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TO HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS.
Your Highness is no sooner return’d from exposing your person, for the honour and safety of three kingdoms, but you are persecuted by a poor widow, who humbly begs you to protect the works of her deceased husband from the envy and malice of this censorious age: for whoever sees your royal highness's name in the front of this book, and dares oppose, what you are pleased to defend, not only shows his weakness, but ill nature too.
I have often heard (and I have some reason to believe) that your royal father, of ever blessed memory, was not displeased with his writings; that your most excellent mother did graciously take him into her family; that she was often diverted by him, and as often smiled upon his endeavors; I am sure he made it the whole study and labour of the latter part of his life, to entertain his majesty, and your royal highness, and I hope he did it successfully.
When ever we are, or when ever we fear to be opprest, we always fly to your highness for redress or prevention, and you were ever graciously pleased to protect us; 'tis that has emboldened me to present these papers to your royal highness, and I humbly beg pardon for the presumption of
your most humble
and obedient servant
R E A DER,
I NIRE present you with a collection of all those pieces șir William Davenant ever designed for the press : in his life-time he often expressed to me his great desire to see them in one volume, which (ią hopour to his memory) with a great deal of care and pains, I have now accomplished.
In this work you have Gondibert, Madagascar, &c. to which is added several poems and copies of verses never before printed; amongst them, there is the death of Astragon, called, the Philosopher's Disquisition, directed to the dying Christian, which the author intended as an addition to Gondibert. In this volume you have likewise sixteen plays, wheroof six were never before printed.
My author was poet laureat to two great kings, which certainly bespeaks his merits; besides I could say much in honour of this excellent person, but I intend not his panegyric; he was my worthy friend, let his works that are uow before you, speak bis praise, whilst I subscribe my self,
? The bookseller, who collected Davenant's yorks. C.
THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE.
TO HIS MUCH HONOURED FRIEND,
SIR, Since you have done me the honour to allow this poem a daily examination as it was writing, I will presume now it hath attained more length, to give you a longer trouble; that you may yield me as great advantages by censuring the method, as by judging the numbers and the matter. And because you shall pass through this new building with more ease to your disquisition, I will acquaint you, what care I took of my materials, ere I began to work.
But first give me leave (remembrinig with what difficulty the world can show any heroick poem, that in a perfect glass of nature gives us a familiar and easy view of ourselves) to take notice of those quarrels, which the living have with the dead: and I will (according as all times have applyed their reverence) begin with Homer, who though he seems to me standing upon the poets famous hill, like the eminent sea-mark, by which they have in former agts steered; and though he ought not to be removed from that eminence, lest posterity should presemptuously mistake their course; yet some (sharply observing how his successors have proceeded no farther than a perfection of imitating him) say, that as sea-marks are chiefly useful to coasters, and serve not those who have the ambition of discoverers, that love to sail in untryed seas; so he hath rather proved a guide for those, whose satisfyed wit' will not venture beyond the track of others, than to them, who affect a new and remote way of thinking, who esteem It a deficiency and meaness of mind, to stay and depend upon the authority of example.
Some there are, that object that even in the likelyhoods of story (and story, where ever it seems most likely, grows most pleasant) he doth too frequently intermix such fables, as are objects lifted above the eyes of nature; and as he often interrogates his Muse, not as bis rational spirit, but as a familiar, separated from his body, so her replies bring him where he spends time in immortal conver. sation; whilst supernaturally, he doth often advance his men to the quality of gods, and depose his gods to the condition of men.
His successor to fame, (and consequently to censure) is Virgil; whose toils nor vertue cannot free him from the peevishness (or rather curiosity) of divers readers. He is upbraided by sonie (who perhaps are affected antiquaries, and make priority of time, the measure of excellence) for gaining his renown by imitation of Homer: whilst others (no less bold with that ancient guide) say, he hath so often led him into Heaven, and Hell, till, by conversation with gods and ghosts, he sometimes deprives us of those natural probabilities in story, which are instructive to human life: and others affirin (if it be not irreverence to record their opinion) that even in wit, be seems deficient by many omissions ; as if he had designed a pendance of gravity to himself and to posterity: and by their observing that continued gravity, methinks they look upon him, as on a musician composing of anthems; whose excellence consists more in the solemnness, than in the fancy; and upon the body of his work, as on the body of a giant, whose force hath more of strength, than quickness, and of patience, than activity.
