Volpone; or, the fox by ben jonson

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inactive; for year after year his inexhaustible inventiveness

continued to contribute to the masquing and entertainment at court.

In "The Golden Age Restored," Pallas turns the Iron Age with

its attendant evils into statues which sink out of sight; in

"Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue," Atlas figures represented as an

old man, his shoulders covered with snow, and Comus, "the god of

cheer or the belly," is one of the characters, a circumstance which

an imaginative boy of ten, named John Milton, was not to forget.

"Pan's Anniversary," late in the reign of James, proclaimed that

Jonson had not yet forgotten how to write exquisite lyrics, and

"The Gipsies Metamorphosed" displayed the old drollery and broad

humorous stroke still unimpaired and unmatchable. These, too, and

the earlier years of Charles were the days of the Apollo Room of

the Devil Tavern where Jonson presided, the absolute monarch of

English literary Bohemia. We hear of a room blazoned about with

Jonson's own judicious "Leges Convivales" in letters of gold, of a

company made up of the choicest spirits of the time, devotedly

attached to their veteran dictator, his reminiscences, opinions,

affections, and enmities. And we hear, too, of valorous potations;

but in the words of Herrick addressed to his master, Jonson, at the

Devil Tavern, as at the Dog, the Triple Tun, and at the Mermaid,
"We such clusters had

As made us nobly wild, not mad,

And yet each verse of thine

Outdid the meat, outdid the frolic wine."

But the patronage of the court failed in the days of King Charles,

though Jonson was not without royal favours; and the old poet

returned to the stage, producing, between 1625 and 1633, "The

Staple of News," "The New Inn," "The Magnetic Lady," and "The Tale

of a Tub," the last doubtless revised from a much earlier comedy.

None of these plays met with any marked success, although the

scathing generalisation of Dryden that designated them "Jonson's

dotages" is unfair to their genuine merits. Thus the idea of an

office for the gathering, proper dressing, and promulgation of news

(wild flight of the fancy in its time) was an excellent subject for

satire on the existing absurdities among newsmongers; although

as much can hardly be said for "The Magnetic Lady," who, in her

bounty, draws to her personages of differing humours to reconcile

them in the end according to the alternative title, or "Humours

Reconciled." These last plays of the old dramatist revert to

caricature and the hard lines of allegory; the moralist is more

than ever present, the satire degenerates into personal lampoon,

especially of his sometime friend, Inigo Jones, who appears

unworthily to have used his influence at court against the

broken-down old poet. And now disease claimed Jonson, and he was

bedridden for months. He had succeeded Middleton in 1628 as

Chronologer to the City of London, but lost the post for not

fulfilling its duties. King Charles befriended him, and even

commissioned him to write still for the entertainment of the court;

and he was not without the sustaining hand of noble patrons and

devoted friends among the younger poets who were proud to be

"sealed of the tribe of Ben."
Jonson died, August 6, 1637, and a second folio of his works, which

he had been some time gathering, was printed in 1640, bearing in

its various parts dates ranging from 1630 to 1642. It included all

the plays mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs, excepting "The

Case is Altered;" the masques, some fifteen, that date between 1617

and 1630; another collection of lyrics and occasional poetry called

"Underwoods, including some further entertainments; a translation

of "Horace's Art of Poetry" (also published in a vicesimo quarto in

1640), and certain fragments and ingatherings which the poet would

hardly have included himself. These last comprise the fragment

(less than seventy lines) of a tragedy called "Mortimer his Fall,"

and three acts of a pastoral drama of much beauty and poetic

spirit, "The Sad Shepherd." There is also the exceedingly

interesting "English Grammar" "made by Ben Jonson for the benefit

of all strangers out of his observation of the English language now

spoken and in use," in Latin and English; and "Timber, or

Discoveries" "made upon men and matter as they have flowed out of

his daily reading, or had their reflux to his peculiar notion of

the times." The "Discoveries," as it is usually called, is a

commonplace book such as many literary men have kept, in which

their reading was chronicled, passages that took their fancy

translated or transcribed, and their passing opinions noted. Many

passages of Jonson's "Discoveries" are literal translations from the

authors he chanced to be reading, with the reference, noted or not,

as the accident of the moment prescribed. At times he follows the

line of Macchiavelli's argument as to the nature and conduct of

princes; at others he clarifies his own conception of poetry and

poets by recourse to Aristotle. He finds a choice paragraph on

eloquence in Seneca the elder and applies it to his own

recollection of Bacon's power as an orator; and another on facile

and ready genius, and translates it, adapting it to his

recollection of his fellow-playwright, Shakespeare. To call such

passages--which Jonson never intended for publication--

plagiarism, is to obscure the significance of words. To disparage

his memory by citing them is a preposterous use of scholarship.

