Page images
PDF
EPUB

our believing these enmities to have been either very deep or very lasting.

Sejanus, Jonson's first tragedy, was produced at the Globe Theatre in 1603. Shakespeare again taking a part ; but it was not well received. In consequence Jonson turned his attention to a different species of the drama, and, the festivities attending the progress of the new king offering a splendid field for his talents, began with the The_Satyre in 1603, that series of stately Masques and Entertainments which alone would be sufficient to render his name remarkable in the history of our literature. He soon gained the royal favor, and with it the patronage of many noble houses; and for years the most notable courtly entertainments and civic feasts were enriched with “ the poetry and learning of Master Ben Jonson and the invention and architecture of Master Inigo Jones.”

In 1605 Chapman and Marston were imprisoned for certain passages of the comedy, Eastward Ho! which an irritable courtier conceived to be derogatory to the Scotch; and Jonson, who had a hand in the play but not in the offensive passages, “voluntarily imprisoned himself" with them. But both Chapman and Jonson had influence at Court and the playwrights were soon at liberty. Jonson continued for years to furnish entertainments for the Court, and appears to have accompanied many of the royal progresses. In 1616 the Laureateship, with a pension of one hundred marks a year, was conferred upon him ; this with his fees and retainers from several noble patrons, and the small earnings of his plays, formed the bulk of his income. Two years later the king granted him the reversion of the office of Master of the Revels, but Jonson did not live to enjoy its perquisites. It is even said that at one time Jonson narrowly escaped the honor of knighthood, which King James was wont to lavish with indiscriminate hand.

Volpone was produced in 1605; The Silent Woman, in

1609, and The Alchemist followed in the succeeding year. These masterly comedies met with unqualified success, as did Bartholomew Fair in 1614. A less degree of popular approbation awaited his second tragedy, Catiline, which was produced in 1611. This group of plays represents Jonson at the height of his dramatic power.

From 1616 to 1625 Jonson produced nothing for the stage, although still not infrequently engaged in the composition of courtly entertainments. During this period of prosperity he was enabled to continue the prosecution of those studies which have made him memorable as one of the greatest scholars of a scholarly age, and to collect his rich and varied library, afterwards unhappily destroyed by fire. He told Drummond that “the Earl of Pembroke sent him £20 every first day of the new year to buy new books." With another patron, Lord d'Aubigny, he lived for a period of five years. Jonson accompanied the eldest son of Sir Walter Raleigh to Paris as his tutor in 1613, and told Drummond that he had written certain parts of Sir Walter's History of the World for him (see notes 30 34). Later, in 1618, Jonson set out on foot for Scotland, and spent some time with the Scotch poet, William Drummond, at Hawthornden, the latter's country-seat. In the words of Professor Ward : "His [Jonson's] moral like his physical nature was cast in a generously ample mould; he spoke his mind freely in praise and blame ; uttered his opinion of men and books in round terms; and probably never gave a second thought to his sayings after they had flowed as copiously as the canary which had removed the last barrier of self-restraint. Talk such as this will not always bear analysis ; and when Drummond, after Ben Jonson's departure, summarized his impressions of his guest in a note of his own

not of course intended for the public eye — it does not follow that he was in a fit mood for the purpose.”

Courtly patronage failed Jonson towards the close of the

reign of James, and in 1625 he had recourse once more to the stage. While the sweeping assertion of Dryden that these later plays are " Jonson's dotages " is unfair, their inferiority to the work of his better days is as marked as it is deplorable. But there were many compensations yet left to the veteran of letters. None of the great English literary dictators enjoyed a rule-more-absolute than that of Ben Jonson, whether in the earlier days of the Mermaid, where, in the words of Herrick :

We such clusters had
As made us nobly wild, not mad;

And yet each verse of thine
Outdid the meat, outdid the frolic wine;

or in the later times of the Apollo room of the Devil Tavern. Nor was this homage confined to “the billowy realms of Bohemia." To use the words of Professor Ward once more: “Contemporary literature of every description from Clarendon to Milton, and from Milton to Herrick abounds with testimonies together proving his position to have been unrivalled among the men of letters of his times; and on his death a crowd of poets hastened to pay their tributes of acknowledgment to one who seems to have been loved more than he was feared, and to have left behind him a gap which it was felt must remain unfilled.”

