« PreviousContinue »
imperii,” the portraiture of a just empire, under the name of Cyrus, as Cicero saith of him, made therein an absolute heroical poem. So did Heliodorus, in his sugаred invention of that picture of love in Theagenes and Chariclea, and yet both those wrote in prose: which I speak to show that 24 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 chanceably fall from the mouth, but piecing each syllable of each word by just proportion, according to the dignity of the subject.
Now, therefore, it shall not be amiss first to weigh this latter sort of poetry by his works, and then by his parts; and if in neither of these 25 anatomies he be condemnable, 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 learned, 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, 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 demigods, 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 inquiring
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 åpXITEKTOVLK), -which stands, as I think, in the knowledge of a man's self, in the ethic and politic consideration, with end of well-doing, and not of well-knowing only: even as the saddler's 26 next end is to make a good saddle, but his further 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 27 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: among whom principally to challenge it, step forth the moral philosophers; whom, methinks, I see coming towards me with a sullen gravity, as though they could not abide vice by daylight; rudely clothed, 28 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 29 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 ? 30 The historian scarce gives leisure to the moralist to say so much, but that he (loaden with old mouse-eaten records; authorizing himself, for the most part, upon other histories, whose greatest
authorities are built upon the notable foundation hearsay; having inuch 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 31“ testis temporum, lux veritatis, vita memoriae, magistra vitae, nuncia vetustatis.” The philosopher, saith he, teacheth a disputative virtue, but I do an active: his virtue is exceliert 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 songbook, 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 32 makes a point in this, that the one giveth the precept, and the other the example. Now whom shall we find, since the question standeth for the highest form in the school of learning, to be mediator? 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 sitting down with the 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 34 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 not necessary consequence, and therefore a less fruitful doctrine. Now 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 straightways grow, without need of any description, to a 36 judicial comprehending of them: so, no doubt, the philosopher, with his learned definitions, be it of virtues or vice, 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 helps, to make us know what force the 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-indevouring cruelty in his father Atreus; the violence of ambition in the two Theban brothers; the sour sweetness of revenge in Medaea; and, to fall lower, the Terentian Gnatho, and our Chaucer's Pander, 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 Moore's Utopia ? I say, the way, because where Sir Thomas Moore erred, it was the fault of the man, and not of the poet: for that way of patterning a commonwealth was most 36 absolute, though he, perchance, hath not so absolutely performed it. For the