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just as though in walking with a fellow, we should never speak but at a stile, a gate, or å ditch, where a man can go no further. I was once at a comedy in Cambridge, and there I saw a parasite make faces and mouths of all sorts on this fashion."
Burbage.—"? A little teaching will mend these faults ; and it may be, besides, they will be able to pen a part.”
Kempe.-“ Few of the university pen plays well; they smell too much of that writer Ovid, and that writer Metamorphosis, and talk too much of Proserpina and Juppiter. Why here's our fellow Shakspeare put them (the University poets) all down, ay, and Ben Jonson too. O, that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow; he brought up Horace, giving the poets a pill, but our fellow Shakspeare hath given him a purge that inade him bewray his credit.”
Burbage.—“ Its a shrewd fellow indeed."*
If this passage, on which so much stress is laid, did indeed prove the enmity of the parties, it would go to show that the gentle Shakspeare was the aggressor; that when Jonson had vented his anger on Dekker, Shakspeare stepped in to the assistance of the latter, and assailed the
* This drama, which is reprinted by Hawkins, is a literary curiosity of great merit and interest.
" humorous poet" with success. “In what manner Shakspeare put Jonson down, or made him bewray his credit, does not appear;" says Mr. Malone. “His retaliation,” he continues, “we may be well assured, contained no gross or illiberal abuse; and, perhaps, did not go beyond a ballad or an epigram, which may have perished with things of greater consequence."* Mr. Chalmers also infers from this passage, that “there was certainly a quarrel between the two great dramatists.”+
When an object is placed too near to the eye, the vision is strained and impaired, and the object obscured or distorted: if the commentators had viewed this passage “ as others use, they would have found in the numerous dramas published anterior to the above passage, the instruments by which he put Ben down; and, in their various excellence, the means by which he threw the claims of his competitor into shade. The passage has no reference to personal animosity; it was a just testimony to the superior merit of " the poet of nature” over the writings of more “ learned candidates for fame;" and the
* Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 293. ..+- Chalmers's Supplemental Apology for the Believers of the Shakspeare Papers, 8vo. page 239. 1799..
well-merited compliment is very appropriately put into the mouth of Will Kempe, one of “Shakspeare's fellows." Mr. Malone now adds an irresistible argument, namely, that Shakspeare has sufficiently“ marked his disregard for the calumniator of his fame, by not leaving him any memorial by his will!!!”
I have great respect for the industry of Mr. Malone; and, after bestowing these pages for his reformation, I hope he will not forget me in his testament!
I shall here add what Farmer, a venerable name in all that relates to Shakspeare, has advanced on this subject. “The received opinion,”. says he, “ of the pride and malignity of Jonson, at least in the earlier part of life, is absolutely groundless.” And, in a former page, he calls Ben's verses on him who wrote " for all time," “ the warmest panegyrick that ever was written."*
“ It is a singular circumstance," says Mr. Malone, “ that old Ben should for 'near two centuries have stalked on the stilts of an artificial reputation ; and that even at this day, of the very few who read his works, scarcely one in ten yet ventures to confess how little entertainment they afford. The truth is,” he adds,
* Essay on the Learning of Shakspeare.
" that his pieces, when first performed, were so far from being applauded by the people, that they were scarcely endured, and many of them were actually damned."*
If Ben has indeed stalked for “ two centuries on an artificial reputation,” it must be acknowledged a strange anomaly in literature: a critic, to the full as judicious as Mr. Malone, has told us, .
Est vetus atque probus, centum qui perficit annos.t Leaving this question to other decisions, I may be permitted to doubt that Mr. Malone's acquirements are such as qualify him for deciding on the merits of the “ learned bard;”, at the same time it may be questioned whether he has read Ben with sufficient interest for that purpose; or whether he has not examined Jonson, as he confesses he travelled through Massinger, merely with the view of obtaining verbal illustrations of his favourite Shakspeare. But, be this as it may, in the face of Mr. Malone's decision I shall venture to assert, that a finer drama than the Alchemist, more characteristic
* See Mr. Malone's note (to the extent of six pages), Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 68, et seq.
+ Horace, Epist. lib. ii.
in its design and conduct, more perfect in all its parts, and supported throughout with a more uniform display of unabated excellence, will not be found in the whole compass of English literature. That some of his plays were “actually damned,” is beyond all question ; how far this corresponds with an assertion of Mr. Malone in another place, that the plays of Jonson were preferred to those of Shakspeare after the death of the latter, I shall not stop to inquire; the commentator should have added, however, that one of these was the delightful comedy of “ The Silent Woman!” enough to show that Jonson had in his own time critics as injudicious and tasteless as Mr. Malone or Mr. Chalmers.
As we have seen in the case of Mr. Malone towards Steevens, so, notwithstanding his opposition to the former, on the chronological arrangement of Shakspeare's dramas, Mr. Chalmers yields to none of his predecessors in unrelenting hostility to Ben, whom he never views but with a “torve and tetrick countenance,'*
* This is not altogether the place for notes on Milton, but it will be interesting to those who are fond of tracing literary coincidences to compare the following passages :
- Aside the Devil turn'd For envy; but with jealous leer malign Ey'd them askance.
Par. Lost, book iv.