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ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To the Memory of my beloved, the Author Mr. William Shakespeare: and what he hath left us.

Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. Published according to the true originall Copies.

Ben Jonson


Edmund Spenser appears in a very famous catalogue of poets, Jonson's lines being prefaced to the first folio of Shakespeare's plays.

Alexander Pope: "I cannot, for my own part, find anything 'invidious' or 'sparing' in those verses, but wonder that Mr. Dryden was of that opinion. [Jonson] exalts him not only above all his contemporaries, but above Chaucer and Spenser, whom he will not allow to be great enough to be ranked with him" Preface to Shakespeare, in Works, ed. Warton (1797) 9:447.

Henry James Pye: "Jonson, the pedantic Jonson, has sometimes censured him obliquely, and sometimes praised him superciliously, not as a writer by any means equal to himself, or likely to become his rival in dramatic fame; but in the way a Cramer, or a Haydn, might be supposed to speak of a wonderful musical rustic, who, without musical education, was able to bring some wild sounds out of a violin" Commentary on Aristotle (1792) 210.

John Munro: "'I will not lodge thee,' &c., refers to Basse's lines, and means that he will not class Shakespeare with Chaucer, Spenser, and Beaumont, because he is out of all proportion greater than they — men 'of yeeres' or 'for an age'" Shakespere Allusion-Book (1909; 1932) 1:311.

Herbert E. Cory: "It is not unlikely that Jonson, on the whole, was an admirer of Spenser. And his animadversions are those of a man who probably loved Spenser as he loved Shakespeare — 'on this side idolatry'" Critics of Edmund Spenser (1911) 99.



To draw no envy (Shakespeare) on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy Booke, and Fame:
While I confesse thy writings to be such,
As neither Man, nor Muse, can praise too much.
'Tis true, and all mens suffrage. But these wayes
Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise:
For seeliest Ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, but eccho's right;
Or blinde Affection, which doth ne're advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance;
Or crafty Malice, might pretend this praise,
And thinke to ruine, where it seem'd to raise.
These are, as some infamous Baud, or Whore,
Should praise a Matron. What could hurt her more?
But thou art proofe against them, and indeed
Above th' ill fortune of them, or the need.
I, therefore will begin. Soule of the Age!
The applause! delight! the wonder of our Stage!
My Shakespeare, rise; I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lye
A little further, to make thee a roome:
Thou art a Moniment, without a tombe,
And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
That I not mixe thee so, my braine excuses;
I meane with great, but disproportion'd Muses:
For, if I thought my judgement were of yeeres,
I should commit thee surely with thy peeres,
And tell, how farre thou didst our Lily out-shine,
Or sporting Kid, or Marlowes mighty line.
And though thou hadst small Latine, and lesse Greeke,
From thence to honour thee, I would not seeke
For names; but call forth thund'ring Aeschilus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to us,
Paccunius, Accius, him of Cordova dead,
To life againe, to heare thy Buskin tread,
And shake a Stage: Or, when thy Sockes were on,
Leave thee alone, for the comparison
Of all, that insolent Greece, or haughtie Rome
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
Triumph, my Britaine, thou hast one to showe,
To whom all Scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time!
And all the Muses still were in their prime,
When like Apollo he came forth to warme
Our eares, or like a Mercury to charme!
Nature her selfe was proud of his designes,
And joy'd to weare the dressing of his lines!
Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As, since, she will vouchsafe no other Wit.
The merry Greeke, tart Aristophanes,
Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please;
But antiquated, and deserted lye
As they were not of Natures family.
Yet must I not give Nature all: Thy Art,
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part.
For though the Poets matter, Nature be,
His Art doth give the fashion. And, that he,
Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses anvile: turne the same,
(And himselfe with it) that he thinkes to frame;
Or for the lawrell, he may gaine a scorne,
For a good Poet's made, as well as borne.
And such wert thou. Looke how the fathers face
Lives in his issue, even so, the race
Of Shakespeares minde, and manners brightly shines
In his well turned, and true-filed lines:
In each of which, he seemes to shake a Lance,
As brandish't at the eyes of Ignorance.
Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appeare,
And make those flights upon the bankes of Thames,
That so did take Eliza, and our James!
But stay, I see thee in the Hemisphere
Advanc'd, and made a Constellation there!
Shine forth, thou Starre of Poets, and with rage,
Or influence, chide, or cheere the drooping Stage;
Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourn'd like night,
And despaires day, but for thy Volumes light.

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