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The Five-Foot Shelf of Books 


' ^ 


Prefaces and Prologues 


W/M Introductions and Notes 
Yo/ume 39 

P. F. Collier & Son Corporation 


Copyright, 1909 
Bv Little, Brown & Company 

Copyright, 1910 
Bv P. F. Collier & Son 




Title, Prologue and Epilogues to the Recuyell of the His- 
tories OF Troy William Caxton 5 

Epilogue to Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers 

William Caxton 9 

Prologue to Golden Legend William Caxton 13 

Prologue to Caton William Caxton 15 

Epilogue to Aesop William Caxton 17 

Proem to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales . . William Caxton 18 

Prologue to Malory's King Arthur . . William Caxton 20 

Prologue to Virgil's Eneydos William Caxton 24 

Dedication of the Institutes of the Christian Religion 

John Calvin 27 

translated by JOHN ALLEN 

Dedication of the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies 

NicoLAUs Copernicus 52 

Preface to the History of the Reformation in Scotland 

John Knox 58 

Prefatory Letter to Sir Walter Raleigh on The Faerie Queene 

Edmund Spenser 61 

Preface to the History of the World Sir Walter Raleigh 66 

Procemium, Epistle Dedicatory, Preface, and Plan of the 

Instauratio Magna, Etc Francis Bacon 116 

translation edited by j. spedding 

Preface to the Novum Organum Francis Bacon 143 

Preface to the First Folio Edition of Shakespeare's Plays 

Heminge and Condell 148 

Preface to the Philosophiae Naturaus Principia Mathematica 

Sir Isaac Newton 150 

translated by ANDREW MOTTE 




Preface to Fables, Ancient and Modern . John Dryden 153 

Preface to Joseph Andrews Henry Fielding 176 

Preface to the English Dictionary . Samuel Johnson 182 

Preface to Shakespeare Samuel Johnson 208 

Introduction to the Propylaen ....]. W. von Goethe 251 

Prefaces to Various Volumes of Poems . William Wordsworth 267 

Appendix to Lyrical Ballads William Wordsworth 292 

Essay Supplementary TO Preface William Wordsworth 311 

Preface to Cromwell Victor Hugo 337 

Preface to Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman 388 

Introduction to the History of English Literature 

H. A. Taine 410 


No part of a book is so intimate as the Preface. Here, after the long 
labor of the work is over, the author descends from his platform, and 
speaks with his reader as man to man, disclosing his hopes and fears, 
seeking sympathy for his difficulties, offering defence or defiance, accord- 
ing to his temper, against the criticisms which he anticipates. It thus 
happens that a personality which has been veiled by a formal method 
throughout many chapters, is suddenly seen face to face in the Preface; 
and this alone, if there were no other reason, would justify a volume 
of Prefaces. 

But there are other reasons why a Preface may be presented apart from 
its parent work, and may, indeed, be expected sometimes to survive it. 
The Prologues and Epilogues of Caxton were chiefly prefixed to trans- 
lations which have long been superseded; but the comments of this frank 
and enthusiastic pioneer of the art of printing in England not only tell 
us of his personal tastes, but are in a high degree illuminative of the 
literary habits and standards of western Europe in the fifteenth century. 
Again, modern research has long ago put Raleigh's "History of the 
World" out of date; but his eloquent Preface still gives us a rare picture 
of the attitude of an intelligent Elizabethan, of the generation which 
colonized America, toward the past, the present, and the future worlds. 
Bacon's "Great Restoration" is no longer a guide to scientific method; 
but his prefatory statements as to his objects and hopes still offer a lofty 

And so with the documents here drawn from the folios of Copernicus 
and Calvin, with the criticism of Dryden and Wordsworth and Hugo, 
with Dr. Johnson's Preface to his great Dictionary, with the astounding 
manifesto of a new poetry from Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" — 
each of them has a value and significance independent now of the work 
which it originally introduced, and each of them presents to us a man. 



Title and Prologue to Book I 

HERE beginneth the volume entitled and named the Recuyell 
of the Histories of Troy, composed and drawn out of 
divers books of Latin into French by the right venerable 
person and worshipful man, Raoul le Feure, priest and chaplain unto 
the right noble, glorious, and mighty prince in his time, Philip, 
Duke of Burgundy, of Brabant, etc., in the year of the Incarnation of 
our Lord God a thousand four hundred sixty and four, and trans- 
lated and drawn out of French into English by William Caxton, 
mercer, of the city of London, at the commandment of the right 
high, mighty, and virtuous Princess, his redoubted Lady, Margaret, 
by the grace of God Duchess of Burgundy, of Lotrylk, of Brabant, 
etc.; which said translation and work was begun in Bruges in the 
County of Flanders, the first day of March, the year of the Incarna- 
tion of our said Lord God a thousand four hundred sixty and eight, 
and ended and finished in the holy city of Cologne the 19th day of 
September, the year of our said Lord God a thousand four hundred 
sixty and eleven, etc. 

And on that other side of this leaf followeth the prologue. 

When I remember that every man is bounden by the command- 
ment and counsel of the wise man to eschew sloth and idleness, 

William Caxton (1422? — 1491), merchant and translator, learned the art of 
printing on the Continent, probably at Bruges or Cologne. He translated "The 
Recuyell of the Histories of Troy," between 1469 and 1471, and, on account of the 
great demand for copies, was led to have it printed — the first English book to be 
reproduced by this means. The date was about 1474; the place, probably Bruges. In 
1476, Caxton came back to England, and set up a press of his own at Westminster. 
In 1477, he issued the first book known to have been printed in England, "The 
Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers." The following Prefaces and Epilogues from 
Caxton's own pen show his attitude towards some of the more important of the works 
that issued from his press. 



which is mother and nourisher of vices, and ought to put myself 
unto virtuous occupation and business, then I, having no great 
charge of occupation, following the said counsel took a French book, 
and read therein many strange and marvellous histories, wherein I 
had great pleasure and delight, as well for the novelty of the same 
as for the fair language of French, which was in prose so well and 
compendiously set and written, which methought I understood the 
sentence and substance of every matter. And for so much as this 
book was new and late made and drawn into French, and never had 
seen it in our English tongue, I thought in myself it should be a 
good business to translate it into our English, to the end that it might 
be had as well in the royaume of England as in other lands, and 
also for to pass therewith the time, and thus concluded in myself 
to begin this said work. And forthwith took pen and ink, and began 
boldly to run forth as bhnd Bayard in this present work, which is 
named "The Recuyell of the Trojan Histories." And afterward 
when I remembered myself of my simpleness and unperfectness that 

1 had in both languages, that is to wit in French and in English, for 
in France was I never, and was born and learned my English in 
Kent, in the Weald, where I doubt not is spoken as broad and rude 
English as in any place of England; and have continued by the space 
of 30 years for the most part in the countries of Brabant, Flanders, 
Holland, and Zealand. And thus when all these things came before 
me, after that I had made and written five or six quires I fell in 
despair of this work, and purposed no more to have continued there- 
in, and those quires laid apart, and in two years after laboured no 
more in this work, and was fully in will to have left it, till on a time 
it fortuned that the right high, excellent, and right virtuous princess, 
my right redoubted Lady, my Lady Margaret, by the grace of God 
sister unto the King of England and of France, my sovereign lord. 
Duchess of Burgundy, of Lotryk, of Brabant, of Limburg, and of 
Luxembourg, Countess of Flanders, of Artois, and of Burgundy, 
Palatine of Hainault, of Holland, of Zealand and of Namur, Mar- 
quesse of the Holy Empire, Lady of Frisia, of Salins and of Mechlin, 
sent for me to speak with her good Grace of divers matters, among 
the which I let her Highness have knowledge of the foresaid begin- 
ning of this work, which anon commanded me to show the said five 


or six quires to her said Grace; and when she had seen them anon 
she found a default in my EngHsh, which she commanded me to 
amend, and moreover commanded me straitly to continue and make 
an end of the residue then not translated; whose dreadful command- 
ment I durst in no wise disobey, because I am a servant unto her 
said Grace and receive of her yearly fee and other many good and 
great benefits, (and also hope many more to receive of her High- 
ness), but forthwith went and laboured in the said translation after 
my simple and poor cunning, also nigh as I can following my 
author, meekly beseeching the bounteous Highness of my said Lady 
that of her benevolence list to accept and take in gree this simple 
and rude work here following; and if there be anything written or 
said to her pleasure, I shall think my labour well employed, and 
whereas there is default that she arette it to the simpleness of my 
cunning which is full small in this behalf; and require and pray 
all them that shall read this said work to correct it, and to hold me 
excused of the rude and simple translation. 
And thus I end my prologue. 

Epilogue to Book II 

Thus endeth the second book of the Recule of the Histories of 
Troy. Which bookes were late translated into French out of Latin 
by the labour of the venerable person Raoul le Feure, priest, as afore 
is said; and by me indigne and unworthy, translated into this rude 
English by the commandment of my said redoubted Lady, Duchess 
of Burgundy. And for as much as I suppose the said two books be 
not had before this time in our English language, therefore I had the 
better will to accomplish this said work; which work was begun in 
Bruges and continued in Ghent and finished in Cologne, in the time 
of the troublous world, and of the great divisions being and reign- 
ing, as well in the royaumes of England and France as in all other 
places universally through the world; that is to wit the year of our 
Lord a thousand four hundred seventy one. And as for the third 
book, which treateth of the general and last destruction of Troy, it 
needeth not to translate it into English, for as much as that worship- 
ful and religious man, Dan John Lidgate, monk of Bury, did trans- 


late it but late; after whose work I fear to take upon me, that am 
not worthy to bear his penner and ink-horn after him, to meddle 
me in that work. But yet for as much as I am bound to contemplate 
my said Lady's good grace, and also that his work is in rhyme and 
as far as I know it is not had in prose in our tongue, and also, 
peradventure, he translated after some other author than this is; and 
yet for as much as divers men be of divers desires, some to read in 
rhyme and metre and some in prose; and also because that I have 
now good leisure, being in Cologne, and have none other thing to 
do at this time; in eschewing of idleness, mother of all vices, I have 
delibered in myself for the contemplation of my said redoubted 
lady to take this labour in hand, by the sufferance and help of 
Almighty God; whom I meekly supplye to give me grace to accom- 
plish it to the pleasure of her that is causer thereof, and that she 
receive it in gree of me, her faithful, true, and most humble servant, 

Epilogue. TO Book III 

Thus end I this book, which I have translated after mine Author 
as nigh as God hath given me cunning, to whom be given the laud 
and praising. And for as much as in the writing of the same my pen 
is worn, my hand weary and not steadfast, mine eyne dimmed with 
overmuch looking on the white paper, and my courage not so prone 
and ready to labour as it hath been, and that age creepeth on me 
daily and feebleth all the body, and also because I have promised to 
divers gentlemen and to my friends to address to them as hastily as 
I might this said book, therefore I have practised and learned at my 
great charge and dispense to ordain this said book in print, after 
the manner and form as ye may here see, and is not written with 
pen and ink as other books be, to the end that every man may have 
them at once. For all the books of this story, named "The Recule 
of the Histories of Troy" thus imprinted as ye here see, were begun 
in one day and also finished in one day, which book I have pre- 
sented to my said redoubted Lady, as afore is said. And she hath 
well accepted it, and largely rewarded me, wherefore I beseech 
Almighty God to reward her everlasting bliss after this life, praying 
her said Grace and all them that shall read this book not to disdain 


the simple and rude work, neither to reply against the saying of the 
matters touched in this book, though it accord not unto the transla- 
tion of others which have written it. For divers men have made 
divers books which in all points accord not, as Dictes, Dares, and 
Homer. For Dictes and Homer, as Greeks, say and write favorably 
for the Greeks, and give to them more worship than to the Trojans; 
and Dares writeth otherwise than they do. And also as for the proper 
names, it is no wonder that they accord not, for some one name in 
these days have divers equivocations after the countries that they 
dwell in; but all accord in conclusion the general destruction of 
that noble city of Troy, and the death of so many noble princes, as 
kings, dukes, earls, barons, knights, and common people, and the 
ruin irreparable of that city that never since was re-edified; which 
may be example to all men during the world how dreadful and 
jeopardous it is to begin a war and what harms, losses, and death 
followeth. Therefore the Apostle saith: "All that is written is written 
to our doctrine," which doctrine for the common weal I beseech God 
may be taken in such place and time as shall be most needful in 
increasing of peace, love, and charity; which grant us He that 
suffered for the same to be crucified on the rood tree. And say we 
all Amen for charity I 


First edition (1477). Epilogue 

Here endeth the book named The Dictes or Sayings of the 
PhilosopherSyimpnnted by me, William Caxton, at Westminster, the 
year of our Lord 1477. Which book is late translated out of French 
into English by the noble and puissant Lord Lord Antony, Earl of 
Rivers, Lord of Scales and of the Isle of Wight, defender and 
director of the siege apostolic for our holy, father the Pope in this 
royaume of England, and governor of my Lord Prince of Wales. 
And it is so that at such time as he had accomplished this said work, 
it liked him to send it to me in certain quires to oversee, which 
forthwith I saw, and found therein many great, notable, and wise 
sayings of the philosophers, according unto the books made in 


French which I had often before read; but certainly I had seen none 
in English until that time. And so afterward I came unto my said 
Lord, and told him how I had read and seen his book, and that he 
had done a meritorious deed in the labour of the translation thereof 
into our English tongue, wherein he had deserved a singular laud 
and thanks, &c. Then my said Lord desired me to oversee it, and 
where I should find fault to correct it; whereon I answered unto his 
Lordship that I could not amend it, but if I should so presume I 
might apaire it, for it was right well and cunningly made and 
translated into right good and fair English. Notwithstanding, he 
willed me to oversee it, and shewed me divers things, which, as 
seemed to him, might be left out, as divers letters, missives sent 
from Alexander to Darius and Aristotle, and each to other, which 
letters were little appertinent unto dictes and sayings aforesaid, foras' 
much as they specify of other matters. And also desired me, that 
done, to put the said book in imprint. And thus obeying his request 
and commandment, I have put me in devoir to oversee this his said 
book, and behold as nigh as I could how it accordeth with the 
original, being in French. And I find nothing discordant therein, 
save only in the dictes and sayings of Socrates, wherein I find that 
my said Lord hath left out certain and divers conclusions touching 
women. Whereof I marvel that my Lord hath not written them, ne 
what hath moved him so to do, ne what cause he had at that time; 
but I suppose that some fair lady hath desired him to leave it out of 
his book; or else he was amorous on some noble lady, for whose 
love he would not set it in his book; or else for the very affection, 
love, and good will that he hath unto all ladies and gentlewomen, he 
thought that Socrates spared the sooth and wrote of women more 
than truth; which I cannot think that so true a man and so noble 
a philosopher as Socrates was should write otherwise than truth. 
For if he had made fault in writing of women, he ought not, ne 
should not, be believed in his other dictes and sayings. But I per- 
ceive that my said Lord knoweth verily that such defaults be not 
had ne found in the women born and dwelling in these parts ne 
regions of the world. Socrates was a Greek, born in a far country 
from hence, which country is all of other conditions than this is, 
and men and women of other nature than they be here in this 


country. For I wot well, of whatsoever condition women be in 
Greece, the women of this country be right good, wise, pleasant, 
humble, discreet, sober, chaste, obedient to their husbands, true, 
secret, steadfast, ever busy, and never idle, attemperate in speaking, 
and virtuous in all their works — or at least should be so. For which 
causes so evident my said Lord, as I suppose, thought it was not of 
necessity to set in his book the sayings of his author Socrates touch- 
ing women. But forasmuch as I had commandment of my said 
Lord to correct and amend where I should find fault, and other 
find I none save that he hath left out these dictes and sayings of the 
women of Greece, therefore accomplishing his commandment — 
forasmuch as I am not certain whether it was in my Lord's copy or 
not, or else, peradventure, that the wind had blown over the leaf at 
the time of translation of his book — I purpose to write those same 
sayings of that Greek Socrates, which wrote of the women of Greece 
and nothing of them of this royaume, whom, I suppose, he never 
knew; for if he had, I dare plainly say that he would have reserved 
them specially in his said dictes. Always not presuming to put and 
set them in my said Lord's book but in the end apart in the 
rehearsal of the works, humbly requiring all them that shall read 
this little rehearsal, that if they find any fault to arette it to Socrates, 
and not to me, which writeth as hereafter foUoweth. 

Socrates said that women be the apparels to catch men, but they 
take none but them that will be poor or else them that know them 
not. And he said that there is none so great empechement unto a 
man as ignorance and women. And he saw a woman that bare fire, 
of whom he said that the hotter bore the colder. And he saw a 
woman sick, of whom he said that the evil resteth and dwelleth with 
the evil. And he saw a woman brought to the justice, and many 
other women followed her weeping, of whom he said the evil be 
sorry and angry because the evil shall perish. And he saw a young 
maid that learned to write, of whom he said that men multiplied 
evil upon evil. And he said that the ignorance of a man is known 
in three things, that is to wit, when he hath no thought to use 
reason; when he cannot refrain his covetise; and when he is 
governed by the counsel of women, in that he knoweth that they 
know not. And he said unto his disciples: "Will ye that I enseign 


and teach you how ye shall now escape from all evil?" And they 
answered, "Yea." And then he said to them, "For whatsoever thing 
that it be, keep you and be well ware that ye obey not women." Who 
answered to him again, "And what sayest thou by our good 
mothers, and of our sisters?" He said to them, "Suffice you with 
that I have said to you, for all be semblable in malice." And he said, 
"Whosoever will acquire and get science, let him never put him in 
the governance of a woman." And he saw a woman that made her 
fresh and gay, to whom he said, "Thou resemblest the fire; for the 
more wood is laid to the fire the more will it burn, and the greater 
is the heat." And on a time one asked him what him semed of 
women; he answered that the women resemble a tree called Edelfla, 
which is the fairest tree to behold and see that may be, but within it 
is full of venom. And they said to him and demanded wherefore he 
blamed so women? and that he himself had not come into this 
world, ne none other men also, without them. He answered, "The 
woman is like unto a tree named Chassoygnet, on which tree there 
be many things sharp and pricking, which hurt and prick them that 
approach unto it; and yet, nevertheless, that same tree bringeth forth 
good dates and sweet." And they demanded him why he fled 
from the women ? And he answered, "Forasmuch as I see them flee 
and eschew the good and commonly do evil." And a woman said 
to him, "Wilt thou have any other woman than me?" And he 
answered to her, "Art not ashamed to offer thyself to him that 
demandeth nor desireth thee not?" 

So, these be the dictes and saying of the philosopher Socrates, 
which he wrote in his book; and certainly he wrote no worse than 
afore is rehearsed. And forasmuch as it is accordant that his dictes 
and sayings should be had as well as others', therefore I have set it 
in the end of this book. And also some persons, peradventure, that 
have read this book in French would have arette a great default in 
me that I had not done my devoir in visiting and overseeing of my 
Lord's book according to his desire. And some other also, haply, 
might have supposed that Socrates had written much more ill of 
women than here afore is specified, wherefore in satisfying of all 
parties, and also for excuse of the said Socrates, I have set these said 
dictes and sayings apart in the end of this book, to the intent that if 


my said lord or any other person, whatsoever he or she be that shall 
read or hear it, that if they be not well pleased withal, that they with 
a pen race it out, or else rend the leaf out of the book. Humbly re- 
quiring and beseeching my said lord to take no displeasure on me so 
presuming, but to pardon whereas he shall find fault; and that it 
please him to take the labour of the imprinting in gree and thanks, 
which gladly have done my diligence in the accomplishing of his 
desire and commandment; in which I am bounden so to do for the 
good reward that I have received of his said lordship; whom I beseech 
Almighty God to increase and to continue in his virtuous disposition 
in this world, and after this life to live everlastingly in Heaven. 

First Edition (1483). Prologue 

The Holy and blessed doctor Saint Jerome saith this authority, 
"Do always some good work to the end that the devil find thee not 
Idle." And the holy doctor Saint Austin saith in the book of the 
labour of monks, that no man strong or mighty to labour ought to 
be idle; for which cause when I had performed and accomplished 
divers works and histories translated out of French into English at 
the request of certain lords, ladies, and gentlemen, as the Recuyel 
of the History of Troy, the Book of the Chess, the History of Jason, 
the history of the Mirror of the World, the 15 books of Metamor- 
phoses in which be contained the fables of Ovid, and the History 
of Godfrey of Boulogne in the conquest of Jerusalem, with other 
divers works and books, I ne wist what work to begin and put forth 
after the said works to-fore made. And forasmuch as idleness is so 
much blamed, as saith Saint Bernard, the mellifluous doctor, that she 
is mother of lies and step-dame of virtues, and it is she that over- 
throweth strong men into sin, quencheth virtue, nourisheth pride, 
and maketh the way ready to go to hell; and John Cassiodorus saith 
that the thought of him that is idle thinketh on none other thing but 
on licorous meats and viands for his belly; and the holy Saint Ber- 
nard aforesaid saith in an epistle, when the time shall come that it 
shall behove us to render and give accounts of our idle time, what 


reason may we render or what answer shall we give when in idleness 
is none excuse; and Prosper saith that whosoever liveth in idleness 
liveth in manner of a dumb beast. And because I have seen the 
authorities that blame and despise so much idleness, and also know 
well that it is one of the capital and deadly sins much hateful unto 
God, therefore I have concluded and firmly purposed in myself no 
more to be idle, but will apply myself to labour and such occupation 
as I have been accustomed to do. And forasmuch as Saint Austin 
aforesaid saith upon a psalm that good work ought not to be done 
for fear of pain, but for the love of righteousness, and that it be of 
very and sovereign franchise, and because me-seemeth to be a sover- 
eign weal to incite and exhort men and women to keep them from 
sloth and idleness, and to let to be understood to such people as be 
not lettered the nativities, the lives, the passions, the miracles, and 
the death of the holy saints, and also some other notorious deeds and 
acts of times past, I have submised myself to translate into English 
the legend of Saints, which is called Legenda Aurea in Latin, that is 
to say, the Golden Legend; for in like wise as gold is most noble 
above all other metals, in like wise is this legend holden most noble 
above all other works. Against me here might some persons say that 
this legend hath been translated before, and truth it is; but foras- 
much as I had by me a legend in French, another in Latin, and the 
third in English, which varied in many and divers places, and also 
many histories were comprised in the two other books which were 
not in the English books; and therefore I have written one out of 
the said three books, which I have ordered otherwise than the said 
English legend is, which was so to-fore made, beseeching all them 
that shall see or hear it read to pardon me where I have erred or 
made fault, which, if any be, is of ignorance and against my will; 
and submit it wholly of such as can and may, to correct it, humbly 
beseeching them so to do, and in so doing they shall deserve a singu- 
lar laud and merit; and I shall pray for them unto Almighty God 
that He of His benign grace reward them, etc., and that it profit to 
all them that shall read or hear it read, and may increase in them 
virtue, and expel vice and sin, that by the example of the holy saints 
amend their living here in this short life, that by their merits they 
and I may come to everlasting hfe and bUss in Heaven. Amen. 


CATON (1483) 

Here beginneth the prologue o£ proem of the book called Caton, 
which book hath been translated into English by Master Benet Burgh, 
late Archdeacon of Colchester, and high canon of St. Stephen's at 
Westminster, which ful craftily hath made it in ballad royal for the 
erudition of my lord Bousher, son and heir at that time to my lord 
the Earl of Essex. And because of late came to my hand a book of 
the said Cato in French, which rehearseth many a fair learning and 
notable examples, I have translated it out of French into English, 
as all along hereafter shall appear, which I present unto the city of 

Unto the noble, ancient, and renowned city, the city of London, 
in England, I, William Caxton, citizen and conjury of the same, and 
of the fraternity and fellowship of the mercery, owe of right my serv- 
ice and good will, and of very duty am bounden naturally to assist, 
aid, and counsel, as far forth as I can to my power, as to my mother 
of whom I have received my nurture and living, and shall pray for 
the good prosperity and policy of the same during my life. For, as 
me-seemeth, it is of great need, because I have known it in my young 
age much more wealthy, prosperous, and richer, than it is at this day. 
And the cause is that there is almost none that intendeth to the com- 
mon weal, but only every man for his singular profit. Oh! when I 
remember the noble Romans, that for the common weal of the city 
of Rome they spent not only their moveable goods but they put their 
bodies and lives in jeopardy and to the death, as by many a noble 
example we may see in the acts of Romans, as of the two noble 
Scipios, African and Asian, Actilius, and many others. And among 
all others the noble Cato, author and maker of this book, which he 
hath left for to remain ever to all the people for to learn in it and to 
know how every man ought to rule and govern him in this life, as 
well for the life temporal as for the life spiritual. And as in my judge- 
ment it is the best book for to be taught to young children in school, 
and also to people of every age, it is full convenient if it be well 
understood. And because I see that the children that be born within 


the said city increase, and profit not like their fathers and elders, but 
for the most part after that they be come to their perfect years of 
discretion and ripeness of age, how well that their fathers have left 
to them great quantity of goods yet scarcely among ten two thrive, 
[whereas] I have seen and know in other lands in divers cities that 
of one name and lineage successively have endured prosperously 
many heirs, yea, a five or six hundred years, and some a thousand; 
and in this noble city of London it can unneth continue unto the 
third heir or scarcely to the second, — O blessed Lord, when I remem- 
ber this I am all abashed; I cannot judge the cause, but fairer ne 
wiser ne better spoken children in their youth be nowhere than there 
be in London, but at their full ripening there is no kernel ne good 
corn found, but chaff for the most part. I wot well there be many 
noble and wise, and prove well and be better and richer than ever 
were their fathers. And to the end that many might come to honour 
and worship, I intend to translate this said book of Cato, in which 
I doubt not, and if they will read it and understand they shall much 
the better con rule themselves thereby; for among all other books 
this is a singular book, and may well be called the regiment or gov- 
ernance of the body and soul. 

There was a noble clerk named Pogius of Florence, and was secre- 
tary to Pope Eugene and also to Pope Nicholas, which had in the 
city of Florence a noble and well-stuffed library which all noble 
strangers coming to Florence desired to see; and therein they found 
many noble and rare books. And when they had asked of him which 
was the best book of them all, and that he reputed for best, he said 
that he held Cato glosed for the best book of his library. Then since 
that he that was so noble a clerk held this book for the best, doubtless 
it must follow that this is a noble book and a virtuous, and such one 
that a man may eschew all vices and ensue virtue. Then to the end 
that this said book may profit unto the hearers of it, I beseech Al- 
mighty God that I may achieve and accomplish it unto his laud and 
glory, and to the erudition and learning of them that be ignorant, 
that they may thereby profit and be the better. And I require and 
beseech all such that find fault or error, that of their charity they 
correct and amend it, and I shall heartily pray for them to Almighty 
God, that he reward them. 

iESOP 17 

AESOP. (1483) 

Now then I will finish all these fables with this tale that foUoweth, 
which a worshipful priest and a parson told me lately. He said that 
there were dwelling in Oxford two priests, both masters of art, of 
whom that one was quick and could put himself forth, and that other 
was a good simple priest. And so it happened that the master that 
was pert and quick, was anon promoted to a benefice or twain, and 
after to prebends and for to be a dean of a great prince's chapel, sup- 
posing and weening that his fellow the simple priest should never 
have been promoted, but be alway an Annual, or at the most a parish 
priest. So after long time that this worshipful man, this dean, came 
riding into a good parish with a ten or twelve horses, like a prelate, 
and came into the church of the said parish, and found there this 
good simple man sometime his fellow, which came and welcomed 
him lowly; and that other bad him "good morrow, master John," 
and took him slightly by the hand, and asked him where he dwelt. 
And the good man said, "In this parish." "How," said he, "are ye 
here a soul priest or a parish priest?" "Nay, sir," said he, "for lack 
of a better, though I be not able ne worthy, I am parson and curate 
of this parish." And then that other availed his bonnet and 
said, "Master parson, I pray you to be not displeased; I had sup- 
posed ye had not been beneficed; but master," said he, "I pray 
you what is this benefice worth to you a year?" "Forsooth," said 
the good simple man, "I wot never, for I make never accounts thereof 
how well I have had it four or five years." "And know ye not," said 
he, "what it is worth? it should seem a good benefice." "No, for- 
sooth," said he, "but I wot well what it shall be worth to me." 
"Why," said he, "what shall it be worth?" "Forsooth," said he, "if 
I do my true diligence in the cure of my parishioners in preaching 
and teaching, and do my part longing to my cure, I shall have heaven 
therefore; and if their souls be lost, or any of them by my default, I 
shall be punished therefore, and hereof am I sure." And with that 
word the rich dean was abashed, and thought he should do the better 
and take more heed to his cures and benefices than he had done. This 


was a good answer of a good priest and an honest. And herewith I 
finished this book, translated and printed by me, WilHam Caxton, 
at Westminster in the Abbey, and finished the 26th day of March, 
the year of our Lord 1484, and the first year of the reign of King 
Richard the Third. 

Second Edition. (1484) 


Great thanks, laud, and honour ought to be given unto the clerks, 
poets, and historiographs that have written many noble books of 
wisedom of the lives, passions, and miracles of holy saints, of his- 
tories of noble and famous acts and faites, and of the chronicles since 
the beginning of the creation of the world unto this present time, by 
which we be daily informed and have knowledge of many things of 
whom we should not have known if they had not left to us their 
monuments written. Among whom and in especial before all others, 
we ought to give a singular laud unto that noble and great philos- 
opher Geoffrey Chaucer, the which for his ornate writing in our 
tongue may well have the name of a laureate poet. For to-fore that 
he by labour embellished, ornated, and made fair our English, in 
this realm was had rude speech and incongruous, as yet it appeareth 
by old books, which at this day ought not to have place ne be com- 
pared among, ne to, his beauteous volumes and ornate writings, of 
whom he made many books and treatises of many a noble history, 
as well in metre as in rhyme and prose; and them so craftily made 
that he comprehended his matters in short, quick, and high sentences, 
eschewing prolixity, casting away the chaff of superfluity, and shew- 
ing the picked grain of sentence uttered by crafty and sugared elo- 
quence; of whom among all others of his books I purpose to print, by 
the grace of God, the book of the tales of Canterbury, in which I find 
many a noble history of every state and degree; first rehearsing the 
conditions and the array of each of them as properly as possible is 
to be said. And after their tales which be of nobleness, wisdom, 
gentleness, mirth and also of very holiness and virtue, wherein he 


finisheth this said book, which book I have diUgently overseen and 
duly examined, to that end it be made according unto his own mak- 
ing. For I find many of the said books which writers have abridged 
it, and many things left out; and in some place have set certain 
verses that he never made ne set in his book; of which books so 
incorrect was one brought to me, 6 years past, which I supposed had 
been very true and correct; and according to the same I did so im- 
print a certain number of them, which anon were sold to many and 
divers gentlemen, of whom one gentleman came to me and said that 
this book was not according in many place unto the book that 
Geoffrey Chaucer had made. To whom I answered that I had made 
it according to my copy, and by me was nothing added ne minished. 
Then he said he knew a book which his father had and much loved, 
that was very true and according unto his own first book by him 
made; and said more, if I would imprint it again he would get me 
the same book for a copy, howbeit he wist well that his father would 
not gladly depart from it. To whom I said, in case that he could get 
me such a book, true and correct, yet I would once endeavour me to 
imprint it again for to satisfy the author, whereas before by ignorance 
I erred in hurting and defaming his book in divers places, in setting 
in some things that he never said ne made, and leaving out many 
things that he made which be requisite to be set in it. And thus we 
fell at accord, and he full gently got of his father the said book, and 
delivered it to me, by which I have corrected my book, as hereafter, 
all along by the aid of Almighty God, shall follow; whom I humbly 
beseech to give me grace and aid to achieve and accomplish to his 
laud, honour, and glory; and that all ye that shall in this book read 
or hear, will of your charity among your deeds of mercy remember 
the soul of the said Geoffrey Chaucer, first author and maker of this 
book. And also that all we that shall see and read therein may so 
take and understand the good and virtuous tales, that it may so 
profit unto the health of our souls that after this short and transitory 
life we may come to everlasting life in Heaven. Amen. 

By William Caxton 



After that I had accomplished and finished divers histories, as 
well of contemplation as of other historical and worldly acts of great 
conquerors and princes, and also certain books of ensamples and 
doctrine, many noble and divers gentlemen of this realm of England 
came and demanded me many and oft times wherefore that I have 
not done made and printed the noble history of the Saint Graal, and 
of the most renowned Christian King, first and chief of the three 
best Christian and worthy, Arthur, which ought most to be remem- 
bered among us Englishmen before all other Christian Kings. For 
it is notoyrly known through the universal world that there be nine 
worthy and the best that ever were; that is to wit three Paynims, 
three Jews, and three Christian men. As for the Paynims, they were 
to-fore the Incarnation of Christ, which were named — the first. Hec- 
tor of Troy, of whom the history is come both in ballad and in prose 
— the second, Alexander the Great; and the third, JuHus Caesar, Em- 
peror of Rome, of whom the histories be well known and had. And 
as for the three Jews, which also were before the Incarnation of our 
Lord of whom the first was Duke Joshua, which brought the chil- 
dren of Israel into the land of behest; the second, David, King of 
Jerusalem; and the third Judas Maccabaeus; of these three the Bible 
rehearseth all their noble histories and acts. And since the said 
Incarnation have been three noble Christian men, installed and 
admitted through the universal world into the number of the nine 
best and worthy, of whom was first the noble Arthur, whose noble 
acts I purpose to write in this present book here following. The 
second was Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, of whom the history 
is had in many places both in French and English; and the third and 
last was Godfrey of Boulogne, of whose acts and life I made a book 
unto the excellent prince and king of noble memory, King Edward 
the Fourth. The said noble gentlemen instantly required me to print 
the history of the said noble king and conqueror. King Arthur, and 
of his knights, with the history of the Saint Graal, and of the death 
and ending of the said Arthur, affirming that I ought rather to print 


his acts and noble feats than of Godfrey of Boulogne or any of the 
other eight, considering that he was a man born within this realm, 
and king and emperor of the same; and that there be in French 
divers and many noble volumes of his acts, and also of his knights. 
To whom I answered that divers men hold opinion that there was 
no such Arthur, and that all such books as be made of him be but 
feigned and fables, because that some chronicles make of him no 
mention, ne remember him nothing ne of his knights; whereto they 
answered, and one in special said, that in him that should say or 
think that there was never such a king called Arthur, might well be 
aretted great folly and blindness; for he said that there were many 
evidences of the contrary. First ye may see his sepulchre in the 
monastery of Glastonbury; and also in 'Polychronicon,' in the fifth 
book, the sixth chapter, and in the seventh book, the twenty-third 
chapter, where his body was buried, and after found and translated 
into the said monastery. Ye shall see also in the history of Boccaccio, 
in his book 'De casu principum,' part of his noble acts and also of 
his fall. Also Galfridus in his British book recounteth his life, and 
in divers places of England many remembrances be yet of him, and 
shall remain perpetually, and also of his knights. First in the Abbey 
of Westminster at Saint Edward's shrine remaineth the print of 
his seal in red wax closed in beryl, in which is written 'Patricius 
Arthurus, Britanniae GaUiae Germaniae Daciae Imperator.' Item, 
in the castle of Dover ye may see Gawain's skull and Caradoc's man- 
tle; at Winchester the round table; in other places Lancelot's sword, 
and many other things. Then all these things considered, there can 
no man reasonably gainsay but here was a king of this land named 
Arthur; for in all places. Christian and heathen, he is reputed and 
taken for one of the nine worthy, and the first of the three Christian 
men. And also he is more spoken of beyond the sea; more books 
made of his noble acts than there be in England, as well in Dutch, 
Italian, Spanish, and Greek as in French; and yet of record remain 
in witness of him in Wales in the town of Camelot the great stones 
and marvellous works of iron lying under the ground, and royal 
vaults, which divers now living hath seen. Wherefore it is a marvel 
why he is no more renowned in his own country, save only it accord- 
eth to the word of God, which saith that no man is accepted for a 


prophet in his own country. Then all these things aforesaid alleged, 
I could not well deny but that there was such a noble king named 
Arthur, and reputed one of the nine worthy, and first and chief of 
the Christian men; and many noble volumes be made of him and 
of his noble knights in French, which I have seen and read beyond 
the sea, which be not had in our maternal tongue, but in Welsh be 
many, and also in French, and some in English, but nowhere nigh 
all. Wherefore such as have lately been drawn out briefly into 
English, I have, after the simple cunning that God hath sent to me, 
under the favour and correction of all noble lords and gentlemen, 
emprised to imprint a book of the noble histories of the said King 
Arthur and of certain of his knights, after a copy unto me delivered, 
which copy Sir Thomas Malory did take out of certain books of 
French and reduced it into English. And I, according to my copy 
have down set it in print, to the intent that noble men may see and 
learn the noble acts of chivalry, the gentle and virtuous deeds that 
some knights used in those days, by which they came to honour, and 
how they that were vicious were punished and oft put to shame and 
rebuke; humbly beseeching all noble lords and ladies and all other 
estates, of what estate or degree they be of, that shall see and read in 
this said book and work, that they take the good and honest acts in 
their remembrance and to follow the same, wherein they shall find 
many joyous and pleasant histories and noble and renowned acts of 
humanity, gentleness, and chivalry. For herein may be seen noble 
chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendliness, hardyhood, love, friend- 
ship, cowardice, murder, hate, virtue and sin. Do after the good and 
leave the evil, and it shall bring you to good fame and renown. And 
for to pass the time this book shall be pleasant to read in; but for to 
give faith and believe that all is true that is contained herein, ye be 
at your liberty. But all is written for our doctrine, and for to beware 
that we fall not to vice ne sin, but to exercise and follow virtue, by 
which we may come and attain to good fame and renown in this 
hfe, and after this short and transitory life to come unto everlasting 
bliss in heaven; the which He grant us that reigneth in Heaven, the 
Blessed Trinity. Amen. 

Then to proceed forth in this said book which I direct unto all 
noble princes, lords and ladies, gentlemen or gendewomen, that 


desire to read or hear read of the noble and joyous history of the 
great conqueror and excellent king, King Arthur, sometime King 
of this noble realm then called Britain, I, WiUiam Caxton, simple 
person, present this book following which I have emprised to im- 
print. And treateth of the noble acts, feats of arms, of chivalry, 
prowess, hardihood, humanity, love, courtesy, and very gentleness, 
with many wonderful histories and adventures. And for to under- 
stand briefly the contents of this volume, I have divided it into 21 
books, and every book chaptered, as hereafter shall by God's grace 
follow. The first book shall treat how Uther Pendragon begat the 
noble conqueror, King Arthur, and containeth 28 chapters. The 
second book treateth of Balyn the noble knight, and containeth 19 
chapters. The third book treateth of the marriage of King Arthur 
to Queen Guinevere, with other matters, and containeth 15 chapters. 
The fourth book how Merlin was assotted, and of war made to King 
Arthur, and containeth 29 chapters. The fifth book treateth of the 
conquest of Lucius the emperor, and containeth 12 chapters. The 
sixth book treateth of Sir Lancelot and Sir Lionel, and marvellous 
adventures, and containeth 18 chapters. The seventh book treateth 
of a noble knight called Sir Gareth, and named by Sir Kay 'Beau- 
mains,' and containeth 36 chapters. The eighth book treateth of the 
birth of Sir Tristram the noble knight, and of his acts, and containeth 
41 chapters. The ninth book treateth of a knight named by Sir Kay, 
'Le cote mal taille,' and also of Sir Tristram, and containeth 44 
chapters. The tenth book treateth of Sir Tristram, and other mar- 
vellous adventures, and containeth 83 chapters. The eleventh book 
treateth of Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad, and containeth i4 chapters. 
The twelfth book treateth of Sir Lancelot and his madness, and con- 
taineth 14 chapters. The thirteenth book treateth how Galahad came 
first to King Arthur's court, and the quest how the Sangreal was 
begun, and containeth 20 chapters. The fourteenth book treateth of 
the quest of the Sangreal, and containeth 10 chapters. The fifteenth 
book treateth of Sir Lancelot, and containeth 6 chapters. The six- 
teenth book treateth of Sir Boris and Sir Lionel his brother, and 
containeth 17 chapters. The seventeenth book treateth of the San- 
greal, and containeth 23 chapters. The eighteenth book treateth of 
Sir Lancelot and the Queen, and containeth 25 chapters. The nine- 


teenth book treateth of Queen Guinevere, and Lancelot, and con- 
taineth 13 chapters. The twentieth book treateth of the piteous death 
of Arthur, and containeth 22 chapters. The twenty-first book treateth 
of his last departing, and how Sir Lancelot came to revenge his death, 
and containeth 13 chapters. The sum is 21 books, which contain the 
sum of five hundred and seven chapters, as more plainly shall follow 

ENEYDOS (1490) 

After divers work made, translated, and achieved, having no 
work in hand, I, sitting in my study whereas lay many divers 
pamphlets and books, happened that to my hand came a little book 
in French, which lately was translated out of Latin by some noble 
clerk of France, which book is named Aeneidos, made in Latin by 
that noble poet and great clerk, Virgil. Which book I saw over, and 
read therein how, after the general destruction of the great Troy, 
Aeneas departed, bearing his old father Anchises upon his shoulders, 
his little son lulus on his hand, his wife with much other people 
following, and how he shipped and departed, with all the history of 
his adventures that he had ere he came to the achievement of his 
conquest of Italy, as all along shall be shewed in his present book. 
In which book I had great pleasure because of the fair and honest 
terms and words in French; which I never saw before like, ne none 
so pleasant ne so well ordered; which book as seemed to me should 
be much requisite to noble men to see, as well for the eloquence as 
the histories. How well that many hundred years past was the said 
book of Aeneidos, with other works, made and learned daily in 
schools, especially in Italy and other places; which history the said 
Virgil made in metre. And when I had advised me in this said 
book, I delibered and concluded to translate it into English; and 
forthwith took a pen and ink and wrote a leaf or twain, which I over- 
saw again to correct it. And when I saw the fair and strange terms 
therein, I doubted that it should not please some gentlemen which 
late blamed me, saying that in my translations I had over curious 
terms, which could not be understood of common people, and desired 

. »_ 


me to use old and homely terms in. my translations. And fain would 
I satisfy every man, and so to do took an old book and read therein, 
and certainly the English was so rude and broad that I could not 
well understood it. And also my Lord Abbot of Westminster did do 
show to me lately certain evidences written in old English, for to 
reduce it into our English now used. And certainly it was written 
in such wise that it was more like to Dutch than English, I could 
not reduce ne bring it to be understood. And certainly our language 
now used varieth far from that which was used and spoken when I 
was born. For we Englishmen be born under the domination of the 
moon, which is never steadfast but ever wavering, waxing one sea- 
son and waneth and decreaseth another season. And that common 
English that is spoken in one shire varieth from another, insomuch 
that in my days happened that certain merchants were in a ship in 
Thames for to have sailed over the sea into Zealand, and for lack 
of wind they tarried at Foreland, and went to land for to refresh 
them. And one of them named Sheffield, a mercer, came into a house 
and asked for meat, and especially he asked after eggs; and the good 
wife answered that she could speak no French, and the merchant 
was angry, for he also could speak no French, but would have had 
eggs, and she understood him not. And then at last another said, 
that he would have "eyren"; then the goodwife said that she under- 
stood him well. Lo, what should a man in these days now write, eggs 
or eyren ? Certainly it is hard to please every man because of diver- 
sity and change of language. For in these days every man that is 
in any reputation in his country will utter his communication and 
matters in such manners and terms that few men shall understand 
them. And some honest and great clerks have been with me and 
desired me to write the most curious terms that I could find; and 
thus between plain, rude and curious I stand abashed. But in my 
judgment the common terms that be daily used be lighter to be 
understood than the old and ancient English. And forasmuch as this 
present book is not for a rude uplandish man to labour therein ne 
read it, but only for a clerk and a noble gentleman that feeleth and 
understandeth in feats of arms, in love and in noble chivalry. There- 
fore in a mean between both I have reduced and translated this said 
book into our English, not over-rude ne curious; but in such terms 


as shall be understood, by God's grace, according to my copy. And 
if any man will intermit in reading of it, and findeth such terms that 
he cannot understand, let him go read and learn Virgil of the pistles 
of Ovid, and there he shall see and understand lightly all, if he have 
a good reader and informer. For this book is not for every rude and 
uncunning man to see, but to clerks and very gentlemen that under- 
stand gentleness and science. Then I pray all them that shall read 
in this little treatise to hold me for excused for the translating of it, 
for I acknowledge myself ignorant of cunning to emprise on me so 
high and noble a work. But I pray Master John Skelton, late created 
poet laureate in the University of Oxenford, to oversee and correct 
this said book, and to address and expound, wherever shall be found 
fault, to them that shall require it. 

For him I know for sufEcient to expound and English every diffi- 
culty that is therein; for he hath lately translated the Epistles of 
TuUy, and the book of Diodorus Siculus, and divers other works out 
of Latin into English, not in rude and old language, but in polished 
and ornate terms craftily, as he that hath read Virgil, Ovid, Tully, 
and all the other noble poets and orators to me unknown. And also 
he hath read the nine Muses, and understands their musical sciences, 
and to whom of them each science is appropred. I suppose he hath 
drunken of Helicon's well. Then I pray him and such others to 
correct, add, or minish whereas he or they shall find fault; for I 
have but followed my copy in French as nigh as to me is possible. 
And if any word be said therein well, I am glad; and if otherwise, 
I submit my said book to their correction. Which book I present 
unto the high born, my to-coming natural and sovereign lord Arthur, 
by the grace of God Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall and Earl of 
Chester, first-begotten son and heir unto our most dread natural and 
sovereign lord and most Christian King, Henry the VII., by the 
grace of God King of England and of France, and lord of Ireland; 
beseeching his noble Grace to receive it in thank of me his most 
humble subject and servant. And I shall pray unto Almighty God 
for his prosperous increasing in virtue, wisedom, and humanity, that 
he may be equal with the most renowned of all his noble progeni- 
tors; and so to live in this present life that after this transitory life 
he and we all may come to everlasting life in Heaven. Amen. 





To His Most Christian Majesty, FRANCIS, King of the French, and 
his Sovereign, John Calvin wisheth peace and salvation in Christ. 

WHEN I began this work, Sire, nothing was further from 
my thoughts than writing a book which would afterwards 
be presented to your Majesty. My intention was only to 
lay down some elementary principles, by which inquirers on the 
subject of religion might be instructed in the nature of true piety. 
And this labour I undertook chiefly for my countrymen, the French, 
of whom I apprehended multitudes to be hungering and thirsting 
after Christ, but saw very few possessing any real knowledge of him. 
That this was my design, the book itself proves by its simple method 
and unadorned composition. But when I perceived that the fury of 
certain wicked men in your kingdom had grown to such a height, 
as to leave no room in the land for sound doctrine, I thought I should 
be usefully employed, if in the same work I delivered my instructions 
to them, and exhibited my confession to you, that you may know 
the nature of that doctrine, which is the object of such unbounded 
rage to those madmen who are now disturbing the country with 
fire and sword. For I shall not be afraid to acknowledge, that this 
treatise contains a summary of that very doctrine, which, according 
to their clamours, deserves to be punished with imprisonment, banish- 
ment, proscription, and flames, and to be exterminated from the face 

John Calvin was born at Noyon, Picardy, France, in 1509, and died at Geneva in 
1564. He joined the Reformation about 1528, and, having been banished from Paris, 
took refuge in Switzerland. The "Institutes," published at Basle in 1536, contain a 
comprehensive statement of the beliefs of that school of Protestant theology which bears 
Calvin's name; and in this "Dedication" we have Calvin's own summing up of the 
essentials of his creed. 



of the earth. I well know with what atrocious insinuations your ears 
have been filled by them, in order to render our cause most odious 
in your esteem; but your clemency should lead you to consider that, 
if accusation be accounted a sufficient evidence of guilt, there will be 
an end of all innocence in words and actions. If any one, indeed, 
with a view to bring odium upon the doctrine which I am endeavour- 
ing to defend, should allege that it has long ago been condemned 
by the general consent, and suppressed by many judicial decisions, 
this will be only equivalent to saying, that it has been sometimes 
violently rejected through the influence and power of its adversaries, 
and sometimes insidiously and fraudulently oppressed by falsehoods, 
artifices, and calumnies. Violence is displayed, when sanguinary 
sentences are passed against it without the cause being heard; and 
fraud, when it is unjustly accused of sedition and mischief. Lest 
any one should suppose that these our complaints are unfounded, 
you yourself. Sire, can bear witness of the false calumnies with 
which you hear it daily traduced; that its only tendency is to wrest 
the sceptres of kings out of their hands, to overturn all the tribunals 
and judicial proceedings, to subvert all order and governments, to 
disturb the peace and tranquillity of the people, to abrogate all laws, 
to scatter all properties and possessions, and, in a word, to involve 
every thing in total confusion. And yet you hear the smallest por- 
tion of what is alleged against it; for such horrible things are circu- 
lated amongst the vulgar, that, if they were true, the whole world 
would justly pronounce it and its abettors worthy of a thousand fires 
and gibbets. Who, then, will wonder at its becoming the object of 
public odium, where credit is given to such most iniquitous accusa- 
tions.'' This is the cause of the general consent and conspiracy to 
condemn us and our doctrine. Hurried away with this impulse, those 
who sit in judgment pronounce for sentences the prejudices they 
brought from home with them; and think their duty fully discharged 
if they condemn none to be punished but such as are convicted by 
their own confession, or by sufficient proofs. Convicted of what 
crime? Of this condemned doctrine, they say. But with what justice 
is it condemned.'' Now, the ground of defence was not to abjure the 
doctrine itself, but to maintain its truth. On this subject, however, 
not a word is allowed to be uttered. 


Wherefore I beseech you, Sire, — and surely it is not an unreason- 
able request, — to take upon yourself the entire cognizance of this 
cause, which has hitherto been confusedly and carelessly agitated, 
without any order of law, and with outrageous passion rather than 
judicial gravity. Think not that I am now meditating my own 
individual defence, in order to effect a safe return to my native 
country; for, though I feel the affection which every man ought to 
feel for it, yet, under the existing circumstances, I regret not my 
removal from it. But I plead the cause of all the godly, and conse- 
quently of Christ himself, which, having been in these times perse- 
cuted and trampled on in all ways in your kingdom, now lies in a 
most deplorable state; and this indeed rather through the tyranny 
of certain Pharisees, than with your knowledge. How this comes 
to pass is foreign to my present purpose to say; but it certainly lies 
in a most afflicted state. For the ungodly have gone to such lengths, 
that the truth of Christ, if not vanquished, dissipated, and entirely 
destroyed, is buried, as it were, in ignoble obscurity, while the poor, 
despised church is either destroyed by cruel massacres, or driven 
away into banishment, or menaced and terrified into total silence. 
And still they continue their wonted madness and ferocity, pushing 
violently against the wall already bent, and finishing the ruin they 
have begun. In the meantime, no one comes forward to plead the 
cause against such furies. If there be any persons desirous of appear- 
ing most favourable to the truth, they only venture an opinion, that 
forgiveness should be extended to the error and imprudence of 
ignorant people. For this is the language of these moderate men, 
calling that error and imprudence which they know to be the certain 
truth of God, and those ignorant people, whose understanding they 
perceive not to have been so despicable to Christ, but that he has 
favoured them with the mysteries of his heavenly wisdom. Thus all 
are ashamed of the Gospel. But it shall be yours. Sire, not to turn 
away your ears or thoughts from so just a defence, especially in a 
cause of such importance as the maintenance of God's glory unim- 
paired in the world, the preservation of the honor of divine truth, 
and the continuance of the kingdom of Christ uninjured among us. 
This is a cause worthy of your attention, worthy of your cognizance, 
worthy of your throne. This consideration constitutes true royalty, 


to acknowledge yourself in the government o£ your kingdom to be 
the minister o£ God. For where the glory of God is not made the 
end of the government, it is not a legitimate sovereignty, but a 
usurpation. And he is deceived who expects lasting prosperity in 
that kingdom which is not ruled by the sceptre of God, that is, his 
holy word; for that heavenly oracle cannot fail, which declares that 
"where there is no vision, the people perish.'" Nor should you be 
seduced from this pursuit by a contempt of our meanness. We are 
fully conscious to ourselves how very mean and abject we are, being 
miserable sinners before God, and accounted most despicable by 
men; being (if you please) the refuse of the world, deserving of the 
vilest appellations that can be found; so that nothing remains for us 
to glory in before God, but his mercy alone, by which, without any 
merit of ours, we have been admitted to the hope of eternal salvation, 
and before men nothing but our weakness, the slightest confession 
o£ which is esteemed by them as the greatest disgrace. But our doc- 
trine must stand, exalted above all the glory, and invincible by all 
the power of the world; because it is not ours, but the doctrine of 
the living God, and of his Christ, whom the Father hath constituted 
King, that he may have dominion from sea to sea, and from the 
river even to the ends of the earth, and that he may rule in such a 
manner, that the whole earth, with its strength of iron and with its 
splendour of gold and silver, smitten by the rod of his mouth, may be 
broken to pieces like a potter's vessel;^ for thus do the prophets fore- 
tell the magnificence of his kingdom. 

Our adversaries reply, that our pleading the word of God is a 
false pretence, and that we are nefarious corrupters of it. But that 
this is not only a malicious calumny, but egregious impudence, by 
reading our confession, you will, in your wisdom, be able to judge. 
Yet something further is necessary to be said, to excite your attention, 
or at least to prepare your mind for this perusal. Paul's direction, 
that every prophecy be framed "according to the analogy of faith,"^ 
has fixed an invariable standard by which all interpretation of Scrip- 
ture ought to be tried. If our principles be examined by this rule of 
faith, the victory is ours. For what is more consistent with faith than 
to acknowledge ourselves naked of all virtue, that we may be clothed 

'Prov. xxix. i8. ^Daniel ii. 34. Isaiah xi. 4. Psalm ii. 9. ^Rom. xii. 6. 


by God; empty of all good, that we may be filled by him; slaves to 
sin, that we may be liberated by him; blind, that we may be enUght- 
ened by him; lame, that we may be guided; weak, that we may be 
supported by him; to divest ourselves of all ground of glorying, that 
he alone may be eminently glorious, and that we may glory in him? 
When we advance these and similar sentiments, they interrupt us 
with complaints that this is the way to overturn, I know not what 
blind light of nature, pretended preparations, free will, and works 
meritorious of eternal salvation, together with all their supereroga- 
tions; because they cannot bear that the praise and glory of all 
goodness, strength, righteousness, and wisdom, should remain en- 
tirely with God. But we read of none being reproved for having 
drawn too freely from the fountain of living waters; on the con- 
trary, they are severely upbraided who have "hewed them out cis- 
terns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water."^ Again, what is more 
consistent with faith, than to assure ourselves of God being a pro- 
pitious Father, where Christ is acknowledged as a brother and 
Mediator ? than securely to expect all prosperity and happiness from 
Him, whose unspeakable love towards us went so far, that "he 
spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us?"^ than to rest 
in the certain expectation of salvation and eternal life, when we 
reflect upon the Father's gift of Christ, in whom such treasures are 
hidden? Here they oppose us, and complain that this certainty of 
confidence is chargeable with arrogance and presumption. But as we 
ought to presume nothing of ourselves, so we should presume every 
thing of God; nor are we divested of vain glory for any other reason 
than that we may learn to glory in the Lord. What shall I say more? 
Review, Sire, all the parts of our cause, and consider us worse than 
the most abandoned of mankind, unless you clearly discover that we 
thus "both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living 
God,"^ because we believe that "this is life eternal, to know the only 
true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent."' For this hope some 
of us are bound in chains, others are lashed with scourges, others 
are carried about as laughing-stocks, others are outlawed, others are 
cruelly tortured, others escape by l^ight; but we are all reduced to 
extreme perplexities, execrated with dreadful curses, cruelly slandered 

^Jer. ii. 13. ^Rom. viii. 32. ' i Tim. iv. 10. 'John xvii. 3. 


and treated with the greatest indignities. Now, look at our adver- 
saries, (I speak of the order of priests, at whose will and directions 
others carry on these hostilities against us,) and consider a little with 
me by what principles they are actuated. The true religion, which 
is taught in the Scriptures, and ought to be universally maintained, 
they readily permit both themselves and others to be ignorant of, 
and to treat with neglect and contempt. They think it unimportant 
what any one holds or denies concerning God and Christ, provided 
he submits his mind with an implicit faith (as they call it) to the 
judgment of the Church. Nor are they much affected, if the glory 
of God happens to be violated with open blasphemies, provided no 
one lift a finger against the primacy of the Apostolic See, and the 
authority of their holy Mother Church. Why, therefore, do they 
contend with such extreme bitterness and cruelty for the mass, pur- 
gatory, pilgrimages, and similar trifles, and deny that any piety can 
be maintained without a most explicit faith, so to speak, in these 
things; whereas they prove none of them from the word of God? 
Why, but because their belly is their God, their kitchen is their reli- 
gion; deprived of which they consider themselves no longer as Chris- 
tians, or even as men. For though some feast themselves in splen- 
dour, and others subsist on slender fare, yet all live on the same pot, 
which, without this fuel, would not only cool, but completely freeze. 
Every one of them, therefore, who is most solicitous for his belly, 
is found to be a most strenuous champion for their faith. Indeed, 
they universally exert themselves for the preservation of their king- 
dom, and the repletion of their bellies; but not one of them discovers 
the least indication of sincere zeal. 

Nor do their attacks on our doctrine cease here; they urge every 
topic of accusation and abuse to render it an object of hatred or 
suspicion. They call it novel, and of recent origin, — they cavil at 
it as doubtful and uncertain, — they inquire by what miracles it is 
confirmed, — they ask whether it is right for it to be received con- 
trary to the consent of so many holy fathers, and the custom of the 
highest antiquity, — ^they urge us to confess that it is schismatical in 
stirring up opposition against the Church, or that the Church was 
wholly extinct for many ages, during which no such thing was 
known. — Lastly, they say all arguments are unnecessary; for that its 


nature may be determined by its fruits, since it has produced such a 
multitude of sects, so many factious tumults, and such great licen- 
tiousness of vices. It is indeed very easy for them to insult a deserted 
cause with the credulous and ignorant multitude; but, if we had also 
the liberty of speaking in our turn, this acrimony, which they now 
discover in violently foaming against us with equal licentiousness 
and impunity, would presently cool. 

In the first place, their calling it novel is highly injurious to God, 
whose holy word deserves not to be accused of novelty. I have no 
doubt of its being new to them, to whom Jesus Christ and the Gospel 
are equally new. But those who know the antiquity of this preach- 
ing of Paul, "that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and rose again for 
our justification,"* will find no novelty among us. That it has long 
been concealed, buried, and unknown, is the crime of human im- 
piety. Now that the goodness of God has restored it to us, it ought 
at least to be allowed its j ust claim of antiquity. 

From the same source of ignorance springs the notion of its being 
doubtful and uncertain. This is the very thing which the Lord com- 
plains of by his prophet; that "the ox knoweth his owner, and the 
ass his master's crib," ^ but that his people know not him. But how- 
ever they may laugh at its uncertainty, if they were called to seal their 
own doctrine with their blood and lives, it would appear how much 
they value it. Very different is our confidence, which dreads neither 
the terrors of death, nor even the tribunal of God. 

Their requiring miracles of us is altogether unreasonable; for we 
forge no new Gospel, but retain the very same whose truth was con- 
firmed by all the miracles ever wrought by Christ and the apostles. 
But they have this peculiar advantage above us, that they can confirm 
their faith by continual miracles even to this day. But the truth is, 
they allege miracles which are calculated to unsettle a mind other- 
wise well established, they are so frivolous and ridiculous, or vain 
and false. Nor, if they were ever so preternatural, ought they to have 
any weight in opposition to the truth of God, since the name of God 
ought to be sanctified in all places and at all times, whether by 
miraculous events, or by the common order of nature. This fallacy 
might perhaps be more specious, if the Scripture did not apprize us 

' Rom. iv. 25. I Cor. XV.' 3, 17. 'Isaiah i. 3. 


of the legitimate end and use of miracles. For Mark informs us, that 
the miracles which followed the preaching of the apostles were 
wrought in confirmation'" of it, and Luke tells us, that" "the Lord 
gave testimony to the word of his grace," when "signs and wonders" 
were "done by the hands" of the apostles. Very similar to which is 
the assertion of the apostle, that "salvation was confirmed" by the 
preaching of the Gospel, "God also bearing witness with signs, and 
wonders, and divers miracles."'^ But those things which we are told 
were seals of the Gospel, shall we pervert to undermine the faith 
of the Gospel ? Those things which were designed to be testimonials 
of the truth, shall we accommodate to the confirmation of falsehood ? 
It is right, therefore, that the doctrine, which, according to the 
evangelist, claims the first attention, be examined and tried in the 
first place; and if it be approved, then it ought to derive confirmation 
from miracles. But it is the characteristic of sound doctrine, given 
by Christ, that it tends to promote, not the glory of men, but the 
glory of God.'^ Christ having laid down this proof of a doctrine, 
it is wrong to esteem those as miracles which are directed to any 
other end than the glorification of the name of God alone. And we 
should remember that Satan has his wonders, which, though they 
are juggling tricks rather than real miracles, are such as delude the 
ignorant and inexperienced. Magicians and enchanters have always 
been famous for miracles; idolatry has been supported by astonish- 
ing miracles; and yet we admit them not as proofs of the superstition 
of magicians or idolaters. With this engine also the simplicity of 
the vulgar was anciently assailed by the Donatists, who abounded in 
miracles. We therefore give the same answer now to our adversaries 
as Augustine'* gave to the Donatists, that our Lord hath cautioned 
us against these miracle-mongers by his prediction, that there should 
arise false prophets, who, by various signs and lying wonders, "should 
deceive (if possible) the very elect."'^ And Paul has told us, that 
the kingdom of Antichrist would be "with all power, and signs, and 
lying wonders."'^ But these miracles (they say) are wrought, not 
by idols, or sorcerers, or false prophets, but by saints; as if we were 
ignorant, that it is a stratagem of Satan to "transform" himself "into 

'"Mark xvi. 20. "Acts xiv. 3. '^ Heb. ii. 3-4. ''John vii. 18, viii. 50. 
" In Joan, tract. 13. '^ MatL xxiv. 24. '^ 2 Thess. ii. 9. 


an angel of light."" At the tomb of Jeremiah," who was buried in 
Egypt, the Egyptians formerly offered sacrifices and other divine 
honours. Was not this abusing God's holy prophet to the purposes 
of idolatry? Yet they supposed this veneration of his sepulchre to be 
rewarded with a cure for the bite of serpents. What shall we say, 
but that it has been, and ever will be, the most righteous vengeance 
of God to "send those who receive not the love of the truth strong 
delusions, that they should believe a lie?" " We are by no means with- 
out miracles, and such as are certain, and not liable to cavils. But 
those under which they shelter themselves are mere illusions of 
Satan, seducing the people from the true worship of God to vanity. 
Another calumny is their charging us with opposition to the 
fathers, — I mean the writers of the earlier and purer ages, — as if those 
writers were abettors of their impiety; whereas, if the contest were 
to be terminated by this authority, the victory in most parts of the 
controversy — ^to speak in the most modest terms — ^would be on our 
side. But though the writings of those fathers contain many wise 
and excellent things, yet in some respects they have suffered the 
common fate of mankind; these very dutiful children reverence 
only their errors and mistakes, but their excellences they either over- 
look, or conceal, or corrupt; so that it may truly be said to be their 
only study to collect dross from the midst of gold. Then they over- 
whelm us with senseless clamours, as despisers and enemies of the 
fathers. But we do not hold them in such contempt, but that, if it 
were consistent with my present design, I could easily support by 
their suffrages most of the sentiments that we now maintain. But 
while we make use of their writings, we always remember that "all 
things are ours," to serve us, not to have dominion over us, and that 
"we are Christ's"^" alone, and owe him universal obedience. He 
who neglects this distinction will have nothing decided in religion; 
since those holy men were ignorant of many things, frequently at 
variance with each other, and sometimes even inconsistent with 
themselves. There is great reason, they say, for the admonition of 
Solomon, "not to transgress or remove the ancient landmarks, which 
our fathers have set."^' But the same rule is not applicable to the 

"2 Cor. xi. 14. ''Hierom. in praef. Jerem. '^2 Thess. ii. 10, 11. 
'"' I Cor. iii. 21, 23. ^' Prov. xxii. 28. 


bounding of fields, and to the obedience of faith, which ought to be 
ready to "forget her own people and her father's house." "^ But if 
they are so fond of allegorizing, why do they not explain the apostles, 
rather than any others, to be those fathers, whose appointed land- 
marks it is so unlawful to remove ? For this is the interpretation of 
Jerome, whose works they have received into their canons. But if 
they insist on preserving the landmarks of those whom they under- 
stand to be intended, why do they at pleasure so freely transgress 
them themselves ? There were two fathers,^' of whom one said, that 
our God neither eats nor drinks, and therefore needs neither cups 
nor dishes; the other, that sacred things require no gold, and that 
gold is no recommendation of that which is not purchased with 
gold. This landmark therefore is transgressed by those who in sacred 
things are so much delighted with gold, silver, ivory, marble, jewels, 
and silks, and suppose that God is not rightly worshipped, unless all 
things abound in exquisite splendour, or rather extravagant profu- 
sion. There was a father ^* who said he freely partook of flesh on a 
day when others abstained from it, because he was a Christian. They 
transgress the landmarks therefore when they curse the soul that 
tastes flesh in Lent. There were two fathers,^^ of whom one said, 
that a monk who labors not with his hands is on a level with a cheat 
or a robber; and the other, that it is unlawful for monks to live on 
what is not their own, notwithstanding their assiduity in contempla- 
tions, studies, and prayers; and they have transgressed this landmark 
by placing the idle and distended carcasses of monks in cells and 
brothels, to be pampered on the substance of others. There was a 
father^^ who said, that to see a painted image of Christ, or of any 
other saint, in the temples of Christians, is a dreadful abomination. 
Nor was this merely the sentence of an individual; it was also decreed 
by an ecclesiastical council, that the object of worship should not be 
painted on the walls. They are far from confining themselves within 
these landmarks, for every corner is filled with images. Another 
father^^ has advised that, after having discharged the office of human- 

^^ Psalm xlv. 10. 

^' Acat. in lib. 11, cap. 16. Trip. Hist. Amb. lib. 2, de Off. c. 28. 

2* Spiridion. Trip. Hist. lib. i, c. 10. 

^^Trip. Hist. lib. 8, c. i. August, de Opere Mon. c. 17. 

2^ Epiph. Epist. ab Hier. vers. Con. Eliber. c. ^6. ^' Amb. de Abra. lib. i, c. 7. 


ity tofvards the dead by the rites of sepulture, we should leave them 
to their repose. They break through these landmarks by inculcating 
a constant solicitude for the dead. There was one of the fathers^' 
who asserted that the substance of bread and wine in the Eucharist 
ceases not, but remains, just as the substance of the human nature 
remains in the Lord Christ united with the divine. They transgress 
this landmark therefore by pretending that, on the words of the Lord 
being recited, the substance of bread and wine ceases, and is tran- 
substantiated into his body and blood. There were fathers^" who, 
while they exhibited to the universal Church only one eucharist, and 
forbade all scandalous and immoral persons to approach it, at the 
same time severely censured all who, when present, did not partake 
of it. How far have they removed these landmarks, when they fill 
not only the churches, but even private houses, with their masses, 
admit all who choose to be spectators of them, and every one the 
more readily in proportion to the magnitude of his contribution, 
however chargeable with impurity and wickedness! They invite 
none to faith in Christ and a faithful participation of the sacraments; 
but rather for purposes of gain bring forward their own work instead 
of the grace and merit of Christ. There were two fathers,'" of whom 
one contended that the use of Christ's sacred supper should be 
wholly forbidden to those who, content with partaking of one kind, 
abstained from the other; the other strenuously maintained that 
Christian people ought not to be refused the blood of their Lord, 
for the confession of whom they are required to shed their own. 
These landmarks also they have removed, in appointing, by an 
inviolable law, that very thing which the former punished with 
excommunication, and the latter gave a powerful reason for disap- 
proving. There was a father'' who asserted the temerity of deciding 
on either side of an obscure subject, without clear and evident testi- 
monies of Scripture. This landmark they forgot when they made 
so many constitutions, canons, and judicial determinations, without 
any authority from the word of God. There was a father'^ who 

^ Gelas. Pap. in Cone. Rom. 

2' Chrys. in i Cap. Ephes. Calix. Papa de Cons. dist. 2. 

^^ Gelas. can. Comperimus de Cons. dist. 2. Cypr. Epist. 2, lib. i, de Laps. 

^1 August, lib. 2, de Pec. Mer. cap. ult. 

S^Apollon, de quo Eccl. Hist. lib. 5, cap. 11, 12. 


upbraided Montanus with having, among other heresies, been the 
first imposer of laws for the observance of fasts. They have gone far 
beyond this landmark also, in establishing fasts by the strictest laws. 
There was a father^^ who denied that marriage ought to be forbidden 
to the ministers of the Church, and pronounced cohabitation with 
a wife to be real chastity ; and there were fathers who assented to his 
judgment. They have transgressed these landmarks by enjoining 
on their priests the strictest celibacy. There was a father who thought 
that attention should be paid to Christ only, of whom it is said, 
"Hear ye him," and that no regard should be had to what others 
before us have either said or done, only to what has been commanded 
by Christ, who is preeminent over all. This landmark they neither 
prescribe to themselves, nor permit to be observed by others, when 
they set up over themselves and others any masters rather than Christ. 
There was a father^* who contended that the Church ought not to 
take precedence of Christ, because his judgment is always according 
to truth; but ecclesiastical judges, like other men, may generally be 
deceived. Breaking down this landmark also, they scruple not to 
assert, that all the authority of the Scripture depends on the decision 
of the Church. All the fathers, with one heart and voice, have de- 
clared it execrable and detestable for the holy word of God to be 
contaminated with the subtleties of sophists, and perplexed by the 
wrangles of logicians. Do they confine themselves within these land- 
marks, when the whole business of their lives is to involve the 
simplicity of the Scripture in endless controversies, and worse than 
sophistical wrangles? so that if the fathers were now restored to 
hfe, and heard this art of wrangling, which they call speculative 
divinity, they would not suspect the dispute to have the least refer- 
ence to God. But if I would enumerate all the instances in which 
the authority of the fathers is insolently rejected by those who would 
be thought their dutiful children, my address would exceed all rea- 
sonable bounds. Months and years would be insufficient for me. And 
yet such is their consummate and incorrigible impudence, they dare 
to censure us for presuming to transgress the ancient landmarks. 
Nor can they gain any advantage against us by their argument 

^'Paphnut. Trip. Hist. lib. 2, c. 14. Cypr. Epist. 2, lib. 2. 
'* Aug. cap. 2, contr. Cresc. Grammatic. 


from custom; for, if we were compelled to submit to custom, we 
should have to complain of the greatest injustice. Indeed, if the 
judgments of men were correct, custom should be sought among the 
good. But the fact is often very different: What appears to be prac- 
ticed by many soon obtains the force of a custom. And human 
affairs have scarcely ever been in so good a state as for the majority 
to be pleased with things of real excellence. From the private vices 
of multitudes, therefore, has arisen public error, or rather a common 
agreement of vices, which these good men would now have to be 
received as law. It is evident to all who can see, that the world is 
inundated with more than an ocean of evils, that it is overrun with 
numerous destructive pests, that every thing is fast verging to ruin, 
so that we must altogether despair of human affairs, or vigorously 
and even violently oppose such immense evils. And the remedy is 
rejected for no other reason, but because we have been accustomed to 
the evils so long. But let public error be tolerated in human society; 
in the kingdom of God nothing but his eternal truth should be 
heard and regarded, which no succession of years, no custom, no con- 
federacy, can circumscribe. Thus Isaiah once taught the chosen 
people of God: "Say ye not, A confederacy, to all to whom this peo- 
ple shall say, A confederacy:" that is, that they should not unite in 
the wicked consent of the people; "nor fear their fear, nor be afraid," 
but rather "sanctify the Lord of hosts," that he might "be their fear 
and their dread."'^ Now, therefore, let them, if they please, object 
against us past ages and present examples; if we "sanctify the Lord 
of hosts," we shall not be much afraid. For, whether many ages 
agree in similar impiety, he is mighty to take vengeance on the third 
and fourth generation; or whether the whole world combine in the 
same iniquity, he has given an example of the fatal end of those who 
sin with a multitude, by destroying all men with a deluge, and pre- 
serving Noah and his small family, in order that his individual faith 
might condemn the whole world. Lastly, a corrupt custom is noth- 
ing but an epidemical pestilence, which is equally fatal to its objects, 
though they fall with a multitude. Besides, they ought to consider 
a remark, somewhere made by Cyprian,'* that persons who sin 
through ignorance, though they cannot be wholly exculpated, may 

''Isaiah viii. 12, 13. '^Epist. 3, lib. 2, et in Epist. ad. Julian, de Haeret. baptiz. 


yet be considered in some degree excusable; but those who obsti- 
nately reject the truth offered by the Divine goodness, are without 
any excuse at all. 

Nor are we so embarrassed by their dilemma as to be obliged to 
confess, either that the Church was for some time extinct, or that 
we have now a controversy with the Church. The Church of Christ 
has lived, and will continue to live, as long as Christ shall reign at 
the right hand of the Father, by whose hand she is sustained, by 
whose protection she is defended, by whose power she is preserved 
in safety. For he will undoubtedly perform what he once promised, 
to be with his people "even to the end of the world."" We have no 
quarrel against the Church, for with one consent we unite with all 
the company of the faithful in worshipping and adoring the one 
God and Christ the Lord, as he has been adored by all the pious in 
all ages. But our opponents deviate widely from the truth when they 
acknowledge no Church but what is visible to the corporeal eye, 
and endeavour to circumscribe it by those limits within which it is 
far from being included. Our controversy turns on the two follow- 
ing points: — first, they contend that the form of the Church is always 
apparent and visible; secondly, they place that form in the see of the 
Roman Church and her order of prelates. We assert, on the contrary, 
first, that the Church may exist without any visible form; secondly, 
that its form is not contained in that external splendour which they 
foolishly admire, but is distinguished by a very different criterion, 
viz. the pure preaching of God's word, and the legitimate admin- 
istration of the sacraments. They are not satisfied unless the Church 
can always be pointed out with the finger. But how often among the 
Jewish people was it so disorganized, as to have no visible form left? 
What splendid form do we suppose could be seen, when Elias de- 
plored his being left alone ?^* How long, after the coming of Christ, 
did it remain without any external form? How often, since that 
time, have wars, seditions, and heresies, oppressed and totally ob- 
scured it ? If they had lived at that period, would they have believed 
that any Church existed? Yet Elias was informed that there were 
"left seven thousand" who had "not bowed the knee to Baal." Nor 
should we entertain any doubt of Christ's having always reigned on 
'^Matt. xxviii. 20. ^1 Kings xix. 14, 18. 


earth ever since his ascension to heaven. But if the pious at such 
periods had sought for any form evident to their senses, must not 
their hearts have been quite discouraged? Indeed it was already 
considered by Hilary in his day as a grievous error, that people were 
absorbed in foolish admiration of the episcopal dignity, and did not 
perceive the dreadful mischiefs concealed under that disguise. For 
this is his language :'' "One thing I advise you — beware of Anti- 
christ, for you have an improper attachment to walls; your venera- 
tion for the Church of God is misplaced on houses and buildings; 
you wrongly introduce under them the name of peace. Is there any 
doubt that they will be seats of Antichrist.? I think mountains, 
woods, and lakes, prisons and whirlpools, less dangerous; for these 
were the scenes of retirement or banishment in which the prophets 
prophesied." But what excites the veneration of the multitude in the 
present day for their horned bishops, but the supposition that those 
are the holy prelates of religion whom they see presiding over great 
cities ? Away, then, with such stupid admiration. Let us rather leave 
it to the Lord, since he alone "knoweth them that are his," *" some- 
times to remove from human observation all external knowledge of 
his Church. I admit this to be a dreadful judgment of God on 
the earth; but if it be deserved by the impiety of men, why do we 
attempt to resist the righteous vengeance of God? Thus the Lord 
punished the ingratitude of men in former ages; for, in consequence 
of their resistance to his truth, and extinction of the light he had 
given them, he permitted them to be blinded by sense, deluded by 
absurd falsehoods, and immerged in profound darkness, so that 
there was no appearance of the true Church left; yet, at the same 
time, in the midst of darkness and errors, he preserved his scattered 
and concealed people from total destruction. Nor is this to be won- 
dered at; for he knew how to save in all the confusion of Babylon, 
and the flame of the fiery furnace. But how dangerous it is to esti- 
mate the form of the Church by I know not what vain pomp, which 
they contend for; I shall rather briefly suggest than state at large, lest 
I should protract this discourse to an excessive length. The Pope, 
they say, who holds the Apostolic see, and the bishops anointed and 
consecrated by him, provided they are equipped with mitres and 

2^ Contr. Auxent. ^° 2 Tim. ii. 19. 


crosiers, represent the Church, and ought to be considered as the 
Church. Therefore they cannot err. How is this? — Because they 
are pastors of the Church, and consecrated to the Lord. And did not 
the pastoral character belong to Aaron, and the other rulers of Israel ? 
Yet Aaron and his sons, after their designation to the priesthood, fell 
into error when they made the golden calf.*' According to this mode 
of reasoning, why should not the four hundred prophets, who lied 
to Ahab, have represented the Church?*^ But the Church remained 
on the side of Micaiah, solitary and despised as he was, and out of 
his mouth proceeded the truth. Did not those prophets exhibit both 
the name and appearance of the Church, who with united violence 
rose up against Jeremiah, and threatened and boasted, "the law shall 
not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word 
from the prophet?"*^ Jeremiah is sent singly against the whole 
multitude of prophets, with a denunciation from the Lord, that the 
"law shall perish from the priest, counsel from the wise, and the 
word from the prophet."" And was there not the like external 
respectability in the council convened by the chief priests, scribes, 
and Pharisees, to consult about putting Christ to death ?*^ Now, let 
them go and adhere to the external appearance, and thereby make 
Christ and all the prophets schismatics, and, on the other hand, make 
the ministers of Satan instruments of the Holy Spirit. But if they 
speak their real sentiments, let them answer me sincerely, what na- 
tion or place they consider as the seat of the Church, from the time 
when, by a decree of the council of Basil, Eugenius was deposed and 
degraded from the pontificate, and Amadeus substituted in his place. 
They cannot deny that the council, as far as relates to external forms, 
was a lawful one, and summoned not only by one pope, but by two. 
There Eugenius was pronounced guilty of schism, rebellion, and 
obstinacy, together with all the host of cardinals and bishops who had 
joined him in attempting a dissolution of the council. Yet after- 
wards, assisted by the favour of princes, he regained the quiet pos- 
session of his former dignity. That election of Amadeus, though 
formally made by the authority of a general and holy synod, vanished 
into smoke; and he was appeased with a cardinal's hat, like a bark- 
ing dog with a morsel. From the bosom of those heretics and rebels 

^'Exod. xxxii. 4. *^ i Kings xxii. 6, 11-23. *'Jer. xviii. 18. **]et. iv. 9. 
*^ Matt. xxvi. 3, 4. 


have proceeded all the popes, cardinals, bishops, abbots, and priests 
ever since. Here they must stop. For to which party will they give 
the title of the Church? Will they deny that this was a general 
council, which wanted nothing to complete its external majesty, 
being solemnly convened by two papal bulls, consecrated by a pre- 
siding legate of the Roman see, and well regulated in every point 
of order, and invariably preserving the same dignity to the last? 
Will they acknowledge Eugenius to be a schismatic, with all his 
adherents, by whom they have all been consecrated? Either, there- 
fore, let them give a different definition of the form of the Church, 
or, whatever be their number, we shall account them all schismatics, 
as having been knowingly and voluntarily ordained by heretics. But 
if it had never been ascertained before, that the Church is not con- 
fined to external pomps they would themselves afford us abundant 
proof of it, who have so long superciliously exhibited themselves to 
the world under the title of the Church, though they were at the 
same time the deadly plagues of it. I speak not of their morals, and 
those tragical exploits with which all their lives abound, since they 
profess themselves to be Pharisees, who are to be heard and not imi- 
tated. I refer to the very doctrine itself, on which they found their 
claim to be considered as the Church. If you devote a portion of your 
leisure. Sire, to the perusal of our writings, you will clearly discover 
that doctrine to be a fatal pestilence of souls, the firebrand, ruin, and 
destruction of the Church. 

Finally, they betray great want of candour, by invidiously repeat- 
ing what great commotions, tumults, and contentions, have attended 
the preaching of our doctrine, and what effects it produces in many 
persons. For it is unfair to charge it with those evils which ought 
to be attributed to the malice of Satan. It is the native property of the 
Divine word, never to make its appearance without disturbing Satan, 
and rousing his opposition. This is a most certain and unequivocal 
criterion by which it is distinguished from false doctrines, which are 
easily broached when they are heard with general attention, and 
received with applauses by the world. Thus, in some ages, when all 
things were immerged in profound darkness, the prince of this world 
amused and diverted himself with the generality of mankind, and, 
like another Sardanapalus, gave himself up to his ease and pleasures 
in perfect peace; for what would he do but amuse and divert him- 


self, in the quiet and undisturbed possession of his kingdom? But 
when the Hght shining from above dissipated a portion of his dark- 
ness — when that Mighty One alarmed and assaulted his kingdom — 
then he began to shake off his wonted torpor, and to hurry on his 
armour. First, indeed, he stirred up the power of men to suppress 
the truth by violence at its first appearance; and when this proved 
ineffectual, he had recourse to subtlety. He made the Catabaptists, 
and other infamous characters, the instruments of exciting dissen- 
sions and doctrinal controversies, with a view to obscure and finally 
to extinguish it. And now he continues to attack it both ways; for 
he endeavours to root up this genuine seed by means of human force, 
and at the same time tries every effort to choke it with his tares, that 
it may not grow and produce fruit. But all his attempts will be 
vain, if we attend to the admonitions of the Lord, who hath long 
ago made us acquainted with his devices, that we might not be 
caught by him unawares, and has armed us with sufficient means 
of defence against all his assaults. But to charge the word of God 
with the odium of seditions, excited against it by wicked and rebel- 
lious men, or of sects raised by imposters, — is not this extreme 
malignity ? Yet it is not without example in former times. Elias was 
asked whether it was not he "that troubled Israel."^^ Christ was 
represented by the Jews as guilty of sedition.*' The apostles were 
accused of stirring up popular commotions.'" Wherein does this 
differ from the conduct of those who, at the present day, impute to 
us all the disturbances, tumults, and contentions, that break out 
against us? But the proper answer to such accusations has been 
taught us by Elias, that the dissemination of errors and the raising 
of tumults is not chargeable on us, but on those who are resisting 
the power of God. But as this one reply is sufficient to repress their 
temerity, so, on the other hand, we must meet the weakness of some 
persons, who are frequently disturbed with such offences, and be- 
come unsettled and wavering in their minds. Now, that they may 
not stumble and fall amidst this agitation and perplexity, let them 
know that the apostles in their day experienced the same things that 
now befall us. There were "unlearned and unstable" men, Peter says, 
who "wrested" the inspired writings of Paul "to their own destruc- 
^ I Kings xviii. 17. ^'' Luke xxiii. 2, 5. ^ Acts xvii. 6, xxiv. 5. 


tion."^' There were despisers of God, who, when they heard that 
"where sin abounded grace did much more abound," immediately 
concluded, Let us "continue in sin, that grace may abound." When 
they heard that the faithful were "not under the law," they imme- 
diately croaked, "We will sin, because we are not under the law, but 
under grace." ''" There were some who accused him as an encourager 
of sin. Many false apostles crept in, to destroy the churches he had 
raised. "Some preached" the gospel "of envy and strife, not in sin- 
cerity," maliciously "supposing to add affliction to his bonds." ^' In 
some places the Gospel was attended with little benefit. "All were 
seeking their own, not the things of Jesus Christ." ^^ Others returned 
"like dogs to their vomit, and like swine to their wallowing in the 
mire." " Many perverted the liberty of the spirit into the licentious- 
ness of the flesh. Many insinuated themselves as brethren, who after- 
wards brought the pious into dangers. Various contentions were 
excited among the brethren themselves. What was to be done by the 
apostles in such circumstances? Should they not have dissembled 
for a time, or rather have rejected and deserted that Gospel which 
appeared to be the nursery of so many disputes, the cause of so many 
dangers, the occasion of so many offences? But in such difficulties 
as these, their minds were relieved by this reflection that Christ is the 
"stone of stumbling and rock of offence," ^* "set for the fall and rising 
again of many, and for a sign which shall be spoken against;" ^^ and 
armed with this confidence, they proceeded boldly through all the 
dangers of tumults and offences. The same consideration should 
support us, since Paul declares it to be the perpetual character of the 
Gospel, that it is a "savour of death unto death in them that perish," °° 
although it was rather given us to be the "savour of life unto life," 
and "the power of God to" the "salvation" of the faithful; ^' which 
we also should certainly experience it to be, if we did not corrupt 
this eminent gift of God by our ingratitude, and prevert to our 
destruction what ought to be a principal instrument of our salva- 

But I return to you. Sire. Let not your Majesty be at all moved by 
those groundless accusations with which our adversaries endeavour 

^2 Pet. iii. i6. ^"Rom. v. 20, vi. i, 14, 15. ^' Phil. i. 15, 16. ^^Phil. ii. 21. 

*' 2 Pet. ii. 22. *■' I Pet. ii. 8. ^^ Luke ii. 34. 

5=2 Cor. ii. 15, 16. "Rom. i. 16. 


to terrify you; as that the sole tendency and design of this new 
Gospel — for so they call it — is to furnish a pretext for seditions, and 
to gain impunity for all crimes. "For God is not the author of 
confusion, but of peace;" ^* nor is "the Son of God," who came to 
"destroy the works of the devil, the minister of sin." ^' And it is unjust 
to charge us with such motives and designs, of which we have never 
given cause for the least suspicion. Is it probable that we are medi- 
tating the subversion of kingdoms? — we, who were never heard to 
utter a factious word, whose lives were ever known to be peaceable 
and honest while we lived under your government, and who, even 
now in our exile, cease not to pray for all prosperity to attend yourself 
and your kingdom! Is it probable that we are seeking an unlimited 
license to commit crimes with impunity ? in whose conduct, though 
many things may be blamed, yet there is nothing worthy of such 
severe reproach! Nor have we, by Divine Grace, profited so little 
in the Gospel, but that our life may be an example to our detractors 
of chastity, liberality, mercy, temperance, patience, modesty, and 
every other virtue. It is an undeniable fact, that we sincerely fear 
and worship God, whose name we desire to be sanctified both by 
our Ufe and by our death; and envy itself is constrained to bear testi- 
mony to the innocence and civil integrity of some of us, who have 
suffered the punishment of death for that very thing which ought 
to be accounted their highest praise. But if the Gospel be made a 
pretext for tumults, which has not yet happened in your kingdom; 
if any persons make the liberty of divine grace an excuse for the 
licentiousness of their vices, of whom I have known many, — there 
are laws and legal penalties, by which they may be punished accord- 
ing to their deserts; only let not the Gospel of God be reproached 
for the crimes of wicked men. You have now. Sire, the virulent 
iniquity of our calumniators laid before you in a sufficient number of 
instances, that you may not receive their accusations with too 
credulous an ear. — I fear I have gone too much into the detail, as 
this preface already approaches the size of a full apology; whereas I 
intended it not to contain our defence, but only to prepare your mind 
to attend to the pleading of our cause; for, though you are now 
averse and alienated from us, and even inflamed against us, we 

^^ I Cor. xiv. 33. ^' I John iii. 8. Gal. ii. 17. 


despair not of regaining your favour, if you will only once read 
with calmness and composure this our confession, which we intend 
as our defence before your Majesty. But, on the contrary, if your 
ears are so preoccupied with the whispers of the malevolent, as to 
leave no opportunity for the accused to speak for themselves, and 
if those outrageous furies, with your connivance, continue to perse- 
cute with imprisonments, scourges, tortures, confiscations, and flames, 
we shall indeed, like sheep destined to the slaughter, be reduced to 
the greatest extremities. Yet shall we in patience possess our souls, 
and wait for the mighty hand of the Lord, which undoubtedly will 
in time appear, and show itself armed for the deliverance of the 
poor from their affliction, and for the punishment of their despisers, 
who now exult in such perfect security. May the Lord, the King of 
kings, establish your throne with righteousness, and your kingdom 
with equity. 
Basil, 1st August, 15^6. 


The design of the Author in these Christian Institutes is twofold, 
relating. First to the knowledge of God, as the way to attain a blessed 
immortality; and, in connection with and subservience to this. Sec- 
ondly, to the knowledge of ourselves. 

In the prosecution of this design, he strictly follows the method of 
the Apostles' Creed, as being most familiar to all Christians. For 
as the Creed consists of four parts, the first relating to God the 
Father, the second to the Son, the third to the Holy Spirit, the fourth 
to the Church; so the Author distributes the whole of this work into 
Four Books, corresponding respectively to the four parts of the 
Creed; as will clearly appear from the following detail: — 

I. The first article of the Creed relates to God the Father, and to 
the creation, conservation, and government of all things, which are 
included in his omnipotence. 

So the first book is on the knowledge of God, considered as the 
Creator, Preserver, and Governor of the universe at large, and every 
thing contained in it. It shows both the nature and tendency of the 
true knowledge of the Creator — that this is not learned in the schools, 
but that every man from his birth is self-taught it — Yet that the 


depravity of men is so great as to corrupt and extinguish this knowl- 
edge, partly by ignorance, partly by wickedness; so that it neither 
leads him to glorify God as he ought, nor conducts him to the attain- 
ment of happiness — And though this internal knowledge is assisted 
by all the creatures around, which serve as a mirror to display the 
Divine perfections, yet that man does not profit by it — Therefore, 
that to those, whom it is God's will to bring to an intimate and sav- 
ing knowledge of himself, he gives his written word; which intro- 
duces observations on the sacred Scripture — That he has therein 
revealed himself; that not the Father only, but the Father, Son, and 
Holy Spirit, united, is the Creator of heaven and earth; whom neither 
the knowledge innate by nature, nor the very beautiful mirror dis- 
played to us in the world, can, in consequence of our depravity, teach 
us to know so as to glorify him. This gives occasion for treating of 
the revelation of God in the Scripture, of the unity of the Divine 
Essence, and the trinity of Persons. — To prevent man from attribut- 
ing to God the blame of his own voluntary blindness, the Author 
shows the state of man at his creation, and treats of the image of 
God, free-will, and the primative integrity of nature. — Having fin- 
ished the subject of creation, he proceeds to the conservation and 
government of all things, concluding the first book with a full dis- 
cussion of the doctrine of divine providence. 

II. But since man is fallen by sin from the state in which he was 
created, it is necessary to come to Christ. Therefore it follows in the 
Creed, "And in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord," &c. 

So in the second book of the Institutes our Author treats of the 
knowledge of God as the Redeemer in Christ: and having shown 
the fall of man, leads him to Christ the Mediator. Here he states 
the doctrine of original sin — that man possesses no inherent strength 
to enable him to deliver himself from sin and the impending curse, 
but that, on the contrary, nothing can proceed from him, antecedently 
to reconciliation and renovation, but what is deserving of condemna- 
tion — Therefore, that, man being utterly lost in himself, and incap- 
able of conceiving even a good thought by which he may restore 
himself, or perform actions acceptable to God, he must seek redemp- 
tion out of himself, in Christ — That the Law was given for this 
purpose, not to confine its observers to itself, but to conduct them to 


Christ; which gives occasion to introduce an exposition of the Moral 
Law — That he was known, as the Author o£ salvation, to the Jews 
under the Law, but more fully under the Gospel, in which he is 
manifested to the world. — Hence follows the doctrine of the similar- 
ity and difference of the Old and New Testament, of the Law and 
Gospel. — It is next stated, that, in order to the complete accomplish- 
ment of salvation, it was necessary for the eternal Son of God to 
become man, and that he actually assumed a real human nature: — 
it is also shown how these two natures constitute one person — That 
the office of Christ, appointed for the acquisition and application of 
complete salvation by his merit and efficacy, is sacerdotal, regal, and 
prophetical. — Next follows the manner in which Christ executed his 
office, or actually performed the part of a Mediator, being an exposi- 
tion of the Articles respecting his death, resurrection, and ascension 
to heaven. — Lastly, the Author shows the truth and propriety of 
affirming that Christ merited the grace of God and salvation for us. 

in. As long as Christ is separate from us, he profits us nothing. 
Hence the necessity of our being ingrafted into him, as branches into 
a vine. Therefore the doctrine concerning Christ is followed, in the 
third part of the Creed, by this clause, "I believe in the Holy Spirit," 
as being the bond of union between us and Christ. 

So in the third book our Author treats of the Holy Spirit, who 
unites us to Christ — and consequently of faith, by which we embrace 
Christ, with his twofold benefit, free righteousness, which he im- 
putes to us, and regeneration, which he commences within us, by 
bestowing repentance upon us. — And to show that we have not the 
least room to glory in such faith as is unconnected with the pursuit 
of repentance, before proceeding to the full discussion of justification, 
he treats at large of repentance and the continual exercise of it, which 
Christ, apprehended by faith, produces in us by his Spirit. — He next 
fully discusses the first and chief benefit of Christ when united to 
us by the Holy Spirit that is, justification— and then treats of prayer, 
which resembles the hand that actually receives those blessings to be 
enjoyed, which faith knows, from the word of promise, to be laid 
up with God for our use. — But as all men are not united to Christ, 
the sole Author of salvation, by the Holy Spirit, who creates and 
preserves faith in us, he treats of God's eternal election; which is the 


cause that we, in whom he foresaw no good but what he intended 
freely to bestow, have been favored with the gift of Christ, and 
united to God by the effectual call of the Gospel. — Lastly, he treats 
of complete regeneration, and the fruition of happiness; that is, the 
final resurrection, towards which our eyes must be directed, since 
in this world the felicity of the pious, in respect of enjoyment, is 
only begun. 

IV. But as the Holy Spirit does not unite all men to Christ, or 
make them partakers of faith, and on those to whom he imparts it 
he does not ordinarily bestow it without means, but employs for 
this purpose the preaching of the Gospel and the use of the sacra- 
ments, with the administration of all discipline, therefore it follows in 
the Creed, "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church," whom, although 
involved in eternal death, yet, in pursuance of the gratuitous election, 
God has freely reconciled to himself in Christ, and made partakers 
of the Holy Spirit, that, being ingrafted into Christ, they may have 
communion with him as their head, whence flows a perpetual remis- 
sion of sins, and a full restoration to eternal life. 

So in the fourth book our Author treats of the Church — then of 
the means used by the Holy Spirit in efifectually calling from spiritual 
death, and preserving the church — the word and sacraments — bap- 
tism and the Lord's supper — which are as it were Christ's regal 
sceptre, by which he commences his spiritual reign in the Church 
by the energy of his Spirit, and carries it forwards from day to day 
during the present life, after the close of which he perfects it with- 
out those means. 

And as political institutions are the asylums of the Church in this 
life, though civil government is distinct from the spiritual kingdom 
of Christ, our Author instructs us respecting it as a signal blessing 
of God, which the Church ought to acknowledge with gratitude of 
heart, till we are called out of this transitory state to the heavenly 
inheritance, where God will be all in all. 

This is the plan of the Institutes, which may be comprised in the 
following brief summary : — 

Man, created originally upright, being afterwards ruined, not 
partially, but totally, finds salvation out of himself, wholly in Christ; 
to whom being united by the Holy Spirit, freely bestowed, without 


any regard of future works, he enjoys in him a twofold benefit, the 
perfect imputation of righteousness, which attends him to the grave, 
and the commencement of sanctification, which he daily increases, till 
at length he completes it at the day of regeneration or resurrection 
of the body, so that in eternal life and the heavenly inheritance his 
praises are celebrated for such stupendous mercy. 




I CAN easily conceive, most Holy Father, that as soon as some 
people learn that in this book which I have written concerning 
the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, I ascribe certain motions 
to the Earth, they will cry out at once that I and my theory should 
be rejected. For I am not so much in love with my conclusions as 
not to weigh what others will think about them, and although I 
know that the meditations of a philosopher are far removed from 
the judgment of the laity, because his endeavor is to seek out the 
truth in all things, so far as this is permitted by God to the human 
reason, I still believe that one must avoid theories altogether foreign 
to orthodoxy. Accordingly, when I considered in my own mind how 
absurd a performance it must seem to those who know that the 
judgment of many centuries has approved the view that the Earth 
remains fixed as center in the midst of the heavens, if I should, on 
the contrary, assert that the Earth moves; I was for a long time at a 
loss to know whether I should publish the commentaries which I 
have written in proof of its motion, or whether it were not better to 
follow the example of the Pythagoreans and of some others, who 

Nicolaus Copernicus was born in 1473 at Thorn in West Prussia, of a Polish father 
and a German mother. He attended the university of Cracow and Bologna, lectured 
on astronomy and mathematics at Rome, and later studied medicine at Padua and 
canon law at Ferrara. He was appointed canon of the cathedral of Frauenburg, and 
in this town he died in 1543, having devoted the latter part of his life largely to 

The book which was introduced by this dedication laid the foundations of modern 
astronomy. At the time when it was written, the earth was believed by all to be the 
fixed centre of the universe; and although many of the arguments used by Copernicus 
were invalid and absurd, he was the first modern to put forth the heliocentric theory 
as "a better explanation." It remained for Kepler, Galileo, and Newton to establish 
the theory on firm grounds. 



were accustomed to transmit the secrets of Philosophy not in writing 
but orally, and only to their relatives and friends, as the letter from 
Lysis to Hipparchus bears witness. They did this, it seems to me, not 
as some think, because of a certain selfish reluctance to give their 
views to the world, but in order that the noblest truths, worked out 
by the careful study of great men, should not be despised by those 
who are vexed at the idea of taking great pains with any forms of 
literature except such as would be profitable, or by those who, if 
they are driven to the study of Philosophy for its own sake by the 
admonitions and the example of others, nevertheless, on account of 
their stupidity, hold a place among philosophers similar to that of 
drones among bees. Therefore, when I considered this carefully, the 
contempt which I had to fear because of the novelty and apparent 
absurdity of my view, nearly induced me to abandon utterly the 
work I had begun. 

My friends, however, in spite of Jong delay and even resistance on 
my part, withheld me from this decision. First among these was 
Nicolaus Schonberg, Cardinal of Capua, distinguished in all 
branches of learning. Next to him comes my very dear friend, Tide- 
mann Giese, Bishop of Culm, a most earnest student, as he is, of 
sacred and, indeed, of all good learning. The latter has often 
urged me, at times even spurring me on with reproaches, to pub- 
lish and at last bring to the light the book which had lain in my 
study not nine years merely, but already going on four times nine. 
Not a few other very eminent and scholarly men made the same 
request, urging that I should no longer through fear refuse to 
give out my work for the common benefit of students of Mathe- 
matics. They said I should find that the more absurd most men 
now thought this theory of mine concerning the motion of the 
Earth, the more admiration and gratitude it would command after 
they saw in the publication of my commentaries the mist of 
absurdity cleared away by most transparent proofs. So, influenced 
by these advisors and this hope, I have at length allowed my friends 
to publish the work, as they had long besought me to do. 

