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There appears, indeed, in several of his pieces, an evident intention of entering the lists with Shakspeare. Thus the exquisitely pleasing character of Euphrasia, under the disguise of a page, in Philaster, was undoubtedly intended to rival the similar concealments in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in As You Like It, in Cymbeline, and in Twelfth Night. Amoret, in The Faithful Shepherdess, is a delightful counterpart of Perdita, in The Winter's Tale, and throughout The Two Noble Kinsmen, and especially in the character of the Jailor's daughter, there is a striking, and, in general, a very happy effort made, to copy the express colouring of Shakspeare's style, and his mode of representing the wanderings of a disordered intellect.

But when, regardless of the hazardous nature of the experiment, he attempts, in his Sea Voyage, to emulate the magic structure and wild imagery of The Tempest, his ambition serves but to show, that he had formed a very inadequate estimate of his own powers.

Yet the failure in such an enterprise can reflect no disgrace, and from what has been said, it must necessarily be inferred, that we consider Fletcher as holding a very high, if not the highest rank, in the school of Shakspeare.

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How much is it to be lamented then, that excellence such as this should have been polluted by the grossest spirit of licentiousness; for it would appear, from the tenour of many of our author's plays, that, in his vocabulary, sensuality and sensibility were synonymous terms; so nakedly and ostentatiously has he brought forward the most immodest impulses of sexual appetite. Shakspeare may be, and is, occasionally, coarse and unreserved in his language; but, if compared with Fletcher, the nudity of his expressions is like the marble statue of a vestal, when contrasted with the wanton exposure of a prostitute.

As we wish to be spared the pain of reverting to such a subject, for which the age of Fletcher and his successors offers, unfortunately, but too many opportunities, it shall here be closed with a single expression of regret, that a department of poetry which, in itself,

seems better calculated than any other to serve the cause of virtue, should be degraded to a purpose thus base and unworthy. *

On a level with, if not one degree above the writings of Fletcher, follow the purer and more chastised productions of PHILIP MASSINGER, a poet of unwearied vigour and consummate elegance. That he had, in conjunction with others, composed for the stage some years anterior to the death of Shakspeare, there is every reason to conclude; for his first arrival in London, in 1606, was, we are told, under necessitous circumstances, and with the view of dedicating his talents to dramatic literature; and, though his Virgin Martyr, his earliest publication, did not appear until 1622, it was a notorious fact, that he had written in conjunction both with Beaumont and Fletcher. It is almost certain, indeed, from what Mr. Gifford has stated, that, in the interval just mentioned, he had brought on the stage not less than eight or ten plays. ‡

The English drama never suffered a greater loss, (for all Shakspeare's pieces have descended to us,) than in the havoc which time and negligence have committed among the works of Massinger; for of thirty-eight plays attributed to his pen, only eighteen have been preserved!

Massinger, like Fletcher, pursued the path in which Shakspeare had preceded him with such imperishable glory; but he wants the tenderness and wit of the former, and that splendour of imagination and that dominion over the passions, which characterise the latter.

* Would that the Commentators on Shakspeare had pursued the plan which Mr. Gifford has adopted in his edition of Massinger, who, speaking of the freedoms of his author, declares, that "those who examine the notes with a prurient eye, will find no great gratification of their licentiousness. I have called in no 'one' (he adds) to drivel out gratuitous obscenities in uncouth language; no 'one' to ransack the annals of a brothel for secrets better hid:' where I wished not to detain the reader, I have been silent, and instead of aspiring to the fame of a licentious commentator, sought only for the quiet approbation with which the father or the husband may reward the faithful editor."-Massinger, vol. i. pp. lxxxiii. lxxxiv.

+ Gifford's Massinger, vol. i. pp. xii. xiv. Introduction. Ibid. vol. i. pp. xviii.—xx.

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He has, however, qualities of his own, sufficiently great and attractive, to gift him with the envied lot of being contemplated, in union with these two bards, as one of the chief pillars and supporters of the Romantic drama.

He exhibits, in the first place, a perfectibility, both in diction and versification, of which we have, in dramatic poesy at least, no corresponding example. There is a transparency and perspicuity in the texture of his composition, a sweetness, harmony, and ductility, together with a blended strength and ease in the structure of his metre, which, in his best performances, delight, and never satiate the ear.

To this, in some degree technical merit, must be added a spirit of commanding eloquence, a dignity and force of thought, which, while they approach the precincts of sublimity, and indicate great depth and clearness of intellect, show, by the nervous elegance of language in which they are clothed, a combination and comprehension of talent of very unfrequent occurrence.

