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humanity and good-nature. Mr. Jonson, who was at that time altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players, in order to have it acted; and the persons into whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and superciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of no service to their company, when Shakespeare, luckily, cast his eye upon it, and found something so well in it, as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to the public." This anecdote is entirely disbelieved by Gifford (I. xlii), and he rests his incredulity upon the supposition, that Ben Jonson's earliest known production, “Every Man in his Humour," was originally acted in 1597 at a different theatre; and he produces as evidence Henslowe's Diary, which, he states, proves that the comedy came out at the Rose'.
The truth, however, is, that the play supposed, on the authority of Henslowe, to be Ben Jonson’s comedy, is only called by Henslowe “Humours,” or “Umers” as he ignorantly spelt it?. It is a mere speculation that this was Ben Jonson's play, for it may have been any other performance, by any other poet, in the title of which the word “ Humours" occurred; and we have the indisputable and unequivocal testimony of Ben Jonson himself, in his own authorized edition of his works in 1616, that “Every Man in his Humour was not acted until 1598: he was not satisfied with stating on the title-page, that it was “ acted in the year 1598 by the then Lord Chamberlain his servants," which might have been considered sufficient; but in this instance (as in all others in the same volume) he informs us at the end that 1598 was the year in which it was first acted :comedy was first acted in the year 1598.” Are we prepared to disbelieve Ben Jonson's positive assertion (a man of the highest and purest notions, as regarded truth and integrity) for the sake of a theory founded upon the bare assumption, that Henslowe by “Umers” not only meant Ben Jonson's
8 “Some Account of the Life,” &c., 1709, p. xii.
1 The precise form in which the first entry of “Umers ” stands in Henslowe's account book is this :
• Maye 1597. 11. Rd. at the comodey of Vmers." See “ Henslowe's Diary," printed by the Shakespeare Society, pp. 87, 88, 89, 90, 91. “Umers was a new play on the 11th May, 1597, as appears by the mark the old manager placed before pieces represented for the first time.
2 “ Ben Jonson's Works,” 8vo, 1816, Vol. i. p. 46.
“Every Man in his Humour,” but could mean no other performance : ?
Had it been brought out originally by the Lord Admiral's players at the Rose, and acted with so much success that it was repeated eleven times, as Henslowe's Diary shows was the case with “Umers,” there can be no apparent reason why Ben Jonson should not have said so; and if he had afterwards withdrawn it on some pique, and carried it to the Lord Chamberlain's players, we can hardly conceive it possible that a man of Ben Jonson's temper and spirit would not have told us why, in some other part of his works.
Gifford, passing over without notice the positive assertion we have quoted, respecting the first acting of “Every Man in his Humour” by the Lord Chamberlain's servants in 1598, proceeds to argue that Ben Jonson could stand in need of no such assistance, as Shakespeare is said to have afforded him, because he was “as well known, and perhaps better,” than Shakespeare himself. Surely, with all deference for Gifford's undisputed acuteness and general accuracy, we may doubt how Ben Jonson could be better, or even as well known as Shakespeare, when the latter had been for twelve years before the public, both as author and actor, and had written, at the lowest calculation, twelve dramas, while the former was only twenty-four years old, and had produced no known play but “Every Man in his Humour." It is also to be observed, that Henslowe had no pecuniary transactions with Ben Jonson prior to the month of August, 1598; whereas, if “Umers ” had been purchased from him, we could scarcely have failed to find some memorandum of payments, anterior to the production of the comedy on the stage in May, 1597.
Add to this, that nothing could be more consistent with the amiable and generous character of Shakespeare, than that he should thus have interested himself in favour of a writer who was ten years his junior, and who gave such undoubted proofs of talent as are displayed in “Every Man in his Humour.” Our great dramatist, established in public favour by such comedies as “The Merchant of Venice” and “A Midsummer Night's Dream," by such a tragedy as “Romeo and Juliet," and by such histories as “King John," "Richard II.," and “Richard III.," must have felt himself above rivalry, and could well afford this act of “humanity and good-nature," as Rowe terms it, (though Gifford, quoting Rowe’s words, accidentally omits the two last,) on behalf of a young, needy, and meritorious author. It is to be recollected also that Rowe, the original narrator of the incident, does not, as in several other cases, give it as if he at all doubted its correctness, but unhesitatingly and distinctly, as if it were a matter well known, and entirely believed, at the time he wrote.
3 G. Chapman's “ Humorous Day's Mirth" was printed in 1599; and John Day, who was in the pay of Henslowe, wrote a comedy called “Humour out of Breath :" it was not printed until 1608, but it may have been written considerably earlier, and possibly was the “ Umers ” of Henslowe.
Another circumstance may be mentioned as an incidental confirmation of Rowe's statement, with which Gifford could not be acquainted, because the fact has been recently discovered. In 1598 Ben Jonson, being then only twentyfour years old, had a quarrel with Gabriel Spencer, one of Henslowe's principal actors, in consequence of which they met, fought, and Spencer was killed. Henslowe, writing to Alleyn on the subject on the 26th September, uses these words : —“Since you were with me, I have lost my company, which hurteth me greatly ; that is Gabriel, for he is slain in Hoxton Fields by the hands of Benjamin Jonson, bricklayer Now, had Ben Jonson been at that date the author of the comedy called “Umers,” and had it been his “Every Man in his Humour,” which was acted by the Lord Admiral's players eleven times, it is not very likely that Henslowe would have been ignorant who Benjamin Jonson was, and have spoken of him, not as one of the dramatists in his pay, and the author of a very successful comedy, but merely as “bricklayer :” he was writing also to his stepdaughter's husband, the leading member of his company, to whom he would have been ready to give the fullest information regarding the disastrous affair. We only adduce this additional matter to show the improbability of the assumption, that Ben Jonson had anything to do with the comedy of “Umers," acted by Henslowe's company in May, 1597; and the probability of the position that, as Ben Jonson himself statės, it was originally brought out in 1598 by“ the then Lord Chamberlain's servants." It may have been, and probably was, first acted by them, because Shakespeare had kindly interposed with his associates on behalf of the deserving and unfriended author.
4 See “ Memoirs of Edward Alleyn,” printed by the Shakespeare Society in
Restriction of dramatic performances in and near London in 1597. Thomas Nash
and his play, “ The Isle of Dogs :" imprisonment of Nash, and of some of the players of the Lord Admiral. Favour shown to the companies of the Lord Chamberlain and of the Lord Admiral. Printing of Shakespeare's Plays in 1597. The list of his known dramas, published by F. Meres in 1598. Shakespeare authorized the printing of none of his plays, and never corrected the press. Carelessness of dramatic authors in this respect.
“ The Passionate Pil. grim,” 1599. Shakespeare's reputation as a dramatist.
In the summer of 1597 an event occurred which seems to have produced for a time a serious restriction upon dramatic performances. The celebrated Thomas Nash, early in the year, had written a comedy which he called “The Isle of Dogs:" that he had partners in the undertaking there is no doubt; and he tells us, in his tract called “Lenten Stuff," printed in 1599, that the players, when it was acted by the Lord Admiral's servants in the beginning of August, 1597, had taken most unwarrantable liberties with his piece, by making large additions, for which he ought not to have been responsible. The exact nature of the performance is not known, but it was certainly satirical, no doubt personal, and it must have had reference also to some of the polemical and political questions of the day. The representation of it was forbidden by authority, and Nash, with others, was arrested under an order from the Privy Council, and sent to the Fleet prison'. Some of the offending actors had escaped for a time, and the Privy Council, not satisfied with what had been already done in the way of punishment, wrote from Greenwich on 15th August, 1597, to certain magistrates, requiring them strictly to examine all the parties in custody, with a view to the discovery of others not yet apprehended. This important official letter, which has hitherto been unmentioned, we have inserted in a note from the registers of the Privy Council of that date; and by it we learn, not only that Nash was the author of the "seditious and slanderous” comedy, but possibly himself an actor in it, and “the maker of part of the said play,” especially pointed at, who was in custody.
5 The circumstance was thus alluded to by Francis Meres in the next year :-“As Actæon was wooried of his owne hounds, so is Tom Nash of his Ile of Dogs. Dogges were the death of Euripides; but bee not disconsolate, gallant young Juvenall; Linus the sonne of Apollo died the same death. Yet, God forbid, that so brave a witte should so basely perish : thine are but paper dogges; neither is thy banishment, like Ovid's, eternally to converse with the barbarous Getes: therefore, comfort thyselfe, sweete Tom, with Cicero's glorious return to Rome, and with the counsel Aeneas gives to his sea-beaten soldiors, lib. i. Aeneid :
* Pluck up thine heart, and drive from thence both feare and care away;
To thinke on this may pleasure be perhaps another day.' " Durato, et temet rebus servato secundis.!!— Palladis Tamia, 1598, fo. 286.
With the substitution of “care" for thought, this version is from Phaer's translation, edit. 1558, Sign. A iii b. Meres probably quoted from memory.
Before the date of this incident the companies of various play-houses in the county of Middlesex, but particularly at the Curtain and Theatre in Shoreditch, had attracted attention, and given offence, by the licentious character of their performances;- and the registers of the Privy Council show that the magistrates had been written to on the 28th July, 1597, requiring that no plays should be acted during the summer, and directing, in order to put an effectual stop to such performances, because “ lewd matters were handled on stages,” that the two places above named should be "plucked down." The magistrates were also enjoined to send for the owners of “any other common play-house" within their
The minute in registers of the Privy Council (pointed out to us by Mr. Lemon) is this :
" A letter to Richard Topelyfe, Thomas Fowler, and Ric. Skevington, Esquires, Doctour Fletcher, and Mr. Wilbraham.
“ Upon information given us of a lewd plaie, that was plaied in one of the plaie howses on the Bancke side, containing very seditious and sclaunderous matters, wee caused some of the players to be apprehended and comytted to pryson, whereof one of them was not only an actor, but a maker of parte of the said plaie. For as much as yt ys thought meete that the rest of the players or actours in that matter shal be apprehended, to receave soche punyshment as there lewde and mutynous behavior doth deserve; these shall be, therefore, to require yow to examine those of the plaiers that are comytted, whose names are knowne to you, Mr. Topclyfe, what is become of the rest of theire fellowes that either had their partes in the devysinge of that sedytious matter, or that were actours or plaiers in the same, what copies they have given forth of the said playe, and to whome, and soch other pointes as you shall thinke meete to be demaunded of them; wherein you shall require of them to deale trulie, as they will looke to receave anie favour. Wee praie yow also to peruse soch papers as were fownde in Nash his lodgings, which Ferrys, a messenger of the Chamber, shall delyver unto yow, and to certyfie us the examypations you take. So &c. Greenwich, 15. Aug. 1597."
From the Council Register. Eliz. No. 13. p. 346.
? We find evidence, in a satirist of the time, that about this date the Theatre was abandoned, though not "plucked down :"
“ But see yonder
Edw. Guilpin's “ Skialetheia,” 8vo, 1598. Sign. D 6. The Theatre, in all probability, was not regularly used for plays afterwards.