Infomotions, Inc.The Age of Shakespeare / Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 1837-1909



Author: Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 1837-1909
Title: The Age of Shakespeare
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): dekker; heywood; middleton; tourneur; webster; shakespeare; marston; rowley; dramatic; marlowe; tragic; poet; jonson; cyril tourneur; comedy; tragedy; genius; verse
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Title: The Age of Shakespeare

Author: Algernon Charles Swinburne

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THE AGE OF SHAKESPEARE

BY

ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE



HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
MCMVIII




TO THE MEMORY OF CHARLES LAMB

   When stark oblivion froze above their names
     Whose glory shone round Shakespeare's, bright as now,
   One eye beheld their light shine full as fame's,
     One hand unveiled it: this did none but thou.
   Love, stronger than forgetfulness and sleep,
     Rose, and bade memory rise, and England hear:
   And all the harvest left so long to reap
     Shone ripe and rich in every sheaf and ear.

   A child it was who first by grace of thine
   Communed with gods who share with thee their shrine:
     Elder than thou wast ever now I am,
   Now that I lay before thee in thanksgiving
   Praise of dead men divine and everliving
     Whose praise is thine as thine is theirs, Charles Lamb.




CONTENTS


CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE

JOHN WEBSTER

THOMAS DEKKER

JOHN MARSTON

THOMAS MIDDLETON

WILLIAM ROWLEY

THOMAS HEYWOOD

GEORGE CHAPMAN

CYRIL TOURNEUR

INDEX




THE AGE OF SHAKESPEARE



CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE


The first great English poet was the father of English tragedy and the
creator of English blank verse. Chaucer and Spenser were great writers
and great men: they shared between them every gift which goes to the
making of a poet except the one which alone can make a poet, in the
proper sense of the word, great. Neither pathos nor humor nor fancy nor
invention will suffice for that: no poet is great as a poet whom no one
could ever pretend to recognize as sublime. Sublimity is the test of
imagination as distinguished from invention or from fancy: and the first
English poet whose powers can be called sublime was Christopher Marlowe.

The majestic and exquisite excellence of various lines and passages in
Marlowe's first play must be admitted to relieve, if it cannot be
allowed to redeem, the stormy monotony of Titanic truculence which
blusters like a simoom through the noisy course of its ten fierce acts.
With many and heavy faults, there is something of genuine greatness in
"Tamburlaine the Great"; and for two grave reasons it must always be
remembered with distinction and mentioned with honor. It is the first
poem ever written in English blank verse, as distinguished from mere
rhymeless decasyllabics; and it contains one of the noblest
passages--perhaps, indeed, the noblest in the literature of the
world--ever written by one of the greatest masters of poetry in loving
praise of the glorious delights and sublime submission to the
everlasting limits of his art. In its highest and most distinctive
qualities, in unfaltering and infallible command of the right note of
music and the proper tone of color for the finest touches of poetic
execution, no poet of the most elaborate modern school, working at ease
upon every consummate resource of luxurious learning and leisurely
refinement, has ever excelled the best and most representative work of a
man who had literally no models before him, and probably or evidently
was often, if not always, compelled to write against time for his
living.

The just and generous judgment passed by Goethe on the "Faustus" of his
English predecessor in tragic treatment of the same subject is somewhat
more than sufficient to counterbalance the slighting or the sneering
references to that magnificent poem which might have been expected from
the ignorance of Byron or the incompetence of Hallam. And the particular
note of merit observed, the special point of the praise conferred, by
the great German poet should be no less sufficient to dispose of the
vulgar misconception yet lingering among sciolists and pretenders to
criticism, which regards a writer than whom no man was ever born with a
finer or a stronger instinct for perfection of excellence in execution
as a mere noble savage of letters, a rough self-taught sketcher or
scribbler of crude and rude genius, whose unhewn blocks of verse had in
them some veins of rare enough metal to be quarried and polished by
Shakespeare. What most impressed the author of "Faust" in the work of
Marlowe was a quality the want of which in the author of "Manfred" is
proof enough to consign his best work to the second or third class at
most. "How greatly it is all planned!" the first requisite of all great
work, and one of which the highest genius possible to a greatly gifted
barbarian could by no possibility understand the nature or conceive the
existence. That Goethe "had thought of translating it" is perhaps hardly
less precious a tribute to its greatness than the fact that it has been
actually and admirably translated by the matchless translator of
Shakespeare--the son of Victor Hugo, whose labor of love may thus be
said to have made another point in common, and forged as it were another
link of union, between Shakespeare and the young master of Shakespeare's
youth. Of all great poems in dramatic form it is perhaps the most
remarkable for absolute singleness of aim and simplicity of
construction; yet is it wholly free from all possible imputation of
monotony or aridity. "Tamburlaine" is monotonous in the general roll and
flow of its stately and sonorous verse through a noisy wilderness of
perpetual bluster and slaughter; but the unity of tone and purpose in
"Doctor Faustus" is not unrelieved by change of manner and variety of
incident. The comic scenes, written evidently with as little of labor
as of relish, are for the most part scarcely more than transcripts,
thrown into the form of dialogue, from a popular prose _History of Dr.
Faustus_, and therefore should be set down as little to the discredit as
to the credit of the poet. Few masterpieces of any age in any language
can stand beside this tragic poem--it has hardly the structure of a
play--for the qualities of terror and splendor, for intensity of purpose
and sublimity of note. In the vision of Helen, for example, the intense
perception of loveliness gives actual sublimity to the sweetness and
radiance of mere beauty in the passionate and spontaneous selection of
words the most choice and perfect; and in like manner the sublimity of
simplicity in Marlowe's conception and expression of the agonies endured
by Faustus under the immediate imminence of his doom gives the highest
note of beauty, the quality of absolute fitness and propriety, to the
sheer straightforwardness of speech in which his agonizing horror finds
vent ever more and more terrible from the first to the last equally
beautiful and fearful verse of that tremendous monologue which has no
parallel in all the range of tragedy.

It is now a commonplace of criticism to observe and regret the decline
of power and interest after the opening acts of "The Jew of Malta." This
decline is undeniable, though even the latter part of the play is not
wanting in rough energy and a coarse kind of interest; but the first two
acts would be sufficient foundation for the durable fame of a dramatic
poet. In the blank verse of Milton alone, who perhaps was hardly less
indebted than Shakespeare was before him to Marlowe as the first English
master of word-music in its grander forms, has the glory or the melody
of passages in the opening soliloquy of Barabas been possibly surpassed.
The figure of the hero before it degenerates into caricature is as
finely touched as the poetic execution is excellent; and the rude and
rapid sketches of the minor characters show at least some vigor and
vivacity of touch.

In "Edward II." the interest rises and the execution improves as visibly
and as greatly with the course of the advancing story as they decline in
"The Jew of Malta." The scene of the king's deposition at Kenilworth is
almost as much finer in tragic effect and poetic quality as it is
shorter and less elaborate than the corresponding scene in Shakespeare's
"King Richard II." The terror of the death scene undoubtedly rises into
horror; but this horror is with skilful simplicity of treatment
preserved from passing into disgust. In pure poetry, in sublime and
splendid imagination, this tragedy is excelled by "Doctor Faustus"; in
dramatic power and positive impression of natural effect it is as
certainly the masterpiece of Marlowe. It was almost inevitable, in the
hands of any poet but Shakespeare, that none of the characters
represented should be capable of securing or even exciting any finer
sympathy or more serious interest than attends on the mere evolution of
successive events or the mere display of emotions (except always in the
great scene of the deposition) rather animal than spiritual in their
expression of rage or tenderness or suffering. The exact balance of
mutual effect, the final note of scenic harmony between ideal
conception and realistic execution, is not yet struck with perfect
accuracy of touch and security of hand; but on this point also Marlowe
has here come nearer by many degrees to Shakespeare than any of his
other predecessors have ever come near to Marlowe.

Of "The Massacre at Paris" it is impossible to judge fairly from the
garbled fragment of its genuine text, which is all that has come down
to us. To Mr. Collier, among numberless other obligations, we owe the
discovery of a striking passage excised in the piratical edition which
gives us the only version extant of this unlucky play; and which, it
must be allowed, contains nothing of quite equal value. This is
obviously an occasional and polemical work, and being as it is
overcharged with the anti-Catholic passion of the time, has a typical
quality which gives it some empirical significance and interest. That
anti-papal ardor is indeed the only note of unity in a rough and ragged
chronicle which shambles and stumbles onward from the death of Queen
Jeanne of Navarre to the murder of the last Valois. It is possible to
conjecture what it would be fruitless to affirm, that it gave a hint in
the next century to Nathaniel Lee for his far superior and really
admirable tragedy on the same subject, issued ninety-seven years after
the death of Marlowe.

The tragedy of "Dido, Queen of Carthage," was probably completed for the
stage after that irreparable and incalculable loss to English letters by
Thomas Nash, the worthiest English precursor of Swift in vivid, pure,
and passionate prose, embodying the most terrible and splendid qualities
of a personal and social satirist; a man gifted also with some fair
faculty of elegiac and even lyric verse, but in nowise qualified to put
on the buskin left behind him by the "famous gracer of tragedians," as
Marlowe had already been designated by their common friend Greene from
among the worthiest of his fellows. In this somewhat thin-spun and
evidently hasty play a servile fidelity to the text of Virgil's
narrative has naturally resulted in the failure which might have been
expected from an attempt at once to transcribe what is essentially
inimitable and to reproduce it under the hopelessly alien conditions of
dramatic adaptation. The one really noble passage in a generally feeble
and incomposite piece of work is, however, uninspired by the
unattainable model to which the dramatists have been only too obsequious
in their subservience.

It is as nearly certain as anything can be which depends chiefly upon
cumulative and collateral evidence that the better part of what is best
in the serious scenes of "King Henry VI." is mainly the work of Marlowe.
That he is, at any rate, the principal author of the second and third
plays passing under that name among the works of Shakespeare, but first
and imperfectly printed as "The Contention between the two Famous Houses
of York and Lancaster," can hardly be now a matter of debate among
competent judges. The crucial difficulty of criticism in this matter is
to determine, if indeed we should not rather say to conjecture, the
authorship of the humorous scenes in prose, showing as they generally do
a power of comparatively high and pure comic realism to which nothing in
the acknowledged works of any pre-Shakespearean dramatist is even
remotely comparable. Yet, especially in the original text of these
scenes as they stand unpurified by the ultimate revision of Shakespeare,
there are tones and touches which recall rather the clownish horseplay
and homely ribaldry of his predecessors than anything in the lighter
interludes of his very earliest plays. We find the same sort of thing
which we find in their writings, only better done than they usually do
it, rather than such work as Shakespeare's a little worse done than
usual. And even in the final text of the tragic or metrical scenes the
highest note struck is always, with one magnificent and unquestionable
exception, rather in the key of Marlowe at his best than of Shakespeare
while yet in great measure his disciple.

It is another commonplace of criticism to affirm that Marlowe had not a
touch of comic genius, not a gleam of wit in him or a twinkle of humor:
but it is an indisputable fact that he had. In "The Massacre at Paris,"
the soliloquy of the soldier lying in wait for the minion of Henri III.
has the same very rough but very real humor as a passage in the
"Contention" which was cancelled by the reviser. The same hand is
unmistakable in both these broad and boyish outbreaks of unseemly but
undeniable fun: and if we might wish it rather less indecorous, we must
admit that the tradition which denies all sense of humor and all
instinct of wit to the first great poet of England is no less unworthy
of serious notice or elaborate refutation than the charges and calumnies
of an informer who was duly hanged the year after Marlowe's death. For
if the same note of humor is struck in an undoubted play of Marlowe's
and in a play of disputed authorship, it is evident that the rest of the
scene in the latter play must also be Marlowe's. And in that
unquestionable case the superb and savage humor of the terribly comic
scenes which represent with such rough magnificence of realism the riot
of Jack Cade and his ruffians through the ravaged streets of London must
be recognizable as no other man's than his. It is a pity we have not
before us for comparison the comic scenes or burlesque interludes of
"Tamburlaine" which the printer or publisher, as he had the impudence to
avow in his prefatory note, purposely omitted and left out.

The author of _A Study of Shakespeare_ was therefore wrong, and utterly
wrong, when in a book issued some quarter of a century ago he followed
the lead of Mr. Dyce in assuming that because the author of "Doctor
Faustus" and "The Jew of Malta" "was as certainly"--and certainly it is
difficult to deny that whether as a mere transcriber or as an original
dealer in pleasantry he sometimes was--"one of the least and worst among
jesters as he was one of the best and greatest among poets," he could
not have had a hand in the admirable comic scenes of "The Taming of the
Shrew." For it is now, I should hope, unnecessary to insist that the
able and conscientious editor to whom his fame and his readers owe so
great a debt was over-hasty in assuming and asserting that he was a poet
"to whom, we have reason to believe, nature had denied even a moderate
talent for the humorous." The serious or would-be poetical scenes of the
play are as unmistakably the work of an imitator as are most of the
better passages in "Titus Andronicus" and "King Edward III." Greene or
Peele may be responsible for the bad poetry, but there is no reason to
suppose that the great poet whose mannerisms he imitated with so stupid
a servility was incapable of the good fun.

Had every copy of Marlowe's boyish version or perversion of Ovid's
_Elegies_ deservedly perished in the flames to which it was judicially
condemned by the sentence of a brace of prelates, it is possible that an
occasional bookworm, it is certain that no poetical student, would have
deplored its destruction, if its demerits--hardly relieved, as his first
competent editor has happily remarked, by the occasional incidence of a
fine and felicitous couplet--could in that case have been imagined. His
translation of the first book of Lucan alternately rises above the
original and falls short of it; often inferior to the Latin in point and
weight of expressive rhetoric, now and then brightened by a clearer note
of poetry and lifted into a higher mood of verse. Its terseness, vigor,
and purity of style would in any case have been praiseworthy, but are
nothing less than admirable, if not wonderful, when we consider how
close the translator has on the whole (in spite of occasional slips
into inaccuracy) kept himself to the most rigid limit of literal
representation, phrase by phrase and often line by line. The really
startling force and felicity of occasional verses are worthier of remark
than the inevitable stiffness and heaviness of others, when the
technical difficulty of such a task is duly taken into account.

One of the most faultless lyrics and one of the loveliest fragments in
the whole range of descriptive and fanciful poetry would have secured a
place for Marlowe among the memorable men of his epoch, even if his
plays had perished with himself. His "Passionate Shepherd" remains ever
since unrivalled in its way--a way of pure fancy and radiant melody
without break or lapse. The untitled fragment, on the other hand, has
been very closely rivalled, perhaps very happily imitated, but only by
the greatest lyric poet of England--by Shelley alone. Marlowe's poem of
"Hero and Leander," closing with the sunrise which closes the night of
the lovers' union, stands alone in its age, and far ahead of the work of
any possible competitor between the death of Spenser and the dawn of
Milton. In clear mastery of narrative and presentation, in melodious
ease and simplicity of strength, it is not less pre-eminent than in the
adorable beauty and impeccable perfection of separate lines or
passages.

The place and the value of Christopher Marlowe as a leader among English
poets it would be almost impossible for historical criticism to
overestimate. To none of them all, perhaps, have so many of the greatest
among them been so deeply and so directly indebted. Nor was ever any
great writer's influence upon his fellows more utterly and unmixedly an
influence for good. He first, and he alone, guided Shakespeare into the
right way of work; his music, in which there is no echo of any man's
before him, found its own echo in the more prolonged but hardly more
exalted harmony of Milton's. He is the greatest discoverer, the most
daring and inspired pioneer, in all our poetic literature. Before him
there was neither genuine blank verse nor genuine tragedy in our
language. After his arrival the way was prepared, the paths were made
straight, for Shakespeare.



JOHN WEBSTER


There were many poets in the age of Shakespeare who make us think, as we
read them, that the characters in their plays could not have spoken more
beautifully, more powerfully, more effectively, under the circumstances
imagined for the occasion of their utterance: there are only two who
make us feel that the words assigned to the creatures of their genius
are the very words they must have said, the only words they could have
said, the actual words they assuredly did say. Mere literary power, mere
poetic beauty, mere charm of passionate or pathetic fancy, we find in
varying degrees dispersed among them all alike; but the crowning gift of
imagination, the power to make us realize that thus and not otherwise it
was, that thus and not otherwise it must have been, was given--except by
exceptional fits and starts--to none of the poets of their time but only
to Shakespeare and to Webster.

Webster, it may be said, was but as it were a limb of Shakespeare: but
that limb, it might be replied, was the right arm. "The kingly-crowned
head, the vigilant eye," whose empire of thought and whose reach of
vision no other man's faculty has ever been found competent to match,
are Shakespeare's alone forever: but the force of hand, the fire of
heart, the fervor of pity, the sympathy of passion, not poetic or
theatric merely, but actual and immediate, are qualities in which the
lesser poet is not less certainly or less unmistakably pre-eminent than
the greater. And there is no third to be set beside them: not even if we
turn from their contemporaries to Shelley himself. All that Beatrice
says in _The Cenci_ is beautiful and conceivable and admirable: but
unless we except her exquisite last words--and even they are more
beautiful than inevitable--we shall hardly find what we find in "King
Lear" and "The White Devil," "Othello" and "The Duchess of Malfy"--the
tone of convincing reality; the note, as a critic of our own day might
call it, of certitude.

There are poets--in our own age, as in all past ages--from whose best
work it might be difficult to choose at a glance some verse sufficient
to establish their claim--great as their claim may be--to be remembered
forever; and who yet may be worthy of remembrance among all but the
highest. Webster is not one of these: though his fame assuredly does not
depend upon the merit of a casual passage here or there, it would be
easy to select from any one of his representative plays such examples of
the highest, the purest, the most perfect power, as can be found only in
the works of the greatest among poets. There is not, as far as my
studies have ever extended, a third English poet to whom these words
might rationally be attributed by the conjecture of a competent reader:

   We cease to grieve, cease to be fortune's slaves,
   Nay, cease to die, by dying.

There is a depth of severe sense in them, a height of heroic scorn, or a
dignity of quiet cynicism, which can scarcely be paralleled in the
bitterest or the fiercest effusions of John Marston or Cyril Tourneur or
Jonathan Swift. Nay, were they not put into the mouth of a criminal
cynic, they would not seem unworthy of Epictetus. There is nothing so
grand in the part of Edmund; the one figure in Shakespeare whose aim in
life, whose centre of character, is one with the view or the instinct of
Webster's two typical villains. Some touches in the part of Flamineo
suggest, if not a conscious imitation, an unconscious reminiscence of
that prototype: but the essential and radical originality of Webster's
genius is shown in the difference of accent with which the same savage
and sarcastic philosophy of self-interest finds expression through the
snarl and sneer of his ambitious cynic. Monsters as they may seem of
unnatural egotism and unallayed ferocity, the one who dies penitent,
though his repentance be as sudden if not as suspicious as any ever
wrought by miraculous conversion, dies as thoroughly in character as the
one who takes leave of life in a passion of scorn and defiant irony
which hardly passes off at last into a mood of mocking and triumphant
resignation. There is a cross of heroism in almost all Webster's
characters which preserves the worst of them from such hatefulness as
disgusts us in certain of Fletcher's or of Ford's: they have in them
some salt of manhood, some savor of venturesome and humorous resolution,
which reminds us of the heroic age in which the genius that begot them
was born and reared--the age of Richard Grenville and Francis Drake,
Philip Sidney and William Shakespeare.

The earliest play of Webster's now surviving--if a work so piteously
mutilated and defaced can properly be said to survive--is a curious
example of the combined freedom and realism with which recent or even
contemporary history was habitually treated on the stage during the
last years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The noblest poem known to
me of this peculiar kind is the play of "Sir Thomas More," first printed
by Mr. Dyce in 1844 for the Shakespeare Society: the worst must almost
certainly be that "Chronicle History of Thomas Lord Cromwell" which the
infallible verdict of German intuition has discovered to be "not only
unquestionably Shakespeare's, but worthy to be classed among his best
and maturest works." About midway between these two I should be inclined
to rank "The Famous History of Sir Thomas Wyatt," a mangled and deformed
abridgment of a tragedy by Dekker and Webster on the story of Lady Jane
Grey. In this tragedy, as in the two comedies due to the collaboration
of the same poets, it appears to me more than probable that Dekker took
decidedly the greater part. The shambling and slipshod metre, which
seems now and then to hit by mere chance on some pure and tender note of
simple and exquisite melody--the lazy vivacity and impulsive
inconsequence of style--the fitful sort of slovenly inspiration, with
interludes of absolute and headlong collapse--are qualities by which a
very novice in the study of dramatic form may recognize the reckless and
unmistakable presence of Dekker. The curt and grim precision of
Webster's tone, his terse and pungent force of compressed rhetoric,
will be found equally difficult to trace in any of these three plays.
"Northward Ho!" a clever, coarse, and vigorous study of the realistic
sort, has not a note of poetry in it, but is more coherent, more
sensibly conceived and more ably constructed, than the rambling history
of Wyatt or the hybrid amalgam of prosaic and romantic elements in the
compound comedy of "Westward Ho!" All that is of any great value in this
amorphous and incongruous product of inventive impatience and impetuous
idleness can be as distinctly traced to the hand of Dekker as the
crowning glories of "The Two Noble Kinsmen" can be traced to the hand of
Shakespeare. Any poet, even of his time, might have been proud of these
verses, but the accent of them is unmistakable as that of Dekker.

                             Go, let music
   Charm with her excellent voice an awful silence
   Through all this building, that her sphery soul
   May, on the wings of air, in thousand forms
   Invisibly fly, yet be enjoyed.

This delicate fluency and distilled refinement of expression ought
properly, one would say, to have belonged to a poet of such careful and
self-respectful genius as Tennyson's: whereas in the very next speech of
the same speaker we stumble over such a phrase as that which closes the
following sentence:

   We feed, wear rich attires, and strive to cleave
   The stars with marble towers, fight battles, spend
   Our blood to buy us names, _and, in iron hold,
   Will we eat roots, to imprison fugitive gold_.

Which he who can parse, let him scan, and he who can scan, let him
construe. It is alike incredible and certain that the writer of such
exquisite and blameless verse as that in which the finer scenes of "Old
Fortunatus" and "The Honest Whore" are so smoothly and simply and
naturally written should have been capable of writing whole plays in
this headlong and halting fashion, as helpless and graceless as the
action of a spavined horse or a cripple who should attempt to run.

It is difficult to say what part of these plays should be assigned to
Webster. Their rough realistic humor, with its tone of somewhat
coarse-grained good-nature, strikes the habitual note of Dekker's comic
style: there is nothing of the fierce and scornful intensity, the ardor
of passionate and compressed contempt, which distinguishes the savagely
humorous satire of Webster and of Marston, and makes it hopeless to
determine by intrinsic evidence how little or how much was added by
Webster in the second edition to the original text of Marston's
_Malcontent_: unless--which appears to me not unreasonable--we assume
that the printer of that edition lied or blundered after the manner of
his contemporary kind in attributing on the title-page--as apparently he
meant to attribute--any share in the additional scenes or speeches to
the original author of the play. In any case, the passages thus added to
that grimmest and most sombre of tragicomedies are in such exact keeping
with the previous text that the keenest scent of the veriest blood-hound
among critics could not detect a shade of difference in the savor.

The text of either comedy is generally very fair--as free from
corruption as could reasonably be expected. The text of "Sir Thomas
Wyatt" is corrupt as well as mutilated. Even in Mr. Dyce's second
edition I have noted, not without astonishment, the following flagrant
errors left still to glare on us from the distorted and disfigured page.
In the sixth scene a single speech of Arundel's contains two of the most
palpably preposterous:

   The obligation wherein we all stood bound
       *       *       *       *       *
   Cannot be concealed without great reproach
   To us and to our issue.

We should of course read "cancelled" for "concealed": the sense of the
context and the exigence of the verse cry alike aloud for the
correction. In the sixteenth line from this we come upon an equally
obvious error:

   Advice in this I hold it better far,
   To keep the course we run, than, seeking change,
   Hazard our lives, our honors, and the realm.

It seems hardly credible to those who are aware how much they owe to the
excellent scholarship and editorial faculty of Mr. Dyce, that he should
have allowed such a misprint as "heirs" for "honors" to stand in this
last unlucky line. Again, in the next scene, when the popular leader
Captain Brett attempts to reassure the country folk who are startled at
the sight of his insurgent array, he is made to utter (in reply to the
exclamation, "What's here? soldiers!") the perfectly fatuous phrase,
"Fear not good speech." Of course--once more--we should read, "Fear not,
good people"; a correction which rectifies the metre as well as the
sense.

The play attributed to Webster and Rowley by a publisher of the next
generation has been carefully and delicately analyzed by a critic of our
own time, who naturally finds it easy to distinguish the finer from the
homelier part of the compound weft, and to assign what is rough and
crude to the inferior, what is interesting and graceful to the superior
poet. The authority of the rogue Kirkman may be likened to the outline
or profile of Mr. Mantalini's early loves: it is either no authority at
all, or at best it is a "demd" authority. The same swindler who assigned
to Webster and Rowley the authorship of "A Cure for a Cuckold" assigned
to Shakespeare and Rowley the authorship of an infinitely inferior
play--a play of which German sagacity has discovered that "none of
Rowley's other works are equal to this." Assuredly they are not--in
utter stolidity of platitude and absolute impotence of drivel. Rowley
was a vigorous artist in comedy and an original master of tragedy: he
may have written the lighter or broader parts of the play which rather
unluckily took its name from these, and Webster may have written the
more serious or sentimental parts: but there is not the slightest shadow
of a reason to suppose it. An obviously apocryphal abortion of the same
date, attributed to the same poets by the same knave, has long since
been struck off the roll of Webster's works.

The few occasional poems of this great poet are worth study by those who
are capable of feeling interest in the comparison of slighter with
sublimer things, and the detection in minor works of the same style,
here revealed by fitful hints in casual phrases, as that which animates
and distinguishes even a work so insufficient and incompetent as
Webster's "tragecomoedy" of "The Devil's Law-case." The noble and
impressive extracts from this most incoherent and chaotic of all plays
which must be familiar to all students of Charles Lamb are but patches
of imperial purple sewn on with the roughest of needles to a garment of
the raggedest and coarsest kind of literary serge. Hardly any praise can
be too high for their dignity and beauty, their lofty loyalty and
simplicity of chivalrous manhood or their deep sincerity of cynic
meditation and self-contemptuous mournfulness: and the reader who turns
from these magnificent samples to the complete play must expect to find
yet another and a yet unknown masterpiece of English tragedy. He will
find a crowning example of the famous theorem, that "the plot is of no
use except to bring in the fine things." The plot is in this instance
absurd to a degree so far beyond the most preposterous conception of
confused and distracting extravagance that the reader's attention may at
times be withdrawn from the all but unqualified ugliness of its ethical
tone or tendency. Two of Webster's favorite types, the meditative
murderer or philosophic ruffian, and the impulsive impostor who is
liable to collapse into the likeness of a passionate penitent, will
remind the reader how much better they appear in tragedies which are
carried through to their natural tragic end. But here, where the story
is admirably opened and the characters as skilfully introduced, the
strong interest thus excited at starting is scattered or broken or
trifled away before the action is half-way through: and at its close the
awkward violence or irregularity of moral and scenical effect comes to a
crowning crisis in the general and mutual condonation of unnatural
perjury and attempted murder with which the victims and the criminals
agree to hush up all grudges, shake hands all round, and live happy ever
after. There is at least one point of somewhat repulsive resemblance
between the story of this play and that of Fletcher's "Fair Maid of the
Inn": but Fletcher's play, with none of the tragic touches or interludes
of superb and sombre poetry which relieve the incoherence of Webster's,
is better laid out and constructed, more amusing if not more
interesting, and more intelligent if not more imaginative.

A far more creditable and workman-like piece of work, though glorified
by no flashes of such sudden and singular beauty, is the tragedy of
"Appius and Virginia." The almost infinite superiority of Webster to
Fletcher as a poet of pure tragedy and a painter of masculine character
is in this play as obvious as the inferiority in construction and
conduct of romantic story displayed in his attempt at a tragicomedy.
From the evidence of style I should judge this play to have been written
at an earlier date than "The Devil's Law-case": it is, I repeat, far
better composed; better, perhaps, than any other play of the author's:
but it has none of his more distinctive qualities; intensity of idea,
concentration of utterance, pungency of expression and ardor of pathos.
It is written with noble and equable power of hand, with force and
purity and fluency of apt and simple eloquence: there is nothing in it
unworthy of the writer: but it is the only one of his unassisted works
in which we do not find that especial note of tragic style, concise and
pointed and tipped as it were with fire, which usually makes it
impossible for the dullest reader to mistake the peculiar presence, the
original tone or accent, of John Webster. If the epithet unique had not
such a tang of German affectation in it, it would be perhaps the aptest
of all adjectives to denote the genius or define the manner of this
great poet. But in this tragedy, though whatever is said is well said
and whatever is done well done, we miss that sense of positive and
inevitable conviction, that instant and profound perception or
impression as of immediate and indisputable truth, which is burnt in
upon us as we read the more Websterian scenes of Webster's writing. We
feel, in short, that thus it may have been; not, as I observed at the
opening of these notes, that thus it must have been. The poem does him
no discredit; nay, it does him additional honor, as an evidence of
powers more various and many-sided than we should otherwise have known
or supposed in him. Indeed, the figure of Virginius is one of the finest
types of soldierly and fatherly heroism ever presented on the stage:
there is equal force of dramatic effect, equal fervor of eloquent
passion, in the scene of his pleading before the senate on behalf of the
claims of his suffering and struggling fellow-soldiers, and in the scene
of his return to the camp after the immolation of his daughter. The mere
theatric effect of this latter scene is at once so triumphant and so
dignified, so noble in its presentation and so passionate in its
restraint, that we feel the high justice and sound reason of the
instinct which inspired the poet to prolong the action of his play so
far beyond the sacrifice of his heroine. A comparison of Webster's
Virginius with any of Fletcher's wordy warriors will suffice to show
how much nearer to Shakespeare than to Fletcher stands Webster as a
tragic or a serious dramatist. Coleridge, not always just to Fletcher,
was not unjust in his remark "what strange self-trumpeters and tongue
bullies all the brave soldiers of Beaumont and Fletcher are"; and again
almost immediately--"all B. and F.'s generals are pugilists, or
cudgel-fighters, that boast of their bottom and of the 'claret' they
have shed." There is nothing of this in Virginius; Shakespeare himself
has not represented with a more lofty fidelity, in the person of
Coriolanus or of Brutus, "the high Roman fashion" of austere and heroic
self-respect. In the other leading or dominant figure of this tragedy
there is certainly discernible a genuine and thoughtful originality or
freshness of conception; but perhaps there is also recognizable a
certain inconsistency of touch. It was well thought of to mingle some
alloy of goodness with the wickedness of Appius Claudius, to represent
the treacherous and lecherous decemvir as neither kindless nor
remorseless, but capable of penitence and courage in his last hour. But
Shakespeare, I cannot but think, would have prepared us with more care
and more dexterity for the revelation of some such redeeming quality in
a character which in the act immediately preceding Webster has
represented as utterly heartless and shameless, brutal in its hypocrisy
and impudent in its brutality.

If the works already discussed were their author's only claims to
remembrance and honor, they might not suffice to place him on a higher
level among our tragic poets than that occupied by Marston and Dekker
and Middleton on the one hand, by Fletcher and Massinger and Shirley on
the other. "Antonio and Mellida," "Old Fortunatus," or "The
Changeling"--"The Maid's Tragedy," "The Duke of Milan," or "The
Traitor"--would suffice to counterweigh (if not, in some cases, to
outbalance) the merit of the best among these: the fitful and futile
inspiration of "The Devil's Law-case," and the stately but subdued
inspiration of "Appius and Virginia." That his place was with no
subordinate poet--that his station is at Shakespeare's right hand--the
evidence supplied by his two great tragedies is disputable by no one who
has an inkling of the qualities which confer a right to be named in the
same day with the greatest writer of all time.

Aeschylus is above all things the poet of righteousness. "But in any
wise, I say unto thee, revere thou the altar of righteousness": this is
the crowning admonition of his doctrine, as its crowning prospect is
the reconciliation or atonement of the principle of retribution with the
principle of redemption, of the powers of the mystery of darkness with
the coeternal forces of the spirit of wisdom, of the lord of inspiration
and of light. The doctrine of Shakespeare, where it is not vaguer, is
darker in its implication of injustice, in its acceptance of accident,
than the impression of the doctrine of Aeschylus. Fate, irreversible and
inscrutable, is the only force of which we feel the impact, of which we
trace the sign, in the upshot of "Othello" or "King Lear." The last step
into the darkness remained to be taken by "the most tragic" of all
English poets. With Shakespeare--and assuredly not with
Aeschylus--righteousness itself seems subject and subordinate to the
masterdom of fate: but fate itself, in the tragic world of Webster,
seems merely the servant or the synonyme of chance. The two chief agents
in his two great tragedies pass away--the phrase was, perhaps,
unconsciously repeated--"in a mist": perplexed, indomitable, defiant of
hope and fear; bitter and sceptical and bloody in penitence or
impenitence alike. And the mist which encompasses the departing spirits
of these moody and mocking men of blood seems equally to involve the
lives of their chastisers and their victims. Blind accident and
blundering mishap--"such a mistake," says one of the criminals, "as I
have often seen in a play"--are the steersmen of their fortunes and the
doomsmen of their deeds. The effect of this method or the result of this
view, whether adopted for dramatic objects or ingrained in the writer's
temperament, is equally fit for pure tragedy and unfit for any form of
drama not purely tragic in evolution and event. In "The Devil's
Law-case" it is offensive, because the upshot is incongruous and
insufficient: in "The White Devil" and "The Duchess of Malfy" it is
admirable, because the results are adequate and coherent. But in all
these three plays alike, and in these three plays only, the peculiar
tone of Webster's genius, the peculiar force of his imagination, is
distinct and absolute in its fulness of effect. The author of "Appius
and Virginia" would have earned an honorable and enduring place in the
history of English letters as a worthy member--one among many--of a
great school in poetry, a deserving representative of a great epoch in
literature: but the author of these three plays has a solitary station,
an indisputable distinction of his own. The greatest poets of all time
are not more mutually independent than this one--a lesser poet only than
those greatest--is essentially independent of them all.

The first quality which all readers recognize, and which may strike a
superficial reader as the exclusive or excessive note of his genius and
his work, is of course his command of terror. Except in Aeschylus, in
Dante, and in Shakespeare, I at least know not where to seek for
passages which in sheer force of tragic and noble horror--to the vulgar
shock of ignoble or brutal horror he never condescends to submit his
reader or subdue his inspiration--may be set against the subtlest, the
deepest, the sublimest passages of Webster. Other gifts he had as great
in themselves, as precious and as necessary to the poet: but on this
side he is incomparable and unique. Neither Marlowe nor Shakespeare had
so fine, so accurate, so infallible a sense of the delicate line of
demarcation which divides the impressive and the terrible from the
horrible and the loathsome--Victor Hugo and Honore de Balzac from Eugene
Sue and Emile Zola. On his theatre we find no presentation of old men
with their beards torn off and their eyes gouged out, of young men
imprisoned in reeking cesspools and impaled with red-hot spits. Again
and again his passionate and daring genius attains the utmost limit and
rounds the final goal of tragedy; never once does it break the bounds of
pure poetic instinct. If ever for a moment it may seem to graze that
goal too closely, to brush too sharply by those bounds, the very next
moment finds it clear of any such risk and remote from any such
temptation as sometimes entrapped or seduced the foremost of its
forerunners in the field. And yet this is the field in which its paces
are most superbly shown. No name among all the names of great poets will
recur so soon as Webster's to the reader who knows what it signifies, as
he reads or repeats the verses in which a greater than this great
poet--a greater than all since Shakespeare--has expressed the latent
mystery of terror which lurks in all the highest poetry or beauty, and
distinguishes it inexplicably and inevitably from all that is but a
little lower than the highest.

   Les aigles sur les bords du Gange et du Caystre
           Sont effrayants;
   Rien de grand qui ne soit confusement sinistre;
           Les noirs paeans,

   Les psaumes, la chanson monstrueuse du mage
           Ezechiel,
   Font devant notre oeil fixe errer la vague image
           D'un affreux ciel.

   L'empyree est l'abime, on y plonge, on y reste
           Avec terreur.
   Car planer, c'est trembler; si l'azur est celeste,
           C'est par l'horreur.

   L'epouvante est au fond des choses les plus belles;
           Les bleus vallons
   Font parfois reculer d'effroi les fauves ailes
           Des aquilons.

And even in comedy as in tragedy, in prosaic even as in prophetic
inspiration, in imitative as in imaginative works of genius, the
sovereign of modern poets has detected the same touch of terror wherever
the deepest note possible has been struck, the fullest sense possible of
genuine and peculiar power conveyed to the student of lyric or dramatic,
epic or elegiac masters.

   De la tant de beautes difformes dans leurs oeuvres;
           Le vers charmant
   Est par la torsion subite des couleuvres
           Pris brusquement;

   A de certains moments toutes les jeunes flores
           Dans la foret
   Out peur, et sur le front des blanches metaphores
           L'ombre apparait;

   C'est qu'Horace ou Virgile out vu soudain le spectre
           Noir se dresser;
   C'est que la-bas, derriere Amaryllis, Electre
           Vient de passer.

Nor was it the Electra of Sophocles, the calm and impassive accomplice
of an untroubled and unhesitating matricide, who showed herself ever in
passing to the intent and serious vision of Webster. By those candid
and sensible judges to whom the praise of Marlowe seems to imply a
reflection on the fame of Shakespeare, I may be accused--and by such
critics I am content to be accused--of a fatuous design to set Webster
beside Sophocles, or Sophocles--for aught I know--beneath Webster, if
I venture to indicate the superiority in truth of natural passion--and,
I must add, of moral instinct--which distinguishes the modern from
the ancient. It is not, it never will be, and it never can have been
natural for noble and civilized creatures to accept with spontaneous
complacency, to discharge with unforced equanimity, such offices or such
duties as weigh so lightly on the spirit of the Sophoclean Orestes that
the slaughter of a mother seems to be a less serious undertaking for his
unreluctant hand than the subsequent execution of her paramour. The
immeasurable superiority of Aeschylus to his successors in this quality
of instinctive righteousness--if a word long vulgarized by theology may
yet be used in its just and natural sense--is shared no less by Webster
than by Shakespeare. The grave and deep truth of natural impulse is
never ignored by these poets when dealing either with innocent or with
criminal passion: but it surely is now and then ignored by the artistic
quietism of Sophocles--as surely as it is outraged and degraded by the
vulgar theatricalities of Euripides. Thomas Campbell was amused and
scandalized by the fact that Webster (as he is pleased to express it)
modestly compares himself to the playwright last mentioned; being
apparently of opinion that "Hippolytus" and "Medea" may be reckoned
equal or superior, as works of tragic art or examples of ethical
elevation, to "The White Devil" and "The Duchess of Malfy"; and being no
less apparently ignorant, and incapable of understanding, that as there
is no poet morally nobler than Webster so is there no poet ignobler in
the moral sense than Euripides: while as a dramatic artist--an artist in
character, action, and emotion--the degenerate tragedian of Athens,
compared to the second tragic dramatist of England, is as a mutilated
monkey to a well-made man. No better test of critical faculty could be
required by the most exacting scrutiny of probation than is afforded by
the critic's professed or professional estimate of those great poets
whose names are not consecrated--or desecrated--by the conventional
applause, the factitious adoration, of a tribunal whose judgments are
dictated by obsequious superstition and unanimous incompetence. When
certain critics inform a listening world that they do not admire
Marlowe and Webster--they admire Shakespeare and Milton, we know at once
that it is not the genius of Shakespeare--it is the reputation of
Shakespeare that they admire. It is not the man that they bow down to:
it is the bust that they crouch down before. They would worship Shirley
as soon as Shakespeare--Glover as soon as Milton--Byron as soon as
Shelley--Ponsard as soon as Hugo--Longfellow as soon as Tennyson--if the
tablet were as showily emblazoned, the inscription as pretentiously
engraved.

