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The Task. In Six Books.
III. The Garden
752 The Minstrel : or, The Progress of Genius.
Benjamin Jonson, (or Johnson,) a poet, who, | gives a particular examination of his « Silent Woduring life, attained a distinguished character, was man,' as a model of perfection. He afterwards, the posthumous son of a clergyman in Westminster, however, seems to make large deductions from this where he was born in 1574, about a month after his commendation. “You seldom (says Dryden) find father's decease. His family was originally from him making love in any of his scenes, or endeavour, Scotland, whence his grandfather removed to Car- ing to move the passions; his genius was too sullen lisle, in the reign of Henry VIII.
and saturnine to do it gracefully. Humour was his Benjamin received his education under the learned proper sphere; and in that he delighted most to Camden, at Westminster school ; and had made represent mechanics.” Besides his comedies, Jonson extraordinary progress in his studies, when his mo- composed two tragedies, Sejanus and Catiline, both ther, who had married a bricklayer for her second formed upon ancient, models, and full of transbusband, took him away to work under his step-lations; and neither of them successful. His drafather. From this humble employment he escaped, matic compositions, however, do not come within by enlisting as a soldier in the army, then serving in the scope of the present publication. the Netherlands against the Spaniards. An exploit In 1616, he published a folio volume of his works, which he here performed, of killing an enemy in which procured for him a grant from his majesty of single combat, gave him room to boast ever after of the salary of poet-laureat for life, though he did not a degree of courage which has not often been found take possession of the post till three years after. in alliance with poetical distinction.
With high intellectual endowments, he had many On his return, Jonson entered himself at St. unamiable traits in his character, having a high deJohn's College, Cambridge, which he was shortly gree of pride and self-conceit, with a disposition to obliged to quit from the scanty state of his finances. abuse and disparage every one who incurred his He then turned his thoughts to the stage, and jealousy or displeasure. Jonson was reduced applied for employment at the theatres; but his to necessitous circumstances in the latter part of talents, as an actor, could only procure for him his life, though he obtained from Charles I. an adadmission at an obscure playhouse in the suburbs. vance of his salary as laureat. He died in 1637, at Here he had the misfortune to kill a fellow-actor the age of 63, being at that time considered as at the in a duel, for which he was thrown into prison. head of English poetry. He was interred in WestThe state of mind to which he was here brought, minster Abbey, where an inscription was placed over gave the advantage to a Popish priest in converting his grave, familiarly expressive of the reputation him to the Catholic faith, under which religion he he had acquired among his countrymen : it was, continued for twelve years.
“O rare Ben Jonson." Six months after his death, After his liberation from prison, he married, and a collection of poems to his honour, by a number applied in earnest to writing for the stage, in which of the most eminent writers and scholars in the nahe appears to have already made several attempts. tion, was published, with the title of “ Jonsonius His comedy of " Every Man in his Humour," the Virbius ; or the memory of Ben Jonson, revived by first of his acknowledged pieces, was performed with the Friends of the Muses." applause in 1596 ; and henceforth he continued to Although, as a general poet, Jonson for the most furnish a play yearly, till his time was occupied by part merits the character of harsh, frigid, and tedious; the composition of the masques and other enter there are, however, some strains in which he appears tainments, by which the accession of James was with singular elegance, and may be placed in comcelebrated. Dryden, in his Essay on Dramatic petition with some of the most favoured writers of Poetry, speaks of him as the “ most learned and that class. judicious writer which any theatre ever had,” and
TO WILLIAM CAMDEN.
2. I have been gathering wolves' hairs, CAMDEN,
The mad-dogs' foam, and the adders' ears ;
And all since the evening-star did rise.
And frighted a sexton out of his wits.
By day; and, when the child was asleep,
At night, I suck'd the breath; and rose,
Still to be neat, still to be drest,
1. I have been, all day, looking after
UNDERNEATH this marble herse
FROM THE SHEPHERD'S HOLIDAY.
ON LUCY COUNTESS OF BEDFORD.
Thus, thus, begin the yearly rites
All envious, and prophane away,
This morning, timely rapt with holy fire,
I thought to form unto my zealous Muse,
To honour, serve, and love; as poets use.
Of greatest blood, and yet more good than great ; I meant the day-star should not brighter rise,
Nor lend like influence from his lucent seat. I meant she should be courteous, facile, sweet,
Hating that solemn vice of greatness, pride; I meant each softest virtue there should meet,
Fit in that softer bosom to reside. Only a learned, and a manly soul
I purpos'd her; that should, with even pow'rs, The rock, the spindle, and the sheers controul
Of Destiny, and spin her own free hours. Such when I meant to feign, and wish'd to see,
My Muse bade, Bedford write, and that was she.
The garden-star, the queen of May,
Drop, drop you violets, change your hues,
That from your odour all may say,
LOVE, A LITTLE BOY.
BASQUE OX LORD HADDINGTON'S MARRIACE.
Kiss me, sweet: the wary lover
BEAUTIES, have ye seen this toy,
SECOND GRACE. She, that will but now discover Where the winged wag doth hover, Shall, to-night, receive a kiss, How, or where herself would wish : But, who brings him to his mother, Shall have that kiss, and another.