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and reputation of John Marston, who, in his life-time, was not undeservedly celebrated both as a dramatic and a satiric poet. In the former capacity he produced eight plays, of which the two parts of Antonio and Mellida, "The Insatiate Countess," and The Malcontent," published as early as 1602, 1603, and 1604, reflect great credit on his abilities. These, and indeed all his dramas, give evidence of great wealth and vigour of description, of much felicity in expression, and of much passionate eloquence; nor are his characters raw or indistinct sketches, but highly coloured and well supported. The compliment, however, which some modern writers have paid him, on the score of chastity of thought and style, is, we are sorry to say, most unmerited; for neither is it supported by the opinion of his contemporaries, nor by the testimony of his own writings. So greatly was he a sinner in this respect, that an old satirist says of him,—
"Tut, what cares he for modest, close couched terms,
Cleanly to gird our looser libertines?
Give him plain-naked words, stripped from their shirts,
If fecundity were a test of genius, no writer, with the exception of Lopez de Vega, would stand upon such elevated ground as Thomas Heywood, who tells us, in the Preface to his " English Traveller," a tragi-comedy, that it was “one reserved amongst 220 in which he had either an entire hand or at the least a main finger;" a degree of industry and fertility which may justly excite our astonish
It is perhaps equally extraordinary, that, in periods so late as the reigns of Elizabeth, James, and Charles, and when the art of printing was in full activity, only twenty-six of this prodigious number should have issued from the press, a paucity for which their author accounts, in the preface just quoted, in the following manner: "One reason," he avers, "is that many of them, by shifting and change of companies, have been negligently lost; others of them are still retained in the hands of some actors, who think it against their peculiar profit to have them come in print; and a third, that it never was any great ambition in me, to be, in this kind, voluminously read."
This apathy or modesty has, no doubt, deprived us of some interesting plays; for though Heywood had little of the enthusiasm or fancy of the genuine poet, there are in several of the pieces which remain, an unaffected ease and simplicity, and a power of touching the heart, which merit preservation in no common degree. He abounds, too, in pictures of domestic life very minutely finished, correct without being cold, and effective without being overcharged. To his skill in exciting pathetic emotion, his tragedy entitled "A Woman killed with Kindness" bears the most impressive testimony.
Heywood, as may be conceived, began early, and continued long to write. Of the dramas which are left us, the first published, was his “Death of Robert Earle of Huntington," dated 1601, and the last, the tragi-comedy of "Fortune by Land and Sea," dated 1655. He was occasionally assisted by Rowley, Brome, etc.
Greatly superior in poetic force and vigour to Heywood, but equally inferior as o truth of dramatic imitation, we have now to mention the venerably epic name of George Chapman, the translator of Homer, and the friend of Shakspeare and Jonson, with whom, as a writer for the stage, he was nearly coeval.
Though the author of more comedies than tragedies, the genius of Chapman was infinitely better calculated for the latter province. Many beauties, it must be granted, are to be found in some of his comedies, especially in his " All Fooles," and "Widdowe's Tears," but they stand aloof from the character of the departnent in which they are included." It is, in fact, in the lofty and heroic drama, n the more elevated and descriptive parts of tragedy, that he excels; in a graneur often wild and irregular, but highly animated and striking. Thus the two
Returne from Parnassus, act i. sc. 2.-Vide Ancient British Drama, vol. i. p. 49
tragedies, entitled "Bussy D'Ambois," breathe a chivalric spirit truly inspiring, and, however censured by Dryden* for tumour and incorrectness of style, excite in the reader a sensation of involuntary transport. It will readily be admitted, however, that such a mode of composition is by no means adapted to dramatic purposes, and presents no safe or legitimate model. Chapman wrote sixteen plays, besides assisting Jonson and Marston in "Eastward Hoe," and Shirley in at least two of his productions.
With nearly all the poets whom we have hitherto mentioned did William Rowley unite in the composition of various pieces for the stage; namely, with Massinger, Middleton, and Heywood, Ford, Decker, and Webster, and, it has even been said, with Shakspeare, in a play entitled "The Birth of Merlin." For this last association, however, there appears to be no other foundation than the bookseller's assertion, who printed this play in 1662, and which is totally unsupported by any other evidence external or internal.