But perhaps Your Holiness will not so much wonder that I have 
ventured to publish these studies of mine, after having taken such 
pains in elaborating them that I have not hesitated to commit to 


writing my views o£ the motion of the Earth, as you will be 
curious to hear how it occurred to me to venture, contrary to the 
accepted view of mathematicians, and well-nigh contrary to com- 
mon sense, to form a conception of any terrestrial motion whatso- 
ever. Therefore I would not have it unknown to Your Holiness, that 
the only thing which induced me to look for another way of 
reckoning the movements of the heavenly bodies was that I knew 
that mathematicians by no means agree in their investigations 
thereof. For, in the first place, they are so much in doubt concerning 
the motion of the sun and the moon, that they can not even 
demonstrate and prove by observation the constant length of a 
complete year; and in the second place, in determining the motions 
both of these and of the five other planets, they fail to employ 
consistently one set of first principles and hypotheses, but use 
methods of proof based only upon the apparent revolutions and 
motions. For some employ concentric circles only; others, eccentric 
circles and epicycles; and even by these means they do not com- 
pletely attain the desired end. For, although those who have 
depended upon concentric circles have shown that certain diverse 
motions can be deduced from these, yet they have not succeeded 
thereby in laying down any sure principle, corresponding indis- 
putably to the phenomena. These, on the other hand, who have 
devised systems of eccentric circles, although they seem in great 
part to have solved the apparent movements by calculations which by 
these eccentrics are made to fit, have nevertheless introduced many 
things which seem to contradict the first principles of the uniformity 
of motion. Nor have they been able to discover or calculate from 
these the main point, which is the shape of the world and the fixed 
symmetry of its parts; but their procedure has been as if someone 
were to collect hands, feet, a head, and other members from various 
places, all very fine in themselves, but not proportionate to one body, 
and no single one corresponding in its turn to the others, so that a 
monster rather than a man would be formed from them. Thus in 
their process of demonstration which they term a "method," they 
are found to have omitted something essential, or to have included 
something foreign and not pertaining to the matter in hand. This 
certainly would never have happened to them if they had followed 


fixed principles; for if the hypotheses they assumed were not false, 
all that resulted therefrom would be verified indubitably. Those 
things which I am saying now may be obscure, yet they will be 
made clearer in their proper place. 

Therefore, having turned over in my mind for a long time this 
uncertainty of the traditional mathematical methods of calculating 
the motions of the celestial bodies, I began to grow disgusted that 
no more consistent scheme of the movements of the mechanism of 
the universe, set up for our benefit by that best and most law 
abiding Architect of all things, was agreed upon by philosophers 
who otherwise investigate so carefully the most minute details of 
this world. Wherefore I undertook the task of rereading the 
books of all the philosophers I could get access to, to see whether 
any one ever was of the opinion that the motions of the celestial 
bodies were other than those postulated by the men who taught 
mathematics in the schools. And I found first, indeed, in Cicero, that 
Niceta perceived that the Earth moved; and afterward in Plutarch 
I found that some others were of this opinion, whose words I have 
seen fit to quote here, that they may be accessible to all: — 

"Some maintain that the Earth is stationary, but Philolaus the 
Pythagorean says that it revolves in a circle about the fire of the 
ecliptic, like the sun and moon. Heraklides of Pontus and Ekphantus 
the Pythagorean make the Earth move, not changing its position, 
however, confined in its falling and rising around its own center 
in the manner of a wheel." 

Taking this as a starting point, I began to consider the mobility 
of the Earth; and although the idea seemed absurd, yet because I 
knew that the liberty had been granted to others before me to 
postulate all sorts of little circles for explaining the phenomena of 
the stars, I thought I also might easily be permitted to try whether 
by postulating some motion of the Earth, more reliable conclusions 
could be reached regarding the revolution of the heavenly bodies, 
than those of my predecessors. 

And so, after postulating movements, which, farther on in the 
book, I ascribe to the Earth, I have found by many and long observa- 
tions that if the movements of the other planets are assumed for 
the circular motion of the Earth and are substituted for the revolu- 


tion of each star, not only do their phenomena follow logically 
therefrom, but the relative positions and magnitudes both of the 
stars and all their orbits, and of the heavens themselves, become so 
closely related that in none of its parts can anything be changed 
without causing confusion in the other parts and in the whole 
universe. Therefore, in the course of the work I have followed 
this plan: I describe in the first book all the positions of the orbits 
together with the movements which I ascribe to the Earth, in order 
that this book might contain, as it were, the general scheme of the 
universe. Thereafter in the remaining books, I set forth the motions 
of the other stars and of all their orbits together with the movement 
of the Earth, in order that one may see from this to what extent 
the movements and appearances of the other stars and their orbits 
can be saved, if they are transferred to the movement of the Earth. 
Nor do I doubt that ingenious and learned mathematicians will 
sustain me, if they are willing to recognize and weigh, not super- 
ficially, but with that thoroughness which Philosophy demands above 
all things, those matters which have been adduced by me in this work 
to demonstrate these theories. In order, however, that both the 
learned and the unlearned equally may see that I do not avoid 
anyone's judgment, I have preferred to dedicate these lucubrations 
of mine to Your Holiness rather than to any other, because, even 
in this remote corner of the world where I live, you are considered 
to be the most eminent man in dignity of rank and in love of all 
learning and even of mathematics, so that by your authority and 
judgment you can easily suppress the bites of slanderers, albeit the 
proverb hath it that there is no remedy for the bite of a sycophant. 
If perchance there shall be idle talkers, who, though they are 
ignorant of all mathematical sciences, nevertheless assume the right 
to pass judgment on these things, and if they should dare to 
criticise and attack this theory of mine because of some passage of 
Scripture which they have falsely distorted for their own purpose, 
I care not at all; I will even despise their judgment as foolish. For 
it is not unknown that Lactantius, otherwise a famous writer but 
a poor mathematician, speaks most childishly of the shape of the 
Earth when he makes fun of those who said that the Earth has the 
form of a sphere. It should not seem strange then to zealous 


students, if some such people shall ridicule us also. Mathematics 
are written for mathematicians, to whom, if my opinion does not 
deceive me, our labors will seem to contribute something to the 
ecclesiastical state whose chief office Your Holiness now occupies; 
for when not so very long ago, under Leo X, in the Lateran Council 
the question of revising the ecclesiastical calendar was discussed, 
it then remained unsettled, simply because the length of the years 
and months, and the motions of the sun and moon were held to have 
been not yet sufficiently determined. Since that time, I have given 
my attention to observing these more accurately, urged on by a very 
distinguished man, Paul, Bishop of Fossombrone, who at that time 
had charge of the matter. But what I may have accomplished herein 
I leave to the judgment of Your Holiness in particular, and to that 
of all other learned mathematicians; and lest I seem to Your Holiness 
to promise more regarding the usefulness of the work than I can 
perform, I now pass to the work itself. 




BY JOHN KNOX (C. 1566) 

To the gentill readar, grace and peace from God the Father of our Lord 
Jesus Christ, with the perpetuall encrease of the Holy Spreit. 

IT is not unknowen, Christeane Reader, that the same clud of 
ignorance, that long hath darkened many realmes under this 
. accurssed kingdome of that Romane Antichrist, hath also 
owercovered this poore Realme; that idolatrie hath bein manteined, 
the bloode of innocentis hath bene sched, and Christ Jesus his 
eternall treuth hath bene abhorred, detested, and blasphemed. But 
that same God that caused light to schyne out of darknes, in the 
multitud of his mercyes, hath of long tyme opened the eis of some 
evin within this Realme, to see the vanitie of that which then was 
universally embrased for trew religioun; and hes gevin unto them 
strenth to oppone' thame selfis unto the same: and now, into 
these our last and moist^ corrupt dayis, hath maid his treuth so to 
triumphe amonges us, that, in despyte of Sathan, hipochrisye is 
disclosed, and the trew wyrshipping of God is manifested to all the 
inhabitantis of this realme who eis Sathan blyndis not, eyther by 
thair fylthy lustes, or ellis by ambitioun, and insatiable covetousness, 
which mack them repung to' the power of God working by his 

John Knox (1505— 1572), the leader of the Scottish Reformation and its historian, 
was educated at Glasgow University; was pastor to English congregations at Franlc- 
fort-on-Main and at Geneva, where he met Calvin; returned to Scotland in 1559; and 
from that time till his death was active in the establishment of the Presbyterian 
organization, through which his powerful personality has continued to influence the 
Scottish national character to the present day. His preface, which is printed here in 
the original Scottish spelling, gives some indication of the sternness, not to say viru- 
lence, of his temper towards the Roman Church. 

' Oppose. ^ Most. ^ Resist. 



And becaus we ar not ignorant what diverse bruittis* war dispersed 
of us, the professoures of Jesus Christ within this realme, in the 
begynnyng of our interprise, ordour was tackin, that all our pro- 
ceidingis should be committed to register; as that thei war, by such 
as then paynfuUie travailled boith by toung and pen; and so was 
collected a just volume, (as after will appeir,) conteanyng thingis 
done frome the fyftie-awght'* year of God, till the arrivall of the 
Quenis Majestic* furth of France, with the which the CoUectour and 
Writtar for that tyme was content, and never mynded' further to 
have travailled in that kynd of writting. But, after invocatioun of 
the name of God, and after consultatioun with some faythfull, what 
was thought by thame expedient to advance Goddis glorie, and to 
edifie this present generatioun, and the posteritie to come, it was 
concluded, that faythfull rehersall should be maid of such person- 
ages as God had maid instrumentis of his glorie, by opponyng 
of thame selfis to manifest abuses, superstitioun, and idolatrie; and 
albeit thare be no great nomber, yet ar thei mo then the CoUectour 
wold have looked for at the begynnyng, and thairfoir is the volume 
somewhat enlarged abuif his expectatioun : And yit, in the begyn- 
nyng, mon* we crave of all the gentill Readaris, not to look' of us 
such ane History as shall expresse all thingis that have occurred 
within this Realme, during the tyme of this terrible conflict that hes 
bene betuix the sanctes'" of God and these bloody wolves who clame 
to thame selves the titill of clargie, and to have authoritie ower the 
saules of men; for, with the Pollicey," mynd we to meddill no 
further then it hath Religioun mixed with it. And thairfoir albeit 
that many thingis which wer don be omitted, yit, yf we invent no 
leys,'^ we think our selves blamless in that behalf. Of one other 
(thing) we mon^ foirwarne the discreat Readaris, which is, that thei 
be not offended that the sempill treuth be spokin without partialitie; 
for seing that of men we neyther hunt for reward, nor yitt for vane 
glorie, we litill pass by the approbatioun of such as seldome judge 
Weill of God and of his workis. Lett not thairfoar the Readir 
wonder, albeit that our style vary and speik diverslie of men, accord- 

■* Rumors. ^l. e., 1558. 

*Mary, Queen of Scots, arrived in Scotland, Aug. 19, 1561. 

^ Intended. ' Must. " Expect. 1" Saints. 

1' Civil or State politics. '^ Lies. 


ing as thei have declared thameselves sometymes ennemymes and 
sometymes freindis, sometymes fervent, sometymes cold, sometymes 
constant, and sometymes changeable in the cause of God and of his 
holy religioun: for, in this our simplicitie, we suppoise that the 
Godlie shall espy our purpose, which is, that God may be praised 
for his mercy schawin," this present age may be admonished to be 
thankfull for Goddis benefittis oflerred, and the posteritie to cum 
may be instructed how wonderouslie hath the light of Christ Jesus 
prevailled against darkness in this last and most corrupted age. 

" shown. 






worke: which for that it giveth great light to THE 


To the Right Noble, and Valorous, Sir Walter Raleigh, Knight, Lord 
Wardein of the Stanneryes, and Her Majesties Liefetenaunt of the 
County of Cornewayll 

SIR, knowing how doubtfully all allegories may be construed, 
and this booke of mine, which I have entituled the Faery 
Queene, being a continued allegory, or darke conceit, I have 
thought good, as well for avoyding of gealous opinions and miscon- 
structions, as also for your better light in reading thereof, (being so 
by you commanded,) to discover unto you the general intention 
and meaning, which in the whole course thereof I have fashioned, 
without expressing of any particular purposes or by accidents therein 
occasioned. The generall end therefore of all the booke is to fashion 
a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline: which 
for that I conceived shoulde be most plausible and pleasing, being 
coloured with an historicall fiction, the which the most part of 
men delight to read, rather for variety of matter then for profite of 

Edmund Spenser was born in London about 1552, and died there in 1599. He was 
the greatest of the non-dramatic poets of the age of Elizabeth; and the "Faerie Queene" 
is the longest and most famous of his works. The first three books were published 
in 1590, the second three in 1596; of the remaining six which he had planned some 
fragments were issued after his death. The poem is a combination of allegory and 
romance; and in this prefatory letter to Raleigh the poet himself explains the plan 
of the work and its main allegorical signification. 



the ensample, I chose the historye of King Arthure, as most fitte 
for the excellency of his person, being made famous by many mens 
former workes, and also furthest from the daunger of envy, and 
suspition of present time. In which I have followed all the antique 
poets historical! : first Homere, who in the persons of Agamemnon 
and Ulysses hath ensampled a good governour and a vertuous man, 
the one in his Ilias, the other in his Odysseis; then Virgil, whose 
like intention was to doe in the person of ^neas; after him Ariosto 
comprised them both in his Orlando; and lately Tasso dissevered 
them againe, and formed both parts in two persons, namely that 
part which they in philosophy call Ethice, or vertues of a private 
man, coloured in his Rinaldo; the other named Politice in his 
Godfredo. By ensample of which excellente poets, I labour to pour- 
traict in Arthure, before he was king, the image of a brave knight, 
perfected in the twelve private morall vertues, as Aristotle hath 
devised, the which is the purpose of these first twelve bookes : which 
if I finde to be well accepted, I may be perhaps encoraged to frame 
the other part of polliticke vertues in his person, after that hee 
came to be king. To some, I know, this methode will seeme dis- 
pleasaunt, which had rather have good discipline delivered plainly 
in way of precepts, or sermoned at large, as they use, then thus 
clowdily enwrapped in allegoricall devises. But such, me seeme, 
should be satisfide with the use of these dayes, seeing all things 
accounted by their showes, and nothing esteemed of, that is not 
delightfull and pleasing to commune sence. For this cause is 
Xenophon preferred before Plato, for that the one, in the exquisite 
depth of his judgement, formed a commune welth such as it should 
be, but the other in the person of Cyrus and the Persians fashioned 
a governement, such as might best be : so much more profitable and 
gratious is doctrine by ensample, then by rule. So have I laboured 
to doe in the person of Arthure: whome I conceive, after his long 
education by Timon, to whom he was by Merlin delivered to be 
brought up, so soone as he was borne of the Lady Igrayne, to have 
scene in a dream or vision the Faery Queen, with whose excellent 
beauty ravished, he awaking resolved to seeke her out, and so being 
by Merlin armed, and by Timon thoroughly instructed, he went to 
seeke her forth in Faerye Land. In that Faery Queene I meane 


glory in my generall intention, but in my particular I conceive the 
most excellent and glorious person of our soveraine the Queene, and 
her kingdome in Faery Land. And yet, in some places els, I doe 
otherwise shadow her. For considering she beareth two persons, 
the one of a most royall queene or empresse, the other of a most 
vertuous and beautiful lady, this latter part in some places I doe 
expresse in Belphoebe, fashioning her name according your owne 
excellent conceipt of Cynthia, (Phaebe and Cynthia being both 
names of Diana.) So in the person of Prince Arthure I sette forth 
magnificence in particular, which vertue, for that (according to 
Aristode and the rest) it is the perfection of all the rest, and con- 
teineth in it them all, therefore in the whole course I mention the 
deedes of Arthure applyable to that vertue which I write of 
in that booke. But of the xii. other vertues I make xii. other 
knights the patrones, for the more variety of the history: of which 
these three bookes contayn three. The first of the Knight of the 
Redcrosse, in whome I expresse holynes : The seconde of Sir Guyon, 
in whome I sette forth temperaunce. The third of Britomartis, a 
lady knight, in whome I picture chastity. But because the beginning 
of the whole worke seemeth abrupte and as depending upon other 
antecedents, it needs that ye know the occasion of these three knights 
severall adventures. For the methode of a poet historical is not 
such as of an historiographer. For an historiographer discourseth 
of affayres orderly as they were donne, accounting as well the times 
as the actions; but a poet thrusteth into the middest, even where 
it most concerneth him, and there recoursing to the things fore- 
paste, and divining of thinges to come, maketh a pleasing analysis 
of all. 

The beginning therefore of my history, if it were to be told by an 
historiographer, should be the twelfth booke, which is the last; where 
I devise that the Faery Queene kept her annuall feaste xii. dayes, 
uppon which xii. severall dayes, the occasions of the xii. several 
adventures hapned, which being undertaken by xii. severall knights, 
are in these xii. books severally handled and discoursed. The first 
was this. In the beginning of the feast, there presented him selfe 
a tall clownish younge man, who, falling before the Queen of Faries, 
desired a boone (as the manner then was) which during that feast 


she might not refuse: which was that hee might have the atchieve- 
ment of any adventure, which during that feaste should happen: 
that being graunted, he rested him on the floore, unfitte through his 
rusticity for a better place. Soone after entred a faire ladye in mourn- 
ing weedes, riding on a white asse, with a dwarfe behind her leading 
a warlike steed, that bore the armes of a knight, and his speare in the 
dwarfes hand. Shee, falling before the Queene of Faeries, com- 
playned that her father and mother, an ancient king and queene, 
had bene by an huge dragon many years shut up in a brasen castle, 
who thence suflred them not to yssew: and therefore besought the 
Faery Queene to assygne her some one of her knights to take on 
him that exployt. Presently that clownish person, upstarting, desired 
that adventure: whereat the Queene much wondering, and the lady 
much gainesaying, yet he earnestly importuned his desire. In the end 
the lady told him, that unlesse that armour which she brought 
would serve him (that is, the armour of a Christian man specified 
by Saint Paul, vi. Ephes.), that he could not succeed in that enter- 
prise: which being forthwith put upon him with dewe furnitures 
thereunto, he seemed the goodliest man in al that company, and was 
well liked of the lady. And eftesoones taking on him knighthood, 
and mounting on that straunge courser, he went forth with her on 
that adventure: where beginneth the first booke vz. 

A gentle knight was pricking on the playne, &c. 

The second day ther came in a palmer bearing an infant with 
bloody hands, whose parents he complained to have bene slayn by 
an enchaunteresse called Acrasia: and therfore craved of the Faery 
Queene, to appoint him some knight to performe that adventure; 
which being assigned to Sir Guyon, he presently went forth with that 
same palmer: which is the beginning of the second booke and the 
whole subject thereof. The third day there came in a groome, who 
complained before the Faery Queene, that a vile enchaunter, called 
Busirane, had in hand a most faire lady, called Amoretta, whom he 
kept in most grievous torment, because she would not yield him the 
pleasure of her body. Whereupon Sir Scudamour, the lover of that 
lady, presently tooke on him that adventure. But being unable to 
performe it by reason of the hard enchauntments, after long sorrow. 


in the end met with Britomartis, who succoured him, and reskewed 
his love. 

But by occasion hereof, many other adventures are intermedled, 
but rather as accidents then intendments: as the love of Britomart, 
the overthrow of Marinell, the misery of Florimell, the vertuousnes 
of Belphoebe, the lasciviousnes of Hellenora, and many the like. 

Thus much. Sir, I have briefly overronne, to direct your under- 
standing to the wel-head of the history, that from thence gathering 
the whole intention of the conceit, ye may, as in a handful, gripe al 
the discourse, which otherwise may happily seeme tedious and 
confused. So humbly craving the continuance of your honourable 
favour towards me, and th' eternall establishment of your happines, 
I humbly take leave. 

23. January, 1589. 
Yours most humbly affectionate, 
Ed. Spenser. 



HOW unfit and how unworthy a choice I have made of 
myself, to undertake a work of this mixture, mine own 
reason, though exceeding weak, hath sufficiently resolved 
me. For had it been begotten then with my first dawn of day, when 
the Hght of common knowledge began to open itself to my younger 
years, and before any wound received either from Fortune or Time, 
I might yet well have doubted that the darkness of Age and Death 
would have covered over both It and Me, long before the perform- 
ance. For, beginning with the Creation, I have proceeded with the 
History of the World; and lastly purposed (some few sallies 
excepted) to confine my discourse with this our renowned Island 
of Great Britain. I confess that it had better sorted with my 
disability, the better part of whose times are run out in other 
travails, to have set together (as I could) the unjointed and scat- 
tered frame of our English aflairs, than of the universal: in whom, 
had there been no other defect (who am all defect) than the time of 
the day, it were enough; the day of a tempestuous life, drawn on to 
the very evening ere I began. But those inmost and soul-piercing 
wounds, which are ever aching while uncured; with the desire to 
satisfy those few friends, which I have tried by the fire of adversity, 
the former enforcing, the latter persuading; have caused me to make 
my thoughts legible, and myself the subject of every opinion, wise 
or weak. 

A sketch o£ the life of Raleigh will be found prefixed to his "Discovery of Guiana" 
in the volume of "Voyages and Travels." His "History of the World" was written 
during his imprisonment in the Tower of London, which lasted from 1603 to 1616. 
The Preface is interesting not only as a fine piece of Elizabethan prose, but as ex- 
hibiting the attitude toward history, and the view of the relation of history to religion 
and philosophy, which characterized one who represented with exceptional vigor the 
typical Elizabethan man of action and who was also a man of thought and imagination. 



To the world I present them, to which I am nothing indebted: 
neither have others that were, (Fortune changing) sped much 
better in any age. For prosperity and adversity have evermore 
tied and untied vulgar affections. And as we see it in experience, 
that dogs do always bark at those they know not, and that it is their 
nature to accompany one another in those clamors: so it is with 
the inconsiderate multitude; who wanting that virtue which we 
call honesty in all men, and that especial gift of God which we call 
charity in Christian men, condemn without hearing, and wound 
without offence given: led thereunto by uncertain report only; 
which his Majesty truly acknowledgeth for the author of all lies. 
"Blame no man," saith Siracides, "before thou have inquired the 
matter: understand first, and then reform righteously. 'Rumor, res 
sine teste, sine judice, maligna, fallax'; Rumor is without witness, 
without judge, malicious and deceivable." This vanity of vulgar 
opinion it was, that gave St. Augustine argument to affirm, that he 
feared the praise of good men, and detested that of the evil. And 
herein no man hath given a better rule, than this of Seneca; "Con- 
scientiae satisfaciamus: nihil in famam laboremus, sequatur vel 
mala, dum bene merearis." "Let us satisfy our own consciences, 
and not trouble ourselves with fame: be it never so ill, it is to be 
despised so we deserve well." 

For myself, if I have in anything served my Country, and prized 
it before my private, the general acceptation can yield me no other 
profit at this time, than doth a fair sunshine day to a sea-man after 
shipwreck; and the contrary no other harm, than an outrageous 
tempest after the port attained. I know that I lost the love of many, 
for my fidelity towards Her,' whom I must still honor in the dust; 
though further than the defence of her excellent person, I never 
persecuted any man. Of those that did it, and by what device they 
did it. He that is the Supreme Judge of all the world, hath taken 
the account: so as for this kind of suffering, I must say with Seneca, 
"Mala opinio, bene parta, delectat." ^ 

As for other men; if there be any that have made themselves 
fathers of that fame which hath been begotten for them, I can 
neither envy at such their purchased glory, nor much lament mine 
' Queen Elizabeth. ' "An ill opinion, honorably acquired, is pleasing." 


own mishap in that kind; but content myself to say with Virgil, 
"Sic vos non vobis," ' in many particulars. To labor other satisfaction, 
were an effect of frenzy, not of hope, seeing it is not truth, but 
opinion, that can travel the world without a passport. For were it 
otherwise; and were there not as many internal forms of the mind, 
as there are external figures of men; there were then some possi- 
bility to persuade by the mouth of one advocate, even equity alone. 

But such is the multiplying and extensive virtue of dead earth, and 
of that breath-giving life which God hath cast upon time and dust, 
as that among those that were, of whom we read and hear; and 
among those that are, whom we see and converse with; everyone 
hath received a several picture of face, and everyone a diverse 
picture of mind; everyone a form apart, everyone a fancy and 
cogitation differing: there being nothing wherein Nature so much 
triumpheth as in dissimilitude. From whence it cometh that there is 
found so great diversity of opinions; so strong a contrariety of 
inclinations; so many natural and unnatural; wise, foolish, manly, 
and childish affections and passions in mortal men. For it is not the 
visible fashion and shape of plants, and of reasonable creatures, that 
makes the diflEerence of working in the one, and of condition in the 
other; but the form internal. 

And though it hath pleased God to reserve the art of reading 
men's thoughts to himself: yet, as the fruit tells the name of the 
tree; so do the outward works of men (so far as their cogitations 
are acted) give us whereof to guess at the rest. Nay, it were not hard 
to express the one by the other, very near the life, did not craft in 
many, fear in the most, and the world's love in all, teach every 
capacity, according to the compass it hath, to qualify and make over 
their inward deformities for a time. Though it be also true, "Nemo 
potest diu personam ferre fictam: cito in naturam suam residunt, 
quibus Veritas non subest": "No man can long continue masked 
in a counterfeit behavior: the things that are forced for pretences 
having no ground of truth, cannot long dissemble their own 
natures." Neither can any man (saith Plutarch) so change himself, 
but that his heart may be sometimes seen at his tongue's end. 

In this great discord and dissimilitude of reasonable creatures, if 

' "So you not to yourselves." 


we direct ourselves to the multitude; "omnis honestae rei malus 
judex est vulgus": "The common people are evil judges of honest 
things, and whose wisdom (saith Ecclesiastes) is to be despised": 
if to the better sort, every understanding hath a peculiar judgment, 
by which it both censureth other men, and valueth itself. And 
therefore unto me it will not seem strange, though I find these my 
worthless papers torn with rats: seeing the slothful censurers of all 
ages have not spared to tax the Reverend Fathers of the Church, 
with ambition; the severest men to themselves, with hypocrisy; 
the greatest lovers of justice, with popularity; and those of the truest 
valor and fortitude, with vain-glory. But of these natures which lie 
in wait to find fault, and to turn good into evil, seeing Solomon 
complained long since: and that the very age of the world renders it 
every day after other more malicious; I must leave the professors to 
their easy ways of reprehension, than which there is nothing of 
more facility. 

To me it belongs in the first part of this Preface, following the 
common and approved custom of those who have left the memories 
of time past to after ages, to give, as near as I can, the same right to 
history which they have done. Yet seeing therein I should but 
borrow other men's words, I will not trouble the Reader with the 
repetition. True it is that among many other benefits for which it 
hath been honored, in this one it triumpheth over all human 
knowledge, that it hath given us life in our understanding, since 
the world itself had life and beginning, even to this day: yea, 
it hath triumphed over time, which besides it nothing but eternity 
hath triumphed over: for it hath carried our knowledge over the 
vast and devouring space of many thousands of years, and given 
so fair and piercing eyes to our mind; that we plainly behold living 
now (as if we had lived then) that great world, "Magni Dei sapiens 
opus," "The wise work (saith Hermes) of a great God," as it was 
then, when but new to itself. By it (I say) it is, that we live in the 
very time when it was created : we behold how it was governed : how 
it was covered with waters, and again repeopled: how kings and 
kingdoms have flourished and fallen, and for what virtue and 
piety God made prosperous; and for what vice and deformity he 
made wretched, both the one and the other. And it is not the least 


debt which we owe unto history, that it hath made us acquainted 
with our dead ancestors; and, out of the depth and darkness of the 
earth, delivered us their memory and fame. In a word, we may 
gather out of history a poUcy no less wise than eternal; by the com- 
parison and application of other men's fore-passed miseries with our 
own like errors and ill deservings. But it is neither of examples 
the most lively instruction, nor the words of the wisest men, nor the 
terror of future torments, that hath yet so wrought in our blind 
and stupified minds, as to make us remember, that the infinite eye 
and wisdom of God doth pierce through all our pretences; as to 
make us remember, that the justice of God doth require none 
other accuser than our own consciences: which neither the false 
beauty of our apparent actions, nor all the formality, which (to pacify 
the opinions of men) we put on, can in any, or the least kind, cover 
from his knowledge. And so much did that heathen wisdom confess, 
no way as yet qualified by the knowledge of a true God. If any (saith 
Euripides) "having in his life committed wickedness, thinks he can 
hide it from the everlasting gods, he thinks not well." 

To repeat God's judgments in particular, upon those of all degrees, 
which have played with his mercies would require a volume apart: 
for the sea of examples hath no bottom. The marks, set on private 
men, are with their bodies cast into the earth; and their fortunes, 
written only in the memories of those that lived with them: so as 
they who succeed, and have not seen the fall of others, do not fear 
their own faults. God's judgments upon the greater and greatest 
have been left to posterity; first, by those happy hands which the 
Holy Ghost hath guided; and secondly, by their virtue, who have 
gathered the acts and ends of men mighty and remarkable in the 
world. Now to point far off, and to speak of the conversion of 
angels into devils; for ambition: or of the greatest and most glorious 
kings, who have gnawn the grass of the earth with beasts for pride 
and ingratitude towards God: or of that wise working of Pharaoh, 
when he slew the infants of Israel, ere they had recovered their 
cradles: or of the pohcy of Jezebel, in covering the murder of Naboth 
by a trial of the Elders, according to the Law, with many thousands 
of the like: what were it other, than to make an hopeless proof, that 
far-off examples would not be left to the same far-off respects, as 


heretofore? For who hath not observed, what labor, practice, peril, 
bloodshed, and cruelty, the kings and princes of the world have 
undergone, exercised, taken on them, and committed; to make 
themselves and their issues masters of the world? And yet hath 
Babylon, Persia, Syria, Macedon, Carthage, Rome, and the rest 
no fruit, no flower, grass, nor leaf, springing upon the face of the 
earth, of those seeds: no, their very roots and ruins do hardly 
remain. "Omnia quae manu hominum facta sunt, vel manu homi- 
num evertuntur, vel stando et durando deficiunt": "All that the 
hand of man can make, is either overturned by the hand of man, 
or at length by standing and continuing consumed." The reasons 
of whose ruins, are diversely given by those that ground their 
opinions on second causes. All kingdoms and states have fallen (say 
the politicians) by outward and foreign force, or by inward negli- 
gence and dissension, or by a third cause arising from both. Others 
observe, that the greatest have sunk down under their own weight; 
of which Livy hath a touch: "eo crevit, ut magnitudine laboret sua":* 
Others, That the divine providence (which Cratippus objected to 
Pompey) hath set down the date and period of every estate, before 
their first foundation and erection. But hereof I will give myself a 
day over to resolve. 

For seeing the first books of the following story, have undertaken 
the discourse of the first kings and kingdoms: and that it is impos- 
sible for the short life of a Preface, to travel after, and overtake far- 
off antiquity, and to judge of it; I will, for the present, examine what 
profit hath been gathered by our own Kings, and their neighbour 
princes: who having beheld, both in divine and human letters, the 
success of infidelity, injustice, and cruelty; have (notwithstanding) 
planted after the same pattern. 

True it is, that the judgments of all men are not agreeable; nor 
(which is more strange) the affection of any one man stirred up 
alike with examples of like nature: but every one is touched most, 
with that which most nearly seemeth to touch his own private, or 
otherwise best suiteth with his apprehension. But the judgments of 
God are forever unchangeable: neither is He wearied by the long 
process of time, and won to give His blessing in one age, to that 

* "He increased, with the result that he is oppressed by his greatness." 


which He hath cursed in another. Wherefor those that are wise, 
or whose wisdom if it be not great, yet is true and well grounded, 
will be able to discern the bitter fruits of irreligious policy, as well 
among those examples that are found in ages removed far from 
the present, as in those of latter times. And that it may no less appear 
by evident proof, than by asseveration, that ill doing hath always 
been atteiided with ill success; I will here, by way of preface, run 
over some examples, which the work ensuing hath not reached. 

Among our kings of the Norman race, we have no sooner passed 
over the violence of the Norman Conquest, than we encounter with 
a singular and most remarkable example of God's justice, upon the 
children of Henry the First. For that King, when both by force, 
craft, and cruelty, he had dispossessed, overreached, and lastly made 
blind and destroyed his elder brother Robert Duke of Normandy, 
to make his own sons lords of this land: God cast them all, male 
and female, nephews and nieces (Maud excepted) into the bottom 
of the sea, with above a hundred and fifty others that attended them; 
whereof a great many were noble and of the King dearly beloved. 

To pass over the rest, till we come to Edward the Second; it is 
certain, that after the murder of that King, the issue of blood then 
made, though it had some times of stay and stopping, did again 
break out, and that so often and in such abundance, as all our 
princes of the masculine race (very few excepted) died of the same 
disease. And although the young years of Edward the Third made 
his knowledge of that horrible fact no more than suspicious; yet 
in that he afterwards caused his own uncle, the Earl of Kent, to die, 
for no other offence than the desire of his brother's redemption, 
whom the Earl as then supposed to be living; the King making 
that to be treated in his uncle, which was indeed treason in himself, 
(had his uncle's intelligence been true) this I say made it manifest, 
that he was not ignorant of what had past, nor greatly desirous to 
have had it otherwise, though he caused Mortimer to die for the 

This cruelty the secret and unsearchable judgment of God 
revenged on the grandchild of Edward the Third : and so it fell out, 
even to the last of that line, that in the second or third descent they 
were all buried under the ruins of those buildings, of which the 


mortar had been tempered with innocent blood. For Richard the 
Second, who saw both his Treasurers, his Chancellor, and his Stew- 
ard, with divers others of his counsellors, some of them slaughtered 
by the people, others in his absence executed by his enemies, yet he 
always took himself for over-wise to be taught by examples. The 
Earls of Huntingdon and Kent, Montagu and Spencer, who thought 
themselves as great politicians in those days as others have done in 
these: hoping to please the King, and to secure themselves, by the 
murder of Gloucester; died soon after, with many other their 
adherents, by the like violent hands; and far more shamefully than 
did that duke. And as for the King himself (who in regard of many 
deeds, unworthy of his greatness, cannot be excused, as the disavow- 
ing himself by breach of faith, charters, pardons, and patents) : he 
was in the prime of his youth deposed, and murdered by his cousin- 
german and vassal, Henry of Lancaster, afterwards Henry the 

This King, whose title was weak, and his obtaining the Crown 
traitorous; who brake faith with the lords at his landing, protesting 
to intend only the recovery of his proper inheritance, brake faith 
with Richard himself; and brake faith with all the kingdom in 
Parliament, to whom he swore that the deposed King should live. 
After that he had enjoyed this realm some few years, and in that 
time had been set upon all sides by his subjects, and never free from 
conspiracies and rebellions: he saw (if souls immortal see and 
discern anythings after the bodies' death) his grandchild Henry the 
Sixth, and his son the Prince, suddenly and without mercy, mur- 
dered; the possession of the Crown (for which he had caused so 
much blood to be poured out) transferred from his race, and by 
the issues of his enemies worn and enjoyed: enemies, whom by his 
own practice he supposed that he had left no less powerless, than 
the succession of the Kingdom questionless; by entailing the same 
upon his own issues by Parliament. And out of doubt, human 
reason could have judged no otherwise, but that these cautious 
provisions of the father, seconded by the valor and signal victories of 
his son Henry the Fifth, had buried the hopes of every competitor, 
under the despair of all reconquest and recovery. I say, that human 
reason might so have judged, were not this passage of Casaubon also 


true; "Dies, hora, momentum, evertendis dominationibus sufficit, 
quae adamantinis credebantur radicibus esse fundatae:" "A day, an 
hour, a moment, is enough to overturn the things, that seemed to 
have been founded and rooted in adamant." 

Now for Henry the Sixth, upon whom the great storm of his 
grandfather's grievous faults fell, as it formerly had done upon 
Richard the grandchild of Edward: although he was generally 
esteemed for a gentle and innocent prince, yet as he refused the 
daughter of Armagnac, of the House of Navarre, the greatest of the 
Princes of France, to whom he was affianced (by which match he 
might have defended his inheritance in France) and married the 
daughter of Anjou, (by which he lost all that he had in France) 
so in condescending to the unworthy death of his uncle of Gloucester, 
the main and strong pillar of the House of Lancaster; he drew on 
himself and this kingdom the greatest joint-loss and dishonor, that 
ever it sustained since the Norman Conquest. Of whom it may truly 
be said which a counsellor of his own spake of Henry the Third of 
France, "Qu'il estait une fort gentile Prince; mais son reigne est 
advenu en une fort mauvais temps:" "He was a very gentle Prince; 
but his reign happened in a very unfortunate season." 

It is true that Buckingham and Suffolk were the practicers and 
contrivers of the Duke's death: Buckingham and Suffolk, because the 
Duke gave instructions to their authority, which otherwise under 
the Queen had been absolute; the Queen in respect of her personal 
wound, "spretaeque injuria formae,'" because Gloucester dissuaded 
her marriage. But the fruit was answerable to the seed; the success 
to the counsel. For after the cutting down of Gloucester, York grew 
up so fast, as he dared to dispute his right both by arguments and 
arms; in which quarrel, Suffolk and Buckingham, with the greatest 
number of their adherents, were dissolved. And although for his 
breach of oath by sacrament, it pleased God to strike down York: 
yet his son the Earl of March, following the plain path which his 
father had trodden out, despoiled Henry the father, and Edward the 
son, both of their lives and kingdom. And what was the end now of 
that politic lady the Queen, other than this, that she lived to behold 
the wretched ends of all her partakers: that she lived to look on, 
' "The insult done in scorning her beauty." 


while her husband the King, and her only son the Prince, were hewn 
in sunder; while the Crown was set on his head that did it. She 
lived to see herself despoiled of her estate, and of her moveables : and 
lastly, her father, by rendering up to the Crown of France the Earl- 
dom of Provence and other places, for the payment of fifty thousand 
crowns for her ransom, to become a stark beggar. And this was the 
end of that subtility, which Siracides calleth "fine" but "unright- 
eous:" for other fruit hath it never yielded since the world was. 

And now it came to Edward the Fourth's turn (though after many 
difficulties) to triumph. For all the plants of Lancaster were rooted 
up, one only Earl of Richmond excepted: whom also he had once 
bought of the Duke of Brittany, but could not hold him. And yet 
was not this of Edward such a plantation, as could any way promise 
itself stability. For this Edward the King (to omit more than many 
of his other cruelties) beheld and allowed the slaughter which 
Gloucester, Dorset, Hastings, and others, made of Edward the 
Prince in his own presence; of which tragical actors, there was not 
one that escaped the judgment of God in the same kind. And he, 
which (besides the execution of his brother Clarence, for none other 
offence than he himself had formed in his own imagination) 
instructed Gloucester to kill Henry the Sixth, his predecessor; 
taught him also by the same art to kill his own sons and successors, 
Edward and Richard. For those kings which have sold the blood of 
others at a low rate; have but made the market for their own 
enemies, to buy of theirs at the same price. 

To Edward the Fourth succeeded Richard the Third, the greatest 
master in mischief of all that fore-went him: who although, for 
the necessity of his tragedy, he had more parts to play, and more to 
perform in his own person, than all the rest; yet he so well fitted 
every affection that played with him, as if each of them had but 
acted his own interest. For he wrought so cunningly upon the affec- 
tions of Hastings and Buckingham, enemies to the Queen and to all 
her kindred, as he easily allured them to condescend, that Rivers and 
Grey, the King's maternal uncle and half brother, should (for the 
first) be severed from him: secondly, he wrought their consent to 
have them imprisoned : and lastly (for the avoiding of future incon- 
venience) to have their heads severed from their bodies. And having 


now brought those his chief instruments to exercise that common 
precept which the Devil hath written on every post, namely, to 
depress those whom they had grieved, and destroy those whom they 
had depressed; he urged that argument so far and so forcibly, as 
nothing but the death of the young King himself, and of his 
brother, could fashion the conclusion. For he caused it to be ham- 
mered into Buckingham's head, that, whensoever the King or his 
brother should have able years to exercise their power, they would 
take a most severe revenge of that cureless wrong, offered to their 
uncle and brother, Rivers and Grey. 

But this was not his manner of reasoning with Hastings, whose 
fidelity to his master's sons was without suspect: and yet the Devil, 
who never dissuades by impossibility, taught him to try him. And 
so he did. But when he found by Catesby, who sounded him, that 
he was not fordable; he first resolved to kill him sitting in council: 
wherein having failed with his sword, he set the hangman upon 
him, with a weapon of more weight. And because nothing else 
could move his appetite, he caused his head to be stricken off, before 
he ate his dinner. A greater judgment of God than this upon Hast- 
ings, I have never observed in any story. For the selfsame day that 
the Earl Rivers, Grey, and others, were (without trial of law, of 
offence given) by Hastings' advice executed at Pomfret: I say Hast- 
ings himself in the same day, and (as I take it) in the same hour, in 
the same lawless manner had his head stricken off in the Tower of 
London. But Buckingham lived a while longer; and with an 
eloquent oration persuaded the Londoners to elect Richard for their 
king. And having received the Earldom of Hereford for reward, 
besides the high hope of marrying his daughter to the King's only 
son; after many grievous vexations of mind, and unfortunate 
attempts, being in the end betrayed and delivered up by his trustiest 
servant; he had his head severed from his body at Salisbury, without 
the trouble of any of his Peers. And what success had Richard 
himself after all these mischiefs and murders, policies, and counter- 
policies to Christian religion: and after such time as with a most 
merciless hand he had pressed out the breath of his nephews and 
natural lords; other than the prosperity of so short a life, as it took 
end, ere himself could well look over and discern it.' The great 


outcry of innocent blood, obtained at God's hands the effusion of 
his; who became a spectacle of shame and dishonor, both to his 
friends and enemies. 

This cruel King, Henry the Seventh cut off; and was therein (no 
doubt) the immediate instrument of God's justice. A politic Prince 
he was if ever there were any, who by the engine of his wisdom, beat 
down and overturned as many strong oppositions both before and 
after he wore the Crown, as ever King of England did: I say by his 
wisdom, because as he ever left the reins of his affections in the hands 
of his profit, so he always weighed his undertakings by his abilities, 
leaving nothing more to hazard than so much as cannot be denied it 
in all human actions. He had well observed the proceedings of 
Louis the Eleventh, whom he followed in all that was royal or 
royal-like, but he was far more just, and begun not their processes 
whom he hated or feared by the execution, as Louis did. 

He could never endure any mediation in rewarding his servants, 
and therein exceeding wise; for whatsoever himself gave, he himself 
received back the thanks and the love, knowing it well that the affec- 
tions of men (purchased by nothing so readily as by benefits) were 
trains that better became great kings, than great subjects. On the 
contrary, in whatsoever he grieved his subjects, he wisely put it off 
on those, that he found fit ministers for such actions. Howsoever the 
taking off of Stanley's head, who set the Crown on his, and the death 
of the young Earl of Warwick, son to George, Duke of Clarence, 
shows, as the success also did, that he held somewhat of the errors 
of his ancestors; for his possession in the first line ended in his 
grandchildren, as that of Edward the Third and Henry the Fourth 
had done. 

Now for King Henry the Eighth; if all the pictures and patterns 
of a merciless prince were lost in the world, they might all again be 
painted to the life, out of the story of this king. For how many 
servants did he advance in haste (but for what virtue no man could 
suspect) and with the change of his fancy ruined again; no man 
knowing for what offence? To how many others of more desert 
gave he abundant flowers from whence to gather honey, and in the 
end of harvest burnt them in the hive ? How many wives did he cut 
off, and cast off, as his fancy and affection changed? How many 


princes of the blood (whereof some of them for age could hardly 
crawl towards the block) with a world of others of all degrees (of 
whom our common chronicles have kept the account) did he exe- 
cute? Yea, in his very death-bed, and when he was at the point to 
have given his account to God for the abundance of blood already 
spilt, he imprisoned the Duke of Norfolk the father; and executed 
the Earl of Surrey the son; the one, whose deservings he knew not 
how to value, having never omitted anything that concerned his own 
honor, and the King's service; the other never having committed 
anything worthy of his least displeasure: the one exceeding valiant 
and advised; the other no less valiant than learned, and of excellent 
hope. But besides the sorrows which he heaped upon the fatherless 
and widows at home: and besides the vain enterprises abroad, where- 
in it is thought that he consumed more treasure than all our 
victorious kings did in their several conquests; what causeless and 
cruel wars did he make upon his own nephew King James the First ? 
What laws and wills did he devise to cut off, and cut down those 
branches, which sprang from the same root that himself did? And 
in the end (notwithstanding these his so many irreligious provisions) 
it pleased God to take away all his own, without increase; though, 
for themselves in their several kinds, all princes of eminent virtue. 
For these words of Samuel to Agag King of the Amalekites, have 
been verified upon many others: "As thy sword hath made other 
women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among other 
women." And that blood which the same King Henry affirmed, 
that the cold air of Scotland had frozen up in the North, God hath 
diffused by the sunshine of his grace: from whence his Majesty now 
living, and long to live, is descended. Of whom I may say it truly, 
"That if all the malice of the world were infused into one eye: yet 
could it not discern in his life, even to this day, any one of these foul 
spots, by which the consciences of all the forenamed princes (in 
effect) have been defiled; nor any drop of that innocent blood on the 
sword of his justice, with which the most that fore- went him have 
stained both their hands and fame. And for this Crown of England; 
it may truly be avowed: that he hath received it even from the hand 
of God, and hath stayed the time of putting it on, howsoever he were 
provoked to hasten it: that he never took revenge of any man, that 


sought to put him beside it; that he refused the assistance of Her 
enemies, that wore it long, with as great glory as ever princess did : 
that his Majesty entered not by a breach, nor by blood; but by the 
ordinary gate, which his own right set open; and into which, by a 
general love and obedience, he was received. And howsoever his 
Majesty's preceding title to this Kingdom was preferred by many 
princes (witness the Treaty at Cambray in the year 1559) yet he 
never pleased to dispute it, during the life of that renowned lady his 
predecessor; no, notwithstanding the injury of not being declared 
heir, in all the time of her long reign. 

Neither ought we to forget, or neglect our thankfulness to God 
for the uniting of the northern parts of Britain to the south, to wit, 
of Scotland to England, which though they were severed but by 
small brooks and banks, yet by reason of the long continued war, 
and the cruelties exercised upon each other, in the affections of the 
nations, they were infinitely severed. This I say is not the least of 
God's blessings which his Majesty hath brought with him unto this 
land : no, put all our petty grievances together, and heap them up to 
their height, they will appear but as a molehill compared with the 
mountain of this concord. And if all the historians since then have 
acknowledged the uniting of the Red Rose, and the White, for the 
greatest happiness (Christian Religion excepted), that ever this 
kingdom received from God, certainly the peace between the two 
lions of gold and gules, and the making them one, doth by many 
degrees exceed the former; for by it, besides the sparing of our 
British blood, heretofore and during the difference, so often and 
abundantly shed, the state of England is more assured, the kingdom 
more enabled to recover her ancient honor and rights, and by it 
made more invincible, than by all our former alliances, practices, 
policies, and conquests. It is true that hereof we do not yet find the 
effect. But had the Duke of Parma in the year 1588, joined the army 
which he commanded, with that of Spain, and landed it on the south 
coast; and had his Majesty at the same time declared himself against 
us in the North : it is easy to divine what had become of the liberty 
of England, certainly we would then without murmur have bought 
this union at far greater price than it hath since cost us. It is true, 
that there was never any common weal or kingdom in the world, 


wherein no man had cause to lament. Kings live in the world, and 
not above it. They are not infinite to examine every man's cause, or 
to relieve every man's wants. And yet in the latter (though to his 
own prejudice), his Majesty hath had more comparison of other 
men's necessities, than of his own coffers. Of whom it may be said, 
as of Solomon,' "Dedit Deus Solomoni latitudinem cordis": Which if 
other men do not understand with Pineda, to be meant by liberality, 
but by "latitude of knowledge"; yet may it be better spoken of His 
Majesty, than of any king that ever England had; who as well in 
divine, as human understanding, hath exceeded all that fore-went 
him, by many degrees. 

I could say much more of the ELing's majesty, without flattery: 
did I not fear the imputation of presumption, and withal suspect, that 
it might befall these papers of mine (though the loss were little) 
as it did the pictures of Queen Elizabeth, made by unskilful and 
common painters, which by her own commandment were knocked 
in pieces and cast into the fire. For ill artists, in setting out the beauty 
of the external; and weak writers, in describing the virtues of the 
internal; do often leave to posterity, of well formed faces a deformed 
memory; and of the most perfect and princely minds, a most defec- 
tive representation. It may suffice, and there needs no other dis- 
course; if the honest reader but compare the cruel and turbulent 
passages of our former kings, and of other their neighbor-princes (of 
whom for that purpose I have inserted this brief discourse) with his 
Majesty's temperate, revengeless and liberal disposition: I say, that 
if the honest reader weigh them justly, and with an even hand; 
and withal but bestow every deformed child on his true parent; he 
shall find, that there is no man that hath so just cause to complain, 
as the King himself hath. Now as we have told the success of the 
trumperies and cruelties of our own kings, and other great person- 
ages: so we find, that God is everywhere the same God. And as it 
pleased him to punish the usurpation, and unnatural cruelty of 
Henry the First, and of our third Edward, in their children for 
many generations: so dealt He with the sons of Louis Debonnaire, 
the son of Charles the Great, or Charlemagne. For after such time 
as Debonnaire of France, had torn out the eyes of Bernard his 
' "God gave to Solomon largeness of heart." — i Kings iv. 29. 


nephew, the son of Pepin the eldest son of Charlemagne, and heir of 
the Empire, and then caused him to die in prison, as did our Henry 
to Robert his eldest brother: there followed nothing but murders 
upon murders, poisoning, imprisonments, and civil war; till the 
whole race of that famous Emperor was extinguished. And though 
Debonnaire, after he had rid himself of his nephew by a violent 
death; and of his bastard brothers by a civil death (having inclosed 
them with sure guard, all the days of their lives, within a monastery) 
held himself secure from all opposition: yet God raised up against 
him (which he suspected not) his own sons, to vex him, to invade 
him, to take him prisoner, and to depose him; his own sons, with 
whom (to satisfy their ambition) he had shared his estate, and given 
them crowns to wear, and kingdoms to govern, during his own life. 
Yea his eldest son, Lothair (for he had four, three by his first wife, 
and one by his second; to wit, Lothair, Pepin, Louis, and Charles), 
made it the cause of his deposition, that he had used violence towards 
his brothers and kinsmen; and that he had suffered his nephew 
(whom he might have delivered) to be slain. "Eo quod," saith the 
text,' "fratribus, et propinquis violentiam intulerit, et nepotem suum, 
quem ipse liberare poterat, interfici permiserit": "Because he used 
violence to his brothers and kinsmen, and suffered his nephew to 
be slain whom he might have delivered." 

Yet did he that which few kings do; namely, repent him of his 
cruelty. For, among many other things which he performed in the 
General Assembly of the States, it follows: "Post haec autem palam 
se errasse confessus, et imitatus Imperatoris Theodosii exemplum, 
poenitentiam spontaneam suscepit, tam de his, quam quae in 
Bernardum proprium nepotem gesserat": "After this he did openly 
confess himself to have erred, and following the example of the 
Emperor Theodosius, he underwent voluntary penance, as well 
for his other offences, as for that which he had done against Bernard 
his own nephew." 

This he did; and it was praise-worthy. But the blood that is 
unjustly spilt, is not again gathered up from the ground by repent- 
ance. These medicines, ministered to the dead, have but dead 

^ Step. Pasquiere, Recherches, lib. v. cap. i. 


This king, as I have said, had four sons. To Lothair his eldest 
he gave the Kingdom of Italy; as Charlemagne, his father, had 
done to Pepin, the father of Bernard, who was to succeed him in the 
Empire. To Pepin the second son he gave the Kingdom of Aqui- 
taine: to Louis, the Kingdom of Bavaria: and to Charles, whom he 
had by a second wife called Judith, the remainder of the Kingdom 
of France. But this second wife, being a mother-in-law' to the rest, 
persuaded Debonnaire to cast his son Pepin out of Aquitaine, thereby 
to greaten Charles, which, after the death of his son Pepin, he prose- 
cuted to effect, against his grandchild bearing the same name. In 
the meanwhile, being invaded by his son Louis of Bavaria, he dies 
for grief. 

Debonnaire dead, Louis of Bavaria, and Charles afterwards called 
the Bald, and their nephew Pepin, of Aquitaine, join in league 
against the Emperor Lothair their eldest brother. They fight near 
to Auxerre the most bloody battle that ever was stroken in France: 
in which, the marvellous loss of nobility, and men of war, gave 
courage to the Saracens to invade Italy; to the Huns to fall upon 
Almaine; and the Danes to enter upon Normandy. Charles the 
Bald by treason seizeth upon his nephew Pepin, kills him in a 
cloister: Carloman rebels against his father, Charles the Bald; the 
father burns out the eyes of his son Carloman; Bavaria invades the 
Emperor Lothair his brother, Lothair quits the Empire, he is 
assailed and wounded to the heart by his own conscience, for his 
rebellion against his father, and for his other cruelties, and dies in a 
monastery. Charles the Bald, the uncle, oppresseth his nephews 
the sons of Lothair, he usurpeth the Empire to the prejudice of 
Louis of Bavaria his elder brother; Bavaria's armies and his son 
Carloman are beaten, he dies of grief, and the usurper Charles is 
poisoned by Zedechias a Jew, his physician, his son Louis le Begue 
dies of the same drink. Begue had Charles the Simple and two 
bastards, Louis and Carloman; they rebel against their brother, but 
the eldest breaks his neck, the younger is slain by a wild boar; the 
son of Bavaria had the same ill destiny, and brake his neck by a fall 
out of a window in sporting with his companions. Charles the 

* Step-mother. 


Gross becomes lord o£ all that the sons o£ Debonnaire held in 
Germany; wherewith not contented, he invades Charles the Simple: 
but being forsaken of his nobility, of his wife, and of his under- 
standing, he dies a distracted beggar. Charles the Simple is held in 
wardship by Eudes, Mayor of the Palace, then by Robert the brother 
of Eudes: and lastly, being taken by the Earl of Vermandois, he is 
forced to die in the prison of Peron. Louis the son of Charles the 
Simple breaks his neck in chasing a wolf, and of the two sons of this 
Louis, the one dies of poison, the other dies in the prison of Orleans; 
after whom Hugh Capet, of another race, and a stranger to the 
French, makes himself king. 

These miserable ends had the issues of Debonnaire, who after he 
had once apparelled injustice with authority, his sons and successors 
took up the fashion, and wore that garment so long without other 
provision, as when the same was torn from their shoulders, every 
man despised them as miserable and naked beggars. The wretched 
success they had (saith a learned Frenchman) shows, "que en ceste 
mort il y avait plus du fait des hommes que de Dieu, ou de la 
justice": "that in the death of that Prince, to wit, of Bernard the son 
of Pepin, the true heir of Charlemagne, men had more meddling 
than either God or justice had." 

But to come nearer home; it is certain that Francis the First, one 
of the worthiest kings (except for that fact) that ever Frenchmen 
had, did never enjoy himself, after he had commended the destruc- 
tion of the Protestants of Mirandol and Cabrieres, to the Parliament 
of Provence, which poor people were thereupon burnt and mur- 
dered; men, women, and children. It is true that the said King 
Francis repented himself of the fact, and gave charge to Henry his 
son, to do justice upon the murderers, threatening his son with God's 
judgments, if he neglected it. But this unseasonable care of his, 
God was not pleased to accept for payment. For after Henry himself 
was slain in sport by Montgomery, we all may remember what 
became of his four sons, Francis, Charles, Henry, and Hercules. Of 
which although three of them became kings, and were married to 
beautiful and virtuous ladies: yet were they, one after another, cast 
out of the world, without stock or seed. And notwithstanding their 


subtility, and breach of faith; with all their massacres upon those of 
the religion,^ and great effusion of blood, the crown was set on his 
head, whom they all labored to dissolve; the Protestants remain 
more in number than ever they were, and hold to this day more 
strong cities than ever they had. 

Let us now see if God be not the same God in Spain, as in England 
and France. Towards whom we will look no further back than to 
Don Pedro of Castile: in respect of which Prince, all the tyrants of 
Sicil, our Richard the Third, and the great Ivan Vasilowich of 
Moscow, were but petty ones: this Castilian, of all Christian and 
heathen kings, having been the most merciless. For, besides those 
of his own blood and nobility, which he caused to be slain in his 
own court and chamber, as Sancho Ruis, the great master of Cala- 
trava, Ruis Gonsales, Alphonso Tello, and Don John of Arragon, 
whom he cut in pieces and cast into the streets, denying him 
Christian burial: I say, besides these, and the slaughter of Gomes 
Mauriques, Diego Peres, Alphonso Gomes, and the great commander 
of Castile; he made away the two infants of Arragon his cousin 
germans, his brother Don Frederick, Don John de la Cerde, Albu- 
quergues, Nugnes de Guzman, Cornel, Cabrera, Tenorio, Mendes 
de Toledo, Guttiere his great treasurer and all his kindred; and a 
world of others. Neither did he spare his two youngest brothers, 
innocent princes : whom after he had kept in close prison from their 
cradles, till one of them had lived sixteen years, and the other 
fourteen, he murdered them there. Nay, he spared not his mother, 
nor his wife the Lady Blanche of Bourbon. Lastly, as he caused the 
Archbishop of Toledo, and the Dean to be killed of purpose to enjoy 
their treasures; so did he put to death Mahomet Aben Alhamar, 
King of Barbary, with thirty-seven of his nobility, that came unto 
him for succor, with a great sum of money, to levy (by his favor) 
some companies of soldiers to return withal. Yea, he would needs 
assist the hangman with his own hand, in the execution of the old 
king; in so much as Pope Urban declareth him an enemy both to 
God and man. But what was his end? Having been formerly 
beaten out of his kingdom, and re-established by the valor of the 
English nation, led by the famous Duke of Lancaster: he was 

'7. e.. Protestantism. 


Stabbed to death by his younger brother, the Earl of Astramara, who 
dispossessed all his children of their inheritance; which, but for the 
father's injustice and cruelty, had never been in danger of any such 

If we can parallel any man with this king, it must be Duke John 
of Burgogne, who, after his traitorous murder of the Duke of 
Orleans, caused the Constable of Armagnac, the Chancellor of 
France, the Bishops of Constance, Bayeux, Eureux, Senlis, Saintes, 
and other religious and reverend Churchmen, the Earl of Gran 
Pre, Hector of Chartres, and (in effect) all the officers of justice, of 
the Chamber of Accounts, Treasury, and Request, (with sixteen 
hundred others to accompany them) to be suddenly and violently 
slain. Hereby, while he hoped to govern, and to have mastered 
France, he was soon after struck with an axe in the face, in the 
presence of the Dauphin; and, without any leisure to repent his 
misdeeds, presently'" slain. These were the lovers of other men's 
miseries: and misery found them out. 

Now for the kings of Spain, which lived both with Henry the 
Seventh, Henry the Eighth, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth; 
Ferdinand of Arragon was the first: and the first that laid the 
foundation of the present Austrian greatness. For this King did not 
content himself to hold Arragon by the usurpation of his ancestor; 
and to fasten thereunto the Kingdom of Castile and Leon, which 
Isabel his wife held by strong hand, and his assistance, from her own 
niece the daughter of the last Henry: but most cruelly and craftily, 
without all color or pretence of right, he also cast his own niece out 
of the Kingdom of Navarre, and, contrary to faith, and the promise 
that he made to restore it, fortified the best places, and so wasted 
the rest, as there was no means left for any army to invade it. This 
King, I say, that betrayed also Ferdinand and Frederick, Kings of 
Naples, princes of his own blood, and by double alliance tied unto 
him; sold them to the French: and with the same army, sent for 
their succor under Gonsalvo, cast them out; and shared their king- 
dom with the French, whom afterwards he most shamefully be- 

This wise and politic King, who sold Heaven and his own honor, 

"> Instantly. 


to make his son, the Prince of Spain, the greatest monarch of the 
world; saw him die in the flower of his years; and his wife great 
with child, with her untimely birth, at once and together buried. 
His eldest daughter married unto Don Alphonso, Prince of Portugal, 
beheld her first husband break his neck in her presence; and being 
with child by her second, died with it. A just judgment of God 
upon the race of John, father to Alphonso, now wholly extinguished; 
who had not only left many disconsolate mothers in Portgual, by the 
slaughter of their children; but had formerly slain with his own 
hand, the son and only comfort of his aunt the Lady Beatrix, 
Duchess of Viseo. 

The second daughter of Ferdinand, married to the Arch-Duke 
Philip, turned fool, and died mad and deprived." His third daugh- 
ter, bestowed on King Henry the Eighth, he saw cast off by the 
King: the mother of many troubles in England; and the mother of 
a daughter, that in her unhappy zeal shed a world of innocent blood; 
lost Calais to the French; and died heartbroken without increase. To 
conclude, all those kingdoms of Ferdinand have masters of a new 
name; and by a strange family are governed and possessed. 

Charles the Fifth, son to the Arch-Duke Philip, in whose vain 
enterprises upon the French, upon the Almains, and other princes 
and states, so many multitudes of Christian soldiers, and renowned 
captains were consumed; who gave the while a most perilous 
entrance to the Turks, and suffered Rhodes, the Key of Christendom, 
to be taken; was in conclusion chased out of France, and in a sort 
out of Germany; and left to the French, Mentz, Toule, and Verdun, 
places belonging to the Empire, stole away from Inspurg; and scaled 
the Alps by torchlight, pursued by Duke Maurice; having hoped to 
swallow up all those dominions wherein he concocted nothing save 
his own disgraces. And having, after the slaughter of so many 
millions of men, no one foot of ground in either: he crept into a 
cloister, and made himself a pensioner of an hundred thousand 
ducats by the year, to his son Philip, from whom he very slowly 
received his mean and ordinary maintenance. 

His son again King Philip the Second, not satisfied to hold 
Holland and Zeeland, (wrested by his ancestors from Jacqueline 

" Dispossessed. 


their lawful Princess) and to possess in peace many other provinces 
of the Netherlands: persuaded by that mischievous Cardinal of 
Granvile, and other Romish tyrants; not only forgot the most 
remarkable services done to his father the Emperor by the nobihties 
of those countries, not only forgot the present made him upon his 
entry, of forty millions of florins, called the "Novaile aide"; nor 
only forgot that he had twice most solemnly sworn to the General 
States, to maintain and preserve their ancient rights, privileges, and 
customs, which they had enjoyed under their thirty and five earls 
before him. Conditional Princes of those provinces: but beginning 
first to constrain them, and enthrall them by the Spanish Inquisition, 
and then to impoverish them by many new devised and intolerable 
impositions; he lastly, by strong hand and main force, attempted to 
make himself not only an absolute monarch over them, like unto the 
kings and sovereigns of England and France; but Turk-like to 
tread under his feet all their natural and fundamental laws, privi- 
leges, and ancient rights. To effect which, after he had easily obtained 
from the Pope a dispensation of his former oaths (which dispensa- 
tion was the true cause of the war and bloodshed since then;) and 
after he had tried what he could perform, by dividing of their own 
nobility, under the government of his base sister Margaret of Austria, 
and the Cardinal Granvile; he employed that most merciless Span- 
iard Don Ferdinand Alvarez of Toledo, Duke of Alva, followed 
with a powerful army of strange nations: by whom he first slaugh- 
tered that renowned captain, the Earl of Egmont, Prince of Gavare: 
and Philip Montmorency, Earl of Horn: made away Montigue, 
and the Marquis of Bergues, and cut off in those six years (that Alva 
governed) of gentlemen and others, eighteen thousand and six 
hundred, by the hands of the hangman, besides all his other bar- 
barous murders and massacres. By whose ministry when he could 
not yet bring his affairs to their wished ends, having it in his hope to 
work that by subtiUty, which he had failed to perform by force; 
he sent for governor his bastard brother Don John of Austria, a 
prince of great hope, and very gracious to those people. But he, 
using the same papal advantage that his predecessors had done, made 
no scruple to take oath upon the Holy Evangelists, to observe the 
treaty made with the General States; and to discharge the Low 


Countries of all Spaniards, and other strangers therein garrisoned: 
towards whose pay and passport, the Netherlands strained them- 
selves to make payment of six hundred thousand pounds. Which 
monies received, he suddenly surprised the citadels of Antwerp and 
Nemours: not doubting (being unsuspected by the states) to have 
possessed himself of all the mastering places of those provinces. For 
whatsoever he overtly pretended, he held in secret a contrary counsel 
with the Secretary Escovedo, Rhodus, Barlemont, and others, min- 
isters of the Spanish tyranny, formerly practised, and now again 
intended. But let us now see the effect and end of this perjury and of 
all other the Duke's cruelties. First, for himself, after he had 
murdered so many of the nobility; executed (as aforesaid) eighteen 
thousand and six hundred in six years, and most cruelly slain man, 
woman, and child, in Mechlin, Zutphen, Naerden, and other places: 
notwithstanding his Spanish vaunt, that he would suffocate the 
Hollanders in their own butter-barrels, and milk-tubs; he departed 
the country no otherwise accompanied, than with the curse and 
detestation of the whole nation; leaving his master's affairs in a 
tenfold worse estate, than he found them at his first arrival. For Don 
John, whose haughty conceit of himself overcame the greatest diffi- 
culties; though his judgment were over-weak to manage the least: 
what wonders did his fearful breach of faith bring forth, other than 
the King his brother's jealousy and distrust, with the untimely death 
that seized him, even in the flower of his youth ? And for Escovedo 
his sharp-witted secretary, who in his own imagination had con- 
quered for his master both England and the Netherlands; being sent 
into Spain upon some new project, he was at the first arrival, and 
before any access to the King, by certain ruffians appointed by 
Anthony Peres (though by better warrant than his) rudely murdered 
in his own lodging. Lastly, if we consider the King of Spain's 
carriage, his counsel and success in this business, there is nothing 
left to the memory of man more remarkable. For he hath paid 
above an hundred millions, and the lives of above four hundred 
thousand Christians, for the loss of all those countries; which, for 
beauty, gave place to none; and for revenue, did equal his West 
Indies: for the loss of a nation which most willingly obeyed him; 
and who at this day, after forty years war, are in despite of all his 


forces become a free estate, and far more rich and powerful than 
they were, when he first began to impoverish and oppress them. 

Oh, by what plots, by what forswearings, betrayings, oppressions, 
imprisonments, tortures, poisonings, and under what reasons of 
state, and politic subtlety, have these forenamed kings, both strangers, 
and of our own nation, pulled the vengeance of God upon them- 
selves, upon theirs, and upon their prudent ministers! and in the 
end have brought those things to pass for their enemies, and seen an 
effect so directly contrary to all their own counsels and cruelties; as 
the one could never have hoped for themselves; and the other never 
have succeeded; if no such opposition had ever been made. God 
hath said it and performed it ever: "Perdam sapientiam sapientum"; 
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise." 

. But what of all this ? and to what end do we lay before the eyes of 
the living, the fall and fortunes of the dead: seeing the world is the 
same that it hath been; and the children of the present time, will 
still obey their parents? It is in the present time that all the wits of 
the world are exercised. To hold the times we have, we hold all 
things lawful: and either we hope to hold them forever; or at least 
we hope that there is nothing after them to be hoped for. For as we 
are content to forget our own experience, and to counterfeit the 
ignorance of our own knowledge, in all things that concern our- 
selves; or persuade ourselves, that God hath given us letters patents 
to pursue all our irreligious affections, with a "non obstante"'^ so 
we neither look behind us what hath been, nor before us what shall 
be. It is true, that the quantity which we have, is of the body : we are 
by it joined to the earth: we are compounded of earth; and we 
inhabit it. The Heavens are high, far off, and unsearchable: we 
have sense and feeling of corporal things; and of eternal grace, but 
by revelation. No marvel then that our thoughts are also earthly: 
and it is less to be wondered at, that the words of worthless men can 
not cleanse them: seeing their doctrine and instruction, whose under- 
standing the Holy Ghost vouchsafed to inhabit, have not performed 
it. For as the Prophet Isaiah cried out long ago, "Lord, who hath 
believed our reports?" And out of doubt, as Isaiah complained then 
for himself and others: so are they less believed, every day after 

'^ "Nothing hindering." 


Other. For although reHgion, and the truth thereof be in every man's 
mouth, yea, in the discourse of every woman, who for the greatest 
number are but idols of vanity: what is it other than an universal 
dissimulation? We profess that we know God: but by works we 
deny him. For beatitude doth not consist in the knowledge of 
divine things, but in a divine life: for the Devils know them better 
than men. "Beatitudo non est divinorum cognitio, sed vita divina." 
And certainly there is nothing more to be admired, and more to be 
lamented, than the private contention, the passionate dispute, the 
personal hatred, and the perpetual war, massacres, and murders for 
religion among Christians: the discourse whereof hath so occupied 
the world, as it hath well near driven the practice thereof out of the 
world. Who would not soon resolve, that took knowledge but of the 
religious disputations among men, and not of their lives which 
dispute, that there were no other thing in their desires, than the 
purchase of Heaven; and that the world itself were but used as it 
ought, and as an inn or place, wherein to repose ourselves in passing 
on towards our celestial habitation? when on the contrary, besides 
the discourse and outward profession, the soul hath nothing but 
hypocrisy. We are all (in effect) become comedians in religion : and 
while we act in gesture and voice, divine virtues, in all the course of 
our lives we renounce our persons, and the parts we play. For 
Charity, Justice, and Truth have but their being in terms, like the 
philosopher's Materia prima. 

Neither is it that wisdom, which Solomon defineth to be the 
"Schoolmistress of the knowledge of God," that hath valuation in the 
world: it is enough that we give it our good word: but the same 
which is altogether exercised in the service of the world as the 
gathering of riches chiefly, by which we purchase and obtain honor, 
with the many respects which attend it. These indeed be the marks, 
which (when we have bent our consciences to the highest) we all 
shoot at. For the obtaining whereof it is true, that the care is our 
own; the care our own in this life, the peril our own in the future: 
and yet when we have gathered the greatest abundance, we ourselves 
enjoy no more thereof, than so much as belongs to one man. For 
the rest, he that had the greatest wisdom and the greatest ability that 
ever man had, hath told us that this is the use: "When goods increase 


(saith Solomon) they also increase that eat them; and what good 
Cometh to the owners, but the beholding thereof with their eyes? 
As for those that devour the rest, and follow us in fair weather : they 
again forsake us in the first tempest of misfortune, and steer away 
before the sea and wind; leaving us to the malice of our destinies. 
Of these, among a thousand examples, I will take but one out of 
Master Danner, and use his own words: "Whilest the Emperor 
Charles the Fifth, after the resignation of his estates, stayed at 
Flushing for wind, to carry him his last journey into Spain; he con- 
ferred on a time with Seldius, his brother Ferdinand's Ambassador, 
till the deep of the night. And when Seldius should depart, the 
Emperor calling for some of his servants, and nobody answering 
him (for those that attended upon him, were some gone to their 
lodgings, and all the rest asleep), the Emperor took up the candle 
himself, and went before Seldius to light him down the stairs; and 
so did, notwithstanding all the resistance that Seldius could make. 
And when he was come to the stair's foot, he said thus unto him: 
"Seldius, remember this of Charles the Emperor, when he shall be 
dead and gone, that him, whom thou hast known in thy time en- 
vironed with so many mighty armies and guards of soldiers, thou 
hast also seen alone, abandoned, and forsaken, yea even of his own 
domestical servants, &c. I acknowledge this change of Fortune to 
proceed from the mighty hand of God, which I will by no means 
go about to withstand." 

But you will say, that there are some things else, and of greater 
regard than the former. The first is the reverend respect that is held 
of great men, and the honor done unto them by all sorts of people. 
And it is true indeed: provided, that an inward love for their justice 
and piety accompany the outward worship given to their places and 
power; without which what is the applause of the multitude, but 
as the outcry of an herd of animals, who without the knowledge of 
any true cause, please themselves with the noise they make? For 
seeing it is a thing exceeding rare, to distinguish Virtue and Fortune : 
the most impious (if prosperous) have ever been applauded; the 
most virtuous (if unprosperous) have ever been despised. For as 
Fortune's man rides the horse, so Fortune herself rides the man; 
who when he is descended and on foot, the man taken from his 


beast, and Fortune from the man, a base groom beats the one, and 
a bitter contempt spurns at the other, with equal hberty. 

The second is the greatening of our posterity, and the contempla- 
tion of their glory whom we leave behind us. Certainly, of those 
which conceive that their souls departed take any comfort therein, 
it may be truly said of them, which Lactantius spake of certain 
heathen philosophers, "quod sapientes sunt in re stulta." " For when 
our spirits immortal shall be once separate from our mortal bodies, 
and disposed by God; there remaineth in them no other joy of their 
posterity which succeed, than there doth of pride in that stone, which 
sleepeth in the wall of the king's palace; nor any other sorrow for 
their poverty, than there doth of shame in that, which beareth up a 
beggar's cottage. "Nesciunt mortui, etiam sancti, quid agunt vivi, 
etiam eorum filii, quia animae mortuorum rebus viventium non 
intersunt": "The dead, though holy, know nothing of the living, no, 
not of their own children: for the souls of those departed, are not 
conversant with their affairs that remain." '* And if we doubt of St. 
Augustine, we can not of Job; who tells us, "That we know not if 
our sons shall be honorable: neither shall we understand concerning 
them, whether they shall be of low degree." Which Ecclesiastes also 
confirmeth: "Man walketh in a shadow, and disquieteth himself in 
vain: he heapeth up riches, and can not tell who shall gather them. 
The living (saith he) know that they shall die, but the dead know 
nothing at all: for who can show unto man what shall be after him 
under the sun?" He therefore accounteth it among the rest of 
worldly vanities, to labor and travail in the world; not knowing 
after death whether a fool or a wise man should enjoy the fruits 
thereof: "which made me (saith he) endeavor even to abhor mine 
own labor." And what can other men hope, whose blessed or sorrow- 
ful estates after death God hath reserved? man's knowledge lying 
but in his hope, seeing the Prophet Isaiah confesseth of the elect, 
"That Abraham is ignorant of us, and Israel knows us not." But 
hereof we are assured, that the long and dark night of death (of 
whose following day we shall never behold the dawn till his return 
that hath triumphed over it), shall cover us over till the world be 

" "That they are wise in a foolish matter." — Lactantius, De falsa sapientia, 3, 29. 
'* Augustine, De cura pro morte. 


no more. After which, and when we shall again receive organs 
glorified and incorruptible, the seats of angelical affections, in so 
great admiration shall the souls of the blessed be exercised, as they 
can not admit the mixture of any second or less joy; nor any return 
of foregone and mortal affection towards friends, kindred, or chil- 
dren. Of whom whether we shall retain any particular knowledge, 
or in any sort distinguish them, no man can assure us; and the wisest 
men doubt. But on the contrary, if a divine life retain any of those 
faculties which the soul exercised in a mortal body, we shall not at 
that time so divide the joys of Heaven, as to cast any part thereof 
on the memory of their felicities which remain in the world. No, be 
their estates greater than ever the world gave, we shall (by the 
difference known unto us) even detest their consideration. And 
whatsoever comfort shall remain of all forepast, the same will consist 
in the charity which we exercised living; and in that piety, justice, 
and firm faith, for which it pleased the infinite mercy of God to 
accept of us, and receive us. Shall we therefore value honor and 
riches at nothing ? and neglect them, as unnecessary and vain ? Cer- 
tainly no. For that infinite wisdom of God, which hath distinguished 
his angels by degrees; which hath given greater and less light and 
beauty to heavenly bodies; which hath made differences between 
beasts and birds; created the eagle and the fly, the cedar and the 
shrub; and among stones, given the fairest tincture to the ruby, and 
the quickest light to the diamond; hath also ordained kings, dukes, 
or leaders of the people, magistrates, judges, and other degrees among 
men. And as honor is left to posterity, for a mark and ensign of the 
virtue and understanding of their ancestors: so (seeing Siracides 
preferreth death before beggary: and that titles, without propor- 
tionable estates, fall under the miserable succor of other men's pity) 
I account it foolishness to condemn such a care: provided, that 
worldly goods be well gotten, and that we raise not our own build- 
ings out of other men's ruins. For, as Plato doth first prefer the 
perfection of bodily health; secondly, the form and beauty; and 
thirdly, "Divitias nulla fraude quaesitas":" so Jeremiah cries, "Woe 
unto them that erect their houses by unrighteousness, and their 
chambers without equity": and Isaiah the same, "Woe to those that 

'5 "Wealth acquired without fraud." 


spoil and were not spoiled." And it was out o£ the true wisdom of 
Solomon, that he commandeth us, "not to drink the wine of violence; 
not to lie in wait for blood, and not to swallow them up alive, whose 
riches we covet: for such are the ways (saith he) of everyone that is 
greedy of gain." 

And if we could afford ourselves but so much leisure as to consider, 
that he which hath most in the world, hath, in respect of the world, 
nothing in it: and that he which hath the longest time lent him to 
live in it, hath yet no proportion at all therein, setting it either by that 
which is past, when we were not, or by that time which is to come, 
in which we shall abide forever : I say, if both, to wit, our proportion 
in the world, and our time in the world, differ not much from that 
which is nothing; it is not out of any excellency of understanding, 
that we so much prize the one, which hath (in effect) no being: and 
so much neglect the other, which hath no ending: coveting those 
mortal things of the world, as if our souls were therein immortal; 
and neglecting those things which are immortal, as if ourselves 
after the world were but mortal. 

But let every man value his own wisdom, as he pleaseth. Let the 
rich man think all fools, that cannot equal his abundance: the 
revenger esteem all negligent, that have not trodden down their 
opposites; the politician, all gross that cannot merchandise their 
faith: yet when we once come in sight of the port of death, to which 
all winds drive us, and when by letting fall that fatal anchor, which 
can never be weighed again, the navigation of this life takes end; 
then it is, I say, that our own cogitations (those sad and severe cogi- 
tations, formerly beaten from us by our health and felicity) return 
again, and pay us to the uttermost for all the pleasing passages of 
our lives past. It is then that we cry out to God for mercy; then when 
our selves can no longer exercise cruelty to others; and it is only 
then, that we are strucken through the soul with this terrible sen- 
tence, "That God will not be mocked." For if according to St. 
Peter, "The righteous scarcely be saved: and that God spared not 
his angels"; where shall those appear, who, having served their 
appetites all their lives, presume to think, that the severe command- 
ments of the all-powerful God were given but in sport; and that 
the short breath, which we draw when death presseth us, if we can 


but fashion it to the sound of mercy (without any kind of satisfac- 
tion or amends) is sufficient? "O quam multi," saith a reverend 
father, "cum hac spe ad aeternos labores et bella descendunt!" " I 
confess that it is a great comfort to our friends, to have it said, that 
we ended well; for we all desire (as Balaam did) "to die the death 
of the righteous." But what shall we call a disesteeming, an oppos- 
ing, or (indeed) a mocking of God : if those men do not oppose Him, 
disesteem Him, and mock Him, that think it enough for God, to 
ask Him forgiveness at leisure, with the remainder and last draw- 
ing of a malicious breath? For what do they otherwise, that die 
this kind of well-dying, but say unto God as foUoweth? "We be- 
seech Thee, O God, that all the falsehoods, forswearings, and treach- 
eries of our lives past, may be pleasing unto Thee; that Thou wilt 
for our sakes (that have had no leisure to do anything for Thine) 
change Thy nature (though impossible, and forget to be a just God; 
that Thou wilt love injuries and oppressions, call ambition wisdom, 
and charity foolishness. For I shall prejudice my son (which I am 
resolved not to do) if I make restitution; and confess myself to have 
been unjust (which I am too proud to do) if I deliver the oppressed." 
Certainly, these wise worldlings have either found out a new God, 
or made one: and in all likelihood such a leaden one, as Louis the 
Eleventh wore in his cap; which when he had caused any that he 
feared, or hated, to be killed, he would take it from his head and kiss 
it: beseeching it to pardon him this one evil act more, and it should 
be the last; which (as at other times) he did, when by the practice 
of a cardinal and a falsified sacrament, he caused the Earl of Arma- 
gnac to be stabbed to death: mockeries indeed fit to be used towards 
a leaden, but not towards the ever-living God. But of this composi- 
tion are all devout lovers of the world, that they fear all that is 
dureless" and ridiculous: they fear the plots and practises of their 
opposites," and their very whisperings: they fear the opinions of 
men, which beat but upon shadows: they flatter and forsake the 
prosperous and unprosperous, be they friends or kings: yea they 
dive under water, like ducks, at every pebblestone, that is but thrown 
toward them by a powerful hand: and on the contrary, they show 

" "O how many go down with this hope to endless labors and wars." 
" Transient. l^ Opponents. 


an obstinate and giant-like valor, against the terrible judgments of 
the all-powerful God: yea they show themselves gods against God, 
and slaves towards men; towards men whose bodies and consciences 
are alike rotten. 

Now for the rest: If we truly examine the difference of both con- 
ditions; to wit, of the rich and mighty, whom we call fortunate; and 
of the poor and oppressed, whom we account wretched: we shall 
find the happiness of the one, and the miserable estate of the other, 
so tied by God to the very instant, and both so subject to interchange 
(witness the sudden downfall of the greatest princes, and the speedy 
uprising of the meanest persons) as the one hath nothing so certain, 
whereof to boast; nor the other so uncertain, whereof to bewail itself. 
For there is no man so assured of his honor, of his riches, health, or 
life; but that he may be deprived of either, or all, the very next hour 
or day to come. "Quid vesper vehat, incertum est," "What the 
evening will bring with it, it is uncertain." "And yet ye cannot tell 
(saith St. James) what shall be tomorrow. Today he is set up, and 
tomorrow he shall not be found; for he is turned into dust, and his 
purpose perisheth." And although the air which compasseth adver- 
sity be very obscure; yet therein we better discern God, than in that 
shining light which environeth worldly glory; through which, for 
the clearness thereof, there is no vanity which escapeth our sight. 
And let adversity seem what it will; to happy men ridiculous, who 
make themselves merry at other men's misfortunes; and to those un- 
der the cross, grievous: yet this is true, that for all that is past, to the 
very instant, the portions remaining are equal to either. For be it that 
we have lived many years, "and (according to Solomon) in them all 
we have rejoiced;" or be it that we have measured the same length 
of days and therein have evermore sorrowed: yet looking back from 
our present being, we find both the one and the other, to wit, the 
joy and the woe, sailed out of sight; and death, which doth pursue 
us and hold us in chase, from our infancy, hath gathered it. "Quic- 
quid aetatis retro est, mors tenet:" "Whatsoever of our age is past, 
death holds it." So as whosoever he be, to whom Fortune hath been 
a servant, and the Time a friend; let him but take the account of his 
memory (for we have no other keeper of our pleasures past), and 
truly examine what it hath reserved either beauty and youth, or 


foregone delights; what it hath saved, that it might last, of his 
dearest affections, or of whatever else the amorous springtime gave 
his thoughts of contentment, then unvaluable; and he shall find that 
all the art which his elder years have, can draw no other vapor out 
of these dissolutions, than heavy, secret, and sad sighs. He shall find 
nothing remaining, but those sorrows, which grow up after our fast- 
springing youth; overtake it, when it is at a stand; and overtopped it 
utterly, when it begins to wither: in so much as looking back from 
the very instant time, and from our now being, the poor, diseased, 
and captive creature, hath as little sense of all his former miseries 
and pains, as he, that is most blessed in common opinions, hath of 
his fore-passed pleasure and delights. For whatsoever is cast behind 
us, is just nothing: and what is to come, deceitful hope hath it: 
"Omnia quae eventura sunt, in incerto jacent.'"' Only those few 
black swans, I must except: who having had the grace to value 
worldly vanities at no more than their own price; do, by retaining 
the comfortable memory of a well acted life, behold death without 
dread, and the grave without fear; and embrace both, as necessary 
guides to endless glory. 

For myself, this is my consolation, and all that I can offer to others, 
that the sorrows of this life are but of two sorts: whereof the one 
hath respect to God, the other, to the world. In the first we com- 
plain to God against ourselves, for our offences against Him; and 
confess, "Et Tu Justus es in omnibus quae venerunt super nos." 
"And Thou, O Lord, are just in all that hath befallen us." In the 
second we complain to ourselves against God: as if he had done us 
wrong, either in not giving us worldly goods and honors, answering 
our appetites: or for taking them again from us having had them; 
forgetting that humble and just acknowledgment of Job, "the Lord 
hath given, and the Lord hath taken." To the first of which St. 
Paul hath promised blessedness; to the second, death. And out of 
doubt he is either a fool, or ungrateful to God, or both, that doth not 
acknowledge, how mean soever his estate be, that the same is yet 
far greater than that which God oweth him: or doth not acknowl- 
edge, how sharp soever his afflictions be, that the same are yet far 
less, than those which are due unto him. And if an heathen wise 
19 "Everything which is to come lies in uncertainty." 


man call the adversities of the world but "tributa vivendi," "the 
tributes of living;" a wise Christian man ought to know them, and 
bear them, but as the tributes of offending. He ought to bear them 
manlike, and resolvedly; and not as those whining soldiers do, "qui 
gementes sequuntur imperatorem."^" 

For seeing God, who is the author of all our tragedies, hath written 
out for us and appointed us all the parts we are to play: and hath 
not, in their distribution, been partial to the most mighty princes of 
the world: that gave unto Darius the part of the greatest emperor, 
and the part of the most miserable beggar, a beggar begging water 
of an enemy, to quench the great drought of death: that appointed 
Bajazet to play the Grand Signior of the Turks in the morning, and 
in the same day the footstool of Tamerlane (both which parts 
Valerian had also played, being taken by Sapores) : that made Beli- 
sarius play the most victorious captain, and lastly the part of a blind 
beggar: of which examples many thousands may be produced: why 
should other men, who are but as the least worms, complain of 
wrong ? Certainly there is no other account to be made of this ridic- 
ulous world, than to resolve, that the change of fortune on the great 
theatre, is but as the change of garments on the less. For when on 
the one and the other, every man wears but his own skin, the players 
are all alike. Now, if any man out of weakness prize the passages 
of this world otherwise (for saith Petrarch, "Magni ingenii est 
revocare mentem a sensibus"^') it is by reason of that unhappy 
phantasy of ours, which forgeth in the brains of man all the miseries 
(the corporal excepted) whereunto he is subject. Therein it is, that 
misfortunes and adversity work all that they work. For seeing 
Death, in the end of the play, takes from all whatsoever Fortune or 
Force takes from any one; it were a foolish madness in the ship- 
wreck of worldly things, where all sinks but the sorrow, to save it. 
That were, as Seneca saith, "Fortunae succumbere, quod tristius est 
omni fato :" "To fall under Fortune, of all other the most miserable 

But it is now time to sound a retreat; and to desire to be excused 
of this long pursuit: and withal, that the good intent, which hath 

2" "Who follow their commander with groans." 
^' "It takes great genius to call back the mind from the senses." 


moved me to draw the picture o£ time past (which we call History) 
in so large a table, may also be accepted in place o£ a better reason. 

The examples of divine providence, everywhere found (the first 
divine histories being nothing else but a continuation of such exam- 
ples) have persuaded me to fetch my beginning from the beginning 
of all things: to wit, Creation. For though these two glorious 
actions of the Almighty be so near, and (as it were) linked together, 
that the one necessarily implieth the other : Creation inferring Provi- 
dence (for what father forsaketh the child that he hath begotten?) 
and Providence pre-supposing Creation : yet many of those that have 
seemed to excel in worldly wisdom, have gone about to disjoin this 
coherence; the epicure denying both Creation and Providence, but 
granting the world had a beginning; the Aristotelian granting 
Providence, but denying both the creation and the beginning. 

Now although this doctrine of faith, touching the creation in time 
(for by faith we understand, that the world was made by the word 
of God), be too weighty a work for Aristotle's rotten ground to bear 
up, upon which he hath (notwithstanding) founded the defences 
and fortresses of all his verbal doctrine: yet that the necessity of 
infinite power, and the world's beginning, and the impossibility of 
the contrary even in the judgment of natural reason, wherein he 
believed, had not better informed him; it is greatly to be marvelled 
at. And it is no less strange, that those men which are desirous of 
knowledge (seeing Aristotle hath failed in this main point; and 
taught little other than terms in the rest) have so retrenched their 
minds from the following and overtaking of truth, and so absolutely 
subjected themselves to the law of those philosophical principles; as 
all contrary kind of teaching, in the search of causes, they have con- 
demned either for phantastical, or curious. Both doth it follow, 
that the positions of heathen philosophers are undoubted grounds 
and principles indeed, because so called? Or that ipsi dixerunt, doth 
make them to be such? Certainly no. But this is true, that where 
natural reason hath built anything so strong against itself, as the 
same reason can hardly assail it, much less batter it down : the same 
in every question of nature, and infinite power, may be approved 
for a fundamental law of human knowledge. For saith Charron in 
his book of wisdom, "Toute proposition humaine a autant d'authorite 


quel'autre, si la raison n'on fait la difference;" "Every human propo- 
sition hath equal authority, if reason make not the difference," the 
rest being but the fables of principles. But hereof how shall the 
upright and impartial judgment of man give a sentence, where 
opposition and examination are not admitted to give in evidence? 
And to this purpose it was well said of Lactantius, "Sapientiam sibi 
adimunt, qui sine ullo judicio inventa maiorum probant, et ab aliis 
pecudum more ducuntur:" "They neglect their own wisdom, who 
without any judgment approve the invention of those that forewent 
them; and suffer themselves after the manner of beasts, to be led 
by them;" by the advantage of which sloth and dullness, ignorance 
is now become so powerful a tyrant, as it hath set true philosophy, 
physics, and divinity in a pillory; and written over the first, "Contra 
negantem principia;"''^ over the second, "Virtus specifica;"" over 
the third, "Ecclesia Romana."^* 

But for myself, I shall never be persuaded, that God hath shut 
up all light of learning within the lanthorn of Aristotle's brains: or 
that it was ever said unto him, as unto Esdras, " Accendam in corde 
tuo Lucernam intellectus" '}^ that God hath given invention but to 
the heathen, and that they only invaded nature, and found the 
strength and bottom thereof; the same nature having consumed all 
her store, and left nothing of price to after-ages. That these and these 
be the causes of these and these effects, time hath taught us; and not 
reason: and so hath experience without art. The cheese-wife know- 
eth it as well as the philosopher, that sour rennet doth coagulate her 
milk into a curd. But if we ask a reason of this cause, why the 
sourness doth it ? whereby it doth it ? and the manner how ? I think 
that there is nothing to be found in vulgar philosophy, to satisfy this 
and many other like vulgar questions. But man to cover his igno- 
rance in the least things, who can not give a true reason for the grass 
under his feet, why it should be green rather than red, or of any 
other color; that could never yet discover the way and reason of 
nature's working, in those which are far less noble creatures than 
himself; who is far more noble than the heavens themselves: "Man 
(saith Solomon) that can hardly discern the things that are upon 

^^ "Against him who denies the principles." 

^ "Specific virtue, or power." ^4 "The Roman Church." 

^"I shall light a lamp of understanding in thine heart."— IV. Esdras xiv. 25. 


the earth, and with great labor find out the things that are before 
us"; that hath so short a time in the world, as he no sooner begins 
to learn, than to die; that hath in his memory but borrowed knowl- 
edge; in his understanding, nothing truly; that is ignorant o£ the 
essence of his own soul, and which the wisest of the naturalists (if 
Aristotle be he) could never so much as define, but by the action 
and effect, telling us what it works (which all men knew as well 
as he) but not what it is, which neither he, nor any else, doth know, 
but God that created it; ("For though I were perfect, yet I know not 
my soul," saith Job). Man, I say, that is but an idiot in the next 
cause of his own life, and in the cause of all actions of his life, will 
(notwithstanding) examine the art of God in creating the world; 
of God, who (saith Job) "is so excellent as we know him not"; and 
examine the beginning of the work, which had end before mankind 
had a beginning of being. He will disable God's power to make a 
world, without matter to make it of. He will rather give the motes 
of the air for a cause; cast the work on necessity or chance; bestow 
the honor thereof on nature; make two powers, the one to be the 
author of the matter, the other of the form; and lastly, for want of 
a workman, have it eternal: which latter opinion Aristotle, to make 
himself the author of a new doctrine, brought into the world: and 
his Sectators^" have maintained it; "parati ac conjurati, quos sequun- 
tur, philosophorum animis invictis opiniones tueri."" For Hermes, 
who lived at once with, or soon after Moses, Zoroaster, Musaeus, 
Orpheus, Linus, Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, MeHssus, 
Pherecydes, Thales, Cleanthes, Pythagoras, Plato, and many other 
(whose opinions are exquisitely gathered by Steuchius Eugubinus) 
found in the necessity of invincible reason, "One eternal and infinite 
Being," to be the parent of the universal. "Horum omnium sententia 
quamvis sit incerta, eodem tamen spectat, ut Providentiam unam 
esse consentiant: sive enim natura, sive aether, sive ratio, sive mens, 
sive fatalis necessitas, sive divina lex; idem est quod a nobis dicitur 
Deus": "All these men's opinions (saith Lactantius) though uncer- 
tain, come to this; That they agree upon one Providence; whether 
the same be nature, or light, or reason, or understanding, or destiny, 

^^ Followers. 

2' "Prepared and sworn to protect with unconquered minds the opinions of the 
philosophers whom they follow." 


or divine ordinance, that it is the same which we call God." Cer- 
tainly, as all the rivers in the world, though they have divers risings, 
and divers runnings; though they sometimes hide themselves for a 
while under ground, and seem to be lost in sea-like lakes; do at last 
find, and fall into the great ocean: so after all the searches that 
human capacity hath, and after all philosophical contemplation and 
curiosity; in the necessity of this infinite power, all the reason of 
man ends and dissolves itself. 

As for the others; the first touching those which conceive the 
matter of the world to have been eternal, and that God did not create 
the world "Exnihilo,"^'* but "ex materia praeexistente" :'" the supposi- 
tion is so weak, as is hardly worth the answering. For (saith Euse- 
bius) "Mihi videntur qui hoc dicunt, fortunam quoque Deo annec- 
tere," "They seem unto me, which affirm this, to give part of the 
work to God, and part to Fortune": insomuch as if God had not 
found this first matter by chance. He had neither been author nor 
father, nor creator, nor lord of the universal. For were the matter 
or chaos eternal, it then follows, that either this supposed matter 
did fit itself to God, or God accommodate Himself to the matter. 
For the first, it is impossible, that things without sense could 
proportion themselves to the workman's will. For the second: it 
were horrible to conceive of God, that as an artificer He applied 
himself, according to the proportion of matter which He lighted 

But let it be supposed, that this matter hath been made by any 
power, not omnipotent, and infinitely wise; I would gladly learn 
how it came to pass, that the same was proportionable to his inten- 
tion, that was omnipotent and infinitely wise; and no more, nor no 
less, than served to receive the form of the universal. For, had it 
wanted anything of what was sufficient; then must it be granted, 
that God created out of nothing so much new matter, as served to 
finish the work of the world: or had there been more of this matter 
than sufficed, then God did dissolve and annihilate whatsoever re- 
mained and was superfluous. And this must every reasonable soul 
confess, that it is the same work of God alone, to create anything 
out of nothing, and by the same art and power, and by none other, 

^* "Out o£ nothing." ^ "Out of pre-existing matter." 


can those things, or any part of that eternal matter, be again changed 
into nothing; by which those things, that once were nothing, 
obtained a beginning of being. 

Again, to say that this matter was the cause of itself; this, of all 
other, were the greatest idiotism. For, if it were the cause of itself 
at any time; then there was also a time when itself was not: at which 
time of not being, it is easy enough to conceive, that it could neither 
procure itself, nor anything else. For to be, and not to be, at once, 
is impossible. "Nihil autem seipsum praecedit, neque; seipsum com- 
ponit corpus": "There is nothing that doth precede itself, neither do 
bodies compound themselves." 

For the rest, those that feign this matter to be eternal, must of 
necessity confess, that infinite cannot be separate from eternity. And 
then had infinite matter left no place for infinite form, but that the 
first matter was finite, the form which it received proves it. For 
conclusion of this part, whosoever will make choice, rather to believe 
in eternal deformity, or in eternal dead matter, than in eternal light 
and eternal life: let eternal death be his reward. For it is a madness 
of that kind, as wanteth terms to express it. For what reason of man 
(whom the curse of presumption hath not stupefied) hath doubted, 
that infinite power (of which we can comprehend but a kind of 
shadow, "quia comprehensio est intra terminos, qui infinite repug- 
nant"'") hath anything wanting in itself, either for matter of form; 
yea for as many worlds (if such had been God's will) as the sea hath 
sands? For where the power is without limitation, the work hath no 
other limitation, than the workman's will. Yea reason itself finds it 
more easy for infinite power to deliver from itself a finite world, 
without the help of matter prepared; than for a finite man, a fool and 
dust, to change the form of matter made to his hands. They are 
Dionysius his words, "Deus in una existentia omnia praehabet":'' 
and again, "Esse omnium est ipsa divinitas, omne quod vides, et 
quod non vides" :'^ to wit, "causaliter," or in better terms, "non 
tanquam forma, sed tanquam causa universalis."'* Neither hath the 
world universal closed up all of God: "For the most part of his 

^ "Because comprehension is between limits, whidi are opposed to infinity." 

'' "God exhibits all things in one existence." 

" "The essence of all things, visible and invisible, is divinity itself." 

^ "Causally." ^* "Not as form, but as universal cause." 


works (saith Siracides) are hid." Neither can the depth o£ his 
wisdom be opened, by the glorious work of the world: which never 
brought to knowledge all it can; for then were his infinite power 
bounded and made finite. And hereof it comes; That we seldom 
entitle God the all-showing, or the all-willing; but the Almighty, 
that is, infinitely able. 

But now for those, who from that ground, "that out of nothing, 
nothing is made," infer the world's eternity; and yet not so savage 
therein, as those are, which give an eternal being to dead matter: 
it is true if the word (nothing) be taken in the affirmative; and the 
making, imposed upon natural agents and finite power; that out of 
nothing, nothing is made. But seeing their great doctor Aristotle 
himself confesseth, "quod omnes antiqui decreverunt quasi quodam 
rerum principium, ipsumque infinitum:" "That all the ancient de- 
cree a kind of beginning, and the same to be infinite"; and a little 
after, more largely and plainly, "Principium eius est nullum, sed 
ipsum omnium cernitur esse principium, ac omnia complecti ac 
regere":^^ it is strange that this philosopher, with his followers, 
should rather make choice out of falsehood, to conclude falsely; than 
out of truth, to resolve truly. For if we compare the world universal, 
and all the unmeasureable orbs of Heaven, and those marvellous 
bodies of the sun, moon, and stars, with "ipsum infinitum": it 
may truly be said of them all, which himself affirms of his imaginary 
"Materia prima," '^ that they are neither "quid, quale," nor "quan- 
tum"; and therefore to bring finite (which hath no proportion with 
infinite) out of infinite ("qui destruit omnem proportionem" '') is 
no wonder in God's power. And therefore Anaximander, Melissus, 
and Empedocles, call the world universal, but "particulam univer- 
sitatis" and "infinitatis," a parcel of that which is the universality 
and the infinity itself; and Plato, but a shadow of God. But the 
other to prove the world's eternity, urgeth this maxim, "that, a suffi- 
cient and effectual cause being granted, an answerable effect thereof 
is also granted": inferring that God being forever a sufficient and 
effectual cause of the world, the effect of the cause should also have 
been forever; to wit, the world universal. But what a strange mock- 

^^ "It [('. e., the infinite] has no beginning, but itself is perceived to be the beginning 
of all things, and to embrace and govern all things." 

