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PART III.

THE pedantic character of James I. has been frequently represented as the cause of degeneracy in English taste and genius. It must be allowed that James was an indifferent author; and that neither the manners of his court nor the measures of his reign were calculated to excite romantic virtues in his subjects. But the opinion of his character having influenced the poetical spirit of the age unfavourably is not borne out by facts. He was friendly to the stage and to its best writers: he patronized Ben Jonson, and is said to have written a complimentary letter to Shakspeare with his own hand. We may smile at the idea of James's praise being bestowed as an honour upon Shakspeare; the importance of the compliment, however, is not to be estimated by our present opinion of the monarch, but by the excessive reverence with which royalty was at that time invested in men's opinions. James's reign was rich in poetical names, some of which have been already enumerated. We may be reminded, indeed, that those poets had been educated under Elizabeth, and that their genius bore the high impress of her heroic times; but the same observation will also oblige us to recollect that Elizabeth's age had its traits of depraved fashion (witness its Euphuism +), and that the first examples of the worst taste which ever infected our poetry were given in her days, and not in those of her successor. Donne (for instance), the patriarch of the metaphysical generation, was thirty years of age at the date of James's accession; a time at which his taste and style were sufficiently formed to acquit his

* This anecdote is given by Oldys on the authority of the Duke of Buckingham, who [is said to have] had it from Sir William Davenant. [The cause assigned, an obscure allusion in Macbeth, is a very lame and unlikely one. Shakspeare's plays were in the greatest esteem with King James: of the fourteen plays acted at Court between the 1st of November 1604 and the 31st of October 1605, eight were Shakspeare's, the remaining six were divided among Ben Jonson, Heywood, and Chapman.]

† An affected jargon of style, which was fashionable for some time at the court of Elizabeth, and so called from the work of Lyly entitled Euphues.

learned sovereign of all blame in having corrupted them. Indeed, if we were to make the memories of our kings accountable for the poetical faults of their respective reigns, we might reproach Charles I., among whose faults bad taste is certainly not to be reckoned, with the chief disgrace of our metaphysical poetry; since that school never attained its unnatural perfection so completely as in the luxuriant ingenuity of Cowley's fancy, and the knotted deformity of Cleveland's. For a short time after the suppression of the theatres, till the time of Milton, the metaphysical poets are forced upon our attention for want of better objects. But during James's reign there is no such scarcity of good writers as to oblige us to dwell on the school of elaborate conceit. Phineas Fletcher has been sometimes named as an instance of the vitiated taste which prevailed at this period. He, however, though musical and fanciful, is not to be admitted as a representative of the poetical character of those times, which included Jonson, Beaumont and John Fletcher, Ford, Massinger, and Shirley. Shakspeare was no more; but there were dramatic authors of great and diversified ability. The romantic school of the drama continued to be more popular than the classical, though in the latter Ben Jonson lived to see imitators of his own manner, whom he was not ashamed to adopt as his poetical heirs. Of these Cartwright and Randolph were the most eminent. The originality of Cartwright's plots is always acknowledged; and Jonson used to say of him, " My son Cartwright writes all like a

man."

Massinger is distinguished for the harmony and dignity of his dramatic eloquence. Many of his plots, it is true, are liable to heavy exceptions. The fiends and angels of his Virgin Martyr are unmanageable tragic machinery; and the incestuous passion of his Ancient Admiral excites our horror. The poet of love is driven to a frightful expedient, when he gives it the terrors of a maniac passion breaking down

