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be taxed by any law. He invades authors like a monarch, and what would be theft in other poets, is only victory in him.”
“Volpone" is a splendid effort. The plot is so uncommon and deeply interesting; the action so progressive, and moves on by such natural yet subtle agency ; the characterization so various and rich, so skilfully unfolded, so happily sustained; and the whole work pervaded by such a delightful spirit, that we rise from the perusal with a feeling of unmixed gratification. It is, indeed, unsurpassed in its kind, a very "pearl of orient,” an “entire and perfect chrysolite.” It is one continued and lofty flight--here are no frosty passages, and none of those prolixities that abound in his ordinary compositions. What ipimitable pictures have we of Voltore, Corbaccio, and Corvino! How delightfully are they played upon by Volpone and by Mosca, the prince of parasites. Let Mosca speak for himself.
“Oh, your parasite
Are the true parasites—others, but their zanies !". Nor is bis eloquence less, when, to tempt his patron, he describes the beauty of Corvino's wife.
"Oh, sir, the wonder,
- "All her looks are sweet
As near, as they are." Cumberland, in the “Observer,” gives this play the first rank among the pieces of Jonson. Gifford assigns that distinction to the " Alchemist.” Their decision is sufficiently character
istic of their several tastes. There is, unquestionably, a family resemblance between these admired productions; they belong to the same school, they turn on the same incidents, they disclose a scene of elaborate imposition ; and while they exhibit the arts of successful imposture, show likewise the detection and the punishment of the fraud.
But Subtle's are the arts of mere vulgar imposture. To cheat the gulls is no dificult exploit; nor does it require a master's pencil to pourtray it. “Volpone” was a more daring effort ; it was to counterinine and deceive the crafty, and required a display of nice and exquisite art in the poet who should attempt it. We incline to Cumberland' opinion. We consider “ Volpone” as the work of most power; its beauties are higher, its faults fewer; for while recommended by its comprehensiveness of design, its delightful characterization, its striking and unexpected, yet natural incident, and by that observance of poetic. justice, by which each knave in the play has his appropriate punishment assigned him in the close, there is but one objection which a fastidious criticism has been able to oppose to such varied excellence. “Sir Politic and Lady Would-be are not sufficiently connected with the main plot." This is the objection urged. Let us adınit the fact- ubi plurima nitent in carmine-non ego paucis offendar maculis." These characters do really appear to us an after thought; they are, undoubtedly, portraits done to the life ; and Jonson was, possibly, so pleased to introduce these English figures on his Italian scene, that he did not observe how slightly they were connected with the action of the piece. Yet who would banish Sir Politic to give critical perfection to the plan? We assent to the sterling merit of the “ Alchemist." The characters are strongly drawn and skilfully shaded. Subtle, and Face, and Doll-Sir Epicure Mammon and Kastril, are executed with extraordinary skill; and there is no secondary plot (as in Volpone) to divide the interest and distract the attention of the reader. Yet we are not sensible of the same exaltation of mind on perusing this play, as on reading “Volpone.” Nor are we satistied with the denouement. In the triple league of rascality, in which Face was a partner, why should be alone enjoy the fruits of his villanies ? Where is the poetical justice of dismissing him to his reward, when Subtle and his frail partner in imposture, are consigned to poverty? And how destitute of probability is the contrivance by which he effects a pacification, and secures an amnesty from his master by assigning “over to him all bis right, title and interest in the Widow Pliant"--whose chief attractions consisted in this, that she was willing to accept the first husband
who might offer, and was a widow from the country! But we are acting like that over curious lapidary, who would search out a flaw in a diamond.
These plays—“Volpone,” the "Alchemist,” and the “Silent Woinan"-were severally performed in 1607, 1609, and 16 LO. They were his happiest efforts. Had he always written thus, dramatic excellence had ended where it began, in Shakspeare and in him—"each in his proper sphere had stood” apart and unapproachable. Masterpieces of characterization they undoubtedly are, and though for two hundred years they have challenged the competition of the world, we feel confident, that in their peculiar province, they are unsurpassed, and that there exists not at this moment in all Europe, the dramatic talent adequate to the composition of either of these plays. Yet, as pieces designed for representation, they were defective. There was too little of show and tumult, of trumpet and “tempestuous
um ;" they spoke too little to the senses, too exclusively to the understanding—and that a cultivated understanding—to attract the multitude. They were not received with the favour to which they were entitled by their superior merit; nor can we wonder at the result, since they must ever (in their finest touches and nicest shades at least) have been beyond the relish of any mixed audience either of our author's day, or of our
Had Jonson designed to rever.ge himself on the multitude for their want of discernment, or indifference to his merits, he could not have better accomplished his end than by writing his next comedy " Bartholomew Fair,” where the inferior classes of society are drawn with the most revolting features. A more motley, dissolute, debauched crew, were never thrown together on the same canvass; and if this be a true picture of the manners of the day, how may we blush for our ancestors ! This play is graced, like its predecessors, with a rich assemblage of striking and original characters; but it is throughout, both in language and incident, so exceedingly gross and indecent, that the representation would not now be endured in any civilized country. The later comedies of Jonson were a sad declension from that elevated standard which he, himself, had raised. It is impossible, at this distance of time, to determine why be so wrote—whether from haste, from a desire, since regularity had failed, to try the effect of extravagance, or from mere contempt of his audience. Whatever be the cause, they fell so short of his former productions, that Dryden terms them, “his dotages.” We shall merely glance at two of these later efforts, to show that Dryden did him no injustice.
