A monologue from the play by Ben Jonson
NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from Every Man in His Humour (1598).
KNOWELL: 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 buffoon; 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 darling!
Give it two plums. Nay, rather than’t shall learn
No bawdy song, the mother herself will teach it!
But this 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
And heart, 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 of our states! Nay, when our own
Portion is fled, to prey on their remainder,
We call them into fellowship of vice!
Bait ’em with the young chambermaid, to seal!
And teach ’em all bad ways to buy affliction.
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 travelled 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 ’em;
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.
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 leystals, it is worth a fear;
Nor is the danger of converting less
Than all that I have mentioned of example.