C. H. Herford, Percy Simpson, and Evelyn Simpson (eds), Ben Jonson, Vol. 11: Commentary; Jonson's Literary Record; Supplementary Notes; Index

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We noted in our textual introduction1 the first appearance of these tavern laws in print, in Daniel Tossanus's tribute to John James Frey, Oratio Panegyrica, Basel, 1636. Frey, professor of Greek at Basel, came to England in 1625, was incorporated M.A. of Oxford as a member of Christ Church on 4 July 1629,2 and was ordained by the Bishop of St. David's. Among his patrons were the future Earl of Strafford and Archbishop Ussher. He died dean designate of Armagh on 26 August 1636.

On page 32 of Tossanus's Oratio a visit of Frey's to London is described. He saw Westminster Abbey and recorded the inscription on Edward the First's grave, 'Scotorum malleus', and on Henry the Fifth's (now lost), 'Mastyx Henricus Gallorum hâc conditur urnâ'. Then Tossanus quotes the Leges Convivales, which Frey copied, in order to light up his gloomy theme with a flash of cheerfulness. 'Ut autem tristibus, aliquid ioci admisceã; Londini taberna vinaria est (Apollo ei nomen) famosissima; cujus non usquequœque vituperandœ leges convivales, nisi mea memoria decoxit, sunt istœ.' A careful text of the laws follows.

pg 295But there is an earlier reference to the Leges in a letter of John Chamberlain to Sir Dudley Carlton at The Hague, on 19 June 1624, preserved in the Public Record Office (S.P. xiv. 415): 'I send here certain Leges conuiuales of Ben Johnsons for a faire roome or chamber lately built at the tavern or signe of the diuell and St. Dun-stan by temple-barre: they be resonable goode and not vnproper for such a place.' This patronizing comment means that, in the opinion of this court newsmonger, Jonson's faultless Latin would pass muster in a tavern; Chamberlain's standard of reference was the staterooms in Whitehall. But the important point in his letter is that he says the Apollo room had just been built. We may take it, therefore, that the Leges Convivales were composed for it in that year.

The Apollo was a room on the first floor, as we learn from Prior and Montague, The Hind and the Panther Transversed, 1687, p. 22, describing a visit to 'The Devil'; 'Here they are, just going up stairs into the Apollo; …

  • Thus to the place where Johnson sat we climb,.
  • Leaning on the same Rail that guided him;
  • And whilst we thus on equal helps rely,
  • Our Wit must be as true, our thoughts as high.
  • … this the Scala Sancta we believe
  • By which his Traditive Genius we receive.'

Here Jonson presided among the young poets and wits who were 'sealed of the Tribe of Ben'—such men as Herrick, Randolph, Carew, Marmion, Cartwright, Howell, and Lord Falkland—and who regarded him as the first figure in the world of letters. It was characteristic of him that, as arbiter bibendi, he drew up a tavern code for these meetings. It was engraved in gold letters on a marble tablet over the mantelpiece.

Innkeepers had a habit of giving special names to the rooms in their taverns.1 Prince Hal in the First Part of King Henry IV, ii. iv. 25, quotes as typical language of an under-skinker, 'Anon, anon, sir! Score a pint of bastard in the Half-moon', and Jonson has 'score a pint of sacke, i' the Conney' at the Swan (Bartholomew Fair, v. iv. 205). But no innkeeper gave such a name as 'Apollo' to the room in which the poets gathered at 'The Devil'. The suggestion came from an anecdote in Plutarch's Life of Lucullus, ch. xli. Cicero and Pompey, running into Lucullus in the Forum, proposed to call on pg 296him, and he invited them to a meal. '"We will dine with you this evening," said Cicero, "on condition that you give us just what is provided for yourself." Lucullus raising objections and asking them to come another day, they refused, and they stopped him from conferring with his servants: only, at his request, they let him tell one of them in their presence, "Dinner to-day in the Apollo". This was the name of one of his costliest rooms.' The servants understood and prepared a dinner which cost fifty thousand drachmas. For allusions to this see Rabelais, Pantagruel, v. xx, '"En Apollo", disoit Luculle, quand festoyer voulait ses amis singulierement', and Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. 1621, p. 97, 'Lucullus Ghost walkes still, and every man desires to sup in Apollo'. Clearly it was Jonson, not Simon Wadlow, who christened the new room at 'The Devil'.

The Leges have classical echoes borrowed from Horace and Martial's invitations to a plain dinner, Epistles, i. v, and Epigrams, x. xlviii. The umbra in rule I was the Roman term for a guest not invited by the host, but brought by a guest whom he had invited: locus est et pluribus umbris (Horace, l. 28). Rule 5, 'In apparatu, quod convivis corruget nares, nil esto', is from the same souce: ne, turpe toral, ne sordida mappa Corruget nares (l. 23). Rules 17 and 24, 'Joci sine felle sunto', 'Neminem reum pocula faciunto', are Martial's 'Accedent sine felle ioci' and 'nec faciunt quemquam pocula nostra reum' (ll. 21, 24). Rule 23, 'Qui foràs vel dicta, vel facta, eliminat, eliminator', is Horace's 'ne fidos inter amicos Sit qui dicta for as eliminet' (ll. 24–5). Rule 22, Lapitharum more scyphis pugnarenefas esto, condenses two passages of the Odes of Horace:

  • Ac nequis modici transiliat munera Liberi,
  • Centaurea monet cum Lapithis rixa super mero
  • debellata,                                (i. xviii. 7–9)


  • Natis in usum laetitiae scyphis
  • pugnare Thracum est: tollite barbarum
  •     morem verecundumque Bacchum
  •         sanguineis prohibete rixis.    (Ibid, xxvii. 1–4)

And the conclusion 'Focus perennis esto', 'Keep the inn-fire burning', is from Martial's poem on a happy life, X. xlvii. 4, which Jonson himself translated (Und. xc. 4).

But poets had gathered in a shrine of Apollo before 1624. Drayton's poem, 'The Sacrifice to Apollo', was printed in his Odes in 1619.

  • Priests of Apollo, sacred be the Roome,
  • For this learn'd Meeting: Let no barbarous Groome,
  • pg 297  How brave soe'r he bee,
  •   Attempt to enter;
  •   But of the Muses free,
  •   None here may venter;
  • This for the Delphian Prophets is prepar'd:
  • The prophane Vulgar are from hence debar'd.

As a happy beginning to the feast the Muses are summoned, 'those faire Nine, with their Violins'; next the Graces.

  • Where be the Graces, where be those fayre Three?
  • In any hand They may not absent bee:
  •   They to the Gods are deare,
  •   And they can humbly
  •   Teach us, our Selves to beare,
  •   And doe things comely. …
  • Bring forth your Flaggons (fill'd with sparkling Wine)
  • Whereon swolne BACCHUS, crowned with a Vine,
  •   Is graven; and fill out,
  •   It well bestowing,
  •   To ev'ry Man about,
  •   In Goblets flowing:
  • Let not a Man drinke, but in Draughts profound;
  • To our God PHOEBUS let the Health goe Round.
  • Let your Jests flye at large; yet therewithall
  • See they be Salt, but yet not mix'd with Gall:
  •   Not tending to disgrace,
  •   But fayrely given,
  •   Becomming well the place,
  •   Modest, and even;
  • That they with tickling Pleasure may provoke
  • Laughter in him, on whom the Jest is broke.

Two stanzas follow on singing the deeds of heroes and on reciting verse

  • Or in the Sock, or in the Buskin'd Strayne,

which show that playwrights took part in the gatherings.

Charles Lamb was the first to point out that this poem is 'a kind of poetical paraphrase of the Leges Convivales'.1 For example,

  1. 1. Nemo asymbolus, nisi umbra, huc venito.

  2. 2. Idiota, insulsus, tristis, turpis, abesto

  3. 3. Eruditi, urbani, hilares, honesti, adsiscuntor.

  4. 4. Nec lectæ feminæ repudiantor.

  5. 17. Joci sine felle sunto.

pg 298The fourth rule can be illustrated from The Staple of News, 1626, iii. iii. 8–10, where the poet Madrigal says,

  • I ha' supt in Apollo! Alm. With the Muses? Mad. No,
  • But with two Gentlewomen, call'd, the Graces.
  • Alm. They were ever three in Poetry. Mad. This was truth, Sir.

