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- Discoveries and Some Poems - 1/20 -


Transcribed by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk, from the 1892 Cassell & Company edition.

DISCOVERIES MADE UPON MEN AND MATTER AND SOME POEMS

Contents: Introduction by Henry Morley Sylva Timber, or Discoveries ... Some Poems To William Camden On My First Daughter On My First Son To Francis Beaumont Of Life and Death Inviting a Friend to Supper Epitaph on Salathiel Pavy Epitaph on Elizabeth L. H. Epitaph on the Countess of Pembroke To the Memory of my Beloved Master William Shakespeare To Celia The Triumph of Charis In the Person of Womankind Ode Praeludium Epode An Elegy

INTRODUCTION

Ben Jonson's "Discoveries" are, as he says in the few Latin words prefixed to them, "A wood--Sylva--of things and thoughts, in Greek "[Greek text]" [which has for its first meaning material, but is also applied peculiarly to kinds of wood, and to a wood], "from the multiplicity and variety of the material contained in it. For, as we are commonly used to call the infinite mixed multitude of growing trees a wood, so the ancients gave the name of Sylvae--Timber Trees--to books of theirs in which small works of various and diverse matter were promiscuously brought together."

In this little book we have some of the best thoughts of one of the most vigorous minds that ever added to the strength of English literature. The songs added are a part of what Ben Jonson called his "Underwoods."

Ben Jonson was of a north-country family from the Annan district that produced Thomas Carlyle. His father was ruined by religious persecution in the reign of Mary, became a preacher in Elizabeth's reign, and died a month before the poet's birth in 1573. Ben Jonson, therefore, was about nine years younger than Shakespeare, and he survived Shakespeare about twenty-one years, dying in August, 1637. Next to Shakespeare Ben Jonson was, in his own different way, the man of most mark in the story of the English drama. His mother, left poor, married again. Her second husband was a bricklayer, or small builder, and they lived for a time near Charing Cross in Hartshorn Lane. Ben Jonson was taught at the parish school of St. Martin's till he was discovered by William Camden, the historian. Camden was then second master in Westminster School. He procured for young Ben an admission into his school, and there laid firm foundations for that scholarship which the poet extended afterwards by private study until his learning grew to be sworn-brother to his wit.

Ben Jonson began the world poor. He worked for a very short time in his step-father's business. He volunteered to the wars in the Low Countries. He came home again, and joined the players. Before the end of Elizabeth's reign he had written three or four plays, in which he showed a young and ardent zeal for setting the world to rights, together with that high sense of the poet's calling which put lasting force into his work. He poured contempt on those who frittered life away. He urged on the poetasters and the mincing courtiers, who set their hearts on top-knots and affected movements of their lips and legs:-

"That these vain joys in which their wills consume Such powers of wit and soul as are of force To raise their beings to eternity, May be converted on works fitting men; And for the practice of a forced look, An antic gesture, or a fustian phrase, Study the native frame of a true heart, An inward comeliness of bounty, knowledge, And spirit that may conform them actually To God's high figures, which they have in power."

Ben Jonson's genius was producing its best work in the earlier years of the reign of James I. His Volpone, the Silent Woman, and the Alchemist first appeared side by side with some of the ripest works of Shakespeare in the years from 1605 to 1610. In the latter part of James's reign he produced masques for the Court, and turned with distaste from the public stage. When Charles I. became king, Ben Jonson was weakened in health by a paralytic stroke. He returned to the stage for a short time through necessity, but found his best friends in the best of the young poets of the day. These looked up to him as their father and their guide. Their own best efforts seemed best to them when they had won Ben Jonson's praise. They valued above all passing honours man could give the words, "My son," in the old poet's greeting, which, as they said, "sealed them of the tribe of Ben."

H. M.

SYLVA

Rerum et sententiarum quasi "[Greek text] dicta a multiplici materia et varietate in iis contenta. Quemadmodum enim vulgo solemus infinitam arborum nascentium indiscriminatim multitudinem Sylvam dicere: ita etiam libros suos in quibus variae et diversae materiae opuscula temere congesta erant, Sylvas appellabant antiqui: Timber-trees.

TIMBER; OR, DISCOVERIES MADE UPON MEN AND MATTER, AS THEY HAVE FLOWED OUT OF HIS DAILY READINGS, OR HAD THEIR REFLUX TO HIS PECULIAR NOTION OF THE TIMES.

Tecum habita, ut noris quam sit tibi curta supellex {11} PERS. Sat. 4.

Fortuna.--Ill fortune never crushed that man whom good fortune deceived not. I therefore have counselled my friends never to trust to her fairer side, though she seemed to make peace with them; but to place all things she gave them, so as she might ask them again without their trouble, she might take them from them, not pull them: to keep always a distance between her and themselves. He knows not his own strength that hath not met adversity. Heaven prepares good men with crosses; but no ill can happen to a good man. Contraries are not mixed. Yet that which happens to any man may to every man. But it is in his reason, what he accounts it and will make it.

Casus.--Change into extremity is very frequent and easy. As when a beggar suddenly grows rich, he commonly becomes a prodigal; for, to obscure his former obscurity, he puts on riot and excess.

Consilia.--No man is so foolish but may give another good counsel sometimes; and no man is so wise but may easily err, if he will take no others' counsel but his own. But very few men are wise by their own counsel, or learned by their own teaching. For he that was only taught by himself {12} had a fool to his master.

Fama.--A Fame that is wounded to the world would be better cured by another's apology than its own: for few can apply medicines well themselves. Besides, the man that is once hated, both his good and his evil deeds oppress him. He is not easily emergent.

Negotia.--In great affairs it is a work of difficulty to please all. And ofttimes we lose the occasions of carrying a business well and thoroughly by our too much haste. For passions are spiritual rebels, and raise sedition against the understanding.

Amor patriae.--There is a necessity all men should love their country: he that professeth the contrary may be delighted with his words, but his heart is there.

Ingenia.--Natures that are hardened to evil you shall sooner break than make straight; they are like poles that are crooked and dry, there is no attempting them.

Applausus.--We praise the things we hear with much more willingness than those we see, because we envy the present and reverence the past; thinking ourselves instructed by the one, and overlaid by the other.

Opinio.--Opinion is a light, vain, crude, and imperfect thing; settled in the imagination, but never arriving at the understanding, there to obtain the tincture of reason. We labour with it more than truth. There is much more holds us than presseth us. An ill fact is one thing, an ill fortune is another; yet both oftentimes sway us alike, by the error of our thinking.

Impostura.--Many men believe not themselves what they would persuade others; and less do the things which they would impose on others; but least of all know what they themselves most confidently boast. Only they set the sign of the cross over their outer doors, and


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