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THE ALCHEMIST

BY

BEN JONSON

BEN JONSON was born in Westminster in 1573 or 1574. He was the son of a clergyman who died before the birth of the child, and his mother a few years later married a bricklayer. Ben was educated first at Westminster school, and afterward worked with his stepfather. It is said that he assisted in building Lincoln's Inn. Then he enlisted as a soldier, and served through one campaign in Flanders, after which he entered St. John's College, Cambridge. He went upon the stage, but was not successful as an actor, and finally found his true vocation as a dramatist. He was improvident in his habits, twice changed his religious faith, and was apparently somewhat quarrelsome; he had a fierce wrangle with Dekker the dramatist, and in a duel he killed Gabriel Spenser, an actor, for which he was imprisoned. Later, for reflections on the Scottish nation in the comedy of “ Eastward Hoe,” the three authors of it — Jonson, Chapman, and Marston -- were thrown into prison. But James soon pardoned them and employed Jonson in writing court entertainments. In 1613 Jonson travelled on the continent as tutor to a son of Sir Walter Raleigh, and six years later he was appointed poet laureate. At the same time he made a walking tour to Scotland, and had a notable visit with Drummond of Hawthornden. In his last years he was palsied. lle died August 6, 1637, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, and Sir John Young caused to be inscribed on the stone the famous epitaph “O rare Ben Jonson.” Jonson published a revised edition of his works in 1616; what he produced after that date had little value. The principal memoir is by Gifford, prefixed to an edition that was issued in 1816. This edition contains seventeen plays (all but two of which had been produced on the stage), more than thirty masks and interludes, and epigrams, translations, and miscellaneous pieces. His translation from Philostratus, “ Drink to me only with thine eyes,” his epitaph on the Countess of Pembroke, and his verses on Shakespeare are famous. His best plays are “Every Man in his Humour,” “Cynthia's Revels,” “Volpone,'' “ Epicene, or the Silent Woman," “Catiline,” and above all “The Alchemist." Shakespeare appeared as an actor in some of them. Jonson was a member of the Mermaid Club, and founded the Apollo Club.

TO THE READER

IF thou beest more, thou art an understander, and then I trust thee. If thou art one that takest up, and but a pretender, beware of what hands thou receivest thy commodity; for thou wert never more fair in the way to be cozened than in this age, in poetry, especially in plays: wherein now the concupiscence of dances and of antics so reigneth, as to run away from Nature and be afraid of her is the only point of Art that tickles the spectators. But how out of purpose and place do I name Art? When the professors are grown so obstinate contemners of it, and presumers on their own naturals, as they are deriders of all diligence that way, and, by simple mocking at the terms, when they understand not the things, think to get off wittily with their ignorance. Nay, they are esteemed the more learned and sufficient for this, by the many, through their excellent vice of judgment. For they commend writers as they do fencers and wrestlers ; who, if they come in robustiously, and put for it with a great deal of violence, are received for the braver fellows: when many times their own rudeness is the cause of their disgrace, and a little touch of their adversary gives all that boisterous force the foil. I deny not but that these men, who always seek to do more than enough, may some time happen on something that is good and great ; but very seldom: and when it comes it doth not recompense the rest of their ill. It sticks out, perhaps, and is more eminent, because all is sordid and vile about it; as lights are more discerned in a thick darkness than a faint shadow. I speak not this out of a hope to do good to any man against his will; for I know, if it were put to the question of theirs and mine, the worse would find more suffrages: because the most favour

But I give thee this warning, that there is a great difference between those that, to gain the opinion of copy, utter all they can, however unfitly; and those that use election and a mean. For it is only the disease of the unskilful to think rude things greater than polished, or scattered more numerous than composed.

common errors.

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ

SUBTLE, the Alchemist.
FACE, the Housekeeper.
DOL COMMON, their colleague.
DAPPER, a Clerk.
DRUGGER, a Tobacco Man.
LOVEWIT, Master of the House.
EPICURE MAMMON, a Knight.
PERTINAX SURLY, a Gamester.
TRIBULATION WHOLESOME, a Pastor of Amsterdam.
ANANIAS, a Deacon there.
KASTRIL, the angry Boy.
DAME PLIANT, his Sister, a Widow.
Neighbours, Officers, Mutes,

SCENE - LONDON

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