^^ "Primal matter." '^ "Which destroys all proportion." 


ery is this in so great a master, to confess a sufficient and effectual 
cause of the world, (to wit, an almighty God) in his antecedent; and 
the same God to be a God restrained in his conclusion; to make God 
free in power, and bound in will; able to effect, unable to determine; 
able to make all things, and yet unable to make choice of the time 
when? For this were impiously to resolve of God, as of natural 
necessity; which hath neither choice, nor will, nor understanding; 
which cannot but work matter being present: as fire, to burn things 
combustible. Again he thus disputeth, that every agent which can 
work, and doth not work, if it afterward work, it is either thereto 
moved by itself, or by somewhat else: and so it passeth from power 
to act. But God (saith he) is immovable, and is neither moved by 
himself, nor by any other: but being always the same, doth always 
work. Whence he concludeth, if the world were caused by God, that 
he was forever the cause thereof: and therefore eternal. The answer 
to this is very easy, for that God's performing in due time that which 
he ever determined at length to perform, doth not argue any altera- 
tion or change, but rather constancy in him. For the same action of 
his will, which made the world forever, did also withhold the effect 
to the time ordained. To this answer, in itself sufficient, others add 
further, that the pattern or image of the world may be said to be 
eternal: which the Platonics call "spiritualem mundum";^' and do in 
this sort distinguish the idea and creation in time. "Spiritualis ille 
mundus, mundi huius exemplar, primumque Dei opus, vita aequali 
est architecto, fuit semper cum illo, eritque semper. Mundus autem 
corporalis, quod secundum opus est Dei, decedit iam ab opifice ex 
parte una, quia non fuit semper: retinet alteram, quia sit semper 
futurus": "That representative, or the intentional world (say they) 
the sampler of this visible world, the first work of God, was equally 
ancient with the architect; for it was forever with him, and ever 
shall be. This material world, the second work or creature of God, 
doth differ from the worker in this, that it was not from everlasting, 
and in this it doth agree, that it shall be forever to come." The first 
point, that it was not forever, all Christians confess: the other they 
understand no otherwise, than that after the consummation of this 
world, there shall be a new Heaven and a new earth, without any 
'* "The spiritual world." 


new creation of matter. But of these things we need not here stand 
to argue: though such opinions be not unworthy the propounding, in 
this consideration, of an eternal and unchangeable cause, producing 
a changeable and temporal effect. Touching which point Proclus the 
Platonist disputeth, that the compounded essence of the world (and 
because compounded, therefore dissipable) is continued, and knit 
to the Divine Being, by ah individual and inseparable power, flow- 
ing from Divine unity; and that the world's natural appetite of 
God showeth, that the same proceedeth from a good and under- 
standing divine; and that this virtue, by which the world is continued 
and knit together, must be infinite, that it may infinitely and ever- 
lastingly continue and preserve the same. Which infinite virtue, the 
finite world (saith he) is not capable of, but receiveth it from the 
divine infinite, according to the temporal nature it hath, successively 
every moment by little and little; even as the whole material world 
is not altogether: but the abolished parts are departed by small 
degrees, and the parts yet to come, do by the same small degrees 
succeed; as the shadow of a tree in a river seemeth to have continued 
the same a long time in the water, but it is perpetually renewed, in 
the continual ebbing and flowing thereof. 

But to return to them, which denying that ever the world had 
any beginning, withal deny that ever it shall have any end, and to 
this purpose affirm, that it was never heard, never read, never seen, 
no not by any reason perceived, that the heavens have ever suffered 
corruption; or that they appear any way the older by continuance; 
or in any sort otherwise than they were; which had they been subject 
to final corruption, some change would have been discerned in so 
long a time. To this it is answered, that the little change as yet per- 
ceived, doth rather prove their newness, and that they have not 
continued so long; than that they will continue forever as they are. 
And if conjectural arguments may receive answer by conjectures; it 
then seemeth that some alteration may be found. For either Aris- 
totle, Pliny, Strabo, Beda, Aquinas, and others, were grossly mis- 
taken; or else those parts of the world lying within the burnt zone, 
were not in elder times habitable, by reason of the sun's heat, neither 
were the seas, under the equinoctial, navigable. But we know by 
experience, that those regions, so situate, are filled with people, and 


exceeding temperate; and the sea, over which we navigate, passable 
enough. We read also many histories of deluges: and how in the 
time of Phaeton, divers places in the world were burnt up, by the 
sun's violent heat. 

But in a word, this observation is exceeding feeble. For we know 
it for certain, that stone walls, of matter mouldering and friable, 
have stood two, or three thousand years; that many things have been 
digged up out of the earth, of that depth, as supposed to have been 
buried by the general flood; without any alteration either of sub- 
stance or figure: yea it is believed, and it is very probable, that the 
gold which is daily found in mines, and rocks, under ground, was 
created together with the earth. 

And if bodies elementary, and compounded, the eldest times have 
not invaded and corrupted : what great alteration should we look for 
in celestial and quint-essential bodies? And yet we have reason to 
think, that the sun, by whose help all creatures are generate, doth 
not in these latter ages assist nature, as heretofore. We have neither 
giants, such as the eldest world had; nor mighty men, such as the 
elder world had; but all things in general are reputed of less virtue 
which from the heavens receive virtue. Whence, if the nature of a 
preface would permit a larger discourse, we might easily fetch store 
of proof; as that this world shall at length have end, as that once it 
had beginning. 

And I see no good answer that can be made to this objection: if 
the world were eternal, why not all things in the world eternal? If 
there were no first, no cause, no father, no creator, no incomprehen- 
sible wisdom, but that every nature had been alike eternal; and man 
more rational than every other nature: why had not the eternal rea- 
son of man provided for his eternal being in the world? For if all 
were equal why not equal conditions to all? Why should heavenly 
bodies live forever; and the bodies of men rot and die? 

Again, who was it that appointed the earth to keep the center, and 
gave order that it should hang in the air : that the sun should travel 
between the tropics, and never exceed those bounds, nor fail to per- 
form that progress once in every year: the moon to live by borrowed 
light: the fixed stars (according to common opinion) to be fastened 
like nails in a cartwheel; and the planets to wander at their pleasure? 


Or if none of these had power over other: was it out of charity and 
love, that the sun by his perpetual travel within these two circles, 
hath visited, given light unto, and relieved all parts of the earth, and 
the creatures therein, by turns and times? Out of doubt, if the sun 
have of his own accord kept this course in all eternity, he may jusdy 
be called eternal charity and everlasting love. The same may be 
said of all the stars; who being all of them most large and clear 
fountains of virtue and operation, may also, be called eternal virtues: 
the earth may be called eternal patience; the moon, an eternal bor- 
rower and beggar; and man of all other the most miserable, eternally 
mortal. And what were this, but to believe again in the old play 
of the gods? Yea in more gods by millions, than ever Hesiodus 
dreamed of. But instead of this mad folly, we see it well enough with 
our feeble and mortal eyes; and the eyes of our reason discern it 
better; that the sun, moon, stars, and the earth, are limited, bounded, 
and constrained: themselves they have not constrained nor could. 
"Omne determinatum causam habet aliquam efficientem, quae illud 
determinaverit:" "Everything bounded hath some efficient cause, by 
which it is bounded." 

Now for Nature; as by the ambiguity of this name, the school of 
Aristotle hath both commended many errors unto us, and sought 
also thereby to obscure the glory of the high moderator of all things, 
shining in the creation, and in the governing of the world : so if the 
best definition be taken out of the second of Aristotle's "Physics," or 
"primo de Coelo," or out of the fifth of his "Metaphysics"; I say that 
the best is but nominal, and serving only to difference the beginning 
of natural motion from artificial: which yet the Academics open 
better, when they call it "a seminary strength, infused into matter by 
the soul of the world": who give the first place to Providence, the 
second to Fate, and but the third to Nature. "Providentia" (by 
which they understand God) "dux et caput; Fatum, medium ex 
providentia prodiens; Natura postremum." ^^ But be it what he will, 
or be it any of these (God excepted) or participating of all : yet that 
it hath choice or understanding (both which are necessarily in the 
cause of all things) no man hath avowed. For this is unanswerable 

'' "Providence, leader and head; Fate, in the middle and proceeding from Provi- 
dence; Nature, last." 


of Lactantius, "Is autem facit aliquid, qui aut voluntatem faciendi 
habet, aut scientiam:" "He only can be said to be the doer of a 
thing, that hath either will or knowledge in the doing it." 

But the will and science of Nature, are in these words truly ex- 
pressed by Ficinus: "Potest ubique Natura, vel per di versa media, 
vel ex diversis materiis, diversa facere: sublata vero mediorum 
materiatumque diversitate, vel unicum, vel similimum op>eratur, 
neque potest quando adest materia non operari"; "It is the power 
of Nature by the diversity of means, or out of diversity of matter, to 
produce divers things: but taking away the diversity of means, and 
the diversity of matter, it then works but one or the like work; 
neither can it but work, matter being present." Now if Nature made 
choice of diversity of matter, to work all these variable works of 
heaven and earth, it had then both understanding and will; it had 
counsel to begin; reason to dispose; virtue and knowledge to finish, 
and power to govern: without which all things had been but one 
and the same: all of the matter of heaven; or all of the matter of 
earth. And if we grant Nature this will, and this understanding, 
this course, reason, and power: "Cur Natura potius quam Deus 
nominetur.?" "Why should we then call such a cause rather Nature, 
than God?" "God, of whom all men have notion, and give the first 
and highest place to divine power": "Omnes homines notionem 
deorum habent, omnesque summum locum divino cuidam numini 
assignant." And this I say in short; that it is a true effect of true 
reason in man (were there no authority more binding than reason) 
to acknowledge and adore the first and most sublime power. "Vera 
philosophia, est ascensus ab his quae fluunt, et oriuntur, et occidunt, 
ad ea quae vera sunt, et semper eadem": "True philosophy, is an 
ascending from the things which flow, and arise, and fall, to the 
things that are forever the same." 

For the rest; I do also account it not the meanest, but an impiety 
monstrous, to confound God and Nature; be it but in terms. For 
it is God, that only disposeth of all things according to His own will 
and maketh of one earth, vessels of honor and dishonor. It is Nature 
that can dispose of nothing, but according to the will of the matter 
wherein it worketh. It is God that commandeth all: it is Nature 
that is obedient to all: it is God that doth good unto all, knowing 


and loving the good He doth : it is Nature, that secondarily doth also 
good, but it neither knoweth nor loveth the good it doth. It is God, 
that hath all things in Himself: Nature, nothing in itself. It is God, 
which is the Father, and hath begotten all things : it is Nature, which 
is begotten by all things, in which it hveth and laboreth; for by itself 
it existeth not. For shall we say, that it is out of affection to the 
earth, that heavy things fall towards it? Shall we call it reason, 
which doth conduct every river into the salt sea? Shall we term it 
knowledge in fire, that makes it to consume combustible matter? 
If it be affection, reason, and knowledge in these; by the same affec- 
tion, reason, and knowledge it is, that Nature worketh. And therefore 
seeing all things work as they do, (call it by Form, or Nature, or by 
what you please) yet because they work by an impulsion, which they 
cannot resist, or by a faculty, infused by the supremest power; we 
are neither to wonder at, nor to worship, the faculty that worketh, 
nor the creature wherein it worketh. But herein lies the wonder: 
and to him is the worship due, who hath created such a nature in 
things, and such a faculty, as neither knowing itself, the matter 
wherein it worketh, nor the virtue and power which it hath; do yet 
work all things to their last and uttermost perfection. And therefore 
every reasonable man, taking to himself for a ground that which is 
granted by all antiquity, and by all men truly learned that ever the 
world had; to wit; that there is a power infinite, and eternal (which 
also necessity doth prove unto us, without the help of faith, and 
reason; without the force of authority) all things do as easily follow 
which have been delivered by divine letters, as the waters of a 
running river do successfully pursue each other from the first 

This much I say it is, that reason itself hath taught us: and this is 
the beginning of knowledge. "Sapientia praecedit, Religio sequitur: 
quia prius est Deum scire, consequens colere"; "Sapience goes be- 
fore, Religion follows: because it is first to know God, and then to 
worship Him." This sapience Plato calleth "absoluti boni scientiam," 
"the science of the absolute good": and another "scientiam rerum 
primarum, sempiternarum, perpetuarum." *" For "faith (saith Isi- 
dore) is not extorted by violence; but by reason and examples per- 
*• "The science of things first, eternal, perpetual." 


suaded": "fides nequaquam vi extorquetur, sed ratione et exemplis 
suadetur." I confess it, that to inquire further, as to the essence of 
God, of His power, of His art, and by what means He created the 
world: or of His secret judgment, and the causes, is not an efifect of 
reason. "Sed cum ratione insaniunt," but "they grow mad with 
reason," that inquire after it. For as it is no shame, nor dishonor 
(saith a French author) "de faire arrest au but qu'on nasceu sur- 
passer," "for a man to rest himself there where he finds it impossible 
to pass on further": so whatsoever is beyond, and out of the reach 
of true reason, it acknowledgeth it to be so; as understanding itself 
not to be infinite, but according to the name and nature it hath, to 
be a teacher, that best knows the end of his own art. For seeing both 
reason and necessity teach us (reason, which is "pars divini spiritus 
in corpus humanum mersi"") that the world was made by a power 
infinite; and yet how it was made, it cannot teach us: and seeing the 
same reason and necessity make us know, that the same infinite 
power is everywhere in the world; and yet how everywhere, it can- 
not inform us: our belief hereof is not weakened, but greatly 
strengthened, by our ignorance, because it is the same reason that 
tells us, that such a nature cannot be said to be God, that can be in 
all conceived by man. 

I have already been over-long, to make any large discourse either 
of the parts of the following story, or in mine own excuse: especially 
in the excuse of this or that passage; seeing the whole is exceeding 
weak and defective. Among the grossest, the unsuitable division of 
the books, I could not know how to excuse, had I not been directed 
to enlarge the building after the foundation was laid, and the first 
part finished. All men know that there is no great art in the dividing 
evenly of these things, which are subject to number and measure. 
For the rest, it suits well enough with a great many books of this 
age, which speak too much, and yet say little; "Ipsi nobis furto 
subducimur"; "We are stolen away from ourselves," setting a high 
price on all that is our own. But hereof, though a late good writer 
make complaint, yet shall it not lay hold on me, because I believe as 
he doth; that who so thinks himself the wisest man, is but a poor and 
miserable ignorant. Those that are the best men of war against all 
^' "Part of the divine spirit immersed in the human body." 


the vanities and fooleries of the world, do always keep the strongest 
guards against themselves, to defend them from themselves; from 
self-love, self-estimation, and self-opinion. 

Generally concerning the order of the work, I have only taken 
counsel from the argument. For of the Assyrians, which after the 
downfall of Babel take up the first part, and were the first great 
kings of the world, there came little to the view of posterity: some 
few enterprises, greater in fame than faith, of Ninus and Semiramis, 

It was the story of the Hebrews, of all before the Olympiads, that 
overcame the consuming disease of time, and preserved itself, from 
the very cradle and beginning to this day : and yet not so entire, but 
that the large discourses thereof (to which in many Scriptures we 
are referred) are nowhere found. The fragments of other stories, 
with the actions of those kings and princes which shot up here and 
there in the same time, I am driven to relate by way of digression: 
of which we may say with Virgil: "Apparent rari nantes in gurgite 
vasto"; "They appear here and there floating in the great gulf of 

To the same first ages do belong the report of many inventions 
therein found, and from them derived to us; though most of the 
authors' names have perished in so long a navigation. For those 
ages had their laws; they had diversity of government; they had 
kingly rule; nobility; policy in war; navigation, and all, or the most 
of needful trades. To speak therefore of these (seeing in a general 
history we should have left a great deal of nakedness, by their omis- 
sion) it cannot properly be called a digression. True it is, that I have 
made also many others: which if they shall be laid to my charge, 
I must cast the fault into the great heap of human error. For seeing 
we digress in all the ways of our lives : yea, seeing the life of man is 
nothing else but digression; I may the better be excused, in writing 
their lives and actions. I am not altogether ignorant in the laws of 
history and of the kinds. 

The same hath been taught by many, but no man better, and with 
greater brevity, than by that excellent learned gentleman, Sir Fran- 
cis Bacon. Christian laws are also taught us by the prophets and 
apostles; and every day preached unto us. But we still make large 


digressions: yea, the teachers themselves do not (in all) keep the 
path which they point out to others. 

For the rest, after such time as the Persians had wrested the Em- 
pire from the Chaldeans, and had raised a great monarchy, produc- 
ing actions of more importance than were elsewhere to be found; 
it was agreeable to the order of the story, to attend this Empire; 
whilst it so flourished, that the affairs of the nations adjoining had 
reference thereunto. The like observance was to be used towards 
the fortunes of Greece, when they again began to get ground upon 
the Persians; as also towards the affairs of Rome, when the Romans 
grew more mighty than the Greeks. 

As for the Medes, the Macedonians, the Sicilians, the Carthagin- 
ians, and other nations who resisted the beginnings of the former 
empires, and afterwards became but parts of their composition and 
enlargement; it seemed best to remember what was known of them 
from their several beginnings, in such times and places as they in 
their flourishing estates opposed those monarchies, which in the end 
swallowed them up. And herein I have followed the best geogra- 
phers : who seldom give names to those small brooks, whereof many, 
joined together, make great rivers: till such times as they become 
united, and run in main stream to the ocean sea. If the phrase be 
weak, and the style not everywhere like itself: the first shows their 
legitimation and true parent; the second will excuse itself upon the 
variety of matter. For Virgil, who wrote his Eclogues, "gracili 
avena," *'^ used stronger pipes, when he sounded the wars of Aeneas. 
It may also be laid to my charge, that I use divers Hebrew words in 
my first book, and elsewhere: in which language others may think and 
I myself acknowledge it, that I am altogether ignorant: but it is true, 
that some of them I find in Montanus, others in Latin characters in 
S. Senensis; and of the rest I have borrowed the interpretation of 
some of my friends. But say I had been beholding to neither, yet 
were it not to be wondered at, having had an eleven years' leisure, 
to attain the knowledge of that, or of any other tongue; howsoever, 
I know that it will be said by many, that I might have been more 
pleasing to the reader, if I had written the story of mine own times, 
having been permitted to draw water as near the well-head as an- 

^^ "With delicate pipe." 


Other. To this I answer, that whosoever in writing a modern history, 
shall follow truth too near the heels, it may haply strike out his teeth. 
There is no mistress or guide, that hath led her followers and servants 
into greater miseries. He that goes after her too far off, loseth her 
sight, and loseth himself: and he that walks after her at a middle 
distance : I know not whether I should call that kind of course, tem- 
per,^' or baseness. It is true, that I never travelled after men's opin- 
ions, when I might have made the best use of them : and I have now 
too few days remaining, to imitate those, that either out of extreme 
ambition, or of extreme cowardice, or both, do yet (when death hath 
them on his shoulders) flatter the world, between the bed and the 
grave. It is enough for me (being in that state I am) to write of the 
eldest times: wherein also why may it not be said, that in speaking 
of the past, I point at the present, and tax the vices of those that 
are yet living, in their persons that are long since dead; and have it 
laid to my charge? But this I cannot help, though innocent. And 
certainly, if there be any, that finding themselves spotted like the 
tigers of old time, shall find fault with me for painting them over 
anew, they shall therein accuse themselves justly, and me falsely. 

For I protest before the Majesty of God, that I malice no man 
under the sun. Impossible I know it is to please all; seeing few or 
none are so pleased with themselves, or so assured of themselves, by 
reason of their subjection to their private passions, but that they seem 
divers persons in one and the same day. Seneca hath said it, and so do 
I: "Unus mihi pro populo erat";^^ and to the same effect Epicurus, 
"Hoc ego non multis sed tibi";*^ or (as it hath since lamentably fallen 
out) I may borrow the resolution of an ancient philosopher, "Satis 
est unus, satis est nullus."^" For it was for the service of that inesti- 
mable Prince Henry, the successive hope, and one of the greatest of 
the Christian world, that I undertook this work. It pleased him to 
peruse some part thereof, and to pardon what was amiss. It is now 
left to the world without a master : from which all that is presented, 
hath received both blows and thanks: "Eadem probamus, eadem 
reprehendimus : hie exitus est omnis judicii, in quolis secundum 

*^ Moderation. ** "To me one man stood for the people." 
^ "I [have done] this not for many, but for thee." 
** "One is enough, none is enough." 


plures datur."" But these discourses are idle. I know that as the 
charitable will judge charitably: so against those, "Qui gloriantur in 
malitia,"*' my present adversity hath disarmed me. I am on the 
ground already, and therefore have not far to fall: and for rising 
again, as in the natural privation there is no recession to habit; so 
it is seldom seen in the privation politic. I do therefore forbear to 
style my readers gentle, courteous, and friendly, thereby to beg their 
good opinions, or to promise a second and third volume (which I 
also intend) if the first receive grace and good acceptance. For that 
which is already done, may be thought enough, and too much: and 
it is certain, let us claw the reader with never so many courteous 
phrases, yet shall we evermore be thought fools, that write foolishly. 
For conclusion, all the hope I have lies in this, that I have already 
found more ungentle and uncourteous readers of my love towards 
them, and well-deserving of them, than ever I shall do again. For 
had it been otherwise, I should hardly have had this leisure, to have 
made myself a fool in print. 

^'"We approve the same things, we blame the same things: this is the result in 
every case in which the verdict is rendered according to the majority." 
*' "Who glory in malice." 





And Judged it to be for the Interest of the Present and Future Genera- 
tions That They Should be Made Acquainted with His Thoughts 

BEING convinced that the human intellect makes its own diffi- 
culties, not using the true helps which are at man's disposal 
soberly and judiciously; whence follows manifold ignorance of 
things, and by reason of that ignorance mischiefs innumerable; he 
thought all trial should be made, whether that commerce between 
the mind of man and the nature of things, which is more precious 
than anything on earth, or at least than anything that is of the earth, 
might by any means be restored to its perfect and original condition, 
or if that may not be, yet reduced to a better condition than that in 
which it now is. Now that the errors which have hitherto prevailed, 
and which will prevail forever, should (if the mind be left to go its 
own way), either by the natural force of the understanding or by 
help of the aids and instruments of Logic, one by one correct them- 
selves, was a thing not to be hoped for: because the primary notions 
of things which the mind readily and passively imbibes, stores up, 

A sketch of Bacon's life wil! be found prefixed to his "Essays" in another volume 
of the Harvard Classics. His "Instauratio Magna" or "Great Renewal," the great 
work by which he hoped to create a scientific revolution and deliver mankind from 
Aristotelianism, was left far from complete; but the nature of his scheme and the scale 
on which it was planned are indicated in these Prefaces, which are typical both of the 
man and the age in which he lived. 



and accumulates (and it is from them that all the rest flow) are 
false, confused, and overhastily abstracted from the facts; nor are the 
secondary and subsequent notions less arbitrary and inconstant; 
whence it follows that the entire fabric of human reason which we 
employ in the inquisition of nature, is badly put together and built 
up, and like some magnificent structure without any foundation. 
For while men are occupied in admiring and applauding the false 
powers of the mind, they pass by and throw away those true powers, 
which, if it be supplied with the proper aids and can itself be content 
to wait upon nature instead of vainly affecting to overrule her, are 
within its reach. There was but one course left, therefore, — to try 
the whole thing anew upon a better plan, and to commence a total 
reconstruction of sciences, arts, and all human knowledge, raised 
upon the proper foundations. And this, though in the project and 
undertaking it may seem a thing infinite and beyond the powers 
of man, yet when it comes to be dealt with it will be found sound 
and sober, more so than what has been done hitherto. For of this 
there is some issue; whereas in what is now done in the matter of 
science there is only a whirling round about, and perpetual agita- 
tion, ending where it began. And although he was well aware how 
solitary an enterprise it is, and how hard a thing to win faith and 
credit for, nevertheless he was resolved not to abandon either it or 
himself; nor to be deterred from trying and entering upon that one 
path which is alone open to the human mind. For better it is to make 
a beginning of that which may lead to something, than to engage 
in a perpetual struggle and pursuit in courses which have no exit. 
And certainly the two ways of contemplation are much like those 
two ways of action, so much celebrated, in this — that the one, ardu- 
ous and difficult in the beginning, leads out at last into the open 
country; while the other, seeming at first sight easy and free from 
obstruction, leads to pathless and precipitous places. 

Moreover, because he knew not how long it might be before these 
things would occur to any one else, judging especially from this, 
that he has found no man hitherto who has applied his mind to the 
like, he resolved to publish at once so much as he has been able to 
complete. The cause of which haste was not ambition for himself, 
but solicitude for the work; that in case of his death there might 


remain some outline and project of that which he had conceived, 
and some evidence likewise of his honest mind and inclination 
towards the benefit of the human race. Certain it is that all other 
ambition whatsoever seemed poor in his eyes compared with the 
work which he had in hand; seeing that the matter at issue is either 
nothing, or a thing so great that it may well be content with its own 
merit, without seeking other recompence. 







Most Gracious and Mighty King, 

YOUR Majesty may perhaps accuse me of larceny, having 
stolen from your affairs so much time as was required for 
this work. I know not what to say for myself. For of time 
there can be no restitution, unless it be that what has been abstracted 
from your business may perhaps go to the memory of your name and 
the honour of your age; if these things are indeed worth anything. 
Certainly they are quite new; totally new in their very kind: and 
yet they are copied from a very ancient model; even the world itself 
and the nature of things and of the mind. And to say truth, I am 
wont for my own part to regard this work as a child of time rather 
than of wit; the only wonder being that the first notion of the thing, 
and such great suspicions concerning matters long established, should 
have come into any man's mind. All the rest follows readily enough. 
And no doubt there is something of accident (as we call it) and luck 
as well in what men think as in what they do or say. But for this 
accident which I speak of, I wish that if there be any good in what 
I have to offer, it may be ascribed to the infinite mercy and goodness 
of God, and to the felicity of your Majesty's times; to which as I have 
been an honest and affectionate servant in my life, so after my death 
I may yet perhaps, through the kindling of this new light in the 
darkness of philosophy, be the means of making this age famous 



to posterity; and surely to the times of the wisest and most learned 
of kings belongs of right the regeneration and restoration of the 
sciences. Lastly, I have a request to make — a request no way un- 
worthy of your Majesty, and which especially concerns the work in 
hand; namely, that you who resemble Solomon in so many things — 
in the gravity of your judgments, in the peacefulness of your reign, 
in the largeness of your heart, in the noble variety of the books which 
you have composed — would further follow his example in taking 
order for the collecting and perfecting of a Natural and Experimental 
History, true and severe (unincumbered with literature and book- 
learning), such as philosophy may be built upon, — such, in fact, as I 
shall in its proper place describe: that so at length, after the lapse of 
so many ages, philosophy and the sciences may no longer float in 
air, but rest on the solid foundation of experience of every kind, and 
the same well examined and weighed. I have provided the machine, 
but the stuff must be gathered from the facts of nature. May God 
Almighty long preserve your Majesty! 
Your Majesty's 

Most bounden and devoted Servant, 

Francis Verulam, 



That the state of knowledge is not prosperous nor greatly advancing; 
and that a way must be opened for the human understanding en- 
tirely different from any hitherto known, and other helps provided, 
in order that the mind may exercise over the nature of things the 
authority which properly belongs to it. 

IT SEEMS to me that men do not rightly understand either their 
store or their strength, but overrate the one and underrate the 
other. Hence it follows, that either from an extravagant esti- 
mate of the value of the arts which they possess, they seek no further; 
or else from too mean an estimate of their own powers, they spend 
their strength in small matters and never put it fairly to the trial in 
those which go to the main. These are as the pillars of fate set in 
the path of knowledge; for men have neither desire nor hope to 
encourage them to penetrate further. And since opinion of store is 
one of the chief causes of want, and satisfaction with the present 
induces neglect of provision for the future, it becomes a thing not 
only useful, but absolutely necessary, that the excess of honour and 
admiration with which our existing stock of inventions is regarded 
be in the very entrance and threshold of the work, and that frankly 
and without circumlocution, stripped ofi, and men be duly warned 
not to exaggerate or make too much of them. For let a man look 
carefully into all that variety of books with which the arts and 
sciences abound, he will find everywhere endless repetitions of the 
same thing, varying in the method of treatment, but not new in 
substance, insomuch that the whole stock, numerous as it appears 
at first view, proves on examination to be but scanty. And for its 
value and utility it must be plainly avowed that that wisdom which 
we have derived principally from the Greeks is but like the boyhood 
of knowledge, and has the characteristic property of boys: it can 
talk, but it cannot generate; for it is fruitful of controversies but 


barren of works. So that the state of learning as it now is appears to 
be represented to the Hfe in the old fable of Scylla, who had the head 
and face of a virgin, but her womb was hung round with barking 
monsters, from which she could not be delivered. For in like manner 
the sciences to which we are accustomed have certain general posi- 
tions which are specious and flattering; but as soon as they come to 
particulars, which are as the parts of generation, when they should 
produce fruit and works, then arise contentions and barking dispu- 
tations, which are the end of the matter and all the issue they can 
yield. Observe also, that if sciences of this kind had any life in them, 
that could never have come to pass which has been the case now 
for many ages — that they stand almost at a stay, without receiving 
any augmentations worthy of the human race; insomuch that many 
times not only what was asserted once is asserted still, but what was 
a question once is a question still, and instead of being resolved by 
discussion is only fixed and fed; and all the tradition and succession 
of schools is still a succession of masters and scholars, not of inventors 
and those who bring to further perfection the things invented. In 
the mechanical arts we do not find it so; they, on the contrary, as 
having in them some breath of life, are continually growing and 
becoming more perfect. As originally invented they are commonly 
rude, clumsy, and shapeless: afterwards they acquire new powers and 
more commodious arrangements and constructions; in so far that 
men shall sooner leave the study and pursuit of them and turn to 
something else, than they arrive at the ultimate perfection of which 
they are capable. Philosophy and the intellectual sciences, on the 
contrary, stand like statues, worshiped and celebrated, but not moved 
or advanced. Nay, they sometimes flourish most in the hands of the 
first author, and afterwards degenerate. For when men have once 
made over their judgments to others' keeping, and (like those sena- 
tors whom they called Pedarii) have agreed to support some one 
person's opinion, from that time they make no enlargement of the 
sciences themselves, but fall to the servile office of embellishing cer- 
tain individual authors and increasing their retinue. And let it not 
be said that the sciences have been growing gradually till they have 
at last reached their full stature, and so (their course being com- 
pleted) have settled in the works of a few writers; and that there 


being now no room for the invention of better, all that remains is to 
embellish and cultivate those things which have been invented 
already. Would it were so! But the truth is that this appropriating 
of the sciences has its origin in nothing better than the confidence of 
a few persons and the sloth and indolence of the rest. For after 
the sciences had been in several parts perhaps cultivated and handled 
dihgently, there has risen up some man of bold disposition, and 
famous for methods and short ways which people like, who has in 
appearance reduced them to an art, while he has in fact only spoiled 
all that the others had done. And yet this is what posterity like, 
because it makes the work short and easy, and saves further inquiry, 
of which they are weary and impatient. And if any one take this 
general acquiescence and consent for an argument of weight, as 
being the judgment of Time, let me tell him that the reasoning on 
which he relies is most fallacious and weak. For, first, we are far 
from knowing all that in the matter of sciences and arts has in 
various ages and places been brought to light and published; much 
less, all that has been by private persons secretly attempted and 
stirred; so neither the births nor the miscarriages of Time are entered 
in our records. Nor, secondly, is the consent itself and the time it 
has continued a consideration of much worth. For however various 
are the forms of civil politics, there is but one form of polity in the 
sciences; and that always has been and always will be popular. Now 
the doctrines which find most favour with the populace are those 
which are either contentious and pugnacious, or specious and empty; 
such, I say, as either entangle assent or tickle it. And therefore no 
doubt the greatest wits in each successive age have been forced out 
of their own course; men of capacity and intellect above the vulgar 
having been fain, for reputation's sake, to bow to the judgment of 
the time and the multitude; and thus if any contemplations of a 
higher order took light anywhere, they were presently blown out by 
the winds of vulgar opinions. So that Tirne is like a river, which 
has brought down to us things light and puffed up, while those 
which are weighty and solid have sunk. Nay, those very authors 
who have usurped a kind of dictatorship in the sciences and taken 
upon them to lay down the law with such confidence, yet when from 
time to time they come to themselves again, they fall to complaints 


of the subtlety of nature, the hiding-places of truth, the obscurity of 
things, the entanglement of causes, the weakness of the human 
mind; wherein nevertheless they show themselves never the more 
modest, seeing that they will rather lay the blame upon the com- 
mon condition of man and nature than upon themselves. And then 
whatever any art fails to attain, they ever set it down upon the 
authority of that art itself as impossible of attainment; and how can 
art be found guilty when it is judge in its own cause? So it is but a 
device for exempting ignorance from ignominy. Now for those 
things which are delivered and received, this is their condition: 
barren of works, full of questions; in point of enlargement slow and 
languid; carrying a show of perfection in the whole, but in the parts 
ill filled up; in selection popular, and unsatisfactory even to those 
who propound them; and therefore fenced round and set forth with 
sundry artifices. And if there be any who have determined to make 
trial for themselves, and put their own strength to the work of 
advancing the boundaries of the sciences, yet have they not ventured 
to cast themselves completely loose from received opinions or to seek 
their knowledge at the fountain; but they think they have done 
some great thing if they do but add and introduce into the existing 
sum of science something of their own; prudently considering with 
themselves that by making the addition they can assert their liberty, 
while they retain the credit of modesty by assenting to the rest. But 
these mediocrities and middle ways so much praised, in deferring 
to opinions and customs, turn to the great detriment of the sciences. 
For it is hardly possible at once to admire an author and to go be- 
yond him; knowledge being as water, which will not rise above the 
level from which it fell. Men of this kind, therefore, amend some 
things, but advance little; and improve the condition of knowledge, 
but do not extend its range. Some, indeed, there have been who have 
gone more boldly to work, and taking it all for an open matter and 
giving their genius full play, have made a passage for themselves 
and their own opinions by pulling down and demolishing former 
ones; and yet all their stir has but little advanced the matter; since 
their aim has been not to extend philosophy and the arts in substance 
and value, but only to change doctrines and transfer the kingdom 
of opinions to themselves; whereby little has indeed been gained, 


for though the error be the opposite of the other, the causes of erring 
are the same in both. And if there have been any who, not binding 
themselves either to other men's opinions or to their own, but loving 
liberty, have desired to engage others along with themselves in 
search, these, though honest in intention, have been weak in en- 
deavour. For they have been content to follow probable reasons, and 
are carried round in a whirl of arguments, and in the promiscuous 
liberty of search have relaxed the severity of inquiry. There is none 
who has dwelt upon experience and the facts of nature as long as is 
necessary. Some there are indeed who have committed themselves to 
the waves of experience, and almost turned mechanics; yet these 
again have in their very experiments pursued a kind of wandering 
inquiry, without any regular system of operations. And besides they 
have mostly proposed to themselves certain petty tasks, taking it 
for a great matter to work out some single discovery; — a course of 
proceeding at once poor in aim and unskilful in design. For no man 
can rightly and successfully investigate the nature of anything in 
the thing itself; let him vary his experiments as laboriously as he will, 
he never comes to a resting-place, but still finds something to seek 
beyond. And there is another thing to be remembered; namely, that 
all industry in experimenting has begun with proposing to itself 
certain definite works to be accomplished, and has pursued them 
with premature and unseasonable eagerness; it has sought, I say, 
experiments of Fruit, not experiments of Light; not imitating the 
divine procedure, which in its first day's work created light only 
and assigned to it one entire day; on which day it produced no 
material work, but proceeded to that on the days following. As for 
those who have given the first place to Logic, supposing that the 
surest helps to the sciences were to be found in that, they have 
indeed most truly and excellently perceived that the human intellect 
left to its own course is not to be trusted; but then the remedy is 
altogether too weak for the disease; nor without evil in itself. 
For the Logic which is received, though it be very properly applied 
to civil business and to those arts which rest in discourse and opinion, 
is not nearly subtle enough to deal with nature; and in offering at 
what it cannot master, has done more to establish and perpetuate 
error than to open the way to truth. 


Upon the whole therefore, it seems that men have not been happy 
hitherto either in the trust which they have placed in others or in 
their own industry with regard to the sciences; especially as neither 
the demonstrations nor the experiments as yet known are much to 
be relied upon. But the universe to the eye of the human under- 
standing is framed like a labyrinth; presenting as it does on every 
side so many ambiguities of way, such deceitful resemblances of 
objects and signs, natures so irregular in their lines, and so knotted 
and entangled. And then the way is still to be made by the uncertain 
light of the sense, sometimes shining out, sometimes clouded over, 
through the woods of experience and particulars; while those who 
offer themselves for guides are (as was said) themselves also puzzled, 
and increase the number of errors and wanderers. In circumstances 
so difficult neither the natural force of man's judgment nor even any 
accidental felicity offers any chance of success. No excellence of wit, 
no repetition of chance experiments, can overcome such difficulties as 
these. Our steps must be guided by a clue, and the whole way from 
the very first perception of the senses must be laid out upon a sure 
plan. Not that I would be understood to mean that nothing what- 
ever has been done in so many ages by so great labours. We have 
no reason to be ashamed of the discoveries which have been made, 
and no doubt the ancients proved themselves in everything that turns 
on wit and abstract meditation, wonderful men. But as in former 
ages when men sailed only by observation of the stars, they could 
indeed coast along the shores of the old continent or cross a few 
small and mediterranean seas; but before the ocean could be trav- 
ersed and the new world discovered, the use of the mariner's needle, 
as a more faithful and certain guide, had to be found out; in like 
manner the discoveries which have been hitherto made in the arts 
and sciences are such as might be made by practice, meditation, 
observation, argumentation, — for they lay near to the senses, and 
immediately beneath common notions; but before we can reach the 
remoter and more hidden parts of nature, it is necessary that a more 
perfect use and application of the human mind and intellect be 

For my own part at least, in obedience to the everlasting love of 


truth, I have committed myself to the uncertainties and difficulties 
and solitudes of the ways, and relying on the divine assistance have 
upheld my mind both against the shocks and embattled ranks of 
opinion, and against my own private and inward hesitations and 
scruples, and against the fogs and clouds of nature, and the phantoms 
flitting about on every side; in the hope of providing at last for the 
present and future generations guidance more faithful and secure. 
Wherein if I have made any progress, the way has been opened to 
me by no other means than the true and legitimate humiliation of 
the human spirit. For all those who before me have applied them- 
selves to the invention of arts have but cast a glance or two upon facts 
and examples and experience, and straightway proceeded, as if 
invention were nothing more than an exercise of thought, to invoke 
their own spirits to give them oracles. I, on the contrary, dwelling 
purely and constantly among the facts of nature, withdraw my intel- 
lect from them no further than may suffice to let the images and 
rays of natural objects meet in a point, as they do in the sense of 
vision; whence it follows that the strength and excellency of the wit 
has but little to do in the matter. And the same humility which I 
use in inventing I employ likewise in teaching. For I do not 
endeavour either by triumphs of confutation, or pleadings of an- 
tiquity, or assumption of authority, or even by the veil of obscurity, 
to invest these inventions of mine with any majesty; which might 
easily be done by one who sought to give lustre to his own name 
rather than light to other men's minds. I have not sought (I say) 
nor do I seek either to force or ensnare men's judgments, but I lead 
them to things themselves and the concordances of things, that they 
may see for themselves what they have, what they can dispute, what 
they can add and contribute to the common stock. And for myself, 
if in anything I have been either too credulous or too little awake 
and attentive, or if I have fallen off by the way and left the inquiry 
incomplete, nevertheless I so present these things naked and open, 
that my errors can be marked and set aside before the mass of 
knowledge be further infected by them; and it will be easy also for 
others to continue and carry on my labours. And by these means I 
suppose that I have established for ever a true and lawful marriage 


between the empirical and the rational faculty, the unkind and 
ill-starred divorce and separation of which has thrown into confu- 
sion all the affairs of the human family. 

Wherefore, seeing that these things do not depend upon myself, 
at the outset of the work I most humbly and fervently pray to God 
the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, that remem- 
bering the sorrows of mankind and the pilgrimage of this our life 
wherein we wear out days few and evil, they will vouchsafe through 
my hands to endow the human family with new mercies. This like- 
wise I humbly pray, that things human may not interfere with things 
divine, and that from the opening of the ways of sense and the in- 
crease of natural light there may arise in our minds no incredulity 
or darkness with regard to the divine mysteries; but rather that the 
understanding being thereby purified and purged of fancies and 
vanity, and yet not the less subject and entirely submissive to the 
divine oracles, may give to faith that which is faith's. Lastly, that 
knowledge being now discharged of that venom which the serpent 
infused into it, and which makes the mind of man to swell, we may 
not be wise above measure and sobriety, but cultivate truth in 

And now having said my prayers I turn to men; to whom I have 
certain salutary admonitions to offer and certain fair requests to 
make. My first admonition (which was also my prayer) is that 
men confine the sense within the limits of duty in respect to things 
divine: for the sense is like the sun, which reveals the face of earth, 
but seals and shuts up the face of heaven. My next, that in flying 
from this evil they fall not into the opposite error, which they will 
surely do if they think that the inquisition of nature is in any part 
interdicted or forbidden. For it was not that pure and uncorrupted 
natural knowledge whereby Adam gave names to the creatures 
according to their propriety, which gave occasion to the fall. It was 
the ambitious and proud desire of moral knowledge to judge of 
good and evil, to the end that man may revolt from God and give 
laws to himself, which was the form and manner of the temptation. 
Whereas of the sciences which regard nature, the divine philosopher 
declares that "it is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but it is the 
glory of the King to find a thing out." Even as though the divine 


nature took pleasure in the innocent and kindly sport o£ children 
playing at hide and seek, and vouchsafed of his kindness and good- 
ness to admit the human spirit for his play-fellow at that game. 
Lastly, I would address one general admonition to all; that they 
consider what are the true ends of knowledge, and that they seek 
it not either for pleasure of the mind, or for contention, or for 
superiority to others, or for profit, or fame, or power, or any of these 
inferior things; but for the benefit and use of life; and that they 
perfect and govern it in charity. For it was from lust of power that 
the angels fell, from lust of knowledge that man fell; but of charity 
there can be no excess, neither did angel or man ever come in danger 
by it. 

The requests I have to make are these. Of myself I say nothing; 
but in behalf of the business which is in hand I entreat men to 
believe that it is not an opinion to be held, but a work to be done; 
and to be well assured that I am labouring to lay the foundation, 
not of any sect or doctrine, but of human utility and power. Next, 
I ask them to deal fairly by their own interests, and laying aside all 
emulations and prejudices in favour of this or that opinion, to join 
in consultation for the common good; and being now freed and 
guarded by the securities and helps which I offer from the errors and 
impediments of the way, to come forward themselves and take part 
in that which remains to be done. Moreover, to be of good hope, nor 
to imagine that this Instauration of mine is a thing infinite and be- 
yond the power of man, when it is in fact the true end and termi- 
nation of infinite error; and seeing also that it is by no means 
forgetful of the conditions of mortality and humanity, (for it does 
not suppose that the work can be altogether completed within one 
generation, but provides for its being taken up by another) ; and 
finally that it seeks for the sciences not arrogantly in the little cells 
of human wit, but with reverence in the greater world. But it is the 
empty things that are vast : things solid are most contracted and lie 
in little room. And now I have only one favour more to ask (else 
injustice to me may perhaps imperil the business itself) — that men 
will consider well how far, upon that which I must needs assert (if 
I am to be consistent with myself), they are entitled to judge and 
decide upon these doctrines of mine; inasmuch as all that premature 


human reasoning which anticipates inquiry, and is abstracted from 
the facts rashly and sooner than is fit, is by me rejected (so far as 
the inquisition of nature is concerned), as a thing uncertain, con- 
fused, and ill built up; and I cannot be fairly asked to abide by the 
decision of a tribunal which is itself on its trial. 

The work is in six Parts: — 

I. The Divisions of the Sciences. 

1. The New Organon; or Directions concerning the Interpretation 
of Nature. 

3. The Phenomena of the Universe; or a Natural and Experimental 

History for the foundation of Philosophy. 

4. The Ladder of the Intellect. 

5. The Forerunners; or Anticipations of the New Philosophy. 

6. The New Philosophy; or Active Science. 

The Arguments of the several Parts 

It being part of my design to set everything forth, as far as may 
be, plainly and perspicuously (for nakedness of the mind is still, as 
nakedness of the body once was, the companion of innocence and 
simplicity), let me first explain the order and plan of the work. I 
distribute it into six parts. 

The first part exhibits a summary or general description of the 
knowledge which the human race at present possesses. For I thought 
it good to make some pause upon that which is received; that thereby 
the old may be more easily made perfect and the new more easily 
approached. And I hold the improvement of that which we have 
to be as much an object as the acquisition of more. Besides which 
it will make me the better listened to; for "He that is ignorant (says 
the proverb) receives not the words of knowledge, unless thou first 
tell him that which is in his own heart." We will therefore make 
a coasting voyage along the shores of the arts and sciences received; 
not without importing into them some useful things by the way. 

In laying out the divisions of the sciences however, I take into 
account not only things already invented and known, but likewise 
things omitted which ought to be there. For there are found in the 
intellectual as in the terrestrial globe waste regions as well as culti- 
vated ones. It is no wonder therefore if I am sometimes obliged to 



depart from the ordinary divisions. For in adding to the total you 
necessarily alter the parts and sections; and the received divisions o£ 
the sciences are fitted only to the received sum of them as it stands 

With regard to those things which I shall mark down as omitted, 
I intend not merely to set down a simple title or a concise argument 
of that which is wanted. For as often as I have occasion to report 
anything as deficient, the nature of which is at all obscure, so that 
men may not perhaps easily understand what I mean or what the 
work is which I have in my head, I shall always (provided it be 
a matter of any worth) take care to subjoin either directions for the 
execution of such work, or else a portion of the work itself executed 
by myself as a sample of the whole: thus giving assistance in every 
case either by work or by counsel. For if it were for the sake of my 
reputation only and other men's interests were not concerned in it, 
I would not have any man think that in such cases merely some 
light and vague notion has crossed my mind, and that the things 
which I desire and offer at are no better than wishes; when they 
are in fact things which men may certainly command if they will, 
and of which I have formed in my own mind a clear and detailed 
conception. For I do not propose merely to survey these regions in 
my mind, like an augur taking auspices, but to enter them like a 
general who means to take possession. — So much for the first part 
of the work. 

Having thus coasted past the ancient arts, the next point is to 
equip the intellect for passing beyond. To the second part therefore 
belongs the doctrine concerning the better and more perfect use of 
human reason in the inquisition of things, and the true helps of the 
understanding: that thereby (as far as the condition of mortality and 
humanity allows) the intellect may be raised and exalted, and made 
capable of overcoming the difficulties and obscurities of nature. The 
art which I introduce with this view (which I call Interpretation of 
Nature) is a kind of logic; though the difference between it and the 
ordinary logic is great; indeed immense. For the ordinary logic 
professes to contrive and prepare helps and guards for the under- 
standing, as mine does; and in this one point they agree. But mine 


differs from it in three points especially; viz. in the end aimed at; 
in the order of demonstration; and in the starting point of the 

For the end which this science of mine proposes is the invention 
not of arguments but of arts; not of things in accordance with prin- 
ciples, but of principles themselves; not of probable reasons, but of 
designations and directions for works. And as the intention is differ- 
ent, so accordingly is the effect; the effect of the one being to over- 
come an opponent in argument, of the other to command nature in 

In accordance with this end is also the nature and order of the 
demonstrations. For in the ordinary logic almost all the work is 
spent about the syllogism. Of induction the logicians seem hardly 
to have taken any serious thought, but they pass it by with a slight 
notice, and hasten on to the formulae of disputation. I, on the con- 
trary, reject demonstration by syllogism, as acting too confusedly, 
and letting nature slip out of its hands. For although no one can 
doubt that things which agree in a middle term agree with one 
another (which is a proposition of mathematical certainty), yet it 
leaves an opening for deception; which is this. The syllogism con- 
sists of propositions; propositions of words; and words are the 
tokens and signs of notions. Now if the very notions of the mind 
(which are as the soul of words and the basis of the whole structure) 
be improperly and over-hastily abstracted from facts, vague, not 
sufficiently definite, faulty in short in many ways, the whole edifice 
tumbles. I therefore reject the syllogism; and that not only as re- 
gards principles (for to principles the logicians themselves do not 
apply it) but also as regards middle propositions; which, though 
obtainable no doubt by the syllogism, are, when so obtained, barren 
of works, remote from practice, and altogether unavailable for the 
active department of the sciences. Although therefore I leave to the 
syllogism and these famous and boasted modes of demonstration 
their jurisdiction over popular arts and such as are matter of opinion 
(in which department I leave all as it is), yet in dealing with the 
nature of things I use induction throughout, and that in the minor 
propositions as well as the major. For I consider induction to be 
that form of demonstration which upholds the sense, and closes 


with nature, and comes to the very brink o£ operation, if it does not 
actually deal with it. 

Hence it follows that the order of demonstration is likewise 
inverted. For hitherto the proceeding has been to fly at once from 
the sense and particulars up to the most general propositions, as 
certain fixed poles for the argument to turn upon, and from these 
to derive the rest by middle terms: a short way, no doubt, but pre- 
cipitate; and one which will never lead to nature, though it offers 
an easy and ready way to disputation. Now my plan is to proceed 
regularly and gradually from one axiom to another, so that the most 
general are not reached till the last: but then when you do come to 
them you find them to be not empty notions, but well defined, and 
such as nature would really recognise as her first principles, and such 
as lie at the heart and marrow of things. 

But the greatest change I introduce is in the form itself of 
induction and the judgment made thereby. For the induction of 
which the logicians speak, which proceeds by simple enumeration, 
is a puerile thing; concludes at hazard; is always liable to be upset 
by a contradictory instance; takes into account only what is known 
and ordinary; and leads to no result. 

Now what the sciences stand in need of is a form of induction 
which shall analyse experience and take it to pieces, and by a due 
process of exclusion and rejection lead to an inevitable conclusion. 
And if that ordinary mode of judgment practised by the logicians 
was so laborious, and found exercise for such great wits, how much 
more labour must we be prepared to bestow upon this other, which 
is extracted not merely out of the depths of the mind, but out of the 
very bowels of nature. 

Nor is this all. For I also sink the foundations of the sciences 
deeper and firmer; and I begin the inquiry nearer the source than 
men have done heretofore; submitting to examination those things 
which the common logic takes on trust. For first, the logicians 
borrow the principles of each science from the science itself; secondly, 
they hold in reverence the first notions of the mind; and lastly, they 
receive as conclusive the immediate informations of the sense, when 
well disposed. Now upon the first point, I hold that true logic ought 


to enter the several provinces of science armed with a higher 
authority than belongs to the principles of those sciences themselves, 
and ought to call those putative principles to account until they are 
fully established. Then with regard to the first notions of the intel- 
lect; there is not one of the impressions taken by the intellect when 
left to go its own way, but I hold it for suspected, and no way 
established, until it has submitted to a new trial and a fresh judg- 
ment has been thereupon pronounced. And lastly, the information 
of the sense itself I sift and examine in many ways. For certain it 
is that the senses deceive; but then at the same time they supply the 
means of discovering their own errors; only the errors are here, the 
means of discovery are to seek. 

The sense fails in two ways. Sometimes it gives no information, 
sometimes it gives false information. For first, there are very many 
things which escape the sense, even when best disposed and no way 
obstructed; by reason either of the subtlety of the whole body, or 
the minuteness of the parts, or distance of place, or slowness or else 
swiftness of motion, or familiarity of the object, or other causes. 
And again when the sense does apprehend a thing its apprehension 
is not much to be relied upon. For the testimony and information 
of the sense has reference always to man, not to the universe; and it 
is a great error to assert that the sense is the measure of things. 

To meet these difficulties, I have sought on all sides diligendy and 
faithfully to provide helps for the sense — substitutes to supply its 
failures, rectifications to correct its errors; and this I endeavour to 
accomplish not so much by instruments as by experiments. For 
the subtlety of experiments is far greater than that of the sense 
itself, even when assisted by exquisite instruments; such experiments, 
I mean, as are skilfully and artificially devised for the express pur- 
pose of determining the point in question. To the immediate and 
proper perception of the sense therefore I do not give much weight; 
but I contrive that the office of the sense shall be only to judge of the 
experiment, and that the experiment itself shall judge of the thing. 
And thus I conceive that I perform the office of a true priest of the 
sense (from which all knowledge in nature must be sought, unless 
men mean to go mad) and a not unskilful interpreter of its oracles; 


and that while others only profess to uphold and cultivate the sense, 
I do so in fact. Such then are the provisions I make for finding 
the genuine light of nature and kindling and bringing it to bear. 
And they would be sufficient of themselves, if the human intellect 
were even, and like a fair sheet of paper with no writing on it. 
But since the minds of men are strangely possessed and beset, so 
that there is no true and even surface left to reflect the genuine 
rays of things, it is necessary to seek a remedy for this also. 

Now the idols, or phantoms, by which the mind is occupied are 
either adventitious or innate. The adventitious come into the mind 
from without; namely, either from the doctrines and sects of 
philosophers, or from perverse rules of demonstration. But the 
innate are inherent in the very nature of the intellect, which is far 
more prone to error than the sense is. For let men please themselves 
as they will in admiring and almost adoring the human mind, this 
is certain: that as an uneven mirror distorts the rays of objects 
according to its own figure and section, so the mind, when it 
receives impressions of objects through the sense, cannot be trusted 
to report them truly, but in forming its notions mixes up its own 
nature with the nature of things. 

And as the first two kinds of idols are hard to eradicate, so idols 
of this last kind cannot be eradicated at all. All that can be done is 
to point them out, so that this insidious action of the mind may be 
marked and reproved (else as fast as old errors are destroyed new 
ones will spring up out of the ill complexion of the mind itself, 
and so we shall have but a change of errors, and not a clearance) ; 
and to lay it down once for all as a fixed and estabUshed maxim, that 
the intellect is not qualified to judge except by means of induction, 
and induction in its legitimate form. This doctrine then of the 
expurgation of the intellect to qualify it for dealing with truth, is 
comprised in three refutations: the refutation of the Philosophies; 
the refutation of the Demonstrations; and the refutation of the 
Natural Human Reason. The explanation of which things, and of 
the true relation between the nature of things and the nature of the 
mind, is as the strewing and decoration of the bridal chamber of the 
Mind and the Universe, the Divine Goodness assisting; out of which 
marriage let us hope (and be this the prayer of the bridal song) 
there may spring helps to man, and a line and race of inventions 


that may in some degree subdue and overcome the necessities and 
miseries of humanity. This is the second part of the work. 

But I design not only to indicate and mark out the ways, but also 
to enter them. And therefore the third part of the work embraces 
the Phenomena of the Universe; that is to say, experience of every 
kind, and such a natural history as may serve for a foundation to 
build philosophy upon. For a good method of demonstration or 
form of interpreting nature may keep the mind from going astray 
or stumbling, but it is not any excellence of method that can supply 
it with the material of knowledge. Those however who aspire not 
to guess and divine, but to discover and know; who propose not to 
devise mimic and fabulous worlds of their own, but to examine and 
dissect the nature of this very world itself; must go to facts them- 
selves for everything. Nor can the place of this labour and search 
and worldwide perambulation be supplied by any genius or medita- 
tion or argumentation; no, not if all men's wits could meet in one. 
This therefore we must have, or the business must be for ever 
abandoned. But up to this day such has been the condition of men 
in this matter, that it is no wonder if nature will not give herself 
into their hands. 

For first, the information of the sense itself, sometimes failing, 
sometimes false; observation, careless, irregular, and led by chance; 
tradition, vain and fed on rumour; practice, slavishly bent upon its 
work; experiment, blind, stupid, vague, and prematurely broken 
off; lastly, natural history, trivial and poor; — all these have contrib- 
uted to supply the understanding with very bad materials for 
philosophy and the sciences. 

Then an attempt is made to mend the matter by a preposterous 
subtlety and winnowing of argument. But this comes too late, 
the case being already past remedy; and is far from setting the 
business right or sifting away the errors. The only hope therefore of 
any greater increase or progress lies in a reconstruction of the 

Of this reconstruction the foundation must be laid in natural 
history, and that of a new kind and gathered on a new principle. 
For it is in vain that you polish the mirror if there are no images to 
be reflected; and it is as necessary that the intellect should be sup- 


plied with fit matter to work upon, as with safeguards to guide its 
working. But my history differs from that in use (as my logic does) 
in many things, — in end and office, in mass and composition, in 
subtlety, in selection also and setting forth, with a view to the 
operations which are to follow. 

For first, the object of a natural history which I propose is not so 
much to delight with variety of matter or to help with present 
use of experiments, as to give light to the discovery of causes and 
supply a suckling philosophy with its first food. For though it be 
true that I am principally in pursuit of works and the active depart- 
ment of the sciences, yet I wait for harvest-time, and do not attempt 
to mow the moss or to reap the green corn. For I well know that 
axioms once rightly discovered will carry whole troops of works 
along with them, and produce them, not here and there one, but in 
clusters. And that unseasonable and puerile hurry to snatch by way 
of earnest at the first works which come within reach, I utterly 
condemn and reject, as an Atalanta's apple that hinders the race. 
Such then is the office of this natural history of mine. 

Next, with regard to the mass and composition of it: I mean it to 
be a history not only of nature free and at large (when she is left 
to her own course and does her work her own way) — such as that of 
the heavenly bodies, meteors, earth and sea, minerals, plants, animals, 
— but much more of nature under constraint and vexed; that is to 
say, when by art and the hand of man she is forced out of her 
natural state, and squeezed and moulded. Therefore I set down at 
length all experiments of the mechanical arts, of the operative part 
of the liberal arts, of the many crafts which have not yet grown 
into arts properly so called, so far as I have been able to examine them 
and as they conduce to the end in view. Nay (to say the plain truth) 
I do in fact (low and vulgar as men may think it) count more upon 
this part both for helps and safeguards than upon the other; seeing 
that the nature of things betrays itself more readily under the vexa- 
tions of art than in its natural freedom. 

Nor do I confine the history to Bodies; but I have thought it my 
duty besides to make a separate history of such Virtues as may be 
considered cardinal in nature. I mean those original passions or 
desires of matter which constitute the primary elements of nature; 


such as Dense and Rare, Hot and Cold, Solid and Fluid, Heavy 
and Light, and several others. 

Then again, to speak of subtlety: I seek out and get together a 
kind of experiments much subtler and simpler than those which 
occur accidentally. For I drag into Ught many things which no 
one who was not proceeding by a regular and certain way to the 
discovery of causes would have thought of inquiring after; being 
indeed in themselves of no great use; which shows that they were 
not sought for on their own account; but having just the same 
relation to things and works which the letters of the alphabet have 
to speech and words — which, though in themselves useless, are the 
elements of which all discourse is made up. 

Further, in the selection of the relation and experiments I con- 
ceive I have been a more cautious purveyor than those who have 
hitherto dealt with natural history. For I admit nothing but on the 
faith of eyes, or at least of careful and severe examination; so that 
nothing is exaggerated for wonder's sake, but what I state is sound 
and without mixture of fables or vanity. All received or current 
falsehoods also (which by strange negligence have been allowed for 
many ages to prevail and become established) I proscribe and brand 
by name; that the sciences may be no more troubled with them. For 
it has been well observed that the fables and superstitions and follies 
which nurses instil into children do serious injury to their minds; 
and the same consideration makes me anxious, having the manage- 
ment of the childhood as it were of philosophy in its course of natural 
history, not to let it accustom itself in the beginning to any vanity. 
Moreover, whenever I come to a new experiment of any subtlety 
(though it be in my own opinion certain and approved), I never- 
theless subjoin a clear account of the manner in which I made it; 
that men knowing exactly how each point was made out, may see 
whether there be any error connected with it, and may arouse 
themselves to devise proofs more trustworthy and exquisite, if such 
can be found; and finally, I interpose everywhere admonitions and 
scruples and cautions, with a religious care to eject, repress, and as 
it were exorcise every kind of phantasm. 

Lastly, knowing how much the sight of man's mind is distracted 
by experience and history, and how hard it is at the first (especially 


for minds either tender or preoccupied) to become familiar with 
nature, I not unfrequently subjoin observations of my own, being 
as the first offers, incUnations, and as it were glances of history 
towards philosophy; both by way of an assurance to men that they 
will be kept for ever tossing on the waves of experience, and also 
that when the time comes for the intellect to begin its work, it 
may find everything the more ready. By such a natural history 
then as I have described, I conceive that a safe and convenient 
approach may be made to nature, and matter supplied of good 
quality and well prepared for the understanding to work upon. 

And now that we have surrounded the intellect with faithful helps 
and guards, and got together with most careful selection a regular 
army of divine works, it may seem that we have no more to do but 
to proceed to philosophy itself. And yet in a matter so difficult and 
doubtful there are still some things which it seems necessary to 
premise, partly for convenience of explanation, partly for present use. 

Of these the first is to set forth examples of inquiry and invention 
according to my method, exhibited by anticipation in some particular 
subjects; choosing such subjects as are at once the most noble in 
themselves among those under inquiry, and most different one 
from another; that there may be an example in every kind. I do 
not speak of those examples which are joined to the several precepts 
and rules by way of illustration (for of these I have given plenty 
in the second part of the work) ; but I mean actual types and models, 
by which the entire process of the mind and the whole fabric and 
order of invention from the beginning to the end, in certain subjects, 
and those various and remarkable, should be set as it were before 
the eyes. For I remember that in the mathematics it is easy to follow 
the demonstration when you have a machine beside you; whereas 
without that help all appears involved and more subtle than it 
really is. To examples of this kind, — being in fact nothing more 
than an application of the second part in detail and at large, — the 
fourth part of the work is devoted. 

The fifth part is for temporary use only, pending the completion 
of the rest; like interest payable from time to time until the principal 


be forthcoming. For I do not make so blindly for the end of my 
journey, as to neglect anything useful that may turn up by the way. 
And therefore I include in this fifth part such things as I have 
myself discovered, proved, or added, — not however according to the 
true rules and methods of interpretation, but by the ordinary use of 
the understanding in inquiring and discovering. For besides that 
I hope my speculations may in virtue of my continual conversancy 
with nature have a value beyond the pretensions of my wit, they will 
serve in the meantime for wayside inns, in which the mind may rest 
and refresh itself on its journey to more certain conclusions. Never- 
theless I wish it to be understood in the meantime that they are 
conclusions by which (as not being discovered and proved by the 
true form of interpretation) I do not at all mean to bind myself. Nor 
need any one be alarmed at such suspension of judgment, in one 
who maintains not simply that nothing can be known, but only that 
nothing can be known except in a certain course and way; and yet 
establishes provisionally certain degrees of assurance, for use and 
relief until the mind shall arrive at a knowledge of causes in which 
it can rest. For even those schools of philosophy which held the 
absolute impossibility of knowing anything were not inferior to 
those which took upon them to pronounce. But then they did not 
provide helps for the sense and understanding, as I have done, but 
simply took away all their authority : which is quite a different thing 
— almost the reverse. 

The sixth part of my work (to which the rest is subservient and 
ministrant) discloses and sets forth that philosophy which by the 
legitimate, chaste, and severe course of inquiry which I have 
explained and provided is at length developed and established. 
The completion however of this last part is a thing both above my 
strength and beyond my hopes. I have made a beginning of the 
work — a beginning, as I hope, not unimportant: — the fortune of the 
human race will give the issue; — such an issue, it may be, as in the 
present condition of things and men's minds cannot easily be con- 
ceived or imagined. For the matter in hand is no mere felicity of 
speculation, but the real business and fortunes of the human race, 
and all power of operation. For man is but the servant and inter- 


preter of nature: what he does and what he knows is only what he 
has observed of nature's order in fact or in thought; beyond this he 
knows nothing and can do nothing. For the chain of causes cannot 
by any force be loosed or broken, nor can nature be commanded 
except by being obeyed. And so those twin objects, human Knowl- 
edge and human Power, do really meet in one; and it is from 
ignorance of causes that operation fails. 

And all depends on keeping the eye steadily fixed upon the 
facts of nature and so receiving their images simply as they are. 
For God forbid that we should give out a dream of our own imagina- 
tion for a pattern of the world; rather may he graciously grant to us 
to write an apocalypse or true vision of the footsteps of the Creator 
imprinted on his creatures. 

Therefore do thou, O Father, who gavest the visible light as the 
first fruits of creation, and didst breathe into the face of man the 
intellectual light as the crown and consummation thereof, guard 
and protect this work, which coming from thy goodness returneth 
to thy glory. Thou when thou turnedst to look upon the works 
which thy hands had made, sawest that all was very good, and didst 
rest from thy labours. But man, when he turned to look upon the 
work which his hands had made, saw that all was vanity and 
vexation of spirit, and could find no rest therein. Wherefore if we 
labour in thy works with the sweat of our brows thou wilt make us 
partakers of thy vision and thy sabbath. Humbly we pray that this 
mind may be steadfast in us, and that through these our hands, and 
the hands of others to whom thou shalt give the same spirit, thou 
wilt vouchsafe to endow the human family with new mercies. 


THOSE who have taken upon them to lay down the law of 
nature as a thing already searched out and understood, 
whether they have spoken in simple assurance or profes- 
sional affectation, have therein done philosophy and the sciences 
great injury. For as they have been successful in inducing belief, 
so they have been effective in quenching and stopping inquiry; and 
have done more harm by spoiling and putting an end to other men's 
efforts than good by their own. Those on the other hand who have 
taken a contrary course, and asserted that absolutely nothing can be 
known, — whether it were from hatred of the ancient sophists, or 
from uncertainty and fluctuation of mind, or even from a kind of 
fulness of learning, that they fell upon this opinion, — have certainly 
advanced reasons for it that are not to be despised; but yet they have 
neither started from true principles nor rested in the just conclusion, 
zeal and affectation having carried them much too far. The more 
ancient of the Greeks (whose writings are lost) took up with better 
judgment a position between these two extremes, — ^between the 
presumption of pronouncing on everything, and the despair of com- 
prehending anything; and though frequently and bitterly complain- 
ing of the difficulty of inquiry and the obscurity of things, and like 
impatient horses champing the bit, they did not the less follow up 
their object and engage with Nature; thinking (it seems) that this 
very question, — viz. whether or no anything can be known, — was 
to be settled not by arguing, but by trying. And yet they too, trusting 
entirely to the force of their understanding, applied no rule, but 
made everything turn upon hard thinking and perpetual working 
and exercise of the mind. 

Now my method, though hard to practise, is easy to explain; and it 
is this. I propose to establish progressive stages of certainty. The 
evidence of the sense, helped and guarded by a certain process of 



correction, I retain. But the mental operation which follows the 
act of sense I for the most part reject; and instead of it I open and 
lay out a new and certain path for the mind to proceed in, starting 
directly from the simple sensuous perception. The necessity of this 
was felt no doubt by those who attributed so much importance to 
Logic; showing thereby that they were in search of helps for the 
understanding, and had no confidence in the native and spontaneous 
process of the mind. But this remedy comes too late to do any 
good, when the mind is already, through the daily intercourse and 
conversation of life, occupied with unsound doctrines and beset on 
all sides by vain imaginations. And therefore that art of Logic, 
coming (as I said) too late to the rescue, and no way able to set 
matters right again, has had the effect of fixing errors rather than 
disclosing truth. There remains but one course for the recovery 
of a sound and healthy condition, — namely, that the entire work of 
the understanding be commenced afresh, and the mind itself be 
from the very outset not left to take its own course, but guided at 
every step; and the business be done as if by machinery. Certainly 
if in things mechanical men had set to work with their naked hands, 
without help or force of instruments, just as in things intellectual 
they have set to work with little else than the naked forces of the 
understanding, very small would the matters have been which, even 
with their best efforts applied in conjunction, they could have 
attempted or accomplished. Now (to pause while upon this example 
and look in it as in a glass) let us suppose that some vast obelisk 
were (for the decoration of a triumph or some such magnificence) to 
be removed from its place, and that men should set to work upon 
it with their naked hands; would not any sober spectator think 
them mad ? And if they should then send for more people, thinking 
that in that way they might manage it, would he not think them all 
the madder.'' And if they then proceeded to make a selection, putting 
away the weaker hands, and using only the strong and vigorous, 
would he not think them madder than ever ? And if lastly, not con- 
tent with this, they resolved to call in aid the art of athletics, and 
required all their men to come with hands, arms, and sinews well 
anointed and medicated according to the rules of art, would he not 
cry out that they were only taking pains to show a kind of method 


and discretion in their madness? Yet just so it is that men proceed 
in matters intellectual, — with just the same kind o£ mad effort and 
useless combination of forces, — when they hope great things either 
from the number and cooperation or from the excellency and acute- 
ness of individual wits; yea, and when they endeavour by Logic 
(which may be considered as a kind of athletic art) to strengthen 
the sinews of the understanding; and yet with all this study and 
endeavour it is apparent to any true judgment that they are but 
applying the naked intellect all the time; whereas in every great 
work to be done by the hand of man it is manifestly impossible, 
without instruments or machinery, either for the strength of each 
to be exerted or the strength of all to be united. 

Upon these premises two things occur to me of which, that they 
may not be overlooked, I would have men reminded. First it falls 
out fortunately as I think for the allaying of contradictions and 
heart-burnings, that the honour and reverence due to the ancients 
remains untouched and undiminished; while I may carry out my 
designs and at the same time reap the fruit of my modesty. For if 
I should profess that I, going the same road as the ancients, have 
something better to produce, there must needs have been some com- 
parison or rivalry between us (not to be avoided by any art of words) 
in respect of excellency or ability of wit; and though in this there 
would be nothing unlawful or new (for if there be anything misap- 
prehended by them, or falsely laid down, why may not I, using a 
liberty common to all, take exception to it?) yet the contest, however 
just and allowable, would have been an unequal one perhaps, in 
respect of the measure of my own powers. As it is however, — my 
object being to open a new way for the understanding, a way by 
them untried and unknown, — the case is altered; party zeal and 
emulation are at an end; and I appear merely as a guide to point 
out the road; an office of small authority, and depending more upon 
a kind of luck than upon any ability or excellency. And thus much 
relates to the persons only. The other point of which I would have 
men reminded relates to the matter itself. 

Be it remembered then that I am far from wishing to interfere 
with the philosophy which now flourishes, or with any other philoso- 
phy more correct and complete than this which has been or may 


hereafter be propounded. For I do not object to the use of this 
received philosophy, or others hke it, for supplying matter for 
disputations or ornaments for discourse, — for the professor's lecture 
and for the business of life. Nay more, I declare openly that for 
these uses the philosophy which I bring forward will not be much 
available. It does not lie in the way. It cannot be caught up in 
passage. It does not flatter the understanding by conformity with 
preconceived notions. Nor will it come down to the apprehension 
of the vulgar except by its utility and effects. 

Let there be therefore (and may it be for the benefit of both) 
two streams and two dispensations of knowledge; and in like man- 
ner two tribes or kindreds of students in philosophy — tribes not 
hostile or alien to each other, but bound together by mutual 
services; — ^let there in short be one method for the cultivation, 
another for the invention, of knowledge. 

And for those who prefer the former, either from hurry or from 
considerations of business or for want of mental power to take in 
and embrace the other (which must needs be most men's case), I 
wish that they may succeed to their desire in what they are about, 
and obtain what they are pursuing. But if any man there be who, 
not content to rest in and use the knowledge which has already 
been discovered, aspires to penetrate further; to overcome, not an 
adversary in argument, but nature in action; to seek, not pretty and 
probable conjectures, but certain and demonstrable knowledge; — I 
invite all such to join themselves, as true sons of knowledge, with 
me, that passing by the outer courts o£ nature, which numbers have 
trodden, we may find a way at length into her inner chambers. And 
to make my meaning clearer and to familiarise the thing by giving it 
a name, I have chosen to call one of these methods or ways Anticipa- 
tion of the Mind, the other Interpretation of Nature. 

Moreover I have one request to make. I have on my own part 
made it my care and study that the things which I shall propound 
should not only be true, but should also be presented to men's minds, 
how strangely soever preoccupied and obstructed, in a manner not 
harsh or unpleasant. It is but reasonable however (especially in so 
great a restoration of learning and knowledge) that I should claim 
of men one favour in return; which is this; If any one would form 


an opinion or judgment either out of his own observation, or out 
of the crowd of authorities, or out of the forms of demonstration 
(which have now acquired a sanction hke that of judicial laws), 
concerning these speculations of mine, let him not hope that he can 
do it in passage or by the by; but let him examine the thing 
thoroughly; let him make some little trial for himself of the way 
which I describe and lay out; let him familiarise his thoughts with 
that subtlety of nature to which experience bears witness; let him 
correct by seasonable patience and due delay the depraved and deep- 
rooted habits of his mind; and when all this is done and he has 
begun to be his own master, let him (if he will) use his own 





To THE Great Variety of Readers 

FROM the most able, to him that can but spell: There you 
are number'd. We had rather you were weighd. Especially, 
when the fate of all Bookes depends vpon your capacities: 
and not of your heads alone, but of your purses. Well! it is now 
publique, & you wil stand for your priuiledges wee know: to read, 
and censure. Do so, but buy it first. That doth best commend a 
Booke, the Stationer sales. Then, how odde soeuer your braines be, 
or your wisedomes, make your licence the same, and spare not. 
ludge your sixe-pen'orth, your shillings worth, your fiue shillings 
worth at a time, or higher, so you rise to the iust rates, and welcome. 
But, what euer you do, Buy. Censure will not driue a Trade, or 
make the lacke go. And though you be a Magistrate of wit, and sit 
on the Stage at Blac^-Friers, or the Coc\-pit, to arraigne Playes 
dailie, know, these Playes haue had their triall alreadie, and stood 
out all Appeals; and do now come forth quitted rather by a Decree 
of Court, then any purchas'd Letters of commendation. 

It had bene a thing, we confesse, worthie to haue bene wished, 
that the Author himselfe had liu'd to haue set forth, and ouerseen his 
owne writings; But since it hath bin ordain'd otherwise, and he by 

Little more than half of Shakespeare's plays were published during his lifetime; and 
in the publication of these there is no evidence that the author had any hand. Seven 
years after his death, John Heminge and Henry Condell, two of his fellow-actors, 
collected the unpublished plays, and, in 1623, issued them along with the others in 
a single volume, usually known as the First Folio. When one considers what would 
have been lost had it not been for the enterprise of these men, it seems safe to say 
that the volume they introduced by this quaint and not too accurate preface, is the 
most important single book in the imaginative literature of the world. 



death departed from that right, we pray you do not envie his Friends, 
the office of their care, and paine, to haue collected & publish'd them; 
and so to haue publish'd them, as where (before) you were abus'd 
with diuerse stolne, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed 
by the frauds and stealthes of iniurious imposters, that expos'd them : 
euen those, are now offer'd to your view cur'd, and perfect of their 
limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceiued 
them. Who, as he was a happie imitator of Nature, was a most 
gentle expresser of it. His mind and hand went together: And what 
he thought, he vttered with that easinesse, that wee haue scarse re- 
ceiued from him a blot in his papers. But it is not our prouince, who 
onely gather his works, and giue them you, to praise him. It is yours 
that reade him. And there we hope, to your diuers capacities, you 
will finde enough, both to draw, and hold you: for his wit can no 
more lie hid, then it could be lost. Reade him, therefore; and againe, 
and againe: And if then you doe not like him, surely you are in 
some manifest danger, not to vnderstand him. And so we leaue 
you to other of his Friends, whom if you need, can bee your guides: 
if you neede them not, you can leade your selues, and others. And 
such Readers we wish him. 


Henrie Condell. 



SINCE the ancients (as we are told by Pappus) made great 
account of the science of mechanics in the investigation of 
natural things; and the moderns, laying aside substantial 
forms and occult qualities, have endeavored to subject the phe- 
nomena of nature to the laws of mathematics, I have in this treatise 
cultivated mathematics so far as it regards philosophy. The ancients 
considered mechanics in a twofold respect; as rational, which pro- 
ceeds accurately by demonstration, and practical. To practical 
mechanics all the manual arts belong, from which mechanics took 
its name. But as artificers do not work with perfect accuracy, it 
comes to pass that mechanics is so distinguished from geometry, 
that what is perfectly accurate is called geometrical; what is less so 
is called mechanical. But the errors are not in the art, but in the 
artificers. He that works with less accuracy is an imperfect me- 
chanic: and if any could work with perfect accuracy, he would be 
the most perfect mechanic of all; for the description of right lines 
and circles, upon which geometry is founded, belongs to mechanics. 
Geometry does not teach us to draw these lines, but requires them 
to be drawn; for it requires that the learner should first be taught to 
describe these accurately, before he enters upon geometry; then it 
shows how by these operations problems may be solved. To describe 

sir Isaac Newton, the great English mathematician and physicist, was born at 
Woolsthorpe in 1642, and died at Kensington in 1727. He held a professorship at 
Cambridge, represented the University in Parliament, as master of the mint reformed 
the English coinage, and for twenty-five years was president of the Royal Society. 
His theory of the law of universal gravitation, the most important of his many 
discoveries, is expounded in his "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica," 
usually known merely as the "Principia," from which this Preface is translated. 



right lines and circles are problems, but not geometrical problems. 
The solution of these problems is required from mechanics; and by 
geometry the use of them, when so solved, is shown; and it is the 
glory of geometry that from those few principles, fetched from with- 
out, it is able to produce so many things. Therefore geometry is 
founded in mechanical practice, and is nothing but that part of 
universal mechanics which accurately proposes and demonstrates 
the art of measuring. But since the manual arts are chiefly conversant 
in the moving of bodies, it comes to pass that geometry is commonly 
referred to their magnitudes, and mechanics to their motion. In this 
sense rational mechanics will be the science of motions resulting 
from any forces whatsoever, and of the forces required to produce 
any motions, accurately proposed and demonstrated. This part of 
mechanics was cultivated by the ancients in the five powers which 
relate to manual arts, who considered gravity (it not being a manual 
power) no otherwise than as it moved weights by those powers. Our 
design, not respecting arts, but philosophy, and our subject, not 
manual, but natural powers, we consider chiefly those things which 
relate to gravity, levity, elastic force, the resistance of fluids, and 
the like forces, whether attractive or impulsive; and therefore we 
offer this work as mathematical principles of philosophy; for all the 
difficulty of philosophy seems to consist in this — from the phenomena 
of motions to investigate the forces of nature, and then from these 
forces to demonstrate the other phenomena; and to this end the 
general propositions in the first and second book are directed. In 
the third book we give an example of this in the explication of the 
system of the World; for by the propositions mathematically demon- 
strated in the first book, we there derive from the celestial phenomena 
the forces of gravity with which bodies tend to the sun and the 
several planets. Then, from these forces, by other propositions which 
are also mathematical, we deduce the motions of the planets, the 
comets, the moon, and the sea. I wish we could derive the rest of the 
phenomena of nature by the same kind of reasoning from mechanical 
principles; for I am induced by many reasons to suspect that they 
may all depend upon certain forces by which the particles of bodies, 
by some causes hitherto unknown, are either mutually impelled 
towards each other, and cohere in regular figures, or are repelled 


and recede from each other; which forces being unknown, philoso- 
phers have hitherto attempted the search of nature in vain; but I 
hope the principles here laid down will afford some light either to 
that or some truer method of philosophy. 

In the publication of this work, the most acute and universally 
learned Mr. Edmund Halley not only assisted me with his pains in 
correcting the press and taking care of the schemes, but it was to 
his solicitations that its becoming public is owing; for when he had 
obtained of me my demonstrations of the figure of the celestial orbits, 
he continually pressed me to communicate the same to the Royal 
Society, who afterwards, by their kind encouragement and entreaties, 
engaged me to think of publishing them. But after I had begun to 
consider the inequalities of the lunar motions, and had entered upon 
some other things relating to the laws and measures of gravity, and 
other forces; and the figures that would be described by bodies 
attracted according to given laws; and the motion of several bodies 
moving among themselves; the motion of bodies in resisting medi- 
ums; the forces, densities, and motions of mediums; the orbits of 
the comets, and such like; I put off that publication till I had made 
a search into those matters, and could put out the whole together. 
What relates to the lunar motions (being imperfect) I have put all 
together in the corollaries of proposition 66, to avoid being obliged 
to propose and distinctly demonstrate the several things there con- 
tained in a method more prolix than the subject deserved, and inter- 
rupt the series of the several propositions. Some things, found out 
after the rest, I chose to insert in places less suitable, rather than 
change the number of the propositions and the citations. I heartily 
beg that what I have here done may be read with candor; and that 
the defects I have been guilty of upon this difficult subject may be 
not so much reprehended as kindly supplied, and investigated by 
new endeavors of my readers. 

Cambridge, Trinity College, Isaac Newton. 

May 8, 1686. 



TIS with a poet, as with a man who designs to build, and is 
very exact, as he supposes, in casting up the cost beforehand; 
but, generally speaking, he is mistaken in his account, and 
reckons short of the expense he first intended. He alters his mind 
as the work proceeds, and will have this or that convenience more, 
of which he had not thought when he began. So has it happen'd to 
me; I have built a house, where I intended but a lodge; yet with 
better success than a certain nobleman,' who, beginning with a dog 
kennel, never liv'd to finish the palace he had contriv'd. 

From translating the first of Homer's Iliads (which I intended as 
an essay to the whole work) I proceeded to the translation of the 
twelfth book of Ovid's Metamorphoses, because it contains, among 
other things, the causes, the beginning, and ending, of the Trojan 
war. Here I ought in reason to have stopp'd; but the speeches of 
Ajax and Ulysses lying next in my way, I could not balk 'em. When 
I had compass'd them, I was so taken with the former part of the 
fifteenth book, (which is the masterpiece of the whole Metamor- 
phoses,) that I enjoin'd myself the pleasing task of rend'ring it into 
English. And now I found, by the number of my verses, that they 
began to swell into a little volume; which gave me an occasion of 
looking backward on some beauties of my author, in his former 
books. There occurr'd to me the Hunting of the Boar, Cinyras and 

John Dryden (1631-1700), the great dramatic and satirical poet of the later seven- 
teenth century, whose translation of Virgil's "^neid" appears in another volume of 
the Harvard Classics, deserves hardly less distinction as' a prose writer than as a poet. 
The present essay, prefixed to a volume of narrative poems, is largely concerned with 
Chaucer; and in its genial and penetrating criticism, expressed with characteristic 
clearness and vigor, can be seen the ground for naming Dryden the first of English 
literary critics, and the founder of modern prose style. 

' Scott suggests that the allusion is to the Duke of Buckingham, who was often 
satirized for the slow progress of his great mansion at Cliefden. 



Myrrha, the good-natur'd story of Baucis and Philemon, with the 
rest, which I hope I have translated closely enough, and given them 
the same turn o£ verse which they had in the original; and this, I 
may say without vanity, is not the talent of every poet. He who has 
arriv'd the nearest to it, is the ingenious and learned Sandys, the 
best versilier of the former age; if I may properly call it by that 
name, which was the former part of this concluding century. For 
Spenser and Fairfax both flourish'd in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; 
great masters in our language, and who saw much farther into the 
beauties of our numbers than those who immediately follow'd them. 
Milton was the poetical son of Spenser, and Mr. Waller of Fairfax, 
for we have our lineal descents and clans as well as other families. 
Spenser more than once insinuates that the soul of Chaucer was 
transfus'd into his body, and that he was begotten by him two 
hundred years after his decease. Milton has acknowledg'd to me 
that Spenser was his original, and many besides myself have heard 
our famous Waller own that he deriv'd the harmony of his numbers 
from the Godfrey of Bidloign, which was turn'd into English by 
Mr. Fairfax. But to return. Having done with Ovid for this time, 
it came into my mind that our old English poet, Chaucer, in many 
things resembled him, and that with no disadvantage on the side 
of the modern author, as I shall endeavor to prove when I compare 
them; and as I am, and always have been, studious to promote the 
honor of my native country, so I soon resolv'd to put their merits to 
the trial, by turning some of the Canterbury Tales into our language, 
as it is now refin'd; for by this means, both the poets being set in 
the same light, and dress'd in the same English habit, story to be 
compar'd with story, a certain judgment may be made betwixt them 
by the reader, without obtruding my opinion on him. Or, if I seem 
partial to my countryman and predecessor in the laurel, the friends 
of antiquity are not few; and besides many of the learn'd, Ovid has 
almost all the beaux, and the whole fair sex, his declar'd patrons. 
Perhaps I have assum'd somewhat more to myself than they allow 
me, because I have adventur'd to sum up the evidence; but the 
readers are the jury, and their privilege remains entire, to decide, 
according to the merits of the cause, or if they please, to bring it to 
another hearing before some other court. In the mean time, to 


follow the thrid of my discourse, (as thoughts, according to Mr. 
Hobbes, have always some connection,) so from Chaucer I was led 
to think on Boccace, who was not only his contemporary, but also 
pursued the same studies; wrote novels in prose, and many works in 
verse; particularly is said to have invented the octave rhyme,^ or 
stanza of eight lines, which ever since has been maintain'd by the 
practice of all Italian writers, who are, or at least assume the title of, 
heroic poets. He and Chaucer, among other things, had this in com- 
mon, that they refin'd their mother tongues; but with this difference, 
that Dante had begun to file their language, at least in verse, before 
the time of Boccace, who likewise receiv'd no little help from his 
master Petrarch. But the reformation of their prose was wholly 
owing to Boccace himself, who is yet the standard of purity in the 
Italian tongue; tho' many of his phrases are become obsolete, as in 
process of time it must needs happen. Chaucer (as you have formerly 
been told by our learn'd Mr. Rymer) first adorn'd and amplified 
our barren tongue from the Provencal,' which was then the most 
polish'd of all the modern languages; but this subject has been 
copiously treated by that great critic, who deserves no little commen- 
dation from us his countrymen. For these reasons of time, and 
resemblance of genius in Chaucer and Boccace, I resolv'd to join 
them in my present work; to which I have added some original 
papers of my own; which, whether they are equal or inferior to my 
other poems, an author is the most improper judge, and therefore 
I leave them wholly to the mercy of the reader. I will hope the best, 
that they will not be condemn'd; but if they should, I have the excuse 
of an old gentleman, who mounting on horseback before some ladies, 
when I was present, got up somewhat heavily, but desir'd of the fair 
spectators that they would count fourscore and eight before they 
judg'd him. By the mercy of God, I am already come within twenty 
years of his number, a cripple in my limbs; but what decays are in 
my mind, the reader must determine. I think myself as vigorous as 
ever in the faculties of my soul, excepting only my memory, which 
is not impair'd to any great degree; and if I lose not more of it, I 
have no great reason to complain. What judgment I had, increases 

^ Boccaccio did not invent this stanza, whicii had been used in both French and 
Italian before his day, but he did constitute it the Italian form for heroic verse. 

'Rymer misled Dryden. There is no trace o£ Provenjal influence on Chaucef. 


rather than diminishes; and thoughts, such as they are, come crowd- 
ing in so fast upon me, that my only difficulty is to choose or to 
reject; to run them into verse, or to give them the other harmony of 
prose. I have so long studied and practic'd both, that they are grown 
into a habit, and become familiar to me. In short, tho' I may lawfully 
plead some part of the old gentleman's excuse, yet I will reserve it 
till I think I have greater need, and ask no grains of allowance for 
the faults of this my present work, but those which are given of 
course to human frailty. I will not trouble my reader with the short- 
ness of time in which I writ it, or the several intervals of sickness. 
They who think too well of their own performances are apt to boast 
in their prefaces how little time their works have cost them, and 
what other business of more importance interfer'd; but the reader 
will be as apt to ask the question, why they allow'd not a longer 
time to make their works more perfect, and why they had so despic- 
able an opinion of their judges as to thrust their indigested stuff upon 
them, as if they deserv'd no better. 

With this account of my present undertaking, I conclude the first 
part of this discourse; in the second part, as at a second sitting, tho' 
I alter not the draught, I must touch the same features over again, 
and change the dead coloring* of the whole. In general, I will only 
say that I have written nothing which savors of immorality or pro- 
faneness; at least, I am not conscious to myself of any such intention. 
If there happen to be found an irreverent expression, or a thought 
too wanton, they are crept into my verses thro' my inadvertency; if 
the searchers find any in the cargo, let them be stav'd or forfeited, 
like counterbanded goods; at least, let their authors be answerable 
for them, as being but imported merchandise, and not of my own 
manufacture. On the other side, I have endeavor'd to choose such 
fables, both ancient and modern, as contain in each of them some 
instructive moral; which I could prove by induction, but the way 
is tedious, and they leap foremost into sight, without the reader's 
trouble of looking after them. I wish I could affirm, with a safe 
conscience, that I had taken the same care in all my former writings; 
for it must be own'd, that supposing verses are never so beautiful 
or pleasing, yet if they contain anything which shocks religion, or 
* The foundation layer of color in a painting. 


good manners, they are at best what Horace says of good numbers 
without good sense, Versus inopes rerum, nugceque canorce^ Thus 
far, I hope, I am right in court, without renouncing to my other 
right of self-defense, where I have been wrongfully accus'd, and my 
sense wiredrawn into blasphemy or bawdry, as it has often been by 
a religious lawyer,^ in a late pleading against the stage; in which he 
mixes truth with falsehood, and has not forgotten the old rule of 
calumniating strongly, that something may remain. 

I resume the thrid of my discourse with the first of my translations, 
which was the First Iliad of Homer. If it shall please God to give me 
longer life, and moderate health, my intentions are to translate the 
whole llias; provided still that I meet with those encouragements 
from the public which may enable me to proceed in my undertaking 
with some cheerfulness. And this I dare assure the world before- 
hand, that I have found by trial Homer a more pleasing task than 
Virgil, (tho' I say not the translation will be less laborious). For 
the Grecian is more according to my genius than the Latin poet. In 
the works of the two authors we may read their manners and natural 
inclinations, which are wholly different. Virgil was of a quiet, sedate 
temper; Homer was violent, impetuous, and full of fire. The chief 
talent of Virgil was propriety of thoughts, and ornament of words; 
Homer was rapid in his thoughts, and took all the liberties, both 
of numbers and of expressions, which his language, and the age in 
which he liv'd, allow'd him. Homer's invention was more copious, 
Virgil's more confin'd; so that if Homer had not led the way, it was 
not in Virgil to have begun heroic poetry; for nothing can be more 
evident than that the Roman poem is but the second part of the llias; 
a continuation of the same story, and the persons already form'd; the 
manners of iEneas are those of Hector superadded to those which 
Homer gave him. The adventures of Ulysses in the Odysseis are 
imitated in the first six books of Virgil's /Eneis; and tho' the acci- 
dents are not the same, (which would have argued him of a servile, 
copying, and total barrenness of invention,) yet the seas were the 
same, in which both the heroes wander'd; and Dido cannot be denied 
to be the poetical daughter of Calypso. The six latter books of Vir- 

' "Verses without content, melodious trifles." — Ars Poet. 322. 
* Jeremy Collier, in his Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the 
Stage, 1698. 


gil's poem are the four and twenty Iliads contracted: a quarrel occa- 
sion'd by a lady, a single combat, battles fought, and a town besieg'd. 
I say not this in derogation to Virgil, neither do I contradict any- 
thing which I have formerly said in his just praise: for his episodes 
are almost wholly of his own invention; and the form which he has 
given to the telling makes the tale his own, even tho' the original 
story had been the same. But this proves, however, that Homer 
taught Virgil to design; and if invention be the first virtue of an 
epic poet, then the Latin poem can only be allow'd the second place. 
Mr. Hobbes, in the preface to his own bald translation of the llias 
(studying poetry as he did mathematics, when it was too late) — Mr. 
Hobbes, I say, begins the praise of Homer where he should have 
ended it. He tells us that the first beauty of an epic poem consists 
in diction, that is, in the choice of words, and harmony of numbers: 
now the words are the coloring of the work, which in the order of 
nature is last to be consider'd. The design, the disposition, the man- 
ners, and the thoughts, are all before it: where any of those are 
wanting or imperfect, so much wants or is imperfect in the imitation 
of human life; which is in the very definition of a poem. Words, 
indeed, like glaring colors, are the first beauties that arise and strike 
the sight: but if the draught be false or lame, the figures ill dispos'd, 
the manners obscure or inconsistent, or the thoughts unnatural, then 
the finest colors are but daubing, and the piece is a beautiful monster 
at the best. Neither Virgil nor Homer were deficient in any of the 
former beauties; but in this last, which is expression, the Roman poet 
is at least equal to the Grecian, as I have said elsewhere; supplying 
the poverty of his language by his musical ear, and by his diligence. 
But to return: our two great poets, being so different in their tem- 
pers, one choleric and sanguine, the other phlegmatic and melan- 
cholic; that which makes them excel in their several ways is that 
each of them has foUow'd his own natural inclination, as well in 
forming the design as in the execution of it. The very heroes shew 
their authors: Achilles is hot, impatient, revengeful, Impiger, iracun- 
dus, inexorabilis, acerj &c.; ^neas patient, considerate, careful of his 
people, and merciful to his enemies; ever submissive to the will of 
'"Energetic, irascible, unyielding, vehement." — Horace, Ars Poet. 121. 


Heaven — Quo fata trahunt retrahuntque sequamur^ I could please 
myself with enlarging on this subject, but am forc'd to defer it to a 
fitter time. From all I have said I will only draw this inference, that 
the action of Homer being more full of vigor than that of Virgil, 
according to the temper of the writer, is of consequence more pleas- 
ing to the reader. One warms you by degrees : the other sets you on 
fire all at once, and never intermits his heat. 'Tis the same difference 
which Longinus makes betwixt the effects of eloquence in Demos- 
thenes and Tully. One persuades; the other commands. You never 
cool while you read Homer, even not in the second book (a graceful 
flattery to his countrymen) ; but he hastens from the ships, and 
concludes not that book till he has made you an amends by the vio- 
lent playing of a new machine. From thence he hurries on his 
action with variety of events, and ends it in less compass than two 
months. This vehemence of his, I confess, is more suitable to my 
temper; and therefore I have translated his first book with greater 
pleasure than any part of Virgil; but it was not a pleasure without 
pains. The continual agitations of the spirits must needs be a weak'- 
ning of any constitution, especially in age; and many pauses are 
requir'd for refreshment betwixt the heats; the Iliad of itself being 
a third part longer than all Virgil's works together. 

This is what I thought needful in this place to say of Homer. I 
proceed to Ovid and Chaucer, considering the former only in rela- 
tion to the latter. With Ovid ended the golden age of the Roman 
tongue; from Chaucer the purity of the English tongue began. The 
manners of the poets were not unlike: both of them were well bred, 
well natur'd, amorous, and libertine, at least in their writings, it 
may be also in their lives. Their studies were the same, philosophy 
and philology. Both of them were knowing in astronomy, of which 
Ovid's books of the Roman feasts, and Chaucer's treatise of the 
Astrolabe, are sufficient witnesses. But Chaucer was likewise an 
astrologer, as were Virgil, Horace, Persius, and Manilius. Both writ 
with wonderful facility and clearness: neither were great inventors; 
for Ovid only copied the Grecian fables; and most of Chaucer's 
stories were taken from his Italian contemporaries, or their predeces- 
' "Whithersoever the fates drag us to and fro, let us follow." — Virgil, Mneid, v. 709. 


sors.* Boccace his Decameron was first publish'd; and from thence 
our EngHshman has borrow'd many of his Canterbury Tales; yet 
that of Palamon and Arcite was written in all probability by some 
Italian wit in a former age, as I shall prove hereafter. The tale of 
Grizild was the invention of Petrarch; by him sent to Boccace; from 
whom it came to Chaucer. Troilus and Cressida was also written 
by a Lombard author; but much amplified by our English trans- 
lator, as well as beautified; the genius of our countrymen, in general, 
being rather to improve an invention, than to invent themselves; as 
is evident not only in our poetry, but in many of our manufactures. 
I find I have anticipated already, and taken up from Boccace before 
I come to him; but there is so much less behind; and I am of the 
temper of most kings, who love to be in debt, are all for present 
money, no matter how they pay it afterwards: besides, the nature of 
a preface is rambling; never wholly out of the way, nor in it. This 
I have learn'd from the practice of honest Montaigne, and return at 
my pleasure to Ovid and Chaucer, of whom I have little more to say. 
Both of them built on the inventions of other men; yet since Chaucer 
had something of his own, as The Wife of Bath's Tale, The Coc\ 
and the Fox,^" which I have translated, and some others, I may justly 
give our countryman the precedence in that part; since I can remem- 
ber nothing of Ovid which was wholly his. Both of them understood 
the manners, under which name I comprehend the passions, and, in 
a larger sense, the descriptions of persons, and their very habits; for 
an example, I see Baucis and Philemon as perfectly before me, as if 
some ancient painter had drawn them; and all the pilgrims in the 
Canterbury Tales, their humors, their features, and the very dress, 
as distinctly as if I had supp'd with them at the Tabard in South- 
wark; yet even there too the figures of Chaucer are much more 
lively, and set in a better light : which tho' I have not time to prove, 
yet I appeal to the reader, and am sure he will clear me from par- 
tiality. The thoughts and words remain to be consider'd in the 
comparison of the two poets; and I have sav'd myself one half of 
that labor, by owning that Ovid liv'd when the Roman tongue was in 
its meridian, Chaucer in the dawning of our language; therefore 

*The statements that follow as to Chaucer's sources are mostly not in accord with 
the results of modern scholarship. 

'" The plot of neither of these poems was original with Chaucer. 


that part of the comparison stands not on an equal foot, any more 
than the diction of Ennius and Ovid, or of Chaucer and our present 
EngHsh. The words are given up as a post not to be defended in our 
poet, because he wanted the modern art of fortifying. The thoughts 
remain to be consider'd, and they are to be measur'd only by their 
propriety; that is, as they flow more or less naturally from the per- 
sons describ'd, on such and such occasions. The vulgar judges, which 
are nine parts in ten of all nations, who call conceits and jingles wit, 
who see Ovid full of them, and Chaucer altogether without them, 
will think me little less than mad, for preferring the Englishman to 
the Roman: yet, with their leave, I must presume to say that the 
things they admire are only glittering trifles, and so far from being 
witty, that in a serious poem they are nauseous, because they are 
unnatural. Would any man who is ready to die for love describe 
his passion like Narcissus? Would he think of inopetn me copia 
fecit,"^ and a dozen more of such expressions, pour'd on the neck of 
one another, and signifying all the same thing? If this were wit, 
was this a time to be witty, when the poor wretch was in the agony 
of death? This is just John Littlewit in Bartholomew Fair,^^ who 
had a conceit (as he tells you) left him in his misery; a miserable 
conceit. On these occasions the poet should endeavor to raise pity; 
but instead of this, Ovid is tickling you to laugh. Virgil never made 
use of such machines, when he was moving you to commiserate the 
death of Dido : he would not destroy what he was building. Chaucer 
makes Arcite violent in his love, and unjust in the pursuit of it; yet 
when he came to die, he made him think more reasonably: he re- 
pents not of his love, for that had alter'd his character; but acknowl- 
edges the injustice of his proceedings, and resigns Emilia to Palamon. 
What would Ovid have done on this occasion ? He would certainly 
have made Arcite witty on his deathbed. He had complain'd he was 
farther off from possession by being so near, and a thousand such 
boyisms, which Chaucer rejected as below the dignity of the subject. 
They who think otherwise would by the same reason prefer Lucan 
and Ovid to Homer and Virgil, and Martial to all four of them. As 
for the turn of words, in which Ovid particularly excels all poets, 
they are sometimes a fault, and sometimes a beauty, as they are us'd 

" "Plenty has made me poor." — Meta. iii. 466. *^ By Ben Jonson. 


properly or improperly; but in strong passions always to be shunn'd, 
because passions are serious, and will admit no playing. The French 
have a high value for them; and I confess, they are often what they 
call dehcate, when they are introduc'd with judgment; but Chaucer 
writ with more simplicity, and follow'd nature more closely, than 
to use them. I have thus, far, to the best of my knowledge, been an 
upright judge betwixt the parties in competition, not meddling with 
the design nor the disposition of it; because the design was not their 
own, and in the disposing of it they were equal. It remains that I 
say somewhat of Chaucer in particular. 

In the first place, as he is the father of English poetry, so I hold 
him in the same degree of veneration as the Grecians held Homer or 
the Romans Virgil. He is a perpetual fountain of good sense, learn'd 
in all sciences, and therefore speaks properly on all subjects: as he 
knew what to say, so he knows also when to leave off, a continence 
which is practic'd by few writers, and scarcely by any of the ancients, 
excepting Virgil and Horace. One of our late great poets" is sunk 
in his reputation, because he could never forgive any conceit which 
came in his way, but swept like a dragnet, great and small. There 
was plenty enough, but the dishes were ill sorted; whole pyramids 
of sweetmeats for boys and women, but little of solid meat for men. 
All this proceeded not from any want of knowledge, but of judg- 
ment; neither did he want that in discerning the beauties and faults 
of other poets; but only indulg'd himself in the luxury of writing; 
and perhaps knew it was a fault, but hop'd the reader would not find 
it. For this reason, tho' he must always be thought a great poet, he 
is no longer esteem'd a good writer; and for ten impressions, which 
his works have had in so many successive years, yet at present a 
hundred books are scarcely purchas'd once a twelvemonth: for, as 
my last Lord Rochester said, tho' somewhat profanely, "Not being 
of God, he could not stand." 

