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THE HARVARD CLASSICS 



The Five-Foot Shelf of Books 



THE HARVARD CLASSICS 
EDITED BY CHARLES W. ELIOT, LL.D. 



English Essays 

From Sir Philip Sidney to Macaulay 

W/V^ Introductions and Notes 
Yo/ume 27 




P. F. Collier & Son Corporation 

NEW YORK 



Copyright, 1910 
By p. F. Collier & Son 

manufactured in u. s. a. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

The Defense of Poesy 5 

bv sir philip sidney 

On Shakespeare 55 

by ben jonson 

On Bacon 5^ 

by ben jonson 

Of Agriculture 6i 

by abraham cowley 

The Vision of Mirza 73 

by joseph addison 

Westminster Abbey 78 

by joseph addison 

The Spectator Club 83 

by sir richard steele 

Hints Towards an Essay on Conversation 91 

by jonathan swift 

A Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding 99 

BY JONATHAN SWIFT 

A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet 104 

by jonathan swift 

On the Death of Esther Johnson [Stella] 122 

by jonathan swift 

The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters 133 

by daniel defoe 

The Education of Women 148 

by daniel defoe 

Life of Addison, 1672-1719 155 

by samuel johnson 

Of the Standard of Taste 203 

by david hume 

I 



2 CONTENTS 

PAGE 

Fallacies of Anti-Reformers 225 

by sydney smith 

On Poesy or Art 255 

by samuel taylor coleridge 

Of Persons One Would Wish to Have Seen 267 

BY WILLIAM HAZLITT 

Deaths of Little Children 285 

BY LEIGH hunt 

On the Realities of Imagination 289 

BY LEIGH hunt 

On the Tragedies of Shakspere 299 

by charles lamb 

Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow 319 

by thomas de quincey 

A Defence of Poetry 329 

BY PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY 

Machiavelli 363 

BY THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

Sir Philip Sidney, for three centuries the type of the English gentle- 
man, was the son of Sir Henry Sidney, lord deputy of Ireland under 
Queen Elizabeth, and Lady Mary Dudley, daughter of the Duke of 
Northumberland. He was born at Penshurst, Kent, November 30, 1554, 
and was named after his godfather, Philip II of Spain, then consort of 
Queen Mary. He was sent to Oxford at fourteen, where he was noted 
as a good student; and on leaving the university he obtained the Queen's 
leave to travel on the Continent. He went to Paris in the train of the 
ambassador to France, saw much of court society there, and was in the 
city at the time of the massacre of St. Bartholomew. Proceeding to Ger- 
many he met, at Frankfort, the Protestant scholar Hubert Languet, with 
whom, though Languet was thrice his age, he formed an intimate and 
profitable friendship. He went on to Vienna, Hungary, Italy, and back 
by the Low Countries, returning to England at the age of twenty, an 
accomplished and courtly gentleman, with some experience of practical 
diplomacy, and a first-hand knowledge of the politics of the Continent. 

Sidney's introduction to the court of Elizabeth took place in 1575, and 
within two years he was sent back to the Continent on a number of 
diplomatic commissions, when he used every opportunity for the fur- 
thering of the interests of Protestantism. He seems everywhere to have 
made the most favorable impression by both his character and his abili- 
ties. During the years between 1578 and 1585 he was chiefly at court and 
in Parliament, and to this period belong most of his writings. In 1585 
he left England to assume the office of Governor of Flushing, and in the 
next year he was mortally wounded at the battle of Zutphen, dying on 
October 17, 1586. All England went into mourning, and the impression 
left by his brilliant and fascinating personality has never passed away. 

Sidney's literary work was all published after his death, some of it 
against his express desire. The "Arcadia," an elaborate pastoral romance 
written in a highly ornate prose mingled with verse, was composed for 
the entertainment of his sister, the Countess of Pembroke. The collec- 
tion of sonnets, "Astrophel and Stella," was called forth by Sidney's 
relation to Penelope Devereux, daughter of the Earl of Essex. While 
they were both little more than children, there had been some talk of a 
marriage between them; but evidence of any warmth of feeling appears 
chiefly after Penelope's unhappy marriage to Lord Rich. There has been 
much controversy over the question of the sincerity of these remarkable 



4 INTRODUCTION 

poems, and over the precise nature of Sidney's sentiments toward the 
lady who inspired them, some regarding them as undisguised outpour- 
ings of a genuine passion, others as mere conventional hterary exercises. 
The more recent opinion is that they express a platonic devotion such as 
was common in the courtly society of the day, and which was allowed by 
contemporary opinion to be compatible with the marriage of both parties. 
In 1579 Stephen Gosson published a violent attack on the arts, called 
"The School of Abuse," and dedicated it without permission to Sidney. 
It was in answer to this that Sidney composed his "Defense of Poesy," 
an eloquent apology for imaginative literature, not unmingled with 
humor. The esthetic theories it contains are largely borrowed from 
Italian sources, but it is thoroughly infused with Sidney's own person- 
ality; and it may be regarded as the beginning of literary criticism in 
England. 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 

By Sir Philip Sidney 

WHEN the right virtuous Edward Wotton and I were at 
the Emperor's' court together, we gave ourselves to learn 
horsemanship of John Pietro Pugliano, one that with 
great commendation had the place of an esquire in his stable; and 
he, according to the fertileness of the Italian wit, did not only afford 
us the demonstration of his practice, but sought to enrich our 
minds with the contemplations therein which he thought most 
precious. But with none I remember mine ears were at any time 
more loaden, than when — either angered with slow payment, or 
moved with our learner-like admiration — he exercised his speech in 
the praise of his faculty. He said soldiers were the noblest estate of 
mankind, and horsemen the noblest of soldiers. He said they were 
the masters of war and ornaments of peace, speedy goers and strong 
abiders, triumphers both in camps and courts. Nay, to so unbelieved 
a point he proceeded, as that no earthly thing bred such wonder to a 
prince as to be a good horseman; skill of government was but a 
pedanteria^ in comparison. Then would he add certain praises, by 
telling what a peerless beast the horse was, the only serviceable cour- 
tier without flattery, the beast of most beauty, faithfulness, courage, 
and such more, that if I had not been a piece of a logician before I 
came to him, I think he would have persuaded me to have wished 
myself a horse. But thus much at least with his no few words he 
drave into me, that self-love is better than any gilding to make that 
seem gorgeous wherein ourselves be parties. 

Wherein if Pugliano's strong affection and weak arguments will 

not satisfy you, I will give you a nearer example of myself, who, 

I know not by what mischance, in these my not old years and idlest 

times, having slipped into the title of a poet, am provoked to say some- 

* Maximilian II. (i 527-1 576). ^ pig^g of pedamry. 



O SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

thing unto you in the defense of that my unelected vocation, which 
if I handle with more good will than good reasons, bear with me, 
since the scholar is to be pardoned that followeth the steps of his 
master. And yet I must say that, as I have just cause to make a 
pitiful defense of poor poetry, which from almost the highest esti- 
mation of learning is fallen to be the laughing-stock of children, 
so have I need to bring some more available proofs, since the former 
is by no man barred of his deserved credit, the silly' latter hath had 
even the names of philosophers used to the defacing of it, with great 
danger of civil war among the Muses. 

And first, truly, to all them that, professing learning, inveigh 
against poetry, may justly be objected that they go very near to 
ungratefulness, to seek to deface that which, in the noblest nations 
and languages that are known, hath been the first light-giver to 
ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk by little and little enabled 
them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges. And will they 
now play the hedgehog, that, being received into the den, drave out 
his host? Or rather the vipers, that with their birth kill their parents? 
Let learned Greece in any of her manifold sciences be able to show 
me one book before Muszus, Homer, and Hesiod, all three nothing 
else but poets. Nay, let any history be brought that can say any 
writers were there before them, if they were not men of the same 
skill, as Orpheus, Linus, and some other are named, who, having 
been the first of that country that made pens deliverers of their 
knowledge to their posterity, may justly challenge to be called their 
fathers in learning. For not only in time they had this priority — 
although in itself antiquity be venerable — but went before them 
as causes, to draw with their charming sweetness the wild untamed 
wits to an admiration of knowledge. So as Amphion was said to 
move stones with his poetry to build Thebes, and Orpheus to be 
listened to by beasts, — indeed stony and beastly people. So among 
the Romans were Livius Andronicus and Ennius; so in the Italian 
language the first that made it aspire to be a treasure-house of 
science were the poets Dante, Boccace, and Petrarch; so in our 
English were Gower and Chaucer, after whom, encouraged and 
delighted with their excellent foregoing, others have followed to 

^ Weak, poor. 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 7 

beautify our mother-tongue, as well in the same kind as in other arts. 

This did so notably show itself, that the philosophers of Greece 
durst not a long time appear to the world but under the masks of 
poets. So Thales, Empedocles, and Parmenides sang their natural 
philosophy in verses; so did Pythagoras and Phocylides their moral 
counsels; so did Tyrtaeus in war matters, and Solon in matters of 
policy; or rather they, being poets, did exercise their delightful 
vein in those points of highest knowledge which before them lay 
hidden to the world. For that wise Solon was directly a poet it is 
manifest, having written in verse the notable fable of the Atlantic 
Island which was continued by Plato. And truly even Plato who- 
soever well considereth, shall find that in the body of his work 
though the inside and strength were philosophy, the skin as it were 
and beauty depended most of poetry. For all standeth upon dia- 
logues; wherein he feigneth many honest burgesses of Athens to 
speak of such matters that, if they had been set on the rack, they 
would never have confessed them; besides his poetical describing 
the circumstances of their meetings, as the well-ordering of a banquet, 
the delicacy of a walk, with interlacing mere tales, as Gyges' Ring 
and others, which who knoweth not to be flowers of poetry did 
never walk into Apollo's garden. 

And even historiographers, although their lips sound of things 
done, and verity be written in their foreheads, have been glad to bor- 
row both fashion and perchance weight of the poets. So Herodotus 
entituled his history by the name of the nine Muses; and both he 
and all the rest that followed him either stole or usurped of 
poetry their passionate describing of passions, the many particularities 
of battles which no man could affirm, or, if that be denied me, long 
orations put in the mouths of great kings and captains, which it is 
certain they never pronounced. 

So that truly neither philosopher nor historiographer could at the 
first have entered into the gates of popular judgments, if they had 
not taken a great passport of poetry, which in all nations at this day, 
where learning flourisheth not, is plain to be seen; in all which they 
have some feeling of poetry. In Turkey, besides their lawgiving di- 
vines they have no other writers but poets. In our neighbor country 
Ireland, where truly learning goeth very bare, yet are their poets held 



8 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

in a devout reverence. Even among the most barbarous and simple 
Indians, where no writing is, yet have they their poets, who make 
and sing songs (which they call areytos), both o£ their ancestors' 
deeds and praises of their gods, — a sufficient probability that, if ever 
learning come among them, it must be by having their hard dull wits 
softened and sharpened with the sweet delights of poetry; for until 
they find a pleasure in the exercise of the mind, great promises of 
much knowledge will little persuade them that know not the fruits 
of knowledge. In Wales, the true remnant of the ancient Britons, 
as there are good authorities to show the long time they had poets 
which they called bards, so through all the conquests of Romans, 
Saxons, Danes, and Normans, some of whom did seek to ruin all 
memory of learning from among them, yet do their poets even to this 
day last; so as it is not more notable in soon beginning, than in long 
continuing. 

But since the authors of most of our sciences were the Romans, 
and before them the Greeks, let us a little stand upon their authori- 
ties, but even* so far as to see what names they have given unto this 
now scorned skill. Among the Romans a poet was called vates, which 
is as much as a diviner, foreseer, or prophet, as by his conjoined words, 
vaticinium and vaticinari, is manifest; so heavenly a title did that ex- 
cellent people bestow upon this heart-ravishing knowledge. And so 
far were they carried into the admiration thereof, that they thought 
in the chanceable hitting upon any such verses great fore-tokens of 
their following fortunes were placed; whereupon grew the word of 
Sortes VirgiliancE, when by sudden opening Virgil's book they 
lighted upon some verse of his making. Whereof the Histories of 
the Emperors' Lives are full: as of Albinus, the governor of our 
island, who in his childhood met with this verse, 

Arma amens capio, nee sat rationis in armis, 

and in his age performed it. Although it were a very vain and godless 
superstition, as also it was to think that spirits were commanded by 
such verses — whereupon this word charms, derived of carmina, Com- 
eth — so yet serveth it to show the great reverence those wits were held 
in, and altogether not^ without ground, since both the oracles of Del- 
* Only. 5 Not altogether. 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 9 

phos and Sibylla's prophecies were wholly delivered in verses; for 
that same exquisite observing of number and measure in words, 
and that high-flying liberty of conceit^ proper to the poet, did seem 
to have some divine force in it. 

And may not I presume a little further to show the reasonableness 
of this word vates, and say that the holy David's Psalms are a divine 
poem ? If I do, I shall not do it without the testimony of great learned 
men, both ancient and modern. But even the name of Psalms will 
speak for me, which, being interpreted, is nothing but Songs; then, 
that it is fully written in metre, as all learned Hebricians agree, 
although the rules be not yet fully found; lastly and principally, his 
handling his prophecy, which is merely poetical. For what else is 
the awaking his musical instruments, the often and free changing 
of persons, his notable prosopopoeias, when he maketh you, as it were, 
see God coming in His majesty, his telling of the beasts' joyfulness 
and hills' leaping, but a heavenly poesy, wherein almost he showeth 
himself a passionate lover of that unspeakable and everlasting beauty 
to be seen by the eyes of the mind, only cleared by faith ? But truly 
now having named him, I fear I seem to profane that holy name, 
applying it to poetry, which is among us thrown down to so ridicu- 
lous an estimation. But they that with quiet judgments will look a 
little deeper into it, shall find the end and working of it such as, 
being rightly appUed, deserveth not to be scourged out of the church 
of God. 

But now let us see how the Greeks named it and how they deemed 
of it. The Greeks called him iroiriTiiv, which name hath, as the most 
excellent, gone through other languages. It cometh of this word itoiuv, 
which is "to make"; wherein I know not whether by luck or wisdom 
we Englishmen have met with the Greeks in calling him a maker. 
Which name how high and incomparable a title it is, I had rather 
were known by marking the scope of other sciences than by any 
partial allegation. There is no art delivered unto mankind that hath 
not the works of nature for his principal object, without which they 
could not consist, and on which they so depend as they become actors 
and players, as it were, of what nature will have set forth. So doth 
the astronomer look upon the stars, and, by that he seeth, set down 

^ Invention. 



10 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

what order nature hath taken therein. So do the geometrician and 
arithmetician in their divers sorts of quantities. So doth the musician 
in times tell you which by nature agree, which not. The natural 
philosopher thereon hath his name, and the moral philosopher stand- 
eth upon the natural virtues, vices, and passions of man; and "follow 
nature," saith he, "therein, and thou shalt not err." The lawyer saith 
what men have determined, the historian what men have done. The 
grammarian speaketh only of the rules of speech, and the rhetorician 
and logician, considering what in nature will soonest prove and 
persuade, thereon give artificial rules, which still are compassed 
within the circle of a question, according to the proposed matter. The 
physician weigheth the nature of man's body, and the nature of 
things helpful or hurtful unto it. And the metaphysic, though it be 
in the second and abstract notions, and therefore be counted super- 
natural, yet doth he, indeed, build upon the depth of nature. 

Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted 
up with the vigor of his own invention, doth grow, in effect, into 
another nature, in making things either better than nature bringeth 
forth, or, quite anew, forms such as never were in nature, as the 
heroes, demi-gods, cyclops, chimeras, furies, and such like; so as he 
goeth hand in hand with nature, not enclosed within the narrow war- 
rant of her gifts, but freely ranging within the zodiac of his own wit. 
Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as divers poets have 
done; neither with pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, sweet-smelling flow- 
ers, nor whatsoever else may make the too-much-loved earth more 
lovely; her world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden. 

But let those things alone, and go to man — for whom as the other 
things are, so it seemeth in him her uttermost cunning is employed — 
and know whether she have brought forth so true a lover as Thea- 
genes; so constant a friend as Pylades; so valiant a man as Orlando; 
so right a prince as Xenophon's Cyrus; so excellent a man every way 
as Virgil's iEneas? Neither let this be jestingly conceived, because 
the works of the one be essential, the other in imitation or fiction; for 
any understanding knoweth the skill of each artificer standeth in 
that idea, or fore-conceit of the work, and not in the work itself. 
And that the poet hath that idea is manifest, by delivering them forth 
in such excellency as he hath imagined them. Which delivering 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY II 

forth, also, is not wholly imaginative, as we are wont to say by them 
that build castles in the air; but so far substantially it worketh, not 
only to make a Cyrus, which had been but a particular excellency, 
as nature might have done, but to bestow a Cyrus upon the world to 
make many Cyruses, if they will learn aright why and how that 
maker made him. Neither let it be deemed too saucy a comparison to 
balance the highest point of man's wit with the efficacy of nature; 
but rather give right honor to the Heavenly Maker of that maker, 
who, having made man to His own likeness, set him beyond and 
over all the works of that second nature. Which in nothing he 
showeth so much as in poetry, when with the force of a divine breath 
he bringeth things forth far surpassing her doings, with no small 
argument to the incredulous of that first accursed fall of Adam, — 
since our erected wit maketh us know what perfection is, and yet our 
infected will keepeth us from reaching unto it. But these arguments 
will by few be understood, and by fewer granted; thus much I hope 
will be given me, that the Greeks with some probability of reason 
gave him the name above all names of learning. 

Now let us go to a more ordinary opening of him, that the truth 
may be the more palpable; and so, I hope, though we get not so 
unmatched a praise as the etymology of his names will grant, yet his 
very description, which no man will deny, shall not justly be barred 
from a principal commendation. 

Poesy, therefore, is an art of imitation, for so Aristotle termeth it 
in his word |ii//jj(ns, that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or 
figuring forth; to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture, with 
this end, — to teach and delight. 

Of this have been three general kinds. The chief, both in antiquity 
and excellency, were they that did imitate the inconceivable excellen- 
cies of God. Such were David in his Psalms; Solomon in his Song 
of Songs, in his Ecclesiastes and Proverbs; Moses and Deborah in 
their Hymns; and the writer of Job; which, beside other, the learned 
Emanuel Tremellius and Franciscus Junius do entitle the poetical 
part of the Scripture. Against these none will speak that hath the 
Holy Ghost in due holy reverence. In this kind, though in a full 
wrong divinity, were Orpheus, Amphion, Homer in his Hymns, and 
many other, both Greeks and Romans. And this poesy must be used 



12 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

by whosoever will follow St. James' counsel in singing psalms when 
they are merry; and I know is used with the fruit of comfort by 
some, when, in sorrowful pangs of their death-bringing sins, they 
find the consolation of the never-leaving goodness. 

The second kind is of them that deal with matters philosophical, 
either moral, as Tyrtseus, Phocylides, and Cato; or natural, as Lucre- 
tius and Virgil's Georgics; or astronomical, as Manilius and Pon- 
tanus; or historical, as Lucan; which who mislike, the fault is in their 
judgment quite out of taste, and not in the sweet food of sweedy 
uttered knowledge. 

But because this second sort is wrapped within the fold of the pro- 
posed subject, and takes not the free course of his own invention, 
whether they properly be poets or no let grammarians dispute, and 
go to the third, indeed right poets, of whom chiefly this question 
ariseth. Betwixt whom and these second is such a kind of difference 
as betwixt the meaner sort of painters, who counterfeit only such 
faces as are set before them, and the more excellent, who having no 
law but wit, bestow that in colors upon you which is fittest for the 
eye to see, — as the constant though lamenting look of Lucretia, when 
she punished in herself another's fault; wherein he painteth not 
Lucretia, whom he never saw, but painteth the outward beauty of 
such a virtue. For these third be they which most properly do imi- 
tate to teach and delight; and to imitate borrow nothing of what 
is, hath been, or shall be; but range, only reined with learned discre- 
tion, into the divine consideration of what may be and should 
be. These be they that, as the first and most noble sort may justly 
be termed vates, so these are waited on in the excellentest languages 
and best understandings with the fore-described name of poets. For 
these, indeed, do merely make to imitate, and imitate both to 
delight and teach, and delight to move men to take that goodness 
in hand, which without delight they would fly as from a stranger; 
and teach to make them know that goodness whereunto they are 
moved: — which being the noblest scope to which ever any learning 
was directed, yet want there not idle tongues to bark at them. 

These be subdivided into sundry more special denominations. 
The most notable be the heroic, lyric, tragic, comic, satiric, iambic, 
elegiac, pastoral, and certain others, some of these being termed 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY I3 

according to the matter they deal with, some by the sort of verse 
they Hked best to write in, — for indeed the greatest part of poets have 
apparelled their poetical inventions in that numberous kind of 
writing which is called verse. Indeed but apparelled, verse being but 
an ornament and no cause to poetry, since there have been many 
most excellent poets that never versified, and now swarm many 
versifiers that need never answer to the name of poets. For Xeno- 
phon, who did imitate so excellently as to give us effigiem justi 
imperii— the portraiture of a just empire under the name of Cyrus 
(as Cicero saith of him) — made therein an absolute heroical poem; 
so did Heliodorus in his sugared invention of that picture of love in 
Theagenes and Chariclea; and yet both these wrote in prose. Which 
I speak to show that it is not riming and versing that maketh a poet 
— no more than a long gown maketh an advocate, who, though he 
pleaded in armor, should be an advocate and no soldier — ^but it is that 
feigning notable images of virtues, vices, or what else, with that 
delightful teaching, which must be the right describing note to know 
a poet by. Although indeed the senate of poets hath chosen verse 
as their fittest raiment, meaning, as in matter they passed all in all, 
so in manner to go beyond them; not speaking, table-talk fashion, 
or like men in a dream, words as they chanceably fall from the 
mouth, but peizing' each syllable of each word by just proportion, 
according to the dignity of the subject. 

Now, therefore, it shall not be amiss, first to weigh this latter sort 
of poetry by his works, and then by his parts; and if in neither of 
these anatomies he be condemnable, I hope we shall obtain a more 
favorable sentence. This purifying of wit, this enriching of memory, 
enabling of judgment, and enlarging of conceit, which commonly 
we call learning, under what name soever it come forth or to what 
immediate end soever it be directed, the final end is to lead and 
draw us to as high a perfection as our degenerate souls, made worse 
by their clay lodgings, can be capable of. This, according to the 
inclination of man, bred many-formed impressions. For some that 
thought this felicity principally to be gotten by knowledge, and no 
knowledge to be so high or heavenly as acquaintance with the stars, 
gave themselves to astronomy; others, persuading themselves to be 

' Weighing. 



14 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

demi-gods if they knew the causes of things, became natural and 
supernatural philosophers. Some an admirable delight drew to 
music, and some the certainty of demonstration to the mathematics; 
but all, one and other, having this scope: — to know, and by knowl- 
edge to lift up the mind from the dungeon of the body to the 
enjoying his own divine essence. But when by the balance of 
experience it was found that the astronomer, looking to the stars, 
might fall into a ditch, that the inquiring philosopher might be 
blind in himself, and the mathematician might draw forth a straight 
line with a crooked heart; then lo! did proof, the overruler of 
opinions, make manifest, that all these are but serving sciences, 
which, as they have each a private end in themselves, so yet are they 
all directed to the highest end of the mistress-knowledge, by the 
Greeks called apxtreKTococi?, which stands, as I think, in the knowl- 
edge of a man's self, in the ethic and politic consideration, with 
the end of well-doing, and not of well-knowing only: — even as the 
saddler's next end is to make a good saddle, but his further end to 
serve a nobler faculty, which is horsemanship; so the horseman's to 
soldiery; and the soldier not only to have the skill, but to perform 
the practice of a soldier. So that the ending end of all earthly 
learning being virtuous action, those skills that most serve to bring 
forth that have a most just title to be princes over all the rest; wherein, 
if we can show, the poet is worthy to have it before any other 
competitors. 

Among whom as principal challengers step forth the moral philos- 
ophers; whom, me thinketh, I see coming toward me with a sullen 
gravity, as though they could not abide vice by daylight; rudely 
clothed, for to witness outwardly their contempt of outward things; 
with books in their hands against glory, whereto they set their names; 
sophistically speaking against subtility; and angry with any man in 
whom they see the foul fault of anger. These men, casting largess 
as they go of definitions, divisions, and distinctions, with a scornful 
interrogative do soberly ask whether it be possible to find any path 
so ready to lead a man to virtue, as that which teacheth what virtue 
is, and teacheth it not only by delivering forth his very being, his 
causes and effects, but also by making known his enemy, vice, which 
must be destroyed, and his cumbersome servant, passion, which 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY I5 

must be mastered; by showing the generalities that contain it, 
and the specialities that are derived from it; lastly, by plain setting 
down how it extendeth itself out of the limits of a man's own 
little world, to the government of families, and maintaining of 
public societies? 

The historian scarcely giveth leisure to the moralist to say so 
much, but that he, loaden with old mouse-eaten records, authorizing 
himself for the most part upon other histories, whose greatest authori- 
ties are built upon the notable foundation of hearsay; having much 
ado to accord differing writers, and to pick truth out of partiality; 
better acquainted with a thousand years ago than with the present 
age, and yet better knowing how this world goeth than how his own 
wit runneth; curious for antiquities and inquisitive of novelties, a 
wonder to young folks and a tyrant in table-talk; denieth, in a great 
chafe,* that any man for teaching of virtue and virtuous actions is 
comparable to him. "I am testis temporum, lux veritatis, vita 
memoricE, magistra vitce, nuntia vetustatis. * The philosopher," saith 
he, "teacheth a disputative virtue, but I do an active. His virtue is 
excellent in the dangerless Academy of Plato, but mine showeth forth 
her honorable face in the battles of Marathon, Pharsalia, Poitiers, 
and Agincourt. He teacheth virtue by certain abstract considerations, 
but I only bid you follow the footing of them that have gone before 
you. Old-aged experience goeth beyond the fine-witted philosopher; 
but I give the experience of many ages. Lastly, if he make the song- 
book, I put the learner's hand to the lute; and if he be the guide, I 
am the light." Then would he allege you innumerable examples, 
confirming story by story, how much the wisest senators and princes 
have been directed by the credit of history, as Brutus, Alphonsus of 
Aragon — and who not, if need be ? At length the long line of their 
disputation maketh"" a point in this, — ^that the one giveth the precept, 
and the other the example. 

Now whom shall we find, since the question standeth for the 
highest form in the school of learning, to be moderator? Truly, as 
me seemeth, the poet; and if not a moderator, even the man that 
ought to carry the title from them both, and much more from all 

* Anger, irritation. 

'"The witness of time, the light of truth, the life of memory, the directress of life, 
the herald of antiquity." — Cicero, "De Orat.," 2. 9. 36. '" Comes to. 



l6 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

other serving sciences. Therefore compare we the poet with the 
historian and with the moral philosopher; and if he go beyond them 
both, no other human skill can match him. For as for the divine, 
with all reverence it is ever to be excepted, not only for having his 
scope as far beyond any of these as eternity exceedeth a moment, but 
even for passing each of these in themselves. And for the lawyer, 
though Jus be the daughter of Justice, and Justice the chief of 
virtues, yet because he seeketh to make men good rather formidine 
paencE^^ than virtutis amore^''' or, to say righter, doth not endeavour 
to make men good, but that their evil hurt not others; having no 
care, so he be a good citizen, how bad a man he be; therefore, as our 
wickedness maketh him necessary, and necessity maketh him hon- 
orable, so is he not in the deepest truth to stand in rank with these, 
who all endeavor to take naughtiness away, and plant goodness even 
in the secretest cabinet of our souls. And these four are all that any 
way deal in that consideration of men's manners, which being the 
supreme knowledge, they that best breed it deserve the best 
commendation. 

The philosopher therefore and the historian are they which would 
win the goal, the one by precept, the other by example; but both not 
having both, do both halt. For the philosopher, setting down with 
thorny arguments the bare rule, is so hard of utterance and so misty 
to be conceived, that one that hath no other guide but him shall wade 
in him till he be old, before he shall find sufficient cause to be honest. 
For his knowledge standeth so upon the abstract and general that 
happy is that man who may understand him, and more happy that 
can apply what he doth understand. On the other side, the historian, 
wanting the precept, is so tied, not to what should be but to what is, 
to the particular truth of things, and not to the general reason of 
things, that his example draweth no necessary consequence, and 
therefore a less fruitful doctrine. 

Now doth the peerless poet perform both; for whatsoever the 
philosopher saith should be done, he giveth a perfect picture of it in 
some one by whom he presupposeth it was done, so as he coupleth 
the general notion with the particular example. A perfect picture, I 
say; for he yieldeth to the powers of the mind an image of that 
" Fear of punishment. '^ Lgyg q£ virtue. 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 1 7 

whereof the philosopher bestoweth but a wordish description, which 
doth neither strike, pierce, nor possess the sight of the soul so much 
as that other doth. For as, in outward things, to a man that had 
never seen an elephant or a rhinoceros, who should tell him most 
exquisitely all their shapes, color, bigness, and particular marks; or 
of a gorgeous palace, an architector, with declaring the full beauties, 
might well make the hearer able to repeat, as it were by rote, all he 
had heard, yet should never satisfy his inward conceit with being 
witness to itself of a true lively'' knowledge; but the same man, as 
soon as he might see those beasts well painted, or that house well in 
model, should straightways grow, without need of any description, 
to a judicial comprehending of them; so no doubt the philosopher, 
with his learned definitions, be it of virtues or vices, matters of public 
policy or private government, replenisheth the memory with many 
infallible grounds of wisdom, which notwithstanding lie dark before 
the imaginative and judging power, if they be not illuminated or 
figured forth by the speaking picture of poesy. 

Tully taketh much pains, and many times not without poetical 
helps, to make us know the force love of our country hath in us. 
Let us but hear old Anchises speaking in the midst of Troy's flames, 
or see Ulysses, in the fulness of all Calypso's delights, bewail his 
absence from barren and beggarly Ithaca. Anger, the Stoics said, was 
a short madness. Let but Sophocles bring you Ajax on a stage, 
killing and whipping sheep and oxen, thinking them the army of 
Greeks, with their chieftains Agamemnon and Menelaus, and tell 
me if you have not a more familiar insight into anger, than finding 
in the schoolmen his genus and difference. See whether wisdom and 
temperance in Ulysses and Diomedes, valor in Achilles, friendship 
in Nisus and Euryalus, even to an ignorant man carry not an 
apparent shining. And, contrarily, the remorse of conscience, in 
CEdipus; the soon-repenting pride of Agamemnon; the self- 
devouring cruelty in his father Atreus; the violence of ambition in 
the two Theban brothers; the sour sweetness of revenge in Medea; 
and, to fall lower, the Terentian Gnatho and our Chaucer's Pandar 
so expressed that we now use their names to signify their trades; 
and finally, all virtues, vices, and passions so in their own natural 

" Living. 



l8 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

States laid to the view, that we seem not to hear o£ them, but clearly 
to see through them. 

But even in the most excellent determination o£ goodness, what 
philosopher's counsel can so readily direct a prince, as the feigned 
Cyrus in Xenophon ? Or a virtuous man in all fortunes, as JEneas in 
Virgil? Or a whole commonwealth, as the way of Sir Thomas 
More's Utopia? I say the way, because where Sir Thomas More 
erred, it was the fault of the man, and not of the poet; for that way 
of patterning a commonwealth was most absolute, though he, per- 
chance, hath not so absolutely performed it. For the question is, 
whether the feigned image of poesy, or the regular instruction of 
philosophy, hath the more force in teaching. Wherein if the philoso- 
phers have more rightly showed themselves philosophers than the 
poets have attained to the high top of their profession, — as in truth, 

Mediocribus esse poetis 
Non Dii, non homines, non concessere columnae, — '* 

it is, I say again, not the fault of the art, but that by few men that 
art can be accomplished. 

Certainly, even our Saviour Christ could as well have given the 
moral commonplaces of uncharitableness and humbleness as the 
divine narration of Dives and Lazarus; or of disobedience and 
mercy, as that heavenly discourse of the lost child and the gracious 
father; but that his through-searching wisdom knew the estate of 
Dives burning in hell, and of Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, would 
more constantly, as it were, inhabit both the memory and judgment. 
Truly, for myself, me seems I see before mine eyes the lost child's 
disdainful prodigality, turned to envy a swine's dinner; which by 
the learned divines are thought not historical acts, but instructing 
parables. 

For conclusion, I say the philosopher teacheth, but he teacheth 
obscurely, so as the learned only can understand him; that is to say, 
he teacheth them that are already taught. But the poet is the food 
for the tenderest stomachs; the poet is indeed the right popular 
philosopher. Whereof iEsop's tales give good proof; whose pretty 

1* "Neither gods nor men nor booksellers permit poets to be mediocre." — ^Horace, 
"Ars Poet.," 372-3. 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY I9 

allegories, stealing under the formal tales of beasts, make many, 
more beastly than beasts, begin to hear the sound of virtue from 
those dumb speakers. 

But now it may be alleged that if this imagining of matters be so 
fit for the imagination, then must the historian needs surpass, who 
bringeth you images of true matters, such as indeed were done, and 
not such as fantastically" or falsely may be suggested to have been 
done. Truly, Aristotle himself, in his Discourse of Poesy, plainly 
determineth this question, saying that poetry is ipCSoaoipwrepov and 
airovhaibTtpov, that is to say, it is more philosophical and more studi- 
ously serious than history. His reason is, because poesy dealeth with 
KoBoKov, that is to say with the universal consideration, and the 
history with koJB' UaaTov, the particular. 

"Now," saith he, "the universal weighs what is fit to be said or 
done, either in likelihood or necessity — which the poesy considereth 
in his imposed names; and the particular only marketh whether 
Alcibiades did, or suffered, this or that:" thus far Aristotle. Which 
reason of his, as all his, is most full of reason. 

For, indeed, if the question were whether it were better to have a 
particular act truly or falsely set down, there is no doubt which is 
to be chosen, no more than whether you had rather have Vespasian's 
picture right as he was, or, at the painter's pleasure, nothing resem- 
bling. But if the question be for your own use and learning, whether 
it be better to have it set down as it should be or as it was, then 
certainly is more doctrinable" the feigned Cyrus in Xenophon than 
the true Cyrus in Justin; and the feigned ^neas in Virgil than the 
right iEneas in Dares Phrygius; as to a lady that desired to fashion 
her countenance to the best grace, a painter should more benefit 
her to portrait a most sweet face, writing Canidia upon it, than to 
paint Canidia as she was, who, Horace sweareth, was foul and 
ill-favored. 

If the poet do his part aright, he will show you in Tantalus, Atreus, 
and such like, nothing that is not to be shunned; in Cyrus, ^neas, 
Ulysses, each thing to be followed. Where the historian, bound to 
tell things as things were, cannot be liberal — without he will be 
poetical— of a perfect pattern; but, as in Alexander, or Scipio him- 

'5 Imaginatively. ^^ Instructive. 



20 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

self, show doings, some to be liked, some to be misliked; and then 
how will you discern what to follow but by your own discretion, 
which you had without reading Quintus Curtius? And whereas a 
man may say, though in universal consideration of doctrine the poet 
prevaileth, yet that the history, in his saying such a thing was done, 
doth warrant a man more in that he shall follow, — the answer is 
manifest: that if he stand upon that was, as if he should argue, 
because it rained yesterday therefore it should rain to-day, then 
indeed it hath some advantage to a gross conceit. But if he know an 
example only informs a conjectured likelihood, and so go by reason, 
the poet doth so far exceed him as he is to frame his example to 
that which is most reasonable, be it in warlike, politic, or private 
matters; where the historian in his bare was hath many times that 
which we call fortune to overrule the best wisdom. Many times he 
must tell events whereof he can yield no cause; or if he do, it must 
be poetically. 

For, that a feigned example hath as much force to teach as a true 
example — ^for as for to move, it is clear, since the feigned may 
be tuned to the highest key of passion — let us take one example 
wherein a poet and a historian do concur. Herodotus and Justin do 
both testify that Zopyrus, king Darius' faithful servant, seeing his 
master long resisted by the rebellious Babylonians, feigned himself 
in extreme disgrace of his king; for verifying of which he caused 
his own nose and ears to be cut off, and so flying to the Babylonians, 
was received, and for his known valor so far credited, that he did 
find means to deliver them over to Darius. Muchlike matter doth 
Livy record of Tarquinius and his son. Xenophon excellently 
feigneth such another stratagem, performed by Abradatas in Cyrus' 
behalf. Now would I fain know, if occasion be presented unto you 
to serve your prince by such an honest dissimulation, why do you not 
as well learn it of Xenophon's fiction as of the other's verity? and, 
truly, so much the better, as you shall save your nose by the bargain; 
for Abradatas did not counterfeit so far. 

So, then, the best of the historian is subject to the poet; for what- 
soever action or faction, whatsoever counsel, policy, or war-stratagem 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 21 

the historian is bound to recite, that may the poet, if he list, with his 
imitation make his own, beautifying it both for further teaching and 
more delighting, as it pleaseth him; having all, from Dante's Heaven 
to his Hell, under the authority of his pen. Which if I be asked 
what poets have done ? so as I might well name some, yet say I, and 
say again, I speak of the art, and not of the artificer. 

Now, to that which is commonly attributed to the praise of history, 
in respect of the notable learning is gotten by marking the success, 
as though therein a man should see virtue exalted and vice pun- 
ished, — truly that commendation is peculiar to poetry and far off 
from history. For, indeed, poetry ever setteth virtue so out in her 
best colors, making Fortune her well-waiting handmaid, that one 
must needs be enamored of her. Well may you see Ulysses in a 
storm, and in other hard plights; but they are but exercises of 
patience and magnanimity, to make them shine the more in the near 
following prosperity. And, of the contrary part, if evil men come to 
the stage, they ever go out — as the tragedy writer answered to one 
that -misliked the show of such persons — so manacled as they little 
animate folks to follow them. But the historian, being captived to 
the truth of a foolish world, is many times a terror from well-doing, 
and an encouragement to unbridled wickedness. For see we not 
vahant Miltiades rot in his fetters? The just Phocion and the accom- 
plished Socrates put to death like traitors? The cruel Severus live 
prosperously? The excellent Severus miserably murdered? Sylla 
and Marius dying in their beds? Pompey and Cicero slain then, 
when they would have thought exile a happiness? See we not 
virtuous Cato driven to kill himself, and rebel Czsar so advanced 
that his name yet, after sixteen hundred years, lasteth in the highest 
honor? And mark but even Cassar's own words of the forenamed 
Sylla — who in that only did honestly, to put down his dishonest 
tyranny — literas nescivit:" as if want of learning caused him to do 
well. He meant it not by poetry, which, not content with earthly 
plagues, deviseth new punishments in hell for tyrants; nor yet by 

''He was without learning. Sidney here seems to miss the point of a joke of 
Caesar's reported by Suetonius. 



22 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

philosophy, which teacheth occidendos esse;^^ but, no doubt, by skill 
in history, for that indeed can afford you Cypselus, Periander, Pha- 
laris, Dionysius, and I know not how many more of the same kennel, 
that speed well enough in their abominable injustice or usurpation. 

I conclude, therefore, that he excelleth history, not only in furnish- 
ing the mind with knowledge, but in setting it forward to that which 
deserveth to be called and accounted good; which setting forward, 
and moving to well-doing, indeed setteth the laurel crown upon the 
poet as victorious, not only of the historian, but over the philosopher, 
howsoever in teaching it may be questionable. For suppose it be 
granted — that which I suppose with great reason may be denied — 
that the philosopher, in respect of his methodical proceeding, teach 
more perfectly than the poet, yet do I think that no man is so much 
^iXoi/'tXoo-o^os" as to compare the philosopher in moving with 
the poet. And that moving is of a higher degree than teaching, it 
may by this appear, that it is well nigh both the cause and the effect 
of teaching; for who will be taught, if he be not moved with desire 
to be taught? And what so much good doth that teaching bring 
forth — I speak still of moral doctrine — as that it moveth one to do 
that which it doth teach.? For, as Aristotle saith, it is not tvojo-ij^" 
but TpSfis^' must be the fruit; and how Tpa^is cannot be, with- 
out being moved to practise, it is no hard matter to consider. The 
philosopher showeth you the way, he informeth you of the particu- 
larities, as well of the tediousness of the way, as of the pleasant 
lodging you shall have when your journey is ended, as of the many 
by-turnings that may divert you from your way; but this is to no 
man but to him that will read him, and read him with attentive, 
studious painfulness; which constant desire whosoever hath in him, 
hath already passed half the hardness of the way, and therefore is 
beholding to the philosopher but for the other half. Nay, truly, 
learned men have learnedly thought, that where once reason hath so 
much overmastered passion as that the mind hath a free desire to 
do well, the inward light each mind hath in itself is as good as a 
philosopher's book; since in nature we know it is well to do well, 
and what is well and what is evil, although not in the words of art 
which philosophers bestow upon us; for out of natural conceit the 
" That they are to be killed. !» A friend to the philosopher. 20 Knowledge. 21 Practice. 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 23 

philosophers drew it. But to be moved to do that which we know, 
or to be moved with desire to know, hoc opus, hie labor est. 

Now therein of all sciences — I speak still of human, and according 
to the human conceit — is our poet the monarch. For he doth not 
only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way as 
will entice any man to enter into it. Nay, he doth, as if your journey 
should lie through a fair vineyard, at the very first give you a cluster 
of grapes, that full of that taste you may long to pass further. He 
beginneth not with obscure definitions, which must blur the mar- 
gent''^ with interpretations, and load the memory with doubtfulness. 
But he Cometh to you with words set in delightful proportion, either 
accompanied with, or prepared for, the well-enchanting skill of 
music; and with a tale, forsooth, he cometh unto you, with a tale 
which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney- 
corner, and, pretending no more, doth intend the winning of the 
mind from wickedness to virtue; even as the child is often brought 
to take most wholesome things, by hiding them in such other as to 
have a pleasant taste, — which, if one should begin to tell them the 
nature of the aloes or rhubarb they should receive, would sooner take 
their physic at their ears than at their mouth. So is it in men, most 
of which are childish in the best things, till they be cradled in their 
graves, — glad they will be to hear the tales of Hercules, Achilles, 
Cyrus, iEneas; and, hearing them, must needs hear the right descrip- 
tion of wisdom, valor, and justice; which, if they had been barely, 
that is to say philosophically, set out, they would swear they be 
brought to school again. 

That imitation whereof poetry is, hath the most conveniency to 
nature of all other; insomuch that, as Aristotle saith, those things 
which in themselves are horrible, as cruel battles, unnatural monsters, 
are made in poetical imitation delightful. Truly, I have known men, 
that evpn with reading Amadis de Gaule, which, God knoweth, 
wanteth much of a perfect poesy, have found their hearts moved to 
the exercise of courtesy, liberality, and especially courage. Who 
readeth ^neas carrying old Anchises on his back, that wisheth not 
it were his fortune to perform so excellent an act? Whom do not 

^^ "This is the work, this the labor." — Virgil, "^neid," VI., 129. 
^' Margin. 



24 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

those words of Turnus move, the tale of Turnus having planted his 
image in the imagination ? 

Fugientem haec terra videbit? 
Usque adeone mori miserum est?^^ 

Where the philosophers, as they scorn to delight, so must they be 
content little to move — saving wrangling whether virtue be the chief 
or the only good, whether the contemplative or the active life do 
excel — which Plato and Boethius well knew, and therefore made 
Mistress Philosophy very often borrow the masking raiment of Poesy. 
For even those hard-hearted evil men who think virtue a school- 
name, and know no other good but indulgere genio^^ and therefore 
despise the austere admonitions of the philosopher, and feel not the 
inward reason they stand upon, yet will be content to be delighted, 
which is all the good-fellow poet seemeth to promise; and so steal 
to see the form of goodness — which seen, they cannot but love — ere 
themselves be aware, as if they took a medicine of cherries. 

Infinite proofs of the strange effects of this poetical invention 
might be alleged; only two shall serve, which are so often remembered 
as I think all men know them. The one of Menenius Agrippa, who, 
when the whole people of Rome had resolutely divided themselves 
from the senate, with apparent show of utter ruin, though he were, 
for that time, an excellent orator, came not among them upon trust 
either of figurative speeches or cunning insinuations, and much less 
with far-fet maxims of philosophy, which, especially if they were 
Platonic, they must have learned geometry before they could well 
have conceived; but, forsooth, he behaves himself like a homely and 
familiar poet. He telleth them a tale, that there was a time when all 
the parts of the body made a mutinous conspiracy against the belly, 
which they thought devoured the fruits of each other's labor; they 
concluded they would let so unprofitable a spender starve. In the 
end, to be short — for the tale is notorious, and as notorious that it 
was a tale — with punishing the belly they plagued themselves. This, 
applied by him, wrought such effect in the people, as I never read 
that ever words brought forth but then so sudden and so good an 

2* "Shall this land see him fleeing? Is it so very wretched to die?" — Virgil, 
"^neid," XII., 645-6. 
25 "Xo give way to one's inclination." 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 25 

alteration; for upon reasonable conditions a perfect reconcilement 
ensued. 

The other is of Nathan the prophet, who, when the holy David 
had so far forsaken God as to confirm adultery with murder, when 
he was to do the tenderest office of a friend, in laying his own shame 
before his eyes, — sent by God to call again so chosen a servant, how 
doth he it but by telling of a man whose beloved lamb was ungrate- 
fully taken from his bosom? The application most divinely true, 
but the discourse itself feigned; which made David (I speak of the 
second and instrumental cause) as in a glass to see his own filthiness, 
as that heavenly Psalm of Mercy well testifieth. 

By these, therefore, examples and reasons, I think it may be 
manifest that the poet, with that same hand of delight, doth draw 
the mind more effectually than any other art doth. And so a 
conclusion not unfitly ensueth: that as virtue is the most excellent 
resting-place for all worldly learning to make his end of, so poetry, 
being the most familiar to teach it, and most princely to move 
towards it, in the most excellent work is the most excellent workman. 

But I am content not only to decipher him by his works — although 
works in commendation or dispraise must ever hold a high authority 
— but more narrowly will examine his parts; so that, as in a man, 
though all together may carry a presence full of majesty and beauty, 
perchance in some one defections piece we may find a blemish. 

Now in his parts, kinds, or species, as you list to term them, it is 
to be noted that some poesies have coupled together two or three 
kinds, — as tragical and comical, whereupon is risen the tragi-comical; 
some, in the like manner, have mingled prose and verse, as Sannaz- 
zaro and Boethius; some have mingled matters heroical and pastoral; 
but that Cometh all to one in this question, for, if severed they be 
good, the conjunction cannot be hurtful. Therefore, perchance for- 
getting some, and leaving some as needless to be remembered, it 
shall not be amiss in a word to cite the special kinds, to see what 
faults may be found in the right use of them. 

Is it then the pastoral poem which is misliked? — for perchance 
where the hedge is lowest they will soonest leap over. Is the poor 
pipe disdained, which sometimes out of Melibceus' mouth can show 
the misery of people under hard lords and ravening soldiers, and 



26 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

again, by Tityrus, what blessedness is derived to them that lie lowest 
from the goodness of them that sit highest? sometimes, under the 
pretty tales of wolves and sheep, can include the whole considera- 
tions of wrong-doing and patience; sometimes show that contention 
for trifles can get but a trifling victory; where perchance a man may 
see that even Alexander and Darius, when they strave who should 
be cock of this world's dunghill, the benefit they got was that the 
after-livers may say: 

Hxc memini et victum frustra contendere Thyrsim; 
Ex illo Corydon, Corydon est tempore nobis.^' 

Or is it the lamenting elegiac, which in a kind heart would move 
rather pity than blame; who bewaileth, with the great philosopher 
Heraclitus, the weakness of mankind and the wretchedness of the 
world; who surely is to be praised, either for compassionate ac- 
companying just causes of lamentation, or for rightly painting out 
how weak be the passions of wofulness? 

Is it the bitter and wholesome iambic, who rubs the galled mind, 
in making shame the trumpet of villainy with bold and open crying 
out against naughtiness?' 

Or the satiric? who 

Omne vafer vitium ridenti tangit amico;" 

who sportingly never leaveth till he make a man laugh at folly, and 
at length ashamed to laugh at himself, which he cannot avoid with- 
out avoiding the folly; who, while circum prcecordia ludit}^ giveth 
us to feel how many headaches a passionate life bringeth us to, — 
how, when all is done. 

Est Ulubris, animus si nos non deficit acquus.^' 

No, perchance it is the comic; whom naughty play-makers and 
stage-keepers have justly made odious. To the argument of abuse 

^^ "Such things I remember, and that the conquered Thyrsis strove in vain. From 
that time Corydon is with us the Corydon." — Virgil, "Eclogues," VII., 69-70. 

^' "The sly fellow touches every vice while he makes his friend laugh." — Condensed 
from Persius, "Sat.," I., 116. 

^ "He plays about his heartstrings." — ^Idem. 

^'"If we do not lack the equable temper, it is in Ulubrae" [that we may find hap- 
piness]. Ulubrae was noted for its desolation. — Adapted from Horace, "Epict.," I., 
II, 30. 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 27 

I will answer after. Only thus much now is to be said, that the 
comedy in an imitation of the common errors of our life, which he 
representeth in the most ridiculous and scornful sort that may be, so 
as it is impossible that any beholder can be content to be such a one. 
Now, as in geometry the oblique must be known as well as the 
right, and in arithmetic the odd as well as the even; so in the actions 
of our life who seeth not the filthiness of evil, wanteth a great foil 
to perceive the beauty of virtue. This doth the comedy handle so, 
in our private and domestical matters, as with hearing it we get, as 
it were, an experience what is to be looked for of a niggardly Demea, 
of a crafty Davus, of a flattering Gnatho, of a vain-glorious Thraso; 
and not only to know what effects are to be expected, but to know 
who be such, by the signifying badge given them by the comedian. 
And little reason hath any man to say that men learn evil by seeing 
it so set out; since, as I said before, there is no man living, but by the 
force truth hath in nature, no sooner seeth these men play their 
parts, but wisheth them in pistrinum^" although perchance the sack 
of his own faults lie so behind his back, that he seeth not himself to 
dance the same measure, — whereto yet nothing can more open his 
eyes than to find his own actions contemptibly set forth. 

So that the right use of comedy will, I think, by nobody be 
blamed, and much less of the high and excellent tragedy, that 
openeth the greatest wounds, and showeth forth the ulcers that are 
covered with tissue; that maketh kings fear to be tyrants, and tyrants 
manifest their tyrannical humors; that with stirring the effects of 
admiration and commiseration teacheth the uncertainty of this 
world, and upon how weak foundations gilden roofs are builded; 
that maketh us know: 

Qui sceptra sxvus dure imperio regit. 
Timet timentes, metus in auctorem redit.^' 

But how much it can move, Plutarch yieldeth a notable testimony 
of the abominable tyrant Alexander Pherseus; from whose eyes a 
tragedy, well made and represented, drew abundance of tears, who 
without all pity had murdered infinite numbers, and some of his 

^^ "In the mill," where slaves were sent for punishment. 

" "The savage king who wields the sceptre with cruel sway fears those who fear 
him, the dread returns upon the author's head." — Seneca, "CEdipus," 705-6. 



28 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

own blood; so as he that was not ashamed to make matters for 
tragedies, yet could not resist the sweet violence of a tragedy. And 
if it wrought no further good in him, it was that he, in despite of 
himself, withdrew himself from hearkening to that which might 
mollify his hardened heart. But it is not the tragedy they do mislike, 
for it were too absurd to cast out so excellent a representation of 
whatsoever is most worthy to be learned. 

Is it the lyric that most displeaseth, who with his tuned lyre and 
well-accorded voice, giveth praise, the reward of virtue, to virtuous 
acts; who giveth moral precepts and natural problems; who some- 
times raiseth up his voice to the height of the heavens, in singing the 
lauds of the immortal God? Certainly I must confess mine own 
barbarousness; I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas 
that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet; and yet 
it is sung but by some blind crowder, with no rougher voice than 
rude style; which being so evil apparelled in the dust and cobwebs 
of that uncivil age, what would it work, trimmed in the gorgeous 
eloquence of Pindar? In Hungary I have seen it the manner of 
all feasts, and other such meetings, to have songs of their ancestors' 
valor, which that right soldierlike nation think the chiefest kindlers 
of brave courage. The incomparable Lacedaemonians did not only 
carry that kind of music ever with them to the field, but even at 
home, as such songs were made, so were they all content to be 
singers of them; when the lusty men were to tell what they did, the 
old men what they had done, and the young men what they would 
do. And where a man may say that Pindar many times praiseth 
highly victories of small moment, matters rather of sport than virtue; 
as it may be answered, it was the fault of the poet, and not of the 
poetry, so indeed the chief fault was in the time and custom of 
the Greeks, who set those toys at so high a price that Philip of 
Macedon reckoned a horserace won at Olympus among his three 
fearful felicities. But as the unimitable Pindar often did, so is that 
kind most capable and most fit to awake the thoughts from the sleep 
of idleness, to embrace honorable enterprises. 

There rests the heroical, whose very name, I think, should daunt 
all backbiters. For by what conceit can a tongue be directed to speak 
evil of that which draweth with it no less champions than Achilles, 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 29 

Cyrus, yEneas, Turnus Tydeus, Rinaldo? who doth not only teach 
and move to a truth, but teacheth and moveth to the most high and 
excellent truth; who maketh magnanimity and justice shine through 
all misty fearfulness and foggy desires; who, if the saying of Plato 
and Tully be true, that who could see virtue would be wonderfully 
ravished with the love of her beauty, this man setteth her out to 
make her more lovely, in her holiday apparel, to the eye of any that 
will deign not to disdain until they understand. But if anything 
be already said in the defense of sweet poetry, all concurreth to the 
maintaining the heroical, which is not only a kind, but the best and 
most accomplished kind of poetry. For, as the image of each action 
stirreth and instructeth the mind, so the lofty image of such worthies 
most inflameth the mind with desire to be worthy, and informs with 
counsel how to be worthy. Only let iEneas be worn in the tablet 
of your memory, how he governeth himself in the ruin of his 
country; in the preservmg his old father, and carrying away his 
religious ceremonies; in obeying the god's commandment to leave 
Dido, though not only all passionate kindness, but even the human 
consideration of virtuous gratefulness, would have craved other of 
him; how in storms, how in sports, how in war, how in peace, how 
a fugitive, how victorious, how besieged, how besieging, how to 
strangers, how to allies, how to enemies, how to his own; lastly, 
how in his inward self, and how in his outward government; and 
I think, in a mind most prejudiced with a prejudicating humor, he 
will be found in excellency fruitful, — yea, even as Horace saith, 
melius Chrysippo et Crantore?^ But truly I imagine it falleth out 
with these poet-whippers as with some good women who often are 
sick, but in faith they cannot tell where. So the name of poetry is 
odious to them, but neither his cause nor effects, neither the sum 
that contains him nor the particularities descending from him, give 
any fast handle to their carping dispraise. 

Since, then, poetry is of all human learnings the most ancient and 
of most fatherly antiquity, as from whence other learnings have taken 
their beginnings; since it is so universal that no learned nation doth 
despise it, nor barbarous nation is without it; since both Roman and 

'^ "Better than Chrysippus and Grantor" — two distinguished philosophers. — ^Horace, 
"Epict.," I. 2, 4. 



30 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

Greek gave divine names unto it, the one of "prophesying," the other 
of "making," and that indeed that name of "making" is fit for him, 
considering that whereas other arts retain themselves within their 
subjects, and receive, as it were, their being from it, the poet only 
bringeth his own stuff, and doth not learn a conceit out of a matter, 
but maketh matter for a conceit; since neither his description nor his 
end containeth any evil, the thing described cannot be evil; since his 
effects be so good as to teach goodness, and delight the learners of it; 
since therein — namely in moral doctrine, the chief of all knowl- 
edges — he doth not only far pass the historian, but for instructing is 
well nigh comparable to the philosopher, and for moving leaveth him 
behind him; since the Holy Scripture, wherein there is no unclean- 
ness, hath whole parts in it poetical, and that even our Saviour Christ 
vouchsafed to use the flowers of it; since all his kinds are not only 
in their united forms, but in their several dissections fully com- 
mendable; I think, and think I think rightly, the laurel crown 
appointed for triumphant captains doth worthily, of all other learn- 
ings, honor the poet's triumph. 

But because we have ears as well as tongues, and that the lightest 
reasons that may be will seem to weigh greatly, if nothing be put in 
the counter-balance, let us hear, and, as well as we can, ponder, what 
objections be made against this art, which may be worthy either of 
yielding or answering. 

First, truly, I note not only in these nicrotwhaoi, poet-haters, but in 
all that kind of people who seek a praise by dispraising others, that 
they do prodigally spend a great many wandering words in quips 
and scoffs, carping and taunting at each thing which, by stirring the 
spleen, may stay the brain from a through-beholding the worthiness 
of the subject. Those kind of objections, as they are full of a very 
idle easiness — since there is nothing of so sacred a majesty but that 
an itching tongue may rub itself upon it — so deserve they no other 
answer, but, instead of laughing at the jest, to laugh at the jester. We 
know a playing wit can praise the discretion of an ass, the com- 
fortableness of being in debt, and the jolly commodity of being sick 
of the plague. So of the contrary side, if we will turn Ovid's verse, 

Ut lateat virtus proximitate mali, 
"that good lie hid in nearness of the evil," Agrippa will be as merry 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 3 1 

in showing the vanity of science, as Erasmus was in commending o£ 
folly; neither shall any man or matter escape some touch of these 
smiling railers. But for Erasmus and Agrippa, they had another 
foundation than the superficial part would promise. Marry, these 
other pleasant fault-finders, who will correct the verb before they 
understand the noun, and confute others' knowledge before they 
confirm their own, I would have them only remember that scoffing 
cometh not of wisdom; so as the best title in true English they get 
with their merriments is to be called good fools, — for so have our 
grave forefathers ever termed that humorous kind of jesters. 

But that which giveth greatest scope to their scorning humor is 
riming and versing. It is already said, and as I think truly said, it 
is not riming and versing that maketh poesy. One may be a poet 
without versing, and a versifier without poetry. But yet presuppose 
it were inseparable — as indeed it seemeth Scaliger judgeth — truly it 
were an inseparable commendation. For if oratio next to ratio, 
speech next to reason, be the greatest gift bestowed upon mortaUty, 
that cannot be praiseless which doth most polish that blessing of 
speech; which considereth each word, not only as a man may say 
by his forcible quality, but by his best-measured quantity; carrying 
even in themselves a harmony, — without, perchance, number, 
measure, order, proportion be in our time grown odious. 

But lay aside the just praise it hath by being the only fit speech 
for music — music, I say, the most divine striker of the senses — thus 
much is undoubtedly true, that if reading be foolish without re- 
membering, memory being the only treasurer of knowledge, those 
words which are fittest for memory are likewise most convenient for 
knowledge. Now that verse far exceedeth prose in the knitting up 
of the memory, the reason is manifest; the words, besides their de- 
light, which hath a great affinity to memory, being so set, as one 
cannot be lost but the whole work fails; which, accusing itself, 
calleth the remembrance back to itself, and so most strongly con- 
firmeth it. Besides, one word so, as it were, begetting another, as, be 
it in rime or measured verse, by the former a man shall have a near 
guess to the follower. Lastly, even they that have taught the art of 
memory have showed nothing so apt for it as a certain room divided 
into many places, well and thoroughly known; now that hath the 



32 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

verse in effect perfectly, every word having his natural seat, which 
seat must needs make the word remembered. But what needeth 
more in a thing so known to all men? Who is it that ever was a 
scholar that doth not carry away some verses of Virgil, Horace, or 
Cato, which in his youth he learned, and even to his old age serve 
him for hourly lessons ? as : 

Percontatorem fugito, nam garrulus idem est." 

Dum sibi quisque placet, credula turba sumus.'* 

But the fitness it hath for memory is notably proved by all delivery 
of arts, wherein, for the most part, from grammar to logic, mathe- 
matic, physic, and the rest, the rules chiefly necessary to be borne 
away are compiled in verses. So that verse being in itself sweet and 
orderly, and being best for memory, the only handle of knowledge, 
it must be in jest that any man can speak against it. 

Now then go we to the most important imputations laid to the 
poor poets; for aught I can yet learn they are these. 

First, that there being many other more fruitful knowledges, a 
man might better spend his time in them than in this. 

Secondly, that it is the mother of lies. 

Thirdly, that it is the nurse of abuse, infecting us with many 
pestilent desires, with a siren's sweetness drawing the mind to the 
serpent's tail of sinful fancies, — and herein especially comedies give 
the largest field to ear,'^ as Chaucer sait^; how, both in other nations 
and in ours, before poets did soften us, we were full of courage, given 
to martial exercises, the pillars of manlike liberty, and not lulled 
asleep in shady idleness with poets' pastimes. 

And, lastly and chiefly, they cry out with an open mouth, as i£ 
they had overshot Robin Hood, that Plato banished them out 
of his Commonwealth. Truly this is much, if there be much truth 
in it. 

First, to the first, that a man might better spend his time is a 
reason indeed; but it doth, as they say, but petere prtncipium.'^ For 

'' "Avoid an inquisitive man, for he is sure to be a prattler." — Horace, "Epist ," I 
i8. 69. 

^^ "While each is pleasing himself, v/e are a credulous crowd." — Ovid, "Rem. 
Amoris," 686. '^ Plough. ^^ Beg the question. 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 33 

if it be, as I affirm, that no learning is so good as that which teacheth 
and moveth to virtue, and that none can both teach and move thereto 
so much as poesy, then is the conclusion manifest that ink and paper 
cannot be to a more profitable purpose employed. And certainly, 
though a man should grant their first assumption, it should follow, 
methinks, very unwillingly, that good is not good because better is 
better. But I still and utterly deny that there is sprung out of earth 
a more fruitful knowledge. 

To the second, therefore, that they should be the principal liars, 
I answer paradoxically, but truly, I think truly, that of all writers 
under the sun the poet is the least liar; and though he would, as a 
poet can scarcely be a liar. The astronomer, with his cousin the 
geometrician, can hardly escape when they take upon them to 
measure the height of the stars. How often, think you, do the 
physicians lie, when they aver things good for sicknesses, which 
afterwards send Charon a great number of souls drowned in a 
potion before they come to his ferry ? And no less of the rest which 
take upon them to affirm. Now for the poet, he nothing affirmeth, 
and therefore never lieth. For, as I take it, to lie is to affirm that to 
be true which is false; so as the other artists, and especially the 
historian, affirming many things, can, in the cloudy knowledge of 
mankind, hardly escape from many lies. But the poet, as I said 
before, never affirmeth. The poet never maketh any circles about 
your imagination, to conjure you to believe for true what he writeth. 
He citeth not authorities of other histories, but even for his entry 
calleth the sweet Muses to inspire into him a good invention; in 
troth, not laboring to tell you what is or is not, but what should or 
should not be. And therefore though he recount things not true, 
yet because he telleth them not for true he lieth not; without we will 
say that Nathan lied in his speech, before alleged, to David; which, 
as a wicked man durst scarce say, so think I none so simple would 
say that ^sop lied in the tales of his beasts; for who thinketh that 
^sop wrote it for actually true, were well worthy to have his name 
chronicled among the beasts he writeth of. What child is there that, 
coming to a play, and seeing Thebes written in great letters upon 
an old door, doth believe that it is Thebes ? If then a man can arrive 
at that child's-age, to know that the poet's persons and doings are 



34 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

but pictures what should be, and not stories what have been, they 
will never give the lie to things not affirmatively but allegorically 
and figuratively written. And therefore, as in history looking for 
truth, they may go away full-fraught with falsehood, so in poesy 
looking but for fiction, they shall use the narration but as an imagina- 
tive ground-plot of a profitable invention. But hereto is replied that 
the poets give names to men they write of, which argueth a conceit 
of an actual truth, and so, not being true, proveth a falsehood. And 
doth the lawyer lie then, when, under the names of John of the Stile, 
and John of the Nokes, he putteth his case? But that is easily 
answered: their naming of men is but to make their picture the 
more lively, and not to build any history. Painting men, they can- 
not leave men nameless. We see we cannot play at chess but that 
we must give names to our chess-men; and yet, me thinks, he were a 
very partial champion of truth that would say we lied for giving a 
piece of wood the reverend title of a bishop. The poet nameth Cyrus 
and iEneas no other way than to show what men of their fames, 
fortunes, and estates should do. 

Their third is, how much it abuseth men's wit, training it to 
wanton sinfulness and lustful love. For indeed that is the principal, 
if not the only, abuse I can hear alleged. They say the comedies 
rather teach than reprehend amorous conceits. They say the lyric is 
larded with passionate sonnets, the elegiac weeps the want of his 
mistress, and that even to the heroical Cupid hath ambitiously 
climbed. Alas! Love, I would thou couldst as well defend thyself 
as thou canst offend others! I would those on whom thou dost attend 
could either put thee away, or yield good reason why they keep thee! 
But grant love of beauty to be a beastly fault, although it be very 
hard, since only man, and no beast, hath that gift to discern beauty; 
grant that lovely name of Love to deserve all hateful reproaches, 
although even some of my masters the philosophers spent a good 
deal of their lamp-oil in setting forth the excellency of it; grant, I 
say, whatsoever they will have granted, — that not only love, but lust, 
but vanity, but, if they list, scurrility, possesseth many leaves of the 
poets' books; yet think I when this is granted, they will find their 
sentence may with good manners put the last words foremost, and 
not say that poetry abuseth man's wit, but that man's wit abuseth 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 35 

poetry. For I will not deny, but that man's wit may make poesy, 
which should be elKaarucii, which some learned have defined, fig- 
uring forth good things, to be <l>avTacTTiKri, which doth contrariwise 
infect the fancy with unworthy objects; as the painter that should 
give to the eye either some excellent perspective, or some fine picture 
fit for building or fortification, or containing in it some notable ex- 
ample, as Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac, Judith kilUng Holo- 
fernes, David fighting with Goliath, may leave those, and please 
an ill-pleased eye with wanton shows of better-hidden matters. But 
what! shall the abuse of a thing make the right use odious? Nay, 
truly, though I yield that poesy may not only be abused, but that 
being abused, by the reason of his sweet charming force, it can do 
more hurt than any other army of words, yet shall it be so far from 
concluding that the abuse should give reproach to the abused, that 
contrariwise it is a good reason, that whatsoever, being abused, doth 
most harm, being rightly used — and upon the right use each thing 
receiveth his title — doth most good. Do we not see the skill of 
physic, the best rampire to our often-assaulted bodies, being abused, 
teach poison, the most violent destroyer? Doth not knowledge of 
law, whose end is to even and right all things, being abused, grow 
the crooked fosterer of horrible injuries? Doth not, to go in the 
highest, God's word abused breed heresy, and his name abused 
become blasphemy? Truly a needle cannot do much hurt, and as 
truly — with leave of ladies be it spoken — it cannot do much good. 
With a sword thou mayst kill thy father, and with a sword thou 
mayst defend thy prince and country. So that, as in their calling 
poets the fathers of lies they say nothing, so in this their argument 
of abuse they prove the commendation. 

They allege herewith, that before poets began to be in price our 
nation hath set their hearts' delight upon action, and not upon 
imagination; rather doing things worthy to be written, than writing 
things fit to be done. What that before-time was. I think scarcely 
Sphinx can tell; since no memory is so ancient that hath the pre- 
cedence of poetry. And certain it is that, in our plainest homeliness, 
yet never was the Albion nation without poetry. Marry, this argu- 
ment, though it be levelled against poetry, yet is it indeed a chain- 
shot against all learning, — or bookishness, as they commonly term it. 



36 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

Of such mind were certain Goths, of whom it is written that, having 
in the spoil of a famous city taken a fair hbrary, one hangman — 
behke fit to execute the fruits of their wits — who had murdered a 
great number of bodies, would have set fire in it. "No," said another 
very gravely, "take heed what you do; for while they are busy about 
these toys, we shall with more leisure conquer their countries." This, 
indeed, is the ordinary doctrine of ignorance, and many words some- 
times I have heard spent in it; but because this reason is generally 
against all learning, as well as poetry, or rather all learning but 
poetry; because it were too large a digression to handle, or at least 
too superfluous, since it is manifest that all government of action is 
to be gotten by knowledge, and knowledge best by gathering many 
knowledges, which is reading; I only, with Horace, to him that is of 
that opinion 

Jubeo stultum esse libenter;" 

for as for poetry itself, it is the freest from this objection, for poetry 
is the companion of the camps. I dare undertake, Orlando Furioso 
or honest King Arthur will never displease a soldier; but the quiddity 
of ens, and prima materia, will hardly agree with a corselet. And 
therefore, as I said in the beginning, even Turks and Tartars are 
delighted with poets. Homer, a Greek, flourished before Greece 
flourished; and if to a slight conjecture a conjecture may be opposed, 
truly it may seem, that as by him their learned men took almost 
their first light of knowledge, so their active men received their 
first motions of courage. Only Alexander's example may serve, who 
by Plutarch is accounted of such virtue, that Fortune was not his 
guide but his footstool; whose acts speak for him, though Plutarch 
did not; indeed the phoenix of warlike princes. This Alexander left 
his schoolmaster, living Aristode, behind him, but took dead Homer 
with him. He put the philosopher Callisthenes to death for his 
seeming philosophical, indeed mutinous, stubbornness; but the chief 
thing he was ever heard to wish for was that Homer had been alive. 
He well found he received more bravery of mind by the pattern of 
Achilles, than by hearing the definition of fortitude. And therefore 
if Cato misliked Fulvius for carrying Ennius with him to the field, 
''"I gladly bid him be a fool." — ^Adapted from Horace, "Sat.," I., i, 61, 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 37 

it may be answered that if Cato misliked it, the noble Fulvius Hked 
it, or else he had not done it. For it was not the excellent Cato 
Uticensis, whose authority I would much more have reverenced; but 
it was the former, in truth a bitter punisher of faults, but else a man 
that had never sacrificed to the Graces. He misliked and cried out 
upon all Greek learning; and yet, being fourscore years old, began 
to learn it, belike fearing that Pluto understood not Latin. Indeed, 
the Roman laws allowed no person to be carried to the wars but he 
that was in the soldiers' roll. And therefore though Cato misliked 
his unmustered person, he misUked not his work. And if he had, 
Scipio Nasica, judged by common consent the best Roman, loved 
him. Both the other Scipio brothers, who had by their virtues no 
less surnames than of Asia and Afric, so loved him that they caused 
his body to be buried in their sepulchre. So as Cato's authority being 
but against his person, and that answered with so far greater than 
himself, is herein of no vahdity. 

But now, indeed, my burthen is great, that Plato's name is laid 
upon me, whom I must confess, of all philosophers I have ever 
esteemed most worthy of reverence; and with great reason, since of 
all philosophers he is the most poetical; yet if he will defile the 
fountain out of which his Howing streams have proceeded, let us 
boldly examine with what reasons he did it. 

First, truly, a man might maliciously object that Plato, being a 
philosopher, was a natural enemy of poets. For, indeed, after the 
philosophers had picked out of the sweet mysteries of poetry the 
right discerning true points of knowledge, they forthwith, putting 
it in method, and making a school-art of that which the poets did 
only teach by a divine delightfulness, beginning to spurn at their 
guides, like ungrateful prentices were not content to set up shops 
for themselves, but sought by all means to discredit their masters; 
which by the force of delight being barred them, the less they could 
overthrow them the more they hated them. For, indeed, they found 
for Homer seven cities strave who should have him for their citizen; 
where many cities banished philosophers, as not fit members to live 
among them. For only repeating certain of Euripides' verses, many 
Athenians had their lives saved of the Syracusans, where the Athe- 
nians themselves thought many philosophers unworthy to live. 



38 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

Certain poets as Simonides and Pindar, had so prevailed with Heiro 
the First, that of a tyrant they made him a just king; where Plato 
could do so little with Dionysius, that he himself of a philosopher 
was made a slave. But who should do thus, I confess, should requite 
the objections made against poets with like cavillations against phi- 
losophers; as likewise one should do that should bid one read 
Phaedrus or Symposium in Plato, or the Discourse of Love in 
Plutarch, and see whether any poet do authorize abominable filthi- 
ness, as they do. 

Again, a man might ask out of what commonwealth Plato doth 
banish them. In sooth, thence where he himself alloweth community 
of women. So as belike this banishment grew not for effeminate 
wantonness, since little should poetical sonnets be hurtful when a 
man might have what woman he listed. But I honor philosophical 
instructions, and bless the wits which bred them, so as they be not 
abused, which is likewise stretched to poetry. Saint Paul himself, 
who yet, for the credit of poets, allegeth twice two poets, and one 
of them by the name of a prophet, setteth a watchword upon phi- 
losophy, — ^indeed upon the abuse. So doth Plato upon the abuse, 
not upon poetry. Plato found fault that the poets of his time filled 
the world with wrong opinions of the gods, making light tales of 
that unspotted essence, and therefore would not have the youth 
depraved with such opinions. Herein may much be said; let this 
suffice: the poets did not induce such opinions, but did imitate those 
opinions already induced. For all the Greek stories can well testify 
that the very religion of that time stood upon many and many- 
fashioned gods; not taught so by the poets, but followed according 
to their nature of imitation. Who list may read in Plutarch the 
discourses of Isis and Osiris, of the Cause why Oracles ceased, of 
the Divine Providence, and see whether the theology of that nation 
stood not upon such dreams, — which the poets indeed superstitiously 
observed; and truly, since they had not the light of Christ, did much 
better in it than the philosophers, who, shaking off superstition, 
brought in atheism. 

Plato therefore, whose authority I had much rather justly construe 
than unjustly resist, meant not in general of poets, in those words of 
which Julius Scaliger saith, Qua authoritate barbari quidam atque 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 39 

hispidi, abuti velint ad poetas e republica exigendos;^ but only meant 
to drive out those wrong opinions of the Deity, whereof now, without 
further law, Christianity hath taken away all the hurtful belief, per- 
chance, as he thought, nourished by the then esteemed poets. And 
a man need go no further than to Plato himself to know his mean- 
ing; who, in his dialogue called Ion, giveth high and rightly divine 
commendation unto poetry. So as Plato, banishing the abuse, not 
the thing, not banishing it, but giving due honor unto it, shall be 
our patron and not our adversary. For, indeed, I had much rather, 
since truly I may do it, show their mistaking of Plato, under whose 
lion's skin they would make an ass-like braying against poesy, than 
go about to overthrow his authority; whom, the wiser a man is, the 
more just cause he shall find to have in admiration; especially since 
he attributeth unto poesy more than myself do, namely to be a very 
inspiring of a divine force, far above man's wit, as in the forenamed 
dialogue is apparent. 

Of the other side, who would show the honors have been by the 
best sort of judgments granted them, a whole sea of examples would 
present themselves: Alexanders, Caesars, Scipios, all favorers of poets; 
Laelius, called the Roman Socrates, himself a poet, so as part of 
Heautontimoroumenos in Terence was supposed to be made by him. 
And even the Greek Socrates, whom Apollo confirmed to be the 
only wise man, is said to have spent part of his old time in putting 
^sop's Fables into verses; and therefore full evil should it become 
his scholar, Plato, to put such words in his master's mouth against 
poets. But what needs more? Aristotle writes the Art of Poesy; and 
why, if it should not be written? Plutarch teacheth the use to be 
gathered of them; and how, if they should not be read? And who 
reads Plutarch's either history or philosophy, shall find he trimmeth 
both their garments with guards'' of poesy. But I list not to defend 
poesy with the help of his underling historiography. Let it suffice 
that it is a fit soil for praise to dwell upon; and what dispraise may 
set upon it, is either easily overcome, or transformed into just com- 
mendation. 

So that since the excellencies of it may be so easily and so justly 

38 "Which authority [/. e., Plato's] some barbarous and rude persons wish to 
abuse, in order to banish poets from the state." — Scaliger, "Poetics," 5. a, i. 
3' Ornaments. 



4© SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

confirmed, and the low-creeping objections so soon trodden down: 
it not being an art of lies, but of true doctrine; not of effeminateness, 
but of notable stirring of courage; not of abusing man's wit, but of 
strengthening man's wit; not banished, but honored by Plato; let 
us rather plant more laurels for to engarland our poets' heads — which 
honor of being laureate, as besides them only triumphant captains 
were, is a sufficient authority to show the price they ought to be held 
in — than suffer the ill-savored breath of such wrong speakers once 
to blow upon the clear springs of poesy. 

But since I have run so long a career in this matter, methinks, be- 
fore I give my pen a full stop, it shall be but a little more lost time 
to inquire why England, the mother of excellent minds, should be 
grown so hard a stepmother to poets; who certainly in wit ought 
to pass all others, since all only proceedeth from their wit, being 
indeed makers of themselves, not takers of others. How can I but 
exclaim, 

Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso?*" 

Sweet poesy! that hath anciently had kings, emperors, senators, 
great captains, such as, besides a thousand others, David, Adrian, 
Sophocles, Germanicus, not only to favor poets, but to be poets; and 
of our nearer times can present for her patrons a Robert, King of 
Sicily; the great King Francis of France; King James of Scotland; 
such cardinals as Bembus and Bibbiena; such famous preachers and 
teachers as Beza and Melancthon; so learned philosophers as 
Fracastorius and Scaliger; so great orators as Pontanus and Muretus; 
so piercing wits as George Buchanan; so grave counsellors as — be- 
sides many, but before all — that Hospital of France, than whom, I 
think, that realm never brought forth a more accomplished judg- 
ment more firmly builded upon virtue; I say these, with numbers of 
others, not only to read others' poesies but to poetize for others' 
reading. That poesy, thus embraced in all other places, should 
only find in our time a hard welcome in England, I think the 
very earth lamenteth it, and therefore decketh our soil with fewer 
laurels than it was accustomed. For heretofore poets have in England 

*" "O Muse, recall to me the causes by which her divine will had been insulted." — 
Virgil, "JEneid," I. 12. 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 4 1 

also flourished; and, which is to be noted, even in those times when 
the trumpet of Mars did sound loudest. And now that an over-faint 
quietness should seem to strew the house for poets, they are almost 
in as good reputation as the mountebanks at Venice. Truly even 
that, as of the one side it giveth great praise to poesy, which, like 
Venus — ^but to better purpose — hath rather be troubled in the net 
with Mars, than enjoy the homely quiet of Vulcan; so serves it for 
a piece of a reason why they are less grateful to idle England, which 
now can scarce endure the pain of a pen. Upon this necessarily 
foUoweth, that base men with servile wits undertake it, who think 
it enough if they can be rewarded of the printer. And so as 
Epaminondas is said, with the honor of his virtue to have made an 
office, by his exercising it, which before was contemptible, to be- 
come highly respected; so these men, no more but setting their 
names to it, by their own disgracefulness disgrace the most graceful 
poesy. For now, as if all the Muses were got with child to bring 
forth bastard poets, without any commission they do post over the 
banks of Helicon, till they make their readers more weary than post- 
horses; while, in the meantime, they, 

Queis meliore luto finxit praecordia Titan,^' 

are better content to suppress the outflowings of their wit, than by 
publishing them to be accounted knights of the same order. 

But I that, before ever I durst aspire unto the dignity, am ad- 
mitted into the company of the paper-blurrers, do find the very true 
cause of our wanting estimation is want of desert, taking upon us 
to be poets in despite of Pallas.^^ Now wherein we want desert were 
a thank-worthy labor to express; but if I knew, I should have mended 
myself. But as I never desired the title, so have I neglected the means 
to come by it; only, overmastered by some thoughts, I yielded an 
inky tribute unto them. Marry, they that delight in poesy itself should 
seek to know what they do and how they do; and especially look 
themselves in an unflattering glass of reason, if they be inclinable 
unto it. For poesy must not be drawn by the ears, it must be gently 
led, or rather it must lead; which was partly the cause that made the 

*'Upon hearts the Titan has formed from better clay." — Adapted from "Juvenal," 
XIV. 34-5. *^ Though lacking inspiration. 



42 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

ancient learned affirm it was a divine gift, and no human skill, since 
all other knowledges lie ready for any that hath strength of wit, a 
poet no industry can make if his own genius be not carried into it. 
And therefore is it an old proverb: Orator fit, poeta nascitur.^^ Yet 
confess I always that, as the fertilest ground must be manured,"* so 
must the highest-flying wit have a Daedalus to guide him. That 
Djedalus, they say, both in this and in other, hath three wings to 
bear itself up into the air of due commendation: that is, art, imita- 
tion, and exercise. But these neither artificial rules nor imitative 
patterns, we much cumber ourselves withal. Exercise indeed we do, 
but that very fore-backwardly, for where we should exercise to know, 
we exercise as having known; and so is our brain delivered of much 
matter which never was begotten by knowledge. For there being 
two principal parts, matter to be expressed by words, and words to 
express the matter, in neither we use art or imitation rightly. Our 
matter is quodlibet indeed, though wrongly performing Ovid's verse, 

Quicquid conabar dicere, versus erat;"^ 

never marshalling it into any assured rank, that almost the readers 
cannot tell where to find themselves. 

Chaucer, undoubtedly, did excellently in his Troilus and Cressida; 
of whom, truly, I know not whether to marvel more, either that he 
in that misty time could see so clearly, or that we in this clear age 
walk so stumbhngly after him. Yet had he great wants, fit to be for- 
given in so reverend antiquity. I account the Mirror of Magistrates 
meetly furnished of beautiful parts; and in the Earl of Surrey's lyrics 
many things tasting of a noble birth, and worthy of a noble mind. 
The Shepherd's Calendar hath much poetry in his eclogues, indeed 
worthy the reading, if I be not deceived. That same framing of his 
style to an old rustic language I dare not allow, since neither 
Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor Sannazzaro in Italian did 
affect it. Besides these, I do not remember to have seen but few (to 
speak boldly) printed, that have poetical sinews in them. For proof 
whereof, let but most of the verses be put in prose, and then ask 
the meaning, and it will be found that one verse did but beget 

^ "The orator is made, the poet is born." ^ Cultivated. 

^ "Whatever I tried to say was poetry." — Changed from Ovid, "Tristia," IV. lo, 26. 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 43 

another, without ordering at the first what should be at the last; 
which becomes a confused mass of words, with a tinkling sound of 
rime, barely accompanied with reason. 

Our tragedies and comedies not without cause cried out against, 
observing rules neither of honest civility nor of skilful poetry, ex- 
cepting Gorboduc, — again I say of those that I have seen. Which 
notwithstanding as it is full of stately speeches and well-sounding 
phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca's style, and as full o£ notable 
morality, which it doth most delightfully teach, and so obtain the 
very end of poesy; yet in truth it is very defections in the circum- 
stances, which grieveth me, because it might not remain as an exact 
model of all tragedies. For it is faulty both in place and time, the 
two necessary companions of all corporal actions. For where the 
stage should always represent but one place, and the uttermost time 
presupposed in it should be, both by Aristotle's precept and common 
reason, but one day; there is both many days and many places in- 
artificially imagined. 

But if it be so in Gorboduc, how much more in all the rest? where 
you shall have Asia of the one side, and Afric of the other, and so 
many other under-kingdoms, that the player, when he cometh in, 
must ever begin with telling where he is, or else the tale will not be 
conceived. Now ye shall have three ladies walk to gather flowers, 
and then we must believe the stage to be a garden. By and by we 
hear news of shipwreck in the same place, and then we are to blame 
if we accept it not for a rock. Upon the back of that comes out a 
hideous monster with fire and smoke, and then the miserable be- 
holders are bound to take it for a cave. While in the mean time two 
armies fly in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and then 
what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field ? 

Now of time they are much more liberal. For ordinary it is that 
two young princes fall in love; after many traverses she is got with 
child, delivered of a fair boy, he is lost, groweth a man, falleth in 
love, and is ready to get another child, — and all this in two hours' 
space; which how absurd it is in sense even sense may imagine, and 
art hath taught,and all ancient examples justified, and at this day the 
ordinary players in Italy will not err in. Yet will some bring in an 
example of Eunuchus in Terence, that containeth matter of two 



44 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

days, yet far short of twenty years. True it is, and so was it to be 
played in two days, and so fitted to the time it set forth. And though 
Plautus have in one place done amiss, let us hit with him, and not 
miss with him. But they will say, How then shall we set forth a 
story which containeth both many places and many times? And 
do they not know that a tragedy is tied to the laws of poesy, and not 
of history; not bound to follow the story, but having liberty either 
to feign a quite new matter, or to frame the history to the most 
tragical conveniency? Again, many things may be told which can- 
not be showed, — if they know the difference betwixt reporting and 
representing. As for example I may speak, though I am here, of 
Peru, and in speech digress from that to the description of Calicut; 
but in action I cannot represent it without Pacolet's horse. And so 
was the manner the ancients took, by some Nuntius^^ to recount 
things done in former time or other place. 

Lastly, if they will represent a history, they must not, as Horace 
saith, begin ab ovo," but they must come to the principal point of 
that one action which they will represent. By example this will be 
best expressed. I have a story of young Polydorus, delivered for 
safety's sake, with great riches, by his father Priamus to Polymnestor, 
King of Thrace, in the Trojan war time. He, after some years, 
hearing the overthrow of Priamus, for to make the treasure his own 
murdereth the child; the body of the child is taken up by Hecuba; 
she, the same day, findeth a sleight to be revenged most cruelly of 
the tyrant. Where now would one of our tragedy writers begin, but 
with the delivery of the child ? Then should he sail over into Thrace, 
and so spend I know not how many years, and travel numbers of 
places. But where doth Euripides? Even with the finding of the 
body, leaving the rest to be told by the spirit of Polydorus. This needs 
no further to be enlarged; the dullest wit may conceive it. 

But, besides these gross absurdities, how all their plays be neither 
right tragedies nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not 
because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in the clown by head 
and shoulders to play a part in majestical matters, with neither 
decency nor discretion; so as neither the admiration and commisera- 
tion, nor the right sportfulness, is by their mongrel tragi-comedy 

*^ Messenger. *'' From the egg. 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 45 

obtained. I know Apuleius did somewhat so, but that is a thing 
recounted with space of time, not represented in one moment; and I 
know the ancients have one or two examples o£ tragi-comedies, as 
Plautus hath Amphytrio. But, if we mark them well, we shall find 
that they never, or very daintily, match hornpipes and funerals. So 
falleth it out that, having indeed no right comedy in that comical 
part of our tragedy, we have nothing but scurrility, unworthy of any 
chaste ears, or some extreme show of doltishness, indeed fit to lift 
up a loud laughter, and nothing else; where the whole tract of a 
comedy should be full of delight, as the tragedy should be still 
maintained in a well-raised admiration. 

But our comedians think there is no delight without laughter, 
which is very wrong; for though laughter may come with delight, 
yet cometh it not of delight, as though delight should be the cause 
of laughter; but well may one thing breed both together. Nay, 
rather in themselves they have, as it were, a kind of contrariety. For 
delight we scarcely do, but in things that have a conveniency to 
ourselves, or to the general nature; laughter almost ever cometh of 
things most disproportioned to ourselves and nature. Delight hath 
a joy in it either permanent or present; laughter hath only a scornful 
tickling. For example, we are ravished with delight to see a fair 
woman, and yet are far from being moved to laughter. We laugh at 
deformed creatures, wherein certainly we cannot delight. We de- 
light in good chances, we laugh at mischances. We delight to hear 
the happiness of our friends and country, at which he were worthy 
to be laughed at that would laugh. We shall, contrarily, laugh 
sometimes to find a matter quite mistaken and go down the hill 
against the bias, in the mouth of some such men, as for the respect 
of them one shall be heartily sorry he cannot choose but laugh, and so 
is rather pained than delighted with laughter. Yet deny I not but 
that they may go well together. For as in Alexander's picture well 
set out we delight without laughter, and in twenty mad antics we 
laugh without delight; so in Hercules, painted, with his great beard 
and furious countenance, in woman's attire, spinning at Omphale's 
commandment, it breedeth both delight and laughter; for the repre- 
senting of so strange a power in love, procureth delight, and the 
scornfulness of the action stirreth laughter. 



