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- Discoveries and Some Poems - 15/20 -

nothing in the structure can be changed, or taken away, without impairing or troubling the whole, of which there is a proportionable magnitude in the members. As for example: if a man would build a house, he would first appoint a place to build it in, which he would define within certain bounds; so in the constitution of a poem, the action is aimed at by the poet, which answers place in a building, and that action hath his largeness, compass, and proportion. But as a court or king's palace requires other dimensions than a private house, so the epic asks a magnitude from other poems, since what is place in the one is action in the other; the difference is an space. So that by this definition we conclude the fable to be the imitation of one perfect and entire action, as one perfect and entire place is required to a building. By perfect, we understand that to which nothing is wanting, as place to the building that is raised, and action to the fable that is formed. It is perfect, perhaps not for a court or king's palace, which requires a greater ground, but for the structure he would raise; so the space of the action may not prove large enough for the epic fable, yet be perfect for the dramatic, and whole.

What we understand by whole.--Whole we call that, and perfect, which hath a beginning, a midst, and an end. So the place of any building may be whole and entire for that work, though too little for a palace. As to a tragedy or a comedy, the action may be convenient and perfect that would not fit an epic poem in magnitude. So a lion is a perfect creature in himself, though it be less than that of a buffalo or a rhinocerote. They differ but in specie: either in the kind is absolute; both have their parts, and either the whole. Therefore, as in every body so in every action, which is the subject of a just work, there is required a certain proportionable greatness, neither too vast nor too minute. For that which happens to the eyes when we behold a body, the same happens to the memory when we contemplate an action. I look upon a monstrous giant, as Tityus, whose body covered nine acres of land, and mine eye sticks upon every part; the whole that consists of those parts will never be taken in at one entire view. So in a fable, if the action be too great, we can never comprehend the whole together in our imagination. Again, if it be too little, there ariseth no pleasure out of the object; it affords the view no stay; it is beheld, and vanisheth at once. As if we should look upon an ant or pismire, the parts fly the sight, and the whole considered is almost nothing. The same happens in action, which is the object of memory, as the body is of sight. Too vast oppresseth the eyes, and exceeds the memory; too little scarce admits either.

What is the utmost bounds of a fable.--Now in every action it behoves the poet to know which is his utmost bound, how far with fitness and a necessary proportion he may produce and determine it; that is, till either good fortune change into the worse, or the worse into the better. For as a body without proportion cannot be goodly, no more can the action, either in comedy or tragedy, without his fit bounds: and every bound, for the nature of the subject, is esteemed the best that is largest, till it can increase no more; so it behoves the action in tragedy or comedy to be let grow till the necessity ask a conclusion; wherein two things are to be considered: first, that it exceed not the compass of one day; next, that there be place left for digression and art. For the episodes and digressions in a fable are the same that household stuff and other furniture are in a house. And so far from the measure and extent of a fable dramatic.

What by one and entire.--Now that it should be one and entire. One is considerable two ways; either as it is only separate, and by itself, or as being composed of many parts, it begins to be one as those parts grow or are wrought together. That it should be one the first away alone, and by itself, no man that hath tasted letters ever would say, especially having required before a just magnitude and equal proportion of the parts in themselves. Neither of which can possibly be, if the action be single and separate, not composed of parts, which laid together in themselves, with an equal and fitting proportion, tend to the same end; which thing out of antiquity itself hath deceived many, and more this day it doth deceive.

Hercules.--Theseus.--Achilles.--Ulysses.--Homer and Virgil.-- AEneas.--Venus.--So many there be of old that have thought the action of one man to be one, as of Hercules, Theseus, Achilles, Ulysses, and other heroes; which is both foolish and false, since by one and the same person many things may be severally done which cannot fitly be referred or joined to the same end: which not only the excellent tragic poets, but the best masters of the epic, Homer and Virgil, saw. For though the argument of an epic poem be far more diffused and poured out than that of tragedy, yet Virgil, writing of AEneas, hath pretermitted many things. He neither tells how he was born, how brought up, how he fought with Achilles, how he was snatched out of the battle by Venus; but that one thing, how he came into Italy, he prosecutes in twelve books. The rest of his journey, his error by sea, the sack of Troy, are put not as the argument of the work, but episodes of the argument. So Homer laid by many things of Ulysses, and handled no more than he saw tended to one and the same end.

Theseus.--Hercules.--Juvenal.--Codrus.--Sophocles.--Ajax.--Ulysses.- -Contrary to which, and foolishly, those poets did, whom the philosopher taxeth, of whom one gathered all the actions of Theseus, another put all the labours of Hercules in one work. So did he whom Juvenal mentions in the beginning, "hoarse Codrus," that recited a volume compiled, which he called his Theseide, not yet finished, to the great trouble both of his hearers and himself; amongst which there were many parts had no coherence nor kindred one with another, so far they were from being one action, one fable. For as a house, consisting of divers materials, becomes one structure and one dwelling, so an action, composed of divers parts, may become one fable, epic or dramatic. For example, in a tragedy, look upon Sophocles, his Ajax: Ajax, deprived of Achilles' armour, which he hoped from the suffrage of the Greeks, disdains; and, growing impatient of the injury, rageth, and runs mad. In that humour he doth many senseless things, and at last falls upon the Grecian flock and kills a great ram for Ulysses: returning to his senses, he grows ashamed of the scorn, and kills himself; and is by the chiefs of the Greeks forbidden burial. These things agree and hang together, not as they were done, but as seeming to be done, which made the action whole, entire, and absolute.

The conclusion concerning the whole, and the parts.--Which are episodes.--Ajax and Hector.--Homer.--For the whole, as it consisteth of parts, so without all the parts it is not the whole; and to make it absolute is required not only the parts, but such parts as are true. For a part of the whole was true; which, if you take away, you either change the whole or it is not the whole. For if it be such a part, as, being present or absent, nothing concerns the whole, it cannot be called a part of the whole; and such are the episodes, of which hereafter. For the present here is one example: the single combat of Ajax with Hector, as it is at large described in Homer, nothing belongs to this Ajax of Sophocles.

You admire no poems but such as run like a brewer's cart upon the stones, hobbling:-

"Et, quae per salebras, altaque saxa cadunt, Accius et quidquid Pacuviusque vomunt. Attonitusque legis terrai, frugiferai." {160a}



Camden! most reverend head, to whom I owe All that I am in arts, all that I know - How nothing's that! to whom my country owes The great renown, and name wherewith she goes! Than thee the age sees not that thing more grave, More high, more holy, that she more would crave. What name, what skill, what faith hast thou in things! What sight in searching the most antique springs! What weight, and what authority in thy speech! Men scarce can make that doubt, but thou canst teach. Pardon free truth, and let thy modesty, Which conquers all, be once o'ercome by thee. Many of thine, this better could, than I; But for their powers, accept my piety.


Here lies, to each her parents' ruth, Mary, the daughter of their youth; Yet, all heaven's gifts, being heaven's due, It makes the father less to rue. At six months' end, she parted hence, With safety of her innocence; Whose soul heaven's queen, whose name she bears, In comfort of her mother's tears, Hath placed amongst her virgin-train; Where, while that severed doth remain, This grave partakes the fleshly birth; Which cover lightly, gentle earth!


Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy; My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy; Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay, Exacted by thy fate, on the just day. Oh! could I lose all father, now! for why, Will man lament the state he should envy? To have so soon 'scaped world's, and flesh's rage, And, if no other misery, yet age! Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say here doth lie Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry; For whose sake, henceforth, all his vows be such, As what he loves may never like too much.

Discoveries and Some Poems - 15/20

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