I have already drawn some strokes of this Great Man's Character, in my Defence of him against the Attempts of Mr. Dryden; and therefore shall less need to make a curious and exact Description of all his Excellencies; which otherwise are very Great, Noble, and Various; and have been remark'd in parcells by several Hands, but exceed my small Capacity to collect them into one full View. I shall therefore rather let them lye dispers'd, as Scaliger did Virgil's Praises, thro' his whole Book of Poetry; contenting my self at present with giving the Reader an Account of the private Occurrencies of his Life.
To begin then with his Nativity: He was born in the City of Westminster; and tho' he sprang from mean Parents, yet his Admirable Parts have made him more Famous than those of a more Conspicuous Extraction. Nor do I think it any Diminution to him, that he was Son-in-law to a Bricklayer, and work'd at that Trade; since if we take a Survey of the Records of Antiquity, we shall find the Greatest Poets of the meanest Birth; and most lyable to the Inconveniencies of Life. Witness Homer, who begg'd from door to door; Euripides, traded in Herbs with his Mother; Plautus was forc'd to serve a Baker; Naevius was a Captain's Man; Terence was a Slave to the Generous Lucan; Virgil, was the Son of a Basket-maker: and yet these thought the Obscurity of their Extraction no Diminution to their Worth; nor will any Man of Sence reflect on Ben. Johnson on this Account, if he seriously call to Mind that saying of Juvenal.
—Nobilitas sola est, atque unica Virtus.
He was Bred first at a Private-School, in St. Martin's Church, then plac'd at Westminster, under the Famous Mr. Cambden, (to whom in Gratitude he dedicated his Fourteenth Epigram) afterwards he was sent to Saint John's Colledge in Cambridge; from thence he remov'd to Oxford, and was enter'd of Christ-Church Colledge; where in the Year 1619. (as Mr. Wood says) he took his Master of Arts Degree: tho' Dr. Fuller says, "He continu'd there but few Weeks, for want of Maintenance, being fain to return to the Trade of his Father-in-law;" where he assisted in the New Building of Lincolns Inn, with a Trowel in his Hand, and a Book in his Pocket. But this English Maro, was not long before he found a Maecenas and a Varus, to manumit him from an Employment so painful, and furnisht him with means to enjoy his Muse at liberty, in private. 'Twas then that he writ his Excellent Plays, and grew into Reputation with the most Eminent of our Nobility and Gentry. 'Twas then, that Carthwright, Randolph, and others of both Universities, sought his Adoption; and gloried more in his Friendship, and the Title of his Sons, than in their own Well-deserv'd Characters. Neither did he less love, or was less belov'd by the Famous Poets of his Time, Shakspear, Beaumont, and Fletcher: witness his Copy which he writ on Shakspear, after his Death, and his Verses to Fletcher when living.
He was a Man of a very free Temper, and withal blunt, and somewhat haughty to those, that were either Rivals in Fame, or Enemies to his Writings: (witness his Poetaster, wherein he falls upon Decker, and his answer to Dr. Gill, who writ against his Magnetick Lady,) otherwise of a good Sociable Humour, when amongst his Sons and Friends in the Apollo: from whose Laws the Reader may possibly better judge of his Temper; a Copy of which I have transcrib'd for the Learn'd Readers perusal.
LEGES CONVIVIALES, QUOD FOELIX FAUSTUMQUE CONVIVIS IN APOLLINE SIT.
Nemo asymbolus, nisi umbra huc venito,
Idiota, insultus, tristis, turpis abesto.
Eruditi, Urbani, Hilares, Modesti adsciscuntur,
Nec lectae Foeminae repudiantur.
In apparatu, quod convivis corruget nares nil esto,
Epulae delectu potius, quam sumptu parantur;
Obsonator, & Coquus convivarum gulae periti sunto;
De Discubitu non contenditur.
Ministri a Dapibus, oculati, & muti,
A poculis auriti, & celeres sunto.
Vina puris fontibus ministrantur, aut vapulet hospes,
Moderatis poculis provocare sodales fas esto,
At sabulis, magis qu‡m vino velitatio fiat,
Convivae nec muti, nec loquaces sunto.
De seriis aut sacris, poti, & saturine disserunto,
Fidicen nisi accersitus non venito.
