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The Mermaid Club

The celebrated club at the "Mermaid," as has been well observed by
Gifford, "combined more talent and genius, perhaps, than ever met
together before or since." The institution originated with Sir Walter
Raleigh; and here, for many years, Ben Jonson regularly repaired with
Shakspeare, Beaumont, Fletcher, Selden, Cotton, Carew, Martin, Donne,
and many others whose names, even at this distant period, call up a
mingled feeling of reverence and respect. Here, in the full flow and
confidence of friendship, the lively and interesting "wit-combats" took
place between Shakspeare and Jonson; and hither, in probable allusion to
some of them, Beaumont fondly lets his thoughts wander in his letter to
Jonson from the country:--

"What things have we seen
Done at the Mermaid? heard words that have been
So nimble, and so full of subtle flame,
As if that every one from whom they came,
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest."

For the expression, "wit-combats," we must refer to Fuller, who in his
"Worthies," describing the character of the Bard of Avon, says: "Many
were the wit-combats between Shakspeare and Ben Jonson. I behold them
like a Spanish great galleon, and an English man-of-war. Master Jonson,
like the former, was built far higher in learning, solid, but slow in
his performances; Shakspeare, like the latter, less in bulk but lighter
in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about and take advantage of
all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention." With what delight
would after generations have hung over any well-authenticated instances
of these "wit-combats!" But, unfortunately, nothing on which we can
depend has descended to us.

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