« PreviousContinue »
quite as freely in his interlude of " Magnificence," printed by Rastell.
"Or how can you proue that there is felycyte
Morton. He is alluding, I fancy, to mere personal freedom from restraint, which is quite a different thing. He might state that without any chance of giving offence.
Bourne. What you say is true: I allow too, that throughout Wither speaks with the utmost plainness, and gives more than glimpses of the part he was afterwards to take as a supporter of a republican government: for instance, the following lines upon the follies and vices of Kings are very strikingly in point, and rendered more emphatic by Italics.
"Princes haue these—they uery basely can
Suffer themselues that haue the rule of man,
To be oreborne by Villaines; so in steed
Of kings they stand, when they are slaues indeed.
By bloud & wrong a heauenly Crowne thei'l danger,
T'assure their state heere (Often to a stranger.)
They quickly yeeld vnto the Batteries
Of sly insinuating flatteries:
Most bountifull to fooles—to full of feare,
And far to credulous of that they heare:
So giuea to pleasure, as if in that thing
(Book II. Sat. L)
Morton. Yet we have seen that he thought well of King James.
Bourne. And spoke well of him too, as he does only a few lines afterwards: he says that he cannot "but speak well" of him, and that no sovereign had ever less vanity—about the last weakness, in our sense of the word, from which we should have been inclined to exempt him: however, the poet applies it in a much more extended way.
Elliot. As empty ostentation, vanity, or pride in equipages, apparel, and so on.
Bourne. Exactly. As we have seen how he treats Princes, we will now read a very spirited passage about nobles, from the second satire of the second book, entitled Inconstancy.
That comes by birth hath most antiquity,
Some thinke; and tother (if at all
They yeeld as noble) they an vpstart call:
But I say rather no—his Noblenesse
Thats rais'd by Vertue hath most worlhinesse,
And is most ancient, for it is the same
By which all Great men first obtaind their Fame.
So then I hope 'twill not offend the Court,
That I count some there with the Vulgar sort,
And outset others: yet some thinke me bold,
Elliot. Admirable! I know of nothing finer in its way, either ancient or modern.
Morton. I was afraid when we came to the lines—
"But I say rather no—his nobleness
That's rais'd by virtue hath most worthiness,"
that he was going to end the sentence as he had begun it 3 but what a striking and noble close is formed by the couplet—
"And is most ancient—for it is the same
By which all great men first obtain'd their fame."
Elliot. It goes far beyond the common-place of antiquity—Animus Jacit nobilem, cui ex quacunque conditione, &c.
Bourne. It is a very noble thought, and produces the better effect from its being, as they say, preeter expectatum. The last two lines of the quotation do not fall short of the rest.
Elliot. In Ascham's " Schoolmaster" I remember a very eloquent censure of mere nobility transmitted with the blood, ending with these words, " Nobility without virtue and wisdom is blood indeed, but blood truly without bones & sinews."
Bourne. Anthony Stafford, a writer I have often quoted, is not behindhand when he says, in his Niobe dessolu'd into a Nilus (1611), "I can brooke better a fellow that hath bought his new-found nobility with nobles, than another of an high birth and of a low stooping spirit, who can iustly brag of nothing of his owne, but liues upon the supererrogative deeds of his ancestors." ,
Morton. I dare say one might collect as many excellent sayings upon this stale theme, as upon any that has been dwelt upon either in the old time or in the new.
Elliot. That Stafford seems to have been an eloquent fellow: I should like to be better acquainted with him. I remember you, in a manner, proved that Milton was well acquainted with his writings.
Bourne. He seems to have been a strange wild enthusiast, upon religious topics especially: as a puritan he was very muchlike what Robert Southwell was as a jesuit.
Elliot. What is the object of his book?
Bourne. It is in two divisions, one called " Niobe" and the other "Niobe dissolu'd into a Nilus;" and it is a general but vigorous declamation against the vices and profaneness of the age.—In his "Niobe" (p. 112), he has the subsequent passage on the subject to which we have been referring, which will give you some notion of his style. "O! but Gentry now degenerates! Nobilitie is now come to be nuda relatio, a meere bare relation and nothing else. How manie Players haue I seene vpon a stage, fit indeede to be Noblemen! how many that be Noblemen, fit onely to represent them.—Why, this can Fortune do, who makes some companions of her Chariot, who for desert should be lackies to her Ladiship. Let me want pittie if I dissolue not into pittie when I see such poore stuffe vnder rich stuffe; that is a bodie richlie clad, whose mind is capable of nothing but a hunting match, a racket-court, or a cock-pit, or at most the story of Susanna in an ale-house. Rise, Sidney, rise! thou Englands eternall honour! Reuiue and lead the reuolting spirits of thy countreymen, against the basest foe, Ignorance. But what talke I of thee? Heauen hath not left earth thy equall: neither do I thinke that ab orbe condito, since Nature first was, any man hath beene in whom Genus and Genius met so right. Thou Atlas to all vertues! Thou Hercules to the Muses! Thou patron to the poor! Thou deservst a Quire of ancient Bardi to sing thy praises, who with their musickes melody might expresse thy soules harmonie. Were the transmigration of soules certaine—I would thy soule had flitted into my bodie or wold thou wert aliue again, that we might lead an indiuiduall life together! Thou wast not more admired at home then famous abroad; thy penne and thy sword being the Heraldes of thy Heroicke deedes." And in this strain he proceeds for several pages more.