Representative Plays by American Dramatists: 1856-1911: Francesca da Rimini by George Henry Boker

Produced by David Starner, Leah Moser and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. FRANCESCA DA RIMINI _A TRAGEDY_ Francesca, i tuoi martiri a lagrimar mi fanno triato e pio.–DANTE. _Inferno, v. 75 seq._ GEORGE HENRY BOKER (1823-1890) The name of George Henry Boker suggests a coterie of friendships–a group of men pledged to the pursuit of
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1920
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

Produced by David Starner, Leah Moser and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.



Francesca, i tuoi martiri a lagrimar mi fanno triato e pio.–DANTE.

_Inferno, v. 75 seq._

[Illustration: GEORGE HENRY BOKER]



The name of George Henry Boker suggests a coterie of friendships–a group of men pledged to the pursuit of letters, and worshippers at the shrine of poetry. These men, in the pages of whose published letters and impressions are embedded many pleasing aspects of Boker’s temperament and character, were Bayard Taylor, Richard Henry Stoddard, and Charles Godfrey Leland, the latter known familiarly in American literature as “Hans Breitmann.” These four, in different periods of their lives, might have been called “the inseparables”–so closely did they watch each other’s development, so intently did they await each other’s literary output, and write poetry to each other, and meet at Boker’s, now and again, for golden talks on Sundays. Poetry was a passion with them, and even when two–Boker and Taylor–were sent abroad on diplomatic missions, they could never have been said to desert the Muse–their literary activity was merely arrested. One of the four–Stoddard–often felt, in the presence of Boker, a certain reticence due to lack of educational advantages; but in the face of Boker’s graciousness–a quality which comes with culture in its truest sense,–he soon found himself writing Boker on matters of style, on qualities of English diction, and on the status of American letters–a stock topic of conversation those days.

Boker was a Philadelphian, born there on October 6, 1823,–the son of Charles S. Boker, a wealthy banker, whose financial expertness weathered the Girard National Bank through the panic years of 1838-40, and whose honour, impugned after his death, in 1857, was defended many years later by his son in “The Book of the Dead,” reflective of Tennyson’s “In Memoriam,” and marked by a triteness of phrase which was always Boker’s chief limitation, both as a poet and as a dramatist.

He was brought up in an atmosphere of ease and refinement, receiving his preparatory education in private schools, and entering Princeton in 1840. On the testimony of Leland, who, being related to Boker, was thrown with him in their early years, and who avows that he always showed a love for the theatre, we learn that the young college student bore that same distinction of manner which had marked him as a child, and was to cling to him as a diplomat. Together as boys, these two would read their “Percy’s Reliques,” “Don Quixote,” Byron and Scott–and while they were both in Princeton, Boker’s room possessed the only carpet in the dormitory, and his walls boasted shelves of the handsomest books in college.

“As a mere schoolboy,” wrote Leland, “Boker’s knowledge of poetry was remarkable. I can remember that he even at nine years of age manifested that wonderful gift that caused him many years after to be characterized by some great actor–I think it was Forrest–as the best reader in America…. While at college … Shakespeare and Byron were his favourites. He used to quiz me sometimes for my predilections for Wordsworth and Coleridge. We both loved Shelly passionately.”

In fact, Leland claims that Boker was given to ridicule the “Lakers;” had he studied them instead, he would have added to his own poetry a naturalness of expression which it lacked.

He was quite the poet of Princeton in his day, quite the gentleman Bohemian. “He was,” writes Leland, “quite familiar, in a refined and gentlemanly way, with all the dissipations of Philadelphia and New York.” His easy circumstances made it possible for him to balance his ascetic taste for scholarship with riding horse-back. To which almost perfect attainment, he added the skilled ability to box, fence and dance. He graduated from Princeton in 1842, and the description of him left to us by Leland reveals a young man of nineteen, six feet tall, whose sculptured bust, made at this time, was not as much like him “as the ordinary busts of Lord Byron.” In later years he was said to bear striking resemblance to Hawthorne. His marriage to Miss Julia Riggs, of Maryland, followed shortly after his graduation, in fact, while he was studying law, a profession which was to serve him in good stead during his diplomatic years, but which he threw over for the stronger pull of poetry, whose Muse he could court without the necessity of driving it hard for support. Yet he was concerned about literature as a paying profession for others. On April 26, 1851, he wrote to Stoddard: “Alas! alas! Dick, is it not sad that an American author cannot live by magazine writing? And this is wholly owing to the want of our international copyright law. Of course it is little to me whether magazine writers get paid or not; but it is so much to you, and to a thousand others.” The time, until 1847, was spent in foreign travel, but it is interesting to note, as indication of no mean literary attainment in the interim, that Princeton, during this period, bestowed on him the degree of M.A., for merit in letters.

1848 was a red-letter year for Boker. It witnessed the publication of his first volume of verse, “The Lessons of Life, and other Poems,” and it introduced him to Bayard Taylor and to R.H. Stoddard. Of the occasion, Taylor writes on October 13, to Mary Agnew:

Young Boker, author of the tragedy, “Calaynos,” a most remarkable work, is here on a visit, and spent several hours to-night with me. He is another hero,–a most notable, glorious mortal! He is one of our band, and is, I think, destined to high renown as an author. He is nearly my own age, perhaps a year or two older, and he has lived through the same sensations, fought the same fight, and now stands up with the same defiant spirit.

This friendship was one of excellent spiritual sympathy and remarkable external similarities and contrasts. One authority has written of their late years:

In certain ways, he and his friend, Bayard Taylor, made an interesting contrast with each other. Here was Boker [circa 1878] who had just come back from diplomatic service abroad; and here, too, was Taylor, who was just going abroad as minister to Berlin. Both were poets; they were fellow-Pennsylvanians and friends; and they were men of large mould physically, and of impressive presence; yet they were very dissimilar types. Boker, though massive and with a trace of the phlegmatic in his manner (perhaps derived from his Holland ancestors, the Bochers, who had come thither from France, and had then sent a branch into England, from which the American family sprang), was courtly, polished, slightly reserved. His English forefathers had belonged to the Society of Friends, as had also Taylor’s family in Pennsylvania,–another point in common. But Taylor’s appearance, as his friends will remember, was somewhat bluff and rugged; his manner was hearty and open.

Launched in the literary life, therefore, Boker began to write assiduously. “Calaynos,” the tragedy referred to by Taylor, went into two editions during 1848, and the following year was played by Samuel Phelps at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, May 10. From the New York _Tribune_ office, on May 29, 1849, Taylor wrote:

Your welcome letter came this morning, and from the bottom of my heart was I rejoiced by it. I can well imagine your feeling of triumph at this earnest of fame…. I instantly hunted up the London “Times” and found “Calaynos” advertised for performance,–second night. I showed it to Griswold, who was nearly as much surprised and delighted as myself. Of course he will make good mention of it in his book. It will _sell_ immensely for you, and especially just now, when you are coming out with “Anne Bullen” [sic.]. I shall not fail to have a notice of it in to-morrow morning’s “Tribune.”

Some authorities state that it was given by Phelps without Boker’s consent. Another, who examined Boker’s manuscripts, in possession of the poet’s daughter-in-law, Mrs. George Boker, records that Barrett made cuts in the play, preparatory to giving it, Boker, even, revising it in part. The American premiere was reserved for James E. Murdoch, at the Philadelphia Walnut Street Theater, January 20, 1851, and it was revived at the same playhouse in April, 1855, by E.L. Davenport. As Stoddard says of it, one “should know something–the more the better–about the plays that Dr. Bird and Judge Conrad wrote for Forrest and his successors, about Poe’s ‘Politian’, Sargent’s ‘Velasco’, Longfellow’s ‘Spanish Student’.”

His choice of subject, in this, his first drama, indicated the romantic aloofness of Boker’s mind, for he was always anxious to escape what Leland describes him as saying was a “practical, soulless, Gradgrind age.” In fact, Boker had not as yet found himself; he was more the book-lover than the student of men he afterwards became.

“Read Chaucer for strength,” he advises Stoddard on January 7, 1850, “read Spenser for ease and sweetness, read Milton for sublimity and thought, read Shakespeare for all these things, and for something else which is his alone. Get out of your age as far as you can.”

These young men were not quickly received, and they regarded the utilitarian spirit of the time as against them. To Stoddard Boker once confessed: “Were poetry forged upon the anvil, cut out with the axe, or spun in the mill, my heaven, how men would wonder at the process! What power, what toil, what ingenuity!”

Boker’s correspondence with Stoddard began in a letter, dated September 5, 1849, announcing overtures made by the London Haymarket Theatre for his new tragedy, “Anne Boleyn,” which he was contemplating sending them in sheets. “I have also the assurance,” he announces, “that Miss Cushman will bring it out in this country, provided she thinks her powers adapted to it.”

Boker’s pen was energetic, and it moved at a gait which shows how fertile was his imagination. “The inseparables” cheered the way for each other in the face of official journalistic criticism. Taylor declared “Anne Boleyn” far in advance of “Calaynos,” prophesying that it would last. “Go ahead, my dear poet,” he admonishes, “it will soon be your turn to damn those who would willingly damn you.” Together these friends were always planning to storm the citadel of public favour with poetry, but Boker seems to have been the only one to whom the theatre held out attraction. By August 12, 1850, he was sending news to Stoddard that “The Betrothal” would be staged the following month. In good spirits, he writes:

The manager is getting it up with unusual care and splendour. Spangles and red flannels flame through it from end to end. I even think of appearing before the curtain on horseback, nay, of making the whole performance equestrian, and of introducing a hippopotamus in the fifth act. What think you? Have you and your miserable lyrics ever known such glory? If the play should take _here_, you benighted New-Yorkers will be illuminated with it immediately after it has run its hundredth night in the city which is so proud of its son.

