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VERSES PLACED OVER THE DOOR AT THE ENTRANCE INTO THE APOLLO.
§ELCOME all who lead or follow,
O RARE BEN JONSON |
* Cries old Sim, the king of skinkers.] Old Sim means Simon Wadloe, who then kept the Devil tavern; and of him probably is the old catch, beginning,
Old sir Simon the king WHAL. ' Wine it is the milk of Venus.] From the Greek Anacreontic, Owoc yaka Appoèirmc. WHAL.
HoRACE of THE ART of PoETRY.] This translation, which was probably among the earliest works of Jonson, was not given to the press till some time after his death, when it was published in 1640, with some other pieces in 12mo., by John Benson, with a dedication to lord Winsor, who, as the writer says, “rightly knew the worth and true esteem both of the author and his learning, being more conspicuous in the judgment of your lordship and other sublime spirits than my capacity can describe.” Many transcripts of this version got abroad; these differed considerably from one another, and all perhaps, from the original copy. In the three which have reached us, though all were published nearly at the same time, variations-oceur-in-almost every line. To notice them would be both tedious and unprofitable: suffice it to say that I have adopted the text of the folio 1649, as, upon the whole, the most correct, though exceptions may occasionally be met with in the smaller editions. It was for this poem that our author compiled the vast body of notes which was destroyed in the conflagration of his study. After this, he seems to have lost all thoughts of the press—indeed age and disease were advancing fast upon him, if, as I conjecture, the fire took place about 1623, and left him as little heart as power to venture again before a public not, in general, too partial to his labours. The small edition is prefaced by several commendatory poems, one of which only appears to be written on occasion of the present version. This is by the celebrated lord Herbert of Cherbury, and is addressed “to his friend master Ben Jonson, on his Translation.” “'Twas not enough, Ben Jonson, to be thought Of English poets best, but to have brought, In greater state, to their acquaintance, one Made equal to himself and thee; that none Might be thy second : while thy glory is To be the Horace of our times, and his.”
Jonson was followed (at unequal periods) by three writers, who in the century succeeding his death (for I have neither leisure nor inclination to go lower,) published their respective versions of the Art of Æoetry. It may amuse the reader, perhaps, to listen for a moment to what they say of our poet, and of one another. Roscommon begins—
“I have kept as close as I could both to the meaning, and the words of the author, and done nothing but what I believe he would forgive me if he were alive; and I have often asked myself that question. I know this is a field,
Per quem magnus eguos Aurunca flexit alumnus,
but with all respect due to the name of Ben Jonson, to which no man pays more veneration than I; it cannot be denied, that the constraint of rhyme, and a literal translation (to which Horace in his book declares himself an enemy) has made him want a comment in many places.”
“I doubt not but the reader will think me guilty of an high preSumption in venturing upon a translation of the Art of Poetry, after two such great hands as have gone before me in the same attempts: I need not acquaint him that I mean Ben Jonson, and the earl of Roscommon ; the one being of so established an authority, that whatever he did is held as sacred, the other having lately performed it with such admirable success, as almost cuts off all hope in any after pretenders, of ever coming up to what he has done.”
The last is Henry Ames:
“'Tis certain my lord Roscommon has not only excelled in justness of version and elegance of style, but has given his poet all the natural beauties and genteel plainness of the English dress; but his lordship rid with a slack rein, and freed himself at once from all the incumbrance and perplexity of rhyme; and sure it must be confessed some difficulty to be circumscribed to syllables and sounds: Mr. Oldham, indeed, has very skillfully touched the Horatian lyre, and worked it into musical harmony; but so modernized the poem, and reduced it to the standard of his own time, that a peewish reader may not only be disgusted at want of the poetical history, but think himself privileged to except against all such freedoms in any one but Mr. Oldham.
“Ben Jonson, (with submission to his memory,) by transgressing amost useful precept, has widely differed from them both ; and trod so close upon the heels of Horace, that he has not only crampt, but made him halt, in (almost) every line.”