Character Writings of the 17th Century online

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vain-glorious, insolent, proud man swells with a little frail
prosperity, grows big and loud, and overflows his bounds, and when he
sinks, leaves mud and dirt behind him. His carriage is as glorious and
haughty as if he were advanced upon men's shoulders or tumbled over
their heads like knipperdolling. He fancies himself a Colosse, and so he
is, for his head holds no proportion to his body, and his foundation is
lesser than his upper storeys. We can naturally take no view of
ourselves unless we look downwards, to teach us how humble admirers we
ought to be of our own values. The slighter and less solid his materials
are the more room they take up and make him swell the bigger, as
feathers and cotton will stuff cushions better than things of more close
and solid parts.


Is one that would fain make himself that which Nature never meant him,
like a fanatic that inspires himself with his own whimsies. He sets up
haberdasher of small poetry, with a very small stock and no credit. He
believes it is invention enough to find out other men's wit, and
whatsoever he lights upon, either in books or company, he makes bold
with as his own. This he puts together so untowardly, that you may
perceive his own wit has the rickets by the swelling disproportion of
the joints. Imitation is the whole sum of him, and his vein is but an
itch that he has catched of others, and his flame like that of charcoals
that were burnt before. But as he wants judgment to understand what is
best, he naturally takes the worst, as being most agreeable to his own
talent. You may know his wit not to be natural, 'tis so unquiet and
troublesome in him; for as those that have money but seldom are always
shaking their pockets when they have it, so does he when he thinks he
has got something that will make him appear. He is a perpetual talker,
and you may know by the freedom of his discourse that he came lightly by
it, as thieves spend freely what they get. He measures other men's wit
by their modesty, and his own by his confidence. He makes nothing of
writing plays, because he has not wit enough to understand the
difficulty. This makes him venture to talk and scribble, as chouses do
to play with cunning gamesters until they are cheated and laughed at. He
is always talking of wit, as those that have bad voices are always
singing out of tune, and those that cannot play delight to fumble on
instruments. He grows the unwiser by other men's harms, for the worse
others write, he finds the more encouragement to do so too. His
greediness of praise is so eager that he swallows anything that comes in
the likeness of it, how notorious and palpable soever, and is as
shot-free against anything that may lessen his good opinion of himself.
This renders him incurable, like diseases that grow insensible.

If you dislike him, it is at your own peril; he is sure to put in a
caveat beforehand against your understanding, and, like a malefactor in
wit, is always furnished with exceptions against his judges. This puts
him upon perpetual apologies, excuses, and defences, but still by way of
defiance, in a kind of whiffling strain, without regard of any man that
stands in the way of his pageant. Where he thinks he may do it safely,
he will confidently own other men's writings; and where he fears the
truth may be discovered, he will, by feeble denials and feigned
insinuations, give men occasion to suppose it.

If he understands Latin or Greek he ranks himself among the learned,
despises the ignorant, talks criticisms out of Scaliger, and repeats
Martial's bawdy epigrams, and sets up his rest wholly upon pedantry. But
if he be not so well qualified, he cries down all learning as pedantic,
disclaims study, and professes to write with as great facility as if his
Muse was sliding down Parnassus. Whatsoever he hears well said he seizes
upon by poetical license, and one way makes it his own; that is, by
ill-repeating of it. This he believes to be no more theft than it is to
take that which others throw away. By this means his writings are, like
a tailor's cushion of mosaic work, made up of several scraps sewed
together. He calls a slovenly, nasty description great Nature, and dull
flatness strange easiness. He writes down all that comes in his head,
and makes no choice, because he has nothing to do it with that is
judgment. He is always repealing the old laws of comedy, and, like the
Long Parliament, making ordinances in their stead, although they are
perpetually thrown out of coffee-houses and come to nothing. He is like
an Italian thief, that never robs but he murders, to prevent discovery;
so sure is he to cry down the man from whom he purloins, that his petty
larceny of wit may pass unsuspected. He is but a copier at best, and
will never arrive to practise by the life; for bar him the imitation of
something he has read, and he has no image in his thoughts. Observation
and fancy, the matter and form of just wit, are above his philosophy. He
appears so over-concerned in all men's wits as if they were but
disparagements of his own, and cries down all they do as if they were
encroachments upon him. He takes jests from the owners and breaks them,
as justices do false weights and pots that want measure. When he meets
with anything that is very good he changes it into small money, like
three groats for a shilling, to serve several occasions. He disclaims
study, pretends to take things in motion, and to shoot flying, which
appears to be very true by his often missing of his mark. His wit is
much troubled with obstructions, and he has fits as painful as those of
the spleen. He fancies himself a dainty, spruce shepherd, with a flock
and a fine silken shepherdess, that follow his pipe as rats did the
conjurers in Germany.

As for epithets, he always avoids those that are near akin to the sense.
Such matches are unlawful, and not fit to be made by a Christian poet,
and therefore all his care is to choose out such as will serve, like a
wooden leg, to piece out a maimed verse that wants a foot or two; and if
they will but rhyme now and then into the bargain, or run upon a letter,
it is a work of supererogation.

For similitudes, he likes the hardest and most obscure best; for as
ladies wear black patches to make their complexions seem fairer than
they are, so when an illustration is more obscure than the sense that
went before it, it must of necessity make it appear clearer than it did,
for contraries are best set off with contraries.

He has found out a way to save the expense of much wit and sense; for he
will make less than some have prodigally laid out upon five or six words
serve forty or fifty lines. This is a thrifty invention, and very easy,
and, if it were commonly known, would much increase the trade of wit and
maintain a multitude of small poets in constant employment. He has found
out a new sort of poetical Georgics, a trick of sowing wit like
clover-grass on barren subjects which would yield nothing before. This
is very useful for the times, wherein, some men say, there is no room
left for new invention. He will take three grains of wit like the
elixir, and projecting it upon the iron age, turn it immediately into
gold. All the business of mankind has presently vanished; the whole
world has kept holiday; there have been no men but heroes and poets, no
women but nymphs and shepherdesses; trees have borne fritters, and
rivers flowed plum-porridge.

We read that Virgil used to make fifty or sixty verses in a morning, and
afterwards reduce them to ten. This was an unthrifty vanity, and argues
him as well ignorant in the husbandry of his own poetry as Seneca says
he was in that of a farm; for, in plain English, it was no better than
bringing a noble to nine-pence. And as such courses brought the prodigal
son to eat with hogs, so they did him to feed with horses, which were
not much better company, and may teach us to avoid doing the like. For
certainly it is more noble to take four or five grains of sense, and,
like a gold-beater, hammer them into so many leaves as will fill a whole
book, than to write nothing but epitomes, which many wise men believe
will be the bane and calamity of learning. When he writes he commonly
steers the sense of his lines by the rhyme that is at the end of them,
as butchers do calves by the tail. For when he has made one line, which
is easy enough, and has found out some sturdy hard word that will but
rhyme, he will hammer the sense upon it, like a piece of hot iron upon
an anvil, into what form he pleases.

There is no art in the world so rich in terms as poetry; a whole
dictionary is scarce able to contain them, for there is hardly a pond, a
sheep-walk, or a gravel-pit in all Greece but the ancient name of it is
become a term of art in poetry. By this means small poets have such a
stock of able hard words lying by them, as dryads, hamadryads, Aonides,
fauni, nymphae, sylvani, &c., that signify nothing at all, and such a
world of pedantic terms of the same kind, as may serve to furnish all
the new inventions and thorough reformations that can happen between
this and Plato's great year.

When he writes he never proposes any scope or purpose to himself, but
gives his genius all freedom; for as he that rides abroad for his
pleasure can hardly be out of his way, so he that writes for his
pleasure can seldom be beside his subject. It is an ungrateful thing to
a noble wit to be confined to anything. To what purpose did the ancients
feign Pegasus to have wings if he must be confined to the road and
stages like a pack-horse, or be forced to be obedient to hedges and
ditches? Therefore he has no respect to decorum and propriety of
circumstance, for the regard of persons, times, and places is a
restraint too servile to be imposed upon poetical license, like him that
made Plato confess Juvenal to be a philosopher, or Persius, that calls
the Athenians Quirites.

