were not Shakspeare’s. In this case, we might well ask them to point out the other works of the unknown author, who was capable of inventing, among many others, the noble death-scenes of Talbot, Suffolk, Beaufort, and York. The assertion is so ridiculous, that in this case _Richard the Third_ might also not be Shakspeare’s, as it is linked in the most immediate manner to the three other pieces, both by the subject, and the spirit and style of handling.
All the editors, with the exception of Capell, are unanimous in rejecting _Titus Andronicus_ as unworthy of Shakspeare, though they always allow it to be printed with the other pieces, as the scape-goat, as it were, of their abusive criticism. The correct method in such an investigation is first to examine into the external grounds, evidences, &c., and to weigh their value; and then to adduce the internal reasons derived from the quality of the work. The critics of Shakspeare follow a course directly the reverse of this; they set out with a preconceived opinion against a piece, and seek, in justification of this opinion, to render the historical ground suspicious, and to set them aside. Now _Titus Andronicus_ is to be found in the first folio edition of Shakspeare’s works, which it is known was published by Heminge and Condell, for many years his friends and fellow-managers of the same theatre. Is it possible to persuade ourselves that they would not have known if a piece in their repertory did or did not really belong to Shakspeare? And are we to lay to the charge of these honourable men an intentional fraud in this single case, when we know that they did not show themselves so very desirous of scraping everything together which went by the name of Shakspeare, but, as it appears, merely gave those plays of which they had manuscripts in hand? Yet the following circumstance is still stronger. George Meres, a contemporary and admirer of Shakspeare, in an enumeration of his works, mentions _Titus Andronicus_, in the year 1598. Meres was personally acquainted with the poet, and so very intimately, that the latter read over to him his sonnets before they were printed. I cannot conceive that all the critical scepticism in the world would ever be able to get over such a testimony.
This tragedy, it is true, is framed according to a false idea of the tragic, which by an accumulation of cruelties and enormities, degenerates into the horrible, and yet leaves no deep impression behind: the story of Tereus and Philomela is heightened and overcharged under other names, and mixed up with the repast of Atreus and Thyestes, and many other incidents. In detail there is no want of beautiful lines, bold images, nay, even features which betray the peculiar conception of Shakspeare. Among these we may reckon the joy of the treacherous Moor at the blackness and ugliness of his adulterous offspring; and in the compassion of Titus Andronicus, grown childish through grief, for a fly which had been struck dead, while his rage afterwards, when he imagines he discovers in it his black enemy, we recognize the future poet of _Lear_. Are the critics afraid that Shakspeare’s fame would be injured, were it established that in his early youth he ushered into the world a feeble and immature work? Was Rome the less the conqueror of the world, because Remus could leap over its first walls? Let any one place himself in Shakspeare’s situation at the commencement of his career. He found only a few indifferent models, and yet these met with the most favourable reception, because in the novelty of an art, men are never difficult to please, before their taste has been made fastidious by choice and abundance. Must not this situation have had its influence on him before he learned to make higher demands on himself, and by digging deeper in his own mind, discovered the rich veins of noble metal that ran there? It is even highly probable that he must have made several failures before he succeeded in getting into the right path. Genius is in a certain sense infallible, and has nothing to learn; but art is to be learned, and must be acquired by practice and experience. In Shakspeare’s acknowledged works we find hardly any traces of his apprenticeship, and yet apprenticeship he certainly had. This every artist must have, and especially in a period where he has not before him the examples of a school already formed. I consider it as extremely probable that Shakspeare began to write for the theatre at a much earlier period than the one which is generally stated, namely, after the year 1590. It appears that, as early as the year 1584, when only twenty years of age, he had left his paternal home and repaired to London. Can we imagine that such an active head would remain idle for six whole years without making any attempt to emerge by his talents from an uncongenial situation? That in the dedication of the poem of _Venus and Adonis_ he calls it “the first heir of his invention,” proves nothing against the supposition. It was the first which he printed; he might have composed it at an earlier period; perhaps, also, in this term, “heirs of his invention,” he did not indulge theatrical labours, especially as they then conferred but little to his literary dignity. The earlier Shakspeare began to compose for the theatre, the less are we enabled to consider the immaturity and imperfection of a work a proof of its spuriousness in opposition to historical evidence, if only we can discern in it prominent features of his mind. Several of the works rejected as spurious, may still have been produced in the period betwixt _Titus Andronicus_, and the earliest of the acknowledged pieces.
At last, in two supplementary volumes, Steevens published seven pieces ascribed to Shakspeare. It is to be remarked, that they all appeared in print in Shakspeare’s life-time, with his name prefixed at full length. They are the following:–
1. _Lochrine._ The proofs of the genuineness of this piece are not altogether unambiguous; the grounds for doubt, on the other hand, are entitled to attention. However, this question is immediately connected with that respecting _Titus Andronicus_, and must with it be resolved in the affirmative or negative.
2. _Pericles, Prince of Tyre._ This piece was acknowledged by Dryden to be a work, but a youthful work of Shakspeare’s. It is most undoubtedly his, and it has been admitted into several late editions of his works. The supposed imperfections originate in the circumstance, that Shakspeare here handled a childish and extravagant romance of the old poet Gower, and was unwilling to drag the subject out of its proper sphere. Hence he even introduces Gower himself, and makes him deliver a prologue in his own antiquated language and versification. This power of assuming so foreign a manner is at least no proof of helplessness.
3. _The London Prodigal._ If we are not mistaken, Lessing pronounced this piece to be Shakspeare’s, and wished to bring it on the German stage.
4. _The Puritan; or The Widow of Wailing Street._ One of my literary friends, intimately acquainted with Shakspeare, was of opinion that the poet must have wished for once to write a play in the style of Ben Jonson, and that in this way we must account for the difference between the present piece and his usual manner. To follow out this idea, however, would lead to a long and very nice critical investigation.
5. _Thomas Lord Cromwell._
6. _Sir John Oldcastle._–First part.
7. _A Yorkshire Tragedy._
The three last pieces are not only unquestionably Shakspeare’s, but in my opinion they deserve to be classed among his best and maturest works. Steevens at last admits, in some degree, that they, as well as the rest, except _Lochrine_, are Shakspeare’s, but he speaks of all of them with great contempt, as worthless productions. His condemnatory sentence is not, however, in the slightest degree convincing, nor is it supported by much critical acumen. I should like to see how such a critic would, of his own natural suggestion, have decided on Shakspeare’s acknowledged master-pieces, and how much he would have thought of praising in them, had not the public opinion already imposed on him the duty of admiration. _Thomas Lord Cromwell_ and _Sir John Oldcastle_ are biographical dramas, and in this species they are models: the first, by its subject, attaches itself to _Henry the Eighth_, and the second to _Henry the Fifth_. The second part of _Sir John Oldcastle_ is wanting; I know not whether a copy of the old edition has been discovered in England, or whether it is lost. _The Yorkshire Tragedy_ is a tragedy in one act, a dramatised tale of murder: the tragical effect is overpowering, and it is extremely important to see how poetically Shakspeare could handle such a subject.
Still farther, there have been ascribed to him, 1st. _The Merry Devil of Edmonton_, a comedy in one act, printed in Dodsley’s Collection of Old Plays. This has, certainly, some appearance in its favour. It contains a merry landlord, who bears great similarity to the one in _The Merry Wives of Windsor_. However, at all events, though a clever, it is but a hasty sketch. 2nd. _The Arraignment of Paris_. 3rd. _The Birth of Merlin_. 4th. _Edward the Third_. 5th. _The Fair Em_. (Emma). 6th. _Mucedorus_. 7th. _Arden of Feversham_. I have never seen any of these, and cannot therefore say anything respecting them. From the passages cited, I am led to conjecture that the subject of _Mucedorus_ is the popular story of Valentine and Orson: a beautiful subject which Lope de Vega has also taken for a play. _Arden of Feversham_ is said to be a tragedy on the story of a man from whom the poet descended by the mother’s side. This circumstance, if the quality of the piece be not too directly at variance with its supposed authorship, would afford an additional probability in its favour. For such motives were not without their influence on Shakspeare: thus he treated with a manifest partiality, Henry VII., who had bestowed lands on his forefathers for services performed by them.
Of Shakspeare’s share in _The Two Noble Cousins_, it will be the time to speak when I come to mention Fletcher’s works.
It would be very instructive, if it could be proved that several earlier attempts of works, afterwards re-written, proceeded from himself, and not from an unknown author. We should thus be best enabled to trace his development as an artist. Of the older _King John_, in two parts, (printed by Steevens among six old plays,) this might probably be made out. That he sometimes returned to an old piece is certain. With respect to _Hamlet_, for instance, it is well known, that it was very gradually formed by him to its present perfect state.
Whoever takes from Shakspeare a play early ascribed to him, and confessedly belonging to his time, is certainly bound to answer, with some degree of probability, this question: who then wrote it? Shakspeare’s competitors in the dramatic walk are pretty well known, and if those of them who have even acquired a considerable reputation, a Lilly, a Marlow, a Heywood, are still very far below him, we can hardly imagine that the author of a work, which rises so high beyond theirs, could have remained unknown.
Two periods of the English Theatre: the first the most important–The first conformation of the Stage, and its advantages–State of the Histrionic Art in Shakspeare’s time–Antiquities of Dramatic Literature– Lilly, Marlow, Heywood–Ben Jonson–Criticism of his Works–Masques– Beaumont and Fletcher–General characterization of these Poets, and remarks on some of their Pieces–Massinger and other contemporaries of Charles the First.
The great master of whom we have spoken in the preceding Lecture, forms so singular an exception to the whole history of art, that we are compelled to assign a particular place to him. He owed hardly anything to his predecessors, and he has had the greatest influence on his successors: but no man has yet learned from him his secret. For two whole centuries, during which his countrymen have diligently employed themselves in the cultivation of every branch of science and art, according to their own confession, he has not only never yet been surpassed, but has left every dramatic poet at a great distance behind him.
In the sketch of a history of the English theatre which I am now to give, I shall be frequently obliged to return to Shakspeare. The dramatic literature of the English is very rich; they can boast of a large number of dramatic poets, who possessed in an eminent degree the talent of original characterization, and the knowledge of theatrical effect. Their hands were not shackled by prejudices, by arbitrary rules, and by the anxious observance of so-called proprieties. There has never been in England an academical court of taste; in art, as in life, every man there gives his voice for what best pleases him, or what is most suitable to his nature. Notwithstanding this liberty, their writers have not, however, been able to escape the influence either of varying modes, or of the spirit of different ages.
We shall here remain true to our principle of merely dwelling at length on what we consider as the highest efforts of poetry, and of taking brief views of all that occupies but the second or third place.
The antiquities of the English theatre have been sufficiently illustrated by the English writers, and especially by Malone. The earliest dramatic attempts were here as well as elsewhere Mysteries and Moralities. However it would seem that in these productions the English distinguished themselves at an earlier period than other nations. In the History of the Council of Constance it is recorded that the English prelates, in one of the intervals between the sittings, entertained their brethren with a spiritual play in Latin, such as the latter were either entirely unacquainted with, or at least in such perfection, (as perfection was understood by the simple ideas of art of those times). The beginning of a theatre, properly so called, cannot, however, be placed farther back than the reign of Elizabeth. John Heywood, the buffoon of Henry VIII. is considered as the oldest comic writer: the single _Interlude_ under his name, published in Dodsley’s collection, is in fact merely a dialogue, and not a drama. But _Gammer Gurton’s Needle_, which was first acted about the year 1560, certainly deserves the name of a comedy. However antiquated in language and versification, it possesses unequivocal merit in the low comic. The whole plot turns on a lost needle, the search for which is pursued with the utmost assiduity: the poverty of the persons of the drama, which this supposes, and the whole of their domestic condition, is very amusingly portrayed, and the part of a cunning beggar especially is drawn with much humour. The coarse comic of this piece bears a resemblance to that of the _Avocat Patelin_; yet the English play has not, like the French, been honoured with a revival on the stage in a new shape.
