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“If you expect more than you had to-night,
His enemies brutally insulted him :
Inigo Jones, his colleague, deprived him of the patronage of the court. He was obliged to beg a supply of money from the Lord Treasurer, then from the Earl of Newcastle:
“Disease, the enemy, and his engineers,
His wife and children were dead; he lived alone, forsaken, waited on by an old woman. Thus almost always sadly and miserably is dragged out and ends the last act of the human comedy. After so many years, after so many sustained efforts, amid so much glory and genius, we find a poor shattered body, driveling and suffering, between a servant and a priest.
II. This is the life of a combatant, bravely endured, worthy of the seventeenth century by its crosses and its energy; courage and force abounded throughout. Few writers have labored more, and more conscientiously; his knowledge was vast, and in this age of eminent scholars he was one of the best classics of his time, as deep as he was accurate and thorough, having studied the most minute details and understood the true spirit of ancient
1 Ben Jonson's Poems, ed. Bell, An Epistle Mendicant, to Richard, Lord Weston, Lord High Treasurer (1631), p. 244.
life. It was not enough for him to have stored his mind from the best writers, to have their whole works continually in his mind, to scatter his pages whether he would or no, with recollections of them. He dug into the orators, critics, scholiasts, grammarians, and compilers of inferior rank; he picked up stray fragments; he took characters, jokes, refinements, from Athenæus, Libanius, Philostratus. He had so well entered into and digested the Greek and Latin ideas, that they were incorporated with his own. They enter into his speech without incongruity; they spring forth in him as vigorous as at their first birth; he originates even when he remembers. On every subject he had this thirst for knowledge, and this gift of mastering knowledge. He knew alchemy when he wrote the Alchemist. He is familiar with alembics, retorts, receivers, as if he had passed his life seeking after the philosopher's stone. Ie explains incineration, calcination, imbibition, rectification, reverberation, as well as pa and Paracelsus. If he speaks of cosmetics," he brings out a shopful of them; we might make out of his plays a dictionary of the oaths and costumes of courtiers ; he seems to have a specialty in all branches. A still greater proof of his force is, that his learning in nowise mars his vigor; heavy as is the mass with which he loads himself, he carries it without stooping. This wonderful mass of reading and observation suddenly begins to move, and falls like a mountain on the overwhelmed reader. We must hear Sir Epicure Mammon unfold the vision of splendors and debauchery, in which he means to plunge, when he has learned to make gold. The refined and unchecked impurities of the Roman decadence, the splendid obscenities of Heliogabalus, the gigantic fancies of luxury and lewdness, tables of gold spread with foreign dainties, draughts of dissolved pearls, nature devastated to provide a single dish, the many crimes committed by sensuality against nature, reason, and justice, the delight in defying and outraging law,—all these images pass before the eyes with the dash of a torrent and the force of a great river. Phrase follows phrase without intermission, ideas and facts crowd into the dialogue to paint a situation, to give clearness to a character, produced from this deep memory, directed by this solid logic, launched by this powerful reflection. It is a pleasure to see him advance weighted with so many observations and recollections, loaded with technical
1 The Devil is an Ass.
details and learned reminiscences, without deviation or pause, a genuine literary Leviathan, like the war elephants which used to bear towers, men, weapons, machines, on their backs, and ran as swiftly with their freight as a nimble steed.
In the great dash of this heavy attempt, he finds a path which suits him. He has his style. Classical erudition and education made him a classic, and he writes like his Greek models and his Roman masters. The more we study the Latin races and literatures in contrast with the Teutonic, the more fully we become convinced that the proper and distinctive gift of the first is the art of development, that is, of drawing up ideas in continuous rows, according to the rules of rhetoric and eloquence, by studied transitions, with regular progress, without shock or bounds. Jonson received from his acquaintance with the ancients the habit of decomposing ideas, unfolding them bit by bit in natural order, making himself understood and believed. From the first thought to the final conclusion, he conducts the reader by a continuous and uniform ascent. The track never fails with him as with Shakespeare. He does not advance like the rest by abrupt intuitions, but by consecutive deductions; we can walk with him without need of bounding, and we are continually kept upon the straight path : antithesis of words unfolds antithesis of thoughts; symmetrical phrases guide the mind through difficult ideas; they. are like barriers set on either side of the road
prevent our falling into the ditch. We do not meet on our way extraordinary, sudden, gorgeous images, which might dazzle or delay us; we travel on, enlightened by moderate and sustained metaphors. Jonson has all the methods of Latin art; even, when he wishes it, especially on Latin subjects, he has the last and most erudite, the brilliant conciseness of Seneca and Lucan, the squared, equipoised, filed off antithesis, the most happy and studied artifices of oratorical architecture. Other poets are nearly visionaries; Jonson is almost a logician.
