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NO LESS NOBLE BY VIRTUE THAN BLOOD,
ESME LORD AUBIGNY."
IF ever any ruin were so great as to survive, I think this
be one I send you, The Fall of Sejanus. It is a poem, that, if I well remember, in your lordship's sight, suffered no less violence from our people here, than the subject of it did from the rage of the people of Rome; but with a different fate, as, I hope, merit: for this hath outlived their malice, and begot itself a greater favour than he lost, the love of good men. Amongst whom, if I make your lordship the first it thanks, it is not without a just confession of the bond your benefits have, and ever shall hold upon me,
Your Lordship's most faithful honourer,
See Epig. 127.
-suffered no less violence from our people, &c.] The opposition made to Sejanus (of which Jonson here puts his patron in mind) is noticed in a poem by Fennor, which appeared about the time of this Dedication, 1616.
"Is oft convict, condemn'd and judged to die, "Without just triall by a multitude,
"Whose judgments are illiterate and rude.
"Yet to the multitude it nothing shewd.
"They screwed their scurvy jawes, and lookt awry,
THE following and voluntary labours of my friends, prefixed to my book, have relieved me in much whereat, without them, I should necessarily have touched. Now I will only use three or four short and needful notes, and so rest.
First, if it be objected, that what I publish is no true poem, in the strict laws of time, I confess it: as also in the want of a proper chorus; whose habit and moods are such and so difficult, as not any, whom I have seen, since the ancients, no, not they who have most presently affected laws, have yet come in the way of. Nor is it needful, or almost possible in these our times, and to such auditors as commonly things are presented, to observe the old state and splendor of dramatic poems, with preservation of any popular delight. But of this I shall take more seasonable cause to speak, in my observations upon Horace his Art of Poetry, which, with the text translated, I intend shortly to publish." In the mean time, if in truth of argument, dignity of per
3 The following and coluntary labours of my friends,] Commendatory copies of verses, which the reader will find in the first volume: they amount to eight, of which Whalley reprinted but two. This address is only in the quarto, 1605.
4 The learned world has reason to regret the loss of those observations, to which Jonson frequently alludes. They were burnt in the fire which consumed his study, as appears from the Execration upon Vulcan :
"All the old Venusine in poetry
"And lighted by the Stagyrite, could spy,
sons, gravity and height of elocution, fulness and frequency of sentence, I have discharged the other offices of a tragic writer, let not the absence of these •forms be imputed to me, wherein I shall give you occasion hereafter, and without my boast, to think I could better prescribe, than omit the due use for want of a convenient knowledge.
The next is, lest in some nice nostril the quotations might savour affected, I do let you know, that I abhor nothing more; and I have only done it to shew my integrity in the story, and save myself in those common torturers that bring all wit to the rack; whose noses are ever like swine spoiling and rooting up the Muses' gardens; and their whole bodies like moles, as blindly working under earth, to cast any, the least, hills upon virtue.
Whereas they are in Latin, and the work in English, it was presupposed none but the learned would take the pains to confer them; the authors themselves being all in the learned tongues, save one, with whose English side I have had little to do. To which it may be required, since I have quoted the page, to name what editions I followed: Tacit. Lips. in quarto, Antwerp. edit. 1600. Dio. folio, Hen. Steph. 1592. For the rest, as Sueton. Seneca, &c. the chapter doth sufficiently direct, or the edition is not varied.
Lastly, I would inform you, that this book, in all numbers, is not the same with that which was acted on the public stage; wherein a second pen had good share in place of which, I have rather chosen to put weaker, and, no doubt, less pleasing, of mine own, than to defraud so happy a genius of his right by my loathed usurpation."
5 Defraud so happy a genius of his right by my loathed usurpation.] The genius here alluded to undoubtedly was Shak
Fare you well, and if you read farther of me, and like, I shall not be afraid of it, though you praise
Neque enim mihi cornea fibra est.
But that I should plant my felicity in your general saying, good, or well, &c. were a weakness which
speare, who was also a performer in the play; but, I believe, posterity wishes that Jonson had rather have let them stood with some note of distinction, than have substituted his own in their room, from a false point of modesty, or to render the whole more uniform and of a piece. WHAL.
In evil hour did Jonson write the manly passage to which Whalley's note refers. It has drawn upon him a world of obloquy from the commentators of Shakspeare, couched in language, which the vocabulary of Billingsgate must have been narrowly ransacked to supply. "Mean," "haughty," "malignant," "envious," "ungrateful," "treacherous," &c. &c. are among the gentlest epithets which the righteous indignation of these gentlemen can afford. "He affirms, with a sneer," (says one of them,) "that he would not join his inferior matter to that of the great poet; but wrote over again those scenes which had been wrought into the piece by his pen. Who does not wish that Shakspeare had put as high a value upon his true brilliants, as Ben upon his jewels of paste, and preserved the rejected scenes? I have had some little suspicion that Shakspeare's part might possibly be that alone which escaped public censure; as the play was universally exploded." And thus Shakspeare is honoured!
Whalley wishes that Jonson had marked the lines furnished by Shakspeare; but this, besides being a most invidious mode of distinction, was directly contrary to the established practice of the times. But why must the poet's assistant be Shakspeare? I know that all the critics are positive on the subject: but of this I make no great account; having had frequent opportunities of observing that where Jonson is to be condemned, it is not thought at all necessary to establish the validity of whatever tends to criminate him.
Why might not Chapman or Middleton be intended here? they, like Shakspeare, were living in habits of kindness with
6 This is from Persius, as are the allusions in the following line: the conclusion is from Horace.
the better sort of you might worthily contemn, if not absolutely hate me for.
and no such,
Palma negata macrum, donata reducit opimum.
the poet they wrote in conjunction with him; they were both men of learning; and no great yiolation scems offered to lan. guage (at least no greater than courtesy would excuse) in terming them happy geniuses. Beaumont was perhaps too young; but Fletcher, who loved Jonson, and was greatly beloved in his turn, was extremely well qualified to assist him; and, not to keep the reader in suspense, was, in my opinion, the person actually meant.-Shakspeare seems to be almost the last eminent writer to whom our author would look for assistance on the present occasion: Sejanus is entirely founded on the Greek and Latin historians, who are carefully quoted in the margin of the first copy: and the author values himself on the closeness with which he has followed his originals. Shakspeare, as Jonson well knew, derived all his knowledge of Roman story from translations, and this was scarcely sufficiently accurate or extensive to induce our author to solicit his aid in the production of his meditated Tragedy, which he certainly intended to be "a palmarian work," as to its fidelity. The author to whom Jonson alludes as being "in English," is Tacitus, whose Annals (the only work from which an unlearned reader could derive any knowledge of the subject of this Tragedy) were translated by one Grenaway, a few years be
Enough, perhaps, on the subject-yet I am still inclined to ask, What is Jonson's offence? and (even supposing, for the sake of argument, that Shakspeare was really the person meant,) why has he been visited with such severity? He speaks of his coadjutor with respect, and of himself with modesty; he addresses those who were well acquainted with the play as it was acted, and who, if the cause of poetry had sustained any very serious loss by his alterations, were not unlikely to have reproached him with it. That he should be anxious to render a drama which seemed condemned, by its want of popularity, to