Part 5 out of 7
appear so strange to one who had been on terms of familiarity with
Sicilian and Italian women of rank; and bad as they may, too many of
them, actually be, yet I doubt not that the extreme grossness of their
language has impressed many an Englishman of the present era with far
darker notions than the same language would have produced in the mind of
one of Elizabeth's, or James's courtiers. Those who have read Shakspeare
only, complain of occasional grossness in his plays; but compare him
with his contemporaries, and the inevitable conviction is, that of the
exquisite purity of his imagination.
The observation I have prefixed to the Volpone is the key to the faint
interest which these noble efforts of intellectual power excite, with
the exception of the fragment of the Sad Shepherd; because in that piece
only is there any character with whom you can morally sympathize. On the
other hand, Measure for Measure is the only play of Shakspeare's in
which there are not some one or more characters, generally many, whom
you follow with affectionate feeling. For I confess that Isabella, of
all Shakspeare's female characters, pleases me the least; and Measure
for Measure is, indeed, the only one of his genuine works, which is
painful to me.
Let me not conclude this remark, however, without a thankful
acknowledgment to the 'manes' of Ben Jonson, that the more I study his
writings, I the more admire them; and the more my study of him resembles
that of an ancient classic, in the 'minutiae' of his rhythm, metre,
choice of words, forms of connection, and so forth, the more numerous
have the points of my admiration become. I may add, too, that both the
study and the admiration cannot but be disinterested, for to expect
therefrom any advantage to the present drama would be ignorance. The
latter is utterly heterogeneous from the drama of the Shakspearian age,
with a diverse object and contrary principle. The one was to present a
model by imitation of real life, taking from real life all that in it
which it ought to be, and supplying the rest;--the other is to copy what
is, and as it is,--at best a tolerable, but most frequently a
blundering, copy. In the former the difference was an essential element;
in the latter an involuntary defect. We should think it strange, if a
tale in dance were announced, and the actors did not dance at all;--and
yet such is modern comedy.
But Jonson was soon sensible, how inconsistent this medley of names and
manners was in reason and nature; and with how little propriety it could
ever have a place in a legitimate and just picture of real life.
But did Jonson reflect that the very essence of a play, the very
language in which it is written, is a fiction to which all the parts
must conform? Surely, Greek manners in English should be a still grosser
improbability than a Greek name transferred to English manners. Ben's
'personae' are too often not characters, but derangements;--the hopeless
patients of a mad-doctor rather,--exhibitions of folly betraying itself
in spite of existing reason and prudence. He not poetically, but
painfully exaggerates every trait; that is, not by the drollery of the
circumstance, but by the excess of the originating feeling.
But to this we might reply, that far from being thought to build his
characters upon abstract ideas, he was really accused of representing
particular persons then existing; and that even those characters which
appear to be the most exaggerated, are said to have had their respective
archetypes in nature and life.
This degrades Jonson into a libeller, instead of justifying him as a
dramatic poet. 'Non quod verum est, sed quod verisimile', is the
dramatist's rule. At all events, the poet who chooses transitory
manners, ought to content himself with transitory praise. If his object
be reputation, he ought not to expect fame. The utmost he can look
forwards to, is to be quoted by, and to enliven the writings of, an
antiquarian. Pistol, Nym and 'id genus omne', do not please us as
characters, but are endured as fantastic creations, foils to the native
wit of Falstaff.--I say wit emphatically; for this character so often
extolled as the masterpiece of humor, neither contains, nor was meant to
contain, any humor at all.
WHALLEY'S LIFE OF JONSON.
It is to the honor of Jonson's judgment, that 'the greatest poet of our
nation' had the same opinion of Donne's genius and wit; and hath
preserved part of him from perishing, by putting his thoughts and satire
into modern verse.
He said further to Drummond, Shakspeare wanted art, and sometimes sense;
for in one of his plays he brought in a number of men, saying they had
suffered shipwreck in Bohemia, where is no sea near by a hundred miles.
I have often thought Shakspeare justified in this seeming anachronism.
In Pagan times a single name of a German kingdom might well be supposed
to comprise a hundred miles more than at present. The truth is, these
notes of Drummond's are more disgraceful to himself than to Jonson. It
would be easy to conjecture how grossly Jonson must have been
misunderstood, and what he had said in jest, as of Hippocrates,
interpreted in earnest. But this is characteristic of a Scotchman; he
has no notion of a jest, unless you tell him--'This is a joke!'--and
still less of that finer shade of feeling, the half-and-half, in which
Englishmen naturally delight.
EVERY MAN OUT OF HIS HUMOUR.
The throat of war be stopt within her land,
And _turtle-footed_ peace dance fairie rings
About her court.
'Turtle-footed' is a pretty word, a very pretty word: pray, what does it
mean? Doves, I presume, are not dancers; and the other sort of turtle,
land or sea, green-fat or hawksbill, would, I should suppose, succeed
better in slow minuets than in the brisk rondillo. In one sense, to be
sure, pigeons and ring-doves could not dance but with 'eclat'--'a claw?'
Light! I salute thee, but with wounded nerves,
Wishing thy golden splendor pitchy darkness.
There is no reason to suppose Satan's address to the sun in the Paradise
Lost, more than a mere coincidence with these lines; but were it
otherwise, it would be a fine instance, what usurious interest a great
genius pays in borrowing. It would not be difficult to give a detailed
psychological proof from these constant outbursts of anxious
self-assertion, that Jonson was not a genius, a creative power. Subtract
that one thing, and you may safely accumulate on his name all other
excellencies of a capacious, vigorous, agile, and richly-stored
Act i. sc. 1.
'Ovid'. While slaves be false, fathers hard, and bawds be whorish--
The roughness noticed by Theobald and Whalley, may be cured by a simple
While fathers hard, slaves false, and bawds be whorish.
Act iv. sc. 3.
'Crisp'. O--oblatrant--furibund--fatuate--strenuous. O--conscious.
It would form an interesting essay, or rather series of essays, in a
periodical work, were all the attempts to ridicule new phrases brought
together, the proportion observed of words ridiculed which have been
adopted, and are now common, such as 'strenuous', 'conscious', &c., and
a trial made how far any grounds can be detected, so that one might
determine beforehand whether a word was invented under the conditions of
assimilability to our language or not. Thus much is certain, that the
ridiculers were as often wrong as right; and Shakspeare himself could
not prevent the naturalization of 'accommodation', 'remuneration', &c.;
or Swift the gross abuse even of the word 'idea'.
FALL OF SEJANUS.
'Arruntius'. The name Tiberius, I hope, will keep, howe'er he hath
foregone The dignity and power.
'Silius'. Sure, while he lives.
'Arr'. And dead, it comes to Drusus. Should he fail,
To the brave issue of Germanicus;
And they are three: too many (ha?) for him
To have a plot upon?
'Sil'. I do not know
The heart of his designs; but, sure, their face
Looks farther than the present.
'Arr'. By the gods,
If I could guess he had but such a thought,
My sword should cleave him down, &c.
The anachronic mixture in this Arruntius of the Roman republican, to
whom Tiberius must have appeared as much a tyrant as Sejanus, with his
James-and-Charles-the-First zeal for legitimacy of descent in this
passage, is amusing. Of our great names Milton was, I think, the first
who could properly be called a republican. My recollections of
Buchanan's works are too faint to enable me to judge whether the
historian is not a fair exception.
Act ii. Speech of Sejanus:--
Adultery! it is the lightest ill
I will commit. A race of wicked acts
Shall flow out of my anger, and o'erspread
The world's wide face, which no posterity
Shall e'er approve, nor yet keep silent, &c.
