anything we may observe in the commerce of real life/'
He terms " The Alchymist" " a farcical comedy," asserts
that " Volpone*' is " not a complete model of comedy,"
and complains generally that Jonson's wit is too frequently
caustic, his raillery coarse, and his humour excessive.
We need not pause to express our utter disregard for such
censure. When we know that Voltaire said that " Hamlet"
seemed the work of a drunken savage, we can feel no
surprise when we are thus dashed against the shallows of
criticism. We live too in an age when tenth-rate men
review the writings of their superiors with cheerful confi-
dence and fatal facility. Mr. GifFord declares that Hurd
knew little or nothing of Jonson's works, and while we
tremble in charging dishonesty on a writer on Prophecy
and a Bishop, we think Mr. Gifford is not far wrong. But
we will favour our reader with one or two counter opinions
from no less a man than Mr. Hallam. Speaking of
" Every Man in his Humour," Mr. H. calls it " an ex-
traordinary monument of early genius in what is seldom
the possession of youth, a clear and unerring description
of human character, various and not extravagant beyond
the necessities of the stage." He adds, " It is, perhaps,
the earliest of European domestic comedies, that deserves
to be mentioned." Of " The Alchymist," he remarks that
"The plot with great simplicity is continually animated
and interesting, the characters are conceived and delineated
with admirable boldness, truth, spirit and variety; the
humour, especially in the two Puritans â€” a sect who now
began to do penance on the stage â€” is amusing ; the lan-
guage, when it does not smell too much of book learning,
is forcible and clear." Mr. Gilford is more enthusiastic
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BEN JONSON. 93
and unmeasured in his panegyric. He writes, " If a model
be sought of all that is regular in design and perfect in
execution in the English Drama, it will be found (if found
at all) in * The Alchymist.' " It is certainly a comedy of
first-rate merit. A particular subject is singled out for
attack, and learning, wit and sarcasm are brought com-
binedly to bear on it. It is equally to be admired, whether
looked on as a play or a satire. By it Jonson destroyed
the pretenders to the counterfeit science of Alchemy, and
effected by his ridicule what legislative enactments had
failed to do. There is a very dever though too lavish
use of the jargon of the sham science ; but Jonson puts
an apology for this into the mouth of one of the characters.
Sir Pertinax Surly is ridiculing Alchemy, and more par-
ticularly its nomenclature. Subtle replies :
" Was not all the knowledge
Of the Egyptians writ in mystic symbols P
Speak not the Scriptures oft in parables ?
Axe not the choicest fables of the poets.
That were the fountains and the spring of wisdom,
Wrapp'd in perplexed allegories P"
Sir Epicure Mammon's gluttony is pedantic in the extreme,
but such minor faults are fully compensated for by its
general merit. No one who has once read the play will
forget the matchless portraiture of Tribulation Wholesome
and Ananias. Abel Dragger was one of Garrick's famous
characters. " The Fox" we rank with Hallam, as second to
"The Alchymist" in merit. Dryden has praised " The Silent
Woman," Hallam places it below the plays we have spoken
of, but observes, " It is written with a great deal of spirit,
and has a value as the representation of London life in the
higher ranks at that time." He also remarks that both
the story and passages are taken from Liberius, a writer
not familiar to many readers, except such as Jonson or
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94 BEN JONSON.
It has been well remarked that to give specimens of a
play by extracts, is like showing a brick as a sample of the
edifice of which it is but a small constituent part. The
force and beauty of passages in a drama depend on their
relative fitness to the character by whom, and the situation
in which they are uttered. This would prevent our
making quotations from the comedies ; but to one passage
in " Every Man in his Humour," we must call the reader's
attention. It is the description of jealousy. Kitely
" A new disease ! I know not new or old.
But it may well be called poor mortal's plague ;
Tor like a pestilence it doth infect
The houses of the brain. First it begins
Solely to work upon the phantasy,
Filling her seat with such pestiferous air
As soon corrupts the judgment ; and from tlience
Sends like contagion to the memory ;
Still each to ofther giving the infection,
Which as a subtle vapour spreads itself
Confusedly through every sensitive part,
Till not a thought or motion in the mind
Be free from the black poison of suspect."
