« PreviousContinue »
the speeches are adapted rather to show the ingenuity of the author than the passion of the lovers. In The New Inn, the lover rouses his mistress from cold good-will into a sudden and irrestrainable enthusiasm of devotion to him by a brace of sermons on courage and on love; which, however ill-adapted they may seem to secure this happy result, are fine laboured pieces of rhetoric, with thought and originality mingled somewhat largely with dullness. Indeed, Jonson, though utterly incapable of giving a dramatic representation to the most universal passion both of the real and the mimic stage, and ill-constituted in his own nature to experience its higher influences, could form a noble intellectual image of it, and express it in adequate language. Perhaps the finest and most imaginative piece of poetry he has written is the "Epode to deep Ears," as he calls it, in which he contrasts false and true love. We quote the introduction, as well as the finer lines to which we allude, because the former will serve as an example of the cumbrous mechanically translated prose of which the greater part of Jonson's so-called poetry consists.
Not to know vice at all, and keep true state,
Is virtue and not fate:
Next to that virtue, is to know vice well,
Which to effect (since no breast is so sure,
Some way of entrance), we must plant a guard
At th' eye and ear, the ports unto the mind,
Object arrive there, but the heart, our spy,
To wakeful reason, our affections' king:
Will quickly taste the treason, and commit
'Tis the securest policy we have,
To make our sense our slave.
But this true course is not embraced by many:
By many! scarce by any.
For either our affections do rebel,
Or else the sentinel,
That should ring 'larum to the heart, doth sleep;
Or some great thought doth keep
Back the intelligence, and falsely swears
They 're base and idle fears
Whereof the loyal conscience so complains.
Thus, by these subtle trains,
Do several passions invade the mind,
And strike our reason blind:
Of which usurping rank, some have thought love
Most frequent tumults, horrors, and unrests,
But this doth from the cloud of error grow,
The thing they here call love is blind desire,
Inconstant, like the sea, of whence 'tis born,
With whom who sails rides on the surge of fear,
In a continual tempest. Now true love
That is an essence far more gentle, fine,
It is a golden chain let down from heaven,
That falls like sleep on lovers, and combines
In equal knots: this bears no brands, nor darts,
But in a calm and god-like unity
O, who is he that in this peace enjoys
A form more fresh than are the Eden bowers,
Richer than Time, and as Time's virtue rare;
A fixed thought, an eye untaught to glance.
Would, at suggestion of a steep desire,
Cast himself from the spire
Of all his happiness ?"
This must not be taken as an average specimen of the minor poems of Jonson. For the most part they are inexpressibly tedious reading. There is enough thought, harshly expressed, to require an effort to understand them; and not enough to reward the effort when read. They are weighed down by a sort of inert mass of mind which the imagination has not sufficient power to kindle. It might have sufficed a lesser body of intellect, but it is out of proportion to what it has to move. Struggling gleams of fire shine through a wellheaped mass of materials; but rarely does the whole burst into a clear blaze. Now and then, indeed, some exquisite poetical idea may be found, half hidden by the cumbrousness of its expression, as when he compares the serenity of his mistress's face to the calmness and life-renewing influence which pervade the air after tempest; an idea not easily suggested by the lines,
"As alone there triumphs to the life
All the good, all the gain, of the elements' strife." There is gold, and pure gold, in his writings; but mixed
with large lumps of clay. The worst of it is, the clay is as solemnly and carefully hammered out as the gold; and the author evidently refuses to acknowledge even to himself that it is of any inferior value. Labour Jonson never spared; he gave all his works the finish his best pains could afford, but he used material in itself incapable of taking a polish. He had a keen incisive wit; but it is an Andrea Ferrara rather than a rapier. A sort of native unwieldiness is apt to leave its impression in what he writes; and his rhythm is like his matter, it has a lumbering elephantine motion, full of stops and sudden charges. His epigrams are often sharp-pointed, and witty; but, like all epigrams, they are dull reading. They are moulded in the Latin type; and though some of them have point, many of them are only brief occasional poems on a single subject, mostly eulogistic of some particular person. Some of the satirical ones are also probably personal; but in general aimed at some vicious practice or moral deformity, set forth under an appropriate title, in which, as in the body of the poem, he loves to show his wit. We have epigrams to "Sir Annual Tilter," to "Don Surly," to "Sir Voluptuous Beast," to "Fine Grand," to "Captain Hungry," &c. That on Cheveril the lawyer may serve as a specimen of the best of them:
"No cause, nor client fat, will Cheveril leese:
The "Forest" and "Underwoods,"-names by which Jonson designated two collections of his minor poems,-consist, with some love-songs, chiefly of eulogistic epistles and addresses to his friends and patrons. It is usual to speak of these poems as abounding in profound thought and wise insight into human life. They certainly look as if they did. They have a grave sententious air which their matter really hardly warrants. There are good things in them, and even striking things; but such are rare. They are ingenious and laboured, while the body of thought in them is sufficiently commonplace. The same thing may be observed in his "Discoveries," a collection of his ideas on various disconnected subjects expressed in prose. Thoughts which occurred to him he wrapped up in large bundles of language, and put by here for posterity. For the most part, they are by no means "discoveries." They are not such things as Bacon wrote in his essays, or Selden said at his table. They contain none of the subtle penetrating judgments of an original genius. They are weighty and often acute dicta; but always within certain limits of knowledge already established. Jonson can select true judgments to give his authority and sanction
to, but he has none of that quality which loves to unfold the inner heart of true notions, or of that which loves to lay naked and confute those which are false.