The more we reflect and examine, examine and reflect, the more
astonished shall we be at the immense superiority of Shakspeare over his
contemporaries:--and yet what contemporaries!--giant minds indeed! Think
of Jonson's erudition, and the force of learned authority in that age;
and yet in no genuine part of Shakspeare's works is there to be found
such an absurd rant and ventriloquism as this, and too, too many other
passages ferruminated by Jonson from Seneca's tragedies and the writings
of the later Romans. I call it ventriloquism, because Sejanus is a
puppet, out of which the poet makes his own voice appear to come.
Act v. Scene of the sacrifice to Fortune. This scene is unspeakably
irrational. To believe, and yet to scoff at, a present miracle is little
less than impossible. Sejanus should have been made to suspect
priestcraft and a secret conspiracy against him.
This admirable, indeed, but yet more wonderful than admirable, play is
from the fertility and vigour of invention, character, language, and
sentiment the strongest proof, how impossible it is to keep up any
pleasurable interest in a tale, in which there is no goodness of heart
in any of the prominent characters. After the third act, this play
becomes not a dead, but a painful, weight on the feelings. Zeluco is an
instance of the same truth. Bonario and Celia should have been made in
some way or other principals in the plot; which they might have been,
and the objects of interest, without having been made characters. In
novels, the person, in whose fate you are most interested, is often the
least marked character of the whole. If it were possible to lessen the
paramountcy of Volpone himself, a most delightful comedy might be
produced, by making Celia the ward or niece of Corvino, instead of his
wife, and Bonario her lover.
This is to my feelings the most entertaining of old Ben's comedies, and,
more than any other, would admit of being brought out anew, if under the
management of a judicious and stage-understanding playwright; and an
actor, who had studied Morose, might make his fortune.
Act i. sc. 1. Clerimont's speech:--
He would have hanged a pewterer's 'prentice once on a Shrove Tuesday's
riot, for being 'o that trade, when the rest were _quiet_.
The old copies read 'quit', i. e. discharged from working, and gone to
divert themselves. (Whalley's note.)
It should be 'quit', no doubt; but not meaning 'discharged from
working,' &c.--but quit, that is, acquitted. The pewterer was at his
holiday diversion as well as the other apprentices, and they as forward
in the riot as he. But he alone was punished under pretext of the riot,
but in fact for his trade.
Act ii. sc. 1.
'Morose'. Cannot I, yet, find out a more compendious method, than by
this _trunk_, to save my servants the labour of speech, and mine ears
the discord of sounds?
What does 'trunk' mean here and in the 1st scene of the 1st act? Is it a
large ear-trumpet?--or rather a tube, such as passes from parlour to
kitchen, instead of a bell?
Whalley's note at the end.
Some critics of the last age imagined the character of Morose to be
wholly out of nature. But to vindicate our poet, Mr. Dryden tells us
from tradition, and we may venture to take his word, that Jonson was
really acquainted with a person of this whimsical turn of mind: and as
humor is a personal quality, the poet is acquitted from the charge of
exhibiting a monster, or an extravagant unnatural caricatura.
If Dryden had not made all additional proof superfluous by his own
plays, this very vindication would evince that he had formed a false and
vulgar conception of the nature and conditions of the drama and dramatic
personation. Ben Jonson would himself have rejected such a plea:--
For he knew, poet never credit gain'd
By writing _truths_, but things, like truths, well feign'd.
By 'truths' he means 'facts.' Caricatures are not less so, because they
are found existing in real life. Comedy demands characters, and leaves
caricatures to farce. The safest and truest defence of old Ben would be
to call the Epicaene the best of farces. The defect in Morose, as in
other of Jonson's 'dramatis personae', lies in this;--that the accident
is not a prominence growing out of, and nourished by, the character
which still circulates in it, but that the character, such as it is,
rises out of, or, rather, consists in, the accident. Shakspeare's comic
personages have exquisitely characteristic features; however awry,
disproportionate, and laughable they may be, still, like Bardolph's
nose, they are features. But Jonson's are either a man with a huge wen,
having a circulation of its own, and which we might conceive amputated,
and the patient thereby losing all his character; or they are mere wens
themselves instead of men,--wens personified, or with eyes, nose, and
mouth cut out, mandrake-fashion.
'Nota bene'. All the above, and much more, will have been justly said,
if, and whenever, the drama of Jonson is brought into comparisons of
rivalry with the Shakspearian. But this should not be. Let its
inferiority to the Shakspearian be at once fairly owned,--but at the
same time as the inferiority of an altogether different 'genus' of the
drama. On this ground, old Ben would still maintain his proud height.
He, no less than Shakspeare, stands on the summit of his hill, and looks
round him like a master,--though his be Lattrig and Shakspeare's
Act I. sc. 2. Face's speech:--
Will take his oath o' the Greek _Xenophon_,
If need be, in his pocket.
Another reading is 'Testament.' Probably, the meaning is,--that
intending to give false evidence, he carried a Greek Xenophon to pass it
off for a Greek Testament, and so avoid perjury--as the Irish do, by
contriving to kiss their thumb-nails instead of the book.
Act ii. sc. 2. Mammon's speech:--
I will have all my beds blown up; not stuft:
Down is too hard.
Thus the air-cushions, though perhaps only lately brought into use, were
invented in idea in the seventeenth century!
A fondness for judging one work by comparison with others, perhaps
altogether of a different class, argues a vulgar taste. Yet it is
chiefly on this principle that the Catiline has been rated so low. Take
it and Sejanus, as compositions of a particular kind, namely, as a mode
of relating great historical events in the liveliest and most
interesting manner, and I cannot help wishing that we had whole volumes
of such plays. We might as rationally expect the excitement of the Vicar
of Wakefield from Goldsmith's History of England, as that of Lear,
Othello, &c. from the Sejanus or Catiline.
Act i. sc. 4.
'Cat'. Sirrah, what ail you?
('He spies one of his boys not answer'.)
'Best'. Somewhat modest.
'Cat'. Slave, I will strike your soul out with my foot, &c.
This is either an unintelligible, or, in every sense, a most unnatural,
passage,--improbable, if not impossible, at the moment of signing and
swearing such a conspiracy, to the most libidinous satyr. The very
presence of the boys is an outrage to probability. I suspect that these
lines down to the words 'throat opens,' should be removed back so as to
follow the words 'on this part of the house,' in the speech of Catiline
soon after the entry of the conspirators. A total erasure, however,
would be the best, or, rather, the only possible, amendment.
Act ii. sc. 2. Sempronia's speech:--
--He is but a new fellow,
An _inmate_ here in Rome, as Catiline calls him--
A 'lodger' would have been a happier imitation of the 'inquilinus' of
Act iv. sc. 6. Speech of Cethegus:--
Can these or such be any aids to us, &c.
What a strange notion Ben must have formed of a determined, remorseless,
all-daring, fool-hardiness, to have represented it in such a mouthing
Tamburlane, and bombastic tongue-bully as this Cethegus of his!
Induction. Scrivener's speech:--
If there be never a _servant-monster_ i' the Fair, who can help it, he
says, nor a nest of antiques?
The best excuse that can be made for Jonson, and in a somewhat less
degree for Beaumont and Fletcher, in respect of these base and silly
sneers at Shakspeare, is, that his plays were present to men's minds
chiefly as acted. They had not a neat edition of them, as we have, so
as, by comparing the one with the other, to form a just notion of the
mighty mind that produced the whole. At all events, and in every point
of view, Jonson stands far higher in a moral light than Beaumont and
Fletcher. He was a fair contemporary, and in his way, and as far as
Shakspeare is concerned, an original. But Beaumont and Fletcher were
always imitators of, and often borrowers from, him, and yet sneer at him
with a spite far more malignant than Jonson, who, besides, has made
noble compensation by his praises.
Act ii. sc. 3.