This was the second of his pieces to be given performance, “Anne Boleyn” never seeing the boards. “The Betrothal” was produced at the Philadelphia Walnut Street Theatre, on September 25, 1850, and opened in New York, on November 18 of the same year. Taylor wrote to its author, on December 4: “I saw the last night…. It is even better as an acting play than I had anticipated, but it was very badly acted. I have heard nothing but good of it, from all quarters.” It was Elizabethan in tone, quite in the spirit of that romantic drama practised by such American authors as Willis, Sargent and others. How it was received when presented in London, during 1853, is reflected in Boker’s letter to Stoddard, dated October 9, 1853:

I have read the _Times_ notice of the “Betrothal.” It is honey to most of the other newspaper criticisms…. Notwithstanding, and taking the accounts of my enemies for authority, the play was unusually successful with the audience on that most trying occasion, the first night…. The play stands a monument of English injustice. Mark you, it was not prejudice that caused the catastrophe; it was fear lest I should get a footing on their stage, of which “Calaynos” had given them timely warning.

“The Widow’s Marriage,” in manuscript, and never published, was accepted by Marshall, manager of the Walnut, and is noted by Boker, in a letter to Stoddard, October 12, 1852, the chief handicap confronting him being the inability to find someone suited to take the leading role. Stoddard’s own comment was:

Whether [it] was ever produced I know not, but I should say not, for the part of the principal character, _Lady Goldstraw_, is one which no actress whom I remember could have filled to the satisfaction of her creator. The fault of this character (me judice) is that it is too good to be played on a modern stage. It ought to have been written for antiquity two hundred years ago.

Boker was right when he referred to himself as “prolific” at this time. He already had produced, in 1851, according to markings on the manuscript, a piece called “All the World a Mask,” and he had written “The Podesta’s Daughter,” a dramatic sketch, issued, with “Miscellaneous Poems,” in 1852. Toward the end of this year, he completed “Leonor de Guzman.”

“Her history,” he writes to Stoddard, on November 14, “you will find in Spanish Chronicles relating to the reigns of Alfonso XII of Castile and his son, Peter the Cruel. There are no such subjects for historical tragedy on earth as are to be found in the Spanish history of that period. I am so much in love with it that I design following up ‘Leonor de Guzman’ by ‘Don Pedro’. The present tragedy, according to the judgment of Leland, is the very best play I have written, both for the closet and the stage. Perhaps I am too ready to agree with him, but long before he said it I had formed the same judgment.”

This tragedy was performed at the Philadelphia Walnut Street Theatre, on October 3, 1853, and at the New York Broadway Theatre, on April 24, 1854. Boker wrote to his friends, showing his customary concern about an actress skilled enough for the role of his heroine. When, finally, for the Philadelphia premiere, Julia Dean was decided upon, he thus expressed his verdict to Stoddard, after the opening performance: “Miss Dean, as far as her physique would admit, played the part admirably, and with a full appreciation of all those things which you call its beauties.”

During these years of correspondence with his friends, Boker was determining to himself the distinction between _poetic_ and _dramatic_ style.

“Seriously, Dick,” he writes to Stoddard, on October 6, 1850, “there is, to my mind, no English diction for your purposes equal to Milton’s in his minor poems. Of course any man would be an intensified ass who should attempt to reach the diction of the ‘Paradise Lost’, or aspire to the tremendous style of Shakespeare. You must not confound things, though. A Lyric diction is one thing–a Dramatic diction is another, requiring the utmost force and conciseness of expression,–and Epic diction is still another; I conceive it to be something between the Lyric and Dramatic, with all the luxuriance of the former, and all the power of the latter.”

He must have written to Taylor in the same vein, for, in a letter from the latter, there is assurance that he fully understands what a slow growth dramatic style must be. But Boker was not wholly wed to theatrical demands; he still approached the stage in the spirit of the poet who was torn between loyalty to poetic indirectness, and necessity for direct dialogue. On January 12, 1853, he writes to Stoddard:

Theatricals are in a fine state in this country; every inducement is offered to me to burn my plays as fast as I write them. Yet, what can I do? If I print my plays, the actors take them up, butcher, alter and play them, without giving me so much as a hand in my own damnation. This is something beyond even heavenly rigour; and so I proceed to my own destruction, with the proud consciousness that, at all events, it is my own act. _A propos_, have you ever read the English acting copy of my “Calaynos”? A viler thing was never concocted from like materials.

Whether or not the play, “The Bankrupt,” preceded or followed the writing of “Francesca da Rimini” in 1853, we have no way of determining; but it would seem that it progressed no further in its stage career than in manuscript form, it being the only play on a modern theme attempted by Boker. Then, it seems, he was hot on the trail of the Francesca love story told in Dante, and used by so many writers in drama and poetry. It is this play, conceded to be his best, which is included in the present collection, and which calls for analysis and history by itself.

Taylor’s collection of “Poems at Home and Abroad,” dedicated to Boker in 1855, suggests that the two must have continually talked over the possibilities of gathering their best effusions in book form. Did not Taylor write, as early as June 30, 1850, “You must come out in the Fall with a volume of poems. Stoddard will, and so, I think, will I. You can get a capital volume, with your ‘Song’, ‘Sir John’, ‘Goblet’, and other things…. The publishing showmen would of course parade our wonderful qualities, and the snarling critics in the crowd would show their teeth; but we would be as unmoved as the wax statues of Parkman and Webster, except that there might now and then be a sly wink at each other, when nobody was looking.” The two friends had been separated for some time, while Taylor wandered over the face of the globe, writing from Cairo, in the shadow of the pyramids, and exclaiming, in Constantinople (July 18, 1852), “There is a touch of the East in your nature, George.”

In 1856, Boker prepared his two volumes of “Plays and Poems” for the press. He had won considerable reputation as a sonneteer, and this was further increased by the tradition that Daniel Webster had quoted him at a state dinner in Washington. As yet he was merely a literary poet, and a literary dramatist whose name is usually linked with that Philadelphia group discussed in Vol. II of this collection.[A]

Writing of the Philadelphia of 1868, Leland says:

[It was] “the Philadelphia when ‘Emily Schaumbeg’ was the belle and Penington’s ‘store’ was the haunt of the booklover, when snow fell with old fashioned violence, and Third Street was convulsed by old-fashioned panics, when everybody went mad over Offenbach, when one started for New York from the Walnut Street Ferry, when George Boker was writing his dramas and George Childs was beginning to play the public Maecenas.” Oftentimes the sturdy figure of Walt Whitman could be seen walking on Broad Street, while Horace Greely, buried in newspapers, travelled aboard a boat between New York and Philadelphia.

It was the Civil War that not only turned Boker’s pen to the Union Cause, but changed him politically from a Democrat to a staunch Republican. In fact, his name is closely interwoven with the rehabilitation of the Republican party in Philadelphia. He often confessed that his conscience hurt him many times when he realized he cast his first vote for Buchanan. “After that,” he is quoted as having said, “the sword was drawn; it struck me that politics had vanished entirely from the scene–that it was now merely a question of patriotism or disloyalty.” His “Poems of the War,” issued in 1864, contained such examples of his martial and occasional ability as the “Dirge for a Soldier,” “On the Death of Philip Kearney” and “The Black Regiment,” besides “On Board the Cumberland” and the “Battle of Lookout Mountain.”

About this time, there was founded the Union League Club, with Boker as the leading spirit; through his efforts the war earnestness of the city was concentrated here; from 1863-71 he served as its secretary; from 1879-84 as its President; and his official attitude may be measured in the various annual reports of the organization. But even in those strenuous days–at the period when the Northern spirits lagged over military reverses, and at the time when the indecision of General McClellan drew from him the satiric broadside,–“Tardy George”–privately printed in 1865–Boker’s thoughts were concerned with poetry. His official laureate consciousness did not serve to improve the verse. His “Our Heroic Themes”–written for the Harvard Phi Beta Kappa–was mediocre in everything but intent, recalling what Taylor wrote to him: “My Harvard poem, [he had read it in 1850 before the same fraternity] poor as it is, was received with great applause; but, alas! I published it, and thus killed the tradition of its excellence, which, had I not done so, might still have been floating around Harvard.”

In 1869, Boker issued “Koenigsmark, The Legend of the Hounds and other Poems,” and this ended his dramatic career until his return from abroad, and until Lawrence Barrett came upon the scene with his revival of “Francesca da Rimini” and his interest in Boker’s other work, to the extent of encouraging him to recast “Calaynos” and to prepare “Nydia” (1885), later enlarged from two acts to a full sized drama in “Glaucus” (1886), both drawing for inspiration on Bulwer’s “The Last Days of Pompeii.”

President Grant sent Boker to Constantinople, as U.S. Minister (his appointment dated November 3, 1871)–an honour undoubtedly bestowed in recognition of his national service. Here he remained four years, “and during that time secured the redress for wrongs done American subjects by the Syrians, and successfully negotiated two treaties, one having reference to the extradition of criminals, and the other to the naturalization of subjects of little power in the dominions of the other.” A reception was tendered him on December 22, 1871, by members of the Union League Club, and among those present were Bayard Taylor, Col. George Boker, of the Governor’s staff, and son of Boker, and Dr. Charles S. Boker, his brother. Among those who spoke were Robeson, Secretary of the Navy, and Cameron, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. Congratulatory letters were received from Bryant, James T. Fields, Stoddard, Lowell, Longfellow, Aldrich, Curtis, and Stedman. On this occasion, Taylor said: “I know the ripeness and soundness of his mind, the fine balance of his intellectual qualities.”

