?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

"I think truly, that of all writers under the sun the poet is the least liar; and though he would, as a poet can scarcely be a liar. The astronomer, with his cousin the geometrician, can hardly escape when they take upon them to measure the height of the stars. How often, think you,

do the physicians lie, when they aver things good for sicknesses, which afterwards send Charon a great number of souls drowned in a potion before they come to his ferry ? And no less of the rest which take upon them to affirm. Now for the poet, he nothing affirmeth, and therefore never lieth. For, as I take it, to he is to affirm that to be true which is false ; so as the other artists, and especially the historian, affirming many things, can, in the cloudy knowledge of mankind, hardly escape from many lies. ' But the poet, as I said before, never affirmeth. The poet never maketh any circles about your imagination, to conjure you to believe for true what he writeth.

He citeth not authorities of other histories, but even for his entry calleth the sweet Muses to inspire into him a good invention ; in troth, no t laboring to tell you what is or is not, but what should or should not be. And therefore though he recount things not true, yet because he telleth them not for true he lieth not for the poet, he nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth".
                                                                      
                                                                              Sir Philip Sidney, "Apologie for Poetrie" (c.1579/1595)

Before

So t hat the ending end_of all earthly learning being virtuous action, those ski lls that most serve to brins; forth that have a most just title to be princes over all the rest ; wherein, if we can show, the poet is worthy to have it before any other competitors.

Among whom as principal challengers step forth the moral philosophers; whom, me thinketh, I see coming toward me with a sullen gravity, as though they could not abide vice by daylight ; rudely clothed, for to witness outwardly their contempt of outward things ; with books in their hands against glory, whereto they set their names; sophistically speaking against subtility; and angry with any man in whom they see the foul fault of anger. These men, casting largess as they go of definitions, divisions, and distinctions, with a scornful interrogative do soberly ask whether it be possible to find any path so ready to lead a man to virtue, as that which teacheth what virtue is, and teacheth it not only by delivering forth his very being, his causes and effects, but also by making known his enemy, vice, which must be destroyed, and his cumbersome servant, passion, which must be mastered; by showing the generalities that contain it, and the specialities that are derived from it ; lastly, by plain setting down how it extendeth itself out of the limits of a man's own little world, to the government of families, and maintaining of public societies?

The historian scarcely giveth leisure to the moralist to say so much, but that he, loaden with old mouse-eaten records, authorizing himself for the most part upon other histories, whose greatest authorities are built upon the notable foundation of hearsay ; having much ado to accord differing writers, and to pick truth out of partiality; better acquainted with a thousand years ago than with the present age, and yet better knowing how this world' goeth than how his own wit runneth ; curious for antiquities and inquisitive of novelties, a wonder to young folks and a tyrant in table-talk; denieth, in a great chafe, that any man for teaching of virtue and virtuous actions is comparable to him. " I am testis temporum, lux veritatis, vita memoria, magistra vita, nuntia vetustatis. The philosopher," saith he, "teacheth a disputative virtue, but I do an active. His virtue is excellent in the dangerless Academy of Plato, but mine showeth forth her honorable face in the battles of Marathon, Pharsalia, Poitiers, and Agincourt. He teacheth virtue by certain abstract Gonsiderations but I only bid you follow the footing of them that have gone before you. Old-aged experience goeth beyond the fine-witted philosopher; but I give the experience of many ages. Lastly, if he make the song-book, I put the learner's hand to the lute; and if he be the guide, I am the light." Then would he allege you innumerable examples, confirming story by story, how much the wisest senators and princes have been directed by the credit of history, as Brutus, Alphonsus of Aragon — and who not, if need be? At length the long line of their disputation maketh a point in this, — that the one giveth the precept, and the other the example.

