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Mrs. Frankford in this drama has been advantageously compared with that of Mrs. Haller, in The Stranger. The Englishman of the seventeenth century is a better moralist than the German of the nineteenth. Lamb's extracts from four of Heywood's plays will give the reader a good idea of his manner and his powers. The most celebrated passage in his works is the shipwreck by drink, related in The English Traveller, in his peculiar frank, light-footed style.
“ Shipwreck by Drink.
- This gentleman and I
- There this night
Watching without, and guping for the spoil
Lamb, Vol. 1., pp. 111, 112. George Chapman, the translator of Homer, was the author of several tragedies and comedies. Lamb places him next to Shakspeare in didactic and descriptive passages, but “ he could not go out of himself, as Shakspeare could shift at pleasure, to inform and animate other existences.” His genius was reflective rather than dramatic. His plays are full of striking imaginations, and stern, deep comments on life, with here and there starts of tragic passion. Hazlitt says that he “ aims at the highest things in poetry, but tries in vain, wanting imagination and passion, to fill up the epic moulds of tragedy with sense and reason alone, so that he often runs into bombast and turgidity, — is extravagant and pedantic at one and the same time.” This does not do justice to what Webster called “the full and heightened style of Master Chapman.” Though not a man of harmoniously developed genius, there are few writers of the period, whose personal character, as stamped on their serious poetry, makes a graver and deeper impression than that of Chapman. He is the impersonation of a lofty, daring, self-centred soul, feeling within itself a right to achieve the mightiest objects of human pursuit, and reposing with a proud confidence on the sense of its own power and dignity. His feeling is Titanic, but his capacity is not up to his feeling. He resolutely plants himself on the soul, and subordinates all things to it, like some of our modern Transcendentalists; but he holds a braver, fiercer, and more defying attitude towards external things than they. In some respects he reminds us of Marlowe, but slower, more weighty, more intensely reflective and selfsustained. Perhaps he may be called the Fuseli of our old dramatists. We can imagine him, as he sat patiently and painfully fashioning, in “ the quick forge and working-house
of thought,” his colossal and irregular shapes of power,
And shall the baser overrule the better?
Lamb, Vol. 1., p. 89. And again, hear the brave old heathen discourse of the invulnerability of a true master spirit, who has trust in himself :
“ The Master Spirit.
Loves to have his sails fill'd with a lusty wind,
That he should stoop to any other law :
Lamb, Vol. 1., p. 90. The lines in Italics furnished Shelley a fit motto for his Revolt of Islam.
Chapman is supposed by Dr. Drake to be the author of those lines On Worthy Master Shakspeare and his Poems, signed J. M. S., and commencing, —
“A mind reflecting ages past,” — the noblest and justest of the poetical tributes to Shakspeare's supreme genius. We think the conjecture a shrewd one, and borne out by the internal testimony which the lines themselves offer. They are in Chapman's labored and " enormous” manner, – the images huge and intellectual, and shown through the dusky light of his peculiar imagination. Here is a specimen :
“ To outrun hasty time, retrieve the fates,
Roll back the heavens, blow ope the iron gates
Great heaps of ruinous mortality.” The reputation of Thomas Middleton, with modern readers, is chiefly based on his Witch, several often quoted scenes of which have been supposed to have suggested to Shakspeare the supernatural machinery of Macbeth. If this be true, it only proves Coleridge's remark, that a great genius pays usurious interest on what he borrows. The play itself is tedious, and not particularly poetical, and the witches are introduced to effect an object very far from sublime. Lamb, after extracting copiously from the play, adds the following eloquent and discriminative remarks:
“ Though some resemblance may be traced between the charms in Macbeth, and the incantations in this play, which is supposed to have preceded it, this coincidence will not detract much from the originality of Shakspeare. His witches are distinguished from the witches of Middleton by essential differences. These are creatures to whom man or woman plotting some dire mischief might resort for occasional consultation. Those origi. nate deeds of blood, and begin bad impulses to men. From the moment that their eyes first meet with Macbeth's, he is spellbound. That meeting sways his destiny. He can never break the fascination. These witches can hurt the body : those have power over the soul. - Hecate in Middleton has a son, a low buffoon: the hags of Shakspeare have neither child of their own, nor seem to be descended from any parent. They are foul Anomalies, of whom we know not whence they are sprung, nor whether they have beginning or ending. As they are without human passions, so they seem to be without human relations. They come with thunder and lightning, and vanish to airy music. This is all we know of them. - Except Hecate, they have no names; which heightens their mysteriousness. Their names, and some of the properties which Middleton has given to his hags, excite smiles. The weird sisters are serious things. Their presence cannot coexist with mirth. But, in a lesser degree, the witches of Middleton are fine creations. Their power, too, is, in some measure, over the mind. They raise jars, jealousies, strifes, like a thick scurf o'er life.” — Lamb, Vol. 1., p. 163
The plays of Middleton are not, in general, up to the level of the time. He rambles loosely through his work, and taxes the patience of his readers without adequately rewarding it. Numerous passages in his dramas, however, show that he had that sway over the passions, and that fertility of fancy, which seemed native to all the dramatists of the period. Hazlitt concedes to his Women beware Women "a rich, marrowy vein of internal sentiment, with fine, occasional insight into human nature, and cool, cutting irony of expression.” In this play occurs the noted rhapsody on marriage, spoken by one who was returning, as he supposed, to a faithful wife, but who finds her a vixen and adulteress. It reminds us of an early chapter in Goethe's Wilhelm Meister. “ The treasures of the deep are not so precious,
As are the concealed comforts of a man