1637 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ben Jonson

Rev. William Cartwright, "To the Memory of the most worthy Benjamin Johnson" Jonsonus Virbius (1637) 34-39.



Father of Poets, though thine owne great day
Struck from thy selfe, scorns that a weaker ray
Should twine in Lustre with it: yet my flame,
Kindled from thine, flies upward tow'rds thy Name.
For in the acclamation of the lesse
There's Piety, though from it no accesse.
And though my ruder thoughts make me of those,
Who hide and cover what they should disclose:
Yet, where the lustre's such, he makes it seene
Better to some, that drawes the veile betweene.

And what can more be hop'd, since that divine
Free filling spirit tooke its flight with thine?
Men may have fury, but no raptures now;
Like Witches, charme, yet not know whence, nor how.
And through distemper, grown not strong but fierce,
Instead of writing, onely rave in verse:
Which when by thy Lawes judg'd, 'twill be confess'd
'Twas not to be inspir'd, but be possess'd.

Where shall we find a Muse like thine, that can
So well present, and shew man unto man,
That each one finds his twin, and thinkes thy art
Extends not to the gestures, but the heart?
Where one so shewing life to life, that we
Think thou taught'st Custome, and not Custome thee?
Manners, that were Themes to thy Scenes still flow
In the same streame, and are their comments now:
These times thus living o're thy Modells, we
Thinke them not so much wit, as prophesie:
And though we know the character, may sweare
A Sybills finger hath bin busie there.

Things common thou speakst proper, which though known
For publique, stampt by thee grow thence thine owne:
Thy thought's so order'd, so express'd, that we
Conclude that thou did'st nor discourse, but see
Language so master'd, that thy numerous feet,
Laden with genuine words, doe alwaies meet
Each in his art; nothing unfit doth fall,
Shewing the Poet, like the wise man, All:
Thine equall skill thus wresting nothing, made
Thy penne seeme not so much to write as trade.

That life, that Venus of all things, which we
Conceive or shew, proportion'd decencie,
Is not found scattred in thee here or there,
But, like the soule, is wholly every where;
No strange perplexed maze doth passe for plot,
Thou alwayes dost unty, not cut the knot.
Thy Lab'rinths doores are open'd by one thread
That tyes, and runnes through all that's done or said.
No power comes down wish learned hat or rod,
Wit onely, and contrivance is thy god.

'Tis easie to guild gold: there's small skill spent
Where ev'n the first rude masse is ornament:
Thy Muse tooke harder metalls, purg'd and boild,
Labour'd and try'd, heated, and beate and toyld,
Sifted the drosse, fil'd roughnss, then gave dresse,
Vexing rude subjects into comelinesse.
Be it thy glory then, that we may say,
Thou run'st where th' foote was hindred by the way.

Nor dost thou poure out, but dispence thy veine,
Skill'd when to spare, and when to entertaine:
Not like our wits, who into one piece do
Throw all that they can say, and their friends too,
Pumping themselves for one Termes noise so dry
As if they made their wills in Poetry.
And such spruce compositions preses the stage
When men transcribe themselves, and not the age.
Both sorts of Playes are thus like pictures showne,
Thine of the common life, theirs of their owne.

Thy modells yet are not so fram'd as we
May call them libells, and not imag'rie:
No name on any Basis; 'tis thy skill
To strike the vice, but spare the person still:
As he who when he saw the Serpent wreath'd
About his sleeping sonne, and as he breath'd,
Drinke in his soule, did so the shoot contrive,
To kill the beast, but keepe the child alive.
So dost thou aime thy darts, which, ev'n when
They kill the poisons, do but wake the men.
Thy thunders thus but purge, and we endure
Thy launcings better than anothers cure;
And justly too: for th' age growes more unsound
From the fooles balsam, then the wise mans wound.

No rotten talke brokes for a laugh; no page
Commenc'd man by th' instructions of thy stage;
No bargaining line there; no provoc'tive verse;
Nothing but what Lucretia might rehearse;
No need to make good count'nance ill, and use
The plea of strict life for a looser Muse:
No Woman rul'd thy quill: we can descry
No verse borne under any Cynthias eye:
Thy Starre was Judgement onely, and right sense,
Thy selfe being to thy selfe an influence.
Stout beauty is thy grace: Stern pleasures do
Present delights, but mingle horrours too:
Thy Muse doth thus like Joves fierce girle appeare,
With a fair hand, but grasping of a Speare.

Where are they now that cry, thy Lamp did drinke
More oyle then th' Author wine, while he did thinke?
We do embrace their slander: thou hast writ
Not for dispatch, but fame; no market wit:
'Twas not thy care that it might passe and sell,
But that it might endure, and be done well:
Nor wouldst thou venture it unto the eare,
Untill the file would not make smooth, but weare:
Thy verse came season'd hence, and would not give;
Borne not to feed the Authour, but to live:
Whence 'mong the choycer Judges rose a strife,
To make thee read a Classick in thy life.
Those that doe hence applause, and suffrage begge,
'Cause they can Poems forme upon one legge,
Write not to time, but to the Poets day:
There's difference between fame and sodaine pay.
These men sing Kingdomes falls as if that fate
Us'd the same force t' a Village, and a State:
These serve Thyestes bloody supper in,
As if it had onely a sallad bin:
Their Catilines are but Fencers, whose fights rise
Not to the fame of battell, but of prize.
But thou still puts true passions on; dost write
With the same courage that try'd Captaines fight;
Giv'st the right blush and colour unto things;
Low without creeping, high without loss of wings;
Smooth, yet not weake, and by a thorough care,
Bigge without swelling, without painting faire:
They wretches, while they cannot stand to fit,
Are not wits, but materials of wit.
What though thy searching wit did rake the dust
Of time, and purge old metalls of their rust?
Is it no labour, no art, thinke they, to
Snatch Shipwracks from the deepe, as Dyvers do?
And rescue Jewells from the covetous sand,
Making the Seas hid wealth adorn the Land?
What though thy culling Muse did rob the store
Of Greeke, and Latine gardens to bring ore
Plants to thy native soyle? Their vertues were
Improv'd farre more, by being planted here.
If thy Still to their essence doth refine
So many drugges, is not the water thine?
Thefts thus become just works: they and their grace
Are wholly thine: thus doth the stampe and face
Make that the Kings, that's ravish'd from the mine:
In others then 'tis oare, in thee 'tis coine.

Blest life of Authours, unto whom we owe
Those that we have, and those that we want too:
Th' art all so good, that reading makes thee worse,
And to have writ so well's thine onely curse.
Secure then of thy merit, thou didst hate
That servile base dependance upon fate:
Success thou ne'r thoughtst vertue, nor that fit,
Which chance, and th' ages fashion did make hit;
Excluding those from life in after-time,
Who into Po'try first brought luck and rime:
Who thought the peoples breath good ayre: sty'ld name
What was but noise; and getting Briefes for fame
Gathered the many's suffrages, and thence
Made commendation a benevolence,
Thy thoughts were their owne Lawrell, and did win
That best applause of being crown'd within.

And though th' exacting age, when deeper yeeres
Had interwoven snow among thy haires,
Would not permit thou shouldst grow old, 'cause they
Nere by thy writings knew thee young; we may
Say justly, they're ungratefull, when they more
Condemn'd thee, cause thou wert so good before:
Thine Art was thine Arts blurre, and they'l confesse
Thy strong perfumes made them not smell thy lesse.
But, though to erer with thee be no small skill,
And we adore the last draughts of thy Quill:
Though those thy thoughts, which the now queasie age,
Doth count but clods, and refuse of the stage,
Will come up Porcelaine-wit some hundreds hence,
When there will be more manners and more sense;
'Twas judgement yet to yeeld, and we afford
Thy silence as much fame, as once thy word:
Who like an aged oake, the leaves being gone,
Wast food before, and now religion;
Thought still more rich, though not so richly stor'd,
View'd and enjoy'd before, but now ador'd.
Great soule of numbers, whom we want and boast;
Like curing gold, most valu'd now th' art lost;
When we shall feed on refuse offals, when
We shall from corne to akornes turne agen;
Then shall we see that these two names are one,
JOHNSON and Poetry, which now are gone.