46 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

But I speak to this purpose, that all the end of the comical part be 
not upon such scornful matters as stir laughter only, but mixed with 
it that delightful teaching which is the end of poesy. And the great 
fault, even in that point of laughter, and forbidden plainly by 
Aristotle, is that they stir laughter in sinful things, which are rather 
execrable than ridiculous; or in miserable, which are rather to be 
pitied than scorned. For what is it to make folks gape at a wretched 
beggar or a beggarly clown, or, against law of hospitality, to jest at 
strangers because they speak not English so well as we do.? what do 
we learn? since it is certain: 

Nil habet infelix paupertas durius in se, 
Quam quod ridicules homines facit.*' 

But rather a busy loving courtier; a heartless threatening Thraso; 
a self -wise-seeming schoolmaster; a wry transformed traveller: these 
if we saw walk in stage-names, which we play naturally, therein 
were delightful laughter and teaching delightfulness, — as in the 
other, the tragedies of Buchanan do justly bring forth a divine 
admiration. 

But I have lavished out too many words of this playmatter. I do 
it, because as they are excelling parts of poesy, so is there none so 
much used in England, and none can be more pitifully abused; 
which, like an unmannerly daughter, showing a bad education, 
causeth her mother Poesy's honesty to be called in question. 

Other sorts of poetry almost have we none, but that lyrical kind 
of songs and sonnets, which, Lord if he gave us so good minds, how 
well it might be employed, and with how heavenly fruits both private 
and public, in singing the praises of the immortal beauty, the im- 
mortal goodness of that God who giveth us hands to write, and wits 
to conceive! — of which we might well want words, but never matter; 
of which we could turn our eyes to nothing, but we should ever 
have new-budding occasions. 

But truly, many of such writings as come under the banner of 
unresistible love, if I were a mistress would never persuade me they 
were in love; so coldly they apply fiery speeches, as men that had 

*' "Unhappy poverty has nothing in it harder than this, that it makes men ridicu- 
lous." — ^Juvenal, "Satires," III. 152-3. 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 47 

rather read lovers' writings, and so caught up certain sweUing 
phrases — which hang together Hke a man which once told me the 
wind was at north-west and by south, because he would be sure to 
name winds enough — than that in truth they feel those passions, 
which easily, as I think, may be bewrayed by that same forcibleness, 
or energia (as the Greeks call it) of the writer. But let this be a 
sufficient, though short note, that we miss the right use of the 
material point of poesy. 

Now for the outside of it, which is words, or (as I may term it) 
diction, it is even well worse, so is that honey-flowing matron 
eloquence apparelled or rather disguised, in a courtesan-like painted 
affectation: one time with so farfet"^ words, that many seem mon- 
sters — but must seem strangers — to any poor Englishman; another 
time with coursing of a letter,*" as if they were bound to follow the 
method of a dictionary; another time with figures and flowers ex- 
tremely winter-starved. 

But I would this fault were only peculiar to versifiers, and had not 
as large possession among prose-printers, and, which is to be mar- 
velled, among many scholars, and, which is to be pitied, among 
some preachers. Truly I could wish — if at least I might be so bold 
to wish in a thing beyond the reach of my capacity — the diligent 
imitators of Tully and Demosthenes (most worthy to be imitated) 
did not so much keep Nizolian paper-books of their figures and 
phrases, as by attentive translation, as it were devour them whole, 
and make them wholly theirs. For now they cast sugar and spice 
upon every dish that is served to the table; like those Indians, not 
content to wear ear-rings at the fit and natural place of the ears, but 
they will thrust jewels through their nose and lips, because they will 
be sure to be fine. Tully, when he was to drive out Catiline as it 
were with a thunderbolt of eloquence, often used that figure of 
repetition, as Vivit. Vivit? Immo vera etiam in senatum venitf^ etc. 
Indeed, inflamed with a well-grounded rage, he would have his 
words, as it were, double out of his mouth; and so do that artificially, 
which we see men in choler do naturally. And we, having noted 
the grace of those words, hale them in sometime to a familiar epistle, 

^' Far-fetched. '"^ Alliteration. 
^' "He lives. Lives? Ay, he even comes to the Senate." — Cicero, "Catiline," I. 2. 



48 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

when it were too much choler to be choleric. How well store of 
similiter cadences^^ doth sound with the gravity of the pulpit, I 
would but invoke Demosthenes' soul to tell, who with a rare dainti- 
ness useth them. Truly they have made me think of the sophister 
that with too much subtility would prove two eggs three, and though 
he might be counted a sophister, had none for his labor. So these 
men bringing in such a kind of eloquence, well may they obtain an 
opinion of a seeming fineness, but persuade few, — which should be 
the end of their fineness. 

Now for similitudes in certain printed discourses, I think all 
herbarists, all stories of beasts, fowls, and fishes are rifled up, that 
they may come in multitudes to wait upon any of our conceits, 
which certainly is as absurd a surfeit to the ears as is possible. For 
the force of a similitude not being to prove any thing to a contrary 
disputer, but only to explain to a willing hearer; when that is done, 
the rest is a most tedious prattling, rather overswaying the memory 
from the purpose whereto they were applied, than any whit inform- 
ing the judgment, already either satisfied or by similitudes not to 
be satisfied. 

For my part, I do not doubt, when Antonius and Crassus, the 
great forefathers of Cicero in eloquence, the one (as Cicero testifieth 
of them) pretended not to know art, the other not to set by it, be- 
cause^^ with a plain sensibleness they might win credit of popular 
ears, which credit is the nearest step to persuasion, which persuasion 
is the chief mark of oratory, — I do not doubt, I say, but that they 
used these knacks, very sparingly; which who doth generally use 
any man may see doth dance to his own music, and so be noted by 
the audience more careful to speak curiously than truly. Un- 
doubtedly (at least to my opinion undoubtedly) I have found in 
divers small-learned courtiers a more sound style than in some 
professors of learning; of which I can guess no other cause, but 
that the courtier following that which by practice he findeth fittest 
to nature, therein, though he know it not, doth according to art, 
though not by art; where the other, using art to show art and not to 
hide art — as in these cases he should do — flieth from nature, and in- 
deed abuseth art. 

'^£. g., rhyme. ''In order that. 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 49 

But what! me thinks I deserve to be pounded for straying from 
poetry to oratory. But both have such an affinity in the wordish con- 
sideration, that I think this digression will make my meaning re- 
ceive the fuller understanding: — which is not to take upon me to 
teach poets how they should do, but only, finding myself sick among 
the rest, to show some one or two spots of the common infection 
grown among the most part of writers; that, acknowledging our- 
selves somewhat awry, we may bend to the right use both of matter 
and manner: whereto our language giveth us great occasion, being, 
indeed, capable of any excellent exercising of it. 

I know some will say it is a mingled language. And why not so 
much the better, taking the best of both the other.? Another will 
say it wanteth grammar. Nay, truly, it hath that praise that it 
wanteth not grammar. For grammar it might have, but it needs it 
not; being so easy in itself, and so void of those cumbersome 
differences of cases, genders, moods, and tenses, which, I think, was 
a piece of the Tower of Babylon's curse, that a man should be put 
to school to learn his mother-tongue. But for the uttering sweetly 
and properly the conceits of the mind, which is the end of speech, 
that hath it equally with any other tongue in the world; and is 
particularly happy in compositions of two or three words together, 
near the Greek, far beyond the Latin, — which is one of the greatest 
beauties that can be in a language. 

Now of versifying there are two sorts, the one ancient, the other 
modern. The ancient marked the quantity of each syllable, and 
according to that framed his verse; the modern observing only 
number, with some regard of the accent, the chief life of it standeth 
in that like sounding of the words, which we call rime. Whether of 
these be the more excellent would bear many speeches; the ancient 
no doubt more fit for music, both words and tune observing quan- 
tity; and more fit lively to express divers passions, by the low or lofty 
sound of the well-weighed syllable. The latter likewise with his rime 
striketh a certain music to the ear; and, in fine, since it doth delight, 
though by another way, it obtaineth the same purpose; there being 
in either, sweetness, and wanting in neither, majesty. Truly the 
English, before any other vulgar language I know, is fit for both 
sorts. For, for the ancient, the Italian is so full of vowels that it 



50 SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 

must ever be cumbered with elisions; the Dutch so, of the other 
side, with consonants, that they cannot yield the sweet sliding fit 
for a verse. The French in his whole language hath not one word 
that hath his accent in the last syllable saving two, called ante- 
penultima, and little more hath the Spanish; and therefore very 
gracelessly may they use dactyls. The English is subject to none of 
these defects. Now for rime,*^ though we do not observe quantity, 
yet we observe the accent very precisely, which other languages 
either cannot do, or will not do so absolutely. That caesura, or 
breathing-place in the midst of the verse, neither Italian nor Spanish 
have, the French and we never almost fail of. 

Lastly, even the very rime itself the Italian cannot put in the last 
syllable, by the French named the masculine rime, but still in the 
next to the last, which the French call the female, or the next before 
that, which the Italians term sdrucciola. The example of the former 
is buono: suono; of the sdrucciola is jemina: semina. The French, 
of the other side, hath both the male, as bon: son, and the female, 
as plaise: taise; but the sdrucciola he hath not. Where the English 
hath all three, as due: true, father: rather, motion: potion; with much 
more which might be said, but that already I find the triflingness of 
this discourse is much too much enlarged. 

So that since the ever praiseworthy poesy is full of virtue-breeding 
delightfulness, and void of no gift that ought to be in the noble name 
of learning; since the blames laid against it are either false or feeble; 
since the cause why it is not esteemed in England is the fault of 
poet-apes, not poets; since, lastly, our tongue is most fit to honor 
poesy, and to be honored by poesy; I conjure you all that have had 
the evil luck to read this ink-wasting toy of mine, even in the name 
of the Nine Muses, no more to scorn the sacred mysteries of poesy; no 
more to laugh at the name of poets, as though they were next 
inheritors to fools; no more to jest at the reverend title of "a rimer"; 
but to believe, with Aristotle, that they were the ancient treasurers 
of the Grecians' divinity; to believe, with Bembus, that they were 
first bringers-in of all civility; to believe, with Scaliger, that no phi- 
losopher's precepts can sooner make you an honest man than the 
reading of Virgil; to believe, with Clauserus, the translator of 

** Rhythm is meant. 



THE DEFENSE OF POESY 5I 

Cornutus, that it pleased the Heavenly Deity by Hesiod and Homer, 
under the veil of fables, to give us all knowledge, logic, rhetoric, 
philosophy natural and moral, and quid non? to believe, with me, 
that there are many mysteries contained in poetry which of purpose 
were written darkly, lest by profane wits it should be abused; to 
believe, with Landino, that they are so beloved of the gods, that 
whatsoever they write proceeds of a divine fury; lastly, to believe 
themselves, when they tell you they will make you immortal by 
their verses. 

Thus doing, your name shall flourish in the printers' shops. Thus 
doing, you shall be of kin to many a poetical preface. Thus doing, 
you shall be most fair, most rich, most wise, most all; you shall dwell 
upon superlatives. Thus doing, though you be libertino patre natusf^ 
you shall suddenly grow Herculea proles^ 

Si quid mea cartnina possunt.^" 

Thus doing, your soul shall be placed with Dante's Beatrice or 
Virgil's Anchises. 

But if — fie of such a but! — you be born so near the dull-making 
cataract of Nilus, that you cannot hear the planet-like music of 
poetry; if you have so earth-creeping a mind that it cannot lift itself 
up to look to the sky of poetry, or rather, by a certain rustical disdain, 
will become such a mome,''* as to be a Momus of poetry; then, 
though I will not wish unto you the ass's ears of Midas, nor to be 
driven by a poet's verses, as Bubonax was, to hang himself; nor to 
be rimed to death, as is said to be done in Ireland; yet thus much 
curse I must send you in the behalf of all poets: — that while you 
live you live in love, and never get favor for lacking skill of a sonnet; 
and when you die, your memory die from the earth for want of an 
epitaph. 

^ "The son of a freedman." ^ "Herculean offspring." 

'' "If my verses can do aught." — Virgil, "jEneid," IX. 446. 

^ Blockhead. 



ON SHAKESPEARE 
ON BACON 



BY 
BEN JONSON 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

Ben Jonson, after Shakespeare the most eminent writer for the 
Elizabethan stage, was born in 1573, and died in 1635. He was the 
founder of the so-called "Comedy of Humours," and throughout the 
reign of James I was the dominating personality in English letters. A 
large number of the younger writers were proud to confess themselves 
his "sons." Besides dramas of a variety of kinds, Jonson wrote much 
lyrical poetry, some of it of the most exquisite quality. His chief prose 
work appears in his posthumously published "Explorata, Timber or 
Discoveries, made upon men and matter," a kind of commonplace book, 
in which he seems to have entered quotations and translations from 
his reading, as well as original observations of a miscellaneous character 
on men and books. The volume has little or no structure or arrangement, 
but is impressed everywhere with the stamp of his vigorous personality. 
The following passages on Bacon and Shakespeare are notable as a per- 
sonal estimate of these two giants by the man who, perhaps, approached 
them in the field of intellect more closely than any other contemporary. 



BEN JONSON ON SHAKESPEARE 

DE SHAKESPEARE NOSTRAT[I]^ 

I REMEMBER the players have often mentioned it as an honor 
to Shakespeare, that in his writing, whatsoever he penned, he 
never blotted out a Hne. My answer hath been, "Would he had 
blotted a thousand," which they thought a malevolent speech. I had 
not told posterity this but for their ignorance, who chose that circum- 
stance to commend their friend by wherein he most faulted; and to 
justify mine own candor, for I loved the man, and do honor his 
memory on this side idolatry as much as any. He was, indeed, hon- 
est, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent fancy, brave no- 
tions, and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that 
sometime it was necessary he should be stopped. "Sufflaminandus 
erat"'^ as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his own power; 
would the rule of it had been so too. Many times he fell into those 
things, could not escape laughter, as when he said in the person of 
Csesar, one speaking to him: "Caesar, thou dost me wrong." He 
replied: "Csesar did never wrong but with just cause;"' and such 
like, which were ridiculous. But he redeemed his vices with his 
virtues. There was ever more in him to be praised than to be 
pardoned. 

* "Of our countryman, Shakespeare." 
^ "He should have been clogged." 

'The speech is not found in this form in our version of Shakespeare's "Julius 
Czsar." 



-55 



BEN JONSON ON BACON 

DOMINUS VERULAMIUS' 

ONE, though he be excellent and the chief, is not to be imi- 
tated alone; for never no imitator ever grew up to his 
author; likeness is always on this side truth. Yet there hap- 
pened in my time one noble speaker,' who was full of gravity in his 
speaking; his language, where he could spare or pass by a jest, was 
nobly censorious.'' No man ever spake more neatly, more presly,' 
more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness, in what he 
uttered. No member of his speech but consisted of his own graces. 
His hearers could not cough, or look aside from him, without loss. 
He commanded where he spoke, and had his judges angry and 
pleased at his devotion.^ No man had their affections more in his 
power. The fear of every man that heard him was lest he should 
make an end. 

Scriptorum catalogusj' — Cicero is said to be the only wit that the 
people of Rome had equalled to their empire. Ingenium par imperio. 
We have had many, and in their several ages (to take in but the 
former seculum^) Sir Thomas More, the elder Wyatt, Henry Earl 
of Surrey, Chaloner, Smith, Eliot, B[ishop] Gardiner, were for 
their times admirable; and the more, because they began eloquence 
with us. Sir Nico[las] Bacon was singular, and almost alone, in 
the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's times. Sir Philip Sidney and 
Mr. Hooker (in different matter) grew great masters of wit and 
language, and in whom all vigor of invention and strength of 
judgment met. The Earl of Essex, noble and high; and Sir Walter 
Raleigh, not to be contemned, either for judgment or style; Sir 
Henry Savile, grave, and truly lettered; Sir Edwin Sandys, excellent 
in both; Lo[rd] Egerton, the Chancellor, a grave and great orator, 

1 Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam. ^ Severe. ' Concisely. * Choice, disposal. 
* Catalogue o£ writers. ' Century. 

56 



ON BACON 57 

and best when he was provoked; but his learned and able, though 
unfortunate, successor^ is he who hath filled up all numbers, and 
performed that in our tongue which may be compared or preferred 
either to insolent Greece or haughty Rome. In short, within his 
view, and about his times, were all the wits born that could honor 
a language or help study. Now things daily fall, wits grow down- 
ward, and eloquence grows backward; so that he may be named 
and stand as the mark and aK/xij^ of our language. 

De augmentis scientiarum? — I have ever observed it to have been 
the office of a wise patriot, among the greatest affairs of the State, 
to take care of the commonwealth of learning. For schools, they are 
the seminaries of State; and nothing is worthier the study of a 
statesman than that part of the republic which we call the advance- 
ment of letters. Witness the care of Julius Ca:sar, who, in the heat of 
the civil war, writ his books of Analogy, and dedicated them to Tully. 
This made the late Lord S[aint] Alban'° entitle his work Novum 
Organum; which, though by the most of superficial men, who can- 
not get beyond the title of nominals," it is not penetrated nor under- 
stood, it really openeth all defects of learning whatsoever, and is a 
book 

Qui longum noto scriptori porriget aevum." 

My conceit of his person was never increased toward him by his 
place or honors. But I have and do reverence him for the greatness 
that was only proper to himself, in that he seemed to me ever, by 
his work, one of the greatest men, and most worthy of admiration, 
that had been in many ages. In his adversity I ever prayed that God 
would give him strength; for greatness he could not want. Neither 
could I condole in a word or syllable for him, as knowing no acci- 
dent could do harm to virtue, but rather help to make it manifest. 

^ Bacon. ' Acme. ® Concerning the advancement of the sciences. '" Bacon. 

" Names of things. 

*^ "Which extends to the famous author a long future." — Horace, Ars. Poet., 346. 



OF AGRICULTURE 

BY 
ABRAHAM COWLEY 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

Abraham Cowley (1618-1667) was educated at Westminster School 
and later at Trinity College, Cambridge, from which he was ejected with 
most of the Masters and Fellows for refusing to sign the Solemn League 
and Covenant in 1644. In the same year he crossed to France in the 
suite of Lord Jermyn, Queen Henrietta Maria's chief officer, and re- 
mained with the royal family in exile for twelve years. After the Restora- 
tion he became a doctor of medicine, and was one of the first members 
of the Royal Society. He is buried in Westminster Abbey. 

Cowley's most popular work in his own day was the collection of love 
poems called "The Mistress," and his so-called "Pindaric Odes" were 
also highly esteemed. With the decline of the taste which produced the 
poetry of the "Metaphysical School" to which he belonged, Cowley 
ceased to be read; nor is it likely that the frigid ingenuity which marks 
his poetic style will ever again come into favor. His "Essays," on the 
other hand, are written with great simplicity and naturalness, and exhibit 
his temperament in a most pleasing light. He is one of the earliest 
masters of a clear and easy English prose style, and few writers of the 
familiar essay surpass Cowley in grace and charm. His essay "Of Agri- 
culture" is a delightful example of his quality. "We may talk what we 
please," he cries in his enthusiasm for the oldest of the arts, "of lilies, 
and lions rampant, and spread eagles, in fields d'or or d'argent; but, if 
heraldry were guided by reason, a plough in a field arable would be the 
most noble and ancient arms." 



OF AGRICULTURE 

THE first wish of Virgil (as you will find anon by his verses) 
was to be a good philosopher, the second, a good husband- 
man: and God (whom he seem'd to understand better than 
most of the most learned heathens) dealt with him just as he did 
with Solomon; because he prayed for wisdom in the first place, he 
added all things else, which were subordinately to be desir'd. He 
made him one of the best philosophers and the best husbandmen; 
and, to adorn and communicate both those faculties, the best poet. 
He made him, besides all this, a rich man, and a man who desired 
to be no richer — 

"O fortunatus nimium, et bona qui sua novit!"' 

To be a husbandman, is but a retreat from the city; to be a philoso- 
pher, from the world; or rather, a retreat from the world, as it is 
man's, into the world, as it is God's. 

But, since nature denies to most men the capacity or appetite, and 
fortune allows but to a very few the opportunities or possibility of 
applying themselves wholly to philosophy, the best mixture of 
humane^ affairs that we can make, are the employments of a 
country life. It is, as Columella calls it, "Res sine dubitatione proxima, 
et quasi consanguinea sapientis," the nearest neighbour, or rather 
next in kindred, to philosophy. Varro says, the principles of it are 
the same which Ennius made to be the principles of all nature, 
Earth, Water, Air, and the Sun. It does certainly comprehend more 
parts of philosophy, than any one profession, art, or science, in the 
world besides: and therefore Cicero says, the pleasures of a husband- 
man, "mihi ad sapientis vitam proxime videntur accedere," come 
very nigh to those of a philosopher. There is no other sort of life 

* "O fortunate exceedingly, who knew his own good fortune." — Adapted from 
Virgil, "Georgics," II., 458. 
^ Human. 

61 



62 ABRAHAM COWLEY 

that affords so many branches of praise to a panegyrist: the utility of 
it, to a man's self; the usefulness, or rather necessity, of it to all 
the rest of mankind; the innocence, the pleasure, the antiquity, the 
dignity. 

The utility (I mean plainly the lucre of it) is not so great, now 
in our nation, as arises from merchandise and the trading of the 
city, from whence many of the best estates and chief honours of 
the kingdom are derived: we have no men now fetcht from the 
plow to be made lords, as they were in Rome to be made consuls 
and dictators; the reason of which I conceive to be from an evil 
custom, now grown as strong among us as if it were a law, which is, 
that no men put their children to be bred up apprentices in agri- 
culture, as in other trades, but such who are so poor, that, when 
they come to be men, they have not wherewithal to set up in it, and 
so can only farm some small parcel of ground, the rent of which 
devours all but the bare subsistence of the tenant: whilst they who 
are proprietors of the land are either too proud, or, for want of 
that kind of education, too ignorant, to improve their estates, though 
the means of doing it be as easie and certain in this, as in any other 
track of commerce. If there were always two or three thousand 
youths, for seven or eight years, bound to this profession, that they 
might learn the whole art of it, and afterwards be enabled to be 
masters in it, by a moderate stock, I cannot doubt but that we should 
see as many aldermen's estates made in the country, as now we do 
out of all kind of merchandizing in the city. There are as many 
ways to be rich, and, which is better, there is no possibility to be 
poor, without such negligence as can neither have excuse nor pity; 
for a little ground will, without question, feed a Uttle family, and 
the superfluities of life (which are now in some cases by custom 
made almost necessary) must be supplyed out of the superabundance 
of art and industry, or contemned by as great a degree of philosophy. 

As for the necessity of this art, it is evident enough, since this can 
live without all others, and no one other without this. This is like 
speech, without which the society of men cannot be preserved; the 
others, like figures and tropes of speech, which serve only to adorn it. 
Many nations have Uved, and some do still, without any art but this: 
not so elegantly, I confess, but still they live; and almost all the other 



OF AGRICULTURE 63 

arts, which are here practised, are beholding to this for most of their 
materials. 

The innocence of this life is the next thing for which I commend 
it; and if husbandmen preserve not that, they are much to blame, 
for no men are so free from the temptations of iniquity. They live 
by what they can get by industry from the earth; and others, by 
what they can catch by craft from men. They live upon an estate 
given them by their mother; and others, upon an estate cheated 
from their brethren. They live, like sheep and kine, by the allow- 
ances of nature; and others, like wolves and foxes, by the acquisitions 
of rapine. And, I hope, I may affirm (without any offence to the 
great) that sheep and kine are very useful, and that wolves and 
foxes are pernicious creatures. They are, without dispute, of all 
men, the most quiet and least apt to be inflamed to the disturbance 
of the commonwealth: their manner of life inclines them, and 
interest binds them, to love peace: in our late mad and miserable 
civil wars, all other trades, even to the meanest, set forth whole 
troops, and raised up some great commanders, who became famous 
and mighty for the mischiefs they had done: but I do not remember 
the name of any one husbandman, who had so considerable a share 
in the twenty years' ruine of his country, as to deserve the curses of 
his countrymen. 

And if great delights be joyn'd with so much innocence, I think 
it is ill done of men not to take them here, where they are so tame, 
and ready at hand, rather than hunt for them in courts and cities, 
where they are so wild, and the chase so troublesome and dangerous. 

We are here among the vast and noble scenes of nature; we are 
there among the pitiful shifts of policy: we walk here in the light 
and open ways of the divine bounty; we grope there in the dark 
and confused labyrinths of humane' malice: our senses are here 
feasted with the clear and genuine taste of their objects, which are 
all sophisticated there, and for the most part overwhelmed with 
their contraries. Here, pleasure looks (methinks) like a beautiful, 
constant, and modest wife; it is there an impudent, fickle, and 
painted harlot. Here, is harmless and cheap plenty; there, guilty 
and expenceful luxury. 

* Human. 



64 ABRAHAM COWLEY 

I shall only instance in one delight more, the most natural and best- 
natured of all others, a perpetual companion of the husbandman; 
and that is, the satisfaction of looking round about him, and seeing 
nothing but the effects and improvements of his own art and dili- 
gence; to be always gathering of some fruits of it, and at the same 
time to behold others ripening, and others budding: to see all his 
fields and gardens covered with the beauteous creatures of his own 
industry; and to see, like God, that all his works are good: — 

Hinc atque hinc glomerantur Orcades; ipsi 

Agricolae taciturn pertentant gaudia pectus.* 

On his heart-string a secret joy does strike. 

The antiquity of his art is certainly not be contested by any other. 
The three first men in the world, were a gardener, a plowman, and 
a grazier; and if any man object, that the second of these was a 
murtherer, I desire he would consider, that as soon as he was so, he 
quitted our profession, and turn'd builder. It is for this reason, I 
suppose, that Ecclesiasticus forbids us to hate husbandry; 'because 
(says he) the Most High has created it.' We were all born to this 
art, and taught by nature to nourish our bodies by the same earth 
out of which they were made, and to which they must return, and 
pay at last for their sustenance. 

Behold the original and primitive nobility of all those great 
persons, who are too proud now, not only to till the ground, but 
almost to tread upon it. We may talk what we please of lillies, and 
lions rampant, and spread-eagles, in fields d'or or d'argent; but, if 
heraldry were guided by reason, a plough in a field arable would 
be the most noble and antient arms. 

All these considerations make me fall into the wonder and com- 
plaint of Columella, how it should come to pass that all arts or 
sciences (for the dispute, which is an art, and which a science, does 
not belong to the curiosity of us husbandmen) metaphysick, physick, 
morality, mathematicks, logick, rhetorick, &c. which are all, I grant, 
good and useful faculties, (except only metaphysick which I do not 
know whether it be anything or no;) but even vaulting, fencing, 
dancing, attiring, cookery, carving, and such like vanities, should 

*"On this side and on that gather the Orkneys; joys pervade the silent breast of 
the farmer." — A parody of Virgil's "^Eneid," I. 500, 503. 



OF AGRICULTURE 65 

all have publick schools and masters, and yet that we should never 
see or hear of any man, who took upon him the profession of teach- 
ing this so pleasant, so virtuous, so profitable, so honourable, so 
necessary art. 

A man would think, when he's in serious humour, that it were 
but a vain, irrational, and ridiculous thing for a great company of 
men and women to run up and down in a room together, in a 
hundred several postures and figures, to no purpose, and with no 
design; and therefore dancing was invented first, and only practised 
antiently, in the ceremonies of the heathen religion, which consisted 
all in mummery and madness; the latter being the chief glory of the 
worship, and accounted divine inspiration: this, I say, a severe 
man would think; though I dare not determine so far against so 
customary a part, now, of good-breeding. And yet, who is there 
among our gentry, that does not entertain a dancing-master for his 
children, as soon as they are able to walk? But did ever any father 
provide a tutor for his son, to instruct him betimes in the nature 
and improvements of that land which he intended to leave him.? 
That is at least a superfluity, and this a defect, in our manner of 
education; and therefore I could wish (but cannot in these times 
much hope to see it) that one coUedge in each university were erected, 
and appropriated to this study, as well as there are to medicine and 
the civil law : there would be no need of making a body of scholars 
and fellows with certain endowments, as in other colledges; it would 
suffice, if, after the manner of halls in Oxford, there were only four 
professors constituted (for it would be too much work for only one 
master, or principal, as they call him there) to teach these four parts 
of it: First, Aration, and all things relating to it. Secondly, Pasturage. 
Thirdly, Gardens, Orchards, Vineyards, and Woods. Fourthly, all 
parts of Rural Oeconomy, which would contain the government of 
Bees, Swine, Poultry, Decoys, Ponds, &c. and all that which Varro 
calls villaticas pastionesi' together with the sports of the field (which 
ought to be looked upon not only as pleasures, but as parts of house- 
keeping), and the domestical conservation and uses of all that is 
brought in by industry abroad. The business of these professors 
should not be, as is commonly practised in other arts, only to read 
*The keeping of farm animals, etc. 



66 ABRAHAM COWLEY 

pompous and superficial lectures, out of Virgil's Georgicks, Pliny, 
Varro, or Columella; but to instruct their pupils in the whole 
method and course of this study, which might be run through per- 
haps, with diligence, in a year or two: and the continual succession 
of scholars, upon a moderate taxation^ for their diet, lodging and 
learning, would be a sufficient constant revenue for maintenance of 
the house and the professors, who should be men not chosen for the 
ostentation of critical literature, but for solid and experimental knowl- 
edge of the things they teach; such men, so industrious and publick- 
spirited, as I conceive Mr. Hartlib to be, if the gentleman be yet alive: 
but it is needless to speak further of my thoughts of this design, un- 
less the present disposition of the age allowed more probability of 
bringing it into execution. What I have further to say of the country 
life, shall be borrowed from the poets, who were always the most 
faithful and affectionate friends to it. Poetry was born among the 
shepherds. 

Nescio qua natale solum dulcedine Musas 
Ducit, et immemores non sinit esse sui. 

The Muses still love their own native place; 
'T has secret charms, which nothing can deface. 

The truth is, no other place is proper for their work; one might 
as well undertake to dance in a crowd, as to make good verses in 
the midst of noise and tumult. 

As well might corn, as verse, in cities grow; 
In vain the thankless glebe we plow and sow; 
Against th' unnatural soil in vain we strive; 
'Tis not a ground, in which these plants will thrive. 

It will bear nothing but the nettles and thorns of satyre, which grow 
most naturally in the worst earth; and therefore almost all poets, 
except those who were not able to eat bread without the bounty of 
great men, that is, without what they could get by flattering of them, 
have not only withdrawn themselves from the vices and vanities of 
the grand world, 

pariter vitiisque jocisque 

Altius humanis exeruere caput,^ 

' Charge. ' "They have raised their head above both human vices and vanities." — 
Ovid, "Fasti," I. 300. 



OF AGRICULTURE 67 

into the innocent happiness of a retired hfe; but have commended 
and adorned nothing so much by their ever-hving poems. Hesiod 
was the first or second poet in the world that remains yet extant (if 
Homer, as some think, preceded him, but I rather beheve they were 
contemporaries); and he is the first writer too of the art of hus- 
bandry: "and he has contributed (says Columella) not a little to our 
profession;" I suppose, he means not a little honour, for the matter of 
his instructions is not very important: his great antiquity is visible 
through the gravity and simplicity of his stile. The most acute of 
all his sayings concerns our purpose very much, and is couched in 
the reverend obscurity of an oracle. 

nX«oi' T^nLffu iravT^s^ The half is more than the whole. The occasion 
of the speech is this : his brother Perses had, by corrupting some great 
men (/3ao-iX^os boipo^dyovs, great bribe-eaters he calls them), gotten 
from him the half of his estate. It is no matter (says he) ; they have 
not done me so much prejudice, as they imagine. 

N^TTtot, oi)5' t(ra(nv 6a(fi irXkov fjiiuTV Traprdst 
0{id' 6<rov h> fjtakaxv tc koI a(T<l>ode\<^ nky' 6v€tap, 
'Kpiflj/avTis yap ix^vai Oeoi ^lov apdpoyirobat. 

Unhappy they, to whom God ha'n't reveal'd, 
By a strong light which must their sense controul, 
That half a great estate's more than the whole. 
Unhappy, from whom still conceal'd does lye, 
Of roots and herbs, the wholesom luxury. 

This I conceive to be honest Hesiod's meaning. From Homer, we 
must not expect much concerning our affairs. He was blind, and 
could neither work in the country nor enjoy the pleasures of it; his 
helpless poverty was likeliest to be sustained in the richest places; 
he was to delight the Grecians with fine tales of the wars and ad- 
ventures of their ancestors; his subject removed him from all com- 
merce with us, and yet, methinks, he made a shift to shew his good- 
will a little. For, though he could do us no honour in the person 
of his hero Ulysses (much less of Achilles), because his whole time 
was consumed in wars and voyages; yet he makes his father Laertes 
a gardener all that while, and seeking his consolation for the absence 
of his son in the pleasure of planting, and even dunging his own 

' Hesiod, "Works and Days," 40. 



68 ABRAHAM COWLEY 

grounds. Ye see, he did not contemn us peasants; nay, so far was 
he from that insolence, that he always stiles Eumaeus, who kept the 
hogs, with wonderful respect, Slov v<t>opP6v, the divine swine herd; he 
could ha' done no more for Menelaus or Agamemnon. And Theo- 
critus (a very antient poet, but he was one of our own tribe, for he 
wrote nothing but pastorals) gave the same epithete to an husband- 
man, — rifieiPeTo 8los aypoKxres. The divine husbandman replyed to 
Hercules, who was but Slos himself. These were civil Greeks, and 
who understood the dignity of our calling! 

Among the Romans we have, in the first place, our truly divine 
Virgil, who, though, by the favour of Maecenas and Augustus, he 
might have been one of the chief men of Rome, yet chose rather to 
employ much of his time in the exercise, and much of his immortal 
wit in the praise and instructions, of a rustique life; who, though he 
had written, before, whole books of pastorals and georgics, could 
not abstain, in his great and imperial poem, from describing Evander, 
one of his best princes, as living just after the homely manner of an 
ordinary countryman. He seats him in a throne of maple, and lays 
him but upon a bear's skin; the kine and oxen are lowing in his 
court-yard; the birds under the eves of his window call him up in 
the morning, and when he goes abroad, only two dogs go along with 
him for his guard: at last, when he brings ^neas into his royal 
cottage, he makes him say this memorable complement, greater 
than even yet was spoken at the Escurial, the Louvre, or our 
Whitehal: 

Hsec (inquit) limina victor 



Alcides subiit, hxc ilium regia cepit: 

Aude, hospes, contemnere opes: et te quoque dignum 

Finge Deo, rebusque veni non asper egenis. 

This humble roof, this rustick court, (said he) 
Receiv'd Alcides, crown'd with victorie: 
Scorn not, great guest, the steps where he has trod; 
But contemn wealth, and imitate a God. 

The next man, whom we are much obliged to, both for his 
doctrine and example, is the next best poet in the world to Virgil, 
his dear friend Horace; who, when Augustus had desired Mscenas 



OF AGRICULTURE 69 

to perswade him to come and live domestically and at the same 
table with him, and to be secretary of state of the whole world under 
him, or rather jointly with him, for he says, "ut nos in epistolis 
scribendis adjuvet,'" could not be tempted to forsake his Sabin, or 
Tiburtin mannor, for so rich and so glorious a trouble. There was 
never, I think, such an example as this in the world, that he should 
have so much moderation and courage as to refuse an offer of such 
greatness, and the emperor so much generosity and good-nature as 
not to be at all offended with his refusal, but to retain still the same 
kindness, and express it often to him in most friendly and familiar 
letters, part of which are still extant. If I should produce all the 
passages of this excellent author upon the several subjects which I 
treat of in this book, I must be obliged to translate half his works; 
of which I may say more truly than, in my opinion, he did of Homer. 

Qui, quid sit pulchrum, quid turpe, quid utile, quid non, 
Planius et melius Chrysippo et Crantore dicit.'" 

I shall content myself upon this particular theme with three only, 
one out of his Odes, the other out of his Satires, the third out of 
his Epistles; and shall forbear to collect the suffrages of all other 
poets, which may be found scattered up and down through all their 
writings, and especially in Martial's. But I must not omit to make 
some excuse for the bold-undertaking of my own unskilful pencil 
upon the beauties of a face that has been drawn before by so many 
great masters; especially, that I should dare to do it in Latine verses, 
(though of another kind), and have the confidence to translate them. 
I can only say that I love the matter, and that ought to cover many 
faults; and that I run not to contend with those before me, but follow 
to applaud them. 

* "That he may assist us in writing letters." 

'" "Who says, more plainly and better than Chrysippus and Crantor, what is beauti- 
ful, what base, what useful, what the opposite of these." — Horace, "Epist." I. 2. 4. 
Chrysippus and Crantor were noted philosophers. 



THE VISION OF MIRZA 

AND 

WESTMINSTER ABBEY 

BY 
JOSEPH ADDISON 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

Joseph Addison (1672-1719) divided his energies between literature 
and politics. He was educated at the Charterhouse and at Oxford with 
a view to holy orders, but the Earl of Halifax saw in him valuable 
political material, obtained for him a pension, and sent him abroad to 
prepare for a diplomatic career. His travels in France and Italy con- 
firmed his classical tastes, and his critical writings show abundant traces 
of French influence. 

On his return to England he published his "Campaign," which laid 
the foundation of his career. He entered Parliament, and finally rose 
to be Secretary of State. In spite of the bitterness of political feeling in 
his time, Addison kept the esteem of men of all parties, and enjoyed a 
universal popularity such as has been bestowed on few men of letters 
and fewer politicians. 

Addison's fame to-day rests mainly on his writings in the "Tader" and 
the "Spectator." In the essays and articles published in these two period- 
icals, he not only produced a succession of pieces unsurpassed in their 
kind, but exerted an influence as wholesome as it was powerful upon the 
manners and morals of society in the London of Queen Anne. His style 
remains the great classic' example of that combination of ease and 
elegance which is the characteristic merit of the prose of the period; and 
the imaginative moralizing which is exemplified in "The Vision of 
Mirza" and "Westminster Abbey" reveals something of the gentle per- 
suasiveness with which he sought to lead his generation to higher levels 
of living and thinking. 

A more detailed account of the life and work of Addison will be 
found in the "Life" by Dr. Johnson in the present volume. 



THE VISION OF MIRZA' 

Omnem, quce nunc obducta tuenti 
Mortales hebetat visus tibi, et humida circum 
Caligat, nubem eripiam? 

— Virgil, "^neid," ii. 604, 

WHEN I was at Grand Cairo, I picked up several oriental 
manuscripts, which I have still by me. Among others I 
met with one entitled "The Visions of Mirza," which I 
have read over with great pleasure. I intend to give it to the public 
when I have no other entertainment for them, and shall begin with 
the first vision, which I have translated word for word, as follows : — 
"On the fifth day of the moon, which according to the custom of 
my forefathers I always keep holy, after having washed myself and 
offered up my morning devotions, I ascended the high hills of 
Bagdad, in order to pass the rest of the day in meditation and prayer. 
As I was here airing myself on the tops of the mountains, I fell into 
a profound contemplation on the vanity of human life, and passing 
from one thought to another, 'Surely,' said I, 'man is but a shadow, 
and life a dream.' Whilst I was thus musing, I cast my eyes towards 
the summit of a rock that was not far from me, where I discovered 
one in the habit of a shepherd, with a little musical instrument in 
his hand. As I looked upon him he applied it to his lips, and began 
to play upon it. The sound of it was exceeding sweet, and wrought 
into a variety of tunes that were inexpressibly melodious and alto- 
gether different from anything I had ever heard. They put me in 
mind of those heavenly airs that are played to the departed souls of 
good men upon their first arrival in Paradise, to wear out the im- 
pressions of the last agonies, and qualify them for the pleasures of 
that happy place. My heart melted away in secret raptures. 

'Published in "The Spectator," September i, 1711. 

^ "Every cloud which now drawn before thee dulls thy mortal vision and sends mists 
around thee, I shall snatch away." 

73 



74 JOSEPH ADDISON 

"I had often been told that the rock before me was the haunt of 
a genius; and that several had been entertained with music who had 
passed by it, but never heard that the musician had before made 
himself visible. When he had raised my thoughts by those transport- 
ing airs which he played, to taste the pleasures of his conversation, 
as I looked upon him like one astonished, he beckoned to me, and 
by the waving of his hand directed me to approach the place where 
he sat. I drew near with that reverence which is due to a superior 
nature; and as my heart was entirely subdued by the captivating 
strains I had heard, I fell down at his feet and wept. The genius 
smiled upon me with a look of compassion and affability that 
familiarized him to my imagination, and at once dispelled all the 
fears and apprehensions with which I approached him. He lifted 
me from the ground, and taking me by the hand, 'Mirza,' said he, 
'I have heard thee in thy soliloquies; follow me.' 

"He then led me to the highest pinnacle of the rock, and placing 
me on the top of it, 'Cast thy eyes eastward,' said he 'and tell me 
what thou seest.' 'I see,' said I, 'a huge valley and a prodigious tide 
of water rolling through it.' 'The valley that thou seest,' said he, 
'is the Vale of Misery, and the tide of water that thou seest is part 
of the great tide of eternity.' 'What is the reason,' said I, 'that the tide 
I see rises out of a thick mist at one end, and again loses itself in 
a thick mist at the other?' 'What thou seest,' said he, 'is that portion 
of eternity which is called time, measured out by the sun, and reach- 
ing from the beginning of the world to its consummation. Examine 
now,' said he, 'this sea that is thus bounded by darkness at both ends, 
and tell me what thou discoverest in it.' 'I see a bridge,' said I, 'stand- 
ing in the midst of the tide.' 'The bridge thou seest,' said he, 'is 
human life; consider it attentively.' Upon a more leisurely survey 
of it I found that it consisted of more than threescore and ten entire 
arches, with several broken arches, which, added to those that were 
entire, made up the number to about a hundred. As I was counting 
the arches, the genius told me that this bridge consisted at first of 
a thousand arches; but that a great flood swept away the rest, and 
left the bridge in the ruinous condition I now beheld it. 'But tell 
me further,' said he, 'what thou discoverest on it.' 'I see multitudes 
of people passing over it,' said I, 'and a black cloud hanging on each 



THE VISION OF MIRZA 75 

end of it.' As I looked more attentively, I saw several of the pas- 
sengers dropping through the bridge into the great tide that flowed 
underneath it; and upon further examination, perceived there were 
innumerable trap-doors that lay concealed in the bridge, which the 
passengers no sooner trod upon, but they fell through them into 
the tide and immediately disappeared. These hidden pitfalls were 
set very thick at the entrance of the bridge, so that throngs of people 
no sooner broke through the cloud, but many of them fell into them. 
They grew thinner towards the middle, but multiplied and lay 
closer together towards the end of the arches that were entire. 

"There were indeed some persons, but their number was very 
small, that continued a kind of hobbling march on the broken arches, 
but fell through one after another, being quite tired and spent with 
so long a walk. 

"I passed some time in the contemplation of this wonderful struc- 
ture, and the great variety of objects which it presented. My heart 
was filled with a deep melancholy to see several dropping unex- 
pectedly in the midst of mirth and jollity, and catching at everything 
that stood by them to save themselves. Some were looking up 
towards the heavens in a thoughtful posture, and in the midst of a 
speculation stumbled and fell out of sight. Multitudes were very 
busy in the pursuit of bubbles that glittered in their eyes and danced 
before them, but often when they thought themselves within the 
reach of them their footing failed and down they sunk. In this confu- 
sion of objects,! observed some with scimitars in their hands, and 
others with urinals, who ran to and fro upon the bridge, thrusting 
several persons on trap-doors which did not seem to lie in their way, 
and which they might have escaped had they not been thus forced 
upon them. 

"The genius, seeing me indulge myself on this melancholy pros- 
pect, told me I had dwelt long enough upon it. 'Take thine eyes off 
the bridge,' said he, 'and tell me if thou seest anything thou dost 
not comprehend.' Upon looking up, 'What mean,' said I, 'those 
great flights of birds that are perpetually hovering about the bridge, 
and settling upon it from time to time? I see vultures, harpies, 
ravens, cormorants, and among many other feathered creatures 
several little winged boys that perch in great numbers upon the 



*](> JOSEPH ADDISON 

middle arches.' 'These,' said the genius, 'are Envy, Avarice, Super- 
stition, Despair, Love, with the Hke cares and passions that infest 
human Hfe.' 

"I here fetched a deep sigh. 'Alas,' said I, 'man was made in vain: 
how is he given away to misery and mortality, tortured in life, and 
swallowed up in death!' The genius being moved with compassion 
towards me, bid me quit so uncomfortable a prospect. 'Look no 
more,' said he, 'on man in the first stage of his existence, in his 
setting out for eternity; but cast thine eye on that thick mist into 
which the tide bears the several generations of mortals that fall into 
it.' I directed my sight as I was ordered, and (whether or no the 
good genius strengthened it with any supernatural force, or dis- 
sipated part of the mist that was before too thick for eye to penetrate) 
I saw the valley opening at the farther end, and spreading forth into 
an immense ocean that had a huge rock of adamant running through 
the midst of it, and dividing it into two equal parts. The clouds still 
rested on one half of it, insomuch that I could discover nothing in 
it; but the other appeared to me a vast ocean planted with innu- 
merable islands, that were covered with fruits and flowers, and inter- 
woven with a thousand little shining seas that ran among them. I 
could see persons dressed in glorious habits with garlands upon their 
heads, passing among the trees, lying down by the sides of fountains, 
or resting on beds of flowers; and could hear a confused harmony 
of singing birds, falling waters, human voices, and musical instru- 
ments. Gladness grew in me upon the discovery of so delightful a 
scene. I wished for the wings of an eagle that I might fly away to 
those happy seats; but the genius told me there was no passage to 
them except through the gates of death that I saw opening every 
moment upon the bridge. 'The islands,' said he, 'that lie so fresh 
and green before thee, and with which the whole face of the ocean 
appears spotted as far as thou canst see, are more in number than 
the sands on the seashore; there are myriads of islands behind those 
which thou here discoverest, reaching farther than thine eye, or 
even thine imagination can extend itself. These are the mansions 
of good men after death, who, according to the degree and kinds of 
virtue in which they excelled, are distributed among these several 
islands, which abound with pleasures of different kinds and degrees 



THE VISION OF MIRZA 77 

suitable to the relishes and perfections of those who are settled in 
them; every island is a paradise accommodated to its respective 
inhabitants. Are not these, O Mirza, habitations worth contending 
for? Does life appear miserable that gives thee opportunities of 
earning such a reward ? Is death to be feared that will convey thee 
to so happy an existence? Think not man was made in vain who 
has such an eternity reserved for him.' I gazed with inexpressible 
pleasure on these happy islands. At length, said I, 'Show me now, 
I beseech thee, the secrets that lie hid under those dark clouds which 
cover the ocean on the other side of the rock of adamant.' The gen- 
ius making me no answer, I turned me about to address myself to him 
a second time, but I found that he had left me; I then turned again 
to the vision which I had been so long contemplating; but, instead 
of the rolling tide, the arched bridge, and the happy islands, I saw 
nothing but the long valley of Bagdad, with oxen, sheep, and camels 
grazing upon the sides of it." 

The end of the first vision of Mirza. 



WESTMINSTER ABBEY' 

Pallida mors cequo palsat pede pauperam tabernas 

Regumque tares, O beati Sexti, 
Vitce summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longami 

Jam te premet nox, jabulceque manes, 
Et domus exilis Plutonia.- — Hor.^ 

WHEN I am in a serious humour, I very often walk by 
myself in Westminster Abbey, where the gloominess of 
the place, and the use to which it is applied, with the 
solemnity of the building, and the condition of the people who lie 
in it, are apt to fill the mind with a kind of melancholy, or rather 
thoughtfulness, that is not disagreeable. I yesterday passed a whole 
afternoon in the churchyard, the cloisters, and the church, amusing 
myself with the tombstones and inscriptions that I met with" in 
those several regions of the dead. Most of them recorded nothing 
else of the buried person, but that he was born upon one day, and 
died upon another: the whole history of his life being comprehended 
in those two circumstances, that are common to all mankind. I 
could not but look upon these registers of existence, whether of 
brass or marble, as a kind of satire upon the departed persons; who 
had left no other memorial of them, but that they were born and 
that they died. They put me in mind of several persons mentioned 
in the battles of heroic poems, who have sounding names given them, 
for no other reason but that they may be killed, and are celebrated 
for nothing but being knocked on the head. 

T\avKbv T( Mtdovrd re QepaiXoxi" Te, HoM. 
Glaucumque, Medontaque, Thersilochumque. Virg. 
The life of these men is finely described in Holy Writ by "the path 
of an arrow," which is immediately closed up and lost. 

iPubiished in "The Spectator," March 30, 1711. 

^ "Pale death knocks with impartial foot at the huts of the poor and at the towers 
of kings, O happy Sextus. The shortness of the span of life forbids us to cherish 
remote hope; already night overtakes thee, and the fabled shades, and the wretched 
house of Pluto." 

78 



WESTMINSTER ABBEY 79 

Upon my going into the church, I entertained myself with the 
digging of a grave; and saw in every shovelful of it that was thrown 
up, the fragment of a bone or skull intermixt with a kind of fresh 
mouldering earth, that some time or other had a place in the 
composition of a human body. Upon this, I began to consider with 
myself what innumerable multitudes of people lay confused to- 
gether under the pavement of that ancient cathedral; how men and 
women, friends and enemies, priests and soldiers, monks and 
prebendaries, were crumbled amongst one another, and blended 
together in the same common mass; how beauty, strength, and youth, 
with old age, weakness and deformity, lay undistinguished in the 
same promiscuous heap of matter. 

After having thus surveyed this great magazine of mortality, as 
it were, in the lump; I examined it more particularly by the accounts 
which I found on several of the monuments which are raised in 
every quarter of that ancient fabric. Some of them were covered with 
such extravagant epitaphs, that, if it were possible for the dead person 
to be acquainted with them, he would blush at the praises which 
his friends have bestowed upon him. There are others so excessively 
modest, that they deliver the character of the person departed in 
Greek or Hebrew, and by that means are not understood once in 
a twelvemonth. In the poetical quarter, I found there were poets who 
had no monuments, and monuments which had no poets. I observed 
indeed that the present war had filled the church with many of these 
uninhabited monuments, which had been erected to the memory 
of persons whose bodies were perhaps buried in the plains of Blen- 
heim, or in the bosom of the ocean. 

I could not but be very much delighted with several modern 
epitaphs, which are written with great elegance of expression and 
justness of thought, and therefore do honour to the living as well 
as to the dead. As a foreigner is very apt to conceive an idea of the 
ignorance or politeness of a nation, from the turn of their public 
monimients and inscriptions, they should be submitted to the perusal 
of men of learning and genius, before they are put in execution. 
Sir Cloudesly Shovel's monument has very often given me great 
offence : instead of the brave rough English Admiral, which was the 
distinguishing character of that plain gallant man, he is represented 



8o JOSEPH ADDISON 

on his tomb by the figure of a beau, dressed in a long periwig, and 
reposing himself upon velvet cushions under a canopy of state. The 
inscription is answerable to the monument; for instead of celebrating 
the many remarkable actions he had performed in the service of his 
country, it acquaints us only with the manner of his death, in which 
it was impossible for him to reap any honour. The Dutch, whom 
we are apt to despise for want of genius, show an infinitely greater 
taste of antiquity and politeness in their buildings and works of this 
nature, than what we meet with in those of our own country. The 
monuments of their admirals, which have been erected at the 
public expense, represent them like themselves; and are adorned 
with rostral crowns and naval ornaments, with beautiful festoons of 
seaweed, shells, and coral. 

But to return to our subject. I have left the repository of our 
English kings for the contemplation of another day, when I shall 
find my mind disposed for so serious an amusement. I know that 
entertainments of this nature are apt to raise dark and dismal 
thoughts in timorous minds, and gloomy imaginations; but for my 
own part, though I am always serious, I do not know what it is to 
be melancholy; and can therefore take a view of nature in her deep 
and solemn scenes, with the same pleasure as in her most gay and 
delightful ones. By this means I can improve myself with those 
objects, which others consider with terror. When I look upon the 
tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read 
the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when 
I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts 
with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves, I 
consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly 
follow; when I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I 
consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided 
the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and 
astonishment on the little competitions, factions and debates of man- 
kind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died 
yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great day 
when we shall all of us be contemporaries, and make our appearance 
together. 



THE SPECTATOR CLUB 

BY 
SIR RICHARD STEELE 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729), Addison's chief collaborator in the 
"Tatler" and the "Spectator," was born in Dublin of an English father 
and an Irish mother. He made Addison's acquaintance at school, and 
they were at Oxford together. Steele left the University to enter the army, 
and opened his literary career, while still a soldier, with "The Christian 
Hero." In 1702 he began to write for the stage, and was of notable 
influence in redeeming the English drama from the indecency which had 
marked much of it since the Restoration. Like Addison, he combined 
politics with literature, and in 171 5 was knighted as a reward for his 
services to the Hanoverian party. 

The chief glory of the "Spectator" is, of course, the club, and it was 
in the essay which follows that Steele first sketched the characters com- 
posing it. The Spectator himself was Addison's creation, and Addison 
also elaborated Sir Roger, though Steele originated him. Whatever may 
be the respective claims of Addison and Steele to the credit for the suc- 
cess of the "Spectator," it is to Steele that the honor belongs of having 
founded its predecessor, the "Tatler," and so of originating the periodical 
essay. 

Steele was a warm-hearted, impulsive man, full of sentiment, im- 
provident, and somewhat weak of will. These qualities are reflected in 
his writings, which are inferior to Addison's in grace and finish, but 
are marked by greater spontaneity and invention. Probably no piece of 
writing of equal length has added so many portraits to the gallery of 
our literature as the first sketch of the Spectator Club which is here 
printed. 



THE SPECTATOR CLUB' 

Ast alii sex 
Et plures uno conclamant ore. 

— ]uvenal, "Satires," vii. i66. 

Six more at least join their consenting voice. 

THE first of our society is a gentleman of Worcestershire, of 
an ancient descent, a baronet, his name Sir Roger de 
Coverley. His great-grandfather was inventor of that famous 
country-dance which is called after him. All who know that shire 
are very well acquainted with the parts and merits of Sir Roger. 
He is a gentleman that is very singular in his behavior, but his 
singularities proceed from his good sense, and are contradictions to 
the manners of the world, only as he thinks the world is in the 
wrong. However, this humor creates him no enemies, for he does 
nothing with sourness or obstinacy; and his being unconfined to 
modes and forms makes him but the readier and more capable to 
please and oblige all who know him. When he is in town he lives 
in Soho Square. It is said he keeps himself a bachelor by reason he 
was crossed in love by a perverse beautiful widow of the next county 
to him. Before this disappointment, Sir Roger was what you call 
a fine gentleman, had often supped with my Lord Rochester and 
Sir George Etherege, fought a duel upon his first coming to town, 
and kicked bully Dawson in a public coffee-house for calling him 
youngster. But being ill-used by the above-mentioned widow, he was 
very serious for a year and a half; and though, his temper being 
naturally jovial, he at last got over it, he grew careless of himself 
and never dressed afterwards. He continues to wear a coat and 
doublet of the same cut that were in fashion at the time of his 
repulse, which, in his merry humors, he tells us, has been in and 
out twelve times since he first wore it. It is said Sir Roger grew 
humble in his desires after he had forgot his cruel beauty, insomuch 
that it is reported he has frequently offended with beggars and 
'Published Ln "The Spectator," March i, 1711. 
83 



84 SIR RICHARD STEELE 

gypsies; but this is looked upon, by his friends, rather as matter of 
raillery than truth. He is now in his fifty-sixth year, cheerful, gay, 
and hearty; keeps a good house both in town and country; a great 
lover of mankind; but there is such a mirthful cast in his behavior, 
that he is rather beloved than esteemed. His tenants grow rich, his 
servants look satisfied, all the young women profess love to him, 
and the young men are glad of his company. When he comes into 
a house, he calls the servants by their names, and talks all the way 
upstairs to a visit. I must not omit that Sir Roger is a justice of the 
quorum; that he fills the chair at a quarter-session with great 
abilities, and three months ago gained universal applause, by ex- 
plaining a passage in the Game Act. 

The gentleman next in esteem and authority among us is another 
bachelor, who is a member of the Inner Temple, a man of great 
probity, wit, and understanding; but he has chosen his place of 
residence rather to obey the direction of an old humorsome father 
than in pursuit of his own inclinations. He was placed there to study 
the laws of the land, and is the most learned of any of the house in 
those of the stage. Aristotle and Longinus are much better under- 
stood by him than Littleton or Coke. The father sends up every 
post questions relating to marriage-articles, leases, and tenures, in 
the neighborhood; all which questions he agrees with an attorney to 
answer and take care of in the lump. He is studying the passions 
themselves, when he should be inquiring into the debates among 
men which arise from them. He knows the argument of each of 
the orations of Demosthenes and Tully, but not one case in the re- 
ports of our own courts. No one ever took him for a fool; but none, 
except his intimate friends, know he has a great deal of wit. This 
turn makes him at once both disinterested and agreeable. As few 
of his thoughts are drawn from business, they are most of them fit 
for conversation. His taste for books is a little too just for the age he 
lives in; he has read all, but approves of very few. His familiarity 
with the customs, manners, actions, and writings of the ancients, 
makes him a very delicate observer of what occurs to him in the 
present world. He is an excellent critic, and the time of the play is 
his hour of business; exactly at five he passes through New-Inn, 
crosses through Russell<ourt, and takes a turn at Will's till the play 



THE SPECTATOR CLUB 85 

begins; he has his shoes rubbed and his periwig powdered at the 
barber's as you go into the Rose. It is for the good of the audience 
when he is at the play, for the actors have an ambition to please him. 

The person of next consideration is Sir Andrew Freeport, a 
merchant of great eminence in the city of London; a person of 
indefatigable industry, strong reason, and great experience. His 
notions of trade are noble and generous, and (as every rich man has 
usually some sly way of jesting, which would make no great figure 
were he not a rich man) he calls the sea the British Common. He 
is acquainted with commerce in all its parts, and will tell you that 
it is a stupid and barbarous way to extend dominion by arms; for 
true power is to be got by arts and industry. He will often argue 
that, if this part of our trade were well cultivated, we should gain 
from one nation; and if another, from another. I have heard him 
prove that diligence makes more lasting acquisitions than valor, and 
that sloth has ruined more nations than the sword. He abounds in 
several frugal maxims, amongst which the greatest favorite is, "A 
penny saved is a penny got." A general trader of good sense is 
pleasanter company than a general scholar; and Sir Andrew having 
a natural unaffected eloquence, the perspicuity of his discourse gives 
the same pleasure that wit would in another man. He has made his 
fortune himself; and says that England may be richer than other 
kingdoms by as plain methods as he himself is richer than other 
men; though at the same time I can say this of him, that there is 
not a point in the compass but blows home a ship in which he is an 
owner. 

Next to Sir Andrew in the clubroom sits Captain Sentry, a gentle- 
man of great courage, good understanding, but invincible modesty. 
He is one of those that deserve very well, but are very awkward at 
putting their talents within the observation of such as should take 
notice of them. He was some years a captain, and behaved himself 
with great gallantry in several engagements and at several sieges; 
but having a small estate of his own, and being next heir to Sir 
Roger, he has quitted a way of life in which no man can rise suitably 
to his merit, who is not something of a courtier as well as a soldier. 
I have heard him often lament that, in a profession where merit 
is placed in so conspicuous a view, impudence should get the better 



86 SIR RICHARD STEELE 

of modesty. When he has talked to this purpose, I never heard him 
make a sour expression, but frankly confess that he left the world 
because he was not fit for it. A strict honesty and an even regular 
behavior are in themselves obstacles to him that must press through 
crowds, who endeavor at the same end with himself, the favor of a 
commander. He will, however, in his way of talk excuse generals 
for not disposing according to men's dessert, or inquiring into it; 
for, says he, that great n^an who has a mind to help me has as many 
to break through to come to me as I have to come at him: therefore 
he will conclude that the man who would make a figure, especially 
in a military way, must get over all false modesty, and assist his 
patron against the importunity of other pretenders, by a proper 
assurance in his own vindication. He says it is a civil cowardice to be 
backward in asserting what you ought to expect, as it is a military 
fear to be slow in attacking when it is your duty. With this candor 
does the gentleman speak of himself and others. The same frank- 
ness runs through all his conversation. The military part of his life 
has furnished him with many adventures, in the relation of which 
he is very agreeable to the company; for he is never overbearing, 
though accustomed to command men in the utmost degree below 
him; nor ever too obsequious, from an habit of obeying men highly 
above him. 

But that our society may not appear a set of humorists,^ un- 
acquainted with the gallantries and pleasures of the age, we have 
amongst us the gallant Will Honeycomb, a gentleman who, accord- 
ing to his years, should be in the decline of his life; but having ever 
been very careful of his person, and always had a very easy fortune, 
time has made but a very little impression either by wrinkles on his 
forehead, or traces on his brain. His person is well turned, and of a 
good height. He is very ready at that sort of discourse with which 
men usually entertain women. He has all his life dressed very well, 
and remembers habits as others do men. He can smile when one 
speaks to him, and laughs easily. He knows the history of every 
mode, and can inform you from which of the French king's wenches 
our wives and daughters had this manner of curling their hair, 
that way of placing their hoods; whose frailty was covered by such a 
^ whimsical characters. 



THE SPECTATOR CLUB 87 

sort of a petticoat, and whose vanity to show her foot made that 
part of the dress so short in such a year. In a word, all his con- 
versation and knowledge have been in the female world. As other 
men of his age will take notice to you what such a minister said 
upon such and such an occasion, he will tell you when the Duke of 
Monmouth danced at court, such a woman was then smitten, an- 
other was taken with him at the head of his troop in the park. In 
all these important relations, he has ever about the same time received 
a kind glance, or a blow of a fan from some celebrated beauty, mother 
of the present Lord Such-a-one. If you speak of a young commoner 
that said a Hvely thing in the House, he starts up, "He has good 
blood in his veins; Tom Mirable begot him; the rogue cheated me 
in that affair; that young fellow's mother used me more like a dog 
than any woman I ever made advances to." This way of talking of 
his very much enlivens the conversation among us of a more sedate 
turn, and I find there is not one of the company, but myself, who 
rarely speak at all, but speaks of him as of that sort of a man who is 
usually called a well-bred fine gentleman. To conclude his character, 
where women are not concerned, he is an honest worthy man. 

I cannot tell whether I am to account him, whom I am next to 
speak of, as one of our company; for he visits us but seldom, but 
when he does, it adds to every man else a new enjoyment of himself. 
He is a clergyman, a very philosophic man, of general learning, great 
sanctity of life, and the most exact good breeding. He has the mis- 
fortune to be of a very weak constitution, and consequently cannot 
accept of such cares and business as preferments in his function 
would oblige him to; he is therefore among divines what a chamber- 
counsellor is among lawyers. The probity of his mind, and the 
integrity of his life, create him followers, as being eloquent or loud 
advances others. He seldom introduces the subject he speaks upon; 
but we are so far gone in years that he observes, when he is among 
us, an earnestness to have him fall on some divine topic, which he 
always treats with much authority, as one who has no interest in 
this world, as one who is hastening to the object of all his wishes, and 
conceives hope from his decays and infirmities. These are my 
ordinary companions. 



HINTS TOWARDS AN ESSAY ON 
CONVERSATION 

A TREATISE ON GOOD MANNERS 
AND GOOD BREEDING 

A LETTER OF ADVICE TO A 
YOUNG POET 

ON THE DEATH OF 

ESTHER JOHNSON 

[STELLA] 

BY 
JONATHAN SWIFT 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

Jonathan Swift (i 667-1 745), one of the greatest of English satirists, 
was born in DubUn and educated for the church at Trinity College in 
the same city. At the age of twenty-two he became secretary to Sir 
William Temple, to whom he was related, and whose works he edited. 
During his residence with Temple he wrote his "Tale of a Tub" and the 
"Battle of the Books"; and on Temple's death he returned to Ireland, 
where he held several livings. During his secretaryship he had gained a 
knowledge of English politics, and in 1710 he left the Whig party and 
went over to the Tories, becoming their ablest pen at a time when 
pamphleteering was an important means of influencing politics. He was 
appointed Dean of St. Patrick's, Dublin, by Queen Anne in 1713, and on 
the fall of the Tories he retired to Ireland. He continued to write 
voluminously on political, literary, and ecclesiastical topics, his best 
known work, "Gulliver's Travels," being a political allegory. Several 
years before his death his brain became diseased, and he suffered ter- 
ribly till his mind was almost totally eclipsed. 

A fuller account of Swift's life and an estimate of his character will 
be found in the essay by Thackeray in another volume of the Harvard 
Classics. 

In the first three of Swift's writings here printed will be found good 
examples of his treatment of social and literary questions. The ironical 
humor running through these frequently became, when he dealt with 
subjects on which he felt keenly, incredibly savage and at times extremely 
coarse; but for the power of his invective and the effectiveness of his 
sarcasm there is hardly a parallel in the language. The fourth paper 
deals with the death of Esther Johnson, the "Stella" of his Journal, whom 
he had known from the days when he lived with Temple, and to whom 
it has been supposed that he was married. 



HINTS TOWARDS AN ESSAY 
ON CONVERSATION 

I HAVE observed few obvious subjects to have been so seldom, 
or, at least, so slightly handled as this; and, indeed, I know 
few so difficult to be treated as it ought, nor yet upon which 
there seemeth so much to be said. 

Most things, pursued by men for the happiness o£ public or private 
life, our wit or folly have so refined, that they seldom subsist but 
in idea; a true friend, a good marriage, a perfect form of govern- 
ment, with some others, require so many ingredients, so good in 
their several kinds, and so much niceness in mixing them, that for 
some thousands of years men have despaired of reducing their 
schemes to perfection. But, in conversation, it is, or might be other- 
wise; for here we are only to avoid a multitude of errors, which, 
although a matter of some difficulty, may be in every man's power, 
for want of which it remaineth as mere an idea as the other. There- 
fore it seemeth to me, that the truest way to understand conversation, 
is to know the faults and errors to which it is subject, and from thence 
every man to form maxims to himself whereby it may be regulated, 
because it requireth few talents to which most men are not born, or 
at least may not acquire without any great genius or study. For 
nature hath left every man a capacity of being agreeable, though not 
of shining in company; and there are an hundred men sufficiently 
qualified for both, who, by a very few faults, that they might correct 
in half an hour, are not so much as tolerable. 

I was prompted to write my thoughts upon this subject by mere 
indignation, to reflect that so useful and innocent a pleasure, so fitted 
for every period and condition of life, and so much in all men's 
power, should be so much neglected and abused. 

And in this discourse it will be necessary to note those errors that 
are obvious, as well as others which are seldomer observed, since 

91 



92 JONATHAN SWIFT 

there are few so obvious, or acknowledged, into which most men, 
some time or other, are not apt to run. 

For instance: Nothing is more generally exploded than the folly 
of talking too much; yet I rarely remember to have seen five people 
together, where some one among them hath not been predominant 
in that kind, to the great constraint and disgust of all the rest. But 
among such as deal in multitudes of words, none are comparable to 
the sober deliberate talker, who proceedeth with much thought and 
caution, maketh his preface, brancheth out into several digressions, 
findeth a hint that putteth him in mind of another story, which he 
promiseth to tell you when this is done; cometh back regularly to 
his subject, cannot readily call to mind some person's name, holding 
his head, complaineth of his memory; the whole company all this 
while in suspense; at length says, it is no matter, and so goes on. 
And, to crown the business, it perhaps proveth at last a story the 
company hath heard fifty times before; or, at best, some insipid 
adventure of the relater. 

Another general fault in conversation is, that of those who affect 
to talk of themselves: Some, without any ceremony, will run over 
the history of their lives; will relate the annals of their diseases, with 
the several symptoms and circumstances of them; will enumerate 
the hardships and injustice they have suffered in court, in parliament, 
in love, or in law. Others are more dexterous, and with great art 
will lie on the watch to hook in their own praise: They will call a 
witness to remember they always foretold what would happen in 
such a case, but none would believe them; they advised such a man 
from the beginning, and told him the consequences, just as they 
happened; but he would have his own way. Others make a vanity 
of telling their faults; they are the strangest men in the world; they 
cannot dissemble; they own it is a folly; they have lost abundance 
of advantages by it; but, if you would give them the world, they 
cannot help it; there is something in their nature that abhors in- 
sincerity and constraint; with many other insufferable topics of the 
same altitude. 

Of such mighty importance every man is to himself, and ready 
to think he is so to others; without once making this easy and 
obvious reflection, that his affairs can have no more weight with 



ESSAY ON CONVERSATION 93 

Other men, than theirs have with him; and how Httle that is, he is 
sensible enough. 

Where company hath met, I often have observed two persons 
discover, by some accident, that they were bred together at the 
same school or university, after which the rest are condemned to 
silence, and to listen while these two are refreshing each other's 
memory with the arch tricks and passages of themselves and their 
comrades. 

I know a great officer of the army, who will sit for some time 
with a supercilious and impatient silence, full of anger and contempt 
for those who are talking; at length of a sudden demand audience, 
decide the matter in a short dogmatical way; then withdraw within 
himself again, and vouchsafe to talk no more, until his spirits 
circulate again to the same point. 

There are some faults in conversation, which none are so subject 
to as the men of wit, nor ever so much as when they are with each 
other. If they have opened their mouths, without endeavouring to 
say a witty thing, they think it is so many words lost: It is a torment 
to the hearers, as much as to themselves, to see them upon the rack 
for invention, and in perpetual constraint, with so little success. They 
must do something extraordinary, in order to acquit themselves, and 
answer their character, else the standers-by may be disappointed and 
be apt to think them only like the rest of mortals. I have known two 
men of wit industriously brought together, in order to entertain the 
company, where they have made a very ridiculous figure, and pro- 
vided all the mirth at their own expense. 

I know a man of wit, who is never easy but where he can be 
allowed to dictate and preside: he neither expecteth to be informed 
or entertained, but to display his own talents. His business is to be 
good company, and not good conversation; and therefore, he 
chooseth to frequent those who are content to listen, and profess 
themselves his admirers. And, indeed, the worst conversation I ever 
remember to have heard in my life, was that at Will's coffeehouse, 
where the wits (as they were called) used formerly to assemble; that 
is to say, five or six men, who had writ plays, or at least prologues, 
or had share in a miscellany, came thither, and entertained one 
another with their trifling composures, in so important an air, as if 



94 JONATHAN SWIFT 

they had been the noblest efforts of human nature, or that the fate of 
kingdoms depended on them; and they were usually attended with 
an humble audience of young students from the inns oi court, or the 
universities, who, at due distance, listened to these oracles, and re- 
turned home with great contempt for their law and philosophy, their 
heads filled with trash, under the name of politeness, criticism and 
belles lettres. 

By these means the poets, for many years past, were all overrun 
with pedantry. For, as I take it, the word is not properly used; be- 
cause pedantry is the too frequent or unseasonable obtruding our 
own knowledge in common discourse, and placing too great a value 
upon it; by which definition, men of the court or the army may be as 
guilty of pedantry as a philosopher or a divine; and, it is the same 
vice in women, when they are over copious upon the subject of their 
petticoats, or their fans, or their china. For which reason, although it 
be a piece of prudence, as well as good manners, to put men upon 
talking on subjects they are best versed in, yet that is a liberty a 
wise man could hardly take; because, beside the imputation of ped- 
antry, it is what he would never improve by. 

The great town is usually provided with some player, mimic or 
buffoon, who hath a general reception at the good tables; familiar 
and domestic with persons of the first quality, and usually sent for 
at every meeting to divert the company; against which I have no 
objection. You go there as to a farce or a puppetshow; your business 
is only to laugh in season, either out of inclination or civility, while 
this merry companion is acting his part. It is a business he hath 
undertaken, and we are to suppose he is paid for his day's work. 
I only quarrel, when in select and private meetings, where men of 
wit and learning are invited to pass an evening, this jester should be 
admitted to run over his circle of tricks, and make the whole com- 
pany unfit for any other conversation, besides the indignity of con- 
founding men's talents at so shameful a rate. 

Raillery is the finest part of conversation; but, as it is our usual 
custom to counterfeit and adulterate whatever is too dear for us, so 
we have done with this, and turned it all into what is generally 
called repartee, or being smart; just as when an expensive fashion 
Cometh up, those who are not able to reach it, content themselves 



ESSAY ON CONVERSATION 95 

with some paltry imitation. It now passeth for raillery to run a man 
down in discourse, to put him out of countenance, and make him 
ridiculous, sometimes to expose the defects of his person or under- 
standing; on all which occasions he is obliged not to be angry, to 
avoid the imputation of not being able to take a jest. It is admirable 
to observe one who is dexterous at this art, singling out a weak ad- 
versary, getting the laugh on his side, and then carrying all before 
him. The French, from whence we borrow the word, have a quite 
different idea of the thing, and so had we in the politer age of our 
fathers. Raillery was to say something that at first appeared a re- 
proach or reflection; but, by some turn of wit unexpected and sur- 
prising, ended always in a compliment, and to the advantage of the 
person it was addressed to. And surely one of the best rules in con- 
versation is, never to say a thing which any of the company can 
reasonably wish we had rather left unsaid; nor can there anything 
be well more contrary to the ends for which people meet together, 
than to part unsatisfied with each other or themselves. 

There are two faults in conversation, which appear very different, 
yet arise from the same root, and are equally blameable; I mean, an 
impatience to interrupt others, and the uneasiness of being inter- 
rupted ourselves. The two chief ends of conversation are to enter- 
tain and improve those we are among, or to receive those benefits 
ourselves; which whoever will consider, cannot easily run into either 
of those two errors; because when any man speaketh in company, 
it is to be supposed he doth it for his hearers' sake, and not his own; 
so that common discretion will teach us not to force their attention, if 
they are not willing to lend it; nor on the other side, to interrupt him 
who is in possession, because that is in the grossest manner to give the 
preference to our own good sense. 

There are some people, whose good manners will not suffer them 
to interrupt you; but, what is almost as bad, will discover abundance 
of impatience, and lie upon the watch until you have done, because 
they have started something in their own thoughts which they long to 
be delivered of. Meantime, they are so far from regarding what 
passes, that their imaginations are wholly turned upon what they 
have in reserve, for fear it should slip out of their memory; and thus 
they confine their invention, which might otherwise range over a 



g6 JONATHAN SWIFT 

hundred diings full as good, and that might be much more naturally 
introduced. 

There is a sort of rude familiarity, which some people, by practising 
among their intimates, have introduced into their general conversa- 
tion, and would have it pass for innocent freedom or humour, which 
is a dangerous experiment in our northern climate, where all the 
litde decorum and politeness we have are purely forced by art, and are 
so ready to lapse into barbarity. This, among the Romans, was the 
raillery of slaves, of which we have many instances in Plautus. It 
seemeth to have been introduced among us by Cromwell, who, by 
preferring the scum of the people, made it a court entertainment, of 
which I have heard many particulars; and, considering all things 
were turned upside down, it was reasonable and judicious: Although 
it was a piece of policy found out to ridicule a point of honour in the 
other extreme, when the smallest word misplaced among gentlemen 
ended in a duel. 

There are some men excellent at telling a story, and provided with 
a plentiful stock of them, which they can draw out upon occasion 
in all companies; and, considering how low conversadon runs now 
among us, it is not altogether a contemptible talent; however, it is 
subject to two unavoidable defects; frequent repetition, and being 
soon exhausted; so that whoever valueth this gift in himself, hath 
need of a good memory, and ought frequently to shift his company, 
that he may not discover the weakness of his fund; for those who 
are thus endowed, have seldom any other revenue, but live upon 
the main stock. 

Great speakers in public, are seldom agreeable in private conver- 
sation, whether their faculty be natural, or acquired by practice, and 
often venturing. Natural elocution, although it may seem a para- 
dox, usually springeth from a barrenness of invention and of words, 
by which men who have only one stock of notions upon every sub- 
ject, and one set of phrases to express them in, they swim upon the 
superfices, and offer themselves on every occasion; therefore, men 
of much learning, and who know the compass of a language, are 
generally the worst talkers on a sudden, until much practice hath 
inured and emboldened them, because they are confounded with 
plenty of matter, variety of notions, and of words, which they can- 



ESSAY ON CONVERSATION 97 

not readily choose, but are perplexed and entangled by too great a 
choice; which is no disadvantage in private conversation; where, on 
the other side, the talent of haranguing is, of all others, most in- 
supportable. 

Nothing hath spoiled men more for conversation, than the char- 
acter of being wits, to support which, they never fail of encouraging 
a number of followers and admirers, who list themselves in their 
service, wherein they find their accounts on both sides, by pleasing 
their mutual vanity. This hath given the former such an air of 
superiority, and made the latter so pragmatical, that neither of 
them are well to be endured. I say nothing here of the itch of dis- 
pute and contradiction, telling of lies, or of those who are troubled 
with the disease called the wandering of the thoughts, that they 
are never present in mind at what passeth in discourse; for whoever 
labours under any of these possessions, is as unfit for conversation 
as a madman in Bedlam. 

I think I have gone over most of the errors in conversation, that 
have fallen under my notice or memory, except some that are merely 
personal, and others too gross to need exploding; such as lewd or 
profane talk; but I pretend only to treat the errors of conversation 
in general, and not the several subjects of discourse, which would be 
infinite. Thus we see how human nature is most debased, by the 
abuse of that faculty, which is held the great distinction between 
men and brutes; and how little advantage we make of that which 
might be the greatest, the most lasting, and the most innocent, as 
well as useful pleasure of life. In default of which, we are forced to 
take up with those poor amusements of dress and visiting, or the 
more pernicious ones of play, drink, and vicious amours, whereby 
the nobility and gentry of both sexes are entirely corrupted both in 
body and mind, and have lost all notions of love, honour, friendship, 
generosity; which, under the name of fopperies, have been for some 
time laughed out of doors. 

This degeneracy of conversation, with the pernicious consequences 
thereof upon our humours and dispositions, hath been owing, among 
other causes, to the custom arisen, for sometime past, of excluding 
women from any share in our society, further than in parties at play, 
or dancing, or in the pursuit of an amour. I take the highest period 



98 JONATHAN SWIFT 

of politeness in England (and it is of the same date in France) to 
have been the peaceable part of King Charles the First's reign; and 
from what we read of those times, as well as from the accounts I 
have formerly met with from some who lived in that court, the 
methods then used for raising and cultivating conversation, were al- 
together different from oiu's. Several ladies, whom, we find cele- 
brated by the poets of that age, had assemblies at their houses, where 
persons of the best understanding, and of both sexes, met to pass the 
evenings in discoursing upon whatever agreeable subjects were 
occasionally started; and although we are apt to ridicule the sublime 
platonic notions they had, or personated in love and friendship, I 
conceive their refinements were grounded upon reason, and that a 
little grain of the romance is no ill ingredient to preserve and exalt 
the dignity of human nature, without which it is apt to degenerate 
into everything that is sordid, vicious and low. If there were no 
other use in the conversation of ladies, it is sufficient that it would 
lay a restraint upon those odious topics of immodesty and indecencies, 
into which the rudeness of our northern genius is so apt to fall. And, 
therefore, it is observable in those sprightly gentlemen about the 
town, who are so very dexterous at entertaining a vizard mask in 
the park or the playhouse, that, in the company of ladies of virtue 
and honour, they are silent and disconcerted, and out of their 
element. 

There are some people who think they sufficiently acquit them- 
selves and entertain their company with relating of facts of no con- 
sequence, nor at all out of the road of such common incidents as 
happen every day; and this I have observed more frequently among 
the Scots than any other nation, who are very careful not to omit 
the minutest circumstances of time or place; which kind of dis- 
course, if it were not a little relieved by the uncouth terms and 
phrases, as well as accent and gesture, peculiar to that country, 
would be hardly tolerable. It is not a fault in company to talk much; 
but to continue it long is certainly one; for, if the majority of those 
who are got together be naturally silent or cautious, the conversation 
will flag, unless it be often renewed by one among them, who can 
start new subjects, provided he doth not dwell upon them, but 
leaveth room for answers and replies. 



A TREATISE ON GOOD MANNERS 
AND GOOD BREEDING 

GOOD manners is the art of making those people easy with 
• whom we converse. 
Whoever makes the fewest persons uneasy is the best bred 
in the company. 

As the best law is founded upon reason, so are the best manners. 
And as some lawyers have introduced unreasonable things into 
common law, so likewise many teachers have introduced absurd 
things into common good manners. 

One principal point of this art is to suit our behaviour to the three 
several degrees of men; our superiors, our equals, and those below us. 

For instance, to press either of the two former to eat or drink is 
a breach of manners; but a farmer or a tradesman must be thus 
treated, or else it will be difficult to persuade them that they are 
welcome. 

Pride, ill nature, and want of sense, are the three great sources of 
ill manners; without some one of these defects, no man will behave 
himself ill for want of experience; or of what, in the language of 
fools, is called knowing the world. 

I defy any one to assign an incident wherein reason will not 
direct us what we are to say or do in company, if we are not misled 
by pride or ill nature. 

Therefore I insist that good sense is the principal foundation of 
good manners; but because the former is a gift which very few 
among mankind are possessed of, therefore all the civilized nations 
of the world have agreed upon fixing some rules for common be- 
haviour, best suited to their general customs, or fancies, as a kind 
of artificial good sense, to supply the defects of reason. Without 
which the gentlemanly part of dunces would be perpetually at cuffs, 
as they seldom fail when they happen to be drunk, or engaged in 

99 



100 JONATHAN SWIFT 

squabbles about women or play. And, God be thanked, there hardly 
happens a duel in a year, which may not be imputed to one of those 
three motives. Upon which account, I should be exceedingly sorry 
to find the legislature make any new laws against the practice of 
duelling; because the methods are easy and many for a wise man to 
avoid a quarrel with honour, or engage in it with innocence. And I 
can discover no political evil in suffering bullies, sharpers, and rakes, 
to rid the world of each other by a method of their own; where the 
law hath not been able to find an expedient. 

As the common forms of good manners were intended for regu- 
lating the conduct of those who have weak understandings; so they 
have been corrupted by the persons for whose use they were con- 
trived. For these people have fallen into a needless and endless way 
of multiplying ceremonies, which have been extremely trouble- 
some to those who practise them, and insupportable to everybody else: 
insomuch that wise men are often more uneasy at the over civility 
of these refiners, than they could possibly be in the conversations of 
peasants or mechanics. 

The impertinencies of this ceremonial behaviour are nowhere 
better seen than at those tables where ladies preside, who value 
themselves upon account of their good breeding; where a man 
must reckon upon passing an hour without doing any one thing he 
has a mind to; unless he will be so hardy to break through all the 
settled decorum of the family. She determines what he loves best, and 
how much he shall eat; and if the master of the house happens to 
be of the same disposition, he proceeds in the same tyrannical 
manner to prescribe in the drinking part: at the same time, you 
are under the necessity of answering a thousand apologies for your 
entertainment. And although a good deal of this humour is pretty 
well worn off among many people of the best fashion, yet too much 
of it still remains, especially in the country; where an honest gentle- 
man assured me, that having been kept four days, against his will, 
at a friend's house, with all the circumstances of hiding his boots, 
locking up the stable, and other contrivances of the like nature, he 
could not remember, from the moment he came into the house to 
the moment he left it, any one thing, wherein his inclination was 
not directly contradicted; as if the whole family had entered into 
a combination to torment him. 



A TREATISE ON GOOD MANNERS lOI 

But, besides all this, it would be endless to recount the many 
foolish and ridiculous accidents I have observed among these un- 
fortunate proselytes to ceremony. I have seen a duchess fairly 
knocked down, by the precipitancy of an officious coxcomb running 
to save her the trouble of opening a door. I remember, upon a birth- 
day at court, a great lady was utterly desperate by a dish of sauce 
let fall by a page directly upon her head-dress and brocade, while 
she gave a sudden turn to her elbow upon some point of ceremony 
with the person who sat next her. Monsieur Buys, the Dutch envoy, 
whose politics and manners were much of a size, brought a son with 
him, about thirteen years old, to a great table at court. The boy and 
his father, whatever they put on their plates, they first offered round 
in order, to every person in the company; so that we could not get a 
minute's quiet during the whole dinner. At last their two plates 
happened to encounter, and with so much violence, that, being 
china, they broke in twenty pieces, and stained half the company 
with wet sweetmeats and cream. 

There is a pedantry in manners, as in all. arts and sciences; and 
sometimes in trades. Pedantry is properly the overrating any kind 
of knowledge we pretend to. And if that kind of knowledge be a 
trifle in itself, the pedantry is the greater. For which reason I look 
upon fiddlers, dancing-masters, heralds, masters of the ceremony, 
&c. to be greater pedants than Lipsius, or the elder Scaliger. With 
these kind of pedants, the court, while I knew it, was always 
plentifully stocked; I mean from the gentleman usher (at least) 
inclusive, downward to the gentleman porter; who are, generally 
speaking, the most insignificant race of people that this island can 
afford, and with the smallest tincture of good manners, which is 
the only trade they profess. For being wholly illiterate, and con- 
versing chiefly with each other, they reduce the whole system of 
breeding within the forms and circles of their several offices; and as 
they are below the notice of ministers, they live and die in court 
under all revolutions with great obsequiousness to those who are in 
any degree of favour or credit, and with rudeness or insolence to 
everybody else. Whence I have long concluded, that good manners 
are not a plant of the court growth: for if they were, those people 
who have understandings directly of a level for such acquirements, 
and who have served such long apprenticeships to nothing else, 



I02 JONATHAN SWIFT 

would certainly have picked them up. For as to the great officers, 
who attend the prince's person or councils, or preside in his family, 
they are a transient body, who have no better a title to good man- 
ners than their neighbours, nor will probably have recourse to 
gentlemen ushers for instruction. So that I know Uttle to be learnt 
at court upon this head, except in the material circumstance of 
dress; wherein the authority of the maids of honour must indeed 
be allowed to be almost equal to that of a favourite actress. 

I remember a passage my Lord Bolingbroke told me, that going 
to receive Prince Eugene of Savoy at his landing, in order to conduct 
him immediately to the Queen, the prince said, he was much con- 
cerned that he could not see her Majesty that night; for Monsieur 
Hoffman (who was then by) had assured his Highness that he could 
not be admitted into her presence with a tied-up periwig; that his 
equipage was not arrived; and that he had endeavoured in vain to 
borrow a long one among all his valets and pages. My lord turned 
the matter into a jest, and brought the Prince to her Majesty; for 
which he was highly censured by the whole tribe of gentlemen 
ushers; among whom Monsieur Hoffman, an old dull resident of 
the Emperor's, had picked up this material point of ceremony; and 
which, I beUeve, was the best lesson he had learned in five-and- 
twenty years' residence. 

I make a difference between good manners and good breeding; 
although, in order to vary my expression, I am sometimes forced to 
confound them. By the first, I only understand the art of remem- 
bering and applying certain setded forms of general behaviour. But 
good breeding is of a much larger extent; for besides an uncommon 
degree of literature sufficient to qualify a gentleman for reading a 
play, or a political pamphlet, it takes in a great compass of knowl- 
edge; no less than that of dancing, fighting, gaming, making the 
circle of Italy, riding the great horse, and speaking French; not to 
mention some other secondary, or subaltern accomplishments, which 
are more easily acquired. So that the difference between good breed- 
ing and good manners lies in this, that the former cannot be attained 
to by the best understandings, without study and labour; whereas a 
tolerable degree of reason will instruct us in every part of good man- 
ners, without other assistance. 



A TREATISE ON GOOD MANNERS IO3 

I can think of nothing more useful upon this subject, than to point 
out some particulars, wherein the very essentials of good manners are 
concerned, the neglect or perverting of which doth very much dis- 
turb the good commerce of the world, by introducing a traffic of 
mutual uneasiness in most companies. 

First, a necessary part of good manners, is a punctual observance 
of time at our own dwellings, or those of others, or at third places; 
whether upon matter of civility, business, or diversion; which rule, 
though it be a plain dictate of common reason, yet the greatest 
minister I ever knew was the greatest trespasser against it; by which 
all his business doubled upon him, and placed him in a continual 
arrear. Upon which I often used to rally him, as deficient in point 
of good manners. I have known more than one ambassador, and 
secretary of state with a very moderate portion of intellectuals, exe- 
cute their offices with good success and applause, by the mere force 
of exactness and regularity. If you duly observe time for the service 
of another, it doubles the obligation; if upon your own account, 
it would be manifest folly, as well as ingratitude, to neglect it. If 
both are concerned, to make your equal or inferior attend on you, 
to his own disadvantage, is pride and injustice. 

