17th century Jonson trek set for Twitter revival

A portrait of playwright Ben Jonson, circa 1617. Picture: National Portrait Gallery
A portrait of playwright Ben Jonson, circa 1617. Picture: National Portrait Gallery
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THE little-known trek of a 17th century playwright from London to Edinburgh on foot is to be revived through social media.

• 17th century playwright Ben Jonson’s walk from London to Edinburgh to be reenacted via blogs and social networks

• Edinburgh University scholars recreate journey of poet and dramatist, a friend of William Shakespeare

Edinburgh University scholars are recreating a journey undertaken on foot by Ben Jonson more than 400 years ago by posting extracts from an account of his trip on Twitter, Facebook and a blog.

The influential poet and dramatist - a favourite of King James VI of Scotland (King James I of England) and friend to William Shakespeare - set out on his 71-day walk from London to Edinburgh in July 1618.

Edinburgh researchers, along with colleagues from Nottingham University, will link diary extracts to the places he visited and the people he encountered on the way.

They will track his daily itinerary in real time drawing from events in the account, which runs from 8 July to 5 October.

The researchers will highlight some of the many places and historic sites mentioned along the 450-mile route - including inns that are still in business today and properties now looked after by English Heritage, Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland.

Ben Jonson wrote an account of his “foot voyage” shortly after his return from Edinburgh in 1619.

This work was subsequently destroyed in a fire before it could be circulated or printed, and the particulars of the expedition - his route, how long it took him, whom he met with along the way - was lost.

In 2009, however, Professor James Loxley of Edinburgh University’s School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures discovered a narrative of the voyage in the Aldersey collection of family papers in Chester, apparently penned by an anonymous travelling companion of Ben Jonson.

Researchers say his account is a treasure trove of detail not only for students of Jonson but also for anyone with an interest in the cultural history of early Stuart Britain.

Mr Loxley said today: “Jonson’s long walk was a big public event - lots of people accompanied him for short spells along the way, and crowds turned out to greet him at the towns he visited.

“We’d be delighted if anyone wanted to join us for the virtual recreation - walking boots will not be necessary.”


Book review: Ben Jonson by Ian Donaldson