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and high rates.” The players added, that, by these unfair publications, “not only they themselves had much prejudice, but the books much corruption, to the injury and disgrace of the authors.”* At this time the most favourite acting plays were in general carefully withheld from the press by the theatrical companies whose property they were ; and the only way in which a perusal of them could be obtained was by paying a considerable sum for a loan of the manuscript or a transcript of it. Humphrey Moseley, the publisher of the collection of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays in 1647, after observing in his prefatory address, that his charges in bringing out the volume had been very great, seeing that the owners of the manuscripts too well knew their value to make a cheap estimate of any of them, adds, “Heretofore, when gentlemen desired but a copy of any of these plays, the meanest piece here (if any may be called mean where every one is best) cost them more than four times the price you pay for the whole volume.” The missing comedy of The Wild Goose Chase had been lost, he tells us in another passage, by being borrowed from the actors many years before by a person of quality, and, owing to the neglect of a servant, never returned. Sometimes, too, it appears from another of his remarks, an individual actor would write out his part for a private friend, or probably for any one who would pay him for it.
The permanent suppression of theatrical entertainments was the act of the Long Parliament. An ordinance of the Lords and Commons passed on the 2nd of September, 1642,-after setting forth that “public sports do not well agree with public calamities, nor public stage-plays with the seasons of humiliation, this being an exercise of sad and pious solemnity, and the other being spectacles of pleasure, too commonly expressing lascivious mirth and levity,”-ordained, “ that, while these sad causes and set times of humiliation do continue, public stage-plays shall cease and be forborne.” It has been plausibly conjectured that this measure originated, “not merely in a spirit of religious dislike to dramatic performances, but in a politic caution, lest playwriters and players should avail themselves of their power over the minds of the people to instil notions and opinions hostile to the authority of a puritanical parliament.”+ This ordinance cer
* See the edict in Chalmers’s Apology for the Believers in the Shakespeare Papers, p. 513.
+ Collier, Hist. Dram. Poet. ii. 106.
tainly put an end at once to the regular performance of plays; but it is known to have been occasionally infringed; and there is reason to believe that after a few years it began to be pretty frequently and openly disregarded. This would appear to have been the case from a new ordinance of the Lords and Commons published in October, 1647, entitled, “ For the better suppression of stage-plays, interludes, and common players,” by which the lord mayor, justices of the peace, and sheriffs of the city of London and Westminster, and of the counties of Middlesex and Surrey, were authorized and required to enter into all houses and other places within their jurisdiction where stage-plays were acted, and to seize the players and commit them for trial at the next sessions, “ there to be punished as rogues, according to law." On the 22nd of January following, however, the House of Commons was informed that many stage-plays were still acted in various places in the city of London and in the county of Middlesex, notwithstanding this ordinance. The subject was then taken up with furious zeal both by Commons and Lords; and, after a great bustle of message-sending, debating, and consulting in committees, an act was agreed upon and published on the 11th of February, 1648, which, after declaring stage-plays, interludes, and common plays to be “ condemned by ancient heathens, and much less to be tolerated amongst professors of the Christian religion,” and denouncing them as being “ the occasion of many and sundry great vices and disorders, tending to the high provocation of God's wrath and displeasure, which lies heavy upon this kingdom, and to the disturbance of the peace thereof,” proceeded to ordain--first, that all players should be taken to be rogues within the meaning of the statutes of the 39th of Elizabeth and 7th of James; secondly, that the authorities of the city of London and counties of Middlesex and Surrey should "pull down and demolish, or cause and procure to be pulled down and demolished, all stage-galleries, seats, and boxes, erected or used, or which shall be erected or used, for the acting or playing, or seeing acted or played,” any species of theatrical performance within their jurisdictions; thirdly, that convicted players should be punished for the first offence with open and public whipping, and, for the second, should be dealt with according to law as incorrigible rogues; fourthly, that all the money collected from the spectators of any stage-plays should be seized for the use of the poor of the parish; and, lastly, that every person present at any such performance should forfeit the sum of five shillings to the use of the poor. Even this severe measure was not perfectly effectual; for, in the following September, we find the House of Commons appointing a provost-marshal, with authority, among other things, “ to seize upon all ballad-singers and sellers of malignant pamphlets, and to send them to the several militias, and to suppress stage-plays.” And, more than a year after this, namely, in December, 1649, it is noted by Whitelock that “some stageplayers in St. John's Street were apprehended by troopers, their clothes taken away, and themselves carried to prison.” It appears, also, that in some of the country parts of the kingdom strolling players continued for some years to set the law at defiance, and to be connived at in their disregard of it. At so late a date as February, 1654, it is recorded that plays were performed by a company of strollers at Witney and other places in Oxfordshire.* It is, perhaps, more probable, however, that the statute had only in course of time come to be less rigidly enforced, than that it had been thus violated from the first. We are informed by the historians of the stage, that, though the public exhibition of stage-plays in London was effectually put down by the act of 1648, yet the players “still kept together, and, by connivance of the commanding officer at Whitehall, sometimes represented privately a few plays at a short distance from town.” They also, it is added, were permitted to act at the country houses of some of the nobility; and even obtained leave at particular festivals to resume their public performances at the Red Bull. Finally, we are told, “ amidst the gloom of fanaticism, and whilst the Royal cause was considered as desperate, Sir William Davenant, without molestation, exhibited entertainments of declamation and music, after the manner of the ancients, at Rutland House. He began in the year 1656, and two years afterwards removed to the Cockpit, Drury Lane, where he performed until · the eve of the Restoration.” † Rutland House was in Charter House Square; and it is said that Davenant's performances there were countenanced by Whitelock, Sir John Maynard, and other persons of influence. At first he called his representations operas ; but at length growing bolder, it is affirmed, he wrote and caused to be acted several regular plays.*
* See the facts connected with the shutting of the theatres for the first time accurately stated in Mr. Collier's History, ii. 104–119.
