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Chess, the palpable derivativeness of his productions—the earnest of scholarship, but defect of authorship—is still more strongly developed. The subject matter of the Arcadia' was avowedly borrowed, but the adaptation of Caissa' was somewhat more his own; and he was, therefore, necessitated to cull the beauties of other poets, in order to work out an agreeable context. Of such literary loans it may be philosophical truth, that may be applied, they are always fainter from reflection. In his odes, however, · he succeeded better: there is a familiar state in the "Muse Recalled,' which few have attempted, and he has certainly made engaging. The two imitations of Alcæus and Callistratus' have a nerve, and apposite amplification, which, to be justly appreciated, should be read.
The translations and imitations from the poets of the East have been highly praised, and much prized, but are rendered with considerable inequality; and, though sometimes lofty, are mostly crude,—indeed the observation may be extended to almost all his rhymes. In general he gives a full expression of his author's sense, but neither seizes his style, nor grapples with those bolder traits which genius is always sure to embrace by a natural sympathy, even in passages where the matter provokes no expectation, and seems to admit of little embellishment. The distinctive charm of the Eastern poets is brevity, uniformly neat, and invariably strong. Every thought with them is a mine of wealth, an isolated lake of freshness, or secret horde of sweets; the object is brought fairly and fully before the mind, and the reader is left to illustrate its varieties by the richness of his own ideas. But Sir William Jones often plays with this spirit as a child models a Chinese palace with cards, or a boy mimics a bust on a cherry stone. When he labours, he iş pedantic, and when literal, he proses. The ‘Hymn to Laschmi' is sustained with a finer imagery and bolder expression than he usually feels, or declares; and the “Hymn to Narayena,' may be referred to for some of the brightest beauties he has attained, and the darkest faults he has reached.
O RARE Ben Jonson! is the only inscription, under a bust, which is neatly chiselled, and emblematically ornamented, in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. The commemoration is as quaint as it is brief; and all the particulars that are preserved respecting the life of its subject correspond in meagreness and uncertainty. The son of a clergyman, who was descended from a Scotch family, and forfeited an estate during the miserable reign of Queen Mary; he was born at Westminster, on the 11th of July, 1574, and there educated, at the public school, under Camden the Antiquary. The father died before the son was born, and the widow entered into a second marriage with a bricklayer, who took the young dramatist from Westminster school and employed him as a drudge in masonry. Ben, however, was by this time sufficiently instructed in the classics to study by himself; and there is an anecdote related, which describes him labouring at the building of Lincoln's Inn, with a trowel in one hand, and an edition of Horace in the other.
Camden too, as is conjectured, had noticed his talents, and now pitying his degradation, encouraged him with promises, until he was able to procure him the office of tutor to Sir Walter Raleigh's son, with whom he travelled into the Low Countries.'
How long he fulfilled this trust, or how long he remained absent from England, are facts unknown. It appears, however, that he entered the army while abroad, and acquired some distinction in arms, and, also, that upon his return he became a student at St. John's College, Cambridge. Here information again fails the biographers, and no one can state the time he continued at the University, or the cause and circumstances under which he left it. It seems, nevertheless, that lie next bent his
course to London, and resorting to the stage for a means of living, became a member of some obscure company, which performed at the Curtain, in Shoreditch. His first attempts at dramatic composition are supposed to have been concurrent with this essay; and, it is reported to us, that he failed at the onset in both aspirations. To complete this state of misery, he fell into a brawl, which ended in a duel, in which he killed his adversary, and was thrown into prison on a charge of murder. Of his fate in confinement, or the means by which he was restored to liberty, no account has been given, and no conjecture hazarded. It is only said, with respect to this
passage of his life, that he became a convert to the Church of Rome, while he was in jail, and steadily conformed to that communion during a series of twelve succeeding years.
A tradition has always existed in the history of the drama, that Jonson stood indebted for the success of his earliest plays to suggestions and emendations with which he was favoured by Shakspeare ; and thus to keep the story of his life connected, it has been thought probable, that he resorted back to the theatres, as soon as he was discharged from durance, became intimate with Shakspeare, and commenced a regular writer for the stage. How far all this may be true, it is impossible to affirm: the date of his first play is fixed by the suggestion of the critics, in 1598, when he could only have been in the 24th year of his age. If, however, a computation be made of the time which must have been consumed in the fulfilment of those events which have already been stated, this term will appear somewhat precocious, and be still more doubted when it is recollected that his first play was 'Every Man in his Humour,' a comedy of powerful merits, not likely to be the production of immature youth. Leaving the fact as it has been found, it is manifest, from the dates given in the editions of his works, that from this period he was a constant labourer, who suffered scarcely a year to pass without bringing forward something new.
