That Shakespeare wanted Arte, and sometimes Sense

In 1618 the playwright Ben Jonson undertook to make an exhausting journey from London to Edinburgh on foot. While in Scotland he spent some time at the home of the poet William Drummond, who made notes of his conversations with Jonson which were eventually published in 1711. Drummond’s notes serve as a most revealing source for Jonson’s own life, however the following fragments are some of the more gossipy
information Jonson shared with Drummond. They make for compelling reading, shedding light on Jonson’s personal opinion of his fellow poets and playwrights.

Spencer’s stanzas pleased him not, nor his matter, the meaning of which Allegorie he had delivered in papers to Sir Walter Raughlie.

Donne, for not keeping of accent, deserved hanging. But he esteemeth John Donne the first poet in the World, in some things: his verses of the Lost Chaine he hath by heart; and that passage of the Calme, That dust and feathers doe not stirr, all was so quiet. [He] affirmeth Donne to have written all his best pieces ere he was 25 years old.

That next to himself only Fletcher and Chapman could make a Masque.

That Shakespeare wanted Arte, and sometimes Sense.

His acquaintance and behaviour with poets living with him: Daniel was at jealousies with him. Drayton feared him, and he esteemed not of him. That Francis Beaumont loved too much himself and his own verses. He beat Marston, and took his pistoll from him.  That Markham was not of the number of the Faithfull Poets, and but a base fellow.  That such were Day and Middleton. That Chapman and Fletcher were loved of him.  Overbury was his first friend, then turn’d his mortall enemie.  That the Irish having robd Spenser’s goods, and burnt his house and a little child new born, he and his wyfe escaped, and after, he died for lack of bread in King Street, and refused 20 pieces sent to him by my Lord of Essex, and said, ‘He was sorrie he had no time to spend them.’

Sharpham, Day, Dekker, were all rogues.

Francis Beaumoment died ere he was 30 years of age.

Donne’s grandfather, on the mother side, was Heywood the Epigrammatist.

Walter Raughlye esteemed more of fame than conscience

Marston wrote his Father-in-laws preachings, and his Father-in-law his comedies

Sir Philip Sydney was no pleasant man in countenance, his face being spoiled with pimples.

He said to Prince Charles of Inigo Jones, that when he wanted words to express the greatest villaine in the world, he would call him an Inigo.

His Epitaph, by a companion written, is

Here lyes Benjamin Johnson dead,
And hath no more wit than goose in his head,
That as he was wont, so doth he still
Live by his wit, and evermore will.

An other:

Here lyes honest Ben
That had not a beard on his chen.

And this which is (as he said) a picture of him-selfe.

I doubt that love is rather deafe than blinde,
For else it could not bee,
That shee,
Whom I adore so much should so slight mee,
And cast my sute behinde.

I am sure my language to her is as sweet,
And all my closes meet
In numbers of as subtile feete
As makes the youngest hee
That sits in shadow of Apollos tree.
O! but my conscious feares,

That flye my thoughts betweene,
Prompt mee, that shee hath seene
My hundred of gray haires,
Told six and forty yeares,
Read so much waste, as she cannot embrace
My mountaine belly, and my rockye face,
And all these, through her eies, have stopd her eares.

January 19, 1619

Sources:
Ruddiman, Thomas, Ed., The Works of William Drummond of Hawthornden, Consisting of Those which were formerly Printed and Those which were design’d for the Press. Now published from the Author’s Original Copies, Printed by James Watson, Edinburgh (1711)
Patterson, R.H.F., Ben Jonsons’s Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden, Blackie & Sons, London, Glasgow, Bombay (1923)

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2 Comments

  • August 2, 2010 - 12:17 pm | Permalink

    It’s difficult to say. Jonson and Shakespeare had something of an up and down relationship. If he did say more, Drummond chose not to record it. Jonson comments favourably on Shakespeare’s work in the First Folio, and there are gossipy tales of them getting drunk together, but why Drummond chose to note down this particular comment, rather than others Jonson may have passed during his visit, is unfortunately known only to Drummond.

  • Martin
    August 2, 2010 - 12:08 pm | Permalink

    What’s curious about the comment on Shakespeare is how brief it is. Does he say more elsewhere?

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