Preface to Gondibert, an Heroick Poem (1651/1673)
To his much Honour'd FRIEND
Since you have done me the honour to allow this Poem a daily examination as it was writing, I will presume, now it hath attain'd more length, to give you a longer trouble, that you may yeild me as great advantages by censuring the Method as by judging the Numbers and the matter. And because you shall pass through this new Building with more ease to your disquisition, I will acquaint you what care I took of my materials ere I began to work.
But first give me leave (remembring with what difficulty the world can shew any Heroick Poem that in a perfect glass of Nature gives us a familiar and easie view of our selves) to take notice of those quarrels which the Living have with the Dead; and I will (according as all times have apply'd their reverence) begin with Homer, who though he seems to me standing upon the Poets famous hill, like the eminent Sea-mark by which they have in former ages steer'd, and though he ought not to be removed from that eminence, least Posterity should presumptously mistake their course, yet some (sharply observing how his successors have proceeded no farther then a perfection of imitating him) say that, as Sea-marks are chiefly useful to Coasters, and serve not those who have the ambition of Discoverers, that love to sail in untry'd Seas, so he hath rather prov'd a Guide for those whose satisfy'd Wit will not venture beyond the track of others, then to them who affect a new and remote way of thinking, who esteem it a deficiency and meaness of minde to stay and depend upon the authority of example.
Some there are that object that, even in the likelyhoods of Story (and Story, where ever it seems most likely, growes most pleasant), he doth too frequently intermixe such Fables as are objects lifted above the Eyes of Nature; and as he often interrogates his Muse, not as his rational Spirit, but as a Familiar, separated from his body, so her replys bring him where he spends time in immortal conversation, whilest supernaturally he doth often advance his men to the quality of Gods, and depose his Gods to the condition of men.
His Successor to fame, and consequently to censure, is Virgil, whose toyles nor vertue cannot free him from the peevishness, or rather curiosity, of divers Readers. He is upbrayded by some (who perhaps are affected Antiquaries, and make priority of time the measure of excellence) for gaining his renown by immitation ofHomer: Whilst others, no less bold with that ancient Guide, say He hath so often led him into Heaven and Hell, till by conversation with Gods and Ghosts he sometimes deprives us of those natural probabilities in Story which are instructive to humane life: And others affirm (if it be not irreverence to record their opinion) That even in wit he seems deficient by many omissions, as if he had design'd a pennance of gravity to himself and to posterity: And by their observing that continued gravity, me thinks they look upon him as on a Musitian composing of Anthemes, whose excellence consists more in the solemnness then in the fancy, and upon the body of his Work as on the body of a Giant, whose force hath more of strength then quickness, and of patience then activity.
But these bold Censures are in danger of so many Enemies, as I shall wisely shrink from them, and only observe, That if any Disciples of unimitable Virgil can prove so formal as to esteem wit (as if it were levity) an imputation to the Heroick Muse (by which malevolent word, Wit, they would disgrace her extraordinary heights), yet if those grave Judges will be held wise, they must endure the fate of Wise men, who always have but few of their society; for many more then consist of their number (perhaps not having the sullenness to be of it) are taken with those bold flights, and think 'tis with the Muse, whose noble Quarry is men, as with the Eagle, who when he soares high stoops more prosperously and is most certain of his prey. And surely Poets, whose business should represent the Worlds true image often to our view, are not less prudent then Painters, who when they draw Landschaps entertain not the Eye wholy with even Prospect and a continued Flat, but for variety terminate the sight with lofty Hills, whose obscure heads are sometimes in the clouds.
Lucan, who chose to write the greatest actions that ever were allowed to be true, which for fear of contemporary witnesses oblig'd him to a very close attendance upon Fame, did not observe that such an enterprize rather beseem'd an Historian then a Poet: For wise Poets think it more worthy to seek out truth in the Passions then to record the truth of Actions, and practise to describe Mankinde just as we are perswaded or guided by instinct, not particular persons as they are lifted or levell'd by the force of Fate, it being nobler to contemplate the general History of Nature then a selected Diary of Fortune: And Painters are no more then Historians, when they draw eminent persons, though they terme that drawing to the life; but when, by assembling divers figures in a larger volumn, they draw Passions, though they terme it but Story, then they increase in dignity and become Poets.
I have been thus hardy to call him to account for the choice of his Argument, not meerly as it was Story, but because the actions he recorded were so eminent, and so neer his time, that he could not assist Truth with such ornaments as Poets, for useful pleasure, have allowed her, least the fained complexion might render the true suspected. And now I will leave to others the presumption of measuring his Hyperboles, by whose space and height they malitiously take the dimension of wit, and so mistake him in his boyling Youth, which had marvellous forces, as we disrellish excellent Wine when fuming in the Lee.
Statius, with whom we may conclude the old Heroicks, is as accomptable to some for his obligations toVirgill, as Virgill is to others for what he owes to Homer; and more closely then Virgill waits on Homer dothStatius attend Virgill, and follows him there also where Nature never comes, even into Heaven and Hell: and therefore he cannot escape such as approve the wisdom of the best Dramaticks, who, in representation of examples, beleeve they prevail most on our manners, when they lay the Scene at home in their own Country; so much they avoid those remote Regions of Heaven and Hell, as if the People, whom they make civill by an easie communication with reason (and familiar reason is that which is call'd the civility of the Stage), were become more discreet than to have their eyes perswaded by the descending of Gods in gay Clouds, and more manly than to be frighted with the rising of Ghosts in Smoke.
Tasso, who reviv'd the Heroick flame after it was many ages quench'd, is held, both in time and merit, the first of the Moderns,--an honour by which he gains not much, because the number he excels must needs be few, which affords but one fit to succeed him; for I will yeeld to their opinion who permit not Ariosto, no, nor Du Bartas, in this eminent rank of the Heroicks, rather than to make way by their admission for Dante, Marino, and others. Tasso's honour, too, is chiefly allow'd him, where he most endevours to make Virgill his Pattern; and again, when we consider from whom Virgill's spirit is deriv'd, we may observe how rarely humane excellence is found; for Heroick Poesie (which, if exact in it self, yeelds not to any other humane work) flow'd but in few, and even those streams descended but from one Grecian Spring; and 'tis with Originall Poems as with the Originall Pieces of Painters, whose Copies abate the excessive price of the first Hand.
But Tasso, though he came late into the world, must have his share in that Criticall warr which never ceases amongst the Learned; and he seems most vnfortunate, because his errors, which are deriv'd from the Ancients, when examin'd, grow in a great degree excusable in them, and by being his, admit no pardon. Such as are his Councell assembled in Heaven, his Witches Expeditions through the Air, and enchanted Woods inhabited with Ghosts. For though the elder Poets, which were then the sacred Priests, fed the world with supernaturall Tales, and so compounded the Religion of Pleasure and Mysterie, two Ingredients which never fail'd to work upon the People, whilst for the eternity of their Chiefs, more refin'd by education, they surely intended no such vain provision: Yet a Christian Poet, whose Religion little needs the aids of Invention, hath less occasion to imitate such Fables as meanly illustrate a probable Heaven by the fashion and dignity of Courts, and make a resemblance of Hell out of the Dreams of frighted Women, by which they continue and increase the melancholy mistakes of the People.
Spencer may stand here as the last of this short File of Heroick Poets,--Men whose intellectuals were of so great a making (though some have thought them lyable to those few Censures we have mentioned) as perhaps they will in worthy memory outlast even Makers of Laws and Founders of Empires, and all but such as must therefore live equally with them because they have recorded their names; and consequently with their own hands led them to the Temple of Fame. And since we have dar'd to remember those exceptions which the Curious have against them, it will not be expected I should forget what is objected against Spencer, whose obsolete Language we are constrain'd to mention, though it be grown the most vulgar accusation that is laid to his charge.
Language, which is the onely Creature of Man's creation, hath like a Plant seasons of flourishing and decay, like Plants is remov'd from one soile to another, and by being so transplanted doth often gather vigour and increase. But as it is false husbandry to graft old branches upon young stocks, so we may wonder that our Language (not long before his time created out of a confusion of others, and then beginning to flourish like a new Plant) should as helps to its increase receive from his hand new grafts of old wither'd words. But this vulgar exception shall only have the vulgar excuse, which is, That the unlucky choice of his Stanza hath by repetition of Rime brought him to the necessity of many exploded words.
If we proceed from his Language to his Argument, we must observe with others, that his noble and most artfull hands deserv'd to be employ'd upon matter of a more naturall and therefore of a more usefull kinde: His allegoricall Story, by many held defective in the connexion, resembling, methinks, a continuance of extraordinary Dreams, such as excellent Poets and Painters, by being over-studious, may have in the beginning of Feavers: And those moral Visions are just of so much use to humane application as painted History, when with the cousenage of lights it is represented in Scenes, by which we are much lesse inform'd then by actions on the Stage.
Thus, Sir, I have perhaps taken paines to make you think me malicious, in observing how far the Curious have look'd into the errors of others,--Errors which the natural humor of imitation hath made so like in all, even fromHomer to Spencer, as the accusations against the first appear but little more then repetition in every process against the rest; |&| comparing the resemblance of error in persons of one generation to that which is in those of another age, we may find it exceeds not any where notoriously the ordinary proportion. Such limits to the progress of every thing, even of worthiness as well as defect, doth Imitation give; for whilst we imitate others, we can no more excel them, then she that sailes by others Mapps can make a new discovery; and to Imitation, Nature (which is the onely visible power and operation of God) perhaps doth needfully encline us to keep us from excesses. For though every man be capable of worthiness and unworthiness, as they are defined by Opinion, yet no man is built strong enough to bear the extremities of either without unloading himself upon others shoulders, even to the weariness of many. If courage be worthiness, yet where it is overgrown into extremes it becomes as wilde and hurtful as ambition, and so what was reverenced for protection grows to be abhorr'd for oppression. If Learning (which is not Knowledge, but a continu'd Sayling by fantastick and uncertain winds towards it) be worthiness, yet it hath bounds in all Philosophers; and Nature, that measur'd those bounds, seems not so partial as to allow it in any one a much larger extent then in another, as if in our fleshy building she consider'd the furniture and the room alike and together; for as the compass of Diadems commonly fits the whole succession of those Kings that wear them, so throughout the whole World a very few inches may distinguish the circumference of the heads of their Subjects. Nor need we repine that Nature hath not some Favorites to whom she doth dispence this Treasure, Knowledge, with a prodigious Liberality: For as there is no one that can be said vastly to exceed all mankinde, so divers that have in learning transcended all in some one Province have corrupted many with that great quantity of false gold, and the authority of their stronger Science hath often serv'd to distract or pervert their weaker disciples.
