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BENJAMIN JONson, or JOHNSON, was the son of a clergyman in Westminster, and born in 1574, about a month after his father's death. He was educated at Westminsterschool, under the learned Camden ; but his mother having taken a bricklayer for her second husband, removed him from school when he had made an extraordinary progress, to work under his step-father. From this tyranny of condition he soon 'escaped, and enlisted himself for a soldier in the army then serving against the Spaniards in the Netherlands. On his return he entered himself at St. John's College, Cambridge ; but the failure of pecuniary resources obliging him soon to quit the university, he applied to the theatres for employment, yet obtained only a low situation in an obscure play-house in the suburbs. He subsequently became, as is well-known, a dramatic writer of celebrity, and was familiarly acquainted with Shakespeare, and the wits of his time. He died in 1637.

The only prose composition of Ben. Jonson, is a small tract entitled “ Discoveries, or Observations on Poetry and Eloquence."

I extract without comment, the following sensible observations:


In the difference of wits, I have observed - there

many notes; and it is a little maistry to know them; 'to discern what every nature, every disposition will bear: for, before we sow our land, we should plow it. There are no fewer forms of minds, than of bodies amongst us. The variety is incredible; and, therefore, we must search. Some are fit to make divines, some poets, some lawyers, some physicians, some to be sent to the plough and trades.

There is no doctrine will do good where nature is wanting. Some wits are swelling and high; others low and still : some hot and fiery, others cold and dull: one must have a bridle, the other a spur.

There be some that are forward and bold; and these will do every little thing easily; I mean that is hard by, and next them, which they will utter, unretarded without any shamefastness. These never perform much, but quickly. They are what they are on the sudden; they shew presently like grain, that :scattered on the top of the ground, shoots up, but takes no root; has a yellow blade, but the ear empty. They are wits of good promise at first; but there is an ingeni-stitium : they stand still at sixteen, they get no higher.

You have others that labour only to ostentation ; and are even more busy about the colours and surface of a work, than in the matter and foundation : for that is hid, the other is seen. Others that in composition are nothing but what is rough and broken : Quæ per salebras, altaque suxa cadunt. And if it would come gently, they trouble it of purpose. They would not have it run without rubs, as if that style were more strong and manly, that struck the ear with a kind of unevenness. These men err not by chance, but knowingly and willingly; they are like men that affect a fashion by themselves, have some singularity in a ruff, cloak, or hat-band; or their beards specially cut to provoke beholders, and set a mark upon themselves. They would be reprehended, while they are looked on; and this vice, one that is authority with the rest loving, delivers over to them to be imitated; so that oft-times the faults that he fell into, the others seek for: this is the danger, when vice becomes a pre'i cedent.

Others there are, that have no composition at all; VOL. II.


but a kind of tuning and rhyming fall in what they write. It runs and slides, and only makes a sound. Women's poets they are called, as you have women's gaylors.

They write a verse, as smooth, as soft as cream;
In which there is no torrent, nor scarce stream.

You may sound these wits, and find the depth of them with your middle finger. · They are cream-bowl, or but puddle.

Some that turn over all books, and are equally searching in all papers ; that write out of what they presently find or meet, without choice; by which means it happens that what they have discredited, and impugned in one work, they have before, or after, extolled the same in another. Such are all the essayists, even their master, Montaigne, These in all they write, confess still whạt books they have read last; and therein their own folly, so much, that they bring it to the stake raw and undigested ; not that the place did need it neither; but that they thought themselves furnished and would vent it.

Sóme again, who after they have got authority, or which is less, opinion, by their writings, to have sead much, and dare presently to feign whole books, and authors, and lye safely. For what never was, will not easily be found; not by the most curious;

And some by a cunning protestation against all reading, and false ventitation of their own naturals, think to divert the sagacity of their readers from themselves, and cool the scent of their own for-like thefts; when yet they are so rank, as a man may find whole pages together usurped from one author. Their necessities compelling them to read for present use, which could not be in many books; and so come forth more ridiculously, and palpably guilty, than those, who because they cannot grace, they yet would slander their industry,

But the wretcheder are the obstinate contemners of all helps and arts ; such as presuming on their own naturals, which perhaps are exellent, dare deride all diligence, and seem to mock at the terms, when they understand not the things ; thinking that way to get off wittily, with their ignorance. These are imitated often by such as are their peers in negligence, though they cannot be in nature: and they utter all they can think, with a kind of violence and indisposition ; unexamined, without relation, either to person, place, or any fitness else; and the more wilful and stubborn they are in it, the more learned they are esteemed of the multitude, through their excellent vice 'of judgment: who think those things the stronger that have no art; as if to break, were better than to open; or to rent asunder, gentler than to loose.


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