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K a specimen,” as Dr. Hurd observes, “ of all the errors of tragedy.” Of this, however, as well as of his • Sejanus,' he himself entertained a high opinion.
In 1613, on a visit to Paris, he was admitted to an interview with Cardinal Perron; whose version of Virgil, with his natural bluntness and sincerity, he pronounced " a bad one." His · Bartholomew Fair,'* acted in 1614, was succeeded by · The Devil's an Ass,' in 1616. In the same year, he published his works in a folio volume, including his epigrams, of which several had been written a long time; and the Poet Laureat's salary, † of an hundred marks per ann. was settled upon him by his Sovereign for life, “ in consideration of the good and acceptable service heretofore done, and hereafter to be done, by the said Benjamin Jonson.” He had now obtained so much reputation, that he saw the most distinguished wits of his time courting his acquaintance.
* In this intended, principally, to ridicule Inigo Jones) there is, perhaps, the greatest assemblage of characters ever compressed within the compass of a single play. " Whether Jones or Jonson,” says Horace Walpole, “ was the aggressor, the turbulent temper of Jonson took care to be most in the wrong. Nothing exceeds the grossness of the language, that he poured out, except the badness of the verses that were the vehicle. There he fully exerted all that brutal abuse, which his contemporaries were willing to think wit, because they were afraid of it; and which only serves to show the arrogance of the man, who presumed to satirise Jones, and to rival Shake speare. With the latter, indeed, he had not the smallest pretensions to be compared, except in having sometimes written absolute nonsense. Jonson translated the ancients ; Shakspeare transfused their very soul into his writings."
+ The office was at that time held by another,
He was addressed in a poetical piece entitled • The Inner Temple, by Beaumont,* the cele
* Francis Beaumont was descended from an ancient family of his name settled at Grace-Dieu in Leicestershire, where he was born about the year 1585. His grandfather, John, was Master of the Rolls ; and his father, Francis, one of the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas in the reign of Elizabeth. His elder brother, Sir John Beaumont, after having followed for a short time the profession of the law, retired from it early in life, upon his marriage with a lady of considerable fortune: he then became no inconsiderable versifier, as appears from some lines in praise of his poems by Ben Jonson.
The dramatist was educated at Cambridge, and removed thence to the Inner Temple; but his poetic genius prevailing, he quitted his legal studies, and to the plays written jointly by him and Fletcher (fifty-three in number) it is supposed that he stood indebted for his subsistence during a life probably spent in gayety and dissipation, and terninated before he had fully completed his thirtieth year. He left one daughter, Frances Beaumont, who died in Leicestershire in 1700. This lady had in her possession several poems composed by her father ; but they were lost at sea in her voyage from Ireland, where she had lived for some time in the Duke of Ormond's family. Beside the plays above-mentioned, he wrote a little dramatic piece, entitled, ' A Masque of Gray's Inn Gentlemen;' • Verses to his friend master John Fletcher, upon his Faithful Shepherdess;' and other poems printed together in 1653, in 8vo. He was esteemed so good a judge of dramatic compositions, that even the haughty Jonson submitted his writings to his correction, and it is thought was much indebted to him for the contrivance of his plots. What an affection indeed Jonson had for him, may be inferred from the following verses :
* How do I love thee, Beaumont, and thy muse,
brated poetical collegue of Fletcher.*
What fate is mine, and so itself bereaves!
Another copy of verses was inscribed to his memory by Bishop Corbet.
* John Fletcher sprung from ancestors as respectable in the church, as those of his poetical friend Beaumont were in the law. He was the son of Dr. Richard Fletcher, who after being successively Dean of Peterborough, and Bishop of Bristol, and Worcester, was translated to the see of London in 1594. The memory of this Prelate is preserved in history on account of three remarkable circumstances : first, as the father of the dramatist; secondly, as having incurred the displeasure of Queen Elizabeth by marrying, when in the decline of life, a second wife young and handsome, for which he was suspended; and thirdly, for his very sudden death, which being generally imputed to his immoderate use of tobacco, brought that herb, then little known, into great disrepute. His son John was born in Northamptonshire in 1576, and received his education at Cambridge, where he commenced his friendly intercourse with Beaumont. It is imagined that he was of Bene't College, because his father had been a considerable benefactor to that society, not only in his life-time, but by legacies in his will. Beside writing plays in conjunction with Beaumont, it is said that he assisted Jonson in a comedy called “The Widow;' he likewise lent his aid to Massinger, as did also Middleton, Rowley, Field, and Decker. Fletcher died of the plague in London in 1625, and was interred in the church of St. Mary Overy in Southwark: his friend Massinger died suddenly fourteen years afterward, and was buried, according to Sir Aston Cockaine, in the same grave.