And as the qualities which are term'd good are bounded, so are the bad, and likewise limited as well as gotten by imitation; for amongst those that are extraordinary either by birth or brain (for with the usual pride of Poets I pass by common crowds as negligently as Princes move from throngs that are not their own Subjects), we cannot finde any one so egregious (admitting cruelty and avarice for the chiefest evils, and errors in government or doctrin to be the greatest errors) but that divers of former or succeeding times may enter the scales with them and make the Ballance even; though the passion of Historians would impose the contrary on our beleef, who in dispraise of evil Princes are often as unjust and excessive as the common People: for there was never any Monarch so cruel but he had living Subjects, nor so avaritious but that his Subjects were richer then himself, nor ever any disease in Government so extremely infectious as to make universal Anarchy, or any error in Doctrin so strong by the Maintainer but that Truth (though it wrastled with her often |&| in many places) hath at some season and on some ground made her advantages and success apparent. Therefore we may conclude that Nature, for the safety of mankinde, hath as well, by dulling and stopping our progress with the constant humor of imitation, given limits to courage and to learning, to wickedness and to error, as it hath ordain'd the shelves before the shore to restrain the rage and excesses of the Sea.
But I feel, Sir, that I am falling into the dangerous Fit of a hot Writer; for in stead of performing the promise which begins this Preface, and doth oblige me, after I had given you the judgement of some upon others, to present my self to your censure, I am wandring after new thoughts; but I shall ask your pardon, and return to my undertaking.
My Argument I resolv'd should consist of Christian persons; for since Religion doth generally beget and govern manners, I thought the example of their actions would prevail most upon our own by being deriv'd from the same doctrin and authority, as the particular Sects educated by Philosophers were diligent and pliant to the dictates and fashions of such as deriv'd themselves from the same Master, but lazy and froward to those who convers'd in other Schools: Yet all these Sects pretended to the same beauty, Vertue, though each did court her more fondly when she was dress'd at their own homes by the hands of their acquaintance: And so Subjects bred under the Laws of a Prince,--though Laws differ not much in Morality or priviledge throughout the civil World, being every where made for direction of Life more then for sentences of Death,--will rather dye neer that Prince, defending those they have been taught, then live by taking new from another.
These were partly the reasons why I chose a Story of such persons as profess'd Christian Religion; but I ought to have been most enclin'd to it, because the Principles of our Religion conduce more to explicable vertue, to plain demonstrative justice, and even to Honor (if Vertue, the Mother of Honour, be voluntary and active in the dark, so as she need not Laws to compel her, nor look for witnesses to proclaim her), then any other Religion that e're assembled men to Divine Worship. For that of the Jews doth still consist in a sullen separation of themselves from the rest of humane flesh, which is a fantastical pride of their own cleaness, and an uncivil disdain of the imagined contagiousness of others; and at this day, their cantonizing in Tribes, and shyness of allyance with neighbours, deserves not the terme of mutual love, but rather seems a bestial melancholy of herding in their own Walks. That of the Ethnicks, like this of Mahomet, consisted in the vain pride of Empire, and never enjoyn'd a Jewish separation, but drew all Nations together, yet not as their companions of the same species, but as slaves to a Yoke: Their sanctity was Honor, and their Honor onely an impudent courage or dexterity in destroying. But Christian Religion hath the innocence of Village neighbourhood, and did anciently in its politicks rather promote the interest of Mankinde then of States, and rather of all States then of one; for particular endeavours onely in behalf of our own homes are signes of a narrow moral education, not of the vast kindness of Christian Religion, which likewise ordain'd as well an universal communion of bosomes as a community of Wealth. Such is Christian Religion in the precepts, and was once so in the practise. But I resolv'd my Poem should represent those of a former age, perceiving 'tis with the servants of Christ as with other servants under temporal power, who with all cleanness, and even with officious diligence, perform their duty in their Masters sight, but still as he grows longer absent become more slothful, unclean, and false. And this who ever compares the present with the Primitive times may too palpably discern.
When I consider'd the actions which I meant to describe (those inferring the persons), I was again perswaded rather to chuse those of a former age then the present, and in a Century so far remov'd, as might preserve me from their improper examinations, who know not the requisites of a Poem, nor how much pleasure they lose (and even the pleasures of Heroick Poesy are not unprofitable) who take away the liberty of a Poet, and fetter his feet in the shackles of an Historian: For why should a Poet doubt in Story to mend the intrigues of Fortune by more delightful conveiances of probable fictions, because austere Historians have enter'd into bond totruth,--an obligation which were in Poets as foolish and unnecessary as is the bondage of false Martyrs, who lye in chains for a mistaken opinion; but by this I would imply that Truth narrative and past is the Idol of Historians, who worship a dead thing, and truth operative, and by effects continually alive, is the Mistris of Poets, who hath not her existence in matter but in reason.
I was likewise more willing to derive my Theme from elder times, as thinking it no little mark of skilfulness to comply with the common Infirmity; for men, even of the best education, discover their eyes to be weak when they look upon the glory of Vertue, which is great actions, and rather endure it at distance then neer, being more apt to beleeve and love the renown of Predecessors then of Contemporaries, whose deeds, excelling theirs in their own sight, seem to upbraid them, and are not reverenc'd as examples of Vertue, but envy'd as the favours of Fortune. But to make great Actions credible is the principall Art of Poets, who, though they avouch the utility of Fictions, should not, by altering and subliming Story, make use of their priviledg to the detriment of the Reader, whose incredulity, when things are not represented in proportion, doth much allay the rellish of his pity, hope, joy, and other Passions; For we may descend to compare the deceptions in Poesie to those of them that professe dexterity of Hand which resembles Conjuring, and to such we come not with the intention of Lawyers to examine the evidence of Facts, but are content, if we like the carriage of their feign'd motion, to pay for being well deceiv'd.
As in the choice of time, so of place I have comply'd with the weakness of the generality of men, who think the best objects of their own country so little to the size of those abroad, as if they were shew'd them by the wrong end of a Prospective; for Man, continuing the appetites of his first Childhood till he arive at his second, which is more froward, must be quieted with somthing that he thinks excellent |w+ch+| he may call his own, but when he sees the like in other places, not staying to compare them, wrangles at all he has. This leads us to observe the craftiness of the Comicks, who are only willing when they describe humor (|&| humor is the drunkeness of a Nation which no sleep can cure) to lay the Scæne in their own Country, as knowing we are, like the Son ofNoah, so little distasted to behold each others shame, that we delight to see even that of a Father; yet when they would set forth greatness and excellent vertue, which is the Theme of Tragedy, publiquely to the people, they wisely, to avoid the quarrels of neighbourly envy, remove the Scene from home. And by their example I travail'd too; and Italie, which was once the Stage of the World, I have made the Theater where I shew, in either Sex, some patterns of humane life that are perhaps fit to be follow'd.
Having told you why I took the actions that should be my Argument from men of our own Religion, and given you reasons for the choyce of the time and place design'd for those actions, I must next acquaint you with the Schooles where they were bred; not meaning the Schooles where they took their Religion, but Morality; for I know Religion is universally rather inherited then taught, and the most effectual Schools of Morality are Courts and Camps: yet towards the first the people are unquiet through envie, and towards the other through fear, and always jealous of both for Injustice, which is the naturall scandal cast upon authority and great force. They look upon the outward glory or blaze of Courts, as wilde Beasts in dark nights stare on their Hunters Torches; but though the expences of Courts, whereby they shine, is that consuming glory in which the people think their liberty is wasted,--for wealth is their liberty, and lov'd by them even to jealousie, being themselves a courser sort of Princes, apter to take then to pay,--yet Courts (I mean all abstracts of the multitude, either by King or Assemblies) are not the Schools where men are bred to oppression, but the Temples where sometimes Oppressors take sanctuary, a safety which our reason must allow them. For the ancient laws of Sanctuary, deriv'd from God, provided chiefly for actions that proceeded from necessity; and who can imagine less then a necessity of oppressing the people, since they are never willing either to buy their Peace or to pay for Warr ?
Nor are Camps the Schools of wicked Destroyers, more then the Inns of Court, being the Nursery of Judges, are the Schools of Murderers; for as Judges are avengers of private men against private Robbers, so are Armies the avengers of the publique against publique Invaders, either civill or forraign, and Invaders are Robbers, though more in countenance then those of the high-way because of their number. Nor is there other difference between Armies when they move towards Sieges or Battail, and Judges moving in their Circuit, during the danger of extraordinary malefactors, with the guards of the County, but that the latter is a lesse Army, and of lesse Discipline. If any man can yet doubt of the necessary use of Armies, let him study that which was anciently call'd a Monster, the Multitude,-- for Wolves are commonly harmlesse when they are met alone, but very uncivill in Herds,--and he will not finde that all his kindred by Adam are so tame and gentle as those Lovers that were bred in Arcadia; or to reform his opinion, let him ask why, during the utmost age of History, Cities have been at the charge of defensive Walls, and why Fortification hath been practic'd so long till it is grown an Art ?
I may now beleeve I have usefully taken from Courts and Camps the patterns of such as will be fit to be imitated by the most necessary men; and the most necessary men are those who become principall by prerogative of blood, which is seldom unassisted with education, or by greatnesse of minde, which in exact definition is Vertue. The common Crowd, of whom we are hopelesse, we desert, being rather to be corrected by laws, where precept is accompanied with punishment, then to be taught by Poesy; for few have arriv'd at the skill of Orpheus or at his good fortune, whom we may suppose to have met with extraordinary Grecian Beasts, when so successfully he reclaim'd them with his Harp. Nor is it needfull that Heroick Poesy should be levell'd to the reach of Common men: for if the examples it presents prevail upon their Chiefs, the delight of Imitation (which we hope we have prov'd to be as effectuall to good as to evill) will rectify, by the rules which those Chiefs establish of their own lives, the lives of all that behold them; for the example of life doth as much surpasse the force of Precept as Life doth exceed Death.
