« PreviousContinue »
the name of Cannabis indica; and its therapeutic application seems destined to be much extended, particularly in connection with nervous derangements, as its properties become better understood. Indeed, the above statements with reference to the comparative innocuousness of moderate opium-eating, and the facts, that hashish is habitually used by between two and three hundred millions, and that it is, if any thing, less injurious than opium, and much more generally palatable, suggest the possibility of its one day becoming an article of extensive consumption among us. Its effects, when moderately taken, greatly resemble those of tea; and it is a curious fact, that the effects of tea, in excessive strength, are not unlike those of hashish. Most persons have their nervous system unstrung and shattered for a time by excess in the beverage "which cheers but not inebriates," and such seems to be the effect on most persons of too much hashish; but furthermore, insensibility and hallucination are produceable by tea as well as hashish. The friend who supplied us with his hashish-experiences also supplies us with the following account of the result of an excess in tea-drinking. The resemblance to some of the most peculiar effects of hashish in large doses will strike all who have read the foregoing pages :
"Being under an unusual stress of work, which demanded great activity of brain, I had recourse, as usual, to tea for excitement. For several days successively I took a basin of very strong tea four or five times a-day. One night, as I was sitting alone with my mother and writing, I felt a sudden dizziness overcome me immediately after a draught of tea stronger than any I had taken yet, and requested my mother to get me a glass of sherry from the sideboard. Consciousness
of surrounding objects left me, and I fell into a dream, which I can only describe by saying that it was indescribably terrific. It seemed to last for ages, and I awoke with the horror of a soul which had been an eternity in hell. My mother was standing before me with the sherry. I asked her how long I had been insensible. She asked me what I meant; she had just returned with the sherry, not having been absent half-a-minute.”
ART. V.-BEN JONSON.
Poetical Works of Ben Jonson. Edited by Robert Bell. London : John W. Parker and Son, 1856.
The Works of Ben Jonson. With Notes, &c. By W. Gifford, Esq.
THE American lady who insists upon merging the existence of Shakespeare in the philosophy of Bacon is not entirely without excuse for her infatuation. Shakespeare is an impalpable sort of being. Among the men of his own time, he shows like tradition does by the side of history. He was born at Stratfordon-Avon. Did he poach some deer? He went to London. Perhaps he was a link-boy; undoubtedly he was a player. He used to be witty at the Mermaid. He married a wife. He died, and is buried. He disliked the idea of his bones being disturbed, or somebody else disliked it for him. There is a bust of him; we wonder if it is like. He wrote a vast number of personal sonnets, which tell us nothing of his own life;-of many of the best of them we cannot say whether they are addressed to man or woman. We want to know how his name is spelled, and find he spelled it different ways himself. The most persevering bloodhounds of biography have been on his trail for a hundred years every clue has been unravelled, every hint exhausted; and the result has been a few minute details which in every other case would have been considered unworthy the chronicling. Many ingenious suppositions have been vented; but the sum of the matter is, we know nothing about him. Of what the man himself was, "in his habit as he lived," we can form no idea beyond a certain faint lustre about him of cheerful companionship and gentle equanimity. Of the sort of temperament and genius he must have possessed his works give us a sufficient idea; but as to the actual human character, as displayed in life, we are utterly in the dark. Far different is the case with Jonson. Shakespeare is the name of a number of plays. Ben Jonson is the name of a man in the flesh-a burly man, who wrote The Fox and Drink to me only with thine eyes.
It is of the very essence of the two men's genius that they should be thus distinguished. The one was like a mountainlarge, strong, deep-rooted-which all the world's changes leave unmoved in its massive independence: the other was like the light-diffused, all-penetrating, setting forth all shapes, displaying all hues, a vesture of interpretation to the world;
really ever the same in itself, yet so adapting itself to every new condition as to seem to melt into the nature of things with which it comes in contact. The mountain fixes our attention on itself. By the light we see all things; but what it is itself, we neither see nor know. The one was Ajax, mighty in his strength; the other Proteus, powerful in his changes. Shakespeare lived in the world, and absorbed without effort all the knowledge that came across him; Jonson conquered knowledge by persevering and strenuous effort. He was learned and observant; Shakespeare was wise and penetrating. The one retires behind the screen of his works; the other thrusts forward his own individuality on every possible occasion-in prologues, in epilogues, in dialogues; he is his own critic, and his own approver; he is the hero of one of his own plays, and trumpets to the world his enmities and his friendships-his merits, his vices, his repentances, his wrongs, his sufferings, his needs, down to the very deformities of body that years bring with them-his stooping shoulders, his "mountain belly," and his "hundreds of gray hairs."
Yet, contrasted as he stands with the greatest genius of all times, Jonson justly claims something of a fellowship in greatness. He was a large man altogether, massive and somewhat unshapely both in mind and body; "solid but slow in his performances;" of a bold spirit and jovial temperament. His countenance, harsh and rugged-"rocky," as he himself calls it was the index of an intellect which, though not remarkable for depth either of insight or thought, was strong, aggressive, and capacious; and its stores, laboriously compiled, were in the grasp of a tenacious memory. Some men owe their preeminence to fineness of intellect and delicacy of organisation-characteristics not inconsistent with strength and pliancy, and which are the attributes of the highest genius ; but there are others, who work out effects scarcely inferior by heavier blows with a blunter tool. The power of unremitting labour, the strength of unfailing self-reliance, the independence of callousness, are among the advantages such men possess. Jonson was a man of coarse fibre; so was Cromwell, so was Milton, so was Samuel Johnson, so was Clive, so, in a still greater degree, was Luther.
Jonson began life near the bottom; for though his grandfather was a gentleman and came from Carlisle, his father lost his estate by forfeiture under Queen Mary, and died early; and his mother married again in a lower rank. Her second husband was a bricklayer, and her son, after having been educated at Westminster School, was destined to his stepfather's craft. It is told he worked in the building of Lincoln's Inn,
with a trowel in his hand and a book in his pocket. But he was of those men who shoulder their way through the world as a giant does through a crowd. He left his hod and trowel to serve in the army in Flanders; whence he soon returned to London, to throw himself on the support of a life of literary adventure. There he found means to prosecute his studies, and to live-precariously enough at first, no doubt-as a playwright, and probably partly also as an actor. From these humble beginnings, he raised himself to a higher social standing than any dramatic poet of his day. In King James's time he was a frequenter of the court, and tells us that for twenty years he had
"Eaten with the beauties and the wits
And braveries of court, and felt their fits
Of love and hate."
His convivial talents were great, and no doubt recommended him not less than his learning and genius. He was intimate with many of the nobility; and though his connection with them probably partook in great measure of the relation of client to patron, there were some young men both of genius and noble birth-among whom he who was afterwards known as Lord Falkland may be instanced-who viewed him with affection and veneration as their literary father. The great writers of his time were his familiar associates. Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, Donne, and Beaumont ranked among his nearest friends; Selden loved him, and asked his judgment on his Titles of Honour; and he speaks of Lord Bacon as if he had personally known him. He was Master of Arts in both the Universities "by their favour, not his study." Altogether it is clear that in his prime he stood in the very first rank of the men of letters of his day. If not the greatest, he was esteemed the most perfect play-writer of the time; but high as was his reputation, it was supported rather by the opinion of the judges than by the applause of the people. He insisted so strenuously and passionately that he was master of the true rules of art, and wrote nothing which was not excellent and admirable, if the hearers could but learn to understand, that the world in general seems to have been content to believe him rather than enter on the arduous task of contradicting him. Still the belief was rather a cold one. The learned critics admitted his plays to be miracles of art; but, with two or three exceptions, the people did not very much care to see them acted. Nor is this to be wondered at, when we consider how different his compositions were from all they had hitherto been accustomed to admire. He stood alone in his own times, as indeed he stands alone in the whole history of English literature.
The mass of the plays of his time were remarkable for their utter disregard of scenic proprieties: they made no regard of place and time. The French code of dramatic unities had not as yet been deduced from the ancient models. Each man, under the sole limitation of a few general rules of practice, followed the bent of his own taste, and the suggestions of his own knowledge. Plays consisted for the most part of alternating scenes of passion and humour, carelessly connected and huddled into some sort of plot, and mingled with dances and scenic display to catch the eyes of the spectators. Shakespeare was by nature a law unto himself; his plays are symmetrical and harmonious not from study or the observance of ascertained rules, but from the insensible moulding of a genius whose native sense of symmetry and harmony transcended all that art had hitherto attained to. But setting Shakespeare aside, nothing can be more unsatisfactory than the headlong conduct and distorted proportion of the minor Elizabethan plays. Exceptions there are, no doubt; but we are speaking of the broad features which distinguished them. As we have said, to express passion is their aim; and passion has received at their hands a more vivid, natural, and often terrible utterance, than from any other literature. Its milder and every-day manifestations have been recorded in the language of tenderness and beauty; and its wildest vagaries, its profoundest horrors, its most fierce and its most unnatural delinquencies, have been dragged from their native darkness and thrust naked upon the scene. The poetry of these plays shines in fitful gleams of splendour; human nature is at times laid bare by some strange and startling revelation of masterly insight, and at times burlesqued by some ridiculous caricature; the humour, much of which is lost upon us, often degenerates into the purest folly and buffoonery. In the midst of the men rioting in this unrestrained liberty appeared Jonson, with an intellect naturally orderly, and trained by a long course of attentive and self-imposed study. Thoroughly conversant with the dramatic productions of the ancients, and the critical rules connected with them, he made them his models and his tests of excellence. But he was much too great to imitate them without discrimination. He adapted them in the most skilful manner to modern conditions, and shows himself at once deeply versed in the ancient forms and modes of expression, and thoroughly and personally acquainted with the manners of his own times. Instead of loosely linking scenes of passion, he makes it the glory of his art to build up well-proportioned plays, and to manifest skill and judgment in arrangement of scene, and choice of fable, action, and language. His plays may be said, with very