Home  »  Volume VI: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part Two  »  § 5. Later years

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

I. Ben Jonson

§ 5. Later years

The later years of Jonson’s life brought many misfortunes. All his books and several manuscripts of unpublished works were burnt in 1623, the year in which the Shakespeare folio appeared, introduced by Jonson’s fine tribute. Within a few years, he was suffering from paralysis and dropsy, and had become much bed-ridden. After an interval of nine years he now again essayed the public stage; but his comedies, The Staple of Newes, acted in 1625, The New Inne, in 1629, The Magnetick Lady, in 1632, and the revised Tale of a Tub, in 1633, were either failures or only partial successes. With the accession of Charles I, Jonson seems, for a time, to have lost favour at court; and, later, a quarrel with the architect Inigo Jones led to loss of employment as a writer of masques. Jonson’s appeals to the king, however, brought a gift of one hundred pounds in 1629, and, later, the increase of his pension from a hundred marks to a hundred pounds, together with the grant of an annual butt of canary. He succeeded Middleton in the office of city chronologer in 1628, and, when he was deprived of this because of neglecting his duties, the king obtained his restoration in 1635. In 1631, after an interval of six years, he wrote two court masques; and, in 1633 and 1634, he prepared two entertainments for the king at the earl of Newcastle’s. On 6 August, 1637, Jonson died. He was buried in Westminster Abbey; the troublesome times that ensued prevented the erection of a monument in his memory; but the inscription of a chance admirer upon his grave has proved unforgettable: “O rare Ben Jonson!”

Among his unpublished manuscripts were a collection of miscellaneous poems entitled Underwoods, Timber: or Discoveries: made upon men and matter, a translation of Ars Poetica, a fragment of a tragedy The Fall of Mortimer, the English Grammar and an unfinished pastoral The Sad Shepherd. These were included in the second folio edition of his works, published in 1640. A collection of memorial verses, edited by Bryan Duppa, bishop of Winchester, appeared in 1637/8, under the title Jonsonus Virbius, and contained eulogies from the most famous men of the time.