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JONS O N. 215 wholesome laws of the Parnassian Code, in this case made and provided, for the security of the rights ofauthors, and the greater certainty and authenticity of dramatick history.
Nor let our poet's admirers be at all alarmed, or shrink from this discussion; for after this slight and temporary fabrick, erected to his honour, fhall have been demolished, there will still remain abundant proofs of the gentleness, modefty, and humility, of Shakspeare; of the overweening arrogance of old Ben; and of the ridiculous absurdity of his partizans, who for near a century set above our great dramatick poet a writer whom no man is now hardy enough to mention as even his competitor.
I must premise, that The Lover's. Melancholy, written by John Ford, was announced for representation at Drury-lane theatre on Friday the 22d of April, 1748. Mr. Steevens has mentioned that it was performed for å beneft; but the person for whose benefit this play was acted is in the present case very material : it was performed for the benefit of Mrs. Macklin ; and consequently it was the interest of Mr. Macklin that the entertainment of that night should prove profitable, or in other words that such expectation should be raised among the frequenters of the play-house as should draw together a numerous audience. Mr. Macklin, who had then been on the stage about twenty-five years, was sufficiently conversant with the arts of puffing, which, though now practised with perhaps superior dexterity, have at all times (by whatever name they inay have gone) been tolerably well underfood: and accordingly on Tuesday the 19th of April, three days before the day appointed for his
wife's benefit, he inserted the following letter in The General (now The Publick) Advertiser, which appears to have escaped the notice of my predecellor :
• As The Lover's Melancholy, which is to be revived on Friday next at the theatre-royal in DruryLane, for the benefit of Mrs. Macklin, is a scarce play, and in a very few hands, it is hoped, that a short account of the author, his works in general, and of that piece in particular, will not be unacceptable to the publick.'
· John Ford, Esq. was of the Middle Temple, and though but a young man when Shakspeare left the stage, yet as he lived in ftrict friendship with himn till he died, which appears by several of Ford's Sonnets and verses, it may be said with some propriety that he was a contemporary of that great man's.'
It is said that he wrote twelve or fourteen dramatick pieces, eight of which only have been collected, viz. The Broken Heart, Love's Sacrifice, Perkin Warbeck, The Ladies' Trial, 'Tis Pily she's a Whore, The Sun's Darling, a Masque, and The Lover's Melancholy.'
* Most of those pieces have great merit in them, particularly The Lover's Melancholy; which in the private opinion of many admirers of the stage, is written with an art, ease, and dramatick spirit, inferior to none before or since his time, Shakspeare excepted.'
: The moral of this play is obvious and lauda
ble; the fable natural, simple, interesting, and perfect in all its parts; the action one and entire; the time twelve hours, and the place a palace.'
• The writing, as the piece is of that species of the drama, which is neither tragedy, nor comedy, but a play, is often in familiar, and sometimes in elevated, prose, after the manner of Shakspeare; but when his subject and characters demand it, he has sentiment, diction, and flowing numbers, at command.'
• His characters are natural, and well chofen, and so distinct in manners, sentiment, and language, that each as he speaks would diftin&tly live in the reader's judgment, without the common help of marginal directions.'
· As Ford was an intimate and a professed admirer of Shakspeare, it is not to be wondered at, that he often thinks and expresses like him ; which is not his misfortune, but his happiness ; for when he is most like Shakspeare, he is most like nature. He does not put you in mind of him like a plagiarist, or an 'affected mere initator; but like a true genius, who had studied under that great man, and could not avoid catching some of his divine excellence.'
This praise perhaps by some people may be thought too much : of that the praiser pretends not to be a judge; he only speaks his own feeling, not with an intent to impose, but to recommend a treasure to the publick, that for a century has been buried in obscurity; which when they have seen, he flatters himself that they will think as well of it as he does; and should that be the case, the following verses, written by Mr. Ford's contemporaries, will
shew, that neither the present. publick, nor the letter-writer, are fingular in their esteem of The Lover's Melancholy.'
“. To my honoured friend, Master John FORD, on his [excellent play, The] | Lover's Melancholy.
66 If that thou think'st these lines thy worth can raise,
" G. Donne."
On (that excellent play ] The Lover's Melancholy.
66 'Tis not the language, nor the fore-plac'd rhimes
How far The Lover's Melancholy is entitled to all this high praise, it is not my business at present to inquire. I shall only observe, that this kind of prelude to a benefit play appears at that period to
8 The words within crotchets here and belo'w were interpolated by Mr. Macklin, not being found in the original.
9 In the original, this fignature is in Greek characters, O QI0s; a language with which Mr. Macklin is unacquainted. In this instance therefore he must have had the aflistance of fome more learned friend.
have been a common artifice. For The Muses Looking-Glass, and old comedy of Randolph's, being revived for the benefit of Mr. Ryan in 1748, I find an account of the author, and an high elogium on his works, in the form of a letter, inserted in the month of March, in the fame newspaper.
In the preceding letter it is observable, we are only told that the author of The Lover's Melancholy lived in the strictest intimacy with Shakspeare till he died, as appears by several of Ford's Sonnets and Verses (which unluckily, however, are no where to be found); that the piece is inferior to none written before or since, except those of Shakspeare; that. as Ford was an intimate and professéd admirer of Shakspeare, and had studied under him, it is not to be wondered at that it should be written in his manner, and that the author should have caught some portion of his divine excellence: but no‘hint is yet given, that The Lover's Melancholy had a still higher claim to the attention of the town than being written in Shakspeare's manner, namely its being supposed to be compiled from the papers of that great poet, which, after his death, as we shall prefently hear, fell into Ford's hands.
And yet undoubtedly this valuable piece of information was on Monday the 21st day of April, (when this letter appears to have been written,) in Mr. Macklin's possession, if ever he was polesed of it; for so improbable a circumstance will not, I suppose, be urged, as that he found the uncommon pamphlet in which it is said to be contained, between that day and the following Friday.
Judiciously as the preceding letter was calculated to attain the end for which it was written, it appears