The free use of satire always requires something of vulgarity in the mind, and recklessness in the temper, of him who employs it. You cannot strike hard, and also strike with discrimination; and the deeper a man's insight, the more certainly does his knowledge of the complex intertangling of good and evil restrain his hand from sweeping blows of censure. But there is a certain sharpness, vigour, and healthy indignation, which ennoble to some extent just satire. Jonson has these qualities in great perfection; but he is apt to descend into vituperation, and to rail with a disregard of all limits either in his applications or his expressions. Read his description of his own times :
"No part or corner man can look upon,
But there are objects bid him to be gone
The whole world here leavened with madness swells;
And even our sports are dangers! what we call
All which he makes the servants of the groin,-
Further we cannot quote; what follows is worse than the worst parts of Juvenal.
Jonson and some of his friends thought his translations his best things. For vigorous closeness, and a large command of the resources of his own language in conveying the meaning of another, they have scarcely any parallels. Gifford, who was trained in a different school, does them great injustice.
But we have no further space in which to discuss them, and must here conclude our notice. Jonson in his lifetime made warm friends and bitter enemies; and the same fate has attended his reputation. He has been extravagantly lauded, and unjustly undervalued and maligned. Our object has been to set down as accurately as possible the estimate of an unbiased judgment.
He was a great though not an engaging man; and history will always write his name high in the roll of literary achievement. No man ever owed less to others. It was part of his deficiency, as well as part of his greatness, to be formed for standing alone: "Thy star was judginent only and right sense, Thyself being to thyself an influence."
ART. VI.-THE CZAR NICHOLAS.
The Accession of Nicholas I. Compiled, by special command of the Emperor Alexander II., by his Imperial Majesty's Secretary of State, Baron M. Korff, and translated from the original Russian. Third Impression (now first published). London: John Murray,
The Russian Empire, its People, Institutions, and Resources. By Baron Von Haxthausen, author of " Transcaucasia," "The Tribes of the Caucasus," &c. Translated by Robert Farie, Esq. 2 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1856.
The Nations of Russia and Turkey, and their Destiny. By Ivan Golovin, author of "The Caucasus." Two parts. London: Trübner and Co., 1854.
La Russie et les Russes. Par N. Tourgueneff. 3 tomes. Bruxelles, 1847.
Secret History of the Court and Government of Russia under the Emperors Alexander and Nicholas. By J. H. Schnitzler. 2 vols. London: Richard Bentley, 1847.
Russia under the Autocrat Nicholas the First. By Ivan Golovine, a Russian Subject. 2 vols. London: Henry Colburn, 1846. Revelations of Russia in 1846. By an English Resident. Third Edition. 2 vols. London: Colburn, 1846.
La Russie en 1839. Par le Marquis de Custine. 4 tomes. Paris, 1843.
Russia. Abridged from the French of the Marquis de Custine. London: Longmans, 1854.
"If you think well of us, you will say so: but it will be useless, you will not be believed; we are ill understood, and people will not understand us better." These words, addressed by the Empress of Russia to the Marquis de Custine in the year 1839, convey a protest against the judgment of Western Europe which might well deter any lover of truth from exposing himself to a