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

Ben Jonson (1572–1637)

The Knightly Rhymester

From “The Silent Woman”


Cler.Pray, Mistress Epicœne, let’s see your verses; we have Sir John Daw’s leave. Do not conceal your servant’s merit, and your own glories.

Epi.They’ll prove my servant’s glories, if you have his leave so soon.

Daup.His vain-glories, lady!

Daw.Show them, show them, mistress; I dare own them.

Epi.Judge you, what glories.

Daw.Nay, I’ll read them myself, too; an author must recite his own works. It is a madrigal of modesty:

  • “Modest and fair, for fair and good are near
  • Neighbours, howe’er.”
  • Daup.Very good.

    Cler.Aye, is’t not?


  • “No noble virtue ever was alone,
  • But two in one.”
  • Daup.Excellent!

    Cler.That again, I pray, Sir John.

    Daup.It has something in’t like rare wit and sense.



  • “No noble virtue ever was alone,
  • But two in one.
  • Then, when I praise sweet modesty, I praise
  • Bright beauty’s rays;
  • And having praised both beauty and modesty,
  • I have praised thee.”
  • Daup.Admirable!

    Cler.How it chimes, and cries tink in the close, divinely!

    Daup.Aye, ’tis Seneca.

    Cler.No, I think ’tis Plutarch.

    Daw.The door on Plutarch and Seneca! I hate it. They are mine own imaginations, by that light. I wonder, those fellows have such credit with gentlemen.

    Cler.They are very grave authors.

    Daw.Grave asses! Mere essayists! A few loose sentences, and that’s all. A man would talk so, his whole age. I do utter as good things every hour, if they were collected and observed, as either of them.

    Daup.Indeed, Sir John!

    Cler.He must needs—living among the wits and braveries, too.

    Daup.Aye, and being president of them, as he is.

    Daw.There’s Aristotle, a mere commonplace fellow; Plato, a discourser; Thucydides and Livy, tedious and dry; Tacitus, an entire knot—sometimes worth the untying, very seldom.

    Cler.What do you think of the poets, Sir John?

    Daw.Not worthy to be named for authors. Homer, an old, tedious, prolix ass, talks of curriers and chines of beef; Virgil, of dunging of land, and bees; Horace, of I know not what.

    Cler.I think so.

    Daw.And so, Pindarus, Lycophron, Anacreon, Catullus, Seneca the tragedian, Lucian, Propertius, Tibullus, Martial, Juvenal, Ausonius, Statius, Politian, Valerius Flaccus, and the rest.

    Cler.What a sack full of their names he has got!

    Daup.And how he pours them out! Politian with Valerius Flaccus!

    Cler.Was not the character right of him?

    Daup.As could be made, i’ faith.

    Daw.And Persius, a crabbed coxcomb, not to be endured.

    Daup.Why, whom do you account for authors, Sir John Daw?

    Daw.Syntagma juris civilis; Corpus juris civilis; Corpus juris canonici; the King of Spain’s Bible——

    Daup.Is the King of Spain’s Bible an author?

    Cler.Yes, and Syntagma.

    Daup.What was that Syntagma, sir?

    Daw.A civil lawyer, a Spaniard.

    Daup.Sure, Corpus was a Dutchman.

    Cler.Aye, both the Corpuses; I knew ’em. They were very corpulent authors.

    Daw.And then there’s Vatablus, Pomponatius, Symancha. The other are not to be received, within the thought of a scholar.

    Daup.(aside).’Fore God, you have a simple learned servant, lady—in titles.

    Cler.I wonder that he is not called to the helm, and made a counsellor.

    Daup.He is one extraordinary.

    Cler.Nay, but in ordinary. To say truth, the state wants such.

    Daup.Why, that will follow.

    Cler.I muse a mistress can be so silent to the dotes of such a servant.

    Daw.’Tis her virtue, sir. I have written somewhat of her silence, too.

    Daup.In verse, Sir John?

    Cler.What else?

    Daup.Why, how can you justify your own being of a poet, that so slight all the old poets?

    Daw.Why, every man that writes in verse is not a poet. You have of the wits that write verses, and yet are no poets; they are poets that live by it, the poor fellows that live by it.

    Daup.Why, would not you live by your verses, Sir John?

    Cler.No, ’twere pity he should. A knight live by his verses! He did not make them to that end, I hope.

    Daup.And yet the noble Sidney lives by his, and the noble family not ashamed.

    Cler.Aye, he profest himself; but Sir John Daw has more caution; he’ll not hinder his own rising in the state so much. Do you think he will? Your verses, good Sir John, and no poems.


  • “Silence in woman is like speech in man;
  • Deny ’t who can.”
  • Daup.Not I, believe it. Your reason, sir?


  • “Nor is’t a tale,
  • That female vice should be a virtue male,
  • Or masculine vice a female virtue be.
  • You shall it see
  • Proved with increase;
  • I know to speak, and she to hold her peace.”
  • Do you conceive me, gentlemen?

    Daup.No, faith. How mean you with increase, Sir John?

    Daw.Why, with increase is, when I court her for the common cause of mankind, and she says nothing, but consents.

    Daup.Then this is a ballad of marriage?

    Cler.A madrigal of marriage—you mistake.