Abbildungen der Seite
[graphic][merged small]

ing his bread by corrupt arts; who ridiculed his pimpled face, his "one eye lower than t'other," and his "coat like a coachman's coat, with slips under the arm-pits." So Aubrey describes him who laid down laws of criticism, and married music and painting to the most graceful verse. But when the bricklayer had the gratification of seeing his first comedy performed by the Lord Chamberlain's company, to

66 'Sport with human follies, not with crimes,"

there was one amongst that company strong enough to receive with kindliness even the original prologue, in which the romantic drama, perhaps some of his own plays, were declaimed against by one who belonged to another school of art. Shakspere could not doubt that a man of vigorous understanding had arisen up to devote himself to the exhibition of "popular errors,"-humourspassing accidents of life. and character. He himself worked upon more enduring materials; but he would nevertheless see that there was one fitted to deal with the comedy of manners in a higher spirit than had yet been displayed. Not only was the amended Every Man in his Humour' acted by Shakspere's

2 C 2


company, Shakspere himself taking one of the characters; but the second comedy from the same satirist was first produced by that company in 1599. When the author, in his Induction, exclaims

"If any here chance to behold himself,

Let him not dare to challenge me of wrong;
For, if he shame to have his follies known,
First he should shame to act 'em: my strict hand
Was made to seize on vice, and with a gripe
Squeeze out the humour of such spongy souls
As lick up every idle vanity,”—

the poet who "was not for an age, but for all time,"-he, especially, who never once comes before the audience in his individual character,-might gently smile at these high pretensions. But he would stretch out the hand of cordial friendship to the man; for he was in earnest-his indignation against vice was an honest one. Though a little personal vanity might peep out-though the satirist might "venture on the stage when the play is ended to exchange courtesies and compliments with gallants in the lord's rooms, to make all the house rise up in arms and to cry,— That's Horace, that's he, that's he, that's he, that pens and purges humours and diseases," ,"* Shakspere's congratulations on the success of Asper-for so Jonson delighted to call himself-would come from the heart. An evening at the Falcon might fitly conclude such a first play. The things" done at the Mermaid were not as yet. Francis Beaumont, who has made them immortal by his description, was at this period scarcely sixteen years of age. His Letter to Jonson' may, however, give us the best notion of the earlier convivial intercourse of some of the illustrious band to whom the young dramatist refers :

The play at the

"Methinks the little wit I had is lost

Since I saw you; for wit is like a rest

Held up at tennis, which men do the best

With the best gamesters: what things have we seen

Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been

So nimble, and so full of subtile flame,

As if that every one from whence they came

Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,

And had resolv'd to live a fool the rest

Of his dull life; then when there hath been thrown

Wit able enough to justify the town

For three days past-wit that might warrant be

For the whole city to talk foolishly

Till that were cancell'd: and when that was gone,

We left an air behind us, which alone

Was able to make the two next companie.

Right witty though but downright fools, mere wise."

Blackfriars would be over at five o'clock. The gallants who came from the ordinary to the playhouse would have dined; and so would the players. At three the play commenced; and an audience more rational than


those of our own times as to the quantity of amusement which they demanded would be quite satisfied with the two hours' exhibition :

"Those that come to see

Only a show or two, and so agree

The play may pass, if they be still and willing,

I'll undertake may see away their shilling

Richly in two short hours." *

Out of the smoke and glare of the torches (for in the private theatres the windows were closed so as to exclude the day) would the successful author and his friends come forth into the grey light of a January evening.† The Blackfriars Stairs are close at hand. John Taylor the water-poet was then a very young man; but the apprentice of the Thames might be there, with the ambition already developed to be the ferryman to the wits and actors from the Blackfriars to the Bankside. The "gentlemanlike sculler," as he was subsequently called, might listen even then with a chuckling delight to the sallies of "Master Benjamin Jonson," whom some eighteen years afterwards he wrote of as "my long-approved and assured good friend "-generous withal beyond his means, for "at my taking leave of him he gave me a piece of gold and two-and-twenty shillings to drink his health."‡ The merry party are soon landed at Paris Garden, and walking up the lane, which was a very little to the east of the present Blackfriars Bridge, they turn eastward before they reach the old stone cross, and in a minute or two are on the Bankside, close to the Falcon Inn, in

* Prologue to Henry VIII.

+ It would appear from the Epilogue that 'Every Man out of his Humour' was acted at the Globe; and perhaps for the first time there. We are of course only here attempting a generalization not literally accurate.

[merged small][graphic][merged small]

the liberty of the Clink. At a very short distance from this is the Bear Garden, and a little farther eastward the Globe. Part of the Falcon Tavern was standing in 1805, a short distance from the north end of Gravel-lane. Tradition holds it to have been the favourite resort of Shakspere and his companions. It is highly probable. He was a householder in the Clink liberty; but his disposition was eminently social, and sociality was the fashion of those daysin moderation, not a bad fashion. Gifford has noticed this with great justness : "Domestic entertainments were, at that time, rare; the accommodations of a private house were ill calculated for the purposes of a social meeting; and taverns and ordinaries are therefore almost the only places in which we hear of such assemblies. This, undoubtedly, gives an appearance of licentiousness to the age, which, in strictness, does not belong to it. Long after the period of which we are now speaking, we seldom hear of the eminent characters of the day in their domestic circles."* Jonson laughs at his own disposition to conviviality in connection with his habitual abstemiousness: "Canary, the very elixir and spirit of wine! This is that our poet calls Castalian liquor, when he comes abroad now and then, once in a fortnight, and makes a good meal among players, where he has caninum appetitum; marry, at home he keeps a good philosophical diet, beans and buttermilk; an honest pure rogue, he will take you off three, four, five of these, one after another, and look villainously when he has done, like a one-headed Cerberus." He puts these words into the mouth of a buffoon. In his own person he speaks of himself in a nobler strain :

"I that spend half my nights, and all my days,
Here in a cell to get a dark pale face,
To come forth worth the ivy and the bays;
And, in this age, can hope no other grace."

The alternations of excessive labour and joyous relaxation belong to the energies of the poetical temperament. Jonson has been accused of excess in his pleasures. Drummond ill-naturedly says, "Drink is one of the elements in which he liveth." But no one affirmed that in his convivial meetings there was not something higher and better than sensual indulgence.

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Amongst the group that might be assembled at the Falcon, let us first trace the lineaments of Thomas Dekker. He has not yet quarrelled with Jonson. He has no tbeen held up to contempt as Demetrius in the Poetaster,' nor returned the satire with more than necessary vehemence in the Satiro-Mastix He is one who has looked upon the world with an observant eye; one of whom it has been said that his "pamphlets and plays alone would furnish a more complete view of the habits and customs of his contemporaries in vulgar and middle life than could easily be collected from all the grave annals of the times." "'* His Gull's Horn-Book' has not yet appeared; but its writer can season his talk with the most amusing relations of the humours of Paul's Walk, of the ordinary, of the playhouse, of the tavern. He was not a very young man at the period of which we write. In 1631 he says, "I have been a priest in Apollo's temple many years; my voice is decaying with my age." He is confident in his powers; and claims to be a satirist by as indefeasible a title as. that of his greater rival :-"I am snake-proof; and though, with Hannibal, you bring whole hogsheads of vinegar-railings, it is impossible for you to quench or come over my Alpine resolution. I will sail boldly and desperately alongst the shores of the isle of Gulls; and in defiance of those terrible blockhouses, their loggerheads, make a true discovery of their wild yet habitable country." He has many a joke against the gallants whom he has noted even that afternoon sitting on the stage in all the glory of their coxcombry-on the very rushes where the comedy is to dance, beating down the mews and hisses of the opposed rascality. The proportionable leg, the white hand, the lovelock of the essenced fop, have none of them passed unmarked. The red beard artistically dyed according to the most approved fashion supplies many a laugh; especially if the wearer had risen to be gone in the middle of the scene, saluting his gentle acquaintance to the discomfiture of the mimics. He, above all, is quizzed who hoards up the play scraps upon which his lean wit most savourily feeds in the presence of the Euphuesed gentlewomen. Dekker has been that morning in Paul's Walk, in the Mediterranean Aisle. He has noted one who walks there from day to day, even till lamp-light, for he is safe from his creditors. One more fortunate parades his silver spurs in the open choir, that he may challenge admiration as he draws forth his perfumed embroidered purse to pay the forfeit to the surpliced choristers. Another is waited upon by his tailor, who steps behind a pillar with his table-book to note the last fashion which hath made its appearance there, and to commend it to his worship's admiration. Equally familiar is the satirist with the ordinary. He tells of a most absolute gull tha he has marked riding thither upon his Spanish iennet, with a French lacquey carrying his cloak, who having entered the public room walks up and down scornfully with a sneer and a sour face to promise quarrelling; who, when he does speak, discourses how often this lady has sent her coach for him, and how he has sweat in the tennis-court with that lord. An unfledged poet, too, he has marked, who drops a sonnet out of the arge fold of his glove, which he at last reads to the company with a pretty

[blocks in formation]
« ZurückWeiter »