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Descartes of France, modern philosophy may be said to originate, inasmuch as they were the first to make the doctrine of method a principal object of consideration.
Literary eras have no arbitrary or precise bounds. They are discriminated by centres and directions, by a certain set of influences affecting the public mind and character during a more or less definite time, to be succeeded by a new set producing a new phase of the nation's literature. The characteristic tendencies which stretch across them are denoted by persons scattered through them, as the mountain trend is determined by its isolated peaks. The poetic conception of the world, as distinguished from the mechanical, may be taken as the dominant mark of the socalled Elizabethan Age, first clearly defined in Spenser, rising to its zenith in Shakespeare, and passing away in Milton — last of the famed race who slaked the thirst of their souls at the springs of imagination and faith.
Then Jonson came, instructed from the school,
By regular approach essay'd the heart.-Samuel Johnson. Many were the wit-combats betwixt Shakspeare and Ben Jonson, which two I be. held like a Spanish great galleon and an English man-of-war. Master Jonson, like the former, was built far higher in learning; solid but slow in his performances. Shakspeare, with the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds by the quickness of his wit and invention.-Fuller.
Biography.-Born in Westminster, in 1574, a few days after the death of his father, who was a clergyman; attracted the attention of Camden, who sent him to school, where he made extraordinary progress; entered Cambridge at sixteen, but was shortly recalled by his step father, a bricklayer, who set him to the trowel; ran away, enlisted, fought in the Netherlands, killed a man in single combat in the view of both armies; returned to England at the age of nineteen, with a roistering reputation and an empty purse; turned to the stage for a livelihood, and failed; quarrelled with a fellow-performer, and slew him in a duel, was
arrested for murder, imprisoned, almost brought to the gallows; was released, and immediately married a woman as poor as himself
— a wife whom he afterwards described as a shrew yet honest'; was forced again to the stage both as an actor and a writer, beginning his dramatic career by doing job-work for the managers; sprang into fame in his twenty-second year, proclaimed himself a reformer of the drama, assumed an imperious attitude, railed at his rivals, and made bitter enemies, against whom he struggled without intermission to the end; excited the king's anger by an irreverent allusion to the Scotch, was in danger of mutilation, but was set at liberty without a trial; amid feasting and rejoicing, his mother showed him a poison which she had intended to put into his drink, to save him from the disgraceful punishment, and 'to show that she was not a coward,' says Jonson, she had resolved to drink first'; received the appointment of Poet Laureate, with a pension of a hundred marks, which was subsequently advanced to a hundred pounds by Charles I. His latter days were dark and painful. For twelve years he battled with want and disease. His pockets had holes, and his money failed. Still obliged to write in order to live, he wrote when his pen had lost its vigor and lacked the charm of novelty. Scurvy increased, paralysis came, and dropsy. In the epilogue to the New Inn (1630), he appeals to the audience:
"If you expect more than you had to-night,
It cannot long hold out." Deprived of Court patronage, he was forced to beg, first from the Lord Treasurer, then from the Earl of Newcastle. Shattered, drivelling, and suffering, he died in August, 1637,- alone, served by an old woman; and was buried, in an upright posture, in the Poet's Corner of the Abbey. A workman, hired for eighteen pence by the charity of a passer-by, carved into the simple stone over his grave the laconic inscription:
O RARE BEN JONSON!' Appearance.-Big and coarsely framed, of wide and long face, early marred by scurvy, square jaw, enormous cheeks, thick lips, with a “mountain belly' and an ‘ungracious gate'; a pon
derous athlete, of free and boisterous habits, built up out of beef and Canary wine, for action and for endurance. His life and manners were in harmony with his
person. Writings.—We perceive at once the introduction of a new model,- art subjected strictly to the laws of classical composition. The understanding of the artist is solid, strong, penetrating, assertive; his mind, extensively furnished from experience and from books; his memory, retentive and exact, crowded with technical details and learned reminiscences. It is not for him to imitate, but to be imitated. He has a doctrine, which he expounds with Latin regularity. He will be loyal to culture, and therefore observes the unities. His plot shall be a diagram, the incidents rapid and natural; and you may see the dramatic effect, perceptible to every reader, rise to a climax by a continuous and uniform ascent. You have seen greater spontaneity, finer sympathy, finer fancy, a more genial spirit of enjoyment, but never such preoccupation of rule and method; above all, such power of working out an idea to a painful and oppressive issue, such persistency of thirst to unmask folly and punish vice. A character, with him, is but an incorporated idea, - a leading feature, conceit, or passion, produced on the stage in a man's dress, which masters the whole nature, and which the personages combine to illustrate. At twenty-two, having exulted in his own exploits on the field, he writes Every Man in his Humour, to clothe in flesh and blood a colossal coward and braggart,- Bobadil, who swears by the body of Cæsar,' or 'by the foot of Pharaoh,' or, more terrifically still, ‘by my valor !' His proposal for the pacification of Europe is famous:
