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“ Up, youths and virgins, up, and praise
The God, whose nights outshine his days;
Whose bands pass liberty.
And what they are,
Yourselves must be.
“ What joy or honours can compare
Made out of equal parts
When in the happy choice
Live what they are,
And such ours be.
" Love's commonwealth consists of toys;
Games, Laughter, Sports, Delights,
To whom we must give way
They sweeten llymen's war,
And, in that jar
** Perfection see,
And spread thy parple wings;
And various shapes of things;
And tho it be a waking dream,
To all the senses here,
And music in their ear."
Again-Chorus, (describing a dance.)
“ In curious knots and mazes so,
And thence did Venus learn to lead
Th' Idalian brawls, and so to tread
Can this be Ben Jonson, the writer of “ Bartholomew Fair," the dweller upon all that was coarse in the dialect and offensive in the manners of the age? But we can pardon much to the composer of such elegant verses, and we have already forgiven him, for having dressed out his goddess in the sandals of Camilla.
We come now to speak of those works by which posterity will measure the intellectual strength of Jonson. The age of Elizabeth was marked by a decided advancement in arts and letters. The religious controversies of the preceding reign, had kindled the passions of the people, and impelled them in the direction of learning. Classical literature received a full share of this new born zeal, and it may be doubted whether the great repositories of ancient wisdom, were ever more devoutly studied, or thoroughly inastered, than at the close of the sixteenth century. The drama, too, received its impuise, and in less than forty years from its first rude efforts, had attained, perhaps, its utmost point of excellence: had advanced in that period from “Gaminer Gurton's Needle” and “Gorboduc,” to the sublime, though fantastic creations of Shakspeare, and the more laboured and regular, though less inspired productions of Jonson. Other writers, indeed, had prepared the way for their success. Lilly, the Euphenist, whose wit was overlaid with affectations, the facetious Kyd, and Marlowe, the irregularity of whose works are redeemed by some magnificent passages, bad each contributed to elevate and reform the stage. Then came Shakspeare, less instructed even than these in the learning of the schools, but possessed of an instinct of wisdom, that made learning needless; he took the drama as he found it, and worked up indifferently the wild romances of Italy, and the Chronicles of England. But though inexpressibly superior in execution, his pieces were almost as irregular in plan, as the works of his predecessors. The principles of the ancient drama, the unities of time and place, and even of action, were not, and could not - VOL. VI.-NO (1.
be observed in some of those dramatised histories, that embraced the transactions of an entire life. Jouson, ten years the junior of Shakspeare, could not hope to rival him in his genius, but what he could do, he accomplished. He reformed the stage ; he introduced that regularity, which it so much needed : and in 1593, presented the English nation with a comedy, framed upon the classical models, and finished in strict conformity with the true principles of the dramatic art.
“Every Man in his Humour," is a comedy purely national. England furnishes both the characters and the incidents. It is one of those plays which few men would patiently sit out in the representation, and as few desire to leave unread. It is, strictly speaking, a play of character, in contradistinction to a piay of intrigue, and we know of no play, of this exclusive stamp, however vigorously composed, which could command the attention of a modern audience. Our ancestors were of a far more patient and enduring temper! Considering this then, as peculiarly a play of character, we must give Jonson credit for the force with which he has conceived, and the fidelity with which he has sustained them. Kitely is a well designed expression of jealousy; and the passage, in which he betrays to Cash, in his very anxiety to conceal it, the secret worm that preyed upon him, will strike every discerning reader, as particularly true to nature. Bobadil is an admirable portrait: the class, indeed, is found in Plautus, but the individual is a braggart of genuine English growth; his swaggering among the dupes, his bullying, wherever it is safe, is done to the life; his beating Cob is exquisite, and calculated to deceive all superficial judges as to his true metal. It is done, so con amore, that it seems to spring from the mere excess and overboiling, as it were, of bis valorous spirit, and we have almost allowed ourselves to be imposed on, when we find bin suddenly disenchanted by the cudgel of Downright, and shrinking back into his proper proportions. If the reader will be at the pains of a second perusal, he will agree with us in thinking, that the scenes in which Cob and Tih appear, are not those in which the author has shewn the least discernment or power of characterization. What then are the faults of this play, enriched with such variety of well drawn characters, and enjoying in the preservation of the unities, a conformity with the ancient models of dramatic excellence? The greatest defect is in the plan itself; the author paints humours, not passions; and it has been acutely observed, that “though passions, like humours, may be unamiable, they can never be uninteresting." There is another fault; we have actually no plot, and no love; we have a marriage without courtship, and an elopement without the opposition of friends; the entanglement (such as it is) and the disentanglement, being effected through the intervention of “Brainworm,” who assumes the most preposterous disguises, yet every where escapes detection!
