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."
FELIX E. SCHELLING.
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
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.
BEN JONSON'S PLAYS
VOLPONE; OR, THE FOX
TO THE MOST NOBLE AND MOST EQUAL SISTERS,
THE TWO FAMOUS UNIVERSITIES,
FOR THEIR LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE SHEWN TO HIS POEM IN THE
THE GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGER,
DEDICATES BOTH IT AND HIMSELF.
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.
SIR POLITICK WOULD-BE, a Knight.
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.
A ROOM IN VOLPONE'S HOUSE.
ENTER VOLPONE AND MOSCA.
VOLP: Good morning to the day; and next, my gold:
Open the shrine, that I may see my Saint.
[MOSCA WITHDRAWS THE CURTAIN, AND DISCOVERS PILES OF GOLD,
PLATE, JEWELS, ETC.]
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;