G. Gregory Smith, ed. Elizabethan Critical Essays. 1904.George Puttenham (15291590)
The Arte of English Poesie. 1589. The First Booke. Of Poets and Poesie
[The Arte of English Poesie. Contriued into three Bookes: The first of Poets and Poesie, the second of Proportion, the third of Ornament was published without the author’s name, in 1589, by ‘Richard Field, dwelling in the black-Friers, neere Ludgate.’ The text here printed follows Ben Jonson’s copy, now in the British Museum. Many passages are underlined (especially in the opening chapters), and there are a few annotations; but it is extremely doubtful that any of these are by Ben Jonson. The copy also contains eight unnumbered pages on the ‘Device’ and ‘Anagram’, which were withdrawn while the volume was passing through the press: and it has the substituted passage in Book III, chap, xix, in place of the criticism of the Flemings, which occurs in some copies of this edition (see Notes).
The Arte of English Poesie is anonymous, yet the evidence of Puttenham’s authorship is, if not absolute, at least sufficiently strong to justify the ascription. It is dedicated (May 28, 1589) to Lord Treasurer Burghley by the printer Richard Field, who excuses his presumption and his author’s ‘slender subject’ in these words:—‘This Booke (right Honorable) comming to my handes, with his bare title without any Authours name or any other ordinarie addresse, I doubted how well it might become me to make you a present thereof, seeming, by many expresse passages in the same at large, that it was by the Authour intended to our Soueraigne Lady the Queene, and for her recreation and seruice chiefly deuised; in which case to make any other person her highnes partener in the honour of his guift it could not stand with my dutie, nor be without some preiudice to her Maiesties interest and his merrite. Perceyuing, besides, the title to purport so slender a subiect, as nothing almost could be more discrepant from the grauitie of your yeeres and Honorable function, whose contemplations are euery houre more seriously employed vpon the publicke administration and seruices, I thought it no condigne gratification nor scarce any good satisfaction for such a person as you. Yet when I considered, that bestowyng vpon your Lordship the first vewe of this mine impression (a feat of mine owne simple facultie) it could not scypher her Maiesties honour or prerogatiue in the guift, nor yet the Authour of his thanks, and seeing the thing it selfe to be a deuice of some noueltie (which commonly giueth euery good thing a speciall grace), and a noueltie so highly tending to the most worthy prayses of her Maiesties most excellent name (deerer to you I dare conceiue then any worldly thing besides), mee thought I could not deuise to haue presented your Lordship any gift more agreeable to your appetite, or fitter for my vocation and abilitie to bestow, your Lordship beyng learned and a louer of learning, my present a Booke, and my selfe a printer alwaies ready and desirous to be at your Honourable commaundement.’]
Of Poets and Poesie
What a Poet and Poesie Is, and Who May Be Worthily Sayd the Most Excellent Poet of Our Time.
That There May Be an Art of Our English Poesie, aswell as There Is of the Latine and Greeke
Then as there was no art in the world till by experience found out, so if Poesie be now an Art, & of al antiquitie hath bene among the Greeks and Latines, & yet were none vntill by studious persons fashioned and reduced into a method of rules and precepts, then no doubt may there be the like with vs. And if th’art of Poesie be but a skill appertaining to vtterance, why may not the same be with vs aswel as with them, our language being no lesse copious, pithie, and significatiue then theirs, our conceipts the same, and our wits no lesse apt to deuise and imitate then theirs were? If againe Art be but a certaine order of rules prescribed by reason, and gathered by experience, why should not Poesie be a vulgar Art with vs aswell as with the Greeks and Latines, our language admitting no fewer rules and nice diuersities then theirs? but peraduenture moe by a peculiar, which our speech hath in many things differing from theirs; and yet, in the generall points of that Art, allowed to go in common with them: so as if one point perchance, which is their feete whereupon their measures stand, and in deede is all the beautie of their Poesie, and which feete we haue not, nor as yet neuer went about to frame (the nature of our language and wordes not permitting it), we haue in stead thereof twentie other curious points in that skill more then they euer had, by reason of our rime and tunable concords or simphonie, which they neuer obserued. Poesie therefore may be an Art in our vulgar, and that verie methodicall and commendable.
How Poets Were the First Priests, the First Prophets, the First Legislators and Politicians in the World.
The profession and vse of Poesie is most ancient from the beginning, and not, as manie erroniously suppose, after, but before, any ciuil society was among men. For it is written that Poesie was th’originall cause and occasion of their first assemblies, when before the people remained in the woods and mountains, vagarant and dipersed like the wild beasts, lawlesse and naked, or verie ill clad, and of all good and necessarie prouision for harbour or sustenance vtterly vnfurnished, so as they litle diffred for their maner of life from the very brute beasts of the field. Whereupon it is fayned that Amphion and Orpheus, two Poets of the first ages, one of them, to wit Amphion, builded vp cities, and reared walles with the stones that came in heapes to the sound of his harpe, figuring thereby the mollifying of hard and stonie hearts by his sweete and eloquent perswasion. And Orpheus assembled the wilde beasts to come in heards to harken to his musicke, and by that meanes made them tame, implying thereby, how by his discreete and wholsome lesons vttered in harmonie and with melodious instruments he brought the rude and sauage people to a more ciuill and orderly life, nothing, as it seemeth, more preuailing or fit to redresse and edifie the cruell and sturdie courage of man then it. And as these two Poets, and Linus before them, and Museus also and Hesiodus in Greece and Archadia, so by all likelihood had mo Poets done in other places and in other ages before them, though there be no remembrance left of them, by reason of the Recordes by some accident of time perished and failing. Poets therfore are of great antiquitie. Then forasmuch as they were the first that entended to the obseruation of nature and her works, and specially of the Celestiall courses, by reason of the continuall motion of the heauens, searching after the first mouer, and from thence by degrees comming to know and consider of the substances separate & abstract, which we call the diuine intelligences or good Angels (Demones), they were the first that instituted sacrifices of placation, with inuocations and worship to them, as to Gods; and inuented and stablished all the rest of the obseruances and ceremonies of religion, and so were the first Priests and ministers of the holy misteries. And because for the better execution of that high charge and function it behoued them to liue chast, and in all holines of life, and in continuall studie and contemplation, they came by instinct diuine, and by deepe meditation, and much abstinence (the same assubtiling and refining their spirits) to be made apt to receaue visions, both waking and sleeping, which made them vtter prophesies and foretell things to come. So also were they the first Prophetes or seears, Videntes, for so the Scripture tearmeth them in Latine after the Hebrue word, and all the oracles and answers of the gods were giuen in meeter or verse, and published to the people by their direction. And for that they were aged and graue men, and of much wisedome and experience in th’affaires of the world, they were the first lawmakers to the people, and the first polititiens, deuising all expedient meanes for th’establishment of Common wealth, to hold and containe the people in order and duety by force and vertue of good and wholesome lawes, made for the preseruation of the publique peace and tranquillitie: the same peraduenture not purposely intended, but greatly furthered by the aw of their gods and such scruple of conscience as the terrors of their late inuented religion had led them into.
How the Poets Were the First Philosophers, the First Astronomers and Historiographers and Oratours and Musitiens of the World.
Vtterance also and language is giuen by nature to man for perswasion of others and aide of them selues, I meane the first abilite to speake. For speech it selfe is artificiall and made by man, and the more pleasing it is, the more it preuaileth to such purpose as it is intended for: but speech by meeter is a kind of vtterance more cleanly couched and more delicate to the eare then prose is, because it is more currant and slipper vpon the tongue, and withal tunable and melodious, as a kind of Musicke, and therfore may be tearmed a musicall speech or vtterance, which cannot but please the hearer very well. Another cause is, for that is briefer & more compendious, and easier to beare away and be retained in memorie, then that which is contained in multitude of words and full of tedious ambage and long periods. It is beside a maner of vtterance more eloquent and rethoricall then the ordinarie prose which we vse in our daily talke, because it is decked and set out with all maner of fresh colours and figures, which maketh that it sooner inuegleth the iudgement of man, and carieth his opinion this way and that, whither soeuer the heart by impression of the eare shalbe most affectionatly bent and directed. The vtterance in prose is not of so great efficacie, because not only it is dayly vsed, and by that occasion the eare is ouerglutted with it, but is also not so voluble and slipper vpon the tong, being wide and lose, and nothing numerous, nor contriued into measures and sounded with so gallant and harmonical accents, nor, in fine, alowed that figuratiue conueyance nor so great licence in choise of words and phrases as meeter is. So as the Poets were also from the beginning the best perswaders, and their eloquence the first Rethoricke of the world, euen so it became that the high mysteries of the gods should be reuealed & taught by a maner of vtterance and language of extraordinarie phrase, and briefe and compendious, and aboue al others sweet and ciuill as the Metricall is. The same also was meetest to register the liues and noble gests of Princes, and of the great Monarkes of the world, and all other the memorable accidents of time: so as the Poet was also the first historiographer. Then forasmuch as they were the first obseruers of all naturall causes & effects in the things generable and corruptible, and from thence mounted vp to search after the celestiall courses and influences, & yet penetrated further to know the diuine essences and substances separate, as is sayd before, they were the first Astronomers and Philosophists and Metaphisicks. Finally, because they did altogether endeuor them selues to reduce the life of man to a certaine method of good maners, and made the first differences betweene vertue and vice, and then tempered all these knowledges and skilles with the exercise of a delectable Musicke by melodious instruments, which withall serued them to delight their hearers, & to call the people together by admiration to a plausible and vertuous conuersation, therefore were they the first Philosophers Ethick, & the first artificial Musiciens of the world. Such was Linus, Orpheus, Amphion, & Museus, the most ancient Poets and Philosophers of whom there is left any memorie by the prophane writers. King Dauid also & Salomon his sonne and many other of the holy Prophets wrate in meeters, and vsed to sing them to the harpe, although to many of vs, ignorant of the Hebrue language and phrase, and not obseruing it, the same seeme but a prose. It can not bee therefore that anie scorn or indignitie should iustly be offred to so noble, profitable, ancient, and diuine a science as Poesie is.
How the Wilde and Sauage People Vsed a Naturall Poesie in Versicle and Rime as Our Vulgar Is.
And the Greeke and Latine Poesie was by verse numerous and metricall, running vpon pleasant feete, sometimes swift, sometime slow (their words very aptly seruing that purpose) but without any rime or tunable concord in th’end of their verses, as we and all other nations now vse. But the Hebrues & Chaldees who were more ancient then the Greekes, did not only vse a metricall Poesie, but also with the same a maner of rime, as hath bene of late obserued by learned men. Wherby it appeareth that our vulgar running Poesie was common to all the nations of the world besides, whom the Latines and Greekes in speciall called barbarous. So as it was notwithstanding, the first and most ancient Poesie, and the most vniuersall; which two points do otherwise giue to all humane inuentions and affaires no small credit. This is proued by certificate of marchants and trauellers, who by late nauigations haue surueyed the whole world, and discouered large countries and strange peoples wild and sauage, affirming that the American, the Perusine, and the very Canniball do sing and also say their highest and holiest matters in certaine riming versicles, and not in prose, which proues also that our maner of vulgar Poesie is more ancient then the artificiall of the Greeks and Latines, ours comming by instinct of nature, which was before Art or obseruation, and vsed with the sauage and vnciuill, who were before all science or ciuilitie, euen as the naked by prioritie of time is before the clothed, and the ignorant before the learned. The naturall Poesie therefore, being aided and amended by Art, and not vtterly altered or obscured, but some signe left of it (as the Greekes and Latines haue left none), is no lesse to be allowed and commended then theirs.
