Page images

*sparing and invidious panegyric;" which the commentators, in their zeal for the depreciation of Jonson, and the elevation of their favourite, have taken pains to obtrude, while they are careful to withhold the sentiments of Pope, who declares, that “ he cannot, for his part, find any thing invidious or sparing in those verses, and wonders that Dryden was of that opinion. 3* The opinions of these great names, as they go not into the merits of the case before us, are comparatively of little moment: Dryden's unfavourable disposition to Ben was, however, sufficiently notorious in his time, and he is constrained to confess that some ingenious men, for whom he had a particular esteem, thought he much injured Ben Jonson, and that he has been accused of being his enemy.f In a fit and defensible cause the name and talents of Steevens would daunt a bold competitor, and I consider the weakness of his evidence on the present question as a presumption

No, its a flight beyond the reach of those,
Whose worthless pamphlets are not sense in prose.
Let learned Jonson sing a dirge for thee,
And fill our orb with heavenly harmony.

[ocr errors]


Pope's preface to Shakspeare, + Preface to Dryden's “ Mock Astrologer."


in favour of the justice of the cause I have una dertaken.

On the verses before us, Steevens, with his usual felicity of quotation, observes :

-extinctus amabitur idem."

- This observation of Horace was never more completely verified than by the posthumous applause, which Ben Jonson has bestowed on Shakspeare :

-The gracious Duncan Was pitied of Macbeth :-marry, he was dead. “Let us now compare the present eulogium of old Ben with such of his other sentiments as have reached posterity.”

To this exordium, some of his other sentiments might be expected to succeed; but

This follows not:
What follows then, my lord ?

Why, an empirical letter, written by a needy player, referring to an old tract, said to have been written by Ford, called “Old Ben's light heart made heavy by young John's Melancholy Lover." Quand les larrons s'entrebattent, say our neighbours, les larcins se découvrent. The glory of triumphing over a powerful competitor overcame, for once, , “ the master-passion in the breast” of Mr. Malone; and in proving,* as he has successfully, the pretended extracts to be forgeries, and the letter containing them an artful fabrication by Macklin, for the purpose of rendering his wife's benefit more profitable; he has vindicated Jonson from a wanton charge of envy, ill-nature, and ingratitude; and overthrown the monument raised by Steevens to the honour of Shakspeare, inscribed with the written shame of his friend and companion. There wanted nothing from Mr. Malone in this candid detection but a manly and open reprobation of the perpetrator of the fraud: but no! the lurking aversion of the commentator to Jonson is seen through the thin veil of justice, that shadowed it in this instance, and after successfully detecting the cheat, he terms it “a sportive, ingenious, and false invention, though not with malice aforethought;" while he boasts of having rescued Shakspeare from the hands of a bungling impostor, by proving the pretended manuscripts to be the true and genuine offspring of consummate ignorance and unparalleled audacity.”+ This appropriate reprobation of one

* Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 374.

+ See Malone's Inquiry into the authenticity of the Shake speare papers, Svo. page 354. 1796.

fraud, and tender treatment of a similar, betray attachment to an opinion rather than a liberal zeal for truth; in cases differing but in this, that the object of the one was to overwhelm in 'perpetuity the moral and poetical character of one man, while the other was a frantic and superfluous endeavour to imp feathers to the wing of “the sweet swan of Avon."

The censure of Ben, which the better judgment of Rowe erased from his Life of Shakspeare, was too conformable to the opinion and wishes of Mr. Malone to be suffered to sleep in oblivion; it is therefore dragged forth in the notes on the great bard, and made the “ or hinge” to sustain a string of criticisms and reproaches. On this occasion, however, “Love's Labour's Lost;" after traversing the records of a curious and extensive library, no trace of Jonson's malignity is met with, except in a passage of Davies's Scourge of Folly, which Mr. Malone could feel little pleasure in transcribing : some backbiting libellers had, it seems, asserted that Jonson was envious; but, says Davies, “such censurers must have corrupted hearts."* No si


* Thou art sound in body, but some say, thy soule

Envy doth ulcer; yet corrupted hearts
Such censurers must have.

Davies's Scourge of Folly. Printed about 1611.

tuation can be more humiliating; the mind can picture to itself no case more mortifying, than that of the critic, after having turned with unwearied industry the ample dunghil of antiquarian defamation, to meet at last this palpable and severe reproof of his labours: it has no prototype but that of the prodigal, who, seduced by an ambiguous inscription on his father's tomb, broke open the sepulchre, and found nothing beyond dust and bones, but a bitter reproþation of his sacrilegious avarice...

“ The Return from Parnassus,” says Mr. Malone, “ furnishes us with the earliest intimation of the quarrel between him and Shakspeare.” The passage, as it is one of the few instances of the poets' names occurring together, is too curious to be suppressed: the interlocutors are Burbage and Kempe, two of the original performers in Shakspeare's plays, who are preparing to entertain the students of Cambridge with a spice of the vanity of their art.” Now says

Burbage.--"Now, Will Kempe, if we can entertain these scholars at a low rate, it will be well, they have oftentimes a good conceit in a part.”

Kempe." It is true, indeed, honest Dick; but the slaves are somewhat proud; and, besides, its a good sport in a part to see them never speak in their walk, but at the end of the stage;

« EelmineJätka »