Mr. B. H. Newdigate in a letter to The Times Literary Supplement, 11 December 1937, said, 'It is plain, I think, that Drayton's Ode inspired some of the Leges Convivales.' That is true, but even at this earlier date hints and suggestions may have come from Jonson. The inscription in the new room of 'The Devil' embodied them in stately Latin far beyond the reach of Drayton. 'Convivæ nec muti, nec loquaces sunto': if Jonson broke this rule, he is more likely to have been 'loquax' than 'mutus'.1

The literary associations of the Apollo are continuous. Jonson's young admirer Shakerley Marmion was the first to celebrate it in A Fine Companion, 1633, ii. v, where Careless says:

  •                     I am full
  • Of Oracles, I am come from Apollo,
  • Would he had lent me his Tripos to stand upon;
  • For my two legges can hardly carry me.

Æmi. Whence come you, from Apollo?

Car. From the heaven

  • Of my delight, where the boone Delphicke God,
  • Drinkes sacke, and keepes his Bacchanalias,
  • And has his incense, and his Altars smoaking,
  • And speakes in sparkeling prophesies; thence doe I come.
  • My braines perfum'd with the rich Indian vapour,
  • And heightned with conceits: from tempting beauties,
  • From dainty Musicke and Poeticke straines,
  • From bowles of Nectar, and Ambrosiacke dishes:
  • From witty Varlets, fine Companions,
  • And from a mighty continent of pleasure,
  • Sayles thy brave Carelesse.

Oldwit in Shadwell's Bury Fair, 1689, Act i, p. 6, says, 'I myself, simple as I stand here, was a Wit in the last Age: I was created Ben Johnson's Son, in the Apollo'. Shadwell might have written this to give point to Dryden's gibe in the Defence of the Epilogue (1668) pg 299at 'some few old fellows' with memories of the Blackfriars Theatre, who

'can tell a story of Ben Johnson, and, perhaps, have had fancy enough to give a supper in the Apollo, that they might be called his sons; and because they were drawn in to be laughed at in those times, they think themselves now sufficiently entitled to laugh at ours'.

In the eighteenth century there is Isaac Bickerstaffe's account of the wedding of his sister Jenny, described in The Tatler, no. 79, 9–11 October 1709.

'After the ceremony at church, I was resolved to entertain the company with a dinner suitable to the occasion, and pitched upon the Apollo, at the Old Devil, at Temple Bar, as a place sacred to mirth, tempered with discretion, where Ben Jonson and his "sons" used to make their liberal meetings.'

One of the company 'fell into a discourse of pleasure and entertainment, drawn from the rules of Ben's Club, which are in gold letters over the chimney'. Swift records in The Journal to Stella, on 12 October 1710, that he dined with Garth and Addison at the Devil Tavern; Garth paid the bill. In 1746 the Royal Society held its anniversary dinner there; the Council minutes state that in future the dinner would be at 'The Devil', but there is no record of any further meetings.1 In 1751 Dr. Johnson gave a supper there to honour Mrs. Charlotte Lennox: Sir John Hawkins described the 'magnificent' apple-pie stuck with bay-leaves, because she had written verses; and Johnson crowned her with laurel (Life of Johnson, 1787, i, p. 286). In 1774 William Kenrick lectured on Shakespeare in the Apollo, and The Monthly Miscellany for April, p. 141, published an engraving of the end of the room with Kenrick declaiming; it is quite commonplace and might be any room in a public hall, but there is one point of interest; it shows a gallery crowded with ladies.

The tavern came to an end in 1787 when Child the banker purchased the freehold for £2,800 and erected on the site a row of houses called Child's Place and a portion of the bank.

'Over the Door at the Entrance into the Apollo' was the bust of the god and the verses of welcome. These are preserved at the bank of Messrs. Glyn, Mills & Co., the successors of Child. The bust is of terra-cotta, repainted. The head is laurel-crowned and turned to the left, the drapery is fastened on the left shoulder with a heavy brooch. Mrs. Katharine A. Esdaile gave a good reproduction of it pg 300in an article on Jonson and the tavern published in Essays and Studies of the English Association, xxix (1944), pp. 93–100. She describes it as the earliest English seventeenth-century terra-cotta known, and she conjectures that the sculptor was Edward Marshall (1598–1674), the author of the bust of Drayton in Westminster Abbey. The laurel crown resembles Drayton's, and the work is in Marshall's strong and masculine manner.

