxen, thinking them the army of
Greeks, with their chieftains Agamemnon and Menelaus; and tell me,
if you have not a more familiar insight into anger, than finding in
the schoolmen his genus and difference? See whether wisdom and
temperance in Ulysses and Diomedes, valour in Achilles, friendship
in Nisus and Euryalus, even to an ignorant man, carry not an
apparent shining; and, contrarily, the remorse of conscience in
OEdipus; the soon-repenting pride in Agamemnon; the self-devouring
cruelty in his father Atreus; the violence of ambition in the two
Theban brothers; the sour sweetness of revenge in Medea; and, to
fall lower, the Terentian Gnatho, and our Chaucer's Pandar, so
expressed, that we now use their names to signify their trades; and
finally, all virtues, vices, and passions so in their own natural
states laid to the view, that we seem not to hear of them, but
clearly to see through them?

But even in the most excellent determination of goodness, what
philosopher's counsel can so readily direct a prince as the feigned
Cyrus in Xenophon? Or a virtuous man in all fortunes, as AEneas in
Virgil? Or a whole commonwealth, as the way of Sir Thomas More's
Utopia? I say the way, because where Sir Thomas More erred, it was
the fault of the man, and not of the poet; for that way of
patterning a commonwealth was most absolute, though he, perchance,
hath not so absolutely performed it. For the question is, whether
the feigned image of poetry, or the regular instruction of
philosophy, hath the more force in teaching. Wherein, if the
philosophers have more rightly showed themselves philosophers, than
the poets have attained to the high top of their profession, (as in

"Mediocribus esse poetis
Non Di, non homines, non concessere columnae," {33})

it is, I say again, not the fault of the art, but that by few men
that art can be accomplished. Certainly, even our Saviour Christ
could as well have given the moral common-places {34} of
uncharitableness and humbleness, as the divine narration of Dives
and Lazarus; or of disobedience and mercy, as the heavenly discourse
of the lost child and the gracious father; but that his thorough
searching wisdom knew the estate of Dives burning in hell, and of
Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, would more constantly, as it were,
inhabit both the memory and judgment. Truly, for myself (me seems),
I see before mine eyes the lost child's disdainful prodigality
turned to envy a swine's dinner; which, by the learned divines, are
thought not historical acts, but instructing parables.

For conclusion, I say the philosopher teacheth, but he teacheth
obscurely, so as the learned only can understand him; that is to
say, he teacheth them that are already taught. But the poet is the
food for the tenderest stomachs; the poet is, indeed, the right
popular philosopher. Whereof AEsop's tales give good proof; whose
pretty allegories, stealing under the formal tales of beasts, make
many, more beastly than beasts, begin to hear the sound of virtue
from those dumb speakers.

But now may it be alleged, that if this managing of matters be so
fit for the imagination, then must the historian needs surpass, who
brings you images of true matters, such as, indeed, were done, and
not such as fantastically or falsely may be suggested to have been
done. Truly, Aristotle himself, in his Discourse of Poesy, plainly
determineth this question, saying, that poetry is [Greek text], that
is to say, it is more philosophical and more ingenious than history.
His reason is, because poesy dealeth with [Greek text], that is to
say, with the universal consideration, and the history [Greek text],
the particular. "Now," saith he, "the universal weighs what is fit
to be said or done, either in likelihood or necessity; which the
poesy considereth in his imposed names; and the particular only
marks, whether Alcibiades did, or suffered, this or that:" thus far
Aristotle. {35} Which reason of his, as all his, is most full of
reason. For, indeed, if the question were, whether it were better
to have a particular act truly or falsely set down? there is no
doubt which is to be chosen, no more than whether you had rather
have Vespasian's picture right as he was, or, at the painter's
pleasure, nothing resembling? But if the question be, for your own
use and learning, whether it be better to have it set down as it
should be, or as it was? then, certainly, is more doctrinable the
feigned Cyrus in Xenophon, than the true Cyrus in Justin; {36} and
the feigned AEneas in Virgil, than the right AEneas in Dares
Phrygius; {37} as to a lady that desired to fashion her countenance
to the best grace, a painter should more benefit her, to portrait a
most sweet face, writing Canidia upon it, than to paint Canidia as
she was, who, Horace sweareth, was full ill-favoured. If the poet
do his part aright, he will show you in Tantalus, Atreus, and such
like, nothing that is not to be shunned; in Cyrus, AEneas, Ulysses,
each thing to be followed; where the historian, bound to tell things
as things were, cannot be liberal, without he will be poetical, of a
perfect pattern; but, as in Alexander, or Scipio himself, show
doings, some to be liked, some to be misliked; and then how will you
discern what to follow, but by your own discretion, which you had,
without reading Q. Curtius? {38} And whereas, a man may say, though
in universal consideration of doctrine, the poet prevaileth, yet
that the history, in his saying such a thing was done, doth warrant
a man more in that he shall follow; the answer is manifest: that if
he stand upon that WAS, as if he should argue, because it rained
yesterday therefore it should rain to-day; then, indeed, hath it
some advantage to a gross conceit. But if he know an example only
enforms a conjectured likelihood, and so go by reason, the poet doth
so far exceed him, as he is to frame his example to that which is
most reasonable, be it in warlike, politic, or private matters;
where the historian in his bare WAS hath many times that which we
call fortune to overrule the best wisdom. Many times he must tell
events whereof he can yield no cause; or if he do, it must be

For, that a feigned example bath as much force to teach as a true
example (for as for to move, it is clear, since the feigned may be
tuned to the highest key of passion), let us take one example
wherein an historian and a poet did concur. Herodotus and Justin do
both testify, that Zopyrus, King Darius's faithful servant, seeing
his master long resisted by the rebellious Babylonians, feigned
himself in extreme disgrace of his King; for verifying of which he
caused his own nose and ears to be cut off, and so flying to the
Babylonians, was received; and, for his known valour, so far
credited, that he did find means to deliver them over to Darius.
Much-like matters doth Livy record of Tarquinius and his son.
Xenophon excellently feigned such another stratagem, performed by
Abradatus in Cyrus's behalf. Now would I fain know, if occasion be
presented unto you to serve your prince by such an honest
dissimulation, why do you not as well learn it of Xenophon's fiction
as of the other's verity? and, truly, so much the better, as you
shall save your nose by the bargain; for Abradatus did not
counterfeit so far. So, then, the best of the historians is subject
to the poet; for, whatsoever action or faction, whatsoever counsel,
policy, or war stratagem the historian is bound to recite, that may
the poet, if he list, with his imitation, make his own, beautifying
it both for farther teaching, and more delighting, as it please him:
having all, from Dante's heaven to his hell, under the authority of
his pen. Which if I be asked, What poets have done so? as I might
well name some, so yet, say I, and say again, I speak of the art,
and not of the artificer.