* I will tell you, sir, by the way of private, and under seal, I am a gentleman, and live here obscure, and to myself; but were I known to her majesty and the lords (observe me), I would undertake, upon this poor head and life, for the public benefit of the state, not only to spare the entire lives of her subjects in general, but to save the onehalf, nay, three-parts, of her yearly charge in holding war, and against what enemy soever. And how would I do it, think you! ... Why, thus, sir. I would select nineteen more, to myself, throughout the land; gentlemen they should be of good spirit, strong and able constitution; I would choose them by an instinct, a character that I have: and I would teach these nineteen the special rules,- as your punto, your reverso, your stoccata, your imbroccato, your passado, your montanto,- till they could all play very near, or altogether, as well as myself. This done, say the enemy were forty thousand strong, we twenty would come into the field the tenth of March, or thereabouts; and we would challenge twenty of the enemy; they could not in their honour refuse us; well, we would kill them; challenge twenty more, kill them; twenty more, kill them; twenty more, kill them too; and thus would we kill every man his twenty a day, that's twenty score;
twenty score, that's two hundred; two hundred a day, five days a thousand; forty thousand; forty times five, five times forty, two hundred days kills them all up by computation. And this will I venture my poor gentleman-like carcass to perform, provided there be no treason practiced upon us, by fair and discreet manhood; that is, civilly by the sword.'
It is affectation and bluster grown to egregious excess.
So in the Alchemist, Sir Epicure Mammon, in public and alone, expatiates continually in gigantic fancies of luxury and sensuality. Hear him unfold the vision of splendors and debauchery into which he will plunge when, by the possession of the philosopher's stone, he has learned to make gold:
I assure you
Or the dominant trait assumes the form of a mental eccentricity, bordering on madness, as in The Silent Woman. Morose is an old citizen who has a horror of noise, but loves to talk. He discharges his servant whose shoes creaked. The new one wears slippers soled with wool, and speaks only in a whisper through a tube; but even the whisper is finally forbidden, and he is made to reply by signs. Further, Morose is rich; and has a nephew, witty but penniless, who, in revenge for all his treatment, finds him a supposed silent woman, the beautiful Epicene. Morose, enchanted by her brief replies and nearly inaudible voice, marries her, with a view to disinherit his nephew who has laughed at his infirmity. The ceremony is no sooner over than she turns out a very shrew:
•Why, did you think you had married a statuc? or a motion only? one of the French puppets, with the eyes turn'd with a wire! or some innocent out of the hospital, that would stand with her hands thus, and a playsc mouth, and look upon you?' She directs the valets to speak louder; opens wide the doors to her friends, who arrive in troops and overwhelm him all at once with congratulations, questions, and counsels. Here comes one with a band of music, who play suddenly, to their utmost volume. Now a procession of menials, with clattering dishes, a whole tav
Amid the shouts of revelry, the din of trumpet and drum, Morose flees to the top of the house, puts 'a whole nest of nightcaps' on his head and stuffs his ears. In vain. The racket increases. The house is turned into a thunder factory. 'Rogues, hell-hounds, Stentors! ... They have rent my roof, walls, and all my windows asunder with their brazen throats !' Goaded to desperation, he casts himself on the guests with his long sword, looking like a maniac; chases the musicians, breaks their instruments, and disperses the gathering amid indescribable uproar. Afterwards, he is pronounced mad, and they discuss his alleged insanity before him. They jingle in his ear most barbarous words, consider the books which he must read aloud for his cure, assure him that his wife talks in her sleep, and snores dreadfully. ‘O, redeem me, fate; redeem me, fate,' he cries in his extremity. * For how many causes may a man be divorced?' he asks of his nephew, who replies, like a clever rascal, “ Allow me but five hundred during life, uncle, and you are free.' Morose accepts the proposition eagerly, joyfully; and his nephew then shows him that Epicene is no woman - only a boy in disguise.