How the Riming Poesie Came First to the Grecians and Latines, and Had Altered and Almost Spilt Their Maner of Poesie.
But it came to passe, when fortune fled farre from the Greekes and Latines, & that their townes florished no more in traficke, nor their Vniuersities in learning as they had done continuing those Monarchies, the barbarous conquerers inuading them with innumerable swarmes of strange nations, the Poesie metricall of the Grecians and Latines came to be much corrupted and altered, in so much as there were times that the very Greekes and Latines themselues tooke pleasure in Riming verses, and vsed it as a rare and gallant thing. Yea, their Oratours proses nor the Doctors Sermons were acceptable to Princes nor yet to the common people, vnlesse it went in manner of tunable rime or metricall sentences, as appeares by many of the auncient writers about that time and since. And the great Princes, and Popes, and Sultans would one salute and greet an other sometime in friendship and sport, sometime in earnest and enmitie, by ryming verses, & nothing seemed clerkly done, but must be done in ryme. Whereof we finde diuers examples from the time of th’Emperours Gracian & Valentinian downwardes: For then aboutes began the declination of the Romain Empire, by the notable inundations of the Hunnes and Vandalles in Europe, vnder the conduict of Totila & Atila and other their generalles. This brought the ryming Poesie in grace, and made it preuaile in Italie and Greece (their owne long time cast aside, and almost neglected), till after many yeares that the peace of Italie and of th’Empire Occidentall reuiued new clerkes, who, recouering and perusing the bookes and studies of the ciuiler ages, restored all maner of arts, and that of the Greeke and Latine Poesie withall, into their former puritie and netnes. Which neuerthelesse did not so preuaile but that the ryming Poesie of the Barbarians remained still in his reputation, that one in the schole, this other in Courts of Princes more ordinary and allowable.
How in the Time of Charlemaine and Many Yeares after Him the Latine Poetes Wrote in Ryme.
And this appeareth euidently by the workes of many learned men who wrote about the time of Charlemaines raigne in the Empire Occidentall, where the Christian Religion became through the excessiue authoritie of Popes and deepe deuotion of Princes strongly fortified and established by erection of orders Monastical, in which many simple clerks for deuotion sake & sanctitie were receiued more then for any learning; by which occasion & the solitarinesse of their life, waxing studious without discipline or instruction by any good methode, some of them grew to be historiographers, some Poets; and following either the barbarous rudenes of the time, or els their own idle inuentions, all that they wrote to the fauor or prayse of Princes they did it in such maner of minstrelsie, and thought themselues no small fooles when they could make their verses goe all in ryme, as did the schoole of Salerne, dedicating their booke of medicinall rules vnto our king of England, with this beginning.
And all the rest that follow throughout the whole booke more curiously then cleanely, neuerthelesse very well to the purpose of their arte. In the same time king Edward the iij., him selfe quartering the Armes of England and France, did discouer his pretence and clayme to the Crowne of Fraunce, in these ryming verses.
It is found written of Pope Lusius for his great auarice and tyranny vsed ouer the Clergy thus in ryming verses.
And as this was vsed in the greatest and gayest matters of Princes and Popes by the idle inuention of Monasticall men then raigning al in their superlatiue, so did euery scholer and secular clerke or versifier, when he wrote any short poeme or matter of good lesson, put it in ryme; whereby it came to passe that all your old Prouerbes and common sayinges, which they would haue plausible to the reader and easie to remember and beare away, were of that sorte as these.
Thus what in writing of rymes and registring of lyes was the Clergy of that fabulous age wholly occupied.
We finde some, but very few, of these ryming verses among the Latines of the ciuiller ages, and those rather hapning by chaunce then of any purpose in the writer, as this Distick among the disportes of Ouid.
The posteritie taking pleasure in this manner of Simphonie had leasure as it seemes to deuise many other knackes in their versifying that the auncient and ciuill Poets had not vsed before, whereof one was to make euery word of a verse to begin with the same letter, as did Hugobald the Monke, who made a large poeme to the honour of Carolus Caluus, euery word beginning with C, which was the first letter of the kings name, thus,
Another of their pretie inuentions was to make a verse of such wordes as by their nature and manner of construction and situation might be turned backward word by word, and make another perfit verse, but of quite contrary sence, as the gibing Monke that wrote of Pope Alexander these two verses.
Thus you may see the humors and appetites of men how diuers and chaungeable they be in liking new fashions, though many tymes worse then the old, and not onely in the manner of their life and vse of their garments, but also in their learninges and arts, and specially of their languages.
In What Reputation Poesie and Poets Were in Old Time with Princes and Otherwise Generally, and How They Be Now Become Contemptible and for What Causes.
For the respectes aforesayd in all former ages and in the most ciuill countreys and common wealthes, good Poets and Poesie were highly esteemed and much fauoured of the greatest Princes. For proofe whereof we read how much Amyntas, king of Macedonia, made of the Tragicall Poet Euripides; and the Athenians of Sophocles; in what price the noble poemes of Homer were holden with Alexander the great, in so much as euery night they were layd vnder his pillow, and by day were carried in the rich iewell cofer of Darius lately before vanquished by him in battaile. And not onely Homer, the father and Prince of the Poets, was so honored by him, but for his sake all other meaner Poets, in so much as Cherillus one no very great good Poet, had for euery verse well made a Phillips noble of gold, amounting in value to an angell English, and so for euery hundreth verses (which a cleanely pen could speedely dispatch) he had a hundred angels. And since Alexander the great, how Theocritus the Greeke Poet was fauored by Tholomee, king of Egipt, & Queene Berenice, his wife; Ennius likewise by Scipio, Prince of the Romaines; Virgill also by th’Emperour Augustus. And in later times, how much were Iehan de Mehune & Guillaume de Loris made of by the French kinges, and Geffrey Chaucer, father of our English Poets, by Richard the second, who, as it was supposed, gaue him the maner of new Holme in Oxfordshire; and Gower [by] Henry the fourth; and Harding [by] Edward the fourth. Also how Frauncis the Frenche king made Sangelais, Salmonius Macrinus, and Clement Marot of his priuy Chamber for their excellent skill in vulgare and Latine Poesie; and king Henry the 8, her Maiesties father, for a few Psalmes of Dauid turned into English meetre by Sternhold, made him groome of his priuy chamber & gaue him many other good gifts. And one Gray, what good estimation did he grow vnto with the same king Henry, & afterward with the Duke of Sommerset, Protectour, for making certaine merry Ballades, whereof one chiefly was The hunte is vp, the hunte is vp? And Queene Mary, his daughter, for one Epithalamie or nuptiall song made by Vargas, a Spanish Poet, at her mariage with king Phillip in Winchester, gaue him during his life two hundred Crownes pension. Nor this reputation was giuen them in auncient times altogether in respect that Poesie was a delicate arte, and the Poets them selues cunning Princepleasers, but for that also they were thought for their vniuersall knowledge to be very sufficient men for the greatest charges in their common wealthes, were it for counsell or for conduct; whereby no man neede to doubt but that both skilles may very well concurre and be most excellent in one person. For we finde that Iulius Caesar, the first Emperour and a most noble Captaine, was not onely the most eloquent Orator of his time, but also a very good Poet, though none of his doings therein be now extant. And Quintus Catulus, a good Poet, and Cornelius Gallus, treasurer of Egipt, and Horace, the most delicate of all the Romain Lyrickes, was thought meete and by many letters of great instance prouoked to be Secretarie of estate to Augustus th’Emperour, which neuerthelesse he refused for his vnhealthfulnesse sake, and, being a quiet mynded man and nothing ambitious of glory, non voluit accedere ad Rempublicam, as it is reported. And Ennius the Latine Poet was not, as some perchaunce thinke, onely fauored by Scipio the Africane for his good making of verses, but vsed as his familiar and Counsellor in the warres for his great knowledge and amiable conuersation. And long before that Antimenides and other Greeke Poets, as Aristotle reportes in his Politiques, had charge in the warres. And Tyrtaeus the Poet, being also a lame man & halting vpon one legge, was chosen by the Oracle of the gods from the Athenians to be generall of the Lacedemonians armie, not for his Poetrie, but for his wisedome and graue perswasions and subtile Stratagemes, whereby he had the victory ouer his enemies. So as the Poets seemed to haue skill not onely in the subtilties of their arte but also to be meete for all maner of functions ciuill and martiall, euen as they found fauour of the times they liued in, insomuch as their credit and estimation generally was not small. But in these dayes, although some learned Princes may take delight in them, yet vniversally it is not so. For as well Poets and Poesie are despised, & the name become of honorable infamous, subiect to scorne and derision, and rather a reproch than a prayse to any that vseth it: for commonly who so is studious in th’Arte or shewes him selfe excellent in it, they call him in disdayne a phantasticall; and a light headed or phantasticall man (by conuersion) they call a Poet. And this proceedes through the barbarous ignoraunce of the time, and pride of many Gentlemen and others, whose grosse heads not being brought vp or acquainted with any excellent Arte, nor able to contriue or in manner conceiue any matter of subtiltie in any businesse or science, they doe deride and scorne it in all others as superfluous knowledges and vayne sciences, and whatsoeuer deuise be of rare inuention they terme it phantasticall, construing it to the worst side: and among men such as be modest and graue, & of litel conuersation, nor delighted in the busie life and vayne ridiculous actions of the popular, they call him in scorne a Philosopher or Poet, as much to say as a phantasticall man, very iniuriously (God wot), and to the manifestation of their own ignoraunce, not making difference betwixt termes. For as the euill and vicious disposition of the braine hinders the sounde iudgement and discourse of man with busie & disordered phantasies, for which cause the Greekes call him [phantasikos], so is that part, being well affected, not onely nothing disorderly or confused with any monstruous imaginations or conceits, but very formall, and in his much multiformitie vniforme, that is well proportioned, and so passing cleare, that by it, as by a glasse or mirrour, are represented vnto the soule all maner of bewtifull visions, whereby the inuentiue parte of the mynde is so much holpen as without it not man could deuise any new or rare thing: and where it is not excellent in his kind, there could be no politique Captaine, nor any witty engineer or cunning artificer, nor yet any law maker or counsellor of deepe discourse, yea, the Prince of Philosophers stickes not to say animam non intelligere absque phantasmate; which text to another purpose Alexander Aphrodis[i]ens[is] well noteth, as learned men know. And this phantasie may be resembled to a glasse, as hath bene sayd, whereof there be many tempers and manner of makinges, as the perspectiues doe acknowledge, for some be false glasses and shew thinges otherwise than they be in deede, and others right as they be in deede, neither fairer nor fouler, nor greater nor smaller. There be againe of these glasses that shew thinges exceeding faire and comely; others that shew figures very monstruous & illfauored. Euen so is the phantasticall part of man (if it be not disordered) a representer of the best, most comely, and bewtifull images or apparances of thinges to the soule and according to their very truth. If otherwise, then doth it breede Chimeres & monsters in mans imaginations, & not onely in his imaginations, but also in all his ordinarie actions and life which ensues. Wherefore such persons as be illuminated with the brightest irradiations of knowledge and of the veritie and due proportion of things, they are called by the learned men not phantastici but euphantasioti, and of this sorte of phantasie are all good Poets, notable Captaines stratagematique, all cunning artificers and enginers, all Legislators, Polititiens, & Counsellours of estate, in whose exercises the inuentiue part is most employed, and is to the sound and true iudgement of man most needful. This diuersitie in the termes perchance euery man hath not noted, & thus much be said in defence of the Poets honour, to the end no noble and generous minde be discomforted in the studie thereof, the rather for that worthy & honorable memoriall of that noble woman, twise French Queene, Lady Anne of Britaine, wife first to king Charles the viij. and after to Lewes the xij., who, passing one day from her lodging toward the kinges side, saw in a gallerie Maister Allaine Chartier, the kings Secretarie, an excellent maker or Poet, leaning on a tables end a sleepe, & stooped downe to kisse him, saying thus in all their hearings, ‘we may not of Princely courtesie passe by and not honor with our kisse the mouth from whence so many sweete ditties & golden poems haue issued.’ But me thinks at these words I heare some smilingly say, ‘I would be loath to lacke liuing of my own till the Prince gaue me a maner of new Elme for my riming.’ And another to say, ‘I haue read that the Lady Cynthia came once downe out of her skye to kisse the faire yong lad Endimion as he lay a sleep: & many noble Queenes that haue bestowed kisses vpon their Princes paramours, but neuer vpon any Poets.’ The third, me thinks, shruggingly saith, ‘I kept not to sit sleeping with my Poesie till a Queene came and kissed me.’ But what of all this? Princes may giue a good Poet such conuenient countenaunce and also benefite as are due to an excellent artificer, though they neither kisse nor cokes them, and the discret Poet lookes for no such extraordinarie fauours, and aswell doth he honour by his pen the iust, liberall, or magnanimous Prince as the valiaunt, amiable, or bewtifull, though they be euery one of them the good giftes of God. So it seemes not altogether the scorne and ordinarie disgrace offered vnto Poets [in] these dayes is cause why few Gentlemen do delight in the Art, but for that liberalitie is come to fayle in Princes, who for their largesse were wont to be accompted th’onley patrons of learning, and first founders of all excellent artificers. Besides it is not perceiued, that Princes them selues do take any pleasure in this science, by whose example the subiect is commonly led, and allured to all delights and exercises, be they good or bad, according to the graue saying of the historian, Rex multitudinem religione impleuit, quae semper regenti similis est. And peraduenture in this iron and malitious age of ours Princes are lesse delighted in it, being ouer earnestly bent and affected to the affaires of Empire & ambition, whereby they are as it were inforced to indeuour them selues to armes and practises of hostilitie, or to entend to the right pollicing of their states, and haue not one houre to bestow vpon any other ciuill or delectable Art of naturall or morall doctrine, nor scarce any leisure to thincke one good thought in perfect and godly contemplation, whereby their troubled mindes might be moderated and brought to tranquillitie. So as it is hard to find in these dayes of noblemen or gentlemen any good Mathematician, or excellent Musitian, or notable Philosopher, or els a cunning Poet, because we find few great Princes much delighted in the same studies. Now also of such among the Nobilitie or gentrie as be very well seene in many laudable sciences, and especially in making or Poesie, it is so come to passe that they haue no courage to write, &, if they haue, yet are they loath to be a knowen of their skill. So as I know very many notable Gentlemen in the Court that haue written commendably, and suppressed it agayne, or else suffred it to be publisht without their owne names to it: as if it were a discredit for a Gentleman, to seeme learned and to shew him selfe amorous of any good Art. In other ages it was not so, for we read that Kinges & Princes haue written great volumes and publisht them vnder their own regall titles. As to begin with Salomon the wisest of Kings, Iulius Caesar, the greatest of Emperours, Hermes Trismegistus, the holiest of Priestes and Prophetes. Euax, king of Arabia, wrote a booke of precious stones in verse, Prince Auicenna of Phisicke and Philosophie, Alphonsus, king of Spaine, his Astronomicall Tables, Almansor, a king of Marrocco, diuerse Philosophicall workes: and by their regal example our late soueraigne Lord, king Henry the eight, wrate a booke in defence of his faith, then perswaded that it was the true and Apostolicall doctrine; though it hath appeared otherwise since, yet his honour and learned zeale was nothing lesse to be allowed. Queenes also haue bene knowen studious, and to write large volumes, as Lady Margaret of Fraunce, Queene of Nauarre, in our time. But of all others the Emperour Nero was so well learned in Musique and Poesie, as, when he was taken by order of the Senate and appointed to dye, he offered violence to him selfe and sayd, O quantus artifex pereo! as much as to say, as how is it possible a man of such science and learning as my selfe should come to this shamefull death? Th’emperour Octauian, being made executor to Virgill, who had left by his last will and testament that his bookes of the Æneidos should be committed to the fire as things not perfited by him, made his excuse for infringing the deads will by a nomber of verses most excellently written, whereof these are part,
How Poesie Should Not Be Imployed vpon Vayne Conceits, or Vicious, or Infamous.
Wherefore the Nobilitie and dignitie of the Art considered aswell by vniuersalitie as antiquitie and the naturall excellence of it selfe, Poesie ought not to be abased and imployed vpon any vnworthy matter & subiect, nor vsed to vaine purposes; which neuerthelesse is dayly seene, and that is to vtter conceits infamous & vicious, or ridiculous and foolish, or of no good example & doctrine. Albeit in merry matters (not vnhonest) being vsed for mans solace and recreation it may be well allowed, for, as I said before, Poesie is a pleasant maner of vtteraunce, varying from the ordinarie of purpose to refresh the mynde by the eares delight. Poesie also is not onely laudable, because I said it was a metricall speach vsed by the first men, but because it is a metricall speach corrected and reformed by discreet iudgements, and with no lesse cunning and curiositie then the Greeke and Latine Poesie, and by Art bewtified & adorned & brought far from the primitiue rudenesse of the first inuentors: otherwise it may be sayd to me that Adam and Eues apernes were the gayest garmentes, because they were the first, and the shepheardes tente or pauillion the best housing, because it was the most auncient & most vniuersall; which I would not haue so taken, for it is not my meaning but that Art & cunning concurring with nature, antiquitie, & vniuersalitie, in things indifferent, and not euill, doe make them more laudable. And right so our vulgar riming Poesie, being by good wittes brought to that perfection, we see is worthily to be preferred before any other maner of vtterance in prose, for such vse and to such purpose as it is ordained, and shall hereafter be set downe more particularly.
The Subiect or Matter of Poesie.
Hauing sufficiently sayd of the dignitie of Poets and Poesie, now it is tyme to speake of the matter or subiect of Poesie, which to myne intent is what soeuer wittie and delicate conceit of man meet or worthy to be put in written verse, for any necessary vse of the present time, or good instruction of the posteritie. But the chief and principall is the laud, honour, & glory of the immortall gods (I speake now in phrase of the Gentiles): secondly, the worthy gests of noble Princes, the memoriall and registry of all great fortunes, the praise of vertue & reproofe of vice, the instruction of morall doctrines, the reuealing of sciences naturall & other profitable Arts, the redresse of boistrous & sturdie courages by perswasion, the consolation and repose of temperate myndes: finally, the common solace of mankind in all his trauails and cares of this transitorie life; and in this last sort, being vsed for recreation onely, may allowably beare matter not alwayes of the grauest, or of any great commoditie or profit, but rather in some sort vaine, dissolute, or wanton, so it be not very scandalous & of euill example. But as our intent is to make this Art vulgar for all English mens vse, & therefore are of necessitie to set downe the principal rules therein to be obserued, so in mine opinion it is no lesse expedient to touch briefly all the chief points of this auncient Poesie of the Greeks and Latines, so far forth as it conformeth with ours. So as it may be knowen what we hold of them as borrowed, and what as of our owne peculiar. Wherefore, now that we haue said what is the matter of Poesie, we will declare the manner and formes of poemes vsed by the auncients.
Of Poemes and Their Sundry Formes, and How Thereby the Auncient Poets Receaued Surnames.
As the matter of Poesie is diuers, so was the forme of their poemes & maner of writing, for all of them wrote not in one sort, euen as all of them wrote not vpon one matter. Neither was euery Poet alike cunning in all as in some one kinde of Poesie, nor vttered with like felicitie. But wherein any one most excelled, thereof he tooke a surname, as to be called a Poet Heroick, Lyrick, Elegiack, Epigrammatist, or otherwise. Such therefore as gaue themselues to write long histories of the noble gests of kings & great Princes entermedling the dealings of the gods, halfe gods, or Heroes of the gentiles, & the great & waighty consequences of peace and warre, they called Poets Heroick, whereof Homer was chief and most auncient among the Greeks, Virgill among the Latines: Others who more delighted to write songs or ballads of pleasure, to be song with the voice, and to the harpe, lute, or citheron, & such other musical instruments, they were called melodious Poets (melici), or, by a more common name, Lirique Poets: of which sort was Pindarus, Anacreon, and Callimachus, with others among the Greeks, Horace and Catullus among the Latines. There were an other sort, who sought the fauor of faire Ladies, and coueted to bemone their estates at large & the perplexities of loue in a certain pitious verse called Elegie, and thence were called Elegiack: such among the Latines were Ouid, Tibullus, & Propertius. There were also Poets that wrote onely for the stage, I meane playes and interludes, to recreate the people with matters of disporte, and to that intent did set forth in shewes [&] pageants, accompanied with speach, the common behauiours and maner of life of priuate persons, and such as were the meaner sort of men, and they were called Comicall Poets: of whom among the Greekes Menander and Aristophanes were most excellent, with the Latines Terence and Plautus. Besides those Poets Comick there were other who serued also the stage, but medled not with so base matters, for they set forth the dolefull falles of infortunate & afflicted Princes, & were called Poets Tragicall: such were Euripides and Sophocles with the Greeks, Seneca among the Latines. There were yet others who mounted nothing so high as any of them both, but, in base and humble stile by maner of Dialogue, vttered the priuate and familiar talke of the meanest sort of men, as shepheards, heywards and such like: such was among the Greekes Theocritus, and Virgill among the Latines; their poemes were named Eglogues or shepheardly talke. There was yet another kind of Poet, who intended to taxe the common abuses and vice of the people in rough and bitter speaches, and their inuectiues were called Satyres, and them selues Satyricques: such were Lucilius, Iuuenall, and Persius among the Latines, & with vs he that wrote the booke called Piers plowman. Others of a more fine and pleasant head were giuen wholly to taunting and scoffing at vndecent things, and in short poemes vttered pretie merry conceits, and these men were called Epigrammatistes. There were others that for the peoples good instruction, and triall of their owne witts, vsed in places of great assembly, to say by rote nombers of short and sententious meetres, very pithie and of good edification, and thereupon were called Poets Mimistes, as who would say, imitable and meet to be followed for their wise and graue lessons. There was another kind of poeme, inuented onely to make sport & to refresh the company with a maner of buffonry or counterfaiting of merry speaches, conuerting all that which they had hard spoken before to a certaine derision by a quite contrary sence, and this was done, when Comedies or Tragedies were a playing, & that betweene the actes when the players went to make ready for another, there was great silence, and the people waxt weary, then came in these maner of counterfaite vices; they were called Pantomimi, and all that had before bene sayd, or great part of it, they gaue a crosse construction to it very ridiculously. Thus haue you how the names of the Poets were giuen them by the formes of their poemes and maner of writing.