Now, to that which commonly is attributed to the praise of history,
in respect of the notable learning which is got by marking the
success, as though therein a man should see virtue exalted, and vice
punished: truly, that commendation is peculiar to poetry, and far
off from history; for, indeed, poetry ever sets virtue so out in her
best colours, making fortune her well-waiting handmaid, that one
must needs be enamoured of her. Well may you see Ulysses in a
storm, and in other hard plights; but they are but exercises of
patience and magnanimity, to make them shine the more in the near
following prosperity. And, on the contrary part, if evil men come
to the stage, they ever go out (as the tragedy writer answered to
one that misliked the show of such persons) so manacled, as they
little animate folks to follow them. But history being captive to
the truth of a foolish world, in many times a terror from well-
doing, and an encouragement to unbridled wickedness. For see we not
valiant Miltiades rot in his fetters? the just Phocion and the
accomplished Socrates put to death like traitors? the cruel Severus
live prosperously? the excellent Severus miserably murdered? Sylla
and Marius dying in their beds? Pompey and Cicero slain then when
they would have thought exile a happiness? See we not virtuous Cato
driven to kill himself, and rebel Caesar so advanced, that his name
yet, after sixteen hundred years, lasteth in the highest honour?
And mark but even Caesar's own words of the forenamed Sylla, (who in
that only did honestly, to put down his dishonest tyranny), "literas
nescivit:" as if want of learning caused him to do well. He meant
it not by poetry, which, not content with earthly plagues, deviseth
new punishment in hell for tyrants: nor yet by philosophy, which
teacheth "occidentes esse:" but, no doubt, by skill in history; for
that, indeed, can afford you Cypselus, Periander, Phalaris,
Dionysius, and I know not how many more of the same kennel, that
speed well enough in their abominable injustice of usurpation.

I conclude, therefore, that he excelleth history, not only in
furnishing the mind with knowledge, but in setting it forward to
that which deserves to be called and accounted good: which setting
forward, and moving to well-doing, indeed, setteth the laurel crowns
upon the poets as victorious; not only of the historian, but over
the philosopher, howsoever, in teaching, it may be questionable.
For suppose it be granted, that which I suppose, with great reason,
may be denied, that the philosopher, in respect of his methodical
proceeding, teach more perfectly than the poet, yet do I think, that
no man is so much [Greek text], as to compare the philosopher in
moving with the poet. And that moving is of a higher degree than
teaching, it may by this appear, that it is well nigh both the cause
and effect of teaching; for who will be taught, if he be not moved
with desire to be taught? And what so much good doth that teaching
bring forth (I speak still of moral doctrine) as that it moveth one
to do that which it doth teach. For, as Aristotle saith, it is not
[Greek text] but [Greek text] {39} must be the fruit: and how
[Greek text] can be, without being moved to practise, it is no hard
matter to consider. The philosopher showeth you the way, he
informeth you of the particularities, as well of the tediousness of
the way and of the pleasant lodging you shall have when your journey
is ended, as of the many by-turnings that may divert you from your
way; but this is to no man, but to him that will read him, and read
him with attentive, studious painfulness; which constant desire
whosoever hath in him, hath already passed half the hardness of the
way, and therefore is beholden to the philosopher but for the other
half. Nay, truly, learned men have learnedly thought, that where
once reason hath so much over-mastered passion, as that the mind
hath a free desire to do well, the inward light each mind hath in
itself is as good as a philosopher's book: since in nature we know
it is well to do well, and what is well and what is evil, although
not in the words of art which philosophers bestow upon us; for out
of natural conceit the philosophers drew it; but to be moved to do
that which we know, or to be moved with desire to know, "hoc opus,
hic labor est."

Now, {40} therein, of all sciences (I speak still of human and
according to the human conceit), is our poet the monarch. For he
doth not only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the
way, as will entice any man to enter into it; nay, he doth, as if
your journey should lie through a fair vineyard, at the very first
give you a cluster of grapes, that full of that taste you may long
to pass farther. He beginneth not with obscure definitions, which
must blur the margin with interpretations, and load the memory with
doubtfulness, but he cometh to you with words set in delightful
proportion, either accompanied with, or prepared for, the well-
enchanting skill of music; and with a tale, forsooth, he cometh unto
you with a tale which holdeth children from play, and old men from
the chimney-corner; {41} and, pretending no more, doth intend the
winning of the mind from wickedness to virtue; even as the child is
often brought to take most wholesome things, by hiding them in such
other as have a pleasant taste; which, if one should begin to tell
them the nature of the aloes or rhubarbarum they should receive,
would sooner take their physic at their ears than at their mouth; so
it is in men (most of them are childish in the best things, till
they be cradled in their graves); glad they will be to hear the
tales of Hercules, Achilles, Cyrus, AEneas; and hearing them, must
needs hear the right description of wisdom, valour, and justice;
which, if they had been barely (that is to say, philosophically) set
out, they would swear they be brought to school again. That
imitation whereof poetry is, hath the most conveniency to nature of
all other; insomuch that, as Aristotle saith, those things which in
themselves are horrible, as cruel battles, unnatural monsters, are
made, in poetical imitation, delightful. Truly, I have known men,
that even with reading Amadis de Gaule, which, God knoweth, wanteth
much of a perfect poesy, have found their hearts moved to the
exercise of courtesy, liberality, and especially courage. Who
readeth AEneas carrying old Anchises on his back, that wisheth not
it were his fortune to perform so excellent an act? Whom doth not
those words of Turnus move (the tale of Turnus having planted his
image in the imagination)

"--fugientem haec terra videbit?
Usque adeone mori miserum est?" {42}

Where the philosophers (as they think) scorn to delight, so much
they be content little to move, saving wrangling whether "virtus" be
the chief or the only good; whether the contemplative or the active
life do excel; which Plato and Boetius well knew; and therefore made
mistress Philosophy very often borrow the masking raiment of poesy.
For even those hard-hearted evil men, who think virtue a school-
name, and know no other good but "indulgere genio," and therefore
despise the austere admonitions of the philosopher, and feel not the
inward reason they stand upon; yet will be content to be delighted,
which is all the good-fellow poet seems to promise; and so steal to
see the form of goodness, which seen, they cannot but love, ere
themselves be aware, as if they took a medicine of cherries.

Infinite {43} proofs of the strange effects of this poetical
invention might be alleged; only two shall serve, which are so often
remembered, as, I think, all men know them. The one of Menenius
Agrippa, who, when the whole people of Rome had resolutely divided
themselves from the senate, with apparent show of utter ruin, though
he were, for that time, an excellent orator, came not among them
upon trust, either of figurative speeches, or cunning insinuations,
and much less with far-fetched maxims of philosophy, which,
especially if they were Platonic, they must have learned geometry
before they could have conceived; but, forsooth, he behaveth himself
like a homely and familiar poet. He telleth them a tale, that there
was a time when all the parts of the body made a mutinous conspiracy
against the belly, which they thought devoured the fruits of each
other's labour; they concluded they would let so unprofitable a
spender starve. In the end, to be short (for the tale is notorious,
and as notorious that it was a tale), with punishing the belly they
plagued themselves. This, applied by him, wrought such effect in
the people as I never read that only words brought forth; but then
so sudden, and so good an alteration, for upon reasonable conditions
a perfect reconcilement ensued.

The other is of Nathan the prophet, who, when the holy David had so
far forsaken God, as to confirm adultery with murder, when he was to
do the tenderest office of a friend, in laying his own shame before
his eyes, being sent by God to call again so chosen a servant, how
doth he it? but by telling of a man whose beloved lamb was
ungratefully taken from his bosom. The application most divinely
true, but the discourse itself feigned; which made David (I speak of
the second and instrumental cause) as in a glass see his own
filthiness, as that heavenly psalm of mercy well testifieth.

By these, therefore, examples and reasons, I think it may be
manifest that the poet, with that same hand of delight, doth draw
the mind more effectually than any other art doth. And so a
conclusion not unfitly ensues; that as virtue is the most excellent
resting-place for all worldly learning to make his end of, so
poetry, being the most familiar to teach it, and most princely to
move towards it, in the most excellent work is the most excellent

But I am content not only to decipher him by his works (although
works in commendation and dispraise must ever hold a high
authority), but more narrowly will examine his parts; so that (as in
a man) though all together may carry a presence full of majesty and
beauty perchance in some one defectious {44} piece we may find

Now, {45} in his parts, kinds, or species, as you list to term them,
it is to be noted that some poesies have coupled together two or
three kinds; as the tragical and comical, whereupon is risen the
tragi-comical; some, in the manner, have mingled prose and verse, as
Sannazaro and Boetius; some have mingled matters heroical and
pastoral; but that cometh all to one in this question; for, if
severed they be good, the conjunction cannot be hurtful. Therefore,
perchance, forgetting some, and leaving some as needless to be
remembered, it shall not be amiss, in a word, to cite the special
kinds, to see what faults may be found in the right use of them.

