Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
De Bonis et MalisDe Innocentia
By Ben Jonson (15721637)
From Timber: or, Discoveries made upon Men and Matter
A GOOD man will avoid the spot of any sin. The very aspersion is grievous; which makes him choose his way in his life, as he would in his journey. The ill man rides through all confidently; he is coated and booted for it. The oftener he offends, the more openly; and the fouler, the fitter in fashion. His modesty, like a riding coat, the more it is worn, is the less cared for. It is good enough for the dirt still, and the ways he travels in. An innocent man needs no eloquence; his innocence is instead of it; else I had never come off so many times from these precipices, whither mens malice hath pursued me. It is true, I have been accused to the lords, to the king, and by great ones: but it happened my accusers had not thought of the accusation with themselves; and so were driven, for want of crimes, to use invention, which was found slander: or too late (being entered so far) to seek starting holes for their rashness, which were not given them. And then they may think what accusation that was like to prove, when they that were the engineers feared to be the authors. Nor were they content to feign things against me, but to urge things feigned by the ignorant against my profession; which though, from their hired and mercenary impudence, I might have passed by, as granted to a nation of barkers, that let out their tongues to lick others sores; yet I durst not leave myself undefended, having a pair of ears unskilful to hear lies, or have those things said of me, which I could truly prove of them. They objected making of verses to me, when I could object to most of them, their not being able to read them, but as worthy of scorn. Nay, they would offer to urge mine own writings against me, but by pieces (which was an excellent way of malice): as if any mans context might not seem dangerous and offensive, if that which was knit to what went before were defrauded of his beginning; or that things by themselves uttered might not seem subject to calumny, which read entire, would appear most free. At last they upbraided my poverty: I confess she is my domestic; sober of diet, simple of habit, frugal, painful, a good counsellor to me, that keeps me from cruelty, pride, or other more delicate impertinences, which are the nurse-children of riches. But let them look over all the great and monstrous wickednesses, they shall never find those in poor families. They are the issue of the wealthy giants, and the mighty hunters: whereas no great work, or worthy of praise or memory, but came out of poor cradles. It was the ancient poverty that founded commonweals, built cities, invented arts, made wholesome laws, armed men against vices, rewarded them with their own virtues, and preserved the honour and state of nations, till they betrayed themselves to riches.