Category Archives: Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson Handwriting Playwrights

Though thou write with a goose-pen

Three examples of famous handwriting form today’s fragments. The first is a page from Christopher Marlowe’s Massacre at Paris. The second is an epistle by Ben Jonson which includes his signature, and the third, a letter written by the poet John Donne.

Christopher Marlowe’s Massacre at Paris (1593) (Folger Shakespeare Library)
Ben Jonson’s Epistle From Masque of Queens (1609)
Letter to Sir George Moore from John Donne 1602 (Folger Shakespeare Library)

Further examples of early modern handwriting can be found here at my post on Hand D, and here at Handwriting.

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Ben Jonson Playwrights Poetry Shakespeare Stage

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

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)

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

Ben Jonson

I waking do find want the worst

In 1631 Ben Jonson sent the following letter to William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle – the ultimate in the art of witty begging:

I my self being no substance, am fain to trouble you with shadows; or (what is less) an apologue or fable in a dream. I being struck with the palsy in the year 1628, had by Sir Thomas Badger some few months since, a Fox sent me for a present; such creature, by handling, I endeavoured to make tame, as well for the abating of my disease, as the delight I took in speculation of his Nature. It happened this present year 1631, and this very week, being the week ushering Christmas, and this Tuesday morning in a dream (and morning dreams are truest) to have one of my servants come up to my Bedside, and tell me, Master, Master the Fox speaks. Whereat, (me thought) I started, and troubled, went down into the Yard, to witness the wonder; There I found my Reynard, in his tenement the Tub, I had hired for him, cynically expressing his own lot, to be condemned to the house of a poet, where nothing was to be seen but the bare walls, and not anything heard but the noise of a saw, dividing billets all the week long, more to keep the family in exercise, then to comfort any person there with fire, save the paralytic master; and went on in this way as the fox seemed the better fabler of the two. I, his master, began to give him good words, and stroke him: but Reynard barking, told me those would not do, I must give him meat; I angry, called him stinking vermin. He replied, “Look into your cellar, which is your larder too, you’ll find a worse vermin there.” When presently calling for a light, me thought, I went down, & found all the floor turned up, as if a colony of moles had been there, or an army of salt-peter men; Whereupon I sent presently into Tuttle Street, for the King’s most excellent mole-catcher to relieve me, & hunt them. But when he came and viewed the place, and had well marked the Earth turned up, took a handful, smelt to it, and said, “Master it is not in my power to destroy this vermin; the K. or some good man of Noble Nature must help you. This kind of mole is called a want, which will destroy you, and your family, if you prevent not the working of it in time, and therefore God keep you and send you health.”

The interpretation of both the fable and the dream is, that I waking do find want the worst, and most working vermin in a house, and therefore my noble lord, and next the King, my best Patron, I am necessitated to tell it you. I am not so impudent to borrow any sum of your Lordship, for I have no faculty to pay: but my needs are such, and so urging, as I do beg, what your bounty can give me, in the name of good letters, and the bond of an ever-grateful and acknowledging servant.

To your honor Westminster.20.Dec 1631 B.Jonson

Yesterday the barbarous Court of Aldermen
have withdrawn their Chanderly Pension,
for Verjuice, & Mustard.

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