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debating the point of his own character with two Senators whom he has entrapped, boldly asserts, in a more courtly strain,
-To be a spy on traitors,
This sentiment of the respectability of the employment of a government spy, which had slept in Tacitus for near two thousand years, has not been without its modern patrons. The effects of such“ honourable vigilance” are very finely exposed in the following high-spirited dialogue between Lepidus and Arruntius, two noble Romans, who loved their country, but were not fashionable enough to confound their country with its oppressors, and the extinguishers of its liberty.
“Arr. What are thy arts (good patriot, teach them me)
Lep. Arts, Arruntius!
Arr. I would begin to study 'em, if I thought
In secret, and be safe? aye, or aloud ?
'Tis a pretty picture; and the duplicates of it, though multiplied without end, are seldom out of request.
The following portrait of a prince besieged by flatterers (taken from Tiberius) has unrivalled force and beauty, with historic truth.
« If this man
But when his grace is merely but lip-good,
The only part of this play in which Ben Jonson has completely forgotten himself, (or rather seems not to have done so), is in the conversations between Livia and Eudemus, about a wash for her face, here called a fucus, to appear before Sejanus. Catiline's Conspiracy does not furnish by any means an equal number of striking passages, and is spun out to an excessive length with Cicero's artificial and affected orations against Catiline, and in praise of himself. His apologies for his own eloquence, and declarations that in all his art he uses no art at all, put one in mind of Polonius's circuitous
of coming to the point. Both these tragedies, it might be observed, are constructed on the exact
principles of a French historical picture, where every head and figure is borrowed from the antique ; but somehow, the precious materials of old Roman history and character are better preserved in Jonson's page than on David's canvas.
Two of the most poetical passages in Ben Jonson, are the description of Echo in Cynthia's Revels, and the fine comparison of the mind to a temple, in the New Inn; a play which, on the whole, however, I can read with no patience.
I must hasten to conclude this Lecture with some account of Massinger and Ford, who wrote in the time of Charles I. I am sorry I cannot do it con amore. The writers of whom I have chiefly had to speak were true poets, impassioned, fanciful, “musical as is Apollo's lute;" but Massinger is harsh and crabbed, Ford finical and fastidious. I find little in the works of these two dramatists, but a display of great strength or subtlety of understanding, inveteracy of
purpose, and perversity of will. This is not exactly what we look for in poetry, which, according to the most approved recipes, should combine pleasure with profit, and not owe all its fascination over the mind to its power of shocking or perplexing us. The Muses should attract by grace or dignity of mien. Massinger makes
an impression by hardness and repulsiveness of
In the intellectual processes which he delights to describe,“ reason panders will:” he fixes arbitrarily on some object which there is no motive to pursue, or every motive combined against it, and then by screwing up his heroes or heroines to the deliberate and blind accomplishment of this, thinks to arrive at “ the true pathos and sublime of human life.” That is not the way. He seldom touches the heart or kindles the fancy. It is in vain to hope to excite much sympathy with convulsive efforts of the will, or intricate contrivances of the understanding, to obtain that which is better left alone, and where the interest arises principally from 'the conflict between the absurdity of the passion and the obstinacy with which it is persisted in. For the most part, his villains are a sort of lusus naturæ; his impassioned characters are like drunkards or madmen. Their conduct is extreme and outrageous, their motives unaccountable and weak; their misfortunes are without necessity, and their crimes without temptation, to ordinary apprehensions. I do not say that this is invariably the case in all Massinger's scenes, but I think it will be found that a principle of playing at cross-purposes is the ruling passion throughout most of them. This is the case in the tragedy of the Unnatural Combat, in the