1835 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ben Jonson

L. L., in "English Poets" Southern Literary Messenger [Richmond] 1 (June 1835) 561.



Old Ben, as he was called, was once young, but the history of his youth is rather cloudy. It seems probable, however, that the accounts delivered us by his contemporaries, are true, notwithstanding Mr. Gifford's sweeping denial. Following them, we learn, that Ben's step-father was a bricklayer; that Ben himself "served at the trade," until he left it from weariness, and joined a company of strolling players: that he enlisted and went with the English army into Flanders, where he "killed his man, and bore off the spoils." His prime and after life were spent in literary pursuits.

Old Ben was a quarrelsome, peevish companion; his body that of a bloated giant; his face filthy, with a scorbutic affection, or, as Decker quaintly says, "a face par-boiled, punched full of eyelet holes, like the cover of a warming pan." His literary quarrels with Decker, Marston, and other "men of London," eventuated in a surly retreat on the part of Jonson. He was driven from comedy to Tragedy, and we find him closing one of his poetic defences with the consoling reflection, that

There's something come into my thought,
That must and shall be sung, high and aloof,
Safe from the wolf's black jaw, and the dull ass's hoof.

But the poet "died of sack," and lies in Westminster with a plain slab above him, on which are these words:

O RARE BEN JONSON!