Chaucer follow'd Nature everywhere, but was never so bold to go 
beyond her; and there is a great difference of being poeta and nimis 
poeta^* if we may believe Catullus, as much as betwixt a modest 
behavior and affectation. The verse of Chaucer, I confess, is not har- 
monious to us; but 't is like the eloquence of one whom Tacitus 
1' Cowley. " "Too much a poet." — ^Martial iii. 44 (not Catullus). 


commends, it was auribus istius temporis accommodata:^^ they who 
liv'd with him, and some time after him, thought it musical; and it 
continued so even in our judgment, i£ compar'd with the numbers 
of Lydgate and Gower, his contemporaries: there is the rude sweet- 
ness of a Scotch tune in it, which is natural and pleasing, tho' not 
perfect. 'T is true, I cannot go so far as he who publish'd the last 
edition of him;" for he would make us believe the fault is in our 
ears, and that there were really ten syllables in a verse where we find 
but nine: but this opinion is not worth confuting; 't is so gross and 
obvious an error, that common sense (which is a rule in everything 
but matters of faith and revelation) must convince the reader that 
equality of numbers in every verse which we call heroic was either 
not known, or not always practic'd, in Chaucer's age. It were an 
easy matter to produce some thousands of his verses, which are lame 
for want of half a foot, and sometimes a whole one, and which no 
pronunciation can make otherwise. We can only say, that he liv'd 
in the infancy of our poetry, and that nothing is brought to perfec- 
tion at the first. We must be children before we grow men. There 
was an Ennius, and in process of time a Lucilius and a Lucretius, 
before Virgil and Horace; even after Chaucer there was a Spenser, 
a Harrington, a Fairfax, before Waller and Denham were in being: 
and our numbers were in their nonage till these last appear'd. I need 
say little of his parentage, life, and fortunes;" they are to be found 
at large in all the editions of his works. He was employ'd abroad 
and favor'd by Edward the Third, Richard the Second, and Henry 
the Fourth, and was poet, as I suppose, to all three of them. In 
Richard's time, I doubt, he was a little dipp'd in the rebellion of the 
commons, and being brother-in-law to John of Ghant, it was no 
wonder if he follow'd the fortunes of that family, and was well with 
Henry the Fourth when he had depos'd his predecessor. Neither is 
it to be admir'd," that Henry, who was a wise as well as a valiant 
prince, who claim'd by succession, and was sensible that his title was 
not sound, but was rightfully in Mortimer, who had married the 
heir of York; it was not to be admir'd, I say, if that great politician 
should be pleas'd to have the greatest wit of those times in his inter- 

'5 "Suited to the ears of that time." 

'^ Speght, whom modern scholarship has shown to be right in this matter. 

" VVhat follows on Chaucer's life is full of errors. '* Wondered at. 


ests, and to be the trumpet of his praises. Augustus had given him 
the example, by the advice of Maecenas, who recommended Virgil 
and Horace to him; whose praises help'd to make him popular while 
he was alive, and after his death have made him precious to posterity. 
As for the religion of our poet, he seems to have some little bias 
towards the opinions of Wycliffe, after John of Ghant his patron; 
somewhat of which appears in the tale of Piers Plowman.'' Yet I 
cannot blame him for inveighing so sharply against the vices of the 
clergy in his age; their pride, their ambition, their pomp, their 
avarice, their worldly interest, deserv'd the lashes which he gave 
them, both in that and in most of his Canterbury Tales: neither has 
his contemporary Boccace spar'd them. Yet both those poets liv'd 
in much esteem with good and holy men in orders; for the scandal 
which is given by particular priests reflects not on the sacred func- 
tion. Chaucer's Monk, his Canon, and his Friar, took not from the 
character of his Good Parson. A satirical poet is the check of the 
laymen on bad priests. We are only to take care that we involve 
not the innocent with the guilty in the same condemnation. The 
good cannot be too much honor'd, nor the bad too coarsely us'd : for 
the corruption of the best becomes the worst. When a clergyman is 
whipp'd, his gown is first taken off, by which the dignity of his 
order is secur'd: if he be wrongfully accus'd, he has his action of 
slander; and 't is at the poet's peril if he transgress the law. But 
they will tell us that all kind of satire, tho' never so well deserv'd 
by particular priests, yet brings the whole order into contempt. Is 
then the peerage of England anything dishonor'd, when a peer 
suffers for his treason? If he be libel'd or any way defam'd, he has 
his scandalum magnatum^" to punish the offender. They who use 
this kind of argument seem to be conscious to themselves of some- 
what which has deserv'd the poet's lash, and are less concern'd for 
their public capacity than for their private; at least there is pride 
at the bottom of their reasoning. If the faults of men in orders are 
only to be judg'd among themselves, they are all in some sort par- 
ties: for, since they say the honor of their order is concern'd in every 
member of it, how can we be sure that they will be impartial judges? 

" A spurious "Plowman's Tale" was included in the older editions of Chaucer. 
2" A law term for slander of a man of high rank, involving more severe punish- 
ment than ordinary slander. 


How far. I may be allow'd to speak my opinion in this case, I know 
not; but I am sure a dispute of this nature caus'd mischief in abun- 
dance betwixt a king of England and an archbishop of Canterbury;^' 
one standing up for the laws of his land, and the other for the honor 
(as he call'd it) of God's Church; which ended in the murther of 
the prelate, and in the whipping of his Majesty from post to pillar 
for his penance. The learn'd and ingenious Dr. Drake" has sav'd 
me the labour of inquiring into the esteem and reverence which the 
priests have had of old, and I would rather extend than diminish any 
part of it: yet I must needs say, that when a priest provokes me 
without any occasion given him, I have no reason, unless it be the 
charity of a Christian, to forgive him: prior Icesit^^ is justification 
sufficient in the civil law. If I answer him in his own language, self- 
defense, I am sure, must be allow'd me; and if I carry it farther, 
even to a sharp recrimination, somewhat may be indulg'd to human 
frailty. Yet my resentment has not wrought so far, but that I have 
follow'd Chaucer in his character of a holy man, and have enlarg'd 
on that subject with some pleasure, reserving to myself the right, if 
I shall think fit hereafter, to describe another sort of priests, such as 
are more easily to be found than the Good Parson; such as have 
given the last blow to Christianity in this age, by a practice so con- 
trary to their doctrine. But this will keep cold till another time. In 
the mean while I take up Chaucer where I left him. He must have 
been a man of a most wonderful comprehensive nature, because, as 
it has been truly observ'd of him, he has taken into the compass of 
his Canterbury Tales the various manners and humors (as we now 
call them) of the whole English nation, in his age. Not a single 
character has escap'd him. All his pilgrims are severally distinguish'd 
from each other; and not only in their inclinations, but in their very 
physiognomies and persons. Bapista Porta''* could not have describ'd 
their natures better, than by the marks which the poet gives them. 
The matter and manner of their tales, and of their telling, are so 
suited to their different educations, humors, and callings, that each 
of them would be improper in any other mouth. Even the grave 

2' Henry II. and Thomas a Becket. 

^2 Dr. James Drake wrote a reply to Jeremy Collier's Short View, 

^'"He did the first injury." 

^* A Neapolitan physician who wrote on physiognomy. 


and serious characters are distinguish'd by their several sorts of 
gravity : their discourses are such as belong to their age, their calling, 
and their breeding; such as are becoming of them, and of them only. 
Some of his persons are vicious, and some virtuous; some are un- 
learn'd, or (as Chaucer calls them) lewd, and some are learn'd. Even 
the ribaldry of the low characters is different : the Reeve, the Miller, 
and the Cook are several men, and distinguish'd from each other, as 
much as the mincing Lady Prioress and the broad-speaking gap- 
tooth'd Wife of Bath. But enough of this: there is such a variety 
of game springing up before me, that I am distracted in my choice, 
and know not which to follow. 'Tis sufficient to say, according to 
the proverb, that here is God's plenty. We have our fore-fathers 
and great-grandames all before us, as they were in Chaucer's days; 
their general characters are still remaining in mankind, and even 
in England, tho' they are call'd by other names than those of Monks 
and Friars, and Canons, and Lady Abbesses, and Nuns: for man- 
kind is ever the same, and nothing lost out of nature, tho' everything 
is alter 'd. May I have leave to do myself the justice — since my 
enemies will do me none, and are so far from granting me to be a 
good poet, that they will not allow me so much as to be a Christian, 
or a moral man — may I have leave, I say, to inform my reader that 
I have confin'd my choice to such tales of Chaucer as savor nothing 
of immodesty. If I had desir'd more to please than to instruct, the 
Reeve, the Miller, the Shipman, the Merchant, the Sumner, and 
above all, the Wife of Bath, in the prologue to her tale, would have 
procur'd me as many friends and readers, as there are beaux and 
ladies of pleasure in the town. But I will no more offend against 
good manners : I am sensible, as I ought to be, of the scandal I have 
given by my loose writings; and make what reparation I am able, 
by this public acknowledgment. If anything of this nature, or of 
profaneness, be crept into these poems, I am so far from defending 
it, that I disown it. Totum hoc indicium volo^^ Chaucer makes 
another manner of apology for his broad speaking, and Boccace 
makes the like; but I will follow neither of them. Our countryman, 
in the end of his characters, before the Canterbury Tales, thus ex- 
cuses the ribaldry, which is very gross in many of his novels : 
^^ "I wish all this unsaid." 


But first, I pray you of your courtesy, 
That ye ne arrete^^ it nought my villany. 
Though that I plainly speak in this mattere 
To tellen you her^' words, and eke her chere: 
Ne though I sf)eak her words properly, 
For this ye knowen as well as I, 
Who shall tellen a tale after a man. 
He mote rehearse as nye as ever he can: 
Everich word of it been in his charge. 
All spel{e he never so ruddy ne large. 
Or else he mote tellen his tale untrue, 
Or feine things, or find words new: 
He may not spare, altho he were his brother. 
He mote as well say o word as another. 
Christ spake himself full broad in holy writ. 
And well I wote no villany is it. 
Eke Plato saith, who so can him rede. 
The words mote^' been cousin to the dede.*° 

Yet i£ a man should have enquir'd of Boccace or of Chaucer, what 
need they had of introducing such characters, where obscene words 
were proper in their mouths, but very undecent to be heard; I know 
not what answer they could have made: for that reason such tales 
shall be left untold by me. You have here a specimen of Chaucer's 
language, which is so obsolete that his sense is scarce to be under- 
stood; and you have likewise more than one example of his unequal 
numbers, which were mention'd before. Yet many of his verses con- 
sist of ten syllables, and the words not much behind our present 
English: as for example, these two lines, in the description of the 
carpenter's young wife: 

Wincing she was, as is a jolly colt. 
Long as a mast, and upright as a bolt. 

I have almost done with Chaucer, when I have answer'd some 

objections relating to my present work. I find some people are 

offended that I have turn'd these tales into modern English; because 

they think them unworthy of my pains, and look on Chaucer as a 

dry, old-fashion'd wit, not worth reviving. I have often heard the 

2« Reckon. "Their. "Must. 

^'The corrupt state of the text of this passage is enough to explain why Dryden 
found Chaucer rough. 


late Earl of Leicester say that Mr. Cowley himself was of that opin- 
ion; who having read him over at my lord's request, declar'd he had 
no taste of him. I dare not advance my opinion against the judgment 
of so great an author; but I think it fair, however, to leave the deci- 
sion to the public: Mr. Cowley was too modest to set up for a 
dictator; and being shock'd perhaps with his old style, never exam- 
in'd into the depth of his good sense. Chaucer, I confess, is a rough 
diamond, and must first be polish'd, ere he shines. I deny not, like- 
wise, that, living in our early days of poetry, he writes not always 
of a piece, but sometimes mingles trivial things with those of greater 
moment. Sometimes also, tho' not often, he runs riot, like Ovid, 
and knows not when he has said enough. But there are more great 
wits, beside Chaucer, whose fault is their excess of conceits, and 
those ill sorted. An author is not to write all he can, but only all he 
ought. Having observ'd this redundancy in Chaucer, (as it is an 
easy matter for a man of ordinary parts to find a fault in one of 
greater,) I have not tied myself to a literal translation; but have 
often omitted what I judg'd unnecessary, or not of dignity enough 
to appear in the company of better thoughts. I have presum'd 
farther, in some places, and added somewhat of my own where I 
thought my author was deficient, and had not given his thoughts 
their true luster, for want of words in the beginning of our language. 
And to this I was the more embolden'd, because (if I may be per- 
mitted to say it of myself) I found I had a soul congenial to his, and 
that I had been conversant in the same studies. Another poet, in 
another age, may take the same liberty with my writings; if at least 
they live long enough to deserve correction. It was also necessary 
sometimes to restore the sense of Chaucer, which was lost or mangled 
in the errors of the press. Let this example suffice at present; in the 
story of Palamon and Arcite, where the temple of Diana is describ'd, 
you find these verses, in all the editions of our author: 

There saw I Dane turned unto a tree, 

I mean not the goddess Diane, 

But Venus daughter, which that hight Dane; 

which after a little consideration I knew was to be reform'd into 
this sense, that Daphne, the daughter of Peneus, was turn'd into a 


tree. I durst not make thus bold with Ovid, lest some future Mil- 
bourne should arise, and say I varied from my author, because I 
understood him not. 

But there are other judges, who think I ought not to have trans- 
lated Chaucer into English, out of a quite contrary notion: they 
suppose there is a certain veneration due to his old language; and 
that it is little less than profanation and sacrilege to alter it. They 
are farther of opinion that somewhat of his good sense will suffer in 
this transfusion, and much of the beauty of his thoughts will in- 
fallibly be lost, which appear with more grace in their old habit. 
Of this opinion was that excellent person whom I mention'd, the 
late Earl of Leicester, who valued Chaucer as much as Mr. Cowley 
despis'd him. My lord dissuaded me from this attempt, (for I was 
thinking of it some years before his death,) and his authority pre- 
vail'd so far with me as to defer my undertaking while he liv'd, in 
deference to him: yet my reason was not convinc'd with what he 
urg'd against it. If the first end of a writer be to be understood, then 
as his language grows obsolete, his thoughts must grow obscure : 

Malta renascentur quae nunc cecidere; cadentque. 
Qua nunc sunt in honore vocabula, si volet usus, 
Quem penes arbitrium est et jus et norma iGquendi.'" 

When an ancient word for its sound and significancy deserves to 
be reviv'd, I have that reasonable veneration for antiquity, to restore 
it. All beyond this is superstition. Words are not like landmarks, so 
sacred as never to be remov'd; customs are chang'd, and even statutes 
are silently repeal'd, when the reason ceases for which they were 
enacted. As for the other part of the argument, that his thoughts 
will lose of their original beauty, by the innovation of words; in the 
first place, not only their beauty, but their being is lost, where they 
are no longer understood, which is the present case. I grant that 
something must be lost in all transfusion, that is, in all translations; 
but the sense will remain, which would otherwise be lost, or at least be 
maim'd, when it is scarce intelligible; and that but to a few. How 
few are there who can read Chaucer so as to understand him per- 

'" "Many words which have now fallen out of use shall be born again; and others 
which are now in honor shall fall, if custom wills it, in the force of which lie the 
judgement and law and rules of speech." — Horace Ars Poet. 70-72. 


fectly! And if imperfectly, then with less profit and no pleasure. 
'Tis not for the use of some old Saxon friends that I have taken 
these pains with him : let them neglect my version, because they have 
no need of it. I made it for their sakes who understand sense and 
poetry as well as they, when that poetry and sense is put into words 
which they understand. I will go farther, and dare to add, that what 
beauties I lose in some places, I give to others which had them not 
originally; but in this I may be partial to myself; let the reader judge, 
and I submit to his decision. Yet I think I have just occasion to com- 
plain of them, who, because they understand Chaucer, would deprive 
the greater part of their countrymen of the same advantage, and 
hoard him up, as misers do their grandam gold, only to look on it 
themselves and hinder others from making use of it. In sum, I 
seriously protest that no man ever had, or can have, a greater venera- 
tion for Chaucer, than myself. I have translated some part of his 
works, only that I might perpetuate his memory, or at least refresh 
it, amongst my countrymen. If I have alter'd him anywhere for 
the better, I must at the same time acknowledge that I could have 
done nothing without him: facile est inventis adderef^ is no great 
commendation; and I am not so vain to think I have deserv'd a 
greater. I will conclude what I have to say of him singly, with this 
one remark: a lady of my acquaintance, who keeps a kind of corre- 
spondence with some authors of the fair sex in France, has been 
inform 'd by them, that Mademoiselle de Scudery, who is as old as 
Sibyl, and inspir'd like her by the same God of Poetry, is at this 
time translating Chaucer into modern French. From which I gather 
that he has been formerly translated into the old Proven9al (for how 
she should come to understand old English I know not). But the 
matter of fact being true, it makes me think that there is something 
in it like fatality; that, after certain periods of time, the fame and 
memory of great wits should be renew'd, as Chaucer is both in 
France and England. If this be wholly chance, 't is extraordinary, 
and I dare not call it more, for fear of being tax'd with super- 

Boccace comes last to be consider'd, who living in the same age 
with Chaucer, had the same genius, and follow'd the same studies: 
'' "It is easy to add to what is already invented." 


both writ novels, and each of them cultivated his mother tongue. 
But the greatest resemblance of our two modern authors being in 
their familiar style, and pleasing way of relating comical adventures, 
I may pass it over, because I have translated nothing from Boccace 
of that nature. In the serious part of poetry, the advantage is wholly 
on Chaucer's side; for tho' the Englishman has borrow'd many tales 
from the Italian, yet it appears that those of Boccace were not gen- 
erally of his own making, but taken from authors of former ages, 
and by him only model'd; so that what there was of invention in 
either of them may be judg'd equal. But Chaucer has refin'd on 
Boccace, and has mended the stories which he has borrow'd, in his 
way of telling; tho' prose allows more liberty of thought, and the 
expression is more easy when unconfin'd by numbers. Our country- 
man carries weight, and yet wins the race at disadvantage. I desire 
not the reader should take my word, and therefore I will set two of 
their discourses on the same subject, in the same light, for every man 
to judge betwixt them. I translated Chaucer first, and, amongst the 
rest, pitch'd on The Wife of Bath's Tale; not daring, as I have said, 
to adventure on her prologue, because 't is too licentious: there 
Chaucer introduces an old woman of mean parentage, whom a 
youthful knight of noble blood was forc'd to marry, and consequently 
loath'd her; the crone being in bed with him on the wedding night, 
and finding his aversion, endeavors to win his affection by reason, 
and speaks a good word for herself (as who could blame her?) in 
hope to mollify the sullen bridegroom. She takes her topics from 
the benefits of poverty, the advantages of old age and ugliness, the 
vanity of youth, and the silly pride of ancestry and titles without 
inherent virtue, which is the true nobility. When I had clos'd 
Chaucer, I return'd to Ovid, and translated some more of his fables; 
and by this time had so far forgotten The Wife of Bath's Tale, that, 
when I took up Boccace, unawares I fell on the same argument of 
preferring virtue to nobility of blood, and titles, in the story of 
Sigismonda; which I had certainly avoided for the resemblance of 
the two discourses, if my memory had not fail'd me. Let the reader 
weigh them both; and if he thinks me partial to Chaucer, 't is in him 
to right Boccace. 
I prefer in our countryman, far above all his other stories, the 


noble poem of Palamon and Arcite, which is of the epic kind, and 
perhaps not much inferior to the Bias or the JEneis: the story is more 
pleasing than either of them, the manners as perfect, the diction as 
poetical, the learning as deep and various, and the disposition full as 
artful; only it includes a greater length of time, as taking up seven 
years at least; but Aristotle has left undecided the duration of the 
action; which yet is easily reduc'd into the compass of a year, by a 
narration of what preceded the return of Palamon to Athens. I had 
thought for the honor of our nation, and more particularly for his, 
whose laurel, tho' unworthy, I have worn after him, that this story 
was of English growth, and Chaucer's own; but I was undeceiv'd 
by Boccace; for, casually looking on the end of his seventh Giornata, 
I found Dioneo (under which name he shadows himself) and 
Fiametta (who represents his mistress, the natural daughter of 
Robert, King of Naples), of whom these words are spoken: Dioneo 
e Fiametta gran pezza cantarono insieme d' Arcita, e di Palamonef^ 
by which it appears that this story was written before the time of 
Boccace; but, the name of its author being wholly lost, Chaucer is 
now become an original; and I question not but the poem has re- 
ceiv'd many beauties by passing thro' his noble hands. Besides this 
tale, there is another of his own invention, after the manner of the 
Provencals, call'd The Flower and the Leaf^^ with which I was so 
particularly pleas'd, both for the invention and the moral, that I 
cannot hinder myself from recommending it to the reader. 

As a corollary to this preface, in which I have done justice to 
others, I owe somewhat to myself : not that I think it worth my time 

to enter the lists with one M ,'* or one B ,'^ but barely to take 

notice, that such men there are who have written scurrilously against 

me, without any provocation. M , who is in orders, pretends 

amongst the rest this quarrel to me, that I have fallen foul on priest- 
hood: if I have, I am only to ask pardon of good priests, and am 
afraid his part of the reparation will come to little. Let him to satis- 
fied that he shall not be able to force himself upon me for an adver- 
sary. I contemn him too much to enter into competition with him. 

^^ Dioneo and Fiametta sang together a long time of Arcite and Palamon. 
^^ Not by Chaucer. ^ Rev. Luke Milbourne, who had attacked Dryden's Virgil. 
'^ Sir Richard Blackmore, who had censured Dryden for the indecency of his 


His own translations o£ Virgil have answer'd his criticisms on mine. 
If (as they say he has declar'd in print) he prefers the version of 
Ogleby to mine, the world has made him the same compliment: for 
't is agreed on all hands, that he writes even below Ogleby: that, 

you will say, is not easily to be done; but what cannot M bring 

about? I am satisfied, however, that while he and I live together, 
I shall not be thought the worst poet of the age. It looks as if I had 
desir'd him underhand to write so ill against me; but upon my honest 
word I have not brib'd him to do me this service, and am wholly 
guiltless of his pamphlet. 'T is true, I should be glad if I could per- 
suade him to continue his good offices, and write such another critique 
on anything of mine: for I find by experience he has a great stroke 
with the reader, when he condemns any of my poems, to make the 
world have a better opinion of them. He has taken some pains with 
my poetry, but nobody will be persuaded to take the same with his. 
If I had taken to the Church, (as he affirms, but which was never in 
my thoughts,) I should have had more sense, if not more grace, 
than to have turn'd myself out of my benefice by writing libels on 
my parishioners. But his account of my manners and my principles 
are of a piece with his cavils and his poetry; and so I have done with 
him for ever. 

As for the City Bard, or Knight Physician, I hear his quarrel to 
me is that I was the author of Absalom and Achitophel, which, he 
thinks, is a little hard on his fanatic patrons in London. 

But I will deal the more civilly with his two poems, because noth- 
ing ill is to be spoken of the dead; and therefore peace be to the 
manes of his Arthurs. I will only say that it was not for this noble 
knight that I drew the plan of an epic poem on King Arthur, in my 
preface to the translation of Juvenal. The guardian angels of king- 
doms were machines too ponderous for him to manage; and there- 
fore he rejected them, as Dares did the whirlbats of Eryx, when they 
were thrown before him by Entellus. Yet from that preface he 
plainly took his hint : for he began immediately upon the story, tho' 
he had the baseness not to acknowledge his benefactor but, instead 
of it, to traduce me in a libel. 

I shall say the less of Mr. Collier, because in many things he has 
tax'd me justly; and I have pleaded guilty to all thoughts and ex- 


pressions of mine which can be truly argued o£ obscenity, profane- 
ness, of immorahty; and retract them. If he be my enemy, let him 
triumph; if he be my friend, as I have given him no personal occasion 
to be otherwise, he will be glad of my repentance. It becomes me not 
to draw my pen in the defense of a bad cause, when I have so often 
drawn it for a good one. Yet it were not difficult to prove that in 
many places he has perverted my meaning by his glosses, and inter- 
preted my words into blasphemy and bawdry, of which they were 
not guilty. Besides that, he is too much given to horseplay in his 
raillery, and comes to battle like a dictator from the plow. I will not 
say: "The zeal of God's house has eaten him up;" but I am sure it 
has devour'd some part of his good manners and civility. It might 
also be doubted whether it were altogether zeal which prompted him 
to this rough manner of proceeding: perhaps it became not one of 
his function to rake into the rubbish of ancient and modern plays; 
a divine might have employ'd his pains to better purpose than in the 
nastiness of Plautus and Aristophanes; whose examples, as they 
excuse not me, so it might be possibly suppos'd that he read them 
not without some pleasure. They who have written commentaries 
on those poets, or on Horace, Juvenal, and Martial, have explain'd 
some vices which, without their interpretation, had been unknown 
to modern times. Neither has he judg'd impartially betwixt the 
former age and us. 

There is more bawdry in one play of Fletcher's, call'd The Custom 
of the Country, than in all ours together. Yet this has been often 
acted on the stage in my remembrance. Are the times so much more 
reform'd now than they were five and twenty years ago? If they 
are, I congratulate the amendment of our morals. But I am not to 
prejudice the cause of my fellow poets, tho' I abandon my own 
defense: they have some of them answer'd for themselves, and neither 
they nor I can think Mr. Collier so formidable an enemy that we 
should shun him. He has lost ground at the latter end of the day, 
by pursuing his point too far, like the Prince of Conde at the battle 
of Senefle: from immoral plays to no plays, ab abusu ad usum, non 
valet consequential^ But being a party, I am not to erect myself 
into a judge. As for the rest of those who have written against me, 
^ "The argument from abuse to use is not valid." 


they are such scoundrels that they deserve not the least notice to be 

taken of them. B and M are only distinguish'd from the 

crowd by being remember'd to their infamy: 

Demetri, teque Tigelli'' 

Discipulorum inter jubeo plorare cathedras. 

'' "You, Demetrius and Tigellius, I bid lament among the chairs of your scholars." 
Blackmore had once been a schoolmaster. — Noyes. 



The Comic Epic In Prose 

AS IT is possible the mere English reader may have a different 
/ \ idea of romance with the author of these little volumes; and 
A. .A. may consequently expect a kind of entertainment, not to be 
found, nor which was even intended, in the following pages; it may 
not be improper to premise a few words concerning this kind of 
writing, which I do not remember to have seen hitherto attempted 
in our language. 

The EPIC, as well as the DRAMA, is divided into tragedy and 
comedy. HOMER, who was the father of this species of poetry, 
gave us the pattern of both these, tho' that of the latter kind is entirely 
lost; which Aristotle tells us, bore the same relation to comedy which 
his Iliad bears to tragedy. And perhaps, that we have no more 
instances of it among the writers of antiquity, is owing to the loss 
of this great pattern, which, had it survived, would have found its 
imitators equally with the other poems of this great original. 

And farther, as this poetry may be tragic or comic, I will not 
scruple to say it may be likewise either in verse or prose: for tho' 
it wants one particular, which the critic enumerates in the con- 
stituent parts of an epic poem, namely, metre; yet, when any kind 
of writing contains all its other parts, such as fable, action, characters, 
sentiments, and diction, and is deficient in metre only, it seems, I 

Henry Fielding, dramatist, novelist, and judge, was born near Glastonbury, Somer- 
setshire, April 22, 1707, and died at Lisbon, October 8, 1754. Though seldom spoken 
of as an essayist. Fielding scattered through his novels a large number of detached or 
detachable discussions which are essentially essays, of which the preface to "Joseph 
Andrews," on the "Comic Epic in Prose," is a favorable specimen. The novel which 
it introduces was begun as a parody on Richardson's "Pamela," and the preface gives 
Fielding's conception of this form of fiction. 



think, reasonable to refer it to the epic; at least, as no critic hath 
thought proper to range it under any other head, nor to assign it a 
particular name to itself. 

Thus the Telemachus of the archbishop of Cambray appears to 
me of the epic kind, as well as the Odyssey of Homer; indeed, it is 
much fairer and more reasonable to give it a name common with 
that species from which it differs only in a single instance, than to 
confound it with those which it resembles in no other. Such are 
those voluminous works, commonly called Romances, namely Clelia, 
Cleopatra, Astra;a, Cassandra, the Grand Cyrus, and innumerable 
others which contain, as I apprehend, very little instruction or enter- 

Now, a comic romance is a comic epic-poem in prose; differing 
from comedy, as the serious epic from tragedy : its action being more 
extended and comprehensive; containing a much larger circle of 
incidents, and introducing a greater variety of characters. It differs 
from the serious romance in its fable and action, in this: that as in 
the one these are grave and solemn, so in the other they are light and 
ridiculous; it differs in its characters, by introducing persons of 
inferiour rank, and consequently of inferiour manners, whereas the 
grave romance sets the highest before us; lastly in its sentiments and 
diction; by preserving the ludicrous instead of the sublime. In the 
diction I think, burlesque itself may be sometimes admitted; of 
which many instances will occur in this work, as in the description 
of the battles, and some other places not necessary to be pointed out 
to the classical reader; for whose entertainment those parodies or 
burlesque imitations are chiefly calculated. 

But tho' we have sometimes admitted this in our diction, we have 
carefully excluded it from our sentiments and characters; for there 
it is never properly introduced, unless in writings of the burlesque 
kind, which this is not intended to be. Indeed, no two species of 
writing can differ more widely than the comic and the burlesque: 
for as the latter is ever the exhibition of what is monstrous and unnat- 
ural, and where our delight, if we examine it, arises from the sur- 
prising absurdity, as in appropriating the manners of the highest to 
the lowest, or e converso; so in the former, we should ever confine 
ourselves strictly to nature, from the just imitation of which, will 


flow all the pleasure we can this way convey to a sensible reader. 
And perhaps, there is one reason, why a comic writer should of all 
others be the least excused for deviating from nature, since it may 
not be always so easy for a serious poet to meet with the great and 
the admirable; but life everywhere furnishes an accurate observer 
with the ridiculous. 

I have hinted this little, concerning burlesque; because I have 
often heard that name given to performances, which have been 
truly of the comic kind, from the author's having sometimes ad- 
mitted it in his diction only; which as it is the dress of poetry, doth 
like the dress of men establish characters, (the one of the whole poem, 
and the other of the whole man), in vulgar opinion, beyond any of 
their greater excellences : but surely, a certain drollery in style, where 
characters and sentiments are perfectly natural, no more constitutes 
the burlesque, than an empty pomp and dignity of words, where 
everything else is mean and low, can entitle any performance to the 
appellation of the true sublime. 

And I apprehend, my Lord Shaftesbury's opinion of mere bur- 
lesque agrees with mine, when he asserts, "There is no such thing 
to be found in the writings of the antients." But perhaps I have less 
abhorrence than he professes for it : and that not because I have had 
some little success on the stage this way; but rather as it contributes 
more to exquisite mirth and laughter than any other; and these are 
probably more wholesome physic for the mind, and conduce better 
to purge away spleen, melancholy, and ill affections, than is gen- 
erally imagined. Nay, I will appeal to common observation, whether 
the same companies are not found more full of good-humour and 
benevolence, after they have been sweetened for two or three hours 
with entertainments of this kind, than soured by a tragedy or a grave 

But to illustrate all this by another science, in which, perhaps, we 
shall see the distinction more clearly and plainly : let us examine the 
works of a comic history-painter, with those performances which the 
Italians call Caricatura, where we shall find the greatest excellence 
of the former to consist in the exactest copy of nature; insomuch, that 
a judicious eye instantly rejects anything outre; any liberty which 
the painter hath taken with the features of that alma mater. Where- 


as in the Caricatura we allow all licence. Its aim is to exhibit mon- 
sters, not men; and all distortions and exaggerations whatever are 
within its proper province. 

Now what Caricatura is in painting, Burlesque is in writing; and 
in the same manner the comic writer and painter correlate to each 
other. And here I shall observe, that as in the former, the painter 
seems to have the advantage; so it is in the latter infinitely on the 
side of the writer: for the Monstrous is much easier to paint than 
describe, and the Ridiculous to describe than paint. 

And tho' perhaps this latter species doth not in either science so 
strongly affect and agitate the muscles as the other; yet it will be 
owned, I believe, that a more rational and useful pleasure arises to 
us from it. He who should call the ingenious Hogarth a burlesque 
painter, would, in my opinion, do him very little honour: for sure 
it is much easier, much less the subject of admiration, to paint a 
man with a nose, or any other feature of a preposterous size, or to 
expose him in some absurd or monstrous attitude, than to express the 
affections of men on canvas. It hath been thought a vast commenda- 
tion of a painter to say his figures seem to breathe; but surely it is 
a much greater and nobler applause, that they appear to thin\. 

But to return. The Ridiculous only, as I have before said, falls 
within my province in the present work. Nor will some explanation 
of this word be thought impertinent by the reader, if he considers 
how wonderfully it hath been mistaken, even by writers who have 
profess'd it: for to what but such a mistake, can we attribute the 
many attempts to ridicule the blackest villainies; and what is yet 
worse, the most dreadful calamities ? What could exceed the absurd- 
ity of an author, who should write the comedy of Nero, with the 
merry incident of ripping up his mother's belly; or what would give 
a greater shock to humanity than an attempt to expose the miseries 
of poverty and distress to ridicule? And yet, the reader will not want 
much learning to suggest such instances to himself. 

Besides, it may seem remarkable, that Aristotle, who is so fond 
and free of definitions, hath not thought proper to define the Ridicu- 
lous. Indeed, where he tells us it is proper to comedy, he hath 
remarked that villainy is not its object: but that he hath not, as I re- 
member, positively asserted what is. Nor doth the Abbe Bellegarde, 


who hath written a treatise on this subject, tho' he shows us many 
species of it, once trace it to its fountain. 

The only source of the true Ridiculous (as it appears to me) is 
affectation. But tho' it arises from one spring only, when we consider 
the infinite streams into which this one branches, we shall presently 
cease to admire at the copious field it affords to an observer. Now 
affectation proceeds from one of these two causes; vanity, or hypoc- 
risy: for as vanity puts us on affecting false characters, in order to 
purchase applause; so hypocrisy sets us on an endeavour to avoid 
censure by concealing our vices under an appearance of their oppo- 
site virtues. And tho' these two causes are often confounded, (for 
they require some distinguishing;) yet, as they proceed from very 
different motives, so they are as clearly distinct in their operations: 
for indeed, the affectation which arises from vanity is nearer to 
truth than the other; as it hath not that violent repugnancy of nature 
to struggle with, which that of the hypocrite hath. It may be like- 
wise noted, that affectation doth not imply an absolute negation of 
those qualities which are affected: and therefore, tho', when it pro- 
ceeds from hypocrisy, it be nearly allied to deceit; yet when it comes 
from vanity only, it partakes of the nature of ostentation: for 
instance, the affectation of liberality in a vain man, differs visibly 
from the same affectation in the avaricious; for tho' the vain man is 
not what he would appear, or hath not the virtue he affects, to the 
degree he would be thought to have it; yet it sits less awkwardly on 
him than on the avaricious man, who is the very reverse of what he 
would seem to be. 

From the discovery of this affectation arises the Ridiculous — which 
always strikes the reader with surprize and pleasure; and that in a 
higher and stronger degree when the affectation arises from hypoc- 
risy, than when from vanity: for to discover any one to be the exact 
reverse of what he affects, is more surprizing, and consequently 
more ridiculous, than to find him a little deficient in the quality he 
desires the reputation of. I might observe that our Ben Jonson, who 
of all men understood the Ridiculous the best, hath chiefly used 
the hypocritical affectation. 

Now from affectation only, the misfortunes and calamities of life, 
or the imperfections of nature, may become the objects of ridicule. 


Surely he hath a very ill-framed mind, who can look on ugliness, 
infirmity, or poverty, as ridiculous in themselves: nor do I believe 
any man living who meets a dirty fellow riding through the streets 
in a cart, is struck with an idea of the Ridiculous from it; but if he 
should see the same figure descend from his coach and six, or bolt 
from his chair with his hat under his arm, he would then begin to 
laugh, and with justice. In the same manner, were we to enter a 
poor house and behold a wretched family shivering with cold and 
languishing with hunger, it would not incline us to laughter, (at 
least we must have very diabolical natures, if it would) : but should 
we discover there a grate, instead of coals, adorned with flowers, 
empty plate or china dishes on the side-board, or any other affectation 
of riches and finery either on their persons or in their furniture; we 
might then indeed be excused, for ridiculing so fantastical an appear- 
ance. Much less are natural imperfections the object of derision: but 
when ugliness aims at the applause of beauty, or lameness endeavours 
to display agility; it is then that these unfortunate circumstances, 
which at first moved our compassion, tend only to raise our mirth. 
The poet carries this very far; 

None are for being what they are in fault, 
But for not being what they would be thought. 

Where if the metre would suffer the word Ridiculous to close the 
first line, the thought would be rather more proper. Great vices are 
the proper objects of our detestation, smaller faults of our pity: but 
affectation appears to me the only true source of the Ridiculous. 

But perhaps it may be objected to me, that I have against my own 
rules introduced vices, and of a very black kind into this work. To 
this I shall answer: First, that it is very difficult to pursue a series 
of human actions and keep clear from them. Secondly, that the vices 
to be found here, are rather the accidental consequences of some 
human frailty, or foible, than causes habitually existing in the mind. 
Thirdly, that they are never set forth as the objects of ridicule, but 
detestation. Fourthly, that they are never the principal figure at that 
time on the scene; lastly, they never produce the intended evil. 



IT IS the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of 
life, to be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the 
prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of 
praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where 
success would have been without applause, and diligence without 

Among these unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries; whom 
mankind have considered, not as the pupil, but the slave of science, 
the pioneer of literature, doomed only to remove rubbish and clear 
obstructions from the paths through which Learning and Genius 
press forward to conquest and glory, without bestowing a smile on 
the humble drudge that facilitates their progress. Every other author 
may aspire to praise; the lexicographer can only hope to escape re- 
proach, and even this negative recompense has been yet granted to 
very few. 

I have, notwithstanding this discouragement, attempted a Dic- 
tionary of the English Language, which, while it was employed in 
the cultivation of every species of literature, has itself been hitherto 
neglected; suffered to spread, under the direction of chance, into 
wild exuberance; resigned to the tyranny of time and fashion; and 
exposed to the corruptions of ignorance, and caprices of innova- 

For a sketch of Johnson's life, see the introduction to "Life of Addison" in the 
volume of English Essays. The interest of his preface to the great Dictionary need 
hardly be pointed out, since the work itself is a landmark in the history of our 
language. The letter to Chesterfield, short though it is, is a document of great 
importance in the freeing of literature from patronage, and is in itself a notable piece 
of literature. The preface to Johnson's edition of Shakespeare's plays not only explains 
the editor's conception of his task, but contains what is perhaps the best appreciation 
of the dramatist written in the eighteenth century. 



When I took the first survey of my undertaking, I found our 
speech copious without order, and energetic without rule: wherever 
I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled and con- 
fusion to be regulated; choice was to be made out of boundless 
variety, without any established principle of selection; adulterations 
were to be detected, without a settled test of purity; and modes of 
expression to be rejected or received, without the suffrages of any 
writers of classical reputation or acknowledged authority. 

Having therefore no assistance but from general grammar, I ap- 
plied myself to the perusal of our writers; and noting whatever 
might be of use to ascertain or illustrate any word or phrase, accumu- 
lated in time the materials of a dictionary, which, by degrees, I 
reduced to method, establishing to myself, in the progress of the 
work, such as experience and analogy suggested to me; experience, 
which practice and observation were continually increasing; and 
analogy, which, though in some words obscure, was evident in others. 

In adjusting the Orthography, which has been to this time unset- 
tled and fortuitous, I found it necessary to distinguish those irregu- 
larities that are inherent in our tongue, and perhaps coeval with it, 
from others which the ignorance or negligence of later writers has 
produced. Every language has its anomalies, which though incon- 
venient, and in themselves once unnecessary, must be tolerated 
among the imperfections of human things, and which require only 
to be registered, that they may not be increased; and ascertained, 
that they may not be confounded: but every language has likewise 
its improprieties and absurdities, which it is the duty of the lexicogra- 
pher to correct or proscribe. 

As language was at its beginning merely oral, all words of 
necessary or common use were spoken before they were written; 
and while they were unfixed by any visible signs, must have been 
spoken with great diversity, as we now observe those who cannot 
read to catch sounds imperfectly, and utter them negligently. When 
this wild and barbarous jargon was first reduced to an alphabet, every 
penman endeavored to express, as he could, the sounds which he 
was accustomed to pronounce or to receive, and vitiated in writing 
such words as were already vitiated in speech. The powers of the 
letters, when they were applied to a new language, must have been 


vague and unsettled, and therefore different hands would exhibit 
the same sound by different combinations. 

From this uncertain pronunciation arise in a great part the 
various dialects of the same country, which will always be observed 
to grow fewer, and less different, as books are multiplied; and from 
this arbitrary representation of sounds by letters proceeds that 
diversity of spelling observable in the Saxon remains, and I suppose 
in the first books of every nation, which perplexes or destroys 
analogy, and produces anomalous formations, which, being once 
incorporated can never be afterward dismissed or reformed. 

Of this kind are the derivatives length from long, strength from 
strong, darling from dear, breadth from broad, from dry, drought, 
and from high, height, which Milton, in zeal for analogy, writes 
highth. 'Quid te exempta juvat spinis de pluribus una?' To change 
all would be too much, and to change one is nothing. 

This uncertainty is most frequent in the vowels, which are so 
capriciously pronounced, and so differently modified, by accident or 
affectation, not only in every province, but in every mouth, that to 
them, as is well known to etymologists, little regard is to be shown 
in the deduction of one language from another. 

Such defects are not errors in orthography, but spots of barbarity 
impressed so deep in the English language, that criticism can never 
wash them away: these, therefore, must be permitted to remain un- 
touched; but many words have likewise been altered by accident, or 
depraved by ignorance, as the pronunciation of the vulgar has been 
weakly followed; and some still continue to be variously written, 
as authors differ in their care or skill : of these it was proper to inquire 
the true orthography, which I have always considered as depending 
on their derivation, and have therefore referred them to their original 
languages; thus I write enchant, enchantment, enchanter, after the 
French, and incantation after the Latin; thus entire is chosen rather 
than intire, because it passed to us not from the Latin integer, but 
from the French entier. 

Of many words it is difficult to say whether they were immediately 
received from the Latin or the French, since at the time when we had 
dominions in France, we had Latin service in our churches. It is, 
however, my opinion that the French generally supplied us; for we 


have few Latin words, among the terms of domestic use, which are 
not French; but many French, which are very remote from Latin. 

Even in words of which the derivation is apparent, I have been 
often obliged to sacrifice uniformity to custom; thus I write, in com- 
pHance with a numberless majority, convey and inveigh, deceit and 
receipt, fancy and phantom; sometimes the derivative varies from the 
primitive, as explain and explanation, repeat and repetition. 

Some combinations of letters having the same power, are used 
indifferently without any discoverable reason of choice, as in choa\, 
choice; soap, sope; jewel, fuel, and many others; which I have some- 
times inserted twice, that those who search for them under either 
form, may not search in vain. 

In examining the orthography of any doubtful word, the mode of 
spelling by which it is inserted in the series of the dictionary, is to 
be considered as that to which I give, perhaps not often rashly, the 
preference. I have left, in the examples, to every author his own 
practice unmolested, that the reader may balance suffrages, and 
judge between us: but this question is not always to be determined by 
reputed or by real learning; some men, intent upon greater things, 
have thought little on sounds and derivations; some, knowing in the 
ancient tongues, have neglected those in which our words are com- 
monly to be sought. Thus Hammond writes jecibleness for feasible- 
ness, because I suppose he imagined it derived immediately from the 
Latin; and some words, such as dependant, dependent; dependance, 
dependence, vary their final syllable, as one or other language is 
present to the writer. 

In this part of the work, where caprice has long wantoned without 
control, and vanity sought praise by petty reformation, I have en- 
deavored to proceed with a scholar's reverence for antiquity, and a 
grammarian's regard to the genius of our tongue. I have attempted 
few alterations, and among those few, perhaps the greater part is 
from the modern to the ancient practice; and I hope I may be 
allowed to recommend to those, whose thoughts have been perhaps 
employed too anxiously on verbal singularities, not to disturb, upon 
narrow views, or for minute propriety, the orthography of their 
fathers. It has been asserted, that for the law to be \nown, is of more 
importance than to be right. 'Change,' says Hooker, 'is not made 


without inconvenience, even from worse to better.' There is in 
constancy and stabiHty a general and lasting advantage, which will 
always overbalance the slow improvements of gradual correction. 
Much less ought our written language to comply with the corruptions 
of oral utterance, or copy that which every variation of time or 
place makes different from itself, and imitate those changes, which 
will again be changed, while imitation is employed in observing 

This recommendation of steadiness and uniformity does not pro- 
ceed from an opinion that particular combinations of letters have 
much influence on human happiness; or that truth may not be 
successfully taught by modes of spelling fanciful and erroneous; I 
am not yet so lost in lexicography as to forget that 'words are the 
daughters of earth, and that things are the sons of heaven.' Language 
is only the instrument of science, and words are but the signs of 
ideas: I wish, however, that the instrument might be less apt to 
decay, and that signs might be permanent, like the things which 
they denote. 

In settling the orthography, I have not wholly neglected the pro- 
nunciation, which I have directed, by printing an accent upon the 
acute or elevated syllable. It will sometimes be found that the accent 
is placed by the author quoted, on a different syllable from that 
marked in the alphabetical series; it is then to be understood, that 
custom has varied, or that the author has, in my opinion, pronounced 
wrong. Short directions are sometimes given where the sound of 
letters is irregular; and if they are sometimes omitted, defect in such 
minute observations will be more easily excused, than superfluity. 

In the investigation, both of the orthography and signification 
of words, their Etymology was necessarily to be considered, and they 
were therefore to be divided into primitives and derivatives. A primi- 
tive word is that which can be traced no further to any English root; 
thus circumspect, circumvent, circumstance, delude, concave, and 
complicate, though compounds in the Latin, are to us primitives. 
Derivatives, are all those that can be referred to any word in English 
of greater simplicity. 

The derivatives I have referred to their primitives, with an accuracy 
sometimes needless; for who does not see that remoteness comes 


from remote, lovely from love, concavity from concave, and demon- 
strative from demonstrate? But this grammatical exuberance the 
scheme of my work did not allow me to repress. It is of great im- 
portance, in examining the general fabric of a language, to trace one 
word from another, by noting the usual modes of derivation and 
inflection; and uniformity must be preserved in systematical works; 
though sometimes at the expense of particular propriety. 

Among other derivatives I have been careful to insert and elucidate 
the anomalous plurals of nouns and preterites of verbs, which in the 
Teutonic dialects are very frequent, and, though familiar to those 
who have always used them, interrupt and embarrass the learners 
of our language. 

The two languages from which our primitives have been derived, 
are the Roman and Teutonic: under the Roman, I comprehend the 
French and provincial tongues; and under the Teutonic, range the 
Saxon, German, and all their kindred dialects. Most of our poly- 
syllables are Roman, and our words of one syllable are very often 

In assigning the Roman original, it has perhaps sometimes hap- 
pened that I have mentioned only the Latin, when the word was 
borrowed from the French; and considering myself as employed only 
in the illustration of my own language, I have not been very careful 
to observe whether the Latin would be pure or barbarous, or the 
French elegant or obsolete. 

For the Teutonic etymologies, I am commonly indebted to Junius 
and Skinner, the only names which I have forborne to quote when I 
copied their books; not that I might appropriate their labors or usurp 
their honors, but that I might spare perpetual repetition by one 
general acknowledgment. Of these, whom I ought not to mention 
but with the reverence due to instructors and benefactors, Junius 
appears to have excelled in extent of learning, and Skinner in recti- 
tude of understanding. Junius was accurately skilled in all the 
northern languages. Skinner probably examined the ancient and 
remoter dialects only by occasional inspection into dictionaries; but 
the learning of Junius is often of no other use than to show him a 
track by which he may deviate from his purpose, to which Skinner 
always presses forward by the shortest way. Skinner is often igno- 


rant, but never ridiculous: Junius is always full of knowledge; but his 
variety distracts his judgment, and his learning is very frequently 
disgraced by his absurdities. 

The votaries of the northern muses will not perhaps easily restrain 
their indignation, when they find the name of Junius thus degraded 
by a disadvantageous comparison; but whatever reverence is due to 
his diligence, or his attainments, it can be no criminal degree of 
censoriousness to charge that etymologist with want of judgment, 
who can seriously derive dream from drama, because 'life is a drama 
and a drama is a dream'; and who declares with a tone of defiance, 
that no man can fail to derive moan from aiotos, monos, single or soli- 
tary, who considers that grief naturally loves to be alone. 

Our knowledge of the northern literature is so scanty, that of 
words undoubtedly Teutonic, the original is not always to be found 
in an ancient language; and I have therefore inserted Dutch or 
German substitutes, which I consider not as radical, but parallel, not 
as the parents, but sisters of the English. 

The words which are represented as thus related by descent or 
cognation, do not always agree in sense; for it is incident to words, 
as to their authors, to degenerate from their ancestors, and to change 
their manners when they change their country. It is sufficient, in 
etymological inquiries, if the senses of kindred words be found such 
as may easily pass into each other, or such as may both be referred 
to one general idea. 

The etymology, so far as it is yet known, was easily found in the 
volumes, where it is particularly and professedly delivered; and, by 
proper attention to the rules of derivation, the orthography was soon 
adjusted. But to collect the words of our language was a task of 
greater difficulty: the deficiency of dictionaries was immediately 
apparent; and when they were exhausted, what was yet wanting 
must be sought by fortuitous and unguided excursions into books 
and gleaned as industry should find, or chance should offer it, in 
the boundless chaos of a living speech. My search, however, has 
been either skilful or lucky; for I have much augmented the 

As my design was a dictionary, common or appellative, I have 


omitted all words which have relation to proper names; such as 
Arian, Socinian, Calvinist, Benedictine, Mahometan; but have 
retained those of a more general nature, as Heathen, Pagan. 

Of the terms of art I have received such as could be found either 
in books of science or technical dictionaries; and have often inserted, 
from philosophical writers, words which are supported perhaps only 
by a single authority, and which, being not admitted into general 
use, stand yet as candidates or probationers, and must depend for 
their adoption on the suffrage of futurity. The words which our 
authors have introduced by their knowledge of foreign languages, 
or ignorance of their own, by vanity or wantonness, by compliance 
with fashion or lust of innovation, I have registered as they occurred, 
though commonly only to censure them, and warn others against the 
folly of naturalizing useless foreigners to the injury of the natives. 

I have not rejected any by design, merely because they were unnec- 
essary or exuberant; but have received those which by different 
writers have been differently formed, as viscid, and viscidity, viscous, 
and viscosity. 

Compounded or double words I have seldom noted, except when 
they obtain a signification different from that which the components 
have in their simple state. 

Thus highwayman, woodman, and horsecourser, require an ex- 
planation; but of thiefii\e; or coachdriver, no notice was needed, 
because the primitives contain the meaning of the compounds. 

Words arbitrarily formed by a constant and settled analogy, like 
diminutive adjectives in ish, as greenish, bluish; adverbs in ly, as 
dully, openly; substantives in ness, as vileness, faultiness; were less 
diligently sought, and many sometimes have been omitted, when I 
had no authority that invited me to insert them; not that they are not 
genuine, and regular offsprings of English roots, but because their 
relation to the primitive being always the same, their signification 
cannot be mistaken. 

The verbal nouns in tng, such as the \eeping of the castle, the 
leading of the army, are always neglected, or placed only to illustrate 
the sense of the verb, except when they signify things as well as 
actions, and have therefore a plural number, as dwelling, living; or 


have an absolute and abstract signification, as coloring, painting, 

The participles are likewise omitted, unless, by signifying rather 
habit or quality than action, they take the nature of adjectives; as a 
thin\ing man, a man of prudence; a pacing horse, a horse that can 
pace: these I have ventured to call participial adjectives. But neither 
are these always inserted, because they are commonly to be under- 
stood without any danger of mistake, by consulting the verb. 

Obsolete words are admitted when they are found in authors not 
obsolete, or when they have any force or beauty that may deserve 

As composition is one of the chief characteristics of a language, I 
have endeavored to make some reparation for the universal negli- 
gence of my predecessors, by inserting great numbers of compounded 
words, as may be found under after, fore, new, night, fair, and many 
more. These, numerous as they are, might be multiphed, but that 
use and curiosity are here satisfied, and the frame of our language 
and modes of our combination amply discovered. 

Of some forms of composition, such as that by which re is prefixed 
to note repetition, and un to signify contrariety or privation, all the 
examples cannot be accumulated, because the use of these particles, 
if not wholly arbitrary, is so little limited, that they are hourly affixed 
to new words as occasion requires, or is imagined to require them. 

There is another kind of composition more frequent in our lan- 
guage than perhaps in any other, from which arises to foreigners the 
greatest difficulty. We modify the signification of many verbs by a 
particle subjoined; as to come off, to escape by a fetch; to fall on, 
to attack; fall off, to apostatize; to breal^^ off, to stop abruptly; to 
bear out, to justify; to fall in, to comply; to give over, to cease; to 
set off, to embellish; to set in, to begin a continual tenor; to set out, 
to begin a course or journey; to tal{e off, to copy; with innumerable 
expressions of the same kind, of which some appear wildly irregular, 
being so far distant from the sense of the simple words, that no 
sagacity will be able to trace the steps by which they arrived at the 
present use. These I have noted with great care; and though I 
cannot flatter myself that the collection is complete, I believe I have 
so far assisted the students of our language that this kind of phrase- 


ology will be no longer insuperable; and the combinations of verbs 
and particles, by chance omitted, will be easily explained by compari- 
son with those that may be found. 

Many words yet stand supported only by the name of Bailey, 
Ainsworth, Philips, or the contracted Diet, for Dictionaries, sub- 
joined; of these I am not always certain that they are read in any 
book but the works of lexicographers. Of such I have omitted many, 
because I had never read them; and many I have inserted, because 
they may perhaps exist, though they have escaped my notice: they 
are, however, to be yet considered as resting only upon the credit of 
former dictionaries. Others, which I considered as useful, or know to 
be proper, though I could not at present support them by authorities, 
I have suffered to stand upon my own attestation, claiming the same 
privilege with my predecessors, of being sometimes credited without 

The words, thus selected and disposed, are grammatically con- 
sidered; they are referred to the different parts of speech; traced 
when they are irregularly inflected, through their various termina- 
tions; and illustrated by observations, not indeed of great or striking 
importance, separately considered, but necessary to the elucidation of 
our language, and hitherto neglected or forgotten by English 

That part of my work on which I expect malignity most frequently 
to fasten, is the explanation; in which I cannot hope to satisfy those, 
who are perhaps not inclined to be pleased, since I have not always 
been able to satisfy myself. To interpret a language by itself is very 
difficult; many words cannot be explained by synonimes, because the 
idea signified by them has not more than one appellation; nor by 
paraphrase, because simple ideas cannot be described. When the 
nature of things is unknown, or the notion unsettled and indefinite, 
and various in various minds, the words by which such notions are 
conveyed, or such things denoted, will be anibiguous and perplexed. 
And such is the fate of hapless lexicography, that not only darkness, 
but light impedes and distresses it; things may be not only too little, 
but too much known, to be happily illustrated. To explain, requires 
the use of terms less abstruse than that which is to be explained, and 
such terms cannot always be found; for as nothing can be proved but 


by supposing something intuitively known, and evident without 
proof, so nothing can be defined but by the use of words too plain to 
admit a definition. 

Other words there are, of which the sense is too subtle and evanes- 
cent to be fixed in a paraphrase; such are all those which are by the 
grammarians termed expletives, and, in dead languages, are suffered 
to pass for empty sounds, of no other use than to fill a verse, or to 
modulate a period, but which are easily perceived in living tongues 
to have power and emphasis, though it be sometimes such as no other 
form of expression can convey. 

My labor has likewise been much increased by a class of verbs too 
frequent in the English language, of which the signification is so 
loose and general, the use so vague and indeterminate, and the 
senses detorted so widely from the first idea, that it is hard to trace 
them through the maze of variation, to catch them on the brink of 
utter inanity, to circumscribe them by any limitations, or interpret 
them by any words of distinct and settled meaning; such are bear, 
brea\, come, cast, full, get, give, do, put, set, go, run, ma\e, ta\e, 
turn, throw. If of these the whole power is not accurately delivered, 
it must be remembered, that while our language is yet living, and 
variable by the caprice of every one that speaks it, these words are 
hourly shifting their relations, and can no more be ascertained in a 
dictionary, than a grove, in the agitation of a storm, can be accurately 
delineated from its picture in the water. 

The particles are among all nations applied with so great latitude, 
that they are not easily reducible under any regular scheme of expli- 
cation: this difficulty is not less, nor perhaps greater, in English, 
than in other languages. I have labored them with diligence, I 
hope with success; such at least as can be expected in a task, which 
no man, however learned or sagacious, has yet been able to per- 

Some words there are which I cannot explain, because I do not 
understand them; these might have been omitted very often with 
little inconvenience, but I would not so far indulge my vanity as to 
decline this confession: for when Tully owns himself ignorant 
whether lessus, in the twelve tables, means a funeral song, or mourn- 
ing garment; and Aristotle doubts whether ovpev^ in the Iliad 


signifies a mule, or muleteer, I may surely without shame, leave 
some obscurities to happier industry, or future information. 

The rigor of interpretative lexicography requires that the explana- 
tion, and the word explained should be always reciprocal; this I have 
always endeavoured, but could not always attain. Words are seldom 
exactly synonymous; a new term was not introduced, but because 
the former was thought inadequate: names, therefore, have often 
many ideas, but few ideas have many names. It was then necessary 
to use the proximate word, for the deficiency of single terms can very 
seldom be supplied by circumlocution; nor is the inconvenience 
great of such mutilated interpretations, because the sense may easily 
be collected entire from the examples. 

In every word of extensive use, it was requisite to mark the prog- 
ress of its meaning, and show by what gradations of intermediate 
sense it has passed from its primitive to its remote and accidental 
signification; so that every foregoing explanation should tend to that 
which follows, and the series be regularly concatenated from the 
first notion to the last. 

This is specious, but not always practicable; kindred senses may be 
so interwoven, that the perplexity cannot be disentangled, nor any 
reason be assigned why one should be ranged before the other. When 
the radical idea branches out into parallel ramifications, how can 
a consecutive series be formed of senses in their nature collateral.'' 
The shades of meaning sometimes pass imperceptibly into each other, 
so that though on one side they apparently differ, yet it is impossible 
to mark the point of contact. Ideas of the same race, though not 
exactly alike, are sometimes so little different, that no words can 
express the dissimilitude, though the mind easily perceives it when 
they are exhibited together; and sometimes there is such a confusion 
of acceptations, that discernment is wearied and distinction puzzled, 
and perseverance herself hurries to an end, by crowding together 
what she cannot separate. 

These cornplaints of difficulty will, by those that Have never con- 
sidered words beyond their popular use, be thought only the jargon 
of a man willing to magnify his labors, and procure veneration to his 
studies by involution and obscurity. But every art is obscure to those 
that have not learned it; this uncertainty of terms, and commixture 


of ideas, is well known to those who have joined philosophy with 
grammar; and if I have not expressed them very clearly, it must be 
remembered that I am speaking of that which words are insufEcient 
to explain. 

The original sense of words is often driven out of use by their 
metaphorical acceptations, yet must be inserted for the sake of a 
regular origination. Thus I know not whether ardor is used for 
material heat, or whether flagrant, in English, ever signifies the 
same with burning; yet such are the primitive ideas of these words, 
which are therefore set first, though without examples, that the 
figurative senses may be commodiously deduced. 

Such is the exuberance of signification which many words have 
obtained, that it was scarcely possible to collect all their senses; some- 
times the meaning of derivatives must be sought in the mother term, 
and sometimes deficient explanations of the primitive may be sup- 
plied in the train of derivation. In any case of doubt or difficulty, 
it will be always proper to examine all the words of the same race; 
for some words are slightly passed over to avoid repetition, some 
admitted easier and clearer explanation than others, and all will be 
better understood, as they are considered in greater variety of struc- 
tures and relations. 

All the interpretations of words are not written with the same 
skill, or the same happiness: things equally easy in themselves, are 
not all equally easy to any single mind. Every writer of a long word 
commits errors, where there appears neither ambiguity to mislead, 
nor obscurity to confound him; and in a search like this, many 
felicities of expression will be casually overlooked, many convenient 
parallels will be forgotten, and many particulars will admit im- 
provement from a mind utterly unequal to the whole performance. 

But many seeming faults are to be imputed rather to the nature 
of the undertaking, than the negligence of the performer. Thus 
some explanations are unavoidably reciprocal or circular, as hind, the 
female of the stag; stag, the male of the hind: sometimes easier 
words are changed into harder, as burial into sepulture, or interment, 
drier into desiccative, dryness into siccity or aridity, fit into parox- 
ysm; for the easiest word, whatever it be, can never be translated into 
one more easy. But easiness and difficulty are merely relative; and 


if the present prevalence of our language should invite foreigners to 
this Dictionary, many will be assisted by those words which now 
seem only to increase or produce obscurity. For this reason I have 
endeavoured frequently to join a Teutonic and Roman interpreta- 
tion, as to cheer, to gladden or exhilarate, that every learner of 
English may be assisted by his own tongue. 

The solution of all difficulties, and the supply of all defects must 
be sought in the examples, subjoined to the various senses of each 
word, and ranged according to the time of their authors. 

When I first collected these authorities, I was desirous that every 
quotation should be useful to some other end than the illustration of 
a word; I therefore extracted from philosophers principles of science; 
from historians remarkable facts; from chymists complete processes; 
from divines striking exhortations; and from poets beautiful descrip- 
tions. Such is design, while it is yet at a distance from execution. 
When the time called upon me to range this accumulation of ele- 
gance and wisdom into an alphabetical series, I soon discovered that 
the bulk of my volumes would fright away the student, and was 
forced to depart from my scheme of including all that was pleasing 
or useful in English literature, and reduce my transcripts very often 
to clusters of words, in which scarcely any meaning is retained; thus 
to the weariness of copying, I was condemned to add the vexation 
of expunging. Some passages I have yet spared, which may relieve 
the labor of verbal searches, and intersperse with verdure and flowers 
the dusty desarts of barren philology. 

The examples, thus mutilated, are no longer to be considered as 
conveying the sentiments or doctrine of their authors; the word for 
the sake of which they are inserted, with all its appendant clauses, 
has been carefully preserved ; but it may sometimes happen, by hasty 
detruncation, that the general tendency of the sentence may be 
changed: the divine may desert his tenets, or the philosopher his 

Some of the examples have been taken from writers who were 
never mentioned as masters of elegance, or models of style; but words 
must be sought where they are used; and in what pages, eminent 
for purity, can terms of manufacture or agriculture be found? Many 
quotations serve no other purpose than that of proving the bare 


existence of words, and are therefore selected with less scrupulous- 
ness than those which are to teach their structures and relations. 

My purpose was to admit no testimony of living authors, that I 
might not be misled by partiality, and that none of my contempo- 
raries might have reason to complain; nor have I departed from 
this resolution, but when some performance of uncommon excellence 
excited my veneration, when my memory supplied me, from late 
books, with an example that was wanting, or when my heart, in the 
tenderness of friendship, solicited admission for a favorite name. 

So far have I been from any care to grace my pages with modern 
decorations, that I have studiously endeavored to collect examples 
and authorities from the writers before the Restoration, whose works 
I regard as the 'wells of English undefiled,' as the pure sources of 
genuine diction. Our language, for almost a century, has, by the 
concurrence of many causes, been gradually departing from its 
original Teutonic character and deviating towards a Gallic structure 
and phraseology, from which it ought to be our endeavor to recall it, 
by making our ancient volumes the ground-work of style, admitting 
among the additions of later times, only such as may supply real 
deficiencies, such as are readily adopted by the genius of our tongue, 
and incorporate easily with our native idioms. 

But as every language has a time of rudeness antecedent to perfec- 
tion, as well as of false refinement and declension, I have been cau- 
tious lest my zeal for antiquity mighc drive me into times too remote, 
and crowd my book with words now no longer understood. I have 
fixed Sidney's work for the boundary, beyond which I make few 
excursions. From the authors which rose in the time of Elizabeth, 
a speech might be formed adequate to all the purposes of use and 
elegance. If the language of theology were extracted from Hooker 
and the translation of the Bible; the terms of natural knowledge from 
Bacon; the phrases of policy, war, and navigation from Raleigh; 
the dialect of poetry and fiction from Spenser and Sidney; and the 
diction of common life from Shakespeare, few ideas would be lost 
to mankind, for want of English words in which they might be 

It is not sufficient that a word is found, unless it be so combined as 
that its meaning is apparently determined by the tract and tenor of 


the sentence; such passages I have therefore chosen, and when it 
happened that any author gave a definition of a term, or such an 
explanation as is equivalent to a definition, I have placed his author- 
ity as a supplement to my ow^n, without regard to the chronological 
order that is otherwise observed. 

Some words, indeed, stand unsupported by any authority, but they 
are commonly derivative nouns or adverbs, formed from their primi- 
tives by regular and constant analogy, or names of things seldom 
occurring in books, or words of which I have reason to doubt the 

There is more danger of censure from the multiplicity than paucity 
of examples; authorities will sometimes seem to have been accumu- 
lated without necessity or use, and perhaps some will be found, which 
might, without loss, have been omitted. But a work of this kind is 
not hastily to be charged with superfluities; those quotations, which 
to careless or unskillful perusers appear only to repeat the same sense, 
will often exhibit, to a more accurate examiner, diversities of signifi- 
cation, or, at least, afford different shades of the same meaning: one 
will show the word applied to persons, another to things; one will 
express an ill, another a good, and a third a neutral sense; one will 
prove the expression genuine from an ancient author; another will 
show it elegant from a modern : a doubtful authority is corroborated 
by another of more credit; an ambiguous sentence is ascertained by a 
passage clear and determinate: the word, how often soever repeated, 
appears with new associates and in different combinations, and every 
quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of 
the language. 

When words are used equivocally, I receive them in either sense; 
when they are metaphorical, I adopt them in their primitive accep- 

I have sometimes, though rarely, yielded to the temptation of 
exhibiting a genealogy of sentiments, by showing how one author 
copied the thoughts and diction of another: such quotations are 
indeed little more than repetitions, which might justly be censured, 
did they not gratify the mind, by affording a kind of intellectual 

The various syntactical structures occurring in the examples have 


been carefully noted; the license or negligence with which many 
words have been hitherto used, has made our style capricious and 
indeterminate; when the different combinations of the same word 
are exhibited together, the preference is readily given to propriety, 
and I have often endeavored to direct the choice. 

Thus have I labored by settling the orthography, displaying the 
analogy, regulating the structures, and ascertaining the signification 
of English words, to perform all the parts of a faithful lexicographer : 
but I have not always executed my own scheme, or satisfied my own 
expectations. The work, whatever proofs of diligence and attention 
it may exhibit, is yet capable of many improvements: the orthog- 
raphy which I recommend is still controvertible; the etymology 
which I adopt is uncertain, and perhaps frequently erroneous; the 
explanations are sometimes too much contracted, and sometimes 
too much diffused, the significations are distinguished rather with 
subtlety than skill, and the attention is harassed with unnecessary 

The examples are too often injudiciously truncated, and perhaps 
sometimes — I hope very rarely — alleged in a mistaken sense; for in 
making this collection I trusted more to memory, than, in a state 
of disquiet and embarrassment, memory can contain, and purposed 
to supply at the review what was left incomplete in the first trans- 

Many terms appropriated to particular occupations, though neces- 
sary and significant, are undoubtedly omitted; and of the words most 
studiously considered and exemplified, many senses have escaped 

Yet these failures, however frequent, may admit extenuation and 
apology. To have attempted much is always laudable, even when 
the enterprise is above the strength that undertakes it: to rest below 
his own aim is incident to every one whose fancy is active, and whose 
views are comprehensive; nor is any man satisfied with himself 
because he has done much, but because he can conceive little. When 
first I engaged in this work, I resolved to leave neither words nor 
things unexamined, and pleased myself with a prospect of the 
hours which I should revel away in feasts of literature, the obscure 
recesses of northern learning which I should enter and ransack, the 


treasures with which I expected every search into those neglected 
mines to reward my labor, and the triumph with which I should 
display my acquisitions to mankind. When I had thus inquired into 
the original of words, I resolved to show likewise my attention to 
things; to pierce deep into every science, to inquire the nature of 
every substance of which I inserted the name, to limit every idea by a 
definition strictly logical, and exhibit every production of art or 
nature in an accurate description, that my book might be in place 
of all other dictionaries whether appellative or technical. But these 
were the dreams of a poet doomed at last to wake a lexicographer. I 
soon found that it is too late to look for instruments, when the work 
calls for execution, and that whatever abilities I had brought to my 
task, with those I must finally perform it. To deliberate whenever 
I doubted, to inquire whenever I was ignorant, would have pro- 
tracted the undertaking without end, and, perhaps, without much 
improvement; for I did not find by my first experiments, that what 
I had not of my own was easily to be obtained: I saw that one 
inquiry only gave occasion to another, that book referred to book, 
that to search was not always to find, and to find was not always to 
be informed; and that thus to pursue perfection, was, like the first 
inhabitants of Arcadia, to chase the sun, which, when they had 
reached the hill where he seemed to rest, was still beheld at the same 
distance from them. 

I then contracted my design, determining to confide in myself, 
and no longer to solicit auxiliaries which produced more incum- 
brance than assistance : by this I obtained at least one advantage, that 
I set limits to my work, which would in time be ended, though not 

Despondency has never so far prevailed as to depress me to negli- 
gence; some faults will at last appear to be the effects of anxious 
diligence and persevering activity. The nice and subtle ramifications 
of meaning were not easily avoided by a mind intent upon accuracy, 
and convinced of the necessity of disentangling combinations, and 
separating similitudes. Many of the distinctions which to common 
readers appear useless and idle, will be found real and important 
by men versed in the school philosophy, without which no dictionary 
can ever be accurately compiled, or skillfully examined. 


Some senses, however, there are, which, though not the same, are 
yet so nearly allied, that they are often confounded. Most men think 
indistinctly, and therefore cannot speak with exactness; and conse- 
quently some examples might be indifferently put to either significa- 
tion: this uncertainty is not to be imputed to me, who do not form, 
but register the language; who do not teach men how they should 
think, but relate how they have hitherto expressed their thoughts. 

The imperfect sense of some examples I lamented, but could not 
remedy, and hope they will be compensated by innumerable passages 
selected with propriety, and preserved with exactness; some shining 
with sparks of imagination, and some replete with treasures of 

The orthography and etymology, though imperfect, are not im- 
perfect for want of care, but because care will not always be success- 
ful, and recollection or information come too late for use. 

That many terms of art and manufacture are omitted, must be 
frankly acknowledged; but for this defect I may boldly allege that 
it is unavoidable; I could not visit caverns to learn the miner's 
language, nor take a voyage to perfect my skill in the dialect of 
navigation, nor visit the warehouses of merchants, and shops of 
artificers, to gain the names of wares, tools, and operations, of which 
no mention is found in books; what favorable accident or easy in- 
quiry brought within my reach, has not been neglected; but it had 
been a hopeless labor to glean up words, by courting living informa- 
tion, and contesting with the sullenness of one, and the roughness 
of another. 

To furnish the Academicians della Crusca with words of this 
kind, a series of comedies called La Fiera, or The Fair, was pro- 
fessedly written by Buonaroti; but I had no such assistant, and 
therefore was content to want what they must have wanted likewise, 
had they not luckily been so supplied. 

Nor are all words which are not found in the vocabulary, to be 
lamented as omissions. Of the laborious and mercantile part of the 
people, the diction is in a great measure casual and mutable; many 
of their terms are formed for some temporary or local convenience, 
and though current at certain times and places, are in others utterly 
unknown. This fugitive cant, which is always in a state of increase 


or decay, cannot be regarded as any part of the durable materials of 
a language, and therefore must be suffered to perish with other 
things unworthy of preservation. 

Care will sometimes betray to the appearance of negligence. He 
that is catching opportunities which seldom occur, will suffer those 
to pass by unregarded, which he expects hourly to return; he that is 
searching for rare and remote things, will neglect those that are 
obvious and famiHar: thus many of the most common and cursory 
words have been inserted with little illustration, because in gathering 
the authorities, I forebore to copy those which I thought likely to 
occur whenever they were wanted. It is remarkable that, in review- 
ing my collection, I found the word sea unexemplified. 

Thus it happens, that in things difficult there is danger from 
ignorance, and in things easy, from confidence; the mind, afraid of 
greatness, and disdainful of littleness, hastily withdraws herself 
from painful searches, and passes with scornful rapidity over tasks 
not adequate to her powers; sometimes too secure for caution, and 
again too anxious for vigorous effort; sometimes idle in a plain path, 
and sometimes distracted in labyrinths, and dissipated by different 

A large work is difficult because it is large, even though all its parts 
might singly be performed with facility; where there are many 
things to be done, each must be allowed its share of time and labor, 
in the proportion only which it bears to the whole; nor can it be 
expected, that the stones which form the dome of a temple, should 
be squared and polished like the diamond of a ring. 

Of the event of this work, for which, having labored it with so 
much application, I cannot but have some degree of parental fond- 
ness, it is natural to form conjectures. Those who have been per- 
suaded to think well of my design, will require that it should fix 
our language, and put a stop to those alterations which time and 
chance have hitherto been suffered to make in it without opposition. 
With this consequence I will confess that I flattered myself for a 
while; but now begin to fear that I have indulged expectation 
which neither reason nor experience can justify. When we see men 
grow old and die at a certain time one after another, from century 
to century, we laugh at the elixir that promises to prolong life to a 


thousand years; and with equal justice may the lexicographer be 
derided, who being able to produce no example of a nation that has 
preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall imagine 
that his dictionary can embalm his language, and secure it from 
corruption and decay, that it is in his power to change sublunary 
nature, and clear the world at once from folly, vanity, and affectation. 

With this hope, however, academies have been instituted, to guard 
the avenues of their languages, to retain fugitives, and repulse 
intruders; but their vigilance and activity have hitherto been vain; 
sounds are too volatile and subtile for legal restraints; to enchain 
syllables, and to lash the wind, are equally the undertakings of pride, 
unwilling to measure its desires by its strength. The French lan- 
guage has visibly changed under the inspection of the Academy; 
the style of Amelot's translation of Father Paul is observed by Le 
Courayer to be un peu passe; and no Italian will maintain that the 
diction of any modern writer is not perceptibly different from that 
of Boccace, Machiavel, or Caro. 

Total and sudden transformations of a language seldom happen; 
conquests and migrations are now very rare: but there are other 
causes of change, which, though slow in their operation, and invisible 
in their progress, are perhaps as much superior to human resistance, 
as the revolutions of the sky, or intumescence of the tide. Commerce, 
however necessary, however lucrative, as it depraves the manners, 
corrupts the language; they that have frequent intercourse with 
strangers, to whom they endeavor to accommodate themselves, must 
in time learn a mingled dialect, like the jargon which serves the 
traffickers on the Mediterranean and Indian coasts. This will not 
always be confined to the exchange, the warehouse, or the port, 
but will be communicated by degrees to other ranks of the people, 
and be at last incorporated with the current speech. 

There are likewise internal causes equally forcible. The language 
most likely to continue long without alterations, would be that of a 
nation raised a little, and but a little, above barbarity, secluded from 
strangers, and totally employed in procuring the conveniences of 
life; either without books, or, like some of the Mahometan countries, 
with every few: men thus busied and unlearned, having only such 
words as common use requires, would perhaps long continue to 


express the same notions by the same signs. But no such constancy 
can be expected in a people poHshed by arts, and classed by sub- 
ordination, where one part of the community is sustained and 
accommodated by the labor of the other. Those who have much 
leisure to think, will always be enlarging the stock of ideas; and 
every increase of knowledge, whether real or fancied, will produce 
new words, or combination of words. When the mind is unchained 
from necessity, it will range after convenience: when it is left at large 
in the fields of speculation, it will shift opinions; as any custom is 
disused, the words that expressed it must perish with it; as any 
opinion grows popular, it will innovate speech in the same proportion 
as it alters practice. 

As by the cultivation of various sciences a language is amplified, 
it will be more furnished with words deflected from their original 
sense; the geometrician will talk of a courtier's zenith or the eccentric 
virtue of a wild hero, and the physician, of sanguine expectations 
and phlegmatic delays. Copiousness of speech will give opportunities 
to capricious choice, by which some words will be preferred, and 
Others degraded; vicissitudes of fashion will enforce the use of new, 
or extend the signification of known terms. The tropes of poetry will 
make hourly encroachments, and the metaphorical will become the 
current sense: pronunciation will be varied by levity or ignorance, 
and the pen must at length comply with the tongue: illiterate writers 
will, at one time or other, by public infatuation, rise into renown, 
who, not knowing the original import of words, will use them with 
colloquial licentiousness, confound distinction, and forget propriety. 
As politeness increases, some expressions will be considered as too 
gross and vulgar for the delicate, others as too formal and cere- 
monious for the gay and airy; new phrases are therefore adopted, 
which must for the same reasons be in time dismissed. Swift, in his 
petty treatise on the English language, allows that new words must 
sometimes be introduced, but proposes that none should be suffered 
to become obsolete. But what makes a word obsolete, more than 
general agreement to forbear it ? and how shall it be continued, when 
it conveys an offensive idea, or recalled again into the mouths of 
mankind, when it has once become unfamiliar by disuse, and 
unpleasing by unfamiliarity .? 


There is another cause of alteration more prevalent than any other, 
which yet in the present state of the world cannot be obviated. A 
mixture of two languages will produce a third distinct from both, 
and they will always be mixed, where the chief parts of education, 
and the most conspicuous accomplishment, is skill in ancient or in 
foreign tongues. He that has long cultivated another language, will 
find its words and combinations crowd upon his memory; and haste 
and negligence, refinement and affectation, will obtrude borrowed 
terms and exotic expressions. 

The great pest of speech is frequency of translation. No book was 
ever turned from one language into another, without imparting 
something of its native idiom; this is the most mischievous and 
comprehensive innovation; single words may enter by thousands, 
and the fabric of the tongue continue the same; but new phraseology 
changes much at once; it alters not the single stones of the building, 
but the order of the columns. If an academy should be established 
for the cultivation of our style — which I, who can never wish 
to see dependence multiplied, hope the spirit of English liberty will 
hinder or destroy — let them, instead of compiling grammars and 
dictionaries, endeavor, with all their influence, to stop the license 
of translators, whose idleness and ignorance, if it be suffered to 
proceed, will reduce us to babble a dialect of France. 

If the changes that we fear be thus irresistible, what remains but 
to acquiesce with silence, as in the other insurmountable distresses of 
humanity ? It remains that we retard what we cannot repel, that we 
palliate what we cannot cure. Life may be lengthened by care, 
though death cannot be ultimately defeated: tongues, like govern- 
ments, have a natural tendency to degeneration; we have long 
preserved our constitution, let us make some struggles for our 

In hope of giving longevity to that which its own nature forbids to 
be immortal, I have devoted this book, the labor of years, to the 
honor of my country, that we may no longer yield the palm of 
philology without a contest, to the nations of the continent. The 
chief glory of every people arises from its authors: whether I shall 
add any thing by my own writings to the reputation of English 
literature, must be left to time: much of my life has been lost under 


the pressures of disease; much has been trifled away; and much has 
always been spent in provision for the day that was passing over me; 
but I shall not think my employment useless or ignoble, if by my 
assistance foreign nations, and distant ages, gain access to the propa- 
gators of knowledge, and understand the teachers of truth; if my 
labors afford light to the repositories of science, and add celebrity 
to Bacon, to Hooker, to Milton, and to Boyle. 

When I am animated by this wish, I look with pleasure on my 
book, however defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit 
of a man that has endeavored well. That it will immediately become 
popular I have not promised to myself: a few wild blunders, and 
risible absurdities, from which no work of such multiplicity was ever 
free, may for a time furnish folly with laughter, and harden ignor- 
ance into contempt; but useful diligence will at last prevail, and 
there never can be wanting some who distinguish desert; who will 
consider that no dictionary of a living tongue ever can be perfect, 
since, while it is hastening to publication, some words are budding, 
and some falling away; that a whole Hfe cannot be spent upon syntax 
and etymology, and that even a whole life would not be sufficient; 
that he, whose design includes whatever language can express, must 
often speak of what he does not understand; that a writer will some- 
times be hurried by eagerness to the end, and sometimes faint with 
weariness under a task which Scaliger compares to the labors of the 
anvil and the mine; that what is obvious is not always known, and 
what is known is not always present; that sudden fits of inadvertency 
will surprise vigilance, slight avocations will seduce attention, and 
casual eclipses of the mind will darken learning; and that the writer 
shall often in vain, trace his memory at the moment of need, for that 
which yesterday he knew with intuitive readiness, and which will 
come uncalled into his thoughts to-morrow. 

In this work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it 
not be forgotten that much likewise is performed; and though no 
book was ever spared out of tenderness to the author, and the 
world is little solicitous to know whence proceed the faults of that 
which it condemns; yet it may gratify curiosity to inform it, that the 
English Dictionary was written with little assistance of the learned, 
and without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of 


retirement, or under the shelter of academic bowers, but amidst 
inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow. It may 
repress the triumph of mahgnant criticism to observe, that if our 
language is not here fully displayed, I have only failed in an attempt 
which no human powers have hitherto completed. If the lexicons 
of ancient tongues, now immutably fixed, and comprised in a few 
volumes, be yet, after the toil of successive ages, inadequate and 
■delusive; if the aggregated knowledge, and co-operating diligence 
of the Italian academicians, did not secure them from the censure 
of Beni; if the embodied critics of France, when fifty years had been 
^pent upon their work, were obliged to change its economy, and 
give their second edition another form, I may surely be contented 
without the praise of perfection, which, if I could obtain, in this 
gloom of solitude, what would it avail me? I have protracted my 
work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the 
grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds: I therefore 
dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from 
censure or from praise. 


February 7, 1755. 
My Lord: 

I HAVE lately been informed by the proprietor of The World, 
that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the 
public, were written by your Lordship. To be so distinguished is 
an honor which, being very little accustomed to favours from the 
great, I know not well how to receive, or in what terms to 

When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your Lord- 
ship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchant- 
ment of your address; and I could not forbear to wish that I might 
boast myself 'Le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre'; that I might 
obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending; but I 
found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor 
modesty would suffer me to continue it. When I had once addressed 
your Lordship in public, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing 


which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. I had done all 
that I could; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, 
be it ever so little. 

Seven years, my Lord, have now passed, since I waited in your 
outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time 
I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is 
useless to complain, and have brought it at last to the verge of 
publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encourage- 
ment, or one smile of favor. Such treatment I did not expect, for I 
never had a Patron before. 

The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and 
found him a native of the rocks. 

Is not a Patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man 
struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, 
encumbers him with help ? The notice which you have been pleased 
to take of my labors, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been 
delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, 
and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is 
no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit 
has been received, or to be unwilling that the Public should con- 
sider me as owing that to a Patron, which Providence has enabled 
me to do for myself. 

Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to 
any favorer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should 
conclude it, if less be possible, with less; for I have been long wakened 
from that dream of hope, in which I once boasted myself with so 
much exultation. 

My Lord, Your Lordship's most humble. 

Most obedient servant, Sam. Johnson. 



THAT praises are without reason lavished on the dead, and 
that the honours due only to excellence are paid to antiquity, 
is a complaint likely to be always continued by those, who, 
being able to add nothing to truth, hope for eminence from the 
heresies of paradox; or those, who, being forced by disappointment 
upon consolatory expedients, are willing to hope from posterity what 
the present age refuses, and flatter themselves that the regard which 
is yet denied by envy, will be at last bestowed by time. 

Antiquity, like every other quality that attracts the notice of man- 
kind, has undoubtedly votaries that reverence it, not from reason, but 
from prejudice. Some seem to admire indiscriminately whatever 
has been long preserved, without considering that time has some- 
times co-operated with chance; all perhaps are more willing to 
honour past than present excellence; and the mind contemplates 
genius through the shades of age, as the eye surveys the sun through 
artificial opacity. The great contention of criticism is to find the 
faults of the moderns, and the beauties of the ancients. While an 
author is yet living we estimate his powers by his worst performance, 
and when he is dead, we rate them by his best. 

To works, however, of which the excellence is not absolute and 
definite, but gradual and comparative; to works not raised upon 
principles demonstrative and scientifick, but appealing wholly to 
observation and experience, no other test can be applied than length 
of duration and continuance of esteem. What mankind have long 
possessed they have often examined and compared; and if they 
persist to value the possession, it is because frequent comparisons 
have confirmed opinion in its favour. As among the works of 
nature no man can properly call a river deep, or a mountain high, 
without the knowledge of many mountains, and many rivers; so 



in the productions of genius, nothing can be stiled excellent till it has 
been compared with other works of the same kind. Demonstration 
immediately displays its power, and has nothing to hope or fear 
from the flux of years; but works tentative and experimental must 
be estimated by their proportion to the general and collective ability 
of man, as it is discovered in a long succession of endeavours. Of 
the first building that was raised, it might be with certainty deter- 
mined that it was round or square; but whether it was spacious or 
lofty must have been referred to time. The Pythagorean scale of 
numbers was at once discovered to be perfect; but the poems of 
Homer we yet know not to transcend the common limits of human 
intelligence, but by remarking, that nation after nation, and cen- 
tury after century, has been able to do little more than transpose 
his incidents, new-name his characters, and paraphrase his senti- 

The reverence due to writings that have long subsisted arises 
therefore not from any credulous confidence in the superior wisdom 
of past ages, or gloomy persuasion of the degeneracy of mankind, 
but is the consequence of acknowledged and indubitable positions, 
that what has been longest known has been most considered, and 
what is most considered is best understood. 

The Poet, of whose works I have undertaken the revision, may 
now begin to assume the dignity of an ancient, and claim the 
privilege of established fame and prescriptive veneration. He has 
long outlived his century, the term commonly fixed as the test 
of literary merit. Whatever advantages he might once derive from 
personal allusions, local customs, or temporary opinions, have for 
many years been lost; and every topick of merriment, or motive of 
sorrow, which the modes of artificial life afforded him, now only 
obscure the scenes which they once illuminated. The effects of favour 
and competition are at an end; the tradition of his friendships and his 
enemies has perished; his works support no opinion with arguments, 
nor supply any faction with invectives; they can neither indulge 
vanity nor gratify malignity; but are read without any other 
reason than the desire of pleasure, and are therefore praised only as 
pleasure is obtained; yet, thus unassisted by interest or passion, they 
have past through variations of taste and changes of manners, and. 


as they devolved from one generation to another, have received new 
honours at every transmission. 

But because human judgment, though it be gradually gaining 
upon certainty, never becomes infallible; and approbation, though 
long continued, may yet be only the approbation of prejudice or 
fashion; it is proper to inquire, by what peculiarities of excellence 
Shakespeare has gained and kept the favour of his countrymen. 

Nothing can please many, and please long, but just representations 
of general nature. Particular manner, can be known to few, and 
therefore few only can judge how nearly they are copied. The 
irregular combinations of fanciful invention may delight a-while, 
by that novelty of which the common satiety of life sends us all in 
quest; but the pleasures of sudden wonder are soon exhausted, and 
the mind can only repose on the stability of truth. 

Shakespeare is above all writers, at least above all modern writers, 
the poet of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful 
mirrour of manners and of life. His characters are not modified by 
the customs of particular places, unpractised by the rest of the world; 
by the peculiarities of studies or professions, which can operate but 
upon small numbers; or by the accidents of transient fashions or 
temporary opinions: they are the genuine progeny of common 
humanity, such as the world will always supply, and observation will 
always find. His persons act and speak by the influence of those 
general passions and principles by which all minds are agitated, and 
the whole system of life is continued in motion. In the writings of 
other poets a character is too often an individual; in those of Shake- 
speare it is commonly a species. 

It is from this wide extension of design that so much instruction 
is derived. It is this which fills the plays of Shakespeare with prac- 
tical axioms and domestic wisdom. It was said of Euripides, that 
every verse was a precept; and it may be said of Shakespeare, that 
from his works may be collected a system of civil and oeconomical 
prudence. Yet his real power is not shewn in the splendour of 
particular passages, but by the progress of his fable, and the tenour 
of his dialogue; and he that tries to recommend him by select quota- 
tions, will succeed like the pedant in Hierocles, who, when he offered 
his house to sale, carried a brick in his pocket as a specimen. 


It will not easily be imagined how much Sha\espeare excells in 
accommodating his sentiments to real life, but by comparing him 
with other authors. It was observed of the ancient schools of declama- 
tion, that the more diligently they were frequented, the more was 
the student disqualified for the world, because he found nothing 
there which he should ever meet in any other place. The same 
remark may be applied to every stage but that of Shakespeare. The 
theatre, when it is under any other direction, is peopled by such 
characters as were never seen, conversing in a language which 
was never heard, upon topicks which will never rise in the commerce 
of mankind. But the dialogue of this author is often so evidently 
determined by the incident which produces it, and is pursued with 
so much ease and simplicity, that it seems scarcely to claim the 
merit of fiction, but to have been gleaned by diligent selection out 
of common conversation, and common occurrences. 

Upon every other stage the universal agent is love, by whose 
power all good and evil is distributed, and every action quickened 
or retarded. To bring a lover, a lady and a rival into the fable; to 
entangle them in contradictory obligations, perplex them with 
oppositions of interest, and harrass them with violence of desires 
inconsistent with each other; to make them meet in rapture and part 
in agony; to fill their mouths with hyperbolical joy and outrageous 
sorrow; to distress them as nothing human ever was distressed; 
to deliver them as nothing human ever was delivered; is the business 
of a modern dramatist. For this probability is violated, life is 
misrepresented, and language is depraved. But love is only one of 
many passions; and as it has no great influence upon the sum of 
life, it has little operation in the dramas of a poet, who caught his 
ideas from the living world, and exhibited only what he saw before 
him. He knew, that any other passion, as it was regular or exorbi- 
tant, was a cause of happiness or calamity. 

Characters thus ample and general were not easily discriminated 
and preserved, yet perhaps no poet ever kept his personages more 
distinct from each other. I will not say with Pope, that every speech 
may be assigned to the proper speaker, because many speeches there 
are which have nothing characteristical; but perhaps, though some 
may be equally adapted to every person, it will be difficult to find 


any that can be properly transferred from the present possessor to 
another claimant. The choice is right, when there is reason for 

Other dramatists can only gain attention by hyperbolical or aggra- 
vated characters, by fabulous and unexampled excellence or de- 
pravity, as the writers of barbarous romances invigorated the reader 
by a giant and a dwarf; and he that should form his expectations of 
human affairs from the play, or from the tale, would be equally 
deceived. Shakespeare has no heroes; his scenes are occupied only 
by men, who act and speak as the reader thinks that he should 
himself have spoken or acted on the same occasion : Even where the 
agency is supernatural the dialogue is level with life. Other writers 
disguise the most natural passions and most frequent incidents; 
so that he who contemplates them in the book will not know them 
in the world : Sha\espeare approximates the remote, and familiarizes 
the wonderful; the event which he represents will not happen, but 
if it were possible, its effects would probably be such as he has 
assigned; and it may be said, that he has not only shewn human 
nature as it acts in real exigencies, but as it would be found in trials, 
to which it cannot be exposed. 

This therefore is the praise of Sha\espeare, that his drama is the 
mirrour of life; that he who has mazed his imagination, in following 
the phantoms which other writers raise up before him, may here 
be cured of his delirious extasies, by reading human sentiments in 
human language, by scenes from which a hermit may estimate the 
transactions of the world, and a confessor predict the progress of 
the passions. 

His adherence to general nature has exposed him to the censure 
of criticks, who form their judgments upon narrow principles. 
Dennis and Rhymer think his Romans not sufficiently Roman; and 
Voltaire censures his kings as not completely royal. Dennis is 
offended, that Menenius, a senator of Rome, should play the buffoon; 
and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency violated when the Danish 
Usurper is represented as a drunkard. But Shakespeare always 
makes nature predominate over accident; and if he preserves the 
essential character, is not very careful of distinctions superinduced 
and adventitious. His story requires Romans or kings, but he thinks 


only on men. He knew that Rome, like every other city, had men o£ 
all dispositions; and wanting a buffoon, he went into the senate- 
house for that which the senate-house would certainly have afforded 
him. He was inclined to shew an usurper and a murderer not only 
odious but despicable, he therefore added drunkenness to his other 
qualities, knowing that kings love wine like other men, and that 
wine exerts its natural power upon kings. These are the petty cavils 
of petty minds; a poet overlooks the casual distinction of country and 
condition, as a painter, satisfied with the figure, neglects the drapery. 

The censure which he has incurred by mixing comick and tragick 
scenes, as it extends to all his works, deserves more consideration. 
Let the fact be first stated, and then examined. 

Shal{espeare's plays are not in the rigorous and critical sense 
either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind; 
exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good 
and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with endless variety of proportion 
and innumerable modes of combination; and expressing the course 
of the world, in which the loss of one is the gain of another; in which, 
at the same time, the reveller is hasting to his wine, and the mourner 
burying his friend; in which the malignity of one is sometimes 
defeated by the frolick of another; and many mischiefs and many 
benefits are done and hindered without design. 

Out of this chaos of mingled purposes and casualties the ancient 
poets, according to the laws which custom had prescribed, selected 
some the crimes of men, and some their absurdities; some the 
momentous vicissitudes of life, and some the lighter occurrences; 
some the terrours of distress, and some the gayeties of prosperity. 
Thus rose the two modes of imitation, known by the names of 
tragedy and comedy, compositions intended to promote different 
ends by contrary means, and considered as so little allied, that I do 
not recollect among the Gree\s or Romans a single writer who at- 
tempted both. 

Shakespeare has united the powers of exciting laughter and sor- 
row not only in one mind, but in one composition. Almost all his 
plays are divided between serious and ludicrous characters, and, in 
the successive evolutions of the design, sometimes produce serious- 
ness and sorrow, and sometimes levity and laughter. 


That this is a practice contrary to the rules o£ criticism will be 
readily allowed; but there is always an appeal open from criticism 
to nature. The end of writing is to instruct; the end of poetry is to 
instruct by pleasing. That the mingled drama may convey all the 
instruction of tragedy or comedy cannot be denied, because it in- 
cludes both in its alterations of exhibition and approaches nearer 
than either to the appearance of life, by shewing how great machina- 
tions and slender designs may promote or obviate one another, and 
the high and the low co-operate in the general system by unavoidable 

It is objected, that by this change of scenes the passions are inter- 
rupted in their progression, and that the principal event, being not 
advanced by a due gradation of preparatory incidents, wants at 
last the power to move, which constitutes the perfection of dramatick 
poetry. This reasoning is so specious, that it is received as true even 
by those who in daily experience feel it to be false. The interchanges 
of mingled scenes seldom fail to produce the intended vicissitudes 
of passion. Fiction cannot move so much, but that the attention 
may be easily transferred; and though it must be allowed that pleas- 
ing melancholy be sometimes interrupted by unwelcome levity, yet 
let it be considered likewise, that melancholy is often not pleasing, 
and that the disturbance of one man may be the relief of another; 
that different auditors have different habitudes; and that, upon the 
whole, all pleasure consists in variety. 

The players, who in their edition divided our authour's works 
into comedies, histories, and tragedies, seem not to have distinguished 
the three kinds by any very exact or definite ideas. 

And action which ended happily to the principal persons, however 
serious or distressful through its intermediate incidents, in their 
opinion, constituted a comedy. This idea of a comedy continued long 
amongst us; and plays were written, which, by changing the catas- 
trophe, were tragedies to-day, and comedies to-morrow. 

Tragedy was not in those times a poem of more general dignity 
or elevation than comedy; it required only a calamitous conclusion, 
with which the common criticism of that age was satisfied, whatever 
lighter pleasure it afforded in its progress. 

History was a series of actions, with no other than chronological 


succession, independent on each other, and without any tendency 
to introduce or regulate the conclusion. It is not always very nicely 
distinguished from tragedy. There is not much nearer approach to 
unity of action in the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra, than in the 
history of Richard the Second. But a history might be continued 
through many plays; as it had no plan, it had no limits. 

Through all these denominations of the drama, Shakespeare's 
mode of composition is the same; an interchange of seriousness and 
merriment, by which the mind is softened at one time, and exhil- 
arated at another. But whatever be his purpose, whether to gladden 
or depress, or to conduct the story, without vehemence or emotion, 
through tracts of easy and familiar dialogue, he never fails to attain 
his purpose; as he commands us, we laugh or mourn, or sit silent 
with quiet expectation, in tranquillity without indifference. 

When Shakespeare's plan is understood, most of the criticisms of 
Rhymer and Voltaire vanish away. The play of Hamlet is opened, 
without impropriety, by two sentinels; lago bellows at Brabantio's 
window, without injury to the scheme of the play, though in terms 
which a modern audience would not easily endure; the character of 
Polonius is seasonable and useful; and the Grave-diggers themselves 
may be heard with applause. 

Shakespeare engaged in dramatick poetry with the world open 
before him; the rules of the ancients were yet known to few; but 
publick judgment was unformed; he had no example of such fame 
as might force him upon imitation, nor criticks of such authority as 
might restrain his extravagance: He therefore indulged his natural 
disposition, and his disposition, as Rhymer has remarked, led him 
to comedy. In tragedy he often writes, with great appearance of toil 
and study, what is written at last with little felicity; but in his comick 
scenes, he seems to produce without labour what no labour can 
improve. In tragedy he is always struggling after some occasion to 
be comick; but in comedy he seems to repose, or to luxuriate, as in a 
mode of thinking congenial to his nature. In his tragick scenes there 
is always something wanting, but his comedy often surpasses expec- 
tation or desire. His comedy pleases by the thoughts and the lan- 
guage, and his tragedy for the greater part by incident and action. 
His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct. 


The force of his comick scenes has suffered Uttle diminution from 
the changes made by a century and a half, in manners or in words, 
As his personages act upon principles arising from genuine passion, 
very little modified by particular forms, their pleasures and vexations 
are communicable to all times and to all places; they are natural, 
and therefore durable; the adventitious peculiarities of personal 
habits, are only superficial dies, bright and pleasing for a little while, 
yet soon fading to a dim tinct, without any remains of former lustre; 
but the discriminations of true passion are the colours of nature; they 
pervade the whole mass, and can only perish with the body that 
exhibits them. The accidental compositions of heterogeneous modes 
are dissolved by the chance which combined them; but the uniform 
simplicity of primitive qualities neither admits increase, nor suffers 
decay. The sand heap by one flood is scattered by another, but the 
rock always continues in its place. The stream of time, which is 
continually washing the dissoluble fabricks of other poets, passes 
without injury by the adamant of Shakespeare. 

If there be, what I believe there is, in every nation, a stile which 
never becomes obsolete, a certain mode of phraseology so consonant 
and congenial to the analogy and principles of its respective language 
as to remain settled and unaltered ; this style is probably to be sought 
in the common intercourse of life, among those who speak only to 
be understood, without ambition of elegance. The polite are always 
catching modish innovations, and the learned depart from established 
forms of speech, in hope of finding or making better; those who wish 
for distinction forsake the vulgar, when the vulgar is right; but there 
is a conversation above grossness and below refinement, where 
propriety resides, and where this poet seems to have gathered his 
comick dialogue. He is therefore more agreeable to the ears of the 
present age than any other authour equally remote, and among his 
other excellencies deserves to be studied as one of the original masters 
of our language. 

These observations are to be considered not as unexceptionally 
constant, but as containing general and predominant truth. Shake- 
speare's familiar dialogue is affirmed to be smooth and clear, yet not 
wholly without ruggedness or difficulty; as a country may be emi- 
nently fruitful, though it has spots unfit for cultivation: His char- 


acters are praised as natural, though their sentiments are sometimes 
forced, and their actions improbable; as the earth upon the whole is 
spherical, though its surface is varied with protuberances and cavities. 

Shakespeare with his excellencies has likewise faults, and faults 
sufficient to obscure and overwhelm any other merit. I shall shew 
them in the proportion in which they appear to me, without envious 
malignity or superstitious veneration. No question can be more 
innocently discussed than a dead poet's pretensions to renown; and 
little regard is due to that bigotry which sets candour higher than 

His first defect is that to which may be imputed most of the evil 
in books or in men. He sacrifices virtue to convenience, and is so 
much more careful to please than to instruct, that he seems to write 
without any moral purpose. From his writings indeed a system of 
social duty may be selected, for he that thinks reasonably must think 
morally; but his precepts and axioms drop casually from him; he 
makes no just distribution of good or evil, nor is always careful to 
shew in the virtuous a disapprobation of the wicked; he carries his 
persons indifferently through right and wrong, and at the close 
dismisses them without further care, and leaves their examples to 
operate by chance. This fault the barbarity of his age cannot exten- 
uate; for it is always a writer's duty to make the world better, and 
justice is a virtue independent on time or place. 

The plots are often so loosely formed, that a very slight considera- 
tion may improve them, and so carelessly pursued, that he seems not 
always fully to comprehend his own design. He omits opportunities 
of instructing or delighting which the train of his story seems to 
force upon him, and apparently rejects those exhibitions which 
would be more affecting, for the sake of those which are more easy. 

It may be observed, that in many of his plays the latter part is 
evidently neglected. When he found himself near the end of his 
work, and, in view of his reward, he shortened the labour to snatch 
the profit. He therefore remits his efforts where he should most 
vigorously exert them, and his catastrophe is improbably produced 
or imperfectly represented. 

He had no regard to distinction of time or place, but gives to one 
age or nation, without scruple, the customs, institutions, and opinions 


of another, at the expence not only of likelihood, but of possibility. 
These faults Pope has endeavoured, with more zeal than judgment, 
to transfer to his imagined interpolators. We need not wonder to 
find Hector quoting Aristotle, when we see the loves of Theseus 
and Hippolyta combined with the Gothic\ mythology of fairies. 
Shakespeare, indeed, was not the only violator of chronology, for in 
the same age Sidney, who wanted not the advantages of learning, 
has, in his Arcadia, confounded the pastoral with the feudal times, 
the days of innocence, quiet and security, with those of turbulence, 
violence, and adventure. 

In his comick scenes he is seldom very successful, when he engages 
his characters in reciprocations of smartness and contests of sarcasm; 
their jests are commonly gross, and their pleasantry licentious; 
neither his gentlemen nor his ladies have much delicacy, nor are 
sufficiently distinguished from his clowns by any appearance of 
refined manners. Whether he represented the real conversation of 
his time is not easy to determine; the reign of Elizabeth is com- 
monly supposed to have been a time of stateliness, formality and 
reserve; yet perhaps the relaxations of that severity were not very 
elegant. There must, however, have been always some modes of 
gayety preferable to others, and a writer ought to chuse the best. 

In tragedy his performance seems constantly to be worse, as his 
labour is more. The effusions of passion which exigence forces out 
are for the most part striking and energetick; but whenever he 
solicits his invention, or strains his faculties, the offspring of his 
throes is tumour, meanness, tediousness, and obscurity. 

In narration he affects a disproportionate pomp of diction, and a 
wearisome train of circumlocution, and tells the incident imperfectly 
in many words, which might have been more plainly delivered in 
few. Narration in dramatick poetry is naturally tedious, as it is 
unanimated and inactive, and obstructs the progress of the action; 
it should therefore always be rapid, and enlivened by frequent inter- 
ruption. Shakespeare found it an encumberance, and instead of 
lightening it by brevity, endeavoured to recommend it by dignity 
and splendour. 

His declamations or set speeches are commonly cold and weak, for 
his power was the power of nature; when he endeavoured, like 


other tragick writers, to catch opportunities of ampUfication, and 
instead of inquiring what the occasion demanded, to show how 
much his stores of knowledge could supply, he seldom escapes 
without the pity or resentment of his reader. 

It is incident to him to be now and then entangled with an un- 
wieldy sentiment, which he cannot well express, and will not reject; 
he struggles with it a while, and if it continues stubborn, comprises. 
it in words such as occur, and leaves it to be disentangled and 
evolved by those who have more leisure to bestow upon it. 

Not that always where the language is intricate the thought is 
subtle, or the image always great where the line is bulky; the equality 
of words to things is very often neglected, and trivial sentiments and 
vulgar ideas disappoint the attention, to which they are recom- 
mended by sonorous epithets and swelling figures. 

But the admirers of this great poet have never less reason to- 
indulge their hopes of supreme excellence, than when he seems 
fully resolved to sink them in dejection, and mollify them with 
tender emotions by the fall of greatness, the danger of innocence, 
or the crosses of love. He is not long soft and pathetick without some 
idle conceit, or contemptible equivocation. He no sooner begins to 
move, than he counteracts himself; and terrour and pity, as they 
are rising in the mind, are checked and blasted by sudden fri- 

A quibble is to Shal^espeare, what luminous vapours are to the 
traveller; he follows it at all adventures; it is sure to lead him out 
of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire. It has some malig- 
nant power over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. What- 
ever be the dignity or profundity of his disquisition, whether he be 
enlarging knowledge or exalting affection, whether he be amusing 
attention with incidents, or enchaining it in suspense, let but a 
quibble spring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. A 
quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn aside from 
his career, or stoop from his elevation. A quibble, poor and barren 
as it is, gave him such delight, that he was content to purchase it^ 
by the sacrifice of reason, propriety and truth. A quibble was to him 
the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was content to 
lose it. 


It will be thought strange, that, in enumerating the defects of this 
writer, I have not yet mentioned his neglect of the unities; his 
violation of those laws which have been instituted and established 
by the joint authority of poets and criticks. 

For his other deviations from the art of writing I resign him to 
critical justice, without making any other demand in his favour, than 
that which must be indulged to all human excellence: that his 
virtues be rated with his failings: But, from the censure which this 
irregularity may bring upon him, I shall, with due reverence to 
that learning which I must oppose, adventure to try how I can 
defend him. 

His histories, being neither tragedies nor comedies are not subject 
to any of their laws; nothing more is necessary to all the praise which 
they expect, than that the changes of action be so prepared as to be 
understood, that the incidents be various and affecting, and the 
characters consistent, natural, and distinct. No other unity is 
intended, and therefore none is to be sought. 

In his other works he has well enough preserved the unity of 
action. He has not, indeed, an intrigue regularly perplexed and 
regularly unravelled: he does not endeavour to hide his design only 
to discover it, for this is seldom the order of real events, and Sha\e- 
speare is the poet of nature: But his plan has commonly what 
Aristotle requires, a beginning, a middle, and an end; one event is 
concatenated with another, and the conclusion follows by easy con- 
sequence. There are perhaps some incidents that might be spared, 
as in other poets there is much talk that only fills up time upon the 
stage; but the general system makes gradual advances, and the 
end of the play is the end of expectation. 

To the unities of time and place he has shewn no regard; and per- 
haps a nearer view of the principles on which they stand will dimin- 
ish their value, and withdraw from them the veneration which, from 
the time of Corneille, they have very generally received, by discover- 
ing that they have given more trouble to the poet, than pleasure to 
the auditor. 

The necessity of observing the unities of time and place arises from 
the supposed necessity of making the drama credible. The criticks 
hold it impossible, that an action of months or years can be possibly 


believed to pass in three hours; or that the spectator can suppose 
himself to sit in the theatre, while ambassadors go and return be- 
tween distant kings while armies are levied and towns besieged, 
while an exile wanders and returns, or till he whom they saw 
courting his mistress, shall lament the untimely fall of his son. The 
mind revolts from evident falsehood, and fiction loses its force when 
it departs from the resemblance of reality. 

From the narrow limitation of time necessarily arises the contrac- 
tion of place. The spectator, who knows that he saw the first act at 
Alexandria, cannot suppose that he sees the next at Rome, at a dis- 
tance to which not the dragons of Medea could, in so short a time, 
have transported him; he knows with certainty that he has not 
changed his place, and he knows that place cannot change itself; 
that what was a house cannot become a plain; that what was Thebes 
can never be Persepolis. 

Such is the triumphant language with which a critick exults over 
the misery of an irregular poet, and exults commonly without resist- 
ance or reply. It is time therefore to tell him by the authority of 
Sha\espeare, that he assumes, as an unquestionable principle, a 
position, which, while his breath is forming it into words, his under- 
standing pronounces to be false. It is false, that any representation 
is mistake for reality; that any dramatick fable in its materiahty was 
ever credible, or, for a single moment, was ever credited. 

The objection arising from the impossibility of passing the first 
hour at Alexandria, and the next at Rome, supposes, that when the 
play opens, the spectator really imagines himself at Alexandria, and 
believes that his walk to the theatre has been a voyage to Egypt, and 
that he lives in the days of Antony and Cleopatra. Surely he that 
imagines this may imagine more. He that can take the stage at one 
time for the palace of the Ptolemies, may take it in half an hour for 
the promontory of Actium. Delusion, if delusion be admitted, has 
no certain limitation; if the spectator can be once persuaded, that his 
old acquaintance are Alexander and Ccesar, that a room illuminated 
with candles is the plain of Pharsalia, or the bank of Granicus, 
he is in a state of elevation above the reach of reason, or of truth, and 
from the heights of empyrean poetry, may despise the circumscrip- 
tions of terrestrial nature. There is no reason why a mind thus 


wandering in extacy should count the clock, or why an hour should 
not be a century in that calenture of the brains that can make the 
stage a field. 

The truth is, that the spectators are always in their senses, and 
know, from the first act to the last, that the stage is only a stage, and 
that the players are only players. They came to hear a certain num- 
ber of lines recited with just gesture and elegant modulation. The 
lines relate to some action, and an action must be in some place; but 
the different actions that complete a story may be in places very re- 
mote from each other; and where is the absurdity of allowing that 
space to represent first Athens, and then Sicily, which was always 
known to be neither Sicily nor Athens, but a modern theatre? 

By supposition, as place is introduced, times may be extended; the 
time required by the fable elapses for the most part between the acts; 
for, of so much of the action as is represented, the real and poetical 
duration is the same. If, in the first act, preparations for war against 
Mithridates are represented to be made in Rome, the event of the 
war may, without absurdity, be represented, in the catastrophe, as 
happening in Pontus; we know that there is neither war, nor prepa- 
ration for war; we know that we are neither in Rome nor Pontus; 
that neither Mithridates nor Lucullus are before us. The drama 
exhibits successive imitations of successive actions; and why may not 
the second imitation represent an action that happened years after 
the first, if it be so connected with it, that nothing but time can be 
supposed to intervene? Time is, of all modes of existence, most 
obsequious to the imagination; a lapse of years is as easily conceived 
as a passage of hours. In contemplation we easily contract the time 
of real actions, and therefore willingly permit it to be contracted 
when we only see their imitation. 

It will be asked, how the drama moves, if it is not credited. It is 
credited with all the credit due to a drama. It is credited, whenever 
it moves, as a just picture of a real original; as representing to the 
auditor what he would himself feel, if he were to do or suffer what 
is there feigned to be suffered or to be done. The reflection that 
strikes the heart is not, that the evils before us are real evils, but that 
they are evils to which we ourselves may be exposed. If there be any 
fallacy, it is not that we fancy the players, but that we fancy our- 


selves unhappy for a moment; but we rather lament the possibihty 
than suppose the presence of misery, as a mother weeps over her 
babe, when she remembers that death may take it from her. The 
dehght of tragedy proceeds from our consciousness of fiction; if we 
thought murders and treasons real, they would please no more. 

Imitations produce pain or pleasure, not because they are mistaken 
for realities, but because they bring realities to mind. When the 
imagination is recreated by a painted landscape, the trees are not 
supposed capable to give us shade, or the fountains coolness; but 
we consider, how we should be pleased with such fountains playing 
beside us, and such woods waving over us. We are agitated in 
reading the history of Henry the Fifth, yet no man takes his book 
for the field of Agencourt. A dramatick exhibition is a book recited 
with concomitants that encrease or diminish its effect. Familiar 
comedy is often more powerful in the theatre, than on the page; 
imperial tragedy is always less. The humour of Petruchio may be 
heightened by grimace; but what voice or what gesture can hope to 
add dignity or force to the soliloquy of Cato. 

A play read, aflects the mind like a play acted. It is therefore 
evident, that the action is not supposed to be real; and it follows, 
that between the acts a longer or shorter time may be allowed to pass, 
and that no more account of space or duration is to be taken by the 
auditor of a drama, than by the reader of a narrative, before whom 
may pass in an hour the life of a hero, or the revolutions of an 

Whether Shakespeare knew the unities, and rejected them by 
design, or deviated from them by happy ignorance, it is, I think, 
impossible to decide, and useless to enquire. We may reasonably 
suppose, that, when he rose to notice, he did not want the counsels 
and admonitions of scholars and criticks, and that he at last deliber- 
ately persisted in a practice, which he might have begun by chance. 
As nothing is essential to the fable, but unity of action, and as the 
unities of time and place arise evidently from false assumptions, and, 
by circumscribing the extent of the drama, lessen its variety, I cannot 
think it much to be lamented, that they were not known by him, or 
not observed: Nor, if such another poet could arise, should I very 
vehemently reproach him, that his first act passed at Venice, and his 


next in Cyprus. Such violations of rules merely positive, become the 
comprehensive genius of Shakespeare, and such censures are suitable 
to the minute and slender criticism of Voltaire: 

Non usque adeo permiscuit imis 
Longus summa dies, ut non, si voce Metelli 
Serventur leges, malint a Caesare tolli. 

Yet when I speak thus slightly of dramatick rules, I cannot but 
recollect how much wit and learning may be produced against me; 
before such authorities I am afraid to stand, not that I think the 
present question one of those that are to be decided by mere 
authority, but because it is to be suspected, that these precepts have 
not been so easily received but for better reasons than I have yet been 
able to find. The result of my enquiries, in which it would be ludi- 
crous to boast of impartiality, is, that the unities of time and place 
are not essential to a just drama, that though they may sometimes 
conduce to pleasure, they are always to be sacrificed to the nobler 
beauties of variety and instruction; and that a play, written with nice 
observation of critical rules, is to be contemplated as an elaborate 
curiosity, as the product of superfluous and ostentatious art, by which 
is shewn, rather what is possible, than what is necessary. 

He that, without diminution of any other excellence, shall preserve 
all the unities unbroken, deserves the like applause with the archi- 
tect, who shall display all the orders of architecture in a citadel, 
without any deduction from its strength; but the principal beauty 
of a citadel is to exclude the enemy; and the greatest graces of a play, 
are to copy nature and instruct life. 

Perhaps what I have here not dogmatically but deliberatively 
written, may recal the principles of the drama to a new examination. 
I am almost frighted at my own temerity; and when I estimate the 
fame and the strength of those that maintain the contrary opinion, 
am ready to sink down in reverential silence; as Mneas withdrew 
from the defence of Troy, when he saw "Neptune shaking the wall, 
and ]uno heading the besiegers. 

Those whom my arguments cannot persuade to give their appro- 
bation to the judgment of Sha\espeare, will easily, if they consider 
the condition of his life, make some allowance for his ignorance. 


Every man's performances, to be rightly estimated, must be com- 
pared with the state of the age in which he hved, and with his own 
particular opportunities; and though to the reader a book be not 
worse or better for the circumstances of the authour, yet as there is 
always a silent reference of human works to human abilities, and as 
the enquiry, how far man may extend his designs, or how high he 
may rate his native force, is of far greater dignity than in what rank 
we shall place any particular performance, curiosity is always busy 
to discover the instruments, as well as to survey the workmanship, 
to know how much is to be ascribed to original powers, and how 
much to casual and adventitious help. The palaces of Peru or Mexico 
were certainly mean and incommodious habitations, if compared to 
the houses of European monarchs; yet who could forbear to view 
them with astonishment, who remembered that they were built 
without the use of iron ? 

The English nation, in the time of Sha\espeare, was yet struggling 
to emerge from barbarity. The philology of Italy had been trans- 
planted hither in the reign of Henry the Eighth; and the learned 
languages had been successfully cultivated by Lilly, Linacer, and 
More; by Pole, Che\e, and Gardiner; and afterwards by Smith, 
Clerk^, Haddon, and Ascham. Greek was now taught to boys in the 
principal schools; and those who united elegance with learning, 
read, with great diligence, the Italian and Spanish poets. But litera- 
ture was yet confined to professed scholars, or to men and women 
of high rank. The publick was gross and dark; and to be able to 
read and write, was an accomplishment still valued for its rarity. 

Nations, like individuals, have their infancy. A people newly 
awakened to literary curiosity, being yet unacquainted with the true 
state of things, knows not how to judge of that which is proposed as 
its resemblance. Whatever is remote from common appearances is 
always welcome to vulgar, as to childish credulity; and of a country 
unenlightened by learning, the whole people is the vulgar. The 
study of those who then aspired to plebeian learning was laid out 
upon adventures, giants, dragons, and enchantments. The Death of 
Arthur was the favourite volume. 

The mind, which has feasted on the luxurious wonders of fiction, 
has no taste of the insipidity of truth. A play which imitated only the 


common occurrences of the world, would, upon the admirers of 
Palmerin and Guy of Warwic\, have made little impression; he that 
wrote for such an audience was under the necessity of looking round 
for strange events and fabulous transactions, and that incredibility, 
by which maturer knowledge is offended, was the chief recommenda- 
tion of writings, to unskilful curiosity. 

Our authour's plots are generally borrowed from novels, and it is 
reasonable to suppose, that he chose the most popular, such as were 
read by many, and related by more; for his audience could not have 
followed him through the intricacies of the drama, had they not held 
the thread of the story in their hands. 

The stories, which we now find only in remoter authours, were in 
his time accessible and familiar. The fable of As you like it, which 
is supposed to be copied from Chaucer's Gamelyn, was a little pam- 
phlet of those times; and old Mr. Cibber remembered the tale of 
Hamlet in plain English prose, which the criticks have now to seek 
in Saxo Grammaticus. 

His English histories he took from English chronicles and English 
ballads; and as the ancient writers were made known to his country- 
men by versions, they supplied him with new subjects; he dilated 
some of Plutarch's lives into plays, when they had been translated 
by North. 

His plots, whether historical or fabulous, are always crouded with 
incidents, by which the attention of a rude people was more easily 
caught than by sentiment or argumentation; and such is the power 
of the marvellous even over those who despise it, that every man 
finds his mind more strongly seized by the tragedies of Sha/^espeare 
than of any other writer; others please us by particular speeches, but 
he always makes us anxious for the event, and has perhaps excelled 
all but Homer in securing the first purpose of a writer, by exciting 
restless and unquenchable curiosity and compelling him that reads 
his work to read it through. The shows and bustle with which his 
plays abound have the same original. As knowledge advances, 
pleasure passes from the eye to the ear, but returns, as it declines, 
from the ear to the eye. Those to whom our authour's labours were 
exhibited had more skill in pomps or processions than in poetical 
language, and perhaps wanted some visible and discriminated events, 


as comments on the dialogue. He knew how he should most please; 
and whether his practice is more agreeable to nature, or whether his 
example has prejudiced the nation, we still find that on our stage 
something must be done as well as said, and inactive declamation 
is very coldly heard, however musical or elegant, passionate or 

Voltaire expresses his wonder, that our authour's extravagances 
are endured by a nation, which has seen the tragedy o£ Cato. Let him 
be answered, that Addison speaks the language of poets, and Shakes- 
peare, of men. We find in Cato innumerable beauties which en- 
amour us of its authour, but we see nothing that acquaints us with 
human sentiments or human actions; we place it with the fairest 
and the noblest progeny which judgment propagates by conjunc- 
tion with learning, but Othello is the vigorous and vivacious off- 
spring of observation impregnated by genius. Cato affords a splen- 
did exhibition of artificial and fictitious manners, and delivers just 
and noble sentiments, in diction easy, elevated and harmonious, but 
its hopes and fears communicate no vibration to the heart; the com- 
position refers us only to the writer; we pronounce the name of Cato, 
but we think on Addison. 

The work of a correct and regular writer is a garden accurately 
formed and diligently planted, varied with shades, and scented with 
flowers; the composition of Shakespeare is a forest, in which oaks 
extend their branches, and pines tower in the air, interspersed some- 
times with weeds and brambles, and sometimes giving shelter to 
myrtles and to roses; filling the eye with awful pomp, and gratifying 
the mind with endless diversity. Other poets display cabinets of 
precious rarities, minutely finished, wrought into shape, and polished 
into brightness. Shakespeare opens a mine which contains gold and 
diamonds in unexhaustible plenty, though clouded by incrustations, 
debased by impurities, and mingled with a mass of meaner minerals. 

It has been much disputed, whether Shakespeare owed his excel- 
lence to his own native force, or whether he had the common helps 
of scholastick education, the precepts of critical science, and the exam- 
ples of ancient authours. 

There has always prevailed a tradition, that Shakespeare wanted 
learning, that he had no regular education, nor much skill in the 


dead languages. Johnson, his friend, affirms, that he had small Latin, 
and no Greek^; who, besides that he had no imaginable temptation 
to falsehood, wrote at a time when the character and acquisitions of 
Sha\espeare were known to multitudes. His evidence ought there- 
fore to decide the controversy, unless some testimony of equal force 
could be opposed. 

Some have imagined, that they have discovered deep learning in 
many imitations of old writers; but the examples which I have 
known urged, were drawn from books translated in his time; or 
were such easy coincidences of thought, as will happen to all who 
consider the same subjects; or such remarks on life or axioms of 
morality as float in conversation, and are transmitted through the 
world in proverbial sentences. 

I have found it remarked, that, in this important sentence. Go 
before, I'll follow, we read a translation of, / prae, sequar. I have 
been told, that when Caliban, after a pleasing dream, says, / cry'd to 
sleep again, the authour imitates Anacreon, who had, like every other 
man, the same wish on the same occasion. 

There are a few passages which may pass for imitations, but so 
few, that the exception only confirms the rule; he obtained them 
from accidental quotations, or by oral communication, and as he 
used what he had, would have used more if he had obtained it. 

The Comedy of Errors is confessedly taken from the Mencechmi 
of Plautus; from the only play of Plautus which was then in English. 
What can be more probable, than that he who copied that, would 
have copied more; but that those which were not translated were 
inaccessible ? 

Whether he knew the modern languages is uncertain. That his 
plays have some French scenes proves but little; he might easily 
procure them to be written, and probably, even though he had 
known the language in the common degree, he could not have 
written it without assistance. In the story of Romeo and Juliet he is 
observed to have followed the English translation, where it deviates 
from the Italian; but this on the other part proves nothing against 
his knowledge of the original. He was to copy, not what he knew 
himself, but what was known to his audience. 

It is most likely that he had learned Latin sufficiently to make him 


acquainted with construction, but that he never advanced to an easy 
perusal of the Roman authours. Concerning his skill in modern 
languages, I can find no sufficient ground of determination; but as no 
imitations of French or Italian authours have been discovered, 
though the Italian poetry was then high in esteem, I am inclined 
to believe, that he read little more than English, and chose for his 
fables only such tales as he found translated. 

That much knowledge is scattered over his works is very justly 
observed by Pope, but it is often such knowledge as books did not 
supply. He that will understand Sha/(espeare, must not be content 
to study him in the closet, he must look for his meaning sometimes 
among the sports of the field, and sometimes among the manufac- 
tures of the shop. 

There is however proof enough that he was a very diligent reader, 
nor was our language then so indigent of books, but that he might 
very liberally indulge his curiosity without excursion into foreign 
literature. Many of the Roman authours were translated, and some 
of the Gree\; the reformation had filled the kingdom with theolog- 
ical learning; most of the topicks of human disquisition had found 
English writers; and poetry had been cultivated, not only with dili- 
gence, but success. This was a stock of knowledge sufficient for a 
mind so capable of appropriating and improving it. 

But the greater part of his excellence was the product of his own 
genius. He found the English stage in a state of the utmost rudeness; 
no essays either in tragedy or comedy had appeared, from which it 
could be discovered to what degree of delight either one or other 
might be carried. Neither character nor dialogue were yet under- 
stood. Sha\espeare may be truly said to have introduced them both 
amongst us, and in some of his happier scenes to have carried them 
both to the utmost height. 

By what gradations of improvement he proceeded, is not easily 
known; for the chronology of his works is yet unsettled. Rowe is of 
opinion, that perhaps we are not to loo\ for his beginning, lil{e those 
of other writers, in his least perfect wor\s; art had so little, and 
nature so large a share in what he did, that for ought I \now, says he, 
the performances of his youth, as they were the m.ost vigorous, were 
the best. But the power of nature is only the power of using to any 


certain purpose the materials which diligence procures, or oppor- 
tunity supplies. Nature gives no man knowledge, and when images 
are collected by study and experience, can only assist in combining 
or applying them. Shakespeare, however favoured by nature, could 
impart only what he had learned; and as he must increase his ideals, 
like other mortals, by gradual acquisition, he, like them, grew wiser 
as he grew older, could display life better, as he knew it more, and 
instruct with more efficacy, as he was himself more amply instructed. 

There is a vigilance of observation and accuracy of distinction 
which books and precepts cannot confer; from this almost all original 
and native excellence proceeds. Shakespeare must have looked upon 
mankind with perspicacity, in the highest degree curious and atten- 
tive. Other writers borrow their characters from preceding writers, 
and diversify them only by the accidental appendages of present 
manners; the dress is a little varied, but the body is the same. Our 
authour had both matter and form to provide; for except the char- 
acters of Chaucer, to whom I think he is not much indebted, there 
were no writers in English, and perhaps not many in other modern 
languages, which shewed life in its native colours. 

The contest about the original benevolence or malignity of man 
had not yet commenced. Speculation had not yet attempted to 
analyse the mind, to trace the passions to their sources, to unfold 
the seminal principles of vice and virtue, or sound the depths of the 
heart for the motives of action. All those enquiries, which from that 
time that human nature became the fashionable study, have been 
made sometimes with nice discernment, but often with idle subtilty, 
were yet unattempted. The tales, with which the infancy of learning 
was satisfied, exhibited only the superficial appearances of action, 
related the events but omitted the causes, and were formed for such 
as delighted in wonders rather than in truth. Mankind was not then 
to be studied in the closet; he that would know the world, was under 
the necessity of gleaning his own remarks, by mingling as he could 
in its business and amusements. 

Boyle congratulated himself upon his high birth, because it 
favoured his curiosity, by facilitating his access. Shakespeare had 
no such advantage; he came to London a needy adventurer, and 
lived for a time by very mean employments. Many works of genius 


and learning have been performed in states of life, that appear very 
little favourable to thought or to enquiry; so many, that he who con- 
siders them is inclined to think that he sees enterprise and persever- 
ance predominating over all external agency, and bidding help and 
hindrance vanish before them. The genius of Shakespeare was not 
to be depressed by the weight of poverty, nor limited by the narrow 
conversation to which men in want are inevitably condemned; the 
incumbrances of his fortune were shaken from his mind, as dewdrops 
from a lion's mane. 

Though he had so many difficulties to encounter, and so little 
assistance to surmount them, he has been able to obtain an exact 
knowledge of many modes of life, and many casts of native disposi- 
tions; to vary them with great multiplicity; to mark them by nice 
distinctions; and to shew them in full view by proper combinations. 
In this part of his performances he had none to imitate, but has him- 
self been imitated by all succeeding writers; and it may be doubted, 
whether from all his successors more maxims of theoretical knowl- 
edge, or more rules of practical prudence, can be collected, than he 
alone has given to his country. 

Nor was his attention confined to the actions of men; he was an 
exact surveyor of the inanimate world; his descriptions have always 
some peculiarities, gathered by contemplating things as they really 
exist. It may be observed, that the oldest poets of many nations 
preserve their reputation, and that the following generations of wit, 
after a short celebrity, sink into oblivion. The first, whoever they 
be, must take their sentiments and descriptions immediately from 
knowledge; the resemblance is therefore just, their descriptions are 
verified by every eye, and their sentiments acknowledged by every 
breast. Those whom their fame invites to the same studies, copy 
partly them, and partly nature, till the books of one age gain such 
authority, as to stand in the place of nature to another, and imitation, 
always deviating a little, becomes at last capricious and casual. 
Shakespeare, whether life or nature be his subject, shews plainly, that 
he has seen with his own eyes; he gives the image which he receives, 
not weakened or distorted by the intervention of any other mind; 
the ignorant feel his representations to be just, and the learned see 
that they are compleat. 


Perhaps it would not be easy to find any authour, except Homer, 
who invented so much as Sha\espeare, who so much advanced the 
studies which he cultivated, or effused so much novelty upon his age 
or country. The form, the characters, the language, and the shows 
of the English drama are his. He seems, says Dennis, to have been 
the very original of our English tragical harmony, that is, the har- 
mony of blan\ verse, diversified often by dissyllable and trissyllable 
terminations. For the diversity distinguishes it from heroic\ har- 
mony, and by bringing it nearer to common use ma\es it more 
proper to gain attention, and more jit for action and dialogue. Such 
verse we ma\e when we are writing prose; we ma\e such verse in 
common conversation. 

I know not whether this praise is rigorously just. The dissyllable 
termination, which the critic rightly appropriates to the drama, is 
to be found, though, I think, not in Gorboduc which is confessedly 
before our author; yet in Hieronnymo, of which the date is not cer- 
tain, but which there is reason to believe at least as old as his earliest 
plays. This however is certain, that he is the first who taught either 
tragedy or comedy to please, there being no theatrical piece of any 
older writer, of which the name is known, except to antiquaries and 
collectors of books, which are sought because they are scarce, and 
would not have been scarce, had they been much esteemed. 

To him we must ascribe the praise, unless Spenser may divide 
it with him, of having first discovered to how much smoothness and 
harmony the English language could be softened. He has speeches, 
perhaps sometimes scenes, which have all the delicacy of Rowe, 
without his effeminacy. He endeavours indeed commonly to strike 
by the force and vigour of his dialogue, but he never executes his 
purpose better, than when he tries to sooth by softness. 

Yet it must be at last confessed, that as we owe every thing to him, 
he owes something to us; that, if much of his praise is paid by per- 
ception and judgement, much is likewise given by custom and 
veneration. We fix our eyes upon his graces, and turn them from 
his deformities, and endure in him what we should in another loath 
or despise. If we endured without praising, respect for the father 
of our drama might excuse us; but I have seen, in the book of some 
modern critick, a collection of anomalies, which shew that he has 


corrupted language by every mode of depravation, but which his 
admirer has accumulated as a monument of honour. 

He has scenes of undoubted and perpetual excellence, but perhaps 
not one play, which, if it were now exhibited as the work of a con- 
temporary writer, would be heard to the conclusion. I am indeed far 
from thinking, that his works were wrought to his own ideas of 
perfection; when they were such as would satisfy the audience, they 
satisfied the writer. It is seldom that authours, though more studious 
of fame than Shakespeare, rise much above the standard of their own 
age; to add a little of what is best will always be sufficient for present 
praise, and those who find themselves exalted into fame, are willing 
to credit their encomiasts, and to spare the labour of contending 
with themselves. 

It does not appear, that Shakespeare thought his works worthy of 
posterity, that he levied any ideal tribute upon future times, or had 
any further prospect, than of present popularity and present profit. 
When his plays had been acted, his hope was at an end; he solicited 
no addition of honour from the reader. He therefore made no scru- 
ple to repeat the same jests in many dialogues, or to entangle different 
plots by the same knot of perplexity, which may be at least forgiven 
him, by those who recollect, that of Congreve's four comedies, two 
are concluded by a marriage in a mask, by a deception, which perhaps 
never happened, and which, whether likely or not, he did not 

So careless was this great poet of future fame, that, though he 
retired to ease and plenty, while he was yet little declined into the 
vale of years, before he could be disgusted with fatigue, or disabled 
by infirmity, he made no collection of his works, nor desired to res- 
cue those that had been already published from the depravations 
that obscured them, or secure to the rest a better destiny, by giving 
them to the world in their genuine state. 

Of the plays which bear the name of Shakespeare in the late edi- 
tions, the greater part were not published till about seven years after 
his death, and the few which appeared in his life are apparently 
thrust into the world without the care of the authour, and therefore 
probably without his knowledge. 

Of all the publishers, clandestine or professed, their negligence and 


unskilfulness has by the late revisers been sufficiently shown. The 
faults of all are indeed numerous and gross, and have not only 
corrupted many passages perhaps beyond recovery, but have brought 
others into suspicion, which are only obscured by obsolete phrase- 
ology, or by the writer's unskilfulness and affectation. To alter is 
more easy than to explain, and temerity is a more common quality 
than diligence. Those who saw that they must employ conjecture 
to a certain degree, were willing to indulge it a little further. Had 
the author published his own works, we should have sat quietly 
down to disentangle his intricacies, and clear his obscurities; but now 
we tear what we cannot loose, and eject what we happen not to 

The faults are more than could have happened without the con- 
currence of many causes. The stile of Shakespeare was in itself 
ungrammatical, perplexed and obscure; his works were transcribed 
for the players by those who may be supposed to have seldom under- 
stood them; they were transmitted by copiers equally unskilful, who 
still multiplied errours; they were perhaps sometimes mutilated by 
the actors, for the sake of shortening the speeches; and were at last 
printed without correction of the press. 

In this state they remained, not as Dr. Warburton supposes, be- 
cause they were unregarded, but because the editor's art was not yet 
applied to modern languages, and our ancestors were accustomed to 
so much negligence of English printers, that they could very patiently 
endure it. At last an edition was undertaken by Rowe; not because 
a poet was to be published by a poet, for Rowe seems to have thought 
very little on correction or explanation, but that our authour's works 
might appear like those of his fraternity, with the appendages of a 
life and recommendatory preface. Rowe has been clamorously 
blamed for not performing what he did not undertake, and it is 
time that justice be done him, by confessing, that though he seems 
to have had no thought of corruption beyond the printer's errours, 
yet he has made many emendations, if they were not made before, 
which his successors have received without acknowledgement, and 
which, if they had produced them, would have filled pages and pages 
with censures of the stupidity by which the faults were committed, 
with displays of the absurdities which they involved, with osteata- 


tious expositions of the new reading, and self congratulations on the 
happiness of discovering it. 

Of Rowe, as of all the editors, I have preserved the preface, and 
have likewise retained the authour's life, though not written with 
much elegance or spirit; it relates however what is now to be known, 
and therefore deserves to pass through all succeeding publications. 

The nation had been for many years content enough with Mr. 
Rowe's performance, when Mr. Pope made them acquainted with 
the true state of Shakespeare's text, shewed that it was extremely 
corrupt, and gave reason to hope that there were means of reforming 
it. He collated the old copies, which none had thought to examine 
before, and restored many lines to their integrity; but, by a very 
compendious criticism, he rejected whatever he disliked, and thought 
more of amputation than of cure. 

I know not why he is commended by Dr. Warburton for dis- 
tinguishing the genuine from the spurious plays. In this choice he 
exerted no judgement of his own; the plays which he received, were 
given by Hemings and Condel, the first editors; and those which he 
rejected, though, according to the licentiousness of the press in those 
times, they were printed during Shakespeare's life, with his name, 
had been omitted by his friends, and were never added to his works 
before the edition of 1664, from which they were copied by the later 

This was a work which Pope seems to have thought unworthy 
of his abilities, being not able to suppress his contempt of the dull 
duty of an editor. He understood but half his undertaking. The 
duty of a collator is indeed dull, yet, like other tedious tasks, is very 
necessary; but an emendatory critick would ill discharge his duty, 
without qualities very different from dullness. In perusing a cor- 
rupted piece, he must have before him all possibiUties of meaning, 
with all possibilities of expression. Such must be his comprehension 
of thought, and such his copiousness of language. Out of many 
readings possible, he must be able to select that which best suits with 
the state, opinions, and modes of language prevailing in every age, 
and with his authour's particular cast of thought, and turn of expres- 
sion. Such must be his knowledge, and such his taste. Conjectural 
criticism demands more than humanity possesses, and he that exer- 


cises it with most praise has very frequent need o£ indulgence. Let 
us now be told no more of the dull duty of an editor. 

Confidence is the common consequence of success. They whose 
excellence of any kind has been loudly celebrated, are ready to con- 
clude, that their powers are universal. Pope's edition fell below his 
own expectations, and he was so much offended, when he was found 
to have left any thing for others to do, that he past the latter part of 
his life in a state of hostility with verbal criticism. 

I have retained all his notes, that no fragment of so great a writer 
may be lost; his preface, valuable alike for elegance of composition 
and justness of remark, and containing a general criticism on his 
authour, so extensive, that little can be added, and so exact, that 
little can be disputed, every editor has an interest to suppress, but 
that every reader would demand its insertion. 

Pope was succeeded by Theobald, a man of narrow comprehen- 
sion and small acquisitions, with no native and intrinsick splendour 
of genius, with little of the artificial light of learning, but zealous for 
minute accuracy, and not negligent in pursuing it. He collated the 
ancient copies, and rectified many errours. A man so anxiously 
scrupulous might have been expected to do more, but what little he 
did was commonly right. 

In his report of copies and editions he is not to be trusted, without 
examination. He speaks sometimes indefinitely of copies, when he 
has only one. In his enumeration of editions, he mentions the two 
first folios as of high, and the third folio as of middle authority; but 
the truth is, that the first is equivalent to all others, and that the rest 
only deviate from it by the printer's negligence. Whoever has any 
of the folios has all, excepting those diversities which mere reitera- 
tion of editions will produce. I collated them all at the beginning, 
but afterwards used only the first. 

Of his notes I have generally retained those which he retained 
himself in his second edition, except when they were confuted by 
subsequent annotators, or were too minute to merit preservation. 
I have sometimes adopted his restoration of a comma, without insert- 
ing the panegyrick in which he celebrated himself for his achieve- 
ment. The exuberant excrescence of his diction I have often lopped, 
his triumphant exultations over Pope and Rowe I have sometimes 


suppressed, and his contemptible ostentation I have frequently con- 
cealed; but I have in some places shewn him, as he would have shewn 
himself, for the reader's diversion, that the inflated emptiness of 
some notes may justify or excuse the contraction of the rest. 

Theobald, thus weak and ignorant, thus mean and faithless, thus 
petulant and ostentatious, by the good luck of having Pope for his 
enemy, has escaped, and escaped alone, with reputation, from this 
undertaking. So willingly does the world support those who solicite 
favour, against those who command reverence; and so easily is he 
praised, whom no man can envy. 

Our authour fell then into the hands of Sir Thomas Hanmer, the 
Oxford editor, a man, in my opinion, eminently qualified by nature 
for such studies. He had, what is the first requisite to emendatory 
criticism, that intuition by which the poet's intention is immediately 
discovered, and that dexterity of intellect which despatches its work 
by the easiest means. He had undoubtedly read much; his acquain- 
tance with customs, opinions, and traditions, seems to have been 
large; and he is often learned without shew. He seldom passes what 
he does not understand, without an attempt to find or to make a 
meaning, and sometimes hastily makes what a little more attention 
would have found. He is solicitous to reduce to grammar, what he 
could not be sure that his authour intended to be grammatical. 
Sha\espeare regarded more the series of ideas, than of words; and 
his language, not being designed for the reader's desk, was all that 
he desired it to be, if it conveyed his meaning to the audience. 

Hanmer's care of the metre has been too violently censured. He 
found the measures reformed in so many passages, by the silent 
labours of some editors, with the silent acquiescence of the rest, that 
he thought himself allowed to extend a little further the license, 
which had already been carried so far without reprehension; and 
of his corrections in general, it must be confessed, that they are often 
just, and made commonly with the least possible violation of the 

But, by inserting his emendations, whether invented or borrowed, 
into the page, without any notice of varying copies, he has appropri- 
ated the labour of his predecessors, and made his own edition of 
little authority. His confidence indeed, both in himself and others, 


was too great; he supposes all to be right that was done by Pope and 
Theobald; he seems not to suspect a critick of fallibility, and it was 
but reasonable that he should claim what he so liberally granted. 

As he never writes without careful enquiry and diligent considera- 
tion, I have received all his notes, and believe that every reader will 
wish for more. 

Of the last editor it is more difficult to speak. Respect is due to 
high place, tenderness to living reputation, and veneration to genius 
and learning; but he cannot be justly offended at that liberty of 
which he has himself so frequently given an example, nor very 
solicitous what is thought of notes, which he ought never to have 
considered as part of his serious employments, and which, I suppose, 
since the ardour of composition is remitted, he no longer numbers 
among his happy effusions. 

The original and predominant errour of his commentary, is acqui- 
escence in his first thoughts; that precipitation which is produced 
by consciousness of quick discernment; and that confidence which 
presumes to do, by surveying the surface, what labour only can 
perform, by penetrating the bottom. His notes exhibit sometimes 
perverse interpretations, and sometimes improbable conjectures; he 
at one time gives the authour more profundity of meaning, than the 
sentence admits, and at another discovers absurdities, where the sense 
is plain to every other reader. But his emendations are likewise often 
happy and just; and his interpretation of obscure passages learned 
and sagacious. 

Of his notes, I have commonly rejected those, against which the 
general voice of the publick has exclaimed, or which their own incon- 
gruity immediately condemns, and which, I suppose, the authour 
himself would desire to be forgotten. Of the rest, to part I have 
given the highest approbation, by inserting the offered reading in 
the text; part I have left to the judgment of the reader, as doubtful, 
though specious; and part I have censured without reserve, but I am 
sure without bitterness of malice, and, I hope, without wantonness 
of insult. 

It is no pleasure to me, in revising my volumes, to observe how 
much paper is wasted in confutation. Whoever considers the revolu- 
tions of learning, and the various questions of greater or less im- 


portance, upon which wit and reason have exercised their powers, 
must lament the unsuccessfulness o£ enquiry, and the slow advances 
of truth, when he reflects, that great part of the labour of every writer 
is only the destruction of those that went before him. The first care 
of the builder of a new system, is to demolish the fabricks which 
are standing. The chief desire of him that comments an authour, 
is to shew how much other commentators have corrupted and 
obscured him. The opinions prevalent in one age, as truths above 
the reach of controversy, are confuted and rejected in another, and 
rise again to reception in remoter times. Thus the human mind is 
kept in motion without progress. Thus sometimes truth and errour, 
and sometimes contrarieties of errour, take each other's place by 
reciprocal invasion. The tide of seeming knowledge which is poured 
over one generation, retires and leaves another naked and barren; 
the sudden meteors of intelligence which for a while appear to shoot 
their beams into the regions of obscurity, on a sudden withdraw 
their lustre, and leave mortals again to grope their way. 

These elevations and depressions of renown, and the contradic- 
tions to which all improvers of knowledge must for ever be exposed, 
since they are not escaped by the highest and brightest of mankind, 
may surely be endured with patience by criticks and annotators, who 
can rank themselves but as the satellites of their authours. How 
canst thou beg for life, says Achilles to his captive, when thou know- 
est that thou art now to suffer only what must another day be 
suffered by Achilles? 

Dr. Warburton had a name sufficient to confer celebrity on those 
who could exalt themselves into antagonists, and his notes have 
raised a clamour too loud to be distinct. His chief assailants are the 
authours of the Canons of criticism and of the Review of Shakes- 
peare's text; of whom one ridicules his errours with airy petulance, 
suitable enough to the levity of the controversy; the other attacks 
them with gloomy malignity, as if he were dragging to justice an 
assassin or incendiary. The one stings like a fly, sucks a httle blood, 
takes a gay flutter, and returns for more; the other bites like a viper, 
and would be glad to leave inflammations and gangrene behind him. 
When I think on one, with his confederates, I remember the danger 
of Coriolanus, who was afraid that girls with spits, and boys with 


Stones, should slay him in puny battle; when the other crosses my 
imagination, I remember the prodigy in Macbeth, 

An eagle tow'ring in his pride of place. 
Was by a mousing owl hawl(d at and I^ill'd. 

Let me however do them justice. One is a wit, and one a scholar. 
They have both shown acuteness sufficient in the discovery of faults, 
and have both advanced some probable interpretations of obscure 
passages; but when they aspire to conjecture and emendation, it 
appears how falsely we all estimate our own abiUties, and the little 
which they have been able to perform might have taught them more 
candour to the endeavours of others. 

Before Dr. Warburton's edition, Critical observations on Shakes- 
peare had been published by Mr. Upton, a man skilled in languages, 
and acquainted with books, but who seems to have had no great 
vigour of genius or nicety of taste. Many of his explanations are 
curious and useful, but he likewise, though he professed to oppose 
the licentious confidence of editors, and adhere to the old copies, is 
unable to restrain the rage of emendation, though his ardour is ill 
seconded by his skill. Every cold empirick, when his heart is ex- 
panded by a successful experiment, swells into a theorist, and the 
laborious collator at some unlucky moment frolicks in conjecture. 

Critical, historical and explanatory notes have been likewise pub- 
lished upon Shakespeare by Dr. Grey, whose diligent perusal of the 
old English writers has enabled him to make some useful observa- 
tions. What he undertook he has well enough performed, but as he 
neither attempts judicial nor emendatory criticism, he employs 
rather his memory than his sagacity. It were to be wished that all 
would endeavour to imitate his modesty who have not been able to 
surpass his knowledge. 

I can say with great sincerity of all my predecessors, what I hope 
will hereafter be said of me, that not one has left Shakespeare without 
improvement, nor is there one to whom I have not been indebted 
for assistance and information. Whatever I have taken from them it 
was my intention to refer to its original authour, and it is certain, 
that what I have not given to another, I believed when I wrote it to 
be my own. In some perhaps I have been anticipated; but if I am 


ever found to encroach upon the remarks of any other commentator, 
I am willing that the honour, be it more or less, should be trans- 
ferred to the first claimant, for his right, and his alone, stands above 
dispute; the second can prove his pretensions only to himself, nor 
can himself alwrays distinguish invention, wfith sufficient certainty, 
from recollection. 

They have all been treated by me with candour, which they have 
not been careful of observing to one another. It is not easy to dis- 
cover from what cause the acrimony of a scholiast can naturally 
proceed. The subjects to be discussed by him are of very small 
importance; they involve neither property nor liberty; nor favour 
the interest of sect or party. The various readings of copies, and 
different interpretations of a passage, seem to be questions that 
might exercise the wit, without engaging the passions. But, whether 
it be, that small things ma\e mean men proud, and vanity catches 
small occasions; or that all contrariety of opinion, even in those that 
can defend it no longer, makes proud men angry; there is often 
found in commentaries a spontaneous strain of invective and con- 
tempt, more eager and venomous than is vented by the most furious 
controvertist in politicks against those whom he is hired to defame. 

Perhaps the lightness of the matter may conduce to the vehemence 
of the agency; when the truth to be investigated is so near to inex- 
istence, as to escape attention, its bulk is to be enlarged by rage 
and exclamation: That to which all would be indifferent in its 
original state, may attract notice when the fate of a name is appended 
to it. A commentator has indeed great temptations to supply by 
turbulence what he wants of dignity, to beat his little gold to a 
spacious surface, to work that to foam which no art or diligence can 
exalt to spirit. 

The notes which I have borrowed or written are either illustrative, 
by which difficulties are explained; or judicial by which faults and 
beauties are remarked; or emendatory, by which depravations are 

The explanations transcribed from others, if I do not subjoin any 
other interpretation, I suppose commonly to be right, at least I 
intend by acquiescence to confess, that I have nothing better to 


After the labours of all the editors, I found many passages which 
appeared to me likely to obstruct the greater number of readers, 
and thought it my duty to facilitate their passage. It is impossible 
for an expositor not to write too little for some, and too much for 
others. He can only judge what is necessary by his own experience; 
and how long soever he may deliberate, will at last explain many 
lines which the learned will think impossible to be mistaken, and 
omit many for which the ignorant will want his help. These are 
censures merely relative, and must be quietly endured. I have en- 
deavoured to be neither superfluously copious, nor scrupulously 
reserved, and hope that I have made my authour's meaning accessible 
to many who before were frighted from perusing him, and con- 
tributed something to the publick, by diffusing innocent and rational 

The compleat explanation of an authour not systematick and 
consequential, but desultory and vagrant, abounding in casual allu- 
sions and light hints, is not to be expected from any single scholiast. 
All personal reflections, when names are suppressed, must be in a 
few years irrecoverably obliterated; and customs, too minute to 
attract the notice of law, such as modes of dress, formalities of con- 
versation, rules of visits, disposition of furniture, and practices of 
ceremony, which naturally find places in familiar dialogue, are so 
fugitive and unsubstantial, that they are not easily retained or 
recovered. What can be known, will be collected by chance, from 
the recesses of obscure and obsolete papers, perused commonly with 
some other view. Of this knowledge every man has some, and none 
has much; but when an authour has engaged the pubUck attention, 
those who can add any thing to his illustration, communicate their 
discoveries, and time produces what had eluded diligence. 

To time I have been obliged to resign many passages, which, 
though I did not understand them, will perhaps hereafter be ex- 
plained, having, I hope, illustrated some, which others have neglected 
or mistaken, sometimes by short remarks, or marginal directions, 
such as every editor has added at his will, and often by comments 
more laborious than the matter will seem to deserve; but that which 
is most difficult is not always most important, and to an editor 
nothing is a trifle by which his authour is obscured. 


The poetical beauties or defects I have not been very diligent to 
observe. Some plays have more, and some fewer judicial observa- 
tions, not in proportion to their difference of merit, but because I 
gave this part of my design to chance and to caprice. The reader, I 
believe, is seldom pleased to find his opinion anticipated; it is natural 
to delight more in what we find or make, than in what we receive. 
Judgement, like other faculties, is improved by practice, and its 
advancement is hindered by submission to dictatorial decisions, as 
the memory grows torpid by the use of a table book. Some initiation 
is however necessary; of all skill, part is infused by precept, and part 
is obtained by habit; I have therefore shewn so much as may enable 
the candidate of criticism to discover the rest. 

To the end of most plays, I have added short strictures, containing 
a general censure of faults, or praise of excellence; in which I know 
not how much I have concurred with the current opinion; but I 
have not, by any affectation of singularity, deviated from it. Noth- 
ing is minutely and particularly examined, and therefore it is to be 
supposed, that in the plays which are condemned there is much 
to be praised, and in these which are praised much to be con- 

The part of criticism in which the whole succession of editors has 
laboured with the greatest diligence, which has occasioned the most 
arrogant ostentation, and excited the keenest acrimony, is the emen- 
dation of corrupted passages, to which the publick attention having 
been first drawn by the violence of contention between Pope and 
Theobald, has been continued by the persecution, which, with a 
kind of conspiracy, has been since raised against all the publishers 
of Shakespeare. 

That many passages have passed in a state of depravation through 
all the editions is indubitably certain; of these the restoration is only 
to be attempted by collation of copies or sagacity of conjecture. The 
collator's province is safe and easy, the conjecturer's perilous and 
difficult. Yet as the greater part of the plays are extant only in one 
copy, the peril must not be avoided, nor the difficulty refused. 

Of the readings which this emulation of amendment has hitherto 
produced, some from the labours of every publisher I have advanced 
into the text; those are to be considered as in my opinion sufficiently 


supported; some I have rejected without mention, as evidently 
erroneous; some I have left in the notes without censure or appro- 
bation, as resting in equipoise between objection and defence; and 
some, which seemed specious but not right, I have inserted with a 
subsequent animadversion. 

Having classed the observations of others, I was at last to try what 
I could substitute for their mistakes, and how I could supply their 
omissions. I collated such copies as I could procure, and wished for 
more, but have not found the collectors of these rarities very com- 
municative. Of the editions which chance or kindness put into 
my hands I have given an enumeration, that I may not be blamed for 
neglecting what I had not the power to do. 

By examining the old copies, I soon found that the later publishers, 
with all their boasts of diligence, suffered many passages to stand 
unauthorised, and contented themselves with Rowe's regulation of 
the text, even where they knew it to be arbitrary, and with a little 
consideration might have found it to be wrong. Some of these altera- 
tions are only the ejection of a word for one that appeared to him 
more elegant or more intelligible. These corruptions I have often 
silently rectified; for the history of our language, and the true force 
of our words, can only be preserved, by keeping the text of authours 
free from adulteration. Others, and those very frequent, smoothed 
the cadence, or regulated the measure; on these I have not exercised 
the same rigour; if only a word was transposed, or a particle inserted 
or omitted, I have sometimes suffered the line to stand; for the 
inconstancy of the copies is such, as that some liberties may be easily 
permitted. But this practice I have not suffered to proceed far, hav- 
ing restored the primitive diction wherever it could for any reason 
be preferred. 

The emendations, which comparison of copies supplied, I have 
inserted in the text; sometimes where the improvement was slight, 
without notice, and sometimes with an account of the reasons of the 

Conjecture, though it be sometimes unavoidable, I have not 
wantonly nor licentiously indulged. It has been my settled principle, 
that the reading of the ancient books is probably true, and therefore 
is not to be disturbed for the sake of elegance, perspicuity, or mere 


improvement of the sense. For though much credit is not due to the 
fidelity, nor any to the judgement of the first pubhshers, yet they 
who had the copy before their eyes were more hkely to read it right, 
than we who read it only by imagination. But it is evident that they 
have often made strange mistakes by ignorance or negligence, and 
that therefore something may be properly attempted by criticism, 
keeping the middle way between presumption and timidity. 

Such criticism I have attempted to practice, and where any 
passage appeared inextricably perplexed, have endeavoured to dis- 
cover how it may be recalled to sense, with least violence. But my 
first labour is, always to turn the old text on every side, and try if 
there be any interstice, through which light can find its way; nor 
would Huetius himself condemn me, as refusing the trouble of 
research, for the ambition of alteration. In this modest industry I 
have not been unsuccessful. I have rescued many lines from the 
violations of temerity, and secured many scenes from the inroads 
of correction. I have adopted the Roman sentiment, that it is more 
honourable to save a citizen, than to kill an enemy, and have been 
more careful to protect than to attack. 

I have preserved the common distribution of the plays into acts, 
though I believe it to be in almost all the plays void of authority. 
Some of those which are divided in the later editions have no division 
in the first folio, and some that are divided in the folio have no 
division in the preceding copies. The settled mode of the theatre 
requires four intervals in the play, but few, if any, of our authour's 
compositions can be properly distributed in that manner. An act 
is so much of the drama as passes without intervention of time or 
change of place. A pause makes a new act. In every real, and there- 
fore in every imitative action, the intervals may be more or fewer, 
the restriction of five acts being accidental and arbitrary. This 
Shakespeare knew, and this he practised; his plays were written, 
and at first printed in one unbroken continuity, and ought now to be 
exhibited with short pauses, interposed as often as the scene is 
changed, or any considerable time is required to pass. This method 
would at once quell a thousand absurdities. 

In restoring the author's works to their integrity, I have con- 
sidered the punctuation as wholly in my power; for what could be 


their care of colons and commas, who corrupted words and sentences. 
Whatever could be done by adjusting points is therefore silently 
performed, in some plays with much diligence, in others with less; 
it is hard to keep a busy eye steadily fixed upon evanescent atoms, 
or a discursive mind upon evanescent truth. 

The same liberty has been taken with a few particles, or other 
words of slight effect. I have sometimes inserted or omitted them 
without notice. I have done that sometimes, which the other editors 
have done always, and which indeed the state of the text may 
sufficiently justify. 

The greater part of readers, instead of blaming us for passing 
trifles, will wonder that on mere trifles so much labour is expended, 
with such importance of debate, and such solemnity of diction. 
To these I answer with confidence, that they are judging of an art 
which they do not understand; yet cannot much reproach them with 
their ignorance, nor promise that they would become in general, by 
learning criticism, more useful, happier or wiser. 

As I practised conjecture more, I learned to trust it less; and after 
I had printed a few plays, resolved to insert none of my own readings 
in the text. Upon this caution I now congratulate myself, for every 
day encreases my doubt of my emendations. 

Since I have confined my imagination to the margin, it must not be 
considered as very reprehensible, if I have suffered it to play some 
freaks in its own dominion. There is no danger in conjecture, if it 
be proposed as conjecture; and while the text remains uninjured, 
those changes may be safely offered, which are not considered even 
by him that offers them as necessary or safe. 

If my readings are of little value, they have not been ostentatiously 
displayed or importunately obtruded. I could have written longer 
notes, for the art of writing notes is not of difficult attainment. The 
work is performed, first by railing at the stupidity, negligence, igno- 
rance, and asinine tastelessness of the former editors, and shewing, 
from all that goes before and all that follows, the inelegance and 
absurdity of the old reading; then by proposing something which to 
superficial readers would seem specious, but which the editor rejects 
with indignation; then by producing the true reading, with a long 
paraphrase, and concluding with loud acclamations on the discovery, 


and a sober wish for the advancement and prosperity of genuine 

All this may be done, and perhaps done sometimes without impro- 
priety. But I have always suspected that the reading is right, which 
requires many words to prove it wrong; and the emendation wrong, 
that cannot without so much labour appear to be right. The justness 
of a happy restoration strikes at once, and the moral precept may be 
well applied to criticism, quod dubitas ne feceris. 

To dread the shore which he sees spread with wrecks, is natural 
to the sailor. I had before my eye, so many critical adventures ended 
in miscarriage, that caution was forced upon me. I encountered in 
every page Wit struggling with its own sophistry, and Learning con- 
fused by the multiplicity of its views. I was forced to censure those 
whom I admired, and could not but reflect, while I was dispossessing 
their emendations, how soon the same fate might happen to my own, 
and how many of the readings which I have corrected may be by 
some other editor defended and established. 

Criticks, I saw, that other's names efface, 
And fix their own, with labour, in the place; 
Their own, like others, soon their place resign'd, 
Or disappear 'd, and left the first behind. 


That a conjectural critick should often be mistaken, cannot be 
wonderful, either to others or himself, if it be considered, that in his 
art there is no system, no principal and axiomatical truth that regu- 
lates subordinate positions. His chance of errour is renewed at every 
attempt; an oblique view of the passage, a slight misapprehension of 
a phrase, a casual inattention to the parts connected, is sufficient to 
make him not only fail, but fail ridiculously; and when he succeeds 
best, he produces perhaps but one reading of many probable, and he 
that suggests another will always be able to dispute his claims. 

It is an unhappy state, in which danger is hid under pleasure. The 
allurements of emendation are scarcely resistible. Conjecture has all 
the joy and all the pride of invention, and he that has once started a 
happy change, is too much delighted to consider what objections may 
rise against it. 

Yet coniectural criticism has been of great use in the learned 


world; nor is it my intention to depreciate a study, that has exercised 
so many mighty minds, from the revival of learning to our own age, 
from the Bishop of Aleria to English Bentley. The criticks on ancient 
authours have, in the exercise of their sagacity, many assistances, 
which the editor of Sha\espeare is condemned to want. They are 
employed upon grammatical and settled languages, whose construc- 
tion contributes so much to perspicuity, that Homer has fewer pass- 
ages unintelligible than Chaucer. The words have not only a known 
regimen, but invariable quantities, which direct and confine the 
choice. There are commonly more manuscripts than one; and they 
do not often conspire in the same mistakes. Yet Scaliger could con- 
fess to Salmasius how little satisfaction his emendations gave him. 
Illudunt nobis conjectures nostra, quorum nos pudet, posteaquam in 
meliores codices incidimus. And Lipsius could complain, that 
criticks were making faults, by trying to remove them, Ut olim 
vitiis, ita nunc remediis laboratur. And indeed, where mere conjec- 
ture is to be used, the emendations of Scaliger and Lipsius, notwith- 
standing their wonderful sagacity and erudition, are often vague 
and disputable, like mine or Theobald's. 

Perhaps I may not be more censured for doing wrong, than for 
doing little; for raising in the publick expectations, which at last I 
have not answered. The expectation of ignorance is indefinite, and 
that of knowledge is often tyrannical. It is hard to satisfy those 
who know not what to demand, or those who demand by design 
what they think impossible to be done. I have indeed disappointed 
no opinion more than my own; yet I have endeavoured to perform 
my task with no slight solicitude. Not a single passage in the whole 
work has appeared to me corrupt, which I have not attempted to 
restore; or obscure, which I have not endeavoured to illustrate. In 
many I have failed like others; and from many, after all my efforts, 
I have retreated, and confessed the repulse. I have not passed over, 
with affected superiority, what is equally difficult to the reader and 
to myself, but where I could not instruct him, have owned my igno- 
rance. I might easily have accumulated a mass of seeming learning 
upon easy scenes; but it ought not to be imputed to negligence, that, 
where nothing was necessary, nothing has been done, or that, where 
others have said enough, I have said no more. 


Notes are often necessary, but they are necessary evils. Let him, 
that is yet unacquainted with the powers of Sha/^espeare, and who 
desires to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, read 
every play from the first scene to the last, with utter negligence of all 
his commentators. When his fancy is once on the wing, let it not 
stoop at correction or explanation. When his attention is strongly 
engaged, let it disdain alike to turn aside to the name of Theobald 
and of Pope. Let him read on through brightness and obscurity, 
through integrity and corruption; let him preserve his comprehen- 
sion of the dialogue and his interest in the fable. And when the 
pleasures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness, and read 
the commentators. 

Particular passages are cleared by notes, but the general effect of 
the work is weakened. The mind is refrigerated by interruption; 
the thoughts are diverted from the principal subject; the reader is 
weary, he suspects not why; and at last throws away the book, which 
he has too diligently studied. 

Parts are not to be examined till the whole has been surveyed; 
there is a kind of intellectual remoteness necessary for the compre- 
hension of any great work in its full design and its true proportions; 
a close approach shews the smaller niceties, but the beauty of the 
whole is discerned no longer. 

It is not very grateful to consider how little the succession of 
editors has added to this authour's power of pleasing. He was read, 
admired, studied, and imitated, while he was yet deformed with all 
the improprieties which ignorance and neglect could accumulate 
upon him; while the reading was yet not rectified, nor his allusions 
understood; yet then did Dry den pronounce "that Sha\espeare was 
the man, who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had the 
largest and most comprehensive soul." All the images of nature 
were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but 
luckily: when he describes any thing, you more than see it, you 
feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him 
the greater commendation : he was naturally learned : he needed not 
the spectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards, and found 
her there. I cannot say he is every where alike; were he so, I should 
do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He 


is many times flat and insipid; his comick wit degenerating into 
clenches, his serious sweUing into bombast. But he is always great, 
when some great occasion is presented to him: No man can say, 
he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself 
as high above the rest of poets, 

"Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi." 

It is to be lamented, that such a writer should want a commen- 
tary; that his language should become obsolete, or his sentiments 
obscure. But it is vain to carry wishes beyond the condition of 
human things; that which must happen to all, has happened to 
Shakespeare, by accident and time; and more than has been suffered 
by any other writer since the use of types, has been suffered by him 
through his own negligence of fame, or perhaps by that superiority 
of mind, which despised its own performances, when it compared 
them with its powers, and judged those works unworthy to be 
preserved, which the criticks of following ages were to contend for 
the fame of restoring and explaining. 

Among these candidates of inferiour fame, I am now to stand the 
judgment of the publick; and wish that I could confidently produce 
my commentary as equal to the encouragement which I have had the 
honour of receiving. Every work of this kind is by its nature 
deficient, and I should feel little solicitude about the sentence, were 
it to be pronounced only by the skilful and the learned. 


BY J. W. VON GOETHE. (1798) 

THE youth, when Nature and Art attract him, thinks that 
with a vigorous effort he can soon penetrate into the inner- 
most sanctuary; the man, after long wanderings, finds 
himself still in the outer court. 

Such an observation has suggested our title. It is only on the step, 
in the gateway, the entrance, the vestibule, the space between the 
outside and the inner chamber, between the sacred and the common, 
that we may ordinarily tarry with our friends. 

If the word Propylaea recalls particularly the structure through 
which was reached the citadel of Athens and the temple of Minerva, 
this is not inconsistent with our purpose; but the presumption of 
intending to produce here a similar work of art and splendor should 
not be laid to our charge. The name of the place may be understood 
as symbolizing what might have happened there; one may expect 
conversations and discussions such as would perhaps not be un- 
worthy of that place. 

Are not thinkers, scholars, artists, in their best hours allured 
to those regions, to dwell (at least in imagination) among a people to 
whom a perfection which we desire but never attain was natural, 
among whom in the course of time and life, a culture developed 
in a beautiful continuity, which to us appears only in passing frag- 
ments? What modern nation does not owe its artistic culture to the 

The Propylaen was a periodical founded in July, 1798, by Goethe and his friend 
Heinrich Meyer. During its short existence of three years, there were published in 
it, besides the writings of the editors, short contributions by Schiller and Humboldt. 
Its purpose was to spread sound ideas about the aims and methods of art; and in this 
notable introduction Goethe set forth with clearness and profundity his fundamental 
ideas on these subjects. The present translation has been made expressly for the 
Harvard Classics. 



Greeks, and, in certain branches, what nation more than the 
German ? 

So much by way o£ excuse for the symboUc title, if indeed an 
excuse be necessary. May the title be a reminder that we are to 
depart as little as possible from classic ground; may it, through its 
brevity and signification, modify the demands of the friends of art 
whom we hope to interest through the present work, which is to 
contain observations and reflections concerning Nature and Art by 
a harmonious circle of friends. 

He who is called to be an artist will give careful heed to everything 
around him; objects and their parts will attract his attention, and by 
making practical use of such experience he will gradually train 
himself to observe more sharply. He will, in his early career, apply 
everything, so far as possible, to his own advantage; later he will 
gladly make himself serviceable to others. Thus we also hope to 
present and relate to our readers many things which we regard as 
useful and agreeable, things which, under various circumstances, 
have been noted by us during a number of years. 

But who will not willingly agree that pure observation is more 
rare than is believed? We are apt to confuse our sensations, our opin- 
ion, our judgment, with what we experience, so that we do not 
remain long in the passive attitude of the observer, but soon go on 
to make reflections; and upon these no greater weight can be placed 
than may be more or less justified by the nature and quality of our 
individual intellects. 

In this matter we are able to gain stronger confidence from our 
harmony with others, and from the knowledge that we do not think 
and work alone, but in common. The perplexing doubt whether our 
method of thought belongs only to us — a doubt which often comes 
over us when others express the direct opposite of our convictions — 
is softened, even dispelled, when we find ourselves in agreement 
with others; only then do we go on rejoicing with assurance in the 
possession of those principles which a long experience, on our own 
part and on the part of others, has gradually confirmed. 

When several persons thus live united, so that they may call one 
another friends, because they have a common interest in bringing 
about their progressive cultivation and in advancing towards closely 


related aims, then they may be certain that they will meet again in 
the most varied ways, and that even the courses which seemed to 
separate them from one another will nevertheless soon bring them 
happily together again. 

Who has not experienced what advantages are afforded in such 
cases by conversation? But conversation is ephemeral; and while 
the results of a mutual development are imperishable, the memory 
of the means by which it was reached disappears. Letters preserve 
better the stages of a progress which friends achieve together; every 
moment of growth is fixed, and if the result attained affords us 
agreeable satisfaction, a look backward at the process of development 
is instructive since it permits us to hope for an unflagging advance 
in the future. 

Short papers, in which are set down from time to time one's 
thoughts, convictions, and wishes, in order to find entertainment in 
one's past self after a lapse of time, are excellent auxiliary means for 
the development of oneself and of others, none of which should be 
neglected when one considers the brief period allotted to life and the 
many obstacles that stand in the way of every advance. 

It is self evident that we are talking here particularly of an 
exchange of ideas between such friends as are striving for cultivation 
in the sphere of science and art; although life in the world of affairs 
and industry should not lack similar advantages. 

In the arts and sciences, however, in addition to this close associa- 
tion among their votaries, a relation to the public is as favorable as it 
is necessary. Whatever of universal interest one thinks or accom- 
plishes belongs to the world, and the world brings to maturity what- 
ever it can utilize of the efforts of the individual. The desire for 
approval which the author feels is an impulse implanted by Nature 
to draw him toward something higher; he thinks he has attained the 
laurel wreath, but soon becomes aware that a more laborious 
training of every native talent is necessary in order to retain the 
public favor; though it may be attained for a short moment through 
fortune or accident also. 

The relation of the author to his public is important in his early 
period; even in later days he cannot dispense with it. However little 
he may be fitted to teach others, he wishes to share his thoughts with 


those whom he feels congenial, but who are scattered far and wide 
in the world. By this means he wishes to re-establish his relation with 
his old friends, to continue it with new ones, and to gain in the 
younger generation still others for the remainder of his life. He 
wishes to spare youth the circuitous paths upon which he himself 
went astray, and while observing and utilizing the advantages of 
the present, to maintain the memory of his praiseworthy earlier 

With this serious view, a small society has been brought together; 
may cheerfulness attend our undertakings, and time may show 
whither we are bound. 

The papers which we intend to present, though they are composed 
by several authors, will, it is hoped, never be contradictory in the 
main points, even though the methods of thought may not be the 
same in all. No two persons regard the world in exactly the same 
way, and different characters will often apply in different ways a 
principle which they all acknowledge. Indeed, a person is not 
always consistent with himself in his views and judgments: early 
convictions must give way to later ones. The individual opinions 
that a man holds and expresses may stand all tests or not; the main 
thing is that he continue on his way, true to himself and to 

Much as the authors wish and hope to be in harmony with one 
another and with a large part of the public, they must not shut their 
eyes to the fact that from various quarters many a discord will ring 
out. They must expect this all the more since they differ from pre- 
vailing opinions in more than one point. Though far from wishing 
to dominate or change the way of thinking of a third person, still 
they will firmly express their own opinion, and, as circumstances 
dictate, will avoid or take up a quarrel. On the whole, however, 
they will adhere to one creed, and especially will they repeat again 
and again those conditions which seem to them indispensable in the 
training of an artist. Whoever takes an interest in this matter, must 
be ready to take sides; otherwise he does not deserve to be effective 

If, therefore, we promise to present reflections and observations 
concerning Nature, we must at the same time indicate that these 


remarks will chiefly have reference, first, to plastic art; then, to art in 
general; finally, to the general training of the artist. 

The highest demand that is made on an artist is this: that he be 
true to Nature, study her, imitate her, and produce something that 
resembles her phenomena. How great, how enormous, this demand 
is, is not always kept in mind; and the true artist himself learns it 
by experience only, in the course of his progressive development. 
Nature is separated from Art by an enormous chasm, which genius 
itself is unable to bridge without external assistance. 

All that we perceive around us is merely raw material; if it hap- 
pens rarely enough that an artist, through instinct and taste, through 
practice and experiment, reaches the point of attaining the beautiful 
exterior of things, of selecting the best from the good before him, 
and of producing at least an agreeable appearance, it is still more 
rare, particularly in modern times, for an artist to penetrate into 
the depths of things as well as into the depths of his own soul, in 
order to produce in his works not only something light and super- 
ficially effective, but, as a rival of Nature, to produce something 
spiritually organic, and to give his work of art a content and a form 
through which it appears both natural and beyond Nature. 

Man is the highest, the characteristic subject of plastic art; to 
understand him, to extricate oneself from the labyrinth of his 
anatomy, a general knowledge of organic nature is imperative. The 
artist should also acquaint himself theoretically with inorganic 
bodies and with the general operations of Nature, particularly if, 
as in the case of sound and color, they are adaptable to the purposes 
of art; but what a circuitous path he would be obliged to take if he 
wanted to seek laboriously in the schools of the anatomist, the natur- 
alist, and the physicist, for that which serves his purposes! It is, 
indeed, a question whether he would find there what must be most 
important for him. Those men have the entirely different needs of 
their own pupils to satisfy, so that they cannot be expected to think 
of the limited and special needs of the artist. For that reason it is our 
intention to take a hand, and, even though we cannot see prospects 
of completing the necessary work ourselves, both to give a view of 
the whole and to begin the elaboration of details. 

The human figure cannot be understood merely through observa- 


tion of its surface; the interior must be laid bare, its parts must be 
separated, the connections perceived, the differences noted, action 
and reaction observed, the concealed, constant, and fundamental 
elements of the phenomena impressed on the mind, if one really 
wishes to contemplate and imitate what moves before our eyes in 
living waves as a beautiful, undivided whole. A glance at the sur- 
face of a living being confuses the observer; we may cite here, as 
in other cases, the true proverb, "One sees only what one knows." 
For just as a short-sighted man sees more clearly an object from 
which he draws back than one to which he draws near, because his 
intellectual vision comes to his aid, so the perfection of observation 
really depends on knowledge. How well an expert naturalist, who 
can also draw, imitates objects by recognizing and emphasizing 
the important and significant parts from which is derived the 
character of the whole! 

Just as the artist is greatly helped by an exact knowledge of the 
separate parts of the human figure, which he must in the end regard 
again as a whole, so a general view, a side glance at related objects, 
is highly advantageous, provided the artist is capable of rising to 
ideas and of grasping the close relationship of things apparently 
remote. Comparative anatomy has prepared a general conception of 
organic creatures; it leads us from form to form, and by observing 
organisms closely or distantly related, we rise above them all to see 
their characteristics in an ideal picture. If we keep this picture in 
mind, we find that in observing objects our attention takes a definite 
direction, that scattered facts can be learned and retained more easily 
by comparison, that in the practice of art we can finally vie with 
Nature only when we have learned from her, at least to some extent, 
her method of procedure in the creation of her works. 

Furthermore, we would encourage the artist to gain knowledge 
also of the inorganic world; this can be done all the more easily 
since now we can conveniently and quickly acquire knowledge of the 
mineral kingdom. The painter needs some knowledge of stones 
in order to imitate their characteristics; the sculptor and architect, 
in order to utilize them; the cutter of precious stones cannot be 
without a knowledge of their nature; the connoisseur and amateur, 
too, will strive for such information. 


Now that we have advised the artist to gain a conception of the 
general operations of Nature, in order to become acquainted with 
those which particularly interest him, partly to develop himself in 
more directions, partly to understand better that which concerns 
him; we shall add a few further remarks on this significant point. 

Up to the present the painter has been able merely to wonder 
at the physicist's theory of colors, without gaining any advantage 
from it. The natural feeling of the artist, however, constant training, 
and a practical necessity led him into a way of his own. He felt 
the vivid contrasts out of the union of which harmony of color 
arises, he designated certain characteristics through approximate 
sensations, he had warm and cold colors, colors which express 
proximity, others which express distance, and what not; and thus 
in his own way he brought these phenomena closer to the most gen- 
eral laws of Nature, Perhaps the supposition is confirmed that the 
operations of Nature in colors, as well as magnetic, electric, and 
other operations, depend upon a mutual relation, a polarity, or 
whatever else we might call the two-fold or manifold aspects of a 
distinct unity. 

We shall make it our duty to present this matter in detail and in 
a form comprehensible to the artist; and we can be the more hopeful 
of doing something welcome to him, since we shall be concerned 
only with explaining and tracing to fundamental principles things 
which he has hitherto done by instinct. 

So much for what we hope to impart in regard to Nature; now 
for what is most necessary in regard to Art. 

Since the arrangement of this work proposes the presentation of 
single treatises, some of these only in part, and since it is not our 
desire to dissect a whole, but rather to build up a whole from many 
parts, it will be necessary to present, as soon as possible and in a 
general summary, those things which the reader will gradually find 
unfolded in our detailed elaborations. We shall, therefore, be 
occupied first with an essay on plastic art, in which the familiar 
rubrics will be presented according to our interpretation and method. 
Here it will be our main concern to emphasize the importance of 
every branch of Art, and to show that the artist must not neglect a 
single one, as has unfortunately often happened, and still happens. 


Hitherto we have regarded Nature as the treasure chamber of 
material in general; now, however, we reach the important point 
where it is shown how Art prepares its materials for itself. 

When the artist takes any object of Nature, the object no longer 
belongs to Nature; indeed, we can say that the artist creates the 
object in that moment, by extracting from it all that is significant, 
characteristic, interesting, or rather by putting into it a higher 
value. In this way finer proportions, nobler forms, higher character- 
istics are, as it were, forced upon the human figure; the circle of 
regularity, perfection, signification, and completeness is drawn, in 
which Nature gladly places her best possessions even though else- 
where in her vast extent she easily degenerates into ugliness and 
loses herself in indifference. 

The same is true of composite works of art, of their subject and 
content, whether the theme be fable or history. Happy the artist 
who makes no mistake in undertaking the work, who knows how 
to choose, or rather to determine what is suitable for art! He who 
wanders uneasily among scattered myths and far-stretching history 
in search of a theme, he who wishes to be significantly scholarly or 
allegorically interesting, will often be checked in the midst of his 
work by unexpected obstacles, or will miss his finest aim after the 
completion of the work. He who does not speak clearly to the senses, 
will not address himself clearly to the mind; and we regard this point 
as so important, that we insert at the very outset a more extended 
discussion of it. 

A theme having been happily found or invented, it is subjected 
to treatment which we would divide into the spiritual, the sensuous, 
and the mechanical. The spiritual develops the subject according to 
its inner relations, it discovers subordinate motives; and, if we can 
at all judge the depth of an artistic genius by the choice of subject, 
we can recognize in his selection of themes his breadth, wealth, full- 
ness, and power of attraction. The sensuous treatment we should 
define as that through which the work becomes thoroughly compre- 
hensible to the senses, agreeable, delightful, and irresistible through 
its gentle charm. The mechanical treatment, finally, is that which 
works upon given material through any bodily organ, and thus 
brings the work into existence and gives it reality. 


While we hope to be useful to the artist in this way, and earnestly 
wish that he may avail himself of advice and of suggestions in his 
work, the disquieting observation is forced upon us that every under- 
taking, like every man, is likely to suffer just as much from its period 
as it is to derive occasional advantage from it, and in our own case 
we cannot altogether put aside the question concerning the reception 
we are likely to meet with. 

Everything is subject to constant change, and since certain things 
cannot exist side by side, they displace one another. This is true of 
kinds of knowledge, of certain methods of instruction, of methods 
of representation, and of maxims. The aims of men remain nearly 
always the same: they still desire to become good artists or poets 
as they did centuries ago; but the means through which the goal is 
reached are not clear to everybody, and why should it be denied that 
nothing would be more agreeable than to be able to carry out joy- 
fully a great design? 

Naturally the public has a great influence upon Art, since in 
return for its approval and its money it demands work that may 
give satisfaction and immediate enjoyment; and the artist will for 
the most part be glad to adapt himself to it, for he also is a part of 
the public, he has received his training during the same years, he 
feels the same needs, strives in the same direction, and thus moves 
along happily with the multitude which supports him and which 
is invigorated by him. In this matter we see whole nations and 
epochs delighted by their artists, just as the artist sees himself reflected 
in his nation and his epoch, without either having even the slightest 
suspicion that their path might not be right, that their taste might be 
at least one-sided, their art on the decline, and their progress in the 
wrong direction. 

Instead of proceeding to further generalities on this point, we shall 
make a remark which refers particularly to plastic art. 

For the German artist, in fact for modern and northern artists 
in general, it is difficult — indeed almost impossible — to make the 
transition from formless matter to form, and to maintain himself at 
that point, even should he succeed in reaching It. Let every artist 
who has lived for a time in Italy ask himself whether the presence 
of the best works of ancient and modern art have not aroused in him 


the incessant endeavour to study and imitate the human figure in 
its proportions, forms, and characteristics, to apply all diligence and 
care in the execution in order to approach those artistic works, so 
entirely complete in themselves, in order to produce a work which, 
in gratifying the sense, exalts the spirit to the greatest heights. Let 
him also admit, however, that after his return he must gradually 
relax his efforts, because he finds few persons who will really see, 
enjoy, and comprehend what is depicted; but, for the most part, finds 
only those who look at a work superficially, receive from it mere 
random impressions, and in some way of their own try to get out 
of it any kind of sensation and pleasure. 

The worst picture can appeal to our senses and imagination by 
arousing their activity, setting them free, and leaving them to them- 
selves; the best work of art also appeals to our senses, but in a higher 
language which, of course, we must understand; it enchains the 
feelings and imagination; it deprives us of caprice, we cannot deal 
with a perfect work at our will; we are forced to give ourselves up 
to it, in order to receive ourselves from it again, exalted and refined. 

That these are no dreams we shall try to show gradually, in detail, 
and as clearly as possible; we shall call attention particularly to a 
contradiction in which the moderns are often involved. They call 
the ancients their teachers, they acknowledge in their works an 
unattainable excellence, yet they depart both in theory and practice 
far from the maxims which the ancients continually observed. In 
starting from this important point and in returning to it often, we 
shall find others about which something falls to be said. 

One of the principal signs of the decay of art is the mixture of its 
various kinds. The arts themselves, as well as their branches, are 
related to one another, and have a certain tendency to unite, even 
to lose themselves in one another; but it is in this that the duty, the 
merit, the dignity of the real artist consists, namely, in being able to 
separate the field of art in which he works from others, in placing 
every art and every branch of art on its own footing, and in isolating 
it as far as possible. 

It has been noticed that all plastic art strives toward painting, all 
literary art toward the drama, and this observation may in the future 
give us occasion for important reflections. 


The genuine law-giving artist strives for the truth o£ art, the 
lawless artist who follows a blind impulse strives for the reality of 
Nature; through the former, art reaches its highest summit, through 
the latter its lowest stage. 

What holds good of art in general holds good also of the kinds of 
art. The sculptor must think and feel differently from the painter, 
indeed he must proceed when he wishes to produce a work in relief, 
in a different fashion from that which he will employ for a work 
in the round. By the raising of low reliefs higher and higher, by 
the making of various parts and figures stand out completely, and 
finally by the adding of buildings and landscapes, so that work was 
produced which was half painting and half puppet-show, true art 
steadily declined. Excellent artists of modern times have unfor- 
tunately pursued this course. 

When in the future we express such maxims as we think sound, 
we should like, since they are deduced from works of art, to have 
them put to the test of practice by the artist. How rarely one can 
come to a theoretical agreement with anyone else on a fundamental 
principle. That which is applicable and useful, on the other hand, 
is decided upon much more quickly. How often we see artists 
in embarrassment over the choice of subjects, over the general type of 
composition adapted to their art, and the detailed arrangement; how 
often the painter over the choice of colors! Then is the time to test 
a principle, then will it be easier to decide whether it is bringing us 
closer to the great models and to everything that we value and love 
in them, or whether it leaves us entangled in the empirical confusion 
of an experience that has not been sufficiently thought out. 

If such maxims hold good in training the artist, in guiding him in 
many an embarrassment, they will serve also in the development, 
valuation, and judgment of old and new works of art, and will in 
turn arise from an observation of these works. Indeed, it is all the 
more necessary to adhere to this, because, notwithstanding the uni- 
versally praised excellences of antiquity, individuals and whole 
nations among the moderns often fail to recognize wherein lies the 
highest excellence of those works. 

An exact test will protect us best from this evil. For that reason 
let us cite only one example to show what usually happens to the 


amateur in plastic art, so that we may make clear how necessary it 
is that criticism of ancient as well as modern works should be exact 
if it is to be of any use. 

Upon him who has an eye for beauty, though untrained, even a 
blurred, imperfect plaster cast of an excellent antique will always 
have a great effect; for in such a reproduction there always remain 
the idea, the simplicity and greatness of form, in short, the general 
outlines; as much, at all events, as one could perceive with poor eyes 
at a distance. 

It may be noticed that a strong inclination toward art is often 
enkindled by such quite imperfect reproductions. But the effect is 
like the object; it is rather that an obscure indefinite feeling is 
aroused, than that the object in all its worth and dignity really 
appears to such beginners in art. These are they who usually express 
the theory that too minute a critical investigation destroys the enjoy- 
ment, who are accustomed to oppose and resist regard for details. 

If gradually, however, after further experience and training, they 
are confronted with a sharp cast instead of a blurred one, an original 
instead of a cast, their pleasure grows with their insight, and increases 
when the originals themselves, the perfect originals, finally become 
known to them. 

The labyrinth of exact observations is willingly entered when the 
details as well as the whole are perfect; indeed one learns to realize 
that the excellences can be appreciated only in proportion as the 
defects are perceived. To discriminate the restoration from the 
genuine parts, and the copy from the original, to see in the smallest 
fragments the ruined glory of the whole — this is the joy of the fin- 
ished expert; and there is a great difference between observing and 
comprehending an imperfect whole with obscured vision, and a 
perfect whole with clear vision. 

He who concerns himself with any branch of knowledge, should 
strive for the highest! Insight is different from practice, for in 
practical work everyone must soon resign himself to the fact that 
only a certain measure of strength is allotted to him; far more people, 
however, are capable of knowledge and insight. Indeed, one may 
well say that everyone is thus capable who can deny himself and 
subordinate himself to external objects, everyone who does not 


Strive with rigid and narrow-minded obstinacy to impose upon the 
highest works of Nature and Art his own personaUty and his petty 

To speak of works of art fitly and with true benefit to oneself and 
others, the discussion should take place only in the presence of the 
works themselves. Everything depends on the objects being in 
view; on whether something absolutely definite is suggested by the 
word with which one hopes to illuminate the work of art; for, other- 
wise, nothing is thought of at all. This is why it so often happens 
that the writer on art dwells merely on generalities, through which, 
indeed, ideas and sensations are aroused in all readers, but no satisfac- 
tion is given to the man who, book in hand, steps in front of the work 
of art itself. Precisely on this account, however, we may in several 
essays be in a position to arouse rather than to satisfy the desire of the 
readers; for nothing is more natural than that they should wish to 
have before their eyes immediately an excellent work of art which is 
minutely dissected, in order to enjoy the whole which we are discuss- 
ing, and, so far as the parts are concerned, to subject to their own 
judgment the opinion which they read. 

While the authors, however, write on the assumption that their 
readers either have seen the works, or will see them in the future, yet 
they hope to do everything in their power for those who are in 
neither case. We shall mention reproductions, shall indicate where 
casts of antique works of art and antique works themselves are 
accessible, particularly to Germans; and thus try, as far as we can, to 
minister to the genuine love and knowledge of art. 

A history of art can be based only upon the highest and most 
detailed comprehension of art; only when one knows the finest 
things that man can produce can one trace the psychological and 
chronological course taken in art, as in other fields. This course 
began with a limited activity, busied about a dry and even gloomy 
imitation of the insignificant as well as the significant, whence devel- 
oped a more amiable, more kindly feeling toward Nature, till finally, 
under favorable circumstances, accompanied by knowledge, regu- 
larity, seriousness, and severity, art rose to its height. There at last 
it became possible for the fortunate genius, surrounded by all these 
auxiliaries, to produce the charming and the complete. 


Unfortunately, however, works of art with such ease of expression, 
which instil into man cheerfulness, freedom, and a pleasant feeling 
of his own personality, arouse in the striving artist the idea that the 
process of production is also agreeable. Since the pinnacle of what 
art and genius produce is an appearance of ease, the artists who 
come after are tempted to make things easy for themselves, and to 
work for the sake of appearances. Thus art gradually declines from 
its high position, as to the whole as well as details. But if we wish to 
gain a fair conception, we must come down to details of details, an 
occupation not always agreeable or charming, but by and by richly 
rewarded with a more certain view of the whole. 

If the experience of observing ancient and mediaeval works of art 
has shown us that certain maxims hold good we need these most of 
all in judging the most recent modern productions; for, since 
personal relations, love and hatred of individuals, favor or disfavor 
of the multitude so easily enter into the valuation of living or recently 
deceased artists, we are in all the more need of principles in order 
to pass judgment on our contemporaries. The inquiry can be con- 
ducted in two ways: by diminishing the influence of caprice; by 
bringing the question before a higher tribunal. The principle can be 
tested as well as its application; and even if we should not agree, the 
point in dispute can still be definitely and clearly pointed out. 

Especially should we wish that the vivifying artist, in whose works 
we might perhaps have found something to remember, might test 
our judgments carefully in this way; for everyone who deserves this 
name is forced in our times to form, as a result of his work and 
his reflections, a theory, or at least a certain conception of theoretical 
means, by the use of which he gets along tolerably well in a variety 
of cases. It will often be noticed, however, that in this way he sets up 
as laws such maxims as are in accordance with his talent, his inclina- 
tion, and his convenience. He is subject to a fate that is common to 
all mankind. How many act in this very way in other fields! But 
we are not cultivating ourselves when we merely set in motion with 
ease and convenience that which lies in us. Every artist, like every 
man, is only an individual, and will always lean to one side. For 
that reason, man should pursue so far as possible, both theoretically 
and practically, that which is contrary to his nature. Let the easy- 


going seek what is serious and severe; let the stern keep before his 
eyes the light and agreeable; the strong, loveliness; the amiable, 
strength; and everyone will develop his own nature the more, the 
farther he seems to remove himself from it. Every art requires the 
whole man; the highest possible degree of art requires all mankind. 

The practice of the plastic arts is mechanical, and the training 
of the artist rightly begins in his earliest youth with the mechanical 
side; the rest of his education, on the other hand, is often neglected, 
for it ought to be far more careful than the training of others who 
have opportunity of deriving advantage from life itself. Society 
soon makes a rough person courteous, a business life makes the most 
simple person prudent; literary labors, which through pride come 
before a great public, find opposition and correction everywhere; 
only the plastic artist is, for the most part, limited to a lonely work- 
shop; he has dealings almost solely with the man who orders and 
pays for his labor, with a public which frequently follows only certain 
morbid impressions, with connoisseurs who make him restless, 
with auctioneers who receive every new work with praise and esti- 
mates of value such as would fitly honor the most superlative pro- 

But it is time to conclude this introduction lest it anticipate and 
forestall the work, instead of merely preceding it. We have so far at 
least designated the point from which we intend to set out; how far 
our views can and will spread, must at first develop gradually. The 
theory and criticism of literary art will, we hope, soon occupy us; 
and whatever life, travel, and daily events suggest to us, shall not be 
excluded. In closing, let us say a word on an important concern 
of this moment. 

For the training of the artist, for the enjoyment of the friend of 
art, it was from time immemorial of the greatest significance in what 
place the works of art happened to be. There was a time when, 
except for slight changes of location, they remained for the most part 
in one place; now, however, a great change has occurred, which 
will have important consequences for art in general and in particular. 
At present we have perhaps more cause than ever to regard Italy 
as a great storehouse of art — as it still was until recently. When 
it is possible to give a general review of it, then it will be shown 


what the world lost at the moment when so many parts were torn 
from this great and ancient whole. 

What was destroyed in the very act of tearing away will probably 
remain a secret forever; but a description of the new storehouse that 
is being formed in Paris will be possible in a few years. Then the 
method by which an artist and a lover of art is to use France and 
Italy can be indicated; and a further important and fine question 
will arise: what are other nations, particularly Germany and Eng- 
land, to do in this period of scattering and loss, to make generally 
useful the manifold and widely strewn treasures of art — a task 
requiring the true cosmopolitan mind which is found perhaps 
nowhere purer than in the arts and sciences? And what are they 
to do to help to form an ideal storehouse, which in the course of 
time may perhaps happily compensate us for what the present 
moment tears away when it does not destroy? 

So much in general of the purpose of a work in which we desire 
many earnest and friendly sympathizers. 





IT is the honourable characteristic of Poetry that its materials are 
to be found in every subject which can interest the human mind. 
The evidence of this fact is to be sought, not in the writings 
of Critics, but in those of Poets themselves. 

The majority of the following poems are to be considered as 
experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain 
how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes 
of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure. Readers 
accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern 
writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion, will 
perhaps frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and 
awkwardness: they will look round for poetry, and will be induced 
to inquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be per- 
mitted to assume that title. It is desirable that such readers, for their 
own sakes, should not suffer the solitary word Poetry, a word of 
very disputed meaning, to stand in the way of their gratification; 
but that, while they are perusing this book, they should ask them- 
selves if it contains a natural delineation of human passions, human 
characters, and human incidents; and if the answer be favourable 

'William Wordsworth (1770-1850), probably the greatest of the poets of the 
Romantic Movement in England, was also foremost in the critical defence of that 
movement. The Prefaces and Essays printed here form a kind of manifesto of the 
reaction from the poetical traditions of the eighteenth century; and contain besides 
some of the soundest theorizing on the nature of poetry to be found in English. They 
afford an interesting comparison vfith the parallel protest in Victor Hugo's Preface 
to "Cromwell," to be found later in the volume. 



to the author's wishes, that they should consent to be pleased in 
spite of that most dreadful enemy to our pleasures, our own pre- 
established codes of decision. 

Readers of superior judgement may disapprove of the style in 
which many of these pieces are executed; it must be expected that 
many lines and phrases will not exactly suit their taste. It will per- 
haps appear to them, that wishing to avoid the prevalent fault of the 
day, the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of 
his expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity. It is 
apprehended that the more conversant the reader is with our elder 
writers, and with those in modern times who have been the most 
successful in painting manners and passions, the fewer complaints 
of this kind will he have to make. 

An accurate taste in poetry, and in all the other arts. Sir Joshua 
Reynolds has observed, is an acquired talent, which can only be 
produced by severe thought, and a long continued intercourse with 
the best models of composition. This is mentioned not with so 
ridiculous a purpose as to prevent the most inexperienced reader 
from judging for himself; but merely to temper the rashness of 
decision, and to suggest that if poetry be a subject on which much 
time has not been bestowed, the judgement may be erroneous, and 
that in many cases it necessarily will be so. 

The tale of Goody Blaise and Harry Gill is founded on a well- 
authenticated fact which happened in Warwickshire. Of the other 
poems in the collection, it may be proper to say that they are either 
absolute inventions of the author, or facts which took place within 
his personal observation or that of his friends. The poem of The 
Thorn, as the reader will soon discover, is not supposed to be spoken 
in the author's own person : the character of the loquacious narrator 
will sufficiently show itself in the course of the story. The Rime of 
the Ancyent Marinere was professedly written in imitation of the 
style, as well as of the spirit of the elder poets; but with a few excep- 
tions, the Author believes that the language adopted in it has been 
equally intelligible for these three last centuries. The lines entitled 
Expostulation and Reply, and those which follow, arose out of con- 
versation with a friend who was somewhat unreasonably attached 
to modern books of moral philosophy. 



THE first volume of these Poems has already been submitted 
to general perusal. It was published, as an experiment, 
which, I hoped, might be of some use to ascertain, how far, 
by fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language 
of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that 
quantity of pleasure may be imparted, which a Poet may rationally 
endeavour to impart. 

I had formed no very inaccurate estimate of the probable effect 
of those Poems: I flattered myself that they who should be pleased 
with them would read them with more than common pleasure: and, 
on the other hand, I was well aware, that by those who should 
dislike them, they would be read with more than common dislike. 
The result has differed from my expectation in this only, that a 
greater number have been pleased than I ventured to hope I should 

Several of my Friends are anxious for the success of these Poems, 
from a belief, that, if the views with which they were composed 
were indeed realized, a class of Poetry would be produced, well 
adapted to interest mankind permanently, and not unimportant in 
the quality, and in the multiplicity of its moral relations: and on 
this account they have advised me to prefix a systematic defence of 
the theory upon which the Poems were written. But I was unwilling 
to undertake the task, knowing that on this occasion the Reader 
would look coldly upon my arguments, since I might be suspected of 
having been principally influenced by the selfish and foolish hope of 
reasoning him into an approbation of these particular Poems: and 
I was still more unwilling to undertake the task, because, adequately 



to display the opinions, and fully to enforce the arguments, would 
require a space wholly disproportionate to a preface. For, to treat 
the subject with the clearness and coherence of which it is susceptible, 
it would be necessary to give a full account of the present state of 
the public taste in this country, and to determine how far this taste 
is healthy or depraved; which, again, could not be determined, 
without pointing out in what manner language and the human 
mind act and re-act on each other, and without retracing the revolu- 
tions, not of literature alone, but likewise of society itself. I have 
therefore altogether declined to enter regularly upon this defence; 
yet I am sensible, that there would be something like impropriety in 
abruptly obtruding upon the Public, without a few words of intro- 
duction. Poems so materially different from those upon which 
general approbation is at present bestowed. 

It is supposed, that by the act of writing in verse an Author makes 
a formal engagement that he will gratify certain known habits of 
association; that he not only thus apprises the Reader that certain 
classes of ideas and expressions will be found in his book, but that 
others will be carefully excluded. This exponent or symbol held 
forth by metrical language must in different eras of literature have 
excited very different expectations: for example, in the age of 
Catullus, Terence, and Lucretius, and that of Statius or Claudian; 
and in our own country, in the age of Shakespeare and Beaumont 
and Fletcher, and that of Donne and Cowley, or Dryden, or Pope. 
I will not take upon me to determine the exact import of the promise 
which, by the act of writing in verse, an Author in the present day 
makes to his reader : but it will undoubtedly appear to many persons 
that I have not fulfilled the terms of an engagement thus voluntarily 
contracted. They who have been accustomed to the gaudiness and 
inane phraseology of many modern writers, if they persist in reading 
this book to its conclusion, will, no doubt, frequently have to struggle 
with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness: they will look round 
for poetry, and will be induced to inquire by what species of courtesy 
these attempts can be permitted to assume that title. I hope there- 
fore the reader will not censure me for attempting to state what I 
have proposed to myself to perform; and also (as far as the limits 
of a preface will permit) to explain some of the chief reasons which 


have determined me in the choice of my purpose: that at least he 
may be spared any unpleasant feeling of disappointment, and that 
I myself may be protected from one of the most dishonourable 
accusations which can be brought against an Author, namely, that 
of an indolence which prevents him from endeavouring to ascertain 
what is his duty, or, when his duty is ascertained, prevents him from 
performing it. 

The principal object, then, proposed in these Poems was to choose 
incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe 
them, throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language 
really used by men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a cer- 
tain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be 
presented to the mind in an unusual aspect; and, further, and above 
all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in 
them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our 
nature: chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate 
ideas in a state of excitement. Humble and rustic life was generally 
chosen, because, in that condition, the essential passions of the heart 
find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less 
under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language; 
because in that condition of life our elementary feelings coexist in a 
state of greater simplicity, and, consequently, may be more accurately 
contemplated, and more forcibly communicated; because the man- 
ners of rural life germinate from those elementary feelings, and, 
from the necessary character of rural occupations, are more easily 
comprehended, and are more durable; and, lastly, because in that 
condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful 
and permanent forms of nature. The language, too, of these men has 
been adopted (purified indeed from what appear to be its real defects, 
from all lasting and rational causes of dislike or disgust) because 
such men hourly communicate with the best objects from which the 
best part of language is originally derived; and because, from their 
rank in society and the sameness and narrow circle of their inter- 
course, being less under the influence of social vanity, they convey 
their feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions, 
Accordingly, such a language, arising out of repeated experience 
and regular feelings, is a more permanent, and a far more philosophi- 


cal language, than that which is frequently substituted for it by 
Poets, who think that they are conferring honour upon themselves 
and their art, in proportion as they separate themselves from the 
sympathies of men, and indulge in arbitrary and capricious habits 
of expression, in order to furnish food for fickle tastes, and fickle 
appetites, of their own creation.' 

I cannot, however, be insensible to the present outcry against the 
triviality and meanness, both of thought and language, which some 
of my contemporaries have occasionally introduced into their met- 
rical compositions; and I acknowledge that this defect, where it 
exists, is more dishonourable to the Writer's own character than 
false refinement or arbitrary innovation, though I should contend 
at the same time, that it is far less pernicious in the sum of its conse- 
quences. From such verses the Poems in these volumes will be found 
distinguished at least by one mark of difference, that each of them 
has a worthy purpose. Not that I always began to write with a 
distinct purpose formerly conceived; but habits of meditation have, 
I trust, so prompted and regulated my feelings, that my descriptions 
of such objects as strongly excite those feelings, will be found to 
carry along with them a purpose. If this opinion be erroneous, I 
can have little right to the name of a Poet. For all good poetry is 
the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: and though this be 
true. Poems to which any value can be attached were never produced 
on any variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of more 
than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply. For 
our continued influxes of feeling are modified and directed by our 
thoughts, which are indeed the representatives of all our past feel- 
ings; and, as by contemplating the relation of these general repre- 
sentatives to each other, we discover what is really important to men, 
so, by the repetition and continuance of this act, our feelings will be 
connected with important subjects, till at length, if we be originally 
possessed of much sensibility, such habits of mind will be produced, 
that, by obeying blindly and mechanically the impulses of those 
habits, we shall describe objects, and utter sentiments, of such a 
nature, and in such connexion with each other, that the understand- 

' It is worth while here to observe, that the affecting parts of Chaucer are almost 
always expressed in language pure and universally intelligible even to this day. 


ing of the Reader must necessarily be in some degree enlightened, 
and his affections strengthened and purified. 

It has been said that each of these poems has a purpose. Another 
circumstance must be mentioned which distinguishes these Poems 
from the popular Poetry of the day; it is this, that the feeling therein 
developed gives importance to the action and situation, and not the 
action and situation to the feeling. 

A sense of false modesty shall not prevent me from asserting, 
that the Reader's attention is pointed to this mark of distinction, 
far less for the sake of these particular Poems than from the general 
importance of the subject. The subject is indeed important! For 
the human mind is capable of being excited without the application 
of gross and violent stimulants; and he must have a very faint 
perception of its beauty and dignity who does not know this, and 
who does not further know, that one being is elevated above another, 
in proportion as he possesses this capability. It has therefore appeared 
to me, that to endeavour to produce or enlarge this capability is one 
of the best services in which, at any period, a Writer can be engaged; 
but this service, excellent at all times, is especially so at the present 
day. For a multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now 
acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of 
the mind, and, unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a 
state of almost savage torpor. The most effective of these causes are 
the great national events which are daily taking place, and the 
increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of 
their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, 
which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies. To 
this tendency of life and manners the literature and theatrical exhi- 
bitions of the country have conformed themselves. The invaluable 
works of our elder writers, I had almost said the works of Shakespeare 
and Milton, are driven into neglect by frantic novels, sickly and 
stupid German Tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant 
stories in verse. — ^When I think upon this degrading thirst after out- 
rageous stimulation, I am almost ashamed to have spoken of the 
feeble endeavour made in these volumes to counteract it; and, reflect- 
ing upon the magnitude of the general evil, I should be oppressed 
with no dishonourable melancholy, had I not a deep impression of 


certain inherent and indestructible qualities of the human mind, 
and likewise of certain powers in the great and permanent objects 
that act upon it, which are equally inherent and indestructible; and 
were there not added to this impression a belief, that the time is 
approaching when the evil will be systematically opposed, by men 
of greater powers, and with far more distinguished success. 

Having dwelt thus long on the subjects and aim of these Poems, 
I shall request the Reader's permission to apprise him of a few cir- 
cumstances relating to their style, in order, among other reasons, that 
he may not censure me for not having performed what I never 
attempted. The Reader will find that personifications of abstract 
ideas rarely occur in these volumes; and are utterly rejected, as an 
ordinary device to elevate the style, and raise it above prose. My 
purpose was to imitate, and, as far as possible, to adopt the very 
language of men; and assuredly such personifications do not make 
any natural or regular part of that language. They are, indeed, a 
figure of speech occasionally prompted by passion, and I have made 
use of them as such; but have endeavoured utterly to reject them as 
a mechanical device of style, or as a family language which Writers 
in metre seem to lay claim to by prescription. I have wished to keep 
the Reader in the company of flesh and blood, persuaded that by so 
doing I shall interest him. Others who pursue a dii?erent track will 
interest him likewise; I do not interfere with their claim, but wish 
to prefer a claim of my own. There will also be found in these 
volumes little of what is usually called poetic diction; as much pains 
has been taken to avoid it as is ordinarily taken to produce it; this has 
been done for the reason already alleged, to bring my language near 
to the language of men; and further, because the pleasure which I 
have proposed to myself to impart, is of a kind very different from 
that which is supposed by many persons to be the proper object of 
poetry. Without being culpably particular, I do not know how to 
give my Reader a more exact notion of the style in which it was my 
wish and intention to write, than by informing him that I have at 
all times endeavoured to look steadily at my subject; consequently, 
there is I hope in these Poems little falsehood of description, and my 
ideas are expressed in language fitted to their respective importance. 
Something must have been gained by this practice, as it is friendly 


to one property of all good poetry, namely, good sense: but it has 
necessarily cut me off from a large portion of phrases and figures of 
speech which from father to son have long been regarded as the 
common inheritance of Poets. I have also thought it expedient to 
restrict myself still further, having abstained from the use of many 
expressions, in themselves proper and beautiful, but which have been 
foolishly repeated by bad Poets, till such feelings of disgust are con- 
nected with them as it is scarcely possible by any art of association 
to overpower. 

If in a poem there should be found a series of lines, or even a 
single line, in which the language, though naturally arranged, and 
according to the strict laws of metre, does not differ from that of 
prose, there is a numerous class of critics, who, when they stumble 
upon these prosaisms, as they call them, imagine that they have made 
a notable discovery, and exult over the Poet as over a man ignorant 
of his own profession. Now these men would establish a canon of 
criticism which the Reader will conclude he must utterly reject, if 
he wishes to be pleased with these volumes. And it would be a most 
easy task to prove to him, that not only the language of a large por- 
tion of every good poem, even of the most elevated character, must 
necessarily, except with reference to the metre, in no respect differ 
from that of good prose, but likewise that some of the most interest- 
ing parts of the best poems will be found to be strictly the language 
of prose when prose is well written. The truth of this assertion might 
be demonstrated by innumerable passages from almost all the poetical 
writings, even of Milton himself. To illustrate the subject in a gen- 
eral manner, I will here adduce a short composition of Gray, who 
was at the head of those who, by their reasonings, have attempted to 
widen the space of separation betwixt Prose and Metrical composi- 
tion, and was more than any other man curiously elaborate in the 
structure o£ his own poetic diction. 

In vain to me the smiling mornings shine, 
And reddening Phoebus lifts his golden fire: 
The birds in vain their amorous descant join, 
Or cheerful fields resume their green attire. 
These ears, alas! for other notes repine; 
A different object do these eyes require; 


My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine; 
And in my breast the imperfect joys expire; 
Yet morning smiles the busy race to cheer, 
And new-born pleasure brings to happier men; 
The fields to all their wonted tribute bear; 
To warm their little loves the birds complain. 
/ fruitless mourn to him that cannot hear. 
And weep the more because I weep in vain. 

It will easily be perceived, that the only part of this Sonnet which 
is of any value is the lines printed in Italics; it is equally obvious, 
that, except in the rhyme, and in the use of the single word 'fruit- 
less' for fruitlessly, which is so far a defect, the language of these 
lines does in no respect differ from that of prose. 

By the foregoing quotation it has been shown that the language 
of Prose may yet be well adapted to Poetry; and it was previously 
asserted, that a large portion of the language of every good poem can 
in no respect differ from that of good Prose. We will go further. 
It may be safely affirmed, that there neither is, nor can be, any essen- 
tial difference between the language of prose and metrical composi- 
tion. We are fond of tracing the resemblance between Poetry and 
Painting, and, accordingly, we call them Sisters: but where shall we 
find bonds of connexion sufficiently strict to typify the affinity be- 
twixt metrical and prose composition? They both speak by and to 
the same organs; the bodies in which both of them are clothed may 
be said to be of the same substance, their affections are kindred, and 
almost identical, not necessarily differing even in degree; Poetry^ 
sheds no tears 'such as Angels weep,' but natural and human tears; 
she can boast of no celestial choir that distinguishes her vital juices 
from those of prose; the same human blood circulates through the 
veins of them both. 

If it be affirmed that rhyme and metrical arrangement of them- 
selves constitute a distinction which overturns what has just been said 
on the strict affinity of metrical language with that of prose, and 

*I here use the word 'Poetry' (though against my own judgement) as opposed to 
the word Prose, and synonymous with metrical composition. But much confusion 
has been Introduced into criticism by this contradistinction of Poetry and Prose, instead 
of the more philosophical one of Poetry and Matter of Fact, or Science. The only 
strict antithesis to Prose is Metre; nor is this, in truth, a strict antithesis, because 
lines and passages of metre so naturally occur in writing prose, that it would be 
scarcely possible to avoid them, even were it desirable. 


paves the way for other artificial distinctions which the mind volun- 
tarily admits, I answer that the language of such Poetry as is here 
recommended is, as far as is possible, a selection of the language really 
spoken by men; that this selection, wherever it is made with true 
taste and feeling, will of itself form a distinction far greater than 
would at first be imagined, and will entirely separate the composition 
from the vulgarity and meanness of ordinary life; and, if metre be 
superadded thereto, I believe that a dissimilitude will be produced 
altogether sufficient for the gratification of a rational mind. What 
other distinction would we have ? Whence is it to come ? And where 
is it to exist? Not, surely, where the Poet speaks through the mouths 
of his characters: it cannot be necessary here, either for elevation 
of style, or any of its supposed ornaments: for, if the Poet's subject 
be judiciously chosen, it will naturally, and upon fit occasion, lead 
him to passions the language of which, if selected truly and judi- 
ciously, must necessarily be dignified and variegated, and alive with 
metaphors and figures. I forbear to speak of an incongruity which 
would shock the intelligent Reader, should the Poet interweave any 
foreign splendour of his own with that which the passion naturally 
suggests: it is sufficient to say that such addition is unnecessary. And, 
surely, it is more probable that those passages, which with propriety 
abound with metaphors and figures, will have their due effect, if, 
upon other occasions where the passions are of a milder character, 
the style also be subdued and temperate. 

But, as the pleasure which I hope to give by the Poems now pre- 
sented to the Reader must depend entirely on just notions upon this 
subject, and, as it is in itself of high importance to our taste and 
moral feelings, I cannot content myself with these detached remarks. 
And if, in what I am about to say, it shall appear to some that my 
labour is unnecessary, and that I am like a man fighting a battle 
without enemies, such persons may be reminded, that, whatever be 
the language outwardly holden by men, a pi^actical faith in the opin- 
ions which I am wishing to establish is almost unknown. If my 
conclusions are admitted, and carried as far as they must be carried 
if admitted at all, our judgements concerning the works of the 
greatest Poets both ancient and modern will be far different from 
what they are at present, both when we praise, and when we censure: 


and our moral feelings influencing and influenced by these judge- 
ments will, I believe, be corrected and purified. 

Taking up the subject, then, upon general grounds, let me ask, 
what is meant by the word Poet? What is a Poet? To whom does 
he address himself? And what language is to be expected from him? 
— He is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endowed with 
more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has 
a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive 
soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man 
pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more 
than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to con- 
template similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on 
of the Universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he 
does not find them. To these qualities he has added a disposition 
to be affected more than other men by absent things as if they were 
present; an ability of conjuring up in himself passions, which are 
indeed far from being the same as those produced by real events, 
yet (especially in those parts of the general sympathy which are pleas- 
ing and delightful) do more nearly resemble the passions produced 
by real events, than anything which, from the motions of their own 
minds merely, other men are accustomed to feel in themselves: — 
whence, and from practice, he has acquired a greater readiness and 
power in expressing what he thinks and feels, and especially those 
thoughts and feelings which, by his own choice, or from the structure 
of his own mind, arise in him without immediate external excite- 

But whatever portion of this faculty we may suppose even the 
greatest Poet to possess, there cannot be a doubt that the language 
which it will suggest to him, must often, in liveliness and truth, fall 
short of that which is uttered by men in real life, under the actual 
pressure of those passions, certain shadows of which the Poet thus 
produces, or feels to be produced, in himself. 

However exalted a notion we would wish to cherish of the char- 
acter of a Poet, it is obvious, that while he describes and imitates 
passions, his employment is in some degree mechanical, compared 
with the freedom and power of real and substantial action and 
suffering. So that it will be the wish of the Poet to bring his feelings 


near to those of the persons whose feeUngs he describes, nay, for 
short spaces of time, perhaps, to let himself slip into an entire delu- 
sion, and even confound and identify his own feelings with theirs; 
modifying only the language which is thus suggested to him by a 
consideration that he describes for a particular purpose, that of 
giving pleasure. Here, then, he will apply the principle of selection 
which has been already insisted upon. He will depend upon this 
for removing what would otherwise be painful or disgusting in the 
passion; he will feel that there is no necessity to trick out or to ele- 
vate nature: and, the more industriously he applies this principle, the 
deeper will be his faith that no words, which his fancy or imagina- 
tion can suggest, will be to be compared with those which are the 
emanations of reality and truth. 

But it may be said by those who do not object to the general spirit 
of these remarks, that, as it is impossible for the Poet to produce upon 
all occasions language as exquisitely fitted for the passion as that 
which the real passion itself suggests, it is proper that he should 
consider himself as in the situation of a translator, who does not 
scruple to substitute excellencies of another kind for those which 
are unattainable by him; and endeavours occasionally to surpass his 
original, in order to make some amends for the general inferiority 
to which he feels that he must submit. But this would be to encour- 
age idleness and unmanly despair. Further, it is the language of 
men who speak of what they do not understand; who talk of Poetry 
as of a matter of amusement and idle pleasure; who will converse 
with us as gravely about a taste for Poetry, as they express It, as if 
it were a thing as indifferent as a taste for rope-dancing, or Frontiniac 
or Sherry. Aristotle, I have been told, has said, that Poetry is the 
most philosophic of all writing: it is so: its object is truth, not indi- 
vidual and local, but general, and operative; not standing upon 
external testimony, but carried alive into the heart by passion; truth 
which is its own testimony, which gives competence and confidence 
to the tribunal to which it appeals, and receives them from the same 
tribunal. Poetry is the image of man and nature. The obstacles 
which stand in the way of the fidelity of the Biographer and His- 
torian, and of their consequent utility, are incalculably greater than 
those which are to be encountered by the Poet who comprehends 


the dignity of his art. The Poet writes under one restriction only, 
namely, the necessity of giving immediate pleasure to a human 
Being possessed of that information which may be expected from 
him, not as a lawyer, a physician, a mariner, an astronomer, or a 
natural philosopher, but as a Man. Except this one restriction, there 
is no object standing between the Poet and the image of things; 
between this, and the Biographer and Historian, there are a thou- 

Nor let this necessity of producing immediate pleasure be con- 
sidered as a degradation of the Poet's art. It is far otherwise. It is 
an acknowledgement of the beauty of the universe, an acknowledge- 
ment the more sincere, because not formal, but indirect; it is a task 
light and easy to him who looks at the world in the spirit of love : 
further, it is a homage paid to the native and naked dignity of man, 
to the grand elementary principle of pleasure, by which he knows, 
and feels, and lives, and moves. We have no sympathy but what is 
propagated by pleasure: I would not be misunderstood; but wherever 
we sympathize with pain, it will be found that the sympathy is pro- 
duced and carried on by subtle combinations with pleasure. We have 
no knowledge, that is, no general principles drawn from the contem- 
plation of particular facts, but what has been built up by pleasure, 
and exists in us by pleasure alone. The Man of science, the Chemist 
and Mathematician, whatever difficulties and disgusts they may 
have had to struggle with, know and feel this. However painful may 
be the objects with which the Anatomist's knowledge is connected, 
he feels that his knowledge is pleasure; and where he has no pleasure 
he has no knowledge. What then does the Poet ? He considers man 
and the objects that surround him as acting and re-acting upon each 
other, so as to produce an infinite complexity of pain and pleasure; 
he considers man in his own nature and in his ordinary life as 
contemplating this with a certain quantity of immediate knowledge, 
with certain convictions, intuitions, and deductions, which from 
habit acquire the quality of intuitions; he considers him as looking 
upon this complex scene of ideas and sensations, and finding every- 
where objects that immediately excite in him sympathies which, from 
the necessities of his nature, are accompanied by an overbalance of 


To this knowledge which all men carry about with them, and to 
these sympathies in which, without any other discipline than that 
o£ our daily life, we are fitted to take delight, the Poet principally 
directs his attention. He considers man and nature as essentially 
adapted to each other, and the mind of man as naturally the mirror 
of the fairest and most interesting properties of nature. And thus 
the Poet, prompted by this feeling of pleasure, which accompanies 
him through the whole course of his studies, converses with general 
nature, with affections akin to those, which, through labour and 
length of time, the Man of science has raised up in himself, by 
conversing with those particular parts of nature which are the objects 
of his studies. The knowledge both of the Poet and the Man of 
science is pleasure; but the knowledge of the one cleaves to us as a 
necessary part of our existence, our natural and unalienable inher- 
itance; the other is a personal and individual acquisition, slow to 
come to us, and by no habitual and direct sympathy connecting us 
with our fellow-beings. The Man of science seeks truth as a remote 
and unknown benefactor; he cherishes and loves it in his solitude: 
the Poet, singing a song in which all human beings join with him, 
rejoices in the presence of truth as our visible friend and hourly 
companion. Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; 
it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all 
Science. Emphatically may it be said of the Poet, as Shakespeare 
hath said of man, 'that he looks before and after.' He is the rock of 
defence for human nature; an upholder and preserver, carrying 
everywhere with him relationship and love. In spite of difference of 
soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs: in 
spite of things silently gone out of mind, and things violently de- 
stroyed; the Poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast 
empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth, and 
over all time. The objects of the Poet's thoughts are everywhere; 
though the eyes and senses of man are, it is true, his favourite guides, 
yet he will follow wheresoever he can find an atmosphere of sensa- 
tion in which to move his wings. Poetry is the first and last of all 
knowledge — it is as immortal as the heart of man. If the labours of 
Men of science should ever create any material revolution, direct or 
indirect, in our condition, and in the impressions which we habitually 


receive, the Poet will sleep then no more than at present; he will be 
ready to follow the steps of the Man of science, not only in those 
general indirect effects, but he will be at his side, carrying sensation 
into the midst of the objects of the science itself. The remotest dis- 
coveries of the Chemist, the Botanist, or Mineralogist, will be as 
proper objects of the Poet's art as any upon which it can be employed, 
if the time should ever come when these things shall be familiar to 
us, and the relations under which they are contemplated by the 
followers of these respective sciences shall be manifestly and palpably 
material to us as enjoying and suilering beings. If the time should 
ever come when what is now called science, thus familiarized to men, 
shall be ready to put on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the 
Poet will lend his divine spirit to aid the transfiguration, and will 
welcome the Being thus produced, as a dear and genuine inmate of 
the household of man. — It is not, then, to be supposed that any one, 
who holds that sublime notion of Poetry which I have attempted to 
convey, will break in upon the sanctity and truth of his pictures by 
transitory and accidental ornaments, and endeavour to excite admira- 
tion of himself by arts, the necessity of which must manifestly depend 
upon the assumed meanness of his subject. 

What has been thus far said applies to Poetry in general; but espe- 
cially to those parts of composition where the Poet speaks through 
the mouths of his characters; and upon this point it appears to 
authorize the conclusion that there are few persons of good sense, 
who would not allow that the dramatic parts of composition are 
defective, in proportion as they deviate from the real language of 
nature, and are coloured by a diction of the Poet's own, either 
peculiar to him as an individual Poet or belonging simply to Poets 
in general; to a body of men who, from the circumstance of their 
compositions being in metre, it is expected will employ a particular 

It is not, then, in the dramatic parts of composition that we look 
for this distinction of language; but still it may be proper and neces- 
sary where the Poet speaks to us in his own person and character. 
To this I answer by referring the Reader to the description before 
given of a Poet. Among the qualities there enumerated as prin- 
cipally conducing to form a Poet, is implied nothing differing in 


kind from other men, but only in degree. The sum of what was 
said is, that the Poet is chiefly distinguished from other men by a 
greater promptness to think and feel without immediate external 
excitement, and a greater power in expressing such thoughts and 
feelings as are produced in him in that manner. But these passions 
and thoughts and feelings are the general passions and thoughts and 
feelings of men. And with what are they connected ? Undoubtedly 
with our moral sentiments and animal sensations, and with the 
causes which excite these; with the operations of the elements, and 
the appearances of the visible universe; with storm and sunshine, 
with the revolutions of the seasons, with cold and heat, with loss 
of friends and kindred, with injuries and resentments, gratitude 
and hope, with fear and sorrow. These, and the like, are the sensa- 
tions and objects which the Poet describes, as they are the sensations 
of other men, and the objects which interest them. The Poet thinks 
and feels in the spirit of human passions. How, then, can his 
language differ in any material degree from that of all other men 
who feel vividly and see clearly ? It might be proved that it is impos- 
sible. But supposing that this were not the case, the Poet might then 
be allowed to use a peculiar language when expressing his feelings 
for his own gratification, or that of men like himself. But Poets do 
not write for Poets alone, but for men. Unless therefore we are advo- 
cates for that admiration which subsists upon ignorance, and that 
pleasure which arises from hearing what we do not understand, the 
Poet must descend from this supposed height; and, in order to 
excite rational sympathy, he must express himself as other men 
express themselves. To this it may be added, that while he is only 
selecting from the real language of men, or, which amounts to the 
same thing, composing accurately in the spirit of such selection, he 
is treading upon safe ground, and we know what we are to expect 
from him. Our feelings are the same with respect to metre; for, 
as it may be proper to remind the Reader, the distinction of metre 
is regular and uniform, and not, like that which is produced by what 
is usually called poetic diction, arbitrary, and subject to infinite 
caprices upon which no calculation whatever can be made. In the 
one case, the Reader is utterly at the mercy of the Poet, respecting 
what imagery or diction he may choose to connect with the passion; 


whereas, in the other, the metre obeys certain laws, to which the 
Poet and Reader both wiUingly submit because they are certain, and 
because no interference is made by them with the passion, but such 
as the concurring testimony of ages has shown to heighten and 
improve the pleasure which co-exists with it. 

It will now be proper to answer an obvious question, namely. Why, 
professing these opinions, have I written in verse? To this, in addi- 
tion to such answer as is included in what has been already said, I 
reply, in the first place, because however I may have restricted myself, 
there is still left open to me what confessedly constitutes the most 
valuable object of all writing, whether in prose or verse; the great 
and universal passions of men, the most general and interesting 
of their occupations, and the entire world of nature before me — 
to supply endless combinations of forms and imagery. Now, 
supposing for a moment that whatever is interesting in these 
objects may be as vividly described in prose, why should I be con- 
demned for attempting to superadd to such description the charm 
which, by the consent of all nations, is acknowledged to exist in 
metrical language? To this, by such as are yet unconvinced, it may 
be answered that a very small part of the pleasure given by Poetry 
depends upon the metre, and that it is injudicious to write in metre, 
unless it be accompanied with the other artificial distinctions of style 
with which metre is usually accompanied, and that, by such devia- 
tion, more will be lost from the shock which will thereby be given 
to the Reader's associations than will be counterbalanced by any 
pleasure which he can derive from the general power of numbers. 
In answer to those who still contend for the necessity of accompany- 
ing metre with certain appropriate colours of style in order to the 
accomplishment of its appropriate end, and who also, in my opinion, 
greatly underrate the power of metre in itself, it might, perhaps, as 
far as relates to these Volumes, have been almost sufficient to observe, 
that poems are extant, written upon more humble subjects, and in 
a still more naked and simple style, which have continued to give 
pleasure from generation to generation. Now, if nakedness and 
simpHcity be a defect, the fact here mentioned affords a strong 
presumption that poems somewhat less naked and simple are ca- 
pable of affording pleasure at the present day; and, what I wish 

TO LYRICAL BALLADS ( 1 8oo) 285 

chiefly to attempt, at present, was to justify myself for having writ- 
ten under the impression of this beUef. 

But various causes might be pointed out why, when the style is 
manly, and the subject of some importance, words metrically ar- 
ranged will long continue to impart such a pleasure to mankind as 
he who proves the extent of that pleasure will be desirous to impart. 
The end of Poetry is to produce excitement in co-existence with an 
overbalance of pleasure; but, by the supposition, excitement is an 
unusual and irregular state of the mind; ideas and feelings do not, 
in that state, succeed each other in accustomed order. If the words, 
however, by which this excitement is produced be in themselves 
powerful, or the images and feelings have an undue proportion of 
pain connected with them, there is some danger that the excitement 
may be carried beyond its proper bounds. Now the co-presence of 
something regular, something to which the mind has been accus- 
tomed in various moods and in a less excited state, cannot but have 
great efficacy in tempering and restraining the passion by an inter- 
texture of ordinary feeling, and of feeling not strictly and necessarily 
connected with the passion. This is unquestionably true; and hence, 
though the opinion will at first appear paradoxical, from the tendency 
of metre to divest language, in a certain degree, of its reality, and 
thus to throw a sort of half-consciousness of unsubstantial existence 
over the whole composition, there can be little doubt but that more 
pathetic situations and sentiments, that is, those which have a greater 
proportion of pain connected with them, may be endured in metrical 
composition, especially in rhyme, than in prose. The metre of the 
old ballads is very artless; yet they contain many passages which 
would illustrate this opinion; and, I hope, if the following Poems 
be attentively perused, similar instances will be found in them. 
This opinion may be further illustrated by appealing to the Reader's 
own experience of the reluctance with which he comes to the re- 
perusal of the distressful parts of Clarissa Harlowe, or The Gamester; 
while Shakespeare's writings, in the most pathetic scenes, never act 
upon us, as pathetic, beyond the bounds of pleasure — an effect which, 
in a much greater degree than might at first be imagined, is to be 
ascribed to small, but continual and regular impulses of pleasurable 
surprise from the metrical arrangement. — On the other hand (what 


it must be allowed will much more frequently happen) if the Poet's 
words should be incommensurate with the passion, and inadequate 
to raise the Reader to a height of desirable excitement, then (un- 
less the Poet's choice of his metre has been grossly injudicious), 
in the feelings of pleasure which the Reader has been accustomed 
to connect with metre in general, and in the feeling, whether 
cheerful or melancholy, which he has been accustomed to con- 
nect with that particular movement of metre, there will be found 
something which will greatly contribute to impart passion to the 
words, and to effect the complex end which the Poet proposes to 

If I had undertaken a systematic defence of the theory here main- 
tained, it would have been my duty to develop the various causes 
upon which the pleasure received from metrical language depends. 
Among the chief of these causes is to be reckoned a principle which 
must be well known to those who have made any of the Arts the 
object of accurate reflection; namely, the pleasure which the mind 
derives from the perception of similitude in dissimilitude. This 
principle is the great spring of the activity of our minds, and their 
chief feeder. From this principle the direction of the sexual appetite, 
and all the passions connected with it, take their origin: it is the life 
of our ordinary conversation; and upon the accuracy with which 
similitude in dissimilitude, and dissimilitude in similitude are per- 
ceived, depend our taste and our moral feelings. It would not be a 
useless employment to apply this principle to the consideration of 
metre, and to show that metre is hence enabled to afford much 
pleasure, and to point out in what manner that pleasure is produced. 
But my limits will not permit me to enter upon this subject, and I 
must content myself with a general summary. 

I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful 
feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquIUity: 
the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tran- 
quillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which 
was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and 
does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful com- 
position generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried 
on; but the emotion, of whatever kind, and in whatever degree, from 


various causes, is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing 
any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind 
will, upon the whole, be in a state of enjoyment. If Nature be thus 
cautious to preserve in a state of enjoyment a being so employed, the 
Poet ought to profit by the lesson held forth to him, and ought 
especially to take care, that, whatever passions he communicates to 
his Reader, those passions, if his Reader's mind be sound and vigor- 
<3us, should always be accompanied with an overbalance of pleasure. 
Now the music of harmonious metrical language, the sense of diflS- 
culty overcome, and the blind association of pleasure which has been 
previously received from works of rhyme or metre of the same or 
similar construction, an indistinct perception perpetually renewed 
of language closely resembling that of real life, and yet, in the cir- 
cumstance of metre, differing from it so widely — all these imper- 
ceptibly make up a complex feeling of delight, which is of the most 
important use in tempering the painful feeling always found inter- 
mingled with powerful descriptions of the deeper passions. This 
effect is always produced in pathetic and impassioned poetry; while, 
in lighter compositions, the ease and gracefulness with which the 
Poet manages his numbers are themselves confessedly a principal 
source of the gratification of the Reader. All that it is necessary to 
say, however, upon this subject, may be effected by affirming, what 
few persons will deny, that, of two descriptions, either of passions, 
manners, or characters, each of them equally well executed, the one 
in prose and the other in verse, the verse wLU be read a hundred times 
where the prose is read once. 

Having thus explained a few of my reasons for writing in verse, 
and why I have chosen subjects from common life, and endeavoured 
to bring my language near to the real language of men, if I have 
been too minute in pleading my own cause, I have at the same time 
been treating a subject of general interest; and for this reason a few 
words shall be added with reference solely to these particular poems, 
and to some defects which will probably be found in them. I am 
sensible that my associations must have sometimes been particular 
instead of general, and that, consequently, giving to things a false 
importance, I may have sometimes written upon unworthy subjects; 
but I am less apprehensive on this account, than that my language 


may frequently have suffered from those arbitrary connexions of 
f eehngs and ideas with particular words and phrases, from which no 
man can altogether protect himself. Hence I have no doubt, that, in 
some instances, feelings, even of the ludicrous, may be given to my 
Readers by expressions which appeared to me tender and pathetic. 
Such faulty expressions, were I convinced they were faulty at present, 
and that they must necessarily continue to be so, I would willingly 
take all reasonable pains to correct. But it is dangerous to make these 
alterations on the simple authority of a few individuals, or even of 
certain classes of men; for where the understanding of an Author is 
not convinced, or his feelings altered, this cannot be done without 
great injury to himself: for his own feelings are his stay and support; 
and, if he set them aside in one instance, he may be induced to repeat 
this act till his mind shall lose all confidence in itself, and become 
utterly debilitated. To this it may be added, that the critic ought 
never to forget that he is himself exposed to the same errors as the 
Poet, and, perhaps, in a much greater degree: for there can be no 
presumption in saying of most readers, that it is not probable they 
will be so well acquainted with the various stages of meaning 
through which words have passed, or with the fickleness or stability 
of the relations of particular ideas to each other; and, above all, since 
they are so much less interested in the subject, they may decide lightly 
and carelessly. 

Long as the Reader has been detained, I hope he will permit me 
to caution him against a mode of false criticism which has been 
applied to Poetry, in which the language closely resembles that of 
life and nature. Such verses have been triumphed over in parodies, 
of which Dr. Johnson's stanza is a fair specimen: — 

I put my hat upon my head 
And walked into the Strand, 
And there I met another man 
Whose hat was in his hand. 

Immediately under these lines let us place one of the most justly 
admired stanzas of the 'Babes in the Wood.' 

These pretty Babes with hand in hand 
Went wandering up and down; 
But never more they saw the Man 
Approaching from the Town. 


In both these stanzas the words, and the order of the words, in no 
respect differ from the most unimpassioned conversation. There 
are words in both, for example, 'the Strand,' and 'the Town,' con- 
nected with none but the most famiHar ideas; yet the one stanza we 
admit as admirable, and the other as a fair example of the superla- 
tively contemptible. Whence arises this difference? Not from the 
metre, not from the language, not from the order of the words; but 
the matter expressed in Dr. Johnson's stanza is contemptible. The 
proper method of treating trivial and simple verses, to which Dr. 
Johnson's stanza would be a fair parallelism, is not to say, this is a 
bad kind of poetry, or, this is not poetry; but, this wants sense; it is 
neither interesting in itself nor can lead to anything interesting; the 
images neither originate in that sane state of feeling which arises 
out of thought, nor can excite thought or feeling in the Reader. 
This is the only sensible manner of dealing with such verses. Why 
trouble yourself about the species till you have previously decided 
upon the genus ? Why take pains to prove that an ape is not a New- 
ton, when it is self-evident that he is not a man ? 

One request I must make of my reader, which is, that In Judging 
these Poems he would decide by his own feelings genuinely, and 
not by reflection upon what will probably be the judgement of others. 
How common is it to hear a person say, I myself do not object to 
this style of composition, or this or that expression, but, to such and 
such classes of people it will appear mean or ludicrous! This mode 
of criticism, so destructive of all sound unadulterated judgement, 
is almost universal: let the Reader then abide, independently, by 
his own feelings, and, if he finds himself affected, let him not suffer 
such conjectures to interfere with his pleasure. 

If an Author, by any single composition, has Impressed us with 
respect for his talents, it is useful to consider this as affording a pre- 
sumption, that on other occasions where we have been displeased, he, 
nevertheless, may not have written ill or absurdly; and further, to 
give him so much credit for this one composition as may induce us 
to review what has displeased us, with more care than we should 
otherwise have bestowed upon it. This is not only an act of justice, 
but, in our decisions upon poetry especially, may conduce, in a high 
degree, to the improvement of our own taste; for an accurate taste in 
poetry, and in all the other arts, as Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed, 


is an acquired talent, which can only be produced by thought and 
a long continued intercourse with the best models of composition. 
This is mentioned, not with so ridiculous a purpose as to prevent the 
most inexperienced Reader from judging for himself (I have already 
said that I wish him to judge for himself), but merely to temper the 
rashness of decision, and to suggest, that, if Poetry be a subject on 
which much time has not been bestowed, the judgement may be 
erroneous; and that, in many cases, it necessarily will be so. 

Nothing would, I know, have so effectually contributed to further 
the end which I have in view, as to have shown of what kind the 
pleasure is, and how that pleasure is produced, which is confessedly 
produced by metrical composition essentially different from that 
which I have here endeavoured to recommend: for the Reader will 
say that he has been pleased by such composition; and what more 
can be done for him? The power of any art is limited; and he will 
suspect, that, if it be proposed to furnish him with new friends, that 
can be only upon condition of his abandoning his old friends. Be- 
sides, as I have said, the Reader is himself conscious of the pleasure 
which he has received from such composition, composition to which 
he has peculiarly attached the endearing name of Poetry; and all men 
feel an habitual gratitude, and something of an honourable bigotry, 
for the objects which have long continued to please them: we not 
only wish to be pleased, but to be pleased in that particular way in 
which we have been accustomed to be pleased. There is in these 
feelings enough to resist a host of arguments; and I should be the 
less able to combat them successfully, as I am willing to allow, that, 
in order entirely to enjoy the Poetry which I am recommending, it 
would be necessary to give up much of what is ordinarily enjoyed. 
But, would my limits have permitted me to point out how this 
pleasure is produced, many obstacles might have been removed, and 
the Reader assisted in perceiving that the powers of language are not 
so limited as he may suppose; and that it is possible for poetry to 
give other enjoyments, of a purer, more lasting, and more exquisite 
nature. This part of the subject has not been altogether neglected, 
but it has not been so much my present aim to prove, that the interest 
excited by some other kinds of poetry is less vivid, and less worthy 
of the nobler powers of the mind, as to offer reasons for presuming. 


that i£ my purpose were fulfilled, a species of poetry would be pro- 
duced, which is genuine poetry; in its nature well adapted to interest 
mankind permanently, and likewise important in the multiplicity 
and quality of its moral relations. 

From what has been said, and from a perusal of the Poems, the 
Reader will be able clearly to perceive the object which I had in 
view: he will determine how far it has been attained; and, what is a 
much more important question, whether it be worth attaining: and 
upon the decision of these two questions will rest my claim to the 
approbation of the Public. 



PERHAPS, as I have no right to expect that attentive perusal, 
Vi^ithout which, confined, as I have been, to the narrow Umits 
of a preface, my meaning cannot be thoroughly understood, 
I am anxious to give an exact notion of the sense in which the phrase 
poetic diction has been used; and for this purpose, a few words shall 
here be added, concerning the origin and characteristics of the phrase- 
ology, which I have condemned under that name. 

The earliest poets of all nations generally wrote from passion ex- 
cited by real events; they wrote naturally, and as men: feeling power- 
fully as they did, their language was daring, and figurative. In suc- 
ceeding times. Poets, and Men ambitious of the fame of Poets, per- 
ceiving the influence of such language, and desirous of producing the 
same effect without being animated by the same passion, set 
themselves to a mechanical adoption of these figures of speech, and 
made use of them, sometimes with propriety, but much more fre- 
quently applied them to feelings and thoughts with which they had 
no natural connexion whatsoever. A language was thus insensibly 
produced, differing materially from the real language of men in 
any situation. The Reader or Hearer of this distorted language 
found himself in a perturbed and unusual state of mind: when 
affected by the genuine language of passion he had been in a per- 
turbed and unusual state of mind also: in both cases he was willing 
that his common judgement and understanding should be laid 
asleep, and he had no instinctive and infallible perception of the true 
to make him reject the false; the one served as a passport for the 
other. The emotion was in both cases delightful, and no wonder if 
he confounded the one with the other, and believed them both to be 
produced by the same, or similar causes. Besides, the Poet spake to 
him in the character of a man to be looked up to, a man of genius 



and authority. Thus, and from a variety of other causes, this dis- 
torted language was received with admiration; and Poets, it is 
probable, who had before contented themselves for the most part 
with misapplying only expressions which at first had been dictated 
by real passion, carried the abuse still further, and introduced phrases 
composed apparently in the spirit of the original figurative language 
of passion, yet altogether of their own invention, and characterized 
by various degrees of wanton deviation from good sense and nature. 
It is indeed true, that the language of the earliest Poets was felt 
to differ materially from ordinary language, because it was the 
language of extraordinary occasions; but it was really spoken by men, 
language which the Poet himself had uttered when he had been 
affected by the events which he described, or which he had heard 
uttered by those around him. To this language it is probable that 
metre of some sort or other was early superadded. This separated 
the genuine language of Poetry still further from common life, so 
that whoever read or heard the poems of these earliest Poets felt 
himself moved in a way in which he had not been accustomed to 
be moved in real life, and by causes manifestly different from those 
which acted upon him in real life. This was the great temptation 
to all the corruptions which have followed: under the protection of 
this feeling succeeding Poets constructed a phraseology which had 
one thing, it is true, in common with the genuine language of poetry, 
namely, that it was not heard in ordinary conversation; that it was 
unusual. But the first Poets, as I have said, spake a language which, 
though unusual, was still the language of men. This circumstance, 
however, was disregarded by their successors; they found that they 
could please by easier means: they became proud of modes of expres- 
sion which they themselves had invented, and which were uttered 
only by themselves. In process of time metre became a symbol or 
promise of this unusual language, and whoever took upon him to 
write in metre, according as he possessed more or less of true poetic 
genius, introduced less or more of this adulterated phraseology into 
his compositions, and the true and the false were inseparately inter- 
woven until, the taste of men becoming gradually perverted, this 
language was received as a natural language: and at length, by the 
influence of books upon men, did to a certain degree really become 


SO. Abuses of this kind were imported from one nation to another, 
and with the progress of refinement this diction became daily more 
and more corrupt, thrusting out of sight the plain humanities of 
nature by a motley masquerade of tricks, quaintnesses, hieroglyphics, 
and enigmas. 

It would not be uninteresting to point out the causes of the pleasure 
given by this extravagant and absurd diction. It depends upon a great 
variety of causes, but upon none, perhaps, more than its influence in 
impressing a notion of the peculiarity and exaltation of the Poet's 
character, and in flattering the Reader's self-love by bringing him 
nearer to a sympathy with that character; an effect which is accom- 
plished by unsettling ordinary habits of thinking, and thus assisting 
the Reader to approach to that perturbed and dizzy state of mind in 
which if he does not find himself, he imagines that he is balked of a 
peculiar enjoyment which poetry can and ought to bestow. 

The sonnet quoted from Gray, in the Preface, except the lines 
printed in italics, consists of little else but this diction, though not of 
the worst kind; and indeed, if one may be permitted to say so, it is 
far too common in the best writers both ancient and modern. Per- 
haps in no way, by positive example could more easily be given a 
notion of what I mean by the phrase poetic diction than by referring 
to a comparison between the metrical paraphrase which we have of 
passages in the Old and New Testament, and those passages as they 
exist in our common Translation. See Pope's Messiah throughout; 
Prior's 'Did sweeter sounds adorn my flowing tongue,' &c. &c. 
'Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,' &c. &c., ist 
Corinthians, ch. xiii. By way of immediate example take the follow- 
ing of Dr. Johnson: 

Turn on the prudent Ant thy heedless eyes, 
Observe her labours, Sluggard, and be wise; 
No stern command, no monitory voice, 
Prescribes her duties, or directs her choice; 
Yet, timely provident, she hastes away 
To snatch the blessings of a plenteous day; 
When fruitful Summer loads the teeming plain, 
She crops the harvest, and she stores the grain. 
How long shall sloth usurp thy useless hours. 
Unnerve thy vigour, and enchain thy powers? 


While artful shades thy downy couch enclose, 

And soft solicitation courts repose, 

Amidst the drowsy charms of dull delight, 

Year chases year with unremitted flight, 

Till Want now following, fraudulent and slow, 

Shall spring to seize thee, like an ambush'd foe. 

From this hubbub of words pass to the original. 'Go to the Ant, 
thou Sluggard, consider her ways, and be wise: which having no 
guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and 
gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O 
Sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, 
a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep. So shall thy 
poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.' 
Proverbs, ch. vi. 

One more quotation, and I have done. It is from Cowper's Verses 
supposed to be written by Alexander Selkirk: 

Religion! what treasure untold 

Resides in that heavenly word! 

More precious than silver and gold, 

Or all that this earth can afford. 

But the sound of the church-going bell 

These valleys and rocks never heard. 

Ne'er sighed at the sound of a knell. 

Or smiled when a sabbath appeared. 

Ye winds, that have made me your sport 

Convey to this desolate shore 

Some cordial endearing report 

Of a land I must visit no more. 

My Friends, do they now and then send 

A wish or a thought after me? 

O tell me I yet have a friend, 

Though a friend I am never to see. 

This passage is quoted as an instance of three different styles of 
composition. The first four lines are poorly expressed; some Critics 
would call the language prosaic; the fact is, it would be bad prose, 
so bad, that it is scarcely worse in metre. The epithet 'church-going' 
applied to a bell, and that by so chaste a writer as Cowper, is an 
instance of the strange abuses which Poets have introduced into their 
language, till they and their Readers take them as matters of course. 


if they do not single them out expressly as objects o£ admiration. 
The two lines 'Ne'er sighed at the sound,' &c., are, in my opinion, 
an instance of the language of passion wrested from its proper use, 
and, from the mere circumstance of the composition being in metre, 
applied upon an occasion that does not justify such violent expres- 
sions; and I should condemn the passage, though perhaps few Read- 
ers will agree with me, as vicious poetic diction. The last stanza is 
throughout admirably expressed: it would be equally good whether 
in prose or verse, except that the Reader has an exquisite pleasure in 
seeing such natural language so naturally connected with metre. 
The beauty of this stanza tempts me to conclude with a principle 
which ought never to be lost sight of, and which has been my chief 
guide in all I have said, — namely, that in works of imagination and 
sentiment, for of these only have I been treating, in proportion as 
ideas and feelings are valuable, whether the composition be in prose 
or in verse, they require and exact one and the same language. Metre 
is but adventitious to composition, and the phraseology for which 
that passport is necessary, even where it may be graceful at all, will 
be little valued by the judicious. 



THE powers requisite for the production of poetry are: first, 
those of Observation and Description, — i. e. the ability to 
observe with accuracy things as they are in themselves, and 
with fidelity to describe them, unmodified by any passion or feeling 
existing in the mind of the describer; whether the things depicted 
be actually present to the senses, or have a place only in the memory. 
This power, though indispensable to a Poet, is one which he employs 
only in submission to necessity, and never for a continuance of time: 
as its exercise supposes all the higher qualities of the mind to be pas- 
sive, and in a state of subjection to external objects, much in the same 
way as a translator or engraver ought to be to his original. 2ndly, 
Sensibility, — which, the more exquisite it is, the wider will be the 
range of a poet's perceptions; and the more will he be incited to 
observe objects, both as they exist in themselves and as re-acted upon 
by his own mind. (The distinction between poetic and human sen- 
sibility has been marked in the character of the Poet delineated in 
the original preface.) 3rdly, Reflection, — which makes the Poet ac- 
quainted with the value of actions, images, thoughts, and feelings; 
and assists the sensibility in perceiving their connexion with each 
other. 4thly, Imagination and Fancy, — to modify, to create, and to 
associate. 5thly, Invention, — by which characters are composed out 
of materials supplied by observation; whether of the Poet's own 
heart and mind, or of external life and nature; and such incidents 
and situations produced as are most impressive to the imagination, 
and most fitted to do justice to the characters, sentiments, and pas- 
sions, which the Poet undertakes to illustrate. And, lastly. Judge- 
ment, to decide how and where, and in what degree, each of these 
faculties ought to be exerted; so that the less shall not be sacrificed 
to the greater; nor the greater, slighting the less, arrogate, to its own 



injury, more than its due. By judgement, also, is determined what 
are the laws and appropriate graces of every species of composition.' 

The materials of Poetry, by these powers collected and produced, 
are cast, by means of various moulds, into divers forms. The moulds 
may be enumerated, and the forms specified, in the following order. 
I St, The Narrative, — including the Epopceia, the Historic Poem, the 
Tale, the Romance, the Mock-heroic, and, if the spirit of Homer 
will tolerate such neighbourhood, that dear production of our days, 
the metrical Novel. Of this Class, the distinguishing mark is, that 
the Narrator, however liberally his speaking agents be introduced, is 
himself the source from which everything primarily flows. Epic 
Poets, in order that their mode of composition may accord with the 
elevation of their subject, represent themselves as singing from the 
inspiration of the Muse, 'Arma virumque cano;' but this is a fiction, 
in modern times, of slight value: the Iliad or the Paradise Lost would 
gain little in our estimation by being chanted. The other poets who 
belong to this class are commonly content to tell their tale; — so that 
of the whole it may be affirmed that they neither require nor reject 
the accompaniment of music. 

2ndly, The Dramatic, — consisting of Tragedy, Historic Drama, 
Comedy, and Masque, in which the Poet does not appear at all in 
his own person, and where the whole action is carried on by speech 
and dialogue of the agents; music being admitted only incidentally 
and rarely. The Opera may be placed here, inasmuch as it proceeds 
by dialogue; though depending, to the degree that it does, upon 
music, it has a strong claim to be ranked with the lyrical. The 
characteristic and impassioned Epistle, of which Ovid and Pope 
have given examples, considered as a species of monodrama, may, 
without impropriety, be placed in this class. 

3rdly, The Lyrical, — containing the Hymn, the Ode, the Elegy, 
the Song, and the Ballad; in all which, for the production of their 
full effect, an accompaniment of music is indispensable. 

4thly, The Idyllium, — descriptive chiefly either of the processes 
and appearances of external nature, as the Seasons of Thomson; or 
of characters, manners, and sentiments, as are Shenstone's School- 

' As sensibility to harmony of numbers, and the power of producing it, are in- 
variably attendants upon the faculties above specified, nothing has been said upon 
those requisites. 

TO POEMS (1815) 299 

mistress, The Cotter's Saturday Night of Burns, The Twa Dogs of 
the same Author; or of these in conjunction with the appearances of 
Nature, as most of the pieces of Theocritus, the Allegro and Pen- 
seroso of Milton, Beattie's Minstrel, Goldsmith's Deserted Village. 
The Epitaph, the Inscription, the Sonnet, most of the epistles of 
poets writing in their own persons, and all loco-descriptive poetry, 
belonging to this class. 

5thly, Didactic, — the principal object of which is direct instruc- 
tion; as the Poem of Lucretius, the Georgics of Virgil, The Fleece 
of Dyer, Mason's English Garden, &c. 

And, lastly, philosophical Satire, like that of Horace and Juvenal; 
personal and occasional Satire rarely comprehending sufficient of the 
general in the individual to be dignified with the name of poetry. 

Out of the three last has been constructed a composite order, of 
which Young's Night Thoughts, and Cowper's TasJ{, are excellent 

It is deducible from the above, that poems apparently miscel- 
laneous, may with propriety be arranged either with reference to 
the powers of mind predominant in the production of them; or to 
the mould in which they are cast; or, lastly, to the subjects to which 
they relate. From each of these considerations, the following Poems 
have been divided into classes; which, that the work may more 
obviously correspond with the course of human life, and for the 
sake of exhibiting in it the three requisites of a legitimate whole, a 
beginning, a middle, and an end, have been also arranged, as far 
as it was possible, according to an order of time, commencing with 
Childhood, and terminating with Old Age, Death, and Immortality. 
My guiding wish was, that the small pieces of which these volumes 
consist, thus discriminated, might be regarded under a two-fold 
view; as composing an entire work within themselves, and as ad- 
juncts to the philosophical Poem, The Recluse. This arrangement 
has long presented itself habitually to my own mind. Nevertheless, 
I should have preferred to scatter the contents of these volumes at 
random, if I had been persuaded that, by the plan adopted, anything 
material would be taken from the natural effect of the pieces, indi- 
vidually, on the mind of the unreflecting Reader. I trust there is a 
sufficient variety in each class to prevent this; while, for him who 


reads with reflection, the arrangement will serve as a commentary 
unostentatiously directing his attention to my purposes, both par- 
ticular and general. But, as I wish to guard against the possibility of 
misleading by this classification, it is proper first to remind the 
Reader, that certain poems are placed according to the powers of 
mind, in the Author's conception, predominant in the production of 
them; predominant, which implies the exertion of other faculties in 
less degree. Where there is more imagination than fancy in a poem, 
it is placed under the head of imagination, and vice versa. Both the 
above classes might without impropriety have been enlarged from 
that consisting of 'Poems founded on the Affection;' as might this 
latter from those, and from the class 'proceeding from Sentiment 
and Reflection.' The most striking characteristics of each piece, 
mutual illustration, variety, and proportion, have governed me 

None of the other Classes, except those of Fancy and Imagination, 
require any particular notice. But a remark of general application 
may be made. All Poets, except the dramatic, have been in the prac- 
tice of feigning that their works were composed to the music of 
the harp or lyre: with what degree of affectation this has been done 
in modern times, I leave to the judicious to determine. For my own 
part, I have not been disposed to violate probability so far, or to make 
such a large demand upon the Reader's charity. Some of these pieces 
are essentially lyrical; and, therefore, cannot have their due force 
without a supposed musical accompaniment; but, in much the 
greatest part, as a substitute for the classic lyre or romantic harp, I 
require nothing more than an animated or impassioned recitation, 
adapted to the subject. Poems, however humble in their kind, if 
they be good in that kind, cannot read themselves; the law of long 
syllable and short must not be so inflexible, — the letter of metre must 
not be so impassive to the spirit of versification, — as to deprive the 
Reader of all voluntary power to modulate, in subordination to the 
sense, the music of the poem; — in the same manner as his mind is 
left at liberty, and even summoned, to act upon its thoughts and 
images. But, though the accompaniment of a musical instrument 
be frequently dispensed with, the true Poet does not therefore 
abandon his privilege distinct from that of the mere Proseman; 

TO POEMS (1815) 301 

He murmurs near the running brooks 
A music sweeter than their own. 

Let us come now to the consideration of the words Fancy and 
Imagination, as employed in the classification of the following 
Poems. 'A man,' says an intelligent author, 'has imagination in 
proportion as he can distinctly copy in idea the impressions of sense : 
it is the faculty which images within the mind the phenomena of 
sensation. A man has fancy in proportion as he can call up, connect, 
or associate, at pleasure, those internal images {(pavra^eiv is to cause 
to appear) so as to complete ideal representations of absent objects. 
Imagination is the power of depicting, and fancy of evoking and 
combining. The imagination is formed by patient observation; the 
fancy by a voluntary activity in shifting the scenery of the mind. 
The more accurate the imagination, the more safely may a painter, 
or a poet, undertake a delineation, or a description, without the 
presence of the objects to be characterized. The more versatile the 
fancy, the more original and striking will be the decorations pro- 
duced.' — British Synonyms discriminated, by W. Taylor. 

Is not this as if a man should undertake to supply an account 
of a building, and be so intent upon what he had discovered of the 
foundation, as to conclude his task without once looking up at the 
superstructure? Here, as in other instances throughout the volume, 
the judicious Author's mind is enthralled by Etymology; he takes 
up the original word as his guide and escort, and too often does not 
perceive how soon he becomes its prisoner, without liberty to tread 
in any path but that to which it confines him. It is not easy to find 
out how imagination, thus explained, differs from distinct remem- 
brance of images; or fancy from quick and vivid recollection of 
them: each is nothing more than a mode of memory. If the two 
words bear the above meaning, and no other, what term is left to 
designate that faculty of which the Poet is 'all compact;' he whose 
eyes glances from earth to heaven, whose spiritual attributes body 
forth what his pen is prompt in turning to shape; or what is left 
to characterize Fancy, as insinuating herself into the heart of ob- 
jects with creative activity? — Imagination, in the sense of the word 
as giving title to a class of the following Poems, has no reference 
to images that are merely a faithful copy, existing in the mind, of 


absent external objects; but is a word of higher import, denoting 
operations of the mind upon those objects, and processes of creation 
or of composition, governed by certain fixed laws. I proceed to 
illustrate my meaning by instances. A parrot hangs from the wires 
of his cage by his beak or by his claws; or a monkey from the bough 
of a tree by his paws or his tail. Each creature does so literally and 
actually. In the first Eclogue of Virgil, the shepherd, thinking of 
the time when he is to take leave of his farm, thus addresses his 
goats: — 

Non ego vos posthac viridi projectus in antro 
Dumosa pendere procul de rupe videbo. 

half way down 

Hangs one who gathers samphire, 

is the well-known expression of Shakespeare, delineating an ordinary 
image upon the cliffs of Dover. In these two instances is a shght 
exertion of the faculty which I denominate imagination, in the use 
of one word : neither the goats nor the samphire-gatherer do literally 
hang, as does the parrot or the monkey; but, presenting to the senses 
something of such an appearance, the mind in its activity, for its 
own gratification, contemplates them as hanging. 

As when far off at sea a fleet descried 

Hangs in the clouds, by equinoctial winds 

Close sailing from Bengala, or the isles 

Of Ternate or Tidore, whence merchants bring 

Their spicy drugs; they on the trading flood 

Through the wide Ethiopian to the Cape 

Ply, stemming nightly toward the Pole; so seemed 

Far off the flying Fiend. 

Here is the full strength of the imagination involved in the word 
hangs, and exerted upon the whole image: First, the fleet, an aggre- 
gate of many ships, is represented as one mighty person, whose track, 
we know and feel, is upon the waters; but, taking advantage of its 
appearance to the senses, the Poet dares to represent it as hanging in 
the clouds, both for the gratification of the mind in contemplating 
the image itself, and in reference to the motion and appearance of 
the sublime objects to which it is compared. 

TO POEMS (1815) 303 

From impressions of sight we will pass to those of sound; which, 
as they must necessarily be of a less definite character, shall be 
selected from these volumes: 

Over his own sweet voice the Stock-dove broods; 

of the same bird, 

His voice was buried among trees. 
Yet to be come at by the breeze; 

O, Cuckoo! shall I call thee Bird, 
Or but a wandering Voice? 

The stock-dove is said to coo, a sound well imitating the note of 
the bird; but, by the intervention of the metaphor broods, the affec- 
tions are called in by the imagination to assist in marking the manner 
in which the bird reiterates and prolongs her soft note, as if herself 
delighting to listen to it, and participating of a still and quiet satis- 
faction, like that which may be supposed inseparable from the 
continuous process of incubation. 'His voice was buried among trees,' 
a metaphor expressing the love of seclusion by which this Bird is 
marked; and characterizing its note as not partaking of the shrill 
and the piercing, and therefore more easily deadened by the inter- 
vening shade; yet a note so peculiar and withal so pleasing, that the 
breeze, gifted with that love of the sound which the Poet feels, 
penetrates the shades in which it is entombed, and conveys it to the 
ear of the listener. 

Shall I call thee Bird, 

Or but a wandering Voice? 

This concise interrogation characterizes the seeming ubiquity of 
the voice of the cuckoo, and dispossesses the creature almost of a 
corporeal existence; the Imagination being tempted to this exertion 
of her power by a consciousness in the memory that the cuckoo is 
almost perpetually heard throughout the season of spring, but seldom 
becomes an object of sight. 

Thus far of images independent of each other, and immediately 
endowed by the mind with properties that do not inhere in them, 
upon an incitement from properties and qualities the existence of 


which is inherent and obvious. These processes of imagination are 
carried on either by conferring additional properties upon an object, 
or abstracting from it some of those which it actually possesses, and 
thus enabling it to react upon the mind which hath performed the 
process, like a new existence. 

I pass from the Imagination acting upon an individual image to 
a consideration of the same faculty employed upon images in a con- 
junction by which they modify each other. The Reader has already 
had a fine instance before him in the passage quoted from Virgil, 
where the apparently perilous situation of the goat, hanging upon the 
shaggy precipice, is contrasted with that of the shepherd contemplat- 
ing it from the seclusion of the cavern in which he lies stretched at 
ease and in security. Take these images separately, and how unaflect- 
ing the picture compared with that produced by their being thus 
connected with, and opposed to, each other! 

As a huge stone is sometimes seen to lie 
Couched on the bald top of an eminence, 
Wonder to all who do the same espy 
By what means it could thither come, and whence, 
So that it seems a thing endued with sense, 
Like a sea-beast crawled forth, which on a shelf 
Of rock or sand reposeth, there to sun himself. 

Such seemed this Man; not all alive or dead 
Nor all asleep, in his extreme old age. 

Motionless as a cloud the old Man stood, 

That heareth not the loud winds when they call, 

And moveth altogether if it move at all. 

In these images, the conferring, the abstracting, and the modifying 
powers of the Imagination, immediately and mediately acting, are 
all brought into conjunction. The stone is endowed with something 
of the power of life to approximate it to the sea-beast; and the sea- 
beast stripped of some of its vital qualities to assimilate it to the 
stone; which intermediate image is thus treated for the purpose of 
bringing the original image, that of the stone, to a nearer resemblance 
to the figure and condition of the aged Man; who is divested of so 
much of the indications of life and motion as to bring him to the 

TO POEMS (1815) 305 

point where the two objects unite and coalesce in just comparison. 
After what has been said, the image of the cloud need not be com- 
mented upon. 

Thus far of an endowing or modifying power: but the Imagina- 
tion also shapes and creates; and how? By innumerable processes; 
and in none does it more delight than in that of consolidating num- 
bers into unity, and dissolving and separating unity into number, — 
alternations proceeding from, and governed by, a sublime conscious- 
ness of the soul in her own mighty and almost divine powers. Recur 
to the passage already cited from Milton. When the compact Fleet, 
as one Person, has been introduced 'sailing from Bengala,' 'They,' 
i. e. the 'merchants,' representing the fleet resolved into a multitude 
of ships, 'ply' their voyage towards the extremities of the earth: 
'So' (referring to the word 'As' in the commencement) 'seemed the 
flying Fiend'; the image of his Person acting to recombine the multi- 
tude of ships into one body, — the point from which the comparison 
set out. 'So seemed,' and to whom seemed? To the heavenly Muse 
who dictates the poem, to the eye of the Poet's mind, and to that of 
the Reader, present at one moment in the wide Ethiopian, and the 
next in the solitudes, then first broken in upon, of the infernal 


Modo me Thebis, modo ponit Athenis. 

Hear again this mighty Poet, — speaking of the Messiah going forth 
to expel from heaven the rebellious angels. 

Attended by ten thousand thousand Saints 
He onward came: far off his coming shone, — 

the retinue of Saints, and the Person of the Messiah himself, lost 
almost and merged in the splendour of that indefinite abstraction 
'His coming!' 

As I do not mean here to treat this subject further than to throw 
some light upon the present Volumes, and especially upon one 
division of them, I shall spare myself and the Reader the trouble of 
considering the Imagination as it deals with thoughts and sentiments, 
as it regulates the composition of characters, and determines the 
course of actions: I will not consider it (more than I have already 


done by implication) as that power which, in the language of one 
of my most esteemed Friends, 'draws all things to one; which makes 
things animate or inanimate, beings with their attributes, subjects 
with their accessories, take one colour and serve to one efifect.'^ ' The 
grand storehouses of enthusiastic and meditative Imagination, of 
poetical, as contra-distinguished from human and dramatic Imagina- 
tion, are the prophetic and lyrical parts of the Holy Scriptures, and 
the works of Milton; to which I cannot forbear to add to those of 
Spenser. I select these writers in preference to those of ancient Greece 
and Rome, because the anthropomorphitism of the Pagan religion 
subjected the minds of the greatest poets in those countries too much 
to the bondage of definite form; from which the Hebrews were 
preserved by their abhorrence of idolatry. This abhorrence was 
almost as strong in our great epic Poet, both from circumstances of 
his life, and from the constitution of his mind. However imbued the 
surface might be with classical literature, he was a Hebrew in soul; 
and all things tended in him towards the sublime. Spenser, of a 
gentler nature, maintained his freedom by aid of his allegorical 
spirit, at one time inciting him to create persons out of abstractions; 
and, at another, by a superior effort of genius, to give the universality 
and permanence of abstractions to his human beings, by means of 
attributes and emblems that belong to the highest moral truths and 
the purest sensations, — of which his character of Una is a glorious 
example. Of the human and dramatic Imagination the works of 
Shakespeare are an inexhaustible source. 

I tax not you, ye Elements, with unkindness, 

I never gave you kingdoms, call'd you Daughters! 

And if, bearing in mind the many Poets distinguished by this 
prime quality, whose names I omit to mention; yet justified by 
recollection of the insults which the ignorant, the incapable, and the 
presumptuous, have heaped upon these and my other writings, I 
may be permitted to anticipate the judgment of posterity upon my- 
self, I shall declare (censurable, I grant, if the notoriety of the fact 
above stated does not justify me) that I have given in these unfa- 
vourable times evidence of exertions of this faculty upon its worthiest 

^ Charles Lamb upon the genius of Hogarth. 

TO POEMS (1815) 307 

objects, the external universe, the moral and religious sentiments of 
Man, his natural affections, and his acquired passions; which have 
the same ennobling tendency as the productions of men, in this kind, 
worthy to be holden in undying remembrance. 

To the mode in which Fancy has already been characterized as the 
power of evoking and combining, or, as my friend Mr. Coleridge 
has styled it, 'the aggregative and associative power,' my objection 
is only that the definition is too general. To aggregate and to asso- 
ciate, to evoke and to combine, belong as well to the Imagination 
as to the Fancy; but either the materials evoked and combined are 
different; or they are brought together under a different law, and 
for a different purpose. Fancy does not require that the materials 
which she makes use of should be susceptible of change in their 
constitution, from her touch; and, where they admit of modification, 
it is enough for her purpose if it be slight, limited, and evanescent. 
Directly the reverse of these, are the desires and demands of the 
Imagination. She recoils from everything but the plastic, the pliant, 
and the indefinite. She leaves it to Fancy to describe Queen Mab 
as coming. 

In shape no bigger than an agate-stone 

On the fore-finger of an alderman. 

Having to speak of stature, she does not tell you that her gigantic 
Angel was as tall as Pompey's Pillar; much less that he was twelve 
cubits, or twelve hundred cubits high; or that his dimensions 
equalled those of Teneriffe or Atlas; — because these, and if they 
were a million times as high it would be the same, are bounded: 
The expression is, 'His stature reached the sky!' the illimitable 
firmament! — When the Imagination frames a comparison, if it does 
not strike on the first presentation, a sense of the truth of the like- 
ness, from the moment that it is perceived, grows — and continues to 
grow — upon the mind; the resemblance depending less upon outline 
of form and feature, than upon expression and effect; less upon casual 
and outstanding, than upon inherent and internal, properties : more- 
over, the images invariably modify each other. — The law under 
which the processes of Fancy are carried on is as capricious as the 
accidents of things, and the effects are surprising, playful, ludicrous, 
amusing, tender, or pathetic, as the objects happen to be appositely 


produced or fortunately combined. Fancy depends upon the rapidity 
and profusion with which she scatters her thoughts and images; 
trusting that their number, and the felicity with which they are 
linked together, will make amends for the want of individual value: 
or she prides herself upon the curious subtilty and the successful 
elaboration with which she can detect their lurking affinities. If 
she can win you over to her purpose, and impart to you her feelings, 
she cares not how unstable or transitory may be her influence, know- 
ing that it will not be out of her power to resume it upon an apt 
occasion. But the Imagination is conscious of an indestructible 
dominion; — the Soul may fall away from it, not being able to sus- 
tain its grandeur; but, if once felt and acknowledged, by no act of 
any other faculty of the mind can it be relaxed, impaired, or dimin- 
ished. — Fancy is given to quicken and to beguile the temporal part 
of our nature. Imagination to incite and to support the eternal. — 
Yet is it not the less true that Fancy, as she is an active, is also, under 
her own laws and in her own spirit, a creative faculty? In what 
manner Fancy ambitiously aims at a rivalship with Imagination, and 
Imagination stoops to work with the materials of Fancy, might be 
illustrated from the compositions of all eloquent writers, whether 
in prose or verse; and chiefly from those of our own Country. 
Scarcely a page of the impassioned parts of Bishop Taylor's Works 
can be opened that shall not afford examples. — Referring the Reader 
to those inestimable volumes, I will content myself with placing a 
conceit (ascribed to Lord Chesterfield) in contrast with a passage 
from the Paradise Lost: 

The dews of the evening most carefully shun, 
They are the tears of the sky for the loss of the sun. 

After the transgression of Adam, Milton, with other appearances of 
sympathizing Nature, thus marks the immediate consequence. 

Sky lowered, and, muttering thunder, some sad drops 
Wept at completion of the mortal sin. 

The associating link is the same in each instance: Dew and rain, not 
distinguishable from the liquid substance of tears, are employed as 
indications of sorrow. A flash of surprise is the effect in the former 

TO POEMS (1815) 309 

case; a flash of surprise, and nothing more; for the nature of things 
does not sustain the combination. In the latter, the effects from the 
act, of which there is this immediate consequence and visible sign, 
are so momentous, that the mind acknowledges the justice and 
reasonableness of the sympathy in nature so manifested; and the sky 
weeps drops of water as if with human eyes, as 'Earth had before 
trembled from her entrails, and Nature given a second groan.' 

Finally, I will refer to Cotton's Ode upon Winter, an admirable 
composition, though stained with some peculiarities of the age in 
which he lived, for a general illustration of the characteristics of 
Fancy. The middle part of this ode contains a most lively description 
of the entrance of Winter, with his retinue, as 'A palsied king,' and 
yet a military monarch, — advancing for conquest with his army; the 
several bodies of which, and their arms and equipments, are de- 
scribed with a rapidity of detail, and a profusion of fanciful compari- 
sons, which indicate on the part of the poet extreme activity of 
intellect, and a correspondent hurry of delightful feeling. Winter 
retires from the foe into his fortress, where 

a magazine 
Of sovereign juice is cellared in; 
Liquor that will the siege maintain 
Should Phcebus ne'er return again. 

Though myself a water drinker, I cannot resist the pleasure of 
transcribing what follows, as an instance still more happy of Fancy 
employed in the treatment of feeling than, in its preceding passages, 
the Poem supplies of her management of forms. 

'Tis that, that gives the poet rage. 
And thaws the gelid blood of age; 
Matures the young, restores the old, 
And makes the fainting coward bold. 

It lays the careful head to rest, 
Calms palpitations in the breast. 
Renders our lives' misfortune sweet; 

Then let the chill Sirocco blow. 

And gird us round with hills of snow, 

Or else go whistle to the shore. 

And make the hollow mountains roar, 


Whilst we together jovial sit 
Careless, and crowned with mirth and wit, 
Where, though bleak winds confine us home 
Our fancies round the world shall roam. 

We'll think of all the Friends we know, 
And drink to all worth drinking to; 
When having drunk all thine and mine. 
We rather shall want healths than wine. 

But where Friends fail us, we'll supply 
Our friendships with our charity; 
Men that remote in sorrows live, 
Shall by our lusty brimmers thrive. 

We'll drink the wanting into wealth, 
And those that languish into health, 
The afflicted into joy; th' opprest 
Into security and rest. 

The worthy in disgrace shall find 
Favour return again more kind. 
And in restraint who stifled lie. 
Shall taste the air of liberty. 

The brave shall triumph in success. 
The lover shall have mistresses. 
Poor unregarded Virtue, praise. 
And the neglected Poet, bays. 

Thus shall our healths do others good, 
Whilst we ourselves do all we would; 
For, freed from envy and from care, 
What would we be but what we are? 

When I sate down to write this Preface, it was my intention to 
have made it more comprehensive; but, thinking that I ought rather 
to apologize for detaining the reader so long, I will here conclude. 



WITH the young of both sexes, Poetry is, Uke love, a pas- 
sion; but, for much the greater part of those who have 
been proud of its power over their minds, a necessity soon 
arises of breaking the pleasing bondage; or it relaxes of itself; — the 
thoughts being occupied in domestic cares, or the time engrossed by 
business. Poetry then becomes only an occasional recreation; while 
to those whose existence passes away in a course of fashionable 
pleasure, it is a species of luxurious amusement. In middle and 
declining age, a scattered number of serious persons resort to poetry, 
as to religion, for a protection against the pressure of trivial employ- 
ments, and as a consolation for the afflictions of life. And, lastly, 
there are many, who, having been enamoured of this art in their 
youth, have found leisure, after youth was spent, to cultivate general 
literature; in which poetry has continued to be comprehended as 
a study. 

Into the above classes the Readers of poetry may be divided; 
Critics abound in them all; but from the last only can opinions be 
collected of absolute value, and worthy to be depended upon, as 
prophetic of the destiny of a new work. The young, who in nothing 
can escape delusion, are especially subject to it in their intercourse 
with Poetry. The cause, not so obvious as the fact is unquestionable, 
is the same as that from which erroneous judgements in this art, in 
the minds of men of all ages, chiefly proceed; but upon Youth it 
operates with peculiar force. The appropriate business of poetry 
(which, nevertheless, if genuine, is as permanent as pure science), 
her appropriate employment, her privilege and her duty, is to treat 
of things not as they are, but as they appear; not as they exist in 
themselves, but as they seem to exist to the senses, and to the passions. 
What a world of delusion does this acknowledged obligation pre- 



pare for the inexperienced! what temptations to go astray are here 
held forth for them whose thoughts have been httle discipHned by 
the understanding, and whose feelings revolt from the sway of rea- 
son! — When a juvenile Reader is in the height of his rapture with 
some vicious passage, should experience throw in doubts, or common 
sense suggest suspicions, a lurking consciousness that the realities of 
the Muse are but shows, and that her liveliest excitements are raised 
by transient shocks of conflicting feeling and successive assemblages 
of contradictory thoughts — is ever at hand to justify extravagance, 
and to sanction absurdity. But, it may be asked, as these illusions 
are unavoidable, and, no doubt, eminently useful to the mind as a 
process, what good can be gained by making observations, the 
tendency of which is to diminish the confidence of youth in its feel- 
ings, and thus to abridge its innocent and even profitable pleasures ? 
The reproach imphed in the question could not be warded off, if 
Youth were incapable of being delighted with what is truly excellent; 
or, if these errors always terminated of themselves in due season. 
But, with the majority, though their force be abated, they continue 
through life. Moreover, the fire of youth is too vivacious an elemerit 
to be extinguished or damped by a philosophical remark; and, while 
there is no danger that what has been said will be injurious or painful 
to the ardent and the confident, it may prove beneficial to those 
who, being enthusiastic, are, at the same time, modest and ingenuous. 
The intimation may unite with their own misgivings to regulate 
their sensibility, and to bring in, sooner than it would otherwise have 
arrived, a more discreet and sound judgement. 

If it should excite wonder that men of ability, in later life, whose 
understandings have been rendered acute by practice in affairs, 
should be so easily and so far imposed upon when they happen to 
take up a new work in verse, this appears to be the cause; — that, 
having discontinued their attention to poetry, whatever progress 
may have been made in other departments of knowledge, they have 
not, as to this art, advanced in true discernment beyond the age of 
youth. If, then, a new poem fall in their way, whose attractions are 
of that kind which would have enraptured them during the heat 
of youth, the judgement not being improved to a degree that they 
shall be disgusted, they are dazzled; and prize and cherish the faults 


for having had power to make the present time vanish before them, 
and to throw the mind back, as by enchantment, into the happiest 
season of Hfe. As they read, powers seem to be revived, passions are 
regenerated, and pleasures restored. The Book was probably taken 
up after an escape from the burden of business, and with a wish to 
forget the world, and all its vexations and anxieties. Having obtained 
this wish, and so much more, it is natural that they should make 
report as they have felt. 

If Men of mature age, through want of practice, be thus easily 
beguiled into admiration of absurdities, extravagances, and mis- 
placed ornaments, thinking it proper that their understandings 
should enjoy a holiday, while they are unbending their minds with 
verse, it may be expected that such Readers will resemble their 
former selves also in strength of prejudice, and an inaptitude to be 
moved by the unostentatious beauties of a pure style. In the higher 
poetry, an enlightened Critic chiefly looks for a reflection of the 
wisdom of the heart and the grandeur of the imagination. Wherever 
these appear, simplicity accompanies them; Magnificence herself, 
when legitimate, depending upon a simplicity of her own, to regu- 
late her ornaments. But it is a well-known property of human nature, 
that our estimates are ever governed by comparisons, of which we 
are conscious with various degrees of distinctness. Is it not, then, 
inevitable (confining these observations to the effects of style merely) 
that an eye, accustomed to the glaring hues of diction by which such 
Readers are caught and excited, will for the most part be rather 
repelled than attracted by an original Work, the colouring of which 
is disposed according to a pure and refined scheme of harmony ? It 
is in the fine arts as in the affairs of life, no man can serve (i. e. obey 
with zeal and fidelity) two Masters. 

As Poetry is most just to its own divine origin when it administers 
the comforts and breathes the spirit of religion, they who have 
learned to perceive this truth, and who betake themselves to reading 
verse for sacred purposes, must be preserved from numerous illusions 
to which the two Classes of Readers, whom we have been consider- 
ing, are liable. But, as the mind grows serious from the weight of 
life, the range of its passions is contracted accordingly; and its sym- 
pathies become so exclusive, that many species of high excellence 


wholly escape, or but languidly excite, its notice. Besides, men who 
read from religious or moral inclinations, even when the subject is 
of that kind which they approve, are beset with misconceptions and 
mistakes peculiar to themselves. Attaching so much importance to 
the truths which interest them, they are prone to overrate the Authors 
by whom those truths are expressed and enforced. They come pre- 
pared to impart so much passion to the Poet's language, that they 
remain unconscious how little, in fact, they receive from it. And, on 
the other hand, religious faith is to him who holds it so momentous 
a thing, and error appears to be attended with such tremendous 
consequences, that, if opinions touching upon religion occur which 
the Reader condemns, he not only cannot sympathize with them, 
however animated the expression, but there is, for the most part, 
an end put to all satisfaction and enjoyment. Love, if it before 
existed, is converted into dislike; and the heart of the Reader is set 
against the Author and his book. — To these excesses, they, who from 
their professions ought to be the most guarded against them, are 
perhaps the most liable; I mean those sects whose religion, being 
from the calculating understanding, is cold and formal. For when 
Christianity, the religion of humility, is founded upon the proudest 
faculty of our nature, what can be expected but contradictions? 
Accordingly, believers of this cast are at one time contemptuous; at 
another, being troubled, as they are and must be, with inward mis- 
givings, they are jealous and suspicious; — and at all seasons, they 
are under temptation to supply by the heat with which they defend 
their tenets, the animation which is wanting to the constitution of 
the religion itself. 

Faith was given to man that his affections, detached from the 
treasures of time, might be inclined to settle upon those of eternity; 
— the elevation of his nature, which this habit produces on earth, 
being to him a presumptive evidence of a future state of existence; 
and giving him a title to partake of its holiness. The religious man 
values what he sees chiefly as an 'imperfect shadowing forth' of what 
he is incapable of seeing. The concerns of religion refer to indefinite 
objects, and are too weighty for the mind to support them without 
relieving itself by resting a great part of the burthen upon words 
and symbols. The commerce between Man and his Maker cannot 


be carried on but by a process where much is represented in little, 
and the Infinite Being accommodates himself to a finite capacity. In 
all this may be perceived the affinity between religion and poetry; 
between religion — making up the deficiencies of reason by faith; 
and poetry — ^passionate for the instruction of reason; between reli- 
gion — whose element is infinitude, and whose ultimate trust is the 
supreme of things, submitting herself to circumscription, and recon- 
ciled to substitutions; and poetry — ethereal and transcendent, yet 
incapable to sustain her existence without sensuous incarnation. In 
this community of nature may be perceived also the lurking incite- 
ments of kindred error; — so that we shall find that no poetry has 
been more subject to distortion, than that species, the argument and 
scope of which is religious ; and no lovers of the art have gone farther 
astray than the pious and the devout. 

Whither then shall we turn for that union of qualifications which 
must necessarily exist before the decisions of a critic can be of abso- 
lute value? For a mind at once poetical and philosophical; for a 
critic whose affections are as free and kindly as the spirit of society, 
and whose understanding is severe as that of dispassionate govern- 
ment? Where are we to look for that initiatory composure of mind 
which no selfishness can disturb? For a natural sensibility that has 
been tutored into correctness without losing anything of its quick- 
ness; and for active faculties, capable of answering the demands 
which an Author of original imagination shall make upon them, 
associated with a judgement that cannot be duped into admiration 
by aught that is unworthy of it? — among those and those only, who, 
never having suffered their youthful love of poetry to remit much 
of its force, have applied to the consideration of the laws of this art 
the best power of their understandings. At the same time it must 
be observed — that, as this Class comprehends the only judgements 
which are trustworthy, so does it include the most erroneous and 
perverse. For to be mistaught is worse than to be untaught; and no 
perverseness equals that which is supported by system, no errors are 
so difficult to root out as those which the understanding has pledged 
its credit to uphold. In this Class are contained censors, who, if they 
be pleased with what is good, are pleased with it only by imperfect 
glimpses, and upon false principles;' who, should they generalize 


rightly, to a certain point, are sure to suffer for it in the end; who, if 
they stumble upon a sound rule, are fettered by misapplying it, or 
by straining it too far; being incapable of perceiving when it ought 
to yield to one of higher order. In it are found critics too petulant to 
be passive to a genuine poet, and too feeble to grapple with him; 
men, who take upon them to report of the course which he holds 
whom they are utterly unable to accompany, — confounded if he turn 
quick upon the wing, dismayed if he soar steadily 'into the region'; 
— men of palsied imaginations and indurated hearts; in whose minds 
all healthy action is languid, who therefore feed as the many direct 
them, or, with the many, are greedy after vicious provocatives; — 
judges, whose censure is auspicious, and whose praise ominous! In 
this class meet together the two extremes of best and worst. 

The observations presented in the foregoing series are of too ungra- 
cious a nature to have been made without reluctance; and, were it 
only on this account, I would invite the reader to try them by the 
test of comprehensive experience. ^ ihe number of judges who can 
be confidently relied upon be in reality so small, it ought to follow 
that partial notice only, or neglect, perhaps long continued, or atten- 
tion wholly inadequate to their merits — must have been the fate of 
most works in the higher departments of poetry; and that, on the 
other hand, numerous productions have blazed into popularity, and 
have passed away, leaving scarcely a trace behind them: it will be 
further found, that when Authors shall have at length raised them- 
selves into general admiration and maintained their ground, errors 
and prejudices have prevailed concerning their genius and their 
works, which the few who are conscious of those errors and preju- 
dices would deplore; if they were not recompensed by perceiving 
that there are select Spirits for whom it is ordained that their fame 
shall be in the world an existence like that of Virtue, which owes 
its being to the struggles it makes, and its vigour to the enemies 
whom it provokes; — a vivacious quality, ever doomed to meet with 
opposition, and still triumphing over it; and, from the nature of its 
dominion, incapable of being brought to the sad conclusion of 
Alexander, when he wept that there were no more worlds for him 
to conquer. 

Let us take a hasty retrospect of the poetical literature of this Coun- 


try for the greater part of the last two centuries, and see if the facts 
support these inferences. 

Who is there that now reads the Creation of Dubartas? Yet all 
Europe once resounded with his praise; he was caressed by kings; 
and, when his Poem was translated into our language, the Faery 
Queen faded before it. The name of Spenser, whose genius is of a 
higher order than even that of Ariosto, is at this day scarcely known 
beyond the Hmits of the British Isles. And if the value of his works 
is to be estimated from the attention now paid to them by his country- 
men, compared with that which they bestow on those of some other 
writers, it must be pronounced small indeed. 

The laurel, meed of mighty conquerors 
And poets sage — 

are his own words; but his wisdom has, in this particular, been his 
worst enemy: while its opposite, whether in the shape of folly or 
madness, has been their best friend. But he was a great power, and 
bears a high name: the laurel has been awarded to him. 

A dramatic Author, if he write for the stage, must adapt himself 
to the taste of the audience, or they will not endure him; accordingly 
the mighty genius of Shakespeare was listened to. The people were 
delighted: but I am not sufficiently versed in stage antiquities to 
determine whether they did not flock as eagerly to the representation 
of many pieces of contemporary Authors, wholly undeserving to 
appear upon the same boards. Had there been a formal contest for 
superiority among dramatic writers, that Shakespeare, like his pre- 
decessors Sophocles and Euripides, would have often been subject 
to the mortification of seeing the prize adjudged to sorry competitors, 
becomes too probable, when we reflect that the admirers of Settle 
and Shadwell were, in a later age, as numerous, and reckoned as 
respectable, in point of talent, as those of Dryden. At all events, that 
Shakespeare stooped to accommodate himself to the People, is suffi- 
ciently apparent; and one of the most striking proofs of his almost 
omnipotent genius is, that he could turn to such glorious purpose 
those materials which the prepossessions of the age compelled him to 
make use of. Yet even this marvellous skill appears not to have been 
enough to prevent his rivals from having some advantage over him 


in public estimation; else how can we account for passages and scenes 
that exist in his works, unless upon a supposition that some of the 
grossest of them, a fact which in my own mind I have no doubt 
of, were foisted in by the Players, for the gratification of the many? 

But that his Works, whatever might be their reception upon the 
stage, made but little impression upon the ruling Intellects of the 
time, may be inferred from the fact that Lord Bacon, in his multi- 
farious writings, nowhere either quotes or alludes to him.' His 
dramatic excellence enabled him to resume possession of the stage 
after the Restoration; but Dry den tells us that in his time two of 
the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher were acted for one of Shake- 
speare's. And so faint and limited was the perception of the poetic 
beauties of his dramas in the time of Pope, that, in his Edition of 
the Plays, with a view of rendering to the general reader a necessary 
service, he printed between inverted commas those passages which 
he thought most worthy of notice. 

At this day, the French Critics have abated nothing of their aver- 
sion to this darling of our Nation : 'the English, with their bouffon de 
Shakespeare,' is as familiar an expression among them as in the time 
of Voltaire. Baron Grimm is the only French writer who seems to 
have perceived his infinite superiority to the first names of the French 
Theatre; an advantage which the Parisian Critic owed to his German 
blood and German education. The most enlightened Italians, though 
well acquainted with our language, are wholly incompetent to 
measure the proportions of Shakespeare. The Germans only, of 
foreign nations, are approaching towards a knowledge and feeling 
of what he is. In some respects they have acquired a superiority over 
the fellow countrymen of the Poet: for among us it is a current, I 
might say, an established opinion, that Shakespeare is justly praised 
when he is pronounced to be 'a wild irregular genius, in whom great 
faults are compensated by great beauties.' How long may it be 
before this misconception passes away, and it becomes universally 
acknowledged that the judgement of Shakespeare in the selection of 
his materials, and in the manner in which he has made them, hetero- 

'The learned Hakewill (a third edition of whose book bears date 1635), writing 
to refute the error 'touching Nature's perpetual and universal decay,' cites triumph- 
antly the names of Ariosto, Tasso, Bartas, and Spenser, as instances that poetic genius 
had not degenerated; but he makes no mention of Shakespeare. 


geneous as they often are, constitute a unity of their own, and con- 
tribute all to one great end, is not less admirable than his imagination, 
his invention, and his intuitive knowledge of human Nature? 

There is extant a small Volume of miscellaneous poems, in which 
Shakespeare expresses his own feelings in his own person. It is not 
difficult to conceive that the Editor, George Steevens, should have 
been insensible to the beauties of one portion of that Volume, the 
Sonnets; though in no part of the writings of this Poet is found, 
in an equal compass, a greater number of exquisite feelings felici- 
tously expressed. But, from regard to the Critic's own credit, he 
would not have ventured to talk of an^ act of parliament not being 
strong enough to compel the perusal of those little pieces, if he had 
not known that the people of England were ignorant of the treasures 
contained in them : and if he had not, moreover, shared the too com- 
mon propensity of human nature to exult over a supposed fall into 
the mire of a genius whom he had been compelled to regard with 
admiration, as an inmate of the celestial regions — 'there sitting where 
he durst not soar.' 

Nine years before the death of Shakespeare, Milton was born; 
and early in life he published several small poems, which, though on 
their first appearance they were praised by a few of the judicious, 
were afterwards neglected to that degree, that Pope in his youth 
could borrow from them without risk of its being known. Whether 
these poems are at this day justly appreciated, I will not undertake 
to decide: nor would it imply a severe reflection upon the mass 
of readers to suppose the contrary; seeing that a man of the acknowl- 
edged genius of Voss, the German poet, could suffer their spirit to 
evaporate; and could change their character, as is done in the trans- 
lation made by him of the most popular of these pieces. At all events, 
it is certain that these Poems of Milton are now much read, and 
loudly praised; yet were they little heard of till more than 150 
years after their publication; and of the Sonnets, Dr. Johnson, as 
appears from Boswell's Life of him, was in the habit of thinking 

' This flippant insensibility was publicly reprehended by Mr. Coleridge in a course 
of Lectures upon Poetry given by him at the Royal Institution. For the various 
merits of thought and language in Shakespeare's Sonnets, see Nos. 27, 29, 30, 32, 33, 
54, 64, 66, 68, 73, 76, 86, 91, 92, 93, 97, 98, 105, 107, 108, 109, III, 113, 114, 116, 
117, 129, and many others. 


and speaking as contemptuously as Steevens wrote upon those o£ 

About the time when the Pindaric odes of Cowley and his imita- 
tors, and the productions of that class of curious thinkers whom Dr. 
Johnson has strangely styled metaphysical Poets, were beginning 
to lose something of that extravagant admiration which they had 
excited, the Paradise Lost made its appearance. 'Fit audience find 
though few,' was the petition addressed by the Poet to his inspiring 
Muse. I have said elsewhere that he gained more than he asked; 
this I believe to be true; but Dr. Johnson has fallen into a gross 
mistake when he attempts to prove, by the sale of the work, that 
Milton's Countrymen were 'just to it' upon its first appearance. 
Thirteen hundred Copies were sold in two years; an uncommon 
example, he asserts, of the prevalence of genius in opposition to so 
much recent enmity as Milton's public conduct had excited. But, be 
it remembered that, if Milton's political and religious opinions, and 
the manner in which he announced them, had raised him many 
enemies, they had procured him numerous friends; who, as all per- 
sonal danger was passed away at the time of publication, would 
be eager to procure the master-work of a man whom they revered, 
and whom they would be proud of praising. Take, from the number 
of purchasers, persons of this class, and also those who wished to 
possess the Poem as a religious work, and but few I fear would be 
left who sought for it on account of its poetical merits. The demand 
did not immediately increase; 'for,' says Dr. Johnson, 'many more 
readers' (he means persons in the habit of reading poetry) 'than 
were supplied at first the Nation did not afford.' How careless must 
a writer be who can make this assertion in the face of so many 
existing title-pages to belie it! Turning to my own shelves, I find 
the folio of Cowley, seventh edition, 1681. A book near it is Flat- 
man's Poems, fourth edition, 1686; Waller, fifth edition, same date. 
The Poems of Norris of Bemerton not long after went, I believe, 
through nine editions. What further demand there might be for 
these works I do not know; but I well remember that, twenty-live 
years ago, the booksellers' stalls in London swarmed with the folios 
of Cowley. This is not mentioned in disparagement of that able 
writer and amiable man; but merely to show that, if Milton's Works 


were not more read, it was not because readers did not exist at the 
time. The early editions of the Paradise Lost were printed in a shape 
which allowed them to be sold at a low price, yet only three 
thousand copies of the Work were sold in eleven years; and the 
Nation, says Dr. Johnson, had been satisfied from 1623 to 1664, that 
is, forty-one years, with only two editions of the Works of Shake- 
speare; which probably did not together make one thousand Copies; 
facts adduced by the critic to prove the 'paucity of Readers.' — There 
were readers in multitudes; but their money went for other purposes, 
as their admiration was fixed elsewhere. We are authorized, then, to 
afBrm that the reception of the Paradise Lost, and the slow progress 
of its fame, are proofs as striking as can be desired that the positions 
which I am attempting to establish are not erroneous.' — How 
amusing to shape to one's self such a critique as a Wit of Charles's 
days, or a Lord of the Miscellanies or trading Journalist of King 
William's time, would have brought forth, if he had set his faculties 
industriously to work upon this Poem, everywhere impregnated with 
original excellence. 

So strange indeed are the obliquities of admiration, that they 
whose opinions are much influenced by authority will often be 
tempted to think that there are no fixed principles* in human nature 
for this art to rest upon. I have been honoured by being permitted to 
peruse in MS. a tract composed between the period of the Revolution 
and the close of that century. It is the Work of an English Peer of 
high accomplishments, its object to form the character and direct the 
studies of his son. Perhaps nowhere does a more beautiful treatise 
of the kind exist. The good sense and wisdom of the thoughts, the 
delicacy of the feelings, and the charm of the style, are, throughout, 
equally conspicuous. Yet the Author, selecting among the Poets of 
his own country those whom he deems most worthy of his son's 
perusal, particularizes only Lord Rochester, Sir John Denham, and 
Cowley. Writing about the same time, Shaftesbury, an author 

' Hughes is express upon this subject: in his dedication of Spenser's Worlcs to Lord 
Somers, he writes thus: 'It was your Lordship's encouraging a beautiful edition of 
Paradise Lost that first brought that incomparable Poem to be generally known and 

■'This opinion seems actually to have been entertained by Adam Smith, the worst 
critic, David Hume not excepted, that Scodand, a soil to which this sort of weed 
seems natural, has produced. 


at present unjustly depreciated, describes the English Muses as 
only yet lisping in their cradles. 

The arts by which Pope, soon afterwards, contrived to procure 
to himself a more general and a higher reputation than perhaps any 
English Poet ever attained during his lifetime, are known to the 
judicious. And as well known is it to them, that the undue exertion 
of those arts is the cause why Pope has for some time held a rank in 
literature, to which, if he had not been seduced by an over-love of 
immediate popularity, and had confided more in his native genius, 
he never could have descended. He bewitched the nation by his 
melody, and dazzled it by his polished style and was himself blinded 
by his own success. Having wandered from humanity in his 
Eclogues with boyish inexperience, the praise, which these composi- 
tions obtained, tempted him into a belief that Nature was not to be 
trusted, at least in pastoral Poetry. To prove this by example, he 
put his friend Gay upon writing those Eclogues which their author 
intended to be burlesque. The instigator of the work, and his 
admirers, could perceive in them nothing but what was ridiculous. 
Nevertheless, though these Poems contain some detestable passages, 
the effect, as Dr. Johnson well observes, 'of reality and truth became 
conspicuous even when the intention was to show them grovelling 
and degraded.' The Pastorals, ludicrous to such as prided them- 
selves upon their refinement, in spite of those disgusting passages, 
'became popular, and were read with delight, as just representations 
of rural manners and occupations.' 

Something less than sixty years after the publication of the 
Paradise Lost appeared Thomson's Winter; which was speedily 
followed by his other Seasons. It is a work of inspiration; much of 
it is written from himself, and nobly from himself. How was it 
received? 'It was no sooner read,' says one of his contemporary 
biographers, 'than universally admired: those only excepted who 
had not been used to feel, or to look for anything in poetry, beyond 
a point of satirical or epigrammatic wit, a smart antithesis richly 
trimmed with rime, or the softness of an elegiac complaint. To such 
his manly classical spirit could not readily commend itself; till, after 
a more attentive perusal, they had got the better of their prejudices, 
and either acquired or affected a truer taste. A few others stood aloof. 


merely because they had long before fixed the articles of their poetical 
creed, and resigned themselves to an absolute despair of ever seeing 
anything nevi^ and original. These were somewhat mortified to 
find their notions disturbed by the appearance of a poet, who seemed 
to owe nothing but to nature and his own genius. But, in a short 
time, the applause became unanimous; every one wondering how so 
many pictures, and pictures so familiar, should have moved them but 
faintly to what they felt in his descriptions. His digressions too, the 
overflowings of a tender benevolent heart, charmed the reader no 
less; leaving him in doubt, whether he should more admire the 
Poet or love the Man.' 

This case appears to bear strongly against us: — but we must dis- 
tinguish between wonder and legitimate admiration. The subject 
of the work is the changes produced in the appearances of nature by 
the revolution of the year: and, by undertaking to write in verse, 
Thomson pledged himself to treat his subject as became a Poet. Now, 
it is remarkable that, excepting the nocturnal Reverie of Lady 
Winchelsea, and a passage or two in the Windsor Forest of Pope, the 
poetry of the period intervening between the publication of the 
Paradise Lost and the Seasons does not contain a single new image 
of external nature; and scarcely presents a familiar one from which 
it can be inferred that the eye of the Poet has been steadily fixed upon 
his object, much less that his feelings had urged him to work upon 
it in the spirit of genuine imagination. To what a low state knowl- 
edge of the most obvious and important phenomena had sunk, is 
evident from the style in which Dryden has executed a description 
of Night in one of his Tragedies, and Pope his translation of the 
celebrated moonlight scene in the Iliad. A blind man, in the habit 
of attending accurately to descriptions casually dropped from the 
lips of those around him, might easily depict these appearances with 
more truth. Dryden's lines are vague, bombastic, and senseless;' 
those of Pope, though he had Homer to guide him, are throughout 

' Cortes, alone in a night-gown. 
All things are hush'd as Nature's self lay dead; 
The mountains seem to nod their drowsy head. 
The litde Birds in dreams their songs repeat, 
And sleeping Flowers beneath the Night-dew sweat: 
Even Lust and Envy sleep; yet Love denies 
Rest to my soul, and slumber to my eyes. 

Dryden's Indian Emperor. 


false and contradictory. The verses of Dryden, once highly cele- 
brated, are forgotten; those of Pope still retain their hold upon 
public estimation, — nay, there is not a passage of descriptive poetry, 
which at this day finds so many and such ardent admirers. Strange 
to think of an enthusiast, as may have been the case with thousands, 
reciting those verses under the cope of a moonlight sky, without 
having his raptures in the least disturbed by a suspicion of their 
absurdity! — If these two distinguished writers could habitually think 
that the visible universe was of so little consequence to a poet, that 
it was scarcely necessary for him to cast his eyes upon it, we may be 
assured that those passages of the elder poets which faithfully and 
poetically describe the phenomena of nature, were not at that time 
holden in much estimation, and that there was litde accurate atten- 
tion paid to those appearances. 

Wonder is the natural product of Ignorance; and as the soil was 
in such good condition at the time of the publication of the Seasons 
the crop was doubtless abundant. Neither individuals nor nations 
become corrupt all at once, nor are they enlightened in a moment. 
Thomson was an inspired poet, but he could not work miracles; in 
cases where the art of seeing had in some degree been learned, the 
teacher would further the proficiency of his pupils, but he could do 
little more; though so far does vanity assist men in acts of self- 
deception, that many would often fancy they recognized a likeness 
when they knew nothing of the original. Having shown that much 
of what his biographer deemed genuine admiration must in fact have 
been blind wonderment — how is the rest to be accounted for? — 
Thomson was fortunate in the very title of his poem, which seemed 
to bring it home to the prepared sympathies of every one: in the 
next place, notwithstanding his high powers, he writes a vicious style; 
and his false ornaments are exactly of that kind which would be 
most likely to strike the undiscerning. He likewise abounds with 
sentimental commonplaces, that, from the manner in which they 
were brought forward, bore an imposing air of novelty. In any well- 
used copy of the Seasons the book generally opens of itself with the 
rhapsody on love, or with one of the stories (perhaps 'Damon and 
Musidora') ; these also are prominent in our collections of Extracts, 
and are the parts of his Work which, after all, were probably most 


efficient ir first recommending the author to general notice. Pope, 
repaying praises which he had received, and wishing to extol him to 
the highest, only styles him 'an elegant and philosophical Poet'; nor 
are we able to collect any unquestionable proofs that the true char- 
acteristics of Thomson's genius as an imaginative poet' were per- 
ceived, till the elder Warton, almost forty years after the publication 
of the Seasons, pointed them out by a note in his Essay on the Life 
and Writings of Pope. In the Castle of Indolence (of which 
Gray speaks so coldly) these characteristics were almost as con- 
spicuously displayed, and in verse more harmonious and diction 
more pure. Yet that fine poem was neglected on its appearance, and 
is at this day the delight only of a few! 

When Thomson died, Collins breathed forth his regrets in an 
Elegiac Poem, in which he pronounces a poetical curse upon him 
who should regard with insensibility the place where the Poet's 
remains were deposited. The Poems of the mourner himself have 
now passed through innumerable editions, and are universally 
known; but if, when Collins died, the same kind of imprecation 
had been pronounced by a surviving admirer, small is the number 
whom it would not have comprehended. The notice which his 
poems attained during his lifetime was so small, and of course the 
sale so insignificant, that not long before his death he deemed it 
right to repay to the bookseller the sum which he had advanced for 
them and threw the edition into the fire. 

Next in importance to the Seasons of Thomson, though a consid- 
erable distance from that work in order of time, come the Reliques 
of Ancient English Poetry; collected, new-modelled, and in many 
instances (if such a contradiction in terms may be used) composed 
by the Editor, Dr. Percy. This work did not steal silently into the 
world, as is evident from the number of legendary tales, that appeared 
not long after its publication; and had been modelled, as the 
authors persuaded themselves, after the old Ba:llad. The Compilation 
was, however, ill suited to the then existing taste of city society; 
and Dr. Johnson, 'mid the little senate to which he gave laws, was 

* Since these observations upon Thomson were written, I have perused the second 
edition of his Seasons, and find that even that does not contain the most striking 
passages which Warton points out for admiration; these, with other improvements 
throughout the whole work, must have been added at a later period. 


not sparing in his exertions to make it an object o£ contempt. The 
critic triumphed, the legendary imitators were deservedly disre- 
garded, and, as undeservedly, their ill-imitated models sank, in this 
country, into temporary neglect; while Biirger, and other able writers 
of Germany, were translating or imitating these Reliques, and 
composing, with the aid of inspiration thence derived, poems which 
are the delight of the German nation. Dr. Percy was so abashed by 
the ridicule flung upon his labours from the ignorance and insensi- 
bility of the persons with whom he lived, that, though while he was 
writing under a mask he had not wanted resolution to follow 
his genius into the regions of true simplicity and genuine pathos (as 
is evinced by the exquisite ballad of Sir Cauline and by many other 
pieces), yet when he appeared in his own person and character as 
a poetical writer, he adopted, as in the tale of the Hermit of War\- 
worth, a diction scarcely in any one of its features distinguishable 
from the vague, the glossy, and unfeeling language of his day. I 
mention this remarkable fact^ with regret, esteeming the genius of 
Dr. Percy in this kind of writing superior to that of any other man by 
whom in modern times it has been cultivated. That even Burger (to 
whom Klopstock gave, in my hearing, a commendation which he 
denied to Goethe and Schiller, pronouncing him to be a genuine poet, 
and one of the few among the Germans whose works would last) 
had not the fine sensibility of Percy, might be shown from many 
passages, in which he has deserted his original only to go astray. For 

Now daye was gone, and night was come. 
And all were fast asleepe, 
All save the Lady Emeline, 
Who sate in her bowre to weepe: 

And soone she heard her true Love's voice 
Low whispering at the walle, 

^Shenstone, in his Schoolmistress, gives a still more remarkable instance of this 
timidity. On its first appearance (see D'Israeli's 2d Series of the Curiosities of 
Literature) the Poem was accompanied with an absurd prose commentary, showing, 
as indeed some incongruous expressions in the text imply, that the whole was in- 
tended for burlesque. In subsequent editions, the commentary was dropped, and the 
People have since continued to read in seriousness, doing for the Author what he 
had not courage openly to venture upon for himself. 


Awake, awake, my dear Ladye, 
'Tis I thy true-love call. 

