Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: John Lyly
Editor: David Bevington
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Euphues (A Selection)


Euphues [a selection]

by John Lyly

edited by David Bevington, 2008

1Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit

2Very pleasant for all gentlemen to read, and most necessary to remember.

3Wherein are contained the delights that wit followeth in his youth by the pleasantness of love and the happiness he reapeth by the perfectness of wisdom.

by John Lyly, Master of Art. Oxon.

4Imprinted at London for Gabriel Cawood, dwelling in Paul’s Churchyard.

[The following selection, from the beginning of Euphues, introduces the reader to the protagonist in Lyly’s Euphuistic style, soon to become famous and much imitated in the 1580s as result of the publication of this book.]

5There dwelt in Athens a young gentleman of great patrimony, and of so comely a personage that it was doubted whether he were more bound to Nature for the lineaments of his person or to Fortune for the increase of his possessions. But Nature, impatient of comparisons, and, as it were, disdaining a companion or copartner in her working, added to this comeliness of his body such a sharp capacity of mind that not only she proved Fortune counterfeit, but was half of that opinion that she herself was only current. This young gallant, of more wit than wealth, and yet of more wealth than wisdom, seeing himself inferior to none in pleasant conceits, thought himself superior to all in honest conditions, insomuch that he deemed himself so apt to all things that he gave himself almost to nothing but practicing of those things commonly which are incident to these sharp wits: fine phrases, smooth quipping, merry taunting, using jesting without mean, and abusing mirth without measure. As therefore the sweetest rose hath his prickle, the finest velvet his brack, the fairest flower his bran, so the sharpest wit hath his wanton will and the holiest head his wicked way. And true it is that some men write, and most men believe, that in all perfect shapes a blemish bringeth rather a liking every way to the eyes than a loathing any way to the mind. Venus had her mole in her cheek which made her more amiable, Helen her scar on her chin which Paris called cos amoris, the whetstone of love. Aristippus his wart, Lycurgus his wen: so likewise in the disposition of the mind, either virtue is overshadowed with some vice or vice overcast with some virtue. Alexander, valiant in war, yet given to wine; Tully, eloquent in his glozes yet vainglorious: Solomon wise, yet too wanton; David holy but yet an homicide: none more witty than Euphues, yet at the first none more wicked. The freshest colors soonest fade, the teenest razor soonest turneth his edge, the finest cloth is soonest eaten with moths, and the cambric sooner stained than the coarse canvas: which appeared well in this Euphues, whose wit, being like wax apt to receive any impression, and having the bridle in his own hands either to use the rein or the spur, disdaining counsel, leaving his country, loathing his old acquaintance, thought either by wit to obtain some conquest or by shame to abide some conflict, and, leaving the rule of reason, rashly ran unto destruction. Who, preferring fancy before friends and his present humor before honor to come, laid reason in water being too salt for his taste, and followed unbridled affection most pleasant for his tooth. When parents have more care how to leave their children wealthy than wise, and are more desirous to have them maintain the name than the nature of a gentleman; when they put gold into the hands of youth where they should put a rod under their girdle, when instead of awe they make them past grace and leave them rich executors of goods and poor executors of godliness, then it is no marvel that the son, being left rich by his father's will, become retchless by his own will.