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and, lastly, in the two sublime elegies-paeans rather-one on the young Marchioness of Winchester :
Go now, her happy parents, and be sad,
And wish her state less happy than it is ; the other, on the two friends, Sir Lucius Cary and Sir H. Morison :
It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make men better be ;
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May
It was the plant and flower of light.
And in short measures, life may perfect be.13 Really Jonson's is too big a soul to be labelled under either simplicity or art. In one, as in the other, he is a master. He is equally enchanting, whether he sue to Celia in words of one syllable, with sense, sweet sense, corresponding, or tie knots with joyous ingenuity, and exquisite rhythm. Hear him, as in an ecstasy he compares the beauties of Charis to all conceivable perfection :
Have you seen but a bright lily grow,
Before rude hands have touch'd it ?
mark'd but the fall of the snow
Or swan's down ever ?
Or the nard in the fire ?
Or as he rhapsodizes on the dead mistress's glove and
The rosy hand that wear thee,
Whiter than the kid that bare thee.15 He can be at once extravagant and excusable, in the absurdly pretty conceit of the sand in an hour-glass being the remains of a lover, who
in his mistress' flame, playing like a fly,
Was turned to ashes by her eye. 16 The variety is inexhaustible. He is at home in a fencing school, with a right noble moral :
It is the law
Valour to slight it, being done to you.1?
Many a poet,
We feel him to be always certain of his effect, whatever the subject. Above all, how generous with praise, well worth having, was this man who has been accused of malevolence and mean jealousy! Good words, not merely for the dead, whom it costs nothing to praise, but for living contemporaries, fellow workers, rivals! And, among those, laudation, not of manifest inferiors alone, a Nicholas Breton, a Thomas Wright, a May, a Rutter, but of a Chapman also, a Beaumont, a Fletcher, a William Browne.
His admiration stops not with genius which he was confident he could match, probably exceed. He had the honesty of intellect, the greatness of soul, to recognize a superior. Never has Shakespeare-outshining, in spite of 'small Latin and less Greek ', even · Marlowe's mighty
line'-been crowned with a worthier wreath than Jonson's to a Beloved Memory. The elegy is the sole authentic source of all we know, or need to know, of contemporary opinion on the portent. And he who does obeisance is the one man who could with any show of right have grudged it !
Soul of the age !
Rare Ben Jonson indeed ! Rough-tongued, harddrinking, self-assertive; lavish and out-at-elbows, not ashamed to beg, to petition for conversion of official marks into market pounds; miscellaneous in his companionships, from Prince Charles at Whitehall to King James's victim, romantic Ralegh in the Tower : a fond remembrance for holy Henry Vaughan and courtly Suckling alike ; a very Prince of Bohemia ; a despot in his Apollo Club room, where he promulgated his laws 20 to a circle of vassals, often foes in disguise ; on the lyre, most of all, a sovereign, and
there, I scarcely fear to say, no man's inferior, unless his
Dear Master's '. When his own and a couple of succeeding generations classed the two together, they did not go so far wrong that we cannot at least understand them. As I read, I have felt throughout, in meditating how to rank him as poet, not as dramatist, that he must sit either nowhere, or among the Greatest. Am I wrong in seating him with them?
The Works of Ben Jonson, ed. William Gifford. 1 L’Allegro, vv. 131-2. 2 Epicoene, or, The Silent Woman, Act I, Sc. l. 3 To Celia, Song 9 (The Forest). • Truth (Underwoods, No. 26). 5 Epitaph on Elizabeth L. H. (Epigrams, No. 124).
6 Epitaph on Salathiel Pavy-A Child of Queen Elizabeth's Chapel (Epigrams, No. 120).
Cynthia’s Revels ; or, The Fountain of Self-Love, Act v, Sc. 3. 8 Epitaph on the Countess of Pembroke (Underwoods, No. 15). 9 The Picture of the Mind (Underwoods, Eupheme, No. 4). 10 Epode (The Forest, No. 11). 11 An Epitaph to a Friend, Master Colby, to persuade him to the Wars Underwoods, No. 32).
12 Elegy on the Lady Jane Paulet, Marchioness of Winton Underwoods, No. 100).
13 A Pindaric Ode to the immortal Memory and Friendship of that Noble Pair, Sir Lucius Cary and Sir H. Morison. Strophe (Underwoods, No. 87).
14 A Celebration of Charis. IV. Her Triumph (Underwoods). 15 Cynthia's Revels, Act iv, Sc. l. 16 The Hour-Glass (Underwoods, Miscell. Poems, No. 6). 17 To William, Earl of Newcastle, on his Fencing (Underwoods, No. 88).
18. Dedication of the King's New Cellar to Bacchus (Underwoods, No. 66).
19 To the Memory of my beloved Master William Shakespeare, and what he hath left us (Underwoods, No. 12).
20 Leges Convivales—Rules for the Tavern Academy.
FRANCIS BEAUMONT, 1584-1616
JOHN FLETCHER, 1579—1625
JOHN FLETCHER, as the senior, might well claim to have his name placed first in the strange, famous partnership. The reversed order is in accordance with all we might have expected from the author of The Faithful Shepherdess. What we could have least anticipated is, perhaps, if he were to be a professional dramatist at all, that he should have fathered, whether singly, or jointly, many of the pieces attributed to the literary firm. He ought to have been read in books, not seen on the stage ; to have been poet, not playwright. As a dramatist, he was applauded by two or three generations. He might have been immortal as a poet with Herrick, possibly with Spenser and Milton
No heights, in lyrics, were beyond the author of the delightful farewell of the Satyr to his adored type of chastity :
Thou most virtuous and most blessed,
For a beam to give thee light ?