On December 24, 1871, Boker wrote to Leland:

The scarcest thing with me just now is time. I might give you a shilling at a pinch, but a half hour is an article which I do not happen to have about me…. By the way, your rhapsody over the East in “M.K.” [“Meister Karl”] had something to do with my acceptance of the Turkish Mission; and if you have been lying, I shall find you out, old boy.

Boker’s enthusiasm for Turkish scenery was unbounded, but his difficulties as a diplomat were due to his ignorance of the tongue, and his distrust of interpreters. But by the time his Government was ready to transfer him to another post–that of Minister to Russia (January 3, 1875)–he was heartily sick of his wrangling with the Crescent, and glad, as he wrote Leland, “to shake the dust of this dismal old city from my shoes, and prepare my toes for a freezing at St. Petersburg.” He echoed his distaste in later years by writing: “I hate the East so profoundly that I should not return to it if there were no other land in which I could live.” This promotion to the Russian court–it was a Russian, Ignatieff, who characterized him as “of true diplomatic stuff”–was made in 1875, and he remained there two years.

“While in Russia,” we learn, “he was the only one of our Ministers at foreign courts who was able to checkmate Spain in her controversy with us about the _Virginius_. He baffled the Spanish Ambassador at St. Petersburg, and influenced Gortschakoff to send a despatch to Madrid, which caused Spain to apologize to the United States; thus averting serious complications.”

Diplomatic life was not wholly distasteful to him; he possessed social distinction which made him popular at both courts, so much so, indeed, that the Czar cabled to Washington, when a change of administration brought Boker’s tenure of office to a close, asking if it were not possible to have him retained. He had had his difficulties at the Porte, as Lowell had had at Madrid. But his artistic nature responded quickly to the picturesqueness of his surroundings. “Within a mile of me,” he writes Leland from Turkey,–“for I am now living at Therapia upon the Bosphorus–there is a delicious encampment of the black tents of a tribe of Gypsies.” While he was in Russia he was continually supplying Leland with information about gypsies.

He went to Egypt, at the invitation of the Sultan, and–as though recalling Taylor’s longing, in 1852, when he was in Cairo, to have Boker with him–took a trip up the Nile, with Leland, whom he had invited to accompany him. Under the palm trees at Misraim, he had his first meeting with Emerson. The varied foreign travel had broadened his taste, and he was quickly responsive to what he saw. Writes Leland:

I have been with him many times in the Louvre, the great galleries of London and St. Petersburg, and studied with him the stupendous and strange remains of Egyptian art in the Boulak Museum and the Nile temples, but never knew anyone, however learned he might be in such matters, who had a more sincere enjoyment of their greatest results. I remember that he manifested much more interest and deeper feeling for what he saw in Egypt than did Emerson, who was there at the same time, and with whom I conversed daily.

On January 15, 1878, Boker withdrew from diplomatic life, returning to the United States, where he resumed literary work, his chief interest in the stage being revived by his association with Barrett. His home in Philadelphia–one of the literary centres of the time,–bore traces of his Turkish stay–carpets brought from Constantinople, Arabic designs on the draperies, and rich Eastern colours in the tapestried chairs. His experience was obliged to affect his writing, if not in feeling, at least in expression. I note in his “Monody,” written at the time of the death of his friend, the poet, T. Buchanan Read (1822-1872), such lines as “the hilly Bosphorus,” and “… For the hills of Ancient Asia through my trembling tears glimmer like fabrics….” As early as 1855, he had written for the _U.S. Gazette and North American_, an article on Read comparing his “New Pastoral” with the poetry of Cowper and Thompson. But Read to-day is familiar because of his “Sheridan’s Ride.” We are told that Boker had a work-room where he delighted in designing metal scrolls.

There was a slight revival of public interest in his poems, which necessitated the reprinting of several of his books.

“The last time when I saw him,” Stoddard recalls in 1890, “was at the funeral of Taylor, at Cedarcroft, a little more than ten years ago. We rode to the grave, on a hillside, and we rode back to the house. And now he has gone to the great majority!” Boker died in Philadelphia, January 2, 1890. “He takes place with Motley on our roll of well-known authors,” George Parsons Lathrop has written, “and it is even more remarkable that he should have cultivated poetry in Philadelphia, where the conditions were unfavourable, than that Motley should have taken up history in Boston, where the conditions were wholly propitious.”

It is by “Francesca da Rimini” that Boker is best remembered. In a letter to Stoddard, March 3, 1853, he writes:

You will laugh at this, but the thing is so. “Francesca da Rimini” is the title. Of course you know the story,–everyone does; but you nor any one else, do not know it as I have treated it. I have great faith in the successful issue of this new attempt. I think all day, and write all night. This is one of my peculiarities, by the bye: a subject seizes me soul and body, which accounts for the rapidity of my execution. My muse resembles a whirlwind: she catches me up, hurries me along, and drops me all breathless at the end of her career.

And soon this was followed by the letter so often quoted, showing the white-heat of his enthusiasm:

Now that “Francesca da Rimini” is done,–all but the polishing,–I have time to look around and see how I have been neglecting my friends during my state of “possession.” Of course you wish to know my opinion of the bantling; I shall suppose you do, at all events. Well, then, I am better satisfied with “Francesca da Rimini” than with any of my previous plays. It is impossible for me to say what you, or the world, will say of it; but if it do not please you both, I do not know what I am about. The play is more dramatic than former ones, fiercer in its display of intense passions, and, so far as mere poetry goes, not inferior, if not superior, to any of them. In this play I have dared more, risked more, than I ever had courage to do before. _Ergo_, if it be not a great triumph, it will certainly be a great failure. I doubt whether you, in a hundred guesses, could hit upon the manner in which I have treated the story. I shall not attempt to prejudice you regarding the play; I would rather have you judge for yourself, even if your decision be adverse. Am I not the devil and all for rapid composition? My speed frightens me, and makes me fearful of the merits of my work. Yet, on coolly going over my work, I find little to object to, either as to the main design or its details. I touch up, here and there, but I do little more. The reason for my rapid writing is that I never attempt putting pen to paper before my design is perfectly mature. I never start with one idea, trusting to the glow of poetical composition for the remainder. That will do in lyrical poetry, but it would be death and damnation to dramatic. But just think of it!–twenty-eight hundred lines in about three weeks! To look back upon such labour is appalling! Let me give you the whole history of my manner of composition in a few words. If it be not interesting to you, you differ from me, and I mistake the kind of matters that interest you. While I am writing I eat little, I drink nothing, I meditate my work, literally, all day. By the time night arrives I am in a highly nervous and excited state. About nine o’clock I begin writing and smoking, and I continue the two exercises, _pari passu_, until about four o’clock in the morning. Then I reel to bed, half crazy with cigar-smoke and poesy, sleep five hours, and begin the next day as the former. Ordinarily, I sleep from seven to eight hours; but when I am writing, but five,–simply because I cannot sleep any longer at such times. The consequence of this mode of life is that at the end of a long work I sink at once like a spent horse, and have not energy enough to perform the ordinary duties of life. I _feel_ my health giving way under it, but really I do not care. I am ambitious to be remembered among the martyrs.

This letter is not only significant of Boker’s method of workmanship; it is, as well, measure of his charm as a letter writer. For, in correspondence with his close friends, he was as natural with them, as full of force and brightness, as he was in conversation. We find Taylor thanking him at one time, when in distress over family illness and death, for his sustaining words of comfort; we find Leland basking in the warmth of his sheer animal spirits. To the latter, Boker once wrote:

Dear old Charley, you are the only man living with whom I can play the fool through a long letter and be sure that I shall be clearly understood at the end. To say that this privilege is cheerful is to say little, for it is the breath of life to a man of a certain humour.

The “Francesca” note, therefore, is typical of Boker’s enthusiasm. When Stoddard read the play, we wonder whether he saw in it any similarities to Leigh Hunt’s poem on the same subject? For once he had detected in Boker’s verses the influence of Hunt. There are critics who claim Boker had read closely Hugo’s “Le Roi s’Amuse.” But there is only one real comparison to make–with Shakespeare, to the detriment of Boker. His memory beat in Elizabethan rhythm, and beat haltingly. The present Editor began noting on the margin of his copy parallelisms of thought and expression in this “Francesca” and in the plays of Shakespeare; these similarities became so many, were so apparent, that it is thought best to omit them. The text used is not based on the manuscripts left by Boker, nor has it been compared with the acting copy made, in 1855, for E.L. Davenport, as has already been done elsewhere in print. I have preferred to use the text finally prepared by Boker for his published plays, this being the one which met with his approval. In 1882, Lawrence Barrett, with the aid of William Winter, prepared an acting version of “Francesca,” and it was this which Mr. Otis Skinner used, when he revived the piece in 1901.

A notice in The New York _Tribune_ for 1882 suggests that when E.L. Davenport first essayed “Francesca da Rimini,” in 1855, it was in one-act. I can find no corroboration of this statement. The play-bill here reproduced specifically announces a _five_ act tragedy, and it is to be inferred that the form of the play, as given at the Broadway Theatre, New York, September 26, 1855,[B] was the only one used by him. Winter claims that as _Lanciotto_, Davenport was “unimaginative, mechanical, and melodramatic,” and that the whole piece “proved tedious.” This is strange, considering the heroic and romantic characteristics in Davenport’s method of acting. It may be that he attempted Boker’s play because of his interest in the development of American drama. He had assisted Mrs. Mowatt in her career as playwright, and, during his full life, his name was identified with Boker’s “Calaynos,” George H. Miles’s tragedy, “De Soto, the Hero of the Mississippi,” and Conrad’s “Jack Cade.” But the concensus of opinion is that Boker’s “Francesca da Rimini,” as given by Davenport, was a failure.

An examination of the cast in the Davenport program with the cast as it was when Boker issued the play, indicates that the text must have been considerably changed, and certain characters omitted, when, at the suggestion of Winter, Lawrence Barrett promised to revive it during the summer of 1882. The scholarly turn of Barrett’s mind must have made him ponder it well during a trip he made abroad at the time, and Boker, meanwhile, must have been cutting the cloth to suit the actor’s ideas. Barron, one of Barrett’s biographers, claims that “Mr. Barrett saw great possibilities in the work, and with his practical assistance the play was suitably changed, new situations were effected, a more picturesque colouring was given the scenes and story, and all that was repellant in the too close following of Dante [!] was removed.” The play was given by Barrett, at Haverly’s Theatre, Chicago, on September 14, 1882, Otis Skinner playing _Paolo_, and Marie Wainwright appearing as _Francesca_. In Winter’s estimate of the performance, we find the dominant characteristics being “moderation” and “balanced growth.” He says of _Lanciotto_: “Alertness of the brain sustained it, at every point, in brilliant vigour, and it rose in power, and expanded in terrible beauty, accordingly as it was wrought upon by the pressure of circumstances and the conflict of passions.”

The memory of this must have affected the interpretation of Mr. Skinner, when, as _Lanciotto_, in his revival of the piece at the Chicago Grand Opera House, August 22, 1901, with Aubrey Boucicault as _Paolo_, Marcia Van Dresser as _Francesca_, and William Norris as _Pepe_, he met with such success. “D’Annunzio gives us the soldier and the brute,” he wrote me in 1904. “Boker’s hero is an idealist–almost a dreamer.” The fact is, Boker was recalling his memories of _Othello_ and _Richard III_, if not of _Hamlet_, as Skinner suggests. In another respect did the Barrett performance affect the later revival. The portrayal of _Pepe_, by Norris, was based on what he called “the James tradition,” Louis James having, as Winter wrote, “a laughter that is more terrible than malice.”

Lawrence Barrett’s interest in the American drama was never very pronounced. He sought Boker’s “Francesca da Rimini,” as he sought W.D. Howells’ “Yorick’s Love” (given at Cleveland, Ohio, October 26, 1878), because the roles therein suited his temperament. Between him and Boker, there was some misunderstanding of short duration, about royalties, but this was bridged over, and Boker’s final attempts at playwriting were made for him. The reader is referred to Vol. 32, n.s. Vol. XXV, no. 2, June, 1917, of the _Publications of the Modern Language Association of America_, for statements as to Boker’s “profits” from the stage.

After Otis Skinner’s revival of “Francesca da Rimini,” it was played for a while by Frederick Ward and Louis James in association (1893) and by Frank C. Bangs in 1892.

Hosts of dramas have been written on “Francesca da Rimini,” and every poet has essayed at one time or another to surpass Dante’s incomparable lines. Music scores have glorified this passionate love story, while marble and canvas have caught the external expression of it. In its portrayal, actual history has taken on legendary character, and so “Francesca da Rimini” now ranks as a theme with the history of Lancelot and Guinevere, of Tristan and Isolde. It has become the inspiration for Maeterlinck in “Pelleas and Melisande,” who has viewed the Italian passion through a mirage of mysticism.

Into “The Divine Comedy,” the account of Francesca and Paolo is dropped, keen, sensitive and delicate, as though the poet, a friend of those concerned, wished to cover the hard fact of illicit love in an ecstacy of human feeling. Dante, the supreme master of his age, the incomparable lover of Beatrice, differentiated this tragedy from countless incidents of like character which marked his age. Had the story been preserved only in the form recorded by Boccaccio, it would have been lost in its minor details of history; whereas Dante has glorified it.

By the very fact that Dante places the two lovers in the circle of the Lustful, it is clear that he realized the enormity of their sin. The theory that his friendship with Guido Novella, the nephew of Francesca, made Dante refrain from entering fully into the incident, will not hold, when it is remembered that the cantos of the Inferno were written in 1300, seventeen years before the poet reached Ravenna, and accepted the hospitality of the Polenta house. Dante’s infinite compassion is, therefore, the cause for the compressed poetry of this famous passage.

Dante’s Francesca lines have been infinitely translated. Longfellow is conscientious; Byron chafes to be freed of the original Italian, and his lines are irksome; Rossetti sees and feels, but he is laboured. Dante, infinitely translated, remains supreme.

The poems on this ideal love legend are of infinite variety. Tassoni describes Paolo, the warrior, consumed with ravishing love, “shrunk with misery;” he fails to reach the youthful passion, and is as mediaevally chivalric as is Chaucer in “The Knightes Tale” of Palamon and Arcite. Leigh Hunt resorts to stilted narrative and description.

Byron once thought to write a drama on this subject; had he done so, Silvio Pellico might have had a formidable rival. More or less, all the playwrights have gone to Italian history, and the more exact they became, the more gross the situation. F. Marion Crawford fell on this rock of accuracy, when he wrote his Francesca play for Mme. Sarah Bernhardt.

Silvio Pellico, who wrote the first drama on “Francesca da Rimini” known to modern playgoers, lived his early life in an intensely religious atmosphere, and suffered imprisonment later because of his patriotic tendencies; it is not surprising, therefore, to find in his play–first a national appeal that was to win it applause from all Italy, and then, more important still, a purity of tone that struggled most nobly against an inevitable, passionate end. _Paolo_ is the one who, after some scruples, succumbs; _Francesca_ is infinitely conscious that she is a wife; _Giovanni_ is suspicious. It would seem that Pellico’s play is the first that realized the theatrical possibilities of the story; research has brought to light no play manuscript previous to his.

In the handling of his details, Pellico’s incongruities and artificialities are many. _Paolo_ returns from knightly deeds in Asia, to find his father dead–the _Malatesta Verucchio_ who died in 1312, twenty-seven years after _Giovanni_ committed the murder; therefore Pellico gives to the deformed brother the power that history does not wholly accord. The dramatist would avoid the indelicacy he finds in the reading incident, recounting it only in a situation during which _Francesca_ holds aloof in a wild effort to stifle her love. Throughout the play, there is this ruthless twisting, in a desire to conceal wrong and unpardonable sin.

Turning to Uhland’s fragmentary ideas, which even he himself was doubtful whether he could handle, an atmosphere confronts us as mediaevally German as the “Der arme Heinrich” of Hartmann von Aue, which was the inspirational source for Longfellow’s “The Golden Legend.” Uhland shows heaviness in conception, and a conventionality, thoroughly at variance with the tragedy’s original passion. Romantic as he is, he has robbed the story of its warm southern nature, and has thrown his Dante aside to deal with false situation. He seems willing to let fact and spirit go. _Paolo_ is a knight who tilts and worships a glove. Uhland thinks, and he is not alone in his belief, that _Francesca_ had been promised to _Paolo_ before _Giovanni_ was wedded to her; yet if _Paolo’s_ marriage with _Orabile_, in 1269, is to be recognized as correct, historically, logical deductions from dates would discountenance the statement. Neither have I found commentaries to support the theory that _Paolo_ was older than _Giovanni_, as Uhland sets forth in his play. The servant in Boccaccio here becomes a jealous lover. It is interesting to note the variations of this counter-element in the many play versions of the story–the element that urges _Giovanni’s_ suspicion to quick action–the dramatic force of _Pepe_ in Boker; the disappointed motherhood and embittered love of _Lucrezia_ in Stephen Phillips; the inborn savagery of _Malatestino_ in D’Annunzio; the innocent unconsciousness of _Concordia_ in Crawford, which finds similarity in a scene in Maeterlinck’s “Pelleas and Melisande” between father and little son. Further, in Uhland, a distorted glimpse of a colourless reportorial figure of Dante, gathering material for his poem, is as meaningless as it is unnecessary for atmosphere.

Stephen Phillips, in his Francesca drama, ignores altogether Italian temperament; save for the fact that he occasionally mentions the Tyrant of Rimini, Pesaro and Florence, and that he adheres to historic names, there is more of the English hamlet romance in the piece, than Italian passion. And that cannot be said of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Perhaps one may claim for Phillips some of the simplicity of Dante, but there is not the humanity. Undeniably, the English poet is happy in phrase and imagery, but his genius is not so dramatic as it is poetic; he has some of the great lyrical feeling of Tennyson, and he has that which distinguishes the poet from the dramatist–the power to _describe_ situation. One cannot deny the appeal of his girl-Francesca, nor the beauty of many of his haunting lines; but no warm impression of the situation is gained, and the characters are peculiarly inactive at inopportune times. Mr. Phillips’s talent was predominantly undramatic; he was too much the poet to allow his feeling to be guided by historical material. Yet, as acted, the play was charmingly simple.

On the other hand, D’Annunzio, in his drama, saturates himself with the history of Italy. In bulk, his play has not the slightest claim to simplicity; the main object of the dramatist seemed to have been to overweight the scenes with the licentious and rude Italy of the thirteenth century; extraneous side-issues burden the progress of the plot. Yet D’Annunzio has taken care that this does not affect his central theme. On the stage, the scenes appear cumbersome, and the action moves slowly; but, after analyzing the book, it may be claimed for this “Francesca da Rimini,” that it reflects the age in which the tragedy occurred. Much artistic construction is shown in the contrast of the Polenta and Malatesta families, and, repellent as he is at times, D’Annunzio has moments of great poetic fervour; his fire swings forth in many of _Francesca’s_ speeches, that alternate with the languor of her symbolic nature.

That his drama on Francesca was definitely constructed for theatrical effect, was openly avowed by Marion Crawford. At the beginning of the French version made for Mme. Bernhardt, he placed material that showed his intention of dealing with fact in the manner of a novelist, and regardless of the sweetness of Dante. To him, _Concordia_ is fourteen, since he considers 1289 as the date of the tragedy, and, with his details from Boccaccio’s commentary, he has coarsened _Francesca_, making her bitterness full of the spleen that could only accompany maturity. A striking point is to be noted in the strong vein of Catholicism that colours many of the speeches.

_Paolo’s_ wife, _Orabile_, moves through the D’Annunzio play with only slight mention–to show the husband’s avoidance of her–to draw attention to her deep-rooted aversion to _Francesca_. Mr. Crawford also brings her on the scene, and has _Paolo_ the cause of her death, wittingly distorting history, since _Orabile_ died many years after the murder of her husband.

The only American drama on the subject is that by Boker; it is a peculiarly contradictory piece of work, since, from the standpoint of the stage, it is essentially and effectively dramatic, while as literature it is imitative of the Elizabethan style. Boker’s poetic imagery is distinctly borrowed, and his choice of words disappointingly colloquial. Yet, over and above the mere story, he has succeeded in portraying a strong character in his _Pepe_. The historical setting of the play is slight, yet sufficient to localize the piece, and his _dramatis personae_ are faithfully distinct in outline, though at times devoid of consuming passion.

Phillips as a dramatist has the fault of being diffuse; Boker’s style is prosaically plain. Were it not for over-elaboration, D’Annunzio’s play might supplant all others because of its spirit. Could we take from Phillips his simplicity, from D’Annunzio his Italian intensity, and from Boker his proportion, and could we add these to Crawford’s realization of situation, toned away from his melodramatic tendencies, an ideal drama on “Francesca da Rimini” might be constructed.

But the revitalizing power that was given Shakespeare, has been bequeathed to none who have followed Dante. The one beauty of the Francesca story is the simple element that permeates the dark motive. The genius required to deal with it lies in this: to make one conscious of the tragedy in a touch that recalls the beauty of spring.

It is strange that no other poet than Dante has succeeded in catching this beauty. No poet, writing directly on the theme, has the subtle feeling which may be compared with that of the Italian. Richard Le Gallienne is infinitely superior to Hunt; Lowell and Gilder beyond the lesser poets,–but all fade before the master. They treat of the vision of Hell, with its whirling wind; of the two in close embrace; there is the kiss that ends the reading of a self-same love; there is the flash of a dagger that joins them eternally in death. These are the themes for the songs. The artists have done with brush and pencil, what the poets have tried in sonnets and verse. But it is Dante who dominates them everyone.

To me, after tracing in part the development of this Italian tragedy, there remains the charm of Dante’s simplicity, and were one to ask, who, among the moderns, have partially reflected his passion, I should turn to Keats’ insatiable thirst for beauty in his sonnet, “A Dream, After reading Dante’s Episode of Paolo and Francesca,” and his account of it in a letter to George and Georgiana Keats (February 14, 1819), and to Carlyle’s appreciation of tragedy and love, in “The Hero as a Poet.”

Boker’s “Francesca da Rimini” will stand largely because, in structure and in directness, it is strikingly effective for the stage.

[Footnote A: Duyckinck recalls that, in 1862, R.T. Conrad’s “Devotional Poems” were published, edited by Boker.]

[Footnote B: We find a record of Mrs. John Drew having, as _Francesca_, supported Davenport when the play was taken to Philadelphia.]


* * * * *


* * * * *


* * * * *




* * * * *



by G.H. BOKER, Esq., author of “Calaynos,” “Betrothal,” &c called

=Francesca da Rimini=

Will appear in an entirely

* * * * *

This production of a popular and most talented Native Author will be brought forward with the efficient aid of


* * * * *

Will be presented the Tragedy, in five acts, by G.H. BOKER, Esq., entitled




Malatesto, (Lord of Rimini) Mr. Whiting LANCIOTTO {his sons } Mr. E.L. DAVENPORT Paolo { } Mr. Lanergan Pepe, (the Jester) Mr. C. Flaher Rosalvi { } Mr. Walters Malvechi {Young Nobles–companions of Paolo } Mr. Harcourt Civanti { } Mr. Cutter Rene, (a Troubadour) Mr. Vincent Nobles, Soldiers, Pages, Troubadours, Attendants, &c, &c.


Guido da Polenta, (Lord of Ravenna) Mr. Canoll The Cardinal Veechino Mr. Hodges Florensi {Nobles of Malatesto’s Court} Mr. Willet Beppo { } Joraike
Henrico, (Captain of the Guard) Mr. Fordyck Antonio, (A leader of the Forces) Mr. Wright Nobles, Dignitaries of the Church, Soldiers, Pages, Banner Bearers, Messengers, &c.

Francesca da Rimini, (Daughter of Guido) Mme Poniat Ritta, (her attendent) Miss J. Manners

* * * * *


Will appear

* * * * *


Doors open at three quarters past 6 o’clock–Performances will commence an half past 7, precisely.




[Footnote A: The text that follows was compared with Lawrence Barrett’s copy of the second edition, now in the library of The Players, New York. The title page reads: Plays and Poems: | by | George H. Boker | In two volumes | Vol. I | Second Edition | Boston: | Ticknor and Fields. | MDCCCLVII. | | Boker’s copyright, 1856.]


McVicker’s Theatre, Chicago, November 6, 1882

MALATESTA, _Lord of Rimini_ Mr. B.G. Rogers. GUIDO DA POLENTA, _Lord of Ravenna_ Mr. F.C. Mosley. LANCIOTTO, _Malatesta’s son_ Mr. Lawrence Barrett. PAOLO, _His brother_ Mr. Otis Skinner. PEPE,[1] _Malatesta’s jester_ Mr. Louis James. CARDINAL, _Friend to Guido_ Mr. Charles Rolfe. RENE,[1] _A troubadour_ Mr. Percy Winter. FRANCESCA DA RIMINI, _Guido’s daughter_ Miss Marie Wainwright. RITTA, _Her maid_ Miss Rosie Batchelder.

_Lords, Ladies, Knights, Priests, Soldiers, Pages, Attendants, etc._

Grand Opera House, Chicago, August 26, 1901.

MALATESTA, _Lord of Rimini_ Mr. W.J. Constantine. GUIDO DA POLENTA, _Lord of Ravenna_ Mr. E.A. Eberle. LANCIOTTO, _Malatesta’s son_ Mr. Otis Skinner. PAOLO, _His brother_ Mr. Aubrey Boucicault. PEPE, _Malatesta’s jester_ Mr. William Norris. CARDINAL, _Friend to Guido_ Mr. Frederick von Rensselar. RENE, _A troubadour_ Mr. Fletcher Norton. FRANCESCA DA RIMINI, _Guido’s daughter_ Miss Marcia Van Dresser. RITTA, _Her maid_ Miss Gertrude Norman.

_Lords, Ladies, Knights, Priests, Soldiers, Pages, Attendants, etc._ SCENE. _Rimini, Ravenna, and the neighbourhood._ TIME. _About 1300 A.D._

[Footnote 1: In the original edition, the accents in the names of PEPE and RENE are used only in the Dramatis Personae, and not in the body of the book.]



SCENE I. _Rimini. The Garden of the Palace. PAOLO and a number of noblemen are discovered, seated under an arbour, surrounded by RENE, and other troubadours, attendants, &c._

PAOLO. I prithee, Rene, charm our ears again With the same song you sang me yesterday. Here are fresh listeners.

RENE. Really, my good lord, My voice is out of joint. A grievous cold–


PAOLO. A very grievous, but convenient cold, Which always racks you when you would not sing.

RENE. O, no, my lord! Besides, I hoped to hear My ditty warbled into fairer ears,
By your own lips; to better purpose, too.

[_The NOBLEMEN all laugh._

FIRST NOBLEMAN. Rene has hit it. Music runs to waste In ears like ours.

SECOND NOBLEMAN. Nay, nay; chaunt on, sweet Count.

PAOLO. [_Coughing._] Alack! you hear, I’ve caught poor Rene’s cough.

FIRST NOBLEMAN. That would not be, if we wore petticoats.

[_The others laugh._

PAOLO. O, fie!

FIRST NOBLEMAN. So runs the scandal to our ears.

SECOND NOBLEMAN. Confirmed by all our other senses, Count.

FIRST NOBLEMAN. Witnessed by many a doleful sigh, poured out By many a breaking heart in Rimini.


FIRST NOBLEMAN.[_Mimicking a lady._] Sweet Count! sweet Count Paolo! O!
Plant early violets upon my grave!
Thus go a thousand voices to one tune.