Is it, then, the pastoral poem which is misliked? {46} For,
perchance, where the hedge is lowest, they will soonest leap over.
Is the poor pipe disdained, which sometimes, out of Melibaeus's
mouth, can show the misery of people under hard lords and ravening
soldiers? And again, by Tityrus, what blessedness is derived to
them that lie lowest from the goodness of them that sit highest?
Sometimes under the pretty tales of wolves and sheep, can include
the whole considerations of wrong doing and patience; sometimes
show, that contentions for trifles can get but a trifling victory;
where, perchance, a man may see that even Alexander and Darius, when
they strove who should be cock of this world's dunghill, the benefit
they got was, that the after-livers may say,

"Haec memini, et victum frustra contendere Thyrsim.
Ex illo Corydon, Corydon est tempore nobis." {47}

Or is it the lamenting elegiac, {48} which, in a kind heart, would
move rather pity than blame; who bewaileth, with the great
philosopher Heraclitus, the weakness of mankind, and the
wretchedness of the world; who, surely, is to be praised, either for
compassionately accompanying just causes of lamentations, or for
rightly pointing out how weak be the passions of wofulness?

Is it the bitter, but wholesome iambic, {49} who rubs the galled
mind, making shame the trumpet of villany, with bold and open crying
out against naughtiness?

Or the satiric? who,

"Omne vafer vitium ridenti tangit amico;" {50}

who sportingly never leaveth, until he make a man laugh at folly,
and, at length, ashamed to laugh at himself, which he cannot avoid
without avoiding the folly; who, while "circum praecordia ludit,"
giveth us to feel how many headaches a passionate life bringeth us
to; who when all is done,

"Est Ulubris, animus si nos non deficit aequus." {51}

No, perchance, it is the comic; {52} whom naughty play-makers and
stage-keepers have justly made odious. To the arguments of abuse I
will after answer; only thus much now is to be said, that the comedy
is an imitation of the common errors of our life, which he
representeth in the most ridiculous and scornful sort that may be;
so as it is impossible that any beholder can be content to be such a
one. Now, as in geometry, the oblique must be known as well as the
right, and in arithmetic, the odd as well as the even; so in the
actions of our life, who seeth not the filthiness of evil, wanteth a
great foil to perceive the beauty of virtue. This doth the comedy
handle so, in our private and domestical matters, as, with hearing
it, we get, as it were, an experience of what is to be looked for,
of a niggardly Demea, of a crafty Davus, of a flattering Gnatho, of
a vain-glorious Thraso; and not only to know what effects are to be
expected, but to know who be such, by the signifying badge given
them by the comedian. And little reason hath any man to say, that
men learn the evil by seeing it so set out; since, as I said before,
there is no man living, but by the force truth hath in nature, no
sooner seeth these men play their parts, but wisheth them in
"pistrinum;" {53} although, perchance, the sack of his own faults
lie so behind his back, that he seeth not himself to dance in the
same measure, whereto yet nothing can more open his eyes than to see
his own actions contemptibly set forth; so that the right use of
comedy will, I think, by nobody be blamed.

And much less of the high and excellent tragedy, {54} that openeth
the greatest wounds, and showeth forth the ulcers that are covered
with tissue; that maketh kings fear to be tyrants, and tyrants to
manifest their tyrannical humours; that with stirring the effects of
admiration and commiseration, teacheth the uncertainty of this
world, and upon how weak foundations gilded roofs are builded; that
maketh us know, "qui sceptra saevos duro imperio regit, timet
timentes, metus in authorem redit." But how much it can move,
Plutarch yielded a notable testimony of the abominable tyrant
Alexander Pheraeus; from whose eyes a tragedy, well made and
represented, drew abundance of tears, who without all pity had
murdered infinite numbers, and some of his own blood; so as he that
was not ashamed to make matters for tragedies, yet could not resist
the sweet violence of a tragedy. And if it wrought no farther good
in him, it was that he, in despite of himself, withdrew himself from
hearkening to that which might mollify his hardened heart. But it
is not the tragedy they do dislike, for it were too absurd to cast
out so excellent a representation of whatsoever is most worthy to be

Is it the lyric that most displeaseth, who with his tuned lyre and
well-accorded voice, giveth praise, the reward of virtue, to
virtuous acts? who giveth moral precepts and natural problems? who
sometimes raiseth up his voice to the height of the heavens, in
singing the lauds of the immortal God? Certainly, I must confess
mine own barbarousness; I never heard the old song of Percy and
Douglas, that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet;
{55} and yet it is sung but by some blind crowder, with no rougher
voice than rude style; which being so evil apparelled in the dust
and cobweb of that uncivil age, what would it work, trimmed in the
gorgeous eloquence of Pindar? In Hungary I have seen it the manner
at all feasts, and all other such-like meetings, to have songs of
their ancestors' valour, which that right soldier-like nation think
one of the chiefest kindlers of brave courage. The incomparable
Lacedaemonians did not only carry that kind of music ever with them
to the field, but even at home, as such songs were made, so were
they all content to be singers of them; when the lusty men were to
tell what they did, the old men what they had done, and the young
what they would do. And where a man may say that Pindar many times
praiseth highly victories of small moment, rather matters of sport
than virtue; as it may be answered, it was the fault of the poet,
and not of the poetry, so, indeed, the chief fault was in the time
and custom of the Greeks, who set those toys at so high a price,
that Philip of Macedon reckoned a horse-race won at Olympus among
three fearful felicities. But as the inimitable Pindar often did,
so is that kind most capable, and most fit, to awake the thoughts
from the sleep of idleness, to embrace honourable enterprises.

There rests the heroical, {56} whose very name, I think, should
daunt all backbiters. For by what conceit can a tongue be directed
to speak evil of that which draweth with him no less champions than
Achilles, Cyrus, AEneas, Turus, Tydeus, Rinaldo? who doth not only
teach and move to truth, but teacheth and moveth to the most high
and excellent truth: who maketh magnanimity and justice shine
through all misty fearfulness and foggy desires? who, if the saying
of Plato and Tully be true, that who could see virtue, would be
wonderfully ravished with the love of her beauty; this man setteth
her out to make her more lovely, in her holiday apparel, to the eye
of any that will deign not to disdain until they understand. But if
any thing be already said in the defence of sweet poetry, all
concurreth to the maintaining the heroical, which is not only a
kind, but the best and most accomplished kind, of poetry. For, as
the image of each action stirreth and instructeth the mind, so the
lofty image of such worthies most inflameth the mind with desire to
be worthy, and informs with counsel how to be worthy. Only let
AEneas be worn in the tablet of your memory, how he governeth
himself in the ruin of his country; in the preserving his old
father, and carrying away his religious ceremonies; in obeying God's
commandments, to leave Dido, though not only passionate kindness,
but even the human consideration of virtuous gratefulness, would
have craved other of him; how in storms, how in sports, how in war,
how in peace, how a fugitive, how victorious, how besieged, how
besieging, how to strangers, how to allies, how to enemies; how to
his own, lastly, how in his inward self, and how in his outward
government; and I think, in a mind most prejudiced with a
prejudicating humour, he will be found in excellency fruitful. Yea,
as Horace saith, "Melius Chrysippo et Crantore:" {57} but, truly, I
imagine it falleth out with these poet-whippers as with some good
women who often are sick, but in faith they cannot tell where. So
the name of poetry is odious to them, but neither his cause nor
effects, neither the sum that contains him, nor the particularities
descending from him, give any fast handle to their carping