In the choice of these Objects which are as Seamarks to direct the dangerous voyage of life, I thought fit to follow the rule of Coasting Mapps, where the Shelves and Rocks are describ'd as well as the safe Channell, the care being equall how to avoid as to proceed; and the Characters of men whose passions are to be eschew'd I have deriv'd from the distempers of Love or Ambition, for Love and Ambition are too often the raging Feavers of great minds. Yet Ambition, if the vulgar acception of the word were corrected, would signifie no more then an extraordinary lifting of the feet in the rough ways of Honor over the impediments of Fortune, and hath a warmth, till it be chaf'd into a Feaver, which is necessary for every vertuous breast: for good men are guilty of too little appetite to greatness, and it either proceeds from that they call contentednesse (but contentednesse when examin'd doth mean something of Lasynesse as well as moderation) or from some melancholy precept of the Cloyster, where they would make life, for which the world was only made, more unpleasant then Death; as if Nature, the Vicegerent of God,--who, in providing delightfull varieties which vertuous greatnesse can best possesse or assure peaceably to others, implicitly commanded the use of them,--should in the necessaries of life (life being her chief business), though in her whole reign she never committed one error, need the counsell of Fryars, whose solitude makes them no more fit for such direction then Prisoners long fetter'd are for a race.
In saying this I onely awaken such retir'd men as evaporate their strength of minde by close and long thinking, and would every where separate the soul from the body ere we are dead, by perswading us (though they were both created and have been long companions together) that the preferment of the one must meerly consist in deserting the other,--teaching us to court the Grave, as if during the whole lease of life we were like Moles to live under ground, or as if long and well dying were the certain means to live in Heaven. Yet Reason (which, though the most profitable Talent God hath given us, some Divines would have Philosophers to bury in the Napkin, and not put it to use) perswades us that the painful activeness of Vertue (for Faith, on which some wholly depend, seems but a contemplative boast till the effects of it grow exemplary by action) will more probably acquire everlasting dignities. And surely if these severe Masters, who, though obscure in Cells, take it ill if their very opinions rule not all abroad, did give good men leave to be industrious in getting a Share of governing the world, the Multitudes, which are but Tenants to a few Monarchs, would endure that subjection which God hath decreed them, with better order and more ease; for the world is onely ill govern'd because the wicked take more paines to get authority then the vertuous, for the vertuous are often preach'd into retirement, which is to the publick as profitable as their sleep; and the erroneousnesse of such lazy rest let Philosophers judge, since Nature, of whose body man thinks himself the chiefest member, hath not any where, at any time, been respited from action (in her call'd motion) by which she universally preserves and makes Life. Thus much of Ambition, which should have succeeded something I was saying of Love.
Love, in the Interpretation of the Envious, is Softnesse; in the Wicked, good men suspect it for Lust; and in the Good, some spiritual men have given it the name of Charity. And these are but terms to this which seems a more considered definition, that indefinite Love is Lust, and Lust when it is determin'd to one is Love. This definition, too, but intrudes it self on what I was about to say, which is (and spoken with sobernesse though like a Lay-man) that Love is the most acceptable imposition of Nature, the cause and preservation of Life, and the very healthfulnesse of the mind as well as of the Body, but Lust, our raging Feaver, is more dangerous in Cities then the Calenture in Ships.
Now, Sir, I again ask you pardon, for I have again digressed, my immediate business being to tell you, That the distempers of Love and Ambition are the only Characters I design'd to expose as objects of terrour, and my purpose was also to assure you that I never meant to prostitute Wickednesse in the Images of low and contemptible people, as if I expected the meanest of the multitude for my Readers, since only the Rabble is seen at common executions, nor intended to raise iniquity to that height of horrour, till it might seem the fury of something worse then a beast. In order to the first, I beleeve the Spartans, who, to deter their children from Drunkennesse, accustom'd their Slaves to vomit before them, did by such fulsome examples rather teach them to disdain the Slaves then to loath Wine, for Men seldom take notice of the vice in abject persons, especially where necessity constrains it. And in observation of the second, I have thought that those horrid spectacles, when the latter race of Gladiators made up the excesses of Roman feasts, did more induce the Guests to detest the cruelty of mankinde then increase their courage by beholding such an impudent scorne of Life.
I have now given you the accompt of such provisions as I made for this new Building; and you may next please, having examin'd the substance, to take a view of the forme, and observe if I have methodically and with discretion dispos'd of the materialls which with some curiosity I had collected. I cannot discerne by any help from reading or learned men, who have been to me the best and briefest Indexes of Books, that any Nation hath in representment of great actions, either by Heroicks or Dramaticks, digested Story into so pleasant and instructive a method as the English by their Drama; and by that regular species, though narratively and not in Dialogue, I have drawn the body of an Heroick Poem; In which I did not only observe the Symmetry,--proportioning five Books to five Acts, |&| Canto's to Scenes, the Scenes having their number ever govern'd by occasion,--but all the shadowings, happy strokes, secret graces, and even the drapery, which together make the second beauty, I have, I hope, exactly follow'd; and those compositions of second beauty I observe in theDrama to be the under-walks, interweaving, or correspondence of lesser design in Scenes, not the great motion of the main plot and coherence of the Acts.
The first Act is the general preparative, by rendring the chiefest characters of persons, and ending with something that looks like an obscure promise of design. The second begins with an introducement of new persons, so finishes all the characters, and ends with some little performance of that design which was promis'd at the parting of the first Act. The third makes a visible correspondence in the under-walks, or lesser intrigues, of persons, and ends with an ample turn of the main design and expectation of a new. The fourth, ever having occasion to be the longest, gives a notorious turn to all the under-walks, and a counterturn to that main design which chang'd in the third. The fifth begins with an intire diversion of the main and dependant Plotts, then makes the general correspondence of the persons more discernable, and ends with an easy untying of those particular knots which made a contexture of the whole, leaving such satisfaction of probabilities with the Spectator as may perswade him that neither Fortune in the fate of the Persons, nor the Writer in the Representment, have been unnatural or exorbitant. To these Meanders of the English Stage I have cut out the Walks of my Poem, which in this description may seem intricate and tedious, but will, I hope, when men take pains to visit what they have heard describ'd, appear to them as pleasant as a summer passage on a crooked River, where going about and turning back is as delightful as the delayes of parting Lovers.
In placing the Argument, as a Poem, before every Canto, I have not wholly follow'd the example of the Moderns, but averted it from that purpose to which I found it frequently us'd; for it hath been intended by others as the contents of the Chapter, or as a Bill of Fare at a Venetian Feast, which is not brought before the meat to raise an expectation, but to satisfie the longing curiosity of the Guests. And that which I have call'd my Argument is onely meant as an assistance to the readers memory, by containing brief hints, such as, if all the Arguments were successively read, would make him easily remember the mutual dependancies of the general design; yet each rather mentions every person acting then their actions: But he is very unskilful that by Narratives before an Historical Poem prevents expectation; for so he comes to have as little success over the Reader (whom the Writer should surprize, and, as it were, keep prisoner for a time) as he hath on his Enemies, who commanding a party out to take them (and commonly Readers are justly Enemies to Writers) imparts openly the design ere he begins the action: Or he may be said to be as unluckily officious as he that leads a wooing to a Mistriss one that already hath newly enjoy'd her.
I shall say a little why I have chosen my interwoven Stanza of four, though I am not oblig'd to excuse the choice; for numbers in Verse must, like distinct kinds of Musick, be expos'd to the uncertain and different taste of several Eares. Yet I may declare that I beleev'd it would be more pleasant to the Reader, in a Work of length, to give this respite or pause between every Stanza, having endeavour'd that each should contain a period, then to run him out of breath with continu'd Couplets. Nor doth alternate Rime by any lowliness of Cadence make the sound less Heroick, but rather adapt it to a plain and stately composing of Musick; and the brevity of the Stanza renders it less subtle to the Composer and more easie to the Singer, which, in stilo recitativo, when the Story is long, is chiefly requisite. And this was, indeed, if I shall not betray vanity in my Confession, the reason that prevail'd most towards my choice of this Stanza and my division of the main work into Canto's, every Canto including a sufficient accomplishment of some worthy design or action; for I had so much heat (which you, Sir, may call pride, since pride may be allow'd in Pegasus, if it be a praise to other Horses) as to presume they might, like the Works of Homer ere they were joyn'd together and made a Volumn by the Athenian King, be sung at Village-feasts, though not to Monarchs after Victory, nor to Armies before battel. For so, as an inspiration of glory into the one, and of valour into the other, did Homer's Spirit, long after his bodies rest, wander in musick about Greece.
Thus you have the Model of what I have already built, or shal hereafter join to the same frame. If I be accus'd of Innovation, or to have transgressed against the method of the Ancients, I shall think my self secure in beleeving that a Poet, who hath wrought with his own instruments at a new design, is no more answerable for disobedience to Predecessors, then Law-makers are liable to those old Laws which themselves have repealed.
Having describ'd the outward frame, the large rooms within, the lesser conveyances, and now the furniture, it were orderly to let you examine the matter of which that furniture is made. But though every Owner who hath the Vanity to shew his ornaments or Hangings must endure the curiosity and censure of him that beholds them, yet I shall not give you the trouble of inquiring what is, but tell you of what I design'd, their substance, which is,Wit: And Wit is the laborious and the lucky resultances of thought, having towards its excellence, as we say of the strokes of Painting, as well a happinesse as care. It is a Webb consisting of the subt'lest threds; and like that of the Spider is considerately woven out of our selves; for a Spider may be said to consider, not only respecting his solemnesse and tacit posture (like a grave Scout in ambush for his Enemy), but because all things done are either from consideration or chance, and the works of Chance are accomplishments of an instant, having commonly a dissimilitude, but hers are the works of time, and have their contextures alike.
