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“EvKRY MAN IN HIs HUMoUR.” 163
plunge into the troubled waters of an actor's life might have cured him of his passion for the stage, for it was a miserable failure. But he clung to the vocation he had embraced; and to his poor earnings as a third or fourth rate actor he began to add the still more precarious gains of a theatrical author. And all this when he was only twenty years of age. So early did he find his life's work. Some men, whose names hold an honourable place among our chief English writers, scarcely taking pen in hand, except to write a common letter, until the snow of age began to fall upon their heads, have produced their great works in the winter of their days. Ben Jonson was not of these: almost before the down of manhood had darkened on his lip, the hand, that had already held the trowel and the pike, took up the pen. A duel with a brother actor, whom unhappily he killed, exposed him to the charge of murder, and he lay for some time in jail. Soon after his release he sprang at once into fame by the production of his well-known and still-acted play, Every Man in his Humour. How strange it seems to us, who reverence the name so deeply, to read that William Shakspere was one of the company who acted this comedy at the Globe in 1598 1598. We can hardly realize the fact that the writer of A.D. “Hamlet” and “Macbeth” was only a third-rate player. Jonson followed up this successful hit with eager industry, and for some time every year produced its play. The greatest men of the day became the intimates of the roistering author. At the Mermaid Club, founded by Raleigh, and adorned by the membership of Shakspere and other great brothers of the dramatic craft, Jonson was a leading wit. Like his burly namesake of the eighteenth century, he was a man of solid learning and great conversational powers; and his social qualities, kindled by the old sack, which he loved too well, made him a most attractive companion. The Falcon at Southwark and the Old Devil at Temple Bar were the favourite tavern-haunts of Ben and his brilliant friends. This rough and roaring life was chequered by several noteworthy events. The publication of a comedy called Eastward Hoe,
164 The DEATH OF JONSON.
which in 1605 proceeded from the pens of a literary partnership of three—Jonson, Chapman, and Marston, excited the anger of King James by some hits at the unwelcome presence of the Scotch in England. For his share in this work Jonson went to prison with his friends, and for some time our poet's nose and ears were in considerable danger. But the storm blowing over, he regained his freedom. In 1619, after receiving the appointment of poetlaureate, he travelled on foot to Scotland, whence his family had come, and there he paid a three weeks' visit to Drummond of Hawthornden. The composition of court masques and lighter poems filled up some easy years of Jonson's life, which was agreeably varied by visits to his distinguished friends, correspondence with learned men at home and abroad, and the collection of rare books—a pursuit in which he took especial pleasure. But debt and the ravages of paralysis upon a frame he had never spared, cast a gloom over his last years. The malice of a former friend, Inigo Jones, the architect, shut the golden doors of court life against the poor sick laureate. His salary, never well paid, came dribbling in so slowly that he was compelled to write begging letters to some of his noble friends; who, to their honour be it said, did not refuse their aid. So the bright life dimmed, and flickered, and went out. On the 6th of August 1637 he died; and three days after was buried in an upright posture in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey. A workman, hired for eighteen pence by the charity of a passer-by, cut upon the grave-stone covering the poet's clay the four short words which form his only epitaph. The works of Jonson, numbering in all about fifty, may be classed under four heads: his Tragedies, stately, cold, and classical; his Comedies, full of the coloured fire of real life, and abounding in varieties of character, which are rendered the more striking by a very decided tinge of exaggeration;” his Masques and Interludes, forming the bulk of his writings, and nearly all produced during his brilliant days at court; and his finely written Prose notes,
* He has hence been styled the “humorous poet;" not in our modern sense of that work but as a skilful painter of those subtile shades of temper which are called “humours."
THE CHIEF WORKS OF JONSON. 165
containing some good sound criticism upon Bacon and other men of literary renown. Studding his dramatic works, like gems of the purest water and the finest cutting, are numerous songs, which have not been surpassed by any of our English lyrists. His principal tragedies are Catiline and Sejanus, founded upon two of the darkest pages of Roman history. Every Man in his Humour, The Alchemist, and Volpone are his finest comedies; and an unfinished pastoral, The Sad Shepherd, touched with the gloom of his dying days, may well stand beside these works, if we can judge of the half-done picture, when the colours are dry upon the palette, and the brush has fallen for ever from the painter's hand. His prose notes bore the odd title, Timber; or, Discoveries made upon Men and Matter.