The nobility of spirit and motive which is so distinguishing a mark of
Webster's instinctive genius or natural disposition of mind is proved by
his treatment of facts placed on record by contemporary annalists in the
tragic story of Vittoria Accoramboni, Duchess of Bracciano. That story
would have been suggestive, if not tempting, to any dramatic poet: and
almost any poet but Shakespeare or Webster would have been content to
accept the characters and circumstances as they stood nakedly on record,
and adapt them to the contemporary stage of England with such dexterity
and intelligence as he might be able to command. But, as Shakespeare
took the savage legend of Hamlet, the brutal story of Othello, and
raised them from the respective levels of the Heimskringla and the
Newgate Calendar to the very highest "heaven of invention," so has
Webster transmuted the impressive but repulsive record of villanies and
atrocities, in which he discovered the motive for a magnificent poem,
into the majestic and pathetic masterpiece which is one of the most
triumphant and the most memorable achievements of English poetry. If, in
his play, as in the legal or historic account of the affair, the whole
family of the heroine had appeared unanimous and eager in complicity
with her sins and competition for a share in the profits of her
dishonor, the tragedy might still have been as effective as it is now
from the theatrical or sensational point of view; it might have thrilled
the reader's nerves as keenly, have excited and stimulated his
curiosity, have whetted and satiated his appetite for transient emotion,
as thoroughly and triumphantly as now. But it would have been merely a
criminal melodrama, compiled by the labor and vivified by the talent of
an able theatrical journeyman. The one great follower of
Shakespeare--"haud passibus aequis" at all points; "longo sed proximus
intervallo"--has recognized, with Shakespearean accuracy and delicacy
and elevation of instinct, the necessity of ennobling and transfiguring
his characters if their story was to be made acceptable to the
sympathies of any but an idle or an ignoble audience. And he has done so
after the very manner and in the very spirit of Shakespeare. The noble
creatures of his invention give to the story that dignity and variety of
interest without which the most powerful romance or drama can be but an
example of vigorous vulgarity. The upright and high-minded mother and
brother of the shameless Flamineo and the shame-stricken Vittoria
refresh and purify the tragic atmosphere of the poem by the passing
presence of their virtues. The shallow and fiery nature of the fair
White Devil herself is a notable example of the difference so accurately
distinguished by Charlotte Bronte between an impressionable and an
impressible character. Ambition, self-interest, passion, remorse, and
hardihood alternate and contend in her impetuous and wayward spirit. The
one distinct and trustworthy quality which may always be reckoned on is
the indomitable courage underlying her easily irritable emotions. Her
bearing at the trial for her husband's murder is as dexterous and
dauntless as the demeanor of Mary Stuart before her judges. To Charles
Lamb it seemed "an innocence-resembling boldness"; to Mr. Dyce and Canon
Kingsley the innocence displayed in Lamb's estimate seemed almost
ludicrous in its misconception of Webster's text. I should hesitate to
agree with them that he has never once made his accused heroine speak in
the natural key of innocence unjustly impeached: Mary's pleading for her
life is not at all points incompatible in tone with the innocence which
it certainly fails to establish--except in minds already made up to
accept any plea as valid which may plausibly or possibly be advanced on
her behalf; and the arguments advanced by Vittoria are not more evasive
and equivocal, in face of the patent and flagrant prepossession of her
judges, than those put forward by the Queen of Scots. It is impossible
not to wonder whether the poet had not in his mind the actual tragedy
which had taken place just twenty-five years before the publication of
this play: if not, the coincidence is something more than singular. The
fierce profligacy and savage egotism of Brachiano have a certain energy
and activity in the display and the development of their motives and
effects which suggest rather such a character as Bothwell's than such a
character as that of the bloated and stolid sensualist who stands or
grovels before us in the historic record of his life. As presented by
Webster, he is doubtless an execrable ruffian: as presented by history,
he would be intolerable by any but such readers or spectators as those
on whom the figments or the photographs of self-styled naturalism
produce other than emetic emotions. Here again the noble instinct of the
English poet has rectified the aesthetic unseemliness of an ignoble
reality. This "Brachiano" is a far more living figure than the porcine
paramour of the historic Accoramboni. I am not prepared to maintain that
in one scene too much has not been sacrificed to immediate vehemence of
effect. The devotion of the discarded wife, who to shelter her Antony
from the vengeance of Octavius assumes the mask of raging jealousy, thus
taking upon herself the blame and responsibility of their final
separation, is expressed with such consummate and artistic simplicity of
power that on a first reading the genius of the dramatist may well blind
us to the violent unlikelihood of the action. But this very extravagance
of self-sacrifice may be thought by some to add a crowning touch of
pathos to the unsurpassable beauty of the scene in which her child,
after the murder of his mother, relates her past sufferings to his
uncle. Those to whom the great name of Webster represents merely an
artist in horrors, a ruffian of genius, may be recommended to study
every line and syllable of this brief dialogue:

   _Francisco_. How now, my noble cousin? what, in black?

   _Giovanni_. Yes, uncle, I was taught to imitate you
   In virtue, and you [? now] must imitate me
   In colors of your garments. My sweet mother
   Is--

   _Francisco_. How! where?

   _Giovanni_. Is there; no, yonder: indeed, sir, I'll not tell you,
   For I shall make you weep.

   _Francisco_. Is dead?

   _Giovanni_. Do not blame me now,
   I did not tell you so.

   _Lodovico_. She's dead, my lord.

   _Francisco_. Dead!

   _Monticelso_. Blest lady, thou art now above thy woes!

       *       *       *       *       *

   _Giovanni_. What do the dead do, uncle? do they eat,
   Hear music, go a-hunting, and be merry,
   As we that live?

   _Francisco_. No, coz; they sleep.

   _Giovanni_. Lord, Lord, that I were dead!
   I have not slept these six nights.--When do they wake?

   _Francisco_. When God shall please.

   _Giovanni_. Good God, let her sleep ever!
   For I have known her wake an hundred nights
   When all the pillow where she laid her head
   Was brine-wet with her tears. I am to complain to you, sir;
   I'll tell you how they have used her now she's dead:
   They wrapped her in a cruel fold of lead,
   And would not let me kiss her.

   _Francisco_. Thou didst love her.

   _Giovanni_. I have often heard her say she gave me suck,
   And it should seem by that she dearly loved me,
   Since princes seldom do it.

   _Francisco_. O, all of my poor sister that remains!--
   Take him away, for God's sake!

I must admit that I do not see how Shakespeare could have improved upon
that. It seems to me that in any one of even his greatest tragedies this
scene would have been remarkable among its most beautiful and perfect
passages; nor, upon the whole, do I remember a third English poet who
could be imagined capable of having written it. And it affords, I think,
very clear and sufficient evidence that Webster could not have handled
so pathetic and suggestive a subject as the execution of Lady Jane Grey
and her young husband in a style so thin and feeble, so shallow in
expression of pathos and so empty of suggestion or of passion, as that
in which it is presented at the close of "Sir Thomas Wyatt."

There is a perfect harmony of contrast between this and the death scene
of the boy's father: the agony of the murdered murderer is as superb in
effect of terror as the sorrow of his son is exquisite in effect of
pathos. Again we are reminded of Shakespeare, by no touch of imitation
but simply by a note of kinship in genius and in style, at the cry of
Brachiano under the first sharp workings of the poison:

   O thou strong heart!
   There's such a covenant 'tween the world and it,
   They're loath to break.

Another stroke well worthy of Shakespeare is the redeeming touch of
grace in this brutal and cold-blooded ruffian which gives him in his
agony a thought of tender care for the accomplice of his atrocities:

   Do not kiss me, for I shall poison thee.

Few instances of Webster's genius are so well known as the brief but
magnificent passage which follows; yet it may not be impertinent to cite
it once again:

   _Brachiano_. O thou soft natural death, that art joint twin
   To sweetest slumber! no rough-bearded comet
   Stares on thy mild departure; the dull owl
   Beats not against thy casement; the hoarse wolf
   Scents not thy carrion; pity winds thy corpse,
   Whilst horror waits on princes.

   _Vittoria_. I am lost forever.

   _Brachiano_. How miserable a thing it is to die
   'Mongst women howling!--What are those?

   _Flamineo_. Franciscans:
   They have brought the extreme unction.

   _Brachiano_. On pain of death, let no man name death to me;
   It is a word [? most] infinitely terrible.

The very tremor of moral and physical abjection from nervous defiance
into prostrate fear which seems to pant and bluster and quail and
subside in the natural cadence of these lines would suffice to prove the
greatness of the artist who could express it with such terrible
perfection: but when we compare it, by collation of the two scenes, with
the deep simplicity of tenderness, the child-like accuracy of innocent
emotion, in the passage previously cited, it seems to me that we must
admit, as an unquestionable truth, that in the deepest and highest and
purest qualities of tragic poetry Webster stands nearer to Shakespeare
than any other English poet stands to Webster; and so much nearer as to
be a good second; while it is at least questionable whether even Shelley
can reasonably be accepted as a good third. Not one among the
predecessors, contemporaries, or successors of Shakespeare and Webster
has given proof of this double faculty--this coequal mastery of terror
and pity, undiscolored and undistorted, but vivified and glorified, by
the splendor of immediate and infallible imagination. The most
grovelling realism could scarcely be so impudent in stupidity as to
pretend an aim at more perfect presentation of truth; the most fervent
fancy, the most sensitive taste, could hardly dream of a desire for more
exquisite expression of natural passion in a form of utterance more
naturally exalted and refined.

In all the vast and voluminous records of critical error there can be
discovered no falsehood more foolish or more flagrant than the vulgar
tradition which represents this high-souled and gentle-hearted poet as
one morbidly fascinated by a fantastic attraction toward the "violent
delights" of horror and the nervous or sensational excitements of
criminal detail; nor can there be conceived a more perverse or futile
misapprehension than that which represents John Webster as one whose
instinct led him by some obscure and oblique propensity to darken the
darkness of southern crime or vice by an infusion of northern
seriousness, of introspective cynicism and reflective intensity in
wrong-doing, into the easy levity and infantile simplicity of
spontaneous wickedness which distinguished the moral and social
corruption of renascent Italy. Proof enough of this has already been
adduced to make any protestation or appeal against such an estimate as
preposterous in its superfluity as the misconception just mentioned is
preposterous in its perversity. The great if not incomparable power
displayed in Webster's delineation of such criminals as Flamineo and
Bosola--Bonapartes in the bud, Napoleons in a nutshell, Caesars who have
missed their Rubicon and collapse into the likeness of a Catiline--is a
sign rather of his noble English loathing for the traditions associated
with such names as Caesar and Medici and Borgia, Catiline and Iscariot
and Napoleon, than of any sympathetic interest in such incarnations of
historic crime. Flamineo especially, the ardent pimp, the enthusiastic
pandar, who prostitutes his sister and assassinates his brother with
such earnest and single-hearted devotion to his own straightforward
self-interest, has in him a sublime fervor of rascality which recalls
rather the man of Brumaire and of Waterloo than the man of December and
of Sedan. He has something too of Napoleon's ruffianly good-humor--the
frankness of a thieves' kitchen or an imperial court, when the last thin
fig-leaf of pretence has been plucked off and crumpled up and flung
away. We can imagine him pinching his favorites by the ear and dictating
memorials of mendacity with the self-possession of a self-made monarch.
As it is, we see him only in the stage of parasite and pimp--more like
the hired husband of a cast-off Creole than the resplendent rogue who
fascinated even history for a time by the clamor and glitter of his
triumphs. But the fellow is unmistakably an emperor in the egg--so
dauntless and frontless in the very abjection of his villany that we
feel him to have been defrauded by mischance of the only two
destinations appropriate for the close of his career--a gibbet or a
throne.

This imperial quality of ultimate perfection in egotism and crowning
complacency in crime is wanting to his brother in atrocity, the most
notable villain who figures on the stage of Webster's latest
masterpiece. Bosola is not quite a possible Bonaparte; he is not even on
a level with the bloody hirelings who execute the orders of tyranny and
treason with the perfunctory atrocity of Anicetus or Saint-Arnaud. There
is not, or I am much mistaken, a touch of imaginative poetry in the part
of Flamineo: his passion, excitable on occasion and vehement enough is
as prosaic in its homely and cynical eloquence as the most fervent
emotions of a Napoleon or an Iago when warmed or goaded into elocution.
The one is a human snake, the other is a human wolf. Webster could not
with equal propriety have put into the mouth of Flamineo such
magnificent lyric poetry as seems to fall naturally, however suddenly
and strangely, from the bitter and blood-thirsty tongue of Bosola. To
him, as to the baffled and incoherent ruffian Romelio in the
contemporary play of "The Devil's Law-case," his creator has assigned
the utterance of such verse as can only be compared to that uttered by
Cornelia over the body of her murdered son in the tragedy to which I
have just given so feeble and inadequate a word of tribute. In his
command and in his use of the metre first made fashionable by the
graceful improvisations of Greene, Webster seems to me as original and
as peculiar as in his grasp and manipulation of character and event. All
other poets, Shakespeare no less than Barnfield and Milton no less than
Wither, have used this lyric instrument for none but gentle or gracious
ends: Webster has breathed into it the power to express a sublimer and a
profounder tone of emotion; he has given it the cadence and the color of
tragedy; he has touched and transfigured its note of meditative music
into a chord of passionate austerity and prophetic awe. This was the key
in which all previous poets had played upon the metre which Webster was
to put to so deeply different an use.

   Walking in a valley greene,
   Spred with Flora summer queene:
   Where shee heaping all hir graces,
   Niggard seem'd in other places:
   Spring it was, and here did spring
   All that nature forth can bring.

   (_Tullies Loue_, p. 53, ed. 1589.)


   Nights were short, and daies were long;
   Blossoms on the Hauthorns hung:
   Philomele (Night-Musiques King)
   Tolde the comming of the spring.

   (_Grosart's Barnfield_ [1876], p. 97.)

   On a day (alack the day!)
   Love, whose month is ever May,
   Spied a blossom passing fair
   Playing in the wanton air.

   (_Love's Labor's Lost_, act iv., sc. iii.)

And now let us hear Webster.

   Hearke, now every thing is still,
   The Scritch-Owle, and the whistler shrill,
   Call upon our Dame, aloud,
   And bid her quickly don her shrowd:
   Much you had of Land and rent,
   Your length in clay's now competent.
   A long war disturb'd your minde,
   Here your perfect peace is sign'd.
   Of what is't, fooles make such vaine keeping?
   Sin their conception, their birth, weeping:
   Their life, a generall mist of error,
   Their death, a hideous storme of terror.
   Strew your haire with powders sweete:
   Don cleane linnen, bath[e] your feete,
   And (the foule feend more to checke)
   A crucifixe let blesse your necke:
   'Tis now full tide 'tweene night and day,
   End your groane, and come away.

   (_The Tragedy of the Dutchesse of Malfy_: 1623: sig. K, K 2.)

The toll of the funereal rhythm, the heavy chime of the solemn and
simple verse, the mournful menace and the brooding presage of its note,
are but the covering, as it were, or the outer expression, of the tragic
significance which deepens and quickens and kindles to its close.
Aeschylus and Dante have never excelled, nor perhaps have Sophocles and
Shakespeare ever equalled in impression of terrible effect, the fancy of
bidding a live woman array herself in the raiment of the grave, and do
for her own living body the offices done for a corpse by the ministers
attendant on the dead.

The murderous humorist whose cynical inspiration gives life to these
deadly lines is at first sight a less plausible, but on second thoughts
may perhaps seem no less possible a character than Flamineo. Pure and
simple ambition of the Napoleonic order is the motive which impels into
infamy the aspiring parasite of Brachiano: a savage melancholy inflames
the baffled greed of Bosola to a pitch of wickedness not unqualified by
relenting touches of profitless remorse, which come always either too
early or too late to bear any serviceable fruit of compassion or
redemption. There is no deeper or more Shakespearean stroke of tragic
humor in all Webster's writings than that conveyed in the scornful and
acute reply--almost too acute perhaps for the character--of Bosola's
remorseless patron to the remonstrance or appeal of his instrument
against the insatiable excess and persistence of his cruelty: "Thy pity
is nothing akin to thee." He has more in common with Romelio in "The
Devil's Law-case," an assassin who misses his aim and flounders into
penitence much as that discomfortable drama misses its point and
stumbles into vacuity: and whose unsatisfactory figure looks either like
a crude and unsuccessful study for that of Bosola, or a disproportioned
and emasculated copy from it. But to him too Webster has given the
fitful force of fancy or inspiration which finds expression in such
sudden snatches of funereal verse as this:

   How then can any monument say
   "Here rest these bones till the last day,"
   When Time, swift both of foot and feather,
   May bear them the sexton kens not whither?
   What care I, then, though my last sleep
   Be in the desert or the deep,
   No lamp nor taper, day and night,
   To give my charnel chargeable light?
   I have there like quantity of ground,
   And at the last day I shall be found.

The villanous laxity of versification which deforms the grim and
sardonic beauty of these occasionally rough and halting lines is
perceptible here and there in "The Duchess of Malfy," but comes to its
head in "The Devil's Law-case." It cannot, I fear, be denied that
Webster was the first to relax those natural bonds of noble metre "whose
service is perfect freedom"--as Shakespeare found it, and combined with
perfect loyalty to its law the most perfect liberty of living and
sublime and spontaneous and accurate expression. I can only conjecture
that this greatest of the Shakespeareans was misguided out of his
natural line of writing as exemplified and perfected in the tragedy of
Vittoria, and lured into this cross and crooked by-way of immetrical
experiment, by the temptation of some theory or crotchet on the score of
what is now called naturalism or realism; which, if there were any real
or natural weight in the reasoning that seeks to support it, would of
course do away, and of course ought to do away, with dramatic poetry
altogether: for if it is certain that real persons do not actually
converse in good metre, it is happily no less certain that they do not
actually converse in bad metre. In the hands of so great a tragic poet
as Webster a peculiar and impressive effect may now and then be produced
by this anomalous and illegitimate way of writing; it certainly suits
well with the thoughtful and fantastic truculence of Bosola's
reflections on death and dissolution and decay--his "talk fit for a
charnel," which halts and hovers between things hideous and things
sublime. But it is a step on the downward way that leads to the negation
or the confusion of all distinctions between poetry and prose; a result
to which it would be grievous to think that the example of Shakespeare's
greatest contemporary should in any way appear to conduce.

The doctrine or the motive of chance (whichever we may prefer to call
it) is seen in its fullest workings and felt in its furthest bearings by
the student of Webster's masterpiece. The fifth act of "The Duchess of
Malfy" has been assailed on the very ground which it should have been
evident to a thoughtful and capable reader that the writer must have
intended to take up--on the ground that the whole upshot of the story is
dominated by sheer chance, arranged by mere error, and guided by pure
accident. No formal scheme or religious principle of retribution would
have been so strangely or so thoroughly in keeping with the whole scheme
and principle of the tragedy. After the overwhelming terrors and the
overpowering beauties of that unique and marvellous fourth act, in which
the genius of this poet spreads its fullest and its darkest wing for the
longest and the strongest of its flights, it could not but be that the
subsequent action and passion of the drama should appear by comparison
unimpressive or ineffectual; but all the effect or impression possible
of attainment under the inevitable burden of this difficulty is achieved
by natural and simple and straightforward means. If Webster has not
made the part of Antonio dramatically striking and attractive--as he
probably found it impossible to do--he has at least bestowed on the
fugitive and unconscious widower of his murdered heroine a pensive and
manly grace of deliberate resignation which is not without pathetic as
well as poetical effect. In the beautiful and well-known scene where the
echo from his wife's unknown and new-made grave seems to respond to his
meditative mockery and forewarn him of his impending death, Webster has
given such reality and seriousness to an old commonplace of contemporary
fancy or previous fashion in poetry that we are fain to forget the
fantastic side of the conception and see only the tragic aspect of its
meaning. A weightier objection than any which can be brought against the
conduct of the play might be suggested to the minds of some readers--and
these, perhaps, not too exacting or too captious readers--by the sudden
vehemence of transformation which in the great preceding act seems to
fall like fire from heaven upon the two chief criminals who figure on
the stage of murder. It seems rather a miraculous retribution, a
judicial violation of the laws of nature, than a reasonably credible
consequence or evolution of those laws, which strikes Ferdinand with
madness and Bosola with repentance. But the whole atmosphere of the
action is so charged with thunder that this double and simultaneous
shock of moral electricity rather thrills us with admiration and faith
than chills us with repulsion or distrust. The passionate intensity and
moral ardor of imagination which we feel to vibrate and penetrate
through every turn and every phrase of the dialogue would suffice to
enforce upon our belief a more nearly incredible revolution of nature or
revulsion of the soul.

It is so difficult for even the very greatest poets to give any vivid
force of living interest to a figure of passive endurance that perhaps
the only instance of perfect triumph over this difficulty is to be found
in the character of Desdemona. Shakespeare alone could have made her as
interesting as Imogen or Cordelia; though these have so much to do and
dare, and she after her first appearance has simply to suffer: even
Webster could not give such individual vigor of characteristic life to
the figure of his martyr as to the figure of his criminal heroine. Her
courage and sweetness, her delicacy and sincerity, her patience and her
passion, are painted with equal power and tenderness of touch: yet she
hardly stands before us as distinct from others of her half-angelic
sisterhood as does the White Devil from the fellowship of her comrades
in perdition. But if, as we may assuredly assume, it was on the
twenty-third "nouell" of William Painter's _Palace of Pleasure_ that
Webster's crowning masterpiece was founded, the poet's moral and
spiritual power of transfiguration is here even more admirable than in
the previous case of his other and wellnigh coequally consummate poem.
The narrative degrades and brutalizes the widowed heroine's affection
for her second husband to the actual level of the vile conception which
the poet attributes and confines to the foul imagination of her envious
and murderous brothers. Here again, and finally and supremely here, the
purifying and exalting power of Webster's noble and magnanimous
imagination is gloriously unmistakable by all and any who have eyes to
read and hearts to recognize.

For it is only with Shakespeare that Webster can ever be compared in any
way to his disadvantage as a tragic poet: above all others of his
country he stands indisputably supreme. The place of Marlowe indeed is
higher among our poets by right of his primacy as a founder and a
pioneer: but of course his work has not--as of course it could not
have--that plenitude and perfection of dramatic power in construction
and dramatic subtlety in detail which the tragedies of Webster share in
so large a measure with the tragedies of Shakespeare. Marston, the poet
with whom he has most in common, might almost be said to stand in the
same relation to Webster as Webster to Shakespeare. In single lines and:
phrases, in a few detached passages and a very few distinguishable
scenes, he is worthy to be compared with the greater poet; he suddenly
rises and dilates to the stature and the strength of a model whom
usually he can but follow afar off. Marston, as a tragic poet, is not
quite what Webster would be if his fame depended simply on such scenes
as those in which the noble mother of Vittoria breaks off her daughter's
first interview with Brachiano--spares, and commends to God's
forgiveness, the son who has murdered his brother before her eyes--and
lastly appears "in several forms of distraction," "grown a very old
woman in two hours," and singing that most pathetic and imaginative of
all funereal invocations which the finest critic of all time so justly
and so delicately compared to the watery dirge of Ariel. There is less
refinement, less exaltation and perfection of feeling, less tenderness
of emotion and less nobility of passion, but hardly less force and
fervor, less weighty and sonorous ardor of expression, in the very best
and loftiest passages of Marston: but his genius is more uncertain, more
fitful and intermittent, less harmonious, coherent, and trustworthy than
Webster's. And Webster, notwithstanding an occasional outbreak into
Aristophanic license of momentary sarcasm through the sardonic lips of
such a cynical ruffian as Ferdinand or Plamineo, is without exception
the cleanliest, as Marston is beyond comparison the coarsest writer of
his time. In this as in other matters of possible comparison that
"vessel of deathless wrath," the implacable and inconsolable poet of
sympathy half maddened into rage and aspiration goaded backward to
despair--it should be needless to add the name of Cyril Tourneur--stands
midway between these two more conspicuous figures of their age. But
neither the father and master of poetic pessimists, the splendid and
sombre creator of Vindice and his victims, nor any other third whom our
admiration may discern among all the greatest of their fellows, can be
compared with Webster on terms more nearly equal than those on which
Webster stands in relation to the sovereign of them all.



THOMAS DEKKER


Of all English poets, if not of all poets on, record, Dekker is perhaps
the most difficult to classify. The grace and delicacy, the sweetness
and spontaneity of his genius are not more obvious and undeniable than
the many defects which impair and the crowning deficiency which degrades
it. As long, but so long only, as a man retains some due degree of
self-respect and respect for the art he serves or the business he
follows, it matters less for his fame in the future than for his
prosperity in the present whether he retains or discards any vestige of
respect for any other obligation in the world. Francois Villon, compared
with whom all other reckless and disreputable men of genius seem
patterns of austere decency and elevated regularity of life, was as
conscientious and self-respectful an artist as a Virgil or a Tennyson:
he is not a great poet only, but one of the most blameless, the most
perfect, the most faultless among his fellows in the first class of
writers for all time. If not in that class, yet high in the class
immediately beneath it, the world would long since have agreed to enrol
the name of Thomas Dekker, had he not wanted that one gift which next to
genius is the most indispensable for all aspirants to a station among
the masters of creative literature. For he was by nature at once a
singer and a maker: he had the gift of native music and the birthright
of inborn invention. His song was often sweet as honey; his fancy
sometimes as rich and subtle, his imagination as delicate and strong, as
that of the very greatest among dramatists or poets. For gentle grace of
inspiration and vivid force of realism he is eclipsed at his very best
by Shakespeare's self alone. No such combination or alternation of such
admirable powers is discernible in any of his otherwise more splendid or
sublime compeers. And in one gift, the divine gift of tenderness, he
comes nearer to Shakespeare and stands higher above others than in any
other quality of kindred genius.

And with all these gifts, if the vulgar verdict of his own day and of
later days be not less valid than vulgar, he was a failure. There is a
pathetic undertone of patience and resignation not unqualified by manly
though submissive regret, which recurs now and then, or seems to recur,
in the personal accent of his subdued and dignified appeal to the
casual reader, suggestive of a sense that the higher triumphs of art,
the brighter prosperities of achievement, were not reserved for him; and
yet not unsuggestive of a consciousness that, if this be so, it is not
so through want of the primal and essential qualities of a poet. For, as
Lamb says, Dekker "had poetry enough for anything"; at all events, for
anything which can be accomplished by a poet endowed in the highest
degree with the gifts of graceful and melodious fancy, tender and
cordial humor, vivid and pathetic realism, a spontaneous refinement and
an exquisite simplicity of expression. With the one great gift of
seriousness, of noble ambition, of self-confidence rooted in
self-respect, he must have won an indisputable instead of a questionable
place among the immortal writers of his age. But this gift had been so
absolutely withheld from him by nature or withdrawn from him by
circumstance that he has left us not one single work altogether worthy
of the powers now revealed and now eclipsed, now suddenly radiant and
now utterly extinct, in the various and voluminous array of his
writings. Although his earlier plays are in every way superior to his
later, there is evidence even in the best of them of the author's
infirmity of hand. From the first he shows himself idly or perversely or
impotently prone to loosen his hold on character and story alike before
his plot can be duly carried out or his conceptions adequately
developed. His "pleasant Comedie of 'The Gentle Craft,'" first printed
three years before the death of Queen Elizabeth, is one of his brightest
and most coherent pieces of work, graceful and lively throughout, if
rather thin-spun and slight of structure: but the more serious and
romantic part of the action is more lightly handled than the broad light
comedy of the mad and merry Lord Mayor Simon Eyre, a figure in the main
original and humorous enough, but somewhat over-persistent in
ostentation and repetition of jocose catch-words after the fashion of
mine host of the Garter; a type which Shakespeare knew better than to
repeat, but of which his inferiors seem to have been enamoured beyond
all reason. In this fresh and pleasant little play there are few or no
signs of the author's higher poetic abilities: the style is pure and
sweet, simple and spontaneous, without any hint of a quality not
required by the subject: but in the other play of Dekker's which bears
the same date as this one his finest and rarest gifts of imagination and
emotion, feeling and fancy, color and melody, are as apparent as his
ingrained faults of levity and laziness. The famous passage in which
Webster couples together the names of "Mr. Shakespeare, Mr. Dekker, and
Mr. Heywood," seems explicable when we compare the style of "Old
Fortunatus" with the style of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Dekker had as
much of the peculiar sweetness, the gentle fancy, the simple melody of
Shakespeare in his woodland dress, as Heywood of the homely and noble
realism, the heartiness and humor, the sturdy sympathy and joyful pride
of Shakespeare in his most English mood of patriotic and historic
loyalty. Not that these qualities are wanting in the work of Dekker: he
was an ardent and a combative patriot, ever ready to take up the cudgels
in prose or rhyme for England and her yeomen against Popery and the
world: but it is rather the man than the poet who speaks on these
occasions: his singing faculty does not apply itself so naturally to
such work as to the wild wood-notes of passion and fancy and pathos
which in his happiest moments, even when they remind us of
Shakespeare's, provoke no sense of unworthiness or inequality in
comparison with these. It is not with the most popular and famous names
of his age that the sovereign name of Shakespeare is most properly or
most profitably to be compared. His genius has really far less in common
with that of Jonson or of Fletcher than with that of Webster or of
Dekker. To the last-named poet even Lamb was for once less than just
when he said of the "frantic Lover" in "Old Fortunatus" that "he talks
pure Biron and Romeo; he is almost as poetical as they." The word
"almost" should be supplanted by the word "fully"; and the criticism
would then be no less adequate than apt. Sidney himself might have
applauded the verses which clothe with living music a passion as fervent
and as fiery a fancy as his own. Not even in the rapturous melodies of
that matchless series of songs and sonnets which glorify the inseparable
names of Astrophel and Stella will the fascinated student find a passage
more enchanting than this:

   Thou art a traitor to that white and red
     Which sitting on her cheeks (being Cupid's throne)
   Is my heart's sovereign: O, when she is dead,
     This wonder, Beauty, shall be found in none.
   Now Agripyne's not mine, I vow to be
   In love with nothing but deformity.
   O fair Deformity, I muse all eyes
   Are not enamoured of thee: thou didst never
   Murder men's hearts, or let them pine like wax,
   Melting against the sun of thy disdain;[1]
   Thou art a faithful nurse to Chastity;
   Thy beauty is not like to Agripyne's,
   For cares, and age, and sickness, hers deface,
   But thine's eternal: O Deformity,
   Thy fairness is not like to Agripyne's,
   For, dead, her beauty will no beauty have,
   But thy face looks most lovely in the grave.

   [Footnote 1: As even Lamb allowed the meaningless and immetrical
   word "destiny" to stand at the end of this line in place of the
   obviously right reading, it is not wonderful that all later editors
   of this passage should hitherto have done so.]

Shakespeare has nothing more exquisite in expression of passionate
fancy, more earnest in emotion, more spontaneous in simplicity, more
perfect in romantic inspiration. But the poet's besetting sin of laxity,
his want of seriousness and steadiness, his idle, shambling, shifty way
of writing, had power even then, in the very prime of his promise, to
impede his progress and impair his chance of winning the race which he
had set himself--and yet which he had hardly set himself--to run. And if
these things were done in the green tree, it was only too obvious what
would be done in the dry; it must have been clear that this
golden-tongued and gentle-hearted poet had not strength of spirit or
fervor of ambition enough to put conscience into his work and resolution
into his fancies. But even from such headlong recklessness as he had
already displayed no reader could have anticipated so singular a
defiance of all form and order, all coherence and proportion, as is
exhibited in his "Satiromastix." The controversial part of the play is
so utterly alien from the romantic part that it is impossible to regard
them as component factors of the same original plot. It seems to me
unquestionable that Dekker must have conceived the design, and probable
that he must have begun the composition, of a serious play on the
subject of William Rufus and Sir Walter Tyrrel, before the appearance of
Ben Jonson's "Poetaster" impelled or instigated him to some immediate
attempt at rejoinder; and that being in a feverish hurry to retort the
blow inflicted on him by a heavier hand than his own he devised--perhaps
between jest and earnest--the preposterously incoherent plan of piecing
out his farcical and satirical design by patching and stitching it into
his unfinished scheme of tragedy. It may be assumed, and it is much to
be hoped, that there never existed another poet capable of
imagining--much less of perpetrating--an incongruity so monstrous and so
perverse. The explanation so happily suggested by a modern critic that
William Rufus is meant for Shakespeare, and that "Lyly is Sir Vaughan ap
Rees," wants only a little further development, on the principle of
analogy, to commend itself to every scholar. It is equally obvious that
the low-bred and foul-mouthed ruffian Captain Tucca must be meant for
Sir Philip Sidney; the vulgar idiot Asinius Bubo for Lord Bacon; the
half-witted underling Peter Flash for Sir Walter Raleigh; and the
immaculate Celestina, who escapes by stratagem and force of virtue from
the villanous designs of Shakespeare, for the lady long since indicated
by the perspicacity of a Chalmers as the object of that lawless and
desperate passion which found utterance in the sonnets of her
unprincipled admirer--Queen Elizabeth. As a previous suggestion of my
own, to the effect that George Peele was probably the real author of
"Romeo and Juliet," has had the singular good-fortune to be not merely
adopted but appropriated--in serious earnest--by a contemporary student,
without--- as far as I am aware--a syllable of acknowledgment, I cannot
but anticipate a similar acceptance in similar quarters for the modest
effort at interpretation now submitted to the judgment of the ingenuous
reader.

Gifford is not too severe on the palpable incongruities of Dekker's
preposterous medley: but his impeachment of Dekker as a more virulent
and intemperate controversialist than Jonson is not less preposterous
than the structure of this play. The nobly gentle and manly verses in
which the less fortunate and distinguished poet disclaims and refutes
the imputation of envy or malevolence excited by the favor enjoyed by
his rival in high quarters should have sufficed, in common justice, to
protect him from such a charge. There is not a word in Jonson's satire
expressive of anything but savage and unqualified scorn for his humbler
antagonist: and the tribute paid by that antagonist to his genius, the
appeal to his better nature which concludes the torrent of
recrimination, would have won some word of honorable recognition from
any but the most unscrupulous and ungenerous of partisans. That Dekker
was unable to hold his own against Jonson when it came to sheer hard
hitting--that on the ground or platform of personal satire he was as a
light-weight pitted against a heavy-weight--is of course too plain, from
the very first round, to require any further demonstration. But it is
not less plain that in delicacy and simplicity and sweetness of
inspiration the poet who could write the scene in which the bride takes
poison (as she believes) from the hand of her father, in presence of her
bridegroom, as a refuge from the passion of the king, was as far above
Jonson as Jonson was above him in the robuster qualities of intellect or
genius. This most lovely scene, for pathos tempered with fancy and for
passion distilled in melody, is comparable only with higher work, of
rarer composition and poetry more pure, than Jonson's: it is a very
treasure-house of verses like jewels, bright as tears and sweet as
flowers. When Dekker writes like this, then truly we seem to see his
right hand in the left hand of Shakespeare.

To find the names of Ben Jonson and Thomas Dekker amicably associated in
the composition of a joint poem or pageant within the space of a year
from the publication of so violent a retort by the latter to so vehement
an attack by the former must amuse if it does not astonish the reader
least capable of surprise at the boyish readiness to quarrel and the
boyish readiness to shake hands which would seem to be implied in so
startling a change of relations. In all the huge, costly, wearisome,
barbaric, and pedantic ceremonial which welcomed into London the Solomon
of Scotland, the exhausted student who attempts to follow the ponderous
elaboration of report drawn up by these reconciled enemies will remark
the solid and sedate merit of Jonson's best couplets with less pleasure
than he will receive from the quaint sweetness of Dekker's lyric notes.
Admirable as are many of Ben Jonson's songs for their finish of style
and fulness of matter, it is impossible for those who know what is or
should be the special aim or the distinctive quality of lyric verse to
place him in the first class--much less, in the front rank--of lyric
poets. He is at his best a good way ahead of such song-writers as Byron;
but Dekker at his best belongs to the order of such song-writers as
Blake or Shelley. Perhaps the very finest example of his flawless and
delicate simplicity of excellence in this field of work may be the
well-known song in honor of honest poverty and in praise of honest labor
which so gracefully introduces the heroine of a play published in this
same year of the accession of James--"Patient Grissel"; a romantic
tragicomedy so attractive for its sweetness and lightness of tone and
touch that no reader will question the judgment or condemn the daring of
the poets who ventured upon ground where Chaucer had gone before them
with such gentle stateliness of step and such winning tenderness of
gesture. His deepest note of pathos they have not even attempted to
reproduce: but in freshness and straightforwardness, in frankness and
simplicity of treatment, the dramatic version is not generally unworthy
to be compared with the narrative which it follows afar off.[1] Chettle
and Haughton, the associates of Dekker in this enterprise, had each of
them something of their colleague's finer qualities; but the best scenes
in the play remind me rather of Dekker's best early work than of
"Robert, Earl of Huntington" or of "Englishmen for My Money." So much
has been said of the evil influence of Italian example upon English
character in the age of Elizabeth, and so much has been made of such
confessions or imputations as distinguish the clamorous and malevolent
penitence of Robert Greene, that it is more than agreeable to find at
least one dramatic poet of the time who has the manliness to enter a
frank and contemptuous protest against this habit of malignant
self-excuse. "Italy," says an honest gentleman in this comedy to a lying
and impudent gull, "Italy infects you not, but your own diseased
spirits. Italy? Out, you froth, you scum! because your soul is mud, and
that you have breathed in Italy, you'll say Italy has denied you: away,
you boar: thou wilt wallow in mire in the sweetest country in the
world."

[Footnote 1: I may here suggest a slight emendation in the text of the
spirited and graceful scene with which this play opens. The original
reads:

   So fares it with coy dames, who, great with scorn,
   Shew the care-pined hearts that sue to them.

The word _Shew_ is an obvious misprint--but more probably, I venture to
think, for the word _Shun_ than for the word _Fly_, which is substituted
by Mr. Collier and accepted by Dr. Grosart.]

There are many traces of moral or spiritual weakness and infirmity in
the writings of Dekker and the scattered records or indications of his
unprosperous though not unlaborious career: but there are manifest and
manifold signs of an honest and earnest regard for justice and fair
dealing, as well as of an inexhaustible compassion for suffering, an
indestructible persistency of pity, which found characteristic
expression in the most celebrated of his plays. There is a great gulf
between it and the first of Victor Hugo's tragedies: yet the instinct of
either poet is the same, as surely as their common motive is the
redemption of a fallen woman by the influence of twin-born love and
shame. Of all Dekker's works, "The Honest Whore" comes nearest to some
reasonable degree of unity and harmony in conception and construction;
his besetting vice of reckless and sluttish incoherence has here done
less than usual to deform the proportions and deface the impression of
his design. Indeed, the connection of the two serious plots in the first
part is a rare example of dexterous and happy simplicity in composition:
the comic underplot of the patient man and shrewish wife is more loosely
attached by a slighter thread of relation to these two main stories, but
is so amusing in its light and facile play of inventive merriment and
harmless mischief as to need no further excuse. Such an excuse, however,
might otherwise be found in the plea that it gives occasion for the most
beautiful, the most serious, and the most famous passage in all the
writings of its author. The first scene of this first part has always
appeared to me one of the most effective and impressive on our stage:
the interruption of the mock funeral by the one true mourner whose
passion it was intended to deceive into despair is so striking as a mere
incident or theatrical device that the noble and simple style in which
the graver part of the dialogue is written can be no more than worthy of
the subject: whereas in other plays of Dekker's the style is too often
beneath the merit of the subject, and the subject as often below the
value of the style. The subsequent revival of Infelice from her trance
is represented with such vivid and delicate power that the scene, short
and simple as it is, is one of the most fascinating in any play of the
period. In none of these higher and finer parts of the poem can I trace
the touch of any other hand than the principal author's: but the
shopkeeping scenes of the underplot have at least as much of Middleton's
usual quality as of Dekker's; homely and rough-cast as they are, there
is a certain finish or thoroughness about them which is more like the
careful realism of the former than the slovenly naturalism of the
latter. The coarse commonplaces of the sermon on prostitution by which
Bellafront is so readily and surprisingly reclaimed into respectability
give sufficient and superfluous proof that Dekker had nothing of the
severe and fiery inspiration which makes a great satirist or a great
preacher; but when we pass again into a sweeter air than that of the
boudoir or the pulpit, it is the unmistakable note of Dekker's most
fervent and tender mood of melody which enchants us in such verses as
these, spoken by a lover musing on the portrait of a mistress whose
coffin has been borne before him to the semblance of a grave:

   Of all the roses grafted on her cheeks,
   Of all the graces dancing in her eyes,
   Of all the music set upon her tongue,
   Of all that was past woman's excellence
   In her white bosom, look, a painted board
   Circumscribes all!

Is there any other literature, we are tempted to ask ourselves, in which
the writer of these lines, and of many as sweet and perfect in their
inspired simplicity as these, would be rated no higher among his
countrymen than Thomas Dekker?

From the indisputable fact of Middleton's partnership in this play Mr.
Dyce was induced to assume the very questionable inference of his
partnership in the sequel which was licensed for acting five years
later. To me this second part seems so thoroughly of one piece and one
pattern, so apparently the result of one man's invention and
composition, that without more positive evidence I should hesitate to
assign a share in it to any colleague of the poet under whose name it
first appeared. There are far fewer scenes or passages in this than in
the preceding play which suggest or present themselves for quotation or
selection: the tender and splendid and pensive touches of pathetic or
imaginative poetry which we find in the first part, we shall be
disappointed if we seek in the second: its incomparable claim on our
attention is the fact that it contains the single character in all the
voluminous and miscellaneous works of Dekker which gives its creator an
indisputable right to a place of perpetual honor among the imaginative
humorists of England, and therefore among the memorable artists and
creative workmen of the world. Apart from their claim to remembrance as
poets and dramatists of more or less artistic and executive capacity,
Dekker and Middleton are each of them worthy to be remembered as the
inventor or discoverer of a wholly original, interesting, and natural
type of character, as essentially inimitable as it is undeniably
unimitated: the savage humor and cynic passion of De Flores, the genial
passion and tender humor of Orlando Friscobaldo, are equally lifelike in
the truthfulness and completeness of their distinct and vivid
presentation. The merit of the play in which the character last named
is a leading figure consists mainly or almost wholly in the presentation
of the three principal persons: the reclaimed harlot, now the faithful
and patient wife of her first seducer; the broken-down, ruffianly,
light-hearted and light-headed libertine who has married her; and the
devoted old father who watches in the disguise of a servant over the
changes of her fortune, the sufferings, risks, and temptations which try
the purity of her penitence and confirm the fortitude of her constancy.
Of these three characters I cannot but think that any dramatist who ever
lived might have felt that he had reason to be proud. It is strange that
Charles Lamb, to whom of all critics and all men the pathetic and
humorous charm of the old man's personality might most confidently have
been expected most cordially to appeal, should have left to Hazlitt and
Leigh Hunt the honor of doing justice to so beautiful a creation--the
crowning evidence to the greatness of Dekker's gifts, his power of moral
imagination and his delicacy of dramatic execution. From the first to
the last word of his part the quaint sweet humor of the character is
sustained with an instinctive skill which would do honor to a far more
careful and a far more famous artist than Dekker. The words with which
he receives the false news of his fallen daughter's death: "Dead? my
last and best peace go with her!"--those which he murmurs to himself on
seeing her again after seventeen years of estrangement: "The mother's
own face, I ha' not forgot that"--prepare the way for the admirable
final scene in which his mask of anger drops off, and his ostentation of
obduracy relaxes into tenderness and tears. "Dost thou beg for him, thou
precious man's meat, thou? has he not beaten thee, kicked thee, trod on
thee? and dost thou fawn on him like his spaniel? has he not pawned thee
to thy petticoat, sold thee to thy smock, made ye leap at a crust? yet
wouldst have me save him?--What, dost thou hold him? let go his hand: if
thou dost not forsake him, a father's everlasting blessing fall upon
both your heads!" The fusion of humor with pathos into perfection of
exquisite accuracy in expression which must be recognized at once and
remembered forever by any competent reader of this scene is the highest
quality of Dekker as a writer of prose, and is here displayed at its
highest: the more poetic or romantic quality of his genius had already
begun to fade out when this second part of his finest poem was written.
Hazlitt has praised the originality, dexterity, and vivacity of the
effect produced by the stratagem which Infelice employs for the
humiliation of her husband, when by accusing herself of imaginary
infidelity under the most incredibly degrading conditions she entraps
him into gratuitous fury and turns the tables on him by the production
of evidence against himself; and the scene is no doubt theatrically
effective: but the grace and delicacy of the character are sacrificed to
this comparatively unworthy consideration: the pure, high-minded,
noble-hearted lady, whose loyal and passionate affection was so simply
and so attractively displayed in the first part of her story, is so
lamentably humiliated by the cunning and daring immodesty of such a
device that we hardly feel it so revolting an incongruity as it should
have been to see this princess enjoying, in common with her father and
her husband, the spectacle of imprisoned harlots on penitential parade
in the Bridewell of Milan; a thoroughly Hogarthian scene in the grim and
vivid realism of its tragicomic humor.