For metaphors, he uses to choose the hardest and most far-set that he
can light upon. These are the jewels of eloquence, and therefore the
harder they are the more precious they must be.

He'll take a scant piece of coarse sense and stretch it on the
tenterhooks of half-a-score rhymes, until it crack that you may see
through it and it rattle like a drumhead. When you see his verses hanged
up in tobacco-shops, you may say, in defiance of the proverb, "that the
weakest does not always go to the wall;" for 'tis well known the lines
are strong enough, and in that sense may justly take the wall of any
that have been written in our language. He seldom makes a conscience of
his rhymes, but will often take the liberty to make "preach" rhyme with
"cheat," "vote" with "rogue," and "committee-man" with "hang."

He'll make one word of as many joints as the tin-pudding that a juggler
pulls out of his throat and chops in again. What think you of
_glud-fum-flam-hasta-minantes?_ Some of the old Latin poets bragged that
their verses were tougher than brass and harder than marble; what would
they have done if they had seen these? Verily they would have had more
reason to wish themselves an hundred throats than they then had to
pronounce them.

There are some that drive a trade in writing in praise of other writers
(like rooks, that bet on gamesters' hands), not at all to celebrate the
learned author's merits, as they would show but their own wits, of which
he is but the subject. The lechery of this vanity has spawned more
writers than the civil law. For those whose modesty must not endure to
hear their own praises spoken may yet publish of themselves the most
notorious vapours imaginable. For if the privilege of love be
allowed - _Dicere quiz puduit, scribere jussit amor_ - why should it not
be so in self-love too? For if it be wisdom to conceal our
imperfections, what is it to discover our virtues? It is not likely that
Nature gave men great parts upon such terms as the fairies used to give
money, to pinch and leave them if they speak of it. They say - Praise is
but the shadow of virtue, and sure that virtue is very foolish that is
afraid of its own shadow.

When he writes anagrams he uses to lay the outsides of his verses even
(like a bricklayer) by a line of rhyme and acrostic, and fill the middle
with rubbish. In this he imitates Ben Jonson, but in nothing else.

There was one that lined a hatcase with a paper of Benlowes' poetry;
Prynne bought it by chance and put a new demi-castor into it. The first
time he wore it he felt only a singing in his head, which within two
days turned to a vertigo. He was let blood in the ear by one of the
State physicians, and recovered; but before he went abroad he wrote a
poem of rocks and seas, in a style so proper and natural that it was
hard to determine which was ruggeder.

There is no feat of activity nor gambol of wit that ever was performed
by man, from him that vaults on Pegasus to him that tumbles through the
hoop of an anagram, but Benlowes has got the mastery in it, whether it
be high-rope wit or low-rope wit. He has all sorts of echoes, rebuses,
chronograms, &c., besides carwitchets, clenches, and quibbles. As for
altars and pyramids in poetry, he has outdone all men that way; for he
has made a gridiron and a frying-pan in verse, that, beside the likeness
in shape, the very tone and sound of the words did perfectly represent
the noise that is made by those utensils, such as the old poet called
_sartago loquendi_. When he was a captain he made all the furniture of
his horse, from the bit to the crupper, in beaten poetry, every verse
being fitted to the proportion of the thing, with a moral allusion of
the sense to the thing; as the bridle of moderation, the saddle of
content, and the crupper of constancy; so that the same thing was both
epigram and emblem, even as a mule is both horse and ass.

