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we may trace à complimentary allusion to the literary character and mysterious studies of her royal father; and it is at all events as likely that the letter of James to Shakspeare should have had reference to The Tempest as to Macbeth. Our author seems to have formed a more correct estimate of the talents of his sovereign, than that which we have blindly received and adopted on the authority of his political enemies, the Nonconformists; and in a MS. volume of poems, which was purchased by Boswell, the following complimentary lines are preserved.
SHAKSPEARE UPON THE KING.
• Crownes have their compass, length of dayes their date,
Thus honored and applauded by the great, the intercourse of Shakspeare with that bright band and company of gifted spirits, which ennobled the reigns of Elizabeth and James by their writings, must have been a source of the highest intellectual delight. The familiarity with which they seem to have communicated; the constant practice of uniting their powers in the completion of a joint production; the unvarying admiration with which they rejoiced in the triumphs of their literary companions, and introduced the compositions of one another to the world by recommendatory verses, present us with such a picture of kind and gay and intelligent society, as the imagination finds it difficult to entertain an adequate conception of. “Sir Walter Raleigh, previously to his unfortunate engagement with the wretched Cobham and others, had instituted a meeting of beaux esprits at the Mermaid, a celebrated tavern in Friday street. Of this club, which combined more talent, perhaps, than ever met together before or since, our author 'was a member; and here, for many years, he regularly repaired with Ben Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, Selden, Cotton, Carew, Martin, Donne, and many others, whose names, even at this distant period, call up a mingled feeling of reverence and respect. Here, in the full flow and confidence of friendship, the lively and interesting
swit combats' took place between Ben Jonson and our author; and hither, in probable allusion to them, Beaumont fondly lets his thoughts wander, in his letter to Jonson, from the country:
-What things have we seen
The “ wit combats ” alluded to in this interesting passage are mentioned by Fuller, who, speaking of Shakspeare, says, “Many were the wit combates between Shakspeare and Ben Jonson. I remember them like a Spanish great galleon, and an English man of war. Master Jonson, like the former, was built far higher in learning, solid but slow in his performances. Shakspeare, like the latter, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention."
Of these encounters of the keenest intellects not a vestige now remains. The memory of Fuller, perhaps, teemed with their sallies; but nothing on which we can depend has descended to us. The few traditionary tales that remain, are without any authority; but such as they are, I present them to the reader as Dr. Drake has collected them.
Shakspeare was godfather to one of Ben Jonson's children; and after the cristening, being in deep study, Jonson came to cheer him up, and asked him, why he was so melancholy? “No faith, Ben,” says he, “not I; but I have been considering a great while what should be the fittest thing to bestow upon my godchild, and I have resolved at last.” “I prithee, what?” says he. “ I'faith, Ben, I'll e'en give her a dozen good Latin (latteen *) spoons, and thou shalt translate them.”
“The above,” says Archdeacon Nares, “is a pleasant rail. lery enough on Jonson's love of translating.” The second is not so worthy of preservation. "Mr. Ben Jonson and Mr. William Shakspeare, being merrie at a tavern, Mr. Jonson begins this for his epitaph:
*Latteen, i. e. brass.
Here lies Ben Jonson,
“He gives it to Mr. Shakspe to make up, who presently writte
"That, while he liv'd, was a slow thing,
“ This stuff,” adds Mr. Gifford, “is copied from the Ashmole MS. 38.”
The next may be said to be rather of a “better leer.”
“ Verses by Ben Jonson and Shakspeare, occasioned by the motto to the Globe Theatre- Totus mundus agit histrionem.
“ If, but stage actors all the world displays,
The intimacy of Shakspeare and Ben Jonson is alluded to in the following letter, written by G. Peel, a dramatic poet, to his friend Marle:
“ FRIEND MARLE,
“I never longed for thy company more than last night. We were all very merrye at the Globe, when Ned Alleyn did not scruple to affyrme pleasantely to thy friend Will, that he had stolen his speeche about the qualityes of an actor's excellencye, in Hamlet, hys tragedye, from conversations manyfold which had passed between them, and opinyons given by Alleyn touchinge the subject. Shakspeare did not take this talke in very good sorte ; but Jonson put an end to the strife, wittylic remarking, This affair needeth no contentione ; you
stole it from Ned, no doubt; do not marvel; have you not seen him act tymes out of number :
The first appearance of this Letter was in the Annual Register for 1770, whence it was copied into the Biographia Britannica, and in both these works it commences in the following manner : “I must desyre that my syster hyr watche, and the cookerie book you promysed, may be sente bye the man. – I never longed, &c.” “Of the four, this is the only anecdote worth preserving; but,” continues Dr. Drake, “I apprehend it to be a mere forgery.”
The name of Shakspeare and Ben Jonson as friends, and the most successful cultivators of our early dramatic literature, are so intimately connected, that the life of one involves the frequent mention of the other. Indeed, it is reported by Rowe, that Shakspeare was the original means of introducing the works of Jonson to the stage. “Jonson, altogether unknown to the world, had offered one of his plays to the players, in order to have it acted; and the persons into whose hands it was put, after having turned it carelessly and superciliously over, were just upon returning it to him with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of no service to their company, when Shakspeare luckily cast his eye upon it, and found something so well in it, as to engage him first to read it through, and afterwards to recommend Jonson and his writings to the public.” - This anecdute is disputed by Mr. Gifford. He proves that in 1598, when Every Man in his Humor, the first effort of Jonson's genius which we are acquainted with, was produced, “its author was as well known as Shakspeare, and, perhaps, better.” Very true; but this does not in the least impugn the credibility of Rowe's tradition. It is nowhere asserted, that Every Man in his IIumor was the play which thus attracted the attention of Shakspeare; all arguments, therefore, deduced from the situation held by Jonson in the literary world, at the time that comedy was first acted, are perfectly invalid. The performance which recommended him to Shakspeare, was most probably a boyish effort, full of talent and inexperience, which soon passed from the public mind, but not sooner than the author wished it to be forgotten; which he had the good sense to omit in the collection of his works published in 1616, and which, perhaps, he only remembered with pleasure from its having been the means of introducing him to the friendship of his great contemporary.
But whatever cause might have originated the mutual kindness which subsisted between these two excellent and distinguished men, it is certain that an intimacy the most sincere and affectionate really did subsist between them. On the part of Jonson, indeed, the memorial of their attachment has been handed down to us in expressions as strong and unequivocal as any which the power of language can combine. He speaks of Shakspeare, not indeed as one blinded to the many defects by which the beauty of his productions was 'impaired, but with such 'candor and tenderness, as every reasonable man would desire at the hands of his friends, and in terms which secured a credit to his commendations, by showing that they were not the vain effects of a blind and ridiculous partiality. Jonson writes, “ I love the man, and do honor his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any." And it is from his Elegy, To the Memory of his beloved Master William Shakspeare, that we have derived the two most endearing appellations, the “ Gentle Shakspeare,” and “Sweet Swan of Avon ; " by which our poet has been known and characterized for nearly two centuries.
It must appear extraordinary, that in opposition to such decisive proofs of the kindness entertained by Jonson for our author, his memory should have been persecuted for the last century by the most unfounded calumnies, as if he had been the most insidious and persevering enemy of his reputation. The rise and progress of this slander, which has been propa. gated through every modern edition of Shakspeare's works, is not wholly undeserving of our attention. Rowe, indeed, has the following anecdote, which he relates, perhaps, on the authority of Dryden, that “in a conversation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonson, Sir John Suckling, who was a professed admirer of Shakspeare, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonson with some warmth ; Mr. Iłales,