The history of the English theatre divides itself naturally into two periods. The first begins nearly with the accession of Elizabeth, and extends to about the end of the reign of Charles I., when the Puritans gained the ascendency, and effected the prohibition of all plays whatsoever. The closing of the theatres lasted thirteen years; and they were not again opened till the restoration of Charles II. This interruption, the change which had taken place in the mean time on the general way of thinking and in manners, and lastly, the influence of the French literature which was then flourishing, gave quite a different character to the plays subsequently written. The works of the older school were indeed in part sought out, but the school itself was extinct. I apply the term of a “school” to the dramatical poets of the first aera, in the same sense as it is taken in art, for with all their personal differences we may still perceive on the whole a common character in their productions. Independently of the language or contemporary allusions, we should never be disposed to take a play of that school, though ignorant of its author, and the date of its production, for a work of the more modern period. The latter period admits of many subdivisions, but with these, however, we may dispense. The talents of the authors, and the taste of the public, have fluctuated in every possible way; foreign influence has gained more and more the ascendency, and (to express myself without circumlocution,) the English theatre has in its progress become more and more destitute of character and independence. For a critic, who everywhere seeks originality, troubling himself little about what has arisen from the following or the avoiding of imitation, the dramatic poets of the first period are by far the most important, although, with the exception of Shakspeare, they may be reproached with great defects and extravagances, and although many of the moderns are distinguished for a more careful polish.
There are times when the human mind all at once makes gigantic strides in an art previously almost unknown, as if during its long sleep it had been collecting strength for the effort. The age of Elizabeth was in England such an epoch for dramatic poetry. This queen, during her long reign, witnessed the first infantine attempts of the English theatre, and its most masterly productions. Shakspeare had a lively feeling of this general and rapid development of qualities not before called into exercise; in one of his sonnets he calls his age, _these time-lettering days_. The predilection for the theatre was so great, that in a period of sixty years, under this and the following reign, seventeen play-houses were built or fitted up in London, whereas the capital of the present day, with twice the population, [Footnote: The author might almost have said six times.–TRANS.] is satisfied with two. No doubt they did not act every day, and several of these theatres were very small, and probably not much better fitted up than Marionette booths. However, they served to call forth the fertility of those writers who possessed, or supposed that they possessed, dramatic talents; for every theatre must have had its peculiar repertory, as the pieces were either not printed at all, or at least not till long after their composition, and as a single theatrical company was in the exclusive possession of the manuscripts. However many of feeble and lame productions might have been called forth, still it was impossible that such an extensive competition should not have been advantageous. Of all the different species of poetry the dramatic is the only one in which experience is necessary: and the failure of others is, for the man of talents, an experiment at their expense. Moreover, the exercise of this art requires vigorous determination, to which the great artist is often the least inclined, as in the execution he finds the greatest difficulty in satisfying himself; while, on the other hand, his greatest enjoyment consists in embodying in his own mind the beloved creation of his imagination. It is therefore fortunate for him when the bolder forwardness of those who, with trifling means, venture on this difficult career stimulates him to put fresh hand to the work. Further, it is of importance to the dramatic poet to be connected immediately with the stage, that he may either himself guide it, or learn to accommodate himself to its wants; and the dramatic poets of that day were, for the most part, also players. The theatre still made small claims to literature, and it thus escaped the pedantry of scholastic learning. There were as yet no periodical writings which, as the instrument of cabal, could mislead opinion. Of jealousies, indeed, and bickerings among the authors there was no want: this, however, was more a source of amusement than of displeasure to the public, who decided without prejudice or partiality according to the amount of entertainment. The poets and players, as well as the spectators, possessed in general the most essential requisite of success: a true love for the business. This was the more unquestionable, as the theatrical art was not then surrounded with all those foreign ornaments and inventions of luxury which serve to distract the attention and corrupt the sense, but made its appearance in the most modest, and we may well say in the most humble shape. For the admirers of Shakspeare it must be an object of curiosity to know what was the appearance of the theatre in which his works were first performed. We have an engraving of the play-house of which he was manager, and which, from the symbol of a Hercules supplying the place of Atlas, was called the Globe: it is a massive structure destitute of architectural ornaments, and almost without windows in the outward walls. The pit was open to the sky, and the acting was by day-light; the scene had no other decoration than wrought tapestry, which hung at some distance from the walls, and left space for several entrances. In the back-ground of the stage there was a second stage raised above it, a sort of balcony, which served for various purposes, and according to circumstances signified all manner of things. The players appeared, excepting on a few rare occasions, in the dress of their time, or at most distinguished by higher feathers on their hats and roses on their shoes. The chief means of disguise were false hair and beards, and occasionally also masks. The female parts were played by boys so long as their voice allowed it. Two companies of actors in London consisted entirely of boys, namely, the choir of the Queen’s Chapel and that of St. Paul’s. Betwixt the acts it was not customary to have music, but in the pieces themselves marches, dances, solo songs, and the like, were introduced on fitting occasions, and trumpet flourishes at the entrance of great personages. In the more early time it was usual to represent the action before it was spoken, in silent pantomime (_dumb show_) between each act, allegorically or even without any disguise, to give a definite direction to the expectation. Shakspeare has observed this practice in the play in _Hamlet_.
By the present lavish appliance of every theatrical accessory;–of architecture, lighting, music, the illusion of decorations changing in a moment as if by enchantment, machinery and costume;–by all this, we are now so completely spoiled, that this earlier meagreness of stage decoration will in no wise satisfy us. Much, however, might be urged in favour of such a constitution of the theatre. Where the spectators are not allured by any splendid accessories, they will be the more difficult to please in the main thing, namely, the excellence of the dramatic composition, and its embodying by delivery and action. When perfection is not attainable in external decoration, the critic will rather altogether overlook it than be disturbed by its deficiencies and tastelessness. And how seldom has perfection been here attained! It is about a century and a half since attention began to be paid to the observance of costume on the European stage; what with this view has been accomplished has always appeared excellent to the multitude, and yet, to judge from the engravings which sometimes accompany the printed plays, and from every other evidence, it is plain that it was always characterized by puerility and mannerism, and that in none the endeavours to assume a foreign or antique appearance, could shake themselves free of the fashions of the time. A sort of hoop was long considered as an indispensable appendage of a hero; the long peruques and _fontanges_, or topknots, kept their ground in heroical tragedy as long as in real life; afterwards it would have been considered as barbarous to appear without powdered and frizzled hair; on this was placed a helmet with variegated feathers; a taffeta scarf fluttered over the gilt paper coat of mail; and the Achilles or Alexander was then completely mounted. We have now at last returned to a purer taste, and in some great theatres the costume is actually observed in a learned and severe style. We owe this principally to the antiquarian reform in the arts of design, and the approximation of the female dress to the Grecian; for the actresses were always the most inveterate in retaining on the stage those fashions by which they turned their charms to account in society. However, even yet there are very few players who know how to wear a Grecian purple mantle, or a toga, in a natural and becoming manner; and who, in moments of passion, do not seem to be unduly occupied with holding and tossing about their drapery.
Our system of decoration was properly invented for the opera, to which it is also in reality best adapted. It has several unavoidable defects; others which certainly may be, but seldom are avoided. Among the inevitable defects I reckon the breaking of the lines in the side scenes from every point of view except one; the disproportion between the size of the player when he appears in the background, and the objects as diminished in the perspective; the unfavourable lighting from below and behind; the contrast between the painted and the actual lights and shades; the impossibility of narrowing the stage at pleasure, so that the inside of a palace and a hut have the same length and breadth, &c. The errors which may be avoided are, want of simplicity and of great and reposing masses; overloading the scenery with superfluous and distracting objects, either from the painter being desirous of showing his strength in perspective, or not knowing how otherwise to fill up the space; an architecture full of mannerism, often altogether unconnected, nay, even at variance with possibility, coloured in a motley manner which resembles no species of stone in the world. Most scene-painters owe their success entirely to the spectator’s ignorance of the arts of design; I have often seen a whole pit enchanted with a decoration from which the eye of skill must have turned away with disgust, and in whose place a plain green wall would have been infinitely better. A vitiated taste for splendour of decoration and magnificence of dress, has rendered the arrangement of the theatre a complicated and expensive business, whence it frequently happens that the main requisites, good pieces and good players, are considered as secondary matters; but this is an inconvenience which it is here unnecessary to mention.
Although the earlier English stage had properly no decorations, we must allow, however, that it was not altogether destitute of machinery: without it, it is almost impossible to conceive how several pieces, for instance, _Macbeth_, _The Tempest_, and others, could ever be represented. The celebrated architect, Inigo Jones, who lived in the reign of James the First, put in motion very complicated and artificial machines for the decoration of the Masques of Ben Jonson which were acted at court.
With the Spanish theatre at the time of its formation, it was the same as with the English, and when the stage had remained a moment empty, and other persons came in by another entrance, a change of scene was to be supposed though none was visible; and this circumstance had the most favourable influence on the form of the dramas. The poet was not obliged to consult the scene-painter to know what could or what could not be represented; nor to calculate whether the store of decorations on hand were sufficient, or new ones would be requisite: he was not driven to impose restraint on the action as to change of times and places, but represented it entirely as it would naturally have taken place: [Footnote: Capell, an intelligent commentator on Shakspeare, unjustly underrated by the others, has placed the advantages in this respect in the clearest light, in an observation on _Antony and Cleopatra_. It emboldened the poet, when the truth of the action required it, to plan scenes which the most skilful mechanist and scene-painter could scarcely exhibit to the eye; as for instance, in a Spanish play where sea-fights occur.] he left to the imagination to fill up the intervals agreeably to the speeches, and to conceive all the surrounding circumstances. This call on the fancy to supply the deficiencies supposes, indeed, not merely benevolent, but also intelligent spectators of a poetical tone of mind. That is the true illusion, when the spectators are so completely carried away by the impressions of the poetry and the acting, that they overlook the secondary matters, and forget the whole of the remaining objects around them. To lie morosely on the watch to detect every circumstance that may violate an apparent reality which, strictly speaking, can never be attained, is in fact a proof of inertness of imagination and an incapacity for mental illusion. This prosaical incredulity may be carried so far as to render it utterly impossible for the theatrical artists, who in every constitution of the theatre require many indulgences, to amuse the spectators by their productions; and thus they are, in the end, the enemies of their own enjoyment.
We now complain, and with justice, that in the acting of Shakspeare’s pieces the too frequent change of scenes occasions an interruption. But the poet is here perfectly blameless. It ought to be known that the English plays of that time, as well as the Spanish, were printed without any mention of the scene and its changes. In Shakspeare the modern editors have inserted the scenical directions; and in doing so, they have proceeded with the most pedantic accuracy. Whoever has the management of the representation of a piece of Shakspeare’s may, without any hesitation, strike out at once all such changes of scene as the following:-“Another room in the palace, another street, another part of the field of battle,” &c. By these means alone, in most cases, the change of decorations will be reduced to a very moderate number.
Of the actor’s art on a theatre which possessed so little external splendour as the old English, those who are in the habit of judging of the man from his dress will not be inclined to entertain a very favourable idea. I am induced, however, from this very circumstance, to draw quite a contrary conclusion: the want of attractions of an accessory nature renders it the more necessary to be careful in essentials. Several Englishmen [Footnote: See a Dialogue prefixed to the 11th volume of Dodsley’s _Old Plays_.] have given it as their opinion, that the players of the first epoch were in all likelihood greatly superior to those of the second, at least with the exception of Garrick; and if we had no other proof, the quality of Shakspeare’s pieces renders this extremely probable. That most of his principal characters require a great player is self-evident; the elevated and compressed style of his poetry cannot be understood without the most energetic and flexible delivery; besides, he often supposes between the speeches a mute action of great difficulty, for which he gives no directions. A poet who labours only and immediately for the stage will not rely for his main effect on traits which he must beforehand know will be lost in the representation from the unskilfulness of his interpreters. Shakspeare consequently would have been driven to lower the tone of his dramatic art, if he had not possessed excellent theatrical coadjutors. Of these, some have descended by name and fame even to our times. As for Shakspeare himself, since we are not fond of allowing any one man to possess two great talents in an equal degree, it has been assumed on very questionable grounds, that he was but an indifferent actor. [Footnote: No certain account has yet been obtained of any principal part played by Shakspeare in his own pieces. In _Hamlet_ he played the Ghost; certainly a very important part, if we consider that from the failure in it, the whole piece runs a risk of appearing ridiculous. A writer of his time says in a satirical pamphlet, that the Ghost whined in a pitiful manner; and it has been concluded from this that Shakspeare was a bad player. What logic! On the restoration of the theatre under Charles II., a desire was felt of collecting traditions and information respecting the former period. Lowin, the original Hamlet, instructed Betterton as to the proper conception of the character. There was still alive a brother of Shakspeare, a decrepid old man, who had never had any literary cultivation, and whose memory was impaired by age. From him they could extract nothing, but that he had sometimes visited his brother in town, and once saw him play an old man with grey hair and beard. From the above description it was concluded that this must have been the faithful servant Adam in _As You Like It_, also a second- rate part. In most of Shakspeare’s pieces we have not the slightest knowledge of the manner in which the parts were distributed. In two of Ben Jonson’s pieces we see Shakspeare’s name among the principal actors.] Hamlet’s instructions, however, to the players prove at least that he was an excellent judge of acting. We know that correctness of conception and judgment are not always coupled with the power of execution; Shakspeare, however, possessed a very important and too frequently neglected requisite for serious acting, a beautiful and noble countenance. Neither is it probable that he could have been the manager of the most respectable theatre, had he not himself possessed the talent both of acting and guiding the histrionic talents of others. Ben Jonson, though a meritorious poet, could not even obtain the situation of a player, as he did not possess the requisite qualifications. From the passage cited from _Hamlet_, from the burlesque tragedy of the mechanics in the _Midsummer Night’s Dream_, and many other passages, it is evident that there was then an inundation of bad players, who fell into all the aberrations from propriety which offend at the present day, but the public, it would appear, knew well how to distinguish good and bad acting, and would not be easily satisfied. [Footnote: In this respect, the following simile in _Richard the Second_ is deserving of attention:– As in a theatre the eyes of men,
After a well-graced actor leaves the stage, Are idly bent on him that enters next,
Thinking his prattle to be tedious, &c.]
A thorough critical knowledge of the antiquities of the English theatre can only he obtained in England; the old editions of the pieces which belong to the earlier period are even there extremely rare, and in foreign libraries they are never to be met with; the modern collectors have merely been able to give a few specimens, and not the whole store. It would be highly important to see together all the plays which were undoubtedly in existence before Shakspeare entered on his career, that we might be able to decide with certainty how much of the dramatic art it was possible for him to learn from others. The year of the appearance of a piece on the stage is generally, however, difficult to ascertain, as it was often not printed till long afterwards. If in the labours of Shakspeare’s contemporaries, even the older who continued to write at the same time with himself, we can discover resemblances to his style and traces of his art, still it will always remain doubtful whether we are to consider these as the feeble model, or the imperfect imitation. Shakspeare appears to have had all the flexibility of mind, and all the modesty of Raphael, who, also, without ever being an imitator and becoming unfaithful to his sublime and tranquil genius, applied to his own advantage all the improvements of his competitors.
A few feeble attempts to introduce the form of the antique tragedy with choruses, &c., were at an early period made, and praised, without producing any effect. They, like most of the attempts of the moderns in this way, serve to prove how strange were the spectacles through which the old poets were viewed; for it is hardly to be conceived how unlike they are to the Greek tragedies, not merely in merit (for that we may easily suppose), but even in those external circumstances which may be the most easily seized and imitated. _Ferrex and Porrex, or the Tragedy of Gorboduc_, is most frequently cited, which was the production of a nobleman [Footnote: Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, conjointly with Norton.–F.D.], in the first part of the reign of Elizabeth. Pope bestows high praise on this piece, on account of its regularity, and laments that the contemporary poets did not follow in the same track; for thus he thought a classical theatre might have been formed in England. This opinion only proves that Pope (who, however, passes for a perfect judge of poetry,) had not even an idea of the first elements of Dramatic Art. Nothing can be more spiritless and inanimate, nor more drawling and monotonous in the language and the versification, than this _Ferrex and Porrex_; and although the Unities of Place and Time are in no way observed, and a number of events are crowded into it, yet the scene is wholly destitute of movement: all that happens is previously announced by endless consultations, and afterwards stated in equally endless narratives. _Mustapha_, another unsuccessful work of a kindred description, and also by a great lord, [Footnote: Grevile, Lord Broke.] is a tedious web of all sorts of political subtleties; the choruses in particular are true treatises. However, of the innumerable maxims in rhyme, there are many which might well have a place in the later pieces of Corneille. Kyd, one of the predecessors of Ben Jonson, and mentioned by him in terms of praise, handled the _Cornelia_ of Garnier. This may be called receiving an imitation of the ancients from the third or fourth hand.
The first serious piece calculated for popular effect is _The Spanish Tragedy_ [by Thomas Kyd], so called from the scene of the story, and not from its being borrowed from a Spanish writer. It kept possession of the stage for a tolerable length of time, though it was often the subject of the ridicule and the parodies of succeeding poets. It usually happens that the public do not easily give up a predilection formed in their first warm susceptibility for the impressions of an art yet unknown to them, even after they have long been acquainted with better, nay, with excellent works. This piece is certainly full of puerilities; the author has ventured on the picture of violent situations and passions without suspecting his own want of power; the catastrophe, more especially, which in horror is intended to outstrip everything conceivable, is very sillily introduced, and produces merely a ludicrous effect. The whole is like the drawings of children, without the observance of proportion, and without steadiness of hand. With a great deal of bombast, the tone of the dialogue, however, has something natural, nay, even familiar, and in the change of scenes we perceive a light movement, which in some degree will account for the general applause received by this immature production.
Lilly and Marlow deserve to be noticed among the predecessors of Shakspeare. Lilly was a scholar, and laboured to introduce a stilted elegance into English prose, and in the tone of dialogue, with such success, that for a period he was the fashionable writer, and the court ladies even formed their conversation after the model of his _Euphues_. His comedy in prose, _Campaspe_, is a warning example of the impossibility of ever constructing, out of mere anecdotes and epigrammatic sallies, anything like a dramatic whole. The author was a learned witling, but in no respect a poet.
Marlow possessed more real talent, and was in a better way. He has handled the history of Edward the Second with very little of art, it is true, but with a certain truth and simplicity, so that in many scenes he does not fail to produce a pathetic effect. His verses are flowing, but without energy: how Ben Jonson could come to use the expression “_Marlow’s mighty line_,” is more than I can conceive. Shakspeare could neither learn nor derive anything from the luscious manner of Lilly: but in Marlow’s _Edward the Second_ I certainly imagine that I can discover the feebler model of the earliest historical pieces of Shakspeare.
Of the old comedies in Dodsley’s collection, _The Pinner of Wakefielde_, and _Grim, the Collier of Croydon_, seem alone to belong to a period before Shakspeare. Both are not without merit, in the manner of Marionette pieces; in the first, a popular tradition, and in the second, a merry legend, is handled with hearty joviality.
I have dwelt longer on the beginnings of the English theatre, than from their internal worth they deserve, because it has been affirmed recently in England that Shakspeare shows more affinity to the works of his contemporaries now sunk in oblivion than people have hitherto been usually disposed to believe. We are as little to wonder at certain outward resemblances, as at the similarity of the dresses in portraits of the same period. In a more limited sense, however, we apply the word resemblance exclusively to the relation of those features which express the spirit and the mind. Moreover, such plays alone can be admitted to be a satisfactory proof of an assertion of this kind as are ascertained to have been written before the commencement of Shakspeare’s career; for in the works of his younger contemporaries, a Decker, Marston, Webster, and others, something of a resemblance may be very naturally accounted for: distinct traces of imitation of Shakspeare are sufficiently abundant. Their imitation was, however, merely confined to external appearance and separate peculiarities; these writers, without the virtues of their model, possess in reality all the faults which senseless critics have falsely censured in Shakspeare.
A sentence somewhat more favourable is merited by Chapman, the translator of Homer, and Thomas Heywood, if we may judge of them from the single specimens of their works in Dodsley’s collection. Chapman has handled the well-known story of the Ephesian matron, under the title of _The Widow’s Tears_, not without comic talent. Heywood’s _Woman Killed with Kindness_ is a familiar tragedy: so early may we find examples of this species, which has been given out for new. It is the story of a wife tenderly beloved by her husband, and seduced by a man whom he had loaded with benefits; her sin is discovered, and the severest resolution which her husband can bring himself to form is to remove her from him, without proclaiming her dishonour; she repents, and grieves to death in bitter repentence. A due gradation is not observed in the seduction, but the last scenes are truly agitating. A distinct avowal of a moral aim is, perhaps, essential to the familiar tragedy; or rather, by means of such an aim, a picture of human destinies, whether afflicting kings or private families, is drawn from the ideal sphere into the prosaic world. But when once we admit the title of this subordinate species, we shall find that the demands of morality and the dramatic art coincide, and that the utmost severity of moral principles leads again to poetical elevation. The aspect of that false repentance which merely seeks exemption from punishment, is painful; repentance, as the pain arising from the irreparable forfeiture of innocence, is susceptible of a truly tragic portraiture. Let only the play in question receive a happy conclusion, such as in a well-known piece [Footnote: The author alludes to Kotzebue’s play of _Menschenhass und Reue–(The Stranger)_.–TRANS.] has, notwithstanding this painful feeling, been so generally applauded in the present day–viz., the reconciliation of the husband and wife, not on the death-bed of the repentant sinner, but in sound mind and body, and the renewal of the marriage; and it will then be found that it has not merely lost its moral, but also its poetical impression.
In other respects, this piece of Heywood is very inartistic, and carelessly finished: instead of duly developing the main action, the author distracts our attention by a second intrigue, which can hardly be said to have the slightest connection with the other. At this we need hardly be astonished, for Heywood was both a player and an excessively prolific author. Two hundred and twenty pieces were, he says, written entirely, or for the greatest part, by himself; and he was so careless respecting these productions, which were probably thrown off without any great labour, that he had lost the manuscript of the most of them, and only twenty-five remained for publication through the press.
All the above authors, and many others beside, whatever applause they obtained in their life-time, have been unsuccessful in transmitting a living memorial of their works to posterity. Of Shakspeare’s younger contemporaries and competitors, few have attained this distinction; and of these Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger, are the chief.
Ben Jonson found in Shakspeare a ready encourager of his talents. His first piece, imperfect in many respects, _Every Man in his Humour_, was by Shakspeare’s intervention brought out on the stage; _Sejanus_ was even retouched by him, and in both he undertook a principal character. This hospitable reception on the part of that great man, who was far above every thing like jealousy and petty rivalry, met with a very ungrateful return. Jonson assumed a superiority over Shakspeare on account of his school learning, the only point in which he really had an advantage; he introduced all sorts of biting allusions into his pieces and prologues, and reprobated more especially those magical flights of fancy, the peculiar heritage of Shakspeare, as contrary to genuine taste. In his excuse we must plead, that he was not born under a happy star: his pieces were either altogether unsuccessful, or, compared with the astonishing popularity of Shakspeare’s, they obtained but a small share of applause; moreover, he was incessantly attacked, both on the stage and elsewhere, by his rivals, as a disgraceful pedant, who pretended to know every thing better than themselves, and with all manner of satires: all this rendered him extremely irritable and uneven of temper. He possessed in reality a very solid understanding; he was conscious that in the exercise of his art he displayed zeal and earnestness: that Nature had denied him grace, a quality which no labour can acquire, he could not indeed suspect. He thought every man may boast of his assiduity, as Lessing says on a similar occasion. After several failures on the stage, he formed the resolution to declare of his pieces in the outset that they were good, and that if they should not please, this could only proceed from the stupidity of the multitude. The epigraph on one of his unsuccessful pieces with which he committed it to the press, is highly amusing: “As it was never acted, but most negligently played by some, the King’s servants, and more squeamishly beheld and censured by others, the King’s subjects.”
Jonson was a critical poet in the good and the bad sense of the word. He endeavoured to form an exact estimate of what he had on every occasion to perform; hence he succeeded best in that species of the drama which makes the principal demand on the understanding and with little call on the imagination and feeling,–the comedy of character. He introduced nothing into his works which critical dissection should not be able to extract again, as his confidence in it was such, that he conceived it exhausted every thing which pleases and charms us in poetry. He was not aware that, in the chemical retort of the critic, what is most valuable, the volatile living spirit of a poem, evaporates. His pieces are in general deficient in soul, in that nameless something which never ceases to attract and enchant us, even because it is indefinable. In the lyrical pieces, his Masques, we feel the want of a certain mental music of imagery and intonation, which the most accurate observation of difficult measures cannot give. He is everywhere deficient in those excellencies which, unsought, flow from the poet’s pen, and which no artist, who purposely hunts for them, can ever hope to find. We must not quarrel with him, however, for entertaining a high opinion of his own works; since, whatever merits they have, he owed like acquired moral properties altogether to himself. The production of them was attended with labour, and unfortunately it is also a labour to read them. They resemble solid and regular, edifices, before which, however, the clumsy scaffolding still remains, to interrupt and prevent us from viewing the architecture with ease, and receiving from it a harmonious impression.
We have of Jonson two tragical attempts, and a number of comedies and masques.
