The Purchase of Poets, or, a Dialogue betwixt the Poets and Fame, and Homer’s Marriage

A company of poets strove to buy
Parnassus Hill, upon which Fame1 doth lie,
And Helicon, a well that runs below,
Of which all2 those that drink straight3 poets grow.
But money they had none (for poets all are poor),4                  5
And fancy, which is wit, is all their store.
Thinking which way this purchase they might make,5
They all agreed they would some counsel take.6
Knowing that Fame was owner7 to the well,
And that she always on the hill did dwell,                                   10
They did conclude to tell her their desire,
That they might8 know what price she did require.
Then up the hill they got, the9 journey long;
Some nimbler feet10 had,11 and their breath12 more strong,
Which made them get before by going fast,                                15
But all did meet upon the hill at last.
And when she heard them all what they could say,
She asked them where their money was to pay.13
They told her money they had none to give,
But they had wit, by which they all did live,                              20
And though they knew sometimes she bribes would take,
Yet wit in Honor’s court did14 greatness make.
Said she, “This Hill I’ll neither sell nor give,
But they that have most wit shall with me live.
Then go you down, and get what friends you can                     25
That will be bound or plead for every man.”
Straight15 every poet was ’twixt hope and doubt,
And envy strove16 to put each other out.

Homer, the first of poets, did begin,
Brought Greece and Troy for to be bound for him.17               30
Virgil brought18 Aeneas, he all Rome,
For Horace all the countrymen did come.19
For Juv’nal and Catull’20 all satyrs joined,
And in firm bonds they all themselves did bind.
And for Tibullus, Venus and her son21                                         35
Would needs be bound,22 ’cause wanton verse he sung.23
Pythagoras his transmigration brings
Ovid, who seals the24 bond with several things.
Lucan brought Pompey, th’Senate25 all in arms,
And Caesar’s army with their26 hot alarms,                               40
Who mustered all i’th’Parthian fields; their hand27
And seal did freely set to Lucan’s band.28
Poets which epitaphs o’th’29 dead had made,
Their ghosts did rise, fair Fame for to30 persuade
To take their bonds, that they might live—though dead—     45
To after ages when their names were read.
The Muses nine came all at31 bar to plead,
Which32 partial were, according as th’were feed.33
At last all poets were cast out but three,
Who did dispute which should Fame’s34 husband be.             50
Pythagoras for Ovid first did speak,35
And said his36 numbers smooth, and words were sweet.
“Variety,” said he, “doth ladies please;37
They38 change as oft as he makes beasts, birds, trees,
As many several shapes and forms they take;                            55
Some goddesses, and some do devils make.
Then let fair Fame sweet Ovid’s lady be;
Since change doth please that sex, none’s fit but he.”
Then spoke Aeneas on brave Virgil’s side,
Declared he was the glory and the pride                                     60
Of all the Romans, who from him did spring,
And whose high praise he in his verse39 did sing.
“Then let him speed, even for Venus’s40 sake,
And for your husband no other may you41 take.”
Then wise Ulysses42 in a rhet’ric43 style                                      65
Began his speech—his44 tongue was smooth as oil—
Bowing his head down low,45 to Fame did speak:
“I come to plead, although my wit is weak.
But since my cause is just and truth my guide,
The way is plain; I shall not err aside.                                        70
Homer’s lofty verse doth reach the heavens high,46
And brings the gods down from the airy sky,
And makes them side in factions for mankind,
As47 now for Troy, then Greece, as pleased his mind.
So48 walks he down to the49 infernals deep,                              75
And wakes the furies out of their dead sleep.
With fancy’s candle50 seeks about51 all Hell,
Where every place and corner he knows well.
Opening the gates where sleepy dreams do lie,
Walking into th’Elysium52 fields hard by,                                  80
There tells you how lovers53 their time employ,
And how54 pure souls in one another joy.
