Mr. Francis Beaumont's Letter to Ben Jonson

Francis Beaumont 1584 (Grace-Dieu) – 1616 (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 hay-maker (forgive me this,
It is our country style); in this warm shine
I lie, and dream of your full Mermaid wine.
Oh, we have water mixed with claret-lees,
Drink apt to bring in drier heresies
Than beer, good only for the sonnet 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 marred Homer's Iliads ;
'Tis liquor that will find out Sutcliffe's wit,
Lie where it will, and make him write worse yet.
Filled with such moisture, in a grievous qualm,
Did Robert Wisdom write his singing psalm ;
And so must I do this, and yet I think
It is a 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 med'cine to obey our magistrates.
For we do live more free than you ; no hate,
No envy of another's happy state
Moves us, we are all 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 wink, and then lament the blow,
Who, like mills set the right way to grind,
Can make their gains alike with every wind.
Only some fellow 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 everyone 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 has 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, which was alone
Able to make the two next companies
Right witty, though they were downright cockneys.
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 ballading are 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 fast 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 and 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 evermore
Banished unto this home ; 'twill once again
Bring me to thee, who wilt make smooth and plain
The way of knowledge for me, and then I
Who have no good in me but simplicity,
Know that it will my greatest comfort be
To acknowledge all the rest to come from thee.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Francis Beaumont

Francis Beaumont, judge, was the eldest son of John Beaumont, sometime master of the rolls, by his second wife Elizabeth, daughter of William Hastings. more…

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