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man afterwards, in his letter to Mr. Dryden, pompously pronounces, that to write one perfect comedy should be the labour of one entire life, produced from a concentration of talents which hardly ever met in any human person.
After all it will be confessed, that the production of such a drama as The Fox, in the space of five weeks, is a very
performance; for it must on all hands be considered as the master-piece of a very capital artist, a work, that bears the stamp of elaborate design, a strong and frequently a sublime vein of poetry, much sterling wit; comic humour, happy character, moral fatire, and unrivalled erudition ; a work-
Quod non inber edax, 2011 aquilo impotens
In this drama the learned reader will find himself for ever treading upon classic ground; the foot of the poet it fo fitted and familiarized to the Grecian fock, that he wears it not with the awkwardness of an imitator, but with all the easy confidence and authoritative air of a privileged Athenian: Exclu
five of Aristophanes, in whose volume he is
Thu being the beft of things and far transcending
Such are thy beauties and our lovesa
“Ω, χρυσε δεξίωμα κάλλισον βροτοις,
Οι θαυμ’ έρωτας μυρίους αυτην τρέφειν.
Cicero made a selection of passages from the Greek dramatic authors, which he turned into Latin verse for the purpose of applying them, as occafion should offer, either in his writings or pleadings, and our learned countryman seems on his part 'to have made the whole circle of Greek and Roman poets his own, and naturalized them to our stage. If any learned man would employ his leisure in following his allufions through this comedy only, I'should think'it would be no unentertaining talk.
The Fox is indubitably the beit production of it's author, and in some points of substantial merit yields to nothing, which the English stage can oppose to it; there is a bold and happy spirit in the fable, it is of moral tendency, female chastity and honour are beautifully displayed, and punishment is inflicted on the delinquents of the drama with strict and exemplary justice: The characters of the Hæredipetæ, depicted under the titles of birds of prey, Voltore, Corbaccio and Corvino, are warmly coloured, happily contrasted, and faithfully supported from the outset to the end: Volpone, who gives his name to the piece, with a fox-like craftiness
deludes and gulls their hopes by the agency of his inimitable Parasite, or (as the Greek and Roman authors expressed it) by his Fly, his Mosca; and in this finished portrait Jonson may throw the gauntlet to the greatest
inay masters of antiquity; the character is of classic origin ; it is found with the contemnporaries of Aristophanes, though not in any comedy of his now existing; the Middle Dramatists seem to have handled it very frequently, and in the New Comedy it rarely failed to find a place; Plautus has it again and again, but the aggregate merit of all his Parasites will not weigh in the scale against - this single Fly of our poet : The incident of his concealing Bonario in the gallery, from whence he breaks in upon the scene to the rescue of Celia and the detection of Volpone, is one of the happiest contrivances, which could possibly be devised, because, at the same time that it produces the: catastrophe, it does not facrifice Mosca's character in the manner moit villains are facrificed in comedy, by making them commit blunders, which do not correspond with the address their first representation exhibits, and which the audience has a right to expect I 2
from them throughout, of which the Double Dealer is amongst others a notable instance. But this incident of Bonario's interference does not only not impeach the adroitness of the Parasite, but it furnishes a
brilliant occasion for fetting off his ready invention and presence of mind in a new and superior light, and serves to introduce the whole machinery of the trial and condemnation of the innocent persons before the court of Advocates : In this part of the fable the contrivance is inimitable, and here the poet's art is a study, which every votarist of the dramatic muses ought to pay attention and respect to; had the same address been exerted throughout, the construction would have been a matchless piece of art, but here we are to lament the hafte of which he boasts in his prologue, and that rapidity of composition, which he appeals to as a mark of genius, is to be lamented as the probable cause of incorrectness, or at least the best and most candid plea in excuse of it: For who can deny that nature is violated by the absurdity of Voljone's unseasonable insults to the very persons, who had witnessed fal.ely, in his de ence, and even to the very