The Arte of English Poesie

by George Puttenham

Book 1, Chapter 8

In What Reputation Poesie and Poets Were in Old Time with Princes and Otherwise Generally, and How They Be Now Contemptible and for What Causes

For the respects aforesaid in all former ages and in the most civil countries and commonwealths, good Poets and Poesie were highly esteemed and much favored of the greatest Princes. For proof whereof we read how much Amyntas king of Macedonia made of the Tragical Poet Euripides. And the Athenians of Sophocles. In what price the noble poems of Homer were holden with Alexander the great, in so much as every night they were laid under his pillow, and by day were carried in the rich jewel coffer of Darius lately before vanquished by him in battle. And not only Homer the father and Prince of the Poets was so honored by him, but for his sake all other meaner Poets, in so much as Cherillus one no very great good Poet had for every verse well made a Philip's noble of gold, amounting in value to an angel English, and so for every hundredth verses (which a cleanly pen could speedily dispatch) he had a hundred angels.

And since Alexander the great how Theocritus the Greek Poet was favored by Ptolemy king of Egypt and Queen Berenice his wife, Ennius likewise by Scipio Prince of the Romans, Virgil also by the Emperor Augustus. And in later times how much were Jehan de Menune and Guillaume de Loris made of by the French kings, and Geffrey Chaucer father of our English Poets by Richard the second, who as it was supposed gave him the manor of new Holme in Oxfordshire. And Gower to Henry the fourth and Harding to Edward the fourth. Also how Frances the French king made Sangelais, Salmonius, Macrinus, and Clement Marot of his privy Chamber for their excellent skill in vulgar and Latin Poesie. And king Henry the 8 her Majesty's father for a few Psalms of David turned into English meter by Sternhold, made him groom of his privy chamber, and gave him many other good gifts. And one Gray what good estimation did he grow unto with the same king Henry and afterward with the Duke of Sommerset Protector, for making certain merry Ballads, whereof one chiefly was, "The hunt is up, the hunt is up." And Queen Mary his daughter for one Epithalamy or nuptial song made by Vargas a Spanish Poet at her marriage with king Phillip in Winchester gave him during his life two hundred Crowns pension: nor this reputation was given them in times altogether in respect that Poesie was a delicate art, and the Poets themselves cunning Princepleasers, but for that also they were thought for their universal knowledge to be very sufficient men for the greatest charges in their commonwealths, were it for counsel or for conduct, whereby no man need to doubt but that both skills may very well concur and be most excellent in one person.

For we find that Julius Caesar the first Emperor and a most noble Captain, was not only the most eloquent Orator of his time, but also a very good Poet, though none of his doings therein be now extant. And Quintus Catullus a good Poet, and Cornelius Gallus treasurer of Egypt, and Horace the most delicate of all the Roman Lyrics, was thought meet and by many letters of great instance provoked to be Secretary of estate to Augustus the Emperor, which nevertheless he refused for his unhealthfulness sake, and being a quiet minded man and nothing ambitious of glory: "non voluit accedere ad Rempublicam," as it is reported. And Ennius the Latin Poet was not as some perchance think, only favored by Scipio the African for his good making of verses, but used as his familiar and Counselor in the wars for his great knowledge and amiable conversation. And long before that Antimenides and other Greek Poets, as Aristotle reports in his Politics, had charge in the wars. And Tyrteus the Poet being also a lame man and halting upon one leg, was chosen by the Oracle of the gods from the Athenians to be general of the Lacedemonian's army, not for his Poetry, but for his wisdom and grave persuasions, and subtle Strategems whereby he had the victory over his enemies.

So as the Poets seemed to have skill not only in the subtleties of their art, but also to be meet for all manner of functions civil and martial, even as they found favor of the times they lived in, insomuch as their credit and estimation generally was not small. But in these days (although some learned Princes may take delight in them) yet universally it is not so. For as well Poets and Poesie are despised, and the name become, of honorable infamous, subject to scorn and derision, and rather a reproach than a praise to any that useth it: for commonly who so is studious in the Art or shows himself excellent in it, they call him in disdain a fantastical: and a light headed or fantastical man (by conversion) they call a Poet.

And this proceeds through the barbarous ignorance of the time, and pride of many Gentlemen, and others, whose gross heads not being brought up or acquainted with any excellent Art, nor able to contrive, or in manner conceive any matter of subtlety in any business or science, they do deride and scorn it in all others as superfluous knowledges and vain sciences, and whatsoever device be of rare invention they term it fantastical, construing it to the worst side and among men such as be modest and grave, and of little conversation, nor delighted in the busy life and vain ridiculous actions of the popular, they call him in scorn a Philosopher or Poet, as much as to say as a fantastical man, very injuriously (God wot) and to the manifestation of their own ignorance, not making difference betwixt terms.

For as the evil and vicious disposition of the brain hinders the sound judgment and discourse of man with busy and disordered fantasies, for which cause the Greeks call him "phantasikos," so is that part being well affected, not only nothing disorderly or confused with any monstrous imaginations or conceits, but very formal, and in his much multiformity uniform, that is well proportioned, and so passing clear, that by it as by a glass or mirror, are represented unto the soul all manner of beautiful visions, whereby the inventive part of the mind is so much holpen, as without it not man could devise any new or rare thing: and where it is not excellent in his kind, there could be no politic Captain, nor any witty engineer or cunning artificer, nor yet any law maker or counselor of deep discourse, yea the Prince of Philosophers sticks not to say "animam no intelligere absque phantasmate," which text to another purpose Alexander Aphrodiseus well noteth, as learned men know.

