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This article is taken from PN Review 206, Volume 38 Number 6, July - August 2012.

Ample Flesh
Ian Donaldson, Ben Jonson: A Life (Oxford University Press), £25.00.
Andrew Hadfield
In terms of the lives of early modern writers not of the highest social rank, Ben Jonson's is one of the better documented. Jonson was notoriously garrulous, obstreperous, as his contemporaries recorded, and he left behind traces of his reading practices in numerous books. Even so, there could have been far more: Jonson's library was consumed by fire in 1623, 'possibly caused by an overturned candle or spark from his chimney' (367), destroying a wealth of books and papers. Jonson may well have been drunk, if John Aubrey is to be believed: 'He would many times exceed in drink (Canary [a sweet white wine from the Canary Islands] was his beloved liquor), then he would tumble home to bed, and when he had thoroughly perspired, then to study.' Jonson lamented the catastrophe in 'An Execration upon Vulcan', describing some of his works that had disappeared as well as books he possessed:

                                     And, among
The rest, my journey into Scotland sung,
With all th'adventures; three books not afraid
To speak the fate of the Sicilian maid
To our own ladies, and in story there
Of our fifth Henry, eight of his nine year;
Wherein was oil, beside the succour, spent
Which noble Carew, Cotton, Selden lent;
And twice twelve years' stored up humanity,
With humble gleanings in divinity[.]

The poem, as Ian Donaldson points out, regrets the loss of 'serious works of scholarship' (369), showing just how ...


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