Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
De Malignitate Studentium
By Ben Jonson (15721637)
From Timber: or, Discoveries made upon Men and Matter
THERE be some men are born only to suck out the poison of books: Habent venenum pro victu; imo, pro deliciis.1 And such are they that only relish the obscene and foul things in poets; which makes the profession taxed. But by whom? Men that watch for it; and (had they not had this hint) are so unjust valuers of letters, as they think no learning good but what brings in gain. It shows they themselves would never have been of the professions they are, but for the profits and fees. But if another learning, well used, can instruct to good life, inform manners, no less persuade and lead men, than they threaten and compel, and have no reward: is it therefore the worse study? I could never think the study of wisdom confined only to the philosopher; or of piety to the divine; or of state to the politic: but that he which can feign a commonwealth (which is the poet) can govern it with counsels, strengthen it with laws, correct it with judgments, inform it with religion and morals is all these. We do not require in him mere elocution, or an excellent faculty in verse, but the exact knowledge of all virtues, and their contraries, with ability to render the one loved, the other hated, by his proper embattling them. The philosophers did insolently, to challenge only to themselves that which the greatest generals and gravest counsellors never durst. For such had rather do, than promise the best things.