'Just'. I mean a child of the horn-thumb, a babe _of booty_, boy, a
Does not this confirm, what the passage itself cannot but suggest, the
propriety of substituting 'booty' for 'beauty' in Falstaff's speech,
Henry IV. Pt. I. act i. sc. 2. 'Let not us, &c.?'
It is not often that old Ben condescends to imitate a modern author; but
master Dan. Knockhum Jordan and his vapours are manifest reflexes of Nym
Ib. sc. 5.
'Quarl'. She'll make excellent geer for the coachmakers here in
Smithfield, to anoint wheels and axletrees with.
Good! but yet it falls short of the speech of a Mr. Johnes, M. P., in
the Common Council, on the invasion intended by Buonaparte: 'Houses
plundered--then burnt;--sons conscribed--wives and daughters ravished,
&c. &c.--"But as for you, you luxurious Aldermen! with your fat will he
grease the wheels of his triumphal chariot!"
Ib. sc. 6.
'Cok'. Avoid i' your satin doublet, Numps.
This reminds me of Shakspeare's 'Aroint thee, witch!' I find in several
books of that age the words _aloigne_ and _eloigne_--that is,--'keep
your distance!' or 'off with you!' Perhaps 'aroint' was a corruption of
'aloigne' by the vulgar. The common etymology from _ronger_ to gnaw
Act iii. sc. 4.
'Quarl', How now, Numps! almost tired i' your protectorship?
An odd sort of prophetic ality in this Numps and old Noll!
Ib. sc. 6. Knockhum's speech:--
He eats with his eyes, as well as his teeth.
A good motto for the Parson in Hogarth's Election Dinner,--who shows how
easily he might be reconciled to the Church of Rome, for he worships
what he eats.
Act v. sc. 5.
'Pup. Di'. It is not prophane.
'Lan'. It is not prophane, he says.
'Boy'. It is prophane.
'Pup'. It is not prophane.
'Boy'. It is prophane.
'Pup'. It is not prophane.
'Lan'. Well said, confute him with Not, still.
An imitation of the quarrel between Bacchus and the Frogs in
Choros. alla maen kekraxomestha g', hoposon hae pharugx an aem_on
chandanae, di' aemeras, brekekekex, koax, koax.
Dionusos. touto gar ou nikaesete.
Choros. oude maen haemas su pant_os.
Dionusos. oude maen humeis ge dae m' oudepote.]
THE DEVIL IS AN ASS.
Act I. sc. 1.
'Pug'. Why any: Fraud, Or Covetousness, or lady Vanity,
Or old Iniquity, _I'll call him hither_.
The words in italics [between undescores] should probably be given to
the master-devil, Satan. (Whalley's note.)
That is, against all probability, and with a (for Jonson) impossible
violation of character. The words plainly belong to Pug, and mark at
once his simpleness and his impatience.
Ib. sc. 4. Fitz-dottrel's soliloquy:-
Compare this exquisite piece of sense, satire, and sound philosophy in
1616 with Sir M. Hale's speech from the bench in a trial of a witch many
years afterwards. 
Act ii. sc. 1. Meercraft's speech:--
Sir, money's a whore, a bawd, a drudge.--
I doubt not that 'money' was the first word of the line, and has dropped
Money! Sir, money's a, &c.
[Footnote 1: In 1664, at Bury St. Edmonds on the trial of Rose Cullender
and Amy Duny. Ed.]
THE STAPLE OF NEWS.
Act IV. sc. 3. Pecunia's speech:--
No, he would ha' done,
That lay not in his power: he had the use
Of your bodies, Band and Wax, and sometimes Statute's.
--he had the use of
Your bodies, &c.
Now, however, I doubt the legitimacy of my transposition of the 'of'
from the beginning of this latter line to the end of the one
preceding;--for though it facilitates the metre and reading of the
latter line, and is frequent in Massinger, this disjunction of the
preposition from its case seems to have been disallowed by Jonson.
Perhaps the better reading is--
O' your bodies, &c.--
the two syllables being slurred into one, or rather snatched, or sucked,
up into the emphasized 'your.' In all points of view, therefore, Ben's
judgment is just; for in this way, the line cannot be read, as metre,
without that strong and quick emphasis on 'your' which the sense
requires;--and had not the sense required an emphasis on 'your,' the
_tmesis_ of the sign of its cases 'of,' 'to,' &c. would destroy almost
all boundary between the dramatic verse and prose in comedy:--a lesson
not to be rash in conjectural amendments. 1818.
Ib. sc. 4.
'P. jun.' I love all men of virtue, _frommy_ Princess.--
'Frommy,' 'fromme', pious, dutiful, &c.
Act v. sc. 4. Penny-boy sen. and Porter:--
I dare not, will not, think that honest Ben had Lear in his mind in this
mock mad scene.
THE NEW INN.
Act I. sc. 1. Host's speech:--
A heavy purse, and then two turtles, _makes_.--
'Makes', frequent in old books, and even now used in some counties for
mates, or pairs.
Ib. sc. 3. Host's speech:--
--And for a leap
O' the vaulting horse, to _play_ the vaulting _house_.--
Instead of reading with Whalley 'ply' for 'play,' I would suggest
'horse' for 'house.' The meaning would then be obvious and pertinent.
The punlet, or pun-maggot, or pun intentional, 'horse and house,' is
below Jonson. The 'jeu-de-mots' just below--
Read a lecture
Upon _Aquinas_ at St. Thomas a _Water_ings--
had a learned smack in it to season its insipidity.
Ib. sc. 6. Lovel's speech:--
Then shower'd his bounties on me, like the Hours,
That open-handed sit upon the clouds,
And press the liberality of heaven
Down to the laps of thankful men!
Like many other similar passages in Jonson, this is [Greek
(transliterated): eidos chalepon idein]--a sight which it is difficult
to make one's self see,--a picture my fancy cannot copy detached from
Act ii. sc. 5. Though it was hard upon old Ben, yet Felton, it must be
confessed, was in the right in considering the Fly, Tipto, Bat Burst,
&c. of this play mere dotages. Such a scene as this was enough to damn a
new play; and Nick Stuff is worse still,--most abominable stuff indeed!
Act in. sc. 2. Lovel's speech:--
So knowledge first begets benevolence,
Benevolence breeds friendship, friendship love.--
Jonson has elsewhere proceeded thus far; but the part most difficult and
delicate, yet, perhaps, not the least capable of being both morally and
poetically treated, is the union itself, and what, even in this life, it
NOTES ON BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER.
Seward's Preface. 1750.
The King And No King, too, is extremely spirited in all its characters;
Arbaces holds up a mirror to all men of virtuous principles but violent
passions. Hence he is, as it were, at once magnanimity and pride,
patience and fury, gentleness and rigor, chastity and incest, and is one
of the finest mixtures of virtues and vices that any poet has drawn, &c.
These are among the endless instances of the abject state to which
psychology had sunk from the reign of Charles I. to the middle of the
present reign of George III.; and even now it is but just awaking.
Ib. Seward's comparison of Julia's speech in the Two Gentlemen of
Verona, act iv. last scene--
Madam, 'twas Ariadne passioning, &c.--
with Aspatia's speech in the Maid's Tragedy--
I stand upon the sea-beach now, &c. (Act ii.)
and preference of the latter.
It is strange to take an incidental passage of one writer, intended only
for a subordinate part, and compare it with the same thought in another
writer, who had chosen it for a prominent and principal figure.
Ib. Seward's preference of Alphonso's poisoning in A Wife for a Month,
act i. sc. 1, to the passage in King John, act v. sc. 7,--
Poison'd, ill fare! dead, forsook, cast off!
Mr. Seward! Mr. Seward! you may be, and I trust you are, an angel; but
you were an ass.
