Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

[ocr errors]

is a skilful piece of painting from the life, and very probably from the author. In Jaffier we have a vivid portrait of the man who is entirely governed by the affections, and who sways from ardent resolution to a weakness hardly distinguishable from treachery, as friendship and love alternately incline him. The little we know of Otway warrants the impression that he was such a man, and assuredly he could not have excited such warm interest in a character so feeble in his offence, so abject in his repentance, and in general so perilously verging on the despicable, without a keen sympathy with the subject of his portrait. Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner. Pierre, though an imposing figure, is much less subtly painted than his friend ; and Belvidera, her husband's evil genius, interests only through her sorrows. The despicable scenes of low farce' which eke the drama out, are a grievous blot upon it. M. Taine may be right in deeming some comic relief allowable, but such trash is neither relief nor comedy. The language of the serious portion of the play, however, is in general dignified and tragic. Perhaps the best conducted, as it is the best known, is that in which Pierre spurns the remorseful Jaffier :

Jaff. I must be heard, I must have leave to speak.
Thou hast disgraced me, Pierre, by a vile blow :
Had not a dagger done thee nobler justice ?
But use me as thou wilt, thou canst not wrong me,
For I am fallen beneath the basest injuries ;
Yet look upon me with an eye of mercy,
With pity and with charity behold me;
Shut not thy heart against a friend's repentance,
But, as there dwells a godlike nature in thee,
Listen with mildness to my supplications.

Pier. What whining monk art thou ? what holy cheat,
That wouldst encroach upon my credulous ears,
But cant'st thus vilely ? Hence! I know thee not.

[ocr errors]

Dissemble and be nasty: leave me, hypocrite.

Jaff. Not know me, Pierre ?
Pier.

No, know thee not : what art thou ? Jaff. Jaffier, thy friend, thy once loved, valued friend, Though now deservedly scorned, and used most hardly.

Pier. Thou Jaffier! thou my once loved, valued friend ?
By Heavens, thou liest! The man so called, my friend,
Was generous, honest, faithful, just, and valiant,
Noble in mind, and in his person lovely,
Dear to my eyes and tender to my heart:
But thou, a wretched, base, false, worthless coward,
Poor even in soul, and loathsome in thy aspect;
All eyes must shun thee, and all hearts detest thee.
Pr’ythee avoid, nor longer cling thus round me,
Like something baneful, that my nature's chilled at.

Jaff. I have not wronged thee, by these tears I have not,
But still am honest, true, and hope, too, valiant;
My mind still full of thee: therefore still noble.
Let not thy eyes then shun me, nor thy heart
Detest me utterly : oh, look upon me,
Look back and see my sad, sincere submission!
How my heart swells, as even 'twould burst my bosom,
Fond of its goal, and labouring to be at thee!
What shall I do—what say to make thee hear me ?

Pier. Hast thou not wronged me? Dar'st thou call thyself
Jaffier, that once loved, valued friend of mine,
And swear thou hast not wronged me? Whence these chains ?
Whence the vile death which I may meet this moment?
Whence this dishonour, but from thee, thou false one ?

Jaff. All's true, yet grant one thing, and I've done asking.
Pier. What's that?
Jaff

To take thy life on such conditions
The Council have proposed : thou and thy friends
May yet live long, and to be better treated.

Pier. Life! ask my life ? confess ! record myself
A villain, for the privilege to breathe,
And carry up and down this cursèd city
A discontented and repining spirit,
Burthensome to itself, a few years longer,

a

a

To lose it, may be, at last in a lewd quarrel
For some new friend, treacherous and false as thou art !
No, this vile world and I have long been jangling,
And cannot part on better terms than now,
When only men like thee are fit to live in't.

Jaff. By all that's just-
Pier.

Swear by some other powers,
For thou hast broke that sacred oath too lately.

Jaff. Then, by that hell I merit, I'll not leave thee,
Till to thyself, at least, thou’rt reconciled,
However thy resentments deal with me.

Pier. Not leave me!
Jaff.

No; thou shalt not force me from thee.
Use me reproachfully, and like a slave;
Tread on me, buffet me, heap wrongs on wrongs
On my poor head; I'll bear it all with patience,
Shall weary out thy most unfriendly cruelty :
Lie at thy feet and kiss them, though they spurn me,
Till, wounded by my sufferings, thou relent,
And raise ine to thy arms with dear forgiveness.

Pier. Art thou not-
Jaf

What ?
Pier.

A traitor ? Jaff

Yes. Pier.

A villain ? Jaff. Granted. Pier.

A coward, a most scandalous coward, Spiritless, void of honour, one who has sold Thy everlasting fame for shameless life ? Jaff. All, all, and more, much more: my fanlts are number

less.
Pier. And wouldst thou have me live on terms like thine ?
Base as thou'rt false-
Jaff.

No; 'tis to me that's granted.
The safety of thy life was all I aimed at,
In recompense for faith and trust so broken.

Pier. I scorn it more, because preserved by thee :
And as when first my foolish heart took pity
On thy misfortunes, sought thee in thy miseries,

Relieved thy wants, and raised thee from thy state
Of wretchedness in which thy fate had plunged thee,
To rank thee in my list of noble friends,
All I received in surety for thy truth
Were unregarded oaths; and this, this dagger,
Given with a worthless pledge thou since hast stolen,
So I restore it back to thee again ;
Swearing by all those powers which thou hast violated,
Never from this cursed hour to hold communion,
Friendship, or interest with thee, though our years
Were to exceed those limited the world.
Take it-farewell !—for now I owe thee nothing.

Jaff. Say thou wilt live then.
Pier.

For my life, dispose it
Just as thou wilt, because 'tis what I'm tired with.

Jaff. O Pierre!
Pier.

No more.
Jaf:

My eyes won't lose the sight of thee, But languish after thine, and ache with gazing. Pier. Leave me.—Nay, then thus, thus I throw thee from

me, And curses, great as is thy falsehood, catch thee!'

The only tragic dramatist of the age, Nathaniel Lee

after Dryden and Otway, who had any pre(1653-1691).

tension to rank as a poet, was Nathaniel Lee, and his claims are not very high. Notwithstanding his absurd rants, however, there are fire and passion in his verse which lift him out of the class of mere playwrights. After receiving a Cambridge education, Lee came up to town to seek his fortune. Thrown on the world, it is said, by the failure of the Duke of Ormond to redeem his promises of patronage, Lee became an actor, but obtained no success, although celebrated for the beauty of his elocution as a dramatic reader. The transition from actor to author was easy. Lee produced three bad rhyming plays in the taste of the time, and in 1677 did himself more justice in The Rival Queens, a tragedy on the history of Alexander the Great, which kept the stage for nearly a century and a half. Mithridates (1678) was also successful, and Dryden thought sufficiently well of Lee to combine with him in the production of an Edipus, which continued to be acted until 1778, when the situation, rather than the diction, was found unendurable. Kemble wished to revive it so late as 1802, but was prevented by the reluctance of Mrs. Siddons. It is true that on a modern stage the piece must want the religious consecration which accompanied it on the Greek. Lee wrote on, enjoying the notoriety of the prohibition by authority of his Lucius Junius Brutus, in which allusions, merely imaginary, to the vices of Charles II., were discovered by the Court, and regaining his lost favour by the tragedy of The Duke of Guise (1682), a play full of political allusions, in which also Dryden had a hand. In 1684 he was disabled by an attack of insanity, brought on, it is alleged, by his intemperate habits; and although he recovered sufficiently to be released from confinement, he wrote no more, his last two published plays being compositions of an earlier date. He died miserably in returning from the tavern on a winter's night, fallen down and stifled in the snow.

That Lee was a poet, a passage quoted by Mr. Saintsbury would prove, had he written nothing else : ,

• Thou coward ! yet
Art living ? canst not, wilt not, find the road
To the great palace of magnificent death,
Though thousand ways lead to his thousand doors,

Which day and night are still unbarred for all?' A variation of this thought in Lee's Theodosius might well have inspired Beckford with the conception of his Hall of Eblis, nor would it be difficult to find other impressive passages. Lee's rants of mere sound and fury are unfor.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »