1662 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ben Jonson

Thomas Fuller, in History of the Worthies of England (1662) 2:243.



BENJAMIN JOHNSON was born in this City [Westminster]. Though I cannot with all my industrious inquiry find him in his cradle, I can fetch him from his long-coats. When a little child, he lived in Harts-horn-lane near Charing-cross, where his Mother married a bricklayer for her Second husband.

He was first bred in a private school in Saint Martins Church, then in Westminster school, witness his own Epigram:

Camden, most reverend Head, to whom I owe
All that I am in Arts, all that I know.
How nothings that to whom my Country owes
The great renown and Name wherewith she goes, &c.

He was Statutably admitted into Saint Johns-colledge in Cambridge, (as many years after incorporated an honorary member of Christ-church in Oxford) 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 helped in 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 manumit him freely to follow his own ingenious inclinations. Indeed his parts were not so ready to run of themselves, as able to answer to spur; so that it may be truly said of him, that he had an Elaborate wit wought out by his own industry. He would sit silent in learned company, and such 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 onely tickled with down right 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 sprightful and vigorous as his first pieces, all that are old will, and all that desire to be old should, excuse him therein.

He was not very happy in his children, and most happy in those which died first, though none lived to survive him. This he bestowed as part of an Epitaph on his eldest son, dying in infancy.

Rest in soft peace and, Ask'd, say here doth lye,
Ben Jonson his best piece of Poetry.

He died Anno Domini 1637. and was buried about the Belfry in the Abbey-church at Westminster.