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And yet it would be unjust to represent the great Liberal leader as altogether impervious to the spirit of a new time and indifferent to its needs. He tells us himself that his opinions have changed from what they were thirty or twenty years ago, and it is evident that he realizes better to-day than he did then the identity of interest between the stability of Canadian nationality and that of the Empire, as indeed we all do. He even admitted, for the first time as far as I have noticed, that it may possibly be a wise or necessary step to assume some form of regular responsibility and control along with Great Britain in connection with the naval defence of the Empire. Speaking of Mr. Borden's suggestion regarding some such form of control and responsibility he said: "I do not wish to condemn the view taken by the right hon. gentleman; I do not now approve or condemn; the subject is too new." That indicates a decided advance in his old constitutional attitude, an advance as great as that which seems to have taken place also in the ideas of the present Liberal leaders in Great Britain on the same question, and is indeed already partly embodied in the establishment of the Committee for Imperial Defence. Sir Wilfrid may be naturally reluctant to abandon old traditions, but he is not standing still with his eyes shut. It is only Mr. Bourassa who is standing still, still standing where Mercier stood, with a policy grown antiquated and impossible, with antiquated arguments and impossible aspirations, and thereby depriving, as far as it is in his power to do so, young French-Canadians of the stimulating and generous part which their forefathers played in constructive statesmanship. Under his ideals and influence there will be no second great race of French-Canadians like Cartier and Laurier.
January, February, March, 1914.
BEN JONSON'S TRAGEDIES.
HESE are Sejanus (1603) and Catiline (1611).
Sejanus was first acted at the Globe; Shakespeare being one of the actors.
The subjects of these plays suggest comparison with the Roman plays of Shakespeare, so often connected in name with his friend and greatest dramatic contemporary; while Shapespeare's work was commented on and criticized by Jonson, survivor of Shakespeare by some twenty years.
For Milton—thinking, indeed, of Jonson's most known and more numerous plays, the comedies, and of Shakespeare's comedies, doubtless—it is, in L'Allegro,
“Jonson's learned sock," and
"Sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child." For Dryden it is
"Shakespeare, who taught by none) did first impart
To Fletcher wit, to labouring Jonson art." There may be to us a certain misunderstanding of Shakespeare in such utterances, a misapprehension, at least, a tone even of patronizing, as if he ought not to have had such genial, such natural powers, such a way of singing he knew not why, if how. But they witness to a great fact, something we feel in Shakespeare's delightful genius, which Ben Jonson himself perhaps felt. For does not he say
“Soul of the age!
My Shakespeare rise!” ?
He was indeed honest and of an open and free nature.” And Jonson adds, for his friend's poetry, that Shakespeare “had an excellent fancy, brave nations, and gentle expressions,” concluding, "wherein he flowed with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped.” “Thou Star of Poets," Jonson said: "he was not of an age but for all time." Those words are taken from
'To the memory of my beloved
Master William Shakespeare
and what he hath left us.' And such a contrast as has been suggested in the words quoted; between Shakespeare, flowing, spontaneous, beautiful, tender and pathetic, or carelessly merry, and humane, sympathetic and profound; and, on the other side, Jonson, learned, critical, full of effort to conform to a standard, analysing, setting forth rather types than characters, full of solid reflections, of strong and high debate - all such contrast is well made again, by considering Sejanus and Catiline, after Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and even Coriolanus. Jonson is more the historiographer, the painter of the manners of a time, the setter forth of great matters of state dispute. The creator of Brutus and Cleopatra is the poet historical to whom are interesting in the first place the men and women as such.
We know the original of Shakespeare's Roman and Greek plays—Plutarch's Lives of Greeks and Romans, in an English translation from the French of Amyot. And we think of Coriolanus' individuality, not of the questions between him and Rome. It need hardly be said that Cleopatra is the terrible and enchanting woman, so low, so maddening, so tragic, and not the subverter of the schemes of Caesar. In Julius Caesar too the interest is in the tragedy of Brutus, he who loved not Caesar less but loved Rome more, whose heart is yearning or grieving while he slays his best friend, who is a dreamer, a fanatic, an idealist, believing every one true to him, thinking of his victim Caesar as almost grateful to him, for that Brutus has carved him as a dish fit for the gods. The play is no story of Julius Caesar's greatness, nor of Julius Caesar except as the foil in which is set the character of Brutus; and therefore it is Caesar's weakness and vanity merely which are shown, so as to give a cause for Brutus'
action. Portia, too, is prominent, more than at first the few scenes of her appearance would make one suppose; and Brutus' relation to her falls in with the pathos of his lonely life—“poor Brutus with himself at war"-into which even that true and honourable wife cannot enter. But that is the tragedy; and not the fate of republican Rome, or its destroyers or defenders.* Swinburne does not seem justified in speaking of the intent of Julius Caesar as public; and of Portia's figure therefore being hardly noticed. The more one considers the play, the more one thinks of the private, personal interest, the characters, round whom the public story is a mere shell.
But how does Jonson proceed in Sejanus? It is founded on Greek and Latin historians, and the reference to Tacitus' Annals specially occur by the score, quoted by Jonson in the margin. Jonson prided himself on closely following his originals.
The story of Sejanus is in the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 1437), who, promising not ill in the earlier part of his reign, became, later on, vicious and tyrannical. “This was the work, says Tacitus, in the 4th Bk. of Annals, chapter 1—“of Elius Sejanus, prefect of the pretorian guard," whose "origin, manner of life, with the crime by which he tried to rise to supreme power," the Annalist proposes to recount. "By dint of cunning he so mastered Tiberius, that the impenetrable heart of the emperor was open and confident to Sejanus, though to him alone. Though this was not due so much to the skill of Sejanus,” Tacitus adds, for Sejanus was himself caught in such snares afterwards; "but to the wrath of the gods against the Romans: to them his domination and his fall were equally fatal. Sejanus' body was unwearied; his mind full of boldness. He could mask himself well, and could blacken the character of others; was mean and creeping in his ways, and yet filled with pride, hiding under pretence of modesty his mad lust of
*Dr. A. Ward writes—does he apprehend fully?-as to Tiberius in Sejanus: "Such an attempt to delineate a complex character of histori. cal antiquity was to all intents and purposes new to our dramatic literature"-query 'all’? unless he is thinking of the complexity of purpose in public affairs. “The Julius Caesar of Shakespeare, which had preceded Sejanus, is weak where the latter is strong”—but surely not thus comparatively strong in complexity of human feeling.
power; and to reach it he played sometimes at being generous and splendid, but more often at being watchful and active mischievous qualities when they serve as a mask to a man's ambition for a throne.”
Drusus, the emperor's son, angered at Sejanus' insolence, strikes him in the face. Sejanus and Drusus' corrupt wife Livia, poison Drusus, and they try to get Tiberius' consent to their own marriage. Sejanus fills the emperor with suspi- . cions of his natural heirs, and persuades him to live retired from Rome. But there Tiberius hatches counter plots, employs agents and spies, works on the senate, turns some senators against Sejanus, and when the proud man comes, as he thinks, to hear praise of himself in a letter from his sovereign, he hears instead irony, finally accusation-like Haman of old. Friends desert him, of course, and the mob tear him in pieces, and even his helpless son and daughter.
The quarto of 1605 adds, after the ‘Argument,' words perhaps alluding to the Gunpowder Plot-Jonson had become a Catholic, but his nationalism was strong—"This do we advance, as a mark of terror to all traitors, and treasons; to shew how just the heavens are, in pouring and thundering down a weighty vengeance on their unnatural intents, even to the worst princes; much more to those, for guard of whose piety and virtue the angels are in continual watch, and God Himself miraculously working."
The play begins by showing groups of honest Romans more or less violent against the favourite; and over against them the subservient, the false and vile; such as, now flattering Sejanus, are ready to turn and rend him when fallen. These are denounced by Silius — a victim afterwards of Sejanus' cruel ambition in words showing the dramatist's lofty ideal of the just patriot, and also his strong firm verse. These flatterers are knaves,
“whose close breasts