Since, then, {58} poetry is of all human learnings the most ancient,
and of most fatherly antiquity, as from whence other learnings have
taken their beginnings; since it is so universal that no learned
nation doth despise it, nor barbarous nation is without it; since
both Roman and Greek gave such divine names unto it, the one of
prophesying, the other of making, and that indeed that name of
making is fit for him, considering, that where all other arts retain
themselves within their subject, and receive, as it were, their
being from it, the poet only, only bringeth his own stuff, and doth
not learn a conceit out of a matter, but maketh matter for a
conceit; since neither his description nor end containeth any evil,
the thing described cannot be evil; since his effects be so good as
to teach goodness, and delight the learners of it; since therein
(namely, in moral doctrine, the chief of all knowledges) he doth not
only far pass the historian, but, for instructing, is well nigh
comparable to the philosopher; for moving, leaveth him behind him;
since the Holy Scripture (wherein there is no uncleanness) hath
whole parts in it poetical, and that even our Saviour Christ
vouchsafed to use the flowers of it; since all his kinds are not
only in their united forms, but in their severed dissections fully
commendable; I think, and think I think rightly, the laurel crown
appointed for triumphant captains, doth worthily, of all other
learnings, honour the poet's triumph.

But {59} because we have ears as well as tongues, and that the
lightest reasons that may be, will seem to weigh greatly, if nothing
be put in the counterbalance, let us hear, and, as well as we can,
ponder what objections be made against this art, which may be worthy
either of yielding or answering.

First, truly, I note, not only in these [Greek text], poet-haters,
but in all that kind of people who seek a praise by dispraising
others, that they do prodigally spend a great many wandering words
in quips and scoffs, carping and taunting at each thing, which, by
stirring the spleen, may stay the brain from a thorough beholding,
the worthiness of the subject. Those kind of objections, as they
are full of a very idle uneasiness (since there is nothing of so
sacred a majesty, but that an itching tongue may rub itself upon
it), so deserve they no other answer, but, instead of laughing at
the jest, to laugh at the jester. We know a playing wit can praise
the discretion of an ass, the comfortableness of being in debt, and
the jolly commodities of being sick of the plague; so, of the
contrary side, if we will turn Ovid's verse,

"Ut lateat virtus proximitate mali."

"That good lies hid in nearness of the evil," Agrippa will be as
merry in the showing the Vanity of Science, as Erasmus was in the
commending of Folly; {60} neither shall any man or matter escape
some touch of these smiling railers. But for Erasmus and Agrippa,
they had another foundation than the superficial part would promise.
Marry, these other pleasant fault-finders, who will correct the verb
before they understand the noun, and confute others' knowledge
before they confirm their own; I would have them only remember, that
scoffing cometh not of wisdom; so as the best title in true English
they get with their merriments, is to be called good fools; for so
have our grave forefathers ever termed that humorous kind of

But that which giveth greatest scope to their scorning humour, is
rhyming and versing. {61} It is already said, and, as I think,
truly said, it is not rhyming and versing that maketh poesy; one may
be a poet without versing, and a versifier without poetry. But yet,
presuppose it were inseparable, as indeed, it seemeth Scaliger
judgeth truly, it were an inseparable commendation; for if "oratio"
next to "ratio," speech next to reason, be the greatest gift
bestowed upon mortality, that cannot be praiseless which doth most
polish that blessing of speech; which considereth each word, not
only as a man may say by his forcible quality, but by his best
measured quantity; carrying even in themselves a harmony; without,
perchance, number, measure, order, proportion be in our time grown

But lay aside the just praise it hath, by being the only fit speech
for music--music, I say, the most divine striker of the senses; thus
much is undoubtedly true, that if reading be foolish without
remembering, memory being the only treasure of knowledge, those
words which are fittest for memory, are likewise most convenient for
knowledge. Now, that verse far exceedeth prose in the knitting up
of the memory, the reason is manifest: the words, besides their
delight, which hath a great affinity to memory, being so set as one
cannot be lost, but the whole work fails: which accusing itself,
calleth the remembrance back to itself, and so most strongly
confirmeth it. Besides, one word so, as it were, begetting another,
as, be it in rhyme or measured verse, by the former a man shall have
a near guess to the follower. Lastly, even they that have taught
the art of memory, have showed nothing so apt for it as a certain
room divided into many places, well and thoroughly known; now that
hath the verse in effect perfectly, every word having his natural
seat, which seat must needs make the word remembered. But what
needs more in a thing so known to all men? Who is it that ever was
a scholar that doth not carry away some verses of Virgil, Horace, or
Cato, which in his youth he learned, and even to his old age serve
him for hourly lessons? as,

"Percontatorem fugito: nam garrulus idem est.
Dum sibi quisque placet credula turba sumus." {62}

But the fitness it hath for memory is notably proved by all delivery
of arts, wherein, for the most part, from grammar to logic,
mathematics, physic, and the rest, the rules chiefly necessary to be
borne away are compiled in verses. So that verse being in itself
sweet and orderly, and being best for memory, the only handle of
knowledge, it must be in jest that any man can speak against it.

Now {63} then go we to the most important imputations laid to the
poor poets; for aught I can yet learn, they are these.

First, that there being many other more fruitful knowledges, a man
might better spend his time in them than in this.

Secondly, that it is the mother of lies.

Thirdly, that it is the nurse of abuse, infecting us with many
pestilent desires, with a syren sweetness, drawing the mind to the
serpent's tail of sinful fancies; and herein, especially, comedies
give the largest field to ear, as Chaucer saith; how, both in other
nations and ours, before poets did soften us, we were full of
courage, given to martial exercises, the pillars of manlike liberty,
and not lulled asleep in shady idleness with poets' pastimes.

And lastly and chiefly, they cry out with open mouth, as if they had
overshot Robin Hood, that Plato banished them out of his
commonwealth. Truly this is much, if there be much truth in it.

First, {64} to the first, that a man might better spend his time, is
a reason indeed; but it doth, as they say, but "petere principium."
{65} For if it be, as I affirm, that no learning is so good as that
which teacheth and moveth to virtue, and that none can both teach
and move thereto so much as poesy, then is the conclusion manifest,
that ink and paper cannot be to a more profitable purpose employed.
And certainly, though a man should grant their first assumption, it
should follow, methinks, very unwillingly, that good is not good
because better is better. But I still and utterly deny that there
is sprung out of earth a more fruitful knowledge.

To {66} the second, therefore, that they should be the principal
liars, I answer paradoxically, but truly, I think truly, that of all
writers under the sun, the poet is the least liar; and though he
would, as a poet, can scarcely be a liar. The astronomer, with his
cousin the geometrician, can hardly escape when they take upon them
to measure the height of the stars. How often, think you, do the
physicians lie, when they aver things good for sicknesses, which
afterwards send Charon a great number of souls drowned in a potion
before they come to his ferry. And no less of the rest which take
upon them to affirm. Now for the poet, he nothing affirmeth, and
therefore never lieth; for, as I take it, to lie is to affirm that
to be true which is false: so as the other artists, and especially
the historian, affirmeth many things, can, in the cloudy knowledge
of mankind, hardly escape from many lies: but the poet, as I said
before, never affirmeth; the poet never maketh any circles about
your imagination, to conjure you to believe for true what he
writeth: he citeth not authorities of other histories, but even for
his entry calleth the sweet Muses to inspire into him a good
invention; in troth, not labouring to tell you what is or is not,
but what should or should not be. And, therefore, though he recount
things not true, yet because he telleth them not for true he lieth
not; without we will say that Nathan lied in his speech, before
alleged, to David; which, as a wicked man durst scarce say, so think
I none so simple would say, that AEsop lied in the tales of his
beasts; for who thinketh that AEsop wrote it for actually true, were
well worthy to have his name chronicled among the beasts he writeth
of. What child is there that cometh to a play, and seeing Thebes
written in great letters upon an old door, doth believe that it is
Thebes? If then a man can arrive to the child's age, to know that
the poet's persons and doings are but pictures what should be, and
not stories what have been, they will never give the lie to things
not affirmatively, but allegorically and figuratively written; and
therefore, as in history, looking for truth, they may go away full
fraught with falsehood, so in poesy, looking but for fiction, they
shall use the narration but as an imaginative ground-plot of a
profitable invention.

