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done. Humour, which Ben. Jonson derived from pare ticular persons, they made it not their business to de-. scribe : they represented all the passions very lively, but above all, love. I am apt to believe the English language in them arrived to its highest perfection ; what words have since been taken in, are rather superfluous than ornamental. Their plays are now the most pleasant and frequent entertainments of the stage; two of theirs being acted through the year, for one of Shakspeare's or Jonson's: the reason is, because there is a certain gaiety in their comedies, and pathos in their more serious plays, which suits generally with all men's humous. Shakspeare's language is likewise a little obsolete, and Ben Jonson's wit comes short of theirs.
As for Jonson, to whose character I am now arrived, if we look upon him while he was himself, (for his last plays were but his dotages, I think him the most learned and judicious writer which any theatre ever had. He was a most severe judge of himself, as well as others. One cannot say he wanted wit, but rather that he was frugal of it. In his works you find little to retrench or alter. Wit, and language, and humour, also in some measure, we had before him; but something of art was wanting to the
drama, till he came. He managed his strength to more advantage than any who preceded him. You seldom find him making love in any of his scenes, ur endeavouring-to move the passions ; his genius was too sullen and saturnine to do it gracefully, especially when he knew he came after those who had performed both to such a height. Humour was his proper sphere; and in that he delighted most to represent mechanic people. He was deeply conversant in the ancients, both Greek and Latin, and he borrowed boldly from them; there is scarce a poet or historian among the Roman authors of those times, whom he has not translated in Sejanus and Catiline. But he has done his robberies so openly, that one may see he fears not to be taxed by any law. He invades authors like a monarch; and what would be theft in other poets, is only victory in him. With the spoils of these writers he so represented Rome to us, in his rites, ceremonies, and customs, that if one of their poets had written either of his tragedies, we had seen less of it than in him. If there was any fault in his language, 'twas that he weaved it too closely and laboriously, in his comedies especially : perhaps too, he did a littl: too much Romanize our tongue, leava ing the words which he translated almost as much Latin as he found them ; wherein, though he learnedly followed their language, be did not enough comply with the idiomn of ours. If I would compare him with Shakspeare, I must acknowledge him the more correct poet, but Shakspeare the greater wit. Shakspeare was the Homer, or father of our dramatic poets: Jonson was the Virgil, the pattern of elaborate writing: I admire him, but I love Shakspeare. To conclude of him ; as he has given us the most correct plays, so, in the precepts which he has laid down in his “ Discoveries," we have as many and profitable rules for perfecting the stage, as any wherewith the French can furnish us.
Of the Essay on Dramatic Poesy, Dr. Johnson observes, that it " was the first regular and valuable treatise on the art of writing. He, who having formed his opinions in the present age of English literature, turns back to peruse this dialogue, will not perhaps find much increase of knowledge, or much novelty of instruction ; but he is to remember that critical principles were then in the hands of a few, who had gathered them partly from the ancients, and partly from the Italians and French. The structure of dramatic poems was then not generally understood. Audiences applauded by instinct, and poets perhaps often pleased by chance.
“A writer who obtains his full purpose, loses himself in his own lustre. Of an opinion which is no longer doubted, the evidence ceases to be examined. Of an art universally, practised, the first teacher is forgotten. Learn ing once made popular, is no longer learning; it has the appearance of something which we have bestowed upon ourselves, as the dew appears to rise from the field which it refreshes.
“ To judge rightly of an author, we must transport ourselves to his time, and examine what were the wants of his cotemporaries, and what were his means of supplying them. That which was easy at one time was difficult at another. Dryden at least imported his science, and gave his country what it wanted before ; or rather, he imported only the materials, and manufactured them by his own skill.
“The Dialogue on the Drama was one of his first essays of criticism, written when he was yet a timorous candidate for reputation, and therefore laboured with that diligence, which he might allow himself somewhat to remit, when his name gave sanction to his positions, and his awe of the public was abated, partly by custom and partly by success. It will not be easy to find, in all the opulence of our language, a treatise so artfully variegated with successive representations of opposite probabilities, so enlivened with imagery, so brightened with illustrations. His portraits of the English dramatists are wrought with great spirit and diligence. The account of Shakspeare may stand as a perpetual model of encomiastic criticism
; being lofty without exaggeration. The praise lavished by Longinus on the attestation of the herds of Marathon by Demosthenes,fades away before it. In a few lines is exhibited a character so extensive in its comprehension, and so curious in its limitations, that nothing can be added, diminished, or reformed; nor can the editors and admirers of Shakspeare, in all their emulation of reverence, boast of much more than of having diffused and paraphrased this epitome of excellence-of having changed Dryden's gold for baser metal, of lower value though of greater bulk.
“ In this, and in all his other essays on the same subject, the criticism of Dryden is the criticism of a poet, not a dull collection of theorems, not a rude detection of faults, which perhaps the censor was not able to have come