Wit is not only the luck and labour, but also the dexterity of thought, rounding the world, like the Sun, with unimaginable motion, and bringing swiftly home to the memory universall surveys. It is the Souls Powder, which when supprest, as forbidden from flying upward, blows up the restraint, and loseth all force in a farther ascension towards Heaven (the region of God), and yet by nature is much less able to make any inquisition downward towards Hell, the Cell of the Devill; But breaks through all about it as farr as the utmost it can reach, removes, uncovers, makes way for Light where darkness was inclos'd, till great bodies are more examinable by being scatter'd into parcels, and till all that find its strength (but most of mankind are strangers to Wit, asIndians are to Powder) worship it for the effects as deriv'd from the Deity. It is in Divines, Humility, Exemplarinesse, and Moderation; in Statesmen, Gravity, Vigilance, Benigne Complacency, Secrecy, Patience, and Dispatch; in Leaders of Armies, Valor, Painfulness, Temperance, Bounty, Dexterity in punishing and rewarding, and a sacred Certitude of promise. It is in Poets a full comprehension of all recited in all these, and an ability to bring those comprehensions into action, when they shall so far forget the true measure of what is of greatest consequence to humanity (which are things righteous, pleasant, and usefull) as to think the delights of greatness equall to that of Poesy, or the Chiefs of any Profession more necessary to the world then excellent Poets. Lastly, though Wit be not the envy of ignorant Men, 'tis often of evill Statesmen, and of all such imperfect great spirits as have in it a lesse degree then Poets; for though no man envies the excellence of that which in no proportion he ever tasted, as men cannot be said to envy the condition of Angels, yet we may say the Devill envies the Supremacy of God, because he was in some degree partaker of his Glory.
That which is not, yet is accompted, Wit, I will but sleightly remember, which seems very incident to imperfect youth and sickly age. Yong men, as if they were not quite deliver'd from Childhood, whose first exercise is Language, imagine it consists in the Musick of words, and beleeve they are made wise by refining their Speech above the vulgar Dialect, which is a mistake almost as great as that of the people who think Orators (which is a title that crowns at riper years those that have practis'd the dexterity of tongue) the ablest men, who are indeed so much more unapt for governing as they are more fit for Sedition; and it may be said of them as of the Witches of Norway, who can sell a Storm for a Doller, which for Ten Thousand they cannot allay. From the esteem of speaking they proceed to the admiration of what are commonly call'd Conceits, things that sound like the knacks or toyes of ordinary Epigrammatists, and from thence, after more conversation and variety of objects, grow up to some force of Fancy; Yet even then, like young Hawks, they stray and fly farr off, using their liberty as if they would ne're return to the Lure, and often goe at check ere they can make a stedy view and know their game.
Old men, that have forgot their first Childhood and are returning to their second, think it lyes in agnominations, and in a kinde of an alike tinkling of words, or else in a grave telling of wonderfull things, or in comparing of times without a discover'd partiality: which they perform so ill by favoring the past, that, as 'tis observ'd, if the bodies of men should grow less, though but an unmeasurable proportion in Seaven years, Yet, reckoning from the Flood, they would not remain in the Stature of Froggs, so if States and particular persons had impair'd in government and increas'd in wickedness proportionably to what Old men affirm they have done from their own infancy to their age, all publique Policy had been long since Confusion, and the Congregated World would not suffise now to people a Village.
The last thing they suppose to be Wit is their bitter Morals, when they almost declare themselves Enemies to Youth and Beauty, by which severity they seem cruel as Herod when he surpris'd the sleeping Children ofBethlem: for Youth is so far from wanting Enemies that it is mortally its own, so unpractised that it is every where cosen'd more then a Stranger among Jews, and hath an Infirmity of sight more hurtful then Blindness to Blinde men, for though it cannot chuse the way it scorns to be led. And Beauty, though many call themselves her Friends, hath few but such as are fals to her: though the World sets her in a Throne, yet all about her, even her gravest Councellors, are Traytors, though not in conspiracy, yet in their distinct designs; and to make her certain not onely of distress but ruine, she is ever pursu'd by her most cruel enemy, the great Destroyer, Time. But I will proceed no farther upon old men, nor in recording mistakes, least finding so many more then there be Verities, we might beleeve we walk in as great obscurity as the Egyptians when Darkness was their Plague. Nor will I presume to call the matter of which the Ornaments or Substantial parts of this Poem are compos'd,Wit; but onely tell you my endeavour was, in bringing Truth, too often absent, home to mens bosoms, to lead her through unfrequented and new ways, and from the most remote Shades, by representing Nature, though not in an affected, yet in an unusual dress.
'Tis now fit, after I have given you so long a survay of the Building, to render you some accompt of the Builder, that you may know by what time, pains, and assistance I have already proceeded, or may hereafter finish my work; and in this I shal take occasion to accuse and condemn, as papers unworthy of light, all those hasty digestions of thought which were published in my Youth,--a sentence not pronounc'd out of melancholy rigour, but from a cheerful obedience to the just authority of experience: For that grave Mistris of the World,Experience, (in whose profitable School those before the Flood stay'd long, but we like wanton children come thither late, yet too soon are call'd out of it and fetch'd home by Death) hath taught me that the engendrings of unripe age become abortive and deform'd, and that after obtaining more years, those must needs prophecy with ill success who make use of their Visions in Wine; That, when the ancient Poets were vallew'd as Prophets, they were long and painfull in watching the correspondence of Causes ere they presum'd to foretell effects, and that 'tis a high presumption to entertain a Nation (who are a Poets standing Guest, and require Monarchicall respect) with hasty provisions; as if a Poet might imitate the familiar dispatch of Faulkoners, mount his Pegasus, unhood his Muse, and with a few flights boast he hath provided a feast for a Prince. Such posting uponPegasus I have long since forborne, and during my Journey in this worke have mov'd with a slow pace, that I might make my survays as one that travaild not to bring home the names, but the proportion and nature, of things; and in this I am made wise by two great examples, for the friends of Virgill acknowledge he was many years in doing honor to Æneas, still contracting at night into a closer force the abundance of his morning strengths, and Statius rather seems to boast then blush, when he confesses he was twice Seaven in renowning the war between Argos and Thebes.
Next to the usefulness of Time, which here implys ripe age, I beleev'd pains most requisite to this undertaking: for though painfulness in Poets (according to the usual negligence of our Nation in Examining, and their diligence to censure) seems always to discover a want of natural force, and is traduc'd, as if Poesy concern'd the world no more then Dancing, whose onely grace is the quickness and facility of motion, and whose perfection is not of such publique consequence that any man can merit much by attaining it with long labour; yet let them consider, and they will finde (nor can I stay long ere I convince them in the important use of Poesy) the natural force of a Poet more apparent by but confessing that great forces aske great labor in managing, then by an arrogant braving the World when he enters the field with his undisciplin'd first thoughts: For a wise Poet, like a wise General, will not shew his strengths till they are in exact government and order, which are not the postures of chance, but proceed from Vigilance and labour.
Yet to such painfull Poets some upbraid the want of extemporary fury, or rather inspiration, a dangerous word which many have of late successfully us'd; and inspiration is a spiritual Fitt, deriv'd from the ancient Ethnick Poets, who then, as they were Priests, were Statesmen too, and probably lov'd dominion; and as their well dissembling of inspiration begot them reverence then equall to that which was paid to Laws, so these who now profess the same fury may perhaps by such authentick; example pretend authority over the people, It being not unreasonable to imagine they rather imitate the Greek Poets then the Hebrew Prophets, since the later were inspir'd for the use of others, and these, like the former, prophecy for themselves. But though the ancient Poets are excus'd, as knowing the weak constitution of those Deities from whom they took their Priesthood, and the frequent necessity of dissembling for the ease of government, yet these, who also from the chief to the meanest are Statesmen and Priests, but have not the luck to be Poets, should not assume such saucy familiarity with a true God.
From the time and labour requir'd to my Poem, let me proceed to my Assistants, by which I shall not so much attest my own weakness as discover the difficulties and greatness of such a work; For when Solomon made use of his Neighbours towards his Building he lost no reputation, nor by demanding those aids was thought a lesser Prince, but rather publish'd his Wisdom in rightly understanding the vast extent of his enterprise, who likewise with as much glory made use of Fellers of Wood and Hewers of Stone as of learned Architects; Nor have I refrain'd to be oblig'd to men of any Science, as well mechanicall as liberall; Nor when Memory (from that various and plentifull stock with which all observers are furnish'd that have had diversity of life) presented me by chance with any figure, did I lay it aside as useless, because at that instant I was not skilfull to manage it artfully, but I have staid and recorded such objects, till by consulting with right Masters I have dispos'd of them without mistake; It being no more shame to get Learning at that very time and from the same Text when and by which we instruct others, then for a forward Scout, discovering the Enemy, to save his own life at a Pass, where he then teaches his Party to escape.
In remembring mine own helps, I have consider'd those which others in the same necessity have taken, and finde that Writers, contrary to my inclination, are apter to be beholding to Bookes then to Men, not only as the first are more in their possession, being more constant Companions then dearest friends, but because they commonly make such use of treasure found in Books as of other treasure belonging to the Dead and hidden under ground; for they dispose of both with great secrecy, defacing the shape or images of the one as much as of the other, through fear of having the originall of their stealth or abundance discover'd. And the next cause why Writers are more in Libraries then in company is that Books are easily open'd, and learned men are usually shut up by a froward or envious humor of retention, or else unfold themselves so as we may read more of their weakness and vanity then Wisdom, imitating the Holyday-custom in great Cities, where the shops of Chaundry and slight wares are familiarly open, but those of solid and staple Merchandise are proudly lock'd up.
Nor indeed can it be expected that all great Doctors are of so benigne a nature as to take pains in gaining treasure (of which Knowledge is the greatest) with intent to inrich others so easily as if they stood every where with their Pockets spred and ready to be pickt: nor can we read of any Father who so far and secretly adopted his Sonn to a Book of his own writing, as that his Sonn might be thought Author of that written Wit as much as his Father was Author of him: Nor of any Husband that to his darling Wife would so far surrender his Wisdom, as that in publique he could endure to let her use his Dictates, as if she would have others think her wiser then himself. By this remembrance of that usual parsimony in owners of Wit towards such as would make use of their plenty, I lament the fortune of others, and may wish the Reader to congratulate mine; for I have found Friends as ready as Books to regulate my conceptions, or make them more correct, easie, and apparent. But though I am become so wise, by knowing my self, as to beleeve the thoughts of divers transcend the best which I have written, yet I have admitted from no man any change of my Design, nor very seldom of my sense: For I resolv'd to have this Poem subsist and continue throughout with the same complexion and spirit, though it appear but like a plain Family, of a neighbourly alliance, who marry into the same moderate quality and garbe, and are fearfull of introducing strangers of greater ranke, least the shining presence of such might seem to upbraid and put all about them out of countenance.
