« AnteriorContinuar »
reply sufficiently credible bad the former part of the story been true, but the lines of gratitude which he addressed to his majesty are a satisfactory refutation. Jonson, however, continued to be thoughtlessly lavish and poor, although in addition to the royal bounty he is said to have enjoyed a pension from the city, and received occasional assistance from his friends. The pension from the city appears to have been withdrawn in 1631, if it be to it he alludes in the postscript of a letter in the British Museum, dated that year. “Yesterday the barbarous court of aldermen have withdrawn their chandlerly pension for verjuice and mustard, £33. 68. 8d.”
This letter, which is addressed to the Earl of Newcastle, shows so much of his temper and spirit at this time, that a larger extract may be excused.
"I myself being no substance, am faine to trouble you with shaddowes, or what is less, an apologue, or fable in a dream. I being stricken with a palsy in 1628, bad, by sir Thomas Badger, some few months synce, a foxe sent mee, for a present, which creature, by handling, I endeavoured to make tame, as well for the abating of my disease as the delight I took in speculation of his nature. It happened this present year 1631, and this verie weeke being the weeke ushering Christmas, and this Tuesday morning in a dreame (and morning dreames are truest) to have one of my servants come to my bedside, and tell me, Master, master, the fox speaks! whereas mee thought I started and troubled, went down into the yard to witnesse the wonder. There I found my reynard in his tenement, the tubb, I had hired for him, cynically expressing his own lott, to be condemn’d to the house of a poett, where nothing was to be seen but the bare walls, and not any thing heard but the noise of a sawe dividing billates all the weeke long, more to keepe the family in exercise than to comfort any persou there with fire, save the paralytic master, and went on in this way, as the fox seemed the better fabler of the two. I, his master, began to give him good words, and stroake him: but Reynard, barking, told mee this would not doe, I must give him meat. I angry call'd him stiuking vermine. Hee reply'd, , looke into your cellar, which is your larder too, youle find a worse vermin there. When presently calling for a light, mee thought I went downe, and found all the floor turn'd up, as if a colony of moles had been there, or an army of salt-petre vermin. Whereupon I sent presently into Tuttle-street for the king's most excellent mole catcher, to release mee and hunt them: but hee when hee came and viewed the place, and had well marked the earth turned up, took a handfull, smelt to it, and said, master, it is not in my power to destroy this vermin, the K. or some good man of a noble nature must help you: this kind of mole is called a want, which will destroy you and your family, if you prevent not the worsting of it in tyme. And therefore God keepe you and send you health.
“ The interpretation both of the fable and dream is, that I, waking, doe find want the worst and most working vermin in a house: and therefore my noble lord, and next the king my best patron, I am necessitated to tell it you, I and not so imprudent to borrow
I any sum of your lordship, for I have no faculty to pay; but my needs are such, and so urging, as I do beg what your bounty can give mee, in the name of good letters and the bond of an evergratefull and acknowledging servant to your honour."
Sutton, the founder of the Charterhouse is said to have been one of his benefactors, which renders it improbable that Jonson could have intended to ridicule so excellent a character on the stage: yet according to Mr. Oldys, Volpone was intended for Mr. Sutton. But although it is supposed that Jonson sometimes laid the rich under contributions by a dread of his satire, it is not very likely that he would attack such a man as Suttop.,
The Tale of a Tub, and The Magnetic Lady, were his last dramatic pieces, and bear very few marks of his original powers. He penned another masque in 1634, and we have a New Year's Ode dated in 1635, but the remainder of his life appears to have been wasted in sickness of the paralytic kind, which at length carried him off, Aug. 16, 1637, in the sixty-third year of his age. Three days afterwards he was interred in Westminster Abbey, at the north-west end near the belfry, with a commonpavement stone laid over bis grave, with the short and irreverend inscription of “O rare Ben Jonson,” cut at the expense of sir John Young, of Great Milton in Oxfordshire.
His death was lamented as a public loss to the poetical world. About six months after this event, his contemporaries joined in a collection of elegies and encomiastic poems, which was published under the title of Ionsonius Virbius; or the Memory of Ben Jonson revived by the Friends of the Muses. Dr. Duppa, bishop of Chichester, was the editor of this volume, which contained verses by lords Falkland and Buckhurst, sir John Beaumont, sir Francis Wortley, sir Thomas Hawkins, Messrs. Henry King, Henry Coventry, Thomas May, Dudley Diggs, George Fortescue, William Habington, Edmund Waller, J. Vernon, J. Cl. (probably Cleveland) Jasper Mayne, William Cartwright, John Rutter, Owen Feltham, George Donne, Shakerley Marmion, John Ford, R. Brideoak, Rich. West, R. Meade, H. Ramsay, T. Terrent, Rob. Wasing, Will. Bew, and Sam. Evans. A subscription also was entered into for a monument in the Abbey, but prevented by the rebellion. The second earl of Oxford contributed the bust in bas-relievo which is now in Poet's Corner. Jonson had several children, but survived them all. One of them was a poet, and, as Mr. Malone bas reported, the author of a drama written in conjunction with Brome. It should seem that he was not on good terms with his father. Fuller says that “ Ben was not happy in his children.”
As many points of his character are obscure or disputed, it may not be unnecessary in this place to exhibit the evidence of his contemporaries, or of those who lived at no great distance of time.
The following particulars Aubrey collected from Dr. Bathurst, sir Bennet Hoskyns, Lacy the player, and others.
“ I remember when I was a scholar at Trin. Coll. Oxon. 1646, I heard Mr. Ralph Bathurst (now dean of Welles) say that Ben Johnson was a Warwyckshire man. 'Tis agreed that his father was a minister ; and by his epistle D. D. of Every Man to Mr. W. Camden, that he was a Westminster scholar, and that Mr. W. Camden was his schoolmaster. His mother, after his father's death, married a bricklayer, and 'tis generally said that he wrought for some time with his father-in-lawe, and particularly on the garden wall of Lincolns inne next to Chancery lane; and that a knight, a bencher, walking thro', and hearing him repeat some Greeke verses out of Homer, discoursing with him, and finding him to have a witt extraordinary, gave him some exhibition to maintain him at Trinity College in Cambridge, where he was then he went into the Lowe Countryes, and
-: spent some time, not very long, in the armie ; not to the disgrace of [it], as you may find in his Epigrames. Then he came into England, and acted and wrote at the Greene Curtaine, but both ill; a kind of nursery or obscure playhouse somewhere in the suburbs (I think towards Shoreditch or Clerkenwell). Then he undertook again to write a play,
For the transcription of this article, the reader is indebted to Mr. Malone's Historical Account of the English Stage. It is perhaps unnecessary to add that Aubrey's MSS. are in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. • A few contractions in the manuscript are not retained in this copy. .C. VOL. V.
and did hitt it admirably well, viz. Every Man which was his first good one. Serjeant Jo. Hoskins of Herefordshire was his father. I remember his sonne (sir Bennet Hoskins, baronet, who was something poetical in his youth) told me, that when he desired to be adopted his sonne, No, sayd he, 'tis honour enough for me to be your brother : I am your
father's sonve: 'twas he that polished me: I do acknowledge it. He was (or rather had been) of a clear and faire skin." His habit was very plain. I have heard Mr. Lacy the player say, that he was wont to weare a coate like a coachman's coate, with slitts under the arm-pitts. He would many times exceede in drinke: Canarie was his beloved liquor: then he would tumble honie to bed : and when he bad thoroughly perspired, then to studie. I have seen his studyeing chaire, which was of strawe, such as old women used: and as Aulus Gellius is drawn in. When I was in Oxon: bishop Skinner (Bp. of Oxford) who lay at our college, was wont to say, that he understood an author as well as any man in England. He mentions in his Epigrames, a son that he had, and his epitaph. Long since in King James time, I have heard my uncle Davers (Danvers) say, who knew him, that he lived without Temple Barre at a combe-maker's shop about the Elephant's Castle. In his later time he lived in Westminster, in the house under which you passe, as you go out of the church-yard into the old palace : where he dyed. He lyes buried in the north aisle, the path square of stones, the rest is lozenge, opposite to the scutcheon of Robert de Ros, with this inscription only on him, in a pavement square of blue marble, fourteen inches square, O RARE BEN: JONSON: which was done at the charge of Jack Young, afterwards knighted, who, walking there when the grave was covering, gave the fellow eighteen pence to cutt it."
