The History and Future of the Book

the 17th-century author

Ben Jonson
The Works of Ben Jonson (1616)

E  P  I  G  R  A  M  S .



PRAY thee, take care, that tak'st my book in hand,
     To read it well—that is, to understand.



It will be look'd for, BOOK, when some but see
Thy title, EPIGRAMS, and named of me,
Thou shouldst be bold, licentious, full of gall,
Wormwood, and sulphur, sharp, and tooth'd withal ;
Become a petulent thing, hurl ink, and wit,
As madmen stones ;  not caring whom they hit.
Deceive their malice, who could wish it so ;
And by thy wiser temper, let men know
Thou art not so covetous of least self-fame,
Made from the hazard of another's shame ;
Much less, with lewd, profane, and beastly phrase,
To catch the world's loose laughter, or vain gaze.
He that departs with his own honesty
For vulgar praise, doth it too dearly buy.



Thou that mak'st gain thy end, and wisely well,
Call'st a book good, or bad, as it doth sell,
Use mine so too ;  I give thee leave :  but crave,
For the luck's sake, it thus much favor have,
To lie upon thy stall, till it be sought ;
Not offer'd, as it made suit to be bought ;
Nor have my title-leaf on posts or walls,
Or in cleft-sticks, advanced to make calls
For termers, or some clerklike serving-man,
Who scarce can spell th' hard names ;  whose knight less can.
If, without these vile arts, it will not sell,
Send it to Buckler's-bury, there 'twill well.



How, best of kings, dost thou a sceptre bear !
How, best of poets, dost thou laurel wear !
But two things rare the Fates had in their store,
And gave thee both, to shew they could no more.
For such a poet, while thy days were green,
Thou wert, as chief of them are said t' have been.
And such a prince thou art, we daily see,
As chief of those still promise they will be.
Whom should my muse then fly to, but the best
Of kings, for grace ;  of poets, for my test ?