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(Selden and Camden being of the number): his mother was present on this joyous occasion, and she produced a paper of poison, which she said she intended to have given her son in his liquor, rather than he should submit to personal mutilation and disgrace, and another dose which she intended afterwards to have taken herself. The old lady must, as Whalley remarks, have been more of an antique Roman than a Briton. Jonson's own conduct in this affair was noble and spirited. He had no considerable share in the composition of the piece, and was, besides, in such favour, that he would not have been molested; 'but this did not satisfy him,' says Gifford; and he, therefore, with a high sense of honour, voluntarily accompanied his two friends to prison, determined to share their fate.
In 1613 he made a tour through France, and on his return to England, in 1614, was honoured with the degree of Master of Arts from the University of Oxford. In that year his farce of “ Bartholomew Fair,” which has been much praised, was performed in the "Hope" theatre; and in 1616 he produced " The Devil is an Ass.” From 1625 to 1629 his health began gradually to decline; and as his pecuniary means were limited, he was fortunate in obtaining from Charles I. the post of poet laureate, with a salary of one hundred pounds a year, and a tierce of Spanish wine. In 1618 Jonson made a pedestrian tour to Scotland, where he was received with the respect and attention due to his literary merits. He projected a work on the beauties of Loch Lomond, which he did not live to write. He was the guest of Drummond, the eminent Scotch poet, for three weeks; who, some years afterwards, published a sketch of Ben's private habits, which was by no means favourable to his moral character. Drummond's portrait of his friend is, perhaps, delineated too strongly; but there can be no doubt that he was improvident in his habits, and that in the latter part of his life, he was reduced to necessitous circumstances. Self-conceit and pride were the principal defects in his character.
In 1632 and 1634 he produced his comedies of the “Magnetic Lady," and the “ Tale of a Tub,” being the last of his dramatic compositions. When he was near the close of his life, he commenced and left unfinished a musical drama of great ability, entitled the “ Sad Shepherd.” He discontinued writing in 1634, and died in poverty, of an attack of palsy, on the 16th of August, 1637, at the age of sixty-three. He was interred in the north-west end of Westminster Abbey, under a small stone, which bears the laconic inscription, of “0! rare Ben Jonson.” The same words, says his biographer, " are found on several small square stones on the floor of the Abbey, under one of which it was generally believed his corpse was buried in a perpendicular position. This was ascertained a few years since to be the fact, his coffin being discovered so situated in one of the aisles, during the preparations making for a recent, interment."
The private character of Jonson, to which we have referred, is fairly depicted in the following extract from Chambers's “ Cyclopedia”:-“Inured to hardships and to a free boisterous life in his early days, Jonson seems to have contracted a roughness of manner, and habits of intemperance, which never wholly left him. Priding himself immoderately on his classical acquirements, he was apt to slight and condemn his less learned associates ; while the conflict between his limited means and his love of social pleasures, rendered him too often severe and saturnine in his temper. Whatever he did was done with labour, and hence was highly prized. His contemporaries seemed fond of mortifying his pride, and he was often at war with actors and authors. With the celebrated Inigo Jones, who was joined with him in the preparation of the Court Masques,'Jonson waged a long and bitter feud, in which both parties were to blame. When his better nature prevailed, and exorcised the demon of envy or spleen, Jonson was capable of a generous warmth of friendship, and of just discrimination of genius and character. His literary reputation, his love of conviviality, and his high colloquial powers, rendered his
society much courted, and he became the centre of a band of wits and revellers. Sir Walter Raleigh founded a club, known to all posterity as the ‘Mermaid Club,' at which Jonson, Shakspeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, and other poets, exercised themselves with wit-combäts' more bright and genial than their wine. One of the favourite haunts of these bright-minded men was the Falcon Tavern, near the theatre in Bankside, Southwark, of which a sketch has been preserved.”
