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Every form of pretence is familiar to him. He has watched his gull critical upon new books in a stationer's shop, and has tracked him through all his vagaries at the tobacco ordinary, the barber's, the fence-school, and the dancing-school. Thomas Dekker is certainly one of those who gather humours from all men ; but his wit is not of the highest or the most delicate character. He knows the town, and he makes the most of his knowledge.
The two great genera into which society was divided in Jonson's time were, the gentry and the citizens. During the law-terms London was full of the country squires and their families ; who sometimes came up to town with the ostensible purpose of carrying on their law-suits, but more generally to spend some portion of that superfluous wealth which the country could not so agreeably absorb. The evil -if evil it were—grew to be so considerable that James, by proclamation, directed them to return to their own counties. But this, of course, was mere idle breath. Jonson, though the theatres might be supposed to gain by this influx of strangers, boldly satirized the improvidence and profligacy of the squires, whom he has no hesitation in denouncing as "country gulls," " who come up every term to learn to take tobacco and see new motions.” He does this in the spirit of the fine song of the “Old and Young Courtier :"
With a new fashion, when Christmas is drawing on,
Jonson's rules for making a town gentleman out of a country clown are drawn from the life :
“ First, to be an accomplished gentleman-that is, a gentleman of the time you must give over housekeeping in the country, and live altogether in the city amongst gallants; where, at your first appearance, 't were good you turn'd four or five acres of your best land into two or three trunks of apparel.-you may do it without going to a conjuror ; and be sure you mix yourself still with such as flourish in the spring of the fashion, and are least popular (vulgar): study their carriage and behaviour in all ; learn to play at primero and passage, and ever (when you lose) have two or three peculiar oaths to swear by, that no man else swears : but, above all, protest in your play, and affirm,
Upon your credit,' 'As you are a true gentleman,' at every cast: you may do it with a safe conscience, I warrant you.
You must endeavour to feed cleanly at your ordinary, sit melancholy, and pick your teeth when you cannot speak; and when you come to plays be humourous, look with a good starched face, and ruffle your brow like a new boot, laugh at nothing but your own jests, or else as the noblemen laugh. That's a special grace, you must observe.
You must pretend alliance with courtiers and great persons : and ever, when you are to dine or sup in any strange presence, hire a fellow with a great chain (though it be copper it's no matter) to bring you letters, feigned from such a nobleman, or such a knight, or such a lady.”
All this is keen satire. It is directed against what has been the bane of English society up to the hour in which we write-pretence—the aping to be what we are not—the throwing aside our proper honours and happiness to thrust ourselves into societies which despise us, and to sacrifice our real good for fancied enjoyments which we ourselves feel to be worthless.
Turn we from the gentlemen to the citizens. The satire which we have transcribed is followed by a recommendation to get largely in debt amongst the “rich fellows that have the world, or the better part of it, sleeping in their counting houses.” According to Jonson's picture in another comedy (“ The Devil is an Ass ") the citizens were as anxious to get the gentlemen in their books as the gentlemen to be
there. The following dialogue takes place between Gilthead, a goldsmith, and Plutarchus, his son :
“ Plu. O but, good father, you trust too much.
Gilt. Boy, boy,
Plu. "I do not wish to be one, truly, father.
Gilt. Ay, if we had an act first to forbid
Plu. And makes a mongrel breed, father.
The age in which Jonson wrote was remarkable for two things which generally go together-boundless profusion, and the most extravagant desire for sudden wealth. The poet has left us two of the most vivid personifications of an insane abandonment to the longing for boundless riches that were ever conceived by a deep philosophical spirit working upon actual observation. Sir Epicure Mammon in the “Alchymist," is a character for "all time.” The cheating mysteries by which his imagination was inflamed have long ceased to have their dupes; but there are delusions in the every-day affairs of life quite as exciting, perhaps more dangerous. The delights which this unfortunate dupe proposes to himself, when he shall have obtained the philosopher's stone, are strong illustrations indeed of the worthlessness of ill-employed riches :
“We will be brave, Puffe, now we have the med’cine.
My meat shall all come in in Indian shells,
And then comes the little tobacconist, Abel Drugger, who “ this summer will be of the clothing of his company;" and he would give a crown to the Alchymist to receive back a fortune. This satire, it may be objected, is not permanent, because we have no alchymy now ; but the passion which gave the alchymists their dupes is permanent : and Jonson has exhibited another mode in which it sought its gratification, which comes somewhat nearer to our own times. The Norfolk Squire of “The Devil is an Ass” meets with a projector—one who pretends to influence at court to obtain monopolies—an undertaker,” who makes men's fortunes without the advance of a penny, except a mere trifle of a ring or so by way of present to the great lady who is to procure the patent. But let the projector speak for himself :
“He shall not draw
Eng. Throughout England ?
