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prisoned, and almost at the gallows. Then he took his religion on trust of a priest, who visited him in prison. He was twelve years a papist; but after this he was reconciled to the church of England, and left off to be a recusant. At his first communion, in token of his true reconciliation, be drank out the full cup of wine. He was master of arts in both universities. In the time of his close imprisonment under queen Elizabeth there were spies to catch him, but he was advertised of them by the keeper. He had an epigram on the spies. He married a wife, who was a shrew, yet honest to him. When the king came to England, about the time that the plague was in London, he (Ben Jonson) being in the country at sir Robert Cotton's house, with old Camden, saw in a vision bis eldest son, then a young child and at London, appear unto him with the mark of a bloody cross on his forehead, as if it had been cut with a sword; at which, amazed, he prayed unto God, and in the morning he came to Mr. Camden's chamber to tell him, who persuaded him it was but an apprehension, at which he should not be dejected. In the mean time come letters from his wife of the death of that boy in the plague. He appeared to him, he said, of a manly shape, and of that growth he thinks he shall be at the resurrection.
“ He was accused by sir James Murray to the king, for writing something against the Scots in a play called Eastward Hoe, and voluntarily imprisoned himself with Chapman and Marston, who had written it amongst them, and it was reported should have their ears and noses cut. After their delivery he entertained all his friends ; there were present Camden, Selden, and others. In the middle of the feast his old mother drank to him, and showed him a paper which she designed (if the sentence had past) to have mixed among his drink, and it was strong and lusty poison ; and to show that she was no churl, she told that she designed first to have drank of it herself.
“ He said he had spent a whole night in lying looking to his great toe, about which he had seen Tartars and Turks, Romans and Carthaginians fight, in his imagination.
“ He wrote all his verses first in prose, as his master Camden taught him; and said that verses stood by sense, without either colours or accent.
“ He used to say, that many epigrams were ill because they expressed in the end what should have been understood by what was said before, as that of sir John Davies ; that he had a pastoral entitled The May-lord : his own name is Alkin ; Ethra, the countess of Bedford ; Mogbel Overberry, the old countess of Suffolk ; an enchantress ; other names are given to Somerset, his lady, Pembroke, the countess of Rutland, lady Worth. In his first scene Alkin comes in mending his broken pipe. He bringeth in, says our author, clowns making mirth and foolish sports, contrary to all other pastorals. He had also a design to write a fisher or pastoral play, and make the stage of it in the Lomond Lake ; and also to write his foot-pilgrimage thither, and to call it a discovery. In a poem he calleth Edinburgh,
The heart of Scotland, Britain's other eye.
“ That he had an intention to have made a play like Plautus's Amphytrio, but left it off: for that he could never find two so like one to the other that he could persuade the spectators that they were onc.
“ That he had a design to write an epick poem, and was to call it Chorologia, of the worthies of his country raised by fame, and was to dedicate it to his country. It is all in couplets, for he detested all other rhimes. He said he had written a discourse of
poetry both against Campioa and Daniel, especially the last, where he proves couplets to be the best sort of verses, especially when they are broke like hexameters, and that cross rhimes and stanzas, because the purpose would lead beyond eight lines, were all forced.