But these bold censurers are in danger of so many enemies, as I shall wisely shrink from them; and only observe, that if any disciples of unimitable Virgil can prove so formal, as to esteem wit (as if it were levity) an imputation to the heroic Muse (by which malevolent word, wit, they would disgrace her extraordinary height) yet if those grave judges will be held wise, they must endure the fate of wise
men; who always hare but few of their society; for many more than consist of their number (perhaps not having the sullenness to be of it) are taken with those bold fights, and thitik, 'tis with the Muse (whose noble quarry is men) as with the eagle, who when he soares high stoops more prosperously, and is most certain of his prey. And surely poets (whose business should represent the world's true image often to our view) are not less prudent than painters, who when they draw landscapes entertain not the eye wholly with even prospect, and a continued fiat; but (for variety) terminate the sight with lofty bills, whose obscure heads are sometimes in the clouds.
Lucan, who chose to write the greatest actions that ever were allowed to be true (which for fear ofcontemporary witnesses, obliged him to a very close attendance opon fame) did not observe that such an enterprize rather beseemed an historian, than a poet: for wise poets think it more wortliy to seek out truth in the passions, than to record the truth of actions; and practise to describe mankind just as we are persuaded or guided by instinct, not particular persons, as they are lifted, or levelled by the force of fate; it being nobler to contemplate the general history of nature, than a selected diary of fortune: and painters are no more than historians, when they draw eminent persons (though they term that drawing to the life) but when by assembling divers figures in a larger volume they draw passions (though they term it but story) then they increase in dignity and become poets.
I have been thus bard to call him to account for the choice of his argument, not merely as it was story, but because the actions he recorded were so eminent, and so near his time, that he could not assist truth, with such ornaments as poets, for useful pieasure, have allowed her; lest the fained complexion might render the true suspected. And now I will leave to others the presumption of measuring his hyperboles, by whose space and height they maliciously take the dimension of wit; and so mistake him in his boiling youth (which had marvellous forces) as we disrelish excellent wine when fuming in the lee.
Statius (with whom we may conclude the old heroics) is as accomptable to some for his obligations to Virgil, as Virgil is to others for what he owes to Homer; and more closely than Virgil vaits on Homer, doth Statius attend Virgil, and follows him there also where nature never comes, even into Heaven and Hell: and therefore he cannot escape such as approve the wisdom of the best dramatics; who in representation of examples, believe they prevail most on our manners, when they lay the scene at home in their own country; so much they avoid those remote regions of Heaven and Hell: as if the people (whom they make civil by an easy communication with reason (and familiar reason is that, which is called the civility of the stage) were become more discreet than to have their eyes persuaded by the descending of gods in gay clouds, and more manly than to be frighted with the rising of ghosts in smoke.
Tasso (who revived the heroic filame after it was many ages quenched) is held, both in time and merit, the first of the moderns; an honour by which he gains not much, because the number he excels must needs be few, which affords but one fit to succeed him; for I will yield to their opinion, who permit not Ariosto, no not Du Bartas, in this eminent rank of the heroicks; rather than to make way by their admission for Dante, Marino, and others. Tasso's honour too is chiefly allowed bim, where he most endeavors to make Virgil bis pattern: and again, when we consider from whom Virgil's spirit is derived, we may observe how rarely human excellence is found; for heroic poesy (which, if exact in itself, yields not to any other human work) flowed but in few, and even those streams descended but from one Grecian spring; and 'tis with origioal poems, as with the original pieces of painters, whose copies abate the excessive price of the first hand.
But Tasso, though he came late into the world, must have his share in that critical war which never ceases amongst the learned; and he seems most unfortunate, because his errours which are derived from the ancients when examined, grow in a great degree excusable in them, and by, being his, admit no pardon. Such as are his councel assembled in Heaven, his witches' expeditions through the air, and enchanted woods inhabited with ghosts. For though the elder poets (which were then the sacred priests) fed the world with supernatural tales, add so compounded the religion, of pleasure and mystery, (two ingredients which never failed to work upon the people) whilst for the eternity of their chiefs (more refined by education) they surely intended no such vain provision. Yet a christian poet, whose religion little needs the aids of invention, hath less occasion to imitate such fables, as meanly illustrate a probable Heaven, by the fashion and dignity of courts; and make a resemblance of Hell, out of the dreams of frighted women; by which they continue and increase the melancholy mistakes of the people.