Mr. Zouch, in his Life of Walton, has furnished the following information from a MS. of Walton's in the Ashmolean Museum.
“I only knew Ben Jobpson: but my lord of Winton (Dr. Morley, bishop of Winchester) knew him very well : and says, he was in the 6° that is, the upermost fforme in Westminster scule, at which time his father dyed, and his mother married a brickelayer, who made him (much against his will) help him in his trade: but in a short time, his scolemaister, Mr. Camden, got him a better employment, which was to atend or acompany a son of sir Walter Rauley's in his travills. Within a short time after their return, they parted (I think not in cole bloud) and with a loue sutable to what they had in their travilles (not to be commended). And then Ben began to set up for himselfe in the trade by which he got his subsistance and fame, of which I need not give any aceount. He got in time to have one hundred pound a yeare from the king, also a pension from the cittie, and the like from many of the nobilitie and some of the gentry, which was well pay'd, for love or fere of his railing in verse, or prose, or boeth. My lord told me, he told him he was (in his long retyrenient and sickness, when he saw him, which was often) much afflickted, that hee had profained the scripture in his playes, and lamented it with horror : yet that, at that time of his long retyrement, his pension (so much as came in) was given to a woman that gouern'd him; (with whome he liv'd and dyed nere the Abie in Westminster) and that nether he nor she tooke much care for next weike: and wood be sure not to want wine ; of which he usually took too much before he went to bed, if not oftener and soner. My lord tells me, he knowes not, but thinks he was born in Westminster. The question may be put to Mr. Wood very easily upon what grounds he is positive as to his being born their : he is a friendly man, and will resolve it. So much for brave Ben.-Nov. 22. (16) 80."
Fuller, in addition to what has been already quoted, says that he was statutably ad
mitted into Saint John's College in Cambridge, where he continued but few weeks for want of further maintenance, being fain to return to the trade of his father-in-law. And let not them blush that have, but those that have not, a lawful calling. He help'd in the building of the new structure of Lincoln’s-Inn, when having a trowell in his hand, he had a book in his pocket. Some gentlemen pitying that his parts should be buried under the rubbish of so mean a calling, did by their bounty manumise him freely to follow his own ingenuous inclinations. Indeed his parts were not so ready to run of themselves as able to answer the spur, so that it may be truly said of him, that he had an elaborate wit wrought out by his own industry. He would sit silent in learned company, and suck in (besides wine) their several humours into his observation. What was ore in others, he was able to refine to bimself.--He was paramount in the dramatique part of poetry, and taught the stage an exact conformity to the laws of comedians. His comedies were above the volge, (which are only tickled with downright obscenity) and took not so well at the first stroke as at the rebound, when beheld the second time; yea they will endure reading, and that with due commendation, so long as either ingenuity or learning are fashionable in our nation. If his later be not so spriteful and vigorous as his first pieces, all that are old will, and all that desire to be old should, excuse him therein.”—To his article of Shakspeare, Fuller subjoins~"Many were the wit-combates betwixt (Shakspeare) and Ben Johnson, which two I behold like a Spanish great gallion and an English man of war: master Johnson (like the former) was built far higher in learning: solid, but slow in his performances. Shakspeare, with the English man of war, lesser in hulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention.” · The following particulars are transcribed from Oldys' MS. additions to Langbaine. Oldys, like Spence, picked up the traditions of his day, and left them to be examined and authenticated by his readers. Such contributions to biography are no doubt useful, but not to be received with implicit credit.
