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him in his boasted "humor;" but his Alchemist, and especially his Volpone, seem to me at the head of all severer English comedy. The latter is a masterpiece of plot and treatment. Ben's fancy, a power tending also rather to the comic than tragic, was in far greater measure than his imagination; and their strongest united efforts, as in the Witches' Meeting, and the luxurious anticipations of Sir Epicure Mammon, produce a smiling as well as a serious admiration. The three happiest of all his short effusions (two of which are in this volume) are the epitaph on Lady Pembroke, the address to Cynthia (both of which are serious indeed, but not tragic), and the Catch of the Satyrs, which is unique for its wild and melodious mixture of the comic and the poetic. His huge farces, to be sure (such as Bartholomew Fair), are execrable. They seem to talk for talking's sake, like drunkards. And though his famous verses, beginning "Still to be neat, still to be drest," are elegantly worded, I never could admire them. There is a coarseness implied in their very refinement.
After all, perhaps it is idle to wish a writer had been otherwise than he was, especially if he is an original in his way, and worthy of admiration. His faults he may have been unable to mend, and they may not have been without their use, even to his merits. If Ben had not been Ben, Sir Epìcure Mammon might not have talked in so high a tone. We should have. missed, perhaps, something of the excess and altitude of his expectations of his
Gums of Paradise and eastern air.
Let it not be omitted, that Milton went to the masques and odes of Ben Jonson for some of the elegances even of his dignified muse. See Warton's edition of his Minor Poems, passim. Our extracts shall commence with one of these odes, combining classic elegance with a tone of modern feeling, and a music like a serenade.
TO CYNTHIA;-THE MOON.
Queen of hunters, chaste and fair,
State in wonted manner keep,
Earth, let not thy envious shade
Heav'n to clear, when day did close.
Lay thy bow of pearl apart,
And thy crystal shining quiver;
Space to breathe, how short soever;
THE LOVE-MAKING OF LUXURY.
Volpone makes love to Celia.
What thou art queen of; not in expectation,
To purchase them again, and this whole state.
The heads of parrots, tongues of nightingales,
Cel. Good sir, these things might move a mind affected
Is all I can think wealthy, or worth th' enjoying,
If you have conscience
'Tis the beggar's virtue :
If thou had wisdom, hear me, Celia.
The milk of unicorns, and panthers' breath
Sir Epicure Mammon, expecting to obtain the Philosopher's Stone, riots in the anticipation of enjoyment.
Enter MAMMON and SURLY.
Mam. Come on, sir. Now, you set your foot on shore
In Novo Orbe : here's the rich Peru:
And there within, sir, are the golden wines,
Three years; but we have reach'd it in ten months.
I will pronounce the happy word, BE RICH.
Do we succeed? Is our day come? and holds it'
Mam. Pertinax, my Surly,
Again I say to thee, aloud, BE RICH.
This day thou shalt have ingots; and to-morrow
Face. Both blood and spirit, sir.
Mam. I will have all my beds blown up, not stuff'd : Down is too hard.-My mists
I'll have of perfume, vapored 'bout the room
And I will eat these broths with spoons of amber,
My foot-boy shall eat pheasants, calver'd salmons,
Sir, I'll go look
A little, how it heightens.
As cobwebs; and for all my other raiment,
Sur. And do you think to have the stone with this?
A pious, holy, and religious man,
One free from mortal sin, a very virgin.
Mam. That makes it, Sir; he is so; BUT I BUY IT.
From the Pastoral Fragment, entitled " The Sad Shepherd."
Know ye the witch's dell?
Torn with an earthquake down unto the ground,
And knotty cobwebs, rounded in with spells.
And rotten mists, upon the fens and bogs,
To make ewes cast their lambs, swine eat their farrow,
John. I wonder such a story could be told
George. I thought a witch's banks Had inclosed nothing but the merry pranks Of some old woman.