Ignorance of forms cannot properly be styled ill manners; because 
forms are subject to frequent changes; and consequently, being not 
founded upon reason, are beneath a wise man's regard. Besides, they 
vary in every country; and after a short period of time, very fre- 
quently in the same; so that a man who travels, must needs be at first 
a stranger to them in every court through which he passes; and 
perhaps at his return, as much a stranger in his own; and after all, 
they are easier to be remembered or forgotten than faces or names. 

Indeed, among the many impertinencies that superficial young men 
bring with them from abroad, this bigotry of forms is one of the 
principal, and more prominent than the rest; who look upon them 
not only as if they were matters capable of admitting of choice, but 
even as points of importance; and are therefore zealous on all 
occasions to introduce and propagate the new forms and fashions 
they have brought back with them. So that, usually speaking, the 
worst bred person in the company is a young traveller just returned 
from abroad. 



A LETTER OF ADVICE TO A 
YOUNG POET 

Sir, 

AS I have always professed a friendship for you, and have there- 

l-\ fore been more inquisitive into your conduct and studies 
JL .m. than is usually agreeable to young men, so I must own I am 
not a little pleased to find, by your last account, that you have entirely 
bent your thoughts to English poetry, with design to make it your 
profession and business. Two reasons incline me to encourage you 
in this study; one, the narrowness of your present circumstances; 
the other, the great use of poetry to mankind and society, and in 
every employment of life. Upon these views, I cannot but com- 
mend your wise resolution to withdraw so early from other un- 
profitable and severe studies, and betake yourself to that, which, if 
you have good luck, will advance your fortune, and make you an 
ornament to your friends, and your country. It may be your justi- 
fication, and farther encouragement, to consider, that history, ancient 
or modern, cannot furnish you an instance of one person, eminent in 
any station, who was not in some measure versed in poetry, or at 
least a well wisher to the professors of it. Neither would I despair 
to prove, if legally called thereto, that it is impossible to be a good 
soldier, divine, or lawyer, or even so much as an eminent bellman, 
or ballad-singer, without some taste of poetry, and a competent skill 
in versification. But I say the less of this, because the renowned 
Sir Philip Sidney has exhausted the subject before me, in his "De- 
fence of Poesie,'" on which I shall make no other remark but this, 
that he argues there as if he really believed himself. 

For my own part, having never made one verse since I was at 
school, where I suffered too much for my blunders in poetry, to have 
any love to it ever since, I am not able from any experience of my 
own, to give you those instructions you desire; neither will I declare 

' See the first essay in this volume. 
104 



TO A YOUNG POET IO5 

(for I love to conceal my passions) how much I lament my neglect 
of poetry in those periods of my life, which were properest for im- 
provements in that ornamental part of learning; besides, my age and 
infirmities might well excuse me to you, as being unqualified to be 
your writing-master, with spectacles on, and a shaking hand. How- 
ever, that I may not be altogether wanting to you in an affair of so 
much importance to your credit and happiness, I shall here give you 
some scattered thoughts upon the subject, such as I have gathered 
by reading and observation. 

There is a certain little instrument, the first of those in use with 
scholars, and the meanest, considering the materials of it, whether 
it be a joint of wheaten straw, (the old Arcadian pipe) or just three 
inches of slender wire, or a stripped feather, or a corking-pin. 
Furthermore, this same diminutive tool, for the posture of it, usually 
reclines its head on the thumb of the right hand, sustains the fore- 
most finger upon its breast, and is itself supported by the second. 
This is commonly known by the name of a fescue; I shall here there- 
fore condescend to be this little elementary guide, and point out some 
particulars which may be of use to you in your hornbook of poetry. 

In the first place, I am not yet convinced, that it is at all necessary 
for a modern poet to believe in God, or have any serious sense of 
religion; and in this article you must give me leave to suspect your 
capacity; because religion being what your mother taught you, you 
will hardly find it possible, at least not easy, all at once to get over 
those early prejudices, so far as to think it better to be a great wit 
than a good Christian, though herein the general practice is against 
you; so that if, upon enquiry, you find in yourself any such softnesses, 
owing to the nature of your education, my advice is, that you forth- 
with lay down your pen, as having no further business with it in 
the way of poetry; unless you will be content to pass for an insipid, 
or will submit to be hooted at by your fraternity, or can disguise 
your religion, as well-bred men do their learning, in complaisance to 
company. For poetry, as it has been managed for some years past, 
by such as make a business of it, (and of such only I speak here; 
for I do not call him a jxiet that writes for his diversion, any more 
than that gentleman a fiddler, who amuses himself with a violin) 
I say our poetry of late has been altogether disengaged from the 



106 JONATHAN SWIFT 

narrow notions of virtue and piety, because it has been found by 
experience of our professors, that the smallest quantity of religion, 
like a single drop of malt liquor in claret, will muddy and dis- 
compose the brightest poetical genius. 

Religion supposes heaven and hell, the word of God, and sacra- 
ments, and twenty other circumstances, which, taken seriously, are 
a wonderful check to wit and humour, and such as a true poet 
cannot possibly give in to, with a saving to his poetical licence; but 
yet it is necessary for him, that others should believe those things 
seriously, that his wit may be exercised on their wisdom, for so 
doing: For though a wit need not have religion, religion is necessary 
to a wit, as an instrument is to the hand that plays upon it: And for 
this the moderns plead the example of their great idol Lucretius, who 
had not been by half so eminent a poet (as he truly was), but that 
he stood tiptoe on religion, Religio pedibus subjecta, and by that 
rising ground had the advantage of all the poets of his own or 
following times, who were not mounted on the same pedestal. 

Besides, it is further to be observed, that Petronius, another of 
their favourites, speaking of the qualifications of a good poet, insists 
chiefly on the liber spiritus; by which I have been ignorant enough 
heretofore to suppose he meant, a good invention, or great compass 
of thought, or a sprightly imagination: But I have learned a better 
construction, from the opinion and practice of the moderns; and 
taking it literally for a free spirit, i^. a spirit, or mind, free or dis- 
engaged from all prejudices concerning God, religion, and another 
world, it is to me a plain account why our present set of poets are, 
and hold themselves obliged to be, free thinkers. 

But although I cannot recommend religion upon the practice of 
some of our most eminent English poets, yet I can justly advise you, 
from their example, to be conversant in the Scriptures, and, if 
possible, to make yourself entirely master of them: In which, how- 
ever, I intend nothing less than imposing upon you a task of piety. 
Far be it from me to desire you to believe them, or lay any great 
stress upon their authority, (in that you may do as you think fit) 
but to read them as a piece of necessary furniture for a wit and a 
poet; which is a very different view from that of a Christian. For I 
have made it my observation, that the greatest wits have been the 



TO A YOUNG POET IO7 

best textuaries. Our modern poets are, all to a man, almost as well 
read in the Scriptures as some of our divines, and often abound more 
with the phrase. They have read them historically, critically, musi- 
cally, comically, poetically, and every other way, except religiously, 
and have found their account in doing so. For the Scriptures are 
undoubtedly a fund of wit, and a subject for wit. You may, accord- 
ing to the modern practice, be witty upon them or out of them. 
And to speak the truth, but for them I know not what our play- 
wrights would do for images, allusions, similitudes, examples, or 
even language itself. Shut up the sacred books, and I would be 
bound our wit would run down like an alarum, or fall as the stocks 
did, and ruin half the poets in these kingdoms. And if that were the 
case, how would most of that tribe, (all, I think, but the immortal 
Addison, who made a better use of his Bible, and a few more) who 
dealt so freely in that fund, rejoice that they had drawn out in time, 
and left the present generation of poets to be the bubbles! 

But here I must enter one caution, and desire you to take notice, 
that in this advice of reading the Scriptures, I had not the least 
thought concerning your qualification that way for poetical orders; 
which I mention, because I find a notion of that kind advanced by 
one of our English poets, and is, I suppose, maintained by the rest. 
He says to Spenser, in a pretended vision, 

-With hands laid on, ordain me fit 



For the great cure and ministry of wit. 

Which passage is, in my opinion, a notable allusion to the Scrip- 
tures; and, making (but reasonable) allowances for the small cir- 
cumstances of profaneness, bordering close upon blasphemy, is 
inimitably fine; besides some useful discoveries made in it, as, that 
there are bishops in poetry, that these bishops must ordain young 
poets, and with laying on hands; and that poetry is a cure of souls; 
and, consequently speaking, those who have such cures ought to be 
poets, and too often are so. And indeed, as of old, poets and priests 
were one and the same function, the alliance of those ministerial 
offices is to this day happily maintained in the same persons; and 
this I take to be the only justifiable reason for that appellation which 
they so much affect, I mean the modest title of divine poets. How- 



I08 JONATHAN SWIFT 

ever, having never been present at the ceremony of ordaining to 
the priesthood of poetry, I own I have no notion of the thing, and 
shall say the less of it here. 

The Scriptures then being generally both the fountain and subject 
of modern vs^it, I could do no less than give them the preference in 
your reading. After a thorough acquaintance with them, I would 
advise you to turn your thoughts to human literature, which yet I 
say more in compliance with vulgar opinions, than according to 
my own sentiments. 

For, indeed, nothing has surprised me more, than to see the 
prejudices of mankind as to this matter of human learning, who 
have generally thought it necessary to be a good scholar, in order 
to be a good poet; than which nothing is falser in fact, or more con- 
trary to practice and experience. Neither will I dispute the matter, 
if any man will undertake to shew me one professed poet now in 
being, who is anything of what may be justly called a scholar; or is 
the worse poet for that, but perhaps the better, for being so little 
encumbered with the pedantry of learning. 'Tis true, the contrary 
was the opinion of our forefathers, which we of this age have 
devotion enough to receive from them on their own terms, and 
unexamined, but not sense enough to perceive 'twas a gross mistake 
in them. So Horace had told us : 

Scribendi recta sapere est et principium et fons. 
Rem tibi Socraticae poterunt ostendere chartae.^ 

HoR. de Art. Poet. 309. 
But to see the different casts of men's heads, some not inferior to 
that poet in understanding (if you will take their own word for it), 
do see no consequence in this rule, and are not ashamed to declare 
themselves of a contrary opinion. Do not many men write well in 
common account, who have nothing of that principle? Many are 
too wise to be poets, and others too much poets to be wise. Must a 
man, forsooth, be no less than a philosopher, to be a poet, when it is 
plain, that some of the greatest idiots of the age, are our prettiest 
performers that way.? And for this, I appeal to the judgment and 
observation of mankind. Sir Philip Sidney's notable remark upon 
this nation, may not be improper to mention here. He says, "In our 

* Good sense, that fountain of the Muse's art, 
Let the strong page of Socrates impart 



TO A YOUNG POET lOp 

neighbour country, Ireland, where true learning goes very bare, yet 
are their poets held in devout reverence;" which shews, that learning 
is no way necessary either to the making a poet, or judging of 
him. And further to see the fate of things, notwithstanding our 
learning here is as bare as ever, yet are our poets not held, as formerly 
in devout reverence, but are perhaps the most contemptible race of 
mortals now in this kingdom, which is no less to be wondered at, than 
lamented. 

Some of the old philosophers were poets (as according to the fore- 
mentioned author, Socrates and Plato were; which, however, is what 
I did not know before) but that does not say, that all poets are, or 
that any need be philosophers, otherwise than as those are so called 
who are a little out at the elbows. In which sense the great Shake- 
speare might have been a philosopher; but was no scholar, yet was 
an excellent poet. Neither do I think a late most judicious critic 
so much mistaken, as others do, in advancing this opinion, that 
"Shakespeare had been a worse poet, had he been a better scholar." 
And Sir William Davenant is another instance in the same kind. 
Nor must it be forgotten, that Plato was an avowed enemy to poets, 
which is perhaps the reason why poets have been always at enmity 
with his profession; and have rejected all learning and philosophy 
for the sake of that one philosopher. As I take the matter, neither 
philosophy, nor any part of learning, is more necessary to poetry, 
(which, if you will believe the same author, is "the sum of all learn- 
ing") than to know the theory of Ught, and the several proportions 
and diversifications of it in particular colours, is to a good painter. 

Whereas therefore, a certain author, called Petronius Arbiter, 
going upon the same mistake, has confidently declared, that one 
ingredient of a good poet, is, "mens ingenti literarum flumine inun- 
data;"^ I do, on the contrary, declare, that this his assertion (to speak 
of it in the softest terms) is no better than an invidious and un- 
handsome reflection on all the gentlemen-poets of these times; for, 
with his good 'eave, much less than a flood, or inundation, will serve 
the turn; and, to my certain knowledge, some of our greatest wits in 
your poetical way, have not as much real learning as would cover a 
sixpence in the bottom of a basin; nor do I think the worse of them. 

For, to speak my private opinion, I am for every man's working 
' "A mind flooded with a vast river of learning." 



no JONATHAN SWIFT 

upon his own materials, and producing only what he can find within 
himself, which is commonly a better stock than the owner knows it 
to be. I think flowers of wit ought to spring, as those in a garden 
do, from their own root and stem, without foreign assistance. I 
would have a man's wit rather like a fountain, that feeds itself in- 
visibly, than a river, that is supplied by several streams from abroad. 

Or if it be necessary, as the case is with some barren wits, to take 
in the thoughts of others, in order to draw forth their own, as dry 
pumps will not play till water is thrown into them; in that necessity, 
I would recommend some of the approved standard authors of 
antiquity for your perusal, as a poet and a wit; because maggots being 
what you look for, as monkeys do for vermin in their keepers' heads, 
you will find they abound in good old authors, as in rich old cheese, 
not in the new; and for that reason you must have the classics, 
especially the most worm-eaten of them, often in your hands. 

But with this caution, that you are not to use those ancients as 
unlucky lads do their old fathers, and make no conscience of picking 
their pockets and pillaging them. Your business is not to steal from 
them, but to improve upon them, and make their sentiments your 
own; which is an effect of great judgment; and though difficult, yet 
very possible, without the scurvy imputation of filching. For I 
humbly conceive, though I light my candle at my neighbour's fire, 
that does not alter the property, or make the wick, the wax, or the 
flame, or the whole candle, less my own. 

Possibly you may think it a very severe task, to arrive at a compe- 
tent knowledge of so many of the ancients, as excel in their way; 
and indeed it would be really so, but for the short and easy method 
lately found out of abstracts, abridgments, summaries, &c. which are 
admirable expedients for being very learned with little or no reading; 
and have the same use with burning-glasses, to collect the diffused 
rays of wit and learning in authors, and make them point with 
warmth and quickness upon the reader's imagination. And to this 
is nearly related that other modern device of consulting indexes, 
which is to read books hebraically,'' and begin where others usually 
end; and this is a compendious way of coming to an acquaintance 
with authors. For authors are to be used like lobsters, you must look 
for the best meat in the tails, and lay the bodies back again in the 

■* That is, backwards. 



TO A YOUNG POET III 

dish. Your cunningest thieves (and what else are readers, who only 
read to borrow, i.e. to steal) use to cut off the portmanteau from be- 
hind, without staying to dive into the pockets of the owner. Lastly, 
you are taught thus much in the very elements of philosophy, for one 
of the first rules in logic is, Finis est primus in intentione? 

The learned world is therefore most highly indebted to a late 
painful and judicious editor of the classics, who has laboured in that 
new way with exceeding felicity. Every author by his management, 
sweats under himself, being over-loaded with his own index, and 
carries, like a north-country pedlar, all his substance and furniture 
upon his back, and with as great variety of trifles. To him let all 
young students make their compliments for so much time and pains 
saved in the pursuit of useful knowledge; for whoever shortens a 
road, is a benefactor to the public, and to every particular person who 
has occasion to travel that way. 

But to proceed. I have lamented nothing more in my time, than 
the disuse of some ingenious little plays, in fashion with young 
folks, when I was a boy, and to which the great facility of that age, 
above ours, in composing was certainly owing; and if anything has 
brought a damp upon the versification of these times, we have no 
further than this to go for the cause of it. Now could these sports be 
happily revived, I am of opinion your wisest course would be to 
apply your thoughts to them, and never fail to make a party when 
you can, in those profitable diversions. For example, "Crambo" is 
of extraordinary use to good rhyming, and rhyming is what I have 
ever accounted the very essential of a good poet: And in that notion 
I am not singular; for the aforesaid Sir Philip Sidney has declared, 
"That the chief life of modern versifying, consisteth in the like 
sounding of words, which we call rhyme," which is an authority, 
either without exception, or above any reply. Wherefore, you are 
ever to try a good poem as you would a sound pipkin, and if it rings 
well upon the knuckle, be sure there is no flaw in it. Verse without 
rhyme, is a body without a soul, (for the "chief life consisteth in the 
rhyme") or a bell without a clapper; which, in strictness, is no bell, 
as being neither of use nor delight. And the same ever honoured 
knight, with so musical an ear, had that veneration for the tunable- 
ness and chiming of verse, that he speaks of a poet as one that has 

^ "In intention the end is first." 



112 JONATHAN SWIFT 

"the reverend title o£ a rhymer." Our celebrated Milton has 
done these nations great prejudice in this particular, having spoiled 
as many reverend rhymers, by his example, as he has made real 
poets. 

For which reason, I am overjoyed to hear, that a very ingenious 
youth of this town [Dublin], is now upon the useful design (for 
which he is never enough to be commended) of bestowing rhyme 
upon Milton's Paradise Lost, which will make your poem, in that 
only defective, more heroic and sonorous than it has hitherto been. I 
wish the gentleman success in the performance; and, as it is a work 
in which a young man could not be more happily employed, or 
appear in with greater advantage to his character, so I am concerned 
that it did not fall out to be your province. 

With much the same view, I would recommend to you the witty 
play of "Pictures and Mottoes," which will furnish your imagination 
with great store of images and suitable devices. We of these king- 
doms have found our account in this diversion, as little as we con- 
sider or acknowledge it. For to this we owe our eminent felicity in 
posies of rings, mottoes of snuff-boxes, the humours of sign-posts 
with their elegant inscriptions, &c. in which kind of productions not 
any nation in the world, no, not the Dutch themselves, will presume 
to rival us. 

For mych the same reason, it may be proper for you to have some 
insight into the play called, "What is it like?" as of great use in 
common practice, to quicken slow capacities, and improve the quick- 
est. But the chief end of it is, to supply the fancy with variety of 
similes for all subjects. It will teach you to bring things to a likeness, 
which have not the least imaginable conformity in nature, which is 
properly creation, and the very business of a poet, as his name im- 
plies; and let me tell you, a good poet can no more be without a 
stock of similes by him, than a shoemaker without his lasts. He 
should have them sized, and ranged, and hung up in order in his 
shop, ready for all customers, and shaped to the feet of all sorts of 
verse. And here I could more fully (and I long to do it) insist upon 
the wonderful harmony and resemblance between a poet and a shoe- 
maker, in many circumstances common to both; such as the binding 
of their temples, the stuff they work upon, and the paring-knife they 



TO A YOUNG POET II3 

use, &c. but that I would not digress, nor seem to trifle in so serious 
a matter. 

Now I say, if you apply yourself to these diminutive sports (not to 
mention others of equal ingenuity, such as Draw-gloves, Cross pur- 
poses, Questions and commands, and the rest) it is not to be con- 
ceived what benefit (of nature) you will find by them, and how 
they will open the body of your invention. To these devote your 
spare hours, or rather spare all your hours to them, and then you will 
act as becomes a wise man, and make even diversion an improve- 
ment; like the inimitable management of the bee, which does the 
whole business of life at once, and at the same time both feeds, and 
works, and diverts itself. 

Your own prudence will, I doubt not, direct you to take a place 
every evening amongst the ingenious, in the corner of a certain 
coffeehouse in this town, where you will receive a turn equally right 
as to wit, religion, and politics: As likewise to be as frequent at the 
playhouse as you can afford, without selling your books. For in our 
chaste theatre, even Cato himself might sit to the falling of the 
curtain: Besides, you will sometimes meet with tolerable con- 
versation amongst the players; they are such a kind of men, as may 
pass upon the same sort of capacities, for wits off the stage, as they 
do for fine gentlemen upon it. Besides that, I have known a factor 
deal in as good ware, and sell as cheap as the merchant himself that 
employs him. 

Add to this the expediency of furnishing out your shelves with a 
choice collection of modern miscellanies, in the gayest edition; and of 
reading all sorts of plays, especially the new, and above all, those of 
our own growth, printed by subscription; in which article of Irish 
manufacture, I readily agree to the late proposal, and am altogether 
for "rejecting and renouncing everything that comes from England:" 
To what purpose should we go thither either for coals or poetry, 
when we have a vein within ourselves equally good and more con- 
venient ? Lastly, 

A common-place book is what a provident poet cannot subsist 
without, for this proverbial reason, that "great wits have short mem- 
ories;" and whereas, on the other hand, poets being liars by pro- 
fession, ought to have good memories. To reconcile these, a book of 



114 JONATHAN SWIFT 

this sort is in the nature of a supplemental memory; or a record of 
what occurs remarkable in every day's reading or conversation. 
There you enter not only your own original thoughts, (which, a 
hundred to one, are few and insignificant) but such of other men 
as you think fit to make your own by entering them there. For take 
this for a rule, when an author is in your books, you have the same 
demand upon him for his wit, as a merchant has for your money, 
when you are in his. 

By these few and easy prescriptions (with the help of a good 
genius) 'tis possible you may in a short time arrive at the accom- 
plishments of a poet, and shine in that character. As for your manner 
of composing, and choice of subjects, I cannot take upon me to be 
your director; but I will venture to give you some short hints, which 
you may enlarge upon at your leisure. Let me entreat you then, by 
no means to lay aside that notion peculiar to our modern refiners in 
poetry, which is, that a poet must never write or discourse as the 
ordinary part of mankind do, but in number and verse, as an oracle; 
which I mention the rather, because upon this principle, I have 
known heroics brought into the pulpit, and a whole sermon com- 
posed and delivered in blank verse, to the vast credit of the preacher, 
no less than the real entertainment and great edification of the 
audience. 

The secret of which I take to be this. When the matter of such 
discourses is but mere clay, or, as we usually call it, sad stuff, the 
preacher, who can afford no better, wisely moulds, and polishes, and 
dries, and washes this piece of earthen-ware, and then bakes it with 
poetic fire, after which it will ring like any pancrock, and is a good 
dish to set before common guests, as every congregation is, that 
comes so often for entertainment to one place. 

There was a good old custom in use, which our ancestors had, of 
invoking the Muses at the entrance of their poems; I suppose, by 
way of craving a blessing. This the graceless moderns have in a 
great measure laid aside, but are not to be followed in that poetical 
impiety; for although to nice ears, such invocations may sound harsh 
and disagreeable (as tuning instruments is before a concert) they are 
equally necessary. Again, you must not fail to dress your muse in a 
forehead cloth of Greek or Latin; I mean, you are always to make use 



TO A YOUNG POET II5 

of a quaint motto in all your compositions; for besides that this 
artifice bespeaks the reader's opinion of the writer's learning, it is 
otherwise useful and commendable. A bright passage in the front of 
a poem, is a good mark, like a star in a horse's face, and the piece 
will certainly go off the better for it. The os magna sonaturum, 
which, if I remember right, Horace makes one qualification of a 
good poet, may teach you not to gag your muse, or stint yourself in 
words and epithets (which cost you nothing) contrary to the prac- 
tice of some few out-of-the-way writers, who use a natural and con- 
cise expression, and affect a style like unto a Shrewsbury cake, short 
and sweet upon the palate; they will not afford you a word more 
than is necessary to make them intelligible, which is as poor and 
niggardly, as it would be to set down no more meat than your 
company will be sure to eat up. Words are but lackeys to sense, and 
will dance attendance, without wages or compulsion; Verba non 
invita sequentur. 

Farthermore, when you set about composing, it may be necessary, 
for your ease a-id better distillation of wit, to put on your worst 
clothes, and the worse the better; for an author, like a limbick, will 
yield the better for having a rag about him. Besides that, I have 
observed a gardener cut the outward rind of a tree, (which is the 
surtout of it), to make it bear well: And this is a natural account of 
the usual poverty of poets, and is an argument why wits, of all men 
living, ought to be ill clad. I have always a secret veneration for any 
one I observe to be a little out of repair in his person, as supposing 
him either a poet or a philosopher; because the richest minerals are 
ever found under the most ragged and withered surface of earth. 

As for your choice of subjects, I have only to give you this caution: 
That as a handsome way of praising is certainly the most difficult 
point in writing or speaking, I would by no means advise any 
young man to make his first essay in panegyric, besides the danger 
of it: for a particular encomium is ever attended with more ill-will, 
than any general invective, for which I need give no reasons; 
wherefore, my counsel is, that you use the point of your pen, not the 
feather; let your first attempt be a coup d'eclat^ in the way of libel, 
lampoon, or satire. Knock down half a score reputations, and you 

* "A brilliant stroke." 



Il6 JONATHAN SWIFT 

will infallibly raise your own; and so it be with wit, no matter with 
how little justice; for fiction is your trade. 

Every great genius seems to ride upon mankind, like Pyrrhus on 
his elephant; and the way to have the absolute ascendant of your 
resty nag, and to keep your seat, is, at your first mounting, to afford 
him the whip and spurs plentifully; after which, you may travel 
the rest of the day with great alacrity. Once kick the world, and 
the world and you will live together at a reasonable good under- 
standing. You cannot but know, that these of your profession have 
been called genus irritabile vatumf and you will find it necessary 
to qualify yourself for that waspish society, by exerting your talent 
of satire upon the first occasion, and to abandon good-nature, only 
to prove yourself a true poet, which you will allow to be a valuable 
consideration: In a word, a young robber is usually entered by a 
murder: A young hound is blooded when he comes first into the 
field : A young bully begins with killing his man : And a young poet 
must shew his wit, as the other his courage, by cutting and slashing, 
and laying about him, and banging mankind. Lastly, 

It will be your wisdom to look out betimes for a good service for 
your muse, according to her skill and qualifications, whether in the 
nature of a dairymaid, a cook, or char-woman. I mean, to hire out 
your pen to a party, which will afford you both pay and protection; 
and when you have to do with the press, (as you will long to be 
there) take care to bespeak an importunate friend, to extort your 
productions with an agreeable violence; and which, according to the 
cue between you, you must surrender digito male pertinaci? There 
is a decency in this; for it no more becomes an author, in modesty, 
to have a hand in pubhshing his own works, than a woman in 
labour to lay herself. 

I would be very loth to give the least umbrage of offence by what 
I have here said, as I may do, if I should be thought to insinuate that 
these circumstances of good writing have been unknown to, or not 
observed by, the poets of this kingdom. I will do my countrymen the 
justice to say, they have written by the foregoing rules with great 
exactness, and so far, as hardly to come behind those of their pro- 

' "The irritable race of poets." 
' "With an exceedingly tenacious finger." 



TO A YOUNG POET llj 

fession in England, in perfection of low writing. The sublime, 
indeed, is not so common with us; but ample amends is made for 
that want, in great abundance of the admirable and amazing, which 
appears in all our compositions. Our very good friend (the knight 
aforesaid) speaking of the force of poetry, mentions "rhyming to 
death, which" (adds he) "is said to be done in Ireland;" and truly, 
to our honour be it spoken, that power, in a great measure, continues 
with us to this day. 

I would now offer some poor thoughts of mine for the encourage- 
ment of poetry in this kingdom, if I could hope they would be 
agreeable. I have had many an aching heart for the ill plight of that 
noble profession here, and it has been my late and early study how 
to bring it into better circumstances. And surely, considering what 
monstrous wits in the poetic way, do almost daily start up and sur- 
prise us in this town; what prodigious geniuses we have here (of 
which I could give instances without number,) and withal of what 
great benefit it might be to our trade to encourage that science here, 
(for it is plain our linen manufacture is advanced by the great waste 
of paper made by our present set of poets, not to mention other neces- 
sary uses of the same to shop-keepers, especially grocers, apothecaries, 
and pastry-cooks; and I might add, but for our writers, the nation 
would in a little time be utterly destitute of bumfodder, and must of 
necessity import the same from England and Holland, where they 
have it in great abundance, by the indefatigable labour of their own 
wits) I say, these things considered, I am humbly of opinion, it would 
be worth the care of our governors to cherish gentlemen of the quill, 
and give them all proper encouragements here. And since I am upon 
the subject, I shall speak my mind very freely, and if I added, 
saucily, it is no more than my birthright as a Briton. 

Seriously then, I have many years lamented the want of a Grub 
Street in this our large and polite city, unless the whole may be called 
one. And this I have accounted an unpardonable defect in our con- 
stitution, ever since I had any opinions I could call my own. Every 
one knows Grub Street is a market for small ware in wit, and as 
necessary, considering the usual purgings of the human brain, as 
the nose is upon a man's face. And for the same reason we have here 
a court, a college, a play-house, and beautiful ladies, and fine gentle- 



Il8 JONATHAN SWIFT 

men, and good claret, and abundance of pens, ink, and paper, (clear 
of taxes) and every other circumstance to provoke wit; and yet those 
Wfhose province it is, have not yet thought fit to appoint a place for 
evacuation of it, which is a very hard case, as may be judged by 
comparisons. 

And truly this defect has been attended with unspeakable incon- 
veniences; for not to mention the prejudice done to the common- 
wealth of letters, I am of opinion we suffer in our health by it. I 
believe our corrupted air, and frequent thick fogs, are in a great 
measure owing to the common exposal of our wit; and that with good 
management, our poetical vapours might be carried off in a common 
drain, and fall into one quarter of the town, without infecting the 
whole, as the case is at present, to the great offence of our nobility, 
and gentry, and others of nice noses. When writers of all sizes, like 
freemen of the city, are at liberty to throw out their filth and excre- 
mentitious productions, in every street as they please, what can the 
consequence be, but that the town must be poisoned, and become 
such another jakes, as by report of great travellers, Edinburgh is at 
night, a thing well to be considered in these pestilential times. 

I am not of the society for reformation of manners, but, without 
that pragmatical title, I would be glad to see some amendment in 
the matter before us. Wherefore I humbly bespeak the favour of 
the Lord Mayor, the Court of Aldermen and Common Council, 
together with the whole circle of arts in this town, and do recom- 
mend this affair to their most political consideration; and I persuade 
myself they will not be wanting in their best endeavours, when they 
can serve two such good ends at once, as both to keep the town 
sweet, and encourage poetry in it. Neither do I make any exceptions 
as to satirical poets and lampoon writers, in consideration of their 
office. For though, indeed, their business is to rake into kennels, and 
gather up the filth of streets and families, (in which respect they 
may be, for aught I know, as necessary to the town as scavengers, 
or chimney-sweeps) yet I have observed they too have themselves, 
at the same time, very foul clothes, and, like dirty persons, leave 
more filth and nastiness than they sweep away. 

In a word: What I would be at (for I love to be plain in matters 
of importance to my country) is, that some private street, or blind 



TO A YOUNG POET II9 

alley of this town, may be fitted up at the charge of the public, as an 
apartment for the Muses, (like those at Rome and Amsterdam, for 
their female relations) and be wholly consigned to the uses of our 
wits, furnished completely with all appurtenances, such as authors, 
supervisors, presses, printers, hawkers, shops, and warehouses, and 
abundance of garrets, and every other implement and circumstance 
of wit; the benefit of which would obviously be this, viz., That we 
should then have a safe repository for our best productions, which 
at present are handed about in single sheets or manuscripts, and may 
be altogether lost, (which were a pity) or at best are subject, in that 
loose dress, like handsome women, to great abuses. 

Another point, that has cost me some melancholy reflections, is the 
present state of the playhouse; the encouragement of which hath an 
immediate influence upon the poetry of the kingdom; as a good 
market improves the tillage of the neighbouring country, and en- 
riches the ploughman. Neither do we of this town seem enough to 
know or consider the vast benefit of a playhouse to our city and 
nation: That single house is the fountain of all our love, wit, dress, 
and gallantry. It is the school of wisdom; for there we learn to know 
what's what; which, however, I cannot say is always in that place 
sound knowledge. There our young folks drop their childish mis- 
takes, and come first to perceive their mother's cheat of the parsley- 
bed; there too they get rid of natural prejudices, especially those of 
religion and modesty, which are great restraints to a free people. 
The same is a remedy for the spleen, and blushing, and several dis- 
tempers occasioned by the stagnation of the blood. It is likewise a 
school of common swearing; my young master, who at first but 
minced an oath, is taught there to mouth it gracefully, and to 
swear, as he reads French, ore rotunda!' Profaneness was before 
to him in the nature of his best suit, or holiday-clothes; but upon 
frequenting the playhouse, swearing, cursing, and lying, become like 
his every-day coat, waistcoat, and breeches. Now I say, common 
swearing, a produce of this country, as plentiful as our corn, thus 
cultivated by the playhouse, might, with management, be of wonder- 
ful advantage to the nation, as a projector of the swearer's bank has 
proved at large. Lastly, the stage in great measure supports the 

' "With round mouth," sonorously. 



120 JONATHAN SWIFT 

pulpit; for I know not what our divines could have to say there 
against the corruptions of the age, but for the playhouse, which is 
the seminary of them. From which it is plain, the public is a gainer 
by the playhouse, and consequently ought to countenance it; and 
were I worthy to put in my word, or prescribe to my betters, I could 
say in what manner. I have heard that a certain gentleman has great 
designs to serve the public, in the way of their diversions, with due 
encouragement; that is, if he can obtain some concordatum-money, 
or yearly salary, and handsome contributions. And well he deserves 
the favours of the nation; for, to do him justice, he has an uncommon 
skill in pastimes, having altogether applied his studies that way, and 
travelled full many a league, by sea and land, for this his profound 
knowledge. With that view alone he has visited all the courts and 
cities in Europe, and has been at more pains than I shall speak of, 
to take an exact draught of the playhouse at the Hague, as a model 
for a new one here. But what can a private man do by himself in 
so public an undertaking? It is not to be doubted, but by his care 
and industry vast improvements may be made, not only in our play- 
house, (which is his immediate province) but in our gaming ordi- 
naries, groom-porters, lotteries, bowling-greens, ninepin-alleys, bear- 
gardens, cockpits, prizes, puppet and raree shows, and whatever else 
concerns the elegant divertisements of this town. He is truly an 
original genius, and I felicitate this our capital city on his residence 
here, where I wish him long to live and flourish, for the good of the 
commonwealth. 

Once more: If any further applications shall be made on t'other 
side, to obtain a charter for a bank here, I presume to make a request, 
that poetry may be a sharer in that privilege, being a fund as real, 
and to the full as well grounded as our stocks; but I fear our 
neighbours, who envy our wit, as much as they do our wealth or 
trade, will give no encouragement to either. I believe also, it might 
be proper to erect a corporation of poets in this city. I have been idle 
enough in my time, to make a computation of wits here, and do 
find we have three hundred performing poets and upwards, in and 
about this town, reckoning six score to the hundred, and allowing 
for demies, like pint bottles; including also the several denomina- 
tions of imitators, translators, and familiar-letter-writers, &c. One of 



TO A YOUNG POET 121 

these last has lately entertained the town with an original piece, and 
such a one as, I dare say, the late British "Spectator," in his decline, 
would have called, "an excellent specimen of the true sublime;" 
or, "a noble poem;" or, "a fine copy of verses, on a subject perfectly 
new," (the author himself) and had given it a place amongst his 
latest "Lucubrations." 

But as I was saying, so many poets, I am confident, are sufficient to 
furnish out a corporation in point of number. Then for the several 
degrees of subordinate members requisite to such a body, there can 
be no want; for although we have not one masterly poet, yet we 
abound with wardens and beadles, having a multitude of poetasters, 
poetitoes, parcel-poets, poet-apes, and philo-poets, and many of 
inferior attainments in wit, but strong inclinations to it, which are 
by odds more than all the rest. Nor shall I ever be at ease, till this 
project of mine (for which I am heartily thankful to myself) shall 
be reduced to practice. I long to see the day, when our poets will be 
a regular and distinct body, and wait upon our Lord Mayor on public 
days, like other good citizens, in gowns turned up with green in- 
stead of laurels; and when I myself, who make this proposal, shall 
be free of their company. 

To conclude: What if our government had a poet-laureat here, 
as in England ? What if our university had a professor of poetry here, 
as in England ? What if our Lord Mayor had a city bard here, as in 
England? And, to refine upon England, what if every corporation, 
parish, and ward in this town, had a poet in fee, as they have not in 
England? Lastly; What if every one so qualified were obliged to 
add one more than usual to the number of his domestics, and besides 
a fool and a chaplain, (which are often united in one person) would 
retain a poet in his family? For, perhaps, a rhymer is as necessary 
amongst servants of a house, as a Dobbin with his bells, at the head 
of a team. But these things I leave to the wisdom of my superiors. 

While I have been directing your pen, I should not forget to 
govern my own, which has already exceeded the bounds of a letter. 
I must therefore take my leave abruptly, and desire you, without 
farther ceremony, to believe that I am. Sir, 

Your most humble servant. 



ON THE DEATH OF ESTHER 
JOHNSON 

[STELLA] 

THIS day, being Sunday, January 28, 1727-8, about eight 
o'clock at night, a servant brought me a note, with an 
account of the death of the truest, most virtuous, and valu- 
able friend, that I, or perhaps any other person, ever was blessed 
with. She expired about six in the evening of this day; and as soon 
as I am left alone, which is about eleven at night, I resolve, for my 
own satisfaction, to say something of her life and character. 

She was born at Richmond, in Surrey, on the thirteenth day of 
March, in the year 1681. Her father was a younger brother of a good 
family in Nottinghamshire, her mother of a lower degree; and indeed 
she had little to boast of her birth. I knew her from six years old, 
and had some share in her education, by directing what books she 
should read, and perpetually instructing her in the principles of 
honour and virtue; from which she never swerved in any one action 
or moment of her life. She was sickly from her childhood until 
about the age of fifteen; but then grew into perfect health, and was 
looked upon as one of the most beautiful, graceful, and agreeable 
young women in London, only a little too fat. Her hair was blacker 
than a raven, and every feature of her face in perfection. She lived 
generally in the country, with a family, where she contracted an 
intimate friendship with another lady of more advanced years. I 
was then (to my mortification) settled in Ireland; and about a year 
after, going to visit my friends in England, I found she was a little 
uneasy upon the death of a person on whom she had some de- 
pendance. Her fortune, at that time, was in all not above fifteen 
hundred pounds, the interest of which was but a scanty maintenance, 
in so dear a country, for one of her spirit. Upon this consideration, 
and indeed very much for my own satisfaction, who had few friends 

123 



DEATH OF STELLA 1 23 

or acquaintance in Ireland, I prevailed with her and her dear friend 
and companion, the other lady, to draw what money they had into 
Ireland, a great part of their fortune being in annuities upon funds. 
Money was then ten per cent, in Ireland, besides the advantage of 
turning it, and all necessaries of life at half the price. They complied 
with my advice, and soon after came over; but, I happening to con- 
tinue some time longer in England, they were much discouraged 
to live in Dublin, where they were wholly strangers. She was at that 
time about nineteen years old, and her person was soon distinguished. 
But the adventure looked so like a frolic, the censure held for some 
time, as if there were a secret history in such a removal; which, how- 
ever, soon blew off by her excellent conduct. She came over with 

her friend on the in the year 170 — ; and they both lived 

together until this day, when death removed her from us. For some 
years past, she had been visited with continual ill health; and several 
times, within these two years, her life was despaired of. But, for this 
twelvemonth past, she never had a day's health; and, properly 
speaking, she hath been dying six months, but kept alive, almost 
against nature, by the generous kindness of two physicians, and the 
care of her friends. Thus far I writ the same night between eleven 
and twelve. 

Never was any of her sex born with better gifts of the mind, or 
more improved them by reading and conversation. Yet her memory 
was not of the best, and was impaired in the latter years of her life. 
But I cannot call to mind that I ever once heard her make a wrong 
judgment of persons, books, or affairs. Her advice was always the 
best, and with the greatest freedom, mixed with the greatest decency. 
She had a gracefulness, somewhat more than human, in every 
motion, word, and action. Never was so happy a conjunction of 
civility, freedom, easiness, and sincerity. There seemed to be a com- 
bination among all that knew her, to treat her with a dignity much 
beyond her rank; yet people of all sorts were never more easy than 
in her company. Mr. Addison, when he was in Ireland, being intro- 
duced to her, immediately found her out; and, if he had not soon 
after left the kingdom, assured me he would have used all en- 
deavours to cultivate her friendship. A rude or conceited coxcomb 
passed his time very ill, upon the least breach of respect; for in such 



124 JONATHAN SWIFT 

a case she had no mercy, but was sure to expose him to the contempt 
of the standers-by; yet in such a manner as he was ashamed to com- 
plain, and durst not resent. All of us who had the happiness of her 
friendship, agreed unanimously, that, in an afternoon or evening's 
conversation, she never failed, before we parted, of delivering the 
best thing that was said in the company. Some of us have written 
down several of her sayings, or what the French call bons mots, 
wherein she excelled almost beyond belief. She never mistook the 
understanding of others; nor ever said a severe word, but where a 
much severer was deserved. 

Her servants loved, and almost adored her at the same time. She 
would, upon occasions, treat them with freedom; yet her demeanour 
was so awful, that they durst not fail in the least point of respect. She 
chid them seldom, but it was with severity, which had an effect upon 
them for a long time after. 

January 2g. My head aches, and I can write no more. 

January jo. Tuesday. 

This is the night of the funeral, which my sickness will not suffer 
me to attend. It is now nine at night, and I am removed into another 
apartment, that I may not see the light in the church, which is just 
over against the window of my bed chamber. 

With all the softness of temper that became a lady, she had the 
personal courage of a hero. She and her friend having removed 
their lodgings to a new house, which stood solitary, a parcel of rogues, 
armed, attempted the house, where there was only one boy. She was 
then about four-and-twenty; and having been warned to apprehend 
some such attempt, she learned the management of a pistol; and 
the other women and servants being half dead with fear, she stole 
softly to her dining-room window, put on a black hood to prevent 
being seen, primed the pistol fresh, gently lifted up the sash, and 
taking her aim with the utmost presence of mind, discharged the 
pistol, loaden with the bullets, into the body of one villain, who stood 
the fairest mark. The fellow, mortally wounded, was carried off by 
the rest, and died the next morning; but his companions could not 
be found. The Duke of Ormonde hath often drank her health to 
me upon that account, and had always an high esteem of her. She 
was indeed under some apprehensions of going in a boat, after 



DEATH OF STELLA 1 25 

some danger she had narrowly escaped by water, but she was 
reasoned thoroughly out of it. She was never known to cry out, or 
discover any fear, in a coach or on horseback; or any uneasiness by 
those sudden accidents with which most of her sex, either by weak- 
ness or affectation, appear so much disordered. 

She never had the least absence of mind in conversation, nor given 
to interruption, or appeared eager to put in her word, by waiting 
impatiently until another had done. She spoke in a most agreeable 
voice, in the plainest words, never hesitating, except out of modesty 
before new faces, where she was somewhat reserved: nor, among 
her nearest friends, ever spoke much at a time. She was but little 
versed in the common topics of female chat; scandal, censure, and 
detraction, never came out of her mouth; yet, among a few friends, 
in private conversation, she made little ceremony in discovering her 
contempt of a coxcomb, and describing all his follies to the Ufe; but 
the follies of her own sex she was rather inclined to extenuate or to 
pity. 

When she was once convinced, by open facts, of any breach of 
truth or honour in a person of high station, especially in the Church, 
she could not conceal her indignation, nor hear them named without 
shewing her displeasure in her countenance; particularly one or two 
of the latter sort, whom she had known and esteemed, but detested 
above all mankind, when it was manifest that they had sacrificed 
those two precious virtues to their ambition, and would much sooner 
have forgiven them the common immoraUties of the laity. 

Her frequent fits of sickness, in most parts of her life, had pre- 
vented her from making that progress in reading which she would 
otherwise have done. She was well versed in the Greek and Roman 
story, and was not unskilled in that of France and England. She 
spoke French perfectly, but forgot much of it by neglect and sickness. 
She had read carefully all the best books of travels, which serve to 
open and enlarge the mind. She understood the Platonic and 
Epicurean philosophy, and judged very well of the defects of the 
latter. She made very judicious abstracts of the best books she had 
read. She understood the nature of government, and could point out 
all the errors of Hobbes, both in that and religion. She had a good 
insight into physic, and knew somewhat of anatomy; in both which 



126 JONATHAN SWIFT 

she was instructed in her younger days by an eminent physician, 
who had her long under his care, and bore the highest esteem for 
her person and understanding. She had a true taste of wit and good 
sense, both in poetry and prose, and was a perfect good critic of style; 
neither was it easy to find a more proper or impartial judge, whose 
advice an author might better rely on, if he intended to send a thing 
into the world, provided it was on a subject that came within the 
compass of her knowledge. Yet, perhaps, she was sometimes too 
severe, which is a safe and pardonable error. She preserved her wit, 
judgment, and vivacity, to the last, but often used to complain of 
her memory. 

Her fortune, with some accession, could not, as I have heard say, 
amount to much more than two thousand pounds, whereof a great 
part fell with her life, having been placed upon annuities in England, 
and one in Ireland. 

In a person so extraordinary, perhaps it may be pardonable to 
mention some particulars, although of little moment, further than 
to set forth her character. Some presents of gold pieces being often 
made to her while she was a girl, by her mother and other friends, 
on promise to keep them, she grew into such a spirit of thrift, that, in 
about three years, they amounted to above two hundred pounds. 
She used to shew them with boasting; but her mother, apprehending 
she would be cheated of them, prevailed, in some months, and with 
great importunities, to have them put out to interest: when the girl 
lost the pleasure of seeing and counting her gold, which she never 
failed of doing many times in a day, and despaired of heaping up 
such another treasure, her humour took the quite contrary turn; 
she grew careless and squandering of every new acquisition, and so 
continued till about two-and-twenty; when by advice of some 
friends, and the fright of paying large bills of tradesmen, who en- 
ticed her into their debt, she began to reflect upon her own folly, and 
was never at rest until she had discharged all her shop-bills, and re- 
funded herself a considerable sum she had run out. After which, by 
the addition of a few years, and a superior understanding, she be- 
came, and continued all her life, a most prudent economist; yet still 
with a strong bent to the liberal side, wherein she gratified herself 
by avoiding all expense in clothes (which she never despised) be- 



DEATH OF STELLA 1 27 

yond what was merely decent. And, although her frequent returns 
of sickness were very chargeable, except fees to physicians, of which 
she met with several so generous that she could force nothing on 
them, (and indeed she must otherwise have been undone) yet she 
ever was without a considerable sum of ready money. Insomuch 
that, upon her death, when her nearest friends thought her very 
bare, her executors found in her strong box about a hundred and 
fifty pounds in gold. She lamented the narrowness of her fortune in 
nothing so much, as that it did not enable her to entertain her 
friends so often, and in so hospitable a manner, as she desired. Yet 
they were always welcome; and, while she was in health to direct, 
were treated with neatness and elegance, so that the revenues of her 
and her companion passed for much more considerable than they 
really were. They lived always in lodgings, their domestics con- 
sisted of two maids and one man. 

She kept an account of all the family expenses, from her arrival 
in Ireland to some months before her death; and she would often 
repine, when looking back upon the annals of her household bills, 
that every thing necessary for life was double the price, while interest 
of money was sunk almost to one half; so that the addition made to 
her fortune was indeed grown absolutely necessary. 

[I since writ as I found time.] 

But her charity to the poor was a duty not to be diminished, and 
therefore became a tax upon those tradesmen who furnish the fop- 
peries of other ladies. She bought clothes as seldom as possible, and 
those as plain and cheap as consisted with the situation she was in; 
and wore no lace for many years. Either her judgment or fortune 
was extraordinary, in the choice of those on whom she bestowed her 
charity; for it went further in doing good than double the sum from 
any other hand. And I have heard her say, she always met with 
gratitude from the poor; which must be owing to her skill in dis- 
tinguishing proper objects, as well as her gracious manner in re- 
lieving them. 

But she had another quaHty that much dehghted her, although it 
may be thought a kind of check upon her bounty; however, it was a 
pleasure she could not resist: I mean that of making agreeable pres- 
ents; wherein I never knew her equal, although it be an affair of as 



128 JONATHAN SWIFT 

delicate a nature as most in the course of life. She used to define a 
present, That it was a gift to a friend of something he wanted, or 
was fond of, and which could not be easily gotten for money. I am 
confident, during my acquaintance with her, she hath, in these and 
some other kinds of liberality, disposed of to the value of several 
hundred pounds. As to presents made to herself, she received them 
with great unwillingness, but especially from those to whom she had 
ever given any; being on all occasions the most disinterested mortal 
I ever knew or heard of. 

From her own disposition, at least as much as from the frequent 
want of health, she seldom made any visits; but her own lodgings, 
from before twenty years old, were frequented by many persons of 
the graver sort, who all respected her highly, upon her good sense, 
good manners, and conversation. Among these were the late Primate 
Lindsay, Bishop Lloyd, Bishop Ashe, Bishop Brown, Bishop Stearne, 
Bishop Pulleyn, with some others of later date; and indeed the 
greatest number of her acquaintance was among the clergy. Honour, 
truth, liberality, good nature, and modesty, were the virtues she 
chiefly possessed, and most valued in her acquaintance: and where 
she found them, would be ready to allow for some defects; nor 
valued them less, although they did not shine in learning or in wit: 
but would never give the least allowance for any failures in the 
former, even to those who made the greatest figure in either of the 
two latter. She had no use of any person's liberality, yet her detesta- 
tion of covetous people made her uneasy if such a one was in her 
company; upon which occasion she would say many things very 
entertaining and humorous. 

She never interrupted any person who spoke; she laughed at no 
mistakes they made, but helped them out with modesty; and if a 
good thing were spoken, but neglected, she would not let it fall, but 
set it in the best light to those who were present. She listened to all 
that was said, and had never the least distraction or absence of 
thought. 

It was not safe, nor prudent, in her presence, to offend in the least 
word against modesty; for she then gave full employment to her wit, 
her contempt, and resentment, under which even stupidity and 
brutality were forced to sink into confusion; and the guilty person, 



DEATH OF STELLA 1 29 

by her future avoiding him Uke a bear or a satyr, was never in a way 
to transgress a second time. 

It happened one single coxcomb, of the pert kind, was in her 
company, among several other ladies; and in his flippant way, began 
to deliver some double meanings; the rest flapped their fans, and 
used the other common expedients practised in such cases, of appear- 
ing not to mind or comprehend what was said. Her behaviour was 
very different, and perhaps may be censured. She said thus to the 
man: "Sir, all these ladies and I understand your meaning very well, 
having, in spite of our care, too often met with those of your sex who 
wanted manners and good sense. But, believe me, neither virtuous 
nor even vicious women love such kind of conversation. However, 
I will leave you, and report your behaviour: and whatever visit I 
make, I shall first enquire at the door whether you are in the house, 
that I may be sure to avoid you." I know not whether a majority 
of ladies would approve of such a proceeding; but I believe the 
practice of it would soon put an end to that corrupt conversation, the 
worst effect of dullness, ignorance, impudence, and vulgarity, and the 
highest affront to the modesty and understanding of the female sex. 

By returning very few visits, she had not much company of her 
own sex, except those whom she most loved for their easiness, or 
esteemed for their good sense: and those, not insisting on ceremony, 
came often to her. But she rather chose men for her companions, 
the usual topics of ladies' discourse being such as she had little 
knowledge of, and less relish. Yet no man was upon the rack to 
entertain her, for she easily descended to any thing that was innocent 
and diverting. News, politics, censure, family management, or town- 
talk, she always diverted to something else; but these indeed seldom 
happened, for she chose her company better: and therefore many, 
who mistook her and themselves, having solicited her acquaintance, 
and finding themselves disappointed, after a few visits dropped off; 
and she was never known to enquire into the reason, or ask what 
was become of them. 

She was never positive in arguing; and she usually treated those 
who were so, in a manner which well enough gratified that unhappy 
disposition; yet in such a sort as made it very contemptible, and at 
the same time did some hurt to the owners. Whether this proceeded 



130 JONATHAN SWIFT 

from her easiness in general, or from her indifference to persons, or 
from her despair of mending them, or from the same practice which 
she much liked in Mr. Addison, I cannot determine; but when she 
saw any of the company very warm in a wrong opinion, she was 
more inclined to confirm them in it than oppose them. The excuse 
she commonly gave, when her friends asked the reason, was, that 
it prevented noise, and saved time. Yet I have known her very angry 
with some, whom she much esteemed, for sometimes falling into that 
infirmity. 

She loved Ireland much better than the generality of those who 
owe both their birth and riches to it; and having brought over all 
the fortune she had in money, left the reversion of the best part of it, 
one thousand pounds, to Dr. Stephens's Hospital. She detested the 
tyranny and injustice of England, in their treatment of this kingdom. 
She had indeed reason to love a country, where she had the esteem 
and friendship of all who knew her, and the universal good report 
of all who ever heard of her, without one exception, if I am told the 
truth by those who keep general conversation. Which character is 
the more extraordinary, in falling to a person of so much knowledge, 
wit, and vivacity, qualities that are used to create envy, and conse- 
quently censure; and must be rather imputed to her great modesty, 
gentle behaviour, and inoffensiveness, than to her superior virtues. 

Although her knowledge, from books and company, was much 
more extensive than usually falls to the share of her sex; yet she was 
so far from making a parade of it, that her female visitants, on their 
first acquaintance, who expected to discover it by what they call hard 
words and deep discourse, would be sometimes disappointed, and 
say, they found she was like other women. But wise men, through 
all her modesty, whatever they discoursed on, could easily observe 
that she understood them very well, by the judgment shewn in her 
observations as well as in her questions. 



THE SHORTEST-WAY WITH 
THE DISSENTERS: 

OR 

PROPOSALS FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT 
OF THE CHURCH 

THE EDUCATION OF WOMEN 

BY 
DANIEL DEFOE 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

Daniel Defoe (c. 1661-1731) was the son of a London butcher called 
Foe, a name which Daniel bore for more than forty years. He early gave 
up the idea of becoming a dissenting minister, and went into business. 
One of his earlier writings was an "Essay upon Projects," remarkable for 
the number of schemes suggested in it which have since been carried 
into practise. He won the approval of King William by his "True-born 
Englishman," a rough verse satire repelling the attacks on William as a 
foreigner. His "Shortest-Way with Dissenters," on the other hand, 
brought down on him the wrath of the Tories; he was fined, imprisoned, 
and exposed in the pillory, with the result that he became for the time 
a popular hero. While in prison he started a newspaper, the "Review" 
(1704-1713), which may in certain respects be regarded as a forerunner 
of the "Tatler" and "Spectator." From this time for about fourteen years 
he was chiefly engaged in political journalism, not always of the most 
reputable kind; and in 1719 he published the first volume of "Robinson 
Crusoe," his greatest triumph in a kind of realistic fiction in which he 
had already made several short essays. This was followed by a number 
of novels, dealing for the most part with the lives of rogues and criminals, 
and including "Moll Flanders," "Colonel Jack," "Roxana," and "Captain 
Singleton." Notable as a specially effective example of fiction disguised 
as truth was his "Journal of the Plague Year." 

In the latter part of his career Defoe became thoroughly discredited 
as a politician, and was regarded as a mere hireling journalist. He wrote 
with almost unparalleled fluency, and a complete list of his hundreds of 
publications will never be made out. The specimens of his work given 
here show him writing vigorously and sincerely, and belong to a period 
when he had not yet become a government tool. 



THE SHORTEST-WAY WITH 
THE DISSENTERS 

SIR ROGER L'ESTRANGE tells us a story in his collection of 
Fables, of the Cock and the Horses. The Cock was gotten to 
roost in the stable among the horses; and there being no racks 
or other conveniences for him, it seems, he was forced to roost upon 
the ground. The horses jostling about for room, and putting the 
Cock in danger of his life, he gives them this grave advice, "Pray, 
Gentlefolks! let us stand still! for fear we should tread upon one 
another!" 

There are some people in the World, who, now they are unperched, 
and reduced to an equality with other people, and under strong and 
very just apprehensions of being further treated as they deserve, begin, 
with Esop's Cock, to preach up Peace and Union and the Christian 
duty of Moderation; forgetting that, when they had the Power in 
their hands, those Graces were strangers in their gates! 

It is now, near fourteen years, [1688-1702], that the glory and 
peace of the purest and most flourishing Church in the world has 
been eclipsed, buffeted, and disturbed by a sort of men, whom, GOD 
in His Providence, has suffered to insult over her, and bring her 
down. These have been the days of her humiliation and tribulation. 
She has borne with an invincible patience, the reproach of the 
wicked: and GOD has at last heard her prayers, and delivered her 
from the oppression of the stranger. 

And now, they find their Day is over! their power gone! and the 
throne of this nation possessed by a Royal, English, true, and ever 
constant member of, and friend to, the Church of England! Now, 
they find that they are in danger of the Church of England's just 
resentments! Now, they cry out, "Peace!" "Union!" "Forbearance!" 
and "Charity!": as if the Church had not too long harboured her 

133 



134 DANIEL DEFOE 

enemies under her wing! and nourished the viperous brood, till they 
hiss and fly in the face of the Mother that cherished them! 

No, Gentlemen! the time of mercy is past! your Day of Grace is 
over! you should have practised peace, and moderation, and charity, 
if you expected any yourselves! 

We have heard none of this lesson, for fourteen years past! We 
have been huffed and bullied with your Act of Toleration! You have 
told us, you are the Church established by Law, as well as others! 
have set up your canting Synagogues at our Church doors! and the 
Church and her members have been loaded with reproaches, with 
Oaths, Associations, Abjurations, and what not! Where has been the 
mercy, the forbearance, the charity you have shewn to tender con- 
sciences of the Church of England that could not take Oaths as fast 
as you made them? that having sworn allegiance to their lawful and 
rightful King, could not dispense with that Oath, their King being 
still alive; and swear to your new hodge podge of a Dutch Govern- 
ment? These have been turned out of their Livings, and they and 
their families left to starve! their estates double taxed to carry on a 
war they had no hand in, and you got nothing by! 

What account can you give of the multitudes you have forced to 
comply, against their consciences, with your new sophistical Politics, 
who, like New Converts in France, sin because they cannot starve? 
And now the tables are turned upon you; you must not be perse- 
cuted! it is not a Christian spirit! 

You have butchered one King! deposed another King! and made 
a Mock King of a third! and yet, you could have the face to expect 
to be employed and trusted by the fourth! Anybody that did not 
know the temper of your Party, would stand amazed at the impu- 
dence as well as the folly to think of it! 

Your management of your Dutch Monarch, who you reduced to 
a mere King of Cl[ub]s, is enough to give any future Princes such 
an idea of your principles, as to warn them sufficiently from coming 
into your clutches; and, GOD be thanked! the Queen is out of your 
hands! knows you! and will have a care of you! 

There is no doubt but the Supreme Authority of a nation has in 
itself, a Power, and a right to that Power, to execute the Laws upon 
any part of that nation it governs. The execution of the known Laws 



SHORTEST-WAY WITH THE DISSENTERS I35 

of the land, and that with but a gentle hand neither, was all that the 
Fanatical Party of this land have ever called Persecution. This they 
have magnified to a height, that the sufferings of the Huguenots in 
France were not to be compared with them. Now to execute the 
known Laws of a nation upon those who transgress them, after 
having first been voluntarily consenting to the making of those 
Laws, can never be called Persecution, but Justice. But Justice is 
always Violence to the party offending! for every man is innocent 
in his own eyes. 

The first execution of the Laws against Dissenters in England, 
was in the days of King James L; and what did it amount to.'' Truly, 
the worst they suffered was, at their own request, to let them go 
to New England, and erect a new colony; and give them great 
privileges, grants, and suitable powers; keep them under protection, 
and defend them against all invaders; and receive no taxes or revenue 
from them! 

This was the cruelty of the Church of England! Fatal lenity! It 
was the ruin of that excellent Prince, King Charles L Had King 
James sent all the Puritans in England away to the West Indies; we 
had been a national unmixed Church! the Church of England had 
been kept undivided and entire! 

To requite the lenity of the Father, they take up arms against the 
Son, conquer, pursue, take, imprison, and at last to death the 
Anointed of GOD, and destroy the very Being and Nature of Gov- 
ernment: setting up a sordid Impostor, who had neither title to 
govern, nor understanding to manage, but supplied that want, with 
power, bloody and desperate counsels and craft, without conscience. 

Had not King James I. withheld the full execution of the Laws: 
had he given them strict justice, he had cleared the nation of them! 
And the consequences had been plain; his son had never been 
murdered by them, nor the Monarchy overwhelmed. It was too 
much mercy shewn them that was the ruin of his posterity, and the 
ruin of the nation's peace. One would think the Dissenters should 
not have the face to believe, that we are to be wheedled and canted 
into Peace and Toleration, when they know that they have once 
requited us with a Civil War, and once with an intolerable and 
unrighteous Persecution, for our former civility. 



136 DANIEL DEFOE 

Nay, to encourage us to be easy with them, it is apparent that they 
never had the upper hand of the Church, but they treated her with 
all the severity, with all the reproach and contempt as was possible! 
What Peace and what Mercy did they shew the loyal Gentry of 
the Church of England, in the time of their triumphant Common- 
wealth? How did they put all the Gentry of England to ransom, 
whether they were actually in arms for the King or not! making 
people compound for their estates, and starve their families! How 
did they treat the Clergy of the Church of England! sequester the 
Ministers! devour the patrimony of the Church, and divide the spoil, 
by sharing the Church lands among their soldiers, and turning her 
Clergy out to starve! Just such measure as they have meted, should 
be measured to them again! 

Charity and Love is the known doctrine of the Church of England, 
and it is plain She has put it in practice towards the Dissenters, even 
beyond what they ought [desewed], till She has been wanting to 
herself, and in effect unkind to her own sons: particularly, in the too 
much lenity of King James I., mentioned before. Had he so rooted 
the Puritans from the face of the land, which he had an opportunity 
early to have done; they had not had the power to vex the Church, 
as since they have done. 

In the days of King Charles II., how did the Church reward their 
bloody doings, with lenity and mercy! Except the barbarous Regi- 
cides of the pretended Court of Justice, not a soul suffered, for all 
the blood in an unnatural war! King Charles came in all mercy 
and love, cherished them, preferred them, employed them, withheld 
the rigour of the Law; and oftentimes, even against the advice of his 
Parliament, gave them Liberty of Conscience: and how did they 
requite him ? With the villanous contrivance to depose and murder 
him and his successor, at the Rye [House] Plot! 

King James [II.], as if mercy was the inherent quality of the 
Family, began his reign with unusual favour to them. Nor could 
their joining with the Duke of Monmouth against him, move him 
to do himself justice upon them. But that mistaken Prince, thinking 
to win them by gentleness and love, proclaimed a Universal Liberty 
to them! and rather discountenanced the Church of England than 
them! How they requited him, all the World knows! 



SHORTEST- WAY WITH THE DISSENTERS I37 

The late reiga [William ///.] is too fresh in the memory of all 
the World to need a comment. How under pretence of joining with 
the Church in redressing some grievances, they pushed things to that 
extremity, in conjunction with some mistaken Gendemen, as to 
depose the late King: as if the grievance of the Nation could not have 
been redressed but by the absolute ruin of the Prince! 

Here is an instance of their Temper, their Peace, and Charity! 

To what height they carried themselves during the reign of a King 
of their own! how they crope [creeped] into all Places of Trust and 
Profit! how they insinuated themselves into the favour of the King, 
and were at first preferred to the highest Places in the nation! how 
they engrossed the Ministry! and, above all, how pitifully they 
managed! is too plain to need any remarks. 

But particularly, their Mercy and Charity, the spirit of Union, 
they tell us so much of, has been remarkable in Scodand. If any man 
would see the spirit of a Dissenter, let him look into Scodand! There, 
they made entire conquest of the Church! trampled down the sacred 
Orders and suppressed the Episcopal Government, with an absolute, 
and, as they supposed, irretrievable victory! though it is possible, 
t/iey may find themselves mista\enl 

Now it would be a very proper question to ask their impudent 
advocate, the Observator, "Pray how much mercy and favour did 
the members of the Episcopal Church find in Scotland, from the 
Scotch Presbyterian Government?" and I shall undertake for the 
Church of England, that the Dissenters shall sull receive as much 
here, though they deserve but little. 

In a small treatise of The Sufferings of the Episcopal Clergy in 
Scotland, it will appear what usage they met with! How they not 
only lost their Livings; but, in several places, were plundered and 
abused in their persons! the Ministers that could not conform, were 
turned out, with numerous families and no maintenance, and hardly 
charity enough left to relieve them with a bit of bread. The cruelties 
of the Party were innumerable, and are not to be attempted in this 
short Piece. 

And now, to prevent the distant cloud which they perceive to hang 
over their heads from England, with a true Presbyterian policy, they 
put it for a Union of Nations! that England might unite their Church 



138 DANIEL DEFOE 

with the Kirk of Scotland, and their Assembly of Scotch canting 
Long-Cloaks in our Convocation. What might have been, if our 
Fanatic Whiggish Statesmen continued, GOD only knows! but we 
hope we are out of fear of that now. 

It is alleged by some of the faction, and they have begun to bully 
us with it, that "if we won't unite with them, they will not settle the 
Crown with us again; but when Her Majesty dies, will choose a 
King for themselves!" 

If they won't we must make them! and it is not the first time 
we have let them know that we are able! The Crowns of these King- 
doms have not so far disowned the Right of Succession, but they 
may retrieve it again; and if Scotland thinks to come off from a 
Successive to an Elective State of Government; England has not 
promised, not to assist the Right Heir, and put him into possession, 
without any regards to their ridiculous Settlements. 

THESE are the Gentlemen! these, their ways of treating the 
Church, both at home and abroad! 

Now let us examine the Reasons they pretend to give, why we 
should be favourable to them ? why we should continue and tolerate 
them among us? 

First. They are very numerous, they say. They are a great part of 

the nation, and we cannot suppress them! 
To this, may be answered, 

First. They are not so numerous as the Protestants in France : and 
yet the French King effectually cleared the nation of them, at once; 
and we don't find he misses them at home! 

But I am not of the opinion, they are so numerous as is pretended. 
Their Party is more numerous than their Persons; and those mis- 
taken people of the Church who are misled and deluded by their 
wheedling artifices to join with them, make their Party the greater: 
but those will open their eyes when the Government shall set heartily 
about the Work, and come off from them, as some animals, which 
they say, always desert a house when it is likely to fall. 

Secondly. The more numerous, the more dangerous; and there- 
fore the more need to suppress them! and GOD has suffered us to 



SHORTEST-WAY WITH THE DISSENTERS 139" 

bear them as goads in our sides, for not utterly extinguishing them 
long ago. 

Thirdly. If we are to allow them, only because we cannot suppress 
them; then it ought to be tried, Whether we can or not? And I am 
of opinion, it is easy to be done! and could prescribe Ways and Means, 
if it were proper: but I doubt not the Government will find effectual 
methods for the rooting of the contagion from the face of this land. 

Another argument they use, which is this. That this is a time of 
war, and we have need to unite against the common enemy. 

We answer, This common enemy had been no enemy, if they had 
not made him so! He was quiet, in peace, and no way disturbed and 
encroached upon us; and we know no reason we had to quarrel 
with him. 

But further. We make no question but we are able to deal with 
this common enemy without their help : but why must we unite with 
them, because of the enemy ? Will they go over to the enemy, if we 
do not prevent it, by a Union with them? We are very well con- 
tented [that] they should! and make no question, we shall be ready 
to deal with them and the common enemy too; and better without 
them than with them! Besides, if we have a common enemy, there 
is the more need to be secure against our private enemies! If there is 
one common enemy, we have the less need to have an enemy in 
our bowels! 

It was a great argument some people used against suppressing the 
Old Money, that "it was a time of war, and it was too great a 
risque [m^] for the nation to run! If we should not master it, we 
should be undone!" And yet the sequel proved the hazard was not 
so great, but it might be mastered, and the success {i.e., of the new 
coinage^ was answerable. The suppressing the Dissenters is not a 
harder work! nor a work of less necessity to the Public! We can 
never enjoy a settled uninterrupted union and tranquility in this 
nation, till the spirit of Whiggism, Faction, and Schism is melted 
down like the Old Money! 

To talk of diflficulty is to frighten ourselves with Chimeras and 
notions of a powerful Party, which are indeed a Party without power. 



140 DANIEL DEFOE 

Difficulties often appear greater at a distance than when they are 
searched into with judgment, and distinguished from the vapours 
and shadows that attend them. 

We are not to be frightened with it! This Age is wiser than that, 
by all our own experience, and theirs too! King Charles I. had early 
suppressed this Party, if he had taken more deliberate measures! In 
short, it is not worth arguing, to talk of their arms. Their Mon- 
MouTHs, and Shaftesburys, and Argyles are gone! Their Dutch 
Sanctuary is at an end! Heaven has made way for their destruction! 
and if we do not close with the Divine occasion, we are to blame 
ourselves! and may hereafter remember, that we had, once, an 
opportunity to serve the Church of England, by extirpating her 
implacable enemies; and having let slip the Minute that Heaven 
presented, may experimentally complain, Post est Occasio Calvo/ 

Here are some popular Objections in the way. 

As First, The Queen has promised them, to continue them in their 
tolerated Liberty; and has told us She will be a religious observer 
of her word. 

What Her Majesty will do, we cannot help! but what, as the Head 
of the Church, she ought to do, is another case. Her Majesty has 
promised to protect and defend the Church of England, and if she 
cannot effectually do that, without the destruction of the Dissenters; 
she must, of course, dispense with one promise to comply with 
another! 

But to answer this cavil more effectually. Her Majesty did never 
promise to maintain the Toleration to the destruction of the Church; 
but it was upon supposition that it may be compatible with the well- 
being and safety of the Church, which she had declared she would 
take especial care of. Now if these two Interests clash, it is plain Her 
Majesty's intentions are to uphold, protect, defend, and establish the 
Church! and this, we conceive is impossible [that is, while maintain- 
ing the Toleration]. 

Perhaps it may be said, That the Church is in no immediate danger 
from the Dissenters; and therefore it is time enough. 



SHORTEST-WAY WITH THE DISSENTERS I4I 

But this is a weak answer. For first. I£ the danger be real, the 
distance of it is no argument against, but rather a spur to quicken 
us to Prevention, lest it be too late hereafter. 

And secondly. Here is the opportunity, and the only one perhaps, 
that ever the Church had to secure herself, and destroy her enemies. 

The Representatives of the Nation have now an opportunity! The 
Time is come, which all good men have wished for ! that the Gentle- 
men of England may serve the Church of England, now they are 
protected and encouraged by a Church of England Queen! 

What will you do for your Sister in the day that she shall be 
spo\en for? 

If ever you will establish the best Christian Church in the World.? 

If ever you will suppress the Spirit of Enthusiasm? 

If ever you will free the nation from the viperous brood that have 
so long sucked the blood of their Mother? 

If ever you will leave your Posterity free from faction and rebellion, 
this is the time. This is the time to pull up this heretical Weed of 
Sedition, that has so long disturbed the Peace of the Church, and 
poisoned the good corn! 

But, says another hot and cold Objector, This is renewing Fire and 
Faggot! reviving the Act, De heretico comburendo! This will 
be cruelty in its nature! and barbarous to all the World! 

I answer. It is cruelty to kill a snake or a toad in cold blood, but 
the poison of their nature makes it a charity to our neighbours, to 
destroy those creatures! not for any personal injury received, but for 
prevention; not for the evil they have done, but the evil they may 
do! Serpents, toads, vipers, &c., are noxious to the body, and poison 
the sensitive life: these poison the soul! corrupt our posterity! ensnare 
our children! destroy the vitals of our happiness, our future felicity! 
and contaminate the whole mass! 

Shall any Law be given to such wild creatures! Some beasts are 
for sport, and the huntsmen give them the advantages of ground: 
but some are knocked on the head, by all possible ways of violence 
and surprise! 

I do not prescribe Fire and Faggot! but as SciPio said of Carthage, 
Delenda est Carthago! They are to be rooted out of this nation, if 



142 DANIEL DEFOE 

ever we will live in peace! serve GOD! or enjoy our own! As for the 
manner, I leave it to those hands, who have a Right to execute GOD'S 
Justice on the Nation's and the Church's enemies. 

But if we must be frighted from this Justice, under the[se] 
specious pretences, and odious sense of cruelty; nothing will be 
effected! It will be more barbarous to our own children and dear 
posterity, when they shall reproach their fathers, as we ours, and tell 
us [!], "You had an Opportunity to root out this cursed race from 
the World, under the favour and protection of a True Church of 
England Queen! and out of your foolish pity, you spared them: 
because, forsooth, you would not be cruel! And now our Church is 
suppressed and persecuted, our Religion trampled under foot, our 
estates plundered; our persons imprisoned, and dragged to gaols, 
gibbets, and scaffolds! Your sparing this Amalekite race is our 
destruction! Your mercy to them, proves cruelty to your poor 
posterity!" 

How just will such reflections be, when our posterity shall fall 
under the merciless clutches of this uncharitable Generation! when 
our Church shall be swallowed up in Schism, Faction, Enthusiasm, 
and Confusion! when our Government shall be devolved upon For- 
eigners, and our Monarchy dwindled into a Republic! 

It would be more rational for us, if we must spare this Generation, 
to summon our own to a general massacre: and as we have brought 
them into the World free, to send them out so;, and not betray them 
to destruction by our supine negligence, and then cry "It is mercy!" 

MosEs was a merciful meek man; and yet with what fury did he 
run through the camp, and cut the throats of three and thirty thou- 
sand of his dear Israelites that were fallen into idolatry. What was 
the reason? It was mercy to the rest, to make these examples! to 
prevent the destruction of the whole army. 

How many millions of future souls, [shall] we save from infection 
and delusion, if the present race of Poisoned Spirits were purged 
from the face of the land! 

It is vain to trifle in this matter! The light foolish handling of 
them by mulcts, fines, &c.; 'tis their glory and their advantage! If 
the Gallows instead of the Counter, and the galleys instead of the 



SHORTEST- WAY WITH THE DISSENTERS 1 43 

fines; were the reward of going to a conventicle, to preach or hear, 
there would not be so many sufferers! The spirit of martyrdom is 
over! They that will go to church to be chosen Sheriffs and Mayors, 
would go to forty churches, rather than be hanged! 

If one severe Law were made, and punctually executed, that Who- 
ever was found at a Conventicle should be banished the nation, and 
the Preacher be hanged; we should soon see an end of the tale! They 
would all come to church again, and one Age '[generation\ would 
make us all One again! 

To talk of Five Shillings a month for not coming to the Sacra- 
ment, and One Shilling per week, for not coming to Church: this 
is such a way of converting people as was never known! This is 
selling them a liberty to transgress, for so much money! 

If it be not a crime, why don't we give them full license ? and if it 
be, no price ought to compound for the committing of it! for that is 
selling a liberty to people to sin against GOD and the Government! 

If it be a crime of the highest consequence, both against the peace 
and welfare of the nation, the Glory of GOD, the good of the 
Church, and the happiness of the soul : let us rank it among capital 
offences! and let it receive punishment in proportion to it! 

We hang men for trifles, and banish them for things not worth 
naming; but that an offence against GOD and the Church, against 
the welfare of the World, and the dignity of Religion shall be bought 
off for Five Shillings: this is such a shame to a Christian Govern- 
ment, that it is with regret I transmit it to posterity. 

If men sin against GOD, affront His ordinances, rebel against His 
Church, and disobey the precepts of their superiors; let them suffer, 
as such capital crimes deserve! so will Religion flourish, and this 
divided nation be once again united. 

And yet the title of barbarous and cruel will soon be taken off from 
this Law too. I am not supposing that all the Dissenters in England 
should be hanged or banished. But as in case of rebellions and insur- 
rections, if a few of the ringleaders suffer, the multitude are dis- 
missed; so a few obstinate people being made examples, there is no 
doubt but the severity of the Law would find a stop in the compliance 
of the multitude. 

To make the reasonableness of this matter out of question, and 



144 DANIEL DEFOE 

more unanswerably plain, let us examine for what it is, that this 
nation is divided into Parties and factions ? and let us see how they 
can justify a Separation? or we of the Church of England can justify 
cur bearing the insults and inconveniences of the Party. 

One of their leading Pastors, and a man of as much learning as 
most among them, in his Answer to a Pamphlet entituled An 
Enquiry into the Occasional Conformity, hath these words, p. 27: 
"Do the Religion of the Church and the Meeting Houses make two 
religions? Wherein do they differ? The Substance of the same 
Religion is common to them both, and the Modes and Accidents are 
the things in which only they differ." P. 28: "Thirty-nine Articles 
are given us for the Summary of our Religion: thirty-six contain the 
Substance of it, wherein we agree; three are additional Appendices, 
about which we have some differences." 

Now, if as, by their own acknowledgment, the Church of England 
is a true Church; and the difference is only in a few "Modes and 
Accidents": why should we expect that they will suffer the gallows 
and galleys, corporal punishment and banishment, for these trifles? 
There is no question, but they will be wiser! Even their own prin- 
ciples won't bear them out in it! 

They will certainly comply with the Laws, and with Reason! 
And though, at the first, severity may seem hard, the next Age will 
feel nothing of it! the contagion will be rooted out. The disease being 
cured, there will be no need of the operation! But if they should 
venture to transgress, and fall into the pit; all the World must 
condemn their obstinacy, as being without ground from their own 
principles. 

Thus the pretence of cruelty will be taken off, and the Party actual 
suppressed; and the disquiets they have so often brought upon the 
Nation, prevented. 

Their numbers and their wealth make them haughty; and that is 
so far from being an argument to persuade us to forbear them, that 
it is a warning to us, without any more delay, to reconcile them to 
the Unity of the Church, or remove them from us. 

At present. Heaven be praised! they are not so formidable as they 



SHORTEST-WAY WITH THE DISSENTERS 1 45 

have been, and it is our own fault if ever we suffer them to be so! 
Providence and the Church of England seem to join in this particu- 
lar, that now, the Destroyers of the Nation's Peace may be over- 
turned! and to this end, the present opportunity seems to put into 
our hands. 

To this end. Her present Majesty seems reserved to enjoy the 
Crown, that the Ecclesiastic as well as Civil Rights of the Nation may 
be restored by her hand. 

To this end, the face of affairs has received such a turn in the 
process of a few months as never has been before. The leading men 
of the Nation, the universal cry of the People, the unanimous request 
of the Clergy agree in this, that the Deliverance of our Church is 
at hand! 

For this end, has Providence given such a Parliament! such a 
Convocation! such a Gentry! and such a Queen! as we never had 
before. 

And what may be the consequences of a neglect of such opportu- 
nities? The Succession of the Crown has but a dark prospect! 
Another Dutch turn may make the hopes of it ridiculous, and the 
practice impossible! Be the House of our future Princes ever so well 
inclined, they will be Foreigners! Many years will be spent in suiting 
the Genius of Strangers to this Crown, and the Interests of the 
Nation! and how many Ages it may be, before the English throne 
be filled with so much zeal and candour, so much tenderness and 
hearty affection to the Church, as we see it now covered with, who 
can imagine ? 

It is high time, then, for the friends of the Church of England 
to think of building up and establishing her in such a manner, that 
she may be no more invaded by Foreigners, nor divided by factions, 
schisms, and error. 

If this could be done by gentle and easy methods, I should be 
glad! but the wound is corroded, the vitals begin to mortify, and 
nothing but amputation of members can complete the cure! All the 
ways of tenderness and compassion, all persuasive arguments have 
been made use of in vain! 



146 DANIEL DEFOE 

The humour of the Dissenters has so increased among the people, 
that they hold the Church in defiance! and the House of GOD is an 
abomination among them! Nay, they have brought up their posterity 
in such prepossessed aversion to our Holy Religion, that the ignorant 
mob think we are all idolaters and worshippers of Baal! and account 
it a sin to come within the walls of our churches! The primi- 
tive Christians were not more shy of a heathen temple, or of meat 
offered to idols; nor the Jews, of swine's flesh, than some of our 
Dissenters are of the church and the Divine Service solemnized 
therein. 

The Obstinacy must be rooted out, with the profession of it! 
While the Generation are left at liberty daily to affront GOD 
Almighty, and dishonour His holy worship; we are wanting in our 
duty to GOD, and to our Mother the Church of England. 

How can we answer it to GOD! to the Church! and to our 
posterity; to leave them entangled with Fanaticism! Error, and 
Obstinacy, in the bowels of the nation? to leave them an enemy in 
their streets, that, in time, may involve them in the same crimes, and 
endanger the utter extirpation of the Religion of the Nation! 

What is the difference betwixt this, and being subject to the power 
of the Church of Rome? from whence we have reformed. If one be 
an extreme to the one hand, and one on another: it is equally 
destructive to the Truth to have errors settled among us, let them be 
of what nature they will! Both are enemies of our Church, and of 
our peace! and why should it not be as criminal to admit an Enthu- 
siast as a Jesuit? why should the Papist with his Seven Sacraments 
be worse than the Quaker with no Sacraments at all? Why should 
Religious Houses be more intolerable than Meeting Houses? 

Alas, the Church of England! What with Popery on one hand, 
and Schismatics on the other, how has She been crucified between 
two thieves. Now, let us crucify the thieves! 

Let her foundations be established upon the destruction of her 
enemies! The doors of Mercy being always open to the returning 
part of the deluded people, let the obstinate be ruled with the rod 
of iron! 

Let all true sons of so holy and oppressed a Mother, exasperated 



SHORTEST-WAY WITH THE DISSENTERS I47 

by her afflictions, harden their hearts against those who have 
oppressed her! 

And may GOD Almighty put it into the hearts of all the friends of 
Truth, to lift up a Standard against Pride and Antichrist! that 
the Posterity of the Sons of Error may be rooted out from the 
face of this land, for ever! 



THE EDUCATION OF WOMEN 

I HAVE often thought of it as one of the most barbarous customs 
in the world, considering us as a civiUzed and a Christian 
country, that we deny the advantages of learning to women. 
We reproach the sex every day with folly and impertinence; while I 
am confident, had they the advantages of education equal to us, they 
would be guilty of less than ourselves. 

One would wonder, indeed, how it should happen that women 
are conversible at all; since they are only beholden to natural parts, 
for all their knowledge. Their youth is spent to teach them to stitch 
and sew or make baubles. They are taught to read, indeed, and 
perhaps to write their names, or so; and that is the height of a 
woman's education. And I would but ask any who slight the sex for 
their understanding, what is a man (a gentleman, I mean) good for, 
that is taught no more? I need not give instances, or examine the 
character of a gentleman, with a good estate, or a good family, and 
with tolerable parts; and examine what figure he makes for want 
of education. 

The soul is placed in the body like a rough diamond; and must be 
polished, or the lustre of it will never appear. And 'tis manifest, that 
as the rational soul distinguishes us from brutes; so education carries 
on the distinction, and makes some less brutish than others. This is 
too evident to need any demonstration. But why then should women 
be denied the benefit of instruction? If knowledge and under- 
standing had been useless additions to the sex, GOD Almighty would 
never have given them capacities; for he made nothing needless. 
Besides, I would ask such, What they can see in ignorance, that they 
should think it a necessary ornament to a woman? or how much 
worse is a wise woman than a fool? or what has the woman done 
to forfeit the privilege of being taught ? Does she plague us with her 
pride and impertinence? Why did we not let her learn, that she 
might have had more wit? Shall we upbraid women with folly, 

148 



THE EDUCATION OF WOMEN I49 

when 'tis only the error of this inhuman custom, that hindered them 
from being made wiser? 

The capacities of women are supposed to be greater, and their 
senses quicker than those of the men; and what they might be 
capable of being bred to, is plain from some instances of female wit, 
which this age is not without. Which upbraids us with Injustice, 
and looks as if we denied women the advantages of education, for 
fear they should vie with the men in their improvements. . . . 

[They] should be taught all sorts of breeding suitable both to their 
genius and quality. And in particular. Music and Dancing; which 
it would be cruelty to bar the sex of, because they are their darlings. 
But besides this, they should be taught languages, as particularly 
French and Italian: and I would venture the injury of giving a 
woman more tongues than one. They should, as a particular study, 
be taught all the graces of speech, and all the necessary air of conver- 
sation; which our common education is so defective in, that I need 
not expose it. They should be brought to read books, and especially 
history; and so to read as to make them understand the world, and 
be able to know and judge of things when they hear of them. 

To such whose genius would lead them to it, I would deny no 
sort of learning; but the chief thing, in general, is to cultivate the 
understandings of the sex, that they may be capable of all sorts of 
conversation; that their parts and judgements being improved, they 
may be as profitable in their conversation as they are pleasant. 

Women, in my observation, have little or no difference in them, 
but as they are or are not distinguished by education. Tempers, 
indeed, may in some degree influence them, but the main dis- 
tinguishing part is their Breeding. 

The whole sex are generally quick and sharp. I believe, I may be 
allowed to say, generally so: for you rarely see them lumpish and 
heavy, when they are children; as boys will often be. If a woman 
be well bred, and taught the proper management of her natural wit; 
she proves generally very sensible and retentive. 

And, without partiality, a woman of sense and manners is the 
finest and most delicate part of GOD's Creation, the glory of Her 
Maker, and the great instance of His singular regard to man. His 



150 DANIEL DEFOE 

darling creature: to whom He gave the best gift either GOD could 
bestow or man receive. And 'tis the sordidest piece of folly and 
ingratitude in the world, to withhold from the sex the due lustre 
which the advantages of education gives to the natural beauty of 
their minds. 

A woman well bred and well taught, furnished with the additional 
accomplishments of knowledge and behaviour, is a creature without 
comparison. Her society is the emblem of sublimer enjoyments, her 
person is angelic, and her conversation heavenly. She is all softness 
and sweetness, peace, love, wit, and delight. She is every way suitable 
to the sublimest wish, and the man that has such a one to his portion, 
has nothing to do but to rejoice in her, and be thankful. 

On the other hand, Suppose her to be the very same woman, and 
rob her of the benefit of education, and it follows — 

If her temper be good, want of education makes her soft and 

easy. 
Her wit, for want of teaching, makes her impertinent and 

talkative. 
Her knowledge, for want of judgement and experience, makes 

her fanciful and whimsical. 
If her temper be bad, want of breeding makes her worse; and 

she grows haughty, insolent, and loud. 
If she be passionate, want of manners makes her a termagant 

and a scold, which is much at one with Lunatic. 
If she be proud, want of discretion (which still is breeding) 

makes her conceited, fantastic, and ridiculous. 
And from these she degenerates to be turbulent, clamorous, noisy, 

nasty, the devil! . . . 

The great distinguishing difference, which is seen in the world 
between men and women, is in their education; and this is mani- 
fested by comparing it with the difference between one man or 
woman, and another. 

And herein it is that I take upon me to make such a bold assertion, 
That all the world are mistaken in their practice about women. For 
I cannot think that GOD Almighty ever made them so delicate, so 



THE EDUCATION OF WOMEN I5I 

glorious creatures; and furnished them with such charms, so agree- 
able and so delightful to mankind; with souls capable of the same 
accomplishments with men: and all, to be only Stewards of our 
Houses, Cooks, and Slaves. 

Not that I am for exalting the female government in the least: 
but, in short, 1 would have men ta\e women for companions, and 
educate them to be fit for it. A woman of sense and breeding will 
scorn as much to encroach upon the prerogative of man, as a man 
of sense will scorn to oppress the weakness of the woman. But if the 
women's souls were refined and improved by teaching, that word 
would be lost. To say, the weakness of the sex, as to judgement, 
would be nonsense; for ignorance and folly would be no more to be 
found among women than men. 

I remember a passage, which I heard from a very fine woman. 
She had wit and capacity enough, an extraordinary shape and face, 
and a great fortune: but had been cloistered up all her time; and for 
fear of being stolen, had not had the liberty of being taught the 
common necessary knowledge of women's affairs. And when she 
came to converse in the world, her natural wit made her so sensible 
of the want of education, that she gave this short reflection on herself: 
"I am ashamed to talk with my very maids," says she, "for I don't 
know when they do right or wrong. I had more need go to school, 
than be married." 

