The Leges Convivales or ‘Sociable Rules’ were written by Ben Jonson for the literary dining club he hosted during the 1620s in the Apollo Room at the Devil and St Dunstan Tavern on Fleet Street. The meetings involved long nights of eating, drinking, lively conversation and poetry contests.
The house rules were painted in Latin on the wall of the Apollo Room to advise and amuse Jonson’s guests. Some of the rules were there for serious reasons, such as no. 14:
Let none of things serious, much less of divine,
When belly and head’s full, profanely dispute
Jonson had been in trouble in his youth over matters of religion and politics, so it was wise to ban controversial talk. The majority of rules, however, were light-hearted, like this one about bodily smells: ‘Let no scent offensive the Chamber infest’.
The Tribe of Ben
The Tribe of Ben, or Sons of Ben, consisted of a group of young poets and playwrights who were invited by Jonson to the Apollo Room. They were heavily influenced by Jonson’s writing philosophy and style. For this reason they named themselves his ‘sons’, and presented themselves as his literary successors – a poignant gesture, given that by the 1620s all of Jonson’s legitimate children had died.
Among this group of aspiring literary figures were Richard Brome, Thomas Carew, Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland, Sir William Davenant, Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Thomas Randolph and Sir John Suckling. These men would become the foremost playwrights and poets of their day, with many of them forming the poetic movement known as Cavalier Poetry.
Who were the Cavalier Poets?
The Cavalier Poets were known by their social status as gentlemen writers, and their staunch support of King Charles I during the English Civil War (1642–51). The movement was at its height during the turbulent middle years of the 17th century, which covered the English Civil War, the Commonwealth (1649–60) and the Restoration (1660).
Their work is characterised by its lyricism and its exploration of human happiness, friendship, love, social standing and the restorative power of time. The Cavalier Poets differed from their Metaphysical contemporaries in that they were more concerned with external, earthly themes than with internal, spiritual inquiries. Jonson influenced the Cavalier Poets stylistically and structurally through his clarity of expression and strict metric construction.