Which is thus tricked out and dilated; 

Als nun die Nacht Gebirg' und Thai 
Vermummt in Rabenschatten, 
Und Hochburgs Lampen uberall 
Schon ausgeflimmert hatten, 
Und alles tief entschlafen war; 
Doch nur das Fraulein immerdar, 
VoU Fieberangst, noch wachte, 
Und seinen Ritter dachte: 

Da horch! Ein susser Liebeston 
Kam leis' empor geflogen. 
'Ho, Trudchen, ho! Da bin ich schon! 
Frisch auf! Dich angezogen!' 

But from humble ballads we must ascend to heroics. 

All hail, Macpherson! hail to thee, Sire of Ossian! The Phantom 
was begotten by the snug embrace of an impudent Highlander upon 
a cloud of tradition — it travelled southward, where it was greeted 
with acclamation, and the thin Consistence took its course through 
Europe, upon the breath of popular applause. The Editor of the 
Reliques had indirectly preferred a claim to the praise of invention, 
by not concealing that his supplementary labours were considerable! 
how selfish his conduct, contrasted with that of the disinterested Gael, 
who, like Lear, gives his kingdom away, and is content to become a 
pensioner upon his own issue for a beggarly pittance! — Open this 
far-famed Book! — I have done so at random, and the beginning of 
the Epic Poem Tetnora, in eight Books, presents itself. 'The blue 
waves of Ullin roll in light. The green hills are covered with day. 
Trees shake their dusky heads in the breeze. Grey torrents pour 
their noisy streams. Two green hills with aged oaks surround a 
narrow plain. The blue course of a stream is there. On its banks 
stood Cairbar of Atha. His spear supports the king; the red eyes 
of his fear are sad. Cormac rises on his soul with all his ghastly 
wounds.' Precious memorandums from the pocket-book of the blind 


If it be unbecoming, as I acknowledge that for the most part it 
is, to speak disrespectfully of Works that have enjoyed for a length 
of time a widely-spread reputation, without at the same time produc- 
ing irrefragable proofs of their unworthiness, let me be forgiven 
upon this occasion. — Having had the good fortune to be born and 
reared in a mountainous country, from my very childhood I have 
felt the falsehood that pervades the volumes imposed upon the world 
under the name of Ossian. From what I saw with my own eyes, I 
knew that the imagery was spurious. In nature everything is distinct, 
yet nothing defined into absolute independent singleness. In Mac- 
pherson's work it is exactly the reverse; everything (that is not 
stolen) is in this manner defined, insulated, dislocated, deadened, — 
yet nothing distinct. It will always be so when words are substituted 
for things. To say that the characters never could exist, that the 
manners are impossible, and that a dream has more substance than 
the whole state of society, as there depicted, is doing nothing more 
than pronouncing a censure which Macpherson defied; when, with 
the steeps of Morven before his eyes, he could talk so familiarly of his 
Car-borne heroes; — of Morven, which, if one may judge from its 
appearance at the distance of a few miles, contains scarcely an acre of 
ground sufficiently accommodating for a sledge to be trailed along 
its surface. — Mr. Malcolm Laing has ably shown that the diction of 
this pretended translation is a motley assemblage from all quarters; 
but he is so fond of making out parallel passages as to call poor 
Macpherson to account for his 'ands' and his 'butsl' and he has 
weakened his argument by conducting it as if he thought that every 
striking resemblance was a conscious plagiarism. It is enough that 
the coincidences are too remarkable for its being probable or possible 
that they could arise in different minds without communication 
between them. Now as the Translators of the Bible, and Shake- 
speare, Milton, and Pope, could not be indebted to Macpherson, it 
follows that he must have owed his fine feathers to them; unless we 
are prepared gravely to assert, with Madame de Stael, that many of 
the characteristic beauties of our most celebrated English Poets are 
derived from the ancient Fingallian; in which case the modern 
translator would have been but giving back to Ossian his own. — 
It is consistent that Lucien Buonaparte, who could censure Milton 
for having surrounded Satan in the infernal regions with courtly 


and regal splendour, should pronounce the modern Ossian to be 
the glory o£ Scotland; — a country that has produced a Dunbar, a 
Buchanan, a Thomson, and a Burns! These opinions are of ill 
omen for the Epic ambition of him who has given them to the 

Yet, much as those pretended treasures of antiquity have been 
admired, they have been wholly uninfluential upon the literature of 
the Country. No succeeding writer appears to have caught from 
them a ray of inspiration; no author, in the least distinguished, has 
ventured formally to imitate them — except the boy, Chatterton, on 
their first appearance. He had perceived, from the successful trials 
which he himself had made in literary forgery, how few critics were 
able to distinguish between a real ancient medal and a counterfeit of 
modern manufacture; and he set himself to the work of filling a 
magazine with Saxon Poems, — counterparts of those of Ossian, as 
like his as one of his misty stars is to another. This incapability to 
amalgamate with the literature of the Island is, in my estimation, 
a decisive proof that the book is essentially unnatural; nor should I 
require any other to demonstrate it to be a forgery, audacious as 
worthless. — Contrast, in this respect, the effect of Macpherson's publi- 
cation with the Reliques of Percy, so unassuming, so modest in their 
pretensions! — I have already stated how much Germany is indebted 
to this latter work; and for our own country, its poetry has been 
absolutely redeemed by it. I do not think that there is an able 
writer in verse of the present day who would not be proud to 
acknowledge his obligations to the Reliques; I know that it is so 
with my friends; and, for myself, I am happy in this occasion to make 
a public avowal of my own. 

Dr. Johnson, more fortunate in his contempt of the labours of 
Macpherson than those of his modest friend, was solicited not long 
after to furnish Prefaces biographical and critical for the works of 
some of the most eminent English Poets. The booksellers took upon 
themselves to make the collection; they referred probably to the 
most popular miscellanies, and, unquestionably, to their books of 
accounts; and decided upon the claim of authors to be admitted into 
a body of the most eminent, from the familiarity of their names with 
the readers of that day, and by the profits, which, from the sale of 
his works, each had brought and was bringing to the Trade. The 


Editor was allowed a limited exercise of discretion, and the Authors 
whom he recommended are scarcely to be mentioned without a smile. 
We open the volume of Prefatory Lives, and to our astonishment 
the first name we find is that of Cowley! — What is become of the 
morning-star of English Poetry? Where is the bright Elizabethan 
constellation ? Or, if names be more acceptable than images, where is 
the ever-to-be-honoured Chaucer ? where is Spenser ? where Sidney ? 
and, lastly, where he, whose rights as a poet, contra-distinguished 
from those which he is universally allowed to possess as a dramatist, 
we have vindicated, — where Shakespeare? — These, and a multitude 
of others not unworthy to be placed near them, their contemporaries 
and successors, we have not. But in their stead, we have (could better 
be expected when precedence was to be settled by an abstract of 
reputation at any given period made, as in this case before us?) 
Roscommon, and Stepney, and Phillips, and Walsh, and Smith, and 
Duke, and King, and Spratt — Halifax, Granville, Sheffield, Con- 
greve, Broome, and other reputed Magnates — metrical writers utterly 
worthless and useless, except for occasions like the present, when 
their productions are referred to as evidence what a small quantity 
of brain is necessary to procure a considerable stock of admiration, 
provided the aspirant will accommodate himself to the likings and 
fashions of his day. 

As I do not mean to bring down this retrospect to our own times, 
it may with propriety be closed at the era of this distinguished event. 
From the literature of other ages and countries, proofs equally cogent 
might have been adduced, that the opinions announced in the 
former part of this Essay are founded upon truth. It was not an 
agreeable office, nor a prudent undertaking, to declare them; but their 
importance seemed to render it a duty. It may still be asked, where 
lies the particular relation of what has been said to these Volumes? 
— The question will be easily answered by the discerning Reader 
who is old enough to remember the taste that prevailed when some 
of these poems were first published, seventeen years ago; who has 
also observed to what degree the poetry of this Island has since that 
period been coloured by them; and who is further aware of the 
unremitting hostility with which, upon some principle or other, 
they have each and all been opposed. A sketch of my own notion 


of the constitution of Fame has been given; and, as far as concerns 
myself, I have cause to be satisfied. The love, the admiration, the 
indifference, the shght, the aversion, and even the contempt, with 
which these Poems have been received, knowing, as I do, the source 
within my own mind, from which they have proceeded, and the 
labour and pains, which, when labour and pains appeared needful, 
have been bestowed upon them, must all, if I think consistently, be 
received as pledges and tokens, bearing the same general impression, 
though widely different in value; — they are all proofs that for the 
present time I have not laboured in vain; and afford assurances, more 
or less authentic, that the products of my industry will endure. 

If there be one conclusion more forcibly pressed upon us than 
another by the review which has been given of the fortunes and fate 
of poetical Works, it is this — that every author, as far as he is great 
and at the same time original, has had the task of creating the taste 
by which he is to be enjoyed : so has it been, so will it continue to be. 
This remark was long since made to me by the philosophical Friend 
for the separation of whose poems from my own I have previously 
expressed my regret. The predecessors of an original Genius of a 
high order will have smoothed the way for all that he has in com- 
mon with them; — and much he will have in common; but, for what 
is peculiarly his own, he will be called upon to clear and often to 
shape his own road: — he will be in the condition of Hannibal among 
the Alps. 

And where lies the real difficulty of creating that taste by which 
a truly original poet is to be relished? Is it in breaking the bonds 
of custom, in overcoming the prejudices of false refinement, and 
displacing the aversions of inexperience? Or, if he labour for an 
object which here and elsewhere I have proposed to myself, does it 
consist in divesting the reader of the pride that induces him to dwell 
upon those points wherein men differ from each other, to the 
exclusion of those in which all men are alike, or the same; and in 
making him ashamed of the vanity that renders him insensible of 
the appropriate excellence which civil arrangements, less unjust than 
might appear, and Nature illimitable in her bounty, had conferred 
on men who may stand below him in the scale of society ? Finally, 
does it lie in establishing that dominion over the spirits of readers 


by which they are to be humbled and humanized, in order that they 
may be purified and exalted ? 

If these ends are to be attained by the mere communication of 
knowledge, it does not lie here. — Taste, I would remind the reader, 
like Imagination, is a word which has been forced to extend its 
services far beyond the point to which philosophy would have con- 
fined them. It is a metaphor, taken from a passive sense of the 
human body, and transferred to things which are in their essence 
not passive, — to intellectual acts and operations. The word, Imagina- 
tion, has been overstrained, from impulses honourable to mankind, 
to meet the demands of the faculty which is perhaps the noblest of 
our nature. In the instance of Taste, the process has been reversed; 
and from the prevalence of dispositions at once injurious and dis- 
creditable, being no other than that selfishness which is the child of 
apathy,- — which, as Nations decline in productive and creative power, 
makes them value themselves upon a presumed refinement of judg- 
ing. Poverty of language is the primary cause of the use which we 
make of the word. Imagination; but the word, Taste, has been 
stretched to the sense which it bears in modern Europe by habits of 
self-conceit, inducing that inversion in the order of things whereby 
a passive faculty is made paramount among the faculties conversant 
with the fine arts. Proportion and congruity, the requisite knowledge 
being supposed, are subjects upon which taste may be trusted; it is 
competent to this office — for in its intercourse with these the mind 
is passive, and is affected painfully or pleasurably as by an instinct. 
But the profound and the exquisite in feeling, the lofty and universal 
in thought and imagination; or, in ordinary language, the pathetic 
and the sublime; — are neither of them, accurately speaking, objects 
of a faculty which, could ever without a sinking in the spirit of 
Nations have been designated by the metaphor Taste. And why.' 
Because without the exertion of a co-operating power in the mind of 
the reader, there can be no adequate sympathy with either of these 
emotions: without this auxiliary impulse, elevated or profound 
passion cannot exist. 

Passion, it must be observed, is derived from a word which signifies 
suffering; but the connexion which suffering has with effort, with 
exertion, and action, is immediate and inseparable. How strikingly 


is this property of human nature exhibited by the fact that, in popular 
language, to be in a passion is to be angry! But, 

Anger in hasty words or blows 
Itself discharges on its foes. 

To be moved, then, by a passion is to be excited, often to external, and 
always to internal, effort; whether for the continuance and strength- 
ening of the passion, or for its suppression, accordingly as the course 
which it takes may be painful or pleasurable. If the latter, the soul 
must contribute to its support, or it never becomes vivid, — and soon 
languishes and dies. And this brings us to the point. If every great 
poet with whose writings men are familiar, in the highest exercise 
of his genius, before he can be thoroughly enjoyed, has to call forth 
and to communicate power, this service, in a still greater degree, falls 
upon an original writer, at his first appearance in the world. — Of 
genius the only proof is, the act of doing well what is worthy to be 
done, and what was never done before: Of genius, in the line arts, 
the only infallible sign is the widening the sphere of human sen- 
sibility, for the delight, honour, and benefit of human nature. Genius 
is the introduction of a new element into the intellectual universe: 
or, if that be not allowed, it is the application of powers to objects on 
which they had not before been exercised, or the employment of them 
in such a manner as to produce effects hitherto unknown. What is 
all this but an advance, or a conquest, made by the soul of the poet } 
Is it to be supposed that the reader can make progress of this kind, 
like an Indian prince or general — stretched on his palanquin, and 
borne by his slaves? No; he is invigorated and inspirited by his 
leader, in order that he may exert himself; for he cannot proceed in 
quiescence, he cannot be carried like a dead weight. Therefore to 
create taste is to call forth and bestow power, of which knowledge 
is the effect; and there lies the true difficulty. 

As the pathetic participates of an animal sensation, it might seem- 
that, if the springs of this emotion were genuine, all men, possessed 
of competent knowledge of the facts and circumstances, would be 
instantaneously affected. And, doubtless, in the works of every true 
poet will be found passages of that species of excellence which is 
proved by effects immediate and universal. But there are emotions 


of the pathetic that are simple and direct, and others — that are 
complex and revolutionary; some — to which the heart yields with 
gentleness; others — against which it struggles with pride; these 
varieties are infinite as the combinations of circumstance and the 
constitutions of character. Remember, also, that the medium through 
which, in poetry, the heart is to be affected, is language; a thing sub- 
ject to endless fluctuations and arbitrary associations. The genius of 
the poet melts these down for his purpose; but they retain their 
shape and quality to him who is not capable of exerting, within his 
own mind, a corresponding energy. There is also a meditative, as 
well as a hirnian, pathos; an enthusiastic, as well as an ordinary, sor- 
row; a sadness that has its seat in the depths of reason, to which the 
mind cannot sink gently of itself — but to which it must descend by 
treading the steps of thought. And for the sublime, — if we consider 
what are the cares that occupy the passing day, and how remote is the 
practice and the course of life from the sources of sublimity, in the 
soul of Man, can it be wondered that there is little existing prepara- 
tion for a poet charged with a new mission to extend its kingdom, 
and to augment and spread its enjoyments? 

Away, then, with the senseless iteration of the word popular, ap- 
plied to new works in poetry, as if there were no test of excellence 
in this first of the fine arts but that all men should run after its pro- 
ductions, as if urged by an appetite, or constrained by a spell! — The 
qualities of writing best fitted for eager reception are either such as 
startle the world into attention by their audacity and extravagance; 
or they are chiefly of a superficial kind, lying upon the surfaces of 
manners; or arising out of a selection and arrangement of incidents, 
by which the mind is kept upon the stretch of curiosity, and the 
fancy amused without the trouble of thought. But in everything 
which is to send the soul into herself, to be admonished of her weak- 
ness, or to be made conscious of her power; — wherever life and 
nature are described as operated upon by the creative or abstracting 
virtue of the imagination; wherever the instinctive wisdom of an- 
tiquity and her heroic passions uniting, in the heart of the poet, with 
the meditative wisdom of later ages, have produced that accord of 
sublimated humanity which is at once a history of the remote past 
and a prophetic enunciation of the remotest future, there, the poet 


must reconcile himself for a season to few and scattered hearers. — 
Grand thoughts (and Shakespeare must often have sighed over this 
truth), as they are most naturally and most fitly conceived in soli- 
tude, so can they not be brought forth in the midst of plaudits with- 
out some violation of their sanctity. Go to a silent exhibition of the 
productions of the sister Art, and be convinced that the qualities 
which dazzle at first sight, and kindle the admiration of the multi- 
tude, are essentially different from those by which permanent 
influence is secured. Let us not shrink from following up these prin- 
ciples as far as they will carry us, and conclude with observing — that 
there never has been a period, and perhaps never will be, in which 
vicious poetry, of some kind or other, has not excited more zealous 
admiration, and been far more generally read, than good; but this 
advantage attends the good, that the individual, as well as the species, 
survives from age to age; whereas, of the depraved, though the 
species be immortal, the individual quickly perishes; the object of 
present admiration vanishes, being supplanted by some other as 
easily produced; which, though no better, brings with it at least the 
irritation of novelty, — with adaptation, more or less skilful, to the 
changing humours of the majority of those who are most at leisure 
to regard poetical works when they first solicit their attention. 

Is it the result of the whole, that, in the opinion of the Writer, the 
judgement of the People is not to be respected? The thought is most 
injurious; and, could the charge be brought against him, he would 
repel it with indignation. The People have already been justified, 
and their eulogium pronounced by implication, when it was said, 
above — that, of good poetry, the individual, as well as the species, 
survives. And how does it survive but through the People? What 
preserves it but their intellect and their wisdom ? 

Past and future, are the wings 

On whose support, harmoniously conjoined. 
Moves the great Spirit of human knowledge- 


The voice that issues from this Spirit is that Vox Populi which the 
Deity inspires. Foolish must he be who can mistake for this a local 
acclamation, or a transitory outcry — transitory though it be for years, 
local though from a Nation. Still more lamentable is his error who 


can believe that there is anything of divine infallibility in the clamour 
of that small though loud portion of the community, ever governed 
by factitious influence, which, under the name of the Public, passes 
itself, upon the unthinking, for the People. Towards the Public, the 
Writer hopes that he feels as much deference as it is entitled to : but 
to the People, philosophically characterized, and to the embodied 
spirit of their knowledge, so far as it exists and moves, at the present, 
faithfully supported by its two wings, the past and the future, his 
devout respect, his reverence, is due. He offers it willingly and 
readily; and, this done, takes leave of his Readers, by assuring them 
— that, if he were not persuaded that the contents of these Volumes, 
and the Work to which they are subsidiary, evince something of the 
'Vision and the Faculty divine'; and that, both in words and things, 
they will operate in their degree, to extend the domain of sensibility 
for the delight, the honour, and the benefit of human nature, not- 
withstanding the many happy hours which he has employed in their 
composition, and the manifold comforts and enjoyments they have 
procured to him, he would not, if a wish could do it, save them from 
immediate destruction; — from becoming at this moment, to the 
world, as a thing that had never been. 



THE drama contained in the following pages has nothing to 
commend it to the attention or the good will of the public. 
It has not, to attract the interest of political disputants, the 
advantage of the veto of the official censorship, nor even, to win for 
it at the outset the literary sympathy of men of taste, the honour of 
having been formally rejected by an infallible reading committee. 

It presents itself, therefore, to the public gaze, naked and friendless, 
like the infirm man of the Gospel — solus, pauper, nudus. 

Not without some hesitation, moreover, did the author determine 
to burden his drama with a preface. Such things are usually of very 
little interest to the reader. He inquires concerning the talent of a 
writer rather than concerning his point of view; and in determining 
whether a work is good or bad, it matters little to him upon what 
ideas it is based, or in what sort of mind it germinated. One seldom 
inspects the cellars of a house after visiting its salons, and when one 
eats the fruit of a tree, one cares but little about its root. 

On the other hand, notes and prefaces are sometimes a convenient 
method of adding to the weight of a book, and of magnifying, in 
appearance at least, the importance of a work; as a matter of tactics 
this is not dissimilar to that of the general who, to make his battle- 
front more imposing, puts everything, even his baggage-trains, in 
the line. And then, while critics fall foul of the preface and scholars 
of the notes, it may happen that the work itself will escape them, 
passing uninjured between their cross-fires, as an army extricates 
itself from a dangerous position between two skirmishes of out- 
posts and rear-guards. 

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) the chief of the romantic school in France, issued in the 
Preface to "Cromwell" the manifesto of the movement. Poet, dramatist, and novelist, 
Hugo remained through a long life the most conspicuous man of letters in France; 
and in the document here printed he laid down the principles which revolutionized 
the literary world of his time. 



These reasons, weighty as they may seem, are not those which 
influenced the author. This volume did not need to be inflated, it 
was already too stout by far. Furthermore, and the author does not 
know why it is so, his prefaces, frank and ingenuous as they are, 
have always served rather to compromise him with the critics than 
to shield him. Far from being staunch and trusty bucklers, they have 
played him a trick like that played in a battle by an unusual and 
conspicuous uniform, which, calling attention to the soldier who 
wears it, attracts all the blows and is proof against none. 

Considerations of an altogether different sort acted upon the 
author. It seemed to him that, although in fact, one seldom inspects 
the cellars of a building for pleasure, one is not sorry sometimes to 
examine its foundations. He will, therefore, give himself over once 
more, with a preface, to the wrath of the feuilletonists. Che sara, 
sara. He has never given much thought to the fortune of his works, 
and he is but little appalled by dread of the literary what will people 
say. In the discussion now raging, in which the theatre and the 
schools, the public and the academies, are at daggers drawn, one will 
hear, perhaps, not without some interest, the voice of a solitary 
apprentice of nature and truth, who has withdrawn betimes from 
the literary world, for pure love of letters, and who offers good faith 
in default of good taste, sincere conviction in default of talent, study 
in default of learning. 

He will confine himself, however, to general considerations con- 
cerning the art, without the slightest attempt to smooth the path 
of his own work, without pretending to write an indictment or a 
plea, against or for any person whomsoever. An attack upon or de- 
fence of his book is of less importance to him than to anybody else. 
Nor is personal controversy agreeable to him. It is always a pitiful 
spectacle to see two hostile self-esteems crossing swords. He protests, 
therefore, beforehand against every interpretation of his ideas, every 
personal appUcation of his words, saying with the Spanish fablist: — 

Quien haga aplicaciones 
Con su pan se lo coma. 

In truth, several of the leading champions of "sound literary doc- 
trines" have done him the honour to throw the gauntlet to him, 


even in his profound obscurity — to him, a simple, imperceptible 
spectator of this curious contest. He will not have the presumption 
to pick it up. In the following pages will be found the observations 
with which he might oppose them — there will be found his sling and 
his stone; but others, if they choose, may hurl them at the head of 
the classical Goliaths. 

This said, let us pass on. 

Let us set out from a fact. The same type of civilization, or to use 
a more exact, although more extended expression, the same society, 
has not always inhabited the earth. The human race as a whole has 
grown, has developed, has matured, like one of ourselves. It was 
once a child, it was once a man ; we are now looking on at its impres- 
sive old age. Before the epoch which modern society has dubbed 
"ancient," there was another epoch which the ancients called "fabu- 
lous," but which it would be more accurate to call "primitive." 
Behold then three great successive orders of things in civilization, 
from its origin down to our days. Now, as poetry is always super- 
posed upon society, we propose to try to demonstrate, from the form 
of its society, what the character of the poetry must have been in 
those three great ages of the world — ^primitive times, ancient times, 
modern times. 

In primitive times, when man awakes in a world that is newly 
created, poetry awakes with him. In the face of the marvellous 
things that dazzle and intoxicate him, his first speech is a hymn 
simply. He is still so close to God that all his meditations are ecstatic, 
all his dreams are visions. His bosom swells, he sings as he breathes. 
His lyre has but three strings — God, the soul, creadon; but this 
threefold mystery envelopes everything, this threefold idea embraces 
everything. The earth is still almost deserted. There are families, 
but no nations; patriarchs, but no kings. Each race exists at its own 
pleasure; no property, no laws, no contentions, no wars. Everything 
belongs to each and to all. Society is a community. Man is restrained 
in nought. He leads that nomadic pastoral life with which all civi- 
lizations begin, and which is so well adapted to solitary contempla- 
tion, to fanciful reverie. He follows every suggestion, he goes hither 
and thither, at random. His thought, like his life, resembles a cloud 
that changes its shape and its direction according to the wind that 


drives it. Such is the first man, such is the first poet. He is young, 
he is cynical. Prayer is his sole religion, the ode is his only form of 

This ode, this poem of primitive times, is Genesis. 

By slow degrees, however, this youth of the world passes away. 
All the spheres progress; the family becomes a tribe, the tribe be- 
comes a nation. Each of these groups of men camps about a common 
centre, and kingdoms appear. The social instinct succeeds the no- 
madic instinct. The camp gives place to the city, the tent to the 
palace, the ark to the temple. The chiefs of these nascent states are 
still shepherds, it is true, but shepherds of nations; the pastoral staff 
has already assumed the shape of a sceptre. Everything tends to 
become stationary and fixed. Religion takes on a definite shape; 
prayer is governed by rites; dogma sets bounds to worship. Thus the 
priest and king share the paternity of the people; thus theocratic 
society succeeds the patriarchal community. 

Meanwhile the nations are beginning to be packed too closely on 
the earth's surface. They annoy and jostle one another; hence the 
clash of empires — ^war. They overflow upon another; hence, the 
migrations of nations — voyages. Poetry reflects these momentous 
events; from ideas it proceeds to things. It sings of ages, of nations, 
of empires. It becomes epic, it gives birth to Homer. 

Homer, in truth, dominates the society of ancient times. In that 
society, all is simple, all is epic. Poetry is religion, religion is law. 
The virginity of the earlier age is succeeded by the chastity of the 
later. A sort of solemn gravity is everywhere noticeable, in private 
manners no less than in public. The nations have retained nothing 
of the wandering life of the earlier time, save respect for the stranger 
and the traveller. The family has a fatherland; everything is con- 
nected therewith; it has the cult of the house and the cult of the 

We say again, such a civilization can find its one expression only 
in the epic. The epic will assume diverse forms, but will never lose 
its specific character. Pindar is more priestlike than patriarchal, 
more epic than lyrical. If the chroniclers, the necessary accompani- 
ments of this second age of the world, set about collecting traditions 


and begin to reckon by centuries, they labour to no purpose — chro- 
nology cannot expel poesy; history remains an epic. Herodotus is a 

But it is in the ancient tragedy, above all, that the epic breaks out 
at every turn. It mounts the Greek stage without losing aught, so 
to speak, of its immeasurable, gigantic proportions. Its characters 
are still heroes, demi-gods, gods; its themes are visions, oracles, fatal- 
ity; its scenes are battles, funeral rites, catalogues. That which the 
rhapsodists formerly sang, the actors declaim — that is the whole 

There is something more. When the whole plot, the whole spec- 
tacle of the epic poem have passed to the stage, the Chorus takes 
all that remains. The Chorus annotates the tragedy, encourages the 
heroes, gives descriptions, summons and expels the daylight, re- 
joices, laments, sometimes furnishes the scenery, explains the moral 
bearing of the subject, flatters the listening assemblage. Now, what 
is the Chorus, this anomalous character standing between the spec- 
tacle and the spectator, if it be not the poet completing his epic ? 

The theatre of the ancients is, like their dramas, huge, pontifical, 
epic. It is capable of holding thirty thousand spectators; the plays 
are given in the open air, in bright sunlight; the performances last 
all day. The actors disguise their voices, wear masks, increase their 
stature; they make themselves gigantic, like their roles. The stage 
is immense. It may represent at the same moment both the interior 
and the exterior of a temple, a palace, a camp, a city. Upon it, vast 
spectacles are displayed. There is — we cite only from memory — 
Prometheus on his mountain; there is Antigone, at the top of a 
tower, seeking her brother Polynices in the hostile army (The Phoeni- 
cians) ; there is Evadne hurling herself from a cliff into the flames 
where the body of Capaneus is burning {The Suppliants of Eurip- 
ides); there is a ship sailing into port and landing fifty princesses 
with their retinues {The Suppliants of ^schylus). Architecture, 
poetry, everything assumes a monumental character. In all antiquity 
there is nothing more solemn, more majestic. Its history and its 
religion are mingled on its stage. Its first actors are priests; its 
scenic performances are religious ceremonies, national festivals. 


One last observation, which completes our demonstration of the 
epic character of this epoch: in the subjects which it treats, no less 
than in the forms it adopts, tragedy simply re-echoes the epic. All 
the ancient tragic authors derive their plots from Homer. The same 
fabulous exploits, the same catastrophes, the same heroes. One and 
all drink from the Homeric stream. The Iliad and Odyssey are 
always in evidence. Like Achilles dragging Hector at his chariot- 
wheel, the Greek tragedy circles about Troy. 

But the age of the epic draws near its end. Like the society that it 
represents, this form of poetry wears itself out revolving upon itself. 
Rome reproduces Greece, Virgil copies Homer, and, as if to make 
a becoming end, epic poetry expires in the last parturition. 

It was time. Another era is about to begin, for the world and for 

A spiritual religion, supplanting the material and external pagan- 
ism, makes its way to the heart of the ancient society, kills it, and 
deposits, in that corpse of a decrepit civilization, the germ of modern 
civilization. This religion is complete, because it is true; between 
its dogma and its cult, it embraces a deep-rooted moral. And first 
of all, as a fundamental truth, it teaches man that he has two lives 
to live, one ephemeral, the other immortal; one on earth, the other 
in heaven. It shows him that he, like his destiny, is twofold: that 
there is in him an animal and an intellect, a body and a soul; in a 
word, that he is the point of intersection, the common link of the 
two chains of beings which embrace all creation — of the chain of 
material beings and the chain of incorporeal beings; the first start- 
ing from the rock to arrive at man, the second starting from man 
to end at God. 

A portion of these truths had perhaps been suspected by certain 
wise men of ancient times, but their full, broad, luminous revelation 
dates from the Gospels. The pagan schools walked in darkness, 
feeling their way, clinging to falsehoods as well as to truths in their 
haphazard journeying. Some of their philosophers occasionally cast 
upon certain subjects feeble gleams which illuminated but one side 
and made the darkness of the other side more profound. Hence all 
the phantoms created by ancient philosophy. None but divine wis- 
dom was capable of substituting an even and all-embracing light for 


all those flickering rays of human wisdom. Pythagoras, Epicurus, 
Socrates, Plato, are torches: Christ is the glorious light of day. 

Nothing could be more material, indeed, than the ancient theog- 
ony. Far from proposing, as Christianity does, to separate the 
spirit from the body, it ascribes form and features to everything, even 
to impalpable essences, even to the intelligence. In it everything is 
visible, tangible, fleshly. Its gods need a cloud to conceal themselves 
from men's eyes. They eat, drink, and sleep. They are wounded 
and their blood flows; they are maimed, and lo! they limp forever 
after. That religion has gods and halves of gods. Its thunderbolts 
are forged on an anvil, and among other things three rays of twisted 
rain {tres imbris torti radios) enter into their composition. Its Jupi- 
ter suspends the world by a golden chain; its sun rides in a four- 
horse chariot; its hell is a precipice the brink of which is marked 
on the globe; its heaven is a mountain. 

Thus paganism, which moulded all creations from the same clay, 
minimizes divinity and magnifies man. Homer's heroes are of 
almost the same stature as his gods. Ajax defies Jupiter, Achilles 
is the peer of Mars. Christianity on the contrary, as we have seen, 
draws a broad line of division between spirit and matter. It places 
an abyss between the soul and the body, an abyss between man and 

At this point — to omit nothing from the sketch upon which we 
have ventured — we will call attention to the fact that, with Chris- 
tianity, and by its means, there entered into the mind of the nations 
a new sentiment, unknown to the ancients and marvellously devel- 
oped among moderns, a sentiment which is more than gravity and 
less than sadness — melancholy. In truth, might not the heart of 
man, hitherto deadened by religions purely hierarchical and sacer- 
dotal, awake and feel springing to life within it some unexpected 
faculty, under the breath of a religion that is human because it is 
divine, a religion which makes of the poor man's prayer, the rich 
man's wealth, a religion of equality, liberty and charity? Might it 
not see all things in a new light, since the Gospel had shown it the 
soul through the senses, eternity behind life ? 

Moreover, at that very moment the world was undergoing so 
complete a revolution that it was impossible that there should not 


be a revolution in men's minds. Hitherto the catastrophes of empires 
had rarely reached the hearts of the people; it was kings who fell, 
majesties that vanished, nothing more. The lightning struck only 
in the upper regions, and, as we have already pointed out, events 
seemed to succeed one another with all the solemnity of the epic. 
In the ancient society, the individual occupied so lowly a place that, 
to strike him, adversity must needs descend to his family. So that 
he knew little of misfortune outside of domestic sorrows. It was an 
almost unheard-of thing that the general disasters of the state should 
disarrange his life. But the instant that Christian society became 
firmly established, the ancient continent was thrown into confusion. 
Everything was pulled up by the roots. Events, destined to destroy 
ancient Europe and to construct a new Europe, trod upon one 
another's heels in their ceaseless rush, and drove the nations pell- 
mell, some into the Hght, others into darkness. So much uproar 
ensued that it was impossible that some echoes of it should not reach 
the hearts of the people. It was more than an echo, it was a reflex 
blow. Man, withdrawing within himself in presence of these im- 
posing vicissitudes, began to take pity upon mankind, to reflect upon 
the bitter disillusionments of life. Of this sentiment, which to Cato 
the heathen was despair, Christianity fashioned melancholy. 

At the same time was born the spirit of scrutiny and curiosity. 
These great catastrophes were also great spectacles, impressive 
cataclysms. It was the North hurling itself upon the South; the 
Roman world changing shape; the last convulsive throes of a whole 
universe in the death agony. As soon as that world was dead, lo! 
clouds of rhetoricians, grammarians, sophists, swooped down like 
insects on its immense body. People saw them swarming and heard 
them buzzing in that seat of putrefaction. They vied with one 
another in scrutinizing, commenting, disputing. Each limb, each 
muscle, each fibre of the huge prostrate body was twisted and turned 
in every direction. Surely it must have been a keen satisfaction to 
those anatomists of the mind, to be able, at their debut, to make 
experiments on a large scale; to have a dead society to dissect, for 
their first "subject." 

Thus we see melancholy and meditation, the demons of analysis 
and controversy, appear at the same moment, and, as it were, hand- 


in-hand. At one extremity of this era of transition is Longinus, at 
the other St. Augustine. We must beware of casting a disdainful eye 
upon that epoch wherein all that has since borne fruit was contained 
in germs; upon that epoch whose least eminent writers, if we may 
be pardoned a vulgar but expressive phrase, made fertilizer for the 
harvest that was to follow. The Middle Ages were grafted on the 
Lower Empire. 

Behold, then, a new religion, a new society; upon this twofold 
foundation there must inevitably spring up a new poetry. Previously 
— we beg pardon for setting forth a result which the reader has 
probably already foreseen from what has been said above — ^pre- 
viously, following therein the course pursued by the ancient polythe- 
ism and philosophy, the purely epic muse of the ancients had studied 
nature in only a single aspect, casting aside without pity almost 
everything in art which, in the world subjected to its imitation, had 
not relation to a certain type of beauty. A type which was magnifi- 
cent at first, but, as always happens with everything systematic, 
became in later times false, trivial and conventional. Christianity 
leads poetry to the truth. Like it, the modern muse will see things 
in a higher and broader light. It will realize that everything in 
creation is not humanly beautiful, that the ugly exists beside the 
beautiful, the unshapely beside the graceful, the grotesque on the 
reverse of the sublime, evil with good, darkness with light. It will 
ask itself if the narrow and relative sense of the artist should prevail 
over the infinite, absolute sense of the Creator; if it is for man to 
correct God; if a mutilated nature will be the more beautiful for the 
mutilation; if art has the right to duplicate, so to speak, man, life, 
creation; if things will progress better when their muscles and their 
vigour have been taken from them; if, in short, to be incomplete 
is the best way to be harmonious. Then it is that, with its eyes fixed 
upon events that are both laughable and redoubtable, and under the 
influence of that spirit of Christian melancholy and philosophical 
criticism which we described a moment ago, poetry will take a great 
step, a decisive step, a step which, like the upheaval of an earthquake, 
will change the whole face of the intellectual world. It will set about 
doing as nature does, mingling in its creations — ^but without con- 
founding them — darkness and light, the grotesque and the sublime; 


in other words, the body and the soul, the beast and the intellect; for 
the starting-point of religion is always the starting-point of poetry. 
All things are connected. 

Thus, then, we see a principle unknown to the ancients, a new 
type, introduced in poetry; and as an additional element in anything 
modifies the whole of the thing, a new form of the art is developed. 
This type is the grotesque; its new form is comedy. 

And we beg leave to dwell upon this point; for we have now indi- 
cated the significant feature, the fundamental difference which, in 
our opinion, separates modern from ancient art, the present form 
from the defunct form; or, to use less definite but more popular 
terms, romantic literature from classical literature. 

"At last!" exclaim the people who for some time past have seen 
what we were coming at, "at last we have you — you are caught in 
the act. So then you put forward the ugly as a type for imitation, 
you make the grotesque an element of art. But the graces; but good 
taste! Don't you know that art should correct nature? that we must 
ennoble art ? that we must select? Did the ancients ever exhibit the 
ugly or the grotesque ? Did they ever mingle comedy and tragedy ? 
The example of the ancients, gentlemen! And Aristotle, too; and 
Boileau; and La Harpe. Upon my word!" 

These arguments are sound, doubtless, and, above all, of extraordi- 
nary novelty. But it is not our place to reply to them. We are con- 
structing no system here — God protect us from systems! We are 
stating a fact. We are a historian, not a critic. Whether the fact is 
agreeable or not matters little; it is a fact. Let us resume, therefore, 
and try to prove that it is of the fruitful union of the grotesque and 
the sublime types that modern genius is born — so complex, so diverse 
in its forms, so inexhaustible in its creations; and therein directly 
opposed to the uniform simplicity of the genius of the ancients; let 
us show that that is the point from which we must set out to estab- 
lish the real and radical difference between the two forms of litera- 

Not that it is strictly true that comedy and the grotesque were 
entirely unknown to the ancients. In fact, such a thing would be 
impossible. Nothing grows without a root; the germ of the second 
epoch always exists in the first. In the Iliad Thersites and Vulcan 


furnish comedy, one to the mortals, the other to the gods. There 
is too much nature and originaUty in the Greek tragedy for there 
not to be an occasional touch of comedy in it. For example, to cite 
only what we happen to recall, the scene between Menelaus and the 
portress of the palace. {Helen, Act I), and the scene of the Phrygian 
{Orestes, Act IV). The Tritons, the Satyrs, the Cyclops are gro- 
tesque; Polyphemus is a terrifying, Silenus a farcical grotesque. 

But one feels that this part of the art is still in its infancy. The 
epic, which at this period imposes its form on everything, the epic 
weighs heavily upon it and stifles it. The ancient grotesque is timid 
and forever trying to keep out of sight. It is plain that it is not on 
familiar ground, because it is not in its natural surroundings. It 
conceals itself as much as it can. The Satyrs, the Tritons, and the 
Sirens are hardly abnormal in form. The Fates and the Harpies are 
hideous in their attributes rather than in feature; the Furies are 
beautiful, and are called Eumenides, that is to say, gentle, beneficent. 
There is a veil of grandeur or of divinity over other grotesques. 
Polyphemus is a giant, Midas a king, Silenus a god. 

Thus comedy is almost imperceptible in the great epic ensemble of 
ancient times. What is the barrow of Thespis beside the Olympian 
chariots.'' What are Aristophanes and Plautus, beside the Homeric 
colossi, jEschylus, Sophocles, Euripides? Homer bears them along 
with him, as Hercules bore the pygmies, hidden in his lion's skin! 

In the idea of men of modern times, however, the grotesque plays 
an enormous part. It is found everywhere; on the one hand it creates 
the abnormal and the horrible, on the other the comic and the bur- 
lesque. It fastens upon religion a thousand original superstitions, 
upon poetry a thousand picturesque fancies. It is the grotesque 
which scatters lavishly, in air, water, earth, fire, those myriads of 
intermediary creatures which we find all alive in the popular tradi- 
tions of the Middle Ages; it is the grotesque which impels the 
ghastly antics of the witches' revels, which gives Satan his horns, his 
cloven foot and his bat's wings. It is the grotesque, still the grotesque, 
which now casts into the Christian hell the frightful faces which the 
severe genius of Dante and Milton will evoke, and again peoples it 
with those laughter-moving figures amid which Callot, the burlesque 
Michelangelo, will disport himself. If it passes from the world of 


imagination to the real world, it unfolds an inexhaustible supply of 
parodies of mankind. Creations of its fantasy are the Scaramouches, 
Crispins and Harlequins, grinning silhouettes of man, types alto- 
gether unknown to serious-minded antiquity, although they origi- 
nated in classic Italy. It is the grotesque, lastly, which, colouring 
the same drama with the fancies of the North and of the South in 
turn, exhibits Sganarelle capering about Don Juan and Mephis- 
topheles crawling about Faust. 

And how free and open it is in its bearing! how boldly it brings 
into relief all the strange forms which the preceding age had timidly 
wrapped in swaddling-clothes! Ancient poetry, compelled to pro- 
vide the lame Vulcan with companions, tried to disguise their 
deformity by distributing it, so to speak, upon gigantic proportions. 
Modern genius retains this myth of the supernatural smiths, but gives 
it an entirely different character and one which makes it even more 
striking; it changes the giants to dwarfs and makes gnomes of the 
Cyclops. With like originality, it substitutes for the somewhat com- 
monplace Lernsan hydra all the local dragons of our national 
legends — the gargoyle of Rouen, the gra-ouilli of Metz, the chair 
sallee of Troyes, the dree of Montlhery, the tarasque of Tarascon — 
monsters of forms so diverse, whose outlandish names are an addi- 
tional attribute. All these creations draw from their own nature that 
energetic and significant expression before which antiquity seems 
sometimes to have recoiled. Certain it is that the Greek Eumenides 
are much less horrible, and consequently less true, than the witches 
in Macbeth. Pluto is not the devil. 

In our opinion a most novel book might be written upon the em- 
ployment of the grotesque in the arts. One might point out the 
powerful effects the moderns have obtained from that fruitful type, 
upon which narrow-minded criticism continues to wage war even in 
our own day. It may be that we shall be led by our subject to call 
attention in passing to some features of this vast picture. We will 
simply say here that, as a means of contrast with the sublime, the 
grotesque is, in our view, the richest source that nature can offer art. 
Rubens so understood it, doubtless, when it pleased him to introduce 
the hideous features of a court dwarf amid his exhibitions of royal 
magnificence, coronations and splendid ceremonial. The universal 


beauty which the ancients solemnly laid upon everything, is not 
without monotony; the same impression repeated again and again 
may prove fatiguing at last. Sublime upon sublime scarcely presents 
a contrast, and we need a little rest from everything, even the beauti- 
ful. On the other hand, the grotesque seems to be a halting-place, a 
mean term, a starting-point whence one rises toward the beautiful 
with a fresher and keener perception. The salamander gives relief 
to the water-sprite; the gnome heightens the charm of the sylph. 

And it would be true also to say that contact with the abnormal 
has imparted to the modern sublime a something purer, grander, 
more sublime, in short, than the beautiful of the ancients; and that is 
as it should be. When art is consistent with itself, it guides every- 
thing more surely to its goal. If the Homeric Elysium is a long, long 
way from the ethereal charm, the angelic pleasureableness of Milton's 
Paradise, it is because under Eden there is a hell far more terrible 
than the heathen Tartarus. Do you think that Francesca da Rimini 
and Beatrice would be so enchanting in a poet who should not con- 
fine us in the Tower of Hunger and compel us to share Ugolino's 
revolting repast ? Dante would have less charm, if he had less power. 
Have the fleshly naiads, the muscular Tritons, the wanton Zephyrs, 
the diaphanous transparency of our water-sprites and sylphs? Is 
it not because the modern imagination does not fear to picture the 
ghastly forms of vampires, ogres, ghouls, snake-charmers and jinns 
prowling about graveyards, that it can give to its fairies that incor- 
poreal shape, that purity of essence, of which the heathen nymphs 
fall so far short? The antique Venus is beautiful, admirable, no 
doubt; but what has imparted to Jean Goujon's faces tliat weird, 
tender, ethereal delicacy? What has given them that unfamiliar 
suggestion of life and grandeur, if not the proximity of the rough 
and powerful sculptures of the Middle Ages? 

If the thread of our argument has not been broken in the reader's 
mind by these necessary digressions — which in truth, might be devel- 
oped much further — he has realized, doubtless, how powerfully the 
grotesque — that germ of comedy, fostered by the modern muse — 
grew in extent and importance as soon as it was transplanted to a 
soil more propitious than paganism and the Epic. In truth, in the 
new poetry, while the sublime represents the soul as it is, purified 


by Christian morality, the grotesque plays the part of the human 
beast. The former type, delivered of all impure alloy, has as its attri- 
butes all the charms, all the graces, all the beauties; it must be able 
some day to create Juliet, Desdemona, Ophelia. The latter assumes 
all the absurdities, all the infirmities, all the blemishes. In this parti- 
tion of mankind and of creation, to it fall the passions, vices, crimes; 
it is sensuous, fawning, greedy, miserly, false, incoherent, hypocrit- 
ical; it is, in turn, lago, Tartuffe, Basile, Polonius, Harpagon, Bar- 
tholo, Falstaff, Scapin, Figaro. The beautiful has but one type, the 
ugly has a thousand. The fact is that the beautiful, humanly speak- 
ing, is merely form considered in its simplest aspect, in its most per- 
fect symmetry, in its most entire harmony with our make-up. Thus 
the ensemble that it offers us is always complete, but restricted like 
ourselves. What we call the ugly, on the contrary, is a detail of a 
great whole which eludes us, and which is in harmony, not with man 
but with all creation. That is why it constantly presents itself to 
us in new but incomplete aspects. 

It is interesting to study the first appearance and the progress of 
the grotesque in modern times. At first, it is an invasion, an irrup- 
tion, an overflow, as of a torrent that has burst its banks. It rushes 
through the expiring Latin literature, imparts some coloring to 
Persius, Petronius and Juvenal, and leaves behind it the Golden Ass 
of Apuleius. Thence it diffuses itself through the imaginations of 
the new nations that are remodelling Europe. It abounds in the work 
of the fabulists, the chroniclers, the romancists. We see it make its 
vvay from the South to the North. It disports itself in the dreams 
of the Teutonic nations, and at the same time vivifies with its breath 
the admirable Spanish romanceros, a veritable Iliad of the age of 
chivalry. For example, it is the grotesque which describes thus, in 
the Roman de la Rose, an august ceremonial, the election of a king: — 

"A long-shanked knave they chose, I wis. 
Of all their men the boniest." 

More especially it imposes its characteristic qualities upon that 
wonderful architecture which, in the Middle Ages, takes the place 
of all the arts. It affixes its mark on the f afades of cathedrals, frames 
its hells and purgatories in the ogive arches of great doorways, por- 


trays them in brilliant hues on window-glass, exhibits its monsters, 
its bull-dogs, its imps about capitals, along friezes, on the edges of 
roofs. It flaunts itself in numberless shapes on the wooden facades 
of houses, on the stone facades of chateaux, on the marble fafades of 
palaces. From the arts it makes its way into the national manners, 
and while it stirs applause from the people for the graciosos of com- 
edy, it gives to the kings court-jesters. Later, in the age of etiquette, 
it will show us Scarron on the very edge of Louis the Fourteenth's 
bed. Meanwhile, it decorates coats-of-arms, and draws upon knights' 
shields the symbolic hieroglyphs of feudalism. From the manners, it 
makes its way into the laws; numberless strange customs attest its 
passage through the institutions of the Middle Ages. Just as it repre- 
sented Thespis, smeared with wine-lees,leaping in her tomb, it dances 
with the Basoche on the famous marble table which served at the 
same time as a stage for the popular farces and for the royal banquets. 
Finally, having made its way into the arts, the manners, and the laws, 
it enters even the Church. In every Catholic city we see it organizing 
some one of those curious ceremonies, those strange processions, 
wherein religion is attended by all varieties of superstition — the sub- 
lime attended by all the forms of the grotesque. To paint it in one 
stroke, so great is its vigour, its energy, its creative sap, at the dawn 
of letters, that it casts, at the outset, upon the threshold of modern 
poetry, three burlesque Homers: Ariosto in Italy, Cervantes in Spain, 
Rabelais in France. 

It would be mere surplusage to dwell further upon the influence 
of the grotesque in the third civilization. Everything tends to show 
its close creative alliance with the beautiful in the so<alled "ro- 
mantic" period. Even among the simplest popular legends there 
are none which do not somewhere, with an admirable instinct, solve 
this mystery of modern art. Antiquity could not have produced 
Beauty and the Beast. 

It is true that at the period at which we have arrived the predomi- 
nance of the grotesque over the sublime in literature is clearly indi- 
cated. But it is a spasm of reaction, an eager thirst for novelty, which 
is but temporary ; it is an initial wave which gradually recedes. The 
type of the beautiful will soon resume its rights and its role, which is 
not to exclude the other principle, but to prevail over it. It is time 


that the grotesque should be content with a corner of the picture in 
Murillo's royal frescoes, in the sacred pages of Veronese; content 
to be introduced in two marvellous Last Judgments, in which art 
will take a just pride, in the scene of fascination and horror with 
which Michelangelo will embellish the Vatican : in those awe-inspir- 
ing representations of the fall of man which Rubens will throw 
upon the arches of the Cathedral of Antwerp. The time has come 
when the balance between the two principles is to be established. A 
man, a poet-king, poeta soverano, as Dante calls Homer, is about to 
adjust everything. The two rival genii combine their flames, and 
thence issues Shakespeare. 

We have now reached the poetic culmination of modern times. 
Shakespeare is the drama; and the drama, which with the same 
breath moulds the grotesque and the sublime, the terrible and the 
absurd, tragedy and comedy — the drama is the distinguishing char- 
acteristic of the third epoch of poetry, of the literature of the present 

Thus, to sum up hurriedly the facts that we have noted thus far, 
poetry has three periods, each of which corresponds to an epoch of 
civilization: the ode, the epic, and the drama. Primitive times are 
lyrical, ancient times epical, modern times dramatic. The ode sings 
of eternity, the epic imparts solemnity to history, the drama depicts 
life. The characteristic of the first poetry is ingenuousness, of the 
second, simplicity, of the third, truth. The rhapsodists mark the 
transition from the lyric to the epic poets, as do the romancists that 
from the lyric to the dramatic poets. Historians appear in the second 
period, chroniclers and critics in the third. The characters of the ode 
are colossi — Adam, Cain, Noah; those of the epic are giants — 
Achilles, Atreus, Orestes; those of the drama are men — Hamlet, 
Macbeth, Othello. The ode lives upon the ideal, the epic upon the 
grandiose, the drama upon the real. Lastly, this threefold poetry 
flows from three great sources — The Bible, Homer, Shakespeare. 

Such then — and we confine ourselves herein to noting a single 
result — such are the diverse aspects of thought in the different epochs 
of mankind and of civilization. Such are its three faces, in youth, 
in manhood, in old age. Whether one examines one literature by 
itself or all literatures en masse, one will always reach the same 


result: the lyric poets before the epic poets, the epic poets before the 
dramatic poets. In France, Malherbe before Chapelain, Chapelain 
before Corneille; in ancient Greece, Orpheus before Homer, Homer 
before ^schylus; in the first of all books. Genesis before Kings, 
Kings before Job; or to come back to that monumental scale of all 
ages of poetry, which we ran over a moment since, The Bible before 
the Iliad, the Iliad before Shakespeare. 

In a word, civilization begins by singing of its dreams, then nar- 
rates its doings, and lastly, sets about describing what it thinks. It 
is, let us say in passing, because of this last, that the drama, combin- 
ing the most opposed qualities, may be at the same time full of pro- 
fundity and full of relief, philosophical and picturesque. 

It would be logical to add here that everything in nature and in 
life passes through these three phases, the lyric, the epic, and the 
dramatic, because everything is born, acts, and dies. If it were not 
absurd to confound the fantastic conceits of the imagination with the 
stern deductions of the reasoning faculty, a poet might say that the 
rising of the sun, for example, is a hymn, noon-day a brilliant epic, 
and sunset a gloomy drama wherein day and night, life and death, 
contend for mastery. But that would be poetry — folly, perhaps — 
and what does it prove? 

Let us hold to the facts marshalled above; let us supplement them, 
too, by an important observation, namely that we have in no wise 
pretended to assign exclusive limits to the three epochs of poetry, but 
simply to set forth their predominant characteristics. The Bible, 
that divine lyric monument, contains in germ, as we suggested a 
moment ago, an epic and a drama — Kings and ]ob. In the Homeric 
poems one is conscious of a clinging reminiscence of lyric poetry and 
of a beginning of dramatic poetry. Ode and drama meet in the epic. 
There is a touch of all in each; but in each there exists a generative 
element to which all the other elements give place, and which im- 
poses its own character upon the whole. 

The drama is complete poetry. The ode and the epic contain it 
only in germ; it contains both of them in a state of high development, 
and epitomizes both. Surely, he who said: "The French have not 
the epic brain," said a true and clever thing; if he had said, "The 
moderns," the clever remark would have been profound. It is beyond 


question, however, that there is epic genius in that marvellous 
Athalie, so exalted and so simple in its sublimity that the royal cen- 
tury was unable to comprehend it. It is certain, too, that the series 
of Shakespeare's chronicle dramas presents a grand epic aspect. But 
it is lyric poetry above all that befits the drama; it never embarrasses 
it, adapts itself to all its caprices, disports itself in all forms, some- 
times sublime as in Ariel, sometimes grotesque as in Caliban. Our 
era being above all else dramatic, is for that very reason eminently 
lyric. There is more than one connection between the beginning and 
the end; the sunset has some features of the sunrise; the old man 
becomes a child once more. But this second childhood is not like 
the first; it is as melancholy as the other is joyous. It is the same with 
lyric poetry. Dazzling, dreamy, at the dawn of civilization, it re- 
appears, solemn and pensive, at its decline. The Bible opens joyously 
with Genesis and comes to a close with the threatening Apocalypse. 
The modern ode is still inspired, but is no longer ignorant. It 
meditates more than it scrutinizes; its musing is melancholy. We 
see, by its painful labour, that the muse has taken the drama for 
her mate. 

To make clear by a metaphor the ideas that we have ventured to 
put forth, we will compare early lyric poetry to a placid lake which 
reflects the clouds and stars; the epic is the stream which flows from 
the lake, and rushes on, reflecting its banks, forests, fields and cities, 
until it throws itself into the ocean of the drama. Like the lake, the 
drama reflects the sky; like the stream, it reflects its banks; but it 
alone has tempests and measureless depths. 

The drama, then, is the goal to which everything in modern poetry 
leads. Paradise Lost is a drama before it is an epic. As we know, 
it first presented itself to the poet's imagination in the first of these 
forms, and as a drama it always remains in the reader's memory, 
so prominent is the old dramatic framework still beneath Milton's 
epic structure! When Dante had finished his terrible Inferno, when 
he had closed its doors and nought remained save to give his work 
a name, the unerring instinct of his genius showed him that that 
multiform poem was an emanation of the drama, not of the epic; 
and on the front of that gigantic monument, he wrote with his pen 
of bronze: Divina Commedia. 


Thus we see that the only two poets of modern times who are of 
Shakespeare's stature follow him in unity of design. They coincide 
with him in imparting a dramatic tinge to all our poetry; like him, 
they blend the grotesque with the sublime; and, far from standing by 
themselves in the great literary ensemble that rests upon Shakespeare, 
Dante and Milton are, in some sort, the two supporting abutments 
of the edifice of which he is the central pillar, the buttresses of the 
arch of which he is the keystone. 

Permit us, at this point, to recur to certain ideas already suggested, 
which, however, it is necessary to emphasize. We have arrived, and 
now we must set out again. 

On the day when Christianity said to man: "Thou art twofold, 
thou art made up of two beings, one perishable, the other immortal, 
one carnal, the other ethereal, one enslaved by appetites, cravings and 
passions, the other borne aloft on the wings of enthusiasm and 
reverie — in a word, the one always stooping toward the earth, its 
mother, the other always darting up toward heaven, its fatherland" — 
on that day the drama was created. Is it, in truth, anything other 
than that contrast of every day, that struggle of every moment, 
between two opposing principles which are ever face to face in 
hfe, and which dispute possession of man from the cradle to the 
tomb } 

The poetry born of Christianity, the poetry of our time, is, there- 
fore, the drama ; the real results from the wholly natural combination 
of two types, the sublime and the grotesque, which meet in the 
drama, as they meet in life and in creation. For true poetry, complete 
poetry, consists in the harmony of contraries. Hence, it is time to 
say aloud — and it is here above all that exceptions prove the rule — 
that everything that exists in nature exists in art. 

On taking one's stand at this point of view, to pass judgment on 
our petty conventional rules, to disentangle all those scholastic laby- 
rinths, to solve all those trivial problems which the critics of the 
last two centuries have laboriously built up about the art, one is 
struck by the promptitude with which the question of the modern 
stage is made clear and distinct. The drama has but to take a step 
to break all the spider's webs with which the militia of Lilhput have 
attempted to fetter its sleep. 


And so, let addle-pated pedants (one does not exclude the other) 
claim that the deformed, the ugly, the grotesque should never be 
imitated in art; one replies that the grotesque is comedy, and that 
comedy apparently makes a part of art. Tartufle is not handsome, 
Pourceaugnac is not noble, but Pourceaugnac and Tartuffe are 
admirable flashes of art. 

If, driven back from this entrenchment to their second line of 
custom-houses, they renew their prohibition of the grotesque coupled 
with the sublime, of comedy melted into tragedy, we prove to them 
that, in the poetry of Christian nations, the first of these two types 
represents the human beast, the second the soul. These two stalks of 
art, if we prevent their branches from mingling, if we persistently 
separate them, will produce by way of fruit, on the one hand abstract 
vices and absurdities, on the other, abstract crime, heroism and vir- 
tue. The two types, thus isolated and left to themselves, will go each 
its own way, leaving the real between them, at the left hand of one, 
at the right hand of the other. Whence it follows that after all these 
abstractions there will remain something to represent — man; after 
these tragedies and comedies, something to create — the drama. 

In the drama, as it may be conceived at least, if not executed, all 
things are connected and follow one another as in real life. The body 
plays its part no less than the mind; and men and events, set in 
motion by this twofold agent, pass across the stage, burlesque and 
terrible in turn, and sometimes both at once. Thus the judge will 
say: "Off with his head and let us go to dinner!" Thus the Roman 
Senate will deliberate over Domitian's turbot. Thus Socrates, drink- 
ing the hemlock and discoursing on the immortal soul and the only 
God, will interrupt himself to suggest that a cook be sacrificed to 
^sculapius. Thus EHzabeth will swear and talk Latin. Thus Riche- 
lieu will submit to Joseph the Capuchin, and Louis XI to his barber, 
Maitre Olivier le Diable. Thus Cromwell will say: "I have Parlia- 
ment in my bag and the King in my pocket"; or, with the hand that 
signed the death sentence of Charles the First, smear with ink the 
face of a regicide who smilingly returns the compliment. Thus 
Caesar, in his triumphal car, will be afraid of overturning. For men 
of genius, however great they be, have always within them a touch 
of the beast which mocks at their intelligence. Therein they are akin 


to mankind in general, for therein they are dramatic. "It is but a 
step from the sublime to the ridiculous," said Napoleon, when he was 
convinced that he was mere man; and that outburst of a soul on fire 
illumines art and history at once; that cry of anguish is the resume 
of the drama and of life. 

It is a striking fact that all these contrasts are met with in the poets 
themselves, taken as men. By dint of meditating upon existence, of 
laying stress upon its bitter irony, of pouring floods of sarcasm and 
raillery upon our infirmities, the very men who make us laugh so 
heartily become profoundly sad. These Democrituses are Hera- 
clituses as well. Beaumarchais was surly, Moliere gloomy, Shake- 
speare melancholy. 

The fact is, then, that the grotesque is one of the supreme beauties 
of the drama. It is not simply an appropriate element of it, but is 
oftentimes a necessity. Sometimes it appears in homogeneous 
masses, in entire characters, as Daudin, Prusias, Trissotin, Brid- 
oison, Juliet's nurse; sometimes impregnated with terror, as Richard 
III, Begears, Tartuffe, Mephistopheles; sometimes, too, with a veil 
of grace and refinement, as Figaro, Osric, Mercutio, Don Juan. It 
finds its way in everywhere; for just as the most commonplace have 
their occasional moments of sublimity, so the most exalted frequently 
pay tribute to the trivial and ridiculous. Thus, often impalpable, 
often imperceptible, it is always present on the stage, even when it 
says nothing, even when it keeps out of sight. Thanks to it, there 
is no thought of monotony. Sometimes it injects laughter, some- 
times horror, into tragedy. It will bring Romeo face to face with 
the apothecary, Macbeth with the witches, Hamlet with the grave- 
diggers. Sometimes it may, without discord, as in the scene between 
King Lear and his jester, mingle its shrill voice with the most sub- 
lime, the most dismal, the dreamiest music of the soul. 

That is what Shakespeare alone among all has succeeded in do- 
ing, in a fashion of his own, which it would be no less fruitless than 
impossible to imitate — Shakespeare, the god of the stage, in whom, 
as in a trinity, the three characteristic geniuses of our stage, Corneille, 
Moliere, Beaumarchais, seem united. 

We see how quickly the arbitrary distinction between the species 
of poetry vanishes before common sense and taste. No less easily 


one might demolish the alleged rule of the two unities. We say two 
and not three unities, because unity of plot or of ensemble, the only 
true and well-founded one, was long ago removed from the sphere 
of discussion. 

Distinguished contemporaries, foreigners and Frenchmen, have 
already attacked, both in theory and in practice, that fundamental 
law of the pseudo-Aristotelian code. Indeed, the combat was not 
likely to be a long one. At the first blow it cracked, so worm-eaten 
was that timber of the old scholastic hovel! 

The strange thing is that the slaves of routine pretend to rest 
their rule of the two unities on probability, whereas reality is the 
very thing that destroys it. Indeed, what could be more improbable 
and absurd than this porch or peristyle or ante-chamber — vulgar 
places where our tragedies are obliging enough to develop them- 
selves; whither conspirators come, no one knows whence, to de- 
claim against the tyrant, and the tyrant to declaim against the con- 
spirators, each in turn, as if they had said to one another in bucolic 
phrase: — 

Alternis cantemus; amant alterna Camenx. 

Where did anyone ever see a porch or peristyle of that sort? What 
could be more opposed — we will not say to the truth, for the scho- 
lastics hold it very cheap, but to probability ? The result is that every- 
thing that is too characteristic, too intimate, too local, to happen in 
the ante-chamber or on the street-corner — that is to say, the whole 
drama — takes place in the wings. We see on the stage only the 
elbows of the plot, so to speak; its hands are somewhere else. In- 
stead of scenes we have narrative; instead of tableaux, descriptions. 
Solemn-faced characters, placed, as in the old chorus, between the 
drama and ourselves, tell us what is going on in the temple, in the 
palace, on the public square, until we are tempted many a time to 
call out to them: "Indeed! then take us there! It must be very 
entertaining — a fine sight!" To which they would reply no doubt: 
"It is quite possible that it might entertain or interest you, but that 
isn't the question; we are the guardians of the dignity of the French 
Melpomene." And there you are! 

"But," someone will say, "this rule that you discard is borrowed 


from the Greek drama." Wherein, pray, do the Greek stage and 
drama resemble our stage and drama? Moreover, we have already 
shown that the vast extent of the ancient stage enabled it to include 
a whole locality, so that the poet could, according to the exigencies 
of the plot, transport it at his pleasure from one part of the stage to 
another, which is practically equivalent to a change of stage-setting. 
Curious contradiction! the Greek theatre, restricted as it was to a 
national and religious object, was much more free than ours, whose 
only object is the enjoyment, and, if you please, the instruction, of 
the spectator. The reason is that the one obeys only the laws that are 
suited to it, while the other takes upon itself conditions of existence 
which are absolutely foreign to its essence. One is artistic, the other 

People are beginning to understand in our day that exact localiza- 
tion is one of the first elements of reality. The speaking or acting 
characters are not the only ones who engrave on the minds of the 
spectators a faithful representation of the facts. The place where this 
or that catastrophe took place becomes a terrible and inseparable 
witness thereof; and the absence of silent characters of this sort 
would make the greatest scenes of history incomplete in the drama. 
Would the poet dare to murder Rizzio elsewhere than in Mary 
Stuart's chamber? to stab Henri IV elsewhere than in Rue de la 
Ferronerie, all blocked with drays and carriages? to burn Jeanne 
d'Arc elsewhere than in the Vieux-Marche ? to despatch the Due de 
Guise elsewhere than in that chateau of Blois where his ambition 
roused a popular assemblage to frenzy? to behead Charles I and 
Louis XVI elsewhere than in those ill-omened localities whence 
Whitehall or the Tuileries may be seen, as if their scaffolds were 
appurtenances of their palaces? 

Unity of time rests on no firmer foundation than unity of place. 
A plot forcibly confined within twenty-four hours is as absurd as 
one confined within a peristyle. Every plot has its proper duration as 
well as its appropriate place. Think of administering the same dose 
of time to all events! of applying the same measure to everything! 
You would laugh at a cobbler who should attempt to put the same 
shoe on every foot. To cross unity of time and unity of place like the 
bars of a cage, and pedantically to introduce therein, in the name o£ 


Aristotle, all the deeds, all the nations, all the figures which Provi- 
dence sets before us in such vast numbers in real life, — to proceed 
thus is to mutilate men and things, to cause history to make wry 
faces. Let us say, rather, that everything will die in the operation, 
and so the dogmatic mutilaters reach their ordinary result: what 
was alive in the chronicles is dead in tragedy. That is why the cage 
of the unities often contains only a skeleton. 

And then, if twenty-four hours can be comprised in two, it is 
a logical consequence that four hours may contain forty-eight. 
Thus Shakespeare's unity must be different from Corneille's. 'Tis 

But these are the wretched quibbles with which mediocrity, envy 
and routine has pestered genius for two centuries past! By such 
means the flight of our greatest poets has been cut short. Their 
wings have been clipped with the scissors of the unities. And what 
has been given us in exchange for the eagle feathers stolen from 
Corneille and Racine? Campistron. 

We imagine that someone may say: "There is something in too 
frequent changes of scene which confuses and fatigues the spectator, 
and which produces a bewildering effect on his attention; it may be, 
too, that manifold transitions from place to place, from one time to 
another time, demand explanations which repel the attention; one 
should also avoid leaving, in the midst of a plot, gaps which pre- 
vent the different parts of the drama from adhering closely to one 
another, and which, moreover, puzzle the spectator because he does 
not know what there may be in those gaps." But these are precisely 
the difficulties which art has to meet. These are some of the obstacles 
peculiar to one subject or another, as to which it would be impos- 
sible to pass judgment once for all. It is for genius to overcome, 
not for treatises or poetry to evade them. 

A final argument, taken from the very bowels of the art, would 
of itself suffice to show the absurdity of the rule of the two unities. 
It is the existence of the third unity, unity of plot — the only one that 
is universally admitted, because it results from a fact: neither the 
human eye nor the human mind can grasp more than one ensemble 
at one time. This one is as essential as the other two are useless. It 
is the one which fixes the view-point of the drama; now, by that 


very fact, it excludes the other two. There can no more be three 
unities in the drama than three horizons in a picture. But let us be 
careful not to confound unity with simplicity of plot. The former 
does not in any way exclude the secondary plots on which the prin- 
cipal plot may depend. It is necessary only that these parts, being 
skilfully subordinated to the general plan, shall tend constantly 
toward the central plot and group themselves about it at the various 
stages, or rather on the various levels of the drama. Unity of plot 
is the stage law of perspective. 

"But," the customs-officers of thought will cry, "great geniuses 
have submitted to these rules which you spurn!" Unfortunately, yes. 
But what would those admirable men have done if they had been 
left to themselves? At all events they did not accept your chains 
without a struggle. You should have seen how Pierre Corneille, 
worried and harassed at his first step in the art on account of his 
marvellous work, Le Cid, struggled under Mairet, Claveret, d'Au- 
bignac and Scuderi! How he denounced to posterity the violent 
attacks of those men, who, he says, made themselves "all white with 
Aristotle!" You should read how they said to him — and we quote 
from books of the time: "Young man, you must learn before you 
teach; and unless one is a Scaliger or a Heinsius that is intolerable!" 
Thereupon Corneille rebels and asks if their purpose is to force him 
"much below Claveret." Here Scuderi waxes indignant at such a 
display of pride, and reminds the "thrice great author of Le Cid of 
the modest words in which Tasso, the greatest man of his age, began 
his apology for the finest of his works against the bitterest and most 
unjust censure perhaps that will ever be pronounced. M. Corneille," 
he adds, "shows in his replies that he is as far removed from that 
author's moderation as from his merit." The young man so justly 
and gently reproved dares to protest; thereupon Scuderi returns to 
the charge; he calls to his assistance the Eminent Academy: "Pro- 
nounce, O my Judges, a decree worthy of your eminence, which will 
give all Europe to know that Le Cid is not the chef-d'oeuvre of the 
greatest man in France, but the least judicious performance of M. 
Corneille himself. You are bound to do it, both for your own private 
renown; and for that of our people in general, who are concerned 
in this matter; inasmuch as foreigners who may see this precious 


masterpiece — they who have possessed a Tasso or a Guarini — might 
think that our greatest masters were no more than apprentices." 

These few instructive Hues contain the everlasting tactics of envi- 
ous routine against growing talent — tactics which are still followed 
in our own day, and which, for example, added such a curious page 
to the youthful essays of Lord Byron. Scuderi gives us its quintes- 
sence. In like manner the earlier works of a man of genius are al- 
ways preferred to the newer ones, in order to prove that he is going 
down instead of up — M elite and La Galerie du Palais placed above 
Le Cid. And the names of the dead are always thrown at the heads 
of the living — Corneille stoned with Tasso and Guarini (Guarini!), 
as, later, Racine will be stoned with Corneille, Voltaire with Racine, 
and as to-day, everyone who shows signs of rising is stoned with 
Corneille, Racine and Voltaire. These tactics, as will be seen, are 
well-worn; but they must be effective as they are still in use. How- 
ever, the poor devil of a great man still breathed. Here we cannot 
help but admire the way in which Scuderi, the bully of this tragic- 
comedy, forced to the wall, blackguards and maltreats him, how 
pitilessly he unmasks his classical artillery, how he shows the author 
of Le Cid "what the episodes should be, according to Aristotle, who 
tells us in the tenth and sixteenth chapters of his Poetics"; how he 
crushes Corneille, in the name of the same Aristotle "in the eleventh 
chapter of his Art of Poetry, wherein we find the condemnation of 
Le Cid"; in the name of Plato, "in the tenth book of his Republic"; 
in the name of Marcellinus, "as may be seen in the twenty-seventh 
book"; in the name of "the tragedies of Niobe and Jephthah"; in 
the name of the "Ajax of Sophocles"; in the name of "the example 
of Euripides"; in the name of "Heinsius, chapter six of the Consti- 
tution of Tragedy; and the younger Scaliger in his poems"; and 
finally, in the name of the Canonists and Jurisconsults, under the 
title "Nuptials." The first arguments were addressed to the Acad- 
emy, the last one was aimed at the Cardinal. After the pin-pricks 
the blow with a club. A judge was needed to decide the question. 
Chapelain gave judgment. Corneille saw that he was doomed; the 
lion was muzzled, or, as was said at the time, the crow {Corneille) 
was plucked. Now comes the painful side of this grotesque perform- 
ance: after he had been thus quenched at his first flash, this genius, 


thoroughly modern, fed upon the Middle Ages and Spain, being 
compelled to lie to himself and to hark back to ancient times, drew 
for us that CastiUan Rome, which is sublime beyond question, but 
in which, except perhaps in Nicomede, which was so ridiculed by the 
eighteenth century for its dignified and simple colouring, we find 
neither the real Rome nor the true Corneille. 

Racine was treated to the same persecution, but did not make the 
same resistance. Neither in his genius nor in his character was there 
any of Corneille's lofty asperity. He submitted in silence and sacri- 
ficed to the scorn of his time his enchanting elegy of Esther, his 
magnificent epic, Athalie. So that we can but believe that, if he had 
not been paralyzed as he was by the prejudices of his epoch, if he had 
come in contact less frequently with the classic cramp-fish, he would 
not have failed to introduce Locuste in his drama between Narcisse 
and Neron, and above all things would not have relegated to the 
wings the admirable scene of the banquet at which Seneca's pupil 
poisons Britannicus in the cup of reconciliation. But can we demand 
of the bird that he fly under the receiver of an air-pump } What a 
multitude of beautiful scenes the people of taste have cost us, from 
Scuderi to La Harpe! A noble work might be composed of all that 
their scorching breath has withered in its germ. However, our great 
poets have found a way none the less to cause their genius to blaze 
forth through all these obstacles. Often the attempt to confine them 
behind walls of dogmas and rules is vain. Like the Hebrew giant 
they carry their prison doors with them to the mountains. 

But still the same refrain is repeated, and will be, no doubt, for a 
long while to come: "Follow the rules! Copy the models! It was 
the rules that shaped the models." One moment! In that case there 
are two sorts of models, those which are made according to the rules, 
and, prior to them, those according to which the rules were made. 
Now, in which of these two categories should genius seek a place 
for itself? Although it is always disagreeable to come in contact 
with pedants, is it not a thousand times better to give them lessons 
than to receive lessons from them ? And then — copy! Is the reflection 
equal to the light.'' Is the satellite which travels unceasingly in the 
same circle equal to the central creative planet ? With all his poetry 
Virgil is no more than the moon of Homer. 


And whom are we to copy, I pray to know? The ancients? We 
have just shown that their stage has nothing in common with ours. 
Moreover, Voltaire, who will have none of Shakespeare, will have 
none of the Greeks, either. Let him tell us why : "The Greeks ven- 
tured to produce scenes no less revolting to us. Hippolyte, crushed by 
his fall, counts his wounds and utters doleful cries. Philoctetes falls 
in his paroxysms of pain; black blood flows from his wound. 
CEdipus, covered with the blood that still drops from the sockets 
of the eyes he has torn out, complains bitterly of gods and men. 
We hear the shrieks of Clytemnestra, murdered by her own son, and 
Electra, on the stage, cries: 'Strike! spare her not! she did not spare 
our father.' Prometheus is fastened to a rock by nails driven through 
his stomach and his arms. The Furies reply to Clytemnestra's bleed- 
ing shade with inarticulate roars. Art was in its infancy in the 
time of ^schylus as it was in London in Shakespeare's time." 

Whom shall we copy, then? The moderns? What! copy copies! 
God forbid! 

"But," someone else will object, "according to your conception of 
the art, you seem to look for none but great poets, to count always 
upon genius." Art certainly does not count upon mediocrity. It pre- 
scribes no rules for it, it knows nothing of it; in fact, mediocrity has 
no existence so far as art is concerned; art supplies wings, not 
crutches. Alas! D'Aubignac followed rules, Campistron copied 
models. What does it matter to art? It does not build its palaces for 
ants. It lets them make their ant-hill, without taking the trouble 
to find out whether they have built their burlesque imitation of its 
palace upon its foundation. 

The critics of the scholastic school place their poets in a strange 
position. On the one hand they cry incessantly: "Copy the models!" 
On the other hand they have a habit of declaring that "the models 
are inimitable!" Now, if their craftsman, by dint of hard work, 
succeeds in forcing through this dangerous defile some colourless 
tracing of the masters, these ungrateful wretches, after examining the 
new refaccimiento, exclaim sometimes: "This doesn't resemble any- 
thing!" and sometimes: "This resembles everything!" And by 
virtue of a logic made for the occasion each of these formulae is a 


Let us then speak boldly. The time for it has come, and it would 
be strange if, in this age, liberty, like the light, should penetrate every- 
where except to the one place where freedom is most natural — the 
domain of thought. Let us take the hammer to theories and poetic 
systems. Let us throw down the old plastering that conceals the 
facade of art. There are neither rules nor models; or, rather, there are 
no other rules than the general laws of nature, which soar above 
the whole field of art, and the special rules which result from the 
conditions appropriate to the subject of each composition. The 
former are of the essence, eternal, and do not change; the latter are 
variable, external, and are used but once. The former are the frame- 
work that supports the house; the latter the scaffolding which is 
used in building it, and which is made anew for each building. In 
a word, the former are the flesh and bones, the latter the clothing, of 
the drama. But these rules are not written in the treatises on poetry. 
Richelet has no idea of their existence. Genius, which divines rather 
than learns, devises for each work the general rules from the general 
plan of things, the special rules from the separate ensemble of the 
subject treated; not after the manner of the chemist, who Hghts the 
fire under his furnace, heats his crucible, analyzes and destroys; but 
after the manner of the bee, which flies on its golden wings, lights on 
each flower and extracts its honey, leaving it as brilliant and 
fragrant as before. 

The poet — let us insist on this point — should take counsel therefore 
only of nature, truth, and inspiration which is itself both truth and 
nature. "Quando he," says Lope de Vega, 

"Quando he de escrivir una comedia, 
Encierro los preceptos con seis Haves." 

To secure these precepts "six keys" are none too many, in very 
truth. Let the poet beware especially of copying anything whatso- 
ever — Shakespeare no more than Moliere, Schiller no more than 
Corneille. If genuine talent could abdicate its own nature in this 
matter, and thus lay aside its original personality, to transform itself 
into another, it would lose everything by playing this role of its own 
double. It is as if a god should turn valet. We must draw our inspira- 
tion from the original sources. It is the same sap, distributed through 


the soil, that produces all the trees of the forest, so different in bearing 
power, in fruit, in foliage. It is the same nature that fertilizes and 
nourishes the most diverse geniuses. The poet is a tree that may 
be blown about by all winds and watered by every fall of dew; and 
bears his works as his fruit, as the fablier of old bore his fables. Why 
attach one's self to a master, or graft one's self upon a model ? It were 
better to be a bramble or a thistle, fed by the same earth as the cedar 
and the palm, than the fungus or the lichen of those noble trees. 
The bramble lives, the fungus vegetates. Moreover, however great 
the cedar and the palm may be, it is not with the sap one sucks from 
them that one can become great one's self. A giant's parasite will be 
at best a dwarf. The oak, colossus that it is, can produce and sustain 
nothing more than the mistletoe. 

Let there be no misunderstanding: if some of our poets have 
succeeded in being great, even when copying, it is because, while 
forming themselves on the antique model, they have often listened 
to the voice of nature and to their own genius — it is because they 
have been themselves in some one respect. Their branches became 
entangled in those of the near-by tree, but their roots were buried 
deep in the soil of art. They were the ivy, not the mistletoe. Then 
came imitators of the second rank, who, having neither roots in the 
earth, nor genius in their souls, had to confine themselves to imita- 
tion. As Charles Nodier says : "After the school of Athens, the school 
of Alexandria." Then there was a deluge of mediocrity; then there 
came a swarm of those treatises on poetry, so annoying to true talent, 
so convenient for mediocrity. We were told that everything was 
done, and God was forbidden to create more Molieres or Corneilles. 
Memory was put in place of imagination. Imagination itself was 
subjected to hard-and-fast rules, and aphorisms were made about it: 
"To imagine," says La Harpe, with his naive assurance, "is in sub- 
stance to remember, that is all." 

But nature! Nature and truth! — And here, in order to prove that, 
far from demohshing art, the new ideas aim only to reconstruct it 
more firmly and on a better foundation, let us try to point out the 
impassable limit which in our opinion, separates reality according to 
art from reality according to nature. It is careless to confuse them 
as some ill-informed partisans of romanticism do. Truth in art 


cannot possibly be, as several writers have claimed, absolute reality. 
Art cannot produce the thing itself. Let us imagine, for example, 
one of those unreflecting promoters of absolute nature, of nature 
viewed apart from art, at the performance of a romantic play, say 
Le Cid. "What's that?" he will ask at the first word. "The Cid 
speaks in verse? It isn't natural to speak in verse." — "How would 
you have him speak, pray?" — "In prose." Very good. A moment 
later, "How's this!" he will continue, if he is consistent; "the Cid is 
speaking French!" — "Well?" — "Nature demands that he speak his 
own language; he can't speak anything but Spanish." 

We shall fail entirely to understand, but again — very good. You 
imagine that this is all? By no means: before the tenth sentence 
in Castilian, he is certain to rise and ask if the Cid who is speaking is 
the real Cid, in flesh and blood. By what right does the actor, whose 
name is Pierre or Jacques, take the name of the Cid ? That is false. 
There is no reason why he should not go on to demand that the sun 
should be substituted for the footlights, red trees and real houses 
for those deceitful wings. For, once started on that road, logic has 
you by the collar, and you cannot stop. 

We must admit, therefore, or confess ourselves ridiculous, that the 
domains of art and of nature are entirely distinct. Nature and art are 
two things — were it not so, one or the other would not exist. Art, 
in addition to its idealistic side, has a terrestrial, material side. Let 
it do what it will, it is shut in between grammar and prosody, be- 
tween Vaugelas and Richelet. For its most capricious creations, 
it has formulae, methods of execution, a complete apparatus to set in 
motion. For genius there are delicate instruments, for mediocrity, 

It seems to us that someone has already said that the drama is a 
mirror wherein nature is reflected. But if it be an ordinary mirror, 
a smooth and polished surface, it will give only a dull image of 
objects, with no relief — faithful, but colourless; everyone knows that 
colour and light are lost in a simple reflection. The drama, therefore, 
must be a concentrating mirror, which, instead of weakening, con- 
centrates and condenses the coloured rays, which makes of a mere 
gleam a light, and of a light a flame. Then only is the drama 
acknowledged by art. 


The stage is an optical point. Everything that exists in the world 
— in history, in life, in man — should be and can be reflected therein, 
but under the magic wand of art. Art turns the leaves of the ages, 
of nature, studies chronicles, strives to reproduce actual facts (espe- 
cially in respect to manners and peculiarities, which are much less 
exposed to doubt and contradiction than are concrete facts), restores 
what the chroniclers have lopped off, harmonises what they have 
collected, divines and supplies their omissions, fills their gaps with 
imaginary scenes which have the colour of the time, groups what 
they have left scattered about, sets in motion anew the threads of 
Providence which work the human marionettes, clothes the whole 
with a form at once poetical and natural, and imparts to it that 
vitality of truth and brilliancy which gives birth to illusion, that 
prestige of reality which arouses the enthusiasm of the spectator, and 
of the poet first of all, for the poet is sincere. Thus the aim of art 
is almost divine: to bring to life again if it is writing history, to 
create if it is writing poetry. 

It is a grand and beautiful sight to see this broad development of a 
drama wherein art powerfully seconds nature; of a drama wherein 
the plot moves on to the conclusion with a firm and unembarrassed 
step, without diffuseness and without undue compression; of a 
drama, in short, wherein the poet abundantly fulfills the multifold 
object of art, which is to open to the spectator a double prospect, 
to illuminate at the same time the interior and the exterior of man- 
kind: the exterior by their speech and their acts, the interior, by 
asides and monologues; to bring together, in a word, in the same 
picture, the drama of life and the drama of conscience. 

It will readily be imagined that, for a work of this kind, if the poet 
must choose (and he must), he should choose, not the beautiful, 
but the characteristic. Not that it is advisable to "make local colour," 
as they say to-day; that is, to add as an afterthought a few discordant 
touches here and there to a work that is at best utterly conventional 
and false. The local colour should not be on the surface of the drama, 
but in its substance, in the very heart of the work, whence it spreads 
of itself, naturally, evenly, and, so to speak, into every corner of the 
drama, as the sap ascends from the root to the tree's topmost leaf. 
The drama should be thoroughly impregnated with this colour of 


the time, which should be, in some sort, in the air, so that one detects 
it only on entering the theatre, and that on going forth one finds 
one's self in a different period and atmosphere. It requires some 
study, some labour, to attain this end; so much the better. It is well 
that the avenues of art should be obstructed by those brambles from 
which everybody recoils except those of powerful will. Besides, it is 
this very study, fostered by an ardent inspiration, which will ensure 
the drama against a vice that kills it — the commonplace. To be 
commonplace is the failing of short-sighted, short-breathed poets. 
In this tableau of the stage, each figure must be held down to its most 
prominent, most individual, most precisely defined characteristic. 
Even the vulgar and the trivial should have an accent of their own. 
Like God, the true poet is present in every part of his work at once. 
Genius resembles the die which stamps the king's effigy on copper 
and golden coins alike. 

We do not hesitate — and this will demonstrate once more to honest 
men how far we are from seeking to discredit the art — we do not 
hesitate to consider verse as one of the means best adapted to protect 
the drama from the scourge we have just mentioned, as one of the 
most powerful dams against the irruption of the commonplace, 
which, like democracy, is always flowing between full banks in men's 
minds. And at this point we beg the younger literary generation, 
already so rich in men and in works, to allow us to point out an 
error into which it seems to have fallen — an error too fully justified, 
indeed, by the extraordinary aberrations of the old school. The new 
century is at that growing age at which one can readily set one's self 

There has appeared of late, like a penultimate branching-out of 
the old classical trunk, or, better still, like one of those excrescences, 
those polypi, which decrepitude develops, and which are a sign of 
decomposition much more than a proof of life — there has appeared a 
strange school of dramatic poetry. This school seems to us to have 
had for its master and its fountain-head the poet who marks the 
transition from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, the man 
of wearisome description and periphrases — that Delille who, they say, 
toward the close of his life, boasted, after the fashion of the Homeric 
catalogues, of having made twelve camels, four dogs, three horses. 


including Job's, six tigers, two cats, a chess-board, a backgammon- 
board, a checker-board, a biUiard-table, several winters, many sum- 
mers, a multitude of springs, fifty sunsets, and so many daybreaks 
that he had lost count of them. 

Now, Delille went into tragedy. He is the father (he, and not 
Racine, God save the mark!) of an alleged school of refinement and 
taste which flourished until recently. Tragedy is not to this school 
what it was to Will Shakespeare, say, a source of emotions of every 
sort, but a convenient frame for the solution of a multitude of petty 
descriptive problems which it propounds as it goes along. This muse, 
far from spurning, as the true French classic school does, the trivial 
and degrading things of life, eagerly seeks them out and brings 
them together. The grotesque, shunned as undesirable company by 
the tragedy of Louis the Fourteenth's day, cannot pass unnoticed 
before her. It must be described, that is to say, ennobled. 

A scene in the guard-house, a popular uprising, the fish-market, 
the galleys, the wine-shop, the foule au pot of Henri Quatre, are 
treasure-trove in her eyes. She seizes upon this canaille, washes it 
clean, and sews her tinsel and spangles over its villainies; purpureus 
assuitur pannus. Her object seems to be to deliver patents of nobility 
to all these roturiers of the drama; and each of these patents under 
the great seal is a speech. 

This muse, as may be imagined, is of a rare prudery. Wonted as 
she is to the caresses of periphrasis, plain-speaking, if she should 
occasionally be exposed to it, would horrify her. It does not accord 
with her dignity to speak naturally. She underlines old CorneiUe 
for his blunt way of speaking, as in, — 

"A heap of men ruined by debt and crimes." 

"Chimene, who'd have thought it? Rodrigue, who'd have said it?" 

"When their Flaminius haggled with Hannibal." 

"Oh! do not embroil me with the Republic." 

She still has her "Tout beau, monsieur!" on her heart. And it 
needed many "seigneurs" and "madames" to procure forgiveness for 
our admirable Racine for his monosyllabic "dogs!" and for so 
brutally bestowing Claudius in Agrippina's bed. 

This Melpomene, as she is called, would shudder at the thought 


of touching a chronicle. She leaves to the costumer the duty o£ 
learning the period of the dramas she writes. In her eyes history is 
bad form and bad taste. How, for example, can one tolerate kings 
and queens who swear? They must be elevated from mere regal 
dignity to tragic dignity. It was in a promotion of this sort that she 
exalted Henri IV. It was thus that the people's king, purified by 
M. Legouve, found his "ventre-saint-gris" ignominiously banished 
from his mouth by two sentences, and that he was reduced, like the 
girl in the old fabliau, to the necessity of letting fall from those royal 
lips only pearls and sapphires and rubies: the apotheosis of falsity, in 
very truth. 

The fact is that nothing is so commonplace as this conventional 
refinement and nobility. Nothing original, no imagination, no in- 
vention in this style; simply what one has seen everywhere — rhetoric, 
bombast, commonplaces, flowers of college eloquence, poetry after 
the style of Latin verses. The poets of this school are eloquent after 
the manner of stage princes and princesses, always sure of finding in 
the costumer's labelled cases, cloaks and pinchbeck crowns, which 
have no other disadvantage than that of having been used by every- 
body. If these poets never turn the leaves of the Bible, it is not 
because they have not a bulky book of their own, the Dictionnaire 
de rimes. That is the source of their poetry — pontes aquarum. 

It will be seen that, in all this, nature and truth get along as best 
they can. It would be great good luck if any remnants of either 
should survive in this cataclysm of false art, false style, false poetry. 
This is what has caused the errors of several of our distinguished 
reformers. Disgusted by the stiffness, the ostentation, the pomposo, 
of this alleged dramatic poetry, they have concluded that the elements 
of our poetic language were incompatible with the natural and the 
true. The Alexandrine had wearied them so often, that they con- 
demned it without giving it a hearing, so to speak, and decided, a 
little hastily, perhaps, that the drama should be written in prose. 

They were mistaken. If in fact the false is predominant in the style 
as well as in the action of certain French tragedies, it is not the verses 
that should be held responsible therefore, but the versifiers. It was 
needful to condemn, not the form employed, but those who employed 
it: the workmen, not the tool. 


To convince one's self how few obstacles the nature of our poetry 
places in the way of the free expression of all that is true, we should 
study our verse, not in Racine, perhaps, but often in Corneille and 
always in Moliere. Racine, a divine poet, is elegiac, lyric, epic; 
Moliere is dramatic. It is time to deal sternly with the criticisms 
heaped upon that admirable style by the wretched taste of the last 
century, and to proclaim aloud that MoHere occupies the topmost 
pinnacle of our drama, not only as a poet, but also as a writer. Palmas 
fere habet iste duas. 

In his work the verse surrounds the idea, becomes of its very 
essence, compresses and develops it at once, imparts to it a more 
slender, more definite, more complete form, and gives us, in some 
sort, an extract thereof. Verse is the optical form of thought. That 
is why it is especially adapted to the perspective of the stage. Con- 
structed in a certain way, it communicates its relief to things which, 
but for it, would be considered insignificant and trivial. It makes 
the tissue of style finer and firmer. It is the knot which stays the 
thread. It is the girdle which holds up the garment and gives it all 
its folds. What could nature and the true lose, then, by entering 
into verse? We ask the question of our prose-writers themselves — 
what do they lose in Moliere's poetry? Does wine — we beg pardon 
for another trivial illustration — does wine cease to be wine when it 
is bottled ? 

If we were entitled to say what, in our opinion, the style of 
dramatic poetry should be, we would declare for a free, outspoken, 
sincere verse, which dares say everything without prudery, express 
its meaning without seeking for words; which passes naturally from 
comedy to tragedy, from the sublime to the grotesque; by turns 
practical and poetical, both artistic and inspired, profound and im- 
pulsive, of wide range and true; verse which is apt opportunely 
to displace the caesura, in order to disguise the monotony of Alex- 
andrines; more inclined to the enjambement that lengthens the 
line, than to the inversion of phrases that confuses the sense; faithful 
to rhyme, that enslaved queen, that supreme charm of our poetry, 
that creator of our metre; verse that is inexhaustible in the verity of 
its turns of thought, unfathomable in its secrets of composition and 
of grace; assuming, like Proteus, a thousand forms without chang- 


ing its type and character; avoiding long speeches; taking deHght 
in dialogue; always hiding behind the characters of the drama; 
intent, before everything, on being in its place, and when it falls 
to its lot to be beautiful, being so only by chance, as it were, in spite 
of itself and unconsciously; lyric, epic, dramatic, at need; capable of 
running through the whole gamut of poetry, of skipping from 
high notes to low, from the most exalted to the most trivial ideas, 
from the most extravagant to the most solemn, from the most 
superficial to the most abstract, without ever passing beyond the 
limits of a spoken scene; in a word, such verse as a man would write 
whom a fairy had endowed with Corneille's mind and Moliere's 
brain. It seems to us that such verse would be as fine as prose. 

There would be nothing in common between poetry of this sort 
and that of which we made a post mortem examination just now. 
The distinction will be easy to point out if a certain man of talent, 
to whom the author of this book is under personal obligation, will 
allow us to borrow his clever phrase: the other poetry was descriptive, 
this would be picturesque. 

Let us repeat, verse on the stage should lay aside all self-love, all 
exigence, all coquetry. It is simply a form, and a form which should 
admit everything, which has no laws to impose on the drama, but on 
the contrary should receive everything from it, to be transmitted 
to the spectator — French, Latin, texts of laws, royal oaths, popular 
phrases, comedy, tragedy, laughter, tears, prose and poetry. Woe to 
the poet whose verse does not speak out! But this form is a form of 
bronze which encases the thought in its metre beneath which the 
drama is indestructible, which engraves it more deeply on the actor's 
mind, warns him of what he omits and of what he adds, prevents 
him from changing his role, from substituting himself for the 
author, makes each word sacred, and causes what the poet has said 
to remain vivid a long while in the hearer's memory. The idea, 
when steeped in verse, suddenly assumes a more incisive, more 
brilliant quality. 

One feels that prose, which is necessarily more timid, obliged to 
wean the drama from anything like epic or lyric poetry, reduced 
to dialogue and to matter-of-fact, is a long way from possessing these 
resources. It has much narrower wings. And then, too, it is much 


more easy of access; mediocrity is at its ease in prose; and for the 
sake of a few works of distinction such as have appeared of late, the 
art would very soon be overloaded with abortions and embryos. 
Another faction of the reformers incline to drama written in both 
prose and verse, as Shakespeare composed it. This method has its 
advantages. There might, however, be some incongruity in the 
transitions from one form to the other; and when a tissue is homo- 
geneous it is much stouter. However, whether the drama should be 
written in prose is only a secondary question. The rank of a work 
is certain to be fixed, not according to its form, but according to its 
intrinsic value. In questions of this sort, there is only one solution. 
There is but one weight that can turn the scale in the balance of art — 
that is genius. 

Meanwhile, the first, the indispensable merit of a dramatic writer, 
whether he write in prose or verse, is correctness. Not a mere super- 
ficial correctness, the merit or defect of the descriptive school, which 
makes Lhomond and Restaut the two wings of its Pegasus; but that 
intimate, deep-rooted, deliberate correctness, which is permeated with 
the genius of a language,which has sounded its roots and searched its 
etymology; always unfettered, because it is sure of its footing, and al- 
ways more in harmony with the logic of the language. Our Lady 
Grammar leads the one in leading-strings; the other holds grammar 
in leash. It can venture anything, can create or invent its style; it has 
a right to do so. For, whatever certain men may have said who did 
not think what they were saying, and among whom we must place, 
notably, him who writes these lines, the French tongue is not fixed 
and never will be. A language does not become fixed. The human 
intellect is always on the march, or, if you prefer, in movement, 
and languages with it. Things are made so. When the body changes, 
how could the coat not change? The French of the nineteenth 
century can no more be the French of the eighteenth, than that is the 
French of the seventeenth, or than the French of the seventeenth 
is that of the sixteenth. Montaigne's language is not Rabelais's, 
Pascal's is not Montaigne's, Montesquieu's is not Pascal's. Each of 
the four languages, taken by itself, is admirable because it is original. 
Every age has its own ideas; it must have also words adapted to 
those ideas. Languages are like the sea, they move to and fro inces- 


santly. At certain times they leave one shore of the world of thought 
and overflow another. All that their waves thus abandon dries up 
and vanishes. It is in this wise that ideas vanish, that words disap- 
pear. It is the same with human tongues as with everything. Each 
age adds and takes away something. What can be done? It is the 
decree of fate. In vain, therefore, should we seek to petrify the 
mobile physiognomy of our idiom in a fixed form. In vain do our 
literary Joshuas cry out to the language to stand still; languages and 
the sun do not stand still. The day when they become fixed, they are 
dead.— That is why the French of a certain contemporary school is 
a dead language. 

Such are, substantially, but without the more elaborate develop- 
ment which would make the evidence in their favour more complete, 
the present ideas of the author of this book concerning the drama. 
He is far, however, from presuming to put forth his first dramatic 
essay as an emanation of these ideas, which, on the contrary, are 
themselves, it may be, simply results of its execution. It would be 
very convenient for him, no doubt, and very clever, to rest his book 
on his preface, and to defend each by the other. He prefers less 
cleverness and more frankness. He proposes, therefore, to be the 
first to point out the extreme tenuity of the thread connecting this 
preface with his drama. His first plan, dictated by his laziness, was 
to give the work to the public entirely unattended: el demonio sin- 
las cuernas, as Yriarte said. It was only after he had duly brought it 
to a close, that, at the solicitations of a few friends, blinded by their 
friendship, no doubt, he determined to reckon with himself in a 
preface — to draw, so to speak, a map of the poetic voyage he had 
made, to take account of the acquisitions, good or bad, that he had 
brought home, and of the new aspects in which the domain of art 
had presented itself to his mind. Someone will take advantage of 
this admission, doubtless, to repeat the reproach already uttered by 
a critic in Germany, that he has written "a treatise in defence of his 
poetry." What does it matter ? In the first place he was much more 
inclined to demolish treatises on poetry than to write them. And 
then, would it not be better always to write treatises based on a poem, 
than to write poems based on a treatise ? But no, we repeat that he 
has neither the talent to create nor the presumption to put forth 


systems. "Systems," cleverly said Voltaire, "are like rats which pass 
through twenty holes, only to find at last two or three which will not 
let them through." It would have been, therefore, to undertake a 
useless task and one much beyond his strength. What he has pleaded, 
on the contrary, is the freedom of art against the despotism of sys- 
tems, codes and rules. It is his habit to follow at all risks whatever 
he takes for his inspiration, and to change moulds as often as he 
changes metals. Dogmatism in the arts is what he shuns before 
everything. God forbid that he should aspire to be numbered 
among those men, be they romanticists or classicists, who compose 
wor\s according to their own systems, who condemn themselves 
to have but one form in their minds, to be forever proving something, 
to follow other laws than those of their temperaments and their 
natures. The artificial work of these men, however talented they 
may be, has no existence so far as art is concerned. It is a theory, not 

Having attempted, in all that has gone before, to point out what, 
in our opinion, was the origin of the drama, what its character is, and 
what its style should be, the time has come to descend from these 
exalted general considerations upon the art to the particular case 
which has led us to put them forth. It remains for us to discourse 
to the reader of our work, of this Cromwell; and as it is not a subject 
in which we take pleasure, we will say very little about it in very few 

Oliver Cromwell is one of those historical characters who are at 
once very famous and very little known. Most of his biographers — 
and among them there are some who are themselves historical — 
have left that colossal figure incomplete. It would seem that they 
dared not assemble all the characteristic features of that strange and 
gigantic prototype of the religious reformation, of the political 
revolution of England. Almost all of them have confined themselves 
to reproducing on a larger scale the simple and ominous profile 
drawn by Bossuet from his Catholic and monarchical standpoint, 
from his episcopal pulpit supported by the throne of Louis XIV. 

Like everybody else, the author of this book went no further than 
that. The name of Oliver Cromwell suggested to him simply the 
bare conception of a fanatical regicide and a great captain. Only on 


prowling among the chronicles of the times, which he did with 
deUght, and on looking through the English memoirs of the seven- 
teenth century, was he surprised to find that a wholly new Cromwell 
was gradually exposed to his gaze. It was no longer simply Bossuet's 
Cromwell the soldier, Cromwell the politician; it was a complex, 
heterogeneous, multiple being, made up of all sorts of contraries — a 
mixture of much that was evil and much that was good, of genius 
and pettiness; a sort of Tiberius-Dandin, the tyrant of Europe and 
the plaything of his family; an old regicide, who delighted to humili- 
ate the ambassadors of all the kings of Europe, and was tormented 
by his young royalist daughter; austere and gloomy in his manners, 
yet keeping four court jesters about him; given to the composition of 
wretched verses; sober, simple, frugal, yet a stickler for etiquette; 
a rough soldier and a crafty politician; skilled in theological disputa- 
tion and very fond of it; a dull, diffuse, obscure orator, but clever 
in speaking the language of anybody whom he wished to influence; 
a hypocrite and a fanatic; a visionary swayed by phantoms of his 
childhood, believing in astrologers and banishing them; suspicious 
to excess, always threatening, rarely sanguinary; a strict observer of 
Puritan rules, and solemnly wasting several hours a day in buffoon- 
ery; abrupt and contemptuous with his intimates, caressing with the 
secretaries whom he feared, holding his remorse at bay with sophis- 
try, paltering with his conscience, inexhaustible in adroitness, in 
tricks, in resources; mastering his imagination by his intelligence; 
grotesque and sublime; in a word, one of those men who are "square 
at the base," as they were described by Napoleon, himself their chief, 
in his mathematically exact and poetically figurative language. 

