John Webster began his Jacobean tragedy The Dutchesse of Malfy with a striking image of good and bad government:
…a Princes Court
Is like a common Fountaine, whence should flowe
Pure silver-droppes ingeneral. But if’t chance
Some curs’d example poyson’t neere the head,
“Death and diseases through the whole land spread.
And what is’t makes this blessed government,
But a most provident Councell, who dare freely
Informe him, the corruption of the times?
Though some o th’Court hold it presumption
To instruct Princes what they ought to doe,
It is a noble duety to informe them
What they ought to fore-see… 1
The magnificent fountains of Renaissance and seventeenth-century Europe symbolized the contemporary vision and rhetoric about royal patronage. 2 The metaphor of the fountain was used repeatedly in the Elizabethan and early Stuart period to describe the monarchy, especially the king’s favor, to his subjects. Bountiful, free-flowing, continuous, the king granted favor to his subjects. Monarchy was a never-ending source of reward, the earthly embodiment of God, who was the original spring or wellhead, the fountain of life and justice. At the same time there was, in practice, a second aspect of a fountain: recirculation. On the one hand the fountain was continuous, visibly moving in one direction; on the other, it was based on the principle of the water returning to its source. When the king rewarded his subjects and servants, they returned loyalty and service in their turn to the king.