Spencer may stand here as the last of this short file of heroic poets; men, whose intellectuals were of so great a making, (though some have thought them liable to those few censures we have mentioned) as perhaps they will, in worthy memory, outlast, even makers of laws, and founders of
empires, and all hut such as must therefore live equally with them, because they have recorded their names. And since we have dared to remember those exceptions, which the curious have against them, it will not be expected I should forget what is objected against Spencer: whose obsolete language we are constrained to mention, though it be grown the most vulgar accusation that is laid to bis charge.
Language (which is the only creature of man's creation) hath, like a plant, seasons of flourishing and decay; like plants, is removed from one soil to another, and by being so transplanted, doth often gather vigour and increase. But as it is false busbandry to graft old branches upon young stocks; so we may wonder that our language (not long before bis time, created out of a confusion of others, and then beginning to flourish like a new plant) shoulil (as helps to its increase) receive from his band new grafts of old withered words. But this vulgar exception shall only have the vulgar excuse; which is, that the unlucky choice of his stanza, hath, by repetition of rhyme, brought him to the necessity of many exploded words.
If we proceed from his language to bis argument, we must observe with others, that his noble and most artful hands deserved to be employed upon matter of a more natural, and therefore of a more useful kind. His allegorical story (by many held defective in the connexion) resembling (methinks) a continuance of extraordinary dreams; such as excellent poets, and painters, by being over-studious may have in the beginning of fevers: And those moral visions are just of so much use to human application, as painted history, when with the cousenage of lights it is represented in scenes, by which wo are much less informed than by actions on the stage.
Thus, sir, I have (perbaps) taken pains to make you think me malicious, in observing how far the curious have looked into the errours of others; errours which the natural humour of imitation bath made to like in all (even from Homer to Spencer) as the accusations against the first appear but little more than repetition in every process against the rest; and comparing the resemblance of errour in persons of one generation, to that which is in those of another age; we may find it exceeds not any where, notoriously, the ordinary proportion. Such limits to the progress of every thing (even of worthiness as well as defect) doth imitation give: for whilst we imitate others, we can no more excel them, than he that sails by others maps can make a new discovery: and to imitation, Nature (which is the only visible power, and operation of God) perhaps doth needfully incline us, to keep us from excesses. For though every man be capable of worthiness and unworthiness (as they are defined by opinion) yet no man is built strong enough to bear the extremities of either, without unloading bimself upon others shoulders, even to the weariness of many. If courage be worthiness, yet where it is overgrown into extremes, it becomes as wild and hurtful as ambition; and so what was reverenced for protection, grows to be abhorred for oppression. If learning (which is not knowledge, but a continued sailing by fantastic and uncertain winds towards it) be worthiness, yet it hath bounds in all philosophers; and Nature, that measured those bounds, seems not so partial, as to allow it in any one a much larger extent than in another; as if in our fleshy building, she considered the furniture and the room, alike, and together; for as the compass of diadems commonly fits the whole succession of those kings that wear them; so throughout the whole world, a very few inches may distinguish the circumference of the heads of their subjects: need we repine that Nature hath not some favorites, to whom she doth dispense this treasure, knowledge, with a prodigious liberality. For as there is no one that can be said vastly to exceed all mankind, so divers that have in learning transcended all in some one province, have corrupted many with that great quantity of false gold; and the authority of their stronger sience had often served to distract, or pervert their weaker disciples.
And as the qualities which are termed good, are bounded, so are the bad; and likewise limited, as well as gotten by imitation; for amongst those that are extraordinary, either by birth or brain, (for with the usual pride of poets, I pass by common crowds, as negligently as princes more from throngs that are not their own subjects) we cannot find any one so egregious (admitting cruelty and avarice for the chiefest evils; and errours in government or doctrine, to be the greatest errours) but that divers of former or succeeding times may enter the scales with them, and make the ballance even; though the passion of historians would impose the contrary on our belief; who in dispraise of evil princes are often as unjust and excessive as the common people: for there was never any monarch so cruel but he had living subjects, nor so avaricious, but that his subjects were richer than himself; nor ever any disease in government so extremely infectious as to make universal anarchy, or any errour in doctrine so Strong by the maintainer, but that truth (though it wrestled with her often, and in many places) bath at some season, and on some ground, made her advantages and success apparent: therefore we may conclude, that Nature, for the safety of mankind, hath as well (by dulling and stopping our progress with the constant humour of imitation) given limits to courage and to learning, to' wicked