Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

(John LYLY, English stylist, was born in Kent, 1553. He graduated from Magdalen College, Oxford, 1573 ; studied also at Cambridge. He was in Lord Burghley's household, vice master of St. Paul's choristers; member of Parliament (1597–1601); buried November 30, 1606. He published “ Euphues, or the Anatomie of Wit" (1579), “Euphues and his England” (1580), and several comedies later. ]

It was my fortune to be acquainted with certain English gentlemen, which brought me to the court, where, when I came, I was driven into amaze to behold the lusty and brave gallants, the beautiful and chaste ladies, the rare and godly orders, so as I could not tell whether I should most commend virtue or bravery. At the last, coming oftener thither than it beseemed one of my degree, yet not so often as they desired my company, I began to pry after their manners, natures, and lives, and that which followeth I saw, whereof whoso doubteth I will swear.

The ladies spend the morning in devout prayer, not resembling the gentlewomen in Greece and Italy, who begin their morning at midnoon and make their evening at midnight, using sonnets for psalms and pastimes for prayers, reading the epistle of a lover when they should peruse the Gospel of our Lord, drawing wanton lines when death is before their face, as Archimedes did triangles and circles when the enemy was at his back. Behold, ladies, in this glass, that the service of God is to be preferred before all things, imitate the English damoselles, who have their books tied to their girdles, not feathers, who are as cunning in the Scriptures as you are in Ariosto or Petrarch, or any book that liketh you best and becometh you most.

For bravery I cannot say that you exceed them, for certain it is the most gorgeous court that ever I have seen, read, or heard of; but yet do they not use their apparel so nicely as you in Italy, who think scorn to kneel at service for fear of wrinkles in your silks, who dare not lift up your head to heaven for fear of rumpling the ruffs in your neck, yet your hands, I conceive, are holden up rather, I think, to show your rings than to manifest your righteousness. The bravery they use is for the honor of their prince, the attire you wear for the alluring of your prey; the rich apparel maketh their beauty more seen, your disguising causeth your faces to be more suspected; they resemble in their raiment the elfrich, who, being gazed on, closeth her wings and hideth her feathers, you in your robes are not unlike the peacock, who, being praised, spreadeth his tail and bewrayeth his pride. Velvets and silks in them are like gold about a pure diamond, in you like a green

, hedge about a filthy dunghill. Think not, ladies, that because you are decked with gold you are endued with grace; imagine not that shining like the sun in earth ye shall climb the sun in heaven; look diligently into this English glass, and then shall you see that the more costly your apparel is the greater your courtesy should be, that you ought to be as far from pride as you are from poverty, and as near to princes in beauty as you are in brightness. Because you are brave disdain not those who are base; think with yourselves that russet coats have their christendom, that the sun when he is at his height shineth as well upon coarse kersey as cloth of tissue; though you have pearls in your ears, jewels in your breasts, precious stones on your fingers, yet disdain not the stones in the street, which, although they are nothing so noble, yet are they much more necessary. Let not your robes hinder your devotion ; learn of the English ladies that God is worthy to be worshiped with the most price, to whom you ought to give all praise: then shall you be like stars to the wise, who are now but staring flocks to the foolish, then shall you be praised of most who are now pointed at of all, then shall God bear with your folly who now abhorreth your pride.

As the ladies in this blessed island are devout and brave, so are they chaste and beautiful ; insomuch that when I first beheld them I could not tell whether some mist had bleared mine eyes or some strange enchantment my mind : for it may be, thought I, that in this island either some Artimedorus or Lisimandro, or some odd necromancer did inhabit, who would show me fairies, or the body of Helen, or the new shape of Venus; but coming to myself and seeing that my senses were not changed but hindered, that the place where I stood was no enchanted castle but a gallant court, I could scarce restrain my voice from crying, " There is no beauty but in England. There did I behold them of pure complexion, exceeding the lily and the rose, of favor (wherein the chiefest beauty consisteth) surpassing the pictures that were feigned, or the magician that would feign, their eyes piercing like the sunbeams yet chaste, their speech pleasant and sweet yet modest and courteous, their gait comely, their bodies straight, their hands white, all things that man could wish or woman would have, which how much it is none can set down, whenas the one desireth as much as may be, the other more. And to these beautiful molds, chaste minds: to these comely bodies, temperance, modesty, mildness, sobriety, whom I often beheld merry yet wise, conferring with courtiers yet warily ; drinking of wine yet moderately, eating of delicates yet but their ear full, listening to discourses of love but not without reasoning of learning: for there it more delighteth them to talk of Robin Hood than to shoot in his bow, and greater pleasure they take to hear of love than to be in love. Here, ladies, is a glass that will make you blush for shame and look wan for anger; their