I need not enlarge on the loss the defect of education is to the sex; 
nor argue the benefit of the contrary practice. 'Tis a thing will be 
more easily granted than remedied. This chapter is but an Essay at 
the thing: and I refer the Practice to those Happy Days (if ever they 
shall be) when men shall be wise enough to mend it. 



LIFE OF ADDISON 

BY 
SAMUEL JOHNSON 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the great literary dictator of the latter 
part of the eighteenth century, was the son of a bookseller at Lichfield. 
After leaving Oxford, he tried teaching, but soon gave it up, and came 
to London in 1737, where he supported himself by his pen. After years 
of hardship he finally rose to the head of his profession, and a pension 
of ;^3oo a year from George IIL made his later years free from anxiety. 

Johnson attempted many forms of literature. In poetry his chief works 
were "London," an imitation of Juvenal, and "The Vanity of Human 
Wishes," a piece of dignified and impressive moralizing. Garrick pro- 
duced his tragedy of "Irene" in 1749, but without much success. The 
great Dictionary appeared in 1755, and made an epoch in the history 
of English lexicography. From 1750 to 1752 he issued the "Rambler," 
which he wrote almost entirely himself. This periodical is regarded as 
the most successful of the imitations of the "Spectator," but the modern 
reader finds it heavy. The "Idler," a similar publication, appeared from 
1758 to 1760. In 1759, when Johnson's mother died, he wrote his didac- 
tic romance of "Rasselas" in one week in order to defray the expenses 
of her illness and funeral. This was the most popular of his writings in 
his own day, and has been translated into many languages. In 1765 
Johnson issued his edition of Shakespeare in eight volumes, a task in 
many respects inadequately performed, yet in the interpretation of ob- 
scure passages often showing Johnson's robust common sense and power 
of clear and vigorous expression. 

It is generally agreed that none of Johnson's various works is the 
equal of his conversation as reported in the greatest of English biog- 
raphies, Boswell's "Life of Johnson." But the "Lives of the Poets," 
written as prefaces to a collection of the English poets, is his most 
permanently valuable production, and, though limited by the standards 
of his time, is full of acute criticism admirably expressed. The "Life of 
Addison" is one of the most sympathetic of the "Lives," and gives an 
excellent idea of Johnson's matter and manner. 



LIFE OF ADDISON 

1672-1719 

JOSEPH ADDISON was born on the first of May, 1672, at 
Milston, of which his father, Lancelot Addison, was then rector, 
near Ambrosbury in Wiltshire, and appearing weak and 
unlikely to live, he was christened the same day. After the usual 
domestick education, which, from the character of his father, may be 
reasonably supposed to have given him strong impressions of piety, 
he was committed to the care of Mr. Naish at Ambrosbury, and 
afterwards of Mr. Taylor at Salisbury. 

Not to name the school or the masters of men illustrious for litera- 
ture is a kind of historical fraud, by which honest fame is injuriously 
diminished: I would therefore trace him through the whole process 
of his education. In 1683, in the beginning of his twelfth year, his 
father being made Dean of Lichfield, naturally carried his family 
to his new residence, and, I believe, placed him for some time, 
probably not long, under Mr. Shaw, then master of the school at 
Lichfield, father of the late Dr. Peter Shaw. Of this interval his 
biographers have given no account, and I know it only from a story 
of a barring-out, told me, when I was a boy, by Andrew Corbet of 
Shropshire, who had heard it from Mr. Pigot his uncle. 

The practice of barring-out, was a savage license, practised in many 
schools to the end of the last century, by which the boys, when the 
periodical vacation drew near, growing petulant at the approach of 
liberty, some days before the time of regular recess, took possession 
of the school, of which they barred the doors, and bade their master 
defiance from the windows. It is not easy to suppose that on such 
occasions the master would do more than laugh; yet, if tradition may 
be credited, he often struggled hard to force or surprise the garrison. 
The master, when Pigot was a school-boy, was barred-out at Lich- 
field, and the whole operation, as he said, was planned and conducted 
by Addison. 

155 



156 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

To judge better of the probability of this story, I have enquired 
when he was sent to the Chartreux; but, as he was not one of those 
who enjoyed the founder's benefaction, there is no account preserved 
of his admission. At the school of the Chartreux, to which he was 
removed either from that of Salisbury or Lichfield, he pursued his 
juvenile studies under the care of Dr. Ellis, and contracted that 
intimacy with Sir Richard Steele which their joint labours have so 
effectually recorded. 

Of this memorable friendship the greater praise must be given to 
Steele. It is not hard to love those from whom nothing can be 
feared, and Addison never considered Steele as a rival; but Steele 
lived, as he confesses, under an habitual subjection to the predomi- 
nating genius of Addison, whom he always mentioned with rev- 
erence, and treated with obsequiousness. 

Addison, who knew his own dignity, could not always forbear to 
shew it, by playing a little upon his admirer; but he was in no danger 
of retort: his jests were endured without resistance or resentment. 

But the sneer of jocularity was not the worst. Steele, whose 
imprudence of generosity, or vanity of profusion, kept him always 
incurably necessitous, upon some pressing exigence, in an evil hour 
borrowed a hundred pounds of his friend, probably without much 
purpose of repayment; but Addison, who seems to have had other 
notions of an hundred pounds, grew impatient of delay, and 
reclaimed his loan by an execution. Steele felt with great sensibility 
the obduracy of his creditor; but with emotions of sorrow rather 
than of anger. 

In 1687 he was entered into Queen's College in Oxford, where, in 
1689, the accidental perusal of some Latin verses gained him the 
patronage of Dr. Lancaster, afterwards provost of Queen's College; 
by whose recommendation he was elected into Magdalen College 
as a Demy, a term by which that society denominates those which 
are elsewhere called Scholars; young men, who partake of the 
founder's benefaction, and succeed in their order to vacant fellow- 
ships. 

Here he continued to cultivate poetry and criticism, and grew 
first eminent by his Latin compositions, which are indeed entitled 
to particular praise. He has not confined himself to the imitation of 



LIFE OF ADDISON 157 

any ancient author, but has formed his style from the general 
language, such as a diligent perusal of the productions of different 
ages happened to supply. 

His Latin compositions seem to have had much of his fondness; 
for he collected a second volume of the Musa: Anglicanae, perhaps 
for a convenient receptacle, in which all his Latin pieces are inserted, 
and where his Poem on the Peace has the first place. He afterwards 
presented the collection to Boileau, who from that time conceived, 
says Tickell, an opinion of the English genius for poetry. Nothing 
is better known of Boileau, than that he had an injudicious and 
peevish contempt of modern Latin, and therefore his profession of 
regard was probably the effect of his civility rather than approba- 
tion. 

Three of his Latin poems are upon subjects on which perhaps he 
would not have ventured to have written in his own language. The 
Battle of the Pigmies and Cranes; The Barometer; and A Bowling- 
green. When the matter is low or scanty, a dead language, in which 
nothing is mean because nothing is familiar, affords great con- 
veniences; and by the sonorous magnificence of Roman syllables, the 
writer conceals penury of thought, and want of novelty, often from 
the reader, and often from himself. 

In his twenty-second year he first shewed his power of English 
poetry by some verses addressed to Dry den; and soon afterwards 
published a translation of the greater part of the Fourth Georgick 
upon Bees; after which, says Dryden, my latter swarm is hardly 
worth the hiving. 

About the same time he composed the arguments prefixed to the 
several books of Dryden's Virgil; and produced an Essay on the 
Georgicks, juvenile, superficial, and uninstructive, without much 
either of the scholar's learning or the critick's penetration. 

His next paper of verses contained a character of the principal 
English poets, inscribed to Henry Sacheverell, who was then, if not 
a poet, a writer of verses; as is shewn by his version of a small part 
of Virgil's Georgicks, published in the Miscellanies, and a Latin 
encomium on Queen Mary, in the Musae Anglicanse. These verses 
exhibit all the fondness of friendship; but on one side or the other, 
friendship was afterwards too weak for the malignity of faction. 



158 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

In this poem is a very confident and discriminative character of 
Spenser, whose work he had then never read. So little sometimes is 
criticism the effect of judgment. It is necessary to inform the reader, 
that about this time he was introduced by Congreve to Montague, 
then Chancellor of the Exchequer: Addison was then learning the 
trade of a courtier, and subjoined Montague as a poetical name to 
those of Cowley and of Dryden. 

By the influence of Mr. Montague, concurring, according to 
Tickell, with his natural modesty, he was diverted from his original 
design of entering into holy orders. Montague alleged the corruption 
of men who engaged in civil employments without liberal education; 
and declared, that, though he was represented as an enemy to the 
Church, he would never do it an injury by withholding Addison 
from it. 

Soon after (in 1695) he wrote a poem to King William, with a 
rhyming introduction addressed to Lord Somers. King William 
had no regard to elegance or literature; his study was only war; yet 
by a choice of ministers, whose disposition was very different from 
his own, he procured, without intention, a very liberal patronage to 
poetry. Addison was caressed both by Somers and Montague. 

In 1697 appeared his Latin verses on the Peace of Ryswick which 
he dedicated to Montague, and which was afterwards called by Smith 
the best Latin poem since the /Eneid. Praise must not be too rigor- 
ously examined; but the performance cannot be denied to be vigorous 
and elegant. 

Having yet no public employment, he obtained (in 1699) a pension 
of three hundred pounds a year, that he might be enabled to travel. 
He staid a year at Blois, probably to learn the French language; and 
riien proceeded in his journey to Italy, which he surveyed with the 
eyes of a poet. 

While he was travelling at leisure, he was far from being idle; for 
he not only collected his observations on the country, but found time 
to write his Dialogues on Medals, and four Acts of Cato. Such at 
least is the relation of Tickell. Perhaps he only collected his mate- 
rials, and formed his plan. 

Whatever were his other employments in Italy, he there wrote 
the Letter to Lord Halifax, which is justly considered as the most 



LIFE OF ADDISON I59 

elegant, if not the most sublime, of his poetical productions. But 
in about two years he found it necessary to hasten home; being, as 
Swift informs us, distressed by indigence, and compelled to be- 
come the tutor of a travelling Square, because his pension was not 
remitted. 

At his return he published his Travels, with a dedication to Lord 
Somers. As his stay in foreign countries was short, his observations 
are such as might be supplied by a hasty view, and consist chiefly in 
comparisons of the present face of the country with the descriptions 
left us by the Roman poets, from whom he made preparatory collec- 
tions, though he might have spared the trouble had he known that 
such collections had been made twice before by Italian authors. 

The most amusing passage of his book, is his account of the minute 
republick of San Marino; of many parts it is not a very severe censure 
to say that they might have been written at home. His elegance of 
language, and variegation of prose and verse, however, gains upon 
the reader; and the book, though a while neglected, became in time 
so much the favourite of the publick, that before it was reprinted it 
rose to five times its price. 

When he returned to England (in 1702), with a meanness of 
appearance which gave testimony of the difficulties to which he had 
been reduced, he found his old patrons out of power, and was there- 
fore for a time at full leisure for the cultivation of his mind, and a 
mind so cultivated gives reason to believe that little time was lost. 

But he remained not long neglected or useless. The victory at 
Blenheim (1704) spread triumph and confidence over the nation; 
and Lord Godolphin lamenting to Lord Halifax, that it had not 
been celebrated in a manner equal to the subject, desired him to 
propose it to some better poet. Halifax told him that there was no 
encouragement for genius; that worthless men were unprofitably 
enriched with publick money, without any care to find or employ 
those whose appearance might do honour to their country. To this 
Godolphin replied, that such abuses should in time be rectified; and 
that if a man could be found capable of the task then proposed, he 
should not want an ample recompense. Halifax then named Addi- 
son; but required that the Treasurer should apply to him in his own 
person. Godolphin sent the message by Mr. Boyle, afterwards Lord 



l6o SAMUEL JOHNSON 

Carleton; and Addison having undertaken the work, communicated 
it to the Treasurer, while it was yet advanced no further than the 
simile of the Angel, and was immediately rewarded by succeeding 
Mr. Locke in the place of Commissioner of Appeals. 

In the following year he was at Hanover with Lord Halifax; and 
the year after was made under-secretary of state, first to Sir Charles 
Hedges, and in a few months more to the Earl of Sunderland. 

About this time the prevalent taste for Italian operas inclined him 
to try what would be the effect of a musical Drama in our own 
language. He therefore wrote the opera of Rosamond, which, when 
exhibited on the stage, was either hissed or neglected; but trusting 
that the readers would do him more justice, he published it, with an 
inscription to the Duchess of Marlborough; a woman without skill, 
or pretensions to skill, in poetry or literature. His dedication was 
therefore an instance of servile absurdity, to be exceeded only by 
Joshua Barnes's dedication of a Greek Anacreon to the Duke. 

His reputation had been somewhat advanced by The Tender Hus- 
band, a comedy which Steele dedicated to him, with a confession 
that he owed to him several of the most successful scenes. To this 
play Addison supplied a prologue. 

When the Marquis of Wharton was appointed Lord-lieutenant of 
Ireland, Addison attended him as his secretary; and was made 
keeper of the records in Birmingham's Tower, with a salary of three 
hundred pounds a year. The office was little more than nominal, and 
the salary was augmented for his accommodation. 

Interest and faction allow little to the operation of particular 
dispositions, or private opinions. Two men of personal characters 
more opposite than those of Wharton and Addison could not easily 
be brought together. Wharton was impious, profligate, and shame- 
less, without regard, or appearance of regard, to right and wrong: 
whatever is contrary to this, may be said of Addison; but as agents 
of a party they were connected, and how they adjusted their other 
sentiments we cannot know. 

Addison must, however, not be too hastily condemned. It is not 
necessary to refuse benefits from a bad man, when the acceptance 
implies no approbation of his crime; nor has the subordinate officer 
any obligation to examine the opinions or conduct of those under 



LIFE OF ADDISON l6l 

whom he acts, except that he may not be made the instrument of 
wickedness. It is reasonable to suppose that Addison counteracted, 
as far as he was able, the malignant and blasting influence of the 
Lieutenant, and that at least by his intervention some good was done, 
and some mischief prevented. 

When he was in office, he made a law to himself, as Swift has 
recorded, never to remit his regular fees in civility to his friends: 
"For," said he, "I may have a hundred friends; and, if my fee be two 
guineas, I shall, by relinquishing my right lose two hundred guineas, 
and no friend gain more than two; there is therefore no proportion 
between the good imparted and the evil suffered." 

He was in Ireland when Steele, without any communication of 
his design, began the publication of the Tatler; but he was not long 
concealed: by inserting a remark on Virgil, which Addison had given 
him, he discovered himself. It is indeed not easy for any man to 
write upon literature, or common life, so as not to make himself 
known to those with whom he familiarly converses, and who are 
acquainted with his track of study, his favourite topicks, his peculiar 
notions, and his habitual phrases. 

If Steele desired to write in secret, he was not lucky; a single month 
detected him. His first Tatler was published April 22 (1709), and 
Addison's contribution appeared May 26. Tickell observes, that the 
Tatler began and was concluded without his concurrence. This is 
doubtless literally true; but the work did not suffer much by his 
unconsciousness of its commencement, or his absence at its cessation; 
for he continued his assistance to December 23, and the paper stopped 
on January 2. He did not distinguish his pieces by any signature; 
and I know not whether his name was not kept secret, till the papers 
were collected into volumes. 

To the Tatler, in about two months, succeeded the Spectator; a 
series of essays of the same kind, but written with less levity, upon 
a more regular plan, and published daily. Such an undertaking 
shewed the writers not to distrust their own copiousness of materials 
or facility of composition, and their performance justified their con- 
fidence. They found, however, in their progress, many auxiliaries. 
To attempt a single paper was no terrifying labour : many pieces were 
offered, and many were received. 



1 62 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

Addison had enough of the zeal of party, but Steele had at that 
time almost nothing else. The Spectator, in one of the first papers, 
shewed the political tenets of its authors; but a resolution was soon 
taken, of courting general approbation by general topicks, and sub- 
jects on which faction had produced no diversity of sentiments; such 
as literature, morality, and familiar life. To this practice they adhered 
with very few deviations. The ardour of Steele once broke out in 
praise of Marlborough; and when Dr. Fleetwood prefixed to some 
sermons a preface, overflowing with whiggish opinions, that it might 
be read by the Queen it was reprinted in the Spectator. 

To teach the minuter decencies and inferior duties, to regulate 
the practice of daily conversation, to correct those depravities which 
are rather ridiculous than criminal, and remove those grievances 
which, if they produce no lasting calamities, impress hourly vexation, 
was first attempted by Casa in his book of Manners, and Castiglione 
in his Courtier; two books yet celebrated in Italy for purity and 
elegance, and which, if they are now less read, are neglected only 
because they have effected that reformation which their authors 
intended, and their precepts now are no longer wanted. Their useful- 
ness to the age in which they were written is sufficiently attested by 
the translations which almost all the nations of Europe were in 
haste to obtain. 

This species of instruction was continued, and perhaps advanced, 
by the French; among whom La Bruyere's Manners of the Age, 
though, as Boileau remarked, it is written without connection, cer- 
tainly deserves great praise, for liveliness of description and justness 
of observation. 

Before the Taller and Spectator, if the writers for the theatre are 
excepted, England had no masters of common life. No writers had 
yet undertaken to reform either the savageness of neglect, or the 
impertinence of civility; to shew when to speak, or to be silent; how 
to refuse, or how to comply. We had many books to teach us our 
more important duties, and to settle opinions in philosophy or 
politicks; but an Arbiter elegantiarum, a judge of propriety, was yet 
wanting, who should survey the track of daily conversation, and free 
it from thorns and prickles, which teaze the passer, though they do 
not wound him. 



LIFE OF ADDISON 1 63 

For this purpose nothing is so proper as the frequent publication 
of short papers, which we read not as study but amusement. If the 
subject be sHght, the treatise hkewise is short. The busy may find 
time, and the idle may find patience. 

This mode of conveying cheap and easy knowledge began among 
us in the Civil War, when it was much the interest of either party to 
raise and fix the prejudices of the people. At that time appeared 
Mercurius Aulicus, Mercurius Rusticus, and Mercurius Civicus. It is 
said, that when any title grew popular, it was stolen by the antagonist, 
who by this stratagem conveyed his notions to those who would not 
have received him had he not worn the appearance of a friend. The 
tumult of those unhappy days left scarcely any man leisure to treasure 
up occasional compositions; and so much were they neglected, that a 
complete collection is no where to be found. 

These Mercuries were succeeded by L'Estrange's Observator, and 
that by Lesley's Rehearsal, and perhaps by others; but hitherto 
nothing had been conveyed to the people, in this commodious man- 
ner, but controversy relating to the Church or State; of which they 
taught many to talk, whom they could not teach to judge. 

It has been suggested that the Royal Society was instituted soon 
after the Restoration, to divert the attention of the people from public 
discontent. The Tatler and the Spectator had the same tendency; 
they were published at a time when two parties, loud, restless, and 
violent, each with plausible declarations, and each perhaps without 
any distinct termination of its views, were agitating the nation; to 
minds heated with political contest, they supplied cooler and more 
inoffensive reflections; and it is said by Addison, in a subsequent 
work, that they had a perceptible influence upon the conversation 
of that time, and taught the frolick and the gay to unite merriment 
with decency; an effect which they can never wholly lose, while 
they continue to be among the first books by which both sexes are 
initiated in the elegances of knowledge. 

The Tatler and Spectator adjusted, like Casa, the unsettled prac- 
tice of daily intercourse by propriety and politeness; and, like La 
Bruyere, exhibited the Characters and Manners of the Age. The 
persons introduced in these papers were not merely ideal; they were 
then known and conspicuous in various stations. Of the Tatler this 



164 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

is told by Steele in his last paper, and of the Spectator by Budgell 
in the Preface to Theophrastus; a book which Addison has recom- 
mended, and which he was suspected to have revised, if he did not 
write it. Of those portraits, which may be supposed to be sometimes 
embellished, and sometimes aggravated, the originals are now partly 
known, and partly forgotten. 

But to say that they united the plans of two or three eminent 
writers, is to give them but a small part of their due praise; they 
superadded literature and criticism, and sometimes towered far above 
their predecessors; and taught, with great justness of argument and 
dignity of language, the most important duties and sublime truths. 

All these topicks were happily varied with elegant fictions and 
refined allegories, and illuminated with different changes of style 
and felicities of invention. 

It is recorded by Budgell, that of the characters feigned or exhibited 
in the Spectator, the favourite of Addison was Sir Roger de Coverley, 
of whom he had formed a very delicate and discriminated idea, 
which he would not suffer to be violated; and therefore when Steele 
had shewn him innocently picking up a girl in the Temple and 
taking her to a tavern, he drew upon himself so much of his friend's 
indignation, that he was forced to appease him by a promise of 
forbearing Sir Roger for the time to come. 

The reason which induced Cervantes to bring his hero to the grave, 
para mi solo nacio Don Quixote, y yo para el, made Addison declare, 
with an undue vehemence of expression, that he would kill Sir 
Roger; being of opinion that they were born for one another, and 
that any other hand would do him wrong. 

It may be doubted whether Addison ever filled up his original 
delineation. He describes his Knight as having his imagination some- 
what warped; but of this perversion he has made very little use. 
The irregularities in Sir Roger's conduct seem not so much the 
effects of a mind deviating from the beaten track of life, by the per- 
petual pressure of some overwhelming idea, as of habitual rusticity, 
and that negligence which solitary grandeur naturally generates. 

The variable weather of the mind, the flying vapours of incipient 
madness, which from time to time cloud reason, without eclipsing it. 



LIFE OF ADDISON 1 65 

it requires so much nicety to exhibit, that Addison seems to have been 
deterred from prosecuting his own design. 

To Sir Roger, who, as a country gentleman, appears to be a Tory, 
or, as it is gently expressed, an adherent to the landed interest, is 
opposed Sir Andrew Freeport, a new man, a wealthy merchant, 
zealous for the moneyed interest, and a Whig, Of this contrariety 
of opinions, it is probable more consequences were at first intended, 
than could be produced when the resolution was taken to exclude 
party from the paper. Sir Andrew does but little, and that little 
seems not to have pleased Addison, who, when he dismissed him 
from the club, changed his opinions. Steele had made him, in the 
true spirit of unfeeling commerce, declare that he would not build 
an hospital for idle people; but at last he buys land, settles in the 
country, and builds not a manufactory, but an hospital for twelve 
old husbandmen, for men with whom a merchant has little acquaint- 
ance, and whom he commonly considers with little kindness. 

Of essays thus elegant, thus instructive, and thus commodiously 
distributed, it is natural to suppose the approbation general and the 
sale numerous. I once heard it observed, that the sale may be calcu- 
lated by the product of the tax, related in the last number to produce 
more than twenty pounds a week, and therefore stated at one and 
twenty pounds, or three pounds ten shillings a day: this, at a half- 
penny a paper, will give sixteen hundred and eighty for the daily 
number. 

This sale is not great; yet this, if Swift be credited, was likely to 
grow less; for he declares that the Spectator, whom he ridicules for 
his endless mention of the fair sex, had before his recess wearied his 
readers. 

The next year (1713), in which Cato came upon the stage, was 
the grand climacterick of Addison's reputation. Upon the death of 
Cato, he had, as is said, planned a tragedy in the time of his travels, 
and had for several years the four first acts finished, which were 
shewn to such as were likely to spread their admiration. They were 
seen by Pope, and by Gibber; who relates that Steele, when he took 
back the copy, told him, in the despicable cant of literary modesty, 
that, whatever spirit his friend had shewn in the composition, he 



l66 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

doubted whether he would have courage sufficient to expose it to 
the censure of a British audience. 

The time however was now come, when those who affected to 
think hberty in danger, affected Hkewise to think that a stage-play 
might preserve it : and Addison was importuned, in the name of the 
tutelary deities of Britain, to shew his courage and his zeal by finish- 
ing his design. 

To resume his work he seemed perversely and unaccountably 
unwilling; and by a request, which perhaps he wished to be denied, 
desired Mr. Hughes to add a fifth act. Hughes supposed him serious; 
and, undertaking the supplement, brought in a few days some scenes 
for his examination; but he had in the mean time gone to work 
himself, and produced half an act, which he afterward completed, 
but with brevity irregularly disproportionate to the foregoing 
parts; like a task performed with reluctance, and hurried to its con- 
clusion. 

It may yet be doubted whether Cato was made publick by any 
change of the author's purpose; for Dennis charged him with raising 
prejudices in his own favour by false positions of preparatory criti- 
cism, and with poisoning the town by contradicting in the Spectator 
the established rule of poetical justice, because his own hero, with 
all his virtues, was to fall before a tyrant. The fact is certain; the 
motives we must guess. 

Addison was, I believe, sufficiently disposed to bar all avenues 
against all danger. When Pope brought him the prologue, which is 
properly accommodated to the play, there were these words, Britons, 
arise, be worth like this approved; meaning nothing more than, 
Britons, erect and exalt yourselves to the approbation of public virtue. 
Addison was frighted lest he should be thought a promoter of 
insurrection, and the line was liquidated to Britons, attend. 

Now, heavily in clouds came on the day, the great, the important 
day, when Addison was to stand the hazard of the theatre. That 
there might, however, be left as little to hazard as was possible, on the 
first night Steele, as himself relates, undertook to pack an audience. 
This, says Pope, had been tried for the first time in favour of the 
Distrest Mother; and was now, with more efficacy, practised for 
Cato. 



LIFE OF ADDISON 1 67 

The danger was soon over. The whole nation was at that time 
on fire with faction. The Whigs applauded every line in which 
Liberty was mentioned, as a satire on the Tories; and the Tories 
echoed every clap, to shew that the satire was unfelt. The story of 
Bolingbroke is well known. He called Booth to his box, and gave 
him fifty guineas for defending the cause of Liberty so well against 
a perpetual dictator. The Whigs, says Pope, design a second present, 
when they can accompany it with as good a sentence. 

The play, supported thus by the emulation of factious praise, was 
acted night after night for a longer time than, I beUeve, the pubUck 
had allowed to any drama before; and the author, as Mrs. Potter 
long afterwards related, wandered through the whole exhibition 
behind the scenes with restless and unappeasable solicitude. 

When it was printed, notice was given that the Queen would be 
pleased if it was dedicated to her; but as he had designed that com- 
pliment elsewhere, he found himself obliged, says Tickell, by his 
duty on the one hand, and his honour on the other, to send it into 
the world without any dedication. 

Human happiness has always its abatements; the brightest sun- 
shine of success is not without a cloud. No sooner was Cato offered 
to the reader, than it was attacked by the acute malignity of Dennis, 
with all the violence of angry criticism. Dennis, though equally 
zealous, and probably by his temper more furious than Addison, 
for what they called Liberty, and though a flatterer of the Whig 
ministry, could not sit quiet at a successful play; but was eager to 
tell friends and enemies, that they had misplaced their admirations. 
The world was too stubborn for instruction; with the fate of the 
censurer of Corneille's Cid, his animadversions shewed his anger 
without effect, and Cato continued to be praised. 

Pope had now an opportunity of courting the friendship of Addi- 
son, by vilifying his old enemy, and could give resentment its full 
play without appearing to revenge himself. He therefore published 
A Narrative of the Madness of John Dennis; a performance which 
left the objections to the play in their full force, and therefore dis- 
covered more desire of vexing the critick than of defending the poet. 

Addison, who was no stranger to the world, probably saw the 
selfishness of Pope's friendship; and, resolving that he should have 



1 68 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

the consequences of his officiousness to himself, informed Dennis by 
Steele, that he was sorry for the insult; and that whenever he should 
think fit to answer his remarks, he would do it in a manner to which 
nothing could be objected. 

The greatest weakness of the play is in the scenes of love, which are 
said by Pope to have been added to the original plan upon a subse- 
quent review, in compliance with the popular practice of the stage. 
Such an authority it is hard to reject; yet the love is so intimately 
mingled with the whole action that it cannot easily be thought ex- 
trinsick and adventitious; for if it were taken away, what would 
be left? or how were the four acts filled in the first draught? 

At the publication the Wits seemed proud to pay their attendance 
with encomiastick verses. The best are from an unknown hand, 
which will perhaps lose somewhat of their praise when the author 
is known to be Jeffreys. 

Cato had yet other honours. It was censured as a party-play by a 
Scholar of Oxford, and defended in a favourable examination by Dr. 
Sewel. It was translated by Salvini into Italian, and acted at Florence; 
and by the Jesuits of St. Omer's into Latin, and played by their 
pupils. Of this version a copy was sent to Mr. Addison: it is to be 
wished that it could be found, for the sake of comparing their 
version of the soliloquy with that of Bland. 

A tragedy was written on the same subject by Des Champs, a 
French poet, which was translated, with a criticism on the English 
play. But the translator and the critick are now forgotten. 

Dennis lived on unanswered, and therefore little read: Addison 
knew the policy of literature too well to make his enemy important, 
by drawing the attention of the publick upon a criticism, which, 
though sometimes intemperate, was often irrefragable. 

While Cato was upon the stage, another daily paper, called The 
Guardian, was published by Steele. To this Addison gave great 
assistance, whether occasionally or by previous engagement is not 
known. 

The character of Guardian was too narrow and too serious: it 
might properly enough admit both the duties and the decencies of 
life, but Seemed not to include literary speculations, and was in some 
degree violated by merriment and burlesque. What had the Guard- 



LIFE OF ADDISON ifep 

ian of the Lizards to do with clubs of tall or of little men, with nests 
of ants, or with Strada's prolusions? 

Of this paper nothing is necessary to be said, but that it found 
many contributors, and that it was a continuation of the Spectator, 
with the same elegance, and the same variety, till some unlucky 
sparkle from a Tory paper set Steele's politics on fire, and wit at 
once blazed into faction. He was soon too hot for neutral topicks, 
and quitted the Guardian to write the Englishman. 

The papers of Addison are marked in the Spectator by one of the 
Letters in the name of Clio, and in the Guardian by a hand; whether 
it was, as Tickell pretends to think, that he was unwilling to usurp 
the praise of others, or as Steele, with far greater likelihood, insinu- 
ates, that he could not without discontent impart to others any of his 
own. I have heard that his avidity did not satisfy itself with the air 
of renown, but that with great eagerness he laid hold on his propor- 
tion of the profits. 

Many of these papers were written with powers truly comick, 
with nice discrimination of characters, and accurate observation of 
natural or accidental deviations from propriety; but it was not 
supposed that he had tried a comedy on the stage, till Steele, after 
his death, declared him the author of The Drummer; this, however, 
Steele did not know to be true by any direct testimony; for when 
Addison put the play into his hands, he only told him, it was the 
work of a Gentleman in the Company; and when it was received, as 
is confessed, with cold approbation, he was probably less willing to 
claim it. Tickell omitted it in his collection; but the testimony of 
Steele, and the total silence of any other claimant, has determined 
the publick to assign it to Addison, and it is now printed with his 
other poetry. Steele carried The Drummer to the playhouse, and 
afterwards to the press, and sold the copy for fifty guineas. 

To the opinion of Steele may be added the proof supplied by the 
play itself, of which the characters are such as Addison would have 
delineated, and the tendency such as Addison would have promoted. 
That it should have been ill received would raise wonder, did we 
not daily see the capricious distribution of theatrical praise. 

He was not all this time an indifferent spectator of publick affairs. 
He wrote, as different exigencies required (in 1707), The Present 



170 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

State of the War, and the Necessity of an Augmentation; which, 
however judicious, being written on temporary topicks, and exhibit- 
ing no pecuHar powers, laid hold on no attention, and has naturally 
sunk by its own weight into neglect. This cannot be said of the few 
papers entitled The Whig Examiner, in which is employed all the 
force of gay malevolence and humorous satire. Of this paper, which 
just appeared and expired. Swift remarks, with exultation, that it is 
now down among the dead men. He might well rejoice at the 
death of that which he could not have killed. Every reader of every 
party, since personal malice is past, and the papers which once in- 
flamed the nation are read only as effusions of wit, must wish for 
more of the Whig Examiners; for on no occasion was the genius of 
Addison more vigorously exerted, and on none did the superiority of 
his powers more evidently appear. His Trial of Count Tariff, 
written to expose the Treaty of Commerce with France, lived no 
longer than the question that produced it. 

Not long afterwards an attempt was made to revive the Spectator, 
at a time indeed by no means favourable to literature, when the 
succession of a new family to the throne filled the nation with 
anxiety, discord, and confusion; and either the turbulence of the 
times, or the satiety of the readers, put a stop to the publication, 
after an experiment of eighty numbers, which were afterwards 
collected into an eighth volume, perhaps more valuable than any 
one of those that went before it. Addison produced more than a 
fourth part, and the other contributors are by no means unworthy 
of appearing as his associates. The time that had passed during the 
suspension of the Spectator, though it had not lessened his power 
of humour, seems to have increased his disposition to seriousness: the 
proportion of his religious to his comick papers is greater than in the 
former series. 

The Spectator, from its recommencement, was published only 
three times a week; and no discriminative marks were added to the 
papers. To Addison, Tickell has ascribed twenty-three. 

The Spectator had many contributors; and Steele, whose negli- 
gence kept him always in a hurry, when it was his turn to furnish 
a paper, called loudly for the Letters, of which Addison, whose 
materials were more, made little use; having recourse to sketches 



LIFE OF ADDISON 171 

and hints, the product of his fornaer studies, which he now reviewed 
and completed: among these are named by Tickell the Essays on 
Wit, those on the Pleasures o£ the Imagination, and the Criticism 
on Milton. 

When the House o£ Hanover took possession of the throne, it was 
reasonable to expect that the zeal of Addison would be suitably re- 
warded. Before the arrival of King George, he was made secretary 
to the regency, and was required by his office to send notice to 
Hanover that the Queen was dead, and that the throne was vacant. 
To do this would not have been difficult to any man but Addison, 
who was so overwhelmed with the greatness of the event, and so dis- 
tracted by choice of expression, that the Lords, who could not wait 
for the niceties of criticism, called Mr. Southwell, a clerk in the 
house, and ordered him to dispatch the message. Southwell readily 
told what was necessary, in the common style of business, and valued 
himself upon having done what was too hard for Addison. 

He was better qualified for the Freeholder, a paper which he 
published twice a week, from Dec. 23, 1715, to the middle of the 
next year. This was undertaken in defence of the established govern- 
ment, sometimes with argument, sometimes with mirth. In argu- 
ment he had many equals; but his humour was singular and match- 
less. Bigotry itself must be delighted with the Tory-Fox-hunter. 

There are, however, some strokes less elegant, and less decent; 
such as the Pretender's Journal, in which one topick of ridicule is 
his poverty. This mode of abuse had been employed by Milton 
against King Charles II. 

" — — — — — Jacobcei. 
Centum exulantis viscera Marsupii regis." 

And Oldmixon delights to tell of some alderman of London, that he 
had more money than the exiled princes; but that which might be 
expected from Milton's savageness, or Oldmixon's meanness, was not 
suitable to the delicacy of Addison. 

Steele thought the humour of the Freeholder too nice and gentle 
for such noisy times; and is reported to have said that the ministry 
made use of a lute, when they should have called for a trumpet. 

This year (1716) he married the Countess Dowager of Warwick, 



172 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

whom he had soUcited by a very long and anxious courtship, per- 
haps with behaviour not very unlike that of Sir Roger to his dis- 
dainful widow: and who, I am afraid, diverted herself often by 
playing with his passion. He is said to have first known her by 
becoming tutor to her son. "He formed," said Tonson, "the design 
of getting that lady, from the time when he was first recommended 
into the family." In what part of his life he obtained the recom- 
mendation, or how long, and in what manner he lived in the family, 
I know not. His advances at first were' certainly timorous, but grew 
bolder as his reputation and influence increased; till at last the lady 
was persuaded to marry him, on terms much like those on which a 
Turkish princess is espoused, to whom the Sultan is reported to pro- 
nounce, "Daughter, I give thee this man for thy slave." The mar- 
riage, if uncontradicted report can be credited, made no addition to 
his happiness; it neither found them nor made them equal. She 
always remembered her own rank, and thought herself entitled to 
treat with very little ceremony the tutor of her son. Rowe's ballad of 
the Despairing Shepherd is said to have been written, either before or 
after marriage, upon this memorable pair; and it is certain that 
Addison has left behind him no encouragement for ambitious love. 

The year after (1717) he rose to his highest elevation, being made 
secretary of state. For this employment he might be justly sup- 
posed qualified by long practice of business, and by his regular 
ascent through other offices; but expectation is often disappointed; 
it is universally confessed that he was unequal to the duties of his 
place. In the House of Commons he could not speak, and therefore 
was useless to the defence of the Government. In the office, says 
Pope, he could not issue an order without losing his time in quest 
of fine expressions. What he gained in rank, he lost in credit; and, 
finding by experience his own inability, was forced to solicit his dis- 
mission, with a pension of fifteen hundred pounds a year. His friends 
palliated this relinquishment, of which both friends and enemies 
knew the true reason, with an account of declining health, and the 
necessity of recess and quiet. 

He now returned to his vocation, and began to plan literary occu- 
pations for his future life. He purposed a tragedy on the death of 
Socrates; a story of which, as Tickell remarks, the basis is narrow, 



LIFE OF ADDISON 1 73 

and to which I know not how love could have been appended. 
There would, however, have been no want either of virtue in the 
sentiments, or elegance in the language. 

He engaged in a nobler work, a defence of the Christian ReUgion, 
of which part was published after his death; and he designed to 
have made a new poetical version of the Psalms. 

These pious compositions Pope imputed to a selfish motive, upon 
the credit, as he owns, of Tonson; who having quarrelled with 
Addison, and not loving him, said, that, when he laid down the 
secretary's ofSce, he intended to take orders, and obtain a bishop- 
rick; for, said he, / always thought him a priest in his heart. 

That Pope should have thought this conjecture of Tonson worth 
remembrance is a proof, but indeed so far as I have found, the only 
proof, that he retained some malignity from their ancient rivalry. 
Tonson pretended but to guess it; no other mortal ever suspected 
it; and Pope might have reflected, that a man who had been secre- 
tary of state, in the ministry of Sunderland, knew a nearer way to 
a bishoprick than by defending Religion, or translating the Psalms. 

It is related that he had once a design to make an English Dic- 
tionary, and that he considered Dr. Tillotson as the writer of highest 
authority. There was formerly sent to me by Mr. Locker, clerk of 
the Leathersellers' Company, who was eminent for curiosity and 
literature, a collection of examples selected from Tillotson's works, 
as Locker said, by Addison. It came too late to be of use, so I in- 
spected it but slightly, and remember it indistinctly. I thought the 
passages too short. 

Addison, however, did not conclude his life in peaceful studies; 
but relapsed, when he was near his end, to a political dispute. 

It so happened that (1718-19) a controversy was agitated, with 
great vehemence, between those friends of long continuance, Addi- 
son and Steele. It may be asked, in the language of Homer, what 
power or what cause could set them at variance. The subject of 
their dispute was of great importance. The Earl of Sunderland 
proposed an act called the Peerage Bill, by which the number of 
peers should be fixed, and the King restrained from any new 
creation of nobility, unless when an old family should be extinct. 
To this the Lords would naturally agree; and the King, who was 



174 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

yet little acquainted with his own prerogative, and, as is now well 
known, almost indifferent to the possession of the Crown, had been 
persuaded to consent. The only difficulty was found among the 
Commons, who were not likely to approve the perpetual exclusion of 
themselves and their posterity. The bill therefore was eagerly 
opposed, and among others by Sir Robert Walpole, whose speech was 
published. 

The Lords might think their dignity diminished by improper 
advancements, and particularly by the introduction of twelve new 
peers at once, to produce a majority of Tories in the last reign; an 
act of authority violent enough, yet certainly legal, and by no means 
to be compared with that contempt of national right, with which 
some time afterwards, by the instigation of Whiggism, the Com- 
mons, chosen by the people for three years, chose themselves for 
seven. But, whatever might be the disposition of the Lords, the 
people had no wish to increase their power. The tendency of the 
bill, as Steele observed in a letter to the Earl of Oxford, was to 
introduce an Aristocracy; for a majority in the House of Lords, 
so limited, would have been despotick and irresistible. 

To prevent this subversion of the ancient establishment, Steele, 
whose pen readily seconded his political passions, endeavoured to 
alarm the nation by a pamphlet called The Plebeian; to this an 
answer was published by Addison, under the title of The Old Whig, 
in which it is not discovered that Steele was then known to be the 
advocate for the Commons. Steele replied by a second Plebeian; and, 
whether by ignorance or by courtesy, confined himself to his 
question, without any personal notice of his opponent. Nothing 
hitherto was committed against the laws of friendship, or proprieties 
of decency; but controvertists cannot long retain their kindness for 
each other. The Old Whig answered the Plebeian, and could not 
forbear some contempt of "little Dicky, whose trade it was to write 
pamphlets." Dicky, however, did not lose his settled veneration for 
his friend; but contented himself with quoting some lines of Cato, 
which were at once detection and reproof. The bill was laid aside 
during that session, and Addison died before the next, in which 
its commitment was rejected by two hundred and sixty-five to one 
hundred and seventy-seven. 



LIFE OF ADDISON 175 

Every reader surely must regret that these two illustrious friends, 
after so many years past in confidence and endearment, in unity of 
interest, conformity of opinion, and fellowship of study, should 
finally part in acrimonious opposition. Such a controversy was 
Bellum plusquam civile, zs Lucan expresses it. Why could not fac- 
tion find other advocates? But, among the uncertainties of the 
human state, we are doomed to number the instability of friendship. 

Of this dispute I have little knowledge but from the Biographia 
Britannica. The Old Whig is not inserted in Addison's works, nor 
is it mentioned by Tickell in his Life; why it was omitted the 
biographers doubtless give the true reason; the fact was too recent, 
and those who had been heated in the contention were not yet cool. 

The necessity of complying with times, and of sparing persons, is 
the great impediment of biography. History may be formed from 
permanent monuments and records; but Lives can only be written 
from personal knowledge, which is growing every day less, and in 
a short time is lost for ever. What is known can seldom be im- 
mediately told; and when it might be told, it is no longer known. 
The delicate features of the mind, the nice discriminations of char- 
acter, and the minute peculiarities of conduct, are soon obliterated; 
and it is surely better that caprice, obstinacy, frolick, and folly, how- 
ever they might delight in the description, should be silently for- 
gotten, than that, by wanton merriment and unseasonable detection, 
a pang should be given to a widow, a daughter, a brother or a friend. 
As the process of these narratives is now bringing me among my con- 
temporaries, I begin to feel myself walking upon ashes under which 
the fire is not extinguished, and coming to the time of which it will 
be proper rather to say nothing that is false, than all that is true. 

The end of this useful Ufe was now approaching. — ^Addison had 
for some time been oppressed by shortness of breath, which was 
now aggravated by a dropsy; and, finding his danger pressing, he 
prepared to die conformably to his own precepts and professions. 

During this lingering decay, he sent, as Pope relates, a message 
by the Earl of Warwick to Mr, Gay, desiring to see him: Gay, who 
had not visited him for some time before, obeyed the summons, 
and found himself received with great kindness. The purpose for 
which the interview had been solicited was then discovered; Addi- 



176 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

son told him that he had injured him; but that, if he recovered, he 
would recompense him. What the injury was he did not explain, 
nor did Gay ever know; but supposed that some preferment de- 
signed for him, had, by Addison's intervention, been withheld. 

Lord Warwick was a young man of very irregular life, and per- 
haps of loose opinions. Addison, for whom he did not want respect, 
had very diligently endeavoured to reclaim him; but his argu- 
ments and expostulations had no effect. One experiment, however, 
remained to be tried: when he found his life near its end, he directed 
the young Lord to be called; and when he desired, with great tender- 
ness, to hear his last injunctions, told him, / have sent for you that 
you may see how a Christian can die. What effect this awful scene 
had on the Earl I know not; he likewise died himself in a short 
time. 

In Tickell's excellent Elegy on his friend are these lines: 

He taught us how to live; and oh! too high 
The price of knowledge, taught us how to die. 

In which he alludes, as he told Dr. Young, to this moving inter- 
view. 

Having given directions to Mr. Tickell for the publication of his 
works, and dedicated them on his death-bed to his friend Mr. Craggs, 
he died June 17, 1719, at Holland-house, leaving no child but a 
daughter. 

Of his virtue it is a sufficient testimony, that the resentment of 
party has transmitted no charge of any crime. He was not one of 
those who are praised only after death; for his merit was so generally 
acknowledged, that Swift, having observed that his election passed 
without a contest, adds, that if he had proposed himself for king, 
he would hardly have been refused. 

His zeal for his party did not extinguish his kindness for the 
merit of his opponents : when he was secretary in Ireland, he refused 
to intermit his acquaintance with Swift. 

Of his habits, or external manners, nothing is so often mentioned as 
that timorous or sullen taciturnity, which his friends called modesty 
by too mild a name. Steele mentions with great tenderness "that 
remarkable bashfulness, which is a cloak that hides and muffles 
merit;" and tells us, that "his abilities were covered only by modesty. 



LIFE OF ADDISON 177 

which doubles the beauties which are seen, and gives credit and 
esteem to all that are concealed." Chesterfield affirms, that "Addison 
was the most timorous and aukward man that he ever saw." And 
Addison, speaking of his own deficience in conversation, used to 
say of himself, that, with respect to intellectual wealth, "he could 
draw bills for a thousand pounds, though he had not a guinea in his 
pocket." 

That he wanted current coin for ready payment, and by that want 
was often obstructed and distressed; that he was oppressed by an 
improper and ungraceful timidity, every testimony concurs to prove; 
but Chesterfield's representation is doubtless hyperbolical. That 
man cannot be supposed very unexpert in the arts of conversation 
and practice of life, who, without fortune or alliance, by his use- 
fulness and dexterity became secretary of state; and who died at 
forty-seven, after having not only stood long in the highest rank 
of wit and literature, but filled one of the most important offices of 
state. 

The time in which he lived had reason to lament his obstinacy 
of silence; "for he was," says Steele, "above all men in that talent 
called humour, and enjoyed it in such perfection, that I have often 
reflected, after a night spent with him apart from all the world, that 
I had had the pleasure of conversing with an intimate acquaintance 
of Terence and Catullus, who had all their wit and nature, heightened 
with humour more exquisite and delightful than any other man 
ever possessed." This is the fondness of a friend; let us hear what is 
told us by a rival. "Addison's conversation," says Pope, "had some- 
thing in it more charming than I have found in any other man. 
But this was only when familiar: before strangers or perhaps a 
single stranger, he preserved his dignity by a stiff silence." 

This modesty was by no means inconsistent with a very high 
opinion of his own merit. He demanded to be the first name in 
modern wit; and, with Steele to echo him, used to depreciate Dry den, 
whom Pope and Congreve defended against them. There is no 
reason to doubt that he suffered too much pain from the prevalence 
of Pope's poetical reputation; nor is it without strong reason sus- 
pected, that by some disingenuous acts he endeavoured to obstruct 
it; Pope was not the only man whom he insidiously injured, though 
the only man of whom he could be afraid. 



178 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

His own powers were such as might have satisfied him with con- 
scious excellence. Of very extensive learning he has indeed given 
no proofs. He seems to have had small acquaintance with the 
sciences, and to have read little except Latin and French; but of the 
Latin poets his Dialogues on Medals shew that he had perused 
the works with great diligence and skill. The abundance of his own 
mind left him little need of adventitious sentiments; his wit always 
could suggest what the occasion demanded. He had read with 
critical eyes the important volume of human life, and knew the 
heart of man from the depths of stratagem to the surface of affec- 
tation. 

What he knew he could easily communicate. "This," says Steele, 
"was particular in this writer, that when he had taken his resolution, 
or made his plan for what he designed to write, he would walk about 
a room, and dictate it into language with as much freedom and ease 
as any one could write it down, and attend to the coherence and 
grammar of what he dictated." 

Pope, who can be less suspected of favouring his memory, declares 
that he wrote very fluently, but was slow and scrupulous in correct- 
ing; that many of his Spectators were written very fast, and sent im- 
mediately to the press; and that it seemed to be for his advantage 
not to have time for much revisal. 

"He would alter," says Pope, "any thing to please his friends, 
before publication; but would not retouch his pieces afterwards: and 
I believe not one word in Cato, to which I made an objection, was 
suffered to stand." 

The last line of Cato is Pope's, having been originally written 

And, oh! 'twas this that ended Cato's life. 

Pope might have made more objections to the six concluding lines. 
In the first couplet the words from hence are improper; and the 
second line is taken from Dryden's Virgil. Of the next couplet, the 
first verse being included in the second, is therefore useless; and in 
the third Discord is made to produce Strife. 

Of the course of Addison's familiar day, before his marriage. 
Pope has given a detail. He had in the house with him Budgell, and 
perhaps Philips. His chief companions were Steele, Budgell, Philips, 
Carey, Davenant, and Colonel Brett. With one or other of these 



LIFE OF ADDISON 1 79 

he always breakfasted. He studied all morning; then dined at a 
tavern, and went afterwards to Button's. 

Button had been a servant in the Countess of Warwick's family, 
who, under the patronage of Addison, kept a coffee-house on the 
south side of Russell-street, about two doors from Covent-garden. 
Here it was that the wits of that time used to assemble. It is said, 
that when Addison had suffered any vexation from the countess, he 
withdrew the company from Button's house. 

From the coffee-house he went again to a tavern, where he often 
sat late, and drank too much wine. In the bottle, discontent seeks 
for comfort, cowardice for courage, and bashfulness for confidence. 
It is not unlikely that Addison was first seduced to excess by the 
manumission which he obtained from the servile timidity of his 
sober hours. He that feels oppression from the presence of those to 
whom he knows himself superior, will desire to set loose his powers 
of conversation; and who, that ever asked succor from Bacchus, was 
able to preserve himself from being enslaved by his auxiliary? 

Among those friends it was that Addison displayed the elegance 
of his colloquial accomplishments, which may easily be supposed 
such as Pope represents them. The remark of Mandeville, who, 
when he had passed an evening in his company, declared that he 
was a parson in a tye-wig, can detract little from his character; he 
was always reserved to strangers, and was not incited to uncommon 
freedom by a character Uke that of Mandeville. 

From any minute knowledge of his familiar manners, the inter- 
vention of sixty years has now debarred us. Steele once promised 
Congreve and the publick a complete description of his character; 
but the promises of authors are like the vows of lovers. Steele 
thought no more on his design, or thought on it with anxiety that at 
last disgusted him, and left his friend in the hands of Tickell. 

One slight lineament of his character Swift has preserved. It 
was his practice when he found any man invincibly wrong, to 
flatter his opinions by acquiescence, and sink him yet deeper in 
absurdity. This artifice of mischief was admired by Stella; and 
Swift seems to approve her admiration. 

His works will supply some information. It appears from his 
various pictures of the world, that, with all his bashfulness, he had 
conversed with many distinct classes of men, had surveyed their 



l8o SAMUEL JOHNSON 

ways with very diligent observation, and marked with great acute- 
ness the effects of different modes of hfe. He was a man in whose 
presence nothing reprehensible was out of danger; quick in dis- 
cerning whatever was wrong or ridiculous, and not unwilling to 
expose it. There are, says Steele, in his writings many oblique strokes 
upon some of the wittiest men of the age. His delight was more to 
excite merriment than detestation, and he detects follies rather than 
crimes. 

If any judgment be made, from his books, of his moral character, 
nothing will be found but purity and excellence. Knowledge of 
mankind indeed, less extensive than that of Addison, will shew, that 
to write, and to live, are very different. Many who praise virtue, do 
not more than praise it. Yet it is reasonable to believe that Addison's 
professions and practice were at no great variance, since, amidst that 
storm of faction in which most of his life was passed, though his 
station made him conspicuous, and his activity made him formid- 
able, the character given him by his friends was never contradicted 
by his enemies: of those with whom interest or opinion united him, 
he had not only the esteem, but the kindness; and of others whom 
the violence of opposition drove against him, though he might lose 
the love, he retained the reverence. 

It is justly observed by Tickell, that he employed wit on the side 
of virtue and religion. He not only made the proper use of wit him- 
self, but taught it to others; and from his time it has been generally 
subservient to the cause of reason and of truth. He has dissipated 
the prejudice that had long connected gaiety with vice, and easiness 
of manners with laxity of principles. He has restored virtue to its 
dignity, and taught innocence not to be ashamed. This is an eleva- 
tion of literary character, above all Gree\, above all Roman fame. 
No greater felicity can genius attain than that of having purified 
intellectual pleasure, separated mirth from indecency, and wit from 
licentiousness; of having taught a succession of writers to bring 
elegance and gaiety to the aid of goodness; and, if I may use ex- 
pressions yet more awful, of having turned many to righteousness. 

Addison, in his life, and for some time afterwards, was considered 
by the greater part of readers as supremely excelling both in poetry 



LIFE OF ADDISON l8l 

and criticism. Part of his reputation may be probably ascribed to 
the advancement o£ his fortune: when, as Swift observes, he became 
a statesman, and saw poets waiting at his levee, it is no wonder that 
praise was accumulated upon him. Much likewise may be more 
honourably ascribed to his personal character: he who, if he had 
claimed it, might have obtained the diadem, was not likely to be 
denied the laurel. 

But time quickly puts an end to artificial and accidental fame; 
and Addison is to pass through futurity protected only by his genius. 
Every name which kindness of interest once raised too high, is in 
danger, lest the next age should, by the vengeance of criticism, sink 
it in the same proportion. A great writer has lately styled him an 
indifferent poet, and a worse critic\. 

His poetry is first to be considered; of which it must be confessed 
that it has not often those felicities of diction which give lustre to 
sentiments, or that vigour of sentiment that animates diction: there 
is little of ardour, vehemence, or transport; there is very rarely the 
awfulness of grandeur, and not very often the splendour of ele- 
gance. He thinks justly; but he thinks faintly. This is his general 
character; to which, doubtless, many single passages will furnish 
exceptions. 

Yet, if he seldom reaches supreme excellence, he rarely sinks into 
dulness, and is still more rarely entangled in absurdity. He did not 
trust his powers enough to be negligent. There is in most of his 
compositions a calmness and equability, deliberate and cautious, 
sometimes with little that delights, but seldom with any thing that 
offends. 

Of this kind seem to be his poems to Dryden, to Somers, and to the 
King. His ode on St. Cecilia has been imitated by Pope, and has 
something in it of Dryden's vigour. Of his Account of the English 
Poets, he used to speak as a poor thing; but it is not worse than his 
usual strain. He has said, not very judiciously, in his character of 
Waller: 

Thy verse could shew ev'n Cromwell's innocence. 
And compliment the storms that bore him hence. 
O! had thy Muse not come an age too soon, 
But seen great Nassau on the British throne. 
How had his triumph glitter'd in thy page! — 



1 82 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

What is this but to say that he who could compliment Cromwell had 
been the proper poet for King William? Addison, however, never 
printed the piece. 

The Letter from Italy has been always praised, but has never been 
praised beyond its merit. It is more correct, with less appearance of 
labour, and more elegant, with less ambition of ornament, than any 
other of his poems. There is, however, one broken metaphor, of 
which notice may properly be taken: 

Fir'd with that name — 
I bridle in my struggling Muse with pain. 
That longs to launch into a nobler strain. 

To bridle a goddess is no very delicate idea; but why must she be 
bridled? because she longs to launch? an act which was never hin- 
dered by a bridle: and whither will she launch? into a nobler strain. 
She is in the first line a horse, in the second a boat; and the care of 
the poet is to keep his horse or his boat from singing. 

The next composition is the far-famed Campaign, which Dr. 
Warton has termed a Gazette in Rhyme, with harshness not often 
used by the good-nature of his criticism. Before a censure so severe 
is admitted, let us consider that War is a frequent subject of Poetry, 
and then enquire who has described it with more justness and force. 
Many of our own writers tried their powers upon this year of victory, 
yet Addison's is confessedly the best performance; his poem is the 
work of a man not blinded by the dust of learning: his images are 
not borrowed merely from books. The superiority which he confers 
upon his hero is not personal prowess, and mighty bone, but de- 
liberate intrepidity, a calm command of his passions, and the power 
of consulting his own mind in the midst of danger. The rejection 
and contempt of fiction is rational and manly. 

It may be observed that the last line is imitated by Pope: 

Marlb'rough's exploits appear divinely bright — 
Rais'd of themselves, their genuine charms they boast. 
And those that paint them truest, praise them most. 

This Pope had in his thoughts; but, not knowing how to use what 
was not his own, he spoiled the thought when he had borrowed it. 



LIFE OF ADDISON 183 

The well-sung woes shall soothe my ghost; 
He best can paint them who shall feel them most. 

Martial exploits may be painted; perhaps woes may be painted; but 
they are surely not painted by being well-sung: it is not easy to paint 
in song, or to sing in colours. 

No passage in the Campaign has been more often mentioned than 
the simile of the Angel, which is said in the Tatler to be one of the 
noblest thoughts that ever entered into the heart of man, and is there- 
fore worthy of attentive consideration. Let it be first enquired 
whether it be a simile. A poetical simile is the discovery of likeness 
between two actions in their general nature dissimilar, or of causes 
terminating by different operations in some resemblance of effect. 
But the mention of another like consequence from a like cause, or of 
a like performance by a like agency, is not a simile, but an exemplifi- 
cation. It is not a simile to say that the Thames waters fields, as the 
Po waters fields; or that as Hecla vomits flames in Iceland, so ^tna 
vomits flames in Sicily. When Horace says of Pindar, that he pours 
his violence and rapidity of verse, as a river swollen with rain rushes 
from the mountain; or of himself, that his genius wanders in quest 
of poetical decorations, as the bee wanders to collect honey; he, in 
either case, produces a simile; the mind is impressed with the re- 
semblance of things generally unlike, as unlike as intellect and body. 
But if Pindar had been described as writing with the copiousness 
and grandeur of Homer, or Horace had told that he reviewed and 
finished his own poetry with the same care as Isocrates polished his 
orations, instead of similitude he would have exhibited almost 
identity; he would have given the same portraits with different 
names. In the poem now examined, when the English are repre- 
sented as gaining a fortified pass, by repetition of attack and per- 
severance of resolution; their obstinacy of courage, and vigour of 
onset, is well illustrated by the sea that breaks, with incessant battery, 
the dikes of Holland. This is a simile: but when Addison, having 
celebrated the beauty of Marlborough's person, tells us that Achilles 
thus was formed with every grace, here is no simile, but a mere ex- 
emplification. A simile may be compared to lines converging at a 
point, and is more excellent as the lines approach from greater dis- 
tance: an exemplification may be considered as two parallel lines 



184 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

which run on together without approximation, never far separated, 
and never joined. 

Marlborough is so hke the angel in the poem, that the action of 
both is almost the same, and performed by both in the same manner. 
Marlborough teaches the battle to rage; the angel directs the storm : 
Marlborough is unmoved in peaceful thought; the angel is calm and 
serene: Marlborough stands unmoved amidst the shoc\ of hosts; the 
angel rides calm in the whirlwind. The lines on Marlborough are 
just and noble; but the simile gives almost the same images a second 
time. 

But perhaps this thought, though hardly a simile, was remote from 
vulgar conceptions, and required great labour of research, or dex- 
terity of application. Of this. Dr. Madden, a name which Ireland 
ought to honour, once gave me his opinion. If 1 had set, said he, 
ten school-boys to write on the battle of Blenheim, and eight had 
brought me the Angel, I should not have been surprised. 

The opera of Rosamond, though it is seldom mentioned, is one of 
the first of Addison's compositions. The subject is well-chosen, the 
fiction is pleasing, and the praise of Marlborough, for which the 
scene gives an opportunity, is, what perhaps every human excellence 
must be, the product of good-luck improved by genius. The thoughts 
are sometimes great, and sometimes tender; the versification is 
easy and gay. There is doubtless some advantage in the shortness 
of the lines, which there is little temptation to load with expletive 
epithets. The dialogue seems commonly better than the songs. The 
two comick characters of Sir Trusty and Grideline, though of no 
great value, are yet such as the poet intended. Sir Trusty's account 
of the death of Rosamond is, I think, too grossly absurd. The whole 
drama is airy and elegant; engaging in its process, and pleasing in 
its conclusion. If Addison had cultivated the lighter parts of poetry, 
he would probably have excelled. 

The tragedy of Cato, which, contrary to the rule observed in 
selecting the works of other poets, has by the weight of its character 
forced its way into the late collection, is unquestionably the noblest 
production of Addison's genius. Of a work so much read, it is 
difficult to say any thing new. About things on which the public 
thinks long, it commonly attains to think right; and of Cato it has 



LIFE OF ADDISON 185 

been not unjustly determined, that it is rather a poem in dialogue 
than a drama, rather a succession of just sentiments in elegant lan- 
guage, than a representation of natural affections, or of any state 
probable or possible in human life. Nothing here excites or asswages 
emotion; here is no magical power of raising phantastic\ terror or 
wild anxiety. The events are expected without solicitude, and are 
remembered without joy or sorrow. Of the agents we have no care; 
we consider not what they are doing, or what they are suffering; we 
wish only to know what they have to say. Cato is a being above our 
solicitude; a man of whom the gods take care, and whom we leave 
to their care with heedless confidence. To the rest, neither gods 
nor men can have much attention; for there is not one amongst them 
that strongly attracts either affection or esteem. But they are made 
the vehicles of such sentiments and such expression, that there is 
scarcely a scene in the play which the reader does not wish to 
impress upon his memory. 

When Cato was shewn to Pope, he advised the author to print it, 
without any theatrical exhibition; supposing that it would be read 
more favourably than heard. Addison declared himself of the same 
opinion; but urged the importunity of his friends for its appearance 
on the stage. The emulation of parties made it successful beyond 
expectation, and its success has introduced or confirmed among us 
the use of dialogue too declamatory, of unaffecting elegance, and 
chill philosophy. 

The universality of applause, however it might quell the censure 
of common mortals, had no other effect than to harden Dennis in 
fixed dislike; but his dislike was not merely capricious. He found 
and shewed many faults: he shewed them indeed with anger, but he 
found them with acuteness, such as ought to rescue his criticism from 
oblivion; though, at last, it will have no other life than it derives 
from the work which it endeavours to oppress. 

Why he pays no regard to the opinion of the audience, he gives his 
reason, by remarking, that 

"A deference is to be paid to a general applause, when it appears 
that that applause is natural and spontaneous; but that little regard 
is to be had to it, when it is affected and artificial. Of all the tragedies 
which in his memory have had vast and violent runs, not one has 



1 86 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

been excellent, few have been tolerable, most have been scandalous. 
When a poet writes a tragedy, who knows he has judgement, and 
who feels he has genius, that poet presumes upon his own merit, and 
scorns to make a cabal. That people come coolly to the representation 
of such a tragedy, without any violent expectation, or delusive imag- 
ination, or invincible prepossession; that such an audience is liable 
to receive the impressions which the poem shall naturally make in 
them, and to judge by their own reason, and their own judgements, 
and that reason and judgement are calm and serene, not formed by 
nature to make proselytes, and to controul and lord it over the 
imaginations of others. But that when an author writes a tragedy, 
who knows he has neither genius nor judgement, he has recourse 
to the making a party, and he endeavours to make up in industry 
what is wanting in talent, and to supply by poetical craft the absence 
of poetical art; that such an author is humbly contented to raise 
men's passions by a plot without doors, since he despairs of doing 
it by that which he brings upon the stage. That party, and passion, 
and prepossession, are clamorous and tumultuous things, and so 
much the more clamorous and tumultuous by how much the more 
erroneous: that they domineer and tyrannize over the imaginations 
of persons who want judgement, and sometimes too of those who 
have it; and, like a fierce and outrageous torrent, bear down all 
opposition before them." 

He then condemns the neglect of poetical justice; which is always 
one of his favourite principles. 

" 'Tis certainly the duty of every tragick poet, by the exact dis- 
tribution of poetical justice, to imitate the Divine Dispensation, and 
to inculcate a particular Providence. 'Tis true, indeed, upon the 
stage of the world, the wicked sometimes prosper, and the guiltless 
suffer. But that is permitted by the Governor of the world, to shew, 
from the attribute of his infinite justice, that there is a compensation 
in futurity, to prove the immortality of the human soul, and the 
certainty of future rewards and punishments. But the poetical per- 
sons in tragedy exist no longer than the reading, or the representa- 
tion; the whole extent of their entity is circumscribed by those; and 
therefore, during that reading or representation, according to their 
merits or demerits, they must be punished or rewarded. If this is 



LIFE OF ADDISON 1 87 

not done, there is no impartial distribution of poetical justice, no 
instructive lecture of a particular Providence, and no imitation of 
the Divine Dispensation. And yet the author of this tragedy does 
not only run counter to this, in the fate of his principal character; 
but every where, throughout it, makes virtue suffer, and vice tri- 
umph : for not only Cato is vanquished by Caesar, but the treachery 
and perfidiousness of Syphax prevails over the honest simplicity 
and the credulity of Juba; and the sly subtlety and dissimulation 
of Fortius over the generous frankness and open-heartedness of 
Marcus." 

Whatever pleasure there may be in seeing crimes punished and 
virtue rewarded, yet, since wickedness often prospers in real life, the 
poet is certainly at liberty to give it prosperity on the stage. For if 
poetry has an imitation of reality, how are its laws broken by exhibit- 
ing the world in its true form.? The stage may sometimes gratify our 
wishes; but, if it be truly the mirror of life, it ought to shew us some- 
times what we are to expect, 

Dennis objects to the characters that they are not natural, or 
reasonable; but as heroes and heroines are not beings that are seen 
every day, it is hard to find upon what principles their conduct 
shall be tried. It is, however, not useless to consider what he says 
of the manner in which Cato receives the account of his son's death. 

"Nor is the grief of Cato, in the Fourth Act, one jot more in nature 
than that of his son and Lucia in the third. Cato receives the news 
of his son's death not only with dry eyes, but with a sort of satisfac- 
tion; and in the same page sheds tears for the calamity of his country, 
and does the same thing in the next page upon the bare apprehension 
of the danger of his friends. Now, since the love of one's country is 
the love of one's countrymen, as I have shewn upon another occa- 
sion, I desire to ask these questions : Of all our countrymen, which do 
we love most, those whom we know, or those whom we know not ? 
And of those whom we know, which do we cherish most, our 
friends or our enemies ? And of our friends, which are the dearest to 
us.'' those who are related to us, or those who are not? And of all 
our relations, for which have we most tenderness, for those who are 
near to us, or for those who are remote ? And of our near relations, 
which are the nearest, and consequently the dearest to us, our ofE- 



1 88 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

spring or others? Our offspring, most certainly; as nature, or in 
other words Providence, has wisely contrived for the preservation of 
mankind. Now, does it not follow, from what has been said, that 
for a man to receive the news of his son's death with dry eyes, and to 
weep at the same time for the calamities of his country, is a wretched 
affectation, and a miserable inconsistency? Is not that, in plain 
English, to receive with dry eyes the news of the deaths of those for 
whose sake our country is a name so dear to us, and at the same time 
to shed tears for those for whose sakes our country is not a name 
so dear to us?" 

But this formidable assailant is least resistible when he attacks the 
probability of the action, and the reasonableness of the plan. Every 
critical reader must remark, that Addison has, with a scrupulosity 
almost unexampled on the English stage, confined himself in time 
to a single day, and in place to rigorous unity. The scene never 
changes and the whole action of the play passes in the great hall of 
Cato's house at Utica. Much therefore is done in the hall, for which 
any other place had been more fit; and this impropriety affords 
Dennis many hints of merriment, and opportunities of triumph. 
The passage is long; but as such disquisitions are not common, and 
the objections are skilfully formed and vigorously urged, those who 
delight in critical controversy will not think it tedious. 

"Upon the departure of Fortius, Sempronius makes but one 
soliloquy, and immediately in comes Syphax, and then the two 
politicians are at it immediately. They lay their heads together, with 
their snuff-boxes in their hands, as Mr. Bayes has it, and league it 
away. But, in the midst of that wise scene, Syphax seems to give a 
seasonable caution to Sempronius: 

"Syph. But is it true, Sempronius, that your senate 
Is call'd together? Gods! thou must be cautious, 
Cato has piercing eyes. 

"There is a great deal of caution shewn indeed, in meeting in a 
governor's own hall to carry on their plot against him. Whatever 
opinion they have of his eyes, I suppose they had none of his ears, 
or they would never have talked at this foolish rate so near. 



LIFE OF ADDISON 1 89 

"Gods! thou must be cautious. 

"Oh! yes, very cautious: for if Cato should overhear you, and turn 
you off for politicians, Caesar would never take you; no, Caesar 
would never take you. 

"When Cato, Act II. turns the senators out of the hall, upon pre- 
tence of acquainting Juba with the result of their debates, he appears 
to me to do a thing which is neither reasonable nor civil. Juba 
might certainly have better been made acquainted with the result 
of that debate in some private apartment of the palace. But the poet 
was driven upon this absurdity to make way for another; and that 
is, to give Juba an opportunity to demand Marcia of her father. 
But the quarrel and rage of Juba and Syphax in the same Act, the 
invectives of Syphax against the Romans and Cato; the advice that 
he gives Juba, in her father's hall, to bear away Marcia by force; and 
his brutal and clamorous rage upon his refusal, and at a time when 
Cato was scarce out of sight, and perhaps not out of hearing; at least, 
some of his guards or domesticks must necessarily be supposed to be 
within hearing; is a thing that is so far from being probable, that it 
is hardly possible. 

"But treason is not the only thing that is carried on in this hall: 
that, and love, and philosophy, take their turns in it, without any 
manner of necessity or probability occasioned by the action, as duly 
and as regularly, without interrupting one another, as if there were 
a triple league between them, and a mutual agreement that each 
should give place to and make way for the other, in a due and orderly 
succession. 

"We come now to the Third Act. Sempronius, in this Act, comes 
into the governor's hall, with the leaders of the mutiny: but as soon 
as Cato is gone, Sempronius, who but just before had acted like an 
unparalleled knave, discovers himself, like an egregious fool, to be 
an accomplice in the conspiracy. 

"Semp. Know, villains, when such paltry slaves presume 
To mix in treason, if the plot succeeds, 
They're thrown neglected by: but if it fails, 
They're sure to die like dogs, as you shall do. 
Here, take these factious monsters, drag them forth 
To sudden death. — 



190 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

" 'Tis true, indeed, the second leader says, there are none there but 
friends; but is that possible at such a juncture? Can a parcel of 
rogues attempt to assassinate the governor of a town of war, in his 
own house, in mid-day, and after they are discovered and defeated, 
can there be none near them but friends ? Is it not plain from these 
words of Sempronius, 

"Here, take these factious monsters, drag them forth 
To sudden death— 

"and from the entrance of the guards upon the word of command, 
that those guards were within ear-shot? Behold Sempronius then 
palpably discovered. How comes it to pass, then, that, instead of 
being hanged up with the rest, he remains secure in the governor's 
hall, and there carries on his conspiracy against the government, the 
third time in the same day, with his old comrade Syphax ? who enters 
at the same time that the guards are carrying away the leaders, big 
with the news of the defeat of Sempronius; though where he had his 
intelligence so soon is difficult to imagine. And now the reader may 
expect a very extraordinary scene: there is not abundance of spirit 
indeed, nor a great deal of passion, but there is wisdom more than 
enough to supply all defects. 

"Syph. Our first design, my friend, has prov'd abortive; 
Still there remains an after-game to play: 
My troops are mounted, their Numidian steeds 
SnufI up the winds, and long to scour the desart: 
Let but Sempronius lead us in our flight, 
We'll force the gate, where Marcus keeps his guard, 
And hew down all that would oppose our passage; 
A day will bring us into Caesar's camp. 

"Semp. Confusion ! I have fail'd of half my purpose; 
Marcia, the charming Marcia's left behind. 

"Well! but though he tells us the half -purpose that he has failed of, 
he does not tell us the half that he has carried. But what does he 
mean by 

"Marcia, the charming Marcia's left behind? 

"He is now in her own house; and we have neither seen her nor 
heard of her any where else since the play began. But now let us 
hear Syphax: 



LIFE OF ADDISON I9I 

"What hinders then, but that thou find her out, 
And hurry her away by manly force ? 

"But what does old Syphax mean by finding her out? They talk 
as if she were as hard to be found as a hare in a frosty morning. 

"Semp. But how to gain admission? 
"Oh! she is found out then, it seems. 

"But how to gain admission? for access 
Is giv'n to none, but Juba and her brothers. 

"But, raillery apart, why access to Juba? For he was owned and 
received as a lover neither by the father nor by the daughter. Well! 
but let that pass. Syphax puts Sempronius out of pain immediately; 
and, being a Numidian, abounding in wiles, supplies him with a 
stratagem for admission, that, I believe, is a non-pareille: 

"Syph. Thou shalt have Juba's dress, and Juba's guards; 
The doors will open, when Numidia's prince 
Seems to appear before them. 

"Sempronius is, it seems, to pass for Juba In full day at Cato's 
house, where they were both so very well known, by having Juba's 
dress and his guards: as if one of the marshals of France could pass 
for the Duke of Bavaria, at noon-day, at Versailles, by having his 
dress and liveries. But how does Syphax pretend to help Sempronius 
to young Juba's dress? Does he serve him in a double capacity, as 
general and master of his wardrobe? But why Juba's guards? For 
the devil of any guards has Juba appeared with yet. Well! though 
this is a mighty politick invention, yet, methinks, they might have 
done without it: for, since the advice that Syphax gave to Sempronius 
was, 

"To hurry her away by manly force, 

"in my opinion, the shortest and likeliest way of coming Jt the lady 
was by demolishing, instead of putting on an impertinent disguise 
to circumvent two or three slaves. But Sempronius, it seems, is of 
another opinion. He extols to the skies the invention of old Syphax: 

"Sempr. Heavens! what a thought was there! 



192 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

"Now I appeal to the reader, i£ I have not been as good as my 
word. Did I not tell him, that I would lay before him a very wise 
scene? 

"But now let us lay before the reader that part of the scenery of 
the Fourth Act, which may shew the absurdities which the author 
has run into, through the indiscreet observance of the Unity of 
Place. I do not remember that Aristotle has said any thing expressly 
concerning the Unity of Place. 'Tis true, implicitly he has said 
enough in the rules which he has laid down for the Chorus. For, by 
making the Chorus an essential part of Tragedy, and by bringing it 
on the stage immediately after the opening of the scene, and retain- 
ing it there till the very catastrophe, he has so determined and fixed 
the place of action, that it was impossible for an author on the 
Grecian stage to break through that unity. I am of opinion, that if 
a modern tragic poet can preserve the unity of place, without destroy- 
ing the probabiUty of the incidents, 'tis always best for him to do it; 
because, by the preservation of that unity, as we have taken notice 
above, he adds grace, and cleanness, and comeliness, to the repre- 
sentation. But since there are no express rules about it, and we are 
under no compulsion to keep it, since we have no Chorus as the 
Grecian poet had; if it cannot be preserved, without rendering the 
greater part of the incidents unreasonable and absurd, and perhaps 
sometimes monstrous, 'tis certainly better to break it. 

"Now comes bully Sempronius, comically accoutred and equipped 
with his Numidian dress and his Numidian guards. Let the reader 
attend to him with all his ears; for the words of the wise are 
precious: 

"Sempr. The deer is lodg'd, I've track'd her to her covert. 

"Now I would fain know why this deer is said to be lodged, since 
we have not heard one word, since the play began, of her being at 
all out of harbour: and if we consider the discourse with which she 
and Lucia began the Act, we have reason to believe that they had 
hardly been talking of such matters in the street. However, to 
pleasure Sempronius, let us suppose, for once, that the deer is lodged: 

"The deer is lodg'd, I've track'd her to her covert. 



LIFE OF ADDISON 1 93 

"If he had seen her in the open field, what occasion had he to track 
her, when he had so many Numidian dogs at his heels, which, with 
one halloo, he might have set upon her haunches ? If he did not see 
her in the open field, how could he possibly track her? If he had 
seen her in the street, why did he not set upon her in the street, 
since through the street she must be carried at last? Now here, in- 
stead of having his thoughts upon his business, and upon the present 
danger; instead of meditating and contriving how he shall pass 
with his mistress through the southern gate, where her brother 
Marcus is upon the guard, and where she would certainly prove 
an impediment to him, which is the Roman word for the baggage, 
instead of doing this, Sempronius is entertaining himself with 
whimsies: 

"Sempr. How will the young Numidian rave to see 
His mistress lost! If aught could glad my soul, 
Beyond th' enjoyment of so bright a prize, 
'T would be to torture that young gay Barbarian. 
But hark! what noise? Death to my hopes, 'tis he, 
'Tis Juba's self! There is but one way left! 
He must be murder 'd, and a passage cut 
Through those his guards. 

"Pray, what are those his guards? I thought at present, that 
Juba's guards had been Sempronius's tools, and had been dangling 
after his heels. 

"But now let us sum up all these absurdities together. Sempronius 
goes at noonday, in Juba's clothes, and with Juba's guards, to Cato's 
palace, in order to pass for Juba, in a place where they were both so 
very well known: he meets Juba there, and resolves to murder him 
with his own guards. Upon the guards appearing a little bashful, he 
threatens them: 

"Hah! Dastards, do you tremble! 
Or act like men, or by yon azure heav'n! 

"But the guards still remaining restive, Sempronius himself attacks 
Juba, while each of the guards is representing Mr. Spectator's sign 
of the Gaper, awed, it seems, and terrified by Sempronius's threats. 
Juba kills Sempronius, and takes his own army prisoners, and carries 



194 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

them in triumph away to Cato. Now I would fain know, if any 
part of Mr. Bayes's tragedy is so full of absurdity as this ? 

"Upon hearing the clash of swords, Lucia and Marcia come in. 
The question is, why no men come in upon hearing the noise of 
swords in the governor's hall? Where was the governor himself? 
Where were his guards ? Where were his servants ? Such an attempt 
as this, so near the person of a governor of a place of war, was 
enough to alarm the whole garrison: and yet, for almost half an 
hour after Sempronius was killed, we find none of those appear 
who were the likeliest in the world to be alarmed; and the noise of 
swords is made to draw only two poor women thither, who were 
most certain to run away from it. Upon Lucia and Marcia's com- 
ing in, Lucia appears in all the symptoms of an hysterical gentle- 
woman : 

"Luc. Sure 'twas the clash of swords! my troubled heart 
Is so cast down, and sunk amidst its sorrows, 
It throbs with fear, and akes at every sound! 

"And immediately her old whimsy returns upon her: 

"O Marcia, should thy brothers, for my sake — 
I die away with horror at the thought. 

"She fancies that there can be no cutting of throats but it must be 
for her. If this is tragical, I would fain know what is comical. Well! 
upon this they spy the body of Sempronius; and Marcia, deluded by 
the habit, it seems, takes him for Juba; for, says she, 

"The face is muffled up within the garment. 

"Now how a man could fight, and fall with his face mufHed up in 
his garment, is, I think, a little hard to conceive! Besides, Juba, 
before he killed him, knew him to be Sempronius. It was not by 
his garment that he knew this; it was by his face then: his face 
therefore was not muffled. Upon seeing this man with the muffled 
face, Marcia falls a-raving; and, owning her passion for the supposed 
defunct, begins to make his funeral oration. Upon which Juba 
enters listening, I suppose on tip-toe: for I cannot imagine how 
any one can enter listening, in any other posture. I would fain 



LIFE OF ADDISON 195 

know how it came to pass, that during all this time he had sent no- 
body, no not so much as a candle-snufEer, to take away the dead 
body of Sempronius. Well! but let us regard him listening. Having 
left his apprehension behind him, he, at first, applies what Marcia 
says to Sempronius. But finding at last, with much ado, that he 
himself is the happy man, he quits his eves-dropping, and greedily 
intercepts the bliss, which was fondly designed for one who could 
not be the better for it. But here I must ask a question: how comes 
Juba to listen here, who had not listened before throughout the 
play ? Or, how comes he to be the only person of this tragedy who 
listens, when love and treason were so often talked in so publick 
a place as a hall? I am afraid the author was driven upon all these 
absurdities only to introduce this miserable mistake of Marcia; which, 
after all, is much below the dignity of tragedy, as any thing is which 
is the effect or result of trick. 

"But let us come to the scenery of the Fifth Act. Cato appears 
first upon the scene, sitting in a thoughtful posture; in his hand 
Plato's treatise on the Immortality of the Soul, a drawn sword on 
the table by him. Now let us consider the place in which this sight 
is presented to us. The place, forsooth, is a long hall. Let us suppose, 
that any one should place himself in this posture, in the midst of 
one of our halls in London; that he should appear solus, in a sullen 
posture, a drawn sword on the table by him; in his hand Plato's 
treatise on the Immortality of the Soul, translated lately by Bernard 
Lintot: I desire the reader to consider, whether such a person as this 
would pass with them who beheld him for a great patriot, a great 
philosopher, or a general, or for some whimsical person who fancied 
himself all these; and whether the people, who belonged to the 
family, would think that such a person had a design upon their 
midrifs or his own? 

"In short, that Cato should sit long enough, in the aforesaid 
posture, in the midst of this large hall, to read over Plato's treatise 
on the Immortality of the Soul, which is a lecture of two long 
hours; that he should propose to himself to be private there upon that 
occasion; that he should be angry with his son for intruding there; 
then, that he should leave this hall upon the pretence of sleep, 
give himself the mortal wound in his bedchamber, and then be 



196 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

brought back into that hall to expire, purely to shew his good-breed- 
ing, and save his friends the trouble of coming up to his bedchamber; 
all this appears to me to be improbable, incredible, impossible." 

Such is the censure of Dennis. There is, as Dryden expresses it, 
perhaps too much horse play in his raillery; but if his jests are coarse, 
his arguments are strong. Yet as we love better to be pleased than 
to be taught, Cato is read, and the critick is neglected. 

Flushed with consciousness of these detections of absurdity in the 
conduct, he afterwards attacked the sentiments of Cato; but he 
then amused himself with petty cavils, and minute objections. 

Of Addison's smaller poems, no particular mention is necessary; 
they have little that can employ or require a critick. The parallel of 
the Princes and Gods, in his verses to Kneller, is often happy, but is 
too well known to be quoted. 

His translations, so far as I have compared them, want the exact- 
ness of a scholar. That he understood his authors cannot be doubted; 
but his versions will not teach others to understand them, being too 
licentiously paraphraslical. They are, however, for the most part, 
smooth and easy; and, what is the first excellence of a translator, 
such as may be read with pleasure by those who do not know the 
originals. 

His poetry is poUshed and pure; the product of a mind too judi- 
cious to commit faults, but not sufficiently vigorous to attain ex- 
cellence. He has sometimes a striking line, or a shining paragraph; 
but in the whole he is warm rather than fervid, and shews more 
dexterity than strength. He was, however, one of our earliest 
examples of correctness. 

The versification which he had learned from Dryden, he debased 
rather than refined. His rhymes are often dissonant; in his Georgick 
he admits broken lines. He uses both triplets and alexandrines, but 
triplets more frequently in his translations than his other works. 
The mere structure of verses seems never to have engaged much of 
his care. But his lines are very smooth in Rosamond, and too smooth 
in Cato. 

Addison is now to be considered as a critick; a name which the 
present generation is scarcely willing to allow him. His criticism 
is condemned as tentative or experimental, rather than scientifick, 



LIFE OF ADDISON 1 97 

and he is considered as deciding by taste rather than by principles. 

It is not uncommon for those who have grown wise by the labour 
of others, to add a little of their own, and overlook their masters. 
Addison is now despised by some who perhaps would never have 
seen his defects, but by the lights which he afforded them. That he 
always wrote as he would think it necessary to write now, cannot be 
affirmed; his instructions were such as the character of his readers 
made proper. That general knowledge which now circulates in 
common talk, was in his time rarely to be found. Men not pro- 
fessing learning were not ashamed of ignorance; and in the female 
world, any acquaintance with books was distinguished only to be 
censured. His purpose was to infuse literary curiosity, by gentle 
and unsuspected conveyance, into the gay, the idle, and the wealthy; 
he therefore presented knowledge in the most alluring form, not 
lofty and austere, but accessible and familiar. When he shewed 
them their defects, he shewed them likewise that they might be 
easily supplied. His attempt succeeded; enquiry was awakened, and 
comprehension expanded. An emulation of intellectual elegance 
was excited, and from his time to our own, life has been gradually 
exalted, and conversation purified and enlarged. 

Dryden had, not many years before, scattered criticism over his 
Prefaces with very little parsimony; but though he sometimes con- 
descended to be somewhat familiar, his manner was in general too 
scholastick for those who had yet their rudiments to learn, and 
found it not easy to understand their master. His observations were 
framed rather for those that were learning to write, than for those 
that read only to talk. 

An instructor like Addison was now wanting, whose remarks 
being superficial, might be easily understood, and being just, might 
prepare the mind for more attainments. Had he presented Paradise 
Lost to the publick with all the pomp of system and severity of 
science, the criticism would perhaps have been admired, and the 
poem still have been neglected; but by the blandishments of gentle- 
ness and facility, he has made Milton an universal favourite, with 
whom readers of every class think it necessary to be pleased. 

He descended now and then to lower disquisitions; and by a 
serious display of the beauties of Chevy Chase, exposed himself to 



198 SAMUEL JOHNSON 

the ridicule of WagstaflF, who bestowed a hke pompous character on 
Tom Thumb, and to the contempt of Dennis, who, considering the 
fundamental position of his criticism, that Chevy Chase pleases, and 
ought to please, because it is natural, observes, "that there is a way of 
deviating from nature, by bombast or tumour, which soars above 
nature, and enlarges images beyond their real bulk; by affectation, 
which forsakes nature in quest of something unsuitable; and by 
imbecility, which degrades nature by faintness and diminution, by 
obscuring its appearances, and weakening its effects." In Chevy 
Chase there is not much of either bombast or affectation; but there 
is chill and lifeless imbecility. The story cannot possibly be told in a 
manner that shall make less impression on the mind. 

Before the profound observers of the present race repose too 
securely on the consciousness of their superiority to Addison, let 
them consider his Remarks on Ovid, in which may be found speci- 
mens of criticism sufficiently subtle and refined; let them peruse 
likewise his Essays on Wit, and on the Pleasures of Imagination, in 
which he founds art on the base of nature, and draws the principles 
of invention from dispositions inherent in the mind of man, with 
skill and elegance, such as his contemners will not easily attain. 

As a describer of life and manners, he must be allowed to stand 
perhaps the first of the first rank. His humour, which, as Steele 
observes, is peculiar to himself, is so happily diffused as to give the 
grace of novelty to domestick scenes and daily occurrences. He never 
outsteps the modesty of nature, nor raises merriment or wonder 
by the violation of truth. His figures neither divert by distortion, nor 
amaze by aggravation. He copies life with so much fidelity, that he 
can be hardly said to invent; yet his exhibitions have an air so 
much original, that it is difficult to suppose them not merely the 
product of imagination. 

As a teacher of wisdom, he may be confidently followed. His 
religion has nothing in it enthusiastick or superstitious: he appears 
neither weakly credulous nor wantonly sceptical; his morality is 
neither dangerously lax, nor impracticably rigid. All the enchant- 
ment of fancy, and all the cogency of argument, are employed to 
recommend to the reader his real interest, the care of pleasing the 
Author of his being. Truth is shewn sometimes as the phantom o£ 



LIFE OF ADDISON I99 

a vision, sometimes appears half -veiled in an allegory; sometimes 
attracts regard in the robes of fancy, and sometimes steps forth in 
the confidence of reason. She wears a thousand dresses, and in all 
is pleasing. 

Mille habet ornatus, mille decanter habet. 

His prose is the model of the middle style; on grave subjects not 
formal, on light occasions not groveling; pure without scrupulosity, 
and exact without apparent elaboration; always equable, and always 
easy, without glowing words or pointed sentences. Addison never 
deviates from his track to snatch a grace; he seeks no ambitious 
ornaments, and tries no hazardous innovations. His page is always 
luminous, but never blazes in unexpected splendour. 

It was apparently his principal endeavour to avoid all harshness 
and severity of diction; he is therefore sometimes verbose in his 
transitions and connections, and sometimes descends too much to 
the language of conversation; yet if his language had been less 
idiomatical, it might have lost somewhat of its genuine Anglicism. 
What he attempted, he performed; he is never feeble, and he did 
not wish to be energetick; he is never rapid, and he never stagnates. 
His sentences have neither studied amplitude, nor affected brevity: 
his periods, though not diligently rounded, are voluble and easy. 
Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, 
and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to 
the volumes of Addison. 



