Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

rule, not following the suasion of instinct. Moreover, they are overweighted with ponderous erudition. It is true that Jonson gambols beneath loads of learning which would crush another playwright's back. Nothing in the most recondite classical and medieval sources comes amiss to him. He carries libraries as lightly as an elephant his howdar. But while we watch his "gigantic sport," and wonder, we feel that contemporary critics were not wrong in blaming him for indiscriminate use of antique texts, and in professing a distaste for his laboured translations.

He was not merely a comic and tragic dramatist. Among his papers at his death was found a half-completed pastoral. This fragment, entitled The Sad Shepherd, proves that he could blow the rustic pipe; but he breathed upon it with the lungs of a cultured Polyphemus. How different is his touch to the far laxer yet more moving manner of Fletcher! The specimens of his lyrics and occasional verses which I have selected, show that in these departments of poetry he attained to rare excellence. Yet they miss the fragrance of Beaumont's or of Fletcher's muse, the intensity of Webster's, the magic of Shakespeare's ; and the very best of them, "Drink to me only with thine eyes," is a supremely successful adaptation of fragments chosen for free translation from the prose of Philostratus.

Jonson again was not only a poet. He was also a great critic, a writer of majestic prose, and a philosophical observer of human nature. The

lofty Dedication of Volpone to the Sister Universities and the Discoveries, in which he digested some of his ripest thoughts on men and art and statecraft, will repay persual by all who care to study the development of English style in prose. They show that the first half of the seventeenth century, so rich in works of creative genius, was not deficient in reflection upon the principles of life and art. Unfortunately, the larger bulk of Jonson's critical essays perished in a fire which destroyed his library at some uncertain date between 1619 and 1625.

If I were bound to offer in one sentence a definition of Ben Jonson's genius, I should be inclined to call him a poet of the understanding and of judgment, in whom vast erudition was combined with rarely acute faculties for studying and reproducing the distinctive marks of personal character, and who had overlaid a lively imaginative faculty with deliberately conceived ideals of the literary art. Fire of the imagination and fancy smouldered in the man without emerging into luminosity. He struggled under the weight of his encumbered memory; and haughtily submitted to the fetters of a self-prescribed rule. Yet it was this central heat of a naturally poetic temperament which gave warmth and glow to his best work, even when we recognise it to be clumsy, and feel bound to acknowledge that it bears the aspect rather of constructive ability than of genial inspiration.

JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS.

Epicone; or, the Silent Woman.

...1...

[blocks in formation]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »