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With ink or urine; or I could do worse,
And that I know, within his guilty breast
Rhime them to death, as they do Irish rats, &c.] The fatal effects of poetry on these Opici, these Hibernian vermin, are noticed by many of our old dramatists. Thus Shakspeare, "I was never so be-rhimed since Pythagoras' time, that I was an Irish rat." As you like it. And Randolph :
Rhime them to death, as they do rats in Ireland."
5 That the whole company of barber-surgeons
Should not take off, &c.] This sentiment, which Jonson repeats in his dedication of the Fox, is from Martial:
"At si quid nostræ tibi bilis inusserit ardor,
Stigmata nec vafra delebit Cinnamus arte." Lib. vi. 6.
What follows is from Juvenal:
"diri conscia facti
"continuò sic collige, quod vindicta Nemo magis gaudet quam fæmina." Ibid.
Each slanderer bears a whip that shall torment him
Nas. 'Tis true; for to revenge their injuries,
Pol. That all your writing is mere railing.
If all the salt in the old comedy
Should be so censured, or the sharper wit
Pol. Yes; they say you are slow, And scarce bring forth a play a year. Aut. 'Tis true.
I would they could not say that I did that!
6 Than e'er the master of art, &c.] Our industrious bee is ever on the search after stores: Just above he alighted on Horace; here he visits Persius,
Magister artis, ingenîque largitor
and finally he settles on Juvenal. See his seventh Satire.
If a free mind had but the patience,
7 Where, if I prove the pleasure but of one, So he judicious be, he shall be alone
A theatre unto me.] This passage, says Mr. Malone, Jonson imitated from Shakspeare,-the censure of "which one (judicious) must, in your allowance, o'erweigh a whole theatre of others." Hamlet. The thought is not so deep but that it might have occurred to less inventive faculties than either of those great poets possessed. If, however, one of them must borrow from the other, I should incline to set down Shakspeare as the obliged person; for though we do not know the exact date of the Apologetical Dialogue, yet we are sure that it cannot be later than 1602, since it alludes to the design of composing a tragedy on the fall of Sejanus, which was effected in that year, or in the beginning of
To strike the ear of time in those fresh strains,
And more despair, to imitate their sound. I, that spend half my nights, and all my days, Here in a cell, to get a dark pale face, To come forth worth the ivy or the bays, And in this age can hope no other graceLeave me! There's something come into my thought, That must and shall be sung high and aloof, Safe from the wolf's black jaw, and the dull ass's hoof. Nas. I reverence these raptures, and obey them. [The scene closes.1
the next. After all, Jonson's words are little more than a translation from Cicero, to whom he was much more likely to be indebted than to any contemporary writer whatever: "Hac ego non multis, sed tibi satis magnum alter alteri theatrum sumus." Cicero himself alludes to a story told of Plato.
8 Once I'll say,] i.e. try. Once is used here in a sense in which it frequently occurs with our old writers-that is, emphatically, Once for all.
9 I, that spend, &c.] These are truly noble lines, and cannot be read without exciting feelings of respect and tenderness for the author. Let it never be forgotten that in every condition of life, in poverty and neglect, in competence and ease, in sickness and in sorrow, in youth and in age, Jonson steadily maintained the high character of the poet. If he failed to exemplify it in himself, it must be attributed to natural deficiencies; for he was fully sensible of what was required, and declined no toil which promised to facilitate its attainment. There is a lofty moral tone which constantly accompanies all his definitions and descriptions of true poetry, and which may be sought in vain in any other writer in the English language, except, perhaps, Milton, who sanctified what he borrowed from Jonson, by inspiration from a source not to be named here without irreverence.
1 Nothing can so strikingly manifest the vast superiority of Jonson, as a comparison of this lively and interesting comedy with that of Decker, which was meant to rival and eclipse it. The plot is well arranged, and the dramatis persone admirably supported. Augustus and the eminent men of his court maintain, on all serious occasions, a dignity of thought and expression highly decorous, and in strict consonance with their established
characters. Amidst all the encomiums bestowed ont he poets, his friends, a perceptible advantage is adroitly given to Horace, which is farther heightened by the absurd malice of his persecutors. The comic part of the play is pleasantly conducted, and the conspirators happily set off the defects of one another. Mr. Davies, with whose perspicacity the reader is already acquainted, is pleased to affirm that the Poetaster is one of the lowest productions, and that Tucca is a wretched copy of Falstaff. This stuff would not be worth repeating, if the grovelling malice of the poet's enemies had not led them to stoop to it.-We have seen that the author has interwoven an ingenious satire of Lucian in his scenes; but the chief object of his imitation was the Frogs of Aristophanes. That ancient comedy was the Rehearsal of Athens, as this undoubtedly was of the age of Jonson and though much of the praise to which, perhaps, it is entitled, is lost from our imperfect knowledge of the precise objects of ridicule, we can still discover that its satire was at once ingenious and powerful, and its justice sufficiently obvious to some of those for whom it was meant. That Tucca is a wretched copy, or indeed any copy at all of Falstaff, could be maintained by none but Davies, or those who affirmed (as he tells us) "Sir Epicure Mammon also to be a copy of Falstaff;" and who, perhaps, were equally prepared to swear that captain Otter was stolen from the same inimitable personage. That this extraordinary character, this compound of impudence and artifice, of meanness and arrogance, this importunate beggar, who insults the charity which feeds him, and whose quaint versatility of style and manner is at once so repulsive and so amusing, is not original, must be granted; and Decker (though Davies was ignorant of it) has pointed out the archetype: "I wonder," says he, "what language Tucca would have spoken, if honest captain Hannam had been born without a tongue." Decker, however, confesses that Tucca was received with decided approbation; and he expresses great anxiety to ensure to himself some portion of the popular favour. "It cannot be much improper," he adds, "to set the same dog upon Horace, whom Horace had set to worry others;" and the unfortunate captain, in consequence of this happy thought, is again brought forward. But Decker had over-rated his own powers. Tucca, in his hands, becomes absolutely disgusting; his impudent familiarity degenerates into low scurrility, and he is thrown into situations, which, from his utter unfitness for them, alternately subject him to displeasure and contempt. Nor is this the only instance of Decker's want of judgment, in borrowing his characters from the Poetaster. He ought to have considered that the demerits of Crispinus and Demetrius have been so universally acknowledged, and so strongly fixed in the mind of every reader, since Horace first recorded them, that