“ Mr. Camden recommended (Jonson) to sir Walter Raleigh, who trusted him with the care and instruction of his eldest son Walter, a gay spark, who could not brook Ben's rigorous treatment, but, perceiving one foible in his disposition, made use of that to throw off the yoke of his government. And this was an unlucky habit Ben had contracted, through his love of jovial company, of being overtaken with liquor, which sir Walter did of all vices most abominate, and hath most exclaimed against. One day, when Ben had taken a plentiful dose, and was fallen into a sound sleep, young Raleigh got a great basket, and a couple of men, who laid Ben in it, and then with a pole carried him between their shoulders to sir Walter, telling bim their young master had sent home his tutor.--This I had from a MS. memorandum book written in the time of the civil wars by Mr. Oldisworth, who was secretary, I think, to Philip earl of Pembroke. Yet in the year 1614, when sir Walter published his History of the World, there was a good understanding between him and Ben Jonson; for the verses, which explain the grave frontispiece before that History, were written by Jonson, and are reprinted in his Underwoods, where the poem is called The Mind of the Frontispiece to a Book, but he names not this book.”—
“ About the year 1622 some lewd, perjured woman deceived and jilted him ; and he writes a sharp poem on the occasion. And in another poem, called his Picture, left in Scotland, he seems to think she slighted him for his mountain belly and his rocky face.” We have already seen, by bishop Morley's account, that he lived with a woman in his latter days who assisted him in spending his money.
“ Ben Jonson” says Oldys, “ was charged in his Poetastes, 1601, with having libelled or ridiculed the lawyers, soldiers, and players; so he afterwards joined an apologetical dialogue at the end of it, wherein he says he had been provoked for three years on every stage by slanderers, as to his self conceit, arrogance, insolence, railing, and plagiarism by translations. As to law, he says he only brought in Ovid chid by his father for preferring poetry to it. As to the soldiers, he swears by his Muse they are friends; he loved the pro fession, and once proved or exercised it, as I take it, and did not shame it more then with his actions, than he dare now with his writings. And as to the players, he had taxed some sparingly, but they thought each man's vice belonged to the whole tribe. That he was not moved with what they had done against him, but was sorry for some better natures, who were drawn in by the rest to concur in the exposure or derision of him. And concludes, that since his comic Muse had been so ominous to him, he will try if tragedy bas a kinder aspect.
“ A full show of those he has exposed in this play is not now easily discernible. Besides Decker, and some touches on some play that has a Moor in it (perhaps Titus Andronicus ; I should hope he did not dare to mean Othello) some speeches of such a character being recited in act iii. scene iv. though not reflected on, he makes Tucca call Histrio the player, “a lousy slave, proud rascal, you grow rich, do you ? and purchase your twopenny tear-mouth : and copper-laced scoundrels,' &c. which language should not come very natural from him, if he ever bad been a player himself; and such it seems he was before or after.”
Howel in one of his letters delineates what the late Mr. Seward considered as the leading feature of Jonson's character ?.
“ I was invited yesterday to a solemn supper by B. J. where you were deeply remembered. There was good company, excellent cheer, choice wines, and jovial welcome. One thing intervened which almost spoiled the relish of the rest, that B. began to engross all the discourse : to vapour extremely of himself; and by vilifying others to magnify his own Muse. T. Ca. buzzed me in the ear, that though Ben had barrelled up a great deal of knowledge, yet it seems he had not read the ethics, which, amongst other precepts of morality, forbid self-commendation, declaring it to be an ill-favoured solecism in good manners."
As the account Jonson gave of himself to Drummond contains also his opinions of the poets of his age, no apology is necessary for introducing it. It was first published in the folio edition of Drummond's Works, 1711.
“ He” Ben Jonson, " said, that his grandfather came from Carlisle, to which he had come from Annandale in Scotland; that he served king Henry VIII. and was a gentleman. His father lost his estate under queen Mary, having been cast in prison and forfeited: and at last he turned minister. He was posthumous, being born a month after his father's death, and was put to school by a frien:1. His master was Camden. Afterwards he was taken from it, and put to another craft, viz. to be a bricklayer, which he could not endure, but went into the Low Countries, and returning home he again betook himself to his wonted studies. In his service in the Low Countries he had, in the view of both the armies, killed an enemy and taken the opima spolia from bim; and since coming to England, being appealed to in a duel, he had killed his adversary, who had hurt him in the arm, and whose sword was ten inches longer than his. For this crime he was im
• Seward's Biographiana, p. 411. C.