Every reader of _taste_ will see how superior this is to the quotation
Of what taste?
Ib. Seward's classification of the Plays:--
Surely Monsieur Thomas, The Chances, Beggar's Bush, and the Pilgrim,
should have been placed in the very first class! But the whole attempt
ends in a woeful failure.
HARRIS'S COMMENDATORY POEM ON FLETCHER.
I'd have a state of wit convok'd, which hath
A _power_ to take up on common faith:--
This is an instance of that modifying of quantity by emphasis, without
which our elder poets cannot be scanned. 'Power,' here, instead of being
one long syllable--pow'r--must be sounded, not indeed as a spondee, nor
yet as a trochee; but as--[Symbol: u-shape beneath line];--the first
syllable is 1 1/4.
We can, indeed, never expect an authentic edition of our elder dramatic
poets (for in those times a drama was a poem), until some man undertakes
the work, who has studied the philosophy of metre. This has been found
the main torch of sound restoration in the Greek dramatists by Bentley,
Porson, and their followers;--how much more, then, in writers in our own
language! It is true that quantity, an almost iron law with the Greek,
is in English rather a subject for a peculiarly fine ear, than any law
or even rule; but, then, instead of it, we have, first, accent;
secondly, emphasis; and lastly, retardation, and acceleration of the
times of syllables according to the meaning of the words, the passion
that accompanies them, and even the character of the person that uses
them. With due attention to these,--above all, to that, which requires
the most attention and the finest taste, the character, Massinger, for
example, might be reduced to a rich and yet regular metre. But then the
'regulae' must be first known;--though I will venture to say, that he who
does not find a line (not corrupted) of Massinger's flow to the time
total of a trimeter catalectic iambic verse, has not read it aright. But
by virtue of the last principle--the retardation or acceleration of
time--we have the proceleusmatic foot * * * *, and the 'dispondaeus' --
-- -- --, not to mention the 'choriambus', the ionics, paeons, and
epitrites. Since Dryden, the metre of our poets leads to the sense: in
our elder and more genuine bards, the sense, including the passion,
leads to the metre. Read even Donne's satires as he meant them to be
read, and as the sense and passion demand, and you will find in the
lines a manly harmony.
LIFE OF FLETCHER IN STOCKDALE'S EDITION. 1811.
In general their plots are more regular than Shakspeare's.--
This is true, if true at all, only before a court of criticism, which
judges one scheme by the laws of another and a diverse one. Shakspeare's
plots have their own laws or regulae, and according to these they are
Act I. The metrical arrangement is most slovenly throughout.
'Strat'. As well as masque can be, &c.
and all that follows to 'who is return'd'--is plainly blank verse, and
falls easily into it.
Ib. Speech of Melantius:--
These soft and silken wars are not for me:
The music must be shrill, and all confus'd,
That stirs my blood; and then I dance with arms.
What strange self-trumpeters and tongue-bullies all the brave soldiers
of Beaumont and Fletcher are! Yet I am inclined to think it was the
fashion of the age from the Soldier's speech in the Counter Scuffle; and
deeper than the fashion B. and F. did not fathom.
Ib. Speech of Lysippus:--
Yes, but this lady
Walks discontented, with her wat'ry eyes
Bent on the earth, &c.
Opulent as Shakspeare was, and of his opulence prodigal, he yet would
not have put this exquisite piece of poetry in the mouth of a
no-character, or as addressed to a Melantius. I wish that B. and F. had
written poems instead of tragedies.
'Mel'. I might run fiercely, not more hastily, Upon my foe.
I might run more fiercely, not more hastily.--
Ib. Speech of Calianax:--
Office! I would I could put it off! I am sure I sweat quite through my
The syllable _off_ reminds the testy statesman of his robe, and he
carries on the image.
Ib. Speech of Melantius:--
--Would that blood,
That sea of blood, that I have lost in fight, &c.
All B. and F.'s generals are pugilists, or cudgel-fighters, that boast
of their bottom and of the _claret_ they have shed.
Ib. The Masque;--Cinthia's speech:--
But I will give a greater state and glory,
And raise to time a _noble_ memory
Of what these lovers are.
I suspect that 'nobler,' pronounced as 'nobiler'--[Symbol (metrical):
U-=shape below the line]--, was the poet's word, and that the accent is
to be placed on the penultimate of 'memory.' As to the passage--
Yet, while our reign lasts, let us stretch our power, &c.
removed from the text of Cinthia's speech by these foolish editors as
unworthy of B. and F.--the first eight lines are not worse, and the last
couplet incomparably better, than the stanza retained.
Act ii. Amintor's speech:--
Oh, thou hast nam'd a word, that wipes away
All thoughts revengeful! In that sacred name,
'The king,' there lies a terror.
It is worth noticing that of the three greatest tragedians, Massinger
was a democrat, Beaumont and Fletcher the most servile _jure divino_
royalist, and Shakspeare a philosopher;--if aught personal, an
A KING AND NO KING.
Act IV. Speech of Tigranes:--
She, that forgat the greatness of her grief
And miseries, that must follow such mad passions,
Endless and wild _as_ women! &c.
Seward's note and suggestion of 'in.'
It would be amusing to learn from some existing friend of Mr. Seward
what he meant, or rather dreamed, in this note. It is certainly a
difficult passage, of which there are two solutions;--one, that the
writer was somewhat more injudicious than usual;--the other, that he was
very, very much more profound and Shakspearian than usual. Seward's
emendation, at all events, is right and obvious. Were it a passage of
Shakspeare, I should not hesitate to interpret it as characteristic of
Tigranes' state of mind,--disliking the very virtues, and therefore
half-consciously representing them as mere products of the violence, of
the sex in general in all their whims, and yet forced to admire, and to
feel and to express gratitude for, the exertion in his own instance. The
inconsistency of the passage would be the consistency of the author. But
this is above Beaumont and Fletcher.
THE SCORNFUL LADY.
Act II. Sir Roger's speech:--
Did I for this consume my _quarters_ in meditations, vows, and woo'd
her in heroical epistles? Did I expound the Owl, and undertake, with
labor and expense, the recollection of those thousand pieces, consum'd
in cellars and tobacco-shops, of that our honor'd Englishman, Nic.
Strange, that neither Mr. Theobald, nor Mr. Seward, should have seen
that this mock heroic speech is in full-mouthed blank verse! Had they
seen this, they would have seen that 'quarters' is a substitution of the
players for 'quires' or 'squares,' (that is) of paper:--
Consume my quires in meditations, vows,
And woo'd her in heroical epistles.
They ought, likewise, to have seen that the abbreviated 'Ni. Br.' of the
text was properly 'Mi. Dr.'--and that Michael Drayton, not Nicholas
Broughton, is here ridiculed for his poem The Owl and his Heroical
Ib. Speech of Younger Loveless:--
Fill him some wine. Thou dost not see me mov'd, &c.
These Editors ought to have learnt, that scarce an instance occurs in B.
and F. of a long speech not in metre. This is plain staring blank verse.
THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY.
I cannot but think that in a country conquered by a nobler race than the
natives, and in which the latter became villeins and bondsmen, this
custom, 'lex merchetae', may have been introduced for wise purposes,--as
of improving the breed, lessening the antipathy of different races, and
producing a new bond of relationship between the lord and the tenant,
who, as the eldest born, would, at least, have a chance of being, and a
probability of being thought, the lord's child. In the West Indies it
cannot have these effects, because the mulatto is marked by nature
different from the father, and because there is no bond, no law, no
custom, but of mere debauchery. 1815.
Act i. sc. 1. Rutilio's speech:--
Yet if you play not fair play, &c.