He who writes these lines, in presence of this rare and impressive 
ensemble, felt that Bossuet's impassioned sketch was no longer 
sufficient for him. He began to walk about that lofty figure, and he 
was seized by a powerful temptation to depict the giant in all his 
aspects. It was a rich soil. Beside the man of war and the statesman, 
it remained to draw the theologian, the pedant, the wretched poet, 
the seer of visions, the buffoon, the father, the husband, the human 
Proteus — in a word, the twofold Cromwell, homo et vir. 

There is one period of his Hfe, especially, in which this strange 
personality exhibits itself in all its forms. It is not as one might 


think at first blush, the period o£ the trial o£ Charles I, instinct as 
that is with depressing and terrible interest; but it is the moment 
when the ambitious mortal boldly attempted to pluck the fruit of 
that monarch's death; it is the moment when Cromwell, having 
attained what would have been to any other man the zenith of 
fortune — master of England, whose innumerable factions knelt 
silently at his feet; master of Scotland, of which he had made a 
satrapy, and of Ireland, which he had turned into a prison; master 
of Europe through his diplomacy and his fleets — seeks to fulfil the 
dream of his earliest childhood, the last ambition of his life; to make 
himself king. History never had a more impressive lesson in a more 
impressive drama. First of all, the Protector arranges to be urged to 
assume the crown : the august farce begins by addresses from munici- 
palities, from counties; then there comes an act of Parliament. 
Cromwell, the anonymous author of the play, pretends to be dis- 
pleased; we see him put out a hand toward the sceptre, then draw 
it back; by a devious path he draws near the throne from which he 
has swept the legitimate dynasty. At last he makes up his mind, 
suddenly; by his command Westminster is decked with flags, the 
dais is built, the crown is ordered from the jewelers, the day is ap- 
pointed for the ceremony. — Strange denouement! On that very day, 
in presence of the populace, the troops, the House of Commons, in 
the great hall of Westminster, on that dais from which he expected 
to descend as king, suddenly, as if aroused by a shock, he seems to 
awaken at the sight of the crown, asks if he is dreaming, and what 
the meaning is of all this regal pomp, and in a speech that lasts three 
hours declines the kingly title. 

Was it because his spies had warned him of two conspiracies 
formed by Cavaliers and Puritans in concert, which were intended, 
taking advantage of this misstep, to break out on the same day ? Was 
it an inward revolution caused by the silence or the murmurs of the 
populace, discomposed to see their regicide ascend the throne? Or 
was it simply the sagacity of genius, the instinct of a far-seeing, 
albeit unbridled ambition, which realizes how one step forward 
changes a man's position and attitude, and which dares not expose 
its plebeian structure to the wind of unpopularity ? Was it all these 
at once? This is a question which no contemporaneous document 


answers satisfactorily. So much the better: the poet's liberty is the 
more complete, and the drama is the gainer by the latitude which 
history affords it. It will be seen that here the latitude is ample and 
unique; this is, in truth, the decisive hour, the turning-point in 
Cromwell's life. It is the moment when his chimera escapes from 
him, when the present kills the future, when, to use an expressive 
colloquialism, his destiny misses fire. All of Cromwell is at stake 
in the comedy being played between England and himself. 

Such then is the man and such the period of which we have tried 
to give an idea in this book. 

The author has allowed himself to be seduced by the childlike 
diversion of touching the keys of that great harpsichord. Unques- 
tionably, more skillful hands might have evoked a thrilling and 
profound melody — not of those which simply caress the ear — ^but of 
those intimate harmonies which stir the whole man to the depths 
of his being, as if each key of the key-board were connected with 
a fibre of the heart. He has surrendered to the desire to depict ail 
those fanaticisms, all those superstitions — maladies to which reUgion 
is subject at certain epochs; to the longing to "make playthings of all 
these men," as Hamlet says. To set in array about and below Crom- 
well, himself the centre and pivot of that court, of that people, of that 
little world, which attracts all to his cause and inspires all with his 
vigour, that twofold conspiracy devised by two factions which detest 
each other, but join hands to overthrow the man who blocks their 
path, but which unite simply without blending; and that Puritan 
faction, of divers minds, fanatical, gloomy, unselfish, choosing for 
leader the most insignificant of men for such a great part, the ego- 
tistical and cowardly Lambert; and the faction of the Cavaliers, 
featherheaded, merry, unscrupulous, reckless, devoted, led by the 
man who, aside from his devotion to the cause, was least fitted to 
represent it, the stern and upright Ormond; and those ambassadors, 
so humble and fawning before the soldier of fortune; and the court 
itself, an extraordinary mixture of upstarts and great nobles vying 
with one another in baseness; and the four jesters whom the con- 
temptuous neglect of history permitted me to invent; and Crom- 
well's family, each member of which is as a thorn in his flesh; and 
Thurloe, the Protector's Achates; and the Jewish rabbi, Israel Ben- 


Manasseh, spy, usurer, and astrologer, vile on two sides, sublime 
on the third; and Rochester, the unique Rochester, absurd and clever, 
refined and crapulous, always cursing, always in love, and always 
tipsy, as he himself boasted to Bishop Burnet — wretched poet and 
gallant gentleman, vicious and ingenuous, staking his head and 
indifferent whether he wins the game provided it amuses him — in 
a word, capable of everything, of ruse and recklessness, calculation 
and folly, villainy and generosity; and the morose Carr, of whom 
history describes but one trait, albeit a most characteristic and sug- 
gestive one; and those other fanatics, of all ranks and varieties: 
Harrison, the thieving fanatic; Barebones the shopkeeping fanatic; 
Syndercomb, the bravo; Garland the tearful and pious assassin; 
gallant Colonel Overton, intelligent but a little declamatory; the 
austere and unbending Ludlow, who left his ashes and his epitaph 
at Lausanne; and lastly, "Milton and a few other men of mind," 
as we read in a pamphlet of 1675 {Cromwell the Politician), which 
reminds one of "a certain Dante" of the Itahan chronicle. 

We omit many less important characters, of each of whom, how- 
ever, the actual life is known, and each of whom has his marked 
individuality, and all of whom contributed to the fascination which 
this vast historical scene exerted upon the author's imagination. 
From that scene he constructed this drama. He moulded it in verse, 
because he preferred to do so. One will discover on reading it how 
little thought he gave to his work while writing this preface — with 
what disinterestedness, for instance, he contended against the dogma 
of the unities. His drama does not leave London; it begins on June 
25, 1657, at three in the morning, and ends on the 26th at noon. 
Observe that he has almost followed the classic formula, as the 
professors of poetry lay it down to-day. They need not, however, 
thank him for it. With the permission of history, not of Aristotle, 
the author constructed his drama thus; and because, when the 
interest is the same, he prefers a compact subject to a widely dif- 
fused one. 

It is evident that, in its present proportions, this drama could not be 
given at one of our theatrical performances. It is too long. The 
reader will perhaps comprehend, none the less, that every part of it 
was written for the stage. It was on approaching his subject to study 


it that the author recognized, or thought that he recognized, the 
impossibihty of procuring the performance of a faithful reproduction 
of it on our stage, in the exceptional position it now occupies, between 
the academic Charybdis and the administrative Scylla, between the 
literary juries and the political censorship. He was required to 
choose: either the wheedling, tricky, false tragedy, which may be 
acted, or the audaciously true drama, which is prohibited. The first 
was not worth the trouble of writing, so he preferred to attempt the 
second. That is why, hopeless of ever being put on the stage, he 
abandoned himself, freely and submissively, to the whims of compo- 
sition, to the pleasure of painting with a freer hand, to the develop- 
ments which his subject demanded, and which, even if they keep his 
drama off the stage, have at all events the advantage of making it 
almost complete from the historical standpoint. However, the read- 
ing committees are an obstacle of the second class only. If it should 
happen that the dramatic censorship, realizing how far this harm- 
less, conscientious and accurate picture of Cromwell and his time 
is removed from our own age, should sanction its production on the 
stage, in that case, but only in that case, the author might perhaps 
extract from this drama a play which would venture to show itself 
on the boards, and would be hissed. 

Until then he will continue to hold aloof from the theatre. And 
even then he will leave his cherished and tranquil retirement soon 
enough, for the agitation and excitement of this new world. God 
grant that he may never repent of having exposed the unspotted 
obscurity of his name and his person to the shoals, the squalls and 
tempests of the pit, and above all (for what does a mere failure 
matter?) to the wretched bickerings of the wings; of having entered 
that shifting, foggy, stormy atmosphere, where ignorance dog- 
matises, where envy hisses, where cabals cringe and crawl, where the 
probity of talent has so often been misrepresented, where the noble 
innocence of genius is sometimes so out of place, where mediocrity 
triumphs in lowering to its level the superiority which obscures it, 
where one finds so many small men for a single great one, so many 
nobodies for one Talma, so many myrmidons for one Achilles! This 
sketch will seem ill-tempered perhaps, and far from flattering; but 
does it not fully mark out the distance that separates our stage, the 


abode of intrigues and uproar, from the solemn serenity of the 
ancient stage? 

Whatever may happen, he feels bound to warn in advance that 
small number of persons whom such a production might attract, 
that a play made up of excerpts from Cromwell would occupy no 
less time then is ordinarily occupied by a theatrical performance, 
It is difficult for a romantic theatre to maintain itself otherwise. 
Surely, if people desire something different from the tragedies in 
which one or two characters, abstract types of a purely metaphysical 
idea, stalk solemnly about on a narrow stage occupied only by a few 
confidents, colourless reflections of the heroes, employed to fill the 
gaps in a simple, unified, single-stringed plot; if that sort of thing 
has grown tiresome, a whole evening is not too much time to devote 
to delineating with some fullness a man among men, a whole 
critical period: the one, with his peculiar temperament, his genius 
which adapts itself thereto, his beliefs which dominate them both, 
his passions which throw out of gear his temperament, his genius and 
his beliefs, his tastes which give colour to his passions, his habits 
which regulate his tastes and muzzle his passions, and with the 
innumerable procession of men of every sort whom these various 
elements keep in constant commotion about him; the other, with 
its manners, its laws, its fashions, its wit, its attainments, its super- 
stitions, its events, and its people, whom all these first causes in turn 
mould like soft wax. It is needless to say that such a picture will be 
of huge proportions. Instead of one personality, like that with which 
the abstract drama of the old school is content, there will be twenty, 
forty, fifty, — who knows how many? — of every size and of every 
degree of importance. There will be a crowd of characters in the 
drama. Would it not be niggardly to assign it two hours only, and 
give up the rest of the performance to opera-comique or farce? to 
cut Shakespeare for Bobeche? — And do not imagine that, if the 
plot is well adjusted, the multitude of characters set in motion will 
cause fatigue to the spectator or confusion in the drama- Shakes- 
peare, abounding in petty details, is at the same time, and for that 
very reason, imposing by the grandeur of the ensemble. It is the oak 
which casts a most extensive shadow with its myriads of slender 


Let us hope that people in France will ere long become accustomed 
to devote a whole evening to a single play. In England and Germany 
there are plays that last six hours. The Greeks, about whom we 
hear so much, the Greeks — and after the fashion of Scuderi we will 
cite at this point the classicist Dacier, in the seventh chapter of his 
Poetics — the Greeks sometimes went so far as to have twelve or 
sixteen plays acted in a single day. Among a people who are fond 
of spectacles the attention is more lively than is commonly believed. 
The Manage de Figaro, the connecting link of Beaumarchais's great 
trilogy, occupies the whole evening, and who was ever bored or 
fatigued by it. Beaumarchais was worthy to venture on the first 
step toward that goal of modern art at which it will be impossible to 
arrive in two hours, that profound, insatiable interest which results 
from a vast, lifelike and multiform plot. "But," someone will say, 
"this performance, consisting of a single play, would be monotonous, 
would seem terribly long." — Not so. On the contrary it would lose 
its present monotony and tediousness. For what is done now ? The 
spectator's entertainment is divided into two or three sharply defined 
parts. At first he is given two hours of serious enjoyment, then one 
hour of hilarious enjoyment; these, with the hour of entr' actes, 
which we do not include in the enjoyment, make four hours. What 
would the romantic drama do? It would mingle and blend artis- 
tically these two kinds of enjoyment. It would lead the audience 
constantly from sobriety to laughter, from mirthful excitement to 
heart-breaking emotion, "from grave to gay, from pleasant to severe." 
For, as we have already proved, the drama is the grotesque in con- 
junction with the sublime, the soul within the body; it is tragedy 
beneath comedy. Do you not see that, by affording you repose from 
one impression by means of another, by sharpening the tragic upon 
the comic, the merry upon the terrible, and at need calling in the 
charms of the opera, these performances, while presenting but one 
play, would be worth a multitude of others? The romantic stage 
would make a piquant, savoury, diversified dish of that which, on 
the classic stage, is a drug divided into two pills. 

The author has soon come to the end of what he had to say to the 
reader. He has no idea how the critics will greet this drama and 
these thoughts, summarily set forth, stripped of their corollaries and 


ramifications, put together currente calamo, and in haste to have done 
with them. Doubtless they will appear to "the disciples of La Harpe" 
most impudent and strange. But if perchance, naked and undevel- 
oped as they are, they should have the power to start upon the road 
of truth this public whose education is so far advanced, and whose 
minds so many notable writings, of criticism or of original thought, 
books or newspapers, have already matured for art, let the public 
follow that impulsion, caring naught whether it comes from a man 
unknown, from a voice with no authority, from a work of little merit. 
It is a copper bell which summons the people to the true temple and 
the true God. 

There is to-day the old literary regime as well as the old political 
regime. The last century still weighs upon the present one at almost 
every point. It is notably oppressive in the matter of criticism. For 
instance, you find living men who repeat to you this definition of 
taste let fall by Voltaire: "Taste in poetry is no different from what 
it is in women's clothes." Taste, then, is coquetry. Remarkable 
words, which depict marvellously the painted, mouchete, powdered 
poetry of the eighteenth century — that literature in paniers, pompons 
and falbalas. They give an admirable resume of an age with which 
the loftiest geniuses could not come in contact without becoming 
petty, in one respect or another; of an age when Montesquieu was 
able and apt to produce he Temple de Guide, Voltaire Le Temple 
du Gout, Jean-Jacques L.e Devin du Village. 

Taste is the common sense of genius. This is what will soon be 
demonstrated by another school of criticism, powerful, outspoken, 
well-informed, — a school of the century which is beginning to put 
forth vigorous shoots under the dead and withered branches of the 
old school. This youthful criticism, as serious as the other is frivolous, 
as learned as the other is ignorant, has already established organs 
that are listened to, and one is sometimes surprised to find, even in 
the least important sheets, excellent articles emanating from it. Join- 
ing hands with all that is fearless and superior in letters, it will 
deliver us from two scourges: tottering classicism, and false romanti' 
cism, which has the presumption to show itself at the feet of the 
true. For modern genius already has its shadow, its copy, its parasite, 
its classic, which forms itself upon it, smears itself with its colours, 


assumes its livery, picks up its crumbs, and, like the sorcerer's pupil, 
puts in play, with words retained by the memory, elements o£ theatri- 
cal action of which it has not the secret. Thus it does idiotic things 
which its master many a time has much difficulty in making good. 
But the thing that must be destroyed first of all is the old false taste. 
Present-day literature must be cleansed of its rust. In vain does the 
rust eat into it and tarnish it. It is addressing a young, stern, 
vigorous generation, which does not understand it. The train of 
the eighteenth century is still dragging in the nineteenth; but we, 
we young men who have seen Bonaparte, are not the ones who will 
carry it. 

We are approaching, then, the moment when we shall see the 
new criticism prevail, firmly established upon a broad and deep 
foundation. People generally will soon understand that writers 
should be judged, not according to rules and species, which are 
contrary to nature and art, but according to the immutable principles 
of the art of composition, and the special laws of their individual 
temperaments. The sound judgment of all men will be ashamed 
of the criticism which broke Pierre Corneille on the wheel, gagged 
Jean Racine, and which ridiculously rehabilitated John Milton only 
by virtue of the epic code of Pere le Bossu. People will consent to 
place themselves at the author's standpoint, to view the subject with 
his eyes, in order to judge a work intelligently. They will lay aside 
— and it is M. de Chateaubriand who speaks — "the paltry criticism 
of defects for the noble and fruitful criticism of beauties." It is 
time that all acute minds should grasp the thread that frequently 
connects what we, following our special whim, call "defects" with 
what we call "beauty." Defects — at all events those which we call by 
that name— are often the inborn, necessary, inevitable conditions of 
good qualities. 

Scit genius, natale comes qui temperat astrum. 

Who ever saw a medal without its reverse? a talent that had not 
some shadow with its brilliancy, some smoke with its flame.? Such 
a blemish can be only the inseparable consequence of such beauty. 
This rough stroke of the brush, which offends my eye at close range, 
completes the effect and gives relief to the whole picture. Efface 
one and you efface the other. Originality is made up of such things. 


Genius is necessarily uneven. There are no high mountains with- 
out deep ravines. Fill up the valley with the mountain and you will 
have nothing but a steppe, a plateau, the plain of Les Sablons instead 
of the Alps, swallows and not eagles. 

We must also take into account the weather, the climate, the local 
influences. The Bible, Homer, hurt us sometimes by their very 
sublimities. Who would want to part with a word of either of them ? 
Our infirmity often takes fright at the inspired bold flights of genius, 
for lack of power to swoop down upon objects with such vast 
intelligence. And then, once again, there are defects which take 
root only in masterpieces; it is given only to certain geniuses to 
have certain defects. Shakespeare is blamed for his abuse of meta- 
physics, of wit, of redundant scenes, of obscenities, for his employ- 
ment of the mythological nonsense in vogue in his time, for exaggera- 
tion, obscurity, bad taste, bombast, asperities of style. The oak, that 
giant tree which we were comparing to Shakespeare just now, and 
which has more than one point of resemblance to him, the oak has 
an unusual shape, gnarled branches, dark leaves, and hard, rough 
bark; but it is the oak. 

And it is because of these qualities that it is the oak. If you would 
have a smooth trunk, straight branches, satiny leaves, apply to the 
pale birch, the hollow elder, the weeping willow; but leave the mighty 
oak in peace. Do not stone that which gives you shade. 

The author of this book knows as well as any one the numerous 
and gross faults of his works. If it happens too seldom that he cor- 
rects them, it is because it is repugnant to him to return to a work 
that has grown cold. Moreover, what has he ever done that is worth 
that trouble? The labor that he would throw away in correcting 
the imperfections of his books, he prefers to use in purging his 
intellect of its defects. It is his method to correct one work only in 
another work. 

However, no matter what treatment may be accorded his book, 
he binds himself not to defend it, in whole or in part. If his drama 
is worthless, what is the use of upholding it? If it is good, why 
defend it? Time will do the book justice or will wreak justice upon 
it. Its success for the moment is the affair of the publisher alone. If 
then the wrath of the critics is aroused by the publication of this 


essay, he will let them do their worst. What reply should he make 
to them? He is not one of those who speak, as the Castilian poet 
says, "through the mouths of their wounds." 

Por la boca de su herida. 

One last word. It may have been noticed that in this somewhat 
long journey through so many different subjects, the author has 
generally refrained from resting his personal views upon texts or 
citations of authorities. It is not, however, because he did not have 
them at his hand. 

"If the poet establishes things that are impossible according to 
the rules of his art, he makes a mistake unquestionably; but it ceases 
to be a mistake when by this means he has reached the end that 
he aimed at; for he has found what he sought." — "They take for 
nonsense whatever the weakness of their intellects does not allow 
them to understand. They are especially prone to call absurd those 
wonderful passages in which the poet, in order the better to enforce 
his argument, departs, if we may so express it, from his argument. In 
fact, the precept which makes it a rule sometimes to disregard rules, 
is a mystery of the art which it is not easy to make men understand 
who are absolutely without taste and whom a sort of abnormality 
of mind renders insensible to those things which ordinarily impress 

Who said the first? Aristotle. Who said the last? Boileau. By 
these two specimens you will see that the author of this drama might, 
as well as another, have shielded himself with proper names and 
taken refuge behind others' reputations. But he preferred to leave 
that style of argument to those who deem it unanswerable, universal 
and all-powerful. As for himself, he prefers reasons to authorities; 
he has always cared more for arms than for coats-of-arms. 

October, 1827. 



AMERICA does not repel the past or what it has produced under 
i-jL its forms or amid other poHtics or the idea of castes or the 
jL- -^old reUgions . . . accepts the lesson with calmness ... is 
not so impatient as has been supposed that the slough still sticks to 
opinions and manners and literature while the life which served its 
requirements has passed into the new life of the new forms . . . per- 
ceives that the corpse is slowly borne from the eating and sleeping 
rooms of the house . . . perceives that it waits a little while in the 
door , . . that it was fittest for its days . . . that its action has 
descended to the stalwart and well shaped heir who approaches . . . 
and that he shall be fittest for his days. 

The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth, have 
probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States themselves 
are essentially the greatest poem. In the history of the earth hitherto 
the largest and most stirring appear tame and orderly to their ampler 
largeness and stir. Here at last is something in the doings of man 
that corresponds with the broadcast doings of the day and night. 
Here is not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations. Here 
is action untied from strings necessarily blind to particulars and 
details magnificently moving in vast masses. Here is the hospitality 
which forever indicates heroes. . . . Here are the roughs and beards 
and space and ruggedness and nonchalance that the soul loves. Here 
the performance disdaining the trivial unapproached in the tremen- 

Walt Whitman (i 819-1892), the most original of American poets, was born in 
West Hills, Long Island, educated in the Brooklyn Public Schools, and apprenticed 
to a printer. As a youth he taught in a country school, and later went into journal- 
ism in New York, Brooklyn, and New Orleans. The first edition of "Leaves of Grass" 
appeared in 1855, with the remarkable preface here printed. During the war he 
acted as a volunteer nurse in the army hospitals, and, when it closed, he became a 
clerk in the government service at Washington. He continued to write almost till 
his death. 



dous audacity of its crowds and groupings and the push of its 
perspective spreads with crampless and flowing breadth and showers 
its proflic and splendid extravagance. One sees it must indeed own 
the riches of the summer and winter, and need never be bankrupt 
while corn grows from the ground or the orchards drop apples or 
the bays contain fish or men beget children upon women. 

Other states indicate themselves in their deputies . . . but the 
genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or 
legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches 
or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors . . . but always 
most in the common people. Their manners, speech, dress, friend- 
ship — the freshness and candor of their physiognomy — the pictur- 
esque looseness of their carriage . . . their deathless attachment to 
freedom — their aversion to anything indecorous or soft or mean — the 
practical acknowledgment of the citizens of one state by the citizens 
of all other states — the fierceness of their roused resentment — their 
curiosity and welcome of novelty — their self-esteem and wonderful 
sympathy — their susceptibility to a slight — the air they have of 
persons who never knew how it felt to stand in the presence of 
superiors — the fluency of their speech — their delight in music, the 
sure symptom of manly tenderness and native elegance of soul . . . 
their good temper and open handedness — the terrible significance of 
their elections — the President's taking off his hat to them, not they 
to him — these too are unrhymed poetry. It awaits the gigantic and 
generous treatment worthy of it. 

The largeness of nature or the nation were monstrous without a 
corresponding largeness and generosity of the spirit of the citizen. 
Not nature nor swarming states nor streets and steamships nor pros- 
perous business nor farms nor capital nor learning may suffice for 
the ideal of man . . . nor suffice the poet. No reminiscences may 
suffice either. A live nation can always cut a deep mark and can 
have the best authority the cheapest . . . namely from its own soul. 
This is the sum of the profitable uses of individuals or states and of 
present action and grandeur and of the subjects of poets. — As if it 
were necessary to trot back generation after generation to the eastern 
records! As if the beauty and sacredness of the demonstrable must 
fall behind that of the mythical! As if men do not make their mark 


out of any times! As if the opening of the western continent by 
discovery and what has transpired since in North and South America 
were less than the small theatre of the antique or the aimless sleep- 
walking of the middle ages! The pride of the United States leaves 
the wealth and finesse of the cities and all returns of commerce and 
agriculture and all the rnagnitude of geography or shows of exterior 
victory to enjoy the breed of full sized men or one full sized man 
unconquerable and simple. 

The American poets are to enclose old and new for America is 
the race of races. Of them a bard is to be commensurate with a 
people. To him the other continents arrive as contributions ... he 
gives them reception for their sake and his own sake. His spirit 
responds to his country's spirit ... he incarnates its geography and 
natural life and rivers and lakes. Mississippi with annual freshets 
and changing chutes, Missouri and Columbia and Ohio and St. 
Lawrence with the Falls and beautiful masculine Hudson, do not 
embouchure where they spend themselves more than they embou- 
chure into him. The blue breadth over the inland sea of Virginia 
and Maryland and the sea off Massachusetts and Maine and over 
Manhattan Bay and over Champlain and Erie and over Ontario 
and Huron and Michigan and Superior, and over the Texan and 
Mexican and Floridian and Cuban seas, and over the seas off Cali- 
fornia and Oregon, is not tallied by the blue breadth of the waters 
below more than the breadth of above and below is tallied by him. 
When the long Atlantic coast stretches longer and the Pacific coast 
stretches longer he easily stretches with them north or south. He 
spans between them also from east to west and reflects what is 
between them. On him rise solid growths that offset the growths of 
pine and cedar and hemlock and live oak and locust and chestnut 
and cypress and hickory and limetree and cottonwood and tuliptree 
and cactus and wildvine and tamarind and persimmon . . . and 
tangles as tangled as any canebrake or swamp . . . and forests 
coated with transparent ice, and icicles hanging from boughs and 
crackling in the wind . . . and sides and peaks of mountains . . . 
and pasturage sweet and free as savannah or upland or prairie . . . 
with flights and songs and screams that answer those of the wild 
pigeon and high-hold and orchard-oriole and coot and surf-duck and 
red-shouldered-hawk and fish-hawk and white ibis and Indian-hen 


and cat-owl and water-pheasant and qua-bird and pied-sheldrake and 
blackbird and mockingbird and buzzard and condor and night- 
heron and eagle. To him the hereditary countenance descends both 
mother's and father's. To him enter the essences of the real things 
and past and present events — of the enormous diversity of tempera- 
ture and agriculture and mines — 'the tribes of red aborigines — the 
weather-beaten vessels entering new ports or making landings on 
rocky coasts — the first settlements north or south — the rapid stature 
and muscle — the haughty defiance of '76, and the war and peace and 
formation of the constitution . . . the Union always surrounded by 
blatherers and always calm and impregnable — the perpetual coming 
of immigrants — ^the wharf-hem'd cities and superior marine — the un- 
surveyed interior — the loghouses and clearings and wild animals and 
hunters and trappers . . . the free commerce — the fisheries and whal- 
ing and gold-digging — the endless gestation of new states — the con- 
vening of Congress every December, the members duly coming up 
from all climates and the uttermost parts . . , the noble character of 
the young mechanics and of all free American workmen and work- 
women . . . the general ardor and friendliness and enterprise — the 
perfect equality of the female with the male . . . the large amative- 
ness — the fluid movement of the population — the factories and 
mercantile life and laborsaving machinery — the Yankee swap — the 
New York firemen and the target excursion — the Southern planta- 
tion life — the character of the northeast and of the northwest and 
southwest — slavery and the tremulous spreading of hands to protect 
it, and the stern opposition to it which shall never cease till it ceases 
or the speaking of tongues and the moving of lips cease. For such the 
expression of the American poet is to be transcendent and new. It is 
to be indirect and not direct or descriptive or epic. Its quality goes 
through these to much more. Let the age and wars of other nations be 
chanted and their eras and characters be illustrated and that finish 
the verse. Not so the great psalm of the republic. Here the theme is 
creative and has vista. Here comes one among the well beloved stone- 
cutters and plans with decision and science and sees the solid 
and beautiful forms of the future where there are now no solid 

Of all nations the United States with veins full of poetical stuff 
most need poets and will doubtless have the greatest and use them the 


greatest. Their Presidents shall not be their common referee so 
much as their poets shall. Of all mankind the great poet is the 
equable man. Not in him but off from him things are grotesque 
or eccentric or fail of their sanity. Nothing out of its place is good 
and nothing in its place is bad. He bestows on every object or 
quality its fit proportions neither more nor less. He is the arbiter 
of the diverse and he is the key. He is the equalizer of his age and 
land ... he supplies what wants supplying and checks what wants 
checking. If peace is the routine out of him speaks the spirit of 
peace, large, rich, thrifty, building vast and populous cities, encourag- 
ing agriculture and the arts and commerce — lighting the study of 
man, the soul, immortality — federal, state or municipal government, 
marriage, health, freetrade, intertravel by land and sea . . . nothing 
too close, nothing too far off . . . the stars not too far off. In war 
he is the most deadly force of the war. Who recruits him recruits 
horse and foot ... he fetches parks of artillery the best that engi- 
neer ever knew. If the time becomes slothful and heavy he knows 
how to arouse it ... he can make every word he speaks draw blood. 
Whatever stagnates in the flat of custom or obedience or legislation 
he never stagnates. Obedience does not master him, he masters it. 
High up out of reach he stands turning a concentrated light ... he 
turns the pivot with his finger ... he baffles the swiftest runners as 
he stands and easily overtakes and envelopes them. The time stray- 
ing towards infidelity and confections and persiflage he withholds by 
his steady faith ... he spreads out his dishes ... he offers the 
sweet firmfibred meat that grows men and women. His brain is 
the ultimate brain. He is no arguer ... he is judgment. He judges 
not as the judge judges but as the sun falling around a helpless thing. 
As he sees the farthest he has the most faith. His thoughts are the 
hymns of the praise of things. In the talk on the soul and eternity 
and God off of his equal plane he is silent. He sees eternity less like 
a play with a prologue and denouement ... he sees eternity in men 
and women ... he does not see men or women as dreams or dots. 
Faith is the antiseptic of the soul ... it pervades the common people 
and preserves them . . . they never give up believing and expecting 
and trusting. There is that indescribable freshness and unconscious- 
ness about an illiterate person that humbles and mocks the power of 


the noblest expressive genius. The poet sees for a certainty how one 
not a great artist may be just as sacred and perfect as the greatest 
artist. . . . The power to destroy or remould is freely used by him, 
but never the power of attack. What is past is past. If he does not 
expose superior models and prove himself by every step he takes 
he is not what is wanted. The presence of the greatest poet conquers 
. . . not parleying or struggling or any prepared attempts. Now he 
has passed that way see after him! There is not left any vestige of 
despair or misanthropy or cunning or exclusiveness or the ignominy 
of a nativity or color or delusion of hell or the necessity of hell . . . 
and no man thenceforward shall be degraded for ignorance or weak- 
ness or sin. 

The greatest poet hardly knows pettiness or triviality. If he 
breathes into anything that was before thought small it dilates with 
the grandeur and life of the universe. He is a seer ... he is indi- 
vidual ... he is complete in himself . . . the others are as good as 
he, only he sees it and they do not. He is not one of the chorus . . . 
he does not stop for any regulation ... he is the president of regula- 
tion. What the eyesight does to the rest he does to the rest. Who 
knows the curious mystery of the eyesight? The other senses corrobo- 
rate themselves, but this is removed from any proof but its own and 
foreruns the identities of the spiritual world. A single glance of it 
mocks all the investigations of man and all the instruments and 
books of the earth and all reasoning. What is marvellous? what is 
unlikely? what is impossible or baseless or vague? after you have 
once just opened the space of a peachpit and given audience to far 
and near and to the sunset and had all things enter with electric 
swiftness softly and duly without confusion or jostling or jam. 

The land and sea, the animals, fishes, and birds, the sky of heaven 
and the orbs, the forests, mountains, and rivers, are not small themes 
. . . but folks expect of the poet to indicate more than the beauty 
and dignity which always attach to dumb real objects . . . they 
expect him to indicate the path between reality and their souls. Men 
and women perceive the beauty well enough . . . probably as well 
as he. The passionate tenacity of hunters, woodmen, early risers, 
cultivators of gardens and orchards and fields, the love of healthy 
women for the manly form, seafaring persons, drivers of horses, the 


passion for light and the open air, all is an old varied sign of the 
unfailing perception of beauty and of a residence of the poetic in 
outdoor people. They can never be assisted by poets to perceive 
. . . some may but they never can. The poetic quality is not mar- 
shalled in rhyme or uniformity or abstract addresses to things nor in 
melancholy complaints or good precepts, but is the life of these and 
much else and is in the soul. The profit of rhyme is that it drops 
seeds of a sweeter and more luxuriant rhyme, and of uniformity 
that it conveys itself into its own roots in the ground out of sight. 
The rhyme and uniformity of perfect poems show the free growth 
of metrical laws and bud from them as unerringly and loosely as 
lilacs and roses on a bush, and take shapes as compact as the shapes 
of chestnuts and oranges and melons and pears, and shed the perfume 
impalpable to form. The fluency and ornaments of the finest poems 
or music or orations or recitations are not independent but depend- 
ent. All beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain. 
If the greatnesses are in conjunction in a man or woman it is enough 
. . . the fact will prevail through the universe . . . but the gaggery 
and gilt of a million years will not prevail. Who troubles himself 
about his ornaments or fluency is lost. This is what you shall do: 
Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms 
to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your 
income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, 
have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat 
to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, 
go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and 
with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every 
season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told 
at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your 
own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the 
richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips 
and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion 
and joint of your body. . . . The poet shall not spend his time in 
unneeded work. He shall know that the ground is always ready 
ploughed and manured . . . others may not know it but he shall. 
He shall go directly to the creation. His trust shall master the trust 
of everything he touches . . . and shall master all attachment. 


The known universe has one complete lover and that is the great- 
est poet. He consumes an eternal passion and is indifferent which 
chance happens and which possible contingency of fortune or mis- 
fortune and persuades daily and hourly his delicious pay. What 
baulks or breaks others is fuel for his burning progress to contact 
and amorous joy. Other proportions of the reception of pleasure 
dwindle to nothing to his proportions. All expected from heaven 
or from the highest he is rapport with in the sight of the daybreak 
or a scene of the winter woods or the presence of children playing 
or with his arm round the neck of a man or woman. His love above 
all love has leisure and expanse ... he leaves room ahead of him- 
self. He is no irresolute or suspicious lover ... he is sure ... he 
scorns intervals. His experience and the showers and thrills are 
not for nothing. Nothing can jar him . . . suffering and darkness 
cannot — death and fear cannot. To him complaint and jealousy and 
envy are corpses buried and rotten in the earth ... he saw them 
buried. The sea is not surer of the shore or the shore of the sea than 
he is of the fruition of his love and of all perfection and beauty. 

The fruition of beauty is no chance of hit or miss ... it is inevi- 
table as life ... it is as exact and plumb as gravitation. From the 
eyesight proceeds another eyesight and from the hearing proceeds 
another hearing and from the voice proceeds another voice eternally 
curious of the harmony of things with man. To these respond per- 
fections not only in the committees that were supposed to stand for 
the rest but in the rest themselves just the same. These understand 
the law of perfection in masses and floods . . . that its finish is to 
each for itself and onward from itself . . . that it is profuse and 
impartial . . . that there is not a minute of the light or dark nor 
an acre of the earth and sea without it — nor any direction of the sky 
nor any trade or employment nor any turn of events. This is the 
reason that about the proper expression of beauty there is precision 
and balance . . . one part does not need to be thrust above another. 
The best singer is not the one who has the most lithe and powerful 
organ . . . the pleasure of poems is not in them that take the hand- 
somest measure and similes and sound. 

Without effort and without exposing in the least how it is done the 
greatest poet brings the spirit of any or all events and passions and 


scenes and persons some more and some less to bear on your indi- 
vidual character as you hear or read. To do this well is to compete 
with the laws that pursue and follow time. What is the purpose must 
surely be there and the clue of it must be there . . . and the faintest 
indication is the indication of the best and then becomes the clearest 
indication. Past and present and future are not disjoined but joined. 
The greatest poet forms the consistence of what is to be from what 
has been and is. He drags the dead out of their coffins and stands 
them again on their feet ... he says to the past, Rise and walk before 
me that I may realize you. He learns the lesson ... he places him- 
self where the future becomes present. The greatest poet does not only 
dazzle his rays over character and scenes and passions ... he finally 
ascends and finishes all . . . he exhibits the pinnacles that no man 
can tell what they are for or what is beyond ... he glows a moment 
on the extremest verge. He is most wonderful in his last half-hidden 
smile or frown ... by that flash of the moment of parting the one 
that sees it shall be encouraged or terrified afterward for many years. 
The greatest poet does not moralize or make applications of morals 
... he knows the soul. The soul has that measureless pride which 
consists in never acknowledging any lessons but its own. But it has 
sympathy as measureless as its pride and the one balances the other 
and neither can stretch too far while it stretches in company with 
the other. The inmost secrets of art sleep with the twain. The 
greatest poet has lain close betwixt both and they are vital in his 
style and thoughts. 

The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the 
light of letters is simplicity. Nothing is better than simpHcity . . . 
nothing can make up for excess or for the lack of definiteness. To 
carry on the heave of impulse and pierce intellectual depths and 
give all subjects their articulations are powers neither common nor 
very uncommon. But to speak in literature with the perfect rectitude 
and insouciance of the movements of animals and the unimpeachable- 
ness of the sentiment of trees in the woods and grass by the roadside 
is the flawless triumph of art. If you have looked on him who has 
achieved it you have looked on one of the masters of the artists of all 
nations and times. You shall not contemplate the flight of the gray 
gull over the bay or the mettlesome action of the blood horse or the 


tall leaning of sunflowers on their stalk or the appearance of the sun 
journeying through heaven or the appearance of the moon after- 
ward with any more satisfaction than you shall contemplate him. 
The greatest poet has less a marked style and is more the channel of 
thoughts and things without increase or diminution and is the free 
channel of himself. He swears to his art, I will not be meddlesome, 
I will not have in my writing any elegance or effect or originality 
to hang in the way between me and the rest like curtains. I will 
have nothing hang in the way not the richest curtains. What I tell 
I tell for precisely what it is. Let who may exalt or startle or fasci- 
nate or soothe I will have purposes as health or heat or snow has and 
be as regardless of observation. What I experience or portray shall 
go from my composition without a shred of my composition. You 
shall stand by my side and look in the mirror with me. 

The old red blood and stainless gentility of great poets will be 
proved by their unconstraint. A heroic person walks at his ease 
through and out of that custom or precedent or authority that suits 
him not. Of the traits of the brotherhood of writers savans musicians 
inventors and artists, nothing is finer than silent defiance advancing 
from new free forms. In the need of poems, philosophy, politics, 
mechanism, science, behavior, the craft of art, an appropriate native 
grand-opera, shipcraft, or any craft, he is greatest for ever and for 
ever who contributes the greatest original practical example. The 
cleanest expression is that which finds no sphere worthy of itself 
and makes one. The messages of great poets to each man and woman 
are. Come to us on equal terms. Only then can you understand us. 
We are no better than you, What we enclose you enclose. What we 
enjoy you may enjoy. Did you suppose there could be only one 
Supreme? We affirm there can be unnumbered Supremes, and that 
one does not countervail another any more than one eyesight counter- 
vails another . . . and that men can be good or grand only of the 
consciousness of their supremacy within them. What do you think 
is the grandeur of storms and dismemberments and the deadliest 
battles and wrecks and the wildest fury of the elements and the 
power of the sea and the motion of nature and the throes of human 
desires and dignity and hate and love? It is that something in the 
soul which says, Rage on, Whirl on, I tread master here and every- 


where, Master of the spasms of the sky and of the shatter of the sea, 
Master of nature and passion and death. And of all terror and all 

The American bards shall be marked for generosity and affection 
and for encouraging competitors. . . . They shall be kosmos . • . 
without monopoly or secrecy . . . glad to pass anything to any one 
. . . hungry for equals night and day. They shall not be careful of 
riches and privilege . . . they shall be riches and privilege . . . they 
shall perceive who the most affluent man is. The most affluent man 
is he that confronts all the shows he sees by equivalents out of the 
stronger wealth of himself. The American bard shall delineate no 
class of persons nor one or two out of the strata of interests nor love 
most nor truth most nor the soul most nor the body most . . . and 
not be for the eastern states more than the western or the northern 
states more than the southern. 

Exact science and its practical movements are no checks on the 
greatest poet but always his encouragement and support. The outset 
and remembrance are there . . . there the arms that lifted him first 
and brace him best . . . there he returns after all his goings and 
comings. The sailor and traveller . . . the anatomist, chemist, 
astronomer, geologist, phrenologist, spiritualist, mathematician, his- 
torian, and lexicographer, are not poets, but they are the lawgivers 
of poets and their construction underlies the structure of every per- 
fect poem. No matter what rises or is uttered they sent the seed of 
the conception of it ... of them and by them stand the visible 
proofs of souls . . . always of their fatherstuff must be begotten the 
sinewy races of bards. If there shall be love and content between 
the father and the son and if the greatness of the son is the exuding 
of the greatness of the father there shall be love between the poet 
and the man of demonstrable science. In the beauty of poems are 
the tuft and final applause of science. 

Great is the faith of the flush of knowledge and of the investigation 
of the depths of qualities and things. Cleaving and circling here 
swells the soul of the poet yet is president of itself always. The 
depths are fathomless and therefore calm. The innocence and 
nakedness are resumed . . . they are neither modest nor immodest. 
The whole theory of the special and supernatural and all that was 


twined with it or educed out of it departs as a dream. What has ever 
happened . . . what happens and whatever may or shall happen, 
the vital laws enclose all . . . they are sufficient for any case and 
for all cases . . . none to be hurried or retarded . . . any miracle of 
affairs or persons inadmissible in the vast clear scheme where every 
modon and every spear of grass and the frames and spirits of men 
and women and all that concerns them are unspeakably perfect 
miracles all referring to all and each distinct and in its place. It is 
also not consistent with the reality of the soul to admit that there 
is anything in the known universe more divine than men and 

Men and women and the earth and all upon it are simply to be 
taken as they are, and the investigation of their past and present 
and future shall be unintermitted and shall be done with perfect 
candor. Upon this basis philosophy speculates ever looking towards 
the poet, ever regarding the eternal tendencies of all toward happi- 
ness never inconsistent with what is clear to the senses and to the 
soul. For the eternal tendencies of all toward happiness make the 
only point of sane philosophy. Whatever comprehends less than 
that . . . whatever is less than the laws of light and of astronomical 
motion ... or less than the laws that follow the thief the liar the 
glutton and the drunkard through this life and doubtless afterward 
... or less than vast stretches of time or the slow formation of 
density or the patient upheaving of strata — is of no account. What- 
ever would put God in a poem or system of philosophy as contending 
against some being or influence is also of no account. Sanity and 
ensemble characterize the great master . . . spoilt in one principle 
all is spoilt. The great master has nothing to do with miracles. He 
sees health for himself in being one of the mass ... he sees the 
hiatus in singular eminence. To the perfect shape comes common 
ground. To be under the general law is great, for that is to corre- 
spond with it. The master knows that he is unspeakably great and 
that all are unspeakably great . . . that nothing for instance is 
greater than to conceive children and bring them up well . . . that 
to be is just as great as to perceive or tell. 

In the make of the great masters the idea of political liberty is in- 
dispensable. Liberty takes the adherence of heroes wherever men 


and women exist . . . but never takes any adherence or welcome 
from the rest more than from poets. They are the voice and exposi- 
tion of hberty. They out of ages are worthy the grand idea ... to 
them it is confided and they must sustain it. Nothing has precedence 
of it and nothing can warp or degrade it. The attitude of great poets 
is to cheer up slaves and horrify despots. The turn of their necks, 
the sound of their feet, the motions of their wrists, are full of hazard 
to the one and hope to the other. Come nigh them awhile and 
though they neither speak nor advise you shall learn the faithful 
American lesson. Liberty is poorly served by men whose good intent 
is quelled from one failure or two failures or any number of failures, 
or from the casual indifference or ingratitude of the people, or from 
the sharp show of the itushes of power, or the bringing to bear 
soldiers and cannon or any penal statutes. Liberty relies upon itself, 
invites no one, promises nothing, sits in calmness and light, is 
positive and composed, and knows no discouragement. The battle 
rages with many a loud alarm and frequent advance and retreat . . . 
the enemy triumphs . . . the prison, the handcuffs, the iron necklace 
and anklet, the scaffold, garrote and leadballs do their work . . . 
the cause is asleep . . . the strong throats are choked with their own 
blood . . . the young men drop their eyelashes toward the ground 
when they pass each other . . . and is liberty gone out of that place ? 
No never. When liberty goes it is not the first to go nor the second 
or third to go ... it awaits for all the rest to go . . . it is the last. 
. . . When the memories of the old martyrs are faded utterly away 
. . . when the large names of patriots are laughed at in the public 
halls from the lips of the orators . . . when the boys are no more 
christened after the same but christened after tyrants and traitors 
instead . . . when the laws of the free are grudgingly permitted 
and the laws for informers and bloodmoney are sweet to the taste 
of the people . . . when I and you walk abroad upon the earth 
stung with compassion at the sight of numberless brothers answer- 
ing our equal friendship and calling no man master — and when we 
are elated with noble joy at the sight of slaves . . . when the soul 
retires in the cool communion of the night and surveys its experience 
and has much extasy over the word and deed that put back a helpless 


innocent person into the gripe of the gripers or into any cruel in- 
feriority . . . when those in all parts of these states who could easier 
realize the true American character but do not yet — when the 
swarms of cringers, suckers, doughfaces, lice of politics, planners of 
sly involutions for their own preferment to city offices or state legis- 
latures or the judiciary or congress or the presidency, obtain a 
response of love and natural deference from the people whether they 
get the offices or no . . . when it is better to be a bound booby and 
rogue in office at a high salary than the poorest free mechanic or 
farmer with his hat unmoved from his head and firm eyes and a 
candid and generous heart . . . and when servility by town or state 
or the federal government or any oppression on a large scale or 
small scale can be tried on without its own punishment following 
duly after in exact proportion against the smallest chance of escape 
... or rather when all life and all the souls of men and women are 
discharged from any part of the earth — then only shall the instinct of 
liberty be discharged from that part of the earth. 

As the attributes of the poets of the kosmos concentre in the real 
body and soul and in the pleasure of things they possess the superi- 
ority of genuineness over all fiction and romance. As they emit 
themselves facts are showered over with light . . . the daylight is lit 
with more volatile light . . . also the deep between the setting and 
rising sun goes deeper many fold. Each precise object or condition 
or combination or process exhibits a beauty . . . the multiplication 
table its — old age its — the carpenter's trade its — the grand opera its— 
the hugehuUed cleanshaped New- York clipper at sea under steam 
or full sail gleams with unmatched beauty . . . the American circles 
and large harmonies of government gleam with theirs . . . and 
the commonest definite intentions and actions with theirs. The 
poets of the kosmos advance through all interpositions and coverings 
and turmoils and stratagems to first principles. They are of use . . . 
they dissolve poverty from its need and riches from its conceit. You 
large proprietor, they say, shall not realize or perceive more than any 
one else. The owner of the library is not he who holds a legal 
title to it having bought and paid for it. Any one and every one is 
owner of the library who can read the same through all the varieties 


of tongues and subjects and styles, and in whom they enter with 
ease and take residence and force toward paternity and maternity, 
and make supple and powerful and rich and large. 

These American states strong and healthy and accomplished shall 
receive no pleasure from violations of natural models and must 
not permit them. In paintings or mouldings or carvings in mineral 
or wood, or in the illustrations of books and newspapers, or in any 
comic or tragic prints, or in the patterns of woven stuffs or anything 
to beautify rooms or furniture or costumes, or to put upon cornices 
or monuments or on the prows or sterns of ships, or to put anywhere 
before the human eye indoors or out, that which distorts honest 
shapes or which creates unearthly beings or places or contingencies, 
is a nuisance and revolt. Of the human form especially, it is so great 
it must never be made ridiculous. Of ornaments to a work nothing 
outre can be allowed . . . but those ornaments can be allowed that 
conform to the perfect facts of the open air, and that flow out of the 
nature of the work and come irrepressibly from it and are necessary 
to the completion of the work. Most works are most beautiful 
without ornament . . . Exaggerations will be revenged in human 
physiology. Clean and vigorous children are jetted and conceived 
only in those communities where the models of natural forms are 
public every day . . . Great genius and the people of these states 
must never be demeaned to romances. As soon as histories are 
properly told there is no more need of romances. 

The great poets are also to be known by the absence in them of 
tricks and by the justification of perfect personal candor. Then folks 
echo a new cheap joy and a divine voice leaping from their brains: 
How beautiful is candor! All faults may be forgiven of him who 
has perfect candor. Henceforth let no man of us lie, for we have seen 
that openness wins the inner and outer world and that there is no 
single exception, and that never since our earth gathered itself in a 
mass have deceit or subterfuge or prevarication attracted its smallest 
particle or the faintest tinge of a shade — and that through the 
enveloping wealth and rank of a state or the whole republic of 
states a sneak or sly person shall be discovered and despised , . . 
and that the soul has never once been fooled and never can be fooled 
. . . and thrift without the loving nod of the soul is only a foetid 


pufi . . . and there never grew up in any of the continents of the 
globe nor upon any planet or satellite or star, nor upon the asteroids, 
nor in any part of ethereal space, nor in the midst of density, nor 
under the fluid wet of the sea, nor in that condition which precedes 
the birth of babes, nor at any time during the changes of life, nor in 
that condition that follows what we term death, nor in any stretch 
of abeyance or action afterward of vitality, nor in any process of 
formation or reformation anywhere, a being whose instinct hated the 

Extreme caution or prudence, the soundest organic health, large 
hope and comparison and fondness for women and children, large 
alimentiveness and destructiveness and causality, with a perfect 
sense of the oneness of nature and the propriety of the same spirit 
applied to human aifairs . . . these are called up of the float of the 
brain of the world to be parts of the greatest poet from his birth out 
of his mother's womb and from her birth out of her mother's. 
Caution seldom goes far enough. It has been thought that the 
prudent citizen was the citizen who applied himself to solid gains 
and did well for himself and for his family and completed a lawful 
life without debt or crime. The greatest poet sees and admits these 
economies as he sees the economies of food and sleep, but has higher 
notions of prudence than to think he gives much when he gives a 
few slight attentions at the latch of the gate. The premises of the 
prudence of life are not the hospitality of it or the ripeness and 
harvest of it. Beyond the independence of a little sum laid aside for 
burial-money, and of a few clapboards around and shingles over- 
head on a lot of American soil owned, and the easy dollars that 
supply the year's plain clothing and meals, the melancholy prudence 
of the abandonment of such a great being as a man is to the toss and 
pallor of years of money-making with all their scorching days and icy 
nights and all their stifling deceits and underhanded dodgings, or 
infinitesimals of parlors, or shameless stuffing while others starve . , . 
and all the loss of the bloom and odor of the earth and of the flowers 
and atmosphere and of the sea, and of the true taste of the women 
and men you pass or have to do with in youth or middle age, and 
the issuing sickness and desperate revolt at the close of a life without 
elevation or naivete, and the ghastly chatter of a death without 


serenity or majesty, is the great fraud upon modern civilization and 
forethought, blotching the surface and system which civilization un- 
deniably drafts, and moistening with tears the immense features it 
spreads and spreads with such velocity before the reached kisses of 
the soul. 

Still the right explanation remains to be made about prudence. 
The prudence of the mere wealth and respectability of the most 
esteemed life appears too faint for the eye to observe at all when 
little and large alike drop quietly aside at the thought of the prudence 
suitable for immortality. What is wisdom that fills the thinness 
of a year or seventy or eighty years to wisdom spaced out by ages 
and coming back at a certain time with strong reinforcements and 
rich presents and the clear faces of wedding-guests as far as you can 
look in every direction, running gaily toward you? Only the soul 
is of itself ... all else has reference to what ensues. All that a 
person does or thinks is of consequence. Not a move can a man or 
woman make that effects him or her in a day or a month or any 
part of the direct lifetime or the hour of death but the same affects 
him or her onward afterward through the indirect lifetime. The 
indirect is always as great and real as the direct. The spirit receives 
from the body just as much as it gives to the body. Not one name 
of word or deed . . . not of venereal sores or discolorations . . . not 
the privacy of the onanist . . . not of the putrid veins of gluttons or 
rumdrinkers . . . not peculation or cunning or betrayal or murder 
... no serpentine poison of those that seduce women . . . not the 
foolish yielding of women . . . not prostitution . . . not of any 
depravity of young men . . . not of the attainment of gain by dis- 
creditable means . . . not any nastiness of appetite . . . not any 
harshness of officers to men or judges to prisoners or fathers to sons 
or sons to fathers or of husbands to wives or bosses to their boys . . . 
not of greedy looks or malignant wishes . . . nor any of the wiles 
practised by people upon themselves . . . ever is or ever can be 
stamped on the programme but it is duly realized and returned, 
and that returned in further performances . . . and they returned 
again. Nor can the push of charity or personal force ever be anything 
else than the profoundest reason, whether it bring argument to hand 
or no. No specification is necessary ... to add or subtract or divide 


is in vain. Little or big, learned or unlearned, white or black, legal 
or illegal, sick or well, from the first inspiration down the windpipe 
to the last expiration out of it, all that a male or female does that is 
vigorous and benevolent and clean is so much sure profit to him or 
her in the unshakable order of the universe and through the whole 
scope of it for ever. If the savage or felon is wise it is well . . . 
if the greatest poet or savan is wise it is simply the same ... if the 
President or chief justice is wise it is the same ... if the young 
mechanic or farmer is wise it is no more or less ... if the prostitute 
is wise it is no more nor less. The interest will come round ... all 
will come round. All the best actions of war and peace ... all help 
given to relatives and strangers and the poor and old and sorrowful 
and young children and widows and the sick, and to all shunned 
persons ... all furtherance of fugitives and of the escape of slaves 
... all the self-denial that stood steady and aloof on wrecks and 
saw others take the seats of the boats ... all offering of substance or 
life for the good old cause, or for a friend's sake or opinion's sake 
... all pains of enthusiasts scoffed at by their neighbors ... all 
the vast sweet love and precious sufferings of mothers ... all honest 
men baffled in strifes recorded or unrecorded ... all the grandeur 
and good of the few ancient nations whose fragments of annals we 
inherit . . . and all the good of the hundreds of far mightier and 
more ancient nations unknown to us by name or date or location . . . 
all that was ever manfully begun, whether it succeeded or no . . • 
all that has at any time been well suggested out of the divine heart 
of man or by the divinity of his mouth or by the shaping of his great 
hands . . . and all that is well thought or done this day on any part 
of the surface of the globe ... or on any of the wandering stars 
or fixed stars by those there as we are here ... or that is henceforth 
to be well thought or done by you whoever you are, or by any one — 
these singly and wholly inured at their time and inure now and will 
inure always to the identities from which they sprung or shall spring. 
. . . Did you guess any of them lived only its moment ? The world 
does not so exist ... no parts palpable or impalpable so exist 
... no result exists now without being from its long antecedent 
result, and that from its antecedent, and so backward without the 
farthest mentionable spot coming a bit nearer the beginning than 


any other spot. . . . Whatever satisfies the soul is truth. The pru- 
dence of the greatest poet answers at last the craving and glut of the 
soul, is not contemptuous of less ways of prudence if they conform 
to its ways, puts off nothing, permits no let-up for its own case or 
any case, has no particular sabbath or judgment-day, divides not the 
living from the dead or the righteous from the unrighteous, is 
satisfied with the present, matches every thought or act by its correla- 
tive, knows no possible forgiveness or deputed atonement . . . knows 
that the young man who composedly perilled his life and lost it 
has done exceeding well for himself, while the man who has not 
perilled his life and retains to old age in riches and ease has perhaps 
achieved nothing for himself worth mentioning . . . and that only 
that person has no great prudence to learn who has learnt to prefer 
real longlived things, and favors body and soul the same, and 
perceives the indirect assuredly following the direct, and what evil 
or good he does leaping onward and waiting to meet him again — 
and who in his spirit in any emergency whatever neither hurries 
or avoids death. 

The direct trial of him who would be the greatest poet is to-day. 
If he does not flood himself with the immediate age as with vast 
oceanic tides . . . and if he does not attract his own land body and 
soul to himself, and hang on its neck with incomparable love and 
plunge his Semitic muscle into its merits and demerits . . . and if 
he be not himself the age transfigured . . . and if to him is not 
opened the eternity which gives similitude to all periods and loca- 
tions and processes and animate and inanimate forms, and which 
is the bond of time, and rises up from its inconceivable vagueness 
and infiniteness in the swimming shape of to-day, and is held by 
the ductile anchors of life, and makes the present spot the passage 
from what was to what shall be, and commits itself to the repre- 
sentation of this wave of an hour and this one of the sixty beautiful 
children of the wave — let him merge in the general run and wait his 

Still the final test of poems or any character or work remains. 
The prescient poet projects himself centuries ahead and judges 
performer or performance after the changes of time. Does it Uve 
through them? Does it still hold on untired.'' Will the same style 


and the direction of genius to similar points be satisfactory now? 
Has no new discovery in science or arrival at superior planes of 
thought and judgment and behavior fixed him or his so that either 
can be looked down upon ? Have the marches of tens and hundreds 
and thousands of years made willing detours to the right hand and 
the left hand for his sake? Is he beloved long and long after he is 
buried? Does the young man think often of him? and the young 
woman think often of him? and do the middle aged and the old 
think of him? 

A great poem is for ages and ages in common, and for all degrees 
and complexions, and all departments and sects, and for a woman 
as much as a man and a man as much as a woman. A great poem 
is no finish to a man or woman but rather a beginning. Has any 
one fancied he could sit at last under some due authority and rest 
satisfied with explanations and realize and be content and full? 
To no such terminus does the greatest poet bring ... he brings 
neither cessation or sheltered fatness and ease. The touch of him 
tells in action. Whom he takes he takes with firm sure grasp into 
live regions previously unattained . . . thenceforward is no rest 
. . . they see the space and ineffable sheen that turn the old spots 
and lights into dead vacuums. The companion of him beholds the 
birth and progress of stars and learns one of the meanings. Now 
there shall be a man cohered out of tumult and chaos . . . the elder 
encourages the younger and shows him how . . . they too shall 
launch off fearlessly together till the new world fits an orbit for itself 
and looks unabashed on the lesser orbits of the stars and sweeps 
through the ceaseless rings and shall never be quiet again. 

There will soon be no more priests. Their work is done. They may 
wait awhile . . . perhaps a generation or two . . . dropping off by 
degrees. A superior breed shall take their place . . . the gangs of 
kosmos and prophets en masse shall take their place. A new order 
shall arise and they shall be the priests of man, and every man shall 
be his own priest. The churches built under their umbrage shall 
be the churches of men and women. Through the divinity of them- 
selves shall the kosmos and the new breed of poets be interpreters 
of men and women and of all events and things. They shall find 
their inspiration in real objects to-day, symptoms of the past and 


future. . . . They shall not deign to defend immortality or God or 
the perfection of things or liberty or the exquisite beauty and reality 
of the soul. They shall arise in America and be responded to from 
the remainder of the earth. 

The English language befriends the grand American expression 
... it is brawny enough and limber and full enough ... on the 
tough stock of a race who through all change of circumstance was 
never without the idea of political liberty, which is the animus of all 
liberty, it has attracted the terms of daintier and gayer and subtler 
and more elegant tongues. It is the powerful language of resistance 
... it is the dialect of common sense. It is the speech of the proud 
and melancholy races and of all who aspire. It is the chosen tongue 
to express growth faith self-esteem freedom justice equality friendli- 
ness amplitude prudence decision and courage. It is the medium 
that shall well nigh express the inexpressible. 

No great literature nor any like style of behavior or oratory or 
social intercourse or household arrangements or public institutions 
or the treatment of bosses of employed people, nor executive detail 
or detail of the army and navy, nor spirit of legislation or courts or 
police or tuition or architecture or songs or amusements or the 
costumes of young men, can long elude the jealous and passionate 
instinct of American standards. Whether or no the sign appears 
from the mouths of the people, it throbs a live interrogation in every 
freeman's and freewoman's heart after that which passes by or this 
built to remain. Is it uniform with my country? Are its disposals 
without ignominious distinctions? Is it for the ever growing com- 
munes of brothers and lovers, large, well-united, proud beyond the 
old models, generous beyond all models? Is it something grown 
fresh out of the fields or drawn from the sea for use to me today here ? 
I know that what answers for me an American must answer for 
any individual or nation that serves for a part of my materials. Does 
this answer? or is it without reference to universal needs? or sprung 
of the needs of the less developed society of special ranks? or old 
needs of pleasure overlaid by modern science or forms? Does this 
acknowledge liberty with audible and absolute acknowledgment, 
and set slavery at nought for life and death ? Will it help breed one 
goodshaped and wellhung man, and a woman to be his perfect and 


independent mate ? Does it improve manners ? Is it for the nursing 
of the young of the repubhc? Does it solve readily with the sweet 
milk of the nipples of the breasts of the mother of many children? 
Has it too the old ever-fresh forbearance and impartiality? Does 
it look for the same love on the last born and on those hardening 
toward stature, and on the errant, and on those who disdain all 
strength of assault outside their own ? 

The poems distilled from other poems will probably pass away. 
The coward will surely pass away. The expectation of the vital and 
great can only be satisfied by the demeanor of the vital and great. 
The swarms of the polished deprecating and reflectors and the polite 
float off and leave no remembrance. America prepares with com- 
posure and goodwill for the visitors that have sent word. It is not 
intellect that is to be their warrant and welcome. The talented, the 
artist, the ingenious, the editor, the statesman, the erudite . . . they 
are not unappreciated . . . they fall in their place and do their work. 
The soul of the nation also does its work. No disguise can pass on 
it ... no disguise can conceal from it. It rejects none, it permits all. 
Only towards as good as itself and toward the like of itself will it 
advance half-way. An individual is as superb as a nation when he has 
the qualities which make a superb nation. The soul of the largest 
and wealthiest and proudest nation may well go half-way to meet 
that of its poets. The signs are eiTectual. There is no fear of mistake. 
If the one is true the other is true. The proof of a poet is that his 
country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it. 



HISTORY, within a hundred years in Germany, and within 
sixty years in France, has undergone a transformation ow- 
ing to a study of Hteratures. 

The discovery has been made that a Hterary work is not a mere 
play of the imagination, the isolated caprice of an excited brain, 
but a transcript of contemporary manners and customs and the sign 
of a particular state of intellect. The conclusion derived from this is 
that, through literary monuments, we can retrace the way in which 
men felt and thought many centuries ago. This method has been 
tried and found successful. 

We have meditated over these ways of feeling and thinking and 
have accepted them as facts of prime significance. We have found 
that they were dependent on most important events, that they explain 
these, and that these explain them, and that henceforth it was neces- 
sary to give them their place in history, and one of the highest. This 
place has been assigned to them, and hence all is changed in history 
—the aim, the method, the instrumentalities, and the conceptions 
of laws and of causes. It is this change as now going on, and which 
must continue to go on, that is here attempted to be set forth. 

On turning over the large stiff pages of a folio volume, or the 
yellow leaves of a manuscript, in short, a poem, a code of laws, a 

Hippolyte Adolphe Taine (b. 1828; d. 1893) was one of the most distinguished 
French critics o£ the nineteenth century. He held the chair of esthetics at the 
Ecole des Beaux Arts, and wrote a large number of works in history, travel, and 
literary criticism. His "History of English Literature" is the most brilliant book on 
the subject ever written by a foreigner; and in this introduction he expounds the 
method of criticism which has come to be associated with his name, and in accordance 
with which he seeks to interpret the characteristics of English authors. 



confession of faith, what is your first comment ? You say to yourself 
that the work before you is not of its own creation. It is simply a 
mold like a fossil shell, an imprint similar to one of those forms 
embedded in a stone by an animal which once lived and perished. 
Beneath the shell was an animal and behind the document there was 
a man. Why do you study the shell unless to form some idea of the 
animal? In the same way do you study the document in order to 
comprehend the man; both shell and document are dead fragments 
and of value only as indications of the complete living being. The 
aim is to reach this being; this is what you strive to reconstruct. It 
is a mistake to study the document as if it existed alone by itself. 
That is treating things merely as a pedant, and you subject yourself 
to the illusions of a book-worm. At bottom mythologies and lan- 
guages are not existences; the only realities are human beings who 
have employed words and imagery adapted to their organs and to 
suit the original cast of their intellects. A creed is nothing in itself. 
Who made it ? Look at this or that portrait of the sixteenth century, 
the stern, energetic features of an archbishop or of an English martyr. 
Nothing exists except through the individual; it is necessary to know 
the individual himself. Let the parentage of creeds be established, or 
the classification of poems, or the growth of constitutions, or the 
transformations of idioms, and we have only cleared the ground. 
True history begins when the historian has discerned beyond the 
mists of ages the living, active man, endowed with passions, fur- 
nished with habits, special in voice, feature, gesture and costume, 
distinctive and complete, like anybody that you have just encoun- 
tered in the street. Let us strive then, as far as possible, to get rid of 
this great interval of time which prevents us from observing the man 
with our eyes, the eyes of our own head. What revelations do we 
find in the calendared leaves of a modern poem ? A modern poet, a 
man like De Musset, Victor Hugo, Lamartine, or Heine, graduated 
from a college and traveled, wearing a dress-coat and gloves, favored 
by ladies, bowing fifty times and uttering a dozen witticisms in an 
evening, reading daily newspapers, generally occupying an apartment 
on the second story, not over-cheerful on account of his nerves, and 
especially because, in this dense democracy in which we stifle each 
other, the discredit of official rank exaggerates his pretensions by 

412 H. A. TAINE 

raising his importance, and, owing to the delicacy of his personal 
sensations, leading him to regard himself as a Deity. Such is what 
we detect behind modern meditations and sonnets. 

Again, behind a tragedy of the seventeenth century there is a poet, 
one, for example, like Racine, refined, discreet, a courtier, a fiine 
talker, with majestic perruque and ribboned shoes, a monarchist 
and zealous Christian, "God having given him the grace not to blush 
in any society on account of zeal for his king or for the Gospel," 
clever in interesting the monarch, translating into proper French 
"the gaulois of Amyot," deferential to the great, always knowing 
how to keep his place in their company, assiduous and respectful at 
Marly as at Versailles, amid the formal creations of a decorative 
landscape and the reverential bows, graces, intrigues, and fineness 
of the braided seigniors who get up early every morning to obtain 
the reversion of an office, together with the charming ladies who 
count on their fingers the pedigrees which entitle them to a seat on a 
footstool. On this point consult Saint-Simon and the engravings of 
Perelle, the same as you have just consulted Balzac and the water- 
color drawings of Eugene Lami. 

In like manner, on reading a Greek tragedy, our first care is to 
figure to ourselves the Greeks, that is to say, men who lived half- 
naked in the gymnasiums or on a public square under a brilliant sky, 
in full view of the noblest and most delicate landscape, busy in 
rendering their bodies strong and agile, in conversing together, in 
arguing, in voting, in carrying out patriotic piracies, and yet idle and 
temperate, the furniture of their houses consisting of three earthen 
jars and their food of two pots of anchovies preserved in oil, served 
by slaves who afford them the time to cultivate their minds and to 
exercise their limbs, with no other concern than that of having the 
most beautiful city, the most beautiful processions, the most beautiful 
ideas, and the most beautiful men. In this respect, a statue hke the 
"Meleager" or the "Theseus" of the Parthenon, or again a sight of the 
blue and lustrous Mediterranean, resembling a silken tunic out of 
which islands arise like marble bodies, together with a dozen choice 
phrases selected from the works of Plato and Aristophanes, teach us 
more than any number of dissertations and commentaries. 

And so again, in order to understand an Indian Purana, one 


must begin by imagining the father of a family who, "having seen 
a son on his son's knees," follows the law and, with ax and pitcher, 
seeks soUtude under a banyan tree, talks no more, multiplies his 
fastings, lives naked with four fires around him under the fifth fire, 
that terrible sun which endlessly devours and resuscitates all living 
things; who fixes his imagination in turn for weeks at a time on the 
foot of Brahma, then on his knee, on his thigh, on his navel, and so 
on, until, beneath the strain of this intense meditation, hallucinations 
appear, when all the forms of being, mingling together and trans- 
formed into each other, oscillate to and fro in this vertiginous brain 
until the motionless man, with suspended breath and fixed eyeballs, 
beholds the universe melting away like vapor over the vacant im- 
mensity of the Being in which he hopes for absorption. In this case 
the best of teachings would be a journey in India; but, for lack of 
a better one, take the narratives of travelers along with works in 
geography, botany, and ethnology. In any event, there must be the 
same research. A language, a law, a creed, is never other than an 
abstraction; the perfect thing is found in the active man, the visible 
corporeal figure which eats, walks, fights, and labors. Set aside the 
theories of constitutions and their results, of religions and their 
systems, and try to observe men in their workshops or offices, in 
their fields along with their own sky and soil, with their own 
homes, clothes, occupations and repasts, just as you see them when, 
on landing in England or in Italy, you remark their features and 
gestures, their roads and their inns, the citizen on his promenades 
and the workman taking a drink. Let us strive as much as possible 
to supply the place of the actual, personal, sensible observation that 
is no longer practicable, this being the only way in which we can 
really know the man; let us make the past present; to judge of an 
object it must be present; no experience can be had of what is absent. 
Undoubtedly, this sort of reconstruction is always imperfect; only an 
imperfect judgment can be based on it; but let us do the best we 
can; incomplete knowledge is better than none at all, or than 
knowledge which is erroneous, and there is no other way of obtain- 
ing knowledge approximatively of bygone times than by seeing 
approximatively the men of former times. 
Such is the first step in history. This step was taken in Europe 

414 H. A. TAINE 

at the end of the last century when the imagination took fresh flight 
under the auspices of Lessing and Walter Scott, and a little later in 
France under Chateaubriand, Augustin Thierry, Michelet, and 
others. We now come to the second step. 


On observing the visible man with your own eyes what do you 
try to find in him? The invisible man. These words which your 
ears catch, those gestures, those airs of the head, his attire and 
sensible operations of all kinds, are, for you, merely so many expres- 
sions; these express something, a soul. An inward man is hidden 
beneath the outward man, and the latter simply manifests the former. 
You have observed the house in which he lives, his furniture, his 
costume, in order to discover his habits and tastes, the degree of his 
refinement or rusticity, his extravagance or economy, his follies or his 
cleverness. You have listened to his conversation and noted the 
inflexions of his voice, the attitudes he has assumed, so as to judge of 
his spirit, self-abandonment or gayety, his energy or his rigidity. 
You consider his writings, works of art, financial and political 
schemes, with a view to measure the reach and limits of his inteUi- 
gence, his creative power and self-command, to ascertain the usual 
order, kind, and force of his conceptions, in what way he thinks and 
how he resolves. All these externals are so many avenues converging 
to one center, and you follow these only to reach that center; here is 
the real man, namely, that group of faculties and of sentiments which 
produces the rest. Behold a new world, an infinite world; for each 
visible action involves an infinite train of reasonings and emotions, 
new or old sensations which have combined to bring this into light 
and which, like long ledges of rock sunk deep in the earth, have 
cropped out above the surface and attained their level. It is this 
subterranean world which forms the second aim, the special object of 
the historian. If his critical education suffices, he is able to discrim- 
inate under every ornament in architecture, under every stroke of 
the brush in a picture, under each phrase of literary composition, the 
particular sentiment out of which the ornament, the stroke, and the 
phrase have sprung; he is a spectator of the inward drama which 


has developed itself in the breast o£ the artist or writer; the choice of 
words, the length or shortness of the period, the species of metaphor, 
the accent of a verse, the chain of reasoning — all are to him an 
indication; while his eyes are reading the text his mind and soul are 
following the steady flow and ever-changing series of emotions 
and conceptions from which this text has issued; he is working out 
its psychology. Should you desire to study this operation, regard the 
promoter and model of all the high culture of the epoch, Goethe, 
who, before composing his "Iphigenia" spent days in making draw- 
ings of the most perfect statues and who, at last, his eyes filled with 
the noble forms of antique scenery and his mind penetrated by the 
harmonious beauty of antique life, succeeded in reproducing inter- 
nally, with such exactness, the habits and yearnings of Greek imagina- 
tion as to provide us with an almost twin sister of the "Antigone" 
of Sophocles and of the goddesses of Phidias. This exact and demon- 
strated divination of bygone sentiments has, in our days, given a new 
life to history. There was almost complete ignorance of this in the 
last century; men of every race and of every epoch were represented 
as about alike, the Greek, the barbarian, the Hindoo, the man of the 
Renaissance and the man of the eighteenth century, cast in the same 
mold and after the same pattern, and after a certain abstract concep- 
tion which served for the whole human species. There was a 
knowledge of man but not of men. There was no penetration into 
the soul itself; nothing of the infinite diversity and wonderful com- 
plexity of souls had been detected; it was not known that the moral 
organization of a people or of an age is as special and distinct as the 
physical structure of a family of plants or of an order of animals. 
History to-day, like zoology, has found its anatomy, and whatever 
branch of it is studied, whether philology, languages or mythologies, 
it is in this way that labor must be given to make it produce new 
fruit. Among so many writers who, since Herder, Ottfried Miiller, 
and Goethe have steadily followed and rectified this great effort, 
let the reader take two historians and two works, one "The Life 
and Letters of Cromwell" by Carlyle, and the other the "Port Royal" 
of Sainte-Beuve. He will see how precisely, how clearly, and how 
profoundly we detect the soul of a man beneath his actions and 
works; how, under an old general and in place of an ambitious man 

4l6 H. A. TAINE 

vulgarly hypocritical, we find one tormented by the disordered rev- 
eries of a gloomy imagination, but practical in instinct and faculties, 
thoroughly English and strange and incomprehensible to whoever 
has not studied the climate and the race; how, with about a hundred 
scattered letters and a dozen or more mutilated speeches, we follow 
him from his farm and his team to his general's tent and to his 
Protector's throne, in his transformation and in his development, in 
his struggles of conscience and in his statesman's resolutions, in such 
a way that the mechanism of his thought and action becomes visible 
and the ever renewed and fitful tragedy, within which wracked 
this great gloomy soul, passes like the tragedies of Shakespeare into 
the souls of those who behold them. We see how, behind convent 
disputes and the obstinacy of nuns, we recover one of the great 
provinces of human psychology; how fifty or more characters, ren- 
dered invisible through the uniformity of a narration careful of the 
proprieties, came forth in full daylight, each standing out clear in 
its countless diversities; how, underneath theological dissertations 
and monotonous sermons, we discern the throbbings of ever-breath- 
ing hearts, the excitements and depressions of the religious life, the 
unforeseen reaction and pell-mell stir of natural feeling, the infiltra- 
tions of surrounding society, the intermittent triumphs of grace, 
presenting so many shades of difference that the fullest description 
and most flexible style can scarcely garner in the vast harvest which 
the critic has caused to germinate in this abandoned field. And the 
same elsewhere. Germany, with its genius, so pliant, so broad, so 
prompt in transformations, so fitted for the reproduction of the re- 
motest and strangest states of human thought; England, with its 
matter-of-fact mind, so suited to the grappling with moral problems, 
to making them clear by figures, weights, and measures, by geog- 
raphy and statistics, by texts and common sense; France, at length, 
with its Parisian culture and drawing-room habits, with its unceasing 
analysis of characters and of works, with its ever ready irony at 
detecting weaknesses, with its skilled finesse in discriminating shades 
of thought — all have plowed over the same ground, and we now 
begin to comprehend that no region of history exists in which this 
deep sub-soil should not be reached if we would secure adequate 
crops between the furrows. 


Such is the second step, and we are now in train to follow it out. 
Such is the proper aim of contemporary criticism. No one has done 
this work so judiciously and on so grand a scale as Sainte-Beuve; 
in this respect, we are all his pupils; literary, philosophic, and 
religious criticism in books, and even in the newspapers, is to-day 
entirely changed by his method. Ulterior evolution must start from 
this point. I have often attempted to expose what this evolution is; 
in my opinion, it is a new road open to history and which I shall 
strive to describe more in detail. 


After having observed in a man and noted down one, two, three, 
and then a multitude of, sentiments, do these suffice and does your 
knowledge of him seem complete ? Does a memorandum book con- 
stitute a psychology? It is not a psychology, and here, as elsewhere, 
the search for causes must follow the collection of facts. It matters 
not what the facts may be, whether physical or moral, they always 
spring from causes; there are causes for ambition, for courage, for 
veracity, as well as for digestion, for muscular action, and for animal 
heat. Vice and virtue are products like vitriol and sugar; every 
complex fact grows out of the simple facts with which it is affiliated 
and on which it depends. We must therefore try to ascertain what 
simple facts underlie moral qualities the same as we ascertain those 
that underlie physical qualities, and, for example, let us take the 
first fact that comes to hand, a religious system of music, that of a 
Protestant church. A certain inward cause has inclined the minds of 
worshipers toward these grave, monotonous melodies, a cause much 
greater than its eflect; that is to say, a general conception of the 
veritable outward forms of worship which man owes to God; it is 
this general conception which has shaped the architecture of the 
temple, cast out statues, dispensed with paintings, effaced ornaments, 
shortened ceremonies, confined the members of a congregation to 
high pews which cut off the view, and governed the thousand details 
of decoration, posture, and all other externals. This conception 
itself again proceeds from a more general cause, an idea of human 
conduct in general, inward and outward, prayers, actions, disposi- 

41 8 H. A. TAINE 

tions of every sort that man is bound to maintain toward the Deity; 
it is this which has enthroned the doctrine of grace, lessened the 
importance of the clergy, transformed the sacraments, suppressed 
observances, and changed the religion of discipline into one of 
morality. This conception, in its turn, depends on a third one, still 
more general, that of moral perfection as this is found in a perfect 
God, the impeccable judge, the stern overseer, who regards every 
soul as sinful, meriting punishment, incapable of virtue or of salva- 
tion, except through a stricken conscience which He provokes and 
the renewal of the heart which He brings about. Here is the master 
conception, consisting of duty erected into the absolute sovereign of 
human life, and which prostrates all other ideals at the feet of the 
moral ideal. Here we reach what is deepest in man; for, to explain 
this conception, we must consider the race he belongs to, say the 
German, the Northman, the formation and character of his intellect, 
his ways in general of thinking and feeling, that tardiness and 
frigidity of sensation which keeps him from rashly and easily falling 
under the empire of sensual enjoyments, that bluntness of taste, that 
irregularity and those outbursts of conception which arrest in him 
the birth of refined and harmonious forms and methods; that disdain 
of appearances, that yearning for truth, that attachment to abstract, 
bare ideas which develop conscience in him at the expense of every- 
thing else. Here the search comes to an end. We have reached a cer- 
tain primitive disposition, a particular trait belonging to sensations 
of all kinds, to every conception peculiar to an age or to a race, to 
characteristics inseparable from every idea and feeling that stir in 
the human breast. Such are the grand causes, for these are universal 
and permanent causes, present in every case and at every moment, 
everywhere and always active, indestructible, and inevitably dominant 
in the end, since, whatever accidents cross their path being limited 
and partial, end in yielding to the obscure and incessant repetition 
of their energy; so that the general structure of things and all the 
main features of events are their work, all religions and philosophies, 
all poetic and industrial systems, all forms of society and of the 
family, all, in fine, being imprints bearing the stamp of their seal. 



There is, then, a system in human ideas and sentiments, the prime 
motor of which consists in general traits, certain characteristics of 
thought and feehng common to men belonging to a particular race, 
epoch, or country. Just as crystals in mineralogy, whatever their 
diversity, proceed from a few simple physical forms, so do civiliza- 
tions in history, however these may differ, proceed from a few 
spiritual forms. One is explained by a primitive geometrical element 
as the other is explained by a primitive psychological element. In 
order to comprehend the entire group of mineralogical species we 
must first study a regular solid in the general, its facets and angles, 
and observe in this abridged form the innumerable transformations 
of which it is susceptible. In like manner, if we would comprehend 
the entire group of historic varieties we must consider beforehand a 
human soul in the general, with its two or three fundamental 
faculties, and, in this abridgment, observe the principal forms it may 
present. This sort of ideal tableau, the geometrical as well as psy- 
chological, is not very complex, and we soon detect the limitations 
of organic conditions to which civilizations, the same as crystals, are 
forcibly confined. What do we find in man at the point of departure.? 
Images or representations of objects, namely, that which floats 
before him internally, lasts a certain time, is effaced, and then returns 
after contemplating this or that tree or animal, in short, some sensible 
object. This forms the material basis of the rest and the development 
of this material basis is twofold, speculative or positive, just as these 
representations end in a general conception or in an active resolution. 
Such is man, summarily abridged. It is here, within these narrow 
confines, that human diversities are encountered, now in the matter 
itself and again in the primordial twofold development. However 
insignificant in the elements they are of vast significance in the mass, 
while the slightest change in the factors leads to gigantic changes 
in the results. According as the representation is distinct, as if 
stamped by a coining-press, or confused and blurred; according as it 
concentrates in itself a larger or smaller number of the characters of 
an object; according as it is violent and accompanied with impulsions 
or tranquil and surrounded with calmness, so are all the operations 
and the whole running-gear of the human machine entirely trans- 

420 H. A. TAINE 

formed. In like manner, again, according as the ulterior develop- 
ment of the representation varies, so does the whole develop- 
ment o£ the man vary. If the general conception in which this ends 
is merely a dry notation in Chinese fashion, language becomes a 
kind of algebra, religion and poetry are reduced to a minimum, 
philosophy is brought down to a sort of moral and practical common 
sense, science to a collection of recipes, classifications, and utilitarian 
mnemonics, the mind itself taking a whole positive turn. If, on the 
contrary, the general conception in which the representation cul- 
minates is a poetic and figurative creation, a living symbol, as with 
the Aryan races, language becomes a sort of shaded and tinted epic 
in which each word stands as a personage, poesy and religion assume 
magnificent and inexhaustible richness, and metaphysics develops 
with breadth and subtlety without any consideration of positive bear- 
ings; the whole intellect, notwithstanding the deviation and inevi- 
table weaknesses of the effort, is captivated by the beautiful and 
sublime, thus conceiving an ideal type which, through its nobleness 
and harmony, gathers to itself all the affections and enthusiasms of 
humanity. If, on the other hand, the general conception in which 
the representation culminates is poetic but abrupt, is reached not 
gradually but by sudden intuition, if the original operation is not a 
regular development but a violent explosion — then, as with the 
Semitic races, metaphysical power is wanting; the religious concep- 
tion becomes that of a royal God, consuming and solitary; science 
cannot take shape, the intellect grows rigid and too headstrong to 
reproduce the delicate ordering of nature; poetry cannot give birth 
to aught but a series of vehement, grandiose exclamations, while 
language no longer renders the concatenation of reasoning and elo- 
quence, man being reduced to lyric enthusiasm, to ungovernable 
passion, and to narrow and fanatical action. It is in this interval 
between the particular representation and the universal conception 
that the germs of the greatest human differences are found. Some 
races, like the classic, for example, pass from the former to the latter 
by a graduated scale of ideas regularly classified and more and more 
general; others, like the Germanic, traverse the interval in leaps, with 
uniformity and after prolonged and uncertain groping. Others, like 


the Romans and the EngUsh, stop at the lowest stages; others, Uke 
the Hindoos and Germans, mount to the uppermost. 

If, now, after considering the passage from the representation to 
the idea, we regard the passage from the representation to the resolu- 
tion, we find here elementary differences of like importance and of the 
same order, according as the impression is vivid, as in Southern 
climes, or faint, as in Northern climes, as it ends in instantaneous 
action as with barbarians, or tardily as with civiUzed nations, as it is 
capable or not of growth, of inequality, of persistence and of associa- 
tion. The entire system of human passion, all the risks of public 
peace and security, all labor and action, spring from these sources. 
It is the same with the other primordial differences; their effects 
embrace an entire civilization, and may be likened to those algebraic 
formulae which, within narrow bounds, describe beforehand the 
curve of which these form the law. Not that this law always prevails 
to the end; sometimes, perturbations arise, but, even when this hap- 
pens, it is not because the law is defective, but because it has not 
operated alone. New elements have entered into combination with 
old ones; powerful foreign forces have interfered to oppose primitive 
forces. The race has emigrated, as with the ancient Aryans, and the 
change of climate has led to a change in the whole intellectual 
economy and structure of society. A people has been conquered like 
the Saxon nation, and the new political structure has imposed on its 
customs, capacities, and desires which it did not possess. The nation 
has established itself permanently in the midst of downtrodden and 
threatening subjects, as with the ancient Spartans, while the necessity 
of living, as in an armed encampment, has violently turned the whole 
moral and social organization in one unique direction. At all events, 
the mechanism of human history is like this. We always find the 
primitive mainspring consisting of some widespread tendency of 
soul and intellect, either innate and natural to the race or acquired 
by it and due to some circumstance forced upon it. These great given 
mainsprings gradually produce their effects, that is to say, at the end 
of a few centuries they place the nation in a new religious, literary, 
social, and economic state; a new condition which, combined with 
their renewed effort, produces another condition, sometimes a good 

422 H. A. TAINE 

one, sometimes a bad one, now slowly, now rapidly, and so on; so 
that the entire development of each distinct civilization may be con- 
sidered as the effect of one permanent force which, at every moment, 
varies its work by modifying the circumstances where it acts. 

Three different sources contribute to the production of this ele- 
mentary moral state, race, environment, and epoch. What we call 
race consists of those innate and hereditary dispositions which man 
brings with him into the world and which are generally accompanied 
with marked differences of temperament and of bodily structure. 
They vary in different nations. 

Naturally, there are varieties of men as there are varieties of 
cattle and horses, some brave and intelligent, and others timid and 
of hmited capacity; some capable of superior conceptions and crea- 
tions, and others reduced to rudimentary ideas and contrivances; 
some specially fitted for certain works, and more richly furnished 
with certain instincts, as we see in the better endowed species of dogs, 
some for running and others for fighting, some for hunting and 
others for guarding houses and flocks. We have here a distinct 
force; so distinct that, in spite of the enormous deviations which 
both the other motors impress upon it, we still recognize, and which 
a race like the Aryan people, scattered from the Ganges to the 
Hebrides, established under all climates, ranged along every degree 
of civilization, transformed by thirty centuries of revolutions, shows 
nevertheless in its languages, in its religions, in its literatures, and 
in its philosophies, the community of blood and of intellect which 
still to-day binds together all its offshoots. However they may differ, 
their parentage is not lost; barbarism, culture and grafting, differ- 
ences of atmosphere and of soil, fortunate or unfortunate occurrences, 
have operated in vain; the grand characteristics of the original form 
have lasted, and we find that the two or three leading features of the 
primitive imprint are again apparent under the subsequent imprints 
with which time has overlaid them. There is nothing surprising in 
this extraordinary tenacity. Although the immensity of the distance 
allows us to catch only a glimpse in a dubious light of the origin of 


species,' the events of history throw sufficient Hght on events anterior 
to history to explain the almost unshaken solidity of primordial 
traits. At the moment of encountering them, fifteen, twenty, and 
thirty centuries before our era, in an Aryan, Egyptian, or Chinese, 
they represent the work of a much greater number of centuries, 
perhaps the work of many myriads of centuries. For, as soon as an 
animal is born it must adapt itself to its surroundings; it breathes in 
another way, it renews itself differently, it is otherwise stimulated 
according as the atmosphere, the food, and the temperature are 
different. A different climate and situation create different necessi- 
ties and hence activities of a different kind; and hence, again, a 
system of different habits, and, finally, a system of different aptitudes 
and instincts. Man, thus compelled to put himself in equilibrium 
with circumstances, contracts a corresponding temperament and 
character, and his character, like his temperament, are acquisitions 
all the more stable because of the outward impression being more 
deeply imprinted in him by more frequent repetitions and trans- 
'mitted to his offspring by more ancient heredity. So that at each 
moment of time the character of a people may be considered as a 
summary of all antecedent actions and sensations; that is to say, as a 
quantity and as a weighty mass, not infinite,^ since all things in 
nature are limited, but disproportionate to the rest and almost 
impossible to raise, since each minute of an almost infinite past has 
contributed to render it heavier, and, in order to turn the scale, it 
would require, on the other side, a still greater accumulation of 
actions and sensations. Such is the first and most abundant source 
of these master faculties from which historic events are derived; and 
we see at once that if it is powerful it is owing to its not being a mere 
source, but a sort of lake, and like a deep reservoir wherein other 
sources have poured their waters for a multitude of centuries. 

When we have thus verified the internal structure of a race we 
must consider the environment in which it lives. For man is not 
alone in the world; nature envelops him and other men surround 
him; accidental and secondary folds come and overspread the primi- 
tive and permanent fold, while physical or social circumstances 

' Darwin, "The Origin of Species." Prosper Lucas, "De I'H^r^dit^." 
* Spinosa, "Ethics," part iv., axiom. 

424 H. A. TAINE 

derange or complete the natural groundwork surrendered to them. 
At one time cHmate has had its effect. Although the history of 
Aryan nations can be only obscurely traced from their common 
country to their final abodes, we can nevertheless aflfirm that the 
profound difference which is apparent between the Germanic races 
on the one hand, and the Hellenic and Latin races on the other, 
proceeds in great part from the differences between the countries 
in which they have established themselves — the former in cold and 
moist countries, in the depths of gloomy forests and swamps, or on 
the borders of a wild ocean, confined to melancholic or rude sensa- 
tions, inclined to drunkenness and gross feeding, leading a militant 
and carnivorous life; the latter, on the contrary, living amidst the 
finest scenery, alongside of a brilliant, sparkhng sea inviting naviga- 
tion and commerce, exempt from the grosser cravings of the stomach, 
disposed at the start to social habits and customs, to political organi- 
zation, to the sentiments and faculties which develop the art of 
speaking, the capacity for enjoyment and invention in the sciences, in 
art, and in literature. At another time, political events have operated, 
as in the two Italian civilizations: the first one tending wholly to 
action, to conquest, to government, and to legislation, through the 
primitive situation of a city of refuge, a frontier emporium, and of 
an armed aristocracy which, importing and enrolling foreigners and 
the vanquished under it, sets two hostile bodies facing each other, 
with no outlet for its internal troubles and rapacious insdncts but 
systematic warfare; the second one, excluded from unity and political 
ambition on a grand scale by the permanency of its municipal sys- 
tem, by the cosmopolite situation of its pope and by the military 
intervention of neighboring states, and following the bent of its 
magnificent and harmonious genius, is wholly carried over to the 
worship of voluptuousness and beauty. Finally, at another time, 
social conditions have imposed their stamp as, eighteen centuries ago, 
by Christianity, and twenty-five centuries ago, by Buddhism, when, 
around the Mediterranean as in Hindostan, the extreme effects of 
Aryan conquest and organization led to intolerable oppression, the 
crushing of the individual, utter despair, the whole world under the 
ban of a curse, with the development of metaphysics and visions, 
until man, in this dungeon of despondency, feeling his heart melt, 


conceived of abnegation, charity, tender love, gentleness, humility, 
human brotherhood, here in the idea of universal nothingness and 
there under that of the fatherhood of God. Look around at the 
regulative instincts and faculties implanted in a race; in brief, the 
turn of mind according to which it thinks and acts at the present 
day; we shall find most frequently that its work is due to one of 
these prolonged situations, to these enveloping circumstances, to 
these persistent gigantic pressures brought to bear on a mass of men 
who, one by one, and all collectively, from one generation to another, 
have been unceasingly bent and fashioned by them, in Spain a 
crusade of eight centuries against the Mohammedans, prolonged yet 
longer even to the exhaustion of the nation through the expulsion of 
the Moors, through the spoliation of the Jews, through the establish- 
ment of the Inquisition, through the Catholic wars; in England, a 
political establishment of eight centuries which maintains man erect 
and respectful, independent and obedient, all accustomed to strug- 
gling together in a body under the sanction of law; in France, a 
Latin organization which, at first imposed on docile barbarians, 
then leveled to the ground under the universal demolition, forms 
itself anew under the latent workings of national instinct, developing 
under hereditary monarchs and ending in a sort of equalized, cen- 
tralized, administrative republic under dynasties exposed to revolu- 
tions. Such are the most efficacious among the observable causes 
which mold the primitive man; they are to nations what education, 
pursuit, condition, and abode are to individuals, and seem to com- 
prise all, since the external forces which fashion human matter, and 
by which the outward acts on the inward, are comprehended in 

There is, nevertheless, a third order of causes, for, with the forces 
within and without, there is the work these have already produced 
together, which work itself contributes toward producing the ensu- 
ing work; beside the permanent impulsion and the given environ- 
ment there is the acquired momentum. When national character 
and surrounding circumstances operate it is not on a tabula rasa, 
but on one already bearing imprints. According as this tabula is 
taken at one or at another moment so is the imprint different, and 
this suffices to render the total effect different. Consider, for example, 

426 H. A. TAINE 

two moments of a literature or of an art, French tragedy under 
Corneille and under Voltaire, and Greek drama under ^schylus and 
under Euripides, Latin poetry under Lucretius and under Claudian, 
and Italian painting under Da Vinci and under Guido. Assuredly, 
there is no change of general conception at either of these two 
extreme points; ever the same human type must be portrayed or 
represented in action; the cast of the verse, the dramatic structure, 
the physical form have all persisted. But there is this among these 
differences, that one of the artists is a precursor and the other a 
successor, that the first one has no model and the second one has a 
model; that the former sees things face to face, and that the latter 
sees them through the intermediation of the former, that many 
departments of art have become more perfect, that the simplicity 
and grandeur of the impression have diminished, that what is 
pleasing and refined in form has augmented — in short, that the first 
work has determined the second. In this respect, it is with a people 
as with a plant; the same sap at the same temperature and in the 
same soil produces, at different stages of its successive elaborations, 
different developments, buds, flowers, fruits, and seeds, in such a 
way that the condition of the following is always that of the preced- 
ing and is born of its death. Now, if you no longer regard a brief 
moment, as above, but one of those grand periods of development 
which embraces one or many centuries like the Middle Ages, or our 
last classic period, the conclusion is the same. A certain dominating 
conception has prevailed throughout; mankind, during two hundred 
years, during five hundred years, have represented to themselves a 
certain ideal figure of man, in mediaeval times the knight and the 
monk, in our classic period the courtier and refined talker; this 
creative and universal conception has monopolized the entire field 
of action and thought, and, after spreading its involuntary systemadc 
works over the world, it languished and then died out, and now a 
new idea has arisen, destined to a like domination and to equally 
multiplied creations. Note here that the latter depends in part on 
the former, and that it is the former, which, combining its effect with 
those of national genius and surrounding circumstances, will impose 
their bent and their direction on new-born things. It is according 
to this law that great historic currents are formed, meaning by this. 


the long rule of a form of intellect or of a master idea, like that period 
of spontaneous creations called the Renaissance, or that period of 
oratorical classifications called the Classic Age, or that series of 
mystic systems called the Alexandrine and Christian epoch, or that 
series of mythological efflorescences found at the origins of Germany, 
India, and Greece. Here as elsewhere, we are dealing merely with a 
mechanical problem: the total effect is a compound wholly deter- 
mined by the grandeur and direction of the forces which produce it. 
The sole difference which separates these moral problems from physi- 
cal problems lies in this, that in the former the directions and gran- 
deur cannot be estimated by or stated in figures with the same preci- 
sion as in the latter. If a want, a faculty, is a quantity capable of 
degrees, the same as pressure or weight, this quantity is not measur- 
able like that of the pressure or weight. We cannot fix it in an exact or 
approximative formula; we can obtain or give of it only a literary 
impression; we are reduced to nothing and citing the prominent facts 
which make it manifest and which nearly, or roughly, indicate about 
what grade on the scale it must be ranged at. And yet, notwithstand- 
ing the methods of notation are not the same in the moral sciences as 
in the physical sciences, nevertheless, as matter is the same in both, 
and is equally composed of forces, directions, and magnitudes, we 
can still show that in one as in the other, the final effect takes place 
according to the same law. This is great or small according as the 
fundamental forces are great or small and act more or less precisely 
in the same sense, according as the distinct effects of race, environ- 
ment and epoch combine to enforce each other or combine to neu- 
tralize each other. Thus are explained the long impotences and the 
brilliant successes which appear irregularly and with no apparent 
reason in the life of a people; the causes of these consist in internal 
concordances and contrarieties. There was one of these concordances 
when, in the seventeenth century, the social disposition and conver- 
sational spirit innate in France encountered drawing-room formal- 
ities and the moment of oratorical analysis; when, in the nineteenth 
century, the flexible, profound genius of Germany encountered the 
age of philosophic synthesis and of cosmopolite criticism. One of 
these* contrarieties happened when, in the seventeenth century, the 
blunt, isolated genius of England awkwardly tried to don the new 

428 H. A. TAINE 

polish o£ urbanity, and when, in the sixteenth century, the lucid, 
prosaic French intellect tried to gestate a living poesy. It is this secret 
concordance of creative forces which produced the exquisite courtesy 
and noble cast of literature under Louis XIV. and Bossuet, and the 
grandiose metaphysics and broad critical sympathy under Hegel 
and Goethe. It is this secret contrariety of creative forces which 
produced the literary incompleteness, the licentious plays, the abor- 
tive drama of Dryden and Wycherly, the poor Greek importations, 
the gropings, the minute beauties and fragments of Ronsard and the 
Pleiad. We may confidently affirm that the unknown creations 
toward which the current of coming ages is bearing up will spring 
from and be governed by these primordial forces; that, if these forces 
could be measured and computed we might deduce from them, as 
from a formula, the characters of future civilization; and that if, 
notwithstanding the evident rudeness of our notations, and the 
fundamental inexactitude of our measures, we would nowadays 
form some idea of our general destinies, we must base our conjec- 
tures on an examination of these forces. For, in enumerating them, 
we run through the full circle of active forces; and when the race, 
the environment, and the moment have been considered, — that is to 
say the inner mainspring, the pressure from without, and the impul- 
sion already acquired, — we have exhausted not only all real causes 
but again all possible causes of movement. 


There remains to be ascertained in what way these causes, applied 
to a nation or to a century, distribute their effects. Like a spring 
issuing from an elevated spot and diffusing its waters, according to 
the height, from ledge to ledge, until it finally reaches the low 
ground, so does the tendency of mind or soul in a people, due to 
race, epoch, or environment, diffuse itself in different proportions, 
and by regular descent, over the different series of facts which com- 
pose its civilization.' In preparing the geographical map of a country, 
starting at its watershed, we see the slopes, just below this common 

' For this scale of coordinate effects consult, "Langues S^mitiques," by Renan, ch. 
i; "Comparison des civilizations Grecque et Romaine," vol. i., ch. i, 3d ed., by 
Mommsen; "Consequences de la d^mocratie," vol. iii., by Tocqueville. 


point, dividing themselves into five or six principal basins, and then 
each of the latter into several others, and so on until the whole 
country, with its thousands of inequalities of surface, is included in 
the ramifications of this network. In like manner, in preparing 
the psychological map of the events and sentiments belonging to a 
certain human civilization, we find at the start five or six well 
determined provinces — religion, art, philosophy, the state, the family, 
and industries; next, in each of these provinces, natural departments, 
and then finally, in each of these departments, still smaller territories 
until we arrive at those countless details of life which we observe 
daily in ourselves and around us. If, again, we examine and compare 
together these various groups of facts we at once find that they are 
composed of parts and that all have parts in common. Let us take 
first the three principal products of human intelligence — religion, art, 
and philosophy. What is a philosophy but a conception of nature 
and of its primordial causes under the form of abstractions and 
formulas? What underlies a religion and an art if not a conception 
of this same nature, and of these same primordial causes, under 
the form of more or