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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Ben Jonson (1572–1637)

The Braggart Turns Tail

From “Every Man in his Humour”


Wel.Well, Captain Bobadill, Master Mathew, pray you know this gentleman here; he is a friend of mine, and one that will deserve your affection. I know not your name, sir(to STEPHEN), but I shall be glad of any occasion to render me more familiar to you.

Step.My name is Master Stephen, sir; I am this gentleman’s own cousin, sir; his father is mine uncle, sir. I am somewhat melancholy, but you shall command me, sir, in whatsoever is incident to a gentleman.

Bob.Sir, I must tell you this, I am no general man; but for Master Wellbred’s sake—you may embrace it at what height of favour you please—I do communicate with you, and conceive you to be a gentleman of some parts. I love few words.

E. Know.And I fewer, sir; I have scarce enough to thank you.

Mat.But are you indeed, sir, so given to it?

Step.Aye, truly, sir; I am mightily given to melancholy.

Mat.Oh, it’s your only fine humour, sir; your true melancholy breeds your perfect fine wit, sir. I am melancholy myself, divers times, sir, and then do I no more but take pen and paper, presently, and overflow you half a score, or a dozen of sonnets at a sitting.

E. Know.(aside).Sure, he utters them then by the gross.

Step.Truly, sir, and I love such things out of measure.

E. Know.I’ faith, better than in measure, I’ll undertake.

Mat.Why, I pray you, sir, make use of my study; it’s at your service.

Step.I thank you, sir; I shall be bold, I warrant you. Have you a stool there to be melancholy upon?

Mat.That I have, sir, and some papers there of mine own doing, at idle hours, that you’ll say there’s some sparks of wit in ’em, when you see them.

Wel.(aside).Would the sparks would kindle once, and become a fire among them! I might see self-love burn for her heresy.

Step.Cousin, is it well? Am I melancholy enough?

E. Know.Oh, aye, excellent!

Wel.Captain Bobadill, why muse you so?

E. Know.He is melancholy, too.

Bob.Faith, sir, I was thinking of a most honourable piece of service, was performed to-morrow, being St. Mark’s day, shall be some ten years now.

E. Know.In what place, captain?

Bob.Why, at the beleaguering of Strigonium, where, in less than two hours, seven hundred resolute gentlemen, as any were in Europe, lost their lives upon the breach. I’ll tell you, gentlemen, it was the first, but the best leaguer, that ever I beheld with these eyes, except the taking in of—what do you call it? last year, by the Genoways; but that, of all other, was the most fatal and dangerous exploit that ever I was ranged in since I first bore arms before the face of the enemy, as I am a gentleman and a soldier!

Step.So! I had as lief as an angel I could swear as well as that gentleman.

E. Know.Then, you were the servitor at both, it seems; at Strigonium, and what do you call’t?

Bob.Oh, Lord, sir! By St. George, I was the first man that entered the breach; and had I not effected it with resolution, I had been slain if I had had a million of lives.

E. Know.’Twas pity you had not ten—a cat’s and your own, i’ faith. But, was it possible?

Mat.Pray you mark this discourse, sir.

Step.So I do.

Bob.I assure you, upon my reputation, ’tis true, and yourself shall confess.

E. Know.(aside).You must bring me to the rack, first.

Bob.Observe me judicially, sweet sir. They had planted me three demi-culverins just in the mouth of the breach; now, sir, as we were to give on, their master-gunner—a man of no mean skill and mark, you must think—confronts me with his linstock, ready to give fire; I, spying his intendment, discharged my petronel in his bosom, and with these single arms, my poor rapier, ran violently upon the Moors that guarded the ordnance, and put them pell-mell to the sword.

Wel.To the sword? To the rapier, captain!

E. Know.Oh, it was a good figure observed, sir. But did you all this, captain, without hurting your blade?

Bob.Without any impeach o’ the earth: you shall perceive, sir.(Shews his rapier.)It is the most fortunate weapon that ever rid on poor gentleman’s thigh. Shall I tell you, sir? You talk of Morglay, Excalibur, Durindana; or so; tut! I lend no credit to that is fabled of ’em. I know the virtue of mine own, and therefore I dare the boldlier maintain it.


Mat.Sir, did your eyes ever taste the like clown of him where we were to-day, Mr. Wellbred’s half-brother? I think the whole earth cannot show his parallel, by this daylight.

E. Know.We were now speaking of him. Captain Bobadill tells me he is fallen foul of you, too.

Mat.Oh, aye, sir, he threatened me with the bastinado.

Bob.Aye, but I think I taught you prevention this morning, for that. You shall kill him beyond question if you be so generously minded.

Mat.Indeed, it is a most excellent trick.(Fences.)

Bob.Oh, you do not give spirit enough to your motion; you are too tardy, too heavy! Oh, it must be done like lightning, hay!(Practises at a post with his cudgel.)

Mat.Rare, captain!

Bob.Tut! ’tis nothing, an ’t be not done in a——punto.

E. Know.Captain, did you ever prove yourself upon any of our masters of defence here?

Mat.Oh, good sir! yes, I hope he has.

Bob.I will tell you, sir. Upon my first coming to the city, after my long travel for knowledge in that mystery only, there came three or four of them to me, at a gentleman’s house where it was my chance to be resident at that time, to entreat my presence at their schools; and withal so much importuned me, that I protest to you, as I am a gentleman, I was ashamed of their rude demeanour out of all measure. Well, I told them that to come to a public school, they should pardon me, it was opposite, in diameter, to my humour; but if so be they would give their attendance at my lodging, I protested to do them what right or favour I could, as I was a gentleman, and so forth.