Evidently to be transposed and read thus:--
Yet if you play not fair, above-board too, I'll tell you what--I've a
foolish engine here:--I say no more--But if your Honor's guts are not
Licentious as the comic metre of B. and F. is,--a far more lawless, and
yet far less happy, imitation of the rhythm of animated talk in real
life than Massinger's--still it is made worse than it really is by
ignorance of the halves, thirds, and two-thirds of a line which B. and
F. adopted from the Italian and Spanish dramatists. Thus in Rutilio's
Though I confess
Any man would desire to have her, and by any means, &c.
Correct the whole passage--
Though I confess
Any man would Desire to have her, and by any means,
At any rate too, yet this common hangman
That hath whipt off a /THOUsand maids' HEADS/ already--
That he should glean the harvest, sticks in my stomach!
[Between the two /, upper-case syllables have the stress, written as a
horizontal line above them in the original text, and lower-case
syllables are unstressed, written as a u-shape (the u-symbol previously
described) above them. text Ed.]
In all comic metres the gulping of short syllables, and the abbreviation
of syllables ordinarily long by the rapid pronunciation of eagerness and
vehemence, are not so much a license, as a law,--a faithful copy of
nature, and let them be read characteristically, the times will be found
nearly equal. Thus the three words marked above make a 'choriambus'--u u
--, or perhaps a 'paeon primus'--u u u; a dactyl, by virtue of comic
rapidity, being only equal to an iambus when distinctly pronounced. I
have no doubt that all B. and F.'s works might be safely corrected by
attention to this rule, and that the editor is entitled to
transpositions of all kinds, and to not a few omissions. For the rule of
the metre once lost--what was to restrain the actors from interpolation?
THE ELDER BROTHER
Act I. sc. 2. Charles's speech:--
--For what concerns tillage,
Who better can deliver it than Virgil
In his Georgicks? and to cure your herds,
His Bucolicks is a master-piece.
Fletcher was too good a scholar to fall into so gross a blunder, as
Messrs. Sympson and Colman suppose. I read the passage thus:-
--For what concerns tillage,
Who better can deliver it than Virgil,
In his /GeORGicks/, _or_ to cure your herds;
(His Bucolicks are a master-piece.)
But when, &c.
Jealous of Virgil's honor, he is afraid lest, by referring to the
Georgics alone, he might be understood as undervaluing the preceding
work. 'Not that I do not admire the Bucolics, too, in their way:--But
Act iii. sc. 3. Charles's speech:--
--She has a face looks like a _story_;
The _story_ of the heavens looks very like her.
Seward reads 'glory;' and Theobald quotes from Philaster--
That reads the story of a woman's face.--
I can make sense of this passage as little as Mr. Seward;--the passage
from Philaster is nothing to the purpose. Instead of 'a story,' I have
sometimes thought of proposing 'Astraea.'
Ib. Angellina's speech:--
--You're old and dim, Sir,
And the shadow of the earth eclips'd your judgment.
Inappropriate to Angellina, but one of the finest lines in our language.
Act iv. sc. 3. Charles's speech:--
And lets the serious part of life run by
As thin neglected sand, whiteness of name.
You must be mine, &c.
Seward's note, and reading--
--Whiteness of name,
You must be mine!
Nonsense! 'Whiteness of name,' is in apposition to 'the serious part of
life,' and means a deservedly pure reputation. The following line--'You
_must_ be mine!' means--'Though I do not enjoy you to-day, I shall
hereafter, and without reproach.'
THE SPANISH CURATE.
Act IV. sc. 7. Amaranta's speech:--
And still I push'd him on, as he had been _coming_.
Perhaps the true word is 'conning,' that is, learning, or reading, and
WIT WITHOUT MONEY.
Act I. Valentine's speech:--
One without substance, &c.
The present text, and that proposed by Seward, are equally vile. I have
endeavoured to make the lines sense, though the whole is, I suspect,
incurable except by bold conjectural reformation. I would read thus:--
One without substance of herself, that's woman;
Without the pleasure of her life, that's wanton;
Tho' she be young, forgetting it; tho' fair,
Making her glass the eyes of honest men,
Not her own admiration.
'That's wanton,' or, 'that is to say, wantonness.'
Act ii. Valentine's speech:--
Of half-a-crown a week for pins and puppets--
As there is a syllable wanting in the measure here. (Seward.)
A syllable wanting! Had this Seward neither ears nor fingers? The line
is a more than usually regular iambic hendecasyllable.
With one man satisfied, with one rein guided;
With one faith, one content, one bed;
_Aged_, she makes the wife, preserves the fame and issue;
A widow is, &c.
Is 'apaid'--contented--too obsolete for B. and F.? If not, we might read
Content with one faith, with one bed apaid,
She makes the wife, preserves the fame and issue;--
Or it may be--
--with one breed apaid--
that is, satisfied with one set of children, in opposition to--
A widow is a Christmas-box, &c.
Colman's note on Seward's attempt to put this play into metre.
The editors, and their contemporaries in general, were ignorant of any
but the regular iambic verse. A study of the Aristophanic and Plautine
metres would have enabled them to reduce B. and F. throughout into
metre, except where prose is really intended.
THE HUMOROUS LIEUTENANT.
Act I. sc. 1. Second Ambassador's speech:--
--When your angers, _Like_ so many brother billows, rose together,
And, curling up _your_ foaming crests, defied, &c.
This worse than superfluous 'like' is very like an interpolation of some
matter of fact critic--all 'pus, prose atque venenum'. The 'your' in the
next line, instead of 'their,' is likewise yours, Mr. Critic!
Act ii: sc. 1. Timon's speech:--
Another of a new _way_ will be look'd at.--
We much suspect the poets wrote, 'of a new _day_.' So, immediately
--Time may For all his wisdom, yet give us a day.
For this very reason I more than suspect the contrary.
Ib. sc. 3. Speech of Leucippe:--
I'll put her into action for a _wastcoat_.--
What we call a riding-habit,--some mannish dress.
THE MAD LOVER.
Act IV. Masque of beasts:--
--This goodly tree,
An usher that still grew before his lady,
Wither'd at root: this, for he could not wooe,
A grumbling lawyer: &c.
Here must have been omitted a line rhyming to 'tree;' and the words of
the next line have been transposed:--
--This goodly tree,
_Which leafless, and obscur'd with moss you see_,
An usher this, that 'fore his lady grew,
Wither'd at root: this, for he could not wooe, &c.
THE LOYAL SUBJECT.
It is well worthy of notice, and yet has not been, I believe, noticed
hitherto, what a marked difference there exists in the dramatic writers
of the Elizabetho-Jacobaean age--(Mercy on me! what a phrase for 'the
writers during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I.!')--in respect of
their political opinions. Shakspeare, in this as in all other things,
himself and alone, gives the permanent politics of human nature, and the
only predilection, which appears, shews itself in his contempt of mobs
and the populacy. Massinger is a decided Whig;--Beaumont and Fletcher
high-flying, passive-obedience, Tories. The Spanish dramatists furnished
them with this, as with many other ingredients. By the by, an accurate
and familiar acquaintance with all the productions of the Spanish stage
previously to 1620, is an indispensable qualification for an editor of
B. and F.;--and with this qualification a most interesting and
instructive edition might be given. This edition of Colman's Stockdale,
(1811,) is below criticism.
In metre, B. and F. are inferior to Shakspeare, on the one hand, as
expressing the poetic part of the drama, and to Massinger, on the other,
in the art of reconciling metre with the natural rhythm of
conversation,--in which, indeed, Massinger is unrivalled. Read him
aright, and measure by time, not syllables, and no lines can be more
legitimate,--none in which the substitution of equipollent feet, and the
modifications by emphasis, are managed with such exquisite judgment. B.
and F. are fond of the twelve syllable (not Alexandrine) line, as--
Too many fears' tis thought too: and to nourish those--
This has, often, a good effect, and is one of the varieties most common
RULE A WIFE AND HAVE A WIFE.