Jonson's prose, both in his dramas, in the descriptive comments of

his masques, and in the "Discoveries," is characterised by clarity

and vigorous directness, nor is it wanting in a fine sense of form

or in the subtler graces of diction.
When Jonson died there was a project for a handsome monument to his

memory. But the Civil War was at hand, and the project failed. A

memorial, not insufficient, was carved on the stone covering his

grave in one of the aisles of Westminster Abbey:

"O rare Ben Jonson."


The following is a complete list of his published works:--

Every Man in his Humour, 4to, 1601;

The Case is Altered, 4to, 1609;

Every Man out of his Humour, 4to, 1600;

Cynthia's Revels, 4to, 1601;

Poetaster, 4to, 1602;

Sejanus, 4to, 1605;

Eastward Ho (with Chapman and Marston), 4to, 1605;

Volpone, 4to, 1607;

Epicoene, or the Silent Woman, 4to, 1609 (?), fol., 1616;

The Alchemist, 4to, 1612;

Catiline, his Conspiracy, 4to, 1611;

Bartholomew Fayre, 4to, 1614 (?), fol., 1631;

The Divell is an Asse, fol., 1631;

The Staple of Newes, fol., 1631;

The New Sun, 8vo, 1631, fol., 1692;

The Magnetic Lady, or Humours Reconcild, fol., 1640;

A Tale of a Tub, fol., 1640;

The Sad Shepherd, or a Tale of Robin Hood, fol., 1641;

Mortimer his Fall (fragment), fol., 1640.

To Jonson have also been attributed additions to Kyd's Jeronymo,

and collaboration in The Widow with Fletcher and Middleton, and

in the Bloody Brother with Fletcher.

Epigrams, The Forrest, Underwoods, published in fols., 1616, 1640;

Selections: Execration against Vulcan, and Epigrams, 1640;

G. Hor. Flaccus his art of Poetry, Englished by Ben Jonson, 1640;

Leges Convivialis, fol., 1692.

Other minor poems first appeared in Gifford's edition of Works.


Timber, or Discoveries made upon Men and Matter, fol., 1641;

The English Grammar, made by Ben Jonson for the benefit of

Strangers, fol., 1640.

Masques and Entertainments were published in the early folios.

Fol., 1616, volume. 2, 1640 (1631-41);

fol., 1692, 1716-19, 1729;

edited by P. Whalley, 7 volumes., 1756;

by Gifford (with Memoir), 9 volumes., 1816, 1846;

re-edited by F. Cunningham, 3 volumes., 1871;

in 9 volumes., 1875;

by Barry Cornwall (with Memoir), 1838;

by B. Nicholson (Mermaid Series), with Introduction by

C. H. Herford, 1893, etc.;

Nine Plays, 1904;

ed. H. C. Hart (Standard Library), 1906, etc;

Plays and Poems, with Introduction by H. Morley (Universal

Library), 1885;

Plays (7) and Poems (Newnes), 1905;

Poems, with Memoir by H. Bennett (Carlton Classics), 1907;

Masques and Entertainments, ed. by H. Morley, 1890.

J. A. Symonds, with Biographical and Critical Essay,

(Canterbury Poets), 1886;

Grosart, Brave Translunary Things, 1895;

Arber, Jonson Anthology, 1901;

Underwoods, Cambridge University Press, 1905;

Lyrics (Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher), the Chap Books,

No. 4, 1906;

Songs (from Plays, Masques, etc.), with earliest known

setting, Eragny Press, 1906.


See Memoirs affixed to Works;

J. A. Symonds (English Worthies), 1886;

Notes of Ben Jonson Conversations with Drummond of Hawthornden;

Shakespeare Society, 1842;

ed. with Introduction and Notes by P. Sidney, 1906;

Swinburne, A Study of Ben Jonson, 1889.








Never, most equal Sisters, had any man a wit so presently

excellent, as that it could raise itself; but there must come

both matter, occasion, commenders, and favourers to it. If

this be true, and that the fortune of all writers doth daily

prove it, it behoves the careful to provide well towards these

accidents; and, having acquired them, to preserve that part of

reputation most tenderly, wherein the benefit of a friend is

also defended. Hence is it, that I now render myself grateful,

and am studious to justify the bounty of your act; to which,

though your mere authority were satisfying, yet it being an

age wherein poetry and the professors of it hear so ill on all

sides, there will a reason be looked for in the subject. It is

certain, nor can it with any forehead be opposed, that the too

much license of poetasters in this time, hath much deformed

their mistress; that, every day, their manifold and manifest

ignorance doth stick unnatural reproaches upon her: but for

their petulancy, it were an act of the greatest injustice,

either to let the learned suffer, or so divine a skill (which

indeed should not be attempted with unclean hands) to fall

under the least contempt. For, if men will impartially, and

not asquint, look toward the offices and function of a poet,

they will easily conclude to themselves the impossibility of

any man's being the good poet, without first being a good man.

