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If it be an ignorance, it is a virtuous and staid ignorance;
PRINTED FOR TAYLOR AND HESSEY, 93, FLEET STREET,
By J. Moyes, 34, Shoe Lane.
The edition of SHAKSPEARE, referred to in the following pages, is
uniformly the last of JOHNSON and STEEVENS, in twenty-one volumes octavo, 1803.
By the desire of rendering an occasional service to a literary friend, to whom the modern stage is under considerable obligations, I was led a few weeks since to a consideration of the circumstances of Ben Jonson's life, and the inquiry naturally connected itself with Shakspeare.The superiority of their abilities, and the similarity of their studies, were natural attractions; and they were probably associated at an earlier period than has yet been discovered. In the year 1598, we learn that Shakspeare performed in Jonson's "Every Man in his Humour;" he appears also among the actors of his tragedy of Sejanus, in 1603; and tradition has given to the former the merit of having introduced his companion to the stage. For the honour of literature, for the respect and veneration which I bear towards these great poets, I trust this tradition, so honourable to both, is founded in truth; and I am justified, by finding nothing in the writings of either, to contradict
the belief, or invalidate the presumption. A passage, moreover, in the preface to Sejanus, would lead us to suppose that Shakspeare assisted his friend in the composition of that tragedy; but when the play went to the press, Jonson forbore to print the additions, being “loath to defraud so happy a genius, by usurping his right." Further literary community has not been discovered. The spring of 1616 saw the stage deprived of its great boast and ornament; and Jonson testified his respect for the memory of his friend by writing the following eulogium on his literary remains :*—
It should not be forgotten, that the first engraved portrait of Shakspeare, which is that printed in the title page of his plays in folio, 1623, has the following lines addressed to the reader, by Ben Jonson :
This figure that thou here seest put,
O, could he but have drawn his wit
As well in brass, as he hath hit
His face, the print would then surpass
To the Memory of
MY BELOVED, THE AUThor,
AND WHAT HE HATH LEFT US.
To draw no envy, Shakspeare, on thy name,
* This is an allusion to the following lines in a commendatory poem on Shakspeare by William Basse :
Renowned Spenser, lie a thought more nigh