صور الصفحة
PDF
[blocks in formation]

creased his reputation. A rapid succession of pieces of great excellence placed him in the first rank of dramatic writers. Fairer prospects of emolument opened to him on the accession of James I. From that period be almost abandoned the stage, and employed himself in the production of his series of beautiful masques for the amusement of the Court and of the nobility. This species of writing Jonson may claim the credit of having brought to perfection, and it may almost be said to have died with him.

It was during these happier years that he acquired those habits of conviviality to which his enemies have given a less gentle name. His company was courted by all the talent of the time, and the suppers of the " Mer. maid" are mentioned with enthusiasm by those who had enjoyed their keen encounters of contending wits. Much of the obloquy against Jonson has arisen from a result of a journey he undertook to Scotland in 1618. He had visited the poet Drummond of Hawthornden. Drummond's notes of their conversations were published partially, under the sanction of his son, in 1711, long after his own and Jonson's death. They contained strictures, reckoned to be malignant, on many of Jonson's contemporaries and on some of his patrons. Jonson's biographer, Gifford, falls furiously on Drummond for the treachery implied in the noting down of confidential conversations, as these have been the foundation of aspersions of the worst kind on Jonson's character.

The death of James deprived Jonson of a kind and indulgent patron. He had succeeded Daniel in the hitherto honorary office of laureate, and received for it a small pension ; but he was neglected by Charles I., and the concluding years of his life were spent under the pressure of poverty and disease, during which, however, his indefatigable pen was seldom unemployed. He died in 1637, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The flagstone over his grave was inscribed by some familiar friend with the words “ Oh rare Ben Jonson."

Gifford heroically defends Jonson from the calumnies heaped on his memory, especially by the commentators of Shakespeare, and vindicates for his author the possession of qualities that commanded the affection and respect of the first men of the time, and caused his death to be felt as a public loss. He seems to have been a man of strong and independent character ; somewhat rough and arrogant in manner, but liberal and kind-hearted in temper, with the frankness and bluntness of a true Englishman. His works display a veneration for all that is high-minded and virtuous ; his learning is so prodigious that his commentators pant with difficulty after his footsteps. He has not been popular since his own age ; Gifford assigns for this various reasons. - See Vol. I. p. 135, et seq. His characters want individuality, and illustrate“ humours" rather than minds. His wit is brilliant, “ but does not make the heart laugh." His two tragedies, Sejanus and Catiline, lofty, ornate, and correct in the costume of Roman manners, are frigid and passionless. “ In the plots of his comedies he is deserving of undisputed praise.” Aristophanes, Terence, and Plautus are his models. At the head of his comedies in reputation stand

“ The Fox, the Alchemist, and Silent Woman,

Done by Ben Jonson, and outdone by no man." His language is nervous and masculine ; “ perhaps," says Dryden, “he did a little too much Romanize our tongue.” His masques abound in passages of the most airy and animated beauty.

1 A tavern in Cornhill. ? See a defence of Drummond and the conversations themselves in a publication of the Shakespeare Society, by D. Laing, Est

3 For a judicious estimate of the merits of Jonson, see the Retrospective Review, vol. i. p. 181.

FROM "CYNTHIA'S REVELS."

SONG OF HESPERUS.
Queen and huntress, chaste and fair,
Now the sun is laid to sleep,
Seated in thy silver chair,
State in wonted manner keep.

Hesperus entreats thy light,
Goddess excellently bright!

Earth, let not thy envious shade
Dare itself to interpose;
Cynthia's shining orb was made
Heaven to clear, when day did close.

Bless us then with wished sight,
Goddess excellently bright!

Lay thy bow of pearl apart,
And thy crystal-shining quiver :
Give unto the flying hart
Space to breathe how short soever ;

Thou that mak'st a day of night,
Goddess excellently bright!

FROM CATILINE'S ADDRESS TO HIS ARMY.

ACT V. sc. 5.

You might have lived in servitude or exile,
Or safe at Rome, depending on the great ones,
But that you thought these things unfit for men ;
And in that thought you then were valiant;
For no man ever yet changed peace for war
But that he meant to conquer. Hold that purpose.
There's more necessity you should be such,
In fighting for yourselves, than they for others.
He's base that trusts his feet, whose hands are arm'd.
Methinks I see Death and the Furies waiting
What we will do, and all the heaven at leisure
For the great spectacle. Draw then your swords;
And if our destiny envy our virtue
The honour of the day, yet let us care
To sell ourselves at such a price as may
Undo the world to buy us, and make Fate,
While she tempts ours, fear her own estate.

