Ben Jonson, EPIGRAMS: 45 (XLV): “On my First Son” / “On my First Sonne”
Epigram XLV (45): “On my First Son”:
Did Ben Jonson know how to encypher, or is this just coincidence?
Epigram XLV (45): “On my First Sonne“:
“On my First Son(ne)” was written during an especially terrible outbreak of the plague that devastated London in 1603. In some parts of London the mortality rate exceeded fifty percent. Jonson had left London for the country shortly before the outbreak, and later received a letter from his wife telling him that his eldest son, Benjamin, had perished of the illness. Needless to say, he was devastated. To me, one of the most poignant and beautiful lines in all of poetry:
“Rest in soft piece, and, ask’d, say here doth lye Ben. Jonson his best piece of poetrie.”
It is unlikely Jonson did not know Edward Vere. I would like to believe that friends, colleagues and/or acquaintances comisserated with Jonson’s loss, and that Edward Vere was one who consoled him. I am struck by two probable coincidences (?) in the word construction of the above line: (1) there are 17 words;(Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford) in the two-line sentence (10 in line 9, and 7 in line 10); and (2) Edward Vere lost an infant son. Ben Jonson’s son was named Ben, and Edward Vere’s son was named Edward. The symmetry in all this is perhaps what only I see, but it is nevertheless striking.
XI. X. MMXV