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That the testimony of Lord Clarendon is unimpeachable, we willingly admit; but the reader will perceive that Drummond's is by far more particular, and is uncontradicted in many an important point by that of his lordship. He will further agree with us, we think, in the opivion, that the phrase on wbich Gifford chiefly relies to rebut the testimony of Drummond, viz. “that his conversation was very good," has a much more natural and legitimate reference to the intellectual, than to the moral qualities of Jonson. For ourselves, we do not believe that Jonson cherished against Shakspeare a feeling of malignity : yet we have little doubt of his jealousy, which breaks out in various passages of his works, and is confirmed by the fact that he has never named him, without a side glance at his defects. Before we can consent to consider him the mild, amiable, unoifending being that Gifford represents bim, we must have forgotten his works, which abound in passages that contradict and discredit such a representation, and we must equally have forgotten bis history. The poet's whole life was a scene of struggle and contention. He was, for many years, the friend of loigo Jones, and a colabourer with him in the preparation of Masques for the court, yet he quarrelled with Jones, and lampooned him! He wrote plays conjointly with Decker and Marston, yet he attacked them in the bitter, satirical drama, the “Poetaster," which they retaliated by the “Satiromastix." Still he does not appear to have been implacable; for in two years after he had held up Decker and Marston (the Crispinus and Demetrius of the piece) to the scorn and derision of the public, we find him reconciled to these “unclean birds," as he had styled them, dulcified and propitiated, it would appear, by a copy of complimentary verses. Our idea of Jonson is, of a man rude in speech, arrogant in manner, of a bitter, satirical temper, who might be good company with his superiors or dependents with James his master, or his “apprentice” Broome-but a captious and overbearing companion among his equals. What his enemies said of him, he himself tells us in the “Poetaster.”
“ Demetrius.-Alas! he is a mere sponge! nothing but humours and observation. He goes up and down sucking from every society, and when he comes home, squeezes himself dry again.
" Tucca.—Thou say'st true-a sharp, thorny-tooth'd, satirical rascalfly him! he will sooner lose his best friend, than his least jest. 'Tis all dog and scorpion-he carries poison in his tooth, and a sting in his tail. I'll have the slave whipped one of these days for his satires and his humours, by one cashiered clerk or another." : Had Gifford not been possessed by the mere spirit of contradiction, he never would have dreamed of adorning him with those mild graces, which were at once foreign to his nature, and inconsistent with his character as a reformer; he would have cautioned us rather against the exaggerations of his enemies, and justified the hot and biting censures of Jonson, by pointing to (what constituted their best apology) the rank follies and overgrown vices of the age.
We come now to the consideration of Jonson's works. He is best known to us by his plays; yet his efforts were by no means confined to the drama. He was the inventor of a new species of entertainment, the Masque! He wrote two books of epigrams, a collection of miscellanies in verse, called “Underwoods,” and a collection of maxims and critical remarks in prose, under the quaint title of “Timber,” or “Discoveries ;" he composed, likewise, a treatise on English Grammar. The edition of Gifford concludes with a body of poems, in honour of the poet, published shortly after his death, under the designation of " Jonsonus Virbius"-a tribute which shows, beyond all dispute, the space which he filled in the public estimation, and the respect which he had won from the age in which he flourished. Of his “Underwoods” and “English Grammar," we have not space to speak; and we shall subjoin but two pasages from the “ Discoveries,” which we select as illustrating what we have already said of his splenetic temper, and his proneness to relapse into a censure of Shakspeare, however he may have commenced in his praise.
“In short, (says Jonson) as vinegar is not accounted good, until the wine be corrupted; so jests that are true and natural, seldom raise laughter with the beast of the multitude. They love nothing that is right and proper: the farther it runs from reason and possibility, with them the better it is." .“ De Shakspeare nostra.
“I remember the players have often mentioned it, as an honour to Shakspeare, that in his writing, (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been-would he had blotted a thousand! wbich they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but for their ignorance, who chose that circumstance to recommend their friend by, wherein he most faulted, and to justify mine own candour; for I loved the man, and do honour his memory on this side idolatry, as much as any. He was, indeed, honest, of an open and free nature; had an excellent fantasy, brave notions, and gentle ex pressions! why could not Jonson have paused here, and left it to others to point out the shades in the picture?] wherein he flowed with that facility that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped. Suffllaminandus erat, as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his own power-would that the rule of it had been so too! Many times he fell in those things, could not escape laughter-as when he
said in the person of Cæsar, one speaking to him—Cæsar, thou doest
“ TO ALCHEMISTS.
*TO DOCTOR EMPIRIC.
“ON CHEVERIL, THE LAWYER. . :
"TO A CENSORIOUS COURTLING.