OF THE STANDARD OF TASTE 



BY 
DAVID HUME 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

David Hume (1711-1776) was born in Edinburgh, and was trained 
for the law. He early showed an eager interest in philosophy, and devoted 
himself to study with such intensity as to injure his health. He traveled 
in France more than once, and was on intimate terms with such men as 
d'Alembert, Turgot, and Rousseau, for the last of whom he found a 
pension and a temporary refuge in England. 

Hume is most celebrated for his philosophical writings, in which he 
carried the empirical philosophy of Locke to the point of complete 
skepticism. He wrote also a "History of England" in eight volumes, 
and a large number of treatises and essays on politics, economics, ethics, 
and esthetics. The following essay, "Of the Standard of Taste," is a 
typical example of his clear thinking and admirable style. "He may be 
regarded," says Leslie Stephen, "as the acutest thinker in Great Britain 
of the eighteenth century, and the most qualified interpreter of its intel- 
lectual tendencies." 



OF THE STANDARD OF TASTE 

THE great variety of Taste, as well as of opinion, which pre- 
vails in the world, is too obvious not to have fallen under 
every one's observation. Men of the most confined knowl- 
edge are able to remark a difference of taste in the narrow circle 
of their acquaintance, even where the persons have been educated 
under the same government, and have early imbibed the same prej- 
udices. But those, who can enlarge their view to contemplate dis- 
tant nations and remote ages, are still more surprised at the great 
inconsistence and contrariety. We are apt to call barbarous whatever 
departs widely from our own taste and apprehension; but soon find 
the epithet of reproach retorted on us. And the highest arrogance 
and self-conceit is at last startled, on observing an equal assurance 
on all sides, and scruples, amidst such a contest of sentiment, to pro- 
nounce positively in its own favour. 

As this variety of taste is obvious to the most careless inquirer; so 
will it be found, on examination, to be still greater in reality than in 
appearance. The sentiments of men often differ with regard to 
beauty and deformity of all kinds, even while their general dis- 
course is the same. There are certain terms in every language, which 
import blame, and others praise; and all men, who use the same 
tongue, must agree in their application of them. Every voice is 
united in applauding elegance, propriety, simplicity, spirit in writ- 
ing; and in blaming fustian, affectation, coldness, and a false bril- 
liancy : But when critics come to particulars, this seeming unanimity 
vanishes; and it is found, that they had affixed a very different 
meaning to their expressions. In all matters of opinion and science, 
the case is opposite: The difference among men is there oftener found 
to lie in generals than in particulars; and to be less in reality than in 
appearance. An explanation of the terms commonly ends the con- 
troversy; and the disputants are surprised to find, that they had been 
quarrelling, while at bottom they agreed in their judgment. 

203 



204 DAVID HUME 

Those who found morahty on sentiment, more than on reason, 
are indined to comprehend ethics under the former observation, 
and to maintain, that, in all questions, which regard conduct and 
manners, the difference among men is really greater than at first 
sight it appears. It is indeed obvious, that writers of all nations and 
all ages concur in applauding justice, humanity, magnanimity, 
prudence, veracity; and in blaming the opposite qualities. Even 
poets and other authors, whose compositions are chiefly calculated 
to please the imagination, are yet found, from Homer down to 
Fenelon, to inculcate the same moral precepts, and to bestow their 
applause and blame on the same virtues and vices. This great 
unanimity is usually ascribed to the influence of plain reason; which, 
in all these cases, maintains similar sentiments in all men, and pre- 
vents those controversies, to which the abstract sciences are so much 
exposed. So far as the unanimity is real, this account may be ad- 
mitted as satisfactory: But we must also allow, that some part of 
the seeming harmony in morals may be accounted for from the very 
nature of language. The word virtue, with its equivalent in every 
tongue, implies praise; as that of vice does blame: And no man, 
without the most obvious and grossest impropriety, could affix re- 
proach to a term, which in general acceptation is understood in a 
good sense; or bestow applause, where the idiom requires disappro- 
bation. Homer's general precepts, where he delivers any such, will 
never be controverted; but it is obvious, that, when he draws par- 
ticular pictures of manners, and represents heroism in Achilles and 
prudence in Ulysses, he intermixes a much greater degree of ferocity 
in the former, and of cunning and fraud in the latter, than Fenelon 
would admit of. The sage Ulysses in the Greek poet seems to de- 
light in lies and fictions, and often employs them without any 
necessity or even advantage: But his more scrupulous son, in the 
French epic writer, exposes himself to the most imminent perils, 
rather than depart from the most exact line of truth and veracity. 

The admirers and followers of the Alcoran insist on the excellent 
moral precepts interspersed through that wild and absurd perform- 
ance. But it is to be supposed, that the Arabic words, which corre- 
spond to the English, equity, justice, temperance, meekness, charity, 
were such as, from the constant use of that tongue, must always be 



THE STANDARD OF TASTE 205 

taken in a good sense; and it would have argued the greatest igno- 
rance, not of morals, but of language, to have mentioned them with 
any epithets, besides those of applause and approbation. But would 
we know, whether the pretended prophet had really attained a just 
sentiment of morals? Let us attend to his narration; and we shall 
soon find, that he bestows praise on such instances of treachery, 
inhumanity, cruelty, revenge, bigotry, as are utterly incompatible 
with civilized society. No steady rule of right seems there to be 
attended to; and every action is blamed or praised, so far only as it 
is beneficial or hurtful to the true believers. 

The merit of delivering true general precepts in ethics is indeed 
very small. Whoever recommends any moral virtues, really does no 
more than is implied in the terms themselves. That people, who 
invented the word charity, and used it in a good sense, inculcated 
more clearly and much more efficaciously, the precept, be charitable, 
than any pretended legislator or prophet, who should insert such a 
maxim in his writings. Of all expressions, those, which, together 
with their other meaning, imply a degree either of blame or appro- 
bation, are the least liable to be perverted or mistaken. 

It is natural for us to seek a Standard of Taste; a rule, by which the 
various sentiments of men may be reconciled; at least, a decision af- 
forded, confirming one sentiment, and condemning another. 

There is a species of philosophy, which cuts off all hopes of success 
in such an attempt, and represents the impossibility of ever attaining 
any standard of taste. The difference, it is said, is very wide between 
judgment and sentiment. All sentiment is right; because sentiment 
has a reference to nothing beyond itself, and is always real, wherever 
a man is conscious of it. But all determinations of the understanding 
are not right; because they have a reference to something beyond 
themselves, to wit, real matter of fact; and are not always conform- 
able to that standard. Among a thousand different opinions which 
different men may entertain of the same subject, there is one, and 
but one, that is just and true; and the only difficulty is to fix and 
ascertain it. On the contrary, a thousand different sentiments, 
excited by the same object, are all right: Because no sentiment repre- 
sents what is really in the object. It only marks a certain conformity 
or relation between the object and the organs or faculties of the 



206 DAVID HUME 

mind; and if that conformity did not really exist, the sentiment 
could never possibly have being. Beauty is no quality in things 
themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; 
and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even 
perceive deformity, vs'here another is sensible of beauty; and every 
individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretend- 
ing to regulate those of others. To seek the real beauty, or real 
deformity is as fruitless an inquiry, as to pretend to ascertain the 
real sweet or real bitter. According to the disposition of the organs, 
the same object may be both sweet and bitter: and the proverb has 
justly determined it to be fruitless to dispute concerning tastes. It is 
very natural, and even quite necessary, to extend this axiom to mental, 
as well as bodily taste; and thus common sense, which is so often 
at variance with philosophy, especially with the sceptical kind, is 
found, in one instance at least, to agree in pronouncing the same 
decision. 

But though this axiom, by passing into a proverb, seems to have 
attained the sanction of common sense; there is certainly a species 
of common sense, which opposes it, at least serves to modify and 
restrain it. Whoever would assert an equality of genius and elegance 
between Ogilby and Milton, or Bunyan and Addison, would be 
thought to defend no less an extravagance, than if he had maintained 
a mole-hill to be as high as Tenerifle, or a pond as extensive as the 
ocean. Though there may be found persons, who give the preference 
to the former authors; no one pays attention to such a taste; and we 
pronounce, without scruple, the sentiment of these pretended critics 
to be absurd and ridiculous. The principle of the natural equality 
of tastes is then totally forgot, and while we admit it on some occa- 
sions, where the objects seem near an equality, it appears an extrava- 
gant paradox, or rather a palpable absurdity, where objects so dis- 
proportioned are compared together. 

It is evident that none of the rules of composition are fixed by 
reasonings a priori, or can be esteemed abstract conclusions of the 
understanding, from comparing those habitudes and relations of 
ideas, which are eternal and immutable. Their foundation is the 
same with that of all the practical sciences, experience; nor are there 
any thing but general observations, concerning what has been uni- 



THE STANDARD OF TASTE 20/ 

versally found to please in all countries and in all ages. Many of the 
beauties of poetry, and even of eloquence, are founded on falsehood 
and fiction, on hyperboles, metaphors, and an abuse or perversion of 
terms from their natural meaning. To check the sallies of the 
imagination, and to reduce every expression to geometrical truth and 
exactness, would be the most contrary to the laws of criticism; be- 
cause it would produce a work, which, by universal experience, has 
been found the most insipid and disagreeable. But though poetry can 
never submit to exact truth, it must be confined by rules of art, 
discovered to the author either by genius or observation. If some 
negligent or irregular writers have pleased, they have not pleased 
by their transgressions of rule or order, but in spite of these trans- 
gressions: They have possessed other beauties, which were conform- 
able to just criticism; and the force of these beauties has been able to 
overpower censure, and give the mind a satisfaction superior to the 
disgust arising from the blemishes. Ariosto pleases; but not by his 
monstrous and improbable fictions, by his bizarre mixture of the 
serious and comic styles, by the want of coherence in his stories, or 
by the continual interruptions of his narration. He charms by the 
force and clearness of his expression, by the readiness and variety of 
his inventions, and by his natural pictures of the passions, especially 
those of the gay and amorous kind: And however his faults may 
diminish our satisfaction, they are not able entirely to destroy it. Did 
our pleasure really arise from those parts of his poem, which we 
denominate faults, this would be no objection to criticism in general: 
It would only be an objection to those particular rules of criticism, 
which would establish such circumstances to be faults, and would 
represent them as universally blameablc. If they are found to please, 
they cannot be faults; let the pleasure, which they produce, be ever 
so unexpected and unaccountable. 

But though all the general rules of art are founded only on ex- 
perience, and on the observation of the common sentiments of human 
nature, we must not imagine, that, on every occasion, the feelings of 
men will be conformable to these rules. Those finer emotions of the 
mind are of a very tender and delicate nature, and require the con- 
currence of many favourable circumstances to make them play with 
facility and exactness, according to their general and established 



208 DAVID HUME 

principles. The least exterior hindrance to such small springs, or 
the least internal disorder, disturbs their motion, and confounds 
the operation of the whole machine. When we would make an ex- 
periment of this nature, and would try the force of any beauty or 
deformity, we must choose with care a proper time and place, and 
bring the fancy to a suitable situation and disposition. A perfect 
serenity of mind, a recollection of thought, a due attention to the 
object; if any of these circumstances be wanting, our experiment 
will be fallacious, and we shall be unable to judge of the catholic 
and universal beauty. The relation, which nature has placed between 
the form and the sentiment, will at least be more obscure; and it 
will require greater accuracy to trace and discern it. We shall be 
able to ascertain its influence, not so much from the operation of 
each particular beauty, as from the durable admiration, which at- 
tends those works, that have survived all the caprices of mode and 
fashion, all the mistakes of ignorance and envy. 

The same Homer, who pleased at Athens and Rome two thousand 
years ago, is still admired at Paris and at London. All the changes of 
climate, government, religion, and language, have not been able to 
obscure his glory. Authority or prejudice may give a temporary 
vogue to a bad poet or orator; but his reputation will never be durable 
or general. When his compositions are examined by posterity or by 
foreigners, the enchantment is dissipated, and his faults appear in 
their true colours. On the contrary, a real genius, the longer his 
works endure, and the more wide they are spread, the more sincere 
is the admiration which he meets with. Envy and jealousy have too 
much place in a narrow circle; and even familiar acquaintance with 
his person may diminish the applause due to his performances: But 
when these obstructions are removed, the beauties, which are natu- 
rally fitted to excite agreeable sentiments, immediately display their 
energy; while the world endures, they maintain their authority over 
the minds of men. 

It appears then, that, amidst all the variety and caprice of taste, 
there are certain general principles of approbation or blame, whose 
influence a careful eye may trace in all operations of the mind. 
Some particular forms or qualities, from the original structure of the 
internal fabric, are calculated to please, and others to displease; and 



THE STANDARD OF TASTE 2O9 

if they fail of their effect in any particular instance, it is from some 
apparent defect or imperfection in the organ. A man in a fever 
would not insist on his palate as able to decide concerning flavours; 
nor would one, affected with the jaundice, pretend to give a verdict 
with regard to colours. In each creature, there is a sound and a 
defective state; and the former alone can be supposed to afford us a 
true standard of taste and sentiment. If, in the sound state of the 
organ, there be an entire or a considerable uniformity of sentiment 
among men, we may thence derive an idea of the perfect beauty; in 
like manner as the appearance of objects in day-light, to the eye of a 
man in health, is denominated their true and real colour, even while 
colour is allowed to be merely a phantasm of the senses. 

Many and frequent are the defects in the internal organs, which 
prevent or weaken the influence of those general principles, on which 
depends our sentiment of beauty or deformity. Though some objects, 
by the structure of the mind, be naturally calculated to give pleasure, 
it is not to be expected, that in every individual the pleasure will be 
equally felt. Particular incidents and situations occur, which either 
throw a false light on the objects, or hinder the true from convey- 
ing to the imagination the proper sentiment and perception. 

One obvious cause, why many feel not the proper sentiment of 
beauty, is the want of that delicacy of imagination, which is requi- 
site to convey a sensibility of those liner emotions. This delicacy every 
one pretends to: Every one talks of it; and would reduce every kind 
of taste or sentiment to its standard. But as our intention in this essay 
is to mingle some light of the understanding with the feelings of 
sentiment, it will be proper to give a more accurate definition of 
delicacy than has hitherto been attempted. And not to draw our 
philosophy from too profound a source, we shall have recourse to a 
noted story in Don Quixote. 

It is with good reason, says Sancho to the squire with the great 
nose, that I pretend to have a judgment in wine: This is a quality 
hereditary in our family. Two of my kinsmen were once called to 
give their opinion of a hogshead, which was supposed to be excellent, 
being old and of a good vintage. One of them tastes it; considers it; 
and, after mature reflection, pronounces the wine to be good, were 
it not for a small taste of leather, which he perceived in it. The other. 



2IO DAVID HUME 

after using the same precautions, gives also his verdict in favour 
of the wine; but with the reserve of a taste of iron, which he could 
easily distinguish. You cannot imagine how much they were both 
ridiculed for their judgment. But who laughed in the end? On 
emptying the hogshead, there was found at the bottom an old key 
with a leathern thong tied to it. 

The great resemblance between mental and bodily taste will 
easily teach us to apply this story. Though it be certain, that beauty 
and deformity, more than sweet and bitter, are not qualities in 
objects, but belong entirely to the sentiment, internal or external; it 
must be allowed, that there are certain qualities in objects, which are 
fitted by nature to produce those particular feelings. Now as these 
quahties may be found in a small degree, or may be mixed and con- 
founded with each other, it often happens that the taste is not 
affected with such minute qualities, or is not able to distinguish all 
the particular flavours, amidst the disorder in which they are pre- 
sented. Where the organs are so fine, as to allow nothing to escape 
them; and at the same time so exact, as to perceive every ingredient 
in the composition: This we call delicacy of taste, whether we 
employ these terms in the literal or metaphorical sense. Here then 
the general rules of beauty are of use, being drawn from established 
models, and from the observation of what pleases or displeases, when 
presented singly and in a high degree: And if the same qualities, in 
a continued composition, and in a smaller degree, affect not the 
organs with a sensible delight or uneasiness, we exclude the person 
from all pretensions to this delicacy. To produce these general rules 
or avowed patterns of composition, is like finding the key with the 
leathern thong; which justified the verdict of Sancho's kinsmen, and 
confounded those pretended judges who had condemned them. 
Though the hogshead had never been emptied, the taste of the one 
was still equally delicate, and that of the other equally dull and 
languid: But it would have been more difficult to have proved the 
superiority of the former, to the conviction of every bye-stander. 
In like manner, though the beauties of writing had never been 
methodized, or reduced to general principles; though no excellent 
models had ever been acknowledged; the different degrees of taste 
would still have subsisted, and the judgment of one man been pref- 



THE STANDARD OF TASTE 211 

erable to that o£ another; but it would not have been so easy to 
silence the bad critic, who might always insist upon his particular 
sentiment, and refuse to submit to his antagonist. But when we show 
him an avowed principle of art; when we illustrate this principle 
by examples, whose operation, from his own particular taste, he 
acknowledges to be conformable to the principle; when we prove 
that the same principle may be applied to the present case, where 
he did not perceive or feel its influence: He must conclude, upon the 
whole, that the fault lies in himself, and that he wants the delicacy, 
which is requisite to make him sensible of every beauty and every 
blemish, in any composition or discourse. 

It is acknowledged to be the perfection of every sense or faculty, 
to perceive with exactness its most minute objects, and allow nothing 
to escape its notice and observation. The smaller the objects are, 
which become sensible to the eye, the finer is that organ, and the 
more elaborate its make and composition. A good palate is not tried 
by strong flavours, but by a mixture of small ingredients, where we 
are still sensible of each part, notwithstanding its minuteness and its 
confusion with the rest. In like manner, a quick and acute percep- 
tion of beauty and deformity must be the perfection of our mental 
taste; nor can a man be satisfied with himself while he suspects that 
any excellence or blemish in a discourse has passed him unobserved. 
In this case, the perfection of the man, and the perfection of the 
sense or feeling, are found to be united. A very delicate palate, on 
many occasions, may be a great inconvenience both to a man him- 
self and to his friends: But a delicate taste of wit or beauty must 
always be a desirable quality, because it is the source of all the finest 
and most innocent enjoyments of which human nature is susceptible. 
In this decision the sentiments of all mankind are agreed. Wherever 
you can ascertain a delicacy of taste, it is sure to meet with appro- 
bation; and the best way of ascertaining it is to appeal to those models 
and principles which have been established by the uniform consent 
and experience of nations and ages. 

But though there be naturally a wide difference in point of delicacy 
between one person and another, nothing tends further to increase 
and improve this talent, than practice in a particular art, and the 
frequent survey or contemplation of a particular species of beauty. 



212 DAVID HUME 

When objects of any kind are first presented to the eye or imagina- 
tion, the sentiment which attends them is obscure and confused; and 
the mind is, in a great measure, incapable of pronouncing concerning 
their merits or defects. The taste cannot perceive the several excel- 
lencies of the performance, much less distinguish the particular 
character of each excellency, and ascertain its quality and degree. 
If it pronounce the whole in general to be beautiful or deformed, it 
is the utmost that can be expected; and even this judgment, a person 
so unpractised will be apt to deliver with great hesitation and 
reserve. But allow him to acquire experience in those objects, his 
feeling becomes more exact and nice: He not only perceives the 
beauties and defects of each part, but marks the distinguishing 
species of each quality, and assigns it suitable praise or blame. A clear 
and distinct sentiment attends him through the whole survey of the 
objects; and he discerns that very degree and kind of approbation 
or displeasure which each part is naturally fitted to produce. The 
mist dissipates which seemed formerly to hang over the object: The 
organ acquires greater perfection in its operations; and can pro- 
nounce, without danger or mistake, concerning the merits of every 
performance. In a word, the same address and dexterity, which 
practice gives to the execution of any work, is also acquired by the 
same means, in the judging of it. 

So advantageous is practice to the discernment of beauty, that, 
before we can give judgment on any work of importance, it will 
even be requisite that that very individual performance be more than 
once perused by us, and be surveyed in different lights with attention 
and deliberation. There is a flutter or hurry of thought which 
attends the first perusal of any piece, and which confounds the genu- 
ine sentiment of beauty. The relation of the parts is not discerned: 
The true characters of style are little distinguished. The several 
perfections and defects seem wrapped up in a species of confusion, 
and present themselves indistinctly to the imagination. Not to men- 
tion, that there is a species of beauty, which, as it is florid and super- 
ficial, pleases at first; but being found incompatible with a just 
expression either of reason or passion, soon palls upon the taste, 
and is then rejected with disdain, at least rated at a much lower 
value. 



THE STANDARD OF TASTE 2I3 

It is impossible to continue in the practice of contemplating any 
order of beauty, without being frequently obliged to form compari- 
sons between the several species and degrees of excellence, and 
estimating their proportion to each other. A man, who had had no 
opportunity of comparing the different kinds of beauty, is indeed 
totally unqualified to pronounce an opinion with regard to any 
object presented to him. By comparison alone we fix the epithets of 
praise or blame, and learn how to assign the due degree of each. 
The coarsest daubing contains a certain lustre of colours and exact- 
ness of imitation, which are so far beauties, and would affect the 
mind of a peasant or Indian with the highest admiration. The most 
vulgar ballads are not entirely destitute of harmony or nature; and 
none but a person familiarised to superior beauties would pronounce 
their numbers harsh, or narration uninteresting. A great inferiority 
of beauty gives pain to a person conversant in the highest excellence 
of the kind, and is for that reason pronounced a deformity: As the 
most finished object with which we are acquainted is naturally sup- 
posed to have reached the pinnacle of perfection, and to be entitled 
to the highest applause. One accustomed to see, and examine, and 
weigh the several performances, admired in different ages and 
nations, can alone rate the merits of a work exhibited to his view, 
and assign its proper rank among the productions of genius. 

But to enable a critic the more fully to execute this undertaking, 
he must preserve his mind free from all prejudice, and allow nothing 
to enter into his consideration but the very object which is submitted 
to his examination. We may observe, that every work of art, in order 
to produce its due effect on the mind, must be surveyed in a certain 
point of view, and cannot be fully relished by persons, whose situa- 
tion, real or imaginary, is not conformable to that which is required 
by the performance. An orator addresses himself to a particular 
audience, and must have a regard to their particular genius, interests, 
opinions, passions, and prejudices; otherwise he hopes in vain to 
govern their resolutions, and inflame their affections. Should they 
even have entertained some prepossessions against him, however 
unreasonable, he must not overlook this disadvantage; but, before 
he enters upon the subject, must endeavour to conciliate their affec- 
tion, and acquire their good graces. A critic of a different age or 



214 DAVID HUME 

nation, who should peruse this discourse, must have all these circum- 
stances in his eye, and must place himself in the same situation as 
the audience, in order to form a true judgment of the oration. In 
like manner, when any work is addressed to the public, though I 
should have a friendship or enmity with the author, I must depart 
from this situation; and considering myself as a man in general, 
forget, if possible, my individual being, and my peculiar circum- 
stances. A person influenced by prejudice, complies not with this 
condition, but obstinately maintains his natural position, without 
placing himself in that point of view which the performance sup- 
poses. If the work be addressed to persons of a different age or 
nation, he makes no allowance for their peculiar views and preju- 
dices; but, full of the manners of his own age and country, rashly 
condemns what seemed admirable in the eyes of those for whom 
alone the discourse was calculated. If the work be executed for the 
public, he never sufficiently enlarges his comprehension, or forgets 
his interest as a friend or enemy, as a rival or commentator. By 
this means, his sentiments are perverted; nor have the same beauties 
and blemishes the same influence upon him, as if he had imposed a 
proper violence on his iiriagination, and had forgotten himself for a 
moment. So far his taste evidently departs from the true standard, 
and of consequence loses all credit and authority. 

It is well known, that in all questions submitted to the under- 
standing, prejudice is destructive of sound judgment, and perverts 
all operations of the intellectual faculties: It is no less contrary to 
good taste; nor has it less influence to corrupt our sentiment of 
beauty. It belongs to good sense to check its influence in both cases; 
and in this respect, as well as in many others, reason, if not an 
essential part of taste, is at least requisite to the operations of this 
latter faculty. In all the nobler productions of genius, there is a 
mutual relation and correspondence of parts; nor can either the 
beauties or blemishes be perceived by him, whose thought is not 
capacious enough to comprehend all those parts, and compare them 
with each other, in order to perceive the consistence and uniformity 
of the whole. Every work of art has also a certain end or purpose 
for which it is calculated; and is to be deemed more or less perfect, 
as it is more or less fitted to attain this end. The object of eloquence 



THE STANDARD OF TASTE 215 

is to persuade, o£ history to instruct, of poetry to please, by means of 
the passions and the imagination. These ends we must carry con- 
stantly in our view when we peruse any performance; and we must 
be able to judge how far the means employed are adapted to their 
respective purposes. Besides, every kind of composition, even the 
most poetical, is nothing but a chain of propositions and reasonings; 
not always indeed, the justest and most exact, but still plausible and 
specious, however disguised by the colouring of the imagination. 
The persons introduced in tragedy and epic poetry, must be repre- 
sented as reasoning, and thinking, and concluding, and acting, suit- 
ably to their character and circumstances; and without judgment, 
as well as taste and invention, a poet can never hope to succeed in 
so delicate an undertaking. Not to mention, that the same excellence 
of faculties which contributes to the improvement of reason, the 
same clearness of conception, the same exactness of distinction, the 
same vivacity of apprehension, are essential to the operations of true 
taste, and are its infallible concomitants. It seldom or never happens, 
that a man of sense, who has experience in any art, cannot judge of 
its beauty; and it is no less rare to meet with a man who has a just 
taste without a sound understanding. 

Thus, though the principles of taste be universal, and nearly, if 
not entirely, the same in all men; yet few are qualified to give judg- 
ment on any work of art, or establish their own sentiment as the 
standard of beauty. The organs of internal sensation are seldom so 
perfect as to allow the general principles their full play, and produce 
a feeling correspondent to those principles. They either labour under 
some defect, or are vitiated by some disorder; and by that means, 
excite a sentiment, which may be pronounced erroneous. When the 
critic has no delicacy, he judges without any distinction, and is only 
affected by the grosser and more palpable qualities of the object: 
The finer touches pass unnoticed and disregarded. Where he is not 
aided by practice, his verdict is attended with confusion and hesita- 
tion. Where no comparison has been employed, the most frivolous 
beauties, such as rather merit the name of defects, are the object 
of his admiration. Where he Hes under the influence of prejudice, all 
his natural sentiments are perverted. Where good sense is wanting, 
he is not qualified to discern the beauties of design and reasoning, 



2l6 DAVID HUME 

which are the highest and most excellent. Under some or other 
of these imperfections, the generality of men labour; and hence a 
true judge in the finer arts is observed, even during the most polished 
ages, to be so rare a character: Strong sense, united to delicate senti- 
ment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of 
all prejudice, can alone entitle critics to this valuable character; and 
the joint verdict of such, vi^herever they are to be found, is the true 
standard of taste and beauty. 

But where are such critics to be found? By what marks are they 
to be known ? How distinguish them from pretenders ? These ques- 
tions are embarrassing; and seem to throw us back into the same 
uncertainty, from which, during the course of this essay, we have 
endeavoured to extricate ourselves. 

But if we consider the matter aright, these are questions of fact, 
not of sentiment. Whether any particular person be endowed with 
good sense and a delicate imagination, free from prejudice, may 
often be the subject of dispute, and be liable to great discussion and 
inquiry: But that such a character is valuable and estimable, will be 
agreed in by all mankind. Where these doubts occur, men can do 
no more than in other disputable questions which are submitted to 
the understanding: They must produce the best arguments, that their 
invention suggests to them; they must acknowledge a true and 
decisive standard to exist somewhere, to wit, real existence and matter 
of fact; and they must have indulgence to such as differ from them 
in their appeals to this standard. It is sufficient for our present 
purpose, if we have proved, that the taste of all individuals is not 
upon an equal footing, and that some men in general, however 
difficult to be particularly pitched upon, will be acknowledged by 
universal sentiment to have a preference above others. 

But in reality, the difficulty of finding, even in particulars, the 
standard of taste, is not so great as it is represented. Though in 
speculation, we may readily avow a certain criterion in science, and 
deny it in sentiment, the matter is found in practice to be much more 
hard to ascertain in the former case than in the latter. Theories of 
abstract philosophy, systems of profound theology, have prevailed 
during one age: In a successive period, these have been universally 
exploded: Their absurdity has been detected: Other theories and 



THE STANDARD OF TASTE ll'J 

systems have supplied their place, which again gave place to their 
successors: And nothing has been experienced more liable to the 
revolutions of chance and fashion than these pretended decisions of 
science. The case is not the same with the beauties of eloquence and 
poetry. Just expressions of passion and nature are sure, after a little 
time, to gain public applause, which they maintain for ever. Aris- 
totle, and Plato, and Epicurus, and Descartes, may successively yield 
to each other : But Terence and Virgil maintain an universal, undis- 
puted empire over the minds of men. The abstract philosophy of 
Cicero has lost its credit: The vehemence of his oratory is still the 
object of our admiration. 

Though men of delicate taste be rare, they are easily to be dis- 
tinguished in society by the soundness of their understanding, and 
the superiority of their faculties above the rest of mankind. The 
ascendant, which they acquire, gives a prevalence to that lively 
approbation, with which they receive any productions of genius, 
and renders it generally predominant. Many men, when left to 
themselves, have but a faint and dubious perception of beauty, who 
yet are capable of relishing any fine stroke which is pointed out to 
them. Every convert to the admiration of the real poet or orator is 
the cause of some new conversion. And though prejudices may 
prevail for a time, they never unite in celebrating any rival to the 
true genius, but yield at last to the force of nature and just sentiment. 
Thus, though a civilized nation may easily be mistaken in the choice 
of their admired philosopher, they never have been found long to 
err, in their affection for a favourite epic or tragic author. 

But notwithstanding all our endeavours to fix a standard of taste, 
and reconcile the discordant apprehensions of men, there still remain 
two sources of variation, which are not sufficient indeed to confound 
all the boundaries of beauty and deformity, but will often serve to 
produce a difference in the degrees of our approbation or blame. 
The one is the different humours of particular men; the other, the 
particular manners and opinions of our age and country. The general 
principles of taste are uniform in human nature: Where men vary in 
their judgments, some defect or perversion in the faculties may 
commonly be remarked; proceeding either from prejudice, from 
want of practice, or want of delicacy: and there is just reason for 



2l8 DAVID HUME 

approving one taste, and condemning another. But where there is 
such a diversity in the internal frame or external situation as is 
entirely blameless on both sides, and leaves no room to give one the 
preference above the other; in that case a certain degree of diversity 
in judgment is unavoidable, and we seek in vain for a standard, by 
which we can reconcile the contrary sentiments. 

A young man, whose passions are warm, will be more sensibly 
touched with amorous and tender images, than a man more advanced 
in years, who takes pleasure in wise, philosophical reflections, con- 
cerning the conduct of life and moderation of the passions. At 
twenty, Ovid may be the favourite author; Horace at forty; and 
perhaps Tacitus at fifty. Vainly would we, in such cases, endeavour 
to enter into the sentiments of others, and divest ourselves of those 
propensities which are natural to us. We choose our favourite author 
as we do our friend, from a conformity of humour and disposition. 
Mirth or passion, sentiment or reflection; which ever of these most 
predominates in our temper, it gives us a peculiar sympathy with the 
writer who resembles us. 

One person is more pleased with the sublime; another with the 
tender; a third with raillery. One has a strong sensibility to blem- 
ishes, and is extremely studious of correctness: Another has a more 
lively feeling of beauties, and pardons twenty absurdities and defects 
for one elevated or pathetic stroke. The ear of this man is entirely 
turned towards conciseness and energy; that man is delighted with 
a copious, rich, and harmonious expression. Simplicity is affected by 
one; ornament by another. Comedy, tragedy, satire, odes, have each 
its partizans, who prefer that particular species of writing to all 
others. It is plainly an error in a critic, to confine his approbation 
to one species or style of writing, and condemn all the rest. But it is 
almost impossible not to feel a predilection for that which suits our 
particular turn and disposition. Such preferences are innocent and 
unavoidable, and can never reasonably be the object of dispute, 
because there is no standard by which they can be decided. 

For a like reason, we are more pleased, in the course of our reading, 
with pictures and characters that resemble objects which are found 
in our own age or country, than with those which describe a different 
set of customs. It is not without some effort, that we reconcile our- 
selves to the simplicity of ancient manners, and behold princesses 



THE STANDARD OF TASTE 219 

carrying water from the spring, and kings and heroes dressing their 
own victuals. We may allow in general, that the representation o£ 
such manners is no fault in the author, nor deformity in the piece; 
but we are not so sensibly touched with them. For this reason, 
comedy is not easily transferred from one age or nation to another. 
A Frenchman or Englishman is not pleased with the Andria of 
Terence, or Clitia of Machiavel; where the fine lady, upon whom 
all the play turns, never once appears to the spectators, but is always 
kept behind the scenes, suitably to the reserved humour of the 
ancient Greeks and modern Italians. A man of learning and reflec- 
tion can make allowance for these peculiarities of manners; but a 
common audience can never divest themselves so far of their usual 
ideas and sentiments, as to relish pictures which nowise resemble 
them. 

But here there occurs a reflection, which may, perhaps, be useful 
in examining the celebrated controversy concerning ancient and 
modern learning; where we often find the one side excusing any 
seeming absurdity in the ancients from the manners of the age, and 
the other refusing to admit this excuse, or at least admitting it only 
as an apology for the author, not for the performance. In my opinion, 
the proper boundaries in this subject have seldom been fixed between 
the contending parties. Where any innocent peculiarities of manners 
are represented, such as those above mentioned, they ought certainly 
to be admitted; and a man, who is shocked with them, gives an 
evident proof of false delicacy and refinement. The poet's monument 
more durable than brass, must fall to the ground like common brick 
or clay, were men to make no allowance for the continual revolutions 
of manners and customs, and would admit of nothing but what was 
suitable to the prevailing fashion. Must we throw aside the pictures 
of our ancestors, because of their ruffs and f ardingales ? But where 
the ideas of morality and decency alter from one age to another, and 
where vicious manners are described, without being marked with 
the proper characters of blame and disapprobation, this must be 
allowed to disfigure the poem, and to be a real deformity. I cannot, 
nor is it proper I should, enter into such sentiments; and however I 
may excuse the poet, on account of the manners of his age, I never 
can relish the composition. The want of humanity and of decency, 
so conspicuous in the characters drawn by several of the ancient 



220 DAVID HUME 

poets, even sometimes by Homer and the Greek tragedians, dimin- 
ishes considerably the merit of their noble performances, and gives 
modern authors an advantage over them. We are not interested in 
the fortunes and sentiments of such rough heroes : We are displeased 
to find the limits of vice and virtue so much confounded; and what- 
ever indulgence we may give to the writer on account of his prej- 
udices, we cannot prevail on ourselves to enter into his sentiments, 
or bear an affection to characters, which we plainly discover to be 
blameable. 

The case is not the same with moral principles as with speculative 
opinions of any kind. These are in continual flux and revolution. 
The son embraces a different system from the father. Nay there 
scarcely is any man, who can boast of great constancy and uniformity 
in this particular. Whatever speculative errors may be found in the 
polite writings of any age or country, they detract but little from the 
value of those compositions. There needs but a certain turn of 
thought or imagination to make us enter into all the opinions, which 
then prevail, and relish the sentiments or conclusions derived from 
them. But a very violent effort is requisite to change our judgment 
of manners, and excite sentiments of approbation or blame, love or 
hatred, different from those to which the mind, from long custom, 
has been familiarized. And where a man is confident of the rectitude 
of that moral standard, by which he judges, he is justly jealous of it, 
and will not pervert the sentiments of his heart for a moment, in 
complaisance to any writer whatsoever. 

Of all speculative errors, those which regard religion are the most 
excusable in compositions of genius; nor is it ever permitted to 
judge of the civility or wisdom of any people, or even of single 
persons, by the grossness or refinement of their theological principles. 
The same good sense, that directs men in the ordinary occurrences 
of life, is not hearkened to in religious matters, which are supposed 
to be placed altogether above the cognisance of human reason. On 
this account, all the absurdities of the pagan system of theology must 
be overlooked by every critic, who would pretend to form a just 
notion of ancient poetry; and our posterity, in their turn, must have 
the same indulgence to their forefathers. No religious principles can 
ever be imputed as a fault to any poet, while they remain merely 



THE STANDARD OF TASTE 221 

principles, and take not such strong possession of his heart, as to lay 
him under the imputation of bigotry or superstition. Where that 
happens, they confound the sentiments of morality, and alter the 
natural boundaries of vice and virtue. They are therefore eternal 
blemishes, according to the principle above mentioned; nor are the 
prejudices and false opinions of the age sufficient to justify them. 

It is essential to the Roman Catholic religion to inspire a violent 
hatred of every other worship, and to represent all pagans, mahome- 
tans, and heretics, as the objects of Divine wrath and vengeance. 
Such sentiments, though they are in reality very blameable, are 
considered as virtues by the zealots of that communion, and are repre- 
sented in their tragedies and epic poems as a kind of divine heroism. 
This bigotry has disfigured two very fine tragedies of the French 
theatre, Polieucte and Athalia; where an intemperate zeal for 
particular modes of worship is set off with all the pomp imaginable, 
and forms the predominant character of the heroes. "What is this," 
says the sublime Joad to Josabet, finding her in discourse with 
Mathan the priest of Baal, "Does the daughter of David speak to 
this traitor? Are you not afraid, lest the earth should open and pour 
forth flames to devour you both? Or lest these holy walls should 
fall and crush you together ? What is his purpose ? Why comes that 
enemy of God hither to poison the air, which we breathe, with his 
horrid presence?" Such sentiments are received with great applause 
on the theatre of Paris; but at London the spectators would be full 
as much pleased to hear Achilles tell Agamemnon, that he was a 
dog in his forehead, and a deer in his heart; or Jupiter threaten Juno 
with a sound drubbing, if she will not be quiet. 

Religious principles are also a blemish in any polite composition, 
when they rise up to superstition, and intrude themselves into every 
sentiment, however remote from any connection with religion. It is 
no excuse for the poet, that the customs of his country had burthened 
life with so many religious ceremonies and observances, that no part 
of it was exempt from that yoke. It must for ever be ridiculous in 
Petrarch to compare his mistress, Laura, to Jesus Christ. Nor is it 
less ridiculous in that agreeable libertine, Boccace, very seriously to 
give thanks to God Almighty and the ladies, for their assistance in 
defending him against his enemies. 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS 



BY 
SYDNEY SMITH 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

Sydney Smith (1771-1845) was an English clergyman noted as the 
wittiest man of his time. He was educated at Winchester and Oxford, 
and in 1798 went to Edinburgh as tutor to the son of an EngHsh gentle- 
man. While there he proposed the founding of the "Edinburgh Review," 
and with Jeffrey, Brougham, and Francis Horner shared in its actual 
establishment. He superintended the first three numbers, and continued 
to write for it for twenty-five years. On leaving Edinburgh he lectured in 
London, held livings in Yorkshire and Somersetshire, was made pre- 
bendary of Bristol and Canon of St. Paul's. 

The review of Bentham's "Book of Fallacies" exhibits at once the 
method of the Edinburgh Reviewers, Smith's vigorous, pointed, and 
witty style, and the general trend of his political opinions. He was a 
stanch Whig, and in such issues as that of Catholic Emancipation he 
fought for liberal opinions at the cost of injury to his personal prospects. 
As a clergyman he was kindly and philanthropic, a good preacher, and a 
hater of mysticism. No political writing of his time was more telling 
than his on the side of toleration and reform; and his wit, while spon- 
taneous and exuberant, was employed in the service of good sense and 
with careful consideration for the feelings of others. If he lacks the 
terrific power of Swift, he lacks also his bitterness and savagery; his 
honesty and sincerity were no less, and his personality was as winning as 
it was amusing. 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS' 

THERE are a vast number of absurd and mischievous falla- 
cies, which pass readily in the world for sense and virtue, 
while in truth they tend only to fortify error and encourage 
crime. Mr. Bentham has enumerated the most conspicuous of these 
in the book before us. 

Whether it be necessary there should be a middleman between the 
cultivator and the possessor, learned economists have doubted; but 
neither gods, men, nor booksellers can doubt the necessity of a 
middleman between Mr. Bentham and the public. Mr. Bentham is 
long; Mr. Bentham is occasionally involved and obscure; Mr. Ben- 
tham invents new and alarming expressions; Mr. Bentham loves 
division and subdivision — and he loves method itself, more than its 
consequences. Those only, therefore, who know his originality, his 
knowledge, his vigor, and his boldness, will recur to the works them- 
selves. The great mass of readers will not purchase improvement at 
so dear a rate; but will choose rather to become acquainted with 
Mr. Bentham through the medium of reviews — after that eminent 
philosopher has been washed, trimmed, shaved, and forced into 
clean linen. One great use of a review, indeed, is to make men wise 
in ten pages, who have no appetite for a hundred pages; to condense 
nourishment, to work with pulp and essence, and to guard the 
stomach from idle burden and unmeaning bulk. For half a page, 
sometimes for a whole page, Mr. Bentham writes with a power 
which few can equal; and by selecting and omitting, an admirable 
style may be formed from the text. Using this liberty, we shall 
endeavor to give an account of Mr. Bentham's doctrines, for the most 
part in his own words. Wherever an expression is particularly happy, 
let it be considered to be Mr. Bentham's — the dulness we take to 
ourselves. 

'A review of "The Book of Fallacies: from Unfinished Papers of Jeremy Bentham. 
By a Friend. London, 1824." 

225 



226 SYDNEY SMITH 

Our Wise Ancestors — The Wisdom of Our Ancestors — The 
Wisdom of Ages — Venerable Antiquity — Wisdom of Old Times. — 
This mischievous and absurd fallacy springs from the grossest per- 
version of the meaning of words. Experience is certainly the mother 
of wisdom, and the old have, of course, a greater experience than 
the young; but the question is who are the old? and who are the 
young? Of individuals living at the same period, the oldest has, of 
course, the greatest experience; but among generations of men the 
reverse of this is true. Those who come first (our ancestors) are the 
young people, and have the least experience. We have added to their 
experience the experience of many centuries; and, therefore, as far as 
experience goes, are wiser, and more capable of forming an opinion 
than they were. The real feeling should be, not can we be so pre- 
sumptuous as to put our opinions in opposition to those of our 
ancestors? but can such young, ignorant, inexperienced persons as 
our ancestors necessarily were, be expected to have understood a 
subject as well as those who have seen so much more, lived so much 
longer, and enjoyed the experience of so many centuries? All this 
cant, then, about our ancestors is merely an abuse of words, by trans- 
ferring phrases true of contemporary men to succeeding ages. 
Whereas (as we have before observed) of living men the oldest has, 
c ceteris paribus} the most experience; of generations, the oldest has, 
ceeteris paribus, the least experience. Our ancestors, up to the Con- 
quest, were children in arms; chubby boys in the time of Edward I; 
striplings under Elizabeth; men in the reign of Queen Anne; and we 
only are the white-bearded, silver-headed ancients, who have treas- 
ured up, and are prepared to profit by, all the experience which 
human life can supply. We are not disputing with our ancestors the 
palm of talent, in which they may or may not be our superiors, but 
the palm of experience in which it is utterly impossible they can be 
our superiors. And yet, whenever the Chancellor comes forward to 
protect some abuse, or to oppose some plan which has the increase of 
human happiness for its object, his first appeal is always to the wis- 
dom of our ancestors; and he himself, and many noble lords who 
vote with him, are, to this hour, persuaded that all alterations and 
amendments on their devices are an unblushing controversy between 
* "Other things being equal." 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS 227 

youthful temerity and mature experience! — and so, in truth they 
are — only that much-loved magistrate mistakes the young for the 
old, and the old for the young — and is guilty of that very sin against 
experience which he attributes to the lovers of innovation. 

We cannot of course be supposed to maintain that our ancestors 
wanted wisdom, or that they were necessarily mistaken in their 
institutions, because their means of information were more limited 
than ours. But we do confidently maintain that when we find it 
expedient to change anything which our ancestors have enacted, we 
are the experienced persons, and not they. The quantity of talent 
is always varying in any great nation. To say that we are more or 
less able than our ancestors is an assertion that requires to be 
explained. All the able men of all ages, who have ever lived in 
England, probably possessed, if taken altogether, more intellect than 
all the able men England can now boast of. But if authority must 
be resorted to rather than reason, the question is. What was the 
wisdom of that single age which enacted the law, compared with 
the wisdom of the age which proposes to alter it? What are the 
eminent men of one and the other period? If you say that our 
ancestors were wiser than us, mention your date and year. If the 
splendor of names is equal, are the circumstances the same? If the 
circumstances are the same, we have a superiority of experience, of 
which the difference between the two periods is the measure. It is 
necessary to insist upon this; for upon sacks of wool, and on benches 
forensic, sit grave men, and agricolous persons in the Commons, 
crying out: "Ancestors, ancestors! hodie nonP Saxons, Danes, save 
us! Fiddlefrig, help us! Howel, Ethelwolf, protect us!" Any cover 
for nonsense — any veil for trash — any pretext for repelling the 
innovations of conscience and of duty! 

"So long as they keep to vague generalities — so long as the two 
objects of comparison are each of them taken in the lump— wise 
ancestors in one lump, ignorant and foolish mob of modern times 
in the other — the weakness of the fallacy may escape detection. But 
let them assign for the period of superior wisdom any determinate 
period whatsoever, not only will the groundlessness of the notion 
be apparent (class being compared with class in that period and the 

3 "Not to-day!" 



228 SYDNEY SMITH 

present one), but unless the antecedent period be comparatively 
speaking a very modern one, so wide will be the disparity, and to 
such an amount in favor of modern times, that, in comparison of the 
lowest class of the people in modern times (always supposing them 
proficient in the art of reading, and their proficiency employed in 
the reading of newspapers), the very highest and best-informed class 
of these wise ancestors will turn out to be grossly ignorant. 

"Take, for example, any year in the reign of Henry VIII, from 
1509 to 1546. At that time the House of Lords would probably have 
been in possession of by far the larger proportion of what little 
instruction the age afforded; in the House of Lords, among the laity, 
it might even then be a question whether, without exception, their 
lordships were all of them able so much as to read. But even suppos- 
ing them all in the fullest possession of that useful art, political 
science being the science in question, what instruction on the subject 
could they meet with at that time of day? 

"On no one branch of legislation was any book extant from which, 
with regard to the circumstances of the then present times, any useful 
instruction could be derived: distributive law, penal law, inter- 
national law, political economy, so far from existing as sciences, had 
scarcely obtained a name: in all those departments under the head 
of quid faciendum, a mere blank: the whole literature of the age 
consisted of a meagre chronicle or two, containing short memoran- 
dums of the usual occurrences of war and peace, battles, sieges, 
executions, revels, deaths, births, processions, ceremonies, and other 
external events; but with scarce a speech or an incident that could 
enter into the composition of any such work as a history of the 
human mind — with scarce an attempt at investigation into causes, 
characters, or the state of the people at large. Even when at last, 
little by little, a scrap or two of political instruction came to be 
obtainable, the proportion of error and mischievous doctrine mixed 
up with it was so great, that whether a blank unfilled might not have 
been less prejudicial than a blank thus filled, may reasonably be 
matter of doubt. 

"If we come down to the reign of James I, we shall find that 
Solomon of his time eminently eloquent as well as learned, not only 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS 229 

among crowned but among uncrowned heads, marking out for pro- 
hibition and punishment the practices of devils and witches, and 
without the sHghtest objection on the part of the great characters of 
that day in their high situations, consigning men to death and tor- 
ment for the misfortune of not being so well acquainted as he was 
with the composition of the Godhead. 

"Under the name of exorcism the Catholic liturgy contains a form 
of procedure for driving out devils; — even with the help of this 
instrument, the operation cannot be performed with the desired 
success, but by an operator qualified by holy orders for the working 
of this as well as so many other wonders. In our days and in our 
country the same object is attained, and beyond comparison more 
effectually, by so cheap an instrument as a common newspaper; 
before this talisman, not only devils but ghosts, vampires, witches, 
and all their kindred tribes, are driven out of the land, never to 
return again! The touch of holy water is not so intolerable to them 
as the bare smell of printers' ink." * 

Fallacy of Irrevocable Laws. — A law, says Mr. Bentham (no 
matter to what effect) is proposed to a legislative assembly, who are 
called upon to reject it, upon the single ground that by those who in 
some former period exercised the same power, a regulation was made, 
having for its object to preclude forever, or to the end of an unexpired 
period, all succeeding legislators from enacting a law to any such 
effect as that now proposed. 

Now it appears quite evident that, at every period of time, every 
legislature must be endowed with all those powers which the exigency 
of the times may require; and any attempt to infringe on this power 
is inadmissible and absurd. The sovereign power, at any one period, 
can only form a blind guess at the measures which may be necessary 
for any future period; but by this principle of immutable laws, the 
government is transferred from those who are necessarily the best 
judges of what they want, to others who can know little or nothing 
about the matter. The thirteenth century decides for the fourteenth. 
The fourteenth makes laws for the fifteenth. The fifteenth hermeti- 
cally seals up the sixteenth, which tyrannizes over the seventeenth, 
* From Bentham, pp. 74-77. 



230 SYDNEY SMITH 

wbich again tells the eighteenth how it is to act, under circumstances 
which cannot be foreseen, and how it is to conduct itself in exigencies 
which no human wit can anticipate. 

"Men who have a century more experience to ground their judg- 
ments on, surrender their intellect to men who had a century less 
experience, and who, unless that deficiency constitutes a claim, have 
no claim to preference. If the prior generation were, in respect of 
intellectual qualification, ever so much superior to the subsequent 
generation — if it understood so much better than the subsequent 
generation itself the interest of that subsequent generation — could it 
have been in an equal degree anxious to promote that interest, and 
consequently equally attentive to those facts with which, though in 
order to form a judgment it ought to have been, it is impossible that 
it should have been, acquainted? In a word, will its love for that 
subsequent generation be quite so great as that same generation's love 
for itself? 

"Not even here, after a moment's deliberate reflection, will the 
assertion be in the affirmative. And yet it is their prodigious anxiety 
for the welfare of their posterity that produces the propensity of these 
sages to tie up the hands of this same posterity forever more — to act 
as guardians to its perpetual and incurable weakness, and take its 
conduct forever out of its own hands. 

"If it be right that the conduct of the nineteenth century should 
be determined not by its own judgment but by that of the eighteenth, 
it will be equally right that the conduct of the twentieth century 
should be determined not by its own judgment but by that of the 
nineteenth. And if the same principle were still pursued, what at 
length would be the consequence ? — that in process of time the prac- 
tice of legislation would be at an end. The conduct and fate of all 
men would be determined by those who neither knew nor cared 
anything about the matter; and the aggregate body of the living 
would remain forever in subjection to an inexorable tyranny, exer- 
cised as it were by the aggregate body of the Dead." ° 

The despotism, as Mr. Bentham well observes, of Nero or Caligula 
would be more tolerable than an "irrevocable law." The despot, 
through fear or favor, or in a lucid interval, might relent; but how 

5 Ibid., pp. 84-86. 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS 23 1 

are the Parliament who made the Scotch Union, for example, to be 
awakened from that dust in which they repose — the jobber and the 
patriot, the speaker and the doorkeeper, the silent voters and the men 
of rich allusions, Cannings and cultivators, Barings and beggars — 
making irrevocable laws for men who toss their remains about with 
spades, and use the relics of these legislators to give breadth to broc- 
coli, and to aid the vernal eruption of asparagus ? 

If the law be good, it will support itself; if bad, it should not be 
supported by "irrevocable theory," which is never resorted to but as 
the veil of abuses. All living men must possess the supreme power 
over their own happiness at every particular period. To suppose that 
there is anything which a whole nation cannot do, which they deem 
to be essential to their happiness, and that they cannot do it, because 
another generation, long ago dead and gone, said it must not be done, 
is mere nonsense. While you are captain of the vessel, do what you 
please; but the moment you quit the ship I become as omnipotent as 
you. You may leave me as much advice as you please, but you can- 
not leave me commands; though, in fact, this is the only meaning 
which can be applied to what are called irrevocable laws. It appeared 
to the legislature for the time being to be of immense importance to 
make such and such a law. Great good was gained, or great evil 
avoided, by enacting it. Pause before you alter an institution which 
has been deemed to be of so much importance. This is prudence and 
common-sense; the rest is the exaggeration of fools, or the artifice of 
knaves, who eat up fools. What endless nonsense has been talked of 
our navigation laws! What wealth has been sacrificed to either 
before they were repealed! How impossible it appeared to Noodle- 
dom to repeal them! They were considered of the irrevocable class — 
a kind of law over which the dead only were omnipotent, and the 
living had no power. Frost, it is true, cannot be put off by act of 
Parliament, nor can spring be accelerated by any majority of both 
houses. It is, however, quite a mistake to suppose that any alteration 
of any of the articles of union is as much out of the jurisdiction of 
Parliament as these meteorological changes. In every year, and every 
day of that year, living men have a right to make their own laws 
and manage their own affairs; to break through the tyranny of the 
antespirants — the people who breathed before them — and to do what 



232 SYDNEY SMITH 

they please for themselves. Such supreme power cannot indeed be 
well exercised by the people at large; it must be exercised therefore 
by the delegates, or Parliament, whom the people choose; and such 
Parliament, disregarding the superstitious reverence for "irrevocable 
laws," can have no other criterion of wrong and right than that of 
public utility. 

When a law is considered as immutable, and the immutable law 
happens at the same time to be too foolish and mischievous to be 
endured, instead of being repealed, it is clandestinely evaded, or 
openly violated; and thus the authority of all law is weakened. 

Where a nation has been ancestorially bound by foolish and im- 
provident treaties, ample notice must be given of their termination. 
Where the State has made ill-advised grants, or rash bargains with 
individuals, it is necessary to grant proper compensation. The most 
difficult case, certainly, is that of the union of nations, where a 
smaller number of the weaker nation is admitted into the larger 
senate of the greater nation, and will be overpowered if the question 
come to a vote; but the lesser nation must run this risk; it is not 
probable that any violation of articles will take place till they are 
absolutely called for by extreme necessity. But let the danger be 
what it may, no danger is so great, no supposition so foolish, as to 
consider any human law as irrevocable. The shifting attitude of 
human affairs would often render such a condition an intolerable 
evil to all parties. The absurd jealousy of our countrymen at the 
Union secured heritable jurisdiction to the owners; nine and thirty 
years afterward they were abolished, in the very teeth of the Act of 
Union, and to the evident promotion of the public good. 

Continuity of a Law by Oath. — The sovereign of England at his 
coronation takes an oath to maintain the laws of God, the true 
profession of the Gospel, and the Protestant religion, as established 
by law, and to preserve to the bishops and clergy of this realm the 
rights and privileges which by law appertain to them, and to preserve 
inviolate the doctrine, discipline, worship, and the government of 
the Church. It has been suggested that by this oath the King stands 
precluded from granting those indulgences to the Irish Catholics 
which are included in the bill for their emancipation. The true 
meaning of these provisions is of course to be decided, if doubtful, by 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS 233 

the same legislative authority which enacted them. But a different 
notion it seems is now afloat. The King for the time being (we are 
putting an imaginary case) thinks as an individual that he is not 
maintaining the doctrine, discipline, and rights of the Church of 
England, if he grant any extension of civil rights to those who are 
not members of that Church; that he is violating his oath by so doing. 
This oath, then, according to this reasoning, is the great palladium 
of the Church. As long as it remains inviolate the Church is safe. 
How, then, can any monarch who has taken it ever consent to repeal 
it? How can he, consistently with his oath for the preservation of the 
privileges of the Church, contribute his part to throw down so strong 
a bulwark as he deems his oath to be! The oath, then, cannot be 
altered. It must remain under all circumstances of society the same. 
The King who has taken it is bound to continue it, and to refuse his 
sanction to any bill for its future alteration, because it prevents him, 
and, he must needs think, will prevent others, from granting danger- 
ous immunities to the enemies of the Church. 

Here, then, is an irrevocable law — a piece of absurd tyranny exer- 
cised by the rulers of Queen Anne's time upon the government of 
1825 — a certain art of potting and preserving a kingdom in one 
shape, attitude, and flavor — and in this way it is that an institution 
appears like old ladies' sweetmeats and made wines — Apricot Jam 
1822 — Currant Wine 1819 — Court of Chancery 1427 — Penal Laws 
against Catholics 1676. The difference is, that the ancient woman 
is a better judge of mouldy commodities than the illiberal part of 
his majesty's ministers. The potting lady goes sniffing about and 
admitting light and air to prevent the progress of decay; while to 
him of the wool-sack all seems doubly dear in proportion as it is 
antiquated, worthless, and unusable. 

It ought not to be in the power of the sovereign to tie up his own 
hands, much less the hands of his successors. If the sovereign were 
to oppose his own opinion to that of the two other branches of the 
legislature, and himself to decide what he considers to be for the 
benefit of the Protestant Church, and what not a king who has spent 
his whole life in the frivolous occupation of a court may by perver- 
sion of understanding conceive measures most salutary to the Church 
to be most pernicious, and, persevering obstinately in his own error, 



234 SYDNEY SMITH 

may frustrate the wisdom of his parliament, and perpetuate the most 
inconceivable folly! If Henry VIII had argued in this manner we 
should have had no Reformation. If George III had always argued 
in this manner the Catholic code would never have been relaxed. 
And thus a King, however incapable of forming an opinion upon 
serious subjects, has nothing to do but pronounce the word "Con- 
science," and the whole power of the country is at his feet. 

Can there be greater absurdity than to say that a man is acting 
contrary to his conscience who surrenders his opinion upon any 
subject to those who must understand the subject better than him- 
self? I think my ward has a claim to the estate; but the best lawyers 
tell me he has none. I think my son capable of undergoing the 
fatigues of a miUtary life; but the best physicians say he is much too 
weak. My Parhament say this measure will do the Church no harm; 
but I think it very pernicious to the Church. Am I acting contrary 
to my conscience because I apply much higher intellectual powers 
than my own to the investigation and protection of these high 
interests? 

"According to the form in which it is conceived, any such engage- 
ment is in effect either a check or a license: — a license under the 
appearance of a check, and for that very reason but the more 
efficiently operative. 

"Chains to the man in power? Yes: — but only such as he figures 
with on the stage; to the spectators as imposing, to himself as light 
as possible. Modelled by the wearer to suit his own purposes, they 
serve to rattle but not to restrain. 

"Suppose a king of Great Britain and Ireland to have expressed 
his fixed determination, in the event of any proposed law being 
tendered to him for his assent, to refuse such assent, and this not on 
the persuasion that the law would not be 'for the utility of the 
subjects,' but that by his coronation oath he stands precluded from 
so doing, the course proper to be taken by Parliament, the course 
pointed out by principle and precedent, would be a vote of abdica- 
tion — a vote declaring the king to have abdicated his royal authority, 
and that, as in case of death or incurable mental derangement, now 
is the time for the person next in succession to take his place. In the 
celebrated case in which a vote to this effect was actually passed, the 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS 235 

declaration of abdication was, in lawyers' language, a fiction — in 
plain truth, a falsehood, and that falsehood a mockery; not a particle 
of his power was it the wish of James to abdicate, to part with, but 
to increase it to a maximum was the manifest object of all his efforts. 
But in the case here supposed, with respect to a part, and that a 
principal part of the royal authority, the will and purpose to abdicate 
is actually declared; and this being such a part, without which the 
remainder cannot, 'to the utility of the subjects,' be exercised, the 
remainder must of necessity be, on their part and for their sake, 
added." ^ 

Self-Trumpeter's Fallacy. — Mr. Bentham explains the self- 
trumpeter's fallacy as follows: 

"There are certain men in office who, in discharge of their func- 
tions, arrogate to themselves a degree of probity, which is to exclude 
all imputations and all inquiry. Their assertions are to be deemed 
equivalent to proof, their virtues are guaranties for the faithful dis- 
charge of their duties, and the most implicit confidence is to be 
reposed in them on all occasions. If you expose any abuse, propose 
any reform, call for securities, inquiry, or measures to promote pub- 
licity, they set up a cry of surprise, amounting almost to indignation, 
as if their integrity were questioned or their honor wounded. With 
all this, they dexterously mix up intimations that the most exalted 
patriotism, honor, and perhaps religion, are the only sources of all 
their actions." ' 

Of course every man will try what he can effect by these means; 
but (as Mr. Bentham observes) if there be any one maxim in politics 
more certain than another, it is that no possible degree of virtue in 
the governor can render it expedient for the governed to dispense 
with good laws and good institutions. Madame De Stael (to her 
disgrace) said to the Emperor of Russia: "Sire, your character is a 
constitution for your country, and your conscience its guaranty." His 
reply was: "Quand cela serait, je ne serais jamais qu'un accident 
heureux;"^ and this we think one of the truest and most brilliant 
replies ever made by monarch. 

Laudatory Personalities. — "The object of laudatory personalities 

^ Ibid., pp. no, III. 
''Ibid., p. 120. * "If that were so, I should be only a happy accident." 



236 SYDNEY SMITH 

is to effect the rejection of a measure on account of the alleged good 
character of those who oppose it, and the argument advanced is: 
'The measure is rendered unnecessary by the virtues of those who are 
in power — their opposition is a sufficient authority for the rejection 
of the measure. The measure proposed implies a distrust of the 
members of his Majesty's Government; but so great is their integrity, 
so complete their disinterestedness, so uniformly do they prefer the 
public advantage to their own, that such a measure is altogether 
unnecessary. Their disapproval is sufficient to warrant an opposition; 
precautions can only be requisite where danger is apprehended; here 
the high character of the individuals in question is a sufficient guar- 
anty against any ground of alarm.' " ' 

The panegyric goes on increasing with the dignity of the lauded 
person. All are honorable and delightful men. The person who 
opens the door of the office is a person of approved fidelity; the 
junior clerk is a model of assiduity; all the clerks are models — seven 
years' models, eight years' models, nine years' models, and upward. 
The first clerk is a paragon, and ministers the very perfection of 
probity and intelligence; and as for the highest magistrate of the 
State, no adulation is equal to describe the extent of his various 
merits! It is too condescending, perhaps, to refute such folly as this. 
But we would just observe that, if the propriety of the measure in 
question be established by direct arguments, these must be at least 
as conclusive against the character of those who oppose it as their 
character can be against the measure. 

The effect of such an argument is to give men of good or reputed 
good character the power of putting a negative on any question not 
agreeable to their inclinations. 

"In every public trust the legislator should for the purpose of 
prevention, suppose the trustee disposed to break the trust in every 
imaginable way in which it would be possible for him to reap from 
the breach of it any personal advantage. This is the principle on 
which public institutions ought to be formed, and when it is applied 
to all men indiscriminately, it is injurious to none. The practical 
inference is to oppose to such possible (and what will always be 
probable) breaches of trust every bar that can be opposed consistently 

^Ibid., pp. 123, 124. 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS 237 

with the power requisite for the efBcient and due discharge of the 
trust. Indeed, these arguments, drawn from the supposed virtues of 
men in power, are opposed to the first principles on which all laws 
proceed. 

"Such allegations of individual virtue are never supported by 
specific proof, are scarce ever susceptible of specific disproof, and 
specific disproof, if offered, could not be admitted in either House 
of Parliament. If attempted elsewhere, the punishment would fall 
not on the unworthy trustee, but on him by whom the unworthiness 
has been proved." '" 

Fallacies of Pretended Danger. — Imputations of Bad Design; 
of Bad Character; of Bad Motives; of Inconsistency; of Suspicious 
Connections. — The object of this class of fallacies is to draw aside 
attention from the measure to the man, and this in such a manner 
that, for some real or supposed defect in the author of the measure, 
a corresponding defect shall be imputed to the measure itself. Thus, 
"the author of the measure entertains a bad design; therefore the 
measure is bad. His character is bad, therefore the measure is bad; 
his motive is bad, I will vote against the measure. On former occa- 
sions this same person who proposed the measure was its enemy, 
therefore the measure is bad. He is on a footing of intimacy with 
this or that dangerous man, or has been seen in his company, or is 
suspected of entertaining some of his opinions, therefore the measure 
is bad. He bears a name that at a former period was borne by a set 
of men now no more, by whom bad principles were entertained, 
therefore the measure is bad!" 

Now, if the measure be really inexpedient, why not at once show 
it to be so ? If the measure be good, is it bad because a bad man is its 
author.'' If bad, is it good because a good man has produced it.? 
What are these arguments but to say to the assembly who are to be 
the judges of any measure, that their imbecility is too great to allow 
them to judge of the measure by its own merits, and that they must 
have recourse to distant and feebler probabilities for that purpose.'' 

"In proportion to the degree of efficiency with which a man suffers 
these instruments of deception to operate upon his mind, he enables 
bad men to exercise over him a sort of power, the thought of which 

^"Ibid., pp. 125, 126. 



238 SYDNEY SMITH 

ought to cover him with shame. Allow this argument the effect of 
a conclusive one, you put it into the power of any man to draw you 
at pleasure from the support of every measure which in your own 
eyes is good, to force you to give your support to any and every 
measure which in your own eyes is bad. Is it good? — the bad man 
embraces it, and by the supposition, you reject it. Is it bad? — he 
vituperates it, and that suffices for driving you into its embrace. You 
split upon the rocks because he has avoided them; you miss the 
harbor because he has steered into it! Give yourself up to any such 
blind antipathy, you are no less in the power of your adversaries 
than if, by a correspondently irrational sympathy and obsequiousness, 
you put yourself into the power of your friends." " 

"Besides, nothing but laborious application and a clear and com- 
prehensive intellect can enable a man on any given subject to employ 
successfully relevant arguments drawn from the subject itself. To 
employ personalities, neither labor nor intellect is required. In this 
sort of contest the most idle and the most ignorant are quite on a 
par with, if not superior to, the most industrious and the most highly 
gifted individuals. Nothing can be more convenient for those who 
would speak without the trouble of thinking. The same ideas are 
brought forward over and over again, and all that is required is to 
vary the turn of expression. Close and relevant arguments have very 
little hold on the passions, and serve rather to quell than to inflame 
them; while in personalities there is always something stimulant, 
whether on the part of him who praises or him who blames. Praise 
forms a kind of connection between the party praising and the party 
praised, and vituperation gives an air of courage and independence 
to the party who blames. 

"Ignorance and indolence, friendship and enmity, concurring and 
conflicting interest, servility and independence, all conspire to give 
personalities the ascendency they so unhappily maintain. The more 
we lie under the influence of our own passions, the more we rely 
on others being affected in a similar degree. A man who can repel 
these injuries with dignity may often convert them into triumph: 
'Strike me, but hear,' says he, and the fury of his antagonist redounds 
to his own discomfiture." '^ 

^^ Ibid., pp. 132, 133. ^^Ibid., pp. 141, 142. 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS 239 

No Innovation! — To say that all things new are bad is to say that 
all old things were bad in their commencement: for of all the old 
things ever seen or heard of there is not one that was not once new. 
Whatever is now establishment was once innovation. The first 
inventor of pews and parish clerks was no doubt considered as a 
Jacobin in his day. Judges, juries, criers of the court, are all the 
inventions of ardent spirits, who filled the world with alarm, and 
were considered as the great precursors of ruin and dissolution. No 
inoculation, no turnpikes, no reading, no writing, no popery! The 
fool sayeth in his heart and crieth with his mouth, "I will have 
nothing new!" 

Fallacy of Distrust! — "What's at the Bottom?" — This fallacy 
begins with a virtual admission of the propriety of the measure con- 
sidered in itself, and thus demonstrates its own futility, and cuts 
up from under itself the ground which it endeavours to make. A 
measure is to be rejected for something that, by bare possibility, may 
be found amiss in some other measure! This is vicarious reproba- 
tion; upon this principle Herod instituted his massacre. It is the 
argument of a driveller to other drivellers, who says: "We are not 
able to decide upon the evil when it arises; our only safe way is to 
act upon the general apprehension of evil." 

Official Malefactor's Screen — "Attack^ Us, You Attacl{_ Govern- 
ment." — If this notion is acceded to, everyone who derives at present 
any advantage from misrule has it in fee-simple, and all abuses, 
present and future, are without remedy. So long as there is anything 
amiss in conducting the business of government, so long as it can be 
made better, there can be no other mode of bringing it nearer to 
perfection than the indication of such imperfections as at the time 
being exist. 

"But so far is it from being true that a man's aversion or contempt 
for the hands by which the powers of government, or even for the 
system under which they are exercised, is a proof of his aversion or 
contempt toward government itself, that, even in proportion to the 
strength of that aversion or contempt, it is a proof of the opposite 
affection. What, in consequence of such contempt or aversion, he 
wishes for is not that there be no hands at all to exercise these powers, 
but that the hands may be better regulated; — not that those powers 



240 SYDNEY SMITH 

should not be exercised at all, but that they should be better exer- 
cised; — not that in the exercise of them no rules at all should be 
pursued, but that the rules by which they are exercised should be a 
better set of rules. 

"All government is a trust, every branch of government is a trust, 
and immemorially acknowledged so to be; it is only by the magni- 
tude of the scale that public differ from private trusts. I complain of 
the conduct of a person in the character of guardian, as domestic 
guardian, having the care of a minor or insane person. In so doing 
do I say that guardianship is a bad institution? Does it enter into 
the head of anyone to suspect me of so doing? I complain of an 
individual in the character of a commercial agent or assignee of the 
effects of an insolvent. In so doing do I say that commercial agency 
is a bad thing? that the practice of vesting in the hands of trustees 
or assignees the effects of an insolvent for the purpose of their being 
divided among his creditors is a bad practice ? Does any such conceit 
ever enter into the head of man as that of suspecting me of so 
doing." " 

There are no complaints against government in Turkey — no 
motions in Parliament, no "Morning Chronicles," and no "Edin- 
burgh Reviews": yet of all countries in the world it is that in which 
revolts and revolutions are the most frequent. 

It is so far from true that no good government can exist consistently 
with such disclosure, that no good government can exist without it. 
It is quite obvious to all who are capable of reflection that by no other 
means than by lowering the governors in the estimation of the people 
can there be hope or chance of beneficial change. To infer from this 
wise endeavor to lessen the existing rulers in the estimation of the 
people, a wish of dissolving the government, is either artifice or 
error. The physician who intentionally weakens the patient by bleed- 
ing him has no intention he should perish. 

The greater the quantity of respect a man receives, independently 
of good conduct, the less good is his behavior likely to be. It is the 
interest, therefore, of the public in the case of each to see that the 
respect paid to him should, as completely as possible, depend upon 
the goodness of his behavior in the execution of his trust. But it is,on 

^^ Ibid., pp. 162, 163. 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS 24 1 

the contrary, the interest of the trustee that the respect, the money, or 
any other advantage he receives in virtue of his office, should be as 
great, as secure, and as independent of conduct as possible. Soldiers 
expect to be shot at; public men must expect to be attacked, and 
sometimes unjustly. It keeps up the habit of considering their con- 
duct as exposed to scrutiny; on the part of the people at large it 
keeps alive the expectation of witnessing such attacks, and the habit 
of looking out for them. The friends and supporters of government 
have always greater facility in keeping and raising it up than its 
adversaries have for lowering it. 

Accusation-scarer's Device — "Infamy Must Attach Somewhere." 
— This fallacy consists in representing the character of a calumniator 
as necessarily and justly attaching upon him who, having made a 
charge of misconduct against any person possessed of political power 
or influence, fails of producing evidence sufficient for their conviction. 

"If taken as a general proposition, applying to all public accusa- 
tions, nothing can be more mischievous as well as fallacious. Sup- 
posing the charge unfounded, the delivery of it may have been accom- 
panied with mala fides (consciousness of its injustice), with temerity 
only, or it may have been perfectly blameless. It is in the first case 
alone that infamy can with propriety attach upon him who brings 
it forward. A charge really groundless may have been honestly 
believed to be well founded, /. e., believed with a sort of provisional 
credence, sufficient for the purpose of engaging a man to do his part 
toward the bringing about an investigation, but without sufficient 
reasons. But a charge may be perfectly groundless without attaching 
the smallest particle of blame upon him who brings it forward. 
Suppose him to have heard from one or more, presenting themselves 
to him in the character of percipient witnesses, a story which, either 
in toto, or perhaps only in circumstances, though in circumstances 
of the most material importance, should prove false and mendacious, 
how is the person who hears this and acts accordingly to blame.'' 
What sagacity can enable a man previously to legal investigation, a 
man who has no power that can enable him to insure correctness or 
completeness on the part of this extrajudicial testimony, to guard 
against deception in such a case?" " 

"WiV/., pp. 183, 186. 



242 SYDNEY SMITH 

Fallacy of False Consolation — "What is the Matter with You? 
— What Would You Have? — Loo\ at the People There, and There; 
Thin\ how much Better Off You Are than They Are — Your Pros- 
perity and Liberty are Objects of Their Envy; Your Institutions, 
Models of Their Imitation." — It is not the desire to look to the 
bright side that is blamed, but when a particular suffering, produced 
by an assigned cause, has been pointed out, the object of many 
apologists is to turn the eyes of inquirers and judges into any other 
quarter in preference. If a man's tenants were to come with a general 
encomium on the prosperity of the country instead of a specified 
sum, would it be accepted? In a court of justice in an action for 
damages did ever any such device occur as that of pleading assets 
in the hands of a third person ? There is in fact no country so poor 
and so wretched in every element of prosperity, in which matter for 
this argument might not be found. Were the prosperity of the 
country tenfold as great as at present, the absurdity of the argument 
would not in the least degree be lessened. Why should the smallest 
evil be endured which can be cured because others suffer patiently 
under greater evils ? Should the smallest improvement attainable be 
neglected because others remain contented in a state of still greater 
inferiority ? 

"Seriously and pointedly in the character of a bar to any measure 
of relief, no, nor to the most trivial improvement, can it ever be 
employed. Suppose a bill brought in for converting an impassable 
road anywhere into a passable one, would any man stand up to 
oppose it who could find nothing better to urge against it than the 
multitude and goodness of the roads we have already ? No : when in 
the character of a serious bar to the measure in hand, be that measure 
what it may, an argument so palpably inapplicable is employed, it 
can only be for the purpose of creating a diversion; — of turning aside 
the minds of men from the subject really in hand to a picture which, 
by its beauty, it is hoped, may engross the attention of the assembly, 
and make them forget for the moment for what purpose they came 
there." '= 

The Quietest, or No Complaint. — "A new law of measure 
being proposed in the character of a remedy for some incontestable 
'* Ibid., pp. 196, 197. 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS 243 

abuse or evil, an objection is frequently started to the following 
effect: — 'The measure is unnecessary. Nobody complains of dis- 
order in that shape, in which it is the aim of your measure to 
propose a remedy to it. But even when no cause of complaint has 
been found to exist, especially under governments which admit of 
complaints, men have in general not been slow to complain; much 
less where any just cause of complaint has existed.' The argument 
amounts to this: — Nobody complains, therefore nobody suffers. 
It amounts to a veto on all measures of precaution or prevention, 
and goes to establish a maxim in legislation directly opposed to the 
most ordinary prudence of common life; it enjoins us to build no 
parapets to a bridge till the number of accidents has raised a universal 
clamor." " 

Procrastinator's Argument — "Wait a Little; This is Not the 
Time." — This is the common argument of men who, being in reality 
hostile to a measure, are ashamed or afraid of appearing to be so. 
To-day is the plea — eternal exclusion commonly the object. It is the 
same sort of quirk as a plea of abatement in law — which is never 
employed but on the side of a dishonest defendant, whose hope it 
is to obtain an ultimate triumph, by overwhelming his adversary 
with despair, impoverishment, and lassitude. Which is the properest 
day to do good? which is the properest day to remove a nuisance? 
We answer, the very first day a man can be found to propose the 
removal of it; and whoever opposes the removal of it on that day 
will (if he dare) oppose it on every other. There is in the minds of 
many feeble friends to virtue and improvement, an imaginary period 
for the removal of evils, which it would certainly be worth while to 
wait for, if there was the smallest chance of its ever arriving — a 
period of unexampled peace and prosperity, when a patriotic king 
and an enlightened mob united their ardent efforts for the ameliora- 
tion of human affairs; when the oppressor is as delighted to give up 
the oppression, as the oppressed is to be liberated from it; when the 
difficulty and the unpopularity would be to continue the evil, not to 
abolish it! These are the periods when fair-weather philosophers are 
willing to venture out and hazard a little for the general good. But 
the history of human nature is so contrary to all this, that almost 
^^Ibid., pp. 190, 191, 



244 SYDNEY SMITH 

all improvements are made after the bitterest resistance, and in the 
midst of tumults and civil violence — the worst period at which they 
can be made, compared to which any period is eligible, and should 
be seized hold of by the friends of salutary reform. 

Snail's Pace Argument— "Omi? Thing at a Time! — Not Too 
Fast! — Slow and Sure! — Importance of the business — extreme diffi- 
culty of the business — danger of innovation — need of caution and 
circumspection — impossibility of foreseeing all consequences — danger 
of precipitation — everything should be gradual — one thing at a time 
— this is not the time — great occupation at present — wait for more 
leisure — ^people well satisfied — no petitions presented — no complaints 
heard — no such mischief has yet taken place — stay till it has taken 
place! Such is the prattle which the magpie in office, who, under- 
standing nothing, yet understands that he must have something to 
say on every subject, shouts out among his auditors as a succedaneum 
to thought."" 

Vague Generalities. — Vague generalities comprehend a numerous 
class of fallacies resorted to by those who, in preference to the de- 
terminate expressions which they might use, adopt others more 
vague and indeterminate. 

Take, for instance, the terms government, laws, morals, religion. 
Everybody will admit that there are in the world bad governments, 
bad laws, bad morals, and bad religions. The bare circumstance, 
therefore, of being engaged in exposing the defects of government, 
law, morals, and religion does not of itself afford the slightest pre- 
sumption that a writer is engaged in anything blamable. If his 
attack be only directed against that which is bad in each, his efforts 
may be productive of good to any extent. This essential distinction, 
however, the defender of abuses uniformly takes care to keep out of 
sight; and boldly imputes to his antagonists an intention to subvert all 
government, law, morals, and religion. Propose anything with a view 
to the improvement of the existing practice, in relation to law, gov- 
ernment, and religion, he will treat you with an oration upon the 
necessity and utility of law, government, and religion. Among the 
several cloudy appellatives which have been commonly employed as 
cloaks for misgovernment, there is none more conspicuous in this 

^^ Ibid., pp. 203, 204. 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS 245 

atmosphere of illusion than the word order. As often as any 
measure is brought forward which has for its object to lessen the 
sacrifice made by the many to the few, social order is the phrase 
commonly opposed to its progress. 

"By a defalcation made from any part of the mass of fictitious 
delay, vexation, and expense, out of which, and in proportion to 
which, lawyers' profit is made to flow — by any defalcation made 
from the mass of needless and worse than useless emolument to 
office, with or without service or pretence of service — by any addi- 
tion endeavored to be made to the quantity, or improvement in the 
quality of service rendered, or time bestowed in service rendered in 
return for such emolument — ^by every endeavor that has for its object 
the persuading the people to place their fate at the disposal of any 
other agents than those in whose hands breach of trust is certain, 
due fulfilment of it morally and physically impossible — social order 
is said to be endangered, and threatened to be destroyed." '^ 

In the same way "Establishment" is a word in use to protect the 
bad parts of establishments, by charging those who wish to remove 
or alter them, with a wish to subvert all good establishments. 

Mischievous fallacies also circulate from the convertible use of 
what Mr. B. is pleased to call dyslogistic and eulogistic terms. Thus, 
a vast concern is expressed for the "liberty of the press," and the 
utmost abhorrence of its "licentiousness" : but then, by the licentious- 
ness of the press is meant every disclosure by which any abuse is 
brought to light and exposed to shame — ^by the "liberty of the press" 
is meant only publications from which no such inconvenience is to 
be apprehended; and the fallacy consists in employing the sham 
approbation of liberty as a mask for the real opposition to all free 
discussion. To write a pamphlet so ill that nobody will read it; to 
animadvert in terms so weak and insipid upon great evils, that no 
disgust is excited at the vice, and no apprehension in the evil-doer, is 
a fair use of the liberty of the press, and is not only pardoned by the 
friends of government, but draws from them the most fervent 
eulogium. The licentiousness of the press consists in doing the thing 
boldly and well, in striking terror into the guilty, and in rousing the 
attention of the public to the defence of their highest interests. This 

^Ibid., p. 234. 



246 SYDNEY SMITH 

is the licentiousness of the press held in the greatest horror by timid 
and corrupt men, and punished by semi-animous, semi-cadaverous 
judges, with a captivity of many years. In the same manner the 
dyslogistic and eulogistic fallacies are used in the case of reform. 

"Between all abuses whatsoever there exists that connection — be- 
tween all persons who see, each of them, any one abuse in which an 
advantage results to himself, there exists, in point of interest, that 
close and sufficiently understood connection, of which intimation has 
been given already. To no one abuse can correction be administered 
without endangering the existence of every other. 

"If, then, with this inward determination not to suffer, so far as 
depends upon himself, the adoption of any reform which he is able 
to prevent, it should seem to him necessary or advisable to put on 
for a cover the profession or appearance of a desire to contribute to 
such reform — in pursuance of the device or fallacy here in question, 
he will represent that which goes by the name of reform as dis- 
tinguishable into two species; one of them a fit subject for appro- 
bation, the other for disapprobation. That which he thus pro- 
fesses to have marked for approbation, he will accordingly for the 
expression of such approbation, characterize by some adjunct of the 
eulogistic cast, such as moderate, for example, or temperate, or 
practical, or practicable. 

"To the other of these nominally distinct species, he will, at the 
same time, attach some adjunct of the dyslogistic cast, such as violent, 
intemperate, extravagant, outrageous, theoretical, speculative, and so 
forth. 

"Thus, then, in profession and to appearance, there are in his con- 
ception of the matter two distinct and opposite species of reform, 
to one of which his approbation, to the other his disapprobation, is 
attached. But the species to which his approbation is attached is an 
empty species — a species in which no individual is, or is intended to 
be, contained. 

"The species to which his disapprobation is attached is, on the 
contrary, a crowded species, a receptacle in which the whole con- 
tents of the genus — of the genus 'Reform' — are intended to be in- 
cluded." '* 

'' Ibid., pp. 277, 278. 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS 247 

Anti-rational Fallacies. — When reason is in opposition to a 
man's interests his study will naturally be to render the faculty itself, 
and whatever issues from it, an object of hatred and contempt. The 
sarcasm and other figures of speech employed on the occasion are 
directed not merely against reason but against thought, as if there 
were something in the faculty of thought that rendered the exercise 
of it incompatible with useful and successful practice. Sometimes a 
plan, which would not suit the official person's interest, is without 
more ado pronounced a speculative one; and, by this observation, 
all need of rational and deliberate discussion is considered to be 
superseded. The first effort of the corruptionist is to fix the epithet 
speculative upon any scheme which he thinks may cherish the 
spirit of reform. The expression is hailed with the greatest delight 
by bad and feeble men, and repeated with the most unwearied 
energy; and to the word "speculative," by way of reinforcement, are 
added: theoretical, visionary, chimerical, romantic, Utopian. 

"Sometimes a distinction is taken, and thereupon a concession 
made. The plan is good in theory, but it would be bad in practice, 
i. e., its being good in theory does not hinder its being bad in prac- 
tice. 

"Sometimes, as if in consequence of a further progress made in 
the art of irrationality, the plan is pronounced to be "too good to 
be practicable"; and its being so good as it is, is thus represented as 
the very cause of its being bad in practice. 

"In short, such is the perfection at which this art is at length 
arrivedjthat the very circumstance of a plan's being susceptible of the 
appellation of a plan, has been gravely stated as a circumstance suffi- 
cient to warrant its being rejected — rejected, if not with hatred, at 
any rate with a sort of accompaniment which, to the million, is com- 
monly felt still more gaUing — with contempt."^" 

There is a propensity to push theory too far; but what is the just 
inference? not that theoretical propositions («'. e., all propositions of 
any considerable comprehension or extent) should, from such their 
extent, be considered to be false in toto, but only that, in the particu- 
lar case, should inquiry be made whether, supposing the proposition 
to be in the character of a rule generally true, an exception ought to 

^lbid.,v. 296. 



248 SYDNEY SMITH 

be taken out of it. It might almost be imagined that there was some- 
thing wicked or unwise in the exercise of thought; for everybody 
feels a necessity for disclaiming it. "I am not given to speculation, 
I am no friend to theories." Can a man disclaim theory, can he 
disclaim speculation, without disclaiming thought? 

The description of persons by whom this fallacy is chiefly em- 
ployed are those who, regarding a plan as adverse to their interests, 
and not finding it on the ground of general utility exposed to any 
preponderant objection, have recourse to this objection in the char- 
acter of an instrument of contempt, in the view of preventing those 
from looking into it who might have been otherwise disposed. It is 
by the fear of seeing it practised that they are drawn to speak of it as 
impracticable. "Upon the face of it (exclaims some feeble or pen- 
sioned gentleman) it carries that air of plausibility, that, if you 
were not upon your guard, might engage you to bestow more or 
less attention upon it; but were you to take the trouble, you would 
find that (as it is with all these plans which promise so much) 
practicability would at last be wanting to it. To save yourself from 
this trouble, the wisest course you can take is to put the plan aside, 
and to think no more about the matter." This is always accompanied 
with a peculiar grin of triumph. 

The whole of these fallacies may be gathered together in a little 
oration, which we will denominate the "Noodle's Oration": — 

"What would our ancestors say to this. Sir? How does this 
measure tally with their institutions? How does it agree with their 
experience? Are we to put the wisdom of yesterday in competition 
with the wisdom of centuries? [Hear! hear!] Is beardless youth to 
show no respect for the decisions of mature age ? [Loud cries of hear! 
hear!] If this measure be right, would it have escaped the wisdom 
of those Saxon progenitors to whom we are indebted for so many of 
our best political institutions ? Would the Dane have passed it over ? 
Would the Norman have rejected it? Would such a notable dis- 
covery have been reserved for these modern and degenerate times? 
Besides, Sir, if the measure itself is good, I ask the honorable gentle- 
man if this is the time for carrying it into execution — whether, in 
fact, a more unfortunate period could have been selected than that 
which he has chosen? If this were an ordinary measure I should 
not oppose it with so much vehemence; but. Sir, it calls in question 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS 249 

the wisdom of an irrevocable law — of a law passed at the memorable 
period of the Revolution. What right have we, Sir, to break down 
this firm column on which the great men of that age stamped a 
character of eternity ? Are not all authorities against this measure — 
Pitt, Fox, Cicero, and the Attorney- and Solicitor-General? The 
proposition is new. Sir; it is the first time it was ever heard in this 
House. I am not prepared. Sir — this House is not prepared — to re- 
ceive it. The measure implies a distrust of his Majesty's Government; 
their disapproval is sufficient to warrant opposition. Precaution only 
is requisite where danger is apprehended. Here the high character 
of the individuals in question is a sufficient guarantee against any 
ground of alarm. Give not, then, your sanction to this measure; for, 
vvhatever be its character, if you do give your sanction to it, the same 
man by whom this is proposed will propose to you others to which 
it will be impossible to give your consent. I care very little, Sir, for 
the ostensible measure; but what is there behind? What are the 
honorable gentleman's future schemes? If we pass this bill, what 
fresh concessions may he not require? What further degradation is 
he planning for his country? Talk of evil and inconvenience, Sir! 
look to other countries — study other aggregations and societies of 
men, and then see whether the laws of this country demand a 
remedy or deserve a panegyric. Was the honorable gentleman (let 
me ask him) always of this way of thinking? Do I not remember 
when he was the advocate, in this House, of very opposite opinions ? 
I not only quarrel with his present sentiments. Sir, but I declare very 
frankly I do not like the party with which he acts. If his own 
motives were as pure as possible, they cannot but suffer contamina- 
tion from those with whom he is politically associated. This measure 
may be a boon to the Constitution, but I will accept no favor to the 
Constitution from such hands. [Loud cries of hear! hear!] I pro- 
fess myself, Sir, an honest and upright member of the British Parlia- 
ment, and I am not afraid to profess myself an enemy to all change 
and all innovation. I am satisfied with things as they are; and it will 
be my pride and pleasure to hand down this country to my children 
as I received it from those who preceded me. The honorable gentle- 
man pretends to justify the severity with which he has attacked the 
noble lord who presides in the Court of Chancery. But I say such 
attacks are pregnant with mischief to government itself. Oppose 



250 SYDNEY SMITH 

ministers, you oppose government; disgrace ministers, you disgrace 
government; bring ministers into contempt, you bring government 
into contempt; and anarchy and civil war are the consequences. 
Besides, sir, the measure is unnecessary. Nobody complains of 
disorder in that shape in which it is the aim of your measure to 
propose a remedy to it. The business is one of the greatest im- 
portance; there is need of the greatest caution and circumspection. 
Do not let us be precipitate. Sir; it is impossible to foresee all con- 
sequences. Everything should be gradual; the example of a neigh- 
boring nation should fill us with alarm! The honorable gentleman 
has taxed me with illiberality, Sir; I deny the charge. I hate innova- 
tion, but I love improvement. I am an enemy to the corruption 
of government, but I defend its influence. I dread reform, but I 
dread it only when it is intemperate. I consider the liberty of the 
press as the great palladium of the Constitution; but, at the same 
time, I hold the licentiousness of the press in the greatest abhor- 
rence. Nobody is more conscious than I am of the splendid abili- 
ties of the honorable mover, but I tell him at once his scheme 
is too good to be practicable. It savors of Utopia. It looks well 
in theory, but it won't do in practice. It will not do, I repeat, 
Sir, in practice; and so the advocates of the measure will find, 
if, unfortunately, it should find its way through Parliament. 
[Cheers.^ The source of that corruption to which the honorable 
member alludes is in the minds of the people; so rank and 
extensive is that corruption, that no political reform can have 
any effect in removing it. Instead of reforming others — instead of 
reforming the State, the Constitution, and everything that is most 
excellent, let each man reform himself! let him look at home, he will 
find there enough to do without looking abroad and aiming at 
what is out of his power. [Loud cheers.] And now. Sir, as it is 
frequently the custom in this House to end with a quotation, and 
as the gentleman who preceded me in the debate has anticipated 
me in my favorite quotation of the 'Strong pull and the long pull,' 
I shall end with the memorable words of the assembled barons: 
'Nolumus leges Anglice mutari.' ^' 

"Upon the whole, the following are the characters which appertain 

21 "We do not wish the laws o£ England to be changed." 



