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there are that profess to have a key for the decyphering of every thing: but let wise and noble persons take heed how they be too credulous, or give leave to these invading interpreters to be over-familiar with their fames, who cunningly, and often, utter their own virulent malice, under other men's simplest meanings. As for those that will (by faults which charity hath raked up, or common honesty concealed) make themselves a name with the multitude, or, to draw their rude and beastly claps, care not whose living faces they intrench with their petulant styles, may they do it without a rival, for me! I choose rather to live graved in obscurity, than share with them in so preposterous a fame. Nor can I blame the wishes of those severe and wise patriots, who providing the hurts these licentious spirits may do in a state, desire rather to see fools and devils, and those antique relics of barbarism retrieved, with all other ridiculous and exploded follies, than behold the wounds of private men, of princes and nations: for, as Horace makes Trebatius speak among these,
"Sibi quisque timet, quanquam est intactus, et odit,"
and men may justly impute such rages, if continued, to the writer, as his sports. The increase of which lust in liberty, together with the present trade of the stage, in all their miscelline interludes, what learned or liberal soul doth not already abhor? where nothing but the filth of the time is uttered, and with such impropriety of phrase, such plenty of solecisms, such dearth of sense, so bold prolepses, so racked metaphors, with brothelry, able to violate the ear of a pagan, and blasphemy, to turn the blood of a Christian to water. I cannot but be serious in a cause of this nature, wherein my fame, and the reputation of divers honest and learned are the question; when a name so full of authority, antiquity, and all great mark, is, through their insolence, become the lowest scorn of the age; and those men subject to the petulancy of every vernaculous orator, that were wont to be the care of kings and happiest monarchs. This it is that hath not only rapt me to present indignation, but made me studious heretofore, and by all my actions, to stand off from them; which may most appear in this my latest work, which you, most learned Arbitresses, have seen, judged, and to my crown, approved; wherein I have laboured for their Instruction and amendment, to reduce not only the ancient forms, but manners of the scene, the easiness, the propriety, the innocence, and last, the doctrine, which is the principal end of poesie, to inform men in the best reason of living. And though
my catastrophe may, in the strict rigour of comic law, meet with censure, as turning back to my promise; I desire the learned and charitable critic, to have so much faith in me, to think it was done of industry: for, with what ease I could have varied it nearer his scale (but that I fear to boast my own faculty) I could here insert. But my special aim being to put the snaffle in their mouths, that cry out, We never punish vice in our interludes, etc., I took the more liberty; though not without some lines of example, drawn even in the ancients themselves, the goings out of whose comedies are not always joyful, but ofttimes the bawds, the servants, the rivals, yea, and the masters are mulcted; and fitly, it being the office of a comic poet to imitate justice, and instruct to life, as well as purity of language, or stir up gentle affections; to which I shall take the occasion elsewhere to speak.
For the present, most reverenced Sisters, as I have cared to be thankful for your affections past, and here made the understanding acquainted with some ground of your favours; let me not despair their continuance, to the maturing of some worthier fruits; wherein, if my muses be true to me, I shall raise the despised head of poetry again, and stripping her out of those rotten and base rags wherewith the times have adulterated her form, restore her to her primitive habit, feature, and majesty, and render her worthy to be embraced and kist of all the great and master-spirits of our world. As for the vile and slothful, who never affected an act worthy of celebration, or are so inward with their own vicious natures, as they worthily fear her, and think it an high point of policy to keep her in contempt, with their declamatory and windy invectives; she shall out of just rage incite her servants (who are genus irritabile) to spout ink in their faces, that shall eat farther than their marrow into their fames; and not Cinnamus the barber, with his art, shall be able to take out the brands: but they shall live, and be read till the wretches die, as things worst deserving of themselves in chief, and then of all mankind.
From my House in the Black-Friars,
this 11th day of February 1607.
[Volpone, a Venetian nobleman, rich and childless, pretends to be dying, in order to draw presents of plate, jewels, etc., from the covetous persons who seek his inheritance. Mosca, his parasite and accomplice, aids him by persuading each legacy-hunter in turn that his name alone is inscribed upon Volpone's will.]
SCENE I.-A room in VOLPONE'S House.
Enter VOLPONE and Mosca.
Volp. Good morning to the day; and next, my gold!
Open the shrine, that I may see my saint.
[MOSCA withdraws the curtain, and discovers piles of gold, plate, jewels, etc. Hail the world's soul, and mine! more glad than is The teeming earth to see the long'd-for sun Peep through the horns of the celestial Ram, Am I, to view thy splendour darkening his; That lying here, amongst my other hoards, ...18...
Shew'st like a flame by night, or like the day
Mos. And what he will, sir. Riches are in fortune A greater good than wisdom is in nature.
Volp. True, my beloved Mosca. Yet I glory
To threat'nings of the furrow-faced sea;
Mos. No, sir, nor devour
Soft prodigals. You shall have some will swallow
A melting heir as glibly as your Dutch
You are not like the thresher that doth stand
You will lie not in straw, whilst moths and worms
Volp. Hold thee, Mosca,
[Gives him money. Take of my hand; thou strik'st on truth in all, And they are envious term thee parasite.
Call forth my dwarf, my eunuch, and my fool,
But cocker up my genius, and live free