Изображения страниц

quainted with the whole man, and he ignored man's basis; he put on the stage and gave a representation of moral treatises, fragments of history, scraps of satire; he did not stamp new beings on the imagination of mankind.

He possesses all other gifts, and in particular the classical; first of all, the talent for composition. For the first time we see a connected, well-contrived plot, a complete intrigue, with its beginning, middle, and end; subordinate actions well arranged, well combined; an interest which grows and never flags; a leading truth which all the events tend to demonstrate; a ruling idea which all the characters unite to illustrate; in short, an art like that which Molière and Racine were about to apply and teach. He does not, like Shakespeare, take a novel from Greene, a chronicle from Holinshed, a life from Plutarch, such as they are, to cut them into scenes, irrespective of likelihood, indifferent as to order and unity, caring only to set up men, at times wandering into poetic reveries, at need finishing up the piece abruptly with a recognition or a butchery. He governs himself and his characters; he wills and he knows all that they do, and all that he does. But beyond his habits of Latin regularity, he possesses the great faculty of his age and race,—the sentiment of nature and existence, the exact knowledge of precise detail, the power in frankly and boldly handling frank passions. This gift is not wanting in any writer of the time; they do not fear words that are true, shocking, and striking details of the bedchamber or medical study; the prudery of modern England and the refinement of monarchical France veil not the nudity of their figures, or dim the coloring of their pictures. They live freely, amply, amidst living things; they see the ins and outs of lust raging without any feeling of shame, hypocrisy, or palliation; and they exhibit it as they see it, Jonson as boldly as the rest, occasionally more boldly than the rest, strengthened as he is by the vigor and ruggedness of his athletic temperament, by the extraordinary exactness and abundance of his observations and his knowledge. Add also his moral loftiness, his asperity, his powerful chiding wrath, exasperated and bitter against vice, his will strengthened by pride and by conscience:

“With an armed and resolved hand,
I'll strip the ragged follies of the time
Naked as at their birth . . . and with a whip of steel,

Print wounding lashes in their iron ribs.
I fear no mood stampt in a private brow,
When I am pleas'd t' unmask a public vice.
I fear no strumpet's drugs, nor ruffian's stab,
Should I detect their hateful luxuries;”1

above all, a scorn of base compliance, an open disdain for

“Those jaded wits
That run a broken pace for common hire,”_2

an enthusiasm, or deep love of

“A happy muse,
Borne on the wings of her immortal thought,
That kicks at earth with a disdainful heel,
And beats at heaven gates with her bright hoofs.” 3

Such are the energies which he brought to the drama and to comedy; they were great enough to ensure him a high and separate position.

III. For whatever Jonson undertakes, whatever be his faults, haughtiness, rough-handling, predilection for morality and the past, antiquarian and censorious instincts, he is never little or dull. It signifies nothing that in his Latinized tragedies, Sejanus, Catiline, he is fettered by the worship of the old worn models of the Roman decadence; nothing that he plays the scholar, manufactures Ciceronian harangues, hauls in choruses imitated from Seneca, holds forth in the style of Lucan and the rhetors of the empire; he more than once attains a genuine accent; through his pedantry, heaviness, literary adoration of the ancients, nature forces its way; he lights, at his first attempt, on the crudities, horrors, gigantic lewdness, shameless depravity of imperial Rome; he takes in hand and sets in motion the lusts and ferocities, the passions of courtesans and princesses, the daring of assassins and of great men, which produced Messalina, Agrippina, Catiline, Tiberius. In the Rome which he places before us we go boldly and straight to the end; justice and pity oppose no barriers. Amid these customs of victors and slaves, human nature is up

3 Ibid.

1 Every Man out of his Humour, Prologue. 2 Poetaster, i. 1.

4 See the second Act of Catiline.

set; corruption and villainy are held as proofs of insight and energy. Observe how, in Sejanus, assassination is plotted and carried out with marvelous coolness. Livia discusses with Sejanus the methods of poisoning her husband, in a clear style, without circumlocution, as if the subject were how to gain a lawsuit or to serve up a dinner. There are no equivocations, no hesitation, no remorse in the Rome of Tiberius. Glory and virtue consist in power; scruples are for base minds; the mark of a lofty heart is to desire all and to dare all. Macro says rightly :

“Men's fortune there is virtue; reason their will ;
Their license, law; and their observance, skill.
Occasion is their foil; conscience, their stain;

Profit, their lustre; and what else is, vain.” 1
Sejanus addresses Livia thus:

Royal lady,
Yet, now I see your wisdom, judgment, strength,
Quickness, and will, to apprehend the means
To your own good and greatness, I protest
Myself through rarified, and turn'd all fame

affection."2 These are the loves of the wolf and his mate; he praises her for being so ready to kill. And observe in one moment the morals of a prostitute appear behind the manners of the poisoner. Sejanus goes out, and immediately, like a courtesan, Livia turns to her physician, saying:

“How do I look to-day?

