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quary, consulted him as a great living authority, and the reader of to-day notes in his Poems and Dramas that affluence of learning which never seeks an opportunity for display, but reveals itself in the colloquial ease of reference and allusion. During this time, also, he composed his Epigrams and The Forest, which were published in 1616. This was the year of Shakespeare's death; and Ward, the vicar of Stratford, writing forty-six years after the event, says: "Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting, and, it seems, drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted." Whatever truth there may be in the vicar's conjecture, the fact of the meeting is another witness to the good feeling existing between the two great poets.
For nearly ten years Jonson wrote no more for the stage; it was less lucrative and less agreeable to him than to obey the commands of royalty and the demands of nobility for pageants and masques. It is in these, indeed, and in many of his poems and songs, that we may fairly look for Jonson's most characteristic work. The complete obsolescence of this form of art places us at a disadvantage in judging of it, and it cannot be denied that there was a certain affectation about it; yet we doubt whether, on strict analysis, the Elizabethan masque would seem more artificial than the modern opera. The charm of music makes us blind to the nonsense of the opera book; the
masque made a demand upon the eye and the ear which cannot now easily be restored. The pale page of the book, with its elaborate description, is a poor equivalent for that gorgeous pageant, swelling with pomp and poetic splendor, where poet and architect mingled their labor, and laid under contribution the ancient world and the world of myth for the building of their vast pasteboard palace of beauty. We catch a glimpse of the brilliant display as we read, and we see that Jonson's learning and poetic fancy made him easily chief in this temporary kingdom of art and letters, as Shakespeare was chief in the dramatic kingdom. Fortunately for us, Shakespeare was building with permanent materials of art; unfortunately for us and for Jonson's fame, we are able only to drag forth from the débris of those spectacles which delighted London, the court, and the great country-seats, snatches of song and graceful addresses, independent of the setting in which they were placed.
The incidents in Jonson's life after this were not many or exciting. In the summer of 1618 he made a journey on foot to Scotland, which is chiefly noticeable because of a visit of several weeks which he paid to Drummond of Hawthornden. Drummond was rather a dilettante than a professional author, and the visit of one of the great lights of literature to his house was an event which he gladly welcomed, and used by jotting
down memorabilia of Jonson's talk. That talk was free and jovial, literary and personal, and affords one a very good opportunity to catch a glimpse of literary society of the day. It was the talk of a full mind to a timidly appreciative one, and the half-swagger of Jonson's nature is easily exaggerated by the foil which Drummond unconsciously makes. We are indebted to the record for many of the facts of Jonson's life and for much of our knowledge of his tastes and judgments. It is a pity that Jonson's own narrative of his journey to Scotland perished in the flames which destroyed so many of his manuscripts, to which he refers in his Execration upon Vulcan (see p. 216).
He was at this time in high favor with the king and nobility. He was created Master of Arts at Oxford in 1619, and the king in 1621 made him the reversionary grant of Master of the Revels. He was minded to knight him, but Jonson prudently begged off from the honor which would have entailed upon him an expense he could ill have borne. He continued to produce masques and entertainments and to live a life of comparative ease. His wife had died, and he had no children left; he lived largely at the houses of his patrons, and from his convivial habits had no lack of companionship, while his habits of study and devotion to literature saved him from the life of a mere bon vivant.
At the death of James, his fortune took a downward turn. Charles came to the throne, but he had less of the good-natured James's interest in Jouson; he was attacked by the palsy and developed a tendency to dropsy. He had grown heavy and infirm; his habits of life doubtless were telling upon him, and his means of subsistence were slipping away. Now began petitions for aid, and his poems contain evidence of his need and distress. He returned to writing for the stage, and brought out first The Staple of News and then The New Inn, a play which was so pitilessly condemned that he took leave forever of the stage in a "farewell," addressed to himself, full of a mingled pathos, scorn, and vituperative weakness. He was slipping down steadily. His masques no longer were desired. With Inigo Jones, who had often been associated with him on equal terms, he had a quarrel. Jones once had been beholden to Jonson, now he was the rising star; and between his own arrogance and Jonson's impatience and violence the breach came which left Jonson the worser conditioned. He held the office from the city of London of the City's Chronologer, but in November, 1631, he was notified that his salary was stopped. It is intimated that his labors also had first stopped. He applied for aid to the Earl of Newcastle in a letter which may stand as an illustration of Jonson's humor in his distress: :
MY NOBLE AND MOST HONORED LORD:
I myself being no substance, am fain to trouble you with shadows, or (what is less) an Apologue or Fable in a dream. I being stricken with the Palsy, in the year 1628, had by Sir Thomas Badger some few months since a Fox sent me for a present, which creature by handling I endeavored 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 very week, being the week ushering Christmas, and this Tuesday morning in a dream, (and morning dreams are truest) to have one of my servants come up to my bedside and tell me -"Master, Master, the Fox speaks !” Whereat (methought) I started, and troubled went down into the yard, to witness the wonder. There I found my Reynard in his tenement the Tub I had hired for him cynically expressing his own lot to be condemned to the house of a Poet, where nothing was to be seen but the bare walls, and not anything heard but the noise of a saw, dividing billets all the week long, more to keep 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 stroke him, but Reynard, barking, told me those would not do, I must give him meat. I angry called him stinking vermin. He replied, "Look into your cellar, which is your larder too, you'll find a worse vermin there." When presently calling for a light, methought I went down and found all the floor turned up, as if a colony of moles had been there, or an army of salt-petre men.