Monday, July 4, 2016

Conversations of Ben Jonson with William Drummond

Conversations of Ben Jonson with William Drummond of Hawthornden (1900) direct link
Open Library main page

Anthony Madrid has a recent piece in The Paris Review describing how Scottish poet William Drummond kept notes on Ben Jonson's highly opinionated talk during a visit.  If you wanted to read the whole thing well here it is.  This edition has modernized spelling and though the editor says there was no attempt to "Bowdlerize" he then immediately mentions some things he omitted.  Apparently some 19th century Jonson editors debated Drummond's intentions - did he taunt Jonson into these opinions or were they more or less accurate?  (A contemporary journal calls it "the exasperating Drummond-Jonson squabble.")  Modern opinion leans towards accuracy.  (See Ian Donaldson's Ben Jonson: A Life.)

Still, this is certainly amusing reading:  Lucan "merited not the name of poet", Jonson "beat Marston and took his pistol from him", "Ralegh esteemed more of fame than conscience" and so forth.  There's also some scurrilous gossip about Queen Elizabeth, puffery from Jonson to himself, reading recommendations.

For even more background see the 1873 biography Drummond of Hawthornden by David Masson.