But if the poetic and realistic merits of these two plays make us
understand why Webster should have coupled its author with the author of
"Twelfth Night" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor," the demerits of the
two plays next published under his single name are so grave, so gross,
so manifold, that the writer seems unworthy to be coupled as a dramatist
with a journeyman poet so far superior to him in honest thoroughness
and smoothness of workmanship as, even at his very hastiest and crudest,
was Thomas Heywood. In style and versification the patriotic and
anti-Catholic drama which bears the Protestant and apocalyptic title of
"The Whore of Babylon" is still, upon the whole, very tolerably spirited
and fluent, with gleams of fugitive poetry and glimpses of animated
action; but the construction is ponderous and puerile, the declamation
vacuous and vehement. An Aeschylus alone could have given us, in a
tragedy on the subject of the Salamis of England, a fit companion to the
"Persae"; which, as Shakespeare let the chance pass by him, remains
alone forever in the incomparable glory of its trumphant and sublime
perfection. Marlowe perhaps might have made something of it, though the
task would have taxed his energies to the utmost, and overtasked the
utmost of his skill; Dekker could make nothing. The Empress of Babylon
is but a poor slipshod ragged prostitute in the hands of this poetic
beadle: "non ragioniam di lei, ma guarda e passa."

Of the three plays in which Dekker took part with Webster, the two plays
in which he took part with Ford, and the second play in which he took
part with Middleton, I have spoken respectively in my several essays on
those other three poets. The next play which bears his name alone was
published five years later than the political or historical sketch or
study which we have just dismissed; and which, compared with it, is a
tolerable if not a creditable piece of work. It is difficult to abstain
from intemperate language in speaking of such a dramatic abortion as
that which bears the grotesque and puerile inscription, "If this be not
a good Play, the Devil is in it." A worse has seldom discredited the
name of any man with a spark of genius in him. Dryden's delectable
tragedy of "Amboyna," Lee's remarkable tragicomedy of "Gloriana," Pope's
elegant comedy of "Three Hours after Marriage," are scarcely more
unworthy of their authors, more futile or more flaccid or more audacious
in their headlong and unabashed incompetence. Charity would suggest that
it must have been written against time in a debtor's prison, under the
influence of such liquor as Catherina Bountinall or Doll Tearsheet would
have flung at the tapster's head with an accompaniment of such language
as those eloquent and high-spirited ladies, under less offensive
provocation, were wont to lavish on the officials of an oppressive law.
I have read a good deal of bad verse, but anything like the metre of
this play I have never come across in all the range of that
excruciating experience. The rare and faint indications that the writer
was or had been an humorist and a poet serve only to bring into fuller
relief the reckless and shameless incompetence of the general
workmanship.[1]

[Footnote 1: As I have given elsewhere a sample of Dekker at his best, I
give here a sample taken at random from the opening of this unhappy
play:

   Hie thee to Naples, Rufman; thou shalt find
   A prince there newly crowned, aptly inclined
   To any bendings: lest his youthful brows
   Reach at stars only, weigh down his loftiest boughs
   With leaden plummets, poison his best thoughts with taste
   Of things most sensual: if the heart once waste,
   The body feels consumption: good or bad kings
   Breed subjects like them: clear streams flow from clear springs.
   Turn therefore Naples to a puddle: with a civil
   Much promising face, and well oiled, play the court devil.

The vigorous melody of these "masculine numbers" is not more remarkable
for its virile force and honied fluency than is the lighter dialogue of
the play for such brilliant wit or lambent humor as flashes out in
pleasantries like this:

   _King_. What are you, and whence come you?

   _Rufman_. From Helvetia.

   _Spendola_. What hell says he?

   _Jovinelli_. Peace; you shall know hot hell [_sic_] time enough.

"I hope here be proofs" that my strictures on the worst work of a poet
whose best work I treasure so heartily, and whose best qualities I rate
so highly, are rather too sparing than too severe.]

This supernatural and "superlunatical" attempt at serious farce or
farcical morality marks the nadir of Dekker's ability as a dramatist.
The diabolic part of the tragicomic business is distinctly inferior to
the parallel or similar scenes in the much older play of "Grim the
Collier of Croydon," which is perhaps more likely to have been the
writer's immediate model than the original story by Machiavelli. The two
remaining plays now extant which bear the single name of Dekker give no
sign of his highest powers, but are tolerable examples of journeyman's
work in the field of romantic or fanciful comedy. "Match Me in London"
is the better play of the two, very fairly constructed after its simple
fashion, and reasonably well written in a smooth and unambitious style:
"The Wonder of a Kingdom" is a light, slight, rough piece of work, in
its contrasts of character as crude and boyish as any of the old
moralities, and in its action as mere a dance of puppets: but it shows
at least that Dekker had regained the faculty of writing decent verse on
occasion. The fine passage quoted by Scott in _The Antiquary_ and taken
by his editors to be a forgery of his own, will be familiar to many
myriads of readers who are never likely to look it up in the original
context. Of two masks called "Britannia's Honor" and "London's Tempe" it
must suffice to say that the former contains a notable specimen of
cockney or canine French which may serve to relieve the conscientious
reader's weariness, and the latter a comic song of blacksmiths at work
which may pass muster at a pinch as a tolerably quaint and lively piece
of rough and ready fancy. But Jonson for the court and Middleton for the
city were far better craftsmen in this line than ever was Dekker at his
best.

Two plays remain for notice in which the part taken by Dekker would be,
I venture to think, unmistakable, even if no external evidence were
extant of his partnership in either. As it is, we know that in the
winter which saw the close of the sixteenth century he was engaged with
the author of "The Parliament of Bees" and the author of "Englishmen for
My Money" in the production of a play called "The Spanish Moor's
Tragedy." More than half a century afterward a tragedy in which a
Spanish Moor is the principal and indeed the only considerable agent was
published, and attributed--of all poets in the world--to Christopher
Marlowe, by a knavish and ignorant bookseller of the period. That
"Lust's Dominion; or, the Lascivious Queen," was partly founded on a
pamphlet published after Marlowe's death was not a consideration
sufficient to offer any impediment to this imposture. That the hand
which in the year of this play's appearance on the stage gave "Old
Fortunatus" to the world of readers was the hand to which we owe the
finer scenes or passages of "Lust's Dominion," the whole of the opening
scene bears such apparent witness as requires no evidence to support and
would require very conclusive evidence to confute it. The sweet
spontaneous luxury of the lines in which the queen strives to seduce her
paramour out of sullenness has the very ring of Dekker's melody: the
rough and reckless rattle of the abrupt rhymes intended to express a
sudden vehemence of change and energy; the constant repetition or
reiteration of interjections and ejaculations which are evidently
supposed to give an air of passionate realism and tragic nature to the
jingling and jerky dialogue; many little mannerisms too trivial to
specify and too obvious to mistake; the occasional spirit and beauty,
the frequent crudity and harshness, of the impetuous and uncertain
style; the faults no less than the merits, the merits as plainly as the
faults, attest the presence of his fitful and wilful genius with all the
defects of its qualities and all the weakness of its strength. The
chaotic extravagance of collapse which serves by way of catastrophe to
bring the action headlong to a close is not more puerile in the violence
of its debility than the conclusions of other plays by Dekker;
conclusions which might plausibly appear, to a malcontent or rather to
a lenient reader, the improvisations of inebriety. There is but one
character which stands out in anything of life-like relief; for the
queen and her paramour are but the usual diabolic puppets of the
contemporary tragic stage: but there is something of life-blood in the
part of the honest and hot-headed young prince. This too is very like
Dekker, whose idle and impatient energy could seldom if ever sustain a
diffused or divided interest, but except when working hopelessly and
heartlessly against time was likely to fix on some special point, and
give life at least to some single figure.

There is nothing incongruous in his appearance as a playwright in
partnership with Middleton or with Chettle, with Haughton or with Day;
but a stranger association than that of Massinger's name with Dekker's
it would not be easy to conceive. Could either poet have lent the other
something of his own best quality, could Massinger have caught from
Dekker the freshness and spontaneity of his poetic inspiration, and
Dekker have learned of Massinger the conscientious excellence and
studious self-respect of his dramatic workmanship, the result must have
been one of the noblest and completest masterpieces of the English
stage. As it is, the famous and beautiful play which we owe to the
alliance of their powers is a proverbial example of incongruous
contrasts and combinations. The opening and the closing scenes were very
properly and very fortunately consigned to the charge of the younger and
sedater poet: so that, whatever discrepancy may disturb the intervening
acts, the grave and sober harmonies of a temperate and serious artist
begin and end the concert in perfect correspondence of consummate
execution. "The first act of 'The Virgin Martyr,'" said Coleridge, "is
as fine an act as I remember in any play." And certainly it would be
impossible to find one in which the business of the scene is more
skilfully and smoothly opened, with more happiness of arrangement, more
dignity and dexterity of touch. But most lovers of poetry would give it
all, and a dozen such triumphs of scenical and rhetorical composition,
for the brief dialogue in the second act between the heroine and her
attendant angel. Its simplicity is so childlike, its inspiration so pure
in instinct and its expression so perfect in taste, its utterance and
its abstinence, its effusion and its reserve, are so far beyond praise
or question or any comment but thanksgiving, that these forty-two lines,
homely and humble in manner as they are if compared with the refined
rhetoric and the scrupulous culture of Massinger, would suffice to keep
the name of Dekker sweet and safe forever among the most memorable if
not among the most pre-eminent of his kindred and his age. The four
scenes of rough and rank buffoonery which deface this act and the two
following have given very reasonable offence to critics from whom they
have provoked very unreasonable reflections. That they represent the
coarser side of the genius whose finer aspect is shown in the sweetest
passages of the poem has never been disputed by any one capable of
learning the rudiments or the accidence of literary criticism. An
admirable novelist and poet who had the misfortune to mistake himself
for a theologian and a critic was unlucky enough to assert that he knew
not on what ground these brutal buffooneries had been assigned to their
unmistakable author; in other words, to acknowledge his ignorance of the
first elements of the subject on which it pleased him to write in a tone
of critical and spiritual authority. Not even when his unwary and
unscrupulous audacity of self-confidence impelled Charles Kingsley to
challenge John Henry Newman to the duel of which the upshot left him
gasping so piteously on the ground selected for their tournament--not
even then did the author of _Hypatia_ display such a daring and
immedicable capacity of misrepresentation based on misconception as
when this most ingenuously disingenuous of all controversialists avowed
himself "aware of no canons of internal criticism which would enable us
to decide as boldly as Mr. Gifford does that all the indecency is
Dekker's and all the poetry Massinger's." Now the words of Gifford's
note on the dialogue of which I have already spoken, between the saint
and the angel, are these: "What follows is exquisitely beautiful.... I
am persuaded that this also was written by Dekker." And seeing that no
mortal critic but Kingsley ever dreamed of such absurdity as Kingsley
rushes forward to refute, his controversial capacity will probably be
regarded by all serious students of poetry or criticism as measurable by
the level of his capacity for accurate report of fact or accurate
citation of evidence.

There are times when we are tempted to denounce the Muse of Dekker as
the most shiftless and shameless of slovens or of sluts; but when we
consider the quantity of work which she managed to struggle or shuffle
through with such occasionally admirable and memorable results, we are
once more inclined to reclaim for her a place of honor among her more
generally respectable or reputable sisters. I am loath to believe what I
see no reason to suppose, that she was responsible for the dismal
drivel of a poem on the fall of Jerusalem, which is assigned, on the
surely dangerous ground of initials subscribed under the dedication, to
a writer who had the misfortune to share these initials with Thomas
Deloney. The ballad-writing hack may have been capable of sinking so far
below the level of a penny ballad as to perpetrate this monstrous
outrage on human patience and on English verse; but the most conclusive
evidence would be necessary to persuade a jury of competent readers that
a poet must be found guilty of its authorship. And we know that a
pamphlet or novelette of Deloney's called "Thomas of Reading; or, the
Six Worthy Yeomen of the West," was ascribed to Dekker until the actual
author was discovered.[1] Dr. Grosart, to whom we owe the first
collected edition of Dekker's pamphlets, says in the introduction to
the fifth of his beautiful volumes that he should have doubted the
responsibility of Dekker for a poem with which it may perhaps be unfair
to saddle even so humble a hackney on the poetic highway as the jaded
Pegasus of Deloney, had he not been detected as the author of another
religious book. But this latter is a book of the finest and rarest
quality--one of its author's most unquestionable claims to immortality
in the affection and admiration of all but the most unworthy readers;
and "Canaan's Calamity" is one of the worst metrical samples extant of
religious rubbish. As far as such inferential evidence can be allowed to
attest anything, the fact of Dekker's having written one of the most
beautiful and simple of religious books in prose tends surely rather to
disprove than to prove his authorship of one of the feeblest and most
pretentious of semi-sacred rhapsodies in verse.

[Footnote 1: It would be a very notable addition to Dekker's claims
on our remembrance if he had indeed written the admirable narrative,
worthy of Defoe at his very best, which describes with such impressive
simplicity of tragic effect the presageful or premonitory anguish of
a man on his unconscious way to a sudden and a secret death of
unimaginable horror. Had Deloney done more such work as this, and
abjured the ineffectual service of an inauspicious Muse, his name would
now be famous among the founders and the masters of realistic fiction.]

Among his numerous pamphlets, satirical or declamatory, on the manners
of his time and the observations of his experience, one alone stands out
as distinct from the rest by right of such astonishing superiority in
merit of style and interest of matter that I prefer to reserve it for
separate and final consideration. But it would require more time and
labor than I can afford to give an adequate account of so many effusions
or improvisations as served for fuel to boil the scanty and precarious
pot of his uncertain and uncomfortable sustenance. "The Wonderful Year"
of the death of Elizabeth, the accession of James, and the devastation
of London by pestilence, supplied him with matter enough for one of his
quaintest and liveliest tracts: in which the historical part has no
quality so valuable or remarkable as the grotesque mixture of horror and
humor in the anecdotes appended "like a merry epilogue to a dull play,
of purpose to shorten the lives of long winter's nights that lie
watching in the dark for us," with touches of rude and vivid pleasantry
not unworthy to remind us, I dare not say of the _Decameron_, but at
least of the _Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles_. In "The Seven Deadly Sins of
London"--one of the milder but less brilliant _Latter-day Pamphlets_ of
a gentler if no less excitable Carlyle--there are touches of earnest
eloquence as well as many quaint and fitful illustrations of social
history; but there is less of humorous vigor and straightforward realism
than in the preceding tract. And yet there are good things to be
gathered out of this effusive and vehement lay sermon; this sentence,
for example, is worth recollection: "He is not slothful that is only
lazy, that only wastes his good hours and his silver in luxury and
licentious ease:--no, he is the true slothful man, that does no good."
And there is genuine insight as well as honesty and courage in his
remonstrance with the self-love and appeal against the self-deceit of
his countrymen, so prone to cry out on the cruelty of others, on the
blood-thirstiness of Frenchmen and Spaniards, and to overlook the
heavy-headed brutality of their own habitual indifference and neglect.
Although the cruelty of penal laws be now abrogated, yet the condition
of the poorest among us is assuredly not such that we can read without a
sense of their present veracity the last words of this sentence: "Thou
set'st up posts to whip them when they are alive: set up an hospital to
comfort them being sick, or purchase ground for them to dwell in when
they be well; _and that is, when they be dead_." The next of Dekker's
tracts is more of a mere imitation than any of his others: the influence
of a more famous pamphleteer and satirist, Tom Nash, is here not only
manifest as that of a model, but has taken such possession of his
disciple that he is hardly more than a somewhat servile copyist; not
without a touch of his master's more serious eloquence, but with less
than little of his peculiar energy and humor. That rushing wind of
satire, that storm of resonant invective, that inexhaustible volubility
of contempt, which rages through the controversial writings of the
lesser poet, has sunk to a comparative whisper; the roar of his Homeric
or Rabelaisian laughter to a somewhat forced and artificial chuckle.
This "News from Hell, brought by the Devil's Carrier," and containing
"The Devil's Answer to Pierce Penniless," might have miscarried by the
way without much more loss than that of such an additional proof as we
could have been content to spare of Dekker's incompetence to deal with a
subject which he was curiously fond of handling in earnest and in jest.
He seems indeed to have fancied himself, if not something of a Dante,
something at least of a Quevedo; but his terrors are merely tedious, and
his painted devils would not terrify a babe. In this tract, however,
there are now and then some fugitive felicities of expression; and this
is more than can be said for either the play or the poem in which he has
gone, with feebler if not more uneasy steps than Milton's Satan, over
the same ground of burning marl. There is some spirit in the prodigal's
denunciation of his miserly father: but the best thing in the pamphlet
is the description of the soul of a hero bound for paradise, whose name
is given only in the revised and enlarged edition which appeared a year
later under the title of "A Knight's Conjuring; done in earnest;
discovered in jest." The narrative of "William Eps his death" is a fine
example of that fiery sympathy with soldiers which glows in so many
pages of Dekker's verse, and flashes out by fits through the murky
confusion of his worst and most formless plays; but the introduction of
thil hero is as fine a passage of prose as he has left us:

    The foremost of them was a personage of so composed a presence,
    that Nature and Fortune had done him wrong, if they had not
    made him a soldier. _In his countenance there was a kind of
    indignation, fighting with a kind of exalted joy_, which by his
    very gesture were apparently decipherable; for he was jocund,
    that his soul went out of him in so glorious a triumph; but
    disdainfully angry, that she wrought her enlargement through no
    more dangers: yet were there bleeding witnesses enow on his
    breast, which testified, he did not yield till he was conquered,
    and was not conquered, till there was left nothing of a man in
    him to be overcome.

That the poet's loyalty and devotion were at least as ardent when
offered by his gratitude to sailors as to soldiers we may see by this
description of "The Seaman" in his next work:

   A progress doth he take from realm to realm,
   With goodly water-pageants borne before him;
   The safety of the land sits at his helm,
   No danger here can touch, but what runs o'er him:
   But being in heaven's eye still, it doth restore him
   To livelier spirts; to meet death with ease,
   _If thou wouldst know thy maker, search the seas_.[1]

   [Footnote 1: The italics are here the author's.]

These homely but hearty lines occur in a small and mainly metrical
tract bearing a title so quaint that I am tempted to transcribe it at
length: "The Double PP. A Papist in Arms. Bearing Ten several Shields.
Encountered by the Protestant. At Ten several Weapons. A Jesuit Marching
before them. Cominus and Eminus." There are a few other vigorous and
pointed verses in this little patriotic impromptu, but the greater part
of it is merely curious and eccentric doggrel.

The next of Dekker's tracts or pamphlets was the comparatively
well-known "Gull's Hornbook." This brilliant and vivid little satire is
so rich in simple humor, and in life-like photography taken by the
sunlight of an honest and kindly nature, that it stands second only to
the author's masterpiece in prose, "The Bachelor's Banquet," which has
waited so much longer for even the limited recognition implied by a
private reprint. There are so many witty or sensible or humorous or
grotesque excerpts to be selected from this pamphlet--and not from the
parts borrowed or copied from a foreign satire on the habits of slovenly
Hollanders--that I take the first which comes under my notice on
reopening the book; a study which sets before us in fascinating relief
the professional poeticule of a period in which as yet clubs, coteries,
and newspapers were not--or at the worst were nothing to speak of:

    If you be a Poet, and come into the Ordinary (though it can be
    no great glory to be an ordinary Poet) order yourself thus.
    Observe no man, doff not cap to that gentleman to-day at dinner,
    to whom, not two nights since, you were beholden for a supper;
    but, after a turn or two in the room, take occasion (pulling out
    your gloves) to have Epigram, or Satire, or Sonnet fastened in
    one of them, that may (as it were unwittingly to you) offer
    itself to the Gentlemen: they will presently desire it: but,
    without much conjuration from them, and a pretty kind of
    counterfeit lothness in yourself, do not read it; and, though it
    be none of your own, swear you made it.

This coupling of injunction and prohibition is worthy of Shakespeare or
of Sterne:

    Marry, if you chance to get into your hands any witty thing of
    another man's, that is somewhat better, I would counsel you
    then, if demand be made who composed it, you may say: "'Faith,
    a learned Gentleman, a very worthy friend." And this seeming to
    lay it on another man will be counted either modesty in you, or
    a sign that you are not ambitious of praise, _or else that you
    dare not take it upon you, for fear of the sharpness it carries
    with it_.

The modern poetaster by profession knows a trick worth any two of these:
but it is curious to observe the community of baseness, and the
comparative innocence of awkwardness and inexperience, which at once
connote the species and denote the specimens of the later and the
earlier animalcule.

The "Jests to make you merry," which in Dr. Grosart's edition are placed
after "The Gull's Horn-book," though dated two years earlier, will
hardly give so much entertainment to any probable reader in our own time
as "The Misery of a Prison, and a Prisoner," will give him pain to read
of in the closing pages of the same pamphlet, when he remembers how
long--at the lowest computation--its author had endured the loathsome
and hideous misery which he has described with such bitter and pathetic
intensity and persistency in detail. Well may Dr. Grosart say that "it
shocks us to-day, though so far off, to think of 1598 to 1616 onwards
covering so sorrowful and humiliating trials for so finely touched a
spirit as was Dekker's"; but I think as well as hope that there is no
sort of evidence to that surely rather improbable as well as deplorable
effect. It may be "possible," but it is barely possible, that some
"seven years' continuous imprisonment" is the explanation of an
ambiguous phrase which is now incapable of any certain solution, and
capable of many an interpretation far less deplorable than this. But in
this professedly comic pamphlet there are passages as tragic, if not as
powerful, as any in the immortal pages of _Pickwick_ and _Little
Dorrit_ which deal with a later but a too similar phase of prison
discipline and tradition:

    The thing that complained was a man:--"Thy days have gone over
    thee like the dreams of a fool, thy nights like the watchings of
    a madman.--Oh sacred liberty! with how little devotion do men
    come into thy temples, when they cannot bestow upon thee too
    much honor! Thy embracements are more delicate than those of a
    young bride with her lover, and to be divorced from thee is half
    to be damned! For what else is a prison but the very next door
    to hell? It is a man's grave, wherein he walks alive: it is a
    sea wherein he is always shipwrackt: it is a lodging built out
    of the world: it is a wilderness where all that wander up and
    down grow wild, and all that come into it are devoured."

In Dekker's next pamphlet, his "Dream," there are perhaps half a dozen
tolerably smooth and vigorous couplets immersed among many more vacuous
and vehement in the intensity of their impotence than any reader and
admirer of his more happily inspired verse could be expected to believe
without evidence adduced. Of imagination, faith, or fancy, the ugly
futility of this infernal vision has not--unless I have sought more than
once for it in vain--a single saving trace or compensating shadow.

Two years after he had tried his hand at an imitation of Nash, Dekker
issued the first of the pamphlets in which he attempted to take up the
succession of Robert Greene as a picaresque writer, or purveyor of
guide-books through the realms of rascaldom. "The Bellman of London," or
Rogue's Horn-book, begins with a very graceful and fanciful description
of the quiet beauty and seclusion of a country retreat in which the
author had sought refuge from the turmoil and forgetfulness of the vices
of the city; and whence he was driven back upon London by disgust at the
discovery of villany as elaborate and roguery as abject in the beggars
and thieves of the country as the most squalid recesses of metropolitan
vice or crime could supply. The narrative of this accidental discovery
is very lively and spirited in its straightforward simplicity, and the
subsequent revelations of rascality are sometimes humorous as well as
curious: but the demand for such literature must have been singularly
persistent to evoke a sequel to this book next year, "Lantern and
Candle-light; or, the Bellman's Second Night-walk," in which Dekker
continues his account of vagrant and villanous society, its lawless laws
and its unmannerly manners; and gives the reader some vivid studies,
interspersed with facile rhetoric and interlarded with indignant
declamation, of the tricks of horse-dealers and the shifts of
gypsies--or "moon-men" as he calls them; a race which he regarded with
a mixture of angry perplexity and passionate disgust. "A Strange
Horse-race" between various virtues and vices gives occasion for the
display of some allegoric ingenuity and much indefatigable but fatiguing
pertinacity in the exposure of the more exalted swindlers of the
age--the crafty bankrupts who anticipated the era of the Merdles
described by Dickens, but who can hardly have done much immediate injury
to a capitalist of the rank of Dekker. Here too there are glimpses of
inventive spirit and humorous ingenuity; but the insufferable iteration
of jocose demonology and infernal burlesque might tempt the most patient
and the most curious of readers to devote the author, with imprecations
or invocations as elaborate as his own, to the spiritual potentate whose
"last will and testament" is transcribed into the text of this pamphlet.

In "The Dead Term" such a reader will find himself more or less relieved
by the return of his author to a more terrene and realistic sort of
allegory. This recriminatory dialogue between the London and the
Westminster of 1608 is now and then rather flatulent in its reciprocity
of rhetoric, but is enlivened by an occasional breath of genuine
eloquence, and redeemed by touches of historic or social interest. The
title and motto of the next year's pamphlet--"Work for Armourers; or,
the Peace is Broken.--God help the Poor, the rich can shift"--were
presumably designed to attract the casual reader, by what would now be
called a sensational device, to consideration of the social question
between rich and poor--or, as he puts it, between the rival queens,
Poverty and Money. The forces on either side are drawn out and arrayed
with pathetic ingenuity, and the result is indicated with a quaint and
grim effect of humorous if indignant resignation. "The Raven's Almanack"
of the same year, though portentous in its menace of plague, famine, and
civil war, is less noticeable for its moral and religious declamation
than for its rather amusing than edifying anecdotes; which, it must
again be admitted, in their mixture of jocular sensuality with somewhat
ferocious humor, rather remind us of King Louis XI. than of that royal
novelist's Italian models or precursors. "A Rod for Runaways" is the
title of a tract which must have somewhat perplexed the readers who came
to it for practical counsel or suggestion, seeing that the very
title-page calls their attention to the fact that, "if they look back,
they may behold many fearful judgments of God, sundry ways pronounced
upon this city, and on several persons, both flying from it and staying
in it." What the medical gentleman to whom this tract was dedicated may
have thought of the author's logic and theology, we can only
conjecture. But even in this little pamphlet there are anecdotes and
details which would repay the notice of a social historian as curious in
his research and as studious in his condescension as Macaulay.

A prayer-book written or compiled by a poet of Dekker's rank in Dekker's
age would have some interest for the reader of a later generation even
if it had not the literary charm which distinguishes the little volume
of devotions now reprinted from a single and an imperfect copy. We
cannot be too grateful for the good-fortune and the generous care to
which we are indebted for this revelation of a work of genius so curious
and so delightful that the most fanatical of atheists or agnostics, the
hardest and the driest of philosophers, might be moved and fascinated by
the exquisite simplicity of its beauty. Hardly even in those almost
incomparable collects which Macaulay so aptly compared with the sonnets
of Milton shall we find sentences or passages more perfect in their
union of literary grace with ardent sincerity than here. Quaint as are
several of the prayers in the professional particulars of their
respective appeals, this quaintness has nothing of irreverence or
incongruity: and the subtle simplicity of cadence in the rhythmic
movement of the style is so nearly impeccable that we are perplexed to
understand how so exquisite an ear as was Dekker's at its best can have
been tolerant of such discord or insensible to such collapse as so often
disappoints or shocks us in the hastier and cruder passages of his
faltering and fluctuating verse. The prayer for a soldier going to
battle and his thanksgiving after victory are as noble in the dignity of
their devotion as the prayers for a woman in travail and "for them that
visit the sick" are delicate and earnest in their tenderness. The prayer
for a prisoner is too beautiful to stand in need of the additional and
pathetic interest which it derives from the fact of its author's
repeated experience of the misery it expresses with such piteous yet
such manful resignation. The style of these faultlessly simple devotions
is almost grotesquely set off by the relief of a comparison with the
bloated bombast and flatulent pedantry of a prayer by the late Queen
Elizabeth which Dekker has transcribed into his text--it is hardly
possible to suppose, without perception of the contrast between its
hideous jargon and the refined purity of his own melodious English. The
prayer for the Council is singularly noble in the eloquence of its
patriotism: the prayer for the country is simply magnificent in the
austere music of its fervent cadences: the prayer in time of civil war
is so passionate in its cry for deliverance from all danger of the
miseries then or lately afflicting the continent that it might well have
been put up by a loyal patriot in the very heat of the great war which
Dekker might have lived to see break out in his own country. The prayer
for the evening is so beautiful as to double our regret for the
deplorable mutilation which has deprived us of all but the opening of
the morning prayer.[1] The feathers fallen from the wings of these "Four
Birds of Noah's Ark" would be worth more to the literary ornithologist
than whole flocks of such "tame villatic fowl" as people the ordinary
coops and hen-roosts of devotional literature.

[Footnote 1: A noticeable instance of the use of a common word in the
original and obsolete sense of its derivation may be cited from the
unfortunately truncated and scanty fragment of a prayer for the court:
"Oh Lord, be thou a husband" (house-band) "to that great household of
our King."]

One work only of Dekker's too often overtasked and heavy-laden genius
remains to be noticed: it is one which gives him a high place forever
among English humorists. No sooner has the reader run his eye over the
first three or four pages than he feels himself, with delight and
astonishment, in the company of a writer whose genius is akin at once to
Goldsmith's and to Thackeray's; a writer whose style is so pure and
vigorous, so lucid and straightforward, that we seem to have already
entered upon the best age of English prose. Had Mr. Matthew Arnold,
instead of digging in Chapman for preposterous barbarisms and
eccentricities of pedantry, chanced to light upon this little treatise,
or had he condescended to glance over Daniel's compact and admirable
"Defence of Rhyme," he would have found in writers of the despised
Shakespearean epoch much more than a foretaste of those excellent
qualities which he imagined to have been first imported into our
literature by writers of the age of Dryden. The dialogue of the very
first couple introduced with such skilful simplicity of presentation at
the opening of Dekker's pamphlet is worthy of Sterne: the visit of the
gossip or kinswoman in the second chapter is worthy of Moliere, and the
humors of the monthly nurse in the third are worthy of Dickens. The
lamentations of the lady for the decay of her health and beauty in
consequence of her obsequious husband's alleged neglect, "no more like
the woman I was than an apple is like an oyster"; the description of the
poor man making her broth with his own hands, jeered at by the maids and
trampled underfoot by Mrs. Gamp; the preparations for the christening
supper and the preliminary feast of scandal--are full of such bright and
rich humor as to recall even the creator of Dogberry and Mrs. Quickly.
It is of Shakespeare again that we are reminded in the next chapter, by
the description of the equipage to which the husband of "a woman that
hath a charge of children" is reduced when he has to ride to the assizes
in sorrier plight than Petruchio rode in to his wedding; the details
remind us also of Balzac in the minute and grotesque intensity of their
industrious realism: but the scene on his return reminds us rather of
Thackeray at the best of his bitterest mood--the terrible painter of
Mrs. Mackenzie and Mrs. General Baynes. "The humor of a woman that
marries her inferior by birth" deals with more serious matters in a
style not unworthy of Boccaccio; and no comedy of the time--Shakespeare's
always excepted--has a scene in it of richer and more original humor
than brightens the narrative which relates the woes of the husband
who invites his friends to dinner and finds everything under lock and
key. Hardly in any of Dekker's plays is the comic dialogue so masterly
as here--so vivid and so vigorous in its life-like ease and spontaneity.
But there is not one of the fifteen chapters, devoted each to the
description of some fresh "humor," which would not deserve, did space
and time allow of it, a separate note of commentary. The book is simply
one of the very finest examples of humorous literature, touched now
and then with serious and even tragic effect, that can be found in any
language; it is generally and comparatively remarkable for its freedom
from all real coarseness or brutality, though the inevitable change of
manners between Shakespeare's time and our own may make some passages
or episodes seem now and then somewhat over-particular in plain speaking
or detail. But a healthier, manlier, more thoroughly good-natured and
good-humored book was never written; nor one in which the author's real
and respectful regard for womanhood was more perceptible through the
veil of a satire more pure from bitterness and more honest in design.

The list of works over which we have now glanced is surely not
inconsiderable; and yet the surviving productions of Dekker's genius or
necessity are but part of the labors of his life. If he wanted--as
undoubtedly he would seem to have wanted--that "infinite capacity for
taking pains" which Carlyle professed to regard as the synonyme of
genius, he was at least not deficient in that rough-and-ready diligence
which is habitually in harness, and cheerfully or resignedly prepared
for the day's work. The names of his lost plays--all generally
suggestive of some true dramatic interest, now graver and now
lighter--are too numerous to transcribe: but one at least of them must
excite unspeakable amazement as well as indiscreet curiosity in every
reader of Ariosto or La Fontaine who comes in the course of the
catalogue upon such a title as "Jocondo and Astolfo." How on earth the
famous story of Giocondo could possibly be adapted for representation on
the public stage of Shakespearean London is a mystery which the
execrable cook of the execrable Warburton has left forever insoluble and
inconceivable: for to that female fiend, the object of Sir Walter
Scott's antiquarian imprecations, we owe, unless my memory misguides me,
the loss of this among other irredeemable treasures.

To do justice upon the faults of this poet is easy for any sciolist: to
do justice to his merits is less easy for the most competent scholar and
the most appreciative critic. In despite of his rare occasional spurts
or outbreaks of self-assertion or of satire, he seems to stand before us
a man of gentle, modest, shiftless, and careless nature, irritable and
placable, eager and unsteady, full of excitable kindliness and deficient
in strenuous principle; loving the art which he professionally followed,
and enjoying the work which he occasionally neglected. There is no
unpoetic note in his best poetry such as there is too often--nay, too
constantly--in the severer work and the stronger genius of Ben Jonson.
What he might have done under happier auspices, or with a tougher fibre
of resolution and perseverance in his character, it is waste of time and
thought for his most sympathetic and compassionate admirers to assume or
to conjecture: what he has done, with all its shortcomings and
infirmities, is enough to secure for him a distinct and honorable place
among the humorists and the poets of his country.



JOHN MARSTON


If justice has never been done, either in his own day or in any after
age, to a poet of real genius and original powers, it will generally be
presumed, with more or less fairness or unfairness, that this is in
great part his own fault. Some perversity or obliquity will be
suspected, even if no positive infirmity or deformity can be detected,
in his intelligence or in his temperament: some taint or some flaw will
be assumed to affect and to vitiate his creative instinct or his
spiritual reason. And in the case of John Marston, the friend and foe of
Ben Jonson, the fierce and foul-mouthed satirist, the ambitious and
overweening tragedian, the scornful and passionate humorist, it is easy
for the shallowest and least appreciative reader to perceive the nature
and to estimate the weight of such drawbacks or impediments as have so
long and so seriously interfered with the due recognition of an
independent and remarkable poet. The praise and the blame, the
admiration and the distaste excited by his works, are equally just, but
are seemingly incompatible: the epithets most exactly appropriate to
the style of one scene, one page, one speech in a scene or one passage
in a speech, are most ludicrously inapplicable to the next. An anthology
of such noble and beautiful excerpts might be collected from his plays,
that the reader who should make his first acquaintance with this poet
through the deceptive means of so flattering an introduction would be
justified in supposing that he had fallen in with a tragic dramatist of
the very highest order--with a new candidate for a station in the very
foremost rank of English poets. And if the evil star which seems
generally to have presided over the literary fortunes of John Marston
should misguide the student, on first opening a volume of his works,
into some such arid or miry tract of wilderness as too frequently
deforms the face of his uneven and irregular demesne, the inevitable
sense of disappointment and repulsion which must immediately ensue will
too probably discourage a casual explorer from any renewal of his
research.

Two of the epithets which Ben Jonson, in his elaborate attack on
Marston, selected for ridicule as characteristically grotesque instances
of affected and infelicitous innovation--but which nevertheless have
taken root in the language, and practically justified their
adoption--describe as happily as any that could be chosen to describe
the better and the worse quality of his early tragic and satiric style.
These words are "strenuous" and "clumsy." It is perpetually,
indefatigably, and fatiguingly strenuous; it is too often vehemently,
emphatically, and laboriously clumsy. But at its best, when the clumsy
and ponderous incompetence of expression which disfigures it is
supplanted by a strenuous felicity of ardent and triumphant aspiration,
it has notes and touches in the compass of its course not unworthy of
Webster or Tourneur or even Shakespeare himself. Its occasionally
exquisite delicacy is as remarkable as its more frequent excess of
coarseness, awkwardness, or violent and elaborate extravagance. No
sooner has he said anything especially beautiful, pathetic, or sublime,
than the evil genius must needs take his turn, exact as it were the
forfeit of his bond, impel the poet into some sheer perversity, deface
the flow and form of the verse with some preposterous crudity or
flatulence of phrase which would discredit the most incapable or the
most fantastic novice. And the worst of it all is that he limps or
stumbles with either foot alternately. At one moment he exaggerates the
license of artificial rhetoric, the strain and swell of the most
high-flown and hyperbolical poetic diction; at the next, he falls flat
upon the naked level of insignificant or offensive realism.

These are no slight charges; and it is impossible for any just or sober
judgment to acquit John Marston of the impeachment conveyed in them. The
answer to it is practical and simple: it is that his merits are great
enough to outweigh and overshadow them all. Even if his claim to
remembrance were merely dependent on the value of single passages, this
would suffice to secure him his place of honor in the train of
Shakespeare. If his most ambitious efforts at portraiture of character
are often faulty at once in color and in outline, some of his slighter
sketches have a freshness and tenderness of beauty which may well atone
for the gravest of his certainly not infrequent offences. The sweet
constancy and gentle fortitude of a Beatrice and a Mellida remain in the
memory more clearly, leave a more life-like impression of truth on the
reader's mind, than the light-headed profligacy and passionate
instability of such brainless and blood-thirsty wantons as Franceschina
and Isabella. In fact, the better characters in Marston's plays are
better drawn, less conventional, more vivid and more human than those of
the baser sort. Whatever of moral credit may be due to a dramatist who
paints virtue better than vice, and has a happier hand at a hero's
likeness than at a villain's, must unquestionably be assigned to the
author of "Antonio and Mellida." Piero, the tyrant and traitor, is
little more than a mere stage property: like Mendoza in "The Malcontent"
and Syphax in "Sophonisba," he would be a portentous ruffian if he had a
little more life in him; he has to do the deeds and express the emotions
of a most bloody and crafty miscreant; but it is only now and then that
we catch the accent of a real man in his tones of cajolery or menace,
dissimulation or triumph. Andrugio, the venerable and heroic victim of
his craft and cruelty, is a figure not less living and actual than
stately and impressive: the changes of mood from meditation to passion,
from resignation to revolt, from tenderness to resolution, which mark
the development of the character with the process of the action, though
painted rather broadly than subtly and with more of vigor than of care,
show just such power of hand and sincerity of instinct as we fail to
find in the hot and glaring colors of his rival's monotonous ruffianism.
Again, in "The Wonder of Women," the majestic figures of Massinissa,
Gelosso, and Sophonisba stand out in clearer relief than the traitors of
the senate, the lecherous malignity of Syphax, or the monstrous profile
of the sorceress Erichtho. In this labored and ambitious tragedy, as in
the two parts of "Antonio and Mellida," we see the poet at his best--and
also at his worst. A vehement and resolute desire to give weight to
every line and emphasis to every phrase has too often misled him into
such brakes and jungles of crabbed and convulsive bombast, of stiff and
tortuous exuberance, that the reader in struggling through some of the
scenes and speeches feels as though he were compelled to push his way
through a cactus hedge: the hot and heavy blossoms of rhetoric blaze and
glare out of a thickset fence of jagged barbarisms and exotic
monstrosities of metaphor. The straining and sputtering declamation of
narrative and oratory scarcely succeeds in expressing through a dozen
quaint and far-fetched words or phrases what two or three of the
simplest would easily and amply have sufficed to convey. But when the
poet is content to deliver his message like a man of this world, we
discover with mingled satisfaction, astonishment, and irritation that he
can write when he pleases in a style of the purest and noblest
simplicity; that he can make his characters converse in a language
worthy of Sophocles when he does not prefer to make them stutter in a
dialect worthy of Lycophron. And in the tragedy of "Sophonisba" the
display of this happy capacity is happily reserved for the crowning
scene of the poem. It would be difficult to find anywhere a more
preposterous or disjointed piece of jargon than the speech of Asdrubal
at the close of the second act:

                    Brook open scorn, faint powers!--
   Make good the camp!--No, fly!--yes, what?--wild rage!--
   To be a prosperous villain! yet some heat, some hold;
   But to burn temples, and yet freeze, O cold!
   Give me some health; now your blood sinks: thus deeds
   Ill nourished rot: without Jove nought succeeds.

And yet this passage occurs in a poem which contains such a passage as
the following:

   And now with undismayed resolve behold,
   To save you--you--for honor and just faith
   Are most true gods, which we should much adore--
   With even disdainful vigor I give up
   An abhorred life!--You have been good to me,
   And I do thank thee, heaven. O my stars,
   I bless your goodness, that with breast unstained,
   Faith pure, a virgin wife, tried to my glory,
   I die, of female faith the long-lived story;
   Secure from bondage and all servile harms,
   But more, most happy in my husband's arms.