Unhappily, poverty, disease, and increasing_years were now aggravated by renewed petty squabbles, especially with Inigo Jones, who used his influence at Court unworthily to prevent the employment of his unhappy rival. In 1628, on the death of Thomas Middleton, Jonson obtained the post of Chronologer to the City of London, and in the ensuing year King Charles renewed his father's patronage of the old laureate with a gift of £100, and an increase of Jonson's standing salary. Now much of his time bedridden, the old poet became dependent on the liberality of noble patrons, and yet the friendship of many of the greatest and noblest men of his day, and the adoration of a younger generation “sealed of the tribe of Ben,” must have gone far towards brightening even these darkening days. Ben Jonson died August 6, 1635, and although a projected monument failed of erection in the midst of the political tension that was rapidly hurrying the nation to civil war, all must agree that

no time will efface the brief but sufficient legend

•O rare Ben Jonson.””

2. PUBLICATION AND DATE OF COMPOSITION.

[ocr errors]

Ben Jonson's Explorata, Timber or Discoveries was published posthumously in 1641, filling the last forty-seven pages of the second volume of the folio edition of 1640. Since Dr. Brinsley Nicholson's examination and collation of the folio editions of Jonson (see Notes and Queries, Fourth Series, vol. v. p. 573), we may dismiss the supposition of Lowndes that a third folio edition was printed, bearing date 1641, as well as his affirmation of the existence of a second volume of the first folio of 1616. It was not until the reprint of 1640 that a second volume, containing the Discoveries and other pieces variously dated, appeared. Gifford supposed that this volume was printed from manuscripts surreptitiously obtained (ed. Cunningham, iii. p. 277); but Dr. Nicholson has shown conclusively, and for reasons which space will not permit me to set forth here, that at least two of the plays contained in this volume had received touches from the hand of the author, and that “as to the pieces dated 1640 and 1641, some of the smaller poems are from the author's revised copies, while the same pieces in the quarto and duodecimo non-surreptitious editions of 1640 are from earlier drafts."

The separate title of the Discoveries bears no imprint beyond the words, "London, printed M.DC.XLI." The

[ocr errors]

pagination runs continuously through Horace, his Arte of Poetrie, pp. 1-29, The English Grammar, pp. 31–84, and the Discoveries, pp. 85-132 ; while each of the former separate titles displays the imprint, “ Printed M.DC.XL.Dr. Nicholson, however, informs us that the general title of the second volume bears the imprint of R. Meighan, 1640, who was not the publisher of the other volume of the second folio. The exemplar, the property of the present editor, contains no such general title ; and it would seem from Gifford's note, referred to above, that his copy exhibited a like defect. Dr. Nicholson assures us that whatever the other variants, all the copies of the Discoveries bear the date of 1641.

In view of the corrupt state of portions of the text, the evident disorder of many of the notes, and the ignorant misplacement and repetition of marginal references, it is clear that the work could never have been intended, by so careful an author as Jonson, for publication in its present form. And yet, considering the age and its posthumous appearance, the condition of the text of the folio is far from justifying the brilliant strictures of Mr. Swinburne. The truth seems that editors of Jonson have generally wearied of their task before reaching the later products of their author's brain ; and, while most of the mistakes of the folio have been reproduced with sedulous fidelity, not a few new errors have crept into the text through carelessness or unnecessary zeal in emendation.

As appears from the title, the Discoveries is a “species of commonplace book of aphorisms flowing out of the poet's daily reading." But it would be far from just to regard this as all. For every note is stamped with the powerful individuality of the writer, so that even the reflected thoughts of others have become wholly Jonson's own; while the care with which the notes have been penned, and the painstaking attention to matters of style and expression, entitle Jonson

« PreviousContinue »