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they will at last deplore the odds under which he fell, concluding that his courage deserved a better destiny.-All the company smiled at the conceit of Lisideius; but Crites, more reager than before, began to make particular exceptions against some writers, and said, the public magistrate ought to send betimes to forbid them; and that it concerned the peace and quiet of all honest people, that ill poets should be as well silenced as seditious preachers.--In my opinion, replied Eugenius, you pursue your point too far: for as to my own particular, I am so great a lover of poesy, that I could wish them all rewarded who attempt but to do well; at least, I would not have them worse used than one of their brethren was by Sylla the Dictator: “Quem in concione vidimus,” says 8 Tully, “cum ei libellum malus poeta de populo subjecisset, quod epigramma in eum fecisset tantummodo alternis versibus longiusculis, statim ex iis rebus quas tunc vendebat jubere ei præmium tribui, sub ea conditione ne quid postea scriberet.”—I could wish with all my heart, replied Crites, that many whom we know were as bountifully thanked upon the same condition--that they would never trouble us again. For amongst others, I have a mortal apprehension of 'two poets, whom this Victory, with the help of both her wings, will never be able to escape.—'Tis easy to guess whom you intend, said Lisideius: and without naming them, I ask you if one of them does not perpetually pay us with 10 clenches upon words, and a certain clownish kind of raillery : if now and then he does not offer at a catachresis or 11 Cleivelandism, wresting and torturing a word into another meaning: in fine, if he be not one of those whom the French would call “un mauvais buffon;" one who is so much a well-willer to the satire, that he intends at least to spare no man; and though he cannot strike a blow to hurt any, yet he ought to be punished for the malice of the action, as our witches are justly hanged, because they think themselves to be such ; and suffer deservedly for believing they did mischief, because they meant it —You have described him, said Crites, so exactly, that I am afraid to come after you with my other extremity of poetry. He is one of those who, having had some advantage of education and converse, knows better than the other what a poet should be, but puts it into practice more unluckily than any man. His style and matter are everywhere alike: he is the most calm, peaceable writer you ever read: he never disquiets your passions with the least concernment, but still leaves you in as even a temper as he found you; he is a very leveller in poetry: he creeps along with 12 ten little words in every line, and helps out his numbers with For to, and Unto, and all the pretty expletives he can find, till he drags them to the end of another line; while the sense is left tired half way behind it: he doubly starves all his verses, first for want of thought, and then of expression. His poetry neither has wit in it, nor seems to have it; like him in Martial :
13 " Pauper videri Cinna vult, et est pauper." He affects plainness, to cover his want of imagination : when he writes the serious way, the highest flight of his fancy is some miserable antithesis, or seeming contradiction; and in the comic he is still reaching at some thin conceit, the ghost of a jest, and that too flies before him, never to be caught. These swallows which we see before us on the Thames are the just resemblance of his wit: you may observe how near the water they stoop, how many proffers they make to dip, and yet how seldom they touch it; and when they do, it is but the surface: they skim over it but to catch a gnat, and then mount into the air and leave it.
II.-CHARACTERS OF SHAKSPERE, BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER,
AND BEN JONSON.
But to return whence I have digressed: I dare boldly affirm these two things of the English Drama : First, that we have many plays of ours as regular as any of theirs, and which, besides, have more variety of plot and characters; and secondly, that in most of the irregular plays of Shakspere or Fletcher (for Ben Jonson's are for the most part regular), there is a more masculine fancy and greater spirit in the writing, than there is in any of the French. I could produce even in Shakspere's and Fletcher's works some plays which are almost exactly formed; as “The Merry Wives of Windsor," and
“The Scornful Lady:" but because (generally speaking) Shakspere, who writ first, did not perfectly observe the laws of comedy; and Fletcher, who came nearer to perfection, yet through carelessness made many faults; I will take the pattern of a perfect play from Ben Jonson, who was a careful and learned observer of the dramatic laws: and from all his comedies I shall select “The Silent Woman;" of which I will make a short examen, according to those rules which the French observe.
As Neander was beginning to examine “The Silent Woman," Eugenius, earnestly regarding him; I beseech you, Neander, said he, gratify the company, and me in particular, so far, as before you speak of the play, to give us a character of the author; and tell us frankly your opinion, whether you do not think all writers, both French and English, ought to give place to him.
