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A kiss now, that will hang upon my lip,
And full as long." Cyril Tourneur is a prominent name among the dramatists of the period. His two plays, The Atheist 's Tragedy and
The Revenger's Tragedy, are copiously quoted by Lamb. He has touches of the finest and highest genius. There runs through him a vein of the deepest philosophy. His tragedies evince a mind that has brooded long over its own thoughts, and sent searching glances into the unsounded depths of the soul. In his delineation of the stronger passions, he often startles and thrills the mind by terrible and unexpected flashes of truth. His diction is free, fearless, familiar, and direct, but pervaded by fancy and imagination, and rarely bald and prosaic. There is one passage in The Revenger's Tragedy which is almost unequalled for tragic grandeur. Castiza is urged by her mother and her disguised brother to accept the dishonorable proposals of a duke. Vindici, the brother, whose object is simply to test the virtue of his sister, eloquently sets forth the advantages she will gain by sacrificing her honor. The mother adds : -" Troth, he says true”; and then Castiza vehemently exclaims :
“False. I defy you both.
“ Moth. Where?
“ Cast. Do you not see her? she's too inward, then.” At the close of this scene, there is one of those beautiful touches of nature, conveyed by allusion, in which the old dramatists excel. Vindici says : “Forgive me, Heaven, to call my mother wicked !
0, lessen not my days upon the earth !
I cannot honor her.” Lamb says, that the scene in which the brothers threaten their mother with death for consenting to the dishonor of their sister, surpasses, in reality and life, any scenical illusion he ever felt. "I never read it,” he says, “ but my ears tingle, and I feel a hot blush spread my cheeks, as if I were presently about to proclaim 'some such malefactions of myself, as the brothers here rebuke in their unnatural parent, in words
VOL. LXIII. — NO. 132.
more keen and dagger-like, than those wbich Hamlet speaks to his mother.”
We extract one passage from this tragedy. Vindici addresses the skull of his dead lady.
“Here's an eye, Able to tempt a great man — to serve God; A pretty hanging lip, that has forgot now to dissemble. Methinks this mouth should make a swearer tremble, A drunkard clasp his teeth, and not undo 'em, To suffer wet damnation to run thro' 'em. Here's a cheek keeps her color, let the wind go whistle : Spout rain, we fear thee not: be hot or cold, All's one with us: and is not he absurd, Whose fortunes are upon their faces set, That fear no other God but wind and wet ? Does the silk-worm expend her yellow labors For thee? for thee does she undo herself? Are lordships sold to maintain ladyships, For the poor benefit of a bewitching minute ? Why does yon fellow falsify highways, And put his life between the judge's lips, To refine such a thing ? keep his horse and men, To beat their valors for her ? Surely we ’re all mad people, and they Whom we think are, are not. Does every proud and self-affecting dame Camphire her face for this ? and grieve her Maker In sinful baths of milk, when many an infant starves For her superfluous outside, for all this? Who now bids twenty pound a night? prepares Music, perfumes, and sweet meats ? all are hush'd. Thou may'st lie chaste now! it were fine, methinks, To have thee seen at revels, forgetful feasts, And unclean brothels: sure, 't would fright the sinner, And make him a good coward : put a reveller Out of his antick amble, And cloy an epicure with empty dishes. Here might a scornful and ambitious woman Look through and through herself. — See, ladies, with false
forms, You deceive men, but cannot deceive worms."
Lamb, Vol. 1., pp. 171, 172. Those renowned twins of poetry, Beaumont and Fletcher, long held a rank among English dramatic writers second
only to Shakspeare ; as, in a more profligate period, they were deemed his superiors. Though as poets, lyrical and descriptive, they are entitled to a high place for fancy and sentiment, yet they appear to us thin men, when compared with Marlowe, Jonson, Webster, Chapman, and some others. In the delineation of character, and in the exhibition of great passions, they lack solidity, depth, condensation of style, rapidity of action ; and we cannot mention two prominent English writers more destitute of moral principle. Fletcher, it must be allowed, is the more volatile and fertile sinner of the two. During their lives, they enjoyed a vast reputation, for they were preëminently the panders of their generation. The commendatory verses on their works would fill a small volume. Shirley, in a preface to the folio edition of their plays, published in 1647, signs himself their “ humble admirer,” and pours out his admiration for their genius in the highest strain of panegyric. To mention them, he says, " is but to throw a cloud upon all other names, and benight posterity ; this book being, without flattery, the greatest monument of the scene that time and humanity have produced, and must live, not only the crown and sole reputation of our own, but the stain of all other nations and languages." It would be easy to quote other eulogies almost as insanely extravagant.
