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I hope, be exemplary, and productive of similar exertions in favour of the Republic of Letters, through the channel of the Society.”—“The gift of Doctor Abernethy Drummond (his Lordship continues) being immediately on our table, and recently presented with peculiar generosity, has forced me to report it as part of the ordinary business of the day.” — (Minutes of the Society, vol. i., p. 268.)
These MSS. were said to consist of thirteen volumes; but the bulk of the papers remained unbound and unarranged for upwards of forty years; no inventory or list of their contents appears to have been made; and a belief prevailed that either from accident or design many of the more interesting autographs were lost. After careful investigation, I am persuaded that such a notion was unfounded ; and it is just as likely that a portion of the letters and papers made use of by the editor of Drummond's Works, in 1711, had never been returned to Hawthornden; or it may be that some of them may still remain among the family papers. Having already, in the fourth volume of the “ Archæologia Scotica,” given a pretty copious account of the Hawthornden Manuscripts in the possession of the Antiquarian Society, it is not necessary in this place to say further, than that the original Notes of Conversations, and the autographs of the various original letters addressed to Drummond that were published in 1711, form no part of these manuscripts; and thus it seemed most probable that we never should be able to ascertain the actual form in which Drummond committed to writing his record of Ben Jonson's Conversations.
At a later period, while examining some of the manuscript collections of Sir Robert Sibbald, a well-known antiquary and physician in Edinburgh, I was agreeably surprised to find in a volume of “ Adversaria,” what bears very evident marks of being a literal transcript of Drummond's original Notes. The volume has no date, but was probably anterior to 1710, when Sibbald was in his seventieth year. It is transcribed with his own hand; and the volume containing it was purchased after his death, with the rest of his MSS., for the Faculty of Advocates, in 1723. He might either have been a personal acquaintance of Sir William Drummond, or have obtained the use of the original papers through his friend Bishop Sage, who contributed to the publication of Drummond's Works in 1711. At all events, Sir Robert Sibbald was merely an industrious antiquary, and with considerable learning and unwearied assiduity, no doubt copied these Notes on account of the literary information they contained; while his character is a sufficient warrant for the literal accuracy of his transcript. Conceiving it, therefore, to be a literary document of considerable interest, after communicating it to Sir Walter Scott, and other gentlemen well qualified to judge of its genuineness — and no doubt has ever been expressed on this head - it was communicated to a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries, and printed in the “ Archæologia Scotica,” as a sequel to the Account of the Hawthornden Manuscripts.
The Transactions that contain the communications alluded to, having had but a very limited circulation, and being almost wholly unknown in England, it was
thought the Notes of Jonson's Conversations might prove a suitable republication for the members of the Shakespeare Society. For this purpose, the foot notes, illustrating some of the concise or obscure allusions, have been amplified and corrected, by the kind and efficient aid of my excellent friends, Mr. J. PAYNE COLLIER, and Mr. PETER CUNNINGHAM; the text has been compared carefully with the manuscript, and it is hoped this work, in its present form, may serve the purpose at once of freeing the memory of Drummond from unjust aspersions of treachery and want of good faith; and of furnishing additional facts, in the most authentic form, of the life and manners of one of England's greatest dramatic writers.
Brief and meagre as these Notes of Conversations are, they furnish us, in fact, with the only satisfactory evidence respecting the parentage, education, and early life of the English poet; they explain many obscure allusions in regard to his employments, such as his visit to Paris in 1613, in the capacity of tutor to a son of Sir Walter Raleigh; and, if they bear testimony to Jonson's occasional arrogance and boasting, they exhibit him also in a more favourable aspect, as of a warm-hearted kindly disposition, easily offended, it is true, but as easily appeased. Without enlarging, however, on the views they give of his own personal character, we could have wished that Jonson had proved more communicative, or Drummond been more curious in inquiring into the personal history of those master-spirits, whose writings have shed so much lustre over that age. But, , either Drummond was more disposed to hear of those poets, who, like himself, were writers of sonnets, madrigals, and courtly compliments, or Jonson, with a natural degree of vanity, was more accustomed to speak of the gay and high-born personages, for whom his Court Masques were written, than of those who, like himself, lived “by their wit.” Still, even the casual glimpses and brief allusions to such men as Raleigh, Sidney, Bacon, Selden, Fletcher, Beaumont, and “ the gentle” Spenser, have an indescribable charm ; and, above all, the incidental mention of the name of Shakespeare fortunately contains nothing to justify the idle outcry of malignity and jealousy on the part of Jonson, or to call in question the sincerity of that affection, so beautifully expressed in his exquisite verses, “ To the Memory of my beloved Master William Shakespeare, and what he hath left us,” or in that touching passage of his “Discoveries,” where he says, “ I LOVED THE MAN, AND DO HONOUR HIS MEMORY, ON THIS SIDE IDOLATRY, AS MUCH AS ANY."
BEN JONSON'S CONVERSATIONS
WILLIAM DRUMMOND OF HAWTHORNDEN.
CERTAIN INFORMATIONS AND MANERS OF BEN JOHNSON'S
TO W. DRUMMOND.a
That he had ane intention to perfect ane Epick Poeme intitled Heroologia, of the Worthies of this Country rowsed by Fame; and was to dedicate it to his Country: it is all in couplets, for he detesteth all other rimes. Said he had written a Discourse of Poesie both against Campion and Daniel,
a This title corresponds so far with a stray leaf in Vol. ix. of the Hawthornden MSS., and which, probably, was the envelope of the original: bearing, in the hand-writing of Drummond's son, these titles: [Certain] “ Informations & Manners of Ben Jonson to W. D., 1619;” and “ Informations be Ben Jonston to W. D., when he cam to Scotland upon foot, 1619.” In Sibbald's transcript the same titles are thus repeated: “Informations be Ben Johnston to W. D., when he came to Scotland upon foot, 1619,” and “ Certain Informations and Manners of Ben Jonson's to W. Drummond;" preceded by another, (apparently interlined at a subsequent time, and no doubt his own invention) “Ben Ionsiana.”
b Thomas Campion's “ Observations in the Art of English Poesie” were first printed in 1602, and Daniel's answer in the same year. It was reprinted in 1603, with the following title: “A Defence of Ryme agaynst a pamphlet, entititled Observations in the Art of English Poesie; wherein is demonstratively proued that Ryme is the fittest harmonie of wordes that comportes with our language. By Sa: D. At London, 1603,” 8vo. Both these pieces are reprinted in the late Mr. Haslewood's collection of“ Ancient Critical Essays upon English Poets and Poesy." Vol. ii., London, 1815, 4to.