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I hope it will be forgiven me, that they are no ill pieces, though they be not like the persons. But I foresee a nearer fate to my book than this, that the vices therein will be owned before the virtues, (though there I have avoided all particulars, as I have done names,) and some will be so ready to discredit me, as they will have the impudence to belie themselves : for if I meant them not, it is so. Nor can I hope otherwise. For why should they remit any thing of their riot, their pride, their self-love, and other inherent graces, to consider truth or virtue, but, with the trade of the world, lend their long ears against men they love not; and hold their dear mountebank or jester in far better condition than all the study, or studiers of humanity ? For such, I would rather know them by their visards still, than they should publish their faces, at their peril, in my theatre, whère Cato, if he lived, might enter without scandal.
1 In my theatre,] i.e. in the ensuing collection of epigrams. This would not have deserved mention, had not Oldys, in his MS. notes to Langbaine, gravely produced the passage to prove that Jonson was “master of a play-house !” “He (Ben) mentions something of his theatre to the earl of Pembroke, before his epigrams.” So men sometimes read !
RAY thee, take care, that tak'st my
book in hand, To read it well; that is, to under
TO MY BOOK.
T will be look'd for, Book, when some but see
Thy title, EPIGRAMS, and named of me,
Thou shouldst be bold, licentious, full of gall, Wormwood, and sulphur, sharp, and tooth'd withal ; Become a petulant thing, hurl ink, and wit, As madmen stones ; not caring whom they hit. Deceive their malice, who could wish it so; And by thy wiser temper, let men know Thou art not covetous of least self-fame, Made from the hazard of another's shame; Much less, with lewd, profane, and beastly phrase, To catch the world's loose laughter, or vain gaze.
He that departs with his own honesty
TO MY BOOKSELLER.
HOU that mak’st gain thy end, and wisely well,
Use mine so too; I give thee leave: but crave,
less can. If, without these vile arts, it will not sell, Send it to Bucklers-bury, there 'twill well.”
To KING JAMES.
OW, best of kings, dost thou a sceptre bear!3
How, best of poets, dost thou laurel wear!
But two things rare the Fates had in their store, And gave thee both, to shew they could no more.
2 Send it to Bucklers-bury, there 'twill well.] “The whole street (Stow says) called Buckle's-bury, on both the sides throughout, is possessed of grocers and apothecaries.” So that there must have been a terrible consumption of poetry, and, of course, a never-failing demand for it. “The pepperers," also, it appears from the same authority, mightily affected this street.
3 How, best of kings, &c.] “Dr. Hurd,” Whalley says in the margin of his copy, “ has severely but justly reprehended Jonson
For such a poet, while thy days were green,
for the gross adulation in these verses." Reprehensions of adulation come with a good grace from Hurd, it must be confessed ! But why this outcry against our poet? His epigram was probably written soon after the accession of James, and when this good prince had surely given little cause for complaint to any one. With respect to his boyish poetry, of which I presume Hurd never read a line, it is really creditable to his talents. Some of the Psalms are better translated by him than they were by Milton at his years ; and surrounded as he was by the hirelings of Elizabeth, who betrayed his mother, and only waited for the word to do as much by him, it is greatly to his honour that he turned his studies to so good an account. But why, let me ask again, this eternal outcry against Jonson ? Hurd had not very far to look for those who flattered much more grossly than Jonson, without his plea for it. James was his munificent patron, and gratitude, which none felt more ardently than our poet, might excuse some little exaggeration of praise. But what extraordinary inducement had Shakspeare for his adulation? Hurd never asked himself this question. What plea had Drummond, or his friend Alexander (Lord Stirling) for their gross sycophancy? The latter has a panegyric on James for a sonnet greatly inferior to any thing which his majesty had written at the date of this Epigram, in which he says,
“He, prince, or poet, more than man doth prove !” and, after a deal of fulsome rant, concludes thus:
“ But all his due who can afford him then?
A God of poets, and a king of men !” And this is addressed to the queasy Drummond, who is so grievously scandalized at the “insincerity" of his “dear friend " Jonson. Í trust that the reader will not be mortified at discovering that our author has partners in his delinquency : a fact that never appears to have been suspected by those who write against him.
ON THE UNION.
HEN was there contract better driven by Fate,
The world the temple was, the priest a king, The spoused pair two realms, the sea the ring.
F all you boast of your great art be true ;
Sure, willing poverty lives most in you.
ON THE NEW HOT-HOUSE.
HERE lately harbour'd many a famous whore,
A purging bill, now fix'd upon the door,
it is a hot-house; so it may, And still be a whore-house : they're synonyma.
ON A ROBBERY.
PIDWAY robb'd Duncote of three hundred
pound, Ridway was ta'en, arraign'd, condemn'd to
4 A bagnio. Thus Shakspeare: “Now she professes a hot-house, which I think is a very ill house too.” Measure for Measure.