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On Bastards

John Lyly passes on the advice of Plutarch


Shakespeare's contemporary, John Lyly, gained considerable fame from his first work, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit; it is a prose romance of the life of a young man, and is filled with sententious and didactic passages debating the proper way to conduct life and love. This section is taken from the chapter "Euphues and his Ephoebus," which Lyly based on the opening section of Plutarch's popular work Moralia, De Educatione Puerorum (Of the Education of Children). Plutarch argues that a happy father must be a moral one, since the father's faults will be passed on to his son.

This extract has been modernized from the edition of Lyly's Works edited by R.W. Bond (1902), 1:261-2.

20From Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit

That the child should he true born, no bastard

First touching their procreation, it shall seem necessary to entreat of whosoever he be that desireth to be the sire of an happy son or the father of a fortunate child, let him abstain from those women which be either base of birth or bare of honesty. For if the mother be noted of incontinency or the father of vice the child will either, during life, be infected with the like crime, or the treacheries of his parents as ignominy to him will be cast in his teeth. For we commonly call those unhappy children which have sprung from unhonest parents. It is, therefore, a great treasure to the father and tranquillity to the mind of the child to have that liberty which both nature, law, and reason have set down.

The guilty conscience of a father that hath trodden awry causeth him to think and suspect that his father also went not right, whereby his own behavior is as it were a witness of his own baseness, even as those that come of a noble progeny boast of their gentry. Hereupon it came that Diophantus, Themistocles his son, would often, and that openly, say in a great multitude that whatsoever he should seem to request of the Athenians he should be sure also to obtain. "For," saith he, "whatsoever I will, that will my mother; and what my mother saith my father sootheth, and what my father desireth, that the Athenians will grant most willingly." The bold courage of the Lacedaemonians is to be praised, which set a fine on the head of Archidamus their king for that he had married a woman of a small personage, saying he minded to beget queens not kings to succeed him. Let us not omit that which our ancestors were wont precisely to keep, that men should either be sober or drink little wine that would have sober and discreet children, for that the fact of the father would be figured in the infant. Diogenes, therefore, seeing a young man either overcome with drink or bereaved of his wits, cried with a loud voice, "Youth, youth, thou hadst a drunken father!"