In What Forme of Poesie the Gods of the Gentiles Were Praysed and Honored.
The gods of the Gentiles were honoured by their Poetes in hymnes, which is an extraordinarie and diuine praise, extolling and magnifying them for their great powers and excellencie of nature in the highest degree of laude; and yet therein their Poets were after a sort restrained, so as they could not with their credit vntruly praise their owne gods, or vse in their lauds any maner of grosse adulation or vnueritable report. For in any writer vntruth and flatterie are counted most great reproches. Wherfore to praise the gods of the Gentiles, for that by authoritie of their owne fabulous records they had fathers and mothers, and kinred and allies, and wiues and concubines, the Poets first commended them by their genealogies or pedegrees, their mariages and aliances, their notable exploits in the world for the behoofe of mankind, and yet, as I sayd before, none otherwise then the truth of their owne memorials might beare, and in such sort as it might be well auouched by their old written reports, though in very deede they were not from the beginning all historically true, and many of them verie fictions, and such of them as were true were grounded vpon some part of an historie or matter of veritie, the rest altogether figuratiue & misticall, couertly applied to some morall or naturall sense, as Cicero setteth it foorth in his bookes de natura deorum. For to say that Iupiter was sonne to Saturne, and that he maried his owne sister Iuno, might be true, for such was the guise of all great Princes in the Orientall part of the world both at those dayes and now is. Againe, that he loued Danae, Europa, Leda, Cal[l]isto, & other faire Ladies, daughters to kings, besides many meaner women, it is likely enough, because he was reported to be a very incontinent person and giuen ouer to his lustes, as are for the most part all the greatest Princes; but that he should be the highest god in heauen, or that he should thunder and lighten, and do manie other things very vnnaturally and absurdly, also that Saturnus should geld his father Coelus, to th’intent to make him vnable to get any moe children, and other such matters as are reported by them, it seemeth to be some wittie deuise and fiction made for a purpose, or a very no[ta]ble and impudent lye, which could not be reasonably suspected by the Poets, who were otherwise discreete and graue men, and teachers of wisedome to others. Therefore either to transgresse the rules of their primitiue records or to seeke to giue their gods honour by belying them (otherwise then in that sence which I haue alledged) had bene a signe not onely of an vnskilfull Poet but also of a very impudent and leude man. For vntrue praise neuer giueth any true reputation. But with vs Christians, who be better disciplined, and do acknowledge but one God Almightie, euerlasting, and in euery respect selfe suffizant, autharcos, reposed in all perfect rest and soueraigne blisse, not needing or exacting any forreine helpe or good, to him we can not exhibit ouermuch praise, nor belye him any wayes, vnlesse it be in abasing his excellencie by scarsitie of praise, or by misconceauing his diuine nature, weening to praise him if we impute to him such vaine delights and peeuish affections as commonly the frailest men are reproued for: namely, to make him ambitious of honour, iealous and difficult in his worships, terrible, angrie, vindicatiue, a louer, a hater, a pitier, and indigent of mans worships, finally, so passionate as in effect he shold be altogether Anthropapathis. To the gods of the Gentiles they might well attribute these infirmities, for they were but the children of men, great Princes and famous in the world, and not for any other respect diuine then by some resemblance of vertue they had to do good and to benefite many. So as to the God of the Christians such diuine praise might be verified; to th’other gods none, but figuratiuely or in misticall sense, as hath bene said. In which sort the ancient Poets did in deede giue them great honors & praises, and made to them sacrifices, and offred them oblations of sundry sortes, euen as the people were taught and perswaded by such placations and worships to receaue any helpe, comfort, or benefite to them selues, their wiues, children, possessions, or goods. For if that opinion were not, who would acknowledge any God? the verie Etimologie of the name with vs of the North partes of the world declaring plainely the nature of the attribute, which is all one as if we sayd good, bonus, or a giuer of good things. Therfore the Gentiles prayed for peace to the goddesse Pallas; for warre (such as thriued by it) to the god Mars; for honor and empire to the god Iupiter; for riches & wealth to Pluto; for eloquence and gayne to Mercurie; for safe nauigation to Neptune; for faire weather and prosperous windes to Eolus; for skill in musick and leechcraft to Apollo; for free life & chastitie to Diana; for bewtie and good grace, as also for issue & prosperitie in loue, to Venus; for plenty of crop and corne to Ceres; for seasonable vintage to Bacchus; and for other things to others. So many things as they could imagine good and desirable, and to so many gods as they supposed to be authors thereof, in so much as Fortune was made a goddesse, & the feuer quartaine had her aulters: such blindnes & ignorance raigned in the harts of men at that time, and whereof it first proceeded and grew, besides th’opinion hath bene giuen, appeareth more at large in our bookes of Ierotekni, the matter being of another consideration then to be treated of in this worke. And these hymnes to the gods was the first forme of Poesie and the highest & the stateliest, & they were song by the Poets as priests, and by the people or whole congregation, as we sing in our Churchs the Psalmes of Dauid, but they did it commonly in some shadie groues of tall tymber trees: In which places they reared aulters of greene turfe, and bestrewed them all ouer with flowers, and vpon them offred their oblations and made their bloudy sacrifices (for no kinde of gift can be dearer then life) of such quick cattaille, as euery god was in their conceit most delighted in, or in some other respect most for the misterie: temples or churches or other chappels then these they had none at those dayes.
In What Forme of Poesie Vice and the Common Abuses of Mans Life Was Reprehended.
Some perchance would thinke that next after the praise and honouring of their gods should commence the worshippings and praise of good men, and specially of great Princes and gouernours of the earth in soueraignety and function next vnto the gods. But it is not so, for before that came to passe the Poets or holy Priests chiefly studied the rebuke of vice, and to carpe at the common abuses, such as were most offensiue to the publique and priuate, for as yet for lacke of good ciuility and wholesome doctrines there was greater store of lewde lourdaines then of wise and learned Lords or of noble and vertuous Princes and gouernours. So as next after the honours exhibited to their gods, the Poets finding in man generally much to reproue & litle to praise, made certaine poems in plaine meetres, more like to sermons or preachings then otherwise, and when the people were assembled togither in those hallowed placed dedicate to their gods, because they had yet no large halles or places of conuenticle, nor had any other correction of their faults, but such as rested onely in rebukes of wise and graue men, such as at these dayes make the people ashamed rather then afeard, the said auncient Poets vsed for that purpose three kinds of poems reprehensiue, to wit, the Satyre, the Comedie, and the Tragedie. And the first and most bitter inuectiue against vice and vicious men was the Satyre: which, to th’intent their bitternesse should breede none ill will, either to the Poets, or to the recitours (which could not haue bene chosen if they had bene openly knowen), and besides to make their admonitions and reproofs seeme grauer and of more efficacie, they made wise as if the gods of the woods, whom they called Satyres or Siluanes, should appeare and recite those verses of rebuke, whereas in deede they were but disguised persons vnder the shape of Satyres, as who would say, these terrene and base gods, being conuersant with mans affaires, and spiers out of all their secret faults, had some great care ouer man, & desired by good admonitions to reforme the euill of their life, and to being the bad to amendment by those kinde of preachings; whereupon the Poets inuentours of the deuise were called Satyristes.
How Vice Was Afterward Reproued by Two Other Maner of Poems, Better Reformed Then the Satyre, whereof the First Was Comedy, the Second Tragedie.
But when these maner of solitary speaches and recitals of rebuke, vttered by the rurall gods out of bushes and briers, seemed not to the finer heads sufficiently perswasiue, nor so popular as if it were reduced into action of many persons, or by many voyces liuely represented to the eare and eye, so as a man might thinke it were euen now a doing, the Poets deuised to haue many parts played at once by two or three or foure persons, that debated the matters of the world, sometimes of their owne priuate affaires, sometimes of their neighbours, but neuer medling with any Princes matters nor such high personages, but commonly of marchants, souldiers, artificers, good honest housholders, and also of vnthrifty youthes, yong damsels, old nurses, bawds, brokers, ruffians, and parasites, with such like, in whose behauiors lyeth in effect the whole course and trade of mans life, and therefore tended altogither to the good amendment of man by discipline and example. It was also much for the solace & recreation of the common people by reason of the pageants and shewes. And this kind of poeme was called Comedy, and followed next after the Satyre, & by that occasion was somwhat sharpe and bitter after the nature of the Satyre, openly & by expresse names taxing men more maliciously and impudently then became, so as they were enforced for feare of quarell & blame to disguise their players with strange apparell, and by colouring their faces and carying hatts & capps of diuerse fashions to make them selues lesse knowen. But as time & experience do reforme euery thing that is amisse, so, this bitter poeme called the old Comedy being disused and taken away, the new Comedy came in place, more ciuill and pleasant a great deale, and not touching any man by name, but in a certaine generalitie glancing at euery abuse, so as from thenceforth fearing none illwill or enmitie at any bodies hands they left aside their disguisings and played bare face, till one Roscius Gallus, the most excellent player among the Romaines, brought vp these vizards which we see at this day vsed, partly to supply the want of players, when there were moe parts then there were persons, or that it was not thought meet to trouble & pester princes chambers with too many folkes. Now by the chaunge of a vizard one man might play the king and the carter, the old nurse & the yong damsell, the marchant and the souldier, or any other part he listed very conueniently. There be that say Roscius did it for another purpose, for being him selfe the best Histrien or buffon that was in his dayes to be found, insomuch as Cicero said Roscius contended with him by varietie of liuely gestures to surmount the copy of his speach, yet because he was squint eyed and had a very vnpleasant countenance, and lookes which made him ridiculous or rather odious to the presence, he deuised these vizards to hide his owne ilfauored face. And thus much touching the Comedy.
In What Forme of Poesie the Euill and Outragious Behauiours of Princes Were Reprehended.