He could have risen to the dignity of the tragic tone, but, for the pathetic, he had not the smallest turn. As he incessantly preaches up the imitation of the ancients, (and he had, we cannot deny, a learned acquaintance with their works,) it is astonishing to observe how much his two tragedies differ, both in substance and form, from the Greek tragedy. From this example we see the influence which the prevailing tone of an age, and the course already pursued in any art, necessarily have upon even the most independent minds. In the historical extent given by Jonson to his _Sejanus_ and _Cataline_, unity of time and place were entirely out of the question; and both pieces are crowded with a multitude of secondary persons, such as are never to be found in a Greek tragedy. In _Cataline_, the prologue is spoken by the spirit of Sylla, and it bears a good deal of resemblance to that of Tantalus, in the _Atreus and Thyestes_ of Seneca; to the end of each act an instructive moralizing chorus is appended, without being duly introduced or connected with the whole. This is the extent of the resemblance to the ancients; in other respects, the form of Shakspeare’s historical dramas is adhered to, but without their romantic charm. We cannot with certainty say, whether or not Jonson had the Roman pieces of Shakspeare before him: it is probable that he had in _Cataline_ at least; but, at all events, he has not learned from him the art of being true to history, and yet satisfying the demands of poetry. In Jonson’s hands, the subject continues history, without becoming poetry; the political events which he has described have more the appearance of a business than an action. _Cataline_ and _Sejanus_ are solid dramatic studies after Sallust and Cicero, after Tacitus, Suetonius, Juvenal, and others; and that is the best which we can say of them. In _Cataline_, which upon the whole is preferable to _Sejanus_, he is also to be blamed for not having blended the dissimilarity of the masses. The first act possesses most elevation, though it disgusts us from its want of moderation: we see a secret assembly of conspirators, and nature appears to answer the furious inspiration of wickedness by dreadful signs. The second act, which paints the intrigues and loves of depraved women, by means of which the conspiracy was brought to light, treads closely on comedy; the last three acts contain a history in dialogue, developed with much good sense, but little poetical elevation. It is to be lamented that Jonson gave only his own text of _Sejanus_ without communicating Shakspeare’s alterations. We should have been curious to know the means by which he might have attempted to give animation to the monotony of the piece without changing its plan, and how far his genius could adapt itself to another’s conceptions.
After these attempts, Jonson took his leave of the Tragic Muse, and in reality his talents were far better suited to Comedy, and that too merely the Comedy of Character. His characterization, however, is more marked with serious satire than playful ridicule: the later Roman satirists, rather than the comic authors, were his models. Nature had denied him that light and easy raillery which plays harmlessly round every thing, and which seems to be the mere effusion of gaiety, but which is so much the more philosophic, as it is not the vehicle of any definite doctrine, but merely the expression of a general irony. There is more of a spirit of observation than of fancy in the comic inventions of Jonson. From this cause his pieces are also defective in point of intrigue. He was a strong advocate for the purity of the species, was unwilling to make use of any romantic motives, and he never had recourse to a novel for the subject of his plots. But his contrivances for the entangling and disentangling his plot are often improbable and forced, without gaining over the imagination by their attractive boldness. Even where he had contrived a happy plot, he took so much room for the delineation of the characters, that we often lose sight of the intrigue altogether, and the action lags with heavy pace. Occasionally he reminds us of those over-accurate portrait painters, who, to insure a likeness, think they must copy every mark of the small- pox, every carbuncle or freckle. Frequently he has been suspected of having, in the delineation of particular characters, had real persons in his eye, while, at the same time, he has been reproached with making his characters mere personifications of general ideas; and, however inconsistent with each other these reproaches may appear, they are neither of them, however, without some foundation. He possessed a methodical head; consequently, where he had once conceived a character in its leading idea, he followed it out with the utmost rigour; whatever, having no reference to this leading idea, served merely to give individual animation, appeared to him in the light of a digression. Hence his names are, for the most part, expressive even to an unpleasant degree of distinctness: and, to add to our satiety, he not unfrequently tacks explanatory descriptions to the dramatis personae. On the other hand, he acted upon the principle, that the comic writer must exhibit real life, with a minute and petty accuracy. Generally he succeeded in seizing the manners of his own age and nation: in itself this was deserving of praise; but even here he confined himself too much to external peculiarities, to the singularities and affectations of the modish tone which were then called humours, and which from their nature are as transient as dresses. Hence a great part of his comic very soon became obsolete, and as early as the re-opening of the theatre under Charles II., no actors could be found who were capable of doing justice to such caricatures. Local colours like these can only be preserved from fading by the most complete seasoning with wit. This is what Shakspeare has effected. Compare, for instance, his Osric, in _Hamlet_, with Fastidius Brisk, in Jonson’s _Every Man out of his Humour_: both are portraitures of the insipid affectation of a courtier of the day; but Osric, although he speaks his own peculiar language, will remain to the end of time an exact and intelligible image of foppish folly, whereas Fastidius is merely a portrait in a dress no longer in fashion, and nothing more. However, Jonson has not always fallen into this error; his Captain Bobadil, for example, in _Every Man in his Humour_, a beggarly and cowardly adventurer, who passes himself off with young and simple people for a Hector, is, it is true, far from being as amusing and original as Pistol; but he also, notwithstanding the change of manners, still remains a model in his way, and he has been imitated by English writers of comedy in after times.
In the piece I have just named, the first work of Jonson, the action is extremely feeble and insignificant. In the following, _Every Man out of his Humour_, he has gone still farther astray, in seeking the comic effect merely in caricatured traits, without any interest of situation: it is a rhapsody of ludicrous scenes without connexion and progress. The _Bartholomew Fair_, also, is nothing but a coarse _Bambocciate_, in which no more connexion is to be found than usually exists in the hubbub, the noise, the quarrelling, and thefts, which attend upon such amusements of the populace. Vulgar delight is too naturally portrayed; the part of the Puritan, however, is deserving of distinction: his casuistical consultation, whether he ought to eat a sucking-pig according to the custom of the fair, and his lecture afterwards against puppet-shows as a heathen idolatry, are inimitable, and full of the most biting salt of comedy. Ben Jonson did not then foresee that, before the lapse of one generation, the Puritans would be sufficiently powerful to take a very severe revenge on his art, on account of similar railleries.
In so far as plot is concerned, the greatest praise is merited by _Volpone, The Alchemist_, and _Epicoene, or the Silent Woman_. In _Volpone_ Jonson for once has entered into Italian manners, without, however, taking an ideal view of them. The leading idea is admirable, and for the most part worked out with masterly skill. Towards the end, however, the whole turns too much on swindling and villany, which necessarily call for the interference of criminal justice, and the piece, from the punishment of the guilty, has everything but a merry conclusion. In the _Alchemist_, both the deceivers and deceived supply a fund of entertainment, only the author enters too deeply into the learning of alchemy. Of an unintelligible jargon very short specimens at most ought to be given in comedy, and it is best that they should also have a secondary signification, of which the person who uses the mysterious language should not himself be aware; when carried to too great a length, the use of them occasions as much weariness as the writings themselves which served as a model. In _The Devil’s an Ass_ the poet has failed to draw due advantage from a fanciful invention with which he opens, but which indeed was not his own; and our expectation, after being once deceived, causes us to remain dissatisfied with other scenes however excellently comic.
Of all Jonson’s pieces there is hardly one which, as it stands, would please on the stage in the present day, even as most of them failed to please in his own time; extracts from them, however, could hardly fail to be successful. In general, much might be borrowed from him, and much might be learned both from his merits and defects. His characters are, for the most part, solidly and judiciously drawn; what he most fails in, is the art of setting them off by the contrast of situations. He has seldom planned his scenes so successfully in this respect as in _Every Man in his Humour_, where the jealous merchant is called off to an important business, when his wife is in expectation of a visit of which he is suspicious, and when he is anxious to station his servant as a sentinel, without however confiding his secret to him, because, above all things he dreads the discovery of his own jealousy. This scene is a master-piece, and if Jonson had always so composed, we must have been obliged to rank him among the first of comic writers.
Merely lest we should be charged with an omission do we mention _The Masques_: allegorical, occasional pieces, chiefly designed for court festivals, and decorated with machinery, masked dresses, dancing, and singing. This secondary species died again nearly with Jonson himself; the only subsequent production in this way of any fame is the _Comus_ of Milton. When allegory is confined to mere personification, it must infallibly turn out very frigid in a play; the action itself must be allegorical, and in this respect there are many ingenious inventions, but the Spanish poets have almost alone furnished us with successful examples of it. The peculiarity of Jonson’s _Masques_ most deserving of remark seems to me to be the anti-masque, as they are called, which the poet himself sometimes attaches to his own invention, and generally allows to precede the serious act. As the ideal flatteries, for whose sake the gods have been brought down from Olympus, are but too apt to fall into mawkishness, this antidote on such occasions is certainly deserving of commendation.
Ben Jonson, who in all his pieces took a mechanical view of art, bore a farther resemblance to the master of a handicraft in taking an apprentice. He had a servant of the name of Broome, who formed himself as a theatrical writer from the conversation and instructions of his master, and brought comedies on the stage with applause.
Beaumont and Fletcher are always named together, as if they had been two inseparable poets, whose works were all planned and executed in common. This idea, however, is not altogether correct. We know, indeed, but little of the circumstances of their lives: this much however is known, that Beaumont died very young; and that Fletcher survived his younger friend ten years, and was so unremittingly active in his career as a dramatic poet, that several of his plays were first brought on the stage after his death, and some which he left unfinished were completed by another hand. The pieces collected under both names amount to upwards of fifty; and of this number it is probable that the half must be considered as the work of Fletcher alone. Beaumont and Fletcher’s works did not make their appearance until a short time after the death of the latter; the publishers have not given themselves the trouble to distinguish critically the share which belonged to each, and still less to afford us any information respecting the diversity of their talents. Some of their contemporaries have attributed boldness of imagination to Fletcher, and a mature judgment to his friend: the former, according to their opinion, was the inventive genius; the latter, the directing and moderating critic. But this account rests on no foundation. It is now impossible to distinguish with certainty the hand of each; nor would the knowledge repay the labour. All the pieces ascribed to them, whether they proceed from one alone or from both, are composed in the same spirit and in the same manner. Hence it is probable that it was not so much the need of supplying the deficiencies of each other, as the great resemblance of their way of thinking, which induced them to continue so long and so inseparably united.
Beaumont and Fletcher began their career in the lifetime of Shakspeare: Beaumont even died before him, and Fletcher only survived him nine years. From some allusions in the way of parody, we may conclude that they entertained no very extravagant admiration of their great predecessor; from whom, nevertheless, they both learned much, and unquestionably borrowed many of their thoughts. In the whole form of their plays they followed his example, regardless of the different principles of Ben Jonson and of the imitation of the ancients. Like him they drew from novels and romances; they combined pathetic and burlesque scenes in the same play, and, by the concatenation of the incidents, endeavoured to excite the impression of the extraordinary and the wonderful. A wish to surpass Shakspeare in this species is often evident enough; contemporary eulogists, indeed, have no hesitation in ranking Shakspeare far below them, and assert that the English stage was first brought to perfection by Beaumont and Fletcher. And, in reality, Shakspeare’s fame was in some degree eclipsed by them in the generation which immediately succeeded, and in the time of Charles II. they still enjoyed greater popularity: the progress of time, however, has restored all three to their due places. As on the stage the highest excellence will wear out by frequent repetition, and novelty always possesses a great charm, the dramatic art is, consequently, much influenced by fashion; it is more than other branches of literature and the fine arts exposed to the danger of passing rapidly from a grand and simple style to dazzling and superficial mannerism.
