Ben Jonson, 1573—1637

[Mentioned in Miscellaneous Writings, Pref., p. vii]

Ben Jonson , dramatist and learned poet of England, brought immense classical knowledge to his work, although he did not have university training. His father, a minister, died before the child was born, and when later his mother married a master bricklayer, the latter taught him his trade. He allowed the boy to interrupt his training when he had the opportunity of attending Westminister School. Jonson acknowledged that he owed to Camden, his teacher there, "all that I am in arts, all that I know."

Johnson was a tremendously vigorous individual. Enlisting for service with the English troops dispatched to help the Netherlands in its struggle against Spain, he acquired a reputation for courage since, singlehanded, "in the face of both the camps," he fought successfully with one of the enemy. On his return, he resumed bricklaying, but shortly he became associated with the theater, first as an assistant to other dramatists, then as an actor, and finally as a playwright. His first successful play, "Every Man in his Humour," in which Shakespeare acted, was a new kind of comedy in which "each character is ... typical of a specific humour or temperament.

Jonson's career was interrupted by his being imprisoned for slaying a fellow actor in a duel. By the time he was eventually released, he had been converted to Roman Catholicism by a priest who visited him. Twelve years later he returned to the Church of England.

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Signs of the Times
November 10, 1956

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