1720 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ben Jonson

Giles Jacob, in Historical Account of the Lives and Writings of our most considerable English Poets (1720) 272-75.



It is generally allow'd, that this Great Man was the first Learned, Judicious, and Correct of all the English Dramatick Poets; and he was the more to be admir'd for being so, for that neither the Height of natural Parts, nor the Cost of extraordinary Education, but his own Industry, and Application to Books, advanc'd him to this Perfection. Besides his numerous Productions for the Stage, some whereof equal to the chief of the ancient Greek and Latin Poets, he has writ a Volume of Epigrams, Poems, &c. dedicated to the Earl of Pembroke, which he calls in his Dedication his Riper Studies: And Mr. Winstanley tells us, in his Poetry not Dramatick, he is sometimes very bold and strenuous, sometimes magisterial, and oftentimes full of Fancy. He begins to the Reader thus:

Pray thee, take care, that tak'st my Book in Hand,
To read it well; that is, to understand.

The next Epigram he writes on his Book, and then proceeds to his Bookseller:

Thou, that mak'st Gain thy End, and wisely well
Call'st a Book good, or bad, as it does sell,
Use mine not so—

Then he has an Epigram to King James, which begins:

How, best of Kings, dost thou a Scepter bear?
How, best of Poets, dost thou Laurel wear!

A Lord having endeavour'd to reproach Ben with the Name of Poet, he wrote to him by the Name of my Lord Ignorant.

Thou call'st me Poet, as a Term of Shame,
But I have my Revenge made in thy Name.

The Issue of his Brain was more lasting than that of his Body, he having several Children, yet none living, to survive him; and this he made as part of an Epitaph on his eldest Son:

Rest in soft Peace, and ask'd, say, Here doth lie
Ben. Johnson his best Piece of Poetry.

To Madam Would-be, a barren Lady, Ben. writes thus:

What should the Cause be? Oh! you live at Court;
And there's both Loss of Time, and Loss of Sport
In a great Body. Write then on thy Womb;
Of the not born, yet buried, here's the Tomb.

His Epigrams are numerous, and to these are subjoin'd. I. A Poem, call'd, The Voyage. II. The Forest, a Poem divided into many Parts, on various Subjects. III. A Panegyre on the Entrance of King James the First, to his first Session of Parliament in that Kingdom, in the Year 1603. IV. To Heaven. V. Rules for the Tavern-Academy &c. And over the Door of the Apollo, he writ these Lines:

Welcome all that lead or follow
To the Oracle of Apollo—
Ale and Beer no good can mean us,
Wine is the Milk of Venus,
And the Poet's Horse accounted;
Ply it, and you all are mounted.
'Tis the true Plaebeian Liquor,
Chears the Brains, makes Wit the quicker.
Pays all Debts, cures all Diseases,
And at once three Senses pleases.
Welcome all that lead or follow
To the Oracle of Apollo—

Ben likewise wrote a very diverting Song on the Devil's Arse in Peak.

Mr. Cartwright and the Lord Falkland writ excellent Copes of Verses on Ben Johnson's Death.