+ View of the Rise and Progress of the English Stage, prefixed to Reed's edition of Baker's Biographia Dramatica, p. xxii. Mr. Collier (ii. 119) says :“The performance of Davenant's “ opera,' as he himself calls it, of The Siege of Rhodes, in 1656, is to be looked upon as the first step towards the revival of dramatic performances.".
length omence. At
GILES FLETCHER; PHINEAS FLETCHER.
Nor is the poetical produce other than dramatic of the quarter of a century that elapsed from the death of James to the establishment of the Commonwealth, of very considerable amount. Giles and Phineas Fletcher were brothers, cousins of the dramatist, and both clergymen. Giles, who died in 1623, is the author of a poem entitled Christ's Victory and Triumph in Heaven and Earth over and after Death, which was published in a quarto volume in 1610. It is divided into four parts, and is written in stanzas somewhat like those of Spenser, only containing eight lines each instead of nine: both the Fletchers, indeed, were professed disciples and imitators of the great author of the Fairy Queen. Phineas, who survived till 1650, published in 1633, along with a small collection of Piscatory Eclogues and other Poetical Miscellanies, a long allegorical poem, entitled The Purple Island, in twelve Books or Cantos, written in a stanza of seven lines. The idea upon which this performance is founded is one of the most singular that ever took possession of the brain even of an allegorist: the purple island is nothing else than the human body, and the poem is, in fact, for the greater part, a system of anatomy, nearly as minute in its details as if it were a scientific treatise, but wrapping up everything in a fantastic guise of double meaning, so as to produce a languid sing-song of laborious riddles, which are mostly unintelligible without the very knowledge they make a pretence of conveying. After he has finished his anatomical course, the author takes up the subject of psychology, which he treats in the same luminous and interesting manner. Such a work as this has no claim to be considered a poem even of the same sort with the Fairy Queen. In Spenser, the allegory, whether historical or moral, is little more than formal : the poem, taken in its natural and obvious import, as a tale of “ knights' and ladies' gentle deeds”—a song of their “ fierce wars and faithful loves”-has meaning and interest
* Biog. Dram. ii. 15.
enough, without the allegory at all, which, indeed, except in a very few passages, is so completely concealed behind the direct narrative, that we may well suppose it to have been nearly as much lost sight of and forgotten by the poet himself as it is by his readers : here, the allegory is the soul of every stanza and of every line—that which gives to the whole work whatever meaning, and consequently whatever poetry, it possesses-with which, indeed, it is sometimes hard enough to be understood, but without which it would be absolute inanity and nonsense. The Purple Island is rather a production of the same species with Dr. Darwin's Botanic Garden; but, forced and false enough as Darwin's style is in many respects, it would be doing an injustice to his poem to compare it with Phineas Fletcher's, either in regard to the degree in which nature and propriety are violated in the principle and manner of the composition, or in regard to the spirit and general success of the execution. Of course, there is a good deal of ingenuity shown in Fletcher's poem; and it is not unimpregnated by poetic feeling, nor without some passages of considerable merit. But in many other parts it is quite grotesque; and, on the whole, it is fantastic, puerile, and wearisome. Mr. Hallam thinks that Giles Fletcher, in his poem of Christ's Victory and Triumph, has shown more vigour than Phineas, * “ but less sweetness, less smoothness, and more affectation in his style.” | It ought to be mentioned, however, to the honour of these two writers, that the works of both of them appear to have been studied by Milton, and that imitations of some passages in each are to be traced in his poetry. Milton was undoubtedly a diligent reader of the English poetry of the age preceding his own; and his predecessors of all degrees, Ben Jonson and Fletcher the dramatists, as well as the two cousins of the latter, and, as we have seen, Joshua Sylvester and the earlier dramatic writer, George Peele, had contributed something to the awakening or directing of his feeling for the grand and beautiful, and to the forming of his melodious and lofty note.
* Called by mistake, his elder brother. + Lit. of Eur, iii. 252.