Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN EPISTLE TO SIR EDWARD SACKVILLE, NOW EARL OF DORSET, by BEN JONSON



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AN EPISTLE TO SIR EDWARD SACKVILLE, NOW EARL OF DORSET, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: If sackville, all that have the power to do
Last Line: Find you to reckon nothing, me owe all.
Subject(s): Sackville, Edward. 4th Earl Of Dorset


If Sackville, all that have the power to do
Great and good turns, as well could time them too,
And knew their how, and where: we should have, then
Less list of proud, hard, or ingrateful men.
For benefits are owed with the same mind
As they are done, and such returns they find:
You then whose will not only, but desire
To succour my necessities took fire,
Not at my prayers, but your sense; which laid
The way to meet, what others would upbraid;
And in the act did so my blush prevent,
As I did feel it done, as soon as meant:
You cannot doubt, but I who freely know
This good from you, as freely will it owe;
And though my fortune humble me, to take
The smallest courtesies with thanks, I make
Yet choice from whom I take them; and would shame
To have such do me good, I durst not name:
They are the noblest benefits, and sink
Deepest in man, of which when he doth think,
The memory delights him more, from whom
Than what he hath received. Gifts stink from some,
They are so long a coming, and so hard;
Where any deed is forced, the grace is marred.
Can I owe thanks, for courtesies received
Against his will that does them? That hath weaved
Excuses, or delays? Or done them scant,
That they have more oppressed me, than my want?
Or if he did it not to succour me,
But by mere chance? For interest? Or to free
Himself of further trouble, or the weight
Of pressure, like one taken in a strait?
All this corrupts the thanks; less hath he won,
That puts it in his debt-book ere it be done;
Or that doth sound a trumpet, and doth call
His grooms to witness; or else lets it fall
In that proud manner: as a good so gained
Must make me sad for what I have obtained.
No! Gifts and thanks should have one cheerful face,
So each, that's done, and ta'en, becomes a brace.
He neither gives, or does, that doth delay
A benefit: or that doth throw't away,
No more than he doth thank, that will receive
Naught but in corners; and is loth to leave
Least air, or print, but flies it: such men would
Run from the conscience of it if they could.
As I have seen some infants of the sword
Well known, and practised borrowers on their word,
Give thanks by stealth, and whispering in the ear,
For what they straight would to the world forswear;
And speaking worst of those, from whom they went
But then, fist filled, to put me off the scent.
Now damn me, sir, if you shall not command
My sword ('tis but a poor sword understand)
As far as any poor sword in the land;
Then turning unto him is next at hand,
Damns whom he damned too, is the veriest gull,
Has feathers, and will serve a man to pull.
Are they not worthy to be answered so,
That to such natures let their full hands flow,
And seek not wants to succour: but inquire
Like money-brokers, after names, and hire
Their bounties forth, to him that last was made,
Or stands to be in commission of the blade?
Still, still, the hunters of false fame apply
Their thoughts and means to making loud the cry;
But one is bitten by the dog he fed,
And hurt seeks cure; the surgeon bids take bread,
And sponge-like with it dry up the blood quite:
Then give it to the hound that did him bite;
Pardon, says he, that were a way to see
All the town curs take each their snatch at me.
O, is it so? Knows he so much? And will
Feed those, at whom the table points at still?
I not deny it, but to help the need
Of any, is a great and generous deed:
Yea, of the ingrateful; and he forth must tell
Many a pound, and piece will place one well;
But these men ever want: their very trade
Is borrowing; that but stopped they do invade
All as their prize, turn pirates here at land,
Have their Bermudas, and their straits in the Strand:
Man out their boats to the Temple, and not shift
Now, but command; make tribute, what was gift;
And it is paid them with a trembling zeal,
And superstition I dare scarce reveal
If it were clear, but being so in cloud
Carried and wrapped, I only am allowed
My wonder why the taking a clown's purse,
Or robbing the poor market folks should nurse
Such a religious horror in the breasts
Of our town gallantry! Or why there rests
Such worship due to kicking of a punk!
Or swaggering with the watch, or drawer drunk;
Or feats of darkness acted in mid-sun,
And told of with more licence than they were done!
Sure there is mystery in it, I not know,
That men such reverence to such actions show!
And almost deify the authors! Make
Loud sacrifice of drink, for their health' sake
Rear-suppers in their names! And spend whole nights
Unto their praise, in certain swearing rites;
Cannot a man be reckoned in the state
Of valour, but at this idolatrous rate?
I thought that fortitude had been a mean
'Twixt fear and rashness: not a lust obscene,
Or appetite of offending, but a skill,
Or science of discerning good and ill.
And you, sir, know it well to whom I write,
That with these mixtures we put out her light.
Her ends are honesty, and public good!
And where they want, she is not understood.
No more are these of us, let them then go,
I have the list of mine own faults to know,
Look to and cure; he's not a man hath none,
But like to be, that every day mends one,
And feels it; else he tarries by the beast.
Can I discern how shadows are decreased,
Or grown, by height or lowness of the sun?
And can I less of substance? When I run,
Ride, sail, am coached, know I how far I have gone,
And my mind's motion not? Or have I none?
No! he must feel and know, that will advance.
Men have been great, but never good by chance,
Or on the sudden. It were strange that he
Who was this morning such a one, should be
Sidney ere night! Or that did go to bed
Coriat, should rise the most sufficient head
Of Christendom! And neither of these know
Were the rack offered them how they came so;
'Tis by degrees that men arrive at glad
Profit in aught; each day some little add,
In time 'twill be a heap; this is not true
Alone in money, but in manners too.
Yet we must more than move still, or go on,
We must accomplish; 'tis the last key-stone
That makes the arch. The rest that there were put
Are nothing till that comes to bind and shut.
Then stands it a triumphal mark! Then men
Observe the strength, the height, the why, and when,
It was erected; and still walking under
Meet some new matter to look up and wonder!
Such notes are virtuous men! They live as fast
As they are high; are rooted and will last.
They need no stilts, nor rise upon their toes,
As if they would belie their stature; those
Are dwarfs of honour, and have neither weight
Nor fashion; if they chance aspire to height,
'Tis like light canes, that first rise big and brave,
Shoot forth in smooth and comely spaces; have
But few and fair divisions: but being got
Aloft, grow less and straitened; full of knot;
And last, go out in nothing: you that see
Their difference, cannot choose which you will be.
You know (without my flattering you) too much
For me to be your indice. Keep you such,
That I may love your person (as I do)
Without your gift, though I can rate that too,
By thanking thus the courtesy to life,
Which you will bury, but therein, the strife
May grow so great to be example, when
(As their true rule or lesson) either men
Donors or donees to their practice shall
Find you to reckon nothing, me owe all.






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