Now, such passages, as well as Jonson's great reputa-
tion for learning, have misled many, and among them, no
less a man than Sir W. Scott, who, in his life of Dryden,
says, that " Jonson gave an early example of metaphysical
poetry." This word metaphysical is a talisman in the
hands of some, a very sorcerer's wand, and magical in
its powers of confusion. It has been well observed, that
when a man is saying that which his audience does not
comprehend, and which he does not himself comprehend,
he is talking " metaphysics." Like a' weapon clumsily
handled, or a lantern not dexterously used, it will only
wound or discover its possessor. Sir W. Scott's remark
fully illustrates this. In using that word he shows either
an ignorance of its meaning or an ignorance of the
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BEN JONSON. 95
writings to which he applies it. Jonson is not a whit
more metaphysical than Shakespeare. Are there not
frequent passages in Shakespeare where almost every line
would form a text for a treatise on Psychology ? It were hard
to classify the poetry of any age as metaphysical and not
metaphysical ; but to say of Jonson, in contradistinction
to Shakespeare, that he was so, is simply incorrect. What
we suspect is here meant by the word is, that Shakespeare
read men, and Jonson books ; that one drew his characters
from the study of human nature, and the other from the
pages of philosophy. If the word is thus used in the
wrong sense, the statement is only partially, if in the
right one, it is wholly erroneous.
Jonson's masques are beautiful. Though with occa-
sional extravagant fancies and strained conceits, they are
full of learning and taste. They were many of them
written for great festive occasions. There may seem to
us something grotesque and cumbrous in their scenic
splendour; and our Lord Mayor's show, the only relic
we have of such an entertainment as Jonson's on
James I.'s coronation, does not fill us with rapture at its
grandeur or dignity. Some beautiful songs are introduced
into them. The genius of the architect and the painter
came in to aid the poet. The art of stage decoration was
not, however, far advanced, and the scenery must have
then been inferior to the language, as the latter is now
below the former in
"Those gew-gawa men-children love to sec/*
now exhibited, much to the expulsion of. tragedy and
comedy, on the boards of our theatres. "The Sad
Shepherd" we have already criticised. The following are
the opening lines, which, beautiAil as they are, are not
better than the greater portion of the masque :
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96 BEN JONSON.
" Here she was wont to go ! and here ! and here !
Jnst where those daisies, pinks, and violets grow ;
The world may find the spring in following her,
For other print her airy steps ne'er left.
Her treading would not bend a blade of grass.
Or shake the downy blow-ball from his stalk !
But like the soft west wind she shot along.
And where she went the flowers took thickest root,
As she had sowed them with her odorous foot."
Milton was a great admirer of Jonson : his " Comus" is
written very much in imitation of our poet's masques ; but
is not so fitted as they are for dramatic action. Some will
remember in " Penseroso" these lines :
" Entice the dewy-feathered sleep.
And let some strange mysterious dream
Wave at his wings in airy stream
Of lively portraiture displayed
Softly on my eyelids hdd."
Hurd has remarked that it is an imitation 6f the
following passage in Jonson's " Vision of Delight," and*
Milton has not, we think, improved on the original :
" Break, Phant'sie, from thy cave of cloud,
And spread thy purple wings ;
Now all thy figures are allowed.
And various shapes of things,
Create of airy forms a stream.
It must have blood, and nought of phlegm,
And tho' it be a waking dream.
Yet let it like an odour rise
To all the senses here.
And faU like sleep upon their eyes
Or musick in their ear.**
As a translator he must not be forgotten. He has left
a version of Horace's " Ars Poetica," and a few of the
odes. The former is marveflously literal, and not so tame
as might therefore be supposed. In the latter there is
little to praise ; but hh has excelled these regular transla-
tions in passages of the masques and elsewhere, which
he has borrowed from ancient authors and literally ren-
dered. It is strange that Hurd, in his letter to Mason on
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BEN JONSOK. 97
" the marks of imitation," has singled out the following
instance. The original lines are from " Catullus," and are
the following :
*' Ut flos in septis secretns nascitor horiis
Ignotus pecori, nullo eonynlsiis aratro,
Qaem mulcent aune, firmat sol, educit imber
Multi iUum pueri, multe optavere puelln
Idem quum tenai carptus defloruit ungae
Nulli ilium pueri, nullae optavere puelLe/*
In one of his masques, Jonson translates this :
" Look how a flower that close in closes grows,
Hid from rude cattle, bruised with no ploughs.
