A monologue from Act II, Scene v

by: Ben Jonson

NOTE: Every Man in His Humor was entered in the Stationers' Register on August 4, 1600. It is now a public domain work and may be performed without royalties.

KNOWELL: I cannot lose the thought yet of this letter
Sent to my son; nor leave t' admire the change
Of manners and the breeding of our youth
Within the kingdom, since myself was one.
When I was young, he lived not in the stews
Durst have conceived a scorn and uttered it
On a gray head; age was authority
Against a buffon [1], and a man had then
A certain reverence paid unto his years,
That had none due unto his life. So much
The sanctity of some prevailed for others.
But now we all are fall'n, youth from their fear,
And age from that which bred it, good example.
Nay, would ourselves were not the first even parents
That did destroy the hopes in our own children,
Or they not learned our vices in their cradles,
And sucked in our ill customs with their milk!
Ere all their teeth be born, or they can speak,
We make their palates cunning; the first words
We form their tongues with are licentious jests!
Can it call "whore"? Cry "bastard"? O, then kiss it!
A witty child! Can't swear? The father's a dearling! [2]
Give it two plums. Nay, rather than 't shall learn
No bawdy song, the mother herself will teach it!
But this is in the infancy, the days
Of the long coat; when it puts on the breeches,
It will put off all this. Ay, it is like,
When it is gone into the bone already!
No, no; this dye goes deeper than the coat,
Or shirt, or skin; it stains unto the liver [3]
And heart [4] in some. And, rather than it should not,
Note what we fathers do! Look how we live,
What mistresses we keep, at what expense!
In our sons' eyes, where they may handle our gifts,
Hear our lascivious courtships, see our dalliance,
Taste of the same provoking meats with us,
To ruin our states! Nay, when our own
Portion [5] is fled, to prey on their remainder [5],
We call them into fellowship of vice;
Bait them with the young chambermaid to seal,
And teach them all bad ways to buy affiction [6].
This is one path; but there are millions more,
In which we spoil our own with leading them.
Well, I thank heaven, I never yet was he
That traveled with my son, before sixteen,
To show him the Venetian courtesans;
Nor read the grammar of cheating I had made,
To my sharp boy, at twelve, repeating still
The rule, "Get money;" still, "Get money, boy,
No matter by what means; money will do
More, boy, than my lord's letter." Neither have I
Dressed snails or mushrooms curiously before him,
Perfumed my sauces, and taught him to make hem;
Preceding still, with my gray gluttony,
At all the ordinaries, and only feared
His palate should degenerate, not his manners.
These are the trade of fathers now; however,
My son, I hope, hath met within my threshold
None of these household precedents, which are strong
And swift to rape youth to their precipice [7].
But let the house at home be ne'er so clean-
Swept, or kept sweet from filth, nay, dust and cobwebs,
If he will live abroad with his companions
In dung and leystalls [8], it is worth a fear;
Nor is the danger of conversing less
Than all that I have mentioned of example.

1 Buffoon.

2 Darling.

3 Seat of the passions.

4 Seat of knowledge.

5 Inheritance

6 Affliction, from Lat. afficio.

7 Carry youth off to their downfall.

8 Laystalls, rubbish heaps.

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