Admisso risu, tripudiis, choreis, saltibus,
Omni gratiarum festivitate sacra celebrantur:
Joci sine felle sunto
Insipida Poemata nulla recitantur;
Versus scribere nullus cogitur;
Argumentationis totius strepitus abesto;
Amatoriis querelis, ac suspiriis liber angulus esto,
Lapitharum more, scyphis pugnare, vitrea collidere,
Fenestras excutere; supellectilem dilacerare ne fas esto.
Qui foras dicta vel facta eliminet, eliminatur;
Neminem reum pocula jaciunto.
Focus perennis esto.
As to his Poetry, I dare not pretend to give a Judgment on it, it deserving somewhat above what my faint Praise can reach, or describe: therefore those who would be better satisfy'd must have recourse to his Character drawn by Dr. Fuller, and Mr. Anthony Wood in Prose, and by Mr. Carthwright, and the late Mr. Oldham in Verse; to the foregoing, I might add Mr. Dryden's Dramatick Essay, which had it been writ after his Postscript to Granada, might have aton'd for that unbecoming Character, and had serv'd for a Palinode; but since he has not that I know of thought fit to retract it, give me leave to insert an old Copy of Verses, which seems to wipe off the Accusations of Mr. Johnson's Enemies [author's note: Fitzs-geofridi Astaniarum, Liv. 2.].
AD BENJAMINUM JOHNSONUM.
In jus te voco, Jonsoni venito:
Adsum, qui plagii & malae rapinae
Te ad Phoebi peragam reum tribunal,
Assidente choro Novem Dearum.
Quaedam Dramata scilicet diserta,
Nuper quae Elysii roseti in umbra,
Faestivissimus omnium Poeta,
Plautus composuit, Diisque tandem
Stellato exhibuit poli in Theatro,
Movendo superis leves cachinnos,
Et risos tetrico Jovi ciendo,
Axe plausibus intonante utroque;
Haec tu Dramata scilicet diserta,
Clepsisti superis negotiosis,
Quae tu nunc tua venuitare pergis:
In jus te voco, Jonsoni venito.
En pro te Pater ipse, Rexque Phoebus
Assurgit modo, Jonsoni, palamque
Testatur, tua serio fuisse
Illa Dramata, teque condidisse
Sese non modo conscio, at juvante:
Unde ergo sibi Plautus illa tandem
Nactus exhibuit, Jovi Deisque?
Maiae Filius, & Nepos Atlantis,
Pennatus celeres Pedes, at ungues
Viscatus, volucer puer, vaferque,
Furto condere quidlibet jocoso,
Ut quondam facibus suis Amorem
Per ludos videavit, & Pharetra,
Sic nuper (siquidem solet frequenter
Tecum ludere, plaudere, & jocari)
Neglectas tibi ilepsit has papyrus
Secumque ad Superos abire jussit:
Jam victus taceo pudore, vincis
Phoebo Judice, Jonsoni, & Patrono.
I might here appositely enough bring in a pleasant Story or two of Ben. Jonson's, as Instances of his Debonaire Humor and Readiness at Repartee, did I not fear to be condemn'd by Mr. Dryden, and reckon'd by him and his Admirers, in the number of those grave Gentlemen, whose Memory (he says[author's note: Postscript to Granada) is the only Plea for their being Wits: for this reason I shall forbear, and hasten to give an Account of his Works.
He has writ above fifty several Pieces, which we may rank under the Species of Dramatick Poetry; of which we shall give an Account in Order, beginning with one of his best Comedies, viz.
Alchymist, a Comedy, acted in the Year 1610. by the Kings Majesties Servants, with the Allowance of the Master of the Revels; printed fol. Lond. 1640. and dedicated to the Lady most deserving her Name and Blood, the Lady Mary Wroth, [the Author of the Urania]. Mr. Dryden supposes this Play was copy'd from the Comedy of Albumazer, as far as concerns the Alchymist's Character, as the Reader may observe from the following Lines, (being part of his Prologue, to Albumazer reviv'd;)
Subtle was got by our Albumazer,
That Alchymist by this Astrologer;
Here he was fashion'd, and we may suppose
He lik'd the Fashion well, who wore the Cloaths.