He that is said to be able to inform young men to all good

disciplines, inflame grown men to all great virtues, keep old

men in their best and supreme state, or, as they decline to

childhood, recover them to their first strength; that comes

forth the interpreter and arbiter of nature, a teacher of

things divine no less than human, a master in manners; and can

alone, or with a few, effect the business of mankind: this, I

take him, is no subject for pride and ignorance to exercise

their railing rhetoric upon. But it will here be hastily

answered, that the writers of these days are other things;

that not only their manners, but their natures, are inverted,

and nothing remaining with them of the dignity of poet, but

the abused name, which every scribe usurps; that now,

especially in dramatic, or, as they term it, stage-poetry,

nothing but ribaldry, profanation, blasphemy, all license of

offence to God and man is practised. I dare not deny a great

part of this, and am sorry I dare not, because in some men's

abortive features (and would they had never boasted the light)

it is over-true; but that all are embarked in this bold

adventure for hell, is a most uncharitable thought, and,

uttered, a more malicious slander. For my particular, I can,

and from a most clear conscience, affirm, that I have ever

trembled to think toward the least profaneness; have loathed

the use of such foul and unwashed bawdry, as is now made the

food of the scene: and, howsoever I cannot escape from some,

the imputation of sharpness, but that they will say, I have

taken a pride, or lust, to be bitter, and not my youngest

infant but hath come into the world with all his teeth; I

would ask of these supercilious politics, what nation, society,

or general order or state, I have provoked? What public person?

Whether I have not in all these preserved their dignity, as

mine own person, safe? My works are read, allowed, (I speak of

those that are intirely mine,) look into them, what broad

reproofs have I used? where have I been particular? where

personal? except to a mimic, cheater, bawd, or buffoon,

creatures, for their insolencies, worthy to be taxed? yet to

which of these so pointingly, as he might not either

ingenuously have confest, or wisely dissembled his disease?

But it is not rumour can make men guilty, much less entitle

me to other men's crimes. I know, that nothing can be so

innocently writ or carried, but may be made obnoxious to

construction; marry, whilst I bear mine innocence about me, I

fear it not. Application is now grown a trade with many; and

there are that profess to have a key for the decyphering of

every thing: but let wise and noble persons take heed how

they be too credulous, or give leave to these invading

interpreters to be over-familiar with their fames, who

cunningly, and often, utter their own virulent malice, under

other men's simplest meanings. As for those that will (by

faults which charity hath raked up, or common honesty

concealed) make themselves a name with the multitude, or, to

draw their rude and beastly claps, care not whose living

faces they intrench with their petulant styles, may they do

it without a rival, for me! I choose rather to live graved in

obscurity, than share with them in so preposterous a fame.

Nor can I blame the wishes of those severe and wise patriots,

who providing the hurts these licentious spirits may do in a

state, desire rather to see fools and devils, and those

antique relics of barbarism retrieved, with all other

ridiculous and exploded follies, than behold the wounds of

private men, of princes and nations: for, as Horace makes

Trebatius speak among these,
"Sibi quisque timet, quanquam est intactus, et odit."
And men may justly impute such rages, if continued, to the

writer, as his sports. The increase of which lust in liberty,

together with the present trade of the stage, in all their

miscelline interludes, what learned or liberal soul doth not

already abhor? where nothing but the filth of the time is

uttered, and with such impropriety of phrase, such plenty of

solecisms, such dearth of sense, so bold prolepses, so racked

metaphors, with brothelry, able to violate the ear of a pagan,

and blasphemy, to turn the blood of a Christian to water. I

cannot but be serious in a cause of this nature, wherein my

fame, and the reputation of divers honest and learned are the

question; when a name so full of authority, antiquity, and

all great mark, is, through their insolence, become the lowest

scorn of the age; and those men subject to the petulancy of

every vernaculous orator, that were wont to be the care of

kings and happiest monarchs. This it is that hath not only

rapt me to present indignation, but made me studious

heretofore, and by all my actions, to stand off from them;