Now whom shall we find, since the question standeth for the highest form in the school of learning to be moderator? Truly, as me seemeth, the poet; and if not a moderator, even the man that ought to carry the title from them both, and much more from all other serving sciences. Therefore compare we the poet with the historian and with the moral philosopher; and if he go beyond them both, no other human skill* can match him» For as for the divine, with all reverence it is ever to be excepted, not only for having his scope as far beyond any of these as eternity exceedeth a moment, but even for passing each of these in themselves. And for the lawyer, though Jus be the daughter of Justice, and Justice the chief of virtues, yet because he seeketh to make men good formidine poenae than virtutis amove ; or, to say righter, doth not endeavor to make men good, but that their evil hurt not others ; having no care, so he be a good citizen, how bad a man he be; therefore, as our wickedness maketh him necessary, and necessity maketh him honorable, so is he not in the deepest truth to stand in rank with these, who all endeavor to take naughtiness away, and plant goodness even in the secretest cabinet of our souls. 'And these four are all that any way deal in that consideration of men's manners, which being the supreme knowledge, they that best breed it deserve the best commendation.
The philosopher therefore and the historian are they is which would win the goal, the one by precept, the other by example ; but both not having both, do both halt. For the philosopher, setting down with thorny arguments the bare rule, so hard of utterance and so to be conceived, that one that hath no other guide but hi m shall wade in him till he be old, before he shall find sufficient cause to be honest. For his knowledge standeth upon the abstract and general that happy is that man who may understand him, and more happy that can apply what he doth understand. On the other side, the historian, wanting the precept, is so tied, not to what should be but to what is, to the particular
truth of things and not to the general reason of things, that his example draweth no necessary consequence, and therefore a less fruitful doctrine. Now doth the peerless poet perform both ; for whatsoever the philosopher saith should be done, he giveth a perfect picture of it in some one by whom he presupposeth it was done, so as he coupleth
the general notion with the particular example. A perfect picture, I say for he yieldeth to the powers of the mind an image of that whereof the philosopher bestoweth but a wordish description, which doth neither strike, pierce, nor possess the sight of the soul so much as that other doth. For as, in outward things, to a man that had never seen an elephant or a rhinoceros, who should tell him most exquisitely all their shapes, color, bigness, and particular marks; or of a gorgeous palace, an architector, with declaring the full beauties, might well make the hearer

able to repeat, as it were by rote, all he had heard, yet should never satisfy his inward conceit with" being witness to itself of a true lively knowledge; but the same man, as soon as he might see those beasts well painted, or that house well in model, should straightways grow, without need of any description, to a judicial comprehending of them: ' so no doubt the philosopher, with his learned definitions, be it of virtues or vices, matters of public policy or private government, replenisheth the memory with many infallible grounds of wisdom, which notwithstanding lie dark before the "imaginative and judging power, if they be not illuminated or figured forth by the speaking picture of poesy.

Tully taketh much pains, and many times not without poetical helps, to make us know the force love of our country hath in us. Let us but hear old Anchises speaking in the midst of Troy's flames, or see Ulysses, in the fulness of all Calypso's delights, bewail his absence from barren and beggarly Ithaca. Anger, the Stoics said, was a short madness. Let but Sophocles bring you Ajax on a

stage, killing and whipping sheep and oxen, thinking them the army of Greeks, with their chieftains Agamemnon and Menelaus, and tell me if you have not a more familiar insight into anger, than finding in the schoolmen his genus and difference. • See whether wisdom and temperance in Ulysses and Diomedes, valor in Achilles, friendship in Nisus and Euryalus, even to an ignorant

man carry not an apparent shining. And, contrarily, the remorse of conscience in Oedipus ; the soon-repenting pride of Agamemnon ; the self-devouring cruelty in his father Atreus ; the violence of ambition in the two Theban brothers ; the sour sweetness of revenge in Medea; and, to fall lower, the Terentian Gnatho and our Chaucer's Pandar so expressed that we now use

their names to signify their trades : and finally, all virtues, vices, and passions so in their own natural states laid to the view, that we seem not to hear of them, but clearly to see through them.

But even in the most excellent determination of goodness, what philosopher's counsel can so readily direct a prince, as the feigned Cyrus in Xenophon ? Or a virtuous man in all fortunes, as Aeneas in Virgil? Or a whole commonwealth, as the way of Sir Thomas More's Utopia? I say the way, because where Sir Thomas More erred, it was the fault of the man, and not of the poet; for that way of patterning a commonwealth was most absolute, though he, perchance, hath not so absolutely performed it. For the question is whether the feigned

Image of poesy, or the regular instruction of philosophy hath the more force in teaching. Wherein if the philosophers have more rightly showed themselves philosophers than the poets have attained to the high top of their profession, — as in truth,

Mediocribus esse poetis

Non Dii, non homines, non concessere columnce, —

it is, I say again, not the fault of the art, but that by few men that art can be accomplished.

