« AnteriorContinuar »
Jonson was certainly a very good scholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakspeare; though at
"To my well accomplish'd friend, Mr. Ben. Jonson.
Scourge of Folly, by J. Davies, printed about 1611.
The following lines by one of Jonson's admirers will suffici cently support Mr. Rowe in what he has said relative to the slowness of that writer in his compositions:
"Scorn then their censures who gave out, thy wit
"As elephants bring forth, and that thy blots
"And niendings took more time than FORTUNE-PLOTS;
The writer does not deny the charge, but vindicates his friend by saying that, however slow,
"He that writes well, writes quick—."
Verses on B. Jonson, by Jasper Mayne.
So also, another of his Panegyrists:
"Admit his muse was slow, 'tis judgment's fate
In The Return from Parnassus, 1606, Jonson is said to be "so slow an enditer, that he were better betake himself to his old trade of bricklaying." The same piece furnishes us with the earliest intimation of the quarrel between him and Shakspeare: "Why here's our fellow Shakspeare put them [the university poets] all down, ay, and Ben Jonson too. O, that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow; he brought up Horace giving the poets a pill, but our fellow Shakspeare hath given him a purge that made him bewray his credit." Fuller, who was a diligent inquirer, and lived near enough the time to be well informed, confirms this account, asserting in his Worthies, 1662, that " many were the wit-combats" between Jonson and our poet.
It is a singular circumstance that old Ben should for near two centuries have stalked on the stilts of an artificial reputation; and that even at this day, of the very few who read his works, scarcely one in ten yet ventures to confess how little entertainment they afford. Such was the impression made on the publick by the extravagant praises of those who knew more of books than
* "ཙྪཱི ཀྱི་ ཨ ཨཏྟ པ
the same time I believe it must be allowed, that what nature gave the latter, was more than a ba
of the drama, that Dryden in his Essay on Dramatick Poesie, written about 1667, does not venture to go further in his elogium on Shakspeare, than by saying, "he was at least Jonson's equal, if not his superior;" and in the preface to his Mock Astrologer, 1671, he hardly dares to assert, what, in my opinion, cannot be denied, that "all Jonson's pieces, except three or four, are but crambe bis cocta; the same humours a little varied, and written worse."
Ben, however, did not trust to the praise of others. One of his admirers honestly confesses,—
"Of whom I write this, has prevented me,
"And boldly said so much in his own praise,
In vain, however, did he endeavour to bully the town into approbation by telling his auditors," By G-'tis good, and if you like't, you may;" and by pouring out against those who preferred our poet to him, a torrent of illiberal abuse; which, as Mr. Walpole justly observes, some of his contemporaries were willing to think wit, because they were afraid of it; for, notwithstanding all his arrogant boasts, notwithstanding all the clamour of his partizans both in his own life-time and for sixty years after his death, the truth is, that his pieces, when first performed, were so far from being applauded by the people, that they were scarcely endured; and many of them were actually damned.
the fine plush and velvets of the age
"Did oft for sixpence damn thee from the stage,”-
But when I view'd the people's beastly rage,
Again, in his Dedication of Catiline to the Earl of Pembroke, the author says, "Posterity may pay your benefit the honour and
lance for what books had given the former; and the judgment of a great man upon this occasion was, I think, very just and proper. In a conversation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonson, Sir John Suckling, who was a professed admirer of Shakspeare, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonson with some warmth; Mr. Hales, who had sat still for some time, told them,2 That if Mr. Shakspeare had not read the ancients, he had likewise not stolen any thing from them; and that if he would produce any one topick finely treated by any one of them, he would undertake to show some
thanks, when it shall know that you dare in these jig-given times to countenance a legitimate poem. I must call it so, against all noise of opinion, from whose crude and ayrie reports I appeal to that great and singular facultie of judgment in your lordship."
See also the Epilogue to Every Man in his Humour, by Lord Buckhurst, quoted below in The Account of our old English Theatres, ad finem. To his testimony and that of Mr. Drummond of Hawthornden, (there also mentioned,) may be added that of Leonard Digges in his Verses on Shakspeare, and of Sir Robert Howard, who says in the preface to his Plays, folio, 1665, (not thirty years after Ben's death,) "When I consider how severe the former age has been to some of the best of Mr. Jonson's never-to-be-equalled comedies, I cannot but wonder, why any should speak of former times." The truth is, that however extravagant the elogiums were that a few scholars gave him in their closets, he was not only not admired in his own time by the generality, but not even understood. His friend Beaumont assures him in a copy of verses, that "his sense is so deep that he will not be understood for three ages to come." MALONE.
Mr. Hales, who had sat still for some time, told them,] In Mr. Rowe's first edition this passage runs thus:
"Mr. Hales, who had sat still for some time, hearing Ben frequently reproach him with the want of learning and ignorance of the antients, told him at last, That if Mr. Shakspeare," &c. By the alteration, the subsequent part of the sentence"if he would produce," &c. is rendered ungrammatical.
thing upon the same subject at least as well written by Shakspeare.3
he would undertake to show something upon the same subject at least as well written by Shakspeare.] I had long endeavoured in vain to find out on what authority this relation was founded; and have very lately discovered that Mr. Rowe probably derived his information from Dryden : for in Gildon's Letters and Essays, published in 1694, fifteen years before this Life appeared, the same story is told; and Dryden, to whom an Essay in vindication of Shakspeare is addressed, is appealed to by the writer as his authority. As Gildon tells the story with some slight variations from the account given by Mr. Rowe, and the book in which it is found is now extremely scarce, I shall subjoin the passage in his own words:
"But to give the world some satisfaction that Shakspeare has had as great veneration paid his excellence by men of unquestioned parts, as this I now express for him, I shall give some account of what I have heard from your mouth, sir, about the noble triumph he gained over all the ancients, by the judgment of the ablest criticks of that time.
"The matter of fact, if my memory fail me not, was this. Mr. Hales of Eton affirmed, that he would show all the poets of antiquity out-done by Shakspeare, in all the topicks and commonplaces made use of in poetry. The enemies of Shakspeare would by no means yield him so much excellence; so that it came to a resolution of a trial of skill upon that subject. The place agreed on for the dispute was Mr. Hales's chamber at Eton. A great many books were sent down by the enemies of this poet; and on the appointed day my Lord Falkland, Sir John Suckling, and all the persons of quality that had wit and learning, and interested themselves in the quarrel, met there; and upon a thorough disquisition of the point, the judges chosen by agreement out of this learned and ingenious assembly, unanimously gave the preference to Shakspeare, and the Greek and Roman poets were adjudged to vail at least their glory in that, to the English Hero."
This elogium on our author is likewise recorded at an earlier period by Tate, probably from the same authority, in the preface to The Loyal General, quarto, 1680: "Our learned Hales was wont to assert, that, since the time of Orpheus, and the oldest poets, no common-place has been touched upon, where our author has not performed as well."
Dryden himself also certainly alludes to this story, which he appears to have related both to Gildon and Rowe, in the follow
The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good sense will wish theirs may be, in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occasion, and, in that, to his wish; and is said
ing passage of his Essay of Dramatick Poesy, 1667; and he as well as Gildon goes somewhat further than Rowe in his panegyrick. After giving that fine character of our poet which Dr. Johnson has quoted in his preface, he adds, "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 by Shakspeare; 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 [that of Charles I.] when Ben's reputation was at highest, Sir John Suckling, and with him the greater part of the courtiers, set our Shakspeare far above him."
Let ever-memorable Hales, if all his other merits be forgotten, be ever mentioned with honour, for his good taste and admiration of our poet. "He was," says Lord Clarendon, "one of the least men in the kingdom; and one of the greatest scholars in Europe." See a long character of him in Clarendon's Life, Vol. I. p. 52. MALONE.
He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occasion,] Gildon, without authority, I believe, says, that our author left behind him an estate of 300l. per ann. This was equal to at least 1000l. per ann, at this day; the relative value of money, the mode of living in that age, the luxury and taxes of the present time, and various other circumstances, being considered. But I doubt whether all his property amounted to much more, than 2001. per ann. which yet was a considerable fortune in those times. He appears from his grand-daughter's will to have possessed in Bishopton, and Stratford Welcombe, four yard land and a half. A yard land is a denomination well known in Warwickshire, and contains from 30 to 60 acres. The average therefore being 45, four yard land and a half may be estimated at about two hundred acres. As sixteen years purchase was the common rate at which the land was sold at that time, that is, one half less than at this day, we may suppose that these lands were let at seven shillings per acre, and produced 70l. per annum. If we rate the New-Place with the appurtenances, and our poet's other