1669 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Howard

Thomas Hobbes, "To the honourable Edward Howard, Esq. on his intended Impression of his Poem of the British Princes" Howard, Brittish Princes (1669) sig. a7v-a8v.



SIR,

My Judgement in Poetry hath, you know, been once already Censured by very good Wits, for commending Gondibert; but yet they have not, I think, disabled my testimony. For, What Authority is there in Wit? A Jester may have it; a Man in drink may have it, and be fluent over night, and wise and dry in the morning. What is it? or, Who can tell whether it be better to have it, or be without it, especially if it be a pointed Wit? I will take my liberty to praise what I like, as well as they do to reprehend what they do not like. Your Poem, Sir, contains a well and judiciously contrived Story, full of admirable and Heroick actions, set forth in noble and perspicuous language, such as become the dignity of the persons you introduce, which two things of themselves are the height of Poetry. I know, that variety of story, true, or feigned, is the thing wherewith the Reader is entertain'd most delightfully: And this also, to the smallness of the Vollume is not wanting. Yours is but one small piece, whereas the Poets that are with us, so much admir'd, have taken larger Subjects. But, let an English reader, in Homer or Virgil in English, by whomsoever translated, read one piece by it self, no greater than yours, I may make a question whether he will be less pleased with yours than his: I know you do not equal your Poem to either of theirs, the bulk of a Work does not distinguish the Art of the Workman: besides, 'tis a vertue in a Poet to advance the honour of his remotest Ancestors, especially when it has not been done before. What, though you out-goe the limits of certain History? Do Painters, when they Paint the Face of the Earth, leave a blanck beyond what they know? Do not they fill up the space with strange Rocks, Monsters, and other Gallantry, to fix their work in the memory of Men by the delight of fancy? So will your Reader from this Poem think honourably of their original, which is a kind of Piety. Ajax was a man of very great stature, and Teucer a very little person, yet he was brother to Ajax both in blood and Chivalry. I commend your Poem for judgment, not for bulk; and am assured it will be wellcome to the World with its own confidence; though if it come forth armed with Verses and Epistles I cannot tell what to think of it. For, the great Wits will think themselves threatned, and rebel. Unusual Fortifications upon the borders carry with them a suspition of Hostility. And Poets will think such Letters of Commendation a kind of confederacy and league, tending to usurp upon their liberty. I need say no more, but rest,

Sir,

Your Honors most humble

and obedient Servant,

Thomas Hobbs.

Chatsworth, Nov.

the 6th, 1668.