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less either to gain or keep; vindictive, but if he was well answered, greatly chagrined; interpreting the best sayings and deeds often to the worst. He was for either religion, being versed in both: oppressed with fancy, which over-mastered his reason; a general disease among the poets. In short (adds his Scottish friend) he was, in his personal character, the very reverse of Shakspeare; as surly, ill-natured, cross, and disagreeable, as Shakspeare with ten times his merit was gentle, good-natured, easy, and amiable." In his studies, he was laborious and indefatigable; his reading was copious, his judgement accurate, and his memory so tenacious, that (as he himself informs us, in his Discoveries') in his youth he could have repeated entire books; and, even when turned of forty, he remembered the whole of his own compositions!
In his friendships, he was cautious and sincere, yet accused of levity and ingratitude; but his accusers were the criminals. With men of virtue and learning he was connected by the ties of intimacy and affection. The Learned, the Judicious, the Great, the Immortal Ben were his frequent distinctions. By Randolph and Cartwright he was revered, as the reformer and the father of the British stage: Shakspeare* had cherished his infant muse: Beauintervened, which almost spoiled the relish of the rest, that B. began to engross all the discourse; to vapour extremely of himself, and by vilifying others to magnify his own muse. T. Ca. buzzed me in the ear, that though Ben had barrelled up a great deal of knowledge, yet it seems he had not read the ethics, which amongst other precepts of morality forbid self-commendation, declaring it to be an ill-favoured solecism in goodmanners."
* None even of his envious, or hostile, contemporaries charge VOL. II. 2 Q
mont and Fletcher esteemed him: Donne had recommended his merit; and Camden and Selden* knew how to prize his various literature.
"His parts," says Fuller, "were not so ready to run of themselves, as able to answer the spur; so that it may be truly said of him, that he had an elaborate wit, wrought out by his own industry.' He would sit silent in learned company, and suck in (beside wine) their several humours into his observations. What was ore in others, he was able to refine himself. He was paramount in the dramatic part of poetry, and taught the stage an exact conformity to the laws of comedians. His comedies were above the Volge (which are only tickled with downright obscenity) and took not so well at the him with having depreciated the merits of this his illustrious and beloved' friend. Dryden, it is true, with Malone and some of the other editors of Shakspeare, thinks his testimony to the Genius of the British drama invidious and sparing: but to Pope it appears an ample and honourable panegyric. Jonson affirms, indeed, of Shakspeare's writings, that "neither man nor muse could praise them too much!" calls him
"Soul of the age!
Th' applause, delight, and wonder of our stage!"
and pits him confidently against
• All that insolent Greece or haughty Rome
He was not of an age, but for all time,' &c. &c. Surely this is enough, even for Shakspeare, and leaves no room for Malone's charge of malignity! Mr. Gilchrist has, likewise, recently vindicated Jonson from the imputation with considerable
*This great man has acknowledged the good offices, which Jonson rendered him through his interest at court, when he had incurred the royal displeasure by publishing his 'History of Tithes.'
first stroke, as at the rebound, when beheld the second time: yea, they will endure reading, and that with due commendation, so long as either ingenuity or learning are fashionable in our nation. If his later be not so sprightful and vigorous as his first pieces, all that are old will, and all that desire to be old should, excuse him therein. Many were the wit-combats between him and Shakspeare, which two I beheld like a Spanish great galleon and an English man of war. Master Jonson, like the former, was built far higher in learning; solid, but slow in his performances: Shakspeare, with the English man of war, lesser in bulk but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds by the quickness of his wit and invention."
"His name," says Lord Clarendon," "can never be forgotten; having by his very good learning, and his very good nature and manners, very much re formed the stage, and indeed the English poetry itself. His natural advantages were, judgement to govern the fancy, rather than excess of fancy; his productions being slow and upon deliberation, yet then abounding with great wit and fancy, and will live accordingly. And surely as he did exceedingly exalt the English language in eloquence, propriety, and masculine expressions, so he was the judge of and fittest to prescribe rules to poetry and poets, of any man who had lived either before him or since: if Mr. Cowley had not made a flight beyond all men, with that modesty yet as to ascribe much of this example and learning to Ben Jonson. His conversation was very good, and with men of most note; and he had for many years an extraordinary kindness for Mr. Hyde (Lord C. himself) till he found he
took himself to business, which he believed ought never to be preferred before his company."
Dr. Johnson, in his celebrated Prologue, has strongly marked his character, as contrasted with the boundless and commanding genius of Shakspeare:
'Then Jonson came, instructed from the school
For they, who durst not censure, scarce could praise.'
With respect to his talents for the theatre, Dryden, in his Essay on Dramatic Poetry,' pronounces him "the most learned and judicious writer which any theatre ever had;" and gives a particular examina tion of his Silent Woman,' as a model of perfection. His excellence, however, was chiefly con fined to the preservation of the Unities, and the skilful management of the plot. In almost every thing, which makes comedy pleasant, he was defective. "You seldom," observes the great critic last mentioned, "find him making love in any of his scenes, or endeavouring to move the passions : his genius was too sullen and saturnine, to do it gracefully." And even his peculiar humour he drew rather from conceptions of ridiculous character formed in his own fancy, than from the ob servation of nature. Neither the names nor the language of real life, especially as they exist in the upper ranks of society, are ordinarily to be found in his representations; and the incidents are, in ge neral, vulgar. It is, therefore, no just cause of wonder, that his plays have gradually been superseded. Of fifty which he wrote, not more than three
preserve his name: but those are excellent. Courtmasques and pageantry, unfortunately, dissipated the talents which had produced Volpone,' The Alchemist,' and 'The Silent Woman.' His two tragedies, Sejanus' and 'Catiline' (both formed on the wretched model of Seneca, and both unsuccessful) are full of long declamatory speeches, in many instances closely translated from the ancient historians and orators. To this may be added Pope's remark, that, "When Jonson got possession of the stage, he brought critical learning into vogue; and that this was not done without difficulty, which appears from those frequent lessons (and, indeed, almost declamations) which he was forced to prefix to his first plays, and put into the mouths of his actors, the Grex, Chorus, &c. to remove the prejudices and reform the judgement of his hearers. Till then, the English authors had no thoughts of writing upon the model of the ancients: their tragedies were only histories in dialogue, and their comedies followed the thread of any novel as they found it, no less implicitly than if it had been true history."
Jonson seems, indeed, to have had no nice ear for poetry; though Drummond declares, that his inventions were smooth and easy.' He does not appear to have had much conception of those breaks and rests, or of adapting the sound of his verse to the sense, which constitute eminent beauties in our best modern poets. It is universally agreed, that translation or imitation* was his most distin
* He appears, says D'Israeli, to have been the inventor of what his critical namesake, in his Life of Pope,' calls "a kind of middle composition between translation and original design;" the adaptation of ancient satire to modern facts and