The lofty sweetness, the proud pathos, the sonorous simplicity of these
most noble verses might scarcely suffice to attest the poet's possession
of any strong dramatic faculty. But the scene immediately preceding
bears evidence of a capacity for terse and rigorous brevity of dialogue
in a style as curt and condensed as that of Tacitus or Dante:

   _Sophonisba_. What unjust grief afflicts my worthy lord?

   _Massinissa_. Thank me, ye gods, with much beholdingness;
   For, mark, I do not curse you.

   _Sophonisba_. Tell me, sweet,
   The cause of thy much anguish.

   _Massinissa_. Ha, the cause?
   Let's see; wreathe back thine arms, bend down thy neck,
   Practise base prayers, make fit thyself for bondage.

   _Sophonisba_. Bondage!

   _Massinissa_. Bondage: Roman bondage.

   _Sophonisba_. No, no![1]

   _Massinissa_. How then have I vowed well to Scipio?

   _Sophonisba_. How then to Sophonisba?

   _Massinissa_. Right: which way
   Run mad? impossible distraction![2]

   _Sophonisba_. Dear lord, thy patience; let it maze all power,
   And list to her in whose sole heart it rests
   To keep thy faith upright.

   _Massinissa_. Wilt thou be slaved?

   _Sophonisba_. No; free.

   _Massinissa_. How then keep I my faith?

   _Sophonisba_. My death
   Gives help to all. From Rome so rest we free:
   So brought to Scipio, faith is kept in thee.

   _Massinissa_. Thou darest not die!--Some wine.--Thou
   darest not die!

   _Sophonisba_. How near was I unto the curse of man, Joy!
   How like was I yet once to have been glad!
   He that ne'er laughed may with a constant face
   Contemn Jove's frown. Happiness makes us base.

   [Footnote 1: This verse, unmusical to an English ear, is good Italian
   metre; possibly an intentional and deliberate example of the poet's
   Italian predilections, and if so certainly a less irrational and
   inexplicable one than the intrusion of some villanously bad Italian
   lines and phrases into the text of "Antonio and Mellida."]

   [Footnote 2: In other words--intolerable or unimaginable division or
   divulsion of mind and spirit between two contending calls of honor,
   two irreconcilable claims of duty. Modern editors of this great scene
   have broken up the line into pieces, marked or divided by superfluous
   dashes and points of exclamation. Campbell, who had the good taste to
   confute his own depreciatory criticism of Marston by including the
   passage among his "Selections," was the first, as far as I know, to
   adopt this erroneous and rather spasmodic punctuation.]

The man or the boy does not seem to me enviable who can read or remember
these verses without a thrill. In sheer force of concision they recall
the manner of Alfieri; but that noble tragic writer could hardly have
put such fervor of austere passion into the rigid utterance, or touched
the note of emotion with such a glowing depth of rapture. That "bitter
and severe delight"--if I may borrow the superb phrase of Landor--which
inspires and sustains the imperial pride of self-immolation might have
found in his dramatic dialect an expression as terse and as sincere: it
could hardly have clothed itself with such majestic and radiant
solemnity of living and breathing verse. The rapid elliptic method of
amoebaean dialogue is more in his manner than in any English poet's
known to me except the writer of this scene; but indeed Marston is
in more points than one the most Italian of our dramatists. His
highest tone of serious poetry has in it, like Alfieri's, a note of
self-conscious stoicism and somewhat arrogant self-control; while as a
comic writer he is but too apt, like too many transalpine wits, to
mistake filth for fun, and to measure the neatness of a joke by its
nastiness. Dirt for dirt's sake has never been the apparent aim of any
great English humorist who had not about him some unmistakable touch of
disease--some inheritance of evil or of suffering like the congenital
brain-sickness of Swift or the morbid infirmity of Sterne. A poet of so
high an order as the author of "Sophonisba" could hardly fail to be in
general a healthier writer than such as these; but it cannot be denied
that he seems to have been somewhat inclined to accept the illogical
inference which would argue that because some wit is dirty all dirt
must be witty--because humor may sometimes be indecent, indecency must
always be humorous. "The clartier the cosier" was an old proverb among
the northern peasantry while yet recalcitrant against the inroads of
sanitary reform: "the dirtier the droller" would seem to have been
practically the no less irrational motto of many not otherwise
unadmirable comic writers. It does happen that the drollest character in
all Marston's plays is also the most offensive in his language--"the
foulest-mouthed profane railing brother"; but the drollest passages in
the whole part are those that least want washing. How far the example of
Ben Jonson may have influenced or encouraged Marston in the indulgence
of this unlovely propensity can only be conjectured; it is certain that
no third writer of the time, however given to levity of speech or
audacity in the selection of a subject, was so prone--in Shakespeare's
phrase--to "talk greasily" as the authors of "Bartholomew Fair" and "The
Dutch Courtesan."

In the two parts of his earlier tragedy the interest is perhaps, on the
whole, rather better sustained than in "The Wonder of Women." The
prologue to "Antonio's Revenge" (the second part of the "Historie of
Antonio and Mellida") has enjoyed the double correlative honor of ardent
appreciation by Lamb and responsive depreciation by Gifford. Its
eccentricities and perversities of phrase[1] may be no less noticeable,
but should assuredly be accounted less memorable, than its profound and
impassioned fervor of grave and eloquent harmony. Strange, wayward and
savage as is the all but impossible story, rude and crude and crabbed as
is the pedantically exuberant language of these plays, there are touches
in them of such terrible beauty and such terrible pathos as to convince
any competent reader that they deserve the tribute of such praise and
such dispraise. The youngest student of Lamb's "Specimens" can hardly
fail to recognize this when he compares the vivid and piercing
description of the death of Mellida with the fearful and supernatural
impression of the scene which brings or thrusts before us the immolation
of the child, her brother.

[Footnote 1: One strange phrase in the very first line is surely a
palpable misprint--_ramps_ for _cramps_.]

The labored eccentricity of style which signalizes and disfigures the
three chief tragedies or tragic poems of Marston is tempered and subdued
to a soberer tone of taste and a more rational choice of expression in
his less ambitious and less unequal works. It is almost impossible to
imagine any insertion or addition from the hand of Webster which would
not be at once obvious to any reader in the text of "Sophonisba" or in
either part of "Antonio and Mellida." Their fierce and irregular
magnificence, their feverish and strenuous intemperance of rhetoric,
would have been too glaringly in contrast with the sublime purity of the
greater poet's thought and style In the tragicomedy of "The Malcontent,"
published two years later than the earlier and two years earlier than
the later of these poems, if the tone of feeling is but little changed
or softened, the language is duly clarified and simplified. "The
Malcontent, (augmented) by Marston, with the additions written by John
Webster," is as coherent, as harmonious, as much of a piece throughout,
as was the text of the play in its earlier state. Not all the
conscientious art and skill of Webster could have given this uniformity
to a work in which the original design and execution had been less in
keeping with the bent of his own genius and the accent of his natural
style. Sad and stern, not unhopeful or unloving, the spirit of this poem
is more in harmony with that of Webster's later tragedies than with that
of Marston's previous plays; its accent is sardonic rather than
pessimistic, ironical rather than despondent. The plot is neither well
conceived nor well constructed; the catastrophe is little less than
absurd, especially from the ethical or moral point of view; the
characters are thinly sketched, the situations at once forced and
conventional; there are few sorrier or stranger figures in serious
fiction than that of the penitent usurper when he takes to his arms his
repentant wife, together with one of her two paramours, in a sudden
rapture of forgiving affection; the part which gives the play its name
is the only one drawn with any firmness of outline, unless we except
that of the malignant and distempered old parasite; but there is a
certain interest in the awkward evolution of the story, and there are
scenes and passages of singular power and beauty which would suffice to
redeem the whole work from condemnation or oblivion, even though it had
not the saving salt in it of an earnest and evident sincerity. The
brooding anger, the resentful resignation, the impatient spirit of
endurance, the bitter passion of disdain, which animate the utterance
and direct the action of the hero, are something more than dramatically
appropriate; it is as obvious that these are the mainsprings of the
poet's own ambitious and dissatisfied intelligence, sullen in its
reluctant submission and ardent in its implacable appeal, as that his
earlier undramatic satires were the tumultuous and turbid ebullitions of
a mood as morbid, as restless, and as honest. Coarse, rough, and fierce
as those satires are, inferior alike to Hall's in finish of verse and
to Donne's in weight of matter, it seems to me that Dr. Grosart, their
first careful and critical editor, is right in claiming for them equal
if not superior credit on the score of earnestness. The crude ferocity
of their invective has about it a savor of honesty which atones for many
defects of literary taste and executive art; and after a more thorough
study than such rude and unattractive work seems at first to require or
to deserve, the moral and intellectual impression of the whole will not
improbably be far more favorable than one resulting from a cursory
survey or derived from a casual selection of excerpts. They bring no
manner of support to a monstrous and preposterous imputation which has
been cast upon their author; the charge of having been concerned in a
miserably malignant and stupid attempt at satire under the form of a
formless and worthless drama called "Histriomastix";[1] though his
partnership in another anonymous play--a semi-romantic semi-satirical
comedy called "Jack Drum's Entertainment"--is very much more plausibly
supportable by comparison of special phrases as well as of general
style with sundry mannerisms as well as with the habitual turn of speech
in Marston's acknowledged comedies. There is a certain incomposite and
indigestive vigor in the language of this play which makes the
attribution of a principal share in its authorship neither utterly
discreditable to Marston nor absolutely improbable in itself; and the
satire aimed at Ben Jonson, if not especially relevant to the main
action, is at all events less incongruous and preposterous in its
relation to the rest of the work than the satirical or controversial
part of Dekker's "Satiromastix." But on the whole, if this play be
Marston's, it seems to me the rudest and the poorest he has left us,
except perhaps the comedy of "What you Will," in which several excellent
and suggestive situations are made less of than they should have been,
and a good deal of promising comic invention is wasted for want of a
little more care and a little more conscience in cultivation of material
and composition of parts. The satirical references to Jonson are more
pointed and effective in this comedy than in either of the two plays
last mentioned; but its best claim to remembrance is to be sought in the
admirable soliloquy which relates the seven years' experience of the
student and his spaniel. Marston is too often heaviest when he would
and should be lightest--owing apparently to a certain infusion of
contempt for light comedy as something rather beneath him, not wholly
worthy of his austere and ambitious capacity. The parliament of pages in
this play is a diverting interlude of farce, though a mere irrelevance
and impediment to the action; but the boys are less amusing than their
compeers in the anonymous comedy of "Sir Giles Goosecap," first
published in the year preceding: a work of genuine humor and invention,
excellent in style if somewhat infirm in construction, for a reprint of
which we are indebted to the previous care of Marston's present editor.
Far be it from me to intrude on the barren and boggy province of
hypothetical interpretation and controversial commentary; but I may
observe in passing that the original of Simplicius Faber in "What you
Will" must surely have been the same hanger-on or sycophant of Ben
Jonson's who was caricatured by Dekker in his "Satiromastix" under the
name of Asinius Bubo. The gross assurance of self-complacent duncery,
the apish arrogance and imitative dogmatism of reflected self-importance
and authority at second hand, are presented in either case with such
identity of tone and coloring that we can hardly imagine the satire to
have been equally applicable to two contemporary satellites of the same
imperious and masterful egoist.

[Footnote 1: This abortion of letters is such a very moon-calf, begotten
by malice on idiocy, that no human creature above the intellectual
level of its author will ever dream of attempting to decipher the
insignificant significance which may possibly--though improbably--lie
latent under the opaque veil of its inarticulate virulence.]

That the same noble poet and high-souled humorist was not responsible
for the offence given to Caledonian majesty in the comedy of "Eastward
Ho!" the authentic word of Jonson would be sufficient evidence; but I am
inclined to think it a matter of almost certain likelihood--if not of
almost absolute proof--that Chapman was as innocent as Jonson of a jest
for which Marston must be held responsible--though scarcely, I should
imagine, blamable at the present day by the most rabid of Scottish
provincialists. In the last scene of "The Malcontent" a court lady says
to an infamous old hanger-on of the court: "And is not Signor St. Andrew
a gallant fellow now?" to which the old hag replies: "Honor and he agree
as well together as a satin suit and woollen stockings." The famous
passage in the comedy which appeared a year later must have been far
less offensive to the most nervous patriotism than this; and the
impunity of so gross an insult, so obviously and obtrusively offered, to
the new knightships and lordships of King James's venal chivalry and
parasitic nobility, may naturally have encouraged the satirist to repeat
his stroke next year--and must have astounded his retrospection, when he
found himself in prison, and under threat of worse than imprisonment,
together with his unoffending associates in an admirable and inoffensive
comedy. It is impossible to suppose that he would not have come forward
to assume the responsibility of his own words--as it is impossible to
imagine that Jonson or Chapman would have given up his accomplice to
save himself. But the law of the day would probably have held them all
responsible alike.

In the same year as "Eastward Ho!" appeared the best and completest
piece of work which we owe to the single hand of Marston. A more
brilliant and amusing play than "The Dutch Courtesan," better composed,
better constructed, and better written, it would be difficult to
discover among the best comic and romantic works of its incomparable
period. The slippery and sanguinary strumpet who gives its name to the
play is sketched with such admirable force and freedom of hand as to
suggest the existence of an actual model who may unconsciously have sat
for the part under the scrutiny of eyes as keen and merciless as ever
took notes for a savagely veracious caricature--or for an unscrupulously
moral exposure. The jargon in which her emotions are expressed is as
Shakespearean in its breadth and persistency as that of Dr. Caius or
Captain Fluellen; but the reality of those emotions is worthy of a
less farcical vehicle for the expression of such natural craft and
passion. The sisters, Beatrice and Crispinella, seem at first too
evidently imitated from the characters of Aurelia and Phoenixella in the
earliest surviving comedy of Ben Jonson; but the "comedy daughter," as
Dickens (or Skimpole) would have expressed it, is even more coarsely and
roughly drawn than in the early sketch of the more famous dramatist. On
the other hand, it must be allowed--though it may not be recognized
without a certain sense of surprise--that the nobler and purer type of
womanhood or girlhood which we owe to the hand of Marston is far above
comparison with any which has been accomplished or achieved by the
studious and vehement elaboration of Ben Jonson's. The servility of
subservience which that great dramatist exacts from his typically
virtuous women--from the abject and anaemic wife of a Corvino or a
Fitzdottrel--is a quality which could not coexist with the noble and
loving humility of Marston's Beatrice. The admirable scene in which she
is brought face to face with the impudent pretentions of the woman who
asserts herself to have been preferred by the betrothed lover of the
expectant bride is as pathetic and impressive as it is lifelike and
original; and even in the excess of gentleness and modesty which prompts
the words, "I will love you the better; I cannot hate what he affected,"
there is nothing less noble or less womanly than in the subsequent reply
to the harlot's repeated taunts and inventions of insult: "He did not
ill not to love me, but sure he did not well to mock me: gentle minds
will pity, though they cannot love; yet peace and my love sleep with
him." The powerful soliloquy which closes the scene expresses no more
than the natural emotion of the man who has received so lovely a
revelation of his future bride's invincible and single-hearted love:

   Cannot that woman's evil, jealousy,
   Despite disgrace, nay, which is worse, contempt,
   Once stir thy faith?

Coarse as is often the language of Marston's plays and satires, the man
was not coarse-minded--not gross of spirit nor base of nature--who could
paint so delicately and simply a figure so beautiful in the tenderness
of its purity.

The farcical underplot of this play is worthy of Moliere in his broader
mood of farce. Hardly any Jourdain or Pourceaugnac, any George Dandin
or Comtesse d'Escarbagnas of them all, undergoes a more grotesque
experience or plays a more ludicrous part than is devised for Mr. and
Mrs. Mulligrub by the ingenuity of the indefatigable Cocledemoy--a
figure worthy to stand beside any of the tribe of Mascarille as _fourbum
imperator_. The animation and variety of inventive humor which keep
the reader's laughing attention awake and amused throughout these
adventurous scenes of incident and intrigue are not more admirable than
the simplicity and clearness of evolution or composition which recall
and rival the classic masterpieces of Latin and French comedy. There
is perhaps equal fertility of humor, but there certainly is not equal
harmony of structure in the play which Marston published next
year--"Parasitaster; or, the Fawn"; a name probably suggested by that of
Ben Jonson's "Poetaster," in which the author had himself been the
subject of a greater man's rage and ridicule. The wealth and the waste
of power displayed and paraded in this comedy are equally admirable and
lamentable; for the brilliant effect of its various episodes and
interludes is not more obvious than the eclipse of the central interest,
the collapse of the serious design, which results from the agglomeration
of secondary figures and the alternations of perpetual by-play. Three or
four better plays might have been made out of the materials here hurled
and huddled together into one. The Isabelle of Moliere is not more
amusing or more delightful in her audacity of resource, in her
combination of loyalty with duplicity, innocence with intrigue, than the
daring and single-hearted young heroine of this play; but the "Ecole des
Maris" is not encumbered with such a crowd of minor interests and
characters, of subordinate humors and complications, as the reader of
Marston's comedy finds interposed and intruded between his attention and
the main point of interest. He would fain see more of Dulcimel and
Tiberio, the ingenious and enterprising princess, the ingenuous and
responsive prince; he is willing to see as much as is shown him of their
fathers, the masquerading philosopher and the self-complacent dupe;
Granuffo, the patrician prototype of Captain John Bunsby, may take a
seat in the chambers of his memory beside the commander of the Cautious
Clara; the humors of a jealous foul-minded fool and a somewhat
audaciously virtuous wife may divert him by the inventive and vigorous
exposure of their various revolutions and results; but the final
impression is one of admiring disappointment and possibly ungrateful
regret that so much energetic satire and so much valuable time should
have been spent on the somewhat nauseous follies of "sickly knights" and
"vicious braggarts" that the really admirable and attractive parts of
the design are cramped and crowded out of room for the due development
of their just and requisite proportions.

A more eccentric, uneven, and incomposite piece of work than "The
Insatiate Countess" it would be difficult to find in English or in other
literature. The opening scene is picturesque and impressive; the closing
scene of the serious part is noble and pathetic; but the intervening
action is of a kind which too often aims at the tragic and hits the
burlesque. The incessant inconstancy of passion which hurries the
fantastic heroine through such a miscellaneous multitude of improvised
intrigues is rather a comic than a tragic motive for the conduct of a
play; and the farcical rapidity with which the puppets revolve makes it
impossible for the most susceptible credulity to take any real interest
or feel any real belief in the perpetual rotation of their feverish
moods and motives, their irrational doings and sufferings. The humor of
the underplot constantly verges on horse-play, and is certainly neither
delicate nor profound; but there is matter enough for mirth in it to
make the reader duly grateful for the patient care and admirable insight
which Mr. Bullen has brought to bear upon the really formidable if
apparently trivial task of reducing the chaotic corruption and confusion
of the text to reasonable form and comprehensible order. William
Barkstead, a narrative poet of real merit, and an early minister at the
shrine of Shakespeare, has been credited with the authorship of this
play: I am inclined to agree with the suggestion of its latest
editor--its first editor in any serious sense of the word--that both he
and Marston may have had a hand in it. His "Myrrha" belongs to the same
rather morbid class of poems as Shakespeare's "Venus and Adonis" and
Marston's "Pygmalion's Image." Of the three Shakespeare's is not more
certainly the finest in occasional touches of picturesque poetry than it
is incomparably the most offensive to good taste and natural instinct on
the score of style and treatment. Marlowe's "Hero and Leander" can only
be classed with these elaborate studies of sensual aberration or excess
by those "who can see no difference between Titian and French
photographs." (I take leave, for once in a way, to quote from a private
letter--long since addressed to the present commentator by the most
illustrious of writers on art.)

There are some pretty verses and some ingenious touches in Marston's
"Entertainment," offered to Lady Derby by her daughter and son-in-law;
but the Latinity of his city pageant can scarcely have satisfied the
pupil of Buchanan, unless indeed the reputation of King James's tutor
as a Latin versifier or master of prosody has been scandalously usurped
under the falsest of pretences: a matter on which I am content to accept
the verdict of Landor. His contribution to Sir Robert Chester's
problematic volume may perhaps claim the singular distinction of being
more incomprehensible, more crabbed, more preposterous, and more
inexplicable than any other copy of verses among the "divers poetical
essays--done by the best and chiefest of our modern writers, with their
names subscribed to their particular works," in which Marston has the
honor to stand next to Shakespeare; and however far he may be from any
pretention to rival the incomparable charm of Shakespeare's opening
quatrain--incomparable in its peculiar melody and mystery except with
other lyrics of Shakespeare's or of Shelley's, it must, I think, be
admitted that an impartial student of both effusions will assign to
Marston rather than to Shakespeare the palm of distinction on the score
of tortuous obscurity and enigmatic verbiage. It may be--as it seems
to me--equally difficult to make sense of the greater and the lesser
poet's riddles and rhapsodies; but on the whole I cannot think that
Shakespeare's will be found so desperately indigestible by the ordinary
intelligence of manhood as Marston's. "The turtles fell to work, and
ate each other up," in a far more comprehensible and reasonable poem of
Hood's; and most readers of Chester's poem and the verses appended to it
will be inclined to think that it might have been as well--except for a
few lines of Shakespeare's and of Jonson's which we could not willingly
spare--if the Phoenix and Turtle had set them the example.

If the apparently apocryphal Mountebank's Masque be really the work of
Marston--and it is both coarse enough and clever enough to deserve the
attribution of his authorship--there is a singular echo in it from the
opening of Jonson's "Poetaster," the furious dramatic satire which
blasted for upward of two centuries the fame or the credit of the poet
to whose hand this masque has been hitherto assigned. In it, after a
full allowance of rough and ribald jocosity, the presence of a poet
becomes manifest with the entrance of an allegoric figure whose
declamatory address begins with these words:

   Light, I salute thee; I, Obscurity,
   The son of Darkness and forgetful Lethe;
   I, that envy thy brightness, greet thee now,
   Enforced by Fate.

Few readers of these lines will forget the verses with which Envy plays
prologue to "Poetaster; or, his Arraignment":

   Light, I salute thee, but with wounded nerves,
   Wishing thy golden splendor pitchy darkness.

Whoever may be the author of this masque, there are two or three
couplets well worth remembrance in one of the two versions of its text:

   It is a life is never ill
   To lie and sleep in roses still.

       *       *       *       *       *

   Who would not hear the nightingale still sing,
   Or who grew ever weary of the spring?
   The day must have her night, the spring her fall,
   All is divided, none is lord of all.

These verses are worthy of a place in any one of Mr. Bullen's beautiful
and delightful volumes of lyrics from Elizabethan song-books; and higher
praise than this no lyrical poet could reasonably desire.

An inoffensive monomaniac, who thought fit to reprint a thing in
dramatic or quasi-dramatic form to which I have already referred in
passing--"Histriomastix; or, the Player Whipt"--thought likewise fit to
attribute to John Marston, of all men on earth, a share in the
concoction of this shapeless and unspeakable piece of nonsense. The fact
that one of the puppets in the puppet-show is supposed to represent a
sullen scholar, disappointed, impoverished, and virulent, would have
suggested to a rational reader that the scribbler who gave vent to the
impotence of his rancor in this hopeless ebullition of envious despair
had set himself to ape the habitual manner of Jonson and the occasional
manner of Marston with about as much success as might be expected from a
malignant monkey when attempting to reproduce in his grimaces the
expression of human indignation and contempt. But to students of natural
or literary history who cannot discern the human from the simious
element it suggests that the man thus imitated must needs have been the
imitator of himself; and the fact that the whole attempt at satire is
directed against dramatic poetry--that all the drivelling venom of a
dunce's denunciation, all the virulent slaver of his grovelling
insolence, is aimed at the stage for which Marston was employed in
writing--weighs nothing in the scales of imbecility against the
consideration that Marston's or Jonson's manner is here and there more
or less closely imitated; that we catch now and then some such echo of
his accent, some such savor of his style, as may be discovered or
imagined in the very few scattered lines which show any glimmer of
capacity for composition or versification. The eternal theme of envy,
invented by Jonson and worked to death by its inventor, was taken up
again by Marston and treated with a vigorous acerbity not always
unworthy of comparison with Jonson's; the same conception inspired with
something of eloquence the malignant idiocy of the satirical dunce who
has left us, interred and embedded in a mass of rubbish, a line or two
like these which he has put into the mouth of his patron saint or
guardian goddess, the incarnate essence of Envy:

   Turn, turn, thou lackey to the winged time!
   I envy thee in that thou art so slow,
   And I so swift to mischief.

But the entire affair is obviously an effusion and an example of the
same academic sagacity or lucidity of appreciation which found utterance
in other contemporary protests of the universities against the universe.
In that abyss of dulness "The Return from Parnassus," a reader or a
diver who persists in his thankless toil will discover this pearl of a
fact--that men of culture had no more hesitation in preferring Watson to
Shakespeare than they have in preferring Byron to Shelley. The author of
the one deserves to have been the author of the other. Nobody can have
been by nature such a fool as to write either: art, education,
industry, and study were needful to achieve such composite perfection of
elaborate and consummate idiocy.

There is a good deal of bad rubbish, and there is some really brilliant
and vigorous writing, in the absurdly named and absurdly constructed
comedy of "Jack Drum's Entertainment"; but in all other points--in plot,
incident, and presentation of character--it is so scandalously beneath
contempt that I am sorry to recognize the hand of Marston in a play
which introduces us to a "noble father," the model of knightly manhood
and refined good sense, who on the news of a beloved daughter's
disappearance instantly proposes to console himself with a heavy
drinking-bout. No graver censure can be passed on the conduct of the
drama than the admission that this monstrous absurdity is not out of
keeping with the rest of it. There is hardly a single character in all
its rabble rout of lunatics who behaves otherwise than would beseem a
probationary candidate for Bedlam. Yet I fear there is more serious
evidence of a circumstantial kind in favor of the theory which would
saddle the fame of Marston with the charge of its authorship than such
as depends on peculiarities of metre and eccentricities of phrase. Some
other poet--though I know of none such--may have accepted and adopted
his theory that "vengeance" must count in verse as a word of three
syllables: I can hardly believe that the fancy would sound sweet in any
second man's ear: but this speciality is not more characteristic than
other and more important qualities of style--the peculiar abruptness,
the peculiar inflation, the peculiar crudity--which denote this comedy
as apparently if not evidently Marstonian. On the other hand, if it were
indeed his, it is impossible to conjecture why his name should have been
withheld from the title-page; and it must not be forgotten that even our
own day is not more fertile than was Marston's in the generation of that
slavish cattle which has always since the age of Horace fed ravenously
and thievishly on the pasture-land of every poet who has discovered or
reclaimed a field or a province of his own.

But our estimate of John Marston's rank or regiment in the noble army of
contemporary poets will not be in any way affected by acceptance or
rejection of any apocryphal addition to the canon of his writings. For
better and for worse, the orthodox and undisputed roll of them will
suffice to decide that question beyond all chance of intelligent or
rational dispute. His rank is high in his own regiment; and the colonel
of that regiment is Ben Jonson. At first sight he may seem rather to
belong to that brighter and more famous one which has Webster among its
captains, Dekker among its lieutenants, Heywood among its privates, and
Shakespeare at its head. Nor did he by any means follow the banner of
Jonson with such automatic fidelity as that imperious martinet of genius
was wont to exact from those who came to be "sealed of the tribe of
Ben." A rigid critic--a critic who should push rigidity to the verge of
injustice--might say that he was one of those recruits in literature
whose misfortune it is to fall between two stools--to halt between two
courses. It is certain that he never thoroughly mastered either the
cavalry drill of Shakespeare or the infantry drill of Jonson. But it is
no less certain that the few finest passages which attest the power and
the purity of his genius as a poet are above comparison with any such
examples of tragic poetry as can be attributed with certainty or with
plausibility to the hand which has left us no acknowledged works in that
line except "Sejanus his Fall" and "Catiline his Conspiracy." It is
superfluous to add that "Volpone" was an achievement only less far out
of his reach than "Hamlet." But this is not to say or to imply that he
does not deserve an honorable place among English poets. His savage and
unblushing violence or vehemence of satire has no taint of gloating
or morbid prurience in the turbid flow of its fitful and furious
rhetoric. The restless rage of his invective is as far as human
utterance can find itself from the cynical infidelity of an Iago. Of him
we may say with more rational confidence what was said of that more
potent and more truculent satirist:

   An honest man he is, and hates the slime
   That sticks on filthy deeds.

We may wish that he had not been so much given to trampling and stamping
on that slime as to evoke such malodorous exhalations as infect the
lower and shallower reaches of the river down which he proceeds to steer
us with so strenuous a hand. But it is in a spirit of healthy disgust,
not of hankering delight, that he insists on calling the indignant
attention of his readers to the baser and fouler elements of natural or
social man as displayed in the vicious exuberance or eccentricity of
affectation or of self-indulgence. His real interest and his real
sympathies are reserved for the purer and nobler types of womanhood and
manhood. In his first extant tragedy, crude and fierce and coarse and
awkward as is the general treatment of character and story, the sketch
of Mellida is genuinely beautiful in its pathetic and subdued
simplicity; though certainly no such tender and gentle figure was ever
enchased in a stranger or less attractive setting. There is an odd
mixture of care and carelessness in the composition of his plays which
is exemplified by the fact that another personage in the first part of
the same dramatic poem was announced to reappear in the second part as
a more important and elaborate figure; but this second part opens with
the appearance of his assassin, red-handed from the murder: and the
two parts were published in the same year. And indeed, except in
"Parasitaster" and "The Dutch Courtesan," a general defect in his
unassisted plays is the headlong confusion of plot, the helter-skelter
violence of incident, which would hardly have been looked for in the
work of a professional and practised hand. "What you Will" is modestly
described as "a slight-writ play": but slight and slovenly are not the
same thing; nor is simplicity the equivalent of incoherence. I have
already observed that Marston is apt to be heaviest when he aims at
being lightest; not, like Ben Jonson, through a laborious and
punctilious excess of conscience which is unwilling to let slip any
chance of effect, to let pass any detail of presentation; but rather,
we are tempted to suspect, through a sardonic sense of scorn for the
pefunctory task on which his ambitious and impatient hand is for the
time employed. Now and then, however--or perhaps it would be more
accurate to say once or twice--a gayer note is struck with a lighter
touch than usual: as, for instance, in the excellent parody of Lyly put
into the mouth of an idiot in the first scene of the fifth act of the
first part of "Antonio and Mellida." "You know, the stone called
_lapis_, the nearer it comes to the fire, the hotter it is; and the bird
which the geometricians call _avis_, the farther it is from the earth,
the nearer it is to the heaven; and love, the nigher it is to the flame,
the more remote (there's a word, remote!)--the more remote it is from
the frost." Shakespeare and Scott have condescended to caricature the
style or the manner of the inventor of euphuism: I cannot think their
burlesque of his elaborate and sententious triviality so happy, so
humorous, or so exact as this. But it is not on his capacity as a
satirist or humorist, it is on his occasionally triumphant success as a
serious or tragic poet, that the fame of Marston rests assuredly
established. His intermittent power to rid himself for a while of his
besetting faults, and to acquire or assume for a moment the very
excellences most incompatible with these, is as extraordinary for the
completeness as for the transience of its successful effects. The brief
fourth act of "Antonio and Mellida" is the most astonishing and
bewildering production of belated human genius that ever distracted or
discomfited a student. Verses more delicately beautiful followed by
verses more simply majestic than these have rarely if ever given
assurance of eternity to the fame of any but a great master in song:

   Conceit you me: as having clasped a rose
   Within my palm, the rose being ta'en away,
   My hand retains a little breath of sweet,
   So may man's trunk, his spirit slipped away,
   Hold still a faint perfume of his sweet guest.
   'Tis so: for when discursive powers fly out,
   And roam in progress through the bounds of heaven,
   The soul itself gallops along with them
   As chieftain of this winged troop of thought,
   Whilst the dull lodge of spirit standeth waste
   Until the soul return.

Then follows a passage of sheer gibberish; then a dialogue of the
noblest and most dramatic eloquence; then a chaotic alternation of sense
and nonsense, bad Italian and mixed English, abject farce and dignified
rhetoric, spirited simplicity and bombastic jargon. It would be more and
less than just to take this act as a sample or a symbol of the author's
usual way of work; but I cannot imagine that a parallel to it, for evil
and for good, could be found in the works of any other writer.

The Muse of this poet is no maiden of such pure and august beauty as
enthralls us with admiration of Webster's; she has not the
gypsy-brightness and vagrant charm of Dekker's, her wild soft glances
and flashing smiles and fading traces of tears; she is no giddy girl,
but a strong woman with fine irregular features, large and luminous
eyes, broad intelligent forehead, eyebrows so thick and close together
that detraction might call her beetle-browed, powerful mouth and chin,
fine contralto voice (with an occasional stammer), expression
alternately repellent and attractive, but always striking and sincere.
No one has ever found her lovely; but there are times when she has a
fascination of her own which fairer and more famous singers might envy
her; and the friends she makes are as sure to be constant as she, for
all her occasional roughness and coarseness, is sure to be loyal in the
main to the nobler instincts of her kind and the loftier traditions of
her sisterhood.



THOMAS MIDDLETON


If it be true, as we are told on high authority, that the greatest glory
of England is her literature and the greatest glory of English
literature is its poetry, it is not less true that the greatest glory of
English poetry lies rather in its dramatic than its epic or its lyric
triumphs. The name of Shakespeare is above the names even of Milton and
Coleridge and Shelley: and the names of his comrades in art and their
immediate successors are above all but the highest names in any other
province of our song. There is such an overflowing life, such a superb
exuberance of abounding and exulting strength, in the dramatic poetry of
the half-century extending from 1590 to 1640, that all other epochs of
English literature seem as it were but half awake and half alive by
comparison with this generation of giants and of gods. There is more sap
in this than in any other branch of the national bay-tree: it has an
energy in fertility which reminds us rather of the forest than the
garden or the park. It is true that the weeds and briers of the
underwood are but too likely to embarrass and offend the feet of the
rangers and the gardeners who trim the level flower-plots or preserve
the domestic game of enclosed and ordered lowlands in the tamer demesnes
of literature. The sun is strong and the wind sharp in the climate which
reared the fellows and the followers of Shakespeare. The extreme
inequality and roughness of the ground must also be taken into account
when we are disposed, as I for one have often been disposed, to wonder
beyond measure at the apathetic ignorance of average students in regard
of the abundant treasure to be gathered from this wildest and most
fruitful province in the poetic empire of England. And yet, since
Charles Lamb threw open its gates to all comers in the ninth year of the
nineteenth century, it cannot but seem strange that comparatively so few
should have availed themselves of the entry to so rich and royal an
estate. The subsequent labors of Mr. Dyce made the rough ways plain and
the devious paths straight for all serious and worthy students. And now
again Mr. Bullen has taken up a task than which none more arduous and
important, none worthier of thanks and praise, can be undertaken by an
English scholar. In his beautiful and valuable edition of Marlowe there
are but two points to which exception may be taken. It was, I think, a
fault of omission to exclude the apocryphal play of "Lust's Dominion"
from a place in the appendix: it was, I am certain, a fault of
commission to admit instead of it the much bepuffed and very puffy
rubbish of the late Mr. Home. That clever, versatile, and energetic
writer never went so far out of his depth or floundered so pitifully in
such perilous waters as when he ventured to put verses of his own into
the mouth of Christopher Marlowe. These errors we must all hope to see
rectified in a second issue of the text: and meantime we can but welcome
with all possible gratitude and applause the magnificent series of old
plays by unknown writers which we owe to the keen research and the fine
appreciation of Marlowe's latest editor. Of these I may find some future
occasion to speak: my present business is with the admirable poet who
has been promoted to the second place in Mr. Bullen's collection of the
English dramatists.

The selection of Middleton for so distinguished a place of honor may
probably not approve itself to the judgment of all experts in dramatic
literature. Charles Lamb, as they will all remember, would have advised
the editor "to begin with the collected plays of Heywood": which as yet,
like the plays of Dekker and of Chapman, remain unedited in any serious
or scholarly sense of the term. The existing reprints merely reproduce,
without adequate elucidation or correction, the corrupt and chaotic text
of the worst early editions: while Middleton has for upward of half a
century enjoyed the privilege denied to men who are usually accounted
his equals if not his superiors in poetic if not in dramatic genius.
Even for an editor of the ripest learning and the highest ability there
is comparatively little to do where Mr. Dyce has been before him in the
field. However, we must all give glad and grateful welcome to a new
edition of a noble poet who has never yet received his full meed of
praise and justice: though our gratitude and our gladness may be
quickened and dilated by the proverbial sense of further favors to come.

The first word of modern tribute to the tragic genius of Thomas
Middleton was not spoken by Charles Lamb. Four years before the
appearance of the priceless volume which established his fame forever
among all true lovers of English poetry by copious excerpts from five
of his most characteristic works, Walter Scott, in a note on the
fifty-sixth stanza of the second fytte of the metrical romance of "Sir
Tristrem," had given a passing word of recognition to the "horribly
striking" power of "some passages" in Middleton's masterpiece: which
was first reprinted eleven years later, in the fourth volume of Dilke's
_Old Plays_. Lamb, surprisingly enough, has given not a single extract
from that noble tragedy: it was reserved for Leigh Hunt, when speaking
of its author, to remark that "there is one character of his (De Flores
in 'The Changeling') which, for effect at once tragical, probable, and
poetical, surpasses anything I know of in the drama of domestic life."
The praise is not a whit too high; the truth could not have been better
said.

The play with which Mr. Bullen, altering the arrangement adopted by Mr.
Dyce, opens his edition of Middleton, is a notable example of the best
and the worst qualities which distinguish or disfigure the romantic
comedy of the Shakespearean age. The rude and reckless composition, the
rough intrusion of savorless farce, the bewildering combinations of
incident and the far more bewildering fluctuations of character--all the
inconsistencies, incongruities, incoherences of the piece are forgotten
when the reader remembers and reverts to the passages of exquisite and
fascinating beauty which relieve and redeem the utmost errors of
negligence and haste. To find anything more delightful, more satisfying
in its pure and simple perfection of loveliness, we must turn to the
very best examples of Shakespeare's youthful work. Nay, it must be
allowed that in one or two of the master's earliest plays--in "Two
Gentlemen of Verona," for instance--we shall find nothing comparable for
charm and sincerity of sweet and passionate fancy with such enchanting
verses as these:

   O happy persecution, I embrace thee
   With an unfettered soul! So sweet a thing
   It is to sigh upon the rack of love,
   Where each calamity is groaning witness
   Of the poor martyr's faith. I never heard
   Of any true affection, but 'twas nipt
   With care, that, like the caterpillar, eats
   The leaves off the spring's sweetest book, the rose.
   Love, bred on earth, is often nursed in hell:
   By rote it reads woe, ere it learn to spell.

Again: the "secure tyrant, but unhappy lover," whose prisoner and rival
has thus expressed his triumphant resignation, is counselled by his
friend to "go laugh and lie down," as not having slept for three nights;
but answers, in words even more delicious than his supplanter's:

   Alas, how can I? he that truly loves
   Burns out the day in idle fantasies;
   And when the lamb bleating doth bid good-night
   Unto the closing day, then tears begin
   To keep quick time unto the owl, whose voice
   Shrieks like the bellman in the lover's ears:
   Love's eye the jewel of sleep, O, seldom wears!
   The early lark is wakened from her bed,
   Being only by love's plaints disquieted;
   And, singing in the morning's ear, she weeps,
   Being deep in love, at lovers' broken sleeps:
   But say a golden slumber chance to tie
   With silken strings the cover of love's eye,
   Then dreams, magician-like, mocking present
   Pleasures, whose fading leaves more discontent.

Perfect in music, faultless in feeling, exquisite in refined simplicity
of expression, this passage is hardly more beautiful and noble than one
or two in the play which follows. "The Phoenix" is a quaint and homely
compound of satirical realism in social studies with Utopian invention
in the figure of an ideal prince, himself a compound of Harun-al-Rashid
and "Albert the Good," who wanders through the play as a detective in
disguise, and appears in his own person at the close to discharge in
full the general and particular claims of justice and philanthropy. The
whole work is slight and sketchy, primitive if not puerile in parts, but
easy and amusing to read; the confidence reposed by the worthy monarch
in noblemen of such unequivocal nomenclature as Lord Proditor,
Lussurioso, and Infesto, is one of the signs that we are here still on
the debatable borderland between the old Morality and the new Comedy--a
province where incarnate vices and virtues are seen figuring and
posturing in what can scarcely be called masquerade. But the two fine
soliloquies of Phoenix on the corruption of the purity of law (act i.
scene iv.) and the profanation of the sanctity of marriage (act ii.
scene ii.) are somewhat riper and graver in style, with less admixture
of rhyme and more variety of cadence, than the lovely verses above
quoted. Milton's obligation to the latter passage is less direct than
his earlier obligation to a later play of Middleton's from which he
transferred one of the most beautiful as well as most famous images in
"Lycidas": but his early and intimate acquaintance with Middleton had
apparently (as Mr. Dyce seems to think[1]) left in the ear of the blind
old poet a more or less distinct echo from the noble opening verses of
the dramatist's address to "reverend and honorable matrimony."

[Footnote 1: Mr. Dyce would no doubt have altered his opinion had he
lived to see the evidence adduced by the Director of the New Meltun
Society that the real author of "A Game at Chess" was none other than
John Milton himself, whose earliest poems had appeared the year before
the publication of that anti-papal satire. This discovery is only less
curious and precious than a later revelation which we must accept on the
same authority, that "Comus" was written by Sir John Suckling, "Paradise
Regained" by Lord Rochester, and "Samson Agonistes" by Elkanah Settle:
while on the other hand it may be affirmed with no less confidence that
Milton--who never would allow his name to be spelled right on the
title-page or under the dedication of any work published by him--owed
his immunity from punishment after the Restoration to the admitted fact
that he was the real author of Dryden's "Astraea Redux."]

