Abbildungen der Seite

counterfeit lothness. He has a story of the last gull whom he saw there, skeldered of his money at primero and hazard, who sat as patiently as a disarmed gentleman in the hands of the bailiffs. At the tavern he has drawn out a country gentleman that has brought his wife to town to learn the fashions, and see the tombs at Westminster, and the lions in the Tower; and is already glib with the names of the drawers, Jack and Will and Tom: the tavern is to him so delightful, with its suppers, its Canary, its tobacco, and its civil hostess at the bar, that it is odds but he will give up housekeeping. Above all, "the satirical rogue" is familiar with the habits of those who hear the chimes at midnight. He knows how they shun the waking watch and play tricks with the sleeping, and he hears the pretenders to gentility call aloud Sir Giles, or Sir Abraham, will you turn this way? Every form of pretence is familiar to him. He has watched his gull critical upon new books in a stationer's shop, and has tracked him through all his vagaries at the tobacco ordinary, the barber's, the fence-school, and the dancing-school. Thomas Dekker is certainly one of those who gather humours from all men; but his wit is not of the highest or the most delicate character; yet is he listened to and laughed at by many of nobler intellect who say little. He knows the town, and he makes the most of his knowledge. Though he is a "high flyer in wit," as Edward Philipps calls him, yet is he a poet. At this very time he is engaged with Henry Chettle and William Haughton in the composition of Patient Grissil' for Henslowe's theatre, in earnest of which they received three pounds of good and lawful money on the 19th of December, 1599. There is one of the partners in this drama who has drunk his inspiration at the well of Chaucer. The exquisite beauty of The Clerk's Tale' must have rendered it exceedingly difficult to have approached such a subject; but a man of real genius has produced the serious scenes of the comedy, and it is difficult to assign them to any other of the trio but Dekker. Might not some Jack Wilson* have, for the first time, touched his lute to the following exquisite song, for the suffrages of the gay party at the Falcon ?

"Art thou poor, yet hast thou golden slumbers?

Oh, sweet content!

Art thou rich, yet is thy mind perplexed?

Oh, punishment!

Dost thou laugh to see how fools are vexed
To add to golden numbers, golden numbers?
Oh, sweet content! Oh, sweet, &c.

Work apace, apace, apace, apace;
Honest labour bears a lovely face;

Then hey noney, noney, hey noney, noney.

Canst drink the waters of the crisped spring?

Oh, sweet content!

[ocr errors]

Swimm'st thou in wealth, yet sink'st in thine own tears?

Oh, punishment!

* A singer of Shakspere's company. See Much Ado about Nothing, Introductory Notice.

Then he that patiently want's burden bears,

No burden bears, but is a king, a king!

Oh, sweet content! &c.

Work apace," &c.

There is one, we may believe, in that company of poets who certainly "is thought not the meanest of English poets of that time, and particularly for his dramatic writings." George Chapman, as Anthony Wood tells us, "was a person of most reverend aspect, religious and temperate, qualities rarely meeting in a poet." Anthony Wood has a low notion of the poetical character, as many other prosaic people have. He tells us of an unhappy verse-maker of small merit who was "exceedingly given to the vices of poets." Chapman was, however, the senior of the illustrious band who lighted up the close of the sixteenth century, and might be more reverend than many of them. He was seven years older than Shakspere, being born in 1557. Yet his inventive faculties were brilliant to the last. Jonson told Drummond, in 1619, that "next himself only Fletcher and Chapman could make a masque." He said also, what was more important, that "Chapman and Fletcher were loved of him." No one can doubt the vigour of the poet who translated twelve books of the Iliad in six weeks,-the daring fiery spirit of him who, in the opinion of the more polished translator, gave us a Homer such as he might have been before he had come to the years of discretion. This is meant by Pope for censure. Meres, in 1598, enumerates Chapman amongst the "tragic poets," and also amongst the best poets for comedy. best poets for comedy." We have no evidence that he wrote before the period when Shakspere raised the drama out of chaos. He had not the power to become a great dramatist in the strict sense of the word; for his

[ocr errors]
[graphic][merged small]

genius was essentially didactic. He could not go out of himself to paint all the varieties of passion and character in vivid action; but he could analyze the passion, exhibit its peculiarities, describe its current, with wondrous force and originality, throwing in touches of the purest poetry, clothed in the most splendid combinations of language. Dryden has not done justice to him, when he says that "a dwarfish thought dressed up in gigantic words is his characteristic." There are the gigantic words, but the thought is rarely dwarfish. Had he become a dramatist ten years earlier, as he well might from the period in which he was born, we should have found more extravagance and less poetical fire. Shakspere rendered the drama not so easy of approach by inferior men, as it was in the early days of the Greenes and Peeles. Chapman with his undramatic mind has done wonders in his own way.