Both these dramatists were men of family and education. Beaumont was born in 1586, ten years after Fletcher, and died in 1615, ten years before him. His faculties ripened early. At the age of ten, he became a gentleman commoner at college. When only sixteen, he published a translation of one of Ovid's fables; and was a close friend of Ben Jonson, and one of the lights of the Mermaid, at the age of nineteen. His “judgment seems to have been as universally admitted as Fletcher's “ fancy.” Jonson, it is said, consulted him often about the plots of his plays. His partnership with Fletcher seems to have commenced when he was about twenty-two, and to have run to his death.
Fletcher was born in 1576, and was less precocious than Beaumont. There is no evidence that he wrote for the stage before 1606, when he was thirty years old. He seems to have had expensive habits, and some property ; the latter probably left him in advance of the former. The fact, that during the last four years of his life he wrote eleven plays,
Kingise some in alenishepherdest they
seems to indicate a dependence on his pen for support. He died in 1625, of the plague. Of the fifty-two plays published under his and Beaumont's name, it has been contended that the latter had part in only seventeen. Among these, however, are The Maid's Tragedy, Philaster, and King and No King, three of the most celebrated in the collection. There is also some reason to believe that Beaumont had a share, more or less, in Valentian, and Thierry and Theodoret ; but none in The Faithful Shepherdess or the Two Noble Kinsmen Many critics have thought they traced indubitable marks of Shakspeare's mind and manner in some scenes of the latter. Lamb countenances this conjecture from the internal evidence afforded by some of the striking Shakspearian scenes. He says that the manner of the two dramatists is essentially different. Fletcher's “ ideas move slow ; his versification, though sweet, is tedious ; it stops every moment; he lays line upon line, making up one after the other, adding image to image so deliberately, that we see where they join. Shakspeare mingles every thing ; he runs line into line, embarrasses sentences and metaphors; before one idea has burst its shell, another is hatched, and clamorous for disclosure." Fletcher wrote twenty-seven plays after Beaumont's death, and, it is supposed, four before ; and there are eight written in connection with other authors, which swells the whole list from fifty-two to sixty.
This speaks volumes for Fletcher's fruitfulness of fancy ; and if the dramas evinced a range and depth of character corresponding to their number, it might well excite wonder. But this is not the case. The frame-work of Fletcher's dramatis personæ is generally light and thin, and he continually repeats a few types of character. What he lacks in depth and intensity of mind, he seeks to make up in point, bustle, incident, intrigue, and comic or tragic situation. If we subtract from his plays all that is not wit, fancy, imagination, and passion, if we strike out what is mere buffoonery, ribaldry, or exaggerated commonplace, we shall have left much that is brilliant and beautiful, it is true, but also a larger and more detestable mass of ignoble depravity and slang than could be scooped out of the works of any other man of genius. When he began to write, the morality of the fashionable and educated classes had become relaxed. The court of James the First was dissolute and intrinsically vulgar. The ears of high-born ladies did not tingle at the coarsest jests, nor their cheeks burn in viewing the most licentious situations. A change had come over the “public "taste, since the time of Sidney and Spenser. Debauchery and the maxims of libertinism, were more in vogue. The line separating the gentleman from the rake had imperceptibly narrowed, not to be altogether obliterated until the reign of Charles the Second. Falsehood, folly, sin, and decay seemed natural attendants on the Stuarts. Fletcher must be set down as a poet who wilfully or heedlessly prostituted his genius to varnish this “ genteel rottenness." His mind freely obeyed external direction. Like his own Mistress Bacha, in Cupid's Revenge, he seems to say to the age: —
"I do feel a weakness in myself
And run to meet it.” His quick animal spirits, and his absence of depth, preserve his immorality from that malignity and brutality which shock us in some of his successors at the Restoration ; and as the sweetness of the poet never absolutely leaves him, he rarely sinks into their diabolical hardness of heart. But where he is better than they, it seems more the result of instinctive sentiment than any moral principle. His volatility makes his libertinism shallow, brisk, and careless, rather than hard and determined. It is Belial, with the friskiness of Puck. He was as bad as his nature would admit,- as bad as a mind so buoyant, apprehensive, and susceptible of romantic ideas and feelings would allow him to be. Shakspeare did not yield to these corrupting tendencies of his day.
It is generally conceded that Beaumont and Fletcher are more effeminate and dissolute than the band of dramatic authors to which they must be still considered to belong. Their minds had not the grasp, tension, insight, and collected energy, which characterized others who possessed less fertility. Their tragic Muse carouses in crime, and reels out upon us with bloodshot eyes and dishevelled tresses. From this relaxation of intellect and looseness of principle comes, in a great degree, their habit of disturbing the natural relations of things in their representations of the sterner passions. The atmosphere of their tragedy is too often hot, thick, and filled with