In 1613, he visited France, but why he went, or how long he stopped there, are points alike unknown. After an interval of six years, he is found residing at Christ's Church College, Oxford, where he was created M.A. at a full convocation in the month of July. In the October following he was preferred to the rank of Poet Laureate. It is observable that the pension attached to the
Laurel at this period was a hundred marks a-year, which was encreased to a hundred pounds, and a tierce of Spanish wine, upon the petition of Jonson, in 1630. This augmentation of fortune availed little to his comfort or respectability: like other poets he was improvident, and was soon after discovered lodging in an obscure alley, and so sick and poor, that a representation was made in his behalf to Charles the I. The King sent him ten guineas, a frugal donation, which so fired the wrath of the ancient dramatist, that he turned to the messenger and said, “ His Majesty has sent me ten guineas because I am poor and live in an alley; but you may go and tell him that his soul lives in an alley.” This cynical answer argues ill for the liberality of Charles: it should not therefore be concealed that there is an epigram in Jonson's works, which was written as an acknowledgment for 1001., presented to him by the same king on some other occasion.
Such, and so scanty, are the only particulars on record respecting this great writer : it only remains, therefore, to tell that he died of the palsy, on the 16th of August, 1637, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.' He collected and printed a part of his works in one volume folio, during the year 1616, and added, to them a second volume, which was also published in folio during the year 1631. The first complete edition of his works issued from the press in folio, in 1640, and the last and best was given by Gifford, in 8vo., in 1820.
As the fame of Ben Jonson rests exclusively upon his dramatic pieces, to them alone is the attention of the reader here invited. They amount to no less a number than fifty-three, of which thréeand-thirty are masks, written for and represented before the royal family, or high nobility, and not much entitled by their interest or quality to particular description. His regular dramas consist of Every Man in his Humour, a comedy the most durably po pular of all he produced, first acted in 1598, and first printed in 1601. “Every Man out of his Humour,' a comical satire, followed, and was first acted in 1599, and first printed in 1600. This performance he also styled a play of characters, and made remarkable by so far adapting it to the Grecian model, as to keep throughout the succession of the scenes a body of interlocutors constantly on the stage, who commented on the plot as it proceeded. Cynthia's
Revels,' a comical satire, was performed in 1600, before Elizabeth, who was typified in the principal personage. Poetaster, or His Arraignment,' a comical satire, acted in 1601, and printed in 1602, was composed to ridicule his brother dramatists. Sejanus' is a tragedy classical and imposing in a high degree, but not much favoured by the public at the moment of its first representation in 1603, or at any subsequent, period. •Volpone, or the Fox, a comedy highly finished in language and characters, and estimated one of the best of his pieces, was first acted in 1605. * Epicene, or the Silent Woman,' a capital comedy, acted in 1609, stands highly commended by Dryden for a preservation of the Grecian unities. "The Case Altered,' a comedy, appeared at the same date, but presents no distinctive merit, and by some has been pronounced supposititious. "The Alchymist,' first played in 1610, is a comedy universally read and admired. *Cataline, his Conspiracy,' dated in 1611, is a tragedy of great strength, but infinite declamation. · Bartholomew Fair,' a comedy, acted in 1614, is remarkable for a great fund of humour, and a host of characters. The Devil is an Ass,' a comedy, was acted in 1616, but not printed until 1940. "The Staple of News.' another comedy, was acted in 1625, and printed in 1631: it is chiefly remarkable for the introduction of such a body of interlocutors as is mentioned in. Every Man out of his Humour.' The New Inn,' an unsuccessful comedy, was played in 1629, and printed in 1631. - The Magnetick Lady, or Humours Reconciled,' a comedy of disputed merits, has no date assigned to it for the period of its first representation. The latter observation also applies to the Tale of a Tub,' a comedy, which is replete with low humour. To this list are to be added • The Sad Shepherd, or a Tale of Robin Hood,' and Mortimer's Fall;' the first a pastoral, and the second a tragedy, both left unfinished at the moment of his death. His name also appears, in conjunction with Chapman and Marston, to 'Eastward Hoe,' a comedy dated 1605; and again, with Fletcher and Middleton, to the Widow,' a comedy printed in Dodsley's collection,
Ben Jonson was the first of our dramatic poets who can be called a classical scholar, and he turned his learning to no light account in translating whole passages from the Latin authors into his scenes. In this respect he made by no means the most cre