Meer. Yes; which will arise
The dupe thus recounts his great fortunes to his wife :
“Wife, such a man, wife !
Mrs. Fitz. You'll have too much, I fear, in these false spirits.
Mrs. Fitz. You have strange phantasies !”
Is this satire obsolete?
But there is another form of the passion whose permanency and universality cannot be denied. What the victims of gaming propose to themselves Jonson has delineated with inimitable humour :
“ There 's a young gentleman
A general appetite for luxurious fare appears to have been one of the most prevailing vices, both in the Court and in the City in these days. In the beginning of the reign of James I. London was one universal academy for gourmands and gourmets. The cooks, according to Jonson, were infected with principles that in an earlier age of the Reformation would have consigned them to the stake :
“Where have you greater atheists than your cooks ?"
But in the more tolerant age of James, the master-cooks, whose atheism (if this quality be not a mere scandal of the poet) was derived with their professional knowledge from “the world abroad”—for travel was then necessary to make an accomplished cook — cooks were then personages that the great delighted to honour :
“A master-cook! why he's the man of men,
For a professor ! he designs, he draws,
He is an architect, an engineer,
The passage in the “ Alchymist” in which Jonson pours out his learning in describing the rare but somewhat nasty dishes of ancient cookery, is a gorgeous piece of verse. We doubt whether “dormice,” and “camels' heels," and the “beards of barbels,” and “oiled mushrooms,” would really be so successful as the performances of the maître de cuisine to the Maréchal Strozzi, who, at the seige of Leith, according to Monsieur Beaujeu, “made out of the hind quarter of one salted horse forty-five couverts, that the English and Scottish officers and nobility, who had the honour to dine with Monseigneur upon the rendition, could not tell what the devil any one of them were made upon at all.” The real professors of that day, according to the recommendation which Howell gives of one of them in 1630, could “marinate fish,” “ make jellies,” were “excellent for piquant sauce and the haugou," were “passing good for an olla," understood “larding of meat after the mode of France," and decorated their victims with “chains of sausages.” With these refinements prevailing amongst us two centuries ago, it is lamentable to think how we retrograded to the Saxon barbarism of sirloins and suet-dumplings in the days of George III.
Gifford has remarked that “Shakspere is the only one of the dramatic writers of the age of James who does not condescend to notice tobacco ; all the others abound in allusions to it.” In Jonson we find tobacco in every place—in Cob the waterman's house, and in the Apollo Club-room—on the stage, and at the ordinary. The world of London was then divided into two classes—the tobacco-lovers and the tobacco-haters. Jonson has made Bobadill speak the exaggerated praise of the one class : “I have been in the Indies, where this herb grows, where neither myself nor a dozen gentlemen more of my knowledge have received the taste of any other nutriment in the world for the space of one-and-twenty weeks, but the fume of this simple only: therefore, it cannot be but ’t is most divine.” Cob the waterman, on the other hand, represents the denouncers of the weed: "Odds me, I marle what pleasure or felicity they have in taking this roguish tobacco! It's good for nothing but to choke a man, and fill him full of smoke and embers: there were four died out of one house last week with taking of it, and two more the bell went for yesternight.” King James I., in his celebrated “ Counterblast to Tobacco," is an imitator of Master Cob, for he raises a bugbear of “an unctuous and oily kind of soot found in some great tobacco-takers that after their death were opened.” The King could not write down tobacco, even with Joshua Sylvester for an ally; who in his poem entitled “Tobacco Battered, and the Pipes Shattered," informs us that
“Of all the plants that Tellus' bosom yields,
In groves, glades, gardens, marshes, mountains, fields,
In the old play called “Jack Drum's Entertainment,” one of the characters says, “I have followed ordinaries this twelvemonths, only to find a fool that had lands, or a fellow that would talk treason, that I might beg him.” Garrard, in his letters to Lord Strafford, communicates a bit of news to his patron, which not only illustrates the unprincipled avarice of the courtiers—down almost to the time when a national convulsion swept this and other abominations away with much that was good and graceful—but which story is full of a deep tragic interest. An old usurer dies in Westminster ; his will is opened, and all the property—the coin, the plate, the jewels, and the bonds—all is left to his man-servant. The unhappy creature goes mad amidst his riches ; and there is but one thing thought of at court for a week —who is to be successful in begging him. Elizabeth had the merit of abolishing the more hateful practice of begging concealed lands, that is such lands as at the dissolution of the monasteries had privily got into the possession of private persons. There was not a title in the kingdom that was thus safe from the rapacity of the begging courtiers. But, having lost this prey, they displayed a new ability for the discovery of treason and treasonable talk. In the “Poetaster," written in 1601, Jonson does not hesitate to speak out boldly against this abominable practice. The characters in the following dialogue are Lupus, Cæsar, Tucca, and Horace ; and,