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their friend by, wherein he most faulted, and to justify my own candour; for I loved the man, and do honour his memory on this side idolatry, as much as any. He was indeed) honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent phantasy, brave notions, and gentle expressions; wherein he flowed with that facility that sometimes it was necessary that he should be stopped: Sufflaminandus erat, as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had been so to. Many times he fell into those things could not escape laughter : as when he said, in the person of Cæsar, one speaking to him, “Cæsar, thou dost me wrong,' he replied, Cæsar did never wrong but with just cause;' and such like, which were ridiculous. But he redeemed his vices with his virtues. There was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned.”
The edition of Jonson's works, published in 1616, -a rare folio-does not contain the Discoveries : they were first published in 1640, three years after Jonson's death. The Discoveries are detached thoughts and reflections, which appear to have been dotted down or entered in a commonplace book, without much regard to order, sequence, or priority. It is hardly possible to imagine any man, who had read the collected plays of Shakespeare, writing such a description of him as herein contained, or, in the face of such evidence misquoting a passage from one of these plays. The probability is, that Jonson wrote this passage prior to 1623, very likely soon after Shakespeare's death, and before he became so intimately acquainted with these plays, as we shall presently endeavour to show that he ultimately was. Pope surmises that his remark on Julius Cæsar was made “upon no better credit than some blunder of an actor in speaking the verse.” This doubtless was the fact; and Jonson, having noted it down, and neglected to destroy or expunge it, his executors found it after his death, and published it with his other writings, thus perpetuating a blunder which reflects ridicule, not upon Shakespeare, but upon Jonson himself. As we cannot believe that Jonson retained this opinion after the publication of the folio, or would have wished such a comment on Julius Cæsar to have been published, so we may fairly infer that his judgment with regard to Shakespeare would in other respects also have been greatly changed.
This paragraph, therefore, has not the weight and importance which at first sight it would seem to possess.
Shakespeare's fame—the fame which he now and ever will enjoy—is based upon the folio of 1623. At its publication, it was ushered into the world accompanied by verses written by Ben Jonson, and Malone satisfactorily shows that the dedication and preface, ascribed to Heminge and Condell, were also most likely from his pen; in fact, it probably would not be too much to say, that Ben Jonson was the Editor of the Folio of 1623.
Now, at this time Ben Jonson was at the zenith of his fame, and on terms of intimacy with Lord Bacon, and perhaps the most competent living judge and discriminator of the works of his various contemporaries. If then the lines which he wrote, and which accompany this volume, celebrate and identify the William Shakespeare who died in 1616 as the author of the plays therein written, that evidence ought to be conclusive. The lines are in many parts incomprehensible, and throughout exhibit a mysterious vagueness quite at variance with the general character of Ben Jonson's laudatory verses. The critic who would translate them into plain prose, would not be ill employed; but, as Bacon observes, with commentators, “it is ever usual to blanche the obscure places and discourse upon the plain.”
To the Memory of my beloved, the Author, MR. WILLIAM
SHAKESPEARE: and what he hath left us. To draw no envy (Shakespeare) on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy Booke, and Fame: While I confesse thy writings to be such,
As neither Man, nor Muse, can praise too much. 'Tis true, and all men's suffrage. But these wayes
Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise : For seeliest Ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, but echoes right; Or blinde Affection, which doth ne're advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance; Or crafty Malice, might pretend this praise,
And thinke to ruine, where it seem'd to raise. These are, as some infamous Baud, or Whore,
Should praise a Matron. What could hurt her more? But thou art proofe against them, and indeed
Above th' ill fortune of them, or the need. I, therefore will begin. Soule of the Age!
The applause! delight! the wonder of our Stage! My Shakespeare, rise; I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lye A little further, to make thee a roome:
Thou art a Moniment, without a Tombe, And art alire still, while thy Booše doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give. That I not mixe thee so, my braine excuses ;
I meane with great, but disproportion’d Muses : For, if I thought my judgement were of yeeres,
I should commit thee surely with thy peeres, And tell, how farre thou didst our Lily out-shine,
Or sporting Kyd, or Marlowe's mighty line. And though thou hadst small Latine, and lesse Greeke,
From thence to honour thee, I would not seeke For names ; but call forth thund'ring Æschilus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to us,
To life againe, to heare thy Buskin tread,
Leave thee alone, for the comparison
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
To whom all Scenes of Europe homage owe. He was not of an age, but for all time!
And all the Muses still were in their prime, When like Apollo he came forth to warme
Our eares, or like a Mercury to charme ! Nature her selfe was proud of his designes,
Aud joy'd to weare the dressing of his lines ! Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As, since, she will vouchsafe no other Wit. The merry Greeke, tart Aristophanes,
Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please ;
As they were not of Nature's family.
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part.
His Art doth give the fashion. And, that he, Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat