George Chapman

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Man is a torch borne in the wind; a dream
But of a shadow, summed with all his substance.

George Chapman (c. 1559May 12, 1634) was an English dramatist, translator and poet.


  • Poetry, unlike oratory, should not aim at clarity... but be dense with meaning, 'something to be chewed and digested'...
    • Preface to Ovid's Banquet of Sense (1595)
  • Obscuritie in affection of words, & indigested concets, is pedanticall and childish...
    • Preface to Ovid's Banquet of Sense (1595)
  • Use makes things nothing huge, and huge things nothing.
    • Ovid's Banquet of Sense (1595), line 718.
  • None ever loved but at first sight they loved.
    • The Blind Beggar of Alexandria (1596); reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
    • Compare: "Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?" Christopher Marlowe, Hero and Leander (1598).
  • Love is a golden bubble, full of dreams,
    That waking breaks, and fills us with extremes.
    • Hero and Leander: a poem (1600), begun by Christopher Marlowe, and finished by George Chapman. Sestiad III.
  • For your behaviour, let it be free and negligent, not clogged with ceremony or observance; give no man honour, but upon equal terms; for look how much thou giv'st any man above that, so much thou tak'st from thyself.
  • And for the authentical truth of either person or actions, who (worth the respecting) will expect it in a poem, whose subject is not truth, but things like truth? Poor envious souls they are that cavil at truth's want in these natural fictions; material instruction, elegant and sententious excitation to virtue, and deflection from her contrary, being the soul, limbs, and limits of an authentical tragedy.
  • He that to nought aspires, doth nothing need;
    Who breaks no law is subject to no king.
    • The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois (1613), Act IV, scene i.
  • Danger (the spur of all great minds) is ever
    The curb to your tame spirits.
    • The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois (1613), Act V, scene i.
  • Then forth he came, his both knees falt'ring, both
    His strong hands hanging down, and all with froth
    His cheeks and nostrils flowing, voice and breath
    Spent to all use, and down he sunk to death.
    The sea had soaked his heart through; all his veins
    His toils had rack'd t'a labouring woman's pains.
    Dead weary was he.
    • Homer's Odysses (1614), Book V, line 608; shipwrecked Odysseus washes up on Scheria.
  • Nor could the foole abstaine,
    But drunke as often.
    • Homer's Odysses (1614), Book IX, line 496
  • An ill weed grows apace.
    • An Humorous Day's Mirth; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Black is a pearl in a woman's eye.
    • An Humorous Day's Mirth; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Virtue is not malicious; wrong done her
    Is righted even when men grant they err.
    • Monsieur D'Olive, Act I, scene i; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • For one heat, all know, doth drive out another,
    One passion doth expel another still.
    • Monsieur D'Olive, Act V, scene i; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Let no man value at a little price
    A virtuous woman's counsel; her wing'd spirit
    Is feather'd oftentimes with heavenly words.
    • The Gentleman Usher, Act IV, scene i; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • As night the life-inclining stars best shows,
    So lives obscure the starriest souls disclose.
    • Epilogue to Translations; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Promise is most given when the least is said.
    • Musæus of Hero and Leander; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Great goddess, to whose throne in Cynthian fires,
    This earthly altar endless fumes expires;
    Therefore, in fumes of sighs and fires of grief,
    To fearful chances thou send'st bold relief,
    Happy, thrice happy type, and nurse of death,
    Who, breathless, feeds on nothing but our breath,
    In whom must virtue and her issue live,
    Or die for ever.
    • Hymnus in noctem, line 1
  • Music, and mood, she loves, but love she hates
    (As curious ladies do, their public cates),
    This train, with meteors, comets, lightenings,
    The dreadful presence of our empress sings:
    Which grant for ever (O eternal Night)
    Till virtue flourish in the light of light.
    • Hymnus in noctem, line 398

All Fools (1605)