CAPTAIN BOBADIL AND THE ARMY.
Bobadil.—I will tell you, sir, by the way of private, and under seal, I am a gentleman, and live here obscure, and to myself; but were I known to her Majesty and the lords (observe me), I would undertake, upon this poor head and life, for the public benefit of the state, not only to spare the entire lives of her subjects in general, but to save the one-half, nay, three parts of her yearly charge in holding war, and against what enemy soever. . . . . I would select nineteen more, to myself, throughout the land; gentlemen they should be of good spirit, strong and able constitution; I would choose them by an instinct, a character that I have: and I would teach these nineteen the special rules, as your punto, your reverso, your stoccata, your imbroccato, your passado, your montanto, till they could all play very near, or altogether as well as myself. This done, say the enemy were forty thousand strong, we twenty would come into the field the tenth of March, or thereabouts, and we would challenge twenty of the enemy; they could not in their honour refuse us; well, we would kill them; challenge twenty more, kill them; twenty more, kill them; twenty more, kill them too; and thus would we kill every man his twenty a day, that's twenty score; twenty score, that's two hundred; two hundred a day five days, a thousand; forty thousand; forty times five, five times forty, two hundred days kills them all up by computation. And this will I venture my poor gentleman-like carcass to perform, provided there be no treason practised on us, by fair and discreet manhood; that is, civilly by the sword.
THOMAS TUSSER, born in Essex about 1523, wrote an agricultural poem, called the Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, which in simple verse gives a good picture of English peasant life at that day. He died about 1580.
ROBERT GREENE, one of Shakspere's predecessors in the dramatic art, was born at Norwich or Ipswich about 1560. Having received his education at Cambridge, he travelled in Italy and Spain, and on his return to London plunged deep into the lowest debauchery. From about 1584 his pen was busied in the production of plays and love-pamphlets, which soon made him very popular. A surfeit of pickled herrings and Rhenish wine threw him into a mortal sickness, during which he was supported by a poor shoemaker. His miserable and premature death took place in 1592. More than forty works are ascribed to his pen. He takes rank among our early English dramatists, next below the vigorous Marlowe.
ROBERT SOUTHWELL, whose short and suffering life began in 1560, was a native of St. Faiths in Norfolk. Educated at the English college of Douay, he entered the Society of Jesuits at sixteen. In 1584 he returned to England as a missionary, and there he
DANIEL AND DRAYTON. 167
laboured for eight years in secret, penal laws being then extreme. Arrested at last, he lay in prison for three years, and in 1595 was hanged at Tyburn tree. His poems, of which the longest are St. Peter's Complaint and Mary Magdalene's Funeral Tears, being chiefly written in prison, have a tone of deep melancholy resignation. SAMUEL DANIEL, born in 1562 near Taunton in Somersetshire, was a contemporary of Shakspere and Jonson. His principal poems are, A History of the Wars between the Houses of York and Lancaster, and a dialogue in defence of learning, styled Musophilus. His education was received at Oxford; he was afterwards tutor to Anne Clifford, who became Countess of Pembroke; and with other court preferments he held a post somewhat like that of our poetlaureate. His death took place in 1619 on a farm in his native shire. Shut in his garden-house in Old Street, St. Luke's, he gave up the best part of a quiet, studious life, to the composition of those graceful and pensive works, whose style obtained for him the name of “The well-languaged Daniel.” MICHAEL DRAYTON, author of the Polyolbion, is thought to have been born in Warwickshire about 1563, and to have begun life as a page. This threw him into the society of noble patrons, by whom his talents were soon recognised. The “Polyolbion,” finished in 1622, takes a poetical ramble over England, collecting together, in thirty ponderous books, descriptions of scenery, wild country legends, antiquarian notes, and various other glearings from the land. In spite of an unhappy subject, the genius of a true poet shines out in many passages of this work. Among Drayton's other works are historical poems entitled the Baron's Wars and England's Heroical Epistles, and an exquisitely comical fairy piece called Nymphidia. Dying in 1631, he found a tomb in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. CHRISTOPHER MARLowe merits somewhat longer notice than any other of our earliest dramatists, for it was he who prepared the way for the mighty creations of Shakspere, by establishing the use of a lofty and polished blank-verse in our English plays. Born at Canterbury in 1563-4, he passed to Cambridge, where he