As painters shadows make by55 mixing colors,
So souls do56 mix of Platonic lovers,
Shows how heroic spirits there do play                                     85
Th’57Olympic games to pass the time away,
As how they run, leap, wrestle, swim, and ride,58
With exercises many oth’r59 beside.
What poet, ever did before him60 tell
The names of all the gods, and devils in Hell?61                      90
Their mansions and their pleasures he describes,
Their powers and authorities divides.
Their chronologies, which were before all62 time,
And their adulteries, he puts in rhyme.
Besides, great Fame, thy court he hath filled full                     95
Of brave reports, which else63 an empty skull
It64 would appear, and not like Heaven’s throne,
Nor like the firmament with stars thick strown,
Makes Hell appear with a majestic face,
Because there are so many in that place.                                  100
Fame never could so great a queen have been
If wits invention had not arts brought65 in.
Your court by poets’ fire is66 made light;
Quenched out, you67 dwell as in perpetual night.
It heats the spirits of men, inflames68 their blood,                   105
And makes them seek for actions great and good.
Then be you just, since you the balance hold;
Let not the leaden weights weigh down the gold.
It were injustice, Fame, for you to make
A servant low his master’s place to take.69                                 110
Or should you thieves that pick the purse70 prefer
Before the owner, when71 condemned they were?
His are not servant-lines,72 but what he leaves
Thieves steal,73 and with the same74 the world deceives.
If so, great Fame, ’twill be a heinous fact75                                115
To worship you, if you from right detract.76
Then let the best of poets find such grace
In your fair eyes, to choose him first in place.
Let all the rest come offer at thy77 shrine,
And show thyself78 a goddess that’s divine.”                             120
“Then79 at your word, I’ll80 Homer take,” said Fame,
And if he prove81 not good, be you to blame.”
Ulysses bowed, and Homer kissed her hands,
And they were82 joined in matrimonial bands.
And Mercury from all the gods was sent                                   125
To give her joy and wish her much content,
And all the poets were invited round,
All that were known or in the world were83 found.
Then did they dance with measure and in time;84
Each in their turn took out the Muses nine.85                          130
In numbers smooth did run their nimble feet86
Whilst music played, and songs were sung most sweet.87
At last the88 bride and bridegroom went to bed,
And there did89 Homer get90 Fame’s maidenhead.

  1. upon which Fame] where Fame thereon 1653
  2. Of which all] Which 1653
  3. straight] thereof, strait 1653
  4. (for poets all are poor),] for they’re all poor, 1664; for they’re all poor: 1668
  5. might make,] should get, 1653
  6. They all agreed they would some counsel take.] They did agree in Councell all to sit: 1653
  7. owner] Honour 1653
  8. That they might] And for to 1653
  9. the] a 1664, 1668
  10. A marginal note reads “numbers.”
  11. nimbler feet had,] had nimbler feet had, 1664. The 1664 Errata list indicates that one of these duplicate hads, presumably the first one, should be deleted.
  12. their breath] a breath 1664, 1668. A marginal note reads, “fancy.”
  13. pay.] pay? 1664, 1668
  14. did] doth 1653
  15. Straight] Then 1664, 1668
  16. strove] strong 1653
  17. Brought Greece and Troy for to be bound for him.] For him was Greece and Troy bound; then came in 1664; For Him was Greece and Troy bound. Then came in 1668
  18. brought] who brought 1664, 1668
  19. did come.] came soon. 1653
  20. For Juv’nal and Catull’] Juvenall, Catullus, 1653
  21. And for Tibullus, Venus and her son] Tibullus Venus and her Son did bring 1664; Tibullus, Venus and her Son did bring 1668
  22. Would needs be bound,] For him, 1664, 1668
  23. verse he sung.] verses he did Sing. 1664; Verses he did sing. 1668
  24. Ovid, who seals the] For Ovid, sealing’s 1664, 1668
  25. th’Senate] Senate 1653
  26. their] his 1664, 1668
  27. Who mustered all i’th’Parthian fields; their hand] Mustring them all in the Emathian Feilds, 1653
  28. And seal did freely set to Lucan’s band.] To Fames Bond to set their bands, and Seales. 1653
  29. o’th’] on the 1653
  30. fair Fame for to] & would fair Fame 1664; and would fair Fame 1668
  31. all at] at the 1664, 1668
  32. Which] But 1664, 1668
  33. i.e., The Muses were biased, according as they were paid or bribed.