Act III. Old Woman's speech:--
--I fear he will knock my Brains out for lying.
Mr. Seward discards the words 'for lying', because 'most of the things
spoke of Estifania are true, with only a little exaggeration, and
because they destroy all appearance of measure.' (Colman's note.)
Mr. Seward had his brains out. The humor lies in Estifania's having
ordered the Old Woman to tell these tales of her; for though an
intriguer, she is not represented as other than chaste; and as to the
metre, it is perfectly correct.
'Marg'. As you love me, give way.
'Leon'. It shall be better, I will give none, madam, &c.
The meaning is: 'It shall be a better way, first;--as it is, I will not
give it, or any that you in your present mood would wish.'
THE LAWS OF CANDY.
Act I. Speech of Melitus:--
Whose insolence and never yet match'd pride
Can by no character be well express'd,
But in her only name, the proud Erota.
The poet intended no allusion to the word 'Erota' itself; but says that
her very name, 'the proud Erota,' became a character and adage; as we
say, a Quixote or a Brutus: so to say an 'Erota,' expressed female pride
and insolence of beauty.
Ib. Speech of Antinous:-
Of my peculiar honors, not deriv'd
From 'successary', but purchas'd with my blood.--
The poet doubtless wrote 'successry,' which, though not adopted in our
language, would be, on many occasions, as here, a much more significant
phrase than ancestry.
THE LITTLE FRENCH LAWYER.
Act I. sc. 1. Dinant's speech:--
Are you become a patron too? 'Tis a new one,
No more on't, &c.
Are you become a patron too?
_How long Have you been conning this speech?_ 'Tis a new one, &c.
If conjectural emendation, like this, be allowed, we might venture to
Are you become a patron _to a new tune_?
Are you become a patron? 'Tis a new _tune_.
'Din'. Thou wouldst not willingly Live a protested coward, or be call'd
'Cler'. Words are but words.
'Din'. Nor wouldst thou take a blow?
O miserable! Dinant sees through Cleremont's gravity, and the actor is
to explain it. 'Words are but words,' is the last struggle of affected
Act I. sc. 3. It is a real trial of charity to read this scene with
tolerable temper towards Fletcher. So very slavish--so reptile--are the
feelings and sentiments represented as duties. And yet remember he was a
bishop's son, and the duty to God was the supposed basis.
Personals, including body, house, home, and religion;--property,
subordination, and inter-community;--these are the fundamentals of
society. I mean here, religion negatively taken,--so that the person be
not compelled to do or utter, in relation of the soul to God, what would
be, in that person, a lie;--such as to force a man to go to church, or
to swear that he believes what he does not believe. Religion, positively
taken, may be a great and useful privilege, but cannot be a right,--were
it for this only that it cannot be pre-defined. The ground of this
distinction between negative and positive religion, as a social right,
is plain. No one of my fellow-citizens is encroached on by my not
declaring to him what I believe respecting the super-sensual; but should
every man be entitled to preach against the preacher, who could hear any
preacher? Now it is different in respect of loyalty. There we have
positive rights, but not negative rights;--for every pretended negative
would be in effect a positive;--as if a soldier had a right to keep to
himself, whether he would, or would not, fight. Now, no one of these
fundamentals can be rightfully attacked, except when the guardian of it
has abused it to subvert one or more of the rest. The reason is, that
the guardian, as a fluent, is less than the permanent which he is to
guard. He is the temporary and mutable mean, and derives his whole value
from the end. In short, as robbery is not high treason, so neither is
every unjust act of a king the converse. All must be attacked and
endangered. Why? Because the king, as 'a' to A., is a mean to A. or
subordination, in a far higher sense than a proprietor, as 'b'. to B. is
a mean to B. or property.
Act ii. sc. 2. Claudia's speech:-
The whole of this speech seems corrupt; and if accurately printed,--that
is, if the same in all the prior editions, irremediable but by bold
conjecture. ''Till' my tackle,' should be, I think, 'while,' &c.
Act iii. sc. 1. B. and F. always write as if virtue or goodness were a
sort of talisman, or strange something, that might be lost without the
least fault on the part of the owner. In short, their chaste ladies
value their chastity as a material thing--not as an act or state of
being; and this mere thing being imaginary, no wonder that all their
women are represented with the minds of strumpets, except a few
irrational humorists, far less capable of exciting our sympathy than a
Hindoo, who has had a bason of cow-broth thrown over him;--for this,
though a debasing superstition, is still real, and we might pity the
poor wretch, though we cannot help despising him. But B. and F.'s
Lucinas are clumsy fictions. It is too plain that the authors had no one
idea of chastity as a virtue, but only such a conception as a blind man
might have of the power of seeing, by handling an ox's eye. In The Queen
of Corinth, indeed, they talk differently; but it is all talk, and
nothing is real in it but the dread of losing a reputation. Hence the
frightful contrast between their women (even those who are meant for
virtuous) and Shakspeare's. So, for instance, The Maid in the Mill:--a
woman must not merely have grown old in brothels, but have chuckled over
every abomination committed in them with a rampant sympathy of
imagination, to have had her fancy so drunk with the 'minutiae' of
lechery as this icy chaste virgin evinces hers to have been.
It would be worth while to note how many of these plays are founded on
rapes,--how many on incestuous passions, and how many on mere lunacies.
Then their virtuous women are either crazy superstitions of a merely
bodily negation of having been acted on, or strumpets in their
imaginations and wishes, or, as in this Maid in the Mill, both at the same
time. In the men, the love is merely lust in one direction,--exclusive
preference of one object. The tyrant's speeches are mostly taken from the
mouths of indignant denouncers of the tyrant's character, with the
substitution of 'I' for 'he,' and the omission of the prefatory 'he acts
as if he thought' so and so. The only feelings they can possibly excite
are disgust at the Aeciuses, if regarded as sane loyalists, or compassion,
if considered as Bedlamites. So much for their tragedies. But even their
comedies are, most of them, disturbed by the fantasticalness, or gross
caricature, of the persons or incidents. There are few characters that you
can really like,--(even though you should have had erased from your mind
all the filth, which bespatters the most likeable of them, as Piniero in
The Island Princess for instance,)--scarcely one whom you can love. How
different this from Shakspeare, who makes one have a sort of sneaking
affection even for his Barnardines;--whose very Iagos and Richards are
awful, and, by the counteracting power of profound intellects, rendered
fearful rather than hateful;--and even the exceptions, as Goneril and
Regan, are proofs of superlative judgment and the finest moral tact, in
being left utter monsters, 'nulla virtute redemptae,' and in being kept out
of sight as much as possible,--they being, indeed, only means for the
excitement and deepening of noblest emotions towards the Lear, Cordelia,
&c. and employed with the severest economy! But even Shakspeare's
grossness--that which is really so, independently of the increase in
modern times of vicious associations with things indifferent,--(for there
is a state of manners conceivable so pure, that the language of Hamlet at
Ophelia's feet might be a harmless rallying, or playful teazing, of a
shame that would exist in Paradise)--at the worst, how diverse in kind is
it from Beaumont and Fletcher's! In Shakspeare it is the mere generalities
of sex, mere words for the most part, seldom or never distinct images, all
head-work, and fancy-drolleries; there is no sensation supposed in the
speaker. I need not proceed to contrast this with B. and F.
This is, perhaps, the most energetic of Fletcher's tragedies. He
evidently aimed at a new Richard III. in Rollo;--but as in all his other
imitations of Shakspeare, he was not philosopher enough to bottom his
original. Thus, in Rollo, he has produced a mere personification of
outrageous wickedness, with no fundamental characteristic impulses to
make either the tyrant's words or actions philosophically intelligible.