The next production of Jonson was, “Every Man out of his Humour.” Here, too, there is variety of amusing and ridicuJous characters, but they pass successively over the stage, like the figures of the magic lantern, and with scarcely more connexion in the plot, the whole machinery is carried on ; by the agency of Carlo Buffone and Macilente, the one a mischievous, the other a disappointed and malignant man, who, happily for the author, and for poetic justice, employ themselves in exposing the follies, or lashing the vices of his dramatic characters. In this play he made further approaches to an imitation of the ancients, by adopting a chorus, which appears on the stage and criticises each scene as it passes. We feel disposed,
in this instance, to impeach the highest quality of Jonson's · mind-his judgment. The chorus of the ancient Greek come
dy was a numerous body, not occupying the stage itself, but a distinct portion of the theatre corresponding with our orchestra. Its duties were various and important. Originally, it was an ideal personation of the audience itself, and was employed by the dramatic poet, to explain or defend his inventions, by the recitative, or to relieve the langour of representation, by songs and dances, which, constituting as they usually did, a portion of every public festival, were still consistent with the ideal character of the chorus. Though its uses varied, and the chorus came, in the time of Euripides, to employ itself in chanting odes entirely foreign to the action of the piece, yet, in the hands of the original dramatists, the object of the chorus was such as we have stated. This peculiarity in the structure of the ancient drama, embracing the chorus as an essential part, is assigned by critics as the reason why the unity of place was far more necessary to be considered in an ancient play, than in a modern one; for a change of scene not only supposed a reinoval of the actors, but of the ideal audience too! Now Jonson shifts about his little chorus, consisting of Asper, (the author) Mitis and Cordatus, without scruple or compunction; and by this practice, extinguishes every trace of that illusion, which it should be the aim of the poet to sustain. We are not among those who believe that this illusion is ever conplete, and amounts to absolute unconsciousness of the fact, that it is a representation that we are witnessing and vot a reality; but such as the illusion is, there is no subtle policy in dissolving it. Yet, Jonson may in this instance bave been indifferent to "the cunning of the scene”-for in unveiling his design, under the character of “Asper," he seems to have meditated a satire rather than a comedy.
“ Who is so patient of this impious world,
“ Epicæne" is a play of the highest order. It has a rich plot, though again no love; the main action, which is the securing an allowance to Dauphine from the hoards of the miserly Morose, is kept steadily in view. This play was deemed a master piece by Dryden, who commended it for its conformity to the classical models, and its strict observance of the rules of art. It has unity of action, time and place, and an admirable plot, unravelled only at the last njoment. It is adorned not only with incident, but with character. Morose is an inimitable figure. Tom Otler and his Dame are proverbially known.· Jack Daw and La Foole, are excellent of their class, and the mutual trick and disgrace which are put upon them, with their behaviour under it,' affords a fund of comic entertainment. Truewit is likewise a spirited sketch, and Javishes all the wit which Jonson could draw for, superadded to all which he could borrow from the armory of Ovid. Here, as elsewhere, he does not hesitate to imitate, or even translate the ancient classical writers, and we should rejoice if they had never been plundered, except by such as knew so admirably how to use the spoil : for, as Dryden has happily remarked of him," he has done his robberies so openly, that one may see he fears not to