Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN EPISTLE TO MASTER JOHN SELDEN, by BEN JONSON



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AN EPISTLE TO MASTER JOHN SELDEN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I know to whom I write. Here, I am sure
Last Line: You both are modest. So am I. Farewell.
Subject(s): Selden, John (1584-1654)


I know to whom I write. Here, I am sure,
Though I am short, I cannot be obscure:
Less shall I for the art or dressing care;
Truth, and the Graces, best when naked are.
Your book, my Selden, I have read, and much
Was trusted, that you thought my judgment such
To ask it: though in most of works it be
A penance, where a man may not be free,
Rather than office, when it doth or may
Chance that the friend's affection proves allay
Unto the censure. Yours all need doth fly
Of this so vicious humanity,
Than which there is not unto study, a more
Pernicious enemy; we see before
A many of books, even good judgments wound
Themselves through favouring what is there not found:
But I on yours far otherwise shall do,
Not fly the crime, but the suspicion too:
Though I confess (as every muse hath erred,
And mine not least) I have too oft preferred
Men past their terms, and praised some names too much,
But 'twas with purpose to have made them such.
Since being deceived, I turn a sharper eye
Upon myself, and ask to whom, and why,
And what I write? And vex it many days
Before men get a verse: much less a praise;
So that my reader is assured, I now
Mean what I speak: and still will keep that vow.
Stand forth my object, then, you that have been
Ever at home: yet, have all countries seen:
And like a compass keeping one foot still
Upon your centre, do your circle fill
Of general knowledge; watched men, manners too,
Heard what times past have said, seen what ours do:
Which grace shall I make love to first? Your skill,
Or faith in things? Or is't your wealth and will
To instruct and teach? Or your unwearied pain
Of gathering? Bounty in pouring out again?
What fables have you vexed! What truth redeemed!
Antiquities searched! Opinions disesteemed!
Impostures branded! And authorities urged!
What blots and errors have you watched and purged
Records, and authors of! How rectified
Times, manners, customs! Innovations spied!
Sought out the fountains, sources, creeks, paths, ways,
And noted the beginnings and decays!
Where is that nominal mark, or real rite,
Form, act or ensign, that hath 'scaped your sight?
How are traditions there examined: how
Conjectures retrieved! And a story now
And then of times (besides the bare conduct
Of what it tells us) weaved in to instruct.
I wondered at the richness, but am lost,
To see the workmanship so exceed the cost!
To mark the excellent seasoning of your style!
And manly elocution, not one while
With horror rough, then rioting with wit!
But to the subject, still the colours fit
In sharpness of all search, wisdom of choice,
Newness of sense, antiquity of voice!
I yield, I yield, the matter of your praise
Flows in upon me, and I cannot raise
A bank against it. Nothing but the round
Large clasp of nature, such a wit can bound.
Monarch in letters! 'Mongst thy titles shown
Of others' honours, thus, enjoy thine own.
I first salute thee so; and gratulate
With that thy style, thy keeping of thy state,
In offering this thy work to no great name,
That would, perhaps, have praised, and thanked the same,
But naught beyond. He thou hast given it to,
Thy learned chamber-fellow, knows to do
It true respects. He will not only love,
Embrace, and cherish; but he can approve
And estimate thy pains; as having wrought
In the same mines of knowledge; and thence brought
Humanity enough to be a friend,
And strength to be a champion, and defend
Thy gift 'gainst envy. O how I do count
Among my comings in, and see it mount,
The grain of your two friendships! Hayward and
Selden! Two names that so much understand!
On whom I could take up, and ne'er abuse
The credit, what would furnish a tenth muse!
But here's no time, nor place, my wealth to tell,
You both are modest. So am I. Farewell.





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