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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The Latter Days Of Lovelace The Poets In A Puzzle facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail