« AnteriorContinuar »
that awful occasion, and I was highly pleased therewith. It has given me a very favourable impression of the Scottish nation. Your sympathy was visible on your countenance, and reflected the greatest credit on your hearts ; particularly when the moment arrived that your unhappy fellow-creature was to close his eyes on this world for ever, you all, as if moved by one impulse, turned your heads aside, and wept. Those tears were precious, and will be held in remembrance. How dif. ferent was this, when the Saviour of mankind was extended on the cross the Jews, instead of sympathizing in his sorrows, triumphed in them. They reviled him with bitter expressions, with words even more bitter than the gall and vinegar which they handed him to drink ; not one of all that witnessed his pains, turned the head aside, even in the last pang. Yes, there was one, that glorious luminary (pointing to the sun) veiled his bright face, and sailed on in tenfold night.”
JOHN DENNIS. From a MS. Collection in the Hand-writing of the late Dr. Lyon.
This gentleman had certainly great merit in the commonwealth of learning, but was unhappy from some pecu. liarities that his disappointinents in the world had seemed to make almost natural to his temper, at least as some were of opinion, who made but small allowances for his unhappy circumstances. His talents, in short, created him many enemies among the small wits and minor poets, who, in some sort, made it a common cause to depress a judgment of which they had reason to be afraid. If, however, he had causelessly or unjustly offended any one, the wretched circumstances through which he had strug. gled, to a tedious, an indigeut and helpless old age, was a revenge which the most exasperated mind could not wish to its worst enemy: and it will be always remembered, to the praise of two or three gentlemen of exalted genius as well as humanity, that they could overlook his little failings, and do him real benefit, for the sake of his greater excellencies. The political writings of this unhappy gentleman, together with several MSS. which never appeared, manifest his steady love to his country, and strict adherence to the Protestant interest. As to his other pieces, let better judges give them their due character: we shall only add, that we think he inay be called the last classic wit of King Charles's reign.
REVIEW OF BOOKS.
An Examination of the Charges maintained by Messrs. - Malone, Chalmers, and others, of Ben Jonson's Enmity,
&c. towards Shakspeare. ' By Oc'avius Gilchrist. 8vo. pp. 62. Taylor and Hessey. 1808.
It has been so strongly and repeatedly urged, that Ben Jonson was the enemy of Shakspeare, that very few have latterly entertained a doubt upon the subject. The authorities were high on which the assertions rested, and were consequently not much questioned. As a point of fact therefore it is material to examine into the ground of the accusation, and it is but just to the fame of rare Ben to rescue his reputation from a charge which, if proved, our regard for Shakspeare would naturally aggravate into a high and unpardonable misdemeanor against the great Sovereigu of the Drama. Mr. Gilchrist has undertaken this laudable task, and he has proved incontestably, that there is no just ground for the imputation. We never gave the least credit to the story, but we were far from aware that such indubitable testimony could be adduced in its refutation. The principal arguments on which Mr. Gilchrist relies are these: Tradition has given to Shakspeare the merit of having introduced his companion to the stage. If this be true, and there is nothiny to contradict it, it would be unfair to tax Jonson, without good foundation, with ingratitude to his friend. The lines to the memory of his beloved William Shakspeare are in the highest strain of eulogium. No writer of that day or the present has gone beyond them. For instance,
While I confess thy writings to be such
Soul of the age,
Farmer calls these verses “ the warmest panegyrick on Shakspeare that ever was written.”
George Steevens believed that this praise would not have been bestowed on Shakspeare had he been living, This, as an opinion only, goes for nothing. He has failed to support it with any proof of Ben's disinclination on other occasions to acknowledge the merit of his illustrious competitor. Malone įnfers that there had been a quarrel between the two poets, from the Return of Parnassus, wherein Kempe,' in a supposed dialogue with Burbage, is made to say,
“ Few of the university pen plays well; they smell too much of that writer Ovid, and that writer Metamorphosis, and talk too much of Proserpina and Juppiter. 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, give ing the poets a pill, but our fellow Shakspeare hath given him a purge that made him bewray his credit” In this proof of a quarrel according to Malone, and Mr. Chal, mers, Mr. Gilchrist sees no reference to personal aniinosity; it was a just testimony to the superior merit of “ the poet of nature" over the writings of more “learned candidates for fame;" and the well merited compliment is very appropriately put into the mouth of Will Kempe, one of “ Shakspeare's fellows.” “ Shakspeare (adds Mas lone) has sufficiently marked his disregard for the calumniator of his fame, by not leaving him any memorial by his will”!!!
