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BENJAMIN JONSON, (or Johnson,) a poet, who, I gives a particular examination of his "Silent Wo
during 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 endeavourScotland, 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 proper sphere; and in that he delighted most to represent mechanics." Besides his comedies, Jonson composed two tragedies, Sejanus and Catiline, both formed upon ancient models, and full of trans
Benjamin received his education under the learned Camden, at Westminster school; and had made extraordinary progress in his studies, when his mother, who had married a bricklayer for her second husband, took him away to work under his step-lations; and neither of them successful. His drafather. From this humble employment he escaped, by enlisting as a soldier in the army, then serving in the Netherlands against the Spaniards. An exploit which he here performed, of killing an enemy in single combat, gave him room to boast ever after of a degree of courage which has not often been found in alliance with poetical distinction.
On his return, Jonson entered himself at St. John's College, Cambridge, which he was shortly obliged to quit from the scanty state of his finances. He then turned his thoughts to the stage, and applied for employment at the theatres; but his talents, as an actor, could only procure for him admission at an obscure playhouse in the suburbs. Here he had the misfortune to kill a fellow-actor in a duel, for which he was thrown into prison. The state of mind to which he was here brought, gave the advantage to a Popish priest in converting him to the Catholic faith, under which religion he continued for twelve years.
After his liberation from prison, he married, and applied in earnest to writing for the stage, in which he appears to have already made several attempts. His comedy of "Every Man in his Humour," the first of his acknowledged pieces, was performed with applause in 1596; and henceforth he continued to furnish a play yearly, till his time was occupied by the composition of the masques and other entertainments, by which the accession of James was celebrated. Dryden, in his Essay on Dramatic Poetry, speaks of him as the "most learned and judicious writer which any theatre ever had," and
matic compositions, however, do not come within the scope of the present publication.
In 1616, he published a folio volume of his works, which procured for him a grant from his majesty of the salary of poet-laureat for life, though he did not take possession of the post till three years after. With high intellectual endowments, he had many unamiable traits in his character, having a high degree of pride and self-conceit, with a disposition to abuse and disparage every one who incurred his jealousy or displeasure. Jonson was reduced to necessitous circumstances in the latter part of his life, though he obtained from Charles I. an advance of his salary as laureat. He died in 1637, at the age of 63, being at that time considered as at the head of English poetry. He was interred in Westminster Abbey, where an inscription was placed over his grave, familiarly expressive of the reputation he had acquired among his countrymen: it was, "O rare Ben Jonson." Six months after his death, a collection of poems to his honour, by a number of the most eminent writers and scholars in the nation, was published, with the title of "Jonsonius Virbius; or the memory of Ben Jonson, revived by the Friends of the Muses."
Although, as a general poet, Jonson for the most part merits the character of harsh, frigid, and tedious; there are, however, some strains in which he appears with singular elegance, and may be placed in competition with some of the most favoured writers of that class.
TO WILLIAM CAMDEN.
CAMDEN, most reverend head, to whom I owe
All that I am in arts, all that I know. (How nothing's that!) to whom my country owes The great renown, and name wherewith she goes. Than thee the age sees not that thing more grave, More high, more holy, that she more would crave. What name, what skill, what faith hast thou in things!
What sight in searching the most antique springs!
Pardon free truth, and let thy modesty,
FROM CYNTHIA'S REVELS.
QUEEN and huntress, chaste and fair, Now the Sun is laid to sleep; Seated in thy silver chair,
State in wonted manner keep : Hesperus intreats thy light, Goddess excellently bright.
Earth, let not thy envious shade
Heaven to clear, when day did close;
Lay thy bow of pearl apart,
And thy crystal-shining quiver; Give unto the flying heart
Space to breathe, how short soever : Thou that mak'st a day of night, Goddess excellently bright.
FROM THE SILENT WOMAN.
STILL to be neat, still to be drest,
They strike mine eyes, but not my heart.
1. I HAVE been, all day, looking after A raven, feeding upon a quarter;
And, soon as she turn'd her beak to the south, I snatch'd this morsel out of her mouth.
2. I have been gathering wolves' hairs,
3. I, last night, lay all alone
O' the ground, to hear the mandrake groan; And pluck'd him up, though he grew full low; And, as I had done, the cock did crow.
4. And I ha' been choosing out this skull,
5. Under a cradle I did creep,
By day; and, when the child was asleep,
7. A murderer, yonder, was hung in chains, The sun and the wind had shrunk his veins; I bit off a sinew, I clipp'd his hair,
I brought off his rags, that danc'd i' the air.
8. The screech-owls' eggs, and the feathers black,
9. And I ha' been plucking (plants among)
10. I, from the jaws of a gardener's bitch,
Did snatch these bones, and then leap'd the ditch; Yet went I back to the house again,
Kill'd the black cat, and here's the brain.
11. I went to the toad breeds under the wall,
I charm'd him out, and he came at my call;
I scratch'd out the eyes of the owl before,
I tore the bat's wing: what would you have more?
Yes, I have brought (to help our vows)
ON THE COUNTESS OF PEMBROKE, SISTER TO SIR PHILIP
UNDERNEATH this marble herse
ON LUCY COUNTESS OF BEDFORD.
THIS morning, timely rapt with holy fire,
I thought to form unto my zealous Muse, What kind of creature I could most desire,
To honour, serve, and love; as poets use. I meant to make her fair, and free, and wise, 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.
FROM THE SHEPHERD'S HOLIDAY.
THUS, thus, begin the yearly rites
Strew, strew, the glad and smiling ground,
The garden-star, the queen of May,
Drop, drop you violets, change your hues,
Kiss me, sweet: the wary lover
While you breathe. First give a hundred,
TO THE SAME.
DRINK to me only with thine eyes,
And I'll not look for wine.
But might I of Jove's nectar sup,
I sent thee, late, a rosy wreath,
It could not withered be.
But thou thereon did'st only breathe,
Since when, it grows, and smells, I swear,
LOVE, A LITTLE BOY.
MASQUE ON LORD HADDINGTON'S MARRIAGE.
BEAUTIES, have ye seen this toy,
She, that will but now discover
He hath of marks about him plenty :
And his breath a flame entire,
At his sight, the Sun hath turned,
Wings he hath, which though ye clip, He will leap from lip to lip,
virtue of a degree which he obtained, by mandamus, from Oxford, in December, 1657.
ABRAHAM BRAHAM COWLEY, a poet of considerable distinction, was born at London, in 1618. His father, who was a grocer by trade, died before his After the death of Cromwell, Cowley returned birth; but his mother, through the interest of her to France, and resumed his station as an agent in friends, procured his admission into Westminster the royal cause, the hopes of which now began to school, as a king's scholar. He has represented revive. The Restoration reinstated him, with other himself as so deficient in memory, as to have been royalists, in his own country; and he naturally unable to retain the common rules of grammar: it expected a reward for his long services. He had is, however, certain that, by some process, he be- been promised, both by Charles I. and Charles II., came an elegant and correct classical scholar. He the Mastership of the Savoy, but was unsuccessful in early imbibed a taste for poetry; and so soon did it both his applications. He had also the misfortune germinate in his youthful mind, that, while yet at of displeasing his party, by his revived comedy of school, in his fifteenth or sixteenth year, he pub-"The Cutter of Coleman-street," which was conlished a collection of verses, under the appropriate At length, title of Poetical Blossoms.
In 1636 he was elected a scholar of Trinity college, Cambridge. In this favourable situation he obtained much praise for his academical exercises; and he again appeared as an author, in a pastoral comedy, called Love's Riddle, and a Latin comedy, entitled, Naufragium Joculare; the last of which was acted before the university, by the members of Trinity college. He continued to reside at Cambridge till 1643, and was a Master of Arts when he was ejected from the university by the puritanical visiters. He thence removed to Oxford, and fixed himself in St. John's college. It was here that he engaged actively in the royal cause, and was present in several of the king's journeys and expeditions, but in what quality, does not appear. He ingratiated himself, however, with the principal persons about the court, and was particularly honoured with the friendship of Lord Falkland.
When the events of the war obliged the queenmother to quit the kingdom, Cowley accompanied her to France, and obtained a settlement at Paris, in the family of the Earl of St. Alban's. During an absence of nearly ten years from his native country, he took various journeys into Jersey, Scotland, Holland, and Flanders; and it was principally through his instrumentality that a correspondence was maintained between the king and his consort. The business of cyphering and decyphering their letters was entrusted to his care, and often occupied his nights, as well as his days. It is no wonder that, after the Restoration, he long complained of the neglect with which he was treated. In 1656, having no longer any affairs to transact abroad, he returned to England; still, it is supposed, engaged in the service of his party, as a medium of secret intelligence. Soon after his arrival, he published an edition of his poems, containing most of those which now appear in his works. In a search for another person, he was apprehended by the messengers of the ruling powers, and committed to custody; from which he was liberated, by that generous and learned physician, Dr. Scarborough, who bailed him in the sum of a thousand pounds. This, however, was possibly the sum at which he was rated as a physician, a character he assumed by
strued as a satire on the cavaliers.
Cowley took up his abode first at Barn-elms, on the banks of the Thames; but this place not agreeing with his health, he removed to Chertsey. Here his life was soon brought to a close. According to his biographer, Dr. Sprat, the fatal disease was an affection of the lungs, the consequence of staying too late in the fields among his labourers. Warton, however, from the authority of Mr. Spence, gives a different account of the matter. He says, that Cowley, with his friend Sprat, paid a visit on foot to a gentleman in the neighbourhood of Chertsey, which they prolonged, in free conviviality, till midnight; and that missing their way on their return, they were obliged to pass the night under a hedge, which gave to the poet a severe cold and fever, which terminated in his death. He died on July 28. 1667, and was interred, with a most honourable attendance of persons of distinction, in Westminster-abbey, near the remains of Chaucer and Spenser. King Charles II. pronounced his eulogy, by declaring," that Mr. Cowley had not left a better man behind him in England.'
At the time of his death, Cowley certainly ranked as the first poet in England; for Milton lay under a cloud, nor was the age qualified to taste him. And although a large portion of Cowley's celebrity has since vanished, there still remains enough to raise him to a considerable rank among the British poets. It may be proper here to add, that as a prose-writer, particularly in the department of essays, there are few who can compare with him in elegant simplicity.