But Rowley wanted not talent and originality for independent exertion, and five dramas out of nine which have been attributed solely to his pen, have reached us from the press. That a writer who was deemed a worthy assistant in such plays as "The Witch of Edmonton," "The Thracian Wonder," and "The Spanish Gipsey," must have possessed no very inferior abilities, can admit of little doubt, and is confirmed indeed by his own exclusive compositions; for "A Match at Midnight," and "All's Lost by Lust," the former in the comic, and the latter in the tragic, department of his art, evince, in incident and humour, in character and in pathos, powers which repel the charge of mediocrity. Upon the whole, however, we consider him as ranking last in the roll of worthies who have thus far graced our pages.
Among the crowd of poets who commenced writers for the stage during the dramatic lifetime of Shakspeare, and who were peculiarly disciples of the same school, we have now, in our opinion, noticed the most eminent; and if we add to the list, the names of Tailor, Tomkis, and Tourneur, the first the author of "The Hog hath lost his Pearl," the second of "Albumazar," and the third of "The Revenger's Tragedy," "The Atheist's Tragedy," and "The Nobleman," productions in which some very beautiful passages are to be found, and some entire scenes of great merit, we shall not probably be charged with the omission of any thing which could materially serve to heighten our idea of this unrivalled period of the romantic drama. Beyond the limits, indeed, to which we are confined, one great name, that of Shirley, meriting, in many respects, the celebrity which now accompanies the memory of Massinger and Fletcher, would require particular attention; but we must hasten to conclude this branch of the subject, by a simple enumeration, in alphabetical order, of those who, in any degree, con tributed to fill the school of Shakspeare whilst its founder was in existence:Armin, Robert; Barnes, Barnaby; Barry, Lodowick; Bird, William; Borne, William; Boyle, William; Brandon, Samuel; Brewer, Anthony; Campion, The mas; Carey, Elizabeth; Chettle, Henry; Cook, John; Dauborn, Robert; Day, John; Downton, Thomas; Drayton, Michael; Field, Nathaniel; Goff, Thom's; Hathway, Richard; Haughton, William; Hawkins,; Jubey, William ; Machin, Lewis; Massey, Charles; Mason, John; Munday, Anthony; Pett, —; Porter, Henry; Rankins, William; Ridley, Samuel; Robinson,; Rowley, Samuel; Sharpman, Edward; Shawe, Robert; Singer, John; Slaughter, Martin; Smith, William; Smith, Wentworth; Stephens, John; Taylor, John; Wadeson, Anthony; Wilkins, George; Wilson, Robert; and Wilson,
In this long list, the only name of celebrity is that of Michael Drayton, and it is a circumstance very extraordinary, and much to be regretted, that, although we find, from the manuscripts of Dulwich College, this great poet had written an
⚫ In his Dedication to the Spanish Fryer.
This wr.ter is mentioned by Meres in 1598, and praised for his skill in comedy,
entire play, under the title of "William Longsword," and had contributed towards the composition of not less than twenty others, whilst we learn, at the same time, from Meres, that he was well known as a writer of tragedy, not a particle of his authenticated poetry, in this province, should have reached posterity.
After this concise view of the contemporaries of Shakspeare, whom we conceive to have in general adopted, either tacitly or avowedly, and with an approximation nearly proportioned to their talents, the style and structure of his drama, we have now to bring forward the mighty leader of another school, which, if not equally excellent with that established by Shakspeare, possesses the most undoubted originality, and, in its peculiar walk, a degree of merit which neither in its own day, nor in any subsequent period, has encountered any successful rivalry. To this description is it necessary to add the name of BEN JONSON?
Some attempts at a more classical construction of our drama had been made about the period when Jonson began to write: Daniel, for instance, had published his "Cleopatra," in 1594, after the models of antiquity, and Alexander, Earl of Stirling, printed, in 1603 and 1604, his Monarchic Tragedies, in which a regular chorus is introduced; but these were abortive efforts, unsupported by the requisite abilities for dramatic composition, and it remained for Jonson to impress upon his own age, and upon posterity, the conviction that an equally correct form of art might be combined with some of the striking excellencies of the Romantic school.
It is probable that when Jonson first began to write for the theatre, which we find, from Mr. Henslowe's memorandums, was as early as 1593, and in conjunction with Decker, Marston, Chettle, etc., he conformed himself to their mode of composition; but no sooner had he ventured on the stage with a comedy exclusively his own, than he aspired to the establishment of a Dramatic Literature in this province, which, while it should adhere to the structure of the classical model, might exhibit various and extensive views of human nature, and uniformly have for its object the correction of vice and folly through the medium of unsparing satire.
