SIR JOHN HARINGTON, “A Preface, or rather a briefe apologie of Poetrie, and of the Author and Translator of this Poeme” (1591)

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The third part of the Apology.

Now remains the third part of it, in which I promised to speak somewhat for myself, which part,  though it have most need of an Apology both large and substantial, yet I will run it over both shortly and slightly, because indeed the nature of the thing itself is such, that the more one doth say, the less he shall seem to say; and men are willinger to praise that in another man, which himself shall debase, than that which he shall seem to maintain. Certainly if I should confess or rather profess, that my verse is unartificial, the style rude, the phrase barbarous, the meter unpleasant, many more would believe it to be so than would imagine that I thought them so. For this same or self pleasing is so common a thing as the more a man protests himself to be from it, the more we will charge him with it. Wherefore let me take thus much upon me, that admit it have many of the forenamed imperfections, and many not named, yet as writing goes nowadays, it may pass among the rest; and as I have heard a friend of mine (one very judicious in the beauty of a woman) say of a Lady whom he meant to praise, that she had a low forehead, a great nose, a wide mouth, a long visage, and yet all these put together, she seemed to him a very well-favoured woman, so I hope, and I find already some of my partial friends, that what several imperfections so ever they find in this translation, yet taking all together they allow it, or at least wise they read it, which is a great argument of their liking.

Sir Thomas Moore, a man of great wisdom and learning, but yet a little inclined (as good wits are many times) to scoffing, when one had brought him a book of some shallow discourse, and pressed him very hard to have his opinion of it, advised the party to put it into verse. The plain meaning man in the best manner he could he did so, and a twelve-month after at the least, came with it to Sir Thomas, who slightly perusing it, gave it this encomium, that now there was rime[1] in it, but afore it had neither rime nor reason. If any man had meant to serve me so, yet I have prevented him; for sure I am he shall find rime in mine, and if he be not void of reason, he shall find reason to. Though for the matter, I can challenge no praise, having but borrowed it, and for the verse I do challenge none, being a thing that every body that never scarce baited their horse at the University take upon them to make. It is possible that if I would have employed that time that I have done upon this, upon some invention of mine own, I could have by this made it have risen to a just volume, and if I would have done as many spare not to do, flown very high with stolen feathers. But I had rather men should see and know that I borrow all, than that I steal any. And I would wish to be called rather one of the not worst translators, then one of the meaner makers. Specially since the Earle of Surrey, and Sir Thomas Wyatt, that are yet called the first refiners of the English tongue, were both translators out of Italian. Now for those that count it such a contemptible and trifling matter to translate, I will but say to them as M. Bartholomew Clarke an excellent learned man, and a right good translator, says in manner of a pretty challenge, in his Preface (as I remember) upon the Courtier, which book he translated out of Italian into Latin. You (says he) that think it such a toy, lay aside my book, and take my author in your hand, and try a leaf or such a matter, and compare it with mine. If I should say so, there would be enough that would quickly put me down perhaps; but doubtless he might boldly say it, for I think none could have mended him. But as our English proverb says, many talk of Robin Hood that never shot in his bow, and some correct Magnificat, that know not quid significat. For my part I will thank them that will amend any thing that I have done amiss, nor I have no such great conceit of that I have done, but that I think much in it is to be mended; and having dealt plainly with some of my plain dealing friends, to tell me frankly what they heard spoken of it (for indeed I suffered some part of the printed copies to go among my friends, and some more perhaps went against my will), I was told that these in effect were the faults were found with it.

Four faults found in this work.

Some grave men misliked that I should spend so much good time on such a trifling work as they deemed a Poem to be.  Some, more nicely, found fault with so many two syllable and three syllable rimes. Some (not undeservedly) reproved the fantasticalness of my notes, in which they say I have strained myself to make mention of some of my kindred and friends, that might very well be left out. And one fault more there is, which I will tell myself, though many would never find it, and that is: I have cut short some of his Cantos, in leaving out many staves of them, and sometimes put the matter of two or three staves into one. To these reproofs I shall pray you, gentle and noble Readers, with patience hear my defence,  and then I will end.

Answer to the first.

For the first reproof, either it is already excused, or it will never be excused; for I have, I think, sufficiently proved, both the art to be allowable, and this work to be commendable. Yet I will tell you an accident that happened unto myself. When I was entered a pretty way into the translation, about the seventh book, coming to write that where Melissa in the person of Rogero’s Tutor, comes and reproves Rogero in the fourth staff:

Was it for this, that I in youth thee fed
With marrow? etc. And again:
Is this a means, or ready way you trow,
That other worthy men have trod before,
A Caesar or a Scipio to grow? etc.

Straight I began to think, that my Tutor Samuel Fleming of King’s College in Cambridge, a grave and learned man, and one of a very austere life, might say to me in like sort: “Was it for this that I read Aristotle and Plato to you, and instructed you so carefully both in Greek and Latin? to have you now become a translator of Italian toys?” But while I thought thus, I was aware, that it was no toy that could put such an honest and serious consideration into my mind.

The second.

Now for them that find fault with polysyllable meter, methink they are like those that blame men for putting sugar in their wine, and chide too bad about it, and say they mar all, but yet end with God’s blessing on their hearts [2]. For indeed if I had known their diets, I could have saved some of my cost, at least some of my pain; for when a verse ended with civility, I could easier after the ancient manner of rime, have made see, or flee, or decree to answer it, leaving the accent upon the last syllable, than hunt after three-syllabled words to answer it with facility, gentility, tranquillity, hostility, scurrility, debility, agility, fragility, nobility, mobility, which who mislike, may taste lamp oil with their ears [3]. And as for two syllabled meters, they be so approved in other languages, that the French call them the feminine rime, as the sweeter: and the one syllable the masculine. But in a word to answer this, and to make them for ever hold their peaces of this point, Sir Philip Sidney not only uses them, but affects them: signify, dignify; shamed is, named is, blamed is; hide away, bide away. Though if my many blotted papers that I have made in this kind might afford me authority to give a rule of it, I would say that to part them with a one syllable meter between them would give it best grace. For as men use to sow with the hand and not with the whole sack, so I would have the ear fed, but not cloyed with these pleasing and sweet falling meters.

The third.

For the third reproof about the notes, sure they were a work (as I may so call it) of supererogation, and I would wish sometimes they had been left out, and the rather, if I be in such fair possibility to be thought a fool or fantastical for my labour. True it is, I added some notes to the end of every Canto, even as if some of my friends and myself reading it together (and so it fell out indeed many times) had after debated upon them, what had been most worthy consideration in them, and so oftimes immediately I set it down. And whereas I make mention here and there of some of mine own friends and kin, I did it the rather, because Plutarch in one place speaking of Homer, partly laments, and partly blames him, that writing so much as he did, yet in none of his works there was any mention made, or so much as inkling to be gathered of what stock he was, of what kindred, of what town, nor save for his language, of what country. Excuse me then if I in a work that may perhaps last longer then a better thing, and being not ashamed of my kindred, name them here and there to no man’s offence, though I meant not to make everybody so far of my counsel why I did it, till I was told that some person of some reckoning noted me of a little vanity for it – and thus much for that point.

The fourth.

For my omitting and abbreviating some things, either in matters impertinent to us, or in some too tedious flatteries of persons that we never heard of, if I have done ill, I crave pardon; for sure I did it for the best. But if any being studious of the Italian, would for his better understanding compare them, the first six books, save a little of the third , will stand him in steed. But yet I would not have any man except that I should observe his phrase so strictly as an interpreter, nor the matter so carefully, as if it had been a story, in which to vary were as great a sin as it were simplicity in this to go word for word [4]. But now to conclude, I shall pray you all that have troubled yourselves to read this my triple Apology, to accept my labours, and to excuse my errors, if with no other thing, at least with the name of youth (which commonly hath need of excuses) and so presuming this pardon to be granted, we shall part good friends. Only let me entreat you in reading the book ensuing, not to do me that injury, that a Potter did to Ariosto.

[1] Rime=rhyme

[2] Dent G266 « God’s blessing on your heart (for it). »

[3] Cf Ben Jonson Every Man out of his Humour; If you make no difference    Betwixt the scent of growing flowers and cut ones,    You have a sense to taste lamp oil, i’faith:, act II, scène 2, 122-4. In her forrnote, Helen Ostovich suggests « insensitivity ». Cf Dent, R.W., Proverbial Language in English Drama, Exclusive of Shakespeare, 1495-1616, an Index, Berkeley, 1984. : « ‘It smells of the candle (lamp, oil)’, suggesting too much plodding study to acquire understanding, and too little practical expérience ».

[4] Voir Morini5-6

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