Beaumont and Fletcher were in fact men of the most distinguished talents; they scarcely wanted anything more than a profounder seriousness of mind, and that artistic sagacity which everywhere observes a due measure, to rank beside the greatest dramatic poets of all nations. They possessed extraordinary fecundity and flexibility of mind, and a facility which however too often degenerated into carelessness. The highest perfection they have hardly ever attained; and I should have little hesitation in affirming that they had not even an idea of it: however, on several occasions they have approached quite close to it. And why was it denied them to take this last step? Because with them poetry was not an inward devotion of the feeling and imagination, but a means to obtain brilliant results. Their first object was effect, which the great artist can hardly fail of attaining if he is determined above all things to satisfy himself. They were not like the most of their predecessors, players, [Footnote: In the privilege granted by James I. to the royal players, a _Laurence Fletcher_ is named along with Shakspeare as manager of the company. The poet’s name was John Fletcher. Perhaps the former might be his brother or near relation.] but they lived in the neighbourhood of the theatre, were in constant intercourse with it, and possessed a perfect understanding of theatrical matters. They were also thoroughly acquainted with their contemporaries; but they found it more convenient to lower themselves to the taste of the public than to follow the example of Shakspeare, who elevated the public to himself. They lived in a vigorous age, which more willingly pardoned extravagancies of every description than feeblenesss and frigidity. They therefore never allowed themselves to be restrained by poetical or moral considerations; and in this confidence they found their account: they resemble in some measure somnambulists, who with closed eyes pass safely through the greatest dangers. Even when they undertake what is most depraved they handle it with a certain felicity. In the commencement of a degeneracy in the dramatic art, the spectators first lose the capability of judging of a play as a whole; hence Beaumont and Fletcher bestow very little attention on harmony of composition and the observance of due proportion between all the different parts. They not unfrequently lose sight of a happily framed plot, and appear almost to forget it; they bring something else forward equally capable of affording pleasure and entertainment, but without preparation, and in the particular place where it occurs without propriety. They always excite curiosity, frequently compassion–they hurry us along with them; they succeed better, however, in exciting than in gratifying our expectation. So long as we are reading them we feel ourselves keenly interested; but they leave very few imperishable impressions behind. They are least successful in their tragic attempts, because their feeling is not sufficiently drawn from the depths of human nature, and because they bestowed too little attention on the general consideration of human destinies: they succeed much better in Comedy, and in those serious and pathetic pictures which occupy a middle place betwixt Comedy and Tragedy. Their characters are often arbitrarily drawn, and, when it suits the momentary wants of the poet, become even untrue to themselves; in external matters they are tolerably in keeping. Beaumont and Fletcher employ the whole strength of their talents in pictures of passion; but they enter little into the secret history of the heart; they pass over the first emotions and the gradual heightening of a feeling; they seize it, as it were, in its highest maturity, and then develope its symptoms with the most overpowering illusion, though with an exaggerated strength and fulness. But though its expression does not always possess the strictest truth, nevertheless it still appears natural, every thing has free motion; nothing is laboriously constrained or far- fetched, however striking it may sometimes appear. In their dialogue they have completely succeeded in uniting the familiar tone of real conversation and the appearance of momentary suggestion with poetical elevation. They even run into that popular affectation of the natural which has ensured such great success to some dramatic poets of our own time; but as the latter sought it in the absence of all elevation of fancy, they could not help falling into insipidity. Beaumont and Fletcher generally couple nature with fancy; they succeed in giving an extraordinary appearance to what is common, and thus preserve a certain fallacious image of the ideal. The morality of these writers is ambiguous. Not that they failed in strong colours to contrast greatness of soul and goodness with baseness and wickedness, or did not usually conclude with the disgrace and punishment of the latter, but an ostentatious generosity is often favourably exhibited in lieu of duty and justice. Every thing good and excellent in their pictures arises more from transient ebullition than fixed principle; they seem to place the virtues in the blood; and close beside them impulses of merely a selfish and instinctive nature hold up their heads, as if they were of nobler origin. There is an incurable vulgar side of human nature which, when he cannot help but show it, the poet should never handle without a certain bashfulness; but instead of this Beaumont and Fletcher throw no veil whatever over nature. They express every thing bluntly in words; they make the spectator the unwilling confidant of all that more noble minds endeavour even to hide from themselves. The indecencies in which these poets indulged themselves go beyond conception. Licentiousness of language is the least evil; many scenes, nay, even whole plots, are so contrived that the very idea, not to mention the beholding of them, is a gross insult to modesty. Aristophanes is a bold mouth-piece of sensuality; but like the Grecian statuaries in the figures of satyrs, &c., he banishes them into the animal kingdom to which they wholly belong; and judging him by the morality of his times, he is much less offensive. But Beaumont and Fletcher hold up to view the impure and nauseous colours of vice in quite a different sphere; their compositions resemble the sheet, in the vision of the Apostle, full of pure and impure animals. This was the universal tendency of the dramatic poets under James and Charles I. They seem as if they purposely wished to justify the assertion of the Puritans, that theatres were so many schools of seduction and chapels of the Devil.
To those who merely read for amusement and general cultivation, we can only recommend the works of Beaumont and Fletcher with some limitation [Footnote: Hence I cannot approve of the undertaking, which has been recently commenced, of translating them into German. They are not at all adapted for our great public, and whoever makes a particular study of dramatic poetry will have little difficulty in finding his way to the originals.]. For the practical artist, however, and the critical judge of dramatic poetry, an infinite deal may be learned from them; as well from their merits as their extravagancies. A minute dissection of one of their works, for which we have not here the necessary space, would serve to place this in the clearest light. With regard to representation, these pieces had, in their day, this advantage, that they did not require such great actors to fill the principal characters as Shakspeare’s plays did. In order to bring them on the stage in our days, it would be necessary to re-cast most of them; which might be done with some of them by omitting, moderating, and purging various passages [Footnote: So far as I know only one play has yet been brought on the German theatre, namely, _Rule a Wife and have a Wife_, re-written by Schröder under the title of _Stille Wasser sind tief_ (Still Waters run deep) which, when well acted, has always been uncommonly well received.].
_The Two Noble Kinsmen_ is deserving of more particular mention, as it is the joint production of Shakspeare and Fletcher. I see no ground for calling this in question; the piece, it is true, did not make its appearance till after the death of both; but what could be the motive with the editor or printer for any deception, as Fletcher’s name was at the time in as great, at least, if not greater celebrity than Shakspeare’s? Were it the sole production of Fletcher, it would, undoubtedly, have to be ranked as the best of his serious and heroic pieces. However, it would be unfair to a writer of talent to take from him a work simply because it seems too good for him. Might not Fletcher, who in his thoughts and images not unfrequently shows an affinity to Shakspeare, have for once had the good fortune to approach closer to him than usual? It would still be more dangerous to rest on the similarity of separate passages to others in Shakspeare. This might rather arise from imitation. I rely therefore entirely on the historical statement, which, probably, originated in a tradition of the players. There are connoisseurs, who, in the pictures of Raphael, (which, as is well know, were not always wholly executed by himself,) take upon them to determine what parts were painted by Francesco Penni, or Giulio Romano, or some other scholar. I wish them success with the nicety of their discrimination; they are at least secure from contradiction, as we have no certain information on the subject. I would only remind these connoisseurs, that Giulio Romano was himself deceived by a copy from Raphael of Andrea del Sarto’s, and that, too, with regard to a figure which he had himself assisted in painting. The case in point is, however, a much more complicated problem in criticism. The design of Raphael’s figures was at least his own, and the execution only was distributed in part among his scholars. But to find out how much of _The Two Noble Kinsmen_ may belong to Shakspeare, we must not only be able to tell the difference of hands in the execution, but also to determine the influence of Shakspeare on the plan of the whole. When, however, he once joined another poet in the production of a work, he must also have accommodated himself, in a certain degree, to his views, and renounced the prerogative of unfolding his inmost peculiarity. Amidst so many grounds for doubting, if I might be allowed to hazard an opinion, I should say, that I think I can perceive the mind of Shakspeare in a certain ideal purity, which distinguishes this piece from all others of Fletcher’s, and in the conscientious fidelity with which the story adheres to that of Chaucer’s _Palamon and Arcite_. In the style Shakspeare’s hand is at first discoverable in a brevity and fulness of thought bordering on obscurity; in the colour of the expression, almost all the poets of that time bear a strong resemblance to each other. The first acts are most carefully laboured; afterwards the piece is drawn out to too great a length and in an epic manner; the dramatic law of quickening the action towards the conclusion, is not sufficiently observed. The part of the jailor’s daughter, whose insanity is artlessly conducted in pure monologues, is certainly not Shakspeare’s; for, in that case, we must suppose him to have had an intention of arrogantly imitating his own Ophelia.
Moreover, it was then a very general custom for two or even three poets to join together in the production of one play. Besides the constant example of Beaumont and Fletcher, we have many others. The consultations, respecting the plan, were generally held at merry meetings in taverns. Upon one of these occasions it happened that one in a poetical intoxication calling out, “I will undertake to kill the king!” was immediately taken into custody as a traitor, till the misunderstanding was cleared up. This mode of composing may answer very well in the lighter species of the drama, which require to be animated by social wit. With regard to theatrical effect, four eyes may, in general, see better than two, and mutual objections may be of use in finding out the most suitable means. But the highest poetical inspiration is much more eremitical than communicative; for it always seeks to express something which sets language at defiance, which, therefore, can only be weakened and dissipated by detached words, and can only be attained by the common impression of the complete work, whose idea is hovering before it.
_The Knight of the Burning Pestle_, of Beaumont and Fletcher, is an incomparable work and singular in its kind. It is a parody of the chivalry romances; the thought is borrowed from _Don Quixote_, but the imitation is handled with freedom, and so particularly applied to Spenser’s _Fairy Queen_, that it may pass for a second invention. But the peculiarly ingenious novelty of the piece consists in the combination of the irony of a chimerical abuse of poetry with another irony exactly the contrary, of the incapacity to comprehend any fable, and the dramatic form more particularly. A grocer and his wife come as spectators to the theatre: they are discontented with the piece which has just been announced; they demand a play in honour of the corporation, and Ralph, their apprentice, is to act a principal part in it. Their humour is complied with; but still they are not satisfied, make their remarks on every thing, and incessantly address themselves to the players. Ben Jonson had already exhibited imaginary spectators, but they were either benevolent expounders or awkward censurers of the poet’s views: consequently, they always conducted his, the poet’s, own cause. But the grocer and his wife represent a whole genus, namely, those unpoetical spectators, who are destitute of a feeling for art. The illusion with them becomes a passive error; the subject represented has on them all the effect of reality, they accordingly resign themselves to the impression of each moment, and take part for or against the persons of the drama. On the other hand, they show themselves insensible to all genuine illusion, that is, of entering vividly into the spirit of the fable: for them Ralph, however heroically and chivalrously he may conduct himself, is always Ralph their apprentice; and in the whim of the moment they take upon them to demand scenes which are quite inconsistent with the plan of the piece that has been commenced. In short, the views and demands with which poets are often oppressed by a prosaical public are very cleverly and amusingly personified in these caricatures of spectators.
_The Faithful Shepherdess_, a pastoral, is highly extolled by some English critics, as it is without doubt finished with great care, in rhymed, and partly, in lyrical verses. Fletcher wished also to be classical for once, and did violence to his natural talent. Perhaps he had the intention of surpassing Shakspeare’s _Midsummer Night’s Dream_; but the composition which he has ushered into the world is as heavy as that of the other was easy and aërial. The piece is overcharged with mythology and rural painting, is untheatrical, and so far from pourtraying the genuine ideality of a pastoral world, it even contains the greatest vulgarities. We might rather call it an immodest eulogy of chastity. I am willing to hope that Fletcher was unacquainted with the _Pastor Fido_ of Guarini, for otherwise his failure would admit of less justification.
We are in want of space to speak in detail of the remaining works of Beaumont and Fletcher, although they might be made the subject of many instructive observations. On the whole, we may say of these writers that they have built a splendid palace, but merely in the suburbs of poetry, while Shakspeare has his royal residence in the very centre point of the capital.
The fame of Massinger has been lately revived by an edition of his works. Some literary men wish to rank him above Beaumont and Fletcher, as if he had approached more closely to the excellence of Shakspeare. I cannot see it. He appears to me to bear the greatest resemblance to Beaumont and Fletcher in the plan of the pieces, in the tone of manners, and even in the language and negligences of versification. I would not undertake to decide, from internal symptoms, whether a play belonged to Massinger, or Beaumont and Fletcher. This applies also to the other contemporaries; for instance, to Shirley, of whose pieces two are stated to have crept into the works ascribed to the two last-named poets. There was (as already said) at this time in England a school of dramatic art, a school of which Shakspeare was the invisible and too often unacknowledged head; for Ben Jonson remained almost without successors. It is a characteristic of what is called manner in art to efface the features of personal originality, and to make the productions of various artists bear a resemblance to each other; and from manner no dramatic poet of this age, who succeeded Shakspeare, can be pronounced altogether free. When, however, we compare their works with those of the succeeding age, we perceive between them something about the same relation as between the paintings of the school of Michel Angelo and those of the last half of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth century. Both are tainted with manner; but the manner of the former bears the trace of a sublime origin in the first ages; in the latter, all is little, affected, empty, and superficial. I repeat it: in a general history of the dramatic art, the first period of the English theatre is the only one of importance. The plays of the least known writers of that time, (I venture to affirm this, though I am far from being acquainted with all of them) are more instructive for theory, and more remarkable, than the most celebrated of all the succeeding times.
Closing of the Stage by the Puritans–Revival of the Stage under Charles the Second–Depravity of Taste and Morals–Dryden, Otway, and others– Characterization of the Comic Poets from Wycherley and Congreve to the middle of the eighteenth century–Tragedies of the same Period–Rowe– Addison’s _Cato_–Later Pieces–Familiar Tragedy: Lillo–Garrick– Latest state.
