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We learn, for instance, how one nobleman "drank him drowsy," and how Sir Walter Raleigh's son, with whom he went as governor to Paris, "caused him to be drunken and dead drunk," and drove him in a cart all round the town in that state. Yet this addiction to wine must not blind us to the fact that in the taverns he frequented were gathered round him the most famous wits of England. Beaumont's lines upon the Mermaid, and Fuller's description of the "wit-combats" between Jonson and Shakespeare, the one moving like a stately galleon under press of sail, the other shifting like a lighter and more nimble craft, have bequeathed lively pictures of the intellectual atmosphere of those Bohemian meetings. Herrick, writing with rapture of that society, describes the "lyric feasts"
"Where we such clusters had
Beaumont, meditating in absence on the vivid life of those convivial meetings, exclaims :
"What things have we seen
Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been
As if that every one from whom they came
After making experience of many such places of resort, Jonson finally settled down in the Old Devil Tavern at Temple Bar. In this house a club-room,
called the Apollo, was reserved for his set. He wrote laws in terse Latin to regulate the conduct of its members; and here, among the most distinguished men of intellect and fashion whom the town could show, it often happened that some youth of promise came forward, requesting to be "Sealed of the Tribe of Ben." Such candidates for his favour and intimacy, when they were approved, Jonson called his sons. And not a few of the best writers of the day felt honoured by this designation.
Though powerfully built, Jonson had never been a wholly healthy man. He suffered from scorbutic affections, inherited probably from his ancestors, and was subject to fits of abstraction bordering upon melancholy. Drummond significantly records of him that he was 66 oppressed with phantasy, which hath ever mastered his reason; a general disease in many poets." Now that years increased, and sedentary habits grew upon him, these physical disabilities became more irksome. About 1626 he was stricken with paralysis. Between this date and 1637, when he died, his state of health gradually weakened. Dropsy was added to the palsy. His huge overgrown body, which he humorously. compared to the Tun of Heidelberg, could scarcely be moved from the apartment where he dwelt, and at last he took to his bed. On the death of his royal master James, the court seemed for a while to have forgotten him, and the city of London, whom he served in the capacity of chronologer, withdrew their pension. Destitution, as well as sickness, threatened his declining age. Yet Jonson
had too lastingly impressed the finer spirits of that epoch by the manliness of his character, the vastness of his learning, and the rarity of his genius to be long neglected. Noble friends, among whom the Duke of Newcastle deserves to be commemorated, bestowed pains on his comfort. Charles I. increased his Laureate's salary, and forced the city to renew their annual payments. After 1635 he wrote but little, unless we refer the prose notes called Discoveries to that period. But there is no reason to believe that his end, though irksome through manifold diseases, was either forlorn or unhappy. His death was greeted with a chorus of elegiac and panegyrical verses, poured forth by the best poets of the moment; and he found an honourable resting place in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. Money was collected to defray the expenses of a solemn monument. The disorders of the Great Rebellion interrupted this scheme; and the marble tablet inscribed with the famous words, "O Rare Ben Jonson !" is due to the piety of a friend, Sir John Young, of Great Milton, Oxfordshire.
When we review Ben Jonson's position among the poets of his age, the first thing which strikes us is the length of his career as a man of letters. He conquered fame in 1598, while Queen Elizabeth was yet alive, and Shakespeare had but recently begun to reap his laurels. He lived through the reign of James I., contributing more than any other poet to form the literary tone of that king's period. He was still a power in the world of learning and
fine letters in the year when John Hampden refused to pay King Charles's ship-money. From his contemporaries he stood forth with singular distinctness. Of Shakespeare we know what is tantamount to nothing. Of Beaumont, of Fletcher, of Chapman, of Massinger, of Ford, of Webster, how very little can we say we know! But Jonson manifested his individuality in so many ways that it is easy to form a tolerably accurate conception of the man. Unlike the most illustrious of his brother playwrights, he was one of the ripest scholars of an age which produced great students; in fact, he divides with Milton the honour of being the most learned among English poets. This distinction gave him a certain pre-eminence in literary circles, of which he was perhaps too conscious. He formed a high uncompromising ideal of the poet's vocation, felt himself bound to assert its dignity in his works, and from the first attempted to strike out a way of art different from that of his contemporaries. The independence which marked his personal character and his theory of poetry, expressed itself at times in arrogance and satire; but the poems addressed to individuals, who might have been accounted rivals, exonerate him from the charge of envy and malignity. That he rated his own powers and achievements highly, cannot be denied; yet he was not illiberal of praise to others. In his dealings with great folk, he showed a manly frankness, proclaiming his belief that "poets were rarer births than kings," and boasting with sincerity that he esteemed no man for the name of a lord. "Of all styles he
loved most to be named honest," and honesty seems to have formed the basis of his character.
It is not easy to determine Jonson's place among the poets of his age, partly because of his stubborn opposition to their leading impulses, and partly because we suspect him to have followed a deliberately adopted theory rather than his natural bent of genius. If he really penned the Additions to Jeronymo, who was more capable of commanding the romantic drama than Ben Jonson? To say that he was not the author of those thrilling scenes, costs nothing; but it contradicts the only direct evidence we have upon the subject. We must, therefore, accept them, in spite of their divergence from his well-known style, as specimens of what he could achieve in the romantic manner. Yet from the moment when Every Man in His Humour first saw the light in 1598, until 1633, when the last of Jonson's "dotages" was coldly received by court and public, he sustained a wholly different dramatic style. The specific marks of this style were sound sense rather than imagination, robust logic instead of fancy, a vigorous yet somewhat pedestrian march of blank verse, prose eminent for terse pregnancy and pith-much to impress us with the sense of power and sterling wisdom, little to fascinate us by vague unexpected charm or subtle beauty. Jonson's plays have been compared to substantial edifices from which the scaffolding has not been taken down. There is something cumbrous in their solidity, unfinished in their decorative details. We detect in them the hand of a craftsman working by