“ The Devil is an Ass." Who would have expected from the advocate for dramatic regularity, the contemuer of the wild flights of Shakspeare, such a farrago as ibis, wherein “Satan,” “Iniquity," and the little devil “Pug,” persons, allegorical and diabolical, are actually introduced, and mingle with the human actors in the scene? The example of Aristophanes, rightly considered, can be no authority; for if he introduced Bacchus and his satyrs mingling in the scene, it must be recollected that the mythology of the ancients sanctioned such an introduction, and that the vulgar, at least among the Greeks, believed in the Gods he introduced, which no christian audience could possibly do, in the little devil “Pug.” To behold such imps mingling in the business of the scene, must have been “to make the judicious grieve,” and destroy all semblance of illusion. As to the characters; Merecraft, and his subordinates in villainy, are spirited sketches, but “Fitzdottrel" is an unimaginable ass; and there are several of the characters who are unmeaning in themselves, and do nothing for the design of the play. The conclusion is unnatural; the gallant who would take so bold a step to reach the acquaintance of Mrs. Fitzdottrel, is not the man to be satisfied with her friendship merely; nor is the lady, who receives Wittipol as a protector against the brutality of her husband, and who suffers him to use such freedoms with her person, as we may read of in the seventh scene of the second act, a jot more likely to preserve her equilibrium on that slippery ground of platonic affection! How unsatisfactory is the state in which the parties are left! The fortune, it is true, is preserved to the lady, but the fate of Mezentius is not more insufferable than hers, chained as she is to the most worthless and contemptible of yoke fellows.
We say nothing of the characters of the “New Inn,” but the plot is the most improbable that can be imagined. A husband--a man of rank and fortune-ups away from his wife because she has brought him two daughters and no son. The wife runs away from her home because she had been deserted by her husband. She, subsequently, steals away one of her own daughters, and sells her to an inn-keeper, in the disguise of a boy, while she herself is retained in the capacity of a nurse. It happens, after the lapse of years, that the daughter who had remained at home and inherited the fortune, comes in a merry frolic to this inn, and discovers in the supposed boy, ber own sister-in the old nurse, her kind mamma, and, in the innkeeper himself-her father. And our author would have us believe, that these persons, connected as they were by the nearest human ties, could reside in the same house, without a
discovery. What a tissue of improbabilities! These are, indeed, his dotages: “Quarum, velut ægri somnia, vanæ fingun- . tur species."
Of Jonson's tragedies, “Sejanus” and “Cataline,” we shall merely remark that he has admirably preserved in them the “costume" of Rome. Schlegel shall say for us, all that we deem it necessary to add : “In Jonson's hands, the subject continues history, without becoming poetry. The political events which he describes, have more the appearance of a business than an action. “Cataline" and “Sejanus” are solid dramatic studies, after Sallust and Cicero, after Tacitus, Suetonius, Juvenal and others, and that is the best that can be said of them.”
It is with no affected humility, that we proceed to speak of Jonson's intellectual character. He has so long stood as a great landmark in our literature, his merits have been so thoroughly canvassed, and that by men of the first abilities—by Dryden, Pope, Johnson, Schlegel, Gifford, and in our own country, by Sanford, that the field is completely pre-occupied, and we are oppressed by the conviction, that we can offer nothing worthy of the reader's attention, which has not been anticipated. Setting out of view, however, as far as it is possible, every thing that we have taken on the authority of others, we shall endeavour, briefly, to convey to the reader, the impression of him, which the study of his works has left upon our own mind. The first thing that strikes us, is the wonderful learning of the man; a knowledge of the Greek and Roman classics, perfectly unmatched even in his own age; a knowledge, at once various, minute, profound, comprehensive and philosophical. This peculiarity, too, he possessed in an eminent degree, that he could not only translate, with a power never exceeded, these masterpieces of antiquity, but transfuse them, as it were, into his works, where they mingled so harmoniously that, to one ignorant of the originals, they would appear the most natural and unborrowed beauties they contained. Nor was he less skilled in what constituted the literature of the day; in theology, in metaphysics, and in alchemy, which, though openly contemned, received in that credulous age a secret reverence from the many. With all this wealth of ancient and modern learning, he seems to have possessed a memory, at once tenacious and prompt, a caustic wit, an industry that did not easily tire, and a constitution capable of intense application. He likewise possessed, in an eminent degree, the talent for observation; and his works are a living proof how readily he could seize, and how graphically expose the crowd of ridiculous and conVOL. VI.-N0. 11.