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English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Francis Beaumont

185. Master Francis Beaumont’s Letter to Ben Jonson

Written before he and Master Fletcher came to London

THE SUN (which doth the greatest comfort bring

To absent friends, because the self-same thing

They know they see, however absent) is

Here our best haymaker (forgive me this;

It is our country’s style): in this warm shine

I lie, and dream of your full Mermaid Wine.

O, we have Winter mixed with claret lees,

Drink apt to bring in drier heresies

Than beer, good only for the sonnet’s strain,

With fustian metaphors to stuff the brain;

So mixed, that, given to the thirstiest one,

’Twill not prove alms, unless he have the stone:

I think with one draught man’s invention fades,

Two cups had quite spoiled Homer’s Iliads!

’Tis liquor that will find out Sutcliff’s wit,

Lie where he will, and make him write worse yet.

Filled with such moisture, in most grievous qualms,

Did Robert Wisdom write his singing Psalms;

And so must I do this: and yet I think

It is our potion sent us down to drink,

By special Providence, keeps us from fights,

Makes us not laugh, when we make legs to Knights:

’Tis this that keeps our minds fit for our states;

A medicine to obey our Magistrates;

For we do live more free than you; no hate,

No envy at one another’s happy state,

Moves us; we are equal every whit;

Of land that God gives men, here is their wit,

If we consider fully; for our best

And gravest man will with his main-house-jest

Scarce please you: we want subtlety to do

The city-tricks; lie, Hate, and flatter too:

Here are none that can bear a painted show,

Strike, when you wince, and then lament the blow;

Who (like mills set the right way for to grind)

Can make their gains alike with every wind:

Only some fellows with the subtlest pate

Amongst us, may perchance equivocate

At selling of a horse; and that’s the most

Methinks the little wit I had is lost

Since I saw you; for wit is like a rest

Held up at tennis, which men do the best

With the best gamesters. What things have we seen

Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been

So nimble, and so full of subtle flame,

As if that every one (from whence they came)

Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,

And had resolved to live a fool the rest

Of his dull life;—then when there hath been thrown

Wit able enough to justify the town

For three days past; wit that might warrant be

For the whole city to talk foolishly

Till that were cancelled; and, when we were gone,

We left an air behind us; which alone

Was able to make the two next companies

(Right witty; though but downright fools) more wise!

When I remember this, and see that now

The country gentlemen begin to allow

My wit for dry bobs, then I needs must cry,

‘I see my days of ballating grow nigh!’

I can already riddle, and can sing

Catches, sell bargains: and I fear shall bring

Myself to speak the hardest words I find

Over as oft as any, with one wind,

That takes no medicines. But one thought of thee

Makes me remember all these things to be

The wit of our young men, fellows that show

No part of good, yet utter all they know;

Who, like trees of the guard, have growing souls,

Only strong Destiny, which all controls,

I hope hath left a better fate in store

For me, thy friend, than to live ever poor,

Banished unto this home. Fate once again,

Brings me to thee, who canst make smooth and plain

The way of knowledge for me, and then I

(Who have no good, but in thy company,)

Protest it will my greatest comfort be,

To acknowledge all I have, to flow from thee!

Ben, when these Scenes are perfect, we’ll taste wine!

I’ll drink thy Muse’s health! thou shalt quaff mine!