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the most impetuous eloquence. Our language is, as it were, to begin anew, and we make use of the most singular and boldest combinations to explain ourselves. Our wit comes from us, “like birdlime, brains and all.” We pay too little attention to form and method, leave our works in an unfinished state, but still the materials we work in are solid and of nature's mint; we do not deal in counterfeits. We both under and over-do, but we keep an eye to the prominent features, the main chance. We are more for weight than show; care only about what interests ourselves, instead of trying to impose upon others by plausible appearances, and are obstinate and intractable in not conforming to common rules, by which many arrive at their ends with half the real waste of thought and trouble. We neglect all but the principal object, gather our force to make a great blow, bring it down, and relapse into sluggishness and indifference again. Materiam superabat opus, cannot be said of us. · We may be accused of grossness, but not of flimsiness; of extravagance, but not of affectation; of want of art and refinement, but not of a want of truth and nature. Our literature, in a word, is Gothic ! and grotesque ; unequal and irregular; not cast in a previous mould, nor of one uniform texture, but of great weight in the whole, and of incomparable value in the best parts. It aims at an excess of beauty or power, hits or misses, and is either very good indeed, or absolutely good for nothing. This character applies in particular to our literature in the age of Elizabeth, which is its best period, before the introduction of a rage for French rules and French models; for whatever may be the value of our own original style of composition, there can be neither offence nor presumption in saying, that it is at least better than our sr. cond-hand imitations of others. Our understanding (such as it is and must remain, to be good for anything) is not a thoroughfare for common places, smooth as the palm of one's hand, but full of knotty points and jutting excrescences, rough, uneven, overgrown with brambles; and I like this aspect of the mind (as some one said of the country), where nature keeps a good dea] of the soil in her own hands. Perhaps the genius of our poetry has more of Pan than of Apollo; “but Pan is a God, A pollo is no more !”
On the Dramatic Writers contemporary with Shakspeare, Lyly, Marlowe,
Heywood, Middleton, and Rowley.
The period of which I shall have to treat (from the Reformation to the middle of Charles I.) was prolific in dramatic excellence even more than in any other. In approaching it, we seem to be approaching the RICH - STROND described in Spenser, where trea. sures of all kinds lay scattered, or rather crowded together on the shore in inexhaustible but unregarded profusion, “rich as the oozy bottom of the deep in sunken wrack and sumless trea. suries." We are confounded with the variety, and dazzled with the dusky splendour of names sacred in their obscurity, and works gorgeous in their decay, “majestic, though in ruin,” like Guyon when he entered the Cave of Mammon, and was shown the massy pillars and huge unwieldy fragments of gold, covered with dust and cobwebs, and shedding a faint shadow of uncertain light,
“ Such as a lamp whose light doth fade away
The dramatic literature of this period only wants exploring, to fill the inquiring mind with wonder and delight, and to convince us that we have been wrong in lavishing all our praise on born gauds, though they are made and moulded of things past ;" and in “giving to dust, that is a little gilt, more laud than gilt o'er-dusted.” In short, the discovery of such an unsuspected and forgotten mine of wealth will be found amply to repay the labour of the search, and it will be hard if in most cases curi. osity does not end in admiration, and modesty teach us wisdom. A few of the most singular productions of these times remain un. claimed; of others, the authors are uncertain; many of them are joint productions of different pens; but of the best the writers' names are in general known, and obviously stamped on the productions themselves. The names of Ben Jonson, for instance, Massinger, Beaumont and Fletcher, are almost, though not quite, as familiar to us as that of Shakspeare ; and their works still keep regular possession of the stage. Another set of writers included in the same general period (the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century,) who are next, or equal, or sometimes superior to these in power, but whose names are now little known, and their writings nearly obsolete, are Lyly, Marlowe, Marston, Chapman, Middleton, and Rowley, Heywood, Webster, Decker, and Ford. I shall devote the present and two following Lectures to the best account I can give of these, and shall begin with some of the least known.
The earliest tragedy of which I shall take notice (I believe the earliest that we have) is that of Ferrex and Porrex, or Gorboduc (as it has been generally called,) the production of Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, afterwards created Earl of Dorset, assisted by one Thomas Norton. This was first acted with applause before the Queen in 1561, the noble author being then quite a young man. This tragedy being considered as the first in our language, is certainly a curiosity, and in other respects it is also remarkable; though, perhaps, enough has been said about it. As a work of genius, it may be set down as nothing, for it contains hardly a memorable line or passage ; as a work of art, and the first of its kind attempted in the language, it may be considered as a monument of the taste and skill of the authors. Its merit is confined to the regularity of the plot and metre, to its general good sense, and strict attention to common decorum. If the poet has not stamped the peculiar genius of his age upon this first attempt, it is no inconsiderable proof of strength of mind and conception sustained by its own sense of propriety alone, to have so far anticipated the taste of succeeding times as to have avoided any glaring offence against rules and models, which had no ex. istence in his day. Or perhaps a truer solution might be, that there were as yet no examples of a more ambiguous and irregular kind to tempt him to err, and as he had not the impulse or resources within himself to strike out a new path, he merely ad. hered with modesty and caution to the classical models with which, as a scholar, he was well acquainted. The language of the dialogue is clear, unaffected, and intelligible without the smallest difficulty, even to this day; it has “no figures nor no fan
tasies,” to which the most fastidious critic can object, but the |
dramatic power is nearly none at all. It is written expressly to set forth the dangers and mischiefs that arise from the division of sovereign power; and the several speakers dilate upon the dif
ferent views of the subject in turn, like clever school-boys set to | compose a thesis, or declaim upon the fatal consequences of am.
bition, and the uncertainty of human affairs. The author, in
“ Eke fully with the duke my mind agrees,
Yet how little he was borne out in this inference by the unbi. assed dictates of his own mind, may appear from the freedora and unguarded boldness of such lines as the following, addressea by a favourite to a prince, as courtly advice :
Subject to laws of kind and fear of gods?
The principal characters make as many invocations to the names of their children, their country, an their friends, as Cicero in his Orations, and all the topics insisted upon are open, direct, urged in the face of day, with no more attention to time or place, to an enemy who overhears, or an accomplice to whom they are addressed ; in a word, with no more dramatic insinua. tions or bye-play than the pleadings in a court of law. Almost the only passage that I can instance, as rising above this didactic tone of mediocrity into the pathos of poetry, is one where Marcella laments the untimely death of her lover, Ferrex :
“Ah! noble prince, how oft have I beheld
There seems a reference to Chaucer in the wording of the following lines,
" Then saw 1 how he smiled with slaying knife
Sir Philip Sidney says of this tragedy: “Gorboduc is full of stately speeches, and well-sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca his style, and as full of notable morality; which it doth most delightfully teach, and thereby obtain the very end of poetry.” And Mr. Pope, whose taste in such mat- ? ters was very different from Sir Philip Sidney's, says in stiil
* "The smiler with the knife i nder his cloke.”—Knight's Tale.