Hence his talent, his successes, and his faults: if he has a better style and better plots than the others, he is not, like them, a creator of souls. He is too much of a theorist, too preoccupied by rules. His argumentative habits spoil him when he seeks to shape and motion complete and living men. No one is capable of fash
1 Sejanus, Catilina, passim.
ioning these unless he possesses, like Shakespeare, the imagination of a seer. The human being is so complex that the logician who perceives his different elements in succession can hardly study them all, much less gather them all in one flash, so as to produce the dramatic response or action in which they are concentrated and which should manifest them. To discover such actions and responses, we need a kind of inspiration and fever. Then the mind works as in a dream. The characters move within the poet, almost involuntarily : he waits for them to speak, he remains motionless, hearing their voices, wholly wrapt in contemplation, in order that he may not disturb the inner drama which they are about to act in his soul. That is his artifice: to let them alone. He is quite astonished at their discourse; as he observes them he forgets that it is he who invents them. Their mood, character, education, disposition of mind, situation, attitude, and actions, form within him so well-connected a whole, and so readily unite into palpable and solid beings, that he dares not attribute to his reflection or reasoning a creation so vast and speedy. Beings are organized in him as in nature, that is, of themselves, and by a force which the combinations of his art could not replace.l Jonson has nothing wherewith to replace it but these combinations of art. He chooses a general idea--cunning, folly, severity and makes a person out of it. This person is called Crites, Asper, Sordido, Deliro, Pecunia, Subtil, and the transparent name indicates the logical process which produced it. The poet took an abstract quality, and putting together all the actions to which it may give rise, trots it out on the stage in a man's dress. His characters, like those of La Bruyère and Theophrastus, were hammered out of solid deductions. Now it is a vice selected from the catalogue of moral philosophy, sensuality thirsting for gold: this perverse double inclination becomes a personage, Sir Epicure Mammon; before the alchemist, before the famulus, before his friend, before his mistress, in public or alone, all his words denote a greed of pleasure and of gold, and they express nothing more. Now it is a mania gathered from the old sophists, a babbling with horror of noise; this form of mental pathology becomes a personage, Morose; the poet has the air of a doctor who has undertaken to
1 Alfred de Musset, preface to La Coupe et les Lèvres. Plato: Ion.
2 Compare Sir Epicure Mammon with Baron Hulot from Balzac's Cousine Bette. Balzac, who is learned like Jonson, creates real beings like Shakespeare.
record exactly all the desires of speech, all the necessities of silence, and to record nothing else. Now he picks out a ridicule, an affectation, a species of folly, from the manners of the dandies and the courtiers; a mode of swearing, an extravagant style, a habit of gesticulating, or any other oddity contracted by vanity or fashion. The hero whom he covers with these eccentricities is overloaded by them. He disappears beneath his enormous trappings; he drags them about with him everywhere; he cannot get rid of them for an instant. We no longer see the man under the dress; he is ļike a manikin, oppressed under a cloak, too heavy for him. Sometimes, doubtless, his habits of geometrical construction produce personages almost life-like. Bobadil, the grave boaster; Captain Tucca, the begging bully, inventive buffoon, ridiculous talker; Amorphus the traveler, a pedantic doctor of good manners, laden with eccentric phrases, create as much illusion as we can wish; but it is because they are flitting comicalities and low characters. It is not necessary for a poet to study such creatures; it is enough that he discovers in them three or four leading features; it is of little consequence if they always present themselves with the same attitudes; they produce laughter, like the Countess d' Escarbagnas or any of the Fâcheux in Molière ; we want nothing else of them. On the contrary, the others weary and repel us. They are stage-masks, not living figures. Having acquired a fixed expression, they persist to the end of the piece in their unvarying grimace or their eternal frown. A'man is not an abstract passion. He stamps the vices and virtues which he possesses with his individual mark. These vices and virtues receive, on entering into him, a bent and form which they have not in others. No one is unmixed sensuality. Take a thousand sensualists, and you will find a thousand different modes of sensuality; for there are a thousand paths, a thousand circumstances and degrees, in sensuality. If Jonson wanted to make Sir Epicure Mammon a real being, he should have given him the kind of disposition, the species of education, the manner of imagination, which produces sensuality. When we wish to construct a man, we must dig down to the foundations of mankind; that is, we must define to ourselves the structure of his bodily machine, and the primitive gait of his mind. Jonson has not dug sufficiently deep, and his constructions are incomplete; he has built on the surface, and he has built but a single story. He was not ac