1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ben Jonson

Robert Aris Willmott, in Lives of Sacred Poets (1834) 107-08.



Mr. D'Israeli, in his amusing Quarrels of Authors, has not made any mention of the enmity which appears to have subsisted between Wither and Ben Jonson. The latter poet, in his Masque of Time Vindicated, which was represented with great splendour on the 19th of January, 1623, gave utterance to his dislike. Mr. Gifford thinks this poem a "kind of retort courteous" to the scurrilous satires of the day, and Chronomastix a generic name for the herd of libellists; but Wither, in the 7th canto of Britain's Remembrancer, considers the epithet applied particularly to himself. Speaking of the poetasters who delighted to disparage his talents, he says,

The valiant poet they [me] in scorn do call,
The Chronomastix.

When Wither published his Abuses, &c., he spoke in honourable terms of "the deep conceits of now flourishing Jonson," and it is not improbable that, while a gay and idle member of Lincoln's Inn, he may have quaffed a cup of claret with Ben at his favourite "House of Call," in Friday Street. At any rate their intimacy was soon divided, and frequent expressions of disgust may be found in Wither's poems, at the wine-parties and revellings of Jonson. There was, indeed, no bond of union between them, either in disposition or genius. Jonson, with his recondite learning, his antique imagery, and his "fil'd" language, looked with unconcealed contempt upon the simplicity and homeliness of the Shepherd-poet. Wither often complained that the want of antiquity and reading was frequently charged against him by rival poets.

Jonson, who sought for his treasures among the "drowned lands" of ancient days, could not be expected to feel much sympathy with one who found music "in the least bough's rustling," and a spirit of sweet poetry in "the yellow broom" at his feet."