“ His censure of the English poets was this: That Sidney did not keep a decorum in making every one speak as well as himself. Spenser's stanzas pleased him not, nor his matter; the meaning of the allegory of his Fairy Queen, he had delivered in writing to sir Walter Raleigh, which was, that by the bleating beast he understood the Puritans, and by the false Duessa the queen of Scots. He told, that Spenser's goods were robbed by the Irish, and his house and a little child burnt; he and his wife escaped, and after died for want of bread in King Street. He refused twenty pieces sent him by my lord Essex, and said he had no time to spend them. Samuel Daniel was a good honest man, had no cliildren, and was no poet; that he had wrote the Civil Wars, and yet bath not one battle in all his book. That Michael Drayton's Polyolbion, if he had performed what he pro mised, to write the deeds of all the worthies, had been excellent. That he was challenged for entituling a book, Mortimariades. That sir John Davis played on Drayton in an epigram ; who, in his sonnet, concluded his mistress might have been the ninth worthy, and said he used a phrase like Dametas in Arcadia, who said, his mistress, for wit, might be a giant. That Silvester's Translation of Du Bartas was not well done, and that he wrote his verses before he understood to confer: and those of Fairfax were not good. That the translations of Homer and Virgil in long Alexandrines were but prose. That sir John Harrington's Ariosto, under all translators, was the worst. That when sir John Harring ton desired him to tell the truth of his Epigrams, lie answered him, that he loved not the truth, for they were narrations, not epigrams. He said, Donne was originally a poet : his grandfather on the mother's side was Heywood, the epigrammatist; that Donne, for not being understood, would perish. He esteemed him the first poet in the world for some things : his verses of the lost Ochadine he had by heart; and that passage of the Calm, . that dust and feathers did not stir all was so quiet.' He affirmed that Donne wrote all his best pieces before he was twenty-five years of age. The conceit of Donne's Transformation; or MelguvuYwois, was, that he sought the soul of that apple which Eve pulled, and thereafter made it the soul of a bitch, then of a sea-wolf, and so of a woman. His general purpose was to have brought it into all the bodies of the hereticks from the soul of Cain, and at last left it in the body of Calvin. He only wrote one sheet of this, and since he was made doctor, repented hugely, and resolved to destroy all his poems. He told Donne, that his Anniversary was prophane and full of blasphemies : that if it had been written on the Virgin Mary, it had been tolerable. To which Donne answered, • That he described the idea of a woman, and not as she was.' He said, Shakspeare wanted art, and sometimes sense ; for in one of his plays he brought in a number of men, saying they had suffered shipwreck in Bohemia, where is no sea near by one hundred miles. That sir Walter Raleigh esteemed more fame than conscience. The best wits in England were employed in making his History. Ben himself bad written a piece to him of the Punick war, which he altered, and set in his book. He said there was no such ground for an heroick poem, as King Arthur's Fiction; and that sir Philip Sidney had an intention to have transformed all his Arcadia to the stories of king Arthur. He said Owen was a poor pedantic schoolmaster, sweeping his living from the posteriors of little children, and had nothing good in him, his epigrams being bare narrations. Francis Beaumont died before he was thirty years of age, who he said was a good poet, as were Fletcher and
Chapman, whom he loved. That sir William Alexander was not half kind to him, and neglected him, because a friend to Drayton. That sir R. Ayton loved him dearly. He fought several times with Marston, and says, that Marston wrote his father-in-law's preachings, and his father-in-law his comedies. His judgment of stranger poets was, that he thought not Bartas a poet, but a verser, because he wrote not fiction. He cursed Petrarch for redacting verses into soonets, which he said was like the tyrants' bed, where some who were too short were racked, others too long cut short. That Guariui, in his Pastor Fido, kept no decorum in making shepherds speak as well as himself. That he told cardinal du Peron (when he was in France, anno 161.3) who showed him his translation of Virgil, that it was nought; that the best pieces of Ronsard were his Odes; but all this was to no purpose, (says our author) for he never understood the French or Italian languages. He said Petronius, Plinius Secundus, and Plautus, spoke best Latin, and that Tacitus wrote the secrets of the council and senate, as Suetonius did those of the cabinet add court. That Lucan, taken in parts, was excellent, but altogether nought. That Quintilian's six, seven, and eight books were not only to be read, but altogether digested. That Juvenal, Horace, and Martial, were to be read for delight, and so was Pindar; but Hippocrates for health. Of the English nation, he said, that Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity was best for church matters, and Selden's Titles of Honour for antiquities. Here our author relates, that the censure of his verses was, that they were all good, especially his Epitaph on Prince Henry, save that they smelled too much of the schools, and were not after the fancy of the times; for a child (says he) may write after the fashion of the Greek and Latin verses in running; yet that he wished to please the king, that Piece of Forth Feasting had been his own.”