Whether this Accusation be true, I pretend not to determine; but sure I am, that this last Couplet is borrow'd from Mr. Dryden's Dramatick Essay; where he says of Mr. Johnson thus; "You will pardon me therefore if I presume he lov'd the Fashion, when he wore their Cloaths."
Bartholomew Fair, a Comedy, acted at the Hope on the Bank-side, Oct. 31. in the Year 1614. by the Lady Elizabeth's Servants, and then dedicated to King James the First, and printed fol. Lond. 1640. This Play has frequently appear'd on the Stage, since the Restauration, with great applause.
Cataline his Conspiracy, a Tragedy first acted in the Year 1611. by the Kings Majesties Servants, with Allowance from the Master of the Revels; printed fol. Lond. 1640. and dedicated to the great Example of Honour and Virtue, the most Noble William Earl of Pembroke. This Play is still in Vogue on the Stage, and always presented with success. It was so well approv'd of by the Judicious Beaumont, that he writ a Copy of Verses in praise of it, which the Reader may find before our Authors Works. Nevertheless I must take notice that Mr. Johnson has borrow'd very much from the Ancients in this Tragedy; as for Instance, part of Sylla's Ghost, in the very Entrance of the Play, is copy'd from the Ghost of Tantalus, in the beginning of Seneca's Thyestes. Thus our Author has translated a great part of Salust's History, (tho' with great Judgment and Elegance) and inserted it into his Play. For the Plot, see Salust. Plutarch in the Life of Cicero. Florus Lib. 4. C. 1.
Challenge at Tilt, at a Marriage, a Masque printed Fol. Lond. 1640.
Christmass his Masque, presented at Court 1616. printed Fol. Lond. 1640.
Cloridia, or Rites to Cloris, and her Nymphs personated in a Masque at Court, by the Queens Majesty and her Ladies at Shrove-tide, 1630. printed Fol. Lond. 1640. The Inventors of this Masque were Mr. Johnson, and Mr. Inigo Jones.
Cynthia's Revels, or The Fountain of Self-love, a Comical Satyr, first acted in the Year 1600. by the then Children of Queen Elizabeth's Chappel, with the Allowance of the Master of the Revels, printed Folio, Lond. 1640. and dedicated to the Special Fountain of Manners, The Court.
Devil is an Ass, a Comedy acted in the Year 1616. by his Majesties Servants, and printed Fol. Lond. 1641. Tho' our Author seldome borrows any part of his Plot; yet in this Play, if I mistake not, Wittipol's giving his Cloak to Fitz-dotterel to court his Wife one quarter of an Hour, is founded on a Novel in Boccace, Day 3. Nov. 5.
Entertainment of King James, in passing to his Coronation, printed in Fol. Lond. 1640. This Entertainment was mention'd, I suppose by the Compilers of former Catalogues, because it consists of Speeches of Gratulation (as the Author stiles them) which were spoke to his Majesty at Fen-Church, Temple-Bar, and the Strand: and therefore besides the presidents of former Catalogues, which might in part justify me, I might be blam'd should I omit it. The Author has plac'd a Comment throughout to illustrate and authorise his Contrivance.
Entertainment in private of the King and Queen on May-day in the Morning, at Sir William Cornwallis's House at High-gate, 1604. printed Fol. Lond. 1640.
Entertainment of King James and Queen Anne at Theobalds, when the House was deliver'd up, with the possession, to the Queen, by the Earl of Salisbury, May 22. 1607. The Prince of Janvile, Brother to the Duke of Guise, being then present, printed Fol. Lond. 1640.
Entertainment in particular of the Queen and Prince, their Highnesses, at Althrope, at the Lord Spencer's, on Saturday being the Twenty-fifth of June 1603. as they came first into the Kingdome, printed Fol. Lond. 1640.
Entertainment of the Two Kings of Great Brittain, and Denmark, at Theobalds, July 24th 1606. printed Fol. Lond. 1640. This Entertainment is very short, and consists chiefly of Epigrams.
Every Man in his Humour, a Comedy acted in the Year 1598. by the then Lord Chamberlain's Servants, printed Fol. Lond. 1640. and dedicated to the Most Learned, and his Honour'd Friend Mr. Cambden, Clarencieux. This Play has been reviv'd since the Civil Wars, and was receiv'd with general Applause. There is a new Epilogue writ for this Play, the latter part of which is spoken by Ben Johnson's Ghost. The Reader may find it in a Collection of Poems on several Occasions, printed 8vo. Lond. 1673. See pag. 29.
