1691 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Chapman

Gerard Langbaine, in Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691) 57-67.



A Gentleman of no mean Repute for his Poetical Writings and Versions, amongst the Wits of the Age wherein he liv'd, to wit, in the later part of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, and that of King James. I can give him no greater Commendation, than that he was so intimate with the famous Johnson, as to engage in a Triumvirate with Him, and Marston in a Play called Eastward-Hoe: a Favour which the haughty Ben could seldome be perswaded to. I might add to this, that he was so much valued in his time, by the Gentlemen of the Middle-Temple and Lincoln's-Inn, that when those two Honourable Societies agreed to Present Their Majesties with a Masque at Whitehall, on the joyful Occasion of the Marriage between the Princess Elizabeth, only Daughter to King James the First, and Frederick the Fifth of that Name, Count Palatine of the Rhine, and afterwards King of Bohemia: they chose Mr. Chapman for their Poet, to suit Language to the Occasion, and Mr. Inigo Jones for their Ingineer, to order the Machines, and Decoration of the Scenes.

He has writ many Dramatick Pieces, to the number of Eighteen: besides several other Poems and Translations: of all which his Tragedy of Bussy d' Amboise has the Preference. I know not how Mr. Dryden came to be so possest with Indignation against this Play, as to resolve to burn One annually to the Memory of Ben Johnson: but I know very well that there are some who allow it a just Commendation; and others that since have taken the liberty to promise a solemn annual Sacrifice of The Hind and Panther, to the Memory of Mr. Quarles, and John Bunyan: so that should this last Humour continue, The Hind and Panther would grow as scarce, as this Old Tragedy is at present. But I leave this Digression to give the Reader an Account of his Plays in order.

All Fools, a Comedy presented at the Black-friars, and afterwards before his Majesty King James the First, in the Begining of his Reign: and printed in quarto Lond. 1605. This was in those days accounted an Excellent Comedy, and will still bear Reading: it seems to be built in part upon the same Fabrick with Terence's Heautontimorumenos, as those who will compare the Characters of the two Fathers Gostanzo, and Mar. Antonio, with Chremes, and Menedemus; and their Sons Valerio, Fortunio, and Rynaldo, with Clinia, Antipho, and Syrus, may easily perceive. The Prologue and Epilogue (writ in Blank Verse) shew that in those days, Persons of Quality, and those that thought themselves Judges of Wit, instead of sitting in Boxes, as now in use, sat on the Stage: what influence those Sparks had on the meaner Auditors, may be seen by the following Lines;

Great are the Gifts given to united Heads;
To Gifts, Attire, to fair Attire the Stage
Helps much; for if our other Audience see
You on the Stage depart before we end,
Our Wits go with you all, and we are Fools; &c.

Alphonsus Emperor of Germany, a Tragedy, very often acted (with great Applause) at the Private-house in Black-friars, by the Servants to King Charles the First; printed in quarto Lond. 1654. This Play, tho' it bear the Name of Alphonsus, was writ (as I suppose) in Honor of the English Nation, in the Person of Richard Earl of Cornwal, Son to King John, and Brother to King Henry the Third. He was chosen King of the Romans in 1257. and Crown'd at Aix the Seventeenth day of May, being Ascension day. About this time Alphonsus the Tenth King of Castile, (the subject of this Tragedy) was chosen by other Electors. Tho' this King was accounted by some a Pious Prince, yet our Author represents his as a Bloody Tyrant, and contrary to other Historians brings him to an unfortunate End, he supposing him to be kill'd by Alexander, Son to Lorenzo de Cipres his Secretary: in revenge of his Father, who was poyson'd by him: and to compleat his Revenge he makes him first deny his Saviour in hopes of Life, and then stabs him, glorying that he had at once destroyed both Body and Soul. This Passage is related in several Authors, as Bolton's Four last Things, Reynolds of the Passions, Clark's Examples, Wanley's History of Man. For the true Story consult Mariana de Reb. Hisp. Lib.13. C.10. &c. Louis de Mayerne Turquet. Hist. Generale d' Espagne Lib.12. Bzovius An. 1257, &c.

Blind Beggar of Alexandria, a Comedy, most pleasantly discoursing his variable Humours in disguised shapes full of Conceit and Pleasure: sundry times publickly Acted in London, by the Right Honourable the Earl of Notingham, Lord High Admiral his Servants, printed in quarto Lond. 1598. This Play is neither divided into Acts nor Scenes.

