« PreviousContinue »
and that whole paffage is a compliment very pro perly brought in, and very handsomely applied to her. She was fo well pleased with that admirable character of Falstaff, in The Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, that fhe commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to fhow him in love. This is faid to be the occafion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windfor. How well fhe was obeyed, the play itself is an admirable proof. Upon this occafion it may not be improper to obferve, that this part of Falstaff is faid to have been written originally under the name of Oldcastle:" fome of that family being then remaining, the Queen was pleafed to command him to alter it; upon which he made ufe of Falftaff. The prefent offence was indeed avoided; but I do not know whether the author may not have been fomewhat to blame in his fecond choice, fince it is certain that Sir John Falstaff, who was a knight of the garter, and a lieutenant-general, was a name of diftinguished merit in the wars in France in Henry the Fifth's and Henry the Sixth's times. What grace foever the Queen conferred upon him, it was not to her only he owed the fortune which the reputation of
fhe commanded him to continue it for one play more,] This anecdote was firft given to the publick by Dennis, in the Epiftle Dedicatory to his comedy entitled The Comical Gallant, 4to. 1702, altered from The Merry Wives of Windfor.
this part of Falftaff is faid to have been written originally under the name of Oldcastle;] See the Epilogue to Henry the Fourth. POPE.
In a note fubjoined to that Epilogue, and more fully in Vol. XI. p. 194, n. 3, the reader will find this notion overturned, and the origin of this vulgar error pointed out. Mr. Rowe was evidently deceived by a paffage in Fuller's Worthies, misunderstood.
his wit made. He had the honour to meet with many great and uncommon marks of favour and friendship from the Earl of Southampton, famous in the hiftories of that time for his friendship to the unfortunate Earl of Effex. It was to that noble lord that he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis. There is one inftance fo fingular in the magnificence of this patron of Shakspeare's, that if I had not been affured that the story was handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his affairs, I fhould not have ventured to have inferted; that my Lord Southampton at one time gave him a thoufand pounds, to enable him to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a mind to. A bounty very great, and very rare at any time, and almoft equal to that profufe generofity the prefent age has fhown to French dancers and Italian fingers.
What particular habitude or friendships he contracted with private men, I have not been able to learn, more than that every one, who had a true taste of merit, and could diftinguifh men, had generally a juft value and efteem for him. His exceeding candour and good-nature muft certainly have inclined all the gentler part of the world to love him, as the power of his wit obliged the men of the moft delicate knowledge and polite learning
to admire him.
His acquaintance with Ben Jonfon began with a
from the Earl of Southampton,] Of this amiable nobleman fuch memoirs as I have been able to collect, may be found in the tenth volume, [i. e. of Mr. Malone's edition] prefixed to the poem of Venus and Adonis. MALONE.
he dedicated his poem of Venus and Adonis.] To this nobleman also he dedicated his Rape of Lucrece, printed in 4to. in 1594. MALONE.
remarkable piece of humanity and good-nature; Mr. Jonfon, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players, in order to have it acted; and the perfons into whofe hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and fuperciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of no fervice to their company; when Shakspeare luckily caft his eye upon it, and found fomething fo well in it, as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonfon and his writings to the publick.'
to recommend Mr. Jonfon and his writings to the publick.] In Mr. Rowe's first edition, after these words was inserted the following paffage :
"After this, they were profeffed friends; though I do not know whether the other ever made him an equal return of gentlenefs and fincerity. Ben was naturally proud and infolent, and in the days of his reputation did so far take upon him the fupremacy in wit, that he could not but look with an evil eye upon any one that feemed to ftand in competition with him. And if at times he has affected to commend him, it has always been with some reserve; infinuating his uncorrectnefs, a careless manner of writing, and want of judgment. The praise of feldom altering or blotting out what he writ, which was given him by the players, who were the first publishers of his works after his death, was what Jonfon could not bear: he thought it impoffible, perhaps, for another man to ftrike out the greatest thoughts in the finest expreffion, and to reach those excellencies of poetry with the ease of a first imagination, which himself with infinite labour and ftudy could but hardly attain to."