the most sacred pale of instinct and consanguinity. The ancient admiral is in love with his own daughter. Such a being, if we fancy him to exist, strikes us as no object of moral warning, but as a man under the influence of insanity. In a general view, nevertheless, Massinger has more art and judgment in the serious drama than any of the other successors of Shakspeare. His incidents are less entangled than those of Fletcher, and the scene of his action is more clearly thrown open for the free evolution of character. Fletcher strikes the imagination with more vivacity, but more irregularly, and amidst embarrassing positions of his own choosing. Massinger puts forth his strength more collectively. Fletcher has more action and character in his drama, and leaves a greater variety of impressions upon the mind. His fancy is more volatile and surprising, but then he often blends disappointment with our surprise, and parts with the consistency of his characters even to the occasionally apparent loss of their identity. This is not the case with Massinger. It is true that Massinger excels more in description and declamation than in the forcible utterance of the heart, and in giving character the warm colouring of passion. Still, not to speak of his one distinguished hero* in comedy, he has delineated several tragic characters with strong and interesting traits. They are chiefly proud spirits. Poor himself, and struggling under the rich man's contumely, we may conceive it to have been the solace of his neglected existence to picture worth and magnanimity breaking through external disadvantages, and making their way to love and admiration. Hence his fine conceptions of Paris, the actor, exciting by the splendid endowments of his nature the jealousy of the tyrant of the world; and Don John and Pisander, habited as slaves, wooing and winning their princely mistresses. He delighted to show heroic virtue stripped of all adventitious circumstances, and tried, like a gem, by its shining through darkness. His Duke of Milan is particularly admirable for the blended interest which the poet excites by the opposite weaknesses and magnanimity of the same character. Sforza, Duke of Milan, newly married and uxoriously attached to the haughty Marcelia, a woman of exquisite at

* Sir Giles Overreach.

tractions, makes her an object c deadly enmity at his court, by the homage which he requires to be and the precedence which he enj own mother and sisters to yiel Chief of Milan, he is attached to of Francis I. The sudden tiding proach of Charles V., in the cam terminated with the battle of Pavi wards spread dismay through hi capital. Sforza, though valiant lected in all that regards the warr cian, is hurried away by his imm sion for Marcelia; and being obli her behind, but unable to bear the her surviving him, obtains the p confidant to destroy her, should hi appear inevitable. He returns to in safety. Marcelia, having dis secret order, receives him with co jealousy is inflamed; and her p that jealousy alienates the haugh his affection, when she is on the poi cilement. The fever of Sforza's dis is powerfully described, passing fr treme of dotage to revenge, anc again from thence to the bitterest and prostration, when he has struc which he most loved, and has mad too late, the discovery of her innoc singer always enforces this moral i punishes distrust, and attaches ou the unbounded confidence of the pa while Sforza thus exhibits a warn morbidly-selfish sensibility, he i appear, without violating probabi other respects a firm, frank, and pr character. When his misfortune dered desperate by the battle of when he is brought into the presenc V., the intrepidity with which he cause disarms the resentment of his and the eloquence of the poet m pect that it should do so. Instead ing his zeal for the lost cause of thus pleads

I come not, Emperor, to invade thy mercy
By fawning on thy fortune, nor bring with
Excuses or denials; I profess,
And with a good man's confidence, even tl
That I am in thy power, I was thine enem
Thy deadly and vow'd enemy; one that w
Confusion to thy person and estates,
And with my utmost power, and deepest c

Had they been truly follow'd, further'd it.
Nor will I now, although my neck were under
The hangman's axe, with one poor syllable
Confess but that I honour'd the French king
More than thyself and all men.

much sweetness and beauty interspersed with
views of nature either falsely romantic, or
vulgar beyond reality; there is so much to
animate and amuse us, and yet so much that

After describing his obligations to Francis, we would willingly overlook, that I cannot

he says

He was indeed to me as my good angel,

*

*

To guard me from all danger. I dare speak,
Nay must and will, his praise now in as high
And loud a key as when he was thy equal.
The benefits he sow'd in me met not
Unthankful ground.
* * *
* If then to be grateful
For benefits received, or not to leave
A friend in his necessities, be a crime
Amongst you Spaniards, Sforza brings his head
To pay the forfeit. Nor come I as a slave,
Pinion'd and fetter'd, in a squalid weed,
Falling before thy feet, kneeling and howling
For a forestall'd remission-that were poor,
And would but shame thy victory, for conquest
Over base foes is a captivity,

help comparing the contrasted impressions
which they make, to those which we receive
from visiting some great and ancient city,
picturesquely but irregularly built, glittering
with spires and surrounded with gardens, but
exhibiting in many quarters the lanes and
hovels of wretchedness. They have scenes of
wealthy and high life which remind us of
courts and palaces frequented by elegant
females and high-spirited gallants, whilst their
noble old martial characters, with Caractacus
in the midst of them, may inspire us with the
same sort of regard which we pay to the
rough-hewn magnificence of an ancient fort-

And not a triumph. I ne'er fear'd to die
More than I wish'd to live. When I had reach'd
My ends in being a Duke, I wore these robes,
This crown upon my head, and to my side
This sword was girt; and, witness truth, that now
'Tis in another's power, when I shall part
With life and them together, I'm the same-
My veins then did not swell with pride, nor now
Shrink they for fear.

*

If the vehement passions were not Massinger's happiest element, he expresses fixed principle with an air of authority. To make us feel the elevation of genuine pride was the master-key which he knew how to touch in human sympathy; and his skill in it must have been derived from deep experience in his own bosom.

The theatre of Beaumont and Fletcher contains all manner of good and evil. The respective shares of those dramatic partners, in the works collectively published with their names, have been stated in a different part of this volume. Fletcher's share in them is by far the largest; and he is chargeable with the greatest number of faults, although at the same time his genius was more airy, prolific, and fanciful. There are such extremes of grossness and magnificence in their drama, so

[* Although incalculably superior to his contemporaries, Shakspeare had successful imitators; and the art of Jonson was not unrivalled. Massinger appears to have studied the works of both, with the intention of uniting their excellences. He knew the strength of plot; and although his plays are altogether irregular, yet he well understood the advantage of a strong and defined interest; and in unravelling the intricacy of his intrigues, he often displays the management of a master-Sir WALTER SCOTT, Misc. Prose Works, vol. vi. p. 342.]

ress.

Unhappily, the same simile, without being hunted down, will apply but too faithfully to the nuisances of their drama. Their language is often basely profligate. Shakspeare's and Jonson's indelicacies are but casual blots; whilst theirs are sometimes essential colours of their painting, and extend, in one or two instances, to entire and offensive scenes. This fault has deservedly injured their reputation; and, saving a very slight allowance for the fashion and taste of their age, admits of no sort of apology+. Their drama, nevertheless, is a very wide one, and "has ample room and

[t Ravenscroft, the filthiest writer for the stage in the reign of the second Charles, is not more obscene than Beaumont and Fletcher. Yet Earle, who was in the church and a bishop withal, praises their plays for their purity; and Lovelace likens the nakedness of their language to Cupid dressed in Diana's linen. The outspoken nature of their writings is in the very character of their age, for Charles I. would address the ladies of his court in a style that would meet with no toleration now. Propriety of speech and conduct one does not look for at the

Restoration.

All was license then :

Love was liberty, and nature law.

Plays were beheld by ladies in masks, who blushed unseen
at situations, language, and allusions of the most obscene
description. Something of this continued to a later time.
Ramsay dedicates his Tea Table Miscellany to the ladies
and lassies of Britain, and boasts that his book is without
a word or an allusion to redden the brow of offended
beauty. Yet the book abounds in naked vulgarities and
songs of studied obscenity. The novels of the once imma-
culate Richardson, that ladies talked and quoted into
deserved celebrity, few ladies would now own to their
perusal, and no clergymen be found to recommend, as of
old, to their flock from the pulpit. While the letters of the

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verge enough" to permit the attention to wander from these, and to fix on more inviting peculiarities—as on the great variety of their fables and personages, their spirited dialogue, their wit, pathos, and humour. Thickly sown as their blemishes are, their merit will bear great deductions, and still remain great. We never can forget such beautiful characters as their Cellide, their Aspatia, and Bellario, or such humorous ones as their La Writ and Cacafogo. Awake they will always keep us, whether to quarrel or to be pleased with them. Their invention is fruitful; its beings are on the whole anactive and sanguine generation; and their scenes are crowded to fulness with the warmth, agitation, and interest of life.

In thus speaking of them together, it may be necessary to allude to the general and traditionary understanding, that Beaumont was the graver and more judicious genius of the two. Yet the plays in which he may be supposed to have assisted Fletcher are by no means remarkable either for harmonious adjustment of parts, or scrupulous adherence to probability. In their "Laws of Candy," the winding up of the plot is accomplished by a young girl commanding a whole bench of senators to descend from their judgment-seats, in virtue of an ancient law of the state which she discovers; and they obey her with the most polite alacrity. “Cupid's Revenge" is assigned to them conjointly, and is one of the very weakest of their worst class of pieces. On the other hand, Fletcher produced his “Rule a Wife and have a Wife," after Beaumont's death, so that he was able, when he chose, to write with skill as well as spirit.

Of that skill, however, he is often so sparing as to leave his characters subject to the most whimsical metamorphoses. Sometimes they repent, like methodists, by instantaneous conversion. At other times they shift from good to bad, so as to leave us in doubt what they were meant for. In the tragedy of " Valentinian" we have a fine old soldier, Maximus, who sustains our affection through four acts,

maids of honour about the court of the first and second Georges-the Howes, the Bellendens, and Lepells-are rife with the very dirt of our language. The cleanest are in the Suffolk Papers; and there, as the proverb goes, a spade is called a spade:

Themselves they studied; as they felt they writ.] [* Dryden.]

but in the fifth we are suddenly called upon to hate him, on being informed, by his own confession, that he is very wicked, and that all his past virtue has been but a trick on our credulity. The imagination, in this case, is disposed to take part with the creature of the poet's brain against the poet himself, and to think that he maltreats and calumniates his own offspring unnaturally +. But for these

The most amusingly absurd perhaps of all Fletcher's bad plays, is The Island Princess. One might absolutely take it for a burlesque on the heroic drama, if its religious conclusion did not show the author to be in earnest. Quisara, princess of the island of Tidore, where the Portuguese have a fort, offers her hand in marriage to any champion who shall deliver her rother, a captive of the governor of Ternata. Ruy Dias, her Portuguese lover, is shy of the adventure; but another lover, Armusia, hires a boat, with a few followers, which he hides on landing at Tidore, among the reeds of the invaded island. He then disguises himself as a merchant, hires a cellar, like the Popish conspirators, and in the most credible manner blows up a considerable portion of a large town, rescues the king, slaughters all opposers, and re-embarks in his yawl from among the reeds. On his return he finds the lovely Quisara loth to fulfil her promise, from her being still somewhat attached to Ruy Dias. The base Ruy Dias sends his nephew, Piniero, to The Island Princess, with a project of assassinating Armusia; but Piniero, who is a merry fellow, thinks it better to prevent his uncle's crime and to make love for himself. Before his introduction to the Princess, however, he meets with her aunt Quisana, to whom he talks abundance of ribaldry and double entendre, and so captivates the aged woman, that she exclaims to her attendant, " Pray thee let him talk still, for methinks he talks handsomely!"-With the young lady he is equally successful, offers to murder any body she pleases, and gains her affections so far that she kisses him. The poor virtuous Armusia, in the mean time, determines to see his false Princess, makes his way to her chamber, and in spite of her reproaches and her late kiss to Piniero, at last makes a new impression on her heart. The dear Island Princess is in love a third time, in the third act. In the fourth act the king of Tidore, lately delivered by Armusia, plots against the Christians; he is accompanied by a Moorish priest, who is no other than the governor of Ternata, disguised in a false wig and beard; but his Tidorian majesty recollects his old enemy so imperfectly as to be completely deceived. This conspiracy alarms the Portuguese; the cowardly Ruy Dias all at once grows brave and generous; Quisara joins the Christians, and for the sake of Armusia and her new faith offers to be burnt alive. Nothing remains but to open the eyes of her brother, the king of Tidore. This is accomplished by the merry Piniero

