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To which Vittoria answers,
“ Oh, hold it constant:
It settles his wild spirits; and so his eyes
The Duchess of Malfy is not, in my judgment, quite so spirited or effectual a performance as the White Devil. But it is distinguished by the same kind of beauties, clad in the same ter
I do not know but the occasional strokes of passion are even profounder and more Shakespearian ; but the story is more laboured, and the horror is accumulated to an overpowering and insupportable height. However appalling to the imagination and finely done, the scenes of the madhouse to which the Duchess is condemned with a view to unsettle her reason, and the interview between her and her brother, where he gives her the supposed dead hand of her husband, exceed, to my thinking, the just bounds of poetry and of tragedy. At least, the merit is of a kind, which, however great, we wish to be rare. A series of such exhibitions obtruded upon the senses or the imagination must tend to stupefy and harden, rather than to exalt the fancy or meliorate the heart. I speak this under correction ; but I hope the objection is a venial common-place. In a different style
altogether are the directions she gives about her children in her last struggles ; “I prythee, look thou giv'st my little boy Some syrop for his cold, and let the girl
Say her pray’rs ere she sleep. Now what death you please" and her last word, “ Mercy,” which she recovers just strength enough to pronounce ; her proud answer to her tormentors, who taunt her with her degradation and misery—“But I am Duchess of Malfy still*”—as if the heart rose up, like a serpent coiled, to resent the indignities put upon it, and being struck at, struck again ; and the staggering reflection her brother makes on her death, “ Cover her face : my eyes dazzle : she died young
!” Bosola replies :
Ferdinand. She and I were twins :
This is not the bandying of idle words and * “ Am I not thy Duchess ?
Bosola. Thou art some great woman, sure; for riot begins to sit on thy forehead (clad in.gray hairs) twenty years sooner than on a merry milkmaid's. Thou sleep'st worse than if a mouse should be forced to take up his lodging in a cat's ear: a little infant that breeds its teeth, should it lie with thee, would cry out, as if thou wert the more unquiet bed-fellow.
Duch. I am Duchess of Malfy still."
rhetorical common-places, but the writhing and conflict, and the sublime colloquy of man's nature with itself!
The Revenger's Tragedy, by Cyril Tourneur, is the only other drama equal to these and to Shakespear, in " the dazzling fence of impassioned argument,” in pregnant illustration, and in those profound reaches of thought, which lay open the soul of feeling. The play, on the whole, does not answer to the expectations it excites ; but the appeals of Castiza to her mother, who endeavours to corrupt her virtuous resolutions, “ Mother, come from that poisonous woman there," with others of the like kind, are of as high and abstracted an essence of poetry, as any of those above mentioned.
In short, the great characteristic of the elder dramatic writers is, that there is nothing theatrical about them. In reading them, you only think how the persons, into whose mouths certain sentiments are put, would have spoken or looked: in reading Dryden and others of that school, you only think, as the avthors themselves seem to have done, how they would be ranted on the stage by some buskined hero or tragedy-queen. In this respect, indeed, some of his more obscure contemporaries have the ad
vantage over Shakespear himself, inasmuch as we have never seen their works represented on the stage ; and there is no stage-trick to remind us of it. The characters of their heroes have not been cut down to fit into the promptbook, nor have we ever seen their names flaring in the play-bills in smail or large capitals.- I do not mean to speak disrespectfully of the stage; but I think higher still of nature, and next to that, of books. They are the nearest to our thoughts: they wind into the heart; the poet's verse slides into the current of our blood. We read them when young, we remember them when old. We read there of what has happened to others; we feel that it has happened to ourselves. They are to be had every where cheap and good. We breathe but the air of books : we owe every thing to their authors, on this side barbarism; and we pay them easily with contempt, while living, and with an epitaph, when dead! Michael Angelo is beyond the Alps ; Mrs. Siddons has left the stage and us to mourn her loss. Were it not so, there are neither picture-galleries nor theatresroyal on Salisbury-plain, where I write this ; but here, even here, with a few old authors, I can manage to get through the summer or the winter months, without ever knowing what it is to feel ennui. They. sit with me at breakfast; they walk out with me before dinner. After a long walk through unfrequented tracks, after starting the hare from the fern, or hearing the wing of the raven rustling above my head, or being greeted by the woodman's “ stern goodnight," as he strikes into his narrow homeward path, I can "take mine ease at mine inn," beside the blazing hearth, and shake hands with Signor Orlando Friscobaldo, as the oldest acquaintance I have. Ben Jonson, learned Chapman, Master Webster, and Master Heywood, are there ; and seated round, discourse the silent hours away. Shakespear is there himself, not in Cibber's manager's coat. Spenser is hardly yet returned from a ramble through the woods, or is concealed behind a group of nymphs, fawns, and satyrs. Milton lies on the table, as on an altar, never taken up or laid down without reverence. Lyly's Endymion sleeps with the moon, that shines in at the window; and a breath of wind stirring at a distance seems a sigh from the tree under which he grew old. Faustus disputes in one corner of the room with fiendish faces, and reasons of divine astrology. Bellafront soothes Matheo, Vittoria triumphs over her judges, and old Chapman repeats one of the hymns of Homer, in his own fine translation! I should have no objection to pass my life in this manner out of the world, not thinking of it, nor it of me; neither abused by my enemies, nor defended by