Certainly, even our Saviour Christ could as well have given the moral commonplaces of uncharitableness and humbleness as the divine narration of Dives and Lazarus ; or of disobedience and mercy, as that heavenly discourse of the lost child and the gracious father ; but that his through- searching wisdom knew the estate of Dives burning in hell, and of Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, would more constantly, as it were, inhabit both the memory and judgment. Truly, for myself, me seems I see before mine eyes the lost child's disdainful prodigality, turned to envy a swine's dinner ; which by the learned divines are thought not historical acts, but instructing parables.

 

For conclusion, I saythe philosopher teacheth, but he teacheth obscurely, so as the learned only can understand him; that is to say, he teacheth them that are

already taught. But the poet is the food for the tenderest stomachs; the poet js_indeed the right popular philosopher. Whereof Esop's tales give good proof;

whose pretty allegories, stealing under the formal tales of beasts, make many, more beastly than beasts, begin to hear the sound of virtue from those dumb speakers. But now may it be alleged that if this imagining of matters be so fit for the imagination, then must the historian needs surpass, who bringeth you images of true matters, such as indeed were done, and not such as fantastically or falsely may be suggested to have been done. Truly, Aristotle himself, in his Discourse of Poesy, plainly determineth this question, saying that poetry is φιλοσοφωτερον and σπουδαιοτερον, that is to say, it is more

philosophical and more studiously serious than history.

His reason is, because poesy dealeth with καθολου, that is to say with the universal consideration and the history with καθ´ εκαστον, the particular.  “Now,” saith he, "the universal weighs what is fit to be said or done, either

in likehhood or necessity—which the poesy considereth in his imposed names; and the particular only market whether Alcibiades did, or suffered, this or that : "thus far Aristotle. Which reason of his, as all his, is most full of reason.

For, indeed, if the question were whether it were better to have a particular act truly or falsely set down, there is no doubt which is to be chosen, no more than whether you had rather have Vespasian's picture right as he was, or, at the painter's pleasure, nothing resembling. But if the question be for your own use and learning, whether it be better to have it set down as it should be or as it was, then certainly is more doctrinable the feigned Cyrus in Xenophon than the true Cyrus in Justin ; and the feigned Aeneas in Virgil than the right Aeneas in Dares Phrygius ; as to a lady that desired to fashion her countenance to the best grace, a painter should more benefit her to portrait a most sweet face, writing Canidia upon is it, than to paint Canidia as she was, who, Horace sweareth, was foul and ill-favored.

If the poet do his part aright, he will show you in Tantalus, Atreus, and such like, nothing that is not to be shunned ; in Cyrus, Aeneas, Ulysses, each thing to be followed. Where the historian, bound to tell things as things were, cannot he liberal —without he will be poetical—of a perfect pattern; but, as in Alexander, or Scipio himself, show doings, some to be liked, some to be misliked; and then _how will you discern what  to follow but by your own discretion, which you had without reading Quintus Curtius ? - And whereas a man may say, though in universal consideration of doctrine the poet revaileth, yet that the history, in his saying such a thing was done, doth warrant a man more in that he shall follow, - the answer is manifest: that if he stand upon

that was, as if he should argue, because it rained yesterday therefore it should rain to-day, then indeed it hath some advantage to a gross conceit. But if he know an example only informs a conjectured likelihood, and so go by reason, the poet doth so far exceed him as he is to frame his example to that which is most reasonable, be it in warlike, politic, or private matters ; where the historian in his bare was hath many times that which we call fortune to overrule the best wisdom, Many times he must tell events whereof he can yield no cause , or if he do, it must be poetically.

For, that a feigned example hath as much force to teach as a true example— for as for to move, it is clear, lo since the feigned may be tuned to the highest key of passion—let us take one example wherein a poet and a historian do concur. Herodotus and Justin do both testify that Zopyrus, king Darius' faithful servant, seeing his master long resisted by the rebellious Babylonians, feigned himself in extreme disgrace of his king ; for verifying of which he caused his own nose and ears to be cut off, and so flying to the Babylonians, was received,

and for his known valor so far credited, that he did find means to deliver them over to Darius. Much-like matter doth Livy record of Tarquinius and his son.