I have preferved this paffage because I believe it strictly true, except that in the last line, instead of but hardly, I would read
Dryden, we are told by Pope, concurred with Mr. Rowe in thinking Jonfon's pofthumous verfes on our author Sparing and invidious. See alfo Mr. Steevens's note on those verses.
Before Shakspeare's death Ben's envious difpofition is mentioned by one of his own friends; it must therefore have been even then notorious, though the writer denies the truth of the charge:
Jonfon was certainly a very good fcholar, and in that had the advantage of Shakspeare; though at
"To my well accomplish'd friend, Mr. Ben. Jonson.
Scourge of Folly, by J. Davies, printed about 1611. The following lines by one of Jonfon's admirers will fufficiently fupport Mr. Rowe in what he has faid relative to the flownefs of that writer in his compofitions :
"Scorn then their cenfures who gave out, thy wit
"As elephants bring forth, and that thy blots "And mendings took more time than FORTUNE-PLOTS; "That fuch thy drought was, and fo great thy thirst, "That all thy plays were drawn at the Mermaid first ; "That the king's yearly butt wrote, and his wine "Hath more right than thou to thy Catiline." The writer does not deny the charge, but vindicates his friend by saying that, however flow,—
"He that writes well, writes quick-."
So alfo, another of his Panegyrifts:
"Admit his mufe was flow, 'tis judgment's fate
In The Return from Parnaffus, 1606, Jonfon is faid to be "fo flow an enditer, that he were better betake himself to his old trade of bricklaying." The fame piece furnishes us with the earliest intimation of the quarrel between him and Shakspeare: "Why here's our fellow Shakspeare put them [the university poets] all down, ay, and Ben Jonfon too. O, that Ben Jonfon is a peftilent fellow; he brought up Horace giving the poets a pill, but our fellow Shakspeare hath given him a purge that made him bewray his credit." Fuller, who was a diligent inquirer, and lived near enough the time to be well informed, confirms this account, afferting in his Worthies, 1662, that " many were the wit-combats" between Jonfon and our poet.
It is a fingular circumftance that old Ben fhould for near two centuries have ftalked on the ftilts of an artificial reputation; and that even at this day, of the very few who read his works, scarcely one in ten yet ventures to confefs how little entertainment they afford. Such was the impreffion made on the publick by the extravagant praises of thofe who knew more of books than
the fame time I believe it must be allowed, that what nature gave the latter, was more than a balance
of the drama, that Dryden in his Effay on Dramatick Poefie, written about 1667, does not venture to go further in his elogium on Shakspeare, than by faying, " he was at leaft Jonfon's equal, if not his fuperior;" and in the preface to his Mock Aftrologer, 1671, he hardly dares to affert, what, in my opinion, cannot be denied, that "all Jonfon's pieces, except three or four, are but crambe bis cocta; the fame humours a little varied, and written worfe."
Ben, however, did not truft to the praise of others. One of his admirers honeftly confeffes,
"Of whom I write this, has prevented me,
In vain, however, did he endeavour to bully the town into approbation by telling his auditors, " By G-'tis good, and if you like't, you may;" and by pouring out against thofe who preferred our poet to him, a torrent of illiberal abuse; which, as Mr. Walpole juftly obferves, fome of his contemporaries were willing to think wit, because they were afraid of it; for, notwithstanding all his arrogant boafts, notwithstanding all the clamour of his partizans both in his own life-time and for fixty years after his death, the truth is, that his pieces, when first performed, were fo far from being applauded by the people, that they were scarcely endured; and many of them were actually damned.
66 the fine plush and velvets of the age
"Did oft for fixpence damn thee from the ftage," fays one of his eulogifts in Jonfonius Virbius, 4to. 1638. Jonfon himself owns that Sejanus was damned. "It is a poem," fays he, in his Dedication to Lord Aubigny, "that, if I well remember, in your lordship's fight fuffered no lefs violence from our people here, than the fubject of it did from the rage of the people of Rome." His friend E. B. (probably Edmund Bolton) Speaking of the fame performance, fays,
But when I view'd the people's beastly rage,
Again, in his Dedication of Catiline to the Earl of Pembroke, the author fays, "Pofterity may pay your benefit the honour and