In "Michaelmas Term" the realism of Middleton's comic style is no
longer alloyed or flavored with poetry or fancy. It is an excellent
Hogarthian comedy, full of rapid and vivid incident, of pleasant or
indignant humor. Its successor, "A Trick to Catch the Old One," is by
far the best play Middleton had yet written, and one of the best he ever
wrote. The merit of this and his other good comedies does not indeed
consist in any new or subtle study of character, any Shakespearean
creation or Jonsonian invention of humors or of men: the spendthrifts
and the misers, the courtesans and the dotards, are figures borrowed
from the common stock of stage tradition: it is the vivid variety of
incident and intrigue, the freshness and ease and vigor of the style,
the clear straightforward energy and vivacity of the action, that the
reader finds most praiseworthy in the best comic work of such ready
writers as Middleton and Dekker. The dialogue has sometimes touches of
real humor and flashes of genuine wit: but its readable and enjoyable
quality is generally independent of these. Very witty writing may be
very dreary reading, for want of natural animation and true dramatic
movement: and in these qualities at least the rough-and-ready work of
our old dramatists is seldom if ever deficient.

It is, however, but too probable that the reader's enjoyment may be
crossed with a dash of exasperation when he finds a writer of real
genius so reckless of fame and self-respect as the pressure of want or
the weariness of overwork seems but too often and too naturally to have
made too many of the great dramatic journeymen whose powers were half
wasted or half worn out in the struggle for bare bread. No other excuse
than this can be advanced for the demerit of Middleton's next comedy.
Had the author wished to show how well and how ill he could write at his
worst and at his best, he could have given no fairer proof than by the
publication of two plays issued under his name in the same year 1608.
"The Family of Love" is, in my judgment, unquestionably and incomparably
the worst of Middleton's plays: very coarse, very dull, altogether
distasteful and ineffectual. As a religious satire it is so utterly
pointless as to leave no impression of any definite folly or distinctive
knavery in the doctrine or the practice of the particular sect held up
by name to ridicule: an obscure body of feather-headed fanatics,
concerning whom we can only be certain that they were decent and
inoffensive in comparison with the yelling Yahoos whom the scandalous
and senseless license of our own day allows to run and roar about the
country unmuzzled and unwhipped.

There is much more merit in the broad comedy of "Your Five Gallants," a
curious burlesque study of manners and morals not generally commendable
for imitation. The ingenious and humorous invention which supplies a
centre for the picture and a pivot for the action is most singularly
identical with the device of a modern detective as recorded by the
greatest English writer of his day. "The Butcher's Story," told to
Dickens by the policeman who had played the part of the innocent young
butcher, may be profitably compared by lovers of detective humor with
the story of Fitsgrave--a "thrice worthy" gentleman who under the
disguise of a young gull fresh from college succeeds in circumventing
and unmasking the five associated swindlers of variously villanous
professions by whom a fair and amiable heiress is beleaguered and
befooled. The play is somewhat crude and hasty in construction, but full
of life and fun and grotesque variety of humorous event.

The first of Middleton's plays to attract notice from students of a
later generation, "A Mad World, My Masters," if not quite so thoroughly
good a comedy as "A Trick to Catch the Old One," must be allowed to
contain the very best comic character ever drawn or sketched by the
fertile and flowing pen of its author. The prodigal grandfather, Sir
Bounteous Progress, is perhaps the most life-like figure of a
good-humored and liberal old libertine that ever amused or scandalized
a tolerant or intolerant reader. The chief incidents of the action are
admirably humorous and ingenious; but the matrimonial part of the
catastrophe is something more than repulsive, and the singular
intervention of a real live succubus, less terrible in her seductions
than her sister of the "Contes Drolatiques," can hardly seem happy or
seasonable to a generation which knows not King James and his
Demonology.

Of the two poets occasionally associated with Middleton in the
composition of a play, Dekker seems usually to have taken in hand the
greater part, and Rowley the lesser part, of the composite poem
engendered by their joint efforts. The style of "The Roaring Girl" is
full of Dekker's peculiar mannerisms; slipshod and straggling metre,
incongruous touches or flashes of fanciful or lyrical expression,
reckless and awkward inversions, irrational and irrepressible outbreaks
of irregular and fitful rhyme. And with all these faults it is more
unmistakably the style of a born poet than is the usual style of
Middleton. Dekker would have taken a high place among the finest if not
among the greatest of English poets if he had but had the sense of
form--the instinct of composition. Whether it was modesty, indolence,
indifference, or incompetence, some drawback or shortcoming there was
which so far impaired the quality of his strong and delicate genius that
it is impossible for his most ardent and cordial admirer to say or think
of his very best work that it really does him justice--that it
adequately represents the fulness of his unquestionable powers. And yet
it is certain that Lamb was not less right than usual when he said that
Dekker "had poetry enough for anything." But he had not constructive
power enough for the trade of a playwright--the trade in which he spent
so many weary years of ill-requited labor. This comedy in which we first
find him associated with Middleton is well written and well contrived,
and fairly diverting--especially to an idle or an uncritical reader:
though even such an one may suspect that the heroine here represented as
a virginal virago must have been in fact rather like Dr. Johnson's fair
friend Bet Flint; of whom the Great Lexicographer "used to say that she
was generally slut and drunkard; occasionally whore and thief" (Boswell,
May 8, 1781). The parallel would have been more nearly complete if Moll
Cutpurse "had written her own Life in verse," and brought it to Selden
or Bishop Hall with a request that he would furnish her with a preface
to it.

The plays of Middleton are not so properly divisible into tragic and
comic as into realistic and romantic--into plays of which the mainspring
is essentially prosaic or photographic, and plays of which the
mainspring is principally fanciful or poetical. Two only of the former
class remain to be mentioned: "Anything for a Quiet Life" and "A Chaste
Maid in Cheapside." There is very good stuff in the plot or groundwork
of the former, but the workmanship is hardly worthy of the material, Mr.
Bullen ingeniously and plausibly suggests the partnership of Shirley in
this play: but the conception of the character in which he discerns a
likeness to the touch of the lesser dramatist is happier and more
original than such a comparison would indicate. The young stepmother
whose affectation of selfish levity and grasping craft is really
designed to cure her husband of his infatuation, and to reconcile him
with the son who regards her as his worst enemy, is a figure equally
novel, effective, and attractive. The honest shopkeeper and his shrewish
wife may remind us again of Dickens by their points of likeness to Mr.
and Mrs. Snagsby; though the reformation of the mercer's jealous vixen
is brought about by more humorous and less tragical means than the
repentance of the law-stationer's "little woman." George the apprentice,
through whose wit and energy this happy consummation becomes possible,
is a very original and amusing example of the young Londoner of the
period. But there is more humor, though very little chastity, in the
"Chaste Maid"; a play of quite exceptional freedom and audacity, and
certainly one of the drollest and liveliest that ever broke the bounds
of propriety or shook the sides of merriment.

The opening of "More Dissemblers Besides Women" is as full at once of
comic and of romantic promise as the upshot of the whole is
unsatisfactory--a most lame and impotent conclusion. But some of the
dialogue is exquisite; full of flowing music and gentle grace, of ease
and softness and fancy and spirit; and the part of a poetic or romantic
Joseph Surface, as perfect in the praise of virtue as in the practice of
vice, is one of Middleton's really fine and happy inventions. In the
style of "The Widow" there is no less fluency and facility: it is
throughout identical with that of Middleton's other comedies in metre; a
style which has so many points in common with Fletcher's as to make the
apocryphal attribution of a share in this comedy to the hand of the
greater poet more plausible than many other ascriptions of the kind. I
am inclined nevertheless to agree with Mr. Bullen's apparent opinion
that the whole credit of this brilliant play may be reasonably assigned
to Middleton; and especially with his remark that the only scene in
which any resemblance to the manner of Ben Jonson can be traced by the
most determined ingenuity of critical research is more like the work of
a pupil than like a hasty sketch of the master's. There is no lack of
energetic invention and beautiful versification in another comedy of
adventure and intrigue, "No Wit, No Help Like a Woman's": the unpleasant
or extravagant quality of certain incidents in the story is partially
neutralized or modified by the unfailing charm of a style worthy of
Fletcher himself in his ripest and sweetest stage of poetic comedy.

But high above all the works yet mentioned there stands and will stand
conspicuous while noble emotion and noble verse have honor among English
readers the pathetic and heroic play so memorably appreciated by Charles
Lamb, "A Fair Quarrel." It would be the vainest and emptiest
impertinence to offer a word in echo of his priceless and imperishable
praise. The delicate nobility of the central conception on which the
hero's character depends for its full relief and development should be
enough to efface all remembrance of any defect or default in moral
taste, any shortcoming on the aesthetic side of ethics, which may be
detected in any slighter or hastier example of the poet's invention. A
man must be dull and slow of sympathies indeed who cannot respond in
spirit to that bitter cry of chivalrous and manful agony at sense of the
shadow of a mother's shame:

                             Quench, my spirit,
   And out with honor's naming lights within thee!
   Be dark and dead to all respects of manhood!
   I never shall have use of valor more.

Middleton has no second hero like Captain Ager: but where is there
another so thoroughly noble and lovable among all the characters of all
the dramatists of his time but Shakespeare?

The part taken by Rowley in this play is easy for any tiro in criticism
to verify. The rough and crude genius of that perverse and powerful
writer is not seen here by any means at its best. I should say that his
call was rather toward tragedy than toward comedy; that his mastery of
severe and serious emotion was more genuine and more natural than his
command of satirical or grotesque realism. The tragedy in which he has
grappled with the subject afterward so differently handled in the first
and greatest of Landor's tragedies is to me of far more interest and
value than such comedies as that which kindled the enthusiasm of a loyal
Londoner in the civic sympathies of Lamb. Disfigured as it is toward the
close by indulgence in mere horror and brutality after the fashion of
Andronicus or Jeronimo, it has more beauty and power and pathos in its
best scenes than a reader of his comedies would have expected. But in
the underplot of "A Fair Quarrel" Rowley's besetting faults of
coarseness and quaintness, stiffness and roughness, are so flagrant and
obtrusive that we cannot avoid a feeling of regret and irritation at
such untimely and inharmonious evidence of his partnership with a poet
of finer if not of sturdier genius. The same sense of discord and
inequality will be aroused on comparison of the worse with the better
parts of "The Old Law." The clumsiness and dulness of the farcical
interludes can hardly be paralleled in the rudest and hastiest scenes of
Middleton's writing: while the sweet and noble dignity of the finer
passages have the stamp of his ripest and tenderest genius on every line
and in every cadence. But for sheer bewildering incongruity there is no
play known to me which can be compared with "The Mayor of Queenborough."
Here again we find a note so dissonant and discordant in the lighter
parts of the dramatic concert that we seem at once to recognize the
harsher and hoarser instrument of Rowley. The farce is even more
extravagantly and preposterously mistimed and misplaced than that which
disfigures the play just mentioned: but I thoroughly agree with Mr.
Bullen's high estimate of the power displayed and maintained throughout
the tragic and poetic part of this drama; to which no previous critic
has ever vouchsafed a word of due acknowledgment. The story is ugly and
unnatural, but its repulsive effect is transfigured or neutralized by
the charm of tender or passionate poetry; and it must be admitted that
the hideous villany of Vortiger and Horsus affords an opening for
subsequent scenic effects of striking and genuine tragical interest.

The difference between the genius of Middleton and the genius of Dekker
could not be better illustrated than by comparison of their attempts at
political and patriotic allegory. The lazy, slovenly, impatient genius
of Dekker flashes out by fits and starts on the reader of the play in
which he has expressed his English hatred of Spain and Popery, his
English pride in the rout of the Armada, and his English gratitude for
the part played by Queen Elizabeth in the crowning struggle of the time:
but his most cordial admirer can hardly consider "The Whore of Babylon"
a shining or satisfactory example of dramatic art. The play which
brought Middleton into prison, and earned for the actors a sum so far
beyond parallel as to have seemed incredible till the fullest evidence
was procured, is one of the most complete and exquisite works of
artistic ingenuity and dexterity that ever excited or offended,
enraptured or scandalized an audience of friends or enemies: the only
work of English poetry which may properly be called Aristophanic. It has
the same depth of civic seriousness, the same earnest ardor and devotion
to the old cause of the old country, the same solid fervor of enthusiasm
and indignation, which animated the third great poet of Athens against
the corruption of art by the sophistry of Euripides and the corruption
of manhood by the sophistry of Socrates. The delicate skill of the
workmanship can only be appreciated by careful and thorough study; but
that the infusion of poetic fancy and feeling into the generally comic
and satiric style is hardly unworthy of the comparison which I have
ventured to challenge, I will take but one brief extract for evidence:

   Upon those lips, the sweet fresh buds of youth,
   The holy dew of prayer lies, like pearl
   Dropt from the opening eyelids of the morn
   Upon a bashful rose.

Here for once even "that celestial thief" John Milton has impaired
rather than improved the effect of the beautiful phrase borrowed from an
earlier and inferior poet. His use of Middleton's exquisite image is not
quite so apt--so perfectly picturesque and harmonious--as the use to
which it was put by the inventor.

Nothing in the age of Shakespeare is so difficult for an Englishman of
our own age to realize as the temper, the intelligence, the serious and
refined elevation of an audience which was at once capable of enjoying
and applauding the roughest and coarsest kinds of pleasantly, the rudest
and crudest scenes of violence, and competent to appreciate the finest
and the highest reaches of poetry, the subtlest and the most sustained
allusions of ethical or political symbolism. The large and long
popularity of an exquisite dramatic or academic allegory such as
"Lingua," which would seem to appeal only to readers of exceptional
education, exceptional delicacy of perception, and exceptional quickness
of wit, is hardly more remarkable than the popular success of a play
requiring such keen constancy of attention, such vivid wakefulness and
promptitude of apprehension, as this even more serious than fantastic
work of Middleton's. The vulgarity and puerility of all modern attempts
at any comparable effect need not be cited to throw into relief the
essential finish, the impassioned intelligence, the high spiritual and
literary level, of these crowded and brilliant and vehement five acts.
Their extreme cleverness, their indefatigable ingenuity, would in any
case have been remarkable: but their fulness of active and poetic life
gives them an interest far deeper and higher and more permanent than the
mere sense of curiosity and wonder.

But if "A Game at Chess" is especially distinguished by its complete and
thorough harmony of execution and design, the lack of any such artistic
merit in another famous work of Middleton's is such as once more to
excite that irritating sense of inequality, irregularity, inconstancy of
genius and inconsequence of aim, which too often besets and bewilders
the student of our early dramatists. There is poetry enough in "The
Witch" to furnish forth a whole generation of poeticules: but the
construction or composition of the play, the arrangement and evolution
of event, the distinction or development of character, would do less
than little credit to a boy of twelve; who at any rate would hardly have
thought of patching up so ridiculous a reconciliation between intending
murderers and intended victims as here exceeds in absurdity the chaotic
combination of accident and error which disposes of inconvenient or
superfluous underlings. But though neither Mr. Dyce nor Mr. Bullen has
been at all excessive or unjust in his animadversions on these flagrant
faults and follies, neither editor has given his author due credit for
the excellence of style, of language and versification, which makes this
play readable throughout with pleasure, if not always without
impatience. Fletcher himself, the acknowledged master of the style here
adopted by Middleton, has left no finer example of metrical fluency and
melodious ease. The fashion of dialogue and composition is no doubt
rather feminine than masculine: Marlowe and Jonson, Webster and
Beaumont, Tourneur and Ford--to cite none but the greatest of
authorities in this kind--wrote a firmer if not a freer hand, struck a
graver if not a sweeter note of verse: this rapid effluence of easy
expression is liable to lapse into conventional efflux of facile
improvisation: but such command of it as Middleton's is impossible to
any but a genuine and a memorable poet.

As for the supposed obligations of Shakespeare to Middleton or Middleton
to Shakespeare, the imaginary relations of "The Witch" to "Macbeth" or
"Macbeth" to "The Witch," I can only say that the investigation of this
subject seems to me as profitable as a research into the natural
history of snakes in Iceland. That the editors to whom we owe the
miserably defaced and villanously garbled text which is all that has
reached us of "Macbeth," not content with the mutilation of the greater
poet, had recourse to the interpolation of a few superfluous and
incongruous lines or fragments from the lyric portions of the lesser
poet's work--that the players who mangled Shakespeare were the pilferers
who plundered Middleton--must be obvious to all but those (if any such
yet exist anywhere) who are capable of believing the unspeakably
impudent assertion of those mendacious malefactors that they have left
us a pure and perfect edition of Shakespeare. These passages are all
thoroughly in keeping with the general tone of the lesser work: it would
be tautology to add that they are no less utterly out of keeping with
the general tone of the other. But in their own way nothing can be
finer: they have a tragic liveliness in ghastliness, a grotesque
animation of horror, which no other poet has ever conceived or conveyed
to us. The difference between Michael Angelo and Goya, Tintoretto and
Gustave Dore, does not quite efface the right of the minor artists to
existence and remembrance.

The strange and strangely beautiful tragic poem, which could not have
come down to us under a stupider or a less appropriate name than that
apparently conferred on it by the licenser of "The Second Maiden's
Tragedy," must by all evidence of internal and external probability be
almost unquestionably assigned to the hand of Middleton. The masterly
daring of the stage effect, which cannot or should not be mistaken for
the merely theatrical audacity of a headlong impressionist at any price,
is not more characteristic of the author than the tender and passionate
fluency of the flawless verse. The rather eccentric intermittency of the
supernatural action is a no less obviously plausible reason for
assigning it to the creator of so realistic a witch and so singular a
succubus. But such a dramatic poem as this would be a conspicuous jewel
in the crown of any but a supremely great dramatist and poet. And the
musical or metrical harmony of the verse, imperceptible as it may be or
rather must always be to the long-eared dunces who can only think to
hear through their clumsy fingers, is so like Fletcher's as to suggest
that if any part of Shakespeare's "King Henry VIII." is attributable to
a lesser hand than his it may far more plausibly be assigned to
Middleton's than to Fletcher's. Had it or could it have been the work of
Fletcher, the clamorous and multitudinous satellites who preferred him
with such furious fatuity of acclamation to so inconsiderable a rival
as Shakespeare would hardly have abstained from reclaiming it on behalf
of the great poet whom it pleased their imbecility to set so far above
one so immeasurably and so unutterably greater.

The tragedy of "Women Beware Women," whether or not it be accepted as
the masterpiece of Middleton, is at least an excellent example of the
facility and fluency and equable promptitude of style which all students
will duly appreciate and applaud in the riper and completer work of this
admirable poet. It is full to overflowing of noble eloquence, of
inventive resource and suggestive effect, of rhetorical affluence and
theatrical ability. The opening or exposition of the play is quite
masterly: and the scene in which the forsaken husband is seduced into
consolation by the temptress of his wife is worthy of all praise for the
straightforward ingenuity and the serious delicacy by which the action
is rendered credible and the situation endurable. But I fear that few or
none will be found to disagree with my opinion that no such approbation
or tolerance can be reasonably extended so as to cover or condone the
offences of either the underplot or the upshot of the play. The one is
repulsive beyond redemption by elegance of style, the other is
preposterous beyond extenuation on the score of logical or poetical
justice. Those who object on principle to solution by massacre must
object in consistency to the conclusions of "Hamlet" and "King Lear";
nor are the results of Webster's tragic invention more questionable or
less inevitable than the results of Shakespeare's: but the dragnet of
murder which gathers in the characters at the close of this play is as
promiscuous in its sweep as that cast by Cyril Tourneur over the
internecine shoal of sharks who are hauled in and ripped open at the
close of "The Revenger's Tragedy." Had Middleton been content with the
admirable subject of his main action, he might have given us a simple
and unimpeachable masterpiece: and even as it is he has left us a noble
and memorable work. It is true that the irredeemable infamy of the
leading characters degrades and deforms the nature of the interest
excited: the good and gentle old mother whose affectionate simplicity is
so gracefully and attractively painted passes out of the story and drops
out of the list of actors just when some redeeming figure is most needed
to assuage the dreariness of disgust with which we follow the fortunes
of so meanly criminal a crew: and the splendid eloquence of the only
other respectable person in the play is not of itself sufficient to make
a living figure, rather than the mere mouthpiece for indignant emotion,
of so subordinate and inactive a character as the Cardinal. The lower
comedy of the play is identical in motive with that which defaces the
master-work of Ford: more stupid and offensive it hardly could be. But
the high comedy of the scene between Livia and the Widow is as fine as
the best work in that kind left us by the best poets and humorists of
the Shakespearean age; it is not indeed unworthy of the comparison with
Chaucer's which it suggested to the all but impeccable judgment of
Charles Lamb.

The lack of moral interest and sympathetic attraction in the characters
and the story, which has been noted as the principal defect in the
otherwise effective composition of "Women Beware Women," is an objection
which cannot be brought against the graceful tragicomedy of "The Spanish
Gipsy." Whatever is best in the tragic or in the romantic part of this
play bears the stamp of Middleton's genius alike in the sentiment and
the style. "The code of modern morals," to borrow a convenient phrase
from Shelley, may hardly incline us to accept as plausible or as
possible the repentance and the redemption of so brutal a ruffian as
Roderigo: but the vivid beauty of the dialogue is equal to the vivid
interest of the situation which makes the first act one of the most
striking in any play of the time. The double action has some leading
points in common with two of Fletcher's, which have nothing in common
with each other: Merione in "The Queen of Corinth" is less interesting
than Clara, but the vagabonds of "Beggars' Bush" are more amusing than
Rowley's or Middleton's. The play is somewhat deficient in firmness or
solidity of construction: it is, if such a phrase be permissible, one of
those half-baked or underdone dishes of various and confused
ingredients, in which the cook's or the baker's hurry has impaired the
excellent materials of wholesome bread and savory meat. The splendid
slovens who served their audience with spiritual work in which the gods
had mixed "so much of earth, so much of heaven, and such impetuous
blood"--the generous and headlong purveyors who lavished on their daily
provision of dramatic fare such wealth of fine material and such
prodigality of superfluous grace--the foremost followers of Marlowe and
of Shakespeare were too prone to follow the impetuous example of the
first rather than the severe example of the second. There is perhaps not
one of them--and Middleton assuredly is not one--whom we can reasonably
imagine capable of the patience and self-respect which induced
Shakespeare to rewrite the triumphantly popular parts of Romeo, of
Falstaff, and of Hamlet with an eye to the literary perfection and
permanence of work which in its first light outline had won the crowning
suffrage of immediate or spectacular applause.

The rough-and-ready hand of Rowley may be traced, not indeed in the more
high-toned passages, but in many of the most animated scenes of "The
Spanish Gipsy." In the most remarkable of the ten masks or interludes
which appear among the collected works of Middleton the two names are
again associated. To the freshness, liveliness, and spirited ingenuity
of this little allegorical comedy Mr. Bullen has done ample justice in
his excellent critical introduction. "The Inner-Temple Masque," less
elaborate than "The World Tost at Tennis," shows no lack of homely humor
and invention: and in the others there is as much waste of fine flowing
verse and facile fancy as ever excited the rational regret of a modern
reader at the reckless profusion of literary power which the great poets
of the time were content to lavish on the decoration or exposition of an
ephemeral pageant. Of Middleton's other minor works, apocryphal or
genuine, I will only say that his authorship of "Microcynicon"--a dull
and crabbed imitation of Marston's worst work as a satirist--seems to me
utterly incredible. A lucid and melodious fluency of style is the mark
of all his metrical writing; and this stupid piece of obscure and clumsy
jargon could have been the work of no man endowed with more faculty of
expression than informs or modulates the whine of an average pig. Nor is
it rationally conceivable that the Thomas Middleton who soiled some
reams of paper with what he was pleased to consider or to call a
paraphrase of the "Wisdom of Solomon" can have had anything but a poet's
name in common with a poet. This name is not like that of the great
writer whose name is attached to "The Transformed Metamorphosis": there
can hardly have been two Cyril Tourneurs in the field, but there may
well have been half a dozen Thomas Middletons. And Tourneur's abortive
attempt at allegoric discourse is but a preposterous freak of prolonged
eccentricity: this paraphrase is simply a tideless and interminable sea
of limitless and inexhaustible drivel. There are three reasons--two of
them considerable, but the third conclusive--for assigning to Middleton
the two satirical tracts in the style of Nash, or rather of Dekker,
which appeared in the same year with his initials subscribed to their
prefatory addresses. Mr. Dyce thought they were written by the poet
whose ready verse and realistic humor are both well represented in their
text: Mr. Bullen agrees with Mr. Dyce in thinking that they are the
work of Middleton. And Mr. Carew Hazlitt thinks that they are not.

No such absolute and final evidence as this can be adduced in favor or
disfavor of the theory which would saddle the reputation of Middleton
with the authorship of a dull and disjointed comedy, the work (it has
hitherto been supposed) of the German substitute for Shakespeare.
Middleton has no doubt left us more crude and shapeless plays than "The
Puritan"; none, in my opinion--excepting always his very worst authentic
example of farce or satire, "The Family of Love"--so heavy and so empty
and so feeble. If it must be assigned to any author of higher rank than
the new Shakespeare, I would suggest that it is much more like Rowley's
than like Middleton's worst work. Of the best qualities which
distinguish either of these writers as poet or as humorist, it has not
the shadow or the glimmer of a vestige.

In the last and the greatest work which bears their united names--a work
which should suffice to make either name immortal if immortality were
other than an accidental attribute of genius--the very highest capacity
of either poet is seen at its very best. There is more of mere poetry,
more splendor of style and vehemence of verbal inspiration, in the work
of other poets then writing for the stage: the two masterpieces of
Webster are higher in tone at their highest, more imaginative and more
fascinating in their expression of terrible or of piteous truth: there
are more superb harmonies, more glorious raptures of ardent and eloquent
music, in the sometimes unsurpassed and unsurpassable poetic passion of
Cyril Tourneur. But even Webster's men seem but splendid sketches, as
Tourneur's seem but shadowy or fiery outlines, beside the perfect and
living figure of De Flores. The man is so horribly human, so fearfully
and wonderfully natural, in his single-hearted brutality of devotion,
his absolute absorption of soul and body by one consuming force of
passionately cynical desire, that we must go to Shakespeare for an
equally original and an equally unquestionable revelation of indubitable
truth. And in no play by Beaumont and Fletcher is the concord between
the two partners more singularly complete in unity of spirit and of
style than throughout the tragic part of this play. The underplot from
which it most unluckily and absurdly derives its title is very stupid,
rather coarse, and almost vulgar: but the two great parts of Beatrice
and De Flores are equally consistent, coherent, and sustained in the
scenes obviously written by Middleton and in the scenes obviously
written by Rowley. The subordinate part taken by Middleton in Dekker's
play of "The Honest Whore" is difficult to discern from the context or
to verify by inner evidence: though some likeness to his realistic or
photographic method may be admitted as perceptible in the admirable
picture of Bellafront's morning reception at the opening of the second
act of the first part. But here we may assert with fair confidence that
the first and the last scenes of the play bear the indisputable
sign-manual of William Rowley. His vigorous and vivid genius, his
somewhat hard and curt directness of style and manner, his clear and
trenchant power of straightforward presentation or exposition, may be
traced in every line as plainly as the hand of Middleton must be
recognized in the main part of the tragic action intervening. To Rowley,
therefore, must be assigned the very high credit of introducing and of
dismissing with adequate and even triumphant effect the strangely
original tragic figure which owes its fullest and finest development to
the genius of Middleton. To both poets alike must unqualified and equal
praise be given for the subtle simplicity of skill with which they make
us appreciate the fatal and foreordained affinity between the
ill-favored, rough-mannered, broken-down gentleman and the headstrong,
unscrupulous, unobservant girl whose very abhorrence of him serves only
to fling her down from her high station of haughty beauty into the very
clutch of his ravenous and pitiless passion. Her cry of horror and
astonishment at first perception of the price to be paid for a service
she had thought to purchase with mere money is so wonderfully real in
its artless and ingenuous sincerity that Shakespeare himself could
hardly have bettered it:

   Why, 'tis impossible thou canst be so wicked,
   And shelter such a cunning cruelty,
   To make his death the murderer of my honor!

That note of incredulous amazement that the man whom she has just
instigated to the commission of murder "can be so wicked" as to have
served her ends for any end of his own beyond the pay of a professional
assassin is a touch worthy of the greatest dramatist that ever lived.
The perfect simplicity of expression is as notable as the perfect
innocence of her surprise; the candid astonishment of a nature
absolutely incapable of seeing more than one thing or holding more than
one thought at a time. That she, the first criminal, should be honestly
shocked as well as physically horrified by revelation of the real motive
which impelled her accomplice into crime, gives a lurid streak of
tragic humor to the life-like interest of the scene; as the pure
infusion of spontaneous poetry throughout redeems the whole work from
the charge of vulgar subservience to a vulgar taste for the presentation
or the contemplation of criminal horror. Instances of this happy and
natural nobility of instinct abound in the casual expressions which give
grace and animation always, but never any touch of rhetorical
transgression or florid superfluity, to the brief and trenchant
sword-play of the tragic dialogue:

   That sigh would fain have utterance: take pity on't,
   And lend it a free word; 'las, how it labors
   For liberty! I hear the murmur yet
   Beat at your bosom.

The wording of this passage is sufficient to attest the presence and
approve the quality of a poet: the manner and the moment of its
introduction would be enough to show the instinctive and inborn insight
of a natural dramatist. As much may be said of the few words which give
us a ghostly glimpse of supernatural terror:

   Ha! what art thou that tak'st away the light
   Betwixt that star and me! I dread thee not:
   'Twas but a mist of conscience.

But the real power and genius of the work cannot be shown by
extracts--not even by such extracts as these. His friend and colleague
Dekker shows to better advantage by the process of selection: hardly one
of his plays leaves so strong and sweet an impression of its general and
complete excellence as of separate scenes or passages of tender and
delicate imagination or emotion beyond the reach of Middleton: but the
tragic unity and completeness of conception which distinguish this
masterpiece will be sought in vain among the less firm and solid figures
of his less serious and profound invention. Had "The Changeling" not
been preserved, we should not have known Middleton: as it is, we are
more than justified in asserting that a critic who denies him a high
place among the poets of England must be not merely ignorant of the
qualities which involve a right or confer a claim to this position, but
incapable of curing his ignorance by any process of study. The rough and
rapid work which absorbed too much of this poet's time and toil seems
almost incongruous with the impression made by the noble and thoughtful
face, so full of gentle dignity and earnest composure, in which we
recognize the graver and loftier genius of a man worthy to hold his own
beside all but the greatest of his age. And that age was the age of
Shakespeare.



WILLIAM ROWLEY


Of all the poets and humorists who lit up the London stage for half a
century of unequalled glory, William Rowley was the most thoroughly
loyal Londoner: the most evidently and proudly mindful that he was a
citizen of no mean city. I have always thought that this must have been
the conscious or unconscious source of the strong and profound interest
which his very remarkable and original genius had the good-fortune to
evoke from the sympathies of Charles Lamb. That divine cockney, if the
word may be used--and "why in the name of glory," to borrow the phrase
of another immortal fellow-townsman, should it not be?--as a term of no
less honor than Yorkshireman or Northumbrian, Cornishman or Welshman,
has lavished upon Rowley such cordial and such manfully sympathetic
praise as would suffice to preserve and to immortalize the name of a far
lesser man and a far feebler workman in tragedy or comedy, poetry or
prose.

If Lamb had known and read the first work published by Rowley, it is
impossible to imagine that it would not have been honored by the tribute
of some passing and priceless word. Why it has never been reissued
(except in a private reprint for the Percy Society) among the many less
deserving and less interesting revivals from the apparently and not
really ephemeral literature of its day would be to me an insoluble
problem, if I were so ignorant as never to have realized the too obvious
fact that chance, pure and simple chance, guides or misguides the
intelligence, and suggests or fails to suggest, the duty of scholars and
of students who have given time and thought to such far from unimportant
or insignificant matters. "A Search for Money; or, a Quest for the
Wandering Knight Monsieur L'Argent," is not comparable with the best
pamphlets of Nash or of Dekker: a competent reader of those admirable
improvisations will at the first opening feel inclined to regard it as a
feeble and servile imitation of their quaint and obsolescent manner; but
he will soon find an original and a vigorous vein of native humor in
their comrade or their disciple. The seekers after the wandering knight,
baffled in their search on shore, are compelled to recognize the sad
fact that "the sea is lunatic, and mad folks keep no money, he would
sink if he were there." The description of an usurer is memorable by
its reference to the first great poet of England, among whose followers
Rowley is far from the least worthy of honor. "His visage (or vizard),
like the artificial Jew of Malta's nose," brings before the reader in
vivid realism the likeness of Alleyn or Burbage as he represented in
grotesque and tragic disguise the magnificent figure of Marlowe's
creative invention or discovery by dint of genius. (I do not remember
the curious verb "to rand" except in this little book: "he randed out
these sentences": I presume it to be the first form of "rant.") The
account of St. Paul's in 1609 is very curious and scandalous: "the very
Temple itself (in bare humility) stood without his cap, and so had stood
many years, many good folks had spoke for him because he could not speak
for himself, and somewhat had been gathered in his behalf, but not half
enough to supply his necessity."

When we pass from "the Temple" to Westminster Hall we come upon a sample
of humor which would be famous if it were the gift of a less
ungratefully forgotten hand.

"Here were two brothers at buffets with angels in their fists about the
thatch that blew off his house into the other's garden and so spoiled a
Hartichoke."

It should not have been left to a later hand--it should surely have
been the privilege of Lamb's or Hazlitt's, and perhaps rather Hazlitt's
than even Lamb's--to unearth and to transcribe the quaint and spirited
description of Thames watermen "howling, hollowing, and calling for
passengers, as if all the hags in hell had been imprisoned, and begging
at the gate, fiends and furies that (God be thanked) could vex the soul
but not torment it, yet indeed their most power was over the body, for
here an audacious mouthing-randing-impudent-scullery-wastecoat-and-bodied
rascal would have hail'd a penny from us for his scullerships."

Could Rabelais himself have described them better, or with vigor of
humorous expression more heartily and enjoyably characteristic of his
own all but incomparable genius?

The good old times, as remote in Shakespeare's day as in our own, were
never more delightfully described than by Rowley in this noble and
simple phrase: "Then was England's whole year but a St. George's day."

Webster wished that what he wrote might be read by the light of
Shakespeare: an admirer of Rowley might hope and must wish that he
should be read by the light of Lamb. His comedies have real as well as
realistic merit: not equal to that of Dekker's or Middleton's at their
best, but usually not far inferior to Heywood's or to theirs. The first
of them, "A New Wonder: A Woman Never Vext," has received such immortal
honor from the loving hand of Lamb that perhaps the one right thing to
say of it would be an adaptation of a Catholic formula: "Agnus locutus
est: causa finita est." The realism is so thorough as to make the
interest something more than historical: and historically it is so
valuable as well as amusing that a reasonable student may overlook the
offensive "mingle-mangle" of prose and verse which cannot but painfully
affect the nerves of all not congenitally insensitive readers, as it
surely must have ground and grated on the ears of an audience accustomed
to enjoy the prose as well as the verse of Shakespeare and his kind. No
graver offence can be committed or conceived by a writer with any claim
to any but contemptuous remembrance than this debasement of the currency
of verse.

The character of Robert Foster is so noble and attractive in its
selfless and manful simplicity that it gives us and leaves with us a
more cordial sense of sympathetic regard and respect for his creator
than we could feel if this gallant and homely figure were withdrawn from
the stage of his invention. The female Polycrates who suffers under the
curse of inevitable and intolerable good-fortune is an admirable
creature of broad comedy that never subsides or overflows or degenerates
into farce.

"A Match at Midnight" is as notable for vivid impression of reality, but
not so likely to leave a good taste--as Charlotte Bronte might haye
said--in the reader's mouth. Ancient Young, the hero, is a fine fellow;
but Messrs. Earlack and Carvegut are hardly amusing enough to reconcile
us to toleration of such bad company. It is cleverly composed, and the
crosses and chances of the night are ingeniously and effectively
invented and arranged: there is real and good broad humor in the parts
of the usurer and his sons and the attractive but unwidowed Widow Wag.
And I am not only free to admit but desirous to remark that a juster and
more valuable judgment on such plays as these than any that I could
undertake to deliver may very possibly be expected from readers whom
they may more thoroughly arride--to use a favorite phrase of the all,
but impeccable critic, the all but infallible judge, whose praise has
set the name of Rowley so high in the rank of realistic painters and
historic naturalists forever.

The copies of two dramatic nondescripts now happily preserved and duly
treasured in the library of the British Museum bear inscribed in the
same old hand, at the head of the first page and again on the last page
under the last line, the same contemptuous three words--"silly old
story." And I fear it can hardly be maintained that either Chapman, when
writing "The Blind Beggar of Alexandria," or Rowley, when writing "A
Shoemaker, a Gentleman," was engaged in any very rational or felicitous
employment of his wayward and unregulated powers. "The Printer" of the
play last named assures "the Reader" of 1638, whom he assumes to be a
member of the gentle craft, that "as plays were then, some twenty years
agone, it was in the fashion." A singular fashion, the rare modern
reader will probably reflect: especially when he remembers how far finer
and how thoroughly charming a tribute of dramatic and poetic celebration
had been paid full eighteen years earlier to the same favored craft by
the sweeter and rarer genius of Dekker. This quaintly apologetic
assurance of by-gone popularity in subject and in style will remind all
probable readers of Heywood's prologue to "The Royal King and Loyal
Subject," and his dedicatory address prefixed to "The Four Prentices of
London." It happily was not, however, in the printer's power to aver
that such impudently immetrical verse as Rowley at once breaks ground
with was ever in fashion with any of his famous fellows. Nothing can be
worse than the headlong and slipshod stumble of Dekker's at its worst;
but his were the faults of hurry and impatience and shamefully scamped
work: Rowley's, if I mistake not, is the far graver error of a
preposterous theory that broken verse, rough and untunable as the shock
of short chopping waves, is more dramatic and liker the natural speech
of men and women than the rolling and flowing verse of Marlowe and of
Shakespeare: which is as much liker life as it is nobler and more
satisfying in workmanship. In reading bad verse the reader is constantly
reminded that he is not reading good prose; and this is not the effect
produced by true realism--the impression left by actual intercourse or
faithful presentation of it.

The hagiology of this eccentric play is more like Shirley's in "St.
Patrick for Ireland" than Dekker's and Massinger's in "The Virgin
Martyr." Assuredly there is here nothing like the one incomparably
lovely dialogue of Dorothea with her attendant angel. But there is the
charm of a curious simplicity and sincerity in Rowley's straightforward
and homely dramatic handling of the supernatural element: in the miracle
of St. Winifred's well, and the conversion of Albon into St. Alban by
"that seminary knight," as the tyrant Maximinus rather comically calls
him, Amphiabel Prince of Wales. The courtship of the princely Offa,
while disguised as the shoemaker's apprentice Crispinus, by the Roman
Princess Laodice, daughter of Maximinus, is very lively and dramatic:
the sprightliest scene, I should say, ever played out on the stage of
Rowley's fancy. On the other hand, the martyrdom of St. Winifred and St.
Hugh is an abject tragic failure; an abortive attempt at cheap terror
and jingling pity, followed up by doggrel farce of intolerable
grossness.

This play is a perfect repertory of slang and quaint phrases: as when
the master shoemaker, who has for apprentices two persecuted princes in
disguise, and is a very inferior imitation of Dekker's admirable Simon
Eyre, calls his wife Lady d'Oliva--whatever that may mean, and when she
inquires of one of the youngsters, "What's the matter, boy? Why are so
many chancery bills drawn in thy face?" _Habent sua fala libelli_: it is
inexplicable that this most curious play should never have been
republished, when the volumes of Dodsley's _Old Plays_, in their very
latest reissue, are encumbered with heaps of such leaden dulness and
such bestial filth as no decent scavenger and no rational nightman would
have dreamed of sweeping back into sight and smell of any possible
reader.

But it is or it should be inconceivable and incredible that the
masterpiece of Rowley's strong and singular genius, a play remarkable
for its peculiar power or fusion of strange powers even in the sovereign
age of Shakespeare, should have waited upward of three hundred years and
should still be waiting for the appearance of a second edition. The
tragedy of "All's Lost by Lust," published in the same year with
Shakespeare's great posthumous torso of romantic tragedy, was evidently
a favorite child of its author's: the terse and elaborate argument
subjoined to the careful and exhaustive list of characters may suffice
to prove it. Among these characters we may note that one, "a simple
clownish Gentleman," was "personated by the poet": and having noted it,
we cannot but long, with a fruitless longing, for such confidences as to
the impersonation of the leading characters in other memorable plays of
the period. There is some really good rough humor in the part of this
honest clown and his fellows; but no duly appreciative reader will doubt
that the author's heart was in the work devoted to the tragic and poetic
scenes of a play which shows that the natural bent of his powers was
toward tragedy rather than comedy. Alike as poet and as dramatist, he
rises far higher and enjoys his work far more when the aim of his flight
is toward the effects of imaginative terror and pity than when it is
confined to the effects of humorous or pathetic realism. In the very
first scene we breathe the air of tragic romance and imminent evil
provoked by coalition rather than collision of the will of man with the
doom of destiny; and the king's defiance of prophecy and tradition is so
admirably rendered or suggested as a sign of brutal and egotistic rather
than chivalrous or manful daring as to prepare the way with great
dramatic and poetic skill for the subsequent scenes of attempted
seduction and ultimate violation. With these the underplot, interesting
and original in itself, well conceived and well carried through, is
happily and naturally interwoven. The noble soliloquy of the invading
and defeated Moorish king is by grace of Lamb familiar to all true
lovers of the higher dramatic poetry of England. Nothing can be livelier
and more natural than the scenes in which a recent bridegroom's heart is
won from his loving and low-born wife by the offered hand and the
sprightly seductions of a light-hearted and high-born rival. But the
crowning scene of the play and the crowning grace of the poem is the
interview of father and daughter after the consummation of the crime
which gave Spain into the hand of the Moor. The vivid dramatic life in
every word is even more admirable than the great style, the high poetic
spirit of the scene. I have always ventured to wonder that Lamb, whose
admiration has made it twice immortal, did not select as a companion or
a counterpart to it that other great camp scene from Webster's "Appius
and Virginia" in which another outraged warrior and father stirs up his
friends and fellow-soldiers to vindication of his honor and revenge for
his wrong. It is surely even finer and more impressive than that
selected in preference to it, which closes with the immolation of
Virginia.