laying hold of the masqued governor's beard, which comes

away without the assistance of a barber. The monarch exclaims that he cannot speak for astonishment, and every thing concludes agreeably. The Island Princess is not unlike some of the romantic dramas of Dryden's time; but the later play-writers superadded a style of outrageous rant and turgid imagery.-[Such is the plot, nor is the dialogue better. Still Armusia is a fine fellow, and Piniero a merry one, while Quisara, who loves a ranter, transfers her affections with marvellous celerity. Piniero is evidently more her match than Armusia, whom she marries,

faults Fletcher makes good atonement, and has many affecting scenes. We must still indeed say scenes; for, except in "The Faithful Shepherdess," which, unlike his usual manner, is very lulling, where shall we find him uniform? If "The Double Marriage" could be cleared of some revolting passages, the part of Juliana would not be unworthy of the powers of the finest tragic actress. Juliana is a high attempt to portray the saint and heroine blended in female character. When her husband Virolet's conspiracy against Ferrand of Naples is discovered, she endures and braves for his sake the most dreadful cruelties of the tyrant. Virolet flies from his country, obliged to leave her behind him; and falling at sea into the hands of the pirate Duke of Sesse, saves himself and his associates from death, by consenting to marry the daughter of the pirate (Martia), who falls in love and elopes with him from her father's ship. As they carry off with them the son of Ferrand, who had been a prisoner of the Duke of Sesse, Virolet secures his peace being made at Naples; but when he has again to meet Juliana, he finds that he has purchased life too dearly. When the ferocious Martia, seeing his repentance, revenges herself by plotting his destruction, and when his divorced Juliana, forgetting her injuries, flies to warn and to save him, their interview has no common degree of interest. Juliana is perhaps rather a fine idol of the imagination than a probable type of nature; but poetry which "conforms the shows of things to the desires of the soul+," has a right to the highest possible virtues of human character. And there have been women who have prized a husband's life above their own, and his honour above his life, and who have united the tenderness of their sex to heroic intrepidity. Such is Juliana, who thus exhorts the wavering fortitude of Virolet on the eve of his conspiracy.

Virolet. * * Unless our hands were cannon To down his walls, our eak breath mines To blow his forts up, or our curses lightning, Our power is like to yours, and we, like you, Weep our misfortunes. *

*

She replies

*

* * Walls of brass resist not but not before he has won her waiting-woman to admit him to her bed-chamber, where Quisara scolds him with all the anxious importunity of desire.]

† Expression of Lord Bacon's.

A noble undertaking-nor can vice Raise any bulwark to make good a place Where virtue seeks to enter.

The joint dramas of Beaumont and Fletcher, entitled "Philaster" and "The Maid's Tragedy," exhibit other captivating female portraits. The difficulty of giving at once truth strength, and delicacy to female repentance for the loss of honour, is finely accomplished in Evadne. The stage has perhaps few scenes more affecting than that in which she obtains forgiveness of Amintor, on terms which interest us in his compassion, without compromising his honour. In the same tragedy‡, the plaintive image of the forsaken Aspatia has an indescribably sweet spirit and romantic expression. Her fancy takes part with her heart, and gives its sorrow a visionary gracefulness. When she finds her maid Antiphila working a picture of Ariadne, she tells her to copy the likeness from herself, from "the lost Aspatia."

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The resemblance of this poetical picture to Guido's Bacchus and Ariadne has been noticed by Mr. Seward in the preface to his edition of Beaumont and Fletcher. "In both representations the extended arms of the mourner, her hair blown by the wind, the barren roughness of the rocks around her, and the broken trunks of leafless trees, make her figure appear like Sorrow's monument."

Their masculine characters in tragedy are generally much less interesting than their females. Some exceptions may be found to this remark; particularly in the British chief Caractacus and his interesting nephew, the boy Hengo. With all the faults of the tragedy of Bonduca, its British subject and its native The Maid's Tragedy.

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