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at Philadelphia *; nor is it too much to believe that, ere another century elapse, the plains of Northern America, and even the unexplored wilds of Australasia, shall be as familiar with the fictions of our poet, as are now the vallies of his native Avon, or the statelier banks of the Thames.

It is, indeed, a most delightful consideration for every lover and cultivator of our literature, and one which should excite, amongst our authors, an increased spirit of emulation, that the language in which they write, is destined to be that of so large a portion of the new world; a field of glory to which the genius of Shakspeare will assuredly give an unperishable permanency; for the diffusion and durability of his fame are likely to meet with no limit save that which circumscribes the globe, and closes the existence of time.

* In the year 1795. Printed and sold by Bioren and Madan.-Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 149.




THAT the master-spirit which Shakspeare exhibited in the eyes his contemporaries; that the great improvements which he had made on the drama of Peele and Marlowe, and their associates, should excite the wonder, and call forth the emulation of his age, were events naturally to be expected. He was accordingly the founder of a school of dramatic art which continued to flourish until extinguished by those convulsions that destroyed the monarch, and overturned the government of the country, a school to which we have since had nothing similar, or even approximating in excellence.

The fate, however, of the leader and his disciples has been widely different. During the life-time of Shakspeare, the spirit of competition forbade an open acknowledgment of his pre-eminence, and those who had run the race of glory with him, and outlived his day, had influence sufficient, either from personal interest, or the charm of novelty, to procure a more frequent representation of their own productions, however inferior, than of those of their departed luminary. But, when the grave had closed alike on their great exemplar and on themselves, apart, indeed, was their allotment in the estimation of the living; for while the former sprang from the tomb with fresh energy and beauty, over the latter dropped, comparatively, the mantle of oblivion! Yet, not for ever!

Though lost, for a time, in the effulgence of that lustre which has continued to brighten ever since its revivescence, they have nevertheless, through an intrinsic though more subdued brilliancy of their own, begun, at length, to emerge into day, and their demand upon the justice of criticism, for their station and their fame, is loud and imperative.

Let us, therefore, as far as our brief limits will permit, and in furtherance of what has been so judiciously commenced, co-operate in the endeavour to apportion to these immediate successors of our matchless bard, the honour due to their exertions. If correctly attributed, it cannot be trifling, and may assist in forming a just notion of the most valuable period of our dramatic poesy.

We shall commence with those who, in their own age, were deemed the rivals, and followed, indeed, fast upon the footsteps of Shakspeare, hesitating not to give priority of notice to the name of JOHN FLETCHER, who, though hitherto inseparably united in fame and publication with his friend Francis Beaumont, deserves, both from the comparative number and value of his pieces, a separate and exclusive consideration.

Of the fifty-three plays which have been ascribed to these poetical friends, it appears that not more than nine or ten were the joint productions of Beaumont and Fletcher; in still fewer was he assisted by Massinger, Rowley, and Field, and the ample residue, independent of two pieces now lost, and known to have been his sole composition, was therefore the entire product of Fletcher's genius. * With this curious fact we were first made acquainted by Sir Aston Cokain, who, speaking of the thirty-four plays of these poets, as published in the folio of 1647, informs us, that

"Beaumont of those many writ in few; And Massinger in other few: the main

Being sole issues of sweet Fletcher's brain.”+

In fact, as Sir Aston has elsewhere told us ‡, the bulk of the collection was written after Beaumont's death, which took place in 1615; the fecundity of Fletcher being so great, that in the interval between that event and his own decease in 1625, he had produced

* Vide Malone's Dryden, vol. i. part ii. p. 101.

+ Verses addressed to Mr. Humphrey Mosely, published in his Poems, Epigrams, &c. Verses addressed to Mr. Charles Cotton.


nearly forty dramas, besides some which were left in an unfinished state, and completed by Shirley.

It is also necessary to add, that the ten plays which issued from the firm of Beaumont and Fletcher are, by no means, the best of the entire series: they are Philaster,-The Maids Tragedy,-King and No King,- The Knight of the Burning Pestle,—Cupid's Revenge,— The Coxcomb,-The Captain,-The Honest Man's Fortune,- The Scornful Lady, and The False One*; productions, in allusion to which it has been said, and perhaps with no great injustice, that "if the plays of Beaumont were thrown out of the collection by Beaumont and Fletcher, the remainder would form a richer ore." +

Warrantable, therefore, upon this statement, must it be deemed, should we now drop the name of Beaumont, after observing, that a portion of the merits and defects of Fletcher may be attributed to his friend, and that, in the estimation of Ben Jonson, (on this subject the most unexceptionable testimony,) he possessed, beyond all others of his age, a sound and correct judgment. ‡

The characteristic of Fletcher, in the serious department of his art, was a peculiar mastery in the delineation of the softer passions, especially of love. There is a sweetly pensive tone in many of his pictures of this kind, which steals upon the mind with the most insinuating charm, producing that species of pathos which soothes while it gently agitates the soul; a feeling too sad and melancholy for the genius of comedy, and too mild and subdued for that of tragedy, but admirably adapted to an intermediate style of composition, of which he has given us some happy instances under the title of tragi-comedy. It must be confessed, however, that an impression of feebleness and effeminacy, a sickliness of sentiment, and a

* See Malone's Dryden, vol. i. part ii. p. 101. note.

+ Monthly Review, new series, vol. lxxxi. p. 126.

+ Malone's Dryden, vol. i. part ii. p. 100.- Fuller tells us, in his quaint but emphatic manner, that Beaumont brought "the ballast of judgment," and Fletcher "the sail of phantasie."-Worthies, part ii. p. 288.

want of dignity in the pity which he endeavours to excite, but too often accompany his efforts, even in this his favourite province.

Yet not unfrequently did Fletcher aspire to the loftiest heights of the dramatic muse; to the terrible, to the wildly awful, to the agony of grief. But here he sank beneath the genius of Shakspeare; in his endeavour to be great, there is a labour and contortion which frequently betrays the struggle to have been painfully arduous; an impression which we never receive from the drama of his predecessor, who seems to attain the highest elevation with an ease and spontaneity of movement, which suggests an idea, approaching to sublimity, of the fulness and extent of his resources. But, as an elegant critic has observed, Fletcher was "too mistrustful of Nature; he always goes a little on one side of her. Shakspeare chose her without a reserve: and had riches, power, understanding, and long-life, with her, for a dowry.” *

Very different, however, was the result of his efforts, when he touched the gaieties of life; for in this path, he moves with a grace and legerity which has not often been equalled. He displays, it is true, little humour, and consequently not much strength of character; but we are told, on good authority †, that no poet before him had painted the conversation of the gentlemen of his day with such fidelity and truth; a declaration which impresses us with an high opinion of the vivacity and intellectual smartness of the dialogue of that age; for there is in the representation of Fletcher an almost perpetual effervescency and corruscation of wit and repartee.

The imagination of Fletcher, when not straining after the eagle wing of the bard of Avon, was fertile and felicitous in an extraordinary degree. The romantic, the fanciful, the playful, are epithets peculiarly descriptive of its range and tone, within which he frequently emulates with success the excellence of his great master. ́

* Lamb's Specimens of English Dramatic Poets, p. 409.

+ Dryden on Dramatic Poesy.

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