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Drinking is the soldier's pleasure;
Bacchus' blessings are a treasure,
Soothed with the sound, the king grew vain;
Fought all his battles o'er again; And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain.
The master saw the madness rise,
Changed his hand, and checked his pride.
He chose a mournful Muse,
He sung Darius great and good,
Fallen from his high estate,
With downcast looks the joyless victor sate, Revolving in his altered soul
85 The various turns of chance below;
And, now and then, a sigh he stole,
Revolving in his altered soul
The various turns of chance below; 90 And, now and then, a sigh he stole, And tears began to flow.
The mighty master smiled to see
And the sparkles that flash from their The sweet enthusiast, from her sacred eyes!
Behold a ghastly band,
Each a torch in his hand!
Those are Grecian ghosts, that in battle
And unburied remain
Behold how they toss their torches on high,
The princes applaud with a furious joy;
To light him to his prey,
Enlarged the former narrow bounds, And added length to solemn sounds, With Nature's mother-wit, and arts unknown before. 176
Let old Timotheus yield the prize,
LINES PRINTED UNDER THE EN-
(In Tonson's folio edition of Paradise Lost, 1688)
Three poets, in three distant ages born,
From AN ESSAY OF DRAMATIC
As Neander was beginning to examine The Silent Woman, Eugenius, earnestly regarding him: I beseech you, Neander, said he, gratify the company, and me in particular, so far as, before you speak of the play, to give us a character of the author; and tell us frankly your opinion, whether you do not think all writers, both French and English, ought to give place to him? [10
I fear, replied Neander, that, in obeying your commands, I shall draw some envy on myself. Besides, in performing them, it will be first necessary to speak somewhat of Shakespeare and Fletcher, his rivals in poesy; and one of them, in my opinion, at least his equal, perhaps his superior.
To begin then with Shakespeare. He was the man who of all modern, and [20 perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily: when he describes anything, you more
than see it, you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation: he was naturally learned; he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature; he [30 looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot say he is everywhere alike; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat, insipid; his comic wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great, when some great occasion is presented to him: no man can say, he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did [40 not then raise himself as high above the rest of poets,
Quantum lenta solvent inter viburna cupressi.
The consideration of this made Mr. Hales of Eton say, that there was no subject of which any poet ever writ, but he would produce it much better done in Shakespeare; and however others are now generally preferred before him, yet the [50 age wherein he lived, which had contemporaries with him, Fletcher and Jonson, never equaled them to him in their esteem: and in the last king's court, when Ben's reputation was at highest, Sir John Suckling, and with him the greater part of the courtiers, set our Shakespeare far above him.
Beaumont and Fletcher, of whom I am next to speak, had, with the advantage [60 of Shakespeare's wit, which was their precedent, great natural gifts, improved by study; Beaumont especially being so accurate a judge of plays, that Ben Jonson, while he lived, submitted all his writings to his censure, and 'tis thought, used his judgment in correcting, if not contriving all his plots. What value he had for him, appears by the verses he writ to him; and therefore I need speak [70 no further of it. The first play that brought Fletcher and him in esteem, was their Philaster; for before that, they had written two or three very unsuccessfully: as the like is reported of Ben Jonson, before he writ Every Man in his Humor. Their plots were generally more regular than Shakespeare's, especially those which
were made before Beaumont's death; and they understood and imitated the [80 conversation of gentlemen much better; whose wild debaucheries, and quickness of wit in repartees, no poet before them could paint as they have done. Humor, which Ben Jonson derived from particular persons, they made it not their business to describe; they represented all the passions very lively, but above all, love. I am apt to believe the English language in them arrived to its high- [90 est 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 Shakespeare'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 [100 men's humors. Shakespeare'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 theater ever had. He was a most severe judge of himself, as well as [110 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 humor 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, or [120 endeavoring 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 an height. Humor 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 [130 or historian among the Roman authors of those times, whom he has not trans
lated 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 represents old Rome to us, in its rites, [140 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, it was, that he weaved it too closely and laboriously, in his comedies. especially: perhaps, too, he did a little too much Romanize our tongue, leaving the words which he translated almost as much Latin as he found them: [150 wherein, though he learnedly followed their language, he did not enough comply with the idiom of ours. If I would compare him with Shakespeare, I must acknowledge him the more correct poet, but Shakespeare the greater wit. Shakespeare was the Homer, or father of our dramatic poets; Jonson was the Virgil, the pattern of elaborate writing; I admire him, but I love Shakespeare. To conclude of him; as [160 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
From the PREFACE TO THE FABLES
It remains that I say somewhat of Chaucer in particular.
