Ben Jonson's Epitaph on Nashe

Mrs. Katherine Duncan-Jones turned up another treasure in the archives of Berkeley Castle - a previously unpublished poem by Ben Jonson, mourning Nashe's death. (See TLS July 7 1995 for her complete article on this subject.)

Jonson had been associated with Nashe in the ill-fated Isle of Dogs production some three years earlier, and for all we know they collaborated on other projects. Like "Judicio" in the Parnassus play, Jonson singles out Nashe's abounding wit as his outstanding characteristic; like Fitgeffrey, he notes Nashe's combative nature, but he also strikes a gentler note, claiming that however aggressive Nashe might have been with those he saw as enemies, to friends he was pleasant and likeable.

Lastly, Jonson emphatically asserts that Nashe died well - at peace with God, secure in his faith. That was a snub to all those enemies such as Harvey, Harington and Lichfield, who might have represented the dead man as another sorry example of what happens to arrogant scholars who get above themselves. And some comfort to his living admirers, currently ignorant of how and where he died.

(Original text)

Mortals that yet respire with plenteous breath
View here a trophee of that tyrant deathe
And let the obiect strike your melting eyes
blind as the night, when you but read, Here lies
Conquerd by destiny & turned to earthe
The man whose want hathe causd a generall dearthe
Of witte;throughout this land: none left behind
to equall hym in his ingenious kynd
I vrge not this as being his parasite
who lou'd him least will doe him greater right
Noe well deserving muse but will impart
her flowers to crown his Industrie & art
when any wrongd him lyuing they did feele
his spirite quicke as powder sharp as stele
But to his freindes her faculties were faire
pleasant and milde as the most temp'rate ayre
O pardon me deare freind yf fear controule
the zealous purpose of my wounded sowle
feare to be censured glorious in thie praise
(A maime sone taken in these hum'rous dayes
where every dudgeon iudgement stabs at witt
yette (for thie loue) this truth Ile not omitte
Which most may make thie merites to appeare
& ioye thie glad suruiuing freindes to heare),
thou diedst a Christian faithfull penitent
Inspir'd with happie thoughtes & confident
This though thie latest grace was not the least
Which still shall lyue when all else are deceast
farewell greate spirite my pen attird in blacke
shall whilst I am still weepe & mourn thie lacke

(My modernised version)

Mortals that yet respire with plenteous breath
View here a trophy of that tyrant Death.
And let the object strike your melting eyes
Blind as the night, when you but read: "Here lies,
Conquered by destiny and turned to earth,
The man whose want hath caused a general dearth
Of wit throughout this land: none left behind
To equal him in his ingenious kind."

I urge not this as being his parasite;
Who loved him least will do him greater right.
No well-deserving muse but will impart
Her flowers to crown his industry and art.
When any wronged him, living, they did feel
His spirit, quick as powder, sharp as steel;
But to his friends her faculties were fair,
Pleasant, and mild as the most temp'rate air.
O pardon me, dear friend, if fear control
The zealous purpose of my wounded soul -
Fear to be censured glorious in thy praise
(A maim soon taken in these hum'rous days
Where every dudgeon judgement stabs at wit.)
Yet, for thy love, this truth I'll not omit,
Which most may make thy merits to appear
And joy thy glad surviving friends to hear:
Thou diedst a Christian faithful penitent,
Inspir'd with happy thoughts and confident.
This, though thy latest grace, was not the least,
Which still shall live when all else are deceased.
Farewell, great spirit. My pen attired in black
Shall, whilst I am, still weep and mourn thy lack.

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