Every Man out of his Humour, a Comical Satyr; first acted in the Year 1599. by the then Lord Chamberlain's Servants; with allowance of the Master of the Revels: printed Fol. Lond. 1640. and dedicated to the Noblest Nurseries of Humanity, and Liberty in the Kingdome, The Inns of Court. This Play was reviv'd at the Theatre-Royal, in the Year 1675. at which time a new Prologue, and Epilogue were spoken by Jo. Heyns, which were writ by Mr. Duffet. See his Poems 8vo. pag. 72. &c. This is accounted an excellent Old Comedy.
Fortunate Isles, and their Union celebrated in a Masque design'd for the Court, on the Twelfth-Night, 1626. printed Fol. Lond. 1641.
Golden Age restor'd, in a Masque at Court, 1615. by the Lords and Gentlemen the King's Servants, and printed Fol. Lond. 1641.
Hymenaei, or The Solemnities of a Masque and Barriers at a Marriage; printed Fol. Lond. 1640. To this Masque are annext, by the Author, Learned Notes in the Margin, for illustration of the Ancient Greek, and Roman Customs.
Irish Masque at Court, by Gentlemen the King's Servants; printed Fol. Lond. 1640.
King's Entertainment at Welbeck in Nottingham-shire, a House of the Right Honourable William Earl of Newcastle, at his going into Scotland, 1633. printed Fol. Lond. 1640.
Love free'd from Ignorance and Folly, a Masque of her Majesties, printed Fol. Lond. 1640.
Love Restor'd, in a Masque at Court, by Gentlemen the King's Servants, printed Fol. Lond. 1640.
Love's Triumph thro' Callipolis; perform'd in a Masque at Court, 1630. by his Majesty King Charles the First, with the Lords and Gentlemen Assisting: the Inventors being Mr. Johnson, and Mr. Inigo Jones: printed Fol. Lond. 1641.
Love's Welcome; the King and Queen's Entertainment at Bolsover, at the Earl of Newcastle's; the 30th of July, 1634. and printed Fol. Lond. 1641.
Magnetick Lady, or Humours Reconcil'd, a Comedy acted at the Black-fryars, and printed Fol. Lond. 1640. This Play is generally esteem'd an Excellent Play: tho' in those days it found some Enemies; amongst which Dr. Gill Master of Pauls School, or at least his Son, writ a Satyr against it: part of which (the whole being too long) I shall take the pains to transcribe.
But to advise thee Ben, in this strist Age,
A Brick-kill's better for thee than a Stage.
Thou better know'st a Groundsil for to lay,
Then lay the Plot or Ground-work of a Play,
And better can'st direct to Cap a Chimney,
Then to converse with Clio, or Polyhimny.
Fall then to work in thy old Age agen,
Take up thy Trug and Trowel, gentle Ben,
Let Plays alone: or if thou needs will write,
And thrust thy feeble Muse into the light;
Let Lowen cease, and Taylor scorn to touch
The loathed Stage, for thou hast made it such.
But to shew how fiercely Ben could repartee on any one that had abus'd him, I will present the Reader with his answer.
Shall the prosperity of a Pardon still
Secure thy railing Rhymes, infamous Gill,
At libelling? Shall no Star-Chamber Peers,
Pillory, nor Whip, nor want of Ears,
All which thou hast incurr'd deservedly:
Nor Degradation from the Ministry,
To be the Denis of thy Father's School,
Keep in thy bawling Wit, thou bawling Fool.
Thinking to stir me, thou hast lost thy End,
I'll laugh at thee poor wretched Tike, go send
Thy blotant Muse abroad, and teach it rather
A Tune to drown the Ballads of thy Father:
For thou hast nought to cure his Fame,
But Tune and Noise the Eccho of his Shame.
A Rogue by Statute, censur'd to be whipt,
Cropt, branded, slit, neck-stockt; go, you are stript.
Masque at the Lord Viscount Hadington's Marriage at Court, on Shrove-Tuesday at Night 1608. and printed fol. Lond. 1640.
Masque of Augurs, with several Antimasques, presented on Twelfth-night 1622. printed fol. Lond. 1640.
