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healthy, and with features somewhat repellant in their harsh and saturnine force of expression. During the years he spent at Westminster we must imagine him absorbing all the new learning of the Greeks and Romans which England had derived from Italian humanism, drinking in knowledge at every sense, and, after books were cast aside, indulging his leisure in studying the humours of the town which lay around him. The main point to notice in the accomplished man of letters, Rare Ben, as his printed works declare him to us, is the blending of vast and precisely assimilated erudition with the most acutely realistic sense of men and women as he saw them in the world of actual experience. His boyhood stamped this double character upon the dramatist. Westminster made him what he was to be, no less surely than the water-meadows by the shores of Avon and the deer-park of Charlcote created Shakespeare. This raw observant boy, his head crammed with Tacitus and Livy, Aristophanes and Thucydides, sallied forth from the class-room, when the hours of study were over, into the slums of suburban London, lounged around the water-stairs of the Thames, threaded the purlieus of Cheapside and Smithfield, drank with 'prentices and boxed with porters, learned the slang of the streets, and picked up insensibly that inexhaustible repertory of contemporary manners which makes his comedies our most prolific source of information on the life of London in the sixteenth century.
What became of him when he left Westminster
is uncertain. Tradition of some value reports that he matriculated at Cambridge. But we have no record of his residence there; and his own statements make it more than probable that he did not profit by any course of reading at the University. It is at any rate certain that the degrees which both Oxford and Cambridge afterwards conferred on him were honorary, due not to his studies ut to the admiration which his plays inspired. On the whole we may assume that he went straight from school into the office of his step-father, the builder or bricklayer. How he was employed there, whether as a clerk or as an actual apprentice to the trade, cannot now be decided. But when he became famous, his enemies often taunted him with having been a mason; and on this fact of his early manhood the legend has been based of a marvellous workman, who studied Juvenal and Horace while carrying his hod up ladders or plastering walls with mortar.
However he may have entered into his stepfather's trade, the occupation proved distasteful to him. He felt called to be a scholar and a poet; and there was, moreover, something of the Bohemian in his nature which ill brooked lifelong devotion to handicraft. In order to break the chains of business which seemed to bind him down, Jonson ran away and joined an English force in the Low Countries. One exploit of his campaign there has been handed down to us through his own lips. He says that he fought in single combat with a champion of the enemy in the face of both
camps, killed his man, and stripped him of his armour. That he should have done so is quite consistent with what we know about his character, with his intense thirst for distinction, his personal courage, and something arrogant in his self-assertion. Perhaps it was in the Low Countries, like others after him, that he learned to drink deep and to swear. Certainly, when he returned from military service, he was not unaccomplished in these arts.
When he was about twenty years of age, that is to say probably in the year 1592, he married an English wife. He tells us that she was "a shrew, yet honest." By this wife he had several children, all of whom he survived. He was not in any eminent degree a domestic man. Talking to his friend Drummond at Hawthornden in 1619, he mentioned that he had lived five years apart from his family, and he told several stories, which do not bear repetition, arguing no great fidelity to the marriage tie on his own part. Yet he was attached to his children. For two of them he wrote elegiac verses which we still possess; and he narrated the singular circumstance of his eldest son's ghost appearing to him at the moment when the boy died of plague in London. From his plays it is clear that Jonson never felt the finer charms of womanhood; for we cannot find in any of them a female character to match the least attractive of Shakespeare's. If we seek truly to comprehend the man, we must conceive of him as one in whom the natural instincts were partially
controlled by a strong will and sound intellect, who regarded matrimony as a useful institution, and who felt strongly toward his offspring, but in whom the ideal sentiment of love, the worship of woman, was absent. This will enable us not only to penetrate his biography, but also to judge his attitude as a dramatic artist with correctness.
He took to writing for the stage soon after his return from the Low Countries and his marriage, apparently with the object of gaining a livelihood. Nothing proves that he felt a real vocation for this branch of literature. But it was the readiest for a man of his breeding to engage in. His predecessors, Greene, Peele, Lodge, Nash, and Marlowe, had been scholars, more or less accomplished. They had created the profession of educated playwrights; and the greatest of them, Marlowe, had determined the style of drama which we call Elizabethan. Shakespeare was content to follow in Marlowe's wake, and to render perfect what that ill-starred pioneer had left rough-hewn. Classical traditions, in spite of Sidney and the courtiers, were abandoned; and the English people declared itself with unanimous and enthusiastic instinct for the romantic drama. When Jonson then joined the company of playwrights and actors-for it appears that, like most of his contemporaries, he acted on the stage-he found himself at first compelled to adopt the prevailing fashion. His years of apprenticeship to the dramatic craft were spent in furbishing up old plays, collaborating with comrades in the production of new ones, and studying
his trade in the romantic school. From that epoch of his life nothing remains to us. But we know, from the still existing titles of some pieces, that he must have employed his pen in the concoction of sensational dramas calculated for the public taste. The Additions he furnished so late as 1601 to Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, which I should have liked to print among the specimens of his work, prove with what energy he could command the purest romantic style. Doubts have been cast upon his authorship of those striking scenes; and yet the external evidence in favour of it is too strong to be resisted. Until the scenes in question can be assigned with any show of certainty to some named author of the time, Jonson, and only Jonson, claims them. And in tracing the evolution of his genius they have a capital importance, for they show that, when he deserted the romantic manner for his own style, which he did in 1598, he must have done this on deliberate choice.
Jonson worked in the way I have described for the theatrical manager and money-lender, Henslow, between 1593 and 1598. In the autumn of the latter year he had a duel with one of Henslow's actors, Gabriel Spencer. They fought in Hogsden Fields, and Jonson was so unlucky as to kill his antagonist. He was thrown into prison, and narrowly escaped hanging. Indeed, it is now proved by a document brought recently to light that he was tried and convicted of felony, that he pleaded guilty, claimed benefit of clergy, and was set at large with the letter T branded on his left