To whom is attributed a poetic Encounter with Ben Jonson. Executed in 1634 after a Robbery On the Duke Of Buckingham
THIS person was the younger son of a gentleman worth nine hundred pounds per annum in the county of Norfolk. He was sent to the university to qualify him for divinity, and had a hundred and twenty pounds left him by his father when he died. But his studies not having a relish pleasing enough to his mind, and his estate being too little to support his extravagances, he, to uphold himself in his profuse expenses, would now and then appear well accoutred on the highway, and make his collections. But happening once to rob some persons who knew him, he was obliged to leave the college, and directly went down into Cheshire, where he put himself into the service of a wealthy grazier in the country, whose daughter he married and then, having obtained her estate, decamped.
Tracey made his way to Ware, where, taking up his lodgings for that night, he got into the company of a young Oxonian, who had brought a large portmanteau behind him. The student seemed very well pleased at his friend's conversation, as he thought, and, to increase a better understanding betwixt them, they supped together, and drank a couple of bottles of wine afterwards. They lay together in the same bed, and an hour or two before they went to sleep had a great deal of conversation about the ways of mankind, which terminated at last about the university, which Tracey pretended to be an entire stranger to. In the morning both drank sack posset, mounted, and pursued their journey together. Tracey endeavoured to amuse his fellow-traveller with a series of foreign adventures which he had never performed; the scholar, on his part, laid open the wicked practices of the colleges, so that both seemed to be fit and choice companions for each other. Tracey would now and then take hold of the student's portmanteau and tell him it was very heavy, and wondered he did not bring a servant along with him, so much undervaluing his profession by being master and man himself. The student constantly answered that the times were exceeding hard, and he travelled by himself to save charges. "How," replies the other, "charges!" "Why, the charges of a servant are vastly insignificant in comparison of the loss you may probably sustain on the road for want of one. I hope, sir, you have not got any great charge of money within your portmanteau, for I think you act a very unwise part if you carry much about you without having someone or other in company with you." The student told him he had no less than threescore pounds within it, which he was carrying to the university to defray the customary fees for taking up his degrees of Master of Arts. "Ah," says Tracey, "that's a round sum, on my word! and it is a thousand pities so much should be given to persons that no way deserve a far thing of it. If I had known of Your having threescore pounds about you when we were at the inn, I could have procured you a chap that would have sold you a place for it much more beneficial than anything you hope for by being a Master of Arts; but as we are too far a distance off from Ware to return in time, you shall be eased of your money and portmanteau presently; for I have an occasion at this very conjuncture for such a quantity of money, and there's no better person myself you can lend it to." After which words Tracey unloosens the straps, takes the portmanteau, and puts it on own horse. The student observing this, immediately cried aloud: "Oh, dear sir, I hope your design is not to rob me; I shall lose a pretty good parsonage that is offered me in Essex if you take away my money from me. Pray, sir, consider the crime you are going to act, for the loss of my threescore pounds will not only deprive me of a competent means of livelihood, but also the Almighty will lose a minister of His Word. And for the sake of heaven, I beseech you to be compassionate, and not so severe on a poor man who was obliged to borrow this money of several persons, who would not have lent it but through a view of being soon repaid. Sir, you commit a thing against the laws of your country, and the precepts of humanity, to wrest thus by force what belongs to another man, and I dare say you are not so much a stranger to the injustice of it but you know it is an error and a great one. The sin, too, is vastly enlarged when a specious pretence of friendship made use of for such a dishonourable deed; for how will any man know he is safe in travelling if everyone he meets with on the road converses with him in the sincere manner (I mean outwardly) as you have pretended to me. But, sir, not to enlarge further, let me entreat you over and over again not to take my all from me; for if so, I am inevitably ruined, and am an undone man for ever." Tracey seemed to mind the student's desire of having his portmanteau again with a grave attention; but the thought of having obtained such a considerable booty made him banish every compassionate sentiment out of his breast, till, no longer able to bear with the tedious importunities of the scholar, he pulled out of his breeches pocket a leathern purse with four pounds odd money in it, and gave it the collegian, saying: "Friend, I am not yet so much lost to the sense of compassion but I can extend my charity and generosity; it is not customary for a gentleman of my fortune to give money, but your intercession has won me over to it. Here are four pounds odd money to bear your expenses to the university, so that you will not be all the loser, and when you come to the college, acquaint all those whom it may concern that you have paid your Master of Arts fees already to a collector on the road, who had a thousand times more occasions for the money than a parcel of old mollies, who live by whoring and stealing out of other authors' works." And so saying, he bid the poor collegian farewell, leaving him to pursue his journey and obtain his degree as well as he could, while he himself made the nearest way to the next village; where opening the portmanteau, he found nothing but two old shirts, half-a-dozen dirty bands, a threadbare student's torn gown, a pair of stockings without feet, a pair of shoes but with one heel to them, some other old trumpery, and a great ham of bacon, but not one farthing of money; which set him a-swearing and cursing like a devil, to think he should be such a preposterous ass, to give four pounds and more for that which was not worth forty shillings.
We have but two adventures more of Tracey which we find on record; the first relating to a robbery he committed on the famous poet, Ben Jonson, the other to another on the Duke of Buckingham, who was slain by Fenton as he was going to embark at Portsmouth.
Ben Jonson had been down in Buckinghamshire to transact some business, but in returning to London happened to meet with Tracey, who, knowing the poet, bid him stand and deliver his money. But Ben, putting on a courageous look, spoke to him thus:
"Fly, villain, hence, or by thy coat of steel
I'll make thy heart my leaden bullet feel,
And send that thrice as thievish soul of thine
To Hell, to wean the devil's valentine."
Upon which Tracey made this answer:
"Art thou great Ben? or the revived ghost
Of famous Shakespeare? or some drunken host
Who, being tipsy with thy muddy beer,
Dost think thy rhymes will daunt my soul with fear?
Nay, know, base slave, that I am one of those
Can take a purse, as well in verse, as prose,
And when thou art dead write this upon thy hearse,
' Here lies a poet who was robbed in verse.' "
These words alarmed Jonson, who found he had met with a resolute fellow: he endeavoured to save his money, but to no purpose, and was obliged to give our adventurer ten jacobuses. But the loss of these was not the only misfortune he met with in this journey; for, coming within two or three miles of London, it was his ill chance to fall into the hands of worse rogue, who knocked him off his horse, stripped him, and tied him neck and heels in a field, wherein some other passengers were enduring the same hard fate, having been also robbed. One of them cried out that he, his wife and children were all undone, while another who was bound, overhearing, said, "Pray, if you are all of you undone, come and undo me." This made Ben, though under his misfortunes, burst out into a loud laugh, who, being delivered in the morning from his bands by some reapers, made the following verses: —-
" Both robbed and bound as I one night did ride,
With two men more, their arms behind them tied,
The one lamenting what did them befall,
Cried, ' I'm undone, my wife and children all ';
The other hearing it, aloud did cry,
' Undo me then, let me no longer lie ';
But to be plain, those men laid on the ground
Were both undone, indeed, but both fast bound."
The last robbery he committed was on the Duke of Buckingham above mentioned; but some say he endeavoured to commit many more. Now as we have neither the place nor in what manner this attempt was made, nor how much he took from his Grace, nor any other circumstances to help us to a discovery of this adventure, we are obliged to be silent, and only say that he suffered for it at Winchester in 1634, aged thirty-eight years.