FROM EVERY MAN OUT OF HIS HUMOUR.

141

FROM THE EPILOGUE TO “EVERY MAN OUT OF HIS HUMOUR."

Yet humble as the earth do I implore,
Oh Heaven, that shel

* may suffer most late change
In her admired and happy government:
May still this Island be called Fortunate,
And rugged Treason tremble at the sound,
When Fame shall speak it with an emphasis.
Let foreign Polity? be dull as lead,
And pale Invasion come with half a heart,
When he but looks upon her blessed soil.
The throat of War be stopped within her land,
And turtle-footed Peace dance fairy rings
About her court; where never may there come
Suspect+ or danger, but all trust and safety.
Let Flattery be dumb, and Envy blind
In her dread presence ! Death himself admire her;
And may her virtues make him to forget
The use of his inevitable hand!
Fly from her, Age; sleep, Time, before her throne !
Our strongest wall falls down when she is gone.5

FROM "THE FOREST."

FAREWELL TO THE WORLD.
False world, good night!-Since thou hast brought

That hour upon my morn of age,
Henceforth I quit thee from my thought,
My part is ended on thy stage.

I know thy forms are studied arts,

Thy subtle ways be narrow straits,
Thy courtesy but sudden starts,

And what thou call'st thy gifts, are baits.

I know too, though thon strut and paint,

Yet thou art both shrunk up and old,
That only fools make thee a saint,

And all thy good is to be sold.

I know thou whole art but a shop

Of toys and trifles, traps and snares,
To take the weak, or make them stop:

Yet thou art falser than thy wares.

i Elizabeth.

2 Intrigue. 3 Compare Milton's “ Peace, with turtle-wing." Nativity Hymn, 50. Suspicion.

5 Compare Shakespeare, Henry VIII. Act V. Sc. 4. Craniner's Prophecy ;-" This royal infant," &c.

And, knowing this, should I yet stay,

Like such as blow away their lives,
And never will redeem a day,

Enamoured of their golden gyves ?

Nor for my peace will I go far,

As wanderers do, that still do roam ;
But make my strengths, such as they are,

Here in my bosom, and at Lome.

TO CELIA.

Drink to me only with thine eyes,

And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss within the cup,

And I'll not look for wine.
The thirst, that from the soul doth rise,

Doth ask a drink divine :
But might I of Jove's nectar sup,

I would not change for thine.

II.
I sent thee late a rosy wreath,

Not so much honouring thee,
As giving it a hope, that there

It could not withered be;
But thou thereon didst only breathe,

And sent'st it back to me,
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,

Not of itself but thee.

FROM "THE UNDERWOODS."

TO THE HOLY TRINITY.

O Holy, blessed, glorious Trinity
Of Persons, still one God in unity,
The faithful man's believed mystery,

Help, help to lift
Myself up to thee, harrow'd, torn, and bruised
By sin and Satan, and my flesh misused;
As my heart lies in pieces, all confused,

O take my gift.

1 This song is a translation from a “ Collection of Love Letters” by the Greek sophist Philostratus,

FROM THE UNDERWOODS.

143

II.

All-gracions God, the sinner's sacrifice,
A broken heart thou wert not wont despise ;
But, 'bove the fat of rams and bulls, to prize-

An offering meet
For thy acceptance; O behold me right,
And take compassion on my grievous plight!
What odour can be than a heart contrite

To thee more sweet?

III.
Eternal Father, God, who didst create
This all of nothing, gav'st it form and fate,
And breath'st into it life and light, and state

To worship thee!
Eternal God, the Son, who not denied'st
To take our nature ; becam'st man, and died'st
To pay our debts, upon thy cross, and cried'st

"All's done in me !"

IV.
Eternal Spirit, God from both proceeding,
Father and Son-the Comforter, in breeding
Pure thoughts in man; with fiery zeal them feeding

For acts of grace!
Increase those acts, O glorious Unity
Of Persons, still one God in Trinity;
Till I attain the longed-for mystery

Of seeing your face.

V.
Beholding One in Three, and Three in One,
A Trinity to shine in Union ;
The gladdest light dark man can think upon,

Oh grant it me!
Father and Son, and Holy Ghost, you three
All co-eternal in your Majesty,
Distinct in Persons, yet in Unity-

One God to see.

VI.

My Maker, Saviour, and my Sanctifier !
To hear, to mediate, sweeten my desire
With grace, and love, with cherishing entire ;

O then how blest!
Among thy saints elected to abide,
And with thy angels placéd, side by side,
But in thy presence truly glorified,

Sball I there rest.

« السابقةمتابعة »