Abbildungen der Seite

to conquer Time, may at least compel him to turn his glass and admit a drawn game. It is so much harder to fill an hour than to empty one!

These thoughts rose before me with painful vividness as I fancied myself standing here again, after an interval of thirty-two years, to address an audience at the Lowell Institute. Then I lectured, not without some favorable acceptance, on Poetry in general and what constituted it, on Imagination and Fancy, on Wit and Humor, on Metrical Romances, on Ballads, and I know not what else on whatever I thought I had anything to say about, I suppose. Then I was at the period in life when thoughts rose in coveys, and one filled one's bag without considering too nicely whether the game had been hatched within his neighbor's fence or within his own, - a period of life when it does n't seem as if everything had been said ; when a man overestimates the value of what specially interests himself, and insists with Don Quixote that all the world shall stop till the superior charms of his Dulcinea of the moment have been acknowledged ; when he conceives himself a missionary, and is persuaded that he is saving his fellows from the perdition of their souls if he convert them from belief in some ästhetic heresy. That is the mood of mind in which one may read lectures with some assurance of success. I remember how I read mine over to the clock, that I might be sure I had enough, and how patiently the clock listened, and gave no opinion except as to duration, on which point it assured me that I always ran over. This is the

pleasant peril of enthusiasm, which has always something of the careless superfluity of youth. Since then, and for a period making a sixth part of my mature life, my mind has been shunted off upon the track of other duties and other interests. If I have learned something, I have also forgotten a good deal. One is apt to forget so much in the service of one's country,

even that he is an American, I have been told, though I can hardly believe it.

When I selected my topic for this new venture, I was returning to a first love. The second volume I ever printed, in 1843, I think it was, - it is now a rare book, I am not sorry to know ; I have not seen it for many years,

was mainly about the Old English Dramatists, if I am not mistaken. I dare say it was crude enough, but it was spontaneous and honest. I have continued to read them ever since, with no less pleasure, if with more discrimination. But when

But when I was confronted with the question what I could say of them that would interest any rational person, after all that had been said by Lamb, the most sympathetic of critics, by Hazlitt, one of the most penetrative, by Coleridge, the most intuitive, and by so many others, I was inclined to believe that instead of an easy subject I had chosen a subject very far from easy. But I sustained myself with the words of the great poet who so often has saved me from my


“Vagliami il lungo studio e il grande amore,

Che m'ha fatto cercar lo tuo volume."

If I bring no other qualification, I bring at least that of hearty affection, which is the first condition of insight. I shall not scruple to repeat what may seem already too familiar, confident that these old poets will stand as much talking about as most people. At the risk of being tedious, I shall put you back to your scales as a teacher of music does his pupils. For it is the business of a lecturer to treat his audience as M. Jourdain wished to be treated in respect of the Latin language, — to take it for granted that they know, but to talk to them as if they did n't. I should have preferred to entitle my course Readings from the Old English Dramatists with illustrative comments, rather than a critical discussion of them, for there is more conviction in what is beautiful in itself than in any amount of explanation why, or exposition of how, it is beautiful. A rose has a very succinct way of explaining itself. When I find nothing profitable to say, I shall take sanctuary in my authors.

It is generally assumed that the Modern Drama in France, Spain, Italy, and England was an evolution out of the Mysteries and Moralities and Interludes which had edified and amused preceding generations of simpler taste and ruder intelligence. 'Tis the old story of Thespis and his cart. Taken with due limitations, and substituting the word stage for drama, this theory of origin is satisfactory enough. The stage was there, and the desire to be amused, when the drama at last appeared to occupy the one and to satisfy the other. It seems to have

been, so far as the English Drama is concerned, a case of post hoc, without altogether adequate grounds for inferring a propter hoc. The Interludes may have served as training-schools for actors. It is certain that Richard Burbage, afterwards of Shakespeare's company, was so trained. He is the actor, you will remember, who first played the part of Hamlet, and the untimely expansion of whose person is supposed to account for the Queen's speech in the fencing scene, “He's fat and scant of breath.” I may say, in passing, that the phrase merely means “ He's out of training,” as we should say now.

A fat Hamlet is as inconceivable as a lean Falstaff. Shakespeare, with his usual discretion, never makes the Queen hateful, and made use of this expedient to show her solicitude for

Her last word, as she is dying, is his

her son.


To return. The Interlude may have kept alive the traditions of a stage, and may have made ready a certain number of persons to assume higher and graver parts when the opportunity should come; but the revival of learning, and the rise of cities capable of supplying a more cultivated and exacting audience, must have had a stronger and more direct influence on the growth of the Drama, as we understand the word, than any or all other influences combined. Certainly this seems to me true of the English Drama at least. The English Miracle Plays are dull beyond what is permitted even by the most hardened charity, and there is nothing dramatic in them except that they are in the form of

dialogue. The Interludes are perhaps further saddened in the reading by reminding us how much easier it was to be amused three hundred years ago than now, but their wit is the wit of the Eocene period, unhappily as long as it is broad, and their humor is horse-play. We inherited a vast accumulation of barbarism from our Teutonic ancestors. It was only on those terms, perhaps, that we could have their vigor too. The Interludes have some small value as illustrating manners and forms of speech, but the man must be born expressly for the purpose

as for some of the adventures of mediæval knight-errantry — who can read them. “Gammer Gurton's Needle" is perhaps as good as any. It was acted at Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1566, and is remarkable, as Mr. Collier pointed out, as the first existing play acted before either University. Its author was John Still, afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells, and it is curious that when Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge he should have protested against the acting before the University of an English play so unbefitting its learning, dignity, and character. 6. Gammer Gurton's Needle " contains a very jolly and spirited song in praise of ale. Latin plays were acted before the Universities on great occasions, but there was nothing dramatic about them but their form. One of them by Burton, author of the “ Anatomy of Melancholy,” has been printed, and is not without merit. In the " Pardoner and the Frere” there is a hint at the drollery of those cross-readings with which Bonnell Thornton made our grandfathers laugh:

« ZurückWeiter »