Some critics are of opinion that poets ought to apply themselves to the
imitation of Nature, and make a conscience of digressing from her; but
he is none of these. The ancient magicians could charm down the moon and
force rivers back to their springs by the power of poetry only, and the
moderns will undertake to turn the inside of the earth outward (like a
juggler's pocket) and shake the chaos out of it, make Nature show tricks
like an ape, and the stars run on errands; but still it is by dint of
poetry. And if poets can do such noble feats, they were unwise to
descend to mean and vulgar. For where the rarest and most common things
are of a price (as they are all one to poets), it argues disease in
judgment not to choose the most curious. Hence some infer that the
account they give of things deserves no regard, because they never
receive anything as they find it into their compositions, unless it
agree both with the measure of their own fancies and the measure of
their lines, which can very seldom happen. And therefore, when they give
a character of any thing or person, it does commonly bear no more
proportion to the subject than the fishes and ships in a map do to the
scale. But let such know that poets as well as kings ought rather to
consider what is fit for them to give than others to receive; that they
are fain to have regard to the exchange of language, and write high or
low according as that runs. For in this age, when the smallest poet
seldom goes below more the most, it were a shame for a greater and more
noble poet not to outthrow that cut a bar.

There was a tobacco-man that wrapped Spanish tobacco in a paper of
verses which Benlowes had written against the Pope, which, by a natural
antipathy that his wit has to anything that's Catholic, spoiled the
tobacco, for it presently turned mundungus. This author will take an
English word, and, like the Frenchman that swallowed water and spit it
out wine, with a little heaving and straining would turn it immediately
into Latin, as _plunderat ilie domos, mille hocopokiana_, and a
thousand such.

There was a young practitioner in poetry that found there was no good to
be done without a mistress; for he that writes of love before he hath
tried it doth but travel by the map, and he that makes love without a
dame does like a gamester that plays for nothing. He thought it
convenient, therefore, first to furnish himself with a name for his
mistress beforehand, that he might not be to seek when his merit or good
fortune should bestow her upon him; for every poet is his mistress's
godfather, and gives her a new name, like a nun that takes orders. He
was very curious to fit himself with a handsome word of a tunable sound,
but could light upon none that some poet or other had not made use of
before. He was therefore forced to fall to coining, and was several
months before he could light on one that pleased him perfectly. But
after he had overcome that difficulty he found a greater remaining, to
get a lady to own him. He accosted some of all sorts, and gave them to
understand, both in prose and verse, how incomparably happy it was in
his power to make his mistress, but could never convert any of them. At
length he was fain to make his laundress supply that place as a proxy
until his good fortune or somebody of better quality would be more kind
to him, which after a while he neither hoped nor cared for; for how mean
soever her condition was before, when he had once pretended to her she
was sure to be a nymph and a goddess. For what greater honour can a
woman be capable of than to be translated into precious stones and
stars? No herald in the world can go higher. Besides, he found no man
can use that freedom of hyperbole in the character of a person commonly
known (as great ladies are) which we can in describing one so obscure
and unknown that nobody can disprove him. For he that writes but one
sonnet upon any of the public persons shall be sure to have his reader
at every third word cry out, "What an ass is this to call Spanish paper
and ceruse lilies and roses, or claps influences; to say the Graces are
her waiting-women, when they are known to be no better than her bawds;
that day breaks from her eyes when she looks asquint; or that her breath
perfumes the Arabian winds when she puffs tobacco!"

It is no mean art to improve a language, and find out words that are not
only removed from common use, but rich in consonants, the nerves and
sinews of speech; to raise a soft and feeble language like ours to the
pitch of High-Dutch, as he did that writ -

"Arts rattling foreskins shrilling bagpipes quell."

This is not only the most elegant but most politic way of writing that a
poet can use, for I know no defence like it to preserve a poem from the
torture of those that lisp and stammer. He that wants teeth may as well
venture upon a piece of tough horny brawn as such a line, for he will
look like an ass eating thistles.

He never begins a work without an invocation of his Muse; for it is not
fit that she should appear in public to show her skill before she is
entreated, as gentlewomen do not use to sing until they are applied to
and often desired.

I shall not need to say anything of the excellence of poetry, since it
has been already performed by many excellent persons, among whom some
have lately undertaken to prove that the civil government cannot
possibly subsist without it, which, for my part, I believe to be true in
a poetical sense, and more probable to be received of it than those
strange feats of building walls and making trees dance which antiquity
ascribes to verse. And though philosophers are of a contrary opinion and
will not allow poets fit to live in a commonwealth, their partiality is
plainer than their reasons, for they have no other way to pretend to
this prerogative themselves, as they do, but by removing poets whom they
know to have a fairer title; and this they do so unjustly that Plato,
who first banished poets his republic, forgot that that very
commonwealth was poetical. I shall say nothing to them, but only desire
the world to consider how happily it is like to be governed by those
that are at so perpetual a civil war among themselves, that if we should
submit ourselves to their own resolution of this question, and be
content to allow them only fit to rule if they could but conclude it so
themselves, they would never agree upon it. Meanwhile there is no less
certainty and agreement in poetry than the mathematics, for they all
submit to the same rules without dispute or controversy. But whosoever
shall please to look into the records of antiquity shall find their
title so unquestioned that the greatest princes in the whole world have
been glad to derive their pedigrees, and their power too, from poets.
Alexander the Great had no wiser a way to secure that Empire to himself
by right which he had gotten by force than by declaring himself the son
of Jupiter; and who was Jupiter but the son of a poet? So Caesar and all
Rome was transported with joy when a poet made Jupiter his colleague in
the Empire; and when Jupiter governed, what did the poets that
governed Jupiter?


Seats himself as spectator and critic on the great theatre of the world,
and gives sentence on the plots, language, and action of whatsoever he
sees represented, according to his own fancy. He will pretend to know
what is done behind the scene, but so seldom is in the right that he
discovers nothing more than his own mistakes. When his profession was in
credit in the world, and money was to be gotten by it, it divided itself
into multitudes of sects, that maintained themselves and their opinions
by fierce and hot contests with one another; but since the trade decayed
and would not turn to account, they all fell of themselves, and now the
world is so unconcerned in their controversies, that three Reformado
sects joined in one, like Epicuro-Gassendo-Charltoniana, will not serve
to maintain one pedant. He makes his hypotheses himself, as a tailor
does a doublet without measure; no matter whether they fit Nature, he
can make Nature fit them, and, whether they are too straight or wide,
pinch or stuff out the body accordingly. He judges of the works of
Nature just as the rabble do of State affairs; they see things done, and
every man according to his capacity guesses at the reasons of them, but
knowing nothing of the arcana or secret movements of either, they seldom
or never are in the right. Howsoever, they please themselves and some
others with their fancies, and the farther they are off truth, the more
confident they are they are near it, as those that are out of their way
believe the farther they have gone they are the nearer their journey's
end, when they are farthest of all from it. He is confident of
immaterial substances, and his reasons are very pertinent; that is,
substantial as he thinks, and immaterial as others do. Heretofore his
beard was the badge of his profession, and the length of that in all his
polemics was ever accounted the length of his weapon; but when the trade
fell, that fell too. In Lucius's time they were commonly called
beard-wearers, for all the strength of their wits lay in their beards,
as Samson's did in his locks; but since the world began to see the
vanity of that hare-brained cheat, they left it off to save
their credit.


Is one that keeps the worst company in the world; that is, his own; and
though he be always falling out and quarrelling with himself, yet he has
not power to endure any other conversation. His head is haunted, like a
house, with evil spirits and apparitions, that terrify and fright him
out of himself, till he stands empty and forsaken. His sleeps and his
wakings are so much the same that he knows not how to distinguish them,
and many times when he dreams he believes he is broad awake and sees
visions. The fumes and vapours that rise from his spleen and
hypochondrias have so smutched and sullied his brain (like a room that
smokes) that his understanding is blear-eyed and has no right perception
of anything. His soul lives in his body, like a mole in the earth that
labours in the dark, and casts up doubts and scruples of his own
imaginations, to make that rugged and uneasy that was plain and open
before. His brain is so cracked that he fancies himself to be glass, and
is afraid that everything he comes near should break him in pieces.
Whatsoever makes an impression in his imagination works itself in like a
screw, and the more he turns and winds it the deeper it sticks, till it
is never to be got out again. The temper of his brain, being earthy,
cold, and dry, is apt to breed worms, that sink so deep into it no
medicine in art or nature is able to reach them. He leads his life as
one leads a dog in a slip that will not follow, but is dragged along

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