To the Worshipful, kind, wise, and virtuous Lady, the Lady MOLLINEUX, Wife to the right Worshipful Sir RICHARD MOLLINEUX Knight.
HOWSOEVER, in the settled opinions of some wise heads, this trifling labour may easily incur the suspicion of two evils; either to be of an idle subject, and so frivolous; or vainly handled, odious: yet my resolute purpose was to proceed so far as the indifferent [impartial] Reader might think this small pains to be rather an effect, than a cause, of idleness. And howsoever LOVE, in this Age, hath behaved himself in that loose manner as it is counted a disgrace to give him but a kind look: yet I take the passion in itself to be of that honour and credit as it is the perfect resemblance of the greatest happiness; and rightly valued at his just price, in a mind that is sincerely and truly amorous, an affection of the greatest virtue, and able of himself to eternize the meanest vassal.
Concerning the handling of it, especially in this Age, men may wonder, if a Scholar, How I come by so much leisure? If otherwise, Why a Writer? Indeed to say truth, though I cannot justly challenge the first name; yet I wish none to be Writers, save only such as know Learning. And whereas my thoughts and some reasons drew me rather to have dealt in causes of greater weight; yet the present jar of this disagreeing Age drives me into a fit so melancholy as I only had leisure to grow passionate. And I see not why, upon our dissensions, I may not sit down idle, forsake my study, and go sing of Love; as well as our Brownists forsake the Church, and write of malice.
And that this is a matter not so unfit for a man, either that respecteth himself, or is a Scholar; peruse but the writings of former times: and you shall see, not only others in other countries, as Italy and France, Men of Learning and great parts to have written Poems and Sonnets of Love; but even amongst us, men of best nobility and chiefest families to be the greatest Scholars and most renowned in this kind. But two reasons hath made it a thing foolishly odious in this Age. The one, that so many base companions are the greatest Writers. The other, that our English Genevian Purity hath quite debarred us of honest recreation: yet the great Pillar, as they make him [i.e., JEAN CALVIN], of that Cause hath shewed us as much wit and learning in this kind as any other before or since.
Furthermore for all students, I will say thus much; that the base conceit which men generally have of their wants is such, as I scarce term him a Scholar that hath not all the accomplyments [accomplishments] of a Gentleman; nor sufficiently wise that will not take opportunity in some sort to shew it. For I can say thus much, that the University wherein I lived [evidently Cambridge], and so I think the other [Oxford], hath so many wise, excellent, sufficient, men as, setting their learning aside wherein they are most excellent, yet in all habiliments of a Gentleman they are equal to any besides. This would that worthy SYDNEY oft confess; and [Sir JOHN] HARINGTONs Ariosto (which, Madam, was respected so much by you) sheweth that his abode was in Kings College [Cambridge]. Yet now it is grown to this pass, that Learning is lightly respected; upon a persuasion that it is to be found everywhere: a thing untrue and unpossible.
Now in that I have written Love Sonnets; if any man measure my affection by my style, let him say, I am in love. No great matter! For if our purest Divines have not been so, why are so many married? I mislike not that, nor I would not have them mislike this. For a man may be in love, and not marry; and yet wise: but he cannot marry and not be in love, but be a mere fool.
Now for the manner. We will dispute that in some other place; yet take this by the way: though I am so liberal to grant thus mucha man may write of Love and not be in love; as well as of husbandry and not go to the plough; or of witches and be none; or of holiness and be flat profane.
But, wise and kind Lady, not to trouble your ears with this idle discourse, let this suffice. I found favours undeserved in such manner as my rude ability wants means to recompence; and therefore in the mean time I request you to accept this. If I had not so wondered at your admirable and rare virtues that my heart was surcharged with the exceeding measure of your worthiness, I had not written. You are happy every way, and so reputed. Live so, and I wish so you may live long! Excuse me, favour me: and, if I live (for I loath to admire without thankfulness), ere long it shall be known what favours I received from wise Sir RICHARD; to whom in all kind affects I rest bound.
For the Reader, if he look for my letters to crave his favour; he is far deceived. For if he mislike anything, I am sorry he took the pains to read: but if he do, let him dispraise; I much care not. For praise is not but as men please, and it is no chief felicity. For I have heard some men, and of late, for Sermons at Pauls Cross and for other pains, so commended by all, excepting some few Cynics that commend none that do well, that you would have thought England would have striven for their speedy preferment: but, like a wonder, it last but nine days; and all is quiet and forgotten. The best is, they are young men and may live to be preferred at another time. So what am I worse if men mislike and use terms? I can say as much by them. For our great men, I am sure, they want leisure to read: and if they had; yet, for the most part, the worst speak worst.