  34. Who did dispute which should Fame’s] Where Fame disputed long, which should her 1653
  35. first did speak,] thought it meet 1664, 1668
  36. And said his] To speak, whose 1664, 1668
  37. “Variety,” said he, “doth ladies please;] Ladies, said He, are for varieties, 1664; Ladies (said he) are for Varieties, 1668
  38. They] And 1664, 1668
  39. whose high praise he in his verse] in his Verse his praises high 1653
  40. Venus’s] faire Venus 1653; Venus 1664, 1668
  41. And for your husband no other may you] Let him your Husband be, none other 1664, 1668
  42. Then wise Ulysses] Wise Ulisses 1653
  43. a rhet’ric] an Orators 1653; a Rhetorick 1668
  44. his] whose 1653
  45. Bowing his head down low,] He bow’d his head, and thus 1664; He bow’d his Head, and thus 1668
  46. Homer’s lofty verse doth reach the heavens high,] Homer his lofty strain to heav’n flyes high, 1664; Homer, his lofty strain to Heav’n flyes high, 1668
  47. As] He’s 1664, 1668
  48. So] Then 1664, 1668
  49. to the] into 1653
  50. candle] Candles 1653
  51. about] above 1653
  52. th’Elysium] the Elysium 1653
  53. There tells you how lovers] Tells you how Lovers there 1664; Tells you how Lovers there, 1668
  54. how] that 1653
  55. make by] make, 1653
  56. souls do] do the Souls 1664; do the Souls 1668
  57. Th’] At the 1653
  58. how they run, leap, wrestle, swim, and ride,] Wrestling, Running, Leaping, Swimming, Ride, 1653
  59. With exercises many oth’r] And many other Exercises 1653; With many other Exercises 1664
  60. ever did before him] before him, did ever 1653
  61. The names of all the gods, and devils in Hell?] The Gods in Heav’n, and Devils names in Hell? 1664; The Gods in Heav’n, and Devils Names in Hell: 1668
  62. which were before all] elder much than 1664, 1668
  63. else] as 1664, 1668
  64. It] Else 1664, 1668
  65. arts brought] brought Arts 1653
  66. is] is now 1664, 1668
  67. Quenched out, you] Which quench’d, you’ld 1664, 1668
  68. the spirits of men, inflames] men’s Spirits, and inflames 1664; mens Spirits, and inflames 1668
  69. A marginal note reads, “Because all poets imitate Homer.”
  70. should you thieves that pick the purse] Theeves, that pick the Purse, you should 1653; you should Thieves, that pick the Purse, 1664
  71. when] since 1653
  72. servant-lines,] Servants Lines; 1653
  73. A marginal note in 1653 reads, “The theft of poets.” This note does not exist in 1664 or 1668.
  74. Thieves steal, and with the same] Each from him Steals, and so 1664; Each from him steals, and so 1668
  75. ’twill be a heinous fact] the World will never care 1653
  76. if you from right detract.] unlesse you right preferre. 1653
  77. thy] your 1664, 1668
  78. thyself] your Self 1664; your self 1668
  79. Then] I, 1653
  80. I’ll] will 1653
  81. prove] proves 1653
  82. And they were] Then were they 1653
  83. were] but 1664
  84. Then did they dance with measure and in time;] In measure and in time they Danc’d about, 1664; In Measure, and in Time, they danc’d about; 1668
  85. took out the Muses nine.] the Muses nine took out; 1664; the Muses Nine took out: 1668
  86. did run their nimble feet] their Feet did run, 1653
  87. sung most sweet.] sung. 1653
  88. At last the] The 1653
  89. And there did] There 1653
  90. get] got 1653