1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Middleton

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 136.



The dates of this author's birth and death are both unknown, though his living reputation, as the literary associate of Jonson, Fletcher, Massinger, Dekker, and Rowley, must have been considerable. If Oldys is correct, he was alive after November, 1627. Middleton was appointed chronologer to the city of London in 1620, and in 1624 was cited before the privy-council, as author of The Game of Chess. The verses of Sir W. Lower, quoted by Oldys, allude to the poet's white locks, so that he was probably born as early as the middle of the sixteenth century. His tragicomedy, The Witch, according to Mr. Malone, was written anterior to Macbeth, and suggested to Shakspeare the witchcraft scenery in the latter play. The songs beginning "Gone away," &c., and "Black Spirits," &c., of which only the first two words are printed in Macbeth, are found in the Witch. Independent of having afforded a hint to Shakspeare, Middleton's reputation cannot be rated highly for the pieces to which his name is exclusively attached. His principal efforts were in comedy, where he deals profusely in grossness and buffoonery. The cheats and debaucheries of the town are his favourite sources of comic intrigue. With a singular effort at the union of the sublime and familiar, he introduces, in one of his coarse drafts of London vice, an infernal spirit prompting a country gentleman to the seduction of a citizen's wife.