But because in those dayes when the Poets first taxed by Satyre and Comedy there was no great store of Kings or Emperors or such high estats (al men being yet for the most part rude, & in a maner popularly egall), they could not say of them or of their behauiours any thing to the purpose, which cases of Princes are sithens taken for the highest and greatest matters of all. But after that some men among the moe became mighty and famous in the world, soueraignetie and dominion hauing learned them all maner of lusts and licentiousnes of life, by which occasions also their high estates and felicities fell many times into most lowe and lamentable fortunes: whereas before in their great prosperities they were both feared and reuerenced in the highest degree, after their deathes, when the posteritie stood no more in dread of them, their infamous life and tyrannies were layd open to all the world, their wickednes reproched, their follies and extreme insolencies derided, and their miserable ends painted out in playes and pageants, to shew the mutabilitie of fortune, and the iust punishment of God in reuenge of a vicious and euill life. These matters were also handled by the Poets, and represented by action as that of the Comedies: but because the matter was higher then that of the Comedies, the Poets stile was also higher and more loftie, the prouision greater, the place more magnificent; for which purpose also the players garments were made more rich & costly and solemne, and euery other thing aperteining, according to that rate: So as where the Satyre was pronounced by rusticall and naked Syluanes speaking out of a bush, & the common players of interludes called Planipedes played barefoote vpon the floore, the later Comedies vpon scaffolds, and by men well and cleanely hosed and shod. These matters of great Princes were played vpon lofty stages, & the actors thereof ware vpon their legges buskins of leather called Cothurni, and other solemne habits, & for a speciall preheminence did walke vpon those high corked shoes or pantofles, which now they call in Spaine and Italy Shoppini. And because those buskins and high shoes were commonly made of goats skinnes very finely tanned, and dyed into colours, or for that, as some say, the best players reward was a goate to be giuen him, or for that, as other thinke, a goate was the peculiar sacrifice of the god Pan, king of all the gods of the woodes—forasmuch as a goate in Greeke is called Tragos, therfore these stately playes were called Tragedies. And thus haue ye foure sundry formes of Poesie Drammatick reprehensiue, & put in execution by the feate and dexteritie of mans body, to wit, the Satyre, old Comedie, new Comedie, and Tragedie, whereas all other kinde of poems, except Eglogue, whereof shalbe entreated hereafter, were onely recited by mouth or song with the voyce to some melodious instrument.
In What Forme of Poesie the Great Princes and Dominators of the World Were Honored.
But as the bad and illawdable parts of all estates and degrees were taxed by the Poets in one sort or an other, and those of great Princes by Tragedie in especial, & not till after their deaths, as hath bene before remembred, to th’intent that such exemplifying (as it were) of their blames and aduersities, being now dead, might worke for a secret reprehension to others that were aliue, liuing in the same or like abuses: so was it great reason that all good and vertuous persons should for their well doings be rewarded with commendation, and the great Princes aboue all others with honors and praises, being for many respects of greater moment to haue them good & vertuous then any inferior sort of men. Wherfore the Poets, being in deede the trumpetters of all praise and also of slaunder (not slaunder, but well deserued reproch), were in conscience & credit bound next after the diuine praises of the immortall gods to yeeld a like ratable honour to all such amongst men as most resembled the gods by excellencie of function, and had a certaine affinitie with them, by more then humane and ordinarie vertues shewed in their actions here vpon earth. They were therfore praised by a second degree of laude: shewing their high estates, their Princely genealogies and pedegrees, mariages, aliances, and such noble exploites, as they had done in th’affaires of peace & of warre to the benefit of their people and countries, by inuention of any noble science or profitable Art, or by making wholsome lawes or enlarging of their dominions by honorable and iust conquests, and many other wayes. Such personages among the Gentiles were Bacchus, Ceres, Perseus, Hercules, Theseus, and many other, who thereby came to be accompted gods and halfe gods or goddesses (Heroes), & had their commendations giuen by Hymne accordingly, or by such other poems as their memorie was therby made famous to the posteritie for euer after, as shal be more at large sayd in place conuenient. But first we will speake somewhat of the playing places, and prouisions which were made for their pageants & pomps representatiue before remembred.
Of the Places Where Their Enterludes or Poemes Drammaticke Were Represented to the People.
As it hath bene declared, the Satyres were first vttered in their hallowed places within the woods where they honoured their gods vnder the open heauen, because they had no other housing fit for great assemblies. The old comedies were plaid in the broad streets vpon wagons or carts vncouered, which carts were floored with bords & made for remouable stages to passe from one streete of their townes to another, where all the people might stand at their ease to gaze vpon the sights. Their new comedies or ciuill enterludes were played in open pauilions or tents of linnen cloth or lether, halfe displayed that the people might see. Afterward, when Tragidies came vp, they deuised to present them upon scaffoldes or stages of timber, shadowed with linen or lether as the other, and these stages were made in the forme of a Semicircle, wherof the bow serued for the beholders to sit in, and the string or forepart was appointed for the floore or place where the players vttered, & had in it sundrie little diuisions by curteins as trauerses to serue for seueral roomes where they might repaire vnto & change their garments and come in againe, as their speaches & parts were to be renewed. Also there was place appointed for the musiciens to sing or to play vpon their instrumentes at the end of euery scene, to the intent the people might be refreshed and kept occupied. This maner of stage in halfe circle the Greekes called theatrum, as much to say as a beholding place, which was also in such sort contriued by benches and greeces to stand or sit vpon, as no man should empeach anothers sight. But as ciuilitie and withall wealth encreased, so did the minde of man growe dayly more haultie and superfluous in all his deuises, so as for their theaters in halfe circle, they came to be by the great magnificence of the Romain princes and people somptuously built with marble & square stone in forme all round, & were called Amphitheaters, wherof as yet appears one among the ancient ruines of Rome, built by Pompeius Magnus, for capasitie able to receiue at ease fourscore thousand persons, as it is left written, & so curiously contriued as euery man might depart at his pleasure, without any annoyance to other. It is also to be knowne that in those great Amphitheaters were exhibited all maner of other shewes & disports for the people, as their fence playes, or digladiations of naked men, their wrastlings, runnings, leapings and other practises or actiuitie and strength, also their baitings of wild beasts, as Elephants, Rhinoceros, Tigers, Leopards, and others, which sights much delighted the common people, and therefore the places required to be large and of great content.
Of the Shepheards or Pastorall Poesie Called Eglogue, and to What Purpose it Was First Inuented and Vsed.
Some be of opinion, and the chiefe of those who haue written in this Art among the Latines, that the pastorall Poesie which we commonly call by the name of Eglogue and Bucolick, a tearme brought in by the Sicilian Poets, should be the first of any others, and before the Satyre, Comedie, or Tragedie, because, say they, the shepheards and haywards assemblies & meetings when they kept their cattell and heards in the common fields and forests was the first familiar conuersation, and their babble and talk vnder bushes and shadie trees the first disputation and contentious reasoning, and their fleshly heates growing of ease the first idle wooings, and their songs made to their mates or paramours either vpon sorrow or iolity of courage the first amorous musicks; sometime also they sang and played on their pipes for wagers, striuing who should get the best game and be counted cunningest. All this I do agree vnto, for no doubt the shepheards life was the first example of honest felowship, their trade the first art of lawfull acquisition or purchase, for at those daies robbery was a manner of purchase. So saith Aristotle in his bookes of the Politiques; and that pasturage was before tillage, or fishing, or fowling, or any other predatory art or cheuisance. And all this may be true, for before there was a shepheard keeper of his owne or of some other bodies flocke, there was none owner in the world, quick cattel being the first property of any forreine possession. I say forreine, because alway men claimed property in their apparell and armour, and other like things made by their owne trauel and industry, nor thereby was there yet any good towne, or city, or Kings palace, where pageants and pompes might be shewed by Comedies or Tragedies. But for all this, I do deny that the Eglogue should be the first and most auncient forme of artificiall Poesie, being perswaded that the Poet deuised the Eglogue long after the other drammatick poems, not of purpose to counterfait or represent the rusticall manner of loues and communication, but vnder the vaile of homely persons and in rude speeches to insinuate and glaunce at greater matters, and such as perchance had not bene safe to haue beene disclosed in any other sort, which may be perceiued by the Eglogues of Virgill, in which are treated by figure matters of greater importance then the loues of Titirus and Corydon. These Eglogues came after to containe and enforme morall discipline, for the amendment of mans behauiour, as be those of Mantuan and other moderne Poets.
Of Historicall Poesie, by Which the Famous Acts of Princes and the Vertuous and Worthy Liues of Our Forefathers Were Reported.
There is nothing in man of all the potential parts of his mind (reason and will except) more noble or more necessary to the actiue life then memory; because it maketh most to a sound iudgement and perfect worldly wisedome, examining and comparing the times past with the present, and, by them both considering the time to come, concludeth with a stedfast resolution what is the best course to be taken in all his actions and aduices in this world. It came, vpon this reason, experience to be so highly commended in all consultations of importance, and preferred before any learning or science, and yet experience is no more than a masse of memories assembled, that is, such trials as man hath made in time before. Right so no kinde of argument in all the Oratorie craft doth better perswade and more vniuersally satisfie then example, which is but the representation of old memories, and like successes happened in times past. For these regards the Poesie historicall is of all other next the diuine most honorable and worthy, as well for the common benefit as for the speciall comfort euery man receiueth by it: no one thing in the world with more delectation reuiuing our spirits then to behold as it were in a glasse the liuely image of our deare forefathers, their noble and vertuous maner of life, with other things autentike, which because we are not able otherwise to attaine to the knowledge of by any of our sences, we apprehend them by memory, whereas the present time and things so swiftly passe away, as they giue vs no leasure almost to looke into them, and much lesse to know & consider of them throughly. The things future, being also euents very vncertaine, and such as can not possibly be knowne because they be not yet, can not be vsed for example nor for delight otherwise then by hope; though many promise the contrary, by vaine and deceitfull arts taking vpon them to reueale the truth of accidents to come, which, if it were so as they surmise, are yet but sciences meerely coniecturall, and not of any benefit to man or to the common wealth where they be vsed or professed. Therefore the good and exemplarie things and actions of the former ages were reserued only to the historicall reportes of wise and graue men: those of the present time left to the fruition and iudgement of our sences: the future, as hazards and incertaine euentes vtterly neglected and layd aside for Magicians and mockers to get their liuings by, such manner of men as by negligence of Magistrates and remiss[n]es of lawes euery countrie breedeth great store of. These historical men neuerthelesse vsed not the matter so precisely to wish that al they wrote should be accounted true, for that was not needeful nor expedient to the purpose, namely to be vsed either for example or for pleasure: considering that many times it is seene a fained matter or altogether fabulous, besides that it maketh more mirth than any other, works no lesse good conclusions for example then the most true and veritable, but often times more, because the Poet hath the handling of them to fashion at his pleasure, but not so of th’ other, which must go according to their veritie, and none otherwise, without the writers great blame. Againe, as ye know, mo and more excellent examples may be fained in one day by a good wit then many ages through mans frailtie are able to put in vre; which made the learned and wittie men of those times to deuise many historicall matters of no veritie at all, but with purpose to do good and no hurt, as vsing them for a maner of discipline and president of commendable life. Such was the common wealth of Plato, and Sir Thomas Moores Vtopia, resting all in deuise, but neuer put in execution, and easier to be wished then to be performed. And you shall perceiue that histories were of three sortes, wholly true, and wholly false, and a third holding part of either, but for honest recreation and good example they were all of them. And this may be apparent to vs not onely by the Poeticall histories but also by those that be written in prose: for as Homer wrate a fabulous or mixt report of the siege of Troy and another of Ulisses errors or wandrings, so did Museus compile a true treatise of the life & loues of Leander and Hero, both of them Heroick, and to none ill edification. Also, as Theucidides wrate a worthy and veritable historie of the warres betwixt the Athenians and the Peloponeses, so did Zenophon, a most graue Philosopher, and well trained courtier and counsellour, make another (but fained and vntrue) of the childhood of Cyrus, king of Persia; neuertheless both to one effect, that is for example and good information of the posteritie. Now because the actions of meane & base personages tend in very few cases to any great good example; for who passeth to follow the steps and maner of life of a craftes man, shepheard, or sailer, though he were his father or dearest frend? yea how almost is it possible that such maner of men should be of any vertue other then their profession requireth? therefore was nothing committed to historie but matters of great and excellent persons & things, that the same by irritation of good courages (such as emulation causeth) might worke more effectually, which occasioned the story writer to chuse an higher stile fit for his subiect, the Prosaicke in prose, the Poet in meetre, and the Poets was by verse exameter for his grauitie and statelinesse most allowable: neither would they intermingle him with any other shorter measure, vnlesse it were in matters of such qualitie as became best to be song with the voyce and to some musicall instrument, as were with the Greeks all your Hymnes & Encomia of Pindarus & Callimachus, not very histories, but a maner of historicall reportes; in which cases they made those poemes in variable measures, & coupled a short verse with a long to serue that purpose the better. And we our selues who compiled this treatise haue written for pleasure a litle brief Romance or historicall ditty in the English tong, of the Isle of great Britaine, in short and long meetres, and by breaches or diuisions to be more commodiously song to the harpe in places of assembly, where the company shalbe desirous to heare of old aduentures & valiaunces of noble knights in times past, as are those of king Arthur and his knights of the round table, Sir Beuys of Southampton, Guy of Warwicke, and others like. Such as haue not premonition hereof, and consideration of the causes alledged, would peraduenture reproue and disgrace euery Romance or short historicall ditty for that they be not written in long meeters or verses Alexandrins, according to the nature and stile of large histories; wherin they should do wrong, for they be sundry formes of poems, and not all one.
In What Forme of Poesie Vertue in the Inferiour Sort Was Commended.
In euerie degree and sort of men vertue is commendable, but not egally: not onely because mens estates are vnegall, but for that also vertue it selfe is not in euery respect of egall value and estimation. For continence in a king is of greater merit then in a carter, th’one hauing all opportunities to allure him to lusts, and abilitie to serue his appetites, th’other partly for the basenesse of his estate wanting such meanes and occasions, partly by dread of lawes more inhibited, and not so vehemently caried away with vnbridled affections; and therefore deserue not in th’one and th’other like praise nor equall reward, by the very ordinarie course of distributiue iustice. Euen so parsimonie and illiberalitie are greater vices in a Prince then in a priuate person, and pusillanimitie and iniustice likewise: for to th’one, fortune hath supplied inough to maintaine them in the contrarie vertues, I meane, fortitude, iustice, liberalitie, and magnanimitie, the Prince hauing all plentie to vse largesse by, and no want or neede to driue him to do wrong; also all the aides that may be to lift vp his courage and to make him stout and fearelesse: augent animos fortunae, saith the Mimist, and very truly, for nothing pulleth downe a mans heart so much as aduersitie and lacke. Againe, in a meane man prodigalitie and pride are faultes more reprehensible then in Princes, whose high estates do require in their countenance, speech, & expence a certaine extraordinary, and their functions enforce them sometime to exceede the limites of mediocritie, not excusable in a priuat person, whose manner of life and calling hath no such exigence. Besides the good and bad of Princes is more exemplarie, and thereby of greater moment then the priuate persons. Therfore it is that the inferiour persons with their inferiour vertues haue a certaine inferiour praise to guerdon their good with, & to comfort them to continue a laudable course in the modest and honest life and behauiour. But this lyeth not in written laudes so much as in ordinary reward and commendation to be giuen them by the mouth of the superiour magistrate. For histories were not intended to so generall and base a purpose, albeit many a meane souldier & other obscure persons were spoken of and made famous in stories, as we finde of Irus the begger, and Thersites the glorious noddie, whom Homer maketh mention of. But that happened (& so did many like memories of meane men) by reason of some greater personage or matter that it was long of, which therefore could not be an vniuersall case nor chaunce to euery other good and vertuous person of the meaner sort. Wherefore the Poet in praising the maner of life or death of anie meane person did it by some litle dittie, or Epigram, or Epitaph, in fewe verses & meane stile conformable to his subiect. So haue you how the immortall gods were praised by hymnes, the great Princes and heroicke personages by ballades of praise called Encomia, both of them by historicall reports of great grauitie and maiestie, the inferiour persons by other slight poemes.
The Forme wherein Honest and Profitable Artes and Sciences Were Treated.
The profitable sciences were no lesse meete to be imported to the greater number of ciuill men for instruction of the people and increase of knowledge then to be reserued and kept for clerkes and great men onely. So as next vnto the things historicall such doctrines and arts as the common wealth fared the better by were esteemed and allowed. And the same were treated by Poets in verse Exameter sauoring the Heroicall, and for the grauitie and comelinesse of the meetre most vsed with the Greekes and Latines to sad purposes. Such were the Philosophicall works of Lucretius Carus among the Romaines, the Astronomicall of Aratus and Manilius, one Greeke, th’other Latine, the Medicinall of Nicander, and that of Oppianus of hunting and fishes, and many moe that were too long to recite in this place.
In What Forme of Poesie the Amorous Affections and Allurements Were Vttered.
The first founder of all good affections is honest loue, as the mother of all the vicious is hatred. It was not therefore without reason that so commendable, yea honourable, a thing as loue well meant, were it in Princely estate or priuate, might in all ciuil common wealths be vttered in good forme and order as other laudable things are. And because loue is of all other humane affections the most puissant and passionate, and most generall to all sortes and ages of men and women, so as whether it be of the yong or old, or wise or holy, or high estate or low, none euer could truly bragge of any exemption in that case: it requireth a forme of Poesie variable, inconstant, affected, curious, and most witty of any others, whereof the ioyes were to be vttered in one sorte, the sorrowes in an other, and, by the many formes of Poesie, the many moodes and pangs of louers, throughly to be discouered: the poore soules sometimes praying, beseeching, sometime honouring, auancing, praising, an other while railing, reuiling, and cursing, then sorrowing, weeping, lamenting, in the ende laughing, reioysing, & solacing the beloued againe, with a thousand delicate deuises, odes, songs, elegies, ballads, sonets, and other ditties, moouing one way and another to great compassion.
The Forme of Poeticall Reioysings.
Pleasure is the chiefe parte of mans felicity in this world, and also (as our Theologians say) in the world to come. Therefore while we may (yea alwaies if it could be), to reioyce and take our pleasures in vertuous and honest sort, it is not only allowable but also necessary and very naturall to man. And many be the ioyes and consolations of the hart, but none greater than such as he may vtter and discouer by some conuenient meanes: euen as to suppresse and hide a mans mirth, and not to haue therein a partaker, or at least wise a witnes, is no little griefe and infelicity. Therfore nature and ciuility haue ordained (besides the priuate solaces) publike reioisings for the comfort and recreation of many. And they be of diuerse sorts and vpon diuerse occasions growne. One & the chiefe was for the publike peace of a countrie, the greatest of any other ciuill good; and wherein your Maiestie (my most gracious Soueraigne) haue shewed your selfe to all the world, for this one and thirty yeares space of your glorious raigne, aboue all other Princes of Christendome, not onely fortunate, but also most sufficient, vertuous, and worthy of Empire. An other is for iust & honourable victory atchieued against the forreine enemy. A third at solemne feasts and pompes of coronations and enstallments of honourable orders. An other for iollity at weddings and marriages. An other at the births of Princes children. An other for priuate entertainments in Court, or other secret disports in chamber, and such solitary places. And as these reioysings tend to diuers effects, so do they also carry diuerse formes and nominations; for those of victorie and peace are called Triumphall, whereof we our selues haue heretofore giuen some example by our Triumphals, written in honour of her Maiesties long peace. And they were vsed by the auncients in like manner as we do our generall processions or Letanies, with bankets and bonefires and all manner of ioyes. Those that were to honour the persons of great Princes or to solemnise the pompes of any installment were called Encomia; we may call them carols of honour. Those to celebrate marriages were called songs nuptiall or Epithalamies, but in a certaine misticall sense, as shall be said hereafter. Others for magnificence at the natiuities of Princes children, or by custome vsed yearely vpon the same dayes, are called songs natall or Genethliaca. Others for secret recreation and pastime in chambers with company or alone were the ordinary Musickes amorous, such as might be song with voice or to the Lute, Citheron, or Harpe, or daunced by measures, as the Italian Pauan and galliard are at these daies in Princes Courts and other places of honourable or ciuill assembly; and of all these we will speake in order and very briefly.
The Forme of Poeticall Lamentations.
Lamenting is altogether contrary to reioising; euery man saith so, and yet is it a peece of ioy to be able to lament with ease, and freely to poure forth a mans inward sorrowes and the greefs wherewith his minde is surcharged. This was a very necessary deuise of the Poet and a fine, besides his poetrie to play also the Phisitian, and not onely by applying a medicine to the ordinary sicknes of mankind, but by making the very greef it selfe (in part) cure of the disease. Nowe are the causes of mans sorrowes many: the death of his parents, frends, allies, and children (though many of the barbarous nations do reioyce at their burials and sorrow at their birthes), the ouerthrowes and discomforts in battell, the subuersions of townes and cities, the desolations of countreis, the losse of goods and worldly promotions, honour and good renowne, finally, the trauails and torments of loue forlorne or ill bestowed, either by disgrace, deniall, delay, and twenty other wayes, that well experienced louers could recite. Such of these greefs as might be refrained or holpen by wisedome and the parties owne good endeuour, the Poet gaue none order to sorrow them. For first, as to the good renowne, it is lost for the more part by some default of the owner, and may be by his well doings recouered againe. And if it be vniustly taken away, as by vntrue and famous libels, the offenders recantation may suffise for his amends: so did the Poet Stesichorus, as it is written of him in his Pallinodie vpon the disprayse of Helena, and recouered his eye sight. Also, for worldly goods, they come and go, as things not long proprietary to any body, and are not yet subiect vnto fortunes dominion so but that we our selues are in great part accessarie to our own losses and hinderaunces by ouersight & misguiding of our selues and our things; therefore, why should we bewaile our such voluntary detriment? But death, the irrecouerable losse, death, the dolefull departure of frendes, that can neuer be recontinued by any other meeting or new acquaintance—besides our vncertaintie and suspition of their estates and welfare in the places of their new abode—seemeth to carry a reasonable pretext of iust sorrow. Likewise, the great ouerthrowes in battell and desolations of countreys by warres, aswell for the losse of many liues and much libertie as for that it toucheth the whole state, and euery priuate man hath his portion in the damage. Finally, for loue, there is no frailtie in flesh and bloud so excusable as it, no comfort or discomfort greater then the good and bad successe thereof, nothing more naturall to man, nothing of more force to vanquish his will and to inuegle his iudgement. Therefore of death and burials, of th’aduersities by warres, and of true loue lost of ill bestowed are th’onely sorrowes that the noble Poets sought by their arte to remoue or appease, not with any medicament of a contrary temper, as the Galenistes vse to cure contraria contrariis, but as the Paracelsians, who cure similia similibus, making one dolour to expell another, and, in this case, one short sorrowing the remedie of a long and grieuous sorrow. And the lamenting of deathes was chiefly at the very burialls of the dead, also at monethes mindes and longer times, by custome continued yearely, when as they vsed many offices of seruice and loue towardes the dead, and thereupon are called Obsequies in our vulgare; which was done not onely by cladding the mourners their friendes and seruauntes in blacke vestures, of shape dolefull and sad, but also by wofull countenaunces and voyces, and besides by Poeticall mournings in verse. Such funerall songs were called Epicedia if they were song by many, and Monodia if they were vttered by one alone, and this was vsed at the enterment of Princes and others of great accompt, and it was reckoned a great ciuilitie to vse such ceremonies, as at this day is also in some countrey vsed. In Rome they accustomed to make orations funerall and commendatorie of the dead parties in the publique place called Pro rostris: and our Theologians in stead thereof vse to make sermons, both teaching the people some good learning and also saying well of the departed. Those songs of the dolorous discomfits in battaile and other desolations in warre, or of townes saccaged and subuerted, were song by the remnant of the army ouerthrowen, with great skrikings and outcries, holding the wrong end of their weapon vpwards in signe of sorrow and dispaire. The cities also made generall mournings & offred sacrifices with Poeticall songs to appease the wrath of the martiall gods & goddesses. The third sorrowing was of loues, by long lamentation in Elegie: so was their song called, and it was in a pitious maner of meetre, placing a limping Pentameter after a lusty Exameter, which made it go dolourously, more then any other meeter.
