Изображения страниц

elegies and poems entitled, Jonsonius Virbius; or, the Memory of Ben Jonson revived by the Friends of the Muses.'* A design was, likewise, conceived to erect a marble monument with his statue, and a considerable sum of money was collected for that purpose; but the breaking out of the civil war prevented it's execution, and the subscriptions were returned. The bust in bas-relief with the above inscription under it, which is now fixed to the wall in the Poet's Corner, near the south-east entrance into the Abbey, was set up by the second Harley Earl of Oxford.

[ocr errors]

In himself his family became extinct; for he survived the whole of his seven children, in none of whom was he happy. His eldest son, a poet and a dramatist, died in 1635. Of his wife, nothing is known. With respect to his person and character, if we may depend upon his own description, his body was corpulent and bulky, and his countenance hard.† Of

Whalley) a sense, and was under the influence of religion; and it may be observed in his favour, that his offences against piety and good manners are very few. By the rudeness, indeed, and indelicacy of that age grosser language was permitted, than the chaste ears of more polished times will bear.

[ocr errors]

*To this collection most of his contemporaries, distinguished by their genius, contributed; among others, Lords Falkland and Buckhurst, Sirs John Beaumont and Thomas Hawkins, Waller, Mayne, Cartwright, King, May, Cleveland, Feltham, &c. + In Decker's angry Satiro-Mastrix' he is represented as having a most ungodly face; it looks for all the world like a rotten russet-apple, when 'tis bruised;" and again, it is said to be "punched full of eylet-holes, like the cover of a warming-pan." To Dr. Warton's remark, that most of our poets were handsome men,' Jonson appears to have been a signal exceptionthough his bust is said to resemble that of Menander.



the cast of his temper and natural disposition, his host Drummond says, that he was "a great lover and praiser of himself; a contemner and scorner of others; choosing rather to lose his friend, than his jest;' jealous of every word and action of those about him, especially after drink, which was one of the elements in which he lived; a dissembler of the parts which reigned in him, a bragger of some good that he wanted; he thought nothing right, but what either himself or some of his friends had said or done. † He was passionately kind and angry; care

* Hard drinking, as D'Israeli observes, had been imported, previously to this time, by our military men on their return from the Continent, reduced into a kind of science, and furnished with an appropriated dialect. Jonson's inclinations were but too well adapted to the prevalent taste; and to his twenty four Leges Convivales,' drawn up in Latin and engraved in marble over the chimney of his club-room, the Apollo, in the Old Devil Tavern (near Temple Bar) may not improbably be ascribed that


Mountain belly and that rocky face,

of which he himself complains, as having alienated from him the affections of his mistress: one of his sons,' as he calls them (R. Bacon) affirms, that each line of his 'Catiline' oft "cost him a cup of sack." "He would many times," says Aubrey, "exceed in drink: Canary was his beloved liquor. Then he would tumble home to bed; and, when he had thoroughly perspired, then to study." "One was friendly telling Benjamin Jonson, of his great and excessive drinking continually: "Here's a grievous clutter and talk (quoth Benjamin) concerning my drinking; but here's not a word of that thirst, which so miserably torments me day and night." T. S. Fragmenta Aulica, 12mo. 1662.)

+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

less either to gain or keep; vindictive, but if he was well answered, greatly chagrined; interpreting the best sayings and deeds often to the worst. He was for either religion, being versed in both: oppressed with fancy, which over-mastered his reason; a general disease among the poets. In short (adds his Scottish friend) he was, in his personal character, the very reverse of Shakspeare; as surly, ill-natured, cross, and disagreeable, as Shakspeare with ten times his merit was gentle, good-natured, easy, and amiable." In his studies, he was laborious and indefatigable; his reading was copious, his judgement accurate, and his memory so tenacious, that (as he himself informs us, in his Discoveries ') in his youth he could have repeated entire books; and, even when turned of forty, he remembered the whole of his own compositions!


In his friendships, he was cautious and sincere, yet accused of levity and ingratitude; but his accusers were the criminals. With men of virtue and learning he was connected by the ties of intimacy and affection. The Learned, the Judicious, the Great, the Immortal Ben were his frequent distinctions. By Randolph and Cartwright he was revered, as the reformer and the father of the British stage: Shakspeare* had cherished his infant muse: Beau

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 goodmanners."

* None even of his envious, or hostile, contemporaries charge VOL. II. 2 Q

mont and Fletcher esteemed him: Donne had recommended his merit; and Camden and Selden* knew how to prize his various literature.

"His parts," says Fuller, "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 (beside wine) their several humours into his observations. What was ore in others, he was able to refine himself. He was paramount in the dramatic 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


him with having depreciated the merits of this his illustrious and beloved' friend. Dryden, it is true, with Malone and some of the other editors of Shakspeare, thinks his testimony to the Genius of the British drama invidious and sparing: but to Pope it appears an ample and honourable panegyric. Jonson affirms, indeed, of Shakspeare's writings, that "neither man nor muse could praise them too much!" calls him


"Soul of the age!

Th' applause, delight, and wonder of our stage!"

and pits him confidently against

• All that insolent Greece or haughty Rome
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
Triumph, my Britain! thou hast one to show,
To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time,' &c. &c.

Surely this is enough, even for Shakspeare, and leaves no room for Malone's charge of malignity! Mr. Gilchrist has, likewise, recently vindicated Jonson from the imputation with considerable acuteness.

*This great man has acknowledged the good offices, which Jonson rendered him through his interest at court, when he had incurred the royal displeasure by publishing his History of Tithes.'

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 sprightful and vigorous as his first pieces, all that are old will, and all that desire to be old should, excuse him therein. Many were the wit-combats between him and Shakspeare, which two I beheld like a Spanish great galleon and an English man of war. Master Jonson, like the former, was built far higher in learning; solid, but slow in his performances: Shakspeare, with the English man of war, lesser in bulk 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."

"His name," says Lord Clarendon," " can never be forgotten; having by his very good learning, and his very good nature and manners, very much re formed the stage, and indeed the English poetry itself. His natural advantages were, judgement 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 either 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 had for many years an extraordinary kindness for Mr. Hyde (Lord C. himself) till he found he

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »