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ON MASTER VINCENT Corbet.1
Would say as much as both have done
Of him whose bones this grave doth
Dear VINCENT CORBET, who so long
A life that knew nor noise nor strife;
His mind as pure and neatly kept,
An epitaph on Master Vincent Corbet.] He was the father of Bishop Corbet, and lived at Twickenham, where he followed the business of a gardener, and was famous for his nurseries and plantations of trees. We find an allusion both to the genius of his son, and his own eminence in his trade, in the following verses.
This beautiful epitaph, as it is justly termed by Mr. Gilchrist, in his late edition of the Bishop's poems, was written in 1619, the year in which this good old man died. It seems intended as a kind of sequel to his son's elegy, which is simple and affecting, though occasionally tinctured with the peculiar humour of the writer, while Ben's poem is solemn, affectionate, and pathetic throughout. Who the "friend" was that preceded our poet in his tribute of regard to the worth of Vincent Corbet, I know not: so excellent a character found many, perhaps, to weep upon his grave.
But that I understood him scant.
I feel I'm rather dead than he !
Reader, whose life and name did e'er be
An Epitaph, deserved a Tomb: Nor wants it here through penury or sloth, Who makes the one, so it be first, makes both.
ON THE PORTRAIT OF SHAKSPEARE.
This figure that thou here seest put,
TO THE MEMORY OF MY BELOVED MASTER WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE, AND WHAT HE HATH LEFT US. To draw no envy, SHAKSPEARE, on thy
Am I thus ample to thy book and fame;
And number him by doing good, He lived their age beyond the flood." 3 I have thought it best to interrupt the the sake of inserting such scattered pieces of arrangement of the old folio in this place, for works, together with such as Whalley had imJonson as have not hitherto found a place in his being published under the author's own care, properly subjoined to his Epigrams, which should naturally terminate where he chose to stop short himself.
name under the portrait of Shakspeare prefixed 4 These verses are printed with Jonson's as a frontispiece to the first edition of his works in folio, 1623.
gives us a truer representation of Shakspeare "This print (engraved by Martin Droeshout) than several more pompous memorials of him; if the testimony of Ben Jonson may be credited, to whom he was personally known. Unless we suppose that poet to have sacrificed his veracity to the turn of thought in his epigram, which is very improbable, as he might have been easily contradicted by several that must have remembered so celebrated a person. Granger's Biog. Hist. of Eng. 8vo. 1775, vol. ii. p. 6.
And tell how far thou didst our Lyly outshine,
Or sporting Kyd, or Marlowe's mighty line.] These were in possession of the theatre when Shakspeare first appeared, and enjoyed a high degree of popularity. Of Kyd little is known, except that he was the author of the Spanish Tragedy; though he must undoubtedly have had many other pieces on the stage. Lyly was a pedantic and affected writer, with considerable talents, not indeed for the drama, but for the rude, verbose romance of those days, and which had a striking influence not only on our colloquial, but written language.
I therefore will begin: Soul of the age!. The applause! delight! the wonder of our stage!
My SHAKSPEARE rise! I will not lodge thee by
Marlowe's mighty line is not introduced at random. Marlowe has many lines which have!
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie
That I not mix thee so my brain excuses,
I should commit thee surely with thy peers,
And tell how far thou didst our Lyly outshine, 2
not hitherto been surpassed. His two parts of Tamburlaine, though simple in plot and naked in artifice, have yet some rude attempts at consistency of character, and many passages of masculine vigour and lofty poetry. Even the bombast lines which Shakspeare has put into the mouth of Pistol, are followed by others, in the same scene, and even in the same speech, which the great poet himself might have fathered without disgrace to his superior powers.
Marlowe had the sublimity of Milton, without the taste and inspiration. It is not just to consign him to ridicule. He and his contemporary Peele were produced just as the chaos of ignorance was breaking up: they were among the earliest to perceive the glimmering of sense and nature, and struggled to reach the light.
Marlowe's end, like his career, was miserable. and the doating Aubrey, who implicitly swalHe fell (see vol. i. p. 39) in a brothel squabble; lows every idle story, and confounds every true one, tells us that he was killed by Ben Jonson!
Our author's attachment to Marlowe was not unknown, nor were his praises of him singular. He, (Cris Marlowe,) says a writer of the last century, wrote besides plays, a poem called Hero and Leander, of whose " 'mighty lines" Master Jonson, a man sensible enough of his own abilities, was often heard to say, that they were examples fitter for admiration than parallel." What! the "envious" Ben? Impossible!
Drayton thus characterizes him :
"Next Marlowe, bathed in the Thespian springs,
Had in him those brave translunary things That the first poets had: his raptures were All air and fire, which made his verses clear; For that fine madness he did still retain, Which rightly should possess a poet's brain.TM
And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,
From thence to honour thee, I would not seek For names: but call forth thund'ring
Euripides, and Sophocles to us,
Leave thee alone for the comparison
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes
Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show,
To whom all Scenes of Europe homage owe.
My gentle Shakspeare.] The uncommon fondness of Jonson for Shakspeare is visible upon every mention of his name. This is the second time that he has applied the epithet of gentle to him, which is now become a part of his name. Just below, he calls him the Sweet Swan of Avon. It would have killed Mr. Malone's heart to acknowledge that the two most endearing appellations by which this great poet has been known and characterised for nearly two centuries, were first bestowed upon him by "6 old Ben, who persecuted his memory with clumsy sarcasm and restless malignity.' And despairs day, but for thy volume's light.] The two greatest poets of our nation have been divided in their sentiments of the testimony which Jonson gives in these verses to the merits and the genius of Shakspeare. Jonson, it must be owned, was not formed to that facility of praise, which flows indiscriminately where prejudice or humour point the way. His suffrage was never given but matured by judgment and authorized by science. Mr. Dryden calls it an invidious and sparing, but I incline to Mr. Pope's opinion in thinking it an ample and honourable panegyrick to the memory of his friend.-WHAL.
I should conceive that every unprejudiced reader must be of Whalley's mind. But is it possible to be silent and hear the warmest en
For though the poet's matter nature be, His art doth give the fashion: and, that he Who casts to write a living line, must sweat, (Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses' anvil; turn the same,
Lives in his issue, even so the race
In his well torned and true filed lines:
That so did take Eliza, and our James !
Or influence, chide or cheer the drooping stage,
Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourned like night,
And despairs day but for thy volume's light.2
comium, the most affectionate tribute of praise, that was ever offered to the memory of departed worth and genius, taxed with envy by every scribbler who is profligate enough to belie his understanding for the sake of indulging his malice? Jonson not only sets Shakspeare above his contemporaries, but above the ancients, whose works himself idolized, and of whose genuine merits he was, perhaps, a more competent judge than any scholar of his age: yet for this glowing effusion, which does more credit to the talents and genius of Shakspeare than all that has since appeared on those subjects, Mr. Malone sneers at him, and Mr. Steevens adds to the insult. "Now let us compare the present eulogium of old Ben with such of his other sentiments as have reached posterity:" and he deliberately proceeds to re-copy the vile forgery of Macklin, which had been just detected and exposed in the preceding volume.
With respect to the critical notions of Dryden, I utterly disclaim them. He saw clearly, and decided justly, where his interest or his passions did not interpose; but this was so frequently the case, that no reliance can be securely placed on any one opinion which he ever advanced. He hated, and what must astonish a reader of the present day, feared Shadwell; and because Shadwell spoke with respect of
ON THE HONOURED POEMS OF
This book will live; it hath a Genius; this
In bulwarks, rav'lins, ramparts for defence:
The bound and frontier of our poetry;
Yet who dares offer a redoubt to rear,
If maimed she come off, 'tis not of men,
Jonson, and preferred him to all the dramatic writers of his own times, Dryden laboured to decry and injure him. This is the true secret of his criticism.
It must mightily console the admirers of Shakspeare to find one so tremblingly alive to his reputation as to discover a spirit of detraction in the panegyric of Jonson, thus atoning for the injustice in his own name. "Shakspeare writes (Dryden says) in many places below the dullest writers of our or any precedent age. He is the very Janus of poets; he wears almost everywhere two faces; and you have scarce begun to admire the one ere you despise the other. His plots are lame, and made up, many of them, of some ridiculous and incoherent story, which in one play many times took up the business of an age. Many of his plays, as the Winter's Tale, Love's Labour's Lost, and Measure for Measure, are either grounded on impossibilities, or, at least, so meanly written, that the comedy neither caused your mirth, nor the serious part your concernment."
I have yet a word to say of Dryden. Of all the dramatic writers of Charles's days who traded in obscenity and profaneness, he is by far the most inexcusable. Nothing can be so stupid, nothing so loathsome as his perpetual struggle to be impious and immoral. It is evident that Nature built up this great poet for the defence of wisdom and virtue: and it is truly shocking to see him laboriously lashing and spurring his reluctant and jaded powers forward in the cause of vice. He is wicked by mere effort; but, happily, not dangerous:-and it
The wise, and many-headed bench, that sits Upon the life and death of plays and wits, (Composed of gamester, captain, knight, knight's man,
Lady or pusill, that wears mask or fan, Velvet, or taffata cap, ranked in the dark With the shop's foreman, or some such brave spark
That may judge for his sixpence) had, before
They saw it half, damned thy whole play, and more:
Their motives were, since it had not to do With vices, which they looked for and
I, that am glad thy innocence was thy guilt, And wish that all the Muses' blood were spilt
is hard to decide whether his reader or himself is most obliged to the dulness which renders his mischievous propensities so innoxious.
On the honoured poems of his honoured friend, Sir John Beaumont.] I have taken the following copy from the complimentary verses, prefixed to the poems which it celebrates. Sir John Beaumont was the elder brother of Francis Beaumont, the dramatic writer, and a man of genius and virtue. His poems were published after his decease, and dedicated to King Charles, by Sir John Beaumont, his son. most esteemed amongst them is the poem of Bosworth Field. But the reader will be able to form some idea of his merit from the following verses :
UPON MY DEAR BROTHER, FRANCIS "On Death thy murd'rer this revenge I take; I slight his terror, and just question make, Which of us two the best precedence have, Mine to this wretched world, thine to the grave. Thou shouldst have followed me, but Death, to blame,
Miscounted years, and measured age by fame. So dearly hast thou bought thy precious lines, Their praise grew swiftly, so thy life declines: Thy Muse, the hearer's queen, the reader's love, All ears, all hearts but Death's, could please and move."-WHAL.
[I am fortunate enough to possess Charles Lamb's copy of the folio Beaumont and Fletcher, with Coleridge's MS. notes. Lamb has copied the above lines into it.-F. C.]
In such a martyrdom to vex their eyes, Do crown thy murdered poem: which shall rise
A glorified work to time, when fire,
Those ambling visits pass in verse, between Thy Muse and mine, as they expect: 'tis true, You have not writ to me, nor I to you. And though I now begin, 'tis not to rub
Or moths shall eat what all these fools ad- Hanch against hanch, or raise a rhyming mire.1
ON THE COUNTESS OF PEMBROKE."
A VISION ON THE MUSES OF HIS
It hath been questioned, MICHAEL,3 if I be
This poem, which was taken by Whalley from Seward's edition of Beaumont and Fletcher, must have been written at an early period of Jonson's life, as the Faithful Shepherdess was brought out about 1610. See vol. ii. p. 510. Jonson has no reason to be ashamed of his prediction.
Epitaph on the Countess of Pembroke, &c.] This delicate epitaph is universally assigned to our author, though it hath never yet been printed with his works: it is therefore with some pleasure that I have given it a place here. This lady, for whose entertainment Sir Philip Sidney wrote the Arcadia, lived to a good old age, and died in 1621. She was buried in the cathedral of Salisbury, in the burial-place of the Pembroke family.-WHAL.
The exquisite beauty of this little piece (the most perfect of its kind) has drawn a word of approbation from the stern and cynical Osborne. "Lest I should seem (he says) to trespasse upon truth in the praise of this lady, I shall leave the world her epitaph, in which the author doth manifest himself a poet in all things but untruth."
To the lines in the text, Osborne subjoins the following:
Marble piles let no man raise
Both her mourner and her tomb.
About the town; this reckoning I will pay, Without conferring symbols; this' my day.
It was no dream! I was awake, and saw. Lend methy voice, O Fame, that I may draw Wonder to truth, and have my vision hurled Hot from thy trumpet round about the world.
I saw a beauty, from the sea to rise,
That all earth looked on, and that earth all eyes!
It cast a beam, as when the cheerful sun
As it had been the circle of the arts:
geous wit with which they disgrace the commencement," vol. i. p. 225. It is also possible that Jonson never saw them. Setting aside the absurdity of supposing the poet to say in one line, that such another character would never appear, and to admit in the next that nothing was so likely, the critics ought to have known (for the fact was very accessible), that the verses in question were copied from the poems of the Earl of Pembroke, a humble votary of the Muses, to whose pen they are assigned by the prefix of his usual initials. There can in fact be no doubt that they proceeded from his lordship, whose singular affection for his venerable parent furnishes a ready apology for their defects.
Whalley has said nothing of the literary merits of the Countess of Pembroke, which were of a very distinguished nature. She wrote verse with grace and facility, and she translated the Tragedie of Antonie from the French: her chief works, however, were works of piety, and her virtues still went before her talents.
3 It hath been questioned, &c.] These lines are prefixed to the second volume of Drayton's works, which came out in folio in 1627. They contain, as Whalley observes, "an enumeration of his poems, with our author's testimony to their merits." Jonson always thought favourably of Drayton, and appears, from several incidental expressions, to have been very familiar with his works.
When by thy bright IDEA, &c.] This is one of Drayton's earliest pieces. "Idea, or the Shepherds' Garland, fashioned in nine eglogs, 1593." The Legends are, I believe, those of
On this paltry addition, the editors of the Secret History of the Court of Fames I., who manifest on all occasions a strange hostility to our author, observe-"It is possible that Jonson cancelled these lines on account of the outra-lished in 1597.
Cromwell," ," "Mortimer," and "Matilda ;" the Songs are England's Heroical Epistles," pub