Of the Solemne Reioysings at the Natiuitie of Princes Children.
To returne from sorrow to reioysing, it is a very good hap and no vnwise part for him that can do it; I say, therefore, that the comfort of issue and procreation of children is so naturall and so great, not onely to all men but specially to Princes, as duetie and ciuilitie haue made it a common custome to reioyse at the birth of their noble children, and to keepe those dayes hallowed and festiuall for euer once in the yeare, during the parentes or childrens liues; and that by publique order & consent. Of which reioysings and mirthes the Poet ministred the first occasion honorable, by presenting of ioyfull songs and ballades, praysing the parentes by proofe, the child by hope, the whole kinred by report, & the day it selfe with wishes of all good successe, long life, health & prosperitie for euer to the new borne. These poemes were called in Greeke Genet[h]liaca; with vs they may be called natall or birth songs.
The Maner of Reioysings at Mariages and Weddings.
As the consolation of children well begotten is great, no lesse but rather greater ought to be that which is occasion of children, that is honorable matrimonie, a loue by al lawes allowed, not mutable nor encombred with such vaine cares & passions, as that other loue, whereof there is no assurance, but loose and fickle affection occasioned for the most part by sodaine sights and acquaintance of no long triall or experience, nor vpon any other good ground wherein any suretie may be conceiued: wherefore the Ciuill Poet could do no lesse in conscience and credit, then as he had before done to the ballade of birth, now with much better deuotion to celebrate by his poeme the chearefull day of mariages aswell Princely as others, for that hath alwayes bene accompted with euery countrey and nation of neuer so barbarous people the highest & holiest of any ceremonie apperteining to man; a match forsooth made for euer and not for a day, a solace prouided for youth, a comfort for age, a knot of alliance & amitie indissoluble: great reioysing was therefore due to such a matter and to so gladsome a time. This was done in ballade wise, as the natall song, and was song very sweetely by Musitians at the chamber dore of the Bridegroome and Bride at such times as shalbe hereafter declared, and they were called Epithalamies, as much to say as ballades at the bedding of the bride: for such as were song at the borde at dinner or supper were other Musickes and not properly Epithalamies. Here, if I shall say that which apperteineth to th’arte, and disclose the misterie of the whole matter, I must and doe with all humble reuerence bespeake pardon of the chaste and honorable eares, least I should either offend them with licentious speach, or leaue them ignorant of the ancient guise in old times vsed at weddings, in my simple opinion nothing reproueable. This Epithalamie was deuided by breaches into three partes to serue for three seuerall fits or times to be song. The first breach was song at the first parte of the night, when the spouse and her husband were brought to their bed, & at the very chamber dore, where in a large vtter roome vsed to be (besides the musitiens) good store of ladies or gentlewomen of their kinsefolkes, & others who came to honor the mariage; & the tunes of the songs were very loude and shrill, to the intent there might no noise be hard out of the bed chamber by the skreeking and outcry of the young damosell feeling the first forces of her stiffe & rigorous young man, she being, as all virgins, tender & weake, and vnexpert in those maner of affaires. For which purpose also they vsed by old nurses (appointed to that seruice) to suppresse the noise by casting of pottes full of nuttes round about the chamber vpon the hard floore or pauement, for they vsed not mattes nor rushes as we doe now. So as the Ladies and gentlewomen should haue their eares so occupied what with Musicke, and what with their handes wantonly scambling and catching after the nuttes, that they could not intend to harken after any other thing. This was, as I said, to diminish the noise of the laughing lamenting spouse. The tenour of that part of the song was to congratulate the first acquaintance and meeting of the young couple, allowing of their parents good discretions in making the match, then afterward to sound cherfully to the onset and first encounters of that amorous battaile, to declare the comfort of children, & encrease of loue by that meane chiefly caused: the bride shewing her self euery waies well disposed, and still supplying occasions of new lustes and loue to her husband by her obedience and amorous embracings and all other allurementes. About midnight or one of the clocke, the Musicians came again to the chamber dore (all the Ladies and other women as they were of degree hauing taken their leaue, and being gone to their rest). This part of the ballade was to refresh the faint and weried bodies and spirits, and to animate new appetites with cherefull wordes, encoraging them to the recontinuance of the same entertainments, praising and commending (by supposall) the good conformities of them both, & their desire one to vanquish the other by such frendly conflictes; alledging that the first embracementes neuer bred barnes, by reason of their ouermuch affection and heate, but onely made passage for children and enforced greater liking to the late made match; that the second assaultes were lesse rigorous, but more vigorous and apt to auance the purpose of procreation; that therefore they should persist in all good appetite with an inuincible courage to the end. This was the second part of the Epithalamie. In the morning when it was faire broad day, & that by liklyhood all tournes were sufficiently serued, the last actes of the enterlude being ended, & that the bride must within few hours arise and apparrell her selfe, no more as a virgine but as a wife, and about dinner time must by order come forth Sicut sponsa de thalamo very demurely and stately to be sene and acknowledged of her parents and kinsfolkes whether she were the same woman or a changeling, or dead or aliue, or maimed by any accident nocturnall, the same Musicians came againe with this last part and greeted them both with a Psalme of new applausions, for that they had either of them so well behaued them selues that night, the husband to rob his spouse of her maidenhead and saue her life, the bride so lustely to satisfie her husbandes loue and scape with so litle daunger of her person; for which good chaunce that they should make a louely truce and abstinence of that warre till next night, sealing the placard of that louely league with twentie maner of sweet kisses; then by good admonitions enformed them to the frugall & thriftie life all the rest of their dayes, the good man getting and bringing home, the wife sauing that which her husband should get, therewith to be the better able to keepe good hospitalitie, according to their estates, and to bring vp their children (if God sent any) vertuously, and the better by their owne good example; finally to perseuer all the rest of their life in true and inuiolable wedlocke. This ceremony was omitted when men maried widowes or such as had tasted the frutes of loue before (we call them well experienced young women), in whom there was no feare of daunger to their persons, or of any outcry at all, at the time of those terrible approches. Thus much touching the vsage of Epithalamie or bedding ballad of the ancient times, in which if there were any wanton or lasciuious matter more then ordinarie, which they called F[es]cenina licentia, it was borne withal for that time because of the matter no lesse requiring. Catullus hath made of them one or two very artificiall and ciuil; but none more excellent then of late yeares a young noble man of Germanie, as I take it, Iohannes secundus, who, in that and in his poeme De basiis, passeth any of the auncient or moderne Poetes in my iudgment.
The Manner of Poesie by Which They Vttered Their Bitter Taunts, and Priuy Nips or Witty Scoffes, and Other Merry Conceits.
But all the world could not keepe, nor any ciuill ordinance to the contrary so preuaile, but that men would and must needs vtter their splenes in all ordinarie matters also, or else it seemed their bowels would burst: therefore the poet deuised a prety fashioned poeme short and sweete (as we are wont to say) and called it Epigramma, in which euery mery conceited man might, without any long studie or tedious ambage, make his frend sport, and anger his foe, and giue a prettie nip, or shew a sharpe conceit in few verses: for this Epigramme is but an inscription or writting made as it were vpon a table, or in a windowe, or vpon the wall or mantell of a chimney of some place of common resort, where it was allowed euery man might come, or be sitting to chat and prate, as now in our tauernes and common tabling houses, where many merry heades meete, and scrible with ynke, with chalke, or with a cole, such matters as they would euery man should know & descant vpon. Afterward the same came to be put in paper and in bookes and vsed as ordinarie missiues, some of frendship, some of defiaunce, or as other messages of mirth. Martiall was the chiefe of this skil among the Latines, & at these days the best Epigrammes we finde, & of the sharpest conceit, are those that haue bene gathered among the reliques of the two muet Satyres in Rome, Pasquill and Marphorius, which in time of Sede vacante, when merry conceited men lifted to gibe & iest at the dead Pope, or any of his Cardinales, they fastened them vpon those Images which now lie in the open streets, and were tollerated, but after that terme expired they were inhibited againe. These inscriptions or Epigrammes at their begining had no certaine author that would auouch them, some for feare of blame, if they were ouer saucy or sharpe, others for modestie of the writer, as was that disticke of Virgil which he set vpon the pallace gate of the emperour Augustus, which I will recite for the breifnes and quicknes of it, and also for another euente that fell out vpon the matter worthy to be remembred. These were the verses:
These two verses were very well liked, and brought to th’Emperours Maiestie, who tooke great pleasure in them, & willed the author should be knowen. A sausie courtier profered him selfe to be the man, and had a good reward giuen him, for the Emperour him self was not only learned, but of much munificence toward all learned men: whereupon Virgill, seing him self by his ouermuch modestie defrauded of the reward, that an impudent had gotten by abuse of his merit, came the next night, and fastened vpon the same place this halfe metre, foure times iterated. Thus:
Of the Poeme Called Epitaph Vsed for Memoriall of the Dead.
An Epitaph is but a kind of Epigram only applied to the report of the dead persons estate and degree, or of his other good or bad partes, to his commendation or reproch, and is an inscription such as a man may commodiously write or engraue vpon a tombe in few verses, pithie, quicke, and sententious, for the passer-by to peruse and iudge vpon without any long tariaunce. So as if it exceede the measure of an Epigram, it is then (if the verse be correspondent) rather an Elegie then an Epitaph, which errour many of these bastard rimers commit, because they be not learned, nor (as we are wont to say) craftes masters, for they make long and tedious discourses and write them in large tables to be hanged vp in Churches and chauncells ouer the tombes of great men and others, which be so exceeding long as one must haue halfe a dayes leasure to reade one of them, & must be called away before he come halfe to the end, or else be locked into the Church by the Sexten, as I my selfe was once serued reading an Epitaph in a certain cathedrall Church of England. They be ignorant of poesie that call such long tales by the name of Epitaphes; they might better call them Elegies, as I said before, and then ought neither to be engrauen nor hanged vp in tables. I haue seene them neuertheles vpon many honorable tombes of these late times erected, which doe rather disgrace then honour either the matter or maker.