  • Exceeding fair she was not; and yet fair
    In that she never studied to be fairer
    Than Nature made her; beauty cost her nothing,
    Her virtues were so rare.
    • Act I, scene i.
  • I tell thee Love is Nature's second sun,
    Causing a spring of virtues where he shines.
    • Act I, scene i.
  • Cornelia. What flowers are these?
    Gazetta. The pansy this.
    Cor. Oh, that's for lover's thoughts.
    • Act II, scene i.
  • How blinde is pride! what eagles we are still
    In matters that belong to other men,
    What beetles in our own!
    • Act IV, scene i.
  • Fortune, the great commandress of the world,
    Hath divers ways to advance her followers:
    To some she gives honour without deserving,
    To other some, deserving without honour.
    • Act V, scene i.
  • Young men think old men are fools; but old men know young men are fools.
    • Act V, scene i.
  • Keep thy shop, and thy shop will keep thee. Light gains make heavy purses. 'Tis good to be merry and wise.
    • Act I, scene i.
  • Make ducks and drakes with shillings.
    • Act I, scene i.
  • Only a few industrious Scots perhaps, who indeed are dispersed over the face of the whole earth. But as for them, there are no greater friends to Englishmen and England, when they are out on 't, in the world, than they are. And for my own part, I would a hundred thousand of them were there [Virginia]; for we are all one countrymen now, ye know, and we should find ten times more comfort of them there than we do here.
    • Act III, scene ii.
  • Enough 's as good as a feast.
    • Act III, scene ii.
  • Fair words never hurt the tongue.
    • Act IV, scene i.
  • Let pride go afore, shame will follow after.
    • Act IV, scene i.
  • I will neither yield to the song of the siren nor the voice of the hyena, the tears of the crocodile nor the howling of the wolf.
    • Act V, scene i
  • As cedars beaten with continual storms,
    So great men flourish; and do imitate
    Unskilful statuaries, who suppose,
    In forging a Colossus, if they make him
    Straddle enough, strut, and look big, and gape,
    Their work is goodly: so men merely great
    In their affected gravity of voice,
    Sourness of countenance, manners' cruelty,
    Authority, wealth, and all the spawn of fortune,
    Think they bear all the kingdom's worth before them,
    Yet differ not from those colossic statues,
    Which, with heroic forms without o'erspread,
    Within are naught but mortar, flint and lead.
    • Act I, scene i.
  • Man is a torch borne in the wind; a dream
    But of a shadow, summ'd with all his substance.
    • Act I, scene i.
  • To put a girdle round about the world.
    • Act I, scene i.
  • His deeds inimitable, like the sea
    That shuts still as it opes, and leaves no tracts
    Nor prints of precedent for poor men's facts.
    • Act I, scene i.
  • So our lives
    In acts exemplary, not only win
    Ourselves good names, but doth to others give
    Matter for virtuous deeds, by which we live.
    • Act I, scene i.
  • This was a sleight well mask'd. O, what is man,
    Unless he be a Politician?
    • Act I, scene i.
  • Who to himself is law no law doth need,
    Offends no law, and is a king indeed.
    • Act II, scene i.
  • Each natural agent works but to this end,—
    To render that it works on like itself.
    • Act III, scene i.
  • Man is a name of honour for a king.
    • Act IV, scene i.
  • 'Tis immortality to die aspiring,
    As if a man were taken quick to heaven.
    • Act I, scene i; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Give me a spirit that on this life's rough sea
    Loves t' have his sails fill'd with a lusty wind,
    Even till his sail-yards tremble, his masts crack,
    And his rapt ship run on her side so low
    That she drinks water, and her keel plows air.
    • Act III, scene i; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • There is no danger to the man that knows
    What life and death is; there's not any law
    Exceeds his knowledge; neither is it lawful
    That he should stoop to any other law.
    He goes before them, and commands them all,
    That to himself is a law rational.
    • Act III, scene i.
  • O Innocence, the sacred amulet
    'Gainst all the poisons of infirmity;
    Of all misfortune, injury, and death,
    That makes a man in tune still in himself;
    Free from the hell to be his own accuser,
    Ever in quiet, endless joy enjoying;
    No strife nor no sedition in his powers;
    No motion in his will against his reason,
    No thought 'gainst thought—
    But (all parts in him, friendly and secure,
    Fruitful of all best things in all worst seasons)
    He can with every wish be in their plenty;
    When the infectious guilt of one foul crime
    Destroys the free content of all our time.
    • Act IV, scene i.
  • He is at no end of his actions blest
    Whose ends will make him greatest, and not best.
    • Act V, scene i; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).

The Iliads of Homer, Prince of Poets (1611)