These qualities are, it must be allowed, not peculiar to dramatic poetry; but when we find, that to their possession are added a powerful discrimination and marked consistency of character, no inconsiderable display of humour, much fertility of invention in the preparation and developement of his incidents, and an unprecedented degree of grace and amenity in the construction of several of his comic scenes, together with a fund of ethic knowledge, an exquisite sense of moral feeling, and above all, a glow of piety, in many instances amounting to sublimity, we willingly ascribe to Massinger originality and dramatic excellence of no inferior order.

But when Dr. Ferriar, closing his Essay on the Writings of Massinger, asserts that he "ranks immediately under Shakspeare himself*," we must crave permission to hesitate for a moment, in reference to the enchanting tenderness of Fletcher.

* Gifford's Massinger, vol. i. Essay on the Writings of Massinger, p. cxxvi.

"If there be a class of writers, of which, above all others," observes Mr. Gilchrist," England may justly be proud, it is of those, for the stage, coeval with and immediately succeeding Shakspeare *;" an observation which the names alone of Fletcher and Massinger would sufficiently justify; but when to these we are enabled to add such fellow-artists as Ford, Webster, Middleton, &c. we are astonished that even the talents of Shakspeare should, for so long a period, have eclipsed their fame.

FORD's first appearance as an author, was in a copy of verses to the memory of the Earl of Devonshire, in 1606, and his earliest play of which we have the date of performance, was "A Bad Beginning makes a Good Ending," acted at court, in 1613†; but it is probable that the three plays mentioned with this, in Mr. Warburton's Collection, and like it, never published, and now lost ‡, were likewise early, and perhaps anterior compositions.

As it was the fashion, at this period, for dramatic writers to commence their course in conjunction with others, we find Ford accepting frequent assistance from his friends: thus The Sun's Darling, The Fairy Knight, and The Bristowe Merchant, were written in conjunction with Decker; and The Witch of Edmonton, with the aid of both Decker and Rowley.

Of the pieces which were exclusively the product of his own genius, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, though not published the first, was the first written, and was succeeded by The Lover's Melancholy, The Broken Heart, Love's Sacrifice, Perkin Warbeck, The Fancies Chast and Noble, and The Ladies Tryal.

Ford possesses nothing of the energy and majesty of Massinger, and but little of the playful gaiety and picturesque fancy of Fletcher, yet scarcely Shakspeare himself has exceeded him in the excitement of pathetic emotion. Of this, his two Tragedies of 'Tis Pity She's a

* Letter to William Gifford, Esq. on the late edition of Ford's Plays, 8vo. 1811, p. 7. + Vide Chalmers's Biographical Dictionary, vol. xiv. p. 465. Gentleman's Magazine, vol. lxxxv. p. 219.

Whore, and the Broken Heart, bear the most overpowering testimony. Though too much loaded in their fable with a wildness and horror often felt as repulsive, they are noble specimens of dramatic genius; and who that has a heart to feel, or an eye to weep, can, in the first of these productions, view even the unhallowed loves of Giovanni and Annabella; or in the second, the hapless and unmerited fates of Calantha and Penthea, with a cheek unbathed in tears!

JOHN WEBSTER, whom we shall place immediately after Ford, as next, perhaps, in talent, resembled him in a predilection for the terrible and the strange, but with a cast of character still more lawless and impetuous. Of the six plays which he produced, two were written in conjunction with William Rowley, and are comedies; the remaining four, containing three tragedies, and a tragi-comedy, are the issue of his unaided pen. The tragedies, especially The White Devil, or Vittoria Corombona, first printed in 1612, and The Dutchesse of Malfy, in 1623, are very striking, though, in many respects, very eccentric proofs of dramatic vigour.

It appears, however, from the dedication to the "White Devil,” that our author was well acquainted with the laws of the ancient drama, and that " willingly, and not ignorantly," he adopted the Romantic or Shakspearean form. The last paragraph of this address is a pleasing instance of his diffidence, liberality, and good sense: "For mine own part," says he, "I have ever truly cherished my good opinion of other men's worthy labours, especially of that full and heightened stile of master Chapman; the laboured and understanding works of master Jonson; the no less worthy composures of the both worthily excellent master Beaumont, and master Fletcher; and lastly, (without wrong last to be named,) the right happy and copious industry of master Shakspeare, master Decker, and master Heywood, wishing what I write may be read by their light; protesting that, in the strength of mine own judgment, I know them so worthy, that though I rest silent in my own work, yet to most of their's I dare (without flattery) fix that of Martial :


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