[ocr errors]

Beside the man of reverend aspect sits a young scholar, who is anxious to say, I too am a poet. John Fletcher was born in 1576. His father, the Bishop of London—he who poured into the ears of the unhappy Mary of Scots on the scaffold that verbosam orationem, as Camden has it, which had more regard to his own preferment than the Queen's conversion-he who, marrying a second time, fell under his royal mistress's displeasure, and died of grief and excessive tobacco, in 1596, "seeking to lose his sorrow in a mist of smoke,”*he has left his son John to carry his "sail of phantasy" into the dangerous waters of the theatre. The union of real talent with fashionable pretension, which in time made him one of the most popular of dramatists, and the lyrical genius which will place him for ever amongst the first of English poets, were budding only at the close of the sixteenth century. We can scarcely believe that his genius was only called out by the "wonderful consimility of fancy between him and Francis Beaumont; and that his first play was produced only in 1607, when he was thirty-one and Beaumont twenty-one. It is possible that in his earlier days he wrote in conjunction with some of the veterans of the drama. Shakspere is held to have been associated with him in the Two Noble Kinsmen.' We have discussed that question elsewhere; and it is scarcely necessary for us to attempt any summary here, for the reason of our belief that the union, if any there were, was not with Shakspere. At this period Fletcher would be gathering materials, at any rate, for some of those pictures of manners which reveal to us too much of the profligacy of the fine people of the beginning of the seventeenth century. The society of the great minds into which he would be thrown at the Falcon, and the Mermaid, and the Apollo Saloon. would call out and cherish that freshness of his poetical nature which survives, and indeed often rides over, the sapless conventionalities and frigid licentiousness of his fashionable experience. In the company of Shakspere, and Jonson, and Chapman, and Donne, he would be taught there was something more in the friendship, and even in the mere intercourse of conviviality, of men of high intellect, than the town could give. He would learn from Jonson's Leges Convivales,' that there was a charm in the social hours of the eruditi, urbani, hilares, honesti," which was rarely found amidst the courtly hunters after plea

*Fuller's Worthies.'

[graphic][merged small]

sure; and that a festival with them was something better than even the excitement of wine and music. A few years after this Fletcher ventured out of the track of that species of comedy in which he won his first success, giving a real poem to the public stage, which, with all its faults, was a noble attempt to emulate the lyrical and pastoral genius of Shakspere. To our minds there is as much covert advice, if not gentle reproof, to Fletcher, as there is of just and cordial praise, in Jonson's verses upon the condemnation of The Faithful Shepherdess' by the audience of 1610:


"The wise, and many-headed bench, that sits

Upon the life and death of plays and wits,

(Compos'd of gamester, captain, knight, knight's man,

Lady, or pucelle, that wears mask or fan,

Velvet, or taffata cap, rank'd in the dark

With the shop's foreman, or some such brave spark

That may judge for his sixpence) had, before
They saw it half, damn'd thy whole play, and more:
Their motives were, since it had not to do
With vices, which they look'd for, and came to.

I, that am glad thy innocence was thy guilt,

And wish that all the Muses' blood were spilt
In such a martyrdom, to vex their eyes,
Do crown thy murder'd poem: which shall rise
A glorified work to time, when fire

Or moths shall eat what all those fools admire."

[ocr errors]

There is another young poet who has fairly won his title to a place amongst the most eminent of his day. John Donne is there, yet scarcely seven-andtwenty; who wrote the most vigorous satires that the English language had seen as early as 1593. No printed copy exists of them of an earlier date than that of his collected works in 1633; but there is an undoubted manuscript of the three first satires in the British Museum, bearing the title "Ihon Dunne

his Satires, Anno Domini 1593." No one has left a more vigorous picture of this exact period than has Donne, the student of Lincoln's Inn, who has already looked upon the world with the eye of a philosopher. He stands in the middle street and points, as they pass along, to the "captain bright parcel gilt ”—to the "brisk perfumed pert courtier "—to the


"Velvet justice, with a long

Great train of blue-coats twelve or fourteen strong "

to the "superstitious Puritan" with his "formal hat." He and his friend, the changeling motley humourist," take their onward way, and thus he paints the characters they encounter. The condensation of the picture is perfect :

"Now we are in the street: he first of all,
Improvidently proud, creeps to the wall,
And so imprison'd and hemm'd in by me,
Sells for a little state his liberty;

Yet though he cannot skip forth now to greet
Every fine silken painted fool we meet,

He them to him with amorous smiles allures,

And grins, smacks, shrugs, and such an itch endures
As 'prentices or school-boys, which do know

Of some gay sport abroad, yet dare not go;

And as fiddlers stoop lowest at highest sound,

So to the most brave stoops he nigh'st the ground;

But to a grave man he doth move no more
Than the wise politic horse would heretofore;
Or thou, O elephant or ape! wilt do

When any names the king of Spain to you.

Now leaps he upright, jogs me, and cries, Do you see
Yonder well-favour'd youth? Which? Oh! 't is he
That dances so divinely. Oh! said I,

Stand still; must you dance here for company?

He droop'd, we went, till one (which did excel
Th' Indians in drinking his tobacco well)
Met us they talk'd; I whisper'd Let us go;
It may be you smell him not; truly I do.

He hears not me; but on the other side

A many-colour'd peacock having spy'd,

Leaves him and me: I for my lost sheep stay;

He follows, overtakes, goes on the way,

Saying, Him whom I last left all repute

For his device in handsoming a suit,

To judge of lace, pink, panes, print, cut and plait,

Of all the court to have the best conceit :

Our dull comedians want him; let him go."

There is something in these Satires deeper than mere satirical description; for example :

"Sir, though (I thank God for it) I do hate

Perfectly all this town, yet there's one state

In all ill things so excellently best,

That hate towards them breeds pity towards the rest."

Donne's genius was too subjective for the drama; yet his delineations of indi

« ZurückWeiter »