[_The others laugh._

PAOLO. ‘Ods mercy! gentlemen, you do me wrong.

FIRST NOBLEMAN. And by how many hundred, more or less?

PAOLO. Ah! rogues, you’d shift your sins upon my shoulders.

SECOND NOBLEMAN. You’d bear them stoutly.

FIRST NOBLEMAN. It were vain to give Drops to god Neptune. You’re the sea of love That swallows all things.

SECOND NOBLEMAN. We the little fish That meanly scull about within your depths.

PAOLO. Goon, goon! Talk yourselves fairly out. [PEPE _laughs without._ But, hark! here comes the fool! Fit company For this most noble company of wits!

[_Enter_ PEPE, _laughing violently._]

Why do you laugh?

PEPE. I’m laughing at the world. It has laughed long enough at me; and so I’ll turn the tables. Ho! ho! ho! I’ve heard A better joke of Uncle Malatesta’s
Than any I e’er uttered. [_Laughing._

ALL. Tell it, fool.

PEPE. Why, do you know–upon my life, the best And most original idea on earth:
A joke to put in practice, too. By Jove! I’ll bet my wit ‘gainst the stupidity
Of the best gentleman among you all, You cannot guess it.

ALL. Tell us, tell us, fool.

PEPE. Guess it, guess it, fools.

PAOLO Come, disclose, disclose!

PEPE. He has a match afoot.–

ALL. A match!

PEPE. A marriage.

ALL. Who?–who?

PEPE. A marriage in his family.

ALL. But, who?

PEPE. Ah! there’s the point.

ALL. Paolo?


FIRST NOBLEMAN. The others are well wived. Shall we turn Turks?

PEPE. Why, there’s the summit of his joke, good sirs. By all the sacred symbols of my art–
By cap and bauble, by my tinkling bell– He means to marry Lanciotto!
[_Laughs violently._

ALL. [Laughing.] Ho!–

PAOLO. Peace! peace! What tongue dare echo yon fool’s laugh? Nay, never raise your hands in wonderment: I’ll strike the dearest friend among ye all Beneath my feet, as if he were a slave,
Who dares insult my brother with a laugh!

PEPE. By Jove! ye’re sad enough. Here’s mirth’s quick cure! Pretty Paolo has a heavy fist,
I warn you, sirs. Ho! ho! I trapped them all; [_Laughing._] Now I’ll go mar old Malatesta’s message. [_Aside._ [_Exit._

PAOLO. Shame on ye, sirs! I have mistaken you. I thought I harboured better friends. Poor fops, Who’ve slept in down and satin all your years, Within the circle Lanciotto charmed
Round Rimini with his most potent sword!– Fellows whose brows would melt beneath a casque, Whose hands would fray to grasp a brand’s rough hilt, Who ne’er launched more than braggart threats at foes!– Girlish companions of luxurious girls!– Danglers round troubadours and wine-cups!–Men Whose best parts are their clothes! bundles of silk, Scented like summer! rag-men, nothing more!– Creatures as generous as monkeys–brave
As hunted hares–courteous as grinning apes– Grateful as serpents–useful as lap-dogs– [_During this, the_ NOBLEMEN, _&c., steal off._] Ha!
I am alone at last! So let me be,
Till Lanciotto fill the vacant room Of these mean knaves, whose friendship is but breath. [_Exit._


_The Same. A Hall in the Castle. Enter_ MALATESTA _and_ LANCIOTTO.

MALATESTA. Guido, ay, Guido of Ravenna, son– Down on his knees, as full of abject prayers For peace and mercy as a penitent.

LANCIOTTO. His old trick, father. While his wearied arm Is raised in seeming prayer, it only rests. Anon, he’ll deal you such a staggering blow, With its recovered strength, as shall convert You, and not him, into a penitent.

MALATESTA. No, no; your last bout levelled him. He reeled Into Ravenna, from the battle-field,
Like a stripped drunkard, and there headlong fell– A mass of squalid misery, a thing
To draw the jeering urchins. I have this From faithful spies. There’s not a hope remains To break the shock of his great overthrow. I pity Guido.

LANCIOTTO. ‘Sdeath! go comfort him!
I pity those who fought, and bled, and died, Before the armies of this Ghibelin.
I pity those who halted home with wounds Dealt by his hand. I pity widowed eyes
That he set running; maiden hearts that turn, Sick with despair, from ranks thinned down by him; Mothers that shriek, as the last stragglers fling Their feverish bodies by the fountain-side, Dumb with mere thirst, and faintly point to him, Answering the dame’s quick questions. I have seen Unburied bones, and skulls–that seemed to ask, From their blank eye-holes, vengeance at my hand– Shine in the moonlight on old battle-fields; And even these–the happy dead, my lord– I pity more than Guido of Ravenna!

MALATESTA. What would you have?

LANCIOTTO. I’d see Ravenna burn, Flame into heaven, and scorch the flying clouds; I’d choke her streets with ruined palaces; I’d hear her women scream with fear and grief, As I have heard the maids of Rimini.
All this I’d sprinkle with old Guido’s blood, And bless the baptism.

MALATESTA. You are cruel.

But these things ache within my fretting brain. The sight I first beheld was from the arms Of my wild nurse, her husband hacked to death By the fierce edges of these Ghibelins.
One cut across the neck–I see it now, Ay, and have mimicked it a thousand times, Just as I saw it, on our enemies.–
Why, that cut seemed as if it meant to bleed On till the judgment. My distracted nurse Stooped down, and paddled in the running gore With her poor fingers; then a prophetess, Pale with the inspiration of the god,
She towered aloft, and with her dripping hand Three times she signed me with the holy cross. Tis all as plain as noon-day. Thus she spake,– “May this spot stand till Guido’s dearest blood Be mingled with thy own!” The soldiers say, In the close battle, when my wrath is up, The dead man’s blood flames on my vengeful brow Like a red planet; and when war is o’er, It shrinks into my brain, defiling all
My better nature with its slaughterous lusts. Howe’er it be, it shaped my earliest thought, And it will shape my last.

MALATESTA. You moody churl!
You dismal knot of superstitious dreams! Do you not blush to empty such a head
Before a sober man? Why, son, the world Has not given o’er its laughing humour yet, That you should try it with such vagaries.–Poh! I’ll get a wife to teach you common sense.

LANCIOTTO. A wife for me! [_Laughing._

MALATESTA. Ay, sir, a wife for you. You shall be married, to insure your wits.

LANCIOTTO. ‘Tis not your wont to mock me.

MALATESTA. How now, son! I am not given to jesting. I have chosen The fairest wife in Italy for you.
You won her bravely, as a soldier should: And when you’d woo her, stretch your gauntlet out, And crush her fingers in its steely grip. If you will plead, I ween, she dare not say– No, by your leave. Should she refuse, howe’er, With that same iron hand you shall go knock Upon Ravenna’s gates, till all the town
Ring with your courtship. I have made her hand The price and pledge of Guido’s future peace.

LANCIOTTO. All this is done!

MALATESTA. Done, out of hand; and now I wait a formal answer, nothing more.
Guido dare not decline. No, by the saints, He’d send Ravenna’s virgins here in droves, To buy a ten days’ truce.

LANCIOTTO. Sir, let me say,
You stretch paternal privilege too far, To pledge my hand without my own consent. Am I a portion of your household stuff,
That you should trade me off to Guido thus? Who is the lady I am bartered for?

MALATESTA. Francesca, Guido’s daughter.–Never frown; It shall be so!

LANCIOTTO. By heaven, it shall not be! My blood shall never mingle with his race.

MALATESTA. According to your nurse’s prophecy, Fate orders it.


MALATESTA. Now, then, I have struck The chord that answers to your gloomy thoughts. Bah! on your sibyl and her prophecy!
Put Guido’s blood aside, and yet, I say, Marry you shall.

LANCIOTTO. ‘Tis most distasteful, sir.

MALATESTA. Lanciotto, look ye! You brave gentlemen, So fond of knocking out poor people’s brains, In time must come to have your own knocked out: What, then, if you bequeath us no new hands, To carry on your business, and our house Die out for lack of princes?

LANCIOTTO. Wed my brothers:
They’ll rear you sons, I’ll slay you enemies. Paolo and Francesca! Note their names;
They chime together like sweet marriage-bells. A proper match. ‘Tis said she’s beautiful; And he is the delight of Rimini,–
The pride and conscious centre of all eyes, The theme of poets, the ideal of art,
The earthly treasury of Heaven’s best gifts! I am a soldier; from my very birth,
Heaven cut me out for terror, not for love. I had such fancies once, but now–

MALATESTA. Pshaw! son,
My faith is bound to Guido; and if you Do not throw off your duty, and defy,
Through sickly scruples, my express commands, You’ll yield at once. No more: I’ll have it so! [_Exit._

LANCIOTTO. Curses upon my destiny! What, I– Ho! I have found my use at last–What, I, I, the great twisted monster of the wars, The brawny cripple, the herculean dwarf, The spur of panic, and the butt of scorn– be a bridegroom! Heaven, was I not cursed More than enough, when thou didst fashion me To be a type of ugliness,–a thing
By whose comparison all Rimini
Holds itself beautiful? Lo! here I stand, A gnarled, blighted trunk! There’s not a knave So spindle-shanked, so wry-faced, so infirm, Who looks at me, and smiles not on himself. And I have friends to pity me–great Heaven! One has a favourite leg that he bewails,– Another sees my hip with doleful plaints,– A third is sorry o’er my huge swart arms,– A fourth aspires to mount my very hump,
And thence harangue his weeping brotherhood! Pah! it is nauseous! Must I further bear The sidelong shuddering glances of a wife? The degradation of a showy love,
That over-acts, and proves the mummer’s craft Untouched by nature? And a fair wife, too!– Francesca, whom the minstrels sing about! Though, by my side, what woman were not fair? Circe looked well among her swine, no doubt; Next me, she’d pass for Venus. Ho! ho! ho! [_Laughing._] Would there were something merry in my laugh! Now, in the battle, if a Ghibelin
Cry, “Wry-hip! hunchback!” I can trample him Under my stallion’s hoofs; or haggle him Into a monstrous likeness of myself:
But to be pitied,–to endure a sting Thrust in by kindness, with a sort of smile!– ‘Sdeath! it is miserable!

