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I am compelled to add, it is a match for the original. Its popularity was great, and-printed in company with Sir John Davies' Epigrams—it passed through several editions, which are all undated, and bear the imprint "Middleborugh" or "Middlebourgh" (in Holland). In June, 1599, by order of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Marlowe's translation (together with Marston's Pygmalion, Hall's Satires, and Cutwode's Caltha Poetarum) was committed to the flames; but it continued to be published abroad, and some editions, with the imprint Middleborough on the title-page, were surreptitiously printed at London. The earliest of these editions extant, Bullen believes to be that which he calls the 'Isham copy, discovered by Mr. Charles Edmonds. 'In his preface to a facsimile reprint of the little volume, Mr. Edmonds states his conviction that this edition, notwithstanding the imprint Middleborough, was issued at London from the press of W. Jaggard, who in 1599 printed the Passionate Pilgrime. He grounds his opinions not only on the character of the type and of the misprints, but on the fact that there would be no need for the book to be printed abroad in the first instance. It was not (he thinks) until after June, 1599—when (with other books) it was condemned by Archbishop Whitgift to be burnt—that recourse was had to the expedient of reprinting it at Middleburgh' (ibid. 3. 104). This edition was not known to Dyce, who, however, speaks of three other editions as A, B, and C. The Isham copy and Ed. A are incomplete; Ed. B bore on the title page All Ovid's Elegies: 3 Bookes. By C. M. Epigrams by I. D. At Middleborugh, 12mo. So Ed. C. Dyce notes (Marlowe's Works 324) that the version by B. I.' is 'Not in ed. A.' Bullen does not say whether it occurs in the Isham copy.
Before proceeding, it may be worth while to recall the fact that the Passionate Pilgrim presents some points that are suggestive in connection with the case in hand. This collection, made and printed for Jaggard in 1599, bore on its title page By W. Shakespeare, though the poems were by various authors. It contained the famous lyric, 'Live with me, and be my love, though without the fourth and sixth stanzas. This was first reclaimed for its real author, Marlowe, in England's Helicon, 1600. It is easy to see that an unscrupulous publisher could command irregular means of obtaining poems he might desire; while it is conceivable that even a well-intentioned editor might inadventently insert in a collection a poem not by his author. Supposing, then, one of Marlowe's translations to have been lost or for any reason not obtainable, what would be more probable than a levy upon some scholar-poet?
Unfortunately, our arguments as to the authorship of the two translations of Ovid, Eleg. 1. 15 have to be mainly a priori, for the following reasons: 1) Some of our editions are undated and of unknown editorship; 2) the poems in question are translations of the same original, so that close correspondences do not necessarily prove either plagiarism or identity of authorship; 3) peculiarities in the translation of particular words have little significance, owing to the exigences of metre and rime; 4) the poems are short and do not present singularities of style that can be regarded as decisive. We are thus limited to probabilities and negations.
First, as to Marlowe's translation of Ovid's Elegies, Dyce (Marlowe's Works xxxix.) has this to say: 'This version of the Amores, taken altogether, does so little credit either to Marlowe's skill as a translator or to his scholarship, that one is almost tempted to believe it was never intended by him to meet the eye of the world, but was made, merely as a literary exercise, at an early period of life, when classical studies chiefly engaged his attention.' That Marlowe was capable of passing cheerfully on after having made translations so obscure or absurd in English as to prove complete want of comprehension of the original Latin, will be evident from even a cursory glance at the footnotes in Dyce's and Bullen's editions of the Amores. A few egregious examples are here recorded. Eleg. 2. 1. 25 runs: Carmine dissiliunt, abruptis faucibus, angues. This Marlowe renders: 'Snakes leap by verse from caves of broken mountains. Et clamant ‘Merito' qui modo cumque vident, of Eleg. 2. 14. 40, becomes, 'And whoe'er see her, worthily lament.' Cf. also the versions of Eleg. 1. 4; 2. 5; 3. 8; 3. 12.
On the other hand, Jonson's classical learning is known to have been remarkable even in the age of Selden and Camden, and his prime aim in translating was faithfulness to his original. The want of comprehension due to haste or to incomplete scholarship so often apparent in Marlowe's translations, is therefore seldom met with in Jonson's, though Reinsch (Ben Jonsons Poetik 114) points out two errors of rendition in the Trebatius dialogue (Horace, Sat. 2. I. 31, 84-5) of Poetaster. Marlowe surpasses Jonson in vivacity and ease; but Jonson generally preserves almost the exact ideas of the original. This is true notwithstanding such creeping work on the part of both poets as appears in their versions of the same two lines (Ovid, Am. 3. 8. 2–3):
Ingenium quondam fuerat pretiosius auro,
At nunc barbaria est grandis, habere nihil. Marlowe (Works, ed. Bullen, 3. 194) writes:
Wit was sometimes more precious than gold;
Now poverty great barbarism we hold. And Jonson (Poetaster 1. 2. 264-5) is quite as awkward :
The time was once, when wit drown'd wealth: but now,
These details have been presented because the two versions of Eleg. 1. 15 contained in Marlowe's Works are closer to the thought of Ovid's verses than Marlowe's translations are wont to be, and therefore suggest the careful hand
Second, the ordinary verse tests do not help us here. Both Marlowe and Jonson were in the habit of employing the ten-syllable rimed couplet for their translations; both tried to compress the matter of a given number of Latin lines into the same number of lines of English. Moreover, a tentative examination of the usage of each in respect to feminine rimes and run-on verse promised to yield confusing results: the proportion of feminine to masculine rimes in the version by B. I.,' for instance, falling between the proportions established for several thousand other couplets in Marlowe and in Jonson.
It remains, then, to argue the case on general grounds. The resemblances between the version of Eleg. 15 printed without comment among Marlowe's authentic translations and that headed “The Same by B. I. are so marked as to justify us in assuming a single authorship. From this, the inference is either that the posthumous editor of Marlowe's Amores intentionally or unintentionally appropriated some of Jonson's work, or that Jonson, in placing in Poetaster a poem by Marlowe without a hint that it was such, was guilty of plagiarism. Now the Passionate Pilgrim shows us what one bookseller ventured to do, and it seems probable that the early editions of Marlowe's Amores had no reputable editorship. On the other hand, Jonson told Drummond (Conversations p. 37), 'Of all styles he loved most to be named Honest,' and plagiarism does not accord with the proud self-sufficience of Honest Ben. On his dislike of admitting the labors of anyone to a share in his own glory, cf. these expressions in Sejanus (To the Readers) : ‘Lastly, I would inform you, that this book, in all numbers, is not the same with that which was acted on the public stage; wherein a second pen had good share: in place of which, I have rather chosen to put weaker, and, no doubt, less pleasing, of mine own, than to defraud so happy a genius of his right by my loathed usurpation.' Again, Jonson loved translating perhaps even more than 'making,' and he was not the only one who believed that there was not his equal as a translator in England. Drummond was constrained to record (Conversations p. 41): 'His inventions are smooth and easie; but above all he excelleth in a Translation.' And there was no Swinburne in those benighted times to enter a picturesque protest (cf. Fortn. Rev. vol. 50, 'The Miscellaneous Works of Ben Jonson'). It is therefore improbable that Jonson, even in the hurry of writing Poetaster, would have condescended to borrow a piece of translation for sober uses, and it is likewise improbable that, had he been inclined to borrow, the Marlowe translations would have suited his taste. Of course it is evident that the translation of Eleg. 15 was in existence two years at least before the production of Poetaster, and this may seem an argument against Jonson's authorship. But this elegy, with its address Ad invidos, and its catalogue of the great names of Greek and Roman literature, is the one out of all three books that would appeal to Jonson, and so invite his pen in some leisure hour. Finally, there is a certain plainness and stiffness about the disputed composition, which, taken with its plodding literalness, impresses one as Jonsonian.
On the grounds, therefore, of Jonson's love of translating, his faithfulness to an original, his honesty and pride, and the plainness and inflexibility frequent in his shorter pieces couched in the heroic couplet, as well as on the doubtful editorship of Marlowe's translations, we conclude that in all probability both versions of Ovid, Eleg. 1. 15 occurring in the Marlowe collection, as also the Poetaster version, are by Jonson.