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contemporary, and but one who was dead? and this too in an age of great men, and when they were in the habit of acknow ledging the pretensions of one another. It could not have been jealousy, or formality, or inability to perceive merits which hist own included; and one can almost as little believe it possible to have been owing to a fear of disconcerting his aristocratic friends, for they too were among the eulogizers: neither can it be attributed to his having so mooted all points, as to end in caring for none; for in so great and wise a nature, good nature must surely survive everything, both as a pleasure and a duty. I have made up my mind to think that his theatrical managership was the cause. It naturally produced a dislike of pronouncing judgments and incurring responsibilities. And yet he was not always a manager; nor were all his literary friends playwrights. I think it probable, from the style, that he wrote the sonnet in which Spenser is eulogized :—
If music and sweet poetry agree, &c.
but this is doubtful; and Spenser was not one of his dramatic fellows. Did he see too many faults in them all to praise them!! Certainly the one great difference between him and them, next to superiority of genius, is the prevailing relevancy of all he wrote; its freedom, however superabundant, frora inconsistency and caprice. But could he find nothing to praise ? Nothing in the whole contemporary drama? Nothing in all the effusions of his friends and brother clubbists of the Mermaid and the Triple Tun?
I take Webster and Decker to have been the two greatest of the Shakspeare men, for unstudied genius, next after Beaumont and Fletcher; and in some respects they surpassed them. Beaumont and Fletcher have no such terror as Webster, nor any such piece of hearty, good, affecting human clay, as Decker's "Old Signior Orlando Friscobaldo." Is there any such man even in Shakspeare ?-any such exaltation of that most delightful of all things, bonhomie? Webster sometimes overdoes his terror; nay often. He not only riots, he debauches in it; and Decker, full of heart and delicacy as he is, and qualified to teach refinement to the refined, condescends to an
astounding coarseness. Beaumont and Fletcher's good company saved them from that, in words. In spirit they are full of it. But Decker never mixes up (at least not as far as I can remember) any such revolting and impossible contradictions in the same character as they do. Neither does he bring a doubt on his virtue by exaggerating them. He believes heartily in what he does believe, and you love him in consequence. It was he that wrote that character, the piety of which has been pronounced equal to its boldness :
The best of men
His universal sympathy enabled him to strike out that audacious and happy simile, "untameable as flies," which Homer would have admired, though it is fit to make poetasters shudder. The poetaster, had Decker offered to make him a present of it, would have been afraid of being taken for a fly himself. Images are either grand in themselves, or for the thought and feeling that accompany them. This has all the greatness of Nature's "equal eye." You may see how truly Decker felt it to be of this kind, by the company in which he has placed it; and there is a consummation of propriety in its wildness, for he is speaking of lunatics:
There are of madmen, as there are of tame,
So apish and fantastic, will play with a feather;
And though 'twould grieve a soul to see God's image
So blemish'd and defaced, yet do they act
Such antic and such pretty lunacies,
That, spite of sorrow, they will make you smile.
Others again we have like hungry lions,
Fierce as wild bulls, untameable as flies.
Middleton partakes of the poetry and sweetness of Decker, but not to the same height; and he talks more at random. You hardly know what to make of the dialogue or stories of some of his plays. But he has more fancy; and there is one characte
of his (De Flores in the "Changeling") which, for effect at once tragical, probable, and poetical, surpasses anything I know of in the drama of domestic life. Middleton has the honor of having furnished part of the witch poetry to Macbeth, and of being conjoined with it also in the powerful and beautiful music of Locke.
From Massinger, Ford, and the others (as far as I have met with them, and apart from the connexion of Massinger's name with Decker), I could find nothing to extract of a nature to suit this particular volume, and of equal height with its contents. It is proper to state, however, that I have only glanced through their works: for though no easily daunted reader, I never read an entire play either of Ford or Massinger. They repel me with the conventional tendencies of their style, and their unnatural plots and characters. Ford, however, is elegant and thoughtful; and Massinger has passion, though (as far as I know) not in a generous shape. With these two writers began that prosaical part of the corruption of dramatic style (merging passionate language into conventional) which came to its head. in Shirley.
Donusa. What magic hath transform'd me from myself?
Durham. To this unity, a mystery
Of providence points out a greater blessing
Ford's Perkin Warbeck.
Both these passages are the first I came to, on dipping into their works. One might fancy one's self reading Cato or the Grecian Daughter, instead of men who had breathed the air of the days of Shakspeare.
Massinger was joint author with Decker, of the play from which the scene of the lady and the angel is taken; but nobody who knows the style of the two men can doubt for a moment to which it belongs. I have, therefore, without hesitation assigned it according to the opinion expressed by Mr. Lamb.
FLIGHT OF WITCHES.
Scene, a Field. Enter HECATE, STADLIN, HOPPO, and other Witches. FIRESTONE in the background.
Hec. The moon's a gallant; see how brisk she rides!
Stad. Here's a rich evening, Hecate.
Ay, is 't not, wenches,
O't will be precious!
Heard you the owl yet?
Briefly in the copse,
'T is high time for us then
I'll overtake you swiftly.
We shall be up betimes.
Hec How much hast here?
Prepare to flight then;
Hie thee, Hecate;
I'll reach you quickly.
[Exeunt all the Witches except HECATE. Fire. They are all going a birding to-night: they talk of fowls i' th' air that fly by day; I am sure they'll be a company of foul sluts there to-night: if we have not mortality after 't, I'll be hanged, for they are able to putrefy it, to infect a whole region She spies me now.
Hec. What, Firestone, our sweet son?
Fire. A little sweeter than some of you, or a dunghill were too good for
Fire. six lizards and three serpentine eggs.
Hec. Dear and sweet boy! what herbs hast thou?
Nineteen, and all brave plump ones, besides
Fire. I have some marmartin and mandragon.
Fire. Here's panax too-I thank thee-my pan aches I'm sure, with kneeling down to cut 'em.
Hedge-hysop too; how near he goes my cuttings!
Every blade of 'em,
Or I'm a moon-calf, mother.
Fire. Aloft, quoth you? I would you would break your neck once, that
[A spirit like a cat descends [Voice above.] There's one comes down to fetch his dues, A kiss, a coll, a sip of blood;
And why thou stay'st so long, I muse,
Hec. O, art thou come? what news, what news?
Either come, or else refuse.
Hec. Now I'm furnished for the flight.
Fire. Hark, hark, the cat rings a brave treble in her own language!
[Hec. going up.] Now I go, now I fly,
Malkin my sweet spirit and I.