And now, Sir, that the Reader may (whom Writers are fain to court, draw in, and keep with artifice, so shy men grow of Books) beleeve me worthy of him, I cannot forbear to thank you in publique for examining, correcting, and allowing this Poem in parcels ere it arriv'd at the contexture: by which you have perform'd the just degrees of proceeding with Poets, who during the gayety and wantonness of the Muse are but as children to Philosophers (though of some Giant race), whose first thoughts, wilde, and roaming farr off, must be brought home, watch'd, and interrogated, and after they are made more regular, be encourag'd and prais'd for doing well, that they may delight in aiming at perfection. By such a Method the Muse is taught to become Master of her own and others strength; and who is he so learn'd (how proud so ever with being cherish'd in the bosome of Fame) that can hope, when through the severall ways of Science he seeks Nature in her hidden walks, to make his Journy short, unless he call you to be his Guide ? and who so guided can suspect his safety, even when he travails through the Enemy's Country ? for such is the vast field of Learning, where the Learned, though not numerous enough to be an Army, lye as small Parties malitiously in Ambush to destroy all new Men that look into their Quarters. And from such, you, and those you lead, are secure, because you move not by common Mapps, but have painfully made your own Prospect, and travail now like the Sun, not to inform your self, but enlighten the world.
And likewise, when by the strict survey and Government that hath been had over this Poem I shall think to govern the Reader,--who, though he be noble, may perhaps judg of supreme Power like a very Commoner, and rather approve authority when it is in many then in one,--I must acquaint him that you had not alone the trouble of establishing and destroying, but enjoy'd your intervals and ease by Two Colleagues: Two that are worthy to follow you into the Closets of Princes, if the knowledg of Men past, of whom Books are the remaining minds, or of the present, of whom Conversation is the usefull and lawfull Spy, may make up such greatnesse as is fit for great Courts, or if the rayes that proceed from the Poetick Planet be not a little too strong for the sight of modern Monarchs, who now are too seldom taught in their youth like Eaglets to fortifie their eyes by often soaring near the Sun. And though this be here but my testimony, it is too late for any of you to disclaim it; for since you have made it valid by giving yours of G
I am now, Sir, to your great comfort, that have bin thus ill and long diverted, arriv'd at my last consideration, which is to satisfie those who may inquire why I have taken so much paines to become an Author. Or why any man stays so long sweating at the fire of Invention, to dress the food of the Minde, when Readers have so imperfect Stomacks, as they either devour Books with over hasty Digestion or grow to loath them from a surfet ? And why I more especially made my task an Heroick Poem ? I shall involve the two first Questions in one, as submitting to be concern'd amongst the generality of Writers, whose Enemies being many, and now mine, we must joyn forces to oppose them.
Men are chiefly provok'd to the toyl of compiling Books by love of Fame, and often by officiousness of Conscience, but seldom with expectation of Riches; for those that spend time in writing to instruct others may finde leasure to inform themselves how mean the provisions are which busy and studious minds can make for their own sedentary bodies: And Learned men, to whom the rest of the world are but Infants, have the same foolish affection in nourishing others minds as Pellicans in feeding their young, which is at the expence of the very subsistance of Life. 'Tis then apparent they proceed by the instigation of Fame or Conscience; and I believe many are perswaded by the first (of which I am One) and some are commanded by the second. Nor is the desire of Fame so vain as divers have rigidly imagin'd, Fame being, when belonging to the Living, that which is more gravely call'd a steddy and necessary reputation, and without it hereditary Power or acquir'd greatness can never quietly govern the World. 'Tis of the dead a musical glory, in which God, the author of excellent goodness, vouchsafes to take a continual share: For the remember'd vertues of great men are chiefly such of his works, mention'd by King David, as perpetually praise him; and the good fame of the Dead prevails by example much more then the reputation of the Living, because the later is alwayes suspected by our Envy, but the other is cheerfully allow'd and religiously admir'd; for Admiration, whose Eyes are ever weak, stands still and at gaze upon great things acted far off, but when they are neer, walks slightly away as from familiar objects. Fame is to our Sons a solid Inheritance, and not unuseful to remote Posterity; and to our Reason, tis the first though but a little taste of Eternity.
Those that write by the command of Conscience, thinking themselves able to instruct others, and consequently oblig'd to it, grow commonly the most voluminous, because the pressures of Conscience are so incessant that she is never satisfy'd with doing enough; for such as be newly made the Captives of God (many appearing so to themselves when they first begin to weare the Fetters of Conscience) are like common slaves when newly taken, who, terrify'd with a fancy of the severity of absolute Masters, abuse their diligence out of fear, and do ill rather then appear idle. And this may be the cause why Libraries are more then double lin'd with Spiritual Books or Tracts of Morality, the latter being the Spiritual Counsels of Laymen; and the newest of such great volumns, being usually but transcriptions or translations, differ so much from the Ancients as later daies from those of old, which difference is no more then an alteration of names by removing the Ethnicks to make way for the Saints. These are the effects of their labours who are provok'd to become Authors meerly out of Conscience; and Conscience we may again averre to be often so unskilful and timerous that it seldom gives a wise and steddy account of God, but grows jealous of him as of an Adversary, and is after melancholy visionslike a fearfull Scout, after he hath ill survey'd the Enemy, who then makes incongruous, long, and terrible Tales.
Having confess'd that the desire of Fame made me a Writer, I must declare why in my riper age I chose to gain it more especially by an Heroicall Poem; and the Heroick being by most allow'd to be the most beautifull of Poems, I shall not need to decide the quarrels of Poets about the Degrees of Excellence in Poesy. But 'tis not amiss, ere I avow the usefulnesse of the Science in generall, which was the cause of my undertaking, to remember the value it had from the greatest and most worthy spirits in all Ages; for I will not abstain, though it may give me the reputation but of common reading, to mention that Pisistratus, though a Tyrant, liv'd with the praise and dy'd with the blessing of all Greece for gathering the scatter'd limbs of Homer's Works into a Body, and that great Alexander, by publiquely conversing with it, attain'd the universall opinion of Wit, the fame of such inward forces conducing as much to his Conquests as his Armies abroad: That the Athenian Prisoners were thought worthy of life and liberty for singing the Tragedies of Euripides: That Thebes was sav'd from destruction by the Victors reverence to the memory of Pindar: That the elder Scipio, who govern'd all the civill world, lay continually in the bosome of Ennius: That the great Numantin and Lœlius, no less renownd, were openly proud when the Romans beleev'd they assisted Terence in his Comedies: That Augustus, to whom the mysteries of universall Empire were more familiar then domestick Dominion to Modern Kings, made Virgill the partner of his joyes, and would have divided his business with Horace: And that Lucan was the fear and envy of Nero. If we approach nearer our own times, we may add the triumphall Entry which the Papacy gave toPetrarch, and how much Tasso is stil the glory and delight of Italy. But as in this hasty Muster of Poets and listing their confederates, I shall by omitting many deprive them of that pay which is due from Fame, so I may now by the opinion of some Divines, whom notwithstanding I will reverence in all their distinct habits and fashions of the mind, be held partiall and too bold, by adding to the first number (though I range them upon holy ground, and aside) Moses, David, and Solomon, for their Songs, Psalmes, and Anthemes,--the Second being the acknowledg'd Favorite of God, whom he had gain'd by excellent Praises in sacred Poesy. And I fear, since Poesy is the clearest light by which they finde the soul who seek it, that Poets have in their fluent kindnesse diverted from the right use, and spent too much of that spirituall talent in the honor of mortall Princes; for divine Praise (when in the high perfection, as in Poets, and only in them) is so much the uttermost and whole of Religious worship that all other parts of Devotion serve but to make it up.
Praise is Devotion fit for mighty Mindes,
The diff'ring World's agreeing Sacrifice,
Where Heaven divided, Faiths united findes;
But Pray'r in various discord upward flyes.
For Pray'r the Ocean is, where diversly
Men steer their course, each to a sev'ral Coast,
Where all our Int'rests so discordant be,
That half beg windes by which the rest are lost.
By Penitence when We our selves forsake,
'Tis but in wise design on piteous Heaven;
In Praise We nobly give what God may take�
And are without a Beggars blush forgiven.
Its utmost force, like Powder's, is unknown;
And though weak Kings excess of Praise may fear,
Yet when 'tis here, like Powder dang'rous grown,
Heaven's Vault receives what would the Palace tear.
After this contemplation how acceptable the voice of Poesy hath been to God, we may, by descending from Heaven to Earth, consider how usefull it is to Men; and among Men Divines are the chief, because ordain'd to temper the rage of humane power by spirituall menaces, as by suddain and strange threatnings madnesse is frighted into Reason; and they are sent hither as Liegers from God, to conserve in stedfast motion the slippery joints of Government, and to perswade an amity in divided Nations: therefore to Divines I first addresse my self, and presume to ask them why, ever since their dominion was first allow'd at the great change of Religions, though ours more then any inculcates obedience as an easie Medicine to cool the impatient and raging world into a quiet rest, mankinde hath been more unruly then before,--it being visible that Empire decreas'd with the increase of Christianity, and that one weak Prince did anciently suffice to govern many strong Nations; but now one little Province is too hard for their own wise King, and a small Republique hath Seventy years maintain'd their revolt to the disquiet of many Monarchs. Or if Divines reply we cannot expect the good effects of their office because their spirituall Dominion is not allow'd as absolute, then it may be ask'd them more severely, why 'tis not allow'd? for where ever there hath been great degrees of power, which hath been often and long in the Church, it discovers, though worldly vicissitude be objected as an excuse, that the managers of such power, since they endeavor'd not to enlarge it, beleev'd the increase unrighteous, or were in acting or contriving that endeavor either negligent or weak: For Power, like the hasty Vine, climbes up apace to the Supporter, but if not skilfully attended and dress'd, instead of spreading and bearing fruit, grows high and naked, and then, like empty title, being soon useless to others, becomes neglected and unable to support it self.