which may most appear in this my latest work, which you, most

learned Arbitresses, have seen, judged, and to my crown,

approved; wherein I have laboured for their instruction and

amendment, to reduce not only the ancient forms, but manners

of the scene, the easiness, the propriety, the innocence, and

last, the doctrine, which is the principal end of poesie, to

inform men in the best reason of living. And though my

catastrophe may, in the strict rigour of comic law, meet with

censure, as turning back to my promise; I desire the learned

and charitable critic, to have so much faith in me, to think

it was done of industry: for, with what ease I could have

varied it nearer his scale (but that I fear to boast my own

faculty) I could here insert. But my special aim being to put

the snaffle in their mouths, that cry out, We never punish

vice in our interludes, etc., I took the more liberty; though

not without some lines of example, drawn even in the ancients

themselves, the goings out of whose comedies are not always

joyful, but oft times the bawds, the servants, the rivals,

yea, and the masters are mulcted; and fitly, it being the

office of a comic poet to imitate justice, and instruct to

life, as well as purity of language, or stir up gentle

affections; to which I shall take the occasion elsewhere to

For the present, most reverenced Sisters, as I have cared to

be thankful for your affections past, and here made the

understanding acquainted with some ground of your favours; let

me not despair their continuance, to the maturing of some

worthier fruits; wherein, if my muses be true to me, I shall

raise the despised head of poetry again, and stripping her out

of those rotten and base rags wherewith the times have

adulterated her form, restore her to her primitive habit,

feature, and majesty, and render her worthy to be embraced and

kist of all the great and master-spirits of our world. As for

the vile and slothful, who never affected an act worthy of

celebration, or are so inward with their own vicious natures,

as they worthily fear her, and think it an high point of

policy to keep her in contempt, with their declamatory and

windy invectives; she shall out of just rage incite her

servants (who are genus irritabile) to spout ink in their

faces, that shall eat farther than their marrow into their

fames; and not Cinnamus the barber, with his art, shall be able

to take out the brands; but they shall live, and be read, till

the wretches die, as things worst deserving of themselves in

chief, and then of all mankind.
From my House in the Black-Friars,

this 11th day of February, 1607.


VOLPONE, a Magnifico.
MOSCA, his Parasite.
VOLTORE, an Advocate.
CORBACCIO, an old Gentleman.
CORVINO, a Merchant.
BONARIO, son to Corbaccio.
PEREGRINE, a Gentleman Traveller.
NANO, a Dwarf.
CASTRONE, an Eunuch.
ANDROGYNO, an Hermaphrodite.
GREGE (or Mob).
COMMANDADORI, Officers of Justice.
MERCATORI, three Merchants.
AVOCATORI, four Magistrates.
NOTARIO, the Register.
LADY WOULD-BE, Sir Politick's Wife.
CELIA, Corvino's Wife.
SERVITORI, Servants, two Waiting-women, etc.


V olpone, childless, rich, feigns sick, despairs,
O ffers his state to hopes of several heirs,
L ies languishing: his parasite receives
P resents of all, assures, deludes; then weaves
O ther cross plots, which ope themselves, are told.
N ew tricks for safety are sought; they thrive: when bold,
E ach tempts the other again, and all are sold.


Now, luck yet sends us, and a little wit

Will serve to make our play hit;

(According to the palates of the season)

Here is rhime, not empty of reason.

This we were bid to credit from our poet,

Whose true scope, if you would know it,

In all his poems still hath been this measure,

To mix profit with your pleasure;

And not as some, whose throats their envy failing,

Cry hoarsely, All he writes is railing:

And when his plays come forth, think they can flout them,

With saying, he was a year about them.

To this there needs no lie, but this his creature,

Which was two months since no feature;

And though he dares give them five lives to mend it,

'Tis known, five weeks fully penn'd it,

From his own hand, without a co-adjutor,

Novice, journey-man, or tutor.

Yet thus much I can give you as a token

Of his play's worth, no eggs are broken,

Nor quaking custards with fierce teeth affrighted,

Wherewith your rout are so delighted;

Nor hales he in a gull old ends reciting,

To stop gaps in his loose writing;

With such a deal of monstrous and forced action,

As might make Bethlem a faction:

Nor made he his play for jests stolen from each table,

But makes jests to fit his fable;

And so presents quick comedy refined,

As best critics have designed;

The laws of time, place, persons he observeth,

From no needful rule he swerveth.

All gall and copperas from his ink he draineth,

Only a little salt remaineth,

Wherewith he'll rub your cheeks, till red, with laughter,

They shall look fresh a week after.

ACT 1. SCENE 1.1.

VOLP: Good morning to the day; and next, my gold:

Open the shrine, that I may see my Saint.



Hail the world's soul, and mine! more glad than is

The teeming earth to see the long'd-for sun

Peep through the horns of the celestial Ram,

Am I, to view thy splendour darkening his;

That lying here, amongst my other hoards,

Shew'st like a flame by night; or like the day

Struck out of chaos, when all darkness fled

Unto the centre. O thou son of Sol,

But brighter than thy father, let me kiss,

With adoration, thee, and every relick

Of sacred treasure, in this blessed room.

Well did wise poets, by thy glorious name,

Title that age which they would have the best;

Thou being the best of things: and far transcending

All style of joy, in children, parents, friends,

Or any other waking dream on earth:

Thy looks when they to Venus did ascribe,

They should have given her twenty thousand Cupids;

Such are thy beauties and our loves! Dear saint,

Riches, the dumb God, that giv'st all men tongues;

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