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THE NOBLEST NURSERIES OF HUMANITY
AND LIBERTY IN THE KINGDOM,
THE INNS OF COURT.1
UNDERSTAND you, Gentlemen, not your houses: and a worthy succession of you, to all time, as being born the judges of these studies. When I wrote this poem I had friendship with divers in your societies; who, as they were great names in learning, so they were no less examples of living. Of them, and then, that I say no more, it was not despised. Now that the printer, by a doubled charge, thinks it worthy a longer life than commonly the air of such things doth promise, I am careful to put it a servant to their pleasures, who are the inheritors of the first favour born it. Yet, I command it lie not in the way of your more noble and useful studies to the public: for so I shall suffer for it. But when the gown and cap is off, and the lord of liberty reigns, then, to take it in your hands, perhaps may make some bencher, tincted with humanity, read and not repent him. By your true honourer,
'This elegant dedication was first published in the folio, 1616. The quarto
And the lord of liberty reigns.] He alludes to the custom of creating at Christmas, (the Saturnalia of the ancients,) in the palace, the inns of court, and houses of the nobility, a lord of misrule, whose office it was to lead and regulate the revels presented at this season of festivity. His stately, but transient sway, is well described by Shirley :
I have seen a counterfeit
And give his hand out to great lords to kiss
Of Inns o' Court in England, sure: but when
That walk like ghosts, and glide to several tables,
And the new cloaths in lavender, what then !
THE CHARACTER OF THE PERSONS.
He is of an ingenious and free spirit, eager and constant in reproof, without fear controlling the world's abuses. One whom no servile hope of gain, or frosty apprehension of danger, can make to be a parasite, either to time, place, or opinion.
A man well parted, a sufficient scholar, and travelled; who, wanting that place in the world's account which he thinks his merit capable of, falls into such an envious apoplexy, with which his judgment is so dazzled and distasted, that he grows violently impatient of any opposite happiness in another.
A vain-glorious knight, over-englishing his travels, and wholly consecrated to singularity; the very Jacob's staff of compliment; a sir that hath lived to see the revolution of time in most of his apparel. Of presence good enough, but so palpably affected to his own praise, that for want of flatterers he commends himself, to the floutage of his own family. He deals upon returns,3 and strange performances, resolving, in despite of public derision, to stick to his own particular fashion, phrase, and gesture.
1 A man well parted.] A man endowed with good natural abilities. Jonson has the same expression in A. iii.
Let him be poor and meanly clad,
The very Jacob's staff of compliment.] The Jacob's staff here meant, is a mathematical instrument used by our ancestors for taking heights and distances. It is now superseded by more accurate and efficient implements. Jonson's application of the term is sufficiently obvious.
3 He deals upon returns.] Ventures sent abroad, for the safe return of which he agrees by articles to receive so much money.
A public, scurrilous, and prophane jester; that more swift than Circe, with absurd similes will transform any person into deformity. A good feast-hound, or banquet-beagle, that will scent you out a supper some three miles off, and swear to his patrons, damn him! he came in oars, when he was but wafted over in a sculler. A slave that hath an extraordinary gift in pleasing his palate, and will swill up more sack at a sitting than would make all the guard a posset. His religion is railing, and his discourse ribaldry. They stand highest in his respect, whom he studies most to reproach.
A neat, spruce, affecting courtier, one that wears clothes well, and in fashion: practiseth by his glass how to salute; speaks good remnants, notwithstanding the bass viol and tobacco; swears tersely, and with variety; cares not what lady's favour he belies, or great man's familiarity: a good property to perfume the boot of a coach. He will borrow another man's horse to praise, and backs him as his own. Or, for a need, on foot can post himself into credit with his merchant, only with the gingle of his spur, and the jerk of his wand.
A good doting citizen, who, it is thought, might be of the commoncouncil for his wealth; a fellow sincerely besotted on his own wife, and so rapt with a conceit of her perfections, that he simply holds himself unworthy of her. And, in that hood-wink'd humour, lives more like a suitor than a husband; standing in as true dread of her displeasure, as when he first made love to her. He doth sacrifice twopence in juniper to her every morning before she rises, and wakes her with villainous out-of-tune music, which she out of her contempt (though not out of her judgment) is sure to dislike.
5 He doth sacrifice two-pence in juniper to her every morning.] To sweeten the room in which she is about to sit. Thus, in the Mayor of Quinborough:
"Then put fresh water into both the bough-pots,
And burn a little iuniper in the hall chimney." A. v. S. 1.
And in Cupid's Revenge.
"Burn a little juniper in my murrin; the maid made it her chamber-pot." WHAL.
Deliro's wife, and idol; a proud mincing peat, and as perverse as he is officious. She dotes as perfectly upon the courtier, as her husband doth on her, and only wants the face to be dishonest.
A court-lady, whose weightiest praise is a light wit, admired by herself, and one more, her servant Brisk.
A wretched hob-nailed chuff, whose recreation is reading of almanacks; and felicity, foul weather. One that never pray'd but for a lean dearth, and ever wept in a fat harvest.
The son of Sordido, and a student; one that has revelled in his time, and follows the fashion afar off, like a spy. He makes it the whole bent of his endeavours to wring sufficient means from his wretched father, to put him in the courtiers' cut; at which he earnestly aims, but so unluckily, that he still lights short a suit.
An essential clown, brother to Sordido, yet so enamoured of the name of a gentleman, that he will have it, though he buys it. He comes up every term to learn to take tobacco, and see new motions. He is in his kingdom when he can get himself into company where he may be well laughed at.
A thread-bare shark; one that never was a soldier, yet lives upon lendings. His profession is skeldring and odling, his bank Paul's,
• He comes up every term to learn to take tobacco, and see new motions.] It appears from innumerable passages in our old writers, that the law-terms were the principal times for business and pleasure. The country gentlemen then flocked to London with their families, to settle their disputes, see plays and puppet shows (motions), and learn the fashions. It may seem strange to enumerate taking tobacco among the accomplishments to be acquired in town; but it was then a matter of serious study, and had its professors, like the rest of the liberal arts.
His profession is skeldring and odling.] Skeldring was a cant term for impudent begging: it seems to be principally applied to