In this condition nearly the theatre remained under the reign of Charles I. down to the year 1647, when the invectives of the Puritans (who had long murmured at the theatre, and at last thundered loudly against it,) were changed into laws. To act, or even to be a spectator of plays was prohibited under a severe penalty. A civil war followed, and the extraordinary circumstance here happened, that the players, (who, in general, do not concern themselves much about forms of government, and whose whole care is usually devoted to the peaceable entertainment of their follow-citizens,) compelled by want, joined that political party the interests of which were intimately connected with their own existence. Almost all of them entered the army of the King, many perished for the good cause, the survivors returned to London and continued to exercise their art in secret. Out of the ruins of all the former companies of actors, one alone was formed, which occasionally, though with very great caution, gave representations at the country seats of the great, in the vicinity of London. For among the other singularities to which the violence of those times gave rise, it was considered a proof of attachment to the old constitution to be fond of plays, and to reward and harbour those who acted them in private houses.
Fortunately the Puritans did not so well understand the importance of a censorship as the Governments of our day, or the yet unprinted dramatic productions of the preceding age could not have issued from the press, by which means many of them would have been irrecoverably lost. These gloomy fanatics were such enemies of all that was beautiful, that they not only persecuted every liberal mental entertainment, calculated in any manner to adorn life, and more especially the drama, as being a public worship of Baal, but they even shut their ears to church music, as a demoniacal howling. If their ascendency had been maintained much longer, England must infallibly have been plunged in an irremediable barbarity. The oppression of the drama continued down to the year 1660, when the free exercise of all arts returned with Charles II.
The influence which the government of this monarch had on the manners and spirit of the time, and the natural reaction against the principles previously dominant, are sufficiently well known. As the Puritans had brought republican principles and religious zeal into universal odium, so this light-minded monarch seemed expressly born to sport away all respect for the kingly dignity. England was inundated with foreign follies and vices in his train. The court set the fashion of the most undisguised immorality, and its example was the more contagious, the more people imagined that they could only show their zeal for the new order of things by an extravagant way of thinking and living. The fanaticism of the republicans had been associated with strictness of manners, nothing therefore could be more easy and agreeable than to obtain the character of royalists, by the extravagant indulgence of all lawful and unlawful pleasures. Nowhere was the age of Louis XIV. imitated with greater depravity. But the prevailing gallantry of the court of France had its reserve and a certain delicacy of feeling; they sinned (if I may so speak) with some degree of dignity, and no man ventured to attack what was honourable, however at variance with it his own actions might be. The English played a part which was altogether unnatural to them: they gave themselves up heavily to levity; they everywhere confounded the coarsest licentiousness with free mental vivacity, and did not perceive that the kind of grace which is still compatible with depravity, disappears with the last veil which it throws off.
We can easily conceive the turn which, under such auspices, the new formation of taste must have taken. There existed no real knowledge of the fine arts, which were favoured merely like other foreign fashions and inventions of luxury. The age neither felt a true want of poetry, nor had any relish for it: in it they merely wished for a light and brilliant entertainment. The theatre, which in its former simplicity had attracted the spectators solely by the excellence of the dramatic works and the skill of the actors, was now furnished out with all the appliances with which we are at this day familiar; but what it gained in external decoration, it lost in internal worth.
To Sir William Davenant, the English theatre, on its revival after the interruption which we have so often mentioned, owes its new institution, if this term may be here used. He introduced the Italian system of decoration, the _costume_, as it was then well or ill understood, the opera music, and in general the use of the orchestra. For this undertaking Charles II. had furnished him with extensive privileges. Davenant was a sort of adventurer and wit; in every way worthy of the royal favour; to enjoy which, dignity of character was never a necessary requisite. He set himself to work in every way that a rich theatrical repertory may render necessary; he made alterations of old pieces, and also wrote himself plays, operas, prologues, &c. But of all his writings nothing has escaped a merited oblivion.
Dryden soon became and long remained the hero of the stage. This man, from his influence in fixing the laws of versification and poetical language, especially in rhyme, has acquired a reputation altogether disproportionate to his true merit. We shall not here inquire whether his translations of the Latin poets are not manneristical paraphrases, whether his political allegories (now that party interest is dead) can be read without the greatest weariness; but confine ourselves to his plays, which considered relatively to his great reputation, are incredibly bad. Dryden had a gift of flowing and easy versification; the knowledge which he possessed was considerable, but undigested; and all this was coupled with the talent of giving a certain appearance of novelty to what however was borrowed from all quarters; his serviceable muse was the resource of an irregular life. He had besides an immeasurable vanity; he frequently disguises it under humble prologues; on other occasions he speaks out boldly and confidently, avowing his opinion that he has done better than Shakspeare, Fletcher, and Jonson (whom he places nearly on the same level); all the merit of this he is, however, willing to ascribe to the refinement and advances of the age. The age indeed! as if that of Elizabeth compared with the one in which Dryden lived, were not in every respect “Hyperion to a Satyr!” Dryden played also the part of the critic: he furnished his pieces richly with prefaces and treatises on dramatic poetry, in which he chatters most confusedly about the genius of Shakspeare and Fletcher, and about the entirely opposite example of Corneille; of the original boldness of the British stage, and of the rules of Aristotle and Horace.–He imagined that he had invented a new species, namely the Heroic Drama; as if Tragedy had not from its very nature been always heroical! If we are, however, to seek for a heroic drama which is not peculiarly tragic, we shall find it among the Spaniards, who had long possessed it in the greatest perfection. From the uncommon facility of rhyming which Dryden possessed, it cost him little labour to compose the most of his serious pieces entirely in rhyme. With the English, the rhymed verse of ten syllables supplies the place of the Alexandrine; it has more freedom in its pauses, but on the other hand it wants the alternation of male and female rhymes; it proceeds in pairs exactly like the French Alexandrine, and in point of syllabic measure it is still more uniformly symmetrical. It therefore unavoidably communicates a great stiffness to the dialogue. The manner of the older English poets before them, who generally used blank verse, and only occasionally introduced rhymes, was infinitely preferable. But, since then, on the other hand, rhyme has come to be too exclusively rejected.
Dryden’s plans are improbable, even to silliness; the incidents are all thrown out without forethought; the most wonderful theatrical strokes fall incessantly from the clouds. He cannot be said to have drawn a single character; for there is not a spark of nature in his dramatic personages. Passions, criminal and magnanimous sentiments, flow with indifferent levity from their lips, without ever having dwelt in the heart: their chief delight is in heroical boasting. The tone of expression is by turns flat or madly bombastical; not unfrequently both at the same time: in short, this poet resembles a man who walks upon stilts in a morass. His wit is displayed in far-fetched sophistries; his imagination in long-spun similies, awkwardly introduced. All these faults have been ridiculed by the Duke of Buckingham in his comedy of _The Rehearsal_. Dryden was meant under the name of Bayes, though some features are taken from Davenant and other contemporary writers. The vehicle of this critical satire might have been more artificial and diversified; the matter, however is admirable, and the separate parodies are very amusing and ingenious. The taste for this depraved manner was, however, too prevalent to be restrained by the efforts of so witty a critic, who was at the same time a grandee of the kingdom.
Otway and Lee were younger competitors of Dryden in tragedy. Otway lived in poverty, and died young; under more favourable circumstances greater things perhaps would have been done by him. His first pieces in rhyme are imitations of Dryden’s manner; he also imitated the _Berenice_ of Racine. Two of his pieces in blank verse have kept possession of the stage–_The Orphan_ and _Venice Preserved_. These tragedies are far from being good; but there is matter in them, especially in the last; and amidst much empty declamation there are some truly pathetic passages. How little Otway understood the true rules of composition may be inferred from this, that he has taken the half of the scenes of his _Caius Marius_ verbally, or with disfiguring changes, from the _Romeo and Juliet_ of Shakspeare. Nothing more incongruous can well he conceived, than such an episode in Roman manners, and in a historical drama. This impudent plagiarism is in no manner justified by his confessing it.
Dryden altered pieces of Shakspeare; for then, and even long afterwards, every person thought himself qualified for this task. He also wrote comedies; but Wycherley and Congreve were the first to acquire a name in this species of composition. The mixed romantic drama was now laid entirely aside; all was either tragedy or comedy. The history of each of these species will therefore admit of being separately handled–if, indeed, that can be correctly said to have a history where we can perceive no progressive development, but mere standing still, or even retrograding, and an inconstant fluctuation in all directions. However, the English, under Charles II. and Queen Anne, and down to the middle of the eighteenth century, had a series of comic writers, who may be all considered as belonging to one common class; for the only considerable diversity among them arises merely from an external circumstance, the varying tone of manners.
I have elsewhere in these Lectures shown that elegance of form is of the greatest importance in Comedy, as from the want of care in this respect it is apt to degenerate into a mere prosaical imitation of reality, and thereby to forfeit its pretensions to rank as either poetry or art. It is exactly, however, in the form, that the English comedies are most negligent. In the first place, they are written entirely in prose. It has been well remarked by an English critic, that the banishment of verse from Comedy had even a prejudicial influence on versification in Tragedy. The older dramatists could elevate or lower the tone of their Iambics at pleasure; from the exclusion of this verse from familiar dialogue, it has become more pompous and inflexible. Shakspeare’s comic scenes, it is true, are also written, for the most part, in prose; but in the Mixed Comedy, which has a serious, wonderful, or pathetic side, the prose, mixed with the elevated language of verse, serves to mark the contrast between vulgar and ideal sentiments; it is a positive means of exhibition. Continued prose in Comedy is nothing but the natural language, on which the poet has failed to employ his skill to refine and smoothe it down, while apparently he seems the more careful to give an accurate imitation of it: it is that prose which Molière’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme has been speaking his whole lifetime without suspecting it.
Moreover, the English comic poets tie themselves down too little to the unity of place. I have on various occasions declared that I consider change of scene even a requisite, whenever a drama is to possess historical extent or the magic of romance. But in the comedy of common life the case is somewhat altogether different. I am convinced that it would almost always have had a beneficial influence on the conduct of the action in the English plays, if their authors had, in this respect, subjected themselves to stricter laws.
The lively trickery of the Italian masks has always found a more unfavourable reception in England than in France. The fool or clown in Shakspeare’s comedies is far more of an ironical humorist than a mimical buffoon. Intrigue in real life is foreign to the Northern nations, both from the virtues and the defects of their character; they have too much openness of disposition, and too little acuteness and nicety of understanding. It is remarkable that, with greater violence of passion, the Southern nations possess, nevertheless, in a much higher degree the talent of dissembling. In the North, life is wholly founded on mutual confidence. Hence, in the drama, the spectators, from being less practised in intrigue, are less inclined to be delighted with concealment of views and their success by bold artifice, and with the presence of mind which, in unexpected events of an untoward nature, readily extricates its possessor from embarrassment. However, there may be an intrigue in Comedy, in the dramatic sense, though none of the persons carry on what is properly called intrigue. Still it is in the entangling and disentangling their plots that the English comic writers are least deserving of praise. Their plans are defective in unity. From this reproach I have, I conceive, sufficiently exculpated Shakspeare; it is rather merited by many of Fletcher’s pieces. When, indeed, the imagination has a share in the composition, then it is far from being as necessary that all should be accurately connected together by cause and effect, as when the whole is framed and held together exclusively by the understanding. The existence of a double or even triple intrigue in many modern English comedies has been acknowledged even by English critics themselves. [Footnote: Among others, by the anonymous author of a clever letter to Garrick, prefixed to Coxeter’s edition of _Massinger’s Works_, who says–“What with their plots, and double plots, and counter-plots, and under-plots, the mind is as much perplexed to piece out the story as to put together the disjointed parts of an ancient drama.”] The inventions to which they have recourse are often everything but probable, without charming us by their happy novelty; they are chiefly deficient, however, in perspicuity and easy development. Most English comedies are much too long. The authors overload their composition with characters: and we can see no reason why they should not have divided them into several pieces. It is as if we were to compel to travel in the same stage-coach a greater number of persons, all strangers to each other, than there is properly room for; the journey becomes more inconvenient, and the entertainment not a whit more lively.
