To William Camden Ben Jonson

(1616) William Camden, a famous antiquarian scholar, had served as headmaster of the Westminster School, which Ben Jonson attended, and remained one of the poet's dearest friends. He is thought to be the subject of Jonson's poem "Inviting a Friend to Supper" and was responsible for Jonson's humanist values. According to scholars Jonson skillfully imitates Cam-den's own teaching in the poem "To William Camden" by moving from the topic of pride to piety. He wrote the epigram, a form Camden discussed in his own writings as one in which "our country men now surpass other nations," in order to express his gratitude for Camden's crucial contribution to his life and art. He depicted Camden as a perfect teacher as well as an important writer about the Roman occupation of Brit ain; Camden had popularized the shortened form of Britannia, Britain, in his Remains of a Greater Work Concerning Britain. As Camden desired to relate modern Britain to the land of the ancients, Jonson would incorporate into his poetry classical ideas and format to relate his writing to that of the ancients. He adopts praise by Pliny of Corellius, a learned adviser, as a model by which to praise Camden. Jonson also models his poem on Pliny's praise of a friend named Titius Aristo and thus emphasizes both Camden's and his own link to ancient Rome.

Jonson begins,

Camden, most reverend head, to whom I owe All that I am in arts, all that I know (How nothing's that!), to whom my country owes The great renown and name wherewith she goes.

After his self-deprecating commentary on his own lack of knowledge by comparison to Camden's, he references Camden's naming the country Britain. The speaker then notes that Britain will never see anyone "more grave, / More high, more holy, that she more would crave." Jonson praises Camden's investigation of "the most antique springs!" and notes that Camden's voice carries great "weight and . . . authority." Jonson is probably recalling his own school experience when he adds that man can hardly ask a question that Cam-den cannot answer. The final four lines of the poem emphasize the piety Jonson so valued in his teacher:

Pardon free truth and let thy modesty, Which conquers all, be once o'ercome by thee. Many of thine this better could than I; But for their powers, accept my piety.

Thine in the penultimate line refers to Jonson's fellow students taught by Camden.

Jonson had been fortunate in that someone had sponsored his attendance at Westminster School, which his bricklayer stepfather could not have afforded. Even more fortunate was Camden's recognition of the boy's talent. Critics agree that his dedication and skill helped compensate for Jonson's later inability to attend university. Despite his lack of a complete education,

Jonson maintained a rigorous personal program of study and research throughout his life, modeled after the intellectual pursuits of William Camden.

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