Monday, August 6, 2012

More on Ben Jonson

‘…It is impossible to see Hawthornden, and mention its poetical owner [William Drummond], without thinking upon the time when

"Jonson sate in Drummond's social shade."
and lamenting the loss of Ben's

-"journey into Scotland song,
With all the adventurers."

And from thence it is with anxiety that we find ourselves urged upon something like a controversy with the learned, acute, and ingenious editor of Jonson's works, who, in his zeal to do full justice to his subject, has, we think, uttered some undue injury to the memory of Drummond. The attempt has indeed been prohibited to us, under a heavy denunciation. We presume, nevertheless, in all honourable courtesy, to take up the gage which is thus thrown down, and venture the following remarks on the memorable interview of Drummond of Hawthornden and the great English dramatist, and the brief account which the former has left of the manners and opinions of Ben Jonson. 

That Ben Jonson did Drummond the distinguished honour of visiting Scotland, partly with a view of spending some time with a man whom he esteemed—that he accordingly lived about three weeks at Hawthornden, and was gratified by Drummond's hospitality—that they parted friends, and remained in an amicable intercourse until death—are facts on which all are agreed; as also, that in the shape of loose memoranda, Drummond has preserved some severe censures passed by Jonson upon other poets, and added a very unfavourable picture of the dramatist's self-opinion, as well as of his intemperance, his literary jealousies and peculiarities, the laxity of his speculative opinions, and other foibles which darkened his great qualities. Hinc iliae lachrymae. 

These scraps of information, for they are nothing more, may be considered in two points of view, as they affect the character of Jonson, or that of Drummond; in other words, as they contain truth with respect to the former, or as they infer malice and calumny (whether in themselves true or false) on the part of him who recorded them.

On the first point, it is not easy to discover Mr. Gifford's opinion. He seems to receive as truth what circumstances Drummond has narrated concerning Jonson's birth, parentage, and earlier adventures; and far from doubting the accuracy of his report concerning Jonson's criticisms on contemporary authors, he only regrets that they are not sufficiently detailed. It is therefore apparently only where Drummond bears testimony to Jonson's failings, that the editor, in laudable zeal for the honour of his author, is disposed to impugn his testimony…’

Ben Jonson was covered last year, as well. But he certainly deserves additional coverage.  In this post, we bring in Scott’s discussion of a friendship between Jonson and Scottish poet William Drummond.  The text above comes from “Provincial Antiquities of Scotland”.  The English dramatist died on August 6th, 1637.

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