« AnteriorContinuar »
The sense is here extremely perplexed; and I doubt the word they is false grammar.
And be free Not heaven itself from thy impiety. A synchysis, or ill placing of words, of which Tully so much complains in oratory.
The waves, and dens of beasts, could not receive
The bodies that those souls were frighted from. The preposition in the end of the sentence; a common fault with him, and which I have but lately observed in my own writings.“
What all the several ills that visit earth,
The sword, nor surfeits; let thy fury do. Here are both the former faults: for, besides that the preposition unto is placed last in the verse, and at the half period, and is redundant, there is the former synchysis in the words—the sword, nor surfeits," which, in construction, ought to have been placed before the other.
• He accordingly, on a revision, corrected this inac. curacy in every sentence of his ESSAY ON DRAMATICK Poesy, in which it occurred.
? This ill placing of words, as our author calls it, was so much the language of that day, that it must be considered as the common phraseology, and cannot be imputed as a blemish either to Jonson or Shakspeare; in whose writings, as well as in all the productions of his contemporaries and predecessors, it is frequently found. Reach would here perhaps be more elegant than reach
says of Cethegus, that for his sake he would
Go on upon the gods, kiss lightning, wrest
At face of a full cloud, and stand his ire. To go on upon, is only to go on twice. To“ give fire at face of a full cloud,” was not understood in his own time :-" and stand his ire;" besides the antiquated word ire, there is the article his, which makes false construction : and giving fire at the face of a cloud, is a perfect image of shooting, however it came to be known in those days to Catiline.
others there are,
For contumelies received ; and such are sure ones. Ones, in the plural number : but that is frequent with him ; for he says, not long after,
Cæsar and Crassus, if they be ill men,
Such men, they do not succour more the cause, &c. They redundant.
unto ; but this redundancy was also authorized by the common usage of the time. In the next quotation, our author's objection to the personal pronoun his being used instead of the neutral its, furnishes another proof how little he was at this time acquainted with ancient phraseology. It was the ordinary language of every writer and speaker of those days, in prose and verse. The same may be said of " mighty ones," and " Such men, they do not swear,” &c. which are afterwards objected to.
Tho' heaven should speak with all his wrath at once,
We should stand upright and unfear'd. 8 His is ill syntax with heaven ; and by unfeard he means—unafraid : words of a quite contrary signification.
The ports are open.—He perpetually uses ports for gates ; which is an affected errour in him, to introduce Latin by the loss of the English idiom ; as in the translation of Tully's speeches he usually does.
Well-placing of words for the sweetness of pronunciation was not known till Mr. Waller introduced it; and therefore it is not to be wondered if Ben Jonson has many such lines as these :
But being bred up in his father's needy fortunes, brought up in's sister's prostitution, &c.
But meanness of expression one would think not to be his errour in a tragedy, which ought to be more high and sounding than any
other kind of
8 The common use of the personal for the neutral pronoun has been already noticed. As for unfear’d, if our author had carefully studied our ancient language, he would have found that to fear, as often meant to terrify as to be intimidated ; and that therefore there was no impropriety in using the word unfear'd with the sense of unafraid. Nor is such a usage peculiar to the English language ; as may be proved by the double signification of the word occido in Latin, and many other verbs.-Ports for gates, which is next objected to, is found in many of our ancient writers, and is yet the common language of Scotland.
yet amongst many others in CATILINE I find these four lines together :
So Asia, thou art cruelly even
Thus by thy vices ruin'd be. Be there is false English, for are, though the rhyme hides it.
But I am willing to close the book, partly out of veneration to the author, partly out of weariness to pursue an argument which is so fruitful in so small a compass. And what correctness, after this, can be expected from Shakspeare or from Fletcher, who wanted that learning and care which Jonson had ? I will therefore spare my own trouble of enquiring into their faults; who, had they lived now, had doubtless written more correctly. I suppose it will be enough for me to affirm, (as I think I safely may,) that these and the like errours which I taxed in the most correct of the last age, are such, into which we do not ordinarily fall. I think few of our present writers would have left behind them such a line as this :
Contain your spirit in more stricter bounds. But that gross way of two comparatives was
9 Be for are, though now become somewhat antiquated, is frequently used in the translation of the Bible, and was the common language of the reign of James the First.
then ordinary;' and therefore more pardonable in Jonson.
As for the other part of refining, which consists in receiving new words and phrases, I shall not insist much on it. It is obvious that we have admitted many, some of which we wanted, and therefore our language is the richer for them, as it would be by importation of bullion : others are rather ornamental than necessary ; yet by their admission, the language is become more courtly, and our thoughts are better dressed. These are to be found scattered in the writers of our age ; and it is not my business to collect them. They who have lately written with most care, have, I believe, taken Horace for their guide ; that is, not to be too hasty in receiving of words, but rather to stay till custom has made them familiar to us :
Quem penes arbitrium est, et jus, et norma loquendi. For I cannot approve of their way of refining, who corrupt our English idiom by mixing it too much with French : that is a sophistication of language, not an improvement of it ; a turning English into French, rather than a refining of English by French. We meet daily with those fops, who value themselves on their travelling, and pretend
· The same observation may be applied to almost all the other instances here produced. Our author, however, it appears from this remark, did not know that the preceding phraseology was as much sanctioned by the ordinary usage of the time, as the double comparative. VOL. I.