Verse > Anthologies > Harvard Classics > English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray
   English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
185. Master Francis Beaumont’s Letter to Ben Jonson
Written before he and Master Fletcher came to London
Francis Beaumont (1584–1616)
THE SUN (which doth the greatest comfort bring
To absent friends, because the self-same thing
They know they see, however absent) is
Here our best haymaker (forgive me this;
It is our country’s style): in this warm shine        5
I lie, and dream of your full Mermaid Wine.
  O, we have Winter mixed with claret lees,
Drink apt to bring in drier heresies
Than beer, good only for the sonnet’s strain,
With fustian metaphors to stuff the brain;        10
So mixed, that, given to the thirstiest one,
’Twill not prove alms, unless he have the stone:
I think with one draught man’s invention fades,
Two cups had quite spoiled Homer’s Iliads!
’Tis liquor that will find out Sutcliff’s wit,        15
Lie where he will, and make him write worse yet.
Filled with such moisture, in most grievous qualms,
Did Robert Wisdom write his singing Psalms;
And so must I do this: and yet I think
It is our potion sent us down to drink,        20
By special Providence, keeps us from fights,
Makes us not laugh, when we make legs to Knights:
‘Tis this that keeps our minds fit for our states;
A medicine to obey our Magistrates;
For we do live more free than you; no hate,        25
No envy at one another’s happy state,
Moves us; we are equal every whit;
Of land that God gives men, here is their wit,
If we consider fully; for our best
And gravest man will with his main-house-jest        30
Scarce please you: we want subtlety to do
The city-tricks; lie, Hate, and flatter too:
Here are none that can bear a painted show,
Strike, when you wince, and then lament the blow;
Who (like mills set the right way for to grind)        35
Can make their gains alike with every wind:
Only some fellows with the subtlest pate
Amongst us, may perchance equivocate
At selling of a horse; and that’s the most
Methinks the little wit I had is lost        40
Since I saw you; for wit is like a rest
Held up at tennis, which men do the best
With the best gamesters. What things have we seen
Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been
So nimble, and so full of subtle flame,        45
As if that every one (from whence they came)
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
And had resolved to live a fool the rest
Of his dull life;—then when there hath been thrown
Wit able enough to justify the town        50
For three days past; wit that might warrant be
For the whole city to talk foolishly
Till that were cancelled; and, when we were gone,
We left an air behind us; which alone
Was able to make the two next companies        55
(Right witty; though but downright fools) more wise!
  When I remember this, and see that now
The country gentlemen begin to allow
My wit for dry bobs, then I needs must cry,
‘I see my days of ballating grow nigh!’        60
I can already riddle, and can sing
Catches, sell bargains: and I fear shall bring
Myself to speak the hardest words I find
Over as oft as any, with one wind,
That takes no medicines. But one thought of thee        65
Makes me remember all these things to be
The wit of our young men, fellows that show
No part of good, yet utter all they know;
Who, like trees of the guard, have growing souls,
Only strong Destiny, which all controls,        70
I hope hath left a better fate in store
For me, thy friend, than to live ever poor,
Banished unto this home. Fate once again,
Brings me to thee, who canst make smooth and plain
The way of knowledge for me, and then I        75
(Who have no good, but in thy company,)
Protest it will my greatest comfort be,
To acknowledge all I have, to flow from thee!
Ben, when these Scenes are perfect, we’ll taste wine!
I’ll drink thy Muse’s health! thou shalt quaff mine!        80


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