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BEN JONSON. .
COLLECTED FROM LATE WRITERS:
Although we have thought it right to insert the Preface and Life of Jonsou from Whalley's edition, in order that the reader may bave in this, all that the editor did, yet we cannot forbear, in the impression now offered to the Public, giving those other particulars relating to our Poet, which have come to light since the time of Whalley, from whose edition the present has been carefully printed.
Ben Jonson was born in Hart's Horne Lane, near Charing-Cross, Westminster, June 11, 1574, about a month after the decease of his father. His family was originally of Annandale, in Scotland, whence his grand-father removed to Carlisle, in the reign of Henry the Eighth, under whom he enjoyed some office. the father of Ben, being deprived of his estate and liberty in the reign of Mary, went afterwards into holy orders, and leaving Carlisle, settled in Westminster. When of a fit age, our Poet was sent to a private school in the church of St. Martin's, and was afterwards removed to Westminster school, While successfully
But his son,
pursuing his studies, his mother married a second busband, a bricklayer by trade, and took home her son with a view of bringing him up to her husband's business. This occupation ill accorded with his views, and he quickly left it and went to Cambridge ; but necessity obliged him to return, when it is believed he was employed on the new building at Lincoln's Inn ; again he quitted the trowel, enlisted as a common soldier, and served in the English army, at that time engaged against the Spaniards in the Netherlands. On his return from this expedition, in which he acquired some glory, he resumed his studies at Cambridge.
When he left the University, he saw no way open for the acquirement of a subsistence : he had obtained a large portion of learning, but he knew of no method of rendering it subservient to the wants of life; he accordingly embarked with a company of strolling players, who exhibited in the neighbourhood of Shoreditch ; and in a very short time became a writer for the Stage, as well as actor. One of his pieces attracted the attention of Shakspeare, who recommended him and his writings to the public notice. In the year 1598, his comedy of “ Every Man in his Humour” procured him celebrity. Decker, a contemporary, censures his acting as awkward and mean, and his temper as rough and untractable. The principal works of the Poet are mentioned in Whalley's Life, which will prevent us from going over the same ground here. His Alchymist gained him such reputation, that in 1619 he was made poet-laureat to King James the First, and obtained the degree of Master of Arts at Oxford. The King had already granted him an annuity of one hundred marks during life, “ in consideration of the good and acceptable service heretofore done, and hereafter to be done by the said B.J." 1630, King Charles, by letters patent, reciting the former grant, and that it had been surrendered, was pleased, “in consideration of the good and acceptable service done to us, and our father, by the said B. J., and especially to encourage him to proceed in those services of his wit and pen, which we have enjoined him, and which we expect from him,” to augment his annuity of one hundred marks to one hundred pounds per annum, during his life, payable from Christmas 1629. He enjoyed also a pension from the City, which
In the year
was probably withdrawn about the year 1631, 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 chandleriy 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 bandling, 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 bim : 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 hec, 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
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 am 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,
or his name 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