Over the Door of the Apollo.

2–4. Oracle of Apollo with a glance of Rabelais' 'Oracle of the Bottle' (S. of N. iv. ii. 8). There is also a reference to the two forms of the tripod distinguished in Athenaeus, ii. vi, § 38, the οἰκεῖος λέβης‎ or kettle of the first fragment of Aeschylus and the κράτηρ‎ or drinking bowl: καὶ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τῆς ἀληθείας τρίπους․ διὸ Άπόλλωνος μὲν οἰκεῖος διὰ τὴν ἐκ μαντικῆς ἀλήθειαν‚ Διονύσου δὲ διὰ τὴν ἐν μέθῃ‎.

3. Pottle, two-quart tankard.

4. Tower Bottle, so called from its shape.

6. Truth itself, οἶνος‚ ὦ ϕίλε παῖ‚ λέγεται καὶ ἀλαθέα‎, Alcaeus fragm. 57, taken over by Theocritus, Idyll xxix. 1. It was crystallized in the proverb 'In vino Veritas'.

8. Sym, the King of Skinkers. Simon Wadlow, the keeper of the tavern, the 'braue Duke Wadloo' of S. of N. ii. v. 128: 'Simon the King, Will bid us welcome' (ibid. 130). In Dryden and Davenant's version of The Tempest, 1674, iii. iii, when Ariel has substituted a bottle of water for Trincalo's bottle of sack, he says, 'It was a cold gulp, such as this, which kill'd my famous Predecessor, old Simon the King'. Wadlow's title came from the drinking song, 'Old Sir Simon the King', host of the Crown, printed in Hales and Furnivall's Percy Folio MSS., 'Loose and Humorous Songs', pp. 124–7. The refrain is

  • Sayes old Simon the King
  • with his ale-dropt hose, and his malmsey nose,
  • with a hey ding, ding a ding,
  • with a hey ding ding,
  • quoth Simon the king.

The song is early: the refrain 'Hey ding a ding' is quoted as a ballad title in Laneham's Letter from Kenilworth, 1575.

Skinkers, tapsters (Poet. iv. v. 133).

12. the Milke of Venus. ἡδύς γε πίνειν οἶνος Άϕροδίτης γάλα‎, a line of Aristophanes quoted by Athenaeus, x, p. 444d.

the Poets' Horse. From the epigram on Cratinus, Anth. Pal. xiii. 29:

  • οἶνός τοι χαρίεντι πέλει ταχὺς ἵππος ἀοιδῷ‚
  • ὕδωρ δὲ πίνων χρηστὸν οὐδὲν ἂν τέκοις‎.

Cf. Poetarum Pegasus, S.W. iii. i. 24, and S. of N. iv. ii. 9.


1 Vol. viii, p. 653.

2 The entry, communicated by Mr. Strickland Gibson, when keeper of the University archives, is given under this date in the Register of Convocation.

1 The fashion lasted into the nineteenth century: 'Lights in the Sun, John', says the innkeeper of the Saracen in Pickwick, ch. 51; 'I was shown up to a nice little bedroom, with Dolphin painted on the door, at Yarmouth' (David Copperfield, ch. 8).

1 Quoted in Swinburne's Miscellanies, 1886, in his paper on 'Charles Lamb and George Wither'.

1 An attempt was made by Lamb to take these symposia back to the description of 'Saint Dunstanes charmed Well' in Wither's Shepherd's Hunting (ll. 228–36), also said to be situated in a dell, where Wither, Christopher Brooke and William Browne met. Gordon Goodwin identified this with Saint Dunstan's well in Tottenham Wood in Middlesex near Bounds Green. The gatherings there were to hear poems. Jonson's 18th and 19th rules were opposed to this.

1 See the Royal Society's Notes and Records, no. 2, October 1938.

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