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and it concludes with involving the dramatis persona in one mass of corruption: the whole, without distinction, conspiring to pull down the gods, and raise Plutus to the vacant seat.
In the introduction of the dogs during the transient fit of insanity brought upon the miser by the sudden defection of his treasure, Jonson had again Aristophanes in view; but he has not imitated him with much dexterity. The short episode of Block and Lollard contributes little to the advancement of the story, since the derangement of Pennyboy sen. might easily have been communicated through the ordinary characters of the play; while the trial of the dog Labes, in the Wasps, which must have been irresistibly comic, is highly illustrative of the litigious disposition of Philocleo, and opens, at the same time, a masked battery, against the peculations of the noted Laches.
It would not be doing justice to Jonson to pass over this division of his plot without noticing the judgment manifested in the trifling parts of Pecunia's attendants, who invariably maintain a correct and close adherence to the relative characters which they support under their principal.
The Staple is well conceived and happily executed. Credulity, which was then at its height, was irritated rather than fed by impositions of every kind; and the country kept in a feverish state of deceitful expectation by stories of wonderful events, gross and palpable, to use the words of Shakspeare, as the father of lies, who begat them. On the whole, the Staple of News is one of those compositions which the admirer of Jonson may contemplate with "delight," and from the perusal of which the impartial reader can scarcely rise without "profit."
THE NEW INN.] This Comedy was brought on the stage on the 19th of January, 1629, and in the technical language of the Greenroom, "completely damn'd," not being heard to the conclusion. Whatever indignation Jonson might have felt at this treatment, he appears to have made no public manifestation of it at the time: but Ben was now the sick lion, and his enemies had too little respect for his enfeebled condition to forego so good an opportunity of insulting him with impunity. Forbearance was at no time our poet's peculiar virtue, and the jealousy of reputation so natural to age and infirmity, co-operated with the taunts of his ungenerous critics, to force him upon the publication of the New Inn, two years after its condemnation. It was printed in 8vo. with this angry title-page:
The New Inn: or, the Light Heart, a Comedy. As it was never Acted, but most negligently Played by some, the KING'S SERVANTS; and more squeamishly beheld and censur'd by others, the KING'S SUBJECTS, 1629. Now at last set at Liberty to the Readers, his MAJESTY'S Servants and Subjects, to be judg'd of. 1631.
Me lectori credere mallem,
Quàm spectatoris fastidia ferre superbi. HOR.
This unfortunate Play not only brought a cloud over the dramatic fame of Jonson, at its first appearance, but furnished a pretence for calumniating his memory even within our own times. About the middle of the last century, Macklin the player brought forward an indifferent piece of Ford's, called the Lover's Melancholy, for his daughter's benefit. To excite the curiosity of the town to this performance, he fabricated a most ignorant and impudent tissue of malicious charges against Jonson, whom he chose to represent as the declared enemy of Ford, as well as of Shakspeare. This atrocious libel, which seems to have been composed à pure perte, lay, with a thousand other forgotten falsehoods, among a pile of old newspapers, till it was discovered by Steevens, who with triumphant malice dragged it again to light, and reprinted it at the end of Jonson's eulogium on Shakspeare, as the true key to that celebrated piece! Not content with the obloquy with which Macklin had so liberally furnished him, he had the incredible baseness to subjoin
the following stanza from Shirley, which he declared to be also addressed to Jonson, upon the appearance of Ford's play :
"Look here thou that hast malice to the stage,
To read this tragedy, and thy own 2 be next "
though he well knew that the lines were directly pointed at Prynne, and that Shirley regarded the talents and learning of Jonson with a degree of respect bordering on idolatry. This vile fabrication, in which all the creative powers of malignity are set to work to destroy the character of an unoffending man, who had been more than a century in his grave, in the hope of effecting the sale of a few tickets, Mr. Malone styles "an innocent forgery," "a sportive and ingenious fabrication," "a mere jeu d'esprit, for a harmless purpose," 3 &c. He however sets about its confutation, and with the assistance of Whalley, whom he condescends not once to mention, easily effects his object. In fact, a simple reference to dates, of which Macklin happened to be wholly ignorant, was amply sufficient to destroy the whole fabric.5
A rejoinder was made by Steevens, in which there is not one syllable to the purpose, though Mr. Weber, with proper gravity,
1 Voluminously.] Prynne was known to the writers of his time by the name of Voluminous Prynne, under which title he is mentioned by Wood and others.
2 Thy own tragedy,] i. e. according to Steevens and his followers, the "Comedy of the New Inn !”
3 This gentleman thus indulgent to the unprincipled calumniator of Jonson, is the same Mr. Malone, be it observed, who taxes Jonson every instant with the blackest ingratitude, with the most rooted and rancorous malice towards Shakspeare because he uses the word "tempestuous," or chorus," or 66 target," or some other of equal rarity, which bears a fancied resemblance to the name of a play, or to a stage direction in the works of the latter.
4 In Whalley's corrected copy, which Malone as well as Steevens had seen, as I find by their letters, most of Macklin's ridiculous blunders in his dates, of which Malone afterwards made such good use, are distinctly pointed out.
It is quite amusing to follow the enemies of Jonson through this most contemptible forgery. The prose part of it they in some measure give up; but there is a little poem with which they are all enraptured, and which is pronounced to be as much beyond the powers of Macklin, as the composition of a Greek Chorus, &c. This "uncommonly elegant," this "exquisite," this "first and best