Which th* air doth stroke, sun strengthen, shoVrs shoot higher,
It many youths and many maids desire ;
The same when cropt by cruel hand 'tis withered.
No youths at all, no maidens have desired."
Hurd here calls Jonson "a servile imitator, and a
painful translator." Now, what the true theory of
translation is, is a matter on which the learned are as yet
undecided. But the lines just quoted have far more force
and beauty, than much smooth paraphrase, which is
accepted as translation ; and are more literal and infinitely
superior to certain versions of Horace and Virgil lately
published in a great University. There is at any rate this
defence for them ; they were written at a time when
translation was in its infancy, and when great stress was
laid upon verbal rendering. This was a felse view of
translation ; but certainly more excusable than when now
attempted in open violation of the fact, that such literal
interpretations of the idioms of other languages compel
the translator to violate those of his own, and in dobg so,
to commit a greater fault even than paraphrasing. There
are two methods of translation, if, indeed, one deserves
the name at all. The first is to give word for word
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98 BEN JONSON.
as a mere guide to those learning the language by such
aid, a rendering which sacrifices to literal interpretation,
the propriety and beauty of oiu* own language ; the next
is, to give the spirit and meaning of a writer, in our own
language, violating none of its laws and introducing no
foreign idiom. The former of these theories was the
earlier, and as in the lines we have quoted, was occasion-
ally carried out with success. With the usual vitality of
error, an attempt has been made to revive it ; but fortu-
nately this retrograde movement numbers as yet but few
supporters. The true theory was next discovered ; but
after some time degenerated in many cases into para-
phrase. Sir J. Denham, in his Preface to his translation
of Book II. of "iEneid," has made a few remarks on this
subject which we cannot help quoting. ** I conceive it,"
he writes, " a vulgar error in translating poets to aflFect
being fidus interpres. Let that care be with those who
deal in matters of fact and matters of faith ; but whoso-
ever aims at it in poetry, as he attempts what is not
required, so shall he never perform what he attempts ; for
it is not his business alone to translate language into
language, but poesie into poesie, and poesie is of so subtle
a spirit, that in pouring out of one language into another
it will all evaporate ; and if a new spirit is not added in
the transfusion, there will remain nothing but a caput
mortuum" Those who abet the attempt to revive the old
system of translation should consider these remarks, and
remember that on a very diflferent theory, one of the best
lengthy translations in the English language was produced
â€”the " Georgics" of Virgil, by Mr. Sotheby.
Jonson is no exception to the rule that dear and strong
utterance is one of the chief characteristics of genius, and
that great poets have been good prose writers. The frag-
ment entitled " Lumber, or Discoveries," sufficiently shows,
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BEN JONSON. 99
without appealing to his letters, dedications and prefaces,
that English literature lost much by the destruction of his
prose manuscripts. The small remnant that is left is full
of erudite criticism, profound reflection, and great severity
of judgment. There are notes on books and on life,
arranged in a strange and arbitrary manner, written in a
concise and pregnant style ; and though they do not contain
so much sententious wisdom, remind us forcibly of the
" Essays " of Bacon. Two extracts we must give. The
first shows us what laws of composition he laid down for
himself ; the second is interesting as a criticism on his
"For a man to write well, there are required three
necessaries: to reade the best authors, observe the best
speakers, and much exercise of his own style. In style to
consider what ought to be written, and after what manner ;
he must first think and excogitate his matter ; then choose
his words and examine the weight of either ; then take
care in placing and ranking both matter and words, that
the composition be comely, and to do this with diligence
and often. No matter how slow the style be at first, so it
be laboured and accurate ; seeke the best and be not glad of
the forward conceits, or first words that offer themselves
to us, but judge of what we invent, and order what we
approve. Repeat often what you have formerly written ;
which beside that it helps the consequence and makes the
juncture better, it quickens the heate of imagination, that
often cooles in the time of setting downe, and gives it new
strength, as if it grew lustier by the going back, as we
see in the contention of leaping, they jump farthest that
fetch their race longest, or as in throwing a dart or javelin
we force back our arms to make our tosse the stronger.