FALLACIES OF ANTI-REFORMERS 25 1 

in common to all the several arguments here distinguished by the 
name of fallacies: — 

"i. Whatsoever be the measure in hand, they are, with relation 
to it, irrelevant. 

"2. They are all of them such, that the application of these irrele- 
vant arguments aflords a presumption either of the weakness or 
total absence of relevant arguments on the side of which they are 
employed. 

"3. To any good purpose they are all of them unnecessary. 

"4. They are all of them not only capable of being applied, but 
actually in the habit of being applied, and with advantage, to bad 
purposes, viz.: to the obstruction and defeat of all such measures 
as have for their object the removal of the abuses or other imper- 
fections still discernible in the frame and practice of the government. 

"5. By means of the irrelevancy, they all of them consume and 
misapply time, thereby obstructing the course and retarding the 
progress of all necessary and useful business. 

"6. By that irritative quality which, in virtue of their irrelevancy, 
with the improbity or weakness of which it is indicative, they possess, 
all of them, in a degree more or less considerable, but in a more 
particular degree such of them as consist in personalities, are pro- 
ductive of ill-humor, which in some instances has been productive 
of bloodshed, and is continually productive, as above, of waste of 
time and hindrance of business. 

"7. On the part of those who, whether in spoken or written 
discourses, give utterance to them, they are indicative either of im- 
probity or intellectual weakness, or of a contempt for the under- 
standing of those on whose minds they are destined to operate. 

"8. On the part of those on whom they operate, they are indic- 
ative of intellectual weakness; and on the part of those in and by 
whom they are pretended to operate, they are indicative of im- 
probity, viz., in the shape of insincerity. 

"The practical conclusion is, that in proportion as the acceptance, 
and thence the utterance, of them can be prevented, the under- 
standing of the public will be strengthened, the morals of the public 
will be purified, and the practice of government improved."" 

*^ From Bentham, pp. 359, 360. 



ON POESY OR ART 

BY 

SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) was the tenth child of a 
Devonshire clergyman, and the most distinguished member of one of 
the most intellectual stocks in modern England. His life was devoted to 
literary and philosophical pursuits, but an inherent weakness of will and 
lack of practical sense made him depend upon friends and benefactors 
for a large part of the support of himself and his family. In poetry he 
achieved his greatest distinction, and the best of his work stands at the 
head of its class. But he was constantly planning great schemes which 
he usually abandoned before they were carried out, and in spite of the 
extraordinary nature of his endowments he never fulfilled his promise. 

In prose his chief work was in philosophy and esthetics. He was one 
of the first to introduce into England the philosophy of Kant, and in 
literary criticism he stands in the front rank. Probably no interpreter of 
Shakespeare has said so many memorable and penetrating things in 
illumination of the characters of the great dramas; and in the present 
essay he shows his power of dealing with profound philosophic insight 
with the fundamental principles of art. 



ON POESY OR ART^ 

MAN communicates by articulation of sounds, and para- 
mountly by the memory in the ear; nature by the im- 
pression of bounds and surfaces on the eye, and through 
the eye it gives significance and appropriation, and thus the condi- 
tions of memory, or the capabiHty of being remembered, to sounds, 
smells, etc. Now Art, used collectively for painting, sculpture, archi- 
tecture, and music, is the mediatress between, and reconciler of 
nature and man. It is, therefore, the power of humanizing nature, 
of infusing the thoughts and passions of man into everything which 
is the object of his contemplation; color, form, motion, and sound, 
are the elements which it combines, and it stamps them into unity 
in the mould of a moral idea. 

The primary art is writing; — primary, if we regard the purpose 
abstracted from the different modes of realizing it, those steps of 
progression of which the instances are still visible in the lower 
degrees of civilization. First, there is mere gesticulation; then 
rosaries or wampum; then picture-language; then hieroglyphics, and 
finally alphabetic letters. These all consist of a translation of man 
into nature, of a substitution of the visible for the audible. 

The so-called music of savage tribes as little deserves the name of 
art for the understanding as the ear warrants it for music. Its lowest 
state is a mere expression of passion by sounds which the passion 
itself necessitates; — the highest amounts to no more than a volun- 
tary reproduction of these sounds in the absence of the occasioning 
causes, so as to give the pleasure of contrast — for example, by the 
various outcries of battle in the song of security and triumph. 
Poetry also is purely human; for all its materials are from the 
mind, and all its products are for the mind. But it is the apotheosis 
of the former state, in which by excitement of the associative power 
passion itself imitates order, and the order resulting produces a 

'Delivered as a lecture in 1818. 
255 



256 SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE 

pleasurable passion, and thus it elevates the mind by making its 
feelings the object of its reflection. So likewise, while it recalls the 
sights and sounds that had accompanied the occasions of the 
original passions, poetry impregnates them with an interest not 
their own by means of the passions, and yet tempers the passion by 
the calming power which all distinct images exert on the human 
soul. In this way poetry is the preparation for art, inasmuch as it 
avails itself of the forms of nature to recall, to express, and to modi- 
fy the thoughts and feelings of the mind. 

Still, however, poetry can only act through the intervention of 
articulate speech, which is so peculiarly human that in ail languages 
it constitutes the ordinary phrase by which man and nature are 
contradistinguished. It is the original force of the word "brute," and 
even "mute" and "dumb" do not convey the absence of sound, but 
the absence of articulated sounds. 

As soon as the human mind is intelligibly addressed by an out- 
ward image exclusively of articulate speech, so soon does art com- 
mence. But please to observe that I have laid particular stress on 
the words "human mind" — meaning to exclude thereby all results 
common to man and all other sentient creatures, and consequently 
confining myself to the effect produced by the congruity of the 
animal impression with the reflective powers of the mind; so that 
not the thing presented, but that which is re-presented by the thing, 
shall be the source of the pleasure. In this sense nature itself is to a 
religious observer the art of God; and for the same cause art itself 
might be defined as of a middle quality between a thought and a 
thing, or as I said before, the union and reconciliation of that which 
is nature with that which is exclusively human. It is the figured 
language of thought, and is distinguished from nature by the unity 
of all the parts in one thought or idea. Hence nature itself would 
give us the impression of a work of art, if we could see the thought 
which is present at once in the whole and in every part; and a work 
of art will be just in proportion as it adequately conveys the thought, 
and rich in proportion to the variety of parts which it holds in 
unity. 

If, therefore, the term "mute" be taken as opposed not to sound 
but to articulate speech, the old definition of painting will in fact 



ON POESY OR ART 257 

be the true and best definition o£ the fine arts in general, that is, 
muta poesis, mute poesy, and so of course poesy. And, as all lan- 
guages perfect themselves by a gradual process of desynonymizing 
words originally equivalent, I have cherished the wish to use the 
word "poesy" as the generic or common term, and to distinguish 
that species of poesy which is not muta poesis by its usual name 
"poetry"; while of all the other species which collectively form the 
fine arts, there would remain this as the common definition — that 
they all, like poetry, are to express intellectual purposes, thoughts, 
conceptions, and sentiments which have their origin in the human 
mind — not, however, as poetry does, by means of articulate speech, 
but as nature or the divine art does, by form, color, magnitude, pro- 
portion, or by sound, that is, silently or musically. 

Well! it may be said — but who has ever thought otherwise? 
We all know that art is the imitatress of nature. And, doubtless, 
the truths which I hope to convey would be barren truisms, if all 
men meant the same by the words "imitate" and "nature." But it 
would be flattering mankind at large, to presume that such is the 
fact. First, to imitate. The impression on the wax is not an imi- 
tation, but a copy, of the seal; the seal itself is an imitation. But, 
further, in order to form a philosophic conception, we must seek for 
the kind, as the heat in ice, invisible light, etc., whilst, for practical 
purposes, we must have reference to the degree. It is sufficient that 
philosophically we understand that in all imitation two elements 
must coexist, and not only coexist, but must be perceived as coexist- 
ing. These two constituent elements are likeness and unlikeness, or 
sameness and difference, and in all genuine creations of art there 
must be a union of these disparates. The artist may take his point 
of view where he pleases, provided that the desired effect be per- 
ceptibly produced — that there be likeness in the difference, difference 
in the likeness, and a reconcilement of both in one. If there be like- 
ness to nature without any check of difference, the result is disgust- 
ing, and the more complete the delusion, the more loathsome the 
effect. Why are such simulations of nature, as wax-work figures of 
men and women, so disagreeable? Because not finding the motion 
and the life which we expected, we are shocked as by a falsehood, 
every circumstance of detail, which before induced us to be inter- 



258 SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE 

ested, making the distance from truth more palpable. You set out 
with a supposed reality and are disappointed and disgusted with 
the deception; while, in respect to a work of genuine imitation, you 
begin with an acknowledged total difference, and then every touch 
of nature gives you the pleasure of an approximation to truth. 
The fundamental principle of all this is undoubtedly the horror of 
falsehood and the love of truth inherent in the human breast. The 
Greek tragic dance rested on these principles, and I can deeply 
sympathize in imagination with the Greeks in this favorite part 
of their theatrical exhibitions, when I call to mind the pleasure 
I felt in beholding the combat of the Horatii and Curiatii most 
exquisitely danced in Italy to the music of Cimarosa. 

Secondly, as to nature. We must imitate nature! yes, but what in 
nature — all and everything? No, the beautiful in nature. And 
what then is the beautiful.'' What is beauty? It is, in the abstract, 
the unity of the manifold, the coalescence of the diverse; in the 
concrete, it is the union of the shapely (formosum) with the vital. 
In the dead organic it depends on regularity of form, the first and 
lowest species of which is the triangle with all its modifications, as 
in crystals, architecture, etc.; in the living organic it is not mere 
regularity of form, which would produce a sense of formality; 
neither is it subservient to anything beside itself. It may be present 
in a disagreeable object, in which the proportion of the parts con- 
stitutes a whole; it does not arise from association, as the agreeable 
does, but sometimes lies in the rupture of association; it is not 
different to different individuals and nations, as has been said, nor 
is it connected with the ideas of the good, or the fit, or the useful. 
The sense of beauty is intuitive, and beauty itself is all that inspires 
pleasure without, and aloof from, and even contrarily to, interest. 

If the artist copies the mere nature, the natura naturata, what idle 
rivalry! If he proceeds only from a given form, which is supposed 
to answer to the notion of beauty, what an emptiness, what an 
unreality there always is in his productions, as in Cipriani's pic- 
tures! Believe me, you must master the essence, the natura naturans, 
which presupposes a bond between nature in the higher sense and 
the soul of man. 

The wisdom in nature is distinguished from that in man by the 



ON POESY OR ART 259 

co-instantaneity of the plan and the execution; the thought and the 
product are one, or are given at once; but there is no reflex act, and 
hence there is no moral responsibility. In man there is reflection, free- 
dom, and choice; he is, therefore, the head of the visible creation. 
In the objects of nature are presented, as in a mirror, all the possible 
elements, steps, and processes of intellect antecedent to conscious- 
ness, and therefore to the full development of the intelligential act; 
and man's mind is the very focus of all the rays of intellect which 
are scattered throughout the images of nature. Now, so to place 
these images, totalized and fitted to the limits of the human mind, as 
to elicit from, and to superinduce upon, the forms themselves the 
moral reflections to which they approximate, to make the external 
internal, the internal external, to make nature thought, and thought 
nature — this is the mystery of genius in the fine arts. Dare I add that 
the genius must act on the feeling, that body is but a striving to 
become mind — that it is mind in its essence ? 

In every work of art there is a reconcilement of the external with 
the internal; the conscious is so impressed on the unconscious as to 
appear in it; as compare mere letters inscribed on a tomb with figures 
themselves constituting the tomb. He who combines the two is the 
man of genius; and for that reason he must partake of both. Hence 
there is in genius itself an unconscious activity; nay, that is the 
genius in the man of genius. And this is the true exposition of the 
rule that the artist must first eloign himself from nature in order 
to return to her with full effect. Why this? Because if he were to 
begin by mere painful copying, he would produce masks only, not 
forms breathing life. He must out of his own mind create forms 
according to the severe laws of the intellect, in order to generate in 
himself that co-ordination of freedom and law, that involution of 
obedience in the prescript, and of the prescript in the impulse to 
obey, which assimilates him to nature, and enables him to under- 
stand her. He merely absents himself for a season from her, that his 
own spirit, which has the same ground with nature, may learn her 
unspoken language in its main radicals, before he approaches to her 
endless compositions of them. Yes, not to acquire cold notions — 
lifeless technical rules — ^but living and life-producing ideas, which 
shall contain their own evidence, the certainty that they are essen- 



26o SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE 

tially one with the germinal causes in nature — his consciousness being 
the focus and mirror of both — for this does the artist for a time 
abandon the external real in order to return to it with a complete 
sympathy with its internal and actual. For of all we see, hear, feel, 
and touch the substance is and must be in ourselves; and therefore 
there is no alternative in reason between the dreary (and thank 
heaven! almost impossible) belief that everything around us is but 
a phantom, or that the life which is in us is in them likewise; and 
that to know is to resemble, when we speak of objects out of our- 
selves, even as within ourselves to learn is, according to Plato, only 
to recollect; — the only effective answer to which, that I have been 
fortunate to meet with, is that which Pope has consecrated for 
future use in the line — 

"And coxcombs vanquish Berkeley with a grin!" 

The artist must imitate that which is within the thing, that which is 
active through form and figure, and discourses to us by symbols — 
the Naiur-geist, or spirit of nature, as we unconsciously imitate those 
whom we love; for so only can he hope to produce any work 
truly natural in the object and truly human in the effect. The idea 
which puts the form together cannot itself be the form. It is above 
form, and is its essence, the universal in the individual, or the indi- 
viduality itself — the glance and the exponent of the indwelling power. 
Each thing that lives has its moment of self -exposition, and so has 
each period of each thing, if we remove the disturbing forces of 
accident. To do this is the business of ideal art, whether in images 
of childhood, youth, or age, in man or in woman. Hence a good 
portrait is the abstract of the personal; it is not the likeness for 
actual comparison, but for recollection. This explains why the like- 
ness of a very good portrait is not always recognized; because some 
persons never abstract, and among these are especially to be numbered 
the near relations and friends of the subject, in consequence of the 
constant pressure and check exercised on their minds by the actual 
presence of the original. And each thing that only appears to live 
has also its possible position of relation to life, as nature herself 
testifies, who, where she cannot be, prophesies her being in the 
crystallized metal, or the inhaling plant. 



ON POESY OR ART 26 1 

The charm, the indispensable requisite, o£ sculpture is unity of 
effect. But painting rests in a material remoter from nature, and its 
compass is therefore greater. Light and shade give external, as well 
internal, being even with all its accidents, while sculpture is confined 
to the latter. And here I may observe that the subjects chosen for 
works of art, whether in sculpture or painting, should be such as 
really are capable of being expressed and conveyed within the limits 
of those arts. Moreover, they ought to be such as will affect the 
spectator by their truth, their beauty, or their sublimity, and there- 
fore they may be addressed to the judgment, the senses, or the 
reason. The peculiarity of the impression which they may make 
may be derived either from color and form, or from proportion and 
fitness, or from the excitement of the moral feelings; or all these 
may be combined. Such works as do combine these sources of effect 
must have the preference in dignity. 

Imitation of the antique may be too exclusive, and may produce an 
injurious effect on modern sculpture: — first, generally, because such 
an imitation cannot fail to have a tendency to keep the attention 
fixed on externals rather than on the thought within; — secondly, be- 
cause, accordingly, it leads the artist to rest satisfied with that which 
is always imperfect, namely, bodily form, and circumscribes his 
views of mental expression to the ideas of power and grandeur only; 
— thirdly, because it induces an effort to combine together two in- 
congruous things, that is to say, modern feelings in antique forms; 
— fourthly, because it speaks in a language, as it were, learned and 
dead; the tones of which, being unfamiliar, leave the common 
spectator cold and unimpressed; — and lastly, because it necessarily 
causes a neglect of thoughts, emotions, and images of profounder 
interest and more exalted dignity, as motherly, sisterly, and brotherly 
love, piety, devotion, the divine become human — the Virgin, the 
Apostle, the Christ. The artist's principle in the statue of a great 
man should be the illustration of departed merit; and I cannot but 
think that a skilful adoption of modern habiliments would, in many 
instances, give a variety and force of effect which a bigoted ad- 
herence to Greek or Roman costume precludes. It is, I believe, from 
artists finding Greek models unfit for several important modern 
purposes that we see so many allegorical figures on monuments and 



262 SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE 

elsewhere. Painting was, as it were, a new art, and being un- 
shackled by old models it chose its own subjects, and took an 
eagle's flight. And a new field seems opened for modern sculpture 
in the symbolical expression of the ends of life, as in Guy's monu- 
ment, Chantrey's children in Worcester Cathedral, etc. 

Architecture exhibits the greatest extent of the difference from 
nature which may exist in works of art. It involves all the powers 
of design, and is sculpture and painting inclusively. It shows the 
greatness of man, and should at the same time teach him humility. 

Music is the most entirely human of the fine arts, and has the 
fewest analoga in nature. Its first delightfulness is simple accord- 
ance with the ear; but it is an associated thing, and recalls the deep 
emotions of the past with an intellectual sense of proportion. Every 
human feeling is greater and larger than the exciting cause — a proof, 
I think, that man is designed for a higher state of existence; and this 
is deeply implied in music in which there is always something more 
and beyond the immediate expression. 

With regard to works in all the branches of the fine arts, I may 
remark that the pleasure arising from novelty must of course be 
allowed its due place and weight. This pleasure consists in the iden- 
tity of two opposite elements — that is to say, sameness and variety. If 
in the midst of the variety there be not some fixed object for the 
attention, the unceasing succession of the variety will prevent the 
mind from observing the difference of the individual objects; and 
the only thing remaining will be the succession, which will then 
produce precisely the same effect as sameness. This we experience 
when we let the trees or hedges pass before the fixed eye during a 
rapid movement in a carriage, or, on the other hand, when we suffer 
a file of soldiers or ranks of men in procession to go on before us 
without resting the eye on anyone in particular. In order to derive 
pleasure from the occupation of the mind, the principle of unity 
must always be present, so that in the midst of the multeity the 
centripetal force be never suspended, nor the sense be fatigued by 
the predominance of the centrifugal force. This unity in multeity I 
have elsewhere stated as the principle of beauty. It is equally the 
source of pleasure in variety, and in fact a higher term including 
both. What is the seclusive or distinguishing term between them? 



ON POESY OR ART 263 

Remember that there is a difference between form as proceeding, 
and shape as superinduced; — the latter is either the death or the 
imprisonment o£ the thing; — the former is its self -witnessing and 
self-effected sphere of agency. Art would or should be the abridg- 
ment of nature. Now the fulness of nature is without character, as 
water is purest when without taste, smell, or color; but this is the 
highest, the apex only — it is not the whole. The object of art is to 
give the whole ad hominem; hence each step of nature hath its 
ideal, and hence the possibility of a climax up to the perfect form 
of a harmonized chaos. 

To the idea of life victory or strife is necessary; as virtue consists 
not simply in the absence of vices, but in the overcoming of them. 
So it is in beauty. The sight of what is subordinated and conquered 
heightens the strength and the pleasure; and this should be ex- 
hibited by the artist either inclusively in his figure, or else out of it, 
and beside it to act by way of supplement and contrast. And with 
a view to this, remark the seeming identity of body and mind in in- 
fants, and thence the loveliness of the former; the commencing 
separation in boyhood, and the struggle of equilibrium in youth: 
thence onward the body is first simply indifferent; then demanding 
the translucency of the mind not to be worse than indifferent; and 
finally all that presents the body as body becoming almost of an 
excremental nature.^ 

^ The discussion, like so much of Coleridge's work, seems to have been left incom- 
plete. 



OF PERSONS ONE WOULD WISH 
TO HAVE SEEN 



BY 
WILUAM HAZLITT 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

William Hazlitt (1778-1830) was the son of a Unitarian minister. 
He went to Paris in his youth with the aim of becoming a painter, but 
gradually convinced himself that he could not excel in this art. He then 
turned to journalism and literature, and came into close association with 
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lamb, Hunt, and others of the Romantic School. 
He was, however, of a sensitive and difficult temperament, and sooner or 
later quarreled with most of his friends. Though a worshiper of Napo- 
leon, whose life he wrote, he was a strong liberal in politics, and supposed 
himself persecuted for his opinions. 

Of all Hazlitt's voluminous writings, those which retain most value 
to-day are his literary criticisms and his essays on general topics. His 
clear and vivacious style rose at times to a rare beauty; and when the 
temper of his work was not marred by his touchiness and egotism he 
wrote with great charm and a delicate fancy. 

The following essay shows in a high degree the tact and grace of 
Hazlitt's best writing, and his power of creating a distinctive atmosphere. 
It would be difficult to find a paper of this length which conveys so 
much of the special quality of the literary circle which added so much 
to the glory of English letters in the first quarter of the nineteenth 
century. 



OF PERSONS ONE WOULD WISH 
TO HAVE SEEN^ 

"Come like shadows — so depart." 

IAMB it was, I think, who suggested this subject, as well as the 
defence of Guy Fawkes, which I urged him to execute. As, 
-^ however, he would undertake neither, I suppose I must do 
both, a task for which he would have been much fitter, no less from 
the temerity than the felicity of his pen — 

"Never so sure our rapture to create 
As when it touch'd the brink of all we hate." ^ 

Compared with him, I shall, I fear, make but a commonplace piece 
of business of it; but I should be loth the idea was entirely lost, 
and, besides, I may avail myself of some hints of his in the progress 
of it. I am sometimes, I suspect, a better reporter of the ideas of 
other people than expounder of my own. I pursue the one too far 
into paradox or mysticism; the others I am not bound to follow 
farther than I like, or than seems fair and reasonable. 

On the question being started, Ayrton' said, "I suppose the two 
first persons you would choose to see would be the two greatest 
names in English literature. Sir Isaac Newton and Mr. Locke.?" 
In this Ayrton, as usual, reckoned without his host. Everyone 
burst out a-laughing at the expression on Lamb's face, in which 
impatience was restrained by courtesy. "Yes, the greatest names," 
he stammered out hastily; "but they were not persons — not per- 
sons." "Not persons," said Ayrton, looking wise and foolish at the 
same time, afraid his triumph might be premature. "That is," re- 

* Originally published in the "New Monthly Magazine," January, 1826. The conver- 
sation described is supposed to take place at one of Charles Lamb's "Wednesdays," at 
16 Mitre Court Buildings, London. 

^Pope, "Moral Essays," 11., 51. 'William Ayrton, a musician. 

267 



268 WILLIAM HAZLITT 

joined Lamb, "not characters, you know. By Mr. Locke and Sir 
Isaac Newton, you mean the 'Essay on the Human Understanding,' 
and the 'Principia,' which we have to this day. Beyond their con- 
tents there is nothing personally interesting in the men. But what 
we want to see anyone bodily for, is when there is something peculiar, 
striking in the individuals, more than we can learn from their writ- 
ings, and yet are curious to know. I dare say Locke and Newton 
were very like Kneller's portraits of them. But who could paint 
Shakespeare?" "Ay," retorted Ayrton, "there it is; then I suppose 
you would prefer seeing him and Milton instead?" "No," said 
Lamb, "neither. I have seen so much of Shakespeare on the stage 
and on book-stalls, in frontispieces and on mantelpieces, that I 
am quite tired of the everlasting repetition : and as to Milton's face, 
the impressions that have come down to us of it I do not like; it is 
too starched and puritanical; and I should be afraid of losing some 
of the manna of his poetry in the leaven of his countenance and the 
precisian's band and gown." "I shall guess no more," said Ayrton. 
"Who is it, then, you would like to see 'in his habit as he lived,' if you 
had your choice of the whole range of English literature?" Lamb 
then named Sir Thomas Browne and Fulke Greville, the friend 
of Sir Philip Sidney, as the two worthies whom he should feel the 
greatest pleasure to encounter on the floor of his apartment in their 
nightgowns and slippers and to exchange friendly greeting with 
them. At this Ayrton laughed outright, and conceived Lamb was 
jesting with him; but as no one followed his example, he thought 
there might be something in it, and waited for an explanation in 
a state of whimsical suspense. Lamb then (as well as I can re- 
member a conversation that passed twenty years ago — how time 
slips!) went on as follows: "The reason why I pitch upon these two 
authors is, that their writings are riddles, and they themselves the 
most mysterious of personages. They resemble the soothsayers of old, 
who dealt in dark hints and doubtful oracles; and I should like to 
ask them the meaning of what no mortal but themselves, I should 
suppose, can fathom. There is Dr. Johnson: I have no curiosity, 
no strange uncertainty about him; he and Boswell together have 
pretty well let me into the secret of what passed through his mind. 
He and other writers like him are suiSciently explicit; my friends. 



OF PERSONS 269 

whose repose I should be tempted to disturb (were it in my power), 
are imphcit, inextricable, inscrutable. 

" 'And call up him who left half-told 
The story of Cambuscan bold.' * 

"When I look at that obscure but gorgeous prose composition, 
the 'Urn-burial,' I seem to myself to look into a deep abyss, at the 
bottom of which are hid pearls and rich treasure; or it is like a 
stately labyrinth of doubt and withering speculation, and I would 
invoke the spirit of the author to lead me through it. Besides, who 
would not be curious to see the lineaments of a man who, having 
himself been twice married, wished that mankind were propagated 
like trees! ^ As to Fulke Greville, he is hke nothing but one of his 
own 'Prologues spoken by the ghost of an old king of Ormus,' a 
truly formidable and inviting personage: his style is apocalyptical, 
cabalistical, a knot worthy of such an apparition to untie; and for 
the unravelling a passage or two, I would stand the brunt of an 
encounter with so portentous a commentator!" "I am afraid, in that 
case," said Ayrton, "that if the mystery were once cleared up, the 
merit might be lost;" and turning to me, whispered a friendly appre- 
hension, that while Lamb continued to admire these old crabbed 
authors, he would never become a popular writer. Dr. Donne was 
mentioned as a writer of the same period, with a very interesting 
countenance, whose history was singular, and whose meaning was 
often quite as "uncomeatable," without a personal citation from 
the dead, as that of any of his contemporaries. The volume was 
produced; and while someone was expatiating on the exquisite sim- 
plicity and beauty of the portrait prefixed to the old edition, Ayrton 
got hold of the poetry, and exclaiming "What have we here?" 
read the following: 

" 'Here lies a She-Sun and a He-Moon there. 
She gives the best light to his sphere 
Or each is both and all, and so 
They unto one another nothing owe.' " * 

There was no resisting this, till Lamb, seizing the volume, turned 
to the beautiful "Lines to His Mistress," dissuading her from ac- 

* Milton, "U Penseroso," 109. ^ "Religio Medici," II., ix. 

' "Epithalamion on the Lady Elizabeth and Count Palatine." 



270 WILLIAM HAZLITT 

companying him abroad, and read them with suffused features and 
a faltering tongue: 

" 'By our first strange and fatal interview, 
By all desires which thereof did ensue, 
By our long starving hopes, by that remorse 
Which my words' masculine perswasive force 
Begot in thee, and by the memory 
Of hurts, which spies and rivals threatened me, 
I calmely beg. But by thy father's wrath. 
By all paines which want and divorcement hath, 
I conjure thee; and all the oathes which I 
And thou have sworne to seale joynt constancy 
Here I unsweare, and overswear them thus — 
Thou shalt not love by ways so dangerous. 
Temper, O fair love! love's impetuous rage, 
Be my true mistris still, not my faign'd Page; 
I'll goe, and, by thy kinde leave, leave behinde 
Thee! onely worthy to nurse it in my minde. 
Thirst to come backe; O, if thou die before. 
My soule, from other lands to thee shall soare. 
Thy (else almighty) beautie cannot move 
Rage from the seas, nor thy love teach them love, 
Nor tame wild Boreas' harshnesse: thou hast reade 
How roughly bee in peeces shivered 
Fair Orithea, whom he swore he lov'd. 
Fair ill or good, 'ds madness to have prov'd 
Dangers unurg'd: Feed on this flattery. 
That absent lovers one in th' other be. 
Dissemble nothing, not a boy; nor change 
Thy bodie's habite, not minde; be not strange 
To thyeselfe onely. All will spie in thy face 
A blushing, womanly, discovering grace. 
Richly-cloath'd apes are call'd apes, and as soon 
Eclips'd as bright, we call the moone the moon. 
Men of France, changeable camelions. 
Spittles of diseases, shops of fashions. 
Love's fuellers, and the rightest company 
Of players, which upon the world's stage be. 
Will quickly know thee . . . O stay here! for thee 
England is onely a worthy gallerie. 
To walke in expectation; uU from thence 
Our greatest King call thee to his presence. 
When I am gone, dreame me some happinesse, 



OF PERSONS 271 

Nor let thy lookes our long-hid love confesse. 
Nor praise, nor dispraise me; nor blesse, nor curse 
Openly love's force, nor in bed fright thy nurse 
With midnight's starlings, crying out, Oh, oh, 
Nurse, oh my love is slaine, I saw^ him goe 
O'er the white Alpes alone! I saw him, I, 
Assail'd, fight, taken, stabb'd, bleed, fall, and die. 
Augure me better chance, except dread Jove 
Thinke it enough for me to have had thy love.' " 

Someone then inquired of Lamb if we could not see from the 
window the Temple-walk in which Chaucer used to take his 
exercise; and on his name being put to the vote, I was pleased to find 
that there was a general sensation in his favor in all but Ayrton, 
who said something about the ruggedness of the metre, and even 
objected to the quaintness of the orthography. I was vexed at this 
superficial gloss, pertinaciously reducing everything to its own 
trite level, and asked, "If he did not think it would be worth while 
to scan the eye that had first greeted the Muse in that dim twilight 
and early dawn of English literature; to see the head round which 
the visions of fancy must have played like gleams of inspiration or 
a sudden glory; to watch those lips that 'lisped in numbers, for the 
numbers came' — as by a miracle, or as if the dumb should speak? 
Nor was it alone that he had been the first to tune his native tongue 
(however imperfectly to modern ears) ; but he was himself a noble, 
manly character, standing before his age and striving to advance it; 
a pleasant humorist withal, who has not only handed down to us the 
living manners of his time, but had, no doubt, store of curious and 
quaint devices, and would make as hearty a companion as mine 
host of the Tabard. His interview with Petrarch is fraught with 
interest. Yet I would rather have seen Chaucer in company with 
the author of the 'Decameron,' and have heard them exchange 
their best stories together — the 'Squire's Tale' against the story of 
the 'Falcon,' the 'Wife of Bath's Prologue' against the 'Adventures of 
Friar Albert.' How fine to see the high mysterious brow which 
learning then wore, relieved by the gay, familiar tone of men of the 
world, and by the courtesies of genius! Surely, the thoughts and 
feelings which passed through the minds of these great revivers 
of learning, these Cadmuses who sowed the teeth of letters, must 



272 WILLIAM HAZLITT 

have stamped an expression on their features as different from the 
moderns as their books, and well worth the perusal. Dante," I con- 
tinued, "is as interesting a person as his own Ugolino, one whose 
lineaments curiosity would as eagerly devour in order to penetrate 
his spirit, and the only one of the Italian poets I should care much 
to see. There is a fine portrait of Ariosto by no less a hand than 
Titian's; light, Moorish, spirited, but not answering our idea. The 
same artist's large colossal profile of Peter Aretine is the only like- 
ness of the kind that has the effect of conversing with 'the mighty 
dead'; and this is truly spectral, ghastly, necromantic." Lamb put 
it to me if I should like to see Spenser as well as Chaucer; and I 
answered, without hesitation, "No; for that his beauties were ideal, 
visionary, not palpable or personal, and therefore connected with 
less curiosity about the man. His poetry was the essence of romance, 
a very halo round the bright orb of fancy; and the bringing in the 
individual might dissolve the charm. No tones of voice could come 
up to the mellifluous cadence of his verse; no form but of a winged 
angel could vie with the airy shapes he has described. He was (to 
our apprehensions) rather a 'creature of the element, that lived in the 
rainbow and played in the plighted clouds,' than an ordinary 
mortal. Or if he did appear, I should wish it to be as a mere vision, 
like one of his own pageants, and that he should pass by un- 
questioned like a dream or sound — 

" ' That was Arion crown'd: 



So went he playing on the wat'ry plain.' " ' 

Captain Burney muttered something about Columbus, and Martin 
Burney hinted at the Wandering Jew; but the last was set aside 
as spurious, and the first made over to the New World. 

"I should like," said Mrs. Reynolds, "to have seen Pope talk 
with Patty Blount; and I have seen Goldsmith." Everyone turned 
round to look at Mrs. Reynolds, as if by so doing they could get 
a sight at Goldsmith. 

"Where," asked a harsh, croaking voice, "was Dr. Johnson in the 
years 1745-46.'' He did not write anything that we know of, nor is 
there any account of him in Boswell during those two years. Was 

^ "The Faerie Queene," IV., xi. 23. 



OF PERSONS 273 

he in Scotland with the Pretender ? He seems to have passed through 
the scenes in the Highlands in company with Boswell, many years 
after, 'with lack-lustre eye,' yet as if they were familiar to him, or 
associated in his mind with interests that he durst not explain. If so, 
it would be an additional reason for my liking him; and I would 
give something to have seen him seated in the tent with the youth- 
ful Majesty of Britain, and penning the Proclamation to all true 
subjects and adherents of the legitimate government." 

"I thought," said Ayrton, turning short round upon Lamb, "that 
you of the Lake School did not like Pope?" "Not like Pope! My 
dear sir, you must be under a mistake — I can read him over and over 
forever!" "Why, certainly, the 'Essay on Man' must be allowed to 
be a masterpiece." "It may be so, but I seldom look into it." "Oh! 
then it's his satires you admire?" "No, not his satires, but his friendly 
epistles and his compliments." "Compliments! I did not know he 
ever made any." "The finest," said Lamb, "that were ever paid by 
the wit of man. Each of them is worth an estate for life — nay, is an 
immortality. There is that superb one to Lord Cornbury: 

" 'Despise low joys, low gains; 
Disdain whatever Cornbury disdains; 
Be virtuous, and be happy for your pains.' * 

Was there ever more artful insinuation of idolatrous praise? And 
then that noble apotheosis of his friend Lord Mansfield (however 
litde deserved), when, speaking of the House of Lords, he adds: 

" 'Conspicuous scene I another yet is nigh, 
(More silent far) where kings and poets lie; 
Where Murray (long enough his country's pride) 
Shall be no more than Tully or than Hydel' ' 

And with what a fine turn of indignant flattery he addresses Lord 
Bolingbroke : 

" 'Why rail they then, if but one wreath of mine, 
O all-accomplish'd St. John, deck thy shrine?' '" 

Or turn," continued Lamb, with a slight hectic on his cheek and his 
eyes glistening, "to his list of early friends: 

' "Imitations of Horace, Epistles," I., vi. 60-2. ^ Ibid., 50-3. 
'""Epil. to Satires," 11., 138-9. 



274 WILLIAM HAZLITT 

" 'But why then publish? Granville the polite, 
And knowing Walsh, would tell me I could write; 
Well-natured Garth inflamed with early praise. 
And Congreve loved, and Swift endured my lays: 
The courdy Talbot, Somers, Sheffield read, 
Ev'n mitred Rochester would nod the head; 
And St. John's self (great Dryden's friend before) 
Received with open arms one poet more. 
Happy my studies, if by these approved! 
Happier their author, if by these beloved ! 
From these the world will judge of men and books, 
Not from the Burnets, Oldmixons, and Cooks.' " " 

Here his voice totally failed him, and throwing down the book, 
he said, "Do you think I would not wish to have been friends with 
such a man as this.'"' 

"What say you to Dryden?" "He rather made a show of himself, 
and courted popularity in that lowest temple of fame, a coffee-shop, 
so as in some measure to vulgarize one's idea of him. Pope, on the 
contrary, reached the very beau ideal of what a poet's life should 
be; and his fame while living seemed to be an emanation from that 
which was to circle his name after death. He was so far enviable 
(and one would feel proud to have witnessed the rare spectacle in 
him) that he was almost the only poet and man of genius who met 
with his reward on this side of the tomb, who realized in friends, 
fortune, the esteem of the world, the most sanguine hopes of a 
youthful ambition, and who found that sort of patronage from the 
great during his lifetime which they would be thought anxious to 
bestow upon him after his death. Read Gay's verses to him on his 
supposed return from Greece, after his translation of Homer was 
finished, and say if you would not gladly join the bright procession 
that welcomed him home, or see it once more land at Whitehall 
stairs." "Still," said Mrs. Reynolds, "I would rather have seen him 
talking with Patty Blount, or riding by in a coronet-coach with 
Lady Mary Wortley Montague!" 

Erasmus PhilUps, who was deep in a game of piquet at the other 
end of the room, whispered to Martin Barney to ask if "Junius" 
would not be a fit person to invoke from the dead. "Yes," said Lamb, 
"provided he would agree to lay aside his mask." 
*' "Prol. to Satires," 135-146. 



OF PERSONS 275 

We were now at a stand for a short time, when Fielding was 
mentioned as a candidate; only one, however, seconded the propo- 
sition. "Richardson?" "By all means, but only to look at him 
through the glass door of his back shop, hard at work upon one of his 
novels (the most extraordinary contrast that ever was presented 
between an author and his works) ; not to let him come behind his 
counter, lest he should want you to turn customer, or to go upstairs 
with him, lest he should offer to read the first manuscript of 'Sir 
Charles Grandison,' which was originally written in eight-and- 
twenty volumes octavo, or get out the letters of his female cor- 
respondents, to prove that Joseph Andrews was low." 

There was but one statesman in the whole of English history 
that anyone expressed the least desire to see — OUver Cromwell, 
with his fine, frank, rough, pimply face and wily poHcy; and one 
enthusiast, John Bunyan, the immortal author of the "Pilgrim's 
Progress." It seemed that if he came into the room, dreams would 
follow him, and that each person would nod under his golden 
cloud, "nigh-sphered in heaven," a canopy as strange and stately 
as any in Homer. 

Of all persons near our own time, Garrick's name was received 
with the greatest enthusiasm, who was proposed by Barron Field. 
He presently superseded both Hogarth and Handel, who had been 
talked of, but then it was on condition that he should act in tragedy 
and comedy, in the play and the farce, Lear and Wildair and Abel 
Drugger. What a "sight for sore eyes" that would be! Who would 
not part with a year's income at least, almost with a year of his 
natural life, to be present at it? Besides, as he could not act alone, 
and recitations are unsatisfactory things, what a troop he must bring 
with him — the silver-tongued Barry, and Quin, and Shuter and 
Weston, and Mrs. Clive and Mrs. Pritchard, of whom I have heard 
my father speak as so great a favorite when he was young. This 
would indeed be a revival of the dead, the restoring of art; and so 
much the more desirable, as such is the lurking scepticism mingled 
with our overstrained admiration of past excellence, that though 
we have the speeches of Burke, the portraits of Reynolds, the writ- 
ings of Goldsmith, and the conversation of Johnson, to show what 
people could do at that period, and to confirm the universal testi- 
mony to the merits of Garrick; yet, as it was before our time, we 



276 WILLIAM HAZLITT 

have our misgivings, as if he was probably, after all, little better than 
a Bartlemy-fair actor, dressed out to play Macbeth in a scarlet coat 
and laced cocked-hat. For one, I should like to have seen and heard 
with my own eyes and ears. Certainly, by all accounts, if anyone 
was ever moved by the true histrionic cestus, it was Garrick. When 
he followed the Ghost in "Hamlet," he did not drop the sword, as 
most actors do, behind the scenes, but kept the point raised the 
whole way round, so fully was he possessed with the idea, or so 
anxious not to lose sight of his part for a moment. Once at a splen- 
did dinner-party at Lord 's, they suddenly missed Garrick, 

and could not imagine what was become of him, till they were 
drawn to the window by the convulsive screams and peals of 
laughter of a young negro boy, who was rolling on the ground in 
an ecstasy of delight to see Garrick mimicking a turkey-cock in 
the courtyard, with his coat-tail stuck out behind, and in a seem- 
ing flutter of feathered rage and pride. Of our party only two 
persons present had seen the British Roscius; and they seemed 
as willing as the rest to renew their acquaintance with their old 
favorite. 

We were interrupted in the hey-day and mid-career of this fanciful 
speculation, by a grumbler in a corner, who declared it was a shame 
to make all this rout about a mere player and farce-writer, to the 
neglect and exclusion of the fine old dramatists, the contemporaries 
and rivals of Shakespeare. Lamb said he had anticipated this ob- 
jection when he had named the author of "Mustapha" and "Ala- 
ham"; and, out of caprice, insisted upon keeping him to represent 
the set, in preference to the wild, hare-brained enthusiast, Kit Mar- 
lowe; to the sexton of St. Ann's, Webster, with his melancholy yew- 
trees and death's-heads; to Decker, who was but a garrulous proser; 
to the voluminous Hey wood; and even to Beaumont and Fletcher, 
whom we might offend by complimenting the wrong author on their 
joint productions. Lord Brooke, on the contrary, stood quite by 
himself, or, in Cowley's words, was "a vast species alone." Someone 
hinted at the circumstance of his being a lord, which rather startled 
Lamb, but he said a ghost would perhaps dispense with strict eti- 
quette, on being regularly addressed by his title. Ben Jonson divided 
our suffrages pretty equally. Some were afraid he would begin to 



OF PERSONS 277 

traduce Shakespeare, who was not present to defend himself. "If 
he grows disagreeable," it was whispered aloud, "there is Godwin 
can match him." At length, his romantic visit to Drummond of 
Hawthornden was mentioned, and turned the scale in his favor. 

Lamb inquired if there was anyone that was hanged that I would 
choose to mention? And I answered, Eugene Aram.'^ The name 
of the "Admirable Crichton" was suddenly started as a splendid 
example of waste talents, so different from the generality of his 
countrymen. This choice was mightily approved by a North-Briton 
present, who declared himself descended from that prodigy of 
learning and accomplishment, and said he had family plate in his 
possession as vouchers for the fact, with the initials A. C. — "Ad- 
mirable Crichton"! Hunt laughed, or rather roared, as heartily at 
this as I should think he has done for many years. 

The last-named Mitre-courtier" then wished to know whether 
there were any metaphysicians to whom one might be tempted to 
apply the wizard spell? I replied, there were only six in modern 
times deserving the name — Hobbes, Berkeley, Butler, Hartley, Hume, 
Leibnitz; and perhaps Jonathan Edwards, a Massachusetts man." 
As to the French, who talked fluently of having created this science, 
there was not a tittle in any of their writings that was not to be 
found literally in the authors I had mentioned. [Home Tooke, 
who might have a claim to come in under the head of grammar, 
was still living.] None of these names seemed to excite much 
interest, and I did not plead for the reappearance of those who might 
be thought best fatted by the abstracted nature of their studies for 
the present spiritual and disembodied state, and who, even while on 
this living stage, were nearly divested of common flesh and blood. 
As Ayrton, with an uneasy, fidgety face, was about to put some 
question about Mr. Locke and Dugald Stewart, he was prevented by 

"See "Newgate Calendar" for 1758. — ^H. 

" Lamb at this time occupied chambers in Mitre Court, Fleet Street. — ^H. 

" Bacon is not included in this list, nor do I know where he should come in. It is 
not easy to make room for him and his reputation together. This great and celebrated 
man in some of his works recommends it to pour a bottle of claret into the ground of 
a morning, and to stand over it, inhaling the perfumes. So he sometimes enriched 
the dry and barren soil of speculation with the fine aromatic spirit of his genius. His 
essays and his "Advancement of Learning" are works of vast depth and scope of ob- 
servation. The last, though it contains no positive discoveries, is a noble chart of the 
human intellect, and a guide to all future inquirers. — H. 



278 WILLIAM HAZLITT 

Martin Burney, who observed, "If J was here, he would un- 
doubtedly be for having up those profound and redoubted sociaUsts, 
Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus." I said this might be fair 
enough in him who had read, or fancied he had read, the original 
works, but I did not see how we could have any right to call up 
these authors to give an account of themselves in person till we had 
looked into their writings. 

By this time it should seem that some rumor of our whimsical 
deliberation had got wind, and had disturbed the irritabile genus in 
their shadowy abodes, for we received messages from several candi- 
dates that we had just been thinking of. Gray declined our invi- 
tation, though he had not yet been asked; Gay offered to come, and 
bring in his hand the Duchess of Bolton, the original Polly; Steele 
and Addison left their cards as Captain Sentry and Sir Roger de 
Coverley; Swift came in and sat down without speaking a word, 
and quitted the room as abruptly; Otway and Chatterton were seen 
lingering on the opposite side of the Styx, but could not muster 
enough between them to pay Charon his fare; Thomson fell asleep 
in the boat, and was rowed back again; and Burns sent a low fellow, 
one John Barleycorn, an old companion of his, who had conducted 
him to the other world, to say that he had during his lifetime been 
drawn out of his retirement as a show, only to be made an excise- 
man of, and that he would rather remain where he was. He desired, 
however, to shake hands by his representative — the hand, thus held 
out, was in a burning fever, and shook prodigiously. 

The room was hung round with several portraits of eminent 
painters. While we were debating whether we should demand 
speech with these masters of mute eloquence, whose features were 
so familiar to us, it seemed that all at once they glided from their 
frames, and seated themselves at some little distance from us. There 
was Leonardo, with his majestic beard and watchful eye, having a 
bust of Archimedes before him; next him was Raphael's graceful 
head turned round to the Fornarina; and on his other side was 
Lucretia Borgia, with calm, golden locks; Michael Angelo had 
placed the model of St. Peter's on the table before him; Correggio 
had an angel at his side; Titian was seated with his mistress between 
himself and Giorgione; Guido was accompanied by his own Aurora, 



OF PERSONS 279 

who took a dice-box from him; Claude held a mirror in his hand; 
Rubens patted a beautiful panther (led in by a satyr) on the head; 
Vandyke appeared as his own Paris, and Rembrandt was hid under 
furs, gold chains, and jewels, which Sir Joshua eyed closely, holding 
his hand so as to shade his forehead. Not a word was spoken; and 
as we rose to do them homage, they still presented the same surface 
to the view. Not being bona-fide representations of living people, we 
got rid of the splendid apparitions by signs and dumb show. As soon 
as they had melted into thin air, there was a loud noise at the outer 
door, and we found it was Giotto, Cimabue, and Ghirlandajo, who 
had been raised from the dead by their earnest desire to see their 
illustrious successors — 

"Whose names on earth 
In Fame's eternal record live for aye!" 

Finding them gone, they had no ambition to be seen after them, and 
mournfully withdrew. "Egad!" said Lamb, "these are the very 
fellows I should like to have had some talk with, to know how 
they could see to paint when all was dark around them." 

"But shall we have nothing to say," interrogated G. J , "to the 

'Legend of Good Women'?" "Name, name, Mr. J ," cried 

Hunt in a boisterous tone of friendly exultation, "name as many as 
you please, without reserve or fear of molestation!" J was per- 
plexed between so many amiable recollections, that the name of the 
lady of his choice expired in a pensive whiff of his pipe; and Lamb 
impatiently declared for the Duchess of Newcastle. Mrs. Hutchinson 
was no sooner mentioned, than she carried the day from the Duchess. 
We were the less solicitous on this subject of filling up the post- 
humous lists of good women, as there was already one in the room 
as good, as sensible, and in all respects as exemplary, as the best of 
them could be for their Hves! "I should like vastly to have seen 
Ninon de I'Enclos," said that incomparable person; and this im- 
mediately put us in mind that we had neglected to pay honor due 
to our friends on the other side of the Channel: Voltaire, the patri- 
arch of levity, and Rousseau, the father of sentiment; Montaigne and 
Rabelais (great in wisdom and in wit) ; Moliere and that illustrious 
group that are collected round him (in the print of that subject) to 



28o WILLIAM HAZLITT 

hear him read his comedy of the "TartuflFe" at the house of Ninon; 
Racine, La Fontaine, Rochefoucauld, St. Evremont, etc. 

"There is one person," said a shrill, querulous voice, "I would 
rather see than all these — Don Quixote!" 

"Come, come!" said Hunt; "I thought we should have no heroes, 
real or fabulous. What say you, Mr. Lamb ? Are you for eking out 
your shadowy list with such names as Alexander, Julius Caesar, 
Tamerlane, or Genghis Khan?" "Excuse me," said Lamb; "on the 
subject of characters in active life, plotters and disturbers of the 
world, I have a crotchet of my own, which I beg leave to reserve." 
"No, no! come out with your worthies!" "What do you think of Guy 
Fawkes and Judas Iscariot?" Hunt turned an eye upon him like a 
wild Indian, but cordial and full of smothered glee. "Your most 
exquisite reason!" was echoed on all sides; and Ayrton thought that 
Lamb had now fairly entangled himself. "Why, I cannot but think," 
retorted he of the wistful countenance, "that Guy Fawkes, that poor, 
fluttering, annual scarecrow of straw and rags, is an ill-used gentle- 
man. I would give something to see him sitting pale and emaciated, 
surrounded by his matches and his barrels of gunpowder, and ex- 
pecting the moment that was to transport him to Paradise for his 
heroic self-devotion; but if I say any more, there is that fellow 
Godwin will make something of it. And as to Judas Iscariot, my 
reason is different. I would fain see the face of him who, having 
dipped his hand in the same dish with the Son of Man, could after- 
wards betray him. I have no conception of such a thing; nor have I 
ever seen any picture (not even Leonardo's very fine one) that gave 
me the least idea of it." "You have said enough, Mr. Lamb, to justify 
your choice." 

"Oh! ever right, Menenius — ever right!" 

"There is only one other person I can ever think of after this," 
continued Lamb;'^ but without mentioning a name that once put on 
a semblance of mortality. "If Shakespeare was to come into the 
room, we should all rise up to meet him; but if that person was to 
come into it, we should all fall down and try to kiss the hem of his 
garment!" 

As a lady present seemed now to get uneasy at the turn the con- 

'= In the original form of the essay, this speech is given to Hunt. 



OF PERSONS 281 

versation had taken, we rose up to go. The morning broke with that 
dim, dubious light by which Giotto, Cimabue, and Ghirlandajo must 
have seen to paint their earliest works; and we parted to meet again 
and renew similar topics at night, the next night, and the night after 
that, till that night overspread Europe which saw no dawn. The 
same event, in truth, broke up our little congress that broke up the 
great one. But that was to meet again: our deliberations have never 
been resumed. 



DEATHS OF LITTLE CHILDREN 

ON THE REALITIES OF 
IMAGINATION 

BY 

LEIGH HUNT 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) was the son of a clergyman 
from the West Indies. Like Lamb and Coleridge, he was educated at 
Christ's Hospital in London, and began writing poetry while still a boy. 
He attracted attention early by his theatrical criticisms; and in 1808 he 
joined his brother in founding a weekly newspaper, the "Examiner." 
During the thirteen years for which he contributed to this paper he ex- 
erted a wholesome influence in journalism, raising the tone of the press, 
showing great independence and tolerance, and fighting vigorously for 
liberal principles. He earned the distinction of two years' imprisonment 
for telling plain truths about the Prince Regent; and his prosecution by 
the Government made him many distinguished friends. Some years 
later he went to Italy to join Shelley and Byron in the establishment of 
a new magazine; and it was on returning from Leghorn, where he had 
gone to meet Hunt, that Shelley was drowned. The new magazine was 
soon abandoned, Hunt returned to England, engaged in various periodi- 
cal and other literary enterprises from which he seldom earned enough 
to meet his expenses, and struggled on cheerfully and courageously to 
the age of seventy-five. 

Hunt's poetry is pretty, fanciful, and musical, but, with the exception 
of one or two pieces, is now little read. Much of his prose work is merely 
high-toned journalism, the interest of which has passed with its occasion. 
But among his familiar essays, from which the two papers here printed 
are taken, there are many litde masterpieces, suflused with his cheerful 
optimistic spirit, and expressed always gracefully and sometimes ex- 
quisitely. "No man," says James Russell Lowell, "has ever understood 
the delicacies and luxuries of language better than he; and his thoughts 
often have all the rounded grace and shifting luster of a dove's neck. 
. . . He was as pure-minded a man as ever lived, and a critic whose 
subtlety of discrimination and whose soundness of judgment, supported 
as it was on a broad basis of truly liberal scholarship, have hardly yet 
won fitting appreciation." 



DEATHS OF LITTLE CHILDREN 

A GRECIAN philosopher being asked why he wept for the 
death of his son, since the sorrow was in vain, repUed, "I 
L weep on that account." And his answer became his wisdom. 
It is only for sophists to contend that we, whose eyes contain the 
fountains of tears, need never give way to them. It would be un- 
wise not to do so on some occasions. Sorrow unlocks them in her 
balmy moods. The first bursts may be bitter and overwhelming; but 
the soil on which they pour would be worse without them. They 
refresh the fever of the soul — the dry misery which parches the 
countenance into furrows, and renders us liable to our most terrible 
"flesh-quakes." 

There are sorrows, it is true, so great,that to give them some of the 
ordinary vents is to run a hazard of being overthrown. These we 
must rather strengthen ourselves to resist, or bow quietly and drily 
down, in order to let them pass over us, as the traveller does the 
wind of the desert. But where we feel that tears would relieve us, 
it is false philosophy to deny ourselves at least that first refresh- 
ment; and it is always false consolation to tell people that because 
they cannot help a thing, they are not to mind it. The true way is, 
to let them grapple with the unavoidable sorrow, and try to win it 
into gentleness by a reasonable yielding. There are griefs so gentle 
in their very nature that it would be worse than false heroism 
to refuse them a tear. Of this kind are the deaths of infants. Par- 
ticular circumstances may render it more or less advisable to indulge 
in grief for the loss of a little child; but, in general, parents should 
be no more advised to repress their first tears on such an occasion, 
than to repress their smiles towards a child surviving, or to indulge 
in any other sympathy. It is an appeal to the same gentle tenderness; 
and such appeals are never made in vain. The end of them is an 
acquittal from the harsher bonds of affliction — from the tying down 
of the spirit to one melancholy idea. 

285 



286 LEIGH HUNT 

It is the nature of tears of this kind, however strongly they may 
gush forth, to run into quiet waters at last. We cannot easily, for 
the whole course of our lives, think with pain of any good and kind 
person whom we have lost. It is the divine nature of their qualities 
to conquer pain and death itself; to turn the memory of them into 
pleasure; to survive with a placid aspect in our imaginations. We 
are writing at this moment just opposite a spot which contains the 
grave of one inexpressibly dear to us. We see from our window the 
trees about it, and the church spire. The green fields lie around. 
The clouds are travelling overhead, alternately taking away the 
sunshine and restoring it. The vernal winds, piping of the flowery 
summer-time, are nevertheless calling to mind the far-distant and 
dangerous ocean, which the heart that lies in that grave had many 
reasons to think of. And yet the sight of this spot does not give us 
pain. So far from it, it is the existence of that grave which doubles 
every charm of the spot; which links the pleasures of our child- 
hood and manhood together; which puts a hushing tenderness in 
the winds, and a patient joy upon the landscape; which seems to 
unite heaven and earth, mortality and immortality, the grass of the 
tomb and the grass of the green field; and gives a more maternal 
aspect to the whole kindness of nature. It does not hinder gaiety it- 
self. Happiness was what its tenant, through all her troubles, would 
have diffused. To diffuse happiness, and to enjoy it, is not only carry- 
ing on her wishes, but realising her hopes; and gaiety, freed from 
its only pollutions, malignity and want of sympathy, is but a child 
playing about the knees of its mother. 

The remembered innocence and endearments of a child stand us 
instead of virtues that have died older. Children have not exercised 
the voluntary offices of friendship; they have not chosen to be kind 
and good to us; nor stood by us, from conscious will, in the hour of 
adversity. But they have shared their pleasures and pains with us 
as well as they could; the interchange of good offices between us has, 
of necessity, been less mingled with the troubles of the world; the 
sorrow arising from their death is the only one which we can asso- 
ciate with their memories. These are happy thoughts that cannot 
die. Our loss may always render them pensive; but they will not 
always be painful. It is a part of the benignity of Nature that pain 



DEATHS OF LITTLE CHILDREN 287 

does not survive like pleasure, at any time, much less where the 
cause of it is an innocent one. The smile will remain reflected by 
memory, as the moon reflects the light upon us when the sim has 
gone into heaven. 

When writers like ourselves quarrel with earthly pain (we mean 
writers of the same intentions, without implying, of course, any- 
thing about abilities or otherwise), they are misunderstood if they 
are supposed to quarrel with pains of every sort. This would be 
idle and effeminate. They do not pretend, indeed, that humanity 
might not wish, if it could, to be entirely free from pain; for it 
endeavours, at all times, to turn pain into pleasure: or at least to 
set off the one with the other, to make the former a zest and the 
latter a refreshment. The most unaffected dignity of suffering does 
this, and, if wise, acknowledges it. The greatest benevolence towards 
others, the most unselfish relish of their pleasures, even at its own 
expense, does but look to increasing the general stock of happiness, 
though content, if it could, to have its identity swallowed up in that 
splendid contemplation. We are far from meaning that this is to be 
called selfishness. We are far, indeed, from thinking so, or of so 
confounding words. But neither is it to be called pain when most 
unselfish, if disinterestedness be truly understood. The pain that 
is in it softens into pleasure, as the darker hue of the rainbow melts 
into the brighter. Yet even if a harsher line is to be drawn between 
the pain and pleasure of the most unselfish mind (and ill-health, 
for instance, may draw it), we should not quarrel with it if it con- 
tributed to the general mass of comfort, and were of a nature which 
general kindliness could not avoid. Made as we are, there are cer- 
tain pains without which it would be difficult to conceive certain 
great and overbalancing pleasures. We may conceive it possible for 
beings to be made entirely happy; but in our composition something 
of pain seems to be a necessary ingredient, in order that the materials 
may turn to as fine account as possible, though our clay, in the course 
of ages and experience, may be refined more and more. We may get 
rid of the worst earth, though not of earth itself. 

Now the liability to the loss of children — or rather what renders 
us sensible of it, the occasional loss itself — seems to be one of these 
necessary bitters thrown into the cup of humanity. We do not mean 



288 LEIGH HUNT 

that every one must lose one of his children in order to enjoy the rest; 
or that every individual loss afflicts us in the same proportion. We 
allude to the deaths of infants in general. These might be as few 
as we could render them. But if none at all ever took place, we 
should regard every little child as a man or woman secured; and it 
will easily be conceived what a world of endearing cares and hopes 
this security would endanger. The very idea of infancy would lose 
its continuity with us. Girls and boys would be future men and 
women, not present children. They would have attained their full 
growth in our imaginations, and might as well have been men and 
women at once. On the other hand, those who have lost an infant, 
are never, as it were, without an infant child. They are the only per- 
sons who, in one sense, retain it always, and they furnish their 
neighbours with the same idea. The other children grow up to 
manhood and womanhood, and suffer all the changes of mortality. 
This one alone is rendered an immortal child. Death has arrested 
it with his kindly harshness, and blessed it into an eternal image 
of youth and innocence. 

Of such as these are the pleasantest shapes that visit our fancy 
and our hopes. They are the ever-smiling emblems of joy; the 
prettiest pages that wait upon imagination. Lastly, "Of these are 
the kingdom of heaven." Wherever there is a province of that 
benevolent and all-accessible empire, whether on earth or elsewhere, 
such are the gentle spirits that must inhabit it. To such simplicity, 
or the resemblance of it, must they come. Such must be the ready 
confidence of their hearts and creativeness of their fancy. And so 
ignorant must they be of the "knowledge of good and evil," losing 
their discernment of that self-created trouble, by enjoying the garden 
before them, and not being ashamed of what is kindly and innocent. 



ON THE REALITIES OF 
IMAGINATION 

THERE is not a more unthinking way of talking than to 
say such and such pains and pleasures are only imaginary, 
and therefore to be got rid of or under-valued accordingly. 
There is nothing imaginary in the common acceptation of the word. 
The logic of Moses in the Vicar of Wakefield is good argument 
here: — "Whatever is, is." Whatever touches us, whatever moves us, 
does touch and does move us. We recognise the reality of it, as we 
do that of a hand in the dark. We might as well say that a sight 
which makes us laugh, or a blow which brings tears into our eyes, 
is imaginary, as that anything else is imaginary which makes us 
laugh or weep. We can only judge of things by their effects. Our 
perception constantly deceives us, in things with which we suppose 
ourselves perfectly conversant; but our reception of their effect is a 
different matter. Whether we are materialists or immaterialists, 
whether things be about us or within us, whether we think the sun is 
a substance, or only the image of a divine thought, an idea, a thing 
imaginary, we are equally agreed as to the notion of its warmth. 
But on the other hand, as this warmth is felt differently by different 
temperaments, so what we call imaginary things affect different 
minds. What we have to do is not to deny their effect, because we do 
not feel in the same proportion, or whether we even feel it at all; 
but to see whether our neighbours may not be moved. If they are, 
there is, to all intents and purposes, a moving cause. But we do not 
see it? No; — neither perhaps do they. They only feel it; they are 
only sentient, — a word which implies the sight given to the imagina- 
tion by the feelings. But what do you mean, we may ask in return, 
by seeing? Some rays of light come in contact with the eye; they 
bring a sensation to it; in a word, they touch it; and the impression 
left by this touch we call sight. How far does this differ in effect 

289 



290 LEIGH HUNT 

from the impression left by any other touch, however mysterious? 
An ox knocked down by a butcher, and a man knocked down by a 
fit of apoplexy, equally feel themselves compelled to drop. The tick- 
ling of a straw and of a comedy equally move the muscles about the 
mouth. The look of a beloved eye will so thrill the frame, that old 
philosophers have had recourse to a doctrine of beams and radiant 
particles flying from one sight to another. In fine, what is contact 
itself, and why does it affect us? There is no one cause more mys- 
terious than another, if we look into it. 

Nor does the question concern us like moral causes. We may be 
content to know the earth by its fruits; but how to increase and 
improve them is a more attractive study. If, instead of saying that 
the causes which moved in us this or that pain or pleasure were 
imaginary, people were to say that the causes themselves were remov- 
able, they would be nearer the truth. When a stone trips us up, we 
do not fall to disputing its existence: we put it out of the way. In 
like manner, when we suffer from what is called an imaginary pain, 
our business is not to canvass the reality of it. Whether there is any 
cause or not in that or any other perception, or whether everything 
consist not in what is called effect, it is sufficient for us that the effect 
is real. Our sole business is to remove those second causes, which 
always accompany the original idea. As in deliriums, for instance, it 
would be idle to go about persuading the patient that he did not 
behold the figures he says he does. He might reasonably ask us, if 
he could, how we know anything about the matter; or how we can 
be sure that in the infinite wonders of the universe certain realities 
may not become apparent to certain eyes, whether diseased or not. 
Our business would be to put him into that state of health in which 
human beings are not diverted from their offices and comforts by a 
liability to such imaginations. The best reply to his question would 
be, that such a morbidity is clearly no more a fit state for a human 
being than a disarranged or incomplete state of works is for a watch; 
and that seeing the general tendency of nature to this completeness or 
state of comfort, we naturally conclude that the imaginations in 
question, whether substantial or not, are at least not of the same 
lasting or prevailing description. 

We do not profess metaphysics. We are indeed so little conversant 
with the masters of that art, that we are never sure whether we are 



REALITIES OF IMAGINATION 29 1 

using even its proper terms. All that we may know on the subject 
comes to us from some reflection and some experience; and this all 
may be so little as to make a metaphysician smile; which, if he be a 
true one, he will do good-naturedly. The pretender will take occa- 
sion, from our very confession, to say that we know nothing. Our 
faculty, such as it is, is rather instinctive than reasoning; rather 
physical than metaphysical; rather sentient because it loves much, 
than because it knows much; rather calculated by a certain retention 
of boyhood, and by its wanderings in the green places of thought, to 
light upon a piece of the old golden world, than to tire ourselves, 
and conclude it unattainable, by too wide and scientific a search. 
We pretend to see farther than none but the worldly and the malig- 
nant. And yet those who see farther may not see so well. We do not 
blind our eyes with looking upon the sun in the heavens. We believe 
it to be there, but we find its light upon earth also; and we would 
lead humanity, if we could, out of misery and coldness into the 
shine of it. Pain might still be there; must be so, as long as we are 
mortal; 

"For oft we still must weep, since we are human:" 

but it should be pain for the sake of others, which is noble; not 
unnecessary pain inflicted by or upon them, which it is absurd not to 
remove. The very pains of mankind struggle towards pleasures;, 
and such pains as are proper for them have this inevitable accompani- 
ment of true humanity, — that they cannot but reaUse a certain gentle- 
ness of enjoyment. Thus the true bearer of pain would come round 
to us; and he would not grudge us a share of his burden, though in 
taking from his trouble it might diminish his pride. Pride is but a 
bad pleasure at the expense of others. The great object of humanity 
is to enrich everybody. If it is a task destined not to succeed, it is a 
good one from its very nature; and fulfils at least a glad destiny of 
its own. To look upon it austerely is in reality the reverse of aus- 
terity. It is only such an impatience of the want of pleasure as leads 
us to grudge it in others; and this impatience itself, if the sufferer 
knew how to use it, is but another impulse, in the general yearning, 
towards an equal wealth of enjoyment. 

But we shall be getting into other discussions. — The ground-work 
of all happiness is health. Take care of this ground; and the doleful 



292 LEIGH HUNT 

imaginations that come to warn us against its abuse will avoid it. 
Take care o£ this ground, and let as many glad imaginations throng 
to it as possible. Read the magical works of the poets, and they will 
come. If you doubt their existence, ask yourself whether you feel 
pleasure at the idea of them; whether you are moved into delicious 
smiles, or tears as delicious. If you are, the result is the same to you, 
whether they exist or not. It is not mere words to say that he who 
goes through a rich man's park, and sees things in it which never 
bless the mental eyesight of the possessor, is richer than he. He is 
richer. More results of pleasure come home to him. The ground is 
actually more fertile to him: the place haunted with finer shapes. 
He has more servants to come at his call, and administer to him with 
full hands. Knowledge, sympathy, imagination, are all divining- 
rods, with which he discovers treasure. Let a painter go through the 
grounds, and he will see not only the general colours of green and 
brown, but their combinations and contrasts, and the modes in which 
they might again be combined and contrasted. He will also put 
figures in the landscape if there are none there, flocks and herds, or 
a solitary spectator, or Venus lying with her white body among the 
violets and primroses. Let a musician go through, and he will hear 
"differences discreet" in the notes of the birds and the lapsing of the 
water-fall. He will fancy a serenade of wind instruments in the open 
air at a lady's window, with a voice rising through it; or the horn of 
the hunter; or the musical cry of the hounds, 

"Matched in mouth like bells, 
Each under each;" 

or a solitary voice in a bower, singing for an expected lover; or the 
chapel organ, waking up like the fountain of the winds. Let a poet 
go through the grounds and he will heighten and increase all these 
sounds and images. He will bring the colours from heaven, and put 
an unearthly meaning into the voice. He will have stories of the 
sylvan inhabitants; will shift the population through infinite vari- 
eties; will put a sentiment upon every sight and sound; will be 
human, romantic, supernatural; will make all nature send tribute 
into that spot. 



REALITIES OF IMAGINATION 293 

We may say of the love o£ nature what Shakespeare says of another 
love, that it 

"Adds a precious seeing to the eye." 

And we may say also, upon the like principle, that it adds a precious 
hearing to the ear. This and imagination, which ever follows upon 
it, are the two purifiers of our sense, which rescue us from the 
deafening babble of common cares, and enable us to hear all the 
affectionate voices of earth and heaven. The starry orbs, lapsing 
about in their smooth and sparkling dance, sing to us. The brooks 
talk to us of solitude. The birds are the animal spirits of nature, 
carolling in the air, like a careless lass. 

"The gentle gales. 
Fanning their odoriferous wings, dispense 
Native perfumes; and whisper whence they stole 
Those balmy spoils." — Paradise Lost, book iv. 

The poets are called creators, because with their magical words they 
bring forth to our eyesight the abundant images and beauties of 
creation. They put them there, if the reader pleases; and so are 
literally creators. But whether put there or discovered, whether 
created or invented (for invention means nothing but finding out), 
there they are. If they touch us, they exist to as much purpose as 
anything else which touches us. If a passage in King Lear brings the 
tears into our eyes, it is real as the touch of a sorrowful hand. If the 
How of a song of Anacreon's intoxicates us, it is as true to a pulse 
within us as the wine he drank. We hear not their sounds with ears, 
nor see their sights with eyes; but we hear and see both so truly, 
that we are moved with pleasure; and the advantage, nay even the 
test, of seeing and hearing, at any time, is not in the seeing and 
hearing, but in the ideas we realise, and the pleasure we derive. 
Intellectual objects, therefore, inasmuch as they come home to us, 
are as true a part of the stock of nature as visible ones; and they are 
infinitely more abundant. Between the tree of a country clown and 
the tree of a Milton or Spenser, what a difference in point of pro- 
ductiveness! Between the plodding of a sexton through a church- 
yard and the walk of a Gray, what a difference! What a difference 



294 LEIGH HUNT 

between the Bermudas of a ship-builder and the Bermoothes of 
Shakespeare! the isle 

"Full of noises. 
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not;" 

the isle of elves and fairies, that chased the tide to and fro on the 
sea-shore; of coral-bones and the knell of sea-nymphs; of spirits 
dancing on the sands, and singing amidst the hushes of the wind; 
of Caliban, whose brute nature enchantment had made poetical; 
of Ariel, who lay in cowslip bells, and rode upon the bat; of Miranda, 
who wept when she saw Ferdinand work so hard, and begged him, 
to let her help; telling him, 

"I am your wife, if you will marry me; 
If not, I'll die your maid. To be your fellow 
You may deny'me; but I'll be your servant. 
Whether you will or no." 

Such are the discoveries which the poets make for us; worlds to 
which that of Columbus was but a handful of brute matter. America 
began to be richer for us the other day, when Humboldt came back 
and told us of its luxuriant and gigantic vegetation; of the myriads 
of shooting lights, which revel at evening in the southern sky; and 
of that grand constellation, at which Dante seems to have made so 
remarkable a guess (Purgatorio, cant, i., v. 22) . The natural warmth 
of the Mexican and Peruvian genius, set free from despodsm, will 
soon do all the rest for it; awaken the sleeping riches of its eyesight, 
and call forth the glad music of its aflecdons. 

Imagination enriches everything. A great library contains not 
only books, but 

"The assembled souls of all that men held wise." 

— Davenant. 

The moon is Homer's and Shakespeare's moon, as well as the one 
we look at. The sun comes out of his chamber in the east, with a 
sparkling eye, "rejoicing like a bridegroom." The commonest thing 
becomes like Aaron's rod, that budded. Pope called up the spirits of 
the Cabala to wait upon a lock of hair, and justly gave it the honours 
of a constellation; for he has hung it, sparkling for ever in the eyes 



REALITIES OF IMAGINATION 295 

of posterity. A common meadow is a sorry thing to a ditcher or a 
coxcomb; but by the help of its dues from imagination and the love 
of nature, the grass brightens for us, the air soothes us, we feel as we 
did in the daisied hours of childhood. Its verdures, its sheep, its 
hedge-row elms, — all these, and all else which sight, and sound, and 
associations can give it, are made to furnish a treasure of pleasant 
thoughts. Even brick and mortar are vivified, as of old, at the harp 
of Orpheus. A metropolis becomes no longer a mere collection of 
houses or of trades. It puts on all the grandeur of its history, and 
its literature; its towers, and rivers; its art, and jewellery, and foreign 
wealth; its multitude of human beings all intent upon excitement, 
wise or yet to learn; the huge and sullen dignity of its canopy of 
smoke by day; the wide gleam upwards of its lighted lustre at night- 
time; and the noise of its many chariots, heard at the same hour, 
when the wind sets gently towards some quiet suburb. 



ON THE TRAGEDIES OF 
SHAKSPERE 



BY 
CHARLES LAMB 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

Charles Lamb (1775-1834) was born in the Temple, London, where 
his father was a clerk to one of the benchers. He was a schoolmate of 
Coleridge's at Christ's Hospital, and shortly after leaving school he 
entered the India House, on the staff of which he worked for thirty- 
three years. He never married, but lived with his sister Mary as her 
guardian on account of her inherited tendency to insanity. His friends 
included (besides Coleridge) Wordsworth, Hunt, Hazlitt, Southey, and 
many others, and his letters as well as the works he published reveal one 
of the most attractive personalities in literature. 

Lamb wrote a handful of poems marked by delicate sentiment, and 
made some rather unsuccessful attempts at drama. But his name rests 
on his essays, — the familiar essays on a great variety of subjects, whim- 
sical, humorous, graceful, quaint; the critical essays, sensitive, illuminat- 
ing, in the best sense appreciative. He did much for the revival of 
interest in the Elizabethan drama; and the essay "On the Tragedies of 
Shakspere," is the most distinguished single piece of critical writing 
that came from his pen. The main thesis of the paper — "that the plays 
of Shakespeare are less calculated for performance on a stage than those 
of almost any dramatist whatever" — is, of course, paradoxical; but 
Lamb's method was not logical or philosophical as his friend Coleridge's 
aimed at being. His criticism is a frank expression of his personal feel- 
ings; it is in the proper sense "impressionistic" criticism; and it gets its 
value from the quality and flavor of the author's taste and personality. 
It is thus pure literature — the expression of the man himself — rather than 
scientific analysis; and in this branch of writing there is nothing in 
English more delightful. 



ON THE TRAGEDIES OF 
SHAKSPERE 

Considered with Reference to Their Fitness for 

Stage Representation 

TAKING a turn the other day in the Abbey, I was struck 
with the affected attitude of a figure, which I do not remem- 
ber to have seen before, and which upon examination proved 
to be a whole-length of the celebrated Mr. Garrick. Though I would 
not go so far with some good CathoHcs abroad as to shut players 
altogether out of consecrated ground, yet I own I was not a Utde 
scandalised at the introduction of theatrical airs and gestures into a 
place set apart to remind us of the saddest realities. Going nearer, 
I found inscribed under this harlequin figure the following 
lines: — 

To paint fair Nature, by divine command. 
Her magic pencil in his glowing hand, 
A Shakspere rose: then, to expand his fame 
Wide o'er this breathing world, a Garrick came. 
Though sunk in death the forms the Poet drew. 
The Actor's genius made them breathe anew; 
Though, like the bard himself, in night they lay, 
Immortal Garrick call'd them back to day: 
And till Eternity with power sublime 
Shall mark the mortal hour of hoary Time, 
Shakspere and Garrick like twin-stars shall shine. 
And earth irradiate with a beam divine. 

It would be an insult to my readers' understandings to attempt 
anything like a criticism on this farrago of false thoughts and non- 
sense. But the reflection it led me into was a kind of wonder, how, 
from the days of the actor here celebrated to our own, it should have 
been the fashion to compUment every performer in his turn, that has 
had the luck to please the town in any of the great characters of 

299 



300 CHARLES LAMB 

Shakspere, with a notion o£ possessing a mind congeniat to the 
poet's; how people should come thus unaccountably to confound the 
power of originating poetical images and conceptions with the faculty 
of being able to read or recite the same when put into words;' or 
what connection that absolute mastery over the heart and soul of 
man, which a great dramatic poet possesses, has with those low 
tricks upon the eye and ear, which a player by observing a few 
general effects, which some common passion, as grief, anger, etc., 
usually has upon the gestures and exterior, can easily compass. To 
know the internal workings and movements of a great mind, of an 
Othello or a Hamlet, for instance, the when and the why and the how 
jar they should be moved; to what pitch a passion is becoming; to 
give the reins and to pull in the curb exactly at the moment when 
the drawing in or the slacking is most graceful; seems to demand a 
reach of intellect of a vastly different extent from that which is 
employed upon the bare imitation of the signs of these passions in 
the countenance or gesture, which signs are usually observed to be 
most lively and emphatic in the weaker sort of minds, and which 
signs can after all but indicate some passion, as I said before, anger, 
or grief, generally; but of the motives and grounds of the passion, 
wherein it differs from the same passion in low and vulgar natures, 
of these the actor can give no more idea by his face or gesture than 
the eye (without a metaphor) can speak, or the muscles utter intel- 
ligible sounds. But such is the instantaneous nature of the impres- 
sions which we take in at the eye and ear at a playhouse, compared 
with the slow apprehension oftentimes of the understanding in read- 
ing, that we are apt not only to sink the play-writer in the considera- 
tion which we pay to the actor, but even to identify in our minds in 
a perverse manner, the actor with the character which he represents. 
It is difficult for a frequent play-goer to disembarrass the idea of 
Hamlet from the person and voice of Mr. K. We speak of Lady 
Macbeth, while we are in reality thinking of Mrs. S. Nor is this 
confusion incidental alone to unlettered persons, who, not possessing 

*It is observable that we fall into this confusion only in dramatic recitations. We 
never dream that the gentleman who reads Lucretius in public with great applause, is 
therefore a great poet and philosopher; nor do we find that Tom Davies, the book- 
seller, who is recorded to have recited the "Paradise Lost" better than any man in 
England in his day (though I cannot help thinking there must be some mistake in 
this tradition) was therefore, by his intimate friends, set upon a level with Milton. 



TRAGEDIES OF SHAKSPERE 3OI 

the advantage of reading, are necessarily dependent upon the stage- 
player for all the pleasure which they can receive from the drama, 
and to whom the very idea of what an author is cannot be made 
comprehensible without some pain and perplexity of mind : the error 
is one from which persons otherwise not meanly lettered find it 
almost impossible to extricate themselves. 

Never let me be so ungrateful as to forget the very high degree of 
satisfaction which I received some years back from seeing for the 
first time a tragedy of Shakspere performed, in which these two 
great performers sustained the principal parts. It seemed to embody 
and realise conceptions which had hitherto assumed no distinct 
shape. But dearly do we pay all our life afterwards for this juvenile 
pleasure, this sense of distinctness. When the novelty is past, we 
find to our cost that, instead of realising an idea, we have only mate- 
rialised and brought down a fine vision to the standard of flesh 
and blood. We have let go a dream, in quest of an unattainable sub- 
stance. 

How cruelly this operates upon the mind, to have its free concep- 
tions thus cramped and pressed down to the measure of a strait- 
lacing actuality, may be judged from that delightful sensation of 
freshness, with which we turn to those plays of Shakspere which 
have escaped being performed, and to those passages in the acting 
plays of the same writer which have happily been left out of the 
performance. How far the very custom of hearing anything spouted, 
withers and blows upon a fine passage, may be seen in those speeches 
from Henry the Fifth, etc., which are current in the mouths of 
school-boys from their being to be found in Enfield Speakers, and 
such kind of books. I confess myself utterly unable to appreciate 
that celebrated soliloquy in Hamlet, beginning "To be, or not to be," 
or to tell whether it be good, bad, or indifferent, it has been so 
handled and pawed about by declamatory boys and men, and torn 
so inhumanly from its living place and principle of continuity in the 
play, till it is become to me a perfect dead member. 

It may seem a paradox, but I cannot help being of opinion that 
the plays of Shakspere are less calculated for performance on a stage 
than those of almost any other dramatist whatever. Their dis- 
tinguished excellence is a reason that they should be so. There is so 



302 CHARLES LAMB 

much in them, which comes not under the province p£ acting, with 
which eye, and tone, and gesture, have nothing to do. 

The glory of the scenic art is to personate passion, and the turns 
of passion; and the more coarse and palpable the passion is, the more 
hold upon the eyes and ears of the spectators the performer obviously 
possesses. For this reason, scolding scenes, scenes where two persons 
talk themselves into a fit of fury, and then in a surprising manner 
talk themselves out of it again, have always been the most popular 
upon our stage. And the reason is plain, because the spectators are 
here most palpably appealed to, they are the proper judges in this 
war of words, they are the legitimate ring that should be formed 
round such "intellectual prize-fighters." Talking is the direct object 
of the imitation here. But in the best dramas, and in Shakspere 
above all, how obvious it is, that the form of spea\ing, whether it be 
in soliloquy or dialogue, is only a medium, and often a highly 
artificial one, for putting the reader or spectator into possession of 
that knowledge of the inner structure and workings of mind in a 
character, which he could otherwise never have arrived at in that 
form of composition by any gift short of intuition. We do here as 
we do with novels written in the epistolary form. How many impro- 
prieties, perfect solecisms in letter-writing, do we put up with in 
"Clarissa" and other books, for the sake of the delight which that 
form upon the whole gives us. 

But the practice of stage representation reduces everything to a 
controversy of elocution. Every character, from the boisterous blas- 
phemings of Bajazet to the shrinking timidity of womanhood, must 
play the orator. The love-dialogues of Romeo and fuliet, those 
silver-sweet sounds of lovers' tongues by night; the more intimate 
and sacred sweetness of nuptial colloquy between an Othello or a 
Posthumus with their married wives, all those delicacies which are so 
delightful in the reading, as when we read of those youthful 
dalliances in Paradise — 

As beseem'd 
Fair couple link'd in happy nuptial league, 
Alone: 

by the inherent fault of stage representation, how are these things 
sullied and turned from their very nature by being exposed to a 



TRAGEDIES OF SHAKSPERE 303 

large assembly; when such speeches as Imogen addresses to her lord, 
come drawling out of the mouth of a hired actress, whose courtship, 
though nominally addressed to the personated Posthumus, is mani- 
festly aimed at the spectators, who are to judge of her endearments 
and her returns of love. 

The character of Hamlet is perhaps that by which, since the days 
of Betterton, a succession of popular performers have had the greatest 
ambition to distinguish themselves. The length of the part may be 
one of their reasons. But for the character itself, we find it in a play, 
and therefore we judge it a fit subject of dramatic representation. 
The play itself abounds in maxims and reflections beyond any other, 
and therefore we consider it as a proper vehicle for conveying moral 
instruction. But Hamlet himself — what does he suffer meanwhile 
by being dragged forth as a public schoolmaster, to give lectures to 
the crowd! Why, nine parts in ten of what Hamlet does, are trans- 
actions between himself and his moral sense, they are the effusions 
of his solitary musings, which he retires to holes and corners and the 
most sequestered parts of the palace to pour forth; or rather, they are 
the silent meditations with which his bosom is bursting, reduced to 
words for the sake of the reader, who must else remain ignorant of 
what is passing there. These profound sorrows, these light-and-noise- 
abhorring ruminations, which the tongue scarce dares utter to deaf 
walls and chambers, how can they be represented by a gesticulating 
actor, who comes and mouths them out before an audience, making 
four hundred people his confidants at once? I say not that it is the 
fault of the actor so to do; he must pronounce them ore rotundo, he 
must accompany them with his eye, he must insinuate them into his 
auditory by some trick of eye, tone, or gesture, or he fails. Me must 
be thinking all the while of his appearance, because he \nows that all 
the while the spectators are judging of it. And this is the way to 
represent the shy, negligent, retiring Hamlet. 

It is true that there is no other mode of conveying a vast quantity 
of thought and feeling to a great portion of the audience, who other- 
wise would never learn it for themselves by reading, and the intel- 
lectual acquisition gained this way may, for aught I know, be 
inestimable; but I am not arguing that Hamlet should not be acted, 
but how much Hamlet is made another thing by being acted. I have 



304 CHARLES LAMB 

heard much of the wonders which Garrick performed in this part; 
but as I never saw him, I must have leave to doubt whether the 
representation of such a character came within the province of his art. 
Those who tell me of him, speak of his eye, of the magic of his eye, 
and of his commanding voice : physical properties, vastly desirable in 
an actor, and without which he can never insinuate meaning into an 
auditory, — but what have they to do with Hamlet? what have they 
to do with intellect ? In fact, the things aimed at in theatrical repre- 
sentation, are to arrest the spectator's eye upon the form and the 
gesture, and so to gain a more favourable hearing to what is spoken : 
it is not what the character is, but how he looks; not what he says, 
but how he speaks it. I see no reason to think that if the play of 
Hamlet were written over again by some such writer as Banks or 
Lillo, retaining the process of the story, but totally omitting all the 
poetry of it, all the divine features of Shakspere, his stupendous 
intellect; and only taking care to give us enough of passionate 
dialogue, which Banks or Lillo were never at a loss to furnish; I see 
not how the effect could be much different upon an audience, nor 
how the actor has it in his power to represent Shakspere to us 
differently from his representation of Banks or Lillo. Hamlet would 
still be a youthful accomplished prince, and must be gracefully per- 
sonated; he might be puzzled in his mind, wavering in his conduct, 
seemingly cruel to Ophelia, he might see a ghost, and start at it, 
and address it kindly when he found it to be his father; all this in 
the poorest and most homely language of the servilest creeper after 
nature that ever consulted the palate of an audience; without trou- 
bling Shakspere for the matter; and I see not but there would be room 
for all the power which an actor has, to display itself. All the passions 
and changes of passion might remain; for those are much less 
difficult to write or act than is thought; it is a trick easy to be attained, 
it is but rising or falling a note or two in the voice, a whisper with a 
significant foreboding look to announce its approach, and so con- 
tagious the counterfeit appearance of any emotion is, that let the 
words be what they will, the look and tone shall carry it off and make 
it pass for deep skill in the passions. 

It is common for people to talk of Shakspere's plays being so 
natural, that everybody can understand him. They are natural 



TRAGEDIES OF SHAKSPERE 305 

indeed, they are grounded deep in nature, so deep that the depth of 
them Hes out of the reach of most of us. You shall hear the same 
persons say that George Barnwell is very natural, and Othello is very 
natural, that they are both very deep; and to them they are the same 
kind of thing. At the one they sit and shed tears, because a good sort 
of young man is tempted by a naughty woman to commit a trifling 
peccadillo, the murder of an uncle or so,^ that is all, and so comes to 
an untimely end, w^hich is so moving; and at the other, because a 
blackamoor in a fit of jealousy kills his innocent white wife: and 
the odds are that ninety-nine out of a hundred would willingly 
behold the same catastrophe happen to both the heroes, and have 
thought the rope more due to Othello than to Barnwell. For of the 
texture of Othello's mind, the inward construction marvellously laid 
open with all its strengths and weaknesses, its heroic confidences and 
its human misgivings, its agonies of hate springing from the depths 
of love, they see no more than the spectators at a cheaper rate, who 
pay their pennies apiece to look through the man's telescope in 
Leicester Fields, see into the inward plot and topography of the 
moon. Some dim thing or other they see, they see an actor person- 
ating a passion, of grief, or anger, for instance, and they recognise it 
as a copy of the usual external effects of such passions; or at least 
as being true to that symbol of the emotion which passes current at 
the theatre for it, for it is often no more than that: but of the grounds 
of the passion, its correspondence to a great or heroic nature, which 
is the only worthy object of tragedy, — that common auditors know 
anything of this, or can have any such notions dinned into them 
by the mere strength of an actor's lungs, — that apprehensions foreign 
to them should be thus infused into them by storm, I can neither 
believe, nor understand how it can be possible. 

^ If this note could hope to meet the eye of any of the Managers, I wou^d entreat 
and beg of them, in the name of both the galleries, that this insult upon the morality 
of the common people of London should cease to be eternally repeated in the holiday 
weeks. Why are the 'Prentices of this famous and well-governed city, instead of an 
amusement, to be treated over and over again with a nauseous sermon of George 
Barnwell? Why at the end of their vistas are we to place the gallows? Were I an 
uncle, I should not much like a nephew of mine to have such an example placed be- 
fore his eyes. It is really making uncle-murder too trivial to exhibit it as done upon 
such slight motives; — it is attributing too much to such characters as Millwood; it is 
putting things into the heads of good young men, which they would never otherwise 
have dreamed of. Uncles that think anything of their lives, should fairly petition the 
Chamberlain against it. 



306 CHARLES LAMB 

We talk of Shakspere's admirable observation of life, when we 
should feel that not from a petty inquisition into those cheap and 
every-day characters which surrounded him, as they surround us, 
but from his own mind, which was, to borrow a phrase of Ben 
Jonson's, the very "sphere of humanity," he fetched those images of 
virtue and of knowledge, of which every one of us recognising a part, 
think we comprehend in our natures the whole; and oftentimes 
mistake the powers which he positively creates in us for nothing 
more than indigenous faculties of our own minds, which only waited 
the application of corresponding virtues in him to return a full and 
clear echo of the same. 

To return to Hamlet. — Among the distinguishing features of that 
wonderful character, one of the most interesting (yet painful) is that 
soreness of mind which makes him treat the intrusions of Polonius 
with harshness, and that asperity which he puts on in his interviews 
with Ophelia. These tokens of an unhinged mind (if they be not 
mixed in the latter case with a profound artifice of love, to alienate 
Ophelia by affected discourtesies, so to prepare her mind for the 
breaking off of that loving intercourse, which can no longer find a 
place amidst business so serious as that which he has to do) are parts 
of his character, which to reconcile with our admiration of Hamlet, 
the most patient consideration of his situation is no more than 
necessary; they are what we forgive afterwards, and explain by the 
whole of his character, but at the time they are harsh and unpleasant. 
Yet such is the actor's necessity of giving strong blows to the audi- 
ence, that I have never seen a player in this character, who did not 
exaggerate and strain to the utmost these ambiguous features, — these 
temporary deformities in the character. They make him express a 
vulgar scorn at Polonius which utterly degrades his gentility, and 
which no explanation can render palatable; they make him show 
contempt, and curl up the nose at Ophelia's father, — contempt in its 
very grossest and most hateful form; but they get applause by it: 
it is natural, people say; that is, the words are scornful, and the actor 
expresses scorn, and that they can judge of: but why so much scorn, 
and of that sort, they never think of asking. 

So to Ophelia. — All the Hamlets that I have ever seen, rant and 
rave at her as if she had committed some great crime, and the audi- 



TRAGEDIES OF SHAKSPERE 307 

ence are highly pleased, because the words of the part are satirical, 
and they are enforced by the strongest expression of satirical indig- 
nation of which the face and voice are capable. But then, whether 
Hamlet is likely to have put on such brutal appearances to a lady 
whom he loved so dearly, is never thought on. The truth is, that 
in all such deep affections as had subsisted between Hamlet and 
Ophelia, there is a stock of supererogatory love (if I may venture to 
use the expression), which in any great grief of heart, especially 
where that which preys upon the mind cannot be communicated, 
confers a kind of indulgence upon the grieved party to express itself, 
even to its heart's dearest object, in the language of a temporary 
alienation; but it is not alienation, it is a distraction purely, and so it 
always makes itself to be felt by that object: it is not anger, but grief 
assuming the appearance of anger, — love awkwardly counterfeiting 
hate, as sweet countenances when they try to frown : but such stern- 
ness and fierce disgust as Hamlet is made to show, is no counterfeit, 
but the real face of absolute aversion, — of irreconcilable alienation. 
It may be said he puts on the madman; but then he should only so 
far put on this counterfeit lunacy as his own real distraction will 
give him leave; that is, incompletely, imperfectly; not in that con- 
firmed, practised way, like a master of his art, or as Dame Quickly 
would say, "like one of those harlotry players." 

I mean no disrespect to any actor, but the sort of pleasure which 
Shakspere's plays give in the acting seems to me not at all to differ 
from that which the audience receive from those of other writers; 
and, they being in themselves essentially so different from all others, 
I must conclude that there is something in the nature of acting which 
levels all distinctions. And in fact, who does not speak indifferently 
of the Gamester and of Macbeth as fine stage performances, and 
praise the Mrs. Beverley in the same way as the Lady Macbeth of 
Mrs. S.? Belvidera, and Calista, and Isabella, and Euphrasia, are 
they less liked than Imogen, or than Juliet, or than Desdemona.? Are 
they not spoken of and remembered in the same way.? Is not the 
female performer as great (as they call it) in one as in the other? 
Did not Garrick shine, and was he not ambitious of shining in every 
drawling tragedy that his wretched day produced, — the productions 
of the Hills and the Murphys and the Browns, — and shall he have 



308 CHARLES LAMB 

that honour to dwell in our minds for ever as an inseparable con- 
comitant with Shakspere? A kindred mind! O who can read that 
affecting sonnet of Shakspere which alludes to his profession as a 
player : — 

Oh for my sake do you with Fortune chide, 

The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds, 

That did not better for my life provide 

Than public means which public manners breeds — 

Thence comes it that my name receives a brand; 

And almost thence my nature is subdued 

To what it works in, like the dyer's hand 

Or that other confession; — 

Alas! 'tis true, I have gone here and there, 

And made myself a modey to the view. 

Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear — 

Who can read these instances of jealous self -watchfulness in our 
sweet Shakspere, and dream of any congeniality between him and 
one that, by every tradition of him, appears to have been as mere a 
player as ever existed; to have had his mind tainted with the lowest 
player's vices, — envy and jealousy, and miserable cravings after 
applause; one who in the exercise of his profession was jealous even 
of the women-performers that stood in his way; a manager full of 
managerial tricks and stratagems and finesse: that any resemblance 
should be dreamed of between him and Shakspere, — Shakspere who, 
in the plenitude and consciousness of his own powers, could with 
that noble modesty, which we can neither imitate nor appreciate, 
express himself thus of his own sense of his own defects: — 

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope. 
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd: 
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope. 

I am almost disposed to deny to Garrick the merits of being an 
admirer of Shakspere. A true lover of his excellences he certainly was 
not; for would any true lover of them have admitted into his match- 
less scenes such ribald trash as Tate and Gibber, and the rest of 
them, that 

With their darkness durst affront his light, 



TRAGEDIES OF SHAKSPERE 3O9 

have foisted into the acting plays of Shakspere? I beUeve it impos- 
sible that he could have had a proper reverence for Shakspere, and 
have condescended to go through that interpolated scene in Richard 
the Third, in which Richard tries to break his wife's heart by telling 
her he loves another woman, and says, "if she survives this she is 
immortal." Yet I doubt not he delivered this vulgar stuff with as 
much anxiety of emphasis as any of the genuine parts: and for acting, 
it is as well calculated as any. But we have seen the part of Richard 
lately produce great fame to an actor by his manner of playing it, 
and it lets us into the secret of acting, and of popular judgments of 
Shakspere derived from acting. Not one of the spectators who have 
witnessed Mr. C.'s exertions in that part, but has come away with a 
proper conviction that Richard is a very wicked man, and kills little 
children in their beds, with something like the pleasure which the 
giants and ogres in children's books are represented to have taken 
in that practice; moreover, that he is very close and shrewd, and 
devilish cunning, for you could see that by his eye. 

But is in fact this the impression we have in reading the Richard of 
Shakspere? Do we feel anything like disgust, as we do at that 
butcher-like representation of him that passes for him on the stage? 
A horror at his crimes blends with the effect which we feel, but how 
is it qualified, how is it carried off, by the rich intellect which he 
displays, his resources, his wit, his buoyant spirits, his vast knowledge 
and insight into characters, the poetry of his part — ^not an atom of 
all which is made perceivable in Mr. C.'s way of acting it. Noth- 
ing but his crimes, his actions, is visible; they are prominent and 
staring; the murderer stands out, but where is the lofty genius, 
the man of vast capacity, — the profound, the witty, accomplished 
Richard? 

The truth is, the characters of Shakspere are so much the objects 
of meditation rather than of interest or curiosity as to their actions, 
that while we are reading any of his great criminal characters, — 
Macbeth, Richard, even lago, — we think not so much of the crimes 
which they commit, as of the ambition, the aspiring spirit, the 
intellectual activity which prompts them to overleap those moral 
fences. Barnwell is a wretched murderer; there is a certain fitness 
between his neck and the rope; he is the legitimate heir to the 



310 CHARLES LAMB 

gallows; nobody who thinks at all can think of any alleviating 
circumstances in his case to make him a fit object of mercy. Or to 
take an instance from the higher tragedy, what else but a mere 
assassin is Glenalvon! Do we think of anything but of the crime 
which he commits, and the rack which he deserves? That is all 
which we really think about him. Whereas in corresponding char- 
acters in Shakspere so little do the actions comparatively affect us, 
that while the impulses, the inner mind in all its perverted greatness, 
solely seems real and is exclusively attended to, the crime is com- 
paratively nothing. But when we see these things represented, the 
acts which they do are comparatively everything, their impulses 
nothing. The state of sublime emotion into which we are elevated 
by those images of night and horror which Macbeth is made to utter, 
that solemn prelude with which he entertains the time till the bell 
shall strike which is to call him to murder Duncan, — when we no 
longer read it in a book, when we have given up that vantage-ground 
of abstraction which reading possesses over seeing, and come to see 
a man in his bodily shape before our eyes actually preparing to 
commit a murder, if the acting be true and impressive, as I have 
witnessed it in Mr. K.'s performance of that part, the painful anxiety 
about the act, the natural longing to prevent it while it yet seems 
unperpetrated, the too close pressing semblance of reality, give a 
pain and an uneasiness which totally destroy all the delight which 
the words in the book convey, where the deed doing never presses 
upon us with the painful sense of presence : it rather seems to belong 
to history, — to something past and inevitable, if it has anything to 
do with time at all. The sublime images, the poetry alone, is that 
which is present to our minds in the reading. 

So to see Lear acted, — to see an old man tottering about the stage 
with a walking-stick, turned out of doors by his daughters in a 
rainy night, has nothing in it but what is painful and disgusting. 
We want to take him into shelter and relieve him. That is all the 
feeling which the acting of Lear ever produced in me. But the Lear 
of Shakspere cannot be acted. The contemptible machinery by which 
they mimic the storm which he goes out in, is not more inadequate 
to represent the horrors of the real elements, than any actor can be 
to represent Lear: they might more easily propose to personate the 



TRAGEDIES OF SHAKSPERE 3II 

Satan of Milton upon a stage, or one of Michael Angelo's terrible 
figures. The greatness of Lear is not in corporal dimension, but in 
intellectual: the explosions of his passion are terrible as a volcano: 
they are storms turning up and disclosing to the bottom that sea his 
mind, with all its vast riches. It is his mind which is laid bare. This 
case of flesh and blood seems too insignificant to be thought on; 
even as he himself neglects it. On the stage we see nothing but 
corporal infirmities and weakness, the impotence of rage; while we 
read it, we see not Lear, but we are Lear, — we are in his mind, we 
are sustained by a grandeur which baffles the malice of daughters 
and storms; in the aberrations of his reason, we discover a mighty 
irregular power of reasoning, immethodised from the ordinary pur- 
poses of life, but exerting its powers, as the wind blows where it 
listeth, at will upon the corruptions and abuses of mankind. What 
have looks, or tones, to do with that sublime identification of his age 
with that of the heavens themselves, when in his reproaches to them 
for conniving at the injustice of his children, he reminds them that 
"they themselves are old?" What gestures shall we appropriate to 
this? What has the voice or the eye to do with such things? But 
the play is beyond all art, as the tamperings with it show: it is too 
hard and stony; it must have love-scenes, and a happy ending. It is 
not enough that Cordelia is a daughter, she must shine as a lover 
too. Tate has put his hook in the nostrils of this Leviathan, for 
Garrick and his followers, the showmen of scene, to draw the mighty 
beast about more easily. A happy ending! — as if the living martyr- 
dom that Lear had gone through, — the flaying of his feelings alive, 
did not make a fair dismissal from the stage of life the only decorous 
thing for him. If he is to live and be happy after, if he could sustain 
this world's burden after, why all this pudder and preparation, — 
why torment us with all this unnecessary sympathy ? As if the child- 
ish pleasure of getting his gilt-robes and sceptre again could tempt 
him to act over again his misused station, — as if at his years, and 
with his experience, anything was left but to die. 

hear is essentially impossible to be represented on a stage. But 
how many dramatic personages are there in Shakspere, which though 
more tractable and feasible (if I may so speak) than Lear, yet from 
some circumstance, some adjunct to their character, are improper to 



312 CHARLES LAMB 

be shown to our bodily eye. Othello, for instance. Nothing can be 
more soothing, more flattering to the nobler parts of our natures, than 
to read of a young Venetian lady of highest extraction, through the 
force of love and from a sense of merit in him whom she loved, 
laying aside every consideration of kindred, and country, and colour, 
and wedding with a coal-blac\ Moor — (for such he is represented, in 
the imperfect state of knowledge respecting foreign countries in those 
days, compared with our own, or in compliance with popular notions, 
though the Moors are now well enough known to be by many shades 
less unworthy of white woman's fancy) — it is the perfect triumph 
of virtue over accidents, of the imagination over the senses. She sees 
Othello's colour in his mind. But upon the stage, when the imagina- 
tion is no longer the ruling faculty, but we are left to our poor 
unassisted senses, I appeal to every one that has seen Othello played, 
whether he did not, on the contrary, sink Othello's mind in his 
colour; whether he did not find something extremely revolting in 
the courtship and wedded caresses of Othello and Desdemona; and 
whether the actual sight of the thing did not overweigh all that 
beautiful compromise which we make in reading; — and the reason 
it should do so is obvioiis, because there is just so much reality pre- 
sented to our senses as to give a perception of disagreement, with not 
enough of belief in the internal motives, — all that which is unseen, — 
to overpower and reconcile the first and obvious prejudices.' What 
we see upon a stage is body and bodily action; what we are conscious 
of in reading is almost exclusively the mind, and its movements: 
and this, I think, may sufficiently account for the very different sort 
of delight with which the same play so often affects us in the reading 
and the seeing. 

It requires little reflection to perceive, that if those characters in 
Shakspere which are within the precincts of nature, have yet some- 
thing in them which appeals too exclusively to the imagination, to 

^ The error of supposing that because Othello's colour does not offend us in the 
reading, it should also not offend us in the seeing, is just such a fallacy as supposing 
that an Adam and Eve in a picture shall affect us just as they do in the poem. But 
in the poem we for a while have Paradisaical senses given us, which vanish when we 
see a man and his wife without clothes in the picture. The painters themselves feel 
this, as is apparent by the awkward shifts they have recourse to, to make them look 
not quite naked; by a sort of prophetic anachronism antedating the invention of fig- 
leaves. So in the reading of the play, we see with Desdemona's eyes; in the seeing of 
it, we are forced to look with our own. 



TRAGEDIES OF SHAKSPERE 313 

admit of their being made objects to the senses without suffering 
a change and a diminution, — that still stronger the objection must lie 
against representing another line of characters, which Shakspere has 
introduced to give a wildness and a supernatural elevation to his 
scenes, as if to remove them still further from that assimilation to 
common life in which their excellence is vulgarly supposed to consist. 
When we read the incantations of those terrible beings the Witches 
in Macbeth, though some of the ingredients of their hellish composi- 
tion savour of the grotesque, yet is the effect upon us other than the 
most serious and appalling that can be imagined? Do we not feel 
spell-bound as Macbeth was? Can any mirth accompany a sense of 
their presence? We might as well laugh under a consciousness of 
the principle of Evil himself being truly and really present with us. 
But attempt to bring these beings on to a stage, and you turn them 
instantly into so many old women, that men and children are to 
laugh at. Contrary to the old saying, that "seeing is believing," the 
sight actually destroys the faith : and the mirth in which we indulge 
at their expense, when we see these creatures upon a stage, seems to 
be a sort of indemnification which we make to ourselves for the terror 
which they put us in when reading made them an object of belief, — 
when we surrendered up our reason to the poet, as children to their 
nurses and their elders; and we laugh at our fears, as children who 
thought they saw something in the dark, triumph when the bringing 
in of the candle discovers the vanity of their fears. For this exposure 
of supernatural agents upon a stage is truly bringing in a candle to 
expose their own delusiveness. It is the solitary taper and the book 
that generates a faith in these terrors: a ghost by chandelier light, 
and in good company, deceives no spectators, — a ghost that can be 
measured by the eye, and his human dimensions made out at leisure. 
The sight of a well-lighted house and a well-dressed audience, shall 
arm the most nervous child against any apprehensions: as Tom 
Brown says of the impenetrable skin of Achilles with his impene- 
trable armour over it, "Bully Dawson would have fought the devil 
with such advantages." 

Much has been said, and deservedly, in reprobation of the vile 
mixture which Dryden has thrown into the Tempest: doubtless with- 
out some such vicious alloy, the impure ears of that age would 



314 CHARLES LAMB 

never have sate out to hear so much innocence of love as is contained 
in the sweet courtship of Ferdinand and Miranda. But is the 
Tempest of Shakspere at all a subject for stage representation? It is 
one thing to read of an enchanter, and to believe the wondrous tale 
while we are reading it; but to have a conjuror brought before us 
in his conjuring-gown, with his spirits about him, which none but 
himself and some hundred of favoured spectators before the curtain 
are supposed to see, involves such a quantity of the hateful incredible, 
that all our reverence for the author cannot hinder us from perceiving 
such gross attempts upon the senses to be in the highest degree child- 
ish and inefficient. Spirits and fairies cannot be represented, they 
cannot even be painted, — they can only be believed. But the elab- 
orate and anxious provision of scenery, which the luxury of the age 
demands, in these cases works a quite contrary effect to what is 
intended. That which in comedy, or plays of familiar life, adds so 
much to the life of the imitation, in plays which appeal to the higher 
faculties, positively destroys the illusion which it is introduced to aid. 
A parlour or a drawing-room, — a library opening into a garden, — a 
garden with an alcove in it, — a street, or the piazza of Covent Garden 
does well enough in a scene; we are content to give as much credit to 
it as it demands; or rather, we think little about it, — ^it is little more 
than reading at the top of a page, "Scene, a Garden;" we do not 
imagine ourselves there, but we readily admit the imitation of 
familiar objects. But to think by the help of painted trees and 
caverns, which we know to be painted, to transport our minds to 
Prospero, and his island and his lonely cell;* or by the aid of a 
fiddle dexterously thrown in, in an interval of speaking, to make us 
believe that we hear those supernatural noises of which the isle was 
full: — the Orrery Lecturer at the Haymarket might as well hope, 
by his musical glasses cleverly stationed out of sight behind his 
apparatus, to make us believe that we do indeed hear the crystal 
spheres ring out that chime, which if it were to inwrap our fancy 
long, Milton thinks, 

^It will be said these things are done in pictures. But pictures and scenes are very 
different things. Painting is a word of itself, but in scene-painting there is the attempt 
to deceive; and there is the discordancy, never to be got over, between painted scenes 
and real people. 



TRAGEDIES OF SHAKSPERE 315 

Time would run back and fetch the age of gold, 

And speckled vanity 

Would sicken soon and die, 

And leprous Sin would melt from earthly mould; 

Yea Hell itself would pass away, 

And leave its dolorous mansions to the peering day. 

The Garden of Eden, with our first parents in it, is not more 
impossible to be shown on a stage than the Enchanted Isle, with its 
no less interesting and innocent first settlers. 

The subject of Scenery is closely connected with that of the Dresses, 
which are so anxiously attended to on our stage. I remember the last 
time I saw Macbeth played, the discrepancy I felt at the changes of 
garment which he varied, — the shiftings and re-shiftings, like a 
Romish priest at mass. The luxury of stage improvements, and the 
importunity of the public eye, require this. The coronation robe of 
the Scottish monarch was fairly a counterpart to that which our King 
wears when he goes to the Parliament-house, — just so full and cum- 
bersome, and set out with ermine and pearls. And if things must be 
represented, I see not what to find fault with in this. But in reading, 
what robe are we conscious of? Some dim images of royalty — a 
crown and sceptre — may float before our eyes, but who shall describe 
the fashion of it? Do we see in our mind's eye what Webb or any 
other robe-maker could pattern ? This is the inevitable consequence 
of imitating everything, to make all things natural. Whereas the 
reading of a tragedy is a fine abstraction. It presents to the fancy just 
so much of external appearances as to make us feel that we are among 
flesh and blood, while by far the greater and better part of our 
imagination is employed upon the thoughts and internal machinery 
of the character. But in acting, scenery, dress, the most contemptible 
things, call upon us to judge of their naturalness. 

Perhaps it would be no bad similitude, to liken the pleasure which 
we take in seeing one of these fine plays acted, compared with that 
quiet delight which we find in the reading of it, to the different 
feelings with which a reviewer, and a man that is not a reviewer, 
reads a fine poem. The accursed critical habit, — the being called 
upon to judge and pronounce, must make it quite a different thing 



3l6 CHARLES LAMB 

to the former. In seeing these plays acted, we are affected just as 
judges. When Hamlet compares the two pictures of Gertrude's first 
and second husband, who wants to see the pictures? But in the 
acting, a miniature must be lugged out; which we know not to be 
the picture, but only to show how finely a miniature may be 
represented. This shewing of everything, levels all things : it makes 
tricks, bows, and curtseys, of importance. Mrs. S. never got more 
fame by anything than by the manner in which she dismisses the 
guests in the banquet-scene in Macbeth: it is as much remembered 
as any of her thrilling tones or impressive looks. But does such a 
trifle as this enter into the imaginations of the reader of that wild 
and wonderful scene? Does not the mind dismiss the feasters as 
rapidly as it can? Does it care about the gracefulness of the doing it? 
But by acting, and judging of acting, all these non-essentials are 
raised into an importance, injurious to the main interest of the play. 
I have confined my observations to the tragic parts of Shakspere. 
It would be no very difficult task to extend the inquiry to his com- 
edies; and to show why Falstaff, Shallow, Sir Hugh Evans, and the 
rest are equally incompatible with stage representation. The length 
to which this Essay has run, will make it, I am afraid, sufficiently 
distasteful to the Amateurs of the Theatre, without going any deeper 
into the subject at present. 



LEVANA AND OUR LADIES OF 
SORROW 

BY 

THOMAS DE QUINCEY 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) was born at Manchester, England, 
the son of a merchant of literary tastes. He was a precocious student, but, 
revolting from the tyranny of his schoolmaster, he ran away, and wan- 
dered in Wales and in London, at times almost destitute. On his 
reconciliation with his family he was sent to Oxford, and during this 
period began taking opium. The rest of his life was spent mainly in the 
Lake Country, near Wordsworth and Coleridge, later in London, and 
finally in Edinburgh and the neighborhood. He succeeded in checking 
but not abandoning his addiction to the drug, the craving for which was 
caused by a chronic disease which nothing else would alleviate. 

Most of De Quincey's writings were published in periodicals, and 
cover a great range of subjects. He was a man of immense reading, with 
an intellect of extraordinary subtlety, but with a curious lack of practical 
ability. Though generous to recklessness in money matters, and an 
affectionate friend and father, his predominating intellectuality led him 
even in his writings to analyze the characters of his friends with a 
detachment that sometimes led to estrangement. 

His most famous work,. "The Confessions of an English Opium 
Eater" (1821) was based on his own experiences, and it has long held its 
place as a classic. Here, and still more in his literary and philosophical 
writings, he shows a remarkable clearness and precision of style, his love 
of exact thinking at times leading him to hair-splitting in his more 
abstruse discussions. In what he called the "department of impassioned 
prose," of which the following piece is one of the most magnificent 
examples, he has a field in which he is unsurpassed. To the power of 
thought and expression found throughout his work is here added a 
gorgeousness of imagination that lifts his finest passages into the region 
of the sublime. 



LEV ANA AND OUR LADIES OF 
SORROW 

OFTENTIMES at Oxford I saw Levana in my dreams. 1 
knew her by her Roman symbols. Who is Levana ? Reader, 
that do not pretend to have much leisure for very much 
scholarship, you will not be angry with me for telling you. Levana 
was the Roman goddess that performed for the new-born infant the 
earliest office of ennobling kindness, — typical, by its mode, of that 
grandeur which belongs to man everywhere, and of that benignity 
in powers invisible which even in pagan worlds sometimes descends 
to sustain it. At the very moment of birth, just as the infant tasted 
for the first time the atmosphere of our troubled planet, it was laid on 
the ground. But immediately, lest so grand a creature should grovel 
there for more than one instant, either the paternal hand, as proxy 
for the goddess Levana, or some near kinsman, as proxy for the 
father, raised it upright, bade it look erect as the king of all this 
world, and presented its forehead to the stars, saying, perhaps, in his 
heart, "Behold what is greater than yourselves!" This symbolic act 
represented the function of Levana. And that mysterious lady, who 
never revealed her face (except to me in dreams), but always acted 
by delegation, had her name from the Latin verb (as still it is the 
Italian verb) levare, to raise aloft. 

This is the explanation of Levana, and hence it has arisen that 
some people have understood by Levana the tutelary power that 
controls the education of the nursery. She, that would not suffer at 
his birth even a' prefigurative or mimic degradation for her awful 
ward, far less could be supposed to suffer the real degradation 
attaching to the non-development of his powers. She therefore 
watches over human education. Now the word educo, with the 
penultimate short, was derived (by a process often exemplified in the 
crystallisation of languages) from the word educo, with the penulti- 

319 



320 DE QUINCE Y 

mate long. Whatever educes, or develops, educates. By the education 
of Levana, therefore, is meant, — not the poor machinery that moves 
by spelling-books and grammars, but by that mighty system of cen- 
tral forces hidden in the deep bosom of human life, which by passion, 
by strife, by temptation, by the energies of resistance, works for ever 
upon children, — resting not night or day, any more than the mighty 
wheel of day and night themselves, whose moments, like restless 
spokes, are glimmering for ever as they revolve. 

If, then, these are the ministries by which Levana works, how 
profoundly must she reverence the agencies of grief. But you, reader! 
think, — that children are not liable to such grief as mine. There are 
two senses in the word generally, — the sense of Euclid, where it 
means universally (or in the whole extent of the genus), and in a 
foolish sense of this word, where it means usually. Now, I am far 
from saying that children universally are capable of grief like mine. 
But there are more than you ever heard of who die of grief in this 
island of ours. I will tell you a common case. The rules of Eton 
require that a boy on the foundation should be there twelve years: 
he is superannuated at eighteen, consequently he must come at six. 
Children torn away from mothers and sisters at that age not unfre- 
quently die. I speak of what I know. The complaint is not entered 
by the registrar as grief; but that it is. Grief of that sort, and at that 
age, has killed more than have ever been counted amongst its martyrs. 

Therefore it is that Levana often communes with the powers that 
shake a man's heart: therefore it is that she dotes on grief. "These 
ladies," said I softly to myself, on seeing the ministers with whom 
Levana was conversing, "these are the Sorrows; and they are three 
in number, as the Graces are three, who dress man's life with beauty; 
the Parcce are three, who weave the dark arras of man's life in their 
mysterious loom, always with colours sad in part, sometimes angry 
with tragic crimson and black; the Furies are three, who visit with 
retribution called from the other side of the grave offences that walk 
upon this; and once even the Muses were but three, who fit the harp, 
the trumpet, or the lute, to the great burdens of man's impassioned 
creations. These are the Sorrows, all three of whom I know." 

The last words I say now; but in Oxford I said, "One of whom I 
know, and the others too surely I shall know." For already, in my 



LEVANA 321 

fervent youth, I saw (dimly relieved upon the dark background o£ 
my dreams) the imperfect Uneaments of the avs^ful sisters. These 
sisters — ^by what name shall we call them? If I say simply, "The 
Sorrows," there will be a chance of mistaking the term; it might be 
understood of individual sorrow, — separate cases of sorrow, — whereas 
I want a term expressing the mighty abstractions that incarnate 
themselves in all individual sufferings of man's heart; and I wish to 
have these abstractions presented as impersonations, that is, as 
clothed with human attributes of life, and with functions pointing 
to flesh. Let us call them, therefore. Our Ladies of Sorrow. I know 
them thoroughly, and have walked in all their kingdoms. Three 
sisters they are, of one mysterious household; and their paths are 
wide apart; but of their dominion there is no end. Them I saw 
often conversing with Levana, and sometimes about myself. Do 
they talk, then? O, no! mighty phantoms like these disdain the 
infirmities of language. They may utter voices through the organs 
of man when they dwell in human hearts, but amongst themselves 
there is no voice nor sound; eternal silence reigns in their kingdoms. 
They spoke not, as they talked with Levana; they whispered not; 
they sang not; though oftentimes methought they might have sung, 
for I upon earth had heard their mysteries oftentimes deciphered by 
harp and timbrel, by dulcimer and organ. Like God, whose servants 
they are, they utter their pleasure, not by sounds that perish, or by 
words that go astray, but by signs in heaven, by changes on earth, 
by pulses in secret rivers, heraldries painted on darkness, and hiero- 
glyphics written on the tablets of the brain. They wheeled in mazes; 
/ spelled the steps. They telegraphed from afar; / read the signals. 
They conspired together; and on the mirrors of darkness my eye 
traced the plots. Theirs were the symbols; mine are the words. 

What is it the sisters are ? What is it that they do ? Let me describe 
their form, and their presence: if form it were that still fluctuated in 
its outline, or presence it were that for ever advanced to the front, 
or for ever receded amongst shades. 

The eldest of the three is named Mater Lachrymarum, Our Lady 
of Tears. She it is that night and day raves and moans, calling for 
vanished faces. She stood in Rama, where a voice was heard of 
lamentation, — Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be 



322 DE QUINCEY 

comforted. She it was that stood in Bethlehem on the night when 
Herod's sword swept its nurseries o£ Innocents, and the Httle feet 
were stiffened for ever, which, heard at times as they tottered along 
floors overhead, woke pulses of love in household hearts that were 
not unmarked in heaven. 

Her eyes are sweet and subtle, wild and sleepy, by turns; often- 
times rising to the clouds, oftentimes challenging the heavens. She 
wears a diadem round her head. And I knew by childish memories 
that she could go abroad upon the winds, when she heard the sob- 
bing of litanies or the thundering of organs, and when she beheld 
the mustering of summer clouds. This sister, the eldest, it is that 
carries keys more than papal at her girdle, which open every cottage 
and every palace. She, to my knowledge, sat all last summer by the 
bedside of the blind beggar, him that so often and so gladly I talked 
with, whose pious daughter, eight years old, with the sunny counte- 
nance, resisted the temptations of play and village mirth to travel 
all day long on dusty roads with her afflicted father. For this did God 
send her a great reward. In the spring-time of the year, and whilst 
yet her own Spring was budding, he recalled her to himself. But her 
blind father mourns for ever over her; still he dreams at midnight 
that the little guiding hand is locked within his own; and still he 
wakens to a darkness that is now within a second and a deeper 
darkness. This Mater Lachrymarum has also been sitting all this 
winter of 1844-5 within the bed-chamber of the Czar, bringing before 
his eyes a daughter (not less pious) that vanished to God not less 
suddenly, and left behind her a darkness not less profound. By the 
power of the keys it is that Our Lady of Tears glides a ghostly 
intruder into the chambers of sleepless men, sleepless women, sleep- 
less children, from Ganges to Nile, from Nile to Mississippi. And 
her, because she is the first-born of her house, and has the widest 
empire, let us honour with the title of "Madonna!" 

The second sister is called Mater Suspiriorum — Our Lady of Sighs. 
She never scales the clouds, nor walks abroad upon the winds. She 
wears no diadem. And her eyes, if they were ever seen, would be 
neither sweet nor subde; no man could read their story; they would 
be found filled with perishing dreams, and with wrecks of forgotten 
delirium. But she raises not her eyes; her head, on which sits a 



LEVANA 323 

dilapidated turban, droops for ever, for ever fastens on the dust. 
She weeps not. She groans not. But she sighs inaudibly at intervals. 
Her sister, Madonna, is oftentimes stormy and frantic, raging in the 
highest against heaven, and demanding back her darUngs. But Our 
Lady of Sighs never clamours, never defies, dreams not of rebellious 
aspirations. She is humble to abjectness. Hers is the meekness that 
belongs to the hopeless. Murmur she may, but it is in her sleep. 
Whisper she may, but it is to herself in the twilight. Mutter she does 
at times, but it is in solitary places that are desolate as she is desolate, 
in ruined cities, and when the sun has gone down to his rest. This 
sister is the visitor of the Pariah, of the Jew, of the bondsman to the 
oar in the Mediterranean galleys; and of the English criminal in 
Norfolk Island, blotted out from the books of remembrance in sweet 
far-off England; of the baffled penitent reverting his eyes for ever 
upon a solitary grave, which to him seems the altar overthrown of 
some past and bloody sacrifice, on which altar no oblations can now 
be availing, whether towards pardon that he might implore, or 
towards reparation that he might attempt. Every slave that at noon- 
day looks up to the tropical sun with tirtiid reproach, as he points 
with one hand to the earth, our general mother, but for him a step- 
mother, — ^as he points with the other hand to the Bible, our general 
teacher, but against him sealed and sequestered; — every woman 
sitting in darkness, without love to shelter her head, or hope to 
illumine her solitude, because the heaven-born instincts kindling in 
her nature germs of holy affections which God implanted in her 
womanly bosom, having been stifled by social necessities, now burn 
sullenly to waste, like sepulchral lamps amongst the ancients; every 
nun defrauded of her unreturning May-time by wicked kinsman, 
whom God will judge; every captive in every dungeon; all that are 
betrayed and all that are rejected outcasts by traditionary law, and 
children of hereditary disgrace, — all these walk with Our Lady of 
Sighs. She also carries a key; but she needs it little. For her king- 
dom is chiefly amongst the tents of Shem, and the houseless vagrant 
of every clime. Yet in the very highest walks of man she finds 
chapels of her own; and even in glorious England there are some 
that, to the world, carry their heads as proudly as the reindeer, who 
yet secretly have received her mark upon their foreheads. But the 



324 DE QUINCEY 

third sister, who is also the youngest 1 Hush, whisper whilst we 

talk o£ her! Her kingdom is not large, or else no flesh should live; 
but within that kingdom all power is hers. Her head, turreted like 
that of Cybele, rises almost beyond the reach of sight. She droops 
not; and her eyes rising so high might be hidden by distance; but, 
being what they are, they cannot be hidden; through the treble veil 
of crape which she wears, the fierce light of a blazing misery, that 
rests not for matins or for vespers, for noon of day or noon of 
night, for ebbing or for flowing tide, may be read from the very 
ground. She is the defier of God. She is also the mother of lunacies, 
and the suggestress of suicides. Deep lie the roots of her power; 
but narrow is the nation that she rules. For she can approach only 
those in whom a profound nature has been upheaved by central con- 
vulsions; in whom the heart trembles, and the brain rocks under 
conspiracies of tempest from without and tempest from within. 
Madonna moves with uncertain steps, fast or slow, but still with 
tragic grace. Our Lady of Sighs creeps timidly and stealthily. But 
this youngest sister moves with incalculable motions, bounding, 
and with tiger's leaps. She carries no key; for, though coming rarely 
amongst men, she storms all doors at which she Is permitted to 
enter at all. And her name is Mater Tenebrarum — Our Lady of 
Darkness. 

These were the Semnai Theai, or Sublime Goddesses, these were 
the Eumenides, or Gracious Ladies (so called by antiquity in shud- 
dering propitiation), of my Oxford dreams. Madonna spoke. She 
spoke by her mysterious hand. Touching my head, she said to Our 
Lady of Sighs; and what she spoke, translated out of the signs which 
(except in dreams) no man reads, was this: — 

"Lo! here is he, whom in childhood I dedicated to my altars. 
This is he that once I made my darling. Him I led astray, him I 
beguiled, and from heaven I stole away his young heart to mine. 
Through me did he become idolatrous; and through me it was, by 
languishing desires, that he worshipped the worm, and prayed to 
the wormy grave. Holy was the grave to him; lovely was its dark- 
ness; saintly its corruption. Him, this young idolater, I have sea- 
soned for thee, dear gentle Sister of Sighs! Do thou take him now 
to thy heart, and season him for our dreadful sister. And thou," — 



LEV AN A 325 

turning to the Mater T enebrarum , she said, — "wicked sister, that 
temptest and hatest, do thou take him from her. See that thy sceptre 
he heavy on his head. Suffer not woman and her tenderness to sit 
near him in his darkness. Banish the frailties of hope, wither the 
relenting of love, scorch the fountain of tears, curse him as only thou 
canst curse. So shall he be accomplished in the furnace, so shall he 
see the things that ought not to be seen, sights that are abominable, 
and secrets that are unutterable. So shall he read elder truths, sad 
truths, grand truths, fearful truths. So shall he rise again before 
he dies, and so shall our commission be accomplished which from 
God we had, — to plague his heart until we had unfolded the ca- 
pacities of his spirit." 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

BY 
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

A SHORT sketch of the life of Percy Bysshe Shelley will be found pre- 
fixed to his drama of the "Cenci" in the volume of modern English 
Drama in the Harvard Classics. 

The "Defence of Poetry" is by far the most important of Shelley's 
prose writings, and is of great value in supplementing and correcting 
the picture of his mind which is given by his lyrical poetry; for we can 
perceive from this brilliant piece of philosophical discussion that Shelley 
had intellect as well as imagination. 

The immediate occasion of the essay was the publication of Thomas 
Love Peacock's "Four Ages of Poetry," to which Shelley's work was 
originally a reply. In this, as in other notable respects, the treatise is 
parallel with Sidney's. In its present form Shelley has eliminated much 
of the controversial matter; and it stands as one of the most eloquent and 
inspiring assertions of the "ideal nature and essential value of poetry." 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

ACCORDING to one mode of regarding those two classes of 
Zjk mental action, which are called reason and imagination, the 
JL JL former may be considered as mind contemplating the rela- 
tions borne by one thought to another, however produced, and the 
latter, as mind acting upon those thoughts so as to color them with 
its own light, and composing from them, as from elements, other 
thoughts, each containing within itself the principle of its own 
integrity. The one is the tA ttoUlv, or the principle of synthesis, and 
has for its objects those forms which are common to universal 
nature and existence itself; the other is the t6 "Soyit^uv, or principle 
of analysis, and its action regards the relations of things simply as 
relations; considering thoughts, not in their integral unity, but as 
the algebraical representations which conduct to certain general 
results. Reason is the enumeration of qualities already known; 
imagination is the perception of the value of those qualities, both 
separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differences, and 
imagination the similitudes of things. Reason is to imagination as 
the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow 
to the substance. 

Poetry, in a general sense, may be defined to be "the expression 
of the imagination": and poetry is connate with the origin of man. 
Man is an instrument over which a series of external and internal 
impressions are driven, like the alternations of an ever-changing 
wind over an ^olian lyre, which move it by their motion to ever- 
changing melody. But there is a principle within the human being, 
and perhaps within all sentient beings, which acts otherwise than in 
the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal 
adjustment of the sounds or motions thus excited to the impres- 
sions which excite them. It is as if the lyre could accommodate its 
chords to the motions of that which strikes them, in a determined 
proportion of sound; even as the musician can accommodate his 

329 



330 SHELLEY 

voice to the sound of the lyre. A child at play by itself will express its 
delight by its voice and motions; and every inflexion of tone and 
every gesture will bear exact relation to a corresponding antitype in 
the pleasurable impressions which awakened it; it will be the re- 
flected image of that impression; and as the lyre trembles and sounds 
after the wind has died away, so the child seeks, by prolonging in 
its voice and motions the duration of the effect, to prolong also a 
consciousness of the cause. In relation to the objects which delight 
a child these expressions are what poetry is to higher objects. The 
savage (for the savage is to ages what the child is to years) expresses 
the emotions produced in him by surrounding objects in a similar 
manner; and language and gesture, together with plastic or pic- 
torial imitation, become the image of the combined effect of those 
objects, and of his apprehension of them. Man in society, with all 
his passions and his pleasures, next becomes the object of the pas- 
sions and pleasures of man; an additional class of emotions produces 
an augmented treasure of expressions; and language, gesture, and the 
imitative arts, become at once the representation and the medium, 
the pencil and the picture, the chisel and the statue, the chord and 
the harmony. The social sympathies, or those laws from which, as 
from its elements, society results, begin to develop themselves from 
the moment that two human beings coexist; the future is contained 
within the present, as the plant within the seed; and equality, di- 
versity, unity, contrast, mutual dependence, become the principles 
alone capable of affording the motives according to which the will 
of a social being is determined to action, inasmuch as he is social; 
and constitute pleasure in sensation, virtue in sentiment, beauty in 
art, truth in reasoning, and love in the intercourse of kind. Hence 
men, even in the infancy of society, observe a certain order in their 
words and actions, distinct from that of the objects and the im- 
pressions represented by them, all expression being subject to the 
laws of that from which it proceeds. But let us dismiss those more 
general considerations which might involve an inquiry into the 
principles of society itself, and restrict our view to the manner in 
which the imagination is expressed upon its forms. 

In the youth of the world, men dance and sing and imitate natural 
objects, observing in these actions, as in all others, a certain rhythm 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 33 1 

or order. And, although all men observe a similar, they observe not 
the same order, in the motions of the dance, in the melody o£ the 
song, in the combinations of language, in the series of their imita- 
tions of natural objects. For there is a certain order or rhythm be- 
longing to each of these classes of mimetic representation, from 
wrhich the hearer and the spectator receive an intenser and purer 
pleasure than from any other : the sense of an approximation to this 
order has been called taste by modern writers. Every man in the 
infancy of art observes an order which approximates more or less 
closely to that from which this highest delight results: but the di- 
versity is not sufficiently marked, as that its gradations should be 
sensible, except in those instances where the predominance of this 
faculty of approximation to the beautiful (for so we may be per- 
mitted to name the relation between this highest pleasure and its 
cause) is very great. Those in whom it exists in excess are poets, in 
the most universal sense of the word; and the pleasure resulting 
from the manner in which they express the influence of society or 
nature upon their own minds, communicates itself to others, and 
gathers a sort of reduplication from that community. Their lan- 
guage is vitally metaphorical; that is, it marks the before unappre- 
hended relations of things and perpetuates their apprehension, until 
the words which represent them, become, through time, signs for 
portions or classes of thoughts instead of pictures of integral thoughts; 
and then if no new poets should arise to create afresh the associations 
which have been thus disorganized, language will be dead to all 
the nobler purposes of human intercourse. These similitudes or 
relations are finely said by Lord Bacon to be "the same footsteps of 
nature impressed upon the various subjects of the world"^ and he 
considers the faculty which perceives them as the storehouse of 
axioms common to all knowledge. In the infancy of society every 
author is necessarily a poet, because language itself is poetry; and to 
be a poet is to apprehend the true and the beautiful, in a word, the 
good which exists in the relation, subsisting, first between existence 
and perception, and secondly between perception and expression. 
Every original language near to its source is in itself the chaos of 
a cyclic poem: the copiousness of lexicography and the distinctions 

* "De Augment. Scient.," cap. i, lib. Ui. 



332 SHELLEY 

of grammar are the works of a later age, and are merely the catalogue 
and the form of the creations of poetry. 

But poets, or those who imagine and express this indestructible 
order, are not only the authors of language and of music, of the 
dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting: they are the 
institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the in- 
ventors of the arts of life, and the teachers, who draw into a certain 
propinquity with the beautiful and the true that partial apprehension 
of the agencies of the invisible world which is called religion. Hence 
all original religions are allegorical, or susceptible of allegory, and, 
like Janus, have a double face of false and true. Poets, according to 
the circumstances of the age and nation in which they appeared, 
were called, in the earlier epochs of the world, legislators, or prophets: 
a poet essentially comprises and unites both these characters. For 
he not only beholds intensely the present as it is, and discovers those 
laws according to which present things ought to be ordered, but he 
beholds the future in the present, and his thoughts are the germs 
of the flower and the fruit of latest time. Not that I assert poets to be 
prophets in the gross sense of the word, or that they can foretell the 
form as surely as they foreknow the spirit of events: such is the 
pretence of superstition, which would make poetry an attribute of 
prophecy, rather than prophecy an attribute of poetry. A poet 
participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one; as far as relates 
to his conceptions, time and place and number are not. The gram- 
matical forms which express the moods of time, and the difference 
of persons, and the distinction of place, are convertible with respect 
to the highest poetry without injuring it as poetry; and the choruses 
of iEschylus, and the book of Job, and Dante's "Paradise" would 
afford, more than any other writings, examples of this fact, if the 
limits of this essay did not forbid citation. The creations of sculpture, 
painting, and music are illustrations still more decisive. 

Language, color, form, and religious and civil habits of action, 
are all the instruments and materials of poetry; they may be called 
poetry by that figure of speech which considers the effect as a 
synonym of the cause. But poetry in a more restricted sense ex- 
presses those arrangements of language, and especially metrical lan- 
guage, which are created by that imperial faculty, whose throne is 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 333 

curtained within the invisible nature of man. And this springs from 
the nature itself of language, which is a more direct representation of 
the actions and passions of our internal being, and is susceptible of 
more various and delicate combinations, than color, form, or mo- 
tion, and is more plastic and obedient to the control of that faculty 
of which it is the creation. For language is arbitrarily produced by 
the imagination, and has relation to thoughts alone; but all other 
materials, instruments, and conditions of art have relations among 
each other, which limit and interpose between conception and ex- 
pression. The former is as a mirror which reflects, the latter as a 
cloud which enfeebles, the light of which both are mediums of 
communication. Hence the fame of sculptors, painters, and musi- 
cians, although the intrinsic powers of the great masters of these 
arts may yield in no degree to that of those who have employed 
language as the hieroglyphic of their thoughts, has never equalled 
that of poets in the restricted sense of the term; as two performers 
of equal skill will produce unequal effects from a guitar and a 
harp. The fame of legislators and founders of religions, so long as 
their institutions last, alone seems to exceed that of poets in the re- 
stricted sense; but it can scarcely be a question, whether, if we de- 
duct the celebrity which their flattery of the gross opinions of the 
vulgar usually conciliates, together with that which belonged to 
them in their higher character of poets, any excess will remain. 

We have thus circumscribed the word poetry within the limits of 
that art which is the most familiar and the most perfect expression 
of the faculty itself. It is necessary, however, to make the circle 
still narrower, and to determine the distinction between measured 
and unmeasured language; for the popular division into prose and 
verse is inadmissible in accurate philosophy. 

Sounds as well as thoughts have relation both between each other 
and towards that which they represent, and a perception of the 
order of those relations has always been found connected with a per- 
ception of the order of the relations of thoughts. Hence the lan- 
guage of poets has ever affected a certain uniform and harmonious 
recurrence of sound, without which it were not poetry, and which 
is scarcely less indispensable to the communication of its influence, 
than the words themselves, without reference to that peculiar order. 



334 SHELLEY 

Hence the vanity of translation; it were as wise to cast a violet into 
a crucible that you might discover the formal principle of its color 
and odor, as seek to transfuse from one language into another the 
creations of a poet. The plant must spring again from its seed, 
or it will bear no flower — and this is the burden of the curse of 
Babel. 

An observation of the regular mode of the recurrence of harmony 
in the language of poetical minds, together with its relation to music, 
produced metre, or a certain system of traditional forms of harmony 
and language. Yet it is by no means essential that a poet should 
accommodate his language to this traditional form, so that the 
harmony, which is its spirit, be observed. The practice is indeed 
convenient and popular, and to be preferred, especially in such 
composition as includes much action: but every great poet must 
inevitably innovate upon the example of his predecessors in the 
exact structure of his peculiar versification. The distinction between 
poets and prose writers is a vulgar error. The distinction between 
philosophers and poets has been anticipated. Plato was essentially a 
poet — the truth and splendor of his imagery, and the melody of his 
language, are the most intense that it is possible to conceive. He 
rejected the measure of the epic, dramatic, and lyrical forms, be- 
cause he sought to kindle a harmony in thoughts divested of shape 
and action, and he forebore to invent any regular plan of rhythm 
which would include, under determinate forms, the varied pauses of 
his style. Cicero sought to imitate the cadence of his periods, but with 
little success. Lord Bacon was a poet.^ His language has a sweet 
and majestic rhythm, which satisfies the sense, no less than the al- 
most superhuman wisdom of his philosophy satisfies the intellect; it 
is a strain which distends, and then bursts the circumference of the 
reader's mind, and pours itself forth together with it into the uni- 
versal element with which it has perpetual sympathy. All the 
authors of revolutions in opinion are not only necessarily poets as 
they are inventors, nor even as their words unveil the permanent 
analogy of things by images which participate in the life of truth; 
but as their periods are harmonious and rhythmical, and contain 
in themselves the elements of verse; being the echo of the eternal 
* See the "Filum Labyrinth!," and the "Essay on Death" particularly.^^. 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 335 

music. Nor are those supreme poets, who have employed traditional 
forms of rhythm on account of the form and action of their sub- 
jects, less capable of perceiving and teaching the truth of things, 
than those who have omitted that form. Shakespeare, Dante, and 
Milton (to confine ourselves to modern writers) are philosophers of 
the very loftiest power. 

A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth. 
There is this difference between a story and a poem, that a story 
is a catalogue of detached facts, which have no other connection 
than time, place, circumstance, cause and effect; the other is the 
creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human 
nature, as existing in the mind of the Creator, which is itself the 
image of all other minds. The one is partial, and applies only to a 
definite period of time, and a certain combination of events which 
can never again recur; the other is universal, and contains within 
itself the germ of a relation to whatever motives or actions have place 
in the possible varieties of human nature. Time, which destroys the 
beauty and the use of the story of particular facts, stripped of the 
poetry which should invest them, augments that of poetry, and 
forever develops new and wonderful applications of the eternal truth 
which it contains. Hence epitomes have been called the moths of 
just history; they eat out the poetry of it. A story of particular facts 
is as a mirror which obscures and distorts that which should be 
beautiful; poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is 
distorted. 

The parts of a composition may be poetical, without the compo- 
sition as a whole being a poem. A single sentence may be con- 
sidered as a whole, though it may be found in the midst of a series 
of unassimilated portions; a single word even may be a spark of 
inextinguishable thought. And thus all the great historians, Hero- 
dotus, Plutarch, Livy, were poets; and although the plan of these 
writers, especially that of Livy, restrained them from developing this 
faculty in its highest degree, they made copious and ample amends 
for their subjection, by filling all the interstices of their subjects with 
living images. 

Having determined what is poetry, and who are poets, let us 
proceed to estimate its effects upon society. 



336 SHELLEY 

Poetry is ever accompanied with pleasure: all spirits on which it 
falls open themselves to receive the wisdom which is mingled with 
its delight. In the infancy of the world, neither poets themselves 
nor their auditors are fully aware of the excellence of poetry: for it 
acts in a divine and unapprehended manner, beyond and above con- 
sciousness; and it is reserved for future generations to contemplate 
and measure the mighty cause and effect in all the strength and 
splendor of their union. Even in modern times, no living poet ever 
arrived at the fulness of his fame; the jury which sits in judgment 
upon a poet, belonging as he does to all time, must be composed of 
his peers: it must be impanelled by Time from the selectest of the wise 
of many generations. A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness 
and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors 
are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen musician, who feel 
that they are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why. 
The poems of Homer and his contemporaries were the delight of 
infant Greece; they were the elements of that social system which is 
the column upon which all succeeding civilization has reposed. 
Homer embodied the ideal perfection of his age in human character; 
nor can we doubt that those who read his verses were awakened to 
an ambition of becoming like to Achilles, Hector, and Ulysses: the 
truth and beauty of friendship, patriotism, and persevering devotion 
to an object, were unveiled to the depths in these immortal creations: 
the sentiments of the auditors must have been refined and enlarged 
by a sympathy with such great and lovely impersonations, until from 
admiring they imitated, and from imitation they identified them- 
selves with the objects of their admiration. Nor let it be objected 
that these characters are remote from moral perfection, and that 
they can by no means be considered as edifying patterns for general 
imitation. Every epoch, under names more or less specious, has 
deified its peculiar errors; Revenge is the naked idol of the worship 
of a semi-barbarous age; and Self-deceit is the veiled image of 
unknown evil, before which luxury and satiety lie prostrate. But a 
poet considers the vices of his contemporaries as the temporary dress 
in which his creations must be arrayed, and which cover without 
concealing the eternal proportions of their beauty. An epic or dra- 
matic personage is understood to wear them around his soul, as he 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 337 

may the ancient armor or the modern uniform around his body; 
whilst it is easy to conceive a dress more graceful than either. The 
beauty of the internal nature cannot be so far concealed by its acci- 
dental vesture, but that the spirit of its form shall communicate itself 
to the very disguise, and indicate the shape it hides from the manner 
in which it is worn. A majestic form and graceful motions will 
express themselves through the most barbarous and tasteless costume. 
Few poets of the highest class have chosen to exhibit the beauty of 
their conceptions in its naked truth and splendor; and it is doubtful 
whether the alloy of costume, habit, etc., be not necessary to temper 
this planetary music for mortal ears. 

The whole objection, however, of the immorality of poetry rests 
upon a misconception of the manner in which poetry acts to produce 
the moral improvement of man. Ethical science arranges the ele- 
ments which poetry has created, and propounds schemes and pro- 
poses examples of civil and domestic life: nor is it for want of 
admirable doctrines that men hate, and despise, and censure, and 
deceive, and subjugate one another. But poetry acts in another and 
diviner manner. It awakens and enlarges the mind itself by render- 
ing it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of 
thought. Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, 
and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar; it repro- 
duces all that it represents, and the impersonations clothed in its' 
Elysian light stand thenceforward in the minds of those who have 
once contemplated them, as memorials of that gentle and exalted 
content which extends itself over all thoughts and actions with which 
it coexists. The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our 
nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which 
exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be 
greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must 
put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains 
and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instru- 
ment of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to 
the effect by acting upon the cause. Poetry enlarges the circumference 
of the imagination by replenishing it with thoughts of ever new 
delight, which have the power of attracting and assimilating to their 
own nature all other thoughts, and which form new intervals and 



338 SHELLEY 

interstices whose void forever craves fresh food. Poetry strengthens 
the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man, in the 
same manner as exercise strengthens a limb. A poet therefore would 
do ill to embody his own conceptions of right and wrong, which are 
usually those of his place and time, in his poetical creations, which 
participate in neither. By this assumption of the inferior ofBce of 
interpreting the effect, in which perhaps after all he might acquit 
himself but imperfectly, he would resign a glory in a participation 
in the cause. There was little danger that Homer, or any of the 
eternal poets, should have so far misunderstood themselves as to have 
abdicated this throne of their widest dominion. Those in whom the 
poetical faculty, though great, is less intense, as Euripides, Lucan, 
Tasso, Spenser, have frequently affected a moral aim, and the effect 
of their poetry is diminished in exact proportion to the degree in 
which they compel us to advert to this purpose. 

Homer and the cyclic poets were followed at a certain interval 
by the dramatic and lyrical poets of Athens, who flourished contem- 
poraneously with all that is most perfect in the kindred expressions 
of the poetical faculty; architecture, painting, music, the dance, sculp- 
ture, philosophy, and, we may add, the forms of civil life. For 
although the scheme of Athenian society was deformed by many 
imperfections which the poetry existing in chivalry and Christianity 
has erased from the habits and institutions of modern Europe; yet 
never at any other period has so much energy, beauty, and virtue 
been developed; never was blind strength and stubborn form so 
disciplined and rendered subject to the will of man, or that will less 
repugnant to the dictates of the beautiful and the true, as during the 
century which preceded the death of Socrates. Of no other epoch in 
the history of our species have we records and fragments stamped so 
visibly with the image of the divinity in man. But it is poetry alone, 
in form, in action, or in language, which has rendered this epoch 
memorable above all others, and the store-house of examples to ever- 
lasting time. For written poetry existed at that epoch simultaneously 
with the other arts, and it is an idle inquiry to demand which gave 
and which received the light, which all, as from a common focus, have 
scattered over the darkest periods of succeeding time. We know no 
more of cause and effect than a constant conjunction of events: 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 339 

poetry is ever found to coexist with whatever other arts contribute 
to the happiness and perfection of man. I appeal to what has already 
been established to distinguish between the cause and the effect. 

It was at the period here adverted to that the drama had its birth; 
and however a succeeding writer may have equalled or surpassed 
those few great specimens of the Athenian drama which have been 
preserved to us, it is indisputable that the art itself never was under- 
stood or practised according to the true philosophy of it, as at Athens. 
For the Athenians employed language, action, music, painting, the 
dance, and religious institutions, to produce a common effect in the 
representation of the highest idealism of passion and of power; each 
division in the art was made perfect in its kind of artists of the most 
consummate skill, and was disciplined into a beautiful proportion 
and unity one towards the other. On the modern stage a few only 
of the elements capable of expressing the image of the poet's concep- 
tion are employed at once. We have tragedy without music and 
dancing; and music and dancing without the highest impersonations 
of which they are the fit accompaniment, and both without religion 
and solemnity. Religious institution has indeed been usually ban- 
ished from the stage. Our system of divesting the actor's face of a 
mask, on which the many expressions appropriated to his dramatic 
character might be moulded into one permanent and unchanging 
expression, is favorable only to a partial and inharmonious effect; it 
is fit for nothing but a monologue, where all the attention may be 
directed to some great master of ideal mimicry. The modern prac- 
tice of blending comedy with tragedy, though liable to great abuse 
in point of practice, is undoubtedly an extension of the dramatic 
circle; but the comedy should be as in "King Lear," universal, ideal, 
and sublime. It is perhaps the intervention of this principle which 
determines the balance in favor of "King Lear" against the "CEdipus 
Tyrannus" or the "Agamemnon," or, if you will, the trilogies with 
which they are connected; unless the intense power of the choral 
poetry, especially that of the latter, should be considered as restoring 
the equilibrium. "King Lear," if it can sustain this comparison, may 
be judged to be the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing 
in the world; in spite of the narrow conditions to which the poet was 
subjected by the ignorance of the philosophy of the drama which 



340 SHELLEY 

has prevailed in modern Europe. Calderon, in his religious autos, 
has attempted to fulfil some of the high conditions of dramatic 
representation neglected by Shakespeare; such as the establishing a 
relation between the drama and religion, and the accommodating 
them to music and dancing; but he omits the observation of condi- 
tions still more important, and more is lost than gained by the substi- 
tution of the rigidly defined and ever-repeated idealisms of a dis- 
torted superstition for the living impersonations of the truth of 
human passion. 

But I digress. The connection of scenic exhibitions with the im- 
provement or corruption of the manners of men has been universally 
recognized; in other words, the presence or absence of poetry in its 
most perfect and universal form has been found to be connected with 
good and evil in conduct or habit. The corruption which has been 
imputed to the drama as an effect, begins, when the poetry employed 
in its constitution ends: I appeal to the history of manners whether 
the periods of the growth of the one and the decline of the other 
have not corresponded with an exactness equal to any example of 
moral cause and effect. 

The drama at Athens, or wheresoever else it may have approached 
to its perfection, ever coexisted with the moral and intellectual great- 
ness of the age. The tragedies of the Athenian poets are as mirrors 
in which the spectator beholds himself, under a thin disguise of 
circumstance, stripped of all but that ideal perfection and energy 
which everyone feels to be the internal type of all that he loves, 
admires, and would become. The imagination is enlarged by a 
sympathy with pains and passions so mighty, that they distend in 
their conception the capacity of that by which they are con- 
ceived; the good affections are strengthened by pity, indignation, 
terror, and sorrow; and an exalted calm is prolonged from the 
satiety of this high exercise of them into the tumult of familiar life: 
even crime is disarmed of half its horror and all its contagion by 
being represented as the fatal consequence of the unfathomable 
agencies of nature; error is thus divested of its wilfulness; men can 
no longer cherish it as the creation of their choice. In a drama of 
the highest order there is little food for censure or hatred; it teaches 
rather self-knowledge and self-respect. Neither the eye nor the mind 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 34I 

can see itself, unless reflected upon that which it resembles. The 
drama, so long as it continues to express poetry, is as a prismatic and 
many-sided mirror, which collects the brightest rays o£ human nature 
and divides and reproduces them from the simplicity of these ele- 
mentary forms, and touches them with majesty and beauty, and 
multiplies all that it reflects, and endows it with the power of 
propagating its like wherever it may fall. 

But in periods of the decay of social life, the drama sympathizes 
with that decay. Tragedy becomes a cold imitation of the form of 
the great masterpieces of antiquity, divested of all harmonious accom- 
paniment of the kindred arts; and often the very form misunder- 
stood, or a weak attempt to teach certain doctrines, which the writer 
considers as moral truths; and which are usually no more than 
specious flatteries of some gross vice or weakness, with which the 
author, in common with his auditors, are infected. Hence what has 
been called the classical and domestic drama. Addison's "Cato" is 
a specimen of the one; and would it were not superfluous to cite 
examples of the other! To such purposes poetry cannot be made 
subservient. Poetry is a sword of lightning, ever unsheathed, which 
consumes the scabbard that would contain it. And thus we observe 
that all dramatic writings of this nature are unimaginative in a 
singular degree; they affect sentiment and passion, which, divested 
of imagination, are other names for caprice and appetite. The period 
in our own history of the grossest degradation of the drama is the 
reign of Charles II, when all forms in which poetry had been accus- 
tomed to be expressed became hymns to the triumph of kingly power 
over liberty and virtue. Milton stood alone illuminating an age 
unworthy of him. At such periods the calculating principle pervades 
all the forms of dramatic exhibition, and poetry ceases to be expressed 
upon them. Comedy loses its ideal universality: wit succeeds to 
humor; we laugh from self-complacency and triumph, instead of 
pleasure; malignity, sarcasm, and contempt succeed to sympathetic 
merriment; we hardly laugh, but we smile. Obscenity, which is 
ever blasphemy against the divine beauty in life, becomes, from the 
very veil which it assumes, more active if less disgusting: it is a 
monster for which the corruption of society forever brings forth new 
food, which it devours in secret. 



342 SHELLEY 

The drama being that form under which a greater number of 
modes of expression of poetry are susceptible of being combined than 
any other, the connection of poetry and social good is more observ- 
able in the drama than in whatever other form. And it is indis- 
putable that the highest perfection of human society has ever corre- 
sponded with the highest dramatic excellence; and that the corrup- 
tion or the extinction of the drama in a nation where it has once 
flourished is a mark of a corruption of manners, and an extinction 
of the energies which sustain the soul of social Ufa. But, as Machi- 
avelli says of political institutions, that life may be preserved and 
renewed, if men should arise capable of bringing back the drama 
to its principles. And this is true with respect to poetry in its most 
extended sense : all language, institution, and form require not only 
to be produced but to be sustained: the office and character of a poet 
participate in the divine nature as regards providence, no less than 
as regards creation. 

Civil war, the spoils of Asia, and the fatal predominance first of 
the Macedonian, and then of the Roman arms, were so many sym- 
bols of the extinction or suspension of the creative faculty in Greece. 
The bucolic writers, who found patronage under the lettered tyrants 
of Sicily and Egypt, were the latest representatives of its most glorious 
reign. Their poetry is intensely melodious; like the odor of the 
tuberose, it overcomes and sickens the spirit with excess of sweetness; 
whilst the poetry of the preceding age was as a meadow-gale of 
June, which mingles the fragrance of all the flowers of the field, and 
adds a quickening and harmonizing spirit of its own which endows 
the sense with a power of sustaining its extreme delight. The bucolic 
and erotic delicacy in written poetry is correlative with that softness 
in statuary, music, and the kindred arts, and even in manners and 
institutions, which distinguished the epoch to which I now refer. 
Nor is it the poetical faculty itself, or any misapplication of it, to 
which this want of harmony is to be imputed. An equal sensibihty 
to the influence of the senses and the affections is to be found in the 
writings of Homer and Sophocles : the former, especially, has clothed 
sensual and pathetic images with irresistible attractions. Their 
superiority over these succeeding writers consists in the presence of 
those thoughts which belong to the inner faculties of our nature, not 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 343 

in the absence o£ those which are connected with the external; their 
incomparable perfection consists in a harmony of the union of all. 
It is not what the erotic poets have, but what they have not, in which 
their imperfection consists. It is not inasmuch as they were poets, 
but inasmuch as they were not poets, that they can be considered 
with any plausibiUty as connected with the corruption of their age. 
Had that corruption availed so as to extinguish in them the sensi- 
bility to pleasure, passion, and natural scenery, which is imputed to 
them as an imperfection, the last triumph of evil would have been 
achieved. For the end of social corruption is to destroy all sensibility 
to pleasure; and, therefore, it is corruption. It begins at the imagina- 
tion and the intellect as at the core, and distributes itself thence as a 
paralyzing venom, through the affections into the very appetites, 
until all become a torpid mass in which hardly sense survives. At the 
approach of such a period, poetry ever addresses itself to those facul- 
ties which are the last to be destroyed, and its voice is heard, like the 
footsteps of Astrsea, departing from the world. Poetry ever commu- 
nicates all the pleasure which men are capable of receiving: it is ever 
still the light of life; the source of whatever of beautiful or generous 
or true can have place in an evil time. It will readily be confessed 
that those among the luxurious citizens of Syracuse and Alexandria, 
who were delighted with the poems of Theocritus, were less cold, 
cruel, and sensual than the remnant of their tribe. But corruption 
must utterly have destroyed the fabric of human society before 
poetry can ever cease. The sacred links of that chain have never 
been entirely disjoined, which descending through the minds of 
many men is attached to those great minds, whence as from a magnet 
the invisible effluence is sent forth, which at once connects, animates, 
and sustains the hfe of all. It is the faculty which contains within 
itself the seeds at once of its own and of social renovation. And let 
us not circumscribe the effects of the bucolic and erotic poetry within 
the limits of the sensibility of those to whom it was addressed. They 
may have perceived the beauty of those immortal compositions, 
simply as fragments and isolated portions: those who are more finely 
organized, or born in a happier age, may recognize them as episodes 
to that great poem, which all poets, like the co-operating thoughts 
of one great mind, have built up since the beginning of the world. 



344 SHELLEY 

The same revolutions within a narrower sphere had place in 
ancient Rome; but the actions and forms of its social life never 
seem to have been perfectly saturated with the poetical element. The 
Romans appear to have considered the Greeks as the selectest 
treasuries of the selectest forms of manners and of nature, and to 
have abstained from creating in measured language, sculpture, 
music, or architecture, anything which might bear a particular rela- 
tion to their own condition, whilst it should bear a general one to 
the universal constitution of the world. But we judge from partial 
evidence, and we judge perhaps partially. Ennius, Varro, Pacuvius, 
and Accius, all great poets, have been lost. Lucretius is in the highest, 
and Vergil in a very high sense, a creator. The chosen delicacy of 
expressions of the latter are as a mist of light which conceal from 
us the intense and exceeding truth of his conceptions of nature. Livy 
is instinct with poetry. Yet Horace, Catullus, Ovid, and generally 
the other great writers of the Vergilian age, saw man and nature in 
the mirror of Greece. The institutions also, and the religion of 
Rome, were less poetical than those of Greece, as the shadow is less 
vivid than the substance. Hence poetry in Rome seemed to follow, 
rather than accompany, the perfection of political and domestic 
society. The true poetry of Rome lived in its institutions; for what- 
ever of beautiful, true, and majestic, they contained, could have 
sprung only from the faculty which creates the order in which they 
consist. The life of Camillus, the death of Regulus; the expectation 
of the senators, in their godlike state, of the victorious Gauls; the 
refusal of the republic to make peace with Hannibal, after the battle 
of Cannae, were not the consequences of a refined calculation of the 
probable personal advantage to result from such a rhythm and order 
in the shows of life, to those who were at once the poets and the actors 
of these immortal dramas. The imagination beholding the beauty of 
this order, created it out of itself according to its own idea; the 
consequence was empire, and the reward ever-living fame. These 
things are not the less poetry, quia carent vate sacro? They are the 
episodes of that cyclic poem written by Time upon the memories of 
men. The Past, like an inspired rhapsodist, fills the theatre of ever- 
lasting generations with their harmony. 

^ "Because they lack the sacred bard." 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 345 

At length the ancient system of religion and manners had fulfilled 
the circle o' its revolutions. And the world would have fallen into 
utter anarchy and darkness, but that there were found poets among 
the authors of the Christian and chivalric systems of manners and 
religion, who created forms of opinion and action never before con- 
ceived; which, copied into the imaginations of men, became as 
generals to the bewildered armies of their thoughts. It is foreign to 
the present purpose to touch upon the evil produced by these systems : 
except that we protest, on the ground of the principles already estab- 
lished, that no portion of it can be attributed to the poetry they 
contain. 

It is probable that the poetry of Moses, Job, David, Solomon, and 
Isaiah had produced a great effect upon the mind of Jesus and his 
disciples. The scattered fragments preserved to us by the biographers 
of this extraordinary person are all instinct with the most vivid 
poetry. But his doctrines seem to have been quickly distorted. At 
a certain period after the prevalence of a system of opinions founded 
upon those promulgated by him, the three forms into which Plato 
had distributed the faculties of mind underwent a sort of apotheosis, 
and became the object of the worship of the civilized world. Here 
it is to be confessed that "Light seems to thicken," and 

"The crow makes wing to the rocky wood, 
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse, 
And night's black agents to their preys do rouse." 

But mark how beautiful an order has sprung from the dust and 
blood of this fierce chaos! how the wjrld, as from a resurrection, 
balancing itself on the golden wings of Knowledge and of Hope, 
has reassumed its yet unwearied flight into the heaven of time. 
Listen to the music, unheard by outward ears, which is as a ceaseless 
and invisible wind, nourishing its everlasting course with strength 
and swiftness. 

The poetry in the doctrines of Jesus Christ, and the mythology 
and institutions of the Celtic conquerors of the Roman Empire, out- 
lived the darkness and the convulsions connected with their growth 
and victory, and blended themselves in a new fabric of manners and 
opinion. It is an error to impute the ignorance of the dark ages to 



346 SHELLEY 

the Christian doctrines or the predominance of the Cehic nations. 
Whatever of evil their agencies may have contained sprang from the 
extinction of the poetical principle, connected with the progress of 
despotism and superstition. Men, from causes too intricate to be 
here discussed, had become insensible and selfish: their own will 
had become feeble, and yet they were its slaves, and thence the slaves 
of the will of others: lust, fear, avarice, cruelty, and fraud, character- 
ized a race amongst whom no one was to be found capable of 
creating in form, language, or institution. The moral anomalies of 
such a state of society are not justly to be charged upon any class of 
events immediately connected with them, and those events are most 
entitled to our approbation which could dissolve it most expedi- 
tiously. It is unfortunate for those who cannot disdnguish words 
from thoughts, that many of these anomalies have been incorporated 
into our popular religion. 

It was not until the eleventh century that the effects of the poetry 
of the Christian and chivalric systems began to manifest themselves. 
The principle of equality had been discovered and applied by Plato 
in his "Republic" as the theoretical rule of the mode in which the 
materials of pleasure and of power produced by the common skill 
and labor of human beings ought to be distributed among them. 
The limitations of this rule were asserted by him to be determined 
only by the sensibility of each, or the utility to result to all. Plato, 
following the doctrines of Timasus and Pythagoras, taught also a 
moral and intellectual system of doctrine, comprehending at once 
the past, the present, and the future condition of man. Jesus Christ 
divulged the sacred and eternal truths contained in these views to 
mankind, and Christianity, in its abstract purity, became the exoteric 
expression of the esoteric doctrines of the poetry and wisdom of 
antiquity. The incorporation of the Celtic nations with the exhausted 
population of the south impressed upon it the figure of the poetry 
existing in their mythology and institutions. The result was a sum 
of the action and reaction of all the causes included in it; for it may 
be assumed as a maxim that no nation or religion can supersede 
any other without incorporating into itself a portion of that which 
it supersedes. The abolition of personal and domestic slavery, 
and the emancipation of women from a great part of the degrad- 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 347 

ing restraints of antiquity, were among the consequences of these 
events. 

The abolition of personal slavery is the basis of the highest politi- 
cal hope that it can enter into the mind of man to conceive. The 
freedom of women produced the poetry of sexual love. Love became 
a religion, the idols of whose worship were ever present. It was as if 
the statues of Apollo and the Muses had been endowed with life and 
motion, and had walked forth among their worshippers; so that 
earth became peopled with the inhabitants of a diviner world. The 
familiar appearance and proceedings of life became wonderful and 
heavenly, and a paradise was created as out of the wrecks of Eden. 
And as this creation itself is poetry, so its creators were poets; and 
language was the instrument of their art: "Galeotto fu il libra, e chi 
lo scrisse." ^ The Provencal trouveurs, or inventors, preceded Petrarch, 
whose verses are as spells, which unseal the inmost enchanted foun- 
tains of the delight which is in the grief of love. It is impossible to 
feel them without becoming a portion of that beauty which we con- 
template: it were superfluous to explain how the gentleness and the 
elevation of mind connected with these sacred emotions can render 
men more amiable, more generous and wise, and lift them out of the 
dull vapors of the little world of self. Dante understood the secret 
things of love even more than Petrarch. His "Vita Nuova" is an 
inexhaustible fountain of purity of sentiment and language: it is the 
idealized history of that period, and those intervals of his life which 
were dedicated to love. His apotheosis of Beatrice in Paradise, and 
the gradations of his own love and her loveliness, by which as by 
steps he feigns himself to have ascended to the throne of the Supreme 
Cause, is the most glorious imagination of modern poetry. The 
acutest critics have justly reversed the judgment of the vulgar, and 
the order of the great acts of the "Divine Drama," in the measure of 
the admiration which they accord to the Hell, Purgatory, and Para- 
dise. The latter is a perpetual hymn of everlasting love. Love, which 
found a worthy poet in Plato alone of all the ancients, has been 
celebrated by a chorus of the greatest writers of the renovated world; 
and the music has penetrated the caverns of society, and its echoes 

* "The book, and he who wrote it, was a Galeotto" [/. e., a pander] , from the 
eoisode of Paolo and Francesca in Dante's "Inferno," v. 137. 



348 SHELLEY 

Still drown the dissonance o£ arms and superstition. At successive 
intervals, Ariosto, Tasso, Shakespeare, Spenser, Calderon, Rousseau, 
and the great writers of our own age, have celebrated the dominion 
of love, planting as it were trophies in the human mind of that sub- 
limest victory over sensuality and force. The true relation borne to 
each other by the sexes into which humankind is distributed has 
become less misunderstood; and if the error which confounded 
diversity with inequality of the powers of the two sexes has been 
partially recognised in the opinions and institutions of modern 
Europe, we owe this great benefit to the worship of which chivalry 
was the law, and poets the prophets. 

The poetry of Dante may be considered as the bridge thrown 
over the stream of time, which unites the modern and ancient world. 
The distorted notions of invisible things which Dante and his rival 
Milton have idealized, are merely the mask and the mantle in which 
these great poets walk through eternity enveloped and disguised. 
It is a difficult question to determine how far they were conscious of 
the distinction which must have subsisted in their minds between 
their own creeds and that of the people. Dante at least appears to 
wish to mark the full extent of it by placing Rhipaeus, whom Vergil 
calls justissimus unusf in Paradise, and observing a most heretical 
caprice in his distribution of rewards and punishments. And Milton's 
poem contains within itself a philosophical refutation of that system, 
of which, by a strange and natural antithesis, it has been a chief 
popular support. Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence 
of the character of Satan as expressed in "Paradise Lost." It is a 
mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the 
popular personification of evil. Implacable hate, patient cunning, 
and a sleepless refinement of device to inflict the extremist anguish 
on an enemy, these things are evil; and, although venial in a slave, 
are not to be forgiven in a tyrant; although redeemed by much that 
ennobles his defeat in one subdued, are marked by all that dishonors 
his conquest in the victor. Milton's Devil as a moral being is as 
far superior to his God, as one who perseveres in some purpose which 
he has conceived to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture, is 
to one who in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the 
^ "The one most just man." 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 349 

most horrible revenge upon his enemy, not from any mistaken 
notion of inducing him to repent of a perseverance in enmity, but 
with the alleged design of exasperating him to deserve new torments. 
Milton has so far violated the popular creed (if this shall be judged 
to be a violation) as to have alleged no superiority of moral virtue to 
his God over his Devil. And this bold neglect of a direct moral 
purpose is the most decisive proof of the supremacy of Milton's 
genius. He mingled as it were the elements of human nature as 
colors upon a single pallet, and arranged them in the composition 
of his great picture according to the laws of epic truth; that is, 
according to the laws of that principle by which a series of actions 
of the external universe and of intelligent and ethical beings is 
calculated to excite the sympathy of succeeding generations of man- 
kind. The "Divina Commedia" and "Paradise Lost" have conferred 
upon modern mythology a systematic form; and when change and 
time shall have added one more superstition to the mass of those 
which have arisen and decayed upon the earth, commentators will 
be learnedly employed in elucidating the religion of ancestral Europe, 
only not utterly forgotten because it will have been stamped with 
the eternity of genius. 

Homer was the first and Dante the second epic poet: that is, the 
second poet, the series of whose creations bore a defined and intelli- 
gible relation to the knowledge and sentiment and religion of the 
age in which he lived, and of the ages which followed it, developing 
itself in correspondence with their development. For Lucretius had 
limed the wings of his swift spirit in the dregs of the sensible world; 
and Vergil, with a modesty that ill became his genius, had affected 
the fame of an imitator, even whilst he created anew all that he 
copied; and none among the flock of mock-birds, though their notes 
were sweet, Apollonius Rhodius, Quintus Calaber, Nonnus, Lucan, 
Statins, or Claudian, have sought even to fulfil a single condition of 
epic truth. Milton was the third epic poet. For if the title of epic 
in its highest sense be refused to the "Mneid," still less can it be 
conceded to the "Orlando Furioso," the "Gerusalemme Liberata," 
the "Lusiad," or the "Faerie Queene." 

Dante and Milton were both deeply penetrated with the ancient 
religion of the civilized world; and its spirit exists in their poetry 



350 SHELLEY 

probably in the same proportion as its forms survived in the unre- 
formed vs^orship of modern Europe. The one preceded and the other 
followed the Reformation at almost equal intervals. Dante was the 
first religious reformer, and Luther surpassed him rather in the 
rudeness and acrimony than in the boldness of his censures of papal 
usurpation. Dante was the first awakener of entranced Europe; he 
created a language, in itself music and persuasion, out of a chaos 
of inharmonious barbarians. He was the congregator of those great 
spirits who presided over the resurrection of learning; the Lucifer 
of that starry flock which in the thirteenth century shone forth from 
republican Italy, as from a heaven, into the darkness of the benighted 
world. His very words are instinct with spirit; each is as a spark, 
a burning atom of inextinguishable thought; and many yet Ue cov- 
ered in the ashes of their birth, and pregnant with the Hghtning 
which has yet found no conductor. All high poetry is infinite; it is 
as the first acorn, which contained all oaks potentially. Veil after 
veil may be undrawn, and the inmost naked beauty of the meaning 
never exposed. A great poem is a fountain forever overflowing with 
the waters of wisdom and delight; and after one person and one age 
has exhausted all its divine effluence which their peculiar relations 
enable them to share, another and yet another succeeds, and new 
reladons are ever developed, the source of an unforeseen and an 
unconceived delight. 

The age immediately succeeding to that of Dante, Petrarch, and 
Boccaccio was characterized by a revival of painting, sculpture, and 
architecture. Chaucer caught the sacred inspiration, and the super- 
structure of English literature is based upon the materials of Italian 
invention. 

But let us not be betrayed from a defence into a critical history of 
poetry and its influence on society. Be it enough to have pointed out 
the effects of poets, in the large and true sense of the word, upon 
their own and all succeeding times. 

But poets have been challenged to resign the civic crown to 
reasoners and mechanists, on another plea. It is admitted that the 
exercise of the imagination is most delightful, but it is alleged that 
that of reason is more useful. Let us examine as the grounds of this 
distinction what is here meant by utility. Pleasure or good, in a gen- 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 35 I 

eral sense, is that which the consciousness of a sensitive and intelli- 
gent being seeks, and in which, when found, it acquiesces. There are 
two kinds of pleasure, one durable, universal, and permanent; the 
other transitory and particular. Utility may either express the means 
of producing the former or the latter. In the former sense, whatever 
strengthens and purifies the affections, enlarges the imagination, and 
adds spirit to sense, is useful. But a narrower meaning may be 
assigned to the word utility, confining it to express that which 
banishes the importunity of the wants of our animal nature, the 
surrounding men with security of life, the dispersing the grosser 
delusions of superstitions, and the conciliating such a degree of 
mutual forbearance among men as may consist with the motives 
of personal advantage. 

Undoubtedly the promoters of utility, in this limited sense, have 
their appointed office in society. They follow the footsteps of poets, 
and copy the sketches of their creations into the book of common 
life. They make space, and give time. Their exertions are of the 
highest value, so long as they confine their administration of the 
concerns of the inferior powers of our nature within the limits due 
to the superior ones. But whilst the sceptic destroys gross supersti- 
tions, let him spare to deface, as some of the French writers have 
defaced, the eternal truths charactered upon the imaginations of men. 
Whilst the mechanist abridges, and the political economist combines 
labor, let them beware that their speculations, for want of corre- 
spondence with those first principles which belong to the imagina- 
tion, do not tend, as they have in modern England, to exasperate at 
once the extremes of luxury and want. They have exemplified the 
saying, "To him that hath, more shall be given; and from him that 
hath not, the Uttle that he hath shall be taken away." The rich have 
become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of 
the State is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and 
despotism. Such are the effects which must ever flow from an unmiti- 
gated exercise of the calculating faculty. 

It is difficult to define pleasure in its highest sense; the definition 
involving a number of apparent paradoxes. For, from an inexphcable 
defect of harmony in the constitution of human nature, the pain of 
the inferior is frequently connected with the pleasures of the superior 



352 SHELLEY 

portions of our being. Sorrow, terror, anguish, despair itself, are 
often the chosen expressions of an approximation to the highest good. 
Our sympathy in tragic fiction depends on this principle; tragedy 
delights by affording a shadow of the pleasure which exists in pain. 
This is the source also of the melancholy which is inseparable from 
the sweetest melody. The pleasure that is in sorrow is sweeter than 
the pleasure of pleasure itself. And hence the saying, "It is better to 
go to the house of mourning than to the house of mirth." Not that 
this highest species of pleasure is necessarily linked with pain. The 
delight of love and friendship, the ecstasy of the admiration of 
nature, the joy of the perception and still more of the creation of 
poetry, is often wholly unalloyed. 

The production and assurance of pleasure in this highest sense is 
true utility. Those who produce and preserve this pleasure are poets 
or poetical philosophers. 

The exertions of Locke, Hume, Gibbon, Voltaire, Rousseau,* and 
their disciples, in favor of oppressed and deluded humanity, are 
entitled to the gratitude of mankind. Yet it is easy to calculate the 
degree of moral and intellectual improvement which the world 
would have exhibited, had they never lived. A little more nonsense 
would have been talked for a century or two; and perhaps a few 
more men, women, and children burnt as heretics. We might not 
at this moment have been congratulating each other on the abolition 
of the Inquisition in Spain. But it exceeds all imagination to con- 
ceive what would have been the moral condition of the world if 
neither Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Calderon, 
Lord Bacon, nor Milton, had ever existed; if Raphael and Michael 
Angelo had never been born; if the Hebrew poetry had never been 
translated; if a revival of the study of Greek literature had never 
taken place; if no monuments of ancient sculpture had been handed 
down to us; and if the poetry of the religion of the ancient world 
had been extinguished together with its belief. The human mind 
could never, except by the intervention of these excitements, have 
been awakened to the invention of the grosser sciences, and that 
application of analytical reasoning to the aberrations of society, 

* Although Rousseau has been thus classed, he was essentially a poet. The others, 
even Voltaire, were mere reasoners. — S. 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 353 

which it is now attempted to exalt over the direct expression of the 
inventive and creative faculty itself. 

We have more moral, political, and historical wisdom than we 
know how to reduce into practice; we have more scientific and eco- 
nomical knowledge than can be accommodated to the just distribu- 
tion of the produce which it multiplies. The poetry in these systems 
of thought is concealed by the accumulation of facts and calculating 
processes. There is no want of knowledge respecting what is wisest 
and best in morals, government, and political economy, or at least, 
what is wiser and better than what men now practise and endure. 
But we let "/ dare not wait upon / would, like the poor cat in the 
adage." We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we 
know; we want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine; 
we want the poetry of life; our calculations have outrun conception; 
we have eaten more than we can digest. The cultivation of those 
sciences which have enlarged the limits of the empire of man over 
the external world, has, for want of the poetical faculty, proportion- 
ally circumscribed those of the internal world; and man, having 
enslaved the elements, remains himself a slave. To what but a culti- 
vation of the mechanical arts in a degree disproportioned to the 
presence of the creative faculty, which is the basis of all knowledge, 
is to be attributed the abuse of all invention for abridging and com- 
bining labor, to the exasperation of the inequality of mankind? 
From what other cause has it arisen that the discoveries which should 
have lightened, have added a weight to the curse imposed on Adam ? 
Poetry, and the principle of Self, of which money is the visible 
incarnation, are the God and Mammon of the world. 

The functions of the poetical faculty are twofold: by one it creates 
new materials of knowledge, and power, and pleasure; by the other 
it engenders in the mind a desire to reproduce and arrange them 
according to a certain rhythm and order which may be called the 
beautiful and the good. The cultivation of poetry is never more to be 
desired than at periods when, from an excess of the selfish and 
calculating principle, the accumulation of the materials of external 
life exceed the quantity of the power of assimilating them to the 
internal laws of human nature. The body has then become too 
unwieldy for that which animates it. 



354 SHELLEY 

Poetry is indeed something divine. It is at once the centre and 
circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all 
science, and that to which all science must be referred. It is at the 
same time the root and blossom of all other systems of thought; it is 
that from which all spring, and that which adorns all; and that 
which, if blighted, denies the fruit and the seed, and withholds from 
the barren world the nourishment and the succession of the scions 
of the tree of life. It is the perfect and consummate surface and 
bloom of all things; it is as the odor and the color of the rose to the 
texture of the elements which compose it, as the form and splendor 
of unfaded beauty to the secrets of anatomy and corruption. What 
were virtue, love, patriotism, friendship — what were the scenery of 
this beautiful universe which we inhabit; what were our consola- 
tions on this side of the grave — and what were our aspirations 
beyond it, if poetry did not ascend to bring light and fire from those 
eternal regions where the owl-winged faculty of calculation dare not 
ever soar ? Poetry is not like reasoning, a power to be exerted accord- 
ing to the determination of the will. A man cannot say, "I will 
compose poetry." The greatest poet even cannot say it; for the 
mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, 
like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness; this 
power arises from within, like the color of a flower which fades and 
changes as it is developed, and the conscious portions of our natures 
are unprophetic either of its approach or its departure. Could this 
influence be durable in its original purity and force, it is impossible 
to predict the greatness of the results; but when composition begins, 
inspiration is already on the decline, and the most glorious poetry 
that has ever been communicated to the world is probably a feeble 
shadow of the original conceptions of the poet. I appeal to the great- 
est poets of the present day, whether it is not an error to assert that 
the finest passages of poetry are produced by labor and study. The 
toil and the delay recommended by critics can be justly interpreted 
to mean no more than a careful observation of the inspired moments, 
and an artificial connection of the spaces between their suggestions 
by the intertexture of conventional expressions; a necessity only im- 
posed by the hmitedness of the poetical faculty itself: for Milton 
conceived the "Paradise Lost" as a whole before he executed it in 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 355 

portions. We have his own authority also for the Muse having 
"dictated" to him the "unpremeditated song." And let this be an 
answer to those who would allege the fifty-six various readings of 
the first line of the "Orlando Furioso." Compositions so produced 
are to poetry what mosaic is to painting. This instinct and intuition 
of the poetical faculty are still more observable in the plastic and 
pictorial arts; a great statue or picture grows under the power of the 
artist as a child in a mother's womb; and the very mind which directs 
the hands in formation is incapable of accounting to itself for the 
origin, the gradations, or the media of the process. 

