Saturday, September 17, 2016

Lighting it up

Ben Jonson's joke about burning a ballad to light a pipe:
"One who fired a Tobacco pipe with a ballet [ballad] the next day having a sore-head, swoare he had a great singing in his head, and he thought it was the ballet: A Poet should detest a Ballet maker."
--Notes of Ben Jonson's Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden
made me think of Melville's bit in Pierre about lighting cigars with sonnets:
Now, the dollars derived from his ditties, these Pierre had always invested in cigars; so that the puffs which indirectly brought him his dollars were again returned, but as perfumed puffs; perfumed with the sweet leaf of Havanna. So that this highly-celebrated and world-renowned Pierre—the great author—whose likeness the world had never seen (for had he not repeatedly refused the world his likeness?), this famous poet, and philosopher, author of "The Tropical Summer: a Sonnet;" against whose very life several desperadoes were darkly plotting (for had not the biographers sworn they would have it?); this towering celebrity—there he would sit smoking, and smoking, mild and self-festooned as a vapory mountain. It was very involuntarily and satisfactorily reciprocal. His cigars were lighted in two ways: lighted by the sale of his sonnets, and lighted by the printed sonnets themselves.  --Pierre; Or, The Ambiguities
William Drummond of Hawthornden does not appear in Melville's Reading or Melville's Sources or the Online Catalog of Melville's known reading. Only stray references to William Drummond in Melville scholarship, it seems. I would be glad to know of anything at all in print, especially on Melville and those notes of Ben Jonson's talking.

We do know Melville owned the 1692 folio edition of The Works of Ben Jonson which he bought in London, November 1849. Formerly in the collection of Albert Boni, this volume now is held by the New-York Historical Society, as indicated in Online Catalog at Melville's Marginalia Online.

Stanton Garner charts the influence of Jonson on the last of Melville's poems in the John Marr volume, in "Rosemarine: Melville's 'Pebbles' and Ben Jonson's Masque of Blackness," Melville Society Extracts 41 (February 1980): 13-14. Before Garner, Newton Arvin in the October 1949 Partisan Review had noted the same borrowing but thought it more of a happy accident, "an unconscious but felicitous echo" of Jonson.

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