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The palæontologist who reconstructs the skeleton of a dinosaur from two tail-vertebræ and a claw, and then from the skeleton writes a book on his habits, has a greater chance of coming near the truth than the literary historian vho must base his conjectures respecting the life of his subject on the half dozen surviving references, usually to personal circumstances of more interest to the subject himself than to anybody else. Richard Brome, though no Elizabethan dinosaur, has left us a few scattered fossil facts from which to reconstruct his life. Such are the early biographical sketches of Phillips (1675), Winstanley (1687), and Langbaine (1691)—all drawn chiefly from the title-pages, prefaces, and commendatory verses of Brome's plays, which, with the prologues and epilogues, still remain the principal sources of evidence. There are also two or three references in Jonson, half a dozen in contemporary works, Brome's verses prefatory to his friends' works, Sir Henry Herbert's office-book, and a single legal document.
Most of the scanty references we have concerning Richard Brome associate him with Ben Jonson. In fact, his place in literature is that of the closest and most successful follower of the great dramatist. The first mention of Brome occurs in 1614 in the Induction to Bartholomew Fair, where the stage-keeper says : ‘But for the whole play, will you have the truth on't?-I am looking lest the poet hear me, or his man, Master Brome, behind the arras-it is like to be a very conceited scurvy
1 The fact that the form Broome sometimes occurs, and that Brome is punningly alluded to as “sweeping,' indicates the pronunciation of the name.
one, in plain English.' Dr. Faust 1 suggests that to be
Howsoe'er, my man
This would seem to indicate that Jonson's servant was not absolutely a menial, but was either a man of some education or of such intelligence that Jonson might educate him. A parallel case is that of Nathaniel Field, the boy-actor who later became a playwright, who, Jonson told Drummond,5 had been his scholar, and had read Horace and Martial to him.
The Rev. Ronald Bayne,& following a suggestion of Dr. Faust's, considers that Brome was a secretary or amanuensis ? rather than a valet. To support this he
1 E. K. R. Faust, Richard Brome (Halle dissertation, 1887), p. 3. Practically all that is of value in this thesis is reprinted in Herrig's Archiv, Vol. 82 (1889).
2 Court Begger, Prologue. 3 Jovial Crew, Dedication.
4 Folio of 1616. Ben Jonson, Works, ed. Wheatley and Cunningham, 8. 204.
5 Works 9. 379. 6 Cambridge Hist. Eng. Lit. 6. 252.
? Colley Cibber in 1740 was the first to speak of Brome as an amanuensis (Apology, 4th ed., 2. 203).
cites the epigram just mentioned, and a 'sonnet of some literary merit 'prefixed to the Northern Lass, and signed 'St. Br.,'1 in which the writer declares himself to be the poet's brother-a fact which should make us beware of assuming low rank for Brome. This is rather slight evidence, for, in an age in which watermen wrote verses, why might not cooks and valets? And then, besides Jonson's address to him as his ‘former servant,'? Alexander Brome, his friend, and the editor of his posthumous works, says:
Poor he came into th' world.:
Again, in defending Richard from detractors who belittled him for his relations with Jonson, he says, in the midst of a long list of classic writers of humble origin
nay (to instance in our Authors own order), Nævius the Comedian (was] a Captains mans man.' And Brome himself, in his commendatory verses in the folio of Beaumont and Fletcher (1647), says:
Why, what are you, cry some, that prate to us ?
These passages, and others scattered through his prologues, which show that he always considered himself somewhat an intruder in the realm of Parnassus,' outweigh, I am inclined to think, the evidence of the fraternal
1 Stephen Brome (?)."
See below, prefatory verses to Northern Lass. 8 Prefatory verses to octavo of 1659.
sonnet,' and the considerable knowledge of Latin shown in the plays. Brome probably began his relations with Jonson as a witty young serving-man who interested his master to such an extent that he undertook his education, as he had already that of the young Nathaniel Field. And this education might have been undertaken originally as much for the convenience of the master as the improvement of the servant.
Colley Cibber, in his List of Dramatic Authors, boldly asserts that Brome ‘had his education at Eton’; but as Cibber is eleven years astray concerning the date of his death, and very carelessly misdates the publication of many of the plays, this extremely improbable and unauthoritative statement is negligible. However, his education, wherever he got it, was quite respectable. His English is always correct, and his vocabulary ample, with an occasional fondness for unusual Latin derivatives. His style is distinctly more colloquial than academic. But the important indication that he received some scholastic knowledge is the number and correctness of his classical quotations and allusions. The pedant in the City Wit, and the curate in the Queen and Concubine, continually use snatches of Latin phrases that show at least a knowledge of grammar on the part of the author. Dr. Bayne thinks that these have a sprightliness and comicality which indicate that his Latin was not acquired late in life. On the other hand, the somewhat pedantic kaleidoscope of not uncommon classical allusions in the Court Begger, if they indicate anything at all, suggest, I think, the opposite. Then Brome's quotations are always very obvious, like monstrum horrendum, hinc illa lachrymæ, and Iamque opus exegi quod nec Iovis ira, nec ignis. The last, for instance, occurs in at least four conspicuous places in contemporary letters. And such phrases as non progredi est regredi, euphoniæ gratia, or
deceptio visus might be culled any Sunday from a sermon at St. Paul's; while a very fair stock of mere allusions might be found in a sententious almanac. The few French phrases in the New Academy and the Sparagus Garden, although they are idiomatic and correct, of course prove nothing as to Brome's knowledge of the language, and Ward's suggestion, based on two sentences in the Novella, that perhaps he knew a little German, is even more doubtful than that he knew French. Again, it would be very unsafe to base any conjecture concerning his connection with the profession of law on the knowledge of legal jargon shown in Covent Garden Weeded 2. I, and to a slighter extent elsewhere in Brome ; for in all his works there is not half so much of this kind of lore as in a single play of Jonson's—as, for instance, the Staple of News. In fact, for all the special knowledge of languages and law in the plays, I think there is nothing to show more than a ready memory, and a clever ability at making a little knowledge go a long way. We may sum him up as he, or Heywood, did a character in the Lancashire Witches 2: ' It seems he is a peece of a scholar.'
What because he hath read a little Scriveners Latine, hee never proceeded farther in his Accidence than to Mentire non est meum ; and that was such a hard lesson to learn that he stuck at mentire ; and cu'd never reach to non est meum : since, a meere Ignaro, and not worth acknowledgment.'
A hint of Brome's training by Jonson, and of his position in the household, is given in an entry in the Herbert MS. for Oct. 2, 1623, on licensing a play: 'for the Princes Company (at the Red Bull). A new comedy
2 Heywood, Works 4. 175.
i Dict. Nat. Biog. 6. 395.