Page images

I cannot go through all Beaumont and Fletcher's dramas (52 in number), but I have mentioned some of the principal, and the excellences and defects of the rest may be judged of from these. The Bloody Brother, A Wife for a Month, Bonduca, Thierry and Theodoret, are among the best of their tragedies: among the comedies, the Night Walker, the Little French Lawyer, and Monsieur Thomas, come perhaps next to the Chances, The Wild Goose Chase, and Rule a Wife and Have a Wife.—Philaster, or Love Lies a Bleeding, is one of the most admirable productions of these authors (the last I shall mention); and the patience of Euphrasia, disguised as Bellario, the tenderness of Arethusa, and the jealousy of Philaster, are beyond all praise. The

passages of extreme romantic beauty and high-wrought passion that I might quote, are out of number. One only must suffice, the account of the commencement of Euphrasia's love to Philaster.

“ Sitting in my window,
Printing my thoughts in lawn, I saw a God
I thought (but it was you) enter our gates ;
My blood flew out, and back again as fast
As I had puffed it forth and suck'd it in
Like breath; then was I called away in haste
To entertain you. Never was a man
Heav'd from a sheep-cote to a sceptre, rais'd

So high in thoughts as I: you left a kiss
Upon these lips then, which I mean to keep

forever. I did hear


talk Far above singing !

And so it is our poets themselves write," far above singing*.” I am loth to part with them, and wander down, as we now must,

“ Into a lower world, to theirs obscure

And wild-To breathe in other air
Less pure, accustomed to immortal fruits.”

Ben Jonson's serious productions are, in my opinion, superior to his comic ones. What he does, is the result of strong sense and painful industry; but sense and industry agree better with the

grave and severe, than with the light and gay productions of the Muse.

“ His plays were works," as some one said of them, “while others' works were plays.” The observation had less of compliment than of truth in it. He may be said to mine his way into a subject, like a mole,

* Euphrasia as the Page, just before speaking of her life, which Philaster threatens to take from her, says,

" 'Tis not a life;
'Tis but a piece of childhood thrown away."

What exquisite beauty and delicacy!

and throws up a prodigious quantity of matter on the surface, so that the richer the soil in which he labours, the less dross and rubbish we have. His fault is, that he sets himself too much to his subject, and cannot let go his hold of an idea, after the insisting on it becomes tiresome or painful to others. But his tenaciousness of what is grand and lofty, is more praiseworthy than his delight in what is low and disagreeable. His pedantry accords better with didactic pomp than with illiterate and vulgar gabble; his learning engrafted on romantic tradition or classical history, looks like genius.

[ocr errors]

Miraturque novas frondes et non sua poma."

He was equal, by an effort, to the highest things, and took the same, and even more successful pains to grovel to the lowest. He raised himself up or let himself down to the level of his subject, by ponderous machinery. By dint of application, and a certain strength of nerve,

he could do justice to Tacitus and Sallust no less than to mine Host of the New Inn. His tragedy of the Fall of Sejanus, in particular, is an admirable piece of ancient mosaic. The principal character gives one the idea of a lofty column of solid granite, nodding to its base from its nicious height, and dashed in pieces, by a breath



of air, a word of its creator-feared, not pitied, scorned, unwept, and forgotten. The depth of knowledge and gravity of expression sustain one another throughout: the poet has worked out the historian's outline, so that the vices and passions, the ambition and servility of public men, in the heated and poisoned atmosphere of a luxurious and despotic court, were never described in fuller or more glowing colours. I am half afraid to give any extracts, lest they should be tortured into an application to other times and characters than those referred to by the poet. Some of the sounds, indeed, may bear (for what I know), an awkward construction: some of the objects may look double to squint-eyed suspicion. But that is not my fault. It only proves, that the characters of prophet and poet are implied in each other; that he who describes human nature well once, describes it for good and all, as it was, is, and I begin to fear, will ever be. Truth always was, and must always remain a libel to the tyrant and the slave. Thus Satrius Secundus and Pinnarius Natta, two public informers in those days, are described as

“ Two of Sejanus' blood-hounds, whom he breeds

With human flesh, to bay at citizens."

But Rufus, another of the same well-bred


debating the point of his own character with two Senators whom he has entrapped, boldly asserts, in a more courtly strain,

-To be a spy on traitors,
Is honourable vigilance."

This sentiment of the respectability of the employment of a government spy, which had slept in Tacitus for near two thousand years, has not been without its modern patrons. The effects of such “honourable vigilance” are very finely exposed in the following high-spirited dialogue between Lepidus and Arruntius, two noble Romans, who loved their country, but were not fashionable enough to confound their country with its oppressors, and the extinguishers of its liberty.

Arr. What are thy arts (good patriot, teach them me)
That have preserv'd thy hairs to this white dye,
And kept so reverend and so dear a head
Safe on his comely shoulders ?

Lep. Arts, Arruptius !
None but the plain and passive fortitude
To suffer and be silent; never stretch
These arms against the torrent ; live at home,
With my own thoughts and innocence about me,
Not tempting the wolves' jaws: these are my arts.

Arr. I would begin to study 'em, if I thought
They would secure me. May I pray to Jove

« PreviousContinue »