But hereto is replied, that the poets give names to men they write
of, which argueth a conceit of an actual truth, and so, not being
true, proveth a falsehood. And doth the lawyer lie then, when,
under the names of John of the Stile, and John of the Nokes, he
putteth his case? But that is easily answered, their naming of men
is but to make their picture the more lively, and not to build any
history. Painting men, they cannot leave men nameless; we see we
cannot play at chess but that we must give names to our chess-men:
and yet, methinks, he were a very partial champion of truth that
would say we lied for giving a piece of wood the reverend title of a
bishop. The poet nameth Cyrus and AEneas no other way than to show
what men of their fames, fortunes, and estates should do.

Their {67} third is, how much it abuseth men's wit, training it to a
wanton sinfulness and lustful love. For, indeed, that is the
principal if not only abuse I can hear alleged. They say the
comedies rather teach, than reprehend, amorous conceits; they say
the lyric is larded with passionate sonnets; the elegiac weeps the
want of his mistress; and that even to the heroical Cupid hath
ambitiously climbed. Alas! Love, I would thou couldst as well
defend thyself, as thou canst offend others! I would those on whom
thou dost attend, could either put thee away or yield good reason
why they keep thee! But grant love of beauty to be a beastly fault,
although it be very hard, since only man, and no beast, hath that
gift to discern beauty; grant that lovely name of love to deserve
all hateful reproaches, although even some of my masters the
philosophers spent a good deal of their lamp-oil in setting forth
the excellency of it; grant, I say, what they will have granted,
that not only love, but lust, but vanity, but, if they list,
scurrility, possess many leaves of the poets' books; yet, think I,
when this is granted, they will find their sentence may, with good
manners, put the last words foremost; and not say that poetry
abuseth man's wit, but that man's wit abuseth poetry. For I will
not deny but that man's wit may make poesy, which should be [Greek
text], which some learned have defined, figuring forth good things,
to be [Greek text], which doth contrariwise infect the fancy with
unworthy objects; as the painter, who should give to the eye either
some excellent perspective, or some fine picture fit for building or
fortification, or containing in it some notable example, as Abraham
sacrificing his son Isaac, Judith killing Holofernes, David fighting
with Goliath, may leave those, and please an ill-pleased eye with
wanton shows of better-hidden matters.

But, what! shall the abuse of a thing make the right use odious?
Nay, truly, though I yield that poesy may not only be abused, but
that being abused, by the reason of his sweet charming force, it can
do more hurt than any other army of words, yet shall it be so far
from concluding, that the abuse shall give reproach to the abused,
that, contrariwise, it is a good reason, that whatsoever being
abused, doth most harm, being rightly used (and upon the right use
each thing receives his title) doth most good. Do we not see skill
of physic, the best rampire {68} to our often-assaulted bodies,
being abused, teach poison, the most violent destroyer? Doth not
knowledge of law, whose end is to even and right all things, being
abused, grow the crooked fosterer of horrible injuries? Doth not
(to go in the highest) God's word abused breed heresy, and His name
abused become blasphemy? Truly, a needle cannot do much hurt, and
as truly (with leave of ladies be it spoken) it cannot do much good.
With a sword thou mayest kill thy father, and with a sword thou
mayest defend thy prince and country; so that, as in their calling
poets fathers of lies, they said nothing, so in this their argument
of abuse, they prove the commendation.

They allege herewith, that before poets began to be in price, our
nation had set their heart's delight upon action, and not
imagination; rather doing things worthy to be written, than writing
things fit to be done. What that before time was, I think scarcely
Sphynx can tell; since no memory is so ancient that gives not the
precedence to poetry. And certain it is, that, in our plainest
homeliness, yet never was the Albion nation without poetry. Marry,
this argument, though it be levelled against poetry, yet it is
indeed a chain-shot against all learning or bookishness, as they
commonly term it. Of such mind were certain Goths, of whom it is
written, that having in the spoil of a famous city taken a fair
library, one hangman, belike fit to execute the fruits of their
wits, who had murdered a great number of bodies, would have set fire
in it. "No," said another, very gravely, "take heed what you do,
for while they are busy about those toys, we shall with more leisure
conquer their countries." This, indeed, is the ordinary doctrine of
ignorance, and many words sometimes I have heard spent in it; but
because this reason is generally against all learning as well as
poetry, or rather all learning but poetry; because it were too large
a digression to handle it, or at least too superfluous, since it is
manifest that all government of action is to be gotten by knowledge,
and knowledge best by gathering many knowledges, which is reading,;
I only say with Horace, to him that is of that opinion,

"Jubeo stultum esse libenter--" {69}

for as for poetry itself, it is the freest from this, objection, for
poetry is the companion of camps. I dare undertake, Orlando
Furioso, or honest King Arthur, will never displease a soldier: but
the quiddity of "ens" and "prima materia" will hardly agree with a
corslet. And, therefore, as I said in the beginning, even Turks and
Tartars are delighted with poets. Homer, a Greek, flourished before
Greece flourished; and if to a slight conjecture a conjecture may be
opposed, truly it may seem, that as by him their learned men took
almost their first light of knowledge, so their active men receive
their first notions of courage. Only Alexander's example may serve,
who by Plutarch is accounted of such virtue that fortune was not his
guide but his footstool; whose acts speak for him, though Plutarch
did not; indeed, the phoenix of warlike princes. This Alexander
left his schoolmaster, living Aristotle, behind him, but took dead
Homer with him. He put the philosopher Callisthenes to death, for
his seeming philosophical, indeed mutinous, stubbornness; but the
chief thing he was ever heard to wish for was that Homer had been
alive. He well found he received more bravery of mind by the
pattern of Achilles, than by hearing the definition of fortitude.
And, therefore, if Cato misliked Fulvius for carrying Ennius with
him to the field, it may be answered that if Cato misliked it the
noble Fulvius liked it, or else he had not done it; for it was not
the excellent Cato Uticensis whose authority I would much more have
reverenced, but it was the former, in truth a bitter punisher of
faults, but else a man that had never sacrificed to the Graces. He
misliked, and cried out against, all Greek learning, and yet, being
fourscore years old, began to learn it, belike fearing that Pluto
understood not Latin. Indeed, the Roman laws allowed no person to
be carried to the wars but he that was in the soldiers' roll. And,
therefore, though Cato misliked his unmustered person, he misliked
not his work. And if he had, Scipio Nasica (judged by common
consent the best Roman) loved him: both the other Scipio brothers,
who had by their virtues no less surnames than of Asia and Afric, so
loved him that they caused his body to be buried in their sepulture.
So, as Cato's authority being but against his person, and that
answered with so far greater than himself, is herein of no validity.

But {70} now, indeed, my burthen is great, that Plato's name is laid
upon me, whom, I must confess, of all philosophers I have ever
esteemed most worthy of reverence; and with good reason, since of
all philosophers he is the most poetical; yet if he will defile the
fountain out of which his flowing streams have proceeded, let us
boldly examine with what reason he did it.

First, truly, a man might maliciously object that Plato, being a
philosopher, was a natural enemy of poets. For, indeed, after the
philosophers had picked out of the sweet mysteries of poetry the
right discerning of true points of knowledge, they forthwith,
putting it in method, and making a school of art of that which the
poets did only teach by a divine delightfulness, beginning to spurn
at their guides, like ungrateful apprentices, were not content to
set up shop for themselves, but sought by all means to discredit
their masters; which, by the force of delight being barred them, the
less they could overthrow them, the more they hated them. For,
indeed, they found for Homer seven cities strove who should have him
for their citizen, where many cities banished philosophers as not
fit members to live among them. For only repeating certain of
Euripides' verses many Athenians had their lives saved of the
Syracusans, where the Athenians themselves thought many of the
philosophers unworthy to live. Certain poets, as Simonides and
Pindar, had so prevailed with Hiero the First, that of a tyrant they
made him a just king; where Plato could do so little with Dionysius
that he himself, of a philosopher, was made a slave. But who should
do thus, I confess, should requite the objections raised against
poets with like cavillations against philosophers; as likewise one
should do that should bid one read Phaedrus or Symposium in Plato,
or the discourse of Love in Plutarch, and see whether any poet do
authorise abominable filthiness as they do.

Again, a man might ask, out of what Commonwealth Plato doth banish
them? In sooth, thence where he himself alloweth community of
women. So, as belike this banishment grew not for effeminate
wantonness, since little should poetical sonnets be hurtful, when a
man might have what woman he listed. But I honour philosophical
instructions, and bless the wits which bred them, so as they be not
abused, which is likewise stretched to poetry. Saint Paul himself
sets a watchword upon philosophy, indeed upon the abuse. So doth
Plato upon the abuse, not upon poetry. Plato found fault that the
poets of his time filled the world with wrong opinions of the gods,
making light tales of that unspotted essence, and therefore would
not have the youth depraved with such opinions. Herein may much be
said; let this suffice: the poets did not induce such opinions, but
did imitate those opinions already induced. For all the Greek
stories can well testify that the very religion of that time stood
upon many and many-fashioned gods; not taught so by poets, but
followed according to their nature of imitation. Who list may read
in Plutarch the discourses of Isis and Osiris, of the cause why
oracles ceased, of the Divine providence, and see whether the
theology of that nation stood not upon such dreams, which the poets
indeed superstitiously observed; and truly, since they had not the
light of Christ, did much better in it than the philosophers, who,
shaking off superstition, brought in atheism.

Plato, therefore, whose authority I had much rather justly construe
than unjustly resist, meant not in general of poets, in those words
of which Julius Scaliger saith, "qua authoritate, barbari quidam
atque insipidi, abuti velint ad poetas e republica exigendos {71}:"
but only meant to drive out those wrong opinions of the Deity,
whereof now, without farther law, Christianity hath taken away all
the hurtful belief, perchance as he thought nourished by then
esteemed poets. And a man need go no farther than to Plato himself
to know his meaning; who, in his dialogue called "Ion," {72} giveth
high, and rightly, divine commendation unto poetry. So as Plato,
banishing the abuse, not the thing, not banishing it, but giving due
honour to it, shall be our patron, and not our adversary. For,
indeed, I had much rather, since truly I may do it, show their
mistaking of Plato, under whose lion's skin they would make an ass-
like braying against poesy, than go about to overthrow his
authority; whom, the wiser a man is, the more just cause he shall
find to have in admiration; especially since he attributeth unto
poesy more than myself do, namely, to be a very inspiring of a
divine force, far above man's wit, as in the fore-named dialogue is

Of the other side, who would show the honours have been by the best
sort of judgments granted them, a whole sea of examples would
present themselves; Alexanders, Caesars, Scipios, all favourers of
poets; Laelius, called the Roman Socrates, himself a poet; so as
part of Heautontimeroumenos, in Terence, was supposed to be made by
him. And even the Greek Socrates, whom Apollo confirmed to be the
only wise man, is said to have spent part of his old time in putting
AEsop's Fables into verse; and, therefore, full evil should it
become his scholar Plato to put such words in his master's mouth
against poets. But what needs more? Aristotle writes the "Art of
Poesy;" and why, if it should not be written? Plutarch teacheth the
use to be gathered of them; and how, if they should not be read?
And who reads Plutarch's either history or philosophy, shall find he
trimmeth both their garments with guards {73} of poesy.

But I list not to defend poesy with the help of his underling
historiographer. Let it suffice to have showed it is a fit soil for
praise to dwell upon; and what dispraise may be set upon it is
either easily overcome, or transformed into just commendation. So
that since the excellences of it may be so easily and so justly
confirmed, and the low creeping objections so soon trodden down
{74}; it not being an art of lies, but of true doctrine; not of
effeminateness, but of notable stirring of courage; not of abusing
man's wit, but of strengthening man's wit; not banished, but
honoured by Plato; let us rather plant more laurels for to ingarland
the poets' heads (which honour of being laureate, as besides them
only triumphant captains were, is a sufficient authority to show the
price they ought to be held in) than suffer the ill-favoured breath
of such wrong speakers once to blow upon the clear springs of poesy.

But {75} since I have run so long a career in this matter, methinks,
before I give my pen a full stop, it shall be but a little more lost
time to inquire, why England, the mother of excellent minds, should
be grown so hard a step-mother to poets, who certainly in wit ought
to pass all others, since all only proceeds from their wit, being,
indeed, makers of themselves, not takers of others. How can I but

"Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso?" {76}

Sweet poesy! that hath anciently had kings, emperors, senators,
great captains, such as, besides a thousand others, David, Adrian,
Sophocles, Germanicus, not only to favour poets, but to be poets;
and of our nearer times can present for her patrons, a Robert, King
of Sicily; the great King Francis of France; King James of Scotland;
such cardinals as Bembus and Bibiena; such famous preachers and
teachers as Beza and Melancthon; so learned philosophers as
Fracastorius and Scaliger; so great orators as Pontanus and Muretus;
so piercing wits as George Buchanan; so grave councillors as,
besides many, but before all, that Hospital {77} of France, than
whom, I think, that realm never brought forth a more accomplished
judgment more firmly builded upon virtue; I say these, with numbers
of others, not only to read others' poesies, but to poetise for
others' reading: that poesy, thus embraced in all other places,
should only find in our time a hard welcome in England, I think the
very earth laments it, and therefore decks our soil with fewer
laurels than it was accustomed. For heretofore poets have in
England also flourished; and, which is to be noted, even in those
times when the trumpet of Mars did sound loudest. And now that an
over-faint quietness should seem to strew the house for poets, they
are almost in as good reputation as the mountebanks at Venice.
Truly, even that, as of the one side it giveth great praise to
poesy, which, like Venus (but to better purpose), had rather be
troubled in the net with Mars, than enjoy the homely quiet of
Vulcan; so serveth it for a piece of a reason why they are less
grateful to idle England, which now can scarce endure the pain of a
pen. Upon this necessarily followeth that base men with servile
wits undertake it, who think it enough if they can be rewarded of
the printer; and so as Epaminondas is said, with the honour of his
virtue, to have made an office by his exercising it, which before
was contemptible, to become highly respected; so these men, no more
but setting their names to it, by their own disgracefulness,
disgrace the most graceful poesy. For now, as if all the Muses were
got with child, to bring forth bastard poets, without any
commission, they do post over the banks of Helicon, until they make
their readers more weary than post-horses; while, in the meantime,

"Queis meliore luto finxit praecordia Titan," {78}

are better content to suppress the outflowings of their wit, than by
publishing them to be accounted knights of the same order.