Success, in a very extraordinary degree, accompanied this first adventure of laudable ambition, which, under the title of Every Man in his Humour" made its appearance, at The Rose theatre, in 1596, and, with material alterations and improvements, at The Globe, in 1598. This was followed, at various periods, and almost to the very close of his life, by thirteen more pieces in the same department, of which ten are comedies, and the remaining three, as their author chose to designate them, comical satires.
That these productions, though in the line peculiarly adapted to his genius, should be equally excellent, it would be extravagant to expect. The best, and, we may add, the most incomparable in their kind, are the play just mentioned, Volpone, or The Fox," "Epicæne, or The Silent Woman," and "The Alchemist." As much inferior to these, but yet possessed of considerable merit, we may next enumerate "The Case is Altered," "The Devil is an Ass," and "The Staple of News ;" and lastly, though not devoid of interesting and well-written passages, "Bartholomew Fair," "The New Inn," "The Magnetic Lady," and “A Tale of a Tub." The comical satires, entitled "Every Man out of his Humour," "Cynthia's Revels," and "The Poetaster," are, especially the last, com ́posed in a tone of indignant strength; and, as their appellation might lead us to suppose, are personal and severe; but probably not more so than the occasion warranted.
The fair fame of Jonson which, both in a moral and dramatic light, has, for more than a century, been overwhelmed by a cloud of ignorance and prejudice, now brightens with more than pristine lustre, through the liberal and generous efforts of some accomplished scholars of the present day; and if ever it be permitted to departed spirits to witness the transactions of this sublunary sphere, with what delight and gratitude must the spirit of the injured bard look down
upon the labours of his learned friends, upon the noble and disinterested protec tion of a Gilchrist, a Godwin, and a Gifford !
Under such circumstances, and with such a triumvirate in his support, it were needless, and, indeed, it were unjust, to do more than repeat in this place their own summary of his merit as a comic poet, to which we will now add, once for all, however unimportant it may be, the expression of our conviction of the general justness of their sentiments with regard to his writings, and of the unanswerable nature of their defence with regard to his moral character; a tribute which we are, beyond measure, gratified in paying, as whilst they have impartially brought forward the great talents of Jonson, they have paid a full and frank acknowledgment to the superior comprehensiveness of the genius of Shakspeare; and have, at the same time, placed in a striking point of view the steady friendship which subsisted between these two luminaries of the dramatic world.
It is, however, only with the literary character of Jonson that we are now occupied; and on the topic immediately before us, the consideration of his comic powers, Mr. Godwin has cursorily, but very justly, remarked, that
"These, perhaps, compose his strongest claim to the admiration of all posterity. He exce'severy writer that ever existed, in the article of humour; and it is a sort of identical proposition! say, that humour is the soul of comedy. Even the caustic severity of his turn of mind aided bir in this. He seized with the utmost precision the weaknesses of human character, and painte them with a truth that is altogether irresistible. Shakspeare has some characters of human" marvellously felicitous. But the difference between these two great supporters of the English drama, in the point of view we are considering, lies here. Humour is not Shakspeare's mansion, the palace wherein he dwells; there are many of his comedies, where the humorous characters rather form the episode of the piece; poetry, the manifestation of that lovely medium through which all creation appeared to his eye, and the quick sallies of repartee, are the objects with which, his comic muse more usually delights herself. But Ben Jonson is all humour; and the fertiny
of his muse, in characters of this sort, is wholly inexhaustible." *
With a fuller clucidation of the subject, which laid more directly before him, Mr. Gifford, after commenting on the inutility of the common practice of contrasting the two poets, and after observing that Shakspeare wants no light but his own; 'for' as he never has been equalled, and in all human probability never will be equalled, it seems an invidious employ, at best, to speculate minutely on the precise degree in which others fell short of him," proceeds to state, that "the judgment of Jonson was correct and severe, and his knowledge of human nature extensive and profound. He was familiar with the various combinations of the humours and affections, and with the nice and evanescent tints by which the extremes of opposing qualities melt into one another, and are lost to the vulgar eye but the art which he possessed in perfection, was that of marking in the happiest manner the different shades of the same quality, in different minds, so as to discriminate the voluptuous from the voluptuous, the covetous from the covetous, etc.