The scenes in which the tragic underplot of Rowley's tragedy is deftly
and effectively wound up are full of living action and passion; that
especially in which the revenge of a deserted wife is wreaked
mistakingly on the villanous minion to whose instigation she owes the
infidelity of the husband for whom she mistakes him. The gross physical
horrors which deform the close of a noble poem are relieved if not
beautified by the great style of its age--an age unparalleled in wealth
and variety of genius, a style unmatchable for its union of inspired and
imaginative dignity with actual and vivid reality of impassioned and
lofty life.

No comparison is possible, nor if possible could it be profitable,
between the somewhat rough-hewn English oak of Rowley's play and the
flawless Roman steel of Landor's great Miltonic tragedy on the same
subject. The fervent praise of Southey was not too generous to be just
in its estimate of that austere masterpiece; it is lamentable to
remember the injustice of its illustrious author to the men of
Shakespeare's day. I fear he would certainly not have excepted the noble
work of his precursor from his general condemnation or impreachment of
"their bloody bawdries"--a misjudgment gross enough for Hallam--or
Voltaire when declining to the level of a Hallam. Landor was as headlong
as these were hidebound, as fitful as they were futile; but not even the
dispraise or the disrelish of a finer if not of a greater dramatic poet
could affect the credit or impair the station of one on whose merits the
final sentence of appreciation has been irrevocably pronounced by the
verdict of Charles Lamb.



THOMAS HEYWOOD


If it is difficult to write at all on any subject once ennobled by the
notice of Charles Lamb without some apprehensive sense of intrusion and
presumption, least of all may we venture without fear of trespass upon
ground so consecrated by his peculiar devotion as the spacious if homely
province or demesne of the dramatist whose highest honor it is to have
earned from the finest of all critics the crowning tribute of a sympathy
which would have induced him to advise an intending editor or publisher
of the dramatists of the Shakespearean age to begin by a reissue of the
works of Heywood. The depth and width of his knowledge, the subtlety and
the sureness of his intuition, place him so far ahead of any other
critic or scholar who has ever done any stroke of work in any part of
the same field that it may seem overbold for any such subordinate to
express or to suggest a suspicion that this counsel would have been
rather the expression of a personal and a partly accidental sympathy
than the result of a critical and a purely rational consideration. And
yet I can hardly think it questionable that it must have been less the
poetic or essential merit than the casual or incidental associations of
Heywood's work which excited so exceptional an enthusiasm in so
excellent a judge. For as a matter of fact it must be admitted that in
one instance at least the objections of the carper Hazlitt are better
justified than the commendations of the finer and more appreciative
critic. The rancorous democrat who shared with Byron the infamy of
sympathetic admiration for the enemy of England and the tyrant of France
found for once an apt and a fair occasion to vent his spleen against the
upper classes of his countrymen in criticism of the underplot of
Heywood's most celebrated play. Lamb, thinking only of the Frankfords,
Wincotts, and Geraldines, whose beautiful and noble characters are the
finest and surest witnesses to the noble and beautiful nature of their
designer's, observes that "Heywood's characters, his country gentlemen,
etc., are exactly what we see (but of the best kind of what we see) in
life." But such country gentlemen as his Actons and Mountfords are
surely of a worse than the worst kind; more cruel or more irrational,
more base or more perverse, than we need fear to see in life unless our
experience should be exceptionally unfortunate. Lamb indeed is rather
an advocate than a judge in the case of his fellow-Londoners Thomas
Heywood and William Rowley; but his pleading is better worth our
attention than the summing up of a less cordial or less competent
critic.

From critics or students who regard with an academic smile of cultivated
contempt the love for their country or the faith in its greatness which
distinguished such poor creatures as Virgil and Dante, Shakespeare and
Milton, Coleridge and Wordsworth, no tolerance can be expected for the
ingrained and inveterate provinciality of a poet whose devotion to his
homestead was not merely that of an Englishman but that of a Londoner,
no less fond and proud of his city than of his country. The quaint,
homely, single-hearted municipal loyalty of an old-world burgess,
conscious of his station as "a citizen of no mean city," and proud even
of the insults which provincials might fling at him as a cockney or
aristocrats as a tradesman, is so admirably and so simply expressed in
the person of Heywood's first hero--the first in date, at all events,
with whom a modern reader can hope to make acquaintance--that the nobly
plebeian pride of the city poet is as unmistakably personal as the
tenderness of the dramatic artist who has made the last night of the
little princes in the Tower as terribly and pathetically real for
the reader as Millais has made it for the spectator of the imminent
tragedy. Why Shakespeare shrank from the presentation of it, and left
to a humbler hand the tragic weight of a subject so charged with
tenderness and terror, it might seem impertinent or impossible to
conjecture--except to those who can perceive and appreciate the intense
and sensitive love of children which may haply have made the task
distasteful if not intolerable: but it is certain that even he could
hardly have made the last words of the little fellows more touchingly
and sweetly lifelike.

Were there nothing further to commend in the two parts of the historical
play or chronicle history of "King Edward IV.," this would suffice to
show that the dramatic genius of Heywood was not unjustified of its
early and perilous venture: but the hero of these two plays is no royal
or noble personage, he is plain Matthew Shore the goldsmith. We find
ourselves at once in what Coleridge would have called the anachronic
atmosphere of Elizabethan London; our poet is a champion cockney, whose
interest is really much less in the rise and fall of princes than in the
homely loyalty of shopkeepers and the sturdy gallantry of their
apprentices. The lively, easy, honest improvisation of the opening
scenes has a certain value in its very crudity and simplicity: the
homespun rhetoric and the jog-trot jingle are signs at once of the date
and of the class to which these plays must be referred. The parts of the
rebels are rough-hewn rather than vigorous; the comic or burlesque part
of Josselin is very cheap and flimsy farce. The peculiar powers of
Heywood in pathetic if not in humorous writing were still in abeyance or
in embryo. Pathos there is of a true and manly kind in the leading part
of Shore; but it has little or nothing of the poignant and intense
tenderness with which Heywood was afterward to invest the similar part
of Frankford. Humor there is of a genuine plain-spun kind in the scenes
which introduce the King as the guest of the tanner; Hobs and his
surroundings, Grudgen and Goodfellow, are presented with a comic and
cordial fidelity which the painter of Falstaff's "villeggiatura," the
creator of Shallow, Silence, and Davy, might justly and conceivably have
approved. It is rather in the more serious or ambitious parts that we
find now and then a pre-Shakespearean immaturity of manner. The
recurrent burden of a jingling couplet in the cajoleries of the
procuress Mrs. Blague is a survival from the most primitive and
conventional form of dramatic writing not yet thoroughly superseded and
suppressed by the successive influences of Marlowe, of Shakespeare, and
of Jonson; while the treatment of character in such scenes as that
between Clarence, Richard, and Dr. Shaw is crude and childish enough for
a rival contemporary of Peele. The beautiful and simple part of Ayre, a
character worthy to have been glorified by the mention and commendation
of Heywood's most devoted and most illustrious admirer, is typical of
the qualities which Lamb seems to have found most lovable in the
representative characters of his favorite playwright.

In that prodigious monument of learning and labor, Mr. Fleay's
_Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama_, the common attribution of
these two plays to Heywood is impeached on the aesthetic score that
"they are far better than his other early work." I have carefully
endeavored to do what justice might be done to their modest allowance of
moderate merit; but whether they be Heywood's or--as Mr. Fleay, on
apparent grounds of documentary evidence, would suggest--the work of
Chettle and Day, I am certainly rather inclined to agree with the
general verdict of previous criticism, which would hardly admit their
equality and would decidedly question their claim to anything more than
equality of merit with the least admirable or memorable of Heywood's
other plays. Even the rough-hewn chronicle, "If you know not me you know
nobody," by which "the troubles of Queen Elizabeth" before her accession
are as nakedly and simply set forth in the first part as in the second
are "the building of the Royal Exchange" and "the famous victory" over
the Invincible Armada, has on the whole more life and spirit, more
interest and movement, in action as in style. The class of play to which
it belongs is historically the most curious if poetically the least
precious of all the many kinds enumerated by Heywood in earnest or by
Shakespeare in jest as popular or ambitious of popularity on the stage
for which they wrote. Aristophanic license of libel or caricature, more
or less ineffectually trammelled by the chance or the likelihood of
prosecution and repression, is common under various forms to various
ages and countries; but the serious introduction and presentation of
contemporary figures and events give to such plays as these as mixed and
peculiar a quality as though the playwright's aim or ambition had been
to unite in his humble and homespun fashion the two parts of an epic or
patriotic historian and a political or social caricaturist; a poet and a
pamphleteer on the same page, a chronicler and a jester in the same
breath. Of this Elizabethan chronicle the first part is the more
literal and prosaic in its steady servility to actual record and
registered fact: the bitterest enemy of poetic or dramatic fiction, from
William Prynne to Thomas Carlyle, might well exempt from his else
omnivorous appetite of censure so humble an example of such obsequious
and unambitious fidelity. Of fiction or imagination there is indeed next
to none. In Thomas Drue's play of "The Duchess of Suffolk," formerly and
plausibly misattributed to Heywood, part of the same ground is gone over
in much the same fashion and to much the same effect; but the subject, a
single interlude of the Marian persecution, has more unity of interest
than can be attained by any play running on the same line as Heywood's,
from the opening to the close of the most hideous episode in our
history. That the miserable life and reign of Mary Tudor should have
been "staged to the show" for the edification and confirmation of her
half-sister's subjects in Protestant and patriotic fidelity of animosity
toward Rome and Spain is less remarkable than that the same hopelessly
improper topic for historical drama should in later days have been
selected for dramatic treatment by English writers and on one occasion
by a great English poet. As there are within the range of any country's
history, authentic or traditional, periods and characters in themselves
so naturally fit and proper for transfiguration by poetry that the
dramatist who should attempt to improve on the truth--the actual or
imaginary truth accepted as fact with regard to them--would probably if
not certainly derogate from it, so are there others which cannot be
transfigured without transformation. Such a character is the last and
wretchedest victim of a religious reaction which blasted her kingdom
with the hell-fire of reviving devil-worship, and her name with the
ineffaceable brand of an inseparable and damning epithet. If even the
genius of Tennyson could not make the aspirations and the agonies of
Mary as acceptable or endurable from the dramatic or poetic point of
view as Marlowe and Shakespeare could make the sufferings of such poor
wretches as their Edward II. and Richard II., it is hardly to be
expected that the humbler if more dramatic genius of Heywood should have
triumphed over the desperate obstacle of a subject so drearily
repulsive: but it is curious that both should have attempted to tackle
the same hopeless task in the same fruitless fashion. The "chronicle
history" of Mary Tudor, had Shakespeare's self attempted it, could
scarcely have been other--if we may judge by our human and fallible
lights of the divine possibilities open to a superhuman and infallible
intelligence--than a splendid and priceless failure from the dramatic or
poetic point of view. The one chance open even to Shakespeare would have
been to invent, to devise, to create; not to modify, to adapt, to
adjust. Bloody Mary has been transfigured into a tragic and poetic
malefactress: but only by the most audacious and magnificent defiance of
history and possibility. Madonna Lucrezia Estense Borgia (to use the
proper ceremonial style adopted for the exquisitely tender and graceful
dedication of the "Asolani") died peaceably in the odor of incense
offered at her shrine in the choicest Latin verse of such accomplished
poets and acolytes as Pietro Bembo and Ercole Strozzi. Nothing more
tragic or dramatic could have been made of her peaceful and honorable
end than of the reign of Mary Tudor as recorded in history. The greatest
poet and dramatist of the nineteenth century has chosen to immortalize
them by violence--to give them a life, or to give a life to their names,
which history could not give. Neither he nor Shakespeare could have kept
faith with the torpid fact and succeeded in the creation of a living and
eternal truth. One thing may be registered to the credit, not indeed of
the dramatist or the poet, but certainly of the man and the Englishman:
the generous fair play shown to Philip II. in the scene which records
his impartial justice done upon the Spanish assassin of an English
victim. There is a characteristic manliness about Heywood's patriotism
which gives a certain adventitious interest to his thinnest or homeliest
work on any subject admitting or requiring the display of such a
quality. In the second and superior part of this dramatic chronicle it
informs the humbler comic parts with more life and spirit, though not
with heartier devotion of good-will, than the more ambitious and
comparatively though modestly high-flown close of the play: which is
indeed in the main rather a realistic comedy of city life, with forced
and formal interludes of historical pageant or event, than a regular or
even an irregular historical drama. Again the trusty cockney poet has
made his hero and protagonist of a plain London tradesman: and has made
of him at once a really noble and a heartily amusing figure. His
better-born apprentice, a sort of Elizabethan Gil Bias or Gusman
d'Alfarache, would be an excellent comic character if he had been a
little more plausibly carried through to the close of his versatile and
venturous career; as it is, the farce becomes rather impudently cheap;
though in the earlier passages of Parisian trickery and buffoonery there
is a note of broad humor which may remind us of Moliere--not of course
the Moliere of Tartuffe, but the Moliere of M. de Pourceaugnac. The
curious alterations made in later versions of the closing scene are
sometimes though not generally for the better.

Lamb, in a passage which no reader can fail to remember, has declared
that "posterity is bound to take care" (an obligation, I fear, of a kind
which posterity is very far from careful to discharge) "that a writer
loses nothing by such a noble modesty" as that which induced Heywood to
set as little store by his dramatic works as could have been desired in
the rascally interest of those "harlotry players" who thought it,
forsooth, "against their peculiar profit to have them come in print."
But I am not sure that it was altogether a noble or at all a rational
modesty which made him utter the avowal or the vaunt: "It never was any
great ambition in me, to be in this kind voluminously read." For, eight
years after this well-known passage was in print, when publishing a
"Chronographicall History of all the Kings, and memorable passages of
this Kingdome, from Brute to the Reigne of our Royall Soveraigne King
Charles," he offers, on arriving at the accession of Elizabeth, "an
apologie of the Author" for slurring or skipping the record of her life
and times in a curious passage which curiously omits as unworthy of
mention his dramatic work on the subject, while complacently enumerating
his certainly less valuable and memorable other tributes to the great
queen's fame as follows: "To write largely of her troubles, being a
princesse, or of her rare and remarkable Reigne after she was Queen, I
should but feast you with dyet twice drest: Having my selfe published a
discourse of the first: from her cradle to her crowne; and in another
bearing Title of the nine worthy Women: she being the last of the rest
in time and place; though equall to any of the former both in religious
vertue, and all masculine magnanimity." This surely looks but too much
as though the dramatist and poet thought more of the chronicler and
compiler than of the truer Heywood whose name is embalmed in the
affection and admiration of his readers even to this day; as though the
author of "A Challenge for Beauty," "The Fair Maid of the West," and
"A Woman Killed with Kindness," must have hoped and expected to be
remembered rather as the author of "Troja Britannica," "Gynaikeion,"
"The Hierarchie of the Blessed Angels," and even this "Life of Merlin,
sirnamed Ambrosius. His Prophesies, and Predictions Interpreted; and
their truth made good by our English Annalls": undoubtedly, we may
believe, "a Subject never published in this kind before, and deserves"
(_sic_) "to be knowne and observed by all men." Here follows the motto:
"Quotque aderant Vates, rebar adesse Deos." The biographer and
chronographer would apparently have been less flattered than surprised
to hear that he would be remembered rather as the creator of Frankford,
Mountferrers, and Geraldine, than as the chronicler of King Brute, Queen
Elizabeth, and King James.

The singular series of plays which covers much the same ground as
Caxton's immortal and delightful chronicle of the "Histories" of Troy
may of course have been partially inspired by that most enchanting
"recuyell": but Heywood, as will appear on collation or confrontation
of the dramatist with the historian, must have found elsewhere the
suggestion of some of his most effective episodes. The excellent
simplicity and vivacity of style, the archaic abruptness of action and
presentation, are equally noticeable throughout all the twenty-five acts
which lead us from the opening of the Golden to the close of the Iron
Age; but there is a no less perceptible advance or increase of dramatic
and poetic invention in the ten acts devoted to the tale of Troy and its
sequel. Not that there is anywhere any want of good simple spirited
work, homely and lively and appropriate to the ambitious humility of the
design; a design which aims at making popular and familiar to the
citizens of Elizabethan London the whole cycle of heroic legend from the
reign of Saturn to the death of Helen. Jupiter, the young hero of the
first two plays and ages, is a really brilliant and amusing mixture of
Amadis, Sigurd, and Don Juan: the pretty scene in which his infant life
is spared and saved must be familiar, and pleasantly familiar, to all
worthy lovers of Charles Lamb. The verse underlined and immortalized by
his admiration--"For heaven's sake, when you kill him, hurt him
not"--should suffice to preserve and to embalm the name of the writer.
I can scarcely think that a later scene, apparently imitated from the
most impudent idyl of Theocritus, can have been likely to elevate the
moral tone of the young gentleman who must have taken the part of
Callisto; but the honest laureate of the city, stern and straightforward
as he was in the enforcement of domestic duties and contemporary morals,
could be now and then as audacious in his plebeian fashion as even
Fletcher himself in his more patrician style of realism. There is spirit
of a quiet and steady kind in the scenes of war and adventure that
follow: Heywood, like Caxton before him, makes of Saturn and the Titans
very human and simple figures, whose doings and sufferings are presented
with child-like straightforwardness in smooth and fluent verse and in
dialogue which wants neither strength nor ease nor propriety. The
subsequent episode of Danae is treated with such frank and charming
fusion of realism and romance as could only have been achieved in the
age of Shakespeare. To modern readers it may seem unfortunate for
Heywood that a poet who never (to the deep and universal regret of all
competent readers) followed up the dramatic promise of his youth, as
displayed in the nobly vivid and pathetic little tragedy of "Sir Peter
Harpdon's End," should in our day have handled the story of Danae and
the story of Bellerophon so effectively as to make it impossible for the
elder poet either to escape or to sustain comparison with the author of
"The Earthly Paradise"; but the most appreciative admirers of Morris
will not be the slowest or the least ready to do justice to the
admirable qualities displayed in Heywood's dramatic treatment of these
legends. The naturally sweet and spontaneous delicacy of the later poet
must not be looked for in the homely and audacious realism of Heywood;
in whose work the style of the Knight's Tale and the style of the
Miller's Tale run side by side and hand in hand.

From the Golden Age to the Iron Age the growth and ascent of Heywood's
dramatic power may fairly be said to correspond in a reversed order with
the degeneracy and decline of human heroism and happiness in the
legendary gradation or degradation of the classical four ages. "The
Golden Age" is a delightful example of dramatic poetry in its simplest
and most primary stage; in "The Silver Age" the process of evolution is
already visible at work. Bellerophon and Aurea cannot certainly be
compared with the Joseph and Phraxanor of Charles Wells: but the curt
and abrupt scene in which they are hastily thrust on the stage and as
hastily swept off it is excellently composed and written. The highest
possible tribute to the simple and splendid genius of Plautus is paid by
the evidence of the fact that all his imitators have been obliged to
follow so closely on the lines of his supernatural, poetical, and
farcical comedy of Amphitryon. Heywood, Rotrou, Moliere, and Dryden have
sat at his feet and copied from his dictation like school-boys. The
French pupils, it must be admitted, have profited better and shown
themselves apter and happier disciples than the English. I cannot think
that even Moliere has improved on the text of Rotrou as much, or nearly
as much, as he has placed himself under unacknowledged obligation to his
elder countryman: but in Dryden's version there is a taint of greasy
vulgarity, a reek of obtrusive ruffianism, from which Heywood's version
is as clean as Shakespeare's could have been, had he bestowed on the
"Amphitruo" the honor he conferred on the "Menaechmi." The power of
condensation into a few compact scenes of material sufficient for five
full acts is a remarkable and admirable gift of Heywood's.

After the really dramatic episode in which he had the advantage of
guidance by the laughing light of a greater comic genius than his own,
Heywood contentedly resumes the simple task of arranging for the stage a
mythological chronicle of miscellaneous adventure. The jealousy of Juno
is naturally the mainspring of the action and the motive which affords
some show of connection or coherence to the three remaining acts of "The
Silver Age": the rape of Proserpine, the mourning and wandering and
wrath of Ceres, are treated with so sweet and beautiful a simplicity of
touch that Milton may not impossibly have embalmed and transfigured some
reminiscence of these scenes in a passage of such heavenly beauty as
custom cannot stale. Another episode, and one not even indirectly
connected with the labors of Hercules, is the story of Semele, handled
with the same simple and straightforward skill of dramatic exposition,
the same purity and fluency of blameless and spontaneous verse, that
distinguish all parts alike of this dramatic chronicle. The second of
the five plays composing it closes with the rescue of Proserpine by
Hercules, and the judgment of Jupiter on "the Arraignment of the Moon."

In "The Brazen Age" there is somewhat more of dramatic unity or
coherence than in the two bright easy-going desultory plays which
preceded it: it closes at least with a more effective catastrophe than
either of them in the death of Hercules. However far inferior to the
haughty and daring protest or appeal in which Sophocles, speaking
through the lips of the virtuous Hyllus, impeaches and denounces the
iniquity of heaven with a steadfast and earnest vehemence unsurpassed in
its outspoken rebellion by any modern questioner or blasphemer of divine
providence, the simple and humble sincerity of the English playwright
has given a not unimpressive or inharmonious conclusion to the same
superhuman tragedy. In the previous presentation of the story of
Meleager, Heywood has improved upon the brilliant and passionate
rhetoric of Ovid by the introduction of an original and happy touch of
dramatic effect: his Althaea, after firing the brand with which her
son's life is destined to burn out, relents and plucks it back for a
minute from the flame, giving the victim a momentary respite from
torture, a fugitive recrudescence of strength and spirit, before she
rekindles it. The pathos of his farewell has not been overpraised by
Lamb: who might have added a word in recognition of the very spirited
and effective suicide of Althaea, not unworthily heralded or announced
in such verses as these:

                                   This was my son,
   Born with sick throes, nursed from my tender breast,
   Brought up with feminine care, cherished with love;
   His youth my pride; his honor all my wishes;
   So dear, that little less he was than life.

The subsequent adventures of Hercules and the Argonauts are presented
with the same quiet straightforwardness of treatment: it is curious that
the tragic end of Jason and Medea should find no place in the
multifarious chronicle which is nominally and mainly devoted to the
record of the life and death of Hercules, but into which the serio-comic
episode of Mars and Venus and Vulcan is thrust as crudely and abruptly
as it is humorously and dramatically presented. The rivalry of Omphale
and Deianeira for their hero's erratic affection affords a lively and
happy mainspring--not suggested by Caxton--for the tragic action and
passion of the closing scenes.

At the opening of "The Iron Age," nineteen years later in date of
publication, we find ourselves at last arrived in a province of dramatic
poetry where something of consecutive and coherent action is apparently
the aim if not always the achievement of the writer. These ten acts do
really constitute something like a play, and a play of serious, various,
progressive, and sustained interest, beginning with the elopement and
closing with the suicide of Helen. There is little in it to suggest the
influence of either Homer or Shakespeare: whose "Troilus and Cressida"
had appeared in print, for the helplessly bewildered admiration of an
eternally mystified world, just twenty-three years before. The only
figure equally prominent in either play is that of Thersites: but
Heywood, happily and wisely, has made no manner of attempt to rival or
to reproduce the frightful figure of the intelligent Yahoo in which the
sane and benignant genius of Shakespeare has for once anticipated and
eclipsed the mad and malignant genius of Swift. It should be needless to
add that his Ulysses has as little of Shakespeare's as of Homer's: and
that the brutalization or degradation of the god-like figures of Ajax
and Achilles is only less offensive in the lesser than in the greater
poet's work. In the friendly duel between Hector and Ajax the very text
of Shakespeare is followed with exceptional and almost servile fidelity:
but the subsequent exchange of gifts is, of course, introduced in
imitation of earlier and classic models. The contest of Ajax and Ulysses
is neatly and spiritedly cast into dramatic form: Ovid, of course,
remains unequalled, as he who runs may read in Dryden's grand
translation, but Heywood has done better--to my mind at least--than
Shirley was to do in the next generation; though it is to be noted that
Shirley has retained more of the magnificent original than did his
immediate precursor: but the death of Ajax is too pitiful a burlesque to
pass muster even as a blasphemous travestie of the sacred text of
Sophocles. In the fifth play of this pentalogy Heywood has to cope with
no such matchless models or precursors; and it is perhaps the brightest
and most interesting of the five. Sinon is a spirited and rather amusing
understudy of Thersites: his seduction of Cressida is a grotesquely
diverting variation on the earlier legend relating to the final fall of
the typical traitress; and though time and space are wanting for the
development or indeed the presentation of any more tragic or heroic
character, the rapid action of the last two acts is workmanlike in its
simple fashion: the complicated or rather accumulated chronicle of crime
and retribution may claim at least the credit due to straightforward
lucidity of composition and sprightly humility of style.

In "Love's Mistress; or, The Queen's Masque," the stage chronicler or
historian of the Four Ages appears as something more of a dramatic poet:
his work has more of form and maturity, with no whit less of spontaneity
and spirit, simplicity and vivacity. The framework or setting of these
five acts, in which Midas and Apuleius play the leading parts, is
sustained with lively and homely humor from induction to epilogue: the
story of Psyche is thrown into dramatic form with happier skill and more
graceful simplicity by Heywood than afterward by Moliere and Corneille;
though there is here nothing comparable with the famous and exquisite
love scene in which the genius of Corneille renewed its youth and
replumed its wing with feathers borrowed from the heedless and hapless
Theophile's. The fortunes of Psyche in English poetry have been as
curious and various as her adventures on earth and elsewhere. Besides
and since this pretty little play of Heywood's, she has inspired a long
narrative poem by Marmion, one of the most brilliant and independent of
the younger comic writers who sat at the feet or gathered round the
shrine of Ben Jonson; a lyrical drama by William the Dutchman's poet
laureate, than which nothing more portentous in platitude ever crawled
into print, and of which the fearfully and wonderfully wooden verse
evoked from Shadwell's great predecessor in the office of court
rhymester an immortalizing reference to "Prince Nicander's vein"; a
magnificent ode by Keats, and a very pretty example of metrical romance
by Morris.

"Inexplicable and eccentric as were the moods and fashions of dramatic
poetry in an age when Shakespeare could think fit to produce anything so
singular in its composition and so mysterious in its motive as 'Troilus
and Cressida,' the most eccentric and inexplicable play of its time, or
perhaps of any time, is probably 'The Rape of Lucrece.'" This may
naturally be the verdict of a hasty reader at a first glance over the
party-colored scenes of a really noble tragedy, crossed and checkered
with the broadest and quaintest interludes of lyric and erotic farce.
But, setting these eccentricities duly or indulgently aside, we must
recognize a fine specimen of chivalrous and romantic rather than
classical or mythological drama; one, if not belonging properly or
essentially to the third rather than to the second of the four sections
into which Heywood's existing plays may be exhaustively divided, which
stands on the verge between them with something of the quaintest and
most graceful attributes of either. The fine instinct and the simple
skill with which the poet has tempered the villany of his villains
without toning down their atrocities by the alloy of any incongruous
quality must be acknowledged as worthily characteristic of a writer who
at his ethical best might be defined as something of a plebeian Sidney.
There are touches of criminal heroism and redeeming humanity even in the
parts of Sextus and Tullia: the fearless desperation of the doomed
ravisher, the conjugal devotion of the hunted parricide, give to the
last defiant agony of the abominable mother and son a momentary tone of
almost chivalrous dignity. The blank verse is excellent, though still
considerably alloyed with rhyme: a fusion or alternation of metrical
effects in which the young Heywood was no less skilful and successful,
inartistic as the skill and illegitimate as the success may seem to
modern criticism, than the young Shakespeare.

The eleven plays already considered make up the two divisions of
Heywood's work which with all their great and real merit have least in
them of those peculiar qualities most distinctive and representative of
his genius: those qualities of which when we think of him we think
first, and which on summing up his character as a poet we most
naturally associate with his name. As a historical or mythological
playwright, working on material derived from classic legends or from
English annals, he shows signs now and then, as occasion offers, of the
sweet-tempered manliness, the noble kindliness, which won the heart of
Lamb: something too there is in these plays of his pathos, and something
of his humor: but if this were all we had of him we should know
comparatively little of what we now most prize in him. Of this we find
most in the plays dealing with English life in his own day: but there is
more of it in his romantic tragicomedies than in his chronicle histories
or his legendary complications and variations on the antique. The famous
and delicious burlesque of Beaumont and Fletcher cannot often be
forgotten but need not always be remembered in reading "The Four
Prentices of London." Externally the most extravagant and grotesque of
dramatic poems, this eccentric tragicomedy of chivalrous adventure is
full of poetic as well as fantastic interest. There is really something
of discrimination in the roughly and readily sketched characters of the
four crusading brothers: the youngest especially is a life-like model of
restless and reckless gallantry as it appears when incarnate in a
hot-headed English boy; unlike even in its likeness to the same type as
embodied in a French youngster such as the immortal d'Artagnan. Justice
has been done by Lamb, and consequently as well as subsequently by later
criticism, to the occasionally fine poetry which breaks out by flashes
in this quixotic romance of the City, with its serio-comic ideal of
crusading counter-jumpers: but it has never to my knowledge been
observed that in the scene "where they toss their pikes so," which
aroused the special enthusiasm of the worthy fellow-citizen whose own
prentice was to bear the knightly ensign of the Burning Pestle, Heywood,
the future object of Dryden's ignorant and pointless insult, anticipated
with absolute exactitude the style of Dryden's own tragic blusterers
when most busily bandying tennis-balls of ranting rhyme in mutual
challenge and reciprocal retort of amoebaean epigram.[1]

[Footnote 1: Compare this with any similar sample of heroic dialogue
in "Tyrannic Love" or "The Conquest of Granada":

   "Rapier and pike, is that thy honored play?
    Look down, ye gods, this combat to survey."

   "Rapier and pike this combat shall decide:
    Gods, angels, men, shall see me tame thy pride."

   "I'll teach thee: thou shalt like my zany be,
    And feign to do my cunning after me."

This will remind the reader not so much of the "Rehearsal" as of
Butler's infinitely superior parody in the heroic dialogue of Cat and
Puss.]

It is a pity that Heywood's civic or professional devotion to the
service of the metropolis should ever have been worse employed than in
the transfiguration of the idealized prentice: it is a greater pity that
we cannot exchange all Heywood's extant masques for any one of the two
hundred plays or so now missing in which, as he tells us, he "had either
an entire hand, or at least a main finger." The literary department of a
Lord Mayor's show can hardly be considered as belonging to literature,
even when a poet's time and trouble were misemployed in compiling the
descriptive prose and the declamatory verse contributed to the ceremony.
Not indeed that it was a poet who devoted so much toil and good-will to
celebration or elucidation of the laborious projects and objects both by
water and land which then distinguished or deformed the sundry triumphs,
pageants, and shows on which Messrs. Christmas Brothers and their most
ingenious parent were employed in a more honorable capacity than the
subordinate function of versifier or showman--an office combining the
parts and the duties of the immortal Mrs. Jarley and her laureate Mr.
Shum. Lexicographers might pick out of the text some rare if not unique
Latinisms or barbarisms such as "prestigion" and "strage": but except
for the purpose of such "harmless drudges" and perhaps of an occasional
hunter after samples of the bathetic which might have rewarded the
attention of Arbuthnot or Pope, the text of these pageants must be as
barren and even to them it would presumably be as tedious a subject of
study as the lucubrations of the very dullest English moralist or
American humorist; a course of reading digestible only by such
constitutions as could survive and assimilate a diet of Martin Tupper or
Mark Twain. And yet even in the very homeliest doggrel of Heywood's or
Shakespeare's time there is something comparatively not contemptible;
the English, when not alloyed by fantastic or pedantic experiment, has a
simple historic purity and dignity of its own; the dulness is not so
dreary as the dulness of mediaeval prosers, the commonplace is not so
vulgar as the commonplace of more modern scribes.

"The Trial of Chivalry" is a less extravagant example of homely romantic
drama than "The Four Prentices of London." We owe to Mr. Bullen the
rediscovery of this play, and to Mr. Fleay the determination and
verification of its authorship. In style and in spirit it is perfect
Heywood: simple and noble in emotion and conception, primitive and
straightforward in construction and expression; inartistic but not
ineffectual; humble and facile, but not futile or prosaic. It is a
rather more rational and natural piece of work than might have been
expected from its author when equipped after the heroic fashion of
Mallory or Froissart: its date is more or less indistinctly indicated by
occasional rhymes and peculiar conventionalities of diction: and if
Heywood in the panoply of a knight-errant may now and then suggest to
his reader the figure of Sancho Panza in his master's armor, his
pedestrian romance is so genuine, his modest ambition so high-spirited
and high-minded, that it would be juster and more critical to compare
him with Don Quixote masquerading in the accoutrements of his esquire.
Dick Bowyer, whose life and death are mendaciously announced on the
catch-penny title-page, and who (like Tiny Tim in "A Christmas Carol")
"does _not_ die," is a rather rough, thin, and faint sketch of the bluff
British soldier of fortune who appears and reappears to better advantage
in other plays of Heywood and his fellows. That this must be classed
among the earlier if not the earliest of his works we may infer from the
primitive simplicity of a stage direction which recalls another in a
play printed five years before. In the second scene of the third act of
"The Trial of Chivalry" we read as follows: "Enter Forester, missing the
other taken away, speaks anything, and exit." In the penultimate scene
of the second part of "King Edward IV." we find this even quainter
direction, which has been quoted before now as an instance of the stage
conditions or habits of the time: "Jockie is led to whipping over the
stage, speaking some words, but of no importance."

A further and deeper debt of thanks is due to Mr. Bullen for the
recovery of "The Captives; or, The Lost Recovered," after the lapse of
nearly three centuries. The singularly prophetic sub-title of this
classic and romantic tragicomedy has been justified at so late a date by
the beneficence of chance, in favorable conjunction with the happy
devotion and fortunate research of a thorough and a thoroughly able
student, as to awaken in all fellow-lovers of dramatic poetry a sense of
hopeful wonder with regard to the almost illimitable possibilities of
yet further and yet greater treasure to be discovered and recovered from
the keeping of "dust and damned oblivion." Meantime we may be heartily
thankful for the recovery of an excellent piece of work, written
throughout with the easy mastery of serious or humorous verse, the
graceful pliancy of style and the skilful simplicity of composition,
which might have been expected from a mature work of Heywood's, though
the execution of it would now and then have suggested an earlier date.
The clown, it may be noticed, is the same who always reappears to do
the necessary comicalities in Heywood's plays; if hardly "a fellow of
infinite jest," yet an amusing one in his homely way; though one would
have thought that on the homeliest London stage of 1624 the taste for
antiphonal improvisation of doggrel must have passed into the limbo of
obsolete simplicities. The main plot is very well managed, as with
Plautus once more for a model might properly have been expected; the
rather ferociously farcical underplot must surely have been borrowed
from some _fabliau_. The story has been done into doggrel by George
Colman the younger: but that cleanly and pure minded censor of the press
would hardly have licensed for the stage a play which would have
required, if the stage-carpenter had been then in existence, the
production of a scene which would have anticipated what Gautier so
plausibly plumed himself upon as a novelty in stage effect--imagined for
the closing scene of his imaginary tragedy of "Heliogabalus."

There are touches of pathetic interest and romantic invention in "A
Maidenhead Well Lost": two or three of the leading characters are
prettily sketched if not carefully finished, and the style is a graceful
compromise between unambitious poetry and mildly spirited prose: but it
is hardly to be classed among Heywood's best work of the kind: it has
no scenes of such fervid and noble interest, such vivid and keen emotion
as distinguish "A Challenge for Beauty": and for all its simple grace of
writing and ingenuous ingenuity of plot it may not improbably be best
remembered by the average modern reader as remarkable for the most
amusing and astonishing example on record of anything but "inexplicable"
dumb show--to be paralleled only and hardly by a similar interlude of no
less elaborate arrangement and significant eccentricity in the sole
dramatic venture of Henri de Latouche--"La Reine d'Espagne."

Little favor has been shown by modern critics and even by modern editors
to "The Royal King and the Loyal Subject": and the author himself, in
committing it to the tardy test of publication, offered a quaint and
frank apology for its old-fashioned if not obsolete style of composition
and versification. Yet I cannot but think that Hallam was right and Dyce
was wrong in his estimate of a play which does not challenge and need
not shrink from comparison with Fletcher's more elaborate, rhetorical,
elegant, and pretentious tragicomedy of "The Loyal Subject"; that the
somewhat eccentric devotion of Heywood's hero is not more slavish or
foolish than the obsequious submission of Fletcher's; and that even if
we may not be allowed to make allowance for the primitive
straightforwardness or take delight in the masculine simplicity of the
elder poet, we must claim leave to object that there is more essential
servility of spirit, more preposterous prostration of manhood, in the
Russian ideal of Fletcher than in the English ideal of Heywood. The
humor is as simple as is the appeal to emotion or sympathetic interest
in this primitive tragicomedy; but the comic satire on worldly venality
and versatility is as genuine and honest as the serious exposition of
character is straightforward and sincere.

The best of Heywood's romantic plays is the most graceful and beautiful,
in detached scenes and passages, of all his extant works. The
combination of the two plots--they can hardly be described as plot and
underplot--is so dexterously happy that it would do the highest credit
to a more famous and ambitious artist: the rival heroes are so really
noble and attractive that we are agreeably compelled to condone whatever
seems extravagant or preposterous in their relations or their conduct:
there is a breath of quixotism in the air which justifies and ennobles
it. The heroines are sketched with natural grace and spirit: it is the
more to be regretted that their bearing in the last act should have less
of delicacy or modesty than of ingenious audacity in contrivances for
striking and daring stage effect; a fault as grave in aesthetics as in
ethics, and one rather to have been expected from Fletcher than from
Heywood. But the general grace and the occasional pathos of the writing
may fairly be set against the gravest fault that can justly be found
with so characteristic and so charming a work of Heywood's genius at its
happiest and brightest as "A Challenge for Beauty."

The line of demarcation between realism and romance is sometimes as
difficult to determine in the work of Heywood as in the character of his
time: the genius of England, the spirit of Englishmen, in the age of
Shakespeare, had so much of the practical in its romance and so much of
the romantic in its practice that the beautiful dramatic poem in which
the English heroes Manhurst and Montferrers play their parts so nobly
beside their noble Spanish compeers in chivalry ought perhaps to have
been classed rather among the studies of contemporary life on which
their author's fame must principally and finally depend than among those
which have been defined as belonging to the romantic division of his
work. There is much the same fusion of interests, as there is much the
same mixture of styles, in the conduct of a play for which we have once
more to tender our thanks to the living benefactor at once of Heywood
and of his admirers. That Mr. Bullen was well advised in putting forward
a claim for Heywood as the recognizable author of a play which a few
years ago had never seen the light is as evident as that his estimate of
the fine English quality which induced this recognition was justified by
all rules of moral evidence. There can be less than little doubt that
"Dick of Devonshire" is one of the two hundred and twenty in which
Heywood had "a main finger"--though not, I should say, by any means "an
entire hand." The metre is not always up to his homely but decent mark:
though in many of the scenes it is worthy of his best plays for
smoothness, fluency, and happy simplicity of effect. Dick Pike is a
better study of the bluff and tough English hero than Dick Bowyer in
"The Trial of Chivalry": and the same chivalrous sympathy with the
chivalrous spirit and tradition of a foreign and a hostile nation which
delights us in "A Challenge for Beauty" pervades and vivifies this
long-lost and long-forgotten play. The partial sacrifice of ethical
propriety or moral consistency to the actual or conventional exigences
of the stage is rather more startling than usual: a fratricidal ravisher
and slanderer could hardly have expected even from theatrical tolerance
the monstrous lenity of pardon and dismissal with a prospect of being
happy though married. The hand of Heywood is more recognizable in the
presentation of a clown who may fairly be called identical with all his
others, and in the noble answer of the criminal's brother to their
father's very natural question: "Why dost thou take his part so?"

   Because no drop of honor falls from him
   But I bleed with it.

This high-souled simplicity of instinct is as traceable in the earlier
as in the later of Heywood's extant works: he is English of the English
in his quiet, frank, spontaneous expression, when suppression is no
longer either possible or proper, of all noble and gentle and natural
emotion. His passion and his pathos, his loyalty and his chivalry, are
always so unobtrusive that their modesty may sometimes run the risk of
eclipse before the glory of more splendid poets and more conspicuous
patriots: but they are true and trustworthy as Shakespeare's or Milton's
or Wordsworth's or Tennyson's or Browning's.

It was many a year before Dick Pike had earned the honor of
commemoration by his hand or by any other poet's that Heywood had won
his spurs as the champion presenter--if I may be allowed to revive the
word--of his humbler and homelier countrymen under the light of a no
less noble than simple realism. "The Fair Maid of the Exchange" is a
notable example of what I believe is professionally or theatrically
called a one-part piece. Adapting Dr. Johnson's curiously unjust and
inept remark on Shakespeare's "King Henry VIII."--the play in which,
according to the principles or tenets of the new criticism which walks
or staggers by the new light of a new scholarship, "the new Shakspere"
may or must have been assisted by Flitcher (why not also by Meddletun,
Messenger, and a few other _novi homines?_), we may say, and it may be
said this time with some show of reason, that the genius of the author
limps in and limps out with the Cripple. Most of the other characters
and various episodical incidents of the incomposite story are alike, if
I may revive a good and expressive phrase of the period, hastily and
unskilfully slubbered up: Bowdler is a poor second-hand and third-rate
example of the Jonsonian gull; and the transfer of Moll's regard from
him to his friend is both childishly conceived and childishly contrived.
On the whole, a second-rate play, with one or two first-rate scenes and
passages to which Lamb has done perhaps no more than justice by the
characteristic and eloquent cordiality of his commendations. Its date
may be probably determined as early among the earliest of its author's
by the occurrence in mid-dialogue of a sestet in the popular metre of
"Venus and Adonis," with archaic inequality in the lengths of the second
and fourth rhyming words: a notable note of metrical or immetrical
antiquity in style. The self-willed if high-minded Phyllis Flower has
something in her of Heywood's later heroines, Bess Bridges of Plymouth
and Luce the goldsmith's daughter, but is hardly as interesting or
attractive as either.

