Page images
[ocr errors]

ing cruelty in his father Atreus, the violence of ambition in the two Theban brothers, the sour sweetness of revenge in Medea ; and (to fall lower) the Terentian Gnatho and our Chaucer's Pandar, so expressed, that we now use their names to signify their trades; and, finally, all virtues, vices, and passions, so in their own natural states laid to the view, that we seem not to hear of them, but clearly to see through them?

But, even in the most excellent determination of goodness, what Philosopher's counsel can so readily direct a prince, as the feigned Cyrus in Xenophon; or a virtuous man in all fortunes, as Æneas in Virgil; or a whole commonwealth, as the way of Sir Thomas More's Utopia ? I say, the way,' because when Sir Thomas More erred, it was the fault of the man, and not of the poet : for that way of patterning a commonwealth was most absolute, though he perchance hath not so absolutely performed it. For the question is, whether the feigned image of Poetry, or the regular instruction of Philosophy, hath the more force in teaching. Wherein, if the Philosophers have more rightly showed themselves Philosophers, than the Poets have attained to the high top of their profession (as, in truth,

Mediocribus esse Poetis
Non Dii, non homines, non concessere columne)

It is, I say again, not the fault of the art, but that by few men that art can be accomplished. Certainly even our Saviour Christ could as well have given the moral common places of uncharitableness and humbleness, as the divine narration of Dives and Lazarus; or of disobedience and mercy, as the heavenly dis


course of the lost child and the gracious father: but that his thorough-searching wisdom knew the estate of Dives burning in hell, and of Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, would more constantly, as it were, inhabit both the memory and judgement. Truly for myself (me seems) I see before mine eyes the lost child's disdainful prodigality turned to envy a swine's dinner : which by the learned divines are thought, not historical acts, but instructing parables.

For conclusion, I say, the Philosopher teacheth: but he teacheth obscurely, so as the learned only can understand him; that is to say, he teacheth them that are already taught. But the Poet is the food for the tender stomachs; the Poet is, indeed, the right popular Philosopher. Whereof Æsop's Tales give good proof; whose pretty allegories, stealing under the formal tales of beasts, make many more beastly than beasts begin to hear the sound of virtue from those dumb speakers.'

Now, to that, which commonly is attributed to the praise of History, in respect of the notable learning which is got by marking the success, as though therein a man should see virtue exalted and vice punished , truly that commendation is peculiar to Poetry, and far off from History. For, indeed, Poetry ever sets virtue so out in her best colours, making Fortune her well-waiting handmaid, that one must needs be enamoured of her. Well may you see Ulysses in a storm, and in other hard plights; but they are but exercises of patience and magnanimity, to make them shine the more in the near-following prosperity. And, on the contrary part, if evil men come to the stage, they ever go out (as the tragedy-writer answered to one, that misliked the show of such per


sons) so manacled, as they little animate folks to follow them. But History, being captived to the truth of a foolish world, is many times a terror from well-doing, and an encouragement to unbridled wickedness. For see we not valiant Miltiades rot in his fetters; the just Phocion, and the accomplished Socrates, put to death like traitors; the cruel Severus live prosperously; the excellent Severus miserably murthered; Sylla and Marius dying in their beds; Pompey and Cicero slain, then when they would have thought exile a happiness? See we not virtuous Cato driven to kill himself; and rebel Casar so advanced, that his name yet, after sixteen hundred years, lasteth in the highest honour? And mark but even Cæsar's own words of the fore-named Sylla (who, in that only did honestly, to put down his dishonest tyranny), literas nescivit: as if want of learning caused him to do well. He meant it not by Poetry, which, not content with earthly plagues, deviseth new punishments in hell for tyrants ; nor yet by Philosophy, which teacheth occidentes esse miseros; but, no doubt, by skill in History: for that indeed can afford you Cypselus, Periander, Phalaris, Dionysius, and I know not how many more of the same kennel, that speed well enough in their abominable injustice of usurpation.

I conclude therefore, that he excelleth History, not only in furnishing the mind with knowledge, but in setting it forward to that, which deserves to be called and accounted 'good:' which setting forward and moving to well-doing indeed setteth the laurel crown upon the Poet as victorious, not only over the Historian, but over the Philosopher': howsoever, in teaching, it may be questionable.

From the Arcadia.'

[ocr errors]

--Now, Sir, thus for ourselves it is; we are in profession but shepherds, and in this country of Laconia little better than strangers, and therefore neither in skill nor ability of power greatly to stead you. But what we can present unto you is this : Arcadia, of which country we are, is but a little way hence; and even upon the next confines there dwelleth a gentleman, by name Kalander, who vouchsafeth much favour unto us : a man, who for his hospitality is so much haunted, that no news stirs but comes to his ears; for his upright dealing so beloved of his neighbours, that he hath many ever ready to do him their utmost service; and by the great good-will our prince bears him, may soon obtain the use of his name and credit, which hath a principal sway not only in his own Arcadia, but in all these countries of Peloponnesus; and (which is worth all) all these things give him not so much power, as his nature gives him will to benefit: so that it seems, no music is so sweet to his ear as deserved thanks. To him we will bring you, and there you may recover again your health, without which you cannot be able to make any diligent search for your friends; and, therefore, you must labour for it. Besides, we are sure the comfort of courtesy, and ease of wise counsel, shall not be wanting

• Musidorus (who, beside he was merely unac-. quainted in the country, had his wits astonished with sorrow) gavę easy consent to that, from which he saw no reason to disagree : and therefore, defraying the mariners with a ring bestowed upon them, they

took their journey together through Laconia ; Claius and Strephon by course carrying his chest for him, Musidorus only bearing in his countenance evident marks of a sorrowful mind supported with a weak body. Which they perceiving, and knowing that the violence of sorrow is not, at the first, to be striven withal (being like a mighty beast, sooner tamed with following, than overthrown by withstanding) they gave way unto it for that day and the next; never troubling him either with asking questions, or finding fault with his melancholy, but rather fitting to his dolour dolorous discourses of their own and other folks' misfortune. Which speeches, though they had not a lively entrance to his senses shut up in sorrow, yet like one half-asleep he took hold of much of the matters spoken unto him, so as a man may say ere sorrow was aware, they made his thoughts bear away something else beside his own sorrow; which wrought so in him, that at length he grew content to mark their speeches, then to marvel at such wit in shepherds, after to like their company, and lastly to vouchsafe conference: so that the third day after, in the time that the morning did strew roses and violets in the heavenly floor against the coming of the sun, the nightingales (striving one with the other, which could in most dainty variety recount their wrongcaused sorrow) made them put off their sleep, and rising from under a tree, which that night had been their pavilion, they went on their journey, which by and by welcomed Musidorus' eyes (wearied with the wasted soil of Laconia) with delightful prospects. There were hills, which garnished their proud heights with stately trees; humble valleys, whose base estate seemed comforted with the refreshing of silver rivers;

« PreviousContinue »