And this fantasy may be resembled to a glass as hath been said, whereof there be many tempers and manner of makings, as the perspectives do acknowledge, for some be false glasses and show things otherwise than they be indeed, and others right as they be indeed, neither fairer nor fouler, nor greater nor smaller. There be again of these glasses that show things exceeding fair and comely, others that show figures very monstrous and ill favored. Even so is the fantastical part of man (if it be not disordered) a representer of the best, most comely and beautiful images or appearances of things to the soul and according to their very truth. If otherwise, then doth it breed Chimeras and monsters in man's imaginations, and not onely in his imaginations, but also in all his ordinary actions and life which ensues.

Wherefore such persons as be illuminated with the brightest irradiations of knowledge and of the verity and due proportion of things, they are called by the learned men not "phantastici" but "euphantasiote," and of this sort of fantasy are all good Poets, notable Captains strategematic, all cunning artificers and enginers, all Legislators Politicians and Counselors of estate, in whose exercises the inventive part is most employed and is to the sound and true judgment of man most needful.

This diversity in the terms perchance every man hath not noted, and thus much be said in defense of the Poet's honor, to the end no noble and generous mind be discomforted in the study thereof, the rather for that worthy and honorable memorial of that noble woman twice French Queen, Lady Anne of Brittany, wife first to king Charles the viii. and after to Louis the xii. who passing one day from her lodging toward the king's side, saw in a gallery Master Allaine Chartier the king's Secretary, an excellent maker or Poet leaning on a tables end asleep, and stooped down to kiss him, saying thus in all their hearings, "we may not of Princely courtesy pass by and not honor with our kiss the mouth from whence so many sweet ditties and golden poems have issued."

But methinks at these words I hear some smilingly say, I would be loath to lack living of my own till the Prince gave me a manor of new Elm for my rhyming. And another to say I have read that the Lady Cynthia came once down out of her sky to kiss the fair young lad Endymion as he lay asleep: and many noble Queens that have bestowed kisses upon their Princes' paramours, but never upon any Poets. The third methinks shruggingly saith, I kept not to sit sleeping with my Poesie till a Queen came and kissed me. But what of all this? Princes may give a good Poet such countenance and also benefit as are due to an excellent artificer, though they neither kiss nor coax them, and the discreet Poet looks for no such extraordinary favors, and as well doth he honor by his pen the just, liberal, or magnanimous Prince, as the valiant, amiable or beautiful though they be every one of them the good gifts of God.

So it seems not altogether the scorn and ordinary disgrace offered unto Poets at these days, is cause why few Gentlemen do delight in the Art, but for that liberality, is come to fail in Princes, who for their largesse were wont to be accompted the only patrons of learning, and first founders of all excellent artificers. Besides it is not perceived, that Princes themselves do take any pleasure in this science, by whose example the subject is commonly led, and allured to all delights and exercises be they good or bad, according to the grave saying of the historian. "Rex multitudinem religione impleuit, quae semper regenti similis est."

And peradventure in this iron and malicious age of ours, Princes are less delighted in it, being over earnestly bent and affected to the affairs of Empire and ambition, whereby they are as it were enforced to endeavor themselves to arms and practices of hostility, or to intend to the right policing of their states, and have not one hour to bestow upon any other civil or delectable Art of natural or moral doctrine: nor scarce any leisure to think one good thought in perfect and godly contemplation, whereby their troubled minds might be moderated and brought to tranquility. So as, it is hard to find in these days of noblemen or gentlemen any good Mathematician, or excellent Musician, or notable Philosopher, or else a cunning Poet: because we find few great Princes much delighted in the same studies.

Now also of such among the Nobility or gentry as be very well seen in many laudable sciences, and especially in making or Poesie, it is so come to pass that they have no courage to write and if they have, yet are they loath to be aknown of their skill. So as I know very many notable Gentlemen in the Court that have written commendably, and suppressed it again, or else suffered it to be published without their own names to it: as if it were a discredit for a Gentleman, to seem learned, and to show himself amorous of any good Art.

In other ages it was not so, for we read that Kings and Princes have written great volumes and published them under their own regall titles. As to begin with Solomon the wisest of Kings, Julius Caesar the greatest of Emperors, Hermes Trismegistus the holiest of Priests and Prophets, Euax king of Arabia wrote a book of precious stones in verse, Prince Avicenna of Physic and Philosophy, Alphonsus king of Spain his Astronomical Tables, Almansor a king of Morocco diverse Philosophical works, and by their regal example our late sovereign Lord king Henry the eight wrote a book in defense of his faith, then persuaded that it was the true and Apostolical doctrine, though it hath appeared otherwise since, yet his honor and learned zeal was nothing less to be allowed.

Queens also have been known studious, and to write large volumes, as Lady Margaret of France Queen of Navarre in our time. But of all others the Emperor Nero was so well learned in Music and Poesie, as when he was taken by order of the Senate and appointed to die, he offered violence to himself and said, "O quantus artivex pereo!" as much to say, as, how is it possible a man of such science and learning as myself, should come to this shameful death? The emperor Octavian being made executor to Virgil, who had left by his last will and testament, that his books of the Aeneids should be committed to the fire as things not perfected by him, made his excuse for infringing the dead's will, by a number of verses most excellently written whereof these are part.

          Frangatur potius legum veneranda potestas, 
          Quam tot congestos noctesque diesque labores 
          Hauserit una dies. 
And put his name to them. And before him his uncle and father adoptive Julius Caesar was not ashamed to publish under his own name, his Commentaries of the French and Britain wars.

Since therefore so many noble Emperors, Kings and Princes have been studious of Poesie and other civil arts, and not ashamed to bewray their skills in the same, let none other meaner person despise learning, nor (whether it have written any thing well or of rare invention) be any whit squeamish to let it be published under their names, for reason serves it, and modesty doth not repugn.

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