Masque of Owls at Kenelworth, presented by the Ghost of Captain Coxe, mounted on his Hobby-horse, 1626. printed fol. Lond. 1640.
Masque of Queens, celebrated from the House of Fame, by the Queen of Great Britain with her Ladies, at Whitehall, Febr. 2. 1609. This Masque is adorned with learned Notes, for the Explanation of the Author's Design. He was assisted in the Invention and Architecture of the Scenes throughout, by Mr. Inigo Jones.
Masque presented in the House of the Right Honourable the Lord Haye, by divers of Noble Quality his Friends; for the Entertainment of Monsieur Le Baron de Tour, Extraordinary Ambassador for the French King; on Saturday the 22. of Febr. 1617. printed fol. Lond. 1617.
Metamorphos'd Gypsies, a Masque thrice presented to King James: first at Burleigh on the Hill; next at Belvoyr; and lastly at Windsor, in August 1621. printed fol. Lond. 1641.
Mercury Vindicated from the Alchymists at Court, by Gentlemen the King's Servants, printed fol. Lond. 1640.
Mortimer's Fall, a Tragedy, or rather a Fragment, it being just begun, and left imperfect by his Death: tho' the Reader may see the Model of each Act, by the Argument publisht before it, printed fol. Lond. 1640.
Neptune's Triumph for the Return of Albion, celebrated in a Masque at Court, on the Twelfth-Night 1644. printed fol. Lond. 1641.
News from the New World discovered in the Moon, a Masque presented at Court before King James 1620. and printed fol. Lond. 1641.
Oberon, the Fairy Prince, a Masque of Prince Henries, printed fol. Lond. 1640. On this Play the Author has writ Annotations.
Pan's Anniversary, or The Shepherd's Holyday; a Masque presented at Court before King James 1625. and printed fol. Lond. 1641. In the Decorations our Author was assisted by the above mention'd Mr. Jones.
Pleasure reconcil'd to Virtue, a Masque presented at Court before King James, 1619. to which were made some Additions for the Honour of Wales. This in former Catalogues was mention'd as a Masque distinct from the other.
Poetaster, or His Arraignment, a Comical Satyr, first acted in the Year 1601. by the then Children of his Majesties Chappel, with the Allowance of the Master of the Revels; printed fol. Lond. 1640. and dedicated to the Vertuous and his Worthy Friend, Mr. Richard Martin. I have already spoken of this Play in the Account of Decker's Satyromastix; and I must further add, I heartily wish for our Author's Reputation, that he had not been the Agressor in this Quarrel; but being altogether ignorant of the Provocations given him, I must suspend my Judgment, and leave it to better Judges to determine the Controversy. Our Author has adorn'd this Play with several Translations from the Ancients, as Ovid. Amor. lib. 1. Eleg. 15. Horatii Sat. lib. 1. Sat. 9. lib. 2. Sat. 1. Virgilii Aeneid. lib. 4. with others.
Queen's Masques; the first of Blackness, personated at the Court at Whitehall, on the Twelfth-Night 1605. the second of Beauty, was presented in the same Court at Whitehall, on the Sunday Night after the Twelfth-Night 1608. printed fol. Lond. 1640.
Sad Shepherd, or A Tale of Robin Hood; a Pastoral, printed fol. Lond. 1641. This Play is left imperfect, there being but two Acts, and part of the third finisht.
Sejanus's Fall, a Tragedy, first acted in the Year 1603. by the Kings Majesties Servants, with the Allowance of the Master of the Revells, printed fol. Lond. 1640. and dedicated to the No less Noble by Virtue than Blood, Esme Lord Aubigny. This Play is generally commended by all Lovers of Poetry; and usher'd into the World by nine Copys of Verses, one of which was writ by Mr. George Chapman. 'Tis founded on History; and the Author in a former Edition, published 4to. Lond. 1605. has printed Quotations throughout; the Reasons whereof take in his own Words, (being part of the Preface to that Edition) "The next is, least in some nice Nostrils, the Quotations might favour affected, I do let you know, That I abhor nothing more; and have only done it to shew my Integrity in the Story, and save my self in those common Torturers, that bring all Wit to the Rack: whose Noses are ever like Swine, spoiling and rooting up the Muses Gardens; and their whole Bodies like Moles, as blindly working under Earth, to cast any, the least hills, upon Vertue." For the Story, the Reader may consult Tacitus's Annals, lib. 3, 4, 5. Suetonius in the Life of Tiberius. Dion. &c.
Silent Woman, a Comedy first acted in the Year 1609. by the Children of her Majesties Revels, with the Allowance of the Master of the Revels; printed fol. Lond. 1640. and dedicated to the truly Noble, by all Titles, Sir Francis Stuart. Part of this Play is borrow'd from the Ancients, as Act 1. Sc. 1. part from Ovid de Arte Amandi. Act 2 Sc. 2. part from Juvenal. Sat. 6. Act 2. Sc. 5. part from Plautus's Aulularia Act 3. Sc. 5. with other passages. Notwithstanding which, this Play is Accounted by all, One of the best Comedies we have extant; and those who would know more, may be amply satisfied by the perusal of the judicious Examen of this Play made by Mr. Dryden [author's note: Dramatic Essay, p. 50.].
Speeches at Prince Henry's Barriers, printed fol. Lond. 1640. These Speeches being printed amongst his other Masques, and always reckoned under that Species of Poetry, by others, in former Catalogues, I could not omit their Mention in this place.
Staple of News, a Comedy acted in the Year 1625. by his Majesties Servants, and printed fol. Lond. 1631. The Author introduces four Gossips on the Stage, who continue during the Action, and criticise on the Play. This was practised more than once; witness, Every man out of his Humor, and Magnetick Lady: and herein he was follow'd by Fletcher, (as I have already observ'd) in His Knight of the Burning-pestle.
Tale of a Tub, a Comedy, printed, fol. Lond. 1640.
Time vindicated to himself, and to his Honours; a Masque, presented at Court on Twelfth-Night 1623. and printed fol. Lond. 1641.
Vision of Delight, a Masque presented at Court, in Christmas 1617. and printed fol. Lond. 1641.
Vulpone, or The Fox, a Comedy; first acted in the Year 1605. by the Kings Majesties Servants, with the Allowance of the Master of the Revells; printed fol. Lond. 1640. and dedicated to both Universities in the following form: "To the most Noble and most Equal Sisters, the two Famous Universities; for their Love and Acceptance shewn to his Poem in the Presentation, Ben. Johnson the grateful Acknowledger, dedicates both it and himself." This Play is writ in Imitation of the Comedy of the Ancients, and the Argument is form'd into an Acrostick, like those of Plautus, which are said to be writ by Priscian, or some other Eminent Grammarian. It is still in vogue at the Theatre in Dorset-Garden, and its value is sufficiently manifested by the Verses of Mr. Beaumont, and Dr. Donne.
All these Plays with several other Poems and Translations, and an English Grammar, are printed together in two Volumes in Folio.
He has three other Plays, which are omitted in these Volumes, tho' for what reason, I know not; two of which are printed in 4to. and the third in 8vo. of which we are now to speak.
Case is alter'd, a pleasant Comedy, sundry times acted by the Children of the Black-fryars, and printed 4to. Lond. 1609. In this Comedy our Author hath very much made use of Plautus, as the Learned Reader may observe by comparing His Aulularia, and Capteivei, with this Comedy.
Widow, a Comedy acted at the Private House in Black-fryars with great applause, by his late Majesties Servants, and printed 4to. Lond. 1652. This Play was writ by Mr. Johnson, Mr. Fletcher, and Mr. Middleton, and first publisht by Mr. Alexander Gough, a great lover of Plays, who helpt Mr. Mosely the Bookseller to this, and several other Dramatick Manuscripts, as the Passionate Lovers 2. parts; The Queen, or The Excellency of her Sex, &c. It was reviv'd not many Years ago, at the King's House, with a new Prologue and Epilogue, which the Reader may find in London Drollery, p. 11, 12.
New-Inn, or The Light Heart, a Comedy never acted, but most negligently play'd by some the Kings Servants; and more squeamishly beheld, and censured by others, the Kings Subjects 1629. Now at last set at liberty to the Readers, his Majesties Servants and Subjects, to be judg'd; printed 8vo. Lond. 1631.
The Reader may see by this Title-page, that the Play succeeded not answerable to our Author's Expectation, and the just Merit (as he thought) of his Play: which may be conjectured, from the Ode which he publisht at the End of this Play; which as being pertinent to our purpose, I shall transcribe at large.
The just Indignation the Author took at the Vulgar Censure of his Play, begat this following Ode to himself.
Come, leave the loathed Stage,
And the more loathsome Age:
Where Pride and Impudence (in fashion knit)
Usurp the Chair of Wit!
Inditing and arraigning every day
Something they call a Play.
Let their fastidious, vaine
Commission of the Braine
Run on, and rage, sweat, censure, and condemn:
They were not made for thee, less thou for them.
Say that thou pour'st them Wheat,
And they will Acorns eat:
'Twere simple fury, still, thy self to waste
On such as have no taste!
To offer them a surfet of pure bread,
Whose appetites are dead!
No, give them Graines their fill,
Husks, Draff, to drink, and swill.
If they love Lees, and leave the lusty Wine,
Envy them not their palate, with the Swine.
No doubt some mouldy Tale,
Like Pericles; and stale
As the Shrieve's Crusts, and nasty as his Fish-
scraps, out of every Dish,
Thrown forth, and rak't into the Common-tub,
May keep up the Play-Club:
There, Sweepings do as well
As the best order'd Meale.
For, who the Relish of these Guests will fit,
Needs set them, but The Almes-basket of Wit.
And much good do't you then:
Brave Plush, and Velvet Men;
Can feed on Orts: And safe in your Stage-clothes,
Dare Quit upon your Oathes,
The Stagers, and the Stage-wrights too (your Peers)
Of larding your large Ears
With their foul Comick Socks;
Wrought upon twenty Blocks:
Which, if they're torn, and turn'd and patcht enough,
The Gamesters share your guilt, and you their stuff.
Leave things so prostitute.
And take the Alcaeick Lute;
Or thine own Horace, or Anacreon's Lyre;
Warm thee by Pindar's fire:
And tho' thy Nerves be shrunk, and Blood be cold,
E're Years have made thee old;
Strike that disdainful Heat
Throughout, to their defeat:
As curious Fools, and envious of thy Strain,
May, blushing, swear no Palsy's in thy Brain.
But when they hear thee sing
The Glories of thy King,
His zeal to God, and his just awe o're Men;
They may blood shaken then,
Feel such a Flesh-quake to possess their powers;
As they shall cry like ours
In sound of Peace, or Wars,
No Harp ere hit the Stars,
In tuning forth the Acts of his sweet raign:
And raising Charles his Chariot 'bove his Wain.
This Ode sufficiently shews what a high Opinion our Author has of his own Performances; and like Aristotle in Philosophy, and Peter Lombard, (The Master of the Sentences) in School-Divinity; our Ben. lookt upon himself as the only Master of Poetry; and thought it the Duty of the Age, rather to submit to, than dispute, much less oppose his Judgment. 'Twas great pity, that he that was so great a Master in Poetry, should not retain that old Axiom in Morality, Nosce Teipsum: a Sentence so highly admir'd by Juvenal, that he seems to think it above the Conception of Chilon, saying,
—e coelo descendit, [Greek characters],
Figendum, & memori tractandum pectore.
He had then prevented that sharp Reply made by the Ingenious Mr. Feltham, to this Magisterial Ode; and which could not chuse but vex a Person of our Author's Haughty Temper: but he was a Man, and subject to Infirmities, as well as others; tho' abating for his too much abounding in his own Sence, (an Epidemical Distemper belonging to the Fraternity of Parnassus) he had not his Equal in his Time for Poetry.
Having presented the Reader with Mr. Johnson's Ode, it may not be improper for me perhaps to transcribe, nor unpleasant to him, to peruse Mr. Feltham's Answer.
AN ANSWER TO THE ODE, COME LEAVE THE LOATHED STAGE, &c.
Come leave this sawcy way
Of haiting those that pay
Dear for the sight of your declining Wit:
'Tis known it is not fit,
That a Sale Poet, just contempt once thrown,
Should cry up thus his own.
I wonder by what Dower,
Or Patent, you had power
From all to rape a judgment. Let't suffice,
Had you been modest, y'ad been granted wise.
'Tis known you can do well,
And that you do excell,
As a Translator: But when things require
A Genius, and Fire,
Not kindled heretofore by others pains;
As oft y' ave wanted Brains
And Art to strike the White,
As you have levell'd right:
Yet if Men vouch not things Apochryphal,
You bellow, rave, and spatter round your Gall.