A Certaine Auncient Forme of Poesie by Which Men Did Vse to Reproch Their Enemies.
As frendes be a rich a ioyfull possession, so be foes a continual torment and canker to the minde of man; and yet there is no possible meane to auoide this inconuenience, for the best of vs all, he that thinketh he liues most blamelesse, liues not without enemies, that enuy him for his good parts, or hate him for his euill. There be wise men, and of them the great learned man Plutarch tooke vpon them to perswade the benefite that men receiue by their enemies, which though it may be true in manner of Paradoxe, yet I finde mans frailtie to be naturally such, and alwayes hath beene, that he cannot conceiue it in his owne case, nor shew that patience and moderation in such greifs, as becommeth the man perfite and accomplisht in all vertue: but either in deede or by word he will seeke reuenge against them that malice him, or practise his harmes, specially such foes as oppose themselues to a mans loues. This made the auncient Poetes to inuent a meane to rid the gall of all such Vindicatiue men: so as they might be awrecked of their wrong, & neuer bely their enemie with slaunderous vntruthes. And this was done by a maner of imprecation, or as we call it by cursing and banning of the parties, and wishing all euill to alight vpon them, and though it neuer the sooner happened, yet was it great easment to the boiling stomacke. They were called Dirae, such as Virgill made aginst Battarus, and Ouide against Ibis: we Christians are forbidden to vse such vncharitable fashions, and willed to referre all our reuenges to God alone.
Of Short Epigrames Called Posies.
There be also other like Epigrammes that were sent vsually for new yeares giftes, or to be Printed or put vpon their banketting dishes of suger plate or of march paines, & such other dainty meates as by the curtesie & custome euery gest might carry from a common feast home with him to his owne house, & were made for the nonce. They were called Nenia or apophoreta, and neuer contained aboue one verse, or two at the most, but the shorter the better; we call them Posies, and do paint them now a dayes vpon the backe sides of our fruite trenchers of wood, or vse them as deuises in rings and armes and about such courtly purposes.
So haue we remembred and set forth to your Maiestie very briefly all the commended fourmes of the auncient Poesie, which we in our vulgare makings do imitate and vse vnder these common names: enterlude, song, ballade, carroll, and ditty; borrowing them also from the French al sauing this word ‘song’ which is our naturall Saxon English word: the rest, such as time and vsurpation by custome haue allowed vs out of the primitiue Greeke & Latine, as Comedie, Tragedie, Ode, Epitaphe, Elegie, Epigramme, and other moe. And we haue purposely omitted all nice or scholasticall curiosities not meete for your Maiesties contemplation in this our vulgare arte, and what we haue written of the auncient formes of Poemes we haue taken from the best clerks writing in the same arte. The part that next followeth, to wit of proportion, because the Greeks nor Latines neuer had it in vse nor made any obseruation, no more then we doe of their feete, we may truly affirme to haue bene the first deuisers thereof our selues, as [autodidaktoi], and not to haue borrowed it of any other by learning or imitation, and thereby trusting to be holden the more excusable if any thing in this our labours happen either to mislike, or to come short of th’authors purpose, because commonly the first attempt in any arte or engine artificiall is amendable, & in time by often experiences reformed. And so no doubt may this deuise of ours be, by others that shall take the penne in hand after vs.
Who in Any Age Haue Bene the Most Commended Writers in Our English Poesie, and the Authors Censure Giuen Vpon Them.
It appeareth by sundry records of bookes both printed & written that many of our countreymen haue painfully trauelled in this part: of whose works some appeare to be but bare translations, other some matters of their owne inuention and very commendable, whereof some recitall shall be made in this place, to th’intent chiefly that their names should not be defrauded of such honour as seemeth due to them for hauing by their thankefull studies so much beautified our English tong as at this day it will be found our nation is in nothing inferiour to the French or Italian for copie of language, subtiltie of deuice, good method and proportion in any forme of poeme, but that they may compare with the most, and perchance passe a great many of them. And I will not reach aboue the time of king Edward the third, and Richard the second for any that wrote in English meeter, because before their times, by reason of the late Normane conquest, which had brought into this Realme much alteration both of our langage and lawes, and there withall a certain martiall barbarousnes, whereby the study of all good learning was so much decayd as long time after no man or very few entended to write in any laudable science: so as beyond that time there is litle or nothing worth commendation to be founde written in this arte. And those of the first age were Chaucer and Gower, both of them, as I suppose, Knightes. After whom followed Iohn Lydgate, the monke of Bury, & that nameles, who wrote the Satyre called Piers Plowman; next him followed Harding, the Chronicler; then, in king Henry th’eights time, Skelton, (I wot not for what great worthines) surnamed the Poet Laureat. In the latter end of the same kings raigne sprong vp a new company of courtly makers, of whom Sir Thomas Wyat th’elder & Henry Earle of Surrey were the two chieftaines, who hauing trauailed into Italie, and there tasted the sweete and stately measures and stile of the Italian Poesie, as nouices newly crept out of the schooles of Dante, Arioste, and Petrarch, they greatly pollished our rude & homely maner of vulgar Poesie from that it had bene before, and for that cause may iustly be sayd the first reformers of our English meetre and stile. In the same time, or not long after, was the Lord Nicholas Vaux, a man of much facilitie in vulgar makings. Afterward, in king Edward the sixths time, came to be in reputation for the same facultie Thomas Sternehold, who first translated into English certaine Psalmes of Dauid, and Iohn Heywood, the Epigrammatist, who for the myrth and quicknesse of his conceits more then for any good learning was in him came to be well benefited by the king. But the principall man in this profession at the same time was Maister Edward Ferrys, a man of no lesse mirth & felicitie that way, but of much more skil & magnificence in his meeter, and therefore wrate for the most part to the stage, in Tragedie and sometimes in Comedie or Enterlude, wherein he gaue the king so much good recreation as he had thereby many good rewardes. In Queenes Maries time florished aboue any other Doctour Phaer, one that was well learned & excellently well translated into English verse Heroicall certaine bookes of Virgils Æneidos. Since him followed Maister Arthure Golding, who with no lesse commendation turned into English meetre the Metamorphosis of Ouide, and that other Doctour, who made the supplement to those bookes of Virgils Æneidos which Maister Phaer left vndone. And in her Maiesties time that now is are sprong vp an other crew of Courtly makers, Noble men and Gentlemen of her Maiesties owne seruantes, who haue written excellently well as it would appeare if their doings could be found out and made publicke with the rest; of which number is first that noble Gentleman Edward Earle of Oxford, Thomas Lord of Bukhurst, when he was young, Henry Lord Paget, Sir Philip Sydney, Sir Walter Rawleigh, Master Edward Dyar, Maister Fulke Greuell, Gascon, Britton, Turberuillem and a great many other learned Gentlemen, whose names I do not omit for enuie, but to auoyde tediousnesse, and who haue deserued no little commendation. But of them all particularly, this is myne opinion, that Chaucer, with Gower, Lidgat, and Harding, for their antiquitie ought to haue the first place, and Chaucer, as the most renowmed of them all, for the much learning appeareth to be in him, aboue any of the rest. And though many of his bookes be but bare translations out of the Latin & French, yet are they wel handled, as his bookes of Troilus and Cresseid, and the Romant of the Rose, whereof he translated but one halfe,—the deuice was Iohn de Mehunes, a French Poet: the Canterbury tales were Chaucers owne inuention, as I suppose, and where he sheweth more the naturall of his pleasant wit then in any other of his workes; his similitudes, comparisons, and all other descriptions are such as can not be amended. His meetre Heroicall of Troilus and Cresseid is very graue and stately, keeping the staffe of seuen and the verse of ten; his other verses of the Canterbury tales be but riding ryme, neuerthelesse very well becomming the matter of that pleasaunt pilgrimage, in which euery mans part is playd with much decency. Gower, sauing for his good and graue moralities, had nothing in him highly to be commended, for his verse was homely and without good measure, his wordes strained much deale out of the French writers, his ryme wrested, and in his inuentions small subtillitie: the applications of his moralities are the best in him, and yet those many times very grossely bestowed; neither doth the substance of his workes sufficiently aunswere the subtilitie of his titles. Lydgat, a translatour onely, and no deuiser of that which he wrate, but one that wrate in good verse. Harding, a Poet Epick or Historicall, handled himselfe well according to the time and maner of his subiect. He that wrote the Satyr of Piers Ploughman seemed to haue bene a malcontent of that time, and therefore bent himselfe wholy to taxe the disorders of that age, and specially the pride of the Romane Clergy, of whose fall he seemeth to be a very true Prophet; his verse is but loose meetre, and his termes hard and obscure, so as in them is litle pleasure to be taken. Skelton, a sharpe Satirist, but with more rayling and scoffery then became a Poet Lawreat: such among the Greekes were called Pantomimi, with vs Buffons, altogether applying their wits to Scurrillities & other ridiculous matters. Henry Earle of Surrey and Sir Thomas Wyat, betweene whom I finde very litle difference, I repute them (as before) for the two chief lanternes of light to all others that haue since employed their pennes vpon English Poesie: their conceits were loftie, their stiles stately, their conueyance cleanely, their termes proper, their meetre sweete and well proportioned, in all imitating very naturally and studiously their Maister Francis Petrarcha. The Lord Vaux his commendation lyeth chiefly in the facillitie of his meetre, and the aptnesse of his descriptions such as he taketh vpon him to make, namely in sundry of his Songs, wherein he sheweth the counterfait action very liuely & pleasantly. Of the later sort I thinke thus. That for Tragedie, the Lord of Buckhurst & Maister Edward Ferrys, for such doings as I haue sene of theirs, do deserue the hyest price: Th’Earle of Oxford and Maister Edwardes of her Maiesties Chappell for Comedy and Enterlude. For Eglogue and pastorall Poesie, Sir Philip Sydney and Maister Challenner, and that other Gentleman who wrate the late shepheardes Callender. For dittie and amorous Ode I finde Sir Walter Rawleyghs vayne most loftie, insolent, and passionate. Maister Edward Dyar, for Elegie most sweete, solempne, and of high conceit. Gascon for a good meeter and for a plentifull vayne. Phaer and Golding, for a learned and well corrected verse, specially in translation cleare and very faithfully answering their authours intent. Others haue also written with much facillitie, but more commendably perchance if they had not written so much nor so popularly. But last in recitall and first in degree is the Queene our soueraigne Lady, whose learned, delicate, noble Muse easily surmounteth all the rest that haue written before her time or since, for sence, sweetnesse, and subtillitie, be it in Ode, Elegie, Epigram, or any other kinde of poeme Heroick or Lyricke wherein it shall please her Maiestie to employ her penne, euen by as much oddes as her owne excellent estate and degree exceedeth all the rest of her most humble vassalls.