But if Divines have faild in governing Princes, that is, of being intirely beleev'd by them, yet they might obliquely have rul'd them in ruling the People, by whom of late Princes have been govern'd; and they might probably rule the People, because the heads of the Church, where ever Christianity is preach'd, are Tetrarchs of Time, of which they command the fourth Division, for to no less the Sabbaths and Daies of Saints amount; and during those daies of spiritual triumph Pulpits are Thrones, and the people oblig'd to open their Eares, and let in the ordinances and commands of Preachers, who likewise are not without some little Regency throughout the rest of the Year; for then they may converse with the Laity, from whom they have commonly such respect (and respect soon opens the door to perswasion) as shews their Congregations not deaf in those holy seasons when speaking predominates.
But notwithstanding these advantages, the Pulpit hath little prevail'd; for the world is in all Regions revers'd or shaken by disobedience, an Engine with which the great Angels (for such were the Devils, and had faculties much more sublim'd then Men) beleev'd they could disorder Heaven. And it is not want of capacity in the lower Auditory that makes Doctrin so unsuccesful; for the people are not simple, since the Gentry, even of strongest education, lack sufficient defence against them, and are hourly surpris'd in their common Ambushes, their Shops: For on sacred Daies they walk gravely and sadly from Temples, as if they had newly bury'd their sinful Fathers, at night sleep as if they never needed forgiveness, and rise with the next Sun to lie in wait for the Noble |&| the Studious. And though these quiet Cousners are amongst the People esteem'd their steddy Men, yet they honor the courage and more active parts of such disobedient Spirits as, disdaining thus tamely to deceive, attempt bravely to robb the State; and the State, they beleeve, though the Helme were held by Apostles, would always consist of such Arch-robbers, as who ever stripps them but waves the tedious satisfaction which the Lasy expect from Laws, and comes a shorter way to his own.
Thus unapt for obedience,--in the condition of Beasts whose appetite is Liberty, and their Liberty a license of Lust,--the People have often been since a long and notorious power hath continu'd with Divines, whom though with reverence we accuse for mistaken lenity, yet are we not so cruel to expect they should behave themselves to Sinners like fierce Phineas, or preach with their Swords drawn, to kill all they cannot perswade: But our meaning is to shew how much their Christian meekness hath deceiv'd them in taming this wilde monster, the People, and a little to rebuke them for neglecting the assistance of Poets, and for upbraiding the Ethnicks because the Poets mannag'd their Religion, as if Religion could walk more prosperously abroad then when Morality, respectfully and bare-headed as her Usher; prepares the way: it being no lesse true that during thedominion of Poesy a willing and peacefull obedience to Superiors becalm'd the world, then that obedience, like the marriage yoke, is a restraint more needful and advantagious then liberty, and hath the same reward of pleasant quietnesse which it anciently had, when Adam, till his disobedience, enjoy'd Paradise. Such are the effects of sacred Poesy, which charms the People with harmonious precepts, and whose aid Divines should not disdain, since their Lord, the Saviour of the World, vouchsaf'd to deliver his Doctrine in Parabolicall Fictions.
Those that be of next importance are Leaders of Armies, and such I measure not by the suffrages of the People, who give them respect as Indians worship the evill Spirit, rather for fear of harm then for affection, but esteem them as the painfull Protectors and enlargers of Empire, by whom it actively moves; and such active motion of Empire is as necessary as the motion of the Sea, where all things would putrifie and infect one another if the Element were quiet: so is it with mens minds on shore, when that Element of greatness and honor,Empire, stands still, of which the largeness is likewise as needfull as the vastness of the Sea; For God ordain'd not huge Empire as proportionable to the Bodies but to the Mindes of Men, and the Mindes of Men are more monstrous and require more space for agitation and the hunting of others then the Bodies of Whales. But he that beleeves men such moderate Sheep, as that many are peacefully contain'd in a narrow Folde, may be better inform'd in America, where little Kings never enjoy a harmlesse neighbourhood, unless protected defensively amongst themselves by an Emperor that hath wide possessions and priority over them, as in some few places; but when restrain'd in narrow dominion, where no body commands and hinders their nature, they quarrell like Cocks in a Pitt; and the Sun in a dayes travail there sees more battails (but not of consequence, because their Kings, though many, are little) then in Europe in a Year.
To Leaders of Armies, as to very necessary Men, whose Office requires the uttermost aids of art and Nature, and rescues the sword of Justice when 'tis wrested from supreme Power by Commotion, I am now address'd, and must put them in minde, though not upbraidingly, how much their Mighty Predecessors were anciently oblig'd to Poets, whose Songs, recording the praises of Conduct and Valour, were esteem'd the chiefest rewards of Victory; And since Nature hath made us prone to Imitation, by which we equall the best or the worst, how much those Images of Action prevail upon our mindes which are delightfully drawn by Poets. For the greatest of the Grecian Captains have confess'd that their Counsels have bin made wise and their Courages warm by Homer; and since Praise is a pleasure which God hath invited, and with which he often vouchsaf'd to be pleas'd when it was sent him by his own Poet, why is it not lawfull for vertuous men to be cherish'd and magnify'd with hearing their vigilance, Valour, and good Fortune (the latter being more the immediate gift of Heaven, because the effect of an unknown Cause) commended and made eternall in Poesy ? But perhaps the art of praising Armies into great and instant action by singing their former deeds (an Art with which the Ancients made Empire so large) is too subtle for modern Leaders, who, as they cannot reach the heights of Poesy, must be content with a narrow space of Dominion; and narrow Dominion breeds evil, peevish, and vexatious mindes and a Nationall self-opinion, like simple Jewish arrogance; and the Jews were extraordinally proud in a very little Country: For men in contracted governments are but a kinde of Prisoners, and Prisoners by long restraint grow wicked, malitious to all abroad, and foolish esteemers of themselves, as if they had wrong in not enjoying every thing which they can only see out of Windows.
Our last application is to Statesmen and Makers of Laws, who may be reasonah]bly reduc'd to one, since the second differ no more from the first then Judges, the Copies of Law-makers, differ from their Originals: For Judges, like all bold interpreters, by often altering the Text make it quite new, and Statesmen, who differ not from Law-makers in the act but in the manner of doing, make new Lawes presumptuously without the consent of the people: but Legislators more civilly seem to whistle to the Beast, and stroak him into the Yoke; and in the Yoke of State, the People, with too much pampering, grow soon unruly and draw awry: Yet Statesmenand Judges, whose businesse is governing, and the thing to be govern'd is the people, have amongst us--we being more proud and mistaken then any other famous Nation--look'd gravely upon Poetry, and with a negligence that betray'd a Northerly ignorance, as if they beleev'd they could perform their work without it. But Poets, who with wise diligence study the People, and have in all ages by an insensible influence governd their manners, may justly smile when they perceive that Divines, Leaders of Armies, Statesmen, and Judges thinkReligion, the Sword, or (which is unwritten Law and a secret Confederacy of Chiefs) Policy, or Law (which is written, but seldom rightly read) can give without the help of the Muses a long and quiet satisfaction in government. For Religion is to the wicked and faithless, who are many, a jurisdiction against which they readily rebell, because it rules severely, yet promiseth no worldly recompence for obedience,--obedience being by every humane Power invited with assurances of visible advantage. The good, who are but few, need not the Power of Religion to make them better, the power of Religion proceeding from her threatnings, which, though mean weapons, are fitly us'd, since she hath none but base Enemies. We may observe, too, that all Vertuous men are so taken up with the rewards of Heaven that they live as if out of the World; and no government receives assistance from any man meerly as he is good, but as that goodness is active in temporal things.
The Sword is in the hand of Justice no guard to Government, but then when Justice hath an Army for her own defence; and Armies, if they were not pervertible by Faction, yet are to Common-wealths like Kings Physitians to poor Patients, who buy the cure of their disorder'd bodies at so high a rate that they may be said to change their Sickness for Famine. Policy (I mean of the Living, not of the Dead: the one being the last rules or designs governing the Instant, the other those Laws that began Empire) is as mortal as States-men themselves, whose incessant labors make that Hectick feaver of the minde which insensibly dispatches the Body; and when we trace States-men through all the Histories of Courts, we finde their Inventions so unnecessary to those that succeed at the helme, or so much envy'd, as they scarce last in authority till the Inventors are buried; and change of designs in States-men (their designs being the weapons by which States are defended) grows as destructive to Government as a continual change of various weapons is to Armies, which must receive with ruine any suddain assault, when want of practise makes unactiveness. We cannot urge that the Ambition ofStates-men, who are obnoxious to the people, doth much disorder government, because the Peoples anger, by a perpetual coming in of new Oppressors, is so deverted in considering those whom their Eyes but lately left, as they have not time enough to rise for the Publick; and evil successors to power are in the troubled stream of State like succeeding Tides in Rivers, where the Mudd of the former is hidden by the filth of the last.
Laws, if very ancient, grow as doubtful and difficult as Letters on buryd Marble, which only Antiquaries read; but if not Old, they want that reverence which is therefore paid to the vertues of Ancestors, because their crimes come not to our remembrance; and yet great Men must be long dead whose ills are forgotten. If Lawsbe New, they must be made either by very Angels or by Men that have some vices, and those being seen make their Vertues suspected; for the People no more esteem able men whose defects they know, though but errors incident to Humanity, then an Enemy values a strong Army having experience of their Errors. And new Laws are held but the projects of necessitous Power, new Nets spred to intangle Us, the Old being accounted too many, since most are beleev'd to be made for Forfeitures; and such letting of blood, though intended by Lawmakers for our health, is to the People always out of Season, for those that love life with too much Passion (and Mony is the life blood of the People) ever fear a Consumption. But be Law-makers as able as Nature or Experience, which is the best Art, can make them, yet, though I will not yeeld the Wicked to be wiser then the Vertuous, I may say offences are too hard for the Laws, as some Beasts are too wylie for their Hunters, and that Vice overgrows Vertue as much as Weeds grow faster then Medicinable Herbs ; or rather that Sin, like the fruitfull slime of Nilus, doth increase into so many various shapes of Serpents, whose walks and retreats are winding and unknown, that even Justice, the painfull pursuer of Mischief, is become weary and amaz'd.
