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Chapman, whom he loved. That sir William Alexander was not half kind to him, and neglected him, because a friend to Drayton. . That sir R. Ayton loved him dearly. He fought several times with Marston, and says, that Marston wrote his father-in-law's preachings, and his father-in-law his comedies. His judgment of stranger poets was, that he thought not Bartas a poet, but a verser, because he wrote not fiction. He cursed Petrarch for redacting verses into sonnets, which he said was like the tyrants' bed, where some who were too short were racked, others too long cut short. That Guarini, in his Pastor Fido, kept no decorum in making shepherds speak as well as himself. That he told cardinal du Peron (when he was in France, anno 1613) who showed him his translation of Virgil, that it was nought; that the best pieces of Ronsard were bis Odes; but all this was to no purpose, (says our author) for he never understood the French or Italian languages. He said Petronius, Plinius Secundus, and Plautus, spoke best Latin, and that Tacitus wrote the secrets of the council and senate, as Suetonius did those of the cabinet aud court. That Lucan, taken in parts, was excellent, but altogether nought. That Quintilian's six, seven, and eight books were not only to be read, but altogether digested. That Juvenal, Horace, and Martial, were to be read for delight, and so was Pindar; but Hippocrates for health. Of the English nation, he said, that Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity was best for church matters, and Selden’s Titles of Honour for antiquities. Here our author relates, that the censure of his verses was, that they were all good, especially his Epitaph on Prince Henry, save that they smelled too much of the schools, and were not after the fancy of the times; for a child (says he) may write after the fashion of the Greek and Latin verses in running; yet that he wished to please the king, that Piece of Forth Feasting had been bis own.”
Ben Jonson, continues Drummond, “was a great lover and praiser of himself, a contemner and scorner of others, given rather to lose a friend than a jest ; jealous of every word and action of those about him, especially after drink, which is one of the elements in which he lived; a dissembler of the parts which reign in him; a bragger of some good that he wanted, thinking nothing well done, but what either he himself or some of his friends have said or done. He is passionately kind and angry, careless either to gain or keep; vindictive, but if he be well answered at himself, interprets best sayings and deeds often to the worst. He was for any religion, as being versed in both; oppressed witb fancy, which hath overmastered his reason, a general disease in many poets. His inventions are smooth and easy, but above all be excelleth in a translation. When his play of The Silent Woman was first acted, there were found verses after on the stage against him, concluding, that that play was well named The Silent Woman, because there was never one man to say plaudite to it.” Drummond adds, “ In short, he was in his personal character the very reverse of Shakspeare, as surly, ill-natured, proud, and disagreeable, as Shakspeare, with ten times his merit, was gentle, good-natured, easy, and amiable."
Lord Clarendon's character of our author is more favourable, and from so accurate a judge of human nature, perhaps more valuable.“ His name," lord Clarendon says, “ can never be forgotten, having by his very good learning, and the severity of his nature and manners, very much reformed the stage; and indeed the English poetry itself. His natural advantages were, judgment to order and govern fancy, rather than excess of fancy, his productions being slow and upon deliberation, yet then abounding with great wit and fancy, and will live accordingly; and surely as he did exceedingly exalt the English language in eloquence, propriety, and masculine expressions, so he was the best
judge of, and fittest to prescribe rules to poetry and poets, of any man who had lived with, or before him, or since: if Mr. Cowley had not made a flight beyond all men, with that modesty yet, as to ascribe much of this to the example and learning of Ben Jonson. His conversation was very good, and with the men of most note; and he had for many years an extraordinary kindness for Mr. Hyde, (lord Clarendon) till he found he betook himself to business, which he believed ought never to be preferred before his company. He lived to be very old, and till the palsy made a deep impression upon his body and his mind 8."
From these accounts it may surely be inferred that Jonson in his lifetime occupied a high station in the literary world. So many memorials of character, and so many eulogiums on his talents, have fallen to the lot of few writers of that age. His failings, however, appear to have been so conspicuous as to obscure his virtues. Addicted to intemperance, with the unequal temper which habitual intemperance creates, and disappointed in the hopes of wealth and independence which his high opinion of his talents led him to form, he degenerated even to the resources of a libeller who extorts from fear what is denied to genius, and became arrogant, and careless of pleasing those with whon he associated. Of the coarseness of his manners there can be no doubt; but it appears at the same time that his talents were such as made his temper be tolerated for the sake of his conversation. As to his high opinion of himself, he did not probably differ from his contemporaries, who hailed him as the reformer of the stage, and as the most learned of critics, and it is no great diminution of his merit that an age of more refinement cannot find enough to justify the superior light in which he was then contemplated. It is sufficient that he did what had not been done before, that he displayed a judgment to which the stage had been a stranger, and furnished it with examples of regular comedy which have not been surpassed. His memory was uncommonly tenacions, and his learning certainly superior to that of most of his contemporaries. Pope gives him the praise of having “ brought critical learning into vogue," and having instructed both the actors and spectators in what was the proper province of the dramatic Muse. His English Grammar, and his Discoveries, both written in his advanced years, discover an attachment to the interests of literature, and a habit of reflection, which place his character as a scholar in a very favourable point of view. The editor of a recent edition of his Discoveries, justly attributes to them “ a closeness and precision of style, weight of sentiment, and accuracy of classical learning."
Yet whatever may be thought of his learning, it is greatly over-rated, when opposed or preferred to the genius of his contemporary Shakspeare. Jonson's learning contributed very little to his reputation as a dramatic poet. Where he seems to have employed it most, as in his Cataline, it only enables him to encumber the tragedy with servile versifications of Sallust, when he should have been studying nature and the passions. Dryden, whose opinions are often inconsistent, considers Jonson as the greatest man of his age, and observes that “ if we look upon him when he was himself (for his last plays were but his dotages) he was the most learned and judicious writer any theatre-ever had.” In another place (preface to the Mock Astrologer) he says, “ that almost all Jonson's pieces were but crambe bis cocta, the same humours a little varied, and written worse."
It is certain that his high character as a dramatic writer has not descended to us undiminished. Of his fifty dramas, there are not above three wbich preserve his name on the
? Life of Lord Clarendon. C.
stage, but those indeed are excellent. It was his misfortune to be obliged to dissipate on court masks and pageants those talents which concentrated might have furnished dramas equal to his Volpone, Alchemist, and The Silent Woman. Contrasted with the boundless and commanding genius of Shakspeare, Dr. Johnson has hit his character with success in his celebrated prologue.
" Then Jonson came, instructed from the school
To please by method, and invent by rule.
Among the poems which are now presented to the reader, there are few which can be specified as models of excellence. The Hymn from Cynthia's Revels, the Ode to the Memory of Sir Lucius Cary, and Sir H. Morison, one of the first examples of the Pindaric or irregular ode, and some of his Songs, and Underwoods, are brightened by occasional rays of genius, and dignified simplicity; but in general he was led into glittering and fanciful thoughts, and is so frequently captivated with these as to neglect his versification. Although he had long studied poetry, it does not appear that he could pursue a train of poetical sentiment or imagery so far as to produce any great work. His best efforts were such as he could execute almost in the moment of conception, and frequently with an epigrammatic turn which is very striking. He once meditated an epic poem, but his habitual irregularities and love of company denied the necessary per
His works were printed thrice in folio, in the seventeenth century, and twice in the eighteenth. The last edition, in seven volumes, octavo, with notes and additions by Mr. Whalley, appeared in 1756, and is esteemed the most valuable, but will probably be superseded by an edition now under the care of the acute editor of Massinger.
CONSISTING OF DIVERS POEMS.
TO THE READER.
With the same leave the ancients called that kind of body Sylva, or "Tay, in which there were workes of divers nature, and matter congested; as the multitude call timbertrees, promiscuously growing, a wood or forrest : so am I bold to entitle these lesser poems, of later growth, by this of Under-wood, out of the analogie they hold to the Forrest, in my former booke, and no otherwise.
POEMS OF DEVOTION.
For thy acceptance, O, behold me right,
To thee more sweet?
To worship thee.
TO THE HOLY TRINITIE.
Eternall God the Sonne, who not denyd'st
“ All's done in me.”
HOLY, blessed, glorious Trinitie
Of persons, still one God, in unitie.
Helpe, helpe to lift
O take my gift.
An offring meet,
Eterrall Spirit, God from both proceeding,
For acts of grace.
Increase those acts, ô glorious Trinitie
Of seeing your face.