In the first place, as he is the father of English poetry, so I hold him in the same degree of veneration as the Grecians held Homer, or the Romans Virgil. He is a perpetual fountain of good sense, learned in all sciences, and therefore speaks properly on all subjects. As he knew what to say, so he knows also [10 when to leave off; a continence which is practised by few writers, and scarcely by any of the ancients, excepting Virgil and Horace. One of our late great poets is sunk in his reputation because he could never forgive any conceit which came in
his way, but swept, like a drag-net, great and small. There was plenty enough, but the dishes were ill sorted; whole pyramids of sweetmeats for boys and [20 women, but little of solid meat for men. All this proceeded, not from any want of knowledge, but of judgment. Neither did he want that in discerning the beauties and faults of other poets, but only indulged himself in the luxury of writing; and perhaps knew it was a fault but hoped the reader would not find it. For this reason, though he must always be thought a great poet, he is no longer esteemed [30 a good writer; and for ten impressions, which his works have had in so many successive years, yet at present a hundred books are scarcely purchased once a twelvemonth; for, as my last Lord Rochester said, though somewhat profanely, "Not being of God, he could not stand."
Chaucer followed nature everywhere, but was never so bold to go beyond her; and there is a great difference of being [40 poeta and nimis poeta, if we believe Catullus, as much as betwixt a modest behavior and affectation. The verse of Chaucer, I confess, is not harmonious to us; but 'tis like the eloquence of one whom Tacitus commends, it was auribus istius temporis accommodata; they who lived with him, and some time after him, thought it musical; and it continues so even in our judgment, if compared with the num- [50 bers of Lydgate and Gower, his contemporaries; there is the rude sweetness of a Scotch tune in it, which is natural and pleasing though not perfect. 'Tis true I cannot go so far as he who published the last edition of him, for he would make us believe the fault is in our ears, and that there were really ten syllables in a verse where we find but nine; but this opinion is not worth confuting; 'tis so [60 gross and obvious an error that common sense (which is a rule in everything but matters of faith and revelation) must convince the reader that equality of numbers, in every verse which we call heroic, was either not known or not always practised in Chaucer's age. It were an easy matter to produce some thousands of his verses which are lame for want of half a foot, and sometimes a whole [70
He must have been a man of a most wonderful comprehensive nature, because, as it has been truly observed of him, he has taken into the compass of his [80 Canterbury Tales the various manners and humors (as we now call them) of the whole English nation in his age. Not a single character has escaped him. All his pilgrims are severally distinguished from each other, and not only in their inclinations but in their very physiognomies and persons. Baptista Porta
could not have described their natures better than by the marks which the [90 poet gives them. The matter and manner of their tales and of their telling are so suited to their different educations, humors, and callings that each of them would be improper in any other mouth. Even the grave and serious characters are distinguished by their several sorts of gravity: their discourses are such as belong to their age, their calling, and their breeding; such as are becoming of them, [100 and of them only. Some of his persons are vicious and some virtuous; some are unlearned, or (as Chaucer calls them) lewd, and some are learned. Even the ribaldry of the low characters is different: the Reeve, the Miller, and the Cook are several men, and distinguished from each other as much as the mincing Lady Prioress and the broad-speaking, gaptoothed Wife of Bath. But enough [110 of this; there is such a variety of game springing up before me that I am distracted in my choice and know not which to follow. It is sufficient to say, according to the proverb, that here is God's plenty. We have our forefathers and great-grand-dames all before us as they were in Chaucer's days: their general characters are still remaining in mankind, and even in England, though [120 they are called by other names than those of monks, and friars, and canons, and
lady abbesses, and nuns; for mankind is ever the same, and nothing lost out of nature though everything is altered.
DANIEL DEFOE (1660?-1731)
From THE TRUE-BORN ENGLISHMAN
Satire, be kind, and draw a silent veil, Thy native England's vices to conceal; Or, if that task's impossible to do,
At least be just, and show her virtues too; Too great the first, alas! the last too few. 5
Ingratitude, a devil of black renown,
Second to him in malice and in force,
He made her first-born race to be so rude,
And suffered her to be so oft subdued, By several crowds of wandering thieves o'er-run,
Often unpeopled, and as oft undone; While every nation that her powers reduced
Their languages and manners introduced; From whose mixed relics our compounded breed
By spurious generation does succeed, Making a race uncertain and uneven, Derived from all the nations under heaven.
The Romans first with Julius Cæsar
Including all the nations of that name, Gauls, Greeks, and Lombards; and by computation
Auxiliaries or slaves of every nation. 25 With Hengist, Saxons; Danes with Sweno
search of plunder, not in search of fame. Scots, Picts, and Irish from the Hibernian shore;
And conquering William brought the Normans o'er.