Ben Jonson Authority Criticism by Richard Dutton (auth.)

By Richard Dutton (auth.)

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But it is instructive to consider an equally unanswerable question, that of why he never lived up to the promise to publish it - though part of the answer might well be that he never felt he had sufficiently reconciled his own conflicting instincts on the question of 'poetic laws' to go into substantial print on the question. One very practical consideration must have been the publication in 1610 of 'Daniel Heinsius's edition of Horace's works, which contains a rearranged version of the Ars Poetica that won Jonson's acceptance'.

It is a mixture we shall encounter repeatedly. The sense of assurance is reinforced by the fact that Jonson inherited a coherent intellectual tradition of Christian humanism from scholar/writers of the sixteenth century including Sir Thomas More, Erasmus, Juan Luis Vives, Joseph Scaliger, Sir Thomas Chaloner, Sir Thomas Elyot, Roger Ascham and Richard Mulcaster. This gave him a vocabulary for the discussion of literature which was inherently positivist, informed by a sense that writing could play a constructive role in h u m a n affairs, and reinforced by a deeply engaged study of the classical past, where writers (Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, for example) had contributed significantly to the public affairs of their day.

Ian Donaldson glosses these lines: 'Horace's Ars Poetica, translated and commented upon in the light of the Poetics, from which it was thought to derive. (Venusia was Horace's birthplace, Stagira Aristotle's)'. 20 Jonson, or his editors, were able in fact to recover two versions of the translation of Horace, both published in 1640. But neither version had the preface attached. The only sustained attempt to reconstruct what it might have said is that by Freda L. 21 She in fact assumes that the preface would have been a distillation of Jonson's opinions from throughout his career, without distinction as to their timing and context, with a bias towards those which were most 'modern', least restrictive and law-bound.

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