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Or, Horace, what say'st thou, that art the poorest,
And likeliest to envy or detract ?
Hor. Cæsar speaks after common men in this,
To make a difference of me for my poorness :
As if filth of poverty sunk as deep
Into a knowing spirit, as the bane
Of riches doth into an ignorant soul.
No, Cæsar ; they be pathless moorish minds,
That being once made rotten with the dung
Of damned riches, ever after sink
Beneath the steps of any villainy:
But knowledge is the nectar, that keeps sweet
A perfect soul, e'en in this grave of sin ;
And for my soul, it is as free as Cæsar's :
For what I know is due I'll give to all.
He that detracts, or envies virtuous merit,
Is still the covetous and the ignorant spirit.
Cæs. Thanks, Horace, for thy free and wholesome
Which pleaseth Cæsar more than servile fawns.
A flatter'd prince soon turns the prince of fools. 20
And for thy sake, we'll put no difference more
Between the great and good for being poor.
Say then, loved Horace, thy true thought of Virgil.
Hor. I judge him of a rectified spirit,
By many revolutions of discourse,
(In his bright reason's influence) refined
From all the tartarous moods of common men ;
Bearing the nature and similitude
Of a right heavenly body; most severe
In fashion and collection of himself:
30 And, then, as clear and confident as Jove.
Gal. And yet so chaste and tender is his ear,
In suffering any syllable to pass,
That he thinks may become the honour'd name
Of issue to his so examined self,
That all the lasting fruits of his full merit
In his own poems, he doth still distaste ;
As if his mind's piece, which he strove to paint,
Could not with fleshly pencils have her right. 39
Tib. But to approve his works of sovereign worth,
This observation (methinks) more than serves,
And is not vulgar. That which he hath writ,
Is with such judgment labour'd, and distillid
Through all the needful uses of our lives,
That could a man remember but his lines,
He should not touch at any serious point,
But he might breathe his spirit out of him.
Cæs. You mean he might repeat part of his works, As fit for any conference he can use ?
Tib. True, royal Cæsar.
Cæs. Worthily observed :
And a most worthy virtue in his works.
10 What thinks material Horace of his learning ?
Hor. His learning savours not the school-like gloss, That most consists in echoing words and terms, And soonest wins a man an empty name : Nor any long, or far fetch'd circumstance, Wrapt in the curious general'ties of arts ; But a direct and analytic sum Of all the worth and first effects of arts. And for his poesy, 'tis so ramm’d with life, That it shall gather strength of life with being, 20 And live hereafter more admired than now.
Cæs. This one consent, in all your dooms of him And mutual loves of all your several merits, Argues a truth of merit in you all.
VIRGIL enters. See, here comes Virgil ; we will rise and greet him : Welcome to Cæsar, Virgil. Cæsar and Virgil Shall differ but in sound ; to Cæsar, Virgil (Of his expressed greatness) shall be made A second sir-name; and
to Virgil, Cæsar. Where are thy famous Æneids ? do us grace 30 To let us see, and surfeit on their sight.
Vir. Worthless they are of Cæsar's gracious eyes,
If they were perfect; much more with their wants,
Which yet are more than my time could supply.
And could great Cæsar's expectation
Be satisfied with any other service,
I would not shew them.
Cæs. Virgil is too modest;
Or seeks, in vain, to make our longings more.
Shew them, sweet Virgil.
40 Vir. Then, in such due fear
As fits presenters of great works to Cæsar,
I humbly shew them.
Cæs. Let us now behold
A human soul made visible in life :
And more refulgent in a senseless paper,
Than in the sensual complement of kings.
Read, read thyself, dear Virgil ; let not me
Profane one accent with an untuned tongue :
Best matter, badly shown, shews worse than bad.
See then this chair, of purpose set for thee, 10
To read thy poem in ; refuse it not.
Virtue, without presumption, place may take
Above best kings, whom only she should make.
Vir. It will be thought a thing ridiculous To present eyes, and to all future times A gross untruth, that any poet, (void Of birth, or wealth, or temporal dignity), Should, with decorum, transcend Cæsar's chair. Poor virtue raised, high birth and wealth set under, Crosseth heavens' courses, and makes worldlings wonder.
20 Cæs. The course of heaven, and fate itself, in this Will Cæsar cross ; much more all worldly custom.
Hor. Custom in course of honour ever errs :
And they are best, whom fortune least prefers.
Cæs. Horace hath (but more strictly) spoke our
The vast rude swing of general confluence
Is, in particular ends, exempt from sense :
And therefore reason (which in right should be
The special rector of all harmony)
Shall shew we are a man, distinct by it
From those, whom custom rapteth in her press.
Ascend then, Virgil ; and where first by chance
We here have turn'd thy book, do thou first read.
Vir. Great Cæsar hath his will: I will ascend. 'Twere simple injury to his free hand, That sweeps the cobwebs from unused virtue, And makes her shine proportion'd to her worth, To be more nice to entertain his grace, Than he is choice and liberal to afford it.
39 Cæs. Gentlemen of our chamber, guard the doors, And let none enter ; peace. Begin, good Virgil.
VIRGIL reads part of his fourth Æneid.
Vir. Meanwhile, the skies 'gan thunder, &c.
[This Roman Play seems written to confute those enemies of Ben. Jonson in his own days and ours, who have said that he made a pedantical use of his learning. He has here revived the whole court of Augustus, by a learned spell. We are admitted to the society of the illustrious dead. Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Tibullus, converse in our own tongue more finely and poetically than they expressed themselves in their native Latin.-Nothing can be imagined more elegant, refined, and court-like than the scenes between this Lewis the Four. teenth of Antiquity and his Literati.—The whole essence and secret of that kind of intercourse is contained therein. The economical liberality by which greatness, seeming to wave some part of its prerogative, takes care to lose none of the essentials; the prudential liberties of an inferior which flatter by commanded boldness and soothe with complimental sincerity.]
SEJANUS HIS FALL: A TRAGEDY.
SEJANUS, the morning he is condemned by the Senate,
receives some tokens which presage his death. SEJANUS. POMPONIUS. MINUTIUS. TERENTIUS, &c.
Ter. Are these things true ?
Min. Thousands are gazing at it in the streets.
Sej. What's that?
Ter. Minutius tells us here, my Lord,
That a new head being set upon your statue,
A rope is since found wreath'd about it! and
But now a fiery meteor in the form
Of a great ball was seen to roll along
The troubled air, where yet it hangs un perfect, 10
The amazing wonder of the multitude.
Sej. No more. ---
Send for the tribunes ; we will straight have up
More of the soldiers for our guard. Minutius,
We pray you go for Cotta, Latiaris,
Trio the consul, or what senators
You know are sure, and ours. You, my good Natta,
For Laco, provost of the watch. Now, Satrius,
The time of proof comes on.
Arm all our servants,
And without tumult. You, Pomponius,
Hold some good correspondence with the consul ;
Attempt him, noble friend. These things begin
To look like dangers, now, worthy my fates. 10
Fortune, I see thy worst : let doubtful states
And things uncertain hang upon thy will ;
Me surest death shall render certain still.
Yet, why is now my thought turn'd toward death,
Whom fates have let go on so far in breath
Unchecked or unreprov'd ? I, that did help
To fell the lofty cedar of the world,
Germanicus ; that at one stroke cut down
Drusus, that upright elm ; wither'd his vine ;
Laid Silius and Sabinus, two strong oaks, 20
Flat on the earth ; besides those other shrubs
Cordus, and Sosia, Claudia Pulchra,
Furnius, and Gallus, which I have grubb'd up;
And since, have set my axe so strong and deep
Into the root of spreading Agrippina ;
Lopped off and scatter'd her proud branches, Nero,
Drusus; and Caius too, although replanted :
If you will, destinies, that after all
I faint now ere I touch my period,
You are but cruel ; and I already have done 30
Things great enough. All Rome hath been my slave;
The senate sate an idle looker on,
And witness of my power ; when I have blush'd
More to command, than it to suffer ; all
The fathers have sate ready and prepar'd
To give me empire, temples, or their throats,
When I would ask 'em ; and (what crowns the top)
Rome, senate, people, all the world, have seen
Jove but my equal, Cæsar but my second.
'Tis then your malice, Fates, who (but your own) 40
Envy and fear to have any power long known.