[_Enter_ PEPE.

PEPE. My lord–


PEPE. We’ll change our titles when your bride’s bells ring– Ha, cousin?

LANCIOTTO. Even this poor fool has eyes, To see the wretched plight in which I stand. [_Aside._] How, gossip, how?

PEPE. I, being the court-fool,
Am lord of fools by my prerogative.

LANCIOTTO. Who told you of my marriage?

PEPE. Rimini!
A frightful liar; but true for once, I fear. The messenger from Guido has returned,
And the whole town is wailing over him. Some pity you, and some the bride; but I, Being more catholic, I pity both.

LANCIOTTO. Still, pity, pity! [_Aside. Bells toll._] Ha! whose knell is that?

PEPE. Lord Malatesta sent me to the tower, To have the bells rung for your marriage-news. How, he said not; so I, as I thought fit, Told the deaf sexton to ring out a knell. [_Bells toll._] How do you like it?

LANCIOTTO. Varlet, have you bones, To risk their breaking? I have half a mind To thresh you from your motley coat!
[_Seizes him._

PEPE. Pardee!
Respect my coxcomb, cousin. Hark! ha, ha! [_Laughing._] [_Bells ring a joyful peal._] Some one has changed my music. Heaven defend! How the bells jangle. Yonder graybeard, now, Rings a peal vilely. He’s more used to knells, And sounds them grandly. Only give him time, And, I’ll be sworn, he’ll ring your knell out yet.

LANCIOTTO. Pepe, you are but half a fool.

PEPE. My lord,
I can return the compliment in full.

LANCIOTTO. So, you are ready.

PEPE. Truth is always so.

LANCIOTTO. I shook you rudely; here’s a florin. [_Offers money._

My wit is merchandise, but not my honour.

LANCIOTTO. Your honour, sirrah!

PEPE. Why not? You great lords Have something you call lordly honour; pray, May not a fool have foolish honour, too? Cousin, you laid your hand upon my coat– ‘Twas the first sacrilege it ever knew–And you shall pay it. Mark! I promise you.

LANCIOTTO. [_Laughing._] Ha, ha! you bluster well. Upon my life, You have the tilt-yard jargon to a breath. Pepe, if I should smite you on the cheek– Thus, gossip, thus–[_Strikes him._] what would you then demand?

PEPE. Your life!

LANCIOTTO. [_Laughing._] Ha, ha! there is the camp-style, too, A very cut-throat air! How this shrewd fool Makes the punctilio of honour show!
Change helmets into coxcombs, swords to baubles, And what a figure is poor chivalry!
Thanks for your lesson, Pepe.

PEPE. Ere I’m done,
You’ll curse as heartily, you limping beast! Ha! so we go–Lord Lanciotto, look!
[_Walks about, mimicking him._] Here is a leg and camel-back, forsooth,
To match your honour and nobility!
You miscreated scarecrow, dare you shake, Or strike in jest, a natural man like me?– You cursed lump, you chaos of a man,
To buffet one whom Heaven pronounces good! [_Bells ring._] There go the bells rejoicing over you:
I’ll change them back to the old knell again. You marry, faugh! Beget a race of elves; Wed a she-crocodile, and keep within
The limits of your nature! Here we go, Tripping along to meet our promised bride, Like a rheumatic elephant!–ha, ha! [_Laughing._

[_Exit, mimicking_ LANCIOTTO.


_The Same. A Room in the Same. Enter_ LANCIOTTO, _hastily._

LANCIOTTO. Why do these prodigies environ me? In ancient Rome, the words a fool might drop, From the confusion of his vagrant thoughts, Were held as omens, prophecies; and men
Who made earth tremble with majestic deeds, Trembled themselves at fortune’s lightest threat. I like it not. My father named this match While I boiled over with vindictive wrath Towards Guido and Ravenna. Straight my heart Sank down like lead; a weakness seized on me, A dismal gloom that I could not resist;
I lacked the power to take my stand, and say– Bluntly, I will not! Am I in the toils?
Has fate so weakened me, to work its end? There seems a fascination in it, too,–
A morbid craving to pursue a thing
Whose issue may be fatal. Would that I Were in the wars again! These mental weeds Grow on the surface of inactive peace.
I’m haunted by myself. Thought preys on thought. My mind seems crowded in the hideous mould That shaped my body. What a fool am I
To bear the burden of my wretched life, To sweat and toil under the world’s broad eye, Climb into fame, and find myself–O, what?– A most conspicuous monster! Crown my head, Pile Caesar’s purple on me–and what then? My hump shall shorten the imperial robe, My leg peep out beneath the scanty hem,
My broken hip shall twist the gown awry; And pomp, instead of dignifying me,
Shall be by me made quite ridiculous. The faintest coward would not bear all this: Prodigious courage must be mine, to live; To die asks nothing but weak will, and I Feel like a craven. Let me skulk away
Ere life o’ertask me. [_Offers to stab himself._

_Enter_ PAOLO.

PAOLO. [_Seizing his hand._] Brother! what is this? Lanciotto, are you mad? Kind Heaven! look here– Straight in my eyes. Now answer, do you know How near you were to murder? Dare you bend Your wicked hand against a heart I love? Were it for you to mourn your wilful death, With such a bitterness as would be ours, The wish would ne’er have crossed you. While we’re bound Life into life, a chain of loving hearts, Were it not base in you, the middle link, To snap, and scatter all? Shame, brother, shame! I thought you better metal.

LANCIOTTO. Spare your words.
I know the seasons of our human grief, And can predict them without almanac.
A few sobs o’er the body, and a few Over the coffin; then a sigh or two,
Whose windy passage dries the hanging tear; Perchance, some wandering memories, some regrets; Then a vast influx of consoling thoughts– Based on the trials of the sadder days
Which the dead missed; and then a smiling face Turned on to-morrow. Such is mortal grief. It writes its histories within a span,
And never lives to read them.

PAOLO. Lanciotto,
I heard the bells of Rimini, just now, Exulting o’er your coming marriage-day,
While you conspired to teach them gloomier sounds. Why are you sad?

LANCIOTTO. Paolo, I am wretched;
Sad’s a faint word. But of my marriage-bells– Heard you the knell that Pepe rang?

PAOLO. ‘Twas strange:
A sullen antic of his crabbed wit.

LANCIOTTO. It was portentous. All dumb things find tongues Against this marriage. As I passed the hall, My armour glittered on the wall, and I
Paused by the harness, as before a friend Whose well-known features slack our hurried gait; Francesca’s name was fresh upon my mind, So I half-uttered it. Instant, my sword
Leaped from its scabbard, as with sudden life, Plunged down and pierced into the oaken floor, Shivering with fear! Lo! while I gazed upon it– Doubting the nature of the accident–
Around the point appeared a spot of blood, Oozing upon the floor, that spread and spread– As I stood gasping by in speechless horror– Ring beyond ring, until the odious tide
Crawled to my feet, and lapped them, like the tongues Of angry serpents! O, my God! I fled
At the first touch of the infernal stain! Go–you may see–go to the hall!

PAOLO. Fie! man,
You have been ever played on in this sort By your wild fancies. When your heart is high, You make them playthings; but in lower moods, They seem to sap the essence of your soul, And drain your manhood to its poorest dregs.

LANCIOTTO. Go look, go look!

PAOLO. [_Goes to the door, and returns._] There sticks the sword, indeed, Just as your tread detached it from its sheath; Looking more like a blessed cross, I think, Than a bad looking omen. As for blood–Ha, ha! [_Laughing._] It sets mine dancing. Pshaw! away with this! Deck up your face with smiles. Go trim yourself For the young bride. New velvet, gold, and gems, Do wonders for us. Brother, come; I’ll be Your tiring-man, for once.

LANCIOTTO. Array this lump–
Paolo, hark! There are some human thoughts Best left imprisoned in the aching heart, Lest the freed malefactors should dispread Infamous ruin with their liberty.
There’s not a man–the fairest of ye all– Who is not fouler than he seems. This life Is one unending struggle to conceal
Our baseness from our fellows. Here stands one In vestal whiteness with a lecher’s lust;– There sits a judge, holding law’s scales in hands That itch to take the bribe he dare not touch;– Here goes a priest with heavenward eyes, whose soul Is Satan’s council-chamber;–there a doctor, With nature’s secrets wrinkled round a brow Guilty with conscious ignorance;–and here A soldier rivals Hector’s bloody deeds– Out-does the devil in audacity–
With craven longings fluttering in a heart That dares do aught but fly! Thus are we all Mere slaves and alms-men to a scornful world, That takes us at our seeming.

PAOLO. Say ’tis true;
What do you drive at?

LANCIOTTO. At myself, full tilt. I, like the others, am not what I seem.
Men call me gentle, courteous, brave.–They lie! I’m harsh, rude, and a coward. Had I nerve To cast my devils out upon the earth,
I’d show this laughing planet what a hell Of envy, malice, cruelty, and scorn,
It has forced back to canker in the heart Of one poor cripple!


LANCIOTTO. Ay, now ’tis out!
A word I never breathed to man before. Can you, who are a miracle of grace,
Feel what it is to be a wreck like me? Paolo, look at me. Is there a line,
In my whole bulk of wretched contraries, That nature in a nightmare ever used
Upon her shapes till now? Find me the man, Or beast, or tree, or rock, or nameless thing, So out of harmony with all things else,
And I’ll go raving with bare happiness,– Ay, and I’ll marry Helena of Greece,
And swear I do her honour!

PAOLO. Lanciotto,
I, who have known you from a stripling up, Never observed, or, if I did, ne’er weighed Your special difference from the rest of men. You’re not Apollo–


PAOLO. Nor yet are you
A second Pluto. Could I change with you– My graces for your nobler qualities–
Your strength, your courage, your renown–by heaven, We’d e’en change persons, to the finest hair.

LANCIOTTO. You should be flatterer to an emperor.

PAOLO. I am but just. Let me beseech you, brother. To look with greater favour on yourself; Nor suffer misty phantoms of your brain
To take the place of sound realities. Go to Ravenna, wed your bride, and lull
Your cruel delusions in domestic peace. Ghosts fly a fireside; ’tis their wont to stalk Through empty houses, and through empty hearts. I know Francesca will be proud of you.
Women admire you heroes. Rusty sages, Pale poets, and scarred warriors, have been Their idols ever; while we fair plump fools Are elbowed to the wall, or only used
For vacant pastime.

LANCIOTTO. To Ravenna?–no!
In Rimini they know me; at Ravenna
I’d be a new-come monster, and exposed To curious wonder. There will be parade
Of all the usual follies of the state; Fellows with trumpets, tinselled coats, and wands, Would strut before me, like vain mountebanks Before their monkeys. Then, I should be stared Out of my modesty; and when they look,
How can I tell if ’tis the bridegroom’s face Or hump that draws their eyes? I will not go. To please you all, I’ll marry; but to please The wonder-mongers of Ravenna–Ha!
Paolo, now I have it. You shall go, To bring Francesca; and you’ll speak of me, Not as I ought to be, but as I am.
If she draw backward, give her rein; and say That neither Guido-nor herself shall feel The weight of my displeasure. You may say, I pity her–

PAOLO. For what?

LANCIOTTO. For wedding me.
In sooth, she’ll need it. Say–

PAOLO. Nay, Lanciotto,
I’ll be a better orator in your behalf, Without your promptings.

LANCIOTTO. She is fair, ’tis said; And, dear Paolo, if she please your eye, And move your heart to anything like love, Wed her yourself. The peace would stand as firm By such a match.

PAOLO. [_Laughing._] Ha! that is right: be gay! Ply me with jokes! I’d rather see you smile Than see the sun shine.

LANCIOTTO. I am serious.
I’ll find another wife, less beautiful, More on my level, and–

PAOLO. An empress, brother,
Were honoured by your hand. You are by much Too humble in your reckoning of yourself. I can count virtues in you, to supply
Half Italy, if they were parcelled out. Look up!

LANCIOTTO. I cannot: Heaven has bent me down. To you, Paolo, I could look, however,
Were my hump made a mountain. Bless him, God! Pour everlasting bounties on his head!
Make Croesus jealous of his treasury, Achilles of his arms, Endymion
Of his fresh beauties,–though the coy one lay, Blushing beneath Diana’s earliest kiss,
On grassy Latmos; and may every good, Beyond man’s sight, though in the ken of heaven, Round his fair fortune to a perfect end! O, you have dried the sorrow of my eyes; My heart is beating with a lighter pulse; The air is musical; the total earth
Puts on new beauty, and within the arms Of girding ocean dreams her time away,
And visions bright to-morrows!

_Enter_ MALATESTA _and_ PEPE.

MALATESTA. Mount, to horse!

PEPE. [_Aside._] Good Lord! he’s smiling! What’s the matter now? Has anybody broken a leg or back?
Has a more monstrous monster come to life? Is hell burst open?–heaven burnt up? What, what Can make yon eyesore grin?–I say, my lord, What cow has calved?

PAOLO. Your mother, by the bleat.

PEPE. Right fairly answered–for a gentleman! When did you take my trade up?

PAOLO. When your wit
Went begging, sirrah.

PEPE. Well again! My lord,
I think he’ll do.

MALATESTA. For what?

PEPE. To take my place.
Once fools were rare, and then my office sped; But now the world is overrun with them:
One gets one’s fool in one’s own family, Without much searching.

MALATESTA. Pepe, gently now.
Lanciotto, you are waited for. The train Has passed the gate, and halted there for you.

LANCIOTTO. I go not to Ravenna.

MALATESTA. Hey! why not?

PAOLO. For weighty reasons, father. Will you trust Your greatest captain, hope of all the Guelfs, With crafty Guido? Should the Ghibelins
Break faith, and shut Lanciotto in their walls– Sure the temptation would be great enough– What would you do?

MALATESTA. I’d eat Ravenna up!

PEPE. Lord! what an appetite!

PAOLO. But Lanciotto
Would be a precious hostage.

MALATESTA. True; you’re wise; Guido’s a fox. Well, have it your own way. What is your plan?

PAOLO. I go there in his place.

MALATESTA. Good! I will send a letter with the news.

LANCIOTTO. I thank you, brother. [_Apart to PAOLO._

PEPE. Ha! ha! ha!–O! O! [_Laughing._

MALATESTA. Pepe, what now?

PEPE. O! lord, O!–ho! ho! ho! [_Laughing._

PAOLO. Well, giggler?

PEPE. Hear my fable, uncle.


PEPE. Once on a time, Vulcan sent Mercury To fetch dame Venus from a romp in heaven. Well, they were long in coming, as he thought; And so the god of spits and gridirons
Railed like himself–the devil. But–now mark– Here comes the moral. In a little while, Vulcan grew proud, because he saw plain signs That he should be a father; and so he
Strutted through hell, and pushed the devils by, Like a magnifico of Venice. Ere long,
His heir was born; but then–ho! ho!–the brat Had wings upon his heels, and thievish ways, And a vile squint, like errant Mercury’s, Which honest Vulcan could not understand;– Can you?

PAOLO. ‘Sdeath! fool, I’ll have you in the stocks. Father, your fool exceeds his privilege.

PEPE. [_Apart to_ PAOLO.] Keep your own bounds, Paolo. In the stocks I’d tell more fables than you’d wish to hear. And so ride forth. But, cousin, don’t forget To take Lanciotto’s picture to the bride. Ask her to choose between it and yourself. I’ll count the moments, while she hesitates, And not grow gray at it.

PAOLO. Peace, varlet, peace!

PEPE. [_Apart to him._] Ah, now I have it. There’s an elephant Upon the scutcheon; show her that, and say– Here’s Lanciotto in our heraldry!

PAOLO. Here’s for your counsel!
[_Strikes_ PEPE, _who runs behind MALATESTA._

MALATESTA. Son, son, have a care! We who keep pets must bear their pecks sometimes. Poor knave! Ha! ha! thou’rt growing villainous! [_Laughs and pats PEPE._

PEPE. Another blow! another life for that! [_Aside._

PAOLO. Farewell, Lanciotto. You are dull again.

LANCIOTTO. Nature will rule.

MALATESTA. Come, come!

LANCIOTTO. God speed you, brother! I am too sad; my smiles all turn to sighs.

PAOLO. More cause to haste me on my happy work. [_Exit with_ MALATESTA.

PEPE. I’m going, cousin.


PEPE. Pray, ask me where.

LANCIOTTO. Where, then?

PEPE. To have my jewel carried home: And, as I’m wise, the carrier shall be
A thief, a thief, by Jove! The fashion’s new. [_Exit._

LANCIOTTO. In truth, I am too gloomy and irrational. Paolo must be right. I always had
These moody hours and dark presentiments, Without mischances following after them. The camp is my abode. A neighing steed,
A fiery onset, and a stubborn fight, Rouse my dull blood, and tire my body down To quiet slumbers when the day is o’er,
And night above me spreads her spangled tent, Lit by the dying cresset of the moon.
Ay, that is it; I’m homesick for the camp. [_Exit._


SCENE I. _Ravenna. A Room in_ GUIDO’S _Palace. Enter_ GUIDO _and a_ CARDINAL.

CARDINAL. I warn thee, Count.

GUIDO. I’ll take the warning, father, On one condition: show me but a way
For safe escape.

CARDINAL. I cannot.

GUIDO. There’s the point.
We Ghibelins are fettered hand and foot. There’s not a florin in my treasury;
Not a lame soldier, I can lead to war; Not one to man the walls. A present siege, Pushed with the wonted heat of Lanciotto, Would deal Ravenna such a mortal blow
As ages could not mend. Give me but time To fill the drained arteries of the land. The Guelfs are masters, we their slaves; and we Were wiser to confess it, ere the lash
Teach it too sternly. It is well for you To say you love Francesca. So do I;
But neither you nor I have any voice For or against this marriage.

CARDINAL. ‘Tis too true.