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OF THE

UNIVERSITY
LIFE OF BEN JONSON.

was probably withdrawn about the yea r1631, as he seems to allude to such an occurrence, in the postscript to a letter in the British Musæum, in which he says, “ Yesterday the barbarous court of Aldermen have withdrawn their chandlerly pension.” The letter was addressed to the Earl of Newcastle, and as it refers to his own situation, as afflicted with the palsy, and as very poor, we shall give an extract from it.

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, had by Sir Thomas Badger, some few months since, 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 beeing 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 witness the wonder. There I found my Reynard in his tenement, the tubb I had hired him, cynically expressing his own lott, to be condemned to the house of a poet, 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 person 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 to stroak him : but Reynard, barking, told mee this would not do, I must give him meat. I

angry called him stinking vermine. Hee replied, 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 turned 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 he came and viewed the place and had well marked the earth turned up, took a handful, smelt to it, and said, master, it is not in my power to destroy this vermin, the K. or some good

am

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

you,

I not so imprudent to borrow 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 ever grateful, an acknowledging servant to your honour."

After this he wrote other pieces for the Stage, till his death, which happened on the 16th of August, 1637. Within a few months of his decease, his contemporaries joined in a collection of Elegies and encomiastic Poems. The character of Ben Jonson has been drawn by various writers. Drummond, the Scotch poet, says of him, “ that he was a great lover and praiser of himself, a contemner and despiser of others, given rather to lose a friend than a jest ; jealous of every word and action of those about him, especially after drink, which is one of the elements in which he lived; a dissembler of the parts that reign in him ; a bragger of some good that he wanted, thinking nothing well done, but what either he himself or some of his friends have said or done. He is passionately kind and angry, careless either to gain or keep ; vindictive, but if he be well answered at himself, interprets best sayings and deeds often the worst. He was for any religion, as being versed in both ; oppressed with fancy, which hath overmastered his reason, a general disease in many. poets. His inventions are smooth and easy, but above all he excelleth in a translation." According to Lord Clarendon, « his name can

never be forgotten, having by his very good learning, and the severity of his nature and manners, very much reformed the Stage, and indeed the English poetry itself. His natural advantages were, judgment to govern the fancy, rather than excess of fancy, his productions being slow and upon deliberation, yet then abounding

with great wit and fancy, and will live accordingly; and surely as he did exceedingly exalt the English language in eloquence, propriety and masculine expressions, so he was the judge of and fittest to prescribe rules to poetry and poets, of any man who had lived with, or before him, or since, if Mr. Cowley had not made a flight beyond all men, with that modesty yet, as to ascribe much of this example and learning to Ben Jonson. His

conversation was very good, and with men of most note ; and he ļhad for many years an extraordinary kindness for Mr. Hyde

(Lord Clarendon), till he found he betook himself to business, which he believed ought never to be preferred before his company."

From this and from other accounts that might be quoted, it is inferred that Jonson, in his life-time, occupied a high station in the literary world. So many memorials of character, and so many eulogia on his talents have fallen to the lot of few writers of that age. His failings, however, were so conspicuous as occasionally to obscure, his virtues. Addicted to intemperance, with the unequal temper which habitual intemperance creates, and disappointed in the hopes of wealth and independence which his opinion of his own talents led him to form, he degenerated even to the resources of a libeller, who extorts from fear what is denied to genius, and became arrogant, and careless of pleasing those with whom he associated. He was hailed by his contemporaries as the reformer of the Stage, and as the most learned of the critics : he did for the lovers of drama what had never been done before, and he furnished examples of regular comedy which have not been surpassed. His memory was remarkably tenacious, and his learning superior to that of most of his contemporaries. Pope gives him the credit of having brought critical learning into vogue, and for having instructed both actors and spectators in what was the proper province of the dramatic muse. He has been regarded as the first person who has done much with respect to the

grammar of the English language.". This and his “ Discoveries,” both written in his advanced years, discover an attachment to the interests of literature, and a habit of reflection, which place his character as a scholar in a very favourable point of view. Dryden

considers Jonson as the greatest man of his age, and observes that if we look upon him when he was himself, he was the most learned and judicious writer any theatre ever had.

It is certain that his character as a dramatic writer has not descended undiminished. Of his fifty dramas, there are not above three which preserve his name on the Stage, but those indeed are excellent. It was his misfortune to be obliged to dissipate on court-masks and pageants, those talents, which concentrated might have furnished dramas equal to his Volpone,” “ Alchymist,” and “ the Silent Woman." Contrasted with the boundless and commanding genius of Shakspeare, Dr. Johnson has bit his character very successfully in his celebrated prologue :

Then Jonson came, instructed from the school
To please by method and invent by rule!
His studious patience, and laborious art,
With regular approach essayed the heart;
Cold approbation gave the lingering bays,
For they who durst not censure, scarce could praise.

THE PREFACE.

THE favourable reception, which the labours of those applauded men have met with from the publick, who have given "new and correct editions of our English poets, illustrated with notes, was a principal inducement for publishing the works of Jonson in the same manner. *A good edition of this author was much wanted ; and if properly performed, would be deserving well of our literature and language. It is only to be wished, that the edition now presented to the reader, may be executed with as much taste and judgment, as those which have preceded it in the same kind of criticism.

The plan which we have followed, is what a just criticism upon any author doth naturally require. Care hath been taken, to exhibit the text with the utmost correctness; and notes are added, to explain these places which seemed most to need them. These are of two kinds ; such as illustrate his sentiments, and such as point out and support the peculiar marks of his appropriate character. Under the first of these, are included the obscurities of diction and expression, and what arise from allusions to the customs of the age, and the fashions then in use. The second chiefly consists of antient authors, which Jonson, who had various and extensive learning, hath imitated or adopted as his own. In printing the text, we have had a much easier task, than the ingenious editors of our other dramatic poets; for a folio volume of Jonson's works was printed in his life-time, and under his own inspection; so that we have an authentic copy for our pattern, and which we found of great use in correcting the mistakes of subsequent editions, In following this copy, we had little else to do, than to set right some errors of the press, and a corrupted passage or two, which seem to have been derived from the same source. That part of his works which were published after his death, was undoubtedly printed from his original manuscripts; but as they had not the benefit of the author’s revisal, there are many more, as well as more material blunders in that volume, than in the volume I have just now men tioned; but these mistakes are now, as we hope, properly emended, though it is possible that some may have escaped our notice; and it

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