Voices of Earlier English: John Donne Hates Lawyers

One of the earliest attestations in English of the word "dildo." In making my recording, I imagined Donne having modified his accent consciously to try and imitate the speech of others, thus e.g. varying between /ɛ:/ and /æ:/ for words like name.

A Satire
By John Donne

Sir, though (I thanke God for it) I do hate
Perfectly all this towne, yet there’s one state
In all ill things so excellently best
That hate towards them breeds pity towards the rest.
Though poetrie indeed be such a sinne,
As I thinke, that brings dearths and Spaniards in;
Though, like the pestilence or old-fashioned love,
It ridlingly catch men, and doth remove
Never till it be sterv'd out; yet their state
Is poore, disarm'd, like papists, not worth hate.
One (like a wretch which at barre judged as dead
Yet prompts him which stands next and could not reade,
And saves his life) gives ideot actors meanes
(Starving himselfe) to live by'is labored sceanes,
As in some organs puppits dance above
And bellows pant below which them do move;
One would move love by rimes, but witchcraft’s charms
Bring not now their old feares, nor their old harmes:
Rammes and slings now are seely battery,
Pistolets are the best artillerie;
And they who write to lords rewards to get—
Are they not like boys singing at doores for meat?
And they who write because all write have still
That excuse for writing, and for writing ill;
But hee is worst who, beggarly, doth chaw
Others’ wits’ fruits, and in his ravenous maw
Rawly digested doth those things outspue
As his owne things; and they’re his owne, ’tis true,
For if one eate my meate, though it be knowne
The meate was mine, the excrement’s his owne.
But these do mee no harme, nor they which use
To out-swive dildoes, and out-usure Jewes;
To'out-drink the sea, out-sweare the Litanie;
Who with sinnes’ all kindes as familiar bee
As confessors, and for whose sinfull sake
Schoolemen new tenements in Hell must make;
Whose strange sinnes canonists could hardly tell
In which Commandment’s large receit they dwell.
But these punish themselves: the insolence
Of Coscus onely breeds my great offence,
Whom time (which rots all, and makes botches poxe,
And plodding on must make a calfe an ox)
Hath made a lawyer, which was (alas) of late
But a scarce poet. Jollier of this state
Than e'er new-benefic'd ministers, he throwes
Like nets or lime-twigs, wheresoe’er he goes,
His title'of barrister on every wench,
And wooes in language of the Pleas and Bench:
‘A motion, lady.’ ‘Speak, Coscus.’ ‘I’ve beene
In love e’er since tricesimo'of the Queene.
Continuall claimes I have made, injunctions got
To stay my rival’s suit, that hee should not
Proceed.’ ‘Spare mee!’ ‘In Hillary Terme I went;
You said if I returned this ’Size in Lent,
I should be in remitter of your grace;
In the interim my letters should take place
Of affidavits.’ Words, words, which would teare
The tender labyrinth of a soft maid’s eare:
More, more, than ten Slavonians scolding; more
Than when winds in our ruin'd abbeyes rore.
When sick of poetry and possessed with Muse
Thou wast, and mad, I hop'd; but men which chuse
Law-practice for meere gaine, bold soule, repute
Worse than embrothel'd strumpets prostitute.
Now, like an owlelike watchman, hee must walke,
His hand still at a bill; now he must talke
Idly, like prisoners which whole months will sweare
That only suretiship hath brought them there;
And to every suitor lye in everything
Like a king’s favorite—yea, like a king;
Like a wedge in a blocke, wring to the barre,
Bearing like asses; and, more shameless farre
Than carted whores, lye to the grave judge; for
Bastardy abounds not in kings’ titles, nor
Simonie and sodomy in churchmen’s lives,
As these things do in him: by these he thrives.
Shortly (as the sea) hee will compasse all our land
From Scots to Wight, from Mount to Dover strand;
And spying heires melting with gluttonie,
Satan will not joy at their sinnes as hee:
For, as a thrifty wench scrapes kitchen-stuffe,
And barrelling the droppings, and the snuffe
Of wasting candles, which in thirty yeare
(Relique-like kept) perchance buyes wedding geare;
Peecemeale he gets lands, and spends as much time
Wringing each acre as men pulling prime.
In parchments then, large as his fields, hee drawes
Assurances, bigge as gloss'd civill lawes,
So huge that men (in our time’s forwardnesse)
Are Fathers of the Church for writing lesse.
These hee writes not; nor for these written payes,
Therefore spares no length; as in those first dayes
When Luther was profest he did desire
Short Pater nosters, saying as a fryer
Each day his beads, but, having left those lawes,
Adds to Christ’s prayer the ‘power and glory’ clause.
But when he sells or changes lands, he impairs
His writings, and (unwatcht) leaves out ‘ses heirs’,
As slyly as any commenter goes by
Hard words or sense; or in divinity
As controverters in vouch'd texts leave out
Shrewd words which might against them cleare the doubt.
Where are those spread woods which cloth'd heretofore
These bought lands? Not built, nor burnt within doore.
Where the old landlord’s troops and almes? In great hals
Carthusian fasts and fulsome Bacchanalls
Equally I hate: meanes blesse; in rich men’s homes
I bid kill some beasts, but not hecatombs.
None starve, none surfet so. But, oh, we allow
Good workes as good but out of fashion now,
Like old, rich wardrobes. But my words none drawes
Within the vast reach of the huge statute-lawes.

1 comment:

  1. What an intriguing experience to read (for me, for the first time) this interesting poem while listening to (it seems) John Donne himself telling us what's what. Deeply appreciate the care and precision you put into this.