Much less than this can be said for the heroines, if heroines they can
in any sense be called, of the two plays by which Heywood is best known
as a tragic and a comic painter of contemporary life among his
countrymen. It is certainly not owing to any exceptional power of
painting or happiness in handling feminine character that the first
place among his surviving works has been generally and rationally
assigned to "A Woman Killed with Kindness." The fame of this famous
realistic tragedy is due to the perfect fitness of the main subject for
treatment in the manner of which Heywood was in his day and remains to
the present day beyond all comparison the greatest and the most
admirable master. It is not that the interest is either naturally
greater, or greater by force and felicity of genius in the dramatist,
than that of other and far inferior plays. It is not that the action is
more artistically managed: it is not that curiosity or sympathy is
aroused or sustained with any particular skill. Such a play as "Fatal
Curiosity" is as truthfully lifelike and more tragically exciting: it is
in mere moral power and charm, with just a touch of truer and purer
poetry pervading and coloring and flavoring and quickening the whole,
that the work of a Heywood approves itself as beyond the reach or the
ambition of a Lillo. One figure among many remains impressed on his
reader's memory once for all: the play is full of incident, perhaps
over-full of actors, excellently well written and passably well
composed; but it lives, it survives and overtops its fellows, by grace
of the character of its hero. The underplot, whether aesthetically or
historically considered, is not more singular and sensational than
extravagant and unpleasant to natural taste as well as to social
instinct: the other agents in the main plot are little more than
sketches--sometimes deplorably out of drawing: Anne is never really
alive till on her death-bed, and her paramour is never alive--in his
temptation, his transgression, or his impenitence--at all. The whole
play, as far as we remember or care to remember it, is Frankford: he
suffices to make it a noble poem and a memorable play.

The hero of "The English Traveller," however worthy to stand beside him
as a typical sample of English manhood at its noblest and gentlest,
cannot be said to occupy so predominant a place in the conduct of
the action or the memory of the reader. The comic Plautine
underplot--Plautus always brought good luck to Heywood--is so
incomparably preferable to the ugly and unnatural though striking and
original underplot of "A Woman Killed with Kindness" as wellnigh to
counterbalance the comparative lack of interest, plausibility, and
propriety in the main action. The seduction of Mrs. Frankford is so
roughly slurred over that it is hard to see how, if she could not resist
a first whisper of temptation, she can ever have been the loyal wife and
mother whose fall we are expected to deplore: but the seduction of Mrs.
Wincott, or rather her transformation from the likeness of a loyal and
high-minded lady to the likeness of an impudent and hypocritical harlot,
is neither explained nor explicable in the case of a woman who dies of a
sudden shock of shame and penitence. Her paramour is only not quite so
shapeless and shadowy a scoundrel as the betrayer of Frankford: but
Heywood is no great hand at a villain: his nobly simple conception and
grasp and development of character will here be recognized only in the
quiet and perfect portraiture of the two grand old gentlemen and the
gallant unselfish youth whom no more subtle or elaborate draughtsman
could have set before us in clearer or fuller outline, with more
attractive and actual charm of feature and expression.

"The Fair Maid of the West" is one of Heywood's most characteristic
works, and one of his most delightful plays. Inartistic as this sort of
dramatic poem may seem to the lovers of theatrical composition and
sensational arrangement, of emotional calculations and premeditated
shocks, it has a place of its own, and a place of honor, among the
incomparably various forms of noble and serious drama which English
poets of the Shakespearean age conceived, created, and left as models
impossible to reproduce or to rival in any generation of poets or
readers, actors or spectators, after the decadent forces of English
genius in its own most natural and representative form of popular and
creative activity had finally shrivelled up and shuddered into
everlasting inanition under the withering blast of Puritanism. Before
that blight had fallen upon the country of Shakespeare, the variety and
fertility of dramatic form and dramatic energy which distinguished the
typical imagination or invention of his countrymen can only be
appreciated or conceived by students of what yet is left us of the
treasure bequeathed by the fellows and the followers of Shakespeare.
Every other man who could speak or write at all was a lyric poet, a
singer of beautiful songs, in the generation before Shakespeare's: every
other such man in Shakespeare's was a dramatic poet above or beyond all
comparison with any later claimant of the title among Shakespeare's
countrymen. One peculiarly and characteristically English type of drama
which then flourished here and there among more ambitious if not more
interesting forms or varieties, and faded forever with the close of the
age of Shakespeare, was the curious and delightful kind of play dealing
with records or fictions of contemporary adventure. The veriest failures
in this line have surely something of national and historical interest;
telling us as they do of the achievements or in any case of the
aspirations and the ideals, the familiar traditions and ambitions and
admirations, of our simplest and noblest forefathers. Even such a play
as that in which the adventures of the Shirleys were hurried and huddled
into inadequate and incoherent presentation as "The Travels of Three
English Brothers," however justly it may offend or dissatisfy the
literary critic, can hardly be without attraction for the lover of his
country: curiosity may be disappointed of its hope, yet patriotism may
find matter for its sympathy. And if so much may be said on behalf of a
poetic and dramatic failure, this and far more than this may be claimed
on behalf of such plays as "The Fair Maid of the West" and "Fortune by
Land and Sea." Of these the first is certainly the better play: I should
myself be inclined to rank it among Heywood's very best. He never wrote
anything brighter, sprightlier, livelier or fuller of life and energy:
more amusing in episodical incident or by-play, more interesting and
attractive in the structure or the progress of the main story. No modern
heroine with so strong a dash of the Amazon--so decided a cross of the
male in her--was ever so noble, credible and lovable as Bess Bridges:
and Plymouth ought really to do itself the honor of erecting a memorial
to her poet. An amusing instance of Heywood's incomparable good-nature
and sweetness of temper in dealing with the creatures of his
genius--incomparable I call it, because in Shakespeare the same
beautiful quality is more duly tempered and toned down to more rational
compliance with the demands of reason and probability, whether natural
or dramatic--is here to be recognized in the redemption of a cowardly
bully, and his conversion from a lying ruffian into a loyal and worthy
sort of fellow. The same gallant spirit of sympathy with all noble
homeliness of character, whether displayed in joyful search of adventure
or in manful endurance of suffering and wrong, informs the less
excellently harmonious and well-built play which bears the truly and
happily English title of "Fortune by Land and Sea." It has less romantic
interest than the later adventures of the valiant Bess and her Spencer
with the amorous King of Fez and his equally erratic consort; not to
mention the no less susceptible Italians among whom their lot is
subsequently cast: but it is a model of natural and noble simplicity, of
homely and lively variety. There is perhaps more of the roughness and
crudity of style and treatment which might be expected from Rowley than
of the humaner and easier touch of Heywood in the conduct of the action:
the curious vehemence and primitive brutality of social or domestic
tyranny may recall the use of the same dramatic motives by George
Wilkins in "The Miseries of Enforced Marriage": but the mixture or
fusion of tender and sustained emotion with the national passion for
enterprise and adventure is pleasantly and peculiarly characteristic of
Heywood.

In "The Wise Woman of Hogsdon" the dramatic ability of Heywood, as
distinct from his more poetic and pathetic faculty, shows itself at its
best and brightest. There are not many much better examples of the sort
of play usually defined as a comedy of intrigue, but more properly
definable as a comedy of action. The special risk to which a purveyor of
this kind of ware must naturally be exposed is the tempting danger of
sacrificing propriety and consistency of character to effective and
impressive suggestions or developments of situation or event; the
inclination to think more of what is to happen than of the persons it
must happen to--the characters to be actively or passively affected by
the concurrence or the evolution of circumstances. Only to the very
greatest of narrative or dramatic artists in creation and composition
can this perilous possibility be all but utterly unknown. Poets of the
city no less than poets of the court, the homely Heywood as well as the
fashionable Fletcher, tripped and fell now and then over this awkward
stone of stumbling--a very rock of offence to readers of a more exacting
temper or a more fastidious generation than the respective audiences of
patrician and plebeian London in the age of Shakespeare. The leading
young man of this comedy now under notice is represented as "a
wild-headed gentleman," and revealed as an abject ruffian of unredeemed
and irredeemable rascality. As much and even more may be said of the
execrable wretch who fills a similar part in an admirably written play
published thirty-six years earlier and verified for the first time as
Heywood's by the keen research and indefatigable intuition of Mr. Fleay.
The parallel passages cited by him from the broadly farcical underplots
are more than suggestive, even if they be not proof positive, of
identity in authorship: but the identity in atrocity of the two hideous
figures who play the two leading parts must reluctantly be admitted as
more serious evidence. The abuse of innocent foreign words or syllables
by comparison or confusion with indecent native ones is a simple and
school-boy-like sort of jest for which Master Hey wood, if impeached as
even more deserving of the birch than any boy on his stage, might have
pleaded the example of the captain of the school, and protested that his
humble audacities, if no less indecorous, were funnier and less forced
than Master Shakespeare's. As for the other member of Webster's famous
triad, I fear that the most indulgent sentence passed on Master Dekker,
if sent up for punishment on the charge of bad language and impudence,
could hardly in justice be less than Orbilian or Draconic. But he was
apparently if not assuredly almost as incapable as Shakespeare of
presenting the most infamous of murderers as an erring but pardonable
transgressor, not unfit to be received back with open arms by the wife
he has attempted, after a series of the most hideous and dastardly
outrages, to despatch by poison. The excuse for Heywood is simply that
in his day as in Chaucer's the orthodox ideal of a married heroine was
still none other than Patient Grizel: Shakespeare alone had got beyond
it.

The earlier of these two plays, "a pleasant" if somewhat sensational
"comedy entitled 'How to Choose a Good Wife from a Bad,'" is written for
the most part in Heywood's most graceful and poetical vein of verse,
with beautiful simplicity, purity, and fluency of natural and musical
style. In none of his plays is the mixture or rather the fusion of
realism with romance more simply happy and harmonious: the rescue of the
injured wife by a faithful lover from the tomb in which, like Juliet,
she has been laid while under the soporific influence of a supposed
poison could hardly have been better or more beautifully treated by any
but the very greatest among Heywood's fellow-poets. There is no merit of
this kind in the later play: but from the dramatic if not even from the
ethical point of view it is, on the whole, a riper and more rational
sort of work. The culmination of accumulating evidence by which the
rascal hero is ultimately overwhelmed and put to shame, driven from lie
to lie and reduced from retractation to retractation as witness after
witness starts up against him from every successive corner of the
witch's dwelling, is as masterly in management of stage effect as any
contrivance of the kind in any later and more famous comedy: nor can I
remember a more spirited and vivid opening to any play than the
quarrelling scene among the gamblers with which this one breaks out at
once into life-like action, full of present interest and promise of more
to come. The second scene, in which the fair sempstress appears at work
in her father's shop, recalls and indeed repeats the introduction of the
heroine in an earlier play: but here again the author's touch is firmer
and his simplicity more masculine than before. This coincidence is at
least as significant as that between the two samples of flogging-block
doggrel collated for comparison by Mr. Fleay: it is indeed a suggestive
though superfluous confirmation of Heywood's strangely questioned but
surely unquestionable claim to the authorship of "The Fair Maid of the
Exchange." A curious allusion to a more famous play of the author's is
the characteristic remark of the young ruffian Chartley: "Well, I see
you choleric hasty men are the kindest when all is done. Here's such
wetting of handkerchers! he weeps to think of his wife, she weeps to see
her father cry! Peace, fool, we shall else have thee claim kindred of
the woman killed with kindness." And in the fourth and last scene of the
fourth act the same scoundrel is permitted to talk Shakespeare: "I'll
go, although the devil and mischance look big."

Poetical justice may cry out against the dramatic lenity which could
tolerate or prescribe for the sake of a comfortable close to this comedy
the triumphant escape of a villanous old impostor and baby-farmer from
the condign punishment due to her misdeeds; but the severest of criminal
judges if not of professional witch-finders might be satisfied with the
justice or injustice done upon "the late Lancashire Witches" in the
bright and vigorous tragicomedy which, as we learn from Mr. Fleay, so
unwarrantably and uncharitably (despite a disclaimer in the epilogue)
anticipated the verdict of their judges against the defenceless victims
of terrified prepossession and murderous perjury. But at this time of
day the mere poetical reader or dramatic student need not concern
himself, while reading a brilliant and delightful play, with the
soundness or unsoundness of its moral and historical foundations. There
may have been a boy so really and so utterly possessed by the devil who
seems now and then to enter into young creatures of human form and
be-monster them as to amuse himself by denouncing helpless and harmless
women to the most horrible of deaths on the most horrible of charges:
that hideous passing fact does not affect or impair the charming and
lasting truth of Heywood's unsurpassable study, the very model of a
gallant and life-like English lad, all compact of fearlessness and fun,
audacity and loyalty, so perfectly realized and rendered in this quaint
and fascinating play. The admixture of what a modern boy would call
cheek and chaff with the equally steadfast and venturesome resolution of
the indomitable young scapegrace is so natural as to make the
supernatural escapades in which it involves him quite plausible for the
time to a reader of the right sort: even as (to compare this small
masterpiece with a great one) such a reader, while studying the
marvellous text of Meinhold, is no more sceptical than is their
chronicler as to the sorceries of Sidonia von Bork. And however
condemnable or blameworthy the authors of "The Witches of Lancashire"
may appear to a modern reader or a modern magistrate or jurist for their
dramatic assumption or presumption in begging the question against the
unconvicted defendants whom they describe in the prologue as "those
witches the fat jailor brought to town," they can hardly have been
either wishful or able to influence the course of justice toward
criminals of whose evident guilt they were evidently convinced.
Shadwell's later play of the same name, though not wanting in such rough
realistic humor and coarse-grained homespun interest as we expect in the
comic produce of his hard and heavy hand, makes happily no attempt to
emulate the really noble touches of poetry and pathos with which Heywood
has thrown out into relief the more serious aspect of the supposed crime
of witchcraft in its influence or refraction upon the honor and
happiness of innocent persons. Og was naturally more in his place and
more in his element as the second "fat jailor" of Lancashire witches
than as the second English dramatic poet of Psyche: he has come closer
than his precursors, closer indeed than could have been thought
possible, to actual presentation of the most bestial and abominable
details of demonolatry recorded by the chroniclers of witchcraft: and in
such scenes as are rather transcribed than adapted from such narratives
he has imitated his professed master and model, Ben Jonson, by appending
to his text, with the most minute and meticulous care, all requisite or
more than requisite references to his original authorities. The allied
poets who had preceded him were content to handle the matter more easily
and lightly, with a quaint apology for having nothing of more interest
to offer than "an argument so thin, persons so low," that they could
only hope their play might "pass pardoned, though not praised." Brome's
original vein of broad humor and farcical fancy is recognizable enough
in the presentation of the bewitched household where the children rule
their parents and are ruled by their servants; a situation which may
have suggested the still more amusing development of the same fantastic
motive in his admirable comedy of "The Antipodes." There is a noticeable
reference to "Macbeth" in the objurgations lavished by the daughter upon
the mother under the influence of a revolutionary spell: "Is this a fit
habit for a handsome young gentlewoman's mother? as I hope to be a lady,
you look like one o' the Scottish wayward sisters." The still more
broadly comic interlude of the bewitched rustic bridegroom and his
loudly reclamatory bride is no less humorously sustained and carried
through. Altogether, for an avowedly hasty and occasional piece of work,
this tragicomedy is very creditably characteristic of both its
associated authors.

How small a fraction of Heywood's actual work is comprised in these
twenty-six plays we cannot even conjecturally compute; we only know that
they amount to less than an eighth part of the plays written wholly or
mainly by his indefatigable hand, and that they are altogether
outweighed in volume, though decidedly not in value, by the existing
mass of his undramatic work. We know also, if we have eyes to see, that
the very hastiest and slightest of them does credit to the author, and
that the best of them are to be counted among the genuine and
imperishable treasures of English literature. Such amazing fecundity and
such astonishing industry would be memorable even in a far inferior
writer; but, though I certainly cannot pretend to anything like an
exhaustive or even an adequate acquaintance with all or any of his
folios, I can at least affirm that they contain enough delightfully
readable matter to establish a more than creditable reputation. His
prose, if never to be called masterly, may generally be called good and
pure: its occasional pedantries and pretentions are rather signs of the
century than faults of the author; and he can tell a story, especially a
short story, as well as if not better than many a better-known writer.
I fear, however, that it is not the poetical quality of his undramatic
verse which can ever be said to make it worth reading: it is, as far as
I know, of the very homeliest homespun ever turned out by the very
humblest of workmen. His poetry, it would be pretty safe to wager, must
be looked for exclusively in his plays: but there, if not remarkable for
depth or height of imagination or of passion, it will be found memorable
for unsurpassed excellence of unpretentious elevation in treatment of
character. The unity (or, to borrow from Coleridge a barbaric word, the
triunity) of noble and gentle and simple in the finest quality of the
English character at its best--of the English character as revealed in
our Sidneys and Nelsons and Collingwoods and Franklins--is almost as
apparent in the best scenes of his best plays as in the lives of our
chosen and best-beloved heroes: and this, I venture to believe, would
have been rightly regarded by Thomas Heywood as a more desirable and
valuable success than the achievement of a noisier triumph or the
attainment of a more conspicuous place among the poets of his country.



GEORGE CHAPMAN


George Chapman, translator of Homer, dramatist, and gnomic poet, was
born in 1559, and died in 1634. At fifteen, according to Anthony Wood,
"he, being well grounded in school learning, was sent to the university"
of Oxford; at thirty-five he published his first poem: "The Shadow of
Night." Between these dates, though no fact has been unearthed
concerning his career, it is not improbable that he may have travelled
in Germany. At thirty-nine he was reckoned "among the best of our tragic
writers for the stage"; but his only play published at that age was a
crude and formless attempt at romantic comedy, which had been acted
three years before it passed from the stage to the press; and his first
tragedy now extant in print, without name of author, did not solicit the
suffrage of a reader till the poet was forty-eight. At thirty-nine he
had also published the first instalment of his celebrated translation of
the "Iliad," in a form afterward much remodelled; at sixty-five he
crowned the lofty structure of his labor by the issue of an English
version of the "Hymns" and other minor Homeric poems. The former he
dedicated to Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, the hapless favorite of
Elizabeth; the latter to Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, the infamous
minion of James. Six years earlier he had inscribed to Bacon, then Lord
Chancellor, a translation of Hesiod's "Works and Days." His only other
versions of classic poems are from the fifth satire of Juvenal and the
"Hero and Leander" which goes under the name of Musaeus, the latter
dedicated to Inigo Jones. His revised and completed version of the
"Iliad" had been inscribed in a noble and memorable poem of dedication
to Henry Prince of Wales, after whose death he and his "Odyssey" fell
under the patronage of Carr. Of the manner of his death at seventy-five
we know nothing more than may be gathered from the note appended to a
manuscript fragment, which intimates that the remainder of the poem, a
lame and awkward piece of satire on his old friend Jonson, had been
"lost in his sickness." Chapman, his first biographer is careful to let
us know, "was a person of most reverend aspect, religious and temperate,
qualities rarely meeting in a poet"; he had also certain other merits
at least as necessary to the exercise of that profession. He had a
singular force and solidity of thought, an admirable ardor of ambitious
devotion to the service of poetry, a deep and burning sense at once of
the duty implied and of the dignity inherent in his office; a vigor,
opulence, and loftiness of phrase, remarkable even in that age of
spiritual strength, wealth, and exaltation of thought and style; a
robust eloquence, touched not unfrequently with flashes of fancy, and
kindled at times into heat of imagination. The main fault of his style
is one more commonly found in the prose than in the verse of his time--a
quaint and florid obscurity, rigid with elaborate rhetoric and tortuous
with labyrinthine illustration; not dark only to the rapid reader
through closeness and subtlety of thought, like Donne, whose miscalled
obscurity is so often "all glorious within," but thick and slab as a
witch's gruel with forced and barbarous eccentricities of articulation.
As his language in the higher forms of comedy is always pure and clear,
and sometimes exquisite in the simplicity of its sincere and natural
grace, the stiffness and density of his more ambitious style may perhaps
be attributed to some pernicious theory or conceit of the dignity proper
to a moral and philosophic poet. Nevertheless, many of the gnomic
passages in his tragedies and allegoric poems are of singular weight
and beauty; the best of these, indeed, would not discredit the fame of
the very greatest poets for sublimity of equal thought and expression:
witness the lines chosen by Shelley as the motto for a poem, and fit to
have been chosen as the motto for his life.

The romantic and sometimes barbaric grandeur of Chapman's Homer remains
attested by the praise of Keats, of Coleridge, and of Lamb; it is
written at a pitch of strenuous and laborious exaltation, which never
flags or breaks down, but never flies with the ease and smoothness of an
eagle native to Homeric air. From his occasional poems an expert and
careful hand might easily gather a noble anthology of excerpts, chiefly
gnomic or meditative, allegoric or descriptive. The most notable
examples of his tragic work are comprised in the series of plays taken,
and adapted sometimes with singular license, from the records of such
part of French history as lies between the reign of Francis I. and the
reign of Henry IV., ranging in date of subject from the trial and death
of Admiral Chabot to the treason and execution of Marshal Biron. The
two plays bearing as epigraph the name of that famous soldier and
conspirator are a storehouse of lofty thought and splendid verse, with
scarcely a flash or sparkle of dramatic action. The one play of
Chapman's whose popularity on the stage survived the Restoration is
"Bussy d'Ambois" (d'Amboise)--a tragedy not lacking in violence of
action or emotion, and abounding even more in sublime or beautiful
interludes than in crabbed and bombastic passages. His rarest jewels of
thought and verse detachable from the context lie embedded in the
tragedy of "Caesar and Pompey," whence the finest of them were first
extracted by the unerring and unequalled critical genius of Charles
Lamb. In most of his tragedies the lofty and laboring spirit of Chapman
may be said rather to shine fitfully through parts than steadily to
pervade the whole; they show nobly altogether as they stand, but even
better by help of excerpts and selections. But the excellence of his
best comedies can only be appreciated by a student who reads them fairly
and fearlessly through, and, having made some small deductions on the
score of occasional pedantry and occasional crudity, finds in "All
Fools," "Monsieur d'Olive," "The Gentleman Usher," and "The Widow's
Tears" a wealth and vigor of humorous invention, a tender and earnest
grace of romantic poetry, which may atone alike for these passing
blemishes and for the lack of such clear-cut perfection of character and
such dramatic progression of interest as we find only in the yet higher
poets of our heroic age.

The severest critic of his shortcomings or his errors, if not
incompetent to appreciate his achievements and his merits, must
recognize in Chapman an original poet, one who held of no man and
acknowledged no master, but throughout the whole generation of our
greatest men, from the birth of Marlowe wellnigh to the death of Jonson,
held on his own hard and haughty way of austere and sublime ambition,
not without an occasional pause for kindly and graceful salutation of
such younger and still nobler compeers as Jonson and Fletcher. With
Shakespeare we should never have guessed that he had come at all in
contact, had not the intelligence of Mr. Minto divined or rather
discerned him to be the rival poet referred to in Shakespeare's sonnets
with a grave note of passionate satire, hitherto as enigmatic as almost
all questions connected with those divine and dangerous poems. This
conjecture the critic has fortified by such apt collocation and
confrontation of passages that we may now reasonably accept it as an
ascertained and memorable fact.

The objections which a just and adequate judgment may bring against
Chapman's master-work, his translation of Homer, may be summed up in
three epithets: it is romantic, laborious, Elizabethan. The qualities
implied by these epithets are the reverse of those which should
distinguish a translator of Homer; but setting this apart, and
considering the poems as in the main original works, the superstructure
of a romantic poet on the submerged foundations of Greek verse, no
praise can be too warm or high for the power, the freshness, the
indefatigable strength and inextinguishable fire which animate this
exalted work, and secure for all time that shall take cognizance of
English poetry an honored place in its highest annals for the memory of
Chapman.



CYRIL TOURNEUR


"They, shut up under their roofs, the prisoners of darkness, and
fettered with the bonds of a long night, lay exiled, fugitives from the
eternal providence. For while they supposed to lie hid in their secret
sins, they were scattered under a dark veil of forgetfulness, being
horribly astonished, and troubled with sights.... Sad visions appeared
unto them with heavy countenances. No power of the fire might give them
light: neither could the bright flames of the stars endure to lighten
that horrible night. Only there appeared unto them a fire kindled of
itself, very dreadful: for being much terrified, they thought the things
which they saw to be worse than the sight they saw not.... The whole
world shined with clear light, and none were hindered in their labor:
over them only was spread an heavy night, an image of that darkness
which should afterward receive them: but yet were they unto themselves
more grievous than the darkness." In this wild world of fantastic
retribution and prophetic terror the genius of a great English
poet--if greatness may be attributed to a genius which holds absolute
command in a strictly limited province of reflection and emotion--was
born and lived and moved and had its being. The double mainspring of its
energy is not difficult to define: its component parts are simply
adoration of good and abhorrence of evil: all other sources of emotion
were subordinate to these: love, hate, resentment, resignation,
self-devotion, are but transitory agents on this lurid and stormy stage,
which pass away and leave only the sombre fire of meditative indignation
still burning among the ruins of shattered hopes and lives. More
splendid success in pure dramatic dialogue has not been achieved by
Shakespeare or by Webster than by Cyril Tourneur in his moments of
happiest invention or purest inspiration: but the intensity of his moral
passion has broken the outline and marred the symmetry of his general
design. And yet he was at all points a poet: there is an accent of
indomitable self-reliance, a note of persistence and resistance more
deep than any note of triumph, in the very cry of his passionate and
implacable dejection, which marks him as different in kind from the race
of the great prosaic pessimists whose scorn and hatred of mankind found
expression in the contemptuous and rancorous despondency of Swift or of
Carlyle. The obsession of evil, the sensible prevalence of wickedness
and falsehood, self-interest and stupidity, pressed heavily on his
fierce and indignant imagination; yet not so heavily that mankind came
to seem to him the "damned race," the hopeless horde of millions "mostly
fools" too foolish or too foul to be worth redemption, which excited the
laughing contempt of Frederic the Great and the raging contempt of his
biographer. On this point the editor to whom all lovers of high poetry
were in some measure indebted for the first collection and reissue of
his works has done much less than justice to the poet on whose text he
can scarcely be said to have expended an adequate or even a tolerable
amount of pains. A reader of his introduction who had never studied the
text of his author might be forgiven if he should carry away the
impression that Tourneur, as a serious or tragic poet, was little more
than a better sort of Byron; a quack less impudent but not less
transparent than the less inspired and more inflated ventriloquist of
"Childe Harold's Pilgrimage": whereas it is hardly too much to say that
the earnest and fiery intensity of Tourneur's moral rhetoric is no less
unmistakable than the blatant and flatulent ineptitude of Byron's.

It seems to me that Tourneur might say with the greatest of the popes,
"I have loved justice, and hated iniquity: therefore I die in exile";
therefore, in other words, I am cast aside and left behind by readers
who are too lazy, too soft and slow of spirit, too sleepily sensual and
self-sufficient, to endure the fiery and purgatorial atmosphere of my
work. But there are breaths from heaven as surely as there are blasts
from hell in the tumultuous and electric air of it. The cynicism and
egotism which the editor already mentioned has the confidence to
attribute to him are rather the outer garments than the inner qualities
of his genius: the few and simple lines in which his purer and nobler
characters are rapidly but not roughly drawn suffice to give them all
due relief and all requisite attraction. The virtuous victims of the
murderous conspirator whose crimes and punishment are the groundwork of
"The Atheist's Tragedy" have life and spirit enough to make them
heartily interesting: and the mixed character of Sebastian, the
high-hearted and gallant young libertine whose fearless frankness of
generosity brushes aside and breaks away the best-laid schemes of his
father, is as vividly and gracefully drawn as any of the same kind on
the comic or the tragic stage.

In this earlier of the two plays extant which preserve the name of Cyril
Tourneur the magnificent if grotesque extravagance of the design may
perhaps be partly accounted for by the didactic or devotional aim of the
designer. A more appalling scarecrow or scarebabe, as the contemporaries
of his creator would have phrased it, was certainly never begotten by
orthodoxy on horror than the figure of the portentous and prodigious
criminal who here represents the practical results of indulgence in free
thought. It is a fine proof of the author's naturally dramatic genius
that this terrific successor of Vanini and precursor of Diderot should
be other than a mere man of straw. Huge as is the wilful and deliberate
exaggeration of his atrocity, there are scenes and passages in which his
daring and indomitable craft is drawn with native skill as well as force
of hand; in which it is no mere stage monster, but a genuine man,
plausible and relentless, versatile and fearless, who comes before us
now clothed in all the cajoleries of cunning, now exultant in all the
nakedness of defiance. But indeed, although the construction of the
verse and the composition of the play may both equally seem to bear
witness of crude and impatient inexperience, there is no lack of life in
any of the tragic or comic figures which play their part through these
tempestuous five acts. Even so small a figure as the profligate Puritan
parasite of the atheist who hires his hypocrisy to plead against itself
is bright with touches of real rough humor. There is not much of this
quality in Tourneur's work, and what there is of it is as bitter and as
grim in feature and in flavor as might be expected of so fierce and
passionate a moralist: but he knows well how to salt his invective with
a due sprinkling of such sharply seasoned pleasantry as relieves the
historic narrative of John Knox; whose "merry"[1] account, for instance,
of Cardinal Beaton's last night in this world has the very savor of
Tourneur's tragic irony and implacable disgust in every vivid and
relentless line of it.

[Footnote 1: These thingis we wreat mearelie.--_Works of John Knox_,
vol. i., p. 180.]

The execution of this poem is singularly good and bad: there are
passages of such metrical strength and sweetness as will hardly be found
in the dramatic verse of any later English poet; and there are passages
in which this poet's verse sinks wellnigh to the tragic level of a
Killigrew's, a Shadwell's, or a Byron's. Such terminations as "of,"
"to," "with," "in," "and," "my," "your," preceding the substantive or
the verb which opens the next verse, make us feel as though we were
reading "Sardanapalus" or "The Two Foscari"--a sensation not easily to
be endured. In a poet so far superior as Tourneur to the author of those
abortions we must seek for an explanation of this perverse error in a
transient and tentative theory of realism rather than in an incurable
infirmity or obliquity of talent: for no quality is more remarkable in
the execution of his masterpiece than his mastery of those metrical
properties in which the style of this play is so generally deficient.
Whether in dialogue or in monologue, "The Revenger's Tragedy" is so
equally admirable for instinctive obedience to nature and imaginative
magnificence of inspiration, so equally perfect in the passionate
harmony of its verse and the inspired accuracy of its locution, that
years of study and elaboration might have seemed necessary to bring
about this inexpressible improvement in expression of yet more sombre
and more fiery thought or feeling. There are gleams in "The Atheist's
Tragedy" of that clear light in which the whole Shakespearean world lay
shining, and here and there the bright flames of the stars do still
endure to lighten the gloom of it by flashes or by fits; the gentle and
noble young lovers, whose patient loyalty is at last rescued from the
toils of crime to be crowned with happiness and honor, are painted,
though rapidly and slightly, with equal firmness of hand and tenderness
of touch; and there is some vigorous and lively humor in the lighter
action of the comic scenes, however coarse and crude in handling: but
there is no such relief to the terrors of the maturer work, whose
sultrier darkness is visible only by the fire kindled of itself, very
dreadful, which burns in the heart of the revenger whom it lights along
his blood-stained way. Nor indeed is any relief wanted; the harmony of
its fervent and stern emotion is as perfect, as sufficient, as sublime
as the full rush and flow of its diction, the fiery majesty of its
verse. There never was such a thunder-storm of a play: it quickens and
exhilarates the sense of the reader as the sense of a healthy man or boy
is quickened and exhilarated by the rolling music of a tempest and the
leaping exultation of its flames. The strange and splendid genius which
inspired it seems now not merely to feel that it does well to be angry,
but to take such keen enjoyment in that feeling, to drink such deep
delight from the inexhaustible wellsprings of its wrath, that rage and
scorn and hatred assume something of the rapturous quality more
naturally proper to faith and hope and love. There is not a breath of
rant, not a pad of bombast, in the declamation which fills its dazzling
scenes with fire: the language has no more perfect models of style than
the finest of its more sustained and elevated passages. The verse is
unlike any other man's in the solemn passion of its music: if it reminds
us of Shakespeare's or of Webster's, it is simply by right of kinship
and equality of power with the most vivid and sonorous verse that rings
from the lips of Coriolanus or of Timon, of Brachiano or the Duchess of
Malfy; not by any servility of discipleship or reverberation of an
imitative echo. It is so rich and full and supple, so happy in its
freedom and so loyal in its instinct, that its veriest audacities and
aberrations have an indefinable harmony of their own. Even if we admit
that Tourneur is to Webster but as Webster is to Shakespeare, we must
allow, by way of exception to this general rule of relative rank, that
in his noblest hours of sustained inspiration he is at least the equal
of the greater dramatist on the score of sublime and burning eloquence,
poured forth in verse like the rushing of a mighty wind, with fitful
breaks and pauses that do but enhance the majestic sweetness and
perfection of its forward movement, the strenuous yet spontaneous energy
of its triumphant ardor in advance.

To these magnificent qualities of poetry and passion no critic of the
slightest note or the smallest pretention to poetic instinct has ever
failed to do ample and cordial justice: but to the truthfulness and the
power of Cyril Tourneur as a dramatic student and painter of human
character not only has such justice not generally been done, but grave
injustice has been too generally shown. It is true that not all the
agents in the evolution of his greater tragedy are equally or
sufficiently realized and vivified as active and distinct figures: true,
for instance, that the two elder sons of the duchess are little more
than conventional outlines of such empty violence and futile ambition
as might be inferred from the crude and puerile symbolism of their
respective designations: but the third brother is a type no less living
than revolting and no less dramatic than detestable: his ruffian
cynicism and defiant brutality are in life and death alike original and
consistent, whether they express themselves in curses or in jeers. The
brother and accomplice of the hero in the accomplishment of his manifold
revenge is seldom much more than a serviceable shadow: but there is a
definite difference between their sister and the common type of virginal
heroine who figures on the stage of almost every dramatist then writing;
the author's profound and noble reverence for goodness gives at once
precision and distinction to the outline and a glow of active life to
the color of this pure and straightforward study. The brilliant
simplicity of tone which distinguishes the treatment of this character
is less remarkable in the figure of the mother whose wickedness and
weakness are so easily played upon and blown about by every gust of
penitence or temptation; but there is the same life-like vigor of touch
in the smallest detail of the scenes between her children and herself.
It has been objected that her ready avowal of weakness as common to
all her sex is the undramatic epigram of a satirist, awkwardly
ventriloquizing through the mechanism of a tragic puppet; but it is
really quite in keeping with the woman's character to enlarge and
extenuate the avowal of her own infamy and infirmity into a sententious
reflection on womanhood in general. A similar objection has been raised
against the apparent change of character implied in the confession made
by the hero to the duke elect, at the close of the play, that he and his
brother had murdered the old duke--"all for your grace's good," and in
the cry when arrested and sentenced to instant execution, "Heart, was't
not for your good, my lord?" But if this seems incompatible with the
high sense of honor and of wrong which is the mainspring of Vindice's
implacable self-devotion and savage unselfishness, the unscrupulous
ferocity of the means through which his revenge is worked out may surely
be supposed to have blunted the edge of his moral perception, distorted
his natural instinct, and infected his nobler sympathies with some taint
of contagious egotism and pessimistic obduracy of imagination. And the
intensity of sympathy with which this crowning creation of the poet's
severe and fiery genius is steadily developed and displayed should make
any critic of reasonable modesty think more than twice or thrice before
he assumes or admits the likelihood or the possibility of so gross an
error or so grave a defect in the conception of so great an artist. For
if the claim to such a title might be disputed in the case of a claimant
who could show no better credentials than his authorship of "The
Atheist's Tragedy"--and even in that far from faultless work of genius
there are manifest and manifold signs, not merely of excellence, but of
greatness--the claim of the man who could write "The Revenger's Tragedy"
is questionable by no one who has any glimmering of insight or
perception as to what qualities they are which confer upon a writer the
indisputable title to a seat in the upper house of poets.

This master work of Cyril Tourneur, the most perfect and most terrible
incarnation of the idea of retribution impersonate and concentrated
revenge that ever haunted the dreams of a tragic poet or the vigils of a
future tyrannicide, is resumed and embodied in a figure as original and
as impossible to forget, for any one who has ever felt the savage
fascination of its presence, as any of the humaner figures evoked and
immortalized by Shakespeare. The rage of Swift, without his insanity and
impurity, seems to utter in every word the healthier if no less
consuming passion of a heart lacerated by indignation and envenomed by
contempt as absolute, as relentless, and as inconsolable as his own. And
in the very torrent of the man's meditative and solitary passion, a very
Phlegethon of agony and fury and ravenous hunger after the achievement
of a desperate expiation, comes the sudden touch of sarcasm which serves
as a momentary breakwater to the raging tide of his reflections, and
reveals the else unfathomable bitterness of a spiritual Marah that no
plummet even of his own sinking can sound, and no infusion of less fiery
sorrow or less venomous remembrance can sweeten. The mourner falls to
scoffing, the justicer becomes a jester: the lover, with the skull of
his murdered mistress in his hand, slides into such reflections on the
influence of her living beauty as would beseem a sexless and malignant
satirist of her sex. This power of self-abstraction from the individual
self, this impersonal contemplation of a personal wrong, this
contemptuous yet passionate scrutiny of the very emotions which rend
the heart and inflame the spirit and poison the very blood of the
thinker, is the special seal or sign of original inspiration which
distinguishes the type most representative of Tourneur's genius, most
significant of its peculiar bias and its peculiar force. Such a
conception, clothed in mere prose or in merely passable verse, would be
proof sufficient of the mental power which conceived it; when expressed
in such verse as follows, it proves at once and preserves forever the
claim of the designer to a place among the immortals:

   Thou sallow picture of my poisoned love,
   My study's ornament, thou shell of death,
   Once the bright face of my betrothed lady,
   When life and beauty naturally filled out
   These ragged imperfections;
   When two heaven-pointed diamonds were set
   In these unsightly rings;--then 'twas a face
   So far beyond the artificial shine
   Of any woman's bought complexion
   That the uprightest man (if such there be,
   That sin but seven times a day) broke custom
   And made up eight with looking after her.

The very fall of the verse has a sort of fierce and savage pathos in the
note of it; a cadence which comes nearer to the echo of such laughter as
utters the cry of an anguish too deep for weeping and wailing, for
curses or for prayers, than anything in dramatic poetry outside the
part of Hamlet. It would be a conjecture not less plausible than futile,
though perhaps not less futile than plausible, which should suggest that
the influence of Shakespeare's Hamlet may be responsible for the
creation of Tourneur's Vindice, and the influence of Tourneur's Vindice
for the creation of Shakespeare's Timon. It is a certainty indisputable
except by the blatant audacity of immedicable ignorance that the only
poet to whose manner and style the style and manner of Cyril Tourneur
can reasonably be said to bear any considerable resemblance is William
Shakespeare. The more curt and abrupt style of Webster is equally unlike
the general style of either. And if, as his first editor observes, "the
parallel" between Tourneur and Marston, "as far as it goes, is so
obvious that it is not worth drawing," it is no less certain that the
diverence between the genius which created Andrugio and the genius which
created Vindice is at least as wide as the points of resemblance or
affinity between them are vivid and distinct. While Marston's
imaginative and tragic power was at its highest, his style was crude
and quaint, turgid and eccentric; when he had cured and purified
it--perhaps, as Gifford suggests, in consequence of Ben Jonson's
unmerciful but salutary ridicule--he approved himself a far abler
writer of comedy or tragicomedy than before, but his right hand had
forgotten its cunning as the hand of "a tragic penman." Now the
improvement of Tourneur's style, an improvement amounting to little less
than transfiguration, keeps time with his advance as a student of
character and a tragic dramatist as distinguished from a tragic poet.
The style of his earlier play has much of beauty, of facility, and of
freshness: the style of his later play, I must repeat, is comparable
only with Shakespeare's. In the superb and inexhaustible imprecations of
Timon there is a quality which reminds us of Cyril Tourneur as
delightfully as we are painfully reminded of John Marston in reading
certain scenes and passages which disfigure and deface the magnificent
but incomprehensible composition of "Troilus and Cressida."

Of Tourneur's two elegies on the death of Sir Francis Vere and of Henry
Prince of Wales, it may be said that they are about as good as Chapman's
work of the same order: and it may be added that his first editor has
shown himself, to say the least, unreasonably and unaccountably virulent
in his denunciation of what he assumes to be insincere and sycophantic
in the elegiac expression of the poet's regret for a prince of such
noble promise as the elder brother of Charles I. The most earnest and
fervent of republicans, if not wanting in common-sense and common
courtesy, would not dream of reflecting in terms of such unqualified
severity on the lamentation of Lord Tennyson for the loss of Albert the
Good: and the warmest admirer of that loudly lamented person will
scarcely maintain that this loss was of such grave importance to England
as the loss of a prince who might probably have preserved the country
from the alternate oppression of prelates and of Puritans, from the
social tyranny of a dictator and the political disgrace of the
Restoration.