The great merit of the English comic poets of this period consists in the delineation of character; yet though many have certainly shown much talent, I cannot ascribe to any a peculiar genius for characterization. Even in this department the older poets (not only Shakspeare, for that may easily be supposed, but even Fletcher and Jonson) are superior to them. The moderns seldom possess the faculty of seizing the most hidden and involuntary emotions, and giving a comic expression to them; they generally draw merely the natural or assumed surface of men. Moreover, the same circumstance which in France, after Molière’s time, was attended with such prejudicial effects, came here also into play. The comic muse, instead of becoming familiar with life in the middle and lower ranks (her proper sphere), assumed an air of distinction: she squeezed herself into courts, and endeavoured to snatch a resemblance of the _beau monde_. It was now no longer an English national, but a London comedy. The whole turns almost exclusively on fashionable love-suits and fashionable raillery; the love-affairs are either disgusting or insipid, and the raillery is always puerile and destitute of wit. These comic writers may have accurately hit the tone of their time; in this they did their duty; but they have reared a lamentable memorial of their age. In few periods has taste in the fine arts been at such a low ebb as about the close of the seventeenth and during the first half of the eighteenth century. The political machine kept its course; wars, negotiations, and changes of states, give to this age a certain historical splendour; but the comic poets and portrait-painters have revealed to us the secret of its pitifulness–the former in their copies of the dresses, and the latter in the imitation of the social tone. I am convinced that if we could now listen to the conversation of the _beau monde_ of that day, it would appear to us as pettily affected and full of tasteless pretension, as the hoops, the towering head-dresses and high-heeled shoes of the women, and the huge perukes, cravats, wide sleeves, and ribbon-knots of the men. [Footnote: When I make good or bad taste in dress an infallible criterion of social elegance or deformity, this must be limited to the age in which the fashion came up; for it may sometimes be very difficult to overturn a wretched fashion even when, in other things, a better taste has long prevailed. The dresses of the ancients were more simple, and consequently less subject to change of fashion; and the male dress, in particular, was almost unchangeable. However, even from the dresses alone, as we see them in the remains of antiquity, we may form a pretty accurate judgment of the character of the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans. In the female portrait-busts of the time of the later Roman emperors, we often find the head-dresses extremely tasteless; nay, even busts with peruques which may be taken off, probably for the purpose of changing them, as the originals themselves did.]
The last, and not the least defect of the English comedies is their offensiveness. I may sum up the whole in one word by saying, that after all we know of the licentiousness of manners under Charles II., we are still lost in astonishment at the audacious ribaldry of Wycherley and Congreve. Decency is not merely violated in the grossest manner in single speeches, and frequently in the whole plot; but in the character of the rake, the fashionable debauchee, a moral scepticism is directly preached up, and marriage is the constant subject of their ridicule. Beaumont and Fletcher portrayed an irregular but vigorous nature: nothing, however, can be more repulsive than rude depravity coupled with claims to higher refinement. Under Queen Anne manners became again more decorous; and this may easily be traced in the comedies: in the series of English comic poets, Wycherley, Congreve, Farquhar, Vanbrugh, Steele, Cibber, &c., we may perceive something like a gradation from the most unblushing indecency to a tolerable degree of modesty. However, the example of the predecessors has had more than a due influence on the successors. From prescriptive fame pieces keep possession of the stage such as no man in the present day durst venture to bring out. It is a remarkable phenomenon, the causes of which are deserving of inquiry, that the English nation, in the last half of the eighteenth century, passed all at once from the most opposite way of thinking, to an almost over-scrupulous strictness of manners in social conversation, in romances and plays, and in the plastic arts.
Some writers have said of Congreve that he had too much wit for a comic poet. These people must have rather a strange notion of wit. The truth is, that Congreve and the other writers above mentioned possess in general much less comic than epigrammatic wit. The latter often degenerates into a laborious straining for wit. Steele’s dialogue, for example, puts us too much in mind of the letters in the _Spectator_. Farquhar’s plots seem to me to be the most ingenious of all.
The latest period of English Comedy begins nearly with Colman. Since that time the morals have been irreproachable, and much has been done in the way of refined and original characterization; the form, however, has on the whole remained the same, and in that respect I do not think the English comedies at all models.
Tragedy has been often attempted in England in the eighteenth century, but a genius of the first rank has never made his appearance. They laid aside the manner of Dryden, however, and that at least was an improvement. Rowe was an honest admirer of Shakspeare, and his modest reverence for this superior genius was rewarded by a return to nature and truth. The traces of imitation are not to be mistaken: the part of Gloster in _Jane Shore_ is even directly borrowed from _Richard the Third_. Rowe did not possess boldness and vigour, but was not without sweetness and feeling; he could excite the softer emotions, and hence in his _Fair Penitent_, _Jane Shore_, and _Lady Jane Gray_, he has successfully chosen female heroines and their weaknesses for his subjects.
Addison possessed an elegant mind, but he was by no means a poet. He undertook to purify the English Tragedy, by bringing it into a compliance with the supposed rules of good taste. We might have expected from a judge of the ancients, that he would have endeavoured to approach the Greek models. Whether he had any such intention I know not, but certain it is that he has produced nothing but a tragedy after the French model. _Cato_ is a feeble and frigid piece, almost destitute of action, without one truly overpowering moment. Addison has so narrowed a great and heroic picture by his timid manner of treating it, that he could not, without foreign intermixture, even fill up the frame. Hence, he had recourse to the traditional love intrigues; if we count well, we shall find in this piece no fewer than six persons in love: Cato’s two sons, Marcia and Lucia, Juba and Sempronius. The good Cato cannot, therefore, as a provident father of a family, avoid arranging two marriages at the close. With the exception of Sempronius, the villain of the piece, the lovers are one and all somewhat silly. Cato, who ought to be the soul of the whole, is hardly ever shown to us in action; nothing remains for him but to admire himself and to die. It might be thought that the stoical determination of suicide, without struggle and without passion, is not a fortunate subject; but correctly speaking, no subjects are unfortunate, every thing depends on correctly apprehending them. Addison has been induced, by a wretched regard to Unity of Place, to leave out Caesar, the only worthy contrast to Cato; and, in this respect even Metastasio has managed matters better. The language is pure and simple, but without vigour; the rhymeless Iambic gives more freedom to the dialogue, and an air somewhat less conventional than it has in the French tragedies; but in vigorous eloquence, Cato remains far behind them.
Addison took his measures well; he placed all the great and small critics, with Pope at their head, the whole militia of good taste under arms, that he might excite a high expectation of the piece which he had produced with so much labour. _Cato_ was universally praised, as a work without an equal. And on what foundation do these boundless praises rest? On regularity of form? This had been already observed by the French poets for nearly a century, and notwithstanding its constraints they had often attained a much stronger pathetic effect. Or on the political sentiments? But in a single dialogue between Brutus and Cassius in Shakspeare there is more of a Roman way of thinking and republican energy than in all _Cato_.
I doubt whether this piece could ever have produced a powerful impression, but its reputation has certainly had a prejudicial influence on Tragedy in England. The example of _Cato_, and the translation of French tragedies, which became every day more frequent, could not, it is true, render universal the belief in the infallibility of the rules; but they were held in sufficient consideration to disturb the conscience of the dramatic poets, who consequently were extremely timid in availing themselves of the prerogatives they inherited from Shakspeare. On the other hand, these prerogatives were at the same time problems; it requires no ordinary degree of skill to arrange, with simplicity and perspicuity, such great masses as Shakspeare uses to bring together: more of drawing and perspective are required for an extensive fresco painting, than for a small oil picture. In renouncing the intermixture of comic scenes when they no longer understood their ironical aim, they did perfectly right: Southern still attempted them in his _Oroonoko_, but in his hands they exhibit a wretched appearance. With the general knowledge and admiration of the ancients which existed in England, we might have looked for some attempt at a true imitation of the Greek Tragedy; no such imitation has, however, made its appearance; in the choice and handling of their materials they show an undoubted affinity to the French. Some poets of celebrity in other departments of poetry, Young, Thomson, Glover, have written tragedies, but no one of them has displayed any true tragical talent.
They have now and then had recourse to familiar tragedy to assist the barrenness of imagination; but the moral aim, which must exclusively prevail in this species, is a true extinguisher of genuine poetical inspiration. They have, therefore, been satisfied with a few attempts. The _Merchant of London_, and _The Gamester_, are the only plays in this way which have attained any great reputation. _George Barnwell_ is remarkable from having been praised by Diderot and Lessing, as a model for imitation. This error could only have escaped from Lessing in the keenness of his hostility to the French conventional tone. For in truth it is necessary to keep Lillo’s honest views constantly in mind, to prevent us from finding _George Barnwell_ as laughable as it is certainly trivial. Whoever possesses so little, or rather, no knowledge of men and of the world, ought not to set up for a public lecturer on morals. We might draw a very different conclusion from this piece, from that which the author had in view, namely, that to prevent young people from entertaining a violent passion, and being led at last to steal and murder, for the first wretch who spreads her snares for them, (which they of course cannot possibly avoid,) we ought, at an early period, to make them acquainted with the true character of courtezans. Besides, I cannot approve of not making the gallows visible before the last scene; such a piece ought always to be acted with a place of execution in the background. With respect to the edification to be drawn from a drama of this kind, I should prefer the histories of malefactors, which in England are usually printed at executions; they contain, at least, real facts, instead of awkward fictions.
Garrick’s appearance forms an epoch in the history of the English theatre, as he chiefly dedicated his talents to the great characters of Shakspeare, and built his own fame on the growing admiration for this poet. Before his time, Shakspeare had only been brought on the stage in mutilated and disfigured alterations. Garrick returned on the whole to the true originals, though he still allowed himself to make some very unfortunate changes. It appears to me that the only excusable alteration of Shakspeare is, to leave out a few things not in conformity to the taste of the time. Garrick was undoubtedly a great actor. Whether he always conceived the parts of Shakspeare in the sense of the poet, I, from the very circumstances stated in the eulogies on his acting, should be inclined to doubt. He excited, however, a noble emulation to represent worthily the great national poet; this has ever since been the highest aim of actors, and even at present the stage can boast of men whose histrionic talents are deservedly famous.
But why has this revival of the admiration of Shakspeare remained unproductive for dramatic poetry? Because he has been too much the subject of astonishment, as an unapproachable genius who owed everything to nature and nothing to art. His success, it is thought, is without example, and can never be repeated; nay, it is even forbidden to venture into the same region. Had he been considered more from an artistic point of view, it would have led to an endeavour to understand the principles which he followed in his practice, and an attempt to master them. A meteor appears, disappears, and leaves no trace behind; the course of a heavenly body, however, ought to be delineated by the astronomer, for the sake of investigating more accurately the laws of general mechanics.
I am not sufficiently acquainted with the latest dramatic productions of the English, to enter into a minute account of them. That the dramatic art and the public taste are, however, in a wretched state of decline, may, I think, be safely inferred from the following circumstance. Some years ago, several German plays found their way to the English stage; plays, which, it is true, are with us the favourites of the multitude, but which are not considered by the intelligent as forming a part of our literature, and in which distinguished actors are almost ashamed of earning applause. These pieces have met with extraordinary favour in England; they have, properly speaking, as the Italians say, _fatto furore_, though indeed the critics did not fail to declaim against their immorality, veiled over by sentimental hypocrisy. From the poverty of our dramatic literature, the admission of such abominations into Germany may be easily comprehended; but what can be alleged in favour of this depravity of taste in a nation like the English, which possesses such treasures, and which must therefore descend from such an elevation? Certain writers are nothing in themselves; they are merely symptoms of the disease of their age; and were we to judge from them, there is but too much reason to fear that, in England, an effeminate sentimentality in private life is more frequent, than from the astonishing political greatness and energy of the nation we should be led to suppose.
May the romantic drama and the grand historical drama, those truly native species, be again speedily revived, and may Shakspeare find such worthy imitators as some of those whom Germany has to produce!
Spanish Theatre–Its three Periods: Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Calderon– Spirit of the Spanish Poetry in general–Influence of the National History on it–Form, and various species of the Spanish Drama–Decline since the beginning of the eighteenth century.
The riches of the Spanish stage have become proverbial, and it has been more or less the custom of the Italian, French, and English dramatists, to draw from this source, and generally without acknowledgment. I have often, in the preceding Lectures, had occasion to notice this fact; it was incompatible, however, with my purpose, to give an enumeration of all that has been so borrowed, for it would have assumed rather a bulky appearance, and without great labour it could not have been rendered complete. What has been taken from the most celebrated Spanish poets might be easily pointed out; but the writers of the second and third rank have been equally laid under contribution, and their works are not easily met with out of Spain. Ingenious boldness, joined to easy clearness of intrigue, is so exclusively peculiar to the Spanish dramatists, that whenever I find these in a work, I consider myself justified in suspecting a Spanish origin, even though the circumstance may have been unknown to the author himself, who drew his plagiarism from a nearer source. [Footnote: Thus for example, _The Servant of two Masters_, of Goldoni, a piece highly distinguished above his others for the most amusing intrigue, passes for an original. A learned Spaniard has assured me, that he knows it to be a Spanish invention. Perhaps Goldoni had here merely an older Italian imitation before him.]