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the hap- 
piest and best minds. We are aware of evanescent visitations of 
thought and feeling sometimes associated with place or person, some- 
times regarding our own mind alone, and always arising unforeseen 
and departing unbidden, but elevating and dehghtful beyond all 
expression: so that even in the desire and the regret they leave, there 
cannot but be pleasure, participating as it does in the nature of its 
object. It is as it were the interpenetration of a diviner nature 
through our own; but its footsteps are like those of a wind over the 
sea, which the coming calm erases, and whose traces remain only as 
on the wrinkled sand which paves it. These and corresponding 
conditions of being are experienced principally by those of the most 
delicate sensibility and the most enlarged imagination; and the state 
of mind produced by them is at war with every base desire. The 
enthusiasm of virtue, love, patriotism, and friendship is essentially 
linked with such emotions; and whilst they last, self appears as what 
it is, an atom to a universe. Poets are not only subject to these experi- 
ences as spirits of the most refined organization, but they can color 
all that they combine with the evanescent hues of this ethereal world; 
a word, a trait in the representation of a scene or a passion will touch 
the enchanted chord, and reanimate, in those who have ever experi- 
enced these emotions, the sleeping, the cold, the buried image of the 
past. Poetry thus makes immortal all that is best and most beautiful 
in the world; it arrests the vanishing apparitions which haunt the 
interlunations of life, and veiling them, or in language or in form, 
sends them forth among mankind, bearing sweet news of kindred 
joy to those with whom their sisters abide — abide, because there is no 



356 SHELLEY 

portal of expression from the caverns of the spirit which they inhabit 
into the universe of things. Poetry redeems from decay the visitations 
of the divinity in man. 

Poetry turns all things to loveliness; it exalts the beauty of that 
which is most beautiful, and it adds beauty to that which is most 
deformed; it marries exultation and horror, grief and pleasure, eter- 
nity and change; it subdues to union under its light yoke all irrecon- 
cilable things. It transmutes all that it touches, and every form 
moving within the radiance of its presence is changed by wondrous 
sympathy to an incarnation of the spirit which it breathes: its secret 
alchemy turns to potable gold the poisonous waters which flow from 
death through life; it strips the veil of familiarity from the world, 
and lays bare the naked and sleeping beauty, which is the spirit of 
its forms. 

All things exist as they are perceived: at least in relation to the 
percipient. "The mind is its own place, and of itself can make a 
heaven of hell, a hell of heaven." But poetry defeats the curse which 
binds us to be subjected to the accident of surrounding impressions. 
And whether it spreads its own figured curtain, or withdraws life's 
dark veil from before the scene of things, it equally creates for us a 
being within our being. It makes us the inhabitants of a world to 
which the familiar world is a chaos. It reproduces the common 
universe of which we are portions and percipients, and it purges 
from our inward sight the film of familiarity which obscures from 
us the wonder of our being. It compels us to feel that which we 
perceive, and to imagine that which we know. It creates anew the 
universe, after it has been annihilated in our minds by the recurrence 
of impressions blunted by reiteration. It justifies the bold and true 
words of Tasso — "Non merita name di creatore, se non Iddio ed 
ilPoeta."'' 

A poet, as he is the author to others of the highest wisdom, pleasure, 
virtue, and glory, so he ought personally to be the happiest, the best, 
the wisest, and the most illustrious of men. As to his glory, let time 
be challenged to declare whether the fame of any other institutor of 
human life be comparable to that of a poet. That he is the wisest, 
the happiest, and the best, inasmuch as he is a poet, is equally 
' "No one merits the name of creator except God and the Poet." 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 357 

incontrovertible: the greatest poets have been men of the most 
spotless virtue, of the most consummate prudence, and, if we would 
look into the interior of their lives, the most fortunate of men: and 
the exceptions, as they regard those who possessed the poetic faculty 
in a high yet inferior degree, will be found on consideration to confine 
rather than destroy the rule. Let us for a moment stoop to the arbi- 
tration of popular breath, and usurping and uniting in our own 
persons the incompatible characters of accuser, witness, judge, and 
executioner, let us decide without trial, testimony, or form, that 
certain motives of those who are "there sitting where we dare not 
soar," are reprehensible. Let us assume that Homer was a drunkard, 
that Vergil was a flatterer, that Horace was a coward, that Tasso 
was a madman, that Lord Bacon was a peculator, that Raphael was a 
libertine, that Spenser was a poet laureate. It is inconsistent with this 
division of our subject to cite living poets, but posterity has done 
ample justice to the great names now referred to. Their errors have 
been weighed and found to have been dust in the balance; if their 
sins "were as scarlet, they are now white as snow"; they have been 
washed in the blood of the mediator and redeemer. Time. Observe 
in what a ludicrous chaos the imputations of real or fictitious crime 
have been confused in the contemporary calumnies against poetry 
and poets; consider how little is as it appears — or appears as it is; look 
to your own motives, and judge not, lest ye be judged. 

Poetry, as has been said, differs in this respect from logic, that it is 
not subject to the control of the active powers of the mind, and that 
its birth and recurrence have no necessary connection with the con- 
sciousness or will. It is presumptuous to determine that these are 
the necessary conditions of all mental causation, when mental effects 
are experienced unsusceptible of being referred to them. The fre- 
quent recurrence of the poetical power, it is obvious to suppose, may 
produce in the mind a habit of order and harmony correlative with 
its own nature and with its effects upon other minds. But in the 
intervals of inspiration, and they may be frequent without being 
durable, a poet becomes a man, and is abandoned to the sudden 
reflux of the influences under which others habitually live. But as he 
is more delicately organized than other men, and sensible to pain 
and pleasure, both his own and that of others, in a degree unknown 



358 SHELLEY 

to them, he will avoid the one and pursue the other with an ardor 
proportioned to this difference. And he renders himself obnoxious 
to calumny, when he neglects to observe the circumstances under 
which these objects of universal pursuit and flight have disguised 
themselves in one another's garments. 

But there is nothing necessarily evil in this error, and thus cruelty, 
envy, revenge, avarice, and the passions purely evil have never 
formed any portion of the popular imputations on the Uves of poets. 

I have thought it most favorable to the cause of truth to set down 
these remarks according to the order in which they were suggested to 
my mind, by a consideration of the subject itself, instead of observing 
the formality of a polemical reply; but if the view which they con- 
tain be just, they will be found to involve a refutation of the arguers 
against poetry, so far at least as regards the first division of the 
subject. I can readily conjecture what should have moved the gall 
of some learned and intelligent writers who quarrel with certain 
versifiers; I confess myself, hke them, unwilling to be stunned by 
the Theseids of the hoarse Codri of the day. Bavins and Mzvius 
undoubtedly are, as they ever were, insufferable persons. But it 
belongs to a philosophical critic to distinguish rather than confound. 

The first part of these remarks has related to poetry in its elements 
and principles; and it has been shown, as well as the narrow limits 
assigned them would permit, that what is called poetry, in a restricted 
sense, has a common source with all other forms of order and of 
beauty, according to which the materials of human life are suscep- 
tible of being arranged, and which is poetry in an universal sense. 

The second part will have for its object an application of these 
principles to the present state of the cultivation of poetry, and a 
defence of the attempt to idealize the modern forms of manners and 
opinions, and compel them into a subordination to the imaginative 
and creative faculty. For the literature of England, an energetic 
development of which has ever preceded or accompanied a great 
and free development of the national will, has arisen as it were from 
a new birth. In spite of the low-thoughted envy which would under- 
value contemporary merit, our own will be a memorable age in 
intellectual achievements, and we live among such philosophers and 
poets as surpass beyond comparison any who have appeared since 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 359 

the last national struggle for civil and religious liberty. The most 
unfailing herald, companion, and follower of the awakening of a 
great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution, is 
poetry. At such periods there is an accumulation of the power of 
communicating and receiving intense and impassioned conceptions 
respecting man and nature. The persons in whom this power resides, 
may often, as far as regards many portions of their nature, have 
little apparent correspondence with that spirit of good of which 
they are the ministers. But even whilst they deny and abjure, they 
are yet compelled to serve, that power which is seated on the throne 
of their own soul. It is impossible to read the compositions of the 
most celebrated writers of the present day without being startled 
with the electric life which burns within their words. They measure 
the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a 
comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit, and they are themselves 
perhaps the most sincerely astonished at its manifestations; for it is 
less their spirit than the spirit of the age. Poets are the hierophants 
of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows 
which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what 
they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not 
what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. 
Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. 



MACHIAVELLI 

BY 
THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) was the son of Zachary 
Macaulay, a Scotsman whose experience in the West Indies had made 
him an ardent Abolitionist. Thomas was an infant prodigy, and the 
extraordinary memory which is borne witness to in his writings was 
developed at an early age. He was educated at Cambridge, studied law, 
and began to write for the "Edinburgh Review" at twenty-five, his well- 
known style being already formed. He entered the House of Commons 
in 1830, and at once made a reputation as an orator. In 1834 he went 
to India as a member of the Supreme Council, and during his three and 
a half years there he proved himself a capable and beneficent adminis- 
trator. On his return, he again entered Parliament, held cabinet office, 
and retired from political life in 1856. 

Until about 1844 Macaulay 's writings appeared chiefly in the "Edin- 
burgh Review," the great organ of the Whig Party, to which he be- 
longed. These articles as now collected are perhaps the most widely 
known critical and historical essays in the language. The brilliant 
antithetical style, the wealth of illustration, the pomp and picturesque- 
ness with which the events of the narrative are brought before the eyes 
of the reader, combine to make them in the highest degree entertaining 
and informing. His "History of England," which occupied his later 
years, was the most popular book of its kind ever published in England, 
and owed its success to much the same qualities. The "Lays of Ancient 
Rome" and his other verses gained and still hold a large public, mainly 
by virtue of their vigor of movement and strong declamatory quality. 

The essay on Machiavelli belongs to Macaulay 's earlier period, and 
illustrates his mastery of material that might seem to lie outside of his 
usual field. But here in the Italy of the Renaissance, as in the England 
or the India which he knew at first hand, we have the same character- 
istic simplification and arrangement of motives and conditions that make 
his clear exposition possible, the same dash and vividness in bringing 
home to the reader his conception of a great character and a great epoch. 



MACHIAVELLr 

THOSE who have attended to this practice of our literary 
tribunal are well aware, that, by means of certain legal 
fictions similar to those of Westminster Hall, we are fre- 
quently enabled to take cognizance of cases lying beyond the sphere 
of our original jurisdiction. We need hardly say, therefore, that, in 
the present instance, M. Perier is merely a Richard Roe, who will 
not be mentioned in any subsequent stage of the proceedings, and 
whose name is used for the sole purpose of bringing Machiavelli 
into court. 

We doubt whether any name in literary history be so generally 
odious as that of the man whose character and writings we now 
propose to consider. The terms in which he is commonly described 
would seem to impart that he was the Tempter, the Evil Principle, 
the discoverer of ambition and revenge, the original inventor of 
perjury, and that, before the publication of his fatal "Prince," there 
had never been a hypocrite, a tyrant, or a traitor, a simulated virtue, 
or a convenient crime. One writer gravely assures us that Maurice 
of Saxony learned all his fraudulent policy from that execrable vol- 
ume. Another remarks, that, since it was translated into Turkish, 
the sultans have been more addicted than formerly to the custom of 
strangling their brothers. Lord Lyttelton charges the poor Floren- 
tine with the manifold treasons of the house of Guise, and with the 
Massacre of St. Bartholomew. Several authors have hinted that the 
Gunpowder Plot is to be primarily attributed to his doctrines, and 
seem to think that his effigy ought to be substituted for that of Guy 
Fawkes, in those processions by which the ingenuous youth of 
England annually commemorate the preservation of the Three 
Estates. The Church of Rome has pronounced his works accursed 

1 Originally published as a review of a translation of the complete works of Machia- 
velli by J. V. Peries. 

363 



364 MACAULAY 

things. Nor have our own countrymen been backward in testifying 
their opinion of his merits. Out of his surname they have coined an 
epithet for a knave, and out of his Christian name a synonym for 
the Devil. 

It is indeed scarcely possible for any person, not well acquainted 
with the history and literature of Italy, to read without horror and 
amazement the celebrated treatise which has brought so much oblo- 
quy on the name of Machiavelli. Such a display of wickedness, naked 
yet not ashamed, such cool, judicious, scientific atrocity, seemed 
rather to belong to a fiend than to the most depraved of men. Prin- 
ciples which the most hardened ruffian would scarcely hint to his 
most trusted accomplice, or avow, without the disguise of some 
palliating sophism, even to his own mind, are professed without the 
slightest circumlocution, and assumed as the fundamental axioms of 
all political science. 

It is not strange that ordinary readers should regard the author 
of such a book as the most depraved and shameless of human beings. 
Wise men, however, have always been inclined to look with great 
suspicion on the angels and demons of the multitude; and, in the 
present instance, several circumstances have led even superficial 
observers to question the justice of the vulgar decision. It is notorious 
that Machiavelli was, through life, a zealous republican. In the same 
year in which he composed his manual of "Kingcraft," he suffered 
imprisonment and torture in the cause of public liberty. It seems 
inconceivable that the martyr of freedom should have designedly 
acted as the apostle of tyranny. Several eminent writers have, there- 
fore, endeavored to detect in this unfortunate performance some con- 
cealed meaning, more consistent with the character and conduct of 
the author than that which appears at the first glance. 

One hypothesis is, that Machiavelli intended to practise on the 
young Lorenzo de' Medici a fraud similar to that which Sunderland 
is said to have employed against our James II, and that he urged his 
pupil to violent and perfidious measures, as *he surest means of 
accelerating the moment of deliverance and revenge. Another sup- 
position, which Lord Bacon seems to countenance, is that the treatise 
was merely a piece of grave irony, intended to warn nations against 
the arts of ambitious men. It would be easy to show that neither of 



MACHIAVELLI 365 

these solutions is consistent with many passages in "The Prince" 
itself. But the most decisive refutation is that which is furnished 
by the other works of Machiavelli. In all the writings which he gave 
to the public, and in all those which the research of editors has, in 
the course of three centuries, discovered; in his comedies, designed 
for the entertainment of the multitude; in his "Comments on Livy," 
intended for the perusal of the most enthusiastic patriots of Florence; 
in his history, inscribed to one of the most amiable and estimable of 
the popes; in his public despatches; in his private memoranda — the 
same obhquity of moral principle for which "The Prince" is so 
severely censured is more or less discernible. We doubt whether it 
would be possible to find, in all the many volumes of his composi- 
tions, a single expression indicating that dissimulation and treachery 
had ever struck him as discreditable. 

After this, it may seem ridiculous to say that we are acquainted 
with few writings which exhibit so much elevation of sentiment, so 
pure and warm a zeal for the public good, or so just a view of the 
duties and rights of citizens, as those of Machiavelli. Yet so it is. 
And even from "The Prince" itself we could select many passages 
in support of this remark. To a reader of our age and country, this 
inconsistency is, at first, perfectly bewildering. The whole man seems 
to be an enigma, a grotesque assemblage of incongruous qualities, 
selfishness and generosity, cruelty and benevolence, craft and sim- 
plicity, abject villany and romantic heroism. One sentence is such 
as a veteran diplomatist would scarcely write in cipher for the direc- 
tion of his most confidential spy : the next seems to be extracted from 
a theme composed by an ardent school-boy on the death of Leonidas. 
An act of dexterous perfidy and an act of patriotic self-devotion call 
forth the same kind and the same degree of respectful admiration. 
The moral sensibility of the writer seems at once to be morbidly 
obtuse and morbidly acute. Two characters altogether dissimilar 
are united in him. They are not merely joined, but interwoven. 
They are the warp and the woof of his mind; and their combination, 
like that of the variegated threads in shot silk, gives to the whole 
texture a glancing and ever-changing appearance. The explanation 
might have been easy if he had been a very weak or a very affected 
man. But he was evidently neither the one nor the other. His works 



366 MACAULAY 

prove, beyond all contradiction, that his understanding was strong, 
his taste pure, and his sense o£ the ridiculous exquisitely keen. 

This is strange, and yet the strangest is behind. There is no reason 
whatever to think that those amongst whom he lived saw anything 
shocking or incongruous in his writings. Abundant proofs remain 
of the high estimation in which both his works and his person were 
held by the most respectable among his contemporaries. Clement VII 
patronized the publication of those very books which the Council of 
Trent, in the following generation, pronounced unfit for the perusal 
of Christians. Some members of the democratical party censured 
the secretary for dedicating "The Prince" to a patron who bore the 
unpopular name of Medici. But, to those immoral doctrines which 
have since called forth such severe reprehensions no exception 
appears to have been taken. The cry against them was first raised 
beyond the Alps, and seems to have been heard with amazement in 
Italy. The earliest assailant, as far as we are aware, was a countryman 
of our own. Cardinal Pole. The author of the "Anti-Machiavelli" 
was a French Protestant. 

It is, therefore, in the state of moral feeling among the Italians of 
those times that we must seek for the real explanation of what seems 
most mysterious in the life and writings of this remarkable man. 
As this is a subject which suggests many interesting considerations, 
both political and metaphysical, we shall make no apology for dis- 
cussing it at some length. 

During the gloomy and disastrous centuries which followed the 
downfall of the Roman Empire, Italy had preserved, in a far greater 
degree than any other part of western Europe, the traces of ancient 
civilization. The night which descended upon her was the night of 
an Arctic summer. The dawn began to reappear before the last 
reflection of the preceding sunset had faded from the horizon. It 
was in the time of the French Merovingians and of the Saxon 
Heptarchy that ignorance and ferocity seemed to have done their 
worst. Yet even then the Neapolitan provinces, recognizing the 
authority of the Eastern Empire, preserved something of Eastern 
knowledge and refinement. Rome, protected by the sacred character 
of her pontiffs, enjoyed at least comparative security and repose. 
Even in those regions where the sanguinary Lombards had fixed 



MACHIAVELLI 367 

their monarchy, there was incomparably more of wealth, o£ informa- 
tion, of physical comfort, and of social order, than could be found in 
Gaul, Britain, or Germany. 

That which most distinguished Italy from the neighboring coun- 
tries was the importance which the population of the towns, at a 
very early period, began to acquire. Some cities had been founded 
in wild and remote situations, by fugitives who had escaped from 
the rage of the barbarians. Such were Venice and Genoa, which 
preserved their freedom by their obscurity, till they became able to 
preserve it by their power. Other cities seem to have retained, under 
all the changing dynasties of invaders, under Odoacer and Theodoric, 
Narses and Alboin, the municipal institutions which had been con- 
ferred on them by the Uberal policy of the Great Republic. In prov- 
inces which the central government was too feeble either to protect 
or to oppress, these institutions gradually acquired stability and vigor. 
The citizens, defended by their walls, and governed by their own 
magistrates and their own by-laws, enjoyed a considerable share of 
republican independence. Thus a strong democratic spirit was called 
into action. The Carlovingian sovereigns were too imbecile to 
subdue it. The generous policy of Otho encouraged it. It might 
perhaps have been suppressed by a close coalition between the Church 
and the empire. It was fostered and invigorated by their disputes. 
In the twelfth century it attained its full vigor, and, after a long and 
doubtful conflict, triumphed over the abiHties and courage of the 
Swabian princes. 

The assistance of the ecclesiastical power had greatly contributed 
to the success of the Guelfs. That success would, however, have 
been a doubtful good, if its only effect had been to substitute a moral 
for a political servitude, and to exalt the popes at the expense of the 
Caesars. Happily the public mind of Italy had long contained the 
seeds of free opinions, which were now rapidly developed by the 
genial influence of free institutions. The people of that country had 
observed the whole machinery of the Church, its saints and its 
miracles, its lofty pretensions, and its splendid ceremonial, its worth- 
less blessings and its harmless curses, too long and too closely to be 
duped. They stood behind the scenes on which others were gazing 
with childish awe and interest. They witnessed the arrangement 



368 MACAULAY 

of the pulleys, and the manufacture of the thunders. They saw the 
natural faces, and heard the natural voices, of the actors. Distant 
nations looked on the Pope as the vicegerent of the Almighty, the 
oracle of the All-Wise, the umpire from whose decisions, in the 
disputes either of theologians or of kings, no Christian ought to 
appeal. The Italians were acquainted with all the follies of his youth, 
and with all the dishonest arts by which he had attained power. They 
knew how often he had employed the keys of the Church to release 
himself from the most sacred engagements, and its wealth to pamper 
his mistresses and nephews. The doctrines and rites of the established 
religion they treated with decent reverence. But, though they still 
called themselves Catholics, they had ceased to be papists. Those 
spiritual arms which carried terror into the palaces and camps of 
the proudest sovereigns excited only contempt in the immediate 
neighborhood of the Vatican. Alexander, when he commanded our 
Henry II to submit to the lash before the tomb of a rebellious 
subject, was himself an exile. The Romans, apprehending that he 
entertained designs against their liberties, had driven him from their 
city; and, though he solemnly promised to confine himself for 
the future to his spiritual functions, they still refused to readmit 
him. 

In every other part of Europe, a large and powerful privileged 
class trampled on the people, and defied the government. But, in 
the most flourishing parts of Italy, the feudal nobles were reduced 
to comparative insignificance. In some districts they took shelter 
under the protection of the powerful commonwealths which they 
were unable to oppose, and gradually sank into the mass of burghers. 
In other places, they possessed great influence; but it was an influence 
widely different from that which was exercised by the aristocracy 
of any trans-Alpine kingdom. They were not petty princes, but 
eminent citizens. Instead of strengthening their fastnesses among 
the mountains, they embellished their palaces in the market-place. 
The state of society in the Neapolitan dominions, and in some parts 
of the ecclesiastical State, more nearly resembled that which existed 
in the great monarchies of Europe. But the governments of Lom- 
bardy and Tuscany, through all their revolutions, preserved a dif- 
ferent character. A people, when assembled in a town, is far more 



MACHIAVELLI 369 

formidable to Its rulers than when dispersed over a wide extent of 
country. The most arbitrary of the Cscsars found it necessary to feed 
and divert the inhabitants of their unwieldy capital at the expense of 
the provinces. The citizens of Madrid have more than once besieged 
their sovereign in his own palace, and extorted from him the most 
humiliating concessions. The sultans have often been compelled to 
propitiate the furious rabble of Constantinople with the head of an 
unpopular vizier. From the same cause, there was a certain tinge of 
democracy in the monarchies and aristocracies of northern Italy. 

Thus liberty, partially indeed and transiently, revisited Italy; and 
with liberty came commerce and empire, science and taste, all the 
comforts and all the ornaments of life. The Crusades, from which 
the inhabitants of other countries gained nothing but relics and 
wounds, brought to the rising commonwealths of the Adriatic and 
Tyrrhene seas a large increase of wealth, dominion, and knowledge. 
The moral and the geographical position of those commonwealths 
enabled them to profit alike by the barbarism of the West and by the 
civilization of the East. Italian ships covered every sea. Italian 
factories rose on every shore. The tables of Italian money-changers 
were set in every city. Manufactures flourished. Banks were estab- 
lished. The operations of the commercial machine were facilitated 
by many useful and beautiful inventions. We doubt whether any 
country of Europe, our own excepted, has at the present time reached 
so high a point of wealth and civilization as some parts of Italy 
had attained 400 years ago. Historians rarely descend to those details 
from which alone the real estate of a community can be collected. 
Hence posterity is too often deceived by the vague hyperboles of 
poets and rhetoricians, who mistake the splendor of a court for the 
happiness of a people. Fortunately, John Villani has given us an 
example and precise account of the state of Florence in the early 
part of the fourteenth century. The revenue of the republic amounted 
to 300,000 florins, a sum which, allowing for the depreciation of the 
precious metals, was at least equivalent to £600,000 sterling — a larger 
sum than England and Ireland, two centuries ago, yielded annually 
to Elizabeth. The manufacture of wool alone employed 200 factories 
and 30,000 workmen. The cloth annually produced sold, at an 
average, for 1,200,000 florins — a sum fully equal, in exchangeable 



370 MACAULAY 

value, to ^2,500,000 of our money. Four hundred thousand florins 
were annually coined. Eighty banks conducted the commercial 
operations, not of Florence only, but of all Europe. The transactions 
of these establishments were sometimes of a magnitude which may 
surprise even the contemporaries of the Barings and the Rothschilds. 
Two houses advanced to Edward III of England upwards of 300,000 
marks, at a time when the mark contained more silver than fifty 
shillings of the present day, and when the value of silver was more 
than quadruple of what it now is. The city, and its environs con- 
tained 170,000 inhabitants. In the various schools about 10,000 
children were taught to read, 1,200 studied arithmetic, 600 received 
a learned education. 

The progress of elegant literature and of the fine arts was propor- 
tioned to that of the public prosperity. Under the despotic successors 
of Augustus all the fields of the intellect had been turned into arid 
wastes, still marked out by formal boundaries, still retaining the 
traces of old cultivation, but yielding neither flowers nor fruit. The 
deluge of barbarism came. It swept away all the landmarks. It 
obliterated all the signs of former tillage. But, it fertilized while it 
devastated. When it receded, the wilderness was as the garden of 
God, rejoicing on every side, laughing, clapping its hands, pouring 
forth, in spontaneous abundance, everything brilliant or fragrant 
or nourishing. A new language, characterized by simple sweetness 
and simple energy, had attained perfection. No tongue ever fur- 
nished more gorgeous and vivid tints to poetry; nor was it long 
before a poet appeared who knew how to employ them. Early in 
the fourteenth century came forth "The Divine Comedy," beyond 
comparison the greatest work of imagination which had appeared 
since the poems of Homer. The following generation produced 
indeed no second Dante, but it was eminently distinguished by 
general intellectual activity. The study of the Latin writers had 
never been wholly neglected in Italy. But Petrarch introduced a 
more profound, liberal, and elegant scholarship, had communicated 
to his countrymen that enthusiasm for the literature, the history, and 
the antiquities of Rome, which divided his own heart with a frigid 
mistress and a more frigid muse. Boccaccio turned their attention 
to the more sublime and graceful models of Greece. 



MACHIAVELLI 37I 

From this time, the admiration of learning and genius became 
almost an idolatry among the people of Italy. Kings and republics, 
cardinals and doges, vied with each other in honoring and flattering 
Petrarch. Embassies from rival States solicited the honor of his 
instructions. His coronation agitated the Court of Naples and the 
people of Rome as much as the most important political transaction 
could have done. To collect books and antiques, to found professor- 
ships, to patronize men of learning, became almost universal fashions 
among the great. The spirit of literary research allied itself to that 
of commercial enterprise. Every place to which the merchant princes 
of Florence extended their gigantic traffic, from the bazars of the 
Tigris to the monasteries of the Clyde, was ransacked for medals 
and manuscripts. Architecture, painting, and sculpture were munifi- 
cently encouraged. Indeed, it would be difficult to name an Italian 
of eminence, during the period of which we speak, who, whatever 
may have been his general character, did not at least affect a love of 
letters and of the arts. 

Knowledge and public prosperity continued to advance together. 
Both attained their meridian in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent. 
We cannot refrain from quoting the splendid passage in which the 
Tuscan Thucydides describes the state of Italy at that period. 
"Ridotta tutta in somma pace e tranquillita coltivata non meno ne 
luogti piu montusoi e piu sterili che nelle pianure e regioni piu 
jertili, ne sottoposta ad altro imperio che de' suoi medesimi, non solo 
era abbondantissima d' abitatori e di ricchezze; ma illustrata somma- 
mente dalla magnificenza di molti principi, dallo splendore di molte 
nobilissime e bellissime citta, dalla sedia e maesta della religione, 
fioriua d' uomini prestantissimi neW amministrazione delle cose 
pubbliche, e d' ingegni molto nobili in tutte le scienze, ed in qualun- 
que arte preclara ed industriosa."^ When we peruse this just and 
splendid description, we can scarcely persuade ourselves that we are 

^ "Enjoying the utmost peace and tranquillity, cultivated as well in the most moun- 
tainous and barren places as in the plains and most fertile regions, and not subject to 
any other dominion than that of its own people, it not only overflowed with inhabi- 
tants and with riches, but was highly adorned by the magnificence of many princes, 
by the splendor of many renowned and beautiful cities, by the abode and majesty of 
religion, and abounded in men who excelled in the administration of public affairs and 
in minds most eminent in all the sciences and in every noble and useful art." — 
Guicciardini, "History of Italy," Book I., trans. Montague. 



372 MACAULAY 

reading of times in which the annals of England and France present 
us only with a frightful spectacle of poverty, barbarity, and ignorance. 
From the oppressions of illiterate masters, and the sufferings of a 
degraded peasantry, it is delightful to turn to the opulent and 
enlightened States of Italy, to the vast and magnificent cities, the 
ports, the arsenals, the villas, the museums, the libraries, the marts 
filled with every article of comfort or luxury, the factories swarming 
with artisans, the Apennines covered with rich cultivation up to 
their very summits, the Po wafting the harvests of Lombardy to the 
granaries of Venice, and carrying back the silks of Bengal and the 
furs of Siberia to the palaces of Milan, With peculiar pleasure every 
cultivated mind must repose on the fair, the happy, the glorious 
Florence, the halls which rang with the mirth of Pulci, the cell where 
twinkled the midnight lamp of Politian, the statues on which the 
young eye of Michael Angelo glared with the frenzy of a kindred 
inspiration, the gardens in which Lorenzo meditated some sparkling 
song for the May-day dance of the Etrurian virgins. Alas for the 
beautiful city! Alas for the wit and the learning, the genius and 
the love! 

"Le donne, e i cavalieri, gli affanni e gli agi, 
Che ne'nvogliava amore e cortesia 
La dove i cuor son jatti st malvagi." ' 

A time was at hand when all the seven vials of the Apocalypse were 
to be poured forth and shaken out over those pleasant countries — a 
time of slaughter, famine, beggary, infamy, slavery, despair. 

In the Italian States, as in many natural bodies, untimely decrepi- 
tude was the penalty of precocious maturity. Their early greatness, 
and their early decline, are principally to be attributed to the same 
cause — ^the preponderance which the towns acquired in the political 
system. 

In a community of hunters or of shepherds every man easily and 
necessarily becomes a soldier. His ordinary avocations are perfecdy 
compatible with all the duties of military service. However remote 
may be the expedition on which he is bound, he finds it easy to 

' "The ladies and the knights, the toils and sports to which love and courtesy 
stirred our desire there where all hearts have grown so evil." — Dante, "Purgatorio," 
Canto 14, 11. 109-111. 



MACHIAVELLI 373 

transport with him the stock from which he derives his subsistence. 
The whole people in an army, the whole year a march. Such was 
the state of society which facilitated the gigantic conquests of Attila 
and Tamerlane. 

But a people which subsists by the cultivation of the earth is in a 
very different situation. The husbandman is bound to the soil on 
which he labors. A long campaign would be ruinous to him. Still his 
pursuits are such as to give his frame both the active and the passive 
strength necessary to a soldier. Nor do they, at least in the infancy 
of agricultural science, demand his uninterrupted attention. At 
particular times of the year he is almost wholly unemployed, and 
can, without injury to himself, afford the time necessary for a short 
expedition. Thus the legions of Rome were supplied during its 
earUer wars. The season during which the fields did not require the 
presence of the cultivators sufficed for a short inroad and a battle. 
These operations, too frequently interrupted to produce decisive 
results, yet served to keep up among the people a degree of discipline 
and courage which rendered them not only secure but formidable. 
The archers and billmen of the Middle Ages, who, with provisions 
for forty days at their back, left the fields for the camp, were troops 
of the same description. 

But when commerce and manufactures begin to flourish, a great 
change takes place. The sedentary habits of the desk and the loom 
render the exertions and hardships of war insupportable. The busi- 
ness of traders and artisans requires their constant presence and 
attention. In such a community there is little superfluous time; but 
there is generally much superfluous money. Some members of the 
society are, therefore, hired to relieve the rest from a task inconsistent 
with their habits and engagements. 

The history of Greece is, in this, as in many other respects, the 
best commentary on the history of Italy. Five hundred years before 
the Christian era the citizens of the republics round the ^gean Sea 
formed perhaps the finest militia that ever existed. As wealth and 
refinement advanced, the system underwent a gradual alteration. 
The Ionian States were the first in which commerce and the arts 
were cultivated, and the first in which the ancient discipline decayed. 
Within eighty years after the battle of Plataea, mercenary troops were 



374 MACAULAY 

everywhere plying for battles and sieges. In the time of Demosthenes, 
it was scarcely possible to persuade or compel the Athenians to enlist 
for foreign service. The laws of Lycurgus prohibited trade and 
manufactures. The Spartans, therefore, continued to form a national 
force long after their neighbors had begun to hire soldiers. But 
their military spirit declined with their singular institutions. In the 
second century before Christ, Greece contained only one nation of 
warriors, the savage highlanders of ^tolia, who were some genera- 
tions behind their countrymen in civilization and intelligence. 

All the causes which produced these effects among the Greeks 
acted still more strongly on the modern Italians. Instead of a power 
like Sparta, in its nature warlike, they had amongst them an ecclesi- 
astical state, in its nature pacific. Where there are numerous slaves, 
every freeman is induced by the strongest motives to familiarize him- 
self with the use of arms. The commonwealths of Italy did not, Uke 
those of Greece, swarm with thousands of these household enemies. 
Lastly, the mode in which military operations were conducted dur- 
ing the prosperous times of Italy was peculiarly unfavorable to the 
formation of an efficient militia. Men covered with iron from head 
to foot, armed with ponderous lances, and mounted on horses of the 
largest breed, were considered as composing the strength of an army. 
The infantry was regarded as comparatively worthless, and was 
neglected till it became really so. These tactics maintained their 
ground for centuries in most parts of Europe. That foot-soldiers 
could withstand the charge of heavy cavalry was thought utterly 
impossible, till, towards the close of the fifteenth century, the rude 
mountaineers of Switzerland dissolved the spell, and astounded the 
most experienced generals by receiving the dreaded shock on an 
impenetrable forest of pikes. 

The use of the Grecian spear, the Roman sword, or the modern 
bayonet, might be acquired with comparative ease. But nothing 
short of the daily exercise of years could train the man at arms to 
support his ponderous panoply, and manage his unwieldy weapon. 
Throughout Europe this most important branch of war became a 
separate profession. Beyond the Alps, indeed, though a profession, 
it was not generally a trade. It was the duty and the amusement of 
a large class of country gentlemen. It was the service by which they 



MACHIAVELLI 375 

held their lands, and the diversion by which, in the absence of 
mental resources, they beguiled their leisure. But in the northern 
States of Italy, as we have already remarked, the growing power of 
the cities, where it had not exterminated this order of men, had 
completely changed their habits. Here, therefore, the practice of 
employing mercenaries became universal, at a time when it was 
almost unknown in other countries. 

When war becomes the trade of a separate class the least dangerous 
course left to a government is to form that class into a standing army. 
It is scarcely possible that men can pass their lives in the service of 
one State, without feeling some interest in its greatness. Its victories 
are their victories. Its defeats are their defeats. The contract loses 
something of its mercantile character. The services of the soldier 
are considered as the effects of patriotic zeal, his pay as the tribute 
of national gratitude. To betray the power which employs him, 
to be even remiss in its service, are in his eyes the most atrocious and 
degrading of crimes. 

When the princes and commonwealths of Italy began to use hired 
troops, their wisest course would have been to form separate military 
establishments. Unhappily this was not done. The mercenary war- 
riors of the Peninsula, instead of being attached to the service of 
different powers, were regarded as the common property of all. The 
connection between the State and its defenders was reduced to the 
most simple and naked traffic. The adventurer brought his horse, 
his weapons, his strength, and his experience, into the market. 
Whether the King of Naples or the Duke of Milan, the Pope or the 
Signory of Florence, struck the bargain, was to him a matter of 
perfect indifference. He was for the highest wages and the longest 
term. When the campaign for which he had contracted was finished, 
there was neither law nor punctilio to prevent him from instantly 
turning his arms against his late masters. The soldier was altogether 
disjoined from the citizen and from the subject. 

The natural consequences followed. Left to the conduct of men 
who neither loved those whom they defended, nor hated those whom 
they opposed, who were often bound by stronger ties to the army 
against which they fought than to the State which they served, who 
lost by the termination of the conflict, and gained by its prolongation, 



37^ MACAULAY 

war completely changed its character. Every man came into the 
field of battle impressed with the knowledge, that, in a few days, he 
might be taking the pay of the power against which he was then 
employed, and fighting by the side of his enemies against his asso- 
ciates. The strongest interests and the strongest feelings concurred 
to mitigate the hostility of those who had lately been brethren in 
arms, and who might soon be brethren in arms once more. Their 
common profession was a bond of union not to be forgotten, even 
when they were engaged in the service of contending parties. Hence 
it was that operations, languid and indecisive beyond any recorded 
in history, marches and countermarches, pillaging expeditions and 
blockades, bloodless capitulations and equally bloodless combats, 
make up the military history of Italy during the course of nearly 
two centuries. Mighty armies fight from sunrise to sunset. A great 
victory is won. Thousands of prisoners are taken, and hardly a life 
is lost. A pitched battle seems to have been really less dangerous 
than an ordinary civil tumult. 

Courage was now no longer necessary, even to the military char- 
acter. Men grew old in camps, and acquired the highest renown by 
their warlike achievements, without being once required to face 
serious danger. The political consequences are too well known. 
The richest and most enlightened part of the world was left unde- 
fended to the assaults of every barbarous invader, to the brutality of 
Switzerland, the insolence of France, and the fierce rapacity of 
Aragon. The moral effects which followed from this state of things 
were still more remarkable. 

Amongst the rude nations which lay beyond the Alps, valor was 
absolutely indispensable. Without it none could be eminent, few 
could be secure. Cowardice was, therefore, naturally considered as 
the foulest reproach. Among the polished Italians, enriched by 
commerce, governed by law, and passionately attached to literature, 
everything was done by superiority of intelligence. Their very wars, 
more pacific than the peace of their neighbors, required rather civil 
than military qualifications. Hence, while courage was the point of 
honor in other countries, ingenuity became the point of honor in 
Italy. 

From these principles were deduced, by processes strictly analo- 



MACHIAVELLI 377 

gous, two opposite systems of fashionable morality. Through the 
greater part of Europe, the vices which peculiarly belong to timid 
dispositions, and which are the natural defence of weakness, fraud, 
and hypocrisy, have always been most disreputable. On the other 
hand, the excesses of haughty and daring spirits have been treated 
with indulgence, and even with respect. The Italians regarded with 
corresponding lenity those crimes which require self-connmand, ad- 
dress, quick observation, fertile invention, and profound knowledge 
of human nature. 

Such a prince as our Henry V would have been the idol of the 
North. The follies of his youth, the selfish ambition of his manhood, 
the Lollards roasted at slow fires, the prisoners massacred on the 
field of battle, the expiring lease of priestcraft renewed for another 
century, the dreadful legacy of a causeless and hopeless war be- 
queathed to a people who had no interest in its event — everything 
is forgotten but the victory of Agincourt. Francis Sforza, on the 
other hand, was the model of Italian heroes. He made his employers 
and his rivals alike his tools. He first overpowered his open enemies 
by the help of faithless allies: he then ai-med himself against his 
alhes with the spoils taken from his enemies. By his incomparable 
dexterity, he raised himself from the precarious and dependent situa- 
tion of a military adventurer to the first throne of Italy. To such a 
man much was forgiven — hollow friendship, ungenerous enmity, 
violated faith. Such are the opposite errors which men commit, when 
their morality is not a science, but a taste, when they abandon eternal 
principles for accidental associations. 

We have illustrated our meaning by an instance taken from his- 
tory. We will select another from fiction. Othello murders his wife; 
he gives orders for the murder of his lieutenant; he ends by murder- 
ing himself. Yet he never loses the esteem and affection of Northern 
readers. His intrepid and ardent spirit redeems everything. The 
unsuspecting confidence with which he listens to his adviser, the 
agony with which he shrinks from the thought of shame, the tempest 
of passion with which he commits his crimes, and the haughty 
fearlessness with which he avows them, give an extraordinary inter- 
est to his character. lago, on the contrary, is the object of universal 
loathing. Many are inclined to suspect that Shakespeare has been 



378 MACAULAY 

seduced into an exaggeration unusual with him, and has drawn a 
monster who has no archetype in human nature. Now, we suspect 
that an Italian audience in the fifteenth century would have felt very 
differently. Othello would have inspired nothing but detestation and 
contempt. The folly with which he trusts the friendly professions 
of a man whose promotion he had obstructed, the credulity with 
which he takes unsupported assertions, and trivial circumstances, 
for unanswerable proofs, the violence with which he silences the 
exculpation till the exculpation can only aggravate his misery, would 
have excited the abhorrence and disgust of his spectators. The con- 
duct of lago they would assuredly have condemned, but they would 
have condemned it as we condemn that of his victim. Something 
of interest and respect would have mingled with their disapproba- 
tion. The readiness of the traitor's wit, the clearness of his judgment, 
the skill with which he penetrates the dispositions of others, and 
conceals his own, would have insured to him a certain portion of 
their esteem. 

So wide was the difference between the Italians and their neigh- 
bors. A similar difference existed between the Greeks of the second 
century before Christ, and their masters, the Romans. The conquer- 
ors, brave and resolute, faithful to their engagements, and strongly 
influenced by religious feelings, were, at the same time, ignorant, 
arbitrary, and cruel. With the vanquished people were deposited all 
the art, the science, and the literature of the Western world. In 
poetry, in philosophy, in painting, in architecture, in sculpture, they 
had no rivals. Their manners were polished, their perceptions acute, 
their invention ready; they were tolerant, affable, humane; but of 
courage and sincerity they were almost utterly destitute. Every rude 
centurion consoled himself for his intellectual inferiority, by remark- 
ing that knowledge and taste seemed only to make men atheists, 
cowards and slaves. The distinction long continued to be strongly 
marked, and furnished an admirable subject for the fierce sarcasms 
of Juvenal. 

The citizen of an Italian commonwealth was the Greek of the 
time of Juvenal and the Greek of the time of Pericles, joined in one. 
Like the former, he was timid and pliable, artful and mean. But, 
hke the latter, he had a country. Its independence and prosperity 



MACHIAVELLI 379 

were dear to him. If his character were degraded by some base 
crimes, it was, on the other hand, ennobled by pubHc spirit and by an 
honorable ambition. 

A vice sanctioned by the general opinion is merely a vice. The 
evil terminates in itself. A vice condemned by the general opinion 
produces a pernicious effect on the whole character. The former is 
a local malady, the latter a constitutional taint. When the reputation 
of the offender is lost, he, too, often flings the remains of his virtue 
after it in despair. The Highland gentleman, who, a century ago, 
lived by taking blackmail from his neighbors, committed the same 
crime for which Wild was accompanied to Tyburn by the huzzas of 
200,000 people. But there can be no doubt that he was a much less 
depraved man than Wild. The deed for which Mrs. Brownrigg was 
hanged, sinks into nothing when compared with the conduct of the 
Roman who treated the public to one hundred pairs of gladiators. 
Yet we should greatly wrong such a Roman if we supposed that his 
disposition was as cruel as that of Mrs. Brownrigg. In our own 
country, a woman forfeits her place in society by what, in a man, 
is too commonly considered as an honorable distinction, and at worst 
as a venial error. The consequence is notorious. The moral principle 
of a woman is frequently more impaired by a single lapse from virtue 
than that of a man by twenty years of intrigues. Classical antiquity 
would furnish us with instances stronger, if possible, than those to 
which we have referred. 

We must apply this principle to the case before us. Habits of 
dissimulation and falsehood, no doubt, mark a man of our age and 
country as utterly worthless and abandoned. But it by no means 
follows that a similar judgment would be just in the case of an 
Italian in the Middle Ages. On the contrary, we frequently find 
those faults which we are accustomed to consider as certain indica- 
tions of a mind altogether depraved, in company with great and good 
qualities, with generosity, with benevolence, with disinterestedness. 
From such a state of society, Palamedes, in the admirable dialogue 
of Hume, might have drawn illustrations of his theory as striking 
as any of those with which Fourli furnished him. These are not, 
we well know, the lessons which historians are generally most careful 
to teach, or readers most willing to learn. But they are not therefore 



'380 MACAULAY 

useless. How Philip disposed his troops at Chxronea, where Hanni- 
bal crossed the Alps, whether Mary blew up Darnley, or Siquier 
shot Charles XII, and the thousand other questions of the same 
description, are in themselves unimportant. The inquiry may amuse 
us, but the decision leaves us no wiser. He alone reads history aright, 
who, observing how powerfully circumstances influence the feelings 
and opinions of men, how often vices pass into virtues, and paradoxes 
into axioms, learns to distinguish what is accidental and transitory 
in human nature, from what is essential and immutable. 

In this respect, no history suggests more important reflections than 
that of the Tuscan and Lombard commonwealths. The character of 
the Italian statesman seems, at first sight, a collection of contradic- 
tions, a phantom as monstrous as the portress of hell in Milton, half 
divinity, half snake, majestic and beautiful above, grovelling and 
poisonous below. We see a man whose thoughts and words have no 
connection with each other, who never hesitates at an oath when he 
wishes to seduce, who never wants a pretext when he is inclined to 
betray. His cruelties spring, not from the heat of blood, or the 
insanity of uncontrolled power, but from deep and cool meditation. 
His passions, like well-trained troops, are impetuous by rule, and in 
their most headstrong fury never forget the discipline to which they 
have been accustomed. His whole soul is occupied with vast and 
complicated schemes of ambition, yet his aspect and language exhibit 
nothing but philosophical moderation. Hatred and revenge eat into 
his heart; yet every look is a cordial smile, every gesture a familiar 
caress. He never excites the suspicion of his adversaries by petty 
provocations. His purpose is disclosed, only when it is accomplished. 
His face is unruffled, his speech is courteous, till vigilance is laid 
asleep, till a vital point is exposed, till a sure aim is taken; and then 
he strikes for the first and last time. Military courage, the boast of 
the sottish German, of the frivolous and prating Frenchman, of the 
romantic and arrogant Spaniard, he neither possesses nor values. He 
shuns danger, not because he is insensible to shame, but because, in 
the society in which he lives, timidity has ceased to be shameful. To 
do an injury openly is, in his estimation, as wicked as to do it 
secretly, and far less profitable. With him the most honorable means 
are those which are the surest, the speediest, and the darkest. He 



MACHIAVELLI 38 1 

cannot comprehend how a man should scruple to deceive those whom 
he does not scruple to destroy. He would think it madness to declare 
open hostilities against rivals whom he might stab in a friendly 
embrace, or poison in a consecrated wafer. 

Yet this man, black with the vices which we consider as most 
loathsome, traitor, hypocrite, coward, assassin, was by no means 
destitute even of those virtues which we generally consider as indi- 
cating superior elevation of character. In civil courage, in perseve- 
rance, in presence of mind, those barbarous warriors, who were fore- 
most in the battle or the breach, were far his inferiors. Even the dan- 
gers which he avoided with a caution almost pusillanimous never 
confused his perceptions, never paralyzed his inventive faculties, nev- 
er wrung out one secret from his smooth tongue and his inscrutable 
brow. Though a dangerous enemy, and a still more dangerous 
accomplice, he could be a just and beneficent ruler. With so much 
unfairness in his policy, there was an extraordinary degree of fairness 
in his intellect. Indifferent to truth in the transactions of life, he was 
honestly devoted to truth in the researches of speculation. Wanton 
cruelty was not in his nature. On the contrary, where no political 
object was at stake, his disposition was soft and humane. The suscep- 
tibility of his nerves and the activity of his imagination inclined him 
to sympathize with the feelings of others, and to delight in the chari- 
ties and courtesies of social life. Perpetually descending to actions 
which might seem to mark a mind diseased through all its faculties, 
he had nevertheless an exquisite sensibility, both for the natural and 
the moral sublime, for every graceful and every lofty conception. 
Habits of petty intrigue and dissimulation might have rendered him 
incapable of great general views, but that the expanding effect of his 
philosophical studies counteracted the narrowing tendency. He had 
the keenest enjoyment of wit, eloquence, and poetry. The fine arts 
profited alike by the severity of his judgment, and by the liberality 
of his patronage. The portraits of some of the remarkable Italians 
of those times are perfectly in harmony with this description. Ample 
and majestic foreheads; brows strong and dark, but not frowning; 
eyes of which the calm, full gaze, while it expresses nothing, seems 
to discern everything; cheeks pale with thought and sedentary 
habits; lips formed with feminine delicacy, but compressed with 



382 MACAULAY 

more than masculine decision — mark out men at once enterprising 
and timid, men equally skilled in detecting the purposes of others, 
and in concealing their own, men who must have been formidable 
enemies and unsafe allies, but men, at the same time, whose tempers 
were mild and equable, and who possessed an amplitude and subtlety 
of intellect which would have rendered them eminent either in 
active or in contemplative life, and fitted them either to govern or to 
instruct mankind. 

Every age and every nation has certain characteristic vices, which 
prevail almost universally, which scarcely any person scruples to 
avow, and which even rigid moralists but faintly censure. Succeed- 
ing generations change the fashion of their morals, with the fashion 
of their hats and their coaches; take some other kind of wickedness 
under their patronage, and wonder at the depravity of their ancestors. 
Nor is this all. Posterity, that high court of appeal which is never 
tired of eulogizing its own justice and discernment, acts on such 
occasions like a Roman dictator after a general mutiny. Finding the 
delinquents too numerous to be all punished, it selects some of them 
at hazard, to bear the whole penalty of an offence in which they are 
not more deeply implicated than those who escape. Whether decima- 
tion be a convenient mode of military execution, we know not; but 
we solemnly protest against the introduction of such a principle into 
the philosophy of history. 

In the present instance, the lot has fallen on Machiavelli, a man 
whose public conduct was upright and honorable, whose views of 
morality, where they differed from those of the persons around him, 
seemed to have differed for the better, and whose only fault was, 
that, having adopted some of the maxims then generally received, 
he arranged them more luminously, and expressed them more 
forcibly, than any other writer. 

Having now, we hope, in some degree cleared the personal char- 
acter of Machiavelli, we come to the consideration of his works. As 
a poet, he is not entitled to a very high place;* but the comedies 
deserve more attention. 

The "Mandragola," in particular, is superior to the best of Goldoni, 

*In the original essay Macaulay had here some critical remarks on the poetry o£ 
Machiavelli, but he omitted them on republication. 



MACHIAVELLI 383 

and inferior only to the best of Moliere. It is the work of a man 
who, if he had devoted himself to the drama, would probably have 
attained the highest eminence, and produced a permanent and salu- 
tary effect on the national taste. This we infer, not so much from 
the degree as from the kind of its excellence. There are compositions 
which indicate still greater talent, and which are perused with still 
greater delight, from which we should have drawn very different 
conclusions. Books quite worthless are quite harmless. The sure 
sign of the general decline of an art is the frequent occurrence, not 
of deformity, but of misplaced beauty. In general, tragedy is cor- 
rupted by eloquence, and comedy by wit. 

The real object of the drama is the exhibition of human character. 
This, we conceive, is no arbitrary canon, originating in local and 
temporary associations, like those canons which regulate the number 
of acts in a play, or of syllables in a line. To this fundamental law 
every other regulation is subordinate. The situations which most 
signally develop character form the best plot. The mother tongue 
of the passions is the best style. 

This principle, rightly understood, does not debar the poet from 
any grace of composition. There is no style in which some man may 
not, under some circumstances, express himself. There is, therefore, 
no style which the drama rejects, none which it does not occasionally 
require. It is in the discernment of place, of time, and of person, 
that the inferior artists fail. The fantastic rhapsody of Mercutio, the 
elaborate declamation of Antony, are, where Shakespeare has 
placed them, natural and pleasing. But Dryden would have made 
Mercutio challenge Tybalt in hyperboles as fanciful as those in which 
he describes the chariot of Mab. Corneille would have represented 
Antony as scolding and coaxing Cleopatra with all the measured 
rhetoric of a funeral oration. 

No writers have injured the comedy of England so deeply as 
Congreve and Sheridan. Both were men of splendid wit and pol- 
ished taste. Unhappily, they made all their characters in their own 
likeness. Their works bear the same relation to the legitimate 
drama which a transparency bears to a painting. There are no deli- 
cate touches, no hues imperceptibly fading into each other: the whole 
is lighted up with a universal glare. Outlines and tints are forgotten 



384 MACAULAY 

in the common blaze which illuminates all. The flowers and fruits 
of the intellect abound; but it is the abundance of a jungle, not 
of a garden, unwholesome, bewildering, unprofitable from its very 
plenty, rank from its very fragrance. Every fop, every boor, every 
valet, is a man of wit. The very butts and dupes, Tatde, Witwould, 
Puff, Acres, outshine the whole Hotel of Rambouillet. To prove the 
whole system of this school erroneous, it is only necessary to apply the 
test which dissolved the enchanted Florimel, to place the true by the 
false Thaha, to contrast the most celebrated characters which have 
been drawn by the writers of whom we speak with the Bastard in 
"King John," or the Nurse in "Romeo and Juliet." It was not surely 
from want of wit that Shakespeare adopted so different a manner. 
Benedick and Beatrice throw Mirabel and Millamant^ into the shade. 
All the good sayings of the facetious hours of Absolute and Surface 
might have been clipped from the single character of FalstafI without 
being missed. It would have been easy for that fertile mind to have 
given Bardolph and Shallow as much wit as Prince Hal, and to have 
made Dogberry and Verges retort on each other in sparkling epi- 
grams. But he knew that such indiscriminate prodigality was, to use 
his own admirable language, "from the purpose of playing, whose 
end, both at the first and now, was, and is, to hold, as it were, the 
mirror up to nature." 

This digression will enable our readers to understand what we 
mean when we say, that, in the "Mandragola," Machiavelli has 
proved that he completely understood the nature of the dramatic 
art, and possessed talents which would have enabled him to excel 
in it. By the correct and vigorous delineation of human nature, it 
produces interest without a pleasing or skilful plot, and laughter 
without the least ambition of wit. The lover, not a very delicate 
or generous lover, and his adviser the parasite, are drawn with spirit. 
The hypocritical confessor is an admirable portrait. He is, if we 
mistake not, the original of Father Dominic,^ the best comic charac- 
ter of Dryden. But old Nicias is the glory of the piece. We cannot 
call to mind anything that resembles him. The follies which Moliere 
ridicules are those of affectation, not those of fatuity. Coxcombs and 
5 In Congreve's "Way of the World." ^ In Dryden's "Spanish Friar." 



MACHIAVELLI 385 

pedants, not absolute simpletons, are his game. Shakespeare has 
indeed a vast assortment of fools; but the precise species of which 
we speak is not, if we remember right, to be found there. Shallow 
is a fool. But his animal spirits supply, to a certain degree, the place 
of cleverness. His talk is to that of Sir John what soda-water is to 
champagne. It has the effervescence, though not the body or the 
flavor. Slender and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are fools, troubled with 
an uneasy consciousness of their folly, which, in the latter, produces 
meekness and docility, and in the former, awkwardness, obstinacy, 
and confusion. Cloten is an arrogant fool, Osric a foppish fool, Ajax 
a savage fool; but Nicias is, as Thersites says of Patroclus, a fool 
positive. His mind is occupied by no strong feeling; it takes every 
character, and retains none; its aspect is diversified, not by passions, 
but by faint and transitory semblances of passion, a mock joy, a mock 
fear, a mock love, a mock pride, which chase each other like shadows 
over its surface, and vanish as soon as they appear. He is just idiot 
enough to be an object, not of pity or horror, but of ridicule. He 
bears some resemblance to poor Calandrino, whose mishaps, as 
recounted by Boccaccio, have made all Europe merry for more than 
four centuries. He perhaps resembles still more closely Simon de 
Villa, to whom Bruno and Buffalmacco promised the love of the 
Countess Civillari. Nicias is, like Simon, of a learned profession; 
and the dignity with which he wears the doctoral fur renders his 
absurdities infinitely more grotesque. The old Tuscan is the very 
language for such a being. Its peculiar simplicity gives even to the 
most forcible reasoning and the most brilliant wit an infantine air, 
generally delightful, but to a foreign reader sometimes a little ludi- 
crous. Heroes and statesmen seem to lisp when they use it. It 
becomes Nicias incomparably, and renders all his silliness infinitely 
more silly. 

We may add, that the verses with which the "Mandragola" is 
interspersed appear to us to be the most spirited and correct of all 
that Machiavelli has written in metre. He seems to have entertained 
the same opinion, for he has introduced some of them in other 
places. The contemporaries of the author were not blind to the 
merits of this striking piece. It was acted at Florence with the great- 



386 MACAULAY 

est success. Leo X was among its admirers, and by his order it was 
represented at Rome." 

The "Clizia" is an imitation o£ the "Casina" of Plautus, which is 
itself an imitation of the lost KXripovfievot of Diphilus.* Plautus was, 
unquestionably, one of the best Latin writers; but the "Casina" is 
by no means one of his best plays, nor is it one which offers great 
facilities to an imitator. The story is as alien from modern habits of 
life as the manner in which it is developed from the modern fashion 
of composition. The lover remains in the country and the heroine 
in her chamber during the whole action, leaving their fate to be 
decided by a foolish father, a cunning mother, and two knavish 
servants. Machiavelli has executed his task with judgment and taste. 
He has accommodated the plot to a different state of society, and has 
very dexterously connected it with the history of his own times. 
The relation of the trick put on the doting old lover is exquisitely 
humorous. It is far superior to the corresponding passage in the 
Latin comedy, and scarcely yields to the account which Falstaff gives 
of his ducking. 

Two other comedies, without titles, the one in prose, the other in 
verse, appear among the works of Machiavelli. The former is very 
short, lively enough, but of no great value. The latter we can scarcely 
believe to be genuine. Neither its merits nor its defects remind us of 
the reputed author. It was first printed in 1796, from a manuscript 
discovered in the celebrated library of the Strozzi. Its genuineness, 
if we have been rightly informed, is established solely by the com- 
parison of hands. Our suspicions are strengthened by the circum- 
stance, that the same manuscript contained a description of the 
plague of 1527, which has also, in consequence, been added to the 
works of Machiavelli. Of this last composition, the strongest external 
evidence would scarcely induce us to believe him guilty. Nothing 
was ever written more detestable in matter and manner. The narra- 
tions, the reflections, the jokes, the lamentations, are all the very worst 
of their respective kinds, at once trite and affected, threadbare tinsel 

' Nothing can be more evident than that Paulus Jovius designates the "Mandragola" 
under the name of the "Nicias." We should not have noticed what is so perfectly 
obvious, were it not that this natural and palpable misnomer has led the sagacious 
and industrious Bayle into a gross error. — ^M. 

* A writer of the Greek "New Comedy," which followed that of Aristophanes. 



MACHIAVELLI 387 

from the Rag Fairs' and Monmouth-streets' of literature. A foolish 
schoolboy might write such a piece, and, after he had written it, 
think it much finer than the incomparable introduction of "The 
Decameron." But that a shrewd statesman, whose earliest works are 
characterized by manUness of thought and language, should, at near 
sixty years of age, descend to such puerility, is utterly inconceiv- 
able. 

The little novel of "Belphegor" is pleasandy conceived, and pleas- 
antly told. But the extravagance of the satire in some measure injures 
its effect. Machiavelli was unhappily married; and his wish to 
avenge his own cause, and that of his brethren in misfortune, carried 
him beyond even the license of fiction. Jonson seems to have com- 
bined some hints taken from this tale, with others from Boccaccio, 
in the plot of "The Devil is an Ass," a play which, though not the 
most highly finished of his compositions, is perhaps that which 
exhibits the strongest proofs of genius. 

The political correspondence of Machiavelli, first published in 
1767, is unquestionably genuine, and highly valuable. The unhappy 
circumstances in which his country was placed during the greater 
part of his public life gave extraordinary encouragement to diplo- 
matic talents. From the moment that Charles VIII descended from 
the Alps the whole character of Italian politics was changed. The 
governments of the Peninsula ceased to form an independent system. 
Drawn from their old orbit by the attraction of the larger bodies 
which now approach them, they became mere satellites of France 
and Spain. All their disputes, internal and external, were decided 
by foreign influence. The contests of opposite factions were carried 
on, not as formerly in the Senate-house or in the market-place, but 
in the ante-chambers of Louis and Ferdinand. Under these circum- 
stances, the prosperity of the Italian States depended far more on 
the ability of their foreign agents, than on the conduct of those who 
were intrusted with the domestic administration. The ambassador 
had to discharge functions far more delicate than transmitting orders 
of knighthood, introducing tourists, or presenting his brethren with 
the homage of his high consideration. He was an advocate to whose 
management the dearest interests of his clients were intrusted, a spy 
* Old-clothes markets in London. 



388 MACAULAY 

clothed with an inviolable character. Instead of consulting, by a 
reserved manner and ambiguous style, the dignity of those whom he 
represented, he was to plunge into all the intrigues of the court at 
which he resided, to discover and flatter every weakness of the 
prince, and of the favorite who governed the prince, and of the lackey 
who governed the favorite. He was to compliment the mistress, 
and bribe the confessor, to panegyrize or supplicate, to laugh or 
weep, to accommodate himself to every caprice, to lull every suspi- 
cion, to treasure every hint, to be everything, to observe everything, to 
endure everything. High as the art of political intrigue had been 
carried in Italy, these were times which required it all. 

On these arduous errands Machiavelli was frequently employed. 
He was sent to treat with the King of the Romans and with the 
Duke of Valentinois. He was twice ambassador at the Court of 
Rome, and thrice at that of France. In these missions, and in several 
others of inferior importance, he acquitted himself with great dex- 
terity. His despatches form one of the most amusing and instructive 
collections extant. The narratives are clear and agreeably written, 
the remarks on men and things clever and judicious. The conversa- 
tions are reported in a spirited and characteristic manner. We find 
ourselves introduced into the presence of the men who, during 
twenty eventful years, swayed the destinies of Europe. Their wit 
and their folly, their fretfulness and their merriment, are exposed to 
us. We are admitted to overhear their chat, and to watch their 
familiar gestures. It is interesting and curious to recognize, in cir- 
cumstances which elude the notice of historians, the feeble violence 
and shallow cunning of Louis XII; the bustling insignificance of 
Maximilian, cursed with an impotent pruriency for renown, rash 
yet timid, obstinate yet fickle, always in a hurry, yet always too late; 
the fierce and haughty energy which gave dignity to the eccentricities 
of Julius; the soft and graceful manners which masked the insatiable 
ambition and the implacable hatred of Caesar Borgia. 

We have mentioned Caesar Borgia. It is impossible not to pause 
for a moment on the name of a man in whom the political morality 
of Italy was so strongly personified, partially blended with the sterner 
lineaments of the Spanish character. On two important occasions 
Machiavelli was admitted to his society — once, at the moment when 



MACHIAVELLI 389 

Caesar's splendid villainy achieved its most signal triumph, when he 
caught in one snare, and crushed at one blow, all his most formidable 
rivals; and again when, exhausted by disease, and overwhelmed by 
misfortunes which no human prudence could have averted, he was 
the prisoner of the deadliest enemy of his house. These interviews 
between the greatest speculative and the greatest practical statesmen 
of the age are fully described in the "Correspondence," and form, 
perhaps, the most interesting part of it. From some passages in "The 
Prince," and perhaps also from some indistinct traditions, several 
writers have supposed a connection between those remarkable men 
much closer than ever existed. The envoy has even been accused of 
prompting the crimes of the artful and merciless tyrant. But, from 
the official documents, it is clear that their intercourse, though osten- 
sibly amicable, was in reahty hostile. It cannot be doubted, however, 
that the imagination of Machiavelli was strongly impressed, and his 
speculations on government colored, by the observations which he 
made on the singular character and equally singular fortunes of a 
man who, under such disadvantages, had achieved such exploits; 
who, when sensuality, varied through innumerable forms, could no 
longer stimulate his sated mind, found a more powerful and durable 
excitement in the intense thirst of empire and revenge; who emerged 
from the sloth and luxury of the Roman purple the first prince and 
general of the age; who, trained in an un warlike profession, formed 
a gallant army out of the dregs of an un warlike people; who, after 
acquiring sovereignty by destroying his enemies, acquired popularity 
by destroying his tools; who had begun to employ for the most 
salutary ends the power which he had attained by the most atrocious 
means; who tolerated within the sphere of his iron despotism no 
plunderer or oppressor but himself; and who fell at last amidst the 
mingled curses and regrets of a people of whom his genius had been 
the wonder, and might have been the salvation. Some of those 
crimes of Borgia which to us appear the most odious, would not, 
from causes which we have already considered, have struck an Italian 
of the fifteenth century with equal horror. Patriotic feeling also 
might induce Machiavelli to look with some indulgence and regret 
on the memory of the only leader who could have defended the 
independence of Italy against the confederate spoilers of Cambray. 



390 MACAULAY 

On this subject, Machiavelli felt most strongly. Indeed, the expul- 
sion of the foreign tyrants, and the restoration of that golden age 
which had preceded the irruption of Charles VIII, were projects 
which, at that time, fascinated all the master-spirits of Italy. The 
magnificent vision delighted the great but ill-regulated mind of 
Julius. It divided with manuscripts and saucers, painters and falcons, 
the attention of the frivolous Leo. It prompted the generous treason 
of Morone. It imparted a transient energy to the feeble mind and 
body of the last Sforza. It excited for one moment an honest ambition 
in the false heart of Pescara. Ferocity and insolence were not among 
the vices of the national character. To the discriminating cruelties of 
politicians, committed for great ends on select victims, the moral code 
of the Italians was too indulgent. But, though they might have re- 
course to barbarity as an expedient, they did not require it as a stimu- 
lant. They turned with loathing from the atrocity of the strangers 
who seemed to love blood for its own sake; who, not content with 
subjugating, were impatient to destroy; who found a fiendish pleas- 
ure in razing magnificent cities, cutting the throats of enemies who 
cried for quarter, or suffocating an unarmed population by thousands 
In the caverns to which it had fled for safety. Such were the cruelties 
which daily excited the terror and disgust of a people among whom, 
till lately, the worst that a soldier had to fear in a pitched battle was 
the loss of his horse and the expense of his ransom. The swinish 
intemperance of Switzerland; the wolfish avarice of Spain; the gross 
licentiousness of the French, indulged in violation of hospitality, of 
decency, of love itself; the wanton inhumanity which was common 
to all the invaders — had made them objects of deadly hatred to the 
inhabitants of the Peninsula. The wealth which had been accumu- 
lated during centuries of prosperity and repose was rapidly melting 
away. The intellectual superiority of the oppressed people only 
rendered them more keenly sensible of their political degradation. 
Literature and taste, indeed, still disguised with a flush of hectic 
loveliness and brilliancy the ravages of an incurable decay. The 
iron had not yet entered into the soul. The time was not yet come 
when eloquence was to be gagged, and reason to be hoodwinked, 
when the harp of the poet was to be hung on the willows of Arno, 
and the right hand of the painter to forget its cunning. Yet a dis- 



MACHIAVELLI 39 1 

cerning eye might even then have seen that genius and learning 
would not long survive the state of things from which they had 
sprung, and that the great men whose talents gave lustre to that 
melancholy period had been formed under the influence of happier 
days, and would leave no successors behind them. The times which 
shine with the greatest splendor in literary history are not always 
those to which the human mind is most indebted. Of this we may be 
convinced, by comparing the generation which follows them with 
that which had preceded them. The first-fruits which are reaped 
under a bad system often spring from seed sown under a good one. 
Thus it was, in some measure, with the Augustan age. Thus it 
was with the age of Raphael and Ariosto, of Aldus and Vida. 

Machiavelli deeply regretted the misfortunes of his country, and 
clearly discerned the cause and the remedy. It was the military 
system of the Italian people which had extinguished their valor and 
discipline, and left their wealth an easy prey to every foreign plun- 
derer. The secretary projected a scheme, alike honorable to his heart 
and to his intellect, for abolishing the use of mercenary troops, and 
for organizing a national militia. 

The exertions which he made to effect this great object ought 
alone to rescue his name from obloquy. Though his situation and his 
habits were pacific, he studied with intense assiduity the theory of 
war. He made himself master of all its details. The Florentine gov- 
ernment entered into his views. A council of war was appointed. 
Levies were decreed. The indefatigable minister flew from place 
to place in order to superintend the execution of his design. The 
times were, in some respects, favorable to the experiment. The 
system of military tactics had undergone a great revolution. The 
cavalry was no longer considered as forming the strength of an 
army. The hours which a citizen could spare from his ordinary 
employments, though by no means sufficient to familiarize him 
with the exercise of a man-at-arms, might render him a useful foot- 
soldier. The dread of a foreign yoke, of plunder, massacre, and con- 
flagration, might have conquered that repugnance to military 
pursuits which both the industry and the idleness of great towns 
commonly generate. For a time the scheme promised well. The new 
troops acquitted themselves respectably in the field. Machiavelli 



392 MACAULAY 

looked with parental rapture on the success of his plan, and began to 
hope that the arms of Italy might once more be formidable to the 
barbarians of the Tagus and the Rhine. But the tide of misfortune 
came on before the barriers which should have withstood it were pre- 
pared. For a time, indeed, Florence might be considered as peculiarly 
fortunate. Famine and sword and pestilence had devastated the fertile 
plains and stately cities of the Po. All the curses denounced of old 
against Tyre seemed to have fallen on Venice. Her merchants already 
stood afar off, lamenting for their great city. The time seemed near 
when the sea-weed should overgrow her silent Rialto, and the fisher- 
man wash his nets in her deserted arsenal. Naples had been four times 
conquered and reconquered by tyrants equally indifferent to its 
welfare, and equally greedy for its spoils. Florence, as yet, had only 
to endure degradation and extortion, to submit to the mandates of 
foreign powers, to buy over and over again, at an enormous price, 
what was already justly her own, to return thanks for being wronged, 
and to ask pardon for being in the right. She was at length deprived 
of the blessings, even of this infamous and servile repose. Her 
military and political institutions were swept away together. The 
Medici returned, in the train of foreign invaders, from their long 
exile. The policy of Machiavelli was abandoned; and his public 
services were requited with poverty, imprisonment, and torture. 

The fallen statesman still clung to his project with unabated ardor. 
With the view of vindicating it from some popular objections, and of 
refuting some prevailing errors on the subject of military science, he 
wrote his "Seven Books on the Art of War." This excellent work 
is in the form of a dialogue. The opinions of the writer are put 
into the mouth of Fabrizio Colonna, a powerful nobleman of the 
ecclesiastical State, and an officer of distinguished merit in the serv- 
ice of the King of Spain. Colonna visits Florence on his way from 
Lombardy to his own domains. He is invited to meet some friends 
at the house of Cosimo Rucellai, an amiable and accomplished 
young man, whose early death Machiavelli feelingly deplores. After 
partaking of an elegant entertainment, they retire from the heat 
into the most shady recesses of the garden. Fabrizio is struck by the 
sight of some uncommon plants. Cosimo says, that, though rare in 
modern days, they are frequently mentioned by the classical authors. 



MACHIAVELLI 393 

and that his grandfather, Hke many other ItaUans, amused himself 
with practising the ancient methods of gardening. Fabrizio ex- 
presses his regret that those who, in later times, affected the manners 
of the old Romans, should select for imitation the most trifling pur- 
suits. This leads to a conversation on the decline of military dis- 
cipline, and on the best means of restoring it. The institution of the 
Florentine militia is ably defended, and several improvements are 
suggested in the details. 

The Swiss and the Spaniards were, at that time, regarded as the 
best soldiers in Europe. The Swiss battalion consisted of pikemen, 
and bore a close resemblance to the Greek phalanx. The Spaniards, 
like the soldiers of Rome, were armed with the sword and the 
shield. The victories of Flaminius and ^milius over the Macedonian 
kings seem to prove the superiority of the weapons used by the 
legions. The same experiment had been recently tried with the 
same result at the battle of Ravenna, one of those tremendous days 
into which human folly and wickedness compress the whole devas- 
tation of a famine or a plague. In that memorable conflict, the in- 
fantry of Aragon, the old companions of Gonsalvo, deserted by all 
their allies, hewed a passage through the thickest of the imperial 
pikes, and effected an unbroken retreat, in the face of the gendar- 
merie of De Foix, and the renowned artillery of Este. Fabrizio, or 
rather Machiavelli, proposes to combine the two systems, to arm the 
foremost lines with the pike for the purpose of repulsing cavalry, 
and those in the rear with the sword, as being a weapon better 
adapted for every other purpose. Throughout the work, the author 
expresses the highest admiration of the military science of the 
ancient Romans, and the greatest contempt for the maxims which 
had been in vogue amongst the Italian commanders of the preced- 
ing generation. He prefers infantry to cavalry, and fortified camps to 
fortified towns. He is inclined to substitute rapid movements and 
decisive engagements for the languid and dilatory operations of his 
countrymen. He attaches very little importance to the invention of 
gunpowder. Indeed, he seems to think that it ought scarcely to 
produce any change in the mode of arming or of disposing troops. 
The general testimony of historians, it must be allowed, seems to 
prove that the ill-constructed and ill-served artillery of those 



394 MACAULAY 

times, though useful in a siege, was of little value on the field of 

battle. 

On the tactics of Machiavelli we will not venture to give an 
opinion, but we are certain that his book is most able and interest- 
ing. As a commentary on the history of his times, it is invaluable. 
The ingenuity, the grace, and the perspicuity of the style, and the 
eloquence and animation of particular passages, must give pleasure, 
even to readers who take no interest in the subject. 

"The Prince" and the "Discourses on Livy" were written after the 
fall of the republican government. The former was dedicated to 
the young Lorenzo de' Medici. This circumstance seems to have 
disgusted the contemporaries of the writer far more than the doc- 
trines which have rendered the name of the work odious in latter 
times. It was considered as an indication of poHtical apostasy. The 
fact, however, seems to have been, that Machiavelli, despairing of 
the liberty of Florence, was inclined to support any government 
which might preserve her independence. The interval which sep- 
arated a democracy and a despotism Soderini and Lorenzo, seemed 
to vanish when compared with the difference between the former 
and the present state of Italy, between the security, the opulence, and 
the repose which she had enjoyed under its native rulers, and the 
misery in which she had been plunged since the fatal year in which 
the first foreign tyrant had descended from the Alps. The noble 
and pathetic exhortation with which "The Prince" concludes shows 
how strongly the writer felt upon this subject. 

"The Prince" traces the progress of an ambitious man, the "Dis- 
courses" the progress of an ambitious people. The same principles on 
which, in the former work, the elevation of an individual is ex- 
plained, are applied, in the latter, to the longer duration and more 
complex interest of a society. To a modern statesman the form of 
the "Discourses" may appear to be puerile. In truth, Livy is not a 
historian on whom implicit reliance can be placed, even in cases 
where he must have possessed considerable means of information. 
And the first Decade, to which Machiavelli has confined himself, is 
scarcely entitled to more credit than our Chronicle of British Kings 
who reigned before the Roman invasion. But the commentator is 
indebted to Livy for little more than a few texts which he might 



MACHIAVELLI 395 

as easily have extracted from the Vulgate or "The Decameron." 
The whole train of thought is original. 

On the peculiar immorality which has rendered "The Prince" 
unpopular, and which is almost equally discernible in the "Dis- 
courses" we have already given our opinion at length. We have 
attempted to show that it belonged rather to the age than to the 
man, that it was a partial taint, and by no means implied general 
depravity. We cannot, however, deny that it is a great blemish, and 
that it considerably diminishes the pleasure which, in other respects, 
those works must afford to every intelligent mind. 

It is, indeed, impossible to conceive a more healthful and vigorous 
constitution of the understanding than that which these works indi- 
cate. The qualities of the active and the contemplative statesman 
appear to have been blended in the mind of the writer into a rare 
and exquisite harmony. His skill in the details of business had not 
been acquired at the expense of his general powers. It had not 
rendered his mind less comprehensive; but it had served to correct 
his speculations, and to impart to them that vivid and practical char- 
acter which so widely distinguishes them from the vague theories of 
most political philosophers. 

Every man who has seen the world knows that nothing is so 
useless as a general maxim. If it be very moral and very true, it may 
serve for a copy to a charity boy. If, like those of Rochefoucauld, it 
be sparkling and whimsical, it may make an excellent motto for an 
essay. But few indeed of the many wise apophthegms which have 
been uttered, from the time of the Seven Sages of Greece to that of 
"Poor Richard," have prevented a single foolish action. We give 
the highest and the most peculiar praise to the precepts of Machia- 
velli when we say that they may frequently be of real use in regu- 
lating conduct, not so much because they are more just or more 
profound than those which might be culled from other authors, as 
because they can be more readily applied to the problems of real life. 

There are errors in these works. But they are errors which a 
writer, situated like Machiavelli, could scarcely avoid. They arise, for 
the most part, from a single defect which appears to us to pervade 
his whole system. In his political scheme, the means had been more 
deeply considered than the ends. The great principle, that societies 



396 MACAULAY 

and laws exist only for the purpose of increasing the sum of private 
happiness, is not recognized with sufficient clearness. The good of 
the body, distinct from the good of the members, and sometimes 
hardly compatible with the good of the members, seems to be the 
object which he proposes to himself. Of all political fallacies, this 
has perhaps had the widest and the most mischievous operation. 
The state of society in the little commonwealths of Greece, the close 
connection and mutual dependence of the citizens, and the severity 
of the laws of war, tended to encourage an opinion which, under 
such circumstances, could hardly be called erroneous. The interests 
of every individual were inseparably bound up with those of the 
State. An invasion destroyed his corn-fields and vineyards, drove 
him from his home, and compelled him to encounter all the hard- 
ships of a military life. A treaty of peace restored him to security and 
comfort. A victory doubled the number of his slaves. A defeat 
perhaps made him a slave himself. When Pericles, in the Pelopon- 
nesian war, told the Athenians, that, if their country triumphed, 
their private losses would speedily be repaired, but that, if their arms 
failed of success, every individual amongst them would probably 
be ruined, he spoke no more than the truth. He spoke to men 
whom the tribute of vanquished cities supplied with food and cloth- 
ing, with the luxury of the bath and the amusements of the theatre, 
on whom the greatness of their country conferred rank, and before 
whom the members of less prosperous communities trembled; to 
men who, in case of a change in the public fortunes, would, at least, 
be deprived of every comfort and every distinction which they en- 
joyed. To be butchered on the smoking ruins of their city, to be 
dragged in chains to a slave-market, to see one child torn from them 
to dig in the quarries of Sicily, and another to guard the harems 
of Persepolis, these were the frequent and probable consequences of 
national calamities. Hence, among the Greeks, patriotism became a 
governing principle, or rather an ungovernable passion. Their legis- 
lators and their philosophers took it for granted, that, in providing 
for the strength and greatness of the State, they sufficiently provided 
for the happiness of the people. The writers of the Roman Empire 
lived under despots, into whose dominion a hundred nations were 
melted down, and whose gardens would have covered the little 



MACHIAVELLI 397 

commonwealths of Phlius and Plataea. Yet they continued to em- 
ploy the same language, and to cant about the duty of sacrificing 
everything to a country to which they owed nothing. 

Causes similar to those which had influenced the disposition of 
the Greeks operated powerfully on the less vigorous and daring 
character of the Italians. The Italians, like the Greeks, were mem- 
bers of small communities. Every man was deeply interested in the 
welfare of the society to which he belonged, a partaker in its wealth 
and its poverty, in its glory and its shame. In the age of Machiavelli 
this was peculiarly the case. Public events had produced an immense 
sum of misery to private citizens. The Northern invaders had 
brought want to their boards, infamy to their beds, fire to their 
roofs, and the knife to their throats. It was natural that a man who 
lived in times like these should overrate the importance of those 
measures by which a nation is rendered formidable to its neighbors, 
and undervalue those which make it prosperous within itself. 

Nothing is more remarkable in the political treatises of Machiavelli 
than the fairness of mind which they indicate. It appears where the 
author is in the wrong, almost as strongly as where he is in the 
right. He never advances a false opinion because it is new or 
splendid, because he can clothe it in a happy phrase, or defend it by 
an ingenious sophism. His errors are at once explained by a refer- 
ence to the circumstances in which he was placed. They evidently 
were not sought out: they lay in his way, and could scarcely be 
avoided. Such mistakes must necessarily be committed by early 
speculators in every science. 

The political works of Machiavelli derive a peculiar interest from 
the mournful earnestness which he manifests whenever he touches 
on topics connected with the calamities of his native land. It is 
difficult to conceive any situation more painful that that of a great 
man, condemned to watch the lingering agony of an exhausted 
country, to tend it during the alternate fits of stupefaction and rav- 
ing which precede its dissolution, and to see the symptoms of vitality 
disappear one by one, till nothing is left but coldness, darkness, and 
corruption. To this joyless and thankless duty was Machiavelli 
called. In the energetic language of the prophet, he was "mad for 
the sight of his eyes which he saw" — disunion in the Council, 



398 MACAULAY 

efJeminacy in the camp, liberty extinguished, commerce decaying, 
national honor sullied, an enlightened and flourishing people given 
over to the ferocity of ignorant savages. Though his opinions had not 
escaped the contagion of that political immorality which was com- 
mon among his countrymen, his natural disposition seems to have 
been rather stern and impetuous than phant and artful. When the 
misery and degradation of Florence, and the foul outrage which he 
had himself sustained, recur to his mind, the smooth craft of his 
profession and his nation is exchanged for the honest bitterness of 
scorn and anger. He speaks like one sick of the calamitous times 
and abject people among whom his lot is cast. He pines for the 
strength and glory of ancient Rome, for the fasces of Brutus and 
the sword of Scipio, the gravity of the curule chair, and the bloody 
pomp of the triumphal sacrifice. He seems to be transported back to 
the days when 800,000 Italian warriors sprung to arms at the rumor 
of a Gallic invasion. He breathes all the spirit of those intrepid and 
haughty Senators who forgot the dearest ties of nature in the claims 
of public duty, who looked with disdain on the elephants and on the 
gold of Pyrrhus, and listened with unaltered composure to the 
tremendous tidings of Cannx. Like an ancient temple deformed by 
the barbarous architecture of a later age, his character acquires an 
interest from the very circumstances which debase it. The original 
proportions are rendered more striking by the contrast which they 
present to the mean and incongruous additions. 

The influence of the sentiments which we have described was not 
apparent in his writings alone. His enthusiasm, barred from the 
career which it would have selected for itself, seems to have found a 
vent in desperate levity. He enjoyed a vindictive pleasure in out- 
raging the opinions of a society which he despised. He became care- 
less of the decencies which were expected from a man so highly 
distinguished in the literary and political world. The sarcastic 
bitterness of his conversation disgusted those who were more in- 
clined to accuse his licentiousness than their own degeneracy, and 
who were unable to conceive the strength of those emotions which 
are concealed by the jests of the wretched, and by the follies of the 
wise. 

The historical works of Machiavelli still remain to be considered. 



MACHIAVELLI 399 

The life of Castruccio Castracani will occupy us for a very short 
time, and would scarcely have demanded our notice had it not 
attracted a much greater share of public attention than it deserves. 
Few books, indeed, could be more interesting than a careful and 
judicious account, from such a pen, of the illustrious Prince of 
Lucca, the most eminent of those Italian chiefs, who, like Pisistratus 
and Gelon, acquired a power felt rather than seen, and resting, not on 
law or on prescription, but on the public favor and on their great 
personal qualities. Such a work would exhibit to us the real nature 
of that species of sovereignty, so singular and so often misunder- 
stood, which the Greeks denominated tyranny, and which, modified 
in some degree by the feudal system, reappeared in the common- 
wealths of Lombardy and Tuscany. But this httle composition of 
Machiavelli is in no sense a history. It has no pretensions to fidelity. 
It is a trifle, and not a very successful trifle. It is scarcely more 
authentic than the novel of "Belphegor," and is very much duller. 

The last great work of this illustrious man was the history of his 
native city. It was written by command of the Pope, who, as chief 
of the house of Medici, was at that time sovereign of Florence. The 
characters of Cosimo, of Piero, and of Lorenzo, are, however, treated 
with a freedom and impartiality equally honorable to the writer and 
to the patron. The miseries and humiliations of dependence, the 
bread which is more bitter than every other food, the stairs which 
are more painful than every other ascent, had not broken the spirit 
of Machiavelli. The most corrupting post in a corrupting profession 
had not depraved the generous heart of Clement. 

The history does not appear to be the fruit of much industry or 
research. It is unquestionably inaccurate. But it is elegant, lively, 
and picturesque, beyond any other in the Italian language. The 
reader, we believe, carries away from it a more vivid and a more 
faithful impression of the national character and manners than from 
more correct accounts. The truth is, that the book belongs rather to 
ancient than to modern literature. It is in the style, not of Davila 
and Clarendon, but of Herodotus and Tacitus. The classical histories 
may almost be called romances founded in fact. The relation is, no 
doubt, in all its principal points, strictly true. But the numerous 
little incidents which heighten the interest, the words, the gestures. 



400 MACAULAY 

the looks, are evidently furnished by the imagination of the author. 
The fashion of later times is different. A more exact narrative is 
given by the writer. 

It may be doubted whether more exact notions are conveyed to 
the reader. The best portraits are perhaps those in which there is a 
slight mixture of caricature, and we are not certain that the best 
histories are not those in which a little of the exaggeration of fictitious 
narrative is judiciously employed. Something is lost in accuracy, but 
much is gained in effect. The fainter lines are neglected, but the 
great characteristic features are imprinted on the mind forever. 

The history terminates with the death of Lorenzo de' Medici. 
Machiavelli had, it seems, intended to continue his narrative to a 
later period. But his death prevented the execution of his design, 
and the melancholy task of recording the desolation and shame of 
Italy devolved on Guicciardini. 

Machiavelli lived long enough to see the commencement of the 
last struggle for Florentine liberty. Soon after his death monarchy 
was finally established, not such a monarchy as that of which Cosimo 
had laid the foundations deep in the institutions and feelings of his 
countrymen, and which Lorenzo had embellished with the trophies 
of every science and every art, but a loathsome tyranny, proud and 
mean, cruel and feeble, bigoted and lascivious. The character of 
Machiavelli was hateful to the new masters of Italy, and those parts 
of his theory which were in strict accordance with their own daily 
practice afforded a pretext for blackening his memory. His works 
were misrepresented by the learned, misconstrued by the ignorant, 
censured by the Church, abused with all the rancor of simulated vir- 
tue by the tools of a base government and the priests of a baser super- 
stition. The name of the man whose genius had illuminated all the 
dark places of policy, and to whose patriotic wisdom an oppressed 
people had owed their last chance of emancipation and revenge, 
passed into a proverb of infamy. For more than two hundred years 
his bones lay undistinguished. At length an English nobleman paid 
the last honors to the greatest statesman of Florence. In the Church 
of Santa Croce a monument was erected to his memory, which is con- 
templated with reverence by all who can distinguish the virtues of a 
great mind through the corruptions of a degenerate age, and which 



MACHIAVELLI 4OI 

will be approached with still deeper homage when the object to 

which his public life was devoted shall be attained, when the foreign 

yoke shall be broken, when a second Procida shall avenge the 

wrongs of Naples, when a happier Rienzi shall restore the; good 

estate of Rome, when the streets of Florence and Bologna shall 

again resound with their ancient war-cry, "Popolo; popolo; muoiano 

i tirannil"^" 

'""The people! the people! Death to the tyrants!" — Machiavelli's "History of 
Florence," Book III.