Blair Worden writes:
Seventeenth-century critics thought Ben Jonson England’s finest writer. Even until the mid-18th century he was conventionally regarded as at least Shakespeare’s equal. It was he more than anyone who won a new status for authorship, to befit the moral and educative role he claimed for it. Under James I the former bricklayer and soldier and brawler and convict, the one-time mediocre actor and hack adapter of other people’s plays, became the royal laureate, the friend of courtiers, diplomats and MPs, the honorand of universities. He was Britain’s first literary celebrity, at least to judge by the throng that hailed him outside Berwick as he journeyed to Scotland on foot in 1618 – though he went not for charity, as he might today, but (it seems) for a bet.