John Donne (15721631). The Poems of John Donne. 1896.
The Printer to the Understanders
FOR1 this time I must speak only to you: at another, Readers may perchance serve my turn; and I think this a way very free from exception, in hope that very few will have a mind to confess themselves ignorant.
If you look for an Epistle, as you have before ordinary publications, I am sorry that I must deceive you; but you will not lay it to my charge, when you shall consider that this is not ordinary, for if I should say it were the best in this kind, that ever this kingdom hath yet seen; he that would doubt of it must go out of the kingdom to inform himself, for the best judgments within it take it for granted.
You may imagine (if it please you) that I could endear it unto you, by saying, that importunity drew it on; that had it not been presented here, it would have come to us from beyond the seas (which perhaps is true enough); that my charge and pains in procuring of it hath been such, and such. I could add hereto, a promise of more correctness or enlargement in the next edition, if you shall in the meantime content you with this. But these things are so common, as that I should profane this piece by applying them to it; a piece which whoso takes not as he finds it, in what manner soever, he is unworthy of it, sith a scattered limb of this author hath more amiableness in it, in the eye of a discerner, than a whole body of some other; or (to express him best by himself)
A hand, or eye,
By Hilyard drawn, is worth a history
By a worse painter made
If any man (thinking I speak this to inflame him for the vent of the impression) be of another opinion, I shall as willingly spare his money as his judgment. I cannot lose so much by him as he will by himself. For I shall satisfy myself with the conscience of well-doing, in making so much good, common.
There is one thing more wherein I will make you of my counsel, and that is, that whereas it hath pleased some, who had studied and did admire him, to offer to the memory of the author, not long after his decease, I have thought I should do you service in presenting them unto you now; only whereas, had I placed them in the beginning, they might have served for so many encomiums of the author (as is usual in other works, where perhaps there is need of it, to prepare men to digest such stuff as follows after), you shall find2 them in the end, for whosoever reads the rest so far, shall perceive that there is no occasion to use them to that purpose; yet there they are, as an attestation for their sakes that knew not so much before, to let them see how much honour was attributed to this worthy man, by those that are capable to give it. Farewell.