A History of English Literature

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Jonson’s social ideal is exemplified in ‘To Penshurst’, a thank-you letter to the
Sidney family for their hospitality at their estate in Kent: ‘Thou art not, Penshurst,
built to envious show.’ The unpretentious birthplace of Sir Philip Sidney offers
country hospitality to all, the commoner and the king. Golden-age fancy mingles
with actuality:
The blushing apricot and wooly peach
Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach.
And though thy walls be of the country stone,
They are reared with no man’s ruin, no man’s groan;
There’s none that dwell about them wish them down;
But all come in, the farmer and the clown, yokel
And no one empty-handed, to salute
Thy lord and lady, though they have no suit. fine dress/favour to beg
Some bring a capon, some a rural cake,
Some nuts, some apples; some that think they make
The better cheeses bring them ....
The dry humour of ‘think’ and ‘no suit’ gains credit for the ideal implied in Jonson’s
compliments: reciprocal rights and duties, harmonious hierarchy. Penshurst was the
home of a patron; but Jonson was not a reliable flatterer: ‘His children thy great lord
may call his own, / A fortune in this age but rarely known.’ His own idea of hospi-
tality is defined in ‘On Inviting a Friend to Dinner’, which ends: ‘No simple word /
That shall be uttered at our mirthful board / Shall make us sad next morning; or
affright / The liberty that we’ll enjoy tonight.’ (Young poets used to sup with Jonson
at the Mermaid tavern in London.Robert Herrick (1591–1674) is the best-known
ofthe Sons of the Tribe of Ben, as Jonson called them.) The first line of Jonson’s
masque Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue is ‘Room, room! make room for the bouncing
Another side to the bear-like Jonson is seen in ‘On My First Son’ (who died aged
seven): ‘Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy; / My sin was too much hope
of thee, loved boy’ (the son’s name was also Benjamin: ‘child of my right hand’ in
Hebrew). Deliberate wit, couplet-rhyme and formal compression were to Jonson
means of self-control. An impersonal craft is seen in the flawless songs in his
masques, such as ‘Queen and huntress, chaste and fair’ or ‘See the chariot at hand
here of Love, / Wherein my lady rideth.’ A final sample of Jonson’s classical balance,
on another early death:
It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make man better be;
Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald and sere:
A lily of a day
Is fairer far, in May,
Although it fall and die that night;
It was the plant and flower of light.
In small proportions we just beauty see,
And in small measures life may perfect be.

Metaphysical poets

Dr Johnson identified a ‘race of poets’ between Donne and Cowley, since known as
the ‘metaphysical poets’. The term was not an admiring one. Dryden had said that


Metaphysical poets

Henry King (1592–1669)
George Herbert (1593–1633)
Thomas Carew (1594–1640)
Richard Crashaw
John Cleveland (1613–1658)
Abraham Cowley (1618–1667)
Andrew Marvell (1621–1678)
Henry Vaughan (1621–1695)
Thomas Traherne (1637–1674)

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