Eudemus. Excellent clear, believe it. This same fucus
Was well laid on.

Methinks 'tis here not white.
E. Lend me your scarlet, lady. 'Tis the sun
Hath giv'n some little taint unto the ceruse,
You should have us'd of the white oil I gave you.
Sejanus, for


love! His very name Commandeth above Cupid or his shafts.

[Paints her cheeks.] “ 'Tis now well, lady, you should Use of the dentrifice I prescrib'd you too, To clear your teeth, and the prepar'd pomatum, To smooth the skin. A lady cannot be Too curious of her form, that still would hold The heart of such a person, made her captive,

[blocks in formation]


clear eye,


you have his: who, to endear him niore

hath put away his wife .
Fair Apicata, and made spacious room
To your new pleasures.

Have not we return'd
That with our hate to Drusus, and discovery
Of all his counsels ? ...

E. When will you take some physic, lady ?

I shall, Eudemus : but let Drusus' drug
Be first prepar’d.

E. Were Lygdus made, that's done.
I'll send you a perfume, first to resolve
And procure sweat, and then prepare a bath
* To cleanse and clear the cutis; against when
I'll have an excellent new fucus made
Resistive 'gainst the the rain or wind,
Which you shall lay on with a breath or oil,
As you best like, and last some fourteen hours.

This change came timely, lady, for your health.” 1
He ends by congratulating her on her approaching change of
husbands; Drusus was injuring her complexion ; Sejanus is far
preferable; a physiological and practical conclusion. The Ro-
man apothecary kept on the same shelf his medicine-chest, his
chest of cosmetics, and his box of poisons.

After this we find one after another all the scenes of Roman life unfolded, the bargain of murder, the comedy of justice, the shamelessness of flattery, the anguish and vacillation of the senate. When Sejanus wishes to buy a conscience, he questions, jokes, plays round the offer he is about to make, throws it out as if in pleasantry, so as to be able to withdraw it, if need be; then, when the intelligent look of the rascal, whom he is trafficking with, shows that he is understood :

[ocr errors]


“ Protest not,
Thy looks are vows to me. ...

Thou art a man, made to make consuls. Go." 3
Elsewhere, the senator Latiaris in his own house storms before
his friend Sabinus against tyranny, openly expresses a desire for
liberty, provoking him to speak. Then two spies who were hid

i The Fall of Sejanus, ii.

2 See Catiline, Act ii. ; a very fine scene, no less plain spoken and animated, on the dissi-, pation of the higher ranks in Rome. 3 The Fall of Sejanus, i.

“ between the roof and ceiling," cast themselves on Sabinus, crying, " Treason to Cæsar!” and drag him, with his face covered, before the tribunal, thence to “be thrown upon the Gemonies.” So, when the senate is assembled, Tiberius has chosen beforehand the accusers of Silius, and their parts distributed to them. They mumble in a corner, whilst aloud is heard, in the emperor's pres



[blocks in formation]

Then the herald cites the accused; Varro, the consul, pronounces the indictment; Afer hurls upon them his bloodthirsty eloquence: the senators get excited; we see laid bare, as in Tacitus and Juvenal, the depths of Roman servility, hypocrisy, insensibility, the venomous craft of Tiberius.

At last, after so many others, the turn of Sejanus comes. The fathers anxiously assemble in the temple of Apollo; for some days past Tiberius has seemed to be trying to contradict himself; one day he appoints the friends of his favorite to high places, and the next day sets his enemies in eminent positions. The senators mark the face of Sejanus, and know not what to anticipate; Sejanus is troubled, then after a moment's cringing is more arrogant than ever. The plots are confused, the rumors contradictory. Macro alone is in the confidence of Tiberius, and soldiers are seen, drawn up at the porch of the temple, ready to enter at the slightest commotion. The formula of convocation is read, and the council marks the names of those who do not respond to the summons; then Regulus addresses them, and announces that Cæsar

“Propounds to this grave senate, the bestowing

Upon the man he loves, honour'd Sejanus,
The tribunitial dignity and power :
Here are his letters, signed with his signet.
What pleaseth now the Fathers to be done ?”

Senators. Read, read them, open, publicly read them.
Cotta. Cæsar hath honour'd his own greatness much

[merged small][ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »