1764 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ben Jonson

David Erskine Baker, in Companion to the Play-House (1764) 2:Sig. T4.



BENJAMIN JONSON, one of the most considerable dramatic Poets of the last Age, whether we consider the Number or the Merit of his Productions. — He was born at Westminster June 11, 1574, and was educated at the public School there, under the great Camden. — He was descended from a Scots Family; and his Father, who lost his Estate under Queen Mary, dying before our Poet was born, and his Mother marrying a Bricklayer for her second Husband, Ben was taken from School to work at his Father in-Law's Trade. Not being captivated with this Employment, he went into the Low Countries, and distinguished himself in a military Capacity.

On his Return to England he entered himself at St. John's College, Cambridge, and having killed a Person in a Duel, was condemned, and narrowly escaped Execution. — After this he turned Actor, and Shakespeare is said to have first introduced him to the World, by recommending a Play of his to the Stage, after it had been rejected. — His Alchymist gained him such Reputation that in 1619 he was, at the Death of Mr. Daniel, made Poet Laureat to K. James I. and Master of Arts at Oxford.

As we do not find Jonson's oeconomical Virtues any where recorded, it is the less to be wondered at, that after this we find him petitioning K. Charles, on his Accession, to enlarge his Father's Allowance of a hundred Marks into Pounds; and quickly after we learn that he was very poor and sick, lodging in an obscure Alley: On which Occasion it was, that Charles being prevailed on in his Favour, sent him ten Guineas; which Ben receiving, said, "His Majesty has sent me ten Guineas because I am poor, and live in an Alley, go and tell him that his Soul lives in an Alley."

He died in August 1637, aged 63 Years, and was buried in Westminster-Abbey.

His dramatic Compositions are very numerous, and are as follows [list omitted].