Yet if we have a faire gale of wind I forbid not the steer-
ing out of our angle (?) or the favour of the gale deceive
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100 BEN JONSON.
US not. For all that we invent doth please us m the
conception or birth, else we should never set it downe.
But the safest is to retume to our judgement, and hand
over again those things, the easinesse of which might make
them justly suspected. So did the best writers in their
beginnings. They imposed upon themselves care and
industry. They did nothing rashly. They obtained first to
write well, and then custome made it easie and a habit. By
little and litde, their matter showed itself to them more
plentifully, their words answered, their composition
followed ; and all as in a well-ordered family, presented
itselfe in the place. So that the summe of all is, ready
writing makes not good writing ; but good writing brings
on ready writing : yet when wee thinke wee have got the
faculty, it were then good to resist it, as to give a horse a
check sometimes with a bit which doth not so much stop
his course as stirre his metal."
Of Shakespeare he says : " I remember the players
have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare that
in writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a
line. My answer had been, * Would he had blotted a
thousand !' which they thought a malevolent speech. I
had not told posterity this, but for their ignorance, who
chose that circumstance to commend their friend by,
wherein he most faulted; and to justify mine own can-
dour ; for I loved the man, and do honour his memory on
this side idolatry, as much as any. Hft was indeed honest,
and of an open and free nature ; had an excellent fancy,
brave notions, and gentle expressions ; wherein he flowed
with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary he
should be stopped. * Suffiaminandus eraty as Augus'tus
said of Haterius. His wit was in his own power. Would
the rule of it had been so too ! Many times he fell into
those things which could not escape laughter ; as when he
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BEN JONSON. 101
said in the person of Csesar, one speaking to him, ' Caesar,
thou dost me wrong.' He replied, * Csesar did never
wrong, but with just cause ;* and such like, which were
ridiculous. But he redeemed his vices with his virtues.
There was even more in him to be praised, than to be
pardoned." This criticism, full as it is of candour, has
been made the basis of charges of malignity against
We have spoken of Jonson as the author of tragedy,
of comedy, of masque, as a translator, and prose writer.
But it is as a lyric poet also that we daim for him a
homage and admiration which has hitherto been sparingly
given, if yielded at all. In the aspects in which we have
already viewed him, he is a great rather than a pleasing
writer. He is not one of those whose works we make fire-
side friends, and the constant companions of our leisure
and solitude. It is a duty more perhaps than a pleasure
to read him. This is not a high praise of a writer of
tragedy and comedy ; but we must admit when we rise
from the study, it is with a profound conviction of the
vast powers of the writer. There is something grand,
massive, colossal in his intellect. There is in him the
profound erudition, and sustained dignity which we
admire in Milton, and which cause us to gaze at reve-
rent distance and muse in sacred silence, on his genius.
And although we may not make either the one or
the other familiar friends, as we do Homer and Shake-
speare, with their more genial strains, yet they are
not all gloom and grandeur. They have their lighter
moods, and livelier utterances. Do not let us forget
" Lycidas and TAllegro," and the lyrics of Jonson. Than
these nothing can be more exquisite, and their beauty is
heightened by the contrast in which they stand to the
other works. The smile of a countenance usually grave,
has more charms than all the dimples and laughter of
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102 BEN JONSON.
Lalage. It is not only by their depth and their vigour
that we must judge of poets.
With these remarks we proceed to give some of the
Nugse Canorae of our Laureate.
0, do not wanton with those eyes.
Lest I be sick with seeing ;
Nor cast them down, but let them rise.
Lest shame destroy their being.
O, be not angry with those fires,
For then their threats will kill me ;
Nor look too kind on my desires,
For then my hopes will spill me.
0, do not steep them in thy tears.
For so will sorrow slay me ;
Nor spread them as distract with fears.
Mine own enough betray me.
Mr. GifFord is as extravagant in his praise as the world
has been cold in its appreciation. He speaks of this song
thus : " If it be not the most beautiful song in the lan-
guage, I freely confess, for my own part, that I know not
where it is to be found." Now, it is pretty enough, but
from Waller to Moore we could quote many that would
equal, and some that would surpass it. Much better
known, and far more beautiful, is Jonson's *^ Epitaph on
the Countess of Pembroke."
' Underneath this sable hearse
Lies the subject of all verse,
Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother.
Death ! ere thou hast slain another,
Leam'd and fair and good as she.
Time shall throw a dajt at thee."
And so are the three following verses, selected from some
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BEN JONSON. 103
prefixed by Jonson to " The Touchstone of Truth," by
J. Warre, published 1630:
" Truth Ib the trial of itself.
And needs no other touch,
And purer than the purest gold
Eefine it ne'er so much.
** It is the life and light of love,
The sun that ever shineth.
And spirit of that special grace,
That faith and love defineth.
" It is the warrant of the word.
That yields a scent so sweet.
As gives a power to faith to tread
All falsehood under feet."
The followmg elegy, though some verses stand in weak
contrast to others, which are beautiful, seems too much
like the model of "In Memoriam" not to be quoted
entire. Mr. Tennyson, the music of whose poetry is
almost faultless, has improved on the metre and rhythm
of the elder Laureate, but the similitude of some of the
verses is very striking :
Though heauty be the mark of praise.
And yours of whom I sing be such
As not the worid can praise too much.
Yet 'tis your virtue now I raise.
A virtue like alloy, so gone
Throughout your form ; as though that move
And draw and conquer all men's love.
This subjects you to love of one.
Wherein you triumph yet, becanse
'Tis of yourself, and that you use
The noblest freedom, not to choose
Against, or faith or.honour's laws.
But who could less expect from you.
In whom alone love lives again.
By whom he is restored to men,
And kept, and bred, and brought up true P
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104 BEN JONSON.
HisfaUing templet you have reau'd.
The foithered garlands tc^en away.
His altars kept from the decay
That envy tcish'd and nature feat' d ;
And on them bum bo chaste a flame.
With 80 much loyalty's expense,
Aa love to acqnit such excellenoe
Is gone himself into your name.
And you are he, the Deity
To whom all lovers are design'd
That would their better objects find.
Among which faithful troop am I,
Who as an offering at your shrine
Have sung this hymn, and here entreat
One spark of your diviner heat.
To light upon a love of mine.
Which if it kindle not, but scant
Appear, and that to shortest view.
Yet give me leave t' adore in you
What I in her am grieved to want.
Our last quotation is well known, but many, we fear,
while they listen to the beautiful strain, forget that it is one
of the lighter efforts of the learned Jonson.
SONG TO CLELIA.
Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine ;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And 111 not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine ;
But might I of Jove's nectar sip
I would not change for thine.
I sent thee late a rosy wreath.
Not so much honouring thee,
As giving it in hope that there
It could not withered be ;
But thou thereon dids't only breathe,
And senf st it back to me.
Since when it grows, it smells, I swear.
Not of itself, but thee.
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BEN JONSON. 105
We have spoken frequently in our life of the poet, of
the rancour with which his character has heen assailed.
Posterity have scarcely been more merciful to his fame as
a writer. Dibdin has slandered him and sought to de-
preciate his merits. Hume has penned a shallow, flippant
notice of him, as well as of Shakespeare.* Schlegel, with
too great severity, but with more depth and truth, has
called him " a younger contemporary and rival of Shake-
speare, who laboured in the sweat of his brow, and with
no great success, to expel the romantic drama from the
English stage, and to form it on the model of the
ancients.'^t Hazlitt confesses that he cannot much relish
Ben Jonson, and remarks that his genius " resembles the
grub more than the butterfly, and plods and grovels on, and
wants wings to wanton in the idle summer's air, and catch
the golden light of poetry ."J It should be remembered
that it is in contrasting him with Shakespeare that Hazlitt
is thus depreciatory. In attempting the same anti-parallel,
Sir W. Scott falls into more exaggerated error. " The
one," he says, " is like an ancient statue, the beauty of
which, springing from the exactness of proportion, does
not always strike at first sight, but rises upon us as we
bestow time in considering it ; the other is the representa-
tion of a monster, which is at first only surprising, and
ludicrous and disgusting ever after."Â§
How unfortunate for the fame of Jonson that he had
not lived a generation before or after his immortal rival !
In such a time he had reigned supreme. In dividing
the kingdom of literature, though the dominions of one