C. H. Herford, Percy Simpson, and Evelyn Simpson (eds), Ben Jonson, Vol. 11: Commentary; Jonson's Literary Record; Supplementary Notes; Index

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XVII. MARGARET, MARCHIONESS (AFTERWARDS DUCHESS) OF NEWCASTLE

i. Jonson's reading

INever heard any man Read Well but my Husband, and have heard him say, he never heard any man Read Well but B. J. and yet he hath heard many in his Time.

From CCXI. Sociable Letters, 1674, letter clxxiii, pp. 362–3.

ii. Jonson's plays

Likewise my Playes may be Condemned, because they follow not the Antient Custome, as the learned sayes, which is, that all Comedies should be so ordered and composed, as nothing should be presented therein, but what may be naturally, or usually practiced or Acted in the World in the compass of one day; truly in my opinion those Comedies would be very flat and dull, and neither profitable nor pleasant, that should only present the actions of one day; for though Ben. Johnson as I have heard was of that opinion, that a Comedy cannot be good, nor is a natural or true Comedy, if it should present more than one dayes action, yet his Comedies that he hath published, could never be the actions of one day; for could any rational person think that the whole play of the Fox could be the action of one day? or can any rational person think that the Alchymist could be the action of one day? as that so many several Cozenings could be Acted in one day, by Captain Face and Doll Common; and could the Alchymist make any believe that they could make gold in one day? could they burn so many Coals, and draw the purses of so many, or so often from one person, in one day? and the like is in all his Playes, not any of them presents the actions of one day, although it were a day at the Poles, but of many dayes, nay I may say some years.

From Playes, 1662, A4.

pg 511iii. A General Prologue to all my Playes.

  • 1NOble Spectators, do not think to see
  • 2    Such Playes, that's like Ben. Johnsons Alchymie,
  • 3Nor Fox, nor Silent Woman: for those Playes
  • 4Did Crown the Author with exceeding praise;
  • 5They were his Master-pieces, and were wrought
  • 6By Wits Invention, and his labouring thought,
  • 7And his Experience brought Materials store,
  • 8His reading several Authors brought much more:
  • 9What length of time he took those Playes to write,
  • 10I cannot guess, not knowing his Wits flight;
  • 11But I have heard, Ben. Johnsons Playes came forth,
  • 12To the Worlds view, as things of a great worth;
  • 13Like Forein Emperors, which do not appear
  • 14Unto their Subjects, above once a year;
  • 15So did Ben. Johnsons Playes so rarely pass,
  • 16As one might think they long a writing was.
  •       .      .      .      .      .
  • 17As for Ben. Johnsons brain, it was so strong,
  • 18He could conceive, or judge, what's right, what's wrong:
  • 19His Language plain, significant and free,
  • 20And in the English Tongue, the Masterie:
  • 21Yet Gentle Shakespear had a fluent Wit,
  • 22Although less Learning, yet full well he writ;
  • 23For all his Playes were writ by Natures light,
  • 24Which gives his Readers, and Spectators sight.
  • 25But Noble Readers, do not think my Playes,
  • 26Are such as have been writ in former daies;
  • 27As Johnson, Shakespear, Beaumont, Fletcher writ;
  • 28Mine want their Learning, Reading, Language, Wit:
  • 29The Latin phrases I could never tell,
  • 30But Johnson could, which made him write so well.
  • 31Greek, Latin Poets, I could never read,
  • 32Nor their Historians, but our English Speed;
  • 33I could not steal their Wit, nor Plots out take;
  • 34All my Playes Plots, my own poor brain did make:
  • 35From Plutarchs story I ne'r took a Plot,
  • 36Nor from Romances, nor from Don Quixot, ….

Ibid., A7.

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