It is not correctly known, what parts were produced distinctively by each in the joint compositions of Beaumont and Fletcher. The prevailing opinion however is, that Beaumont's judgement was usually employed in retrenching the exuberances of Fletcher's wit and humour, as well as in forming the plots and suggesting the most material incidents of
Corbet,* then senior student of Christ Church, he gladly accepted an invitation to Oxford; and having
their dramas. Yet, if Winstanley may be credited, his associate must occasionally have had a share in the business, as well as the language of those pieces: for from him we learn, that these confederate writers meeting once at a tavern in order to sketch the plan of a tragedy, Fletcher undertook to kill the king; which proposition being overheard by a waiter, an information was officiously lodged against them for high-treason. As it appeared however, upon their examination before the magistrate, that they only meant their dramatic king, they were discharged, and the matter ended in mirth. Of Fletcher, Philips in his • Theatrum Poetarum’ observes, “ that he was one of the happy triumvirate of the chief dramatic poets of our nation in the last foregoing age, among whom there might be said to be a symmetry of perfection, while each excelled in his peculiar way: Ben Jonson, in his elaborate pains and knowledge of authors; Shakspeare, in his pure vein of wit and natural poetic height; and Fletcher in a courtly elegance and genteel familiarity of stile, and withal a wit and invention so overflowing, that the luxuriant branches thereof were frequently thought convenient to be lopped off by his almost inseparable companion Francis Beaumont.”
Dryden, in his Essay on Dramatic Poetry, remarks that • Beaumont and Fletcher's plays, in his time, were the most pleasing and frequent entertainments ; two of theirs being acted through the year, for one of Shakspeare's or Jonson's: and this on account of certain gayety in their comedies, and a pathos in their most serious plays, which suited generally with all men's humours.' It must not be denied, however, that though sanctioned by many illustrious names, those plays are liable to numerous objections. Rymer has criticised them in a tract entitled, · The Tragedies of the last Age considered and examined by the Practice of the Ancients, and by the Common Sense of all Ages ;' in which the curious inquirer will find their faults pointed out with more truth than good humour.
* His first interview with Bishop Corbet, then a young man, occurred (we are told) at a tavern. Jonson desired the waiter to take to the gentleman a quart of raw wine ; and “ tell him," he added, " I sacrifice my service to him." “ Friend,” replied
passed some time in that delightful seat of the Muses, received an additional attestation of his merit from the University, assembled in full convocation, in an honorary degree of M. A. presented to him in 1619. On the death of Daniel, in the October following, Jonson succeeded to the office of Laureat,* the duty of which had been chiefly performed by him for a considerable period.
Before the end of the year he paid a visit, on foot, to his favourite brother-poet, Drummond of Hawthornden in Scotland. With this ingenious writer, who does not however appear to have returned his esteem,t he passed some months, and opened his heart to him with the most unreserved confidence. His adventures upon this journey he celebrated in a particular poem; which, with several others of his productions, f being accidentally burnt two or three
Corbet, “ I thank him for his love; but tell him from me, that he is mistaken, for sacrifices are always burnt.” This pleasant allusion to the mulled wine of the time won the affection of the Master-Wit.
Another story, recorded by Oldys on the credit of Oldisworth, is as follows: Jonson had been recommended by Camden to Sir Walter Ralegh, as tutor to his son. The young man, not brooking his preceptor's severer studies, took advantage of his foible to degrade him in the eyes of his father (who, it seems, was remarkable for his abstinence from wine) and while he was in a heavy sleep from the effects of intoxication, maliciously despatched him in a buck-basket to Sir Walter, with a message that he had sent home lis tutor.'
* So says Wood; but Malone has very clearly proved that neither Daniel, nor his reported predecessor Spenser, enjoyed the office now known by that name.
+ See his character of Jonson, at the end of this Memoir.
I Among the rest, a History of Henry V., of which Jonson with the assistance of Sir George Carew, Sir Robert Cotton,