From the political preponderance of Spain in the sixteenth century, a knowledge of its language became widely diffused throughout Europe. Even in the first half of the seventeenth century, many traces are to be found of an acquaintance with Spanish literature in France, Italy, England, and Germany; since that time, however, the study of it had every where fallen into neglect, till of late some zeal for it has been again excited in Germany. In France they have no other idea of the Spanish theatre, than what can be formed from the translations of Linguet. These again have been rendered into German, and their number has been increased by others, in no respect better, derived immediately from the originals. The translators have, however, confined themselves almost exclusively to the department of comedies of intrigue, and though all the Spanish plays with the exception of a few _Entremeses_, _Saynetes_, and those of a very late period, are versified, they have turned the whole into prose, and even considered themselves entitled to praise for having carefully removed every thing like poetical ornament. After such a mode of proceeding nothing but the material scaffolding of the original could remain; the beautiful colouring must have disappeared together with the form of execution. That translators who could show such a total want of judgment as to poetical excellences would not choose the best pieces of the store, may be easily supposed. The species in question, though in the invention of innumerable intrigues, of such a kind as the theatrical literature of all other countries can produce but few examples of it, it certainly shows astonishing acuteness, is, nevertheless, by no means the most valuable part of the Spanish theatre, which displays a much greater brilliancy in the handling of wonderful, mythological, or historical subjects.
The selection published by De la Huerta in sixteen small volumes, under the title of _Teatro Hespañol_, with introductions giving an account of the authors of the pieces and the different species, will not afford, even to one conversant with the language, a very extensive acquaintance with the Spanish theatre. His collection is limited almost exclusively to the department of comedies in modern manners, and he has not admitted into it any of the pieces of an earlier period, composed by Lope de Vega, or his predecessors. Blankenburg and Bouterwek [Footnote: The former, in his annotations on _Sulzers Theorie der schönen Künste_, the latter in his _Geschichte der Spanischen Poesie_.] among ourselves have laboured to throw light on the earlier history of the Spanish theatre, before it acquired its proper shape and attained literary dignity,–a subject involved in much obscurity. But even at an after period, an immense number of works were written for the stage which never appeared in print, and which are either now lost or only exist in manuscript; while, on the other hand, there is hardly an instance of a piece being printed without having first been brought on the stage. A correct and complete history of the Spanish theatre, therefore, can only be executed in Spain. The notices of the German writers above-mentioned, are however of use, though not free from errors; their opinions of the poetical merit of the several pieces, and the general view which they have taken, appear to me exceedingly objectionable.
The first advances of Dramatic Art in Spain were made in the last half of the sixteenth century; and with the end of the seventeenth it ceased to flourish. In the eighteenth, after the War of the Succession, (which seems to have had a very prejudicial influence on the Spanish literature in general,) very little can be mentioned which does not display extravagance, decay, the retention of old observances without meaning, or a tame imitation of foreign productions. The Spanish literari of the last generation frequently boast of their old national poets, the people entertain a strong attachment to them, and in Mexico, as well as Madrid, their pieces are always represented with impassioned applause.
The various epochs in the formation of the Spanish theatre may be designated by the names of three of its most famous authors, Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Calderon.
The earliest and most valuable information and opinions on this subject are to be found in the writings of Cervantes; chiefly in _Don Quixote_ (in the dialogue with the Canon), in the Preface to his later plays, and in the _Journey to Parnassus_. He has also in various other places thrown out occasional remarks on the subject. He had witnessed in his youth the commencement of the dramatic art in Spain; the poetical poverty of which, as well as the meagreness of the theatrical decorations, are very humorously described by him. He was justified in looking upon himself as one of the founders of this art; for before he gained immortal fame by his _Don Quixote_ he had diligently laboured for the stage, and from twenty to thirty pieces (so negligently does he speak of them) from his pen had been acted with applause. On this account, however, he made no very high claims, nor after they had fulfilled their momentary destination did he allow any of them to be printed; and it was only lately that two of these earlier labours were for the first time published. One of these plays, probably Cervantes’ first, _The Way of Living in Algiers_ (_El Trato de Argel_), still bears traces of the infancy of the art in the preponderance of narrative, in the general meagreness, and in the want of prominency in the figures and situations. The other, however, _The Destruction of Numantia_, has altogether the elevation of the tragical cothurnus; and, from its unconscious and unlaboured approximation to antique grandeur and purity, forms a remarkable phenomenon in the history of modern poetry. The idea of destiny prevails in it throughout; the allegorical figures which enter between the acts supply nearly, though in a different way, the place of the chorus in the Greek tragedies; they guide the reflection and propitiate the feeling. A great deed of heroism is accomplished; the extremity of suffering is endured with constancy; but it is the deed and the suffering of a whole nation whose individual members, it may almost be said, appear but as examples of the general fortitude and magnanimity, while the Roman heroes seem merely the instruments of fate. There is, if I may so speak, a sort of Spartan pathos in this piece: every single and personal consideration is swallowed up in the feeling of patriotism; and by allusions to the warlike fame of his nation in modern times, the poet has contrived to connect the ancient history with the interests of his own day.
Lope de Vega appeared, and soon became the sole monarch of the stage; Cervantes was unable to compete with him; yet he was unwilling altogether to abandon a claim founded on earlier success; and shortly before his death, in the year 1615, he printed eight plays and an equal number of smaller interludes, as he had failed in his attempts to get them brought on the stage. They have generally been considered greatly inferior to his other prose and poetical works; their modern editor is even of opinion that they were meant as parodies and satires on the vitiated taste of the time: but to find this hypothesis ridiculous, we have only to read them without any such prepossession. Had Cervantes entertained such a design, he would certainly have accomplished it in a very different way in one piece, and also in a manner both highly amusing and not liable to misconception. No, they were intended as pieces in the manner of Lope: contrary to his own convictions, Cervantes has here endeavoured, by a display of greater variety, of wonderful plots, and theatrical effect to comply with the taste of his contemporaries. It would appear from them that he considered a superficial composition as the main requisite for applause; his own, at least, is for the most part, extremely loose and ill-connected, and we have no examples in his prose works of a similar degree of negligence. Hence, as he partly renounced his peculiar excellences, we need not be astonished that he did not succeed in surpassing Lope in his own walk. Two, however, of these pieces, _The Christian Slaves in Algiers (Los Baños de Argel_), an alteration of the piece before-mentioned, and _The Labyrinth of Love_, are, in their whole plot, deserving of great praise, while all of them contain so many beautiful and ingenious traits, that when we consider them by themselves, and without comparing them with the _Destruction of Numantia_, we feel disposed to look on the opinion entertained pretty generally by the Spanish critics as a mere prejudice. But on the other hand, when we compare them with Lope’s pieces, or bear in mind the higher excellences to which Calderon had accustomed the public, this opinion will appear to admit of conditional justification. We may, on the whole, allow that the mind of this poet was most inclined to the epic, (taking the word in its more extensive signification, for the narrative form of composition); and that the light and gentle manner in which he delights to move the mind is not well suited to the making the most of every moment, and to the rapid compression which are required on the theatre. But when we, on the other hand, view the energetical pathos in _The Destruction of Numantia_, we are constrained almost to consider it as merely accidental that Cervantes did not devote himself wholly to this species of writing, and find room in it for the complete development of his inventive mind.
The sentence pronounced by Cervantes on the dramas of his later contemporaries is one of the neglected voices which, from time to time, in Spain have been raised, insisting on the imitation of the ancient classics, while the national taste had decidedly declared in favour of the romantic drama in its boldest form. On this subject Cervantes, from causes which we may easily comprehend, was not altogether impartial. Lope de Vega had followed him as a dramatic writer, and by his greater fertility and the effective brilliancy of his pieces, had driven him from the stage; a circumstance which ought certainly to be taken into account in explaining the discontent of Cervantes in his advanced age with the direction of the public taste and the constitution of the theatre. It would appear, too, that in his poetical mind there was a certain prosaical corner in which there still lurked a disposition to reject the wonderful, and the bold play of fancy, as contrary to probability and nature. On the authority of the ancients he recommended a stricter separation of the several kinds of the drama; whereas the romantic art endeavours, in its productions, as he himself had done in his romances and novels, to blend all the elements of poetry; and he censured with great severity, as real offences against propriety, the rapid changes of time and place. It is remarkable that Lope himself was unacquainted with his own rights, and confessed that he wrote his pieces, contrary to the rules with which he was well acquainted, merely for the sake of pleasing the multitude. That this object entered prominently into his consideration is certainly true; still he remains one of the most extraordinary of all the popular and favourite theatrical writers that ever lived, and well deserves to be called in all seriousness by his rival and adversary, Cervantes, a wonder of nature.
The pieces of Lope de Vega, numerous beyond all belief, have partly never been printed; while of those that have, a complete collection is seldom to be found, except in Spain. Many pieces are probably falsely ascribed to him; an abuse of which Calderon also complains. I know not whether Lope himself ever gave a list of the pieces actually composed by him; indeed he could hardly at last have remembered the whole of them. However, by reading a few, we shall advance pretty far towards an acquaintance with this poet; nor need we be much afraid lest we should have failed to peruse the most excellent, as in his separate productions he does not surprise us by any elevated flight nor by laying open the whole unfathomable depths of his mind. This prolific writer, at one time too much idolized, at another too much depreciated, appears here undoubtedly in the most advantageous light, as the theatre was the best school for the correction of his three great errors, want of connexion, diffuseness, and an unnecessary parade of learning. In some of his pieces, especially the historical ones, founded on old romances or traditional tales, for instance, _King Wamba_, _The Youthful Tricks of Bernardo del Carpio_, _The Battlements of Toro,_ &c., there prevails a certain rudeness of painting, which, however, is not altogether without character, and seems to have been purposely chosen to suit the subjects: in others, which portray the manners of his own time, as for instance, _The Lively Fair One of Tolédo_, _The Fair deformed,_ we may observe a highly cultivated social tone. All of them contain, besides truly interesting situations, a number of inimitable jokes; and there are, perhaps, very few of them which would not, if skilfully treated and adapted to our stages, produce a great effect in the present day. Their chief defects are, a profusion of injudicious invention, and negligence in the execution. They resemble the groups which an ingenious sketcher scrawls on paper without any preparation, and without even taking the necessary time; in which, notwithstanding this hasty negligence every line is full of life and significance. Besides the want of careful finish, the works of Lope are deficient in depth, and also in those more delicate allusions which constitute the peculiar mysteries of the art.
If the Spanish theatre had not advanced farther, if it had possessed only the works of Lope and the more eminent of his contemporaries, as Guillen de Castro, Montalban, Molina, Matos-Fragoso, &c., we should have to praise it, rather for grandeur of design and for promising subjects than for matured perfection. But Don Pedro Calderon de la Barca now made his appearance, a writer as prolific and diligent as Lope, and a poet of a very different kind,–a poet if ever any man deserved that name. The “wonder of nature,” the enthusiastic popularity, and the sovereignty of the stage were renewed in a much higher degree. The years of Calderon [Footnote: Born in 1601.] keep nearly equal pace with those of the seventeeth century; he was consequently sixteen when Cervantes, and thirty-five when Lope died, whom he survived nearly half a century. According to his biographer’s account, Calderon wrote more than a hundred and twenty plays, more than a hundred spiritual allegorical acts (_Autos_), a hundred merry interludes or _Saynetes_ [Footnote: This account is perhaps somewhat rhetorical. The most complete, and in every respect the best edition of the plays, that of Apontes, contains only a hundred and eight pieces. At the request of a great Lord, Calderon, shortly before his death, gave a list of his genuine works. He names a hundred and eleven plays; but among them there are considerably more than three which are not to be found in the collection of Apontes. Some of them may, indeed, be concealed under other titles, as, for instance, the piece, which Calderon himself calls, _El Tuzani de la Alpujarra_, is named in the collection, _Amar despues de la Muerte_. Others are unquestionably omitted, for instance, a _Don Quixote_, which I should be particularly desirous of seeing. We may infer from many circumstances that Calderon had a great respect for Cervantes. The collection of the _Autos sacramentales_ contains only seventy-two, and of these several are not mentioned by Calderon. And yet he lays the greatest stress on these; wholly devoted to religion, he had become in his age more indifferent towards the temporal plays of his muse, although he did not reject them, and still continued to add to the number. It might well be with him as with an excessively wealthy man, who, in a general computation, is apt to forget many of the items of his capital. I have never yet been able to see any of the _Saynetes_ of Calderon; I cannot even find an account whether or not they have been ever collected and printed.] besides a number of poems which were not dramatical. As from his fourteenth to his eighty-first year, that