I fear, replied Neander, that in obeying your commands I shall draw some "envy on myself. Besides, in performing them, it will be first necessary to speak somewhat of Shakspere and Fletcher, his rivals in poesy; and one of them, in my opinion, at least his equal, perhaps his superior.
To begin, then, with Shakspere. He was the man who, of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of Nature were still present to him, and he drew them, not laboriously, but luckily: when he describes anything, you more than see it--you feel it too. Those who 3 accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation: he was naturally learned; he needed not the spectacles of books to read Nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot say he is everywhere alike; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat, insipid; his comic wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great when some great occasion is presented to him: no man can say he ever had a fit subject for his 4 wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of poets,
" Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi."
The consideration of this made Mr. Hales of Eton say, that there was no subject of which any poet ever writ, but he would produce it much better done in Shakspere; and however others are now generally preferred before him, yet the age wherein he lived, which had contemporaries with him, Fletcher and Jonson, never equalled them to him in their esteem : and in the last King's court, when Ben's reputation was at highest, Sir John Suckling, and with him the greater part of the courtiers, set our Shakspere far above him.
Beaumont and Fletcher, of whom I am next to speak, had, with the advantage of Shakspere's wit, which was their precedent, great natural gifts, improved by study; Beaumont especially being so accurate a judge of plays, that Ben Jonson, while he lived, submitted all his writings to his censure, and, 'tis thought, used his judgment in correcting, if not contriving, all his plots. What value he bad for him appears by the verses he writ to him; and therefore I need speak no further of it. The first play that brought Fletcher and him in esteem was their “ Philaster:” for before that, they had written two or three very unsuccessfully; as the like is reported of Ben Jonson, before he writ “Every Man in his Humour.” Their plots were generally more regular than Shakspere's, especially those which were made before Beaumont's death; and they understood and imitated the conversation of gentlemen much better ; whose wild debaucheries, and quickness of wit in repartees, no poet before them could paint as they have done. Humour, which Ben Jonson derived from particular persons, they made it not their business to describe : they represented all the passions very lively, but above all, love. I am apt to believe the English language in them 'arrived to its highest perfection : what words have since been taken in are rather superfluous than ornamental. Their plays are now the most pleasant and frequent entertainments of the stage; two of theirs being acted through the year for one of Shakspere's or Jonson's: the reason is, because there is a certain gaiety in their comedies, and pathos in their more serious plays, which suits generally with all men's humours. Shakspere's language is likewise a little obsolete, and Ben Jonson's wit comes short of theirs.
As for Jonson, to whose character I am now arrived, if we look upon him while he was himself, (for his last plays were but his dotages,) I think him the most learned and judicious writer which any theatre ever had. He was a most severe judge of himself, as well as others. One cannot say he wanted wit, but rather that he was frugal of it. In his works you find little to retrench or alter. Wit, and language, and humour also in some measure, we had before him; but something of art was wanting to the drama, till he came. He managed his strength to more advantage than any who preceded him. You seldom find him making love in any of his scenes, or endeavouring to move the passions; his genius was too sullen and saturnine to do it gracefully, especially when he knew he came after those who had performed both to such an height. Humour was bis proper sphere, and in that he delighted most to represent mechanic people. He was deeply conversant in the ancients, both Greek and Latin, and he borrowed boldly from them : there is scarce a poet or historian among the Roman authors of those times whom he has not translated in “Sejanus” and “ Catiline.” But he has done his robberies so openly, that one may see he fears not to be taxed by any law. He invades authors like a monarch ; and what would be theft in other poets, is only victory in him. With the spoils of these writers he so represents old Rome to us, in its rites, ceremonies, and customs, that if one of their poets had written either of his tragedies, we had seen less of it than in him. If there was any fault in his language, 'twas that he weaved it too closely and laboriously, in his comedies especially : perhaps, too, he did a little too much Romanize our tongue, leaving the words which he translated almost as much Latin as he found them; wherein, though he learnedly followed their language, he did not enough comply with the idiom of ours. If I would compare him with Shakspere, I must acknowledge him the more correct poet, but Shakspere the greater wit. Shakspere was the Homer, or father of our dramatic poets; Jonson was the Virgil, the pattern of elaborate writing: I admire him, but I love Shakspere. To conclude of him; as he has given us the most correct plays, so in the precepts which he has laid down in his 8“ Discoveries," we have