The existence of a comedy by the author of "The Revenger's Tragedy," and
of a comedy bearing the suggestive if not provocative title of "Laugh
and Lie Down," must always have seemed to the students of Lowndes one of
the most curious and amusing pieces of information to be gathered from
the "Bibliographer's Manual"; and it is with a sense of disappointment
proportionate to this sense of curiosity that they will discover the
non-existence of such a comedy, and the existence in its stead of a mere
pamphlet in prose issued under that more than promising title: which
yet, if attainable, ought surely to be reprinted, however dubious may be
its claim to the honor of a great poet's authorship. In no case can it
possibly be of less interest or value than the earliest extant
publication of that poet--"The Transformed Metamorphosis." Its first
editor has given proof of very commendable perseverance and fairly
creditable perspicacity in his devoted attempt at elucidation of this
most astonishing and indescribable piece of work: but no interpretation
of it can hope to be more certain or more trustworthy than any possible
exposition of Blake's "Jerusalem" or the Apocalypse of St. John. All
that can be said by a modest and judicious reader is that any one of
these three effusions may unquestionably mean anything that anybody
chooses to read into the text; that a Luther is as safe as a Loyola,
that a Renan is no safer than a Cumming, from the chance of confutation
as a less than plausible exponent of its possible significance: but
that, however indisputable it may be that they were meant to mean
something, not many human creatures who can be trusted to go abroad
without a keeper will be likely to pretend to a positive understanding
of what that significance may be. To me, the most remarkable point in
Tourneur's problematic poem is the fact that this most monstrous example
of senseless and barbarous jargon that ever disfigured English type
should have been written--were it even for a wager--by one of the
purest, simplest, most exquisite and most powerful writers in the
language.

This extraordinary effusion is the single and certainly the sufficient
tribute of a great poet, and a great master of the purest and the
noblest English, to the most monstrous and preposterous taste or fashion
of his time. As the product of an eccentric imbecile it would be no less
curious than Stanihurst's Virgil: as the work of Cyril Tourneur it is
indeed "a miracle instead of wit." For it cannot be too often repeated
that in mere style, in commanding power and purity of language, in
positive instinct of expression and direct eloquence of inspiration, the
author of "The Revenger's Tragedy" stands alone in the next rank to
Shakespeare. Many if not most of their contemporaries could compose a
better play than he probably could conceive--a play with finer variation
of incidents and daintier diversity of characters: not one of them, not
even Webster himself, could pour forth poetry of such continuous force
and flow. The fiery jet of his molten verse, the rush of its radiant and
rhythmic lava, seems alone as inexhaustible as that of Shakespeare's. As
a dramatist, his faults are doubtless as flagrant as his merits are
manifest: as a writer, he is one of the very few poets who in their
happiest moments are equally faultless and sublime. The tone of thought
or of feeling which gives form and color to this splendid poetic style
is so essentially what modern criticism would define as that of a
natural Hebraist, and so far from that of a Hellenist or Latinist of the
Renascence, that we recognize in this great poet one more of those
Englishmen of genius on whom the direct or indirect influence of the
Hebrew Bible has been actually as great as the influences of the country
and the century in which they happened to be born. The single-hearted
fury of unselfish and devoted indignation which animates every line of
his satire is more akin to the spirit of Ezekiel or Isaiah than to the
spirit of Juvenal or Persius: though the fierce literality of occasional
detail, the prosaic accuracy of implacable and introspective abhorrence,
may seem liker the hard Roman style of impeachment by photography than
the great Hebrew method of denunciation by appeal. But the fusion of
sarcastic realism with imaginative passion produces a compound of such
peculiar and fiery flavor as we taste only from the tragic chalice of
Tourneur or of Shakespeare. The bitterness which serves but as a sauce
or spice to the meditative rhapsodies of Marston's heroes or of
Webster's villains is the dominant quality of the meats and wines served
up on the stage which echoes to the cry of Vindice or of Timon. But the
figure of Tourneur's typic hero is as distinct in its difference from
the Shakespearean figure which may possibly have suggested it as in its
difference from the Shakespearean figure which it may not impossibly
have suggested. There is perhaps too much play made with skulls and
cross-bones on the stage of Cyril Tourneur: he cannot apparently realize
the fact that they are properties of which a thoughtful poet's use
should be as temperate and occasional as Shakespeare's: but the
graveyard meditations of Hamlet, perfect in dramatic tact and instinct,
seem cool and common and shallow in sentiment when set beside the
intensity of inspiration which animates the fitful and impetuous music
of such passages as these:

                              Here's an eye
   Able to tempt a great man--to serve God;
   A pretty hanging lip, that has forgot now to dissemble.
   Methinks this mouth should make a swearer tremble,
   A drunkard clasp his teeth, and not undo 'em
   To suffer wet damnation to run through 'em.
   Here's a cheek keeps her color let the wind go whistle;
   Spout, rain, we fear thee not: be hot or cold,
   All's one with us; and is not he absurd,
   Whose fortunes are upon their faces set
   That fear no other God but wind and wet?

   _Hippolito._ Brother, y'ave spoke that right;
   Is this the face that living shone so bright?

   _Vindice._ The very same.
   And now methinks I could e'en chide myself
   For doting on her beauty, though her death
   Shall be revenged after no common action.
   Does the silk-worm expend her yellow labors
   For thee? for thee does she undo herself?
   Are lordships sold to maintain ladyships
   For the poor benefit of a bewitching minute?[1]
   Why does yon fellow falsify highways
   And put his life between the judge's lips,
   To refine such a thing, keeps horse and men
   To beat their valors for her?
   Surely we're all mad people, and they[2]
   Whom we think are, are not: we mistake those:
   'Tis we are mad in sense, they but in clothes.

   _Hippolito_. 'Faith, and in clothes too we, give us our due.

   _Vindice_. Does every proud and self-affecting dame
   Camphire her face for this? and grieve her Maker
   In sinful baths of milk--when many an infant starves,
   For her superfluous outside,--all for this?

   [Footnote 1: This is not, I take it, one of the poet's irregular
   though not unmusical lines; the five short unemphatic syllables,
   rapidly run together in one slurring note of scorn, being not more
   than equivalent in metrical weight to three such as would take their
   places if the verse were thus altered--and impaired:

   For the poor price of one bewitching minute.]

   [Footnote 2: Perhaps we might venture here to read--"and only they."
   In the next line, "whom" for "who" is probably the poet's own license
   or oversight.]

What follows is no whit less noble: but as much may be said of the whole
part--and indeed of the whole play. Violent and extravagant as the mere
action or circumstance may be or may appear, there is a trenchant
straightforwardness of appeal in the simple and spontaneous magnificence
of the language, a depth of insuppressible sincerity in the fervent and
and restless vibration of the thought, by which the hand and the brain
and the heart of the workman are equally recognizable. But the crowning
example of Cyril Tourneur's unique and incomparable genius is of course
to be found in the scene which would assuredly be remembered, though
every other line of the poet's writing were forgotten, by the influence
of its passionate inspiration on the more tender but not less noble
sympathies of Charles Lamb. Even the splendid exuberance of eulogy which
attributes to the verse of Tourneur a more fiery quality, a more
thrilling and piercing note of sublime and agonizing indignation, than
that which animates and inflames the address of Hamlet to a mother less
impudent in infamy than Vindice's cannot be considered excessive by any
capable reader who will candidly and carefully compare the two scenes
which suggested this comparison. To attempt the praise or the
description of anything that has been praised or described by Lamb would
usually be the veriest fatuity of presumption; and yet it is impossible
to write of a poet whose greatness was first revealed to his countrymen
by the greatest gritic of dramatic poetry who ever lived and wrote, and
not to echo his words of righteous judgement and inspired applause with
more or less feebleness of reiteration. The startling and magical power
of single verses, ineffaceable and ineradicable from the memory on which
they have once impressed themselves, the consciousness in which they
have once struck root, which distinguishes and denotes the peculiar
style of Cyril Tourneur's tragic poetry, rises to its highest tidemark
in this part of the play. Every other line, one might almost say, is an
instance of it; and yet not a single lineis undramatic, or deficient in
the strictest and plainest dramatic propriety. It may be objected that
men and women possessed by the excitement of emotions so desparate and
so dreadful do not express them with such passionate precision of
utterance: but, to borrow the saying of a later and bearer of the name
which Cyril sometimes spelled as Turner, "don't they wish they could?"
or rather, ought they not to wish it? What is said by the speakers
is exactly what they might be expected to think, to feel, and to express
with less incisive power and less impressive accuracy of ardent epigram
or of strenuous appeal.[1]

[Footnote 1: It is, to say the least, singular to find in the most
famous scene of a play, so often reprinted and re-edited a word which
certainly requires explanation passed over without remark from any one
of the successive editors. When Gratiana, threatened by the daggers of
her sons, exclaims:

   Are you so barbarous to set iron nipples
   Upon the breast that gave you suck?

Vindice retorts, in reply to her appeal:

                                 That breast
   Is turned to quarled poison.

This last epithet is surely unusual enough to call for some attempt at
interpretation. But none whatever has hitherto been offered. In the
seventh line following from this one there is another textual
difficulty. The edition now before me, Eld's of 1608, reads literally
thus:

   _Vind._ Ah ist possible, _Thou onely_, you powers on hie,
   That women should dissemble when they die.

Lamb was content to read,

   Ah, is it possible, you powers on high,

and so forth. Perhaps the two obviously corrupt words in italics may
contain a clew to the right reading, and this may be it:

   Ah!
   Is't possible, you heavenly powers on high,
   That women should dissemble when they die?

Or may not this be yet another instance of the Jew-Puritan abhorrence of
the word God as an obscene or blasphemous term when uttered outside the
synagogue or the conventicle? If so, we might read--and believe that the
poet wrote--

   Is't possible, thou only God on high,

and assume that the licenser struck out the indecent monosyllable and
left the mutilated text for actors and printers to patch or pad at their
discretion.]

There are among poets, as there are among prose writers, some whose
peculiar power finds vent only in a broad and rushing stream of speech
or song, triumphant by the general force and fulness of its volume, in
which we no more think of looking for single lines or phrases that may
be detached from the context and quoted for their separate effect than
of selecting for peculiar admiration some special wave or individual
ripple from the multitudinous magnificence of the torrent or the tide.
There are others whose power is shown mainly in single strokes or
flashes as of lightning or of swords. There are few indeed outside the
pale of the very greatest who can display at will their natural genius
in the keenest concentration or the fullest effusion of its powers. But
among these fewer than few stands the author of "The Revenger's
Tragedy." The great scene of the temptation and the triumph of Castiza
would alone be enough to give evidence, not adequate merely but ample,
that such praise as this is no hyperbole of sympathetic enthusiasm, but
simply the accurate expression of an indisputable fact. No lyrist, no
satirist, could have excelled in fiery flow of rhetoric the copious and
impetuous eloquence of the lines, at once luxurious and sardonic,
cynical and seductive, in which Vindice pours forth the arguments and
rolls out the promises of a professional pleader on behalf of aspiring
self-interest and sensual self-indulgence: no dramatist that ever lived
could have put more vital emotion into fewer words, more passionate
reality into more perfect utterance, than Tourneur in the dialogue that
follows them:

   _Mother_. Troth, he says true.

   _Castiza_. False: I defy you both:
   I have endured you with an ear of fire:
   Your tongues have struck hot irons on my face.
   Mother, come from that poisonous woman there.

   _Mother_. Where?

   _Castiza_. Do you not see her? she's too inward then.

I could not count the lines which on reperusal of this great tragic poem
I find apt for illustrative quotation, or suggestive of a tributary
comment: but enough has already been cited to prove beyond all chance of
cavil from any student worthy of the name that the place of Cyril
Tourneur is not among minor poets, nor his genius of such a temper as
naturally to attract the sympathy or arouse the enthusiasm of their
admirers; that among the comrades or the disciples who to us may appear
but as retainers or satellites of Shakespeare his rank is high and his
credentials to that rank are clear. That an edition more carefully
revised and annotated, with a text reduced to something more of
coherence and intelligible arrangement, than has yet been vouchsafed to
us, would suffice to place his name among theirs of whose eminence the
very humblest of their educated countrymen are ashamed to seem ignorant,
it would probably be presumptuous to assert. But if the noblest ardor of
moral emotion, the most fervent passion of eager and indignant sympathy
with all that is best and abhorrence of all that is worst in women or in
men--if the most absolute and imperial command of all resources and
conquest of all difficulties inherent in the most effective and the most
various instrument ever yet devised for the poetry of the tragic
drama--if the keenest insight and the sublimest impulse that can guide
the perception and animate the expression of a poet whose line of work
is naturally confined to the limits of moral or ethical tragedy--if all
these qualities may be admitted to confer a right to remembrance and a
claim to regard, there can be no fear and no danger of forgetfulness for
the name of Cyril Tourneur.



INDEX


Action, relation to character, 245.

Adventure, subject for drama, 242.

Aeschylus, Shakespeare compared with, 31;
  Webster compared with, 52.

Allegory, 102, 168, 170, 179, 180.

Alleyn, 189.

"All Fools" (Chapman), 259.

"All's Lost by Lust," 196.

Amadis, 214.

"Amboyna" (Dryden), 82.

"Amphitruo," the, 217.

"Antipodes, The," 252.

_Antiquary, The_ (Scott), 84.

"Antonio and Mellida" (Marston), 30, 116, 117, 122, 124, 145, 148.

"Antonio's Revenge" (Marston), 122.

"Anything for a Quiet Life" (Middleton), 163.

"Appius and Virginia" (Webster), 198.

Arbuthnot, 228.

Ariosto, 110.

Aristophanes, Middleton compared with, 169;
  caricaturist, 206.

Armada, 168, 206.

Arnold, Matthew, on Chapman, 107.

Asdrubal, speech of (Marston), 118.

"Asolani," 209.

"Astraea Redux," authorship, 157.

Astrophel and Stella, 66.

"Atheist's Tragedy, The" (Tourneur), 265;
  reflects the age, 268, 273.

Athens, 169.

Audience in Shakespeare's age, 170, 245.


"Bachelor's Banquet, The" (Dekker), 97.

Bacon, Francis, 68, 256.

Balzac, Shakespeare and Marlowe compared with, 33;
  Dekker compared with, 108.

Barkstead, William, 136.

Barnfield, 50.

"Bartholomew Fair" (Marston), 122.

Beaumont, 172;
  and Fletcher, 182, 225.

"Beggars' Bush" (Fletcher), 178.

"Bellman of London, The," (Dekker), 101.

Bembo, Pietro, 209.

Bible, Hebrew, influence of, 281.

_Biographer's Manual_, 278.

_Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama_ (Fleay), 205.

Bishop Hall, 163.

Blake, William, Dekker compared to, 72;
  "Jerusalem," 279.

Blank verse, 1, 2, 224.

"Blind Beggar of Alexandria, The" (Chapman), 193.

Boccaccio, Dekker compared with, 108.

Boswell, 162.

"Brazen Age, The," 218.

"Britannia's Honor," 84.

British Museum, 193.

Brome, 252.

Bronte, Charlotte, 40.

Browning, Heywood compared with, 236.

Bullen, on Marston, 135;
  on Elizabethan songs, 137;
  on Marlowe, 151;
  on Middleton, 154, 163, 165, 168, 172, 179, 181;
  on Heywood, 228, 230, 235.

Burbage, 189.

"Bussy d'Ambois" (Chapman), 259.

"Butcher's Story, The," 160.

Butler, parody Cat and Puss, 226.

Byron, 3, 38;
  Jonson compared with, 71, 201, 267;
  Tourneur compared with, 264.


Cade, Jack, 11.

"Caesar and Pompey," 259.

Campbell, Thomas, on Webster, 37.

"Canaan's Calamity," 92.

"Captives, The," 230.

Caricature, motive in drama, 206.

Carlyle, 93;
  definition of genius, 109, 207;
  Tourneur compared with, 264.

Carr, Robert, 256.

Cat and Puss (Butler), 226.

Catholic formula, 191.

"Catiline his Conspiracy" (Jonson), 144.

Caxton, 213, 214, 219.

"Cenci" (Shelley), 16.

_Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles_, 93.

"Challenge for Beauty, The" (Heywood), 212, 231, 234, 235.

Chalmers on Queen Elizabeth, 69.

"Changeling, The" (Middleton), 30, 186.

Chapman, George (255-261), Matthew Arnold on, 107;
  part in "Eastward Ho!", 129, 130;
  plays unedited, 152;
  "Blind Beggar," 193;
  in Germany, 255;
  translation of Juvenal, 256;
  faults of style, 257;
  Homer, 258;
  Keats on, 258;
  sources from French history, 258;
  Shelley on, 258;
  tragedy and comedy, 259;
  contact with Shakespeare, 260;
  feeling toward other poets, 260.

"Chaste Maid at Cheapside, A," Middleton and Shirley (?), 163.

Chaucer, 1, 72;
  Middleton compared with, 177, 247.

Chester, Sir Robert, 137, 138.

Chettle, 72, 87, 205.

"Childe Harold's Pilgrimage," 264.

"Chronicle History of Thomas Lord Cromwell," 19.

"Chronographicall History of all the Kings" (Heywood), 211.

"Christmas Carol, A," 229

Chronicle plays, 203, 206, 207, 208.

Clown, the, 230, 236.

Coleridge, on Beaumont and Fletcher, 29;
  on Dekker, 88, 150;
  love of country, 202, 254;
  on Chapman, 258.

Collier, on Marlowe, 7.

Collingwood, 254.

Colman, George, 231.

Comedy, French and Latin, 133;
  early specimens, 156, 157;
  in Dekker, Jonson, Shakespeare, and Middleton, 158.

"Conquest of Granada, The," 226.

"Contention between the two Famous Houses, etc.," 9.

"Contes Drolatiques," 161.

"Coriolanus," 270.

Corneille, treatment of Psyche, 222.

Couplet, in dramatic verse, 204;
  treatment by Jonson, Marlowe, Shakespeare, 205.

Critics, incompetence, 37, 38.

"Cure for a Cuckold, A," 24.


Daniel, "Defence of Rhyme," 107.

Dante, Webster compared with, 33, 52;
  Marston compared with, 119;
  love of country, 202.

Day, 87, 205.

"Dead Term, The" (Dekker), 102.

_Decameron_, 93.

"Defence of Rhyme," 107.

Dekker, Thomas (61-112);
  collab. with Webster, 19;
  part in "Westward Ho!", 20;
  comic style, 21, 158;
  collab. with Marston and Middleton, 30;
  Francois Villon compared with, 61, 62;
  tenderness like Shakespeare, 62;
  compared with Jonson, 69-71;
  with Blake and Shelley, 72;
  moral force, 73;
  satirist, 75;
  Hunt and Hazlitt on, 78;
  compared with Webster, Ford, and Middleton, 81;
  with Massinger, 87;
  Coleridge on, 88;
  Kingsley on, 89, 90;
  compared with Dickens, 102, 107;
  modern writers compared with, 106-108;
  humorist, 106;
  style compared with Dryden, 107;
  likened to Boccaccio, 108;
  as man and poet, 112;
  plays unedited, 152;
  collab. with Middleton, 161;
  allegory compared with Middleton, 168;
  Rowley compared with, 191, 193;
  faults, 194;
  imitated by Rowley, 195;
  use of foreign words, 247.

Deloney, Thomas, 91, 92.

Demonology, 161.

Desdemona, type of heroine, 57.

Devereux, Robert, 256.

"Devil's Answer to Pierce Penniless, The" (Dekker), 95.

"Devil's Law-case, The" (Webster), 25, 27, 30, 32, 49, 53.

"Dick of Devonshire," 235.

Dickens, Dekker compared with, 102, 107, 160;
  Middleton compared with, 163.

Diderot, 266.

"Dido, Queen of Carthage" (Marlowe), 8.

Dilke, _Old Plays_, 154.

"Dr. Faustus" (Marlowe), 2, 4, 6, 11.

Dodsley's _Old Plays_, 195.

Don Juan, 214.

Donne, John, 126, 257.

Don Quixote, 229.

"Double PP, The, etc.," 97.

Drake, Sir Francis, 18.

Dramatic poetry, evolution of, 216.

"Dream, The" (Dekker), 100.

Drue, Thomas, 207.

Dryden, 82;
  Dekker compared with, 107, 157, 221, 226.

"Duchess of Malfy, The" (Webster), 16, 32, 37, 53, 55, 270.

"Duchess of Suffolk, The," 207.

"Duke of Milan, The," 30.

"Dutch Courtesan, The" (Marston), 122, 130-133, 146.

Dyce, 11, 22, 23, 76, 151, 153, 180;
  on Webster, 40;
  on Middleton, 154, 157, 172;
  on Heywood, 232.


"Earthly Paradise, The," 215.

"Eastward Ho!", 129, 130.

"Ecole des Maris," 134.

"Edward II." (Marlowe), 6, 208.

_Elegies_, Ovid's, 12;
  Tourneur's, 277;
  Tennyson's, 278.

"Englishmen for My Money," 85.

English language, dignity, 228.

"English Traveller, The," 240.

"Entertainment" (Marston), 136.

Essex, Earl of, 256.

Euphuism, 147.

Euripides, 37, 169.


"Fair Maid of the Exchange, The," 237.

"Fair Maid of the Inn, The" (Fletcher), 26.

"Fair Maid of the West, The" (Heywood), 212, 241, 243.

"Fair Quarrel, A" (Middleton), 165, 167.

Falstaff, 179.

"Family of Love, The" (Middleton), 159, 181.

"Famous History of Sir Thomas Wyatt, The," 19.

"Fatal Curiosity" (Heywood), 239.

First great English poet, 1, 189.

Flamineo, 48, 52.

Fleay, _Biographical Chronicle_, 205;
  on Heywood, 228, 246, 249.

Fletcher, "Fair Maid of the Inn, The," 26;
  Webster compared with, 26;
  tragic poet, 30;
  compared with Shakespeare, 65;
  comic style, 165;
  metrical beauty, 172, 174;
  Middleton compared with, 172, 174, 178;
  collab. with Beaumont, 182;
  realism, 214;
  Heywood compared with, 232;
  faults, 234;
  "Flitcher," 237;
  Chapman's feeling toward, 260.

Ford, 81, 172, 177.

Foreign words, abuse of, 246.

"Fortune by Land and Sea," 243, 244.

"Four Brides of Noah's Ark," 106.

"Four Prentices of London, The," 193, 225, 228.

Francis I., 258.

Franklin, 254.

French comedy, 133.

French history, source for Chapman, 258.

Froissart, 229.


"Game at Chess, A," 157, 171.

Gautier, 231.

"Gentle Craft, The" (Dekker), 64.

"Gentleman Usher, The" (Chapman), 259.

German criticism, 19.

Gifford, on Dekker and Jonson, 69, 70, 90;
  on Marston, 122, 276.

Gil Blas, 210.

Giocondo, 110.

"Gloriana" (Lee), 82.

Glover, 38.

God, as term in literature, 286.

Goethe, on Marlowe, 2, 3.

"Golden Age, The" (Heywood), 216.

Goldsmith, Dekker compared with, 106.

Greene, Robert, 50, 73, 101.

Grenville, Richard, 18.

"Grim the Collier of Croydon," 84.

Grosart, _Barnfield_, 51;
  on Dekker, 91, 99;
  on Marston, 126.

"Gull's Hornbook, The" (Dekker), 97.


Hall, 125.

Hallam on Heywood, 3, 199, 232.

"Hamlet," 144, 176, 179;
  influence on Tourneur, 276, 282, 284.

Haughton, 73, 87.

Hazlitt, on Dekker, 78, 79, 181, 190;
  on Heywood, 201.

Hebrew Bible, influence of, 281.

"Heliogabalus," 231.

Henry IV., reign of, 258.

Henry, Prince of Wales, 256.

"Hero and Leander" (Marlowe), 13, 136, 256.

Heroine, orthodox ideal of, 247;
  _cf._ also 157 _note_.

Hesiod, 256.

Heywood, Thomas (200-254), realism, 65, 215;
  "The Royal King," etc., 193;
  characters from life, 201;
  love of country, 202;
  of London, 202;
  pathos and humor, 204;
  patriotism, 210;
  imitator of Theocritus, 214;
  William Morris compared with, 215;
  power of condensation, 217;
  character as poet, 224, 225;
  influence of civic services, 226;
  compared with Fletcher, 232;
  best play, 233, 234;
  national quality in, 236, 254;
  dramatic force, 245;
  disciple of Jonson, 251;
  prose, 253;
  story-telling, 253.

"Hierarchie of the Blessed Angels, The" (Heywood), 212.

"Hippolytus," 37.

History, treatment on stage, 18, 19.

"Histriomatrix," 126, 139, 140. [Transcriber's note: in the text,
"Histriomastix"]

Hogarth, 158.

Homer, 220;
  Chapman on, 255-261.

"Honest Whore, The," Webster's part in, 21;
  Dekker's, 74, 75;
  Middleton's and Rowley's, 183.

Hood, 138.

Horace, 143.

Horne, 152.

"How to Choose a Good Wife from a Bad" (Heywood), 247.

Hugo, Victor, son of, 4; 33, 38;
  Dekker compared with, 74.

Hunt, Leigh, on Dekker, 78;
  on Middleton, 154.

"Hymns" (Homer), 256.


"If you know not me," 206.

"Iliad," Chapman's translation, 255.

"Inner-Temple Masque, The," 179.

"Insatiate Countess, The" (Marston), 135.

"Iron Age, The," 216, 220.

Italian influence, 73, 103, 119, 148, 247.


"Jack Drum's Entertainment," 126, 142.

Jeronimo, 167.

"Jerusalem" (Blake), 279.

"Jests to make you merry" (Dekker), 99.

"Jew of Malta" (Marlowe), 5;
  compared with "Dr. Faustus," 6;
  with "King Richard II.," 11, 189.

"Jocondo and Astolfo" (Dekker), 110.

Johnson, Dr., 162, 237.

Jones, Inigo, 256.

Jonson, Ben, compared with Shakespeare, 65;
  "Poetaster," 68;
  compared with Dekker, 69, 70, 111;
  collaboration with Dekker, 71;
  court characters, 85;
  influence on Marston, 122;
  "Catiline," 144;
  character invention, 158;
  compared with Middleton, 165, 172;
  treatment of couplet, 205;
  model for other poets of the age, 222, 237;
  friend of Chapman, 256;
  model for Heywood, 251;
  Chapman's feeling toward, 260;
  ridicules Marston, 276.

Juvenal, Tourneur akin to, 281.


Keats, 223;
  on Chapman, 258.

Killigrew, 267.

King Brute, 213.

"King Edward III.," 12.

"King Edward IV.," 203, 230.

"King Henry VI.," Marlowe's part in, 9.

"King Henry VIII.," Fletcher's part in, 174.

King James, 129;
  demonology, 161, 213, 256.

"King Lear," 16, 31, 176.

"King Richard II.," 6, 208.

Kingsley, on Webster, 42;
  on Dekker, 89, 90.

"Knight's Conjuring, A," 95.

Knox, John, 267.


La Fontaine, 110.

Lamb, Charles, 21, 151, 190;
  on Dekker, 63, 66, 78, 162;
  on Marston, 122, 123;
  on Webster, 140;
  on Heywood, 152, 200, 202, 205, 211, 214, 219, 225, 226, 237;
  on Middleton, 153, 165, 167, 177;
  on Rowley, 187, 197-199, 202;
  on Chapman, 258, 259;
  on Tourneur, 284.

Landor, Walter Savage, 120, 166;
  on Marston, 137;
  Rowley compared with, 199.

"Lantern and Candle-light" (Dekker), 101.

"La Reine d'Espagne," 232.

Latin comedy, 133.

"_Latter-day Pamphlets_," 93.

Latouche, Henri de, 232.

"Laugh and Lie Down," 278.

Lee, "Gloriana," 82.

"Life of Merlin, surnamed Ambrosius" (Heywood), 112.

Lillo, 239.

"Lingua," 170.

_Little Dorrit_, 100.

London, 11, 203, 214, 245.

"London's Tempe," 84.

Longfellow, 38.

"Love's Mistress," 222.

Lowndes, 278.

"Loyal Subject, The" (Fletcher), 232.

Lucrezia Borgia, 209.

"Lust's Dominion," 85, 152.

"Lycidas," 157.

Lyly, parody on "Antonio and Mellida," 147.

Lyric poetry before Shakespeare, 242.


Macaulay, on Milton, 104.

"Macbeth," relation to "The Witch," 172, 252.

Machiavelli, 84.

"Mad World, My Masters, A" (Middleton), 160.

"Maid's Tragedy, The," 30.

"Maidenhead Well Lost, A," 231.

"Malcontent, The" (Marston), 22, 116;
  Webster's part in, 124, 129.

Mallory, 229.

"Manfred," 3.

Mantalini, 24.

Marlowe, Christopher (1-14),
  influence on Shelley, 1, 13;
  on Milton, 5;
  on Nathaniel Lee, 7;
  compared with Shakespeare, 7, 194, 208;
  comic spirit, 10, 11;
  translations of Ovid and Lucan, 12;
  lyric quality, 13;
  place in literature, 14;
  compared with Webster, 33, 58, 59;
  impostures of, 85;
  Bullen's edition, 151;
  Middleton compared with, 172;
  model for others, 178;
  first great poet of England, 189;
  treatment of couplet, 205, 260.

Marmion, 222.

Marston, John, (112-149),
  tragic spirit compared with Webster's, 17, 30, 59;
  collaboration with Webster, 22;
  relations with Jonson, 112, 113, 127;
  tragic style compared with Webster, Tourneur, Shakespeare, 114;
  characters, 115, 116;
  compared with Sophocles, Tacitus, Dante, 117, 119;
  influenced by Jonson, 122,
  collaboration with, 140, 141;
  place among poets, 144;
  compared, with Jonson, 146;
  satirist, 179;
  compared with Tourneur, 276, 277, 281;
  ridiculed by Jonson, 276.

Mary Tudor, 207.

"Massacre at Paris" (Marlowe), 7, 10.

Massinger, 30, 87, 90, 194, 237.

"Match at Midnight, A" (Rowley), 192.

"Match Me in London" (Dekker), 84.

"Mayor of Queenborough, The," 167.

"Medea," the, 37.

Meltun Society, 157 _note_.

"Menaechmi, The," 217.

"Michaelmas Term" (Middleton), 158.

"Microcynicon," 179.

Middleton, Thomas (150-187),
  place as tragic poet, 30;
  associated with Dekker, 75-77, 87;
  poet of city, 85;
  comic style, 158;
  associated with Rowley and Dekker, 161;
  "The Widow," 165;
  allegory compared with Dekker's, 168;
  obligations to Shakespeare, 172;
  compared with Chaucer, 177;
  a second poet by same name (?), 180;
  collaboration with Rowley, 182;
  comedy, 190;
  _cf._ "Meddletun," 237.

"Midsummer Night's Dream," compared with "Old Fortunatus," 65.

Millais, 203.

Milton, indebted to Marlowe, 5, 38, 50, 95, 150;
  indebted to Middleton, 157, 170, 236, 199;
  indebted to Heywood, 217.

Minto, on Chapman, 260.

"Miseries of Enforced Marriage, The," 246.

"Misery of a Prison and a Prisoner, The" (Dekker), 99.

Moliere, Dekker compared with, 107:
  Marston, 132, 133, 211;
  Heywood, 211, 216, 222.

"Monsieur d'Olive" (Chapman), 259.

Morality plays. 156.

"More Dissemblers Besides Women" (Middleton), 164.

Morris, William, 215, 223.

"Mountebank's Masque," 138.

Musaeus, 256.

"Myrrha" (Barkstead), 136.


Nash, Thomas, 8, 100, 180, 188.

National characteristics on Heywood, Sidney, etc., 254.

Nelson, 254.

Newman, J.H., 89, 90.

"News from Hell," 95.

"New Wonder, A, etc." (Rowley), 191.

"Northward Ho!", 20.

"No Wit, No Help Like a Woman's" (Middleton), 165.


"Odyssey," Chapman's translation, 256.

"Old Fortunatus" (Webster), 21, 30;
  "Midsummer Night's Dream" compared with, 65.

"Old Law, The" (Rowley), 167.

_Old Plays_, Dilke's. 154, 195.

One-part plays, 237.

"Othello," 16, 31.

Ovid, Marlowe's translations, 12;
  source for Heywood, 218;
  Dryden's translations, 221.

Oxford, 255.


Painter, William, 58.

"Palace of Pleasure, The" (Painter). 58.

"Paradise Regained," 157.

"Parasitaster, The" (Marston), 133, 146.

"Parliament of Bees, The," 85.

"Passionate Shepherd, The" (Marlowe), 13.

"Patient Grissel," 72.

Patient Grizel, type of heroine, 247.

Patriotism in Dante, Coleridge, Shakespeare, Virgil, 202;
  in Heywood, 243, 245.

Peele, George, 69, 205.

Percy Society, 188.

"Persae," the, 81.

Persius, Tourneur akin to, 281.

"Phoenix and Turtle, The," 138, 156.

_Pickwick Papers_, 100.

Plautus, imitated by Dryden, Moliere, Rotrou, 216;
  model for Heywood, 231, 240.

Plymouth, 243.

"Poetaster, The" (Jonson), 68, 133, 138.

Ponsard, 38.

Pope, 82, 228.

"Prince Nicander's vein," 223

Protestant animosity in drama, 207.

Prynne, William, 207.

Psyche, subject of English poetry, 222, 223, 251.

"Puritan, The," 181.

Puritanism, 241, 278, 281, 286 _note_.

"Pygmalion's Image," 136.


Queen Elizabeth, 69, 105, 168, 211-213, 256.

"Queen of Corinth, The," 178.

Quevedo, 95.


Rabelais, 95; Rowley compared with, 190.

Raleigh, Sir Walter, 69.

_Rand_, verb, 189.

"Rape of Lucrece, The," 223.

"Raven's Almanack, The" (Dekker), 103.

Realism, in dialogue, 194;
  of Heywood and Fletcher, 214, 247;
  differentiated from romanticism, 234.

"Rehearsal, The," 226.

Renascence, 281.

Restoration, the, 157 _note_, 259, 278.

"Return from Parnassus, The," 141.

"Revenger's Tragedy, The" (Tourneur), 176, 268, 273, 287.

"Roaring Girl, The," 161.

"Robert, Earl of Huntington," 73.

Rochester, Lord, 157.

"Rod for Runaways, A" (Dekker), 103.

"Romeo and Juliet," 69, 179, 247.

Rotrou, 216.

Rowley, William (187-199), genius in comedy and tragedy, 24, 166-168;
  collaboration with Middleton, 161, 179, 181-183;
  compared with Dekker and Nash, 188;
  akin to Rabelais, 190;
  comic style compared with Dekker, Middleton, Heywood, 191;
  theory of verse, 194;
  best as tragic poet, 196, 197;
  compared with Heywood, 244.

"Royal King and Loyal Subject, The," 193, 232.


St. George's Day, 190.

"St. Patrick for Ireland" (Shirley), 194.

"Samson Agonistes," 157.

Sancho Panza, 229.

"Sardanapalus," 267.

"Satiromastix" (Dekker), 69, 127, 128.

Scott, Sir Walter, 84;
  on Middleton, 153.

"Seaman, The," 96.

"Search for Money, A," 188.

"Second Maiden's Tragedy, The," 174.

"Sejanus," 144.

Selden, 163.

Settle, Elkanah, 157 _note_.

"Seven Deadly Sins of London, The," 93.

Shadwell, 251, 267.

Shakespeare, Marlowe compared with, 2, 10, 14;
  translated by Hugo, 4;
  indebted to Marlowe, 5, 14, 36;
  Webster compared with, 15-17, 29, 30, 33, 38, 44-46, 52, 54, 57, 58;
  collaboration with Rowley, 24;
  doctrine compared with Aeschylus, 31;
  lyric quality, 50;
  greatest contemporary of, 55;
  light comedy, 64;
  Webster on, 65;
  Dekker compared with, 67, 71,
    in humor, 108;
  burlesqued by Dekker, 68, 81;
  admonitory style in dialogue, 98;
  "Venus and Adonis," 136;
  obscurity like Marston's, 137, 144;
  above Milton, Coleridge, and Shelley, 150;
  Middleton compared with, 154, 155,
    in humor, 158;
  characters, 166, 182, 184;
  obligations to Middleton, 172;
  tragic invention, 176;
  method of work, 178;
  compared with Rowley, verse quality, 191, 194;
  patriotism, 202;
  treatment of couplet, 205;
  on chronicle plays, 206, 209;
  "Richard II.," 208;
  Heywood compared with, blank verse, 224;
  national qualities in, 236;
  Dr. Johnson on, 237;
  humanity, 243;
  use of foreign words, 246;
  quoted in Heywood's plays, 249;
  reference to Chapman, 260;
  Tourneur compared with, in dramatic dialogue, 263;
  verse music, 270;
  tragic hero, 274;
  poetic style, 276.

Shakespeare Society, 19.

Shelley, Marlowe's influence on, 1, 16, 38;
  Dekker compared with, 72;
  Marston, 137, 141, 177, 258.

Shirley, 30, 38, 163, 194, 221.

"Shadow of Night, The" (Chapman), 255.

"Shoemaker, a Gentleman, A" (Rowley), 193.

Sidney, Sir Philip, 18, 66, 68, 224, 254, 258.

Sigurd, 214.

"Silver Age, The," 216.

"Sir Giles Goosecap," 128.

"Sir Peter Harpdon's End," 215.

"Sir Thomas More," 19.

"Sir Thomas Wyatt, The Famous History of," 19, 22.

"Sir Tristrem," 153.

Slang, Rowley's, 195.

Socrates, 169.

Somerset, Earl of, 256.

Sophocles, Webster compared with, 35-37, 52, 218, 221.

"Sophonisba" (Marston), 116.

Southey, on Rowley, 199.

Sovereign of modern poets, 35.

Spain in drama, 168, 194, 210, 234.

"Spanish Gipsy, The," 177, 179.

"Spanish Moor's Tragedy, The," 85.

Spenser, 1.

Stanihurst's Virgil, 280.

Sterne, Dekker's style compared to, 107;
  morbidity, 121.

"Strange Horse-race, A" (Dekker), 102.

Strozzi, Ercole, 209.

_Study of Shakespeare, A_, 11.

Suckling, Sir John, 157.

Sue, Eugene, 33.

Swift, Jonathan, prose, 8, 17, 121, 220;
  Tourneur compared to, 264.


Tacitus, Marston's dialogue compared with, 119.

"Tamburlaine," 2, 4, 11.

"Taming of the Shrew, The," Marlowe's part in, 11.

Tennyson, Webster's verse compared with, 20, 38, 208;
  Heywood compared with, 236, 278.

Thackeray, Dekker's humor compared with, 106, 108.

Thames, the, 190.

Theocritus, imitated by Heywood, 214.

"Thomas of Reading, etc.," 91.

"Three Hours After Marriage," 82.

"Titus Andronicus," 12.

Tourneur, Cyril (262-289), cynicism compared with Webster, 17, 60;
  verse compared with Middleton, 172, 176;
  poetic passion, 182;
  allegory, 180;
  reflective quality, 263;
  dialogue compared with Shakespeare, Webster, 263;
  shows influence of age, 268;
  verse quality, 269, 270;
  dramatic quality, 271, 272;
  revenge as theme, 273;
  master-work, 273;
  comparable only with Shakespeare, 276, 277, 280, 281, 282, 288;
  sublimity, 280;
  akin to Juvenal, Persius, 281;
  tragic style, 285;
  moral passion, 289.

"Transformed Metamorphosis, The" (Tourneur), 180, 279.

Travel, motive for drama, 242.

"Travels of Three English Brothers, The," 242.

"Trial of Chivalry, The" (Heywood), 228, 229, 235.

"Traitor, The," 30.

"Trick to Catch the Old One, A" (Middleton), 158, 160.

"Troilus and Cressida," 220, 223, 277.

"Troja Britannica" (Heywood), 212.

Troy "Histories" of, 213.

Tupper, Martin, 228.

Turner, 285.

Twain, Mark, 228.

"Two Foscari, The," 267.

"Two Gentlemen of Verona," 155.

"Two Noble Kinsmen, The," Shakespeare's part in, 20.

"Tyrannic Love," 226.


Vanini, Tourneur successor of, 266.

Vere, Sir Francis, Tourneur's elegy on, 277.

"Venus and Adonis," 238.

Villon, Francois, Dekker compared with, 61.

Vindice, 60.

Virgil, source for "Dido, Queen of Carthage," 8;
  love of country, 202.

"Virgin Martyr, The" (Dekker), 88, 194.

"Volpone," 144.

Voltaire, 199.


Watson, 141.

Webster, John (15-67), tragic imagination compared with Shakespeare,
   15, 29, 30, 58, 59, 176, 190;
  collaboration with Dekker, 19;
  with Rowley, 23, 24;
  independent of other poets, 32;
  tragic quality, 46;
  lyric quality, 51;
  metrical faults, 53, 54;
  compared with Marlowe, 58;
  with Marston, 59;
  with Middleton, 172, 182;
  foreign words, 246;
  compared with Tourneur, dialogue, 263;
  verse, 270;
  style, 276, 280;
  tragic heroes, 281.

"Westward Ho!", 20.

"What you Will" (Marston), 127, 128, 146.

"White Devil, The" (Webster), 16, 32, 37, 40, 270.

"Whore of Babylon, The," 168.

"Widow, The" (Middleton), 164.

"Widow's Tears, The" (Chapman), 259.

Wilkins, George, 244.

"William Eps his death" (Dekker), 95.

"Wisdom of Solomon, The," 180.

"Wise Woman of Hogsdon, The" (Heywood), 245.

"Witch, The" (Middleton), relation to Macbeth, 171, 172.

Witchcraft, 251.

"Witches of Lancashire, The," 250, 251.

Wither, 50.

"Woman Killed with Kindness, A" (Heywood), 212, 238, 240, 249.

"Women Beware Women" (Middleton), 175, 177.

"Wonder of a Kingdom, The" (Dekker), 84.

"Wonder of Women, The" (Marston), 116, 122.

"Wonderful Year, The," 93.

Wood, Anthony, on Chapman, 255.

Wordsworth, love of country, 202;
  Heywood compared with, 236.

"Work for Armourers" (Dekker), 102.

"Works and Days," Chapman's translation, 256.

"World Tost at Tennis, The," 179.


"Your Five Gallants" (Middleton), 160.


Zola, Emile, 33.


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