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Shakespeare's Epitaph




(BENJAMIN JONSON was born at Westminster about 1573, and received his early education at the Westminster School under William Camden. Becoming disgusted with the trade of bricklayer, to which his stepfather had trained him, he left home and served as a soldier in Flanders. Returning, by or before 1597 he became a player and playwright to “The Admiral's Men.” “Every Man in his Humour was successfully produced at the Globe in 1598, Shakespeare himself being in the cast, and Jonson thenceforth ranked with the foremost drama tists of the period. His first success was followed by “Cynthia's Revels," " The Poetaster,' Sejanus,

," “Volpone, or the Fox," “ Epicone, or the Silent Woman," “ The Alchemist,” “ Catiline," " Bartholomew Fair,” and “ The Devil is an Ass." He wrote also masques and entertainments for James I. and Charles I., and received pensions from both. Palsy, dropsy, and perhaps Charles's embarrassments, cut off his resources, and he died poor in 1637. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, in the Poets' Corner, where a tablet bears the inscription,

"O rare Ben Jonson.”]

To the Memory of my Beloved Master, William Shakespeare, and what

he hath left us.
TO DRAW no envy, Shakespeare, on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy book and fame;
While I confess thy writings to be such
As neither man nor Muse can praise too much.
'Tis true, and all men's suffrage. But these ways
Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise ;
For silliest ignorance on these would light,
Which, when it sounds at best, but echoes right;
Or blind affection, which doth ne'er advance
The truth, but gropes, and urges all by chance;
Or crafty malice might pretend this praise,
And think to ruin where it seemed to raise.
But thou art proof against them, and, indeed,
Above the ill fortune of them, or the need.
I therefore will begin : Soul of the age !
The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage !
My Shakespeare, rise! I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie
A little further off, to make thee room :
Thou art a monument without a tomb,
And art alive still, while thy book doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
That I not mix thee so, my brain excuses,

VOL. XII. - 26

I mean with great but disproportioned Muses :
For if I thought my judgment were of years,
I should commit thee surely with thy peers,
And tell how far thou didst our Lyly outshine,
Or sporting Kyd or Marlowe's mighty line.
And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,
From thence to honor thee I will not seek
For names; but call forth thund'ring Æschylus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to us,
Pacuvius, Accius, him of Cordova dead,
To live again, to hear thy buskin tread,
And shake a stage: or when thy socks were on,
Leave thee alone for the comparison
Of all, that insolent Greece or haughty Rome
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show,
To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time!
And all the Muses still were in their prime,
When, like Apollo, he came forth to warm
Our ears, or like a Mercury, to charm!
Nature herself was proud of his designs,
And joyed to wear the dressing of his lines !
Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As, since, she will vouchsafe no other wit.
The merry Greek, tart Aristophanes,
Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please;
But antiquated and deserted lie,
As they were not of nature's family.
Yet must I not give nature all; thy art,
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part.
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 hea!
Upon the Muses' anvil; tune the same,
And himself with it, that he thinks to frame;
Or for the laurel, he may gain a scorn;
For a good poet's made as well as born,
And such wert thou! Look how the father's face
Lives in his issue, even so the race
Of Shakespeare's mind and manners brightly shines
In his well-turned and true-filed lines :
In each of which he seems to shake a lance,
As brandished at the eyes of ignorance.

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