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LIFE OF JONSON.
and did hitt it admirably well, viz. Every Man which was his first good one. Serjeant Jo. Hoskins of Herefordshire was his father. I remember his sonne (sir Bennet Hoskins, baronet, who was something poetical in his youth) told me, that when he desired to be adopted his sonne, No, sayd he, 'tis honour enough for me to be your brother: I am your father's sonne: 'twas he that polished me: I do acknowledge it. He was (or rather had been) of a clear and faire skin. His habit was very plain. I have heard Mr. Lacy the player say, that he was wont to weare a coate like a coachman's coate, with slitts under the arm-pitts. He would many times exceede in drinke: Canarie was his beloved liquor: then he would tumble home to bed: and when he had thoroughly perspired, then to studie. I have seen his studyeing chaire, which was of strawe, such as old women used: and as Aulus Gellius is drawn in. When I was in Oxon: bishop Skinner (Bp. of Oxford) who lay at our college, was wont to say, that he understood an author as well as any man in England. He mentions in his Epigrames, a son that he had, and his epitaph. Long since in King James time, I have heard my uncle Davers (Danvers) say, who knew him, that he lived without Temple Barre at a combe-maker's shop about the Elephant's Castle. In his later time he lived in Westminster, in the house under which you passe, as you go out of the church-yard into the old palace: where he dyed. He lyes buried in the north aisle, the path square of stones, the rest is lozenge, opposite to the scutcheon of Robert de Ros, with this inscription only on him, in a pavement square of blue marble, fourteen inches square, O RARE BEN: JONSON: which was done at the charge of Jack Young, afterwards knighted, who, walking there when the grave was covering, gave the fellow eighteen pence to cutt it."
Mr. Zouch, in his Life of Walton, has furnished the following information from a MS. of Walton's in the Ashmolean Museum.
"I only knew Ben Johnson: but my lord of Winton (Dr. Morley, bishop of Winchester) knew him very well: and says, he was in the 6o that is, the upermost fforme in Westminster scole, at which time his father dyed, and his mother married a brickelayer, who made him (much against his will) help him in his trade: but in a short time, his scolemaister, Mr. Camden, got him a better employment, which was to atend or acompany a son of sir Walter Rauley's in his travills. Within a short time after their return, they parted (I think not in cole bloud) and with a loue sutable to what they had in their travilles (not to be commended). And then Ben began to set up for himselfe in the trade by which he got his subsistance and fame, of which I need not give any account. He got in time to have one hundred pound a yeare from the king, also a pension from the cittie, and the like from many of the nobilitie and some of the gentry, which was well pay'd, for love or fere of his railing in verse, or prose, or boeth. My lord told me, he told him he was (in his long retyrement and sickness, when he saw him, which was often) much afflickted, that hee had profained the scripture in his playes, and lamented it with horror: yet that, at that time of his long retyrement, his pension (so much as came in) was given to a woman that gouern'd him; (with whome he liv'd and dyed nere the Abie in Westminster) and that nether he nor she tooke much care for next weike: and wood be sure not to want wine; of which he usually took too much before he went to bed, if not oftener and soner. My lord tells me, he knowes not, but thinks he was born in Westminster. The question may be put to Mr. Wood very easily upon what grounds he is positive as to his being born their: he is a friendly man, and will resolve it. So much for brave Ben.-Nov. 22. (16) 80."
Fuller, in addition to what has been already quoted, says that "he was statutably ad
mitted into Saint John's College in Cambridge, where he continued but few weeks for want of further maintenance, being fain to return to the trade of his father-in-law. And let not them blush that have, but those that have not, a lawful calling. He help'd in the building of the new structure of Lincoln's-Inn, when having a trowell in his hand, he had a book in his pocket. Some gentlemen pitying that his parts should be buried under the rubbish of so mean a calling, did by their bounty manumise him freely to follow his own ingenuous inclinations. Indeed his parts 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 (besides wine) their several humours into his observation. What was ore in others, he was able to refine to himself. He was paramount in the dramatique 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 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 spriteful and vigorous as his first pieces, all that are old will, and all that desire to be old should, excuse him therein."-To his article of Shakspeare, Fuller subjoins-" Many were the wit-combates betwixt (Shakspeare) and Ben Johnson, which two I behold like a Spanish great gallion and an English man of war: master Johnson (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."
The following particulars are transcribed from Oldys' MS. additions to Langbaine. Oldys, like Spence, picked up the traditions of his day, and left them to be examined and authenticated by his readers. Such contributions to biography are no doubt useful, but not to be received with implicit credit.
"Mr. Camden recommended (Jonson) to sir Walter Raleigh, who trusted him with the care and instruction of his eldest son Walter, a gay spark, who could not brook Ben's rigorous treatment, but, perceiving one foible in his disposition, made use of that to throw off the yoke of his government. And this was an unlucky habit Ben had contracted, through his love of jovial company, of being overtaken with liquor, which sir Walter did of all vices most abominate, and hath most exclaimed against. One day, when Ben had taken a plentiful dose, and was fallen into a sound sleep, young Raleigh got a great basket, and a couple of men, who laid Ben in it, and then with a pole carried him between their shoulders to sir Walter, telling him their young master had sent home his tutor.-This I had from a MS. memorandum book written in the time of the civil wars by Mr. Oldisworth, who was secretary, I think, to Philip earl of Pembroke. Yet in the year 1014, when sir Walter published his History of the World, there was a good understanding between him and Ben Jonson; for the verses, which explain the grave frontispiece before that History, were written by Jonson, and are reprinted in his Underwoods, where the poem is called The Mind of the Frontispiece to a Book, but he names not this book."-
"About the year 1622 some lewd, perjured woman deceived and jilted him; and he writes a sharp poem on the occasion. And in another poem, called his Picture, left in Scotland, he seems to think she slighted him for his mountain belly and his rocky face." We have already seen, by bishop Morley's account, that he lived with a woman in his latter days who assisted him in spending his money.
"Ben Jonson" says Oldys, "was charged in his Poetastes, 1601, with having libelled or ridiculed the lawyers, soldiers, and players; so he afterwards joined an apologetical dialogue at the end of it, wherein he says he had been provoked for three years on every stage by slanderers, as to his self-conceit, arrogance, insolence, railing, and plagiarism by translations. As to law, he says he only brought in Ovid chid by his father for preferring poetry to it. As to the soldiers, he swears by his Muse they are friends; he loved the profession, and once proved or exercised it, as I take it, and did not shame it more then with his actions, than he dare now with his writings. And as to the players, he had taxed some sparingly, but they thought each man's vice belonged to the whole tribe. That he was not moved with what they had done against him, but was sorry for some better natures, who were drawn in by the rest to concur in the exposure or derision of him. And concludes, that since his comic Muse had been so ominous to him, he will try if tragedy has a kinder aspect.
"A full show of those he has exposed in this play is not now easily discernible. Besides Decker, and some touches on some play that has a Moor in it (perhaps Titus Andronicus; I should hope he did not dare to mean Othello) some speeches of such a character being recited in act iii. scene iv. though not reflected on, he makes Tucca call Histrio the player, a lousy slave, proud rascal, you grow rich, do you? and purchase your twopenny tear-mouth: and copper-laced scoundrels,' &c. which language should not come very natural from him, if he ever had been a player himself; and such it seems he was before or after."
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 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 good manners."
As the account Jonson gave of himself to Drummond contains also his opinions of the poets of his age, no apology is necessary for introducing it. It was first published in the folio edition of Drummond's Works, 1711.
"He" Ben Jonson, "said, that his grandfather came from Carlisle, to which he had come from Annandale in Scotland; that he served king Henry VIII. and was a gentleHis father lost his estate under queen Mary, having been cast in prison and forfeited: and at last he turned minister. He was posthumous, being born a month after his father's death, and was put to school by a friend. His master was Camden. Afterwards he was taken from it, and put to another craft, viz. to be a bricklayer, which he could not endure, but went into the Low Countries, and returning home he again betook himself to his wonted studies. In his service in the Low Countries he had, in the view of both the armies, killed an enemy and taken the opima spolia from him; and since coming to England, being appealed to in a duel, he had killed his adversary, who had hurt him in the arm, and whose sword was ten inches longer than his. For this crime he was im
7 Seward's Biographiana, p. 411. C.
prisoned, and almost at the gallows. Then he took his religion on trust of a priest, who visited him in prison. He was twelve years a papist; but after this he was reconciled to the church of England, and left off to be a recusant. At his first communion, in token of his true reconciliation, he drank out the full cup of wine. He was master of arts in both universities. In the time of his close imprisonment under queen Elizabeth there were spies to catch him, but he was advertised of them by the keeper. He had an epigram on the spies. He married a wife, who was a shrew, yet honest to him. When the king came to England, about the time that the plague was in London, he (Ben Jonson) being in the country at sir Robert Cotton's house, with old Camden, saw in a vision his eldest son, then a young child and at London, appear unto him with the mark of a bloody cross on his forehead, as if it had been cut with a sword; at which, amazed, he prayed unto God, and in the morning he came to Mr. Camden's chamber to tell him, who persuaded him it was but an apprehension, at which he should not be dejected. In the mean time come letters from his wife of the death of that boy in the plague. He appeared to him, he said, of a manly shape, and of that growth he thinks he shall be at the resurrection.
"He was accused by sir James Murray to the king, for writing something against the Scots in a play called Eastward Hoe, and voluntarily imprisoned himself with Chapman and Marston, who had written it amongst them, and it was reported should have their ears and noses cut. After their delivery he entertained all his friends; there were present Camden, Selden, and others. In the middle of the feast his old mother drank to him, and showed him a paper which she designed (if the sentence had past) to have mixed among his drink, and it was strong and lusty poison; and to show that she was no churl, she told that she designed first to have drank of it herself.