Xenophon excellently feigneth such another stratagem, performed by Abradatas in Cyrus' behalf. Now would I fain know, if occasion be presented unto you to serve your prince by such an honest dissimulation, why do you

not as well learn it of Xenophon's fiction as of the other's verity? and, truly, so much the better, as you shall save your nose by the bargain ; for Abradatas did

not counterfeit so far.

So, then, the best of the historian is subject to the poet; for whatsoever action or fiction whatsoever counsel, policy, or war-stratagem the historian is bound to recite, that may the poet if he list, with his imitation make his own beautifying it both for further teaching and more delighting, as it, pleaseth him; having all, from Dante's Heaven to his Hell, under the authority of his pen. Which if I be asked what poets have done? so as I might well name some, yet say I, and say again, I speak of the art, and not of the artificer.

 

Now, to that which commonly is attributed to the praise of history, in respect of the notable learning is gotten by marking the success, as though therein

a man, should see virtue exalted and vice punished truly that commendation is peculiar to poetry and far off from history. For, indeed, poetry ever setteth virtue so out in her best colors, making Fortune her well-waiting handmaid, that one must needs be enamored of her. Well may you see Ulysses in a storm, and in other hard plights ; but they are but exercises of patience and magnanimity, to make them shine the more in the near following prosperity. And, of the contrary part, if evil is men come to the stage, they ever go out—as the tragedy writer answered to one that misliked the show of such persons — so manacled as they little animate folks to follow them. But the historian, being captived to the truth of a foolish world, is many times a terror from well-doing and, an encouragement to unbridled wickedness. For

see we not valiant Miltiades rot in his fetters? The just Phocion and the accomplished Socrates put to death like traitors? The cruel Severus live prosperously? The excellent Severus miserably murdered ? Sylla and Marius dying in their beds? Pompey and Cicero slain then, when they would have thought exile a happiness? See we not vituous Cato driven to kill himself, and rebel Caesar so advanced that his name yet, after sixteen hundred years, lasteth in the highest honor? And mark but even Caesar's own words of the forenamed Sylla—who in that only did honestly, to put down his dishonest

tyranny—literas nescivit: as if want of learning caused him to do well. He meant it not by poetry, which, not content with earthly plagues, deviseth new punishments in hell for tyrants ; nor yet by philosophy, which teacheth occidendos esse ; but, no doubt, by skill in history, for that indeed can afford you Cypselus, Periander, Phalaris, Dionysius, and I know not how many more of  the same kennel, that speed well enough in their abominable injustice or usurpation.

I conclude, therefore, that he excelleth history, not only in furnishing the mind with knowledge, but in setting it forward to that which deserveth to be called and accounted good; which setting forward, and moving to well-doing, indeed setteth the laurel crown upon the poet as victorious, not only of the historian but over the philosopher, howsoever m teaching it may be questionable.

For suppose it be granted—that which I suppose with great reason may be denied—that the philosopher, in respect of his methodical proceeding, teach

more perfectly than the poet, yet do I think that no man is so much φιλοφιλοσοφος as to compare the philosopher in moving with the poet. And that moving is of a higher degree than teaching, it may by this appear, that

it is well nigh both the cause and the effect of teaching; for who will be taught, if he be not moved with desire to be taught? And what so much good doth that teaching bring forth— I speak still of moral doctrine—as that it moveth one to do that which it doth teach ? For, as Aristotle saith, it is not γνωσις but πραξις must be the fruit; and how πραξις cannot be, without being moved to practise, it is no hard matter to consider. The philosopher showeth you the way, he informeth you of the particularities, as well of the tediousness of the way, as of

the pleasant lodging you shall have when your journey is ended, as of the many by-turnings that may divert you from your way ; but this is to no man but to him that will read him, and read him With attentive, studious pamfulness ; which constant desire whosoever hath in him, hath already passed half the hardness of the way, and therefore is beholding to the philosopher but for the other half. Nay, truly, learned men have learnedly thought, that where once reason hath so much overmastered passion as that the mind hath a free desire to do well, the inward light each mind hath in itself is as good as a philosopher's book ; since in nature we know it is well to do well, and what is well and what is evil, although not in the words of art which philosophers bestow upon us; for out of natural conceit the philosophers drew it. But to be moved to do that which we know, or to be moved with desire to know, hoc opus, hic labor est..


Latest Month

January 2018
S M T W T F S
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031   
Powered by LiveJournal.com