After these Meditations, me thinks Government resembles a Ship, where though Divines, Leaders of Armies, Statesmen, and Judges are the trusted Pilots, yet it moves by the means of winds as uncertain as the breath of Opinion, and is laden with the People, a Fraight much loosser and more dangerous then any other living stowage, being as troublesome in fair weather as Horses in a Storm. And how can these Pilots stedily maintain their course to the Land of Peace and Plenty, since they are often divided at the Helm ? For Divines, when they consider great Chiefs, suppose Armies to be sent from God for a temporary Plague, not for continuall Jurisdiction, and that Gods extreme punishments, of which Armies be the most violent, are ordain'd to have no more lastingness, then the extremes in Nature. They think, when they consider States-men, Policy hath nothing of the Dove, and, being all Serpent, is more dangerous then the dangers it pretends to prevent, and that out-witting by falshood and corruption adverse States or the People (though the people be often the greater enemy, and more perilsome, being nearest) is but giving reputation to Sinn, and that to maintain the Publique by politique evils, is a base prostitution of Religion, and the prostitution of Religion is that unpardonable whoredom which so much anger'd the Prophets. They think Law nothing but the Bible forcibly usurp'd by covetous Lawyers and disguis'd in a Paraphrase more obscure then the Text, and that 'tis only want of just reverence to Religion which doth expose us to the charges and vexations of Law.
The Leaders of Armies accuse Divines for unwisely raising the War of the World by opposite Doctrine, and for being more indiscreet in thinking to appease it by perswasion, forgetting that the dispatchful ending of War is blows, and that the naturall region for Disputes when Nations are engag'd, though by Religion, is the Field of Battail, not Schools and Academies, which they beleeve, by their restless controversies, less civill then Camps, as intestine Quarrell is held more barbarous then foraign War. They think Statesmen to them, unlesse dignify'd with military Office, but mean Spys, that like African Foxes, who attend on Lyons, ranging before and about for their valiant prey, shrink back till the danger be subdu'd, and then with insatiate hunger come in for a share: Yet sometimes with the Eye of Envie, which enlarges objects like a multiplying glass, they behold theseStatesmen, and think them immense as Whales, the motion of whose vast bodies can in a peacefull calm trouble the Ocean till it boyl; After a little hasty wonder, they consider them again with disdain of their low constraints at Court, where they must patiently endure the little follies of such small Favorites as wait even near the wisest Thrones; so fantastically weak seem Monarchs in the sicknesse of Care, a feaver in the head, when for the humorous pleasure of Diversity they descend from purple Beds, and seek their ease upon the ground. These great Leaders say also that Law moves slowly as with fetter'd feet, and is too tedious in redresse of wrongs, whilst in Armies Justice seems to ride poste, and overtakes Offenders er'e the contagion of crimes can infect others; and though in Courts and Cities great men fence often with her, and with a forcive sleight put by her sword, yet when she retires to Camps she is in a posture not only to punish the offences of particular Greatnesse but of injurious Nations.
States-men look on Divines as men whose long solitude and Meditations on Heaven hath made them Strangers upon Earth, and tis acquaintance with the World and knowledge of Man that makes abilities of Ruling; for though it may be said that a sufficient belief of Doctrin would beget obedience, which is the uttermost design of governing, yet since diversity of Doctrin doth distract all Auditors, and makes them doubtfully dispose their obedience even towards spiritual powers, on which many would have the temporal depend, therefore States-men think themselves more fit to manage Empire then Divines, whose usefulness consists in perswasion; and perswasion is the last medicine, being the most desperate, which States-men apply to the distemper of the People, for their distemper is madness, and madness is best cur'd with terror and force. They think that Leaders of Armies are to great Empire as great Rivers to the continent, which make an easie access of such benefits as the Metropolis, the seat of power, would else at vast distances with difficulty reach; yet often like proud Rivers when they swell, they destroy more by once overflowing their borders at home then they have in long time acquir'd from abroad: They are to little Empire like the Sea to low Islands, by nature a defence from Forreigners, but by accident when they rage a deluge to their own shore. And at all seasonsStates-men beleeve them more dangerous to government then themselves; for the popularity of States-men is not so frequent as that of Generals, or if by rare sufficiency of Art it be gain'd, yet the force of crowds in Cities, compar'd to the validity of men of Armes and discipline, would appear like the great number of Sheep to a few Wolves, rather a cause of Comfort then of Terror. They think that chief Ministers of Law, by unskilful integrity or love of popularity (which shews the Minde as meanly born as bred), so earnestly pursue the protection of the Peoples right, that they neglect the publick Interest; and though the Peoples right and publick Interest be the same, yet usually by the People the Ministers of Law mean private men, and by the other the State; and so the State and the People are divided, as we may say a man is divided within himself, when reason and Passion (and Passion is folly) dispute about consequent actions; and we were call'd to assist at such intestine war, we must side with Reason, according to our duty, by the Law of Nature; and Natures Law, though not written in Stone, as was the Law of Religion, hath taken deep impression in the Heart of Man, which is harder then marble of Mount-Sinai.
Cheef Ministers of Law think Divines in government should, like the Penal Statutes, be choicely and but seldom us'd; for as those Statutes are rigorously inquisitive after venial faults, punishing our very manners and weak constitution as well as insolent appetite, so Divines, that are made vehement with contemplating the dignity of the Offended (which is God) more then the frailty of the Offender, govern as if men could be made Angels ere they come to Heaven. Great Ministers of Law think likewise that Leaders of Armies are, like ill Physitians, onely fit for desperate cures, whose boldness calls in the assistance of Fortune during the fears and troubles of Art; Yet the health they give to a distemper'd State is not more accidental then the preservation of it is uncertain, because they often grow vain with success, and encourage a restor'd State to such hazards as shew like irregularity of life in other recover'd bodies, such as the cautious and ancient gravity of Lawdisswaded: For Law, whose temperate design is safety, rather prevents by constancy of Medicine (like a continu'd Diet) diseases in the body-politick then depends after a permitted Sickness upon the chance of recovery. They think States-men strive to be as much Judges of Law as themselves, being chief Ministers of Law, are Judges of the People, and that even good States-men pervert the Law more then evil Judges: For Law was anciently meant a defensive Armor, and the people took it as from the Magazin of Justice to keep them safe from each others violence; but States-men use it as offensive Armes, with which, in forraging to get relief for Supreme Power, they often wound the Publick.
Thus we have first observ'd the Four chief aids of Government, Religion, Armes, Policy, and Law, defectively apply'd, and then we have found them weak by an emulous war amongst themselves: it follows next we should intro duce to strengthen those principal aids (still making the people our direct object) some collateral help, which I will safely presume to consist in Poesy.
We have observ'd that the People, since the latter time of Christian Religion, are more unquiet then in former Ages,--so disobedient and fierce, as if they would shake off the ancient imputation of being Beasts by shewing their Masters they know their own strength; and we shall not erre by supposing that this conjunction of fourfold Power hath fail'd in the effects of authority by a mis-application; for it hath rather endeavour'd to prevail upon their bodies then their mindes, forgetting that the martiall art of constraining is the best, which assaults the weaker part; and the weakest part of the people is their mindes, for want of that which is the mindes only strength, Education, but their Bodies are strong by continuall labour, for Labour is the Education of the Body. Yet when I mention the misapplication of force, I should have said they have not only fail'd by that, but by a main error; Because the subject on which they should work is the Minde, and the Minde can never be constrain'd, though it may be gain'd by perswasion: And since Perswasion is the principal instrument which can bring to fashion the brittle and mishapen mettal of the Minde, none are so fit aids to this important work as Poets, whose art is more then any enabled with a voluntary and chearfull assistance of Nature, and whose operations are as resistlesse, secret, easy, and subtle as is the influence of Planets.
I must not forget, least I be prevented by the vigilance of the Reader, that I have profess'd not to represent the beauty of Vertue in my Poem with hope to perswade common men; and I have said that Divines have fail'd in discharging their share of Government by depending upon the effects of perswasion, and that Statesmen in managing the people rely not upon the perswasion of Divines, but upon force. In my despair of reducing the mindes of Common men, I have not confest any weaknesse of Poesy in the generall Science, but rather inferr'd the particular strength of the Heroick, which hath a force that overmatches the infancy of such mindes as are not enabled by degrees of Education; but there are lesser forces in other kinds of Poesy, by which they may train and prepare their understandings; and Princes and Nobles, being reform'd and made Angelicall by the Heroick, will be predominant lights, which the people cannot chuse but use for direction, as Gloworms take in and keep the Suns beams till they shine and make day to themselves.
In saying that Divines have vainly hop'd to continue the peace of Government by perswasion, I have imply'd such perswasions as are accompany'd with threatnings and seconded by force, which are the perswasions of Pulpits, where is presented to the obstinate Hell after Death; and the civill Magistrate during life constrains such obedience as the Church doth ordain. But the Perswasions of Poesy, in stead of menaces, are Harmonious and delightful insinuations, and never any constraint, unless the ravishment of Reason may be call'd Force. And such Force, contrary to that which Divines, Commanders, States-men, and Lawyers use, begets such obedience as is never weary or griev'd.
In declaring that Statesmen think not the State wholly secure by such manners as are bred from the perswasions of Divines, but more willingly make Government rely upon military force, I have neither concluded that Poets are unprofitable nor that Statesmen think so; for the wisdom of Poets would first make the Images of Vertue so amiable that her beholders should not be able to look off, rather gently and delightfully infusing then inculcating Precepts; and then when the minde is conquer'd like a willing Bride, Force should so behave it self as noble Husbands use their power, that is, by letting their Wives see the Dignity and prerogative of our Sex (which is the Husbands harmless conquest of Peace) continually maintain'd to hinder Disobedience rather then rigorously impose Duty: But to such an easy government, neither the People, which are subjects to Kings and States, nor Wives, which are subject to Husbands, can peacefully yeild, unless they are first conquer'd by Vertue; and the Conquests of Vertue be never easy but where her forces are commanded by Poets.