;

beauty cometh by nature, yours by art; they increase their favors with fair water, you maintain yours with painters' colors ; the hair they lay out groweth upon their own heads, your seemliness hangeth upon others; theirs is always in their own keeping, yours often in the dyer's; their beauty is not lost with a sharp blast, yours fadeth with a soft breath ; not unlike unto paper flowers which break as soon as they are touched, resembling the birds in Egypt called ibes, who, being handled, loose their feathers, or the serpent serapie, which, being but touched with a brake, bursteth. They use their beauty because it is commendable, you because you would be common; they, if they have little, do not seek to make it more, you that have none endeavor to bespeak most; if theirs wither by age they nothing esteem it, if yours waste by years you go about to keep it; they know that beauty must fail if life continue, you swear that it shall not fade if colors last.

But to what end, ladies, do you alter the gifts of nature by the shifts of art? Is there no color good but white, no planet bright but Venus, no linen fair but lawn? Why go ye about to make the face fair by those means that are most foul? a thing loathsome to man and therefore not lovely ; horrible before God and therefore not lawful.

Have you not heard that the beauty of the cradle is most bright, that paintings are for pictures without sense, not for persons with true reason? Follow at the last, ladies, the gentlewomen of England, who, being beautiful, do those things as shall become so amiable faces, if of an indifferent hue, those things as they shall make them lovely, not adding an ounce to beauty that may detract a dram from virtue. Besides this, their hastity and temperance is as rare as their beauty, not going in your footsteps, that drink wine before you rise to increase your color and swill it when you are up to provoke your lust. They use their needle to banish idleness, not the pen to nourish it, not spending their time in answering the letters of those that woo them, but forswearing the company of those that write them, giving no occasion either by wanton looks, unseemly gestures, unadvised speech, or any uncomely behavior of lightness or liking. Contrary to the custom of many countries, where filthy words are accounted to favor of a fine wit, broad speech of a bold courage, wanton glances of a sharp eyesight, wicked deeds of a comely gesture, all vain delights of a right, courteous courtesy.

And yet are they not in England precise but wary, not disdainful to confer but fearful to offend, not without remorse where they perceive truth but without replying where they suspect treachery, whenas among other nations there is no tale so loathsome to chaste ears but it is heard with great sport and answered with great speed.

Is it not then a shame, ladies, that that little island should be a mirror to you, to Europe, to the whole world?

Where is the temperance you profess, when wine is more common than water? where the chastity, when lust is thought lawful? where the modesty, when your mirth turneth to uncleanness, uncleanness to shamelessness, shamelessness to all sinfulness? Learn, ladies, though late, yet at length, that the chiefest title of honor in earth is to give all honor to him that is in heaven; that the greatest bravery in this world is to be burning lamps in the world to come ; that the clearest beauty in this life is to be amiable to him that shall give life eternal. Look in the glass of England, too bright, I fear me, for your eyes : what is there in your sex that they have not, and what that you should not have ?

They are in prayer devout, in bravery humble, in beauty chaste, in feasting temperate, in affection wise, in mirth modest, in all their actions, though courtly because women, yet angels because virtuous.

Ah, good ladies, good, I say, for that I love you, I would you could a little abate that pride of your stomachs, that looseness of mind, that licentious behavior, which I have seen in you, with no small sorrow, and cannot remedy with continual sighs.

They in England pray when you play, sow when you sleep, fast when you feast, and weep for their sins when you laugh at your sensualities.

They frequent the church to serve God, you to see gallants ; they deck themselves for cleanliness, you for pride ; they maintain their beauty for their own liking, you for others’ lust; they refrain wine because they fear to take too much, you because you can take no more. Come, ladies, with tears I call you, look in this glass, repent your sins past, refrain your present vices, abhor vanities to come, say thus with one voice, “We can see our faults only in the English glass ; a glass of grace to them, of grief to you; to them in the stead of righteousness, to you in place of repentance. The lords and gentlemen in that court are also an example for all others to follow,

« PreviousContinue »