1638 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ben Jonson

Owen Feltham, "To the Memory of immortal Ben" Jonsonius Virbius: or the Memorie of Ben Johnson revived (1638) 42-44.



To write is easie, but to write of thee
Truth 'twill be thought to forfeit modesty.
So farre beyond conceipt, thy strengths appeare;
That almost all will doubt, what all must heare.
For, when the World shall know, that Pindar's height,
Plautus his wit, and Seneca's grave weight,
Horace his matchlesse Nerves, and that high phrase
Wherewith great Lucan doth his Readers maze,
Shall with such radiant illustration glide,
(As if each line to life were property'd)
Through all thy Workes; And like a Torrent Move,
Rowling the Muses to the Court of Jove,
Wits generall Tribe, and soone intitle thee
Heire to Apollo's ever verdant Tree.
And 'twill by all concluded be, the Stage
Is widowed now; was bed-rid by thy age.

As well as Empire, wit his Zenith hath,
Nor can the rage of time, or tyrants wrath
Encloud so bright a flame: But it will shine
In spight of envie, till it grow divine.
As when Augustus raign'd, and warre did cease,
Romes bravest wits were usher'd in by peace:
So in our Halycon dayes, we have had now
Wits, to which, all that after come must show:
And should the Stage compose her selfe a Crowne
Of all those wits, which hitherto she 'as knowne
Though there be many that about her brow
Like sparkling stones, might a quick lustre throw:
Yet, Shakespeare, Beaumont, Johnson, these three shall
Make up the Jem in the point Verticall.
And now since JOHNSON'S gone, we well may say,
The Stage hath seene her glory and decay.
Whose judgement was't refined it? Or who
Gave Lawes, by which hereafter all must goe,
But solid JOHNSON? from whose full strong quill,
Each line did like a Diamond drop distill,
Though hard, yet cleare. Thalia that had skipt
Before, but like a Maygame girle, now stript
Of all her Mimick Jigges, became a sight
With mirth, to flow each pleas'd spectators light.
And in such gracefull measures, did discover
Her beauties now; that every eye turn'd Lover.

Who is't shall make with great Sejanus fall,
Not the Stage crack, but th' Universe and all?
Wild Catilines sterne fire, who now shall show?
Or quench't with milke, still'd downe by Cicero?
Where shall old Authors in such words be showne,
As vex their Ghosts, that they are not their owne?

Admit his Muse was slow. 'Tis Judgements Fate
To move, like greatest Princes, still in state.
Those Planets placed in the higher Spheares,
End not their motions but in many yeares;
Whereas light Venus and the giddy Moone,
In one or some few dayes their courses run.
Slow are substantiall bodies: But to things
That ayery are, has Nature added wings.
Each triviall Poet that can chant a Rime,
May chatter out his owne wits Funerall chime:
And those slight nothings that so soone are made,
Like Mushromes, may together live and fade.
The Boy may make a Squib: but every line
Must be considered, where men spring a mine.
And to write things that Time can never staine,
Will require sweat, and rubbing of the braine.
Such were those things he left. For some may be
Eccentrick, yet with Axiomes maine agree.
This Ile presume to say. When Time has made
Slaughter of Kings that in the World have sway'd:
A greener Bayes shall Crowne BEN JOHNSONS Name,
Then shall be wreath'd about their Regall Fame,
For Numbers reach to Infinite. But He
Of whom I write this, has prevented me,
And boldly said so much in his owne praise,
No other pen need any Trophie raise.