1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Heywood

Charles Lamb, in "Garrick Plays. No. X." William Hone, The Table Book 1 (1827) 385-86.



After this Specimen of the pleasanter vein of Heywood, I am tempted to extract some lines from his "Hierarchie of Angels, 1634;" not strictly as a Dramatic Poem, but because the passage contains a string of names, all but that of Watson, his contemporary Dramatists. He is complaining in a mood half serious, half comic, of the disrespect which Poets in his own times meet with from the world, compared with the honors paid them by Antiquity. Then they could afford them three or four sonorous names, and at full length; as to Ovid, the addition of Publius Naso Sulmensis; to Seneca, that of Lucius Annaeas Cordubensis; and the like. Now, says he,

Our modern Poets to that pass are driven,
Those names are curtail'd which they first had given;
And, as we wish'd to have their memories drown'd,
We scarcely can afford them half their sound.
Greene, who had in both Academies ta'en
Degree of Master, yet could never gain
To be call'd more than Robin who, had he
Profest ought save the Muse, served, and been free
After a sev'n years prenticeship, might have
(With credit too) gone Robert to his grave.
Marlowe, renown'd for his rare art and wit,
Could ne'er attain beyond the name of Kit;
Although his Hero and Leander did
Merit addition rather. Famous Kid
Was call'd but Tom. Tom Watson; though he wrote
Able to make Apollo's self to dote
Upon his Muse; for all that he could strive,
Yet never could to his full name arrive.
Tom Nash (in his time of no small esteem)
Could not a second syllable redeem.
Excellent Beaumont, in the foremost rank
Of the rarest wits, was never more than Frank.
Mellifluous SHAKSPEARE, whose inchanting quill
Commanded mirth or passion, was but WILL;
And famous Jonson, though his learned pen
Be dipt in Castaly, is still but Ben.
Fletcher, and Webster, of that learned pack
None of the meanest, neither was but Jack;
Decker but Tom; nor May, nor Middleton;
And he's now but Jack Ford, that once were John.

Possibly our Poet was a little sore, that this contemptuous curtailment of their Baptismal Names was chiefly exercised upon his Poetical Brethren of the Drama. We hear nothing about Sam Daniel, or Ned Spenser, in his catalogue. The familiarity of common discourse might probably take the greater liberties with the Dramatic Poets, as conceiving of them as more upon a level with the Stage Actors. Or did their greater publicity, and popularity in consequence, fasten these diminutives upon them out of a feeling of love and kindness; as we say Harry the Fifth, rather than Henry, when we would express good will? — as himself says, in those reviving words put into his mouth by Shakspeare, where he would comfort and confirm his doubting brothers:

Not Amurath an Amurath succeeds,
But Harry Harry!

And doubtless Heywood had an indistinct conception of this truth, when (coming to his own name), with that beautiful retracting which is natural to one that, not Satirically given, has wandered a little out of his way into something recriminative, he goes on to say:

Nor speak I this, that any here exprest
Should, think themselves less worthy than the rest.
Whose names have their full syllables and sound;
Or that Frank, Kit, or Jack, are the least wound
Unto their fame and merit. I for my part
(Think others what they please) accept that heart,
Which courts my love in most familiar phrase;
And that it takes not from my pains or praise,
If any one to me so bluntly come:
I hold he loves me best that calls me Tom.

C. L.