"He said he had spent a whole night in lying looking to his great toe, about which he had seen Tartars and Turks, Romans and Carthaginians fight, in his imagination.
"He wrote all his verses first in prose, as his master Camden taught him; and said that verses stood by sense, without either colours or accent.
"He used to say, that many epigrams were ill because they expressed in the end what should have been understood by what was said before, as that of sir John Davies; that he had a pastoral entitled The May-lord: his own name is Alkin; Ethra, the countess of Bedford; Mogbel Overberry; the old countess of Suffolk,; an enchantress; other names are given to Somerset, his lady, Pembroke, the countess of Rutland, lady Worth. In his first scene Alkin comes in mending his broken pipe. He bringeth in, says our author, clowns making mirth and foolish sports, contrary to all other pastorals. He had also a design to write a fisher or pastoral play, and make the stage of it in the Lomond Lake; and also to write his foot-pilgrimage thither, and to call it a discovery. In a poem he calleth Edinburgh,
The heart of Scotland, Britain's other eye.
"That he had an intention to have made a play like Plautus's Amphytrio, but left it off: for that he could never find two so like one to the other that he could persuade the spectators that they were one.
"That he had a design to write an epick poem, and was to call it Chorologia, of the worthies of his country raised by fame, and was to dedicate it to his country. It is all in couplets, for he detested all other rhimes. He said he had written a discourse of
poetry both against Campion and Daniel, especially the last, where he proves couplets to be the best sort of verses, especially when they are broke like hexameters, and that cross rhimes and stanzas, because the purpose would lead beyond eight lines, were all forced.
"His censure of the English poets was this: That Sidney did not keep a decorum in making every one speak as well as himself. Spenser's stanzas pleased him not, nor his matter; the meaning of the allegory of his Fairy Queen, he had delivered in writing to sir Walter Raleigh, which was, that by the bleating beast he understood the Puritans, and by the false Duessa the queen of Scots. He told, that Spenser's goods were robbed by the Irish, and his house and a little child burnt; he and his wife escaped, and after died for want of bread in King Street. He refused twenty pieces sent him by my lord Essex, and said he had no time to spend them. Samuel Daniel was a good honest man, had no children, and was no poet; that he had wrote the Civil Wars, and yet hath not one battle in all his book. That Michael Drayton's Polyolbion, if he had performed what he promised, to write the deeds of all the worthies, had been excellent. That he was challenged for entituling a book, Mortimariades. That sir John Davis played on Drayton in an epigram; who, in his sonnet, concluded his mistress might have been the ninth worthy, and said he used a phrase like Dametas in Arcadia, who said, his mistress, for wit, might be a giant. That Silvester's Translation of Du Bartas was not well done, and that he wrote his verses before he understood to confer: and those of Fairfax were not good. That the translations of Homer and Virgil in long Alexandrines were but prose. That sir John Harrington's Ariosto, under all translators, was the worst. That when sir John Harrington desired him to tell the truth of his Epigrams, he answered him, that he loved not the truth, for they were narrations, not epigrams. He said, Doǹne was originally a poet: his grandfather on the mother's side was Heywood, the epigrammatist; that Donne, for not being understood, would perish. He esteemed him the first poet in the world for some things: his verses of the lost Ochadine he had by heart; and that passage of the Calm, that dust and feathers did not stir all was so quiet.' He affirmed that Donne wrote all his best pieces before he was twenty-five years of age. The conceit of Donne's Transformation; or Meleμboxwois, was, that he sought the soul of that apple which Eve pulled, and thereafter made it the soul of a bitch, then of a sea-wolf, and so of a woman. His general purpose was to have brought it into all the bodies of the hereticks from the soul of Cain, and at last left it in the body of Calvin. He only wrote one sheet of this, and since he was made doctor, repented hugely, and resolved to destroy all his poems. He told Donne, that his Anniversary was prophane and full of blasphemies: that if it had been written on the Virgin Mary, it had been tolerable. To which Donne answered, • That he described the idea of a woman, and not as she was.' He said, Shakspeare wanted art, and sometimes sense; for in one of his plays he brought in a number of men, saying they had suffered shipwreck in Bohemia, where is no sea near by one hundred miles. That sir Walter Raleigh esteemed more fame than conscience. The best wits in England were employed in making his History. Ben himself had written a piece to him of the Punick war, which he altered, and set in his book. He said there was no such ground for an heroick poem, as King Arthur's Fiction; and that sir Philip Sidney had an intention to have transformed all his Arcadia to the stories of king Arthur. He said Owen was a poor pedantic schoolmaster, sweeping his living from the posteriors of little children, and had nothing good in him, his epigrams being bare narrations. Francis Beaumont died before he was thirty years of age, who he said was a good poet, as were Fletcher and