These lines, from Jonson's Prologue to his Every Man in his Humour,
“ He rather prays, you would be pleas'd to see
One such to-day, as other plays should be;
Nor creaking throne comes down the boys to please,"
To this Mr, Gilchrist very satisfactorily replies, “ Jonson's design in this prologue was clearly to ridicule the tricks and stratagems, the phantasmagoria, and Sadler's, wells' antics, by which his contemporaries engaged the frequenters of the stage in that early age of theatrical re, presentation, and to win them by ridicule from buffooa pery, bombast, and empty machinery,
“ To deeds, and language, such as men do use; .
And persons such as comedy would chuse
When she would shew an image of the times;
And sport with human follies, not with crimes :" the legal and genuine purpose of dramatic representation, and such appears to have been Jonson's general object. For “ the chorus," thus acutely converted into “ a clumsy sarcasm” on the great bard, one might be tempted to suppose that Mr. Malone would have us conclude, that the introduction of it in Henry the Fifth is the only example of its adoption on the English stage; or why must Jonson's reprobation of the practice be construed into a sneer at Shakspeare? Why, but for the purpose of encouraging an opinion, founded on falsehood, and fostered by misrepresentation. The fact is, that Jonson, with all his fondness for the ancients, thought the chorus, borrowed froin the Greek tragedies, an incumbrance, and openly reprobated it; as Shakspeare had before ridiculed the “ dombe shewe" of his predecessors. But the chorus on the English stage is coeval with the first tragedy, Gorbodue; was the cominon appendage of the drama during his life, as may be seen in many instances among the old plays edited by the late Isaac Reed; and, though declining, continued in use long after Shakspeare had made his exit froin the scene of life. That it was displeasing, Shakspeare was conscious, by his apologies for its introduction in the case of Henry the Fifth, and his omission of it on all other occasions. Heywood, also, who has adopted it in his “ Fair Maid of the West," quarto, 1651, seems to have been sensible of the absurdity, when he introduces a chorus saying,
* Our stage so lamely can express a sea,
What should have been in action.' What, then is there in the line quoted by Mr. Malone, that is not applicable to fifty others as well as Shakspeare? and what is there to justify his charges of “ clumsy sarcasm, and malevolent reflection?”
• Discite justitiam moniti, et non spernere verum.' “ The same eagerness of research for finding attacks on Shakspeare, exhibited in preceding examples, has been employed to discover a sneer at him in this passage of foregoing extract:
"To make a child now swaddled to proceed
“ This is considered 'a palpable hiť at the beautiful, drama, " The Winter's Tale: than which iuference nothing can be more unnecessary. Certainly in none of Shakspeare's plays are the unities of time and placé more disregarded than in the present; but this neglect or contempt was not peculiar to the bard of Avon; similar and even greater licences are found in Lilly's Endimion, in 1591, and Patient Grissel, performed as early as 1599. Nor was the practice confined to these; George Whetstones, in an epistle prefixed to his Promos and Cassandra, 1578, speaking of the absurdities and offences conmitted against the laws of the drama by various nations, says, the Englishman in this qualitie is most vain, indiscreet, and out of order. He first grounds his work on impossibilities: then in three hours runnes he over the worlde: marryis, gets children, makes children men, men to conquer kingdomes, murder monsters, and bringeth goddes from heaven, and fetcheth devills from hell, &c.' And Sir Philip Sidney, in his · Defense of Poesie,' 1589; when complaining of Gorbodue* as faulty both in place and time, the two necessary companions of all corporal actions;' adds, but if it be so in Gorbodue, how much more in all the rest? where you shall have Asia of the one side, and Africa of the other, and so many other under kingdomis, that the player, when he com sin, must ever begin with telling where he is, or . else the tale will not be conceived. Now you shall have three ladies walk to gather flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden. By-and-by, we hear news of a shipwreck in the same place; then we are to blame if we accept it not for a rock. Upon the back of that comes out a hideous monster with fire and smoke, and theu the miserable beholders are bound to take it for a cave; while, in the mean time, two armies fly in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and then, what hard heart will not conceive it for a pitched field?
“Now, of time they are much more liberal: for ordinary it is, that two young princes fall in love; after many traverses she is got with child; delivered of a faire boy, he is lost, groweth a man, falleth in love, and is ready to get another child; and all this in two hours space; which, how absurd it is in sense, even sense may imagine.'
* “ How comes it that Warton, in bis « History of English Poetry," iwvariably writes this Gordobue?