"In what Hurd calls picturing,' he was excellent. His characters are delineated with a breadth and vigour, as well as a truth, that display a master band; his figures stand prominent on the canvas, bold and muscular, though not elegant; his attitudes, though sometimes ungraceful, are always just; while his strict olservation of proportion (in which he was eminently skilled,) occasionally mel lowed the hard and rigid tone of his colouring, and by the mere force of symmetry, gave a warmth to the whole, as pleasing as it was unexpected. Such, in a word, was his success, that it may be doubted whether he has been surpassed, or even equalled, by any of those who have attempted to tread in his steps.
"In the plots of his comedies, which were constructed from his own materials, he is deserving of undisputed praise. Without violence; without, indeed, any visible effort, the various even's of the story are so linked together, that they have the appearance of accidental introduction, yet
they all contribute to the main design, and support that just harmony which alone constitutes a perfect fable. Such, in fact, is the rigid accuracy of his plans, that it requires a constant, and almost painful attention, to trace out their various bearings and dependencies. Nothing is left to chance before he sat down to write, he had evidently arranged every circumstance in his mind; preparations are made for incidents which do not immediately occur, and hints are dropped, which can only be comprehended at the unravelling of the piece. The play does not end with Jonson, because the fifth act is come to a conclusion; nor are the most important events precipitated, and the most violent revolutions of character suddenly effected, because the progress of the story has involved the poet in difficulties from which he cannot otherwise extricate himself. This praise, whatever be its worth, is enhanced by the rigid attention paid to the unities; to say nothing of those of place and character, that of time is so well observed in most of bis comedies, that the representation occupies scarcely an hour more on the stage, than the action would require in real life."
Mr. Gifford then goes on to explain, why Jonson, "with such extraordinary requisites for the stage, joined to a strain of poetry always manly, frequently lofty, and sometimes sublime," should not have retained his popularity; accounting for this result by the assignment of three causes, of which the first was, his dismissing the grace and urbanity which mark his lighter pieces whenever he approached the stage, putting on the censor with the sock;" the second sprung from the circumstance, that "Jonson was the painter of humours, not of passions," and aiming less to excite laughter in his hearers, "than to feast their understanding, and minister to their rational improvement," he frequently brought forward unamiable and uninteresting characters, pests which he wished to extirpate from society, not only by rendering them ridiculous, but by exhibiting them in an odious and disgusting light; and the third was, "a want of just discrimination. He seems to have been deficient," observes Mr. Gifford, “in that true tact or feeling of propriety which Shakspeare possessed in full excellence. He appears to have had an equal value for all his characters, and he labours upon the most unimportant, and even disagreeable of them, with the same fond and paternal assiduity which accompanies his happiest efforts." This laboured and indiscriminate finishing may be termed, indeed, one of the prominent characteristics of Jonson's composition; and has, perhaps, more than any thing else, contributed to obscure his reputation.
The genius of Jonson seems to have forsaken him, when he touched the tragic chords. Neither pity nor terror answered to his call, and "Sejanus" and "Catiline" are valuable, principally, for their correct, though cold and hard, delineations of Roman character and costume. It is remarkable, that, in the construction of these tragedies, Jonson has deserted his Athenian masters, and, adopting the license of the Romantic school, he has laid aside the unities of time and place; but without acquiring that breadth and freedom in the execution of his subjects, with which such deviations ought to have been accompanied.
The devotion of the poot to this high department of his art was not confined, however, to these two Roman dramas; he had planned a tragedy on the Fall of Mortimer, of which only a small fragment remains; and we find, from the Dulwich Manuscripts, that, the year preceding the first performance of Sejanus, he had actually been engaged in writing a play on the subject of Richard the Third: "Lent unto Benjemy Johstone," says Henslowe's memorandum, "at the appoyntment of E. Alleyn and Wm. Birde the 22 June, 1602, in earnest of a boocke alled Richard Crook-back, and for new adycions for Jeronymo, the some of xlb." The Richard of Jonson, and the Macbeth of Milton !-would that time had spared he one and witnessed the execution of the other! How delightful, how interesting night have been the labour of comparison!
If Jonson failed, as he must be allowed to have done, in communicating pathos and interest to his tragic productions, he has made us ample amends by the unrialled excellence of his numerous Masques, a species of dramatic poetry, to which
Gifford's Jonson, vol. i. Memoirs of Jonson, r. ccxii-cexv.
hid p cexvi- cexis.