But I that, before ever I durst aspire unto the dignity, am admitted
into the company of the paper-blurrers, do find the very true cause
of our wanting estimation is want of desert, taking upon us to be
poets in despite of Pallas. Now, wherein we want desert, were a
thankworthy labour to express. But if I knew, I should have mended
myself; but as I never desired the title so have I neglected the
means to come by it; only, overmastered by some thoughts, I yielded
an inky tribute unto them. Marry, they that delight in poesy
itself, should seek to know what they do, and how they do,
especially look themselves in an unflattering glass of reason, if
they be inclinable unto it.

For poesy must not be drawn by the ears, it must be gently led, or
rather it must lead; which was partly the cause that made the
ancient learned affirm it was a divine, and no human skill, since
all other knowledges lie ready for any that have strength of wit; a
poet no industry can make, if his own genius be not carried into it.
And therefore is an old proverb, "Orator fit, poeta nascitur." {79}
Yet confess I always, that as the fertilest ground must be manured,
so must the highest flying wit have a Daedalus to guide him. That
Daedalus, they say, both in this and in other, hath three wings to
bear itself up into the air of due commendation; that is art,
imitation, and exercise. But these, neither artificial rules, nor
imitative patterns, we much cumber ourselves withal. Exercise,
indeed, we do, but that very forebackwardly; for where we should
exercise to know, we exercise as having known; and so is our brain
delivered of much matter which never was begotten by knowledge. For
there being two principal parts, matter to be expressed by words,
and words to express the matter, in neither we use art or imitation
rightly. Our matter is "quodlibet," {80} indeed, although wrongly,
performing Ovid's verse,

"Quicquid conabor dicere, versus erit;" {81}

never marshalling it into any assured rank, that almost the readers
cannot tell where to find themselves.

Chaucer, undoubtedly, did excellently in his Troilus and Cressida;
of whom, truly, I know not whether to marvel more, either that he in
that misty time could see so clearly, or that we in this clear age
go so stumblingly after him. Yet had he great wants, fit to be
forgiven in so reverend antiquity. I account the Mirror of
Magistrates meetly furnished of beautiful parts. And in the Earl of
Surrey's Lyrics, many things tasting of a noble birth, and worthy of
a noble mind. The "Shepherds' Kalendar" hath much poesy in his
eclogues, indeed, worthy the reading, if I be not deceived. That
same framing of his {82} style to an old rustic language, I dare not
allow; since neither Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor
Sannazaro in Italian, did affect it. Besides these, I do not
remember to have seen but few (to speak boldly) printed that have
poetical sinews in them. For proof whereof, let but most of the
verses be put in prose, and then ask the meaning, and it will be
found that one verse did but beget another, without ordering at the
first what should be at the last; which becomes a confused mass of
words, with a tinkling sound of rhyme, barely accompanied with

Our {83} tragedies and comedies, not without cause, are cried out
against, observing rules neither of honest civility nor skilful
poetry. Excepting Gorboduc (again I say of those that I have seen),
which notwithstanding, as it is full of stately speeches, and well-
sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca his style, and as
full of notable morality, which it does most delightfully teach, and
so obtain the very end of poesy; yet, in truth, it is very
defectuous in the circumstances, which grieves me, because it might
not remain as an exact model of all tragedies. For it is faulty
both in place and time, the two necessary companions of all corporal
actions. For where the stage should always represent but one place;
and the uttermost time presupposed in it should be, both by
Aristotle's precept, and common reason, but one day; there is both
many days and many places inartificially imagined.

But if it be so in Gorboduc, how much more in all the rest? where
you shall have Asia of the one side, and Afric of the other, and so
many other under kingdoms, that the player, when he comes in, must
ever begin with telling where he is, {84} or else the tale will not
be conceived. Now shall you have three ladies walk to gather
flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden. By and
by, we hear news of shipwreck in the same place, then we are to
blame if we accept it not for a rock. Upon the back of that comes
out a hideous monster with fire and smoke, and then the miserable
beholders are bound to take it for a cave; while, in the meantime,
two armies fly in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and
then, what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field?

Now of time they are much more liberal; for ordinary it is, that two
young princes fall in love; after many traverses she is got with
child; delivered of a fair boy; he is lost, groweth a man, falleth
in love, and is ready to get another child; and all this in two
hours' space; which, how absurd it is in sense, even sense may
imagine; and art hath taught and all ancient examples justified, and
at this day the ordinary players in Italy will not err in. Yet will
some bring in an example of the Eunuch in Terence, that containeth
matter of two days, yet far short of twenty years. True it is, and
so was it to be played in two days, and so fitted to the time it set
forth. And though Plautus have in one place done amiss, let us hit
it with him, and not miss with him. But they will say, How then
shall we set forth a story which contains both many places and many
times? And do they not know, that a tragedy is tied to the laws of
poesy, and not of history; not bound to follow the story, but having
liberty either to feign a quite new matter, or to frame the history
to the most tragical convenience? Again, many things may be told,
which cannot be showed: if they know the difference betwixt
reporting and representing. As for example, I may speak, though I
am here, of Peru, and in speech digress from that to the description
of Calicut; but in action I cannot represent it without Pacolet's
horse. And so was the manner the ancients took by some "Nuntius,"
{85} to recount things done in former time, or other place.

Lastly, if they will represent an history, they must not, as Horace
saith, begin "ab ovo," {86} but they must come to the principal
point of that one action which they will represent. By example this
will be best expressed; I have a story of young Polydorus,
delivered, for safety's sake, with great riches, by his father
Priamus to Polymnestor, King of Thrace, in the Trojan war time. He,
after some years, hearing of the overthrow of Priamus, for to make
the treasure his own, murdereth the child; the body of the child is
taken up; Hecuba, she, the same day, findeth a sleight to be
revenged most cruelly of the tyrant. Where, now, would one of our
tragedy-writers begin, but with the delivery of the child? Then
should he sail over into Thrace, and so spend I know not how many
years, and travel numbers of places. But where doth Euripides?
Even with the finding of the body; leaving the rest to be told by
the spirit of Polydorus. This needs no farther to be enlarged; the
dullest wit may conceive it.

But, besides these gross absurdities, how all their plays be neither
right tragedies nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not
because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in the clown by head
and shoulders to play a part in majestical matters, with neither
decency nor discretion; so as neither the admiration and
commiseration, nor the right sportfulness, is by their mongrel
tragi-comedy obtained. I know Apuleius did somewhat so, but that is
a thing recounted with space of time, not represented in one moment:
and I know the ancients have one or two examples of tragi-comedies
as Plautus hath Amphytrio. But, if we mark them well, we shall
find, that they never, or very daintily, match horn-pipes and
funerals. So falleth it out, that having indeed no right comedy in
that comical part of our tragedy, we have nothing but scurrility,
unworthy of any chaste ears; or some extreme show of doltishness,
indeed fit to lift up a loud laughter, and nothing else; where the
whole tract of a comedy should be full of delight; as the tragedy
should be still maintained in a well-raised admiration.

But our comedians think there is no delight without laughter, which
is very wrong; for though laughter may come with delight, yet cometh
it not of delight, as though delight should be the cause of
laughter; but well may one thing breed both together. Nay, in
themselves, they have, as it were, a kind of contrariety. For
delight we scarcely do, but in things that have a conveniency to
ourselves, or to the general nature. Laughter almost ever cometh of
things most disproportioned to ourselves and nature: delight hath a
joy in it either permanent or present; laughter hath only a scornful
tickling. For example: we are ravished with delight to see a fair
woman, and yet are far from being moved to laughter; we laugh at
deformed creatures, wherein certainly we cannot delight; we delight
in good chances; we laugh at mischances; we delight to hear the
happiness of our friends and country, at which he were worthy to be
laughed at that would laugh: we shall, contrarily, sometimes laugh
to find a matter quite mistaken, and go down the hill against the
bias, {87} in the mouth of some such men, as for the respect of
them, one shall be heartily sorrow he cannot choose but laugh, and
so is rather pained than delighted with laughter. Yet deny I not,
but that they may go well together; for, as in Alexander's picture
well set out, we delight without laughter, and in twenty mad antics
we laugh without delight: so in Hercules, painted with his great
beard and furious countenance, in a woman's attire, spinning at
Omphale's commandment, it breeds both delight and laughter; for the
representing of so strange a power in love procures delight, and the
scornfulness of the action stirreth laughter.

But I speak to this purpose, that all the end of the comical part be
not upon such scornful matters as stir laughter only, but mix with
it that delightful teaching which is the end of poesy. And the
great fault, even in that point of laughter, and forbidden plainly
by Aristotle, is, that they stir laughter in sinful things, which
are rather execrable than ridiculous; or in miserable, which are
rather to be pitied than scorned. For what is it to make folks gape
at a wretched beggar, and a beggarly clown; or against the law of
hospitality, to jest at strangers, because they speak not English so
well as we do? what do we learn, since it is certain,

"Nil habet infelix pauperatas durius in se,
Quam qnod ridiculos, homines facit." {88}

But rather a busy loving courtier, and a heartless threatening
Thraso; a self-wise seeming school-master; a wry-transformed
traveller: these, if we saw walk in stage names, which we play
naturally, therein were delightful laughter, and teaching
delightfulness: as in the other, the tragedies of Buchanan {89} do
justly bring forth a divine admiration.

But I have lavished out too many words of this play matter; I do it,
because, as they are excelling parts of poesy, so is there none so
much used in England, and none can be more pitifully abused; which,
like an unmannerly daughter, showing a bad education, causeth her
mother Poesy's honesty to be called in question.

Other {90} sorts of poetry, almost, have we none, but that lyrical
kind of songs and sonnets, which, if the Lord gave us so good minds,
how well it might be employed, and with how heavenly fruits, both
private and public, in singing the praises of the immortal beauty,
the immortal goodness of that God, who giveth us hands to write, and
wits to conceive; of which we might well want words, but never
matter; of which we could turn our eyes to nothing, but we should
ever have new budding occasions.

But, truly, many of such writings as come under the banner of
unresistible love, if I were a mistress, would never persuade me
they were in love; so coldly they apply fiery speeches, as men that
had rather read lover's writings, and so caught up certain swelling
phrases, which hang together like a man that once told me, "the wind
was at north-west and by south," because he would be sure to name
winds enough; than that, in truth, they feel those passions, which
easily, as I think, may be bewrayed by the same forcibleness, or
"energia" (as the Greeks call it), of the writer. But let this be a
sufficient, though short note, that we miss the right use of the
material point of poesy.

Now {91} for the outside of it, which is words, or (as I may term
it) diction, it is even well worse; so is that honey-flowing matron
eloquence, apparelled, or rather disguised, in a courtesan-like
painted affectation. One time with so far-fetched words, that many
seem monsters, but most seem strangers to any poor Englishman:
another time with coursing of a letter, as if they were bound to
follow the method of a dictionary: another time with figures and
flowers, extremely winter-starved.

But I would this fault were only peculiar to versifiers, and had not
as large possession among prose printers: and, which is to be
marvelled, among many scholars, and, which is to be pitied, among
some preachers. Truly, I could wish (if at least I might be so bold
to wish, in a thing beyond the reach of my capacity) the diligent
imitators of Tully and Demosthenes, most worthy to be imitated, did
not so much keep Nizolian paper-books {92} of their figures and
phrases, as by attentive translation, as it were, devour them whole,
and make them wholly theirs. For now they cast sugar and spice upon
every dish that is served at the table: like those Indians, not
content to wear ear-rings at the fit and natural place of the ears,
but they will thrust jewels through their nose and lips, because
they will be sure to be fine.

Tully, when he was to drive out Catiline, as it were with a
thunderbolt of eloquence, often useth the figure of repetition, as
"vivit et vincit, imo in senatum venit, imo in senatum venit," &c.
{93} Indeed, inflamed with a well-grounded rage, he would have his
words, as it were, double out of his mouth; and so do that
artificially which we see men in choler do naturally. And we,
having noted the grace of those words, hale them in sometimes to a
familiar epistle, when it were too much choler to be choleric.

How well, store of "similiter cadences" doth sound with the gravity
of the pulpit, I would but invoke Demosthenes' soul to tell, who
with a rare daintiness useth them. Truly, they have made me think
of the sophister, that with too much subtlety would prove two eggs
three, and though he may be counted a sophister, had none for his
labour. So these men bringing in such a kind of eloquence, well may
they obtain an opinion of a seeming fineness, but persuade few,
which should be the end of their fineness.

Now for similitudes in certain printed discourses, I think all
herbalists, all stories of beasts, fowls, and fishes are rifled up,
that they may come in multitudes to wait upon any of our conceits,
which certainly is as absurd a surfeit to the ears as is possible.
For the force of a similitude not being to prove anything to a
contrary disputer, but only to explain to a willing hearer: when
that is done, the rest is a most tedious prattling, rather
overswaying the memory from the purpose whereto they were applied,
than any whit informing the judgment, already either satisfied, or
by similitudes not to be satisfied.

For my part, I do not doubt, when Antonius and Crassus, the great
forefathers of Cicero in eloquence; the one (as Cicero testifieth of
them) pretended not to know art, the other not to set by it, because
with a plain sensibleness they might win credit of popular ears,
which credit is the nearest step to persuasion (which persuasion is
the chief mark of oratory); I do not doubt, I say, but that they
used these knacks very sparingly; which who doth generally use, any
man may see, doth dance to his own music; and so to he noted by the
audience, more careful to speak curiously than truly. Undoubtedly
(at least to my opinion undoubtedly) I have found in divers small-
learned courtiers a more sound style than in some professors of
learning; of which I can guess no other cause, but that the courtier
following that which by practice he findeth fittest to nature,
therein (though he know it not) doth according to art, though not by
art: where the other, using art to show art, and not hide art (as
in these cases he should do), flieth from nature, and indeed abuseth

But what! methinks I deserve to be pounded {94} for straying from
poetry to oratory: but both have such an affinity in the wordish
considerations, that I think this digression will make my meaning
receive the fuller understanding: which is not to take upon me to
teach poets how they should do, but only finding myself sick among
the rest, to allow sonic one or two spots of the common infection
grown among the most part of writers; that, acknowledging ourselves
somewhat awry, we may bend to the right use both of matter and
manner: whereto our language giveth us great occasion, being,
indeed, capable of any excellent exercising of it. {95} I know some
will say, it is a mingled language: and why not so much the better,
taking the best of both the other? Another will say, it wanteth
grammar. Nay, truly, it hath that praise, that it wants not
grammar; for grammar it might have, but needs it not; being so easy
in itself, and so void of those cumbersome differences of cases,
genders, moods, and tenses; which, I think, was a piece of the tower
of Babylon's curse, that a man should be put to school to learn his
mother tongue. But for the uttering sweetly and properly the
conceit of the mind, which is the end of speech, that hath it
equally with any other tongue in the world, and is particularly
happy in compositions of two or three words together, near the

Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest