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Ben Jonson's Discoveries

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York University
EN 1001
Peter Paolucci

ExcerptS from Ben Jonson’s Discoveries Release Date: February, 2004 [EBook #5134] Excerpts from: Language most shows a man: Speak, that I may see thee. It springs out of the most retired and inmost parts of us, and is the image of the parent of it, the mind. No glass renders a man's form or likeness so true as his speech. Nay, it is likened to a man; and as we consider feature and composition in a man, so words in language; in the greatness, aptness, sound structure, and harmony of it. Some men are tall and big, so some language is high and great. Then the words are chosen, their sound ample, the composition full, the absolution plenteous, and poured out, all grave, sinewy, and strong. Some are little and dwarfs; so of speech, it is humble and low, the words poor and flat, the members and periods thin and weak, without knitting or number. The middle are of a just stature. There the language is plain and pleasing; even without stopping, round without swelling: all well-turned, composed, elegant, and accurate. The vicious language is vast and gaping, swelling and irregular: when it contends to be high, full of rock, mountain, and pointedness; as it affects to be low, it is abject, and creeps, full of bogs and holes. And according to their subject these styles vary, and lose their names: for that which is high and lofty, declaring excellent matter, becomes vast and tumorous, speaking of petty and inferior things; so that which was even and apt in a mean and plain subject, will appear most poor and humble in a high argument. Would you not laugh to meet a great councillor of State in a flat cap, with his trunk hose, and a hobbyhorse cloak, his gloves under his girdle, and yond haberdasher in a velvet gown, furred with sables? There is a certain latitude in these things, by which we find the degrees. The next thing to the stature, is the figure and feature in language--that is, whether it be round and straight, which consists of short and succinct periods, numerous and polished; or square and firm, which is to have equal and strong parts everywhere answerable, and weighed. The third is the skin and coat, which rests in the well-joining, cementing, and coagmentation of words; whenas it is smooth, gentle, and sweet, like a table upon which you may run your finger without rubs, and your nail cannot find a joint; not horrid, rough, wrinkled, gaping, or chapped: after these, the flesh, blood, and bones come in question. We say it is a fleshy style, when there is much periphrasis, and circuit of words; and when with more than enough, it grows fat and corpulent: full of suet and tallow. It hath blood and juice when the words are proper and apt, their sound sweet, and the phrase neat and picked. But where there is redundancy, both the blood and juice are faulty and vicious. Juice in language is somewhat less than blood; for if the words be but becoming and signifying, and the sense gentle, there is juice; but where that wanteth, the language is thin, flagging, poor, starved, scarce covering the bone, and shows like stones in a sack. Jonson’s tips on good writing Brevitas. Now for fashion: it consists in four things, which are qualities of your style. The first is brevity; for they must not be treatises or discourses (your letters) except it be to learned men. And even among them there is a kind
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