« FöregåendeFortsätt »
THE ALCHEMIST.] This inimitable comedy was first acted in 1610; it was printed in quarto two years afterwards, with this motto:
-Neque, me ut miretur turba, laboro, Contentus paucis laboribus. In 1616 the author inserted it in the folio edition of his works, without any variations of moment; and, as Albumazar had appeared in the interval, took the opportunity of thus asserting his own originality :
petere inde coronam, Unde Prius nulli velarint tempora Musæ. This motto should have convinced Dryden of his error, in charging Jonson with plagiarism ; but truth was seldom Dryden's care: he wanted to raise the character of Albumazar, and was little solicitous of the means; had he been employed to write a prologue for the Alchemist he would have been equally ready to reverse the decision. His lines are well known:
66 Jonson chose this,
" Here he was fashioned," &c. To say that all this is unfounded in fact, is nothing; it is an absurdity of the grossest kind. There is not a shadow of resem. blance between the stories of the two plays; and their style and manner form an absolute contrast. Albumazar is a dull, dry, pedantic piece, perfectly uninteresting, and abhorrent from our language, customs, and prejudices. That it should ever have passed for an original composition, is surprizing ; even if we had not been assured by Steevens and others, that it was taken from the “ Astrologo of Battista Porta,” it would still be impossible for any one, who had the slightest knowledge of the Italian drama, to mistake its real source. Langbaine seems to have known nothing of the date of Albumazar ; and Oldys contents himself with remarking, that “ if it was first acted at Cambridge in 1614, then the resemblance of this astrologer's cheats were drawn from those of Jonson's Alchymist, printed four years before.” MS. notes to Langbaine. It is strange that Oldys should express any doubts on this subject, when the time of Albumazar's appearance is expressly fixed in the title-page of the first quarto, to the oth of March 1614. His conclusions are not more reasonable than his doubts : Albu. mazar is no more " drawn” from the Alchemist, than from the
“ Cheats of Scapin :" and his judgment must have totally failed him when he made the remark, which, yet, has been frequently re-echoed.
The Alchemist continued to be represented with success till the theatres were shut up; it was one of the first plays revived at the Restoration, and, with the Fox and Silent Woman, as Downes informs us, constituted the delight of the town. Jonson gives the names of the principal actors, Burbadge, Lowin, Condel, Cooke, Armin, Hemings, Ostler, Underwood, Tooly, and Eglestone. Lowin, we are told by the sensible author of Historia Histrionica, who seems to speak from personal knowledge," played Mammon, with mighty applause," Taylor, who probably succeeded to the parts of Burbadge, “ was celebrated in Face.” How the other parts were distributed cannot be known; but if the list of names, in the old copies, answers to that of persons, Robert Armin, famous for his clowns, played Drugger. Cooke, who was the principal stage heroine at this time, probably took the part of Dol Common.
The Alchemist.] By this expression is meant, one who pretends to the knowledge of what is called the philosopher's stone, which had the faculty of transmuting baser metals into gold. The professors of the art of chemistry, (as well as the critics) are not entirely agreed about the meaning and etymology of the word : Menage derives it from an Arabic term, signifying the occult science: and Julius Firmicus, who lived in the time of Constantine, is said to be the first writer who uses the word Alchymia. If the curious reader would be more fully informed of the origin and progress of chemistry, I refer him to the history of it, prefixed to Boerhaave's Chemistry, published by Dr. Shaw. But with regard to our poet, in the choice of his subject he was happy; for the age was then extremely addicted to the study of chemistry, and favourable to the professors of it. The following comedy was therefore no unseasonable satire upon the reigning foible; since among the few real artists there was undoubtedly a far greater number of impostors. There was also at this time a particular controversy on foot, with the famous Dr. Anthony, about his Aurum Potabile, which was warmly agi. tated by the members of the faculty ; and we shall find that our poet alludes to this dispute in some passages of the play. WHAL.
This is, at best, very defective. Whalley seems to confound Alchemy with Chemistry, of which it is but a branch. If the reader wishes for a detail of the various impostors of the science, he may consult Kircher; if he merely wishes for a popular ac. count of its rise and progress, he may turn to the bishop of Landaff's Chemical Essays.
LADY MOST DESERVING HER NAME AND BLOOD,
LADY MARY WROTH.'
In the age of sacrifices, the truth of religion was not in the greatness and fat of the offerings, but in the devotion and zeal of the sacrificers: else what could a handful of gums have done in the sight of a hecatomb? or how might I appearm at this altar, except with those affections that no less love the light and witness, than they have the conscience of your cirtue? If what I offer bear an acceptable odour, and hold the first strength, it is your value of it, which remembers where, when, and to whom it was kindled. Otherwise, as the times are, there comes rarely forth that thing so full of authority or example, but by assiduity and custom grows less, and loses. This, yet, safe in your judgment (which is a SIDNey's) is forbidden to speak more, lest it talk or look like one of the ambitious faces of the time, who, the more they paint, are the less themselves,
Your Ladyship's true Honourer,
" This lady was daughter to Robert earl of Leicester, a younger brother of sir Philip Sidney. She wrote a romance, called Urania, and seems to have been a woman of very considerable attainments. See the 103d Epigram.
* Or how might I appear, &c.] Before this sentence the quarto has a passage which is worth preserving. Jonson probably conceived it to break in upon the integrity of his metaphor, and therefore omitted it, upon the revision of his dedication. “How, yet, might a grateful mind be furnish'd against the ini.
quity of fortune, except, when she fail'd it, it had power to impart itself? A way found out, to overcome even those,
whom, fortune hath enabled to return most, since they yet " leave themselves more. In this assurance am I planted, and • stand with those affections at this altar, as shall no more avoid " the light and witness, than they do the conscience of your « virtue."
TO THE READER.
F thou beest more, thou art an understander, and then I trust thee. If thou art one that takest up, and but a Pretender, beware of what hands thou receivest thy commodity; for thou wert never more fair in the way to be cosened, than in this age, in Poetry, especially in Plays : wherein, now the concupiscence of dances and of antics so reigneth, as to run away from nature, and be afraid of her, is the only point of art that tickles the spectators. But how out of purpose, and place, do I name art? When the professors are grown so obstinate contemners of it, and presumers on their own naturals, as they are deriders of all diligence that way, and, by simple mocking at the terms, when they understand not the things, think to get off wittily with their ignorance. Nay, they are esteemed the more learned, and sufficient for this, by the many, through their excellent vice of judgment. For they commend writers, as they do fencers or wrestlers; who if they come in robustuously, and put for it with a great deal of violence, are received for the braver fellows : when many times their own rudeness is the cause of their disgrace, and a little touch of their adversary gives all that boisterous force the foil. I deny not, but that these men, who always seek to do more than enough, may some time happen on some thing that is good, and
great; but very seldom : and when it comes it doth not recompense the rest of their ill. It sticks out, perhaps, and is more eminent, because all is sordid and vile about it: as