Hence, the most pathetic situations border on the horrible, and what he
meant for the terrible, is either hateful, [Greek (transliterated): to
misaeton], or ludicrous. The scene of Baldwin's sentence in the third
act is probably the grandest working of passion in all B. and F.'s
dramas;--but the very magnificence of filial affection given to Edith,
in this noble scene, renders the after scene--(in imitation of one of
the least Shakspearian of all Shakspeare's works, if it be his, the
scene between Richard and Lady Anne,)--in which Edith is yielding to a
few words and tears, not only unnatural, but disgusting. In Shakspeare,
Lady Anne is described as a weak, vain, very woman throughout.
Act i. sc. I.
'Gis'. He is indeed the perfect character
Of a good man, and so his actions speak him.
This character of Aubrey, and the whole spirit of this and several other
plays of the same authors, are interesting as traits of the morals which
it was fashionable to teach in the reigns of James I. and his successor,
who died a martyr to them. Stage, pulpit, law, fashion,--all conspired
to enslave the realm. Massinger's plays breathe the opposite spirit;
Shakspeare's the spirit of wisdom which is for all ages. By the by, the
Spanish dramatists--Calderon, in particular,--had some influence in this
respect, of romantic loyalty to the greatest monsters, as well as in the
busy intrigues of B. and F.'s plays.
THE WILD GOOSE CHASE.
Act II. sc. 1. Belleur's speech:--
--that wench, methinks,
If I were but well set on, for she is _a fable_,
If I were but hounded right, and one to teach me.
Sympson reads 'affable,' which Colman rejects, and says, 'the next line
seems to enforce' the reading in the text.
Pity, that the editor did not explain wherein the sense, 'seemingly
enforced by the next line,' consists. May the true word be 'a sable,'
that is, a black fox, hunted for its precious fur? Or 'at-able,'--as we
now say,--'she is come-at-able?'
A WIFE FOR A MONTH.
Act IV. sc. 1. Alphonso's speech:-
Betwixt the cold bear and the raging lion
Lies my safe way.
Seward's note and alteration to--
'Twixt the cold bears, far from the raging lion--
This Mr. Seward is a blockhead of the provoking species. In his itch for
correction, he forgot the words--'lies my safe way!' The Bear is the
extreme pole, and thither he would travel over the space contained
between it and 'the raging lion.'
Act IV. sc. 2. Alinda's interview with her father is lively, and happily
hit off; but this scene with Roderigo is truly excellent. Altogether,
indeed, this play holds the first place in B. and F.'s romantic
entertainments, 'Lustspiele', which collectively are their happiest
performances, and are only inferior to the romance of Shakspeare in the
As you Like It, Twelfth Night, &c.
'Alin'. To-day you shall wed Sorrow,
And Repentance will come to-morrow.
Read 'Penitence,' or else--
Repentance, she will come to-morrow.
THE QUEEN OF CORINTH.
Act II. sc. 1. Merione's speech. Had the scene of this tragi-comedy been
laid in Hindostan instead of Corinth, and the gods here addressed been
the Veeshnoo and Co. of the Indian Pantheon, this rant would not have
been much amiss.
In respect of style and versification, this play and the following of
Bonduca may be taken as the best, and yet as characteristic, specimens
of Beaumont and Fletcher's dramas. I particularly instance the first
scene of the Bonduca. Take Shakspeare's Richard II., and having selected
some one scene of about the same number of lines, and consisting mostly
of long speeches, compare it with the first scene in Bonduca,--not for
the idle purpose of finding out which is the better, but in order to see
and understand the difference. The latter, that of B. and F., you will
find a Avell arranged bed of flowers, each having its separate root, and
its position determined aforehand by the will of the gardener,--each
fresh plant a fresh volition. In the former you see an Indian fig-tree,
as described by Milton;--all is growth, evolution, [Greek
(transliterated): genesis];--each line, each word almost, begets the
following, and the will of the writer is an interfusion, a continuous
agency, and not a series of separate acts. Shakspeare is the height,
breadth, and depth of genius: Beaumont and Fletcher the excellent
mechanism, in juxta-position and succession, of talent.
THE NOBLE GENTLEMAN.
Why have the dramatists of the times of Elizabeth, James I. and the
first Charles become almost obsolete, with the exception of Shakspeare?
Why do they no longer belong to the English, being once so popular? And
why is Shakspeare an exception?--One thing, among fifty, necessary to
the full solution is, that they all employed poetry and poetic diction
on unpoetic subjects, both characters and situations, especially in
their comedy. Now Shakspeare is all, all ideal,--of no time, and
therefore for all times. Read, for instance, Marine's panegyric in the
first scene of this play:--
Know The eminent court, to them that can be wise,
And fasten on her blessings, is a sun, &c.
What can be more unnatural and inappropriate--(not only is, but must be
felt as such)--than such poetry in the mouth of a silly dupe? In short,
the scenes are mock dialogues, in which the poet _solus_ plays the
ventriloquist, but cannot keep down his own way of expressing himself.
Heavy complaints have been made respecting the transprosing of the old
plays by Cibber; but it never occurred to these critics to ask, how it
came that no one ever attempted to transprose a comedy of Shakspeare's.
Act I. Speech of Seleucus:--
Altho' he be my enemy, should any
Of the gay flies that buz about the court,
_Sit_ to catch trouts i' the summer, tell me so,
I durst, &c.
Pshaw! 'Sit' is either a misprint for 'set,' or the old and still
provincial word for 'set,' as the participle passive of 'seat' or 'set.'
I have heard an old Somersetshire gardener say:--"Look, Sir! I set these
plants here; those yonder I 'sit' yesterday."
Act ii. Speech of Arcadius:--
Nay, some will swear they love their mistress,
Would hazard lives and fortunes, &c.
Nay, some will swear they love their mistress so,
They would hazard lives and fortunes to preserve
One of her hairs brighter than Berenice's,
Or young Apollo's; and yet, after this, &c.
'/They would HAzard/' --furnishes an anapaest for an 'iambus'. 'And
yet,' which must be read, /'ANyet'/, is an instance of the enclitic
force in an accented monosyllable. /'And YET'/ is a complete 'iambus';
but 'anyet' is, like 'spirit', a dibrach u u, trocheized, however, by
the 'arsis' or first accent damping, though not extinguishing, the
[Footnote 1: As noted earlier in this text, the words between / marks
are pronounced with stress on the upper-case syllables, and none on the
lower-case syllables. In the original text, stress is indicated by a
horizontal line over the syllable, and lack of stress by a u-shape, as
the u u later in this paragraph. text Ed.]
WIT AT SEVERAL WEAPONS.
Act I. Oldcraft's speech:
I'm arm'd at all points, &c.
It would be very easy to restore all this passage to metre, by supplying
a sentence of four syllables, which the reasoning almost demands, and by
correcting the grammar. Read thus:--
Arm'd at all points 'gainst treachery, I hold
My humor firm. If, living, I can see thee
Thrive by thy wits, I shall have the more courage,
Dying, to trust thee with my lands. If not,
The best wit, I can hear of, carries them.
For since so many in my time and knowledge,
Rich children of the city, have concluded
_For lack of wit_ in beggary, I'd rather
Make a wise stranger my executor,
Than a fool son my heir, and have my lands call'd
After my wit than name: and that's my nature!
Ib. Oldcraft's speech:--
To prevent which I have sought out a match for her.--
Which to prevent I've sought a match out for her.
Ib. Sir Gregory's speech:--
--Do you think I'll have any of the wits hang upon me after I am
Read it thus:--
Do you think
That I'll have any of the wits to hang
Upon me after I am married once?
Is it a fashion in London,
To marry a woman, and to never see her?