Jonson's works have been criticised by many writers of established reputation both in his own and in our time. Among the most recent may be mentioned Gifford, Hazlitt, Campbell, and Leigh Hunt. Lord Clarendon's estimate of his genius as a poet is, however, the most accurate that has been written. “His name can never be forgotten, having, by his very good learning, and the severity of his nature and manners, very much reformed the stage, and indeed English poetry itself. His natural advantages were, judgment to order and govern fancy, rather than excess of fancy; his productions being slow and upon deliberation. Yet these, abounding with great wit and fancy, and will live accordingly; and surely as he did exceedingly exalt the English language, eloquence, propriety, and masculine expression, so he was the best judge of, and fittest to prescribe rules to, poetry and poets, of any man who had lived with or before him.” Six months after his death a number of eminent writers and scholars published a collection of poems in honour of his genius.
Dryden was a warm admirer of Jonson's poetical genius. His character of the dramatist is highly favourable:-“ As for Jonson, to whose character I am now arrived, if we look upon him while he was bimself (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 a height. Humour was his 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. If I would compare him with Shakspeare, I must acknowledge him the more correct poet, but Shakspeare the greater wit. Shakspeare was the Homer, or the father of our dramatic poets: Jonson was the Virgil, the pattern of elaborate writings; I admiro him, but I love Shakspeare."
The writer of the article on Jonson, in Brewster's “Encyclopedia," which has been ascribed to Campbell, remarks, that the "lyrical poetry of Jonson forms, perhaps, the most delightful part of his poetical character. His language is weighty with thought, and polished with elegance. Upon the whole, his merits, after every fair deduction, leave him in possession of a high niche in our literature, and entitle him to be ranked (next to Shakspeare) as the most important benefactor of our early drama.”
The dramatic compositions of Jonson, taken as a whole, are not fitted for the indiscriminate perusal of youth. Whatever they may contain of profound thought and solid learning cannot be appreciated by those who read them only to enjoy an hour's intellectual recreation. The reader must be well educated, and must have some knowledge of the literature, manners, and customs of the time in which this eminent poet lived, to understand thoroughly what it is that constitutes his peculiar excellence as a writer for the stage. For the reasons we have given, the plays of this author are especially calculated for students familiar with general, as well as dramatic, literature. There is much, however, in his miscellaneous pieces, both of a lyrical and descriptive character, well worthy of perusal. A few extracts of this class have been included in our volumes of poetical selections. The leading characteristics of Jonson, as a distinguished ornament of our old poetical literature, have been accurately described and illustrated in thó first volume of “The Retrospective Review.” The writer observes that, “if the great men which this age has undoubtedly produced, would profit by his example, they might learn that severity of style is the concomitant of severity of manners; and that the rock-based edifice of Jonson is firm from its simplicity, and revered because unpolluted. All he had, he exerted to the noblest purposes—the reformation of mankind. His wit was human, for its constant endeavour was to wean us from our follies. The course of justice he alike upheld in morals and poetry, and was equally reckless in laying bare the front of vice, and exposing the dogmas of conceited ignorance."
The origin, history, and progress of the drama is an interesting subject of investigation. Connected with the productions of Shakspeare, Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, and other dramatic writers, some knowledge of it is necessary as a preliminary qualification for a correct estimate of their merits. As a comprebensive and accurate review of this branch of literature, we recommend Sir Walter Scott's Essay on the Drama, first published in the supplement to "The Encyclopedia Britannica,” and since reprinted in his miscellaneous works. From this masterly disquisition we transcribe the author's parallel between Shakspeare and Jonson. We regret that we have not space to insert the opinions of Schlegel, Hallam, Hazlitt, and Leigh Hunt:
“ The general opinion of critics has assigned genius as the characteristic of Shakspeare, and art as the appropriate excellence of Jonson; not, surely, that Jonson was deficient in genius, but that art was the principal characteristic of his laborious scenes. We learn from his own confession, and from the panegyrics of his friends, as well as the taunts of his enemies, that he was a slow composer.
The natural result of laborious care is jealousy of fame: for that which we do with labour, we value highly when achieved. Shakspeare