chapter  12
Ben Jonson: madness and community
ByRICHARD HARP
Pages 16

I Ben Jonson was one of the most convivial and communal of men. Although his life must have been organized around solitary and intense reading, study and writing, he also surrounded himself with various communities, including the Sons of Ben (or the ‘Tribe of Ben’) who drank with him in the Apollo Room of the Devil Tavern in London, among whom were numbered such notable poets as Robert Herrick and Thomas Carew. Jonson himself wrote in Latin the Leges Convivales, or ‘Sociable Rules’ (Alexander Brome’s translation) for this club, which proposed that only ‘learned, civil, merry men be invited / And modest too; nor the choice ladies slighted’.2 John Aubrey suggests indeed that Jonson lived a kind of mixed life, reporting that he ‘would many time exceed in drink (Canary was his beloved liquor), then he would tumble home to bed, and when he had thoroughly perspired, then to study’.3 Other prominent members of Jonson’s extensive literary communities, including the Anglican bishop Henry King (‘The Exequy’) and the dramatist John Ford, contributed poems commemorating his death and bringing him poetically back to life in the 1638 volume Jonsonus Virbius.