Would both thy folly and thy spite betray." The talents of Jonson were never more advantageously exerted than in the composition of his Masques.' They may be said to have originated with him; they grew to perfection under his hands, and with one splendid exception,* they expired with him. In the constitution of the court of James I. there was something to encourage exhibitions of this nature. The Queen was gay in her disposition-fond of entertainments and precluded by her ignorance of the language of the country, from enjoying those, which formed the diversion of the people. Hence the leaning of the court to these costly and magnificent spectacles which were addressed as sedulously to the senses, as to the understanding. Magnificent they undoubtedly were; they were exhibited in the court; Jonson contributed the allegory and the poetry; Inigo Jones contrived the machinery and decorations; and the music and dancing were arranged
* Milton's “ Comus.':
by other artists of almost equal skill in their several departments. Whoever has studied the Masques of Jonson, will be struck with the profusion of learning he has expended on them; he will perceive a familiarity with the mythology, the customs, and the literature of the ancients, that is truly astonishing, and a felicity of application and adaptation altogether peculiar; and he will perceive, that instead of being crushed beneath this mass of seemingly untractable materials, his fancy sports with it, and his genius moulds it into the most graceful and attractive forms. The gifts of learning, and the graces of poetry alike conspired to enrich and embellish these productions; and when we remember, that the first nobles of the land, and the Queen, with the most beautiful and accomplished ladies of the court; were among the performers; that music, dancing and the most splendid scenic decorations, were among the fascinating accompaniments; that each sister art was invoked to lend its contributions, so that every sense was regaled, while every faculty was charmed, we must consent to characterise them, as the most gorgeous and imposing spectacles ever presented at the British court. In the splendour imparted to these Masques by the participation of the King and the nobility; in the reputation, which a performance so honoured, would necessarily impart to the author; in the familiarity which must thus have been begotten between Jonson and the noblemen, whom he desired to rank among his patrons, we may see the reasons which led him to devote his talents to this class of composition, rather than to the stage, where his labours were less lucrative, less set off by accessary splendour, and far less certain of applause; nor has the world reason to regret his decision, since if ever he has soared into an elevated region of poetry-it is here. We have no time to dwell on these delightful compositions, which will be read, after all the improvements of modern versification, for the smoothness of their numbers, as they must ever be admired for their vivacity and learning. We speak of them in the mass, not meaning to deny that they are unequal, and that some may be selected which are both vapid in the allegory, and rugged in the versification. But these we bequeath to such Aristarchus among our brethren, (if any such there be) as shall be disposed to feast on them.
The “Masque of Queens" was written, we are told, in emulation of the witches in Macbeth; and the learning and spirit of his incantations leave room to regret, that he had not oftener modelled after so admirable an artist. But it is in the Masques of “Hymen,” “The Hue and Cry after Cupid,” and the “ Vision of Delight,” that he has most surpassed himself and
forgotten the scholar in the poet; not but that the whole ground is enamelled with the flowers of Grecian and Roman literature, yet is there a native spirit about them, that shews all this as secondary and subordinate, and there is a sweetness in the versiticution, which was not exceeded by any poet of the period-a sweetness, the more remarkable from its contrast with the barshness of his dramatic style, and which will even satisfy the modern ear, accustomed as it is, to the exquisite modulation of Pope., The “ Masque of Hymen” was written in celebration of the nuptials of the Earl of Essex with Lady Frances, second daughter of the Earl of Suffolk, and was represented with great magnificence. The bridegrom was but fifteen, the bride but fourteen years of age, each of eminent beauty!
“Ah! senseless mortals, ever blind' to fate,
Too soon dejected, and too soon elate !" If, amidst the splendid pageantry, wbile" Laughter, Sports, Delights" seemed to pervade the very atmosphere that encompassed them, some malevolent spirit biad unfolded the scroll of futurity, and revealed to them the web of guilt and misery, that the destinies were already weaving—if they had seen murder and adultery ioscribed on that fatal scroll, as the sole fruits of that union which they were then celebrating with such elaborate pomp—what horror and consternation would have seized on that gay assembly! It is from the “Epithalamion” composed for this festal occasion, that we wished to cull a flower for the gratification of the reader. But we are precluded by the discovery, that the ladies of the court of James, who personated the chorus of virgins, were too fastidious to endure it, and omitted in the performance all but the introductory stanza; a fastidiousness which must excite "our special wonder,” when we consider what they did endure. , Jonson resented their delicacy in the following note, attached to the printed copy—of this song, then, only one staff was sung, but because I made it both in form and matter to emulate that kind of poem which was called Epithalamium, and by the ancients used to be sung when the bride was led into her chamber, I have here set it down whole, and do heartily forgive their ignorance, whom it chanceth not to please.” That we may not utterly disappoint the reader we select a passage from another Epithalamion, which, more fortunate than its predecessor, appears to have passed the ordeal of the choral virgins! It is from the “ He and Cry after Cupid” a masque written in celebration of the nuptials of the Earl of Haddington.