E. Know.So, sir, then you tried their skill?

Bob.Alas, soon tried. You shall hear, sir. Within two or three days after, they came; and, by honesty, fair sir, believe me, I graced them exceedingly, showed them some two or three tricks of prevention which have since purchased a credit to admiration. They cannot deny this; and yet now they hate me, and why? Because I am excellent, and for no other vile reason on the earth.

E. Know.This is as strange and barbarous as ever I heard.

Bob.Nay, for a more instance of their preposterous natures; but note, sir. They have assaulted me some three, four, five, six of them together, as I have walked alone in divers skirts i’ the town, as Turnbull, Whitechapel, Shoreditch, which were then my quarters; and since, upon the Exchange, at my lodging, and at my ordinary; where I have driven them afore me the whole length of a street, in the open view of all our gallants, pitying to hurt them, believe me. Yet all this lenity will not overcome their spleen; they will be doing with the pismire, raising a hill a man may spurn abroad with his foot at pleasure. By myself, I could have slain them all, but I delight not in murder. I am loath to bear any other than this bastinado for them. Yet I hold it good policy not to go disarmed, for though I be skilful, I may be oppressed with multitudes.

E. Know.Aye, believe me, may you, sir: and, in my conceit, our whole nation should sustain the loss by it if it were so.

Bob.Alas, no? What’s a peculiar man to a nation? Not seen.

E. Know.Oh, but your skill, sir.

Bob.Indeed, that might be some loss; but who respects it? I will tell you, sir, by the way of private, and under seal: I am a gentleman, and live here obscure, and to myself; but were I known to her Majesty and the lords—observe me—I would undertake, upon this poor head and life, for the public benefit of the state, not only to spare the entire lives of her subjects in general, but to save the one-half, nay, three parts of her yearly charge in holding war, and against what enemy soever. And how would I do it, think you?

E. Know.Nay, I know not, nor can I conceive.

Bob.Why, thus, sir: I would select nineteen more, to myself, throughout the land; gentlemen they should be of good spirit, strong and able constitution; I would choose them by an instinct, a character that I have; and I would teach these nineteen the special rules, as your punto, your reverso, your stoccata, your imbroccato, your passada, your montanto, till they could all play very near, or altogether, as well as myself. This done, say the enemy were forty thousand strong, we twenty would come into the field the tenth of March, or thereabouts, and we would challenge twenty of the enemy. They could not in their honour refuse us. Well, we would kill them; challenge twenty more, kill them; twenty more, kill them; twenty more, kill them too; and thus would we kill every man his twenty a day—that’s twenty score; twenty score, that’s two hundred; two hundred a day, five days a thousand; forty thousand; forty times five, five times forty, two hundred days kills them all up by computation. And this will I venture my poor gentlemanlike carcass to perform, provided there be no treason practised upon us, by fair and discreet manhood; that is, civilly by the sword.

E. Know.Why, are you so sure of your hand, captain, at all times?

Bob.Tut! never miss thrust, upon my reputation with you!

E. Know.I would not stand in Downright’s state, then, an you meet him, for the wealth of any one street in London.

Bob.Why, sir, you mistake me. If he were here now, by this welkin, I would not draw my weapon on him. Let this gentleman do his mind. But I will bastinado him, by the bright sun, wherever I meet him.

Mat.Faith, and I’ll have a fling at him, at my distance.

E. Know.’Od’s, so, look where he is! Yonder he goes.(DOWNRIGHT crosses the stage.)

Dow.What peevish luck have I, I cannot meet with these bragging rascals?

Bob.It is not he, is it?

E. Know.Yes, faith, it is he.

Mat.I’ll be hanged, then, if that were he.

E. Know.Sir, keep your hanging good for some greater matter, for I assure you that were he.

Step.Upon my reputation, it was he.

Bob.Had I thought it had been he, he must not have gone so. But I can hardly be induced to believe it was he yet.

E. Know.That I think, sir.


But see, he is come again.

Dow.Oh, Pharaoh’s foot, have I found you? Come, draw to your tools; draw, gipsy, or I’ll thrash you.

Bob.Gentleman of valour, I do believe in thee; hear me——

Dow.Draw your weapon, then.

Bob.Tall man, I never thought on it till now— Body of me, I had a warrant of the peace served on me, even now as I came along, by a water-bearer; this gentleman saw it, Master Mathew.

Dow.’Sdeath! you will not draw, then?(Disarms and beats him. MATHEW runs away.)

Bob.Hold, hold! Under thy favour, forbear!

Dow.Prate again, as you like this, you bastard foist you! You’ll control the point, you! Your consort is gone; had he stayed he had shared with you, sir.(Exit.)

Bob.Well, gentlemen, bear witness, I was bound to the peace, by this good day.

E. Know.No, faith, it’s an ill day, captain, never reckon it other; but, say you were bound to the peace, the law allows you to defend yourself; that will prove but a poor excuse.

Bob.I cannot tell, sir; I desire good construction in fair sort. I never sustained the like disgrace, by Heaven! sure I was struck with a planet thence, for I had no power to touch my weapon.

E. Know.Aye, like enough; I have heard of many that have been beaten under a planet. Go, get you to a surgeon. ’Slid! an these be your tricks, your passados, and your montantos, I’ll none of them.(Exit BOBADILL.)Oh, manners! that this age should bring forth such creatures, that nature should be at leisure to make them!