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SHAKESPEARE AND BEN JONSON.
HAKESPEARE 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 Those who 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 and 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 wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of poets,
"As the tall cypress towers above the shrubs."
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 Shakespeare; 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 Shakespeare far above him.
As for Jonson, 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, espe
cially 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 mechanić 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 represented 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 Romanise 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 Shakespeare, I must acknowledge him the more correct poet, but Shakespeare the greater wit. Shakespeare was the Homer or father of our dramatic poets: Jonson was the Virgil, the pattern of elaborate writing; I admire him, but I love Shakespeare.
ET are they here-the same unbroken knot Of human beings, in the self-same spot! Men, women, children, yea, the frame Of the whole spectacle the same Only their fire seems bolder, yielding light, Now deep and red, the colouring of night, That on their gipsy-faces falls,
Their bed of straw and blanket-walls.
Much witnessing of change and cheer-
Outshining like a visible god
The glorious path in which he trod.
The silent heavens have goings-on;
The stars have tasks- but these have none !
S one that has his being in this age, but his life and conversation is in the days of old. He despises the present age as an innovation, and slights the future; but has a great value for that which is past and gone, like the madman that fell in love with Cleopatra. He is an old frippery philosopher, that has so strange a natural affection to worm-eaten speculation, that it is apparent he has a worm in his skull. He honours his forefathers and foremothers, but condemns his parents as too modern and no better than upstarts. He neglects himself because he was born in his own time, and so far off antiquity, which he so much admires; and repines, like a younger brother, because he came so late into the world. He spends the one half of his time in collecting old, insignificant trifles, and the other in showing them, which he takes singular delight in, because the oftener he does it the further they are from being new to him. All his curiosities take place of one another according to their seniority, and he values them not by their abilities but their standing. He has a great veneration for words that are stricken in years, and are grown so aged that they have outlived their employments; these he uses with a respect agreeable to their antiquity and the good services they have done. He throws away his time in inquiring after that which is past and gone so many ages since, like one that shoots away an arrow to find out another that was lost before. He fetches things out of dust and ruins, like the fable of the chemical plant raised out of its own ashes. He values one old invention that is lost and never to be recovered, before all the new ones in the world though never so useful. The whole business of his life is the same with his that shows the tombs at Westminster, only the one does it for his pleasure and the other for money. As every man has but one father, but two grandfathers, and a world of ancestors, so he has a proportional value for things that are ancient, and the farther off the greater.
He is a great time-server, but it is of time out of mind, to which he conforms exactly, but is wholly retired from the present. His days were spent and gone long before he came into the world, and ever since his only business is to collect what he can out of the ruins of them. He has