Well let the Printer look he grow not a beggar by such bargains, the Reader that he lose not his labour, and for mine that is past! And whoso wisely, after an afternoons sleep, gapes, and saith, O how young men spend their time idly!; first, let him spend his time better than to sleep: secondly, he knows not my age. I feared a hot ague; and, with TASSO, I was content to let my Wit blood.
I HAD thought, courteous and gentle Reader, not to have troubled thy patience with these lines: but that, in the neglect thereof, I should either scorn thee, as careless of thine opinion, a thing savouring of a proud humour; or despair to obtain thy favour, which I am loath to conceive of thy good nature.
If I were known, I would entreat in the best manner; and speak for him whom thou knewest. But being not known, thou speakest not against me; and therefore I much care not. For this kind of poetry wherein I wrote, I did it only to try my humour. And for the matter of Love, it may be I am so devoted to some one into whose hands these may light by chance, that she may say, which thou now sayest That surely he is in love: which if she do, then have I the full recompence of my labour; and the Poems have dealt sufficiently for the discharge of their own duty.
This Age is learnedly wise, and faultless in this kind of making their wits known: thinking so basely of our bare English, wherein thousands have travailed with such ill luck, that they deem themselves barbarous and the island barren, unless they have borrowed from Italy, Spain, and France their best and choicest conceits. For my own part, I am of this mind that our nation is so exquisite (neither would I overweeningly seem to flatter our home-spun stuff, or diminish the credit of our brave travellers) that neither Italy, Spain, nor France can go beyond us for exact invention. For if anything be odious amongst us, it is the exile of our old manners, and some base-born phrases stuft up with such new terms, as a man may sooner feel us to flatter by our incrouching eloquence than suspect it from the ear.
And for the matter of Love, where every man takes upon himself to court exactly; I could justly grace (if it be a grace to be excellent in that kind) the Inns of Court, and some Gentlemen like[wise] Students in both Universities: whose learning and bringing up together with their fine natures make so sweet a harmony as, without partiality, the most injurious will prefer them before all others; and therefore they only are fitted to write of Love.
For others, for the most part, are men of mean reach, whose debased minds prey upon every bad dish. Men unfit to know what Love means; deluded fondly with their own conceit, misdeeming so divine a fancy; taking it to be the contentment of themselves, the shame of others, the wrong of virtue; and the refiner of the tongue, boasting of some few favours. These and such like errors (errors hateful to an upright mind) commonly by learnless heads are reputed for Loves Kingdom. But vain men, naturally led; deluded themselves, [they] deceive others.
For Love is a goddess (pardon me though I speak like a Poet) not respecting the contentment of him that loves but the virtues of the beloved, satisfied with wondering, fed with admiration, respecting nothing but his Ladys worthiness, made as happy by love as by all favours, chaste by honour, far from violence: respecting but one; and that one in such kindness honesty truth constancy and honour, as were all the World offered to make a change, yet the boot were too small, and therefore bootless. This is Love, and far more than this; which I know a vulgar head, a base mind, an ordinary conceit, a common person will not, and cannot, have. Thus do I commend that love wherewith, in these Poems, I have honoured the worthy L I C I A.
But the love wherewith VENUS son hath injuriously made spoil of thousands, is a cruel Tyrant: occasion of sighs, oracle of lies, enemy of pity, way of error, shape of inconstancy, temple of treason, faith without assurance, monarch of tears, murderer of ease, prison of hearts, monster of Nature, poisoned honey, impudent courtezan, furious bastard: and in one word, not Love.
If thou muse, What my LICIA is? Take her to be some DIANA, at the least chaste; or some MINERVA: no VENUS, fairer far. It may be she is Learnings Image, or some heavenly wonder: which the Precisest may not mislike. Perhaps under that name I have shadowed [The Holy] Discipline. It may be, I mean that kind courtesy which I found at the Patroness of these Poems, it may be some College. It may be my conceit, and pretend nothing. Whatsoever it be; if thou like it, take it! and thank the worthy Lady MOLLINEUX, for whose sake thou hast it: worthy indeed, and so not only reputed by me in private affection of thankfulness; but so equally to be esteemed by all that know her.
For if I had not received of her and good Sir RICHARD, of kind and wise Master LEE, of courteous Master HOUGHTON, all matchless, matched in one kindred, those unrequitable favours; I had not thus idly toyed.
If thou mislike it; yet she, or they, or both, or divine LICIA shall patronize it: or if none; I will, and can, do it myself. Yet I wish thy favour. Do but say, Thou art content; and I rest thine. If not, Farewell! till we both meet. September 8. 1593.