The superfluous 'to' gives it the Sir Andrew Ague-cheek character.
THE FAIR MAID OF THE INN.
Act II. Speech of Albertus:--
By my life, I vow to take assurance from you,
That right-hand never more shall strike my son,
Chop his hand off!
In this (as, indeed, in all other respects; but most in this) it is that
Shakspeare is so incomparably superior to Fletcher and his friend,--in
judgment! What can be conceived more unnatural and motiveless than this
brutal resolve? How is it possible to feel the least interest in
Albertus afterwards? or in Cesario after his conduct?
THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN.
On comparing the prison scene of Palamon and Arcite, Act ii. sc. 2, with
the dialogue between the same speakers, Act i. sc. 2, I can scarcely
retain a doubt as to the first act's having been written by Shakspeare.
Assuredly it was not written by B. and F. I hold Jonson more probable
than either of these two.
The main presumption, however, for Shakspeare's share in this play rests
on a point, to which the sturdy critics of this edition (and indeed all
before them) were blind,--that is, the construction of the blank verse,
which proves beyond all doubt an intentional imitation, if not the
proper hand, of Shakspeare. Now, whatever improbability there is in the
former, (which supposes Fletcher conscious of the inferiority, the too
poematic _minus_-dramatic nature, of his versification, and of which
there is neither proof, nor likelihood,) adds so much to the probability
of the latter. On the other hand, the harshness of many of these very
passages, a harshness unrelieved by any lyrical inter-breathings, and
still more the want of profundity in the thoughts, keep me from an
Act i. sc. 3. Emilia's speech:--
--Since his depart, his _sports_,
Tho' craving seriousness and skill, &c.
I conjecture 'imports,' that is, duties or offices of importance. The
flow of the versification in this speech seems to demand the trochaic
ending--/u/; while the text blends jingle and _hisses_ to the annoyance
of less sensitive ears than Fletcher's--not to say, Shakspeare's.
THE WOMAN HATER.
Act. I. sc. 2. This scene from the beginning is prose printed as blank
verse, down to the line--
E'en all the valiant stomachs in the court--
where the verse recommences. This transition from the prose to the verse
enhances, and indeed forms, the comic effect. Lazarillo concludes his
soliloquy with a hymn to the goddess of plenty.
ON THE PROMETHEUS OF AESCHYLUS:
An Essay, preparatory to a series of disquisitions respecting the
Egyptian, in connection with the sacerdotal, theology, and in contrast
with the mysteries of ancient Greece. Read at the Royal Society of
Literature, May 18, 1825.
The French 'savans' who went to Egypt in the train of Buonaparte, Denon,
Fourrier, and Dupuis, (it has been asserted), triumphantly vindicated
the chronology of Herodotus, on the authority of documents that cannot
lie;--namely, the inscriptions and sculptures on those enormous masses
of architecture, that might seem to have been built in the wish of
rivalling the mountains, and at some unknown future to answer the same
purpose, that is, to stand the gigantic tombstones of an elder world. It
is decided, say the critics, whose words I have before cited, that the
present division of the zodiac had been already arranged by the
Egyptians fifteen thousand years before the Christian era, and according
to an inscription 'which cannot lie' the temple of Esne is of eight
thousand years standing.
Now, in the first place, among a people who had placed their national
pride in their antiquity, I do not see the impossibility of an
inscription lying; and, secondly, as little can I see the improbability
of a modern interpreter misunderstanding it; and lastly, the
incredibility of a French infidel's partaking of both defects, is still
less evident to my understanding. The inscriptions may be, and in some
instances, very probably are, of later date than the temples
themselves,--the offspring of vanity or priestly rivalry, or of certain
astrological theories; or the temples themselves may have been built in
the place of former and ruder structures, of an earlier and ruder
period, and not impossibly under a different scheme of hieroglyphic or
significant characters; and these may have been intentionally, or
ignorantly, miscopied or mistranslated.
But more than all the preceding,--I cannot but persuade myself, that for
a man of sound judgment and enlightened common sense--a man with whom
the demonstrable laws of the human mind, and the rules generalized from
the great mass of facts respecting human nature, weigh more than any two
or three detached documents or narrations, of whatever authority the
narrator may be, and however difficult it may be to bring positive
proofs against the antiquity of the documents--I cannot but persuade
myself, I say, that for such a man, the relation preserved in the first
book of the Pentateuch,--and which, in perfect accordance with all
analogous experience, with all the facts of history, and all that the
principles of political economy would lead us to anticipate, conveys to
us the rapid progress in civilization and splendour from Abraham and
Abimelech to Joseph and Pharaoh,--will be worth a whole library of such
I am aware that it is almost universal to speak of the gross idolatry of
Egypt; nay, that arguments have been grounded on this assumption in proof
of the divine origin of the Mosaic monotheism. But first, if by this we
are to understand that the great doctrine of the one Supreme Being was
first revealed to the Hebrew legislator, his own inspired writings supply
abundant and direct confutation of the position. Of certain astrological
superstitions,--of certain talismans connected with star-magic,--plates
and images constructed in supposed harmony with the movements and
influences of celestial bodies,--there doubtless exist hints, if not
direct proofs, both in the Mosaic writings, and those next to these in
antiquity. But of plain idolatry in Egypt, or the existence of a
polytheistic religion, represented by various idols, each signifying a
several deity, I can find no decisive proof in the Pentateuch; and when I
collate these with the books of the prophets, and the other inspired
writings subsequent to the Mosaic, I cannot but regard the absence of any
such proof in the latter, compared with the numerous and powerful
assertions, or evident implications, of Egyptian idolatry in the former,
both as an argument of incomparably greater value in support of the age
and authenticity of the Pentateuch; and as a strong presumption in favour
of the hypothesis on which I shall in part ground the theory which will
pervade this series of disquisitions;--namely, that the sacerdotal
religion of Egypt had, during the interval from Abimelech to Moses,
degenerated from the patriarchal monotheism into a pantheism, cosmotheism,
or worship of the world as God.
The reason, or pretext, assigned by the Hebrew legislator to Pharaoh for
leading his countrymen into the wilderness to join with their brethren,
the tribes who still sojourned in the nomadic state, namely, that their
sacrifices would be an abomination to the Egyptians, may be urged as
inconsistent with, nay, as confuting this hypothesis. But to this I
reply, first, that the worship of the ox and cow was not, in and of
itself, and necessarily, a contravention of the first commandment,
though a very gross breach of the second;--for it is most certain that
the ten tribes worshipped the Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob, under the same or similar symbols:--secondly, that the cow, or
Isis, and the Io of the Greeks, truly represented, in the first
instance, the earth or productive nature, and afterwards the mundane
religion grounded on the worship of nature, or the [Greek
(transliterated): to pan], as God. In after times, the ox or bull was
added, representing the sun, or generative force of nature, according to
the habit of male and female deities, which spread almost over the whole
world,--the positive and negative forces in the science of
superstition;--for the pantheism of the sage necessarily engenders
polytheism as the popular creed. But lastly, a very sufficient reason
may, I think, be assigned for the choice of the ox or cow, as
representing the very life of nature, by the first legislators of Egypt,
and for the similar sacred character in the Brachmanic tribes of
Hindostan. The progress from savagery to civilization is evidently first
from the hunting to the pastoral state, a process which even now is
going on, within our own times, among the South American Indians in the
vast tracts between Buenos Ayres and the Andes: but the second and the
most important step, is from the pastoral, or wandering, to the
agricultural, or fixed, state. Now, if even for men born and reared
under European civilization, the charms of a wandering life have been
found so great a temptation, that few who have taken to it have been
induced to return, (see the confession in the preamble to the statute
respecting the gipsies); --how much greater must have been the danger
of relapse in the first formation of fixed states with a condensed