Bussy d' Amboise, a Tragedy often presented at Pauls, in the Reign of King James the First: and since the Restauration of King Charles the Second acted at the Theatre-Royal with good Applause. For the Plot see Thuanus, Jean De Serres, and Mezeray, in the Reign of King Henry the Third of France. The Intrigue between Bussy and Tamyra is related by Rosset in his Histoires Tragiques de nôtre temps, under the feign'd Names of Lysis & Silvie. Hist. 17. pag. 363.

Bussy d' Amboise, his Revenge, a Tragedy, often presented at the Private-house in the White-Friars, printed in quarto Lond. 1613. and dedicated to the Right Virtuous and Truly Noble Knight, Sr. Thomas Howard. This Play is far short in value to the former, and was not received on the Stage with that universal Applause, Neither is it so strictly founded on Truth as the other: tho' the Author calls "them poor Envious Souls that cavil at Truth's want in these natural Fictions: Material Instruction, elegant and sententious excitation to Virtue, and deflection from her contrary, being the Soul, limbs, and limits of an Authentical Tragedy."

Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles Duke of Byron Marshal of France, in two Plays, acted at the Black-friars in the Reign of King James the First, printed in quarto Lond. 1608. and Dedicated to his Honourable and constant Friend Sr. Thomas Walsingham, and to his much Loved from his Birth, the right Toward and Worthy Gentleman his son, Thomas Walsingham Esq. This Play is founded on History in the Reign of Henry IV. of France: and many are the Authors that have mention'd the Marshal's Story. See Davila's Civil Wars of France, Montluc's Memoires, Mezeray's Chron. Pierre Mathiew's Contin of De Serres, Thuanus, Anselmus Gemblacensis, Scipion Du pleix, P. Mathiew, &c.

Caesar and Pompey, a Roman Tragedy declaring their Wars, out of whose Events is evicted this Proposition, "Only a Just Man is a Freeman," printed in quarto Lond. 1631. and Dedicated to the Right Honourable, his exceeding good Lord, the Earl of Middlesex. I cannot pass by that our Author has here laid down the same Rule with Father Le Bossu, the Learned regular Canon of St. Genevieve, That the Moral ought to be the foundation of a Play: Instruction being the chief design of a Poet. As he says; "La premiere chose par ou l'ou doit commencer pour fair une Fable, est de choisir l'Instruction & le point de Morale qui luy doit servir de fond, selon le dessein & la fin que l'on se propose." This is that Passage which Mr. Dryden hints at in his Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy and tho' he takes the French for his Guide, I believe there have not been wanting those of our own Countrymen, who have been able to decide all Controversies in Dramatick Poetry, as well as Strangers. Many Authors have treated on this Story: See Suetonius's Life of Julius Caesar. Plutarch's Lives of Pompey, Caesar, and Cato, Velleius Paterculus, Florus, Dion, and Lucan, who by some is rather accounted an Historian than a Poet.

Gentleman Usher, a Comedy printed in quarto Lond. 1606. I know not whether ever this Play was acted, but I have heard it commended by some, for a good Comedy, though if I may presume to give my Opinion, 'tis but indifferent.

Humourous days Mirth, a Comedy printed as I am told in quarto, and a passable Play: but this I must leave to those who have read it.

Masque of the Two Honourable Houses or Inns of Court; the Middle-Temple and Lincolns Inn: Perform'd before the King at White-hall, on Shrove-monday at Night, being the fifteenth of February 1613: at the Princely Celebration of the Most Royal Nuptials of the Palsgrave, and his thrice Gracious Princess Elizabeth, &c. With a description of their whole Shew; in the manner of their March on Horse-back to the Court from the Master of the Rolls his House: with all their Right Noble Consorts, and shewful Attendants. Invented, and Fashion'd, with the ground and special structure of the whole Work-by our Kingdoms most Artfull and Ingenious Architect Inigo Jones. Supplied, applied, digested, and written by George Chapman, printed in quarto Lond. 1614. and dedicated to the most Noble and constant Combiner of Honor and Virtue, Sr. Edward Phillips, Master of the Rolls. At the end of the Masque is printed an Epithalamium called a Hymne to Hymen for the most time-fitted Nuptials of our Thrice Gracious Princess Elizabeth, &c. I leave it to their Judgments who have perus'd this Piece, to determine whether it answer the swelling Title-page, or whether the Authors Defence before the Masque, be just and solid.

May-day, a Witty Comedy, divers times acted at the Black-friars; and printed in quarto Lond. 1811.

Monsieur d'Olive, a Comedy sundry times acted by her Majesties Children at the Black Friars, printed in quarto Lond. 1606.

Revenge for Honor, a Tragedy printed in quarto Lond. 1654. This Play I have seen acted many years ago at the Nursery in Barbican.

Temple, a Masque which I never saw.

Two Wise Men, and all the rest Fools, or a Comical Moral, censuring the Follies of that Age, divers times acted, and printed in quarto Lond. 1619. The Prologue and Epilogue to this Play are writ in Prose, which was practic'd formerly by several of the Poets, as William Lilly, in his Court Comedies, and others. But there is One thing in this Play, far more remarkable; that it is extended to Seven Acts: a thing which I never saw in any other, either in our own, or Foreign Languages, and which is directly contrary to that Rule of Horace

Neve minor, neu sit quinto, productior actu
Fabula, quae posci vult & spectata reponi.

But I suppose this might rather be the Printer's Ignorance, than the Poets Intention; for certainly Mr. Chapman better understood the Rules of the Dramma: tho' I am led only by Tradition to believe this Play to be his; since 'tis published without any mention of the Author, or the Place where 'twas printed.

Widow's Tears, a Comedy often presented in the Black and White-Friars: printed in quarto Lond. 1612. and dedicated to the right Virtuous and truly Noble Gentleman John Reed of Mitton, in the County of Gloucester, Esq. The Plot of Lysander and Cynthia is borrow'd from Petronius Arbyters Satyricon, being the Story of the Matron of Ephesus related by Eumolpus: a Story since handled by several other Pens, as Janus Dousa the Father, in his Notes on this Story, and Gabbema in the last Edition of Petronius: who observe, That it was translated into Latine Verse by Romulus, an Antique Gramarian; that it was translated from the German Language into Latine: and into French Rhime by Hebertus. We have it not only in the Seven Wife Masters, a Book vulgarly known, and which, if I may believe my Author, is a translation of Modius, who new modell'd the Story, and publisht his Version under this Title Ludus septem Sapientum, de Astrei regii adolescentis, educatione, periculis, &c. But also I have read the same Story with little alteration in the Cento Novelle Antiche di Carlo Gualteruzzi, Nov. 51. We have it likewise much improv'd, with a Philosophical Comment upon it, by a Countryman of our own, under the Title of the Ephesian Matron, printed in octavo Lond. 1668. and others.

These are all the Plays which I know of, that are publisht under our Authors name, except a Play which I have already mention'd, viz. Eastward-Hoe, a Comedy play'd in the Black Friars, by the Children of her Majesties Revels: made by George Chapman, Ben Johnson, and John Marston, printed in quarto Lond. 1605. This Play was writ shortly after Decker's Westward Hoe, as you may see by the Prologue which is writ in Blank Verse. The Play it self hath lately appear'd on the present Stage, being reviv'd by Mr. Tate under the Title of Cuckold's Haven.

Mr. Phillips, I know not why, has omitted half this Authors Plays, as you may see in his Account of the Modern Poets, p. 53.

Having given an Account of his Plays, I am now to speak of his other Works which were not in those days accounted less eminent: particularly his Version of all Homer's Works; viz. His Illiads, Odysses, and what he calls The Crown of all his Works, his Batracomyomachia, or The Battle of Frogs and Mice, together with his Hymns and Epigrams. If it be urg'd by some that he has been since out-done by Mr. Ogleby in the Two former, it is chiefly to be ascrib'd to the ill choice of his measure of Verse, and the obsolete Expressions in use in his time, and besides Translation was then, as I may say, in its Infancy. However I think Mr. Ogleby himself has since been as far exceeded by the exact and curious Pen of Mr. Hobbs: and for for his Minor Poems, they have never been attempted by any other Pen that I know of. To these I must add his Translation of Hesiod; his finishing Musaeus his Erotopaenion, or The Loves of Hero and Leander, a Piece begun by Christopher Marloe; his Andromeda liberata with a Vindication of the same; all which speak his Industry at least, if not his Ingenuity: and how slight an Opinion soever this Age may entertain of his Translations, I find them highly extoll'd in an Old Copy call'd a Censure of the Poets: which having spoke of the Eminent Dramatick Poets, as Shakesprear, Johnson, Daniel, &c. it adds of Translators as follows, placing our Author in the first Rank.

Others again there lived in my days,
That have of us deserved no less Praise
For their Translations, than the daintiest Wit,
That on Parnassus thinks he high doth sit,
And for a Claim may 'mongst the Muses call,
As the most curious Maker of them all;
First reverend Chapman, who hath brought to us
Musaeus, Homer, and Hesiodus,
Out of the Greek; and by his skill hath rear'd
Them to that height, and to our tongue indear'd,
That were those Poets at this day alive;
To see their Books, that with us thus survive;
They'd think, having neglected them so long,
They had been written in the English Tongue.