It may be objected that the education of the Peoples mindes (from whence Vertuous manners are deriv'd) by the several kindes of Poesy, of which the Dramatick hath been in all Ages very successful, is opposite to the receav'd opinion that the People ought to be continu'd in ignorance,-- a Maxime sounding like the little subtilty of one that is a Statesman only by Birth or Beard, and merits not his place by much thinking: For ignorance is rude, sensorious, jealous, obstinate, and proud, these being exactly the ingredients of which Disobedience is made, and Obedience proceeds from ample consideration, of which knowledge consists; and knowledge will soon put into one Scale the weight of oppression, and in the other the heavy burden which Disobedience lays on us in the effects of civil War; and then even Tyranny will seem much lighter, when the hand of supreme Power binds up our Load and lays it artfully on us, then Disobedience, the Parent of Confusion, when we all load one another, in which every one irregularly increases his fellows burden to lessen his own.
Others may object that Poesy on our Stage or the Heroick in Musick (for so the latter was anciently us'd) is prejudicial to a State, as begetting Levity, and giving the People too great a diversion by pleasure and mirth. To these, if they be worthy of satisfaction, I reply, That whoever in Government endeavours to make the People serious and grave, which are attributes that may become the Peoples Representatives but not the People, doth practise a new way to enlarge the State, by making every Subject a Statesman; and he that means to govern so mournfully (as it were, without any Musick in his Dominion) must lay but light burdens on his Subjects, or else he wants the ordinary wisdom of those who to their Beasts that are much loaden whistle all the day to encourage their Travail. For that supreme power which expects a firm obedience in those who are not us'd to rejoycing, but live sadly, as if they were preparing for the funeral of Peace, hath little skil in contriving the lastingness of Government, which is the principal work of Art: And less hath that Power consider'd Nature, as if such new austerity did seem to tax even her for want of gravity in bringing in the Spring so merrily with a Musical variety of Birds: And such sullen power doth forget that Battails, the most solemne and serious business of Death, are begun with Trumpets and Fifes, and anciently were continu'd with more diversity of Musick: And that the Grecian Laws,-- Laws being the gravest endevor of humane Councels for the ease of Life,--were long before the dayes of Lycurgus, to make them more pleasant to memory, published in Verse: And that the wise Athenians, dividing into Three parts the publique Revenue, expended one in Plays and Showes, to divert the People from meeting to consult of their Rulers merit and the defects of Government: And that the Romans had not so long continu'd their Empire but for the same diversions at a vaster charge.
Againe, it may be objected, that the Precepts of Christian Religion are sufficient towards our regulation by appointment of manners, and towards the ease of Life by imposing obedience, so that the moral assistance of Poesy is but vainly intruded. To this I may answer that as no man should suspect the sufficiency of Religion by its insuccessfulness, so if the insuccessfulness be confess'd, we shall as little disparage Religion by bringing in more aids when 'tis in action as a General dishonours himself by endeavouring with more of his own Forces to make sure an attempt that hath a while miscarry'd: For Poesy, which like contracted Essences seems the utmost strength |&| activity of Nature, is as all good Arts subservient to Religion, all marching under the same Banner though of less discipline and esteem. And as Poesy is the best Expositor of Nature, Nature being misterious to such as use not to consider, so Nature is the best Interpreter of God, and more cannot be said of Religion. And when the Judges of Religion, which are the Chiefs of the Church, neglect the help of Moralists in reforming the People (and Poets are of all Moralists the most useful), they give a sentence against the Law of Nature: For Nature performs all things by correspondent aids and harmony. And 'tis injurious not to think Poets the most useful Moralists, for as Poesy is adorn'd and sublim'd by Musick, which makes it more pleasant and acceptable, so Morality is sweetned and made more amiable by Poesy. And the Austerity of some Divines may be the cause why Religion hath not more prevaild upon the manners of Men; for great Doctors should rather comply with things that please, as the wise Apostle did with Ceremonies, then lose a Proselyte. And evenHonor, taught by moral Philosophers, but more delightfully infusd by Poets, will appear (notwithstanding the sad severity of some latter Divines) no unsafe Guide towards Piety; for it is as wary and nice as Conscience, though more cheerful and couragious. And however Honor be more pleasing to flesh and blood because in this World it find's applause, yet 'tis not so mercenarie as Piety; for Piety, being of all her expectations inwardly assur'd, expects a reward in Heaven to which all earthly payments compar'd are but Shaddows and Sand.
And it appears that Poesy hath for its natural prevailings over the Understandings of Men (sometimes making her conquests with easy plainnesse, like native country Beauty) been very succesful in the most grave and important occasions that the necessities of States or Mankinde have produc'd. For it may be said thatDemosthenes sav'd the Athenians by the Fable or Parable of the Doggs and Wolves, in answer to KingPhilip's Proposition; And that Menenius Agrippa sav'd the Senate, if not Rome, by that of the Belly and the Hands; and that even our Saviour was pleas'd, as the most prevalent way of Doctrine, wholly to use such kinde of Parables in his converting or saving of Souls,--it being written, Without a Parable spake he not to them.And had not the learned Apostle thought the wisdom of Poets worthie his remembrance, and instructive not only to Heathens but to Christians, he had not cited Epimenides to the Cretans as well as Aratus to theAthenians.
I cannot also be ignorant that divers, whose conscientious Melancholy amazes and discourages others Devotion, will accuse Poets as the admirers of Beauty, and Inventors or Provokers of that which by way of aspersion they call Love. But such, in their first accusation, seem to look carelesly and unthankfully upon the wonderful works of God, or else through low education or age become incompetent Judges of what is the chief of his works upon Earth. And Poets, when they praise Beauty, are at least as lawfully thankfull to God as when they praise Seas, Woods, Rivers, or any other parts that make up a prospect of the World. Nor can it be imagin'd but that Poets in praising them praise wholly the Maker, and so in praising beauty: For that Woman who beleeves she is prais'd when her beauty is commended may as well suppose that Poets think she created her self: And he that praises the inward beauty of Women, which is their Vertue, doth more perform his duty then before; for our envious silence in not approving |&| so encouraging what is good is the cause that vice is more in fashion and countenance then Vertue. But when Poets praise that which is not beauty or the minde which is not vertuous, they erre through their mistake or by flattery; and flattery is a crime so much more prosperous in others who are Companions to greatnesse, that it may be held in Poets rather Kindnesse then designe.
They who accuse Poets as provokers of Love are Enemies to Nature; and all affronts to Nature are offences to God, as insolencies to all subordinate officers of the Crown are rudenesses to the King. Love, in the most obnoxious interpretation, is Natur's Preparative to her greatest work, which is the making of Life. And since the severest Divines of these latter times have not been asham'd publiquely to command and define the most secret dutys and entertainments of Love in the Married, why should not Poets civilly endeavour to make a Friend ship between the Guests before they meet, by teaching them to dignifie each other with the utmost of estimation ? And Mariage in Mankinde were as rude and unprepar'd as the hasty elections of other Creatures, but for acquaintance and conversation before it; and that must be an acquaintance of Mindes, not of bodys; and of the Minde Poesy is the most natural and delightfull Interpreter.
When neither Religion (which is our art towards God) nor Nature (which is Gods first Law to Man, though by Man least study'd), nor when Reason (which is Nature, and made art by Experience) can by the enemies of Poesy be sufficiently urg'd against it, then some, whose frowardnesse will not let them quitt an evil cause, plead written Authority. And though such authority be a Weapon which even in the War of Religion distres'd disputers take up as their last shift, yet here we would protest against it, but that we finde it makes a false defence and leaves the Enemy more open. This authority, which is but single too, is from Plato, and him some have malitiously quoted as if in his feign'd Common-wealth he had banish'd all Poets; But Plato says nothing against Poets in general, and in his particular quarrel, which is to Homer and Hesiod, only condemns such errors as we mention'd in the beginning of this Preface when we look'd upon the Ancients. And those errors consist in their abasing Religion by representing the Gods in evil proportion and their Heroes with as unequal Characters, and so brought Vices into fashion by intermixing them with the vertues of great Persons.
Yet even during this divine anger of Plato, he concludes, not against Poesy, but the Poems then most in request; for these be the words of his Law: If any Man, having ability to imitate what he pleases, imitate in his Poems both good and evil, let him be reverenc'd as a sacred, admirable, and pleasant Person; but be it likewise known, he must have no place in our Common-wealth. And yet before his banishment he allows him the honor of a Diadem, and sweet Odours to anoint his head; And afterwards says: Let us make use of more profitable, though more severe and less pleasant Poets, who can imitate that which is for the honor and benefit of the Common-wealth. But those who make use of this just indignation of Plato to the unjust scandal of Poesy have the common craft of False Witnesses, inlarging every circumstance when it may hurt, and concealing all things that may defend him they oppose. For they will not remember how much the Scholler of Plato, who like an absolute Monarch over Arts hath almost silenc'd his Master throughout the Schools of Europe, labours to make Poesy universally current by giving Laws to the Science: Nor will they take notice in what dignitie it continu'd whilst the Greeks kept their dominion or Language; and how much theRomans cherish'd even the publique repetition of Verses: Nor will they vouchsafe to observe, though Juvenalltake care to record it, how gladly all Rome during that exercise ran to the voice of Statius.
Thus having taken measure, though hastily, of the extent of those great Professions that in Government contribute to the necessities, ease, and lawfull pleasures of Men, and finding Poesy as usefull now as the Ancients found it towards perfection and happinesse, I will, Sir, unless with these Two Books you returne me a discouragement, cheerfully proceed; and though a little time would make way for the Third, and make it fit for the Presse, I am resolv'd rather to hazard the inconvenience which expectation breeds (for divers with no ill satisfaction have had a taste of Gondibert) then endure that violent envie which assaults all Writers whilst they live, though their Papers be but fill'd with very negligent and ordinary thoughts; and therefore I delay the publication of any part of the Poem till I can send it you from America, whither I now speedily prepare, having the folly to hope that when 1 am in another World (though not in the common sense of dying) I shall finde my Readers, even the Poets of the present Age, as temperate and benigne as we are all to the Dead, whose remote excellence cannot hinder our reputation. And now, Sir, to end with the Allegory which I have so long continu'd, I shall, after all my busy vanitie in shewing and describing my new Building, with great quietness (being almost as weary as your self) bring you to the Backdore, that you may make no review but in my absence; and steale hastely from you, as one who is asham'd of all the trouble you have receiv'd from,
Your most humble and most affectionate Servant,
From the Louvre in Paris, January 2, 1650.