What man can blame
The Greeks and Trojans to endure, for so admired a dame,
So many miseries, and so long? In her sweet countenance shine
Looks like the goddesses'.
Mourn not inevitable things; thy tears can spring no deeds
To help thee, nor recall thy son: impatience ever breeds
Ill upon ill, makes worst things worse.
  • Achilles' baneful wrath resound, O Goddess, that imposed
    Infinite sorrows on the Greeks, and many brave souls loosed
    From breasts heroic
    , sent them far to that invisible cave
    That no light comforts, and their limbs to dogs and vultures gave;
    To all which Jove's will gave effect; from whom first strife begun
    Betwixt Atrides, king of men, and Thetis' godlike son.
    • Book I, line 1, p. 1
  • The lady of the light, the rosy-fingered Morn,
    Rose from the hills.
    • Book I, line 460, p. 11
  • What man can blame
    The Greekes and Trojans to endure, for so admired a Dame,
    So many miseries, and so long? In her sweet countenance shine
    Lookes like the Godesses.
    • Book III, line 167, p. 41
  • This said, he reached to take his son; who, of his arms afraid,
    And then the horse-hair plume, with which he was so overlaid,
    Nodded so horribly, he clinged back to his nurse, and cried.
    Laughter affected his great sire, who doffed and laid aside
    His fearful helm, that on the earth cast round about it light;
    Then took and kissed his loving son, and (balancing his weight
    In dancing him) these loving vows to living Jove he used,
    And all the other bench of Gods: "O you that have infused
    Soul to this infant, now set down this blessing on his star:
    Let his renown be clear as mine; equal his strength in war."
    • Book VI, line 506, p. 94
  • As far as white Aurora's dews are sprinkled through the air.
    • Book VII, line 374, p. 104
  • As when about the silver moon, when air is free from wind,
    And stars shine clear; to whose sweet beams, high prospects, and the brows
    Of all steep hills and pinnacles, thrust up themselves for shows;
    And even the lowly valleys joy, to glitter in their sight,
    When the unmeasured firmament bursts to disclose her light,
    And all the signs in heaven are seen that glad the shepherd's heart.
  • Mourne not inevitable things; thy teares can spring no deeds
    To helpe thee, nor recall thy sonne: impacience ever breeds
    Ill upon ill, makes worst things worse.
    • Book XXIV, line 494, p. 336



Revenge for Honour (1654)

Attributed, probably falsely, to Chapman. The play may have been written by Henry Glapthorne.
  • Our hopes, I see, resemble much the sun,
    That rising and declining cast large shadows;
    But when his beams are dressed in's midday brightness,
    Yields none at all: when they are farthest from
    Success, their guilt reflection does display
    The largest shows of events fair and prosperous.
    • Act II, scene i.
  • I am ashamed the law is such an ass.
    • Act III, scene ii.
  • Words writ in waters.
    • Act V, scene ii; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • They're only truly great who are truly good.
    • Act V, scene ii; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).

Alphonsus, Emperor of Germany (1654)

Attributed, probably falsely, to Chapman. Perhaps written by George Peele.
  • I know an Englishman,
    Being flattered, is a lamb; threatened, a lion.
    • Act I, scene ii, lines 208–209.

Quotes about Chapman

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold.
John Keats
  • If Homer could return from Elysium to read all the English renderings, he would surely find in Chapman his truest son, a man who has fed on lions' marrow.
    • Douglas Bush, English Literature in the Earlier Seventeenth Century, 1600–1660 (1962), p. 63
  • The translation of Homer, published by George Chapman, in the reign of queen Elizabeth and king James, is one of the greatest treasures the English language has to boast.
    • William Godwin, Lives of Edward and John Philips (1815), Chap. X, p. 242
  • He has more thinking than many of the old dramatists; and the praise of one of his critics, though strongly worded, is not without some foundation, that we "seldom find richer contemplations on the nature of man and the world."
    • Henry Hallam, Introduction to the Literature of Europe (1839), p. 621
  • Chapman, ... where he lays aside the gravity of the philosopher and poet, discovers an unexpected comic vein, distinguished by equal truth of nature and lively good humour.
    • William Hazlitt, Lectures on the Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth (1821), p. 107
  • Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
    And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
    Round many western islands have I been
    Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
    Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
    That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
    Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
    Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
    Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken;
    Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
    He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
    Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
  • Of all the English Play-writers, Chapman perhaps approaches nearest to Shakspeare in the descriptive and didactic, in passages which are less purely dramatic. Dramatic Imitation was not his talent. He could not go out of himself, as Shakspeare could shift at pleasure, to inform and animate other existences, but in himself he had an eye to perceive and a soul to embrace all forms. He would have made a great Epic Poet, if, indeed, he has not abundantly shown himself to be one; for his Homer is not so properly a Translation as the Stories of Achilles and Ulysses re-written. The earnestness and passion which he has put into every part of these poems would be incredible to a reader of mere modern translations. His almost Greek zeal for the honour of his heroes is only paralleled by that fierce spirit of Hebrew bigotry, with which Milton, as if personating one of the Zealots of the old law, clothed himself when he sate down to paint the acts of Samson against the Uncircumcised. The great obstacle to Chapman's Translations being read is their unconquerable quaintness. He pours out in the same breath the most just and natural and the most violent and forced expressions. He seems to grasp whatever words come first to hand during the impetus of inspiration, as if all other must be inadequate to the divine meaning. But passion (the all in all in Poetry) is everywhere present, raising the low, dignifying the mean, and putting sense into the absurd. He makes his readers glow, weep, tremble, take any affection which he pleases, be moved by words, or in spite of them, be disgusted and overcome their disgust. I have often thought that the vulgar misconception of Shakspeare, as of a wild irregular genius "in whom great faults are compensated by great beauties," would be really true applied to Chapman.
    • Charles Lamb, Specimens of English Dramatic Poets, who lived about the time of Shakspeare (1808), footnote on pp. 98–99