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sists of forced humours, and unnatural events. Comedy presents us with the imperfections of human nature: Farce entertains us with what is monstrous and chimerical. The one causes laughter in those who can judge of men and manners, by the lively representation of their folly or corruption : The other produces the same effect in those who can judge of neither, and that only by its extravagances. The first works on the judgment and fancy; the latter on the fancy only: There is more of satisfaction in the former kind of laughter, and in the latter more of scorn. But, how it happens, that an impossible adventure should cause our mirth, I cannot so easily imagine. Something there may be in the oddness of it, because on the stage it is the common effect of things unexpected, to surprise us into a delight : and that is to be ascribed to the strange appetite, as I may call it, of the fancy; which, like that of a longing woman, often runs out into the most extravagant desires; and is better satisfied sometimes with loam, or with the rinds of trees, than with the wholesome nourishments of life. In short, there is the same difference betwixt farce and comedy, as betwixt an empirick, and a true physician: Both of them may attain their ends; but what the one performs by hazard, the other does by skill. And as the artist is often unsuccessful, while the mountebank succeeds ; so farces more commonly take the people than comedies. For, to write unnatural things, is the most probable way of pleasing them, who understand not nature.
And a true poet often misses of applause, because he cannot debase himself to write so ill as to please his audience.
After all, it is to be acknowledged, that most of those comedies, which have been lately written,
have been allied too much to farce: And this must of necessity fall out, till we forbear the translation of French plays: For their poets, wanting judgment to make or to maintain true characters, strive to cover their defects with ridiculous figures and grimaces. While I say this, I accuse myself as well as others : And this very play would rise up in judgment against me, if I would defend all things I have written to be natural : But I confess I have given too much to the people in it, and am ashamed for them as well as for myself, that I have pleased them at so cheap a rate. Not that there is any thing here which I would not defend to an ill-natured judge ; (for I despise their censures, who I am sure would write worse on the same subject :) but, because I love to deal clearly and plainly, and to speak of my own faults with more criticism, than I would of another poet's. Yet I think it no vanity to say, that this comedy has as much of entertainment in it, as many others which have been lately written: And, if I find my own errors in it, I am able, at the same time, to arraign all my contemporaries for greater. As I pretend not that I can write humour, so none of them can reasonably pretend to have written it as they ought. Jonson was the only man, of all ages and nations, who has performed it well; and that but in three or four of his comedies: The rest are but a crambe bis cocta ; the same humours a little varied and written worse. Neither was it more allowable in him, than it is in our present poets, to represent the follies of particular persons; of which many have accused' him. Parcere personis, dicere de vitiis, is the rule of plays. And Horace tells you, that the old comedy amongst the Grecians was silenced for the too great liberties
of the poets :
In vitium libertas excidit et vim
Of which he gives you the reason in another place: where, having given the precept,
Nere immunda crepent, ignominiosaque dicta,
He immediately subjoins,
Offenduntur enim quibus est equus, et pater, et res.
But Ben Jonson is to be admired for many excellencies; and can be taxed with fewer failings than any English poet. I know I have been accused as an enemy of his writings; but without any other reason, than that I do not admire him blindly, and without looking into his imperfections. For why should he only be exempted from those frailties, from which Homer and Virgil are not free? Or why should there be any ipse dixit in our poetry, any more than there is in our philosophy? I admire and applaud him where I ought : Those, who do more, do but value themselves in their admiration of him ; and, by telling you they extol Ben Jonson's way, would insinuate to you that they can practise it. For my part, I declare that I want judgment to imitate him; and should think it a great impudence in myself to attemptit. To make men appear pleasantly ridiculous on the stage, was, as I have said, his talent ; and in this he needed not the acumen of wit, but that of judgment. For the characters and representations of folly are only the effects of observation; and observation is an effect of judgment. Some ingenious men, for whom I have a particular esteem, have thought I have much injured Ben Jonson, when I have not allowed his
wit to be extraordinary : But they confound the notion of what is witty, with what is pleasant. That Ben Jonson's plays were pleasant, he must want reason who denies: But that pleasantness was not properly wit, or the sharpness of conceit; but the natural imitation of folly : Which I confess to be excellent in its kind, but not to be of that kind which they pretend. Yet if we will believe Quintilian, in his chapter de movendo risu, he gives his opinion of both in these following words: Stulta reprehendere facillimum est ; nam per se sunt ridicula, et à derisu non procul abest risus: Sed rem urbanam facit aliqua ex nobis adjectio.
And some perhaps would be apt to say of Jonson, as it was said of Demosthenes,-non displicuisse illi jocos, sed non contigisse. I will not deny, but that I approve most the mixt way of comedy; that which is neither all wit, nor all humour, but the result of both. Neither so little of humour as Fletcher shews, nor so little of love and wit as Jonson; neither all cheat, with which the best plays of the one are filled, nor all adventure, which is the common practice of the other. I would have the characters well chosen, and kept distant from interfering with each other; which is more than Fletcher or Shakespeare did: But I would have more of the urbana, venusta, salsa, faceta, and the rest which Quintilian reckons up as the ornaments of wit; and these are extremely wanting in ben Jon
As for repartee, in particular; as it is the very soul of conversation, so it is the greatest grace of comedy, where it is proper to the characters. There may be much of acuteness in a thing well said; but there is more in a quick reply: Sunt enim longè venustiora omnia in respondendo quàm in provocando. Of one thing I am sure, that no man ever will decry wit, but he wlo despairs of it biniself; and who has no other quarrel to it, but that which the fox had to the grapes.
Yet, as Mr Cowley (who had a greater portion of it than any man I know) tells us in his Character of Wit, -rather than all wit, let there be none. I think there is no folly so great in any poet of our age, as the superfluity and waste of wit was in some of our predecessors : particularly we may say of Fletcher and of Shakespeare, what was said of Ovid, In omni ejus ingenio, facilius quod rejici, quàm quod adjici potest, invenies: The contrary of which was true in Virgil, and our incomparable Jonson.
Some enemies of repartee have observed to us, that there is a great latitude in their characters, which are made to speak it: and that it is easier to write wit than humour; because, in the characters of humour, the poet is confined to make the person speak what is only proper to it; whereas, all kind of wit is proper in the character of a witty person. But, by their favour, there are as different characters in wit as in folly. Neither is all kind of wit proper in the mouth of every ingenious person. A witty coward, and a witty brave, must speak differently. Falstaff and the Liar speak not like Don John in the “Chances,” and Valentine in “Wit without Money.” And Jonson's Truewit in the “ Silent Woman,” is a character different from all of them. Yet it appears, that this one character of wit was more difficult to the author, than all his images of humour in the play: for those he could describe and manage from his observations of men; this he has taken, at least a part of it, from books: Witness the speeches in the first act, translated verbatim out of Ovid, “ De Arte Amandi." To omit what afterwards he, borrowed from the sixth satire of Juvenal against women. However, if I should grant, that there were a