Ajax - THE ANSWER TO THE LETTER.

THE ANSWER TO THE LETTER.

      MY good cousin, if you have heard so well of my poor house with the appurtenances, it were to be wished for preservation of your better conceit thereof, that you would not see them at all, they will seem to you so far short of the report; for I do compare my buildings and my writings together; in which, though the common sort think there is some worth and wit, yet the graver censors do find many faults and follies: and no marvel; for he that builds and hath gathered little, and writes and hath read little, must needs be a bad builder and a worse writer. But whereas you are disposed, either in the way of praise or of play, to extol so much the basest room of my house, as though you preferred it afore the best, your commendation is not much unlike his courtesy, that being invited by a crabbed favoured host to a neat house, did spit in his host's face, because it was the foulest part of the house. But such as I have you shall be welcome to; and if I may know when you will begin your progress, I will pray my brother to be your guide; who will direct your jests in such sort, as first, you shall come by a fine house that lacks a mistress; then to a fair house that mourns for a master; from whence, by a straight way called the Force-way, you shall come to a town that is more than a town, where be the waters that be more than waters. But from thence you shall pass down a stream that seems to be no stream, by corn fields that seem no fields, down a street no street, in at a gate no gate, over a bridge no bridge, into a court no court, where if I be not at home, you shall find perhaps a fool no fool.

            But whereas you praise my husbandry, you make me remember an old schoolfellow of mine in Cambridge, that having lost five shillings abroad at cards, would boast he had saved two candles at home by being out of his chamber; for such be most of my savings. Yet this one point of husbandry, though it may well be called beggarly, yet it is not for all that contemptible, and thus it was: Finding a fair and flat field, though very stony, as all this country is, I made some vagrant beggars (of which by neighbourhood of the baths here comes great store) to gather all the stones that might break our harrows; and finding an easy mean to water the ground with a fat water, I have bettered my ground (as you say) and quite rid me of my wandering guests; who will rather walk seven mile about, than come where they shall be forced to work one half hour.

            Now, sir, to come to the chief point of your desire, which requires a more ample answer, but for a preamble you must be content with this. You tell me, belike to encourage me, that my invention may be beneficial, not only to my private friend, but to towns and cities, yea, even to her majesty's service for some of her houses: trust me, I do believe you write seriously as you term it herein; and for my part I am so wholly addicted to her highness' service, as I would be glad, yea, even proud, if the highest strain of my wit could but reach to any note of true harmony in the full concert of her majesty's service, though it were in the basest key that it could be tuned to. And if I should fortune to effect so good a reformation in the palace of Richmond or Greenwich (to which palace many of us owe service for the tenure of our land), I doubt not but some pleasant witted courtier of either sex, would grace me so much at least, as to say that I were worthy for my rare invention to be made one of the privy (and after a good long parenthesis, come out with) chamber; or if they be learned and have read Castiglio's Courtier they will say, I am a proper scholar, and well seen in Latrina lingua.<1> But let him mock that list; qui moccat moccabitur:<2>

Who strike with sword, the scabbard them may strike;
And sure love craveth love, like asketh like.

            If men of judgment think it may breed a public benefit, the conceit thereof shall expel all private bashfulness; and I will herein follow the example of that noble lady, that to save the liberties of Coventry rode naked at noon through the streets thereof, and is now thought to be greatly honoured and nothing shamed thereby.<3>

            Further, whereas you embolden my pen not to be abashed at the baseness of the subject, and as it were leading me on the way, you tell me you have broken the ice for me, to enter me into such broad phrases as you think must be frequent herein; I will follow your steps and your counsel, neither will I disdain to use the poor help of save-reverence, if need be, much like as a good friend of yours and mine, that beginning to dispraise as honest a man as himself to a great nobleman, said, he is the veriest knave, saving your lordship: but the nobleman (ere the words were fully out of his mouth) said, save thyself, knave, and be hanged; save not me. Even so I must write in this discourse; sometime indeed as homely (saving your worship) as you shall lightly see; and yet I will endeavour to keep me within the bounds of modesty, and use no words but such as grave precedents in divinity, law, physic, or good civility, will sufficiently warrant me.

            Sure I am that many other countrymen, both Dutch, French, and Italians, with great praise of wit, though small of modesty, have written of worse matters. One writes in praise of folly; another in honour of the pox; a third defends usury; a fourth commends Nero; a fifth extols and instructs bawdery; the sixth displays and describes Puttana Errante,<4> which I hear will come forth shortly in English; a seventh (whom I would guess by his writing to be groom of the stole to some prince of the blood of France) writes a beastly treatise only to examine what is the fittest thing to wipe withal; alleging that white paper is too smooth, brown paper too rough, woollen cloth too stiff, linen cloth too hollow, satin too slippery, taffeta too thin, velvet too thick, or perhaps too costly; but he concludes, that a gooseneck, to be drawn between the legs against the feathers, is the most delicate and cleanly that may be.<5> Now it is possible that I may be reckoned after these seven, as sapientum octavus,<6> because I will write of a Jakes; yet I will challenge of right (if the herald should appoint us our places) to go before this filthy fellow; for as, according to Aristotle, a rider is an architectonical science to a saddler, and saddler to a stirrup-maker, &c. so my discourse must needs be architectonical to his, since I treat of the house itself, and he but of part of that is to be done in the house, and that no essential part of the business:<7> for they say there be three things that if one neglect to do them they will do themselves; one is for a man to make even his reckonings; for whoso neglects it will be left even just nothing: another is to marry his daughters; for if the parents bestow them not, they will bestow themselves: the third is that which the foresaid Frenchman writes of; which they that omit, their laundresses shall find it done in their linen. Which mishap a fair lady once having, a serving man of the disposition of Midas' Barber, that could not keep counsel, had spied it, and wrote in the grossest terms it could be expressed upon a wall what he had seen; but a certain, pleasant, conceited gentleman corrected the barbarism, adding rhyme to the reason in this sort;

My lady hath polluted her lineal vesture,
With the superfluity of her corporal disgesture."

            But soft, I fear I give you too great a taste of my slovenly eloquence in this sluttish argument. Wherefore to conclude, I dare undertake, that though my discourse will not be so wise as the first of those seven I spake of, that praises folly; yet it shall be civiller than the second, truer than the third, honester than the fourth, chaster than the fifth, modester than the sixth, and cleanlier than the seventh. And that you and other my good friends may take the less offence at it, I will clothe it (like an ape in purple) that it may be admitted into the better company; and if all the art I have cannot make it mannerly enough, the worst punishment it can have, is but to employ it in the house it shall treat of;  only craving but that favour, that a nobleman was wont to request of your good father-in-law, to tear out my name before it be so employed; and to him that would deny me that kindness, I would the paper were nettles, and the letters needles for his better ease; or that it were like to the friars book, dedicated as I take it to Pius Quintus; of which one writes merrily, that his holiness finding it was good for nothing else, employed it (instead of the goose neck) to a homely occupation; and forsooth the phrase was so rude, the style so rugged, and the Latin so barbarous, that therewith as he writes scortigavit sedem apostolicam; He galled the seat apostolic: and so I commend me to you, till I send you the whole discourse.
Your loving cousin and true friend,
Μισακμος [Misacmos]<8>

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