Ben Jonson, continues Drummond, “was a great lover and praiser of himself, a contemner and scorner 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 which 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 to 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. When his play of The Silent Woman was first acted, there were found verses after on the stage against him, concluding, that that play was well named The Silent Woman, because there was never one man to say plaudite to it.” Drummond adds, “ In short, he was in his personal character the very reverse of Shakspeare, as surly, ill-natured, proud, and disagreeable, as Shakspeare, with ten times his merit, was gentle, good-natured, easy, and amiable."
Lord Clarendon's character of our author is more favourable, and from so accurate a judge of human nature, perhaps more valuable. “ His name," lord Clarendon says, 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 order and govern fancy, rather than excess of fancy, his productions being slow and npon 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 best
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 to the example and learning of Ben Jonson. His conversation was very good, and with the men of most note; and he had 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. He lived to be very old, and till the palsy made a deep impression upon bis body and his mind 8."
From these accounts it may surely be inferred that Jonson in his lifetime occupied a high station in the literary world. So many memorials of character, and so many eulogiums on his talents, have fallen to the lot of few writers of that age. His failings, however, appear to have been so conspicuous as 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 bis high opinion of his 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. Of the coarseness of his manners there can be no doubt; but it appears at the same time that his talents were such as made his temper be tolerated for the sake of his conversation. As to his high opinion of himself, he did not probably differ from his contemporaries, who hailed him as the reformer of the stage, and as the most learned of critics, and it is no great diminution of his merit that an age of more refinement cannot find enough to justify the superior light in which he was then contemplated. It is sufficient that he did what had not been done before, that he displayed a judgment to which the stage had been a stranger, and furnished it with examples of regular comedy which have not been surpassed. His memory was uncommonly tenacious, and his learning certainly superior to that of most of his contemporaries. Pope gives him the praise of having “ brought critical learning into vogue," and having instructed both the actors and spectators in what was the proper province of the dramatic Muse. His English Grammar, 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. The editor of a recent edition of his Discoveries, justly attributes to them“ a closeness and precision of style, weight of sentiment, and accuracy of classical learning."
Yet whatever may be thought of his learning, it is greatly over-rated, when opposed or preferred to the genius of his contemporary Shakspeare. Jonson's learning contributed very little to his reputation as a dramatic poet. Where he seems to have employed it most, as in his Cataline, it only enables him to encumber the tragedy with servile versifications of Sallust, when he should have been studying nature and the passions. Dryden, whose opinions are often inconsistent, considers Jonson as the greatest man of his age, and observes that “ if we look upon him when he was himself (for his last plays were but his dotages) he was the most learned and judicious writer any theatre ever had.” In another place (preface to the Mock Astrologer) he says, “ that almost all Jonson's pieces were but crambe bis cocta, the same humours a little varied, and written worse.”
It is certain that his high character as a dramatic writer has not descended to us undiminished. Of his fifty dramas, there are not above three which preserve his name on the
· Life of Lord Clarendon. C.
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, Alchemist, and The Silent Woman. Contrasted with the boundless and commanding genius of Shakspeare, Dr. Johnson has hit his character with success in his celebrated prologue.
“ Then Jonson came, instructed from the school
To please by method, and invent by rule.
Among the poems which are now presented to the reader, there are few which can be specified as models of excellence. The Hymn from Cynthia's Revels, the Ode to the Memory of Sir Lucius Cary, and Sir H. Morison, one of the first examples of the Pindaric or irregular ode, and some of his Songs, and Underwoods, are brightened by occasional rays of genius, and dignified simplicity; but in general he was led into glittering and fanciful thoughts, and is so frequently captivated with these as to neglect his versification. Although he had long studied poetry, it does not appear that he could pursue a train of poetical sentiment or imagery so far as to produce any great work. His best efforts were such as he could execute almost in the moment of conception, and frequently with an epigrammatic turn which is very striking. He once meditated an epic poem, but his habitual irregularities and love of company denied the necessary per
His works were printed thrice in folio, in the seventeenth century, and twice in the eighteenth. The last edition, in seven volumes, octavo, with notes and additions by Mr. Whalley, appeared in 1756, and is esteemed the most valuable, but will probably be superseded by an edition now under the care of the acute editor of Massinger.