Jug, Pierce, Peek, Fly, and all
Your Jests so nominal,
Are things so far beneath an able Brain,
As they do throw a Stain
Thro' all th unlikely Plot, and do displease
As deep as Pericles.
Where yet there is not laid
Before a Chamber-maid
Discourse so weigh'd as might have serv'd of old
For Schools, when they of Love and Valour told.
Why Rage then? when the Show
Should Judgment be and Know-
ledge, there are in Plush who scorn to drudge
For Stages, yet can judge
Not only Poets looser Lines, but Wits,
And all their Perquisits.
A Gift as rich, as high
Is Noble Poesie:
Yet tho' in sport it be for Kings a Play,
'Tis next Mechanicks, when it works for pay.
Alcaeus Lute had none,
Nor loose Anacreon,
Ere taught so bold assuming of the Bays,
When they deserv'd no praise.
To rail Men into Approbation,
Is new to yours alone;
And prospers not: For know,
Fame is as coy, as you
Can be disdainful; and who dares to prove
A rape on her, shall gather scorn, not Love.
Leave then this humour vain,
And this more humorous Strain,
Where Self-conceit, and Choler of the Blood
Eclipse what else is good:
Then if you please those Raptures high to touch,
Whereof you boast so much;
And but forbear your Crown,
Till the World puts it on:
No doubt from all you may amazement draw,
Since braver Theme no Phoebus ever saw.
This Haughty Humour of Mr. Johnson was blam'd, and carpt at by others, as well as Mr. Feltham: amongst the rest, Sir John Suckling, that Neat Facetious Wit, arraign'd him at the Sessions of Poets; and had a fling at this Play in particular: tho' we may say, compar'd to the former, He did only "circum praecordia ludere;" laught at, and railly his unreasonable Self-opinion; as you may see in the following Lines: the first Stanza of which tho' already mention'd in the Account of Heywood, I crave my Readers leave to repeat, that he may read our Author's Character entire:
The first that broke silence was good Old Ben,
Prepar'd before with Canary Wine;
And he told them plainly that he deserv'd the Bays,
For his were call'd Works, where others were but Plays.
Bid them remember how he had purg'd the Stage
Of Errors that had last many an Age:
And he hop'd they did not think, the Silent Woman,
The Fox, and the Alchymist, out done by no Man.
Apollo stopt him there, and bid him not go on,
'Twas Merit, he said, and not Presumption
Must carry't; at which Ben. turn'd about,
And in great Choller offer'd to go out:
Those that were there, thought it not fit
To discontent so ancient a Wit;
And therefore Apollo call'd him back agen,
And made him mine Host of his own New-Inn.
I know nothing else published by our Author; only I have read a Letter from Mr. James Howell to Dr. Duppa, (then Bishop of Chichester, and Tutor to King Charles the Second, when Prince of Wales) that he was publishing a Piece call'd, Johnsonus Verbius; to which Mr. Howell contributed a Decastick. I know not what Reception Mr. Howell's Verses met with in the World; but I am confident, he had willingly allowed Mr. Oldham's Ode (had he then liv'd) a place in the first Rank of Poets. The Title sufficiently explains the Design; and the Reader may find it commended by an Ingenious Copy of Verses addrest to the Bishop by Sir W. D'Avenant. See his Poems Fol. Edit. p. 253.
He died An. D. 1637. being aged 63. and was buried in St. Peter's Church in Westminster, on the West-side near the Belfry; having only a plain Stone over his Grave, with this Inscription;
O RARE BEN. JOHNSON.
'Tis manifest, that a better Monument was design'd him, by some Friends; but the Civil Wars breaking out, hindred their good Intentions: tho' it shall not prevent me from transcribing an Elegy written by a Studious Friend and Admirer of Ben. Johnson; which I wish were set upon his Grave.
Hic Johnsonus noster Lyricorum, Dramaticorumque Coryphaeus, qui Pallade auspice laurum ‡ Graecia ipsaque Roma rapuit, & fausto Omine in Brittaniam transtulit nostram, nunc invidia major, fato, nec tamen aemulis cessit. An Dom. 1637. Id. Nov.